House of Lords
Tuesday, 15 May 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
NHS: Risk Register
My Lords, the transition risk register will be published when the balance of public interest favours disclosure. We will continue to be open about risk. Last week we published a document containing information on all risk areas in the register, along with a scheme of publication for future review and release of information on risk.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for that because he said that it would be published when the balance is in favour of the public interest. Can I take him back to the judgment of the First-tier Tribunal, which concluded that risk registers,
“would have provided the public with a far better understanding of the risks to a national institution”,
on which millions depend? Surely the public interest and parliamentary scrutiny actually depended on that risk register being published, and it should have been published when the Bill was in this House.
My Lords, we do not agree with that. We have, as I have mentioned, published a document setting out a summary of all the risks in the register and the mitigating actions associated with each category, but we resist publishing the risk register itself at present. It is essential that officials are able to formulate sensitive advice to Ministers, making frank assessments and using direct language, without the fear of causing unnecessary embarrassment for the Government or damage to their area of policy. That is the essence of the reason.
Is my noble friend aware that there is nobody more passionate about the NHS than I am, but that a great many people outside want civil servants and other advisers to Ministers to point out the whole extremity of risks in any policy, whether it is policy A, B or C? At the end of the day, they expect Ministers to look at those risks and take appropriate decisions. Against that background, therefore, the strategy that my noble friend is following is understood outside by the ordinary public. It may not be understood by the lobby groups; nevertheless, it is the public whom we serve.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend, and he is right. The risk assessment process, carried out by civil servants and detailed in these registers, is an integral part of the formulation and development of government policy. It is in the public interest that this process be as effective as possible. We are clear that where policy is sensitive, that necessitates confidentiality.
My Lords, I take it that the decision that was made was a government decision, which was collective. I recall that the Deputy Prime Minister, before he became Deputy Prime Minister, was very keen on transparency. Was he therefore comfortable about the withholding of this information? If the noble Earl does not know, perhaps he could come back and let the House know.
My Lords, the decision to exercise the veto, which is a decision provided for under the Freedom of information Act, was made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, he would not have been able to exercise the veto without the collective approval of the Cabinet, and that approval was secured.
My Lords, last Thursday I asked the Minister a question that he answered in part. The part that he did not answer was whether the transitional risk register drew to the Government’s attention the risk that patients would have to wait longer to see their GP. Speaking as someone who uses the NHS and as part of the British public, I fear that the delays are getting longer and will continue to do so. Could he please now answer the question about whether or not this was in the risk register?
I acknowledge that I did not answer that question and apologise to the noble Lord for not having done so last week. The whole issue of stakeholder support is one that the risk register addresses, as he will see from the document that we published. I do not recall the specific issue of waiting times to see one’s GP arising in the risk register for the simple reason that, although I acknowledge that it is currently a problem in some parts of the country, particularly London, that is not a direct result of anything that the Government are doing in our reform programme.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for resuming his seat. Naturally, only one person should be on their feet at one time. There is time, although we have now wasted a little more of it, so perhaps we might hear from the Liberal Democrat Benches and then from the noble Lord. We have had two questions from the Labour Benches.
In answer to that characteristically helpful question from my noble friend, the department will put in place thorough programme-management arrangements as it takes forward the draft care and support Bill and plans for its implementation. That will include monitoring and assessing risks as they arise, to ensure smooth passage through to implementation.
My Lords, I repeat what I said last time: it really is about time that the Liberal Democrats recognised that they are part of the government side. Everyone is getting quite fed up with this demand to be treated separately.
Is it not trivially obvious that all decision-making involves risks and therefore the Government’s refusal to publish this register would cause a reasonable person outside to come to the conclusion, much as the Minister might dislike this, that the Government really are trying to hide something that was damaging to them?
My Lords, I cannot answer for those who see something suspicious in what the Government are doing. All I can say is that we are absolutely clear that the circumstances in this case were exceptional. The FOI request from Mr Healey was made at a particularly sensitive time when the need for a safe space for civil servants and Ministers was especially high. The Freedom of Information Act was drafted specifically to allow for the ministerial veto. It is not just about the specific content of the risk register; it is also about preserving risk registers in general as frank internal working tools in the interests of good government.
Police: Misconduct and Corruption
My Lords, the police are expected to maintain the highest standards of professional behaviour at all times. Where there are allegations of misconduct or corruption, the most serious cases are investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As the name suggests, the IPCC is independent of the Government and the police to ensure that investigations are impartial. The Government do not intervene in any individual cases. The Government consider that these arrangements are adequate.
My Lords, does it not all boil down to the fact that the coalition Government have no real concept of hands-on responsibility or of timely decision-making and believe that by delegation they can wash their hands of responsibility? Are the Gary McKinnon and widow Hofschroer cases, respectively awaiting justice for 10 years and three years, not examples of a Government who could not care less?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a number of points. First, I make it clear that this is not just a matter for the coalition Government; it is a matter that goes back to the 2002 Act which brought in the IPCC. I think all sides of this House agree that there should be an Independent Police Complaints Commission and that it should be independent. It can be independent of government only if government cannot intervene. It would be quite wrong for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to intervene in individual cases. It would surely undermine the IPCC’s independence if she tried to second-guess its decisions. The noble Lord went on to mention two cases. Gary McKinnon has nothing to do with any allegations of police corruption because his case is purely about extradition. The case of the Hofschroer family is, as the noble Lord knows, a matter that has gone to the IPCC. It is a matter for it to produce its decision and if those involved in that case do not like that decision, they can then take the appropriate action in the courts.
My Lords, the revelations that senior Metropolitan Police officers accepted inappropriate hospitality have led to the Met setting up a monthly register that now lists all gifts and hospitality that police officers have accepted. Do the Government agree that all police forces should be required to set up such a register and to publish it monthly?
My Lords, I welcome what the Met has done. I think it is something that other police forces should consider doing, but that is a matter for them to consider. As I said in response to the original Question and the first supplementary, I believe that complaints should be dealt with in the manner that they are; that is initially by the police and then, in more serious cases, by the IPCC. I do not see a case for the Home Secretary intervening.
My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and knowing that police commissioners will be elected, when will it be appropriate for an elected police commissioner to intervene directly in matters of police discipline and incidents of police corruption?
Despite the fact that the noble Lord was involved in the passage of the Bill, he has not quite understood the role of police and crime commissioners. I think he might go back to the passage of that Bill and have a look at it. As I have made clear, the right to complain about what the police are doing and to make inquiries will remain as it was under the 2002 Act, as passed by the previous Government.
My Lords, I was a junior Minister in the Home Office more than 40 years ago. In many cases that did not call for draconian statutory intervention on his part, the Home Secretary used the Inspectorate of Constabulary as a subtle conduit to convey the disapproval of the Home Office and sometimes something harsher than that. Does any such institution operate currently?
My Lords, my right honourable friend can make use of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary; that is still there. However, the important point, which the noble Lord ought to remember from his time, although things have become more independent since, is that people can make complaints to the police but, if they want to ratchet them up thereafter, such complaints should be made to an independent authority. That is why, in 2002, legislation was changed under the previous Government to bring in the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It must remain independent. If my right honourable friend can second-guess what the IPCC does, it will very quickly cease to be independent.
My Lords, police corruption is loathsome and must be rooted out. In many years of going around the world, I have come across many police forces and seen some pretty appalling things. To get the balance right, does the Minister not agree that in this country we are generally very fortunate in the standard of our police forces?
My Lords, we take any allegations of unlawful or inappropriate behaviour or corruption very seriously, as we ought to. However, the noble Lord is quite right to emphasise the very good story that we have to tell about our police in this country. That is why I was very pleased that, as the noble Lord made his intervention, he seemed to receive support from all sides of the House.
Democratic Republic of Congo
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been their response to reports that state-owned mining assets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been sold over the last two years to offshore companies for less than one-twentieth of their commercial value.
My Lords, we share the concerns about the DRC mining sector and the mis-selling of state-owned assets. We continue to press the DRC Government to improve governance in this area. The Secretary of State for International Development raised this with President Kabila when they met in March. The UK is funding the PROMINES programme, which aims to strengthen transparency in the mining sector. We also support the international efforts to set standards for all extractive industries.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he share the widespread concern over the legitimacy of transactions that involve companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange and UK Overseas Territories such as the BVI? The Chancellor has turned his attention to these with regard to stemming personal tax avoidance but does not appear to have looked yet at corporate tax avoidance. Will the Government support the call by the DRC opposition parties for a full inquiry into the extent of what appears to be very widespread corruption in this field?
We share the concern about corruption and the need for major companies to observe the highest possible standards in their performance. The instruments through which this should be done are the EU transparency directive and the work of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is excellently chaired by Clare Short and is currently planning to set up a strategic working group to look at extending EITI standards to require a much closer look at issues of the kind that my noble friend has raised.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the extraordinarily rich deposits of minerals that are held in the DRC should be a blessing but have become a curse as marauding bands and the DRC’s neighbours have plundered those resources, leading to conflicts that have taken the lives of between 5 million and 6 million people, many of them children? Does he know that at present it is estimated that 40% of those working in the DRC’s mining industry are children? When the DRC review of mining practices takes place this year, will he use the extensive leverage that the Government have through their aid programme to ensure that at least children are removed from the mines and protected in the future?
The noble Lord is on to an excellent cause and a very good concern. Our view is that the PROMINES programme, which now will be launched in October and for which we have high hopes, will raise the standards and control better all activities of mining, including artisanal mining of the sort which employs children. That programme includes explicit activities to address the issues of child labour, including supporting initiatives to enable the artisanal mining subsector to comply with supply chain diligence standards which are increasingly being applied—for instance, in connection with the OECD due diligence guidance. We see the PROMINES programme as the avenue through which to increase the pressures and to overcome the appalling deprivations and dangers which are evident particularly for children in this sector.
My Lords, I accept of course that there are a number of transparency conventions in Europe and on a world basis, some of which have been useful in dealing with topics such as the illicit mining of diamonds in the past. Given the difficulties that have just been described, particularly in relation to children and the lack of transparency in supply chains, would there not be a good case for company reports in the United Kingdom to be candid and be required to say how transparency issues have been dealt with so that the legitimacy of their operations would be clear to everyone?
Yes, that is exactly the kind of proposal that Clare Short, as chair of the EITI, is examining in her strategic working group. Of course, not every company and certainly not every country has signed up to the EITI. Those that have are required to make certain reports, although those reports do not cover all the issues we are discussing now. Her idea, and that of the EITI, is to see whether the requirements for standards for signatories to the EITI can be increased and, obviously, for other countries—and the DRC being a candidate country—to sign up to the whole initiative.
My Lords, as I understood the Minister’s reply to my noble friend’s supplementary question, the rules of the EITI do not at present require candidate countries or full members to disclose accounts of the sales of mining assets. Will my noble friend press not only for sales to be disclosed but for countries that are candidates or full members to publish due diligence reports identifying the purchasers and verifying that they are fit and proper persons to comply with the EITI rules, and ensure that the rules are amended for that purpose?
I repeat that this is exactly what the EITI initiative proposes. Incidentally, this body was set up in 2002 by the previous Government. It has been a considerable influence and success, although it has a long way to go in certain areas. These are just the sort of proposals for an extended authority of the EITI that will be considered by the strategic working group. That aim should certainly be supported by the Government and all Governments who are full members of the EITI now. We recognise the need also for candidates to be required to move to higher standards in order to become full members.
My Lords, related to the questions we have just heard, how are DfID’s funds allocated to government programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo being used to ensure that the DRC Government tackle corruption and non-transparency in the mining sector? Is the Minister’s previous answer related to that or are there other questions to be asked about transparency and corruption?
There is a lot more to be said because this is a major subject. DfID programmes are in operation. They are under review and therefore I cannot give a precise up-to-date answer on the size and specific focus of programmes. Generally, the aims behind the DfID programmes are to decrease corruption and to improve the social and educational conditions, and, thereby, conditions in the mining sector generally.
We know that British companies are involved in the DRC and we know that certain deals have been made—some of them reportedly far below market prices. We support the EU transparency directive, and I urge all companies listed on the FTSE 100 to observe the highest possible standards and disclose their activities in the way we would expect of responsible companies. That continues to be the position.
Israel: Palestinian Hunger Strikers
My Lords, the Government have followed closely the mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. In the past week we have raised our long-standing concerns over Israel's extensive use of administrative detention and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners with the Israeli Vice-Prime Minister, the Israeli Foreign Minister and the Israeli national security adviser. We welcome the Egyptian-brokered agreement, which has brought an end to the hunger strike.
I thank the Minister for that reply and the Government for their efforts on the prisoners’ behalf, but this is Nakba Day—the “day of catastrophe” for the Palestinians, when the state of Israel was created—and I think that we should congratulate most of all those Palestinians who have reminded us of the power of peaceful resistance. The Minister will remember, however, that Israel reneged on its promise to ease the inhumane regime in its prisons after the release of Gilad Shalit. In fact, conditions got worse. Will the Minister therefore ensure that the seriously ill hunger strikers are given proper medical treatment immediately outside prison, and will he try to press for the new prison regime, which is still keeping administrative detention, to be monitored by an independent body such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel?
As my noble friend knows very well from her expertise, these are very early days. We have only just heard about the deal being reached. Although it is true that it does not cover the ending of administrative detention for all but only for a limited number, it seems—together with the new arrangements for family visits from Gaza and the ending in most cases of solitary confinement—a very constructive move. We will be watching closely, as no doubt will the entire international community—and certainly the Palestinian authorities—to see that the deal goes forward. I shall look into the particular points that my noble friend raised. It is early days, and we do not quite know exactly how the arrangements that have been announced will affect the kind of categories that she described.
My Lords, will the Government congratulate the Government of Israel on their apparent intention to improve prison conditions? At the same time, will they urge the Israelis to end administrative detention, especially as far as it concerns democratically elected representatives?
Congratulations are certainly due to all parties concerned, and indeed to the Egyptian authorities that brokered the deal. As long as it can hold—and those who have all the details will know exactly what is implied—it sounds good news, and congratulation is in place. As to extending the proposal to the ending of all detention, that may be a phase that we could see in future. It is the sort of thing that we will certainly continue to raise, but first let us see the details of this new deal and hope that this is a foundation and open path for better things, including possibly even the reopening of negotiations.
That would be very good. The noble Lord is right—Mr Netanyahu wrote to Mr Mahmoud Abbas, and there is an exchange. Let us hope that the deal that we are talking about and other developments—as well as developments in the internal pattern of Israeli politics, which are not for me to comment on but are very interesting—together begin to provide the basis for a return to the negotiating table for both sides.
The Government’s view is that we are watching closely to see whether there are going to be any changes. It is the comment of an analyst rather than an outside Government that the change in the party structure inside Israel obviously appears to reduce the powers of some wings of its political spectrum and to increase the influence of others, but so far, although we are watching carefully, there is not much sign of change. However, we will continue looking at the matter very closely indeed.
The Government are to be commended for the moves that they have made this week in helping to bring about a resolution of the current dispute. Does the Minister agree with me that it is comparatively easy to imprison a few thousand people but that it is not easy to imprison a whole nation or a whole people? Does he agree that if the Israeli Government decided to stop building more illegal settlements, the Palestinians would come to the table?
I do not know enough about precise cause and effect but I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the settlements issue is a really sore point—a really poisonous one, if you like. We regard the extension of the settlements as illegal and settlement activities that press into Palestine as unhelpful and illegal. I agree with the noble Lord that if that were to stop, it would certainly open some of the doors to a negotiation.
My Lords, we have gone beyond 30 minutes.
Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision about discrimination against people on the grounds of their mental health.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Marine Navigation Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for marine navigation.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Berkeley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for human trafficking offences and exploitation, measures to prevent and combat human trafficking and provision of support for victims.
The Bill was introduced by Lord McColl of Dulwich, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for Members of the House of Lords to vote at elections to the House of Commons.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Gould of Potternewton on behalf of Lord Dubs, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Standing Orders (Public Business)
Motion to Agree
Standing Order 64 (Sessional Committees)
Leave out “Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee” and insert “Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee”.
Automatic Enrolment (Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band) Order 2012
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (Amendment) Order 2012
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
Greater London Authority Act 1999 (Amendment) Order 2012
Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) Regulations 2012
Motions to Refer to Grand Committee
Arrangement of Business
Debate (4th Day)
Moved on Wednesday 9 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is my honour to open this, the fourth day of the debate on the gracious Speech. At the outset, I express my sadness that I shall not be faced across the Dispatch Box in future debates on Ministry of Justice business by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I was very much helped by his advice when I took over from him at the ministry two years ago and we have had a very constructive relationship in the two years since. However, that sadness is tinged with pleasure that my new oppo will be the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I think that we had already fully bonded during the passage of the LASPO Bill, but I very much look forward to working with him in the time ahead.
I am fully aware, and the House will understand, that noble Lords will not try to cover the waterfront in their contributions today but will prefer to concentrate on their areas of particular interest and expertise. That is fully understood and will greatly benefit the quality of the debate as a whole.
The gracious Speech makes it very clear that the Government’s number one priority is to repair the nation’s finances and to set the economy on the road to sustainable recovery. Financial stability and economic recovery are not ends in themselves. That is why our debate today offers noble Lords the opportunity to voice their views on the kind of society that we want. The gracious Speech announces a number of measures on care and support, on children and families, and on pensions which will shape how we make use of economic recovery in a fair way. In parallel with those issues, we will also cover matters which come more directly within the ministerial responsibilities of my noble friend Lord Henley at the Home Office and of myself at the Ministry of Justice.
I am particularly proud that the Defamation Bill, which started life in this House as a Private Member’s Bill initiated by my noble friend Lord Lester, is part of the gracious Speech. When it receives Royal Assent, it will join a cluster of significant reform measures on the statute book that bear his imprint. The Government, of course, committed in the coalition agreement to review our libel laws in order to protect free speech. I do not think that we are alone in thinking that the law in this area is not currently in the right place. When NGOs and reputable scientists can live in fear of being sued or when wealthy foreign citizens use British courts to silence campaigning newspapers, something is not quite right. A rebalancing is needed so that, on the one hand, freedom of speech and legitimate debate cannot be held to ransom while, on the other hand, people are able to protect their reputation against unfounded slurs.
I hope that the Bill’s measures go a long way towards striking this balance, building on the fine work of my noble friend Lord Lester. They include the creation of new statutory defences of truth, honest opinion and responsible publication on matters of public interest, and the extension of the circumstances in which the defence of privilege is available, including to peer-reviewed material in scientific and academic journals. The potential for trivial claims will be reduced by the introduction of a requirement that a statement must cause serious harm to be defamatory. The Bill will introduce a single publication rule, which will provide protection against repeated claims against the same publisher in relation to substantially the same material. It will also seek to ensure that we have an appropriate libel regime for the internet, by enabling complaints about allegedly defamatory material to be resolved directly with the author, and giving greater protection to website operators and other secondary publishers who act appropriately.
The Bill has had the benefit of extremely detailed and helpful scrutiny in draft by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Mawhinney for the valuable report that his committee produced and to all those who responded to our public consultation. That has helped us to bring forward proposals which, I believe, provide reform where it is needed most and where legislation can make a real difference.
Also within my personal area of responsibility is the Trusts (Capital and Income) Bill. The Bill is being reintroduced into this House under the procedure for uncontroversial Law Commission Bills. It will simplify and modernise the law of trusts in England and Wales by abolishing antiquated rules and removing administrative burdens for charity trustees in particular. In short, it will help to keep trust law up to date for the benefit of the numerous people who are affected by trusts. I hope that this will be seen as a sign that the Government appreciate the work of the Law Commission in updating our laws and are willing to use the fast-track procedures introduced by the previous Government to progress more useful Law Commission work through Parliament.
Beyond those two specific Ministry of Justice measures, our debate today covers three main areas: helping vulnerable children by removing the barriers to them getting support; continuing with structural reform of our state pension system to ensure that people can rely on it while taxpayers can afford it; and protecting the public through reforms to security and justice, without sacrificing our freedoms.
First, we are bringing forward a children and families Bill that will help all parents and remove some of the barriers that prevent those who are more vulnerable fulfilling their potential. Under our plans, parents will be able to take more flexible leave. Mothers will be able to return to work earlier and transfer their maternity leave to help both parents share the burden of childcare. The Bill will also deliver a step change in help for our most vulnerable children. We want to reform the assessment of and provision for children and young people with special educational needs and those who are disabled. Any family whose child has special educational needs knows what a struggle it is to get adequate support. We want to give more choice and control to parents of children and young people with learning difficulties.
We also want to introduce significant reform of the adoption system to reduce endemic delay. It is right that more children are placed in stable, loving homes with less disruption to their lives and we are going to tear down the bureaucracy and red tape that gets in the way.
As well as providing more support for children and more support for parents, we also want to do more to ensure that ordinary people can look forward to security in old age. We have already taken significant steps towards that by increasing the basic state pension by £5.30, the biggest cash increase ever, and restoring the link with earnings. However, we need to do more to give those currently in work greater certainty about what level of income the state will provide in retirement, remove some of the complexity and disincentives that discourage saving and ensure that the system remains affordable.
We intend to bring forward measures during this Session that will entail a fundamental reform of state pensions. The single-tier pension will simplify the current complex and outdated pension system and will provide much clearer incentives for people to make provision for their own retirement. Reforms to the state pension age will ensure that state provision keeps pace with fast-increasing life expectancy. These changes will mean that the state pension system remains sustainable for current and future generations.
Just as we will be doing more to help vulnerable children, we will be bringing forward a draft care and support Bill to provide better support to vulnerable adults. It will modernise care and support law to ensure services are focused on people’s needs; put people in control of their care; and consolidate existing law by replacing provisions in more than a dozen Acts with one single statute. The draft Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. I am well aware that the House is not short of experts in the area of social reform, and I look forward to their contributions during the debate.
The measures outlined in the gracious Speech are flagship reforms that will enhance the quality of life of our people. However, quality of life is best assured within a framework of public safety, security and freedom. It is these matters in the gracious Speech to which I turn. The Crime and Courts Bill will protect the public and modernise the justice system. It will do this partly by improving the way in which it is organised, and partly by opening up a closed world.
I turn first to protection. England and Wales have 43 police forces, which usually do a superb job. However, a great deal of serious and organised crime occurs on a scale, and using methods, that puts it beyond the reach of individual forces. It could be cyber-enabled fraud or child exploitation, gangs organising the drugs trade, human trafficking or economic crimes. The Government propose to establish the National Crime Agency to tackle these threats better. This is a step change in our response that will target serious organised and complex criminality, and strengthen policing at the borders. A modern, state-of-the-art agency, operating independently but accountable to the Home Secretary and through her to Parliament, is the next step in structural reform, and the national corollary of the enhanced local focus that police and crime commissioners will provide.
The Bill also adds to reforms to the criminal justice system that the Government began in our first two years. Community sentences are an important part of our penal system, but the current framework does not command public confidence. In the Bill we will legislate to ensure that community sentences punish more effectively and rehabilitate more fully. Consultation is now under way on a new top-end community sentence. Just as we have tried to make prisons more effective at reforming people, these measures seek to make community sentences more effective and more respected by offenders, victims and the public.
The Bill also looks at modernising our courts system. Proposals include establishing a single county court to speed up civil claims, and a single Family Court to end the unacceptable delays in family justice that were identified in David Norgrove’s review. It also opens up the system in a different sense. I believe that the UK has the finest judiciary in the world—one of unrivalled quality, integrity and wisdom. However, no one can rest easy when the demographic make-up of our leading judges, despite progress in recent years, remains far removed from that of modern Britain. The Bill brings forward proposals to increase the number of our judges, especially senior ones, who are women or of ethnic-minority origin, without sacrificing the key principle of selection on grounds of merit. For example, we will introduce measures to facilitate part-time working in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, and to allow positive action to promote diversity where two candidates are of equal merit.
Finally the Bill extends the principle of transparency by removing the legal barrier to the broadcasting of court proceedings. Initially we will allow the broadcast of advocates’ arguments and judgments in the Court of Appeal. It is small step, but one that I hope will help demystify our courts somewhat and make the principle of open justice more meaningful.
As with our social reforms, I believe that the Crime and Courts Bill has the potential to be a great reforming measure. I look forward to guiding it through the House in harness with my noble friend Lord Henley. We start the journey on 28 May with Second Reading.
Finally, I turn to two measures in the gracious Speech that have already been the subject of controversy: I refer to the proposals for closed material proceedings in the justice and security Bill and the proposals for updating the law on communications data under the draft communications data Bill. I expect these proposals to undergo scrutiny in both Houses, and not least in this House, where so much direct experience in these matters resides.
I am well aware that if economic recovery is the Government’s number one priority, defence of the realm remains, as it always is, the first responsibility of Government. In times past that has most often meant making sure our Armed Forces were equipped to undertake military tasks against a defined enemy. In the 21st century, threats come in many different forms and from many different sources. It is essential that the various arms of the state have the powers and ability to meet such threats. It is equally necessary for our justice system to be able to administer justice in a way which is fair for all.
To achieve that, we need informed and balanced debate. That is my hope and the Government’s intention. However, if the approach to these proposals is in similar vein to the editorial in Saturday’s Guardian, which talked of,
“secret justice and a licence for electronic snooping”,
which could “slowly strangle private life” and change,
“the very nature of the courtroom”,
then the kind of forensic examination of these proposals which I hope and expect Parliament to conduct will be lost in a tsunami of overhyped hysteria.
Given their responsibilities, the Government are entitled to have their case heard; for it is a recurring challenge for Government and Parliament to provide the protection that the citizen needs and expects without putting at risk the very liberties which make us a liberal democracy. It is an ongoing dilemma and it is right that whenever the Executive have proposals in these areas, they should be exposed to the most thorough parliamentary scrutiny.
The Government’s case is that, far from preventing the courts and judiciary seeing the evidence, the justice and security Bill seeks to enhance scrutiny of actions undertaken on behalf of the Government. At the moment, where an individual brings a civil claim, sometimes making serious allegations about the activities of the British state and its agencies, the intelligence services have no way of presenting their evidence in court without putting their methods and agents in danger. The consequence is that the Government fold their case, cases go unheard, rulings are not made and justice is not done. It is hardly an ideal situation for those who want to see respect for the rule of law.
What we propose means that many safeguards will apply. In particular, a judge will always take the final decision over whether closed material proceedings are needed and whether individual pieces of evidence may be heard in closed court. The interests of the individual will be represented by a special advocate, and the press will be able to report freely on the open part of the proceedings and any allegations made by claimants. At the same time, we will strengthen the independent and parliamentary bodies responsible for overseeing the security and intelligence agencies, to make them more effective and more credible.
We will extend the powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as well as broaden the remit of the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. The Government hope that when Parliament comes to consider this Bill, it will weigh the evidence and find that these proposals are carefully crafted to address a challenging problem for any democratic Government with proportionality and good sense.
Let me turn to the communications data Bill. This measure too has been subject to much misleading comment. It is not about looking at what people’s e-mails say or listening in to phone calls or creating some kind of Big Brother database. At the moment, records are kept by phone companies about the calls that their customers make. This information has been used by the police and intelligence agencies for years, as a vital resource to identify where a suspect has been and when. To be clear: this is not about the content of the call, just the fact that it has been made.
What the Bill proposes is that the same data are available in the future as in the past. It is not about enhancing the power of the state or changing the balance of freedom. It is an adjustment to stay roughly where we are. However, we have heard the concerns that have been raised and want to get this right. That is why we are publishing this Bill in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny. As well as a Joint Committee to consider the draft Bill, the Home Secretary has invited the Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise the provisions that relate to the work of the intelligence and security agencies. This is precisely because we want a wide and full debate, and we look forward to receiving the committees’ reports.
Today’s debate covers many serious matters, and I do not envy the task of my noble friend Lord Henley in crafting his reply. I have never hidden my opinion about the need for this House to reform itself, but neither have I hidden my respect for its collective wisdom and experience. Both today and in the months ahead we will be discussing matters on which the collective wisdom and experience of this House will be called on to the full, and I look forward with genuine interest to the contributions of all who are to take part in the debate.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and to open this debate on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches. We face a significant challenge in this debate on the gracious Speech, which will cover in a single day all the issues that really matter to ordinary people in this country: education, children and families, crime and policing, law and order, health and social care, welfare and so on. Indeed, I think the public could be forgiven for questioning why so many of the issues of domestic importance have been crammed together into just one of the five days of debate on the Queen’s Speech, with so many noble Lords understandably wishing to speak, when we have had four days on constitutional reform.
The challenge to cover so much ground would be daunting were it not for the fact that the legislation proposed in the Queen’s Speech, as we have just heard, has so little to say about the big issues facing the country and the desperate circumstances of many families. At a time when the Government’s economic policy is pushing the country back into recession and when two years on, growth has yet to appear, the Government have offered in the gracious Speech little hope to small businesses, families and elderly people, or to our future generations of children and young people. Where is the British business bank or high speed rail? Why is there only a draft Bill on social care when reform is so urgently needed? Where are the measures for growth to ease the pressures on families and businesses?
The Government would have us believe that they have put children and families centre stage in this legislative programme, but we now understand that the children and families Bill will not be completed before the end of this Parliament. Is that the case, and if so, can the Minister tell us why the Bill has to be carried over and what that says about the Government’s real priorities? Welcome as the limited measures in this Bill are—I shall comment on them specifically in a moment—they fall woefully short of addressing the serious consequences for many families of the current global economic climate and the deliberate policies of this Conservative-led, Liberal Democrat-supported Government. We will scrutinise closely the measures in the children and families Bill when it comes before your Lordships’ House. In principle, we welcome the individual measures to improve adoption and services for disabled children and those with special educational needs. We support an enhanced role for the Children’s Commissioner for England and increased flexibility for parents sharing parental leave. These proposals all build on progress made by the Labour Government.
The devil, as ever, will be in the detail. The Prime Minister seems to be fixated on adoption when he should really be concerned about permanence for children in care. Adoption is not the only or even the best solution for many children. Above all, adoption must be about finding suitable parents for children, not about finding children for would-be adopters. That is one reason that while the number of adoptions has fallen over recent years, the number of residence and special guardianship orders has increased, especially through kinship care by family or close friends. Yet faced with huge budget cuts, local authorities are not able to offer the financial support that grandparents and other family members need in order to be able to offer a permanent home to children in their families. We want to see the Government focus also on kinship care and ensure that family members who take in a child are properly supported.
We also support measures to improve the assessment and provision for disabled children and children with special educational needs, but we will want to see the Government’s plans and resources for training the teachers and other specialist professionals that will be needed. We on this side will await with interest the proposals to strengthen further the role of the Children’s Commissioner, but she must continue to be able to safeguard children’s rights and be an independent champion for children and young people.
It was the Labour Government who introduced big improvements to maternity leave, as well as paternity leave and the right to request flexible working—against strong opposition at the time, I seem to remember, from the Conservatives. We completely get the social and economic arguments in favour of parental leave and flexibility so of course we will support the next steps in extending such policies, but we want these to be real opportunities for fathers as well as mothers. It is no use fathers having the right to request flexibility if the culture in an organisation deters men from even asking or is likely to refuse if they do.
However, are not the Government’s proposals on shared parental leave, welcome though they are, completely at odds with their sustained attack on women’s employment, help with low pay and childcare and the early years provision that many families need to keep their heads above water? How do the Government’s limited measures square up against the scale of the crisis facing so many families? It is not surprising that the public have concluded that the Government are completely out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. At a time when families are facing dwindling incomes and rising prices, growing unemployment and cuts to vital public services, this Bill does nothing to address those real and urgent issues.
Of course, the mantra from the Government is that there is no alternative—that they are dealing with the economic mess left by the Labour Government. That contention is as untrue as it is politically bankrupt. They know that the economic crisis was caused by the banks and, as we see today, it is all too obviously global. They know they have choices about how quickly they cut the deficit and the priorities—and the people—that they protect along the way.
It is no great surprise to see the repeat of some Thatcher policies by this Conservative leadership, but the public expected the Liberal Democrats to stand up for ordinary families, the disadvantaged and public services. I remember well how many times they pressed us when we were in government not to spend less but to spend more, to go further and faster in repairing the damage to families and communities after 18 years of Conservative government. It is very sad indeed now to witness the Liberal Democrats not only reneging on their own promises but colluding with the worst instincts of their Conservative partners: cutting the 50p tax rate for the wealthy at the same time as imposing benefit caps that will mean poor families being shipped out of their communities, miles away to places where they know no one and have no support, with children and young people prised out of their schools and away from friends and family.
The cumulative effect on families of the Government’s actions has been devastating. Rising employment among women has been one of the keys to rising living standards for many families over the past five decades—not any more. In two years, this Government have reversed that trend and women’s unemployment is now the highest for 25 years. Cuts in childcare benefit, child support, tax credits, services in Sure Start children’s centres and other key public services are taking a terrible toll on family life.
The Liberal Democrats claim that quietly, behind the scenes, they smooth the jagged edges of Conservative policies. But so many times the public have been marched up to the top of the hill by the Liberal Democrats—on education, welfare reform and, most famously, health—only to be marched right back down again with no real change. Only recently, on the topic of careers advice for young people—which is of great importance to me and is surely of critical importance with so many young people chasing jobs—so assured were the Liberal Democrats by the Minister that the department’s guidance to schools would deal with their concerns that they would not join other noble Lords in supporting their own, very sensible amendment when it was pressed. That guidance has just been published, with no requirement placed on schools to employ qualified advisers or to provide any face-to-face advice to young people.
It is the impact on young people of this Government’s policies that concerns me most of all. By common consent, youth unemployment is at crisis levels, with more than a million young people now out of work, with long-term youth unemployment two and a half times greater than only a year ago, with only 7% of 16 to 18 year-olds getting one of the much heralded apprenticeships last year, and with the educational maintenance allowance scrapped and tuition fees trebled.
Young people are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are fewer jobs than at any time in the past 20 years, while the cost of staying in education has soared and financial support for those most in need has been abolished. At the same time, support services and youth services have been disproportionately hit by local authority cuts to clubs, activities, youth programmes, libraries and leisure centres.
I truly believe that we are risking a lost generation of young people, repeating the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s, with all the same long-term consequences for young people, their families and communities, and indeed for the whole of society. That would be a tragedy, and it is a tragedy that we on these Benches will do all we can to avert. I know that there are those on the Liberal Democrat Back Benches who care as deeply as anyone about what is happening. I hope that some of them will be able during this Parliament to make common cause with others across your Lordships’ House to act in the interests of young people. On the evidence of this Queen’s Speech, however, this Government, far from taking the bold action necessary to protect children, young people and families, are doing nothing that is relevant to the needs of the nation and the demands of the time.
My Lords, as the Minister forecast, with the time available, I shall concentrate on only one issue. It will not surprise your Lordships to learn that that issue is imprisonment.
I entirely accept that the Government’s No.1 priority in this whole legislative package is costs. In that regard, I am very concerned about the costs of imprisonment. If you have, as was the position last week, 87,212 people in prison, at a cost of £37,573 per prison place, the total cost is well in excess of £3 billion. I suggest that a great deal of that is wholly unnecessary because those people need not be there.
I note that the gracious Speech mentioned that the Government’s legislative programme would focus on economic growth, justice and constitutional reform, which is entirely understandable. It also stated that,
“my Government is committed to reducing and preventing crime”.
I was very glad that, although for the first time in many years a separate criminal justice Bill is not forecast, there is a criminal justice system element in the Bill that the Minister mentioned. I look forward to taking part in that.
In considering the costs of imprisonment and its impact on the prevention of crime, or the prevention of re-crime which is the role of the Prison Service, I shall draw attention to five limiting factors which should be considered carefully if they are not to inhibit the Government’s ability to deliver what they want.
First, I refer to an interview given by Sir David Latham, the recently retired and excellent chairman of the Parole Board, which was reported in the Times on Monday. He said that the Secretary of State for Justice believes strongly that the country cannot afford to keep on jailing more and more people, that he has a desire to stop people being put in prison as much he possibly can, and that he has been frustrated in not being able to persuade the Cabinet to do the things that he wanted to enable the prison population to stabilise and decrease. I could not agree with that sentiment more.
One aspect of that, which we debated during our debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and which brought it into stark relief, is the issue of indeterminate prisoners: people not knowing when they are likely to get out. There are 6,017 of them at the moment—a considerable number—and a lot are already over tariff. If, at £37,000 per year, you have people who need not be there, you now have the added burden that some are suing for compensation because of the delay in their release. The country is having to find £300 for over six months and £1,200 for over two years, and there is likely to be an increase of 30% in such claims during the coming year. That can hardly be a sensible cost. It must inhibit the ability of the Prison Service to do what the Government say they are committed to doing—preventing re-crime.
The second issue was introduced in the recent Act: the victim levy of 40% imposed under the Prisoners’ Earnings Act. Interestingly, today the Chief Inspector of Prisons has published his report on the inspection of HMP Standford Hill, a resettlement prison in Kent where sending people out to work is an absolutely key part of the resettlement process. He said:
“The levies deducted under the Prisoners’ Earnings Act”—
40% of the prison wage, deducted as pay back to victims of crime—
“had begun to mean … that prisoners could no longer afford to meet the travel costs of getting to work, which meant they lost the work and the resettlement opportunities”.
That ought to be thought through carefully. The imposition is affecting the ability of the prisons to do what the Government want.
I also refer to the recent reports on two prisons in the prison newspaper, Inside Time, this month: HMYOI Brinsford, where young offenders are held, and HMP Durham. In each, the reports said that one area of concern is the lack of time out of cell. In Brinsford, one-third of the young men are locked in their cells during the core day and in Durham prisoners spend 16 to 20 hours a day locked up two to a cell designed for one. I mention that because if they are locked in the cell doing nothing, nothing is being done to resettle them.
However, with regard to what is possible in resettlement, a report just published by the Prisoners’ Education Trust, which surveyed 500 prisoners from 81% of the prisons in the system, said that, when applying for a course in the education department, you are put on a waiting list but not told that you are on one, how long the list is or where you are on it. One man said that he had been on the list for two and a half years to do a health and safety course. I am sure that that is not true everywhere but it is a cautionary tale. If education is a vital part of resettlement and preventing re-crime, surely it is important that this aspect is looked at.
Finally, I mention the issue of women, which has been raised many times in this report. Women in Prison has recently reported that of the 43 recommendations in the admirable report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, seven have been implemented, there has been some progress on 18 and no progress on another 18.
I do not want to be a Jonah about this because I believe passionately in the rehabilitation revolution and that it is perfectly possible for prisons to do more to help the Government achieve their aim of reducing and preventing crime. However, they must be enabled to do so and that means that, before legislation is introduced, the impact assessment of what is proposed is carefully looked through. In this case and in this Session, that should include careful post-legislative scrutiny of what has been introduced to see that it is fit for purpose to do the job for which it was designed.
My Lords, there are two aspects of the gracious Speech that I would like to comment on with regard to education. One is the proposal to improve provision for children with special educational needs. I am very pleased to have heard the announcement today on that subject. There is great need for reform in that area. As the Green Paper so eloquently demonstrated, it is a cumbersome system and does not deliver the individualised support that young people need and that schools and colleges want to give.
Wonderful work goes on, of course. I was in a church school in my diocese the other week where they teach and look after a child with, I am told, the most extreme special needs of any child in the county. He has two full-time carers. What impressed me was not only the quality of that care but the way that the teachers spoke about receiving a lot more than they give in looking after that special eight year-old. As we know, a society is judged by the way it values its most vulnerable members.
Today’s announcement will have widespread support. There is a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives and opportunities of many children and young people with additional needs. Many noble Lords will have experience of children with special needs in schools. I ask the Government also to remember the 300,000 learners in FE, sixth forms and apprenticeships who have learning difficulties. More than half of them have support costs of no more than £2,500, so a modest investment can make a real difference.
I also support the intention to simplify the assessment process. It is at present too bureaucratic and too disjointed. We need integrated budgets between health, education and skills, social care and the Department for Work and Pensions. The new children and families Bill is eagerly awaited.
My other point is about higher education, which is of course vital to our national life, educating about 45% of our 17 to 30 year-olds. Massive changes are going on. We have had the trebling of tuition fees, a new and untested core and margin method of recruitment, a changed funding system with money following the student and no central funding for the arts and humanities—and lots more happening. Those are far-reaching changes, but there is no mention of higher education in the gracious Speech. The once anticipated higher education Bill is nowhere in sight.
Last June, the White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, was published. I was very pleased to see the commitment to widening participation, constant improvement in the quality of teaching and the importance of the student experience—all very good things. I remain uneasy about one fundamental point which I detect in the changes. That is a view of higher education in many ways alien to the tradition of, for example, Humboldt, Newman, Robbins or Dearing. Put simply, it is an instrumentalist view. Universities are there to serve the economy. Students are to go to university to help them get jobs. Those are important matters, but that is a disappointingly narrow approach to what education is about at its most transformational. There is nothing about the excitement of learning, nothing about feeding the human spirit, nothing about a community of learning at the heart of society, nothing about the university as a place where society can reflect on its values and goals.
The Diocese of Oxford has seven universities within it, somewhat surprisingly. I can name six of them but I always forget the seventh. I look to them not only to serve the economy—they must do that—but to help the country to think, to reflect and to be self-critical in the right sense. In the Times Higher on 1 March, David Willetts said that the higher education White Paper initially had a chapter on the value of the university and its wider purpose, but it got cut out. A sight of this lost gospel would be most helpful.
There are massive changes going on in higher education, yet no mention of it in the gracious Speech and no suggestion that Parliament might review the impact of the current changes in, say, a year’s time. Nor has the Government’s response to the consultation on last year’s White Paper been made public. Is the House to be denied the opportunity to debate what is happening in our universities?
My Lords, the topic which I propose to discuss certainly was not touched on in the gracious Speech, but it could and should have been raised at any time. It is a very simple proposition, which may surprise the House: British weights and measures are in a mess. We have litres for petrol and fizzy drinks but pints for beer and milk. We have metres and kilometres for athletics and the Ordnance Survey but miles per gallon for cars. We have the metric system for school but still have pounds and ounces in the market. Certainly, this muddle matters. It increases costs, confuses shoppers, leads to serious misunderstandings, causes accidents, confuses our children’s education and, quite bluntly, puts us all to shame.
This is even a constitutional topic because about 800 years ago, Britain’s first charter of human rights that dealt with constitutional matters—I refer, of course, to Magna Carta—proclaimed that there should be only,
“one measure of wine throughout our whole realm … and one measure of corn … and one width of cloth” ,
and so on. Long before then and ever since, every civilised society has recognised the need for one set—and only one set—of standard measures. By contrast, we have managed to come near to recreating Disraeli’s two nations—divided between, on the one hand, a metrically literate elite and, on the other, a rudderless and bewildered majority.
How did we get into this uniquely confusing shambles? It is because we have been dithering about it for some 150 years. As long ago as 1862, a Select Committee of the House of Commons unanimously recommended the adoption of the metric system which had swept across Europe and elsewhere. In 1904, the House of Lords voted in favour of a Bill to the same effect and, remarkably in a way, in 1965 the decision was finally taken—in response to requests from the CBI and others, and after long and widespread consultation—to go metric over the following 10 years. It is important to understand that that decision had nothing to do with our relationship with our European partners. It was our own decision on our own case, taken eight years before we joined the European Community.
How did we manage to end up in this very British mess? It is because successive British Governments have lacked consistency, candour and courage in implementing and presenting a policy which was, at the outset, rightly supported by a broad majority of all those who had given the topic serious consideration. It was the first Wilson Government who launched the process in 1965, and the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan Governments who carried it on. The whole operation was handled, without significant controversy, by a broadly representative commission: the Metrication Board, which, in its final report in 1979, was able to suggest that the change was by then almost complete. In the Heath Government I had been, as Britain’s first Minister for Consumer Affairs, responsible for the metrication programme. By 1979, however, I had myself become a penny-saving Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as such I readily accepted the decision to abolish the Metrication Board, which claimed to have completed the process.
So where should we go now? We simply cannot afford to go on crippling ourselves with acceptance of the present mess, and it certainly would be madness to go backwards. No one is now so foolish as to argue that we should actually move away from the rest of the world. The only solution is to complete the changeover to metric as swiftly and cleanly as possible. To sustain our present imbroglio would continue consumer confusion, perpetuate safety hazards and obstruct business efficiency.
I could have presented the case in this way: the most glaring omission from the gracious Speech is the lack of any reference to the need to complete the modernisation—and metrication, of course—of our system of measurement. Measurement is fundamental to industrial production, consumer protection, health and safety and science and education. The policy of all Governments since 1965 has formerly been to change gradually from imperial to metric units, while continuing the option for consumers to continue using imperial measurements if they wish. However, there has been no further progress of any kind since the year 2000. Metrication has got stuck. As a result, we remain in a muddle of metric and imperial measurements, with some people using one system and others using the other, with all the resulting incomprehension, conversion errors and additional costs, giving the impression to visitors, especially in this Olympic year, that we are a nation living in the imperial past.
A particular recent concern, for example, was the failure of the Department for Transport to seize the opportunity to improve road safety by requiring all imperial-only height and width restriction signs on bridges over highways to be replaced by signs in dual metric and imperial units. That would be a simple thing to do and would cost about £500,000. If it were done, it would probably have huge financial benefits of over £2 million as a result of savings and reduced bridge strikes by metric drivers of foreign lorries on imperial roads with bewildering signs.
I urge the Government as a whole and the country across the board to resume the long drawn-out process of conversion to the metric system, begun in 1965. We should seize on opportunities for progress as they arise and make proper preparations for bringing us comprehensively up to modern international metric standards—a simple proposition that we have neglected for far too long but which we should courageously, carefully and swiftly undertake as soon as we can.
My Lords, I thank the Clerks and the Whips Office for arranging for me to speak now in the debate and for my noble friend Lady Thornton to speak later.
I want to address the vital issue of social care because, as we all recognise, the situation has long been at crisis point, and it needs real action in this parliamentary Session and by this Government. From these Benches we echo the consternation and deep frustration expressed by virtually all stakeholders—the voluntary sector and older people’s organisations, staff professional associations, trade unions and care providers —at the fact that, instead of the comprehensive Bill that we had been hoping for in this Session, what will be before us some time in the as yet unspecified timetable will be a draft Bill addressing only one, albeit important, aspect of the action that is required and, most worryingly, failing to address the key area of social care funding for the future. This is indeed a missed opportunity, a huge let-down. It is especially frustrating for those of us in the House who pointed out on many occasions during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill that it was not much of a social care Bill, with its predominant focus on NHS structures, competition and institutions, and that there were no measures or solutions to address the growing social care crisis.
The mantra in response from the Government that it would be dealt with in the spring social care White Paper has certainly not been translated into the promised draft Bill. It is also worth reminding the House that my noble friend Lord Warner, in his usual constructive and helpful way, even put forward an amendment that would have enabled the Government to show good faith and take powers in the Bill to facilitate the implementation of the Dilnot report in whatever direction the hoped-for cross-party consensus would take it. Of course, the amendment was defeated, as were others that would have helped redress the complete NHS/social care imbalance in the Bill. They included having a tighter and binding definition of how NHS and local authorities were to promote the integration of health and social care services and providing health and well- being boards with real teeth and powers and the authority for final sign-off of the vital CCG commissioning plans. These measures would have reinforced in legislation the requirement for real collaboration and funding of local services to make the best use of resources across the NHS and in social care.
David Cameron committed to introducing legalisation,
“to establish a sustainable legal and financial framework for adult social care”,
which is another broken promise. The Health Minister, in his response to the debate in this House on the Dilnot report, stressed that,
“this is not an issue that we will shy away from”.—[Official Report, 24/11/11; col. 1194.]
That is precisely what the Government have done by not committing themselves to a comprehensive Bill and a timetable for the implementation of reform.
Of course, the implementation of the key recommendations of the excellent Law Commission report of 2011 in the draft Bill will be supported by these Benches, even though it will mean dealing with only part of the picture. The commission report was a landmark report and its translation into legislation will help simplify what it called an “often incoherent patchwork” of 60 years of social care law,
“incomprehensible to all but a small legal fraternity”,
as the Guardian put it last week.
We on these Benches support the modernisation of the legal framework for care and support. Setting out what support people can expect from government and what action it will take to help them will allow them to plan, prepare and make informed choices about their care, but it will not lead to the major improvements in availability, consistency and quality of care that we know is so desperately needed. Throwing into the Bill the laudable extension of personal budgets without dealing with how social care is to be funded to address the current £1 billion shortfall and the demand in the future will, I fear, raise expectations that cannot possibly be met.
Reform of social care must deal with the interrelated issues of long-term funding which allows for people to plan for the costs of retirement, improved quality of care through integrated health and social care commissioning, and the desperate current funding shortfall which has intensified the underlying mismatch between funding and demand still further. The failure to address these issues as a whole results in the twin evils of a growing number of people on low incomes who are no longer eligible for state support and too many people using too large a proportion of, or all of, their own assets to meet the costs of personal domiciliary care in the home or residential care.
We must not forget that there is no long-term solution to the social care time bomb that does not address the workforce issues: the low pay of care workers; training; quality of care; staff numbers; and commissioning which provides for home visits long enough to enable staff to provide the personal care and support that frail older people or people with long-term health conditions need to maintain their independence. We know that recent reports on personal home care, such as those from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Age UK have exposed horrendous problems that deprive older people of dignity and respect. The vast majority of care staff and social workers do a good job and want to do a good job. The reality is that, all too often, it is just impossible.
I have stressed before that as a carer of a disabled adult stroke recoverer, the local agency care we receive is of high quality and the care workers show real empathy, respect and understanding of their client’s needs and of my role as the carer. Our local experience of care is the standard and best practice for which we must aim across the country, but it will not be achieved without tackling current and future funding issues.
As we know, Labour initiated cross-party talks on the Dilnot recommendations on social care funding and these are in progress. Labour is genuine and serious in its commitment to meaningful discussions and negotiations that unlock the Government’s malaise and lead to real change. We know that tough decisions are needed and that doing nothing is not an option for older and disabled people and their carers, the economy and the future of the NHS. The current system is at breaking point. It is unfair and inefficient. It results in fewer and fewer people getting the help that they need and ever mounting additional costs to the NHS and the taxpayer when people end up in hospital or residential care when they do not need to.
I hope that the Government will think again about their decision not to address the Dilnot issues in the White Paper and forthcoming Bill. David Cameron must fulfil his promise and engage personally to give the cross-party talks the backing and momentum that are needed to enable legislation in this parliamentary Session. Burying their heads in the sand and hoping that the problem will go away if Ministers deny that it exists often enough, or blaming cash-starved local authorities for the huge cuts that they have had to make as a result of current funding reductions and increasing demand will not do. Nobody is fooled. It is the Government’s responsibility and they must act now.
My Lords, the first two years of the coalition Government have seen some valuable steps towards a fairer criminal justice system. The new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act abolishes the discredited and unjust IPP sentences, legislates to reduce unnecessary remands in custody and contains much needed reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Over the past two to three years, we have seen a welcome reduction in the number of juvenile offenders in custody. Indeed, the number is currently the lowest since the Youth Justice Board started collecting figures. The Government are developing a determined strategy to divert mentally disordered offenders from the criminal justice system into medical and social care. They are consulting on proposals to make restorative justice a more central part of the criminal justice process.
However, many serious challenges remain. The prison system still faces serious overcrowding. Today, 82 out of 132 prisons hold more prisoners than they were built for, and 19,000 prisoners are held two to a cell designed for one person. This country has 156 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population, compared to 109 in France and 87 in Germany. Prison overcrowding produces inhumane conditions and increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. It also increases crime because it makes it harder for prisons to provide rehabilitation programmes for all their inmates, thereby increasing reoffending on release.
I do not wish to sound alarming but we should take note of the comments made by the chairman of the Parole Board only yesterday. Far too many offenders are still sent into custody for short sentences and are released after no more than a few months in custody. These sentences serve very little purpose. They are too short for sustained rehabilitation programmes but long enough for offenders to lose their jobs and homes, which makes them more likely to reoffend. On release, most of these prisoners do not receive supervision by the probation service and their reconviction rates are much higher than those for other prisoners. Most of these offenders would be better dealt with by supervision programmes in the community. All in all, our system still does far too little to prevent crime and rehabilitate offenders. We need to rethink an approach that wastes such a high proportion of resources on punitive custodial measures that produce high reoffending rates.
A great deal remains to be done to eliminate racial discrimination from the criminal justice process. Indeed, in some respects the position of minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system is now worse than it was when the Stephen Lawrence inquiry reported. The disproportionate use of stop and search is even more extreme and the proportion of the prison population that is made up of racial minorities is now higher than it was in the late 1990s. Further research is required to see how the criminal justice system has produced this anomaly.
What should we do to improve the position? The Government could legislate to make sentencing guidelines take into account the capacity of the prison system. These guidelines should scale down the number and length of prison sentences except for the most serious crimes. Prison should be removed as an option for low-level, non-violent crimes. Courts should be prohibited from using prisons, except for dangerous offenders, unless they have first tried an intensive community supervision programme, which my noble friend Lady Linklater has repeatedly advocated in this House.
We should also legislate to keep restorative justice at the forefront of the minds of sentencers to help ensure that it becomes a central part of the criminal justice system. We should do that by making restorative justice one of the statutory purposes of sentencing and enabling courts to include specific restorative justice requirements in community orders. We also need to prevent the community sentences supervised by the probation service from being used for low-level offenders with little likelihood of reoffending.
When probation service resources are scarce, it is important to concentrate them on work with the more serious or persistent offenders, particularly those who would otherwise receive ineffective short prison sentences. One way to achieve that would be to increase the use of fines for lesser offences. The Government should introduce a “day fine” system, which would relate fines more precisely to the offenders’ means. That could help to make fines a more credible punishment for offenders of all income levels.
We should take steps to reduce the imprisonment of people who have breached community supervision—for example, by missing appointments or being late back to probation hostels. We should do that by introducing a graduated scale of punishment for breach of supervision, with prison being used only when less severe penalties have first been tried. We should introduce tighter statutory restrictions on sending young offenders into custody. For example, we could copy the example of Canada which, in 2002, introduced legislation restricting the use of custody for juveniles and produced a reduction of more than 30% in the number of young people sent to custody. We should place a clear statutory duty on all criminal justice agencies to adopt numerical targets for reducing racial disproportionality in their operations.
Most women we send to prison are neither violent nor dangerous and they have few previous convictions. But they have a high rate of mental disorder, a history of abuse, addiction problems and personal distress arising from separation from their children. As we have repeatedly advocated—and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for this—we should establish a women’s justice board to set standards for resettlement and rehabilitation, mental health services, family contact and culturally appropriate support for foreign national women in our prisons.
A women’s justice board should also set targets to reduce the use of custody for women. There is overwhelming evidence of the importance of providing practical help for offenders in order to reduce reoffending. Getting offenders into jobs reduces their likelihood of further offending by between one-third and one-half. Providing accommodation for offenders reduces reconviction by at least one-fifth. Drug rehabilitation programmes cut the volume of reoffending by up to 70%.
We should commission voluntary organisations to provide a national resettlement service for short-term prisoners who currently receive no supervision or support on release. A strategy on these lines would help to concentrate resources on the measures most likely to protect the public by rehabilitating offenders and reducing reoffending. They would build on the encouraging start made by the coalition towards the achievement of a fairer and more effective criminal justice system.
Recently, I chaired the inquiry by the Magistrates’ Association into summary justice, which should be bedtime reading for all those involved in the role and functions that magistrates should perform in a modern society. I have put in for a short debate and look forward to putting the inquiry’s proposals to the Minister before long.
It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, particularly after his comments about the reduction in the number of young people in the youth justice system and his call for a similar system for women—a women’s justice board—to focus on their needs. Not only have they had the experiences that he describes, but many of them have been in the care of the state, which has often not provided them with the care that they needed. I support the call of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham for further work on the Corston recommendations. It is so disruptive to children’s lives when they are taken into the secure estate.
I rise to speak to a matter omitted from the Queen’s Speech. I want to share my concerns with Her Majesty's Government about the lack of professional capacity in our children’s homes. I take this opportunity to encourage the Secretary of State, the right honourable Michael Gove MP, to give thought to developing a strategy for the professionalisation of staff in children’s homes. Professionals who come into contact with children’s home staff are unanimous that the quality of staff is highly variable and that staff often show little understanding of children’s needs. That is the view of the social workers and child mental health professionals to whom I speak.
The front page of the Times on Wednesday last week read as follows:
“A nation’s shame: Nine men are found guilty of sex grooming crimes against vulnerable young girls after a trial that has exposed the shocking scandal in Britain’s children’s homes”.
Andrew Norfolk, the journalist, goes on to write:
“Hundreds of girls in children’s homes are being sexually abused by organised networks of men, The Times reveals today. England’s children’s homes, which care for 1,800 girls, have recorded 631 incidents of girls being sold for sex during the past five years, including 187 in the past ten months”.
I am most grateful to Mr Norfolk and the Times for the extensive and careful coverage that they have given to the horrific exploitation of these vulnerable children. On page six of that day’s Times, Jenny Pearce, Professor of Young People and Public Policy at the University of Bedfordshire, said:
“You’re talking about poorly trained, poorly supported staff working with some of our most vulnerable children and young people. That combination is an ideal setting for an abuser to exploit”.
It seems clear that the Times successfully identified a systemic problem with our children’s homes, which needs to be remedied as soon as possible. We need to move to a professional cadre for our children’s homes as soon as possible if we are to minimise future risk of harm, sexual and other, to these our most vulnerable children.
In his report of the 1990s on children living away from home, Sir William Utting wrote that the best safeguard for children is an environment of overall excellence. I am concerned that we may be failing in our duty to these children by forgetting his words.
Why do these children need such care? These are often children who have experienced multiple failures of foster placements. They have therefore generally experienced abuse in the family and then been further harmed by being passed from pillar to post. They are normally the older children with longer histories of neglect, who are physically more difficult to manage. The Office for National Statistics in its 2004 survey found that 69% of children in residential care had a mental disorder and that the majority of these disorders were conduct disorders, which are particularly hard to manage for carers. That compared with about 40% of disorders in foster care and 10% in the general children’s population. A head of a child mental health service department put it to me that the profile of these children in these children’s homes is very little different from that of children in psychiatric units. In the latter, children are cared for by nurses who are managed by doctors; in the former, they are cared for by staff qualified to national vocational qualification level 3, who are managed by those qualified to be level 4 managers. There is a world of difference in the capacity of those staff.
On the continent, residential care is a far more popular option, with about half the children in care in residential settings. Staff are also generally more highly qualified. In Denmark, 90% of staff have a degree-level qualification. The continentals choose to have the most highly skilled qualified staff caring for their vulnerable children. In this country we have made the opposite decision. Because our children’s homes cater for only about 8 per cent of the children in local authority care, the needs of our children in residential care are significantly higher than those of such children in France, Germany or Denmark, yet our care staff are much less well qualified. We choose to place our most vulnerable children with our least qualified workers.
I agree with my noble friend on that point. For instance, there are some exceptionally good therapeutic communities in this country and some very good examples of practice. The difficulty is that the quality is so variable. These vulnerable children deserve a consistently excellent quality of care from their carers.
Gangs of men meet former residents of children’s homes and use those girls or young women to “hook into” the young women in those homes. It is very hard for staff to resist that. We need to have the very best staff in children’s homes to prevent these cunning, wily gangs of men gaining access to these children; and not only gangs are involved.
There has been progress in skilling-up staff. Ofsted inspections report improved performance. There are some very good homes and therapeutic communities and many residential care staff work the hardest they can in the interests of these children. I agree with my noble friend in that regard. Regulations have been tightened and there is the prospect of further strengthening of regulations over the next year, yet I fear that a fundamental problem will not be addressed unless a clear strategy for professionalising staff in our children’s homes is introduced as soon as possible. Therefore, I beg the Government to give consideration to developing such a strategy to bring this about. There is great expertise in this area in this Chamber. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I rise to speak on a subject that I, for one, am glad is not included in the gracious Speech. For 650 years, magistrates have been part of the fabric of this great country and summary justice has been administered by a service of well trained volunteers giving up many hours on a weekly or fortnightly basis. It is a valued contribution to the smooth running of the country and a service which has evolved and improved over the passing years. It is therefore to be treasured and must never, at the whim of any Government, be tinkered with but modified only after much reflection.
Magistrates have been with us since 1361—a long time by any standards. Throughout this time, the system has maintained the same level of service and commitment to society while, even in the 30 years I was privileged enough to be involved with it, making changes as needed around the edges, such as occurred in one of my own personal, very trivial examples. When I was first appointed, women magistrates always wore hats in court. I found this difficult as the only hats I had were the ones worn for dressy occasions. When we plucked up the courage to ask the chairman why we wore hats, he replied that he had no idea as it added nothing to our work in the court, so from that moment on in our court hats remained at home.
The advent of the 21st century and the need for financial constraint has concentrated minds on the future of the administration of justice. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Dholakia was a leading member of the Magistrates’ Association, which has produced an in-depth study inquiring into the role of magistrates and the future delivery of summary justice. This report is well researched and to be welcomed, and will now be genuinely considered.
Of course, the magistracy must be valued for the contribution that it makes, and it is paramount that society has confidence in its administration. I think that those tests are currently passed with flying colours. However, I have one aching concern. It has always seemed to me that summary justice is served best by local people who know the area—people who live there and are respected citizens. Nowhere was this better evidenced than in the manner in which the magistracy responded to the riots last summer, some magistrates even sitting through the night when required. This was local people dispensing local justice at a time of real need, resulting in speedy action on cases. I worry that if many more courts are closed, this local element will be lost.
The magistracy must of course continue to be responsive. For instance, I was very interested in an article in the Times of 8 May this year hinting of proposals to allow magistrates to sit in community centres. It was suggested that magistrates could sit alone but I would have to be convinced of this, as I believe that a Bench of two or three magistrates carries greater strength and acceptability, and in addition is certainly less stressful for a magistrate.
So I am pleased that this key subject was not included in the Queen’s Speech. I hope, however, that after careful consideration and much consultation with those within the magisterial service we will be presented with a set of proposals that ensure that our justice system continues to be the envy of the world and allows magistrates to serve our country with distinction for another 650 years.
My Lords, this is Olympic year, so I scanned the Queen’s Speech with eager anticipation. Just for once, I hoped that sport would take centre stage, for it plays a crucial role in all the topics in today’s debate. Of course, I was disappointed.
I wish to speak on a major sport that I believe is under threat. That sport is tennis, and I genuinely fear for the future of the game. I do so with a heavy heart, for this has been my chosen sport and that of my family.
I was absolutely delighted when Roger Draper was appointed as chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association in 2006. We met Roger Draper and heard of his wide-ranging plans to promote British tennis to the full, building a national tennis centre to facilitate that development. I hosted a reception in the House of Lords and he pledged that Britain would have five players in the top 100 by the end of 2008 and, at the same time, that every school child, by the age of eight, would have held a tennis racquet. We were delighted. However, none of that happened.
There was another juggling of the figures in 2008 when it was announced that Britain would have five players in the top 100 by 2010. There were two. By now, alarm bells were ringing. Everyone knew that the LTA was one of the richest governing bodies in the world with some £60 million being poured into its coffers every single year, none of it with any strings attached. The press and the tennis public were losing patience. News trickled through that huge sums of money were being spent on coaches. More worrying was the allegation, never denied or confirmed, that Roger Draper was paid £400,000 per annum on a six-year contract with bonuses on top—no transparency and no accountability.
It was around this time that Gerry Sutcliffe, the then Minister for Sport, asked me to review the LTA. I with nine colleagues, many of them from this Chamber and the Lords and Commons Tennis Club, formed a panel. The members were absolutely outstanding and excellent. We had only a very short time, with just three weeks to go before the general election. We held hearings and wrote a report that was highly critical. We were shocked at the performance of the LTA, given its resources and freedom of action. We could not believe its strategy, which was to put all effort into elite performance and so little into school, club and grass-roots tennis. What really incensed us was that the Government had made a direct contribution to tennis of some £26.8 million over a four-year period through Sport England. There was absolutely no indication or account of how that money was spent, and we could find no benefit.
All our misgivings became reality. The profligate LTA continued to infuriate the British press, the public and anyone who had an interest in tennis. Failure followed failure. At last, Sport England, which distributes funds from government and lottery sources, found its voice. In April of this year, it announced that it would cut £530,000 from tennis because of a fall in participation figures. The drop of almost 30% in two years was dire and the funding cut fully deserved. So this is where we are today. The LTA is a total shambles, tottering from one broken pledge to another, and the British and the world's press are aghast at the huge cost and pathetic results of six years of mismanagement. It is pitiful.
If you think I am but a single disgruntled observer, perhaps I may share with you the views of others who are far more knowledgeable and who confirm my misgivings. The nation's tennis writers have long run out of patience. They watch every twist and turn of the LTA and its CEO. I can find no support in the newspapers for them. Here are just a few headlines from dozens over the years. The Guardian said:
“LTA suffers major embarrassment: the LTA receives almost £60 million per year, when will British tennis see some results?”.
The Daily Mail said:
“Lame Duck Draper must go. He was supposed to save British tennis but now it’s worse!”.
The Daily Telegraph said that after five years and £250 million there is “still no progress”. But perhaps the strongest criticism over the past six years has come from Neil Harman of the Times. He has followed and written about every twist and turn, every inexcusable failure of an organisation that is wealthy almost beyond belief. Tim Henman, the former British No. 1, and not a person given to confrontation, said that,
“the lack of contenders is just not good enough”,
“I lament the failure of the present system”.
Meg Munn MP made a timely intervention in a Commons debate some time ago with the horrifying statistic that the number of tennis courts has declined in the past 10 years from 33,000 to only 10,000.
So, what can be done? I call on Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport, to set up an urgent review and inquiry into British tennis. He must insist on transparency of all expenditure and salaries, especially given the fact that the LTA receives public money—taxpayers' money. This money must be ring-fenced in order to ensure that grass-roots tennis projects are properly funded. He must insist on freedom of information from the sport's governing body and call on the board of the LTA to face up to its responsibilities. All this must be done urgently. In less than eight weeks’ time, millions of tennis lovers in the UK will sit down in front of their televisions, some for a whole fortnight, and watch every ball struck at Wimbledon. They have a right to expect more success from the game they love. Unless he intervenes, the Minister could be accused of allowing one of the oldest and most distinguished sports to decline into obscurity. The entire tennis world is looking on in disbelief. The Minister can and must help to put this right.
I am very sorry to hear of the woes of the LTA and Sport England. I confess that I was a little disappointed not to hear from Her Majesty congratulations to the Welsh national rugby team on winning the triple crown and the grand slam and good wishes on going to Australia shortly, where no doubt the reputation of British sport will be restored.
In the field of law reform, I very much welcome the Defamation Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred. The Bill is based on the tireless and persistent work of my noble friend Lord Lester, and I hope that it will dispel the chilling effect on freedom of speech of an overworked and out of date branch of the law. I hope that it will also end libel tourism, whereby our courts are used to determine disputes about the reputations of people of whom nobody has ever heard. People come here from abroad to litigate on these matters.
There is one Bill that I look forward to with some interest. The gracious Speech stated that legislation would be introduced to strengthen oversight “of” the security services. I wondered whether it was a typo and the Bill would set out to strengthen oversight “by” the security services; the wording seemed curious.
I will look with considerable care at any provisions that are designed to extend closed proceedings to civil cases by the use of special advocates. The vast majority of the special advocates who currently appear in criminal immigration cases are wholly against such an extension, and no satisfactory solution has yet been devised or put forward in this sensitive area. In civil cases it is not acceptable that a judge who decides a case between parties—very often a claimant is suing a government department—should be shown secret information that is never disclosed to the claimant and which he cannot answer in any way. It is quite wrong that a judge should have such information on which to base his judgment. It is not like a criminal case, where the jury makes the decision; in a civil case it is the judge. That is a very important distinction and I shall pursue that Bill with considerable interest.
It would be too much to expect that the Home Office would be without another of those heavy Bills that we are accustomed to wading through. I suppose that it must employ the Bill teams that it has accumulated over many years. The Crime and Courts Bill is a standard model. The National Crime Agency is proposed as an overarching agency to encompass the various agencies that already exist. We might hear something in the Bill about architecture; perhaps that phrase will come to us in due course. The Serious Organised Crime Agency has just reached its sixth birthday; it is only an infant. It merged the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National High Tech Crime Unit, the investigative and intelligence sections of HM Revenue and Customs on serious drug trafficking, and the Immigration Service’s responsibility for organised immigration crime. The Assets Recovery Agency, too, was made part of SOCA in 2008. The Serious Fraud Office escaped the overarching conglomeration, and it seems that it will escape again. We shall want to know: did SOCA fail? If so, why? What does the new overarching agency, which takes in all these bodies and has cross-government contacts, promise—except more employment?
No doubt somebody—if not the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, then another noble Lord—will put forward an amendment with an overarching mission statement that crime is bad and should be prevented, and I look forward to discussing the independence of the director-general and wading through the mire of functions and priorities, arguing about relationships with independent police forces, establishing frameworks and the hierarchies that we so love and that will tell us who is boss. We have the entirety of Schedule 3 to play with on this issue. I remember a World War II poster that some other noble Lords may recall: “Was Your Journey Really Necessary?”. It went along with “Careless Talk Costs Lives”, with a spook lurking behind every hedge. Is it necessary to introduce a National Crime Agency only six years after SOCA was brought into being?
The changes to bring county courts into a single county court and establish a single family court are, on the face of it, acceptable, but there is really only one test: does it improve or hinder access to justice? The whole point about county courts is that they were established in every county so that people could go to them and use them; similarly with family courts. A quick remedy can be obtained from a magistrates’ court in a family matter, which may take much longer in the Courts Service.
As for diversity in the judiciary, there is always concern. The test must still be simply one of merit in appointing judges. The diversity which arrived at the Bar in the 1970s is working its way through to the Bench in all areas and that concern, I hope, will become something of the past.
As for televising court proceedings, it so happens that last week I was lying on my back in the dentist’s as he was poised with his drill and I had all sorts of things in my mouth. He told me that he had to go to court as a witness in a case. He had never been to court and he was extremely apprehensive. I thought: “Apprehensive? My God, at least they are not going to drill into the nerve in your teeth to extract evidence from you!”. However, that just shows how little even the educated public understand about the way the courts system works. I welcome a limited introduction of television into courts. Like your Lordships’ proceedings, I think they will be viewed in the early hours of the morning by anoraks or people who cannot sleep, because the arguments in the Court of Appeal are not really much of an entertainment.
The gracious Speech was criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, as being the thinnest of Queen’s Speeches and wholly irrelevant to people’s lives. There was nothing on growth or jobs, he said. Well, just look at the number of Bills that are there. The Government should be focused now on competent administration and on bedding down the changes that have already been made in the fields of education, welfare, health, legal services and the rest. These decisions have been made; now is the time to make the decisions work, by proper administrative action.
My Lords, I rise to add my two-pennorth to this veritable cornucopia of subjects this afternoon. We have moved from tennis to defamation, to children in care, the criminal justice Bill and weights and measures. It is a fascinating encyclopaedia of issues, which shows the expertise available in this House. I shall refer to the draft social care Bill. I thought hard about whether I should contribute to this ritual of debates on the Queen’s Speech, mainly because it does seem such a ritual. However, a friend of mine who has had her welfare services cut asked me, “You are a Member of the House of Lords. What are you going to do about it?”. I struggled to give a response. This individual is quite wise. She actually watches House of Lords debates, which says something; but then she can because she has the time. I said, “I do not know really. It is a bit of a struggle”. So she said, “You spent all day talking about House of Lords reform, and less people are interested in that than whether they will be able to afford any health and social care. Get up there”. So here I am. I am getting up here because there is a problem. I am all for House of Lords reform, but more people care about whether they are going to get any care.
The Government made a promising start in tackling the huge amount of work needed to reform the social care system. Before I go on, I should declare an interest as the chief executive of Turning Point, which is a social enterprise in the health and social care sector. The Dilnot commission marked a good start in that it understood the,
“urgency of reforming the system of social care”,
a phrase that was in the coalition agreement published in May 2010. Setting up the Commission on Funding of Care and Support showed that the Government accepted that tackling the funding crisis was to be an imperative part of their work. Andrew Dilnot’s work was praised by many, and his report and recommendations were published almost a year ago. However, the Government are yet to publicly outline their response. They have remained quiet on funding. A White Paper on social care and a progress report on funding are therefore still eagerly awaited and anticipated by those who work in social care.
But the wait is most acute for those who are suffering in the current system. The draft care and support Bill, no doubt a fascinating read for many before a roaring fire, is a positive move towards reform, but it has been met with a lot of disappointment because it fails to mention or use the F-word—funding. Proposals on funding will be brought forward separately from the White Paper, and it is now even possible that a new funding system will not be fully in place until as late as 2025. The Treasury may be unhappy about the £1.7 billion per year that the Dilnot proposals would cost, but these changes are critical to the lives of those in need of care, as they are to their relatives, who still face uncertainty over timeframes and funding issues. The system is creaking as demand increases, so the question of funding needs to be addressed urgently for the short, medium and long term.
I was one of 78 signatories to an open letter sent to the Prime Minister earlier this month organised by the Care and Support Alliance. It warns that the system is chronically underfunded and that, without reform, too many old and disabled people will be left in desperate circumstances, struggling on alone and living in misery and fear. The need for a clear consensus on a new funding settlement is also the number one priority set out in another letter to the Prime Minister that I signed in March—I have been signing a lot of letters to the Prime Minister of late—as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on People with Complex Needs and Dual Diagnosis. Other signatories were the chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People and those groups with an interest in carers, dementia, disability, Down’s syndrome, housing and care for older people, learning disability, ME, MS, Parkinson’s and social care.
Everyone knows that reform will be expensive, but I agree with the Local Government Association and insist that it is worth paying for. There will be those who argue that we cannot afford it, but the reality is that we cannot afford not to. Local authorities are starting to feel the weight of extra responsibilities from social care to public health, while simultaneously their budgets are growing smaller. Now is not the time to stall progress. The LGA has also recently warned that the need to plug the current gap in care funding would be at the cost of other public services for vulnerable people. It is clear that this extra money is needed as the social care system is already in crisis.
While a large proportion of spending goes to support older people, it is important to remember that many others are in need of a comprehensive and well funded social care system. Indeed, at Turning Point we support many people with complex needs that range from alcohol dependency to mental health, learning disabilities and so on. Strongly linked to the need for social care funding is the need for integration and personalisation. My work in looking at the benefits realisation of integrating services shows that when they are integrated, for every £1 spent, a saving of £2.65 is made on delivery. The Department of Health-funded Partnerships for Older People Projects focused on health, well-being and independence promotion and prevention. They saw a 47% reduction in overnight hospital stays and a 29% reduction in A&E visits. There were also reductions in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and out-patient appointments, resulting in a cost reduction of £2,166 per person. The clues to the model for the funding of social care are in place. According to London Councils, better integrated services that support people with long-term conditions could also result in savings of £2.7 billion annually.
The current system is out of date and can fail on quality, varying widely across the country—not just in the case of children’s services, as has been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. We need an integrated and personalised system allowing older and disabled people and their families to participate and live with dignity and independence. The eligibility and assessment system needs improving as part of this process.
I know there is sympathy and desire on the part of the Government, but it has become increasingly difficult to believe that they understand the necessity of reform as a matter of urgency, two years on from the Dilnot commission. The same level of determination and the same amount of time as have been devoted to House of Lords reform need to be focused on the lives of thousands and millions of people who will need health and social care, and the same level of urgency is required in the area of health and social care finance that was put into the efforts to push through the Health and Social Care Act.
My Lords, I rather agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken: it is a little curious that we should have had to use two days of precious parliamentary time to point out to the Government the folly of introducing such an ill thought-out piece of legislation to replace your Lordships’ House. I am going to use my brief moments on another commitment in the gracious Speech—that to,
“establish the National Crime Agency to tackle the most serious and organised crime and strengthen border security”.
That at least is something about which the entire electorate mind a great deal.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in questioning whether we really need to reorganise the Serious Organised Crime Agency, SOCA, which only started work in 2006. I had the opportunity on 28 March of visiting SOCA with EU Sub-Committee F, which does home affairs, and I was pretty impressed with what I found there. I noticed that the committee’s report on the ELMER money-laundering database had had quite a considerable influence on the practices and what SOCA was actually doing about that, but I do not have time to cover that now.
What I really want is to focus on “strengthen border security”, and to talk about the UK Border Agency. Border security is a crucial element in the defence of the realm and therefore of the highest importance. Every year some 80 million people come in and out by air, 11 million by sea and about 16 million by the Channel Tunnel. However, border security is actually one of Whitehall’s biggest failures, not just under the present Government but going way back—at least to June 2006 when the now noble Lord, Lord Reid, with all the authority of the Home Secretary, publicly denounced the immigration department of the Home Office as “not fit for purpose”. Since then, things have got worse, much worse. The civil servant in charge at the time was of course promoted to be Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence.
Over a period of years, I have documented, through Written PQs, the failures of the UK Border Agency. Let me make it clear that the UKBA is not underresourced. It employs over 20,000 people. The problem is in the management of those resources. I have met Mr Rob Whiteman, the new chief executive, and I think that given a free hand and political support he could be quite effective.
I have four criticisms of the UK Border Agency. First, it has proved grossly incompetent. We have all seen the recent shambles of the queues at our airports. The much vaunted e-Borders system has cost £357 million in the four and a half years to October 2011 and is still only partly operational now: only just over half the people who go in and out of the country are covered by it, and it is not expected to be fully operational until 2015. The Home Office could learn a thing or two from Mr Ken Livingstone. Whatever else you think about him, he introduced his e-congestion charge system and it worked extremely well from the word go, and that must have been every bit as big.
The previous Government also scrapped exit checks, which it is said cannot be reintroduced until 2015. Well, if you do not have exit checks, you do not know who is meant to have gone out of the country, so it is a shambles. There are huge gaps in the monitoring of passports.
Secondly, the border force is undisciplined. Others may have seen a report in the press of an incident during the shambles. Angry crowds had gathered and eventually a posse of immigration officers walked in to fill empty desks. Not surprisingly, people who had been waiting for more than an hour gave them a slow handclap. What happened? They walked out again. What arrogance. What insensitivity.
Thirdly, the border force is luddite. The much vaunted iris recognition system has been seen as a threat to immigration officer jobs and is now largely abandoned. Hong Kong has had a superb e-border agency system for more than 15 years. The United States, which I visit quite often, also has a system which works very well.
Fourthly, and most serious, the UK Border Agency is deeply and systemically corrupt. The British government machine has always had a well deserved reputation for integrity, yet in the past six years more than 25 members of the UK Border Agency have been sent to prison for the serious offence of misconduct in public office. They were not minor offences. I will give just half a dozen examples: in March 2008, a Mr Uzoma John-Ayo was sentenced to nine years; in September 2009, a Mr Ali was sentenced to five years; in March 2010, a Mr Quarco was sentenced to nine years; in April 2010, a Ms Eworth was sentenced to six years; in November 2011, a Mr Shoyeju was sentenced to seven years; and in December 2011, a Mr Rammakrishnan was sentenced to eight years. Those are big sentences; they were not sent to prison for little things. If that has happened in one agency, it is appalling.
What should be done? I would be delighted to give the Minister my detailed ideas, but here are one or two for starters. The UK Border Force, which was in March separated from the UKBA, should be put under the operational command of a senior, three-star, retired military commander. I saw Mr Brian Moore, currently in charge of the border force, being interviewed on television recently and I am afraid that I was not impressed. That is probably unfair, but it is necessary to have in command somebody who is really good.
Secondly, the profile and screening of those recruited to the UKBA and the border force should be reviewed urgently. I suggest an emergency review of the integrity of existing staff. Next, the staff should be subject to the same disciplinary system as the police and should not be allowed to take the sort of industrial action which they have taken and which they quite often threaten. Finally, a fresh management team should take a grip on the e-Borders system, integrating it fully with the passport system to secure our borders. I am glad that the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons is looking at the borders system. I hope that we will co-operate closely with it and that the Government will do something serious about it pretty soon.
My Lords, in 1997, pensioners were among the poorest in society, while future pensioners were not saving enough. Our response to the former, pension credit, took existing pensioners out of poverty but, perversely, made it not worth saving for pensioners still to come.
If, 10 years ago, I could have foreseen the proposed new state pension, the raising of retirement incomes, the removal of means-testing and the making it safe to save, as well as the rollout of auto-enrolment, with NEST bringing even the low-paid into pensions, I would have been thrilled. Pensions would have been sorted, finally.
Details remain to be finessed. They include legacy issues for the state pension; transfers; caps; and, above all, thresholds for NEST, because, perversely, the more you raise tax thresholds, be it to £10,000 or even £12,000, the more people, 1.4 million of them and mostly women, you take out of auto-enrolment. They are the very people for whom NEST was designed. More widely in the pensions field, we could strip out normal essentials from DB schemes such as indexing and spouse’s benefits, cutting their costs in half and thus ensuring their survival. Or we could develop hybrid schemes, sharing the risk. Given that there are 54,000 DC schemes, we could respond to the NAPF’s call for super trusts.
However, despite the splendid work of Steve Webb, I no longer think that we have pensions sorted. They are fine for higher-rate taxpayers with parallel savings in ISAs and property who can absorb risk and wish to smooth consumption between work and retirement. Though I am delighted by the proposed pensions Bill, no one today would invent pensions for the low paid, especially women. As the IoD said in its recent Roadmap for Retirement Reform, pensions are,
“part of the problem, rather than part of the solution”.
That was the IoD. Just think—for a decent pension you need: a full-time job for 40 years; that job in a world of steady interest rates, inflation, employment and longevity; to contribute young, enough and throughout; to manage the investment and disinvestment risk; and, for those 40 years, not to touch it because you have other savings. Not one of those propositions fits the low paid.
We could not design a poorer fit for poorer women if we tried. Women are in and out of the waged labour market, interspersed with caring for the young and increasingly for the old who, because they are living longer, take a woman out of the labour market for longer at just the point when she should be building her own pension. Her work is part time and low paid. Half of all women face divorce, losing their home, health, money and partner. She is at high risk. It is key that her working years are more perilous than retirement. She has no accessible savings to smooth those risks but cannot touch her only savings—her pension. She can use her pension to build a conservatory at 62 but not to save her home from repossession at 42. That is mad and cruel.
Why is more money going into ISAs than pensions, despite there being no tax relief or employers’ contribution? The answer is access. We should stop shoehorning low-paid women into structures devised by well-paid men for other well-paid men 50 years ago. We need combined savings and pensions schemes: the lifetime savings accounts—LiSAs—of David Willetts; the combined ISA/pensions of Michael Johnson of CPS; or the early access to the 25% tax-free lump sum called for by Steve Webb and me.
Finally, we spend £30 billion a year on tax relief, half of which goes to the wealthiest 10% who least need help to save. That same £30 billion would buy a state pension of £20,000 a year for every couple in the land. Some £7 billion goes in higher rate tax relief alone—shamefully left untouched in an austerity Budget which halved the benefits for disabled children. That £7 billion would fund Dilnot twice over and, if ring-fenced, could redistribute from pensioners in their 60s to pensioners in their 80s, from wealthier pensioners who were higher-rate taxpayers to poorer pensioners who never had that advantage. It would do that in wise, decent and publically acceptable ways. We all talk the language of personal responsibility, reducing the role of the state, and about the need of the poor who are in debt to simultaneously save for their retirement. Pensions work only for the well-off who do not need them. For the lower paid, their working lives are too fragile and insecure for such a lofty perspective.
We have to rethink tax relief; rethink savings products, so that we can smooth risk across an entire life; revalue women’s work as increased longevity increases their caring work and their risks; and rethink the contributory state. Pensions would be a good place to start with all that.
My Lords, I shall use my time to welcome the commitment to introduce legislation to protect freedom of speech and to reform the law of defamation. I was a member of the Joint Committee on the draft Defamation Bill under the excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Mawhinney, who guided us and the many witnesses who gave evidence to us courteously and patiently but always incisively through some difficult areas.
Not only will the Bill implement the commitment in the coalition agreement mentioned by the Minister to revise our libel laws to protect freedom of speech, it will build on the firm cross-party consensus on the Joint Committee, which produced a unanimous report in favour of reform. The driver of reform is a general and justified view that the present operation of the law on defamation inhibits free speech.
There are a number of areas of particular concern. The first is that libel litigation—or, more insidiously, because it cannot be statistically measured, the threat of such litigation—can be and is frequently used to stifle discussion and legitimate criticism: the so-called chilling effect. The second is that the present threshold of seriousness for cases is far too low, which adds to the chilling effect, threatening scientific and academic debate in particular. The third is that the cost and complexity of defamation proceedings present insuperable obstacles to people of modest means who are therefore unprepared to risk or resist libel proceedings even when they are in the right. Fourthly, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford mentioned, recourse to the English courts, or the threat of such recourse, has encouraged potential claimants to bring or threaten proceedings in this country which are not in fact suitably at home in this jurisdiction. On the other side of the balance between free speech and reputation, there is concern that the same obstacles that inhibit freedom of speech are faced by individuals of modest means who are themselves defamed and have no chance of invoking the law to assist them to protect or recover their reputations.
The chilling effect is addressed in several of the provisions of the Bill published in the House of Commons last week. The raising of the threshold for bringing claims by the serious harm test; the honest opinion defence; the single publication rule; the privilege for peer-reviewed academic or scientific statements; and the new statutory defence of responsible publication in a matter of public interest will do much to reduce the chilling effect, helping to prevent frivolous or trivial claims being brought or threatened which inhibit free discussion.
I add one point here. It can be and has been argued, particularly in relation to the serious harm test and the responsible publication defence, that the common law was improving already and that the courts have been rejecting more trivial cases and have developed the Reynolds defence of responsible journalism. The argument continues that therefore codification in statute is unnecessary and—which is worse—that codification stifles the development of common law. However, that argument misses the essential point, which is that making the law accessible does not mean making it accessible to lawyers. Members of the public should be able to look at the law simply on the internet and get a clear idea of where the law stands from statute, not have to go to their lawyers to get a detailed analysis of the way the law is moving in the light of recent cases.
The cost and complexity of defamation proceedings needs to be addressed. The Joint Committee report went into some detail on this, and the Government’s response has been sympathetic. The restriction of jury trials to exceptional cases will go a long way towards making early resolution more achievable. The promise to introduce a more effective early resolution procedure involving the determination of meaning and the narrowing of the issues together with more effective case management, strengthening of the pre-action protocol and greater encouragement of mediation and other dispute resolution procedures should all help to reduce costs. However, one has to accept that going to law in defamation cases is never going to be inexpensive and that a great deal of work will be required to make the law more accessible in this area, over and above these statutory reforms.
One reform that I believe should be universally welcomed is the introduction of a general power in the court to order an unsuccessful defendant who loses defamation proceedings to publish a summary of the judgment against them. That answers the criticism that you cannot order a defendant to make an apology that is plainly forced and insincere, but recognises that the defamer who is successfully sued can and should be obliged to play some part in the vindication of the person who was defamed.
The Bill attempts to tackle internet defamation in a novel way. This is an area where legislation is very difficult. The Government have not accepted precisely the scheme suggested by the Joint Committee but I firmly believe that we are right not simply to admit defeat and say that it is all too difficult to strike a reasonable balance on the internet between permitting freedom of expression, on the one hand, and allowing those who are defamed an opportunity to have offensive and defamatory material taken down, on the other. The provisions for notices of complaint in the Bill and for website operators to have an opportunity to respond to them seem to be a sensible attempt to strike that balance. I look forward to debating those provisions, and others, in the Bill in due course.
My Lords, I want to speak briefly about a couple of aspects of the gracious Speech. In relation to the first, I should declare an interest as chair of Ofsted. The Government’s intention to improve the rates of adoption will be widely welcomed. It is both common sense and humane to want to place as many children as possible in warm and stable families, so that they can grow up with security and love. The new proposals will build on the recent introduction of scorecards, reflecting a range of measures relating to the speed of placements.
We know that placing children with families before the age of two increases the chances of a successful outcome. In particular, changes in family law should really help to speed up the overall timeframe. Ofsted carried out a recent survey report, looking in detail at 90 cases. This strongly highlighted the delays that can take place in court proceedings. One case that was examined showed what can happen. In this case, a judge ordered an independent social work assessment of a grandmother who had already been assessed as an unsuitable long-term option by the local authority, with the support of the guardian. The independent social worker’s recommendation in favour of the grandmother was rejected by the court and the care order was eventually granted, after a further unsuccessful appeal. By this time, the child was over three years-old and the additional assessment had lengthened the process by more than 10 months.
Having emphasised the need for a speedier process, it is of course important to recognise the trauma of a failed adoption. The key outcome is the life-changing opportunity of a permanent family. Children do not need the perfect family, according to a list of prescribed requirements, but they need the right family. These are tricky issues but there are no excuses for not trying to improve the life chances of some of the most vulnerable children, and there are examples around the country of excellent practice. The differential performance around the country is indeed very marked. I know that Ofsted will be keen to play its part by focusing more in inspections on the importance of minimising delay, and that the wealth of experience and knowledge around this House will be immensely important in scrutinising the proposed legislation when it is published.
I also welcome the review of the provision of special educational needs, but the devil will be in the detail. In 2010, Ofsted produced an in-depth report, A Statement is not Enough, which showed that inspectors found that many pupils would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all. The review also found that the current system is focusing too much on statements of need and checking that pupils are getting additional services, and too little on how much this support is actually helping children progress. The review recommended that schools should stop identifying pupils as having special educational needs when some of them simply need better teaching and pastoral support, and there should be more focus on evaluating the quality and effectiveness of services for children with special educational needs. The then Chief Inspector said:
“Although we saw some excellent support for children with special educational needs, and a huge investment of resources, overall there needs to be a shift in direction. With over one in five children of school age in England identified as having special educational needs, it is vitally important that both the way they are identified, and the support they receive, work in the best interest of the children involved. Higher expectations of all children, and better teaching and learning, would lead to fewer children being identified as having special educational needs.
For those children with complex and severe special educational needs, schools often need the help of health and social care services. All these services should be focused on the quality of what they are doing, and how well young people are doing as a result. At the moment too much effort is going into simply checking that extra services are being provided”.
This all stands true now. A proper overhaul of SEN identification and provision is clearly needed. Like others, I look forward to seeing the full proposals and discussing them further.
I wish I could be quite as positive about the Government’s intentions affecting those in the later stages of life. Like many others today, I am deeply disappointed by the Government running away from facing up to the challenges posed by the funding of social care. The establishment of the Dilnot commission was a brave and proper act by the coalition Government, but they are now failing to follow through on it. Yes, it will be tough and there will be some bad headlines, but we all know that fundamental change is needed. This weakness is particularly odd when the need for change is recognised by health providers, local authorities, charities and the public. Indeed, I think the public are ahead of us on this; they know that you cannot get something for nothing, but they want certainty and security. They want to be able to plan for old age and the support that they may need in future. They quite simply do not understand why the Government will not get a grip and lead from the top, forcing everyone around the table to get a cross-party solution. Yet, bizarrely, the coalition Government put a priority on Lords reform instead—a weird way indeed to expend political capital in challenging times.
Under an ancien regime I shared a room in No. 10 with my good friend, now the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, then PPS to Tony Blair. I was political secretary. Bruce used to put questions of policy through his “How will this go down in the Dog and Duck?” test; me through chatting in the playground. I doubt that Lords reform would crop up in either venue, but I think that social care would.
My Lords, in the present circumstances, for a Government to be business-friendly is a necessary objective. However, such a goal is not just about regulatory simplification and limiting inspections. It must also be about ensuring that companies can get access to the right sort of help and advice that they need to survive and prosper.
I want to reflect for a moment on the help that small businesses need so that they can avoid costly accidents and losses due to work-related ill health. A start has been made with the registration of health and safety consultants but much more is needed, particularly in helping to co-ordinate the contributions of all the bodies, including the private and voluntary sectors, that can help firms to understand their risks and implement appropriate preventive measures. The Health and Safety Executive, which has had to cut back its telephone information line as part of its budget reduction, would be ideally placed to draw together safety groups, trade associations and unions into this kind of national safety effort.
The whole question of health and safety is vital. It is not a burden on business, as some Ministers are wont to regard it, but a vital protection for both people and businesses alike. Its importance links directly to other key themes in the Queen’s Speech: support for hard-working families and bearing down on crime. We owe a duty to support all members of the workforce to ensure that they return home to their families safe and sound at the end of each working day. We must also bear down on the relatively few unscrupulous employers whose failure to obey the law that protects their employees’ lives and limbs is indeed a crime.
We welcome the reassurances from the DWP Minister, Chris Grayling, that nothing will be done to reduce protection for workers in risky industries, but he undermined that commitment by continuing to suggest that health and safety laws and regulations have been interfering with investment and jobs. This is contradicted by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, who in his very competent review of health and safety law for the Government said clearly that there is no evidence of that. He said that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and its subsidiary regulations, whose requirements are qualified by reasonable practicability, were broadly fit for purpose. In the end, he managed to identify only fourteen outdated or redundant pieces of health and safety law that could be got rid of, mainly because the matters they covered were dealt with by existing statutes. It is therefore quite misleading to suggest, as the Minister did recently at a business forum, that by getting rid of such gems as the Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act 1922, the Gasholders (Record of Examinations) Order 1938 or the Gasholders and Steam Boilers (Metrication) Regulations 1981 the Government are somehow relieving industry of a colossal amount of red tape. In all these cases, because of Section 1(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, the same, if not more stringent, requirements remain in place.
Indeed, what evidence is there that any of the measures being repealed ever interfered with investment and job creation? There is none at all. Of course we must speak out against those petty bureaucrats who overinterpret every requirement, but it is time to stop demonising all health and safety. Good health and safety is very good for business. Yes, we must continue to improve our statutes, but it is quite wrong to suggest that complying with the present legislation is damaging employers’ profits.
If we want to talk about the real cost of health and safety to business, let us talk about the cost to business and the nation of not having it. In 2010-11, in addition to fatalities due to work-related accidents, of which there were 171 in Britain, and not including an estimated 600 deaths due to work-related road accidents, many thousands of people died before their time due to past exposure to hazardous agents such as asbestos and other cancer-causing substances. Twenty-two million days were lost due to work-related ill health and 4.5 million days were lost because of workplace injury. The annual cost to society of workplace injuries and ill health, excluding cancer, was estimated by the Health and Safety Executive at £14 billion in 2009-10. The cost of workplace accidents is enormous, with each fatal accident costing our society about £1.5 million and each reportable injury costing £17,400. Over the years, many thousands of individuals and their families have had their lives shattered by workplace accidents and ill health. That is why the case for maintaining sensible measures to control risks to health and safety is so important, and why quite frankly it belittles Ministers who stoop to talk of health and safety having gone mad.
We have one of the best workplace safety records in the world but there is still more to be done, especially in tackling the largely hidden scourge of work-related health damage. Making progress on these issues is part of the solution to our economic difficulties, not part of the problem. The most efficient and profitable companies embrace the health and safety agenda with enthusiasm, as evidenced by nearly 2,000 major organisations that will receive awards this week from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, of which I am proud to be president. If the Government want to be business-friendly, they must help by targeting training and advice to companies to enable them to acquire a cost-saving safety culture.
My Lords, not everything that matters needs to be done by legislation. At this stage, the Government should be working just as hard on implementation as on new legislation. It is perverse to say in one breath that there is too much legislation and in the next to complain that there are not enough Bills in the Queen’s Speech. In taking that view, I agree totally with the closing words of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford.
I give noble Lords an example. One of the most important Liberal Democrat policies that was inserted into the coalition agreement was a properly funded pupil premium. The case was made and accepted. Research and practice in other countries had proved the worth of such a policy, so we put it in the previous Queen’s Speech. We legislated for it and did it. The funding was made available—small at first, but growing every year to £2.5 billion per year by 2015. The purpose of the premium is to narrow the gap between rich and poor, and help to achieve the Government’s other primary objective of improving social mobility. How can it be that in a modern, open society such as ours, and after 13 years of a Labour Government, a child’s destiny is still determined by their background?
Now we have to monitor what schools are doing with the premium because we are not telling them exactly how to spend the money. Teachers are professionals, after all. We need to research what works, look at how the best teachers are spending the money and getting results, and make sure that best practice becomes general practice. That is what we are doing and you do not need legislation for it. In his speech yesterday to the National Education Trust, Nick Clegg outlined a package of measures to make sure that this money achieves what children and the country need it to do. Bear in mind that this is linked directly to the Government’s first objective of getting this country back on its financial feet. Every child who does not fulfil his educational potential incurs cost and is a potential loss to our future productivity and GDP. None of this needs legislation but it follows up previous legislation and makes sure that it works properly.
Another initiative, most of which does not require legislation, is the new adoption plan that was published recently by the Minister of State, Mr Tim Loughton. We are told that an important measure in the children and families Bill will be to ensure that adoptions are not held up by officers looking for a perfect racial match. It horrifies me that children can wait an average of 22 months from going into care to moving in with an adoptive family. The measures that are being taken to speed things up are very welcome. However, I feel that more people would come forward as potential adoptive parents if there was more post-adoption support. There would also be fewer failed placements. It is bad enough when a foster placement fails, but when an adoption fails it is a catastrophe for the child and the adoptive family. Therefore, I ask the Minister: what measures are being taken to improve post-adoption support?
I should also like to ask about kinship adoption. I am familiar with this because it has happened in my own family when the child’s mother died, and I believe it has a very high rate of success. The reason for that is probably because it provides a baseline of family love and history on which to base the new relationship. Of course, love is a key ingredient in all these caring situations. Could the Minister say whether kinship adopters will be given the same level of support as other adopters, since the child will still have undergone considerable trauma in many cases and may need a lot of help to settle?
I also very much welcome the announcements in the gracious Speech about the new system of providing joined-up support for children with disabilities or special educational needs. My honourable friend Sarah Teather, the Minister for Children, can be congratulated on her very hard work in pulling together legislation and a pilot scheme—which is, I believe, the reason why the Bill will not be introduced just yet—that gives a child and his family an education, health and care plan that goes right up to the age of 25, and does not fall off the cliff at 16 as before. It should be a Lycra plan—seamless both horizontally and vertically. However, while I applaud the idea of giving parents a budget and a choice of how to spend it, I should like to know whether there is a mechanism in place to help them make good decisions. Bad decisions and bad placements will be bad for the child and a waste of that precious budget.
Finally, I welcome the strengthening of the remit of the Children’s Commissioner for England. It is very important that the commissioner has a new overall function to promote and protect children’s rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a fulfilment of something for which I campaigned—against strong resistance from the Labour Government—when the legislation to appoint the commissioner went though Parliament eight or so years ago and ever since. I also welcome the new powers to carry out assessments of the impact of new policies and legislation on children’s rights. However, I should like to know whether this is supposed to be the mechanism that will give effect to the promise made by the Children’s Minister in December 2011 that legislation would be scrutinised to ensure that it complied with the UNCRC. If so, the commissioner will need much more funding than she has now.
May I point out that the Committee on the Rights of the Child expects the commissioner to comply with the Paris principles? Therefore, she should be independent, properly funded and have the role of protecting children’s rights. She should also be accountable to children, the public and Parliament. In this regard, are the Government inclined to accept the idea that the Select Committee to which she should be accountable should, in future, be the Joint Committee on Human Rights? I believe that this was raised at a recent hearing and makes a lot of sense, since the commissioner’s powers cover so many different departments, not just the Department for Education, where the responsible Minister sits. Having said that, this is one of the most welcome and important measures announced in the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I was heartened to see in the gracious Speech that the Government’s plans include striving to improve the lives of children and families, and particularly to support those with special needs. Noble Lords involved in the Welfare Reform Act and the LASPO Act will remember how worried we were about the counterintuitive effects that those Acts—especially the legal aid cuts—were certain to have on this vulnerable group. Therefore, I await details of what government action is proposed here with particular interest, not least in light of today’s announcement about cutting the number of those to be classified as having SEN.
Today I especially want to encourage the Government to take decisive and adequately funded action in another area of the gracious Speech—that of reducing and preventing crime, and to do so via the route of early intervention with dysfunctional families. Their children are among the most likely to end up spending their lives in prison at huge financial cost to the nation. We have known about the need for early intervention for many years but, alas, far too little has been done to tackle its root causes. Many of your Lordships will perhaps remember that it was more than 30 years ago when Keith Joseph made his famous “cycle of deprivation” speech. Now, at last, with the two recent seminal reports from Frank Field and Graham Allen, it seems that all political parties, and none, have begun to be convinced of the need for a different approach.
The coalition’s plans could be tied in with another new approach beginning to gain ground in your Lordships’ thinking; namely, a requirement for all Governments, before legislating, to establish and publish the cost and expected financial benefit of what is proposed. If that happened, and at an appropriate later stage a compulsory independent evaluation is made as to whether the benefit had met those expectations, we might see considerable financial as well as social and economic gain from working in such a way with dysfunctional and disadvantaged families. An even wider benefit of such a move might mean that parliamentarians could begin to have less hasty and ill prepared legislation to deal with.
The financial situation is, of course, dire but it is never a good time for initiatives such as these. However, I am convinced that with a determined and properly funded early intervention strategy, the long-term financial savings would be considerable. The kind of early intervention action needed also is ideal for testing the Government’s big society approach.
The Government have plans to build on what Sure Start centres are doing. More than that, the Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, announced in March that the Government will be setting up an early intervention foundation and have put aside £3.5 million for this purpose. All that is excellent news but there is one big concern. The funding of the foundation by the Government will be available for only two years. After that the government funding will cease. It is here, alas, that one’s heart begins to sink. With children and young people’s charities facing public funding cuts of £405 million over the next five years, one must have grave doubts about how practical this is, particularly when combined with considerable cuts to local authority resources. At the very least, the Government must bear responsibility for ensuring that the necessary backers for the commission’s continuation will be found, together with time and money needed to deliver the anticipated early intervention financial savings. I hope that the Minister can give the House reassurance on these points.
Other aims in the gracious Speech to strive to improve the lives of children and families are welcome. The sharing of parental responsibilities, which was also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, would be much easier if greater flexibility in working hours were equally available for both sexes—I stress the need for men at least as much as for women—and not just for when children are very young. There is plenty of scope for that flexibility much later in the lives of children.
Many citizens will have been heartened by the Prime Minister’s promise—I believe that it was two days ago—to look at reducing the crippling costs of childcare. I hope too that the Government will pay particular attention to the unnecessary costs highlighted in the excellent briefing from Carers UK, which I expect noble Lords have received. It points out that 1 million carers have given up work, one in three because there is an insufficient level of appropriately qualified state care available. A study by the LSE states that around £1.3 billion is lost annually to carers who are unable to work for those reasons and who have to rely on state benefits. I hope that the Government will give their attention to what should be the proper balance in this area.
My Lords, let me start by saying that I welcome the Government’s decision to include in their legislative programme a Bill to reform and speed up adoption processes. That is the end of the good news. Most of my contribution will relate to adult social care—on which, given the urgency of the situation, the Government have seriously let people down. It is of course true that they have promised a draft Bill on care and support at some time during this Session. However, they have still not delivered their long-promised White Paper on reform of adult social care, and the draft Bill will not deal with the most crucial issue: funding social care. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a bit more in his reply about when we may expect the White Paper, what he anticipates will be in the draft Bill and when it is likely to appear to an anxious audience.
I turn now to why the Government have really let everyone down by not coming forward with a comprehensive Bill on social care that reforms both the system and its funding. Like my noble friend Lady Morgan, I find it extraordinary that the Government can find the time and space for a Bill to reform the House of Lords—a subject of marginal interest to most of the public—but cannot comprehensively reform social care. It is a system that is acknowledged across the parties and throughout the public to be broken, and it affects large numbers of elderly people and their families throughout the country. It is an extraordinary choice of priority.
Perhaps I may say gently to the Minister that it is also striking that he did not even mention in his remarks that there is a draft Bill on social care and support in the gracious Speech. Therein lies the nub of the problem—namely, that the crumbling social care system is something about which the Government do not wish to talk, particularly in terms of its underfunding. They did not create the problem and they deserve a great deal of credit for including the issue in the coalition agreement and setting up an independent commission. Here I declare my interest as a member of the three-person independent Dilnot Commission on Funding of Care and Support. When the commission was set up, we were asked to report by July 2011 so that the Government could produce, with all the silkiness of the Department of Health’s slick official machine, a White Paper in time for legislation in this Session. We did our bit and we delivered on time. Not only did we deliver our report on time, we delivered it in a form in which the proposals attracted the support of a wide range of stakeholders—from carers’ interests and voluntary organisations working in this field to the financial services sector.
Where are we now? No White Paper has yet appeared. A draft Bill is promised, but it will not deal with funding. The cross-party talks, with a lot of pressure from Labour, have been proceeding in a desultory fashion and with little progress made. The two key people who have opted out of this process are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Perhaps the Minister can disabuse us all in his reply, but my understanding is that the Chancellor has swept this issue into the next comprehensive spending review. We have a situation where the cross-party talks are going on at Health Secretary and shadow Health Secretary level while the guys who hold the key to progress in this area are doing something else.
In the mean time, things can only get worse for the state-funded sector, which is where things are really bad. No new financial products are coming along from the financial services sector to help people save for long-term care. People in that sector will not produce new products without some clear cross-party support and views on the future funding system. Investment in the private sector, particularly in new homes and services, is being deferred until there is certainty about what the funding system will look like.
Day by day, local authorities are tightening their criteria so that only the most critical people in need get services. Service quality deteriorates. We have seen a lot of recent scandals about long-term care of the elderly, but I do not think that we have seen anything yet. We are dealing with a sector that is very labour intensive and largely staffed by people at or even below the minimum wage. There is a deficit in the state-funded sector and we are at least £1 billion a year short of what is needed to provide a decent service—and that figure is rising. Anxiety and fear among the elderly population and their families is now widespread. Funding social care has become a ticking time bomb, not least because a financially challenged NHS picks up the tab for the social care casualties who end up occupying inappropriate and expensive hospital beds.
I do not propose to do a commercial for the Dilnot report, but the start-up costs of its proposals was 0.14% of GDP and less than 1% of the NHS annual budget. We are living through a time in which the current figure of 1.5 million people over 85 will double by 2030. That is why we need to tackle this issue, and it is a grave disappointment that the Government are failing to act. It is now for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to start getting engaged.
My Lords, I have noted the gracious Speech and hope that in this parliamentary year things can be changed that should be. For example, I have become increasingly worried about a build-up of resentment over actual or perceived corruption among police forces the length of this country. I am aware that my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, is also particularly concerned about this topic. I want to underline that corruption where it exists is only among a very small part of the overall police service.
In this parliamentary year, the Home Office must take a firm grip of the methods it has to supervise existing forces and, if necessary, seek new regulations. The geographical area that I am concerned about today is south Wales, its police force and the independence and governance of its police authority until taken over by police commissioners. Because I am known for having an inquiring mind, I have for years received amounts of information from many in the southern parts of the beautiful country of Wales. It seems that systemic corruption by a section of the police has been going on in that area for many decades, at all levels and involving officers in all types of crime and the operation of professional standards. It has done much to damage the image of the police. The force has failed to comply with Police and Criminal Evidence Act and there is an apparent non-adherence to the terms of the 2003 Clingham case standards of proof in evidence, judgment for which was heard in this House.
I go as far back as 1987, with the murder of a Cardiff newsagent, a dreadful and tragic event, made all the worse when the men convicted served over 11 years in jail only to have their names cleared in court and be released. The 11 years in jail followed the first trial, in which the accused had their human rights violated by inappropriate methods of questioning and by not allowing them at appropriate times legal representation. Following the release of the unfortunate accused, no action was taken against the police known to have been involved in the frame-up, and no apology given. There was just the bitterness of having the accused back in the community, with their lives, and those of their families, ruined.
This case from the 1980s may be dreadful, but is only one of many. There are the cases of Hewins, Clarke and Sullivan, the Darvell brothers, Jonathan Jones and many more, in which people were jailed who subsequently had their convictions quashed and were released back into the community. In all cases, the names of most of the police officers who set up the evidence that caused the convictions are well known. Some 20 officers are involved, but the believed ringleader, an inspector, has never been arrested yet. Much has been written about their actions, which gave them the opportunity for the named officers to sue the writers for libel—but, interestingly, they did not. Many journalists, including TV and radio programmes, have explored these cases, but no substantial official action appears to have been taken against them. Why?
As if all the pain and suffering were not enough, the cost to the taxpayers of investigations and trials was massive—funds that could have been spent in other areas of policing. I have examined myself the tops and bottoms of types of cases handled by South Wales Police. Now let us consider the police authority. As from 10 May, the current chairman, a magistrate and independent member, Mr John Littlechild, will have served continually since 1989. When complaints are made against the police, the authority, rather than acting independently to ensure that the force is monitored to keep it working efficiently and effectively and meeting all appropriate standards, seems to align with its friends against all comers. This includes Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary when it makes critical comments. For an example, see police authority minutes of 13 February. The authority in its standards and recording its business apparently fails to adhere to its own standing orders. For an example, see again the minutes of 13 February.
As recently as last night, at an Old St Mellons Partners and Communities Together group meeting, the sector inspector Nicky Flower withdrew her officers from taking part in the group meeting. She ignored written requests made to her and copied to senior officials last May to meet with all the village PACT panel members. This group has to date had nine freedom of information requests to provide documentation regarding information requested by residents on crime and anti-social behaviour incidents in the area, and the action taken. The residents are concerned at the number of burglaries, arsons and other crimes in the area. At two public meetings, there have been unanimous shows of hands for the information, which is still not provided, but which is freely given out at other PACT meetings in the same area. The number of crimes in the area reported to the Home Office is only a small fraction of the actual number, as claimed by the residents. They attend because in many cases they have been directly affected and suffered loss and cost. The chairman wrote last July for a meeting of the full panel, with the chief constable or the assistant chief constable responsible for PACT in person, due to dissatisfaction. The deputy chief constable stated to the panel members at force headquarters on 13 February that she had no knowledge of the requests but would have a meeting. This meeting has still not taken place.
Following the collapse of the £10 million Lynette White murder trial before Christmas, the chief constable, Peter Vaughan, claimed the loss of the IPCC evidence documents, saying that they had been shredded. He then went on to admit, on 17 January, to the Director of Public Prosecutions, that they had been found. Drastic action must be taken; the only way forward is for the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place to be requested to carry out an investigation into south Wales constabulary and its police authority.
My Lords, I was pleased to hear in the Queen’s Speech the Government’s announcement that the children and families Bill will include a number of proposals designed to improve the adoption and family court systems. The largest voluntary sector providers of adoption and fostering in the country, Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as a vice-president of the charity—welcomes these proposals, which it has highlighted for many years.
The Government’s aim to speed up the time it takes to approve people looking to adopt and the proposal that potential adopters, who may have been put off in the past by the selection processes, are now to be trained, assessed and approved within six months, is a huge step forward. So, too, is the proposal for a national matching system, helping to avoid the situation where there is unmet need in one local authority but suitable adoptive parents in another. However, there are a number of other measures not included in the proposals, so I urge the Government to focus not just on adoption but to use this great opportunity to take an overview of the whole care system from start to finish, beginning with speeding up the process of endangered children being taken into care by taking steps to encourage better integration between local authority departments, in particular those concerned with child protection and looked-after children, because in Barnardo’s experience they often do not communicate well.
The majority of children in care are in foster placements and fostering is often the most appropriate and effective option, but there are often delays in matching children with foster carers, especially siblings, disabled children, older children and those from black and culture diverse backgrounds. So again I urge the Government to give the same level of priority to improving foster placement as they do to adoption to make sure that foster carers are trained, assessed and approved for this important role.
Being brought up by adoptive parents with a shared race, culture or language is clearly the best option. However, I believe that the most important consideration should be for the child to be matched with loving parents, and that matching children for ethnicity should not be the key factor when determining placements. However, we do need to make sure that a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding race and culture is encouraged throughout the whole of society, and that includes the media. Potential adoptive parents should also be given support and education on the psychology and philosophy of bringing up a child of Afro-Caribbean or other culture within a family of a different ethnicity. I hope that the Government will break down all the existing barriers and carry out work to ensure that this will be the case.
The proposed reforms offer an opportunity for the Government to launch a publicity drive to recruit both new adoptive parents and new foster carers, and not just leave it to chance or to charities. Then, it is hoped, a more diverse range of people will be encouraged to come forward to adopt and to foster. Adoption can occasionally go wrong, so it is great to know that the Government have committed to providing support for parents for up to three years. However, I believe that there should be long-term support to minimise adoption breakdown, especially for children in their teenage years, as this can be a particularly challenging time for any family.
There have been several instances of children in the care system being sexually exploited and recent cases have highlighted the extent of this evil and wicked abusive practice. However, if children could be placed in stable, loving homes as early as possible, that would be the best preventive action against them being exploited. However, I would also like to draw attention to another serious issue which affects sexually exploited children when their cases are taken to court. I urge the Government to act now to focus on cases where barristers acting for multiple defendants repeatedly and inappropriately cross-examine young victims in sexual exploitation cases. Sometimes up to nine different barristers question the same witness. I strongly believe that these vulnerable witnesses should be better protected from unfair, improper and inappropriate questioning, so there need to be stronger rules and guidelines to safeguard these already damaged young children against suffering even more trauma, pain and distress.
I, too, welcome the strengthened role of the Children’s Commissioner announced in the Queen’s Speech, which is a great indication of the importance placed on children in our society. There is a strong signal in the Queen’s Speech that children’s well-being matters. I welcome this opportunity to bring in better policies to champion the rights of every child. With the right commitment and determination we can make sure that even the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children can turn their lives around and go on to form happy, sustainable relationships with their own children. The feeling of belonging, being loved and wanted is so important to a child. It gives them confidence, resilience, self-worth and self-esteem. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime, so let us make sure we do everything possible to give each and every child happy beginnings. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Like so many of your Lordships who, during the many long hours that we spent in your Lordships’ House on the Health and Social Care Bill, argued that we needed to make that Bill—now an Act —worthy of its title and to properly integrate social care with healthcare, I was immensely disappointed to be presented with the offer of only a draft Bill on social care in the gracious Speech. It is indeed sad that we are missing what many observers believe is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate care delivery systems in a way that matches the experience of the user, whose care is not needed in neat packages labelled “health” or “social care”. Users need care which crosses lives and boundaries, both geographical and organisational, and which is funded in a variety of ways: by the state, charities, the individual and families.
My own Government missed an opportunity in this regard in the late 1990s when they established their royal commission on social care. Given the consensus around the Dilnot proposals, it is a bitter disappointment that the coalition is set to do the same. Indeed, the disappointment is even greater in the case of the coalition because of the huge consensus around the Dilnot proposals and the promises that have been made. My noble friend Lord Warner was a distinguished member of the Dilnot commission. As I and others have said endlessly in this Chamber, you will never be able to deliver an efficient National Health Service if you do not integrate it properly with social care and national assessment criteria and provide absolute clarity about what individuals and their families can expect. As the Care and Support Alliance put it in a letter to the Prime Minister, reminding him about his legacy for the future:
“Social care is in crisis. The system is chronically underfunded and in urgent need of reform. Without this too many older and disabled people will be left in desperate circumstances, struggling on alone, living in misery and fear, in danger of losing our savings, our dignity, our independence”.
The letter has already been cited by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale.
However, we are where we are and, if we cannot have proper integration, we must at least ensure that the draft Bill that we are to see—no doubt following the long-expected White Paper—corrects some of the anomalies of the current situation. We must be thankful at least that the Government seem set to amend the confused law around this topic, following the excellent proposals in the Law Commission report.
I wish to focus particularly on what the main providers of care—those 6 million carers—urgently need from this draft Bill. I remind your Lordships that there is a very strong economic as well as moral case for supporting carers. Not only do they save the nation nearly £120 billion every year, but annually 1 million people give up work to care for others. A recent report by Carers UK, Growing the Care Market, cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, suggests that a lack of stimulation of the care market means that we are missing out on about 100,000 potential jobs every year. Heaven knows, we need potential jobs, given the current situation. According to new figures from the LSE, around £1.3 billion annually is lost in revenue from carers who are unable to work and have to rely on state benefits.
Most people will become carers at some point in their lives. They provide substantial care. Those who do so for long hours are twice as likely to suffer ill health as those who do not. The majority of carers of working age say that they wish to work but the services are not there to support them. Speaking to such a carer yesterday, I was very hard-pressed to explain why we in this House had spent almost four days contemplating our navels and discussing House of Lords reform when we had not given the same attention to this urgent issue.
Social care legislation is a complex web spanning 60 years of legislation, with more than 43 different statutes and countless pieces of guidance with the force of law. Many statutes overlap, some have slightly different interpretations and some slightly contradict each other. A new law could streamline and simplify matters, making it easier for public organisations to deliver services more efficiently and helping service delivery organisations to explain and deliver against new legislation. We might then finally get to the stage where people understand what their entitlements are. So far as concerns carers, such a law needs to incorporate at least all the rights in the three major cornerstones of carers legislation, which were all Private Members’ Bills, promoted and supported by MPs and Peers from all parties in Parliament. They are the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act, the Carers and Disabled Children Act and the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act.
Two other vital elements must be addressed: portability and national assessment criteria. In order to create truly personalised services, we must have a system that allows people to move from one area to another without interruption of their care. In order to make proper care a reality, it is vital that we have national eligibility criteria, as suggested by the Dilnot commission.
I welcome the opportunity offered by the Minister to scrutinise draft legislation before it is introduced in Parliament. We need to do that, and we also need to ensure that the user and carer organisations have an opportunity to contribute to that draft scrutiny. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that that is the Government’s intention. I also urge the Government to bring forward new legislation at the earliest opportunity, setting out a clear timescale for doing so. Legislation must start its journey in Parliament in this Session. Further delay will raise alarm and concern.
Talking of alarm and concern, I return to the issue of funding. Reform of the legal basis and structure of social care cannot solve the current crisis in care unless it comes hand in hand with reform of social care funding. We urgently need to bring forward measures to correct the funding crisis and to meet existing unmet need so that a sustainable, long-term settlement is created between the state, the community and the family to meet rising demand.
My Lords, I, too, was pleased that the gracious Speech included a commitment that the Government will strive to improve the lives of children and families. My motivation for wanting to contribute to this debate is the work that I see first-hand at Tomorrow’s People. I therefore declare an interest in that I am the chief executive of that organisation.
I, too, was interested to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, and I sense that she was in concert with the issues that our young people face in society. With regard to the young people whom we are talking about and trying to help, we can spend many hours deciding whose fault it is and how their situation has been arrived at, but those young people are interested in what we are going to do about it. It is on that that I wish to speak today.
A great deal of effort has been invested in understanding and proving the need for earlier intervention in children’s lives. Much evidence exists to confirm the value of this. My heart was in concert with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, when she referred to the need for early years intervention. For too long, effort and finance have been invested in services that try to put right the consequences of not dealing with issues at an earlier stage.
Perhaps I may give noble Lords some examples. Some 16% of 16 to 24 year-olds in England are NEETs —not in education, employment or training. They are three times more likely to suffer from depression, four times more likely to be out of work and five times more likely to have a criminal record. The fiscal cost of those things alone does not bear thinking about. In 2008, the total NEET cohort cost an estimated £13 billion in public finance and £22 billion in lost opportunity costs over their lifetimes. A more compelling case for working with children and families at an earlier stage I cannot imagine. Preparing our children for life at the earliest opportunity is a must if we are to avoid the human cost of doing nothing, let alone avoid the accompanying fiscal burden.
I read with interest a newspaper article this weekend by Anthony Seldon, the well known headmaster of Wellington College. His article talks about the wide-ranging role of educating our young people, both academically and socially. While the education system quite rightly must focus on academic attainment, we must not lose sight of the need for a more rounded system which focuses on the social development of our young people. It is the development and support of the whole person that we must strive for. Perhaps I may share with noble Lords some more information that demonstrates the case.
If you are not in education, training or employment, you face significant challenges. Half of the parents of such people have no educational qualifications. Many deal with alcoholism, crime and domestic abuse at home. Four out of 10 come from homes where no one works. At least one in 12 has a medium to high level of caring responsibility at home.
I commend to the House the work of the Private Equity Foundation in trying to turn the tide on this issue. Working in partnership with the Government, a new service called ThinkForward has been launched. In essence, it is an opportunity for young people to receive the individual help that they need to become rounded citizens and to make an effective transition to the workplace. It is delivered at the age of 14, it involves prevention rather than cure and it invests in getting things right rather than trying to clear up a problem at a later stage. I hope that this will be rolled out in other areas of the country.
I would not blame noble Lords if they had started having palpitations at this point. I can hear the call, “How much is it going to cost?”. The working capital to deliver this does not come from government; it comes from individuals, companies and businesses that are prepared to finance the delivery. Only when success is achieved do the Government need to pay, and then it comes out of the savings achieved. The cost cannot stand in the way of doing something.
Recently, I met a young man of 17 who was desperate to work. He was bright, keen and responsible. What was stopping him? Was it the labour market? No. His mother was a drug addict. He had three brothers ranging in age from eight to two. He got them dressed in the morning, gave them breakfast, got them ready for school and delivered them there. He wanted to be near his brothers during the day. Because their mother was an addict, they were ridiculed at school, and the fact that they were not dressed in quite the same way as other young people was a real problem for them. He collected them from school, made sure that they got home safely, fed them and got them to bed in order that they could function at school as well as they could because he did not want them to end up as their mother had.
If any of us have palpitations because of this injustice then I shall be pleased, but let our hearts beat quicker and with more determination so that we work with children and their families to ensure that they are prepared for a productive life and to ensure that that life works for them. At the beginning of the debate, my noble friend Lord McNally asked what type of society we wanted to be in. The answer is one that responds to those young people and prevents them having problems, rather than having to cure them at a later stage.
My Lords, isn’t it nice not to be talking about ourselves? I remind the House that my interests include involvement with a number of performing arts organisations, including the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Roundhouse Trust. I mention that because despite the portmanteau title of today's section of the debate, the gracious Speech in fact has nothing explicitly to say about culture, and certainly not about the arts. When the noble Lord, Lord McNally, introduced the debate, he omitted to mention that culture was even part of today’s debate. Go figure. This is no surprise because I cannot recall when a gracious Speech ever did say anything explicitly about culture.
It is not surprising but it is revealing. In this country we have tended to have an ambivalent attitude to our cultural life and heritage, sometimes congratulating ourselves heartily on the success of our artists, our tourist attractions, our theatre, our historic buildings and our vibrant museums and galleries and, at other times, we appear to view art, artists and cultural endeavour as variously marginal, frequently ridiculous, an unjustified drain on the public purse and not a proper job. Having worked my whole life in the performing arts, I know well how dispiriting indifference can feel to those for whom making a career in what we now call the cultural industries means years of demanding training followed by mostly under-remunerated employment in a fiercely competitive market, in order, not only to provide pleasure and entertainment for other people but often also to contribute valuable work in education, health, prisons, as mentioned earlier, and elsewhere. Glamorous it mostly ain't.
I want to salute our artists, everyone from Oscar and Turner prize winners through to those about to graduate from our colleges and conservatoires. We need them and they do us proud. Just because the gracious Speech says nothing about culture, it certainly does not mean that there is nothing to say; in fact, just now there is rather a lot to say, but the speakers’ list is long, and we are all aiming to be brief, so, hedgehog-like, I have just one big point.
From the moment when the coalition Government took office in 2010, it was clear that the public sector was in for a rough ride. To be fair, things would probably have been pretty tough if my party had been re-elected, but not because the UK economy had been uniquely mismanaged, as we are repeatedly told from the Benches opposite, but because the world economy had suffered a traumatic shock from which, as we can see all too clearly today, it is still struggling to recover. In these circumstances, no sector in receipt of public funds could expect to escape unscathed. The cultural sector certainly had no such expectations, and in the wake of a challenging spending round in 2010, Arts Council England undertook, very scrupulously, the painful task of reorganising its portfolio of support, along the way reducing or withdrawing funds to many successful organisations. Local authorities followed suit, faced with their own budget restrictions, and the net result, now that the impact of these decisions is kicking in, is serious damage to the provision of arts and culture right across the country. I could list all the losses suffered but I will not. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, may do some of that for me. However, I will say this: it is easy to take things apart but much more difficult to build them up again. To quote the song:
“Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone”.
At the time of the election, this Government, in the person of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Mr Jeremy Hunt, told the arts sector that, despite the inevitability of reduced government funding, help was at hand. He had a plan and it was called philanthropy. The then bright-eyed and bushy tailed Mr Hunt—tail a bit straggly now and eye a bit dull—was convinced that, given a little encouragement, huge new resources could be released from the private sector to fill the gap. Does that sound familiar? Some of us, veterans of many years spent developing the delicately balanced mixed economy which keeps our cultural sector lively, were a little sceptical, but nobody wanted to rain on his parade, except, as it turns out, his right honourable colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this year's rather accident-prone Budget, Mr Osborne chose to introduce a cap on charitable donations so that there is now an active disincentive on major donors to give. Many cultural institutions already rely heavily on such donors, including perhaps some of those who do the good work mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott. Worse, the Chancellor, supported, to my great surprise and dismay, by Polly Toynbee but by few others, carelessly implied, in his attempts to justify this curious bit of double-think, that giving generously to charity is just a form of tax avoidance. That was at best inept. I could put it more pungently as, in fact, the director of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, put it when he referred to major donors in a recent article in the Guardian. He wrote:
“It is frankly slanderous to suggest that any of them are involved in tax avoidance. It is also ridiculous. To qualify for tax relief of £2,500, a higher-rate (40%) taxpayer … would be down £7,500. Call me a financial illiterate, but I can't see what's been avoided here—and many wealthy philanthropists give millions away each year”.
He went on to say:
“Unsurprisingly, a number of donors are having to reconsider what they hoped to be able to give”.
I am reliably informed that this damaging effect of the Chancellor's extraordinary decision is spreading.
Those who give generously to charities, including the arts, doubtless do so for a variety of reasons, but of all the many motives that may be in play I am quite sure that securing a tax benefit is rarely, if ever, the main one because, as Nick Hytner points out, there is little such benefit to these individuals who have, over the years, helped to make possible the creation of some of our finest buildings and our most innovative creative programmes. It is preposterous, and demeaning, to brand as tax avoiders people such as Dame Vivien Duffield or the Sainsbury family, or the one I know best, Sir Torquil Norman, who not only persuaded many generous people to contribute to his brilliant reinvention of the Roundhouse in North London as a creative centre for young people but also put millions of his own money into the project. He and others like him have done nothing at all to deserve the slur that has been cast upon them. Who could blame them if they chose to take their bats and balls home, although I suspect that they will try to find another way forward being, in the main, resilient and thoughtful people.
The Government are entitled to look at every option for maximising tax revenue, and should do so, but on this occasion they appear to have scored a notable own goal, discouraging the very people whose support they can least afford to lose. Like Hamlet, they have shot an arrow over the house and hurt their brothers. When the Minister replies perhaps he can say what the Government intend to do to right this wrong.
My Lords, the gracious Speech contained a welcome commitment to improve the lives of children and families, and who could disagree with that? There is much that I would like to say about adoption, and indeed other forms of permanency, including life chances for children in care, speeding up processes in the family courts and improving the assessment and support available for disabled children and those with special educational needs. However, I shall save those comments for another day because today I want to highlight the complexity of families by talking about a group who are all too often put in too difficult and unglamorous a box: older people who are unable to look after themselves any longer.
In my experience, family policy often overlooks older people, both as regards the invaluable contribution that they can make to their own families and the wider community and as regards their own care needs if they are to lead a dignified life in old age with the quality of life that we would all wish for ourselves. It is a stark fact that over the next two decades, the number of people aged over 80 is set to double in Britain. That presents major challenges for the way in which public services are delivered, the way our houses, towns and cities are designed and the way in which families organise their lives.
The major shortcomings with the adult social care system are well documented and cause people to be fearful. In brief, the current system is fragmented: there is a postcode lottery; it is extremely variable in quality, confusing and hard to understand; it focuses on crisis cases and high-end needs rather than on preventive action; and, of course, as we have already heard, the funding is unsustainable. Many carers and those needing care find themselves let down by a faltering service and others find themselves having to sell their homes in order to pay for the care that they need. Of the 2 million older people in England with care-related needs, nearly 800,000 receive no support of any kind from public or private sector agencies. As the Health Select Committee stated in its recent report on social care, it comes as a great shock to many people to find that while the care provided by the NHS is free, care services such as help with washing and preparing food at home are means tested, and many will have to pay for them.
Every family in the land is affected by the issue. It is no respecter of class, income, geography or ethnic group. That is why I consider it to be the biggest social policy challenge facing the country. Caring for older people affects everyone in the family—particularly women. Increasingly, families find themselves caring for the needs of three, four and even five generations. This can place a huge strain on those caught in the middle. They may find themselves simultaneously supporting teenage children, looking after young grandchildren and caring for elderly and frail parents or even grandparents—all of this at the same time as being at their most stretched in their working lives. No wonder they are increasingly called the squeezed or sandwiched generation. Of course, it makes the new legislative measures proposed on flexible parental leave and flexible working particularly important.
I welcome the draft Bill announced in the gracious Speech that is intended to modernise the legal framework for social care; it is much needed. I also welcome the commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny. There is huge expertise and passion in your Lordships’ House on the subject and I very much hope that both Houses will be involved in the process. However, the Bill is only one element of the radical overhaul that is needed for the system as a whole. Our goal should be to create a coherent, consistent and comprehensive system of care, with effective strategic planning and commissioning, improved quality of care, substantial workforce development, more choice and personalisation of care, proper information advice—and above all, fair and transparent funding as well as a greater focus on early preventive services.
The forthcoming White Paper, the funding progress report and the draft Bill should be seen and judged as an overall package that needs to add up to considerably more than the sum of its parts. We heard a lot today about the Dilnot report. It is well known to many in this House and widely regarded as an excellent report. It is not the whole answer to the problems I described because its remit was to recommend a new funding system. However, the potential funding framework that it offers is by far the best yet produced. In short, Dilnot provides a framework for a long-term settlement for funding social care—a partnership between the individual and the state. The funding model aims to eliminate the catastrophic care costs faced by some people by capping the maximum amount that individuals contribute over their lifetime, beyond which the state will meet all future costs. By limiting people’s liability in this way it is expected that a market will develop with new financial products so that people can insure themselves against the costs of their contributions.
There are many other very good recommendations in the report, such as national eligibility criteria for services and portable assessments between local authorities. However, I will focus on why it is so difficult to make progress. Some have argued that the Dilnot proposals are too much about protecting the wealth and property of the majority and not enough about targeting help on the most needy. I do not see it that way. I see the Dilnot proposals as being about sharing costs and risks rather than about protecting the wealthy. At the moment, individuals assume all the risks of becoming unwell or disabled or having care needs, especially in old age. People who work hard all their lives to provide for themselves and their families risk losing everything and being reduced to a threadbare existence through simple misfortune.
Of course there is a key concern about affordability. In the current economic climate that is understandable, but it does not preclude the Government committing to key principles governing the future funding framework, including a cost cap, and considering the phased introduction of the cap with its level perhaps recalibrated as economic conditions improve. While those details are being sorted, immediate steps could be taken at modest cost to help people start planning for the future. These include creating a deferred payment scheme and developing comprehensive information and advice services.
In conclusion, I agree with Andrew Dilnot that this is primarily a moral crusade. Future generations will not forgive us if we duck the issue simply because it is difficult—as indeed it is, particularly with the economic climate being so tough. I urge the Government to be courageous and to start embarking on the path now, particularly if a cross-party consensus can be found, and to start a national conversation about the political priority that should be given to this area, and the trade-offs that may be needed in other areas. We owe it to future generations and we must not let them down.
My Lords, this is the first occasion for more than a year that I have spoken in your Lordships’ House, because in March last year I was taken seriously ill. Thanks to excellent medical care from Wigan Infirmary and particularly the Christie Hospital in Manchester I am back and in reasonably good health. I have always taken an interest in health in your Lordships’ House because of my role as a local authority leader. I declare that interest as well as my vice-presidency of the LGA. Of course, my own experiences have reinforced my belief in the need for good healthcare. This was my first time in hospital since I had my tonsils out at the age of four, and the passion I feel now for the NHS was reinforced by the experience.
I was pleased that the Queen’s Speech had something in it about social care; I thought that at last we were tackling the issue. Of course, when the details came out we saw what was involved in the proposal—a draft Bill on eligibility. We know that it is necessary, but given the scale of the problems and the financial crisis in social care, it is woefully inadequate. I hope that the coalition will not hide behind this approach and try to dodge the issue of long-term funding in healthcare.
The current system of social care is not fit for purpose. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, its operation is incoherent and a mystery to many people. Clients and families do not understand the system, what they are entitled to and why there are so many unacceptable variations between different areas. For one in 10 people who need social care, it has a catastrophic financial impact. We need to make sure that we do something about that. The fears that people have about growing old are something that we ought to tackle in a proper manner.
Clearly, the financial squeeze on local authorities is the main problem. The increase in the budget for social care that we have seen over the past decade has lagged well behind the increase in the whole NHS budget. This increase meant that more went to people with physical and learning disabilities—and quite right, too. However, there has been a 6% increase in the number of old people over the period. Therefore, the amount of money available for the care of the elderly has reduced in real terms. As other speakers said, the number of those aged 85 and over has increased by 25%, with associated costs because people have much more complex needs at that age.
Given demand pressures, it has been extrapolated that by 2024, all of local authority budgets will go on care. Clearly, 12 years ahead is a long time for Ministers to think; their timescale is much shorter. However, I hope that your Lordships’ House will still be in operation at that time. We cannot avoid facing up to this financial pressure. Local authorities faced grant reductions of some 25% to 30%. The LGA reckoned that in the past year about £1 billion was taken out of social care budgets. The symptoms of this financial pressure are all around us. We remember the collapse not long ago of the Southern Cross care homes. The fact that local authorities have again not increased the fees they pay to care homes has created huge financial pressures there. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, mentioned the home care system. When I got into local government, it was there as a backstop to give support for people to stay in their homes. Now the criteria and the allocated time levels have been reduced and it is inadequate to support many local clients in their own homes.
The greatest danger of the squeeze on social care is its impact on the NHS. If you look at the NHS, you can see an increase in the number of emergency admissions for older people. It is 12% and rising since 2005, but for people over 85, the increase has been 48%. Because people are unable to get proper care support, the length of stay in hospital is increasing. On the acute ward where I was, I observed a patient who was kept there simply because he was unable to feed himself properly. Therefore he was kept on an acute ward—with all its costs—because he could not manage at home.
Over the past decade we made considerable progress with the problem of bed blocking. We are now tipping the other way. My observation was that people are beginning to block beds because the NHS is facing its own financial crisis. Although the settlement in the comprehensive spending review has flat-lined, because of this inexorable rise in the elderly population, the NHS must find productivity savings of some £5 billion a year. Unless we get social care right, the NHS will not be able to achieve those savings. The inadequacy of the treatment of old people already in hospital was revealed by the recent Care Quality Commission report about the poor quality of care that many old people get in the NHS. It will get worse as an increased burden is put on it by the inability of local authorities and others in the social care field to do it.
We cannot continue to patch up this failing system. We have to make radical change. Many noble Lords have mentioned Dilnot and so I will not go into that. More resources are necessary but that is not sufficient to deal with the problem. We have to look at the problem in a different light and in different ways. I have been a councillor for a fair number of years and we have all talked about the need to integrate health and social care. We talk about it, but it has never happened properly. Only 5% of budgets are properly pooled across the NHS and local authorities. We need to do much more about that. We also need much more innovative approaches if we are to deal with the crisis before us.
Integration with health budgets needs to be done. We could have a single pot of health and social care budgets sent to a locality based upon assessment of need, which would not simply be age-related—although that would clearly be an important factor—but also related to the needs of the population. We need a much more joined-up approach in the way we deliver services. I suggest that the NHS needs to engage with local authorities much more in the community budget pilots, which look at innovative ways of delivering. If we want to avoid that meltdown in social care, we all as politicians, whether at national or local level, need to work together to find a solution. It is urgent and cannot go into the long grass.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, this afternoon, as she laid out some key concerns of the arts and cultural sector which I share. In particular, I share her disappointment at an apparent lack of interest or understanding of arts and culture. I am particularly disappointed by the sense of a lack of a strategic approach; of any sense of what is expected of the sector, where it is meant to be going and what lies in store for us. However, in my contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech, I want to draw attention to the role of culture in relation to the concept of well-being, with specific reference to older people.
I would like to thank Mark O’Neill, the director of policy and research at Culture and Sport Glasgow, and Janis Grant, project manager for the Mental Health Foundation’s Age Well project, for their help in providing information for my comments. The Mental Health Foundation established a panel of inquiry in 2010, which I have had the pleasure and privilege of chairing, to investigate the challenges to mental well-being that people born between 1945 and 1955 are likely to face as they age; and to explore what can be done to protect and enhance mental well-being for that cohort.
State funding of culture began on the basis of a Victorian intuition that new institutions were needed to replace earlier forms of community life which had been undermined by industrialisation, migration to cities and rapid population growth. There is now significant medical evidence that the institutions they created have had the intended effect. Cultural participation makes a positive and measurable contribution to human well-being. These studies conclude that public investment in cultural services is an essential element in a preventive public health strategy.
Culture has been particularly important in defining the so-called baby boomers: the first generation to be raised on television, influenced by advertisements and have their own record players, transistor radios and so on. They were key to creating popular culture in all its manifestations: fashion, music, dance, youth culture, talent shows, theatre, film and so on. As the cohort grows older it will continue to look to existing, emerging and as yet unthought-of cultural forms for stimulating leisure activities through a range of different media, including the internet and social media. The recent government public health White Paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People defines well-being as,
“a positive physical, social and mental state … Good well-being does not just mean the absence of mental illness—it brings a wide range of benefits, including reduced health risk behaviour … reduced mortality, improved educational outcomes and increased productivity at work”.
Mental well-being means that people can enjoy their later years and cope with some of the challenges that growing older brings. Cultural activities are an essential element in a society that promotes well-being, because well-being is concerned with fostering positive activity that enables people to flourish. An objective of the Age Well project is to examine the ways that the various media impact on the mental well-being of baby boomers, through reflecting their interests and needs and looking at how they might provide a better balance between the positive and the more challenging aspects of growing older.
Culture and the arts can affect mental well-being in many ways. Participation in cultural events can contribute to social cohesion, reduce isolation and loneliness, and support initiatives that develop understanding between generations—an increasingly important issue in the context of an ageing society and diminishing resources. Cultural activity can contribute to skills development and lifelong learning, help to sustain vibrant communities and grow the economy. Culturally enriching experiences increase appreciation of aesthetics, cultural artefacts, historic and global performance traditions, and historic buildings. I should declare an interest as an English Heritage commissioner.
Fostering this appreciation can develop a sense of meaning, continuity and connection for individuals, families and communities, and a confident curiosity about the world. These qualities are especially important during times of rapid and difficult change. That is why it is essential that local and national government promote them and contribute to the funding of arts and culture. Since 1996 more than 15 large-scale epidemiological studies, published in, for example, the British Medical Journal, have found evidence that cultural attendance improves health so much that people actually live longer. This is not about art therapy or even taking part in creative activities, but simply about going to concerts, museums, art galleries or the cinema. The findings of the original study have been confirmed, and key issues such as causality and effect have been tested and addressed.
As the population age balance changes and more people live for longer, if they do so with high levels of mental well-being, they are more likely to experience less mental illness, better physical health and reduced use of health and care services. They will live not just longer but better-quality lives. In an ageing society and with greater focus on increasing the quality of life post-retirement, there is a need to provide enriching, meaningful and stimulating activity which can be enjoyed in later life. Cultural and leisure services provided by local authorities have in the past done this on a large scale. We will see what impact the cuts have on that activity in future. However, there is no doubt that these services will become increasingly important. Sustained public funding for arts and culture at all levels is essential to ensure that all citizens have access to cultural opportunities.
My Lords, the debate today is taking place against the background of what has been described as the “greatest political media scandal” of our times. I have borrowed that judgment from the recent report by the House of Lords Communications Committee, on which I served during the previous Session, entitled The Future of Investigative Journalism. Our report was published in February, and since then the continuing revelations from the Leveson inquiry have maintained the pressure for media reform. Lord Justice Leveson is not expected to publish his recommendations until the end of the year, and it will then be for the Government and Parliament to decide what legislation or reform of media regulation might be necessary. Given the timetable, Leveson’s findings should help to inform the parliamentary debate on legislation promised in the gracious Speech to reform the law on defamation.
However, as your Lordships will be aware, a great deal of work has already been done to shape the new Defamation Bill. Back in January 2010, concern about the workings of our libel laws prompted the then Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to set up an expert working party. In initiating that review, the Labour Government looked to tackling injustices such as powerful claimants using our courts to pursue legal actions at great expense where publication had caused no substantial harm, and to curb so-called libel tourism by foreign parties pursuing matters of little relevance in this country through our courts. Labour also wanted to simplify and strengthen the legal defences available against actions for libel. Another primary concern was the expense of lengthy court proceedings and the fact that at times these seemed to be used to stifle debate on matters of public interest.
The working party set up by Labour helped to lay the foundations for the coalition Government’s draft Defamation Bill, which was published for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny last year. I am sure that noble Lords will join the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in congratulating the Joint Committee of both Houses on the thoroughness with which it scrutinised the draft Bill. The recent government response to the Joint Committee report accepted its advice on some issues and promised further consideration of other recommendations. I trust that when the Defamation Bill is published, it will continue to command broad support and that freedom of speech will be better protected.
Lord Justice Leveson’s terms of reference ask him to,
“make recommendations … for a new … regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press … while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards”.
That is not easy and I will not attempt to anticipate the inquiry’s findings. However, having spent most of my working life in television subject to regulation which required reporting to be accurate and impartial, I say that it might reassure print journalists to know that our regulatory regimes did help to maintain standards and often protected serious programme-making, albeit with occasional private and public spats.
It is also encouraging that, despite cutbacks in most budgets, the public service broadcasters—the BBC, ITV and Channel 4—say that they will strive to maintain their commitment to investigative current affairs. Regrettably, editorial budgets are under increasing pressure in newspapers where falling revenues are undermining the ability of journalists to deliver in-depth specialist coverage in important areas of public life. That is particularly true in local newspapers where business models based on classified advertising are being destroyed by competition from the internet and many titles are closing. An early debate in this House on these issues based on the recent Lords Communications Committee report on journalism would be very timely. Unfortunately, the formal response of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to our committee’s concerns has been delayed because the department wants to wait for the Leveson recommendations at the end of the year. That may be understandable, and the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, is no doubt preoccupied with the Leveson inquiry and his present difficulties, but there are important matters on the media agenda which must be advanced in the coming year.
Last week, the media regulator Ofcom invited applications to run 21 new local television stations across the UK. That is a bold personal initiative by Mr Hunt, but his confidence in their commercial viability is not yet widely shared. Another controversial task for Ofcom is its consideration of whether, in the light of allegations of hacking and corruption, the broadcasting licence of BSkyB is in “fit and proper” hands. Related questions about media plurality will also no doubt surface in the coming Session. The Government have promised that the UK will have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, which is another very challenging target. There are also public service television licences for channels 3 and 5 to be renewed, or not, by 2014. A Green Paper on media policy was scheduled for publication last year, to be followed by a White Paper this year and then by a draft communications Bill in the spring of 2013. Unfortunately, even the Green Paper is not now expected until the end of this year. Again it seems that we may be waiting for Leveson. In the mean time, evidence of more purposive activity on media policy options by the DCMS would be reassuring.
To be fair, another departmental distraction must of course be the preparations for the London Olympics this summer. So, to conclude on a more positive note: all credit to the DCMS for its Olympian performance under both the Labour and coalition Governments over the past seven years. Major projects have actually been delivered on time, which is not a common occurrence in the history of Olympic Games. The department has also invested in performance, so we now look forward to the achievements of our British sports men and women and wish them every success.
My Lords, I would like to speak briefly about social exclusion. I do not think it is necessary to persuade the House of the need to tackle this issue. My right honourable friend Alan Milburn in the previous Labour Government, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Education Secretary in this Government, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, in an interesting and helpful speech today, have all made the case, which does not need to be repeated. Instead, I welcome and commend to Members of the House the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility which has been published in the past week. What I like about it is that it adopts what I would call an holistic approach to the problem. It recognises seven key truths about social mobility.
The report states that the point of greatest leverage is what happens between birth and three years old primarily in the home, through to education, emphasising the importance of good-quality teaching. It then looks at the after-school culture, the role of higher education and what are described as post-education pathways. Finally—this is the point I want to say something about today—the report looks at personal resilience and emotional well-being among those who are socially excluded in our community. The report reckons that this is an area which has not been fully explored and it asks questions about what might be done. I would like to offer some feedback in this respect.
The report suggests that the way forward is to try to replicate confidence in young people along the lines of fostering what it describes as “public school confidence”. I think that that is the wrong approach. What you have to do with young people who are struggling to climb the education or employment ladder is to work with individuals and with the community in which they find themselves. In other words, an individual’s confidence must be built up within the community they come from. To pull in something from outside, like “public school confidence”, in my opinion would be to send the wrong message.
I will never lose sight of the fact, particularly considering the area of the north-east where I come from, that these communities were once proud and confident. Now they have problems because of economic change and unemployment, but they are still communities and they do not want to be told what to do by anybody from outside. In their own way they are still proud, with their own culture, humour and way of life. What is important in helping to overcome social exclusion is to work with the grain of these communities on the things that the people value and understand.
In order to help gain confidence, self-esteem and ambition—all the things that we have all probably tried to help our own children to achieve—we need to emphasise the importance of people working together. There are organisations that could help a lot more than they do at present. I was thinking about the TUC—what a terrific track record it has of helping people to overcome social exclusion. Can your Lordships think of any other voluntary organisation where a man who began life as a postman could end up as a Cabinet Minister, or that a woman from my union, Jane Kennedy, who started out as a care assistant, could become a government Minister? That is a real pathway to achievement and success. If harnessed properly, the trade unions could be a great asset in helping to overcome some of the difficulties of social exclusion. I hope that colleagues and friends who are involved in this work will give that some thought.
I was also thinking about football clubs. The greatest cultural icon in a very deprived area of Middlesbrough—where, incidentally, I am the chancellor of the university—is the football club. If we can get footballers to go out to talk to young people and try to give them confidence and self-belief, even if it is only in being a good footballer, that will be massively important. Parliamentarians could engage in a dialogue with the owners and managers of football clubs throughout the country, certainly in the Premier League, to try to do something about social exclusion.
I thought about my time with Britannia Building Society after I ceased to be a trade union official, and what a great business it was and how hard it tried to give its employees confidence and personal growth and development. It was always trying to help people from Leek, a small town in Staffordshire, to become the best in the world. What a great thing to say to somebody who comes to work in Leek: “We want you to be the best in the world”. That is the sort of thing that we need to do. We do not need to look to the public schools; we need to look to our own organisations and communities, the things that are already around us, and we need to look at ourselves. There is a lot that people in this House already do, and a lot more we could do.
When I speak to the students at the university, I always tell them that they can be the best in the world. The fact that they did not go to Oxbridge or to a Russell group university, the fact that they come from poorer homes, the fact that they have really had to struggle to get to university is something that they should be proud of. They should be as confident and as proud of themselves as anybody from any other walk of life. That is really the message from that part of the social exclusion report.
Of course, social exclusion is about the whole seven-point agenda, but if you are going to focus on confidence, self-esteem and ambition, and building those things into young people who may not have the right mix at any time in their lives, it is important to do it with authentic organisations and people in the communities who they can relate to, so they can get some feeling that it is possible for them to achieve what they need to in order to do better in life.
My Lords, many Members will have heard of the Watoto children’s village in Kampala. It is a village of about 1,600 orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. They have come from the most dismal circumstances. They have choirs that go around the world promoting and advocating the work done by the Watoto community. They were singing here in Parliament about two years ago and I hope that they will be singing here again in July.
After they sang last time, I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I want to be a nurse.” “I want to be a vet.” “I want to be an airline pilot.” I came to the last little lad, a sturdy 10 year-old, and asked him what he wanted to be. “I want to be President of Uganda.” I thought that was a wonderful ambition. He had a dream—children have dreams, they have aspirations, they have talents. One of the great needs of this time is for people to share their dreams and to be helped to find the necessary ladders to achieve their ambitions.
Of course, this is true overseas, and I am so grateful that in the Queen’s Speech we had a commitment of 0.7% of GDP for overseas development. I am also glad that we have made another significant contribution for Christian Aid Week. We are helping those overseas to achieve their dreams. It is not just overseas; there is a need in our own country to share the dreams of children everywhere and give them the resources necessary so the world might benefit from their contribution, to remove the barriers that so often prevent children from aiming high and achieving their potential.
We all know that the background children come from is often very difficult and can stifle their ambitions right from the early years. Somehow we have to overcome this and find some way of transforming the problem areas to make them areas of opportunity. This can be done. There are exciting projects already and in other places we must encourage co-operation and discussion between churches, voluntary organisations, youth organisations, local councils and even the police to find a better way forward for these children.
The best thing of all is if these projects are led by people of the children’s own communities. We are often looked upon by people outside with great suspicion as comfortable people living in comfortable circumstances earning a comfortable income—and that is true. Somehow it is so difficult, especially once you come here, to be able really to empathise, to share the concerns and the struggles of people outside here. We need to encourage people from the children’s own communities. If I go into a community and I am a stranger, they will say, “Look at him. He knows nothing about our struggles”. People should be encouraged in different ways to go into their own communities to work with the young people—and the older people. In my part of the world, new arrivals are often looked upon with some suspicion: “This family have only been here for 34 years. They have not settled down. They have not become part of us”. People should be encouraged to take the lead in their own communities, helping people over the cultural hurdles that they face.
The Queen’s Speech also contained promises to improve parenting and support family life. It is often said that education is the key to so much of this—the key to tackling youth unemployment and boosting the hopes of young people. I speak to teachers frequently, and they are wonderful people, but the morale is so low. The mountain of bureaucracy that they have to tackle is preventing them being the inspirational teachers that they could be. I dream that every child will be treated as an individual, with different strengths and different needs. “Same size fits all” does not work here. We should look at every child and see how the teachers, as champions of the rights of each individual pupil, are able to exert their inspiration, talent and skills in the best way possible.
I am very sad at the standard of some career guidance. Perhaps Miss Jones—or Roberts—has a free lesson on Thursday at 2 pm and is told, “You do careers”. Especially in a time of high youth unemployment when there are not as many opportunities as there used to be, we need the most skilled teachers in personal relationships with the children to direct them to the most suitable opportunities. We must put career guidance at the very top of our agenda.
Finally, as a Chamber, as a Parliament, we must be prepared to be far more united in the way we tackle these problems, willing to work as one, to overcome the blight of unemployment and hopelessness. That would show real maturity, that we are not just politicians with eyes on the next election, and that this is a Chamber of statespeople, aware of our responsibilities not just to the next election but to the next generation.
My Lords, it was encouraging to hear Her Majesty address important aspects of care relevant to those with learning disabilities. I should mention my own interest in learning disability, particularly as a past president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I also worked clinically with people with learning disabilities for 30 years until I retired from the NHS in 2008. I have also had policy secondments to the Department of Health to advise on learning disability. Perhaps most importantly, my son is an adult with a learning disability, and many of the issues that I shall refer to today are, or have been, relevant in his life and therefore in mine.
The care and support Bill and the children and families Bill both have the potential to improve the lives of those with learning disabilities, and those who care for and about them. We hear that the care and support Bill will try to simplify the current care system, a system described by the Dilnot commission in 2010 as “complex and opaque”, and more recently by last year’s Law Commission report as an “incoherent patchwork of legislation”. I understand that the care and support Bill intends to replace provisions in at least a dozen Acts with a single statute.
Such simplification could be in the interests of those with learning disabilities and their support networks. This Bill supports another recommendation of the Law Commission report, which was addressed also in A Vision for Adult Social Care White Paper: that of making the system genuinely more person-centred. This also has synergy with ideas in Think Local, Act Personal, the 2010 partnership agreement between local government and the provider sector.
Charities such as Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation believe that the provision of person-centred, comprehensive local services is central to preventing appalling abuse such as that exposed last year by “Panorama” at Winterbourne View in Bristol. Several different investigations are following up what happened at Winterbourne View and, until the criminal prosecutions have been completed, final conclusions will not be reached. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in hoping that strong recommendations will emerge from this intense scrutiny and that they will be taken note of in the new legislation envisaged during this Session.
In July last year, I asked a Private Notice Question about Winterbourne View. One part of my Question related to the Mansell report, which gives guidance on how to manage and support people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour in the community, rather than export them a long way from home to private hospitals such as Winterbourne View. Challenging behaviour is complex and requires management by those with specialist knowledge and skills. One of the issues raised by investigations into Winterbourne View was that Castlebeck was using unqualified staff to work with some of the most complex patients in the system.
While being unethical, this is also a false economy. We know that early intervention with expert care at a stage when behaviour first appears is vital if the reason for the behaviour is to be understood, extinguished and prevented from becoming a life-long battle for patients, their families and services trying to help them. Experienced and well qualified professionals are sometimes seen as too expensive, and employers may seek to replace them with cheaper alternatives. However, cheaper often means less qualified, and as Winterbourne View has shown us, this can be severely detrimental to the care of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
When the aim of a care system is to be person-centred, how can this truly be so without that care being portable? I am pleased that other noble Lords have referred to the importance of portability. This issue has been raised by numerous reports and in the Private Member’s Bill of my noble friend Lady Campbell, the Social Care Portability Bill, which had its First Reading in the previous Session. As it stands, a disabled person must negotiate a new care and support package every time they move from one local authority to another. Thus, those with disabilities are denied the freedoms that others can enjoy, partly because of the fear of not receiving equivalent levels of care and support in a new locality.
I recognise the limited value of personal experience, but I shall tell a story about my son. Ten years ago when he moved to his current home, the new local authority appealed to the Secretary of State to try to get a ruling that it had no responsibility for the cost of his care and support. It was unsuccessful, as were many other local authorities facing similar requests to support people who had moved into their area. Ordinary residence rules are now much better established, but there is still no requirement or expectation that, for somebody moving today, the new local authority will honour an assessment conducted by another local authority.
Ten years on, my son again wishes to move house. I have recently spent several hours in meetings and completing assessment questionnaires, knowing that I will probably have to repeat the exercise in a few weeks with his new local authority, with no certainty that his support plan will be honoured. This is happening all over the country. It is a waste of officials’ time, a waste of disabled people’s and family carers' time, stressful and, frankly, discriminatory.
My hope is that the care and support Bill will address the question of portability and adopt the suggestions of my noble friend in her Private Member’s Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on this point.
The children and families Bill proposes to assist young disabled adults by offering them the opportunity of further education until the age of 25 and to give them the right to a personal budget. The transition to adulthood for young people with special educational needs is notoriously difficult. Those with learning disabilities often benefit from extended time in an adult college, which has the resources to prepare them to the best of their abilities for life in wider society.
The White Paper, A Vision for Adult Social Care, recognised that self-directed support can help to prevent or reduce the risk of harm and abuse. There is also the critical recommendation in the Dilnot report that:
“Those who enter adulthood already having a care and support need should immediately be eligible for free state support to meet their care needs, rather than being subjected to a means test”.
It seems that the children and families Bill intends to secure this entitlement and I welcome it.
My Lords, I want to focus on what was not in the gracious Speech and should have been. That is probably what is known technically as a target-rich environment, but I have had to narrow down my remarks for the purpose of the seven-minute time guideline. I want to focus today on children and families.
I spent seven months recently sitting on the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, something which anyone who has spoken to me for more than five seconds in the past six months will know all too much about. We produced our final report at the end of March and I commend it to the House. There will, I hope, be a Question for Short Debate on it soon, so I shall not dwell on the generalities. However, I shall focus on something which may be particularly relevant today.
I was struck by one set of statistics produced by the panel, showing that about a quarter of the convicted rioters were under 18 and that about three-quarters were under 25. Forty-six per cent of the under-18s were living in poverty; 66% had special educational needs; and 30% were persistently absent from school. These were young people who had already had challenges, so what happened in the riots was not simply happening to a random selection of our young people.
Many people and agencies were responsible for that, which the report goes into in detail. We found that too many families were not getting the support that they needed to raise children. In the wake of the riots, people were very quick to blame parents. Everywhere we went, we asked communities who was responsible. They identified a range of people, with parents always coming high up in the list. However, when we talked to parents, they would often say that they could not get the help that they needed. One worker described very movingly working with a woman who had had terrible problems with her children. She had said, “You know, people keep telling me I need to sort things out, but nobody tells me how. Please will somebody help me to do that?”. A lot of money is already going into working with vulnerable families with children, but there is a real question as to whether it is going to the right place and doing the right things.
The Government have their 120,000 problem families, and I commend that work, but that is essentially crisis intervention. It is going to help a very small number of people who have a significant need which has already manifested itself. That still leaves a significant problem. We estimated that at least half a million forgotten families are bumping along the bottom. They never quite hit the now very high threshold required to get them the help they need to get off it. That is a problem. We asked the Government to look afresh at how they direct support to vulnerable families. I ask the Minister to think about that today.
We set out a few principles. I will highlight a couple of them. First and most obvious, that kind of intervention needs to be evidence based. Where there is evidence that it works, such as the Family Nurse Partnership Programme in which the Government have invested, it should be rolled out quickly and not simply focus on small numbers of people. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, pointed out so well, interventions need to be timely. Ideally, the issues should be pre-empted or identified and dealt with as soon as possible to stop them becoming acute. The costs of not doing that are enormous and yet we consistently fail to do it. I know that money is tight, but that is true in the health service and we do not simply say, “Sorry, we will not do vaccination programmes this year because they are quite expensive”. We recognise that the costs of not doing that are significant, even if some of the people vaccinated may not have got mumps anyway. None the less, we invest the money in it. Yet, we systematically fail to learn that in other forms of intervention.
Thirdly, there needs to be a whole-family view. Too often, we came across cases where no individual member of the family quite hit the threshold for getting help yet taken as a whole the family was, frankly, dysfunctional. That is a real problem in the way that the different bits of the state which engage with families are either not joining up or are not meeting at the point where the family has a problem. They experience the problems as a family, not in separate units. Trying to get the state’s support to address that would be helpful.
I offer the Government a couple of thoughts for their children and families Bill. First, could they use the Bill to give a clear pledge to identify children with problems early? The noble Lord, Lord Hill, is in his place. Would he consider giving schools a clear responsibility for identifying children who are vulnerable for a range of reasons? The child may be a young carer, have special needs or face parental neglect or abuse. There should be a specific responsibility to identify that and resources to help bring together the people needed to address those problems before they get any worse. Secondly, could the Government show the way forward in early intervention by leading by example and extending the Family Nurse Partnership Programme to all teenage mothers at once? That would not be a huge sum of money and would show that, where a programme is effective and evaluated as such, the Government are willing to put the money behind it.
Intervention for vulnerable families is one of those happy issues on which the heart and the head come together. We all know the evidence of the head. The evidence of Graham Allen MP is the most recent example of the money saved by early intervention. The human case is also overpowering. Over the last few months, I have met too many young people whose futures look very bleak at a frankly depressingly early age. I have gone into prisons, young offender institutions and communities where I have met young people. If they were your own children, you would cry that things had come to this point for them so early. Yet so often, things could have been spotted sooner. As a country, if we come across those people it is incredibly sad to think of the lives wasted and the contribution that they could have made. What is really heart-breaking is to think that we had a chance to stop it and did not. I hope that the Government will look at this.
My Lords, in this debate I want to take up the theme raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, in her speech on the future of pensions policy. I congratulate the Government on their decision to move ahead with a new pensions Bill, to complete the reforms of the Turner commission and the work of the last Labour Government. This will create a single-rate pension set above the pension credit standard minimum guarantee and formalise the strategy and process to determine the future raising of the pension age. The one overriding objective in the pension field must be to simplify in order to improve understanding. A single-tier higher pension will reduce the complexity of means-testing and the disincentive to save, but only for new pensioners. It is essential to do this to complement the introduction of auto-enrolment in pensions starting later this year.
We obviously need a new, simpler structure, but is that enough? As yet, we have no idea how many will opt out of auto-enrolment or what they will make of it when they change jobs. We are hoping that an extra 5 million to 8 million people will start making extra pension provision. We cannot expect people to save more unless they understand what they are investing in. The recent IoD report, Roadmap for Retirement Reform, says this well:
“Little wonder that the average employer or employee simply finds pensions utterly baffling … people are unlikely to engage with, stay engaged with and contribute hard earned money to something they simply can’t understand the workings of”.
Warren Buffett, the great investment manager from the Midwest, often says that he only invests in businesses that are simple to understand. How can we expect personal savers to do otherwise?
Defined benefit pensions, from which many of us here probably benefit now, were quite easy to understand. Until recently, people had confidence in them. You invested for life and they provided a pension of between half and two-thirds of your salary. Contributory pensions are a completely different story. You have no idea what you will eventually get. You will find out too late in life if it is not enough. Every financial scandal will raise your fears that you will not get anything. Just trying to understand may only depress you. It is not surprising that many people put their heads in the sand and adopt a Micawber strategy that something will turn up. The consequence is that many will simply underprovide for their much longer retirement.
Many are also adopting alternative strategies. Unfortunately, they tend to be those who are already better off. There has been a huge growth in ISAs and investment in property and parental property. Many are investing in businesses that they hope will provide their pensions. The next stage in the Government’s policy on pensions needs to be not only to declare war on government regulations but to say how to simplify savings for pensions and to improve understanding. We also need to broaden understanding that a more flexible approach to encourage saving may achieve a better response. People need to be encouraged to make greater provision for themselves. We need a simple pensions structure but we also need to encourage greater diversity.
Finally, the Government need to reduce the odds on the biggest lottery of all: how much individuals need to provide for the greater likelihood of greater social care expenditure. There are three tasks for the coalition Government over the next three years: simplify pensions savings and improve understanding; encourage more flexible savings mechanisms and schemes; and achieve a settlement for social care provision.
My Lords, it will not surprise your Lordships that in my short contribution to the debate this evening I intend to concentrate on matters concerning law and justice. Having spent 35 years as an operational police officer, I feel reasonably qualified to comment on this important area of policy.
I start on a positive note: I welcome the important intention to clamp down on driving under the influence of drugs. I campaigned for many years for the development of a roadside device that detects drugs in the body, similar to the breathalyser for alcohol. It seems that we are now in a position to move forward on that and I am delighted. I was amazed that those who advocated the relaxation and even legalisation of drug use always ignored the fact that more people would be driving under the hypnotic influence of drugs without our having the quick means of detecting them, with all the misery and tragedy that would follow due to deaths and injury on our roads. The prevalence of that has always been unmeasured but now we are developing the means to deal with this grossest of anti-social behaviour. All decent people in the country will welcome this proposal.
By popular acclaim, we have one of the best police forces in the world. It is not perfect—nothing is. Yet, simply based on the evidence of the training and advice that we give to other countries all over the world, people globally value the British policing model. Young men and women do not join the police to become millionaires—politics, business and the legal profession produce far more of those—but they expect to be treated fairly and decently for the public service that they provide.
In my view, one of the gravest disservices that we did to the police in this country was when we labelled the Metropolitan Police “institutionally racist”. I know that it has a technical meaning, but the message that it sent out to the man and woman on the beat was that they were seen as racists. It was seen as unfair and unjust. Even worse, it created a climate of risk aversion in the police. That was identified by HMIC. On the other side, even worse, the advantage was seized by people who were emboldened to play the race card.
I gave an example to your Lordships a couple of weeks ago when I described how I was accused of racism by the National Black Police Association and the Society of Black Lawyers for reporting the criminal activities of Commander Ali Dizaei, who subsequently went to prison. It was even worse than that, because false evidence was submitted to the clerk. It is wrong in principle that people who report wrongdoing are accused by means of being fitted up. I certainly took exception to that, even though the allegations were proved to be grossly false.
It is for that reason that I am so concerned that the coalition Government are on a collision course with the police, a body of people who cannot take industrial action and who, to be honest, have the lowest morale that I have ever known in my lifetime. They are even balloting later this year on the right to strike. What a pretty pass we have arrived at. What do the Government intend to do if the ballot proves positive and they vote for industrial rights? It is ironic that most police officers are inclined to be very conservative. Of course, they adored Margaret Thatcher, who supported and strengthened them—for political reasons; she is no fool. They were less sanguine about the right honourable and learned Kenneth Clarke, the current Lord Chancellor, who as Home Secretary in the early 1990s wheeled out Sir Patrick Sheehy, from British American Tobacco, to make the British police operate more like a business, with performance-related pay, short-term contracts and the like. That led to one of the largest police rallies ever, at Wembley. Ken Clarke’s successor, Michael Howard, now a distinguished Member of your Lordships’ House, listened carefully to the arguments and quickly abandoned the collision course previously set—incidentally, presiding at the same time over dramatic reductions in crime.
This Government have decided to politicise the police by bringing in elected police and crime commissars—sorry, commissioners. I have grave worries about that change. I have only known a non-political police force, but I have seen other models abroad. When I was a serving officer of senior rank working with Governments of both parties, nobody ever knew what my political leanings were—nor should they have. I swore allegiance to the Crown and served impartially under the law, to which I was accountable. The chief constable was accountable to the police authority, to the Home Secretary and, of course, to the law. The chief officer was very difficult to remove without agreement locally and nationally. There have been several cases where disputes took place on those issues. We are now placing the chief officer under the direct control of one political master, who could hire or fire him or her. I know that there is a commitment that commissioners will not get involved in operational matters, but experience of other jurisdictions, such as the United States, shows that appointments will be made of like-minded individuals and that those who do not play ball will not last very long in post.
However you wish to explain it, that is playing politics with our impartial policing system. In the main, elected commissioners will represent political parties, so party politics will have sway. It is sometimes difficult to separate policy from operational issues. I recall the centipede with severe arthritis going for advice to the wise old owl about his disability. “What you should do”, said the owl, “is transform yourself into a dormouse and hibernate throughout the winter. When you emerge in the spring, your arthritis will be gone and you will be fit and athletic for the summer”. “Thank you, wise old owl”, said the grateful centipede. As he walked—or limped—away, he said, “But tell me, how do I turn myself into a dormouse?”. “Don’t ask me”, said the owl, “I only make policy”. There we have the dilemma. There is a difficult dividing line between policy and operational matters.
Seriously, I hope that the concerns that I have outlined turn out to be groundless. No doubt we shall see. At the same time, of course, we have proposals by some chief officers to privatise certain parts of the policing role itself—not just backroom activities but, remarkably, the patrolling function and the investigation of crime. I believe that the public expect certain activities involving civil liberties and powers of detention and arrest to be performed by fully accountable sworn officers of the Crown. To bring in private bodies to investigate crime and to patrol the streets on the cheap would be a perversion of Sir Robert Peel’s vision in 1829. I can only hope for the election of a large number of police and crime commissioners who will not allow chief constables to implement such plans. Is that strategic or is it operations? I do not know. No doubt we will find out in due course.
In conclusion, I believe that the police service of this country is a national treasure, rather like your Lordships’ House. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
My Lords, I rise to address two issues: first, the Government’s plans to introduce drug-driving offences in the Crime and Courts Bill. I should perhaps say that I speak as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform.
I welcome the Government’s plans in principle. However, I stress that the policies to deal with drug-driving should be evidence-based and in line with the treatment of driving while under the influence of alcohol. It is of course wrong to drive while unfit to do so, putting other people’s lives at risk. However, it is also wrong for a Government to penalise people unfairly and disproportionately.
Ministers and the rest of us are well aware that the possession and use of many drugs, some of which are far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, carry heavy criminal penalties including prison sentences. Those of us who—very occasionally, of course—enjoy a glass of wine do not suffer any of those risks. Penalties for drug use are unfair and disproportionate. Indeed, they are so disproportionate that they bring the law into disrepute. Even the Association of Chief Police Officers recently made clear that it will not prioritise the arrest of persons using or possessing drugs. If we have a law that even the police are not interested in upholding, we really have a problem.
I am aware of Sir Peter North’s report, commissioned by the Department for Transport, which reviews the drink and drug-driving laws. I welcome the decision of the then Government to consider both drink and drug-driving in the same report, looking at them as a single set of issues. I do not know whether they were the first Government to bring those two issues together, but that has to be the right approach.
We know that drivers under the influence of alcohol remain a blight on our roads. There are still 430 deaths and 1,600 serious injuries every year attributable to drink-driving. We also know that the risks of having an accident increase exponentially as more alcohol is consumed. Despite those high risks, the penalties for drink-driving are relatively modest. When we think of the prison sentences for someone just possessing the drug, we must consider that the drink-driving penalties are in the order of a 12-month mandatory disqualification from driving and a mandatory six penalty points.
Having said that, I do not want to discourage those relatively moderate penalties, but argue that similar penalties should apply to drunk-driving if the risk to the public is in fact the same. That is my principal point. It seems such an obvious one that I hope that the Minister will agree with the principle.
We know far less, of course, about drug-driving than about drink-driving. In part, this is because of the illegality of these drugs and the ethical and practical problems of getting accurate information on their use among drivers. That is not the only issue but it is certainly a major one—surely just one of many reasons why we should be reviewing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We will come back to that in later debates. It seems right in principle, as Sir Peter North recommends, that every police force should invest in training for officers to conduct field impairment tests—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie—and that there should be really good devices to test for drug inhalation in police stations. That is on condition that these tests are undertaken if there is a prima facie case for the person being under the influence of some substance; in other words, if their behaviour is being affected. We should not be talking about something in someone’s body but about the risk to drivers on the roads. As long as we stick with that, we are on some firm ground.
Another concern is that such tests will pick up cannabinoids in people’s bodies, when these might have been taken seven days before and, even within 24 hours of ingesting that drug, would not have any effect on the person’s behaviour. There are very real risks unless the Government are committed to a policy that focuses on behaviour. Sir Peter North refers to an offence relating only to controlled drugs and talks about zero tolerance if testing is too difficult. Again, it is very important that we look at drugs and alcohol—at all these substances—across the piece in the same way.
I turn briefly to the Government’s plans for social care reform. Their plan is for a draft Bill rather than legislation itself; I am sure that other noble Lords have already referred to this. However, we have already had the Law Commission recommending a single social care statute and the Dilnot commission recommending funding arrangements which should, and could, be introduced without any further delay. When the legislation comes it needs to ensure: that high-quality care is available for all who need it; that people are enabled to live not only safely but in a dignified way and with self-respect; and, above all, that care is funded fairly and transparently. These key principles are as important for carers as for elderly people themselves. At the moment, carers sacrifice their jobs, their social life and their future economic security. This makes absolutely no sense to their family; neither does it to taxpayers. At the end of the day, if these carers have no savings or pensions, who will pay for them in their old age? It is the state—that is, the taxpayer—so at the moment we do not have a sensible programme even for taxpayers.
I share the BMA’s support for the aim to create a more personalised social care system but I also share its concern about the expense, complexity and adverse effects of basing a system of social care commissioning upon the choices and decisions of individuals, rather than those of the population or the community. I strongly urge the Government to pilot this work rather than just roll it out. If the Government pilot these personal accounts, they will probably want to think again when they see that people are literally buried in paper—invoices, reminders and all the rest of it. It is a nightmare of bureaucracy, and my understanding is that this Government want to reduce bureaucracy and paperwork. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response later on and in future debates.
My Lords, there is no reference to the National Health Service in the gracious Speech but I should like to use the opportunity provided by this debate to update the House on the state of NHS dentistry. In May 2010, I stressed the importance of continuing the process of reform that started with the 2009 Steele review. In the coalition agreement, the Government committed themselves to introducing a new dentistry contact, which would focus on achieving good dental health, and to fully piloting any changes before introducing them.
Good progress has already been made. Since last September, 70 dental practices around the country have been piloting a new contract based on a capitation model, with an additional focus on the quality of clinical outcomes. The early feedback from these pilots has been positive: practitioners and the public are happy that more time is being spent with each patient and that there is greater emphasis on preventing oral health problems. These pilots were originally commissioned to run for a year but the Department of Health recently extended the programme until March 2013. This is a commendable approach. Extending the pilot period will allow more time to produce meaningful results, which will be of great use when developing the final proposals for the new contract.
I also spoke of the mounting challenges that dental practitioners face in the management of their practices, drawing particular attention to the additional regulatory burden that registration with the Care Quality Commission was about to impose on them. As we now know, the CQC was not ready to take on the registration of dentistry by the statutory deadline of April 2011 and experienced severe administrative and policy difficulties as it attempted to do so. Last September, the House of Commons Health Committee’s review of the CQC concluded that the pressures imposed by the registration of dentists led directly to a 70% drop in the number of inspections that the CQC carried out, compared to the same period in the previous year.
That report also recognised how frustrating the experience of registration had been for dentists. The CQC seemed to have little knowledge or experience of how dental practices actually operated, applying a one-size-fits-all model of registration that was more appropriate for social care than any other health service provider. When dentists contacted the CQC with queries about the process there seemed to be no one with the necessary expertise in dentistry to assist them, which frequently led to contradictory advice being given out. It was as a result of these difficulties that the CQC and the Government took the decision to delay the registration of GP practices. Dental service providers were already heavily regulated. Many dentists felt that CQC regulation of dentistry was not appropriate or proportionate and their registration experience has not persuaded them otherwise. Recognising that this is an issue, the Law Commission recently launched a consultation into how the regulation of health and social care professionals could be made simpler and more consistent.
By coincidence, I talked this morning at the launch of the British Dental Health Foundation’s National Smile Month to the Chief Dental Officer, Barry Cockcroft. He assured me that all was well with the general dental practitioner CQC registrations and that any remaining problems were with general medical practitioners. Perhaps the Minister could write to me—or ask his noble friend Lord Howe to write to me—to clarify the current situation concerning the CQC and medical and dental registrations.
Dentistry also faces great changes as a result of the Government’s health reforms, with the commissioning of dental services transferring to the national NHS Commissioning Board. Local expertise will still have a vital role to play in the commissioning of services, and the Government need to ensure that this expertise is appropriately utilised. The role of consultants in dental public health is particularly important as they will need to be accessible not only to the national Commissioning Board but to local health and well-being boards. The Department of Health is also developing proposals for local professional networks in dentistry to work alongside the local primary care commissioning teams in developing and delivering local service plans. These networks will enable the dental profession to influence local and national strategy and policy, ensuring that best practice and clinical expertise are embedded throughout the system.
The coalition has made a strong start in tackling the issues facing dentistry. There is still more work to do on contract reform, regulation and commissioning. I urge the Government to maintain their focus and continue working with the profession to deliver the best possible outcomes for patients.
My Lords, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. At the beginning of the day, the Minister said that the debate would be about the kind of society that we want. With that in mind, we should focus on things like character, competence, cuts and confidence, the first two relating to the personalities and actions of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and the latter two relating to the well-being of society as a result of the Government’s policies. We have seen, even today, that austerity alone has been discredited in Europe and the UK. As a result, we need a new vision and a narrative that have been missing to date. I suggest that it is on that acid test that the Government’s character and competence will be measured.
The truth that is catching up with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor is that the problems in the UK were not exclusively home-made. The proposition that we were like Greece is absurd. The reality is that while the Chancellor has tried to peddle the UK as having been more like Greece, he has made us more like Spain in the process. In 2009-10, growth as a result of Alastair Darling’s stimulus was 3.2% while Spain’s was zero. Now, after six quarters of UK negative growth, we have 0.2% negative growth compared with Spain’s growth of plus 2.4%. What is missing from the lexicon is the “g word”—growth. There were hints before the Queen’s Speech that this would be addressed, but on the day after it the front page of the Telegraph said, in bold:
“Why was there no plan for growth?”,
while the Sun editorial said:
“Plans to boost the economy amounted to tinkering rather than a full-blooded assault on unemployment”.
Those are two comments with which I fully agree.
The Chancellor has to show his character here. Let us forget about him admitting that his strategy is wrong; but he has to address the concept of growth. Without that, confidence in the country is seeping away day by day. Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s and a member of the Prime Minister’s business advisory group, has said that he has not seen a consistent pursuit of a clear policy. The consequences will be greater inequality, a greater north/south divide, increasing welfare dependence, increasing unemployment and ambition and social mobility checked at source.
On the issue of cuts, the IFS has said that the real-terms spending cuts of £100 billion targeted between April 2011 and March 2017 will see £33 billion of them falling in the final two years of that period. So in 2015, an election year, sizeable cuts will still have to be delivered. If you want to see how austerity measures are killing confidence, look at the company sector, which took £72 billion out of the economy in 2010 and £80 billion last year. Non-financial companies increased their holdings of currency in bank deposits by £48 billion in 2010 and £62 billion in 2011. That takes the total to £754 billion sitting in companies’ balance sheets doing nothing—a staggering 50% of UK GDP—while we have youth unemployment of 1 million. My experience as a teacher in Glasgow in the 1980s was that these young people with no chance end up in a lifetime of penury, social inability and the likelihood of mental health, alcohol and drug problems, and the result is that they have an increasing reliance on the state rather than less reliance on the state.
That is why I welcomed the coalition’s commitment that it would adopt the Labour Government’s 2020 target to eliminate child poverty. However, the IFS is saying at the moment that the Government’s spending plans are putting into reverse the progress that had been made on that in the previous few years. I suggest to this House that an increase in child poverty is not an example of the broader shoulders taking the greatest burden. The Government promised that the poorest 10% would lose the least, but the reality is that the poorest 10% are losing more than anyone except the richest 10%.
I have two suggestions for the Government. The first is to postpone the change to the hours rule for couples claiming working tax credit. That was predicated on OBR predictions in 2010 that the economy would swing back to strong growth. That is not happening, and as a result 200,000 low-income families will be affected by this. It will dramatically worsen child poverty in its extent and severity and will create a situation where people will be better off leaving their jobs, to the detriment of the economy. I suggest that the Government’s slogan of “Making work pay” has a hollow ring.
The second issue is rebalancing the ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. The Government have said that that ratio is 4:1. That will dramatically change the situation against people on low incomes. The Conservatives’ approach during the recession of the 1990s was to adopt a ratio of 1:1. It is for this Government to realise that 4:1 guarantees that the distribution of the burden will be skewed towards those at the lower end of the income distribution scale.
The electorate are looking for authenticity and empathy, and those have been missing from the debate just now. If we are looking at what type of society we want, there are a number of fundamental questions that should guide us. Are the increasingly high levels of economic inequality in society a problem? Should the Government be concerned at the high social and economic cost? The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that child poverty is costing the UK £25 billion per annum. What action should we take to reverse the scandalous situation where the poorest children are likely to live for 10 years less than the more wealthy? Do we have an obligation to tackle this? We do, but it can be done only if the Government demonstrate their character and competence in these bleak times.
The death slogan “Austerity alone” needs discarding. Confidence needs to be restored in order to give individuals and communities hope for the future. Only by doing that will the Government demonstrate the authenticity and empathy suggested by the slogan, “We’re all in this together”. Otherwise it will be seen merely as an empty gesture.
My Lords, in so far as I intend to pursue in more detail the issue that I raised earlier at Oral Questions, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-police. Concurrently with my first employment as a schoolmaster, I became a special constable and served for seven years. Later, as an Army officer, I had responsibility for joint planning and liaison with the police, and that during our troubled times in Northern Ireland. While I was an MP, I was parliamentary adviser to the RUC. I feel no need, however, to make similar ameliorating comments about my attitude to our virtually invisible and ineffective Home Office.
At the beginning of a new parliamentary year—I have seen 29 come and go here—one still waits with bated breath for some sort of signal that next year is going to be better. Such an expectation is difficult to sustain when one reads through the coalition’s programme for business in 2012, particularly in relation to creating a fairer society. Everything I read there confirms my impression of those exceedingly well educated folk who occupy the Front Benches in another place but who seldom appear to have rubbed shoulders with reality. Ideas hatched in some intellectually gifted corner of the Palace of Westminster float through a maze of implementation levels that are ill defined, largely disconnected and often wholly inefficient.
It is some years since the noble Lord, Lord Reid, described the Home Office as not fit for purpose, yet we continue without respite to find it delegating responsibilities in a way that it seems to consider absolves it from any real decision-making role. Just try, as I have, to discover why a police constabulary appears to be inefficient or corrupt and you will get the answer that I got last November when I was told by the Home Office that it had not held “aggregate data” on police since 2004. Why not?
One may be advised to speak to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I have, only to be told that the fairly obvious injustice that concerns me was not within its bailiwick because my complaint overlapped with social services. I belatedly referred the issue to the Justice Department, but it could not intervene. I am referring to a case where a lady in her 80s was cheated out of her home. The Minister knows it well and over the past three years the Home Office has received hundreds—yes, hundreds—of communications through me about the matter. Successive Secretaries of State have been so concerned that none would meet me, despite the fact that Interpol was activated to pursue this elderly lady all the way to her son’s home in Austria. Does anyone in authority care that social services and police in North Yorkshire have conspired in the persecution of Mrs Hofschroer and her son? Are details of dismissals, forced retirements and other shady and costly measures pertaining to North Yorkshire Police available to legislators in Parliament? No. Basic justice is distorted by the system, but I can see nothing to address this major issue in the Government’s plans.
Not dissimilar, in terms of Home Office incompetence, is the well known case of Gary McKinnon, a once young man with autism who hacked the Pentagon’s computers and whom the United States wants to extradite, potentially to imprison for the rest of his life in its prison system, where there are, conservatively, 60,000 rapes per year. His defence has cost his family their home. For over 10 years Gary, now 45 years old, has been left in limbo, and yet the Home Office happily, if somewhat inefficiently, spends millions accommodating the legal rights of Abu Qatada. Is that how we expect the Home Office and Justice to deal with disability—with cruel indecision, without compassion and with detached unaccountability? I think not, so surely it is about time we sought to replace our failing nanny state with a fair and just one.
Truly, the right hand at the Dispatch Box appears not to know and not to care what the left hand is doing. Is it not time that the Government recognised that principled strategic command is a prerequisite for effective delegation? One of the follies pertaining to and emanating from latter-day political correctness is that government and justice should not impinge on each other. That is why we foolishly established the introverted and expensive Supreme Court, effectively a third unaccountable legislature with which society barely identifies. Law can be effective only when it relates to what society as a whole is prepared to accept and support. Society’s temper is reflected through those elected to another place and through this related scrutinising Chamber. The day we sought to wash government’s hands of responsibility, and in so far as we continue to divorce the law from government, we deny society the access and safeguards that democracy is intended to guarantee.
The criticisms that I make of the Home Office are but mild by comparison with what we have just heard.
I believe that this Queen’s Speech is dreary and largely irrelevant to the needs of this nation. It fails to focus on real public concerns. Public works, increased economic growth and youth unemployment are but three of the issues that are highly relevant at this time. I have attended many Queen’s Speeches, but I cannot recall one that had so many deficiencies.
Tonight, I propose to concentrate on home affairs and law and justice. As far as home affairs are concerned, I will make several criticisms of the Home Office, but I say at once that we are delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is a friend of many of us, in his place. The Home Office is often regarded as the ministry of the non-living. Whether that description is well merited is by the way. Mistakes can all too readily prove irrecoverable. That is not necessarily the fault of the Secretary of State, but it is the Secretary of State who carries the can. Of course the Home Office is too large and delegation often occurs, often with fatal, or near fatal, results, and it is the Secretary of State who is held responsible.
Prison policy is a good example of this deficiency. For the most part, prisoners can be obdurately unyielding. My experience as a defence solicitor is that frequently prison guards and prisoners do not begin to comprehend the other’s problems. Admittedly, I go back a long way, but I doubt whether there has been much change. I realise that work is often undertaken in uncongenial circumstances, leading inevitably to an inbuilt resistance to change, but there have been some shining examples to the contrary. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is one of them. He made every effort to detect and tackle mistakes during his tenure of office.
Terrorism, frequently having an international dimension, clearly falls within the Secretary of State’s responsibility. Terrorism can often be accompanied by a messianic ideology. The Secretary of State has to reconcile effective defensive measures with democratic standards, and that is by no means easy, as the Secretary of State has clearly demonstrated, but surely some humility is called for rather than something we hear too often: an irritatingly abrasive mood of “I know best”. I am only too well aware that the Secretary of State has numerous other responsibilities. Is it not time therefore for this vast ministry to be split up, for a ministerial inquiry to be established and for this to be effected immediately?
As far as law and justice are concerned, this House—
That may be but I still regard the Home Office as much too large.
Although the House devoted a great deal of its time in the previous Session of this Parliament to examining a Bill that got scant attention in the House of Commons, I fear that the system will prove to be far more expensive than our present one in the long term; and that the changes envisaged by the Government will prove to be divisive and largely ineffective. They will also have a deleterious effect on people seeking to undertake civil cases.
In my day—I speak of a very long time ago—criminal cases seldom lasted beyond around three months. Nowadays it is common practice for serious criminal cases to last for a year or more. How, then, can we revert to a more acceptable time limit without adversely affecting justice and the civil components of legal aid? Even though this is a desirable goal, I wonder how much time the Government have devoted to resolving this vast problem. I will readily give way to the noble Lord, who is intent on intervening in my speech at all times.
We have spent much time in the Lords trying to resolve some of the more serious dilemmas on the civil side. Defeats were inflicted on the Government but they remained resolute to be irresolute. Justice will undoubtedly have suffered as a result. I fear that I will be disappointed in my quest for the Government to conduct a further inquiry into this matter. However, an inquiry is called for and ought to begin immediately.
My Lords, in the debate on the gracious Speech at the beginning of a Session of Parliament, one might take a number of approaches to the legislation that is proposed and the other matters that the Government have drawn to our attention through the gracious Speech. I will refer to something specific towards the end of my remarks. However, the start of a Session is also an opportunity to think about some of the broader issues that face us and are important. Remarks have been made about the economic crisis and austerity but there is another, wider issue that I wish to address—that of culture. It is not easy to think about, or perhaps even to speak about, but it is important. In the midst of all the other political and economic crises, we might ignore it at our peril because it becomes more dangerous in times of austerity and political crisis.
A little earlier today I was at the annual general meeting of the All-Party Group on the British Council. Our colleagues from the British Council reported on a number of the things that they were doing. There is the tremendous festival of Shakespearean plays, as one would expect at such a time, and art and culture generally—music, dance, theatre and so on. They went on to speak about how the British Council was doing excellent work on human rights in policing and issues of justice. One of our colleagues from the other place intervened to ask what on earth the British Council was doing involving itself in those things; surely it was about promoting British culture.
I beg to differ wholly from my friend in the other place. It seems to me that when we bring forward, for example, the British policing model, which the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, mentioned earlier, we talk about something that is essentially part of our culture in this country. We bring not only to our own country but to many other places something of real depth and value, which has come not from someone’s head but from the growth of our society—sometimes painfully and with difficulty, but certainly over a long period. There are positive characteristics to the way that we run things in this country. There are others where we make mistakes. However, in general, in policing, health and social care and education—something to which I will return a little later—we have developed a culture, or a way of doing things. When questions are asked about it for whatever reason, good or ill, it shakes us. Why? Because culture is to a community, group or nation very much what the personality is to us as individuals. Our personalities grow from our genetics and physical selves, but also from all the experiences that we have had—from what we have learnt from others, our families, our backgrounds and our communities. That is what makes us up.
Culture is the equivalent for us as a group and a community. This is an important and difficult question because it leads us to the dilemmas that are being experienced over multiculturalism. Maybe part of the difficulty arises because we have not thought clearly about what we mean. It is one thing to say that we want a society that is multiracial and recognises people of all backgrounds, countries, colours and so on, but that is not about culture. Do we mean a multifaith society, in which we value people of faith and those of none? Sometimes I think we value those of none rather more than we value those of faith, which is a mistake and a foolishness. I hope we begin to learn our way out of that. However, that is not culture of itself, although it contributes to it. Do we mean an inclusive society, in which men and women, young and old, sick, disabled and healthy are all valued members of the community? That is very important; it is an inclusive society but it is not multiculturalism.
One of the dilemmas that I have observed as this society has tried to deal with all these things and called it multiculturalism is that it has pulled away from valuing important elements of culture. I saw this at home in our peace process when it came to how we would engage in parliament-building. In Stormont, we certainly had examples of a unionist culture. The approach of the Northern Ireland Office was to strip all aspects of culture out and to make it like a clinic. That was a mistake. It was unnecessary and was not wholesome. It was much more important to ensure that we brought in elements of different backgrounds, language, experience and history, and that everyone could feel a degree of diversity and warmth about it.
We need to think a lot more about this question, because I detect that an absence of clarity has meant an absence of a feeling from all sorts of groups in our community that they share a sufficiently common culture to feel part of a nation and a people who can work together—whatever our faith or racial backgrounds, gender or health or physical appearance. We need to work at this.
I am worried about some of the political developments I see with some of those who are winning elections, and with some of those who are not even bothering to vote in elections because there is not a sense of shared culture. Our culture is not like the culture of other countries. I do not despise the culture of other countries, but let us be clear that there are those cultures where it is completely appropriate for women to be set to the side; where female genital mutilation is a part of the culture; where the educational culture is not one of thoughtfully reflecting and disputing to find the truth but rather of the rote learning of something that has been handed down regardless of whether it is relevant or appropriate; or where physical violence is regarded as an appropriate way to deal with political difference.
I do not accept that all cultures are equal, valid and good. I do not believe that ours is perfect, but I do not believe that we should devalue it. I therefore finish with a final plea. One of the reasons why people want to come to this country for education in our great universities is not just that they value what it will do for their jobs and their future but that they value the culture. Many of us spend our time trying to attract people to this country. We would benefit from their coming—culturally, economically and otherwise—but we find that it is increasingly impossible for them to get visas into the country as bona fide students so that they can study and enrich both our country and their own, in order to benefit us all. I plead with my noble friend the Minister to do everything he can to ensure that proper students have separate visas and a separate system to ensure that we can benefit our culture, their societies and all our people.
My Lords, in the brief time I have this evening I shall address some issues related to the proposed children and families Bill. Before I do so, however, I want to pay tribute to the late Lady Ritchie, who undoubtedly would have spoken about children today had she not sadly passed away in April. Shireen Ritchie was a campaigner for women in public life, including in Parliament, but I knew her as a campaigner for children in Kensington and Chelsea. She was involved in issues of adoption, children’s services, child poverty and family courts, and will be greatly missed by all those concerned for children.
I should declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. One of the pleasures of being involved in children’s issues in your Lordships’ House is that while there may be minor differences, this House across all parties has always been concerned for their welfare, and tonight’s debate is no exception. We are of course advised by a dedicated and vigorous children’s sector.
Can the Minister give us any sense of when the children and families Bill might be considered by this House? What is the timetable and the structure for discussions on, for example, the Children’s Commissioner? The Bill raises many important issues, including adoption measures, special educational needs, budgets, parental leave, family law, court cases and the role of the Children’s Commissioner, all of which have been discussed by others this evening. I shall return to the Children’s Commissioner later.
These issues are important and I look forward to discussion on them. Some are more complex than they might appear to be—for example, special educational needs and adoption issues. I agree with the comments made earlier by my noble friend Lady Hughes on cuts to local authorities and the need to consider the whole care system, including kinship care, which has been mentioned at least three times this evening and is an issue to which we might need to return very seriously.
My noble friend Lady Hughes was an outstanding Minister for Children and was dedicated to improving their lives and welfare. Although I know that coalition Ministers with responsibility for children and families in both Houses also have genuine dedication to child well-being, I fear that children may be hit by problems associated with cuts to services. It is all very well to talk about vulnerable children and all very well to vow support, but these good intentions may well be counteracted by underlying basic problems relating to issues such as families in poverty, health, education, welfare provision and cuts to children’s centres.
This should not be a party-political issue. It is about children’s lives and achievements as set out many years ago in Every Child Matters. Before and since that document, we have had time and again reports on the fundamental importance of early intervention in tackling family problems and social mobility. Indeed, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility has just produced a report following the incisive reports by Frank Field and Graham Allen. The importance of life chances being established early is again a theme. Although the pupil premium is welcome, I suggest that it is a bit late. The National Children's Bureau and many other children’s charities are concerned about how disadvantaged children continue to experience poor outcomes in health and education. The UK does poorly in child well-being measures and we should attend to early intervention for children, particularly those who are vulnerable, as discussed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Stedman-Scott. That is why I believe that we should have an important and effective role for the Children's Commissioner for England, who can be advocate, whistleblower, support for children, adviser and critical friend to government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, earlier set out the case very effectively for a rights-based legislation, including the Children's Commissioner, and I shall not repeat all that but I thank her for it. I was delighted by the recommendation in the Dunsford report that the Children's Commissioner for England should have a focus on children’s rights. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK, which has long campaigned for a rights-based commissioner and for the rights of the child, as has the Children's Rights Alliance for England—and with good reason. It seems that we may now have the opportunity to embed children’s rights in legislation, but will the Government have the courage to do it? Will they support it with resources? A focus on children’s rights would mean that England could develop a shared vision for children based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already incorporated the UN convention into law and recognise it as a force for change. The Office of the Children's Commissioner has been significant in examining the plight of marginalised and vulnerable children such as those in the youth justice system and those excluded from school, and the effect of poor child mental health.
We have become much better at consulting children on aspects of their lives, but what is needed is a person and an office that can make the most of such consultation. For example, examining every Bill in Parliament for a child impact assessment is crucial. It has been attempted before and proved informative, but it demands a consistent approach with resources. I recognise that groups other than children could claim the right to be central to legislation, but children are special. They are the foundations of society, and if we get things right for children later difficulties may be avoided.
Most Bills that we see in your Lordships' House have some relationship to children. They do not have to have the word children in their title—for example, transport, health, justice, the environment, and so on, all have elements that affect children and families. I hope that the Children's Commissioner will be a genuinely independent voice in support of children. We all know that independence can be interpreted in many ways and bound by all kinds of bureaucratic measures, and I would hope that the Children's Commissioner has a truly independent remit. I hope that we now see the efforts of those concerned for the welfare of children culminating in support for a children’s champion who will enable us all to improve outcomes for the child’s well-being and develop that vision for children that is so vital to the well-being of society.
My Lords, given the recent barrage of criticism of the Home Office, I may make a welcome change. I want to throw a bouquet in the direction of the Home Office on one point and words of encouragement tinged with some disappointment on the other.
I start with the words of encouragement, which flow from a certain disappointment—that there has not been a move within the Crime and Courts Bill to remove the word “insulting” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. I shall not go into detail on this, because I spoke at some length about it on Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill on 8 November last year. Those who are so minded could check what I said in Hansard at col. 192. Put very simply, the use of the word “insulting” within the current legislation is proving to be a grave impediment to the exercise of free speech. Some noble Lords will know that I have spoken on several occasions in the past to try to preserve the existing situation where we champion freedom of speech above almost everything else.
The first Public Order Act in 1936 used the term, “criminalising, threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”. The words, “threatening, abusive or insulting” have been carried through successive legislation. They now find themselves, 50 years later, in the 1986 Act—the current Act. I will not weary your Lordships with the detail but certain sections of that Act—Sections 4, 4A and 5—give a descending ladder of seriousness. Right at the very bottom of that—the least serious, if you like—is “insulting”, in Section 5.
To put it simply, what is happening today is that those who stand up in public and express views that are unpopular to some members of society find that they are in grave danger that those who disagree with those views will invoke the police and insist on action being taken—“I have been insulted; therefore, officer, become involved”. The police may or may not become involved. If they do, they may or may not charge. If they charge, the Crown Prosecution Service may or may not prefer charges. But whatever happens and however the situation winds up, it has a very serious chilling effect on the exercise of free speech.
The Home Office instituted a consultation on 13 October last year, which concluded three months later on 13 January this year, but in the ensuing four months we have heard nothing about the consultation. I am somewhat disappointed at that. I urge the Home Office to look very closely at what has been said, to report the results of that consultation as quickly as it can and, I hope, to look for early inclusion of the removal of those words from the relevant legislation.
Those are my words of encouragement. The bouquet that I throw to the Home Office is the inclusion within the Crime and Courts Bill of the creation of the National Crime Agency, the NCA. We have travelled a long road on this, starting with the creation—I vaguely remember this—of the regional crime squads in the 1960s, through the national crime squads, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We now stand on the brink of the NCA. The media have labelled it the British FBI. To some extent that is understandable. However, although there are some similarities, organisationally and constitutionally the FBI is very different. Nevertheless we should make no mistake about it: the creation of the NCA is absolutely essential, given the current range of problems that we as a society face.
I want to focus on Clauses 5(5) and (7) of the Bill, which concerns the creation of the NCA and gives the director-general of the NCA—if such an organisation is created—the power to direct local compliance from local police organisations. I believe that some may well fly in the face of that and say that it runs completely against the grain of what we did in the previous Session in creating police and crime commissioners, localising policing and placing a local focus on local problems. However, we do not need to remind ourselves of the internationalism of problems—the fact that drugs on the streets of Evesham may well have been imported through Rotterdam; that illegal workers in fields in Cambridgeshire may well have been trafficked from eastern Europe through Southampton; and that teenage prostitutes in London may well have been trafficked from the Ukraine through Heathrow. In other words, local problems are created nationally and internationally. However, if the power to direct local compliance does not lie in the hands of the director-general of the NCA, I fear that the move towards localism, which I support in so many ways, will cause the NCA to founder. It would become something akin to a crime tsar and would certainly espouse a pious hope that something will happen, but without it having the wherewithal to pursue it and to get total national co-operation.
I conclude by referring to one word. The word “direct” is undoubtedly tough and it undoubtedly smacks of, and is, central intervention, but I do not believe that it is contradictory to the move in other ways towards the localisation of policing. It is absolutely essential to deal with international and cross-border national crime. It is the very bedrock of what is envisaged within the National Crime Agency. It is, in fact, the keystone to the whole creation of the agency and without it the agency would founder. I commend the Bill to your Lordships in those terms and I very much hope that we shall see the word “direct” in Clause 5 when the Bill is passed and becomes law.
My Lords, I open with some words of support for the impassioned plea from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, for some clarity from the Government on their attitude to the benefactors who support the arts in this country. I have worked for many, many years trying to raise money—mostly for the National Theatre—with some success, and I think that we need to know whether there is some abuse or loophole in the tax legislation which drove the Treasury to condemn a bunch of wonderfully generous people, without whom the arts would be seriously in jeopardy in this country. I hope that we can get some clarity on that.
As a keen student and sometime practitioner of the media, I have come to be able to predict the journalistic reaction to any disaster or crisis, and that usually turns out to be, “What are the Government doing about this?”. “This” is anything that the news editor of the day thinks is worthy of giving the Government of the day a good kicking about. Therefore, it was hardly a surprise to me that criticism of the gracious Speech amounted to a consensus around the idea that there was nothing in it for growth. The opposition parties readily joined in this somewhat glib narrative. No legislation for growth? Speaking from this side of your Lordships’ House, I am bound to say, “Thank goodness for that. Pass the bunting!”. The idea that Governments can somehow legislate for growth seems to me an utterly discredited doctrine that should have died with the bankruptcy and collapse of the command economy of the Soviet empire. Some of us are old enough to remember the Stalinist five-year plan that would emerge from the Politburo every five years. In fact, it was not every five years; they would have a new five-year plan every two years because it was clear that the first five-year plan was failing.
Those who still believe, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary, that any Government can simply wave their magic legislative wand and thus decree that “there shall be growth” and, lo, there was growth are ignoring the lessons of history. No, my Lords. If legislation is needed to encourage growth, it is needed to unpick the knotweed of employment and health and safety box-ticking and other regulation which stifles growth, particularly in the SME sector, which, as I understand it, accounts for more than 90% of our economy.
A quick survey of any dozen SMEs—which I did the other morning at a breakfast meeting of businesspeople —would produce at least a dozen pieces of daft legislation that they want removed in order for them to create more wealth, more jobs and, ultimately, more taxes. If you asked them what legislation they would need to be passed in order to grow, I think they would send for the men in white coats—there’s a job opportunity. The cry from business everywhere is for Governments to step back and let the wealth creators through to do what they do best.
The role of government is to ensure that, when businesses are created or expanding, there is a talented, educated skill base qualified to fill those jobs. I believe that this Government are committed to a red-tape bonfire—most Governments always are—but it would be helpful to hear from the Government and from the Minister how the progress that they are making in this area is being achieved. Reports from time to time on the achievement of deregulation would be very welcome and would give credence to the policy.
One important legislative proposal in which many of us will have a keen personal interest is the reform of the Defamation Act. My noble friend Lord Lester has paved the way for this much needed reform, as has the parliamentary scrutiny committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Mawhinney. It is a committee on which I served as a member. I hope that the excellent report and recommendations will be carried through into the Bill. At the end of this much needed reform, we should expect that, among other things, there will be affordable and accessible defamation justice for all, regardless of economic means. The Bill should deliver clarity for journalists and freedom for responsible publishers to publish without fear of the chilling effect of existing libel laws. This latter applies as much to academic papers and publications as to newspapers. There is also the huge challenge posed by the internet, which in this context will require some considerable attention. I look forward to our debates in this House. In the end, I am confident that the public’s right to know and freedom of expression will be balanced in the usual way.
I have two points for the Minister. Can we please have regular reporting of successful deregulation for business? Can we please have fiscal clarity for the generous benefactors who, in partnership with the Government, keep our arts afloat and an appreciation and recognition of their generosity? As a coda, I ask the Minister to offer some specific reassurance on the Bill to reform this House. As we are teetering in and out of drought from week to week, can he also assure the House that adequate safeguards have been put in place for watering the long grass?
My Lords, this year marks the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty's reign. Over these 60 years, we have witnessed incredible progress in science, medicine, technology, working conditions, healthcare, education and equal opportunities. However, it is a sad reflection on our society that progress on living longer becomes something to fear. My noble friend Lord Warner was absolutely right when he wrote in yesterday's Times:
“Living longer should be a matter for celebration, not concern. We are a civilised society with enough wealth and assets collectively to fund a decent social care system. Let’s get on with it”.
The coalition agreement committed the Government to an independent commission on social care to report by July 2011, enabling legislation in this new parliamentary Session. Dilnot delivered but the coalition has not. We have a commitment to publish draft legislation on reform of social care law, with no commitment to introduce a Bill on reform of care funding in this Session. As we have heard today, our care system has reached breaking point, yet we appear to be even further away from addressing the fair and sustainable solutions offered by Dilnot. This will cause terrible hardship and distress for older and disabled people.
It will also affect the economy. More than £1 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people’s social care since the Government came to power and the system has now reached breaking point. At a time when government Ministers are asking people to go out and grow the economy, 1 million unpaid carers have had to give up work, or reduce their hours, because the support that they need to look after family members is not available or is too expensive. That is what Governments can deal with to produce growth. The cost to the economy of carers being forced to give up work or reduce their hours is £1.3 billion every year through lost tax and pension contributions, and the increased costs of unemployment, income or care-related benefits. There is nothing to stop the Government, if they are serious about social care reform, committing to legislation in this Session that will include funding reform as well as wider policy and legal reform.
Another area where we have witnessed incredible progress over the past 60 years is in the field of equal opportunities. I was therefore disappointed that the modest proposal for equality in marriage between straight and gay couples was not included in the gracious Speech. As I said before in the House, I am proud that across all political parties there is a consensus that respects the right of lesbian and gay people to celebrate their relationships. It reflects an understanding of the inherent worth of a loving relationship between two people of the same sex.
My husband and I have taken every opportunity given to us to celebrate our 16-year relationship on an equal footing in our civic society. The first came in 2004, with a civil partnership ceremony conducted under the auspices of the GLA when Ken Livingstone was mayor. We had to do that because, unfortunately, this House had delayed civil partnership legislation. On 21 December 2005, the first day possible, we legally tied the knot in Islington Town Hall—and I will say, for the benefit of some noble Lords, that council staff not only understood their statutory duty to carry out the law of the land but made our day really special.
Rafael and I therefore welcomed the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to equality in marriage—but he must not backtrack now. The attempt by some Conservatives to blame the equal right to marry for their election results is wrong, and for the Prime Minister to give in to them would be a betrayal of all those who oppose discrimination.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Phillip Hammond, said at the weekend:
“But I think the government has got to show over the next couple of years that it is focused on the things that matter to the people in this country—not just the short-term things but the long-term things as well”.
Well, Mr Hammond, my marriage is not a short-term thing. My commitment to my partner is not a short-term thing. Legislation on equal marriage does not prevent the Government prioritising jobs, growth or family finances. It is the coalition’s economic policy that is preventing that.
My Lords, this is the 13th Queen’s Speech that I have been present for in your Lordships’ House. In the first Queen’s Speech debate that I took part in, the key issues that were exercising the House were the royal commission on the funding of long-term care, and reform of this House. It is always difficult to find a theme in such a disparate debate, but I have detected a similarity between Lords reform and social care. Both problems have been analysed for decades, and whenever a Government put forward a proposal for reform, there is an instant queue of people seeking to pick holes in and criticise the proposals—and the people in the queue are the ones who support the reforms.
The proposals on social care in the gracious Speech are an important step forward for families as they work out how best to support their older relatives. I point out to noble Lords that increasing numbers of older people in our society will have dementia. They are also a test for Parliament as a whole. Reform of social care is an issue that previous Governments did not resolve in times when there was far less pressure on public finances.
In the debate on 24 November last year, there was a great degree of consensus in this House, reflecting the consensus among the relevant charities, that the Dilnot report and the Law Commission provided the way forward to reforming social care. However, we should pause for thought. I read in Community Care on 11 May an article by Mithran Samuel. He said:
“Public understanding of the social care funding system remains problematically low with the effect that too many people believe services are free when they are anything but”.
Mr Samuel went on to say:
“I’ve spotted a couple of pieces in the national press recently that have inaccurately described the system of means-testing care in England … Both pieces claimed that people with assets of £23,250 or less do not have to pay for care at all, and that the Dilnot commission report last year proposed increasing this threshold for, in effect, free care to £100,000. However, this is wrong—£23,250 is the threshold above which people must pay the full cost of their residential care; it doesn’t apply to community-based services, and the threshold below which people do not pay for their care is £14,250”.
Andrew Dilnot’s proposal was to extend the system of charging up to £100,000. So a great deal of work needs to be done to convey the complexity of the system as it is now, and there is a far greater need to expand understanding of exactly what the Dilnot proposals are among the media, never mind the general public. I hope that parliamentarians from all parties and none, and voluntary organisations, will take the opportunity which the draft legislation gives us to increase their understanding over the next year as we focus on these issues.
Last Session, we went through the Health and Social Care Act. In January this year, the King’s Fund, closely followed by the NHS Future Forum, published reports on integration of health and social care. Both called for developing integrated care to have the same priority over the next decade as reducing waiting times did for the previous Government and they urged that government policy should set a defined date for delivering integration. I agree with that. In their response to our debate, will the Government say what progress has been achieved? The issue of continuing health care and NHS criteria is important to people who are knowledgeable about social care and it is a critical point at which health and social care systems come to bear on the lives of individuals. I hope the Government will take the opportunity of the draft legislation to address that point.
A number of key issues are identified by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, in a report in March 2012, called Crossing the Threshold. It points up the issues which need to be decided before the Dilnot proposals—or anything like them—can be implemented. These are issues such as clarity and consistency on assessment of care needs, and eligibility, in particular how publicly-funded social care can be better integrated with universal services. A key question which has to be answered is how needs would be assessed fairly alongside the operation of a practical cap. I put those forward as somebody who knows about social care, not in an effort to delay the implementation of what I think are two very important reports. I put them forward as issues which this House has to discuss and agree over the course of the next year if we are to get to the settlement which we all wish to see.
I welcome in particular the Law Commission’s proposals on safeguarding vulnerable adults. For too long, older people have been vulnerable to abuse and local authorities have been powerless to intervene on their behalf. In particular, I welcome the removal of the existing power under Section 47 of the National Assistance Act to remove a person from their home. It is a power which has long been in existence and contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights. It was described by one of my colleagues in Age Concern as the power of a local authority to remove a vulnerable person from insanitary conditions which might harm them to sanitary conditions which would almost certainly kill them.
The proposed draft Bill will, I hope, be subject to scrutiny by both Houses. There is considerable experience both here and in another place which is relevant to that. My colleague Paul Burstow in another place has worked hard to bring us closer than we have ever been before to settling what for decades has seemed to be an intractable issue. Families need certainty about what the costs of social care will be and they also need to be certain that they will have access to high quality and suitable services. We on these Benches support the proposals which have been put forward. We do not wish to wait longer than is necessary to see the implementation of the Dilnot report. That is why we will wholeheartedly support this. For myself, I do not want, in another 13 years’ time, to be considering yet more reports saying that social care is not working and that there is a need to reform this House. The issues are before us. We should take them forward and make sure that the proposals are implemented with due care and in detail.
My Lords, I welcome the statement in the gracious Speech that the,
“Government will strive to improve the lives of children and families”.
To this end, like my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, I look forward to the strengthening of the powers of the Children’s Commissioner so as to,
“champion children’s rights and hold government to account for legislation and policy”,
to quote the Department for Education. I hope that this means that in the future, when the commissioner publishes a critical report drawing attention to the way in which a Bill such as the Welfare Reform Bill undermines children’s rights, the Government might pay more attention.
Also welcome is the promise of measures to,
“make parental leave more flexible so both parents may share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments”.
Things have gone quiet on exactly what these measures will be since they were first proposed a year ago in the Consultation on Modern Workplaces, so perhaps the Minister could, when he winds up, tell the House when firm proposals will be published. What was most encouraging to me about this document was its acceptance of the case for a period of parental leave reserved for fathers on a “use it or lose it” basis, which the Nordic experience shows can increase fathers’ involvement in the care of their children. I hope that rumours that this proposal could be dropped are unfounded.
International experience has also shown that, unless the payment provides adequate wage replacement, it is unlikely to be economically viable for most fathers to take leave. At present, under a quarter of fathers in the UK take up their paternity leave entitlement. Moreover, if the commitment to shared parenting is to extend to low-income families, there needs to be a rethink on universal credit, which promotes the opposite by increasing the disincentive for second earners to work, along with a rethink on financial support for childcare, a point made by my noble friend Lady Hughes of Stretford.
However helpful the measures set out in the gracious Speech might be, there is no acknowledgment that the best way in which government can improve the lives of children and families generally is by ensuring adequate financial support, especially in the face of growing evidence of hardship. For instance, there has been a huge rise in the numbers turning to food banks. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected a big increase in child poverty, which will only partially be offset by the impact of the introduction of universal credit, and there is evidence that it is families with children, especially lone-parent families, who are the biggest losers from the cuts announced so far.
If the Government genuinely want to improve the lives of children and families, perhaps I may suggest that they should reverse the three-year freeze on child benefit. Inflation-proofing child benefit would do more to help the lowest-income working families than the proposed increase in tax allowances. The money goes direct to the person caring for the child and therefore is more likely to be spent on the child. Also, the Government should drop the widely criticised plan for means-testing child benefit, described only today by the Institute of Chartered Accountants as “seriously flawed”.
I suggest that the Government reverse the change in working tax credit rules that has meant a significant loss for over 200,000 of the “strivers” and “hard-working people” whom the Prime Minister prayed in aid six times in his speech in the debate on the Address, and for whom the advice to seek additional hours is a cruel joke in the current labour market. I also suggest that the Government call a halt to further cuts in social security, signalled in the Budget, which even the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is now resisting, as did a number of his predecessors in the 1980s, some of whom now sit in your Lordships’ House. I hope that they might add their voices to those arguing against further cuts in social security, which will make life that much harder for families and children.
On a slightly different tack, and echoing my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, I hope that the silence on equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians does not mean that this has been filed away as too controversial. This is a matter of justice—a value highlighted in the gracious Speech—and it was to the Government’s credit that they appeared to be willing to build on the progress made by the previous Government in this area. Perhaps the Minister can tell your Lordships’ House what is going to happen when the consultation on this has ended. I hope that he can provide reassurance that this is not being filed away as too controversial and difficult.
In an earlier debate on the Address, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, reminded your Lordships’ House that the recent Hansard Society audit of political engagement drew attention to a public increasingly disengaged from and disenchanted with formal politics and government, and in the recent elections people were saying that politics has no connection with their lives. It is difficult to see what there is in this Queen’s Speech to reconnect them to the political process, which surely we must all regret.
My Lords, I want to talk about the arts and the cultural sector, but to get to that point I feel that I have to talk about something else first, something that is in the way and which I have to get past: the economic policy of this Government, which in the last two years has cast a shadow over almost every topic that gets debated in Parliament.
Like a growing number of people, I do not believe in the austerity measures. Why do I say this? I am not an economist. I studied economics for one year at undergraduate level and I probably learnt three things: first, that there are many different economic policies; secondly, that there is much argument about which policies actually succeed—if any; and, thirdly and most importantly, that no economic policy can be separated from political intent. Austerity is no exception. It is not a politically neutral measure, although this Government have done a pretty good job so far of convincing the public that austerity is the only way and has nothing to do with ideology.
I do not agree with the political intent behind austerity measures. Many economists also do not believe that austerity works, and indeed see this measure as perverse, eccentric and historically discredited. The views of these economists, including Nobel prize winners such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have not until now been championed enough—although I think that the tide is turning—because the parties in power in Europe have not been sympathetic; nor have they yet been championed enough by the Opposition in our Parliament, who have yet to state that they would reverse the cuts.
The arts, the cultural sector and the creative industries are precisely the areas in which this country should be investing for growth, and we should be reversing the cuts to do so—cuts, I should say, to an investment that has always been small by Treasury standards. To their credit, the previous Administration appreciated that such investment effects cultural growth, social regeneration, improvement of the environment and economic growth, and gave the arts a prominent place in their 2010 manifesto.
The Arts Council has this month released a guidance document for arts organisations to carry out their own economic impact assessments, which, through the case studies featured, prove the point of such organisations’ worth—yet again. I do not believe that organisations should be doing this, as too many are struggling enough with their finances anyway. But the two-year-old case studies of Anvil Arts in Basingstoke and of the AV Festival in the north-east gave results that stunned even local people. For example, in 2010 it was assessed that Anvil Arts contributed £6.2 million per year to Basingstoke’s economy, more than a fivefold return on the borough council’s investment.
The arts community has always known of the strong multiplier effect of the cultural sector, which politicians with any nous would pick up on. Yet, strangely for a Government who profess a desire for economic recovery, the arts have suffered an enormous demotion politically in the past two years. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, pointed out, there is no mention of the arts or the creative industries—or innovation for that matter—in the Queen’s Speech. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, that there is no sense of strategy for the arts and culture. It is almost as though, in the past two years, the arts have become invisible as far as the Government are concerned. The cultural sector almost failed to appear in the national planning policy framework. Only a strong campaign prevented that. It was for the sector a big fall from grace from being, under the previous Administration, one of the four pillars of sustainable development.
Worst of all, one only needs to go on to the Lost Arts website to see the roll call of those arts organisations that have been drastically cut, are on the brink of folding or have now gone under, all as a result of cuts to state funding. Those organisations include Durham City Arts, now closed; the Theatre Writing Partnership, based in Nottingham and formed more than 10 years ago, which will close next month; Croydon’s Warehouse Theatre, which may well close; and Museums Sheffield, which has had to make a scandalously large number of redundancies—45 altogether. The list goes on and on.
This is a Government who neither properly appreciate the significance of long-term support for the arts nor understand the state’s crucial role at the grass-roots level or the preservation of our cultural history. If this Government were taking a long-term view, they would not have introduced the levy of VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings, nor would they have effectively capped charitable giving, which will have a hugely detrimental effect on the larger, more established organisations. I hope that both these measures will be reversed and that the Minister will respond on them.
The Government have, quite correctly, launched a very smart advertising campaign abroad leading up to the Olympics and Paralympics—the GREAT campaign —but it is an irony that, at the same time, they have so drastically reduced funding to the culture that the campaign is promoting.
This is a Government who react most when the short-term commercial possibilities of the creative industries are right in front of their nose. Tax breaks to investors in the form of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme are clearly welcome, although Steve Karmeinsky of City Meets Tech points out that there need to be tax breaks also for the start-up companies in which investors have an interest.
Robert Redford was quite right to slap David Cameron down for calling for the funding only of “commercial” cinema. Sundance, which, as we know, has been launched as a festival in the UK, was set up on the opposite premise: from the point of view of the film-makers. To make a general point, artists do the work that they do and then an attempt should be made to find audiences. This is a necessary risk at the level of the individual artist and the individual company. Yet paradoxically perhaps, at the larger scale—to take the sector as a whole—it is, as I have described, no risk at all to invest; it is absolutely the opposite. If we continue to cut the grass roots, to threaten arts education and to continue with local authority cuts to the arts, music and libraries, the mainstream also will be become fundamentally damaged—the commercial cinema and the commercial theatre, which are fed by the grass roots. This Government should give long-term support to the arts and cultural sector to promote cultural growth and help to kick-start this country’s economy. That is a plan for growth.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly this evening about relationships, but, no, I am not about to delve into the excellent proposals to speed up adoption or improve contact with absent parents. I want to talk about public confidence in two essential institutional relationships, between the security services and Parliament and between Parliament and the judiciary.
The justice and security Bill aims to improve parliamentary oversight of the security services. I think it has found its time. There is concern and confusion about the accountability of the security services in our democratic society. I was intrigued to read the following comments only last weekend:
“By their very nature the world’s top intelligence agencies are a law unto themselves”.
MI6 is among those named.
“Yet it would be wrong to assume that within the intelligence world there are no laws”.
I was relieved to read that.
“It is governed by its own strict set of rules”.
This view of the security services having only their own internal regulation is not from the blogosphere or Twitter but Richard Beeston, foreign correspondent of the Times. The position was correctly outlined in the Reith lectures by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who said that,
“ultimately the Service is answerable to the law and the courts”,
and that it was the security services who pushed the Government for their existence to be put on a statutory basis.
Also recently, in response to questions from journalists concerning the basis for the police investigation into MI6, the commissioner felt that he needed to respond, “It is the law”. I find the need to re-assert this basic fact quite troubling. Her Majesty’s Government are clearly alert to the reputational issue, as it forms part of the argument underpinning the proposals in the justice and security Green Paper that secret courts are needed, where one party to the proceedings is excluded for part of the time. The argument is that without secret courts the Government cannot defend claims such as those from people who alleged that the British Government were involved in their rendition to Guantanamo Bay as the Government cannot produce such evidence in open court.
It is important to remember that the reputational issue arises in a context of declining trust in our institutions generally and matters which cannot be blamed on court process. I am referring of course to the tragic case of MI6 employee Gareth Williams—so utterly terrible for his family. It was also concerning for the public to hear of MI6’s failure to hand over evidence to the police investigation and to report his absence from work for over a week. It is a necessary part of oversight for the public to know such issues and I hope that the inquest into this death, as well as the recommendation from the Joint Committee on Human Rights report, have lead Her Majesty’s Government to drop the proposal for inquests to be held partly in secret. Most of all, I hope that the discussion of oversight of the security services will be a platform for informed debate and awareness of the accountability of our security services.
Secondly, the Leveson inquiry is dealing with the issue of how you fit the power of the modern media into a traditional separation of powers model. What are the appropriate boundaries between media and politicians? A not wholly dissimilar issue concerning the relationship of the judiciary and the legislature arose when the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the Green Paper. I am extremely privileged to serve on that Joint Committee. Our 24th report outlines the response to the justice and security Green Paper, and page 16 says that the Green Paper,
“redefines the meaning of a ‘court’ for certain purposes, and in our view it would be beneficial to parliamentary scrutiny of such a measure if it could be informed by judicial views on a matter which goes to the very nature of the judicial function”.
Although this might sound rather novel, it is not completely without transferable precedent. The judiciary as a group responded to the Green Paper on legal aid. Also, as I was looking at previous humble Addresses to see if there was any kind of standard to be adopted—there is not—I found the speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, outlining what happened before proposed changes to custody periods for life sentences were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003:
“Before the law was introduced, and under the guidance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, a meeting was held at the Middle Temple, where nearly all those who were playing a leading role were present to discuss the proposals”.—[Official Report, 27/5/10; col. 147.]
In that case, the Lord Chancellor knew the judiciary’s view but I do not know whether the meeting was in private or whether there was an appropriate channel for the legislature as a whole to know these views.
The present Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the Joint Committee that he has spoken to the Lord Chief Justice and two High Court judges, thereby performing the role of conduit of some judicial views to the Government. What about Parliament? I agree with my noble friend about the utter integrity of our judiciary. As the Green Paper’s proposals are for a change in the courts, not so much a change in the law, I felt that without representative views from the judiciary, I lacked a piece of the jigsaw properly to perform the role of parliamentary scrutiny.
Finally, like my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, I found some of the words in the Ministry of Justice’s outline for the Queen’s Speech on this Bill interesting: allowing courts to consider all material relating to the case, even when national security prevents that information being made public. How can you as a claimant put all your material before the court if you are not a part of the proceedings? To be a little technical, how can you bring your rebuttal evidence if you have not heard the evidence you are to challenge?
I fear that a more accurate statement is: allowing courts to consider all one party’s material relating to the case. It is worrying that the one party to which I refer will normally be the Government. There is a healthy tension and balance between a defence and security service perspective and the legal and civil liberties perspective. The issues in the Green Paper involve human rights, national security requirements and common law principles of what is and, importantly, what is not a fair trial.
That is a difficult balance with no perfect solution, but the issues are immensely important. In the months ahead, I look forward to seeing your Lordships’ House at its very best as guardian of the constitution and the civil liberties of our citizens.
My Lords, the right honourable Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, the other day made a very important point when he argued about the disparity between children going to private schools and those going to state schools and the difference in our society afterwards. I have a solution which the Government might be interested in listening to. It does not need legislation, but it would be important to consider something of the kind.
Over the past 12 years, the Science and Technology Select Committee has held two inquiries into science in schools. I had the privilege of chairing one 12 years ago. Throughout our inquiry, we found very clearly that the things that really inspire children into science are, first, inspirational teaching and, secondly, good practical work. As it happens, over many years, the level of laboratory experience in schools has got poorer and poorer. That is not due to any particular Government; it has happened because of a lack of funding. At present, more than 30% of state schools have laboratories which are inadequate for the purpose.
We have immense possibility in British universities, where there are extensive plant, experts and laboratories to be used. Two or so years ago, we set up at Imperial College in London a reach-out laboratory to which schools from underprivileged parts of London could come in daily to get practical experience. The place is not run by academics but by a schoolmaster whom we employ. All five sciences will be available to children who come in: mathematics, engineering, chemistry, physics and, of course, biology. During term time, underprivileged schools come in; during the holiday time, the gifted and talented children come in. Currently, the occupancy is between 80% and 85%.
We are doing that as a research experiment. I have two PhD students considering the outcomes. We are measuring four different aspects of what is happening. First, we are looking at the children who come in over a long period—the next 10 years—to see what happens to them, not just what exam results they get but what their aspirations are. Secondly, we are anxious to follow the teachers to see whether their experience in our laboratory changes the way that they teach, and the opportunity that they have to go back to university to be, if you like, researchers in residence once again. That seems powerful. Thirdly, we are looking at what works best: what messages work best, how you follow that up with electronic learning, and so on. Everything in the laboratory can be recorded and televised.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we are measuring the impact on the undergraduate and postgraduate students who come in during this exercise and act as role models for these children. So far, although we do not have solid metrics, the indications are really overwhelming. The wealth of enthusiasm that these children show in wanting to come back on leaving the laboratory is outstanding. Teachers seem to be changing how they teach in schools and, as a Russell group university, more and more of our undergraduates want to consider teaching rather than going into the City. We are even starting to initiate a four-year course in physics which, for its last year, will be a teacher training course in physics from Imperial College, in conjunction with another university.
This kind of initiative cannot work unless it is funded but it is not so difficult to fund. With a bit of charitable money, widening participation money and a lower payment from schools than it would cost them to do practical work in their own laboratories, we can fund this activity. We are now branching out to attract the private sector to do work in satellite laboratories around London, in private schools, and more and more we are getting interest from industry. Rolls-Royce has been particularly helpful. Just recently, the BG Group, a massive group with interests in energy, has agreed to fund primary schoolchildren in this laboratory. We are currently going from about six years old up to 18, and we are extremely encouraged not only by the support from the university but by the immense support from schools. The difficulty is actually to get enough schools going in because we are so crowded most of the time.
As I say, this cannot work unless it is rolled out properly but we are already starting to go into partnership with Southampton University. Cambridge is showing an interest and we are doing one on astronomy with Bradford, down the line. We have an indication that Bristol will be interested; King’s College is helping us with the evaluation; Sheffield Hallam University is involved as well. As we increase our impact, more and more universities want to adopt many of the methods that we are undertaking.
I must tell your Lordships that it is really the most wonderful experience. If you think about it, it is blindingly obvious. Most of all, it prevents that major gap between school and university so that universities stop becoming a place to which you cannot aspire. It changes the nature of how children think about universities. That is also really important in career guidance because we can help there, too, with our specialist teachers who obviously help our major schoolmaster. We have specialist teachers in each subject: if it is robotics, we have a robotics expert and if it is biology, I might be dissecting a rat, for example. We can get all these children to have hands-on experience. I finish by telling your Lordships a remarkable thing that a child aged seven said to me the other month, having travelled an hour and a half from Redbridge to South Kensington. As he left the lab at 4.30 in the afternoon—still not wanting to go—he said, “You know, I have learnt more today than I have in my whole life”.
My Lords, I am tempted today to talk about a wide range of policy areas arising: particularly, given my interest in autism, the forthcoming special educational needs, children and family Bill, which is so welcome and was heralded in the Queen’s Speech and in the update given today; or indeed the media and Lord Leveson’s inquiry; or the question of tax relief for charitable donations, on which I agree so strongly with my noble friend Lord Grade and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
However, we are in an exceptional year for heritage with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, for sport with the London Olympics and for culture with the London 2012 festival. Last week, I visited the Olympic park. All around it there are signs of new investment such as Westfield Stratford City shopping centre and Inter IKEA’s investment at Sugar House Lane. After the Olympics, we can expect Lend Lease and London & Continental’s international quarter, Qatari Diar’s East Village and many other exciting projects stimulated by the superb new transport links and the initial Olympic park investment benefiting a huge number of residents of east London. This will have been a huge achievement for all those involved.
That area of London of course forms part of the wider “Tech City” and focuses on the creative industries, digital technology and the cultural industries. It has attracted both large and small business and may well be living up to its description as Europe’s Silicon Valley. I particularly welcome the announcement of a new tax credit for animation, video games and TV drama in the recent Budget.
There are, however, certain misconceptions in considering the future of our creative industries that need to be addressed. First, there is the belief that copyright in this country is inhibiting innovation and that reform will somehow deliver a massive increase in our creative industries’ output, a view held by Professor Hargreaves and, it seems, the IPO. By contrast, the approach of Richard Hooper in laying the ground for the new proposed digital copyright exchange, by engaging with creators and the creative industries, seems to have been wholly constructive. In particular, his early thoughts about improving the licensing of copyright in establishing the ownership of rights and in some cases improving the availability of repertoire have been welcomed by all concerned. However, the Government should think very carefully before attempting to implement the bulk of the other Hargreaves recommendations, such as those on orphan works and extended collective licensing, without addressing issues surrounding moral rights of attribution and the embedding of metadata.
Beyond that, consumers need to have good access to digital creative content, but the Government seem to have changed their mind about a fair share-out of the under-1 gigahertz spectrum under the long delayed 4G auction. They also seem to be ignoring issues relating to interference with digital TV signals. With regard to fibre, we in the Communications Select Committee are discovering that serious thought needs to be given to how to ensure access to trunk networks and dark fibre for small local operators.
We have a massively delayed Green Paper that is due to set out the framework for a new communications Bill. With the advent of internet-enabled television and YouView, policy decisions need to be made as a matter of urgency. The key question is what regulation of internet video material streamed through television is appropriate to protect young people from harmful content as we watch a mixture of linear and on-demand viewing from many sources.
It is clear that, as a co-regulator, ATVOD has learnt from its first years of operation and is anticipating the future regulation of broadcast internet material that may be necessary. Ed Richards, the CEO of Ofcom, flagged this up as a major issue in his speech at the Oxford Media Conference earlier this year. Even though we may have different regulators for different media, we still need a new set of common principles that will apply to the regulation of internet, broadcast and theatrically exhibited material. This is exactly the kind of framework that a new communications Bill needs to address.
Then there is the implementation of the Digital Economy Act. Of course I welcomed the outcomes of the Newzbin2 and Pirate Bay cases but, now that the Act has been judged to be valid under European law, why can we expect implementation of the initial obligations code under the Act in only 2014? In addition, as PhonepayPlus, the regulator, says, there will be a growing convergence in payment mechanisms over the next decade for digital content, and we need to make sure that the regulatory framework is right and the consumer is protected.
A major concern of many in the creative industries and cultural area has been the lack of assertion of our phenomenal talent and skills in that sector abroad. I welcome the activities carried out by UKTI and in particular the appointment of the new intellectual property attachés in China, India and Brazil. Like the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I welcome the great campaign promoting the UK abroad in the creative area, but normally the British Council exists on a shoestring.
The House was very supportive of my Live Music Bill earlier this year and it passed into law in the previous Session. It is not often that, as happened on 20 January, a Bill emerges unscathed from the Commons when 63 other Private Members’ Bills failed. It will make a significant difference to our young musicians, in particular, and I look forward to the revised guidance that is due and to the Act coming into effect in October.
My Lords, the National Health Service in its current form is unsustainable, unsatisfactory and urgently in need of reform. We are paying more for our health services, yet becoming unhealthier as a nation. Britain’s political parties are aware of the health challenges, but none is prepared to tackle the NHS’s long-term lack of sustainability head-on for fear of being crucified by the electorate, yet the result of this failure of political nerve will inevitably lead either to further cuts, rationing and declining public health under Conservative Governments or to effective bankruptcy under the Opposition.
The challenges are well known. Britain is among the worst in Europe for heart disease, and Glasgow is the heart attack capital of the world. As many as a quarter of a million Britons will die from alcohol abuse over the next two decades, while smoking causes over 100,000 deaths annually. Meanwhile, the UK has the highest levels of obesity in Europe, with one in four British adults being labelled obese. The cost to the NHS of obesity-related illnesses is expected to increase to £2 billion by 2030. By 2035, spending on diabetes, the majority of which is wholly avoidable and linked to diet, will cost the NHS £16.8 billion. Add to that an ageing population, with both sexes living to an average age of 87 by 2030, and this country is facing a health crisis of monumental proportions. The current younger generation will be the first generation in modern history to live shorter lives than their parents, although they will have the burden of paying for them, if they are lucky enough to have a job.
The NHS employs more than 1.7 million people, just under half of them clinically qualified. The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe. In fact, only the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Indian Railways employ more people. The NHS already costs the general taxpayer over £106 billion a year, and that bill may triple by 2025. As much as I like and respect my current NHS GP, Dr Victoria Muir, our National Health Service is not delivering for the British people and the existing model, paid for from general taxation, is unsustainable.
There needs to be a fat tax levied on the purveyors of cheap, so-called fast foods, which are costing the rest of us so dear. It will not be penalising the poor; by saving their lives, we will be doing them a favour. In an ideal world, people would voluntarily change their lifestyles, but we all know simple invocation does not work. We need compulsory healthy cooking lessons in schools and the imposition of a minimum 50p per unit on alcohol, as recently proposed in Scotland. While avoiding the pitfalls of US Medicare and of Americanising our health services, we should move to a comprehensive social insurance system of health funding, retaining the principle of universal care at the point of need, but where people are also encouraged to take responsibility for their own lifestyle choices. The present health system guarantees that, however feckless the individual, the general taxpayer will pick up the tab.
Our current health service is an unfair lottery, where patients get not what they need, but what the NHS tells them it can afford, and where preventive care is either poor or non-existent because it is not seen as a budgetary priority. The best drugs available should be prescribed, rather than those deemed affordable by the NHS. This can be achieved by adopting a continental-style health insurance scheme, which would not only improve the quality of choice and care but empower patients, rather than commissioning GPs, to choose where and when they are treated, and by whom.
My Lords, I will focus my brief remarks on those elements of the Government’s programme that relate to higher education. What is most striking is that there is so much missing. Last year’s Students at the Heart of the System White Paper promised us a higher education Bill in this Session. That has not materialised, although the Government have said that we may see a draft Bill in the new year.
My first anxiety centres on funding. In the 2010 spending review, the average cut in departmental expenditure was 11.7%. BIS did considerably worse than the average, suffering a 29% cut. In 2012-13, that translated into an 18% cut in recurrent funding to HEIs. For most institutions, this will be more than offset by the increase in income from tuition fees, but this year’s Budget made it clear that there are further cuts to come. Departmental budgets will be cut by an average of 3.8% a year between 2015 and 2017. Therefore, it seems inevitable that the cuts will need to be bigger than they were last time. However, the political climate is much more difficult now. Those cuts that might be regarded as having been more straightforward have already been made. The question for universities is whether BIS will again face a larger-than-average cut and, if so, how that will translate into university finances.
The proportion of university funds that comes from the state will fall to around 40% following the shift to higher fees this September. Nevertheless, universities are still highly dependent on public funding for research, as well as for supporting high-cost subjects and activities such as widening participation. If university budgets were to be targeted for hasher cuts in the next spending round, what else could be cut? The research budget and the all-important science ring-fence that protects it could start to look vulnerable. Universities can make an excellent case that cutting back on research that drives innovation and inward investment in the UK is economically suicidal. Universities are essential to the Government’s core purpose of—in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in opening this debate—“sustainable recovery”. Therefore, I look to the Minister’s reply for reassurance on the Government’s commitment to research funding.
My second anxiety is about the impact of student numbers in the private sector. This matters because at the moment a growing number of private higher education providers have access to public funds via student loans but remain largely unregulated. These private providers will not be subject to the £9,000 fee cap, financial scrutiny by the Higher Education Funding Council or, for example, oversight by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. From September, students at such institutions will be able to access loans of up to £6,000 if their course is one of those that has been designated—to use the jargon—for student support. I have no objection to this. However, I note that because of the delayed introduction of the higher education Bill, the Government will not be able to control the student numbers on such courses.
Those numbers are, at present, relatively small; there were around 6,000 full-time students in 2009. However, applications are growing rapidly, partly because of constraints on student numbers in the publicly funded part of the sector. We do not know a great deal about enrolment in private providers because they do not provide data to HESA, but it is known that the Government spent around £33 million on loans to students in these institutions in 2010-11. With the maximum loan to students at these institutions almost doubling to £6,000 in September, we know that expenditure will increase to somewhere in the region of £100 million without factoring in any significant expansion.
I fear that, in the absence of the higher education Bill, there will be no means of either controlling costs or protecting student interests. For that reason alone, the Government should act swiftly, either to impose a moratorium on the designation of courses for student support or to enable those measures that are necessary to bring private providers into line with other institutions. In his reply, will the Minister tell me how the Government propose to control expenditure on loans to students at private institutions, given that they cannot control numbers?
Finally, I should briefly like to mention the communications Bill, which we are told to expect in draft next year. This Bill would, among other things, implement the recommendations of the Hargreaves review and introduce new copyright exceptions for research activity, such as text and data mining. That is important because our copyright regime currently prevents academics from making use of technology to search and compare published research. Many of our competitors in other countries do not face the same restrictions, which places the UK at a distinct disadvantage. Freeing researchers to use the potential of this technology will, I believe, deliver real benefits to UK research. Hargreaves’s proposals were entirely sensible. I welcome the fact that the Government have agreed to adopt them and I look forward to the relevant legislation being introduced.
My Lords, the Dilnot commission report on the funding of social care states:
“We should be celebrating the fact we are living longer and that younger people with disabilities are leading more independent lives than ever before. But instead we talk about the ‘burden of ageing’ and individuals are living in fear, worrying about meeting their care costs”.
I hope that the draft Bill will allow the Government to take an imaginative and forward-looking approach to the way in which we support those providing care so that we do it in a way that is fit for the modern world in which people now live.
Carers UK, in its report Growing the Care Market, sets out the costs of failures in social care and the economic opportunities of stimulating the care market. It has been estimated that 1 million people have given up work or have reduced working hours in order to care—in other words, about one in six of all carers. Figures published recently from the London School of Economics show that the public spending cost of carers giving up work to care for ill or disabled people is £1.3 billion each year in lost tax revenues and additional welfare payments. That is an enormous cost for not having got the system right.
A Carers UK survey of more than 4,000 carers found that 31% of working-age carers gave up work in order to care or reduced their working hours because local care services were unsuitable—they were too expensive, inflexible, unreliable or of poor quality. The peak age for carers is between 45 and 65, a time when people tend to be at the peak of their careers, their knowledge and their experience. Carers often have multiple responsibilities. If they give up their work to care, their experience is often lost in the long term from the workforce because when they try to return they may have difficulty in regaining a job.
The lack of adequate social care has a knock-on effect on healthcare. Very often, healthcare delivery is suffering because social care cannot be put in place. Patients do not come out of hospital as rapidly as they could because care packages are not in place or have broken down, or the additional supplement in care that they need cannot be provided within the resources of social care delivery. The scheme Employers for Carers, set up through Carers UK, recognises that a good system of care and support should be part of being a good employer. There are some interesting and innovative examples of supporting and providing leave arrangements for the workforce. Centrica British Gas found that special leave arrangements for carers delivers a bottom-line return of about £1 million a year.
There is also interesting experience from abroad. The Work and Care Act in the Netherlands provides a right to various forms of leave for working carers, with paid emergency leave of typically one day, short-term carer’s leave, which is reimbursed at approximately 70% of pay for a maximum of 10 days, and provision for long-term care leave. Poland has provision for short-term leave of up to two weeks a year with financial compensation at 80% of the average monthly wage over the previous 12 months.
In France, family care leave was introduced in 2006. There is an entitlement to unpaid leave if the carer is looking after a disabled relative or dependant. There is another leave option called family solidarity leave, which is available to employees to care for a relative with a life-threatening or terminal illness. There is also the opportunity for leave entitlements based on the working hours reduction, whereby leave can be accumulated over time up to 24 days, which can then be taken later on if people need it to provide care for a family member. In Canada, too, legislation allows carers leave from employment when they are caring for a relative who is terminally ill—this is called compassionate care benefits.
These measures are all operating in different healthcare systems and areas, but it is interesting to see that in different parts of the world the problem of carers and the need for families to be able to provide care has been looked at—and the solutions may in some ways be adaptable to the UK experience. Whatever we do and whatever emerges, it must be portable, so that if a person moves nearer their family their care is not jeopardised, and it must involve the person and their family in the assessment of care and provide information on how the family can access support and help.
Much care is provided through the voluntary sector. I welcome the Government’s statement that they will bring forward legislation that will decrease the burden on charities, enabling them to claim additional payments on small donations, because charities at the moment are finding it difficult to continue to meet their care obligations. That will be an important and positive part. But we also have a large number of unpaid volunteers who provide important care.
On a completely separate note and topic, I commend the Government for facing up to the problem of alcohol abuse and its related economic and social damage to the fabric of society. The proposals on minimum pricing are welcome, but a price that is a permanently fixed tariff will be diminished in effectiveness by inflation over time. I therefore urge the Government to consider a minimum price linked to another independent mark of cost of living expenses, which can then keep pace with alcohol prices over time and is consistent across the four nations of the UK.
At today’s cost of living indices, a 40p minimum unit price is projected to result in 1,180 fewer deaths and 38,000 fewer hospital admissions annually, whereas if it were set at the proposed Scottish level of 50p the projections of benefit rise and are more than doubled to almost 3,000 fewer deaths each year and 92,000 fewer hospital admissions.
My Lords, I would like to address the impact on Britain’s media businesses of the legislation in the gracious Speech. I declare my interest as director of the Telegraph Media Group and draw attention to my other media interests in the register.
As noble Lords will be aware, these are not easy days for Britain’s newspaper and magazine industry, which is part of a publishing sector that employs 250,000 people. The inexorable, quickening pace of profound structural change in the industry, arising from the growth of digital media and the fracturing of audiences and advertising, combined with a very deep recession, has placed media businesses under serious commercial pressure. Then there is the long shadow cast by the Leveson inquiry and the menacing calls from some of the witnesses who have appeared before it for ever tighter restrictions on the media at a time when, commercially, they need much less regulation, not much more, if they are to survive. For some businesses, we should be in no doubt that survival really is a challenge.
Against that background, a number of measures outlined in the gracious Speech, with one exception I shall come on to, provide a rare glint of sunlight to pierce the May gloom. If not quite three cheers for the Government, there will certainly be two from the hard-pressed business of journalism. The loudest cheer will be for the excellent news that we are finally going to have a Defamation Bill to reform our oppressive and antiquated libel laws, which for far too long have had a serious chilling impact on reporting and investigation across the media. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I hope that it will succeed in ending the scandal of libel tourism. We need to ensure that this Bill really will create the new, robust and workable defences needed to protect investigative journalism in the digital age of the 21st century. I am sure that the chances of that will have been greatly increased as a result of the careful scrutiny given to it by the Joint Committee so expertly chaired by my noble friend Lord Mawhinney, to which the Minister has already referred.
Key to the legislation will be a trio of tasks: first, to ensure that court action is restricted only to cases where the most serious and substantial harm to an individual’s reputation truly is at issue; secondly, to reduce the complexity and hence the cost of proceedings; and, thirdly, to give the Reynolds defence real bite by ensuring that there are strong practical defences to provide protection for legitimate investigative reporting. In order to deliver real change, it will be vital that the Government maintain a constructive dialogue with all the different parts of the media during the Bill’s passage. My noble friend Lord McNally has already shown himself to be a willing and constructive listener. There will be improvements to explore as well as potential pitfalls to avoid, in particular any extension of courts’ powers to dictate what goes on a newspaper’s front page. I know that newspaper publishers and editors at national and regional level stand ready to assist.
Another cheer is for the Crime and Courts Bill, which will introduce cameras into some courts. It is now nearly a quarter of a century ago that regional and national newspaper publishers took part in the very first working group to look at court broadcasting. This shows that perseverance pays. All those with a commitment to open justice and the public’s right to know will now hope for a swift rollout from Court of Appeal cases to the sentencing remarks of judges in the local Crown Court. This would help enrich online court coverage, particularly for Britain’s regional press for which this issue is very important, and rapidly increase public understanding of the work of the courts. I am sure that this legislation will be a great success and I hope that Britain’s media companies, along with the Society of Editors which has also worked very hard to bring this about, can on the back of it persuade the Government and the judiciary that responsible coverage of whole trials, with suitable safeguards, should not now be indefinitely delayed.
So hearty cheers for those two Bills, but there is not one, I am afraid, for parts of the justice and security Bill which point in the opposite direction to the openness of the Crime and Courts Bill. Proposals for the extension of closed material proceedings barring press and public from access to hearings and evidence in some civil cases brought against the Government open up the prospect of secret justice rather than open justice. I will not go too much further just in case my noble friend accuses me of being swept away in the tsunami of overhyped hysteria, but there are some serious issues here, as my noble friend Lady Berridge mentioned. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has already expressed deep concern about the paucity of evidence in the Green Paper which foreshadowed this Bill to justify the proposals and its failure to consider the impact of such a radical departure from long established principles of open justice on the media’s ability to report matters of public interest. I am sure that we will have important debates in this House on this vital issue, as we will on the draft communications data Bill, which has a potentially serious impact on the confidentiality of journalistic sources.
I do not want to trespass onto tomorrow’s economic business but I also commend the commitment to introduce the enterprise and regulatory reform Bill. Many local newspaper businesses in particular, like many of the creative industries, which are often small-scale start-ups, continue to suffer from the burdens of bureaucracy and red tape. I agree with my noble friend Lord Grade: let the bonfire of regulations begin. I believe that this Bill may do something to get the flames going. I hope that ways might also be found to speed, simplify and cut the costs of the frankly Byzantine processes that local newspapers have to go through to change ownership. At the moment, too many local newspapers are still closing because of the fear of the burdens and cost of a Competition Commission referral. This Bill would be a good place to start wholesale reform of the system in a way that would be of real value to local communities up and down the country. It would be a real policy for growth.
There is a great deal to be welcomed in the gracious Speech for those of us who have an interest in freedom of expression and in the protection of investigative journalism. I hope that the Defamation Bill, in particular, can now make speedy progress through Parliament as the changes within it cannot come a moment too soon.
My Lords, I am very pleased to take this opportunity to speak on the gracious Speech and I do so partly with my new hat on. From about now, I shall be the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities on these Benches, and it is about equalities that I intend to speak today.
First, I pay tribute to the health team on these Benches, including my noble friend Lord Beecham, whom I was privileged to lead for two years. I assure them that I shall be with them in spirit, and occasionally in body, as and when required by the new shadow Minister, my noble friend Lord Hunt, ably supported by my noble friends Lady Wheeler and Lord Collins. Of course, I need to add that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I have been opposite each other for more than four years. Although we have done battle over some issues, I hope that I have always treated with respect his knowledge and forensic questioning, and certainly I could not have had a more charming and able opposite number. I look forward to working with the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, with a similar good relationship.
I intend to limit my remarks to three matters: equal marriage, the fact that the Government’s comprehensive spending review failed the equality test in some significant areas, and today’s announcement concerning the outcome of the Red Tape Challenge and reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I regard these matters as perfectly relevant to our debates on the humble Address either by their omission or due to the effect of government policies or legislation.
One of the many things not in the gracious Speech was a commitment to follow through on the consultation on equal civil marriage and to bring forward legislation in this Session. Appeasement of Conservative Back-Benchers seems to have been unkindly suggested. Indeed, Craig Whittaker, MP For Calder Valley, in his blog on 8 May warns the leader of his party that he will vote against equal marriage because he believes that it will lead to polygamous relationships. He says that in British Columbia there were major attempts to legalise polygamy through the courts using the precedent of same-sex marriage. Of course, Ms Nadine Dorries can always be relied upon. She says:
“Gay marriage is a policy which has been pursued by the metro elite gay activists and needs to be put into the same bin”.
She goes on:
“The policy is divisive, unpopular with the public, is tearing the Conservative Party apart”,
and then in somewhat contradictory fashion she says,
“and will influence absolutely no one in terms of the way they vote in the future”.
I can see why David Cameron might not wish to expose some of the more eccentric views of some of his Back-Benchers in this debate but, as Trevor Phillips, the respected and retiring chair of the EHRC, said on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the truth is that, because there is policy agreement across the main parties, we should “get on with it”. We managed to get the Equality Act through Parliament at the end of the previous Government’s term largely through cross-party co-operation. The Liberal Democrat Benches, the Conservative Benches and the then government Benches worked together to get through those parts that we could agree on. Surely equal marriage must be a candidate for such expedition. Certainly we on these Benches would welcome such a move.
The consultation closes on 14 June. Depending on its results, the Government could easily commit to having a draft Bill in Parliament in the autumn and have equal marriage on the statute book by the time of the next Queen’s Speech. How wonderful would that be, and why not?
Yesterday’s report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows serious shortcomings in the Government’s approach to meeting their responsibility to assess the impact on equality of their policies—in this case, the public spending cuts. The Equality Act set out specific duties on all public sector bodies to assess the impact of their policies by gender, disability status and ethnicity. As figures emerged that around 70% of the additional burden from tax credit changes, benefit cuts and changes to public sector pensions in the spending review and emergency Budget would fall on women, unsurprisingly doubts emerged about whether this duty was being taken seriously by the Government.
It seems from the report that Ministers were in such a rush to make cuts that decisions were being taken without stopping to make sure that their impact was being properly analysed. So while in six of the nine areas that the commission examined in detail it believes that the basic requirements of the duty were met, it points out that the Government often cited insufficient data as a reason for not examining the gender impacts of cuts, an assertion challenged by the Institute for Fiscal Studies among others. The Home Office—the Minister for Equality's own department—is particularly singled out for criticism as providing,
“no data or analysis on the potential impact of the Home Office's measures on race, gender or disability equality, to take into consideration when deciding the Home Office's settlement”.
That is a remarkable statement.
In three key areas—the introduction of the household benefit cap, the impact of cuts to the bus service operators grant and the abolition of the educational maintenance allowance—the commission was,
“unable to establish whether or not the decisions were in full accord with the requirements of the duty”.
For example, the gender impact of the household benefit cap was listed as “unknown”, despite the fact that subsequent analysis revealed that 60% of those affected would be single women and just 3% single men. I could go on.
Notwithstanding the Government’s inability to provide statistics, the House of Commons Library’s research showed that of nearly £15 billion cuts in tax, benefit and pensions announced in the emergency Budget, spending reviews 2011 and 2012 and the 2011 Autumn Statement, 74% of that—£11 billion—is being shouldered by women. That might possibly explain why the Government were having such trouble attracting women to their cause.
I turn to the announcement that we had today. The Home Secretary told the media that she has the EHRC under control through her response to the outcome of the Government's equalities Red Tape Challenge and the reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. My honourable friend the shadow Equalities Minister, Kate Green MP, said that at a time when many people across the country are losing their jobs and feeling financially squeezed and are increasingly worried about poverty, it is disappointing that the Government have chosen to continue watering down those provisions in the Equality Act that are intended to protect and support those who face discrimination and disadvantage. She is correct. I ask the Minister whether it is the Government’s intention to cut further the resources available to the EHRC and, if so, by how much. I specifically want to raise the Government’s proposed framework for the EHRC, which seems to see it reporting to the Home Office rather than directly to Parliament. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case? I shall be happy to receive a letter on that.
I am old enough to remember the destructive work of the previous Conservative Government in this regard. I can remember the Equality Commission having its funding and powers cut. I can remember the Commission for Racial Equality finding itself under attack. It feels as though the salami slicing of resources and powers that went on then may be going on now. I am afraid that the warm words of Theresa May, Lynne Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, saying how much they are committed to the equalities agenda—I know that they are—will only amount to something if they are judged by their actions and by the outcomes of discriminated groups. The test will be if people, individuals, groups, organisations, public bodies, businesses and employers understand their responsibilities, rights and duties and if people can easily access information and advice about discrimination and be supported to take action. I think that I have just written my own job description and I look forward to it.
My Lords, it is after 10 o’clock; I am speaker number 57; I am on camera, as all of us have been; and the sky has not fallen in—as it has not over the many years of debates being broadcast from this and another Chamber. That may be enough for now on cameras in court save to say, in answer to the concern that counsel will play to the gallery—and this may be a risky observation—don’t they always?
In this House it is not just what you do but how you do it that matters. I am looking forward to seeing how the Government have responded to pre-legislative scrutiny —much mention has been made of the Defamation Bill—and how they have built on that sort of scrutiny. I am also pleased that we are starting on a new way of looking at how legislation that was passed a while ago is working.
The Queen’s Speech does not deal as much with the way Parliament does things as with what the Government plan to do, but I will mention one other aspect of the “how”. In no way is this aimed at our new Chairman of Committees, whom I welcome to his office. Indeed, I think that he may have sympathy with the point that the governance of our House is outdated. I use this opportunity to make the simple point that all our officeholders, not just the Lord Speaker, should be elected by their peers on the basis of a job description and a fixed term of office—instead of just emerging.
From the Government’s programme, on the issue of governance, the oversight of the security and intelligence agencies will present us with a challenge. How do we ensure good governance when access to the subject matter is restricted? It will be difficult to achieve public trust without complete transparency. I do not diminish the importance of the new National Crime Agency, but we will be debating it at Second Reading of the Crime and Courts Bill in less than two weeks.
To readers of Hansard looking for a mention of their own area of interest, I say that time constrains us. To those who say that reform of the House will crowd out everything else, I say that there will be a direct correlation with the number of times that we politicians feel the need to repeat the arguments. I understand, incidentally, that we have one day to cover so many subjects, compared with two days on constitutional issues, because the Opposition requested two days of debate on the constitution.
My Lords, I have to set this canard straight—or whatever the expression is. Perhaps I have to shoot the canard and set the record straight. The Government came forward not just with a suggestion but saying that there would be two days of constitutional debate and that the other days would be apportioned as they are now. The Opposition said, “No, we do not think it is a good idea to have two days of debate on constitutional reform”. However, the Government chose to do that; it was not at the request of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The House heard what the noble Baroness said. I was informed by somebody very close to the decisions. If it is a question of setting the canard straight, do I say “quack”?
The Government have a lot to deal with that will not be solved by legislation. That point was raised by a number of noble Lords; it was never going to be a panacea. Conversely, I congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken in the Ministry of Justice to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
One matter that is more often the subject of secondary legislation and rules is that of immigration, and the huge issue of the values and attitudes that underlie it. However, legislation will not address the two issues that I now mention. One is the problem of delays by the UK Border Agency. Here I am talking not about queues but about the issuing of visas—something that businesses find immensely frustrating. Nor am I talking about what many of us regard as the inappropriate inclusion of students in immigration totals. The Government are concerned that to exclude them would be fiddling the figures; our concern is that their inclusion distorts the real picture.
Sometimes legislation is needed, and I am disappointed that there is no Bill on the presumption of death of people who are missing. It was not until I saw the work of the charity Missing People that I came to understand how many practical and financial—leaving aside emotional—problems there are for families. The Justice Committee made recommendations and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has brought forward a Private Member’s Bill.
It is right that there is no Bill but that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny of provisions covering access to communications data. Scrutiny means testing the evidence, and parliamentarians need public debate between experts on both technology and security. We cannot turn back the clock. Perhaps I should be talking about technologies in the plural. Certainly we have moved on—not just from when we communicated by letter, but from when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was passed. We must not miss this chance to re-examine what is in place now to ensure our freedoms under the rule of law, which includes revisiting RIPA. I might also revisit the issue of legal professional privilege. It does not take a crystal ball to predict that the use of closed proceedings will get a thorough scrutiny too, although I hope that when we see the Bill it will be less—I search for an adjective—extreme than what was, after all, only a Green Paper. I noticed, however, that last week the Home Secretary talked in the Commons about,
“proposals to deal with the limitations of the current court rules which do not allow sensitive intelligence evidence to be heard in civil proceedings, even where it is of central relevance to the case”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/5/12; col. 177.]
That is not so. It is not the rules of court, it is the security services which withhold the information. Parliament is—and should be—in the business of protecting our freedoms in the complicated society which is the 21st century. Society changes, challenges to freedoms may change, but the freedoms themselves are millennia old. At the start of the service on the first night of the Jewish festival of Passover, which is about freedom, the service describes it thus:
“Freedom from bondage and freedom from oppression, freedom from hunger and freedom from want, freedom from hatred and freedom from fear, freedom to think and freedom to speak, freedom to learn and freedom to love, freedom to hope and freedom to rejoice”.
That is still entirely relevant.
My Lords, being the last Back-Bencher to speak, I thought I would talk about an issue that was not actually legislation in the gracious Speech; there was a statement of intent that the:
“Government will continue to work with the fifteen other Commonwealth Realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the Crown”.
This is interpreted to mean that the eldest child, of either sex, would inherit the Crown and there would no longer be a ban on Roman Catholics inheriting. I suggest that this is not before time. The Prime Minister has also been quoted as saying that he will introduce legislation before the next election, so there is clearly not much hurry there.
Given that today’s debate includes legal issues, I thought it would be useful to suggest that this legislation should be extended to clarify the status and role of the Duchy of Cornwall. I raised this briefly during debate on the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill, for reasons I will explain later. The main issue to be resolved is whether the Duchy is a private or public body, something in between or outside the law completely. As a representative of the Duchy claimed at a hearing of the First-tier Tribunal of the General Regulatory Council, which I quoted,
“the Duchy is not democratically accountable in any meaningful sense”.
I believe that it is time that it was. I have since uncovered a further list of rights, duties and obligations that the Duchy still has. Some are effectively dormant, some are used occasionally and some rather more frequently, but there is the threat of use and a lack of democratic accountability on all these counts. I shall quickly list them. One involves the harbour authority of the Isles of Scilly, which includes the right to create by-laws and breaching them would be a criminal offence, which would be rather odd if a private person was able to do it. The Duchy is a major landowner in much of Cornwall. Some say it is a good landowner, some say otherwise, but that is no great surprise. What is missing is the leaseholders’ ability to get enfranchisement or be able to buy the freehold of their property. If they were council tenants they would have been able to do that for years, but you cannot do that with the Duchy. The Duchy also has the right to Crown immunity. I understand that between 2003 and 2008 it made some £43 million in capital gains and did not pay any capital gains tax on that sum.
I turn now to more interesting issues. The Duchy has the right to any whale, sturgeon or porpoise that gets landed in the county. I am not sure whether the present Prince of Wales would exercise that privilege, and quite right too. The Duchy is the Receiver of Wrecks, and again, why is this different in Cornwall? It also has the right to the gold and silver mined in the county. It is interesting to note that apparently the Crown Estate is challenging this right. It is not the Government and it is not the Royal Family challenging each other; perhaps there is an argument for putting them all into one pot.
The Duchy owns the foreshore and fundus in Cornwall, so if you want to play on the beach or use a ferry, you have to pay a sort of tax to the Duchy. I believe that it is proposing to charge those people who want to use metal detectors on the beach £50 to do so. That is not done anywhere else in the country, so why should Cornwall be able to do it?
The next two things are much more difficult. Bona vacantia and escheat concern treasure trove, something that we all understand. Basically, it means that the Duchy has the right to ownerless property, goods and treasure. Is that a right for a private individual or a public body? There is also an obligation to meet part of the costs of the head of state—something we have debated often enough—and to submit accounts to Parliament. There is a right to be consulted on and give consent to Bills that affect the private interests of the Prince of Wales. That, too, is a good one.
No doubt there are many more of these issues, but the most important one is that the Duchy has the right to be represented by the Attorney-General. It would be nice to be represented by the Attorney-General at no cost. This is really why I tabled an amendment to the legal aid Bill because it is unfair that people who have a dispute with the Duchy have to provide for their own costs while the Duchy can use as much of the state legal machinery as it wants. Again, that is pretty unfair.
What should be done about this? There is a Bill in the Queen’s Speech which I mentioned earlier. At the moment we have the Duchy of Cornwall owned by Prince Charles as if it was his private fiefdom. It does not have any democratic accountability. Its tenants are left effectively without any means of making complaints because they know that if they do so, they will be treated rather badly. Why should an unelected body not only have such powers, but go on to claim that it is not even a public body at all, as it has done? It is as if it sees itself as sort of floating above the riff raff as it is not democratically accountable in any meaningful sense.
I suggest that it is time to modernise the Duchy and put it on a modern footing, or possibly dissolve it. The problem of revenue for Prince Charles could be solved through the Crown Estate because this year the Government have introduced a new law which says that the Royal Family should get 15% of the Crown Estate’s revenue. I did ask whether the Crown Estate has a forward budget and I was told it does not, but as it is to get a slice of all the revenue from the windmills that are being put up around our coast, I think that there is probably plenty of money around. I suggest that Duchy tenants should be allowed the right to buy their houses or properties as if they were council tenants, which in any case would be good revenue for the Treasury. Most important, the Duchy should not have Crown immunity and we should not need to ask permission to promote Bills that affect the Prince of Wales’s private interests. Moreover, the free legal services of the Attorney-General, although very nice, should be abolished. All these things are pretty important in order to bring the Duchy into the 21st century.
It may even be best to transfer all the residual rights to the Crown Estate and abolish the Duchy completely. Land could be handed to the local council. Would it be nationalised or was it nationalised already? That is a debate we can have, but anyway it could be done on the basis of localism, with surplus going to the Treasury. The harbour of the Isles of Scilly could be transferred to the council, or turned into a trust port, with enough land to help it. There is an awful lot to do and a lot of uncertainty about all this, and it is very unfair on people who are trying to do business or take action against the Duchy that there are all these things stacked up against them. I hope that the Government will look at this and take it forward.
In closing, I must challenge the statement by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, in his response to me in that debate in January, when he said it was for the courts to decide whether a body is a public authority. He might be right if it is just the Human Rights Act we are talking about, but I suggest that it is for Parliament to decide and it is for the Government to start this process. I hope they will soon.
My Lords, I begin by joining the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his tribute to my noble friend Lord Bach, who has given 14 years of most distinguished service on both the government and opposition Front Benches. It was a particular pleasure for me to work with him on the Legal Aid Bill—about the only aspect of that which gave me pleasure. Your Lordships will recall the famous declaration of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, that, “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie”—so does the Labour Front Bench. We will miss him enormously. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Thornton, who has done a remarkable job, both in government and in opposition, particularly over the many months during which the Health and Social Care Bill was debated in your Lordships’ House.
Today we have at last moved on from the seemingly interminable debate about Lords reform which has so gripped the popular imagination. However, the Queen’s Speech—though, as ever, gracious—might be thought to suffer by comparison with “The King’s Speech” in terms of both its content and dramatic impact. True, there is at least one feature in common: the leitmotif of “The King’s Speech” is a monarch with a stutter; the background to the Queen’s Speech is a Government in charge of a stuttering economy. The difference is that the King took steps to deal with his problem. The Queen’s Speech betrays little evidence of a Government with the will or capability of doing likewise.
In a recent debate, I briefly entertained the noble Lord, Lord Henley, with a reference to Dickens. As it is Dickens’s bicentenary year, I will draw on him again for it seems to me that this Government increasingly resemble the theatrical troupe in “Nicholas Nickleby”, with the Prime Minister as Vincent Crummles and the Chancellor as the “Infant Phenomenon”.
It is as instructive to consider what is not in the Government’s programme as it is to ponder what is. As several of my noble friends and indeed other noble Lords have pointed out, there is nothing on social care beyond a limited draft Bill. There is nothing likely to make a significant difference to the economy and job creation. The noble Lord, Lord Grade, is wrong if he believes that we are more heavily regulated than our competitors. In the light of his rather reactionary views about these matters, he might consider adding the prefix “retro-” to his surname.
Those are not the only areas in which the Queen’s Speech is lacking. There is nothing to tackle the growing housing problem, forced marriage or media ownership, despite the urgings of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. The cry there is, “Wait for Leveson”, although his inquiry’s brief does not run that far. I suspect that we might as well be waiting for Godot, and the same goes for legislation on lobbying, much talked about but by no means visible.
What chiefly characterises the Government’s programme, legislative and otherwise, is its underlying ideology, resting as it does on an aversion to public services and an almost unquestioning espousal of the merits of the market, privatisation and, increasingly, payment by results—although I hope for the sake of Ministers that that rule will not apply to them.
Alongside these dogmas, we see also the fragmentation of local government and local accountability, with councils and, for that matter, parents being completely sidelined in education and accountability being directed upwards to the Secretary of State. Talk of freeing schools from council control is specious: it is many years since councils controlled schools. What we are seeing, to the growing dismay of the teaching profession and others, is an unseemly, competitive scramble rather than the co-operation of the whole education service in the interests of the whole community.
Similarly in policing, as my noble friend Lord Mackenzie reminded us, November will witness, at a cost of £70 million, the election of 41 police commissioners controlling 11% of council tax in England but at a remove from local authorities. Turnout in the recent local elections was disappointingly low. How many people will turn out in a cold and damp November to vote for this new and unsought-for position? I note in passing that there will apparently be no turnout of Liberal Democrat candidates, as they profess now to oppose the creation of the posts for which they voted when the legislation was passed.
In the matter of voter participation, how will the Government ensure that, under their electoral registration Bill, the fears of the Electoral Commission about a significant drop in registration are not realised? This is especially important given the pending boundary review and the frequency of future reviews.
Let us at least, however, celebrate the inclusion in the gracious Speech of the worthy Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which will be for ever more the talk of Tesco.
In the realm of crime and justice, there are five Bills. Reform of the law of defamation is welcome, as many of your Lordships have commented today, especially since it will bring, one hopes, an end to libel tourism. We need to ensure that access to redress is available to victims of limited means, and we will want to examine what is meant by “serious harm” to reputation, not so much for companies and corporate bodies as for individuals who may feel that they have been defamed. Similarly, moves to reduce reoffending and encourage effective community sentences will also receive our support, though we will wish to ensure that the punitive aspects do not outweigh the constructive.
However, just as the Labour Government might legitimately be held to have laid greater stress on being tough on crime than on the causes of crime, so the Crime and Courts Bill should not stand alone. What is needed is a recognition that early intervention and the involvement of many agencies of government, local and national, will be required if the indicators and predictors of offending, ranging from poor literacy and numeracy skills to early parenthood, unemployment and the high prevalence of mental health problems and personality disorders, are not to continue damaging lives and communities. This requires the kind of whole-system approach advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, in relation to health and social care. In addition, it is time to address the problems implicit in the disproportionate number of defendants from black and minority ethnic communities being denied bail or sentenced to imprisonment compared to other defendants tried for comparable offences and with comparable backgrounds.
We will also support proposals—although one listened with care to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—to make it an offence to drive under the influence of drugs. That seems a very sensible measure, although what she said today will need to be very carefully considered.
The justice and security Bill raises serious issues and will need careful scrutiny. The notion of secret trials or inquests, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, or of evidence given without the possibility of rebuttal, would be a major departure from our traditions, not lightly to be undertaken. In the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kerr, in the Supreme Court, to be truly valuable,
“evidence must be capable of withstanding challenge. I go further. Evidence which has been insulated from challenge may positively mislead”.
While the protection of the public is paramount, it is necessary to maintain and, where appropriate, reinforce judicial and independent scrutiny of the security and intelligence services so that the rights of the individual are not impaired without the most thorough scrutiny and the most cogent reasons.
In relation to closed-material procedures, the Government's proposals go further than in any other country surveyed in their Justice and Security Green Paper, including the USA. We understand that part of the rationale for the Government’s proposals lies in fears that the US may be less disposed to share intelligence information without them. The recent experience of the US over the underpants bomber and the dissemination of information—which undoubtedly they wish had not been disclosed, though it had nothing to do with this country—makes that claim worthy of the most careful exploration.
I endorse and welcome the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on these matters. I echo his doubts about the proposed national crime agency and there being single court systems. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, on the difficulties that may be occasioned in the perception of local justice with the closure of magistrates’ courts. I share her reservations about single lay magistrates sitting and taking decisions.
As ever, the Opposition will do their duty in scrutinising this and other legislation, improving it where possible and opposing it where necessary under the rubric which I have voiced before and make no apology for repeating: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue”. Of course, we will hold the Government to account for their sins of omission, too. We invite other Members to join us in so doing.
My Lords, I rise as the 60th speaker in this debate and the House will be grateful that I am the last. The House will be even more grateful that, when I looked at the list yesterday, it looked as though there would be 76 speakers in the debate. At that point, I did my sums and worked out that I could devote something of the order of 20 seconds to each speaker. That has presumably increased by some marginal amount but not much. I make that point purely to make it clear that I cannot devote that much time to every individual speech. I hope that, where appropriate, I will be able to write and respond to the points that have been made.
As always, it has been a very wide-ranging debate. We have covered quite a number of different departments —the Department for Education, DCMS, my own department the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions. I think I have been associated with virtually every one of those departments at one time or other, with the exception of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I hope that I can still respond to some of those points.
As always, considerable expertise has been shown by noble Lords from all sides of the House. I will pick out one or two examples. We were very grateful for the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who served on the Dilnot commission and comes with his experience as a former Health Minister. We look forward to the help, advice and constructive criticism—and, no doubt, unconstructive criticism—that he will give in due course as various bits of legislation go through. Turning to the Cross Benches, again I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who comes with his experience as chief executive of Turning Point. I offer him my thanks for the various trips that he has arranged for me to see some of those organisations. I particularly remember one—I think it was in Manchester. If it was a Thursday it must have been Manchester; it was that sort of visit. I am grateful to him for doing that.
Turning to my own Benches, I am glad as always that my noble friend Lord Colwyn brought his experience as a dentist, of dentistry and the NHS and dentistry. Turning to my noble friends on the Lib Dem Benches, I was particularly grateful to have two eminent QCs in the form of my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames offering their advice on some of the Home Office and Ministry of Justice Bills. My noble friend Lord McNally and I certainly look forward to their very helpful advice and constructive criticism on the Crime and Courts Bill, no doubt on the communications data Bill in due course, the justice and security Bill and the Defamation Bill. I think I can say on behalf of myself and my noble friend that if we do not get as much support as we should have on those Bills, we will send them off to help out on the Trusts (Capital and Income) Bill. I think that they will find that somewhat drier a matter to deal with.
As I said, we have dealt with a whole range of points. I want briefly to touch on some of the points that do not really relate to the Queen’s Speech but deserve passing mention. I start by dealing with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and echoed by others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. They regretted that there was no higher education Bill and that there have been delays in this area. The right reverend Prelate and others will have to accept that there have been competing demands, as there always are, for space in the legislative timetable. The White Paper is out, and we hope to publish our response to the consultation, to use a ministerial word, shortly—or in due course. I hope that noble Lords will bear with me for that.
We had a very interesting intervention from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon on weights and measures. I have to say to him that, although it has been dragging on for some time, I think that we would wish to take the people with us on that. If one looks at the metric martyrs and others, I am not sure that we have quite convinced the rest of the population of the merits of proceeding in the direction he wants us to go in.
We had an interesting intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, on funds going to the Lawn Tennis Association. I regret to see that the noble Baroness is not in her place. It offered an interesting parable about how some public money gets spent without due checks and balances. I was shocked when I heard what she said was happening and how much money was going out. I was encouraged to hear that, as I understand it, Sport England will now be looking for greater use of payment by results, which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will no doubt regret. Proper checks on how government money is spent strikes me as a much better process than handing over £26 million a year—or perhaps it was £26 million over four years—with no proper audit.
We had a whole range of other interventions. We had very useful ones from my noble friend Lord Stoneham and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on pensions. No doubt those are matters that we can look at in due course under the pensions Bill, which will be one of those carry-over Bills that will extend into this Session.
We had interesting interventions from the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Maginnis, on police corruption. I reject the complaints that they are making. I think that there might be individual cases of corruption, but, as I made clear at Question Time, we have adequate processes to ensure that they are checked by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The important fact is that that commission is independent. I repeat that for us within the Home Office to try to second-guess what it was doing would undermine it.
We have ranged wide over many things. A number of questions have been put which I hope to deal with largely by correspondence. I want to get on to a number of particular points that have been raised.
If noble Lords can remember that far back, I start by going back to the introductory speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, when she complained that we are not dealing with the issues that matter. I think there is quite a lot here that matters and that we have to do. I have to remind her what we have achieved over the past year—over the past two years, because we have had a lengthy Session. She might not like all of what we have achieved, but I take her back to the reforms that we have made to the police with the police and crime commissioners; the health reforms that, sadly, my noble friend Lord Howe has had to leave but which are seared on his soul, from his having taken them through this House; the welfare reforms achieved by my noble friend Lord Freud; the reforms we have made to education taken through this House and another place; and the LASPO Bill and other reforms to criminal justice. I also give an assurance, as a reminder of the point which I think my noble friend Lord Dholakia made, of the reduction in the number of young people we have seen who are in detention.
Perhaps I might start by saying a word or two about the children and families Bill and its timetable, because that was a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, and others—including, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey—who were concerned about it having a carryover slot. The noble Baroness then implied that it was not even going to be fit to go on the statute book until the end of this Parliament. In fact, it is only carried over for one Session. I remind her that carryover is a process introduced by the previous Government and one which, ever since it was introduced, all Governments have found convenient for the better management of Bills. We believe that that Bill needs a carryover slot because keeping it to the second Session would not have allowed enough time for the valuable learning and evidence from the special educational needs local authority pathfinders to be incorporated into the legislation. I give an assurance that there will be independent evaluation reports in spring—at the end of this year and in March 2013.
On that same children and families Bill, there was a faint feeling that we were fixated with numbers on adoption. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, made this point but it was echoed by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. I have to say that while we are starting with adoption, we have not lost sight of other important matters. Adoption is the first and, we believe, the most pressing priority at this stage but the Government want all children for whom adoption is in their best interests to be adopted without delay—as long as it is, I stress, within their best interests. The introduction of special guardianship orders may have an impact on numbers being adopted, and we have commissioned further research to understand that.
If I may, I will move on to the care and support Bill. I start off by reminding the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who accused my noble friend Lord McNally of not mentioning it in his introductory speech, that if he looks carefully at that speech he will find that the Bill was mentioned. I invite him to do that. This Bill has been brought in draft and we recognise its importance. What we feel to be important is simplifying and clarifying the care and support legislation; we do not want to miss this opportunity. We believe it is an important objective in its own right and will make a difference to all those who need care and support, and who work in providing these crucial services. The draft Bill will be a key step towards delivering the Government’s vision, which will be set out shortly—I am afraid I have to use that word again—in the White Paper on care and support. As to the precise timing, I am afraid that I cannot take the noble Lord and others of your Lordships any further at this stage. However, publishing it in draft will give all those with experience and expertise, of which there is a great deal in this House, an opportunity to get things right.
Perhaps I might address the point about funding which I think was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. As regards funding, we recognise the pressures which the system faces as part of the spending review and we allocated an additional £2 billion per annum by 2014-15 for social care, including an unprecedented transfer from the National Health Service to social care support joint working. We know that in the longer term, however, we need a sustainable and affordable solution and we want a social care system that is a partnership between the state and the individual.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the question of equal marriage. I start by offering an apology to him and to my noble friend Lord Grade: I missed their speeches because one has to take some time out in the