Monday, 8 October 2012.
Arrangement of Business
Welcome back, my Lords. I am obliged to say that if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations 2012
Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations 2012.
Relevant documents: 6th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 9th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
My Lords, this instrument was laid in draft before the House on 9 July this year. It is regarded as being compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This instrument provides for a more effective, more proportionate and clearer sanctions system, but it also preserves the important safeguards that are required to ensure a fair and balanced system.
I think that there is a general agreement that it is right to expect claimants who are able to look for or to prepare for work to do so. We provide people with financial support when they are out of work. In return for that financial support, we expect them to do everything they reasonably can to get back into work. We know that active job search and engagement with advisers increases the chances that people find work more quickly than they would otherwise.
Most people who find themselves out of work and in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance are doing everything they can to get back into work and are complying with the conditions associated with this benefit. But not everyone is, and for those people, a more effective sanctions regime is needed. A sanctions regime should be clear and proportionate, and should fully encourage claimants to meet the requirements that will support them back to work.
The current sanctions regime is not achieving those objectives as well as it might. Let me offer a little more detail on the limitations of the current regime and how these new regulations will address those. First, some of the existing sanctions are simply not tough enough, and there is little to deter claimants from repeatedly failing to apply for a job or look for work. For example, if someone fails to meet one of the most important requirements, such as refusing a suitable job offer without good reason, they may be sanctioned for as little as one week. These regulations introduce escalating sanctions periods so that in relation to these most serious failures, the sanction periods will be 13 weeks for the first failure, 26 weeks for a second failure within a year of the previous one, and 156 weeks, or three years, for a third or further failure within a year of a previous failure which resulted in a 26 or 156-week sanction. So sanctions will be tougher for those who repeatedly fail to meet their requirements and repeatedly fail to change their behaviour.
Three-year sanctions will apply only in the most extreme cases where claimants have serially and deliberately breached their most important requirements. For these claimants, previous sanctions of 13 weeks and 26 weeks have unfortunately not provided sufficient deterrent to change their behaviour. We anticipate that very few claimants will be subject to this length of sanction, but we believe that such a sanction is necessary to act as a deterrent and to ensure compliance with the requirements that are critical to helping claimants move back into work.
We cannot expect sanctions to act as a deterrent unless the sanctions themselves are clear. Currently they are not. A sanction for failing to apply for a job could be anything between one and 26 weeks. Under the new regime, claimants will be able to understand upfront exactly how their benefit will be affected. They will know that the first time they refuse a job offer without a good reason they will get a 13-week sanction.
There is also a lack of clarity in relation to sanctions for failure to comply with the requirement designed to improve a claimant’s chances of finding or preparing for work. Currently there is a complex range of sanctions for these types of failure, including one or two-week sanctions for failing to attend an interview at a jobcentre, two and four-week sanctions for other failures such as failing to carry out a direction from an adviser and 26-week sanctions for some claimants in the work programme. Under these regulations, the sanction for not meeting such requirements will be set at a clear and simple period of four weeks for a first failure and 13 weeks for a second or subsequent failure within a year of the previous failure.
Another feature of the current system is that in some circumstances there are only limited consequences for failing to be available for work or failing to actively seek work. Not meeting these basic conditions of entitlement generally leads to disentitlement from jobseeker’s allowance. But currently those who are disentitled for these reasons can reclaim straightaway and in some cases lose only one or two days’ benefit. It is not right that claimants can fail to meet the fundamental requirements of claiming benefit and yet face little consequence. Therefore, those who reapply for benefit following disentitlement for these reasons will be subject to the new sanction of up to four weeks for a first disentitlement and up to 13 weeks for a second or subsequent disentitlement within a year of the latest one.
We want to introduce into the sanction regime some recognition for claimants who do the right thing. Therefore, as a new incentive for claimants to return to sustained work, if they work for six months before they become re-entitled to jobseeker’s allowance, the balance of any outstanding sanction is lifted. Under this regime, some things will not change and important safeguards will remain in place. We will continue to tailor requirements to suit claimant circumstances, for example to allow for caring responsibilities and to take account of mental or physical health conditions. Claimants will have the opportunity to explain why they have not complied with a requirement. Just as now, if they provide a good reason a sanction will not be imposed.
Claimants will still be able to request further information about the sanction decision, request a reconsideration and appeal against the decision. If claimants have concerns about whether the correspondence address they have given us is secure, we will arrange for letters and notifications to go to an alternative address or to be picked up from the jobcentre.
These regulations will broadly align the jobseeker’s allowance sanctions regime with that for universal credit. As well as providing the clarity and proportionate consequences described earlier, this change will ease the transition to universal credit for both claimants and Jobcentre Plus staff.
In conclusion, these changes are intended to better drive the behaviour that maximises a claimant’s chances of finding suitable work. I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, to her first appearance at the Dispatch Box on DWP matters. We hope that there will be many more such appearances and that this is not just an operational response to the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who drew the short straw and had to go to the party conference.
We cannot support these regulations. That should be clear to the Minister from the debate in the other place. That is not to say that we oppose every aspect of them, nor do we oppose the principle of sanctions. Properly constructed and fairly applied, they have an important place in the benefits system. They encourage compliance with claimant obligations. We also support regulation for a clearer relationship between the length of a sanction and how that relates to the failure to comply with the particular obligations.
What concerns us in particular, however, is the three-year sanction, which we consider to be excessive and, indeed, counterproductive. As was spelt out in the other place, the concern over the three-year sanction is not only that it will inevitably create hardship but that it will create an extended period where there is a weak connection with the labour market. Will the Minister clarify what ongoing obligations an individual has during the period of the sanction and what entitlements the individual has during that period; for example, their access to the Work Programme? Would failure to meet any obligations during a period of sanctions itself be further sanctionable?
In considering these regulations and the JSA regulations, we need to be mindful of what is happening at the moment with all the reassessments, the flawed application of the WCA and the fact that many people were being pushed on to that benefit from ESA and IB. I would be grateful if the Minister would also clarify the circumstances where someone subject to a sanction gets a job and ceases to be eligible for JSA. What precisely is the position on their reclaiming? Paragraph 7.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum suggests that there is a disentitlement of four or 13 weeks where the original disentitlement was related to,
“not being available or actively seeking work”.
However, does this replace any unexpired portion of the original sanction or is it additional to it? What is the position of somebody who is subject to a 26-week sanction for refusing work but who gets a job for two weeks after, say, one month and then reverts to JSA? They would have been without JSA for six weeks. Do they have a further seven weeks of sanctions to go?
I have some more specific questions. Can we have an update relating to the numbers of sanctions and disentitlements? When we debated this during the Welfare Reform Bill it was noted that there was an alarming increase in 2010-11 in comparison with the previous year and a 42% increase between July and September 2010 in comparison with the comparable preceding period. Can we be given the numbers for the subsequent year, please? We have previously been assured that there is no question of the DWP having formal or informal targets for sanctions and that the previous overzealous misinterpretation of instructions has now been corrected. Will the Minister confirm that this is the case? Can we be told what management statistics will be collected on a routine basis and the use to which they will be put? While not being a target, what provision is made as regards the budgets for reductions in benefit arising from the application of sanctions for the current year, and what is the split between pre and post-October 2012 data?
Under the current arrangements, the days of a sanction period count towards any 182-day entitlement to contribution-based JSA. Will that change? Under the existing regime, we have the saving of just cause relating to leaving a job voluntarily and good cause for neglecting to avail oneself of a job opportunity. These terms have been developed in regulations and, it is understood, from time to time in commissioners’ decisions. The Explanatory Memorandum sets out that these concepts are to be subsumed into a new good reason concept, the interpretation of which is left to decision-makers. Does this mean that all existing precedents and guidance are to be disregarded? For example, a person is currently treated as having good cause if they do not accept a job that is vacant because of a trade dispute: that is, they are not required to be a strike breaker. Will this protection still operate under the new sanctions? Currently, if there is no automatic good cause, the decision-maker must nevertheless take certain circumstances into account. These include where a particular job or carrying out of a jobseeker’s direction would be likely to cause excessive physical or mental stress. What will happen to this requirement under the new regime and, similarly, the requirement for decision-makers to take religious and conscientious objections into account? Is there to be any guidance on this issue in the new world of sanctions? How will the consistency of approach to these matters be assured and, indeed, monitored within the department? The proposed penalty regime escalates—13 weeks; 26 weeks; three years—and the escalation is determined by the number of prior failures. At its point of introduction, what account is taken of any sanctionable failures prior to that date? Is the slate wiped clean at that point?
So far as the existing hardship provisions are concerned, it would appear that they are currently being carried forward as now, but perhaps the Minister will confirm, particularly, that the recovery of hardship payments is not yet in contemplation in respect of these sanctions and also that suggestions about calibrating hardship payments by some sort of analysis of claimant expenditure have not been slipped into these regulations. I note that there has been a non-statutory referral to SSAC. Perhaps the Minister can relay the thrust of its comments.
The Explanatory Memorandum repeats what we have been told previously: that universal credit will be phased in through pathfinders from April 2013 and nationwide from October 2013. Can the Minister confirm that that is still the time line, given the increasing speculation over this timetable during the summer period? Can it be confirmed that, although designed to be in alignment with universal credit, the JSA sanction regimes we are considering are designed to continue notwithstanding the fact that the timetable for universal credit appears to be slipping?
We have supported much of the thrust of the Government’s welfare reforms and the broad architecture of the universal credit, but we have seen how these reforms include aspects that have no credible policy outcomes. They have a political objective: being seen to be tough on welfare. Indeed, we heard that directly earlier. The three-year sanction is, in our view, one such measure, which is why we oppose it.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend in relation to these regulations. They are extremely complicated and it is not surprising that the Government have thought it necessary to include a long Explanatory Memorandum. At a time when sometimes, in certain areas of the country, there are 50 applicants for every vacancy, it seems pretty impossible to introduce such complicated regulations. I think the Government should not be moved by a lot of the media coverage about scroungers. In fact, in my view, people on benefits are mostly not scroungers and would be very happy to have work if it were possible to find it. It is often very difficult indeed to do so.
I am particularly concerned about the effect on disabled people because I understand that assessments of people who are currently on DLA have already begun. A number have been in touch with me because they are concerned about what will happen if it is ruled that they are capable of some work when they feel that they are not. There is an appeals mechanism, which they then put into operation, and it often results in a change in the decision, but there is a long gap before the appeal can be heard, so what happens to people who are caught between two benefits? There is the DLA, which they want to remain on, and the jobseeker’s allowance, to which they will be transferred if they lose their appeal on DLA. This is a cause of a great deal of worry among people who are already very vulnerable and very concerned. I am not certain what consultation has taken place in relation to these regulations as far as the Government are concerned, but they are far too complicated. They do not give any indication about appeals. I am not quite certain how people will appeal if they are told that they are to be dealt with under various articles. Can they appeal it and, if so, what are the arrangements?
Secondly, I feel that people ought to have a much clearer idea of what is involved regarding sanctions and what is meant by “hardship”. The hardship point has already been raised by my noble friend. What actually is hardship? Many of the people on the benefits already feel that they are subject to hardship. Of course, even under the present circumstances, the regulations do not allow for what might be described as anything that is not hardship. In fact, everything possible is done to encourage people to look for work, and many people are only too happy to have work if they are capable of doing it and if they can get it. Unfortunately, we are not in that happy situation. In these circumstances, I really do think that the Government should take these sanctions regulations away and rethink the situation; otherwise, a lot of vulnerable people are going to get hurt when they should not be.
My Lords, this set of regulations applies to changes that came out of the Welfare Reform Bill and the prospect of universal credit. I should like to explore three issues with your Lordships this afternoon. The first relates to proportionality, the second relates to clarity and the third relates to the timetable for bringing together the various parts of the sanctions regimes which now exist and the prospective sanctions regime for universal credit.
There have obviously been concerns about proportionality and about the three-year sanction, which clearly is very extensive. The Explanatory Memorandum says that it will be used only in the most extreme circumstances but can my noble friend, whom I welcome to the Dispatch Box today, give us an example of the type of case that would attract a three-year sanction of that sort?
I understand that clarity is needed, and this is the second issue. However, having read the documentation that accompanies these regulations, as well as the Explanatory Memorandum, I do not think that anyone under the threat of the sanction would instantly know precisely where the sanction would fall. There is clarity regarding 13, 26 and 156 weeks, but if noble Lords look at paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum, they will see that a certain degree of mathematical skill is required to be able to balance the variety of options. I do not object to that but can my noble friend tell us whether this whole sanctions regime could be set out in a chart on a single piece of paper, which would allow the people whom it might affect to truly understand it? That would be very helpful in aiding people to understand it.
In my view, the problem with clarity is where it leads in terms of direction to Jobcentre Plus staff, who make the decisions based on interpreting these regulations. On many occasions in relation to other aspects of assessment by Jobcentre Plus assessors and decision-makers, we have asked what the current regime is for allowing those decisions to be made more accurately. In response, both in the Chamber and in correspondence, the Government have told me that stress is laid on the importance of empowerment—empowering officials to make decisions and giving them discretion. Empowerment and discretion can sometimes conflict with clarity if the decision is so laid down and so restricted that there is no room for a decision in a particular circumstance.
Therefore, can my noble friend tell us whether the discretion that will be offered to Jobcentre Plus staff and their empowerment—which is the watchword, with which I entirely agree—in making decisions will sit comfortably with the clarity regime that has been outlined to us today? Will that be in some form of guidance? We have already heard from the noble Lord about the “good reason” concept. I could interpret “good reason” and I hope that I would do it effectively. However, I am not so certain that that would be without some form of interpretation and guidance, which would be a concept well understood to apply in these circumstances. A “good reason” has been a phrase used very commonly for making decisions. If it is still the intention that that allows discretion for Jobcentre Plus staff to be able to make decisions, perhaps that would be sufficient on its own if it was a well enough understood concept. Would my noble friend like to comment on that?
The third area that I would like to explore is the joining together of the three parts of the sanctions regime—the ESA regime, the jobseeker’s allowance regime and the universal credit regime that is to come—given that all three will be overlapping and running alongside each other during the course of the coming years until universal credit finally takes over. If this is an interim step, is it the one that is describing what will happen under universal credit? I wonder why we have not been able to do the same for employment and support allowance and why that has not been brought before us at the same time. Am I correct in understanding that that will be brought before us by a negative procedure in another set of regulations, which we will perhaps have to examine against this set of regulations? Perhaps it would have been more advisable to bring them both together.
However, it seems that the crucial issue is whether this actually lays down a pathway for what will be the regime applied under universal credit or whether we are to treat this as an interim regime, in which case we would be moving forward to another set of changes in the years to come as we apply universal credit. How far can we go along that road? It seems to me that an interim situation would be inadvisable but that a situation which was as close as possible to universal credit would be advisable.
Finally, having got from the Printed Paper Office before the Summer Recess a copy of the Explanatory Memorandum, I read paragraph 7.7 with interest until I got to the last sentence, which read:
“Under the revised regime claimants who re-apply for benefit following disentitlement for not being available for or actively seeking work will be subject to a”—
at which point the paragraph ended. I was so pleased on coming into the Room today to see that the Printed Paper Office has now completed the sentence with the words,
“loss of benefit period of 4 weeks”,
so that I do not need to ask about that. However, it would be helpful if either the authorities in this House or in the DWP were to make sure that when we have a lengthy Summer Recess before us, we can read the documents as they should be rather than as they should not.
My Lords, the report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee says:
“This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House”.
In addition, part of that public policy focus would take into account the threat made by the Chancellor at today’s Conservative Party conference: that he intends to further reduce the welfare budget by £10 billion, added to the already £15 billion taken from some of the poorest people in this country. I join those who welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, to the Dispatch Box but for slightly different reasons from those of my more diplomatic noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. I welcome her appearance on this—it is not personal—because I, along with others, intend to highlight the consequences of the Welfare Reform Act. We are now down to the nitty-gritty from the Labour Front Bench and from some very knowledgeable people in other parts of the House as to what is happening here.
I listened very carefully to the noble Baroness and when she was speaking, it seemed like an appeal to the average Sun reader, with phrases such as “not tough enough”, “we require” and “there will be fewer claimants in the whole structure”. There was very little about the consequences on the people affected.
Perhaps the noble Baroness can take a note of this and answer it. Nothing was mentioned about the administration costs of implementing the policy—the extra staff who will presumably be required—or about the monitoring of the implementation of this draconian policy and attitude towards poorer people. I do not know whether that language is a bit robust for this place, but there we go. Millions of people outside need to be heard here today. I wonder how many people here or elsewhere on the Conservative Benches should declare an interest, as the millionaires among them gain a £40,000 tax cut every year for the next few years which goes to the wealthiest people in this country. That is coming straight from the people who will be suffering from these cuts. The Liberal Democrats should look at themselves as well. I am not sure how many millionaires they have, but they certainly marched through the Lobby in support of the Act—with a few honourable exceptions.
I do not think that those in the government ranks realise how draconian the three-year policy is. What research is there to justify it? Those affected are imperfect people who will make mistakes and will not be mentally fit to deal with the situation. I echo what my noble friend on the Front Bench said: I am no sort of social liberal when it comes to benefit fraudsters and anyone fiddling their benefit. Please do not paint me as a softie or as someone who wears rose-tinted glasses. It is said that only a few claimants will be caught by the policy. I do not see any research; I see justification for a hard-nosed policy which is politically desirable to the sort of people who think that everybody on benefits is a fraudster, when they are not.
To their credit, the Government have a policy of trying to get people with mental illness of various kinds to come forward to get help but, at the same time, how many people who are suffering from undeclared mental disorders will be caught up in this draconian policy? It is a horrible fact of life that some people may die because they are deprived of money for three years. They will sink into the gutter, homeless, and will be driven there through the policies of this Government. There is a strategy here of stigmatising benefit claimants. Again, I refer to the fact that I am not a social liberal on such issues.
There was a lively debate in the other place on this. I compliment my honourable friend Mrs Anne McGuire for the salient and powerful points that she made. I am glad that we opposed there, as we do now, the three-year sanction. It is a disgrace and should be reconsidered. There are things in the regulations that we support, but the price of that support in getting consensus to tackle reform of the welfare system should surely be some recognition of those draconian aspects.
Going back to what I said about people with a mental disorder, it was stated that plenty of people within the department were trained to spot that and deal with it. How many people are employed specifically for that task? Are any of them employed by private, outside agencies, such as the department’s pride and joy, Atos, making mistakes and penalising people all along the line? We need to clarify how many people are professionally trained to spot people who, bearing in mind the background of this country, are naturally reluctant to demonstrate or admit to—and even then they are not using that word—some kind of mental disorder.
Therefore, there is a whole series of questions about how the department is going to handle that. I should like to hear some answers and I may come back on this issue, depending on the content of the answers.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who has been a good friend and colleague over many years. I plead guilty to being a softie but I am not a millionaire. I just want to make that clear. I do not mind being characterised as soft but I am not rich.
I should declare an interest. Noble Lords probably know this but I continue to be a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wise Group in Glasgow. The Wise Group is an intermediate labour market provider and has been in that business for 25 years. It is a privilege for me to work with the group and it gives me an insight into some of the implications of the important regulations that we are debating this afternoon.
As I said during the main body of the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill, as it then was, language is very important in all this. If anyone doubts that, they have only to look at the headline in the tabloid press today—I think it is the Express—which declares that the Government are declaring war on the workshy. I do not think that that is helpful language for anyone. I do not necessarily accuse Ministers of doing it but I think that the Government could do more to stop that kind of stigmatisation. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, talked about people who are workless. I understand that the public have a perception that it is right to crack down on benefits but I believe that it is a wholly mistaken view based on very little background information and detail. If the real facts were known to the wider general public, I think that public opinion would be different.
In passing, I want to contrast that with fraud. I think that the policy contained in these regulations will be counterproductive—it is a policy objection that I have more than anything else—and that it will make things worse rather than better. I draw a clear distinction between handling sanctions and conditionality and fraud, which the Government have to attend to with more vigour and energy. To be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, I think that he is aware of that and that he is doing more to try to deal with the problem. However, here we are dealing with regulations which will take people out of benefit if the sanctions are applied to the extreme for three years.
Last week, I noticed that there was an identity theft fraud case in which £90,000 had been fraudulently taken out of the benefits system by someone who had stolen 13 identities. He got two years in prison. Here is a criminal defrauding the benefits system of £90,000 and he gets to stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure for two years, whereas somebody who falls foul of the sanctions regime gets no money for three years. You begin to ask yourself, “Is that balance correct?”. I leave that question hanging but I have a very clear idea about it. If we are going to be tougher, we need to be tougher on fraud. We need to stop talking about fraud and error in the same sentence and in the same way, because in my view they are entirely different. I am with the Minister—I welcome her to the Dispatch Box and wish her many happy hours there in the future—but I think that we need to drill into and make better progress on the whole question of how we deal with stigmatisation and fraud.
From my association with the Wise Group, I am very clear that you need three things to get people into fulfilling long-term work pathways. You need to have trust between the claimant and the adviser—the person doing the coaching, steering and supporting—and the trust needs to be both ways. The claimant needs to be aware that the person on the other side of the desk is on their side. That sometimes takes time and is difficult to achieve, because some of the claimants are a long way away from the labour market. You also need to motivate the claimant and need to persuade him or her that they are in control of their own pathway back into work.
I have said this many times before. The Paul Gregg report that was done for the previous Labour Government in 2009 made perfect sense to me. It was a positive case for conditionality. But the essential condition that he applied was that the claimant had to be in control of the pathway. The destiny of the pathway had to be felt by the claimant to be something that he or she wanted to do. If they offend against the jobseeker’s agreement in that context, once you have established the trust, then conditionality is necessary because some people need a wake-up call—even I know that. We have all learnt that from our American friends. But only a tiny percentage of people should be in that situation and should be considered for conditionality.
As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, some of the figures that are beginning to emerge from 2010 are deeply frightening. They will get worse if we are not careful. You need a trusted adviser relationship. You need the person to feel that they are in control of what is being done to them and you need employers who understand all that and are willing to come to the table and say, “Okay we will be part of this process to get this individual back into gainful, full-time employment”. All of those elements need to be present for this important public policy to work, and I support it.
But conditionality wrecks the relationship between the adviser and the claimant. The trust goes out of the window because people are being told what is good for them. They start to think that the system is against them and then they go AWOL. After they go AWOL, the system ignores them, in the main. Nobody follows them wherever they go—to a life of working in the grey economy, crime, drugs or anything at all. Nobody follows them and nobody has a responsibility to ask, particularly over a three-year period, where have they gone? Our American friends got a real fright about the number of people who disappeared off the rolls. In terms of three-year sanctions in the future, we will have a real problem in trying to get back the relationship once these sanctions are applied to the extent that we are talking about today. Sanctions are a punishment. They are counterproductive. They may be necessary, but they should be used with great discretion and in very specific circumstances.
I have a number of questions. The noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord McAvoy, and my noble friend are keen to pursue this. When the policy is rolled out in the pilot areas it needs to be absolutely monitored to death in terms of what is working and not working. I do not believe that it will get people into work. It will get people off benefits: I can see that. It is stark staring clear that you can get people off benefits by sanctioning them, but does it get them into work? That is the important question. Some people in the Committee may think that getting them off benefits is enough, but not me. The policy is deficient in the second half of the necessity of supporting people and getting them into fulfilling long-term work.
If I had more time, I could develop the point about the difficulties facing single parents, people in rural areas and in destroyed labour market areas, who have no real prospect of finding work because the labour market is so difficult in different parts of the United Kingdom. People with disabilities will obviously also find it difficult and will struggle.
I am in favour of clarity. The current policy is deficient in that most people do not know why they are being sanctioned, and that is not just those who have a mental illness, because the system is so confusing. I am in favour of conditionality, but I think that this is overdone. I believe that in the fullness of time it will not work. If I am wrong, I will be the first to admit that. I want answers to some of these important questions, even if they are in a letter, because I do not think the Minister has a realistic chance of answering them all in detail. I want an undertaking that the sanctions applied during the pilot phase will be analysed and followed through by the department to see what is actually happening and how they work out in practice. If I am right, these conditionality requirements will make things worse. That is not in anyone’s interests—not in the interests of the claimant, the Government or anyone else. So we need to be cautious about how we roll out this policy.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Baroness to her job and I hope she will leave this sitting with the benefit of the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. He made an important point that there is a distinction between fraud and error. When I served on the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, the Department for Work and Pensions never seemed to make that distinction. Error was always considered to be fraud—that was always the general tenor of its evidence. It is important, especially with the changes proposed by the Government, that people are given the benefit of the doubt if there is a genuine error.
I would like to start where the noble Lord, Lord German, ended. At the end of his remarks, he referred to bringing together the sanctions regime for jobseeker’s allowance, the employment and support allowance and universal credit. What concerns me, and perhaps the Minister can answer this, is whether this realignment of the sanctions will involve the major IT project that is being prepared for universal credit. A number of us are concerned about the IT project for universal credit. Will this alignment mean that more people will have to claim their benefit online? Can the noble Baroness also tell us how many people presently claim JSA online?
What changes do the Government expect in the way that people will claim online when universal credit is fully rolled out in October 2013? The present chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge, has said that universal credit is,
“a train crash waiting to happen”.
In my experience serving on the Public Accounts Committee in the Commons, every major government IT project in the past 20 years has gone pear-shaped because of the failure of the IT systems. I think that these changes should be resisted but if the Government insist on pushing them forward, the last thing we want is the most vulnerable people having their benefits stopped because of some failure in the Government’s IT programme. The Minister should make it clear how much this will depend on the new IT system for universal credit. In response to my noble friend Lord McKenzie, perhaps she can tell us if the universal credit programme is likely to slip. We are told that the pathfinders will be introduced in April 2013 and the full scheme in October. We need to know this as it will affect the lives of many vulnerable people. Those of us who have sat in the House of Commons or other devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom have constantly had people come to them in their surgeries with problems where the system has let them down.
When I have taken up issues—I am sure this is not uncommon with other noble Lords who have served as elected representatives in the House of Commons and the devolved Administrations—I have been told, “Sorry, X falls through the net”. Who created the net? We created the net and if we are not careful with the way we are changing this net a lot of vulnerable people will be adversely affected. So I hope the Minister can give us answers to these important questions.
I am grateful for the contributions that have been made in the debate today. A number of points of detail have been raised which I will do my best to go through before I conclude my responses. I will try to cover these points in groups rather than going through every individual one systematically, as I feel that it is important to cover some of the general points made by noble Lords that fall under several headings.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for welcoming me warmly to the Dispatch Box, but of course I am disappointed that he does not feel able to support these regulations. I have listened carefully to all the points that have been made today, and most of them have been questions about the regulations and concerns expressed about them. In answering them, however, I can go a long way to addressing them.
The people I think about most when I consider what we are doing today is those who find themselves suddenly out of work through no fault of their own, and who are desperate to get back into work and are doing everything that they possibly can to do so. When they go on to jobseeker’s allowance, or in due course when they are receiving an element of benefits that will apply under the universal credit, people will want to know that while the rest of us are fortunate to be in work at that time, a regime is in place that respects those who are doing everything that they can while penalising clearly and appropriately those who do not. They will want to know that they are entering into a regime that is properly labelled and properly reflects that they are trying their best to do what they can for themselves, and we will not do them any service by putting in place a regime that is not clear.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, used some colourful language that she may have been trying to ascribe to those of us in government regarding what we are doing. I assure her that we are not saying that.
There were concerns about what will happen if people find themselves affected by the sanctions and not in receipt of benefits. Let us not forget that the reason why people are entitled to jobseeker’s allowance is that they are fit and able to look for work. Because they are fit and able to work but are not able to find work at that time, the payment is made to them. If they are not doing what is required of them to entitle them to the benefit, then it is only right that they should be sanctioned; there should be a clear deterrent in order that they should comply with the expectations placed upon them. If they are sanctioned, then what they lose is the jobseeker’s allowance—they do not lose any of the other benefits that they may be entitled to, such as a hardship payment or housing benefit. While this measure may look very severe, it is important to bear it in mind that this is about jobseeker’s allowance; it is not about all benefits over a period of time. I will come back to the politics to which the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, referred, because they are worth addressing, but not until I have dealt with some other matters.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, asked when a three-year sanction will apply and how it will be communicated. The new system will be explained to claimants. It would apply where a claimant has three times failed to apply for suitable job offers for work which they are capable of doing. The regulations are not designed to leave people in hardship, as I said, but to be a deterrent. Claimants will still be able to claim a hardship payment of up to 80% of JSA for the length of the sanction. They still have access to passported benefits such as housing benefit, free school meals and free prescriptions.
I know that there is a lot of concern about those who may face a three-year sanction. It is important to say that we do not expect many people to end up being sanctioned for three years. If the system is to work properly, the deterrent should be strong enough for us to avoid that. However, during a three-year sanction, a person is still entitled to JSA although it is not paid. They may receive hardship payments, but to do so will still need to meet conditionality, and their adviser will still work with them to help them to find work during the sanction period—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. In response to him, I repeat that we must be clear that JSA is a benefit for people who are deemed to be fit for work and not confuse JSA with other benefits of which they may be in receipt.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, asked: how can people who are sanctioned find work when there are no jobs to be had? I refute that point. At any one time, there are about half a million unfilled vacancies in the economy, but that is only a snapshot that hides the dynamism of the job market in which most vacancies are filled quickly and new ones are coming up for people to move into. It is worth noting that of those who come on to jobseeker’s allowance, about 50% leave within three months and 75% within six months.
Several noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, in particular—asked about the evidence to support the introduction of the sanctions and what research had been done. Evidence from the UK and internationally shows that sanctions motivate claimants to engage with job search and other labour market requirements. For example, the DWP research suggests that more than half of claimants say that they are more likely to look for work because of the threat of sanctions.
Last summer, I spent about three days visiting jobcentres and spending time with advisers who were interviewing claimants as they came in. It was notable to me during those sessions how sanctions were a topic very much discussed and how once they became a possibility, some people who might not otherwise have done so changed their behaviour. Many noble Lords asked whether people under sanction would be supported by the jobcentre. I have already covered that; that is clear.
The Minister is dealing with a series of complicated matters, but I seek clarification. In the other place, Mrs Anne McGuire said:
“It is important to remember that a person who is sanctioned will cease to receive their £71 per week in jobseeker’s allowance or the universal credit standard allowance”.
How does that fit in with what the Minister says? It was not contradicted by the Minister in the other place.
I do not see any sign that Ms Baldwin rejected this. My right honourable friend said:
“It is important to remember that a person who is sanctioned will cease to receive their £71 per week in jobseeker’s allowance or the universal credit standard allowance”—[Official Report, Commons, Eight Delegated Legislation Committee, 11/9/12; col. 6.]
Is that the case, or has the situation changed?
That is the case. That is what I have explained. If you are sanctioned, you are not in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance. There may be other benefits that you are entitled to, such as housing benefit. I think it is the use of the word “entitled” that is confusing matters, and I must apologise if I am confusing the Committee.
If somebody receives a sanction which leads to them not receiving their jobseeker’s allowance, that does not mean that they are not entitled to jobseeker’s allowance; it just means that they are not in receipt of it because they have not done something that is required of them in order to be entitled to receive that allowance. To be disentitled means that you have to stop being—I forget what the precise language is—available and able to carry out work. I think I have used imprecise language, and I apologise.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton—
I shall pick up the point the noble Baroness has made. I apologise for interrupting. If somebody has been sanctioned for three years and the local job market is such that the prospects of getting employment for six months look pretty grim yet nevertheless they are still, at least in theory, subject to JSA conditionality, what will encourage them to undertake those obligations? It seems to me that if you have a three-year period when this persists, people will drift from that support. There is nothing that encourages them to engage. If they do not engage, does that mean that they could be further sanctioned during that period?
I think this is a point that the noble Lord raised earlier, and I was coming to it. I repeat that I think the number of people who will be sanctioned for a three-year period will be very small. However, during any sanction period somebody who is in receipt of a sanction will still be required to go into the jobcentre and receive support from the staff to help them get back into work. That aspect of the support that is available to somebody out of work would not be removed.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, asked what measures we are putting in place to monitor the new sanctions to see whether they have the intended effect. There is a process in place. The department will consider undertaking further analysis once the findings suggest further lines of inquiry. There is a process that will monitor the process.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, who asked about pilots, which may have been in the same ballpark. On that matter, these regulations make changes to the JSA regime for a temporary period. It is the universal credit regime that will be tested in pilot, not these interim changes.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked whether a sanction would still apply if someone who is sanctioned finds work, so the claim ends, and then reclaims. I am sure that he will clarify this for me if I have misunderstood, but he perhaps meant to go back to my misuse of language around sanction and disentitlement or entitlement. A 13-week sanction would apply only to a new claim after a disentitlement for failure to meet the jobseeking conditions. If someone had a sanction and then found work so that their claim ends, on a reclaim the unexpired portion of the previous sanction would apply, as now.
There were quite a few questions from various noble Lords about the process of decision-making and definitions of “good reason”. The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about this and why examples of good reason have been removed from regulations. Under the revised regime, we want the decision-maker to take into consideration all the facts and evidence presented by the claimant. We think that the regulations were perhaps a little too prescriptive. We would much rather that the decision-maker were in a better place to make that change.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked why we are replacing “good cause” with “good reason”. This is just a simplification of language; it makes no substantial change. As now, if claimants can show good reason for failing to meet requirements, they will not receive a sanction. The noble Lord asked how well the “good reason” provision will work in practice. Notwithstanding what I said about regulations, examples of possible factors that might count as “good reason” include a sincere religious or conscientious objection, caring responsibilities, emergency duties, and so on, but this is not an exhaustive list.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, certainly asked some specific questions about protections and whether trade disputes or a religion would still exist in referring decisions about whether somebody should apply for a job vacancy. Advisers can continue to agree restrictions on the type of job that a person is willing to take. These relate to the type of employment for which that person is available, the terms of employment and the locality. That would include those with religious or conscientious convictions, who may not wish to undertake certain types of work. For example, they may not be willing to work with animal products or for a company associated with live animal exports. No claimant will be expected to take a job that was vacant as a result of a trade dispute.
I thank the Minister for a lot of the detail that she is providing to us this afternoon. Can she just clarify the position? At the moment we have “just cause” and “good cause”, which have been reflected in some particular regulations and certainly in some guidance. I think that there are some commissioners’ decisions which flesh out the meaning of those terms. Are all of those precedents going to be swept away and not applied, or are they going to stay in being and be used to support the concept of “good reason”?
Yes, they still apply.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also asked about people with health conditions. These regulations do not change the requirements that are on claimants as of now. Through Jobcentre Plus and the work programme, we will provide claimants with health conditions with the personalised support that they need to overcome their barriers to employment. All requirements will take their health into account to ensure that they are not asked to do something which would be unreasonable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, asked in her remarks about those disabled people who may be moving from DLA to JSA or a version of that under universal credit. Today, we are obviously concentrating on JSA, which is very different to DLA. However, I take on board the point that she makes about ensuring that people have a clear understanding of what is changing and how they are affected by those changes. That is certainly something which needs to be addressed.
I thank the Minister for that response, but what is the situation for appeals generally in relation to this legislation? People will miss out on benefits if they receive a decision stating that sanctions will apply to them? Is there any appeal mechanism here and, if so, what is it?
There is no change in the appeal measure. I will come on to sanctions in a moment and give more specific information on appeals but the short answer to the question is “no change”. Safeguards were raised by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord McAvoy, and the noble Baroness. I do not want to take up the Committee’s time as I clearly spelt out the safeguards in my opening remarks. They will be very much as they are now. That area will not change.
The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, asked about people with mental health issues. The decision-makers will receive in-depth training to ensure that they are able to make the decisions that are required of them as they affect people with mental health issues. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked whether a jobseeker’s period of sanction counting towards the 182 days contribution-based entitlement will be changed. No, because a person is still entitled to JSA during a sanction period. Therefore, entitlement continues for that 182 days, including any sanction.
I think that I have covered most of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked whether Jobcentre Plus has any targets for sanction referrals. I can say categorically that it does not. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, asked about the appeal process, as did other noble Lords. Claimants may appeal any decision to reduce or stop their benefits arising from the First-tier Tribunal within one month of being notified of their sanction or disentitlement. Claimants can also ask Jobcentre Plus to reconsider the decision to sanction or disentitle. Jobcentre Plus will reconsider all decisions before any appeal so that only unresolved disputes have to go to an appeal hearing. Of course, we will ensure that all new claimants receive clear information about the sanctions regime and the appeal process.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord German, asked about ESA and whether the measure aligned JSA with universal credit. That will be introduced by a separate statutory instrument through the negative resolution procedure. It is not part of the measure that we are discussing. I take on board the points he made about the Printed Paper Office. I think that—
I apologise for interrupting the Minister, who is responding well to some difficult technical questions. I have a very important question concerning the universal credit pilots. I am sorry if I have not made this point clearly enough. I know that they are universal credit pilots, not JSA pilots. When those pilots are in being, will the department not just look at the effect of sanctions in terms of taking people off benefit but also carry out work to establish what effect sanctions have in getting people back into sustainable jobs? I think the answer to the question is yes, but will the department look at that when the pilots on universal credit are eventually rolled out in the fullness of time? It is a very important question.
Yes, I can confirm that and I am pleased to be able to do so.
Before I conclude, I have some other small points to make. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, asked about admin costs and additional staff costs. They are of course part of an agreed budget, but I will certainly write to him with further details about that. He also asked whether the private sector would be able to impose sanctions, and the answer is no.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked how many sanctions were applied each year and was looking for the latest figures. I can tell him that in 2011-12 there were 4.7 million active jobseeker’s allowance claims and, of those, about 495,000 sanctions were imposed and there were about 161,000 disentitlements.
Several noble Lords—and I know that this was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig—raised the point about the importance of DWP drawing a clear distinction between fraud and error. That is an important point and I take it on board. He also asked about claiming online. There will be opportunities to discuss universal credit when those regulations are debated, but at the moment this question is not relevant to the regulations before us today. I take on board the point that he is making but I do not have an answer to provide to him today.
I am grateful to the Minister and I understand that she is trying to cover everyone’s points, but the particular question that I wanted to ask was whether the alignment—the secondary legislation scrutiny committee’s report talks about the alignment of the sanctions with the three benefits, including the new one to come in, universal credit—will involve a requirement for people to claim JSA online. If that is the case, how many people currently claim online, and how many people do the Government expect to claim online when the full changes come in October 2013?
I hope that this answers the noble Lord’s question: you can claim for JSA online but it is not a requirement to do so, whereas the universal credit will be a digitally based process so that will be a different arrangement. So we are not requiring anyone to go online at this time.
I know that I have taken a lot of time to go through everyone’s questions, and forgive me for being perhaps less fluent than my noble friend Lord Freud would have been if he had been here, but I was keen to ensure that I covered the many details that had been raised. I would like to pick up a couple of small points that were made at the beginning of the debate. As I say, from my perspective it is vital that we have a regime that is fair and balanced and properly recognises the efforts that people make when they find themselves in the dreadful and unfortunate position of being out of work. However, we owe it not just to them but to everyone else who is working hard to ensure that there is a regime for those who, sadly, need the threat of a sanction to lead them to co-operate with the requirements of this benefit.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, with regard to his comments about the tax regime, that, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor made clear in his speech today somewhere else, in every single year of this Parliament the rich will pay a greater share of our nation’s tax revenues than in every one of the 13 years for which Labour were in office. Forgive me for responding politically but I felt that it was only appropriate to do so, having had that point raised with me. I hope that the Committee feels able to support these regulations, and I commend them to the Committee.
Late Night Levy (Application and Administration) Regulations 2012
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I beg to move that the Grand Committee considers the Late Night Levy (Application and Administration) Regulations 2012, which were laid before Parliament on 4 July.
Alcohol-related crime and disorder is a serious problem for many communities. In 2010-11 there were almost 1 million alcohol-related violent crimes. That is approximately half of all violent crimes. As the Committee is aware, the Government have already taken significant steps to rebalance the Licensing Act to enable local agencies to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder more effectively. For instance, from April 2012 local agencies have been able to challenge irresponsible businesses more easily by refusing, revoking or imposing conditions on a licence, as the evidential threshold has been reduced from what is “necessary” to what is “appropriate” to take such steps.
In March the Government also published our alcohol strategy, which signals a radical change in approach to dealing with binge drinking and tackling the harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The strategy is clear that turning the tide against irresponsible drinking will require collective action, and it includes a range of measures such as reducing the availability of cheap alcohol and supporting responsible businesses and growth.
Alcohol-related crime and disorder costs the taxpayer approximately £11 billion every year, and the police regard the night-time economy as one of the main causes of overtime payments. Many businesses profit from selling alcohol in a safe night-time economy. It is right that those businesses make a reasonable contribution towards late-night policing, rather than relying on other taxpayers in the community to bear the full costs.
The late night levy is a tool to help local agencies do just that by raising a contribution from late-opening alcohol retailers towards policing the night-time economy. Introduced by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, this relates to the coalition’s ambition to permit local councils to raise a contribution from those with late-night licences towards the cost of policing the night-time economy in England and Wales.
The levy is a discretionary power, and it is therefore for individual licensing authorities to decide whether it is appropriate in their area. If introduced by the local authority, any premises in the licensing authority’s area licensed to sell alcohol during the levy period will be liable to pay. The licensing authority chooses the period during which the levy applies between midnight and 6 am on each night and whether to apply exemptions and reductions from a menu prescribed in regulations, although not the regulations before the Committee today. The revenue raised by the levy will be split between the police and the licensing authorities, once licensing authority costs have been deducted, with the police receiving at least 70% and licensing authorities up to 30%.
The levy will raise an estimated £17.1 million each year across England and Wales. Once licensing authority administration costs are deducted, this should raise at least £11.1 million for the police and up to £4.7 million for local authorities, depending on how the revenue is split.
The regulations under consideration today relate to the application and administration of the levy. They set out a range of matters relevant to the administration, including the basis on which holders of premises, licences and club premises certificates are liable to pay the levy, including when they are liable, the charge for which they are liable and when they are liable to pay it; what adjustments may be made to their liability to the levy; how the licensing authority must pay the police their share of revenue and what it can spend its own portion on; and the consultation that licensing authorities must run prior to the introduction or variation of the levy.
It is worth highlighting two elements of these regulations which may be of particular interest: the types of services on which licensing authorities can spend their money, and the levy charge. During the consultation, a number of respondents raised the issue of how levy revenue could be spent locally. Licensing authorities in particular call for the types of services on which they could spend their share of the revenue to be broadened from those that prevent and tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder to services that are also connected to the management of the night-time economy.
The Committee will be pleased to hear that the Government have listened to licensing authorities. The regulations will therefore now enable licensing authorities to fund activities such as street cleaning—clearing up the broken glass and general debris that litters so many of our town centres in the morning—as well as services such as CCTV and taxi marshals.
The level of the late-night levy charge has remained the same since the levy provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill were considered by this House. We believe that this is a fair contribution, given the estimated £11 billion annual cost to the taxpayer of alcohol-related crime and disorder. The charges paid by those premises liable for the levy are determined on broadly the same basis as fees under the existing alcohol licensing regime. Premises are allocated to bands in accordance with their rateable value. These are the same bands as those used for determining the level of their fees under the Licensing Act, such as their annual fee. Moreover, the levy will in almost all cases be payable at the same time as the annual fee. It should therefore make the levy simple for licensing authorities to administer as they can collect it alongside the annual fee each year, keeping administration costs to a minimum.
Using the same design as the existing licence fee also means that premises that are likely to be larger and more profitable, such as a supermarket or large nightclub, are likely to pay more than a small one-roomed pub. We estimate that almost one-quarter of premises with the lowest rateable value—those in band A, such as many small pubs—will pay a contribution of £299 each year and over half of premises in the next band, band B, will pay £768 each year. Only around 0.5% of premises in the highest band, the largest city centre pubs and clubs that exclusively or primarily sell only alcohol for consumption on the premises, will pay the maximum levy charge of £4,440.
The Government are clear that local communities and agencies are best placed to tackle alcohol-related issues in their area and that the late-night levy is a critical tool in helping them to create the night-time economy that they want. They recognise the vital role of the police and licensing authorities in maintaining a safe night-time economy and will help to support the provision of visible and proactive policing and other services where they are needed. I hope that the Committee will agree with the Government that these regulations are an appropriate use of the powers conferred on the Home Secretary by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. I beg to move.
My Lords, during the passage of the Act we debated the inflexibility regarding the fact that the levy, if it is applied, applies only to a whole local authority area, notwithstanding that the area is most unlikely to be homogenous. Few local authorities comprise only town centres; in fact, I am not sure that any do—I cannot think of any. Few local authorities comprise only rural areas. Open areas include suburbs, and they are very different from the central entertainment district area. Indeed, town centres in the same local authority area can be quite different. However, that is a matter of history—living history, to be sure, but it is fixed.
I understand that work has progressed and continues to progress on the exemption categories, and that is welcome, but exempting by type rather than geography does not deal with all the issues. One possible category floated during the consultation was “business improvement districts”, but Birmingham has been mentioned to me as having seven or eight BIDs, only two of which focus on the night-time economy, so it is not possible there to look at all the BIDs as if they raise the same issues.
I was quite startled to see that the number of responses to the consultation mentioned by the Explanatory Memorandum was 631, so I went on to the Home Office website—our old friend—to see what the Government’s response was to this. The first response from the website was, “There are too many pending search requests”. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, looks as if she had a similar experience. I do not want to keep on whingeing but it is worth putting on the record that these things are noted. I rather doubted that the problems were a result of all the people who were planning to speak in this debate. I do not know whether the issue was too many requests overall or just to a particular part of the site, but the problems with the Home Office website are still being felt. However, I eventually got through and I am glad that I did because, to put the positive point, I could see that a lot of work had been done by the Home Office in pursuing the detail of these regulations and their application. With regard to BIDs, the government response indicates that we will have to await guidance on the eligibility of particular BIDs for exemption.
Given the concern not to have local authorities exercising their judgment over whether particular premises are operated responsibly, I was interested that premises within a business improvement district may be exempt if the BID has,
“a satisfactory crime and disorder focus”.
I am interested in how that judgment is to be made and in the point about discretion. Community premises must not only have had the designated premises supervisor requirement removed but have,
“demonstrated that they operate responsibly”,
which again seems to require a judgment by the local authority. I welcome the discretion given to licensing authorities in this area, but I wonder at the rather patchy provision for the application of that discretion.
On more specific points regarding the regulations—I warned the Minister that I was going to raise these points—under Regulation 7.3, the licensing authority has a discretion with regard to the reduction when the late-night authorisation lapses or is prohibited. Why should it have a discretion? Secondly, in Regulation 4.2, premises under construction are to go into one specific band, band C, apparently regardless of size. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain the thinking behind this. I would have thought that there would be a valuation and the attribution to a band after construction and before the premises were operating, so I do not understand the need to attribute a band when premises are under construction if they are not operating, nor why it should be the same band. There is no cost of the sort which the late night levy is aimed at meeting—no night-time economy cost.
Thirdly, under Regulation 4(4), when there are two or more hereditaments, the rateable value is not the aggregate, which would seem to be a common-sense response to that. However, I am sure that there is some more sophisticated thinking behind that. The noble Baroness ended by saying that she hoped that noble Lords would accept that this was a proper way to implement the provisions of the primary legislation. I certainly assure her that for my part I do.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, to her new responsibilities. If the change from her previous responsibilities was done in an attempt to avoid my questions, I must commiserate with her as I think that we will face one another across the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions. I welcome her to her new position as she always takes great care to look at and respond to issues raised by noble Lords. I am grateful to her for her explanation of these regulations as I wish to raise some concerns and questions with her.
Few could disagree with the necessity of trying to find ways to support a safe night-time economy and take action against irresponsible drinking, which is a serious nuisance to others and can deter people from using other facilities in the evening, as the noble Baroness will understand. It is a hard issue to tackle. The previous Government looked at the establishment of alcohol disorder zones, which the noble Baroness tactfully did not mention, but that did not achieve the desired result. I have concerns around the detail of these regulations and wonder whether they will make a significant difference. Even the Government’s own impact assessment identifies a serious risk that they will not be used very much. Of the 349 licensing authorities in England and Wales, the Government’s own impact assessment gives a best estimate of 16 and a likely range of between eight and 40 using early morning restriction orders, so there is a question mark over how effective these measures will be if they are not used very much. The impact assessment also estimates that the loss of late-night alcohol sales in the area affected by the EMRO is a net total of £9.3 million but says that this is subject to considerable uncertainty. That makes me question whether the measure we are discussing is all that it is cracked up to be. Will it do the job that needs to be done? I am not necessarily criticising the measure. I merely ask that question as I recognise how difficult it is to address this issue. As the noble Baroness said in her opening comments, the measure is only a tool that can be used by local authorities if they wish to do so.
I wish to raise a number of questions. Given the uncertainty reflected in the impact assessment, to which she has referred, I welcome the Government’s commitment to review the operation of the regulations and the levy. I experienced problems trying to access information on the Home Office website. Unfortunately, we will frequently return to that point. Over the weekend I was not able to access the Government’s response to the consultation. However, I was able to ascertain that the Government intend to review and assess the levy after a minimum of five years. I welcome that commitment to review the operation, which is a positive step forward. However, a minimum of five years could mean that it is reviewed in 10 years’ time. What timescale does the Minister envisage we are talking about before a review takes place?
The Government have responded to the LGA and ACPO submissions to the consultation. The two bodies questioned the 30/70 split. The Local Government Association was concerned about the admin costs. It said that if there is a 30/70 split, with 30% of the revenue going to local government and 70% to the police, admin expenses would of necessity come out of the 30%. I want to clarify that because my understanding of what the noble Baroness has said is different from my understanding of the relevant documentation. My understanding was that the Government had accepted the representations from the Local Government Association that the 70/30 split would be net and that the admin expenses would be taken out prior to the 30/70 split, not out of the 30%. If the Minister could clarify that, that would be helpful. That creates a problem, because it was said at the beginning that the police would get at least 70% of the amount. Now it is going to be 70% of the net amount—less than 70%—it having been said that it would be at least 70%.
It would be helpful if there was some guidance on what would be reasonable expenses to come out of the levy. What can local authorities expect to be able to identify as reasonable charges? It would clearly be unacceptable if one local authority was charging five or 10 times as much as another on admin before the money taken by the levy was spent on services such as the Minister identified. Will there be any guidance on what are reasonable admin expenses, will that information be published and will there be any monitoring of how the money is spent on both admin and the provision of services?
I think that what the Government are seeking to address is that both local authorities and the police incur additional expenditure when there are problems caused by late-night drinking and anti-social behaviour. Publication and complete openness about where the money is spent would be useful for those businesses which will be paying the levy. They are currently already paying licensing fees and council tax, which they have been told for many years includes a proportion for the police. If the expenditure figures are published, it will be clear to them why the additional tax is needed—or otherwise.
One reason why I ask for that is that we are all aware of the financial pressures on local authorities and on the police. The danger is that the levy will not be an additional source of revenue for local authorities or the police but one to make up revenue that they have lost where they have cut services, so that it will be not new but replacement expenditure.
Judith Woodman is a councillor in Cardiff who in March was the deputy leader of Cardiff Council with responsibility for community safety. Over Christmas, they conducted something called Operation Mistletoe in conjunction with the police. She said how fantastic it was and that she wanted it to continue, but that it came at a cost. With further cuts to follow to the council’s budget, she could not say that they would definitely be able to carry it on. That is why, she said,
“the Late-Night Levy might prove very useful for us”.
So she is saying that this is not a new initiative that the late-night levy will fund; it is replacement expenditure for something that is to be cut. I am concerned that all businesses in the council area will be paying for something caused by a few when everybody is already paying.
In Essex, by 2014, my local police force will be losing one in 10 of our frontline officers. The previous Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that the Government were introducing the levy for a clear and specific purpose, but if it is a success and money comes in, the temptation to plug existing spending gaps will be forced on the police and local authorities. That is why publishing that information and making it easy to access— that means not on the Home Office website—will clarify the justification for the levy: that it will be something extra, not replacement funding.
How many additional police officers does the Minister expect to be employed as a result of the levy? I appreciate that we do not know how many local authorities will be involved, but the Government’s estimate is between eight and 40, expecting about 16. If 70% of the money that comes in will be spent by the police, how many additional police officers can we expect to see employed as a result?
I am also slightly puzzled about the system of exemptions. It seems to apply to all licensed premises that have a late licence between the hours of 12 and six—or whenever the levy applies. What if those premises are open late at night only a couple of times a year on special occasions and for special events, not counting New Year’s Eve, which I know is covered? Say that there are two or three occasions on which they want a late-night licence. Will they be forced to pay in the same way as those that have a regular late-night licence? Will premises that have no history of ever causing problems, which consider that through their licence fees and their council tax they already pay for these services, also be expected to pay? So this concerns those that have an occasional licence to open late and those where there is no history of problems being caused.
The reason why I raise this is that the Minister was very specific in her opening comments about irresponsible licensed premises. My understanding is that the levy would be there to target irresponsible licensed premises but, if I understand correctly what has been said now, it would cover all licensed premises for those specific times when they were open in a council area. Would it include restaurants, for example? Also, if the Minister could say anything about the adjustments to payments in the order, I would be very grateful, because I got completely lost in that part of the order. Some further explanation would be helpful.
I have two other questions. Has any assessment been made of the scale of the take-up by local authorities that would be needed to make this levy viable? I note that before implementation the local authority would have to consult various people and bodies, and Regulation 9 of the regulations specifies which bodies those are—the relevant policing body, the relevant chief officer of police and holders of relevant late-night authorisations. There is no mention of consultation with the public on that, and I wonder why not.
I understand the principle that the Government are trying to address. My concerns here are specific: will this work and is it practical, or is there a danger that all the Government are doing here is cutting expenditure in one area and then passing on new costs to businesses—costs that have previously been covered by business rates and licence fees—to replace the funding that is being cut from their budgets?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for her contribution, as well as my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I will seek to address the points that have been raised. I start by saying clearly that the late-night levy does not affect any pub or club that is open during standard opening hours—that is, not open beyond midnight. We are talking only about premises that are going to be late-night premises. It is important that I restate that because often, when we get into debates of this kind, when we are talking we quite naturally assume that everyone else knows that this relates only to a specific portion of a particular sector rather than to everyone.
I thank the noble Baroness for her warm welcome. In fact, one of the few things that have not changed in my range of responsibilities in the past few weeks is being Home Office Whip, so in fact I am staying put on this one. It is always a pleasure to face the noble Baroness at the Dispatch Box. I will try to address her points before I turn to my noble friend’s, which cover more specific points of detail, and it might be the simplest thing to take them in order.
The noble Baroness welcomed our commitment to review how the levy worked but asked why we said that we would do so a minimum of five years after it had taken place. To commit now to when we will conduct that review would be premature because we need to see how it operates before we can say that. However, I take the point on board; if the levy is not operating correctly, then we will need to review it sooner rather than later.
The noble Baroness asked about the 70:30 revenue split between the police and the local authority. I can confirm that the cost will be removed from the revenue before that split takes place. As to whether there will be any guidelines, or publication around those guidelines, so that a local authority prescribes costs at a reasonable level, we will specify in separate regulations the type of expenses that may be deducted by the licensing authority. There is a power in the regulations for a limit to be placed on the amount that licensing authorities can charge for certain administrative costs under the late-night levy, and this would be used only if it became clear that there was widespread overcharging of expenses by the licensing authorities.
I understand the noble Baroness’s wider point concerning transparency in how the money is spent, and people will want to see that. With regard to the use made by the police of the money they receive, I would expect the local police and crime commissioners, once they are in place and as part of their responsibility to make public how the police budgets are being used, to include some reference to this. However, that will obviously be a matter for them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked how many police officers will be employed as a result of the late-night levy. It is not possible for me to be specific on that but I would reiterate a point that I made earlier. While, as I have said and she has acknowledged, the late-night levy is being introduced as a way of contributing to a range of measures to tackle late-night binge-drinking and all its effects, we are not expecting it to cover all policing costs around the late-night economy. It will make a contribution.
The noble Baroness asked about premises which are not currently open between midnight and 6 am, or which may want to take advantage of the window that will be open to them. Some establishments may decide to change their opening hours in order not to be caught by the levy, and there will be an opportunity for them to do so without incurring any costs. However, if there are premises whose licences allow them to open only prior to whatever time period the local authority decides to introduce, they will be able to apply for temporary extension notices for occasional events, as they do now.
That is correct. The noble Baroness asked who is covered by the exemptions—a point also referred to by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. For the sake of accuracy, it is worth saying that the exemptions and reductions are not covered by these regulations; they are part of another set of regulations. However, the noble Baroness asked whether restaurants in particular would be exempt. A restaurant selling alcohol that was open during the period during which the local authority deemed the late-night levy would apply would be caught by the levy. However, excluded under the exemptions would be a hotel with overnight accommodation whose bar was open only to residents during the period of late-night levy that might be operational in another part of the authority. That hotel would not be caught.
My noble friend asked about exemptions. As I said, those are not strictly covered by these regulations, but I think that one of her points was to question why the exemptions are not by geographic area but by types of establishment—perhaps expressing her disappointment is a better way to define it. That is because it would be very difficult for the licensing authority to introduce the levy in that way. One of the things that we are trying to achieve is to make sure that this is the least burdensome that it can possibly be in terms of administrative cost. If a venue operating in a part of the licensing authority was caught by the levy charges, had opened in that levy’s time and had attracted any kind of policing need, policing costs would be involved by the very nature of the police probably having to leave the town centre to go to that area. However, there are specific exemptions, as my noble friend acknowledged. Venues such as country village pubs would fall under that heading.
The noble Baroness asked about the business improvement districts and how in particular they are caught by the exemptions. These matters are not the subject of the regulations today but we have made provision in separate regulations that business improvement districts with a crime prevention objective will be capable of being exempt from the levy, which addresses her concern on that. She also asked whether the licensing authority would have discretion on community premises. The authority will not have to make a new decision on community premises because they are already defined as a group of premises under the Licensing Act. If somebody’s premises fall under that heading, they are already identified as being premises of that kind.
Before I turn to the detail of my noble friend’s questions, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked how many authorities we expect to introduce the levy. I think I am right in saying that the number she was referring me to was actually for the EMROs. As far as the late-night levy is concerned, we expect about 94 licensing authorities to take advantage of it.
As to the specific questions raised by my noble friend on why the licensing authority has discretion under Regulation 7(3), we believe that licensing authorities should have the discretion to adjust a holder’s liability if the licence is surrendered—for instance, because the licence holder ceases to trade. There is good reason for this. The availability of such discretion reflects the fact that the circumstances in which a licence holder may surrender the licence will vary considerably from case to case. For instance, a licensing authority might choose to exercise this discretion where the surrender is as a result of the licence holder suffering a long-term illness, but not in a case where a licence holder surrendered the licence in anticipation of it being revoked at a review hearing. We believe that it should be open to a licensing authority to decide that holders whose licences are revoked for contravening the licensing objectives should not be eligible for a reduction in their liability to the levy.
My noble friend also asked why premises under construction are to go into band C—a single band regardless of size—in Regulation 4(2). Premises that have a rateable value will be placed in the appropriate band. Regulation 4(2) addresses only those cases where there is no rateable value. Some premises, such as public parks or agricultural land, are exempt from rating. Where this is the reason that there is no rating, the premises are treated as being in the lowest band, band A. Where the premises have no rateable value because they are under construction, the premises are placed in band C.
Finally, my noble friend asked why, when there are two or more hereditaments, the rateable value is not the aggregate. The use of the higher band in Regulation 4(4), as opposed to the aggregate, is intended to reflect the way such a case would be treated under the current fees regulations as a matter of administrative convenience. It should be noted that this is expected to be a rare and temporary circumstance. Where there is identity of occupation, the premises will form a single hereditament.
I think I have covered the points that have been raised today. In conclusion, the levy is a key part of our work to rebalance the Licensing Act in favour of local communities. I am sure the Committee will agree that it is right that those businesses that benefit from selling alcohol late at night should make a reasonable contribution to late-night policing costs.
I am grateful for the support that has been voiced today by noble Lords.
With regard to my point about premises under construction, the Minister’s answer—and I do not blame her as it is all quite complicated—was, “Well, when they’re under construction, they’re in band C”, which is repeating the question rather than being an answer. Will she be able to let me have a note about the underlying thinking about why they will be in band C and why there is any need for a band to be attributed to premises which are not operating because they are still being constructed? I do not want to delay noble Lords now but I will be interested in the detail if the noble Baroness is able to deal with it after today.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, just before the Clerk calls the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, I remind your Lordships that we are entering on a timed debate and the clock is not working. This is something of a problem but, none the less, times will be given for the guidance of noble Lords. I think that the speakers’ list shows the times expected. The Clerk and I will make a note of the times when noble Lords begin to speak. I am not saying that we will gesticulate at noble Lords when their time is up but, should they wish to ask us how long they have been speaking, we will be very happy to oblige them.
Question for Short Debate
In last year’s excellent Commons debate highlighting the economic contribution of zoos to local, regional and national economies, Andrew Rosindell MP proclaimed:
“Zoos are at the heart of everything”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/2011; col. 274WH.]
After Rosindell’s bold assertion, speakers glowed with proprietary pride about the pride of place that each of their zoos has in the heart of their local communities and about the important but unsung job contribution of our some 300 UK zoos, but economic questions remain. Will Her Majesty’s Government explore, with the redoubtable British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums—BIAZA—the zoos’ role in regenerating local communities and, with BIAZA, produce a policy statement on the untapped potential of zoos to aid training, apprenticeships and job schemes in this time of economic downturn? Will the Government recognise the singular regional role of zoos, well illustrated by my local zoo, Chester, which sits at the heart of and astride the north-west and North Wales region, its benign tentacles spreading across the scientific community, the vibrant tourism industry and the education and research community in schools, FE colleges and local universities?
Chester Zoo also promotes forward thinking on the care of the environment. Zoos will have an as yet untapped and influential role in charting our response to climate change. Indeed, zoos’ pivotal role in preserving, conserving and displaying the wealth of wildlife in our interconnected world was brought home to me in a recent visit to Chester Zoo and its black rhinos. Informed of the danger to the world’s black rhino population from illegal rhino horn trading in Far East and African markets, I raised Questions here in your Lordships’ House and actively took up the matter in Vietnam, the centre of the illegal trade and entrepôt for Chinese dealers who trade in the mistaken belief that black rhino horn confers aphrodisiac or medicinal powers on the recipient.
Given zoos’ roles in innovatory thinking within a languishing economy, the incoming coalition’s overhasty abandonment of RDA grants was unwelcome in the zoo world. In the same vein, will the Minister investigate the difficulties that zoos have in accessing lottery and heritage funds? Given that zoos are for the most part independent, self-financing institutions, will the Government look more favourably on zoos as hothouses for enterprise? Indeed, will the Government directly respond to BIAZA’s well argued An Economic Impact Assessment for the Zoo and Aquarium Sector and sponsored, but still relevant, Manifesto for Zoos?
Given the variety of zoos’ functions and footfall, will the Minister assure me that he has had full briefings not just from Defra but from other departments, even from the FCO? After all, panda diplomacy at Edinburgh Zoo panders admirably with the FCO’s wider and wiser engagement with China. In the preparation for replying to this debate, which departments other than Defra spoke of their distinctive interest in the success of Britain’s zoos? Did the Treasury, which might just recognise investment opportunities in active zoos; DCMS, wrongly vested with responsibility for tourism, which is more properly the domain of the Treasury or BIS; or the Department for Education, for instance? Zoos cater for an important group of unengaged children who, cabined, cribbed and confined by classroom teaching, are liberated among zoo animals and their enthusiastic keepers in the classroom of the open air. Zoos demand a multidisciplinary approach from the Government. Will the Minister confess that we have not yet achieved that?
DCLG is important too, given that local authorities are charged with the task, devolved from Defra, of licensing zoos, but local authorities are already wilting under the burden of delivering local services to national standards in a climate of dwindling resources. It is to this issue, the running of zoos generally, that I now turn. A Licence to Suffer is a controversial and contentious analysis of the regulatory protection of animals in zoos. Its methodology is challenged, as are many of its dispiriting conclusions about the state of animal welfare in our zoos. It declares that,
“there are simply too many zoos, too many animals, too little training, too little understanding of the legislation, too little enforcement”.
That should give us pause for thought. In their proper concern for the welfare of the 190,000 animals in our zoos in England, are the Government convinced that we have a suitable supervisory system? If the author of the report, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, is even one-quarter right, we have much still to do to comply with our own domestic legislation, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, and the EU zoo directive 1999.
In that regard, it is disappointing to learn that Defra has recently discontinued its instructional workshops for local authority licensing officers who may simply not have the time, expertise and resources to ensure compliance with the local authority’s statutory duties in respect of zoos. The Born Free Foundation makes similar criticisms. Will the Government introduce a more formal mechanism to evaluate and measure the outcomes of the education and conservation programmes that zoos are legally required to undertake? Is sufficient time and expertise given to quality zoo inspections currently undertaken by local authorities? Are sufficient experienced veterinarians available to help the local authorities in that task? Will the Minister ensure a regular national analysis of all zoo inspection reports to monitor compliance with the Zoo Licensing Act, thereby highlighting the efficacy or otherwise of the current inspection regime? Furthermore, is the Minister alarmed that some one in four zoos may fail to respond to licence conditions imposed in the aftermath of adverse zoo inspections? Indeed, does the Minister accept that improved and modern methods of animal welfare assessment should be urgently and universally introduced, and that there is a compelling case for improved science-based, species-specific guidelines when keeping animals in zoos? Finally, will the Minister agree that zoos that repeatedly and wilfully transgress in the welfare of kept animals should be closed? Indeed, what will the Government do to help the zoo world fulfil its own proper ambitions for the highest standards of animal welfare?
I am most definitely not a zoo abolitionist. Indeed, I believe passionately in well run zoos performing their myriad roles of conservation, preservation, education and scientific discovery, and providing sheer enjoyment and wonder to millions of our citizens, including children, by displaying the world’s unparalleled fauna. I am reminded that the imperishable Charles Darwin learnt not only from studying animals in their natural habitats, such as the turtles on the Galapagos Islands, but from his regular visits to the then newly established London zoo. Jenny the orang-utan and the fast-breeding finches each helped him to formulate his far-reaching thoughts on the origins of species and, ultimately, of humans themselves. Zoos, too, are at the heart of science and human understanding.
All the interested parties that I have consulted share common cause in promoting animal welfare, and none more so than the estimable BIAZA. Its regular questionnaires to its membership provide us with a veritable wealth of data on who runs zoos, their viability and economic impact, including the numbers of visitors and scales of entrance charges, zoos’ education role and their marketing strategies and, perhaps most importantly, their conservation and research roles, including field conservation and animal management. The Government should acknowledge and immerse themselves in BIAZA’s treasure trove of zoo facts and figures. In the 2010 survey, BIAZA’s cri de coeur is the crying need for its members to reply diligently to the questionnaires. Only then can BIAZA document the transparency and accountability of zoos as well as celebrating their achievements and calibrating their shortcomings. BIAZA is alive, unlike some of its members, to the imperative to explain to the world—
I am in the fortunate position that I can see a clock. The noble Lord might like to know that he has exceeded his allotted 10 minutes and perhaps he might bring his remarks to a close. Given the lack of a clock in front of us, I will keep an eye for other noble Lords.
I was completing my remarks about the Government helping and aiding BIAZA in its task of bringing in the very best standards of zoo management. I have not been able to touch on the European angle, which I had hoped to do, but I look forward to hearing from colleagues examples of the good that zoos do for our communities, as well as what the Government can contribute to this important task, which I think all of us around this Table share.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate. I can keep an eye on a clock just behind the noble Baroness. I spotted the time so I will not be short-changed. I also welcome the Minister to his position. He has taken on an excellent role. Considering that most zoos deal with endangered species, it is perhaps fitting that we are talking here about Defra, which has taken such savage cuts—which is reasonable given the number of people working for it—as of course have most other departments. However, there are probably too many cuts in the area that we are looking at.
I am a major supporter of zoos. I think that those who are against zoos have made very valid arguments. However, zoos have changed massively over the past few years from the zoos that I remember as a child. I am a particular supporter because I used to live almost next to London zoo and I could tell the calls of the gibbons and hear the lions. It was fantastic. My mother remarked that she knew that she had been to London zoo too often when my sisters knew the difference between an Arabian oryx and a gazelle more than they knew the difference between sheep and cows, but that is one of the joys of living next to London zoo. In fact I had my wedding reception at London zoo. We cut the wedding cake in the ballroom and were then directed to the aquarium for the reception. I learnt something amazing: do not walk through the monkey houses at night, since monkeys and apes will apparently throw soft and squidgy substances at you if you walk too close to their cages.
I am not alone in appreciating zoos; roughly 24 million visitors visited zoos last year, which is about one-third of the population. We should not forget that about 1.3 million educational visits took place in that time, and those are often children’s first introduction to zoos. Now, unlike when we went to zoos as children, it is clearly shown how endangered those species are, and children, including my children, come away understanding how fragile the environment is and how much damage we as a species have done to it.
Zoos are incredibly important to the economy: 11,000 permanent jobs are related to zoos, and BIAZA members contribute around £658 million of activity to the economy. One of the problems with zoos, however, is that we often associate them only with large species such as elephants, tigers and lions. In London zoo the elephants were moved out because of concerns about space. In fact, I know many of the elephant keepers. If you want to hear about zoos, go to the Albert pub just around the corner, where most of the keepers go for a drink after work; some of the stories about their dedication, but also about the problems of elephants can cause, are quite fun after a couple of pints.
However, we are talking not only about elephants and tigers but about much smaller species, such as the massive success of ZSL in British field cricket conservation. If you look this up on the website, the story is fantastic; I had not seen a field cricket before, but London zoo has bred 14,000 of them since 1991 and probably saved the species in this country. It is a biodiversity strategy action plan species in Britain that might well have disappeared. We are talking not just about British species, however; we are talking about species such as the Dominican mountain chicken. It is very important to preserve this frog—I was surprised when it turned out to be a frog, but it is a fabulous thing. There is a video on the website showing the mountain chicken feeding its unfertilised eggs to its tadpoles that have just hatched, a first in British zoos.
One of the questions that arise for the Minister is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pointed out, licensing is a vital aspect of the operation of zoos, and one of the problems due to the funding cuts is that there has been a merger between those bodies—I was going to say what they were but I cannot actually remember what their acronyms stand for—that look after zoos. Defra, which used to supply the training for local authority inspectors, no longer does so because of the cuts; in fact it does not send out timings for local authority visits, which it used to. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this.
I understand my noble friend’s problems in dealing with budgets in particular areas, but it is not in zoos’ interests to have poor zoos operating, and there are examples of that, although the majority of zoos in this country run to the highest standard. I suggest that due to these cuts, which for many reasons will probably not be rolled back by any party after the next election, we should probably look outside the box. There are extremely good zoos in this country and most of the people who work in them are passionate—if you go down to the Albert and talk to the people who work in the zoo, you will see how passionate they are—about the standards that should apply.
I know that the Minister cannot answer tonight, but could he talk with his officials about self-regulation being a way forward? One problem is that if local authority licensing inspectors are not trained, that stores up problems because they do not know what they are meant to be looking for. Self-regulation is not the best solution, but it might be a very good cost-effective solution for the future.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue today. When we are looking at legislation and government responsibility regarding zoos we have to understand how wide the definition is of zoos and how many different kinds of premises can be licensed. As well as the smaller number of large, more professionally managed zoos, there are probably hundreds of zoos in various shapes and sizes and some are clearly more willing and able to follow their obligations under their licenses and EU directive than others.
I am a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society and a supporter of the Born Free Foundation. I am grateful to both of those organisations for the information and advice that they provided for this debate and also for the wider education and monitoring role that they fulfil, whose value the Government have recognised.
Zoos should operate only under a local authority licence. The system of regulation across the UK is there to ensure that zoos are safe for the public to visit, that they have high standards of welfare that are maintained and that they make a contribution to the conservation of wildlife. The legal basis is the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 which was amended in 2003 to include the provisions of the European zoos directive. That is informed by a set of standards from the Secretary of State for Defra and additional guidance. They are not just there to be bureaucratic. They are there for real value to ensure high standards for both animals and the public.
The legal protection is only ever as good as its enforcement. I refer to a report from the Captive Animals Protection Society which commissioned an independent study. The report was based not just on visits to zoos, but as we are talking about regulation of zoos, official documents from licensing authorities and from Defra. The report was called A Licence to Suffer: A Critical Analysis of Regulatory Protection of Animals in Zoos in England. Unfortunately, its findings give real cause for concern because a fundamental requirement of inspections was not being met in too many cases.
Some 70% per cent of local authorities with zoos have missed one inspection since 2005. That is around 380 inspections missed over the course of the study. I quote from the report which is an indication. In one district council,
“informal inspections were not carried out in 2005 or 2006”.
In Portsmouth City Council, the report stated:
“The only record of inspections on file are 2008, 2009 and 2010. It would appear that with the exception of complaint visits, no inspections were carried out since 2002”.
That was not uncommon. There were a number of areas where no inspections were carried out at all.
For those inspections that took place, there was real concern whether enough inspectors were available for enough time to ensure that the licence conditions of the EU directive and legislative conditions were not being breached. Using the Defra Zoo 2 forms, inspectors, even though they gave a positive report, would then identify that there were problems. In 34% of cases identified from the official Defra forms—more than a third—the inspectors stated that the existing licence conditions were met but then went on to provide additional information as to why they were not being met. I quote from one of them where the inspector marked “Yes” to the question,
“Are on site veterinary site conditions adequate?”
However, he said that the facility was inadequate and,
“should be brought up to a modern standard as a matter of urgency … It is strongly advised that the zoo management discuss these changes with the collection’s veterinarian without delay”.
However, he had been saying that every year since 2007 and no action had been taken.
In one question, where the inspector said that the conditions were being properly addressed, he also said that there are a few issues that need addressing, such as conditions 16, 17, 19 and 30 of the licence. So although inspectors are satisfied that conditions are being met they then move on to list the conditions that are not being met. Clearly there are a number of unsatisfactory issues that are not being addressed. The report stated:
“The study found that 68% of inspection reports had unsatisfactory issues found during inspections that did not make it into suggested conditions and 40% of reports had unsatisfactory issues found which were transposed into neither suggested conditions nor recommendations”.
I appreciate that many people have affectionate relationships with local zoos. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about his relationship with London zoo, as will the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, talked of Chester Zoo. My experience is somewhat different. In my former constituency and my hometown, we used to have a small embarrassment of a zoo of which the highlight was Carla the lioness. An undercover BBC reporter claimed that he was able to buy this sorrowful, pathetic lioness for £1,500 with no paperwork or regard for her welfare. The zoo eventually closed in 2001, but I never understood how it could get a licence or how it had been inspected and allowed to remain open. I draw that distinction because when people think of zoos, they think of the great zoos, the big zoos, which are open to public inspection regularly so that people know what goes on. Smaller zoos and other establishments around the country are not of the same standard. If the inspection regime is inadequate, we must raise concerns about the welfare of animals in those zoos. It got to the point where I dreaded getting another distraught letter from a child upset at what they had seen in that zoo.
Given the report, there was clearly a need for the Government to take the evidence seriously. A second report was given to the European Commission regarding the lack of enforcement action taken against zoos that were not meeting even the most basic legal standards. That is now being investigated by the EU and we hope for a response in the next few months. More immediately, the Captive Animals Protection Society presented its report to local and central government. I congratulate the Government, who should take pride in the way that they responded with new formal guidance and detailed recommendations for local authorities regarding inspection. The Government have beefed up the tools available to ensure that standards are being met and legislation is being enforced. That may lead to some zoos closing down, like Basildon, but if they are unable to meet the most basic standards, that is the right way forward. That is a positive response from the Government on which I congratulate them.
A further inquiry by the Born Free Foundation in 2011 investigated the implementation and enforcement of the EU directive regarding zoo animals across a number of European countries. Again, it gave real cause for concern. Born Free has presented a number of recommendations to the Government, including on inspection, conservation and education. There are some very good examples of zoos that are abiding by the regulations and their licence conditions, but the only way that we can allow all zoos to proceed is if they all abide by their licensing conditions and the European regulations.
My Lords, these are times when our attention is largely captured by the great economic and political concerns that dominate the public agenda. Consequently, we tend to neglect or downplay some of the naturalistic dimensions of life that underpin our humanity. Today, we have an opportunity to reflect on such elements, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has initiated this debate and thank him for the same.
In various ways, modern society has reduced the public spaces in which people everywhere can commune with nature. That is perhaps inevitable, but we are in danger of losing something very precious. Zoos and zoological gardens are places that are both instructive and recreational and which people of all ages and backgrounds can share. Well-managed zoos, in particular, increase our awareness of the natural world and illustrate that man does not and should not live by bread alone.
I say that with a certain passion because of a particular personal experience. Nearly 50 years ago, I came to this country to give my daughter some desperately needed medical treatment. Sadly, it could not save her, but in those last few months I saw and felt the extraordinary happiness that this small child with a terminal condition derived from frequent visits to London zoo. Somehow, this environment, where other children and animals relaxed in a natural setting, brought all of us in the family closer together and eased the pain of the tragedy she and we confronted. These memories will always linger and I recount them not out of emotional nostalgia but because these are circumstances that in some way or other are re-enacted in countless families everywhere.
In good times and bad, parents and children are brought into close communion through sharing facilities such as zoos. The modern zoo, perhaps more than any other public institution, is now a location for family-building and reinforcement. In my regular visits to London zoo I have also seen our senior citizens, some of whom are often adrift in our modern society, find comfort in the relaxed atmosphere and feeling of community. My own fateful experience awakened me to the importance of zoological gardens. After my daughter’s passing, I continued to visit London zoo often. Some years later, in 1990, I learnt that this zoo was in distressed financial circumstances and on the brink of closure due to the withdrawal of government funding. I felt an obligation to help in whatever way I could. Since then I have supported London zoo financially and engaged with it in an advisory capacity. This may also be considered as my declaration of interest. In these 20 years I have learnt a great deal about zoos and the social role they play. Today, the renamed Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo at London zoo sets the standard for children’s zoos around the world.
London zoo is now a thriving institution visited by over 1 million people annually. It has conservation activities in Britain and more than 50 other countries. It has educational programmes whereby each year more than 100,000 children receive information and instruction. The zoo academy teaches career potential in areas such as zoo-keeping, veterinary and conservation and its workshops, higher education courses and awards receive high recognition. Whenever your Lordships have a little spare time, I urge a visit to the Rainforest Lookout, Penguin Beach, Gorilla Kingdom and Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo. You will see why I am so enthusiastic about the benefits that such excursions bring to young people.
In recent times, the concept of zoos has been redefined. They are no longer cramped and caged accommodations for animals as objects on show. The modern zoo is a centre of interaction between man and nature, a place for conservation and preservation of endangered species and a kind of living classroom where both adults and children from all walks of life can move around freely. Zoos have become doors through which we can wander into the worlds that we are losing. This is not an Arcadian vision; the best British and Irish zoos and associated aquariums have more than 24 million visitors a year. Yet UK zoos, unlike museums, receive no direct government funding. Surely, this in itself tells us something about the way we assign our public priorities. That is why I strongly urge the Government to give appropriate consideration to renewing support for zoological gardens. We all understand that funding sources are scarce, but surely we can spare something to support activities that inspire us to treasure and preserve life rather than destroy it. We too rarely value and appreciate the places of peace, tranquillity and interaction with nature that affirm our faith in humanity. Thank you.
My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Harrison on instituting this needful and interesting debate, I declare an interest as a vice-president of Chester Zoo. I believe that most of us carry in our heads a sad image of a tiger or bear miserably pacing up and down behind bars and being gawped at by a crowd of onlookers. In larger zoos in the Western world, this is becoming a thing of the past. It is less so in small zoos; this must change.
Chester Zoo was established nearly 80 years ago to be a zoo without bars, and now it cares for more than 8,000 animals representing 400 species in 110 acres of gardens. The aim of the zoo is to be a major force in conserving biodiversity worldwide, achieving this through a combination of field conservation, research, conservation breeding, animal welfare and education. It is an example of what zoos should be. In addition to this, it is a major local employer with over 310 permanent staff, rising to about 600 employees at peak season. Regional spending generated by the zoo equates to about £40 million per annum and nearly £3 million at a local level. Those who administer zoos, particularly zoos which are neither very successful for the animals nor for those who come to see them, would do well to emulate Chester and study what has made it so successful and how it raises its own funding.
Looking in particular at those projects and innovations that zoo purists may have had doubts about but which became major attractions there is, for instance, the exhibition of giant dinosaur figures in a special area that is immensely attractive to children, the overhead train that spans the zoo and refreshment outlets and shops that make a special appeal to child visitors. The zoo is an important education venue in the north-west, teaching around 28,000 pupils annually on site in dedicated classrooms, with a further 70,000 pupils visiting as part of self-education trips. Children and young people are particularly important, for it is they who will bring their own children in the future. Those who run Chester Zoo know what a part zoos have to play in showing children kindness to animals and daily care for them. Certain species particularly attract children, notably the reptiles that so many adults find repulsive. I remember taking my own grandsons to Chester when they were little and how much they loved hearing zoologists talk while they held a snake and a rat.
Chester Zoo has 10 major field programmes working on a variety of species and habitats worldwide and covering 150 projects over 50 countries. It spent more than £1 million in 2011 to support these field conservation projects. It has a master plan with its first phase due to open in spring 2015. Entitled “Islands”, it is a scheme focused on the fragile biodiversity of south-east Asia. It awaits planning consent and should lead to: an increase of 150,000 visitors on delivery of the project; additional revenue of £2.8 million per annum for the zoo; 45 full-time jobs on the site plus an additional 35 from the related construction work; and an anticipated 31 long-term jobs within the wider business community.
The zoo is lovely. All the animals have plenty of space. The tigers have a wooded park; three cubs were born this year. The Indian elephants have a wide plain with a lake and waterfall; three elephants are currently pregnant. I have been honoured by being asked to name two calves, a male and a much prized female, Tunga, the powerful chieftain and Jamilah, the beautiful one. The bat house is dark and mysterious, populated by these beautiful fluttering creatures. The jaguars have a huge home, which is provided by the car company and divided into segments. Each has a house of its own. Jaguars are solitary creatures that like to live alone. They meet when going to the stream to bathe and drink. Red pandas live in the tops of tall trees and are free to move away if they wish, but they do not wish to. This should become a general standard, not a particular one, of wildlife care in captivity, a far cry from those pacing creatures of what we must hope are former times.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on securing this interesting debate, and I hope that the visitor numbers for Chester Zoo and London zoo rise as a result of the attention that they will no doubt receive. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on his new position, and warmly welcome him to the Dispatch Box. I am sure that he is relieved to have moved on from the sort of “super-sub” role that he was performing there and which is now being performed by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. He has a hard act to follow in the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who I really enjoyed working with, and I wish him in turn all the best at the Home Office.
We have heard praise for the great work that Chester Zoo and London zoo perform. We were privileged to listen to a particularly moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Paul, regarding his involvement in London zoo. My own experience, more personally, is with Monkey World in Dorset, which is licensed as a zoo but is actually a sanctuary. Effectively, it is the largest rescue centre for primates in Europe; it is also the nursery for orang-utans for Europe and is about the only place in the world successfully breeding woolly monkeys at the moment. Not that it wants to treat many of the species of primate there—it has more than enough chimpanzees, for example; I think that it is on its third or fourth troupe of chimps—but, sadly, that is a demonstration of the need for a rescue centre.
Monkey World started by rescuing chimps from the beaches of Spain and has now grown to encompass all manner of primates. It is not a collection, though, and that is an important thing to say in the context of the debate about zoos. A lot of zoos look to collect a couple of each species so that they can show everyone what they all look like. Clearly that does not apply to all zoos, nor to all species, but we should move welfare standards so that animals live as closely to how they live in the wild as possible. My noble friend Lady Rendell talked about the Jaguar being a solitary animal. Clearly you would not want to put a bunch of Jaguars in an enclosure together, but there are other species that you would want to because that is the way that they like to live and we do not want to put them in solitary confinement.
When my children were young, we followed the recommendation of their grandfather and took them to Marwell Zoo, near Winchester in Hampshire, which showed me as a parent the extraordinary educational value that well managed zoos can offer. Indeed, when I was exchanging views on zoos on Twitter over the weekend, one came from a friend of mine who works in one of the most innovative schools that I know, the Essa Academy in Bolton, talking about the marvellous educational value of zoos and what technology can now do to enhance that using, for example, augmented reality to show evolution and some of the extinct species that obviously are no longer available in zoos.
When I was a Defra Minister, I was also pleased to visit a wonderful project in the heart of the Amazon that the Darwin Initiative was funding with the Zoological Society for London to sustain local communities that were farming ornamental fish and looking at alternative ways of creating a living for those people.
It is worth recalling, though, that there are problems at times with zoos. We heard about those from my noble friend Lord Harrison in his fine speech, and there are horror stories from around the world of cramped cages, the illegal trade of social animals living in solitary confinement and animals dying of malnutrition, including in US zoos—this is not confined to zoos in the poorer parts of the world but can be in some of the richest places in the world. When I was researching this, I was hoping that I would not find any examples from this country that would cause me concern, but sadly there are indeed areas of concern. I had a look on YouTube at a film about Noah’s Ark zoo near Bristol that was made a couple of years ago. According to the TV report, it would appear that that zoo was effectively breeding tigers to supply circuses. We will shortly be debating wild animals and circuses. Certainly, we on this side do not support the use of wild animals in circuses and encourage the Government to end that practice as soon as they can. The keeper of that zoo seemed to regard it as being just a business and had lost touch with the conservation and education concepts that are at the heart of a successful zoo.
I have also seen the Born Free Foundation’s excellent report evaluating the implementation and enforcement of the 1999 directive, to which my noble friend Lady Smith referred. The foundation produces specific country reports for members of the Union. It is worth noting that the report says of England:
“Despite a concerted effort by Defra to support and advise Local Authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the ZLA, it is questionable as to whether Local Authorities have the time, funding and expertise to ensure effective application of zoo legislation in England”.
That point has been made in the debate with reference to the Zoo Licensing Act. The document continues:
“Overall, the findings of this investigation indicated that licensed zoos in England were not fully compliant with the ZLA”.
That has to be of great concern in this debate. The document further states:
“Overall, English zoos were making an insignificant contribution to Threatened and ‘conservation sensitive’ species”.
The report also contains other findings. Those findings are clearly of considerable concern to us and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to them. I would also be interested to hear anything he has to say about the story that appeared in the Sunday Express this week about zoos being inappropriately hired out for wild raves. Will he comment on the questions raised about local authority capability and expertise, consistent licensing quality and consistent inspection by local authorities? On balance, we are in favour of well managed zoos but are concerned that more needs to be done to raise the quality of regulation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for bringing this debate today, and to all noble Lords for their contributions. In fact, noble Lords probably have no idea how grateful I am for the opportunity to be here today.
I assure your Lordships that the Government are firmly of the view that well managed zoos play a key role in a number of areas. Most importantly, zoos play a significant part in promoting wildlife conservation. Several noble Lords referred to that. As I see it, this is their key role, and their activities include direct financial and in-kind support for projects aimed at conserving populations in the wild in this country and overseas. They also contribute and work together in managed breeding programmes and carry out research; for example, to support field conservation as well as to learn more about the animals in their care.
Noble Lords may have seen the “top 10” list of endangered species whose future is most reliant on conservation programmes supported by UK zoos. The list, published by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums in August, contains species such as the scimitar-horned oryx, from north Africa, which is extinct in the wild, and our own white-clawed crayfish, which is endangered. As an example, Bristol zoo has bred these crayfish in captivity and recently reintroduced 80 into the wild in the south-west. My noble friend Lord Redesdale mentioned another successful example.
Zoos have an important role in raising public awareness, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, so movingly said, and educating their visitors, who are often young people, about wild animals and their habitats in a relaxed and natural setting. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, also spoke about the importance of the educational facet of zoos. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, rightly said, zoos contribute to their local and regional economies. Last year a BIAZA report estimated that zoos contribute more than £600 million pounds to the economy each year. That economic contribution is important However, I am sure that BIAZA will be the first to agree that the contribution of zoos to conservation is paramount. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, highlighted a number of areas where work might be done with BIAZA to supplement support through its work. Following this debate, I shall ask officials to meet BIAZA to discuss a range of issues, and I myself will also look forward to meeting it in due course. One of the specific issues that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised was its concern about access to lottery funding, and I shall make sure that that is on the agenda.
We value the work that BIAZA is doing continuously to raise standards among its members, not to mention the key role that it plays in supporting the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in striving to raise standards across Europe. The Government also benefit from BIAZA’s expertise in that two members of the Zoos Expert Committee—the Government’s advisory body on zoos matters—are currently also from BIAZA member zoos.
I should add that we welcome the contribution made by the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions and the National Farm Attractions Network and we look forward to continuing to work with all organisations involved in zoos matters.
Of course, not everyone supports zoos, and some zoos are indeed still striving to meet the required standards. I shall come back to that because noble Lords have specifically raised the issue.
The Born Free Foundation asks that the conservation and education contributions made by zoos are formally evaluated and measured. Zoos are expected to review their activities. Indeed, this is a recommendation of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, among others, referred—which sets out the minimum standards that zoos are expected to meet. The conservation and education contribution is also assessed at each zoo inspection to make sure that these activities are taking place and are commensurate with the size and nature of the zoo.
The Born Free Foundation also asks for species-specific guidelines for zoos, illustrating the optimum standards for zoo animals. As noble Lords may know, the Government have recently updated and published the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice, which for the first time include a specific section on elephants. The welfare of elephants in zoos had become a matter of concern, with research indicating that serious problems existed. These new standards, which we introduced after discussions with BIAZA, will help to ensure that improvements are made to the welfare of elephants in UK zoos. While I am not yet persuaded that specific guidelines are needed for all animal species, I am happy to look at any evidence which suggests that further government intervention is needed. The Born Free Foundation’s inquiry has been very useful in raising awareness of zoos standards across Europe and I welcome any action which will help to improve standards wherever there are difficulties.
The Captive Animals Protection Society—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to this, as did other noble Lords—claims that the zoo licensing and inspection system is not being implemented properly and that, as a result, zoo animals are suffering. It is claimed that most of this is because local authorities are inconsistent in their application of the legislation. The Government have always been concerned to help and support local authorities in their role. They have had this role for 30 years—local authorities have been responsible for implementing the zoo licensing and inspection system since 1981. They arrange regular zoo inspections and issue zoo licences. They have powers to attach conditions to zoo licences to require that the standards are met. They have powers to require zoos to comply with any conditions, and ultimately they have powers to close a zoo.
It is the Government’s position that local authorities are best placed to implement the zoo licensing system. They know their local area and have close links with local communities. In many cases, they will be in touch with the zoos in their areas on a day-to-day basis, where they will be able to spot problems before they arise. To help them to carry out these activities, the Government have published comprehensive guidance on the requirements of the 1981 Act and have made this widely available.
I should add that, partly in response to concerns expressed about inconsistency in the implementation of the Act, the Government commissioned research to review local authority implementation. The research found that it was generally good and had improved in recent years, but that further improvement could be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lord Redesdale expressed concern that central government support to local authorities in delivering their zoo licensing obligations has diminished recently. Many local authorities have responded positively to these challenging times by working collaboratively to share good practice across local authority boundaries and through nominating officials who are experts in zoo licensing and who willingly share that knowledge and expertise with their colleagues in other local authorities. My noble friend Lord Redesdale asked me to look into self-regulation, and I am certainly happy to do that, although the directive clearly has an impact on it.
Let me assure noble Lords that the Government are tenacious and, to be fair, I pay tribute to the previous Administration who worked hard over many years to make sure that zoos aspire to and strive to achieve ever higher standards. The 1981 Act first set out the legislative framework for the inspection and licensing of zoos. This framework provided the model for the 1999 EU zoos directive. It is fair to say that the UK has led the way in setting and measuring standards in zoos since that time.
The Secretary of State’s standards are at the heart of the zoo licensing and inspection system. They are the minimum which zoos must meet and are taken into account by zoo inspectors and by local authority licensing officers. The Secretary of State has a list of zoo inspectors who he can call upon, including veterinary surgeons and practitioners who have experience of zoo animals and people who are competent to inspect animals in zoos, to advise on their welfare and to advise on the management of zoos generally. Inspectors play a key role in checking that zoos are meeting the required standards. They also support and assist zoos, helping them with any improvements which may be needed. They also support local authorities, for example, by recommending conditions which should be attached to zoo licences.
Successive Governments have also put in place arrangements to make sure they have the best possible advice to help them in developing policy on zoos matters. The Zoos Expert Committee consists of people who, between them, have a wide range of expertise in zoos matters. They provide independent, impartial and objective advice to the Government, which is invaluable, and for which I am very grateful. In particular, the committee has been instrumental in our work to support local authorities who arguably have the most important role in ensuring high standards in zoos.
But what of the future? I can advise your Lordships that the updated standards will come into effect on 1 November. Also on that date, a new guidance document will come into effect. Zoo Licensing Act 1981: Guide to the Act’s Provisions replaces and updates the existing guidance on the legislation and simplifies and brings together the ad hoc documents which are currently in place. It will help local authorities in carrying out their roles.
In November, Defra officials are hosting a second seminar for Secretary of State Zoo Inspectors who will have the opportunity to share their experiences and to compare their approaches to inspections. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked whether the Government could undertake further assessment of inspection reports. The Government have not only looked at local authorities’ implementation of licensing and the contribution that zoos make to education and research but have also responded to concerns on elephant welfare and have put measures in place to improve it.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to the Born Free Foundation’s 2009 EU zoo inquiry. The Government welcomed the BFF’s report on England’s zoos and have looked at it carefully in the context of their review of standards in their work on the new guidance for local authorities, taking it into account where appropriate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the Captive Animals Protection Society report A Licence to Suffer. The Government welcome that report and I shall cut things short a bit by saying that we have also taken it very much into account in the preparation of the guidelines, as I think she kindly mentioned.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government are working hard to maintain and improve standards in zoos. I have not mentioned the subject of the better running of European zoos. I suspect that I am running out of time, like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but it is extremely important to us and we are at the heart of that. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will do all they can to help support improving standards in zoos, but at the same time we have to continue to recognise in the European context individual member states’ authority in ensuring high standards in zoos in their countries, and the Commission’s role in holding member states to account in complying with the directive.
Finally, I acknowledge the good work being done in zoos up and down the country, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us an insight into the activities of Chester Zoo in particular, which I know he holds in high regard.
Committee adjourned at 6.29 pm.