Tuesday, 26 November 2013.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, it is now 3.30 pm and I must begin, as usual on these occasions when starting a Grand Committee, by advising noble Lords that if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Small Companies (Micro-Entities’ Accounts) Regulations 2013
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the purpose of these regulations is to implement legislative flexibilities introduced by the EU’s micros directive, which are now incorporated in the new accounting directive. This directive sets an important precedent in European company law. It recognises the need to reduce burdens on our smallest companies to a more proportionate level and creates a new category of company, the micro-entity. A micro-entity company is one which, at the end of the period to which its balance sheet relates, does not exceed two of the following conditions: having a balance sheet total—that is, a gross assets total—of £315,000; having an annual turnover of £632,000; and having an average number of 10 employees during the financial year.
There are an estimated 1.56 million micro-entities in the UK. Many are engaged in business at a local or regional level. They are significant contributors to the UK economy, creating employment and developing new economic activities, but they are burdened by detailed accounting requirements, from requiring a detailed breakdown of figures in the profit and loss account to notes on provisions for liabilities and generally uninformative information on share capital. In The Plan for Growth, published in March 2011, the Government set out their ambition,
“to make the UK one of the best places in Europe to start, finance and grow a business”.
They identified that this could be achieved, in part, by lessening the regulatory burden on business.
At present, our smallest companies must comply with the same financial reporting rules as other small companies, which may be 20 times bigger. The Government do not believe that this is necessary for most micro-entities. We should remember that our current financial reporting requirements are meant to address the information needs that exist between the shareholders and the management of the company, where there is a separation between its ownership and management. For micro-entities, there is often no such separation of control. That is because many micro-entities are owner-managed. Indeed, research has indicated that approximately 45% of these companies have only one shareholder, and that often the owner is the only employee. Therefore, the statutory financial statements are not necessary for the communication of the company’s performance. The burdens associated with comprehensive financial reporting requirements may be disproportionate and yet offer no real benefit. Why should they produce pages of financial data when they are not going to make use of them and no one else is really interested?
The directive provided a number of options for member states to consider but it explicitly recognised that member states would need to assess how these options complemented their financial reporting regimes. I will put this in perspective. France and Germany have already adopted lighter-touch reporting regimes for their smallest companies and others, such as Denmark and Poland, are considering doing so. The flexibility offered to micro-entities will be known as the micros exemption.
The Government sought views on the implementation on the various parts of the exemption and, as the directive allows, the regulations will, first, enable micro-entities to prepare and publish simple, highly abridged financial statements and, secondly, relieve micro-entities of the obligation to produce the full notes to the accounts, provided that specified notes are placed at the foot of the balance sheet. These are limited to information around commitments by way of guarantees, and any advances and credits to the directors.
The consultation identified two issues, however, which prompted significant concerns. The first was the application of the true and fair principle in relation to micro-entity accounts. Several respondents noted that the micros exemption would allow directors to state that the micro-entity accounts gave a true and fair view of the company’s financial position, provided the accounts complied with the directive. Respondents questioned how this could be achieved, given the much-reduced nature of those accounts. They argued that this would conflict with the UK approach, where company accounts are considered to provide a true and fair view only if they are prepared in accordance with accounting standards that require higher levels of disclosure.
The second issue related to the ability to provide exemption from certain aspects of accruals accounting. Nearly all the respondents opposed the introduction of this provision, noting that such an approach would lead to confusion for micro-entities, add unnecessary complexity to the preparation of the company’s financial statements, and produce little, if anything, by way of savings.
Respondents argued that the result in both instances would lead to reduced confidence in the financial statements themselves, and could even present a misleading position of the financial health of the company. The Government held discussions with professional bodies to consider the issues in more detail.
First, on the issue of true and fair, we acknowledge the potential for conflicts with other areas of regulation. Accordingly, the regulations make clear that only those aspects of accounting standards which conflict with the reduced reporting requirements of micro-accounts may be set aside. They also make clear that should micro-entities voluntarily provide additional information, this information must comply fully with the relevant accounting standard in order to be true and fair. For example, if you decide to include a fixed assets note, the information you provide must comply with accounting standards.
Secondly, on the issue of partial accruals accounting, we recognise the concerns raised and agree that confidence in financial statements must not be undermined. To ensure consistency, we will not implement this option in the UK.
I should point out that there are some exclusions for which reduced levels of information would clearly be inappropriate. Therefore, certain types of financial and investment bodies-for example, credit unions or hedge funds-and any company currently excluded from the small company regime, may not take advantage of the exemption for micros. Charitable companies are also excluded. This follows discussion with the Charity Commissioners, who wished such companies to remain subject to the additional accounting rules applied to them, thereby retaining the higher level of transparency expected by those who donate to important causes through charitable companies.
Exclusions aside, the Government recognise that micro-accounts will not be suitable for all micro-entities; but we believe it is appropriate to provide companies with a choice. The decision to prepare and publish micro-entity accounts will be a business decision for a company’s directors: one based on the current and future information needs of the company. But simple businesses will now have the option of preparing truly simple accounts. I commend this regulation to the Committee.
My Lords, I will ask a quick question. This issue occurred in relation to something else where there were exemptions for small companies, SMEs or micro-companies. It is in the definition of companies that qualify as micro-entities. The third criterion that can be applied is the number of employees: not more than 10. It then talks about averaging the number of people in contracts of service. If you employ two people part-time—for instance, one who has young children and wants to take them to and pick them up from school, and the other who is retired, say, and happy to fill in for the rest of the day—you are employing two people, but you only have one full-time equivalent. In that kind of situation, or with people working seasonally or casually, this criterion could discriminate against small employers who are trying to get several people all doing a bit of part-time work for them, because the number of employees could then easily exceed 10. Therefore, it should probably be worded as full-time equivalents in future. I will not suggest anything here, but I want to flag up the general point to regulation-makers that it would be fairer on small entities if there was some way to bring it back to full-time equivalents.
First, I welcome anything that makes life easier for small businesses. I have often felt that the definition of small and medium-sized enterprises that fits in with the European definition is somewhat misleading in our country because a medium enterprise as per the definition would be regarded as quite a large company in the UK, so to recognise micros in this way is more than welcome.
I have a question for the Minister that I suppose relates to the flexibility of the definitions of turnover, balance and staffing, referred to by the previous speaker. I hastily looked through both the impact assessment and the regulations and could not find anywhere how the updating of the turnovers and balances will take place. What length of time is considered reasonable? I believe that the issue of part-time equivalents is quite important, particularly for companies of this kind that might start off in a fairly informal way. It is actually written in to the regulations, which I presume means it is quite inflexible.
My Lords, I just wanted to welcome this provision altogether. As my noble friend the Minister said, in some respects it is a first step that many people—myself included—have been urging for a very long time. It is particularly welcome because it flows from work done by the European Union and in Brussels, where there has long been an initiative to improve matters for small firms. “Think small” has been the watchword. It has not produced an awful lot of actual benefit, but this provision will produce a worthwhile benefit to a lot of very small companies.
I have no interests to declare in this matter. The only company of which I am a director is a charity, and, as my noble friend said, charities are excluded from these regulations. I think that is correct because, after all, one has to consider who has an interest in looking at the accounts. Obviously, those who have an interest, even in very small companies like this, include the shareholders, the employees and the others involved, as do those who might be thinking of lending them money or otherwise advancing credit to them and doing business with them. In the case of a charity, it is those who give money to the charity who have the biggest interest in ensuring that the money is spent on the charitable object that they have in mind when they give the money. Therefore, I think it is right in this statutory instrument to exclude charities, and I welcome it.
My Lords, this side also welcomes the statutory instrument. I will make one comment and then pose a number of questions. First, my comment may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but this is all about helping very small companies. The impact assessment identifies transitional costs of, I believe, just below £500,000 for businesses and £200,000 for the public sector, which is very good as they are very small numbers. Therefore, it is perhaps a surprise that it took BIS 24 pages to be able to get to that. I hope that it was not really expecting all those small companies to be able to read all that and submit views. I should think that it took up a fair degree of civil servants’ time to go through the document that I now see arranged in front of us.
Some of the questions that I should like to pose are quite important, if not substantial. First, why was the consultation only three weeks long? That seems to be in breach of Cabinet Office best practice, particularly given that, in the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, serious concerns were raised. Indeed, the explanation shows that the responses were only broadly supportive, so three weeks feels like an unnecessarily rushed job.
Secondly, this instrument builds on a joint BIS/FRC paper of two years ago. It is not clear to me whether the consultation this year was, similarly, carried out jointly with the FRC. If it was, that is fine; if it was not, it would be useful to know the FRC’s views of the February/March version and of the new, amended version.
Thirdly, as the Minister said, the regulations are in some ways substantially different from the ones that went out to consultation. Is he therefore confident that the main concerns raised in that consultation have now been answered?
Fourthly, I turn to the issue of charitable companies, which has already been raised. I am very content that these companies are finally to be excluded, but it was slightly worrying that the summary of responses from the March consultation did not specifically mention whether charities had submitted their views. I know from some of them that the very short timescale precluded them from responding. Now that they are to be taken out, it would be useful if the Minister could outline the views of the Charity Commission—the regulator—if not of the charities themselves.
Can he possibly let us know what the Charities Aid Foundation, the Charity Finance Group and the NCVO feel about the exclusion of charitable companies from the regulations? I have no problem with that, but it would be a bit unfortunate if the charities concerned did not share the view of either the noble Viscount or the Charity Commission. It would be helpful if he could assure the Committee that the needs of small charities have been properly considered. Has the Charity Finance Group asked the FRC, which obviously has a greater responsibility in the drawing up of reporting standards, to consider the needs of small charities? It would be useful to know whether there is a work stream on this in either BIS or government.
Above all, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain why, at the same time as the Government are taking these very welcome steps—and, as I said, we do welcome them—they are pushing through the lobbying Bill, which will add extra reporting and accounting requirements for a swathe of charities. On the one side, there are small companies, rightly, having fewer requirements on their reporting and, at the very same time, we have a Bill that is going to add reporting and accounting requirements for a large number of charities, including some which, under this definition, would be called “micro”.
Finally, can the Minister explain why, when again the Government are introducing a welcome lightening of loads on small businesses, they are simultaneously adding—and it is the Minister in this House who is doing this—for every trade union, other than those which are very micro and much smaller than the cut-off for these regulations, an additional level of bureaucratic reporting and auditing? It will involve additional systems of checking, as well as additional reporting, and that will add costs and paperwork for trade unions. This welcome instrument is completely at variance with what the Minister, under different legislation, is doing to trade unions. Therefore, it would be very useful if he could explain how joined up the Government’s views on this are.
My Lords, I thank members of the Committee for their valuable and detailed comments during this debate and for their general support for this provision. I thank my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley for reiterating that this is a European measure that will benefit small companies. It introduces into EU law a definition of a micro-entity, as I said in my speech.
I remind noble Lords that the directive sets an important precedent in setting down a legal definition for a micro-entity and enables member states to take up flexibilities suited to their national needs, and to reduce the administrative burdens on these very small companies. This regulation is deregulatory and will enable the smallest and simplest companies to prepare simpler accounts that are proportionate to their size and that reflect their needs. It is entirely voluntary. The ability of micro-entities to produce simple accounts will lift unnecessary burdens, enabling micro-entities to focus on running and growing their businesses.
A number of questions were asked by noble Lords. I shall first address the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, about the consultation. She stated that she thought that it lasted only three weeks. The consultation was, in fact, a continuation of a long period of informal discussion and built on an earlier discussion paper of which she may be aware. We worked closely with the FRC throughout, and it has been extremely supportive.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked an interesting question about the definition of “employee” and made the point that employees can be defined in a number of ways, depending on whether they are defined as part-time. The quick answer is that for this purpose the count is defined as the number of employees, not how many hours they work. This wording is set out in the directive. I am not sure whether that completely clarifies the question, but that is how the count is defined.
That completely but disappointingly clarifies the point, because it does not recognise that if you have someone coming in for two hours a week, which HMRC might regard as full-time since it is regular employment, it will count against you as a micro, which is sad. It may be that this could be raised at a European level.
I suspected that that answer might disappoint the noble Earl. I will be delighted to recheck with officials on that specific question and write to him to clarify.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, later asked about charities and what they feel about the exclusion of charitable companies. There were no responses to the public consultation from individual charities, but we worked closely with the Charity Commission throughout, as I said in my speech, and we continue to work with it to consider how burdens can be removed for this group. We will consult again. I hope the noble Baroness will be pleased when I say that that will be done as soon as 2014.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked how the updating of balances will take place and about the definitions of the criteria on how turnover, for example, will be met. The regulations are subject to review by the Commission on a regular basis. I have just checked what precisely that means, and it means on a five-yearly basis. As the directive updates the thresholds, the Government will reflect them in UK legislation to allow the greatest possible number to take advantage of the exemption.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked about the Charity Finance Group, which has asked the FRC to consider the needs of small charities. This is another charities-focused question. The FRC will work with the commissioners and BIS to address their concerns. A new SORP—statement of recommended practice—for the preparation of accounts is being prepared to update the guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, also raised the issue of small trade unions and why other measures increasing the accounting regulations on them are being introduced. In fact, she alluded to Part 3 of the Transparency of Lobbying etc. Bill which, as she said, I take the lead on. I do not want to be drawn into that on this particular issue but it is important that we consider each policy carefully and on its own merits. The Government are working to reduce the burdens across a range of areas and will do so wherever possible. Micro-entity regulations, on which we are focused today, are an example of that.
Finally, I draw the attention of noble Lords to the important element of choice for businesses. Micro-entities will be able to choose whether to adopt micro-entity, small company or full accounts. The Government conclude that the regulation meets the requirements of the Act and I commend this regulation to the Committee.
I apologise for coming in again and thank the noble Viscount for clarifying the issue about a five-year review. I will just make the point that that could be quite a long period if inflation starts to increase by any substantial amount. That could have unintended consequences for the expansion of micro-businesses if they get to one or two of the magic limits set in the instruments, in particular where they refer to,
“a company in a year in which it satisfies two or more of the following requirements”.
One could read into that that as long as they stick within the turnover and balance sheet, they could employ more than 10 people, or other variations. It might mean that companies look more to those qualifying things than to simply expanding their business. If we cannot do anything about that today, can we make the point to the European Commission that a five-year review might be totally unsatisfactory?
The noble Baroness raises an interesting point. As I said, I rechecked that the review period is five years. I quite accept what she said about things changing during the five years. That includes companies growing. That is of course a good thing for companies, but it might mean that the definition of the company changed from being a micro-entity to a small company—perhaps it is a bit much to hope that it might become a medium-sized company. I should, and would like to, write to the noble Baroness to not only reiterate what I have said today about the review period but also give her some greater reassurance about the definitions we have included, how they relate to the five-year period, and how they will be treated. That would be very sensible. I am on a learning curve, to that extent.
Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2013
Motion to Approve
My Lords, in moving the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2013, I start with an apology. These regulations correct earlier amendments made in April and September to the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme Regulations 2011, as after further scrutiny of them some minor corrections proved necessary. I am, as always, extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Committee, and am always grateful to your Lordships for helping the Government deliver a robust set of regulatory controls for the scheme.
Before I expand on the purpose of the regulations and why the corrections they deliver are now warranted, I reassure noble Lords that I spoke in good faith during the earlier debates and that our policy intent was correctly reflected in the draft regulations. In ensuring that we were absolutely sure of policy interest, we ensured greater scrutiny and, in doing so, recognised that minor corrections were necessary.
The non-domestic RHI scheme has now been in operation for two years. Over 3,500 applications have been received to date, with around £68 million-worth of RHI payments expected to be paid out in the next year. Installations that have already been accredited have generated 497 gigawatt hours of renewable heat, and biomass has performed particularly well under the scheme. My department will shortly publish details of scheme improvements to drive uptake across the full range of technologies. This will include the outcomes of a review into existing tariff levels. Detailed plans have also been announced for a domestic scheme to open from next spring, which I know has been warmly welcomed by many. We are on track to deliver this commitment.
The RHI remains a vital component in the Government’s strategy to increase the amount of energy delivered from renewable sources by 2020. It is helping to achieve this by incentivising installations that produce heat from renewable sources. By doing so, it will help to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The introduction of the domestic scheme and improvements to the non-domestic scheme next year will also move us closer towards our goal of working to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from our buildings by 2050.
In earlier debates we focused on two complex yet important changes to the RHI. Those changes were vital if the scheme was to be successful in its aims to provide value for money and protect our environment. In March we debated the mechanism to control spending under the scheme until March 2015. It is crucial that taxpayers’ money is spent appropriately. In July we debated the introduction of emissions limits for biomass boilers, so that the quality of our air is protected, among other measures intended to reduce the scheme’s complexities. The House agreed to both sets of changes.
I will now speak about the corrections needed to the regulations that govern these two policy areas. The first of these corrections is to ensure that the budget management policy—or cost control mechanism—for the scheme is able to operate as intended. The policy reduces existing tariff levels if the uptake of renewable heat technologies is more than expected and the scheme spend is estimated to be greater than the budget can afford. Tariffs are then reduced—or degressed—where there is strong market growth as a way to cool uptake.
The Government published the full and correct policy explaining how the mechanism should work in February of this year. The regulations debated in March were believed to deliver this policy in full. Subsequently, we detected a small part of the policy detail that was not accurately reflected in the regulations. However, I am keen to reassure the House that where the policy has not been fully reflected in the regulations, this has not resulted in any adverse impact. This is because the situation that is incorrectly accommodated in the regulations affects only a high market growth scenario occurring after an earlier degression. Such a scenario has not happened to date. There has been no impact on tariff levels and so all applicants who have successfully applied to the scheme have received the tariff as intended by the policy.
The framework for the financial mechanism is very detailed, which is why this error occurred. This level of complexity, as noble Lords are only too aware, is necessary as the regulations must set out exactly how we will keep spending on the RHI within budgetary limits. Because of this, it is vitally important that we reduce tariffs by an appropriate amount where needed, and the regulations must be specific in how we will calculate what an appropriate amount is.
The regulations specify that a reduction is applied where expenditure limits—which are often called triggers—are hit. To avoid overreducing tariffs, the level of a first reduction is set at a rate of 5%. The manner in which this reduction can be applied is correctly set out in the regulations. Indeed, we applied the regulations in this regard to the medium biomass tariff in July.
The regulations then allow reductions to double in size each quarter from 5% to 10%—and from 10% to 20% if growth rates demand it. It is this aspect of the policy where the regulations do not reflect the policy intention. I alluded to the fact that a scenario where the application of this part of the policy would be needed has not yet occurred, but because there remains a possibility that it might occur, it is important to amend the regulations now.
The policy is purposefully flexible, and a higher rate of reduction is not automatic. My department will examine the impact of an earlier reduction applied to tariffs and ask itself, “Has it had an impact? Has it started to slow down deployment?” If the answer is no, a further or higher rate of reduction can subsequently be applied.
The regulations define the tests to be applied in this assessment of when a further reduction is needed. It is the tests in Regulation 37D(2)(c) to (e) that contain the discrepancy with our policy intent, and which we are now amending. The regulations as they stand require much higher growth rates in expenditure to occur between two quarters before a further or higher rate of reduction can be applied to tariffs.
As I said, the rationale for this approach was to build greater flexibility into the system and also to control spend. If we cannot apply the correct level of reduction, we risk breaching the budget. We then risk not being able to support some installations in future, which will damage the scheme as a whole. I therefore hope that the Committee will be able to support this minor correction.
The second minor correction I will speak about relates to air quality emission limits for biomass boilers. I have already said that biomass has performed very well under the RHI, but burning biomass clearly raises questions for some: for example, how do we ensure that pollutants from biomass fuels are controlled? Regulations were debated by this House in July that introduced measures to tackle this issue. Your Lordships supported those changes, for which I am extremely grateful.
Specifically, in relation to air quality standards, those regulations require applicants to provide an emissions certificate demonstrating that specified criteria are met. The certificate provides evidence that the installation does not exceed the stated emissions limits, that testing has been carried out by a certified test house and sets standards following a specified method.
The issue with the existing regulations relates to the specified standards against which testing must be carried out and to the issuing of compliance certificates. Simply put, certificates cannot be issued for some biomass boilers, regardless of whether they meet the emissions limits set out by the policy.
Paragraph 9 in Schedule A1 to the regulations sets out standards to which tests must be carried out for measuring particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Those standards are suitable only for some biomass boilers, particularly those that cannot be tested by standard BS EN 303-5. As worded, paragraph 9 wrongly requires those standards to be applied to the testing of all biomass boilers. That makes it impossible to issue compliance emission certificates for boilers that are unable to be tested by those alternative standards. The latest regulations correct this error so that the most suitable standards can be used for testing.
It is vital that we amend that, as the issue currently impacts on approximately 49% of all applicants to non-domestic RHI, given the high uptake from biomass technologies. We have worked with Ofgem to ensure minimal disruption to applicants in the light of that error. All applicants who may be affected are being advised at the point of application that there could be a small delay to their accreditation date, due to the air quality requirements. Ofgem has agreed to work through all applications as normal up to the point of accreditation, which will be dependent on a valid RHI emissions certificate. Those that cannot meet this requirement will not be rejected but held until the regulations are amended.
Before I conclude on that issue, I wish to draw the attention of the House to an additional regulation which will not apply if these changes are made before 1 January. These regulations offer protection to applicants who have applied under the current regulations but cannot meet the required standards through no fault of their own. Their application can be accredited by Ofgem only once the amending regulations are made. It is possible that a tariff reduction could be announced by my department before then, and our next quarterly degression announcement, due to be published by the end of this month, will confirm that. It would not be right for those applicants to receive a lower tariff due to this error, and this addition simply seeks to ensure that it does not happen.
In conclusion, the measures contained in these regulations are needed so that the correct policy can be applied in all instances. These corrections will ensure that the RHI scheme delivers renewable heat in the most cost-effective manner, as well as ensuring that emissions from biomass have minimal impact on air quality. While I am extremely apologetic for these minor errors, I am confident that the dedicated work by my department in identifying and correcting any areas of uncertainty will help us to maintain our strong relationships with stakeholders, which is a great strength for us all.
I reassure noble Lords that my department has examined the process it follows when making regulations and is undertaking changes internally to ensure an improved quality assurance regime that will help to minimise the likelihood of such errors in the future. I hope that my explanation has been clear and comprehensive, and I commend these regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation. We have debated the RHI regulations on a number of occasions and have all noted that they are very complex in nature. Therefore, I thank the Minister for her clear articulation of these two minor amendments. We are grateful for the spirit in which the regulations have been brought forward and we of course accept that these minor corrections should be agreed to. However, I will take this opportunity to ask the noble Baroness some questions in relation to the policy.
We are expecting announcements in the autumn—I think that that was what was stated—and I am interpreting that as meaning before Christmas. It is important to note that the regulations that we have debated have been very complex and technical in nature, and they have mainly focused on the Government’s almost paranoiac fascination with trying to make sure that we limit the amount of money that we pay out through the scheme. However, the figures show that, overall, we are massively underspending in relation to this policy. The noble Baroness said that £68 million was expected to be spent this year. That is against an annual budget of, I believe, around £251 million. Therefore, obviously less than a third of the budget is likely to be spent this year. Why is that? Can the noble Baroness indicate whether perhaps we have been focusing all our energies and efforts on trying to reduce incentives? Given the numbers, it seems that this policy is failing to bring forward sufficient investment.
Secondly, it is a question not just of the money that is spent but of the impact that that money has. I only have the figures for 2012, but in that year our renewable heat stood at around 2.3%. We need to get to around 12% in 2020 in order to be compliant with our overall legally binding European renewables targets. Can the noble Baroness give me any indication of where we are likely to get to at the end of 2013 after this £68 million has been spent? Are we making inroads into that target?
I have mentioned that we are expecting more announcements, and those will be very welcome. We look forward to what I hope will be good, thorough debates once we have those announcements. I am sure that that will be when Ministers are able to outline improvements and we will see an increase and uptake in this scheme.
Today’s announcements are, as has been described, technical corrections. The explanation that has been given is valid and we agree with it. Air quality, which is covered in one of these technical amendments, is of paramount importance. We are pleased that this error has been spotted and made good. As the Minister said, this applies to a number of applicants. I think 49% of applicants will be caught by it, so it is good that it is being dealt with and corrected in a timely fashion.
My final comment is that the scheme sits on the public accounts. Much has been made in recent debates in the other place about how different Governments approach energy policy. The fact that this sits on the taxpayers’ books does not mean that it never takes off or delivers. There is a temptation for micromanagement and ever-increasing levels of complexity, which stem from a wrong assumption that if a technology or category of technology is going well, that means we are overpaying and must throttle back. That assumption that success equals oversubsidy is dangerous. It might well lead to the outcome that anything that gets going and gets momentum behind it gets cut off at the knees, and we never successfully allow market forces to be applied.
Those market forces would, by their very nature, find the most efficient and profitable solutions, yet because this is being managed out of the public purse, we are in danger of having too much micromanagement and not allowing the market to select the most cost-effective solutions because we are proceeding on a false assumption that popularity and scale of uptake equals oversubsidy. It might well be that it is a very popular technology that has fewer non-market barriers to its uptake. I hope that we can guard against that and that we will see significant announcements soon on how the scheme will be improved so that we will see increased uptake and more progress towards our targets.
Finally, I hope that this does not foreshadow what we are going to see in the broader market when we discuss contracts for difference and strike prices. This policy can be very complicated and difficult to understand, and investors may find it difficult to get their heads around it to perceive where the supply chain is in the market. If this is anything in the nature of a foreshadowing, we will need a very different approach or we will be in danger of seeing underspend there, too, which would be a very significant outcome indeed.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for welcoming the corrections and for her broad support for what we are doing. She raised a number of issues that we successfully debated during the passage of the Energy Bill. I am very grateful for the way she helped me navigate some complex and difficult issues in the Chamber.
We have just navigated that Bill. It illustrated the Government’s long-term commitment to putting low-carbon energy supply in the system on a much more stable footing. I recognise some of the concerns the noble Baroness raised. Given the measures we have taken, we will be able to see greater competition among the range of technologies. Part of that will be to see whether we need to put in the same support as we currently provide. There is no wish prematurely to withdraw the support we currently provide to any technology if it is giving a constructive, positive return. However, it is in our interest to ensure that where technologies have matured enough not to need as much support, that support is gradually withdrawn. It means that those technologies are able to stand alone and complete in the marketplace on an even footing.
The noble Baroness asked about underspend in the policy. It has been steadily growing since April. Of course, we have a long way to go, but we are going in the right direction. The useful thing about a policy that grows steadily is that we can identify whether a review is needed and whether it is making progress in the right direction—and, if not, what more we can do to better the policy. I am not sure that it is a bad thing for it to grow at a slower pace because, as often as not, identification of things that are not going as well as they could be can give them prominence.
I am slightly more optimistic than the noble Baroness on this one. It was right that she asked the question, but this Government are trying to be robust in ensuring that whatever policies we are to be measured against stand up to the test. I am extremely grateful for the noble Baroness’s questions and for her support.
My Lords, it might be convenient and a help to the Minister if we pause slightly, so that the civil servants, who have mysteriously disappeared, can reappear. They are doing the rounds. If it is in order, we will give them a couple of minutes to get round the back.
European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2013
Motion to Approve
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I shall speak also to the next Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper: that is, on the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2013.
I will speak first to the local elections order and then come on to the European parliamentary election regulations. The local elections order makes important changes linked to local government reform in Northern Ireland, and I have a detailed set of remarks to cover its extent.
As noble Lords will be aware, local government in Northern Ireland is undergoing significant reorganisation, part of which involves reducing the number of local councils from 26 to 11. The Northern Ireland Executive is responsible for the reform programme, but elections to local councils are excepted, and so are the responsibility of the UK Government. The Northern Ireland Executive asked the Government to support the reform by bringing forward the date of the local election by one year and facilitating a transitional period until 2015, during which councillors elected to the new councils will serve in parallel with existing councils.
The order makes changes in four main areas. First, it delivers a transitional period; secondly, it makes temporary changes required only for the 2014 elections; thirdly, it makes consequential changes to polling districts and places for parliamentary elections; and, fourthly, it allows the local election poll to be combined with the European parliamentary poll.
I will now briefly explain the changes being made in each of those areas. The order brings forward the date of the next scheduled local election in Northern Ireland by one year to 22 May 2014. The transitional period will run from the fourth day after the election until 31 March 2015. The order provides that the new councils will come into their full powers on 1 April 2015 but will be able to exercise powers in relation to limited transitional issues in advance of that date. For example, that would include taking decisions on the formation of the new councils in relation to rates, debts and standards of service provision.
New councillors will remain in office until 2019, four years after assuming full powers. Existing councillors will remain in office until 1 April 2015 and continue to exercise powers in relation to the day-to-day management of council business, but not on transitional issues. Vacancies in the new councils will be filled by co-option if they arise during the transitional period, and any vacancies on existing councils will continue to be filled by co-option until 1 January 2015.
The order also introduces some temporary changes, required only for the first election of the new councils in 2014. The first is in relation to election expenses. The Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland can normally claim an advance on his local election expenses before the election from the relevant local council to allow preparations to be made. Since the new councils will not exist before the election in 2014, this order makes provision for the statutory transition committees established by the Northern Ireland Executive to provide the advance of election expenses before the election, and for the new councils then to pay the balance of election expenses after the election.
Secondly, under usual circumstances the chief executive of each council serves as the deputy returning officer. However, the open competition being run for the chief executive positions in the new councils will not be completed sufficiently far in advance of the election for them to be appointed as deputy returning officers. The order therefore provides for the statutory transition committees to appoint deputy returning officers for the purposes of the 2014 elections, in consultation with the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission’s role is to help ensure that each committee appoints a person with sufficient experience to fulfil the role of deputy returning officer. For example, it may provide committees with advice on the role and functions of a deputy returning officer and the selection criteria used. It will not offer views on the merits of particular candidates.
Thirdly, as noble Lords are aware, the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed new wards for each local government district. The polling station scheme for local elections needs to reflect this new ward structure. This order therefore requires the chief electoral officer to prepare a new polling station scheme before the elections in 2014. The new scheme will be published after the Secretary of State lays an order before Parliament grouping the wards into district electoral areas.
The order also makes changes to polling districts and places for elections to the House of Commons, which are necessary in consequence of the changes made to local government boundaries. Currently, the polling districts and places for parliamentary elections are those established for local elections. When the chief electoral officer designs a polling station scheme for local elections, it will apply automatically to parliamentary elections. However, some of the new local government wards will fall between two parliamentary constituencies. As it will no longer be appropriate to maintain the link between parliamentary polling districts and local government wards, this order makes amendments to allow parliamentary polling districts to instead be designated by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Electoral Commission.
The chief electoral officer will still designate polling places for parliamentary elections and will be required to carry out reviews of the polling places in 2014 and every five years thereafter. Such reviews will follow the same process as that followed by registration officers in Great Britain.
The final set of changes being made by this order is to facilitate the combination of the local election poll with the European parliamentary election poll, which will be held on the same day in 2014. These are practical provisions to ensure that the two polls work together and include changes such as ensuring that differently coloured ballot papers are used for each election and combining the process for issuing postal ballot papers. One of the changes being introduced is in response to a recommendation from the Electoral Commission whereby the title of the election will be printed on the top of the ballot paper in combined elections to help prevent voter confusion.
I now turn briefly to the European Parliamentary Election Regulations (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2013, also before us today. This short set of regulations make additional amendments to the European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2004, principally to allow for the combination of the European parliamentary poll with the local poll. The changes being made to these regulations are equivalent to some of those being made by the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2013 for local elections to ensure that the polls work together.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that these two pieces of legislation are important to support the Northern Ireland Executive’s plans for local government reform and to allow for the efficient combination of polls. I commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, the Minister has little choice but to bring these regulations before us, but I have to say that the whole process is a dog’s dinner. Noble Lords will have detected that in the regulations we are now creating three different classes of councillor. One class consists of councillors in the existing local authorities, which will run until 2015; another class consists of councillors who will be elected in 2014 and who will run in parallel with the existing ones until 2015; and a third class consists of members of both the old and the new. On top of that, we have a statutory transition committee, doing bits and pieces of work, which will also be populated by councillors from the old regime. You could not make this up.
This process has taken 14 years, and we are transferring only one meaningful power to local authorities in addition to the relatively small powers that they have at present—which is in planning—and they will have only part of the power at that. Pretty well everything else has been held back by the government departments that have ground away for the past 14 years and succeeded in ensuring that the local councils that will be elected are not much more powerful than the existing ones.
I will put to the Minister just one point about people queuing outside polling stations and their votes being counted. In the past, there have been cases where polling stations have been kept open and votes taken after the deadline had passed; I am sure that the Minister is familiar with that situation. I just wonder how it is to be policed. At what point is a line drawn between when people can queue up and when they cannot? Who will go outside and actually police this? Indeed, will it be the police? Will it be staff under the control of the chief electoral officer? Who will do this? I believe that there is potential, particularly on dark nights, for confusion. Who will decide where the line is drawn? A queue is outside, staff are inside, and more people come along to queue. How is that going to be handled? When does that process actually end?
When this process began in 2001, one of the watchwords was coterminosity, which meant trying to ensure that Westminster, the Assembly and local councils were as compatible as possible in a boundary sense. Now we have a system where they are utterly and completely incompatible, which is another startling outcome of this process. Therefore, not only are things more chopped up and divided than ever between different parliamentary Assembly constituencies and local authorities but the whole context of having local identity taken into account during the local government reform process was excluded from the Bill. In fact, the Boundary Commissioner was excluded from taking local identity into account. Considering that it was local government reform, I just leave with the Committee the thought that it seems the most bizarre process to have entered into. There was the most flagrant political gerrymander of the city of Belfast—but there will be more of that later in another context.
The scheme that the Minister has proposed is required, given that we have two elections on the same day which involve consequential changes. I notice it is proposed that the ballot boxes for both elections will be opened at an early stage when the verification is being undertaken. I assume that there are past examples of different ballot boxes being in the polling stations, with some votes being placed in the wrong ballot box, either accidentally or deliberately. However, does that mean that there will be a joint verification process on the same day or that the ballot boxes will simply have the wrong ballots taken out of them and the other ballots will not be processed, doing one verification at a time?
The first election votes to be counted will relate to local government. Although the European elections take place on the same day, as most voting in Europe takes place on a Sunday, those votes will not be counted until the following Monday. Therefore, when those boxes are opened, will be they verified at that stage or will there be a separation of ballots so that the votes end up in the correct boxes?
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for a very clear and full exposition of these necessary changes. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is a complete realist and knows that those changes must go ahead to fit in with the various consequential amendments that are required.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Empey, I noticed that there will be two ballot boxes, and I am aware of what happens in those circumstances and so on. Being an experienced politician, I can see the capacity for confusion and mistakes. Therefore, will special emphasis be placed on the counting officer being required to make sure that all the political election agents concerned have a right and a duty to supervise that procedure so that there will not be instances of it going ahead in the absence of one or more political agents?
I also noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, concerning coterminosity. I understand his point of view, because in Scotland we also hoped that we would have coterminosity in terms of organisation after the founding of the Scottish Parliament. However, we do not have the coterminosity that many of us would like to have seen, and I understand his point of view. It is a cliché, but we are where we are. We need these SIs to go ahead. I believe that there were commitments to coterminosity at the time. I remember that quite clearly because local boundaries in Northern Ireland, as everywhere else in the United Kingdom, are quite important. Nevertheless, the Opposition views these SIs as necessary. We are grateful for the clear exposition. If the Minister could comment on the two ballot box situation, I would be very grateful.
My Lords, I welcome these SIs, which are designed to help the elections proceed smoothly. With regard to the Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order, which replaces the existing 26 councils with 11 larger local council areas, the elections are to be held on 26 May 2014. I welcome that. It is important that local elections go ahead as, to date, there have been many co-options on to local councils in order to address the so-called problem with double-jobbing. Many councils have a high proportion of councillors who have never received a mandate from the electorate. From 2015, when I understand co-option will stop, councils will be truly democratic.
In order for political parties to have sufficient time to prepare for these elections, it is vital that they know in good time what wards are grouped into which electoral areas. Will the Minister indicate how soon an order will be laid before Parliament so that the chief electoral officer will be able to draw up plans for locating polling stations? I regret that the normal 12-week consultation period in the draft scheme has been withdrawn, but I trust that that will not lead to problems with the siting of polling stations.
I am pleased to hear that the papers for the local election and the European election will be of different colours. That is what happened last time when we had the Assembly elections and the local council elections, but there was considerable confusion because even though the papers were colour-coded, the colours were insipid, which led to problems. This time, with the papers having a title showing which election they are for, that problem will be solved.
There is a continuing decline in turnout at elections in Northern Ireland. I think that only 55% of the electorate took part in the previous election—down from 62.9%—but I trust that these regulations will encourage voters to turn out.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said what I was thinking when I was listening to the Minister. This is a dog’s dinner. Working on the ground and trying to get young people interested in voting in Northern Ireland—it has mostly been older people who have voted—the different colours of ballot papers are hard to explain. I am most anxious that we are given time to explain and that this is not just put into the media or the paper and that is it. We will have to explain on the ground to young people, in particular, why this election is taking place and why we are working to the 2015 election and all that. Many people will get confused and think that they are voting for two lots of councillors. Knowing Northern Ireland as we do, that is a very distinct possibility.
I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about who will police when the stations close. That can be a very dangerous situation in Northern Ireland. Has any thought been given to that?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I will resume with the meat of what I intended to say in response to noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to there being three classes of councillor. I refer the noble Lord to the description of the roles of those councillors. There are, in strict terms, three different positions, but there is no duplication of councillor roles, because councillors elected in 2014 can exercise functions only in relation to limited transitional issues before 1 April 2015. So there will be no duplication of roles, and statutory transition committees will cease to exist 28 days after the election. I can tell the noble Lord, from my own experience as a councillor in Wales in 1995—in a transitional council prior to local government reorganisation in 1996—that the transitional year was of tremendous value. It was extremely important in establishing the new councils on their road, and in enabling the old councils to fully wind up their work.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, also raised the issue of queuing outside polling stations, and of who will decide who is in the queue, and where the queue ends. This will very much be an issue for the Electoral Commission, which has a key role to play. In particular, it will develop guidance for electoral administrators, which is what will happen in the rest of the UK, although in most cases it will be obvious who is in the queue and who is not. However, all these provisions should not make us forget that the important thing is good electoral planning. The provisions exist because in the past there have been problems with the closure of polling stations, such as people being left standing outside.
I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, on this. I believe that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, raised the issue of two ballot boxes being open and the potential for confusion. I point out that the change of having the name on the top of the ballot papers will reduce potential confusion for electors, but there is always the situation where electors put their ballot papers in the wrong box. However, it may eventually be decided that ballot papers should all be put in the same box and sorted afterwards.
On the issue of the verification and counting process, observers and candidates for each election will be able to attend the verification and count of the other election to facilitate a joint verification process, if that is how it is decided to do it. Joint verification is facilitated, not prescribed. The timing of the verification process is very much an operational matter. It is a decision for the chief electoral officer. The purpose of this statutory instrument is to make provision to allow things to work as well as possible. The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, is correct: it will allow those able to view any proceedings for either the local or the European elections to access those of the other election, as I said just now.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to the new wards and the 12-week consultation period. The District Electoral Areas Commission is due to report before the end of the year to the Secretary of State, who will lay the order before Parliament as soon as possible after that. On the noble Lord’s comments about co-option and whether it will stop in 2015, that is not the case. This order makes no changes to the general process for filling vacancies. It only deals with vacancies arising during the transitional period.
The noble Baroness pointed to the possibility of confusion. That can always exist when you have two elections on the same day. Despite the names on top of the ballot papers, the different colours and so on, there is always the possibility of confusion. However, this is a matter for the Electoral Commission and the political parties. We encourage them to engage with electors to explain the situation and make it crystal clear. I take this opportunity to point out that we are very pleased with voter registration as a result of this canvass period. The target was to achieve 85% and they have already achieved 88.3%. In many ways, that is an all-time record. The completeness of the register suggests that more people will be in a position to exert their right to vote. That is very important for the democratic process.
I need to make a slight correction to my answer to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. All EU observers can attend the local verification and the count. All local observers can attend the EU verification but not the count. That is probably explained because the count for the EU election will be held some time later. Of course, we are dealing with a very large area in that case.
I hope I have answered noble Lords’ queries satisfactorily. I will of course review the record to ensure that I have answered the substantive points as well as possible. I thank all noble Lords for their support.
Perhaps I may refer the noble Baroness back to the issue of queues. A great deal of the problem has to do with the geography and where a polling station is located. Some are on the street and others are in more remote areas that have a large amount of land around them, whether that is in the form of steps, car parks, schools or whatever.
I have some anxieties about leaving this sensitive issue to the chief electoral officer. There was a case in 2001, I think, in Fermanagh in South Tyrone, where paramilitaries took over the polling station. They were voting well after the polling station was closed. With the polling station locked from the inside, they continued to vote. I am not making this up.
In remote areas where perhaps it is difficult for the police to function, depending on the geography, I still have an anxiety as to who will decide. Does a polling clerk, who is taken on for the day, come outside and say, “Right, mate, you are the last one. That’s it”? Who stays there to see that that person is the last one? Only the person who has decided that he should be the last one can verify when that last person comes into the polling station. I do not understand the mechanics of how this will work.
Perhaps the simplest thing is to know that if a polling station closes at 10 pm, that is it and there is no argument; you are either in or you are not. This business of queuing could be abused—that is my anxiety. I am not sure who will ensure that that does not happen.
The noble Lord raises a significant point. He is right to raise it because the experience of the last general election showed that there were queues in certain places and that the approach of the polling clerks differed from one place to another. That is why these regulations were brought forward. They are intended to address that issue—which has not been addressed in the past—and are backed up by the fact that the Electoral Commission will issue guidance relating to these regulations. It will be for the Electoral Commission, having issued the guidance, and for the deputy returning officers, having provided training to polling clerks, to ensure that the guidance is rolled out smoothly.
As with every election in the UK, the police will provide back-up support if there are difficult situations to handle, and the PSNI will do this in the usual way, as it has always done.
Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
Redress Schemes for Lettings Agency Work and Property Management Work (Approval and Designation of Schemes) (England) Order 2013
Motion to Approve
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Redress Schemes for Lettings Agency Work and Property Management Work (Approval and Designation of Schemes) (England) Order 2013.
Relevant document: 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
My Lords, I declare that I am an owner-occupier of a leasehold property. Before I get into the substance of introducing these regulations, I once again pay tribute to the noble Baronesses who have worked so hard on this matter and who are joining the Committee this afternoon.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 gave the Secretary of State the power to require all residential letting and property management agents in England to be members of a government-approved or government-administered redress scheme. This means that tenants and landlords dealing with agents in the private rented sector, and leaseholders and freeholders dealing with agents in the residential leasehold sector, will be able to complain to an independent person about the service they have received if they are not satisfied.
More and more people are choosing to live in the private rented sector. The number is up from 2.4 million households in 2005 to 3.8 million in 2011 and is still growing. We estimate that there are approximately 2.5 million leasehold properties in England. It is vital that people living or owning property in these sectors have the ability to complain if they receive poor service from their agent. This is supported by good professional agents. The requirement for all letting and managing agents in England to belong to an approved redress scheme will weed out the cowboys who give agents a bad name. Just as importantly, the scheme will drive up standards while imposing the least regulatory burden. This order is the first step towards implementing this requirement.
The order, which was laid before the House on 25 October 2013, makes provision for: applications for approval of schemes; the conditions that a scheme must meet before they may be approved or designated as a government-administered redress scheme; and the process for withdrawing approval or designation where a scheme no longer complies with those conditions. A government-administered scheme must meet the same conditions as those for approved schemes, with the exception of independence, as in a government scheme it is a given that the scheme is independent from those who could be investigated by it. These redress schemes will complement and not replace the existing protection awarded to tenants and leaseholders; for example, the consumer protection legislation and the duties of local authorities.
When this order comes into force, the Secretary of State will invite schemes to come forward for approval. When the Secretary of State is satisfied that all agents can join a scheme of the required quality, a second order will be made that will require agents to belong to such a scheme. Article 4 sets out the conditions that schemes must meet to be approved. The provisions of the scheme must include, for example, what types of complaints may be made, what the ombudsman’s duties and powers are in relation to investigating complaints and what redress a member of the scheme may be required to make to a complainant. Types of redress must include apologies, explanations, compensation and making good. Article 4 also requires schemes to have procedures in place to ensure that members of the scheme deliver the redress that has been awarded to claimants. This may include expulsion from the scheme if a member agent does not comply.
We know that consumers in the private rented sector are especially concerned about the fees charged by agents, particularly when they are mentioned only after tenants have signed a contract or invested emotionally in a specific property. Where this occurs, the schemes may investigate a complaint about this and may require the agent to pay compensation.
When the duty to belong to a scheme is introduced, agents who do not belong to a scheme could be prevented from operating. To help enforcement of the duty, Article 4 also requires schemes to have arrangements in place to provide information to other redress schemes and to the regulatory bodies. This will enable agents who do not belong to a redress scheme to be identified and, in the longer term, will help drive up standards.
We recognise the importance of the redress schemes being seen to be independent and of their operation being transparent. Article 4 requires scheme administrators to publish an annual report on the operation of the scheme. Article 7 requires administrators of approved schemes to provide the Secretary of State with information about the operation of the scheme, enabling performance to be monitored. In exceptional circumstances, where a redress scheme no longer meets the conditions of approval, Article 8 of the order enables the Secretary of State to withdraw that approval. This will help ensure that the level of service and standards expected of the redress schemes are maintained.
It is also important that there is competition between the schemes to ensure that costs are competitive and that there is sufficient capacity for all letting and managing agents in the private rented and residential leasehold sector to join. However, we also recognise that having a large number of schemes may cause confusion and that consumers will need to have clear information on which schemes are authorised and which ones they should go to. Article 6 enables the Secretary of State, when making a decision about whether to approve a scheme or designate a scheme as a government-administered scheme, to take into account the number of other schemes that are likely to be approved or designated as government-administered schemes.
I commend this order to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I find this an interesting order. I read the Explanatory Memorandum, but nothing really explains anything very clearly. I ask the Minister to confirm that this is just a sort of preliminary paper and that we will have to await the next step before we know what on earth it is about, because so much here is unclear. My personal interest is declared in the register of interests. I have leasehold property, which I let.
Nowhere does the order bring out the importance of transparency and how much we want to see that. Paragraph 7.14 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that the order,
“requires individuals responsible for running approved schemes … to provide such information on the operation of the scheme as the Secretary of State may reasonably require”.
However, I am not concerned about what the Secretary of State wants to know; I am more concerned about all the millions of people in leasehold properties who want to know what this is all about. Unless we have complete transparency, a lot of redress will be demanded by people, as they will all find it unsatisfactory that they never get straight answers to anything. I am speaking wildly and widely: this generalisation may catch people who are 100% reliable as managing agents, but there are far too many who are not. That is why we want this scheme to work and to work well.
Paragraph 7.12 says that there will be,
“publication of an annual report”.
I am not clear about who will make that annual report, and I should like to know what that is about. Is it is a report by the ombudsman or by each person who deals with the schemes? It is clear that there could be more than one scheme. Multiple schemes could be approved by the Government. It is not clear what exactly you have to do in order to be approved because, again, everything is shrouded in those wonderful words that now enable the Secretary of State to do pretty well anything. Therefore, until we see the next stage, we will not know what it is really talking about.
If there are, say, four approved schemes, will we have four annual reports, or will the Government or the ombudsman produce one report? I am mystified by the reporting process. Reporting is interesting and satisfactory up to a certain point, but what people really want is action. They want to know where they stand, and it is only fair and right that they should. There are currently a lot of cowboy practices, whereby some invisible person collects insurance from all the leaseholders, who find that they are paying a grossly inflated amount because someone is raking off money in the background. There are many points such as that which we need to look into.
It might be that we will need to have some clear definition of which parts of a building will be the responsibility of a communal system and in which parts the owners of individual flats will be responsible for work themselves. Regarding knowing what the responsibilities are, it is no answer to say “Well, it will all be in the terms of the lease”, because a lot of those leases are pretty woolly. No one is quite sure what happens with them.
That takes me to the point that any of your Lordships who read your Sunday paper must have seen: the story of this man named Jackson, who has just lost his flat. He went to the leasehold valuation tribunal but was foolish because he should have paid the £300 which was the original dispute, as far as I can see, and then gone to the tribunal. He ended up going to the tribunal when the maximum that he would have to pay was £500. Your Lordships will all have heard before, and I know that it is on record in Hansard, that I participated in Committee when the Bill was passed in 1996 that set a maximum of £500 that would be payable by any applicant. Now the whole tribunal system has changed, and however bad and expensive it has been, that is nothing to what it will be in future.
A lot of articles now are asking whether anyone will be able to afford to go to the leasehold valuation tribunal any more, even to go into the first stage. It was always acknowledged that if it went on appeal up to the second tier of the Lands Tribunal, that was where people who had big money would be at an advantage. No one ever foresaw the point where even if you were only liable for that £500 maximum, the other party could bring against you QCs and enormously expensive people who would charge the earth and then you, as a leaseholder, would find that it was billed back to you. The bill was not being taken on by the head lessee or the freeholder but came back on the person who had the cause for complaint. Will the redress schemes set out here cover that sort of issue, or will the situation be simply as it was for people such as that man?
This is exactly what happened to him. It started off as a minor dispute and he thought that he would be paying just £500. Eventually, after it had moved on, his legal bill was £76,000. I presume that everyone else in the block of flats had a share of that bill, too. He waited for the work to happen. A new company took over; again, that is rather typical of what happens. Indeed, I have had what I describe as wonderful whitewash letters saying, “We have been bad in the past but we are angels now. Everything is going to be all right and no one will have any cause for worry at all”.
Interestingly, at the meeting we had at the department, the person who is now running it was there. She claims to have had a whitewash and was very much in favour of the redress scheme. Perhaps the companies are reformed but we must wait and see. The problem is where it may end up. This man received bills to meet all these charges for three years, but no work was done in that time. That is very unsatisfactory and I feel very sympathetic towards him. For anyone to think that they are going into a minor thing, designed for ordinary people, only to find instead that they lose their home over it is a tragic situation.
I therefore have great hopes for this redress scheme, but we have an enormous number of problems to look at. When I look at the document in front of us, for example, there is nothing set out yet in Article 3(1). It states only:
“An application to the Secretary of State for approval of a redress scheme must … (a) be made in such a manner as the Secretary of State may determine; and (b) be accompanied by such information as the Secretary of State may require”.
There is nothing there to tell you what you would actually get out of it at all. This may be a formality but it is very important. Whatever we do on the matter, this is just the first step, and we have such a long way to go to make life fair for people in these properties.
These are all technicalities, and everything has taken a long time. Was it not in the summer that we passed this amendment? Now we are pretty well at the end of the year and this is the first bit we have—this draft statutory instrument, which does not even look as if it goes very far.
I am concerned about arbitration. I spoke here when the issue of changing the whole tribunal system came up before. That is a retrograde step. The tribunals were intended to be handled so that any ordinary person could go to them. The way the system has changed now has taken us right back to the battles we fought in 1996 against all these prohibitive charges. It will be very worrying for many people who now will not dare to complain about things. Unless the redress scheme is good, well thought through, carefully planned and honestly implemented with transparency, I worry about what the future will hold.
Of course, I am a great believer—as I am sure everyone knows—in commonhold, the system we have in Australia. There, no one is dependent on an intermediate landlord and you all share the rights to your own property. Here, the law demands that if you want to change to that system, you need 100% of the leaseholders of the block of flats to agree. Everyone knows that all you need is one crooked landlord willing to pay someone to be the 1% that will not pass something and that will never happen. The Government should—and I believe will in future—look at changing that law so that it could be either a simple majority or a possible one. There are people living overseas, not resident in the place and not even knowing what is going on or caring—sometimes they have so much money it does not matter to them. Unless we can really change this and make it fair, it will remain a great injustice that people living in a place will find that they do not have the rights and control to which they should be entitled. I have said more than enough and am sorry to burden the Committee with even more on this issue.
My Lords, I took an interest in this matter a little while ago when we considered it. I have a couple of questions as a result of this order coming forward. I agree with my noble friend Lady Gardner that it seems terribly short on detail as to implementation. I am not much reassured by the fact that I am not sure whether what I have here is an Explanatory Note or just guidance on how the scheme will be carried out. I am not very reassured by the idea that there will have to be a board for each of these schemes. It is not at all clear of whom such a board would be made up. The board is there to appoint the scheme administrator, but there is nothing else about what the board is meant to do. The only thing it says is that if you are under a complaint investigation you can sit on this board although you cannot particularly make up the majority of it.
My noble friend Lady Gardner, who has been absolutely remorseless in getting all this right, pointed out that it is the detail of the implementation that will matter. There is nothing very much about the scheme administrator except that he can be appointed for three years. The next thing that will happen is that we will talk about the ombudsman. There is nothing in between to suggest that the scheme administrator and the ombudsman will be different, or whether the ombudsman will fit into how the scheme will run. After all, the ombudsman probably will be one of the most important aspects of it.
Another quite trivial thing comes up later on. There is an awful confusion between “consumers” and “clients”. It would be helpful if we could decide which word will be used. I will give the example:
“Taking special care when dealing with consumers who might be disadvantaged”.
It might be clients who are disadvantaged. Anywhere else, all the way down, the text is about responding to “clients” in an appropriate time. Everything else is about clients. In the interests of clarity, let us decide who it is we are talking about.
There needs to be much more explanation of how many schemes are likely to be approved and how many would be too many. You might get 25, all of them absolutely perfect, but might actually need to have not more than about four or five because that is how they are made up. There must be much more clarity about who the ombudsman is and how the access to the ombudsman will work through this scheme.
Other than that, even though there are some holes and flaws and things that need to be taken further, this has moved at astonishing speed, by governmental standards, and I am grateful for that because it is long-overdue legislation.
My Lords, we owe a lot to the two noble Baronesses who have already spoken, because without them we probably would not be here.
We welcome this order and look forward to rapid progress in future, we hope. It will give landlords, tenants and leaseholders an ombudsman to whom they can take their complaints about a letting or managing agent. However, we have a number of queries, and I will raise seven of them.
First, I still do not understand why the Government are reinventing the wheel. There are already two established, OFT-approved schemes that deal with letting and managing agents. Indeed, 60% of letting agents and all the managing agents that belong to ARMA are already members of one of those schemes. However, this order requires that the existing schemes must be reapproved, on slightly different criteria from those upon which they are already approved, and allows a plethora of others to apply, which will be confusing and not in the interests of consumers. I have never believed that there should be more than one ombudsman per industry. I lost that argument with my Government, but there should not be more than two per industry. Perhaps I can argue that. The idea of there being four, eight or 15 per industry will only add to the confusion and costs—and of course, it is not the consumer but the provider who will choose which to go to.
This goes against the feedback the Government had on this, and the Cabinet Office’s guidelines on Ombudsmen. Paragraph 9 of Ombudsman Schemes—Guidance for Departments, which was published in 2010, states:
“It is important to maintain a proper balance between the development of new Ombudsman schemes … and extending the remit of existing schemes where that is … possible. In choosing the best option, Departments will therefore need to … avoid multiple redress schemes within individual industry sectors, which may confuse consumers … by utilising existing Ombudsman schemes (even existing voluntary ones), or by introducing single new schemes”.
The latter is not the case here. There is the Cabinet Office saying, basically, that we should use existing schemes or extend them. The guidance goes on:
“Before creating a new Ombudsman scheme, you”—
this is addressed to departments—
“should consider the role and remit of existing schemes and decide whether a new scheme is necessary. It may … be more appropriate, and more cost effective, to extend the remit of an existing scheme”.
Why this part of the Government does not listen to that part of the Government, I do not know. Does the Minister expect more than the two existing schemes to be approved?
We know from the paperwork that a second order is envisaged that will make it mandatory for agents to be a member of a redress scheme once the department is satisfied that a sufficient—its word—number of approved schemes are operating. Will the Minister tell us what number is sufficient?
My second question is about the independence of the oversight body, or the board, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. The draft conditions of approval, which are not in front of us today but are related to this, suggest that the oversight board should have a member,
“from an organisation representing consumers”.
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment behind that, but the whole idea of a corporate board is that the individuals on it do not represent the organisations from which they come in but are part of a corporate entity. I hope that the department will consider a slightly different wording—perhaps, “with experience of representing consumers”—to ensure that the corporate identity of the oversight board is not put at risk.
My third question is about enforcement. That is the oddest part of the instrument. The Minister clarified that slightly just now. She will recall that the Government rejected my original amendment, which would have extended the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 to letting and managing agents. That included an enforcement mechanism; the OFT could come in if orders for redress were not followed. As the Minister said in her introduction, schemes will have to make provision for enforcement of any requirement to provide redress, which may include expulsion from the scheme.
We need to be clear what happens if a letting or managing agent is expelled. Will they simply move over to one of the other redress schemes, and will that scheme then have to accept them? If not, can I be clear that they would have to cease trading? Obviously, we want to get rid of people who, having been found to provide redress, do not. I am in favour of that, but we need the Minister to clarify that that would happen. This morning, in the Commons Delegated Legislation Committee, the suggestion was made that a redress scheme could expel a member and that it would therefore cease trading. We need to be absolutely sure that there is the legal power to do that. Perhaps the noble Baroness can confirm that.
Related to that, the Government will obviously need to have an appropriate sanction for agents who refuse to sign up to a redress scheme, and it must be strong enough to be a deterrent. It probably has to mean that they cannot continue to trade. Otherwise, it would always be in their interests not to join an ombudsman scheme. Perhaps we could have clarification on that.
Fourthly, there is the really important issue of client money protection, which is a major cause of consumer detriment. There is a recent case, different from the one that has been mentioned, of a letting agent that went bust in Hastings and lost all its clients’ deposits. It cost landlords and tenants an enormous amount of money. At the moment, there is nothing to ensure that that does not happen again.
Client money protection is the only way to ensure that deposits, forward rents, payments for repairs, and so on, are kept safe. The Government’s words on this are a bit unclear. I think that it should be a condition of belonging to a redress scheme that there is client money protection, but the draft conditions that were published earlier this month state that in making a judgment, the ombudsman scheme would have to take account of whether the letting or management agents were:
“Treating clients’ money in an appropriate manner”.
That is nonsense. What is an “appropriate manner” unless it means what we mean by client money protection—in a separate bank account with separate bank signatories, and, perhaps, insurance? Does “appropriate” mean proper client money protection?
My fifth question is: what are the Government’s plans for ensuring that the other 40% of letting agents—I am less sure of the other figures—are signed up to a redress system, and what will be the penalty if they do not join? We hope that it will be that they have to cease to trade. But who will be responsible for that compliance? Who will go around identifying letting or managing agents who are not members of a scheme? I hope that consumers will not be expected to do it, and that plans are in place to deal with that.
The Government seem to want ombudsmen to run a sort of two-tier scheme. They are very keen for agents to join, but they say they should be able to do so without signing up to a code of practice. So they envisage a two-tier scheme where agents can choose whether or not to adhere to a code of conduct or practice, which seems absurd. The very least we can do is to say that any scheme must make it clear that when an ombudsman comes to a judgment it will be not—in the woolly phrase of the moment—on generally accepted principles of best practice, but according to a code. I assume the Government share our concern to raise standards, but if we are not going to enforce a code by taking ombudsmen’s judgments in line with it, we cannot do that. I do not see how the requirements for transparency proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, are going to be enforced if there is no code that requires transparency and against which the ombudsman can take decisions.
My sixth question is: what are the Government going to do to inform consumers about their rights to redress? There were comments about making information from the scheme available to other schemes, and to anyone who regulates letting agency work, despite the Government’s refusal to set up a regulator for letting agencies, as I had wanted—but never mind. However, there does not seem to be a requirement for the list to be made available to the public, although surely it is the public who need to know which redress scheme their agent belongs to.
My last question is: when will this come into force? We heard rumours that it might not be before October, despite being expected it by April this year, but we were reassured at an early morning hearing in the Commons by the Minister there, who suggested that the target was still April. For the sake of this Committee, can the Minister confirm that that is the date that she and her colleagues are working towards?
My Lords, I am grateful to all the noble Baronesses who have spoken in the debate this afternoon.
Many issues have been raised, and, while I will do my best to respond to most of them, I will say straightaway that there may be some which I will have to follow up in writing. That should not delay us. As noble Lords know, we are at the start of a three-stage process, and I would expect to be able to answer some of the points raised today when we get to the next set of regulations. What we have in front of us is an order which sets out the criteria and process for approving schemes. The next stage is for schemes to come forward, and the third and final stage is to lay an order which would bring into force the legal requirement for agents to belong to a scheme. So, if I follow up anything in writing, it will be because we are in an ongoing process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, questioned whether we were reinventing the wheel, and why we were proceeding as we are when two schemes already exist. I remind her that we know that those schemes exist, but we hope that they will come forward to seek approval and to register. We certainly hope that happens.
As to whether there is a risk of too many schemes coming into force—a point raised by my noble friends Lady Gardner and Lady Hanham—as I said in moving the regulations, Article 6 makes it clear that the Secretary of State should have regard to the number of schemes that are, or are likely to become, approved schemes or government-administered redress schemes when deciding whether it is in the best interests of complainants and members to approve a scheme. This would require the Secretary of State to look at any scheme brought forward—other than the two I have just mentioned—but the power is there for the Secretary of State to conclude that there are adequate schemes already in place and that there might be a detrimental effect if more schemes were approved. We have considered and taken account of this issue in producing this order.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked about enforcement and what happens if an agent is expelled or refuses to join. Enforcement will be detailed in a second set of regulations. On the issue of the conditions for membership of the schemes, as is made clear in the order, these will include whether someone can join a scheme after being expelled from another scheme. We would examine this issue where a scheme is brought forward to the Secretary of State for approval.
As to the issues of safe agents and money protection, I share the noble Baroness’s concerns about ensuring that client money is protected. Certainly we would encourage the use of client money protection arrangements and so-called safe agents. As she knows, we did not seek to introduce this as part of the order but certainly we would be supportive of schemes that referred to this in their terms.
My noble friend Lady Hanham raised additional points. She highlighted that there was confusion and inconsistency between the words “consumers” and “clients” in the language used in the order. It is fair point. I shall consider it and see what it is possible for us to do in that area. It is a legitimate point to raise.
My noble friend Lady Gardner covered a wide range of issues. I am sorry that she feels that too much is unclear in the order. As I have already said, we are at the first stage of a process towards introducing these redress schemes. As to the direct question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, there is no desire on our part to delay the introduction of the order. We are working to the timetable that my honourable friend mentioned in the other place this morning, namely the spring.
My noble friend Lady Gardner asked about annual reports. Each of the approved schemes will have to publish its own annual report. So if there are, say, four schemes, that will mean four individual annual reports.
My noble friend also raised some questions about the rights of leaseholders when they take a case to a leasehold valuation tribunal, when fees are incurred and when, even if the complainant has had their complaint upheld, they see those fees being recycled into their service charges. I gather that this point was raised during the debate this morning in the other place, and that my honourable friend there agreed to meet the Member who raised that concern. I will discuss it further with him and come back to my noble friend, and perhaps she and I can have a meeting once I have been able to catch up with my ministerial colleague on that matter.
My noble friends Lady Gardner and Lady Hanham raised some questions about how the ombudsman would relate to the schemes and the detailed conditions currently available on the Government’s website. Those detailed draft conditions will be finalised when the order comes into force. Only schemes that can satisfactorily prove that they meet these conditions will be approved. It is for the schemes to decide whether there should be an ombudsman. All schemes will provide an independent way of investigating complaints, which is a condition that we will apply when a scheme comes forward for approval.
My noble friend also raised a point about the conversion from leasehold to commonhold. We will debate that matter on another day because I do not believe that it is directly relevant to the regulations in front of us. However, my noble friend makes the point well and I know that she feels very strongly about it.
In conclusion, the procedures and requirements set out in this order are key to delivering the first stage in the implementation of the requirement for letting and managing agents to belong to a Government-approved redress scheme. The order will enable the Secretary of State to approve redress schemes against a clear set of criteria that will ensure that all approved schemes will provide an independent and transparent service, and that consumer complaints will be dealt with fairly and consistently. On that basis, I beg to move.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the millennium development goals, or MDGs, helped to channel political commitment and investment to bring about reductions in poverty and child mortality and improvements in health and education. They expire in 2015. This presents me with an opportunity to advocate today the inclusion of an integrated early childhood development target in the post-2015 agenda. In this debate, I hope to demonstrate that we need a measurable and actionable ECD goal to reduce by half the number of children under five who fail to reach their potential. This will not only strengthen progress towards the health and well-being of all children but also help reduce the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality.
My right honourable friend David Cameron, our Prime Minister, is one of three co-chairs of the high-level panel appointed by the United Nations. This panel is one of the elements which, working together with others, will craft the new goals. It is intended that the post-2015 goals will be more inclusive of various stakeholders than before and have an agenda that builds on the strengths of the MDGs but also addresses their shortfalls. They should be implemented by all countries, not just those in the developing world.
Why are we talking about early childhood development today? It is because focus on early childhood holds the long-term solutions to solving the economic and social problems of intergenerational poverty, and to achieving world peace and our environmental survival. That may sound like a very big claim, but mountains of evidence from almost every discipline come to one conclusion: the earliest years of life can give us the strongest foundation for individual, societal, national and global sustainable development. Research has shown that the key to the survival of our species is our long early childhood. This is the period of our lives when we are at our most vulnerable but, because we take so many years to develop to maturity, there is time for our brains to develop into much more complex organs, capable of more complex thought and action than any other species.
Evidence from neuroscience has shown that when a baby is born, its billions of brain cells are mostly unconnected. To function properly, these cells must be connected to each other, and these connections develop in response to the baby’s experiences. These early connections form the basis of personality and the lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change and have resilience in case of unexpected circumstances, as well as physical and mental health. We develop these foundations at great speed in the first few years of life and we never again learn so fast. We also know that the quality of early care-giving can alter the brain’s chemistry and structure. That is why we need to pay attention to the early experiences of the world’s children, from before birth and right through childhood.
Economic studies have provided evidence that the largest returns on investment are realised in programmes for children prior to primary school. Therefore, although the MDGs have ensured that most children now attend primary school, we have to ask ourselves how well they are learning when they get there. Do they have the capacity to make the best use of that education and of the best instrument with which to learn—in other words, their brain? It is a bit like having all the parts of the engine of a very fast Formula 1 car. If you do not put it together in the right way and connect all the parts and tune them carefully, the car will not go very fast. It may limp along, but it will not beat Sebastian Vettel or Jenson Button.
Therefore, I should like to highlight something very rare: experts from many different disciplines are all coming to the conclusion that early childhood matters enormously. At a time like this, when money is scarce and needs are great, we must spend money smartly. The smart way is early, because it works in two ways. Not only does it produce better results, it will avoid the cost of putting things right when they go wrong. Therefore, I argue that an early childhood development target in the post-2015 goals will help us to achieve some of the other targets. The MDGs have achieved a lot, but the targets have not been fully achieved, so business as usual is no longer an option. Transformative and holistic solutions are required, addressing the root causes of problems rather than applying an Elastoplast to the symptoms.
Let us look at the role of early childhood programmes in achieving the UN’s aims. Let us take peace, for example. There is neurobiological evidence to show that in early childhood, we develop the capacity to love, empathise and show compassion. Through early childhood programmes, we teach children social skills and develop their decision-making capability. Those are carried forward into adulthood, resulting in better co-operation, aggression control and a reduction in violence. Wars are not instigated by armies; they are started by individuals who feel that aggression is the answer to their problems. It is not very clever. Wars contribute to poverty and environmental degradation, as well as suffering and death.
Let us take sustainability. In early life, we have an innate capacity to love nature. One has only to watch a young child with animals or in a garden. It is very clear: if we nurture that innate tendency, we can leave the world a generation of people who believe in sustainability and care for the environment.
Take the target of inclusive development. Here, again, when children are very young we have a window of opportunity to provide good nutrition and care in a responsive and safe environment. Early child development programmes promote an equitable start to a healthy life, especially if they start when babies are still in the womb. One of the greatest challenges for the next generation is the inexorable rise of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer. Although the symptoms of these diseases develop in adulthood, the foundations are laid in early childhood. That is when we need to lay the foundations for lifelong good health.
Let us look at gender equality. Early child development programmes improve outcomes for the girl child herself and often also for other female members of her family. Evidence shows that disadvantaged girl students are the ones making the most dramatic gains from such programmes. In Brazil, for example, girls from low-income families who attend pre-school are twice as likely to reach grade 5 and three times more likely to reach grade 8 as those who do not attend. In poor families, when the mother is at work, it is often older girls who have to look after the young children. If the toddlers are at pre-school, the older girls, too, can attend school.
However, the most obvious benefit of early years programmes is in the achievement of the target of learning for all. It has been said recently:
“A child born today must master skills and knowledge that were needed only by elites a century ago”.
I am sure that that is true. However, although progress has been made in school enrolment, great inequality occurs in actual learning.
Learning begins at birth. Does it not make sense for the UN to invest its efforts in the period when human beings learn fastest, thus also laying the foundations for a generation that eschews violence, cares for the natural environment and has developed the full capacity of its wonderful human brains? Learning is the result of a sequential and cumulative process of skills acquisition, with a hierarchy of achievement based on mastering early skills and then building on them, so early learning is vital for later achievement.
The UK, along with Nordic countries, is well positioned to be a beacon for early childhood development globally. We have already embraced the evidence of the benefits of early intervention and invested in the family nurse partnership, more health visitors and free early years provision for disadvantaged two year-olds. Now we need to become a global leader in championing early childhood abroad. The time to act is now, while the next set of goals is being developed. Will we be influenced by the mountain of scientific evidence? I hope so. I have a book full of evidence and solutions from the world’s experts. All we need now is the political will.
Will my noble friend pass on to her right honourable friend the Prime Minister our wish that he ensure that there is an integrated early child development goal in the next set of UN goals post-2015? Can she tell us how your Lordships’ House can influence the Prime Minister in his work with the UN? As the new goals will affect all countries, not just developing countries, will the UK Government take a lead by demonstrating the amount of economic and human capital that can be saved by investing in young children and their families?
Finally, I understand that there are to be multi-stakeholder consultations within countries on the post-2015 agenda to ensure a transparent process and meaningful participation from Governments. How is that being done in the UK? Can my noble friend assure me that the process will be comprehensive and that the Prime Minister will use its results when he works in his co-chair capacity?
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Walmsley for raising this issue today, because it is one of the utmost importance. The millennium development goals were undoubtedly the single biggest push to combat world poverty in our history. Although they have succeeded in reducing poverty and child mortality, unfortunately, there is still much to do. In that respect, the post-2015 development agenda has a vital role to play.
Early childhood generally refers to the period of a child’s life between nought and eight when, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, critical development occurs—physical, cognitive, linguistic and socio-emotional. I argue that this debate should have a broader scope, because what happens in utero is also critical.
Research into brain development and early childhood development has shown that in utero development and the first three to four years are critical for the development of sensory pathways for social and emotional development. During the early years, the brain develops most rapidly so that children can acquire the habits and skills needed for social and educational success and self-protection. If that development does not occur, children are at risk of mental health, learning and behavioural disorders. Thus, those children will fail to reach their full potential and may also become a challenge to their societies.
MDG 5 focuses on maternal health and is one of the MDGs on which more progress needs to be made. Although maternal mortality has nearly halved since 1990, an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths still occurred in 2010, with the maternal mortality ratio in developing regions being 15 times higher than in developed regions. Having a baby at a very young age also increases the risk and it is estimated that 70,000 adolescents in developing countries die each year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Thus, early forced marriage is a factor, and FGM also increases birth risk. In those maternal deaths, many of the babies will also die.
Although more women today receive antenatal care, only half of women in developing regions receive the recommended amount of healthcare that they need. Still, today, nearly 50 million babies are delivered without skilled care. The figures that are never produced are for those births which go wrong and result in live babies that are damaged. Very minor damage or slight oxygen deprivation can mean that a child will never reach his or her full potential.
According to UNICEF, in spite of four out of five children now getting vaccinated for a range of diseases and deaths from malaria having fallen by a quarter, around 29,000 children under the age of five still die each day, mainly from preventable causes. Although the death rate has nearly halved since 1990, these deaths mainly occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in nine children die before the age of five, while an Ethiopian child is 30 times more likely to die before his fifth birthday than a child in western Europe. Children born into poverty are almost twice as likely to die before the age of five as those from wealthier families. The majority of those living in extreme poverty are female, and they are the ones who will struggle most to raise their children.
Nurture is essential to the development of a baby and very young child, and of course the mother plays a vital role. To provide good care to her child, the mother’s health and well-being are essential. It is estimated that one in seven women in the UK experiences some degree of depression after giving birth, but in developing countries there are simply no statistics about this. Yet we know that when mothers have depression, it can affect the bonding process and thus the child’s development, so postnatal care is extremely important. However, such healthcare may be scarce in many developing countries.
The events of a child’s early life are formative and play a critical role in shaping the way a child develops, and thus in building human capital and promoting economic productivity in later life. Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Nearly a third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a partner. For a young child, seeing his or her mother being beaten up is a terrifying experience and one which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Freedom from conflict and violence is the most fundamental human entitlement. War tears children’s lives apart and has a devastating effect on their development. Young children who live in war zones or who are refugees will be severely affected by what they have seen and experienced. Today, it is said to more dangerous to be a woman or a child in war than a soldier. Not only is there imminent physical danger but, usually, a lack of food, an interruption of education and enormous stress. A UNICEF report estimates that during the past decade, through conflict: 2 million children have been killed; 4 million to 5 million have been disabled; 12 million left homeless; more than 1 million left orphaned or separated from their parents; and some 10 million have been psychologically traumatised.
In May this year, I visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Meeting some of the families camping in the Bekaa valley gave me some understanding on how hard it was to look after children in such circumstances. I met a woman trying to care for her eight children in a small tent. Having insufficient sanitation and very little clean water meant that maintaining hygiene was especially difficult in those conditions. Diarrhoea was already starting to spread through the camp, which can be fatal for very small and vulnerable children. While the women were trying to look after the children, the men who were there had nothing to do and were frustrated by their situation. We heard that domestic violence was rising. Trying to resolve conflict and promoting peace are also essential for ensuring good childhood development.
Today, in spite of relatively improved nutrition, it is estimated that more than 200 million under-fives in low and middle-income countries will not reach their developmental potential. Children are central to sustainable development. Current and future global development goals, including education goals, will be met only with attention to the overall development of young children, which will involve the rolling out of global and localised maternal and children’s healthcare. Dedicated political support is now required to ensure that there is a focus on guaranteeing that every child around the world is given the very best chance for the very best start in life.
My Lords, the inclusion of an early childhood development target in the post-2015 UN millennium development goals would be a hugely important action on behalf of children around the world. I agree with my noble friend Lady Walmsley—I congratulate her on securing this debate—that a global focus on early childhood development is essential as we move into a post-2015 global agenda. I also agree that the UK should be playing a leadership role in this crucial issue. However, if we are to take the lead on early childhood development we need to look long and hard at our own domestic policies to ensure that we truly are a world leader in our policies on early childhood. We must be seen to practise what we preach. That will be part of my focus today.
There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that of the children born around the UK today each will be born with different life chances. Sadly these chances will depend not on innate ability but, in large measure, upon the economic and social conditions into which these children are born. Of course, this inequality is magnified many times over for children living in countries with high levels of absolute poverty.
As policymakers, the natural question to ask ourselves is this: what can be done to improve the life chances of children, both in this country and around the world? To draw an analogy, last year the All-Party Group on Social Mobility, of which I am vice-chair, published a report entitled Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility. The first of those key truths—the one highlighted by my noble friend Lady Walmsley in her speech—is that the point of greatest leverage is what happens to a person between birth and the age of three. Basic cost-effective interventions in the first few years of life can pay big dividends later on in a person’s overall chances of a healthy and fulfilling life.
In the light of these conclusions, early childhood development emerges as one of the key issues for any policymaker or legislator who is seriously concerned about a fair chance in life for all our children. It is my hope that in the coming years the UK will lead the push, both internationally and at home, to put a strong emphasis on ensuring that all young children have that fair chance for a fulfilling life.
In addition to the benefits of early years intervention, the Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility report identified another key causal factor in improving life chances, and that is developing what is called character and resilience among children and young people. By that term “character and resilience”, I mean those habits of mind such as perseverance in the face of setbacks, sticking with it when the going gets really tough, high expectations, confidence, self-esteem and belief that your life is heading in a positive direction and that you can improve things by your own efforts. These habits of mind are even more crucial for children from far less privileged nations than our own. The inclusion of specific targets for early childhood development in the UN’s post-2015 millennium development goals should help to ensure that young children across the world are in an environment that will promote the development of these crucial characteristics that can make such a difference to their later life.
So what concrete interventions can Governments make in those early years that might lead to the development of the resilience that I was talking about? Given that most early-years development takes place in the home, the most important thing that Governments can do is to put policies in place that support parents during the first few years of their child’s life. Clearly a secure and nurturing home life during those early years is crucial for a child’s development. Of course, sadly, as we have already heard in the debate, in too many countries that simply is not possible because of the social and economic conditions, as well as war and conflict.
Many reports, in this country and abroad, have pointed to the fact that one of the most unhelpful assumptions is that people know instinctively how to parent. Of course, all parents want to provide a nurturing environment for their young children, but those from more privileged backgrounds tend to take for granted both the resources and the strong support networks that allow them to parent effectively. For those without those networks, the prospect of parenting on a low income can be extremely daunting. These challenges begin in the prenatal period and continue throughout early childhood and, of course, the quality of parenting varies hugely in both rich and poor households and rich and poor nations. However, clearly, having less time, fewer money worries and fewer resources makes the job of consistent and attentive parenting far harder. While what goes on in the home is, first and foremost, a matter for families, Governments can do more to provide the resources to ensure that mothers and fathers have the degree of physical and mental health, financial security and overall preparedness necessary for raising a child.
As the United Nations develops a plan for global action on early childhood development, we need to look around the world for examples of successful policies that really help parents. I believe that one model for these efforts can be found in Sweden, where expectant mothers and fathers are invited to join local groups run by a trained midwife to prepare them for the birthing process. These groups do not disband at birth but continue to meet throughout the first few years of the child’s life to offer advice and support throughout the parenting process. The data available so far suggest that parents find these programmes helpful, as more than half the parents who join prior to birth are still involved at the time of their child’s third birthday.
In addition to positive parenting, we know that education plays such a large role in enabling young children to develop into capable learners. Although the UK is above the average for OECD countries in overall participation in early-years education, a gap still exists between the more affluent and the less affluent in terms of both participation in and effectiveness of early-years education, particularly in preparing children to be ready to enter primary school. In its report entitled Greater Expectations: Raising Aspirations for our Children, the National Children’s Bureau—of which I am president—notes that, while two-thirds of children overall experience good development during early-years education, only half of children on free school meals in the UK experience that good development.
So what can be done? I suggest that there are three key components. First, we need a strategy for ensuring that success in early-years education, both in this country and elsewhere, is not tied to income. The first step must be to ensure that parents of underprivileged children have easy access to early-years education that is of good quality and promotes good child development, both intellectual and emotional.
Secondly, we need good practice guidance for early-years educators, which can be shared internationally, in order to ensure that early-years education is preparing young children to succeed when they enter school. This also means ensuring that early-years education facilities are staffed with qualified educational professionals, regardless of the affluence of the communities they serve. We need to think critically about the nature of the curriculum in the early years. In my view, early-years education should have a distinct emphasis on educating the whole person.
Finally, we need to understand and organise the way that we address the interests of children and young people at the level of public policy. This is what is so important about the specific inclusion of early childhood development in the UN’s post-2015 goals. Currently, in far too many countries the interests of children and young people are addressed in a decidedly fractured way. Some issues fall under the umbrella of education and others of health—physical, mental and so on. As Dr Nurper Ulkuer, formerly a senior adviser at UNICEF, remarked at a reception in Parliament on early childhood development earlier this month, a unified, holistic approach is needed in order to ensure that our children are physically healthy, mentally healthy, socially engaged, and ready to learn.
The importance of this holistic approach is at the core of the push to include specific benchmarks for early childhood development in the UN’s post-2015 development goals. However, this shift in how children’s issues are addressed can also happen at the national level. In the UK, the National Children’s Bureau makes two key recommendations in its report on how to organise policy-making, which I think are equally applicable in other countries. The first is the creation of a government children and young people’s board with full ministerial representation. This board can help set the agenda on policy that affects children across all levels and dimensions of government.
The second recommendation is to look—in this country it could be through the independent Office for Budget Responsibility—at the impact of each Budget on child poverty and inequality among children. Both these recommendations could help ensure that children’s issues are placed at the centre of all policy decisions and could be used as a model in other countries. Of course, that is ultimately the heart of the matter. Every Government around the world has to be held accountable for the way in which their actions promote the well-being and development of the youngest children. That is why I believe that the UK should use its international profile to push strongly for the inclusion of an early childhood development target in the post-2015 development goals to promote the interests of young children around the world.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for initiating this debate. She has a tremendous record in the field of child welfare.
The UN high-level panel report based its analysis on five transformative shifts, including the idea of leaving no one behind. I welcome many of the recommendations in the panel’s report, especially the objective to end extreme poverty by 2030 and the bringing together of the sustainability and poverty reduction agendas. The report is an important contribution to the debate about a new covenant for development, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the new goals and partnerships drive the radical change which is essential if we are to be the generation that ends poverty and safeguards scarce planetary resources.
Many questions still remain on content, financing and accountability, but the principles set out in the outcome document represent a good starting point. Having said that, my hope is that the more ambitious parts of the report, including its call for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, will be built on as the negotiations now move forward.
The five shifts I have described are only part of the equation. They help to build momentum to meet our aspirations. However, goals with effective monitoring will ensure that the international community moves in the same direction. As we have heard in this debate, the benefits of investment in early childhood development are strong, but the cost of inaction is also very clear.
Science has demonstrated that early childhood interventions are important because they help to mitigate the impact of adverse early experiences which, if not addressed, lead to poor health, poor educational attainment, economic dependency, increased violence and crime, all of which add to the costs and burdens on society. UNICEF and Save the Children operational research published in 2003 revealed the significant improvement in primary education grade promotion, repetition and drop-out rates attributable to school readiness and ECD programmes.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, children are central to sustainable development. Decreased child mortality, relatively improved nutrition and school enrolment may give a picture that the world is on track on its promises for children. However, many of the children who are surviving now are not achieving their full developmental potential. According to an estimate, 200 million children around the world are not achieving their potential because they suffer from the negative consequences of poverty, nutritional deficiencies and inadequate learning opportunities. Moreover, 61 million children around the world are out of school and thus at risk. If one digs deeper, beyond national averages, one sees widening disparities among regions and countries and within countries based on wealth, gender and geographic location. In the face of increasing conflict, early childhood development is also considered an entry point for peacebuilding in communities. Furthermore, as we have heard, good early learning programmes can help to build the resilience of children and families in emergency and fragile situations.
Each year, about 19 million children in developing countries are born underweight because of poor growth in the womb. More than 200 million children below the age of five living in low and middle-income countries fail to reach their developmental potential. This failure to ensure that children have access to early childhood development has significant consequences for eradicating global poverty and achieving sustainable development. These twin objectives cannot be achieved when significant numbers of children start life at a disadvantage, one that continues to widen as they grow and develop, and becomes an intergenerational transfer of poverty. Eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development therefore require that significant attention is paid to early childhood development and that strategies to ensure adequate health, nutrition, stimulation and early learning are part of all programmes to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.
On 22 October in a supplementary Oral Question to the Minister, I referred to evidence that investing in children’s earliest years makes the biggest difference to their lives and to the country’s social and economic fortune. I asked the noble Baroness then whether she would support calls to put early childhood development at the heart of the new post-2015 development framework. In response, the Minister correctly pointed to the illustrative universal goals in the high-level panel report, which highlight the new emphasis on, for example, good nutrition, which is so important in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, as well as education—not just primary education but a wider scope of education. The noble Baroness suggested that, as concerns for young children are built into a number of the goals, the early childhood development approach can be assumed to be there.
The goals to provide quality education and to ensure a healthy life, food security and good nutrition are strong component parts of a comprehensive approach to early childhood development. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, policies and programmes need to be fully comprehensive if the approach is to be carried through. They must also include parenting support, developmental monitoring with early intervention, and childcare.
It is important that we do not let up on making a strong case for these important points of principle at events and debates in the General Assembly throughout 2014. These will set the scene for member state negotiations, which will culminate in the summit in 2015. Will the noble Baroness give us some indication of how the Government plan to highlight these issues leading up to 2015? I, too, would like to see the good examples being highlighted. Can the noble Baroness highlight some of the programmes that the department is currently engaged in to support the provision of a comprehensive approach to early childhood development?
Children are key stakeholders in the future. The evidence shows clearly that investing in children’s earliest years makes the biggest difference to their lives and to a country’s social and economic fortunes. Straying slightly off my remit, I am only sorry that since 2010 many of the Sure Start centres in this country have been closed.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for securing this important debate and for introducing it, as ever, so cogently.
As the 2015 deadline for the MDGs approaches, it is very important that we seek to ensure that we build on what has already been achieved and move forward in seeking the MDGs’ replacements, having learnt from what worked in the current set and where we need to head in the future. The MDGs seek the relief of poverty internationally and they use various means to do that. As my noble friend Lady Hodgson emphasised, much has been achieved but much still needs to be done.
In the proposed new goals, there is the aim to eradicate extreme poverty and to ensure that no one is left behind, and that clearly includes children. I welcome the opportunity to explore the core issues surrounding progress on early child development globally and how those issues can best be reflected in the post-2015 development framework.
As my noble friend Lady Walmsley stated, the case for a major global effort on early childhood development is compelling. As she indicated, evidence from multiple disciplines, including neuroscience and epigenetics, and across the social sciences tells a similar story: that early childhood matters. When everyone gets a good start in life, we are more likely to see better education and health outcomes, and higher earnings with more inclusive economic and sustainable development for all.
We know that we need to emphasise child development, support for parents and education in the United Kingdom, as my noble friend Lady Tyler noted. Internationally, we are some way off our aims. Of those children who survive birth, globally it is estimated that in low and middle-income countries more than 200 million under-fives are failing to reach their true cognitive development potential and that 165 million are stunted. However, of course, millions never even reach their first birthday. Four overlapping constraints are at the root of these challenges, and noble Lords have referred to them: poverty, nutritional deficiencies, poor healthcare and inadequate learning opportunities. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, crossed over all those.
The UK Government have a long-standing tradition of engagement in development and they work hard to improve early childhood outcomes globally. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others have shown how desperate is the situation of many children around the world, and he rightly emphasised the significance of intergenerational poverty.
To achieve their full potential, it is essential that children have a healthy and nutritious start to life, as my noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, emphasised, and that they should be supported by mothers who are in good health themselves. DfID funding for family planning is helping to avert 2.6 million unwanted pregnancies and prevent 70,000 deaths during pregnancy, childbirth and infancy. The benefits of family planning go well beyond the health sector. Evidence shows that when families are able to choose the number of children they have, they choose to have fewer children and do more for them. They particularly choose to invest in their children’s education. As my noble friend Lady Hodgson pointed out, paternal health is critical before, during and after birth.
My noble friend also pointed out the importance of good nutrition, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins. We recognise that good nutrition is essential, particularly in a child’s first 1,000 days—from conception to their second birthday—to ensure that they reach their full physical and cognitive potential. Noble Lords will no doubt remember the Nutrition for Growth event that we held on 8 June. That brought together partner Governments, civil society, business and science to try to address the neglect of undernutrition. DfID also supports efforts here to increase vaccine coverage and reduce avoidable child deaths, illness and disability. Between 2011 and 2015, UK funding for GAVI—formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—will help to vaccinate more than 80 million children.
It is estimated that diarrhoeal diseases are now a leading cause of child deaths in Africa and the second leading cause of child deaths globally. After pneumonia, they are the biggest killer of children under five in the world. DfID is committed to reaching 60 million people with improved water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH—by December 2015. Through partnership with UNICEF, this includes WASH in schools and WASH in health units. Globally, DfID is assisting pre-primary education through core support to UNICEF—an organisation that I know my noble friend Lady Walmsley strongly supports—the World Bank and international NGOs, such as Save the Children, and through our work directly with partner Governments. Ensuring quality early-years provision for all when education budgets are already stretched is key.
While the evidence base on the impact of early childhood development on life chances for all is strong, the capacity and resources needed to implement cost-effective, sustainable and quality programmes that reach the poorest, which is what noble Lords have been emphasising, remain a cause for concern. I hope I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lady Tyler that this is why DfID is stepping up efforts with its partners, such as the World Bank, UNICEF and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, to scale up programming in this area. We are working with these partners to explore ways to improve the cross-sectoral links between health, education, water and sanitation and social protection, which is key here, in the provision of services that target children from birth to eight years old. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that innovative cross-sectoral programmes have already been developed in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
The UK is also currently engaged in a range of research activities to fill gaps in our knowledge of the impacts of early interventions and how they can best be delivered. For example, DfID currently supports the young lives study of childhood poverty, involving 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam over 15 years. We also recently commissioned a multi-disciplinary team to undertake a rigorous literature review on early childhood development and cognitive development. That report will be published soon and used to inform future research and policy direction. I hope my noble friends are pleased to hear that.
My noble friend Lady Tyler spoke of confidence and self-esteem. I think she should stay and participate in the following debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, which addresses such issues and which I shall also be answering. I reassure my noble friend that in the UK we recognise the importance of early years development. There is an overwhelming evidence base from the UK and around the world that shows that high-quality early education has long-lasting benefits for children. By the time that children reach the age of five, there is already a 12% achievement gap between those from lower-income households and the rest. That is unacceptable to us, as a Government who believe in opportunities for all children. The evidence shows that there are social and cognitive benefits for children who receive good quality pre-school provision between the ages of two and two and a half, compared with children who started at the age of three or more. My noble friend will know the details of the provision that the United Kingdom Government are putting in place.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked how the UK Government can lead on the post-2015 development settlement. She referred to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s role in co-chairing the high-level panel. Through that, we were able to ensure that a commitment to leave no one behind is at the heart of the final report. That is the key to all this. The report, published in May 2013, recognises the importance of early childhood development with illustrative targets on the provision of pre-primary schooling, reduced stunting and wasting among the under-fives and ending preventable infant and under-five deaths.
The high-level panel gave us an excellent starting point for the next two years of discussions on the framework to replace the MDGs. It is extremely important that we focus hard on trying to deliver something that is as comprehensive and deep-rooted as the proposals before us at the moment. We will continue to work hard and actively with others to highlight the important issues raised on early childhood development as part of the ongoing dialogue on a post-2015 development framework. I can assure my noble friend that outreach to civil society, businesses and other key stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally, will continue to be a key part of the UK Government’s work on post-2015. I am pretty sure that my honourable friend the Minister of State in DfID is having a meeting with parliamentarians in the CPA as part of that. It was during the Prime Minister’s tenure as co-chair of the high-level panel reports that those issues were brought forward.
As noble Lords have made abundantly clear, our children are our future. Noble Lords are right to focus on children and their development. I assure noble Lords that we share that view. This has been a wide-ranging debate covering life, death, war and peace among women, men, children and adults, and many other things. It is to ensure that the children of the future survive and thrive and that none are left behind that the new MDGs are needed.
Women: Sport and Physical Activity
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank the Whips’ Office for finding time for this debate and those noble friends who have stayed on.
I have a number of interests in sport—all listed in the register—but perhaps the most pertinent is that I co-chair the All-Party Group on Women's Sport with the right honourable Barbara Keeley MP, which is supported by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. I also thank the Lords Library for its notes on this topic.
I do not think that we could have picked a better time for this debate. Anyone who was watching Rebecca Adlington on “I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” last week will have seen her tearful reaction when talking about body image. She said: “It’s making me very, very insecure that I have to look a certain way. For me, I was an athlete. I wasn't trying to be a model, but pretty much every single week on Twitter I get somebody commenting on the way I look”.
This is a young women that we should all be proud of. She is a four-time Olympic medalist and a world champion, but many will understand how she feels. It is a worrying trend that young women are increasingly put under pressure to conform to look a certain way.
If I had said at the age of 15 that I thought I had poor body image, I would have been told to pull myself together. However, body image anxiety is a leading cause of depression and low self-esteem; health and relationship problems; poor participation at school; and lack of progression at work.
It is worrying that body image has become more important than health; that the majority of young people would rather be thin than healthy. In the UK, 1.6 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Dieting can lead to eating disorders, and girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat. However, a positive body image can help with academic attainment, cutting down on smoking and teenage pregnancy
We need to understand that the relationship between body image and physical activity can be both positive and negative. The reality is that young women are facing pressure from many directions. For many women, a poor body image and lack of self-confidence is the biggest barrier that prevents them being active and it is easy to understand why. Bizarrely it is one of the things that could help them. If you put “Jessica Ennis” and “abs” in to a search engine, there are pages that show how you can look like Jess in just two minutes a day. The reality is more like six hours a day, 50 weeks of the year for about 15 years.
Skimming through some of the other comments over the weekend, I noticed that Chantelle Houghton—described as a former reality TV star, which is a whole other debate in itself—was heavily criticised for going out jogging in a pair of running tights and a cropped top. The obsession with how quickly celebrities lose their baby weight and get back into their pair of jeans puts undue pressure on others. Many of the women's magazines are full of pictures of bodies which are either beach-ready or not. It is hard to find many that do not contain some diet that will help you to look like your chosen celebrity. I cannot even begin to add up the number of women who get more coverage for the colour they have dyed their hair than they do for their achievements.
The data that the YMCA presents is compelling: more than half the UK population suffers from body image anxiety. Media, advertising and celebrity culture account for 75% of the influence on body image in society; and 95% of the population cannot physically achieve the typical “body ideal” presented in media and advertising.
Physical activity in schools is not going to right all those wrongs, but the right PE will help. For most women and girls, we know that once they become physically active, their body image and self-confidence improves, leading to greater academic success and job prospects. Research by Ernst & Young in the USA shows that many of the top female executives played competitive sport at a high level all the way through university.
We need to define a new language around sport. People often say “sport” when they mean “physical activity”—physical literacy as well as competitive sport. You have only to mention PE to most women and they shudder. We need to be clear in thinking about a health agenda and getting more people active. Getting girls to be active will lead to more of them playing competitive sport, which would be great. However, if the starting focus is on competition, it is likely to lead to fewer girls being active.
Since the Olympics and Paralympics, the Department for Education has suggested that there will be an increased focus on competitive sport in schools. That is fine for many. It would have suited me fine at the age of 20 but not when I was 13. So why do we need to find a new way of doing PE in schools? Evidence from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation shows that 46% of the least active girls say that they do not like the activities they do in PE; 45% of girls agree that “sport is too competitive”; and over a third of the least active girls do not think that they have the skills to do well in sport, so it is obvious that we need to do more to build confidence. Some 75% of girls agreed that girls are self-conscious of their bodies and 59% of the least active girls do not think that it is important to be good at physical activity. In many schools it is okay to be a sporty boy but not to be a sporty girl.
On average, female athletes are more likely to have a positive body image, and less likely to consider themselves overweight, than female non-athletes. Earlier this year, I chaired a Task and Finish Group for the Welsh Assembly Government, looking at the role of PE in schools. We recommended that it became a core subject, and that was picked up by the Select Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy, which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, sat on.
We must teach good skills at a young age, which for girls also means a mix of sports and activities as well as being given the option of single-sex and mixed sessions. A number of women wrote to me about this issue. Arriene, who is 28, said:
“I never joined a gym because PE taught me that I wasn't good enough and sport made me feel useless”.
The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s Changing the Games for Girls shows that 51% of school sport and PE put girls off. Kate Allenby MBE, an Olympian who is now a PE teacher, said that girls need good role models. Keith Kendrick, who wrote on the website Parentdish, said that he desperately needed Becky Adlington to be a strong role model for his stepdaughter. Many women have written to me to express the horror of communal changing rooms—and a few men as well. I am sure that most of us can remember that dreadful feeling. However fit and strong you feel, it puts much undue pressure on people.
The YMCA suggests that if we do not get this right, we will jeopardise the health and well-being of future generations, and I agree. Its research has shown that five year-olds now worry about their size and appearance, that body image is the biggest single worry for many 10 year-olds, that by the age of 14 half of girls and a third of boys have started dieting, and that children are directly influenced by parents’ body image, whether that is positive or negative
Today’s young people aged between 18 and 34 are much more likely than previous generations to have heard their parents talking about dieting, criticising their own appearance or even teasing their children about their appearance or weight. Girlguiding UK has some fantastic research results in its Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2012. When it asked why girls do sport, 29% said that they did it to keep fit, 46% said that it was to lose weight or control their weight, but 44 % said that it helped them to feel good about their bodies. It has also shown that one in seven young people would prefer to be slim than healthy, and findings from the WSFF show that 19% have said that being slim is more important than being healthy.
There is a huge pressure on girls to be skinny. The size zero that we hear about—there is a great deal of discussion about this being the size of many models—is the size of a 12 year-old girl. It is not normal or acceptable. It is worrying that so many women have an aspiration that they cannot achieve.
We need a balanced approached in schools. We need to look at best practice; to celebrate participation and not only winning. We need to look at the uniforms that girls wear—luckily, we have moved on a long way from my days in school, where it was gym knickers and an Aertex blouse—because a key component is that many girls worry about how they look. We need to address the issue of changing rooms and consider putting hairdryers in them. If that is one of the things that stops girls being active, how difficult can it be to put a couple of hairdryers in every changing room? We need to work with young girls to give them confidence.
For me this is a very important area and I would like to ask the Minister a question: how much have the different departments—Health, Education and DCMS—discussed the matter? How can they work together across departments to find a workable solution—because a solution to this will not be found through one department alone?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this subject before us. My point, as the token man in the debate, is that although there is conclusive evidence that body image is a problem that may bite harder on women, it still bites men—and for virtually the same reasons.
Body image is where the problem starts to manifest itself and where physical activity might provide an answer. If you are doing a sport, the starting point is not what your body looks like but what it does, and suddenly a change will be there through physical activity. As an athlete it does not matter whether you look like Adonis or like Venus rising from the sea if you come last consistently. We have a little input there, a point where physical activity and sport put in a reality check.
As the noble Baroness said, what someone decides in a magazine is the fashionable and desirable size and shape, or the best shape to hang clothes on, often bears little resemblance to what most people look like. The fact that tall, thin people are easy to dress and can model the clothes, and thus become the style, does not change the fact that to sell those clothes you will have to be adapt them to what people look like. We could go on in this vein forever—I admit that I have never been able to buy an off-the-peg suit—but we have to try to insert a degree of reality.
We should also address the language of weight. We talk about weight all the time and imply from it that we are referring to fat. However, if you become more physically active it is possible that you will gain weight because muscle is heavier than fat. You can reduce all your measurements and gain weight—that is quiet easy to do. Anyone who plays a sport or takes a reasonable degree of physical activity will, at the very least, increase the density of their muscles. So the language we use and the way in which we approach this issue has to change.
I have ranted against the body mass index, which was clearly designed for an inactive person in the 1950s. I have been dead for 20 years according to the BMI, as has every other rugby player on the planet. Yet it is still actively used despite the fact that it has been proven again and again not to imply anything. We cannot counter it because people go, “Oh, that weight is not right”. We must have a better degree of education about what is required in that, with an awareness that if you are doing physical activities your body will change. For example, how many tennis players look like models? Not many. Indeed, somebody commented that the last female Wimbledon champion did not look like that, and they got their knuckles severely rapped for saying it. We must do something about that because this is a person at the top of an area of very competitive activity.
If sport provides help and a series of answers for these people, how do we access it? Looking at the same information as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, used earlier, I note that it talks about people lacking the skills to do well in sport but not liking the activities in PE. That is not uncommon, because we do not invest in basic physical literacy and good introductory skills. Traditionally it has been far too easy to concentrate on the person who does sport naturally and well—they get the attention, not the person below them. If you do that, you allow for the idea of casual—use sport—I do not like the term “non-competitive”. The fact is we do not have that idea of sport. What you get is a long structured list, and you are expected to turn up every week to complete a series of activities. Being able to take on a casual, non-organised, occasional type of activity with a degree of confidence means that you will have greater enthusiasm for it. If, for instance, you know how to hold a tennis racquet properly and can hit a shot that enables someone to rally with you, then that becomes available, it is easier to do. Racquet sports provide us with excellent casual-use sports activity. You only need two or four of you to do it. My own sport, rugby union, needs 31.
We need to get the skill levels, and the educational levels, right. Most introductory-level types of education, even if they are based on one sport, open you up to other sports: you learn the language of movement and how to be instructed, and when somebody tells you to move your body you get an idea why you have to move your body in order to be better at it. For instance, in racquet sports you learn how to move your feet in order to make a shot. This type of education has to be instilled fairly early if we are to have easy access throughout. We can of course go back later, but it is easier this way. We must try to get into this structure.
One of the ways to improve the situation is to encourage more women to get involved in coaching. At the moment it is quite common for men to coach women; at senior level it is expected. The reverse is very unusual. There is no great difference in the way a woman throws her foot to kick a ball in the right direction to the way a man does it. I have not heard that said and cannot see why it should be true. Yet professional coaching at all levels, including high-level sport, seems to be dominated by men. When we cut into this, and those sports involved make it no longer noteworthy for a woman to coach men, we will have taken a step forward. I do not aim for parity yet, because we must take one step at a time, but we are encouraging women into some of the traditionally male-dominated sports. Surely it is time coaching followed.
To conclude, if we encourage people to be active, and they see their bodies as functional, rather than as clothes-horses, or something seen as an image in itself, then we stand a chance of giving people a better body image, so that they see themselves as individuals who do something as opposed to someone who just stands there. Take the preparation of a male model before a modelling job; it is described as being like the process a bodybuilder goes through before a competition. After amassing the muscle you go on a crash diet, strip away fluid then pump yourself full of sugar to have your photo shoot. That sounds rather more painful than Photoshop, and apparently it is about as sustainable in real life. Across the board, we must get people more used to the idea that their body is a functional thing that will allow them to do various forms of activity. In this way we will start to attack this neurosis and possibly take a step forward.
My Lords, given that both the previous speakers are sportspeople of considerable stature, I will just add to the very powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson by talking a little about the landscape in which young women grow up. Unless we look at the entire landscape, we really cannot address the problem of sport, and we will never get beyond the rather shameful statistic that only 12% of 14 year-old girls are doing the recommended amount of exercise. That statistic promises a multitude of future problems for their health and probably for the public purse.
Adolescence is a time of extreme self-consciousness as the body makes the crucial developmental journey from childhood to adulthood. It is a journey fraught with hormonal changes, where the relative anonymity of being camouflaged in a group of little people suddenly changes when differences in shape and image become very manifest. Clifford Nass, who was a professor of communications at Stanford University, did a lot of work on investigating the way that young people see themselves as a reflection of how they see others. He found that the narrow definitions of social success and desirability that are fed to young women distort their self-image, and that heavy users of social media are measurably more negative about their own image and emotional state as they seek to emulate the unachievable. The message of that is almost identical in the Government’s report on body confidence, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities, Jo Swinson. It is in this context that we ask young women to make mature choices about their bodies.
For young women, one of the biggest obstacles to participating is the question of what their friends are prioritising. What we increasingly understand from the data that we are collecting is that they are prioritising their bodies for the way they look and not for what they can do, as the noble Lord said. In this context, it is hugely important that young girls have safe and secure opportunities to talk about their fears and anxieties around their bodies, for example in high-quality PHSE, in addition to the opportunities they may or may not have within their own families. It is important that they see women celebrated for qualities other than their ability to wear a dress, and it is essential for them to be invited into the sports arena in a participatory way. There is some dispute about competition, but I would say that in team sports you learn not only the limits of your own body but the strengths and limits of other people’s contributions. That is a social skill and a skill for life way beyond that of an individual’s fitness.
The Sport England activity programme report says that girls leave school only half as likely as boys to meet the recommended activity level, and one-third of 16 year-old girls do no physical activity at all. It is crucial, even within the terms of this debate, that we imagine how adult women provide role models—or, I would suggest, a lack of role models—for young women. We have to resource and promote activity among the mothers of these young girls, otherwise we will never break the cycle.
For a number of reasons recorded in the register, I visit scores of schools each year. So many girls describe the sports changing room as if it were a gangplank. It is simply the worst moment in their time at school. This needs to be addressed. As my noble friend said, there are specific things here.
I am also a bit concerned as a non-pro about some of the murmurings that I am beginning to hear that sport has become more competitive and that this focus on the elite, the good and the excellent is further alienating young women who should be being encouraged to participate.
I wonder whether Her Majesty’s Government could insist that UK Sport and Sport England take a much stronger position on gender and make their funding of professional sports bodies conditional on imaginative and proactive programmes designed to redress the balance between sportswomen and their male colleagues. As it stands, there are six governing bodies, including cycling, that do not have a single woman on their board.
How important is it for the young women whom we are discussing in this Room that the vilification and objectification of sportswomen, such as Rebecca Adlington or Marion Bartoli, to name just two, should be simply unacceptable? Those women, both talented and triumphant in reaching their aspirations—and ours for them—are a crucial part of the solution. John Inverdale and Derek McGovern today are part of the problem. I feel that all publicly funded bodies—indeed, all sports bodies—should speak publicly and loudly against this kind of offensive abuse of women at the top of their game and the top of their bodies.
It is a miserable state of affairs that the promise of the Olympic legacy one year on has been found so wanting. The Beyond 2012—Outstanding Physical Education For All report states that very few schools have found a balance between participation and elite performance. I am consistently disappointed that the Minister for Education fails to recognise that we must educate the whole child in drama, art, relationships and sexual education, and sport. Happy, fit and confident young people are ready to learn and excel in the ways that we wish them to.
Sport delivers physical confidence and competence. It is essential for health, and it plays an important part in rehearsing social relationships. It allows a young person to feel their strength rather than worry about how they are seen. It helps brain plasticity and developmental growth. As my noble friend said, it is disappointing that DCMS, the Department for Education and the Department of Health publish report after report, all of which we were sent by the Library, yet we do not have a joined-up and effective post-Olympic strategy that even begins to address the statistic that only 12% of girls undertake the recommended amount of activity. That young women do not participate is a problem for us all. In the words of the previous debate, we must not leave them behind.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for initiating this debate today, contributing in a thoughtful way and raising some important and complicated issues, as did the other speakers. We have had a very wise and well informed debate, and I am conscious that I may not be able to live up to it because, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, I can talk about sport more than I can do it. I occasionally put my running shoes on—not often enough, I am sure.
The fact is that we have been faced with some pretty depressing statistics about young women’s alienation from sport and exercise. If we are not careful, this will develop—we can already see it developing—into on the one hand an epidemic of obesity among young girls and on the other a whole strata of young women with eating disorders or who resort to cosmetic surgery as a solution. That cannot be right and it shows a real distortion in the minds of young people that that is thought to be the solution to having a beautiful body. If we allow those trends to carry on, it is predicted, for the first time since records began, that the next generation will have a lower life expectancy that the previous one—and that when we have so much good food and capacity for healthy living. It is a real challenge to us. Meanwhile, as noble Lords said, an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image heard evidence that more than half the public had a negative body image, and girls as young as five worry about how they look.
We can place clear responsibility for this at the door of the media. We have heard some examples of that this evening. But that is an easy cop-out because, in a sense, we all bear some responsibility for what has happened. All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have subliminally absorbed some of those messages. Even people who should be more intelligent and knowledgeable seek to improve their body shape and allow their self-confidence to be damaged by images of people with a more perfect body. For example, I think I have been on a diet for most of my adult life. I am probably still on one. I am not quite sure when the last one finished and the new one started. I would like to think I am a sensible grown-up but I still allow myself to be trapped by those sorts of quick fixes about how to get my body back in shape.
As noble Lords have said, although exercise has a crucial role to play, nutrition and the whole concept of food—understanding it and a healthy relationship to it—are equally important in this whole debate. For example, schoolgirls often oscillate between skipping meals and snacking on calories at fast-food outlets. They get into a cycle of unhealthy eating and body rejection. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point that this is not just about girls but about all young people, yet there is a particular problem about girls. A research project by University College London showed that only 38% of girls had an hour’s exercise a day compared to 68% of boys. We can probably all identify with that: it feels about right.
How do we address this problem? We have to start with the school experience. Regrettably, we are still picking up the pieces from the early decision of the coalition to pull the funds from the school sports partnerships. For the first time, we had a successful model of school activities for all ages, combined with targets for every child to do at least two hours’ PE a week. We were well on the way to achieving that goal when the funding was withdrawn. Although some of the money has been reinstated following massive protest, it no longer has the same coverage, co-ordination or clout. In retrospect, that decision was a disaster for sport in schools, particularly as it coincided with the Olympics. It is not surprising that the recent Lords Select Committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy was so critical of what had happened in school sports over that period. What steps are being taken to retrieve the situation and ensure that, going forward, we provide a comprehensive PE programme in schools?
There is another aspect of school sports policy, one that has already been touched upon, where the Government have been equally misguided. Unfortunately, Michael Gove’s decision to focus on competitive team sports has been a complete turn-off for many girls. This has been compounded by the Prime Minister’s disparaging comments about Indian dance. Sadly, both examples illustrate that the Government do not really understand the psychology of teenage girls. We have heard some examples of the problems of teenage girls and how anxious they feel about being expected to join in some school sports activities. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government have now got the message that we need a range of exercise options to ensure the widespread participation of girls in school sports?
Surely, the strategy has to be to start addressing the issue in early years. We have to find ways of making sport fun; anything, I would say, to keep girls moving so that they get to the point where they feel the natural high that you get from exercise. If you have not had it once or only have it occasionally, you do not crave it any more, but we all know that when you are exercising well and properly it is both physically and, in the same way, mentally rewarding. We somehow need to get them on that loop of progressive physical and mental benefit. We obviously welcome the money that the Government recently invested in primary school sports but, again, we are concerned that it has a two-year limit. I am anxious that that is not enough to ingrain a new sports ethos. Perhaps the Minister can also address that point.
If we are to be effective, we have to create a “sport for all” policy which is not just about the achievement of the most talented and able. Sport in schools should be about establishing healthy lifestyles that can lead to a healthy body weight in adulthood as well. As the noble Baroness pointed out, we need to break the cycle whereby young girls are so embarrassed about their bodies that they refuse to wear sports clothes, which they feel would expose them to ridicule. For example, a recent study found that 41% of women avoid exercise altogether because they are worried about their appearance and the clothes that they would be expected to wear. A survey by the beauty product brand Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty showed that 22% of girls would never go to a beach or a pool for similar reasons—because they are concerned about the clothes that they would have to wear in their circumstances—and that is just very depressing.
We will not break these cycles of the lack of exercise and body loathing unless we educate young women to rise above the advertising and social media hype, and love their bodies for what they are. There is a role for role models, particularly sporting icons, but it is wrong to place too much emphasis on them. What we need are images of women being active in all sorts of aspects of their lives—as second nature and as an essential part of their lives. Media coverage of women’s sports could also do a great deal to spark interest and participation. We could also do a great deal more to invest not only in women coaches but in local women’s sports clubs.
The Government’s Body Confidence campaign is a good initiative but it needs to be rolled out as part of a comprehensive PSHE curriculum. Perhaps the Minister could update us on the plans for the roll-out of this campaign. At the same time, we have to accept that health professionals need better training, so that they are better able, particularly in schools, to address the issues of obesity and body image when they talk to young people.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the use of the body mass index as an indicator of health is very limiting. Perhaps we should be looking at replacing it, or supplementing it with more accurate measures of overall health, such as cardiovascular fitness, waist circumference and body fat composition. There is a debate to be had about that. Can the Minister confirm whether such a move is being considered? Ultimately, I believe that we will only improve young women’s body image and physical health if we can find a way of making sport enjoyable again at all ages. That is our real challenge and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson for tabling this important debate and opening it so effectively. The debate has been wide-ranging, as was the previous debate, and I may need to write to cover anything that I do not have time to address.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and other noble Lords are right. There is no doubt that sport and physical fitness play a significant role in promoting a positive body image among young women. Similarly, women with good body confidence are far more likely to participate in sport. Participation in sport does not just get women fitter, it improves their resilience, confidence and self-belief, as noble Lords have said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, it is physically and mentally beneficial. Noble Lords will be familiar with my honourable friend Jo Swinson’s work on body confidence. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her tribute to it and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for her reference to it.
We know that girls and women, in particular, but also boys, can have low body confidence which affects their very sense of self. Low body image can contribute to poor mental well-being, eating disorders and a number of risky behaviours. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made clear, the media’s focus on an unrealistic image can be very damaging; my noble friend Lord Addington also took up that point. It is not just girls who are affected. Studies show that one-third of adolescent boys have been on a diet to change their body shape. That is chilling.
We have been working with the media, advertising, retail and fashion industries to encourage a more diverse and realistic representation of human bodies. I note what my noble friend Lord Addington said about what bodies are for, as opposed to what they might look like. Clearly, the way that the media represent bodies affects involvement in sport. Almost a quarter of girls aged seven to 21 do not participate in exercise because they are unhappy with their body image. I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, said about changing for PE and games.
More than half of the bullying experienced by young people focuses on appearance, so the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and others are right: poor body confidence can block people from involvement in sport; yet involvement in sport can promote better body confidence. Sport has the potential to show young people that they can master new skills and increase their self-esteem, whether individually or in teams. There has been some discussion of that.
Physical activity helps children developmentally and can often promote a sense of well-being. My noble friend Lord Addington is clearly alive and well despite whatever his BMI might be, which is clearly made up of some weighty muscles. I can vouch for that by his effectiveness when it comes to the annual parliamentary tug-of-war. You want to have him on your side.
The point has been made to me that we need to help not just young women but middle-aged and older women to tackle negative messages. We have packs for parents and teachers of primary school children, which have been developed with the Media Smart trust. They have been downloaded 35,000 times, so they are obviously being used. They will include a guide for parents of teenagers during 2014. I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Jones, will be pleased to hear about that.
Obviously, we recognise that competition is not for everyone—a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. Just as people are diverse, sports in schools need to be diverse. We share the goals of noble Lords in trying both to address body image and to encourage children, young people and everyone to keep themselves fit through various physical activities or through involvement in competitive sport.
I assure noble Lords that the Government remain committed to delivering a lasting sports participation legacy from London 2012. The long-term trends show that we are on track; 1.4 million more people are playing sport regularly since we won the bid in 2005. We are committed to building on that and are delighted that there are good underlying trends in the number of young people, women and disabled people playing sport regularly. Recent data show that 6.8 million women do sport at least once a week, every week. This demonstrates an increase of half a million from 2005. However, we are not sanguine about this and realise that it needs to go a great deal further.
There is still a gender gap in sports participation, but it is shrinking and our ambition is to close it by 2022. That is why, through Sport England, we have put in place a strong programme of different approaches designed to get more women playing sport each week. These include investing £2.3 million of lottery funding in the I Will If You Will project, a year-long pilot in Bury that began earlier this year. This project focuses on listening to why women are not attracted to sport and exploring ways to give them the fitness opportunities they want. There is scope to roll out the emerging solutions across the country so that others can share in the programme’s insights. There are now 100 girl-only satellite clubs in secondary schools which offer opportunities to take up a variety of sports, including netball and football.
My noble friend Lord Addington referred to coaching. Some 31% of sports coaches in the UK are women and Sport England is investing £5 million to improve the standard and availability of coaching. That includes a pilot project to recruit and retain 500 new female coaches in the south-east. The aim is to roll this out nationally from 2015 and to recruit up to 5,000 new female coaches. We recognise the importance of what the noble Lord is saying.
In addition to these activities, we recognise that we need to focus on the involvement of women in sport at the highest level. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recently set up a women and sport advisory board. It has some impressive people serving on it and they are already providing new ideas and support to take the programme forward. We are determined to increase women’s participation in sport, to raise the profile of women’s sport in the media and to get more women into senior roles within sports bodies.
One of the challenges this group will examine is how to raise the profile of women’s sports coverage. In many ways it is encouraging to hear the noise that is being made, not least by women journalists, about this and to see it being pushed forward. Having been familiar with this field for many years, it is good to hear different voices coming in and arguing the same case. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation estimates that before the 2012 Games, only 5% of sports coverage was dedicated to women’s sport. While broadcasters, in particular, have improved things recently, we are always looking at ways of boosting the media profile of women’s sport.
We are also working to help make sports boards more balanced and representative bodies, and Sport England and UK Sport are leading by example on this with women in senior management positions within the organisations at board and CEO level. I should tell the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, that we expect all national governing bodies for sport to have at least 25% of women on their boards by 2017, and 24 out of 57 national governing bodies already meet this target.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked me about school sports. She will be aware that despite the previous Government’s no doubt admirable efforts to try to improve them in their time in government, and despite a £2.4 billion investment, only two out of five pupils were competing regularly, which did not seem to be the most effective way of moving the issue forward. Schools obviously remain free to work in partnership if they wish, and a £300 million fund has gone into school sports, which is in the hands of head teachers. We are seeking above all to increase participation for everybody right across the age range. I recognise what the previous Government did and hope that we can take forward that further and wider participation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, asked about working across departments. Sometimes I think that we Lords Whips are joined-up government. I used to deputise in health and DCMS matters, and I now lead for GEO and various other things. From my time working across all these departments, I know that these issues come up in every department and I assure the noble Baroness that there is discussion between them. GEO is currently housed within the DCMS, so Helen Grant is in both, and Jo Swinson is working across departments from BIS to GEO and the DCMS.
I realise that I am about to run out of time. In conclusion, it is enough to make me weep to hear about Rebecca Adlington. I know, tangentially, as it were, how much she has put in to reach this point. My kids trained at the same swimming club as her fiancé, Harry Needs, and I know about the early mornings, the late nights, the galas and the falling into bed absolutely exhausted. That is what she has done, and much more, to get to where she is. She should be proud of what she has achieved, and we should be proud of what she has achieved. As we celebrate people’s diversity and encourage girls, as well as boys, to have the confidence to participate in sport, keep themselves fit and find satisfaction in doing so, we will help to address this linkage between how people view themselves and their body and the way they participate in society and, through that, in sport.
Committee adjourned at 7.42 pm.