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Lords Chamber

Volume 729: debated on Monday 11 July 2011

House of Lords

Monday, 11 July 2011.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

International Development

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what priority they are giving in international development to population issues and to reproductive health and rights.

My Lords, the UN estimates that the world’s population will pass 7 billion this October. Most of the growth will be in high-fertility developing countries. Meeting the need for family planning and maternal and new-born health services would help avert 390,000 maternal deaths and over 50 million unintended pregnancies. The Government are playing a leading role and will enable at least 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning by 2015.

My Lords, I am grateful for that positive Answer from the noble Baroness. Does she accept that it is very important to address the unmet need of more than 200 million couples who would like to be able to use contraceptive methods but do not have them available? Does she agree that funds invested in this field provide a return many times over, not only financially but also, more importantly, in terms of human well-being?

My Lords, the noble Viscount is right. If we fail to respond to the unmet need for family planning, the consequences of rapid population growth will impact on us all. Reducing unplanned births and family size would save on public sector spending on health, water and social services and reduce pressure on scarce natural resources. Reducing unintended pregnancies particularly among adolescents in developing countries would improve their educational and employment opportunities. This would contribute to improving the status of women, increasing family savings, reducing poverty and inspiring economic growth.

The noble Baroness will know that Afghanistan, in particular, has faced civil war and political unrest for many decades. Forty-two per cent of the population live on less than $1.25 a day and three in five children are malnourished. Nevertheless, the fertility rate is 6.6 births per woman, many of them very young girls. With a rapidly rising population, only 15 per cent of women in Afghanistan can access contraception. Will she ensure that our Government’s programme to Afghanistan reflects these facts and prioritises maternal health and family planning?

I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising these issues. She is aware that at the heart of our programmes is the maternal health of women and girls. We have focused on ensuring that they receive education and the services that improve their own well-being. But this is also about ensuring that there are rights to access; if they are not available, they cannot be accessed. Therefore, through our programmes, we are pushing to ensure that they know where to get what they need.

My Lords, while agreeing entirely with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, can she say how much money has been spent, and how much increased money is to be available, to provide contraceptive services?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that our programmes put women and girls at the heart of being able to access education, healthcare and maternity health. This is not about individual budgets but about programmes being delivered and making sure that part and parcel of our delivery is access to family planning.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that aid is most successful when targeted, science-based, practical and measurable?

My noble friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have a relentless focus on results and achieving value for money. I would like to give two examples. Every year, nearly 2 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases, so I am proud that this Government have pledged to vaccinate more than 80 million children over the next five years. Of course, she is also right that it is through education and research, and through ensuring that our aid is delivered in a focused and targeted way, that we will be able to receive the sort of results that we are looking for, and I hope that we will succeed.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me how DfID is counteracting the influence of the Vatican in this area? As we all know, the population of Italy has dropped like a ton, so they are not bothered about this issue, but it does affect developing countries.

My Lords, faith organisations play a very important part in working to ensure that we are able to give choices to women and girls on when and how they have their babies. It is not about the Government issuing edicts on how family planning should be accessed but about encouraging choice, so that women are able to make that choice and, it is hoped, have better control over their lives.

My Lords, the effect on family spacing and women’s rights is fundamental, but, surely, also important is the effect of the growth in population on soil erosion, on deforestation, and on conflict over resources in so many countries. Why is it, then, that international donors and aid agencies are so coy about mentioning population increase as a factor in development?

I am not sure that I can agree with the noble Lord. Agencies accept that population growth is an issue and that it is through targeted programmes that we are going to achieve the reduction in birth rate that we need. But it is also about ensuring that those women and girls have options and are able to access family planning means, rather than us forcing Governments into taking action. This is not a place for Governments; this is for women to have choice and education.

Is the Minister aware that there is very good empirical evidence of the limitations of choice-based family planning initiatives, such as those that were extensively trialled under the Bush Administration, and is she prepared to put DfID’s commitment behind services that are not entirely choice-based but actually provide access to the sorts of contraception that young women need if they are to attain independent lives?

I will repeat that it is about choice; it is about being able to educate girls and women about what is available to them in their countries. We as a Government cannot dictate how people access family planning: they must be able to make the choices for themselves. But it is also about being able to tell them that through better healthcare and planning they will have less need to have more babies as, often as not, more babies are born is because of the belief that many of them will die.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the newly independent state of South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and that in a population of 8 million there are only about 10 midwives—and this when 3,000 midwives are needed to ensure safe motherhood? How will DfID ensure that the Government of South Sudan’s five-year health sector development plan prioritises the urgent need for obstetric care?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The onus will be on all donor countries to support South Sudan, particularly through its transient stages of being the newest country on the planet. Again, it is about partnership work and ensuring NGOs and donor countries work closely. It is also about ensuring that our programmes are targeted towards and reach those who we feel most need the help.

Abattoirs

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the financial impact on small and medium-sized abattoirs of the proposed introduction of a full-cost recovery system.

My Lords, I am advised by the Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for meat hygiene controls, that following public consultation it has significantly amended its proposals for full-cost recovery. Implementation will be delayed until April 2012, staged over three years. Support will be provided for abattoirs slaughtering up to 5,000 cattle or equivalent per year. A financial impact assessment of the amended proposals is in preparation and will be published this summer.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will the agency move much more towards a risk-based, proportionate regime than it has in the past? Secondly, will it consider outside—in other words, private—operators taking over the task that is currently done by state employees?

My Lords, it is certainly the ambition of the agency to move to a more risk-based approach but, as my noble friend will know, that has considerable implications in terms of EU law and it will take some time for such an approach to be worked through. On her second question, I am aware that the agency will discuss tomorrow the findings of the Macdonald taskforce, so it is probably premature for me to say more on that point.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a farmer. Would the noble Earl agree that small and medium-sized abattoirs are essential to our communities? There are serious animal welfare concerns in having to drive animals for miles to gets them slaughtered. The stress on the animals also causes the meat to be not so good. In Worcestershire, we have one abattoir left, and the nearest one to us is in fact in Herefordshire. Do the Government intend to encourage small abattoirs to stay open? Is there any possibility for mobile abattoirs to be developed?

My Lords, smaller abattoirs are extremely important to the rural economy, as the noble Countess rightly says. They are more likely to be rural. The support to be provided to those abattoirs processing up to 5,000 cattle—a higher threshold than was previously proposed—is intended to help preserve the provision of local services to the livestock industry. That will helpfully reduce the impact on small livestock producers, the rural economy, animal welfare and indeed consumer choice. As regards mobile abattoirs, I am not aware what initiatives are being undertaken, although I believe that there are a few around, so it will be necessary for me to seek further advice on that point.

My Lords, was not this so-called risk-based approach used in the monitoring of care homes? Has that not been a disaster?

No, my Lords, it has not been a disaster. It is sensible to look at accreditation and such devices to ensure that regulation is directed where it is most needed.

My Lords, many of the 28 abattoirs left in Wales are the small abattoirs that the Minister described in his Answer. He referred to support. What will that amount to?

My Lords, the agency has now proposed a stepped system of discounts. For the first 1,000 livestock units processed, the reduction on the full cost would be a maximum of 70 per cent. The next 1,000 livestock units would be subject to a 50 per cent reduction and the next 3,000 subject to a 25 per cent reduction. That will directly assist those smaller abattoirs, many of which are based in Wales.

I find it very unusual for the Minister who usually answers on health to be answering an abattoir Question, but I am very impressed by his knowledge. Can he tell us whether there is a health implication, whether the extra costs that were to be passed on were necessary for health and whether they will be continued to be carried out even if the costs are not being passed on?

My Lords, there is no direct health implication. What has happened over the past few years is that the costs of regulation have progressively been borne by the Food Standards Agency, as opposed to the industry. There has been a decision taken in principle that the regulator should not subsidise the industry that it regulates. That is the reason for the review of the charging arrangements.

My Lords, did the noble Lord indicate in his Answer, and will he confirm, that we owe this folly more to our lords and masters in Brussels than to our very own department for the ruin of agriculture? Does he think that the British people would have voted in 1975 to stay in what they were assured was a Common Market if they had thought that this sort of folly was going to be visited upon them by Brussels?

My Lords, it is quite correct that European legislation requires the national competent authority to carry out official controls in order to verify that food businesses comply with food hygiene requirements. EU law requires the competent authority to charge food businesses for meat hygiene and welfare at slaughter—the official controls—and sets minimum charging rates. Having said that, I do not think that there is any self-respecting country that would wish to neglect meat hygiene, which has a direct implication for human health.

Children: Parenting

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose to accept the recommendations in the recent report by Frank Field MP on child poverty that all children should receive age-appropriate parental education in school.

My Lords, we will consider Mr Field’s recommendations as part of our review of PSHE. Evidence suggests, though, that parenting skills are best taught to parents through a mix of practical application and learning, which is likely to be more effective the closer it is to the age at which people have children. My honourable friend Sarah Teather will shortly publish a foundation years policy statement to respond to recommendations from the Field, Allen and Tickell reviews that deal with the foundation years.

I know that the noble Lord is aware that Frank Field, in this and previous reports, carried out research in his constituency on the teaching of life skills in schools and found a widespread majority of young people in favour of such instruction. This is not necessarily a question only of parenting; I believe that Frank Field recommended life skills and parenting. Is the noble Lord prepared to institute a wider inquiry to find out what children and young people really would find helpful in life skills and parenting education?

My Lords, part of the purpose of the PSHE review to which I referred is to look at what element of the content of PSHE is most helpful to children and young people. The other part is to look at what support teachers need in order to teach these important skills to children.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the Minister for being a bit hasty just now. Is the Minister aware that several programmes were run in schools that proved incredibly effective at, apart from anything else, ensuring that young people became parents later rather than early? If the Minister were to talk to some of those young people who had those very effective programmes, he might revise his view that it was better to leave it until they nearly were parents. This is about how young people and prospective parents begin to understand things about their own relationships and about the responsibilities that parenting brings. My experience is that when this has been done in secondary schools it has been very effective, and I hope that the Minister will look at this again.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the points that she makes, and I listen to her experience very carefully. The evidence that the department has had about later life is there, but I am not saying that to disagree with the point that what one wants ideally is a mix. That is why the PSHE review will take the views of children into account. We want to ensure that we learn those kinds of lessons and have the best possible PSHE that deals with those points.

My Lords, the Graham Allen report made clear the vital importance of the first few months, certainly up to three years, of a child’s life in brain development, personality development and so on. In the light of that, will the Minister accept that parenting education is needed before the parents are parents—that is, at school?

As I said in my earlier reply, my honourable friend Sarah Teather will respond in her early years foundation statement to the important points that have been raised. We will look at precisely these points and respond to Allen.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the thrust of the Good Childhood report, published by the Children’s Society a couple of years ago when I was chair, that argued that if PSHE education is to be undertaken in schools it is absolutely vital that it is undertaken by properly trained and qualified teachers who have as much experience and qualification as in other major subjects?

Yes, my Lords, I take that point. The right reverend Prelate will know of the Ofsted report that referred to three-quarters of PSHE education in schools being good or outstanding, but it also pointed out that there were some other areas of weakness. As I have already said, part of the review that the department will carry out, which I hope will benefit from the views of outside and expert opinion, is precisely to look at the kind of support that needs to be provided to help teachers provide good quality PSHE.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in the past two years the number of children before the courts has doubled, that the number of children in care is increasing and that the accommodation and opportunities for children in care are decreasing. With that scenario in mind, what else does he hope to do to ensure that children from poor families, whose choices will be even more limited, get the education that they need so that they do not repeat that cycle?

My Lords, there is a range of measures that the Government need to take, starting with our response to the early years, which will be coming shortly, the provision of the 15-hour free entitlement to two year-olds, the increase of that to 15 hours for three and four year-olds and the introduction of the pupil premium. Then there is what we can do to raise standards in our schools, which is clearly vital because we know the connection between failure at school, illiteracy and life going off the rails. There is a range of measures that we need to take across the board.

Afghanistan

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the military situation in Afghanistan.

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Highlander Scott McLaren of The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday 4 July. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and the fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.

Turning to my noble friend’s Question, the Secretary of State for Defence recently visited Afghanistan and reported back a clear sense of progress being made. While recent weeks have seen an increase in activity as insurgents seek to regain lost ground, it is judged that the insurgency is under pressure and ISAF retains the momentum.

My Lords, these Benches join in the tribute to Highlander Scott McLaren. It is obvious from my noble friend’s reply and the Prime Minister’s Statement on Afghanistan last week that there is a huge question mark over the future of Afghanistan. I shall ask my noble friend two specific questions. First, how can he justify the rules of engagement that apparently prohibit our forces from firing at the Taliban or insurgents if they are seen to be laying IEDs or similar, leaving them free to continue their murderous activities? Secondly, looking to the longer term, the build-up of Afghan forces, police and army to around 300,000 will clearly result in sizeable annual expenditure of several billion pounds a year. Who will pay for those forces? Will we contribute?

My Lords, we do not comment on the specific rules of engagement but any use of force in Afghanistan must comply with the laws of armed conflict. However, commanders take the threat of IEDs very seriously. Since June last year, the Government have spent £330 million on equipment to help them tackle that threat.

Turning to my noble friend’s other question, the Afghan economy has been growing at an impressive 9 per cent, on average, each year since 2003. It now collects almost $2 billion in revenue. We are optimistic about Afghanistan’s economic prospects but recognise that it will need the support of the international community for some time to come. We, alongside our allies and other international institutions, stand ready to support Afghanistan for the long term.

My Lords, on this side, we also offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Highlander Scott McLaren, who was killed in Afghanistan last Monday. His death is yet another reminder of the harsh reality that our Armed Forces put their lives on the line in the service of our country.

In her response to the Statement on Afghanistan last Wednesday, my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon asked whether our Armed Forces would continue to receive all the equipment that they need in the months ahead, including the 12 additional Chinooks, which the Prime Minister promised but for which the order has not yet been placed. No direct answer on when the order would be placed was forthcoming. Will the Minister tell the House when the Ministry of Defence will have completed working towards the main investment decision on these helicopters; when it is expected that the order for the 12 additional Chinooks will be placed; and when they are expected to be operational?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the Official Opposition for the cross-party support for our Armed Forces and for the mission in Afghanistan. On the question about Chinooks, as we announced in the SDSR, we plan to buy 12 additional Chinook helicopters as well as a further two to replace those lost on operations in Afghanistan in 2009. The Ministry of Defence is working towards the main investment decision on these helicopters.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, despite the courage, professionalism and sacrifice of our soldiers, the consequence of the myriad mistakes that we have made in Afghanistan is that, sadly, a victor’s peace is no longer within our reach? We shall have to take the best peace that we can negotiate. The longer we leave that, the more difficult it will be. Will that peace not have three key ingredients? The first will be a role for the Taliban, who will accept the Afghan constitution in the government of the country. The second will be a constitution that runs more with the grain of a decentralised Afghanistan than the present one. The third will be a regional context that enables the country’s neighbours to play a part.

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. We are not living in a perfect world but we are doing our very best. As for the ANSF, it is becoming much more professional, much better trained and bigger. We are about to begin implementing the security transition process by which the Afghan forces will take the lead. It will be a gradual, condition-based process that is on track to put the ANSF in security lead in all provinces by the end of 2014.

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the improving situation, in Helmand in particular, with regard to the poppy harvest? Does he agree that we are never likely to have a more stable Afghanistan while its economy is largely based on the illegal activity of growing the poppy for opium? Can he comment on the progress that we have made in changing farming practices and, therefore, the economy in the country over the past two, three or four years?

My Lords, yes, we are making progress on that point. The noble Lord mentioned corruption. Our support for the Afghan Government cannot be unconditional. The Afghan Government must ensure that British taxpayers’ money is spent well and wisely, and President Karzai must personally grip the problems around the Kabul Bank and the need for the new IMF programme.

My Lords, I am sure that it slipped his mind, but the Minister failed to answer my noble friend’s question. When is the delivery of the Chinooks anticipated and when will the order be placed? The need is urgent.

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness an exact day. This is a matter on which the Ministry of Defence is working very hard, and as soon as I have some information, I will report it to the House.

My Lords, when the US finishes ground-force combat operations in Afghanistan, which it clearly intends to do by the end of 2014, will it still be providing air support and, if it is, will NATO be providing air support? If so, will the United Kingdom be involved in that and, if it is, will it be based at an air base in Afghanistan?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has stated clearly that there will not be significant numbers of British troops in a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015. However, we still expect to have some troops there after 2015—for instance at the officer training academy—as part of the enduring NATO and bilateral partnership, at the request of the Afghan Government. The exact size and role of this commitment will be developed over time, taking account of conditions, military advice and the broader security and political considerations.

Business of the House

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 12 July to allow the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill to be taken through all its remaining stages and on Monday 18 July to allow the Finance (No. 3) Bill and the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill to be taken through all their remaining stages.

Motion agreed.

Communications Act 2003 (Maximum Penalty for Contravention of Information Requirements) Order 2011

Gambling Act 2005 (Gaming Machines in Adult Gaming Centres and Bingo Premises) Order 2011

Categories of Gaming Machine (Amendment) Regulations 2011

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 23 May and 7 June be approved.

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 5 July.

Motions agreed.

Distribution of Dormant Account Money (Apportionment) Order 2011

Charities Act 2006 (Principal Regulators of Exempt Charities) Regulations 2011

Charities Act 2006 (Changes in Exempt Charities) Order 2011

Motions to Approve

Moved by

That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 9 and 12 May be approved.

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 5 July.

My Lords, might I raise a point that is perhaps of general interest? When a matter is debated in the Moses Room and the Minister is unable to give a full reply and promises to write and place a copy of the answer in the Library, should that not be done before the matter returns to the Floor of the House? Perhaps my noble friend the Leader of the House might consider that point, otherwise when the order comes back to the Floor, we will not know what view we ought to take on it.

My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity of answering. I would always regard that to be the normal course of practice, and if it did not happen, I would very much like it to be brought to my attention.

Motions agreed.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Report (3rd Day)

Schedule 5: Issuing precepts

Amendment 101

Moved by

101: Schedule 5, page 116, line 2, at end insert—

“( ) A decision to amend or veto a proposed precept must be agreed by a two-thirds majority.”

My Lords, if noble Lords are leaving, may they do so peacefully so that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, may be heard by the rest of the House?

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Chief Whip for inflicting me on the House at the earliest possible moment. I move the amendment with what your Lordships may think is not my customary diffidence, because we have here three excellent amendments to do with the majority required to levy a precept. Mine is probably the least attractive, even to my mind. I am moving for a two-thirds majority to be required to overturn the precept. My noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Hunt have respectively better amendments. Mine is therefore something of a fallback position, which I think the noble Baroness has indicated might be acceptable to the Government—a rare event where I am concerned, which underlines my preference for the other amendments.

Nevertheless, we clearly need a better regime than that contained in the original Bill, which required a 75 per cent vote to overturn the precept. As I understand it from previous debates, there is no provision in the Bill to amend the precept. It is the veto or nothing. Presumably it is then envisaged that there would be discussion between the commissioner and the panel about a revision. All the amendments contain the—to my mind, welcome—addition of a proposal to allow the panel to amend as an alternative to a simple veto. I apprehend that the Minister may not be as willing to accept that, but one lives in hope.

That being the case, I move the fallback amendment, as it were, and leave it to my colleagues to make the even better case for their amendments.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 102 and 104 in the group. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, they both deal specifically with the majority required to veto the precept, and taken together suggest that it should be a simple majority of the panel members present. I have made similar suggestions in relation to other powers of veto through separate amendments in other groups.

The usual way to decide things in a democracy is by simple majority. I cannot see what is wrong with that principle. My amendments would apply that principle to the veto that a panel could exercise over the policing precept element of council tax. Before I argue for that, I mention that I remain concerned that there will be confusion between proposals in the Localism Bill about excessive precepts and the provisions in this Bill on the policing precept. The public may well be confused about the difference between the power of veto and the power to call a referendum on a precept. They may well also be confused if there are to be two referenda: one on the police precept and one on the council tax.

I welcome the fact that the Government have now tabled amendments to reduce the required majority from three-quarters to two-thirds, but that is still too high and too confusing for the public. They might well have trouble understanding why a referendum will be decided on a majority, but the power of veto cannot be exercised in the same way. The public operate on straightforward principles, and I think that they would find that quite difficult. Of course, a straight majority would also give the police and crime panel a stronger role in contributing to policing governance and would guard against giving too much power to one person.

We have heard a lot in Committee and on Report about strict checks and balances. In practice, these checks and balances remain extremely elusive. The police and crime panel remains very feeble. One way of strengthening the panel and providing a stronger check on the commissioner would be to go to a simple majority for a veto rather than two-thirds. The current proposals are inconsistent with democratic practice. They are better than the original proposals but we could go further in strengthening the panel and fostering a mature relationship between the commissioner and the panel. That is the purpose of my amendments. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have a couple of brief points to make about Amendment 102, and particularly Amendment 104 to which I have added my name. First, I welcome the fact that the Government have shown that they are willing to listen to some of the concerns expressed in Committee and I am genuinely pleased that they have moved to two-thirds the majority required to exercise a veto. I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that a simple majority might be even better. It would certainly strengthen the role of the police and crime panel, which I think we all agree is essential. Hopefully, when taken in conjunction with earlier amendments about a more collaborative approach, this would guard against too capricious an attitude by the panel, having helped develop the proposals in the first place. I support this amendment but I am concerned about the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, about the relationship between this Bill and the Localism Bill in relation to the precept and referendum arrangements. I agree that this needs to be clarified. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to provide reassurance on this point.

My Lords, we have had a series of debates during the passage of this Bill about the role of the police and crime panel in scrutinising the performance of the police and crime commissioner. The Minister herself has emphasised on a number of occasions the importance of the panel in doing that.

For these panels to do their jobs effectively, they surely have to have a certain amount of leverage. This Bill in effect gives them only two levers; they can veto the appointment of a chief constable, and they can veto the precept that the police and crime commissioner wishes to set. Of course, on other matters it can be consulted and there can be dialogue, but it is very clear from the Bill that the elected party political commissioner can ignore completely any input from the panel unless it exercises the veto. In the past few days we have seen one of the products of a weak regulator, the Press Complaints Commission. That surely shows the problem of having of weak regulators with very few levers. My concern with these new arrangements is that we are establishing police and crime panels inevitably to fail because their influence over elected police commissioners is likely to be limited. The veto in the original Bill was set at a very high level indeed, with a 75 per cent requirement of the members to vote in favour of veto. The Government hinted in the other place that they would be prepared to reduce it and we now see the product of that in the amendment that I am sure the noble Baroness will speak to in a moment.

The question is whether a two-thirds veto is sufficient. Like my noble friends, I do not think it is. To be effective, the police and crime commissioner must surely feel or fear that if he or she were to go too far there would be a risk that the panel would veto his or her proposals. I am speaking here about the precept.

To get a two-thirds majority of the members still places the bar at an impossibly high level. That is why I very strongly support my noble friend and I have tabled an amendment along the same lines calling for a simple majority of those present and voting. The phrase “of those present and voting” is well known to all noble Lords who have taken part in public life. Remarkably, it is not to be found in the Bill. The veto requirement refers to the members of the panel. I very much support my noble friend Lady Henig in wishing to ensure not only that a simple majority is required but that it should be of the members present at such a meeting. I have also laid an amendment to Amendment 103 of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, so even if the House settles on two-thirds as the majority figure, it ought to be of those members present and voting.

Maybe I have confused the wording of the amendment because I see the noble Baroness perhaps assuming that that is what it says. My reading is that it is two-thirds of the membership.

It is. Why is that? It is normally of those present and voting. It seems to me that simply by not being there you count as an assenter—a dissenter, if you like, from a proposal to veto a precept. It seems rather an extraordinary state of affairs.

I refer the noble Baroness to later amendments where the Government propose that an elected mayor within the area of a police force becomes members of the police and crime panel automatically. I am not arguing about the principle, but elected mayors are going to have many other responsibilities apart from serving on police and crime panels. One can think of a number of metropolitan areas so it is quite likely that under the noble Baroness’s amendment a considerable number of elected mayors will serve on the panels. However, there will be circumstances in which such people will not be able to be present at a meeting of the police and crime panel and because of the noble Baroness’s amendment the numbers relevant to the veto are the members rather than those present and voting. It seems to me a rather extraordinary state of affairs that simply by being away or being ill you add to the threshold that would have to be reached if a veto were to be exercised. I hope the noble Baroness will be prepared to give that point further consideration. It is a very odd state of affairs.

My Lords, I very much welcome the reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds. I think I said at an earlier stage that it can be a bit disconcerting to see that a Minister has her name to the amendment you thought you had tabled. We came in as back-up on this occasion, although clearly on the same day. I welcome it even though it probably only makes a difference of one individual. However, perhaps as important as the proportion is whether it is a proportion of the whole membership or of those present—I will come back to that in a moment—and more important than both is what can be vetoed, which we have debated and will continue to debate.

I know the Government take the view that a simple majority would detract from a commissioner’s accountability through the ballot box. There is a subsidiary argument the other way that members of the police and crime panel indirectly elected are expected by their own electors to have perhaps a greater voice than can be exercised when the threshold for the veto is set so high. As I say, that is subsidiary; it is a different position from the commissioner, but one that may be a little confusing to the electorate of the councillors who make up the panel.

It is right and proper that the calculation should be made based on those present, but I have a couple of questions. I do not know whether this is going to cause the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a problem, as I am speaking after him, but what would happen to abstentions under his amendment? Where do they count? Some of us—before I get teased about this—are used to abstaining in person in this Chamber. But we need to sort out—

It may help if I intervened at this stage. My assumption in drafting “present and voting” is that you have both to be present and to vote. I do not think that abstention can be taken as a positive vote. I hope that is helpful.

I shall ponder on that. My other question, which my noble friend Lord Shipley may have asked on a previous occasion, is whether, given the importance of the numbers, the Government anticipate providing through regulations procedures for substitutes for members of the panel. Furthermore, is it intentional on the part of those who proposed these amendments that they apply only to the precept and not to the appointments, which is the other candidate for veto? Whatever we end up with should stay the same. I think it is right that a member can affect an outcome by staying away, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can reassure the House on that point.

I hope that when the Minister replies the point raised on substitutes will be answered very fully. As for the role of the members of the panel in the public’s eye, in the Government’s own words they are there to provide a check and balance should things become difficult and should the public not wish to support the proposals of the commissioner. That might happen midterm; we have all seen this. I can foresee a situation when members of the public may appear and say, “Can’t you do anything? You’re supposed to have a role—complementary, or a check and balance, or both”. I hope that the Minister can answer that in detail.

On members “present and voting”, having been a whip in your Lordships' House for many years, I think everyone will accept that being present and not voting is a very different thing to count or even to make presumptions about. I have known Members of your Lordships' House, who have been in the Palace but who have not been present in the Chamber during the voting, who have formed an opinion, in advance of leaving, that they do not wish to vote, in line with their own whips’ advice. So we must stick to those who are “present and voting”. It would be impossible to determine which way to allocate votes for those who were present and who did not vote.

Given the time of the year, when there will be a whole lot of different activities for elected mayors, members of local authorities and professionals seeking to formulate their budgets, and when historically quite a few people may be down with flu or other illnesses, I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the point made about the simple majority. Otherwise, we could end up in a situation whereby the hopes of the public, raised by the descriptions of the Bill given by members of the Government, will be dashed when they find that there are no checks and balances.

My Lords, in answering I speak to Government Amendments 103 and 192 and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who in his characteristic way spoke with enthusiasm to Amendment 103. We note the views of the Local Government Association, which stated that achieving a reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds was one of its top five priorities at Report; the Government have met that condition.

I recall that when a directly elected mayor for London was introduced many argued that the London Assembly would be toothless, and not provided with sufficient bodies to check the mayor. I think the noble Lords would recognise that because of process and its relationship with the mayor, and in spite of not having enormous powers to check the mayor, the London Assembly has involved itself in a process in which the necessary dialogue between the two has continued remarkably well. Schedule 5 to the Bill sets out—

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene but the noble Lord goads me into it. The point is that the London Assembly has never been able to exercise its power in respect of the budget, which requires a two-thirds majority. That is not because London Assembly members feel they have been previously involved enough in the budget process, it is simply the arithmetic. A threshold of two-thirds is already very high.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that from my experience the power of the London Assembly is best exercised in conjunction with the press, and today of all days I am not sure that I would want to be saying that any sphere of Government should depend too much on the press.

I take that point. The relationship between a directly elected police commissioner and the police and crime panel in setting a precept is set out in Schedule 5; that is a process, a dialogue in which the final result is the question of a vote on the precept. We see that as the end of a long discussion, a consultation, an exchange of views and detailed information between the police commissioner and the police and crime panel. The date of that meeting will be known well in advance. If there is a sharp disagreement between the police and crime commissioner and the panel, if they have been unable to reconcile their views, that will also be known well in advance. One would expect that meeting of directly elected mayors and others to be well attended and a very important event, not a casual vote in a poorly attended meeting.

One of the reasons for insisting on a two-thirds vote of all those who are on the committee rather than a two-thirds vote of those present and voting is because we are concerned that the geographical spread of those represented should be on the panel and should therefore also be there and voting. I recognise that in the parallel Localism Bill currently being discussed by a number of those who are engaged in this Bill, there have been questions about the Standards Board regime and the extent to which it has been exploited by some parties against others—and I speak with some bitter knowledge of how this has taken place on one or two occasions. So, we do not want to have casual votes, casual accusations, and that is the reason why we have stuck to the two-thirds dimension here. We think that this government concession strikes the right balance and that it is the end of a long process in which, as all those in this House who have served on local authorities will be well aware, our intention is to see the normal process as one of dialogue and reconciliation between all those involved. The vote to veto the precept will be an exceptional occasion under exceptional circumstances. For that reason, we hold to the idea that, if it comes to that, it should be a two-thirds vote of all members of the panel.

Having said that, I hope that the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for Amendment 103 has increased as I have spoken, that noble Lords on the other side will recognise that the Government have moved and that they will now be willing to support the government amendment and withdraw the opposition amendment.

The Minister has prayed in aid the LGA’s claim of a triumph in persuading the Government to reduce from 75 per cent to two-thirds, but it is as modest a triumph as my amendment is modest. Perhaps, under its previous management, the LGA would have been a little less prone to swallow the line, so to speak. However, in reality the position is this. If, as the Minister will be proposing later, you have an authority constituted of perhaps 20 members, it will require, rounding up the two-thirds figure, 14 out of 20 votes to overturn the budget, which seems a particularly high threshold. As we discussed last week on Report, the police commissioner will not be under any obligation formally to consult the local authorities whose areas are covered by the force. The noble Baroness referred to councillor members of that authority as being there to represent the views of their authority, but as I said last week, that is not really an adequate substitute for a proper discussion, particularly as in some cases the members concerned, in order to secure political balance, will not necessarily reflect the views of the majority in control of those councils.

Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out, the position of the mayor is, frankly, questionable. Given the weight of responsibilities that will fall on elected mayors, either current or those who might conceivably emerge following the referendum and election processes in the Localism Bill, I do not think that they will have the time to spend on seriously engaging, as they will be expected to do, on what is effectively a scrutiny panel. The whole point of the Localism Bill is to vest them with Executive powers, but here they are called upon—indeed required to do so, according to an amendment that the noble Baroness the Minister will move at some point—to be a member of what is in effective a scrutiny panel. If they go at all, I do not think that they are likely to be all that significantly engaged.

I recall that in 1923 Mussolini passed an electoral law of a somewhat unusual nature. It said that a party which achieved a 25 per cent vote in the ensuing elections in Italy would get three-quarters of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. I am not of course accusing the noble Baroness the Minister of emulating Mussolini, but nevertheless this is somewhat curious arithmetic. I do not think it should commend itself to your Lordships’ House. I take the view that the Government’s concession is exactly that, and any concession these days is welcome. However, this is not as welcome as it could have been if they had gone further and adopted the views of my noble friends Lady Henig or Lord Hunt. In the circumstances, I will not press my amendment and I recommend noble Lords to support the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt.

Amendment 101 withdrawn.

Amendments 102 and 102A not moved.

Amendment 103

Moved by

103: Schedule 5, page 116, line 8, leave out “three-quarters” and insert “two-thirds”

Amendment 103A (to Amendment 103)

Moved by

103A: Schedule 5, After “two-thirds” insert “of those present and voting”

My Lords, I was rather disappointed that the Minister did not come back to the point about why the vote should not be of those present and voting. That is a perfectly normal, appropriate action and standing order for public bodies. I see no reason why it should not relate to the precept. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was quite right in spotting that I should I have put down a similar amendment to the Government’s proposal in relation to the appointment of a chief constable. I have no doubt that that can be dealt with at Third Reading. The substantive point is that there will not always be huge amounts of time—you cannot guarantee that. By not attending, one is effectively voting against the veto. I do not think that that is right. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 103 agreed.

Amendment 104 not moved.

Clause 29 : Police and crime panels outside London

Amendment 105

Tabled by

105: Clause 29, page 20, line 29, after “area” insert “in England”

My Lords, I do not wish to move the amendment. It is wholly consequential to the parent Amendment 118, which I apprehend will be dealt with immediately after Amendment 117. I have been told that by the Table Office. I hope that I am not misconceived.

Amendment 105 not moved.

Amendment 106

Moved by

106: Clause 29, page 20, line 30, leave out from “panel” to end of line 31

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 116. Amendment 106 would effectively remove Schedule 6 on the composition of panels, which I seek to replace with the alternative high-level proposal set out in Amendment 116.

As I indicated in Committee, the latter amendment goes to the heart of the issue about politicising policing. I am very disappointed that the Government’s amendments have not reflected the concerns about political balance as the strength of feeling in the House was evident in Committee. It is fundamental to getting checks and balances right that the political balance of panels is prioritised and determined according to rigorous principles. Crucially, my amendment would ensure that no single political party can dominate the policing panel and its agenda. I cannot believe that any Member of your Lordships’ House would oppose this objective.

The balanced appointment objective currently set out in Schedule 6 is not strict enough in this respect because it muddles where the geographic balance, political balance or skills balance is more important; it invites appointments to be made on the basis of a fudge so that none of the criteria will be properly satisfied. I remain concerned—although, in setting out high-level alternatives, I have not gone into too much detail to address this—that the issue of giving some areas a double whammy of representation through the inclusion of district councils in county areas does little to improve the balanced appointment objective. The whole thing seems unbalanced to me.

If we do not get this right and do not set rigorous principles of political balance, as I said in Committee, we risk the majority of panels going one of two ways: they become either the cheer-leaders of the commissioner if they are of the same political persuasion, or there could be a state of constant warfare between the commissioner and panel if they are of opposite political beliefs. Either way, however, they would be an ineffective check and balance against the commissioner and ineffective at contributing to the better governance of policing. I cannot stress how important all the experiences of police authorities have shown this to be. We must get this right, otherwise all the other safeguards that have been built into the Bill will fail.

My amendment setting out the key principles of panel composition also suggests that the number of co-opted members should be increased. I note the Minister has tabled more modest proposals along the same lines. Naturally, I welcome those up to a point. I agree that we need an increase in the number of co-opted members, but I regret that the Government’s proposals miss the point somewhat because they suggest that some of these co-opted members might be local authority members. I am concerned about this. We have quite a lot of local authority members on the panels already and this would make the important balance considerations more difficult.

The whole point of having co-opted or independent members in the first place is to bring in people who are politically neutral, who will improve the diversity of the membership and who will cover specialist gaps in skills. Although as an ex-councillor I hate to say this, I know too well that local authorities do not have a good record in improving diversity—and we will not improve the diversity of panels by looking to appoint co-opted members from local government.

Equally, it is hardly a secret that independent police authority members are generally widely regarded as among the most able and effective members of police authorities. I am not saying that there are not some very good council members out there too, but independent members bring specialist knowledge and skills to police authorities that are not generally present among councillors. I find it hard to understand what sort of specialist skills the panels will access from co-opted local authority members, and I would like to probe the Government’s thinking in this regard. There is a danger that, in proposing more co-opted members who could be local authority members, we might actually be making an already difficult situation even worse. This needs more thinking through.

I have also included provisions about geographical balance in relation to both local authority and co-opted members. This is to address some current weaknesses in the system, but I am clear that this is a secondary consideration to political balance. My proposals also tighten up some of the provisions currently in Schedule 6 that deal with administrative and procedural issues, but I will not describe these in any great detail in view of time considerations.

Although I have touched briefly on key administrative and procedural matters in these amendments, they only outline the key principles which I believe should be followed in determining the membership of panels. In practice my proposals would probably need supporting by more provisions—either through a separate schedule, or by regulations dealing with more detailed matters such as the resignation or removal of panel members—but the principles are clear. The proposed principles build firmly on what everybody with any knowledge of police authorities has agreed to be one of the most important provisions and one of the most important reasons for the success that they have had, and that is political balance.

If the Government are serious about not putting party politics back into policing with their proposals, the very least they can do is to underline that their intent is to ensure a politically balanced panel. That is what I am trying to do here: to ensure a politically balanced panel and to take the best of the police authority make-up on to those panels because it has proved to be so successful. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendments 106 and 116, and I want to add my voice briefly to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I am concerned that we really do not have the proposals about the composition of panels right at the moment.

In the first place, I feel very uncomfortable about all the powers of mandation for the Secretary of State in this section, and I am rather inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that mandation is perhaps the wrong response to the problems that have arisen in relation to panels. It does not sit well with the direction we have all agreed is necessary about strengthening the role of panels to have this juxtaposed with greater central powers to determine how those panels are to be made up.

I am also very concerned about getting the political balance right, and I agree that in being unclear which objective is most important in reaching the balanced appointment objective in relation to panel membership these issues will be fudged, and we will end up with little balance at all. In my time as chair of a police authority and a member of the Association of Police Authorities, we spent many hours working precisely on getting this particular problem sorted out, and indeed we now have a much better system within police authorities than is proposed in this Bill.

I have other questions on this point. How will we know what considerations have been included locally—I stress locally—in reaching the balanced appointment objective? Who is going to check this? What powers exist to do anything about it if it is not balanced? I am very concerned about diversity among panel members. It is important that panels should try to reflect the populations they serve, otherwise the public, and particularly those sections of the public that are usually excluded, will question whether their representatives understand the issues that matter to them. This is especially important in the policing context if we take into account all the experiences, from Brixton onwards, that have taught us that it is vital to give people a voice in how they are policed.

In this regard, the Government’s proposal that there should be more co-opted members is helpful, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that it is unlikely to improve diversity if these additional co-optees are local authority members, as seems to be proposed. We certainly found that in our own police authorities. There is a danger that this will simply be perceived as jobs for the boys—or, for that matter, for the girls—so the government amendment, although welcome, should go further and provide for more independent co-opted members.

My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by the Government’s stance on the question of political balance as far as these panels are concerned. When I was first elected to a local council in the 1970s, it was the customary practice that authorities with a majority for one party or another made sure that they packed the committees. That was the norm whether the authority was Conservative controlled or Labour controlled and, for all I know, it was the same in Liberal-controlled authorities. The Conservative Administration under Margaret Thatcher took the view—on this instance, they were right—that it was better that committees of local authorities, and subsidiary and external bodies to which local authorities appointed, should reflect the appropriate political balance, to reflect the wishes of the electorate.

In constructing these panels, the Government seem to be setting that aside. Why, in the Bill, are they repudiating the legacy of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher? Why are they so opposed to having proper political balance to reflect the different strengths of the political parties in particular areas as far as policing and crime panels are concerned? This is precisely an area in which the Government should want to ensure that there is political balance rather than perhaps leading to one-party domination of the way the panels operate.

My Lords, I follow my noble friend on that particular point about political balance. As currently constituted, police authorities are constituted in a way that reflects the political balance in the area that is affected, whether they are metropolitan areas or single-area county police authorities. I do not understand how the Government propose that political balance should be achieved, if at all, on the basis of the Bill.

I moved an amendment in Committee about using the LGA model, which is well accepted across political groups—including the independent group—in the Local Government Association for achieving a balance within the LGA’s internal bodies and its appointments to external bodies that reflects the strength of the different political groups across the whole country. It should be perfectly possible to import that principle into appointments to these panels, at the level of the new structures which are to be created. If it is not done in that way, how is the objective to be achieved—assuming that the Government share that objective? If the Minister is not in a position to explain that at the moment, perhaps it is something that can be further discussed before Third Reading. I am sure that her noble friend Lady Eaton, who is not in her place, will be happy to enlighten her about the consensual approach that we have achieved in the Local Government Association since it was formed around this particular issue.

I welcome the slight movement that the Government have made on potentially increasing the size of the panels, although I noticed that the Secretary of State will be required to approve the numbers. That seems yet another unnecessary intervention. It should perhaps be subject to a minimum requirement but it should be left to the panel to determine. I am glad that it looks, on the face of it, as though we will be doing a little better than the homeopathic dosage of independent or co-opted members that the Bill in its present form provides for. Again, some assurance about how this might work would be very welcome, because the issue of balance is not confined, as other noble Lords have made clear today and on previous occasions, to issues of politics; there is also the geographical issue.

My noble friend Lord Hunt from the great city of Birmingham would not, I think, be content if Birmingham, with its 1 million population, was to have but one member on the West Midlands Police Authority, which might very well be all it would be entitled to, given the number of authorities that would be involved in that organisation. Birmingham would have a population three or four times the size of some of the other metropolitan districts and there are also county areas involved, as well as all the districts in those county areas to be represented. For Birmingham to be represented by one individual, particularly if it ends up with the misfortune of an elected mayor who would be required to serve in that capacity, would be extremely unsatisfactory.

Of course, when it comes to party-political balance, it is quite conceivable that, as already happens in a number of places, the elected mayor does not reflect the politics of the council involved. So, again, you could have an anomalous position, particularly in a large authority, of an elected mayor of a different party, or no party at all, being the sole political voice in that authority, whereas control of the authority may be in different hands, or, certainly, the balance may very well be different.

In addition to those issues of party-political and geographical balance, issues of ethnicity and gender need to be reflected and are difficult to derive, and the provision for co-opted members ought to be a way of proceeding with that. While it may not be possible in the Bill to prescribe how that should be done, it would be very welcome to hear the Minister say for the record that it would be expected that efforts would be made to reflect those considerations about diversity of ethnicity and gender in particular—there may be others—which are sensitive and important. We have a range of issues, of course, affecting minority communities in some parts of the country and, in general, issues such as domestic violence are clearly ones in which a gender balance is required.

It would be very helpful to have a clear steer on that from the Minister on the record, if not in the Bill, so I hope that she will be amenable to answering some of the points that noble Lords have raised and are about to raise—I see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, straining at the leash to join the debate.

My Lords, I shall interject a question from a slightly more sceptical angle, while understanding where noble Lords opposite are coming from. I can understand how the proposal in Amendment 116 might work in a police authority where there is only one local authority. What I do not understand is how it would work in a police authority such as Essex, where there are, if not quite 17, at least well over a dozen local authorities. I shall give way to the noble Baroness—it may be that the question is for her—but I do not understand how such an arrangement could work without local authorities having their choice taken away from them and being told that they have to choose X or Y.

Perhaps I can explain to the noble Lord that that is precisely what happens at the moment. In a two-tier area such as he is describing—I am familiar with Lancashire—all the authorities have to get together and, in certain cases, agree to put forward nominations in line with the political balance overall. They do this by a process of negotiation. In Lancashire, there are two unitaries to throw into the mix. On many occasions Blackpool or Blackburn have been told to send a Labour member or a Conservative member in order to reflect that balance. I accept that that is one issue; to get an overall balance, every now and again an individual local authority has to contribute to that balance.

All I will say, if I am allowed to treat that as an intervention, is that I found it pretty messy and I would like to know what is to be done in councils where there is no overall control.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 121 and 123. I mention in passing that it seems clear that the objective of Amendment 140, on which we might have said some things, has been achieved by Amendment 139.

I share some of the concerns of my noble friend Lord Newton. This is a complex matter that requires further thought. We have had some concern about the small size of the panel, so the Government’s proposal is welcome. We had wanted four co-opted members and 15 local authority members, making a total of 19 altogether. It is important that the panel is not too big—otherwise it might become unwieldy—but it has to be big enough to enable the diversity and geographical requirements to be met as part of the construction of that panel. Otherwise, it will not represent the area that it seeks to represent.

There are two outstanding issues. The first relates to the political balance of parties. It could be possible for a party-political label to be attached to the elected commissioner, and that party could have a massive majority of the local authority representatives nominated to the panel. That is not in the interests of the general public, and there has to be a system of meeting what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out—that the issue of proportionality must be delivered. Otherwise, the public will not have confidence in the ability of the panel to scrutinise independently and objectively the work of the commissioner.

The second issue that will have to be addressed is that of substitutes. Whatever the size of the panel, the fact remains that if people send apologies some local authority areas simply will not be represented at a key meeting. It would not be sustainable for a debate on the precept level to be undertaken without some councils being present at it. The issue of substitutes has to be urgently addressed. It is entirely possible that there could be an outcome, given the vote that we have just had, where, thanks to a majority of the members of the panel, if people were not present at the meeting, a different result could have been obtained had there been a higher turnout because of the way in which the veto operates. There is then a question of whether telephone or video attendance would be acceptable.

These are not secondary matters; they are fundamental. If a local authority finds that it cannot be present at a critical meeting and yet, for example, a precept is approved that it would not have supported, that is not going to be sustainable even in the short term. The Government will have to come up with some amendments regarding that.

My Lords, I am slightly confused now. Those of us who argued for the “of those present” amendment now see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talking about the need for substitutes, without which the right result may not come out. That is a little confusing.

I am standing up because I have a déjà vu about a déjà vu. I remember advising the Minister to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, about the way that he achieved the political balance that her Bill seeks to achieve but I believe, from the contributions today, does not achieve. Like the noble Lord, I, too, live in an area where the police authority has a lot of different local authorities—Essex also has many different local authorities—which is a situation that arises across the country. However, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, as Home Secretary, spent a great deal of time achieving a balance to counteract political dominance of police authorities that was unrepresentative of the local community, and ensuring that no one party—rather than no one person—could dominate and pervert the views of the local area.

The proposal before us today puts most of the power in the hands of an individual who may have been one of the people whom Michael Howard, as he was in those days, thought was unsuitable to dominate what was happening in policing, backed up by a system on the panel that will not give diversity. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to assure me that this proposal, rather than my noble friend’s amendment, carries the Michael Howard seal of approval to ensure balance. Although I did not always agree with him when he was Home Secretary, I recollect that he worked very hard to do something that the present Government are busily unpicking. They ought to stop it.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Farrington takes us back to the core of the debate. Of course, the question is: which Michael Howard? I very much agree with my noble friend that the problem we face is that we do not accept that police authorities have failed in the way that the Government say they have. We also do not accept that the police authority should not be the model that might be used to develop the police and crime panels. These issues of political balance and the role of independent members are very important. I should have thought that the model of the police authority was one to be followed.

I know that the noble Baroness has tabled her own amendments. Their intention is to keep the same model as is currently in the Bill but to allow areas to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from existing local authorities or additional independent members, with a cap of 20 members in all. I welcome that as far as it goes. My concern is that I am not sure it is entirely appropriate to give complete discretion to the police and crime panels themselves. If we are preserving any remnant of a tripartite system, it is right for the Home Secretary to lay down through legislation certain minimum requirements for police and crime panels, such as that there should be political balance and a proportion of independent members. That is why I very much warm to my noble friend’s amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of substitutes. The problem is that the House has now decided, by voting, that the decision will not be that “of those present and voting”. However, the House has not solved the evident problem that, by making sure the veto can be used only in relation to the number of members, there are all sorts of reasons why it will be almost impossible ever to use it. One thinks of illness. I understand that there is no proposal for how to deal with that. What happens if the local authority is setting its own precept at the time that the panel meets and a member of the panel has to attend? In some areas, we are talking about a large number of local authorities. The idea that a noble Lord can come to the Dispatch Box and say, “Oh, but the meeting time with the PCP will be known and, therefore, no other authority will meet”, is unrealistic. In some areas, we will have a number of elected mayors—the Government are forcing referendums on 11 of the largest cities in England. Presumably, if the government amendment is passed, there will be elected mayors in other cities and boroughs who will already, and automatically, be members of the panel. You could have a situation whereby the attendance record at a meeting of the panel is quite low. It would, therefore, make it almost impossible for the veto to be exercised.

The Government and the House have now decided to reject a sensible amendment by which the veto requirement should be “of those present and voting”. I agree with the noble Lord that this matter has not satisfactorily been resolved. The Government will have to think about this matter between now and Third Reading, because this simply should not stand as it currently does in the Bill.

My Lords, I must confess, for the first time in taking this Bill through the House, that I am genuinely disappointed, because in the government amendments in this group we have tried really hard to address concerns across the House that were raised in Committee about giving more flexibility to achieve balance on the panel. As we know from previous debates, that balance ranges across geography, politics, gender and ethnicity. Of course, among the group of people who the panel can co-opt it is sometimes necessary, because of local circumstances, to co-opt people with particular expertise in an area who will be a useful addition to the panel. By raising the threshold of the panel size to 20, I have gone far in excess of anything suggested in Committee in order to provide those additional co-opted places on the panel so that these matters can be addressed.

Let me establish for the record that paragraph 30(3) of Schedule 6 already places the same duty on a panel to ensure that it represents the political make-up of the force area. This, of course, achieves exactly the same political balance as the current police authority regulations do. Therefore, while there is more scope for these additional nominated or co-opted people to be invited to sit on the panel—there is nothing mandatory about this; the panel can decide whether or not it wishes to go up to that threshold of 20—we have retained political balance based on what already happens in police authorities. The noble Baroness mentioned the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to do that. I hope she will accept that we have not departed from that principle in the Bill.

However, I was particularly concerned that noble Lords, in speaking to their amendments, did not seem to be aware that it is not mandatory for co-opted members to come from local authorities. They can, if the panel so chooses, but they need not come from local authorities at all. Later, when I speak to my amendments, I will flesh out a little the fact that where the panel opts to co-opt more people on to the panel to achieve diversity, gender balance and ethnicity balance, the Secretary of State is required to approve these co-options because the panel will, in making that submission to the Secretary of State, be required to demonstrate why these particular people are being co-opted on to the panel. At that point, I would expect there to be a case for balance across a range of gender, ethnicity and expertise—whatever the thinking is behind the panel wanting to make these recommendations. The Secretary of State will then have the opportunity to see that the panel is not filling up those places just with chums—people of a like-minded persuasion or of the same political party. The Secretary of State will want it to be clearly demonstrated that the panel has seriously considered who it needs to add to give a balanced mix to enhance its functioning and to give fairness across the piece.

I welcome what the noble Baroness says, but what if, given the discretion to which she referred, the panel decides not to co-opt? What then?

I hope that there would be a discussion early on on the panel if there was a debate about the need to co-opt. I hope that would ensure that there was agreement on the need to co-opt. We keep trying to drive down to micromanage the panels. I am concerned to give panels the authority and flexibility to get the balance right, based on their judgment of their local needs, without trying to micromanage through the Bill a lot of situations that may or may not arise. With all due respect, we are talking about adults who—particularly the political nominees to the panel—will be there on behalf of specific local authorities. I should have thought that there would be grown-up discussion.

We have tried to get a balance in the Bill. It is important that the panel has the flexibility to co-opt. Raising that threshold to 20 is far in excess of what anyone asked me to do in Committee and more than generous. I am more than happy to stand here and read out the number for every police force area that will now be able, in the main, to co-opt an extra eight to 10 people. That is a huge number of people to get that balance right.

In the noble Baroness’s Amendment 128, does not new subsection (2B)(b) impose a condition that “no such resolution” to have a number of co-opted members may be passed unless,

“the Secretary of State agrees that the panel should have that number of co-opted members”.

What is that if not micromanagement?

That gives the Secretary of State, as I just described, the opportunity to ensure that the panel’s motive is to ensure the overall balance of the panel and to prevent the panel being packed with chums and politically slanted, which noble Lords have been concerned about—we have had a lot of discussion in Committee and on Report about this. Noble Lords have asked whether the members will be of the same political party as the PCC may be seen to have. This gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to look at the motivation of the panel in co-opting people. This is not about the Secretary of State wielding a lot of power in the sense of deciding whether or not the panel co-opts, but about whether the Secretary of State believes that the submissions made have met an objective that the panel has clearly identified.

I seek genuine clarification from the Minister. She referred to the schedule that states that the balanced appointment objective means that the political make-up of a relevant authority has to be represented on the panel. That means that in some parts of the country—Manchester, let us say—all the political representation is likely to be Labour, whereas in other parts of the country, because of the councils that make up the relevant area all the representation is likely to be from another party. My amendment aims to reflect the voting numbers. There are parts of the country in which Liberal Democrats and Conservatives would not get a look-in on the panel because all the councils are Labour, and other parts of the country where Labour would not get a look-in because the councils are all Conservative. What the noble Baroness is saying about the schedules goes only so far because at the moment police authorities are made up on the basis of the voting figures at the last election. In other words, there is proportional representation in police authorities that is not in this Bill. That is the difference, and that is the issue that I am trying to get at with this point about politicisation. The noble Baroness perhaps did not give me credit for what I am trying to do here.

I hate to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on this because I know that her motives are well-meaning. That paragraph in Schedule 6 has the heading: “Duty to produce balanced panel”—the Bill very clearly already includes the duty to produce a balanced panel. The noble Baroness describes a situation, and it saddens me to say this, in which there may be councils around the country with no elected Conservatives at all, although that can apply to other parties in other parts of the country. However, what I can only describe as the generosity of increasing the number of people that can be co-opted on to the panel means that I would expect a responsible panel to make absolutely sure that it would look to the additional co-optees to redress that political balance. If that is what the panel puts to the Secretary of State, I can see no reason why it cannot do that. If the motivation is to create a politically balanced panel, Conservatives can be co-opted to the panel to get political balance. I see no reason why what I am doing does not address the point that she is making.

My Lords, the Minister has failed to see the critical difference between the proposals in this Bill and the solution to the problem that everybody in this debate wishes to overcome, which was achieved by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. I have yet to hear an answer as to why the proportional representation that was written in to the police authority legislation that we currently have is being done away with. Will the Secretary of State say to authority A: “I am sorry, the system has not worked; you are unbalanced and therefore you will co-opt to balance yourselves”? I am sorry but we have a problem that was fixed and we are now busy recreating the original problem.

My Lords, perhaps the solution to that is that PCPs can also set out their own rules and practices for all other business and procedures under Part 4 of Schedule 6, at paragraph 24. There is sufficient flexibility already in the Bill, combined with raising the threshold to 20 members, that gives the panel the opportunity to get the right balance that this House has called for. I genuinely mean this.

The problem is that there is too much flexibility. The cases have been quoted to the Minister: there will be panels where the political parties in control of the councils will be almost all of one party. The Minister is saying that you can rely on the panel to which these people are appointed to then ensure greater impartiality. This is why we know it will not work. I have said again and again that the Minister will come back in a couple of years’ time with another Bill to put it right, because what she is in fact doing is leading not just to the politicisation of the police commissioner but also the panel, in a way that will be destructive because it does not guarantee either balance or having truly independent members on it.

My Lords, again I am very disappointed that the House is not able to identify the flexibility that the increase in the number on the panel offers. I want to make some progress now. I propose to place in the Library of the House as soon as possible—I hope within the next 48 hours—a comparison of the current system and the new system and how it will affect each police authority in the country. If noble Lords have a chance to analyse that, they will see that the flexibility is there. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that I am now creating too much flexibility in the Bill. The inference I have taken in previous discussions was that noble Lords wanted more prescription in the Bill and not flexibility. I believe that these matters are best decided at a local level, case by case, giving the power to the panel to decide what is needed. I am genuinely disappointed that that point of what I believe is a very generous amendment on the part of the Government has not been accepted.

Before I turn specifically to the amendments before us, my noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned deputies and how the panel conducts its business. We can consider the views that he has raised today as the Secretary of State has power in Schedule 5, set out by regulation, to see whether in regulation we can address the problem he has just identified. I will liaise with him on progress specifically on that matter.

Amendments 106, 116, 121, 123, 132A and 140 seek to vary the composition of the police and crime panel. Although I have heard the views put forward again today, I believe the series of government amendments that have been tabled will address many of the issues noble Lords have been concerned about, and I invite noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group not to press them.

Amendment 140, from my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley, seeks to limit the Government’s power under paragraph 32 of Schedule 6 to make regulations applying local government legislation to police and crime panels. As I have said, we will take a look at what can be achieved in regulation but the amendment specifically would mean that the power could only be used to the extent necessary to apply the relevant legislation. I can reassure noble Lords that this power will not be used to a greater extent than is necessary. I will say more about it when I come to the Government’s amendments.

Government Amendments 120, 122, 124, 126 to 128, 130 to 132 and 134 to 137 seek to address, as I have mentioned, the composition of the police and crime panel. I thank—and they may be surprised to hear me say this—my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Hamwee and, if it is not going to ruin his reputation, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their input. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, looks horrified. I have tried to listen, across the House, to the points that have been made. There have been some very good points made, particularly in Committee, and I have tried to incorporate them into the amendments I have tabled.

I fully recognise the need to ensure that the police and crime panels are able to represent geographically large and diverse communities. I also understand the significant challenges that local authorities face in achieving this under current provisions in the Bill. These provide for the inclusion of district councils, which previously have not been recognised in their own right, which reflects the Government’s localism agenda but leads to potential issues relating to proportionate representation.

Fundamentally, the Government still believe that the model set out for police and crime panels in the Bill is entirely appropriate and provides for a clear process and structure in establishing such panels. I believe we have created a structure that is sufficiently flexible to meet local structures while being the right size to avoid being expensive and a bureaucratic burden. However, the Government propose to allow areas to opt to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from local authorities—they do not have to come from local authorities—or independent members.

It is still important not to encourage oversized and unwieldy police and crime panels and it was for that reason that the cap was set at 20 members. For example, Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime panel will have 15 members under the provisions originally set out in the Bill; with these new provisions it will have an option to co-opt a further five members. This provision could therefore be used to enable the panel to reflect more directly the geographical representation of the force area. I remind noble Lords that in the Devon and Cornwall force area, Cornwall as a county is a unitary authority. However, we will not prescribe this; increasing co-option will be a local decision. The Secretary of State will retain a role in agreeing to any proposed increase in the number of co-optees, merely to ensure that local areas have considered all the issues arising from their decision, including other areas of balance.

I hope that the Minister can give figures. I understand that there are specific circumstances to do with Cornwall, where it is felt that its representation is overmatched by that coming from Devon. But the figures of interest in terms of reflecting needs and all the communities are for Kent, Essex, Hampshire and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lancashire, because of the difference of size of population and the number of local authorities. I can see noble Lords nodding.

I have said that I will make sure that certainly before Third Reading, and I hope within the next 48 hours, I can write to noble Lords and place a copy of that letter in the House Library showing how this new threshold of 20 will impact on every police force in the country. That will show what the numbers would have been if I had left the Bill unamended with my increase to 20, and what the impact will be after raising the threshold to 20. I hope that noble Lords will be sufficiently encouraged and reassured when they have a chance to compare what the situation would have been in the Bill as previously drafted and the situation as with the new amendment that I have spoken to today.

I have to say that this amendment is a major concession on the part of the Government. It is free to all noble Lords to come back at Third Reading, but I believe that this is a very significant concession, which reflects a lot of the points raised across the House.

The problem is that I certainly, speaking for myself, do not fully understand the extent of the concession. Without being able to see the evidence that the Minister is talking about and to compare the former list and the present list under the amendment with old police authorities, I cannot see the extent of the concession. Given that we have not yet seen this information which will be put in the Library, is it possible to reserve the right to come back to this at Third Reading, if concerns remain? It is difficult to be specific about something that we have not yet seen.

My Lords, I cannot say that the Government will come back to this at Third Reading. I am happy to talk off the Floor to noble Lords who have concerns about this, but this is a major concession. In looking at the exact numbers for each police force area, I remind the House that before I tabled this amendment the ceiling for police and crime panels reflected the number of local authorities plus two co-opted members. For most authorities, we will see significant numbers of co-opted members available to the panel to co-opt, if that is its wish, in order to achieve balance. A significant concession has been made in seeking to address many quite legitimate and important issues raised on the Floor of the House in Committee.

Panels will be required to exercise the power to co-opt additional members in such a way as to achieve the objective that the local authority members represent all parts of the police area and the political make-up of the contributing authorities. They will also need to ensure that all the members—local authority and independent—when taken together, have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. To ensure that panels do this, any proposal to co-opt will require the agreement of the Secretary of State, who will look purely on the motivation in terms of achieving balance for that co-option. These amendments are considered to address the concerns that have been raised. I believe that the government amendments, particularly that to increase the panel to 20, have seriously addressed some important issues raised across the House. I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

My Lords, this is an extremely serious issue. It first raised its head at Second Reading when nearly all the speakers voiced their anxieties about party politics being put into policing and it is a theme that has run right through our discussions since that time. I accept the assurance of the noble Baroness that she is trying to address this, as indeed we are trying to address it. The problem is that many of us, certainly on this side of the House, feel that the noble Baroness’s way of addressing it will not be sufficient.

It is all very well comparing panels in the original Bill with panels now, but the comparison I am interested in is between the panels under the Government’s amendment and the existing police authorities. We have a tried and tested formula under which there is no party political majority on police authorities. All parties are represented. They have worked harmoniously and they have worked effectively. I suggest to the House that one of the reasons why police authorities have not had a high profile is because they have avoided controversy by having party political balance, with people of all parties working together to resolve problems. That is why we have not seen high profile problems and why police authorities have not been noticed more.

This issue of party political balance is important. We have it now. My concern is that we will lose it. It is a concern that the Minister has not addressed. It is not a question of what the original Bill had in as against what it has in now; for me it is an issue of what we have now—which is very precious— and what we will lose under this proposal if we do not get party political balance on our panels. In the past week or two I have been in meetings with police personnel where a group of Members of Parliament were berating a chief constable for not coming out publically to support the Government’s proposals. The aggressive tone of that meeting—I will not go into detail—left me quite shocked. I am concerned that if we do not address this issue of party politics in policing we will have chief constables being put under pressure to do certain things.

This is not an issue about operational or not operational. It is about people saying, “Chief Constable, you are not giving leadership; you are not saying X, Y and Z put forward by the Government”. There will be pressure of that kind and it will be insidious. That is what I am worried about. I have seen it happening already and it will happen more. The Government should be trying to tackle this head on. It they do not, we will undermine the impartiality of our police authorities and put party politics back into policing. That is what I—and many others—worry about. It is why I put so much emphasis on this amendment. It is crucial. It protects something that has been very precious in our policing over the past 20 years. It protects something that is very precious to chief constables. I very much fear that if we put party politics back into policing it is chief constables who will bear the brunt of it. It is for all those reasons that, despite what the noble Baroness has said, I have to test the opinion of the House.

Open Public Services White Paper

Statement

Baroness Verma: My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin in the other place earlier this afternoon.

“Mr Speaker, today I am laying before Parliament the Open Public Services White Paper. There could not be a more important issue. Public services save lives. They rescue people from disease and ignorance. They protect people from crime and poverty. Much of what is done by our public services is fantastic; among the best in the world. But we can do even better. This Government have a vision, set out in this White Paper, about how we can do better.

The central point is this: when public services are not up to scratch, those who are well off can pay for substitutes. But for those who are not well off, there is no opportunity to pay for substitutes. So we need to give everybody the same choice in, and the same power over, the services they receive that well off people already have. This White Paper sets out how we are going about the business of putting that vision of choice and power for all into practice. Our principles are clear. They are: choice—wherever possible we will increase choice; decentralisation—power will be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level; diversity—public services will be open to a range of providers; fair access—we will ensure that there is fair access and fair funding for all; and accountability—services will be accountable to users and taxpayers.

Let me give you some examples of how these principles will apply in specific public services that cater for specific individuals. First, we are going to ensure that every adult receiving social care has an individual, personal budget by 2013, and we are moving towards personal budgets in chronic-health care, for children with special needs, and in our housing for vulnerable people. This means more choice and power for people who need those services: they will be able to choose what the money is spent on. Secondly, we are making funding follow the pupil in schools, the student in further education, the child in childcare and the patient in the NHS. This means more choice and power for people who need those services: they will be able to choose where the money is spent.

Thirdly, we are providing fair access so that, for example, a pupil premium payment follows pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and a health premium is paid to local authorities that achieve the greatest improvements in public health for people in the least healthy parts of the country. We attach huge importance to this agenda. We want genuine equality of opportunity and genuine social mobility.

Fourthly, we are providing open access to data so that people can make informed choices about the services they use; crime maps so people can see whether the local police are preventing crime in their street; health outcomes so people can see which hospitals and which GPs achieve the best results; standardised satisfaction data for all public services so people can see exactly which service providers are providing the quality of service people want; and open, real-time data on road conditions, speeds and accidents along our motorways so people can make informed choices.

Fifthly, we will provide a new system of redress, through beefed-up powers for ombudsmen to step in where the choice to which people have a right is denied.

We are going further than this. We are not only concerned about increased choice and power for individuals, we are also determined to increase choice and power for communities so that they can determine how money is spent on their communal public services. We will do this by making it far easier for communities to take over and run public assets and assets of community value; by giving communities the right to build houses for their own young people; by giving parish councils and community groups the right to challenge, enabling them to take over local services and making it easier for people to form neighbourhood councils where there are none at present; by giving neighbourhoods vastly more power to determine their own neighbourhood planning; and by giving neighbourhoods the ability to challenge the local police at beat meetings informed by crime maps. We should remember that the people at these meetings will be electors of the local police commissioner.

We recognise, of course, that inevitably some services will continue to be commissioned centrally, or by various levels of local government. Here, too, we are aiming at decentralisation, diversity and accountability. The White Paper sets out the way we will use payment by results to transform welfare to work, the rehabilitation of offenders, drug and alcohol recovery, help for children in the foundation years, and support for vulnerable adults. In all of these areas, a diverse range of providers will be given a huge incentive to provide the social gains that our society desperately needs, by being rewarded for getting people into work, out of crime, off drugs and alcohol and into the opportunities most of us take for granted.

To strengthen accountability, the White Paper sets out the most radical programme of transparency for government and the public sector anywhere in the world. To unlock innovation, the White Paper commits us to diversity of provision, removing barriers to entry, stimulating entry by new types of provider and unlocking new sources of capital. To ensure that public sector providers can hold their own on a level playing field, the White Paper sets out measures to liberate public sector bodies from red tape. To encourage employee ownership within the public services, the White Paper sets out the measures we are taking to promote mutualisation and employee co-operatives. To ensure that services continue if particular service providers fail, the White Paper sets out the principles for the continuity regimes that we are establishing, service by service.

In the past 13 months, the Government have done more to increase choice and power for those served by our public services than the party opposite achieved in 13 years. The White Paper describes the comprehensive, consistent, coherent approach we are taking to keep our public services moving in the direction of increased choice and power for service users, so that we can provide access to excellence for all. That is the aim of this White Paper. I commend it to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, our public services face significant challenges over the coming years—cuts that are too far and too fast; an aging population and ever rising expectations—yet it appears from today’s White Paper that the Government are simply obsessed with presenting an argument rather than providing the reform that our public services need. The Government have certainly not lacked ambition in the way they have heralded the White Paper, referring to it as bringing a complete change in public services, where power will be placed in people’s hands. The Government may believe that the narrative is there, but the content appears to be lacking.

The White Paper contains few new ideas and even fewer new proposals. In many cases the Government are lagging behind their earlier rhetoric and the actions of the previous Labour Government. Indeed, some of the proposals are already being implemented as a result of our legislation—for example, the provision of data on health outcomes.

On personal budgets, to which the Minister referred, the Sunday Times newspaper was told several weeks ago that the right to a personal budget, now used by approximately 250,000 adults, was to be extended to those with long-term conditions and to children with special needs—and yet there is nothing of this in the White Paper.

The Minister also referred to the expansion of mutuals. Back in November, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said that every department would put in place rights to provide for public sector workers to take over the running of services. Almost nine months later, only the Department of Health has obliged and no timescale for any other has been forthcoming.

Ahead of today’s White Paper we set out three tests for public services reform. First, will these reforms make services more accountable and responsive to the needs of service users? Secondly, will there be clear accountability for the way in which public money is spent and members of the public are protected? Finally, will the proposals strengthen the bonds of community and family life? So far the Government are failing that test of reform. Their policies are inconsistent between departments and sometimes within them. Little has been done to put service users and their communities in control.

It is now clear that the Government have lost their way on public service reform. After the incompetence that characterised their failed approach to the NHS, the Government’s pace of reform is slowing. They are all over the place on public service reform and the White Paper does nothing to change that.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister, first, are the Government still planning to bring forward proposals for personal budgets and mutuals? Can the Minister give any indication of the timescale on which they are likely to proceed? Secondly, given that the White Paper has little to say on these two important issues and many others, will there be another White Paper with a set of proposals, which are so apparently lacking in this one? Thirdly, in relation to what has been for the employees concerned a major issue about reform—staff pensions and employment conditions—can the Minister assure us that this is being taken seriously and that those members of staff transferred out of the public sector will retain access to the same pensions and conditions of employment that they currently have? Fourthly, if the public will not wear competition by price in the NHS, will the Minister guarantee that this will not form the basis of proposals elsewhere? Finally, we are particularly concerned about the report in today’s Guardian that Ministers have been privately advised that schools and hospitals should be allowed to fail. On the day that Southern Cross has closed down, does the Minister agree that the education of children and the treatment of the sick should not be treated as a commodity to be traded and that these proposals should never see the light of day?

In conclusion, I quote what the independent think tank Reform has said about the Government’s proposals so far: It states:

“The Coalition Government are failing the test of practical reform. Viewed as a whole, the Government’s public service reform policies are all over the place”.

This is a difficult and damaging conclusion for the Government, and there is nothing in the White Paper today which will change that judgment.

My Lords, this process is signed up to by all government departments and it has had wide consultation. We are building on what the previous Government were doing—ensuring that there was proper reform and that public services were able to deliver the best possible service and outcome to individual users. I do not accept the noble Baroness’s premise that the White Paper is going nowhere and that it has not responded to the needs of individuals. What we are trying to do is very significant. This is about building accountability and transparency into the processes. As with social care, which is a sector I know well, personal budgets are available to some but this is about ensuring that personal budgets are available to many more. It is also about making sure that people are aware of what they are buying into, and that process takes time.

I have not read the Guardian article so I cannot comment on it. However, I will say that for us it is really important that children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are followed by the pupil premium will be able to get better outcomes and go on to enjoy social mobility and rise up, rather than remain stagnated as some children have become through—I am sorry to say to the noble Baroness— policies that were not delivered well under the previous Government. We need to find a way of working together to ensure that our public services deliver the best outcomes for those who need them the most. We have to agree that this will not come through sitting doing nothing. We must ensure that delivery of our public services is done in a way in which everyone has choice and power over how their services are delivered, and this White Paper goes towards that.

Before the Minister sits down, I remind her of the very important question that I asked towards the end of my response to her Statement about the fact that it is said that the Government are willing to allow educational and health establishments to fail. That cannot happen, and I would like a guarantee from the Minister that this will not be allowed to happen.

I apologise for not responding to that. I have not seen any evidence that we would allow schools to fail. It would not be in the interest of children who are growing up today for us to allow failure: they have been failed for far too long. We need to ensure that every child growing up in this country today has an opportunity to achieve their best potential.

My Lords, while I acknowledge the sense of many of the objectives spelled out in this White Paper, does my noble friend recognise that across the whole White Paper the proposals to achieve these ends raise far more questions than answers? The modes of delivery are very far from clear and this House needs to debate them serially and at length. For example, does my noble friend recognise that cuts in public expenditure are seriously diminishing the access of local people to central services? The closure of the income tax offices and the removal of visa and passport offices in the part of the country that I live in are examples of this. Although these are central services, they cannot be neglected as they touch upon the lives of people in the locality. Does she also recognise that there are big questions about who is going to make the decisions on the money that is to be dispensed by the public service locally—is it to be central, or local government, or some new sources of funding? How is the need of the particular person who is to enjoy the personal budget to be calculated if not by some local organisation which is very closely in touch with the specific circumstances of the individual? I repeat that the general objectives seem unchallengeable but the mode of delivery seems highly opaque.

I will reassure my noble friend. We are working against a really difficult economic backdrop, and we will have to make some incredibly difficult choices. Having said that, it is also an opportunity for us to open up to a variety of providers and see if services are then better delivered, with best value incorporated into how those services are delivered. As with personal budgets, delivery will not just be left to one set of providers. What is important is working in partnership—in this case, personal budgets and local government. It is about being able to deliver services far better and with greater choice. Those who have access to personal budgets have said to us in consultations that they feel relieved that they are going to be able to make choices on how their care is delivered.

My Lords, is it not ironic on the day that Southern Cross has collapsed—closing 560 residential homes, which account for over 30 per cent of residential care places—that the Government are proclaiming the virtues of diversity? How diverse is a system that allows a single private operator to provide such a high proportion of places, with the results that we can now see? In talking about diversity, how many organisations, particularly voluntary ones, have been contracted on the welfare to work programme? It seems to have been commandeered by a handful of national organisations.

Can the Minister also explain the relevance of the passage in the Statement that talks about,

“open, real-time data on road conditions, speeds and accidents along our motorways”?

Is she suggesting that motorists can then find another supplier of roads on which to travel or is this a question of diversity in the provision of satellite navigation?

More seriously, on the health premium paid to local authorities achieving the greatest improvements in public health, clearly one shares the objective of incentivising the improvement of public health. Is it not going to be difficult for authorities such as my own—the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is also a member—to improve the very serious and long-standing conditions in public health? There are areas where it will be easier to do that and they will be rewarded for achieving targets while authorities that may need investment to secure improvements will presumably struggle to get it. Will that not have to be reconsidered to ensure that the investment goes in the right place to achieve public health objectives? Those are not in any event entirely under the control of local authorities.

My Lords, it is a great disappointment that Southern Cross has had to go down the route that it has gone in. The noble Lord is of course aware that many providers perform excellent work and have greater safeguards in place. We do not want to take one example and judge all private providers on it.

I am not quite sure that the significance of the roads question will be answered as fully as the noble Lord would like. I assume that those data are so that the public—the people who use those roads—are able to question why there is not greater improvement and how greater improvement can be brought about. It is not about avoiding roads but being able to say, “Where judgments are to be made about mapping on those roads, how do we deliver better services? Is it about speed or variable speeds”? I suspect that that is what it is, incorporated into that response.

On health premiums, it is absolutely right that those healthcare providers dealing with very difficult health issues in their areas should be given extra support and rewarded if they deliver better outcomes. It is only right that we work in partnership—sometimes with local authorities or across a range of providers. We must not put a full-stop block on this, so that we are driven by the same service that has gone on for many years and that has not delivered the sort of outcomes that we would like everyone to have—and not because they can buy it. It has to be available for everyone.

My Lords, as someone who works within local authorities and has local authority experience over 10 years, I welcome the Statement, not least because when we have looked at procurement of services we have, for far too long, seen a repeated reliance on what has happened before continuing. I welcome the White Paper because it opens up different channels, whether it is the state sector, the private sector or, indeed, as we have seen, the growing importance of the voluntary sector in delivering effective services at the ground level, as people desire. One-size-fits-all is not the way forward. Personalised budgets, services which matter to local people delivered by the best provider, are what is desired and this White Paper outlines those objectives. I also ask my noble friend the Minister to emphasise once again that while we have only seen the local DCLG budget being allocated in such a way, we see a relinquishing of Whitehall’s control on budgets and all budgets being delivered effectively by the right provider for local people at a local level.

I thank my noble friend for his warm welcome for the Statement and I absolutely agree that it is about decentralisation and being able to give more and more control over to local people and local authorities, so that we can actually get the sorts of services that local people need in those local areas. There is no point in trying to micromanage local areas when one does not have the special needs of those local areas within one’s own way of delivering. My noble friend is absolutely right that it is really important that the decision-makers are part of the communities that are being served.

Personalised budgets, which are something that I know about, are one very good way of being able to deliver. In her response to the Statement, the noble Baroness talked about personalised budgets. Not enough people are signed up to them; we want to deliver, we are building upon what the previous Government were doing, but, of course, it takes time to roll these things out and make people aware. It is about an awareness campaign as well to make people aware of what is available to them so that they will make informed choices.

My Lords, I do not have a problem with the direction of travel that the noble Baroness is mapping out; indeed, as she said, it builds on what the previous Government were doing, and more acknowledgement of that might make it easier to reach agreement on some of these areas. The problem that the Government are not addressing—as far as I can see, although I will need to look at the White Paper—is the detail of it. I am very much in favour of co-opting mutuals, but I know from personal experience that, for example, setting up a housing co-op and making it work is very difficult and, frankly, it fails more often than not. That has been tried on many occasions.

On more personalised and individual budgets, again I am very much in favour of that. I have argued for children to have budgets enabling their parents to give them extra lessons in whatever they chose—music, or whatever—but that runs into the problem that every now and then a parent wants something which is not considered to be in the interests of the child. To take what is perhaps an extreme example, a parent might say, “I do not wish my child to be in a science lesson which teaches Darwinism; I want to take them out and give them lessons in creationism”. We will run into that problem, so we have to have managerial structures which decide how the money can be used, in what format and who says yes or no. It is not just an issue of money; it is an issue of management structures which allow us to do what I think most of us would like to do, which is to devolve downwards.

The noble Lord raises a number of interesting points. I did say that we are building on what the previous Government were doing. We are trying to make it a build-on that will be a bit more directed and focused on what the outcomes are going to be. I think that we are still in that mode of debating. It is important that we debate and discuss the best possible ways of delivering. These conversations do not stop just because a paper is produced. Consultation is an ongoing process, but it is also very important that we do not become so blinkered that we decide that the White Paper is not going to deliver anything. The White Paper is already able to deliver a lot, because we are building on what was already in place.

The structures will, of course, have areas that we will need to fine-tune and to look at how things can be made much tighter, but the Government are making sure that we have continuity plans and safety nets in place so that we can ensure that, when people make those choices, they are not left without support mechanisms. That is why we want to encourage champions to come forward through organisations such as Which? or HealthWatch and also make sure that there are ombudsmen for each sector, so that everyone knows that there is a line of recourse if they face difficulties.

My Lords, on the face of it, allowing patients a choice as to where they wish their care to be delivered seems a good idea, except that there are several problems. One is the quality of information we have: if that choice is to be based on outcomes, it is pretty poor.

The second is that the outcome is not based on one treatment: it is the quality of the journey of care of a patient that delivers the best outcome. For instance, poor outcomes in cancer may well be, and are, related to late referrals of cancer patients. How does a patient know what quality of information they will be given that will allow them to make a choice as to how they wish their care to be provided, based on these outcomes?

Another issue is that the best quality might be far away from where the patient can go or have access to. So how would they make that choice? Most importantly, if we are going to do this—and the idea seems good—it should be based on what we have learned from pilots. Have there been any pilots done that will tell us how this will work?

The noble Lord has raised a number of detailed questions and I suspect that I will not be able to answer them today. I would like to take them away, write to him and place a copy in the Library, because it would be unwise of me to respond to him about outcomes without details of how those outcomes would be delivered.

My Lords, perhaps I can assist on this. While not agreeing with everything that has been proposed, on the matter of choice there are difficulties in getting information, in travelling away from your local hospital, in transferring records, but that has never stopped the rich exercising their choice. They have always been able to overcome these difficulties. Therefore, if there are obstacles in the way of consumer choice for patients, the answer should not be to remove that choice; it should be to increase facilities for the provision of information. On outcomes, I would simply say that, since the introduction of choice in the National Health Service, hundreds of thousands of people have been taken off the waiting list and the maximum waiting time has been reduced from two years to six weeks from diagnosis to operation. That was due to the element of competition and patient empowerment which was introduced into the National Health Service through choice.

I thank the noble Lord for coming in and assisting me, but I will still follow it through with some letters.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council. There is much to commend in this White Paper in principle, insofar as it gives greater power and responsibility to groups of individuals and third sector providers. However, will my noble friend the Minister confirm that it is not just about sell-off to the private sector for profit and that the Government really mean that this is about groups of residents, individuals and third sector organisations? Secondly, will she comment on increasing choice? While theoretically a very good thing which I strongly support, there has to be spare capacity in a public service; otherwise, choice becomes a mirage. Having spare capacity is inherently more expensive when what people want is to have high-quality services available in their immediate neighbourhoods. At a time of declining public resource, ensuring high-quality services within neighbourhoods, close to home in order to minimise the need to travel, is more important than extending, at higher cost to the public purse, the choice in a wider area.

My noble friend should feel reassured first and foremost that it is not about just a sell-off. It is about introducing a much wider and more diverse provision of service so that people are able to enjoy a much more flexible response to their needs rather than, as so often, a stringent delivery of services through local authorities. Often as not, my noble friend will find that within an independent delivery service there is always capacity built in. It is often a prerequisite required of those who deliver services when they buy from the public sector to deliver, because it has to be delivered in their service plans in the first place. So I do not have a worry about capacity.

It is important that we are able to ensure that people who are going to use these services will be able to have a greater say in how those services will be delivered, whether those services meet their needs and, if they do not, how we can have recourse to get those services made better in responding to those needs.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that many of us are extremely disappointed with this so-called White Paper? It seems to be a Green Paper because it consults on a range of things without any precision on what the Government’s intent is. When I saw the coalition agreement saying that there would be an opportunity for millions of workers to be their own boss, I was expecting more from a White Paper than simply, “We will continue to support mutuals and the public sector workers in them”. The lack of ambition is staggering.

Will the Government now seriously address the manner in which they can reform and change public services? They are getting a bad name now for their lack of ambition on reform and their inability to deliver it. On things like mutuals, they need to answer the questions put by my noble friend on the Front Bench, particularly around pensions and pension entitlement.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness feels that this does not address public sector reform. Public services are being reformed. This is an exciting and comprehensive paper. I suggest that if she takes the paper away and looks at it in detail, she will see that we are genuinely working across government to ensure that there is a proper reform of public services so that they are delivered to ensure that people have choices, are able to have their needs met and have a say in how those choices are delivered. These reforms will take time because we want the process to be evolutionary and we want to get it right, but it is a build-on to what was happening already. I hope that I leave the noble Baroness assured that we will be working hard with public services to ensure the best delivery.

Phone Hacking

Statement

My Lords, by leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place.

“Mr Speaker, the events of last week shocked the nation. Our proud tradition of journalism, which for centuries has bravely held those in positions of power or responsibility to account without fear or favour, was shaken by the revelation of what we now know to have happened at the News of the World. The perpetrators of those acts not only broke the law, they preyed on the grief of families who had lost loved ones either as a result of foul murders or giving their life for their country. I hope that the law shows no mercy on those responsible and no mercy on any managers who condoned such appalling behaviour.

As a result of what happened, the Prime Minister last week announced two independent inquiries to examine what went wrong and recommend to the Government how we can make sure it never happens again. First, there will be a full, judge-led public inquiry into the original police investigation. Witnesses will be questioned under oath and no stone will be left unturned. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, that inquiry will need to answer the following questions. Why did the first police investigation fail? What exactly was going on at the News of the World, and what was going on at other newspapers? The bulk of the work of this inquiry can happen only after the police investigation has finished, but we will start what we can now.

Secondly, there will be a separate inquiry to look at the culture, the practices and the ethics of the British press. In particular, it should look at how our newspapers are regulated and make recommendations for the future. That inquiry should start as soon as possible, ideally this summer. As the Prime Minister said, a free press is an essential component of our democracy and our way of life, but press freedom does not mean that the press should be above the law. In announcing this inquiry, the Prime Minister has invited views on the way that the press should be regulated in future.

I understand that in the past few minutes News Corporation has withdrawn its undertaking in lieu. On 25 January I said that I was minded to refer News Corporation’s proposed merger with BSkyB to the Competition Commission in the absence of any specific undertakings in lieu. As a result of News Corporation’s announcement this afternoon, I am now going to refer this to the Competition Commission with immediate effect and will be writing to it this afternoon. This will be an outcome that I am sure the whole House will welcome. It will mean that the Competition Commission will be able to give further full and exhaustive consideration of this merger, taking into account all relevant recent developments.

Protecting our tradition of a strong, free and independent media is the most sacred responsibility I have as Culture Secretary. Irresponsible, illegal and callous behaviour damages that freedom by weakening public support for the self-regulation upon which it has thrived. By dealing decisively with the abuses of power that we have seen, I hope on a cross-party basis, this Government intend to strengthen and not diminish press freedom, making this country once again proud and not ashamed of the journalism that so shapes our democracy”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I join with her in the sentiments that she has expressed regarding the horror that we have all felt as a result of what has transpired to date.

We are faced with a most distressing and appalling series of allegations that, if true, demonstrate a level of systemic failure that almost beggars belief. The gravity of the situation should have ensured that the noble Baroness’s right honourable friend the Prime Minister had the courtesy to go to the House of Commons to answer this debate himself. We know that he felt it sufficiently important to go 20 minutes down the road to a press conference. That has been a matter of acute disappointment to those on this side. Some have argued—I hope the noble Baroness will understand that many will say properly—that that was a dereliction of his duty. The Prime Minister has failed to take responsibility. The victims of this crisis deserve better, Parliament deserves better and your Lordships will know that the leader of the Opposition has said—I have to say, with regret, that I believe that this is right—that the country deserves better.

My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition has responded in the other place to the Government’s Statement. I fully agree with everything that he set out in his response. What my right honourable friend has said on this scandal reflects the mood of the country, and I pay tribute to him for that. However, as shadow Attorney-General, there are several specific points that I wish to bring before this House. The Government announced in today’s Statement that they will refer News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB to the Competition Commission. We are pleased that the Government have finally accepted the case that we on these Benches have argued consistently. We said from the very beginning that this matter should be referred to the Competition Commission. This should have been done on 25 January of this year, when the Culture Secretary first announced that he was not going to refer the matter to the Competition Commission but, instead, consult on the terms of the undertakings from News Corporation, which he wanted to accept. I hope the noble Baroness will now accept that that judgment was wrong.

Your Lordships will know that the period of consultation ended last Friday. However, News Corporation announced this afternoon—only moments ago, as the noble Baroness said—that it has withdrawn the undertakings that it gave in lieu of a reference. The undertakings were given in lieu to prevent a reference to the Competition Commission. Without these undertakings in lieu, the Secretary of State has no choice but to refer the matter to the Competition Commission. Therefore, it is not a question of the Government announcing their decision to refer the matter to the Competition Commission. The Government have not made this decision. In effect, News Corporation has made this decision and the Government have finally acquiesced to it. There are still several issues that need to be determined before the Government pursue the reference. I ask the noble Baroness to ask her right honourable friend the Secretary of State to pause before making that reference today. On this occasion we must get it right.

As the noble Baroness is well aware, there are constraints. The Competition Commission is constrained by the original decision, taken by the Secretary of State for Business, to limit the notice to the issue of plurality. The Government at that stage had the choice of including broadcasting standards in that notice and failed to do so. It is clear now that that was a mistake. I say straight away to the noble Baroness: I understand why the Minister then responsible might have been so misled. There is a now a real question mark over whether there has been some bad faith in this matter. When the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport came to make his determination, it was not known that the nature, level, extent and depth of the illegality was such as has been displayed over the past week. That is a matter of critical importance.

Consideration should now be given to whether a second notice can be issued. There are real questions in relation to bad faith, on which I have already touched. Several organisations and people claim that they were misled by News International. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, of the Press Complaints Commission, says that she was misled either by omission or commission. Then there are the police. If the allegations are true, we are now led to believe that News International failed to disclose that from 2007 it had e-mail evidence demonstrating that payments to police officers were authorised and this fact was not disclosed to police until 20 June of this year—four years later. Almost every hour, further disclosures are being made, which, if true, may further demonstrate shocking bad faith. Therefore, timing is everything and something that is peculiarly within the control of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

I have alluded already to the nature, breadth and depth of these allegations. However, we do not know what more may be coming. We have heard that Rebekah Brooks believes, as she told News International staff, that there is much, much more to come. There has to be some assessment of the true level of illegality and criminality that may need to be explored. There is also the interrelationship of News Corporation and News International, and the level of their interdependence. Ofcom has indicated that it is interested in this matter. I ask the noble Baroness to ask her right honourable friend to consider continuing with his request, both to Ofcom and to the OFT, as to how the new reference to the Competition Commission should be framed. Nothing should be done until their advice is forthcoming. There will doubtless have to be consideration of whether Ofcom will now have the time to make a mature decision on the fit and proper person test. Will the noble Baroness give this House an assurance that, before any reference is made to the Competition Commission, the Government will give full and proper consideration to all of these issues so that a fully informed and correct reference can be made?

On the inquiries announced by the Government, will the noble Baroness confirm that no inquiries have yet been established, contrary to what was claimed in the other place today by her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture? As the noble Baroness will be aware, from the moment an inquiry is established it becomes a criminal offence to interfere with, let alone destroy, any relevant evidence. Therefore, will she assure this House that the Government accept that such inquiries should be established immediately, without any further delay?

The reason why these issues are so important is that News Corporation currently owns 39.1 per cent of BSkyB and wants to own 100 per cent. If it is allowed to purchase these shares, it will become the largest source of news in the United Kingdom after the BBC. It will have a media empire that produces news on radio and television, in newspapers and on the internet. News Corporation will become one of the largest privately owned media empires in the world. Its influence on the United Kingdom’s public life will substantially increase, both directly and indirectly.

So it is right that this matter should be referred to the Competition Commission. That is what we on these Benches have long advocated. But I have to say to your Lordships that it is now of critical importance that this matter be properly dealt with, that the reference to the Competition Commission be fully and properly framed, and that any reference takes fully into account all the circumstances and extraordinary events that we have seen over the past week. None of this should be done in haste. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has time; and on this occasion we urge him strongly to take that time to frame this matter correctly. Due consideration has never been more important than it is today.

Given how far the Government have got this wrong, it is imperative that we now get this right.

My Lords, I of course would not agree that the Government have got this wrong, and I am, in fact, deeply saddened that the noble and learned Baroness opposite should try to score party-political points on something which is this serious.

I will of course try to answer all her points. The Secretary of State was open-mined at all times during this whole process. He has taken no decision and it was thanks to the Secretary of State that the consultation was extended. The Secretary of State has said that it is his decision that we are taking this bid back to the Competition Commission. The Government said from the start that they would refer the merger but would consider undertakings in lieu. Now that News Corporation has withdrawn its undertaking, the Culture Secretary is reverting to his original decision.

The decision regarding the true worthiness of Murdoch to continue with this BSkyB bid will be under Ofcom and the OFT to wait for their advice. Surely hacking is evil—we all know it is evil—and it is bad for everyone. The inquiries have been established. The Secretary of State has announced immediately, as the noble and learned Baroness heard from the Secretary of State in the other place, that the EU competition issue has been looked into at an earlier stage and the EU gave a decision that on competition grounds it was all right.

As to the reference to the basis of broadcasting standards, the Secretary of State cannot legally issue a second intervention notice. This is ruled out by the legislation. We would totally agree with the noble and learned Baroness that this should not be done in haste, and the Secretary of State has said—and she is right—right from the start that he will take his time, he will not be pressed on this, he will look into every possible side, and the inquiries will be done with due process.

My Lords, perhaps I may concentrate on the important questions that my noble friend raised in the first part of the Statement—on the police investigation, on why the first police investigation failed so abysmally, and on the practices and ethics of the press—although I obviously very much welcome the decision on the Competition Commission.

I knew—if I may say so kindly to my noble friend—that the time would come when she would agree with me on the need for a public inquiry. I have now been given two, which is extremely kind of her. More seriously, having reached this point, does she agree with me, particularly in light of some of the comments of the noble and learned Baroness opposite, that it is in no one’s interest at all that this becomes a party-political issue, for we might just remember that virtually everything complained of took place under the watch of the party opposite when they were in government and, furthermore, that the only reason that News Corp is able to pursue a bid for full control of BSkyB is because, after lobbying, the controls that prevented such a bid—and had prevented such a bid for years—were scrapped by the Communications Act 2003. That is simply a matter of history, and some of us said so and opposed that at the time.

Perhaps I might put it to the House: would it not be more sensible to recognise that over the past 30 years all Governments have made mistakes and all Governments have got too close to media organisations such as News International—and not just News International? Would it not now be sensible to take the opportunity to step back and put the relationship between political parties and the media on a proper, more independent and less demeaning basis? If we did that, the public would be very pleased with our action.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for his intervention, and I agree totally with him that this should not be a party-political matter. This has been ongoing for several years, as he has clearly pointed out. We should take a step back, which is exactly what the Secretary of State is doing. The Government are determined to find out all that the journalists and their agents were up to in hacking into phone messages, and what the police knew, when they knew, and what they did about it—and how we might learn the lessons for the future. That is why the Prime Minister announced last Wednesday that there would be two inquiries, both of which will be fully independent. I note that my noble friend Lord Fowler has been asking for these inquires for a very long time now. The first will be an independent judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of the specific revelations and allegations. It will look at why the police investigation that started in 2006 failed, what was going on in the News of the World, and what was going on in other newspapers. The second inquiry will be a review, and will look at the wider lessons for the future of the press. We intend that work can start at the earliest opportunity—ideally, this summer.

My Lords, does the Minister share my deep concern, which I am certain extends across this House, that today News Corporation has withdrawn its previous undertaking to hive off Sky News? Does the noble Baroness recall that Mr Murdoch told a Select Committee of this House that,

“Sky News would be more popular if it was more like Fox News”,

and made what he called “the presentational progress” achieved by that notoriously biased channel, which he owns, in the United States of America? Does she think that with those instincts and judgments Mr Murdoch could ever be a fit and proper person to have ownership and control of 40 per cent of BSkyB, let alone the whole of it?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, asks a question which comes to the heart of the matter and the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. There are rules in this country on plurality, and we have talked about these on several occasions. As to whether Mr Murdoch is a fit and proper person, the “fit and proper” statutory test is a matter for Ofcom, which is taking its duties in this area very seriously and is already in touch with the relevant authorities. The Government have no role in its decisions and have not sought to influence it in one way or another. This is an ongoing situation, and the plurality matter that the noble Lord raises is of the utmost importance.

My Lords, I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Fowler that this should not be a party-political matter, and congratulate him on all he has done to bring it to this point. Does my noble friend not agree that it is absolutely astonishing that the chief executive of News Corp is still in her job? I was an editor, not of a newspaper but of a television programme. Even if I had not known what was going on, as the person responsible for my programme, I would have resigned. Does not my noble friend think that that person should follow what I believe the Prime Minister has said, which is that it is time that she left her job?

My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter asks—this has been mentioned once before—about the resignation of somebody working for a public company. It is up to the chairman and chief executive to look into whether someone should resign, whether it is Rebekah Brooks herself or Mr Murdoch, but it is not up to the Government to interfere on that matter.

My Lords, it is a mere 20 years since I introduced my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill in the House of Commons, so I think I am making good progress when I see what is happening today. We used to talk then about the problem of some of the practices in the press, which included things such as offering payments to the police. We did not know about hacking then. The first point I want to emphasise is that we must make sure that this is not just about the News of the World. It is a great pity that a newspaper has been sacrificed because a chief executive would not do the decent thing and resign.

The second point is that the Minister said, citing the Culture Secretary in the other House, that the job of the media is to hold people in power to account. That is absolutely right, but as we were saying 20-odd years ago, the problem is that no one holds the press to account. How on earth can we even think of allowing Rupert Murdoch to have such control over the British media? It really should not go ahead for that reason alone. My final point, which is very important following what the Prime Minister said, is: have the Government any idea what they are going to replace the Press Complaints Commission with?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that it was probably not just the News of the World guilty for all the problems that we have today. To answer his second question, the press must abide by the law, as do we all. Of particular note are the laws on defamation, data protection and phone hacking and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Then comes the code of practice.

The press all have to sign up to the code of practice. This is a self-regulatory code drawn up by the committee of editors. It is not intended to duplicate the law, but is complementary to it. For instance, it includes specific provisions on privacy which are not found in the law. Adherence to the code is then overseen by the Press Complaints Commission, which the noble Lord asked about. The Secretary of State is looking into how to deal with the Press Complaints Commission to make it more accountable. He is definitely looking at that at the moment, so the noble Lord is right to have brought up that point. The PCC is made up of a mixture of press and lay members, but lay members form a two-thirds majority, and the chairman is always someone with no connection to the press. As we all know, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, currently holds that position.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler has already referred to the events in 2003 when what became known as the Gang of Four, of whom I was one and he was another, under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, sought to temper the over-enthusiasm of the Front Benches and the Government for liberalising the ownership of the press. Had one amendment that I moved been carried—it was resisted on whipped votes by both Front Benches and was defeated by only 11 votes—we would not be in the mess we are now.

Against that background, I was a little surprised to hear the noble and learned Baroness who opened the questioning for the Opposition, who emphasised how we must take time to get it right, arguing that that we simply must rush into the appointment of a judge and a judicial inquiry. The police investigation is already under way, and I feel sure that the police are in a position to stop any removal of evidence, and so on. It is very important that the right judge is appointed after seeking the advice of the Lord Chief Justice and that the right brief is given to the inquiry, after consultation, which I hope will include the Leader of the Opposition. I understand that there is to be a meeting on Wednesday.

The Culture Secretary no longer has to rely on the narrow question of fitness and advice from Ofcom—although I hope that Ofcom will continue to consider the question. Can my noble friend confirm that as a result of News Corporation's withdrawal of its undertaking in lieu, the Competition Commission will be free to delay any decision while huge questions remain over the behaviour of senior management at the very summit of News Corporation, and that those questions are unlikely to be answered until we know the outcome of the police inquiries and the judge-led inquiry?

Secondly, the Statement says that the bulk of the work of the judge-led inquiry can take place only after the police investigation is complete, but that may take many months. Indeed, the legal actions following it could take even longer. Would it not be for the judge to decide exactly how far the activities of his inquiry can be pursued? Does not the judge have considerable scope in that respect as a result of the arrangements put in place in 2005?

Finally—

I was merely going to observe again that if we are not to hurry it—the noble and learned Baroness laid great emphasis on that—we have to get the scope of the judge-led inquiry right. I hope that my noble friend can confirm that wide consultation will take place about it.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crickhowell backs up the most important point: that the Secretary of State will need time for the whole process without rushing the police inquiry—my noble friend is quite right to say that several inquiries are already ongoing—and that he is free to delay it. Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading will also have to report. The Competition Commission must report too, though within six to 18 months at the outside limit. As for the judge-led inquiry to decide, one hopes that it will not take too long. If noble Lords think back to the Saville inquiry, which took 12 years and £200 million, one hopes that this inquiry will come through a little faster.

My Lords, will the Minister clarify one point that has become less clear during the past half hour? She has spoken of inquiries having been established. Has the remit of the judge-led inquiry been made public? Until it is, I believe that the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, stands—namely, that it is unclear what constitutes evidence and it will not be a criminal offence to destroy evidence. I should be very grateful if the Minister could tell us whether the remit is in the public domain; and, if not, when it will be.

My Lords, the first inquiry will be an independent judicial one to get to the bottom of the specific revelations and allegations. It will look at why the police investigation that started in 2006 failed, and at what was going on at the News of the World and at other newspapers. The remit of the second inquiry will be to look at the wider lessons for the future of the press, and we intend that work can start at the earliest opportunity, ideally this summer. There will surely be further details on these inquiries, which will be announced in due time.

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Fowler, whose contribution to this ongoing discussion is to be commended, I spent some time in journalism before coming into politics; indeed, I was an editor. There is nobody stronger for press freedom than I am. However, can we take advantage of the bipartisanship, which I sense is for the first time on this issue coming about, to have agreement on a law of privacy in this country, which we have long needed and which Governments have known is necessary but have been afraid of confronting the press because the Opposition of the day would take the side of the press under the banner of press freedom? In fact, appropriate privacy legislation is in my judgment an essential part of a civilised society.

Finally, I am slightly concerned that of all the very grave malpractices that have been uncovered, perhaps the gravest—of which no mention has been made so far in this exchange today—is the acceptance on a large and horrifying scale, and going quite far up the ladder, by members of the police of large sums of money in return for confidential information. Of all the appalling things that have happened, in my judgment this is the worst. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind and act appropriately.

My noble friend Lord Lawson makes a very valid point. We are all horrified by the allegations that have arisen out of this case. Privacy and freedom are probably among the most valued aspects of our society, especially if we think of what used to happen in the Soviet Union and perhaps still happens in various parts of the world today. The Government strongly believe that a press free from state intervention is fundamental to our democracy. However, the press must abide by the same laws as everyone else, including those on data protection and phone hacking. In addition, most newspapers choose to sign up to the code of practice, which imposes further restrictions on them. My noble friend Lord Lawson is absolutely right, but it would be a bad thing to rush into new press legislation without having gone into all the details and heard the results of all the inquiries.

My Lords, in relation to the second of the inquiries that the noble Baroness has referred to, into the culture and practices of the press and questions of how newspapers are regulated, I am sure she is aware that whenever committees of this or the other House have looked at anything related to these issues they have always encountered a serious blockage in the refusal of senior people involved with the press to come before committees of the two Houses and be answerable for their actions. That was particularly true of the Communications Committee of this House, chaired very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who has an extremely good record on these issues. I simply ask if this committee will have the power to call witnesses and to require the presentation of evidence and materials. If it does not have the full authority of Parliament, with sanctions, behind it, I fear that this will be a very ineffective inquiry.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

Amendment 109A

Moved by

109A: Clause 29, page 21, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) A police and crime panel must—

(a) review the police and crime commissioner’s human resources policy; and (b) make a report or recommendations on that policy.( ) Where a panel makes a report or recommendation on the police and crime commissioner’s human resources policy, the police and crime commissioner must—

(a) review the policy, taking the panel’s report or recommendations into account; and(b) resubmit a revised human resources policy to the panel for the panel’s consideration.”

My Lords, this group contains a considerable number of government amendments that in essence ensure that all the staff, property rights and liabilities of police authorities pass first to police and crime commissioners and the MOPC on the day of creation in order to maintain current arrangements. They then allow for secondary transfer schemes to be put in place to allow staff to transfer to the chief officer of police.

I understand that the Association of Police Authorities supports the Government’s approach. Much as I admire that association, I believe it is misguided, as do a number of staff organisations. The association may envisage the police and crime commissioner retaining the non-operational police staff and transferring the operational police staff to the chief constable. Of course, that is not necessarily the case, but I am concerned at the proposal to split staff into two legally separate workforces under different employers in each force. This increases the number of police employers from the current 43 police authorities to 86 police and crime commissioners and chief constables. At the very least, that will drain resources from front-line policing and lead to the unnecessary loss of both police staff and police officer posts because of the infrastructure cost involved. Indeed, the split between the staff under the PCC and the chief constable is likely to be haphazard and arbitrary, depending on how local relationships work out. The general public, who rely on the force to keep them safe, will surely be confused and indeed concerned at the proliferation of new police employers and the associated bureaucracy, which would risk the confidence of local communities in their police force.

Having two separate workforces in each force is bound to lead to inefficiencies, confusions and the possibility of a two-tier workforce on different terms and conditions. The Government are proposing a two-stage staff transfer, first from the police authority to the police and crime commissioner and then, at a later date, from the police and crime commissioner to chief constables, resulting in twice the opportunity for things to go wrong and for staff interests to be prejudiced. I remind noble Lords of the requirement under the Local Government Pension Scheme for scheme liabilities to be crystallised at the point of transfer between employers; this will have to happen twice and will require the necessary financial undertakings to be given twice.

The Government say that they believe in the concept of a single police force in which police staff and officers come together in unified, effective work. However, these proposals contain the prospect of the police staff workforce being divided between two separate employers, which could threaten all the good work of the last 10 years to build a one-culture police service. I remind the noble Baroness of Tom Winsor’s independent review of police officers’ and staff’s pay and conditions, which has already delivered its part one report in March this year; part two is expected in January 2012. All the evidence in the part one report shows that there is an appetite for harmonising pay and conditions in the police service as a means of modernising the police employment framework. Two of the unions that have talked to me, UNISON and Unite, support that agenda. However, that positive agenda could be frustrated if the police workforce is carved up in the way the Government propose, with their two-stage, two-employer model.

My Amendment 264A, which is in this group, seeks to create in policing the same employment framework that exists in the rest of the public sector, with staff employed by the organisation as a body corporate rather than by one powerful individual. I believe that it fits very much into the framework of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in our first-day debate in Committee. Her concept of a police commission would allow for the corporate employment of staff and would be a much more satisfactory way of dealing with these matters.

Amendment 109A, which is the first in this group, concerns the role of the police and crime panel. Given that so much power is being given to the police and crime commissioner in relation to resource, responsibilities and now staff, it is right that it comes under scrutiny. My Amendment 109A would give the police and crime panel the responsibility for reviewing the human resources policy of the police and crime commissioner. It is, if you like, a second-best amendment, because I would much prefer that the Government’s amendments are not moved. I would much prefer there not to be the prospect of all staff being handed over to the police and crime commissioner to do what he wills. However, if that is the Government’s firm intention, at the very least the police and crime panel ought to have a specific statutory responsibility for reviewing and commenting on the performance of those duties by the police and crime commissioner. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 257 to 267, which are remarkably similar to the Minister’s amendments except that they refer to PCCs and MOPC rather than to the “policing body”, which is perhaps a more elegant formulation.

I seek clarity as to the Government’s intentions for all this. The Government have brought quite a number of these problems on themselves. At the end of last week, I spoke to a senior lawyer employed by a police service who described the Bill as being “inherently contradictory” because of the confusion about what it is trying to achieve. While I welcome the Minister’s proposals in her amendments—which will allow for a two-stage transfer because it will require a two-stage transfer to sort out exactly what the details, the most sensible disposition of staff and the most appropriate way of doing it are going to be—this is a problem that the Government, policing bodies and the police service did not need to have. I cannot understand what is gained by chief officers of police employing all their staff. What extra ability does it give them, apart from a great deal of hassle and potential problems, over having direction and control of those staff? That is a point that the Minister will no doubt explain.

I want to understand exactly what the Government’s amendments do. I assume that the new amendments that the Minister is introducing are intended to maintain the status quo from the commencement of the Bill until the second transfer scheme is effective. I would be grateful if she could confirm that. There is an interesting anomaly if you have a two-stage process. During the first stage, before the second stage kicks into action, there is presumably the potential for the chief officer of police to employ new staff directly subsequent to the first transfer scheme, and this would then create two classes of police staff. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether having two classes of police staff, because there is a two-stage transfer agreement, is intentional and whether she wishes to return to this at Third Reading. I am also not clear whether there is a deadline by which the second-stage transfer should take place. My own view is that the complexities of this mean that it may take a considerable period of negotiation to reach a mutual agreement for staff to be transferred to the chief officer of police, and it is better that those discussions take place at a leisurely pace to allow all the relevant interests to be consulted and involved.

I have one additional question. Will the Minister say whether the transfers under Schedule 15 are going to be legally effective under Scottish law as well as the law in England and Wales? As I understand it, a number of police authorities around the country hold land in Scotland, so these transfers are important.

My final point—again, I would be grateful for the Minister’s explanation—is that, as I understand it, her amendments to Clauses 19 and 20, which were agreed on the first day of Report, will mean that the police and crime commissioner or the MOPC in London will not be able to delegate either to the chief constable or to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis any of that body’s staff. They would not be able to delegate to the chief officer of police to arrange a function—the PCC or the MOPC will have to engage the chief officer formally to carry out some functions rather than simply delegate them.

I have seen a letter—rather, I have been provided with a letter; there is no question of it having been “seen” because it was leaked to me or anything like that—from the right honourable Nick Herbert, Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, to the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, a “Dear Paul and Tim” letter, which tries to set out the Government’s policy. However, it leaves me even more confused as a result. He says:

“On delegation, I have said from the outset that I want the office of the PCC/MOPC and the office of the Chief Officer to be clearly distinct so as to enable proper accountability and a clear division of responsibilities. Preventing the PCC/MOPC from delegating to the Chief Officer is an important part of this”.

Will the Minister tell us why that is so important, because delegation is a very clear statement?

Nick Herbert goes on to say:

“This means that should a PCC/MOPC want a Police Force to carry out some functions, he or she will have to formally engage the Chief Officer to do so, rather than simply delegate it. This will help clarify roles and responsibilities, which I do not believe is the case under the current system”.

I dispute that. Will the Minister explain to us very clearly the distinction between delegation and formal engagement? What is the process that underpins formal engagement? Is it a contract or a memorandum of understanding? What exactly is envisaged? I suspect that the Government are creating a new bureaucracy, further uncertainty and further duplication.

My Lords, we do not disagree with the principle behind the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the PCC or the MOPC should be able to make their own decisions about transfers. However, the government amendments will maintain the status quo—the noble Lord asked about that, and that is the intention—and provide stability in the transitional phase by providing that all staff and assets transfer from police authorities to PCCs or the MOPC initially. They then enable the PCCs and the MOPC to write transfer orders to transfer staff to the chief constable or commissioner.

Perhaps I could begin by addressing first the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Amendment 264A would mean that a police authority could transfer staff only to the police force; no member of the police authority staff could be transferred to the PCC or the MOPC. As a preliminary point, the Bill provides for the police staff to be employed by the chief officer of police, not the police force, which does not exist as a separate entity capable of employing staff. Noble Lords whose names have been put to these amendments might like to make the police force the employer rather than the chief officer, but no amendment has been tabled to achieve that. Obviously, I can answer only to amendments that have actually been tabled.

To clarify the separate roles of the PCC or the MOPC on the one hand and the chief officer on the other, and to ensure that each can carry out his or her functions independently, it is essential that each employs his or her own staff. As such, the Bill must allow for staff to be transferred to the PCC and to the MOPC; it does not direct that that happens, but it allows for the best decisions to be made locally.

Amendment 109A would give police and crime panels a role in reviewing PCCs’ human resources policy. This would already fall under the existing general powers of panels to scrutinise PCCs. I do not think that the way forward taken by these amendments would achieve the sort of protection needed, but I make a commitment to the House that I will consider the matter further. Perhaps this can be returned to in the other place, given the late stage of this Bill. I therefore ask that the amendments are not pressed to a vote.

I will now speak to the government amendments and answer some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who asked why delegation was necessary. It is exactly as the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice says; if the PCC wants to ask the chief constable to do something, he or she will need to commission it formally—they cannot just order the PCC to do it.

I am trying to understand how the process that is being described will differ from delegation, which is not the same as simply ordering—it is a process. How is that going to change when you do not have delegation but instead have this commissioning process?

I guarantee to write to the noble Lord about this, but the principle behind it is that it is very clear to the public who is responsible for what. The process that will be employed is more detailed than I have information for tonight, but I shall write to him specifically on the issue of process that he has raised.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, would allow PCCs and the MOPC, as well as police authorities, to make transfer schemes to transfer staff and assets. I completely appreciate the position that the noble Lord is coming from. The Government have been working closely with police forces and authorities on how the transitional arrangements should operate.

Many are concerned about whether there is enough time in which to write transfer schemes ahead of the introduction of PCCs and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. They have also expressed concerns about trying to second-guess what staffing a PCC may want when they come into office. As such, it is eminently sensible, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggests, to allow PCCs and the MOPC to write transfer schemes. However, government Amendments 256B to 267M in this group simplify matters even further. They simply maintain the status quo for a period, with all police authority staff and assets transferring initially to PCCs and the MOPC. This will enable transfer schemes to be written by PCCs and the MOPC in slower time. I hope that the noble Lord will look at my proposed amendments and agree that they achieve the same end, and I hope on that basis that he will agree to withdraw his amendment and support the government amendments.

The noble Lord also asked about Scotland. I understand why he asked that. Government Amendments 309ZB and 309ZD extend the territorial extent of Schedule 15, so that transfers under that schedule are legally effective under Scots law as well as in England and Wales.

Government Amendments 256A and 267P to 267Q enable the continued employment of chief officers of police. There has been a lot of discussion on this matter, but, finally, Amendment 267N ensures that accounting and audit arrangements can be put in place for police authorities and the PCC or the MOPC in respect of the financial year when the transition takes place. I realise from the interest that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has taken in this in particular that these are important matters. We want to get it right, and I will promise to write to him on matters of process and update him on where we are.

I am grateful to the Minister. My noble friend and I perhaps come at this from different viewpoints, but I am deeply concerned about the power that is being given to individual elected PCCs over the staff. The fact that you would depend on them for the staff transfer to the chief constable gives huge leverage to the police commissioners in their dealings with the chief constable, which raises all my hackles about the problems with this legislation. One point about the need for government amendments on staff transfers related to the risk of mistakes being made because of the shortness of the timetable. I think the Minister spoke of being “hasty”.

That brings me to the substantive point. The rush to have elected police commissioners in place in all the police force areas in a matter of months is going to lead to risks and confusion. Staff deserve to be dealt with in a fair, effective and administratively sound way, and I worry that the result of this two-tier tight transfer is going to be major problems for the staff.

The Minister said that some of these points could be dealt with in another place. I would be grateful if she would clarify that, because there are very narrow rules in the process of ping-pong. I would have thought that as she has promised to write to my noble friend, we should come back to this point on Third Reading. I would be grateful if she could clarify whether from her point of view that might be a sensible way in which to allow us to explore these matters in greater detail in the light of her letter to my noble friend.

My Lords, I do not think it will be possible to come back to this matter on Third Reading. However, I have given the commitment to have it looked at again in another place.

My Lords, my point is that the rules of ping-pong allow that to happen. You cannot simply use ping-pong to table lots of government amendments. It would be better if we had a further discussion on Third Reading.

My Lords, I realise that we are stretching the rules of Report, but this is important. Presumably when the matter goes to the other place, we can receive back from them only amendments that relate to amendments passed by your Lordships' House. That will produce a very narrow range of areas. Areas on which there is no amendment from your Lordships' House will not be covered. I make this plea for the fourth time that it would be in the Government’s interests to postpone Third Reading on this Bill to 5 September. It would lose them only one parliamentary day, but it would enable the Home Office, the Minister’s officials and colleagues around the House to spend a little bit more time getting the details right. It would also give the Minister the opportunity to come back on some of these detailed points.

My Lords, I have suddenly realised that some days ago I moved an amendment, did I not, about statutory protection for chief executives, and withdrew it because the noble Baroness would not give me any assurances on this. Does this not rule out any changes? I am puzzled because I did move this amendment and, as I recall, it was rejected.

My Lords, I hear what noble Lords have said about the use of ping-pong and the other place; I am not a business manager and the matter of when Third Reading of any Bill takes place is not in my hands. I have heard what the House has said tonight and I will take it away for further advice.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, and I would encourage my noble friend to table an amendment on Third Reading to allow us to debate this further. Clearly, there may be some discussions with the usual channels, so I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 109A withdrawn.

Amendment 110

Moved by

110: Clause 29, page 21, line 8, after “Schedules” insert “1 (procedure for appointments of senior staff),”

Amendment 110 agreed.

Amendments 111 to 114 not moved.

Amendment 115

Moved by

115: Clause 29, page 21, line 19, after “Schedule” insert “1,”

Amendment 115 agreed.

Amendment 116 not moved.

Amendment 117

Moved by

117: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—

“Functions of police and crime panels: conduct, complaints and audit committees

(1) Every police and crime panel shall—

(a) deal with complaints and conduct matters in relation to the police and crime commissioner and members of the police and crime panel;(b) monitor the discharge of the police and crime commissioner’s functions to deal with complaints in relation to the police force for its area;(c) monitor the accounts and audit matters of the relevant Police Commission, police and crime commissioner, and chief constable, as the case may be.(2) A police and crime panel must establish one or more independent sub-committees to discharge its functions under subsection (1).

(3) For the purpose of subsection (2) an “independent sub-committee” is one which comprises the following members appointed by the police and crime panel—

(a) an independent person to chair the sub-committee who is not a member or a member of staff of a police and crime panel, a local police body, a police force or a local authority;(b) at least three other independent people to be members of the sub-committee who are not members or members of staff of a police and crime panel, a local policing body, a police force or a local authority; (c) up to three members that are police and crime panel members, at least one of whom must be a co-opted member. (4) In appointing members to an independent sub-committee the police and crime panel must ensure—

(a) that people with sufficient relevant skills and experience are appointed to undertake the role effectively;(b) it does not appoint a person who has or appears to have a conflict of interest or a personal or prejudicial interest in becoming a member of the sub-committee.(5) An independent sub-committee may—

(a) make recommendations to the police and crime panel or police and crime commissioner about action to be taken to resolve a complaint or conduct matter;(b) make recommendations to the police and crime panel, police and crime commissioner or chief constable about audit and finance matters.(6) If an independent sub-committee makes a recommendation in accordance with subsection (5), the person or body to whom it is made shall have regard to it.”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 117 I shall speak also to Amendments 144, 148, 149, 150, 154, 156, 232 and 232A.

Amendment 117 confers specific functions for complaints, conduct and audit matters on panels and obliges each panel to establish an independent sub-committee to discharge these functions. It also makes provision about the composition of the independent sub-committee so that it is chaired by an independent person and has a majority of other members independent of the police and of local authorities. The people appointed to that committee must have relevant skills to contribute to its functions and must not have a conflict of interest. The independent sub-committee can make recommendations in relation to conduct or audit matters to the police and crime panel, the commissioner or the chief constable, who must have regard to those recommendations.

Amendment 144 enables panels to require information from chief constables or commissioners about complaints, conduct and audit matters to support this function. Amendments 148 to 150 include provisions about breaching codes of conduct within the proposed new clause that deals with suspending commissioners. At present the standard for suspension is a criminal one and does not include conduct matters. Amendment 154 effectively removes Schedule 7 because this is replaced by the other provisions in my amendments. Amendment 156 provides that a code of conduct will be formulated independently, which will apply to commissioners and panel members. Finally, Amendments 232 and 232A disqualify panel members and commissioners if they fail to sign the code of conduct within a month of assuming office.

I would like to say at the start of this group of amendments that, given the strength of feeling expressed about the Bill’s utterly inadequate provisions relating to the conduct of police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels, I am quite alarmed and dismayed that the Government have not put forward far more far-reaching proposals about this at Report. I appreciate that the Minister has put forward some amendments to include the newly created deputy commissioners within the conduct proposals applying to commissioners and also seems to have an amendment specifying that the MOPC or Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime should be covered by the conduct provisions applicable to local government. I may have missed something but I do not think the same provisions have been applied to commissioners or deputy commissioners outside London—perhaps the Minister can clarify. Even if they have been, these are in the process of being changed and I fear they may not prove robust enough for people charged with police governance. Police governance requires even higher standards of personal integrity than would be expected in other areas of local government because of the nature of the role, and my amendments set out how this might be done.

The other issue that my amendments address is the matter of audit. This relates back to a number of concerns addressed at Committee and on the first day of Report about the creation of two corporations sole in each police area both for the commissioner and for the chief officer of police. Doubts were expressed then, and have not been fully addressed by Government, that it was not clear how this structure was consistent with good financial governance; in particular it was not clear how the need to have two separate strands of audit would work for one police fund. The Minister also supplied some assurances on the first day of Report that the Government were serious about applying principles of good governance to the new structures they envisaged for policing. My amendment, like all my amendments, is an attempt to help the Government in this respect. In relation to good governance of financial issues a key requirement is an effective audit committee. My noble friend Lord Harris brought forward some proposals about how this might be done within a non-executive board linked to the office of the commissioner. However, the House rejected this so I am proposing an alternative method of ensuring sound financial and ethical governance.

My amendment proposes that an independent sub-committee should be formed within the police and crime panel which would have responsibility for audit and conduct matters. In relation to financial governance it would have responsibility for audit matters in relation to both the chief officer’s remit and the commissioner’s office. It would be able to link the audit requirement for one police fund to the two bodies that will manage it. I am not aware of any other accepted method of carrying out financial responsibilities in the corporate context except through an audit committee. The virtue of my proposal is that this will become a function which is to all intents and purposes carried out by independent people, thus avoiding the dangers of politicisation.

An independent sub-committee would also have responsibility for complaints and conduct matters. Incidentally, there is nothing in my amendment to prevent a panel from setting up more than one independent sub-committee, but equally audit and conduct functions could be undertaken by the same committee, if that was appropriate to local circumstances. Either way, my key point is that these independent committees should be comprised largely of independent people; it is essential for good governance and public confidence that this should be the case so there are no doubts about bias or vested interests. It would also help to guard against politically motivated complaints and countercomplaints being traded between the commissioner and the panel if the panel is not alone responsible for this but is required to undertake this at arm’s length through more independent arrangements.

In relation to both the commissioner and the panel, the suggestion is that the independent sub-committee should handle any complaints against individuals. If there is reason to believe that a complaint involves a serious matter or criminal behaviour, there is nothing to stop the panel referring this to the IPCC, the police, the CPS, HMIC or another appropriate body. It implies, however, that the first port of call for all complaints matters against commissioners and panel members should normally be the independent sub-committee. It should decide how best to handle the complaint and if it is a relatively routine conduct matter it should be able to deal with it. I believe that this rebalances the proposals in the Bill, which effectively suggests that the IPCC should be the first port of call in relation to commissioner complaints and does not address complaints against members of the panel at all.

Because this amendment reverses the proposals in the Bill about the role of the IPCC, which incidentally is likely to be swamped with complaints when it first takes this role on, I have removed Schedule 7 which proposes the opposite. There could still be a role for the IPCC under my amendment, but it is one that I believe should first be filtered at local level by independent committees which could decide whether to escalate the matter. I also want to mention that, in relation to force conduct matters, my amendment suggests that the independent sub-committee should have a role in monitoring how the commissioner is carrying out his or her functions in this regard to provide public reassurance.

Earlier amendments I put forward also suggested that the independent sub-committee should have a role in dealing with disciplinary matters for senior officers to ensure that a commissioner or chief officer is using disciplinary powers appropriately. In order to carry out functions in relation to complaint and audit matters which have an impact on both the commissioner and the force, it is very necessary for the panel to receive the information to enable them to do this, so there is also provision in my amendments that the panels may require information from both commissioners and chief officers in relation to their responsibilities for audit and conduct matters.

The amendment would also remove the current standard by which conduct matters are judged, which is effectively a criminal standard. In Committee I spoke about my concern that this was a ludicrous criterion to use in the context of police governance. Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I have not changed my mind. On the basis of zero tolerance, if I may borrow an Americanism, one would address issues of concern at the lowest level. One should not wait for them to become a major problem before taking action. The conduct criteria need to be rebalanced around the standard of acceptable behaviour. Criminal behaviour should be the extreme end of the scale, not the starting point. For this reason I propose a code of conduct, which I shall shortly explain, but first I want to mention that part of the rebalancing exercise should be the inclusion of a clause on the suspension of commissioners setting out provisions that would enable them to be suspended for breaches of the code of conduct as well as criminal behaviour.

Incidentally, the amendment would also remove the current proposal that the commissioner can be suspended only if he is charged with an offence that carries a maximum sentence of more than two years. Not only is that inconsistent with the general disqualification provisions for a commissioner that are invoked by any criminal offence, which my amendment reaffirms, it is an absurdly high bar for an individual in an office which requires a high level of public trust and confidence. A lot of offences carry a sentence of less than two years, but I do not think the public would want a commissioner to carry on if charged with most of them. I appreciate that we are only talking about charges, but that does not mean the position of the commissioner would be any more tenable or that the public would have any confidence whatever in that person.

Moving on to the code of conduct itself, which I intend should set the framework to describe what unacceptable behaviour is, I believe that it is important that it should be formulated independently. In Committee I suggested that that should be done by the Committee on Standards in Public Life because I cannot think of any body better suited to the role. However, I am happy to listen to alternative suggestions for the appropriate body to carry out this function. The amendment provides that the code of conduct should set out criteria for appropriate standards of behaviour for police commission members, which would include both the commissioner and the panel, and suggests specifically that a commitment to diversity is set out. This would help guard against extremist commissioners or panel members. The code should set out the key criteria about what constitutes a conflict of interest for police commission members.

Solutions around handling conflicts of interest are lacking in the Bill, but in reality this will become the key issue when complaints start being raised against commissioners and panel members. For instance, a ripe area of concern would be if a commissioner was signing contracts involving large amounts of public money with companies in which he might have an interest. The Bill is silent on this possibility, but it would be a real issue for local people. The final amendment in this group provides that police and crime panel members would be disqualified if they did not sign the code of conduct within one month of taking office. This is obviously an important amendment to make the code of conduct enforceable.

In summary, I believe that the proposals for complaints and conduct issues in relation to police and crime panel members and commissioners currently in the Bill are woefully inadequate. My amendments seek to address this by providing constructive solutions. I hope that the Minister will take these concerns seriously, and particularly will consider my suggestion that complaints should be dealt with at the lowest level. We hear a lot in the Bill about devolution to the lowest level and enabling local people to carry things out. What I am suggesting here is a good example of that. Local committees should deal with complaints at the first level before escalating them upwards if that proves to be the right thing to do.

Likewise, I have concerns that good financial governance has not been adequately considered. It is essential that audit committees are created to undertake this function. If the Government are intent on splitting audit arrangements into two separate policing bodies for each area—for both the force and the commissioner—the audit committee needs to have oversight of both bodies in order to join up the dots. It will need to make sure that public money is being spent wisely and lawfully, and among other things it must ensure that the same money is not being spent twice, since under the Government’s proposals there will be two bodies and one police fund. My amendment suggests how the audit arrangements can be made suitably independent but still coherent with the other proposals about police governance. My other amendments also bring rigour and independence to complaints and conduct matters which I believe are essential to public confidence.

As I have already pointed out, I am seeking to enable the panel and the commissioner to work effectively and ethically as they conduct their business, and I am trying to build on such governance structures as are in the Bill, but I think we are already agreed that what is there is woefully inadequate. I can understand that one of the parties opposite might want the panel to be weak. As I recall, it was after all an afterthought to the original muscular proposal of party political commissioners, but I cannot understand why the Liberal Democrats are unable to go beyond generalities and actually try to put in place tangible and practical “checks and balances”. Clearly, what they understand by that phrase is different from my interpretation. What I am trying to do in the area of standards and complaints is prevent us going back 20 years. We are going to go back 20 years in terms of party-political policing, but please do not let us go back 20 years in terms of complaints, audit committees and standards. A lot has been learnt over the past 20 years, and we should take that on board. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support some of the amendments in this group, to which I have added my name: namely, Amendments 117, 144, 154, 156, 232 and 232A. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, all these amendments deal with the conduct of PCCs, panel members and audit matters. As we have heard, details on these are virtually absent from the Bill except for very limited PCC complaints matters set out in Schedule 7, which is largely predicated on a criminal standard. In my opinion, this is utterly inadequate for a public position where many other types of inappropriate but not criminal behaviour could arise, so our proposal is to delete Schedule 7 and rebalance the way complaints are dealt with.

The proposals in relation to audit committees are consistent with established good governance principles and provide an additional reassurance about probity, particularly in light of the concerns about corporations sole, about which we have heard so much in your Lordships’ House. The amendments require police and crime panels to set up independent sub-committees to deal with both complaints and audit issues on behalf of the panel. The noble Baroness went into detail about those, so I will not try to emulate her. They also enable panels to require information from PCCs and chief officers in relation to complaints and audit matters.

Amendments 156, 232 and 232A propose that a code of conduct for police and crime commissioners and panel members, collectively referred to as police commission members, is drawn up independently. It also provides for both PCCs and panel members to be disqualified from office if they fail to sign the code of conduct. Amendment 144, in my submission, should have been dealt with in the fifth group, but it appears here. It provides that panels should be able to require information from both forces and PCCs about complaints and audit matters. Amendments 232 and 232A also provide that panel members and PCCs should be disqualified for failing to sign the code of conduct within a month. These are sensible and practical amendments, which I support wholeheartedly.

My Lords, it has already been pointed out that under the current terms of the Bill, the powers of the police and crime panels are limited to a veto over the appointment of the chief constable and a veto over the precept. The purpose of this group of amendments, moved by my noble friend Lady Henig, is to provide police and crime panels with the powers to act as a much more effective check on the way the proposed police and crime commissioners exercise the considerable powers given to them under the terms of the Bill. As my noble friend Lady Henig has said, the main amendments refer specifically to conduct and complaints, and to the issues of accounts and audit.

The amendments provide for an independent sub-committee or sub-committees to deal with the issues of conduct, complaints and audit, with an independent person chairing the sub-committee, at least three other independent members and up to another three who are police and crime panel members, at least one of whom must be a co-opted member. These independent sub-committees must be established by the police and crime panels.

The amendments provide also for a police and crime panel to require information it needs from the police and crime commissioner and they would change the criteria relating to the powers to suspend the police and crime commissioner to include where the commissioner has breached any required standards of conduct pending investigation of the allegations brought against them. The amendments provide also for a code of conduct for police commission members to be formulated by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, covering standards of behaviour, commitment to equalities and conflicts of interest.

The amendments proposed by the Government, to which the Minister will presumably refer, appear to lack the strength and robustness in relation to police and crime panels of those proposed by my noble friend Lady Henig and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. As has been said, those amendments come back to the issue that has been raised on a number of occasions during our discussions on the Bill: namely, where are the checks and balances to address the abuse or misuse of the considerable personal powers given to the police and crime commissioners? What is the effective role and purpose of a police and crime panel if it is not to be able to provide part of those checks and balances and thus help ensure that a police and crime commissioner pays regard to the views and concerns of such panels, providing them with the information they need to carry out a meaningful role and thereby helping enhance confidence in the system and structure on the part of the public?

If the Government have really been listening to concerns expressed in your Lordships' House, including over appropriate financial and ethical governance arrangements, they will support the thrust of these amendments.

My Lords, parallel to our discussions on this Bill, the Localism Bill is in Committee. In that, there has been discussion both on a code of conduct and on the need for a standards committee. There has been discussion around whether the code of conduct should be voluntary or statutory—there is a strong view, I think, in your Lordships' House that it should be the latter. On standards committees, which are likely to be abolished under the Bill, I also detected in your Lordships' House strong support for each local council having such a committee.

Irrespective of that, there are two major issues of principle here. The first is the role of audit, which, it is important to bear in mind, is not the same as scrutiny and which has statutory force in local government. The second is that audit should be independently led. The powers currently given to the panels are insufficient to deliver those two principles.

Audit is not just about finance; it is also about a whole range of matters including procurement policy, contracting, managing very large budgets, procedures being followed, human resources policies and equal opportunities. An amendment is being made here which I hope the Government might find helpful. It proposes that audit be fundamental part of the checks and balances we need in relation to a police and crime commissioner. Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause is right in stating that every police and crime panel should deal with complaints and conduct matters, monitor the discharge of the police and crime commissioner’s functions and monitor the accounts and audit matters of the relevant police commission, police and crime commissioner and chief constable as the case may be.

The question is whether that task should be undertaken simply by the panel or whether a slightly different structure is needed. I think that a different structure is needed, because audit is an important issue when public money is being looked after. There should be two sub-committees—I refer here to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause—one of which looks specifically at audit and the other at conduct and complaints.

The proposal in Amendment 117 relates to the nature of the independence of the sub-committee. To have someone who is independent and appointed according to Nolan principles chair that sub-committee is important. To have then at least three other independent people, balanced by up to three panel members, means that the public would gain confidence in that structure because they would see that there were more independent members than members of the panel.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that no governance structure lies underneath an elected police and crime commissioner. In other words, there is a perception in the Bill if you simply have direct election of a commissioner there is legitimacy in that. Well, of course there is, but one has to have checks and balances—which the coalition agreement has identified and said have to be strict. Having a clear audit function which is publicly accountable is a matter of fundamental importance; otherwise, those checks and balances cannot be properly delivered.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for her very detailed amendment and for the care and attention which she has given to this important area of checks and balances. She offers in effect an alternative model to that offered in Clause 32 and Schedule 7 and wishes to replace Schedule 7 with this lengthy and detailed amendment. Schedule 7 sets out that regulations subject to affirmative resolution will be brought to this House to set up a model that is not fundamentally different from what the noble Baroness is proposing, but in which we see the police and crime panel as the body which provides the checks and balances to the police and crime commissioner. To that end, the police and crime panel would set up its own committees, which would be part of the process through which the ongoing process of scrutiny is attended. Schedule 7 talks precisely about that level of complaints which goes underneath criminal activity; that is, inappropriate behaviour, referred to in Clause 32 and Schedule 7 as “conduct matters”. Schedule 7 states specifically that the police and crime panel will deal with conduct matters which are below the level of criminality.

The amendment would expand the panel's role as a scrutiny body, but presents an alternative model. We have set out in the Bill a framework which addresses the conduct of commissioners, including complaints against them. We have been careful also to read across—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley—to the Localism Bill and the changes made there. We are doing our best to balance out some of the problems that we have been left with from the previous regime which arose from the Standards Board for England being exploited by some political parties against their opponents. We stress throughout the Bill that all those involved in the management and scrutiny of policing are subject to the Nolan principles on conduct in public life.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about the importance of audit and the extent to which the audit function is allied to but separate from the ongoing process of scrutiny. The police and crime panel will receive audit reports and will be designated as such for the purposes of the Audit Commission Act. The police and crime panel will thus hold to account the police and crime commissioner for the group audit of the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable. The police and crime commissioner will hold the chief constable to account for their audit. It will be entirely appropriate for the police and crime commissioner to form an audit committee, if he or she wishes to do so, in order to monitor the chief constable’s fulfilment of that purpose. The police and crime panel, or a committee of the police and crime panel, will act as an audit committee for the PCC. The detail of the PCC complaints regime will be in regulations. It is not in the Bill, as Schedule 7 sets out. Regulations will state that complaints not involving criminal allegations will be resolved by the PCP. This is the appropriate-level approach that I suggest the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, is asking for. We are already providing for police and crime panels to be able to require the attendance of the PCC, or members of its staff, in order to answer questions.

The PCP will have a role in referring allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and in receiving reports from the IPCC. Where the IPCC determines that there are reasonable grounds for an investigation to be established, the PCP shall receive a report of that investigation once it has been concluded. The government amendments, which are intended to address criticisms made of the Government’s preferred model, will mean that any criminal allegations against the mayor, the deputy mayor for policing and crime and the deputy PCC would be the subject of scrutiny by the IPCC. I apologise for the acronyms.

In the case of the mayor, criminal allegations would be the subject of scrutiny by the IPCC whether or not the allegation was connected to his or her role as the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. Where a complaint against the mayor, or against a deputy mayor for policing and crime who is an Assembly Member, is not serious enough to require investigation by or under the management of the IPCC, the regulations will provide for it to be dealt with under the local government standards legislation that is applicable to the mayor and Members of the Assembly. Subject to the will of Parliament, that legislation will be amended by the Localism Bill, with which a number of the noble Lords taking part in these discussions are at present engaged.

We accept that removing the reference to “other corrupt behaviour” would achieve greater clarity without significantly reducing the scope of the provisions. Behaviour that could be regarded as corrupt is highly likely to involve the commission of some criminal offence in any event. Any complaints or allegations which fall below this test will be left for the police and crime panel, or for a committee of the police and crime panel, to handle. The mechanism for these complaints will also be set out in the regulations. These regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, and noble Lords will therefore have the opportunity of debating the finer detail of these procedures when they are introduced to the House. I hope that that provides some assurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and will persuade her to accept and support government Amendments 151, 152, 153 and so on.

Will the Minister confirm that the proposed arrangements for audit will be voluntary, in that a commissioner may set up an audit committee or, by definition, may not? If that is right, will he tell the House who undertakes audit and how any report will be presented to the commissioner? I think he said, fairly early on in his response, that the commissioner could receive audit reports. Who would make that report if an audit committee was not set up? I am sorry if I have bowled him too detailed a question at this point.

I thank the noble Baroness for that detailed question. PCCs will have a chief finance officer, with the professional qualifications and the professional obligations of a chief finance officer. If a police and crime commissioner does not choose to have his or her own audit committee, the PCP’s audit functions will play a much more active role in scrutinising what the PCC provides, whether by the whole panel or by its own audit committee. The legal obligations for audit are, I am assured, the same as those for police authorities. However, we are very happy to write in detail on that, and a number of these matters will of course come up when the detailed regulations are put for affirmative resolution before the House.

My Lords, I have a problem with the response. This is a very big issue about public confidence. It is about putting processes in place that will reassure the public that everything is being done ethically and correctly, and that governance structures meet certain standards. I heard what the noble Lord said. My worry is that some of this is being left to laissez-faire: you can do this or you need not do this; there is a model here that you could follow if you would like to.

These matters are really important. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. Therefore, I do not understand why these serious principles cannot be in the Bill, and why we cannot agree on a way to encapsulate them that meets both what the Government want and what I am asking for. The difference between us is not great.

Serious principles are at stake: for example, the serious principle that audit needs to be carried out and needs to be independently led. I think that we all agree on that. Another principle is that codes of conduct and standards need to be established. Again, they need to be led by an independent committee. A third issue, on which perhaps the Minister feels less strongly than I do, is that low-level complaints should be dealt with first at local level and then escalated; they should not be dealt with by the IPCC and then come down.

I have just been reading Schedule 7. As I said, it has an element of laissez-faire about it. If the Government agree about the issues and believe that they are as important as I believe they are, what is the problem with putting them explicitly in the Bill? I cannot understand what the difference is between what I am asking for and what the Government want. Why will they not accept that these principles are very important and therefore state that they will try their best to put them explicitly in the Bill? I do not understand their hesitation. What am I asking for that is so revolutionary that the Government are resisting it? All I am asking for are the most basic principles of good governance. If the Minister is not able to meet my concerns, I will have to test the opinion of the House, because the issues are fundamental and I do not understand the problem that the Minister is facing. Perhaps he would like to reassure me in another way.

I suspect that a great deal of what the noble Baroness is asking for is in regulations under previous legislation, and will be in regulations under this legislation. That is why I fail to see a difficulty. I assure her that we all understand that these are extremely important principles, and that the role of the chief finance officer and of the PCP in looking after the audit will be set out extremely carefully in regulations.

The problem for me is that this is like justice; it must not only be done but be seen to be done. Not only must we have high standards and regulations, but the public must be convinced, and must see, that they are there and that they are explicit in the Bill. If we care about these things, we must spell them out. I will find it tragic when noble Lords opposite vote against something that they all believe in, but I cannot avoid it. These matters are so important that I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.42 pm.

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion (Display and Specialist Tobacconists) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2011

Motion to Regret

Moved by

That this House regrets that the timetable for implementation of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion (Display and Specialist Tobacconists) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/1256) may result in up to 4,000 more young people taking up smoking than if the original implementation date had been kept to; further regrets that the Government have not explained how they will mitigate burdens on business “while maintaining the expected public health gains”; and calls on the Government to make the health needs of young people the priority by keeping to the original timetable for implementation.

Relevant documents: 32nd Report from the Merits Committee