House of Lords
Wednesday, 12 March 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
BBC World Service
My Lords, the FCO has regular discussions with the World Service about its future. On 1 April the World Service transfers from FCO grant in aid to licence fee funding. Future funding will be decided by the BBC Trust. DCMS is now in discussion with the BBC about additional external funding proposals. The Government remain fully committed to the global role and work of the World Service.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Through the BBC World Service many listeners have a faith in the UK’s image, our influence and our beliefs. These qualities should not be lost at any price. Many of your Lordships are not only admirers of the BBC World Service but concerned citizens, despite the warm words that we hear from the noble Lords, Lord Patten and Lord Hall. When will the Government produce the plans and figures with the BBC Trust for future funding for the following three years—that is, before the end of the charter? The BBC World Service has only one year’s guarantee of £245 million, and that is within all the BBC’s budget, with no mechanism to protect the World Service. Can the Minister say whether she will continue to be responsible after 1 April, as the Foreign Secretary will still approve the objectives?
My noble friend asks an incredibly important question. She may be aware that we have funding of about £238 million allocated for the current financial year. In the financial year starting in April the BBC World Service licence fee funding will increase to £245 million, an increase on the current year’s funding of about £6 million, and thereafter it will be for the BBC to decide what it feels the appropriate level of funding should be. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will continue to have overall responsibility for remitting the licence fee money to the BBC under the new arrangements. As my noble friend said, the current charter runs until December 2016. The Government have yet to announce the scope, timing and process for the review of the charter. In terms of Foreign Office involvement, the Foreign Secretary will continue to approve the opening and closing of the World Service language services, as he does at present, based on recommendations put to him by the World Service.
My Lords, did the Minister see the comments in yesterday’s edition of the Independent by Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the recent commission of inquiry established by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in North Korea? He said that the extension of BBC World Service transmissions to North Korea—
“a country that has been largely cut off from the rest of the world”—
would make a considerable difference in fighting against those abuses of human rights. Given our Article 19 obligations and the BBC’s historic role in promoting democratic values above the heads of dictators, is this not a moment for the Government to urge the BBC World Service to play its part?
The noble Lord has asked me this question on a number of occasions; indeed I have answered it here from the Dispatch Box and also written to him. As he and other noble Lords may be aware, in 2013 the World Service reviewed the possible options for a Korean language service and concluded after a fact-finding mission that questions of likely audience reach, cost and technical feasibility meant that such a service was not appropriate at this stage. I am aware of the UN commissioner’s report. The noble Lord will be aware that that contained two quite specific approaches to how engagement could happen: the first was through the broadcasting route and the second through encouraging people-to-people contact. We are one of the few countries that has extensive people-to-people contract because of our embassy in North Korea. The UN report also recognised that that is one of the ways in which we can engage in dialogue.
Does the Minister accept that the BBC World Service, together with the British Council, constitutes the most effective expression of so-called soft power available to the United Kingdom and, indeed, excels beyond any comparable services in the rest of the world? In light of that reality, does she agree that there are no circumstances in this dangerous, confused and, in too many places, oppressed world for a reduction in the scope or service of the BBC World Service? If any reductions were to take place it would not just contradict the interests of our country but diminish the efforts for freedom being made in so many other countries.
The noble Lord makes an important point: we have indeed been referred to as a soft power superpower because of our organisations and the work that we do. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Howell has been leading discussions on this issue with other colleagues. However, I stress to the noble Lord that the BBC World Service is, of course, operationally, editorially and managerially independent and has to make these decisions in accordance with those headings.
Does the noble Baroness agree that, after listening to her first and subsequent replies, one might say that the Government are flying on a wing and a prayer in this matter? Does she not recognise that it is high time that there was a structured solution to the future funding of the World Service within the BBC and not just one that relies on the vague network of bureaucratic lines that she mentioned?
The sense was that long-term financial stability will come from licence fee funding as opposed to the way in which the BBC World Service has been funded in the past. Indeed, the BBC World Service is in contact with DCMS to consider how alternative forms of funding could come on tap in due course.
My noble friend clearly agrees about the importance of a healthy and vibrant World Service. In February, Peter Horrocks, the director of the service, told the Foreign Affairs Committee of ambitious plans to extend the service it offers. He said:
“We are launching and creating many new digital and TV services”,
including a Burmese TV service. Does my noble friend think that, from a practical perspective, this very important long-term planning must be extremely hard for a corporation that does not know what its funding is going to be in 14 months’ time? How can the FCO help the charter review process ensure that the BBC World Service does not face a diminished future?
Perhaps I may refer my noble friend to the way that I answered this question before. This matter was dealt with as part of the spending review in 2010. It was felt that the licence fee funding footing on which the BBC was placed was the appropriate way forward. The noble Baroness is right to refer to the opening of services such as the Burmese television service at the beginning of 2014—and services have been closed in the years preceding that. These are the managerial and editorial decisions that the BBC has to take.
Banks: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
My Lords, banks are focal points for small businesses seeking finance and the Government want to see them do more in response to client applications. In December 2013, we published Small Business: GREAT Ambition, in which we committed to work with the banks and the BBA to improve the referral by the end of this year. The Government are determined to make real progress on this matter and are considering all possible options.
Only yesterday the OFT raised a concern that the big banks were hindering access to alternative forms of financing such as peer-to-peer lending. For existing and new referral schemes, we need to know exactly what the banks are up to and what they are doing. Can the Minister assure the House that all referral schemes will require the banks to publish meaningful data, as they do now for lending?
The noble Lord makes an important point and I pay tribute to the work he has done on driving greater transparency in local lending. An effective referral system needs to be transparent to build trust among businesses and alternative finance providers. I welcome the recent comments made to the Treasury Select Committee by the independent external reviewer of the banking appeals process, Professor Russel Griggs. He agreed that more could usefully be done to integrate banks in terms of the outcome of referrals and on signposting processes.
My Lords, why do the Government not do more to use the leverage that they have over Lloyds Bank and RBS to require the management of those two banks, at any rate, to focus more on the interests of the economy and society and less on feathering their own nests?
My Lords, the taxpayer had to bail out both RBS and Lloyds Bank under the previous Government and we continue to pay for the mistakes of the past. Both banks are now becoming smaller and safer, but there is a long way to go. Since the launch of the Funding for Lending scheme, RBS and Lloyds Bank are now both lending more money to our SMEs.
My Lords, despite what the Minister says, the latest Funding for Lending figures are yet again down on what they were previously, and the high street banks are just not playing their part. Does the Minister agree that peer-to-peer lenders are in many cases much better able to serve small businesses and should receive even greater government assistance?
My Lords, gross lending has gone up by 16% over the past 12 months. We intend to lend £4 billion per month compared with around £3.1 billion this time last year. We encourage peer-to-peer lending and more is happening in the area. One of the reasons that net lending might have dropped, which is probably the gist of the noble Lord’s question, is that a large number of businesses are either repaying or going for alternative financing, including factoring, leasing and hire purchase. There are also a number of schemes from the British Business Bank.
My noble friend has just said that, following the consultation, the Government will look at all options. Does this include the previous commitment to producing legislation to address this very serious issue of funding for small businesses and others?
My Lords, as I said, we are looking at all the options. If the need arises because we are not successful by the end of 2014, I am sure that the department will look at maybe coming up with some sort of legislation to see what we can do to make the banks more transparent.
My Lords, the consistent lament for the past eight years from both the political and business communities has been that banks are not lending to SMEs and that there is less competition and innovation today in the banking sector. The OFT stated yesterday that there are competition concerns in this vital driver for the economy. Can the Minister ensure that the new competition authority will undertake a full investigation forthwith into this issue, which has been an impediment to the economic progress of this country for the past eight to 10 years?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. One way to solve the problem we have with SME lending is to bring in more competition. We are spinning out Williams and Glyn’s from the Royal Bank of Scotland and TSB from Lloyds Bank. The regulators have relaxed the regulations to issue new banking licences, and I am pleased to say that we have 21 applications in place. We have launched the British Business Bank. More competition will solve some of the problems, and of course more lending to our businesses will help the economy.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the growing volume of funds being raised under the EIS scheme, which roughly doubled in 2011-12 and look as if they will double again when the figures come through for 2012-13? The Government made improvements to the scheme on coming into office, but it has prospered through both Labour and Conservative Administrations and is now a key source of equity money for small businesses.
My noble friend makes another very important point. The scheme is a key source for equity lending. We also now have what we call the business growth fund, which was launched very recently by the five clearing banks to help mid-sized businesses in the UK by lending money in return for equity.
Scottish Independence: Currency Union
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made any assessment of the constitutional, political, financial and economic implications if there were to be a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom; and, if so, whether they intend to publish it.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government assessed these issues in the recent paper Scotland Analysis: Assessment of a Sterling Currency Union. This is the analytical basis on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he could not recommend that the other parts of the UK share the pound with an independent Scottish state, because it would not be in the economic interests of either the continuing UK or of Scotland.
Does my noble friend agree that the sure way for Scotland to keep the pound is to vote to stay in the UK, which I hope it will? If it were to vote to leave the UK and any future Westminster Government were ever to be minded to enter a currency union with Scotland—or, for that matter, with the eurozone—would that not require a referendum so that the people could decide?
My Lords, before you got to that point, it would require the rest of the UK Government to wish to recommend such an outcome. It is worth quoting the conclusion of the official Treasury study, which says:
“On the basis of the scale of the challenges, and the Scottish Government’s proposals for addressing them, HM Treasury would advise the UK Government against entering into a currency union. There is no evidence that adequate proposals or policy changes to enable the formation of a durable currency union could be devised, agreed and implemented by both governments”.
As a result, I do not think we will get to that point.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in the event of there being a yes vote for independence, it is in the interests of business not only in Scotland but in the rest of the United Kingdom that there is a parity and stability of currency? How would the Government provide that?
It is always in the interests of all Governments to have a stable currency. The question for the Scottish Government is how they think they would provide that. If they opted to keep the pound outside a currency union, they would face very serious problems in managing their budget and the economy of Scotland.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the position of the UK Government on this issue is now crystal clear, as indeed are the positions of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and it is now for the Scottish Government and the SNP to do the explaining, as their policy position looks increasingly incredible, unclear and completely unconvincing?
My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. It is highly irresponsible of the Scottish Government to have no plan B, when it has been made absolutely clear that the kind of currency union that they want is simply not on the cards. They have other interesting questions to answer in this respect. As the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out yesterday, Scotland, as a new EU applicant, would have to agree at some point to join the euro. I think at one point Mr Salmond was in favour of that; I am not so sure what his policy is on it now.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think it extraordinary that Alex Salmond has had 40 years to think about how to answer this question and is unable to do so? Furthermore, does my noble friend not think that this is the height of irresponsibility, given that we are not discussing some abstract economic concept here, we are talking about the amount that people will have to pay on their mortgages and the future of Scotland’s families? What advice would he give to the leader of the Scottish separatists at this point?
My Lords, I have many burdens in your Lordships’ House but, fortunately, advising the leader of the Scottish National Party is not one of them. I will point out, however, that on all the available analysis, the likelihood is that were Scotland to adopt the pound, the interest rates that would be payable in Scotland would be significantly higher than they are here—possibly up to 1.65% higher. For an average Scottish mortgage holder, that works out as an extra £1,700 to pay.
My Lords, many people in Scotland, including myself, appreciate the fact that UK Ministers have come forward and explained the difficulties of separation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of them. It is a nonsense for the First Minister to say that whenever a UK Minister comes forward to talk about the difficulties, that is bullying and bluffing. I say to the noble Lord from Plaid Cymru that the worst thing that could happen is to say to the Scottish people, “Vote yes and the following morning we will do a deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer because he is only bluffing”. That is absolute nonsense and it shows the type of irresponsibility that exists within the Scottish Government.
My Lords, one thing I find slightly surprising, at a bit of a distance from this debate, is that any aspect of independence that is tricky seems to be met by the response from the Scottish First Minister that, “No, it’s not tricky. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine”—often with zero evidence to back it up. I hope that colleagues in my party and other parties in Scotland will carry on pointing out to the Scottish people the hollowness of many of his assertions.
My Lords, the establishment of a single currency between a separate Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would require negotiations with a trusted partner. There would be great difficulty in trusting Mr Salmond, the First Minister, who only last year described the pound as a millstone around Scotland’s neck. Where is the trusted partner there?
Yes, my Lords. Proportionately, the amount of trade from Scotland to the rest of the UK is much greater than it is from the rest of the UK to Scotland. About 70% of Scotland’s trade is to the rest of the UK and only about 10% of the rest of the UK’s trade is to Scotland. There is therefore a big imbalance in the importance to the two parties of the trade between them.
Justice: Academic Research on Jury Decision-making
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. At the same time, I should make clear to the House that this Question is not topical, as would be normal for a fourth Question on a Wednesday, and it is not connected to any verdict in any recent trial.
My Lords, it is the Government’s general position that juror deliberations should be confidential. The noble Lord will know that the Law Commission’s recent report, published in December last year, Contempt of Court (1): Juror Misconduct and Internet Publications, recommends a limited exception to the general prohibition to allow for academic research. The Government are considering that recommendation and will respond in due course.
I am grateful to the Minister for that considered reply. However, it is a fact that this provision in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 was not aimed at academic research but has had the effect of stifling it. We simply do not know how juries work. We have no objective or academic window into these rooms. Lord Devlin described juries as,
“the lamp that shows that freedom lives”.
If so, it is a lamp which is certainly being kept under a bushel. Is the Minister aware of any other area of public policy and expenditure in relation to which objective and academic-based research is illegal? If he is not, does he agree with me that, more than 30 years on from that Act, it must be possible in the internet age to design research that anonymises individual jurors and verdicts, and that it is now time to reconsider this legislation fully?
My Lords, at the present time, any researcher into this area has to obtain authorisation sponsorship from HM Courts & Tribunals Service and then apply to the data access panel, whereafter various safeguards, including anonymity and safeguards to ensure that the conviction or the innocence of a particular defendant is not called into question, will be made part of that condition. There is research. For example, Professor Cheryl Thomas has provided valuable research on this issue.
The Minister has referred to Professor Cheryl Thomas of UCL, who produced a report for the MoJ in 2010, Are Juries Fair? One of her findings through talking to 797 jurors was that only 31% of them understood the directions in law that the judge was giving to them at the end of the trial. She recommended that, in every case, written direction should be given by the judge to the jury. Has that been carried out?
Directions to the jury are a matter for the judge in the individual case. Judges are making ever more use of written directions, particularly in difficult cases. Very often, they will provide a direction having heard submissions from both prosecution and defence counsel so that they can arrive at an agreed direction. They will give the direction orally and then again in writing. In simple cases, that may not be necessary, but in other cases it is clearly desirable.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that academic research of this kind has been permitted in New Zealand for at least 20 years and the product of that research is in the public domain? Its system of justice is very similar to ours. Does the Minister think that we might have something to learn from its experience?
In answer to the first Question, I indicated that the Ministry of Justice is considering the Law Commission’s recommendation and will of course bear in mind what is said there. The safeguards identified in that report are the same safeguards as exist at the moment. We remain open to persuasion. A Bill will in due course be coming to your Lordships’ House containing various provisions about juries. It is possible that there may be some amendment to that effect.
My Lords, in addition to the recommendations about research, the Law Commission has proposed the creation of some new offences that apply to juries in the light of current developments, particularly in technology, and that better guidance be given, not merely in the form referred to in the question of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. Are the Government in a position to respond to them, and to the recent suggestion by the Lord Chief Justice that in serious fraud cases, for example, a different method might be instituted which would mean that juries would not try such cases?
As to the latter question, as the noble Lord will know, that is no new suggestion. It dates back as long ago as when the Roskill commission made suggestions to that effect. There are no current plans to remove trial by jury. As to other changes in the jury system and legislating to that effect, the noble Lord may be aware that there are provisions in Part 3 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill dealing with, among other things, questions of electronic communication devices and the restriction on them and the restriction on jurors using the internet to obtain information during the course of the trial, which can of course compromise a fair trial, which is in no one’s interest.
My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the legal profession has traditionally been very conservative about certain changes? When, in the 1960s, I was a Home Office Minister and we introduced majority verdicts, the general view of the Bar was that the sky would fall and that that would be the end of justice as we knew it. More recently, it has been accepted that that is one of the most important changes that has taken place. Is it not highly desirable that we should know how juries proceed and work, based not on anecdotal evidence but on solid evidence of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, described? That is obviously in the interests of justice.
I have considerable sympathy with what my noble friend says. He will probably be familiar with Professor Cheryl Thomas’s work in which, despite certain doubts about the ability of some jurors to reach reasoned decisions, she remains a considerable enthusiast for the jury system. I accept that no system of trial should be beyond research or examination.
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pensions Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Clause 23: Amendments
1: Clause 23, page 11, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) Before the provisions contained in paragraphs 88 to 91 of Schedule 12 come into effect the Secretary of State shall report to Parliament on alternative arrangements for access to the Cold Weather Payments programme and the Warm Home Discount Scheme currently available to recipients of pension credit.”
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for facilitating discussion on this amendment at Third Reading. It should normally have been dispatched earlier in our proceedings.
The amendment is very straightforward and calls for a report to Parliament on alternative arrangements for accessing cold weather payments and the warm home discount scheme currently available to recipients of pension credit. I seek an explanation of what is to happen to those who reach state pension age on or after 6 April 2016 because, for such individuals, the savings credit is abolished and some will see the substitution of a single-tier pension for an income which is currently topped up by the guaranteed credit.
Receipt of one or both of those elements is currently a passport to cold weather payments. There is of course a range of other benefits to which pension credit is currently the passport, but there are generally other routes to those benefits, typically on low-income grounds. This raises issues for those of working age of how low income is to be determined under universal credit, but these are matters for another day. This amendment deals in the first part only with cold weather payments.
At present, cold weather payments are payable when the temperature in an area is recorded or forecast to be at or below zero degrees for seven consecutive days—one hopes, behind us for this year. It depends on temperatures recorded at individual weather stations. The current level of payment for eligible recipients is £25 per week. Payments are part of the regulated Social Fund. Eligibility for working-age claimants is dependent on them being subject to income-related income support, JSA and ESA where there is a disability component or where such a claimant is responsible for a young child or getting child tax credit that includes a disability element. Obviously, the position of working-age claimants is not generally affected by the Bill, although the Minister could just take the opportunity to say how eligibility will work for those in receipt of universal credit.
As I have said, the Bill affects those reaching state pension age on or after 6 April 2016. It does so because the savings credit is removed from that date, and for some the single-tier pension will be sufficient to obviate the need to access the guarantee credit. Our briefing note suggests that by 2021 the pension credit caseload will be some 80,000 fewer than would have been the position under the current system, with 20,000 of these previously entitled to guarantee credit and 60,000 entitled only to the savings credit. Over time, these numbers will increase.
Of course that does not necessarily mean that all these would be missing out on cold weather payments. It depends on where they live and the incidence of cold weather. Our briefing note suggests that initially the Government’s saving would be around £2 million per year if those notionally missing out in this way were not to be somehow brought back into the system, but this saving would increase in nominal terms over time as more and more individuals retired into the new system. In the scheme of things these are modest amounts, but nevertheless they are literally a lifeline to some.
The impact assessment of the Bill says:
“Under the single tier, eligibility for Pension Credit is halved compared to the current system in the first few years following implementation, and ultimately falls to around five per cent by 2060 … Ending Savings Credit for single-tier pensioners is the main driver of the reduction in the number of people qualifying for Pension Credit, although there is also a reduction in the proportion of pensioners eligible for Guarantee Credit. The reduction in the numbers within scope of the Guarantee Credit is the result of most single-tier pensioners under the single tier having a state pension above the level of the Standard Minimum Guarantee”.
I invite the Government to say whether, and if so how, they propose to retain access to cold weather payments for those who notionally miss out in this manner.
In similar vein, the amendment calls on the Government to report on future access to the warm home discount scheme. This is a rebate scheme, worth £135 per annum, given by suppliers to vulnerable and low-income households as a deduction from their electricity bills. It is available to two groups: the core group and a broader group. The qualifications for the core group are statutory obligations and suppliers must provide the rebate to all who qualify. Suppliers have more flexibility about who qualifies for assistance under the broader group. For the core group, eligibility is dependent on receipt of the guarantee credit.
It is accepted that the current regulations for this programme cease in April 2015, although the Government have rightly signalled their intention to extend the scheme. I acknowledge receipt of a letter on Monday from the Minister’s colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, following some amendment regulations that were discussed in the Moses Room last week. This signals an intent to consult in the spring on an extended scheme, taking account of the changes to the welfare system.
Clearly, reliance in future on the guarantee credit as the passport to the core group will exclude an increasing number of people who would currently qualify. This would include those whose income under STP will be above the level of the guarantee credit, but not necessarily materially so. It is understood that for the broader group the energy suppliers set eligibility criteria which are agreed with Ofgem. These criteria include those in receipt of pension credit, including the savings credit. Can the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with the energy suppliers about the impact of the Pensions Bill on their approach? As spring is almost upon us, we might at least be informed of alternative eligibility criteria which are being contemplated for entitlement to the warm home discount scheme.
We know that rising energy costs are a key component of the cost of living crisis that is engulfing so many households and it is invariably the poor who are hit the hardest. The proximity of spring should not diminish our concern about the ongoing issues of fuel poverty which still affect some 2.4 million households in England. That is why the cold weather payments and the warm home discount scheme are vital support arrangements. Before this Bill goes on its way, we are entitled to seek reassurance that it will not diminish such support in the future. I beg to move.
I shall say a few words about the two issues raised by this amendment. They are important issues, albeit for a small number of beneficiaries, although that number will increase over time, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has just said. It strikes me that because of the loss of one part of pension credit, the part that gives this passported benefit for cold weather payments, the Government presumably have to have something in place to ensure that people are in receipt of that payment. Will my noble friend reassure the House that it is not the intention that eligibility for cold weather payments will be reduced so that only a few will be able to receive them for the very important purpose for which they are drawn? Can he tell us about the fuel poverty strategy which I understand the Government are consulting on and whether these issues are rightfully the sorts of issues which could be debated and discussed during the consultation? If that is the case, there is clearly a route forward, but I seek reassurance from my noble friend that both these schemes are intended to continue and that their purpose and scope will not be diminished.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 1 which is tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. My noble friend has been like a terrier chasing the Minister on the subject of passported benefits and payments. The Minister may have thought he had shaken him off as he left the Moses Room at the end of the Committee stage, but I am sure he knew better. Indeed, it is to the Minister’s credit that he was content to return to this subject at Third Reading, knowing that he would face the onslaught of yet more gentle but expert and determined questioning from my noble friend Lord McKenzie.
I express my appreciation to the Minister for allowing his officials to brief us and to his officials for giving us for the first time a detailed list of all the benefits that are being passported from pension credit. However, that left some clear question marks about the future strategy for passported benefits. If the Minister is in a position to tell us where the Government’s forward plans are taking them, not just on these two, but on any of the other benefits that are not clearly passported from pension credit, I think the House would appreciate that.
My noble friend has set out the case characteristically clearly, and I need add little to it, but the House and the country will want to hear the Minister answer the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord German. We want to be satisfied that people will not lose out and that there is an alternative plan for arrangements to replace the passporting of cold weather payments and access to the warm home discount scheme.
The point made by my noble friend Lord McKenzie about the role of rising energy prices in the cost of living crisis is visible to all noble Lords at the moment. This is a particular issue in relation to these two benefits in parts of the country that obviously suffer from lower temperatures. I should perhaps declare an interest as a resident of Durham where, despite the fact that we have a world heritage site and much to commend us, with lower rainfall on average, even I have to confess that our temperatures are on average perhaps a whisker below those on the tropical Riviera of Cornwall. On the other hand, this will not affect me until I reach state pension age and that is receding ahead of me at some rate, so perhaps no declaration of interest is needed.
The Government have indicated that they propose to introduce the new single-tier pension above the current level of the guarantee credit in pension credit. But it is clear that that could come in at just a shade above. If Ministers want to carry on asserting that reducing means-testing is an important part of these pension reforms, then they have to have a strategy on passporting—otherwise they will end up with the kind of cliff-edges which anyone who worries about means-testing will know can really be a trap for the unwary.
Maybe the Government have had the opportunity since Report stage to think through how this will be taken forward and can give the House the kind of assurances that have been sought by both noble Lords who have spoken. If they have not, which I will understand, I very much hope that the Minister can accept the amendment. Parliament has a right to know what will happen to these payments, and by the time we get regulations it will be too late. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, was understandably unable to move on Report. I hope that I will be able to offer him some reassurance about the current arrangements and the further work that we are planning.
As noble Lords will be aware, pension credit acts as a passport to a number of other benefits, most of which are linked to an individual being in receipt of the guarantee credit element. That element will continue to be available for the poorest, whether they reach state pension age before or after the introduction of the single-tier pension, and will continue to act as a passport to cold weather payments.
I also remind noble Lords that the single-tier pension itself promotes savings, removing the need for savings credit. The full single tier will be set above the level of the basic means test, removing the current problem whereby the state pension has not kept pace with the means test and therefore the need for a complex reward system. Together with other reforms to the pension system over time, the poorest pensioners are also the most likely to have higher incomes than they would have done if the current system had been rolled forward.
While I understand concerns about knock-on effects for vulnerable pensioners, there is actually relatively little in the pensioner welfare system that depends entirely on receipt of pension credit. For example, housing benefit and council tax reductions can already be claimed on low-income grounds, regardless of receipt of pension credit, and this will continue. Other benefits such as free television licences and travel concessions can be claimed on the grounds of age. The only significant benefits that are truly passported from pension credit are cold weather payments and the warm home discount scheme.
Cold weather payments, as noble Lords are of course aware, provide help with the additional costs of heating during periods of severe weather. The scheme runs from 1 November to 31 March each winter. A payment of £25 is made to someone when the average temperature has been recorded as, or is forecast to be, zero degrees or below over seven consecutive days at the weather station linked to their postcode. In some winters there are relatively few triggers, in some years there are many triggers; in fact, there have been very few indeed this year.
Cold weather payments are made to people who receive certain income-related benefits and satisfy the eligibility conditions set out in the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Regulations 1988. All those who receive pension credit are eligible, whether they receive the guarantee credit or the savings credit element, or both.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about universal credit. Those eligible for cold weather payments are those who are not employed or self-employed and they or their partner receive either a limited capability for work element or a limited capability for work element with a work-related activity element, or who receive a disabled child element within their assessment, or who have a child under the age of five years in the family. Universal credit recipients who are employed or self-employed will be eligible for cold weather payments only if they have a disabled child in the family.
Our predicted expenditure on cold weather payments is based on the average number of payments over the past 10 years. On that basis, while we cannot predict the actual impacts, we might expect around £2 million to have been spent in 2020 on cold weather payments for people who would have received pension credit under the current system, but who would not under the single -tier system. That is based on our calculation of 20,000 single-tier pensioners being raised above the standard minimum guarantee, and 60,000 who would have been entitled to a savings credit under the pre-single tier system.
That expenditure is of course by no means certain, which is why we have not assumed any savings from cold weather payments as a result of the Bill. However, we are not complacent about that issue and that group of people. That is why we are already considering ways in which it might be possible to identify, for cold weather payment purposes, single-tier pensioners whose income will be above but close to the level of the standard minimum guarantee.
In response to the question from my noble friend Lord German, I can reassure the House that it is not our intention to reduce eligibility.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, also asked about the warm home discount scheme. That is a rebate on electricity bills for pensioners aged 75 or over who receive the guarantee credit in pension credit, and for pensioners under 75 who receive the guarantee credit without a savings credit. From 2014-15 it will be extended to all pensioners receiving the guarantee credit. Rebates may also be available for a broader group including those in receipt of the savings credit as well as certain other groups below pension age, but those broader group rebates are subject to a cash limit and to the policies of individual suppliers, as agreed with Ofgem. We have committed to extending the warm home discount scheme into 2015-16, but we have not made plans for 2016-17 and beyond.
On the question asked by the noble Lord about discussions with electricity suppliers, that will be part of the consultation in the spring on extending support for the core group. Access to cold weather payments and the future of the warm home discount scheme are part of a broader set of issues around targeting spending to combat fuel poverty among older people. As I said, we will consult later in the spring on a new fuel poverty strategy, which will include the question of reducing fuel costs for those pensioners in the second income quintile, which is where savings credit recipients are clustered.
For single-tier cohorts, it will not be possible to identify exactly which household might have been entitled to a savings credit without retaining the savings credit assessment itself. We are assessing the cost and capacity issues of doing that, as well as the trade-off for intrusion into pensioner households. However, the department’s initial assessment is that there are likely to be better and more cost-effective ways of reducing fuel costs for that group, especially by using recently developed datasets that allow us to identify poorly insulated homes and the characteristics of the households living there, with a view to making infrastructural as well as cash interventions.
I can reassure noble Lords that cold weather payments and the warm home discount scheme are an important part of our fuel poverty strategy, and major components of our work to improve the well-being of older people. However, that is a separate issue from promoting savings through pension reform, and we are not wedded to particular ways of meshing the two together.
On the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on our passporting strategy, we will continue to use a mixture of age, low-income and passporting from means-tested benefits to target different benefits and services to different groups. I understand the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and I hope that I have been able to provide him with reassurances.
I am slightly puzzled, but I think that the Minister is saying that if you could devise a way in which to find out that those who are on the new state single pension were in the very bottom decile, that or a similar group would be an appropriate one to be eligible for a cold weather payment, because it would be the group that under the previous regime would have got pension credit. I would have thought that anyone getting the new single state pension without any other supplementary income coming their way, whether through savings or an occupational pension, would, in the past, have automatically qualified for pension credit—in which case, he already has his population.
I am always grateful to the noble Baroness when she comes up with solutions for us, and I can see her yearning to be on this side—perhaps not in this particular coalition but in this particular ministry—sorting out these issues. She has gone to the issue of what the best way might be in which to help this group, which, clearly, we will look at precisely when we consider that matter. I shall pass on her thoughts to the consultation in the hope that it will speed it up.
As I say, we will consult on our strategy, and that will cover the two schemes referred to in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, as well as broader approaches to combating and preventing fuel poverty, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, indicated. On that basis, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I certainly intend to withdraw the amendment. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Sherlock for her support and for raising the wider issue of the impact of the new pension arrangements on passporting. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord German, for probing the same points in seeking reassurance on the continuation of the cold weather payment scheme and the warm homes discount scheme. I am grateful, as ever, to my noble friend Lady Hollis for providing a solution to the Minister.
I took comfort from what the Minister said, but I would like to read the record on precisely where he has ended up in looking at some sort of definition of low income—whether it is somebody just on the basic single -tier pension—and at a broader review of fuel poverty strategy. I am confident that there will be an opportunity going forward to address and, I hope, influence those issues. Accordingly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 44: Disclosure of information about transaction costs to members etc
2: Clause 44, page 24, line 26, leave out “this section” and insert “subsection (1)”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2, I shall speak also to government Amendments 3, 4 and 5.
As I have said in previous debates, the Government are committed to ensuring that costs and charges in defined contribution workplace pension schemes are made as transparent as possible. This is one part of the programme to ensure that consumers, especially those who are automatically enrolled, receive value for money from their pension savings. The full programme of measures will be published soon.
These amendments build on those made on Report to require regulations to be made providing for the disclosure of transaction costs. Following the points raised by my noble friend Lord Lawson during that discussion, I agreed to consider how to make explicit the Government’s commitment to publishing the information on transaction costs. I am pleased to say that these amendments would require the information about costs and charges to be made publicly available. We will have further work to do to establish the best way to enable this publication, not least to ensure that we do so in a way that allows for meaningful and helpful comparisons. However, I can confirm that we will work to achieve publication in a way that enables scrutiny and comparison by any interested member of the public.
As noble Lords have said in previous debates, it is clear that for disclosure of information on costs and charges to be meaningful the full range of costs and charges that may be borne by members must be made transparent, and that this must be done in a way that enables scrutiny of the total amount that may be deducted from an individual’s pension pot. It is particularly vital that those with a fiduciary duty—namely, the trustees and independent governance committees who will have a role in representing members’ interests—can see both itemised and total costs and charges borne by members.
As I assured the House in our previous discussion on this matter, the “some or all” formulation in the drafting of this provision has been used to future-proof the legislation and provide flexibility to amend it as new types of cost and charge become apparent over time. This flexibility, and our existing powers to require disclosure of information, will enable us to provide for full transparency of all pension scheme costs and charges.
These amendments also make a technical change to this provision since the issue was last considered by noble Lords. The amendments now place a corresponding duty on the Financial Conduct Authority to that which we have placed on the Secretary of State. In this way, it provides a better fit with the shared approach to regulation of pensions that exists between the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Conduct Authority. It provides for regulations and rules to be made that apply in a consistent way across both trust and contract-based provision. The duty on the Financial Conduct Authority mirrors the duty on the Secretary of State requiring both disclosure and publication of information about costs.
These duties apply only to defined contribution schemes. As I touched on in our latest discussion on this subject, this is narrower than the provision of our existing power. This focus reflects the Government’s concerns about the failures in the defined contribution workplace pensions market that have been identified by the Office of Fair Trading. The nature of defined benefit schemes means that members are effectively shielded from the impact of costs and charges. As for employers and trustees, both have a keen interest and ability to achieve value for money in the administration and governance of their schemes.
However, as I said during our debate on Report, the Government do have the power to require transparency of costs and charges in defined benefit as well as defined contribution schemes, and I indicated that we would continue to consider whether this is necessary. Having begun to consider the question, we think that it merits further examination and consultation with a range of interested parties. It may be that such a measure would enable trustees of defined benefit schemes to better discharge their fiduciary duties.
We will formally consult before making regulations for disclosure of information about costs and charges in defined contribution schemes. When we carry out that consultation, we will also examine whether some form of disclosure requirements should be extended to defined benefit schemes.
As I have said previously, this Government are committed to ensuring that consumers receive value for money from their pension savings and we will publish our full programme of measures soon. I am pleased that these amendments build on the commitments made on Report and will ensure there is full transparency and publication of costs and charges. I beg to move Amendment 2.
My Lords, I need not detain the House long because, I am glad to say, my noble friend the Minister has met pretty well in full the points that we made at earlier stages of the Bill. I am extremely grateful to him for that. There is a real mischief in the huge range of costs which bear no relation whatever to investment performance incurred in different pension schemes. It has always been known, but it was documented fully by the Pensions Commission some time back. That we have been able to improve the Bill in this way is a tribute to this House, but particularly to my noble friend the Minister, who has listened carefully, accepted the need to deal with that mischief, and put forward a practical and sensible way of doing it.
There is only one loose end, and although the Minister dealt with it I would like to spend a minute or two on it. The amendment says “some or all” costs, but that is purely a legal technicality and in fact it means all costs, itemised. That is the firm intention. They will be published generally, not just given to the members of the schemes, so that all can see. However, as the Minister said, the provision deals exclusively with defined contribution schemes and not with defined benefit schemes. I understand his reason for that—because it is only in the defined contribution schemes that pensioners are, in effect, from time to time ripped off by investment managers who charge far too much in the way of costs. There are five times as many people in defined benefit schemes as in defined contribution schemes, however, and the money in defined benefit schemes is well over £1 trillion.
Of course, if the same kind of ripping off goes on—obviously it does; there is no difference in the investment manager’s behaviour from one to the other—it is not a victimless crime. The pensioners may not be the victims, but the shareholders in the companies certainly are. The Government cannot desire to see shareholders ripped off when it can so easily be prevented by extending to defined benefit schemes the disclosure and transparency requirements that the Minister will put in place for defined contribution schemes. He says that he will consult on that. I am delighted to hear it, but I very much hope that the result of the consultation will be to require the same disclosure and transparency for defined benefit schemes as for defined contribution schemes.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the area: I am a trustee of the Santander and Telefónica pension schemes, and a member of the NAPF Pension Quality Mark board. As no doubt other noble Lords here today are, I am concerned to understand the extent to which Amendments 2 to 5 provide for full transparency on transaction costs and deliver on the assurances that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, gave on Report. I would therefore like to ask the Minister several questions.
The Minister confirmed that the Secretary of State would be divested of the power to set the requirements for securing transparency of transaction costs in relation to money purchase personal pension schemes, by giving that responsibility to the FCA. As he said, the amendment does not extend the existing powers of the FCA but imposes a duty on it to make rules on the disclosure of information, following consultation with the Secretary of State and the Treasury, to ensure consistency between FCA rules and the regulations made by the Secretary of State. If the FCA response to that consultation is not considered adequate in achieving such consistency, which Minister will be responsible for ensuring that the FCA fulfils its duty in that regard, and with which powers?
There will no doubt be much consultation and lobbying prior to regulations and rules being set, and no doubt various interests will be brought to bear in those considerations. However, does the Minister agree that the draft statement of recommended practice put forward by the Investment Management Association to the FCA does not provide a sufficient set of requirements for full reporting on transaction costs by investment managers?
On a further point, it would be helpful if the Minister could advise on whether the Prudential Regulation Authority has the power to overrule the proposed FCA rules on transparency of transaction costs if it considers that they could have a negative effect on the sustainability of a provider such as an insurance company. If so, how does he anticipate such a tension would be resolved? Such a tension was identified in the Government’s consultation document on charges. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s comments in respect of transparency on charges.
It was disappointing to hear that the Government were not taking the opportunity to extend this power to cover transparency on transaction costs in respect of DC schemes and were instead restricting themselves to failures in the DC workplace provision because of what was identified by the OFT. The Minister said that DB members were shielded from these costs but that is not strictly true; they are shielded to a point but the costs go to the funding level of their funds and to the requirement on the employers to make contributions. If I were an employer sponsoring a DB scheme I would consider that undue or unnecessary costs—which I may not even be aware I am bearing—are putting stress on me, as an employer, in supporting that covenant. If I cannot finally support the covenant then the member will of course bear it in the event of default risk. Even in the public services we have the Local Government Pension Scheme, where the ultimate covenant comes from the taxpayer. I am sure that the taxpayer would want to have, or know that those who are discharging responsibilities for that scheme have, full access to transparency on costs.
It is worth reflecting that, according to the PPF index, assets in the private sector defined benefit schemes are in the order of £1,148.6 billion. The ONS figures published in April showed that there was £1,444 billion in assets in DB schemes and approximately, in terms of the public services, £145 billion in the funded local government scheme. Given the scale of these figures it is disappointing that these powers currently do not cover DB schemes. I hope the consultation exercise that was referred to will result in the Government changing their mind on these issues. These are substantial sums and deserve their share of the sunlight as much as DC schemes do. However, this prompts a question: how will these regulations apply to hybrid schemes? Will they apply just to the relevant part of such schemes?
I refer, finally, to the issue of European requirements, because it has been raised in the debate on the transparency of transaction costs. I know from speaking to one or two colleagues that there is a little uncertainty about the extent to which European requirements may be brought to bear on any action taken by the Government on the transparency requirements on transaction costs. Can the Minister confirm that the UK Government are free to set requirements on the transparency of transaction costs for occupational and money purchase personal pensions; that the Government will do so; and that they are not constrained from doing so by the EU rules on retail investment products?
My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interest as a non-executive director of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
I thank the Minister for explaining his amendments and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate for their insights. On Report the Government were understandably worried by the alliance building up between the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and my noble friend Lord Browne, who regrets that he is unable to be here as a result of the date of Third Reading being moved. In order to head off a possible defeat, the Minister made a speech offering strong reassurances. It is against those reassurances that the House should judge the amendments that the Government have brought forward today. Let us remind ourselves what those reassurances were.
The Government were keen to assure the House that whatever their amendment said, their intention was that all costs would be covered by their proposals. On 26 February, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, told the House:
“We are looking for transparency on all charges. We are looking to ensure that that is published”.
He reinforced that point today. I think that I heard him say that there will be full transparency on all costs and charges.
My noble friend Lord Browne then intervened on Report to seek clarification on how transparency would be handled in relation to transaction costs, since it seemed that the Government were proposing to exempt areas where there were existing FCA rules in relation to transparency. The existing FCA rules on transparency exempt transaction costs, he noted, so how would the transaction costs in such cases be dealt with? The Minister replied:
“I am putting it on the record that we will aim to capture all costs, including all transaction costs”.
A little later, he went on to say:
“It is not to do with the EU”.—[Official Report, 26/2/14; cols. 967-68.]
What could be clearer? However, the current government amendments give the Secretary of State the responsibility for regulating disclosure of charges only for occupational schemes, leaving it to the FCA to do so for money purchase schemes.
Therefore, the first and most obvious question to the Minister, touched on by my noble friend Lady Drake, is: why is the Secretary of State divesting himself of the power to set the requirements for securing transparency of transaction costs in relation to money purchase personal pension schemes by giving the responsibility for the requirements on disclosure of information to the FCA?
Secondly, Amendment 3 has the effect of explicitly excluding defined benefit schemes from the regulations on the publication of costs and charges, and the Minister gave some indication of the Government’s thinking on that. However, I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, raised the questions that he did, supported by my noble friend Lady Drake, because this is indeed not a victimless area. Not only are there costs to the companies that are the employers but there are potential risks to the sustainability of the pension schemes if employers find themselves carrying unreasonable and unnecessary levels of cost. It must be remembered that there are employers who may be well equipped to understand and challenge the nature of the charging structure but there are many others who are not, and they deserve protection as well. Perhaps the Government could explain some more about that. In particular, can the Minister tell the House what the timescale will be for this consultation and, if the Government decide to bring forward regulations, when the House may expect to hear more about that?
My noble friend Lady Drake then raised a series of important questions regarding what this dual regulatory regime will mean in practice, given that the FCA currently does not require transaction costs to be published for DC pensions. Amendment 4 makes it clear that the FCA must consult the Treasury and the Secretary of State before making rules about the disclosure of costs. The supplementary memorandum from the DWP to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Bill reminds us that Section 138(1) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, known as FiSMA, requires the FCA also to consult the Prudential Regulation Authority before making rules and then to publish those rules in draft, to seek representations and not to make rules without having regard to those representations.
Therefore, the Minister is left with the crucial question from my noble friend Lady Drake as to the extent to which the PRA’s concern for the sustainability of financial services companies may constrain the Government’s apparent desire for the FCA to make rules to ensure disclosure of all transaction costs, as again promised by the Minister today. What happens if the Secretary of State believes that the decisions that the FCA takes in this respect are not properly aligned with his or her own decisions on transparency in relation to occupational schemes? As my noble friend asked: what happens then?
Finally, there is the interesting question of the role of the EU. The Minister has said clearly that this is not a matter for the EU but my noble friend has sought clarification. I certainly understand that the publication of transaction costs with respect to retail products is covered by EU rules but that the publication of transaction costs with respect to workplace pensions is not, and I look forward to the Minister confirming that. However, one hears that EU rules may or may not lead to increased transparency of all transaction costs some time after 2016. I should like to test the Minister. Does he think that it would be acceptable if the FCA decided not to do anything about transaction costs but simply to await the decision of the EU? One assumes not, as not only would that not seem to chime with the Government’s general rhetoric about ceding powers to Europe but it is hard to see that the Minister’s words to the House on Report would imply that level of uncertainty, since he made it clear that it was nothing to do with the EU.
In the end, it is up to this House to decide whether it believes that the government amendments brought forward today have the ability to honour the cheque that they wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, on Report. The Opposition are not, as yet, persuaded. However, it is for the Minister to tell the House how precisely he can guarantee to deliver on the assurance that the Government will capture all costs and charges and, crucially, by what date that will happen.
Finally, and even more importantly, there remains the unresolved issue of a cap on charges. In his extremely impressive speech when we debated these matters on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Turner, put the matter succinctly when he said:
“I do not think that transparency is an alternative to a charge cap”.—[Official Report, 26/2/14; col. 966.]
Nor do I. If the Government really have the interests of consumers at heart, they will take much stronger action right now.
My Lords, let me start by dealing with the question raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock, on the way in which the regulation works between two groups. The Pensions Regulator and the FCA work closely together to ensure that the regulatory frameworks for trust-based pensions under the regulator and contract-based pensions under the FCA are aligned and provide for a robust system of governance and fair treatment for members. The Government are not looking to change the current regulatory structure, as was confirmed in the DWP’s Triennial Review of Pensions Bodies, which was published in December 2013. Structuring the duties in this way is necessary to reflect the dual regulation structure and the fact that the FCA is an independent body in statute. Without this approach, there would be no duty on the FCA to make these rules.
In addition to their existing duties to consult, the amendments mean that both the Secretary of State and the FCA will be under statutory duties to consult one another in making regulations and rules, enabling us as far as possible to ensure consistency of approach with the rules following the regulations. There is absolute commitment from the Government and from the FCA to aim for consistency. The FCA would not propose to deviate from government regulations. The aim of a separate duty is not to provide room for inconsistency—far from it; it is about giving the FCA the flexibility that it needs to use its powers and expertise to respond as an independent regulator.
The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, raised a question on hybrid schemes. The regulations will be able to extend the disclosure rules to the DC element of hybrid schemes. The duty is in addition to the existing power in Section 113 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993.
The noble Baroness also raised a question on the relative position of the PRA—the prudential regulator—and the FCA. The FCA, as per its rules, will be consulting on the development of disclosure and requirements and will work closely with both Her Majesty’s Treasury and the PRA. Treasury Ministers are committed to strong disclosure of member-borne costs and believe that the FCA is best placed to make those rules.
On the question of the SORP code, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, the Government recognise industry initiatives to improve transparency of pension costs and charges, but as the OFT noted, such measures are voluntary and can be piecemeal. That is why the Government believe that transparency measures should be compulsory and standardised.
The Minister’s response on the SORP is helpful to a point. The Minister is making a distinction between a compulsory and a voluntary regime. My more detailed point was about the proposals as to what there should be transparency on, and the costs involved. I was asking whether the Minister could give an assurance that he accepts that the range of costs proposed in SORP would not be sufficient to meet a full transparency criterion.
My Lords, I have not carried out a detailed analysis of the SORP code. I can assure the noble Baroness that, under the regulations and rules that we will now develop, we will capture all costs. To the extent that those are not in the SORP code, that would be a wider requirement.
On what will happen if the FCA rules are not found to be adequate, the Secretary of State retains the power in Section 113 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 to make regulations about both occupational and personal pension schemes disclosure.
On the timescale issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, assuming that this Bill receives Royal Assent, I believe that regulations will be brought forward later this year. The Government will consult on these regulations before they are laid. The Government’s proposals on charges, transparency and governance will be published soon. I have not changed the position on that after our rather enjoyable debate on the matter on Report.
The DB element will be part of the consultation. Depending on that consultation, we will have to decide how to treat that particular aspect.
On the questions around the EU, clearly right now we are free to write these regulations and rules and there are no EU rules to hinder that. However, that might change in the future. One of the attractions of pulling the FCA into this process is that it has technical expertise in this area and is the body negotiating in Europe on relevant EU legislation. It is therefore best placed to work with DWP on determining how costs and charges can be defined, captured, measured and disclosed. By using its own rule-making power, the FCA may be able to respond quicker than the parliamentary process to changes in the market or from the EU.
I think I have dealt with all the issues.
I hope the Minister does not think I am being pushy, but this is probably the last chance we will have to question him on this before we complete this stage of the Bill. On the issue of EU regulations, the Minister has confirmed that at the moment there are no EU rules constraining the Government from pushing for full transparency on transaction costs. Hopefully, any product from the EU in favour of transparency would work to the Government’s remit. However, one of the underlying concerns is that the earliest there could be any impact from any change that comes out of the European Parliament and from the EU would be 2016, maybe later. People are looking for an assurance—I certainly was asking for one—that the FCA would fulfil its duty without being constrained to await the outcome of any EU discussions and would push ahead to an early timetable consistent with the spirit of the point the Minister made on Report.
I thank noble Lords for helping me with my vocabulary.
I should finish by thanking my noble friend Lord Lawson, whose help I found immensely useful in thinking through these issues and working out responses in what is actually quite a complicated environment, as I suspect noble Lords fully appreciate.
Amendment 2 agreed.
Amendments 3 to 5
3: Clause 44, page 24, line 28, leave out “work-based money purchase schemes” and insert “a relevant scheme”
4: Clause 44, page 24, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 13 on page 25 and insert—
“(6) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision requiring the publication of information about—
(a) some or all of the transaction costs of a relevant scheme, and(b) some or all of the administration charges imposed on members of a relevant scheme.(7) Regulations under subsection (6) may require other relevant information to be published along with information about transaction costs or administration charges in relation to a scheme.
(8) “Other relevant information” means other information which would or may assist in making comparisons between those costs or charges and costs or charges in relation to other schemes.
(9) Before making regulations by virtue of subsection (5) or (6), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Financial Conduct Authority, and(b) the Treasury;(in addition to any other persons consulted in accordance with section 185(1)).(10) In this section—
“administration charge” has the meaning given by paragraph 1(5) of Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014;
“relevant scheme” means a money purchase scheme that is an occupational pension scheme.””
5: Clause 44, page 25, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) In the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, after section 137F insert—
“137FA FCA general rules: disclosure of information about pension scheme transaction costs etc
(1) The FCA must make general rules requiring information about some or all of the transaction costs of a relevant scheme to be given to some or all of the persons mentioned in subsection (2).
(2) Those persons are—
(a) members of the scheme,(b) spouses or civil partners of members, and(c) persons within the application of the scheme and qualifying or prospectively qualifying for its benefits.(3) The FCA must make general rules requiring the publication of information about—
(a) some or all of the transaction costs of a relevant scheme, and(b) some or all of the administration charges imposed on members of a relevant scheme.(4) Rules made by virtue of subsection (3) may require other relevant information to be published along with information about transaction costs or administration charges in relation to a scheme.
(5) “Other relevant information” means other information which would or may assist in making comparisons between those costs or charges and costs or charges in relation to other schemes.
(6) Before the FCA publishes a draft of any rules to be made by virtue of this section, it must consult—
(a) the Secretary of State, and(b) the Treasury.(7) In determining what provision to include in the rules, the FCA must have regard to any regulations about the disclosure or publication of transaction costs or administration charges that are for the time being in force under section 113 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993.
(8) In this section—
“administration charge” has the meaning given by paragraph 1(5) of Schedule 18 to the Pensions Act 2014;
“money purchase scheme” has the meaning given by section 181(1) of the Pension Schemes Act 1993;
“personal pension scheme” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993;
“relevant scheme” means a money purchase scheme that is—
(a) a personal pension scheme where direct payment arrangements (within the meaning of section 111A of the Pension Schemes Act 1993) exist in respect of one or more members of the scheme who are workers, or(b) a personal pension scheme which is or has been registered under section 2 of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 (stakeholder pension schemes);“worker” means a person—
(a) who is a worker for the purposes of Part 1 of the Pensions Act 2008, or (b) to whom a provision of Part 1 of that Act applies as if the person were a worker because of a provision of Chapter 8 of that Part;but for the purposes of paragraph (b), ignore section 92 of that Act.””
Amendments 3 to 5 agreed.
Schedule 20: Pension Protection Fund: increased compensation cap for long service
6: Schedule 20, page 110, line 39, leave out “(ignoring any period of overlap)” and insert “(counting any period of overlap once only)”
My Lords, on Report I regrettably said that we had completed the legislation required to cover the change to the Pension Protection Fund compensation cap. Clearly, that was tempting fate because we have noticed that the wording in a particular place is not as clear as it could be, and this amendment addresses that. We made an amendment on Report to the PPF compensation cap measures setting out how the length of pensionable service should be determined for an individual who was a member of connected schemes; that is, for someone who was a member of a multi-employer scheme and who had worked for two or more of the companies attached to that scheme. That amendment allowed for the discrete periods of pensionable service to be added together. Crucially, if the person had worked for two employers at the same time—that is, the periods of employment overlapped—the amendment sought to prevent the overlapping period from being counted twice. Unfortunately, the wording of the amendment could be read as meaning that the period of overlap should not be counted at all. This would clearly not be right. This amendment therefore clarifies the wording to ensure it cannot be read in that manner. As a result, overlapping periods of employment will be counted correctly—in other words, once.
This is the final amendment to which I will speak and so before I sit down, I would like to take a moment to thank all those who have worked so hard on this Bill. Many colleagues across the House have contributed their time and substantial expertise to understanding and improving these landmark reforms. In particular, I am delighted that the Bill now contains measures that will help improve the retirement income of the spouses of service personnel. Preparing a Bill and supporting its passage through both Houses is a significant undertaking. This Bill contains a wide range of measures relating to state pensions, private pensions and bereavement benefits, and so has involved a large number of different policy teams. I estimate that close to 200 policy officials, analysts and lawyers have been involved. Many of them have been directly involved in attending briefing meetings or providing materials that have contributed to the excellent level of debate we have seen.
It has been especially gratifying to hear so many noble Lords mention the assistance of DWP officials in their speeches both in this Chamber and during Committee stage. It is a fitting tribute that their work is recognised in this way. I am grateful to them and to the excellent draftsmen in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel who have worked so hard on this Bill. The Bill team deserves a special mention and so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rez Mossavat, Jo Foakes, Megan Rooney, Helen Kelly and the Bill manager, Michael Cordy, for all their work and support. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on having spotted the error before Royal Assent and the Opposition have no problem with the amendment.
I, too, would like to take this opportunity to say a few words of thanks to my colleagues for all their wisdom and support. I thank especially my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton for doing so much work on this Bill and for being such a constant source of support. I would also very much like to thank the Minister for the way he has handled the Bill—for his openness and his willingness to engage with appeals from all parties and to share the information and knowledge of his department. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for adopting a similar style and for his engagement. I thank the officials, too, for their helpfulness and their willingness to answer so many questions—in my case, often very stupid ones, which they have answered with graciousness and lots of information. We have all very much appreciated that.
The Bill has benefited from scrutiny in this House and leaves this place a better Bill than when it arrived, as is so often the case. It is the first Bill I have taken all the way through from the Front Bench and I have learnt a great deal from noble Lords on all sides. I have been grateful for the kindness and indulgence of the House as I have learnt on the job—a sort of apprenticeship, as one might have it. As the Minister said, the Bill has now benefited not only from the one victory that the House scored on mini-jobs—we hope very much that the other end will see the wisdom of that but, if not, we stand by our beds awaiting its return should that prove necessary—but from concessions around things such as service wives, auto-enrolment and categories of employer, and in other ways as we have gone through it. I pass my thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed at any point in the process. We all share a common objective of getting people in Britain saving for their retirement and I hope this Bill will help contribute to that objective.
My Lords, I add thanks from these Benches to my noble friend and to the staff who have been behind all the detailed benefits we have received from having such a deep level of understanding and knowledge of the Bill throughout. I want to mention two particular things. One is the recognition during the Bill’s passage through this House that my noble friend will look very carefully at the needs of children who are in distress. I look forward to seeing that coming forward again in future months as we come to a response to whatever my noble friend is able to deduce from that investigation.
The second piece of thanks that I have to give to my noble friend is for his ability to bring Her Majesty’s Treasury to a meeting with officials of the DWP. That way, there was a coalition not only of Members of your Lordships’ House but of my noble friend’s staff. That ensured that we got a recognition that where pensions in the public sector would be affected by some of the matters in the Bill, they would put an architecture in place for whenever some new money might become available.
While using this opportunity to put this on the record, I want to thank my noble friend for all the support that he has given. The quantity of literature and number of pages that we have received is something that we will weigh with great pleasure during the years to come, because of course the measures which this House is taking in this Bill will affect the population of this country for many generations in the future. It has been very significant to see the Bill pass through the House.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 22nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 8th and 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and 6th Report from the Constitution Committee.
Schedule 3: Excluded residential tenancy agreements
54ZZA: Schedule 3, page 62, line 4, at end insert—
“(3A) The third condition is that the building is covered by a code of practice for the management of student accommodation recognised under section 233 of the Housing Act 2004 (approval of codes of practice with regards to the management of HMOs etc).”
My Lords, we return to residential tenancies and come to a group of 12 amendments, of which the first nine are in my name, beginning with Amendment 54ZZA. I apologise for the number of amendments, but I will be brief in setting them out this afternoon. I am helped in speeding up the process by the very helpful points made by the Minister in our Committee session on Monday.
All these amendments are concerned with the practicalities of requiring landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. We are past the stage of arguing whether the whole idea of imposing this new burden on landlords is a good one; rather, these amendments attempt to make the concept more workable and reduce the unfortunate consequences for tenants that it could create.
Amendment 54ZZA is about letting to students. The Minister made two welcome announcements on Monday. The first heralded the Government’s plans for an initial stage—I hope I am allowed to call it a pilot—in a single place to test the practicalities of the new scheme. The second announcement was that student lettings that are controlled, owned, managed or arranged by a registered educational institution will face no further need for immigration checking by landlords. This is obviously right since the student has been thoroughly vetted already by the higher education establishment.
Capturing the wider definition of what comprises a student letting will need a new form of words. The new clause to come before us on Report may go beyond the scope of my amendment, and the Minister may tell me that Amendment 54ZZA is now quite redundant. But perhaps the Government’s revised measure, which I think will pick up student digs that are lettings in ordinary street properties, may also benefit from the formula in my amendment, which comes from the experts at the British Property Federation.
I will explain Amendment 54ZZA. Sensibly, paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 already excludes specialist lettings to students in higher education, since they have been thoroughly checked by the university or the higher education provider. The Bill exempts traditional halls of residence using the definition that is used for council tax purposes. That definition dates back to 1991, since when there has been extensive private sector provision of purpose-built student accommodation. Amendment 54ZZA extends the exemption from the traditional university halls of residence to embrace privately provided purpose-built student halls—the smart new blocks of student flats now appearing in many university towns and cities.
To avoid going too wide, the amendment specifies that the provider must be a body covered by a code of practice officially approved under Section 233 of the Housing Act 2004. This confines the extension to private sector providers that are properly recognised as managing bona fide student accommodation in partnership with higher education bodies. The amendment avoids the bureaucracy, hassle and duplication of effort for student accommodation providers, who would otherwise have to recheck the status of the students they house when this has been done already by a higher education establishment.
Now that the Minister is willing to extend the exemption for student lettings—I know colleagues will be very pleased with that—I hope that the definition in my amendment covers at least some of the ground. To cover more of that ground, will the Minister comment on the idea put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on Monday? She suggested that the perfect solution to this problem might be to allow the letter that universities issue to students to exempt them from council tax to also be proof of their exemption from immigration checks. Such an approach would exempt the great majority of students and their landlords, bringing comfort to the many Members of your Lordships’ House who are very keen to ensure that the new measure does not deter overseas students from choosing the UK for their studies.
Let me go swiftly through the rest of my amendments in this group. Amendment 54A would add to the list of exclusions from the Bill’s obligations on landlords, under the list of “excluded residential tenancy agreements”. I know that Crisis has been pleased with some helpful changes already made to the Bill, but tenancies organised for people who are or will be homeless and are placed in the private sector by a responsible body need to go on the list of exclusions in Schedule 3. Organisations such as Crisis are funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government to persuade landlords to take on homeless or potentially homeless people—indeed, the DCLG last week announced extra resources for this valuable work—but, at present, the landlord will still have responsibility for checking the immigration status of these nominees, even though they have been vetted already by the local authority, a charity or a regulated housing association.
The amendment would excuse the landlord from the potential threat that someone whose papers are not in order and who turns out to be here illegally renders the landlord subject to a fine. The arrangements for placing homeless households in the rented sector are extremely important in giving confidence to landlords to take in vulnerable tenants, including those leaving prison, who are perceived to be a high risk. It is not easy to negotiate with landlords who are understandably hesitant to take in people on the edge of homelessness. Telling landlords that they will ultimately carry the can if a household is found later to be here illegally sets up a new barrier. I hope that it is not contentious to exclude placements of this kind from the rigours of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond sympathetically.
Amendments 55B, 55D and 55E attempt to head off a major problem with the proposed arrangements: namely, the requirement on the landlord to check the credentials not just of the tenant but of other people who come into the accommodation with the tenant, usually family members. These people are not named in the tenancy agreement and the landlord has no direct relationship with them. Here, the Bill introduces a duty for landlords that goes well beyond the comparable duty for employers. Employers are not required to make inquiries about a potential employee’s family or friends, but landlords will be expected to make thorough checks in relation to other people over the age of 18 who live with the tenant. This is fraught with difficulty and, of all the many reasons that a landlord may avoid getting involved with a particular household and risking a £3,000 fine, this scenario is about the most off-putting. The amendments would remove this extra and unreasonable duty on the landlord and confine the obligation to checking the status of the tenant or tenants who are on the tenancy agreement.
Amendment 55H would remove the obligation on the landlord to notify the Secretary of State of a change to the status of a tenant whom they have already housed. It would take away the need to recheck their immigration status after a tenancy has started. Instead, the landlord would have to reconsider the tenant’s status only when the tenancy ends and the tenant wants to renew it. Once a tenancy has been signed, the landlord clearly would not wish to engage further in these checks, and it seems a step too far to require landlords to look out for and report so-called post-grant contraventions, except when the tenancy comes up for renewal.
Amendment 55R would enable the Secretary of State to give extra time for a landlord who has received a penalty notice to bring forward an appeal if the prescribed 28 days appears in the circumstances to be too short a time. With the complexities involved in these matters, the Secretary of State might well be glad of some flexibility here in the future.
Amendment 56F addresses the tricky issue of the landlord’s obligation to establish whether a person is over 18 years old. We all know that supermarkets find it very difficult to verify a customer’s age when a young person wants to buy alcohol or tobacco. My previous amendments would remove the onerous obligation on landlords to account for the immigration status of people who are not on the tenancy agreement and with whom they have no direct dealings. This amendment is a safety net if the duty to check up on others in a household finds its way on to the statute book. It puts the onus on the Secretary of State to set out an order which makes clear that as long as the landlord or their agent takes specified steps to establish the age of the occupiers, they will not be in danger of being penalised later. Without the amendment, landlords will go in fear of a transgression, despite their best efforts, and the presence of teenage children in a household will present another reason for a landlord not to house a family for fear of breaking the new law.
Amendment 56H is my final amendment. I think it could be helpful in tackling the central problem here: namely, that respectable landlords will henceforth be extremely wary about accepting anyone for a tenancy who just possibly might be a migrant without the correct papers. The amendment shifts the burden of checking out tenants’ credentials to one or more bodies which take on that responsibility and are approved by the Secretary of State for that purpose. Those verifying bodies would no doubt charge for the service, but could make the cost quite modest through economies of scale, dealing with many hundreds or thousands of cases, and would become absolute experts in ascertaining who was and was not an illegal immigrant. As long as the landlord had received the all-clear from the approved body, which might be part of a trade association or a credit referencing agency, the landlord would not need to worry about the new liabilities that they face.
The concept of a body approved by government taking responsibility for a key aspect of the affairs of private landlords is the model used for handling tenants’ deposits. Initially three and now four agencies have been cleared to provide tenancy deposit schemes to deal with all the tricky aspects of collecting and returning deposits. Similarly, the Secretary of State approves bodies to provide ombudsman services to the sector. A similar approval mechanism could lift the burden on landlords struggling to undertake accurate immigration checks and would, I think, reduce the cost to landlords, which may get passed on to tenants if agents are involved, from about £50 a shot to, perhaps, £25.
That measure would be particularly helpful to the Home Office inquiries team, removing a lot of the pressure of fielding queries from amateur landlords up and down the country who would no longer need to bother the Home Office. That arrangement would, I hope, achieve everything that the Government want from this part of the Bill, while reducing a significant financial and administrative burden for the Home Office and greatly reassuring good landlords that they need not turn away people who might just be here illegally, because the checking has been done for them.
I hope that that idea appeals to the Minister, and I am grateful to Richard Jones of the Residential Landlords’ Association for devising it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the amendments.
My Lords, I have three amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has raised a lot of important issues—in some cases as to principle and in some as to workability, with which all of us have been concerned.
On his Amendment 56H, allowing for verifying bodies, it speaks volumes about the views of the Home Office, which we have heard in this Chamber and outside it, that such a suggestion has been brought forward. One sees the comments about the current standards of the Home Office and one looks forward to much improvement, but one can see how such a proposal has come about. I suspect that some such agencies might well grow up outside the statute if we do not provide for them. I can imagine what the Minister may say in response to the amendment—that no third party can be authoritative on this—but I can envisage small landlords casting around for an organisation that can help them with this work.
The first of my amendments, Amendment 56J, is much the same as the noble Lord’s amendment with regard to a person that a landlord thinks is under 18 but in fact turns out to be an adult, for the reasons that the noble Lord has given. Amendments 56K and 56L are to Clause 32. The first would ensure that the Secretary of State could increase only the range of agreements not treated as falling within the scheme—in other words, could increase the range of exemptions but could not bring in through this mechanism agreements that would otherwise fall outside the scheme—while the second would ensure, similarly with regard to occupants, that the Secretary of State could increase only the range of people treated as not occupying premises but could not bring in agreements that would otherwise fall outside the scheme.
I understand that a degree of modification needs to be provided for in the light of experience if the pilot—I shall continue to call it a pilot—proves to be unsuccessful. However, we should understand to whom the scheme is intended to apply at the outset—to whom and to what, I suppose. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising such a range of issues. He is expressing the concern that we have heard already from all around the House.
My Lords, I share the view of my noble friend Lady Hamwee about the useful contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Some of us know what a tremendous contribution he has made over the years, both to the whole position of immigrants to this country and, not least, to the position of people seeking to study at our universities.
I want to ask two questions. The first is about the desperate pressures on the housing market, not least in London, which remains a magnet for many overseas students. This was exemplified again to me this morning when in one post I received no fewer than two letters from distinguished estate agents in London begging me kindly to sell my rather humble single-bed flat, in a rather seedy part of Victoria, on the grounds that I would make thousands of pounds of profit if I did so. Such lettings or sales almost certainly do not go to students in any situation. Given that there is a huge pressure of demand on the market, not least from people working in this country, often in a fairly short-term capacity, let alone from the literally thousands of houses in London that are now being let or sold to overseas investors who have no intention of living in them or inhabiting them—as anyone can see who takes a good look at Highgate or some other fashionable areas of London, many of those properties remain empty for several years on end—it really is something of a scandal that that is the way that the housing market has played out. It is becoming close to impossible for many overseas students of modest means to find anywhere to live at all, which is why we see increasing numbers of people packed into overcrowded rooms, flats or basements in a desperate attempt to find somewhere to live.
We have been helped by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who gave specific and concrete suggestions about ways in which this situation might to some extent be eased. In the end, it can be seriously eased only by a deliberate attempt to create more student accommodation, but that is not going to happen in the very short run, and therefore anything that exempts accommodation specifically directed to and planned for students is of great benefit in this desperate situation.
Secondly, I want to draw attention to a group who are not assisted by being specifically registered by their university and helped by student unions and the like. I reiterate what I said in an earlier session of this Committee when I pointed out that no less than 33% of academics currently serving in Russell group universities come from overseas. The figure is about 28% for universities as a whole. These men and women are here because they are outstanding in their line of study or profession. They bring to that study their knowledge of another part of the world and the ways in which in different cultures different answers are found. They do not have the benefit we have given to overseas undergraduate students who are registered at their university. They are mostly out there looking for accommodation for themselves, and many of them have no knowledge of this country or its housing market and are quite easily persuaded to make not very sensible arrangements.
Yet let us be quite clear that, without those academics, the quality of first-class higher education would deeply suffer because it is increasingly a global situation and a global statement about the quality of a university. Anybody who knows the Russell group and some of the outstanding new universities will know that it is that huge input of talent and ability from other countries that makes a university not just a good place but a great place. What the noble Lord, Lord Best, has proposed, not least in his final amendment, could be very helpful to people who are without the kind of expert advice that undergraduates can at least hope to get. It is essential that we recognise the importance of tackling this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to children. Many academics will be married with children and will want to bring their dependants with them. The noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out the problem of trying to sort out the migrant status of family members who have come with the head of household who is taking up an academic position, particularly children over the age of 18 who still live with their parents, as many do abroad. How big an obstacle are we placing in the way of such men and women unless we adapt and attract the kinds of solutions that he and my noble friend have tried to put forward this afternoon?
I shall not continue at greater length. Members of this House will know of my huge concern about one of the greatest and most effective exports of this country. Incidentally, it is one of its sources of innovation and enterprise with no less than one in seven new firms and 14% of new jobs being created by migrants, and those figures are higher than the proportion for their British-born equivalents. They make such a huge contribution to this country’s ability to maintain and improve its economic position that it takes my breath away that we should have this kind of legislation before us. I shall not pursue that matter, but I hope the Minister, for whom I have great respect, as we all do, will look very seriously at the proposals in this area of the Bill to deal with the dangers that could arise from the insistence on tenants being, effectively, monitored and overseen by landlords with all the rather frightening consequences of that concept.
When the noble Lord, Lord Best, with his experience and expertise on housing, speaks on issues such as this, we all do well to listen. I am sure the Minister has taken on board his comments. On the issue he raised about students, the Minister has made clear that the Government will bring forward an amendment to address this issue, and I welcome that. I hope he will listen, take on board and incorporate the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, which are very helpful indeed. I welcome the fact that the Minister has listened and intends to table an amendment. I also welcome this recognition by the Government of how clumsy this provision in the Bill is, and the consequences of that. I will not speak at length today, because I spoke at length on earlier amendments covering the same issues.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, address, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, the principle, practicality and workability of the provisions on landlords. Notwithstanding the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the provisions do not just affect students, as I know she has acknowledged. These provisions on landlords will impact on many people to the detriment of many UK-born and British citizens and those who have a legal right to be here. I welcome the opportunity to look at some of the practicalities.
I notice that the impact assessment for the Bill comes straight to one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Under the heading, “What is the problem under consideration? Why is government intervention necessary?”, the impact assessment comments:
“Housing is a key enabler of illegal migration. … Government intervention is necessary to deter illegal immigration”.
I disagree with that. The problem here—the concerns that have been raised in the amendments—is about whether it is the landlord’s role to take action to deter illegal immigration in the way that the Government suggest.
What I am concerned about is highlighted by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. It is becoming increasingly clear what limitations, pressures, problems and responsibilities these provisions are going to have and what impact they will have on those entitled to live and work in the UK, including UK citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Best, and the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have highlighted concerns regarding the impact on landlords.
The Government estimate in their impact assessment that they will take fines of £6.8 million from landlords over the next 10 years. The point has been made to the Minister that that could be seen as, and could well become, a disincentive to those who currently rent out. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether, given that this also includes rooms which have been rented to lodgers, any assessment has been made on the impact of availability of homes or rooms to rent in the private rented sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentioned the letters that she has received from estate agents wanting to rent or buy her property. Anybody who has lived in London will have regularly received such letters from companies offering vast amounts of money to rent a room. Can the Minister tell us whether any assessment has been undertaken of the impact that these proposals could have on the availability of properties or rooms to rent?
I will not go through each amendment—I raised a number of questions which I had on Monday—but the amendments would bring some clarity to the issue. If we take the questions raised by these amendments, those that will be raised in the next group of amendments, those that were raised in yesterday’s discussion on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, and proposals for a pilot—I welcome the Minister’s letter and look forward to discussing the Government’s proposals for a pilot—it is increasingly clear that there is little to commend these clauses. I hope that, in his response today, the Minister is able to address the concerns that have been raised by noble Lords here today and some of those still outstanding from our previous debates.
My Lords, I will make two brief points. First, I welcome the broadening of the exemption for students which my noble friend outlined late in the debate on Monday. That seems to be relevant to Amendment 54ZZA, and we all look forward to seeing the new wording on Report, recognising the importance of our student population.
Secondly, I will comment on the idea outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Best, for an approved agency arrangement. This may be a good idea, but it will of course come at a cost. I would prefer a simple system that would allow landlords to do the checking themselves by having proper guidance for small landlords, both through the normal trade associations and guidance and on gov.uk. In that way enforcement can be minimised, fines avoided, and compliance maximised. The trial run that all noble Lords seemed to be agreed on in the earlier discussion in Committee should be used to test the workability of these important proposals.
I am delighted that we now have another name for the rollout and the trial run; we are accumulating quite a vocabulary of descriptions for this important part of the development of this legislation. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. We have moved down to some detail, which it is important that we use Committee to tackle. I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for tabling his very thoughtful amendments, and to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for hers. They are clearly intended to improve this part of the Bill. I welcome the opportunity I had to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Best, as I explained already, and with a number of interested bodies to discuss these provisions. My door remains open to the noble Lord; some of the suggestions he has made today require further exploration jointly between government and their advocates, so I hope that this will be a beginning.
This group of amendments includes some interesting suggestions, which I will reflect on further, as is right and proper. However, some of them would represent a retrograde step. We can take things in a different direction and further forward than perhaps the amendments aim to take them. I remind noble Lords that the aim of the legislation is to require landlords to conduct immigration checks on all adults who it is intended will occupy the property when the tenancy is created. It does not require all such adults to be named on the tenancy, although that may become common practice in future, and the Bill allows landlords to delegate the task of performing checks to a letting agent. The checking requirement applies only where the property is occupied for rent or lodging as the person’s main or only home.
That is an important measure, and the Government are right to identify housing as one of those facilities which, if controlled by measures as provided for in the Bill, will serve as a deterrent to illegal immigration. I am sure that the noble Baroness will share that view, just as both parties agreed that employers’ checks on people seeking work have been effective in that regard.
The Bill does not require the landlord to monitor who is living at the property once the tenancy has been created. While some landlords already require their tenants to inform them of changes to the composition of the household, some do not, and we recognise that. Where a tenant sublets the property or accepts a lodger without the landlord’s knowledge, that tenant effectively becomes the landlord under the scheme, so to a degree the landlord’s responsibility applies to the person who occupies the house as a principal home.
It is not a question of payment, but of whether that is their principal or main home. If it is not, and they are just a guest for the weekend or for a month, or whatever, that would be a different matter, but if it is the person’s main home, whether there is payment is not relevant to their status. I hope that that is clear.
On the same point, it is common in leases and tenancy agreements to provide a prohibition against subletting or having a subtenancy. In some of the less formal arrangements that the noble Baroness and I are aware of—I am thinking now about the head landlord and tenant—it may not be normal to provide for that, even though a mortgage company that has lent on property would expect it. I hope that landlords, as we understand them in the normal way, would not be penalised if they had a fairly informal arrangement with a tenant of the sort that would fall within this that did not preclude a subtenancy or sublicence. I hope that I am being clear about that. I can see that there may be more calls on what the landlord should do by precluding the possibility of somebody coming in and lodging or having a sublicence without the landlord himself knowing—and I would not like a landlord to be penalised because of that. It is an allied point; I am seeking for there not to be more requirements on the landlord.
I am sorry because, as my noble friend Lord Attlee whispered to me, “You’re wrong”. He is so delicate in these matters. But I am wrong. This transfer of responsibility occurs when rent is paid; when no rent is paid, that is not an arrangement under this scheme. I hope that that is understood, and that it helps to clarify the border as to where the reporting happens.
I am grateful to the Minister and thank him for clarifying that—we all make mistakes. Does that not seem some kind of a massive loophole in the law—the landlord will have to undertake all these checks to ensure that the landlord’s tenant is a legal citizen of this country and entitled to stay, but the person who is renting the property could then allow guests to stay permanently, with it as their main home and with no payment? It would be possible for a rogue landlord to charge exorbitant rent to one person and for the others to stay for free. There seem to be complications around that, allowing a significant loophole in this legislation, if I am correct—but I may be wrong.
Yes, a further elaboration of the point is that the restriction applies only when the person is under an agreement, formal or informal, where the tenant pays rent. The immediate landlord is responsible; if the tenant sublets without the superior landlord’s knowledge, the tenant is responsible for the subtenant. This is quite convoluted language, if I may say so, and it might help noble Lords if I wrote to clarify that point. I see the importance of making it clear where the responsibility lies in these matters; I thank the noble Baroness for raising the issue in the first place and my noble friend Lady Hamwee for her comments.
I am grateful—that is very helpful. But perhaps the Minister could address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself about a loophole. It does not have to be the market rent; it could be an exorbitant rent to one tenant to allow others to stay there for free. If he could address in the letter whether that is a loophole, that would be very helpful.
Yes, I will do it in the letter. I feel that if I try to do so here today, I might get into even deeper water than I am already swimming in.
Home Office immigration enforcement will enforce the scheme in the normal course of its activities. Where illegal immigrants are detected during illegal working operations, when arrested for criminal offences, or as a result of intelligence, immigration enforcement will investigate where the person is living. This will include establishing whether the new duty on landlords has been breached, who owns or controls access to the property, and who is collecting the rent. That ties up with the consideration that the noble Baroness asked me to look at earlier.
The checking requirement will apply only to adults, and the person’s age as a matter of fact will be apparent from the documents presented. The system of document checks has been adjusted, following consultation with landlords, to reflect closely existing check practice by landlords. Where these simple checks are completed, the Bill makes it clear that the landlord will have an excuse, and therefore will not be culpable under the provisions of the Bill. Only original documents can be accepted in view of the obvious risk of forgeries, as noble Lords will understand.
Earlier in the Committee’s deliberations—I am grateful for the comments of my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Williams of Crosby—I announced the Government’s intention to bring forward on Report an amendment to broaden the exemption for student accommodation owned, managed or arranged by higher education institutions in all parts of the UK. Obviously, we await the full detail of the amendment, but I think this very much meets the point that noble Lords have made. This is an important area for two reasons: first, because it reinforces the message that I am trying to get over that we want to make it clear that we are supportive of the university sector in this country; and, secondly, because it introduces the concept that there can be no need for double checking in this area given that the university has already satisfied itself that its students are properly entitled to be in this country. I note the suggestion about the engagement of Section 233 in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and I have already noted my noble friend’s contribution on the council tax exemption point.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, has raised concerns about people who are in need of support at a time of homelessness or the threat of homelessness. The exemptions in Schedule 3 already deal directly with the work of hostels and refuges and the work of local authorities, where they are providing assistance to comply with their duties, or are providing assistance on a discretionary basis to a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness. Therefore, we have made this clear in the Bill.
The noble Lord makes a very interesting suggestion in advocating, and elaborating on, a role for a verifying body to support small landlords in performing the required checks. I say, in the modest way that Ministers do, that I undertake to reflect further on the merits of this suggestion. This is an interesting matter for us and the noble Lord to discuss. The Government want these arrangements to be workable in practice. I think my replies have shown that the Government see this as an important aspect of policy but it must be practical and work for landlords and people who want housing. We also want these arrangements to be successful in achieving the policy objective of deterring illegal migration.
I think I have made it plain that I want to engage with noble Lords. I hope that, in the light of the reassurance I have given, and, indeed, my promise to write in detail specifically on the division of responsibility—that is essentially what we are talking about in relation to the definition of a tenancy and landlords’ responsibilities—the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
Yes, I can confirm that. An agricultural tenancy or a house occupied in connection with any employment would clearly be covered. However, it should not be forgotten that the owner of that property, as an employer, would have already checked the person’s entitlement to be in occupation.
My Lords, I am grateful for support for the amendments in differing degrees from all around the House, including the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, who makes the point that it is already incredibly difficult for overseas students to find anywhere to live that they can afford in London—and in other cities. We must not make life more difficult by putting up a new barrier that puts landlords off; that is such an important and fundamental point.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, who raised a couple of significant points. The Rent a Room scheme that we already have is getting a bit tired; this is the opportunity to let a room in your house and pay no tax—indeed, fill in no forms and just get on with the letting on your own. It will make a difference to the individual who owns that property if having to check the immigration status of anyone whom they take in is added to the requirements on them. We need to look at the Rent a Room scheme again. The tax threshold—the amount you can receive in rent from someone in your own home—has not been changed for something like 11 years; we have to revise that. This is an important moment to look at that. The case is similar for lodgers and guests—these look like awfully murky waters. The Minister said that he would respond in writing, which will be helpful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, picked up on having approved verifying bodies that take all the hassle away from landlords—indeed, that take it away from the Home Office. However, she felt that it would be better to produce guidance and let landlords do their own thing. A voluntary scheme means that landlords who want to use it would just get on with doing so. Some 60% of private renting is through local agents. Rather than agents having their own mini-schemes—how many agents will become expert enough at this?—a central approved body that can verify people’s status would cut the cost to the landlord, and that might be passed on to the tenant. It would give landlords greater reassurance. I declare an interest: I chair the Property Ombudsman, which looks after letting agents and estate agents and the complaints about them. In the world of property ombudsman-ery, there is a system of the Secretary of State approving certain bodies as ombudsmen. That works well: it means that people can join a scheme knowing that it is properly approved, so people can stand behind it. Applying that technique in this field could be a clever move to help everybody to get this right.
The Minister made some important points. He underlined that the student lettings amendment that will be brought forward on Report will be a really good one. We will look at it with care, but it sounds as though it will do a great deal of what we hope that it will. On people being placed with a private landlord by an agency such as Crisis, a charity that takes potentially homeless people and persuades an individual landlord somewhere to take them on, he was not quite able to give me the reassurance that I had hoped for that that would be treated—as I understand it—like a hostel specifically for the homeless. These are specialist schemes in which the vetting will be done by Crisis. To say to the landlord, “I am sorry, we are unable to take away from you the responsibility for checking the migration status of the people we are bringing”, just adds another difficulty when it is difficult enough to get landlords to take in people, even with rent guarantees and other useful techniques. It would therefore be good to talk about that further.
I am grateful to the Minister for earlier discussions and his agreement that we should jointly explore some of these matters further. I look forward to such meetings and, in the light of his reassurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 54ZZA withdrawn.
Amendments 54ZA and 54A not moved.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 16: Persons disqualified by immigration status or with limited right to rent
Amendment 55 not moved.
55A: Clause 16, page 16, line 4, after “if” insert “P is—
(a) an asylum seeker or the dependant of an asylum-seeker as defined in section 94 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;(b) a person provided with accommodation under sections 17, 20, 23C, 24A and 24B of the Children Act 1989 or otherwise under that Act;(c) a person provided with support under Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to avoid a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights;(d) and—(i) an applicant for or a person holding a Tier 4 visa or holding a certificate of acceptance of studies issued by an authority-funded educational institution; or(ii) an applicant for or a person holding a student visitor visa for a period longer than six months;(e) a person who is resident outside the UK and is studying English in the UK who is accommodated in homestay accommodation;(f) ”
My Lords, Amendment 55A is the first in a group of 12 amendments all about who falls within and outside these provisions. This may be stretching it a little bit, but something occurred to me when listening to the noble Lord, Lord Best, talk about a proposed verifying body. However, I have completely lost my train of thought. I had a really good example to support that proposal and it may come back, but I will move on to the specific amendment.
In Amendment 55A, the first paragraph would provide for not only those asylum seekers whose accommodation is provided by the Home Office—they are covered by Schedule 3—but asylum seekers who make their own arrangements for accommodation. It seems to me that they should be excluded also. On a practical level, the state might be forced to provide for those who could otherwise provide for themselves, which is one of those unintended consequences.
As regards paragraphs (b) and (c) in Amendment 55A, provision is made in Schedule 3 for accommodation from or involving local authorities, but that provision is drafted in terms of the homelessness legislation and does not cover other accommodation such as that provided under the Children Act 1989. Section 17 of that Act is used primarily to support children with their families, Section 20 to support unaccompanied children, and subsequent sections to support care leavers. Where a person is without leave to remain, they will not be entitled to social housing or homelessness assistance from the local authority but in limited circumstances a person at particular risk may be accommodated by social services under relevant legislation because of their disability or ill health.
Paragraph (d) in Amendment 55A deals with students, which I think we will come back to. I suspect that I will be pressing the Minister to go further than the amendments being dangled in front of us may go, but I look forward to seeing them. Lastly, Amendment 55A covers young people accommodated in “homestay accommodation”—I think it should have a capital H—while undertaking language courses.
Amendment 55C would provide that there should be no breach when, after entering into an agreement, a tenant becomes disqualified because of his immigration status. This is a matter that the landlords associations expressed concern about in their evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the Commons. It is a probing amendment through which I seek to understand how a landlord is to ensure that he is not in breach without frequent checks. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to this on a previous day. If the landlord is satisfied that the tenant is a British citizen, that is one matter, but if the status is complicated or is not permanent, what is the landlord to do? It seems to me that he must keep on asking, which is impractical.
Amendments 55F and 55J are amendments to Clauses 19 and 21, dealing with excuses—that is the term used—available to landlords and agents. Clauses 19(2) and 21(2) excuse the landlord or agent from paying a penalty, having been given notice of the contravention. There is a world of difference between a contravention and merely not paying the penalty when in fact there was no contravention or, in the case of a landlord with an agent, when it was the agent’s responsibility. Therefore, I am seeking to put the position as I think it should be put, because I do not think that it is just a matter of semantics.
Amendments 55G and 55K are amendments to Clauses 19(7) and 21(7). Similarly, Amendment 55H in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, is an amendment to Clause 19(7). These amendments allow me to ask whether it is necessary both to have complied with the requirements during the period and to have notified the Secretary of State without delay. The amendments also enable me to ask whether the phrase,
“as soon as reasonably practicable”,
in these clauses means “without delay” in the eyes of the Government. They are not synonyms in ordinary language. I also ask the Minister to confirm that it is possible to notify the Secretary of State “as soon as reasonably practicable” under subsection (6)(a) without following the route in subsection (7)—in other words, that subsection (7) is not the only way to satisfy subsection (6)(a). I appreciate that this is not language that is holding the Committee riveted at the moment, but these small amendments could be important in practice.
Amendment 55L addresses whether or not the documents need to be “of a prescribed description”. The amendment would mean that any document could be used to prove that a person from outside the EEA had a right under European law to be in the UK or, in the case of other persons, that a document granting leave could be used. In other words, how is immigration status to be proved? I appreciate that in many ways it will be easier if there is a list. However, the list of documents has to be complete and accurate, and I am aware of the frequency of the change in immigration rules, which will affect which documents can be prayed in aid in this situation.
European nationals can bring family members with them. I was thinking about that when we were talking about people who are under or over the age of 18. Those family members may be persons from outside the EU if they have a right to be here and are not under an obligation to possess a document issued by the Home Office. They can apply for one and the Home Office is supposed to provide it within six months. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Home Office wants people falling within this category to apply for documents, as I suspect that that will cause a considerable amount of extra work.
EEA nationals, as a matter of law, should be treated as well as any third-country nationals. It looks as if third-country family members will find it harder to prove their entitlement to be in the UK—even those from a family composed entirely of non-EEA citizens who have visas. There are some small categories of British citizens who do not have passports but can show that they are British through the use of a birth certificate. Is the landlord expected to know that the birth certificate belongs to the individual? The guidance for employers on checking documents, as we have already heard, is very long—more than 80 pages. The amendment probes that area further.
If the documents are to be of a prescribed description —the Minister alluded to that this afternoon—the Home Office is expecting them to be originals, which should be produced for the obvious reasons of avoiding fraud. Amendment 55M suggests a mechanism for certifying them as true and complete copies as a matter of practicality. What if a landlord says, “Thanks, I’ll take your document away and make sure that it is right”? One would have to be rather trusting of someone holding one of those very precious original documents. What if the Home Office has the papers at the time? There are many situations in which a notary public or solicitor empowered to administer oaths, and so on, can certify original documents showing that they are true and complete copies. Amendment 55M probes that point.
Amendments 55N and 55P would remove the power of the Secretary of State to issue a penalty notice without having established that the landlord has a statutory excuse. The lawyer in me protests that the Secretary of State can issue a penalty notice as soon as he establishes that the person cannot prove a relevant nationality or a right to rent. There will be disputes about liability even before it is established that there is a defence. It would be inappropriate to accuse a private citizen of having broken the law before making any effort to investigate the circumstances.
On Amendment 55Q, under Clause 24(5)(c) the Secretary of State can “increase the penalty” if the landlord or agent receives a penalty notice. In the Public Bill Committee in the Commons, the Minister indicated that an increase would be applied in circumstances when new facts came to light. That was in column 272. I shall not weary the Committee by reading the extract but that is what it amounted to. I am concerned that, by having an unconstrained right to increase the penalty, there will be a danger that objections will not be made and that this provision would act as a deterrent to a perfectly proper notice of objection. I speak as somebody who has not objected to a notice of having jumped a red light when I know perfectly well that I did not. We know that we cannot defeat the system so we might as well pay up. I see this as an equivalent position.
Finally, Amendment 55S would require the Secretary of State to issue a substantive claim giving the landlord an opportunity to raise the defence before the matter is determined—rather in the way to which I have just alluded, to separate out liability as the first issue from the penalty. I beg to move.
My Lords, these amendments build on the two previous debates that we have had on this issue and highlight its difficulties and complexities. I know that the Minister will give an explanation of these but I ask him to take on board the points that have been raised today, and the other points raised on Monday at Questions, which strike at the heart of what these clauses seek to do.
What worries me is that if landlords are going to rent out their properties and want to abide by the law, they will need to have absolute clarity about what is expected of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, thought that she was testing the patience of the Committee. I do not think she was because, for example, Amendment 55Q makes an important point. I worry that the measure outlined in that amendment could be a further deterrent to landlords to rent.
The noble Baroness mentioned the code of practice and the documents available. As I said on Monday, the Government have tried to be helpful by increasing the number of documents available. However, I am not sure how helpful that is because it creates even greater complexities. I had hoped for an explanation of why under List A of acceptable documents, 10f has only a full stop. Presumably there is something missing and there will be another document at some point.
So there may be further documents which are acceptable. I appreciate that.
However, clarity for landlords is crucial, particularly if they are expected, according to the impact assessment, to pay £6.8 million-worth of fines, which is the Government’s break-even policy objective. Every time I read the landlords’ guidance it raises more questions than answers and I am sure it will be the same for landlords. If I were a potential landlord I would regard this as a disincentive.
In the previous debate I asked the Minister a question about landlords seeking to play safe and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has reminded me that I did not receive a response. The worry is that landlords will look at the obligations placed on them and want to choose tenants who most look like, sound like and are easier to identify as, in their eyes, British citizens. Rather than choosing those who may even have permanent leave to remain, they are going to play safe. There is a discriminatory aspect to that. However, the specific question I asked was whether the Government have made any impact assessment of the impact of the legislation on the availability of rooms to rent in the private rented sector. It would be helpful to know if any consideration has been given to that point.
I am grateful for both the debate and the amendments tabled by my noble friend. They contain constructive suggestions and are designed to make this part of the Bill work, an aim which noble Lords will share. The amendments seek to exclude vulnerable people and students from the provisions of these clauses. I have already referred to the Government’s plans in relation to students. However, I wish to provide some reassurance in relation to those who may be vulnerable.
On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, discrimination is a concern. Certainly if it became widespread it would destroy the credibility of these arrangements. That is why there is a code on discrimination running parallel with the code of practice. As noble Lords will know, to breach this code and to act in a discriminatory fashion is against the law in any event, and so it is part and parcel of the package of non-regulatory measures being brought forward to reinforce these particular provisions.
Clause 16 provides discretionary powers for the Secretary of State to authorise a tenant who has no lawful status to rent property. This will include asylum seekers, who will be able to confirm that they have a right to rent with the landlords’ checking service, or a landlord may conduct a check directly with the service. This discretion will be exercised where a failed asylum seeker is unable to return home because of a recognised barrier.
Tenants housed by virtue of children or national assistance duties are also covered in exclusions. Schedule 3 provides that any accommodation provided to a person as a result of a duty on a local authority is excluded—that is, a duty on a local authority in respect of any obligations to vulnerable people. It does not seek to particularise the duties, including the respective Acts and orders relating to children or social care; it is a general obligation which local authorities may have to individuals. Therefore the amendment proposed by my noble friend is not necessary given the wide scope of this exclusion.
The amendments are also intended to provide further protection to landlords. The provisions create a civil penalty scheme which the Government are committed to applying on a light-touch basis. Where a suspected contravention is discovered, the Secretary of State may issue a penalty notice, including where they are not immediately contactable. The landlord is then afforded a right to raise objections. Where these objections show that the landlord has a statutory excuse from a penalty, they will be notified in writing. No further consequences will arise if the objections show that the landlord has a statutory excuse.
The power to increase a penalty is important—it is a kind of parallel power—as it may not be immediately clear whether the landlord has been previously penalised in this way. The landlord may, where it is decided to maintain a penalty, appeal to the courts. That is the right order of events: rather than going immediately to appeal, adjudication can take place informally between the landlord and the Secretary of State.
It is proposed that where a penalty remains unpaid the Secretary of State should be able to pursue recovery through the courts if the penalty were due under a court order in exactly the same way as a civil penalty. In cases where an appeal has been heard by the courts, this avoids the landlord, the Secretary of State and the courts having to return to the same court to hear an application for judgment for an amount the court has already determined should be paid by the landlord.
Turning to Amendments 55A and 55B, to which my noble friend wanted me to pay attention, I remind the House that the proposed sanction is a civil penalty, an administrative scheme; it does not form part of a criminal investigation. Clause 23 places a responsibility on the landlord and/or agent to evidence that they have complied with the prescribed requirements and have maintained an excuse against a penalty where necessary. That does not mean to say that the Secretary of State is not required to establish that there has been a contravention of Clause 17 to justify the issue of a penalty notice, nor that the Secretary of State will not engage with the landlord or agent and give them the opportunity to establish an excuse before a penalty notice is issued. I can confirm that the intention is that landlords and agents will be invited to demonstrate their excuse before a penalty notice is issued. However, in cases where the landlord or agent refuses to co-operate with an investigation, the Government consider that this is a proportionate and practical approach. The landlord or agent can easily prove that they have undertaken the checks by producing copies of the relevant evidence, whereas it would be difficult for the Secretary of State to establish a negative and establish that the prescribed requirements were not complied with.
Perhaps I may turn to Amendment 55Q, because it was also mentioned. The amendment would limit the ability of the Secretary of State to impose a proportionate penalty. It may not be immediately obvious, for instance, that a landlord who is served a penalty has been served a penalty in the past, and so falls to suffer the higher penalty. Because of the nature of these arrangements there are indeed higher penalties for repeat offenders. The objection process may identify information which suggests that the penalty should be raised as well as lowered, and the Secretary of State should be able to take this into account.
This group of amendments also relates to the checks required of landlords. Removing the need for further checks when a tenant’s immigration leave is to expire will fail to deter overstayers. Allowing landlords to avoid the further checks by reporting a contravention may tempt some landlords simply to take the easier route, regardless that the tenant may have extended their immigration leave, which is the reason why these documents need to be checked. This will not serve the policy objective well and has the potential to undermine the whole scheme.
I turn now to the regulations that will make it clear to landlords which documents are acceptable in establishing an excuse. My noble friend Lady Hamwee laid great store by this area, and I agree that it is an important aspect. Allowing the use of any document that purports to be an immigration document risks opening the way for fraudsters; nor should there be a need for certified copies because that will lead to extra costs and potential delays. It is quite reasonable to expect tenants to produce original documents for checks. As regards non-EEA family members of EEA nationals, these family members will be able to show Home Office-issued residence permits or certificates of application as evidence of their right to rent. The noble Baroness asked what would happen when these documents are not available because they might be lodged with the Home Office with an outstanding application. The landlord’s checking service will be able to confirm in writing that the landlord may rent within 48 hours. That is a commitment which we have put into the legislation.
I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment, and if I have failed to satisfy her on any points, I will write to her.
I apologise because I now understand why the noble Lord is inching towards our pilot. However, I have asked him a question in the last two debates: has any assessment been undertaken of the impact of this part of the Bill on the availability of rooms to rent and properties to rent?
My Lords, can I ask the Minister a question about asylum seekers and persons appealing against a refusal of asylum who are occupying rooms in private houses? It has been said that there are quite a few people doing this, notwithstanding the fact that accommodation is normally provided for them under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Can my noble friend elucidate what provisions are being made for documents to be produced by those who are occupying rooms in private houses because they are not covered by the provisions of Schedule 3, to which he has referred? They deal only with the accommodation that is provided to most asylum seekers under the 1999 Act when they cannot afford to pay for accommodation of their own. However, there is still an important residual group of people who find space in private houses. They will need documentary proof that they are allowed to live in those houses and thus ensure that landlords are not breaching the conditions by taking them in.
I think I have made it clear that for people who have asylum seeker status, where it is not safe for them to return and therefore they may be failed asylum seekers, the Home Office will provide the necessary documentation to show that they have a right to accommodation even though their status may well be that of failed asylum seekers.
My Lords, perhaps I may also ask for some clarification. One of my concerns about this part of the Bill is that many landlords will simply not rent to anyone who seems to be foreign or who does not hold a British passport for fear of getting it wrong and being fined. I am afraid that that will inadvertently result in further racial discrimination and provide a charter for those unscrupulous landlords who are racist.
In response to the consultation, the Government accepted that the new rules might provoke landlords to discriminate against people they perceive to be foreign rather than to conduct proper checks. They also recognised the risk that vulnerable people might be impacted. So, is the code of practice and the associated guidance which will make it clear that the checks do not allow landlords to act in a manner inconsistent with the UK’s equality legislation sufficient? It simply requires landlords to read the code and adhere to it without any redress at all if they do not. Moreover, it will be extremely difficult and costly for any potential tenant to bring a challenge of discrimination or victimisation against a private landlord. If people cannot rent relatively easily, they will be forced to seek accommodation in the more shadowy parts of the housing market. I wonder whether the Minister can tell me whether I am right or wrong about this.
My Lords, I do not want to sound complacent because I recognise that this is a cause of anxiety which has been expressed in meetings I have attended. It has also been expressed by other noble Lords in our earlier discussions about the Bill. I do not want to lay too great a store by the codes, but those codes exist, and I do not want to lay too great a store by racial discrimination legislation, which would clearly apply in such circumstances.
What I will do is to ask the right reverend Prelate to accept that this surely applies in connection with employment. I do not know whether the right reverend Prelate feels, as he looks at the nature of people who are engaged in work in this country, that there is widespread evidence of racial discrimination, but I would have thought not. I think it is to the great credit of this country that it is able to welcome people, and this is certainly not a Bill that is designed to make people unwelcome, as long as they have a right to come here and to remain here. That is the principle of this legislation, and I hope the right reverend Prelate will be reassured by that. It is not meant complacently but I believe that, at bottom, the analogy with employer provisions is a good one and leads me to suggest that the particular fear that the right reverend Prelate refers to is not the cause for concern that he thinks it is.
My Lords, this discussion has confirmed for me the complexity of the provisions, and therefore the advantages in having the sort of verifying body to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred in the previous group of amendments. We will come later in the Bill to the position of immigration advisers and tightening up arrangements there. It seems that, as well as rogue advisers, there must be many who are simply incompetent. One could almost say, “Who can blame them?”, but nevertheless I do blame them. Any arrangements which can make it simpler for those who are, as it were, at the coalface to operate will be very welcome. This debate has confirmed that in my mind. My noble friend Lord Avebury has been muttering in my ear about whether case law on employment restrictions applies here. That is another area where I dare say the Minister would say that it depends on the facts, but it is a good illustration of what we may be dealing with.
The Minister said that there was no need for a certified copy of a document, but I was suggesting—I hope—that it could be an option. The reference to the 48 hours to check reminds us all that, in this extraordinary letting market, the property will be gone in 48 hours. The Minister in the Commons talked about the increase in the penalty being based on “aggravating factors”. He said:
“If new information comes forward that demonstrates that, for example”—
I must concede that—
“the mistake was not innocent, but some sort of connivance was involved … it seems only right … that someone looking at the issue afresh should take that into account and reach a conclusion accordingly”.—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 7/11/13; col. 272.]
In my mind, that sort of connivance would be a new fact. I would be very happy to look at the language but I am concerned about the deterrent properties of this. I would hope that we might be able to pin that down a little more.
I will carefully read what the Minister said on this as it is a technical point. He referred to the detail of Schedule 3. My noble friend again questioned whether paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 covers the ground that we are concerned about. Going back again to the workability of these arrangements, I must of course read carefully what the Minister has had to say. I thank him for his answers and for what I think he said implicitly. These are detailed points which we might, if it is appropriate, look at again before Report so that we can make sure that anything we raise on Report is justified and not already covered. The Minister is nodding. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55A withdrawn.
Clause 16 agreed.
Amendments 55B to 55E not moved.
Clauses 17 and 18 agreed.
Amendments 55F to 55H not moved.
Clauses 19 and 20 agreed.
Amendments 55J and 55K not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
Amendments 55L and 55M not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Amendments 55N and 55P not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Amendment 55Q not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Amendment 55R not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Amendment 55S not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Amendment 55T not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Amendments 56 to 56D not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
Amendments 56E and 56F not moved.
Clause 29 agreed.
Amendment 56G not moved.
Clause 30 agreed.
Amendment 56H not moved.
Clause 31 agreed.
Amendments 56J to 56L not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Clause 33: Immigration health charge
Amendment 57 not moved.
58: Clause 33, page 27, line 24, leave out from “charge” to end of line 25
My Lords, after Monday’s debate, I do not think this should take very long. Amendment 58 relates to Clause 33, on immigration health charges, and specifically to subsection (3)(b), which says:
“An order under this section may in particular … specify the amount of any charge (and different amounts may be specified for different purposes)”.
My amendment would remove the words in brackets. As I understand it, we already have the defined charges of £150 for students and £200 for other immigrants.
In the debate we had on Monday, I asked the Minister:
“Once that levy has been paid, it will allow them”—
we were speaking about students—
“to access all health services. Is that quite clear?”.
The answer the Minister gave was:
“Yes, that is exactly right. They will have the same access to health services as is available to a permanent resident”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1573.]
Later in our discussions I said:
“As I understood it, I thought he said that once the health surcharge—let us say it is £200—is paid, for the duration of their legitimate stay in this country all health services will be available to them”.
In his reply, the Minister corrected me. He said:
“It is a per annum charge, so if they are here for three years and are not a student it will be three times £200”.
I accept that. But he went on to say:
“But yes, that is exactly right”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1574.]
That is, there will be no further charges and all health services will be available to whoever has paid the levy or the health service charge—students or other immigrants.
In that case, I do not know why there is a need to have the words,
“and different amounts may be specified for different purposes”.
We need to know what these purposes are and whether there will be extra charges. If there are, what will they be for, and what will be the tariff? That is my amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, when we discussed this previously, I, too, asked my noble friend the Minister about the relationship of this provision to Clause 33(4), which says that,
“the Secretary of State must … have regard to the range of health services that are likely to be available free of charge to persons who have been given immigration permission”.
I said that that implied that certain services provided by the health service were not going to be free of charge to these people. My noble friend tried to reassure me on this point but it is there in the Bill. It seems inconsistent with the repeated declarations that were made by my noble friend the Minister—which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has just quoted—that once you have paid this levy, you are free to access all health services provided by the NHS. If that is the case, Clause 33(4) should be deleted from the Bill.
My Lords, when we discussed Clause 33 previously, the Minister was subjected to a very large number of points. I suggested then—and beg leave to suggest again this evening—that somebody should go over the clause very carefully and look at all the bits in brackets, of which there are quite a lot, and the various subsections and so on, to try to trim it down and make sure that it contains what is really necessary and does not have the opportunities for obscurities and criticism that it presently contains.
It is quite a difficult clause and I understand very well why when one gives power to make an order one wants to give as much scope as one can to the Minister, but this clause goes rather too far by trying to hedge too many bets, and I suggest that it should be looked at very carefully.
My Lords, I attended some of the debate on Monday and heard my noble friend Lord Bourne refer to the £200—or £150 because he was talking about the student rate at about £3 a week—as being very reasonable and fair. As he said,
“it is the cost of a Sunday newspaper”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1605.]
It seems sensible that there is some flexibility in this health charge.
The cost to the National Health Service for an individual between the ages of 15 and 44—presumably young enough to be in reasonably good health normally —is £700 a year. Of course, that rises for older people. As your Lordships may be aware, Professor Meirion Thomas has written extensively about the abuse of health tourism. Because we are not in the Schengen visa system, people do not need compulsory health insurance to come to the UK and as a result he has identified many instances of abuse by healthy people and particularly by people who are not well and pregnant women coming to this country to get health treatment without any coverage of costs.
It is true that the National Health Service has charged such “health tourists” some £300 million but it is also true that it has managed to collect only 16% of the amount it has invoiced. Other countries, such as America, Canada and Australia, have much more severe restrictions on people coming in without health insurance and consequently we get more than our fair share. I would argue for flexibility in the health charge and clarification, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, requested, of the parts of the health service to which it applies.
My Lords, I would hope that if the intention of the words that the amendment seeks to delete is as the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, speculated, the Minister will stand up in response and say it loud and clear to get it on the record.
I did not intervene in the debate on Monday. I read Hansard subsequently and I, too, was left somewhat confused as to the Government’s position. So I looked at the Explanatory Notes, and they do not explain the significance or purpose of the words,
“and different amounts may be specified for different purposes”,
which rather seems to defeat the primary objective of a document headed “Explanatory Notes”. The notes refer only to what is in Clause 33(3)(f), which is a reference to a “reduction, waiver or refund”. I then looked at the Home Office factsheet on Clauses 33 and 34, which also remains silent on the intention of the words, except to say that those who have paid the surcharge will be able,
“to access free NHS care to the same extent as a permanent resident, subject to some exceptions for particularly expensive discretionary treatments”.
I then looked at the letter we all received from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, dated 6 March, in the hope that the Department of Health might be able to throw some light on this, but the letter provides no help on the purpose or intention behind these words, which this amendment seeks to delete—although obviously the amendment has been tabled with a view to getting an explanation from the Minister as to what this means.
I then looked at what the Minister said on Monday. I came to the conclusion that the Minister, too, was unable to tell us why these words are in Clause 33. He said on Monday that those who have paid the levy will be allowed the same access to all health services,
“as is available to a permanent resident”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1573.]
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, Clause 33(4) states:
“In specifying the amount of a charge under subsection (3)(b) the Secretary of State must … have regard to the range of health services that are likely to be available free of charge to persons who have been given immigration permission”.
The Minister also said on Monday that when the Bill was initially implemented, it was the Government’s,
“clear policy intention that there will be no further charges for treatments”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1572.]
But the Minister accepted that this policy stance was not in the Bill. He said that the Government,
“will clarify the position on implementation”.—[Official Report, 10/3/14; col. 1575.]
Frankly, the Government should be clarifying what their Bill means today. Will the Minister now indicate what the words,
“and different amounts may be specified for different purposes”,
are actually intended to mean, and will he give some concrete examples? What different amounts and for what different purposes do the Government have in mind? Is Clause 33(3)(b) simply some sort of ghost paragraph that the Government think may come in handy at some time in the future for purposes about which they are currently unclear? Can the Government’s present position on why and at what stage these words in the Bill will be applied best be summed up as, “Don’t know where, don’t know when”?
I hope that the Minister can today give us clear reasons—which is what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked him to do—as to why these words are needed in the Bill and clear up the confusion that I think a number of Members of the Committee, both those who intervened in the debate on Monday and those who subsequently read Hansard, feel exists at present.
My Lords, it is helpful that we have had this debate; I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has moved the amendment. As he said, it was originally designed to supplement his amendment relating to students. I think that we have got a good story to tell in connection with students. If I may, however, I shall deal with the particular amendment, Amendment 58.
The noble Lord is right that the provision is not immediately transparent; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has challenged me on this point, too. I understand that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, may have been in respect of the exclusion of certain expensive discretionary treatments from the free access afforded by having paid the surcharge—I think that that was his concern. I said on Monday, and I am happy to repeat today, that no such exclusions will apply when the surcharge is introduced, and none is planned for the future either. We intend that the payment of the surcharge will provide the same access to health services as is available to a permanent resident.
I turn to the penetrating critique from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Both he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, felt that a degree of ambiguity lay within the clause, so perhaps I may explain why Clause 33(3)(b) states that,
“different amounts may be specified for different purposes”.
The answer is that it allows regulations to specify different amounts of surcharge for different categories of migrants—currently, there are only two amounts: the £200 rate and the £150 rate—without which we would not be able to give the discount to students, which is one of the elements of the Bill. We need this capacity to do so. We do not have it in mind that there will be other categories, but this is the way in which the discount for students is facilitated by the legislation. It does not refer to NHS charging in the legislation.
Perhaps I may refer to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley, because we have a very different health system here from that in the USA and in Australia which requires a different solution. Health insurance requirements would be expensive and compromise our own competitive position in the international market for students and for workers, which is not what we want the Bill to do. Most EU countries do not enforce the Schengen visa health insurance requirement at their borders. A student applying to Harvard in the USA, for example—my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby referred to Harvard and its great pull as a centre of learning for overseas students—has to pay a fee of $958 per year to access basic health services. To access Harvard’s more comprehensive health insurance plan, which is comparable to what the £150 rate gives access to, would cost a further $2,190 per year. That gives some measure of what is involved. We have already committed to this discount for students—that is what this clause is about—in recognition of their contribution to the UK, reinforcing, I hope, arguments that I am trying to make at regular intervals in our debates. They will pay just £150 instead of £200, which is 1% of the cost of coming to study in the UK and exceptional value for money, as I am sure noble Lords will agree.
Why does the Bill allow surcharge payers to be charged for further treatments? So that noble Lords are clear, I should clarify that the Bill does not prevent the exclusion of certain expensive, discretionary treatments from the free access. However, we have made it clear that we intend that no such exclusions will apply when the surcharge is introduced. The Department of Health has been clear that it will consider these in future only in the event of exceptional and compelling specific justification for health purposes; and any changes would need to be put before Parliament in the form of revised NHS charging regulations. One might say that this is for treatments which may in future emerge where it is considered that the health service quite properly should charge not just migrants but members of the UK population.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked whether there was a problem with the drafting of Clause 33(4). The drafting purpose of Clause 33(4) is to provide a clear link in the Bill to health treatment. Without it, the clause would give an unlimited power to charge for any purpose, which is the intention neither of the clause nor of that particular subsection of it. I note what noble Lords have said about the wording of the subsection. It has been carefully drafted, but if I can provide noble Lords with an explanation of line-by-line implications, I shall do my best to do so before we get to Report. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Where the Bill uses the words,
“likely to be available free of charge”,
in Clause 33(4), it anticipates the possibility that the Minister mentions—that while we do not intend to charge anybody at the outset of the operation of the Bill for services of particular cost, we have it in mind to do so in the future. That would apply to students and to short-term migrants as well.
I think that I made it clear that the wording is designed to enable the health service, if it feels that particular treatments should be charged for, to do so. There is no intention to do so at present, but it is important that the Bill makes it clear that this is a facility which the health service wishes to reserve for itself. I think that it is quite proper for it to do so, but there is no intention on the introduction of the health charge for there to be any additional fees for additional treatments.
My Lords, will the Minister clarify two things? I apologise if I appear to be Baroness Dim on these two points. The first is: will people who do not want to pay the health charge be refused permission to come into this country? I want to make that clear and have it in Hansard. Secondly, I am still not clear about the phrase that the Minister used a while ago, “different categories of charging”. I am still not clear about what will happen
There are two different categories of charge currently: that for students and that for everyone else. I just wanted to make that clear. The wording is general, but those are the two categories that the Bill is intended to introduce. On the question of whether paying the surcharge is mandatory, yes, it is for overseas applicants.
No, that is not the case, but they may be, as they currently are, charged for particular treatments. There are some medical treatments available in this country which are not available under the National Health Service. That would remain the case. That is not the purpose of that particular phraseology. As I have explained, it is to provide for the charging of different categories of migrants—students and others. That is the purpose of the wording. The National Health Service has always said that it will provide health treatment free at the point of use. The purpose of the charge is to put applicants on the same basis as every other resident of this country, so the anxiety that my noble friend expresses is ill founded. This is not the vehicle for introducing mass charging for treatment under the National Health Service. That is not the purpose of the clause and it will not be possible to achieve it through this legislation.
My Lords, I listened with great interest to that exchange. If the noble Lord is prepared to follow my suggestion and look at the wording, there is a bit of a mismatch between what one finds in Clause 33(1)(b), which mentions,
“any description of such persons”,
and the phrase,
“different amounts may be specified for different purposes”,
in subsection (3)(b). I could understand the linkage if one were talking about different charges for different categories of persons, but it is the breadth of the word “purposes” in subsection (3)(b) which causes difficulty. Looking to the future use of the clause when it becomes a section, it would really be helpful if it were a little more precise.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for that advice—free legal advice to the Government is considered to be very valuable. I hope that I have been able to explain what the legislation is intended to do and have reassured noble Lords on that point. Beyond that, I can commit to go back to look at the wording of the clause to see whether the intention could be made more explicit. That I will seek to do.
Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. Noble Lords understand that there are now NHS treatments and services for which charges are made and that people who are resident in this country pay those charges, as do visitors. What is perplexing about the clause is, given that that is the case, what is the Government’s intention? Is it to reach a point in future where different categories of people have to pay for identical services? If the Minister could write to noble Lords and give us some examples of what scenario the Department of Health envisages under the legislation, that would be extremely helpful.
There is nothing sinister here. This is not a Machiavellian move by the Government. It is to bring in a differential between the charge for students and the charge for ordinary migrants, which I am sure that noble Lords applaud. That is the objective. I reassure my noble friend that I will take her advice and write to Noble Lords on this point. I was here for Third Reading of the Pensions Bill, when mention was made of the weight of paper with which noble Lords have been bombarded concerning that Bill. I fear that we may be getting into the same situation here, but I hope that noble Lords will understand that, in technical matters such as this, it is often easier to put things in writing, because I can be more explicit.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I have a few points to make. First, the Minister said that the subsections of Clause 33 were very carefully drafted. Listening to the debate, I think that there will be a collective opinion in the House today that that is not the case. I am pleased that the Minister said that he will look at the provisions to see whether the purpose for which they have been written can be clarified. I look forward to new amendments.
I am much clearer now about three things. First, once the health charge, or the levy, is paid, currently, for all those who pay the levy, health services will be available to them free of charge, just the same as permanent citizens of this country. That bit is clear. The second thing clarified by the Minister—I thank him for doing that—is that the words,
“and different amounts may be specified for different purposes”,
do not refer to health service charges but to categories of immigrants or students who we allow to come to this country.
The third purpose is what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to in subsection (4), which does refer to health charges that might be brought in subsequently. In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, the Minister was quite clear that they do not apply to residents of this country and that the Government had no intention of using this as a backdoor way to bring in charges in the NHS for citizens of this country. The subsection refers to extra charges that the Government may introduce through legislation which will be brought to Parliament in the first instance. I hope that I am clear in what I understand and that that is what the Minister said.
On that basis, until we see the redrafted clauses, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 58 withdrawn.
Amendments 59 and to 60 not moved.
Amendment 60A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
61: Clause 33, page 27, line 36, at end insert—
“(4A) The Secretary of State will, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, lay before the House a report on the sums collected under this section and the expenditure thereof.”
This amendment also relates to Clause 33. The only comment I make to start with is that if all the verbiage in Clause 33 does is give the power to charge one rate to students and another to everybody else, it seems unbelievable that it cannot be made simpler and more explicit. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he reflects on the debate that took place on the previous amendment.
Clause 33 provides the Secretary of State with a power by order to require certain migrants to pay an immigration health charge. It relates only to people who are seeking immigration permission; it does not relate beyond that. The charge would be paid by someone who was applying for leave to enter or to remain in the UK or for entry clearance. The amount, the method of payment and the consequences of non-payment will be set out in secondary legislation although, as has been said on a number of occasions, we understand from the Government that the amount of the charge will be £200 a year and £150 for students and that paying the charge will be a precondition of entry.
We agree with the principle of the charge. It is right in our view to require migrants who are here for a limited period to make a contribution to the NHS. We also agree that the test of ordinary residence is fairly generous. At the moment it is satisfied by many new and temporary migrants almost immediately and covers many people, including newly arrived family members.
We have tabled only one amendment to this clause, Amendment 61, which requires the Government to provide information to Parliament on the sums collected under Clause 33. Obviously, in large part the amendment is to find out a little more about the Government’s intentions on this score. The amendment asks for a review of the sums that are to be collected and how they are to be disbursed. The Bill states that the money will be paid into the Consolidated Fund or be applied in such other way as the order may specify. At Second Reading, in response to a question from my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, the Minister said that,
“on 20 January the Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed to departments and the devolved Administrations that the money that is collected by these charges … will go directly to health services”.—[Official Report, 10/2/14; col. 524.]
Where will this be set out, and where is the guarantee of it?
There are further questions. Will hospitals that treat a high proportion of foreign nationals get an appropriate or proportionate share of it and how will the money be shared with the devolved Administrations? What is the definition of the words “health services”? Could the money go to the private healthcare sector, for example? If the money is to go to health services, why not say so in the Bill and end any doubts on that score? Will the money from the charge be in addition to the money that the Government provide for the NHS or for health services, or will it be used to reduce the amount that the Government would otherwise have provided? In other words, is it extra money or is it simply going to be used to reduce the amount that the Government themselves provide? Some response to that point would be very helpful.
I want to ask about the implementation of the provisions, because in the consultation document the Government indicated that the migrants’ biometric residency permit would be endorsed to show that they were entitled to NHS treatment without further charge. How will hospitals and doctors be made aware of that? I ask that in the context—I understand that I may well be wrong, and I am sure that if I am I will be corrected—that the Department of Health will publish a full implementation plan—indeed I may be told that it has already done so—which will include plans to develop a new NHS registration process for the identifying and recording of patients’ chargeable status. If that has not already been produced, will the Minister confirm when it might be available? We also want to ensure that there is no disincentive for people who bring benefits to this country. One category is students. How will that charge be kept under review to ensure that it does not act as a disincentive for people who we would wish to come here to do so?
In probing what the Government’s intentions are and how they see this operating, I want to ask about transitional arrangements. The Minister has confirmed to us in a letter that affected migrants who are already in the United Kingdom at the time when the policy is implemented will not be liable to pay a surcharge and will not be charged for healthcare for the remainder of their leave if they were previously exempt from NHS charges. However, once their leave expires, the migrant will be required to pay the surcharge as part of any further immigration application unless they are applying for IDR. Will the Minister confirm where this will be set out in the legislation and how people will be made aware of it? In that scenario, how will a GP know whether someone who should pay the charge is covered if for that patient the charge becomes payable only when they apply for an extension of leave to remain? If a GP refers to hospital a patient who should have paid the charge, will the hospital also have to check that that patient has paid—a double check—or can the hospital accept that the GP making the reference will have done a check and rely on that?
The Minister said on Monday, in a discussion on the issue of the charge, that there would be no transitional arrangements. I ask him not to confirm that there will be no transitional arrangements, because that is clearly in black and white in Hansard, but to confirm that that also means that there will be no transitional costs relating to the bringing in of this payment. It would be helpful to have clarification on that.
I have raised a number of questions: what the Government’s intention are; how this will operate; where the money will be going; whether it will be used to reduce the amount that the Government provide to the health service or whether it will be additional money; what the definition is of “health services”; and whether the money could go to the private sector. I have also raised queries about the position of GPs and the checks that they have to make, and in particular whether there is a double check if they refer someone to a hospital or whether the hospital can take it that the GP will have done the checks and that is the end of the matter. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 66F in this group. Following the consultation in 2013, the Department of Health said that,
“while there is a great deal of speculation about the numbers of visitors and short-term migrants using the NHS, robust data are very limited”.
That is the point that I wish to address. I have no problem with the Government’s intention to introduce a health levy, and I have no problem with them seeking to have different rates for different groups of people. However, I want to be sure that when this House makes a major change to a fundamental policy that we have held in this country for over 60 years, that it does so on the basis of sound evidence.
Back in 2006, noble Lords will remember that proposals of this kind came before this House from the then Labour Government but then disappeared, principally because someone went back to the department and worked out that the cost of implementing the proposals far outweighed any benefit. It is simply good business practice to have done a cost-benefit analysis of a major change before one implements it. The Government are wedded to doing this—fair enough, and I have no doubt that they will go ahead—but it is only right that if they go ahead they should do so on the basis that its implementation will be thoroughly analysed, so that we do not find ourselves back here in five years’ time responding yet again to an agenda that has been set by various media organisations and political groupings on the basis of nothing more than speculation.
When we talk about this issue, we always find the Government talking about the work of overseas visitors officers and so on and claiming that there is a degree of undercharging and that the NHS budget would be helped substantially if we had a scheme such as this in place. People who work with minorities and vulnerable groups in our society have quite legitimate fears about the potential cost not just in terms of public health but of acute care if migrants and so on are deterred from seeking NHS services at an early stage. Neither side has any real, strong evidence base. This amendment seeks to build the evidence base so that we know the full cost, not just in financial terms but in terms of public health.
This amendment requires the Government to appoint an independent person to carry out a review. The amendment states that the review should cover a period of two years. Actually, I would prefer it to be three years. I do not believe that the review period of one year suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, is long enough because it may be that there is something unusual. If this proposal had been put forward a few years ago, and we then proceeded to have a swine flu epidemic, it would have thrown the data completely. I would like to see three years’ comparative data.
The data should not be on just the simple, straight transactional costs of collecting the fee. They should be robust about the impact on public health and on the use of expensive acute services by people who have not gone to primary healthcare services because of the deterrent effect of the changes proposed in the Bill.
My Lords, Amendment 66 requires information outlining details of health charges for health services applicable to the individual to be given at the point of an application for immigration permission or upon request. One of the biggest worries about the health service clauses in Part 3 is that they could create confusion and wrongly discourage some migrants from accessing free healthcare to which they are entitled. According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, for whose briefing I am most grateful, there is already a notable lack of understanding about how the charges for health services will work among both individuals and healthcare professionals. Even more worrying, there has also been inconsistency in how charges are implemented.
Most welcome is the exemption from charging for the treatment of diseases which present a public health risk. However, public confusion could result in delays in people presenting themselves and therefore in diagnosis. Already in 2012, 47% of adults newly diagnosed with HIV were diagnosed late. I am not sure what percentage of those late diagnoses would be attributable in any way to confusion. Overall, 81% of AIDS-related deaths in England and Wales in 2012 were attributable to late diagnosis. There is an issue about timing.
Equally, unless people are made aware of their entitlement to health treatment right at the start of their application for immigration permission or when they request it, they are likely never to sort this out or to become clear about the services to which they are entitled. From the taxpayers’ point of view, it is crucial that those entitled to free GP consultations are aware of it. The risk is that fear of being charged for a visit to the GP may result in people not doing that and later needing an A&E appointment. The cost differential between these two options is £90 per patient and could over time add up to quite a bit for the taxpayer, quite apart from the detriment to the patient.
Does the Minister agree that readily available information accompanying any changes to the healthcare charging system or to the collection of charges—I understand that is going to be much tougher in future—is essential to prevent public health risks and unnecessary costs to the Exchequer? I hope the Minister will inform the House what assessment the Government have made about the current level of public understanding about healthcare charges and exemptions for specific groups and what steps they have taken or will be taking to improve awareness among healthcare professionals and members of the public.
Following what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said about the importance of the evidence base, I take us back to our debate on Monday. In that debate, a number of noble Lords questioned the evidence base for the claim that there is a problem of so-called health tourism in this country. They asked the Minister what the evidence base was for that claim and questioned the Department of Health’s report on it. The Minister had an awful lot of points to make in his summing up speech and, after about 30 minutes, he quite understandably thought that he had had enough and probably everyone else had, too. Although he has already helpfully circulated a letter following our first day, I could not see anything in it that responded to the concerns raised on all sides of the House. I use this opportunity to invite the Minister to respond on that this evening.
Perhaps I should declare an interest as a chartered accountant. As such, I looked at Amendment 66F with care. I agree that it is important to have a proper review, analysis and evidence of real costs, but the trouble with the proposed new clause is that it asks for a calculation of the total charges paid, among other things, but it does not look for an assessment of the cost against those charges. For the proposed new clause to be meaningful and for the assessment of the health charge to be made, one would have to look at the costs incurred by the National Health Service for the £200 or £150.
My Lords, I welcome the general support offered by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for the surcharge. Indeed, I felt that there was support around the House for the surcharge in principle; it is just on implementation and the practicalities that the Government are quite properly being challenged.
The Home Office, which is responsible for administering the health charge, but not for spending the money, will be open and transparent about the operation of the surcharge. As my noble friend Lord Howe set out in his letter to all noble Lords last week—I hope it helped; it was designed to try to put these changes to the law in the context of wider health service reforms—the surcharge income will be allocated directly to the National Health Service across the UK. Allocation will be in accordance with the Barnett formula.
The dear and much-loved noble Lord is not in his place, but much as he seeks to see the end of his legacy in establishing the formula, it is still widely used in government and it seems the most appropriate way of ensuring that the money goes to the NHS. It will go to the NHS—the National Health Service—not to any other agency offering healthcare in this country. How the NHS spends it is for the Department of Health, of course, and the devolved Health Ministers, because health services are a devolved matter. The allocation of the money will be made by affirmative order, so we will have control here in Parliament of how this is finally resolved.
I note what my noble friend Lady Barker said in speaking to her amendment. While the Home Office already has a well established procedure through which it is accountable to Parliament, I appreciate that this House would benefit from the means to scrutinise the impact of the surcharge. I am therefore prepared to make a Statement to this House to provide information about the Home Office’s administration of the surcharge within 12 months of it going live. I hope that that will give some assurance to noble Lords on how the surcharge is working.
It may include details such as the number of migrants who pay the surcharge and the total amount of surcharge collected and directed to the National Health Service. I believe that this sort of transparency is important, and the Statement will provide proper transparency and provide the House with the necessary flexibility in scrutinising the surcharge scheme. Furthermore, any future changes to the core operating principles of the surcharge, including the amount to be paid, will have to be agreed by both Houses under an affirmative resolution procedure.
On Amendment 66, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, we intend to do our utmost to ensure that visa applicants understand the purpose of the surcharge and how it might apply to them. We will make the information available to individuals, including through our website and visa application centres. Indeed, the visa application form is where most people encounter this surcharge because it is directed only at those applying for a visa for a stay of six months or more. The form itself will explain it.
My noble friend Lord Attlee has pointed out in conversation that universities themselves might like to promote the student surcharge as being a very competitive offer at £150; it certainly is a bargain in global terms. However, it would be most unfair to ask migrants to pay a surcharge that they know nothing about. Both the reasons it is being charged and what it gives migrants access to are very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked when the Department of Health will publish its detailed implementation plan for patient registration and identification. If I say “shortly”, he will know that that word is used regularly enough. We do not have an exact date, but it will be shortly. He also asked how the transitional provisions would be set out and how a hospital will know if a person is a transitional case. This will be done in the order implementing the surcharge. We will use the patient registration system to flag people who have paid the surcharge. We will consider doing so also for those who benefit from the transitional arrangements. The simple production of a visa or biometric residence permit—BRP—that is current and valid will give evidence of free entitlement to the NHS, and transitional cases will be identifiable because their entry clearance or BRP will be dated before the commencement of the surcharge scheme, which will be known.
My noble friend Lady Barker asked about the costs of implementing the health charge and whether we have done a cost-benefit analysis. We have indeed. The Home Office has produced a full impact assessment on the Bill. It is available on the Immigration Bill page of the gov.uk website.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about treatments for infectious conditions, such as HIV and TB, for example. They are free, and will remain so. It was this Government who abolished the NHS treatment charges for HIV.
I hope that I have answered most of the points. I will go through the record and see whether there are aspects that I have not addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is looking particularly questioning. Can she remind me of what I have missed?
Given that the Minister was able to slip out of answering this point on Monday—it did not seem fair to push him on it after he had covered so many points—perhaps I might remind him about the evidence base for health tourism. I have a snippet of information that one piece of research that the Department of Health is relying on is that, out of nearly 1,000 migrants screened by overseas visitors officers in more than 15 trusts during August 2013, only four individuals—0.4% of the sample—were identified as “health tourists”. Even if the Minister cannot now tell us what the evidence is for this claim of health tourism, I would be grateful if he could commit to write specifically on this issue, given that it kind of got left out of his last letter.
My Lords, when the noble Lord is replying on that point, will he deal with story of the 300 maternity patients who were alleged to have been treated at St Thomas’s hospital? When we last discussed this, the allegation was found to have been apocryphal. I would be grateful if the Minister would repudiate it.
I would not wish to get involved in hearsay or gossip or, indeed, the suggestion that some of this stuff is just newspaper chat. I will get back to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, with a reasoned reply explaining the Government’s analysis of the situation. However, the purpose of this measure is not to do with health tourism at all; it is to do with providing a charge whereby people who stay here for more than six months make a contribution to the NHS. It will make it more difficult for people who are not entitled to access healthcare to do so, but that is a secondary purpose.
Perhaps I might ask for clarification on one point. The Minister skated rather quickly over that fact that “it” will be explained on the visa application form. I wonder what “it” refers to. Will it spell out clearly that all health services freely available to permanent residents will also be available to the applicant as somebody who has paid the surcharge?
My second question concerns people with infectious diseases who may not have paid the surcharge but who will be entitled to free treatment for an infectious disease. What sort of action will the Government take to inform them of their entitlements?
The latter point is more difficult to answer positively; it is something which my noble friend Lord Howe would be in a position to reply to with authority. On the first point, I think that the wording which the noble Baroness suggested is particularly good. It sums up the policy as I have tried to describe it to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, which was far more helpful than I had expected. Perhaps I may press him a little further and ask whether he would be prepared to make not just a one-off Statement to the House about the introduction but perhaps to do so annually, or more than once, so that we can have comparative data in different years. That would give us a slightly more robust evidence base than we would have by having just a one-off Statement in the year after a measure has been brought in. A fair amount of information and attention would, presumably, attend its introduction.
I start from the position that an informed House is better able to make decisions and judgments on issues. Having said that, I am not sure that I could commit to making a periodic Statement on this issue, although I know that the Home Office will always respond to questions that might seek updated information of this type, and indeed there are other ways in which this House has the capacity to bring the Government to account on policy. At least by promising this Statement I am giving an indication that we are confident that this particular measure will be a success and raise money for the National Health Service, which will be to the advantage of the taxpayers of this country and a bargain for migrants to this country. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that point.
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is reassured. However, I think that the Committee would also be glad to know—I do not expect the Minister to pin down the detail tonight—the range of issues that will be covered by a Statement. That addresses my noble friend’s point about the data which will be collected. We were quite rightly reminded about the costs of the services, which have not been included in our list. I am sure that there are other points as well. It is the detail that is important and that noble Lords will be interested to know. Perhaps I may leave that with the Minister as something to think about after this stage.
If my long-suffering noble friend will be kind enough to bear with me for one minute, perhaps I may raise one further point which follows what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said. I think that the Minister said in his response that it was already the case that no charges would be made under the NHS for treating infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis, and that that would still be true for those who are not permanent residents. I believe that I understood that correctly. It is therefore strange that I have had briefings, particularly from the National AIDS Trust and from bodies concerned with drug-resistant TB, asking that it should be made quite clear that there would be no charges for treatment in the cases of these wildly infectious and very frightening diseases. There is, therefore, something of a conflict of understanding which the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, might go some way towards meeting. However, it is troubling when a professional foundation says something quite different from what I understand we have been discussing and have been told here in this Chamber.
I, too, thank the Minister for his response. I am in much the same position as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in the sense that it went rather further than I thought it would go, so I genuinely thank the Minister for what he had to say in his reply. I am also sure that the Minister might wish to reflect on the number of points that have been made after he sat down. Bearing in mind that he has said that he will send a letter to pick up any points he has not covered, perhaps he will reflect further on some of the points that have been raised in the past few minutes.
I do not expect the Minister to respond to the questions now because he has said that he will write a letter. He has certainly not responded to some of the issues that I raised but I accept that he will do so in the letter. One of those issues, of course, is why it does not say in the Bill that the money will go to the NHS—why not put that in there? We are not proposing, are we, that the National Health Service will be disappearing within the next few years, so it is not the usual argument that you do not want to put this in the Bill because it might not be there for very long? Or at least I hope that that is not the point. I have not received a specific response yet, but I know that I will when the Minister sends the letter about whether this will be additional money to the National Health Service or whether it will simply be used to reduce the amount that the Government provide.
I also asked about whether there would be any transitional costs as opposed to transitional arrangements. I take it that the Minister will respond to that question, too.
The Minister will be aware that doctors and other parts of the health service have expressed a view that the kind of checks they will have to make will be an administrative burden. I asked a couple of questions about whether a hospital, if a patient has been referred to it by a doctor, can assume that the doctor has done the check and not have to do a double-check, and how a GP can know whether a patient who is already in the country, and therefore not covered by these new arrangements, requires a renewed application to remain here. I am sure that that will be picked up in the Minister’s reply.
My general point—bearing in mind that some doctors have expressed a concern about what they feel will be an administrative burden, and that the Minister has said that a Statement will be made to Parliament—is whether the Statement will also cover whether the arrangements have imposed an administrative burden on doctors. As some doctors have raised the issue, this would be one way of getting an analysis of it and discovering whether there is any substance to it, or whether their fears have not been realised. Perhaps the Minister can also comment on that point when he sends the letter. Once again I thank the Minister for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
Clause 33 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.27 pm.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity this short debate presents to recall the significance that Bletchley Park represents to our history. This debate allows me to provide some background and context to the restoration that is being contemplated as a result of the £8 million financing that it has received. I hope that those involved will avoid creating a Disney theme park experience for the visitor—the Hollywood films that have been made to date bear little resemblance to the Bletchley that I recall. I still find it difficult to discuss this subject in public. After all, the Bletchley that I knew was a highly secret place and for many years we were forbidden from mentioning it.
I am especially pleased to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will be speaking. His mother Sarah was my colleague and a great friend. Three weeks ago I was called to a small table in the tea tent of the Peers’ Dining Room where a host Peer and his wife had as their guest 96 year-old Pamela Rose. Pam worked and I typed through those wartime days and nights. We were employed by the Foreign Office, never in uniform, and we did not look after Colossus, as did the Wrens pictured so recently in the Times.
Let me try, very briefly, to describe my recollection of the Bletchley Park that I knew. I spent my time working in Hut 4, followed by Block B. We were never allowed to visit other offices. I am delighted that the original Hut 4 remains. In 1941, it was the centre of U-boat warfare research before Colossus; nowadays, Hut 4 is a bar. I never went into the mansion, which was known to me and my colleagues as “The Other Side”. The present day invaluable post office did not exist, and at the back of the mansion lay paddocks belonging to Captain Ingram’s stud farm. Nowadays, those paddocks are covered by huge housing estates, and only someone as old as me and as keen on racing as I am would know of their past. The pond, now a rather grand lake, stood alone, and a nearby path is bordered by American shrubs, to which we all contributed in order to commemorate American involvement with Bletchley, which was an important part of the latter part of the war.
Food was actually a bit of a problem. Outside the main gate was a short road. On one side lay strictly private houses and on the other side a very large shed housed our only canteen. At the end of the building was a raised stage from which Bletchley Park choirs sang and theatrical productions took place. It is a pity that the shed was not preserved for visitors’ use in peacetime, although I am glad that the disgusting food is not available. I hope that some of the new money can be set aside to provide first-class meals, snacks and maybe facilities for banquets—and I consider this to be very important.
The recent debates in this house about Alan Turing have highlighted some of the work done at Bletchley. It strikes me that I am probably seriously out of date; I should therefore be wise to seek the help of the many voluntary guides who I know do such an admirable job. In the mean time, I hope that it does not sound cheeky for me to wish that funny old place a magnificent future.
My Lords, it is an extraordinary privilege to speak in this debate and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. I think that she has shared with us this evening more memories than she has allowed herself to speak of at other times, because she has kept the oath of silence magnificently over the years. In fact, she has been more concerned to recognise the efforts of others, notably Alan Turing, than she has been to promote her own contribution at Bletchley. It is with great humility that we all take part in this debate to follow what she has said.
I would like to quote something from one of her colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, who when he wrote of his own memories in 2003 wrote about Jean’s contribution. I am using the noble Lord’s term, “Jean”, because she is such a noble friend to all of us. The noble Lord, Lord Briggs, said essentially that, when she spoke at the opening of the visitors’ information centre at Bletchley in 2003, she took a long-term view. Jean, he said, was exactly the right person to present it in 21st-century Bletchley Park. She always takes a long-term view and she has taken it again this evening by sharing those memories and sharing her optimism and hopes for the future of Bletchley, in which she has played such an extraordinary role.
It is very difficult to underestimate the importance of Bletchley and its scientific and technological heritage, as well as its wartime role. There were 9,000 people on that site, and they all kept silence for such a very long time. Code-breaking is what it is known for, but the work of those brilliant men and women did not just shorten the war and save countless lives; Bletchley Park proved to be to the information age what Ironbridge was to the industrial age 300 years ago. For many years, the site itself was silent and deteriorating under the long shadow of wartime secrecy, but gradually history, memories and voices have emerged. However, as with so much of our heritage, it was terrifyingly touch and go 20 years ago that anything would be saved or celebrated at all. It is extraordinary to think that in 1991 the site was almost turned into a housing development. In 1993, the mansion was not even listed, because it was not thought to be of sufficient special interest.
It was not until 2004 that English Heritage began the detailed archaeological research that showed, for example, how the secrecy of the operation was maintained by the physical separation of the huts and how, as the huge volume of the signal traffic increased, those huts became permanent. As recently as 2006, they were in a very fragile condition, and I am pleased to say that English Heritage jumped in, as it often does, with emergency funding to enable the bigger funders to come and provide that £8 million of public and private help. The master plan set out last year by the trust will produce, I think, a very important and productive future for the trust. We know that there are now 15 listed buildings on that site. Block C is a visitor interpretation centre, and the huts that housed the code-breakers and bombes will be restored—all because of Bletchley Park Trust 20 years ago and the volunteers and veterans.
As the noble Baroness said, we know more through documentaries and films. The visitor numbers have trebled in the past six years, and what is encouraging is that it is recognised as a world site. A world-class learning and interpretation centre must now be provided, which tells the complex and often personal stories of the genius of individuals but also of the culture of Bletchley, and the creativity and tensions not just of the mathematicians but of the historians, poets and musicians who also played such an important role. I hope that that will include the noble Baroness putting her own memoirs into that living archive so that more people learn of her contribution to this extraordinary story.
My Lords, when I saw this subject on the Order Paper and noted that my noble friend would lead the discussion on it, I could not resist getting involved given that she knows so much about this important matter. Indeed, my noble friend hinted that the whole story may not have come out yet and it is still exciting and changing. Therefore, we should have a good, long, hard look at what was at Bletchley Park, and what it meant.
Bletchley Park is also exciting because it is not just a part of a war; it was effectively the start of the computer age in which we now live as Colossus was there. I wish to deal first with an issue that has been in the press—namely, the two organisations, both of which are in receipt of public money, which are not co-operating. I suggest that it might be the role of Parliament to bang their heads together until they either scream or agree to co-operate as the two of them are interlinked. The issues surrounding the construction of the fence and where tour groups can visit can surely be resolved given the importance of this site. Pressure should be put on the two organisations concerned to operate in a more seemly fashion. There is no reason why this cannot be done. I do not know the ins and outs of the argument, who said what or know about the egos involved—I am sure egos are involved on both sides—but surely differences can be resolved. Those who look after the Colossus, the National Museum of Computing and the Bletchley Park Trust must come together and look after the whole site as all its parts are interlinked.
Looking at the history of computing, effectively modern computing started at Bletchley Park—at least, that is my interpretation of it. I speak diffidently given who will speak later in the debate. The work done at Bletchley Park led to the development of the modern computer, which is changing our lives on a daily basis, and affects just about everything we do. Therefore, this issue is not just about the past but constitutes a link to something which dominates our lives today. The fact that computing started at Bletchley is an enormously important lesson for us to learn in terms of understanding that good things can come out of conflict—that is, if we agree that the modern computing age is a good thing. It is possibly not an unmixed blessing but it has changed the way we live.
I would like to give noble Lords a small example of what computing has achieved in the minute or so I have left to speak. I cannot write properly without using a voice-operated computer because of my dyslexia. Literally millions of people in this country are assisted to communicate by computers. I declare an interest as chairman of a firm that provides assistance to people in this country and many parts of the world, including deaf people, those with dyslexia and blind people, by means of text-to-voice and voice-to-text machines and screen images. This work all started at Bletchley Park.
We are in danger of losing the link between the past and the present embodied in Bletchley Park. The work that was done there affects us to this day in virtually every aspect of our lives.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on obtaining the debate and, of course, on her speech. One is constantly astonished by the noble Baroness. Even two nights ago, I happened to turn on the television and see a recorded version of “Have I Got News For You?” in which the noble Baroness appeared. I have never seen the regular panel so intimidated as they were on that occasion.
The noble Baroness has a very close and long association with Bletchley Park. Curiously, I discovered that I, too, have links, albeit rather remote ones, with Bletchley Park, although I was quite unaware of it at the time. I did my national service in 1947-48 in the air force. It was a pretty miserable time as there was no prospect of promotion or learning to fly; one was just there to make up the numbers while others were demobbed. I may have spent much of my time training for the 1948 Olympics, but I was also trained ostensibly as what was known as an “instrument basher”, where one had the responsibility of looking after aircraft instruments and so on. I did not think much of the training and I took the precaution of never going up in an aircraft which had an altimeter that I had calibrated. I was later posted to somewhere in the south of England which was responsible for testing and repairing type X machines, which were the British equivalent of the German Enigma. If there is one theme in my remarks this evening, it is that I think the type X machine has been grossly misrepresented compared with the Enigma machine. After all, the Enigma codes were broken, which was never true of the type X machine used by the British.
Reading through some of the books that have recently been published, it has become clear to me that it was not just a question of decoding the Enigma ciphers; you also had to decipher them in a form which was readable. To do that, you had to put it into a similar machine. We clearly did not have very many Enigmas, so the type X machine must have been used. I believe that that was the case. Therefore, the type X machine played a major role in the success of the whole code operation and its effect on the outcome of World War 2.
As noble Lords have pointed out, the work which was done at Bletchley was of great importance. I fear that, increasingly, we are tending to concentrate on World War 1 rather than World War 2. Perhaps this is just because it is the anniversary of World War 1. It is very strange how World War 1 seems to have captured young people’s imagination more than World War 2. However, young people may be inspired by Bletchley as the place where modern computing began, and where they can discover what it was all about, which is important.
Just before I was demobbed, I was told that the type X machines were going to be destroyed. I gather that that did not take place, but I believe that Churchill had the big machines destroyed. That was a shame, but it is good that the exhibition has those machines on display. That is as astonishing as the extraordinary decoding work that was done at Bletchley Park in the war, including by my noble friend.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, although I must conclude, with some relief, that during my career I clearly never encountered any of his altimeters.
I, too, welcome this debate and add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for securing it. I should also like to express my admiration for her sterling efforts in support of the work to secure a pardon for Alan Turing. A few years ago, I had the privilege of opening the Turing building at Qinetiq’s facility in Malvern. The increasing official recognition of the debt that we in this country owe to Alan Turing is very much to be welcomed. We cannot, alas, reverse his personal tragedy, but we can at least ensure that he and his work are remembered and honoured. And, of course, some of the most important strands of that work were carried out at Bletchley Park.
This year sees the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the allied landings in Normandy. Bletchley Park played a defining role in that operation, as it did in so many others during the course of the Second World War. The intelligence produced by Bletchley Park undoubtedly shortened the war and saved countless lives. This success depended upon the talents and dedication of many people, and, above all, upon their unyielding secrecy. It is worth remembering that, while transparency is often a good thing, it can occasionally be destructive. One whisper of the successes at Bletchley Park would undoubtedly have led the Germans to eliminate the poor operational procedures on which the code-breakers depended. The history of that time underscores forcefully the old adage that secret intelligence needs, above all, to be secret.
We in this country need a considered debate on the balance that we should seek to strike between the sometimes competing needs of security, liberty and privacy. In such a debate, the story of Bletchley Park has important lessons to teach us.
Bletchley Park is relevant to our consideration of the future as well as to our remembrance of the past. It reminds us of a debt that we owe, but also of the need to make hard choices. It is an important part of our national heritage, but it should also help to stimulate an important discussion about our future society.
We should be very grateful to the Bletchley Park Trust, which over the past 22 years has transformed the site from a derelict wasteland to a thriving memorial. Visitor numbers have indeed increased threefold since 2007, but continue to rise steeply. Many of the historic buildings have been restored, and in June the carefully rescued code-breaking huts will be formally unveiled, along with a new visitors’ centre. Of the some 250 staff at Bletchley Park, 174 are volunteers, including all the 46 tour guides. The work of that team has been and will continue to be crucial to the preservation and development of Bletchley Park, and we can only admire and praise its commitment.
There has been some controversy in the media recently surrounding the relative positions of the Bletchley Park Trust and the National Museum of Computing, a valuable independent enterprise that occupies part of the site. Needless to say, the coverage has aimed to maximise the controversy rather than to reflect in a balanced way the issues involved. I am sure that the leadership of both enterprises is mature and experienced enough to work out an appropriate modus vivendi.
I would just say this: for most of the past 22 years, Bletchley Park has been in survival mode. Only now—only today—after the sustained efforts of the trust, its staff and its supporters is it able to think with confidence about the future. As visitor numbers grow, so the quality of the Bletchley Park experience needs to develop to meet that demand. That means continued change. Change is never easy and often controversial, but standing still is not an option. Bletchley Park is simply too important both to our heritage and to our future in this information age. The trust recognises that, I know. We should be grateful to it for bringing Bletchley Park to its present successful state, but should also support it in its endeavours to fit it for the challenges ahead.
My Lords, Bletchley Park is a crucial part of our history. Its role in cracking the German codes gave us a unique advantage in the Second World War. Winston Churchill told King George:
“It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war”.
The name, of course, arose because the intelligence that was obtained was considered more important than that already designated by the highest British security classification, “most secret”, so it became “ultra secret”. Much of the German cipher traffic was encrypted on the Enigma machine. Used properly that machine would have been virtually unbreakable, but in practice shortcomings in its operation allowed it to be broken.
As my noble friend said, my mother was also in Hut 4, the naval section, from 1941 to 1944, when she moved to the Admiralty in London to be the liaison officer between Bletchley and the Admiralty. She and my noble friend became great friends, and their friendship lasted all my mother’s life. Just before she died last year, I asked my mother what two things she remembered and was most proud of in her time at Bletchley. She said that she was most proud of being part of the team which was able to find where the U-boats were waiting to sink Allied convoys, and being able to alert the Admiralty. The second thing was what she really remembered—it was, one afternoon, putting her friend Jean in a large laundry basket on wheels, which was normally used to move “most secret” files, and launching it down a long corridor. It gathered considerable momentum, and Jean and the basket disappeared through the double doors down the next corridor, before finally crashing to a halt in the men’s lavatories. I do not think that noble Lords require an Enigma machine to work out who Jean was. A serious reprimand was administered to both of them, and their watches were changed so that they were distributed among what were called more sober colleagues.
Over the last few years Bletchley Park, managed by its trust, has been transformed with a new visitor centre, and receives more than 150,000 visitors a year. There is more to do as interest grows in the extraordinary work and achievements of its code-breakers. I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and giving us all the opportunity to thank her and all those who served at Bletchley for their extraordinary wartime work.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing the debate, and that is not just the usual formula. It is clear that the situation at Bletchley Park needs some attention. I was rather dismayed when I looked through the Library briefing for this debate. Bletchley Park is much too important to allow the current problems to continue. As many speakers have said, two important things happened there: the cracking of the Nazi Enigma code, and the beginning of computing and of computer science. Both deserve a proper, civilised and shared commemoration. It is entirely appropriate that we should have a museum of code-breaking and a museum of computing on the site. What is entirely inappropriate is that the two museums should be on such very bad terms.
I will not rehearse again the various charges and countercharges levelled by each museum against the other. I will not comment on the obviously dysfunctional management that allows the situation to continue. However, I will say that any organisation which loses the person who saved it is obviously doing something wrong. That person is Dr Sue Black, who is largely responsible for saving Bletchley from dereliction in the first place. She was instrumental in obtaining the funding needed to secure Bletchley Park’s future, yet has resigned from the board of the Bletchley Park Trust in protest against its failure to sort out the long-running dispute with the National Museum of Computing. Dr Black even suggested that the gender balance on the boards could be preventing a solution; she did not mean that there were too many women on the boards.
It is clear that the relationship between the Bletchley Park Trust and the National Museum of Computing has broken down. It is clear that some kind of intervention is needed. Common sense needs to be restored. The commentator Gareth Halfacree, in his blog of 29 January, made an extensive analysis of the situation and several common-sense recommendations. He recommended: that there continue to be knowledgeable and expert volunteer guides alongside the modern audio guides; that there be a review of the joint ticketing arrangements, which is eminently sensible; and that the trust look again at the way in which it communicates its goals and plans to its employees. He did not recommend the removal of the fence, but that was because it had not been built when he wrote the review.
None of those recommendations seems difficult. In fact, they all have a common-sense and conciliatory air. However, to put them into place and even to begin to discuss them, firm leadership is required. Bletchley Park and its history are too important to allow a rather shameful quarrel to continue there. Intervention is needed, and I hope that the Government will think creatively about how they can, if at all, help to resolve the situation. But there is another kind of intervention available. When the campaign to pardon Alan Turing seemed to be stalled the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, wrote to the Prime Minister. Two months later, Turing was pardoned. Perhaps it is time for her to take up her pen again.
My Lords, as a novice Baroness and a woman who has worked in technology her whole career, an invitation to tea from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in the first few weeks in your Lordships’ House was indeed a highlight. Hearing her this evening, I defy anyone of my generation not to be inspired by her example. I am not an expert on the situation at Bletchley, but I would like to suggest three ideas which I hope illustrate why it still has wide-ranging significance and must be preserved.
First, today is the 25th anniversary of the invention of the world wide web. It was probably about this time of the day when Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave to his boss the piece of paper on which he had written down his invention, and on which his boss famously wrote “vague but interesting”, and handed it back.
Like the millions of lives that were saved due to the direct work at Bletchley, the web has transformed millions of lives, and both are achievements that this country should be immensely proud of and grateful for. I believe that both Bletchley and the invention of the web could be used more widely as examples of British creativity and possibility. I am not convinced that many people in our country are aware of the history of either.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend time in the Science Museum with the computer on which Tim wrote the first code for the web. It has come on loan from CERN, and I felt a bit giddy next to it. We were in a room full of computational history, including Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, the first Lyons tea factory LEO computer and ERNIE—the random number generator that ran the premium bonds. What struck me was how many women were part of the stories of all these computers—from Ada Lovelace to the women working on ERNIE and at Lyons.
Starting with Bletchley and on through the 1950s and 1960s women worked in computing and fuelled the burgeoning computer industry. The unbelievable Dame Stephanie Shirley employed only women in her company, all working remotely at home and on complex problems, from the black box on Concorde to the Polaris submarine. Half the people working at Bletchley were women, yet we are now facing stagnation in the numbers of women in the tech sector. How can Bletchley be more widely used to help reverse this trend? The numbers are depressing.
Finally, I should like to mention coding itself. From September this year, every child at primary school will be taught to code. This is a visionary policy and the Government should be congratulated. We will lead the G8. A number of organisations have been encouraging coding for many years, especially among children—including Young Rewired State, Decoded, Free:Formers, Code Club and #techmums, started by Dr Sue Black. The curriculum shift has also raised the profile of coding, with Hour of Code and Year of Code being particular examples, and demonstrates the power of this incredible language. Yet, there remain a number of challenges in training teachers and it would be sad if this incredible opportunity was not given the best chance of success.
I look at Bletchley and think what an immense shame it would be if it did not continue to be a national treasure. What a tribute it would be to the brave people who worked there in secret for so long if we used it to celebrate more noisily our technology inventions, to encourage more gender equality in the sector and, finally, to inspire a whole new generation of coders.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow one of our most remarkable new Members of your Lordships’ House. She has today become the chancellor of the Open University and we should all congratulate her on that.
It is a real privilege to speak in a debate introduced by my noble friend Lady Trumpington. She is a national treasure. If we had, as the Japanese have, national treasures as human beings, she would be right at the top of the list. She embodies so many of those qualities that made our country great. She is determined, never takes no for an answer, has a wonderful good humour but, above all, has a passionate love of her country.
I remember taking my noble friend to Bletchley. A few years ago, she will remember, I was asked to take there a group from the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group. We had a bus load of Members of this House and of another place and went to see the manor and the huts. The company included not only my noble friend Lady Trumpington but the son of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and Countess Mountbatten of Burma. It was a real historic day. Of all the buildings that the all-party group has visited over the years, every one is more distinguished architecturally than the house at Bletchley. We saw huts that would never enter the heritage league but we came away united in the realisation that we had seen something of imperishable worth that was truly part of our national heritage, because the work that was done there helped to preserve our national heritage of freedom and democracy at a dark time. I very much hope that young people going there will realise just what was done by a number of extraordinary people, led by Alan Turing but including my noble friend—our noble friend—Lady Trumpington and so many others, such as the mother of my noble friend Lord Astor.
It would be very bad indeed if we allowed any disputes between individuals to confound the preservation of Bletchley Park. I have the honour to be a patron of the trust and hope that the patrons together might help to bridge any gaps that may exist. Of course it is vital to have a computing museum. As my noble friend Lord Sharkey said, it is nonsense to have disputes between two essentially worthwhile organisations confounding the realisation of both. If there is one thing that I hope the Minister will be able to say when he replies, it is that the Government are utterly determined to ensure that this part of our history, symbolised by a rather indifferent Victorian manor house and a number of huts, is preserved for future generations. These huts are every bit as important as—indeed, in many ways more important than—Captain Scott’s huts in the Antarctic, which should also be maintained. I hope that we will have a positive response from my noble friend to the debate, which was so brilliantly initiated by our noble friend Lady Trumpington.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for arranging for us to debate these issues.
I notice that most noble Lords have a small memory of working with, or a story about, the noble Baroness. I should like to mention a small event. She may not recall it but she was briefly a Films Minister in the Conservative Administration when I was director of the British Film Institute. She is nodding, so I have stirred that memory. She may not remember that one of her duties, which I do not think she volunteered for but she accepted with great grace, was to open the London Film Festival. It was not a happy hunting ground for Conservative politicians, certainly not before she arrived. I was terrified because there were some 2,000 film fans there who were eager to bay for the blood of those who, they felt, were cheating them of their right to watch films for free in perpetuity and at the public’s expense—I exaggerate slightly to make the point, but noble Lords will get the feeling.
When the noble Baroness arrived, she made it clear that she was not entirely happy to stand around waiting and wanted to get on with it. We went on stage at the Odeon Leicester Square, which holds some 2,000 people. We arrived slightly early, so the organ was still playing and we had to wait around while it disappeared slowly down. The organist disappeared in a mysterious way that I never quite understood. She then wowed the audience with a completely unconvincing narrative about how supportive the Conservative Party was of film at that time. However, the members of the audience were all so terrified and impressed by her that we went off without a single hoot of derision. There were cheers, it was a triumph and I had a wonderful festival. Thank you very much for that memory. That is the sort of person who we are talking about. When she says that she wants the Government to reveal their plans for Bletchley Park, I am sure that the Minister is quivering in his shoes and will come up with some wonderful new announcements, even as we speak.
As the noble Baroness said, it is inevitable that the place that was built and operated in deepest secrecy should have retained that aura, and a lot of the contributions today have been about why it is difficult to understand more of what went on there and to understand better the role it played. I think that we owe it to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and all the others, including of course Alan Turing, to tell their story accurately and within the wider narrative of how Britain organised and won this aspect of the war.
Somebody said that until recently Bletchley was in survival mode. It is absolutely right that, when the works are completed, we should have a Bletchley that is fit for the 21st century and beyond, marking all the important things that we have heard about this evening. When the Minister comes to respond, it would be very good if he could explain exactly where we are in that process. We know the opening date, but I am looking through the good collection of material provided by the Library and I find it hard to work out who has made the contributions that have allowed this to happen. There is talk of the Heritage Lottery Fund and a sum of about £8 million; there is the separate sum of about £330,000, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Andrews, for the restoration of the house; there are Google and McAfee; there is a donation from an individual, Maureen Jones, who I think worked there and left some money in her will; and there is money from the Foreign Office. Is this an independent trust which is gaining money on its own, or is it in fact part of the Government’s contribution and does it fit within the DCMS? It would be helpful to be clear about that.
We would like some information, if it is possible to get it, on what is happening in the dispute between what seem to be two very important national activities: the National Museum of Computing and the Bletchley Park Trust. As we have all said, this needs to be sorted out. Also, when the Minister comes to speak, perhaps he could say on what lines we should be thinking with regard to this site going forward. If we can get it fit for the 21st century, we have to think about how to take it forward.
I was very struck by the contributions from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, about using the 25th anniversary of the world wide web and some of the suggestions surrounding that, such as having a Magna Carta for the web. The Government might get behind that and think harder about the balance between liberty and security. They might use this site and the relaunching of Bletchley as an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to, and support for, the way that the web is developing. If, within that, we could get a British creativity centre located there that exemplified the best of British creativity—which is often talked about but rarely analysed and looked at—and particularly pick up the point about the need to have a better gender balance in that, then I think we would achieve something really worth while and something worthy of the efforts made by those who worked there in the 1940s.
My Lords, I, too, wish to say that it is an enormous privilege to speak in my noble friend’s debate. She brings to it an exceptional personal knowledge of Bletchley Park in its operational days. What we owe to the men and women like her is impossible to express adequately. Their importance to the history of our nation and, in turn, the free world should never be forgotten.
Why and how did this place and the truly extraordinary people who worked there become so crucial to the successful outcome of the Second World War, and therefore why is it so important that its future should be secured? Bletchley Park, until fairly recently, was probably Britain’s best-kept secret, a point to which my noble friend Lady Trumpington referred. Indeed, the secrecy surrounding all the activities carried out there was vital to our national security and ultimate victory, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, emphasised.
During the war it became the centre of code-breaking and intelligence activity. As has been said, it was at Bletchley that the Enigma codes were broken—an event which turned the course of the Battle of the Atlantic in our favour, as the mother of my noble friend Lord Astor knew at first hand—and later the Lorenz codes, with crucial implications for the D-day preparations. It has been estimated that the duration of the war was reduced by two years thanks to the work undertaken in secret at Bletchley.
Some of those who worked at Bletchley are now as famous as the site itself: Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Dilly Knox come to mind. Your Lordships have recently played a pivotal role in ensuring that due recognition is given to the supreme contribution that Alan Turing made and which the Government acknowledge. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and my noble friend Lord Sharkey were particularly crucial in this matter.
The code-breaking activity at Bletchley developed into an operation on an industrial scale. I believe that up to 10,000 people were employed there at the height of the war. In October 1941, after receiving a letter from some of the senior code-breakers decrying the lack of resources being afforded them, Winston Churchill directed:
“Action this day! Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done”.
Machines were developed to deal with the huge amount of data, including the Bombe, an electromechanical device which helped to reduce the potential number of codes. It was at Bletchley that Tommy Flowers built the Colossus, now recognised as the world’s first electronic computer. So Bletchley is also recognised as being of international significance due to its place at the beginning of the age of the computer. The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, highlighted this point, as did my noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. At the end of the war, the remarkable expertise that had been developed at Bletchley Park was taken forward by a number of the wartime Government Code and Cypher School staff in a new organisation known today as GCHQ.
In 1987, after 50 years of association with British intelligence, Bletchley Park was finally decommissioned. In 1991, many of the organisations that had occupied post-war Bletchley Park had moved out. The site became partially derelict and was being proposed for housing and a supermarket development. A campaign was launched to save the site. Inspired by veterans and others, the Bletchley Park Trust was formed and took ownership of the site on a 250-year lease.
Bletchley Park museum opened in 1993, and since then the trust has been working to restore the site. My noble friend Lord Cormack spoke of the beginning of this journey and the impression that it made on parliamentarians when they visited the site in those early days. In 2007, the Codes and Ciphers Heritage Trust began to establish the National Museum of Computing, which includes a working reconstruction of a Colossus computer, along with many important examples of British computing machinery.
A number of your Lordships have raised concerns about the reports of discord between the Bletchley Park Trust and the National Museum of Computing. I acknowledge the work of both these organisations and I very much hope, as I know do your Lordships, that they will look to collaborative solutions to their differences. Indeed, we look to both museums to tell the incredible story of Bletchley in the most innovative but accurate way that will enable Bletchley to be in the nation’s consciousness for many generations to come. Since opening, the Bletchley Park museum has seen a consistent growth in its visitor numbers: 40,000 people passed through the gates of Bletchley Park in 2006, with that number swelling to 150,000 in 2012. Indeed, there are ambitious projections for the next three to five years. The figures that I have seen for this year compared with last year are very remarkable indeed. It is obviously a place that is becoming very strong in people’s consciousness, which is so important.
This is a testament to the relevance and importance of the work of Bletchley in this country’s history. So many people of all ages and backgrounds want to come and understand how this site contributed to the world in which we live now. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, was absolutely right to mention education and interpretation. We have to inspire the next generation to understand what this was all about. The education and interpretation part will be a very important feature of what will happen at Bletchley.
Of course, this increased demand has meant that the Bletchley site has had to upgrade to reflect this continuing interest. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, rightly asked some questions about the status of the independent Bletchley Park Trust. In September 2011, the trust secured a grant of just under £5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the £8 million restoration of Bletchley Park phase 1 project. The noble Lord was absolutely right to acknowledge that there were other contributors to that £8 million which again has been hugely appreciated and is absolutely vital for the fulfilment of that first phase.
In this first phase of regeneration the once derelict Block C will become a vibrant visitors’ centre. The code-breaking Huts 3 and 6 have been restored to their original condition and the restored bomb Huts 11 and 11A will present exciting new displays. So, by the middle of this year, the huts will be ready for visitors to experience what life as a code-breaker was like. I thought that my noble friend Lord Higgins gave a fascinating and personal insight into what that could mean.
Remarkable work has been done and progress made over the past 20 years. We have mentioned discord, but it is important in all these things to get the balance right and record and celebrate the remarkable achievements. The strategic vision for Bletchley Park is to restore and put to productive use all the remaining buildings. Everyone I have spoken to who has visited—I have to say that I have asked quite a number of people how they would describe it—almost without exception has come up with the words, “This is such an inspiring place”. Our task is to ensure that that remains.
My noble friend Lady Trumpington and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred to volunteers. I say specifically that volunteers, as in so much of our nation’s life, have been at the heart of Bletchley’s regeneration and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to their work. It is through the dedication, knowledge and enthusiasm that they devote to Bletchley that has helped to bring it to life again. It is very clear from the rise in visitor numbers and the growing recognition of what we owe to the men and women of Bletchley Park that there is ever-increasing interest. It is clear that it is somewhere where families and children go, and it is very important that all of it is understood. These men and women who worked there gave of their best. Indeed, we are rightly very proud of my noble friend. It is for our generation and those who follow to ensure that this site of exceptional, historic and national importance is secure.
Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
62: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
“Domestic abuse and female genital mutilation
No charge may be imposed for health services—(a) relating to injuries sustained as a result of domestic abuse as defined in Home Office Circular 003/2013 “New government domestic violence and abuse definition”, or(b) relating to injuries sustained as a result of female genital mutilation as defined in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.”
In moving Amendment 62, I shall speak also to Amendment 62A. The purpose of Amendment 62 is to ensure that treatment for any injury resulting from domestic abuse or female genital mutilation is exempted from NHS charges even if the victim does not have permanent leave to remain, or indeed if her immigration status is not clear. I should explain at the outset that these are probing amendments and I understand from the Minister that these matters will be dealt with by the Department of Health in regulations. Having said that, this amendment provides an opportunity for this House to try to influence those regulations. I think that I am right that there will be no further opportunity to do that.
Clause 34 defines for the first time the term “ordinarily resident”. If the person is not ordinarily resident they may be charged for health treatment. If they have paid the surcharge they should be covered for health services but many other people are already living in this country—I understand in the realm of about half a million—who have not paid the surcharge and are eligible for NHS charges. Further, Clause 34 brings ordinary residents into line with permanent residents. That means that instead of being here with a visa for a settled purpose such as a job, a university course or to reunite with a spouse for a minimum of one year, an immigrant will need to be here for a minimum of five years in most cases before they are fully covered for healthcare. This is why Amendment 62 is important and relevant to health charges, as I understand it.
In his letter of 12 March, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that short-term visitors and those without lawful immigration status will,
“continue to be liable to pay overseas visitor charges for secondary care treatment under NHS regulations”.
This is similar to the letter from the Minister for health quality, who said that,
“illegal non-EEA migrants and short-term visitors (under 6 months) will continue to be liable to NHS treatment charges as they are now”.
I am told that this is not precisely the case, as the National AIDS Trust’s excellent briefing points out. In fact, the Government plan to introduce new charges for primary care, apart from GP and nurse consultations, and for A&E services for this group and for any migrant who cannot show that they have paid the levy. The need to assess patient entitlement in primary care or A&E would be an unhelpful distraction in an emergency situation. This might be done after someone receives treatment—but that, too, is an alarming position for someone who may have little or no money.
In his subsequent note and his latest briefing, the Minister gave assurances about a number of vulnerable groups who will not be subject to the surcharge or charges for treatment under the NHS charging regulations. There is no mention of the victims of domestic violence or FGM in relation to either. Do the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Health, intend to exclude these two groups from the surcharge and, in the case of those already here without permanent residence, from NHS charges? If not, it is a matter of great concern that the moral and humanitarian case previously accepted concerning these groups appears to have been set aside.
As to the practical difficulties in determining who the exemptions for domestic abuse and FGM would apply to, I understand that medical checks would be needed if these groups are to be exempt from the surcharge. I appreciate that could be problematic in the circumstances, but in the case of NHS charges for failed asylum seekers, irregular or undocumented migrants, short-term visitors and others without permanent residence, does the Minister not agree that if a patient in any of these groups has been domestically abused or damaged by FGM, they should not be charged for treatment? It would be helpful to have clarification on this point on the Floor of the House, if the Minister is able to give it, albeit that such provisions would ultimately be made in Department of Health regulations.
If irregular migrants and refused asylum seekers who would not have paid the surcharge cannot access primary care services, apart from GP and nurse consultations to address comparatively minor health problems, they will eventually present elsewhere—probably at an A&E department—at much greater cost, as I referred to in relation to an earlier amendment.
A different but important point is whether the NHS will be expected to report back to the Home Office if a patient’s migration status requires them to be charged for NHS services. There is a concern about this in view of the comment of the Home Office Permanent Secretary to the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Home Office intends,
“to improve its radar screen into the NHS”.
I find that rather chilling. If it became known that a visit to the doctor could lead to a report to the Home Office, people could be deterred from seeking healthcare. Can the Minister assure the House that this will not be the case?
The Government have previously recognised the important role of the NHS in identifying victims of abuse and helping them to recognise, consider and exercise their option to escape from that abuse. Also, in the case of FGM—where we have not had a single prosecution—the NHS is seen as probably the best hope of identifying perpetrators and providing evidence to support the prosecution case. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on that.
On Amendment 62A, the Government have agreed that no charge will be made for health services to victims of human trafficking. I am dealing with this issue separately because, in a sense, these people are in a different situation. The aim of the amendment is to put this commitment in the Bill and to require the Government to produce a strategy and procedures to ensure that the victims of human trafficking are promptly and effectively identified for the purposes of the clause. This is a probing amendment which I hope the Minister can endorse, thus assuring the House that there will be regulations in place to achieve its aims so that victims receive the necessary medical treatment. The UK would thus satisfy our international obligations.
According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the UK Human Trafficking Centre shows that more than half—54%—of trafficking victims were not recorded by the national referral mechanism in 2011. UKHTC notes that people who have been trafficked are often treated as irregular or illegal migrants. They may, of course, have been given false, stolen or genuine but fraudulently obtained identity documents. They will most likely then be treated as immigration offenders despite not acting under their own volition. This is quite understandable but it will need attention to avoid this kind of thing happening.
As the Bill is currently worded, these victims would not be exempt from the charges for health services if they are in one of these obscure groups. Also understandably, people who have been trafficked and coerced into criminal activities are often treated as offenders rather than victims. They are unlikely to benefit from exemption from health charges. A 2013 report by Anti-Slavery International highlighted a lack of awareness of trafficking indicators among authorities. If these victims are not identified, they are likely to get a criminal record, go missing, be deported and be retrafficked. They become victims a second time round.
All this will increase the fear of victims and their suspicion of the authorities. Help with later investigations is less likely to be forthcoming. At the moment, the authorities rely on those who are trafficked to disclose their status quickly or face detention—and, for obvious reasons, often that does not happen. If not identified immediately on arrival, trafficking victims are unlikely to be identified subsequently, and hence the importance of subsection (2) of the amendment. There is a need for,
“a strategy and procedures to ensure that victims of human trafficking are promptly and effectively identified”.
We are particularly concerned about trafficked children. I understand that at the moment social workers receive no mandatory training in identifying a trafficked child. We know that in the context of the draft Modern Slavery Bill there is a commitment to roll out specialist training and other measures. Can the Minister give the Committee a commitment that rigorous enforcement of health charges will not be introduced until the safeguards associated with the Modern Slavery Bill are rolled out?
Let us get things in the right order. Does the Minister agree that before the planned safeguards are introduced, they will be put before the modern slavery commissioner, who is to be appointed under the modern slavery legislation? Indeed, to clarify these matters, can he provide the Committee with information about the planned timing of the introduction of the new enforcement rules for health charges and of the implementation of proposals in relation to the Modern Slavery Bill? I beg to move.