House of Lords
Thursday, 1 November 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Introduction: Lord Deighton
Paul Clive Deighton, Esquire, having been created Baron Deighton, of Carshalton in the County of Surrey, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Mitchell and Lord Coe, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Flooding: Defence Programme
My Lords, the flood defence programme is prioritised to protect people and property, especially in areas of greatest flood risk and deprivation. The Environment Agency constantly assesses the projects within the programme to maintain value for taxpayers’ money with a return on investment of at least eight to one. We expect to exceed our goal of 145,000 households better protected by March 2015.
My Lords, will the Government now recognise that it was a mistake to cut funding for flood defence, particularly in the light of the fact that a number of schemes had then to be deferred? Will they now accept the National Audit Office’s advice of October 2011 and increase the funding to the Environment Agency by the £20 million it suggested, thereby protecting householders, businesses and the public purse as well as creating jobs?
My Lords, I am acutely aware of the impact that the recent flooding has had on victims and my sympathies go out to them all. This summer was the second wettest on record. Despite hard times, we protected the flood budgets as far as possible with a 6% reduction in spend over the four years 2011-12 to 2014-15 compared with the previous four years. As a result of the investment that we are making, we expect to exceed our goal of 145,000 households better protected by March 2015. The Environment Agency will deliver real-term efficiency savings of at least 15% in procurement over the spending period and is aiming to increase the number of households receiving free flood warnings to more than 1.1 million.
Is the noble Lord able to update the House on the progress of talks which were being held with the insurance industry as there are now many thousands of households that face the problem of living in properties that are virtually uninsurable at prices that they can afford to pay?
My Lords, we want to reach an agreement that ensures both the availability and affordability of flood insurance. We are in intense but constructive negotiations with the industry and further announcements will be made in due course after more discussions with it and other relevant parties.
My Lords, the Government’s policy, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, is to avoid unnecessary building in areas at risk. New homes are not included in the funding formula, otherwise the system would encourage housebuilding on flood plains, so I agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that while people are obviously very important, so is food production? Is he aware that in Suffolk there is a serious threat of the estuaries of the Alde, Ore and Deben rivers flooding an area which produces no less than 25% of all the vegetables grown in England? Is he further aware that local farmers are quite ready to take action themselves, and spend their own money, to improve the flood defences? Will the Government encourage this rather than leaving it all to the Environment Agency? It would save quite a bit of taxpayers’ money. I declare an interest as a Suffolk farmer, but not in the area at risk.
My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Defra’s partnership funding approach provides a contribution to the economic benefits of flood and coastal erosion risk management projects, including avoiding the damage to business, agricultural land and infrastructure. It specifically allows the involvement of farmers and others from the private sector as well as local authorities. Many schemes that are justified principally on the basis of protection of households also protect businesses. Many flood management projects reduce the risk to farmland.
My Lords, the previous Government negotiated the statement of principles with the insurance industry to guarantee universal flood insurance coverage for homes in flood-affected areas. I should declare my interest as someone whose home was flooded this summer. That statement expires in June next year. The insurance industry has warned that unless new proposals are published by the end of November this year, it will be too late to ensure that the new alternative is in place by July next year. In response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the Minister told us that he would make announcements in due course. Can he reassure us that that will be this month?
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that land management, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has said, and river dredging are very important to protecting properties, businesses and farmland from flooding? In the past, some stewardship schemes have prevented landowners from dredging their ditches and streams, which has caused a build-up because the flood water gets caught in them. Does the noble Lord intend to redress this balance so that there is proper management of the waterways?
Yes, my Lords. I entirely agree with my noble friend. I think it is worth taking stock and making the point that we are seeking to learn lessons from what is going on in New York. The Environment Agency has contacted the US authorities already with a view to drawing on lessons learnt.
My Lords, Schmallenberg virus is carried by vectors, including midges, which are difficult to control, but infection outwith pregnancy has minimal impact and is believed to give protection from the effect on offspring in subsequent pregnancies. We understand that several pharmaceutical companies are developing a potential vaccine which will require to be licensed as safe by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Use of the vaccine will be a decision for the livestock keeper in consultation with his veterinarian.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that two companies have vaccines which are ready to go if they can only obtain approval and licensing? Will he please make this a fast-track incident because this horrible virus has a great impact on farms, especially as regards those ewes and cows which have very deformed offspring?
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that the effects of this disease on young calves and lambs are horrifying. We understand that a number of pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines which we expect to become commercially available for livestock keepers if, in consultation with their vets and considering their management practices, they think they will be of benefit.
I have a spray for use against bad insects which I obtained on request from the Royal Horticultural Society and which presumably farmers are using against midges. When I got it home, I discovered that it said at the bottom of the label, “deadly to bees”. Is it in general use, or in use at all, because we certainly want to protect bees?
My Lords, in view of the emergence of a worrying number of animal and plant diseases, which may or may not be connected with the nuances of climate change, will the Minister give us an assurance that none of the drastic cuts being made by the Government in their own research facilities will hinder the evolution of vaccines to counter things such as bovine TB, the Schmallenberg virus and Ash dieback?
Can we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, first?
My Lords, it is good news to hear that vaccines are being developed against the Schmallenberg virus although it takes time to authenticate the vaccine, get it licensed and the rest. A short-term approach could be to delay the breeding of cattle and sheep to a time when the insect vector—the biting midge—is less active because it is only through the biting midge transmitting the virus that this infection is transmitted from animal to animal. Has the Minister information about any work that is going on as regards advising farmers to delay animal breeding until there is less midge activity?
Yes, my Lords, I have looked into this suggestion. It is possible that delayed tupping may help. We recommend that farmers discuss this with their vets as there are many interdependencies for each farm relating to the timing of tupping and the overall benefits need to be considered. If a flock is not infected yet, delaying tupping may work only if disease infects the ewes before tupping takes place.
My Lords, will the Minister, who speaks for Defra in this House, give us an assurance that there is a high level of co-operation between Defra, the other departments of agriculture in the devolved Administrations and, of course, the Chief Veterinary Officers on this matter?
Yes, my Lords. That is a topical suggestion, in view of the overnight reporting of the appearance of the virus in Northern Ireland. We are in very regular contact with the devolved Administrations, both through the Chief Veterinary Officer and at official level, exchanging information on our knowledge of the virus and our actions. Indeed, our deputy chief vet spoke yesterday to the Northern Ireland Chief Veterinary Officer about this specific case.
I should declare that I know very little about the Schmallenberg virus, but I know that it is an insurable risk—as is flooding. I want to go back, therefore, to ask the Minister: will the Government take action to address the deficiencies of the Solvency II directive on insurance, which is significantly decreasing insurance capacity in the UK and forcing up premiums for people insuring themselves against the virus or, indeed, against flooding?
My Lords, given that the midges that carry this virus come from the dreaded mainland of Europe, should not today, of all days, the Government emphasise the need for partnership, co-operation and trust with our European partners? Can the Minister tell us how this country is benefiting from the €3 million that the European Union has provided for research on this virus?
Yes, my Lords. The AHVLA is working closely with similar bodies across Europe and is carrying out joint research funded by national Governments and the European Commission. We are funding research at AHVLA Weybridge into the pathogenesis of SBV and the immune response to it. This will provide valuable information of its implications and impact. We will share this information, when we have it, with our European colleagues.
Iraq: Camp Liberty
My Lords, in response to an appeal from the United Nations, we have agreed to consider the readmission to the United Kingdom, on an exceptional case-by-case basis, of those residents of Camp Liberty who have had previous residence in the UK as refugees. This is subject to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees first assessing their current refugee status. We cannot judge the outcome or duration of that process, but hope that it moves forward quickly.
I am grateful to the Minister. Can she tell us what the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy Martin Kobler has achieved towards helping to relocate more than 3,000 refugees forced to move from Camp Ashraf to a virtual concentration camp at Camp Liberty? Are our Government alarmed by the resignation of Tahar Boumedra, the head of the UNAMI mission in Iraq, in protest at the distortion of the facts within Mr Kobler’s reports to the United Nations? Have our Government made representations to the UN to have Kobler sacked and replaced?
The noble Lord raises some important issues. All noble Lords may not be familiar with the background to this matter but, effectively, the Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, has been accused by his adviser—according to his view—of not being entirely honest about the conditions in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty. I do not agree with the noble Lord’s description of Camp Liberty as a concentration camp. He will be familiar with the fact that Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, UNAMI, at the end of last year to move residents to Camp Liberty, with a view to them being assessed by the United Nations as to their refugee status and being relocated. I have concerns, which we have raised with the United Nations, but we are assured that the conditions within Camp Liberty meet the basic humanitarian standards.
Is the Minister aware, as I am sure she is, that these people expected to be under UN protection and were transferred from Camp Ashraf where the conditions were absolutely appalling? They had every expectation that Camp Liberty would at least have slightly better conditions but this does not appear to be the case. No matter what the resolution of the situation ultimately is, the people there must be looked after properly. At the moment they clearly are not so what can be done to improve their condition?
I looked at this matter in some detail and at the situation in Iraq generally. Sadly, not all the residents in Iraq have 24-hour electricity and not all the residents have running water at all times in the quantities they require. In the backdrop, despite the fact that many individuals living in this particular camp may not be happy with the conditions, they have 24-hour electricity and 24-hour running water. It meets the basic humanitarian needs.
Although my noble friend says again that the Government are not in a position to judge the outcome or duration of the UNHCR’s verification of the applications for refugee status by the former Ashraf residents, 10 months after the process was agreed in the memorandum of understanding between the UN and Iraq, did not the UNHCR issue a statement on 13 September saying that they were now asylum seekers under international law whose claims required adjudication? Will my noble friend therefore grant the 52, who were formerly refugees here, leave to enter so that the renewal of their status here can be confirmed by the UKBA after any necessary checks for that purpose?
I can confirm that five residents have already been readmitted to the United Kingdom. They had refugee status in the United Kingdom and had relevant documentation. A further 52 do not have current regularised documentation but have had refugee status in the United Kingdom before. We are considering those applications, but I am sure that noble Lords would agree that time has passed since these people left the United Kingdom and their coming back in. It is right that we consider what they have been involved in in the mean time to ensure that any concerns that we may have are properly addressed.
The noble Lord will be aware that the situation in relation to this group who are members of the Mujaheddin e Khalq has been ongoing in Iraq since the mid-1980s when they moved their headquarters there. It was right that the United Nations found a solution to this matter and it is right that these people are being properly considered for relocation. We continue to urge the United Nations to act with expediency.
The Minister may not agree with the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, about the concentration camp status of Camp Liberty. Why does she think all those people around the world have been protesting about the high walls, the lack of sanitation and the denial of medical facilities that are commonplace in Camp Liberty? What is the Government’s view on the duplicitous role of the Iraqi Government in carrying out the Mullahs’ wishes from Iran in getting the residents of Ashraf moved, as they were, after promising that they would get proper treatment? Whether the Minister or the Government like it or not, the facts are that it is not the case that they have been treated properly. They have been treated appallingly and it is about time that we spoke out louder.
As I said, I have looked into this matter in some detail. Allegations were raised and it was important that we assured ourselves, taking evidence from United Nations, about the current conditions in the camp. I assure the noble Lord that there is no appeasement of the Iranian regime in any of this. He will also be aware that this group, the Mujaheddin e Khalq, is not part of the opposition movement in Iran. We saw in 2009, when the Green Movement came to the streets, that it distanced itself from the Mujaheddin e Khalq.
Scotland: Trident Nuclear Deterrent
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Corporal David O’Connor, 40 Commando Royal Marines; Corporal Channing Day, 3 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps; and Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
We plan that the UK’s independent, strategic nuclear deterrent will continue to be based in Scotland, at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. The Government’s policy remains as set out in the SDSR 2010; we will maintain a continuous submarine-based deterrent. Work on the assessment phase of the replacement submarine programme has been under way since May 2011. The final decision on whether to proceed with a replacement will take place in 2016, after the next election.
My Lords, I join the Minister and the whole House in offering my sincere condolences to the families and friends of Corporal David O’Connor, 40 Commando Royal Marines; Corporal Channing Day, 3 Medical Regiment, Royal Army Medical Corps; and Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who were killed in operations in Afghanistan recently. We owe them a great debt and will always remember them. Like the Minister, my thoughts, too, are with the wounded, and I pay tribute to their courage and fortitude in facing their rehabilitation.
The nuclear deterrent based in Scotland supports 6,000 jobs directly and 4,500 jobs indirectly, and also supports the local economy to the tune of £270 million. The Scottish National Party wants to remove it. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. The SNP states that an independent Scotland will be able to join NATO without endorsing nuclear weapons—which is complete nonsense. Will the Minister join me in condemning the reckless approach of Alex Salmond to the economic and security interests of Scotland?
My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord. The UK Government believe that Scotland is stronger in defence terms as part of the United Kingdom within NATO, and do not believe that it would be in the interests of an independent Scotland not to be a member of NATO. However, there is no guarantee that membership of NATO would be automatic. No country joins NATO and pretends that it is not a nuclear alliance. The UK’s nuclear weapons are assigned to NATO, and an independent Scotland, if it were part of NATO, would continue to benefit from the nuclear umbrella that it provides. NATO’s strategic concept, as agreed and reiterated by all the allies at the 2010 Lisbon summit, is that its deterrence posture will consist of both conventional and nuclear forces.
My Lords, my noble friend’s answer seems to be at odds with the declared policy of the Scottish Administration. If that Administration were to remain in power and Scotland were to become a separate country, has my noble friend considered the implications for the defence of the rest of the United Kingdom, which will have to the north a small, separate country with no nuclear deterrent and inadequate conventional forces?
My Lords, I hope the Minister will make it clear that the debate about Faslane is not simply about the thousands of jobs involved at the naval base there—which are prejudiced, of course, by the semi-neutralist policies of the Scottish National Party—but is also, is it not, about the defence of the United Kingdom? The independent nuclear deterrent—which, as he says, is an integral part of the NATO alliance—has protected us and the world from the kind of conventional war that we saw in the 20th century. It will also be a unique and irreplaceable asset for the security and safety of the United Kingdom for the next 30 uncertain, unpredictable years.
My Lords, on the alternative to Trident, the coalition programme for government is clear: it reflected both parties’ commitment to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent as well as the Liberal Democrats’ desire to continue to make the case for alternatives to a like-for-like replacement for the Trident system. As such, in order to help the Liberal Democrats consider the case for alternatives, the Cabinet Office is leading a review into whether there are alternative systems and postures that could maintain a credible deterrent. That review is consulting experts from various departments—primarily from my own, the Ministry of Defence, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and is being overseen by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.
My Lords, we are not contemplating losing the argument on Scottish independence and we will not pre-negotiate the loss of Scotland from the United Kingdom. We support Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom and are confident that the people of Scotland will agree. We are not making plans for Scottish independence, as I said to my noble friend earlier, and we have no plans to move the nuclear deterrent from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. There will be no negotiations of any kind with the Scottish Government on arrangements for separation before a vote.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Coulport and Faslane are only 25 miles away from my former constituency and that there are excellent blue-collar and skilled workers there? Does he agree that those who wish to separate will have to put the case for putting 6,000 good jobs at risk? It would be a loss not only to those workers but to their families.
My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said. He mentioned the 6,500 military and highly skilled civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport at the moment. That figure will increase to over 8,000 by 2022, and we have plans in place to base all of the Royal Navy’s submarines on the Clyde by later in this decade.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Police Service: New Governance Structure
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name I should like to declare my membership of the Independent Police Commission, my chairmanship of the Security Industry Authority, the fact that for 16 years I chaired the Lancashire Police Committee and then the Lancashire Police Authority, and that for 15 years I was first chair and then president of the Association of Police Authorities.
Policing over the past 20 years has been extremely successful. Essential partnerships with local authorities, social services, the probation service and health bodies have been very effectively forged. Neighbourhood policing, one of the biggest success stories of recent years, is delivering tangible results to appreciative local residents. Police and community support officers have added a new and important level of resilience and response. Not surprisingly, crime has fallen markedly, by up to 40% in the past 15 years and public satisfaction has risen. You could be forgiven for thinking that any sensible Government seeking to exploit this success would adopt an organic and incremental approach to sustain these major improvements and build upon them. But clearly we do not have a sensible Government. As far as policing is concerned, we have a dogmatic and destructive Government. In the past few months, this coalition has launched a veritable tsunami of revolutionary change across the policing service. National bodies have been scrapped. New entities are being created, while at the same time changes to long-standing police terms and conditions and police career structures are being forced through. Novel governance arrangements at the local level threaten to destroy not just all the good work of the past 20 years, but the Peel principles themselves, which have been the fundamental bedrock of British policing for nearly 200 years. No wonder morale among police officers is at a record low.
I want quickly to run through all the changes that are currently taking place, just to give a clear picture of their sweeping scale. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency has been abolished, and the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Police Senior Appointments Panel are about to disappear, if they have not already done so. A new National Crime Agency is being established, and some of the National Policing Improvement Agency’s responsibilities will transfer to a new College of Policing, which is currently in an embryonic state. Other NPIA functions have gone back to the Home Office and we are to see a new IT body, NewCo, emerge some time next year. At this point, we do not know much about it. There is a big question mark over ACPO, especially over its important operational activities and professional leadership role. We know that ACPO will no longer be funded nationally, but it is currently unclear what workstreams will pass to the new College of Policing, what operational work will still be carried out at the national level by senior officers, how this might be commissioned in future by the Chief Constables’ Council, and whether police and crime commissioners will put any of their or their forces’ funding towards this work. The police inspectorate, which for decades has worked closely and effectively with forces and authorities, is being changed in scope and responsibilities into a more regulatory body, headed up for the first time ever by someone who has never served as a senior police officer. Simultaneously, far-reaching changes are being forced through in police terms and conditions with minimal consultation. The second phase of proposed reforms is currently out to arbitration.
As if that is not enough change, at force level across England and Wales, police and crime commissioners are to be elected two weeks from today with wide and sweeping powers to challenge and undermine the work of their forces, and with the capacity to cut across the crime fighting partnerships that have been so carefully and patiently built up in their areas. Most, if not all, of these commissioners will be elected on a party political ticket. This is the most revolutionary change of all: the importing of a highly politicised American model of local police governance into this country. The public have made it very clear, and are still making it clear on the doorstep and in the columns of many of our newspapers, that they do not want this to happen and that politicisation will reduce their confidence in policing. This is hardly surprising when police officers in this country, despite all the events of recent weeks, are still held in far higher esteem than party politicians. It seems extremely perverse, if not downright dangerous, to put individual politicians directly in charge of police forces, with the power to undermine operational independence by withholding funding or questioning the operational judgments of senior officers and, in the last resort, by dismissing them.
No wonder the public are alarmed and so many of them will refuse to sanction this new model of police governance, by not voting in the elections. We know that turnout will be extremely low, as some of us forecast a year or more ago when we tried as much as we could to shift these elections towards next May, when at least they would have been held in tandem with other elections, which would have increased turnout quite considerably. As it is, turnout will be extremely low, with a further damaging loss of confidence in the validity of the results.
All this is going on in the face of savage cuts to police budgets of around 20% over four years—front-loaded cuts—with the inevitable loss of thousands of front-line police officers. Miraculously however, up to £100,000 has been found for this novel injection of direct democracy into policing that is taking place on 15 November and for a completely fatuous series of advertisements on local radio and TV. I do not know whether any noble Lords have heard these advertisements but I have and do not think they will do anything to boost turnout.
My concern is with public confidence and public safety. That has always been my concern in policing ever since I became involved in it. Policing should be what the public want it to be—that is absolutely fundamental and why we have to look at all these changes in the light of public confidence and public safety. I will highlight four issues that I believe will seriously erode that confidence and undermine that safety.
I have already mentioned the first issue: bringing party politics into policing, in a direct way, for the first time ever in the history of British policing. In the next few months, between one-third and one-half of chief constable posts will need to be filled. It might interest the House to know that there are currently around a dozen acting chief constables and another half-dozen chief constable posts to be filled in the next few months. Our commissioners will have a completely free hand in the appointments process. They will inevitably choose chief constables in their own image, and I fear very much that the public will begin to perceive chief constables as being in one party political camp or another. This must surely undermine public trust in the impartiality of policing.
Furthermore, with only 18% of commissioner candidates being women, and hardly any ethnic candidates, it is absolutely certain that most commissioners will be white middle-aged males with, I suspect, very strong personalities. In turn, they are likely to appoint white, male, middle-aged chief constables. As a result, we will see less diversity in senior ranks, which, again, we know will impact seriously on public confidence. There are inevitably going to be arguments and disagreements between the commissioner and the chief constable in respect of strategy, staffing and financial policies, and I cannot see how it is possible to argue—although it has been argued in this House—that operational independence will remain unscathed. There are all sorts of ways in which that independence is likely to be undermined and, again, the impact on public confidence, and possibly even on public safety, cannot be overstated.
Secondly, the PCCs will not be subject to any impartial inspection or scrutiny process, unlike police authorities. Although they will operate under the watchful eye of the police and crime panels, which may provide some sort of check on their activities, I fear it will be a much more feeble one than some of us would like to see. The performance of the commissioners, we are told, can only be fully and appropriately judged after four years, at the ballot box. So if they are slow learners, poor performers, mavericks or dangerous ideologues—and we have seen such people elected in recent mayoral contests up and down the country—the public are stuck with them. Imagine the possible damage to a force’s performance or the changes that could take place in four short years. We could see massive outsourcing to private companies to save money, without essential safeguards in place to protect the public interest. It is not difficult to predict enormous variations in policing quality and levels of service across the country, with the result, again, of undermining public confidence and public safety.
The third issue I wish to highlight is the impact of the election of commissioners on local partnerships. I have spent a lot of time in the past few months at policing meetings up and down the country, hearing about the work of local partnerships involving the police, and how successful they have been. What has been most striking is the level of police integration into a range of local networks that are delivering impressive results, which is what lies behind this sustained fall in crime. But there is considerable anxiety about how the election of commissioners will impact on existing partnerships.
We know that some of the funding that went to community safety partnerships is already being redirected to commissioners, who will be able to spend this money as they choose. They will be able to commission a range of local services, and naturally they will want to make their own mark and establish their credentials, with an eye on the next set of elections. We will see them announcing their presence locally with a raft of eye-catching new initiatives, challenges to divisional commanders or local authorities—a series of high-profile activities. Can it really be assumed that there will be a smooth transition and that the commissioners will galvanise local groups into new and more productive relationships, or will they not rather undermine the effectiveness of what already exists and is delivering results? We can only guess at this stage, but establishing local priorities and giving funding to one group and not another is a complex and sensitive task, best done by a body representing a range of interests. One party-political commissioner handing out largesse at local level to some groups and not to others will be a sure recipe for public unrest and loss of confidence, with the danger that marginalised groups, vulnerable young people or unfashionable causes will be ignored.
My final concern is in many ways the most serious. How much importance will the new commissioners attach to the national and regional policing requirements that their forces currently meet? With the scale of cuts to police budgets already in the pipeline, will commissioners really be willing to see reductions in local policing services while a range of regional and national responsibilities continues to be shouldered by the force? That seems unlikely. Yet counterterrorism work, international drug-smuggling rings and slave traffickers cannot be dealt with by the new National Crime Agency alone. That body will need support and operational assistance from individual forces, and at the very least there is going to be creative tension between PCCs, chief constables and the National Crime Agency. At worst, there could be serious friction, with commissioners perhaps trying to exercise a veto over the directive powers of the National Crime Agency.
Will commissioners do more than pay lip service to the strategic policing requirement? If another round of riots were to sweep the land, can we be sure that commissioners will agree the necessary financial arrangements and force deployments so that the threats will be met by a co-ordinated national response, or will their focus inevitably be on local policing? I have made the case many times that in this 21st century we need fewer, larger forces working more closely together. The impact of elected commissioners will be to accentuate the local and parochial at the expense of the collaborative, regional and joined-up operation. That, I fear, is a serious challenge.
Too many changes are taking place too quickly, without an adequate level of co-ordination. A whole number of new jigsaw pieces have been created, but they are not being joined up and I believe that the public could be exposed to increased levels of danger as a result. Police morale is very low at the moment and that makes the problems worse. In a recent survey of superintendents and area commanders—an absolutely crucial layer of policing leadership at divisional level—44% of those who responded said they had seriously considered leaving the service in the past year. This is a major cause for alarm at a time when the policing landscape is changing so dramatically. The danger is that the service is becoming more fragmented, just when the nature of global threats requires joined-up, committed and vigorous responses.
I hope that when he comes to reply, the Minister will be able to tell the House how the Government intend to limit the damage their policing revolution is causing to public confidence and public safety, and what they are going to do as a matter of urgency to restore police morale. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on securing this debate at this timely moment in British constitutional history. It is particularly appropriate that the debate should be introduced by the noble Baroness, because I have always thought of her as someone who would make an ideal police and crime commissioner. She has a deep and sincere commitment to making our communities safer. She also has an impressive track record as an effective local politician. By this I mean that not only did she know how to win elections, but that as chairman of the Lancashire Police Authority and of the APA, she also knew how to get things done.
Those are the two personal characteristics which I regard as essential for a successful and effective PCC. First and foremost, a successful PCC must have a strong commitment to making his or her community a safer place in which to live; a safer place in which to bring up children; and a safer place for those who deserve and expect a peaceful old age. But good intentions are not enough. A successful PCC must also be able to get things done. He must be able to identify and prioritise the policing needs of all those he represents and know how to get these policing needs met. Getting these needs met efficiently and effectively will not be achieved by threatening to fire the chief constable, although of course he or she will have the power to do so.
No, a successful PCC will get things done by working with the chief constable; by setting clear objectives for him or her; and by inspiring, motivating and supporting him. But the PCC’s contribution to making his community safer will not be limited to simply tasking and encouraging his chief constable. The successful PCC will also reach out to secure the active collaboration of all the other local agencies with a part to play in fighting crime and antisocial behaviour, and will mobilise the thousands of volunteers who are ready to help. In short, the successful PCC will be the leader of a community-wide effort aimed at achieving more effective local policing and safer communities.
That is a tall order, but from what I have seen of the candidates so far, I believe that, for the most part, they will have no difficulty meeting this challenge. That is why I get so angry when I read articles bemoaning the quality of the candidates and arguing that, for this reason, this radical extension of local democracy has already proved a failure, even before a single vote has been cast. Some of these articles are, of course, simply mischievous and others are making cheap party political points. Others, however, are more depressing because they are based on a deliberate misunderstanding of the role of the PCC and, more significantly, a deep cynicism about democracy and politics.
The misunderstanding relates to the relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. No matter how often Ministers and others have made the point, there are some people who still do not understand that the PCC is not the operational head of the local police force. That is the job of the chief constable. That is what the chief constable and his management team have been trained to do and that is what they are paid to do. I can assure your Lordships, on the basis of my own first-hand experience of policing on both sides of the Atlantic, that our chief officers do not need any help from politicians on how to carry out their operational responsibilities.
To be a successful leader of a community-wide effort to make the community safer—as I describe the role of the PCC as being—the PCC does not need a deep knowledge of policing; he needs a deep knowledge of people. He needs to know how to listen, to prioritise, to inspire, to motivate and to lead. The PCC is, in the end, a leader, not a manager. He is a politician, not a police officer.
This brings me to my point about the widespread cynicism in this country about democracy and politics. Sadly, there are too many people in this country who do not like politicians. They do not trust them and they do not respect them. These are the people who complain that there are not enough former generals, police chiefs or successful businessmen standing as PCCs. These are the people who see no need for democratically elected PCCs. They are content to have their local policing needs identified and prioritised by professionals; that is, by chief constables and Home Office bureaucrats. They use phrases like “let the police get on with it” or “policing is too important to allow amateurs to get involved with it, especially politicians”.
It is these people who are attracted to so-called “independent candidates”, candidates who are running on a platform that they are “experts” whose personal judgment is unassailable simply because they are unaffiliated to any established political party, or at least not formally or openly. Their manifesto is simple: “Trust me to take care of your interests. I know best”. It is these people who believe, as someone said in a letter to the Times last week,
“I am not competent to decide who should be our local commissioner … I certainly have views on policing, but I am not competent to prioritise what should be done, and I suspect that no other lay (non-police) person is”.
I find this attitude rather depressing and, frankly, worrying.
The right to hold free elections to choose those who will govern us and the right to form groups of like-minded individuals to contest these elections as groups or parties are very precious to us. Countless of our citizens have given their lives over many generations to protect these rights.
The election on 15 November is simply another opportunity to exercise these rights. If we do not take advantage of this opportunity on the grounds that we do not like politicians, or we are not competent to choose those who will represent us in decisions about how to use that part of our own money devoted to policing, we call into question the value of the whole democratic exercise, and we will miss a chance to play an active part in making our own communities safer.
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. She a said a great deal with which I agreed. They were the arguments that I used when I voted against this legislation, but, of course, the Government persevered with it, very much at the pressing of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman—I shall come to that in a few minutes—resulting in the policy that we have today. However, I have to admit my interest as I will be fighting in this election in two weeks’ time to become a commissioner and I admit to being a white male candidate—probably old as well—but I hope that I shall be able to put the case.
My case is about whether the new police governance structure which the Motion before us today is about, and the policy that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was critical of, are satisfactory for us. It cannot possibly be that there was a failure in the policy that the Government inherited. In fact, that was not the case; if anything, as the noble Baroness pointed out, it was a very successful policy. It is 20 years ago that Tony Blair announced that he would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. His emphasis on the causes of crime was quite important, but it was laughed at at the time. But if we look at the analysis 10 years on, we find that the rate of criminal offences that have taken place has reduced dramatically. It is not just in my own area of Humberside, where it has gone down by 40%; in every area of England and Wales, crime fell by around 40%. Whatever the judgment in this House is and whether it is a democratic one or not, I assume that it is really about reducing the incidence of crime. Then there is also the participation of the social mechanisms involved in it; the criminal side and the police and social causes are two sides of the same coin in any successful policy—and that clearly came about.
So it cannot be that the policy is failing. I think that it is because the Government think—and there are a number of reasons given for it—that it is costing a lot more than it should. That is a fair point to make; the Government have an argument. Policing in austerity, as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said, will have an effect. That is probably true, but is the choice then to cut about 20% in resources and get rid of 15,000 police? If anyone believes for a moment that that will improve the situation or help the decline in crime to continue, they are living in another world. Indeed, it is obvious that, whatever crime statistics you take, if you take away the resources and reduce the scale of policing, there will be an increase in crime. So you have to make the judgment whether the priority is to save the resources or to keep the community safe with an active police and social policy in this area. That is a judgment that we can all make. Certainly, this new policy of reducing on such a scale will have that effect. So I need to look at other reasons.
I can understand the argument on austerity, although I am bound to say that Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary made it clear that these cuts were at twice the rate that they needed to be. In my area that makes quite a difference—and I think that that is so in every area. So while not rejecting the idea of austerity, we must ask whether it has to be so deep and quick as it is at the moment. I as a commissioner would be expected to produce a five-year plan within five weeks. I do not know what the extent of the cuts will be, and we still have the public expenditure review to come. We will have £23 million in cuts and I do not think that that is the end of it. They have already cut £500,000 from the community safety management programme, so we have not stopped the cuts. Presumably, whatever the circumstances, these cuts will continue.
You have to ask yourself why this is happening, in those circumstances. To a certain extent, the public expenditure cuts are one reason—then there is decentralisation. This Government talk about decentralising and taking policing away from the Home Office, but if you look at the proposals that have just come out the very opposite is happening. The policy concentrates more and more power in the hands of the Home Secretary. The proposals are to abolish ACPO; there will now be another council of chief constables, which will presumably report to the Home Office. The proposals are to replace the Inspector of Constabulary with Mr Winsor, and the report basically threatens the confidence of the police. The National Crime Agency is a body that can overrule the chief constable and it is related to who? To the Home Secretary. That concentrates power not in the local area but in the Home Office.
Then there is the abolition of police authorities, which is supposed to give greater democratic accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is a great force in democracy. Looking at his background, I do not think that he ever took part in an election. He is a great civil servant, great scientist and a great adviser on both sides of the Atlantic, but absolutely useless in understanding the democratic process. Of course, he is entitled to speak as an individual—but do not give us the quote of experience, because he has got none of it. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, has been one of the biggest gurus in the development—is he going to get up?
I presume that was to stop me in my flow. I hope that that will be taken into account when it comes to the eight minutes.
On the democratic accountability and the election of the PCCs, November is the worst time to hold an election—everybody agrees on that—with a voting system that does not necessarily mean that you need 50%. You can have a very low proportion of the vote and still be a commissioner. No doubt there will be a question about the legitimacy of someone being a commissioner on such a low vote. No money is being given for the election candidates, or information about the candidates. Do we really accept that this Government are interested in democratic accountability? It is a load of nonsense—they never have been. To that extent, we will get a low turnout.
The PCCs have been given the opportunity to provide a plan. They have to do that in five weeks—it is already ready and agreed with the Home Office. It just gets handed to us. I will not do that; I will not accept that kind of analysis. It is not fair. It is certainly not politically accountable because it is the Home Office telling us what we do with the plan when we should be asking the people in our area what should be the priorities in the plan. We are not doing anything about that and the chance to do so is denied to us because of resources. In all these areas we are finding a loss. In Humberside it is £23 million. We have the difficulty of cutting too fast and face a basically bleak future, with crime increased.
Why did we pursue this policy? I will finish on this point. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is one of the gurus—I have read more about him: this guru has been over to America and come back here, and he is an adviser to the Home Office and to the Prime Minister. God help him, he does not seem to be getting many answers right but let us leave that aside. He has given that advice and yet he refuses to appear before the Select Committee in the House of Commons to answer what this new IT company will be doing. I understand that he will be chairman of this new IT company, which recommends £500,000 be paid to the chairman—three times the amount given to a Prime Minister. Is the noble Lord going to be chairman? I hoped he would speak after me but I notice that the organisation shoved him in front so I cannot ask him that. But I will tell you what this IT company will do: it will privatise the intelligence and technology. All this is about creating space in the police force for privatisation.
We saw that the Home Office is still trying to advocate privatisation, though Surrey and Midlands have rejected that so far. In my area, Lincolnshire already has G4S in. God help them. We saw what happened at the Olympics but G4S is already in on contract. This is about privatisation.
The noble Earl must be fair: he got up before. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman: you are advocating democracy. You are adding more accountability. I read in one of his speeches that Lords should encourage people to vote. Why did he then sign an article saying that I should not be the commissioner in Humberside? Quite frankly, who the heck is he to say that and appeal to my electorate not to vote for me? I say to him: come up to my area, debate with the people as to who has the right to make that decision—advisers like him who will not speak openly, or politicians, who are accountable. I am a politician. I am accountable. Come up and debate with us instead of hiding behind your position.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has stopped even if he has not concluded. I had in my head that the title of this debate was about challenges facing the police service. In fact, it has a rather more neutral title. Noble Lords on the Cross Benches will not have the experience that the rest of us have of a shoal of invitations arriving during July and August to speak at our party conferences about different topics. I was very struck in the case of the Liberal Democrat conference by the stakeholders who used the term “opportunities”. They were organisations dealing with victims and young people—of course, young people can also be victims. They generally sought debate on the role of police and crime commissioners in the context of the criminal justice system and the rehabilitation landscape. I take my cue from their attitude. Let us not talk down police and crime commissioners. Let us look for the opportunities.
Of course, the agendas will be set substantially by local communities. One of the challenges for police and crime commissioners will be to work up mechanisms to listen to the public, with things like effective public consultation arrangements—I stress “effective” as those of us who have been used to democracy as well as bureaucracy are used to seeing what is badged as consultation actually being information—including people who are likely to be victims of crime, and working out performance indicators. I am not a particular fan of targets but there is a place for indicators which properly reflect local priorities. There is also sharing performance data with the public.
Police and crime commissioners will have quite a lot of local autonomy, which they will need to use to the best effect. One mechanism, which I have seen to some extent in local government, may be to have what in the jargon is participatory budgeting. That uses the budgeting exercise as the basis of a debate with—again, I hate the word—stakeholders as to how the budget should best be spent and involves those who have a stake in it in working towards the decisions. The budgetary role of the commissioners will be one of the most important, even if it is not immediately one of the most obvious.
The local community includes, of course, stakeholders and partners. Most organisations will fall into both categories. Local authorities will be one of those. I think that I have referred before in this Chamber to the work undertaken in the London Borough of Sutton where, for the best part of a decade, the local authority has worked in partnership with the police—crucially, having set up a structure to deal with community safety that has a single line manager—and where multi-agency liaison has been worked on as part of the interface between the Safer Sutton Partnership board and participant agencies. It seems from all the figures, to refer back to performance indicators, to have been very successful. Other partners will be within the wide area of criminal justice.
Earlier this week, noble Lords discussed community sentencing in the context of the Crime and Courts Bill. There was much reference to restorative justice, which is to get its first legislative recognition, and to the importance of the understanding of that by the police. I heard quite a lot about that at the party conference meetings that I mentioned. The new structure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, includes police and crime panels. I have said before that despite their limited statutory role, to which she referred, I hope they will be ambitious. They need good access to experts and to others who can assist them in their work, even if they cannot co-opt them. They also need access to both information and to face-to-face meetings with senior officers. Scrutiny is an exercise which I have always thought of as being pro-active, not simply reactive.
Big personalities have been mentioned. I have always been instinctively uncomfortable with personality politics but big personalities have the opportunity to act as leaders, and leadership, as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, said, is important in this new structure. There is nothing wrong in itself with an eye-catching initiative; if that is all it is, yes, but if it takes people forward then it may be a good thing. Leadership is important to bring to the local community things that may not immediately be obvious to it, although it should be. Trafficking is an obvious example.
We have heard about the NCA and the College of Policing. One has to admire the Home Secretary who, by sheer force of personality, seems to have brought these two things about. That is not to say that I am not enthusiastic about the National Crime Agency but, as she and others have said, these amount to a lot of change that is not evolutionary. I hope that we do not lose professional development in all this. The police are professionals and I want to keep that in the forefront of my own thinking.
I end by saying that having been defeated in my attempts to persuade the Government that these changes should be piloted, as we are going to see them across the country, that does not mean to say that these changes should not be evaluated and assessed. There should not be an expansion of the role of police and crime commissioner until that has been done. Changes are happening but let us make sure that they happen as well as possible.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for focusing on this timely issue just before the country—in very large numbers, we hope, but perhaps they will not be—goes to vote for its local police and crime commissioners. As a declaration of interest, I remind the House of my service for some years in the police service.
We are here to debate the challenges to the police service in the new landscape. This is not necessarily the time to debate too deeply the rights and wrongs, perceived or otherwise, of the concept of police and crime commissioners; we have done that at length in your Lordships’ House in previous months. I personally have supported the concept; I am wary of many of the pitfalls but hope that they will not present themselves. In the short time available, I want to pick up on three issues that I think will define the whole landscape of policing as the new PCCs emerge and begin to make their mark on what is certainly a fundamental change to the whole landscape of policing as we know it. I want to pick up on the lack of a five-year plan, on the National Crime Agency, which has just been mentioned by the previous speaker, and on the whole issue of professionalism.
First, a five-year plan does not exist. Unlike the Armed Forces, which have a national defence review where every five years the whole of the international landscape is scanned, against which one then tries to measure the response that our Armed Forces may well need to adopt to counter growing threats and situations, we do not have one in this area and we never have. It has been a matter of some dismay to me that we do not. Funnily enough, the PCCs, who are essentially elected on local issues, are in a strangely privileged position to be able to address this. I hope that they will not fall into the trap of parochialism. Rather, I hope that, as they almost certainly will, they body together as a grouping of 40 or so individuals nationally every so often to discuss mutual problems. I hope, when they meet as that national body, that they will reflect on the fact that no national business, no commercial concern, with 40 or more regional divisions—that is how one might well look at the police service in this instance—would ever exist without a regular scan of the distant horizon. In business they would need to look, as indeed they do, at demographic issues, socioeconomic issues, climatic issues, the international dimension and so on. There is a need for that, and if the Home Office has not done it—no Home Office under any Government whom I know of has ever done this—then there is a role for the PCCs to do it, and to help with their own local input against the broader canvas.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she was not too sure that she supported the National Crime Agency, if I understood her correctly. I understand where she is coming from as there are indeed doubts about it, but I personally have long supported the concept of it. There is a power for the National Crime Agency to direct the PCCs if push comes to shove, but I hope that that is a stick that will remain in the cupboard. I look for, hope for and probably anticipate that there will be a good deal of mutual understanding between the NCA on the one side and the PCCs on the other, seeking to fit the local issues into the national landscape.
With regard to national and international crime, the national landscape is a problem, and I shall give the House an indication of how big that problem is. Recent estimates are that 30,000 individuals, grouped together in 7,500 groups, are involved in organised crime affecting the UK and its interests. Over 50% of the 7,500 groups operating in the UK are involved in drug trafficking. Last year, Serious Organised Crime Agency-led activity recovered over £450 million worth of drugs in seizures.
The National Fraud Authority indicates that organised crime group activity has resulted in £9.9 billion-worth of fraud committed against individuals in this country. Cybercrime is confidently estimated to be in the order of £27 billion. The last figure I shall weary the House with, in order to put this into a more human dimension, is that the UK Human Trafficking Centre’s assessment is that there were 2,077 adult and child trafficking victims in the UK last year.
All that will have to be played out face to face with the local issues that the PCCs will deal with. I recognise the tensions that may exist, but I indicate my support for the National Crime Agency. It has to be with us, and I hope it will work in harmony with the PCCs.
Finally, I turn to professionalisation in the service. We have recently received two reports from Mr Tom Winsor, who was recently appointed as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. Those reports, taken together, produce the most radical review of policing we have seen for at least 50 years. There has been opposition, perhaps understandable opposition, from the Police Federation, and the media interest on the days of the reports’ publication seemed to focus on compulsory fitness tests for police and little else. I support compulsory fitness tests, but there is much more in the reports than that. Mr Winsor seeks, quite rightly, and I support him in it, to sweep away outdated practices in the police service and attract the best recruits to it. His stated aim—and I ask the House to reflect on this—is to create a white-collar profession rather than a blue-collar job. I think that that is long overdue. He seeks to replace the Police Negotiating Board—the PNB—with a salary review body. That is admirable. The PNB has served its purpose very well over the years, but I believe that it is no longer fit for purpose. It needs streamlining; it needs to flatten the rank structure; and particularly, it needs to reward those who contribute massively to the police effort rather than those who are along just for the ride.
I shall touch briefly on two-tier entry. I have spoken before in your Lordships’ House on my support for a streamlined, two-tier entry system. Winsor talks of a three-tier entry system, but I shall leave that for another moment. The two-tier entry system deserves a fair wind because there is no doubt in my mind that we do not get a sufficient number of Russell group graduates coming into the police. The police are not seen as an obvious career of choice in that group. We need to recruit people at that level who have the essential character qualities of integrity, personal value sets, common sense and moral courage and who are leaders, not just managers.
There is one other issue I shall touch on: the college of policing, not the Bramshill staff college. I support it and hope it will see success in coming months and years. It is badly needed to set standards, ethics, style and purpose for the police in a way that has not altogether been clear before. It is something that one hopes will eventually grow to command status and respect like the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians and so on. In that landscape, PCCs will have a vital role to play. They may find their role difficult at times, but I believe that they will contribute much.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for bringing this debate to the House. From the number of speakers, your Lordships can see what a popular and hot topic this is. I look forward to hearing the speeches from so many noble Lords who, from their professional backgrounds, are knowledgeable and experienced. I want to concentrate on one aspect about which I have true knowledge and I shall speak from the heart. I refer to victims and how we will be served in the light of the new policing challenges that lie ahead.
I am a huge supporter of the police. I am very honoured to be one of the judges of the police bravery awards. However, when we read reports about where policing has gone wrong, poor record keeping, lack of communication, leaving it for others to do and passing the buck feature in every one. Sadly, the Hillsborough report, the serious failings in Rotherham and the inappropriate relations with the press we have seen in Leveson have knocked the public’s confidence in the police.
Police and crime commissioners are the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime. They will work with the police to cut crime, give the public a voice at the highest level, hold forces to account and help restore trust. They are an independent voice but, most importantly, PCCs will have a duty to listen to victims and champion their interests. For the very first time, victims of crime will have a clear role in determining what the police should focus on and how. This is a massive step forward in helping the police and other services do their best for victims and put their experiences at the heart of how they deal with crime. It has to be less bureaucratic as real people’s lives are being blighted. For me it is about the language we use, understanding the problem, owning the problem and, more importantly, the solution.
What is it like being a victim? I am not going to go into my full story because I think noble Lords know it, but I shall tell the House how it feels. In 2007, I lost my late husband, but before that I was an activist in my community. The police never came out. They gave you a criminal record number for criminal damage. When you constantly go to meetings to say that you have problems on your street, you do not see the chief constable, you see messengers. While they might be very good officers, they are messengers. For me, it was essential that we got the top man. If you are at the top, you work for the people and speak to the people. I never saw that. As I walked back from a community meeting, I said, “Nothing will be changed until somebody is murdered”. Sadly, that was my late husband, Garry. You are made to feel vulnerable, you are made to think that it is in your mind, you have no solutions and nobody comes to your door.
A joined-up partnership is essential to stop this. It is a silent killer when nobody gives you an answer when you daily suffer intimidation and criminal damage to property that you work damn hard to keep nice. When you are told that it does not affect your street by somebody who lives on another street, it is very irritating. PCCs have a remit to bring all agencies together. I am concerned that we do not do that now. My late husband was killed in 2007, and I have had so many insults from agencies that do not work together. At a conference that I was speaking at, someone from one agency honestly and openly said to me that he had looked at his data and said, “Oh thank God, they weren’t on my patch”. How dare an individual who is at the top of his game in an agency that is there to protect the public say to me, “I could sleep”. I could not sleep, and I lost my husband because I could not sleep. This is the reality of real life on the street.
Whitehall talks a different language. I have to admit that I do not know a lot of that language, but I am honest and will say, “Could you put in plain English?”. I have no disrespect for your knowledge or your work path, but people on the street are not interested in police budgets or in the internal bickering and infighting. They want to feel safe on their streets. At the moment, while we say that crime is down, the perception of crime is very high.
Therefore, I would say to police and crime commissioners that the public are not interested in the colour of the party they come from. They want to feel safe in their streets. PCCs should not use victims or communities as a strapline and then go away. That strapline has been broken. We need issues to be resolved. The public need to know that they have a police and crime commissioner that they can go to. He or she is the pinnacle. No one should be dismissive of anyone when they do not know who is going to be elected. No one knows what is going to happen but there will be good and bad practices. Everything is risky.
I have to say that I did not know my chief constable until Garry was murdered in 2007. In 2012, I want to know who my police and crime commissioner is and, by God, I will be knocking on his or her door to make sure that he or she makes the community safer and sticks to the manifesto. Policing has to be accountable and must have a level of governance. People’s lives cannot be used. Lives are being lost and the lives of others are being blighted.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Policing, vice-president of the APA and adviser to various providers of services in the policing market. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and to hear the powerful sentiments she expressed about listening to the voices from the community and victims. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Henig for giving us the opportunity to consider these matters today. The Motion focuses on the effects of the new governance landscape.
In my view, it is important to remember the scale of the other challenges facing the police service. Police numbers in England and Wales are now at their lowest level since 2003, with a fall of 5,000 in the past year alone. Overall policing budgets are being reduced by around 20% in the current CSR period with the expectation of more to follow. At the same time, the police’s partners in reducing crime—local authorities, youth services, probation and so on—are also facing substantial budget reductions. Last year’s riots demonstrated the thinness of the thin blue line.
Public respect for the police service has been damaged by the revelations in the Leveson inquiry and the report on Hillsborough. At the same time, many police officers are becoming increasingly despondent that Ministers hold them in contempt, which was all brought into sharp relief by the behaviour of the former Government Chief Whip at the gates of Downing Street. Let us not underestimate the deep disquiet felt by a large number of officers about the Winsor reforms to their pay and pensions.
Over the next few years, the pressures will become greater. We can only speculate what the impact of prolonged, slow growth will be on crime trends. We have the globalisation of crime and the burgeoning consequences of e-crime and cybercriminality, together with a speed of communication that can turn any police interaction with the public into a world-wide internet sensation in moments but can also facilitate flash mobs and the like. The consequence of this is that we face the very real prospect of a vicious cycle in our policing where fewer officers with less public support and less support from partners are facing increasing challenges. Amidst all that, the arrival of 41 newly minted, directly elected police and crime commissioners may seem like a bit of a distraction.
I strongly believe that police accountability is extremely important and that strong figures to lead this are needed. However, the flaws of the new system are significant. There are no proper checks and balances in the governance arrangements and there is a real risk of politicising aspects of operational policing that should not be politicised. I should like to illustrate that by looking at London where a variant of the new system has been operating for a while. It will not have escaped your Lordships’ attention that in London we have a directly elected mayor. Since October 2008, the Mayor of London has been able to appoint himself or another person to lead what was then the Metropolitan Police Authority. In January 2012, the authority was abolished and replaced by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.
London has already shown up some of the problems. The first is a lack of transparency. Information about the operation of the police service or about key financial decisions that was previously made available in published police authority committee papers is no longer available or is available only in very abbreviated form. The second is the lack of visible answerability of senior police officers. A few weeks ago, the new deputy mayor for policing and crime instructed Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, not to attend the London Assembly’s police and crime committee eight minutes before the meeting was due to begin.
The third problem is that the deputy mayor has to act on his or her own, as PCCs will have to do. As the current incumbent has commented to me, he does not have what he calls the “band width” to address all the topics that the public might expect him to pursue. It is simply impossible for one person to do so. When I chaired the police authority in London, I had 22 members to whom I could delegate matters. Those 22 members could also keep an eye on me, which meant that capricious decisions could not be taken. But the Government, in their wisdom, have declined to provide a standards framework in which PCCs or their equivalents in London should operate. The Government seem to believe that having police and crime panels will be a sufficient safeguard against misconduct.
However, the money being made available for the servicing of these panels outside London is to be just £53,000 per year, which is barely enough to cover the cost of one member of staff who has to co-ordinate the work of and support a disparate group of local councillors drawn from up to a dozen or more different local authorities. Even in London where the police and crime committee of the London Assembly has been better resourced and the 12 members all know and work with each other on a regular basis, it has struggled to get the answers that it wants. There is the potential for problems and inappropriate interventions in operational matters.
Will the Minister tell us whether he regards it as appropriate that an elected PCC should be regularly briefed about the course of a policing operation and should then, almost as a matter of routine, have contact with those who are subject to that operation, and, what is more, then fail to disclose that those contacts have taken place? Perhaps your Lordships will think that such a scenario is far fetched but I have to say that it is not. On 10 January last year, the Mayor of London was briefed by Assistant Commissioner Yates. The mayor later told the London Assembly that he could not remember the briefing in detail but acknowledged that it may well have been about Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking at News International. Four days later he had lunch with Rebekah Brooks and 10 days after that he had dinner with Rupert Murdoch at his London home. Neither of those two meetings was disclosed in the published mayoral diary and they were omitted, initially at least, from the list of contacts with News International that was requested by the London Assembly. There were further briefings from John Yates on 21 April and 3 May. Remarkably, days later, the mayor had more initially undisclosed contacts with News International, including a telephone call with James Murdoch on 6 May and, five days later, with the News International lobbyist, Frederic Michel. I could go on. I have a long list of meetings and contacts.
At the same time, the mayor’s deputy was raising, in an ostensibly jocular way, concerns that too many detectives were involved in investigating phone hacking, so much so that assistant commissioner Dick had to remind him, as she disclosed to the Leveson inquiry, that operational policing decisions were a matter for senior police officers, not elected politicians. The Mayor of London has form for this sort of thing. In February 2009, an investigation was conducted by Jonathan Goolden, a solicitor, at the request of the monitoring officers of the GLA and the MPA—roles that will not exist as far as PCCs are concerned—into the behaviour of the Mayor of London in contacting Damian Green MP at the time of his arrest on suspicion of involvement in breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Mr Goolden found that the mayor’s action in contacting a potential suspect in a criminal investigation was “extraordinary and unwise”. These contacts followed briefings that the mayor had been given about the case.
The changes in the governance of policing that the Government have introduced are ill worked through. They provide no safeguards of any substance against a police commissioner who misbehaves or persistently behaves in an extraordinary and unwise fashion. They will do nothing for transparency and little to improve accountability and they are taking place against a background of profound challenges for policing in this country.
My Lords, I would like to focus my remarks on the specific issue of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the workings of which are critical to the future of the police service. The IPPC was established in 2004 to oversee the police complaints system in England and Wales. Its most valuable function is to maintain public trust in the police.
Until 2004, the police themselves had sole responsibility for investigating allegations of police misconduct. Rightly or wrongly, this created a public perception of whitewash and cover-ups. The establishment of the IPCC ought to have solved this problem. Sadly, it has not because the IPCC effectively delegates most investigations into serious complaints back to the local police force concerned. This situation continues to jeopardise public trust in the police. Trust is a very valuable commodity. It is very hard to win but very easy to lose. This is particularly so for the police where allegations of serious misconduct by a few officers can undermine the superb work done on a daily basis by the vast majority of police officers.
Maintaining trust is vital for the police because of the unique nature of British policing. Our police are civilians in uniform, not a paramilitary force imposed on the people. Ever since the days of Sir Robert Peel, we have maintained Peel’s principle that:
“The police are the public and the public are the police”,
but that principle can be upheld only with the consent of the people. The recent controversy over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, to which other noble Lords have referred, is a spectacular reminder of the harm that can be done and demonstrates why independent scrutiny of the police is essential.
When the IPCC receives a complaint, it can, at its discretion, allocate it to one of four “modes of investigation”, depending on the seriousness of the complaint. The system looks good on paper but, in practice, the IPCC is fully hands-on in only one of the modes of investigation. In the other three, the local police force concerned remains effectively free to run the investigation exactly as it sees fit. Perhaps the most controversial type of complaint about police misconduct concerns deaths in, or following, police custody. Through some freedom of information requests, I have discovered that in the year 2009-10, 17 such cases were referred to the IPCC. Of these, only five were independently investigated. In 2010-11, 16 out of 21 such cases were investigated independently, and in 2011-12, 10 out of 15 cases were independently investigated, but should not all deaths in, or following, police custody be independently investigated?
The IPCC’s own published figures reveal that during the three years 2008 to 2011, it received 837 referrals of cases of police corruption. Of these, just 2% were subject to an independent investigation while 70% were investigated locally. How can this be right? Some powerful case studies illustrate how things have gone wrong over the past eight years. I shall give just one example: the botched investigation by South Wales Police into the murder of Lynette White in 1988. The outcome of the original investigation was the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of a number of innocent men in 1990, who were not released until 1992. The investigation of the resulting complaint to the IPCC was delegated to none other than the South Wales Police themselves who had been responsible for the original investigation. It led to one senior officer being required to investigate his former boss, which is clearly unsatisfactory. Subsequently, eight police officers were charged with perverting the course of justice, but the trial collapsed in dubious circumstances concerning non-disclosure by the South Wales Police. Meanwhile, those wrongfully imprisoned continue to suffer and have not seen justice done. Another man later confessed to the murder and was imprisoned.
We cannot allow this sort of malpractice to undermine public trust in the police. We must ensure that the IPCC stops delegating to the police investigations into serious complaints. The IPCC should investigate such complaints itself and the Government should provide it with adequate resources to do so. I recognise, of course, that in a time of austerity this could mean a bigger budget for the IPCC, but it would also mean less waste on ineffective self-investigations by local police forces and it would restore trust, which is a commodity beyond price.
My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on securing this key debate. I declare my interests as chair of the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing in England and Wales and as a former serving police officer and former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
As we have heard, over the past 15 years policing in England and Wales, in partnership with others, has been highly successful. If change aims to bolster this success, I, for one, welcome it. However, change must not simply be made for the sake of change. In addition, it requires the buy-in from those most affected: namely, the public, the police service and key policing partners.
I, and, I am sure, all in your Lordships’ House, accept that in a time of austerity and budget cuts, from which the police should not be exempt, change is inevitable. My concern is that the manner in which change has been implemented has been very detrimental to the morale of those working within the police service. I should point out that this is not simply my opinion but something that has been highlighted in surveys and meetings, to name but two methods, undertaken by the commission. They started in May and the next survey is due to be released imminently.
While I welcome efforts aimed at making the police service more accountable to the public we serve—I am sure we all welcome those steps—I am yet to be convinced that the elections for police and crime commissioners under the supplementary vote system, which many people in England and Wales are not fully familiar with, are best placed to deliver this. This, however, is my personal opinion and I should like to assure critics of the commission’s work that our findings in regard to this matter will be firmly led by evidence. I invite anybody who questions the independence of the commission to look at the website to see who is involved in it and to note the 23 academic institutions ranging from Harvard University and the LSE to Oxford and Cambridge Universities which are underpinning this work academically. Needless to say, there are Members of your Lordships’ House who are also on the commission, and I would not ever want to doubt their independence.
As I mentioned during debates held in this House pertaining to the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, prior to it receiving Royal Assent, I have serious concerns that the term,
“have regard to strategic policing requirement”,
does not fully mitigate against the risk of local policing issues being put before national policing issues and priorities. The commission has been around the country listening to Victim Support; talking to members of the public; talking to members of police authorities, police forces and the like; and taking evidence from people in this House, including former Home Secretaries, and the head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to mention a few. There is a very real fear among many people about what some referred to as “headline-grabbing” policing initiatives that will improve a police and crime commissioner’s chance of securing re-election. I would be very sorry—as indeed would your Lordships’ House—to see the introduction of police and crime commissioners undermining efforts being made up and down the country to protect young women from grooming and address cases of domestic violence in a manner that continues to put the victim first. That is absolutely essential.
I also have concerns that there would appear to be a lack of measures in place preventing private security companies lobbying police and crime commissioners as candidates and when they are appointed. Furthermore, in light of comments made at a meeting yesterday in regard to police and crime commissioners, I have concern that data available to them could easily be misconstrued. As part of that, only 25% of recorded crime in their area will be subjected to independent analysis, and there is a lack of standardisation in data interpretation throughout England and Wales.
We hear claims that police and crime commissioners will facilitate chief constables in focusing on fighting crime. That is difficult to envisage at this stage. As noble Lords have heard, there has been a record 40% reduction in crime in the past 15 years. In some areas, the reduction is more. The question has to be asked, will the changes help that reduction to continue, as the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, said? I and the commission have heard from many senior officers who continue to express concern over the lack of clear understanding pertaining to the issue of corporate sole, and I reiterate that there is still a very real chance that operational independence could be affected in respect of that. We heard from my previous chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the lack of resources going in to back up the police commissioners in their areas. I and others think that this could undermine the result of the introduction of the new policing governance structures.
From the feedback gleaned from these many meetings, which will continue until spring next year and are held as part of the commission’s evidence-gathering initiatives, it has become apparent that there is a clear lack of training for police and crime panel members. If he would be so kind, the Minister needs to take note of the guidelines in relation to the panel, which state that members must have the “skills and experience” required to function effectively. We have found out that some are having no training, and this is very much driven by what I would refer to as a postcode lottery. Although there is still more work to be done, we on the commission fear that there may well be a lack of people fully trained to take up the posts.
I should like to end by saying that your Lordships’ House needs to understand, and has the promise, that this independent commission will continue to monitor and assess the roles of the commissioners, as it will continue to take evidence from and assess those people—victims and others on the street—who need to be listened to in terms of what the future of policing will be.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, and, like others, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for giving the House the opportunity to debate the future landscape for policing. She will not be surprised to know that I was very disappointed that in her 15-minute address to the House I struggled hard to find anything positive in what she envisaged in the future. I really would like to assist her with this. I would like her to go home today with a little ray of light somewhere on the distant horizon, knowing that in the debate, whatever people’s reservations and concerns about change, there is an awful lot of goodwill to make things work, even if people were not initially in favour of them. There has already been a sense of that in the debate, and that is positive. I welcome that, and I hope that she will find some comfort. I do not like to see her looking so disappointed.
Change is always difficult, particularly in institutions, and it requires great skill to bring about. Listening to the diverse points that noble Lords have made in the debate—people with a great deal of knowledge—there is no doubt that there is a real challenge in the future of policing. Budgetary constraints have been raised and noble Lords have acknowledged that the police should, along with other parts of the public sector, be subject to the need to pull back on the amount of expenditure. We are asking everyone else to do that. However, no one should be in any way dismissive of the difficult decisions needed to make those changes and tighten budgets.
As regards the two reports by Tom Winsor, looking at both the short and long terms, particularly in relation to the pay and conditions of police officers, I understand how contentious they are. Most of my life was spent in the private sector before I entered politics at the age of 45 and, having worked for companies, I know how dramatic changes in the private sector are difficult to bring about. However, it was often clear why those changes were needed. When we consider why there is a need for change, although we may debate its pace or the need to make many changes at once—I appreciate that there is to be a lot of change—none the less, there is change elsewhere that we should not ignore in this debate.
Whatever the successes of or concerns about policing in recent years—and I go back right across different Governments—there has been change, too, in the way that criminals operate and the type of criminality that we face, not just within our shores but across international borders. Criminals have taken advantage of the changes, and that has posed a challenge to those with responsibility to legislate, police and make sure that we as a society stay one step ahead of the criminal mind. That perhaps is the biggest challenge of all that we face in the current climate.
The riots that we saw last year have been mentioned and most people found them quite shocking. The cases that were brought to the courts were particularly shocking because, while there might have been an initial impression—it was only an initial impression—that perhaps a lot of it had developed out of social need, it was clear that by the time these cases had been through the court the situation was much more complex. It was relatively new to our country to see cities—not just London, but elsewhere—faced with public riot. On cybercrime and fraud—again the changes in what is available electronically to assist a criminal mean that we really have to recruit the best people. Our structures and management of them have to be right and we have to employ the cleverest and the best to stay that one step ahead of the criminal.
Of course, there is also the terrorist threat, which is still with us and is very real in this country. People trafficking has taken on a complete new dimension in recent years. We hear more about it and it manifests itself in different ways. When I was a girl I remember hearing about the white slave trade and we all wondered what that was. We are only too familiar with the horrors of people trafficking—not just from shores a long way away from our culture and society but within the European community. That is quite shocking and must be addressed. That, too, is a challenge.
In my very short sojourn as a Minister of State at the Home Office last year, the extent of organised crime was a revelation to me—even the extent of metal theft today, which people sometimes think is small-level crime. It has at its heart big, organised international crime. These are the policing challenges. It will not be a surprise to the House when I say that I had the privilege of taking the Police and Social Responsibility Bill through the House, to the opposition of most of the people surrounding me today. None the less, I felt that we had constructive debates at the time, and I appreciated them. Points were raised on all sides and I hope that the House feels that the Government made quite a lot of concessions as the Bill proceeded. Constructive points came from all sides of the House to try to improve the Bill. I believe that police and crime commissioners have an important role to play.
I made this point rather facetiously in a previous debate, but on some of the negative points still going round about the police and crime commissioners, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, of whom I am really secretly rather fond, that I would not worry about having a November election. The Americans have a vote in November—perhaps a rather more important one. We do not hear them complaining that it is snowing or that there are floods. If the Americans are up for it, so are we. I shall quote from some of the candidates who have put themselves forward. It would be invidious if I were to put names to them but one or two might recognise what I am about to read out. It is commendable that people have given up important, well-paid jobs to stand as candidates in these elections. There are comments on the police elections website, including that commissioners will be people who have some influence; and that priorities include cutting crime because safety for families is the public’s top concern. A Welsh speaker believes that the role of commissioner will be a bridge between the community and police. If that is the attitude of candidates and a clear recognition of the public service that they will provide, we all—the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, in particular—should take some comfort from that.
First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for securing this important and very timely debate. Policing, of course, is one of the most important functions in any civilised society. If it works well—generally the police go about their work unnoticed—everybody feels good about it. However these days, as has been mentioned, the issue is rarely out of the news and the ensuing publicity can trigger a number of varying emotions. It can lead to a feeling of tragedy and grief, as with the deaths of the two young policewomen in Manchester recently. It can lead to fear, as when a police state operates outside the rule of law using death squads. It can lead to anger when corrupt police turn a blind eye, cover up or leak confidential information. It can lead to praise when heroic officers try or succeed in saving lives, such as the six officers last week who selflessly dived into the river Avon to save the occupants of a motor vehicle. It can lead to relief, as in the recent arrest of Muslim jihadists before they launched a bombing campaign in London described by one of the suspects as “another 9/11”.
In this country the importance of the policing function is recognised by the removal of the right to take industrial action, which is quite right. It is a fundamental right granted to most other workers. It follows that the management, organisation and accountability of the police service is crucial. The whole concept of the new police was laid down in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel when he established the Metropolitan Police as being unarmed civilians in uniform with very few more powers than the citizens they were policing. That principle still applies to this day and we do not have an armed police force. We have, for example, fewer officers trained in the use of firearms than when I joined the police service in the 1960s, but, of course, they are trained a lot better.
On the whole the system has worked well and most informed commentators would agree that we have one of the best law enforcement systems in the world. It has evolved, of course, and this is the best way to develop policing. We have had amalgamations and the abolition of small, corrupt watch committees. Institutional corruption in the Metropolitan Police was tackled by Sir Robert Mark in the 1960s and police authorities were established by the Police Act 1964 with a mix of governors who were elected councillors and magistrates. At present, there are allegations of institutional police misconduct in South Yorkshire during the Hillsborough disaster and also during the miners’ strike. These are, rightly, to be independently investigated. One of the important marks of a civilised democracy is the way in which a state deals with complaints against the police and investigates misconduct.
Now, of course, the coalition Government are imposing a totally revolutionary structure with the election of police and crime commissioners, to make the police even more accountable. Each commissioner will have a lot of power with the right to appoint and sack chief constables. That seems to be mirroring the American system which elects sheriffs, judges and even prosecuting attorneys in many areas of governance. If someone asked your Lordships if they have a better system of law enforcement in the United States than in this country because of this so-called democracy, I doubt whether many of you would think that they had. Giving the new system the benefit of the doubt, the jury is out and we will see in due course how it works. I have serious reservations, as have other noble Lords and I hope that the policy does not lead to political interference in policing operational matters or the appointment of political placemen as chief constables.
My concern is that I firmly believe that the police should not be dragged into the party political arena. As a former senior officer—I declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents Association—I took a neutral stance and served Governments of both colours without any indication of party alignment at that time. I campaigned and lobbied Conservative and Labour policy teams, on behalf of the police service, on issues such as the setting up of a paedophile register, the modification of the right to silence and the abolition of the antiquated double jeopardy law.
The police should be politically neutral, as are the armed services and the monarchy. They serve the Crown and are accountable under the law, and this is how it should be. I fear that under the coalition’s new regime they will be politicised, and that if they do not toe the party line they could be dismissed if the elected commissioner loses confidence in them. The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, had a right to be suspicious, because that is exactly what happened to him when the newly elected mayor, Boris Johnson, took charge of the police in London. We never found out quite what happened to the position of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, but it is very difficult to work with someone who openly declares that they have lost confidence in you. I hope that this will not become common practice in future.
I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Blair, on his advice to people not to exercise their democratic vote. We should all support democracy because it has been so hard fought for. My advice is that every member of the public should exercise their vote, and that they should vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. I am very fortunate in Durham, where we have a Labour candidate who is also a former deputy chief constable of great experience—in my case, it is a no-brainer. Incidentally, the Labour candidate in Humberside is a big beast who has similar strengths and great experience, contrary to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, whose brainchild this dog’s breakfast is.
Finally, crime is at its lowest for a quarter of a century and is still falling. It has fallen by one-third in the past decade. This is in the middle of a recession in which we have reduced police numbers, so the police must be doing something right. I believe in the old adage that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I will point out one other fact. The prison population has never been higher. When the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was Home Secretary, he famously said that prison worked. He, too, reduced crime substantially. Perhaps he was right.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for initiating this debate. She was right; we debated the proposals for police and crime commissioners at great length last year, and many views were expressed about the nature of the commissioner’s role, the powers that would be vested in them, their relationships with chief constables and local councils, and how checks, balances and scrutiny would be preserved. We on these Benches urged that pilots should be undertaken before final decisions were made.
I do not seek to revisit all of those issues, but I will identify what is of concern to me as elections for police and crime commissioners are about to take place. These concerns relate to: the nature of the elections and the public’s engagement with them; the location and extent of powers; and the need for early and continuous review.
Polling day is two weeks away and postal votes are going out. I hope for a high turnout, because the elections need to be a success, and those elected need to feel that they have a mandate. Given what we learnt recently about Hillsborough, strengthening public oversight of policing matters greatly. However, I fear turnout may not be high. The reason is that many people do not understand what they are being asked to do, and the amount of publicity given to voters has been woeful. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me why the elections are being held, why most candidates are party political, and why so little has come through their letterbox. I can direct people to the leaflet delivered with poll cards, but that is mostly about procedures. Voters who can access the website discover comparatively little about the candidates and about their plans if they are elected. I do not understand why a booklet was not sent to every voter, as it was with the London mayoral election. I hope that turnout will be high, but if it proves to be very low, the Government, and particularly the Home Office, should ask themselves why they have wished an outcome—namely, greater democratisation of policing—without delivering the full publicity campaign needed to ensure that it happens as it should.
Commissioners will be entrusted with great power. They will set priorities through a five-year plan, in consultation with the chief constable. They will hold the chief constable to account, set the force budget and the local precept, and, where necessary, appoint a chief constable and, if required, suspend them. They need a very clear democratic mandate to justify this degree of power. The police and crime panels that will scrutinise the commissioner remain comparatively weak. In the Electoral Commission leaflet delivered through my front door, they were not even mentioned. They cannot veto the commissioner’s police and crime plan, or the budget, or the dismissal of a chief constable. They will be consulted on the plan and on any proposal to dismiss a chief constable, but their powers do not include a veto. They will of course be able to confirm or veto the commissioner’s appointment of the chief constable, and confirm or veto the level of the council tax precept—though only with a two-thirds majority.
With good will and mutual understanding between commissioners and panels, the structure could work reasonably well—and probably will in most places because the people involved will want it to work. However, that structure could very easily cause conflict. We will start to discover quite soon what will happen, because budgets and precepts will need to be set for 2013-14. Formal plans will need to be put in place quickly to underpin those budgets and the precepts asked for. Because a number of chief constable appointments are pending, we will see very soon how the procedures for appointment will work. Above all, we must ensure three things: first, that we do not politicise the police but preserve their neutrality, even though party-political candidates dominate the ballot papers; secondly, that we do not produce conflict in electoral mandates between commissioners, panels and local councils; and, thirdly, that the allocation of resources and operational command is impartially delivered. Making sure this happens will require early and continuous review.
I understand that the Electoral Commission will report on the conduct of the elections—and, frankly, the earlier the better. I suggest that reviews are then conducted over the next few months in these areas: the success of the appointments process for chief constables where there are currently vacancies; the success over the next few months of the procedures that are followed for the creation of the policing plan, the budget and the precept; whether any changes should be introduced for 2014-15; whether the make-up of police and crime panels ensures that they represent the spread of opinion geographically and politically in their force area; and whether the training of all members of those panels is adequate. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what research and evaluation will be undertaken, and by whom, and to what timescale, to ensure that this new governance structure turns out to be a success. In the mean time, we should urge people to cast their votes as part of this major constitutional and governance reform and opportunity.
My Lords, quite simply but most importantly, the post of a police and crime commissioner is that of a politician in a high-visibility jacket who says to the public: “It is me you contact with your concerns about policing, and if you are not happy you can get rid of me”.
While I appreciate the concern about the involvement in policing of party politics, I, too, am saddened by the attitudes of some to this change. Emmeline Pankhurst must be turning in her grave when people are being actively encouraged not to vote. This could mean that the most is not made of what is a great opportunity: a direct line of accountability from police governance to the public.
I will focus briefly on three reasons why this direct line is vital at this time. The first reason concerns reputational issues. Unfortunately, while most police officers are hard-working and honest, the police have caught the national disease of institutional reputational slide. The Riots Communities and Victims Panel stated in its neighbourhood survey that the data indicated that a significant minority had doubts about the integrity of the police. Some 34 per cent thought that corruption was fairly or very common in the police. A ComRes poll taken in the context of phone hacking and the police found that 77% of people worried about wider corruption in the police. These results were, of course, before the Hillsborough panel’s report, so I would be very surprised if the trend has changed. I cannot remember a time when we lost two chief constables—Sir Norman Bettison and the chief constable of Cleveland—in less than three weeks to these kind of allegations of gross misconduct, namely lying. Having one person who is clearly visible and the people have chosen to hold the police to account could be a vital plug in this sapping of confidence in the integrity of the police.
Secondly, there is the matter of a swifter response to issues of public concern which are not necessarily of police concern. No, this is not a suggestion that involves the operational involvement of the police and crime commissioner—that is sacred ground which the PCC should not touch—but I hope that the presence of the PCC will mean that it will not take cases such as that of Sean Rigg where comments from the coroner have prompted a review by the Metropolitan Police Service into deaths in custody and mental health policing headed by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. It has been most unhelpful to the police and to public confidence in policing that such a poor perception in some communities developed around deaths in custody. A good police and crime commissioner will be taking those concerns directly to the chief constable.
Thirdly, on the issue of young people, a single point of contact with a good social media presence will be able to have a profile among young people. An imaginative PCC might think about creating a young person’s PCC role. With such high levels of young people out of work it is becoming increasingly important to keep one’s finger on the pulse of the feelings of young people. The demographics of the riots offenders has, I hope, taught us this.
However, only one person can wear that high-visibility jacket at a time, which means that the need for diversity is even more important. Here I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I know that when one repeats something which seems like an age-old mantra, some people will sigh and say, “Is that really necessary? Surely all that matters is that the police detect crime and that they are honest, firm and perhaps personable”. I think that that is not all that matters, not because it is politically correct to think otherwise but because some of Peel’s seven principles tell us so. Those principles were outlined by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne—the first and joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police—but I shall cite only two: namely, always to recognise that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect; and, perhaps most famously, that the police are the public and the public are the police. If that is the case and if democracy is to be legitimate, the PCCs must be representative of the population they serve and police.
So, what are the scores on the doors now that nominations are closed? The following mathematics is my own, as I could not find a current break-down of statistics anywhere. First, I note that 28% of the candidates are independent. Of the 192 PCC candidates, 13 are from ethnic minority communities—that is 6.7% of the total. It is sobering for all the main political parties to note that nearly two-thirds of those candidates are standing as independents. Only 3.6% of candidates standing under any party-political label are from black and minority ethnic communities. I remain concerned about the message that will be sent by the PCC’s equivalent of the G20 leaders photograph after these elections. It is unlikely that members of the police and crime panel will have a public face in policing, but I expect that the deputy PCC will have such a role—even if it is only when the PCC is on holiday—and so the selection of those candidates is vital.
Let me sound a couple of cautionary notes before I close. The success of this role will be determined not so much by voter turnout as by the professionalism of the police and crime commissioners. Some candidates are former chairs of PCCs, such as Fraser Pithie in Warwickshire and Bishop Derek Webley in the West Midlands, but some have little background in policing. It is a shame that there will be no centrally funded and organised training for the new PCCs. With a professional body on policing being recommended, what about professional standards for PCCs? I always remember my friend, who has been head of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, asking a senior MP, “So, politicians do not have to do continuing professional development? We’ve been doing it for decades”. Perhaps confidence in politicians generally would be increased if we adopted an ongoing training scheme which is standard practice in virtually every profession nowadays.
Secondly, let me sound a cautionary note on unheard voices. Only today, the C S Lewis Twitter feed which I follow stated:
“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silent hurt more”.
With the rise of professional lobbying and vocal, often middle-class voters, the PCC will need to be ever more mindful of those who suffer in silence—those who do not reach for the Twittersphere and would not think of going to their MP or PCC. The voiceless are often victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in certain areas; often they are hidden, sometimes they are elderly, and sometimes they are people who are just too busy keeping their lives together that making a complaint to the PCC would be that one thing too many.
I hope that in a few years we will see PCCs who have surgeries like MPs, who have the most Twitter followers locally among young people, who will be a critical friend to the chief constable and who will be the key person facilitating probation, CPS, social workers and other agencies to work together. I hope that these elections and the role of the PCC will be like the Olympics. We looked at that event with doom and pessimism but surprised ourselves with the success of the risk that we took and what we all achieved.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for initiating today’s debate. It has been extremely useful and shows the House at its best and the degree and depth of knowledge and experience among your Lordships.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, rightly criticised the Government for not building on the success we have already seen in fighting crime, including the partnerships. She outlined the sweeping and wide-ranging changes in governance, organisations and structures. I shall not repeat the detail that she gave but lack of funding to help make the transition to these changes and a lack of clarity in many areas about what is involved have caused enormous concern.
I wish to look specifically at the creation of the National Crime Agency, the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency and the police and crime commissioners. During the debates on the Crime and Courts Bill, which will shortly continue, we raised our concerns about the lack of clarity and the lack of detail. Far too often it seems that policy is made up on the back of an envelope and is then coloured in with the detail later. At the last election, one of the Government’s flagship policies, as we have heard, was the election of police and crime commissioners, and yet, despite the rhetoric, the Government seem determined to undermine this office.
As your Lordships know, and as we have heard today, we opposed the creating of those positions. Not only is it expensive at a time when the Government are cutting to the bone but there remains a woeful lack of clarity and understanding about how the relationship with the chief constable, the Home Secretary and the new National Crime Agency will work. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, highlighted the problems that could occur from what could be seen as a politicisation of our police force. Despite the spirited and committed defence of the policy by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, it was flawed by not recognising the existing role of local councillors, local partnerships and local community partnerships, which work and are very successful at present. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked specific questions around those relationships and operations which I hope the Minister will be able to answer today.
If the Government’s initial rhetoric about PCCs being at the heart of the community and the voice of policing is to be believed, surely that would lead to them wanting the highest possible turnout and participation in these elections, and yet, unlike with mayoral and many other elections, there is no free postal delivery of candidates’ information to voters. So not only is it difficult for the public to have any information on the candidates, it also makes it harder for those standing as independents to let the public know what they stand for. Indeed, it makes it difficult for any candidate, given the huge areas that they intend to represent. Moreover, the idea that holding stand-alone elections in November would somehow help turnout is ludicrous. I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, about America, but I think that at the moment most Americans, particularly those on the east coast, would not exactly welcome November elections.
The Government’s response that information is available online is really quite insulting and inadequate. The Electoral Reform Society has estimated that turnout could be as low as 20%, and the Government have taken no serious or meaningful action to address that. I concur entirely with my noble friend Lady Henig’s comments about the appalling adverts that are somehow supposed to increase enthusiasm and anticipation for people to vote in these elections. The ones I have seen—there may be others—show one example of fly-tipping and numerous examples of young people attacking older people. Dealing with those problems is not the only role for police and crime commissioners and it undermines the very serious role they will play. Despite all this, we have some really able and committed candidates who will do an excellent job as PCCs. They will certainly try their best, but they are being let down by the Government and they deserve better.
Alongside these new positions, we have seen so much change in the structure of how the police operate. I will not repeat the excellent analysis made by my noble friend of the range of changes and the effect that they may have. What worries me is the lack of detail that has been made available. We all want the new National Crime Agency to be successful, but throughout our debates in Committee on the Crime and Courts Bill, we were never able to conduct any meaningful scrutiny of the National Crime Agency because the framework document—the fundamental document setting out what the NCA will do and how it will do it—has not been available. The Minister’s response at the time was that it might be available for the Report stage, but if it was not, it would be available for when the Bill reaches the Commons. Again that is completely inadequate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance today that when we reach the Report stage later this month, he will have ensured that the framework document is available for discussion.
The National Policing Improvement Agency has been abolished before the legislation has even been passed, and yet still there is no complete clarity on where all the functions of the NPIA, its responsibilities and its staff, will be allocated. It is starting to look like another back-of-the-envelope policy where the colouring still has to be added in. It takes no account of the changes and reforms that the agency had already made.
Finally, I turn to the significant changes. The Government have now announced that they are minded to opt out of all the pre-Lisbon policing and criminal justice measures where we co-operate with other European countries. Earlier this week I attended a conference in Berlin of the European Confederation of Police, the umbrella organisation for organisations such as the Police Federation. Senior members of its committee were discussing various issues, including that of policing across borders. How can we expect our police effectively to fight cross-border serious crime such as terrorism, sex abuse and the trafficking of drugs and people without European co-operation? How would the British police have been able to co-operate with the French police to return Megan Stammers to the UK and her family if we were not part of the European arrest warrant system? Yet again we have proposals for further changes that do not seem to have been fully worked out.
As my noble friend Lady Henig made very clear in her comments, there have been too many changes made with too little co-ordination. Also, all of these changes and potential changes have to be seen against a background of cuts in budgets and resources—and as my noble friend Lord Prescott pointed out, it is not just the Government making cuts. Crime and disorder partnerships and other partnerships have been cut by local authorities.
The new National Crime Agency will take on the roles of SOCA and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and it will have increased responsibilities around the issues of border control and revenue and customs. Your Lordships will know that no change is ever cost free. The election of police and crime commissioners, the abolition of the NCA and the creation of new bodies such as the new National Crime Agency are all taking place at a time when resources are precious and deep and unprecedented cuts are being made. I am seriously worried about effecting deep and fundamental change without ensuring that the resources are available to ensure that it works. We know that resources are tight and we know the pressures that the police are operating under. We also recognise that cuts would have been made under a Labour Government, but the difference is one of scale and size. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary made it very clear that cuts over 12% were unsustainable and would lead to a worse service. The Government have ignored that advice and have instituted cuts amounting to around 20%. In my county of Essex, we are losing one in 10 of our front-line police officers. We no longer have any 24-hour police stations and a number have closed completely. That is not unusual as other noble Lords have told the same story from where they are.
But this is not just about abstract numbers and concepts. It can really make a difference, and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, did this House a service by focusing on how victims are being impacted by these policies. Noble Lords may have seen press reports of the murder in Southend in Essex of Jeanette Goodwin, following harassment and threats made by Martin Bunch which had already led to several arrests and a conviction for battery. Reading through the reports of this case show that it is clear that there were a number of failings along the line in the criminal justice system, although no criticisms were made of the police until that final day. Laura Smith, of the local newspaper, the Echo, after reading reports and interviewing serving police officers, identified serious problems with staffing on that day. A number of officers were sick, another had to provide constant supervision for a prisoner in the custody block and one was sent to the operations management unit at police HQ to deal with appointments there. The result was that there was an acting sergeant and five constables on duty. They were extremely busy because of another 999 call to a violent domestic incident. The police have admitted that even if the final call that Jeanette Goodwin ever made had been classified as urgent, there still was not anyone to attend. The reports make it clear that the man in question was intent on causing her harm. One call handler said that when she arrived on her shift, there were more than 100 incidents on the “open list” and many had not even been allocated. There were a number of other failings across the criminal justice system as a whole, but despite those other failings, there must always be the question that had the police responded immediately with a patrol car, had they been up to full strength on that day, and had they not had to absorb such a high level of cuts, would Jeanette Goodwin still be alive? I do not know the answer, but if we fail to ask the question and continue just to talk about processes and procedure, we fail in our duty to the public and to victims.
When I have asked about cuts in services, I have been disappointed with Ministers’ replies. They say that cuts are the responsibility of chief constables, but Ministers set the budgets within which chief constables have to operate. However good a police and crime commissioner is, he or she can only act within the budget that is to be given to them by the Government. I hope sincerely that the Government do not say, “It is not our responsibility, it is for police and crime commissioners”, because they are acting within the Government’s budgets.
The public must have confidence in the police; it is something we all want to see. We want the public to have respect for the police, and in turn we want the police rightly to earn that confidence and respect. My fear is that the Government’s obsession with changing structures and governance, often not fully worked out and often not having fully understood what was already in place, ignores the serious underlying issues and concerns. The public have not been set alight by the PCC elections and they are not queuing up to vote. However, we want them to do so because for these provisions to be successful, we need to see a greater buy-in from the public. But if the Government really believe in their policy, they are facing a lost opportunity. They need to stop obsessing about structures and look instead at resources, commitments and a whole range of factors that will make policing in this country a success story that we can be proud of.
My Lords, I share the gratitude expressed by all noble Lords to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for tabling this debate. I also thank noble Lords for their contributions, which have ranged from passionate to thoughtful, but none without conviction. All those who participated in this debate have brought their experience to bear on what is an important subject in contemporary politics. I do not share the downbeat views of some noble Lords opposite, and I reflect particularly on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Listening to some speeches, once or twice I thought, “Heaven forfend that these changes should be a success”. I am at one with my noble friend Lady Berridge on this issue. Policing has a great future in this country and there are opportunities to change it so that we really have a policing system fit for our times.
We have embarked on the biggest reform to the policing landscape for 50 years. This is being achieved alongside changes to the funding settlement that are challenging for the police service, but they have been shown by the majority of police forces to be manageable. At the same time, we have confounded those who suggested that emergency response times would increase; they have actually held up. Most important of all, as most noble Lords have acknowledged, we have continued to meet the challenge of reducing overall levels of crime. Under this Government, recorded crime has gone down by 10%. This is across key crime types, with recorded violence down 13%, burglary down by 7%, criminal damage 22%, vehicle crime 15%, robbery 5% and knife crime 9%. All have come down. Noble Lords will be pleased with that achievement, of which the police can be particularly proud.
We are meeting the challenge of delivering better value for money and reducing crime while delivering a programme of radical reforms to the policing landscape. Future generations will look back on 2012 as a year when our country was at its best and we had significant legacies set into our history books through the magnificent Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee. It will also be a year in which future generations will see another lasting legacy being born, with the most significant reforms in policing being laid by the first direct elections of police and crime commissioners, the emergence of the National Crime Agency and the establishment of the police college.
The single most significant change to policing, as many noble Lords have commented, comes in exactly two weeks’ time, on 15 November, when the public outside of London will elect their first police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. Despite the doubts that people have about awareness of these elections, all the surveys show that 85% of the electorate will have had an opportunity to see information about them. As of last week, 62% of the electorate knew about the elections. I do not know how many noble Lords have been out campaigning—one noble Lord certainly has and there may be others—but I am sure that they have found that there is a widespread appreciation of the elections and of their importance. Noble Lords misunderstand how the electorate perceive this opportunity to vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is concerned that we learn lessons from the way that these elections are run. The Government are clearly going to take note of that, and it would be very useful to have his input to discussions after the elections. Meanwhile, I hope that all noble Lords will encourage people to be involved in this extension of democratic influence and encourage their favourite candidates to succeed in the elections.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the famous words of Robert Peel, which were repeated by my noble friend Lady Berridge:
“The police are the public and the public are the police”.
The police have always accepted that they should be accountable to the public, and the election of PCCs is the logical conclusion of that belief in accountability to the public. The introduction of PCCs will introduce greater transparency and accountability to a service of which we are rightly proud but which can sometimes be too distant from the public it serves and can fail adequately to reflect their concerns and priorities. These reforms are about democratic accountability and putting power in the hands of local communities. PCCs will drive value for money, deliver cost savings, reduce bureaucracy and prioritise the front-line services that they know the public want and, more importantly, which the public have every right to expect.
I know that there has been some discussion between my noble friend Lord Wasserman and the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, on the efficacy of this process. However, I am sure that the outcome of the elections will be a more effective policing service and a greater accountability to, and closer relationship with, the public at large. After all, if a PCC fails to represent their community and deliver on their priorities, the public will be able to tell them what they think of them at the ballot box—by voting them out if they need to. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, made a generous speech despite his reservations about the policy. I believe that the noble Lord shares in the essence of what this policy is about, which is the need to make policing a community activity.
Some noble Lords think that having an election in November is a bad idea; but this will not necessarily happen next time, because there will be the opportunity to have the election in May. It may be a more seasonal time of year to have elections, but as noble Lords have pointed out, the vote was not achieved easily, and I am certain that we will find people wanting to participate in these elections in future.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, made an extremely passionate speech and I am sure he is sincere in wanting to make a success of his candidature in these elections. However, it will be for the noble Lord, if he is successful, to write, set and implement his plan. It will not be the Home Office writing the plan or implementing it. The PCCs will have the responsibility.
As this House will know, the police and crime panels—the PCPs—will also form a key check and balance in the model. As a result of amendments that this House argued for, PCPs will both challenge and support PCCs in making good their important role. This balance was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who has enormous experience on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who is an extremely experienced policeman, emphasised how important it is to have this check within the system. This system is working very well. It would be disingenuous to say that the system in London was without some teething problems but the service is now working well and in the interests of the citizens of London. The office of PCC has a statutory monitoring officer in the chief executive, who exercises controls over contact and whose post is politically restricted.
Fortunately, we have all 41 PCPs in place. They represent all local authorities within the community, not just county authorities as used to be the case. That means that PCP members will be engaging with their councils and their local expertise to hold the PCC publicly to account.
It is encouraging to see a rise in the number of people who are prepared to get involved in protecting their communities, a powerful example of which are the special constabulary and police support volunteers. I am delighted to note that the number of special constables is now more than 20,000—a rise of 10% from last year.
The Government are alert to the need to communicate with the public—a point made by my noble friend Lady Newlove in a very emotive speech—and to ensure that policing policy puts victims first. We are taking a new approach by setting out proposals in our White Paper, Putting Victims First, for faster, more flexible and effective powers that will provide a real deterrent to perpetrators and better protect victims and communities.
With these measures, we are taking a local response to local problems, recognising that these cannot be solved by central direction from Whitehall. This will leave the Home Office to refocus on its proper role, to ensure that this new, radical model is put to work, and in particular to secure a more effective response to national threats and to co-ordinate strategic action on issues of public interest.
In July, we published the strategic policing requirement, which sets out the most important national threats to which PCCs and chief constables must have regard. This will ensure that the national response is rooted in local policing, with local forces playing their part in both regional and national issues.
One of the key national threats is that posed by serious and organised crime, as brutally demonstrated by the recent shootings in Greater Manchester. Around 30,000 people and 7,500 gangs are involved in organised crime in the UK, at a cost of £40 billion to our economy every year. Last year, we launched the first ever cross-government organised crime strategy so that we can bring to bear the full power of the state and its agencies against organised criminals. We are already seizing more criminal assets than ever before. From next year, PCCs and chief constables will work closely with the new National Crime Agency, which will be responsible for spearheading action against serious and organised crime.
It has been suggested that police forces are facing cuts of 20%. No police force has faced cuts at this level. The police service nationally receives around a quarter of its income from the police precept elements of council tax, and the exact proportion varies from force to force. The level at which it is to be set in future will be a matter for individual PCCs to decide.
We are delivering these reforms alongside a drive to deliver better efficiency and value for money. The Government have been very clear that reducing the budget deficit is our number one priority. All public services must constrain their spending, including the police. The Home Office has been doing its bit. We are setting up a police ICT company, which will improve police systems and save money in procurement. We are also helping forces to enjoy economies of scale in the purchase of other goods and services.
We have also been prepared to step in to mandate co-operation between forces. The creation of the National Police Air Service, for example, will provide a better service for forces across the country at a lower cost to the taxpayer. This new police-led, government-supported scheme will keep 98% of people in England and Wales 20 minutes or less away from police air support and will save up to £15 million a year.
The police service must also do its part. At the start of the spending review, the service was spending more than £14 billion a year. It is therefore only right that the police make their contribution to the savings that are needed, while ensuring that the service that the public receive is maintained and, where possible, improved. This can be done, and it is being done. By changing the way police forces work, getting officers out of the back office and on to the front line, and stripping out bureaucratic processes, officers can be freed up to do the job they joined up to do—to fight crime and protect the public.
We are also taking action to improve standards across all aspects of policing. From December, the new College of Policing will be driving professionalism across the whole of policing, in the public interest. Professionalism was rightly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and lies at the heart of improvements within the police service. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made very much the same point. The opportunity is now there for the College of Policing to become the guardian of professional standards, shaping and maintaining the ethics and values by which they are delivered. It will also set the professional development framework for policing, ensuring that all officers and staff have the right knowledge and skills to do their job effectively.
My noble friend Lady Doocey mentioned the importance of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. We are looking to expand the powers of the IPCC to ensure that it can function effectively as the policing landscape changes. In the light of many high-profile occurrences, which go to the heart of the public’s anxiety, it is important that we maintain the integrity of our police service. In such circumstances, the IPCC has a clear and important part to play.
We are delighted to have appointed Alex Marshall, the chief constable of Hampshire Constabulary, as the chief executive officer of the new College of Policing. Mr Marshall has an impressive track record of driving down crime, supporting innovation and cutting bureaucracy—all skills that will be integral to the College of Policing.
Half way through the Parliament, we have made great progress in our programme of police reform: PCCs elected later this month; the College of Policing about to be launched; the NCA operational next year; wasteful spending reduced and efficiency savings achieved. Taken together, these reforms add up to a realignment of policing in this country that will free up the police from central targets and bureaucracy and place power back in the hands of local people.
We believe that the public should be in charge of how their communities are policed. Although crime maps, beat meetings and neighbourhood policing are all crucial in this respect, the election of PCCs is the change that will truly give the people their voice. From 15 November onwards, any development in crime prevention, policing and criminal justice will need to engage PCCs and they will be key to its implementation. This puts the public at the centre of policy-making, and at the centre of policing. The end result will be a trusted, responsive and professional police service that will be continually improving to cut crime, but with its priorities rooted in the needs of local communities.
I believe that these reforms will be seen as one of the great achievements of this Government. I am confident that this is something that Sir Robert Peel would have recognised and would have approved of.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and the Minister for his response. As the Minister has said, there have been many notable contributions—from the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, at his most super-optimistic to my noble friend Lord Prescott at his battling best. No wonder so many chief constables are nervously awaiting the election of all-powerful commissioners. We have had important speeches: from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on the victims of crime; from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on professionalism; from the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, on the IPCC; and from the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, on the work of the Independent Commission on the Future of Policing. I was particularly interested in the issues around diversity, or rather the lack of it, that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, raised. We have also had a worrying reminder from my noble friend Lord Harris about the dangers of politicising operational activities with reference to phone hacking and the Metropolitan Police.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the elections in a fortnight’s time. I have been asking everyone that I have met in the past month whether they are going to vote. I accept that this is a rather imperfect survey, but it was the best one I could have. I asked everybody, “Are you going to vote in a fortnight’s time?”. I have to tell the Minister that nine out of 10 people I have spoken to have said no. They have said that because they do not know about the elections—some have said that—or they said, “These elections have nothing to do with me”, or they have said no because they do not approve of bringing party politics into policing. In a way, that last group of people should concern us most. These are people who have voted in every election, local and national, and yet have said to me, “We are not voting. We do not believe that voting is appropriate for police commissioners”. The Government may not like that, but that is the reality. That is what people are saying to me. That is what is being reflected in newspaper columns.
I take the reproof of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning. I take her point that she feels that I am being too pessimistic in my assessment of what is happening in policing. I would respond to her by saying that it is very easy to stand in this Chamber and welcome change and to be optimistic that it will all work out. My interest is in those people out on the front line up and down this country; people in communities who actually have to implement these changes, and do so effectively. My point is that if you bring in so many disparate and disconnected changes simultaneously, it undermines people’s ability and capacity to join everything up at the local level. That is my fear.
I have never been against change which is organic, or change which builds on what is already working. However, what I am against is wholesale revolutionary change which can be damaging and very dangerous. That is what I was trying to draw attention to in this debate.
The challenges facing policing now are unprecedented in their scale, compounded as they are by the savage financial cutbacks. For me, nothing could be more damaging to the fight against crime than a wholesale loss of public confidence in the policing service. It is for this reason that I tabled this Motion for debate today. My hope remains, despite what has been said from the opposite Benches, that the Government will start to realise how much damage their policies are causing to the police service and will engage constructively with the leaders of that service in a way which restores public confidence and police morale. If they do not do this urgently, my concern is that that thin blue line will become so demoralised and badly stretched that it will snap, with incalculable results for all of us.
House of Lords: Working Practices
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note, in the light of the Government’s decision not to proceed with the House of Lords Reform Bill, of the options for making better use of the skills and experience of its Members in performing its core functions of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and providing a forum for public debate.
My Lords, I am delighted to see how many people are in the Chamber wishing to speak on this Motion. Unfortunately, noble Lords will pay a price in the amount of time that they will have to do so.
I will argue how crucial it is now that we look afresh at how we make better use of our talents and the skills of our Members, fundamentally better to fulfil the functions of the House as set out on the Order Paper. I will argue that it is timely to do so. We know now that fundamental change to the composition of the House is off the agenda, at least for the immediate future. You can make your own guess, but I would expect that the present incumbents, if we are fortunate, may well be here in 10 years’ time. That therefore increases the necessity of looking at our processes to see whether we can improve them.
Next, it is right to look at this again because there is unfinished business. The Leader helpfully set up a Leader’s Group, chaired very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, but many of those recommendations, some of the most important ones, have not yet come before the House for discussion and decision. It is timely for many of them to do so.
Lastly, there are wider issues, and none of us will be able to resist some of the temptation of straying into them. However, the fundamental issue should be about completing the Goodlad business that was started and is not yet at its end.
I turn to what was in the Goodlad report. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for using the abbreviation; he will know what I mean by that. The report looked at the scrutiny of legislation. That matters. We spend most of our time on it; it is our most important function. The volume and complexity of legislation have increased enormously over recent decades. We do not do a bad job, but we do not do a good enough job either. That is not always helped by the fact that Governments of whatever party have a persistent disease of rushing Bills into the House before they are properly ready and prepared.
There are two fundamental recommendations in Goodlad which would have helped to address that. The first was establishing a presumption that there should be pre-legislative scrutiny on all important Bills, particularly those which made major policy shift and/or had not had full consultation via Green Papers or White Papers. The second was a test of legislative preparedness before a Bill had its Second Reading to ensure that some basic process tests had been fulfilled. This may sound tedious and unnecessary, but I ask noble Lords to reflect on the Health and Social Care Bill that came into this House. I hope that the Health and Social Care Act works because, for most of us, the improvement of the NHS is fundamentally important to the cohesion, health and well- being of our society. But it was an object lesson in how not to proceed. I do not make that as a party-political point. The Government of whom I was a Minister was, at times, guilty of similar failings. I argue that a fundamental change like that needed the fullest consultation before the Government had firmly made up their mind. That is why pre-legislative scrutiny matters: because Governments are more flexible before they and their officials have committed themselves in that way. If we had had pre-legislative scrutiny, and if we had had tests of legislative preparedness, I am confident that the Health and Social Care Bill would have had an easier passage, probably a quicker one, and I would have expected that it would have been a better Act at the end of the process.
The Goodlad report also recommended that we should change some of our processes. The primary recommendation was that most Bills should go into Grand Committee. I will not go on in detail about that; we have debated it. However, the Goodlad proposal was not of course the proposal on which the House voted. I hope that at some stage—not in the near future but at some stage—we will come back to the proposal that most Bills should be scrutinised in Grand Committee. The process of scrutiny is evidentially better there than it usually is on the Floor of the House.
On secondary legislation, Goodlad recommended what had been recommended by the Wakeham commission previously: that the convention on secondary legislation that the House does not usually strike down and defeat SIs would be better replaced by a convention that essentially said that the House should use a power to defer and ask the Government to think again. That is absolutely consistent with what we do on primary legislation, and the benefits of doing it on secondary legislation are for the once or twice a year when there are manifestly failings in an SI brought before the House, either because its policy or processes are unclear or its consultation has been poor. The Government would be invited to think again about such an instrument and bring it back in a month’s time with amendments or with a better argumentation as to why that SI should stand. We would have better SIs as a consequence because officials and Ministers would be aware of this potential delaying power and would therefore do their homework better. That is not to imply that the quality of SIs is generally poor, because it is not; it has improved.
Those are some of the changes on legislative process that this House has within its power to make relatively simply, at relatively little cost. The public would be better served if we did so.
This House is an important forum for debate and inquiry. We do not get that much attention in the wider world. Sometimes, that is the media’s fault; sometimes, it is our own. The question for us, though, is how we make better use of our time and skills to be an effective forum for debate and inquiry. I shall make three simple points.
First, Goodlad argued that the process for choosing Back-Bench debates was somewhat arcane—some of us would say asinine. Essentially, the Government can table a debate on a topic that they think is important, relevant or even urgent at any time they wish to do so. Back-Benchers are not able in this House to do that. The only mechanism by which they can do so is if they win the lottery, which is what, of course, the ballot is, and there is no guarantee that the name that comes out of the hat will meet the test of being important or topical. Alternatively, they can put their name down for a Question for Short Debate. We are now debating issues on Questions for Short Debate that were tabled five months ago. Therefore, it is impossible by that mechanism to use QSDs to raise timely and urgent issues. There is something fundamentally flawed in the way in which we select topics for Back-Bench debates. Goodlad recommended a very simple, very low-cost process for doing so, whereby the Back-Bench Members of this House control that process. I very much hope that we will discuss that before long.
Secondly, recommendations that Goodlad made that have been introduced, and I was delighted to see them, were to establish two ad hoc sub-committees. They were not introduced in exactly the way that Goodlad recommended them, but it could well be that the Leader of the House was right on this occasion, as he often is, to recommend that they be short and sharp rather than standing or long-standing. Two are under way, on SMEs and on public service and demographic change, and they will report by Easter. There will be two new ones next year. Therefore, it is clear that we should focus on that issue and try to ensure that we have two excellent topics for the successor committees. I hope that, in time, we will recognise that this is one of the best possible ways of harnessing the talent in this House and that we have more such ad hoc sub-committees. However, that will depend on whether we can demonstrate that there are good topics that need to be so debated.
Thirdly, we need to find ways of getting on with debates on Select Committee reports. It is not healthy that a committee works very hard to produce a report and that it has then to wait sometimes weeks and months before there is a debate on it.
Transparency was touched on in Goodlad, although perhaps with not quite that language. Transparency is an objective of this Government and I commend them for it. It is healthy for public life and public policy if most of our processes are more transparent and thereby accessible to the public and the wider world. However, public understanding of and involvement in the House of Lords, while they have improved, are still not good enough. Members’ own understanding of its processes and decisions is often shaky and weak—I think, after 10 or 12 years here, I begin to understand how it works, but I would not like to sit a GCSE on the subject.
One illustration—I am not just teasing the Front Benches on this—is the way in which the usual channels work. The processes of the usual channels are necessary—I do not think that the usual channels are malign, or at least not usually—but it is clear that many Members do not understand how they work. Goodlad argued that it would be healthy if the Leader looked at how we could make the workings of the usual channels more understandable and thereby accessible to the wider membership of the House. That is necessary and I hope that it happens before long. It would also be helpful to the wider public.
I say with tact that the usual channels are extremely influential in the way in which they manage the business of the House and are extremely influential in the major committees of the House. The consequence can be, no doubt unintentionally, that they have quite an influence on how Back-Bench issues are addressed as well. The House should take ownership of its own Back-Bench business within the time that is allocated to it as a fundamental principle. It does not always feel as if that occurs. I shall illustrate the point by mentioning again the two new ad hoc committees that will be set up next April. How many Members of the House are aware that there will be two new ad hoc committees? How many Members of the House are aware of any process by which they can put forward suggestions? Some Members are, but very many are not. How many members of the public are aware that two new ad hoc sub-committees will be set up next year? There is nothing wicked here, but it would be a cleaner process if the wider world and ourselves were aware that there were two slots for ad hoc sub-committees next year. They would thereby be well sighted on the potential for putting in argumentations for them and aware of the criteria that will be used for selection of those and where the decisions will be made. Nothing is wrong with what is happening at present, but that would certainly be a better process.
I shall touch very briefly on wider issues. The elephant in this Chamber, which you can all see, is that this House is too big. It frustrates the ability of new Members and many older Members to participate and it damages our credibility to some extent. It is self-evident that, if we are meant to be a House of expertise doing good scrutiny, we need to refresh and bring in new talent. Those two objectives are in conflict and the way of resolving them is obvious to us all: there has to be some process of retirement. Such a process will not be easy or even possible unless a government of the day are prepared to introduce legislation. However, it is necessary, as otherwise the House will clog up and become discredited, or we will fail to bring in sufficient new talent, which is clearly necessary.
If the scrutiny of legislation is our fundamental task, are the resources available to opposition Front Benches, of whatever party is in power, or to Members sufficient to do that? I have taken part in the scrutiny of legislation, and your Lordships know as well as I do the process. It is almost impossible unless you are lawyer to engage in the amendments and their processes without external support. That can be helpful and it involves the wider world, but it can also lead to risks. I also hope that we will as a House recognise that we have to champion Back-Bench interests, not in the interest of Back-Benchers per se but in the interest of better scrutiny, better debate and a better holding of the Government to account.
In conclusion, I am arguing that the priority is to make the case for a Back-Bench debates committee as soon as possible, and bring that before the Liaison Committee when we have completed making the case; in time, to bring in a process for a legislative standards committee; to review the transparency of our processes with a view to improving them; and, lastly, I urge all Back-Benchers, and even Front-Benchers, to persist in the important task of improving the processes of this House, because we have an obligation to the public we serve to do so.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on this timely debate and on his very wide-ranging speech on a subject which, as he said, is sufficiently important to your Lordships’ House to attract an attendance today on all sides.
I shall perforce be brief. We spend the majority of our time on the scrutiny of legislation. Our role is quite different from that of the other place. We seek to address points of principle and of details, drawing on the knowledge and experience of your Lordships. We seek to conduct our affairs in a timely way, while paying special attention to those parts of Bills that have not been scrutinised in detail in the other place. Therefore, I turn first to the case for a legislative standards committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred, which was made last year by the Leader’s Group, the Hansard Society, the Better Government Initiative and others. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has been asked by the Liaison Committee to examine the proposal, whereafter I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House may seek your Lordships’ views.
The case for a legislative standards committee, preferably a joint committee with the other place, is this. The past few decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, have seen a vast increase in the volume of legislation, both primary and secondary, put before Parliament by Governments. There is intense competition between departments for parliamentary time. The resulting workload on Parliament has led to serious consequences; the other place’s capacity for proper scrutiny has been all but overwhelmed. Amendments have been routinely accepted without debate in your Lordships’ House towards the very end of parliamentary sessions, not in response to argument or evidence but under pressure of time and to avoid the alternative of Governments of the day losing entire Bills. There was an answer to a Question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Butler, earlier this year, showing that a vast number of measures have not been put into effect in the past few years for that very reason.
We rightly pride ourselves on what we do, but the fact is that much legislation is worse than unsatisfactory. There is a massive waste of time and resources—financial and human—in both Parliament and Whitehall. The proposed business standards committee would help the Government as a whole, particularly the business managers, to ensure that legislation brought before Parliament was validly and properly prepared. Its role would be to ensure Bills’ technical and procedural compliance with agreed standards of Bill preparation, rather than to scrutinise policy or drafting. The discipline which such a system would impose would be wholly beneficial, enormously cost effective and widely welcomed by the overworked occupants of both Whitehall and Westminster. As I have said, it would be manna from heaven to the business managers, but benefits would be felt not only by government, Parliament, the judiciary, legal practitioners—whose pain I admit is frequently greatly eased—and stakeholders, but above all by the citizens, who would be relieved from the frustration, bewilderment and worse inflicted on them by what many see as the ever-growing tsunami of amateurishly prepared legislation. The volume of delegated legislation continues to grow, as does its importance. Parliament accepts the concept of unamendable secondary legislation nearly every time that it passes an Act, but there must be a limit somewhere.
My Lords, I have realised how different the focus of the working group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, was from some previous working groups. We were rather less, although still quite a lot, inward-looking, and more about the “what”. When we were talking about the “how”, it was directed to outcomes and clarity. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for so directing us.
The report was to the Leader of the House, and it was quite proper that he should have dealt with it as he saw fit, but we have been dependent on an individual Member of the House for securing this debate. There are no other mechanisms. Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. This is a matter of governance and, although there is no time today to go broadly on that, I shall mention one aspect.
The public seem to hold the House of Lords in high regard. This is not a point about composition. The greatest accolade that I often hear is that we talk sense. To unpack that, I think that it is about experience and skills—as in the title of the debate—including life experience, judgment and wisdom, if that is not all too pompous. The public expects those to be used, and so do our Members. It is notable how many inquiries are now held by all-party parliamentary groups, which meet a demand for the type of scrutiny and investigation that our Select Committees cannot do, and fulfil a need. There is something of smoke and mirrors about this, because they are not really parliamentary reports that are presented at the end of these inquiries, but they are received as such—and I am very glad that as Members we manage to do them.
If we do not use our Members and they are not fulfilled, they will not contribute, or at least as not as fully as they could. As Back-Benchers, they—or we, as I have always been very lucky in having some sort of role—are, in the jargon, stakeholders. That is why I support the establishment of a Back-Bench committee of the type mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, especially to contribute to the programming of topics for debate. It is a matter of transparency, effectiveness and efficiency. My preference is for more focused committees and, if necessary, a reduction in general debate, if resources go that way. Obviously, it is important to be able to follow through the committee work in debate. I am particularly pleased that we have now a structured post-legislative scrutiny committee on adoption legislation. I am lucky enough to be a member of it. I hope that there may be an opportunity to assess how it worked, when it has finished its work. Stopping to evaluate will be important, given that every Government have a predilection for passing legislation that is never implemented.
In every area of life, one has a responsibility to use one’s skills. It is a matter of responsibility and personal fulfilment, and we must find the best ways in which to do the right thing. I, too, look forward to completing the Goodlad business, to pick up the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is to be congratulated on this timely debate, since it is very much the right time to talk about pragmatic improvement to the quality and work of this House. I want to focus on just one proposal, produced by the Leader’s Group, which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, mentioned—the proposal for a Back-Bench committee, which I think could be appropriately described as a Back-Bench debates committee, to select topics for debate.
We all agree that there is a major priority in this House to play the role of a revising Chamber. The case has been made time and again. However, we are also a forum for debate and inquiry. Opportunities are there to challenge the Executive and debate issues of importance. I was lucky enough to have one on the Government’s policy towards Indian Ocean piracy last week. I am very glad that in the debate last year on working practices, on 11 June, the Leader of the House demonstrated a very open mind on this proposal, saying that it might be possible for Back-Bench Members to pick debates that are sufficiently topical, varied and of general interest, with a possibility of providing a sifting mechanism for that purpose. The choice that we have is between what has been described as “intelligent selection”—a rather Darwinian way in which to express it—as opposed to a lottery system. We are covering balloted debates for Back-Benchers, which take place once every month for 2.5 hours, Questions for Short Debate, which could be on the Floor of the House for up to 90 minutes maximum, or in Grand Committee, taking three or four at a time.
Although our practices are very different, we can learn something from the Commons’ procedures. Its new procedure of a Back-Bench Committee, established in 2010, seems to have worked well in deciding debates for up to 35 full debating days in every Session of Parliament. I think we can learn from that. The proposal is that we should have a committee of something like 12 Peers picked by the different parties and groups, including Cross-Benchers. The committee in this House could be of a smaller number, but whatever number it is, Members would be able to apply to that committee in open procedures. Then the committee would decide in private whether that topic should go forward for debate. This debates committee should obviously develop its own criteria but it is fairly obvious that debates in these circumstances would have to be limited in scope and either topical or long term. The level of importance would have to be decided, perhaps taking into account, for example, the representations of NGOs and voluntary bodies of one kind or another. The committee should be non-partisan.
It is interesting to note that in the House of Lords Business and Minutes of Proceedings of last Monday, 29 October, there were 57 Questions for Short Debate and 35 Motions for the next day for balloted debate. That shows the level of demand for this kind of procedure. The details can of course be refined but we would see improvements in our procedures by doing this. We would make better use of scarce time in the House and it would not necessarily involve substantial expenditure. It would be a good, pragmatic, transparent and coherent way of managing Back-Bench debates. I hope it will be taken seriously.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for his persistence in seeking to achieve the most appropriate means by which this House can pursue its primary purposes. As far as wide, public debate is concerned, an important part of that is the contribution of the Cross-Bench Peers and the Members of these Benches. Among them are those who can bring particular regional concerns to the House as well as their own specialisms. Everything that can be done to give good notice of debates is particularly welcome to those of us who have no London base and whose diaries are based on our regional duties. Equally, there needs to be clarity about the process of legislative scrutiny, such that those with specific contributions are enabled to be present to make them. In this, the weekly business documents have been of considerable help.
I am very grateful for the encouragement given to Members of these Benches to take part widely in the work of this House. A distinguished predecessor of mine, John Moorman, who was Bishop of Ripon in the 1960s, regretted his duty weeks here as a week in London simply for 25 minutes’ work in reading prayers. None of us now feels restricted in that way. Bishops welcome the opportunities to serve on the committees of this House, as for example the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham does on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich does on the Communications Select Committee. I greatly value the encouragements of your Lordships to take part in both debates and legislative scrutiny, and the support given to me in that whether or not noble Lords approved of what I was saying.
It remains crucial that we pursue the reform of this House. Surely experience shows that that reform has far more likelihood of success if it is modest and incremental. We need to pursue proposals such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in following the good example of these Benches in allowing for retirement as well as in tightening the disciplinary procedures of the House to suspend or expel those convicted of criminal acts.
In this respect, I re-emphasise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that there needs to be further attention paid to the size of this House. If political appointments are made to reflect the balance of parties in the House of Commons following each general election then this House will inevitably continue to increase in size. As long ago as the 1830s, the Government froze the number of bishops sitting in this House so that not all diocesan bishops were Members and bishops did not become dominant here. It is time that we followed suit for other groups within the House by allowing retirement, capping the size of the House and self-restraint from the political parties—or, indeed, by all three of these means. There are plenty of ways in which this House can reform its processes for the benefit of its work. I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will give an indication that we will move to do just that.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for securing this debate, giving us the opportunity to look at our role in Parliament. We have just been through an unsettling and miserable period so now is the time for us to take stock and look at our procedures, never forgetting that our role is to scrutinise legislation, sending back to another place any matters this House believes should be looked at again.
I will make two points. First, we have in this House a distinct character and we are different from the other House. We are a part-time House of non elected Peers. We sit at different times from the other place so that those who have continuing work experience and expertise are able to share their knowledge with the House, whether it is in legislation, debate or in the important reports of the Select Committees, to name just a few. The last thing I would wish us to become is a replica of the House of Commons, with a House entirely made up of full-time politicians. We must retain that difference and concentrate on the essential role we play.
Secondly, during my time in your Lordship’s House I have seen an increasing amount of time spent on legislation. For instance, in Committee we have Second Reading speeches with the proposer of an amendment taking up to 15 minutes in opening. That should easily be achieved in five minutes by not going into all the surrounding issues but instead concentrating on the narrower point of the particular amendment. Third Readings also seem to grow longer when the same arguments are made yet again. I thought the rules for Third Reading had recently been tightened and that that stage was only for the purpose of clarifying any remaining uncertainties, improving the drafting and enabling the Government to fulfil undertakings given at earlier stages of the Bill. Somehow we seem to take more and more time, sometimes even a whole day.
Of course, there are many other issues that we could debate but my main concern is that we continue doing the real work of this House: scrutinising legislation. That is why the other place respects this House and did not vote for an elected second Chamber. That is why we are here today.
My Lords, I begin by thanking Nicola Newson in the Library for her excellent paper and the Labour group of Peers for giving up without dissent its political debating slot in favour of a debate on House business. In taking that decision, the group reflected opinion across the House on the need for a carefully introduced programme of modernisation. I also take heart from the minutes of the Procedure Committee of 2 July, where in reply to a question from me, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that, given the House’s current uncertainty around Lords reform, he would not seek to take forward any recommendations until there was greater clarity about the future of the House. We now have that greater clarity.
I concentrate my remarks on recommendation 3, which deals with Leader of the House Questions and those paragraphs which relate to what is described as the Back-Bench business committee. Recommendation 3 expresses a real problem: we have no mechanism for raising concerns over House business during sittings of the House. During exchanges between the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the Leader of the House on 19 July on the use of Written Ministerial Statements, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, knows that the House,
“does not have points of order and that if he needs to raise a question, it has to be on a relevant Motion. It is a gross discourtesy to the Lord Speaker for the noble Lord not to have put down a PNQ … It is also a discourtesy to the House for him to break the rules in this way”.—[Official Report, 19/7/12; col. 344.]
Well, we do not want points of order; we do not want another Commons chamber; we do not have sitting time to allow for debates on procedural wrangles. We need a procedure that allows the House to vent its concerns on House matters. That is the background to recommendation 3.
I turn now to the Goodlad proposals for a Back-Bench business committee, which should be more appropriately described as the Back-Bench debates committee. The problem with these recommendations, of which there are seven, are the words “Back-Bench business committee”, which suggests a Commons-type model for control over Back-Bench business. Not so; the Goodlad proposals would be confined to selecting subjects that are important, timely and of interest to Members and the public. Members would have to make their case for a debate to an open committee comprising 12 members but the committee would not follow closely the Commons model.
For example, where in the Commons there was originally a requirement that the committee’s members be elected without reference to party group proportions, the Goodlad proposals do not even require elections at all. Whereas in the Commons it was proposed that any enhanced committee would ultimately secure greater control over government business, Goodlad refused to go down that route. Whereas the business determined by the Commons committee has precedence over government business, apart from in exceptional circumstances, Goodlad again refused that approach. Finally, the hours of the House given over to Back-Bench business in the Lords are far fewer than in the Commons. It therefore follows that the proposed committee’s influence would be commensurately less.
I have concentrated my remarks on a very narrow but important part of the Goodlad agenda. My concern is to secure for Members greater influence over what we discuss. While recognising the need for the Government to secure their business, we would be a more democratic House if we were to make these small changes proposed in the Goodlad report. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to move by stealth through a piloted process of reform.
My Lords, my contribution to this very welcome debate concerns the debating of statutory instruments and, in particular, draft affirmative instruments. I have the honour to chair the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Soon, I hope that time will be found to debate the committee’s special report on strengthened statutory procedures for the scrutiny of delegated powers. What I am about to say is not explicitly part of that report but is hinted at under the heading “New Opportunities”. I should make it clear that I am speaking entirely on my own behalf and not as chairman of that committee.
I start from the premise that the scrutiny and debating of statutory instruments by Parliament is extremely important and that the more often Governments of all persuasions use secondary legislation for major changes to the law, the more important is Parliament’s role. Yet there is general frustration about the House’s role because, as we all know, SIs cannot be amended so there is a take-it-or-leave-it mentality built into the whole debate. That frustration is manifest in the increasing number of Motions to regret, or even to deplore, which have been tabled in recent months.
I do not disagree with the Goodlad suggestion on voting, but my proposition would be less drastic. I start with the word “draft”. In the outside world, draft documents can be changed before being finalised. Yet in the world of SIs, “draft” before the words “affirmative instrument” means only that the instrument has to come before Parliament to be agreed before it comes into effect, unlike negative instruments. What I believe the House would welcome in the case, say, of a major change in government policy is that the first appearance of the SI would be a genuine draft—not set in stone at that preliminary stage. Perhaps it could be called a consultative draft. It would then be debated in the Chamber and Peers could table and vote on advisory amendments, or even vote it down altogether, knowing that they had voted against only a draft document. If the Government lost such a vote, they would know the strength of feeling in the House. The Minister might well decide to change the final version rather than risk it being lost.
I well understand that in some cases, and I think in many, the Government genuinely consult MPs and Peers as well as outside bodies about the detail of certain important and potentially contentious instruments, such as the one bringing in the PIP criteria in what became the Welfare Reform Act. This is extremely welcome but it is done behind closed doors. There is much important detail in this suggestion that there is no time in this debate to explore, such as the parliamentary timetable and the impact on procedures in the Commons. However, I suggest it as a forerunner to the debate that I hope we shall soon have on the report I mentioned about the enhanced scrutiny procedures of SIs, which are laid down in various Acts.
My Lords, during the past week I have been receiving up to 300 e-mails a day as a result of questions that I asked during a Select Committee being represented as my views on pensioners and work. They are not my views but I have to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that not everyone holds this House in as high regard as she has suggested. I have been told that we are out of touch, elitist, out of date, self-serving and irrelevant—and those are just some of the comments that I can share with your Lordships today. Many others clearly believe that having seen off one attack, we are going to see off every attack and any attempt to change the way in which we do things. Those are the reasons why I believe that this is absolutely the time to show that we are determined to make this place more effective in how it carries out its responsibilities and more relevant to the issues that people are grappling with in their everyday lives.
In a fast-moving world—I am sorry about the cliché—we need stable institutions such as this, but even stable institutions have to embrace change. There has of course been some change but not, I would suggest, sufficient to address adequately, as others have said, the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on working practices or, indeed, the suggestions that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in previous debates. We do not yet have a legislative standards committee, so the need for new legislation remains insufficiently scrutinised. We do not yet have sufficient post-legislative scrutiny to take a hard look at what has happened as a result of previous legislation, in spite of the fact that we know that much of that legislation has not even been implemented. As a result of just those two issues, we have a crisis. We have unnecessary, poorly drafted legislation that is often not implemented and rarely properly evaluated. This House could play a really important part in resolving that crisis.
As others have said, neither do we have a fair and transparent process for deciding what debates take place in the House, or even which Select Committees we decide to establish. We have a House which is too large and we have not found a way of dealing with that issue. I could go on. Your Lordships will have your own suggestions and other priorities but I would like to make a suggestion. We should reconvene the Leader’s Group and commission a full report on the various proposals on the table, now that the reform Bill has been lost. I also suggest that that group reports back to this House so that we can have a proper debate on all these proposals, which is something that we never managed to do following the Goodlad report.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. I hope that I can cheer him up a bit because some of the people who I have listened to are amazed at what goes on here—but in a good way. A fortnight ago, there was a debate in this House about excellence in education and, among others, we heard from a former president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a former Chief Inspector of Schools, a businessman whose generosity is helping to create a string of new academies, the current master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a theatrical impresario. That does not sound irrelevant to me. Some things that go on here are slightly arcane. I treasure the moment when it was explained to me when it would be okay to sit on the knee of a bishop. I have not done it yet—perhaps I should take the opportunity now.
I support my noble friend Lady Seccombe in saying that the membership of this House creates an extraordinary institution that we should try to preserve. However, no institution is perfect and this one certainly has scope for improvement. We need to get more topical debates on to the Floor of the House and faster, while they are still topical. We also need to ensure, when our committees do so much wonderful work, conducting reports into so many different and important issues—everything from child trafficking to auditing—that their reports are debated on the Floor of this House much sooner, while they are still relevant and while the outside world is going to be interested in what we have to say.
That must mean clearing some other stuff out of the main Chamber. We have already heard the proposals for doing that by making far more use of Grand Committee in the Moses Room. That must make sense for non-controversial or moderately specialist legislation. Too often we see legislation going through in this Chamber with a handful of people involved in the debate. They are the right handful of people and they are really interested in what is going on, but for this entire Chamber to be used for that purpose seems to be a wasted opportunity when we could bring more topical debate into the Chamber. Quite how we decide what debates should be debated in here I am not sure; there is already a suggestion in the Goodlad report and there may be others. If we had more time, though, we could get more done here.
There are other means of dealing with legislation. I sat on a special Public Bill Committee, dealing with a proposal that had come from the Law Commission. It was a relatively non-controversial proposal—not a debate that drew great crowds, it must be said, but it was quite important. It was to do with the way that trustees can deal with the funds that they have and the division between preserving capital and generating income. We took expert evidence and got the Bill through remarkably quickly, and there must be scope for doing more of that. There is room to improve our processes, speed up what we do and get more topical debates on to the Floor, but do not let us change the basics of what remains a unique and very effective institution.
My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend’s opening remarks about how we can do better. Indeed, I also think that we must look beyond our own internal arrangements. Fortunately, the constitution unit at University College has turned its mind to this, and I am grateful to it for its briefing.
I agree with other noble Lords that the key to this is to get a grip on our numbers. We have to cap the size of the House and to have a timetable for a gradual reduction in size. How do we do that? We do it in two parts, one requiring legislation and one not. Without legislation, the Government could announce a numbers cap and a reduction timetable, reduction being achieved using the same procedure as we used when the hereditaries left. At the same time the Government would introduce a formula for sharing out new appointments between the parties and the Cross-Benchers, all of this to be managed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. It would call on parties for nominees as and when vacancies arose. Yes, that would mean that the Prime Minister and party leaders had to give up some of their powers of patronage. The Appointments Commission would be responsible for ensuring not only political balance in the House but that there was regional, gender, professional and minority balance too.
All that could be done without legislation. However, legislation would be required to end the hereditary by-elections and to limit future appointments to the House to, say, 15 years with a possible additional five. Legislation would confirm the right of Peers to retire. Legislation would also be required to remove those convicted of serious offences—a reform long overdue.
Controlling our numbers would not only help to inform the other changes that noble Lords have been discussing but would refresh the House in an orderly way. All this, though, is not enough because it looks inwards and serves ourselves. We are not here to serve ourselves; as my noble friend Lord Filkin pointed out, we are here to serve the public, and surely a crucial part of doing that, especially for an unelected House, is to inform, to explain and to be transparent, as the Government are trying to be.
Who knows that the third week in November is Parliament Week? How many of us are going to participate? Yes, 40 of us are going to visit schools on that Friday, but is that enough? Surely, in a modern unelected House, every noble Lord has to be involved in explaining and informing.
My noble friend is right to ask how we can do better. The answer lies not only in internal change but also in external change. For your Lordships’ House, the two must go hand in hand.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on securing this debate and on all his efforts to maintain momentum on the much needed modernisation of the working practices of your Lordships’ House. I speak as a relative newcomer to this House and, after just under two years, hope to add the perspective of someone who is still able to view its often rather arcane and mysterious workings through fresh eyes.
It was clear to me that it is important to view the recommendations in the Goodlad report as a coherent package that needs to be addressed in the round. I was therefore encouraged when the Leader of the House in our debate last year said:
“I … intend to ensure that a large number of the group’s recommendations are considered promptly by the relevant committees of the House so that the House may take a view on them at the earliest opportunity”.—[Official Report, 27/06/11; col. 1552.]
As we have heard today, some of those recommendations have been addressed and indeed accepted by the House, and I welcome that, but to me the response has felt rather piecemeal. To the best of my calculations, and I am more than happy to be corrected on this point, roughly half of the recommendations have yet to be addressed. One good example of that is what I felt were the very good recommendations for pre-legislative scrutiny and post-legislative scrutiny and the establishment of a legislative standards committee, which I strongly support as part of the package. In my view, a legislative standards committee would provide a powerful incentive to improve the quality of legislation coming forward and ensure that legislation was being used for the right purposes and was capable of being implemented.
My almost 20 years as a civil servant in Whitehall taught me that hurriedly drawn-up legislation often backfires, and nothing has more forcibly underlined that to me than the many hours I spent with others debating all stages of the Health and Social Care Act. It was the first Bill that I had scrutinised in depth, and something of a baptism of fire. I am conscious that the Bill left this House in a very different shape from that in which it came in, which in my view is very much to be welcomed, but I am also conscious that after the myriad amendments that were passed there was no proper opportunity to look at it in the round and ask whether it all hung together sensibly. I have to ask myself whether that is a sensible, let alone optimal, way to make the laws of the land.
I also strongly support the proposal for a Back-Bench debates committee to help with the choice and scheduling of debates. I hope that it would be able to use criteria such as topicality, interest to the wider public, variety, coverage of key subject areas and the opening up of the process to much-needed transparency.
I welcome the setting up of two additional ad hoc Select Committees and have the privilege to sit on the new Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. This is an excellent example of taking a longer-term view of some very cross-cutting issues; indeed, I can hardly think of a more pressing social challenge facing this country. We should have more such committees to allow others to contribute their expertise, and perhaps fewer of some of our more traditional types of business.
There are many other issues that I would have liked to have talked about, not least how the House’s highly unpredictable nature impacts on part-time Peers, colleagues like me from all Benches, who are still active in their professional and external lives—with one foot in the outside world, you could say—in a way that helps to ensure that the much vaunted virtue of this House, expertise, is indeed up to date.
I shall conclude with a suggestion that I suspect some will find rather barmy. Most modern-day institutions have regular satisfaction surveys to gauge the views of their members or their staff. We have surveys, but they are generally to do with the satisfaction or otherwise with the services and facilities of this House. I would like to see a survey sent to all Members asking how satisfied they are with the way that business is currently conducted and what else could be done to make better use of their skills and expertise. I recognise that this would be quite an innovation but I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to give it serious consideration. As an incentive, should one be needed, I am more than happy to offer my services in suggesting what questions we should be asking.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on initiating this debate, although one has to wonder whether the overall system of government that I found when I first came to Parliament almost 30 years ago has been damaged beyond repair. Our Chamber cannot look at itself in isolation. I was introduced to a system where Ministers were responsible for departmental outcomes, and when a Minister got it wrong, a resignation was considered necessary and appropriate. Members of Parliament, by and large, had come from business, the professions, the mines, the factories or the armed services and had previously done a real job, developing the skills and experience to which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred, and which would seem essential if one is to act in the nation’s interest.
Parliament functioned on the basis that the law of the land was based on something that we now seem unwilling to acknowledge and articulate: moral values and common law. Perhaps I am a wimp for daring to use such unsophisticated language, but my sole comfort is that it is here in this Chamber that I can still see the remnants of those values. We have made one fundamental error in the fairly recent past, and that was when we created a third legislature—the expensive and unaccountable Supreme Court. The law of the land has, until recently, always belonged to the people. The people have elected their legislators to the Commons, and this Chamber has utilised its skill and experience to fine-tune and to be the peoples’ final arbiter through the Law Lords.
Now we have, like most aspects of government, abjectly surrendered—some probably call it delegated—every aspect of responsibility to unidentifiable, unanswerable and unaccountable individuals cocooned in some detached monastic environment. That is why Question Time is no longer answer time but has deteriorated to become a fairly futile discussion interlude. Ministers may try to do their best, but they are disadvantaged simply because they are no longer in control. We saw it here last week during the Statement on the Gary McKinnon extradition case. That 10-year injustice has not been resolved. Justice has again been put on the “long finger” by a Home Secretary who has effectively said, “I will delegate the matter, without time considerations, to the courts”. Hence, a once 35 year-old with autism spectrum disorder—now 45 years old—is tossed in life’s dustbin for, what, perhaps another 10 years, and that is justice?
Today, I shall not take further time of the House to ask whether the United Kingdom has lost or is losing its way in its relationships with the United Nations, NATO, the European Union and so on. Suffice it to say that I think that the UK has abdicated, or is incrementally abdicating, its authority. If the Government cannot even implement a rail franchise, and it is obvious that they do not know where that went belly up, then the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, belatedly or otherwise, has posed the right question here today. Am I wrong when I perceive Cabinet to be a caucus and government increasingly to be delegated to and—effectively or otherwise—run by proxy bodies? In the past 20 years I have seen deterioration in parliamentary competence and responsibility, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that today he has sought to alert us to a better possibility which would mean that my next 25 years here could be made more rewarding.
My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on initiating this debate. I am very glad that the Leader of the House is to reply since much of the debate has centred on the report of the working group on which he took the initiative in setting up. I also congratulate the House of Lords Library which has produced an outstandingly good brief. Appendix 1 provides the agenda the noble Lord opposite referred to a moment or two ago and gives an indication of what needed to be done, how much has been done and how much still remains to be done.
I find it quite extraordinary that in the summary by the Library, in the debate today and in the Goodlad report no one refers to what has been the most obnoxious and fundamental change that has taken place in our proceedings in relation to the scrutiny of legislation by Parliament: the programming of debates in another place. This is in no sense a criticism of another place. The reality is that it has been prevented from working as it should by successive Governments, first Mr Blair’s and, regrettably, now the present Government, despite assurances that the incoming Government would not programme legislation in another place. We have almost ceased to be a revising Chamber. In many ways, we have become the primary legislative Chamber. On top of all that, we find that when we have passed amendments, they are then programmed in another place so that the time allocated in the Commons for discussion of our amendments, on which we had important, complex legal arguments a short time earlier, has been less than the time we took going through the Division Lobbies in passing those amendments. This has to stop. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will carry out urgent discussions with the new leader in another place and also, if necessary, raise the matter in Cabinet because we ought not to go on in this way. It is an indication of how much we are doing that should be done by the other place that we pass very often many amendments, all of which are immediately accepted by the other place. At the same time, there are one or two controversial issues for which time is not allowed for proper debate in the light of the discussions which have taken place in this House. Much more important than many other issues that we have discussed is that the balance between the two Houses should be restored.
In the little time I have left, I shall say something about the size of the House. It is absolutely clear that the proposal that the membership of this House should reflect the result of the previous election is bound over time to lead to a bigger and bigger House. It was a mistake to agree to that in, I believe, the coalition agreement and it should stop now. We cannot go on having more and more Members.
There have been many proposals on how we should reduce the size of the House as it now stands, including age, length of service, party selection, votes in the House and so on. Proposals about the usual problem of removing the people who do not come does not make any difference to the number of people who attend. That is an intrinsic problem. My feeling is that there are a number of Peers who would be prepared to retire but that it requires a degree of incentive. The proposal that perhaps by way of incentive one might offer the amount by the individual Member claimed as expenses in a previous year, excluding travel allowances, might provide a reasonable and sensible sort of an incentive. An inquiry as to what extent that might produce a number of people who might be prepared to retire, or might think it appropriate to retire, might solve this problem, which otherwise will be very difficult and troublesome to resolve in any other way. I am out of time, although I have dozens of points to make which will have to wait for another occasion.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Filkin. Perhaps I may pick up on one simple point made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. I share his view about the timetabling of Bills. Of course, I have to remind him that that did not start in the Blair years. As far as I know, the timetabling of government Bills was available in the 1970s, although it was called the guillotine Motion at that time. The guillotine Motion was massaged to become a timetabling Motion, which was a much more respectable way to put it. But that is neither here nor there.
I should like to refer to a few matters as regards what we should do in this House. First, although the House of Lords voted down, by 233 votes to 169 votes the proposition that the Lord Speaker should take over the role of the Leader of House in terms of arbitrating at Question Time, I believe that that is worth looking at again. At the time, some people said that that would mean the end of self-regulation. I do not think that that is the case. If the Lord Speaker were to take over those responsibilities, it would require even more discipline from Members to make sure that her decision was accepted swiftly, promptly and with grace.
Secondly, the experiment carried out by the previous Government to have a dedicated, say monthly, Question Time for three Questions to be put to a particular Minister of a department was a valuable exercise. In terms of accountability and keeping the House and the public informed, it is something which we should pursue. I hope that the Leader of the House will regard that as a modest but nevertheless important part of things that we might do.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred to the way in which legislation is rushed and comes to this House—in effect, to Parliament—without proper scrutiny. In the old days, most legislation was preceded by a White Paper. People said that that was not enough and that there should be more consultation; so we had the Green Paper, which was fine. I do not know what has happened to that process because it seems to have disappeared entirely.
One of the most serious problems that we face in Parliament is that problems require instant solutions. All Governments are concerned about the little items at the end of the news, which may say, “Problem solved; problem solved”. But if it says, “Problem not solved”, they worry that that will bring disgrace on the Government. That will not do. The media have a lot of responsibility for this.
Finally, inevitably, the question has arisen about the size of the House. Those who think that there will be an incremental change are like the ostriches with their heads in the sand. There is no possibility of agreement on major reform and I do not think that any political group in this House will give up its share of the House. My noble friend Lord Haskel suggested that legislation would be necessary. That may be so but if we start off on the basis of trying to get a regional balance, a national balance, an ethnic balance and so on, it will be an unending process. A lot of ideas have come forward in this short debate. I end on perhaps a novel note regarding the size of the House. Several Members have said that the House is too large. It struck me that maybe the House is not too large: perhaps we simply have too many active Members.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside. I enjoyed his speech. I agree with him on two things. Certainly, the role and functions that we invite the Lord Speaker to oversee and moderate need urgent reconsideration. I do not have time to develop that point but I believe that the Lord Speaker, whoever it may be—it is an elected position for which we can all vote—should have the overriding responsibility to protect the institutional reputation of this House because in my view no one else holds that position at the moment. No one else exclusively looks after the interests of the wider concept of the House of Lords and its Members. The Chairman of Committees and the Leader of the House have other overriding priorities. That is something we need to address.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, has just left as I was about to say something nice about him. I do not believe what I read about him in the papers. He is correct that we should take this opportunity to make a suggestion to the Leader of the House. It may seem quite soon to do so given the recent work carried out by the Leader’s Group. I commend those Members who performed that extremely valuable service for the House. People forget that we now have a planning date. It might not hold because politics is never certain but we have until May 2015. After that, things will change as we enter a new Parliament. We should use that time sensibly to plan what we want to happen in the new Parliament when it starts in 2015. The vexed question of elections is off the agenda for that period.
I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who referred to the importance of piloting change. I am an enthusiast for change and I think that there is a majority for change. However, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds rightly said, we want to make sure that it is incremental. I think that we should pilot it. I absolutely agree with him that to give comfort to those who are nervous—one or two colleagues have made perfectly valid and powerful speeches about hastening slowly—we should adopt as a matter of course piloting of any change that we introduce into this place. That would give comfort to some and would mean that we could try things and if they did not work we could revert to our previous practices. This is a very important debate and a very important time. We must not waste the next two years.
I have a suggestion for the usual channels, which have more influence in this area than they often imagine. As a Back-Bencher, I think that we need to try to open up the usual channels and make them a little bit more accessible, as someone said earlier. After my participation in the most recent major piece of legislation in which I have been involved, the Welfare Reform Bill, it occurred to me that three or four of the active participants in that process could have sat down with both sets of Whips and held a debriefing on our experience of the legislation. The seminars promoted by the Minister were very valuable. The Committee stage of the Bill was held upstairs, which I thought was extremely good although it had been a controversial question. A lot of the Commons clauses had not been debated when they arrived in this House and the use of financial privilege as a way of rejecting House of Lords amendments was unconscionable. Earlier, we heard that we needed to look at secondary legislation again because we cannot amend it. It needs to be more flexible. Therefore, perhaps we should have a sweeping-up process so that we can share experience on that.
As chairman of the Information Committee I believe that we need to make more use of information and communications technology in order to help our processes and improve the service offered to Members of this House. There are advantages and cost savings to be made in that direction. I hope that the Leader will bear that in mind as well.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on obtaining this important debate. I also thank Nicola Newson for her outstanding Library report.
I shall mention two experiences this year and draw observations from them. The first echoes what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said about the fate of legislation that has gone from this House to the other. I refer to the poorly drafted Legal Aid, Sentencing and Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill, which left the Ministry of Justice under that title and emerged from No. 10 into this House as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. We spent hours and hours improving that Act, using the skill and expertise of this House, including that of people such as my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf. We sent a string of amendments down to the other place, which almost invariably were rejected on the ground that money was involved. If the other House had paid proper attention and scrutinised the amendments, it would have discovered that they did not involve spending money but saving money. Because the other House did not give them proper consideration, I felt that the skills and experience of this House were being misused by Parliament. Therefore, my first hope is that some way will be found of putting that right, so that the skills and expertise really can be put to better use.
My second hope relates to an inquiry that I am currently conducting into the death, under restraint, of a deportee in an aircraft at Heathrow when he was under forced removal from this country. During the course of this inquiry, I have discovered a vast number of practices in the UK Border Agency that could be put right to prevent this sort of thing. Earlier this year the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place conducted an inquiry into the governance of enforced removals, and I discovered that none of the things that we have found that could have been put right were included in its report. I have been trying now to find some way of getting the committee to accept the recommendations of my inquiry that refer to the use of statutory bodies to help the UK Border Agency. It struck me that one of the most successful committees in this House is the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was formed in 2000 by the Liaison Committee. I wonder whether, to make better use of the skills and expertise in this House, it is not worth examining whether joint committees on other subjects such as justice should be created, bearing in mind all the expertise that is here. I put that forward as a consideration for the Leader of the House to take on.
My Lords, I welcome the Motion’s implication that those unexpectedly reprieved have a special duty to make good use of the extra lifespan allocated to them. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on the superb way in which he introduced this debate.
In the short time available to me, I want to concentrate on the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on ways designed to improved the quality of legislation presented to Parliament. I am a member of the Better Government Initiative, which, before the last election produced a report entitled, Good Government. On 12 November, the BGI is to produce a report on how the Government have performed in relation to the recommendations in that earlier report. As might be expected, it is a mixed picture; but even the best friends of the Government would have to admit that many of their policies and too much of their legislation have been introduced in haste and are being repented of at leisure, and not only by the Government themselves.
As others have said, the instrument that the Leader’s Group recommended to put pressure on the Executive to improve the legislation presented to Parliament was a legislative standards committee. The role that it would perform would be to test each Bill introduced by the Government by whether they had explained the purpose of, and necessity for, the Bill presented, by whether the Government had consulted those who would be affected by the Bill and who would have to implement it, and by whether the Government had taken account of their advice. At the end of the previous debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on this very issue, made a strong point about the police Bill, now an Act, recently passed by Parliament. Legislation would be judged by whether there had been pre-legislative scrutiny—and if not, why not?
As the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said, the Liaison Committee, which is composed of Select Committee chairmen in the House of Commons, has thought sufficiently well of this proposal to ask the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee to investigate and report on it. The Better Government Initiative has given evidence to that committee, as has the Hansard Society and other supporters of the proposal. We are hopeful that the committee will report favourably on it.
The Leader of the House is, understandably, waiting to see what the Commons makes of this proposal before putting it to your Lordships. My question to the Leader today is: if the House of Commons Committee supports the proposal of the Leader’s Group will he look favourably on its introduction in your Lordships’ House? I suggest that it would be quixotic not to do so. We devote as many as three Select Committees to scrutinising in one way or another the preparation of statutory instruments. It is odd that we do not put similar effort into pressing the Government to prepare legislation properly. From the contributions to this debate today, I am confident that this recommendation of the Leader’s Group would have the support of this House.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.
On arrival in your Lordships’ House two years ago, I was given a mission statement by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Although I did not feel that he was altogether happy with the expression “mission statement”, the contents of the document were, as you would expect, clear and cogent. The statement and the helpful talks about the way in which the House of Lords worked helped me and a number of other new Members to get to grips with the potentially rather mystifying ways in which your Lordships’ House proceeds. One thing that struck me particularly about those procedures was their essential fairness to all Peers in the sense that any Peer of any party, or none, could become involved in any issue and there was not the customary crush of seniority which besets so many institutions.
That brings me to one of the three short points that I should like to make. Although I understand well why the suggestions for a Back-Bench committee have been well received—I have been greatly reassured by some of the comments during the debate this afternoon—I have some slight reservations in the sense that those who may not be on the committee, or who may not have the ear of the committee, may feel the danger that they are being excluded, even if it is only a perception. Those who are not particularly keen on being organised may feel a little unease about that. I hope that those fears can be allayed in due course.
My second point relates to Third Reading, and here I very much echo what my noble friend Lady Seccombe said. As a lawyer, of course, I look to the rules and the practice deviates very considerably from the Companion in terms of Third Reading. It is noticeable that speeches are lengthy and if one wishes to respond to a speech that has gone on for 10 minutes it is difficult to do that in one minute, so speeches proliferate. The result is that some quite valuable votes do not get taken, and there is some arbitrariness about the ones that are taken. I hope that there can be a self-denying ordinance about this, if nothing else.
I hope that my third and final point will not be regarded as one of special pleading. It relates to expertise. It is axiomatic that your Lordships’ House is a House of experts with a pretty thick veneer of expertise. It struck me how genuinely diverse the House is; there is no such thing as a typical Peer. However I put in a plea for current expertise. The accumulation of wisdom is extremely important, but there is something to be said for being able to report from the front. As a barrister, I am particularly aware of the many distinguished lawyers who decorate this House and who keep up to date with relevant developments. I regret that we will no longer have in the House former Law Lords and former Supreme Court judges. Those of us still in practice are aware of the everyday issues and can bring something valuable to debates. I, as a veteran, like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of the LASPO debates, would sometimes have welcomed others who were constantly dealing with the sort of issues that your Lordships’ House had to wrestle with in that very long and difficult Bill. I hope that whatever changes are made in your Lordships’ House, the practices of the House will enable those of us who wish to maintain current practice but nevertheless contribute to debates to do so.
My Lords, like others, I put on record my appreciation to my noble friend Lord Filkin for having introduced this debate. He and others who pursue these matters with so much diligence seem to be like dedicated engineers who are determined to keep a vintage car functioning and performing well.
I am sure that I am not alone in finding it unsatisfactory to be trying to weigh up our effectiveness in the absence of a constitutional settlement that makes it absolutely clear if and why we need a second Chamber—and, if we do, what its purpose is. We are toiling in the engine room, but where is the person on the bridge who is deciding where we ought to be going with our constitution?
Against this background, there are issues on which we ought to concentrate. The first is that I am convinced—again, I am sure that I am not alone in this—that what makes up a society like that of the United Kingdom is the matrix, the interplay of different groups, interests and activities that enables a nation to succeed or fail. This House must be representative of the matrix, otherwise it is nonsense. If it is just another place that numerically represents a certain proportion of the electorate by copying the first Chamber, it is an irrelevance. We must bring a different element into parliamentary procedures. If we foster this, it will do a great deal to restore public confidence in the relevance of politics to the lives of ordinary people. I am certain that a very large number of ordinary people throughout society see politics as a closed game, played by a closed group of full-time politicians who have very little involvement in the realities of life. So the matrix is important.
The second thing to remember is that it is the quality of the advice that we offer to the Commons, and the quality of consideration that we bring to wider debates that we initiate about issues facing the nation, that matter. Here, the Select Committees are crucial. I never understand why we do not give more prominence in the main business time of the House to debates and deliberations on what the Select Committees put forward.
My other point is that in its relevance to society as a whole, pre-legislative scrutiny is very important. We can provide a very good way of ensuring that the wider public get drawn in to consideration of legislation that is put before us, before we get caught up in the detail of finalising it. I was very interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said. In my first, formative years in the House, one thing that I came to appreciate tremendously was that there was no automatic majority; you had to work at generating and ensuring one. That is good for the quality of consideration, and it also brings an emphasis that is different from what happens in the other place. If we just ape the other place and follow all its procedures, and if our priority is to expedite business, as distinct from ensuring the quality and depth of consideration that is desperately needed in our national affairs, we will fail. I am very grateful to my noble friend for initiating the debate on this tremendously important issue.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for introducing this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to him as a dedicated engineer. I was grateful for that, because it is much better than the phrase I was going to use, which was “terrier-like”, to describe his devotion to improving the working practices and the quality of the work that is done in your Lordships’ House. That of course is part of a wider, bicameral agenda to strengthen Parliament—an agenda that I believe is extraordinarily important.
It may be that those of us in the two Houses want to put behind us everything that went wrong in the disaster of the parliamentary expenses scandal. However, it permeated public consciousness very deeply. I felt at the time, and still feel, that in order to regain respect and trust, we need not only to put our financial houses in order—which we have done—but to strengthen Parliament, and to do our job better so that it serves the public better. In that way will we regain respect. That is why I agree with others who have said today that this is a very important time to take on this particular agenda. It is an opportune time because we now have a gap, a moratorium, on the big bang proposals for election to your Lordships’ House. There is no longer the argument that we will put everything right when we have the big, all-singing, all-dancing Bill. We are not going to have that. It is incumbent upon us therefore to take our fate into our own hands in the ways that we can and to make things better.
Luckily, there have been very good speeches already about three proposals that I should like to endorse, so I can do so very briefly. One is about using the device of a Back-Bench debate committee to inject more topicality into the agenda of the House. It is a real weakness when an issue is on the front pages and everyone is talking about it in their offices or the pub or wherever but we are not talking about it in Parliament. We could do better on that.
Given the volume of secondary legislation, we need to look at how we have not a take-it-or-leave-it situation but an opportunity to influence secondary legislation better. The proposals in the Leader’s Group and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, were extremely interesting. The Legislative Standards Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, referred, is tremendously important. I put in a plea for it to be bicameral. We have to improve the performance of Parliament as a whole, as others have said. We do not want to ape the lower House—we want to be complementary to it—but we do not want to pretend that we are not part of the same institution doing the same job. That is tremendously important.
On the other area of taking control of our destiny, I shall end with a couple of sentences about issues of composition. I believe there is a threat to this House—not in being too large but in having too many active Members. I became a grandmother this week. This has made me think about a lot of things, including the ageing process. It is tremendously important that in this House we have a balance, a range, and that that range does not become top-heavy with too many of us who are too elderly and too detached from the current experience that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, spoke about.
We have to look seriously at the difficult issues of reducing the size of the House. The proposals in the coalition document, as my questions show, are phrased about representing the proportionality of those who voted in the last election. However, it is possible to produce proportionality and fairness when reducing as well as increasing the size of the House.
My Lords, I am delighted to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and to congratulate the new grandmother. I speak as a grandfather.
If we had more time for the debate we could develop these points at greater length. I want to take up the point, however, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. The prime purpose of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account, and we are failing as a Parliament adequately to do that. Indeed, there is time for another Dunning’s motion, moved in the other place more than 200 years ago. Then it was:
“The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished”.
Today it is the power of the Executive that has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
One of the things that we could profitably do is to co-operate more sensibly with the other place. The Executive consists of the Ministers of the Crown. We have some admirable ones in this place and they serve this House and the country very well indeed. But, understandably, the bulk of the Cabinet comes from another place. I am not one of those who believe that Ministers should come to this House from the other place and speak from this Dispatch Box. That would be wrong. But once a month a Cabinet Minister should come to the Moses Room and a group of Members, using the expertise and breadth of experience that is represented on these Benches, should question that Minister. They could make suggestions that are good for the country as a whole.
My noble friend Lord Higgins talked about the programming of Motions. Of course, part of holding a Government to account is improving the legislative proposals they place before Parliament. We are light years ahead of the other place in how we do that, but we could still do better. I agree that pre-legislative scrutiny should be automatic. Post-legislative is arguably even more important, and we should devote proper attention to it. I believe that an admirable opportunity has been presented to us by the reprieve, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, amusingly referred, to improve our act and to do that in co-operation with another place. That is because together we are the two Houses of Parliament. In a country where the Executive are drawn from the legislature, it is more difficult than in a country where there is a separation of powers. Inevitably one sees things differently from the Opposition Benches than from the Government Benches; I have experienced that in the other place and, to some degree, in here. But if we could do away with the great gulf between the two Houses, we would be serving Parliament.
One of the things that has struck me over the past two years, and particularly during recent debates, is that far too few people in the other place understand what this House is all about, and far too few people in this House who have not served down at the other end of the Corridor fully appreciate the pressures on Members at that end. So I hope that we could have more Joint Committees and a monthly session in the Moses Room. I hope that we can do other things that will bring Parliament together for the benefit of the people because that, after all, is our fundamental role and task.
My Lords, it is quite rare to participate in a debate and find that you agree with practically everything that everyone has said. That being the case, it is tempting to do the generous thing and sit down immediately, but I am not going to do that. I am sorry. I added my name to the list of speakers mainly in order to support my noble friend Lord Filkin. He has now been compared to a terrier and to an engineer, which suggests a sort of particularly enthusiastic Jack Russell, digging away furiously. However, I think his approach to these issues is a little more sophisticated than that suggests and I want to express my personal gratitude to him for the huge amount of time and energy he has put into keeping alive the issue of how we improve our working practices. He has set out our agenda today with admirable clarity and so much better than I could that I certainly do not intend to try to emulate that.
I have had the privilege over a decade or so of being a Member of this House of looking at its work from a number of different standpoints. I have been a member of several Select Committees, of domestic committees, of pre-legislative scrutiny committees and of Private Bill Committees. I am a Deputy Speaker and I hope that I have participated to the best of my ability in the Chamber in terms of Questions and debates. What I see is a House that is, in depth, formidably strong. It is particularly so, as has been said by many other speakers, in the cross-party work that goes on in our widely respected Select Committees. However, at present there are two issues. The first is that there is not enough of this work to satisfy the ambitions of Members to participate and to make proper use of the expertise that is available. Secondly, this kind of work is woefully underreported, which allows a false impression to perpetuate of what Members of this House actually do. For example, that much-used website theyworkforyou.com completely ignores all the work in committee and only gives as metrics the appearances that noble Lords make in the Chamber. You can literally stand up and say, “My Lords”, sit down again—because you do not get in on a Question for example—and that gets recorded as participation in a debate. That is a bit bonkers. It unfortunately gives a very misleading impression. We need to address this and many other issues.
I share the disappointment expressed by a number of other noble Lords about why so much of the admirable Goodlad report, which did just that and is nearly two years old, has yet to be brought forward to the whole House. I hope we can hear from the Leader of the House, whose excellent initiative it was, whether he intends to give us a chance to talk about some of the issues in the report, now that the issue of wholesale reform has, for the moment, been set aside.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, the fact that it has been set aside is both a threat and an opportunity. We can do something to reform ourselves using our own mechanisms and without legislation. If we do not, the pressures that are built into our current system will inevitably result in further damage to our effectiveness and reputation. We have the opportunity to be active and creative about our future, and to look at refining our contribution to political life, not only in the interests of Parliament but in the interests of the nation as a whole. We are repeatedly reminded that we are self-regulating. I hope that this debate will be a first step towards using that strength to do for ourselves what we know we can do, and what needs to be done, rather than allowing the initiative to be taken from us.
My Lords, I very warmly thank not only the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, but the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, without whom we would not be having this well-informed debate, and indeed the Leader of the House, who set up the group in the first place.
I will make two very quick, simple points. First, as has just been said, we pride ourselves on being self-regulating. We say it very often, but it is only,
“Up to a point, Lord Copper”.
I will quickly give two recent examples. Today we are allowed only four minutes to make our speeches whereas speakers in the previous debate had eight minutes. Who made that decision? That was not self-regulation. It was presumably made by the usual channels, which I will come back to. Secondly, yesterday a major Bill was suddenly withdrawn from the House. That was not self-regulation. Who made that decision? The word “self-regulation” is so often repeated that it is rather like the 18th century concept of a “conceit”—a well-used, very popular and convenient way of disguising a fiction.
When we elected a Lord Speaker a few years ago many of us felt that self-regulation was going to be adjusted to meet a new circumstance. Frankly, however, the forces of political gravity have moved back into that space very rapidly and the usual channels are as effective as they ever were. I used to be a member of the usual channels down the corridor and have to tell you that the system is much more effective in your Lordships’ House because it is more elusive and incestuous and not so visible as it is down there. This brings me to a specific recommendation, number 52, of the Goodlad team:
“We urge the Leader of the House to consider ways in which the work of the usual channels could be made more accessible to the House as a whole. There should be a more clearly defined role for the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, and also a role for the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee”.
I very much hope that we are going to see some action on that point.
That brings me to my second and perhaps even more substantial point. There are still 18 major recommendations of the Goodlad team that have not been discussed or considered by a committee, let alone by the whole House. It has been piecemeal, or worse than piecemeal, as we have not even started on that process. As has been said all through today’s debate, we appointed very talented and skilled people to this group. I think that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, referred to when he talked about making use of talent and skills. They came forward with unanimous and comprehensive recommendations for improving our work, but we seem to lack what I think the lawyers call “due process”. In my life outside politics, in the real world, I cannot imagine circumstances where you would send away a group of people to do work like that and not have a process for properly considering, in a holistic way, all their recommendations.
As yet, we have collectively failed to examine systematically the package of proposals. Indeed, that complete package has yet to be presented to a committee, let alone to the whole House, and we should all be ashamed of that lack of due process. If I was a cynic, I would say that this is an example of divide and rule. I think it is more accidental than that but we should all be ashamed of how we have treated those in that group who gave us such good advice.
My Lords, since I joined your Lordships’ House more than six years ago, we have debated House of Lords reform inside-out and upside-down. As we have heard throughout this debate, the latest attempt by the coalition to go for drastic reform has thankfully resulted in major reform being shelved for the moment, particularly in terms of an elected House. It has been kicked into the long grass, but my worry is that at the next election we will see the major parties, once again, in a frankly populist way, putting an elected House of Lords in their manifestos. Perhaps the Leader of the House can answer that.
However, that is a red herring because the most important part of this debate is to ask: what do we do and how? What is our role? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this is the time; this is the opportunity—and congratulations to her on becoming a grandmother. I have always seen our role first and foremost as a sort of guardian of the nation. Ironically, this unelected House is a cornerstone of democracy in our country, with the amazing depth and breadth of experience and expertise that we have. In those terms, we sit head and shoulders above any other upper House in the world, but do we use this experience and expertise enough?
We have an unwritten constitution that has evolved, that is delicate, and we have the best of the best people in this House, not in a prescriptive way—no one has told us, “You have to have so many scientists, engineers, lawyers and former Cabinet Ministers”. It has evolved; it has happened. In this House we have the best of the best in every field. No party list system would ever deliver that.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for initiating this debate. The noble Lord said that this House is too big. Perhaps we need to reduce our numbers but we have to take into account that to keep this depth and breadth of experience and expertise, and to get the attendance levels that we now have, we need quite high numbers. Unlike in the other place, we are not full-time employees. We do not get a salary. We do not get a pension. We are expected to hold outside appointments and jobs. I still run an international business. Those of us who have retired bring their experience here. Nobody has brought this point up today, but in terms of bang for buck, this House is phenomenal value for money—very different from the other place.
How do we make more of this expertise? I do not think that we make enough of it. In the House of Commons, there are departmental committees in every field, which have the power to scrutinise Secretaries of State, whereas in your Lordships’ House we have far fewer committees and they do not have nearly the same remit or powers as in the other place. We need to redress the balance of power between the two Houses. This is the time to do that. The committees in the House of Commons have these powers but they do not have the experience that we have. Just imagine some of our Members sitting on those committees and how much value they would add.
I did a comparison with other Parliaments. In the UK we have 43 Commons committees and only 16 Lords committees and seven Joint Committees. In the USA there are 21 House committees, 22 Senate committees and six joint committees. In Canada there are 24 House committees, 18 Senate committees and two joint committees. We are missing an opportunity here, and even if we do not go that far, maybe we should consider that Members of the House of Lords could sit on existing committees and add their expertise to make those committees that much more effective.
We have had a great debate. The essence of this debate is not just evolutionary reform, as the right reverend Prelate suggested. We need that, but we also need to take this opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, to make Parliament much more effective on the whole.
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, this has been a very good debate indeed. I thank my noble friend Lord Filkin, and, indeed, I thank the Labour Back-Benchers for agreeing to give up their own debate to allow us to have this fascinating discussion.
It seems that there is a general consensus that, whatever one’s views on the Government’s attempt to achieve substantive reform, any real progress in that direction is some years ahead. We could sit here and wait for the next Bill to come in a few years’ time, or we could take up the opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, says, to take fate into our own hands and really get down to making improvements in the way that we do our business. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to take note of the sentiments expressed in this debate this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, suggested a reconvening of the Leader’s Group. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will listen to that very seriously indeed. I can assure him that the Opposition will co-operate with him if he is able to allow us to take this step forward.
There is sufficient consensus around your Lordships’ House on a number of the important issues raised regarding working practices and procedures to suggest that there could be a successful outcome which would, as noble Lords reminded us, enhance the role of this House in the scrutiny of the Executive and of legislation, thereby serving the public interest as effectively as possible.
In the past decade we have, of course, seen various changes and improvements to the way in which we do our business. These include new Select Committees such as the Constitution Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee. Perhaps the most successful innovation, I say with all due modesty, has been the creation of the Merits Committee, now known as the Scrutiny Committee, which has considerably enhanced the way that we deal with secondary legislation. In some ways, we have made decisions and changed others. We agreed some years ago to increase the number of Oral Questions to six, and then decided that that was not a very good idea and came back to four. We have also tried out pilots. We are making greater use of Grand Committee for Committee stages of Bills. In place of the Lord Chancellor we now elect our own Lord Speaker, although, of course, the role of the Speaker in the Chamber is somewhat limited because the House remains self-regulating. As the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, implied, “self-regulation” can often mean that which the noble Lord the Leader of the House suggests the House ought to do. There is remaining business to be done regarding the role of the Speaker, particularly during Oral Questions. We have seen two revised procedures for Questions for Short Debate, although I think that noble Lords feel that we need to make further progress there, too.
We have made some improvements, which shows that we can incrementally enhance our effectiveness. Many other proposals have, however, bitten the dust. That is why it is right to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to seriously consider reconvening a Leader’s Group in the light of the fact that substantive reform will not take place for some time.
Noble Lords have discussed legislation in the context of a sense that the other place is not as effective as it might be in the scrutiny of legislation. One of the main complaints about the way in which the Commons does its business is that whole chunks of Bills are often not considered in Committee. This means that when the legislation comes to your Lordships’ House, that is the first time that the detail of many of the clauses is put to the test.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that we need to look at a bicameral approach to the way in which Parliament does its business, and more liaison between Members of both Houses would be very helpful as well. In the end, however, we can do much more ourselves to improve the way that we deal with legislation. The argument for pre-legislative scrutiny, or a business standards committee, is persuasive. In the absence of pre-legislative scrutiny, I have always favoured public evidence hearings before Bills go into Committee in your Lordships’ House. I hope that that might also be given further consideration.
We have debated post-legislative scrutiny on many occasions. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is unable to be here today. He would press us, I think, to include that with any package of measures of reforms.
I also share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, about the length of speeches when we debate amendments to Bills. I have to say that Ministers, too, could be advised to speak in rather a less lengthy time than they often do. I remember the late Lord Carter as Chief Whip advising me when I first became a Minister to read out every other page of my wind-up because, he said, no one would ever notice. If Ministers responded to the points raised in debate rather than felt they had to read out page after page of script written for them by officials, they would find the House much more sympathetic to the arguments they put forward.
If we had less legislation, there would be more time for debates on Select Committee reports. I have to confess as a former serial offender, having introduced many Bills to your Lordships' House, that I am a sinner who now repenteth. Indeed, I remember that the fourth NHS reform Bill that I brought to your Lordships’ House seemed to do away with lots of the clauses that I brought in with the first NHS reform Bill. However, I think that I am not the only offender there.
On secondary legislation, my noble friend Lord Filkin suggested that this House could have more influence if, instead of having the veto option, which it always hesitates to use, it could delay legislation. I hope that that will again be considered in any discussion on how we can improve legislation. At the moment, the situation is unsatisfactory; the House is not able to pursue the issues in secondary legislation that it would wish to; and there is a strong case for the delaying powers.
My noble friend Lord Filkin wanted to know how the usual channels worked. I am not sure that he would find it entirely illuminating if we tried to describe that to him, but I think that behind that was a plea for more explanation about why decisions are sometimes made in relation to business management. I look to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to comment on that.
Finally, I come to the size of the House—“the elephant in this Chamber”, as my noble friend Lord Filkin put it. We are a large House in terms of numbers and we threaten to become larger still if the Leader is determined to flood the House with yet more of his own supporters. I look forward to him saying in his wind-up that he recognises that it would not be right to increase the numbers in your Lordships' House until we have resolved issues around its size, the length of terms and retirement.
I hope that the Leader will also say that the Government have given further consideration to whether they will support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in the other place. The significance of that Bill is in Clause 1, which says:
“A peer may retire … Retirement may not be rescinded”.
I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that enacting that legislation would provide the foundation for your Lordships’ House to start talking about a scheme of retirement. I detect a growing consensus among Members of your Lordships’ House about the need to work together to see whether we can come up with a sensible approach to the size of the House, the representation of the different parties and the Cross Benches, and schemes of retirement. It would be all too easy for the Government to say, “We are not going to do that in the absence of substantive reform”—and I acknowledge that Governments of different colours have said that in the past—but the fact is that, realistically, substantive reform is now some years away. The argument for looking at issues to do with size and the way we proceed, therefore, becomes ever more persuasive. If the Leader were able to respond constructively to the comments made by noble Lords today, he would find enormous support for the work that he could do. I strongly urge him to consider setting up a Leader’s Group to take any work forward.
My Lords, I am bound to say that I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and to other Members on the Labour Back Benches, for giving us this platform for today’s debate, and to all noble Lords who have taken the time to contribute. I am rather a fan of these debates with four-minute speeches. They work extremely effectively; we get a lot of Peers in and it concentrates the mind. I have the luxury of having a little bit more time, which I shall use.
Perhaps the most consistent theme running through successive debates in this House on the Government’s proposals for reform has been our reputation as a revising Chamber, a reputation that Members on all sides take great pride in—and it is right that we should. Just over half of the Back-Benchers who have spoken today have had experience in the House of Commons as MPs. I make no particular point about that except to say that we should always remember that this House is very different from the House of Commons. Because the Executive have such an overwhelming and overpowering majority in the House of Commons, and can therefore do virtually what they like, they need the power of the Speaker to help to control that, and to give the voice of the Back Benches. The Executive in this House have no majority. We have a powerful Opposition, and the purpose of the usual channels—although everybody has poked fun at them—is to represent the interests of the whole House. In the end, the House can overturn decisions of the usual channels, although I hope that it will not do so.
I discovered to my horror, while sitting here musing away, that I have been a member of the Procedure Committee for 20 years. You get less for murder. It is an extraordinary thing. But like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I am greatly encouraged by the tone of the debate. I did not agree with everything that every Peer said, but I found something to agree with in bits of what every Peer said. We do our job very effectively in this House, through our committees, including the committees that sit off the Floor of the House, through the reports that we make, and by the standing and reputation of individual Members of this House.
Why were we not reformed by the elected House? In the end, I think that there are two reasons. First, there was a perception outside this House that we do the job that we do extremely well. Therefore, there was not that motivation for a great change. Secondly, I believe very strongly that the more the House of Commons looked at proposals for electing this House, the more it feared that we might end up doing our job rather better than it did. That was one reason why I was rather keen on it; I was ambitious for this House. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, warned us that political parties might find a populist measure, by which he meant further plans for reform of the House. All I can say to him is that I would not tempt them too much on that; they really do not need it.
What does this extraordinary Chamber do? It assists without threatening the primacy of the other place. It discharges its core duties in a manner that seeks to complement, not compete with, the House of Commons. Why does it not compete? Because we do not have the authority of the people as the other place does, and without the authority that direct election of Members might confer it remains the case that the influence that we exert on another place and on the Government of the day rests mainly on the force of the arguments that we deploy and on recognition outside these walls of the experience and expertise that Members of this House possess, individually and collectively. That is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was getting at when he talked about his matrix. I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about strengthening Parliament. With both Houses together, we should seek to do that, and to some extent this Government have done that. That reputation is the currency on which we trade. It is therefore only right that we consider, as we have done this afternoon, how best to protect and enhance our reputation and to be able to do our jobs even better.
My noble friends Lord Higgins, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Cormack, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made important passing references to the way in which the House of Commons does business. I will not spend any time discussing the House of Commons. It works out the way it does its business best. It has programming and we do not. On the whole, that is an advantage for this House. The House of Commons has selection of amendments and we do not. Here, every Back-Bencher has the right to put down an amendment to any Bill and it must be heard and responded to by a government Minister. That is extraordinarily empowering for Members of this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, set out in his Motion, part of the answer to all this must lie in harnessing the skills and experience of our Members and ensuring that they are deployed to best effect. Like the report of the Leader’s Group before it, the Motion identifies three core functions of the House: scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and providing a forum for public debate. There is also being topical, as my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft suggested. I slightly regret that the Motion does not make explicit mention of the revision of legislation, which is in my view the chief function of this House and the cornerstone of our reputation. If you ask anybody what the second Chamber does, almost all will say that it revises legislation. That is an important thing.
One of the most frequently rehearsed complaints in this House is that it is asked to consider too much legislation and that the level of preparation and consultation that precedes the introduction of specific Bills is inadequate. I suspect that that complaint has been made for several hundred years. Certainly, I can remember it being made in the 1980s, 1990s and the last decade. It was made again today. That does not mean that we should not take it seriously or find ways of making life easier.
Let me deal with some important issues to do with the Leader’s Group. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and my noble friends Lady Tyler of Enfield and Lord Tyler said that all the recommendations in the original report deserved to be debated by the House. They certainly do. That is why a debate on the report and the recommendations contained therein was arranged on 27 June 2011. That was in addition to the debate on working practices held at the very start of this Parliament, in July 2010, prior to the establishment of the Leader’s Group, and the debates of 9 November last year and 26 March this year that informed the decisions taken by the House in respect of specific recommendations. Again, there is this debate today.
The other complaint was that only a few of the Leader’s Group’s recommendations have been brought to the House for decision. I fundamentally disagree with that point. The implication is that only a few of the Leader’s Group’s recommendations have been taken forward. That is a myth. The 55 recommendations amount to 43 specific proposals, because some just affirm the status quo and others spread one idea over many paragraphs. Of those 43, 25 have been put to a domestic committee and another four have been partially put forward or have confirmed the status quo and been implemented. By setting up the Leader’s Group and inviting the domestic committees of the House to consider taking forward the majority of these recommendations, I have probably done more as Leader to bring about change to the working practices of this House than any of my recent predecessors.
There are some proposals that have not been put forward, partly because there seemed no inclination for them to be agreed and partly because there were disagreements within the Leader’s Group and within the Procedure Committee. No fewer than six members of the Procedure Committee went on to vote against the report on Grand Committees. Of those Members who voted against the report—the House will remember the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Cormack on the Procedure Committee report—some are exactly the same noble Lords who now say that we should debate and agree all the proposals, such as that on the Grand Committees, which was extremely controversial when we dealt with it on the Floor of the House a few months ago.
I am pleased to say that in one respect at least we may be turning the tide of decades because the Leader’s Group observed that, leaving aside a brief period around 2002, the number of Bills or clauses of Bills published in draft had remained low and the number scrutinised by Select Committees, whether Joint Committees or Commons-only Select Committees, had been lower still. All that has changed over the past two and a half years. In the previous Session, the Government published 11 Bills or clauses of Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny and in this Session we are on course to publish at least nine in only one year. That is good news. At the Government’s instigation, moreover, we have seen a resurgence in the number of Joint Committees conducting pre-legislative scrutiny. There were four in the previous Session and we expect five to be set up in this one. Those trends are no accident: we have deliberately set aside the resources to support an additional pre-legislative scrutiny committee this week.
We have also made progress, as was noted by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Cormack and by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in relation to post-legislative scrutiny in response to concerns that, once legislation is passed, insufficient attention is devoted to its implementation and effects. For the first time, we have appointed a dedicated Select Committee to conduct post-legislative scrutiny of the legislation relating to adoption in England and Wales. The committee is due to report before the end of the Session and the intention is that it should be the first of a series of post-legislative scrutiny committees, each looking at a different area of the law with a membership tailored to the Acts under scrutiny, so as to make flexible and targeted use of Members’ expertise.
Although we have made considerable progress on those fronts, enhancing the quality and reach of our scrutiny at the beginning and end of the legislative process, I know that there are still some in the House who are interested in a legislative standards committee. Many noble friends mentioned this: the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, my noble friend Lady Tyler and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who I am glad to hear has been receiving so many comments by e-mail—he is no doubt enhancing his reputation by replying to each of them in detail. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons is currently considering the proposal for a legislative standards committee as part of a broader inquiry into ensuring standards in the quality of legislation. Two Members of this House—the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart—have given oral evidence to that inquiry and my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons is due to follow suit. Without wishing to pre-empt either his evidence or the Government’s response to any recommendations resulting from the inquiry, I make the following observations.
There is in my view a tension between this House’s role as a revising Chamber and the idea that one of its committees, composed of a small group of Members, should recommend that a government Bill progresses no further. The analogy with secondary legislation and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is not apt. Secondary legislation cannot be amended, whereas the very purpose of a Bill’s passage through Parliament is to provide an opportunity for improvement and revision. In that sense, the House is itself a legislative standards committee; that is our primary and principal function. Denying a government Bill that has already passed through the House of Commons a Second Reading on the recommendation of a legislative standards committee would be an extraordinary step. Were the committee’s remit to be restricted to Bills starting in the Lords, it could have the unintended consequence of reducing the number of Bills that start in this House. Even if there were to be agreement on a Joint Committee, as recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I would remain uneasy at the prospect that a Government in command of a majority in the House of Commons would henceforth need to present a business case for their legislation before Parliament would consider it.
It would be extraordinary if, on the basis of a recommendation from a legislative standards committee, the House were to decide not to allow a Bill to proceed. That would be the nuclear weapon, and I should be very surprised if it ever happened. Of course, the case of the Bill to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor was a very rare occasion when the Government decided to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. I would expect the committee recommending that a Bill should not proceed to be an equally rare occasion. The point is that if there were criticism of the standards to which a Bill had been prepared, I believe, and I think that other contributions have supported this, that that would have a very beneficial effect inside the Government on the standards to which legislation was prepared, without ever reaching a point where Parliament decided to refuse to allow a Bill to proceed.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in always wanting to find ways to improve the quality of legislation. Sometimes, though, we need to be able to decide what has gone wrong, not just in the past decade but probably in processes over the past 40 to 50 years, and find out why legislation has changed so much and why it has got so difficult and complicated. We have seen this week, in having to pass an emergency piece of legislation correcting something that was not done properly 10 years ago, some of what goes wrong. Whether a legislative standards committee would make very much difference, I am not sure. Like the noble Lord and probably the rest of those who have spoken today, I look forward to the report from the House of Commons before we can take this further.
One question that has been raised by noble Lords and was posed by the Leader’s Group is whether we might make better use of our time in the Chamber. In order to free up time on the Floor of the House, the group proposed the introduction of a rule that most government Bills should be committed to Grand Committee and suggested that we might extend the sitting hours of the Grand Committee by introducing morning sittings. A variant of those proposals was put to the House by the Procedure Committee last March, only to be rejected emphatically. That is the point that I was making about members of the Procedure Committee, as well as members of the Leader’s Group, voting against that recommendation. In due course, I am sure that we will have to look at that again.
The next key question that many speakers raised was the attraction of a Back-Bench business committee—or a debates committee, a description mentioned by, I think the noble Lord, Lord Luce—in the expectation that a sifting mechanism for Back-Bench business might increase the topicality and profile of our debates and might serve the House better than the ballot and waiting-list mechanisms through which we currently select topical questions. My noble friend Lord Faulks pointed out some of the difficulties with this idea. It is not that the Back Benches would be deciding; it would be that some Back-Benchers would be deciding. We would have to go with care to decide whether or not this was actually an improvement. Of course we already have a sifting mechanism for most Thursday debates, which are selected by the political parties and the Cross-Bench group. Our debate this afternoon was selected in that way by the Labour group. We therefore already have some degree of intelligent selection, if one can call it that. It is interesting that at its next meeting the Procedure Committee is going to consider whether we should stop having a queueing system for Starred Questions and replace it with a ballot, so ballots clearly have their uses somewhere.
As for Questions for Short Debate and some of the Thursday debates, I see the ballot as a useful complement to the debates selected by the parties and groups. They provide Back-Bench Members with an alternative outlet for securing debates on subjects that, for whatever reason, did not appeal to their party or group. We have only to consider that a few weeks ago my noble friend Lord Maclennan led a balloted debate on the potential break-up of the United Kingdom and my noble friend Lord Lexden secured time for a QSD on the treatment of homosexual men and women in the developing world. They served to showcase the House at its best.
My main concern is that a Back-Bench business committee would in practice place a new obstacle in the way of Back-Bench Members wishing to secure time for a debate. Rather than Members walking into the Minute Room to table their Motion and then waiting their turn or taking their chance in the ballot, they would, if we were to follow the Commons model, find themselves filling in application forms and arranging to appear in person before a committee to plead their case. If they failed to persuade the committee, that would be that. We would have removed the last remaining vehicles for Back-Bench Members to get their debates on to the Order Paper directly and, in all likelihood, all we would gain in return is to become a mirror image of the Commons, debating all the same subjects. I urge noble Lords who are keen on this to come forward with a proposal that the Procedure Committee can examine.
As others have mentioned, one area in which we have taken major steps to make better use of the skills and experience of our Members is in the appointment of Select Committees. We have now established the new quick-fire, in-depth examination, annual, extra, cross-departmental committees. I think that they are an excellent addition. The government Chief Whip has recently told Conservative Peers that they should consider choices for next year’s Select Committees, and I urge the Opposition, my noble friends the Liberal Democrats and indeed the Cross-Benchers to do the same. I think that these will be really good committees. Over a five-year Parliament, we should be able to deal with 10 committees. That will strengthen our reputation for scrutiny.
I hope that my remarks this afternoon have served to illustrate that we have made considerable progress since the start of this Parliament. We have taken forward a majority of the recommendations from the Leader’s Group and, although some of them have been turned down by the House, I believe that I have done more to change the working practices of the House than any of my recent predecessors. I therefore see the withdrawal of the House of Lords Reform Bill not as a turning point in that process but rather as a milestone.
Talking of House of Lords reform, I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and many others talked about the size of the House and how it should be reduced. I know that bishops retire at 70, but I think that most noble Lords in this House would regard that as a little young. There are possibly ways that we can find to encourage Peers to retire, but Peers ought to be careful what they wish for. They may discover that culling Peers is more popular than culling badgers. The Steel Bill remains in the House of Commons. Let us see where it goes. As the noble Lord knows, I have no in-principle objection to the Steel Bill, and I think it does some perfectly valid things, but the House of Commons has recently voted for an elected House, although it could not quite follow through.
This has been a useful and interesting debate. I have gone beyond my time, for which I apologise. I will try to pick up some of the other issues that have been taken up. I shall finish with this point: one of the most interesting and senior committees of this House is the Procedure Committee. It has a remit to look at and examine proposals that are laid before it. Any Back-Bench Member can put forward proposals to the Procedure Committee and I suspect that in the next few months we will see a lot more representations being made.
In rising to thank all Members who have taken part in the debate, I shall do my utmost to be charitable, as it is nearly the end of our working week. First, I shall try to be charitable to those Members who have persistently and roundly insulted me by describing me as an oily mechanic or a mongrel. I have seldom had to suffer so much in silence in my career until now. I shall also, with no difficulty, seek to be charitable to the Leader of the House, because I believe that he had largely written his speech before he had listened to the debate that we have had in the past two and a half hours. I say that with good grace, because I have seldom heard such feeling around the House that we ought now to make sensible progress on reforms of this House. The Leader gave his usual eloquent and urbane reason that we had done all that we sensibly could and had better let sleeping dogs lie—or, as a councillor once said to me, had better leave lying dogs to sleep, which is slightly different.
Nevertheless, the Leader of the House has given us some pointers. First, a number of us are bound to wish to have a discussion with him. Without doubt, with his usual good grace, he will give us time. Our discussion with him will be about on which elements of the changes that have been strongly supported from all corners of this House we can move forward. As he implies, ultimately, it is not what I think or even he, from his eminence, thinks; it is what this House thinks that it wants to do on some of these issues. We will discuss with him the procedures that are there for us to explore how some of these things can be fairly, without too much manipulation, brought before the House in the ways in which they were expressed in the Goodlad report and, no doubt, informed by good guidance about what is practical. I think that the House would welcome it if we did that in a sensible and measured way. I thank again all who have spoken so strongly and supportively of the need for sensible, progressive change.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, before we start the final debate, perhaps I may draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that this is a timed debate. The timing is very tight. In order to ensure that the later speakers have their allocation, please would all Back-Bench speakers make sure that they sit down as the clock turns to six minutes, or even perhaps a few seconds before.
Armed Forces: Reserve Forces
My Lords, on behalf of many noble Lords, I am pleased to raise the issue of plans by Her Majesty’s Government for the Reserve Forces of all four of Her Majesty’s forces, which is an extremely important issue. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for his unfailing interest in the Reserve Forces, for his courtesy in briefing colleagues on plans, and for his presence this afternoon. I am also very grateful to him for replying to this debate, which is most important for many of those who have served in what used to be called the Territorial Army but also the Reserve Forces of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
I think that my colleagues on all Benches look forward to hearing from my noble friend an indication of the publication of the Green Paper, which was talked about some months ago, on the future of the Reserve Forces. Of course, that would lead inevitably to the proposal for legislative changes—certainly a White Paper—in due course. In the past few weeks and months, we have been somewhat delayed. I am all in favour of careful consideration of the issues that have been raised by colleagues both on these Benches and on other Benches about what has been discussed over the past few months concerning the future of the Reserve Forces.
My qualification is fairly modest for leading on this Question and I notice three noble and gallant Lords, and others, who know far more than I about the role of the Reserve Forces. I know that some, if not all, will be contributing to the debate. However, I served as the Minister responsible for the Reserve Forces under the late George Younger, who, in my judgment, was one of the most distinguished Secretaries of State for Defence. At his request, for the past 10 years, I have served as president of the Reserve Forces’ & Cadets Associations, which seems to have gone in a flash. I worked very closely with His Grace the Duke of Westminster and I pay particular tribute to the contribution that he has made, although he has now stepped down to help in other charitable causes. However, in my brief contribution, I speak for myself alone.
If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall concentrate on the Army. However, I pay particular credit to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force for the work that they have done in the contribution being made by the Reserve Forces, which may be small in comparison to the total numbers that we used to have in the Territorial Army if you go back 10 or 20 years. Nevertheless, the changes that have been made are creditable, sensible and useful.
I welcome the planned increase in Army reserves to 30,000 trained reserves over the next few years to augment the reduced number in the regular Army, once more than 20,000 of the latter come back from bases in Germany. Therefore, we need an increase in recruitment to the Army reserves, as the Government have indicated. We need particularly to recruit younger reserves; that is, those leaving school or coming up to university. That for me is extremely important.
In the time available to me, I want to comment briefly on six key issues which I believe are essential for successful expansion and the doubling of trained Army reserves by 2016, which is just round the corner. We should concentrate especially on younger recruits. First, as regards employer support, I defer to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and shall listen to his comments. I pay tribute to the helpful work that he has done in the area of employer support. It is important that we begin to focus on larger companies and universities to help in the career development of younger recruits coming into the Reserve Forces.
Secondly, over the coming years we need to focus more specifically on recruiting those with special skills, such as people with a background in, or interest in qualifying in, areas such as the health service, logistics, cybersecurity, communications and engineering. This is where the Army reserves can make a real contribution not just to one part of the Army but to its overall effectiveness.
Thirdly, as regards countrywide cover, in recent years, the regular Army has for obvious reasons been concentrated in fewer major barracks and centres. One can understand that for reasons of not only expense but training and facilities. The footprint of the Reserve Forces around the country is extremely important. I am now talking specifically about the Army. I know that His Grace the Duke of Westminster feels particularly strongly about that. We do not want unused drill halls but, as far as I am concerned, the bigger the footprint of the Reserve Forces around the United Kingdom, the better.
Fourthly, I believe in training the regular Army with the reserves. This means having to use facilities at the weekends, because if you are in the reserves and have a full-time job Monday to Friday, it is easier to participate with your colleagues in regular Army units at the weekend. At the moment, some of our training facilities are not open at the weekends.
Fifthly, I think that what I am about to mention is already happening and I pay tribute to what the Army command has achieved in this respect. It is very important that reserve units in the Army are posted as a unit which includes the senior NCOs and the junior officers. In the past five years, for obvious reasons, partly because of the size of the regular Army, we have had what I believe the Navy calls trickle posting. I would like to see reserve units which are being trained together brigaded with and working with regular Army units. When there is an emergency, either civil and abroad, they should move as a unit.
Finally, will the Minister say when the Ministry of Defence will indicate what the ORBAT—order of battle—might be in the future; that is, how individual Territorial or reserve Army units might be brigaded with regular Army units to deal with an emergency not only in this country but abroad? I look forward to listening to the debate.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this debate and for all the work he has done with the Reserve Forces over the years.
To achieve the challenging reserves target, we need to do two principal things—first, to raise the profile and esteem of the reserves and, secondly, to bring employers on board in a positive way. We need to think somewhat outside the box. Regarding raising the profile and esteem, the name, the TA, is somewhat dated and old hat. I suggest something more exciting—perhaps something along the lines of “Royal Volunteer Reserve”. It would be marvellous if a specific member of the Royal Family could act as champion for our new reserves, with perhaps an annual event at Buckingham Palace to thank those who have given outstanding support.
Locally, the high sheriffs could play a role across the country. I was a high sheriff and, in my year, I could easily have devoted a substantial amount of my time to the promotion of the reserves in my county of Greater Manchester. After all, they had a historic role in raising forces in the old days. We should consider extending the Armed Forces covenant. I am not too hopeful, but the Treasury should adopt a certain generosity of approach to the expenses of reserves, particularly things such as travel expenses for those who come from a rural community. I would like the Tickets for Troops scheme to be extended. Perhaps the reserves should have some form of national discount card. There should be a unit in the Ministry of Defence focused on the reserves in terms of media and PR, liaising and in partnership with regional and local media.
We need to endeavour to demonstrate to employers the benefits that reserves will bring to their businesses in terms of skills and leadership. Perhaps the state might consider paying employers’ national insurance contributions. I suggest some form of kitemark, or something similar, for good practice. As part of a company’s CSR, corporate social responsibility, it should indicate in its annual report—particularly larger companies such as plcs—its attitude to the Reserve Forces and the number whom they employ. Similarly, large professional firms could adopt this approach. We should encourage professional bodies, government departments and local authorities to publicise that information. I accept that it is much more difficult for smaller firms to release key personnel, and I therefore hope that we adopt a policy of more generous—particularly more flexible—compensation along the lines of the very successful Australian approach. On the legislative front, we will probably need to make it an offence to discriminate against reservists in recruitment.
I should like to ask my noble friend a number of questions, to which he may well wish to reply in writing. Does he agree with the Duke of Westminster, who stated that from his experience, overseas employers—he mentioned the French, Japanese and Americans—have a more encouraging attitude to reservists than UK employers generally have? Does he further agree that decisions on the future of individual TA centres should be made in consultation with the Reserve Forces and cadets associations, not just by Defence Estates? Will my noble friend comment on the progress of the review of the National Employer Advisory Board, which we were told should be completed later this year? When will we be informed of the outcome? Will he also update the House following the Prime Minister’s announcement, as part of Armed Forces Day, on the progress of the plan to open 100 new cadet units in state-funded secondary schools by 2015? Clearly, cadet units are an obvious and natural pathway for young people towards our Reserve Forces.
Finally, is the Minister aware—this is my understanding—that although we have a significant flow of inquiries to join the reserves, there is actually relatively little enlistment because of a number of bureaucratic blockages?
My Lords, reservists have a long and distinguished history in this country and have been key to securing the security of these islands and the interests of this country’s peoples over many years, but nothing stays the same. The means of protecting our security and interests necessarily evolve over time, which means that reservists, along with their regular counterparts, need to evolve too. They have done so. It would be wrong to think that the reservists of today are the same as those of the Cold War. Far from it—the idea that they are somehow weekend warriors is completely out of date. Over the past several years reservists have served and sometimes, alas, died and been wounded alongside their regular comrades. I for one deprecate the suggestion that “Dad’s Army” is still alive and well and I salute the courage and fortitude of those reservists who have served their country so well in recent times.
That is not to say, however, that all is as it should be in the Reserve Forces or that there is no scope for further change and improvement. Much needs to be done, and the recent review of reserves is an important step in that direction. I have been fortunate enough to have reserve units under my command. I was privileged to be the honorary colonel of a TA Royal Engineer regiment for several years, and during my time as Chief of the Defence Staff I saw at first hand what a magnificent contribution our reservists made to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of these experiences I also became acutely aware of the scale of the challenge that our reservists face and the difficulties that we must tackle if we are to improve the situation. Recruiting has always been an issue, but poor retention has exacerbated the problem. All too often new recruits have fallen by the wayside because their initial enthusiasm was not matched by the effort that went into their training. They spent long periods, sometimes stretching into years, waiting for places on the relevant courses. Meanwhile, they could not be used for the purposes and in the roles that attracted them to the reserves in the first place, and as a consequence many of them left.
If we are to do better with our Reserve Forces, we will need to be prepared to put in the necessary resources—not just to deliver the appropriate training to everyone but to deliver it in a timely manner. This is not just about man training days; it is also about the right number of instructors and other training resources, none of which comes cheap. Even if we have the right numbers with the right training we have to be able to employ them effectively. I welcome the review of reserves’ focus on the “whole force concept” and its emphasis on the better use of scarce skills in key areas, but this means reservists who are used on a regular and continuing basis. Meanwhile, most of those people have civilian jobs, through which they provide for themselves and their families, build for the future and provide for their retirement. No amount of enthusiasm for their military roles can make them forget that, so the future model for the use of reserves must take account of these needs. It is not just about being able to go back to their civilian roles; it is about sustaining their wider career aspirations while serving in the reserves.
The review of reserves goes some way to recognising that by highlighting the need for legislative changes, better employer protection and greater recognition of employers. Having grappled with this thorny issue over a number of years in partnership with some other noble Lords who are in their places this afternoon, I do not believe that the review goes far enough. In my view what is required is nothing less than a cultural shift in this country. We need a mindset where having reservists in the workforce is not just something to be tolerated but something to brag about. We need a situation where a civilian employer who does not have reservists in the workforce feels rather uncomfortable, or at least rather regrets the fact. That reserve service must be seen as a badge of honour for the employer as well as for the employee. I do not think that a kite mark by itself, useful though it may be, will take the trick.
Cultural shifts are possible, but they are notoriously difficult to achieve. They require sustained leadership over an extended period. By “sustained” I mean over the course of many years, not just a few months—and they need that leadership at the highest level. They also require the necessary investment of resources over that period. Even with these, success is not guaranteed—but without them, failure is certain.
The review of reserves sets out an imaginative road map for our Reserve Forces, and a bold plan for sustaining and improving their effectiveness in the complex world of the early 21st century. It provides a sound theoretical underpinning for the proposals in Army 2020. My concern is about whether the plan will be delivered in practice. Will successive Governments have the political determination and staying power to deliver the necessary cultural change to make the proposals work? Will they sustain the necessary levels of investment to deliver a trained capability of the right size? Or will our Reserve Forces be left, as they were so often in the past, to make do and mend as best they can when the initial enthusiasm for the current initiative has faded? I hope that the Minister will reassure us on that score. I know that he feels—as I do—that our reserves deserve much better.
My Lords, the loss of two more soldiers in the past two or three weeks—to whom I pay particular tribute—reminds me of the price that the people of Yorkshire in particular have paid in terms of losses in Afghanistan. Scenes of grieving families outside our cathedral in Wakefield before and after military funerals have become all too frequent. In the light of this, I am particularly proud that two priests in the diocese of Wakefield are reservists. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Freeman and Lord Lee, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, will consider the Church of England to be a model employer in these circumstances. Each priest has served a three-month tour in Afghanistan, and one is likely to serve there again in the not-too-distant future. I have kept up with issues of morale and resources through one of the priests; he briefs me regularly. He is involved in training reservists at York, Catterick and elsewhere.
The strategic defence and security review, with which I engaged previously in this Chamber, has already had an impact in these areas. There is an understandable pressure on reservists to play an ever more important role in the UK Armed Forces by providing a greater and more integrated proportion of total manpower. This means that there ought to be an urgent strategic review of the welfare, healthcare and support needs of both serving military personnel and their families. Not long ago, I attended an excellent briefing by the Ministry of Defence on our military reservists and on the strategy for the future. I give particular thanks to the Minister for arranging that and a number of other excellent briefings over the past two years.
Clearly, the Future Reserves 2020 report is central to the plans of Her Majesty’s Government for increased reliance on reservists. It makes crucial reference to increasing welfare support to these people and their families while they are engaged in operations. However, it provides virtually no plan or strategy for precisely what is required or how it should be achieved. This stands in contrast to the conclusions of the 2009 Ministry of Defence report on the strategic role of reserves, where again the argument about the need for improved support was made.
It is perfectly clear that we will need to rely more and more on people giving freely of their time in the naval, Air Force and Army reserves. Our resources are stretched severely because of the fragility of the international situation in any number of different theatres. I hope that as a result of this important debate—for the securing of which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman—Her Majesty’s Government will assure us of a proper level of support such as that for which I have argued, and also of proper resources and back-up for the operations in which they are to be engaged.
We owe all of our military an enormous debt at this time, as ever. Furthermore, our reservists, of course, give of their time entirely through their own generosity. Theology has had a bad name among politicians going even back to the time of Harold Wilson’s premiership, so I have avoided theology thus far. However, I must describe this extraordinary and courageous generosity as an outpouring of grace. I wish to give thanks unreservedly—excuse the pun—for the graciousness of these people and their continuing demonstration of that through their service.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for the important Question that he has tabled. I was introduced into this House in 1999. Some might think that I have allowed an inordinate length of time elapse before making my maiden speech, but there has been a reason for this. I was introduced as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and as a fervent believer in the separation of powers. Rightly or wrongly, I considered that it was not compatible with my judicial duties to take part in the legislative business of the House. Parliament agreed with that view when, by the Constitutional Reform Act, it disqualified the justices of the new Supreme Court from sitting or voting in the House.
On 1 October I was released from this purdah. I sought a topic on which to break my lengthy abstinence and on which I might be qualified to contribute. The noble Lord has provided this. I am one of the diminishing number in this place, and certainly of those making a maiden speech, who were required to do national service. This I did in the Royal Navy. To do so I had to join the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman, and it was as an ordinary seaman that I began my national service in 1956. After my basic training I applied, with some confidence, to train as an upper yardman, which would have led to a commission. The selection board rejected me and I was sent off as an ordinary seaman to join HMS “Maidstone”, a submarine depot ship. Conditions on the lower deck, I found, had not changed much since Nelson’s day. You still slept in a hammock, so close to the next man that when he turned over he woke you up and began a chain reaction right the way down the line.
National servicemen were a rarity in the Navy and I would endorse the emphasis that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, placed on training reservists with regulars. Most of my shipmates were regular sailors who had nautical skills, and other skills, that I could not match. They tolerated my incompetence with a gentle benevolence. My experience during the year I spent on the lower deck was, I think, more valuable to my development than my subsequent year as a midshipman and the most junior officer in a minesweeper. The officers in these little ships shared a number of duties. I was correspondence officer, assistant minesweeping officer and atomic warfare officer. The latter two posts were of somewhat academic significance as we spent our time patrolling Cyprus, boarding and searching vessels in an attempt to prevent gun-running to the EOKA terrorists. So far as I am aware, no arms were ever intercepted.
I doubt whether my service was of great value to the nation, but it was certainly of great value to me. I went in as a callow youth and came out with a maturity and a knowledge of navigation and seamanship that provided a firm foundation for a career that started at the Admiralty Bar and led eventually to this place. That perhaps is not a reason for commending Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces. This place can be quite crowded enough, although not on this occasion.
The point I wish to make is that service in the reserves is not merely of direct benefit to this country. It is of benefit to those who serve in them and thus also of considerable indirect benefit to the country. The Ministry of Defence website accurately states that being a reservist is as rewarding as it is challenging. It is gratifying that the review promises an increase in that challenge and that reward.
This contribution has been somewhat shorter than it might have been had I not been informed yesterday by the Whips’ Office that I would have to restrict my remarks to three minutes, but brevity is, I suspect, on this occasion a virtue.
My Lords, it is my great privilege and pleasure to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, on his maiden speech. He has entertained us well and, I think, rather modestly left out some other judicial appointments in his magnificent career. He was of course Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in between the times he served here, first as a Law Lord and then as the Senior Law Lord, before moving on to the Supreme Court. He obviously learnt from his time in the Royal Navy. Whether it was all good or all bad, I think we can judge that he enjoyed it, and I am certain that we are going to enjoy his contributions to this House. We welcome him and thank him for speaking today.
I congratulate, too, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on his choice of topic. He is right to focus our thoughts on the future of the reserves. Much thought has been given and effort put into this as part of the major restructuring of the Armed Forces following the strategic defence and security review. I am myself a firm supporter of the value of Armed Forces reserves that have real operational worth and are not seen by those outside or within the reserves as weekend chancers playing at being soldiers or, indeed, sailors and airmen. Happily, thanks to the important changes that were introduced for the reserves over the past decade, and the large number of reservists who have been on active operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is far greater public understanding of the key value of reservists, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice.
To concentrate on the future, I hope that the Minister will give the House a better understanding of the Government’s expectations of reaching the numbers and mix of reserves that they are now pursuing, and the risks if they are not achieved. As it is well understood, a variety of factors will influence this outcome. First, of course, there are the individuals who have to be attracted, motivated and committed to volunteering and remaining within the reserves structure so as to become worthy and effective members of their units. If trained from scratch, it is essential that the individual is prepared to serve for a number of years in order to “amortise”, as it were, his or her training costs.
Then, as has already been mentioned, there are the employers. While the country is involved in operations overseas, the profile of the Armed Forces is much enhanced in the public mind. Employers react to this by wishing to be as accommodating as possible in releasing employees for reserve activity and retaining them on the payroll after service. But as we move, we hope, beyond the past decade or two of wars of choice—that is, choice by the Government of the day to commit forces into sustained expeditionary operations—will the reduced prominence of the Armed Forces still be a good recruiting sergeant for the reserves, and will they be as readily accepted by employers as they are today? I am not clear what proposals or suggestions the Government will pursue to encourage and, indeed, to reward employers who agree to have and release reservists when they are required for training or for operations. More will need to be done in this regard.
I am also concerned that the Government’s expectations in terms of achieving their recruitment and retention targets are overambitious. Even for the Royal Air Force, which has a good blend of reserve units and is standing up further elements in other geographic areas, such as Liverpool and Northern Ireland, to expand areas for recruitment and provide or sustain an RAF regional footprint, forecasts have not lived up to expectations. I recall mentioning in 2008 in a debate on the reserves the serious dip in recruitment that had been experienced by the RAF Auxiliaries earlier that decade and that it was estimated that full strength could not be reached before 2013-14. A quick look at the figures shows that the trained strength is now forecast not to be reached before 2016. In other words, expectations have not been fulfilled.
Why are the Government so confident that this time around, with far greater ambitions for reserve numbers, the targets can be reached? What evidence do they adduce from past figures? What will have changed so dramatically in the next five to six years that trained strength targets will be reached and sustained? I hope that the Minister can reassure the House on this critical point. Or will he be frank and say that while their aspirations are to get to 100%, 75%, say, may be more realistic?
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Freeman forecast, I will confine my remarks principally to the matters of employers and employer support. As I think some of your Lordships know, I spent seven years as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board. Indeed, I worked a lot over that period with three of the noble and gallant Lords who are sitting opposite.
I wholly support the notion that reserves should be usable. It is far better to have 30,000 fully trained, fit and deployable members of the TA than a higher number of whom only a proportion are fit and qualified enough to be deployed. The same goes for both the naval and the Air Force reserves, albeit in their smaller numbers. From what I have read about what is proposed to appear in the Green Paper shortly, I must ask whether the Government have really thought through how these reservists are going to be used in the future. Have the Government taken serious advice so far from employers and employers’ organisations and understood what their reaction is likely to be? Have they consulted the CBI, the EEF, the chambers of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses? I sincerely hope so.
At a time of considerable economic strain, employers face considerable difficulties. Whatever the fine words—and I have used them myself in the past—about wanting to establish a new relationship between employers and employees, individuals, families and reservists, I urge the Government not to imagine that their aspirations for greater utility of the reserves should appear to be at the expense, in some form or other, of civilian employers of reservists. I find it hard to be enthusiastic about the diminution of our Regular Forces and some of the capabilities that we are losing. If the Government want—as they should—adequately trained, experienced, properly equipped and resolute servicemen, whether regular or reservist, who can be deployed with confidence, somehow the funds have got to be found to pay for it. The employer should not be the person who faces an undue burden.
Having said that, employers have been remarkably resilient for many years with both Iraq and Afghanistan. As I discovered during my time as chairman of NEAB, intelligent mobilisation worked extraordinarily well but we should not allow this success to lull us into a false sense of security. Mobilisation for manifestly operational tasks is one thing; and mobilisation of reservists, even to release Regular Forces from a more mundane role so that those regulars can be deployed operationally, may be acceptable, as was shown when reservists played a role in Cyprus. However, if it is a gleam in the eye of the Government to use reservists for some more regular standing commitments, either by individuals, groups of individuals or formed reserve units, they should be cautious. Employers might not so readily understand or accept mobilisation of employees for extended overseas deployments and other activities that fall short of operations, however those ideas are dressed up. Whatever the nature of the understanding of the benefits to the deployed individual, and the benefits they can bring back to the employer, as my noble friend Lord Lee said, what otherwise is in it for employers? At the moment it seems that there is precious little in it for them.
What new measures are going to be brought forward to help support employers, on whom increased demand is going to be placed? What thought has gone into a package of measures to make it worth while for employers, especially SMEs, to derive some practical benefit or advantage? In my time at NEAB, I long argued that SI859, the relevant statutory instrument, has to be substantially changed so as to provide a strong tangible incentive to employers; otherwise, there is the risk that this would be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as defence on the cheap. Some will argue that the country cannot afford a fully fledged regular defence effort so it has to rely on the good will of employers who are often struggling to keep their businesses afloat.
As well as the tangible efforts that SI859 might produce, what about, for example, accreditation of skills from one element to another, from the reservist to the employer? I would have quite some difficulty and some tough questions as an employer if an employee aspired to spend large amounts of time away on military training and deployments—and I am a supporter of the whole concept. Even if I knew that he or she would bring back excellent soft skills from that experience, which could be put to good use in the workplace, I would want to know why as an employer I should have to bear all the expense and inconvenience, however loyal I felt.
The Government should be very wary indeed of contemplating anti-discrimination legislation that would make it illegal for companies to deny employment to those who rightly declare that they are reservists. We should not add to the red tape burden that employers already face. In any case, employers will find a way of getting round it and it would be seen as hugely negative by smaller companies in the private sector, as SaBRE research shows. We have an enshrined military covenant for regular reserves. What about an enshrined covenant for the employers of reservists?
I hope that my noble friend will ensure that the work of SaBRE and those other organisations that have worked so well to date is not changed in a way that confuses the employer and the employee. It has worked well. Let us develop it but let us not change it massively.
My Lords, this is one of those debates when I get the impression that everybody is singing from a very similar hymn sheet.
The first document I got from the Library was Future Reserves 2020, the opening paragraphs of which are headed: “Our Reserve Forces are in Decline”, “We have failed to modernise Reservist Roles”, “We are not exploiting the potential of our Reserves” and “We are not using the Reserves efficiently”. I do not think anybody in this debate has disagreed with any of those sentiments and I have not heard anything anywhere that contradicts them. So effectively we are saying it is broke and we have to fix it.
The Government have come up with an approach that seems to have potential. As has been pointed out by many people in this debate, the will to follow through and support this very interesting cross-section of people involved—employers, employees, the military and all those bits of government and outside government that are brought into that interlocking experience—is going to be vital.
As I was going through the briefing pack and listening to this debate, I came up with one central theme for all those involved: “What is in it for me?”. If the military can get units that are deployable, highly trained and ready to go into action at a moment’s notice, particularly if they are locally based and may well be able to take on emergency response activity, that is very important for the military structure. But when it comes to individual reservists and their employers, my noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that we have got to address this and see how the Government can help, in both hard and soft ways.
My noble friend Lord Lee started with the point of how you recognise and reward people. Oddly, the Olympics probably displayed this. If you give somebody recognition and a sense of purpose, people will take that on board. That is a great deal of what seems to inspire the Reserve Forces. They do it because they want to. They feel that it gives them a sense of duty, a sense of purpose and a sense of support. That should be enhanced and polished by the implements of the state: the forces themselves. There is a real duty upon the command structure to make sure that these groups, who are volunteering and assisting, not because it is their profession but because they choose to give of their spare time and potentially risk their lives, should receive full recognition. It has also been suggested in this debate—I was going to make this point anyway—that the military covenant should take account of what a reservist does.
What is in it for the employer? Sticks and carrots and other clichés come to mind, but the danger is that you end up hitting people with a carrot and trying to bribe them with a stick. What are we going to do? You can get at a big employer quite easily. You can say, “Your corporate responsibility duties are taken into account. Here, you can have access, bigger government contracts. Are you helping us?”. All of this can be done in certain ways, hard and soft.
With the smaller employer, you are going to have to be more proactive and give support in various ways to encourage them to come forward. If you want specialist skills, many small companies are involved in the field of anti-cyberterrorism and anti-cyberattack; I am chairman of one. We may have in my own company people who would be ideal for these military roles. How are you going to help support and fill those gaps when they are required? It is a real question which has not yet been fully answered.
It would be unreasonable to expect the Minister to do it now, but we must take away an idea of the consideration and work that is going on here. Let us face it, the traditional TA was a very good target for the odd joke; Billy Connolly’s sketch about his own experiences made me laugh. But if you do something out of duty and respect, because you should and believe that it is your role, and if people put you through that without building you up and saying, “Yes, you are important” and making sure that you can maintain a job, it does not matter what scheme you put down on paper, it simply is not going to work.
My Lords, I am conscious that I am echoing the comments of other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate before me when I acknowledge and pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of our Reserve Forces, without whom the Armed Forces could not have done what they have done over the past 10 years—principally, but not exclusively, in Iraq and Afghanistan. As is widely known, typically, 10% of every brigade group deployed, previously to Iraq and now in Afghanistan, have been mobilised reservists. In defence medical units, this percentage has often been much higher. So there is no doubt about the critical role that our Reserve Forces play, especially as part of our land forces, in which I include the Army, the Royal Marines and parts of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
However, it is the future role of our Reserve Forces that your Lordships are debating today, but the role of the Reserve Forces can be debated properly only in the context of today’s strategic and financial environment and the policy choices and decisions that Her Majesty’s Government have made in the past two years. The consequences of some of those decisions have undoubtedly produced risk: risk to the defence of the realm; risk to the safety of our citizens; and risk to the well-being of the Armed Forces. Reducing the size of the regular Army from 102,000 to 82,000 is a significant risk. There is no other way to describe that. But risk itself is not a problem provided that it is identified, acknowledged and then well managed. Mitigating the risk of a too small full-time Army by significantly increasing the number of part-time soldiers is a perfectly reasonable risk management strategy, but one with its own inherent risks. We have heard about many of them already this evening. Will the Reserve Forces be able to attract a sufficient number of volunteers to fill the ranks? Will enough resource be made available to train those volunteers to a sufficiently high standard? Will the roles and training opportunities being made available to the volunteers be sufficiently challenging and satisfying to motivate and sustain them—here, I think especially of officers and senior non-commissioned officers? Will sufficient civilian employers be willing to let the volunteers—their employees—take significant periods of absence to be able to join units on major training or operational deployments?
These, and more, are all legitimate questions that are being asked and must be asked. For this initiative to succeed, the answer must be yes to all of them. There must also be an absolute determination to substantiate a positive answer; otherwise the risk identified will translate from being just a risk to our security to being an actual danger to our security.
Notwithstanding our withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 and apparent lack of appetite for further foreign interventions, a glance at the insecurity of the world in the past decade and the insecurity of the world today fills me with no great optimism that the decade to come will be any less demanding for our Armed Forces than the decade just past. We may think that we are better at predicting the future than past generations, but strategic shocks happen, as the Falklands and 9/11 testify.
Yet it would seem that the judgment has been made either that the world will be a more secure place in the next decade or that we wish to play a lesser role within the world in the next decade, because, unless these plans for the greater utilisation of our Reserve Forces come fully to fruition, there is no doubt that we will have less military capability than in the past and no option other than to play a lesser role in the world, which would constitute a policy change forced by circumstance and not decided by debate.
Do my comments constitute a precursor to an attack on the Government’s defence policy and priorities? The answer to my own question is no, or at least not now. Despite the significant risks about which I am concerned, I take some comfort from the stated government intention to hold a major defence and security review once in every Parliament. Clearly, this Government cannot guarantee what any future Government might do after the next general election but, frankly, no right-thinking person would wish to see a repeat of the 13-year gap between the formal defence reviews of 1997 and 2010.
I look forward to the next defence review, set properly against the strategic circumstances of two or three years’ time and, of course, mindful of financial issues, but only mindful of, not driven by, financial issues. If an open, honest and thorough analysis of our strategic circumstances is made, set against a similar debate about our national ambition, we will reach proper judgments about the military capabilities that we require and their quantum. Should my fears about the capabilities and quantum of our land forces as currently envisaged be substantiated, then the mechanism for remedy exists, even if that would mean a modest reprioritisation of spending across government and not just within defence.
For now, I support the plans to increase our Reserve Forces, and, with others, will do whatever I can to help those plans succeed, but should those plans not come to fruition, I take comfort in the context of the next defence review and the formal chance that it will provide to think again.
My Lords, at the outset, I thank my noble friend Lord Freeman, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech. As we begin the period leading to Remembrance Sunday, the contribution of all members of our Armed Forces, past and present, is very much in our minds. Reserve Forces have fought in every recent operational theatre, alongside regular personnel. As we remember the sacrifices of the past, we need to look to the future in a spirit of sober reflection.
When we look at the future role of the Reserve Forces, we cannot do so without considering the wider defence context. The Strategic Defence and Security Review provides the backdrop for these important decisions. I welcome the fact that these reviews will now be held every five years. Before 2010, the last Strategic Defence Review was held in 1998; and the previous one in 1992. As we look towards the end of our military commitments in Afghanistan, now is an opportune time to think about the future shape of our Armed Forces. What is clear is that we will need greater flexibility in both Regular and Reserve Forces. I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement, on 5 July, that the Government accepted the broad thrust of the review of our Reserve Forces.
To increase operational flexibility, reservists can expect an increased role, with greater integration alongside Regular Forces. That will require an increase as well as a change in the nature of the role of reservists, and it sits well alongside wider defence reforms. We need to recruit reservists with specialist skills and expertise. By redefining reservists’ role, there will need to be more predictable scales of commitment, particularly for enduring operations. This raises some potential issues. The Government, as an employer, have set a good example by demonstrating how they will encourage civil servants’ participation in future; civil servants can look forward to 10 days’ paid leave to conduct Reserve Forces training. However, as was explained to me recently, when reservists are deployed in theatre, the tour may last six months, but the time away could be more than that. With my background in business, I know that this could have serious consequences, particularly for small businesses. A balance is difficult to strike; employers can ask at an interview whether someone is a member of the Reserve Forces. I hope that the Minister will be able to update your Lordships’ House on what support is being made available to businesses as well as potential recruits.
I congratulate the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Territorial Army for its work on this. I welcome the Partnering for Talent initiative between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and private enterprise. This pilot started recently, identifying business benefits for employers supporting reservists. These are early days, but I would welcome the Minister’s observations on progress.
Reserve Forces have sometimes been at a disadvantage when returning from theatre. Their period in decompression can be less than for Regular Forces, and the level of support available can be harder for them to access. The Armed Forces Act 2011 enshrined the military covenant in law; this agenda has been picked up enthusiastically all across the country and captured the public imagination. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the military covenant, including for reservists.
I now press the importance of the contribution of people of all ethnic groups to our Armed Forces. In this regard, I raise two points. First, there is a shortfall of about 20% in the recruitment numbers from ethnic minority communities; secondly, there is the issue of retention. On the latter, it is important that the skills of the ethnic-minority personnel are fully recognised and that promotions are based on merit. I am reliably told that there is some disquiet among serving personnel and we need to look at why there is dissatisfaction. I would appreciate the Minister’s views on the two points I have raised.
I add that I encourage ethnic minorities to join the Armed Forces and have spoken on this subject many times at meetings and events. Our Armed Forces have always been strongest when drawn from the widest possible pool of manpower and talent. To conclude, this debate has rightly celebrated our Reserve Forces and their increased contribution to our continued security.
My Lords, after many years of involvement with and command of the TA, I have always held our reserves in singularly high regard, but that regard is dosed with a good dollop of realism and an understanding of the art of the possible for Army volunteer units. I stress Army because I do not know the Royal Naval and Royal Air Force Reserves as well.
Against that background, I have a number of concerns about the proposals in the report, Future Reserves 2020. Of course, there is not time to discuss them all today, so I will confine myself to just two: recruiting and roles. These are self-evidently linked because if we do not recruit sufficient volunteers there will be gaps in the Army’s order of battle and if the roles are not exacting, exciting or attractive enough then volunteers will not bother to join.
Recruiters for the Regular Army judge that about 20% of recruits are so-called “army barmy”. In other words, these are people who have passionately wanted all their young lives to join the Army and have done so. Clearly, a number of territorial reserves feel the same. These are not the people I am talking about because they will probably join whatever the Government of the day do to reform the service. The fact is that there will never be enough in this category alone to fill the ranks of either the regular or the TA elements of the Army.
To my knowledge, since the 1980s the Territorial Army has never been recruited above 80% of its full established strength. Indeed, its current unreformed strength is well below that at around 50%. There is as yet little evidence to indicate that this phenomenon will be different whatever the size of the force. Indeed, the smaller the critical mass, the less likely it will be able to keep its strength up. Nor should we underestimate the extent of the disincentive from the rationalisation—in other words, the significant reduction—of the TA estate. I would compare the impact of that on recruiting to what would happen if coffee drinkers found that Starbucks reduced its number of coffee outlets. If a Starbucks is to hand, people will go and buy their coffee there. If they have to travel some 10 miles to get to the nearest Starbucks, they will go somewhere else. That is also the case for those who might join the TA but take proximity to one of its centres into account. It is particularly the case for those who live in rural areas and may have to travel 20, 30, 40 or more miles to attend an evening or weekend session.
There is then the paradox of why people join the TA. Some who join are used in their professional specialisation. Doctors, dentists and chaplains are classic examples and there are many others. But many join to have a complete change from their professional skill. Lawyers, teachers and bankers love being riflemen, gunners and engineers, for example. They genuinely do not want to be used in their professional capacity and would probably not join if they were forced to do so.
However, my experience has been that we have gained the most effective use of the territorials by employing them in uniform to use their specialist professional skills. In Bosnia, I had a TA infantry officer who was, in civilian life, a High Court judge. He was an absolute wizard at translating the small print of the Dayton agreement into practical instructions for the warring factions. In that capacity, he made a far greater contribution to the overall operation than he would have done in his capacity as an infantryman. In Iraq, several teachers and bankers were diverted from their primary roles to help develop schools and banking systems. Indeed, our experience on recent operations is that we need people who understand the media, construction, politics, law, economics and all manner of areas for which the Army is never the first port of call. Balancing this with those who aspire to be straightforward soldiers and the needs of the total force is a delicate task: get it wrong and the volunteers will vote with their feet, even more so than the regulars because for them it is by and large a secondary job.
We also need to look at the terms of service for these folk. The EU part-time workers directive makes it clear that a part-time worker must be treated no less favourably than a comparable full-timer. That means that unless employers can objectively justify exclusion, part-time employees have to be provided with access to pension schemes on a basis no less favourable than for their full-time counterparts. I have no doubt that the clever clogs in the MoD will find some objective justification to gain derogation from this and there is no mention of it in the report. But if it is to be an integrated Army, and on moral grounds, surely we should make volunteer service to the Armed Forces of our nation pensionable. Of course the smaller the Army, the more often its component parts are likely to be used. Employers, as we have heard, are generally good people and their track record in supporting the deployment of their workforces to operations is commendable, but we must ask ourselves whether, if such deployments become routine rather than in the event of national crisis, this willingness to be supportive will continue.
Finally, my purpose in identifying these issues is not to kick dust in the face of the reforms, for I very much hope that all comes good, but it would be wrong of me to say that I agree with the outcome of the latest defence review. I regard it as a dangerous dismantlement of our Armed Forces for short-term gain in the face of years of historical evidence and at a time when global instability is rife and there is a plethora of asymmetric risks to our national security. The report Future Reserves 2020 recognises that there is risk in the proposals it contains for our part-time force. My own experience tells me, sadly, that that risk is highly likely to materialise.
My Lords, it is clear from this debate that there is unanimity on the importance of the Reserve Forces to our regular Armed Forces, to our national security and to the communities in which they are based. Reservists act as something of a bridge between the military community and the country as a whole. They balance their family and civilian commitments with their military duties, which often involve courageous acts. Thousands of members of the Reserve Forces in total have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Balkans and in Sierra Leone. They also participated in operations in Libya. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, made clear in his thoughtful and interesting maiden speech, our Reserve Forces make an invaluable contribution and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. A number have done so in the service of our country. We all owe them our deep admiration and an enormous debt.
The Government are going down the road of a significant increase in both the number and the role of our Reserve Forces. That is in large measure to meet the requirements of Army 2020, relating to the future structure of the British Army. The volunteer Army reserve will be expanded to a trained strength of some 30,000 with more predictable scales of commitment. The Government have said that they are now recruiting reserves for all three services. The Reserve Forces will be expected to commit to specific amounts of training and, for the Army mainly, to accept a liability of up to six months’ deployed service plus pre-deployment training in a five-year period, dependent on operational demand.
We support the expansion of the role of the Reserve Forces. It is important that we ensure that those with special skills—whether, for example, in engineering, in IT or in the medical field—are able to use them in the context in which they are deployed militarily so that the effectiveness of their contribution can be maximised. However, the reality is that some 15,000 additional highly competent part-time reservists cannot fill the gap created by the loss of 20,000 full-time regulars. Defence planning assumptions have stated that our Armed Forces could undertake one major and two lesser operations at the same time. Does that capability commitment apply to the regular Army of 82,000, that now being its intended strength?
Under the envisaged role of our enhanced Reserve Forces alongside a Regular Army of 82,000, will there potentially, or actually, be greater involvement in front-line operations, with the distinction between members of the Reserve Forces and the regular Army narrowing considerably? Will members of our Reserve Forces face significantly increased risks as a result of the enhanced role that they will be playing in future?
Will the Minister give a guarantee that the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, which protects reservists’ employment rights, will not be scrapped? The direction in which the Government appear to want to go in employment generally is to weaken the legal rights and protection for people at work. Is that also going to apply to the increasing numbers of members of our Reserve Forces in both their regular civilian employment situation and their role as members of our Reserve Forces?
The Government’s intention is that members of the Reserve Forces will be undertaking their military role for longer periods of time than at present, with a much firmer commitment than now to being available, ready and prepared to carry out that role when called on to do so. How, however, do the Government intend to ensure that the trained reservist manpower will be available when it is really needed, as the scale of the change being embarked upon will need the support of many, particularly employers? For those in civilian employment, there will be pressures likely to affect their willingness to take on the enhanced commitment that will be required from reservists in future, as that extended commitment, with more time away, could well affect their main wage-earning or salary-earning career and their prospects of promotion and progression. Yet the ability to physically recruit and train sufficient numbers for our future Reserve Forces, and then retain them, will be critical, and it is far from clear how that will be achieved.
Equally critical to the delivery of the Government’s plans for the future of our Reserve Forces will be the availability of quality, full-time Reserve Forces support personnel at a time when some reserve unit permanent staff posts important for reservist recruitment, training and administration appear to have been withdrawn under cost-saving initiatives. Can the Minister say any more about the Government’s intentions and objectives in respect of bringing forward legislative proposals to protect the regular employment position of reservists called up for duty under the proposed new enhanced level of commitment that they will be required to give to ensure that they are not disadvantaged or discriminated against in their regular employment, either before undertaking a period of mobilisation as a reservist in the service of our country or indeed on their return? What action do the Government intend to take to ensure that employers are encouraged and incentivised to have and keep more reservists on their staff who are likely to be away from that civilian employment for more time than at present?
I am aware that the Government have said that they intend to publish a consultation paper—this autumn, I think—setting out their detailed proposals. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister can say something about their thinking on how they intend to achieve their objective for the future role and numerical trained strength of our Reserve Forces. Statements of objectives are relatively easy; it is the delivery of those objectives that can be difficult, and sometimes very difficult indeed.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this debate. Like others who have spoken, I pay tribute to him for all that he has done for the Reserve Forces.
I very much welcome the excellent and witty maiden speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips. I also join my noble friend Lord Freeman in paying tribute to the Duke of Westminster, who, after 42 years of service within the Territorial Army, has recently retired.
The Reserve Forces have made a major contribution over recent years. Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, I salute all those who serve and have served in the reserves. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, the Regular Forces could not have done their job without them. Almost 25,000 reservists have served in a variety of roles in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. In doing so, sadly, 29 have lost their lives. Reserves have and currently are serving in Africa, the Middle East and Cyprus as part of our worldwide defence presence. In this country, they provided assistance in Gloucestershire and Cumbria in the wake of the flooding in 2009 and, more recently, in support of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This provided an opportunity to interact with the wider public as part of the combined military effort, but reaching out and working within the community has always been an integral part of the Reserve Forces ideals. The links between the military and local communities are often strongest where there are reserve units providing a vital connection between those in the military and the general public.
For all their success, there have been concerns in recent times regarding the health of the Reserve Forces. The independent commission report of July 2011 identified a number of concerns saying they were too small; there were not enough opportunities for high quality training; equipment must be modernised; and that the talents and skills that reservists had gained in civilian employment should be more actively used. In response, in his Statement this summer, the Secretary of State gave his full commitment to addressing those concerns. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over the next 10 years in our Reserve Forces. This is already having an effect. Reservists are receiving the up-to-date equipment they need to train with, such as Bowman radios and opportunities to use the Husky, Mastiff and Buffalo vehicles. There are now increased opportunities for overseas training and for joint regular and reserve exercises.
Additionally, the structure of the reserve is also being reviewed. Army 2020 set out the road map for further integration and co-operation between regular and reserve units. This is part of the overall commitment for reserves to be an integral and integrated element of the whole force on deployments at home and overseas offering a range of skills and capabilities that complement each other in providing a formidable military force. This is known as the whole force concept. To ensure that this can be delivered effectively, a Green Paper will be published early this month which will start a public consultation exercise. It will seek the views of employers, reservists, the public and private sectors and all those who have an interest in supporting the Reserve Forces. What will be at its heart are proposals to strengthen the relationships between defence and the civilian employer and between defence and the reservist.
Through the consultation process, we will ensure that the views expressed are heard. Any subsequent changes will recognise these positions, and we will ensure that the reserve is fit for purpose. The increase in the size of the Reserve Forces is an essential component of this. The trained strength will increase. The maritime reserve will increase to 3,100, the Army reserve will increase to 30,000 and the Air Force reserve will increase to 1,800. This will allow reservists, who often offer key skills that are not held and cannot be easily maintained within the regular force, to strengthen the military effort. For example, reservists who in their day jobs are doctors, nurses and specialists within the NHS can provide the care that troops on operations may require. Likewise, as we face the challenges and threats that come from cybercrime and terrorism, we must recognise that to respond to a new threat requires new skills. It is the current and future IT graduates and industry specialists who are most equipped in this area, and through membership of the Reserve Forces they can provide the expertise needed for future operations. In this area, it is easy for both defence and the employer to see the value of the reservist as part of an integrated force.
None the less, the impact that a reservist’s service can have on their employer is recognised. Measures are already in place to address this. Notably, an employer can raise an appeal, requesting that the reservist’s service is deferred or delayed to a more convenient time to minimise the impact of their absence. When the reservist is serving on operations, an employer can claim up to £110 per day to cover additional wages for a replacement employee and to meet expenses, such as agency fees and advertising costs.
Crucially, we must not focus only on the impact for the employer. There can also be significant benefits. Reservists receive extensive leadership and communications training which independent research values at £8,000 per person. They will have proven ability to deal with high pressure situations, rapid changes and dealing with difficult parties. Additionally, individuals may well be using and further developing their specialist civilian skills while in uniform. Having an integrated force of reserves and regulars provides the most effective means to deliver a military force equipped for the range of diverse challenges ahead.
In the short time that I have, I will try to give as many initial, possibly somewhat basic, answers as I can. I have been asked some very valid questions and I undertake to write to all noble Lords with much more detailed answers. I will copy in all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. My noble friend Lord Freeman asked about ORBAT. We expect to be able to make detailed announcements on organisations in the spring of next year.
My noble friend Lord Lee asked about the progress of the cadet unit. We are working closely with the Department for Education and everything is on track. My noble friend also asked if overseas employers adopt a more encouraging attitude to reserves than we do. Reserve Forces have been ably supported by a number of organisations, both UK-based and those from overseas. Our goal is to improve relationships with all employers.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, asked for confirmation that we will continue the sustained delivery and investment in the reserves. As I said earlier, the whole force concept is at the heart of our vision and delivery of Future Reserves 2020. We are fully committed to making that work.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield mentioned the welfare provision for reservists. When on operations, reserves receive the same standard and access to care as regulars. The Armed Forces covenant applies to the reserves and we aim to meet that need. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked whether we are confident that we can reach the reserve numbers. We are investing an additional £1.8 billion over 10 years to make that work and we are confident.
My noble friend Lord Glenarthur asked a number of questions and I will write to him with detailed answers. He specifically asked about how reservists will be used, whether we have taken advice from employer groups and what new measures we are planning. I will cover all those in my letter. But the desire is to establish positive, mutually beneficial relationships between employers and defence wherever possible. Increasingly, we will look to take account of the needs of specific employers of reservists, particularly those that are micro-small or medium-sized enterprises.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh asked some very important questions about minorities. I will look into this in some detail and write to him with a detailed response. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, asked about the TA strength. The greatest threat to numbers is the lack of investment and support, and a lack of a meaningful role. The decline in the past reflects that. We are investing in and focusing on the reserves and giving them essential roles that are integral to the whole force. The noble and gallant Lord also asked about changes to pensions and reservists’ eligibility for Armed Forces pensions. The new Armed Forces pension scheme creates one scheme for all, including reservists. There are currently several different Armed Forces pension schemes. Reservists on operations or undertaking full or part-time commitments will all be included within the new pension scheme, should they choose to be so.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked some detailed questions about employers and reservists. I undertake to write to him with detailed answers to his questions as I am running out of time.
House adjourned at 6.06 pm.