House of Lords
Monday, 10 October 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
My Lords, we need a full and thorough consideration of all aspects of media ownership legislation. The Secretary of State has asked Ofcom to examine what are the best options for measuring media plurality and to recommend the appropriate approach. We will of course be taking into account the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry before any final decision is taken on media ownership.
I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is it not the case that too often in the past decisions on media ownership have been influenced by political considerations? Given that, does my noble friend agree that it is totally wrong that, as at present, politicians should have the final say on who owns the media, and that if we want to prevent too much power resting in the hands of one company that system should be changed—and changed as quickly as possible?
My Lords, I would like to be able to give a more positive answer to my noble friend Lord Fowler but, as he and many noble Lords know only too well, we are at present having sensitive discussions. He is aware, too, that there is new legislation in the pipeline and we will be receiving a new communications Bill during this Parliament. However, I agree with him, as does the Secretary of State, that too much political consideration has been taken, and as a result the Secretary of State said on 14 September at the Royal Television Society conference that he was looking at whether we should have the same approach for media plurality law as we do for competition law. It could be better for these decisions not to be taken by politicians, as my noble friend so rightly said, and we are exploring this option. These are early days and no decisions have been taken. As I said, we will consider the recommendations on this.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot remember which section the noble and learned Baroness was talking about, but we are fully aware of what she asked. The point was made by Ofcom that media plurality public interest tests can be triggered only by merger and therefore do not cover growth, which is the area that she was talking about.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ryder asks a fascinating and important question. In determining the appropriate size of media ownership, we will be considering the extent to which websites should be included. The current rules are outdated and do not even acknowledge the existence of websites, yet websites could conceivably have an important role in controlling access to new sources and have implications for plurality. That is why the Secretary of State has asked Ofcom to look into this matter, and we will consider carefully the recommendations that Lord Justice Leveson makes in this area.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether, in considering issues of plurality, the Government will also consider issues of diversity, as these are not the same? Plurality does not always guarantee diversity, which is what citizens need.
My Lords, plurality in the context of media ownership refers to the number of owners and size of ownership of different media outlets and does not cover diversity, as the noble Baroness mentioned. I am sure all noble Lords agree that a healthy democracy needs correct information, and, in general, to be able to participate effectively in a political process, access is needed to all sides of the debate. However, this is unlikely to happen if the media are under the control of a too tightly restricted number of owners.
The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, makes a very valid point. In most cases, competition rules will prevent unacceptable levels of media concentration. However, there is no guarantee of that, because competition rules address only the abuse of market power. It is possible for an organisation to have a very large share of the market but not abuse its position for unfair competitive advantage. This would be acceptable in competition terms but it could still cause very real worries from the point of view of media influence, as the noble Lord said.
My Lords, I have just come from sitting on the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. Can the Minister reassure the House that the furore over the behaviour of certain sections of the Murdoch press will not result in a detrimental encroachment on press freedom? We do not want hacking, but we do not want our press not being able to investigate. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that it was not politicians or the police but the Guardian newspaper that exposed the hacking scandal.
My Lords, if there is a renewed bid, it will have to be looked at on its merits. As with any other bid, on another occasion it could be possible to include additional grounds for intervention, such as a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards. However, we are not proposing to frame legislation with the aim of blocking any specific deal. If or when we come forward with proposals, they will have to protect plurality in all circumstances.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the light of all that has occurred, it would be unwise for the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State to meet members of the Murdoch family privately? Can she give an assurance that it is now the policy that any such meetings will be attended by civil servants and properly minuted?
My Lords, tourism directly supports 1.7 million jobs, with visitor spend of £90 billion each year. Deloitte estimates a direct and indirect value to the UK economy of £115 billion, and suggests that tourism could indirectly and directly support a total of nearly 3 million jobs by 2020. The Government’s tourism policy launched in March includes a range of proposals to help tourism achieve its potential as a central part of Britain’s growth strategy.
Following the very happy and successful royal wedding, visitor numbers at Buckingham Palace have risen by 30 per cent, and at Westminster Abbey by 60 per cent. Given the obvious popularity of the monarchy, will my noble friend tell the House what plans the Government have to promote the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year? Also, does she now agree that tourism is the probably the number one industry in more parliamentary constituencies than any other private sector industry?
Certainly my Lords. Visit Britain has created the You’re Invited programme to showcase Britain to the world and to attract more overseas visitors, and that is backed by a £100 million marketing fund, funded by the Government and the private sector. Certainly that will be used to make the most of the international interest in the royal wedding, and to build on that for the major events, marketing and PR activity that will focus on the diamond jubilee celebrations as well as the London Games themselves. As regards the noble Lord’s second question, tourism is vital to the nation, but in particular parts of the country it is a major form of employment.
Will the Government acknowledge that inward tourism is the major export industry, and a successful one, in the United Kingdom? When will the Government get rid of the pernicious air passenger duty which so inhibits visitors coming to this country and spending their money here?
My Lords, we constantly look at the different factors which might inhibit people from coming here. On air passenger duty, the noble Lord may not agree, but aviation is relatively lightly taxed in comparison to other forms of taxation. There is a consultation out for this which we will be looking at closely, and will be hoping to come back before the end of the year to see whether there are factors which might cause a need to look again at air passenger duty.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the millions of tourists who come to enjoy our great heritage assets and our beautiful countryside do not, as a rule, come to admire burgeoning wind farms? In view of the very questionable benefit to our energy supplies that these monstrosities produce, will my noble friend talk to her colleagues in the appropriate departments to ensure that tourism is not killed off by turbines?
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, given the importance of tourism to our economy, what possible explanation can the Minister give for ignoring the potential of a 10 per cent increase in tourism at no cost whatever just by stopping putting the clocks back in this ridiculous way, which we do year after year. It is madness. Can she tell us why she is doing it?
Once again, I really cannot claim sole responsibility for daylight saving. This issue comes up on various occasions in different contexts. A Private Member’s Bill going through the other place is looking at this. The issue will not go away and is under constant discussion. The one thing the Government have made clear is that they would not wish the four countries of the UK to be on different timescales. We wish all four countries to agree if we make the change.
My Lords, we have heard that the Government have identified tourism as one of the five industries which will drive the UK economy. Given that next year we join the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which will see taxation for travellers to the UK increase, and given that many of our European competitors are doing away with aviation taxation to stimulate tourism, what is our response to protecting our own tourism industry, also given that, in terms of tourism taxation disadvantage, the UK is 134th out of 139?
My noble friend raises a very important issue. We are fully aware that tourism is a very competitive industry, so the UK must always ensure that it is not being outgunned on different fronts by other countries, that the unique assets in our countries, which tourists might want to visit, make it worth while and that the finances do not discourage people from coming here rather than going elsewhere. All these matters are currently under consideration to try to ensure that we make the most of people coming to our country and that they get a warm welcome here.
My Lords, that is obviously a very concerning issue on all sorts of fronts, one of which is tourism. The pictures that went around the world were not such as would attract people to come to this country. We hope that more positive messages have gone out since then. The causes of the riots are obviously being looked at, tackled and addressed, but we hope that we will send out positive messages about the parts of the country which were not subjected to riots so that people are not deterred from coming to visit this country.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that, as a matter of information, all timescales are not the same, as she said in her reply, because Scotland and Wales have to rely on Westminster for theirs whereas Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are able to choose their own? There was an amendment to the Scotland Bill which allows the Scots to choose their own timescale and so increase their tourism by having lighter evenings if they so wish.
My Lords, I cannot really add to my previous Answer. It is for the Government to consider that they wish the four countries of the UK to be on the same timescale. My understanding is that most of the resistance comes from Scotland, rather than Northern Ireland, for very valid reasons in which some people there believe. We shall just have to wait to see how this discussion unfolds.
Banking: Quantitative Easing
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions have been held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the sale of government-held shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB, and regarding the effect of additional quantitative easing on that sale.
My Lords, Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide range of organisations. It is not the Government's practice to provide details of all such meetings
UK Financial Investments—UKFI—manages the Government’s shareholdings in the banks. UKFI aims to dispose of the shares in an orderly manner and it continues to monitor market developments and to look at the range of alternatives. The ultimate decision to proceed with any transaction will rest with HM Treasury.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that. However, last week it was reported that the Governor of the Bank of England told the Chancellor that he would not use QE to help the banks, including presumably the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, but, in fact, the quarterly review said that the Government authorised the Bank to pursue a number of activities targeted to improve the facilities of banks. Who is making decisions here: the governor or the Chancellor?
My Lords, I think we risk straying from the Question. I know that, in a masterly wheeze, words about QE were added to this Question late in the day by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I think that quantitative easing is one of many questions relevant to the sale of bank shares but a relatively small consideration in present circumstances. Given that the Question is about the sale of bank shares, this is one of many factors that is relevant.
My Lords, although privatisation of RBS and the Lloyds Banking Group—ideally after separating completely the retail and investment operations of the two groups—is clearly some way off, does my noble friend recognise that the immediate need is for the Government to adopt a much more hands-on relationship with them than hitherto to ensure an adequate flow of lending to small businesses?
I very much agree with my noble friend that the immediate priority is not so much consideration of the sale of the banks—UKFI will continue to monitor that closely—but to keep credit flowing. In relation to that, the Merlin agreement is critical. We treat the management of RBS and Lloyds on an arm’s-length basis, but we will ensure, as we have, that we have an agreement with all the major banks to increase lending on what it was last year and what it otherwise would have been. The third quarterly numbers will be released under the Merlin agreement shortly.
My Lords, given that the Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and, conceivably, ever, how can it possibly be sensible for the Government to be actively seeking to sell the taxpayers’ interest in Northern Rock to City financial institutions?
My Lords, we have a portfolio of banks which the Government either wholly or partly own. The Question was about Lloyds and RBS, but we also, as the noble Lord well knows, own Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley. It is within the mandate of UKFI, which was set down by the previous Government, of whom the noble Lord was a member, to have responsibility to seek over time to realise value from the banks. That is precisely what it is exploring in the context of Northern Rock. It is following the noble Lord’s policy.
My Lords, the downgrading by Moody's last week was long expected by the markets. It is largely a reflection of the fact that under the Vickers proposals—the independent commission's proposals—there will be a different relationship between the banks and the taxpayer: the taxpayer will not be on the hook for the banking system in the way that it was. As a result, as expected, Moody's changed the ratings on a number of banks. Equally, it made it clear that that was not a reflection on the well capitalised state of the UK banking system. The UK banks continue, as Moody's and others have said, to be in a more robust state to withstand shocks from the eurozone than banks on the continent of Europe.
My Lords, I do not think that I touched on that point in a previous answer at all. UKFI has a responsibility, on behalf of the Government, to look, over time, at ways to create value out of the shareholdings, and that is what it will do. There is no question of any particular benchmark; we need to ensure that the taxpayer gets maximum value, subject to questions of competition and financial stability, over time, from the holdings in the banks. That is the mandate that UKFI has.
My Lords, when the moment comes for the disposal of the bank shares, can my noble friend give an assurance that the Government will make a more responsible decision than was contained in the sale of gold by the previous Administration?
My Lords, the Minister will have appreciated the fact that two of the more challenging questions have come from his own side, from the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Newby, about the future of RBS. What preparations are the Government making for recapitalisation of RBS if that proves to be necessary?
My Lords, it would be completely wrong in any circumstances to speculate on individual banks. The FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury look at all sorts of scenarios in relation to banks and other systemically important parts of the financial system. As a result of the recapitalisation of the banks and the stringent stress tests which the FSA has conducted repeatedly, the UK banking system is well recognised by the credit rating agencies and by many other commentators and is in a relatively good situation. We now want to see stress tests carried out right across the European banking system as a matter of urgency to proper standards.
My Lords, the Government’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty was indeed launched in October 2010. We have made considerable progress and today the updated strategy has been laid in Parliament and published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. We have raised the issue of the death penalty at all levels bilaterally and through the European Union, including in specific cases of British nationals and others. We continue to fund a range of projects, including in China, Nigeria and the Middle East as well as in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa.
I thank the Minister for that positive reply and for the excellent efforts that the Government are making on this subject. Can he confirm that 21 out of 58 Commonwealth countries are still using the death penalty and that there are over 11,000 people on death row in the Commonwealth? Does he expect any progress to be made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this month on raising the question of abolition or, failing that, the question of minimum standards, so that people are not condemned to death without a fair trial?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for chairing the All-Party Group and for her thanks. I have to be realistic about the prospective pattern at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. It is going to be difficult to get this issue on to the agenda and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. HMG’s focus is going to be on pressing for the introduction of a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as recommended by the Eminent Persons Group and supported by a number of Commonwealth countries, as a force who would be in a good position to promote this cause. If I promised anything more than that, I would be misleading the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I declare an interest as representing a number of people on death row in Trinidad and Tobago. Is the Minister aware of the Government of that country’s attempt to amend the constitution to reintroduce hanging earlier this year and of the concerns expressed by Amnesty International? What steps are this Government taking to monitor any deterioration in human rights in Trinidad and Tobago since the declaration of the state of emergency in August 2010?
My Lords, Trinidad and Tobago has just been through the UN universal periodic review process, looking at human rights across the board. It has also announced the abolition of the death penalty for felony murders, although that does not meet the problem that my noble friend rightly raised. The United Kingdom raised the issue of the death penalty during that UN review process. I observe that the debate over the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago is closely linked to problems of serious crime and a related state of emergency, as my noble friend indicated. The UK has seconded a criminal justice adviser to work alongside the Trinidad and Tobago Government. That is all I can tell my noble friend at the moment.
My Lords, one of the most repellent aspects of this issue is when the death penalty is used against young people under the age of 18. The Minister spoke of progress in his initial answer. Can he tell us whether any progress has been made in respect of approaches to Iran over its use of the death penalty for crimes of a so-called moral nature, particularly for young women under the age of 18?
I must confess to the noble Baroness that I find it difficult almost to find the words to express my disgust and contempt at the news coming out of Iran, in this case relating to the execution not of a young girl but of a young boy. I was appalled to hear of that execution, which was conducted in the most revolting way. He was subjected to the worst form of execution—suspension and strangulation—in front of a public crowd. The president of Iran has said that Iran does not execute children under the age of 18, but that appears to be contradicted by that horrific event, which contravenes the international obligations to which Iran has signed up. We have of course raised this case with the Iranian authorities and will work extremely hard to secure a strong resolution on human rights in Iran at the UN, which will include language on the use of the death penalty in Iran. However, I feel that the words that I am uttering are hardly adequate to express the horror that we all feel.
My Lords, I was grateful for the Written Ministerial Statement that we received today from the Government on the death penalty. Will the Government also give particular attention to the death penalty being used in Iran in cases of blasphemy and apostasy? I bear in mind the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who faces execution for failing to renounce his Christian faith.
The right reverend Prelate is quite right to raise this case. We are deeply concerned for the fate of Pastor Nadarkhani. In a statement on 28 September, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary deplored reports that the pastor was being forced to recant his faith or face the death penalty. Alongside my right honourable friend, I pay tribute to Pastor Nadarkhani’s bravery in the face of such threats. We will continue to work closely with our EU partners to try to ensure that the pastor’s legitimate rights to freedom of religion and belief are met.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Live Music Bill [HL]
Armed Forces Bill
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, leave out from “section” to “Armed” in line 4 and insert “343 of AFA 2006 insert—
“PART 16AArmed forces covenant report343A””
My Lords, the amendment is in the names also of the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Ramsbotham.
I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for inviting me to lead on this amendment. The issue is one that I first raised at Second Reading last July. I felt strongly that Clause 2, dealing with the military covenant, was not getting the visibility and treatment that its importance to all service personnel, to veterans and to their families—a very large constituency—deserved.
The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers have repeatedly stressed the high esteem in which they hold the Armed Forces and said that they were determined to give formal recognition to this as part of the law of the land. However, the Bill before the House inserts a single clause giving meaning to those sentiments at the tail end of ad hoc and miscellaneous provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Regrettably, it will follow immediately after Section 359, which deals with pardons for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences in World War I.
There was a stark mismatch between the fine sentiments of the Ministers and the derisory legislative approach intended. I argued for a special part of its own for the covenant in the Act to emphasise and reflect the importance of this government initiative.
The collusion of noble Lords who support me in this amendment demonstrates that a very satisfactory outcome has been reached—albeit after some hesitation by the Government. This amendment inserts Clause 2 as a new stand-alone Part 16A of the 2006 Act. This far more adequately reflects the importance of this new legislative initiative of the Government.
I am most grateful for the way that both the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, have helped in achieving this satisfactory outcome. I pay tribute to their efforts in support of an amendment that, from the time that I first raised it, has engaged their personal interest and sympathy. I am also very impressed by the strenuous efforts of all the officials involved, working in very shortened timeframes, to get this amendment, and Amendments 5, 6 and 7, into shape and through all the necessary hoops of government. They have done us all proud. I thank and congratulate them. Thanks to all these efforts, Amendment 1 has, I believe, the Government’s full support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for his kind words. He first mentioned his concern during the Bill’s Second Reading. He made reference to the unfortunate juxtaposition that would result from the Armed Forces covenant clause being inserted into the Armed Forces Act 2006 directly after Section 359, which deals with pardons for soldiers executed during the First World War. Since then, he and I have had several exchanges. We have discussed the possibility of a printing change that would remove the need for a formal amendment, and considered the possibility of adding provision to the next Armed Forces Bill. At each stage, as the noble and gallant Lord has said, I have made clear my sympathy for the point that he raised. I am therefore pleased to be able to support his amendment, which will have the effect of moving the clause to a different position in a new Part 16A of the Armed Forces Act 2006. The new part will be entitled “Armed Forces Covenant Report”. So, in the future, the covenant report will have its own part within the legislation.
This is a good outcome. Once again, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for his helpful and constructive approach. I pay tribute to his resolve in pursuing this matter and I am pleased that we have been able to meet his concern.
I should now like to speak to the government amendments in this group. Further to discussions at the Bill’s Report stage, these amendments clarify the role that Ministers and departments other than the Ministry of Defence will have in contributing to the annual report. If the amendments are approved, the Defence Secretary would be under an obligation to obtain the views of the relevant government departments on the matters covered in the annual report, and to seek those of the relevant devolved Administrations. He will be required to set out those views in full, or to summarise them in the annual report. In the case of a summary, he will need to obtain the department’s agreement to any summary.
We have accordingly responded to requests from several noble Lords to bring forward proposals of our own on the subject. I am very grateful to officials in the department and elsewhere who have been able to get the amendments ready in time for the House to consider them this afternoon. When we come to the amendments later, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and her colleagues and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, will accept that the three amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Wallace meet the aims of their own amendments. I also hope that they will accept that the formulation that we have adopted fits better into Clause 2 and reflects the legislative conventions by avoiding references to other Secretaries of State.
During the passage of the Bill I have sought to make it clear to noble Lords that the Government are committed to an open and inclusive approach in preparing the annual report in order to maximise its value to Parliament. The statements that I placed on the record at Report taken together with the amendments that we are now considering lay a strong foundation for the future. I accordingly invite your Lordships to approve the government amendments.
My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words about the government amendments that we have now seen and thank the Minister for his co-operation in listening to the voices of several Members of this House on all sides who raised the issue at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. It has perhaps taken a little longer than we would have liked to have reached this position, which is very much a last-minute position, but very real progress has been made. Those of us who have been involved in the passage of the Bill will want to acknowledge and thank both Ministers and officials for the level of co-operation and the constructive outcome that we have.
I particularly mention Amendment 7, which is important in making it clear to those entitled to be covered by these provisions exactly what their positions are. They are named in different categories so no one who is entitled should have any doubt that the Armed Forces covenant will apply to them.
We have had a good level of co-operation. We have proved the usefulness of this House for those who have any doubt and I am sure that in another place these changes will be widely welcomed. I appreciate the work and co-operation on all sides of the House. We should all be very pleased with the conclusions and the final drafting that we have.
My Lords, I first speak to Amendment 1, which is in my name as well as that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. I repeat his thanks to the Minister and his officials and to the officials in this House who came in for some criticism the other day for possibly being slow over this matter.
In Committee and at Second Reading a number of us made comments about how the veterans part of this covenant would be overseen. I am enormously grateful for the way that the Government have moved and for the amendments now before us. However, thinking through how this might happen, I still think that in the years to come the Government may well find that they will have to have somebody outside the Ministry of Defence responsible for overseeing the delivery of the veterans part of the covenant. A number of us have suggested in the past that that would be better done by having a Minister for veteran affairs in the Cabinet Office. I suggest that whoever is given that appointment will also need someone like a commissioner responsible for the 24/7 oversight of the work being done for veterans in response to whatever is presented by the various Ministers in each of the annual reports.
My Lords, I, too, speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 7. I, too, am grateful to the Minister for his attention to these matters. I recall when I first went to see him in July that his officials were somewhat sceptical about the need for some of these changes. But if these amendments are accepted, the Bill will leave the Chamber a better and stronger piece of legislation than when it came in. The military covenant is gradually being defined to the extent that it will mean things to people. I was anxious to avoid some potential political slip-ups in the future, particularly with regard to devolved regions, and to try to ensure a degree of compatibility and comparison in terms of the treatment available to people in different parts of the country so that over time we did not see disparities developing.
I thank the Minister for communicating with us and making himself and his officials available, which I think has contributed to the comments that have just been made. I believe that we can now move forward in a much stronger position with the concerns raised on all sides of the House addressed. I certainly will be supporting these amendments.
My Lords, we, too, welcome the amendments moved by the Minister in response, I think, to Amendments 6 and 7 moved on Report and also Amendment 1 moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, just now with government support. We appreciate the work of the Minister and his officials, first, in listening to the points being made since the Bill was first debated in your Lordships’ House and, secondly, in bringing forward the Government’s own amendments to address those points—amendments which I am sure have support from all sides of the House.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 11, after “housing;” insert—
“( ) in the operation of inquests;”
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister and officials for the time they have spent looking at all aspects of the Bill and the amendments we have just debated are most welcome. I now want to return to the question of including the operation of inquests in the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant. This would be incorporated into the new wording of the Bill.
It is important to consider that in this part of the Bill “service people” means,
“members of the regular forces and the reserve forces … members of British overseas territory forces who are subject to service law … former members of any of Her Majesty’s forces who are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom … and relevant family members”.
I welcome the Minister’s comments that the report must be open and inclusive and I would hope that the operation of inquests could therefore also be included. The covenant report is to be about the effects of membership or former membership of the Armed Forces on service people. The reference group would steer and guide the detailed content of the report in relation to healthcare, education and housing and in such other fields as the Secretary of State may determine.
Why do we need the operation of inquests in the Bill? I suggest it is needed because the quality of civilian inquests is very variable and there is no office of chief coroner to address that. This amendment would complement such a post whenever it comes into being. Currently, the narrative verdict is used differently by different coroners and the information in the narrative verdict is not collated. However, it is important data, particularly in relation to former members of Her Majesty’s forces. For example, self-harming behaviours that are fatal may be linked to previous trauma. The long-term effects of emergency resuscitation techniques in the battlefield or from the use of equipment may as yet be unknown but they will emerge with time. Of course, many ex-service personnel die and there is no inquest—they die in civilian life and die of diseases like everybody else.
However, sometimes there is an inquest. I take asbestos as a specific example from history. The family of someone with mesothelioma may develop it from inhaling asbestos fragments that were on the clothing of the person exposed. As asbestos-related death has to be related to a coroner, such data were picked up. A current example that may be pertinent is those with Gulf War syndrome. I know that these personnel are being followed, but when they die, inquest data will become important.
The long-term sequelae of battlefield injuries may result in early deaths in civilian life. Cataloguing these can provide information for trauma management in future and the information will not be captured unless inquests into deaths of ex-service personnel are specifically catalogued. I am aware that many do not want to be followed up when they return to civilian life. They want to get on with their lives and put the past behind them. That makes health follow-up particularly difficult and is precisely why unnatural and untimely deaths, as would be referred to a civilian coroner, may represent the only point at which long-term sequelae of active service could be picked up.
I return to the operation of the inquests themselves. Those who die on active service are subject to support from the Defence Inquest Unit of the Ministry of Defence. It provides coroners in the civilian world with a summary of the incidents in which people have died on active service and suggests who to call as witnesses. The unit meets the pledge in the covenant to support the bereaved, but it is involved in the inquests only on those on active service, including those who die in training. Sadly, year on year, there are deaths in training; one man died very recently. The tragedy is that the number of deaths in training really does not seem to be falling year on year; it seems almost to be flat-lined.
The Armed Forces covenant document requires that help and support are given to the bereaved families, as is done by the Defence Inquest Unit, but it does not specifically state that the operation of inquests themselves will be monitored. Yet some bereaved report experiences at these inquests that were unexpected and deeply traumatic. The waiting time for inquests has only recently fallen and has not yet reached the target time of nine months. Bereaved families often feel unable to grieve properly awaiting the inquest, and my concern is that unless we maintain a spotlight on inquests themselves the timing may slip. In civilian life we know that some people are waiting up to seven years for an inquest.
Currently, the quarterly reports to Parliament are a very important catalogue of deaths, but the reports will cease when we are no longer in the theatres of war. The reference group for the report on the covenant will include the Royal British Legion, which has been very active in campaigning for a chief coroner. Despite all the discussions since the Public Bodies Bill, no development has obviated that need. To have the operation of inquests on the face of the Bill will complement such an office; it will not replace it.
This amendment will not incur expenditure; it will ensure joined-up government between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice, the latter having responsibility for inquests. The report can incorporate the current quarterly reports on military deaths and any other reports that get laid before Parliament. But when the frequency goes down, it will ensure that military deaths continue to be monitored, reported and catalogued. It will ensure that there is a record of inquests held on those actively serving, respecting their memory, and will allow collation of deaths of those who died after leaving the forces and whose deaths, for whatever reason, were the subject of an inquest, thereby providing important epidemiological data in the long term.
These annual reports, as they are proposed and as I hope they become, will be a historic document of our forces’ health and welfare. I suggest that we must also record their sacrifices of life through active service. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Finlay in this amendment, having also supported her in the campaign to get the chief coroner into post as part of the Public Bodies Bill. She has already mentioned that. I mention this because it has been 149 years since the coroners legislation was last updated, and it is now not fit for purpose. Those constituents who are finding it so are the families of those armed servicemen who are killed overseas. They have to wait an inordinately long time now for the inquest. This adds to their distress and is the very antithesis of everything that the Armed Forces covenant is all about. Therefore I hope that by putting this in the Bill and having it included in the annual report on the covenant, we will put pressure on those who ought to see that the coroners regulations and way of operating is updated and made fit for purpose, particularly for our servicemen and their families.
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. Once again, I thank the Minister for all that he has done in helping us forward on the covenant. I have seen all too often in the see city of Wakefield recently the tragic sight of funerals at the cathedral of people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The clergy often finds itself at the sharp end of this, as it were, because it is trying to minister to families who are feeling particularly raw through the normal outcome of war and the sadness that that brings.
I support the amendment for two reasons. First, the delays that we have heard about reinforce that rawness and sense of loss that families find so difficult to cope with, particularly having lost loved ones in these tragic and, in some ways, unforeseen circumstances. Although people realise that they are taking a risk when they join the military forces, somehow one always thinks that it will be someone else who actually dies in battle.
Secondly, there should be proper monitoring of what is going on, as the noble Baroness said. It seems to me that remembering people who have lost their lives and having them recorded is essential in this process. The fact that it is not going to cost anything ought to encourage us to go with this amendment. I realise how much the Minister and the Government have worked to improve the Bill, but if we do not include this amendment, I think that ultimately it will not capture the proper operation of inquests. For that reason, I ask noble Lords to support this amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. Although I did not take part in the debate last week, I listened very carefully to it. Arrangements had been made so that we did not vote last week; I expect that we will today on this amendment.
Following the Bill closely, I feel somewhat incredulous that the Government have not conceded in this area. This proposal is very much diluted from where we originally started. About three years ago I was privileged to sit in on a consultation, conducted by the Ministry of Defence, with the bereaved families of members of the Armed Forces. It was somewhat humbling to sit there and listen to them talk very constructively about how things could be changed. It would not help them, since they had already been in that situation, but it would help bereaved families of service men and women in the future and ease their lives with regard to delays in inquests. I gather that there is still a backlog of inquests.
I regard this as quite a simple amendment. It is about our duty of care to our service men and women. The covenant covers active service personnel and veterans, but what about service people who lose their lives and pay the ultimate price? What about the families they have left behind? This is a very small, light amendment. It does not call for huge expenditure. In my view, it meets what the whole ethos and spirit of the covenant to our Armed Forces personnel is really all about.
A number of colleagues have thanked the Minister for the changes in the Bill, which will leave the House very different from how it arrived. I give much of the credit for that to the Minister, to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and to the civil servants who have worked hard on this; I am not sure that these changes would have been achieved in another place. I ask why, on this last small request, which is really about the duty of care, the Government will not concede.
The amendment would not cost money and it certainly would not cost a lot of time. It would help the families and it would prevent us going back to the situation that we were in three years ago. It looks likely that multiple deaths will still be dealt with in Wiltshire, but inquests on single deaths in the Armed Forces look like going to a coroner who has probably never dealt with one before, which cannot be right. I give this amendment my wholehearted support, and hope that, if not through the Government conceding, then through a vote, we can get this into the Bill.
My Lords, the amendment would provide that the annual Armed Forces covenant would cover the operation of inquests as well as the subjects of healthcare, housing and education.
I do not wish to repeat the arguments already advanced in support of the amendment about why it is essential that there should be a specific reference in the Bill to the report covering the operation of inquests. Suffice to say that the decision not to proceed with the creation of the office of the chief coroner has strengthened the case. One of the roles of the chief coroner accepted on all sides of the House was the monitoring of investigations into service deaths and ensuring that coroners are trained to conduct investigations into military deaths. The chief coroner would also have had the responsibility to transfer inquests into military deaths to coroners in different jurisdictions to ensure that an inquest would be held by a coroner trained in military matters. The position now, as I understand it, is that investigations into single fatalities will still be transferred to the coroner closest to the next of kin. Inconsistency in quality of service and in quality of investigations for military families will therefore remain.
The amendment would not reverse or amend the Government’s decision in respect of the office of the chief coroner, but it would ensure that the issue of the operation of inquests—which, as has been said, remains a matter of considerable concern—is one that the Secretary of State has to report on each year in the Armed Forces covenant report, and thus is guaranteed to be the subject of continuing parliamentary and public scrutiny, challenge and debate.
In his responses in Grand Committee and on Report, the Minister—I think that he will accept this—has accepted that the operation of inquests is a subject that would be required to be covered by the Secretary of State in the Armed Forces covenant report at present but, his view is, not necessarily in future. The Minister argues that we currently have forces deployed overseas in military action—obviously, for example, in Afghanistan—which, sadly, continues to result in fatalities and consequential inquests, but that, hopefully, this will not be a permanent situation and thus there is no need, as there is with healthcare, housing and education, to have the operation of inquests included in the Bill as a required subject matter to be covered in the annual report.
I am sure that we all share his hope that the situation regarding fatalities will be transformed, but under current policy the current operations in Afghanistan will be continuing for just over another three years, and inquests are not always resolved and finalised quickly, as has been pointed out. Further, the anticipated position could well not materialise and we just do not know when or where our Armed Forces might be deployed overseas in the future. It is also the case that not all fatalities on active service occur overseas, as has been said, and there are fatalities in this country, including, in some years, some high-profile ones. It seems unrealistic to claim that, even though a highly sensitive issue such as the operation of inquests is one that the Secretary of State would almost certainly be expected to address for the next few years in an Armed Forces covenant report, such is our apparent certainty over what is going to happen in the highly uncertain and volatile arena of world affairs in the medium and longer term that we should decide now that it is not necessary to include any reference to the operation of inquests, along with healthcare, housing, and education in the Bill.
We have an Armed Forces Bill every five years—it is the one piece of guaranteed legislation that emanates from the Ministry of Defence, which is a department that generates very little new legislation. As a result, legislative changes and amendments that are required tend to be left until the next Armed Forces Bill. It may well be that experience of the processes and procedures provided for in this Bill for the annual Armed Forces covenant report will lead to some amendments being put forward by the then Government in the next Bill in just the same way as other parts of this, or previous Armed Forces Bills, may necessitate revision or amendment. There is nothing wrong with that, and there is likewise nothing wrong with the reference to the operation of inquests being included in this Bill as a subject matter that will be addressed in the annual Armed Forces covenant report, when we know it is an important and sensitive issue, because in what many might feel is the less than likely event of its ceasing to be an issue of importance and concern, it can be removed from the Bill by an amendment to a future Armed Forces Bill.
If the noble Baroness does not feel able to accept the Minister’s reply, and is minded to seek the opinion of the House, we will be supporting the amendment.
My Lords, during both Grand Committee and Report stages, the noble Baroness gave a detailed and moving account of problems which had been encountered by bereaved service families in the course of a coroner’s inquest. I have considered carefully what the noble Baroness said on Report; it seems to me that she has three main areas of concern, and I shall try to deal with each in turn.
The first is the process and quality of inquests. In the past decade, more than 500 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who have lost their lives in military operations, including 12 service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. Sixty-three of these inquests were held this year alone. Several years ago, bereaved families could have waited around two years for an inquest. Last year we completed 131 inquests into operational death, for which the average date was 15 months, and only 11 and a half months for those where there did not have to be a service inquiry. For those who died last year the average wait is currently eight months, although this will increase, as a small number of inquests have yet to be held.
These improvements are a direct result of changes we have made, including the setting up of a dedicated defence inquest unit. But we are not complacent. The Ministry of Defence will continue to support coroners to ensure that they are able to hear inquests into service deaths promptly. This we hope will go some way to ease the burden on families at such a difficult and distressing time.
The defence inquest unit deals generally with around 20 to 25 coroners, and as the noble Baroness said on Report, the Ministry of Defence has held training events for them. I note, too, that the noble Baroness also raised concerns over the wide variation in the standards and performance of coroners. At present there are 99 coroners in 114 coronial districts. She will be interested to know that the Government propose to take forward a package of measures aimed at improving the standard of service provided by coroners, including statutory provision set out in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, such as training regulations for coroners, and powers to make new rules, regulations and guidance. In the mean time, the Government will also publish a new charter for the current coroner service in early 2012. This will set out the minimum standards of service that those coming into contact with the system can expect and establish a new bereaved organisations committee for the important role of monitoring the impact of the charter.
Moreover, as the noble Baroness has acknowledged, quarterly ministerial statements on military inquests are already provided to Parliament and have been since 2006. They are accompanied by detailed tables, outlining the status of each operational death in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am sure that information of this kind will continue to be presented to Parliament for as long as there is public concern about how the inquest system works in relation to service personnel.
I also refer the noble Baroness to the commitments that I made on Report. The Secretary of State will have regard to a whole range of subjects included in the scope of the Armed Forces covenant, as set out in the guidance document published on 16 May. That includes the operation of the inquest system for bereaved service families. Again, I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the membership of the covenant reference group. Both the Royal British Legion, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and the War Widows Association of Great Britain are there to ensure that the Secretary of State receives very clear advice.
Noble Lords are well aware that the Ministry of Defence does not and cannot have total control of the process. Inquests and coroners are independent of government. In so far as the Government provide a legislative framework for inquests, that is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. Of course the Ministry of Defence has an interest in ensuring that inquests are effective and that they understand the military context. However, it would be wrong in principle for the Ministry of Defence to take on a general legislative responsibility to report every year on the operation of the inquest process.
The second main issue concerns the information about the health of members of the Armed Forces that can be obtained from inquests. It is true that valuable epidemiological information can sometimes be obtained from inquests into the deaths of those who die in service. However, the noble Baroness expresses concern not only about those who die in service but those who have left the services. The difficulties of tracking what happens to all former members of the Armed Forces until their deaths are well known. Whether their deaths are the subject of an inquest will, moreover, depend on whether the death is violent or unnatural, the cause of death is unknown, or the death occurs in detention. Therefore, for those veterans whose deaths are from illness or plainly from the long-term effects of injury, there will be no inquest. The focus of the inquest is on the cause of death. For example, if a veteran is killed in a car accident, the effect on his health of military service or injury is very unlikely to be looked at in the inquest. If he or she dies of, say, cancer or heart disease, there will generally be no inquest at all. As a result, tracking veterans and then examining the inquest, where one is held, is unlikely to be a major source of information.
I accept the noble Baroness’s point that inquests can yield information about the long-term effects suffered by those who have been in a theatre of war and been injured. However, it seems that the point here is not that there should be a legal obligation to cover inquests in every report, but that we should ensure that we use the information that comes from inquests in our analysis of healthcare problems. In this respect, inquests should be a recognised source of information for those healthcare issues that the reports address. However, only where there is an Armed Forces issue about them should inquests be the focus of a covenant report themselves.
The third point made by the noble Baroness on Report was that:
“The problem often is that the service personnel who are at highest risk are those who are emotionally isolated and who present to clinical services that do not understand the long-term sequelae of what has happened previously”.—[Official Report, 4/10/11; col. 1045.]
This indeed is an important area of concern. However, if I may be blunt, I do not see how a duty to report on inquests would help in this area at all. What the noble Baroness refers to here is an issue of long-term healthcare for veterans, which comes squarely under the existing requirement of the clause to address healthcare for serving personnel, for veterans, and for Armed Forces families.
The noble Baroness mentioned deaths in training. It is very important that deaths in training are carefully monitored, and that, if there are indications of underlying failures, they are the subject of government action. A report might be the right way to take that action; but it could not be a report on the effects of service in the operation of inquests—the inquest would be a source of information for the report, not the subject of the report.
I believe that, for the reasons I have set out, there is no need for the legislation to refer to the operation of inquests. Moreover, if I have understood the noble Baroness correctly, its aims in respect of veterans would not be realised. I therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his very detailed response to the points I have made at previous stages of this Bill. I am well aware that we are at Third Reading, and will therefore be very brief.
I fully understand the package of measures that are going to be introduced to improve the inquest system in general, and that the system will be evaluated and monitored. I suggest that reporting on how that affects military deaths would be particularly useful, so those measures do not remove the need for my amendment.
In terms of tracking, and the information that is obtained from inquests, of course many deaths occur in civilian life. However, to take an example such as a death in a car accident, it is precisely the question of whether there are more alcohol-fuelled deaths in road accidents among ex-service personnel, and if there is a link to trauma that they have experienced previously, that makes such information highly important.
I accept that some of the points will be covered by the health requirement. However, they will not all be covered by it, and we will miss an important opportunity if we do not incorporate inquests, particularly because there has been so much concern over military inquests in recent years. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 3 and 4 not moved.
Amendments 5 to 7
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 22, at end insert—
“(3A) For the purposes of preparing an armed forces covenant report, the Secretary of State must obtain the views of any relevant government department, and seek the views of any relevant devolved administration, in relation to the effects to be covered by the report.
(3B) An armed forces covenant report must—
(a) set out in full or summarise the views of a relevant government department or relevant devolved administration obtained pursuant to subsection (3A); and(b) where the views of a relevant devolved administration have been sought but not obtained, state that fact.(3C) The Secretary of State may not include in an armed forces covenant report a summary under subsection (3B)(a) unless the relevant government department or relevant devolved administration has approved the summary.”
6: Clause 2, page 2, line 40, leave out subsections (7) to (9)
7: Clause 2, page 3, line 26, at end insert—
“343B Interpretation of Part
(1) In section 343A “service people” means—
(a) members of the regular forces and the reserve forces;(b) members of British overseas territory forces who are subject to service law;(c) former members of any of Her Majesty’s forces who are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom; and(d) relevant family members.(2) In section 343A “relevant government department”, in relation to an effect to be covered by an armed forces covenant report, means a department of the Government of the United Kingdom (apart from the Ministry of Defence) which the Secretary of State considers has functions relevant to that effect.
(3) In section 343A “relevant devolved administration”, in relation to an effect to be covered by an armed forces covenant report, means whichever of the following the Secretary of State considers to have functions relevant to that effect—
(a) the Scottish Executive;(b) the Northern Ireland departments;(c) the Welsh Assembly Government.(4) In this Part—
“British overseas territory force” means any of Her Majesty’s forces that is raised under the law of a British overseas territory;
“membership or former membership” of a force, in relation to a person, includes any service in that force that that person is undertaking, undertook or may be expected to be called on to undertake;
“relevant family members” means such descriptions of persons connected with service members, or with persons who were service members, as the Secretary of State considers should be covered by a report or part of a report;
“service member” means a person who falls within any of paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (1).
(5) Any reference in this Part to membership or former membership of the armed forces is to be read, in relation to a person who is—
(a) a service member, or(b) a relevant family member by reason of connection with a person who is or was a service member,as a reference to the service member’s membership or former membership of a force mentioned in subsection (1).”
Amendments 5 to 7 agreed.
8: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—
After section 339 of AFA 2006 insert—“339A Commonwealth medalsMedals awarded by Commonwealth governments, including the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal, to present or former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces and other Crown servants may be worn without restriction.””
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 8 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Touhig. I am grateful for their support. As I made clear in my remarks at Report and Committee stages, the current arrangements are not satisfactory. This is not so much a criticism of individuals but of a process that is no longer—to use that popular phrase—fit for purpose.
I propose to respond to the points made by the Minister when he resisted this amendment in his letter of 23 September and at Report stage. In that letter to me and to other noble Lords who have spoken on this topic, the Minister said that when exceptions to the long-standing rule of no double medalling and the five-year moratorium are allowed, the results are then seen to be anomalous and unfair.
This is surely the wrong conclusion. The problem arises because the rules are out of date, and are no longer suitable for dealing with the donor countries and international organisations of today and the variety of involvements of many individual recipients. I am glad the Minister has put a review in hand. However, it must address the matter of what guidance there should be on accepting—or refusing to accept—foreign awards. The no double medal and the five-year moratorium have been breached at least since the time of the Korean War in the early 1950s and, in one way or another, in almost every year since. It is simply not tenable to claim that they are the right benchmark. I suspect that the mindset—or default position—is to try to deter an offer first, rather than have to deal with the much trickier problem of refusing or prevaricating over one once made. That is why these rules are still prayed in aid. However, they have lost their validity with the passage of time.
Secondly, in his reply to my earlier amendment, the Minister claimed that the HD committee was non-political, being made up of senior Crown servants, and was the source of advice to the Queen on the acceptance and wearing of foreign medals. However it defies belief that an award proposed by a foreign head of state or Government to one or more British subjects would not be considered by Ministers at some stage. Surely the interplay of diplomatic and cultural, economic and security interests and so on between a donor and this country must be taken into account on how best to respond to a generous gesture by a putative donor.
Lacking the speed of modern communication, those considerations may not have been uppermost 70 years ago, but surely they cannot be ignored today. Ministers must have some part to play, particularly if a refusal is mooted. Moreover, as is clear from my remarks at Report about the Minister’s letter of 23 September, and in the Written Statements that I quoted about the rules and government policy, the Queen, as is normal, will on this topic act on the advice of Ministers. The Minister says so himself. I assume that this advice is couched to deal with agreements to restricted or unrestricted acceptance. I doubt that any submission put to Her Majesty seeks formal approval to refuse an award.
The Minister, in answering my points at Report, said that the effect of my then amendment would be to end the broadly consistent approach across government. The words “other Crown servants” in the current amendment deal with that objection.
The Minister’s next point was that a problem would be created by establishing a separate principle that applied to medals offered by the Governments of Commonwealth nations, as opposed to those offered by other allies. He said that it would not be easy to justify to non-Commonwealth allies or members of our Armed Forces why we would generally decline the offer of a medal from them, while readily accepting a medal offered by a Commonwealth nation. Surely, that misunderstands this amendment, and I note too the mindset or default opinion which is expressed in the words “would generally decline the offer”.
On the one hand, my amendment would facilitate, without recourse to any archaic HD committee rules, the acceptance and wearing of Commonwealth medals. That would be set down in statute. Until the rules are changed, as I believe that they should be, the treatment of other friendly nations or international organisations would be, as now, unchanged, apart from explaining to them that the new Commonwealth arrangement was approved by Parliament and had received Royal Assent. I do not see that causing any greater diplomatic difficulty than already exists, as the Minister asserted, and almost certainly a good deal less, even without any changes to the HD committee rules. Those rules, or the way in which they are applied by officials, seem designed to deter as far as possible any foreign offer. That approach must surely merit thorough re-examination.
As I mentioned at Report, there is renewed interest in Government to strengthen the Commonwealth heritage—in short, to put the C back in FCO. It would be timely to adopt this amendment so that the Prime Minister, at the forthcoming CHOGM in Perth at the end of this month, could mention it then as a gesture of the Government’s determination to strengthen their Commonwealth ties.
I now turn to the vexed question of a particular Commonwealth medal, the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal, which is mentioned in the amendment. UK subjects have Her Majesty’s approval to accept that medal but not to wear it. The Minister, who has one, says that he keeps it hidden in his top drawer. However, I welcome the statement at Report saying that the Minister would,
“write to ministerial colleagues in the FCO emphasising the strength of feeling that continues to exist, both in this House and elsewhere, specifically about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal … I will propose that they look again at whether they can advise the HD committee to recommend to Her Majesty that those who were awarded the medal should also be permitted to wear it”.—[Official Report, 4/10/11; col. 1074.]
Can the Minister confirm that he has written? Has he any indication when he will receive a response? Indeed, does this not also confirm the involvement of Ministers and that this is a topic not solely left to the HD Committee, as has been claimed?
I do not wish to detain the House by going over in full all the arguments brought to the Minister's attention that favour removing the restriction on wearing the PJM by British subjects, but let me give him just one further example of what is happening and is wrong, sent to me by another recipient of the PJM, one of many who have contacted me to express their outrage at the way that they have been treated by our system.
This individual, an RAF veteran of Malaya and North Borneo, describes his experience on ANZAC Day. He says that when marching with Malaysian and North Borneo veterans of the Australian Defence Force, he is unable to wear his PJM medal, although all the ADF veterans have royal approval to do so. It appears, he says, that the Queen of Australia rejoices in them wearing the PJM, but the Queen of the United Kingdom does not. As he and others have pointed out, that appears to be an insult to the people of Malaysia. He personally concludes, regretfully, that he can but agree.
It is time that that ridiculous anomaly was righted forthwith. Will the Minister accept my amendment? He does not automatically have to resist now that the Bill is to return to another place. The amendment would give great pleasure to numerous veterans—a gesture to their loyalty and valour worthy of the military covenant—and smooth the HD committee's work with Commonwealth countries pleased to make a national award to UK Crown servants. Agreement now would allow holders to wear their PJM on Remembrance Sunday this year, and wear it with pride.
I urge the Minister to accept the strength of those arguments and those of other noble Lords and to let the revised Bill complete its passage through both Houses with the amendment to gain Royal Assent. I beg to move.
I put my name to the amendment, as I did in Committee and at Report. I declare an interest as a holder of the Pingat Jasa Malaysia. I shall not repeat all the arguments made so well by my noble and gallant friend, which have been put forward on numerous occasions. I should just like to mention three points.
First, as my noble and gallant friend said, the existing rules are utterly discredited. It was mentioned in the previous amendment that the coroners’ regulations are 149 years old; some of the regulations for these medals go back to the Crimean War.
Secondly, it is all very well saying that it is a committee of civil servants who will draw this up, but it is actually Ministers who should give advice. I am concerned that Ministers do not appear to have given the ruling on this issue that they might have done.
I mention that in coming to my third point, because we are all abundantly clear—it has been made clear by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and by the Minister in this House—that the Foreign Office is trying to put back the C into the FCO. There is an emphasis on the Commonwealth. This is a Commonwealth medal. To my mind, it is discourteous not to accept something from the Commonwealth when the people who were awarded it went out honouring a treaty obligation to help a fellow Commonwealth member in trouble. This really ought to be put right as soon as possible.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig—in particular, his remarks about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. This has been a running sore for far too long, and it is about time that we sought to heal it. I have been a long-time critic of the Committee on Honours, Decorations and Medals, the so-called HD committee, which advises Her Majesty the Queen on these matters. As has been said, the committee advised Her Majesty that the veterans of the Malaysian campaign should accept the medal but must not wear it. Over the years, like others, I have tabled Parliamentary Questions. When I sat in the other place, I obtained an adjournment debate and tabled EDMs, all to no avail: the rule still stands.
If any of us were to walk down any high street in Britain today and stop a complete stranger and say, “Do you know that this country has allowed veterans who fought in the jungles of Malaysia to accept a medal from the King of Malaysia but they must not wear it?”, they would think you were “dwp”—a Welsh word meaning daft in the head. British soldiers gave their lives in this campaign. We are told that this cannot be changed because of the five-year rule and the double medalling rule. We now discover that these are not rules at all but merely conventions which the HD committee operates. We are here this afternoon in the glorious surroundings of this magnificent Chamber of the House of Lords and yet only halfway round the world in Afghanistan somebody’s husband, son or father is risking his life for us as a country in defending British interests. What sort of message do we send to these brave young men when we say that someone who fought for our country over 50 years ago should be treated so dishonourably?
I recognise that the HD committee has a difficult task. I have done my best to understand how it reached its decision. I have attempted through freedom of information requests to discover how this has happened, but I have been totally thwarted by the Cabinet Office. However, we have a chance to do something about this today. This is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is a privilege to sit here, whether in the elected House down the corridor or in this House. People in this country still expect Parliament to do something about righting a wrong or ending an injustice. I believe this should be a free vote in both Houses. If your Lordships’ House was to carry this amendment today, I have no doubt that on a free vote down the corridor it would be passed overwhelmingly by Members there. If ever there was a case for parliamentarians to be allowed to use their conscience, this is one. This is about how we respect and treat those who have served our country. The Minister is a good and decent man and well thought of all around the Chamber. We know he has worked hard to try and resolve this matter and we certainly wish him well. But this is a case when the Executive should stand aside and Parliament, unfettered by the Executive, should speak for the people of Britain.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I chair one of the honours committees within the mainline honours system, although happily it has nothing to do with this. However, because of my familiarity with that system and some of the problems that can arise between us and Commonwealth countries, I feel at least entitled to express the view that I cannot see a single good reason for allowing somebody to accept a medal and not be able to wear it. I can see circumstances in which you might refuse to allow them to accept a medal for whatever reason, but I cannot see how you can say, “You can have this medal but you must never put it on”. I think this needs looking at.
My Lords, I am afraid I have disobeyed my late great friend Lord Weatherill who said, “If you are at all in doubt do not listen to the debate”. I have listened to the debate and I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Newton. It really is nonsense. I am actually standing before your Lordships wearing a decoration—Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland. When I received it for services which do not begin to compare with the bravery that the people we are talking of displayed in the Malaysian jungles, I received a letter from the Queen’s private secretary giving me unrestricted permission to wear it whenever I wished to. It seems a total nonsense to give permission to these brave people to accept this medal and then to say, “But you cannot wear it”. There is no logic in that argument whatever and I hope that my noble friend who will be replying to this debate—for whom I, too, have very real regard and respect—if he cannot give the logical answer will say that we ought to let Parliament make up its mind to allow these brave veterans, most of whom are very old people now, to enjoy at least one Remembrance Day where they can wear this decoration of which they are rightly proud.
My Lords, I rise as someone with no military medals, though my late father had some. I find it incomprehensible that we are not proud that service people fighting for this country were awarded medals by one of our Commonwealth nations. If we are proud that they should be awarded such medals, why should they not be allowed to wear them? It seems incomprehensible that they are not. We talk in your Lordships' House about the cost of this and the cost of that—I was told that the cost of national defence medals would be higher than I imagined—but the cost of doing this is nothing other than perhaps a dent in some civil servant’s pride. There is no reason why this House should not encourage the Government to allow people to wear medals such as the PJM medal.
Having been awarded a medal from a Commonwealth country, the recipient does not have to wear it. There is no saying that if you have received a medal from a Commonwealth country of which you might, for current reasons, disapprove you have to wear it, but the idea that you cannot wear it seems anathema.
The Bill has to go to the other place. It is not on this one amendment that it may ping-pong. Therefore, contrary to my normal loyalties to the coalition, I will vote with the noble, valiant Lords in favour of the amendment.
My Lords, I listened to the debate on medals in Grand Committee. I said at the end of it that our position was neutral but that I had found many of the arguments very persuasive. I have read the letter from the Minister of 23 September and welcome it as far as it goes. It is good that there is to be a review, and I am pleased that it will be relatively rapid. I apologise for not being present on Report, but I have carefully read the debate in Hansard. As a consequence, I assume that, arising out of those debates and that letter, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and his colleagues have produced what is now a very narrow amendment about a particular anomaly.
We have taken enough time on this; I shall not repeat the arguments except to say that I unknowingly applied the test described by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, to a peculiar group of people called the opposition Whips. I tried to explain to them that we were going to debate how the King of Malaysia had presented a medal to British soldiers, how the Queen through Her Majesty's Government had agreed that they could accept it, and how they were not then allowed to wear it. It took me 10 minutes to convince them that I was being serious, especially, as I recollect from Committee, there is one day or one week when the soldiers are allowed to wear the medal.
We will support Amendment 8. I take this opportunity to say how flexible and how positive the Minister, his fellow Ministers and their team have been throughout the Bill. I earnestly invite him to maintain that theme and accept the amendment. Unfortunately, if he is unable to do so and there is a Division on it, we will join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and his colleagues in the Lobby.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think that we should also point to how these actions will be seen in Malaysia, which is a very important country that is deeply attached to ours? We have very strong links in higher education and business. It seems to me needlessly insulting of the people of Malaysia to do this.
My Lords, the debates that we have already had on the subject of medals can have left no doubt about how important this matter is, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to address it again today.
The debate has had a number of strands: the process and rules for deciding on the acceptance and wearing of awards given by foreign and Commonwealth nations; the position within this process of Her Majesty as the fount of honour and the person to whom loyalty is owed; and the desire—shared, I believe, by all noble Lords—to recognise and support the Commonwealth. The amendment put down by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, relates to all these strands.
The position of the Government on the fundamentals of how the system should work remains the same as that of the last Government, when in 2007 the HD committee considered for a second time the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. It is the same position as has been held by every previous Government since King George VI established the HD committee.
The foundations of this position are quite simple. First, when British citizens, whether civilian or military, carry out their duties to the sovereign and their country, it is for the sovereign to decide on the award of honours for that service.
Secondly, the advice given to the sovereign about the grant of honours should be consistent across government—expert and, so far as is possible, dispassionate. Decisions on whether to reward service should not be made in the glare of public debate or potential party political argument about the wider political context in which that service was given.
Lastly, there should be consistency in our response to the wishes of all states, foreign or Commonwealth. In particular, our response to all our allies and friends should be consistent. I do not pretend that absolute consistency has been, or can always be, maintained. Sometimes exceptions are, and no doubt will be, made. But it is nearly always when exceptions are made that unfairness or anomalies are likely to occur.
The amendment would have two direct effects. First, it would lay down for the future a new rule about medals—that those awarded a Commonwealth medal shall be entitled in all circumstances to wear it. Secondly, it would apply this rule to Commonwealth medals awarded in the past. These include, as the amendment specifies, the PJM medal.
In doing so, the amendment would also have a number of indirect effects. By overturning past decisions that have been made on Commonwealth medals, it would establish the precedent that Parliament may overturn—and after any length of time—any decision of the sovereign as the fount of honour. Her decision is needed on the full details of what is proposed, as to both the acceptance and the wearing of medals. The amendment would overturn, specifically, past decisions on Commonwealth cases. I need hardly say that it is Her Majesty who is Head of the Commonwealth, not Parliament.
It would establish a further precedent that Parliament is able to lay down and change the rules which are to be applied to decisions on the acceptance of honours from foreign and Commonwealth states. It would assert that Parliament can do so in a way which alters the fundamentals that I have described of the existing arrangements, such as the need for a basically consistent approach to awards by all friendly and allied states.
Equally profound in its implications is the argument that must underlie this amendment—that decisions on the award of honours, and whether to change decisions previously made, are better made in the emotive and often party political atmosphere of parliamentary consideration, than with the detached and largely non-party political approach envisaged in the arrangements set up by King George VI. I believe that it would be wrong in principle for this House to lead the way towards such a new approach to the award of honours. As to the particular new rule that the amendment would put in place, I simply point out that it would create a different principle for the wearing of medals awarded by Commonwealth nations from that which applies to those awarded by other allies.
The operations in which our Armed Forces are involved are increasingly international, with British units regularly working alongside UN, NATO or EU partners. It would not be easy to justify to non-Commonwealth allies, or to those individuals whom they wish to reward, why the United Kingdom had decided to treat their awards on a fundamentally different basis from those offered by a Commonwealth nation.
That does not mean that I do not attach a special value to our membership of the Commonwealth and to our connections with its members. They are of the greatest importance, historically, culturally and constitutionally. But I do not believe that the creation of the distinction which this amendment would make between our Commonwealth and other friends is the way to reflect our respect for the Commonwealth.
Neither does it mean that I do not understand the force of the points that have been made in these debates about particular cases, and about the way that the process works, or is perceived to work. I have therefore instructed Ministry of Defence officials to consider the process by which advice about the institution of medals and the acceptance of foreign awards in respect of military service is put together, considered and submitted to Her Majesty.
As I explained on Report, this work will also consider the way that decisions are promulgated. My officials will ensure that they have the benefit of the views of the current chiefs of staff and they will discuss the issue with HD committee members. They will then consider whether any advice should be given to Her Majesty about the need to review the process and to make changes. Once my officials have reported back to me, I shall report the outcome to Parliament through a Written Ministerial Statement. I aim to do so before the end of the year.
I have been particularly struck with the force of the points made about the decision on the PJM medal. We have heard about how it is seen in Malaysia and about the continued importance and awareness of the issue not only in Malaysia and among those working for or representing the United Kingdom in Malaysia but among all those who were awarded the PJM medal. I shall put in hand, through my officials, representations to members of the HD committee about these issues, with a request that their advice to Her Majesty is to consider again whether those who have been awarded the medal should be permitted to wear it. Again I shall report the outcome to Parliament through a Written Ministerial Statement, and I aim to do so before the end of the year. However, for the reasons that I have explained, I do not believe that it would be right, in order to improve the system, for Parliament to overturn Her Majesty's decisions or to establish a precedent for laying new rules. Such an approach would not in my view support the essential merits and aims of the existing system, or support Her Majesty in carrying out her role as the fount of honour.
For those reasons, I cannot support the noble and gallant Lord's proposed amendment, and I would urge noble Lords to reflect extremely carefully before starting down the road it represents.
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I hope he will be pleased if I simply say that I, at any rate, in what I acknowledge is an extremely difficult area, found his reply entirely acceptable, bearing in mind the pressures that he will exert for a review and the fact that he will come back to us before the end of the year.
My Lords, I raised this particular question in my earlier comments. The Minister has said:
“I propose to write to ministerial colleagues in the FCO emphasising the strength of feeling that continues to exist, both in this House and elsewhere, specifically about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal … I will propose that they look again at whether they can advise the HD committee to recommend to Her Majesty that those who were awarded the medal should also be permitted to wear it”.—[Official Report, 4/10/11; col. 1074.]
Has the noble Lord written, and when does he expect a reply?
I thank the noble Lord for that assurance. There is a fundamental disconnect, I feel, between the approach that I and my colleagues are taking and the one that the Minister has taken. It is all to do, fundamentally, with whether the HD committee rules to which we keep referring are still fit for purpose. My contention is that they not fit for purpose. On that basis, I propose to ask for the view of the House.
My Lords, I gather that it is traditional at this point for the Minister guiding the Bill to say a few words of thanks. More than 30 noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords spoke during the debate at Second Reading in July. That is testament to the deep and abiding interest in the Armed Forces that exists in this House. In our exchanges since then, we have at times taken different views on some issues. However, I have been impressed, as I always am, by the courtesy and helpfulness that have been shown to me by noble Lords on all sides of the House. It is difficult to single out individuals, but I should like to pay tribute to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for his hard work on the Bill and for his tenacity in pursuing issues that he thought were wrong. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is not in her place now. I should also like to thank the many people behind the scenes, in the House and elsewhere, who have supported us during the Bill’s passage. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the Armed Forces. This Bill is for them. We owe them our best efforts at all times, and I believe that we have a Bill that meets the high standard that they set for us.
My Lords, I will be brief, but I would like to thank the Minister and his team for all the considerable help that they have given on this Bill. The Minister has been prepared to listen with an open mind to the points made during our discussions. Where he has felt able to make changes in the Bill to address some of the concerns that have been raised, he has done so. We wish to express our thanks to the Minister for all the work that he has done on the Bill and for his major contribution to the fact that our debates have been constructive and conducted without rancour, and conducted with the interests of our Armed Forces in our minds.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Report (5th Day)
Clause 22 : Pay policy statements
190: Clause 22, page 26, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) The statement may include the approach that the relevant authority has adopted for selecting information on pay policy from a provider, including any potential provider, of goods and services.”
My Lords, I do not intend to move the amendment but I urge the Government, in considering issues of procurement and the like, to bear in mind the need to ensure that reasonable conditions, in terms of pay and other conditions of service, are applicable not only to those employed within the public sector but to those with whom it contracts, and to seek to encourage the concept of the living wage, which has been adopted in London by successive mayors and which other local authorities are seeking to promote. I do not wish to detain the House further so the amendment is not moved.
Amendment 190 not moved.
Clause 27 : Interpretation
Amendment 191 not moved.
191A: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER 6ACommission for Local Administration in EnglandArrangements for provision of services and discharge of functions
(1) After section 33ZA of the Local Government Act 1974 insert—
“33ZB Arrangements for provision of administrative and other services
(1) Arrangements involving the Commission may be entered into by persons within subsection (4) for the provision of administrative, professional or technical services by any one or more of the parties for any one or more of the parties, whether for consideration or otherwise.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), arrangements for the provision of services involve the Commission if the Commission is one of the parties to the arrangements and at least one of the following conditions is met—
(a) the Commission is the party, or one of the parties, by whom the services are to be provided;(b) the Commission is the party, or one of the parties, to whom the services are to be provided.(3) The arrangements that may be entered into under subsection (1) include arrangements for—
(a) the Commission, or(b) the Commission jointly with any one or more of the parties,to have the function of discharging, on behalf of a party, any function of that party which is of an administrative, professional or technical nature.(4) The persons within this subsection are—
(a) the Commission,(b) the Parliamentary Commissioner, (c) the Health Service Commissioner for England, and(d) the person administering a scheme approved under Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1996 (scheme for enabling complaints to be investigated by a housing ombudsman).”(2) In paragraph 13 of Schedule 4 to the Local Government Act 1974 (delegation by Local Commissioners) after sub-paragraph (2) insert—
“(3) Any function of the Commission may be discharged on the Commission’s behalf—
(a) by any person authorised by the Commission to do so, and(b) to the extent so authorised.(4) Sub-paragraph (3) does not affect the responsibility of the Commission for the discharge of the function.””
My Lords, the three government amendments in this group give the Local Government Ombudsman the power to operate shared services with other public sector ombudsmen and clarifies the organisation’s ability to delegate functions to its staff.
Making provision for our public sector ombudsmen to share back-office functions makes sound, practical sense, providing as it does scope for better, efficient working. Moreover, making provision for public sector ombudsmen to share services, like a single point of contact for complaints from the public about public sector service failures such as social housing, has clear advantages for the public.
The amendment provides assurance that the Commission for Local Administration in England, as a corporate body, has the power to delegate functions to its officers—for instance, the ability for a member of staff to negotiate and let a contract for cleaning the office. This in no way relates to the delegation powers of the commissioners themselves, who have clear powers of delegation that allow officers of the commission to investigate cases.
The other two amendments in this group, first, make provision for the commencement of the provision that I have just described and, secondly, amend the title of the Bill to give the Commission for Local Administration in England its proper title.
Amendment 191A agreed.
192: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to require property to be maintained to appropriate standard
A local authority may by byelaws make provision requiring that, on receipt by the local authority of a petition from residents of a particular street or other residential area to the effect that one or more properties in their street or area are not being maintained to the standard appropriate to properties in that street or area, the owners of the property carry out such reasonable repairs and maintenance as are necessary to keep the property up to the average standard of repair of the other properties in the street or area.”
My Lords, I am so pleased that we have actually reached one of my amendments. I flew back from Sydney yesterday specifically to be here for it but I felt sure that another 25 would have popped in ahead of me again. Fortunately, that has not happened.
This amendment comes about because at the moment, councils have no authority to do anything to maintain standards of appearance—and buildings at all—and this can be very bad for other residents adjoining. The home that I sold in 1977 to very rich people, who now have vast resources in this country, was done up at that time and has not been touched since. It is really quite sad to go past and see the gutters falling off and the stucco all in pieces. People in that street told me that they have repeatedly asked if something could be done about it, and the council has said that no, it has no powers to even request this. These people have taken petitions up to the owners of that house, but nothing has happened. When I asked the council, it said that it has powers if something is unsafe and going to fall down, or if it is a listed building—although even if it is a listed building, it cannot ask for it to be maintained; it can only prevent it from actually falling down when it gets to that point. I was surprised that the council says that it has no powers in this respect.
It should not be a case of demanding that people keep a place in immaculate condition. I know of a similar case in Montpelier Square, where local residents get very distressed by this. It is worth thinking about having an enabling power for councils. I hope that it would be needed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, and welcome her on her return from her homeland. I trust she has not been suffering from jet lag; I will not detain her too long.
I am not sure that the amendment is necessarily the right way to deal with this. My understanding is that in conservation areas there are provisions under the Town and Country Planning Acts for steps to be taken to maintain properties of this kind. It is not without interest that in Edinburgh recently there have apparently been problems with requirements being imposed on local residents by the local authority—who appear to have powers similar to those advanced in this amendment—which have caused some controversy. Apparently large sums of money have had to be laid out on improving or maintaining properties, and some of those who are benefiting from those expenditures have been connected with the decision-making process. That would not be applicable if the amendment were carried, and one would hope that it would not occur. Nevertheless, it is difficult to define exactly what standards would be required.
There is, however, a more general point which applies to this and the other amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, and that is the general by-law-making powers of local government. This is something I took up with the previous Administration, and some modifications were made about that issue. It might be worth the Government looking at the extent to which councils are free to make by-laws as opposed to having to have everything approved by individual departments. Alongside that, perhaps the Government could look at the question of consent regimes generally, which is something again that I have been attempting to pursue for a number of years, including in some recent Written Questions.
The noble Baroness has touched on an issue, perhaps almost inadvertently, that is worth considering: the capacity of local authorities to make particular provisions for their areas without necessarily having to have everything approved by central government. I do not know how the Minister will respond; I suspect that he will acknowledge the good intentions but say that perhaps it is not appropriate for this Bill, and I certainly would not press him to go further than that. However, I ask the Government to take back the issues of by-law-making powers and consent regimes generally, not for the purposes of this Bill, but as part of a localist agenda.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for introducing her amendment and welcome her back to Britain. Local authorities already have extensive powers to take action where a property is dangerous or having an adverse impact on the amenity of the neighbourhood. I see no need for additional powers. Under the Housing Act 2004, local authorities can tackle poor conditions across all residential properties. If a property is found to contain serious hazards, the local authority can instruct its owner to undertake any works necessary to ensure that it is safe. Inspections and any subsequent enforcement to address the disrepair can be triggered by complaints to the local authority.
Local authorities have a key role to play in identifying empty properties in their areas, and in developing strategies to bring them back into effective use. We encourage local authorities to work with owners to persuade them of the benefits of bringing their property back into use. However, where it is clear that owners are not prepared to co-operate with efforts to get their property occupied through agreement, local authorities have enforcement powers to deal with them. Further powers available to local authorities to tackle disrepair and poor maintenance include those in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Where properties have an adverse impact on the amenity of the area, local authorities can require that they are tidied up, repainted and, where necessary, rebuilt. I hope this will satisfy the noble Baroness and that those who are concerned will have more luck in getting their local authorities to pursue the powers that they have.
I take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on the by-law issue. I confirm that the Government will look into that further.
I thank the Minister for his reply on this matter, which he went into in detail. I am even more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who understood the sort of point that I was getting at. I hope we will see the day when special items of need for particular councils can be dealt with more directly in that way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 192 withdrawn.
193: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to make byelaws about smoke-free places
(1) A local authority may make byelaws designating as smoke-free any place or description of place that is not smoke-free under section 2 of the Health Act 2006.
(2) The place, or places falling within the description, need not be enclosed or substantially enclosed.
(3) The byelaws may provide for such places, or places falling within the description, to be smoke-free only—
(a) in specified circumstances,(b) at specified times,(c) if specified conditions are satisfied,(d) in specified areas,or any combination of those.(4) Terms used in this section have the same meanings as in the Health Act 2006.”
My Lords, this amendment came to me because someone who lives near me in central London phoned me and said, “I don’t know what to do. I can’t open the windows on this swelteringly hot day because all the people who are working on the local building site are sitting along the garages below my residence, and the smoke is so intense that I can’t open the window. I am going to die of the heat”. She did not die of the heat; nevertheless, I rang the local council. It was not something I had ever thought about before. I said, “What can you do about it?”. The council said, “We can do nothing. We get these issues all the time, particularly with restaurants and bars. Lots of people now congregate outside them because they can’t smoke inside”. If anyone happens to live within reach of the smoke, it is absolutely deadly for them. It would be helpful if the council could make this a planning issue.
Last month, I read in the paper that Australia proposes to bring in completely smoke-free streets. I did not hear anything about that while I was there; no one mentioned it. It is obviously of more interest to the press here than it is to people there. That is a bit extreme. My amendment is fairly short and simple but I have had the most intolerant e-mails and letters from people, saying that I am a fascist who is trying to ruin their lives and take away their right to a bit of healthy smoking whenever they feel like it. It is obviously a very emotive issue—quite unnecessarily so. I am not suggesting anything wholesale. However, I am suggesting that people should have the right to live in their homes and open their windows without finding themselves so adversely affected. I beg to move.
My Lords, again, one sympathises with the motivation behind this amendment. Quite apart from the particular case to which the noble Baroness referred, it is not a particularly attractive sight to see people hanging about smoking in the street. However, the only grounds on which orders could be made would relate to the impact of that smoking on health.
Enclosed areas are of course covered by the existing legislation, and, as I understand it, there is power to designate areas other than enclosed areas, if, in the authority’s opinion, there is significant risk that without designation persons in the area would be exposed to significant quantities of smoke—areas where, although they are outdoors, there is a concentration of people or of prevailing structures around the area that might lead to people being exposed to the smoke. If that is indeed the case, as it appears to be under the Health Act 2006, there does not appear to be any need for the amendment. I would encourage local authorities to look at that Act. No doubt the Minister in replying will have more information about that.
My Lords, again I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. Indeed, I have great sympathy for the amendment as it seems to me that the place immediately after the no-smoke zone ends is the problem territory, whether it is outside a public building, or wherever it may be.
The amendment would give local authorities an explicit power to make by-laws designating areas as smoke-free. The Health Act 2006 makes provision for the prohibition of smoking in enclosed public places and workspaces. It came into force in England on 1 July 2007. Section 4 of the Act provides regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State for Health to make further regulations—for England—designating as smoke-free any place or description of place that is not smoke-free under the Act. This could cover outdoor places. Therefore, if the evidence on the harms of exposure to second-hand smoke becomes more robust, and the Government’s preference for voluntary local action to extend smoke-free places where there is a clear need is shown not to be working, the Government can consider using Section 4 of the Health Act 2006 at a later date. I would say that, at the moment, the Government do not intend to make use of these powers. However, I know that colleagues in the Department of Health welcome the debate on this important issue and will continue to monitor developments and the evidence.
While we are sympathetic to local authorities making by-laws that preserve public health, our preference is to see local authorities promote the benefits of environments free from second-hand smoke on a voluntary basis. Creating smoke-free areas through legislation gives rise to complex issues, which I know that colleagues at the Department of Health would want time to consider carefully, and I do not think this is something we should be dealing with at this late stage of this Bill. As such, I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment and trust that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw it.
I thank the Minister and the spokesman from the Opposition for their very good and sound comments. I did not mention earlier that in the particular case I referred to one person left a cigarette burning which set fire to one of the garages so there is obviously a bit more of a risk in that regard too. However, I thought that was a red herring and should not be brought up.
This is a serious issue. I do not know what will happen in the future. I appreciate the points made about this being perhaps more of a health issue and therefore I am pleased to have aired it today—what a silly remark, to say “I have aired it” when we are talking about smoking. I have taken on board the comments that have been made and thank noble Lords very much. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 193 withdrawn.
194: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Licensing of pedicabs
(1) A local authority may by byelaws establish a scheme for the licensing of pedicabs in its area.
(2) Such a licensing scheme may make provision about—
(a) the compliance of pedicabs with road traffic legislation;(b) where pedicabs may be stationary whilst seeking business;(c) the playing of music in pedicabs;(d) the roadworthiness and appearance of pedicabs; and(e) such other matters as the local authority may determine.(3) In this section “pedicab” means a cycle constructed or adapted—
(a) to seat one or more passengers; and(b) for the purpose of being made available with a driver in the course of a business for the purpose of carrying passengers.”
My Lords, it is rather an overdose of me today, but it does make up for all the times I have sat here quietly. I have mixed views about this amendment myself, particularly as yesterday I came back from Heathrow by cab and the taxi driver was very strongly opposed it. I thought that that was interesting. He said, “The moment you license them, you are legitimising them. They are so dangerous”. He had seen people injured. I find that this happens all the time when I am driving home in the evening. I will see a pedicab suddenly move from the left hand side of the traffic, without any signal, cut right across the traffic and possibly even do a U-turn. They really are a danger. In the central London area they are also a danger when they park on footpaths. People cannot walk past them and sometimes have to go out into the street to do so. It is a genuine problem.
I was interested in the cab driver’s remark asking whether you are legitimising pedicabs if you licence them, particularly as there is a Bill before the House or perhaps some other technical measure. However, this issue is being considered in a wider context. My points about loud music and so on are all perfectly legitimate, although I am not sure that this is the opportunity to consider them. Meanwhile, so that we can hear the Minister’s reply, I beg to move.
My Lords, perhaps I may add to what my noble friend said. In fact, I introduced the London Local Authorities Bill which originally included a clause to provide for the licensing of pedicabs. It went through a long process of petitions that were heard. In the end, the promoter of the Bill, which at that stage was the City of London, decided that it was wiser to drop the pedicabs provision in order to get the Bill through. However, it was perfectly clear that the proposal aroused a lot of opposition. There is quite a lot of financial interest in this pedicabs business. I am talking primarily of London—I do not know about the situation outside London—but it is possible for those employed to drive pedicabs to make quite a lot of money if they are prepared to work hard, late into the night and in the small hours of the morning. The amendment is obviously not without some merit because there are members of the public who will use pedicabs in preference to hanging around for buses or going down to the Tube.
Therefore, I hope my noble friend can say something on this. There is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but perhaps not so much by amending this Bill but through a local authority private Bill. The issue should eventually be picked up by the Government and some form of regulation should be imposed.
My Lords, as a cyclist in London, I have come to know the London Pedicabs Operators Association quite well. Yes, pedicabs irritate taxi drivers—and they irritate me because they are wider than my bicycle and I cannot always get past them. However, taxis, cars and white vans irritate people. At some stage, we all have to live together and hope that it all works well for the benefit of the community and for people who want to go somewhere late at night. Of course, tourists love pedicabs.
However, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is something wrong with the current situation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned the private Bill debated here in, I think, 2009. My understanding is that there was a voluntary registration scheme that the pedicab association was prepared to sign, given that Westminster City Council apparently made specific undertakings in Committee to provide pedicab ranks around Westminster. That has not happened and the whole idea seems to have evaporated.
Perhaps I may move on to early this year, when a new plan came from the mayor’s office, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, Westminster City Council and the London Pedicabs Operators Association. They were asked to draw up a framework mechanism, documentation and software to satisfy the requirements of a formal licensing scheme that would include a partnership agreement, and to write a code of conduct—which is important—and a memorandum of understanding between those parties. However, again, nothing seems to have happened on this.
The pedicab association says that many of the issues listed in the noble Baroness’s amendment would in fact be in some of the agreements that it was setting out to achieve. The one thing that it says would be very difficult—and I agree—is to have, as suggested in the amendment, a separate agreement for each borough in and outside London. Most pedicabs operate in Westminster but I live in Camden during the week and they certainly move into Camden. Therefore, I believe that any such registration has to be London-wide and I am not sure why Transport for London is not picking this up and running with it, so to speak.
There is an issue here but I believe that licensing by TfL on a reasonable basis would work well. I know that taxi drivers do not like pedicabs because they see them taking away business, but we are not really here to preserve the monopoly of taxis in taking people around London. There is also the TfL cycle hire scheme, which seems to be doing quite well.
I believe that some of the issues that the noble Baroness lists in her amendment should be in some kind of agreement, but someone has to take that forward and I think that it should be TfL with everyone else’s agreement. However, every time there seems to be a step forward, something stops it. Perhaps, as the noble Baroness has suggested, people do not want a registration system because that would legalise pedicabs.
I think that pedicabs are here to stay. They are good fun. If they are registered, there will be some control over them, and I hope that that will get rid of those who do not comply with the regulations and that it will allow a good service to be properly enforced, with vehicles that have back red lights and front white lights, which are important. The noble Baroness makes a very good point with this amendment but it is probably not the right way to go forward at this stage.
My Lords, first, I think I should make it clear to the House that my father was a licensed London taxi driver and that both my brothers are licensed London taxi drivers. In fact, one or two noble Lords have mentioned to me that they have been picked up by them and taken home after a busy day in your Lordships’ House.
As far as it goes, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. Pedicabs, and the way in which they operate, can be a nuisance, and it is only by licensing them that we can get some control over them. It would therefore be good if local authorities could establish local by-laws for the licensing of pedicabs in their area. If people are going to travel in them, we should make sure that they are roadworthy, that there is proper insurance cover for passengers, that there are rules about where they can stand when waiting for business, that the people peddling them comply with traffic legislation and that, where breaches occur, there is provision to get them off the road.
I accept that at present they seem to operate only in central London, so Westminster council faces the biggest problem. However, like my noble friend Lord Berkeley, I would have preferred to see London-wide licensing of pedicabs. They will no doubt move elsewhere, with Camden, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark and Lambeth all likely to have them in parts of their boroughs. By-laws that differ from borough to borough just risk confusion and it would be better to have a London-wide option. However, as I said, the Opposition support the thrust of the amendment and I hope that the Government can indicate what they will do to deal with this problem.
My Lords, I can understand why my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has moved this amendment. She has explained the problem and other noble Lords have made sensible and balanced contributions. However, Transport for London and ultimately the mayor are responsible for pedicabs in London. The Government take the view that issues surrounding pedicabs in London should be dealt with at a local level, which this amendment would provide for. After all, this issue only really affects London. However, the mayor, Transport for London and the London local authorities are already taking the initiative to address the matter with straightforward measures that avoid the trap of overregulation. Noble Lords will be aware that Westminster City Council is currently working up a voluntary—
My Lords, I skilfully avoided saying that this problem was unique to London, because I thought this issue might arise, and I might get challenged by someone like the noble Lord.
Westminster City Council is currently working up a voluntary registration scheme for pedicabs, with registration being incentivised by providing parking bays and pedicab ranks for members. Those operators and riders subscribing to the scheme will sign up to a code of practice, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has already alluded to these developments. This registration scheme would then tie in with the provisions relating to the enforcement of road traffic offences in relation to pedicabs, which are included in the London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill, currently before Parliament. Effective implementation of the provisions in the Bill relies on a system of licensing or registration being in place. The relevant clause could not come into force until a registration scheme for owners and riders has been approved by the Mayor of London.
I thank the noble Earl and the noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It has been much wider and more interesting than I had expected. However it is an issue, and I would like to respond on a couple of points.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley said that it should apply to the whole of London. I draw attention to the fact that traffic varies tremendously in London. For example, on the subject of disabled parking, the blue badge scheme does not apply in any of the three central London boroughs. You have to have a blue badge and a local badge as well to take full advantage of disabled parking. If you have a blue badge, there are blue-badge places you can use, but you cannot use any other parking places. Each of the three central London boroughs said it would make it impossible for them, because they would be flooded by people coming from outside the boroughs. So this is a long-standing arrangement just for central London.
I do not agree with the noble Lord that you need to have licensing for pedicabs out in Havering, for example, which I represented at one time. I do not believe there are any pedicabs running around Havering. I think they are a fun thing in central London. However my concern is not the fun element, which I agree with my noble friend Lord Jenkin, is absolutely wonderful. In Bangkok it was great fun to travel around in them. However it is not a fun element if you are at risk of being injured due to their ignoring road behaviour. That is what worries me.
This is an issue that needs to be tackled. I accept that it might be better tackled somewhere else and in some other way. Perhaps LRT could deal with it selectively, but it has to be done selectively, because many boroughs will have no problem at all. If—as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley has said—Oxford already has pedicabs then there are other places which need this issue to be addressed now. But again, the areas will need to be limited.
I have listened to the debate and I think it is valuable to have it on record for when this issue comes up again as it surely will in some other capacity. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 194 withdrawn.
195: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER 8Powers in relation to casino premises licenceVariation of licences: abolition of permitted areas
(1) A relevant local authority may consider and, if thought fit, grant an application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate and may do so regardless of whether or not—
(a) the premises to which the application relates are situated in the area of the relevant local authority which issued the licence; and(b) the area of the relevant local authority in which those premises are situated was a permitted area when the converted casino premises licence was originally issued.(2) Subsection (1) shall not require a relevant local authority to consider any application to vary a converted casino premises licence if that local authority has passed a resolution under section 166 of the Gambling Act 2005 (resolution not to issue casino licences) and that resolution is in effect at the time the application is made.
(3) In Schedule 4 to the Gambling Act 2005 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2006 (transitional provisions), for sub-paragraph (13) of paragraph 65 (application of the Gambling Act 2005 to casino premises licences granted on a conversion application) substitute—
“(13) An application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate shall be made—
(a) in the case of premises wholly or partly situated in the area of the licensing authority which issued the licence, to that licencing authority; or (b) in the case of premises wholly or partly situated in the area of another licensing authority, to that other licensing authority, and section 213(f) (definition of licensing authority) shall apply to such an application as if the licensing authority considering such an application under paragraph (b) was the authority which issued that licence.(14) Nothing in paragraph (13)(b) shall require a licensing authority to consider or grant an application to vary a converted casino premises licence so that it relates to premises to which it did not previously relate if—
(a) the premises are wholly or partly situated in the area of a licensing authority which did not issue the licence; and(b) the licensing authority has resolved under section 166 not to issue casino premises licences and that resolution is in effect at the time the application is made.”.(4) In this section—
“converted casino premises licence” has the same meaning as in the Gambling Act 2005 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2006;
“permitted area” means the area of a local authority which was a permitted area for the purposes of the Gaming Act 1968;
“relevant local authority” means a local authority in England, Wales or Scotland which is a licensing authority under the Gambling Act 2005.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 249A. This proposed new clause originates from a well researched report by Ernst & Young in July 2010, commissioned by the National Casino Industry Forum. It was designed to show the impact of a number of regulatory reforms, which would improve the economics of the gaming industry, benefit the public, and the public purse.
The current situation is totally illogical and, in the long run, unsustainable. There are currently 53 permitted areas where casinos regulated under the Gaming Act 1968 are allowed. The system of permitted areas was introduced principally to reduce the number of casinos to a manageable number. The areas were chosen on a subjective basis. The 1971 regulations included a formula under which any county borough outside Greater London with a population of 125,000 people became a permitted area.
When county boroughs were abolished in 1974, the formula was altered so as to bring in those former county boroughs which had a population of 125,000 or more at any time between 1 December 1970 and 1 October 1973. The list has remained frozen ever since. That is almost 40 years ago. In that time, demographics and economic conditions in these areas have changed enormously and 187 licences have been issued under the Gaming Act 1968. I should emphasise that this number is finite, which means that no more can be granted, but the number can be reduced. Of the 187 licences currently in force, 149 are trading; the balance have either closed down as commercially not viable or have not been opened, many for the same reason. Compare that to the 8,800 betting shops in existence, which are not similarly constrained.
Currently, a casino can relocate only within the permitted area in which it is located; so it cannot locate to another permitted area or to a town that is not in a permitted area. Hence, if the permitted area is overcrowded and the casino is commercially unviable it has no option but to close. Yet some 60 local authorities applied for a 2005 licence and were disappointed. This has led to a number of consequences. There are too many casinos within existing permitted areas; there has been a closing down of casinos with resultant loss of jobs; and the Exchequer is losing money from gaming tax lost as a consequence.
What is the solution? We need to be able to permit a casino to move to anywhere in the UK where the local authority is prepared to have one of the existing casino licences. Local authorities would consider whether they wish to have a licensing policy that states they can have a casino within their area. Many local authorities do, as can be seen from the number who applied to have a 2005 Act casino in their area, but were unsuccessful, as I stated earlier.
A casino operator with a non-operating licence—for example, where it has closed down because there were too many casinos in the current permitted area—could apply to transfer the licence to a local authority that wishes to have a casino. No local authority can be forced to have a casino. Under Section 166 of the Gambling Act 2005, it can resolve on a licensing policy stating that no casino licence will be granted. A local authority which has a no-casino policy currently in place will be excluded, unless it decides to change its licensing policy.
Even if a local authority passes a policy stating that a casino can be located in its area, the public has to be consulted. Before a new casino can open there will still need to be separate planning and premises licence applications where the public and any other interested party will be able to make representations. Only if these two things happen will the casino be able to move to a new location.
What are the consequences? The impact of this amendment, if accepted, will be to create new leisure facilities in a locality, new capital expenditure, new jobs—the NCIF calculates that 2,400 to 3,000 new jobs could be created in consequence—and increased revenue for the Exchequer. The Ernst & Young analysis confirms that up to £12 million in additional gaming duty would be levied if just 20 casinos relocated.
This proposal does not increase problem gambling as there is no increase in the overall permitted number of casino licences. Therefore, this is a genuine win-win solution. By way of explanation, Amendment 249A will extend the benefit of these provisions to Scotland. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is almost refreshing to move from the constant headlines about the casino economy, which the world has enjoyed for the past few years, to something as substantive and reasonable as the noble Lord has brought to the House today in terms of the limited number of premises to which this amendment would apply. The key to the argument of the noble Lord is that this should be a matter for local decision within the overall context of that limited number. It seems to be entirely consistent with the approach of localism—it should be a matter for local determination—with the benefits that the noble Lord has referred to being realised in a number of places that wish to see that kind of development augmenting their current offer to residents and visitors. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on the amendment and facilitate its passage.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment. I am aware that this amendment would make changes that some elements of the British casino industry have been seeking for some time. I can sympathise with the sentiments behind it, but this is not the right time to discuss the issues that the noble Lord raises. It is not an uncontroversial proposal and it would be wrong to assume that there is unanimous support for it either inside or outside the industry.
Seventeen new licenses were provided for by the Gaming Act 2005 aimed at contributing to economic development and regeneration in carefully selected locations. We do not know what sort of impact this proposal could have on the eight competitions to award the new licenses which are currently under way. All of those have yet to launch their processes. It would not be right to bring forward measures at this stage which could undermine these competitions and adversely affect the benefits that these new casinos could bring to local communities.
Nor should we assume that the casino industry in Britain is united behind this proposal. I understand that the industry is split over the idea. The National Casino Industry Forum supports it, but the Casino Operators Association is thoroughly opposed. That is not to say that the Government reject outright the principle behind the amendment, but there is some way to go before we could consider offering our support and we would need to look at some issues. For example, the amendment as proposed does not require the 40 or 50 currently dormant casino licences to be handed back as a quid pro quo. That might be an important gesture to ensure that any new flexibility did not lead to a substantial increase in the number of casinos.
The relevant Minister, the Minister for Tourism, who is responsible for gambling policy has met with representatives of the industry a number of times and they are fully aware of his views. I am sure that he would be prepared to consider this matter in the future in the terms that I have just outlined. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Lord is willing to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. If those are reassurances, I wonder what a negative response would be. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his very positive response and I am grateful for his support. This is an anomaly and it should be covered by localism, the very word in the title of the Bill. On the other hand, I understand that the industry is not completely united on this. There is some wisdom in what the Minister has to say about waiting to see the outcome of the second round of the 2005 licences.
I take some comfort from the Minister’s comments that this will be kept under review. I have an awful feeling that it is never the right time and that it is easy to say that it is not the right time now. The NCIF, myself and others will be entering the lists again just as soon as the 2005 round is over and the impact of those new casinos is known because I think the good sense of this proposal is self-evident. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 195 withdrawn.
195ZA: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Litter deposited from motor vehicles
(1) Local authorities may make byelaws about litter deposited from motor vehicles.
(2) Such byelaws may include provisions about—
(a) the application of section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (offence of leaving litter) to litter deposited from motor vehicles;(b) the procedures for identifying the person in charge of a motor vehicle; and(c) the information which the registered keeper of a vehicle may be required to provide the local authority.”
My Lords, I seek to include a provision to support local authorities in reducing the level of litter from vehicles. The Minister will know that an amendment was tabled in the other place, new Clause 23, on Report. I also tabled an amendment to raise the issue in Committee, but I withdrew it on the understanding that it could be revisited on Report.
A minor change to the law in this area is supported by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and its president, Bill Bryson, the Keep Britain Tidy group and the Local Government Group. More than 100 councils have requested that change so that they can take action against those who litter from vehicles. I should perhaps declare an interest, having previously been for five years the chairman of CPRE and currently being the president of the Suffolk Preservation Society.
I am sorry—indeed, ashamed—to say that Britain is a very dirty nation. It is one of the dirtiest nations on a world scale but would be pretty close to the top of dirty nations on a European scale, which is very shaming. Litter is something on which we can take action. Many years ago, when I was young in the 1960s, I sat for a while at the feet of Ernest Marples. Ernest Marples was one of the most remarkable Ministers I was ever able to observe. He had a maxim in politics: “It is not what you say that matters; it is what you do”. I want to say something about what we can do about litter on roads.
I have followed the issue for a while. There are two basic reasons why there is so much litter on roads. The first, of course, is that it is thrown on to the roads; but secondly, a real problem, is that contractors or subcontractors whom the local authorities designate to clean up roads fail to do their job. I have frequently followed that up, because when I go along a really dirty road, I am inclined to put down a Question for Written Answer to ask the Government when they intend to have it cleared up. Almost always, I get the Answer that it will be cleared up shortly; and almost always it is, but I do not think that that is necessarily the best way to go about it.
We are in no doubt that littering from cars is a serious problem. It is estimated that seven out of 10 pieces of litter which blight in the countryside are dropped from cars. In 2009, the AA found in an online poll of more than 8,000 drivers that 75 per cent of them thought that littering was a serious problem and that 94 per cent of them thought that it damaged their community.
It is clear that Ministers in Defra share our concerns. In December, my noble friend Lord Henley—who has now, of course, moved to greater and even more important things—reported at the first National Litter Convention that the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Caroline Spelman, had asked him to look at the roadside litter issue. At the launch of the Waste Review in June, I understand that my right honourable friend referred to littering from cars as a perennial bugbear and suggested that there might be a need for a roadside litter summit. Given that the issue is clearly being taken seriously by the Government, I suggest that the Bill is the ideal place to do something, rather than just to talk.
Existing law already allows for people who throw litter from cars to be fined. The problem is that, in practice, councils have found it very difficult to use the power, as it is often impossible to prove who within the car was responsible for throwing the litter. The change in the law that I advocate would correct that problem very simply and allow councils to issue fines to the registered owner of the vehicle, who would be responsible for paying the fine concerned unless another person was nominated by the driver to pay it. That is a standard feature which currently applies to speeding fines, seatbelt offences and fly-tipping. The change is not about more regulation, it is about better and more effective regulation. It is something that we know that local councils are asking for.
More than 1,000 CPRE supporters have written to their MPs to request that the amendment be made. I gather that the Labour Party made a pre-election pledge to make this legislative change, so there is clearly widespread support for making existing powers to tackle roadside littering more effective.
The amendment tabled in another place proposed that the Bill should be amended in the way that I outlined. Amendment 195ZA is very similar, but it would give local councils the power to make by-laws to address the problem. I am not saying that Amendment 195ZA is entirely practical as it stands, but I look forward to the Minister's response because, in the other place, the Minister did not provide the honourable Member for Gateshead, Ian Mearns, with a substantive reply. I hope that the Minister will commit to introducing a government amendment to tackle this problem at Third Reading. We are all on the same side in this, but it is a matter of actually doing something. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have put my name to my noble friend's amendment. Litter thrown from motor cars is a scourge of the countryside. It is a regular practice for people to discard litter from moving vehicles—in particular, drink containers and food wrappings. I am sure that to try to reduce the incidence of that habit is a goal worth pursuing. It is surely one test of how well a country is governed how tidy it is. I remember, when I visited Libya in the last years of Gaddafi's regime, how staggered and disgusted I was to see the quantity of litter to be found on the road between the airport and the centre of Tripoli. It was knee-deep in plastic. Of course, that was under a dictatorship, where regulating such things should be easier.
I also understand that the present situation here, where responsibility must be pinned on the person who has thrown the litter, is unsatisfactory. It is difficult enough to trace a car from which litter has been thrown. To then require the prosecuting authority to identify the culprits in the car is surely asking too much. It seems to me quite reasonable to hold the registered keeper of the vehicle responsible. As my noble friend explained, that is the idea behind the amendment. Whether such a change in the law would be successful in reducing the amount of litter thrown, we would have to see. I can certainly imagine that it would have a deterrent effect, with vehicle keepers not wanting to be exposed to legal penalties as a result of the actions of other people, whether members of their family or not, and therefore to some extent themselves acting as policemen.
Unfortunately, the amendment, for a reason which I do not entirely understand, does not propose creating a new national offence. As I understand it, the Bill was thought to be an unsuitable vehicle, although the amendment in another place proposed exactly that. This amendment would simply enable local authorities to adopt by-laws along the lines my noble friend described. As he said, there are grounds for believing that many local authorities might be interested in doing that. On that basis, I recommend the amendment to the House. I very much hope that the Minister will indicate that the Government now intend to do something about this problem.
My Lords, I have huge sympathy with my noble friend’s amendment. Before he left the Chamber, my noble friend Lord Newton, who is taking part in the Welfare Reform Bill Committee, said that he was sorry not to be able to add his voice because he feels very strongly about this.
For nearly 30 years I lived in rural Essex within reach of my former constituency, and one of the disadvantages of the road we lived in was that it was perennially the subject of littering. There was a corner at the bottom of the hill with a bit of spare ground on the left-hand side and my children very quickly christened it “Mattress Corner”. It had become a place where people could dump their unwanted mattresses, which then had to be cleared up by the local authority. It was not only that. We lived a mile and a half outside the village where there was a fish and chip shop. We discovered that we were almost exactly the distance away that it took people to eat a bag of chips. I found myself as the riparian householder having to go out at fairly regular intervals with a plastic sack and one of those nice machines with which you can pick up things and pop them in the sack, simply to clear up the litter on both sides of the road that had been deposited by passing vehicles. Even if you saw a car with litter being thrown out of the window as it went past, there was nothing you could do. You did not know who the driver was or who had thrown it out. There was no point in taking down the number because nobody would do anything about it. You had to prove who it was. So I have every sympathy with this.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that it is not enough just to talk; you have to do. I have previously declared an interest as the joint president of London Councils and I am happy to say that London Councils is engaged at the moment in tackling this problem in London. It does this on behalf of the London boroughs and I think it is now ahead of the game. The London Local Authorities Act 2007 contains a provision to decriminalise the dumping of litter from cars and to impose a liability for penalty charges on the keeper of the vehicle. That is slightly different from the proposal put forward in my noble friend’s amendment but it is clear that we all have the same objectives in mind. A London Local Authorities Bill is currently awaiting its final stages in the other place. It will make a small drafting correction to that provision which will allow it to come into force.
Other steps are necessary. Discussions have taken place and progress is being made with the Ministry of Justice in relation to the making of regulations which will enable London borough councils to enforce their penalty charges under the civil regime in the courts. Officials are also co-operating on the necessary alterations to the Civil Procedure Rules and London borough councils understand that these changes and regulations will be made very shortly. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to confirm that the provisions will be implemented very soon and the system can start to work in London. That is doing and not just talking. I believe London will show that this solution is perfectly feasible and can be addressed by local authorities. Other authorities may wish to copy what London Councils is doing and it will not be the first time that has happened. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I am very taken with the image of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, patrolling the highways and byways of rural Essex as a sort of unpaid litter warden. It is a charming thought and I am sure he did a very good job, but he should not have to. That is the message of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and I congratulate him on bringing this matter to the attention of the House and hope that the Government will be able to respond. As the noble Lord said, the matter was debated in another place on an amendment moved by the Member for Gateshead, Ian Mearns, with whom I was discussing this on the train from Newcastle this morning. He received what seemed to be a sympathetic response from the Minister, Andrew Stunell, who said:
“We will certainly look carefully at the matters that have been raised”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/11; col. 441.]
Time has passed so I hope that the consideration has taken place. I think it is preferable to have this in national legislation rather than leave it to by-laws. There seems to be no reason why this amendment should not be proceeded with on this Bill or at least a clear indication given that it will have some priority in other legislation. But this is really too good an opportunity to miss and I hope that the Minister in replying, even if he cannot say today that the amendment will be accepted, will indicate that by Third Reading there will be a clear position and the Government will feel able to adopt it.
Of course, as the noble Lord pointed out, this is essentially a matter of enforcement. There is little point in having regulations without the capacity to enforce them. But, as the Essex police have found out in another context, enforcing measures concerning the driving of vehicles is not necessarily straightforward. This would certainly obviate the kind of difficulties that have arisen in another case and one would hope that the Government would see the logic of that and accept the thrust of the noble Lord’s amendment, and see to it one way or another that the objective which most of your Lordships share is carried into being.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and his tenacity in pursuing this issue. It is always said that this is a House of experts. I had not appreciated the expertise that we had between us about the distance from the fish and chip shop to the home. I am also an expert on this. The home where I was brought up and lived until I was 23 was the exact same distance from the fish and chip shop. It was our garden that caught the recycled newspapers which in those days were used for wrapping up fish and chips, and we had to keep shifting them, so I understand the concern that people have about litter.
This amendment would give local authorities an explicit power to make by-laws about littering from cars. Throwing litter from vehicles on to public land is a littering offence under Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Indeed, some local authorities successfully tackle litter louts, issuing them with fixed penalty notices. I fully acknowledge that taking enforcement action against those who litter from vehicles can often represent a practical problem. However, extending the scope of the littering offence, as was also suggested by the Local Government Group in its amendment rejected in Committee in the Commons, raises issues of fairness and proportionality. A registered keeper may be open to prosecution even though they did not commit the offence and were not present to prevent it. It may not always be a ready solution for the registered keeper to avoid prosecution by identifying who was the actual offender.
However, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, powers will shortly become available to London boroughs following enactment of the latest London Local Authorities Bill, currently before Parliament, which will allow them to issue a civil penalty to registered keepers where enforcement officers witness littering from a vehicle. It makes sense to learn the lessons from the application of that approach in London before moving to wider legislation—and legislation is not the only approach. Changing littering behaviour is key. That is why the Government are supporting Keep Britain Tidy in developing the Love Where You Live campaign. That work with businesses, local authorities and civil society partners will make an important contribution to changing behaviour on littering in all its forms. The Defra Secretary of State is calling together later this year representatives of vehicle hirers, motoring associations, manufacturers, service stations, et cetera, with a view to agreeing a voluntary commitment to tackle littering from vehicles.
It is one of the guiding principles of making a by-law that no by-law should reproduce national legislation, which is what this amendment would achieve. That being the case, and although I certainly support the intention behind the amendment, which is that the anti-social practice of littering should be a criminal offence, I cannot support it and trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, I am afraid that that was a real example of talk rather than action. Frankly, it was a very disappointing answer. My noble friend said that we should wait and see how the new penalty worked in London. He spoke of changing behaviour and said that the offence might be disproportionate or unfair. It is a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer. I did not get the feeling that my noble friend was indicating that any action on the Bill would be taken at Third Reading. I will of course withdraw the amendment today, but we may well have to press it at Third Reading. The Minister’s answer really was disappointing. If this Government cannot steel themselves to do something about litter, what can they achieve?
Amendment 195ZA withdrawn.
Clause 31 : Power to require local or public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions
195ZAA: Clause 31, page 29, line 22, leave out subsections (1) to (5) and insert—
“(1) A Minister of the Crown may, in accordance with the provisions of this Part, require public authorities to make payments of amounts determined by a Minister of the Crown in respect of an EU financial sanction to which this Part applies.
(2) A requirement to make a payment under this Part—
(a) may only be imposed on a public authority if— (i) the authority has been designated under section (Designation of public authorities); and(ii) the EU financial sanction concerned is one to which the designation applies; and(b) must be imposed by a notice given to the authority under section 33 (referred to in this Part as a final notice).”
My Lords, I shall speak to a necessarily long list of amendments, starting with Amendment 195ZAA. The amendments deal with EU fines. I thank noble Lords for the constructive suggestions made during and since Committee. As a direct result, I am able to move some substantial amendments and therefore intend to take a little time explaining them.
To start, it would be helpful to reaffirm the basic principles here: this is about encouraging authorities not to incur fines for the UK in the first place. In the unprecedented circumstance that the UK is fined in relation to an infraction, it is about achieving compliance quickly, using a process which is fair, proportionate, reasonable and holds no surprises. We do not want to pay escalating fines to Europe. We have never incurred fines regarding an infraction and do not see these provisions as a prelude to being more relaxed about infraction proceedings or fines.
All this is reflected in the policy statement of the Local Government Group, which has been placed in the House Library and updates the one previously put forward by the Greater London Authority. I strongly welcome the statement, which is very helpful. I thank both the Local Government Group and the Greater London Authority for working with us so closely on this, and for their help and support. This paper will form the basis of a government policy statement on which we will consult more fully in due course.
The noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord McKenzie of Luton, each provided convincing proposals on designation in Committee. I have combined these and taken them further so that the Minister would need to designate each authority by order, using the affirmative procedure and specifying the infraction case and related activities of the authority, before the Localism Bill’s provisions could be used. The activities described must take place after the order comes into force and will relate to the authority’s functions and obligations.
This means that authorities can be designated only for something which is their responsibility. Only actions or failures to act following designation would be taken into account when deciding whether to pass on a fine, and only in relation to the specific infraction case. The designation order would cease to have effect when the infraction case was closed. This responds to concerns on retrospectivity raised previously and highlighted in Committee by my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree. It puts in place a mechanism which will give authorities an early opportunity to put things right, to solve the problem, before any fine. It also means that this House and the other place will have the ability to test the rationale for the proposed designation in debate. If this does not provide sufficient incentive, and in the unprecedented circumstance that the UK is fined for failing to comply with EU law, we will establish an independent advisory panel before seeking to recover any fines.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes and the noble Lord, Lord Best, for suggesting how an independent advisory panel could provide sufficient checks and balances to ensure that the Minister could not act, at the same time, as prosecutor, judge, jury and co-defendant on these matters. As I made clear in Committee, we remain committed to the principles of transparency, fairness, reasonableness and proportionality. This amendment will enhance all these qualities.
Such a panel would be formed at the point of need, with relevant legal, topical and sectoral expertise for the specific case. The Minister would consult the panel on the procedure and timetable. The panel would receive representations directly from the Minister and from the authorities involved. It would carry out fact-finding and make published recommendations to the Minister, including on the fair apportionment of culpability.
I remain strongly of the opinion that decision-making should remain with the Minister as an elected member of the Government with responsibility to make such decisions on resources. Any Minister acting against recommendations would need strong reasons for doing so should there be a subsequent judicial review.
The amendments on the process reflect the new role of an independent panel and will enable the authority better to plan its finances by covering all possible payments up front: lump-sum, accrued and ongoing periodic fines. This transparency could be a big help, allowing the authority to weigh the costs of fines against the costs of speedy compliance.
Any ongoing liability to pay towards a fine from the EU would end at the point where the authority demonstrated that it had taken all reasonable steps to comply. There is also provision for liability to be reduced—but not increased—if there is a change of circumstances.
We are extending the provisions to cover reserved matters in devolved areas. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Empey, who spoke on this, with others, in Committee. I can confirm to the House that the extension of the provisions to cover reserved matters, without prejudicing the performance of any devolved functions, has the full agreement of all the devolved Administrations. On the request of the Welsh Government, we are also providing a mirror power for Welsh Ministers to pass on EU fines to responsible public authorities exercising devolved functions in Wales. This replicates the UK provisions in their entirety, including designation by order.
The rest of my amendments make changes to ensure that the clauses as a whole work together.
Finally, I should like to respond to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—in advance of him moving it—which would ensure that the Government could not designate any rail or inland waterway provider. I agree that we should not penalise companies for their private services and functions, but where a company is performing a public function, and only for that public function, it needs to be encouraged to comply with EU law in order to avoid significant fines being picked up by the British taxpayer. Where a private company has responsibility under statute to carry out public functions, the default position would be to use any existing regulatory framework to resolve the issue. A Minister would seek to designate a private company only if it was carrying out a public function, if it had caused or contributed to an active infraction case, and if any regulatory body had not been able effectively to incentivise compliance. This would of course be tested by this House and the other place should a Minister seek to designate in such circumstances.
I hope that this demonstrates that I have taken on board the points raised in Committee, and that these provisions are stronger and better as a result. With these amendments there is a very clear emphasis on incentivising avoidance of fines. We are radically devolving power, but that needs to go hand in hand with responsibility. Therefore, I strongly believe that these provisions will help to protect UK taxpayers. I beg to move the government amendment, and hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will be willing to withdraw his amendments at the appropriate point after he has spoken to them.
My Lords, as I think I was the first to complain about the original provisions of the Bill when we considered it in Committee, it is only right that I should now be the first to rise to congratulate the Minister on what he has achieved since we were in Committee. I said at that time, with great regret, that the first that local government knew of the Government’s intentions on EU fines was when they read it in the Bill, which was most unsatisfactory. That is not the responsibility of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, at all. His responsibility is the leadership that he has shown since that time in retrieving this situation. None of us would have wished to start from there, but that is where we found ourselves. The noble Earl has worked tirelessly since that time to achieve a compromise that is fully and wholly accepted by the Local Government Group, the Greater London Authority and, as far as I am aware, all others involved in this. It is still their position that it would be better if this were not in the Bill at all, but that is not too surprising—most people would rather not have provisions to fine them in legislation. Given that it is the Government’s intention, for the reasons given, that this will be in the Bill when it is enacted, then—thanks to the noble Earl and, as I think he would be the first to acknowledge, thanks to his officials—we have achieved a satisfactory outcome.
The only point that I would like to add is to welcome—as I also said in Committee—the statement of policy. It is a very good intention that the Government will discuss with local government those areas of concern in upcoming proposed EU legislation that has a significant effect upon local government. That is a very welcome good intention but I want to be sure that it happens. I have no doubt whatever that, as far as the noble Earl’s department is concerned, that has always been the case. I have been for many years a member of the Local Government Association’s European and international board and its predecessor’s bodies, right back to the days of the Local Government International Bureau. For some time in the early days of the new Labour Government we had regular meetings not only with CLG but also with the FCO and the Europe Minister to discuss issues of concern. They fell into abeyance some years ago and do not happen any longer. My plea to the noble Earl, and through him to the Government, is to ensure that this very welcome statement of policy does not just remain a statement of good intent but is actually put into practice. I am sure that this sort of meaningful dialogue between representatives of local government and representatives of central Government—not just CLG but also the FCO and other departments dealing with these issues, as appropriate—can only be to mutual benefit and will, we all hope, ensure that the provisions that we will shortly pass will never need to be used.
My Lords, I raised this issue at Second Reading, as did a number of other noble Lords. I would like to join my noble friend Lord Tope in expressing gratitude to my noble friend Lord Attlee for the immense amount of work that he and his officials have done to produce this substantial body of amendments, which to my mind now make this provision acceptable. I particularly welcome his efforts to produce what probably would be called a “Keeling schedule”, showing what these clauses will look like in toto if the amendments are passed. It is rather difficult otherwise to fit them into the Bill. However, that was an immensely helpful document which I hope my noble friend’s other colleagues on the Front Bench might be persuaded to imitate from time to time. For those of us who have to grapple with these things ourselves, it can be much more helpful to know what the whole thing is going to look like, rather than just looking at a whole series of amendments. This is a very helpful precedent which I hope will be followed in the future.
I have only one question to my noble friend. It is a point that I have made on previous occasions, and it concerns retrospective operation. My noble friend has assured me that nothing in these amendments will make the powers retrospective so that a penalty may be imposed on a local authority for something that has already happened. I would be most grateful if he could give us an assurance on this when he winds up the debate.
I understand that this cannot apply to fines that have already been imposed on the Government, but you could have a directive which imposed obligations on a local authority where that local authority was previously in breach and subsequently a fine was imposed on central Government. I would welcome an assurance that under no circumstances could that fine refer to anything that has happened before the date of the process introduced by these amendments. Nothing could be done before these amendments have taken effect—they must not be retrospective or retroactive. I take encouragement from my noble friend saying that one of his principles is that there will be no surprises. That, to my mind, is immensely valuable. If he could say that that rules out any retroactive effect of these amendments, that would be very helpful indeed.
I thank my noble friend for his enormous efforts. He explained to me that he had to get the assent of every other government department in Whitehall. He is a magician to have achieved that. One understands the difficulties that he has faced and I thank him very much.
My Lords, I join the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Jenkin, in congratulating the Minister. I raised one or two issues in relation to this matter in Committee and I think that the noble Earl has done a fantastic job in a short space of time to come up with a process that few can fault, if one is going to have fines at all, and they do arise. I warmly congratulate him and join others in hoping that this happens more often with other legislation that comes before your Lordships’ House.
Before I speak to my own amendments, I would like to follow up on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made about the retrospective nature. There will be a time when these clauses come into effect, but there is also a time when the European process moves forward from infraction proceedings and reasoned opinions to the court summons and finally the court decision. That can take several years. The UK Government have a good record in complying with EU regulations. I am involved in railway issues, and in the first railway package there are 13 member states with infraction proceedings against them. We are not one of them, except for a new one relating to the Channel Tunnel. On the whole, we have quite a good record, but quite often the cause of the eventual fine could be something that was created several years beforehand. The local authority may not have been able to do something, or something may have gone wrong and it is grinding on with the Government refusing to give way, and three or four years later it gets to the European Court. I hope that the Minister will look at the retrospective nature of this not only from the UK side but also from the European side as to where the so-called potential offence has been committed and when.
My amendment was of course a probing one. I am very grateful to the Minister for his answer, which he gave before I had the chance to speak to it. That enables me to ask another question to clarify things. The Minister said that the provision would apply to a private company carrying out or performing “public functions”. I assume that “public functions” in this respect means operating rail or inland waterway infrastructure, although that could be carried out by a private company. I am not convinced that the Rail Regulator has powers to enforce fines on Network Rail—I do not think that there is a regulator for inland waterways yet—when something contravenes European regulations. I am sure that there will be an answer to this but perhaps when he responds the Minister could agree to look at this matter further so that there is some clarity within Network Rail and eventually the British Waterways charity about the circumstances under which they might be liable for a fine. I conclude by congratulating Minister very strongly on a really good piece of legislation.
I am delighted by the policy statement but I have one question that I hope the Minister will be able to answer. In relation to panel membership, I notice that the statement of policy specifies:
“The relevant representative body will put forward nominations in respect of its members”,
of persons with sectoral experience, to the Minister. What opportunities will there be for bodies such as the Greater London Authority which are not part of a representative organisation to make nominations to the Minister in respect of panel membership? I would be grateful if he could answer that question, which probably relates to Amendment 195ZAJ but I find it so difficult when I look at all those amendments to know exactly which one it relates to.
I join other noble Lords in warmly congratulating the noble Earl on the manner in which this matter has now been put back on track. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that most of us would not have wished to have started from here, but where we are ending owes very much to the thoroughness, attention to detail and decisiveness of the noble Earl—qualities in which he emulates his distinguished grandfather. It is some 49 years since I had the pleasure of meeting the noble Earl’s grandfather and he made a significant impression on me, young as I was at that time. The noble Earl is doing so again today, not merely on me but on all Members of your Lordships' House.
He was none the worse for that. I do not think that his wife, who used to drive him around, would have been guilty of depositing fish and chip papers anywhere near the noble Lord’s house.
The position that we have reached is one that the Local Government Association has worked very hard with the Minister and colleagues from all sides of the House to achieve. In particular, the outcomes around the designation and the opportunity to correct a situation that perhaps led to a fine—the provision of an effective appeals system—have all been significant. I am encouraged that the statement of policy that has been produced by the Local Government Group is one that I understand the Government are minded to adopt. Perhaps when he replies the noble Earl will indicate how far their consideration of the document has gone and whether there are likely to be any issues of significance that might not accord with the proposals that have been made. I understand that effectively an agreed position has been reached around four main areas: working in partnership; that there should be no surprises; that there should be a fair and proportionate process; and that consideration should be given to the ability to pay.
One of the crucial issues first voiced in the debate to the Committee by the LGA was the lack of an opportunity for local government to be involved in the legislation from which proceedings ultimately might flow in terms of infringement of European law. It is welcome that the Government have now indicated that local government will be identified specifically as a key sector for consultation when the Government enter into negotiations on EU legislation that could ultimately lead to fines coming down to local authorities. That is an extremely important extension of the consultative role that should ensure that the legislation is right in the first place, which would be a distinct improvement on the position hitherto.
The Minister has made it clear that there will be no surprises in future. No local authority will be taken by surprise because of the designation process, which is a reasonable one in which Parliament will be involved. Equally, the process will be broadly based in terms of those involved in deciding a number of matters—for example, whether the UK Government themselves have contributed to the infraction. I take it that that will also apply to any infraction that might have been contributed to by the devolved Administrations where their activities impinged on European legislation. I assume that that is taken care of in the arrangements that the Government have come to with the devolved Administrations.
My final point is crucially important. The panel will determine these matters and the Minister will consider the authority's ability to pay a fine and provide for possible alternatives in the event that the ability to pay is not present. It is conceivable that a small district council might find it impossible to pay a significant fine in respect of some infraction of environmental legislation within its competence. It is extremely welcome that the Government have acknowledged that that is a risk and that they will not be seeking to extort from such an authority a contribution to a financial penalty that would seriously impede the activities of that local authority.
Thanks very largely to the Minister, we have reached a satisfactory position on this. It has been a good example of the way in which local government and the Government can work together and in which Ministers can listen to proceedings in your Lordships' House, take back concerns and proposals and work with them. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able, metaphorically at least, to bite one or two of his ministerial colleagues in the hope that this becomes a habit across government and not confined to the noble Earl.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Tope and other noble Lords for their kind comments. First, I plead not guilty for all the work: it was my officials what done it.
My noble friend Lord Tope talked about consultation on the EU legislation and the fact that we are committed to consulting with local authorities. I am confident that the LGG will hold our feet to the fire on this issue.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin mentioned Keeling schedules. They are useful in certain circumstances but the decision to use them is decided on a case-by-case basis.
My noble friend also asked me to give an assurance that under no circumstances could fines refer to activities, errors and omissions made before the Bill passes. I am very happy to give an absolute assurance that under no circumstances can the provisions be used retrospectively. Subsection (5)(b) of the clause proposed by Amendment 195ZAH means that only actions or inactions after designation can be taken into account. This is extremely important because it allows all those affected to concentrate on solving the problem rather than listening to the lawyers and doing nothing other than arguing. It is a very important point.
Similarly on retrospectivity, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about something that could have gone wrong several years before. The point about designation covers that point. Previous actions and inactions do not count; only actions after the point of designation count. Therefore, it does not matter if effectively the EU legislation was retrospective in some way because it is only after designation that an authority is in difficulties.
My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked whether authorities that do not have a representative body can make nominations for the independent panel. I anticipated this question and have given it careful consideration. It is inconceivable that the Minister would not speak with affected parties when setting up an independent panel. We will need the panel to be visibly independent and robust. A Minister would have no desire to face a legal challenge about fixing the composition of the panel in his favour.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about the statement of policy of the Local Government Group. Most of the heavy lifting has already been done in order to secure agreement to move forwards. The Local Government Group, the Greater London Authority and devolved Administrations will all be invited to input as we adopt the Local Government Group statement into one that applies more broadly across the country and to a wider range of public authorities. I am hopeful that there will not be significant rewrites and we will reaffirm all its key principles: no surprises; proportionality and reasonableness; and working together.
Amendment 195ZAA agreed.
Amendments 195ZAB to 195ZAD
195ZAB: Clause 31, page 30, line 5, leave out “an EU financial sanction” and insert “a final”
195ZAC: Clause 31, page 30, line 8, leave out “local or”
195ZAD: Clause 31, page 30, line 9, at end insert—
“(8) In this Part—
(a) “EU financial sanction” means a sanction consisting of a lump sum or penalty payment (or both) imposed by the Court of Justice in Article 260(2) proceedings for an infraction of EU law;(b) “infraction of EU law”, in relation to an EU financial sanction, means the failure to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice given in proceedings under Article 258 or 259 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; and(c) “Article 260(2) proceedings” means proceedings under Article 260(2) of that Treaty.”
Amendments 195ZAB to 195ZAD agreed.
Amendments 195ZAE to 195ZAG
195ZAE: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of the Secretary of State to issue a policy statement
(1) The Secretary of State must publish a statement of policy with respect to—
(a) the designation of public authorities under section (Designation of public authorities); (b) the imposition and variation of requirements to make payments under this Part; and(c) such other matters relating to the operation of the provisions of this Part as the Secretary of State may think appropriate to include in the statement. (2) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise and republish the statement of policy required by this section.
(3) A revised statement of policy may include saving or transitional provisions relating to the continued application for any purpose of any provisions of an earlier published version of the statement.
(4) The Secretary of State must consult such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate before publishing, or revising and republishing, the statement of policy required by this section.
(5) In exercising functions under this Part in relation to an EU financial sanction which has been or may be imposed on the United Kingdom—
(a) a Minister of the Crown, and(b) a panel established under section (Establishment of independent panel),must have regard to the statement of policy most recently published under this section.”
195ZAF: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies
(1) This Part applies to any EU financial sanction imposed on the United Kingdom after the commencement of this Part, subject to subsection (2).
(2) If a Minister of the Crown gives a certificate—
(a) specifying a part of an EU financial sanction, and(b) stating that this Part is not to apply to that part of the sanction, this Part applies to that EU financial sanction as if it did not include that part.(3) A certificate under subsection (2)—
(a) may make specific provision about the application of this Part to any of the following—(i) the lump sum (if any) paid by the United Kingdom;(ii) any periodic payment due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction before the certificate is given; and(iii) any subsequent periodic payment that may fall due from the United Kingdom under those terms; and(b) must be given in such form and published in such manner as the Minister of the Crown giving it thinks fit.(4) Any provision under subsection (3)(a)(iii) that is made in a certificate under subsection (2) may be varied (including in relation to its effect in relation to any periodic payment that has become due from the United Kingdom since the earlier certificate) by a further certificate under subsection (2).”
195ZAG: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of “public authority” and related terms
(1) This section defines various terms used in this Part.
(2) “Public authority” means—
(a) a local authority to which subsection (3) applies; or (b) any other person or body which has any non-devolved functions.(3) This subsection applies to—
(a) any of the following in England—(i) a county council, district council or London borough council;(ii) the Common Council of the City of London (in its capacity as a local authority);(iii) the Greater London Authority; and(iv) the Council of the Isles of Scilly;(b) a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994;(c) a district council within the meaning of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972;(d) a council of a county or county borough in Wales. (4) References to functions are to functions of a public nature.
(5) References to non-devolved functions are to functions which are not devolved functions.
(6) References to devolved functions are to—
(a) Scottish devolved functions, that is to say functions the exercise of which would be within devolved competence (within the meaning of section 54 of the Scotland Act 1998);(b) Northern Ireland devolved functions, that is to say functions which could be conferred by provision included in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly made without the consent of the Secretary of State (see sections 6 to 8 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998); or(c) Welsh devolved functions, that is to say functions which are exercisable in relation to Wales and could be conferred by provision falling within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales as defined in section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.(7) References to a public authority with mixed functions are to a public authority which has both non-devolved and devolved functions.
(8) The “appropriate national authority”, in relation to a public authority with mixed functions, means the following national authority or authorities (according to whichever one or more of the following paragraphs apply to that public authority)—
(a) the Scottish Ministers, if the public authority has any Scottish devolved functions;(b) the relevant Northern Ireland department, if the public authority has any Northern Ireland devolved functions; and(c) the Welsh Ministers, if the public authority has any Welsh devolved functions.”
Amendments 195ZAE to 195ZAG agreed.
195ZAH: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Designation of public authorities
(1) A Minister of the Crown may by order designate a public authority for the purposes of this Part.
(2) The order must—
(a) specify the public authority by name;(b) identify any EU financial sanction to which the designation applies; and (c) describe the activities of the authority which are covered by the designation.(3) The order may identify an EU financial sanction for the purposes of subsection (2)(b) by—
(a) specifying an EU financial sanction that has been imposed on the United Kingdom;(b) specifying any Article 260(2) proceedings that have been commenced and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom in those proceedings;(c) specifying a judgment of the Court of Justice finding that the United Kingdom has failed to comply with an EU obligation and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom for failing to comply with that judgment; or(d) specifying or describing any proceedings under Article 258 or 259 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that have been or may be commenced and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom for failing to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice given in those proceedings. (4) The order may, for the purposes of subsection (3)(d), describe any proceedings under Article 258 or 259 that may be commenced by reference to the subject-matter of—
(a) a Reasoned Opinion addressed to the United Kingdom under Article 258 or 259 (as the case may be); or(b) any other document sent to the Government of the United Kingdom by the Commission of the European Union or by another member State which gives notice to the Government of the possibility of proceedings being commenced against the United Kingdom.(5) The activities described for the purposes of subsection (2)(c) must be activities of the public authority which—
(a) are carried out in the exercise of non-devolved functions of the public authority; and(b) take place after the provisions of the order describing the activities come into force.(6) The following may not be designated under this section—
(a) the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the National Assembly for Wales; (b) a Minister of the Crown or a United Kingdom government department;(c) a member of the Scottish Executive;(d) the First Minister or the deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland Minister or a Northern Ireland Department;(e) a member of the Welsh Assembly Government;(f) a court or tribunal.(7) Before making an order designating a public authority a Minister of the Crown must consult—
(a) the public authority concerned; and(b) if it is a public authority with mixed functions, the appropriate national authority.(8) In sections 32 to 33 references to “acts”, in relation to a public authority which has been designated under this section, are to acts within a description of activities covered by the designation.”
Amendment 195ZAHA (to Amendment 195ZAH) not moved.
Amendment 195ZAH agreed.
195ZAJ: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Establishment of independent panel
(1) This section applies where—
(a) an EU financial sanction to which this Part applies has been imposed by the Court of Justice; and(b) at least one public authority has been designated under section (Designation of public authorities) and the EU financial sanction is one to which the designation applies.(2) A Minister of the Crown must establish a panel for the purpose of carrying out any functions it may be given by or under any provision of this Part in relation to that EU financial sanction.
(3) The panel must be established before any warning notice is given to a public authority in relation to that EU financial sanction.
(4) The panel is to consist of one or more individuals appointed by a Minister of the Crown who appear to a Minister of the Crown to have suitable qualifications, expertise or experience to carry out their duties.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may invite nominations for appointment to the panel from such organisations as a Minister of the Crown considers appropriate.
(6) The validity of any acts of the panel are not affected by a vacancy among its members.
(7) A Minister of the Crown may pay to a member of the panel such fees, allowances or expenses as a Minister of the Crown may determine.
(8) A Minister of the Crown may provide such staff, accommodation or other facilities as a Minister of the Crown may consider necessary to enable the panel to carry out its functions.”
Amendment 195ZAJ agreed.
Amendment 195ZAK had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 32 : Warning notices
Amendments 195ZAL to 195ZAZC
195ZAL: Clause 32, page 30, line 11, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) Before a public authority which has been designated under section (Designation of public authorities) can be required to make any payment under this Part in respect of an EU financial sanction to which the designation applies—
(a) a Minister of the Crown must give a warning notice under this section to the public authority;(b) the procedures set out in the warning notice (with any changes made under subsection (7)) must be followed; and(c) a Minister of the Crown must determine the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4).”
195ZAM: Clause 32, page 30, line 16, leave out “the Minister” and insert “a Minister of the Crown”
195ZAN: Clause 32, page 30, line 17, leave out from “Justice” to “financial” in line 18 and insert “imposing the EU”
195ZAP: Clause 32, page 30, line 24, leave out “a payment under this Part” and insert “payments under this Part (which may be or include ongoing payments)”
195ZAQ: Clause 32, page 30, line 25, leave out subsections (3) to (5) and insert—
“(3) The warning notice must also—
(a) identify the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates;(b) specify the total amount of that sanction (see subsection (6C));(c) if that sanction is or includes a penalty payment, specify the amount and frequency of any periodic payments that fall due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the penalty payment (see subsection (6D));(d) set out the reasons for making the statement required by subsection (2);(e) set out the proposed procedures and arrangements for determining the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4) (which may include arrangements for securing that matters arising under the notice are dealt together with matters arising under other warning notices given to other public authorities in respect of the same EU financial sanction);(f) propose a timetable for those procedures and for any steps to be taken by the panel or a Minister of the Crown before any requirement to make a payment can be imposed on the authority;(g) invite the authority to make representations to a Minister of the Crown about the matters mentioned in paragraphs (e) and (f); (h) invite the authority to make representations to the panel (with any supporting evidence) about anything the authority considers relevant to the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4), including its response to any representations made (and any supporting evidence submitted) to the panel —(i) by a Minister of the Crown or a government department (whether in relation to matters arising from the notice or matters arising from any other warning notice given to another public authority in relation to the same EU financial sanction);(ii) by another public authority which has been given a warning notice in relation to the same EU financial sanction; or(iii) by the appropriate national authority in response to an invitation under paragraph (j) included in the notice; and(j) if the authority has mixed functions, invite the appropriate national authority to make representations about anything contained in or arising from the notice.”
195ZAR: Clause 32, page 31, line 14, at end insert “of the Crown giving it”
195ZAS: Clause 32, page 31, line 15, at end insert—
“(6A) Before a Minister of the Crown gives a warning notice to the authority, the Minister of the Crown must consult the panel as to the contents of the notice (including in particular the proposed procedures and timetable mentioned in subsection (3)(e) and (f)).
(6B) If the authority has mixed functions, a Minister of the Crown must—
(a) consult the appropriate national authority before deciding to give a warning notice to the authority; and(b) give the appropriate national authority a copy of any warning notice the Minister of the Crown decides to give.(6C) In subsection (3)(b) the “total amount of the sanction” means the sum of the following—
(a) the amount of the lump sum (if any) due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from the lump sum by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2)); and(b) the total amount of the periodic payments (if any) which have fallen due from the United Kingdom on or before a day specified in the notice (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from any of those payments by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2);and the day specified for the purposes of paragraph (b) must be no later than the day on which the warning notice is given to the authority.(6D) The periodic payments to be taken into account for the purposes of subsection (3)(c) do not include—
(a) any periodic payment taken into account in calculating the total amount of the sanction for the purposes of subsection (3)(b); or(b) any periodic payment, or any part of a periodic payment, that falls to be excluded from the EU financial sanction by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2).”
195ZAT: Clause 32, page 31, line 16, leave out “The Minister” and insert “A Minister of the Crown”
195ZAU: Clause 32, page 31, line 17, leave out “(3)(d)(ii)” and insert “(3)(g)”
195ZAV: Clause 32, page 31, line 17, leave out “subsection (3)(b)” and insert “section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4)”
195ZAX: Clause 32, page 31, line 18, after “authority” insert “—
195ZAY: Clause 32, page 31, line 19, leave out “criteria,”
195ZAZ: Clause 32, page 31, line 20, leave out “(3)(b), (c) or (e).” and insert “(3)(e) and (f); and
(b) a copy of the warning notice incorporating those changes.(7A) A Minister of the Crown must consult the panel before making any changes under subsection (7).”
195ZAZA: Clause 32, Page 31, line 21, leave out “local or”
195ZAZB: Clause 32, Page 31, line 22, leave out “subsection (3)(b)” and insert “section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4)”
195ZAZC: Clause 32, Page 31, line 24, at end insert—
“(9) In this section and section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given) “the panel” means the panel established under section (Establishment of independent panel) to deal with the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates.”
Amendments 195ZAL to 195ZAZC agreed.
195ZAZD: After Clause 32, Insert the following new Clause—
“Matters to be determined before a final notice is given
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a warning notice has been given to a public authority; and(b) the panel has considered all representations made to it under the procedures set out in that notice. (2) The panel must make, to a Minister of the Crown, a report on the matters to which the representations made to the panel relate.
(3) The report—
(a) may be published by the panel in such manner as the panel thinks fit and, if not published by the panel, must be published by the Minister of the Crown to whom it is made in such manner as the Minister of the Crown thinks fit;(b) must include recommendations as to the determination of the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(a) and (b);(c) if the authority has made representations to the panel about anything the authority considers relevant to any of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (c) to (e) of subsection (4), must include recommendations as to the determination of the matters mentioned in those paragraphs; and(d) must include the panel’s reasons for any recommendations included in the report.(4) After having had regard to the report, a Minister of the Crown must determine the following matters—
(a) whether any acts of the authority did cause or contribute to the infraction of EU law concerned and, in relation to any periodic payments mentioned in subsection (3)(c) of section 32, whether those acts have continued and will continue to do so;(b) the proportion of—(i) the total amount of the sanction (as specified under subsection (3)(b) of that section), and(ii) any periodic payments (as specified under subsection (3)(c) of that section),that, in the light of the acts of the authority which are determined to have had or to be having an effect mentioned in paragraph (a), is to be regarded as reflecting the authority’s share of the responsibility for the infraction of EU law concerned or, in relation to any such periodic payments, the continuing infraction of EU law concerned; (c) whether the authority should be required to make any payment or payments in respect of the EU financial sanction;(d) if so, what payment or payments the authority should make towards—(i) the total amount of the sanction specified under subsection (3)(b) of that section; and(ii) any periodic payments specified under subsection (3)(c) of that section; and(e) when any such payment or payments should be made.(5) In determining the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(c), (d) and (e) the Minister of the Crown must have regard to—
(a) the effect on the authority’s finances of any amount it may be required to pay and in particular, if the authority has mixed functions, the need to avoid any prejudicial effect on the performance by the authority of its devolved functions;(b) the determination under subsection (4)(b); and(c) any other relevant considerations.(6) Before making a final decision on the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(c), (d) and (e), the Minister of the Crown must invite—
(a) representations from the authority about the potential effect on its finances and, if it has mixed functions, the effect on its devolved functions of any amount it may be required to pay; and(b) if the authority has mixed functions, representations from the appropriate national authority.”
Amendment 195ZAZD agreed.
Clause 33 : EU financial sanction notices
Amendments 195ZAZE and 195ZAZF
195ZAZE: Clause 33, Page 31, line 26, leave out from “give” to end of line 30 and insert “a final notice to a public authority only if a Minister of the Crown has decided in accordance with section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given) to impose a requirement under this Part on the authority.”
195ZAZF: Clause 33, Page 31, line 31, leave out subsections (2) to (6) and insert—
“(2) The final notice must—
(a) identify the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates;(b) specify the total amount of the sanction (see subsection (3)) and, where relevant, the amount and frequency of any future periodic payments (see subsection (4));(c) describe the acts of the authority that a Minister of the Crown has under section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4) determined—(i) caused or contributed to the infraction of EU law concerned, in relation to the total amount of the sanction; or(ii) are causing or contributing to the continuing infraction of EU law concerned, in relation to any other periodic payments due from the United Kingdom;and set out the reasons for that determination;(d) summarise the other determinations made by a Minister of the Crown under section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given)(4) and set out the reasons for making them;(e) specify the amount required to be paid by the authority towards the total amount of the sanction and when it is to be paid (and if it is to be paid in instalments, the instalments and the date on which they become payable); (f) specify the amount to be paid towards any periodic payment that falls due from the United Kingdom and the time when that amount is to be paid (or, if the notice so provides the time when two or more such amounts are to be paid);(g) specify how and to whom payments are to be made.(3) In subsection (2)(b), (c) and (e) the “total amount of the sanction” means the sum of the following—
(a) the amount of the lump sum (if any) due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from the lump sum by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2)); and(b) the total amount of the periodic payments (if any) which have fallen due from the United Kingdom on or before a day specified in the final notice (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from any of those payments by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2));and the day specified for the purposes of paragraph (b) must be no later than the day on which the final notice is given to the authority.(4) In subsection (2)(b) “future periodic payments” means periodic payments other than—
(a) any periodic payment taken into account in calculating the total amount of the sanction; or(b) any periodic payment, or any part of a periodic payment, that falls to be excluded from the EU financial sanction by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part 2 applies)(2). (5) The requirement to make payments towards periodic payments falling due from the United Kingdom after the notice is given continues so long as those periodic payments continue to fall due, unless a Minister of the Crown gives the authority a notice under this subsection terminating the requirement or varying it so as to make it less onerous for the authority.
(6) A notice under subsection (5) may be given, either on the application of the authority or without such an application, where a Minister of the Crown considers it appropriate in the light of a change in the circumstances which applied when the final notice was given or when it was last varied (as the case may be).
(7) A Minister of the Crown may—
(a) consult the panel, or refer any matter relating to the possible termination or variation of the requirement for its advice or recommendations;(b) invite the authority to make representations; and(c) if the authority has mixed functions, invite the appropriate national authority to make representations,before deciding whether to terminate or vary the requirement mentioned in subsection (5).(8) If the authority makes an application under subsection (6) a Minister of the Crown may by notice to the authority suspend the requirement until further notice (but this does not affect the liability to make any payment once the suspension is ended, unless the final notice is varied to have that effect).”
Amendments 195ZAZE and 195ZAZF agreed.
Clause 34 : Further warning notices
195ZAZG: Clause 34, Leave out Clause 34
Amendment 195ZAZG agreed.
Clause 35 : Further EU financial sanction notices
195ZAZH: Clause 35, Leave out Clause 35
Amendment 195ZAZH agreed.
Clause 36 : Meaning of “local or public authority”
195ZAZJ: Clause 36, Leave out Clause 36
Amendment 195ZAZJ agreed.
Clause 37 : Interpretation of Part: general
Amendments 195ZAZK to 195ZAZM
195ZAZK: Clause 37, Page 34, leave out lines 16 to 23 and insert—
““the appropriate national authority”, in relation to a public authority with mixed functions, has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “public authority” and related terms)(8);
“Article 260(2) proceedings” has the meaning given by section 31(8)(c);
“Court of Justice” means the Court of Justice of the European Union;
“EU financial sanction” has the meaning given by section 31(8)(a);
“final notice” means a notice under section 33;
“functions”, “non-devolved functions” and “devolved functions” are to be construed in accordance with section (Meaning of “public authority” and related terms);
“infraction of EU law”, in relation to an EU financial sanction, has the meaning given by section 31(8)(b);”
195ZAZL: Clause 37, Page 34, line 25, at end insert—
““periodic payment”, in relation to an EU financial sanction that is or includes a penalty payment, means a payment due under the terms of the penalty payment;
“public authority” has the meaning given in section (Meaning of “public authority” and related terms)(2);
“public authority with mixed functions” has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “public authority” and related terms)(7).”
195ZAZLA: Clause 37, Page 34, line 25, at end insert—
““warning notice” means a notice under section 32.”
195ZAZM: Clause 37, Page 34, line 26, leave out subsection (2)
Amendments 195ZAZK to 195ZAZM agreed.
Amendments 195ZAZMZA to 195ZAZMZK
195ZAZMZA: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“PARTEU fines: WalesPower to require Welsh public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions
(1) The Welsh Ministers may, in accordance with the provisions of this Part, require Welsh public authorities to make payments of amounts determined by the Welsh Ministers in respect of an EU financial sanction to which this Part applies.
(2) A requirement to make a payment under this Part—
(a) may only be imposed on a Welsh public authority if— (i) the authority has been designated under section (Designation of Welsh public authorities); and(ii) the EU financial sanction concerned is one to which the designation applies; and(b) must be imposed by a notice given to the authority under section (Final notices) (referred to in this Part as a final notice).(3) If a final notice is registered in accordance with rules of court or any practice direction, it is enforceable in the same manner as an order of the High Court.
(4) Any sums paid by a Welsh public authority under this Part are to be paid into the Welsh Consolidated Fund.
(5) In this Part—
(a) “EU financial sanction” means a sanction consisting of a lump sum or penalty payment (or both) imposed by the Court of Justice in Article 260(2) proceedings for an infraction of EU law;(b) “infraction of EU law”, in relation to an EU financial sanction, means the failure to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice given in proceedings under Article 258 or 259 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; and(c) “Article 260(2) proceedings” means proceedings under Article 260(2) of that Treaty.”
195ZAZMZB: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of the Welsh Ministers to issue a policy statement
(1) The Welsh Ministers must publish a statement of policy with respect to—
(a) the designation of Welsh public authorities under section (Designation of Welsh public authorities); (b) the imposition and variation of requirements to make payments under this Part; and(c) such other matters relating to the operation of the provisions of this Part as the Welsh Ministers may think appropriate to include in the statement.(2) The Welsh Ministers may from time to time revise and republish the statement of policy required by this section.
(3) A revised statement of policy may include saving or transitional provisions relating to the continued application for any purpose of any provisions of an earlier published version of the statement.
(4) The Welsh Ministers must consult such persons as the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate before publishing, or revising and republishing, the statement of policy required by this section.
(5) In exercising functions under this Part in relation to an EU financial sanction which has been or may be imposed on the United Kingdom—
(a) the Welsh Ministers, and(b) a panel established under section (Establishment of independent panel (No.2)),must have regard to the statement of policy most recently published under this section.”
195ZAZMZC: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies
(1) This Part applies to an EU financial sanction imposed on the United Kingdom if—
(a) the sanction is imposed after the commencement of this Part, and(b) the Welsh Ministers certify that this Part applies to the sanction.(2) If a certificate under subsection (1)—
(a) specifies a part or parts of the EU financial sanction concerned, and(b) states that this Part applies only to that part, or those parts, of the sanction,this Part applies to the sanction as if it included only that part or those parts.(3) A certificate under subsection (1)—
(a) may make specific provision about the application of this Part to any of the following—(i) the lump sum (if any) paid by the United Kingdom;(ii) any periodic payment due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction before the certificate is given; and(iii) any future periodic payment that may fall due from the United Kingdom under those terms; and(b) must be given in such form and published in such manner as the Welsh Ministers think fit.(4) Any provision under subsection (3)(a)(iii) that is made in a certificate under subsection (1) may be varied (including in relation to its effect in relation to any periodic payment that has become due from the United Kingdom since the earlier certificate) by a further certificate under subsection (1).”
195ZAZMZD: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of “Welsh public authority” and related terms
(1) Subsections (2) to (5) define various terms used in this Part.
(2) “Welsh public authority” means—
(a) a council of a county or county borough in Wales; or(b) any other person or body which has any Welsh devolved functions.(3) References to functions are to functions of a public nature.
(4) References to Welsh devolved functions are to functions which are exercisable in relation to Wales and could be conferred by provision falling within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales as defined in section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.
(5) The “appropriate national authority”, in relation to a Welsh public authority with any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, means the following national authority or authorities (according to whichever one or more of the following paragraphs apply to that Welsh public authority)—
(a) a Minister of the Crown, if the Welsh public authority has any functions which are not devolved functions;(b) the Scottish Ministers, if the Welsh public authority has any Scottish devolved functions; and(c) the relevant Northern Ireland Department, if the Welsh public authority has any Northern Ireland devolved functions.(6) In subsection (5)(a) “devolved functions” means—
(a) Welsh devolved functions;(b) Scottish devolved functions; or(c) Northern Ireland devolved functions.(7) In subsections (5) and (6)—
“Northern Ireland devolved functions” means functions which could be conferred by provision included in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly made without the consent of the Secretary of State (see sections 6 to 8 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998);
“Scottish devolved functions” means functions the exercise of which would be within devolved competence (within the meaning of section 54 of the Scotland Act 1998).”
195ZAZMZE: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Designation of Welsh public authorities
(1) The Welsh Ministers may by order designate a Welsh public authority for the purposes of this Part.
(2) The order must—
(a) specify the Welsh public authority by name;(b) identify any EU financial sanction to which the designation applies; and(c) describe the activities of the authority which are covered by the designation.(3) The order may identify an EU financial sanction for the purposes of subsection (2)(b) by—
(a) specifying an EU financial sanction that has been imposed on the United Kingdom;(b) specifying any Article 260(2) proceedings that have been commenced and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom in those proceedings;(c) specifying a judgment of the Court of Justice finding that the United Kingdom has failed to comply with an EU obligation and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom for failing to comply with that judgment; or(d) specifying or describing any proceedings under Article 258 or 259 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that have been or may be commenced and providing that the designation is to apply to any EU financial sanction that may be imposed on the United Kingdom for failing to comply with a judgment of the Court of Justice given in those proceedings.(4) The order may, for the purposes of subsection (3)(d), describe any proceedings under Article 258 or 259 that may be commenced by reference to the subject-matter of—
(a) a Reasoned Opinion addressed to the United Kingdom under Article 258 or 259 (as the case may be); or(b) any other document sent to the Government of the United Kingdom by the Commission of the European Union or by another member State which gives notice to the Government of the possibility of proceedings being commenced against the United Kingdom.(5) The activities described for the purposes of subsection (2)(c) must be activities of the Welsh public authority which—
(a) are carried out in the exercise of Welsh devolved functions of the authority; and(b) take place after the provisions of the order describing the activities come into force.(6) The following may not be designated under this section—
(a) the National Assembly for Wales;(b) a Minister of the Crown or a United Kingdom government department;(c) a member of the Welsh Assembly Government;(d) a court or tribunal.(7) Before making an order designating a Welsh public authority the Welsh Ministers must consult—
(a) the authority concerned; and(b) if the authority concerned has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, the appropriate national authority.(8) In sections (Warning notices) to (Final notices) references to “acts”, in relation to a Welsh public authority which has been designated under this section, are to acts within a description of activities covered by the designation.”
195ZAZMZF: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Establishment of independent panel (No. 2)
(1) This section applies where—
(a) an EU financial sanction to which this Part applies has been imposed by the Court of Justice; and(b) at least one Welsh public authority has been designated under section (Designation of Welsh public authorities) and the EU financial sanction is one to which the designation applies. (2) The Welsh Ministers must establish a panel for the purpose of carrying out any functions it may be given by or under any provision of this Part in relation to that EU financial sanction.
(3) The panel must be established before any warning notice is given to a Welsh public authority in relation to that EU financial sanction.
(4) The panel is to consist of one or more individuals appointed by the Welsh Ministers who appear to the Welsh Ministers to have suitable qualifications, expertise or experience to carry out their duties.
(5) The Welsh Ministers may invite nominations for appointment to the panel from such organisations as the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate.
(6) The validity of any acts of the panel are not affected by a vacancy among its members.
(7) The Welsh Ministers may pay to a member of the panel such fees, allowances or expenses as the Welsh Ministers may determine.
(8) The Welsh Ministers may provide such staff, accommodation or other facilities as the Welsh Ministers may consider necessary to enable the panel to carry out its functions.”
195ZAZMZG: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Before a Welsh public authority which has been designated under section (Designation of Welsh public authorities) can be required to make any payment under this Part in respect of an EU financial sanction to which the designation applies—
(a) the Welsh Ministers must give a warning notice under this section to the authority;(b) the procedures set out in the warning notice (with any changes made under subsection (9)) must be followed; and(c) the Welsh Ministers must determine the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No. 2))(4).(2) A warning notice is a notice stating that the Welsh Ministers, having regard to the judgment of the Court of Justice imposing the EU financial sanction, believe—
(a) that acts of the authority may have caused or contributed to the infraction of EU law for which the EU financial sanction was imposed; and(b) that, if acts of the authority did cause or contribute to that infraction of EU law, it would be appropriate to consider requiring the authority to make payments under this Part (which may be or include ongoing payments) in respect of that financial sanction.(3) The warning notice must also—
(a) identify the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates;(b) specify the total amount of that sanction (see subsection (7));(c) if that sanction is or includes a penalty payment, specify the amount and frequency of any periodic payments that fall due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the penalty payment (see subsection (8));(d) set out the reasons for making the statement required by subsection (2);(e) set out the proposed procedures and arrangements for determining the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No. 2))(4) (which may include arrangements for securing that matters arising under the notice are dealt together with matters arising under other warning notices given to other Welsh public authorities in respect of the same EU financial sanction);(f) propose a timetable for those procedures and for any steps to be taken by the panel or the Welsh Ministers before any requirement to make a payment can be imposed on the authority; (g) invite the authority to make representations to the Welsh Ministers about the matters mentioned in paragraphs (e) and (f);(h) invite the authority to make representations to the panel (with any supporting evidence) about anything the authority considers relevant to the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No. 2))(4), including its response to any representations made (and any supporting evidence submitted) to the panel —(i) by the Welsh Ministers (whether in relation to matters arising from the notice or matters arising from any other warning notice given to another Welsh public authority in relation to the same EU financial sanction);(ii) by another Welsh public authority which has been given a warning notice in relation to the same EU financial sanction; or(iii) by the appropriate national authority in response to an invitation under paragraph (j) included in the notice; and(j) if the authority has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, invite the appropriate national authority to make representations about anything contained in or arising from the notice.(4) The warning notice may contain such other information as the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate.
(5) Before giving a warning notice to the authority, the Welsh Ministers must consult the panel as to the contents of the notice (including in particular the proposed procedures and timetable mentioned in subsection (3)(e) and (f)).
(6) If the authority has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, the Welsh Ministers must—
(a) consult the appropriate national authority before deciding to give a warning notice to the authority; and(b) give the appropriate national authority a copy of any warning notice the Welsh Ministers decide to give.(7) In subsection (3)(b) the “total amount of the sanction” means the sum of the following—
(a) the amount of the lump sum (if any) due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from the lump sum by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2)); and(b) the total amount of the periodic payments (if any) which have fallen due from the United Kingdom on or before a day specified in the notice (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from any of those payments by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2));and the day specified for the purposes of paragraph (b) must be no later than the day on which the warning notice is given to the authority.(8) The periodic payments to be taken into account for the purposes of subsection (3)(c) do not include—
(a) any periodic payment taken into account in calculating the total amount of the sanction for the purposes of subsection (3)(b); or(b) any periodic payment, or any part of a periodic payment, that falls to be excluded from the EU financial sanction by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2).(9) The Welsh Ministers may, after considering any representations made by the authority under subsection (3)(g) but before the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No. 2))(4) are determined, give the authority—
(a) a notice stating any changes that the Welsh Ministers have decided to make to the procedures or timetable as originally set out in the warning notice under subsection (3)(e) and (f); and (b) a copy of the warning notice incorporating those changes.(10) The Welsh Ministers must consult the panel before making any changes under subsection (9).
(11) A warning notice given to a Welsh public authority may be withdrawn at any time before the matters mentioned in section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No.2))(4) are determined, but this does not prevent another warning notice being given to the authority in relation to the same EU financial sanction.
(12) In this section and section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No.2)) “the panel” means the panel established under section (Establishment of independent panel (No.2)) to deal with the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates.”
195ZAZMZH: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No. 2)
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a warning notice has been given to a Welsh public authority; and(b) the panel has considered all representations made to it under the procedures set out in that notice.(2) The panel must make a report to the Welsh Ministers on the matters to which the representations made to the panel relate.
(3) The report—
(a) may be published by the panel in such manner as the panel thinks fit and, if not published by the panel, must be published by the Welsh Ministers in such manner as they think fit;(b) must include recommendations as to the determination of the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(a) and (b);(c) if the authority has made representations to the panel about anything the authority considers relevant to any of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (c) to (e) of subsection (4), must include recommendations as to the determination of the matters mentioned in those paragraphs; and(d) must include the panel’s reasons for any recommendations included in the report.(4) After having had regard to the report, the Welsh Ministers must determine the following matters—
(a) whether any acts of the authority did cause or contribute to the infraction of EU law concerned and, in relation to any periodic payments mentioned in subsection (3)(c) of section (Warning notices), whether those acts have continued and will continue to do so;(b) the proportion of—(i) the total amount of the sanction (as specified under subsection (3)(b) of that section), and(ii) any periodic payments (as specified under subsection (3)(c) of that section),that, in the light of the acts of the authority which are determined to have had or to be having an effect mentioned in paragraph (a), is to be regarded as reflecting the authority’s share of the responsibility for the infraction of EU law concerned or, in relation to any such periodic payments, the continuing infraction of EU law concerned;(c) whether the authority should be required to make any payment or payments in respect of the EU financial sanction; (d) if so, what payment or payments the authority should make towards—(i) the total amount of the sanction specified under subsection (3)(b) of that section; and(ii) any periodic payments specified under subsection (3)(c) of that section; and (e) when any such payment or payments should be made.(5) In determining the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(c), (d) and (e) the Welsh Ministers must have regard to—
(a) the effect on the authority’s finances of any amount it may be required to pay and in particular, if the authority has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, the need to avoid any prejudicial effect on the performance by the authority of those other functions;(b) the determination under subsection (4)(b); and (c) any other relevant considerations.(6) Before making a final decision on the matters mentioned in subsection (4)(c), (d) and (e), the Welsh Ministers must invite—
(a) representations from the authority about the potential effect on its finances and, if it has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, the effect on those other functions of any amount it may be required to pay; and(b) if the authority has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, representations from the appropriate national authority.”
195ZAZMZJ: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Welsh Ministers may give a final notice to a Welsh public authority only if they have decided in accordance with section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No.2)) to impose a requirement under this Part on the authority.
(2) The final notice must—
(a) identify the EU financial sanction to which the notice relates;(b) specify the total amount of the sanction (see subsection (3)) and, where relevant, the amount and frequency of any future periodic payments (see subsection (4));(c) describe the acts of the authority that the Welsh Ministers have under section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No.2))(4) determined—(i) caused or contributed to the infraction of EU law concerned, in relation to the total amount of the sanction; or(ii) are causing or contributing to the continuing infraction of EU law concerned, in relation to any other periodic payments due from the United Kingdom;and set out the reasons for that determination;(d) summarise the other determinations made by the Welsh Ministers under section (Matters to be determined before a final notice is given (No.2))(4) and set out the reasons for making them;(e) specify the amount required to be paid by the authority towards the total amount of the sanction and when it is to be paid (and if it is to be paid in instalments, the instalments and the date on which they become payable);(f) specify the amount to be paid towards any periodic payment that falls due from the United Kingdom and the time when that amount is to be paid (or, if the notice so provides, the time when two or more such amounts are to be paid);(g) specify how and to whom payments are to be made.(3) In subsection (2)(b), (c) and (e) the “total amount of the sanction” means the sum of the following—
(a) the amount of the lump sum (if any) due from the United Kingdom under the terms of the EU financial sanction (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from the lump sum by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2)); and(b) the total amount of the periodic payments (if any) which have fallen due from the United Kingdom on or before a day specified in the final notice (disregarding any amount that falls to be excluded from any of those payments by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2)); and the day specified for the purposes of paragraph (b) must be no later than the day on which the final notice is given to the authority.(4) In subsection (2)(b) “future periodic payments” means periodic payments other than—
(a) any periodic payment taken into account in calculating the total amount of the sanction; or(b) any periodic payment, or any part of a periodic payment, that falls to be excluded from the EU financial sanction by virtue of section (The EU financial sanctions to which Part (EU fines: Wales) applies)(2).(5) The requirement to make payments towards periodic payments falling due from the United Kingdom after the notice is given continues so long as those periodic payments continue to fall due, unless the Welsh Ministers give the authority a notice under this subsection terminating the requirement or varying it so as to make it less onerous for the authority.
(6) A notice under subsection (5) may be given, either on the application of the authority or without such an application, where the Welsh Ministers consider it appropriate in the light of a change in the circumstances which applied when the final notice was given or when it was last varied (as the case may be).
(7) The Welsh Ministers may—
(a) consult the panel, or refer any matter relating to the possible termination or variation of the requirement for its advice or recommendations;(b) invite the authority to make representations; and(c) if the authority has any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, invite the appropriate national authority to make representations,before deciding whether to terminate or vary the requirement mentioned in subsection (5).(8) If the authority makes an application under subsection (6) the Welsh Ministers may by notice to the authority suspend the requirement until further notice (but this does not affect the liability to make any payment once the suspension is ended, unless the final notice is varied to have that effect).”
195ZAZMZK: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Interpretation of Part: general
In this Part—“act” includes omission;
“the appropriate national authority”, in relation to a Welsh public authority with any functions other than Welsh devolved functions, has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “Welsh public authority” and related terms)(5);
“Article 260(2) proceedings” has the meaning given by section (Power to require Welsh public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions)(5)(c);
“Court of Justice” means the Court of Justice of the European Union;
“EU financial sanction” has the meaning given by section (Power to require Welsh public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions)(5)(a);
“final notice” means a notice under section (Final notices);
“functions” and “Welsh devolved functions” are to be construed in accordance with section (Meaning of “Welsh public authority” and related terms)(3) and (4);
“infraction of EU law”, in relation to an EU financial sanction, has the meaning given by section (Power to require Welsh public authorities to make payments in respect of certain EU financial sanctions)(5)(b);
“Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;
“periodic payment”, in relation to an EU financial sanction that is or includes a penalty payment, means a payment due under the terms of the penalty payment;
“warning notice” means a notice under section (Warning notices);
“Welsh public authority” has the meaning given in section (Meaning of “Welsh public authority” and related terms)(2).”
Amendments 195ZAZMZA to 195ZAZMZK agreed.
195ZAZMA: After Clause 41, Insert the following new Clause—
In section 45 of the Local Government and Finance Act 1988 (unoccupied hereditaments: liability) in subsection 4A for “one” substitute “or equal to one fifth”, and for “prescribed” substitute “chosen in each particular case by the Local Authority”.”
My Lords, I am not at all sure that this is the right solution to the problem but I am sure the problem is there and I very much hope this Bill will deal with it. When one is looking at the application of localism to urban environments and to giving local communities some degree of control and influence over what is happening, one of the great problems—certainly a problem in the bit of London I lodge in during the week which is Lavender Hill—is empty properties. They are principally retail properties where the owners appear to have decided that they would rather they went empty than accept a lower rent and have some kind of commercial activity within them.
My view is that these owners should pay the full cost they are inflicting on the community by following that course of action. By allowing the street to appear derelict and empty they reduce the trade for other businesses. They reduce the prosperity of the area. They reduce the opportunity for jobs for people who live in the area. It is a thoroughly delinquent behaviour. It is something that costs the rest of the community dear. I do not believe that the current arrangements that merely allow for an ordinary empty rate are at all satisfactory. If we are going to have in the future the opportunity to create a neighbourhood in Lavender Hill, one of the first things we will wish to tackle is all the empty shops. We will not wish to do it by trying to persuade people to pay the vast rents which the street used to be able to command in the days when it was prosperous which was now some long while ago—it was 10 or 15 years ago. Some of these properties have stood empty since then. We will need some way of battening on to these landlords and making them realise that although it is their property and theirs to do what they do with it, if they choose to leave it empty and derelict they should pay the community something in respect of the costs they are causing it by their actions. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord has drawn attention to a significant problem with commercial property but the same principle can apply to residential property, particularly in the private rented sector. There are a significant number of homes left empty—it runs into some hundreds of thousands. In urban areas in particular it is very often private rented properties that are left unoccupied. They are as much a blight on the local neighbourhood as empty commercial properties and of course the demand for accommodation is considerable. Just recently walking around the ward I represent I noticed a number of properties that have been empty for some years. They are not in particularly good condition but not sufficiently dangerous to allow the local authority to take steps. It would certainly be an incentive for landlords to let those properties and bring them into use for the benefit of the whole area if a similar principle were adopted for residential properties as the noble Lord proposes for commercial properties. I hope the Government will look sympathetically on that aspect of it and endorse the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, I am slightly concerned by this amendment as I think there is an international problem occurring of people buying things online to such an extent—I heard this in Australia while I was there and I believe it is the same everywhere—that people are closing up small shops because there is simply no way they can afford to compete with online purchases. I do not know what will happen in these instances. What will local authorities do? Will the people who own the shops be encouraged to convert them into residential accommodation or would it be considered very damaging to the whole high street suddenly to find that instead of shops in continuity in a row suddenly two or three were houses? In the past there were lots of little shops that were once houses. Would we be prepared to see the reverse of that happening?
I think it is a very complicated issue, and, if the landlord simply cannot get a tenant now, what does he do? Does he allow the property to fall down? I do not know what the answer is, particularly with the shop premises.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raises a significant issue. I can clearly see the point that he is making. If the Government are not minded to accept it, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some insight into the Government’s thinking on how they intend to deal with this problem. My noble friend Lord Beecham raised a significant point about residential property, which is probably just as important as the point about commercial property.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who moved it. The amendment would give authorities the power to reduce the liability for empty property rates. Our ability to take action on empty property rates needs to be balanced against the costs involved, the targeted support that we already provide on business rates and the overriding need to reduce public expenditure and support the economy generally by reducing the deficit. This Government have already doubled small business rate relief for two years, which will benefit about half a million rate payers, with about one-third of a million paying no rates at all for that period. We are also taking powers through this Bill to waive £175 million of backdated business rates demands levied on businesses, including some in ports.
Unfortunately, in taking these matters into consideration, support for empty property rate measures is currently simply unaffordable. While the Government have no immediate plans for reform, we are certainly keeping this matter under review. However, the Bill does give local authorities powers to provide discounts on business rates bills as they see fit, provided they fund the relief themselves. So authorities will be able to reduce bills in the way suggested by the amendment.
I hope that the noble Lord is willing to withdraw the amendment, but I assure him that the matter is under review. It is quite interesting, because I have within the papers here a note about the reliefs. In 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, changes were made.
My Lords, can I just point out to my noble friend that the effect of my amendment is not to reduce business rates but to multiply them by five times, resulting in greatly increased revenue to the local authority and the Exchequer. I am afraid that in some way his briefing is somewhat wide of the mark. I should be delighted if he would write to me when his officials have been able to revise their mathematics. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, clearly understands, this is about increasing the rates and increasing government revenue. I would hate it to be thought that I was in any way undermining the stalwart efforts of my right honourable friend the Chancellor to reduce the deficit.
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has made those comments. I think that the officials had difficulties with this, and quite frankly so did I. I sought out the Local Government Finance Act 1998, but I am afraid that it has been amended, because the reference that he makes is not there. Immediately before speaking, I tried to check this myself, because I had some doubt about this. The whole area is under review, as it seems to have been for four years on the trot, because Chancellors and local government people have changed the position. So it is still the fact that the area is under review, but it is one that does impact on the economy. Having heard what the noble Lord said in his latter remarks, clearly, we will need to reflect further. But I cannot make any commitments at this stage. Perhaps a few tender words here and there might help us to understand exactly what he is about.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. I apologise for being so confusing in the preparation of my amendment. I say this as an aside, in case anyone from the House authorities is listening in, it is high time that statutes in force were made easily available to Peers who wish to table amendments. They are in the Library, but that is no use if you happen to be working from outside. I imagine that I picked up the statute as it was on the internet and have been tripped up by that and have confused my noble friend and his officials. I apologise for that. But to have a proper set of statutes in force available over the internet would be a bonus.
As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, understood, this amendment is clearly about trying to allow neighbourhoods through referenda to encourage their local councils as part of a plan to regenerate a neighbourhood to put a squeeze on landlords to bring empty properties back into use. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said. Flats over shops are certainly a significant problem round where we are; there are just empty properties at a time when accommodation is short. There has to be some way in which to encourage these properties back into use, some backstop that allows a local authority to get tough if a landlord will not be reasonable about these things. To my mind, that particularly applies to street frontage property, when the fact that it is empty is apparent to everybody and it becomes a blight on the other people trying to do business. To answer the point made by my noble friend, they can be converted into offices, or starter units for young businesses, which again are in short supply in Lavender Hill, and would be most welcome if we went down that route.
I know that this is a complicated area and I am not at all sure that empty rates is the way in which to attack it, but I would be very grateful for a letter from my noble friend to say how the Government intend to enable neighbourhoods to tackle this problem under the general heading of localism. But for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 195ZAZMA withdrawn.
195ZAZMAA: Before Clause 42, Insert the following new Clause—
(1) Every local authority must establish a council representing the interests of young people within the authority’s area, to be known as a “youth council”.
(2) A local authority must—
(a) consult the relevant youth council of any authority proposal that may affect the youth council or young people in the community;(b) provide an opportunity for the youth council to respond to the proposal; and (c) take the views of the youth council into account when making a decision about the proposal. (3) Subsection (2) does not affect the ability of the youth council to make a properly constituted petition to the local authority.
(4) At least 60 per cent of the members of the youth council must be under the age of 18 years.”
My Lords, I rise to move and speak to Amendment 195ZAZMAA.
I am doing some work at the moment on political engagement of young people and this amendment is the result of meetings that I have had with hundreds of young people up and down the country and with people who are working or have been working in youth services—that is to say, statutory youth services, which are fast diminishing, charities, and organisations such as Girlguiding UK, of which I am a very proud member. What happens to young people and the services that they receive is, of course, crucial to the well-being of this country and the future well-being of individuals and our society. We have the most fantastic young people in our country, who often get a very bad press thanks to a very small minority of them. Most young people in this country are full of energy and have real determination and a real desire to contribute to their communities. Sometimes, however, they need a bit of help. At the moment, rather than being helped, a lot of young people in our society are suffering disproportionately from the cuts, which we believe are too fast and too deep. In my part of the country, in Gloucestershire, the area that I know best, youth services have been decimated. While volunteers are doing an extraordinary job, volunteers are not enough. Young people in our country cannot just depend on volunteers. They need properly trained youth workers as well. The Minister may well say that it is up to local authorities how they spend their money. I think that is a bit of a smokescreen, but that is by the by.
We talk about rights and responsibilities of young people and the fact that they need to get that balance right from a very young age. We all talk about the need to engage our young people more in our communities, and we want to nurture democracy by ensuring that more and more young people vote and perhaps even become councillors or MPs. One of the best ways to engage young people is to include them and to make them part of the democratic processes in which we engage, including the decision-making process. At the moment young people, if they are under the age of 18, are excluded from the decision-making processes of councils despite the fact that so many decisions taken by local councils are extremely important for those young people and have a huge impact on their lives. I am not just talking about youth services. For example, when a decision is taken to cut bus services—sometimes for good reasons and sometimes I would question the reasons—it has a huge impact on the ability of young people to go to college or to sixth form college, and indeed to have a social life. Consequently those young people cannot reach their full potential.
I have tabled my amendment because I think it is very important that young people should have some means of engaging in the decision-making process. This is just one suggestion, on which I hope the Government will look favourably. However, if they cannot accept the amendment, I should be very grateful for an opportunity to discuss with the Minister and her officials how we can better include young people in the decision-making process in the future. Of course I understand that at the moment the voting age is 18. Personally, I would argue on other occasions that that should be reduced to 16.
My Lords, we will have that discussion at a later date. For the moment, we have a voting age of 18. Notwithstanding that fact, I think that it is very important that young people who are younger than 18 should have their views properly assessed and that they should have an opportunity to have proper discussions with the people who are taking the important decisions in councils and other bodies that so profoundly affect their lives.
There is another amendment in this group that relates to petitions, but I understand that there may be some other movement from the Government on petitions and referendums. If, however, the current proposals from the Government stand, I would argue that young people themselves should have an opportunity to petition the Government as outlined in Amendment 195ZAZNZA. I beg to move.