House of Lords
Monday, 9 June 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Violence Against Women
My Lords, the Government are strongly committed to tackling violence against women and girls. Forty million pounds of funding has been ring-fenced until 2015 for specialist domestic and sexual violence services. We have also created two new offences of stalking, introduced legislation to criminalise forced marriage, in which the noble Baroness played a pivotal role, relaunched our successful “This is Abuse” campaign and rolled out new powers to the police to provide greater protections for victims. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be hosting a girls summit in July to rally support for a global movement to end FGM and forced marriage. Indeed, a reception in this regard was held earlier this afternoon at the House.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. I welcome the announcement of the campaign today aimed at young men about domestic violence which is timed to run through the World Cup. However, I am sure the Minister is aware that statistics suggest that there will be a repeated increase of domestic violence during the World Cup. If that happens, what plans have the Government made to deal with the increased demand for refuge places? What advice does the Minister offer to abused women and children in an authority such as Cheshire West and Chester, whose Conservative leadership has voted to close three women’s refuges, reducing the number of beds available from 17 to just eight, and to reduce the number of places on offer to women and children outside the area? That is important because women often have to move outside their immediate area.
My Lords, first, I am sure all noble Lords will wish England well in the World Cup. We all join in that and may they go far. Turning to the specific question, this is a serious matter and all authorities at a local level target it. Irrespective of what political party they represent, they take all domestic violence cases seriously. It is interesting to look at the numbers of domestic violence cases being reported. In the past two years we have seen more cases being reported. Indeed, a record level of 74.3% was recorded for 2012-13. As I have already said, we are allocating an additional £40 million of ring-fenced funding to local authorities for them to work at a local level to ensure that refuge centres and rape crisis centres are provided and to provide support to those who are desperately in need of such services.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of recent research which shows clearly that in households where there is domestic violence that behaviour is often extended to the children and young people in the household? Can the noble Lord assure the House that the recommendations of that report will be taken seriously by the Government and that everything will be done to protect children who live and grow up in these most unpleasant circumstances?
The noble Lord makes a pertinent point. Unfortunately, he is, of course, right that children who see and witness domestic violence also become part of that vicious circle, both as victims and, tragically, at times as perpetrators of such acts. The Government take this matter seriously. I have already alluded to the “This is Abuse” campaign, which aims to prevent teenagers from becoming both victims and perpetrators of abuse and encourage them to consider their view of abuse and the meaning of consent within relationships. We are working on a wider front as well with programmes such as “Hollyoaks” and the MTV music channel to ensure that issues of abuse are highlighted to young people in order to prevent this becoming a vicious circle, as the noble Lord pointed out.
My Lords, what progress has been made in addressing the issue of young boys, some as young as 12, being reported for harmful sexual behaviour towards girls in schools? What is being done to educate these young men and boys to treat women with respect and to desist from this behaviour?
I agree with my noble friend that respect for women and girls is something that should be taught to boys from infancy in schools and in every sector of society. The Government have published a national strategy that supports an action plan on tackling violence against women and girls which includes a range of actions to address gender inequalities, such as the Body Confidence campaign. In December last year we launched the teenage relationship abuse campaign, which aims to prevent teenagers becoming the victims and the perpetrators of abuse.
My Lords, can the noble Lord give us a little more detail about the £40 million budget he alluded to? Is it a Home Office budget or will it be shared with other government departments? If it is to be shared, can he tell us about the allocations to other government departments?
I can certainly talk about the Home Office funding. Its contribution is going to be £28 million for the spending review period. Within that, some of the schemes we are looking at are those I have already alluded to, such as refuges for women who fall victim to violence. The other thing I would point out to the noble Baroness is that we will be working with the third and voluntary sectors, which do an absolutely sterling job in protecting those women who are the victims of abuse and crime.
Would the Minister support an exhibition in Parliament of pictures showing some of the thousands of women who have been brutalised? It would include a photograph of a lady who was smashed up with a baseball bat by her partner. The surgeons who had to repair the damage got splinters in their fingers and streptococcal infections as a result. It would also show that the man removed the whole of her upper lip by biting it off.
My noble friend has pointed graphically to some of the horrors that result from this issue. They say that a picture can replace a thousand words. It is not my place to give approval for such exhibitions, but I can assure my noble friend that any steps that can be taken to avoid violence happening, be they at the national or the international level, will be taken. I am sure he will acknowledge that through schemes such as the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is starting tomorrow, and the initiative of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in hosting a conference in July on FGM and forced marriage, the Government are demonstrating that violence against women, whether it is perpetrated domestically or internationally in conflicts, is totally to be condemned and utterly wrong.
My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on whether, with hindsight, his right honourable friend the Home Secretary regrets denying a UN delegation access to an immigration centre where women had complained of sexual brutality against them?
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is doing a sterling job of ensuring that she protects women’s rights across the board. She has been spearheading campaigns not just domestically but internationally. The noble Baroness refers to the visit to Yarl’s Wood by the inspector—or her desire to visit Yarl’s Wood. As I am sure we have all experienced when we travel internationally, any programme that is set for a Minister or visiting delegation is done with the authority and approval of and in conjunction with the domestic authority or the Government. In this case, a programme was sent to the special rapporteur. As part of that programme, various women’s refuges were put on her agenda, which she chose not to visit. Then she turned up unannounced at Yarl’s Wood. I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate that operationally certain things cannot be arranged on the hoof and it would have been inappropriate for her to be granted access at that time. That said, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons conducted a visit last year and the report was generally positive, highlighting good practice, the cleanliness of the centre and the measured use of restraint at that centre.
European Commission: President
My Lords, it is important to find the right candidate to run the European Commission to deliver change, someone who is prepared to respond to voters’ concerns and to a Europe that is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility. The European Council should fulfil its role, as laid down in treaties, of making its own nomination for President. That is the process set out in EU law. That is the democratic process.
Did my noble friend the Minister notice that it was the Liberal Democrat portion of the coalition that took the lead in putting forward the very strong, unarguable case for our continuing membership of the European Union on a basis of enthusiasm and not just reservation and panic? Indeed, panic about UKIP is far too exaggerated. Is it not now important for us to think positively about working together with the other countries on agreed policies, which actually strengthens the individual sovereignty of each member state rather than weakens it? In that context, therefore, is it not very important for HMG collectively to support whoever emerges as the consensus-based candidate from the European Council, reflecting the majority votes of the three or four sensible pro-European parties elected in the European Parliament?
My Lords, the view of the Government is that Europe needs reform. The next Commission and Commissioner must therefore focus on making Europe more competitive and democratically accountable so that it delivers the jobs and growth that matter to citizens. Of course, the European elections were a reflection of the fact that people do want reform in the European Union.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that equally important as who is appointed President of the Commission is who is nominated as the UK Commissioner? Will she give an assurance that whomever the Government propose to nominate, he or she will be subject to scrutiny by this Parliament?
It is important that these incredibly important jobs in Europe are filled by the right candidates, and it is important that those candidates reflect the views of Europe in terms of the reform agenda, which were obvious during the European elections. It is also important that there is gender and geographical diversity in those candidates.
My Lords, is there not one very useful reminder from this whole saga that, far from being isolated in its aims for European reform, Great Britain has a great many strong allies in moving towards a more decentralised and more modern Europe fit to meet the competitiveness of the 21st century, with leaders who recognise the enormous changes that have taken place and the need for this reform to go forward vigorously?
My noble friend makes an incredibly important point. That is why the Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that he wants the right person in the role of Commission President. It is very important that the British people have confidence that the next President will deliver change in the European Union.
My Lords, would not the Minister agree that the right order of priorities is for the European Council to focus on what it wants the next Commission to do as a first stage, and only then move on to deciding who might best carry that out? I congratulate the Government on picking up that point two weeks after having got the stick by the wrong end.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making that clear. There were some elements of that in the press over the weekend and indeed this morning. It is important that the right person fills the role. In terms of portfolios, these matters are still up for discussion. It would be inappropriate for me to try to comment on that at this stage.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the position of Her Majesty’s Government is not in any way personally related to Mr Juncker but rather to our desire to bring forward the reform agenda? In that context, for example, is it not the case that Article 5 of the treaty—on subsidiarity, which was supposed to ensure that no decisions are taken by the Union that could be better or well done at a national level—has been more or less neutralised over the years? One of the points will be to make that article, which is already in the treaty, as effective as it is supposed to be.
I think the overwhelming message delivered by the electorate across the European Union in the last European Parliament election was about citizens in individual member states wanting to feel as though their voice was being heard and that the views of individual member states were rightly being heard. We saw that in the United Kingdom and across the European Union. My noble friend is absolutely right to raise that point.
Would the Minister agree that the Prime Minister has a great gift on Europe for influencing people without making friends? We saw that in the withdrawal from the European People’s Party, the natural family, and now the brutal way in which he is personalising this issue of the presidency.
I do not think that the noble Baroness answered the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, right at the beginning. We know whom the Prime Minister and Government do not wish to see as President of the European Commission. Whom do they wish to see, or what are the elements of that candidate?
NHS: Clinical Commissioning Groups
My Lords, NHS England assures clinical commissioning groups’ plans to support and challenge them to meet the needs of their populations. This includes considering supporting carers, who are a hugely valuable asset for local communities. NHS England has published a commitment to a carers action plan. It will review the delivery of these commitments through feedback from carers and carers’ organisations and through progress towards the relevant outcomes indicators and mandate objectives.
I thank the Minister for his response. At the start of national Carers Week, it is right for the whole House to pay tribute to our 1.5 million carers and the vital support that they provide in caring for their partners, friends or a family member. What is the Minister’s response to a recent Carers UK survey, which found that while GPs have implemented systems to identify those undertaking carers’ responsibilities, few are actually doing anything differently to accommodate them—for example, giving regular health checks or changing appointment systems to support getting somebody to the surgery who is in a wheelchair or caring for somebody with dementia? Does the Minister agree that the appointment of carers leads under CCG implementation plans is a key step in bringing about the major push that is needed to get GPs to up their game? How will the Government ensure that that happens?
My Lords, I fully endorse the comments of the noble Baroness about the importance of carers. They play a crucial role as partners in care for the well-being of those they look after. I saw that report and of course it is important that GPs are aware of their role in supporting carers. We set out our vision for this in a document we published, Transforming Primary Care. That recognises the importance of involving and supporting carers. It sets out an expectation for GPs to identify carers as a matter of course. As I said in my original Answer, CCG plans will be assured by NHS England, including the important element of carers’ support and recognition.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, at last, carers who work by going from one person to another will be paid for their travel time? I have drawn attention in this House before to the fact that people who were self-employed under such care systems were earning £2-something an hour. Does the Minister agree that that will be a great benefit to both the clients and, in particular, the carers who rely on that income?
I do agree with my noble friend, but I would point out to her that the thrust of the noble Baroness’s Question is about unpaid carers, of whom there are 5.4 million in this country, 1.4 million of whom work more than 50 hours a week as unpaid carers. It is to support those people that the attention of NHS England is being rightly directed.
I thank the Minister for pointing that out and saving me having to do so. We are talking about so-called informal, unpaid carers in this Question. My noble friend’s Question has underlined how much progress is still to be made in bringing the needs of carers to the attention of local CCGs and health professionals. Will future versions of the carers strategy action plan address that issue?
My Lords, yes. The action plan will of course be reviewed, as it needs to be, at regular intervals. I am sure that the noble Baroness will know that the action plan needs to be informed by the various legislative changes that we have recently made through both the Care Act and the Children and Families Act, both of which immeasurably strengthen the rights of carers and what they can expect from the system.
My Lords, given that the Francis report said that it was important that carers be involved and informed about the care of their family member but one study found that only one-third of those surveyed were told how to care for their relative or how to cope with dementia, what are the Government doing to make that a real priority for CCGs?
My noble friend makes a crucial point. In the document Transforming Primary Care, we included a clear expectation for GPs to work with wider health and care professionals to involve people using services and their carers in identifying and planning for a person’s needs in the round. The plan sets out a clear expectation for GPs to identify as a matter of course whether a person is themselves a carer for another person, whether they have a carer or carers and to understand fully the contribution that carers make.
My Lords, the census revealed a substantial increase in young carers, some of whom may not even recognise the term but are simply doing what is expected in their family. Does the Minister agree that CCGs should consult and connect with schools to ensure that those noble but often vulnerable young adults get the support they deserve?
I fully agree with the right reverend Prelate. The Government’s carers strategy sends out a strong message that education, health and young carer services should work together with families better to identify and support young carers to prevent them taking on harmful caring roles. Young carers’ education, development or employment opportunities should not be diminished because of their caring role, and the right reverend Prelate may like to note that one of the initiatives recently put in train has been to recruit school nurses who are reaching out to schools to ensure that young carers’ needs are recognised in schools.
We support businesses that choose to pay the living wage when it is affordable, and not at the expense of jobs. The Government are committed to improving living standards. We have cut taxes for the lowest paid, allowing them to take home more of what they earn, and we have introduced tougher penalties and naming for employers who have failed to comply with the national minimum wage, which maximises wages without damaging employment.
But the Minister’s words are not carried out in practice. The reality is entirely different. Is the Minister aware that during the last three years, two-thirds of the increase in social security payments to people of working age has gone to people in work? So while the Government are cutting public services, the taxpayer is supporting low pay. Given that support, does the Minister agree that the taxpayer would be better served if instead the Government were more rigorous in getting employers to become more productive, so that they could pay a minimum wage on their own?
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that we are encouraging more employers to be productive. Much work has been done to that effect but I point out to him that the minimum wage is now increasing faster than earnings. The rise of 3% in the adult rate will mean that low-paid workers will enjoy the biggest cash increase in their pay packets since 2008. A rigid formula does not allow for changing economic circumstances, for example imposing a target set by politicians. That would result in job losses if it is set too high and lower earnings if it is set too low.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the most important thing is take-home pay and that therefore the Government’s efforts to reduce the burden of tax on the low aid are what matter? Does he not think that an Opposition who refuse to deny that they would increase national insurance if they were in government have a cheek talking about the effect on living standards of taxation?
My noble friend makes some good points. The only real way of achieving sustainable increases in living standards is through focusing on economic growth, employment and reducing taxes for the low paid, as he said. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, said recently that the IMF had,
“underestimated the growth of the UK economy”.
In a significant turnaround, the fund’s latest assessment found that the UK economy had rebounded strongly.
My Lords, welcome as the Minister’s support for decent wages is, wages cannot take account of family size. What steps are the Government therefore taking to restore the cuts in child benefit that they have made in order to protect the living standard of low-paid workers with children without subsidising low-paid employers, in the way mentioned by my noble friend Lord Haskel?
We know that some households, including those with children, are seeing the amount that they spend on food increase but there is much that the Government are doing to resolve this. The Government provide a number of schemes to help the most vulnerable to afford and have access to nutritious foods, such as the Healthy Start scheme and free school meals. However, we also recognise the extremely valuable work of civil society in supporting local communities. There has always been a tradition in this country of voluntary and charity organisations providing support to people, as the noble Baroness will know, in addition to the safety nets that the Government provide.
My Lords, many workers on minimum wage continue to be trapped on low pay. The Resolution Foundation recently suggested that some sectors of the economy and businesses in London could probably well afford to pay more than the minimum wage, and recommended that the Business Secretary ask the Low Pay Commission to publish an analysis of the situation. Do the Government endorse the foundation’s recommendation?
We encourage businesses to pay the living wage—indeed, the living wage or above. However, I say again that a mandated pay floor, completely detached from an affordable level, is likely to bring about job cuts. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has estimated that increasing the national minimum wage to the living wage would cause a net job loss of 160,000.
My Lords, I trust that the Minister would agree that the introduction of the minimum wage in fact benefited millions of people who were on appalling levels of pay. Perhaps the problem with the minimum wage has been to ensure its consistent enforcement. At long last, the Government have got down to improving those measures but we still have a long way to go. What consideration has been given, first, to increasing the penalties, secondly, to ensuring that local authorities play a part in ensuring enforcement of the minimum wage and, thirdly, that all those who fail to pay it—including a major premier football club—are named and shamed?
The noble Lord makes some good points about enforcement. We are taking strong action on this front. He will be aware that 25 other firms have been named and shamed in the past few days. The case of the Premier League football club that the noble Lord raises was dealt with under the old naming policy, pre-October 2013, and did not meet the financial criteria of £500 per worker so could not be considered for naming.
Does the Minister accept that there is an element of chicken and egg in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and that it is actually since the Labour Government brought in tax credits that productivity has been flat, wages have not risen in real terms and the situation has been much the same as in the early nineteenth century when wages were subsidised?
The noble Lord makes a good point. It is fair to say that Labour’s plan for encouraging tax breaks to encourage employers to pay the living wage applies for 12 months only and will cover less than one-third of the increased cost to the employer. Increasing the cost of employment could encourage businesses to employ fewer people. Labour’s estimates of the cost of this policy ignore these issues, and the party has considered only potential benefits to the Exchequer.
My Lords, I do not think any of the Minister’s replies have explained how his strategy will take out of poverty the millions of children who have just been illustrated in the report of one of the Government’s own commissions. It recognises that many families where there is childhood poverty, even though someone in the household is employed, are not being helped. What strategy do the Government therefore have to reach the jointly agreed target to take children out of poverty in the next decade?
Several strategies are in place, but above all the main point is to encourage more jobs. We have created many millions of jobs and encouraged apprenticeships over the past few years since 2010. That is the way forward: to increase employment and job security for all in the UK.
I am sorry, my Lords, I was hopeful that the noble Baroness could have got in, but we have a rule and the 30 minutes are up. I am so sorry.
Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and make provision in connection with financial settlements following divorce.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Deech, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Parliamentary Privilege (Defamation) Bill [HL]
A Bill to repeal Section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames on behalf of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Cohabitation Rights Bill [HL]
A Bill to provide certain protections for persons who live together as a couple or have lived together as a couple and to make provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant, and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill [HL]
A Bill to amend the Equality Act 2010 to improve access to public buildings and to introduce six-inch and 12-inch rules for step-free access.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Blencathra, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
High-cost Credit Agreements (Advertising Restrictions) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the restriction of advertisements for high-cost credit agreements at certain times of day.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Mitchell, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Motion to Agree
That it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to consider recent and expected changes in the Arctic and their implications for the United Kingdom and its international relations, and to make recommendations, and that the Committee do report by 5 March 2015.
Affordable Childcare Committee
Motion to Agree
Digital Skills Committee
Motion to Agree
Motion to Agree
Debate (3rd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 4 June by Lord Fowler
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, we are resuming the debate which was adjourned last Thursday and I appreciate that there are Peers who are not taking part in it. Perhaps I may encourage them to leave fairly swiftly though quietly. There is a considerable list of those who are interested in the debate today and I know that they wish the Minister to begin fairly promptly.
My Lords, I would like first to express how grateful I am to be afforded the opportunity to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech for the first time. I am confident of a constructive and lively debate worthy of this House on the matters of law and justice, home affairs, health and education. I also look forward to the maiden speeches from my noble friend Lord Glendonbrook and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.
I turn first to the Government’s law and justice business. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, carried over from the third Session, represents the next stage of significant and far-reaching reforms to the justice system. It is intended to make sure that criminals are properly punished, young offenders turn their lives around through education and modern courts run efficiently and effectively. Part 1 of the Bill introduces a package of sentencing and criminal justice reforms targeted at keeping our communities safe and continuing our pledge to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice process. It will make certain that no one convicted of either the rape of a child or serious terrorism offences can be released automatically at the midway point of their sentence. It will ensure that when offenders are released on licence, we have all the powers we need to make the best possible use of new and innovative technology to track their whereabouts while under supervision, and it will deal with those who go on the run after being recalled to custody. A new offence will make sure that those who remain unlawfully at large do not go unpunished.
On Report, this Government introduced further new clauses to the Bill to continue our focus on offending behaviour that causes the most harm to victims and our communities. These clauses introduce tougher sentences for those who kill or seriously injure when driving while disqualified and ensure that anyone convicted of murdering a police or prison officer in the course of duty faces a whole life sentence.
For young offenders, this Government continue to believe that there is more that we can do to turn their lives around. The current system is simply not working well enough, and with reoffending rates of more than 69%, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable. Part 2 of the Bill includes clauses to create secure colleges so that we can trial a new approach to youth custody, with a stronger focus on the education and rehabilitation of young offenders, giving them the skills, support and training that they need to turn their backs on crime.
Part 3 of the Bill addresses our courts and tribunals system. In such constrained financial times, this Government believe that we can and must continue to find ways to ease the burden on the taxpayer. That is why provisions in this part will ensure that criminals contribute to the cost of their court case through the introduction of a court charge. Repayment of the charge can be set at a rate that the offender can afford, and offenders who play by the rules in taking all reasonable steps to comply with payment terms and not reoffend will be able to apply to have the charge cancelled after a set period of time. The Bill also introduces a more proportionate and efficient approach to uncontested regulatory cases, allowing them to be heard by a single magistrate, thus freeing up valuable court time.
Finally, let me turn to the reforms to judicial review which make up Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Let me be clear: this Government are committed to making sure that judicial review continues its crucial role in holding authorities and others to account. However, it is also committed to making sure that it is used appropriately and proportionately and is not open to abuse by people in order to cause delays or to pursue a campaign at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. Clauses in the Bill seek to achieve that aim.
I also hope, and am confident, that noble Lords will not rush to judgment about the relevant provisions. The introduction of modest changes to legal aid remuneration at the application stage was met in a debate recently in your Lordships’ House with suggestions that any changes in judicial review were an attack on the rule of law, and with ad hominem attacks on the Lord Chancellor. What, with respect, is needed is a mature debate about these changes which have followed a detailed consultation on the subject. I should emphasise, as strongly as I properly can do, that this Government remain passionately committed to the rule of law. It is one of the many aspects of this country which commands admiration throughout the world and makes people want to live here and invest here.
I turn now to the Government’s plans to introduce a Bill on social action, responsibility and heroism. We often hear reports about people not wishing to get involved when somebody needs assistance because they are worried about being held liable if something goes wrong. Some noble Lords may be aware of the survey of volunteering and charitable giving which was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research in 2007. That survey found that as many as 47% of would-be volunteers were concerned about this issue. While there are, of course, many different factors which might stop people getting involved, we cannot ignore the fact that worries about liability are a real issue for many people.
The growth of this perception has coincided with the actual growth of compensation claims in the United Kingdom. It is a worrying trend which could reduce the pool of people who are willing to play an active part in civil society, and also have a chilling effect on volunteering rates. We have already taken steps to curb the growth of the so-called compensation culture; for example, we made important reforms to no-win no-fee arrangements in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Those changes have, among other things, discouraged personal injury firms from championing spurious claims by abolishing the recovery of success fees from the losing side and by limiting the success fee that a lawyer may charge to their own client to 25% of the damages awarded. However, we can do more to allay people’s concerns about the risk of liability, to reverse the commonly held belief that it is safer not to get involved, and to encourage active participation in volunteering and other activities which benefit both individuals and society in general.
The coalition agreement included a specific commitment to,
“take a range of measures to encourage volunteering and involvement in social action”.
The social action, responsibility and heroism Bill will help to deliver this by reassuring the public that if they are acting for the benefit of society, take a generally responsible approach towards the safety of others when carrying out an activity or intervene in an emergency, the court will take full and careful account of the context of their actions in the event that they are sued for negligence.
The Bill will not affect the overarching framework used by the courts when determining those sorts of claims. They will still need to look at whether a defendant met the appropriate standard of care in all the circumstances of the case. Nor will it introduce blanket exemptions to civil liability. There is an important balance to be struck between encouraging participation in civil society and being mindful of the impact that careless or risky actions could have on the very people that the defendant was trying to help. The Bill is not about removing protection and leaving victims without proper recourse in those circumstances. However, it will give valuable and needed reassurance to a wide range of people and send a powerful signal that the courts will take full account of the context of a person’s actions when determining a negligence claim. I hope that the House will support the intentions behind this Bill, and I look forward to debating the substantive provisions when we return to them in due course.
I would now like to address the Government’s business on matters of home affairs. The Queen’s Speech included the Serious Crime Bill, which was introduced in this place on 5 June. Serious and organised crime remains a potent threat to our national well-being. Nationally, it costs the country at least £24 billion a year and its impact is felt in local communities and blights ordinary lives. We see the effects of organised crime in lives ruined by drug abuse, child sexual exploitation and online fraud. To meet those threats, we have already established the National Crime Agency and are building up the capabilities of the nine regional organised crime units. However, to do their job, the NCA, police and prosecutors need up-to-date and effective powers.
Of course, an array of criminal and civil powers are already available to law enforcement agencies; but as organised criminals adapt their activities in an attempt to circumvent them, so, too, must the law respond. That is where the Serious Crime Bill comes in. To take but one example, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 has been used with some success to seize the profits from criminal enterprises—some £746 million since 2010-11. However, its effectiveness is under constant legal attack from criminals, who do all they can to frustrate its intent. The Serious Crime Bill will close loopholes in the Act and help reinforce the old adage that crime does not, or certainly should not, pay. It will also enhance the effectiveness of serious crime prevention orders and gang injunctions.
Before the Minister moves on from the matter of strengthening the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act, perhaps I may say that I was a Minister at the time and helped to introduce it in the other place. Can he confirm that all the strengthening of the Act will apply to Scotland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom?
Subject to correction, I think that I can reassure the noble Lord of that.
The Bill will also introduce a new participation offence directed at those who help sustain the operation of organised crime groups and ensure that the penalties for serious cyberattacks properly reflect the harm caused.
The Government are also taking the opportunity provided by the Bill to strengthen the protection of children by clarifying the law on child cruelty, closing a gap in the extraterritorial reach of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 and introducing a new offence of possession of a paedophile manual.
The Government also plan to introduce a modern slavery Bill. Modern slavery is an appalling crime. Traffickers and slave masters, who are often part of organised crime groups, use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. I am sure that the whole House will join me in deploring the fact that this crime is taking place now in Britain.
The modern slavery Bill will give law enforcement agencies stronger tools to stamp out this complex crime, and it will ensure that perpetrators can receive the sentences they deserve—including, where appropriate, life sentences. The Bill also takes action to enhance protection and support for victims through a new statutory defence for victims who are compelled to commit crime.
Although not specifically referenced in the gracious Speech, the Government intend to introduce a draft Bill to reform the Riot (Damages) Act in the fourth Session. The draft Bill will be the culmination of detailed work undertaken since the events of August 2011 to ensure that the 1886 Act is modernised and provides clarity to stakeholders, individuals and businesses as to what compensation arrangements are to be put in place for the future. In November 2013, an independent review of the Riot (Damages) Act, commissioned by the Home Secretary, was published. The reviewer made a number of recommendations and these form the basis for the public consultation which we will launch shortly. We then plan to present a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Finally, I wish to mention the Government’s firm commitment to health and education. This Government believe in higher standards for all and we are committed to getting every child’s education right, which is why a substantial reform programme is well under way. This programme includes restoring rigour to exams, reforming vocational qualifications, bringing in performance-related pay, reforming teacher training, transforming schools through the academies programme and increasing the total number of apprenticeship places to 2 million by the end of this Parliament.
To improve education attainment and child health, all infants will receive a free school meal. Free childcare will be extended to more of the most disadvantaged two year-olds and a Bill will be introduced to help working families with childcare costs.
During the course of this Parliament this Government have developed a new health and care system which is more patient centred, led by health professionals and focused on delivering world-class health outcomes. We strengthened the role of the Care Quality Commission, with new chief inspectors, a new inspection regime and a new statutory duty of candour on the part of the healthcare providers. With local authorities leading local public health systems and Public Health England providing national leadership and vision on health protection and improvement, this Government have given public health a higher priority and dedicated resources. Through the Care Act 2014, we have delivered the most profound change to the care and support system for a generation, enabling people needing care to be treated with dignity and respect, improving the quality of that care and easing the burden of care costs. During the final Session of this Parliament, the Government will be focused on ensuring that the new health and social care system works with both purpose and integrity.
Some have criticised this Government for having too little by way of legislation in the Queen’s Speech. I reject that criticism. In the areas of law and justice and home affairs alone there is a great deal for Parliament to consider. Experience tells me that much of the detailed scrutiny will take place here in your Lordships’ House. The legislative programme as a whole contains some highly topical and important issues, which will benefit from such scrutiny. However, this Session will be concerned not just with legislation. I appreciate that in the speeches that follow mine there will be a range of issues raised by speakers; those issues, whether they are concerned directly with the Queen’s Speech or not, are likely to set much of the agenda for this final Session.
This coalition Government have achieved much already, but there is more still to achieve. I look forward greatly to the contributions to the debate from all around the House, which will help to indicate how best we can consolidate on these first four remarkable years of government.
My Lords, the Minister has gone into some considerable detail on the Bills before us, and we are grateful to him for doing so. However, I shall first take a wider view of the Government’s proposals, because this is an unprecedented Queens’s Speech. It is the first time that, towards the end of a Parliament, we have known exactly when the election will be. That is an opportunity to reflect on the work of the coalition and reflect more widely on whether it has lived up to the public expectations of co-operation between parties in government.
Yet again, we have a new government programme against the backdrop of greater disengagement with politicians and the political process. In the European and local elections, most people chose not to exercise the most basic expression of political involvement, the right to cast their vote. As the government parties lose votes, and as we get closer to the general election, the justifications about which government party is responsible for what will become even more bizarre, with the two parties both trying to gain advantage over the other.
In the last Session, we experienced the strange sight of Liberal Democrats in your Lordships’ House backing the bedroom tax, as their party president in the other place, recognising the disastrous unfairness and consequences for some of the most vulnerable in society, tried to distance his party and seek to change their policy of supporting such a dreadful tax. Since the recent elections, more and more senior Lib Dems have been prepared to speak out against the coalition, which has clearly damaged if not destroyed them as a potent electoral force in almost every part of the UK. That support for the bedroom tax, the disastrous fire sale of the Royal Mail, tax cuts for the rich, a massive cost of living and housing crisis, cuts in legal aid, support for new free schools where they are not needed and a failure to tackle child poverty have all taken their toll.
Press briefings and public rows are evidence of the growing disenchantment between the government parties and, as is now so glaringly obvious, within the government parties. It is all a bit of a shambles. What has always amazed me about the coalition is what the Liberal Democrats have failed to achieve—although perhaps they did not ask—on policies that they said during the general election were the most important to them, such as having no increase in tuition fees. Instead, they were satisfied with ministerial jobs and a failed referendum on a constitutional change that no one wanted to the voting system.
Apart from the obvious party-political considerations, that is a lesson for us all, a lesson to focus not on internal issues that are important only to politicians and political parties but on those issues that really matter to real people—to parents, workers and those struggling to pay bills or trying to buy or rent a home. The deal on the coalition agreement, which has never been put to the electorate, was not on policies on the cost of living, the health service or energy bills, or even tuition fees, but on electoral and parliamentary reform. When the electorate were asked if it was as important to them as it was to the Liberal Democrats, the answer was no. The Conservative Party got away with offering ministerial jobs rather than a genuine compromise around the policies on which they had failed to convince the electorate to elect them.
By contrast, today’s debate is about issues that are central to and affect the lives of all citizens: crime, justice, health and education. The disappointment with this Queen’s Speech, as with others we have seen from the Government, is that few people will consider that the coalition Government’s proposals will make any real difference to their lives. The Conservative Party is very confident about the economic recovery; Ministers regularly come to the Dispatch Box to tell us so. So, why is it, when I talk to people in the supermarket, the pub and at my local food bank, they do not feel the same confidence as David Cameron, George Osborne or, indeed, Nick Clegg? Will the Government explain why the number of working people claiming housing benefit has increased by 60%? Why are so many working families turning to food banks? Oxfam says that the number of people using them is now double that of last year. Why does Netmums report that one in five working families has had to choose between paying an essential bill and putting food on the table, while at the same time the Government give a tax cut to millionaires and those earning over £150,000 a year?
Although the Government say that they will do something about childcare costs, they have already risen by 30% since they came to office—that is five times faster than wages. Why, with such increased costs, are there fewer childcare places? I take Swindon, for example, although similar reports can be heard across the country. Despite massive public opposition and campaigning, four childcare centres closed, adding to the pressure on families who are already paying more than £110 for just 25 hours of childcare for those over two. These families deserve support, yet whereas our proposals for free childcare for three and four year-olds would help more than 1,800 children and their families in Swindon, the Government’s proposals in the Queen’s Speech barely scratch the surface.
When I opened the debate on Home Office issues last year, I warned the Government that their Immigration Bill, while seeking to be, in their words “tough on immigration”, would fail as its proposed actions included those which were either impossible to deliver and/or had not been worked out properly by the Government. We totally reject the dishonest UKIP rhetoric that all problems could be solved if only we stopped all immigration and withdrew from the EU. However, the Immigration Bill in the previous Session failed to include measures that would have made a difference such as the undercutting of wages, terms and conditions through the exploitation of foreign workers or effective improvements in the enforcement of the national minimum wage, as my noble friend Lord Young said during Oral Questions. Although your Lordships’ House brought forward substantial changes to improve the Bill and remove some of the unworkable rhetoric, the government parties have failed to deal with these specific issues so, while the Liberal Democrats boast about stopping another immigration Bill, it is a weak boast as these issues must be addressed. We believe that a Bill to address those concerns is needed and regret that the Government have again failed to tackle so many of the real issues.
We welcome the modern slavery Bill, which has benefited from its pre-legislative scrutiny, and are grateful to those Members of both Houses who have worked to address its deficiencies. We look forward to receiving and considering the much improved Bill in due course. We also look forward to our debates and deliberations on the Serious Crime Bill. As always, we will apply our tests of effective scrutiny—that is, an analysis of the problem we are seeking to address and whether the measures proposed would be effective in tackling the issue and workable in practice. My noble friend Lord Foulkes asked the Minister whether the measures on recovering the proceeds of crime would apply also in Scotland. We clearly need to revisit the Government’s failure to implement fully the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland, and examine the seriousness of the loophole on the recovery of the proceeds of crime that exists there to understand fully the implications of the Bill and how proceeds of crime recovery can be addressed properly and effectively in future. The National Audit Office has been very critical of confiscation orders. This is an opportunity to address its recommendations. With only 12p in every £100 being confiscated, serious work is needed to get this right.
Greater protection for children and their families from sex offenders is welcomed, as are measures to tackle cybercrime. We will work with the Government to make any proposals as effective as possible. As the Minister knows, these crimes recognise no national borders and we will have to probe further on how the Government’s proposals to opt out—and perhaps opt back in again—from all European criminal justice measures impact on European and international co-operation.
The Government have also promised to tackle police corruption. The public have a right to be confident in the integrity of every single police officer, and I urge the Minister to ensure that government rhetoric also recognises the good work of the vast majority of police. However, if this were our programme, we would abolish the IPCC and replace it with a stronger, more effective police standards authority, so we will test the Government’s proposals against the standards and structures that we would introduce as a Government.
No child should ever have to live in an unsafe environment or suffer neglect, emotional abuse and cruelty. Easier and earlier intervention is needed. We welcome the Government’s commitment to tackle the barbarity of female genital mutilation, and I know from our deliberations in both these areas that their proposals will greatly benefit from the commitment and expertise of noble Lords across the House.
I must confess that despite the Minister’s comments at the beginning of the debate it is difficult to understand why we have no measures on health and social care in the final programme from this Government. However, perhaps we should be grateful, given their obsession with privatisation. I doubt that we would ever support or welcome the kind of Bill that this coalition Government would bring forward. However, especially in Carers Week, when we celebrate the dedication of the 7 million carers of all ages across the country, it would have been highly appropriate and warmly welcome to have seen something that addressed the issues around social care—and an indication that the Government are taking them seriously.
I know that other noble Lords will want to speak in greater detail on health and education issues. We are very concerned that the Government, and certainly Michael Gove, have an ideological obsession with structures in education rather than attainment and a healthy learning environment. Even the Academies Commission admits that,
“academy status alone is not a panacea for improvement”.
As this coalition Government run out of steam, they are failing to address the issues that can really make a difference to people’s lives—creating fairness in employment, or tackling the housing crisis and the cost of the weekly shop or the gas bill, for example. They are not being, and will not be, tackled by this Government. All Governments, of any complexion, need to understand that economic recovery is not an end in itself but a means to an end. We do not seek economic success for its own sake but for the benefits it brings to our citizens and society as a whole. To those of us on this side of your Lordships’ House it means high-quality education and health provided on the basis of need, not means or wealth. It means decent jobs and employment prospects, the opportunity for businesses to be innovative and offer secure safe employment, the right to a decent home, and confidence in the future for yourself and your family. It means support and dignity for carers, and respect for teachers. That is not an exclusive list, but it stresses the need for all citizens to have the right to be participants, not just bystanders, in any economic recovery.
In less than a year, there will be a new Government and a new Queen’s Speech. From this side of the House, we look forward to bringing forward measures that will address these issues.
My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech and the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks.
Time constraints have obliged the coalition Government to propose fewer legislative measures than has been the case in the past. This is a good example for future Governments. We have learnt that knee-jerk reactions or chasing headlines are not sensible ways in which to run the country. Just look at the plethora of criminal justice legislation promoted by political parties in the past. Many of the measures have become irrelevant to the changing situation in the country. Some of these measures have still to be implemented.
The past four years have seen some important changes for the better in the criminal justice system. The iniquitous IPP sentence has been abolished. Legislation has restricted the unnecessary use of remand in custody. The prison population has increased at a significantly slower rate than under the previous Government, and estimates of the future prison population have been scaled down.
It is particularly encouraging that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of juveniles in custody, falling by 55% in the past five years. The number of women in prison has also fallen, from 4,200 in 2010 to 3,800 now. The Government have continued to commit to funding for a national network of liaison and diversion services at police stations and courts to divert mentally disordered offenders to treatment and care. We have passed legislation which, for the first time, will provide prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months with supervision and support on release.
The Government are taking steps to reduce the indefensible racial disproportionality in the use of stop and search. They have passed legislation to promote the use of restorative justice in the criminal justice process—here thanks are due to the initiative taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. They have implemented reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which will reduce the scope for unfair discrimination against former offenders in the job market and, because employment reduces reoffending, will also increase public safety. The Queen’s Speech announced two further welcome pieces of legislation in the modern slavery Bill and the Serious Crime Bill, which will contain measures to combat slavery, organised crime and child neglect. So far, so good. Regrettably, however, there are some clouds on the criminal justice horizon.
With a general election approaching, the past few months have seen signs of a heightened temptation for politicians to indulge in knee-jerk reactions which do nothing to promote justice or public safety. For example, the Secretary of State for Justice has recently banned the transfer of anyone who has previously absconded from an open prison. This means that an inadequate offender who absconds after receiving distressing news from his family, then thinks better of it a few hours later and hands himself in cannot be transferred back to an open prison later in his sentence. It is true that a small number of prisoners have gone out from an open prison and committed serious offences. However, in 2012 there were 485,000 releases on temporary licence and only 26 prisoners were arrested on suspicion of committing an offence—a rate of five failures in every 100,000 releases. It makes sense to be as rigorous as possible in assessing prisoners’ risk before transferring them to open conditions. However, it is not sensible to introduce sweeping restrictions on the use of open establishments, which greatly reduce overall reoffending by enabling prisoners to be released into the community on a gradual basis rather than suddenly after a period in completely closed conditions.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the prison population start to rise sharply—by more than 500 in the second half of May—and this may well be in response to the tough rhetoric which is beginning to emerge as a general election approaches. During the next year, we would like to see the Government resist the temptation to engage in knee-jerk reactions or punitive rhetoric. Instead, they should use the next year to promote a series of further measures to improve our criminal justice system, either by implementing them during this Session or by preparing the ground for their implementation in a future Parliament.
First, we need to take further steps to reduce the unnecessary use of imprisonment. This country still uses imprisonment at a higher rate than any other western European country. We have 149 prisoners per 100,000 of the population compared with 100 in France and 77 in Germany. Why is there such an anomaly? Many prisons remain seriously overcrowded and more than 19,000 prisoners are held two to a cell designed for one person. At the same time, the need for public expenditure restrictions has led to a reduction in the number of prison officers relative to the number of prisoners: from 2.9 prisoners per officer in 2000 to 4.8 prisoners per officer last September. This reinforces the case for using prison more sparingly, particularly as community sentences have lower reconviction rates than prison sentences for comparable offenders. We should prohibit courts from using prison, except for dangerous offenders, unless they have first tried an intensive community supervision programme. We should also convert the sentences of existing IPP prisoners into determinate sentences once they have served a period equivalent to double their tariff.
Secondly, the Government should implement the recommendation of the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill Committee by enabling prisoners to vote if they are serving sentences of 12 months or less or are in the last six months of their sentence. It is now 10 years since the European Court of Human Rights judged that our blanket ban on voting by convicted prisoners violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The longer we continue to ignore our obligations under international law, the longer we are adopting a position which sits badly with our insistence that prisoners and other offenders should respect the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law involves an obligation for nation states as well as individuals to abide by binding legal rulings and not to pick and choose by abiding only by decisions that they choose to accept. We should waste no further time in making this relatively limited change, for which there are strong arguments based on considerations of citizenship and rehabilitation.
Thirdly, we should build on the welcome recent legislation which provides for restorative justice when sentences are deferred by making restorative justice one of the statutory purposes of sentencing and by enabling courts to include specific restorative justice requirements in community orders and youth rehabilitation orders.
Fourthly, the Government should reinforce the steps they are taking to reform stop and search by placing a clear statutory duty on all criminal justice agencies to adopt numerical targets for reducing racial disproportionality in their operations.
Finally, the Government should grasp the nettle and raise this country’s unusually low age of criminal responsibility—currently the lowest in Europe—from 10 to 12. The current position is incompatible with our obligations under international standards of juvenile justice and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Dealing with children of this age through non-criminal processes would hold out more hope of diverting them from offending than subjecting them to punishments in a criminal court. A short criminal justice Bill containing these measures would provide a legacy of which the coalition Government could be proud.
I know that noble Lords from all parties with an interest in the criminal justice and penal system will continue to press for changes along these lines, not only during the current Session but throughout future Parliaments. Let me conclude with a word of caution. We have yet to study detailed provisions of legislative measures proposed by the Government. We are also aware that we have a short parliamentary timetable available to get these measures through both Houses of Parliament. I trust that the Government will accept these sensible amendments. Let us work together so that sensible amendments form part of effective legislation.
My Lords, perhaps I can interrupt at this stage of the proceedings in the absence of a Whip to say that we have an advisory time of five minutes. I am most grateful for the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but I know that other noble Lords will wish to move on, and I hope that they do not mind being reminded of that.
My Lords, I am pleased to be taking part in this debate following the gracious Speech, and I am particularly encouraged to speak more freely when I see the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in his place and know that he cannot answer me back or reply to my comments—at least not today. So if I do speak freely, I hope that he will understand.
Before doing that, I shall speak on two of the issues that are in the gracious Speech and in the notes accompanying it. The first relates to redundancy payments, particularly for public sector workers. We know that current statistics show that a quarter of the managers who have been given redundancy payments come back to some post or other, either as NHS employees or contractors. These are highly paid individuals and some of them were found not to be performing well. It is time that that was stopped.
My other comment relates to education. I welcome the fact that GCSE A-levels are to be reformed. Both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society have produced reports. The Royal Society report, which will come out on 26 June, alludes to the need for science and mathematics teaching in both primary and secondary schools. It also refers to the lack of appropriately qualified specialists in chemistry and other science subjects in both primary and secondary schools. Unless we tackle the issue, the comments we have heard from universities and employers about the lack of appropriately skilled people in science and mathematics and the lack of economic competitiveness as against our competitors will not be addressed. I hope we will have an opportunity to debate that.
I turn to the issues about which I can speak freely that were not in the gracious Speech. These represent missed opportunities. We have had draft Bills, and consultations and reviews conducted by the Department of Health, and yet nothing has come to legislation. Perhaps I may just list some of these issues because I do not have the time to go through them in detail.
First, the Law Commission report on the regulation of the nine regulators in health and social care. The Government asked the Law Commission to look at this in 2011 and it produced a clear report earlier this year which will be of benefit to both the regulators and, in the case of medicine, to improved patient care. The Government said that they were committed to bringing this in and yet there is no draft regulation or legislation and we do not know when we will get it. This will stop any further development or improvement in patient care, certainly as far as medicine regulation is concerned, because the current medical Act is draconian, bureaucratic and not fit for purpose. I do not know whether the Government can change this situation but I hope that they will at least produce a draft Bill before the next election.
My next point concerns caring, to which the Minister referred. Yes, we now have draft regulation and guidance, produced last week on 6 June, relating to Part 1 of the Care Act. Again, however, the legislation, guidance and regulation do not address the key issue—the vulnerability of old people who are abused through being provided with poor care and the lack of accountability of those who provide it. We need legislation to introduce a criminal offence and a penalty for those who do not treat old people properly. Some 500,000 elderly people are abused per year—50 per hour—and so, by the time we finish the debate, 250 more elderly people will have been abused. Regulation is required to fix this situation and I am sorry that I do not see it.
Parliament has said that it would like to see the plain packaging of tobacco products. There has been consultation and the Government produced draft regulation. I now realise that there has to be consultation time and, after that, the EU will have to have a consultation period. Therefore, the timescale is so prolonged that there is a risk that the issue will be kicked into the long grass if the Government do not produce something before the next election.
We have debated folic acid—I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is in his place—and it is clear now that the folic levels in the general population of this country are low. One-third of pregnant women do not take the precaution of having adequate folic acid pre-pregnancy. This results in more than 300 babies being born with serious neural tube defects, spina bifida being one of them. However, several hundred others have their pregnancies terminated because of such defects. It is time now to address the issue by putting small quantities of folic acid in flour. However, there is no legislation to enable this.
We have also debated mitochondrial disease. About 3,500 women in this country probably carry mutant genes of mitochondrial DNA, which accounts for less than 1% of total DNA. Diseases related to mutations in mitochondrial genes are severe and affect mostly the brain, heart, liver, kidney and nervous system. One of the ways to help those who carry a CBL gene mutation is to replace the mitochondrial DNA.
Three reviews that the Government asked an expert committee of the HFEA to produce, and the report from the Nuffield Foundation ethics committee, all said that there was no reason why mitochondrial replacement techniques should not be given the go-ahead. However, legislation will be required before this can occur in humans, even for the purposes of research. These are five missed opportunities on issues that we have already discussed.
I turn finally in one minute to—
My Lords, I should like to offer some comments on the welcome proposal set out by the Government in the gracious Speech to introduce the modern slavery Bill. I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Select Committee with other Members of your Lordships’ House under the superb chairmanship of Frank Field MP, and we all came to an agreement on a number of important issues. I want to comment on and offer some suggestions as to how we might handle the debate on this important topic, not least because much of the world is looking to see the terms in which such a Bill might be couched and how it is introduced. As I begin, I should remind the House of the irony of this moment. There is a movement to talk more positively about equality, freedom, democracy and transparency, but all the evidence shows increases in inequality, violence against women and slavery at this time. It is a very serious issue.
Noble Lords probably know that slavery is the second most profitable crime. It involves 21 million adults and 5.5 million children across the world. People are treated like commodities. Let us think of a Thai woman quite near this place who until recently was working in a brothel and being raped 10 times a day, day after day. That is modern slavery. I could take noble Lords to a house in Derby that has people crammed into a room with very few facilities. They have no money and they are working and working; they are being exploited.
Slavery is an emotive issue. The Prime Minister said of slavery in April 2013, “We must crush it”. The question is how to tackle the issue. In taking a lead, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis are doing a lot of work internationally, because it is an international issue. In April of this year the Pope said that we need two things to tackle modern slavery: strategy and mercy. Our task is to marry up strategy and mercy and to show how Governments can work with the voluntary sector, especially the faith sector, to offer the kind of mercy that provides face-to-face support for victims. When the Bill is introduced, I think next Tuesday, we must look at how it will help us to define what slavery and exploitation are, whether by way of example or legal definition. We will have to look at proposals for child advocates. Children in slavery need people to walk alongside them, but although this is important, it is also expensive. Barnardo’s is trialling some schemes and we will have to consider them. We also need to look at confiscation and compensation.
Some outstanding things are not mentioned in the proposals. One of those is the review of the national referral mechanism by which people are identified as being enslaved. We have to make sure that the legislation recognises that the national referral mechanism benchmarks what good care looks like. What does mercy look like in terms of benefits, housing, and the provision of opportunities to offer support and space to recover? Not much mention is made of supply chains. Many of us here in this Chamber are wearing garments that may well have included slavery in the supply chain that delivered them to us. We need a strategy for supply chains.
Not much has been suggested about overseas domestic workers, who, because they cannot change employers, are trapped in a very severe kind of slavery. There will also be an anti-slavery commissioner, and we will have to work hard to ensure that that person has some real authority to listen, to learn and to take the thing forward.
I suspect that as we debate this issue and look at the proposals there will be three kinds of sieving mechanisms. One will be economic: can we afford it? We are trying to recover economically. There will be a question for us all about the financial cost of mercy. There will be a second line of questioning about supply chains in terms of red tape on business and undermining business efficiency. We will have to look at the organisational cost of mercy. There will be a lot of debate about how this interfaces with immigration. Actually, fewer than 2,000 people were identified as being in slavery last year so we are not talking about great numbers, but we will have to look at the cost of strangers being made friends when they are so appallingly treated.
I hope that we will encourage legislation which enables a creative working relationship with the voluntary sector that can produce face-to-face support for victims and walk alongside and deliver mercy in a human way. But the mark of a civilised society is the quality of care for those in such horrendous need—think of that Thai woman, think of those people crammed in that house in Derbyshire. Our challenge will be: how does the state craft a strategy that delivers mercy?
My Lords, I will begin where the right reverend Prelate finished, with the modern slavery Bill, which I welcome. Like him, I think it is broad in scope and we need to ensure that as it passes through the House the detail encompasses all the aspects he has mentioned. I welcome the increased maximum sentence of life imprisonment for this crime and the enhancement to confiscate criminals’ assets. I also welcome the anti-slavery commissioner. It is not very often that I would say that because I have a rather cynical view sometimes of these job titles that are attached to people. But I think that in this case it is a very important role and one that could make a big contribution. Of course, children’s need for child trafficking advocates will be very important.
Like the right reverend Prelate, I am concerned about people who enter this country as employees through a legitimate route but are domestic servants and very often can be identified as slaves. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will ensure that in those circumstances diplomatic immunity of the employer will not allow people to slip through the net and find that they are not subject to the law of this land if they are treating people as slaves within their households.
I also welcome the Serious Crime Bill, in particular the emphasis on the National Crime Agency and other law enforcement agencies, which, as the Bill recognises, need the tools to effectively tackle serious and organised crime, including cybercrime and the illegal drug trade. At First Reading last week my noble friend read out all the Bills that need amending in order for this Bill to proceed. That tells us very clearly, particularly in those areas of cybercrime and the illegal drug trade, how fast technology and information move. We need to change our legislation to keep up with them and to ensure that we are putting on the statute book laws that will allow us to bring people to justice and ensure that in those areas we have a system that is both effective and a deterrent.
I would like to briefly mention something that, to my mind, covers most of the big issues that this debate focuses on: crime, education, health and justice. It seems to me that over the years we have rather lost our way when it comes to how we view the ways in which these big public bodies are organised. Therefore I take this opportunity again to say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that, in any reforms in which we seek to improve the services and the way in which we execute those policies in this country, I hope we will have learnt the lesson that there is a difference between management and leadership. There has been far too much focus on management in previous years.
I put my hand up as somebody who worked as a manager in many ways in a previous existence. I am very happy to accept the term “manager”. But management in our public services has rather led to a culture of tick-boxes, centrally set targets and people who start to lose the authority, initiative and creativity needed to progress in any organisation, whether commercial or public sector. Therefore, in reforming our public services, let us encourage and train people to lead so that our public services are exemplars around the world. I fear that in all the subjects we are discussing today we have tended to slip behind—I am not talking about the people who work in them but the way in which we run them. It is a responsibility of government to set that framework and make sure that that happens.
Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the care industry. I am not asking for a Bill on health—I think my noble friend Lord Howe could do with a bit of a rest, as could, perhaps more so, the people who work in the health service. However, we must address the care industry and the need to make sure that vulnerable people are no longer subject to being cared for by people whose accountability can sometimes seem somewhat questionable.
My Lords, following Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It was my first Speech, following my introduction into your noble House. As one of the newest Members of your Lordships’ House, I was honoured to be among my eminent peers.
The most gracious Speech set out the work that the Government intend to cover to the end of this Parliament. This includes plans to legislate for penalising those employers who fail to pay the minimum wage, to implement reforms to the electricity markets—even though this is an attempt to respond to a policy announced at last year’s Labour Party conference—and to reduce the use of plastic bags to help protect the environment. I am pleased that the Government are thinking about our environment but when families struggle to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families, while worrying about how many hours of work they will get from zero-hours jobs, I think plastic bags will be low on their list of priorities.
I would like to add my contribution to the debate on education. Although I appreciate that education was included in the most gracious Speech, the Government have not gone far enough to address the plight of black and working-class young people failing in our schools. The most gracious Speech included the Government’s apprenticeship scheme, which should have a take-up of up to 2 million by the end of this Parliament. Apprenticeships help young people gain skills that equip them for a life of work. I would congratulate the Government if this led to long-term employment, as 850,000 young people are unemployed and we need to do more to get them into work.
However, I worry that the apprenticeships are a stop-gap to keep young people off the unemployment register, which gives the Government credit to show that their strategy for the economy is working. I can remember when young people leaving school saw apprenticeships leading to a long-term career with the firms that took them on. Apprenticeships should not be seen as a short-term fix for the unemployment crisis. There is currently no guarantee of employment at the end of the apprenticeship programme. One in five apprenticeships lasts for less than six months.
The gracious Speech also includes the Government’s desire to help more schools become free schools and academies. I have concern, however, that under this Government, schools are divided. Some are denied the freedom that would help them raise standards, while others are largely unaccountable to their local communities, allowing poor performance to go unchallenged. All schools should have freedom to help them raise standards, and all schools should be accountable to their local communities.
When we are addressing education, we will need to keep an eye on our young Caribbean boys who are underachieving, although it is not just Caribbean boys who are underachieving but young people from a working-class background. In the previous parliamentary Session, the Commons Committee on Education tackled the issue of underachievement in education by white working-class children. The Government need to make sure that the same opportunities and attention are given to all.
Achievement at school obviously has a strong influence on employment opportunities. Although it is encouraging that unemployment generally is falling, figures from last November showed that in the previous year it had actually risen in the black African and Caribbean community by more than 15%. The unemployment rate among young black men is shockingly high at 45%. I hope that in their approach to education, employment and training, the Government keep in mind the need to focus on improving life chances in all communities. We in the Labour Party are saying that the economy should be working for the many, not just a few.
My Lords, in terms of my interest in children and young people, I say how much I welcome the upcoming modern slavery Bill and the financial support for childcare. I laud the meals service scheme for infants due to be introduced this autumn and the extension of free childcare for the most disadvantaged. As we have said on so many occasions in this Chamber, if we get it right for children in preschool and early years, it has the biggest impact on their learning and development. Not giving young children the environment for play, learning, exploring and imagination makes it an uphill struggle all the way through formal education.
That is not to say, of course, that it has to be done in a formal setting or outside the family. My guess is that there was a collective sigh of relief in schools that the Queen’s Speech contained no proposals directly affecting schools and schooling. The past 10 years or so have seen cataclysmic changes, with every aspect of education turned over from top to bottom—the schools curriculum, training, examinations, conditions of service, inspection regimes and financing assessment. The changes have been breathtaking and it is to the credit and marvel of our schools that they have risen to the challenge. I can find no other European country that has undergone the changes that we have. Surely we now need a long period of just letting schools and teachers get on with the job that they are best at doing. Would it not be good if there was some consensus that we stop playing political football with our schools?
We are having this debate against the background of what has been happening in some schools in Birmingham: the so-called Trojan horse. I want to reflect on the issue for a few moments; I know that we are going to have a ministerial Statement. First and foremost, we need to do all we can to protect the pupils in those schools from the situation in which they find themselves. Many of these young people will be facing exams in the next few weeks, and to have television vans and crews outside their school and headlines in newspapers cannot be good for the stability that they need.
Many of us will remember that local authorities used to have responsibility for schools. They were responsible to the Secretary of State and provided the intervention, mentoring on everything from curriculum development to CPD and support at interviews. Indeed, there would always have been an LEA representative at governing body meetings. These advisers and inspectors had their finger on the pulse of each and every school and I really wonder whether it was wise to allow that complete divorce of schools from their local authorities, and indeed their local communities. We have seen local authorities denuded of resources to support schools in the way that they did and academies become free of local accountability and part of large chains, often with as many schools as some of our smallest LAs had. In my view, we cannot micromanage schools from the centre but neither can some regional commissioners take on the role of day-to-day support that schools so desperately need.
During the past 10 years, we have also seen the number of faith schools increase considerably. I speak as someone who was head of a faith school for five years. The notion that you separate children by their religion has to be carefully considered. Faith schools bring a caring and mutually respective ethos but children need to understand the tolerance of a multicultural community. My own daughter went to a Jewish school. She developed not only an understanding of different faiths but lasting friendships with children from other faiths. Faith schools should never be allowed to develop religious indoctrination and it is hugely important that they encourage and allow children from faiths other than their own to be enrolled.
We need not only to ensure that we know locally the learning and cultural environment of each school, but to have a consistent approach to inspection. It must be right that all schools, irrespective of their type—whether they are public or private, LA or free school—have the same inspection regime. I am delighted that Ofsted wants to carry out all inspections, as the notion that certain types of school could use a private inspection provider was fraught with danger. I hope that no more will a school be allowed to use the same private provider if that private provider is reliant on the school for the contract, and thus potentially turns a blind eye to some unacceptable practices. Inspection standards for schools of impartiality and rigour must be for all.
It is also important that all schools, irrespective of their pedigree, have a broad and balanced curriculum and it surely cannot be right that some schools have an overprovision of faith matters at the expense of that. Ofsted is our only means of knowing what is really going on in schools and should put “broad and balanced” as the hallmark of any inspection regime. Furthermore, schools that are deemed outstanding should not be left for many years before they are visited again.
Finally, I want to raise—but we are out of time so I cannot and will sit down.
My Lords, I think that the correct medical term for my condition is imposter syndrome. I have suffered from that for a long time. How could a boy from Southend who was not brought up going to church and who, aged 11, fell the wrong side of the line and went to a secondary modern school end up sitting on these red Benches and speaking in this House? Because of this, I want to say something today about the place of education in the life of our nation. However, I must begin by thanking your Lordships for the welcome I have received in this House and the staff and officers of the House for showing me the ropes. I also pay tribute to John Gladwin, my predecessor as Bishop of Chelmsford—he is well known to many of your Lordships—and to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who first took a punt on me 10 years ago when he invited me to be Bishop of Reading. These and many others are people who believed in me and, as I shall go on to say, without affirmation none of us can live well.
The diocese of Chelmsford, where I serve, is 100 years old this year. We have recently enjoyed splendid visits from Her Majesty the Queen and his Grace the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The diocese is vast and varied, from the Olympic park in Stratford—yes, the London Olympics were in the Chelmsford diocese, as I like to tell the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London—to the end of Southend pier; from Tilbury to Harwich; and from Harlow to Saffron Walden. We are the second largest diocese in the Church of England and, without doubt, the most diverse. And we are in good heart. Many churches in east London and Essex are growing. More and more people want to engage with the possibility of faith and are rooting around for a set of values and a moral compass that shape and direct human flourishing.
As the church of this land, we exist first and foremost to make Christ known, but where Christ is known there is joy and well-being and this is something that people notice, particularly in our schools. One of the few things that parents and politicians agree on is that they want education to be about more than results. Ethos is what everyone is after, but how is it achieved? Most would agree that it comes from a common set of values, articulated by the head and shared by staff, governors, pupils and parents. As Madeleine Bunting wrote some years ago:
“This is where faith schools can have an advantage. They can fall back on a well-known, religious narrative to which there is still considerable adherence in some form. As the last census showed”,
over 50% of people in this country,
“still describe themselves as Christian; that may not mean going to church but it may mean wanting children to grow up with broadly Christian values”.
It is not that other schools cannot achieve this; of course they can, but it may be harder:
“Secular ethical traditions are honourable but they lack the familiarity, the symbols, the narratives and histories that bring the abstract to emotional life”.
Those are her words, not mine, and she was writing in the Guardian, not the usual champion of faith-based schools.
In Newham, the most culturally and ethnically diverse borough in the country, the diocese of Chelmsford has recently accepted an invitation to be a co-sponsor of—it is not a very snappy title—the London Design and Engineering University Technical College. Although pupils at this school will receive the very best technical and practical training available, all the school’s sponsors agree that that is not enough for either the modern workplace or the communities that we want to build. Religious education will therefore be given a high priority on the curriculum, for the trustees recognise that it is impossible to understand and inhabit the modern world, especially in east London, without a critical appreciation of faith and, even more than that, a mature spiritual, moral, social and cultural worldview. Moreover, good religious education has been shown to be one of the best ways of countering religious extremism.
Consequently, one of the first things that the school is doing is recruiting a chaplain. To me as a secondary modern schoolboy, it has always seemed rather strange that in English public schools, where many of our political class send their children, the presence of a chaplain is deemed essential, their role is understood and their contribution prized, yet in the state system this is seen as either irrelevant or an excessive luxury. If we want our children to be mature citizens of a cohesive multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, and if we really want to combat extremism by helping each of us to understand and appreciate the other and to love the stranger in our midst, we may need to think again.
Down the road in Dagenham, a community school that was struggling two years ago has become a Church of England school. I have visited it twice. Within 18 months of it reopening, with basically the same staff but a new set of values, a recent report has said that these values have transformed,
“the quality of relationships and effectiveness of learning within the school”.
This school, too, has a chaplain.
As this care needs to span the whole of a child’s upbringing, the diocese has recently pioneered a childcare venture called sparrows. We aim to support and strengthen churches and communities by providing high-quality, mixed-delivery childcare with Christian distinctiveness in church settings. This will provide the places that the new scheme to pay for childcare announced in the gracious Speech will make possible.
In my own life, I have experienced the best and worst of education. The school I went to, though good and well run in its own way, had pretty basic expectations. You left at 15 and got a job—“Bishop of Chelmsford” was all the job centre had when I went—and you took CSEs not O-levels. Clever children went somewhere else. The choice had already been made. I somehow managed to get three O-levels. As a consequence, I was considered at my school to be something of an intellectual. However, three O-levels were not enough to swap to the grammar school which had a proper sixth form. Believing I was capable of more, but not being in an environment where more was on offer, with two friends I enrolled in the sixth form of the secondary modern girls school next door. Since a school, whatever its title, is only as good as its teachers—although various politicians over the years do not seem to have grasped this fact—I found myself in an environment where teachers believed in me and saw my potential. Under the affirming gaze of their encouragement, I flourished and became, I think, only the second or third person from that school to get a degree.
Human beings need affirmation to live well. That attitude of believing and encouraging needs to encompass family, school, community and church. I was blessed to receive that affirmation in my family and eventually through that school. Without it, I do not know where I would be. The best schools—church schools serving their local communities and all sorts of others schools as well—know this. The proposed introduction of the so-called Cinderella law, which will criminalise the emotional abuse of children for the first time, is very welcome, for not only do thousands of children suffer in this way, but the need for this Bill is the shadow side of what the church believes should be at the centre of all educational policy and praxis: namely, that dogged and persistent determination to value and affirm every child and to nurture the God-given potential in everyone by giving them the greatest gift of all, which is the knowledge that they are valued and loved.
This is the Christian ethos that makes our work distinctive: you are valued not because of your birth, wealth or achievement, but because you are. Of course, it is our greatest desire that children receive this affirmation in their home, but the need for this law sadly reminds us that this is not always the case. It also reminds us that our schools should be places where this affirmation is commonplace. That will lead not only to better results but to a more loving and cohesive society. I am able to love and affirm others in their difference and their diversity, with their different gifts, cultures, faiths and personalities, because I have seen and received love and affirmation myself. It is therefore vital that resources for much needed school places go to where there is greatest need, and the Church of England stands ready to help the Government open new schools and develop pre-school childcare so that more places can be provided with the same high standards.
Coupled with my interest in the arts and with issues of peace and justice, I hope that my experience as someone who did not get an education the easy way, and who now leads a huge and diverse diocese, will be of service to this House and this nation as we seek to build a fairer education system where there is opportunity for all, especially for the poor and the excluded—and a set of values upon which a fruitful, cohesive and fairer society can be built. I do not know how to end speeches without saying “Amen”—so I will say thank you.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is to be congratulated on that amazing maiden speech. His commitment and knowledge, surrounded by a little humour to make his point, earns him a warm place in our hearts. We wish him well in this House.
Noble Lords will not be surprised at his background, as he has told us a little about it. He was ordained a deacon in 1984 and priested in 1985. He was an ordinand in the diocese of Chelmsford and, as he acknowledged in his own CV—which is where I found the humour—they are getting a return on their investment. The right reverend Prelate also served as a diocesan missioner in Wakefield. He has been for many years involved in developing and writing the Emmaus programme for evangelism, and that came over clearly today.
In 1997, he was a member of Springboard, an initiative for greater evangelism. In 2004, he became the area Bishop of Reading. He has written widely about evangelism and, in his spare time, managed to write a children’s book. His interests include reading, cooking and music and, as he said to us today, he wishes to promote joy and well-being and to communicate them to others. I wish the right reverend Prelate every success in this House. On behalf of all of us, he is most welcome.
I welcome many of the measures announced in the gracious Speech, reaffirming the Government’s commitment to securing the UK’s economic success in the long term. Without such an achievement, public services will not be able to grow and the demands placed on the NHS and education departments will be put under greater pressure. In my short time, I will focus on the NHS, deregulation and the need for greater broadband.
As some of your Lordships may be well aware, my husband Barrie died in November last year after a long struggle with bowel cancer. The treatment he received at the Osborne unit of the Leicester Royal Infirmary was outstanding; the care and support given to our family could not have been better. Equally important was the direct link between the medical services in hospital and social services. The care providers, his GP team, the district nurses and others worked closely together, easing us through a very difficult time. I want the Minister to know that this working together is absolutely crucial—my noble friend referred to this in his opening speech.
For many years I have spoken about the challenges faced by people living in rural areas and of the greater costs involved in providing services to them. One issue raised with me recently was that of pharmacy provision. I understand that some GPs are dispensing medicines from their surgeries and have created one-stop shops for their patients. I ask the Minister whether there are plans to expand this type of service, which seems to be very worth while.
I whole heartedly support the Government’s moves to make legislation more supportive of small businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses represents 4.9 million businesses, employing some 14 million people who will benefit from these plans. The government proposal should ensure that small businesses will be promptly paid, will have easier access to finance and will be able to compete for public procurement projects. We will welcome this Bill when it comes before the House.
However good the intentions are, the success of a Bill relies on its practicality, on its implementation and enforcement, and on review. Some recommendations made by the Richard Macdonald report on deregulation, which Defra commissioned three years ago, are still outstanding. I am sad that I will not be able to speak tomorrow, but I ask my noble friends to raise this when it is discussed tomorrow with my noble friend Lord De Mauley.
Small businesses require access to broadband, especially because government departments, including HMRC, demand that they should be used for all sorts of state business. I repeat for the umpteenth time that that is not physically possible in many rural areas. The rollout is some two years behind schedule and large swathes of the countryside are without service. Rural businesses cannot compete in such circumstances, file the returns demanded by the Rural Payments Agency, or conform to the new PAYE demands.
The gracious Speech recognises the importance of economic stability. The announced freeze on fuel duty, the Bill that will boost investment in infrastructure, and the proposals reforming planning law will help businesses and public service providers. They are essential steps to enable companies to grow and more jobs to be secured. I welcome those initiatives.
My Lords, I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech that the Government are to introduce a slavery Bill and a Serious Crime Bill. I will touch upon three areas, and will put several suggestions to the Minister.
On the Serious Crime Bill, on Friday Mr Justice Dodgson is expected to pass sentence on Mashudur Choudhury, who was arrested on his return from Syria and whom a jury found guilty of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts. The Government estimate that around 400 Britons have travelled to Syria to join these radical jihadi groups. So far this year, police have arrested over 40 Britons who, like Mr Choudhury, they believe have returned to the UK after fighting and attending terrorist training camps in Syria.
Mr Choudhury has been convicted under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, and as such faces a potential life sentence. However, that Act was drafted as a consequence of the dreadful London Tube bombings on 7 July 2005, long before the Syrian uprising of 2011, and was not crafted to deal with the proliferation of terrorist training activity by British-born citizens overseas. As a consequence, it may be difficult to prosecute many of those returning from Syria under Section 5 and, with no other suitable legislation, prosecutors may have to charge many returnees with lesser offences with lower sentencing tariffs. I welcome the provisions in the Serious Crime Bill, which the Government introduced in the House last Thursday, to provide for extraterritorial jurisdiction for the Section 5 offence and to extend the existing extraterritorial jurisdiction for the Section 6 offence. That will make it much clearer to those who seek to join jihadi groups in Syria that they will face prosecution on their return to the UK.
However, the Bill as currently drafted keeps sentencing tariffs for those offences at life imprisonment and a term not exceeding 10 years respectively. I believe that in respect of Section 6 offences the public rightly expect a higher tariff, and I ask the Government to consider amending the Bill to make provision for longer sentencing. With such an amendment the legislation would help prosecutors bring these would-be terrorists to justice. It would also reassure the British public that those who go to Syria to train in the tools of terrorism and return with the intent to cause harm will receive the most severe sentences.
While we must do everything we can to keep our community safe and protected from those who would do us harm, we must also do our best to provide a safe haven for those fleeing persecution in their own lands and seeking asylum in the UK. That brings me to my second point. Keeping us safe inevitably means that many asylum seekers will be kept in detention while their backgrounds and claims are properly investigated. I have no problem with this but we must also treat them with dignity throughout that process.
I have been troubled by ongoing reports of events at Yarl’s Wood detention centre—allegations of sexual abuse of vulnerable women by male guards, the failure of authorities to investigate the matters properly and the refusal to allow the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women access to the detention centre during her fact-finding mission to the UK. The Yarl’s Wood website home page states:
“We focus on decency and respect in all aspects of care for our residents and use continuous innovation to further improve and develop our service”.
Yarl’s Wood is operated by a private contractor, and I note that the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons has indicated that the contractor will be called before the committee. However, what can and will the Government do now to ensure that women held at Yarl’s Wood, or other immigration removal centres, are treated with dignity; that complaints they make are treated seriously and investigated properly; and that United Nations and any other appropriate monitoring officials are allowed free access? Is this something the noble Lord the Minister could consider tightening up by way of amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which will shortly make its way to this House from the other place?
I welcome the news that following detailed pre-legislative scrutiny a modern slavery Bill is to be introduced in this final session of Parliament. Slavery, in any form, is abhorrent, and many fall victim to it through human traffickers who exploit the poor and vulnerable. It is almost unbelievable that slavery can exist in Britain in the 21st century. Yet as we mark this year the 10th anniversary of the harrowing case of the 23 Chinese cockle-pickers who tragically died in Morecambe Bay, we continue to see further cases in the UK where vulnerable people, including children, have been forced into slavery and prostitution by traffickers.
Where Wilberforce led in the 19th century, I humbly suggest Britain must lead again in this century to rid the world of slavery, exploitation and trafficking.
I welcome the gracious Speech and in particular the good Liberal Democrat policies in it. I especially welcome the extension of 15 hours’ free care to more two year-olds, a policy introduced by the Liberal Democrat former Minister Sarah Teather. Despite all the free care currently available, the poorest fifth of our young children are still 19% below average by the time they reach the age of five. The best way of changing that is to provide more high-quality professional care and education, and make it available as early as possible. I do not underestimate the role of parents but the best quality early-years settings work with the parents, helping them to extend the good work when the child goes home. This is as it should be.
I also welcome the tax relief on childcare for working families, another Liberal Democrat policy. In Wrexham, near where I live, just over 4,000 working families will be eligible for up to £2,000 under this scheme. This will make a big difference to their family budget and enable more young parents to go to work to provide for their families and contribute to the economy. What is very important, however, is to ensure that good- quality places are available wherever they are needed, especially in the poorer areas where they can make so much difference.
I welcome the proposed changes in the Serious Crime Bill to change the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to make it explicit that cruelty which is likely to cause psychological harm to a child will be an offence. The current law on neglect is outdated and inadequate. The UK is one of the only countries in the world that fails to recognise emotional neglect as the crime it is. That is about to change.
However, the Bill is not perfect and many of us will be working to improve it even further. Currently the Bill provides that cruelty to a child must be “wilful” to be considered a criminal offence. Replacing “wilful” with “intentional and reckless” could enable more effective identification and response to this offence. I am sure that we will talk about that as the Bill progresses. But while we work on the Serious Crime Bill, recognising emotional neglect as an offence, we must also take further steps towards prevention and ensure earlier, and more effective, interventions for neglected young people and prevention of neglect in general. Under this Government, there have been several very successful initiatives providing support for parents, helping them to develop positive parenting skills, and better support and interventions for families with problems such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol addictions and other issues. But we must do more. In this case, prevention is not just better than cure but cheaper too.
I welcome the modern slavery Bill and congratulate my noble friend Lord McColl on his role in particular in raising the issues relating to children. The 23 local authority trials of providing independent advocates have been successful and now we have an enabling power to put that on a statutory footing. I trust that the Secretary of State will use it at a later date. We will be watching. I particularly welcome the measure that provides that trafficked children are not prosecuted for crimes that they were forced to commit by their traffickers. At last the law will recognise that children are not equipped to resist the pressure put on them by those who exert total power over them. I know that there are those who are calling for other specific measures, and I suspect that we will have some interesting debates.
However, although there is much to welcome, there is something missing. I would have liked to see the Government announce an intention to clarify the law on reporting of child abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults, whether physical or sexual in nature, which comes to the attention of those working in public institutions. I am talking about mandatory reporting, which would address the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, about vulnerable elder people.
We have recently seen reports in the media of suspicions of sweeping under the carpet and covering up historic child abuse. Here I point out that there is no such thing as “historic” child abuse. Child abuse persists throughout the life of the abused person and often leads to mental and emotional illness later on. Unfortunately, there is currently no law under which those who become aware of offences against children or vulnerable adults in public institutions and do not report it to the relevant authorities can be held to account. Recently, we had a report from the NSPCC that showed that there are now more than 500 people who have made allegations about the offences of the late Jimmy Savile. Many of these offences were carried out against children in schools and vulnerable adults in Broadmoor. I cannot believe that these offences went unnoticed at the time or unreported by the victims, but nothing was done to stop it. We have also had a horrendous case of child neglect where the child subsequently died, although he was seen scavenging for food in the school dustbin and injuries were noticed on his body. This is not all in the past; it is happening now, today, in schools and institutions. It is whispered about, but it is not shouted from the rooftops, as it should be.
A few brave victims and journalists have highlighted the problems that we face today. The people who perpetrate these atrocities are clever. They hide in full view, relying on their charismatic personalities, gaining support from parents through their apparent care for children, while at the same time abusing them. A recent case of a teacher in international schools is a perfect example. It is time to bring a full stop to it. Abuse of children is a crime and the law should say so.
My Lords, it is not anticipated that there will be any substantial primary legislation on healthcare during this final Session of Parliament, but it is inevitable that your Lordships’ House will have to address issues with regard to healthcare, because the provision of effective health services is such an important responsibility of government, commanding such a substantial proportion of public expenditure and having such a profound impact on our fellow citizens.
I would like specifically to consider issues with regard not to primary or secondary legislation generated here in our own Parliament but the impact of ongoing directives and regulation from the European Union that affect the delivery of healthcare, and most importantly the potential consequences that might attend medical research of the proposed European data protection regulation, which has been considered by both the Commission and the European Parliament and will eventually, potentially in this Session, arrive for consideration in this Parliament. In so doing, I remind noble Lords of my interests as professor of surgery, University College, London, chairman, University College London Partners Ltd and UK business ambassador for healthcare and lifescience.
First, on the ongoing question of the European working time directive, in May 2010 the Government declared that they wished to renegotiate specific provisions of the directive affecting the training of certain groups of junior doctors and the provision of healthcare services more generally. Those in craft specialties such as mine who undergo training that is restricted by the working time directive are concerned that they will not develop the necessary skills and, indeed, judgment to serve as independent practitioners and consultant surgeons in the National Health Service. This issue must be addressed. The cost to the public purse of providing locums is estimated to be some £200 million a year to allow rotas to be developed covering the working time directive’s 48 hours provision. However, most worryingly, coroners are now starting to cite the working time directive in their narrative verdicts as a safety concern in the deaths of certain patients. Only last week, the newly appointed chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, cited the working time directive as potentially contributing to the closure of local hospitals which are so vital in providing community services for the elderly who are subject to many chronic diseases. At what stage are Her Majesty’s Government’s negotiations with regard to the working time directive and do they anticipate that the issues will be resolved by the end of this Parliament?
A second important issue is that of ensuring that all doctors in this country practise to the same standard. During this Parliament the Government have achieved remarkable success in enabling the General Medical Council to undertake language testing of all doctors who wish to register and practise in this country, including those from the European Union. However, there is still a deficit in assessing the skills and competence of doctors from anywhere in the world, including the European Union, who wish to practise in this country. This is a vital issue. Those graduating from our medical schools have their curriculum assessed by the General Medical Council—I declare my interest as a member of the GMC—but also have their competence tested in examinations in which the General Medical Council has an interest. International medical graduates coming from abroad will undergo tests but those from Europe will not. Do Her Majesty’s Government propose to address that issue in the remainder of this Parliament?
Finally, the data protection regulation will have a very serious impact on the potential to undertake certain forms of vital medical research. The original regulation as drafted by the Commission was satisfactory but amendments to Articles 81 and 83 passed by the European Parliament will have a detrimental impact on large-scale studies such as the UK Biobank, genome mapping and cancer registries. This will have a devastating impact on the progress of medical research and on our ability to undertake large epidemiological studies and more detailed and specific specialist studies which will drive the field of personalised medicine in this country. If this regulation were to be transposed into UK legislation, it would have a detrimental impact on medical research in this country. I would like to ask the Minister what position the Government will take to ensure that this does not happen.
My Lords, since my introduction, people often say to me that there must be few similarities between my career in the airline industry and the honour of an appointment to your Lordships’ House. To the contrary, some similarities have surprised me: long queues when voting, delays waiting for the vote and a shortage of baggage space. I will not delay your Lordships with further examples, as I am conscious of the need for brevity, but like the Lord High Executioner, noble Lords, too, will have their little list. I appreciate also that my speech has been bracketed with that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—I, too, was once a Bishop. My gratefulness is deep and to many—in particular to my supporters, my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord Tugendhat—but it also extends to many Members from all sides of the House, and officials, who have shown me great kindness and support.
In this speech, I am mindful of its timing between the commemorations at the weekend of the Normandy landings 70 years ago and similar ceremonies later this summer to mark the beginning of the First World War. My grandfather was born in New Zealand. I am the son of an Australian father who fought in the Australian army during the First World War and who survived, albeit with a permanent disability, thus making me ever conscious of both the ultimate sacrifice and the lifelong injuries incurred by so many in conflict.
An important part of my heritage is the Commonwealth, which is a significant conduit for shared values and common goals. Today, there are important links between Australia and the United Kingdom, not least with the 400,000 Australians who live and work here, while the UK remains the largest source of migrants to Australia.
The gracious Speech has highlighted the Government’s intention significantly to strengthen the law for those guilty of human trafficking offences. The trade in slaves was abolished by an Act of Parliament in 1807, yet research conducted by the University of Utrecht suggests that there are more slaves in the world today than there were in the entire 350 years of the transatlantic slave trade.
I cannot make a speech on this subject without paying tribute to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. This group has continually shone a light into the darker corners of this evil trade. Particular mention must be made of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and my noble friend Lord McColl for their leadership on the Anti-Slavery Day Act.
There are numerous good causes that I have been able to support over many years through my charitable trust, but one of the most important and rewarding to me has been as a founder donor to the UK Human Trafficking Foundation, a charity established in 2010 by the then Member of Parliament for Totnes, Mr Anthony Steen. The traditional image of slavery is only a fraction of its modern equivalent. There are many people who do not fully comprehend what is meant by human trafficking, so allow me to be absolutely clear that we are talking about the ultimate degradation in human misery in all its forms. It encompasses not only the trade in human beings but the non-consensual extraction of organs and tissues, forced labour and sexual slavery. Together it represents the most despicable betrayal of humanity in the 21st century, which we must do all in our power to curtail.
Now, some may have assumed that I would make my maiden speech on civil aviation, an industry in which I served for 45 years with the same company. I was particularly fortunate to join at the beginning of the jet age and witness the inauguration and discontinuation of supersonic commercial flights, leading into the sophisticated and very safe aircraft of today. But for my own contribution, I will summarise by merely paraphrasing WS Gilbert’s lyric for Sir Joseph Porter in “HMS Pinafore” thus:
“When I was lad, I served a term
As office boy to an airline firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor
And polished up the handle of the hangar door.
But that kind of life so suited me
That I soon became the ruler of an Air Navee!”
In keeping with convention to keep this speech short, I will now resume my seat, but in doing so, I hope that I may have left noble Lords with an impression, not just of some of the issues that are important to me, but of some of the subjects that have influenced my life.
My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to speak after the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glendonbrook—and I pronounce his name very carefully. The noble Lord was born Michael Bishop in the village of Bowdon, near Manchester. He sought permission from the Australian Government to call himself Lord Glendonbrook, Glendonbrook being, I believe, a Hunter Valley hamlet in Australia. He first visited it in 1965 as a young child, and his father, Clive, worked as a farmer there. I am sure that his decision was a wise one. I quote him:
“I knew that I would get a lot of correspondence that was not meant for me. It would be very confusing as I would be invited to say grace or give sermons or something. I would be constantly saying, ‘I am not the bishop of Bowdon’. So I thought it would be rather nice if I took an Australian title”.
The noble Lord spoke with great humour, passion and conviction, and I am sure that his comments and views on the atrocities of war and the abhorrence of human trafficking and modern slavery have the support of all of us in the House. His paraphrasing of WS Gilbert’s lyric for Sir Joseph Porter sums up very clearly and succinctly his own illustrious career in the aviation industry. He started at the front-line check-in counter and, by the tender age of 27, was chief executive of British Midland Airways. In fact, he was knighted in 1991 for his services to aviation. His talents extend much further and I could not do justice to them today. He can be described in a multitude of ways: aviation boss, advocate for gay rights, patron of the arts and Knight of the Empire. In addition, he has been chairman of Channel 4 television and is a great philanthropist. The noble Lord will undoubtedly bring an array of views and experiences to the House, and I, for one, look forward to his further contributions to our debates.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise an issue not contained in the gracious Speech but it is one which I believe is long-standing and urgent and on which I believe the Government could act now through a simple amendment to either the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill or the Serious Crime Bill. I hope that the Minister will give this careful consideration. I am focusing on the need to do more to protect the rights and welfare of children and vulnerable adults detained or interviewed by the police. I declare an interest as the president of the National Appropriate Adult Network, a charity and membership organisation which supports the development of effective appropriate adult policy and practice. I particularly thank its chief executive, Chris Bath, for his expert advice and briefing on this issue.
By way of background, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice, when detaining or interviewing a child or mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable adult, the police must secure an appropriate adult to protect their rights and welfare. The term “mentally vulnerable” includes, but is not limited to, people with mental ill-health, a learning disability or autistic spectrum disorder. If the police have any doubts at all about the mental state or capacity of a detainee, they may not continue with procedures such as fingerprinting, DNA swabs, intimate searches or interviews without an appropriate adult being present.
The appropriate adult role, conducted effectively, is complex and demanding. It includes a multitude of tasks but is absolutely crucial. Where parents or carers are unavailable, unsuitable or unwilling, a statutory duty requires youth offending teams to ensure the provision of appropriate adults for children, whether through paid or voluntary staff, but there is no such statutory duty to ensure the provision of appropriate adults for mentally vulnerable adults, and this is a key point that I will return to in a short while.
However, my first area of concern is in relation to children. In 2012, Joe Lawton, a 17 year-old boy, took his own life. His father found him dead and a police charge sheet at his feet. Two days earlier, he was held in a police cell overnight on suspicion of drunk-driving. In 2011, 17 year-old Edward Thornber was caught with 50p-worth of cannabis. Distraught at the thought of life with a criminal record, he hanged himself. These children were treated as adults in police custody and were not entitled to an appropriate adult. The case of Hughes Cousins-Chang, another 17 year-old, led to a judicial review. The Home Secretary, rightly, amended the PACE codes of practice without appeal, extending provision to 17 year-olds and rectifying a long-standing anomaly.
The Home Secretary’s action is welcome. However, if we are to avoid such tragedies in the future, there are three key issues which still need urgent action. First, with more 17 year-olds arrested than all 10 to 16 year-olds combined, funding is desperately needed. Seven months after the change to PACE Code C, no additional funding has been given to local government.
Secondly, the PACE Act must be amended to remove anomalies where 17 year-old boys and girls continue to be treated as adults in several critical respects, including a lack of parental consent around intimate body cavity searches and no requirement to transfer them to local authority accommodation post charge. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will ensure that 17 year-olds have an appropriate adult for the purposes of youth cautions and youth custodial cautions. I welcome the fact that the Ministry of Justice has moved so quickly to address this issue. It would make eminent sense for the Home Secretary and the Home Office to follow suit.
Thirdly, children across the country are too often contained in cells, contrary to Section 38(6) of PACE, which places a statutory duty on the police to effect the transfer of children unless it is impracticable for certain defined reasons. Local authorities must accommodate them under the Children Act 1989. This can cause unnecessary damage to children, puts unnecessary pressure on custody suites and increases the risk of costly remands. There are, of course, odd exceptions, but the system seems to have broken down nationwide and there appears to be no accountability. This is a cross-departmental issue, but one on which I would expect the Home Office to take the lead.
I turn to the matter of mentally vulnerable adults—and here I fear that we are heading towards a crisis which needs urgent action now by the Government. At any given time one in six British adults, or 8 million people, are experiencing at least one diagnosable mental health problem. Almost 40% of people in contact with the probation service have a current mental health condition—a number which is even higher in prisons. Up to 30% of people who offend have learning disabilities or difficulties that interfere with their ability to cope within the criminal justice system; yet as my noble friend Lord Bradley’s landmark report in 2009 noted, an analysis of 21,000 police custody records found that an appropriate adult had been used in only 38 cases. He had expected up to at least 3,000 cases. The lack of any statutory provision for vulnerable adults means that trained appropriate adults for this group are often unavailable or that provision is limited. In many areas, services are non-existent.
The Government must be congratulated on investing an extra £25 million this year into services to identify mentally vulnerable people in police stations and to ensure appropriate referrals. This will be a great support for custody sergeants, and I welcome the commitment to extend these liaison and diversion services to every custody suite in England by 2017. It is already the case that where there is no organised service, the search for an appropriate adult can make significant demands on police time. At busy times, police can be impelled not to identify an individual’s vulnerability at all. If the police are discouraged from identifying vulnerability due to poor provision of appropriate adults, it may present an unwelcome barrier to their referring to liaison and diversion. As things stand, the problem is actually set to worsen dramatically.
The non-statutory nature of appropriate adult services for vulnerable adults means that those areas with a service are defenceless in the face of budget cuts. In the short term, immediate action is needed to prevent the loss of existing services, many of which are delivered by committed volunteers. However, this cannot be at the expense of the proper solution—placing appropriate adult provision for mentally vulnerable adults on a statutory footing. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to my concerns. We need to see a clear commitment by the Government to take action within this parliamentary Session to tackle these important issues. I fear that without such action, we are heading towards crisis and placing some of the most vulnerable people in our communities at serious risk.
My Lords, I shall focus on the section of the gracious Speech relevant to education and training:
“Further reforms to GCSEs and A-levels will be taken forward to raise standards in schools and prepare school pupils for employment”.
On reforms to school exams, none of us could doubt that in a fast-changing world school learning and assessment need constant updating. However, it is one thing to express this as a high-level intention but quite another to implement any such reforms. I have been a school teacher and have worked for an assessment and awarding body, so I know what it feels like to be on the sharp end of politically led changes. This was long before I ever imagined I would be on the political end.
We note the involvement of higher education institutions but reforms to GCSE and A-levels will call for experts across the board to translate the aims into a syllabus, a curriculum, teaching materials and rigorous assessments. The tests and benchmarks must have the respect of those who sit the tests and those who use the results for access to further study or employment. Let us not forget our teachers, who find themselves often with inadequate time and resources, tasked with translating the reforms into exciting and engaging classroom experiences for the students in their charge. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Storey in paying tribute to those who have the responsibility to foster learning and aspiration in the next generation. I also hear the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about shortages in science and maths teachers.
In a previous reform, this autumn will see the introduction of languages in the primary school curriculum. This measure will give young children the excitement of understanding different communications and cultures. It should strengthen the country’s woeful reputation for speaking only one language, and if in doubt speaking English very loudly. Only 6% of the world population speaks English as a first language. If we are to equip our young people with tools to succeed in a globalised world, mastering more than one language at an early stage will be enriching in both their personal and their working lives. Primary schools are already engaged in identifying which language or languages will be most appropriate for their teachers and children. For this measure to be successful, secondary schools will build on the skills and mastery of their feeder schools and from there into GCSE and A-level. It is greatly to be hoped that the tide is turning and the numbers of those continuing language studies will grow.
We have seen our language deficit highlighted in initiatives from the British Academy, the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the British Council. The Government have listened and taken action in different departments. The Foreign Office recently opened a state-of-the-art language learning centre, with the Foreign Secretary’s open aim that everyone working in that department should use the facilities to gain proficiency in one at least of the many languages on offer. The military saw the closure of its highly specialised centre of language excellence at Beaconsfield but earlier this year opened a language and culture centre at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham. Future adults embarking on these professional programmes will find their task easier and more rewarding if language learning within schools has been improved.
I ask the Minister—or perhaps even my noble friend the Education Minister, who is in his place—in his aim to reform GCSE and A-level, how far the proposed reforms will be taking into account the expertise of those in the different branches of the education sector. There has been a tendency in previous education reforms to listen more to policy experts than to those working on the front line. Will pilots be built into the development of these reforms? The timescales are very tight, but better by far to discover glitches and inconsistencies with a limited control group than to roll out full-scale untested revisions to the unfortunate masses.
Any serious intention to prepare young people for employment—and, indeed, for life—needs to place more emphasis on subjects such as citizenship and PSHE. Crucial, too, is provision for wide-ranging careers information, advice and guidance. I hope that in the last Session of this Parliament, and with the aim in the gracious Speech to prepare school pupils for employment, we shall see tangible progress in these areas.
I have not time to expand on apprenticeships except to applaud the valuable growth in apprenticeships—growth in numbers and in respect as a genuine alternative to university.
We look forward to working within the coalition to build on what has been achieved over the past four years to give all our children the best possible opportunities to live rewarding and productive lives.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on schools in Birmingham made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows.
“Keeping our children safe and ensuring our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain could not be more important. It is my department’s central mission.
Allegations made in what has become known as the Trojan horse letter suggested that children were not being kept safe in Birmingham schools. Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency have investigated those allegations. Their reports and other relevant documents have today been placed in the Library of the House. Let me set out their findings and my actions.
Ofsted states that,
‘headteachers reported … an organised campaign to target … schools … in order to alter their character and ethos’
‘a culture of fear and intimidation’.
Head teachers who had,
‘a record of raising standards’,
reported they had been,
‘marginalised or forced out of their jobs’.
One school leader was so frightened about speaking to the authorities that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park.
Ofsted concluded that governors,
‘are trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools’,
specifically by narrowing the curriculum, manipulating staff appointments and using school funds inappropriately.
Overall, Ofsted inspected 21 schools. Three were good or outstanding, while 12 schools were found to require improvement. The remaining six were inadequate and are in special measures. Let me explain why.
At one secular primary school, terms such as ‘white prostitute’, unsuitable for primary children’s ears, were used in Friday assemblies run exclusively by Muslim staff. The school organised visits to Saudi Arabia open only to Muslim pupils. Senior leaders told inspectors that a madrassah had been established and been paid for from the school’s budget. Ofsted concluded the school was,
‘not adequately ensuring that pupils have opportunities to learn about faith in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultures’.
At one secular secondary school, staff told officials that the call to prayer was broadcast over the playground using loud speakers. Officials observed that lessons had been narrowed to comply with conservative Islamic teachings; in biology, students were told that,
‘evolution is not what we believe’.
The school invited the preacher Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman to speak, despite the fact that he is reported to have said:
‘Give victory to Muslims in Afghanistan … Give victory to all the Mujahideen all over the world. Oh Allah, prepare us for the jihad’.
Ofsted concluded that,
‘governors have failed to ensure that safeguarding requirements and other statutory duties are met’.
At another secular secondary school, inspectors described ‘a state of crisis’, with governors reportedly using school funds to pay private investigators to read the e-mails of senior leaders. Ofsted found a lack of action to protect students from extremism.
At a third secular secondary school, Ofsted found that students were,
‘vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which could include radicalisation’.
And at a secular primary school, Ofsted found that,
‘pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam’,
‘subjects such as art and music have been removed—at the insistence of the governing body’.
Inspectors concluded that the school,
‘does not adequately prepare students for life in modern Britain’.
Ofsted also reports failures on the part of Birmingham City Council. It found that the council did not deal adequately with repeated complaints from head teachers. School leaders expressed ‘very little confidence’ in the local authority and Ofsted concluded that Birmingham has not exercised adequate judgment. These findings demand a robust but also considered response.
It is important that no one allows concern about these findings to become a pretext for criticism of Islam itself, a great faith which brings spiritual nourishment to millions and daily inspires countless acts of generosity. The overwhelming majority of British Muslim parents want their children to grow up in schools that open doors rather than close minds, and it is on their behalf that we have to act.
There are, of course, questions about whether warning signs have been missed. There are questions for Birmingham Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education. I have today asked Birmingham Council to review its history on this issue, and the chief inspector has advised me that he will be considering the lessons learnt for Ofsted. I am also concerned that the Department for Education may not have acted when it should. I am asking the Permanent Secretary to investigate how my department dealt with warnings both since the formation of this Government in 2010 and before.
We must all acknowledge that there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism. But let me be clear that no Government and no Home Secretary have done more than this Government to tackle extremism. In the Prime Minister’s Munich speech of 2011, in the Home Secretary’s own review of the Prevent strategy and in the conclusions of the Government’s Extremism Task Force last year, this Government have made clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent.
Since 2010, the DfE has increased its capacity to deal with extremism. We set up Whitehall’s first ever unit to counter extremism in public services with help from former intelligence and security professionals. That unit has developed since 2010 and we will continue to strengthen it. Ofsted now trains inspectors to understand and counter extremist Islamist ideology, and inspections of schools at risk, like those in Birmingham, are carried out by the most senior inspectors, overseen by Sir Michael Wilshaw himself.
But there is, of course, more to do, and today’s reports make action urgent. First, we need to take action in the schools found inadequate. Academies will receive letters saying that I am minded to terminate funding agreements. Local authority schools are having governors replaced. We have already spoken to successful academy providers who are ready to act as sponsors.
We need to strengthen our inspection regime even further. The requirement to give notice of inspections clearly makes it more difficult to identify and detect danger signs. Sir Michael Wilshaw and I have argued in the past that no-notice inspections can help identify where pupils are at risk. I have asked him to consider the practicalities of moving to a situation where all schools know that they may receive an unannounced inspection.
I will also work with Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure that, as he recommends, we can provide greater public assurance that all schools in a locality discharge their full statutory responsibilities, and we will consider how Ofsted can better enforce the existing requirement that all schools teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
I have talked today to the leader of Birmingham Council and requested that it sets out an action plan to tackle extremism and keep children safe.
We already require independent schools, academies and free schools to respect British values. Now we will consult on new rules that will strengthen this standard further and require all schools to actively promote British values. I will ask Ofsted to enforce an equivalent standard on maintained schools through changes to the Ofsted framework.
Several of the governors whose activities have been investigated by Ofsted have also been active in the Association of Muslim Schools UK, which has statutory responsibilities in relation to state Muslim faith schools. So we have asked AMS UK to satisfy us that it is doing enough to protect children from extremism, and we will take appropriate steps if its guarantees are insufficiently robust.
I have also spoken to the National College for Teaching and Leadership and we will further strengthen the rules so that from now on it is explicit that a teacher inviting an extremist speaker into a school can be banned from the profession.
I will, of course, report in July on progress in all the areas I have announced, as well as publishing the findings of the report of Peter Clarke, who is investigating the background behind many of the broader allegations in the Trojan horse letter.
The steps we are taking today are those we consider necessary to protect our children from extremism and protect our nation’s traditions of tolerance and liberty. The conclusions of the reports today are clear. Things that should not have happened in our schools were allowed to happen. Our children were exposed to things they should not have been exposed to. As Education Secretary, I am taking decisive action to make sure that those children are protected. Schools that are proven to have failed will be taken over, put under new leadership and taken in a fresh new direction. Any school could now be subject to rigorous, on-the-spot inspections with no advance warning and no opportunities to conceal failure. We will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable and we will put it right. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Undoubtedly these are very serious issues. I am sure he will agree that it is a sad spectacle to see two members of the Cabinet publicly bickering when there are such important issues of governance and child safeguarding at stake.
It is good to hear that the Secretary of State has apologised to the Prime Minister but will he also be apologising to the parents and children in Birmingham who feel badly let down by the consequences of this Government’s education system? Arguably it should be the Minister’s own department that is put in special measures because at the heart of this problem is a complete lack of local oversight in our schools system, resulting from this Government’s attempts to run all schools from Whitehall.
The fact is that this Government were repeatedly warned of these dangers and chose to ignore them. They were warned in 2010 by head teacher Tim Boyes, who made a presentation to the department on the threat of radical infiltration in Birmingham. They were warned by my noble friend Lady Hughes and me during consideration of what became the Education Act 2011 that by centralising control they were leaving themselves dangerously exposed. They were warned by their own civil servants earlier this year that, as more academies and free schools failed,
“more people will be aware that our intervention powers are pretty weak”.
Can the Minister now clarify three things? First, were any Ministers present at Mr Boyes’s presentation in 2010 and what was the agreed follow-up? Secondly, what steps are being taken to inspect schools in other areas given the growing evidence that this is not an isolated problem? Thirdly, does he agree that a thorough review of the Government’s ability to oversee all schools, including academies and free schools, is now essential to reassure parents and pupils that proper scrutiny is being put in place and so that we no longer have to rely on whistleblowers but instead have robust local oversight systems in place for the future?
My Lords, personally, I do not think that this is a matter for political point-scoring or mud-slinging in this House. There has been plenty of that elsewhere. These are very serious and sensitive matters that require analysis, reflection, action and further reflection. Therefore, I will not rise to the political points made by the noble Baroness but concern myself with the facts and evidence in relation to the cases we are dealing with. We have set out today the actions we are taking. There are clearly lessons for all of us in this.
So far as the events in 2010 or any other warnings received by previous Governments are concerned, the Secretary of State announced that the Permanent Secretary is investigating this. Personally, I find it very surprising that the Labour Party is propagating local control bearing in mind the complete abject failure of Birmingham City Council in these schools over many years. The chief inspector’s remarks are littered with criticism of Birmingham City Council in relation to this.
On the fact that these schools are academies, 21 schools were inspected and 13 of those were local authority maintained schools. It is true that four of the six in special measures are academies but 60% of all secondary schools are academies and nine of the 11 “Requires improvement” schools were local authority maintained schools, so drawing any kind of line through that is rather difficult. The fact that they were academies has nothing to do with the matter. All schools—academies, grammar schools, maintained schools and faith schools—are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. It is in this respect, substantially, that the relevant schools failed.
The key figures in this story have been governors for many years. One of them has been a governor of one school for 20 years while it was a local authority maintained school. Within two years of it becoming an academy, we uncovered these issues and are dealing with them. Academies are subject to considerably greater accountability than local authority maintained schools. They must publish annual accounts, which local authority maintained schools do not. They are subject to the oversight of the Education Funding Agency, which has been extremely helpful in this regard.
My Lords, I had the pleasure of introducing Mr Tim Boyes, head teacher of Queensbridge School, to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, in 2010. I was grateful to the noble Lord for meeting Mr Boyes and allowing him to go on to meet officials. I listened with interest to the Minister who said that there is now to be an inquiry into what subsequently happened but I think he should say a little bit more about what his own department did or did not do after it was alerted to these very pressing issues.
I have long been concerned about what has been happening in some of our Birmingham schools. Would the Minister agree that this is not so much an issue about links to terrorism or, necessarily, extremism but that a small group of people were determined to change the governing bodies in a number of schools using entryist tactics? How that happens is well known to many Lords. In so doing, these people undermined the existing head teachers and caused a great deal of distress to many of the teachers—including many Muslim teachers—who found themselves very isolated because it appeared that no action could be taken.
I understand that the noble Lord said that Ofsted will now undertake spot inspections but I want him to answer the point raised by my noble friend. There are other schools in other parts of the country. Remarkably, the noble Lord’s Secretary of State allowed some schools linked to creationism to be established. Will those spot inspections apply to those schools to protect them from the dogma of creationism, which I believe to be reprehensible? I also ask the Minister—
I would just like to ask the Minister about Ofsted. Ofsted has now found that many of these schools need to go into special measures. I am glad that it has done so but why did Ofsted, in recent inspections of some of these schools, classify them as outstanding? We can have little faith in Ofsted’s approach if it missed all the troubles that have been going on in those schools.
On the events of 2010 or previously, I will not comment further. The Permanent Secretary is looking at that. We have established a due diligence and counterextremism unit, which is extremely well resourced and has proved highly successful.
On whether this is confined to a small group of individuals or a wider issue, that is for Peter Clarke to determine. Of course, there have been suggestions that there are issues in Bradford. Indeed, the Trojan horse letter was allegedly sent to someone in Bradford. Bradford City Council is taking these matters extremely seriously. One school has had an IEB placed in it. We do not believe that these issues are spreading that widely.
So far as creationism is concerned, or any other form of what could be called extremism, of course Ofsted could inspect these schools. Creationism is specifically not allowed in our schools and funding agreements prohibit it.
So far as the apparent change in the Ofsted outcomes is concerned, we have complete confidence in Ofsted’s findings. These are supported by the EFA’s reports. The chief inspector reports that a culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of these schools since their previous inspections, which has resulted in significantly stark changes and low morale—as I said, since the previous inspections. It may also be the case that because these previous inspections were conducted on notice that events were concealed.
My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister answer three questions? First, he will be aware that outstanding schools do not have the same period of inspection, so will these one-off, on-the-spot inspections also include outstanding schools? Secondly, how does he think that local oversight of schools can be advanced? Thirdly, would he consider that Ofsted should have as a hallmark of any inspection that the school provides a broad and balanced curriculum? Finally, he mentioned that any teacher who invites an extremist to speak in the school would be dismissed. I am aware of schools where governors invited extremist speakers into school to speak. Should that then not lead to the governor being removed—or the head teacher—for allowing that to happen?
My noble friend asked four questions. The answer to the first, on whether no-notice inspections can occur in outstanding schools, is yes, if it was thought appropriate. On local oversight, I already expressed my views on the failure of that in this case. Noble Lords will know that we have hired eight regional schools commissioners who will provide oversight on a regional basis using head teacher boards from top academies. We believe that this is a more effective way of dealing with these matters. “Yes” is the answer to Ofsted looking for a broad and balanced curriculum. We will now consult on the ability for all independent schools to ban governors with extremist links. They would then be banned from sitting on maintained schools’ boards.
Is the Minister aware that what was announced by Mr Gove today will be welcomed across the country, because he was preventing what had been set up as secular schools being transformed, very determinedly but quite slowly, into single-faith Muslim schools, and such a transformation is unacceptable in the English education system? It is a credit to Sir Michael Wilshire and his inspectors that they revealed what is happening.
This will be a difficult and long task, but I suggest to the Minister that it would be easier if he were to announce a moratorium on the approval of any new single-faith schools. The object we are trying to achieve is that students in British schools, irrespective of their race, colour, creed or faith, will sit next to each other, play with each other, eat with each other, go home in the buses with each other and respect each other. If we do not achieve that, our society will be divided by faith and that would be disastrous for our country.
I welcome my noble friend’s extremely mature comments, with which I largely agree. So far as a moratorium on faith schools is concerned, there is a great place in our society for faith and church schools, which have been extremely successful. Church schools in fact promote community cohesion, it is acknowledged, better than other schools. We must make sure that all schools promote community cohesion and inclusiveness.
My Lords, I make no apology for responding by returning to the dog that did not bark in the Minister’s speech, which is the chronic dysfunctionality of the relationships across departments in tackling extremism. I do not accept the Minister’s implication—his explicit reference—that this is party-political. From, if I may say so, a little more experience of dealing with these issues than the noble Lord, perhaps I may say that it is an essential prerequisite for tackling extremism that there is the best and smoothest cross-departmental approach—across prisons, community services, local government and education itself. It astonishes me that there was no reference to that in the Statement.
The Minister and I agree about the action plans, but the action plans are only as good as those who are leading the strategic position. It astonishes me that there was no reference to what is obviously the dysfunctionality between those two departments. The whole idea of forming the Office of Security and Counterterrorism in the Home Office—I declare an interest because I was behind the formation of that organisation, to which the Minister referred—was to enhance co-ordination across departments. If that is lacking and there are no plans to try to improve on that despite personalities, the actions that he has mentioned today will not be as effective as we all want.
Of course, the noble Lord is extremely experienced in these matters and I bow to his much greater experience of them than mine, but there is no dysfunctionality between the departments. We are working extremely well across departments and across all agencies on this matter.
My Lords, the great lesson of Northern Ireland is to combat not just violent acts but also extreme ideologies, communal ideologies and religious ideologies of bigotry. Can the Minister assure us, in the light of the statements of both the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary in the other place this afternoon, that the Government are still united on the basis that it is necessary to combat the ideologies of extremism as well as violent acts?
I am most grateful. There is no doubt that the report makes very uncomfortable reading for everyone. All parts of the education system need to look at how they have performed and ask real questions about what has gone on in recent years. Beyond the no-notice inspections by Ofsted, I find the report more shallow than I would have expected. On no-notice Ofsted inspections, I would be amazed if the wool could be drawn over Ofsted’s eyes just by giving 24 or 48 hours’ notice. I am not convinced at all that merely sending Ofsted in with no notice will enable it to spot these things if it could not spot them with 24 or 48 hours’ notice.
The point I want to raise that has not been raised is that, while excusing no individual in these schools or the local authority, or anyone anywhere from the consequences of their actions, has not the Minister reflected that, in a way, government policies over the past five years have made this situation more likely, not less likely to happen? What we read in the report is the downside to some of the Government’s flagship policies: inviting parents to play a greater part in deciding the values and type of education their children receive; destroying many of the partnerships that meant that what one school did was visible to another; massively reducing local oversight of schools; encouraging teachers, often with no qualifications, to make up their own curriculum as they go along; and excusing outstanding schools from any inspection at all. Without saying that there is nothing to be gained by those policies, the fact is that the Government have made no allowance at all for coping with the downside of some of their key flagship policies. What is the Minister going to do about that now?
It is true that in recent years, Ofsted has strengthened its inspection regime by recruiting inspectors who speak Arabic and Urdu and are trained in the various Islamic ideologies, but we have today announced many other actions that we will be taking in relation to those schools. I do not accept that it is as a result of recent government actions that these things have happened. The noble Baroness may believe that these things have suddenly turned around; they have in fact taken root in these schools over many years, particularly under the previous Government, but it is this Government who have dealt with those points.
The Minister painted a very worrying picture, and we should all work together to improve things. The use of special measures in the Birmingham schools and the prospect of unannounced inspections are good things. In my experience, both in government and in business, they can make a huge difference, so I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on that particular point.
What wider measures can be taken in schools to tackle the culture that breeds terrorism? Examples might include preventing teaching about suicide bombing, reducing gender segregation and even, perhaps, looking at copying the French, who have prevented various forms of face covering, in addition to the Minister’s proposals for banning extremist speakers and, above all, promoting British values.
The noble Baroness is quite right. I outlined in the Statement the other actions that we will be taking, including, as she says, promoting British values. One issue that has come out of these Ofsted reports is the importance of keeping children safe on the internet. It is widely known that the biggest recruiting ground for extremism is the internet, so it is particularly important that we focus on that issue, as the Government are. As I said, we will be taking steps to ban teachers and governors from promoting extremism.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Does the noble Lord agree that this activity does not emulate the Trojan horse so much as follow the violent Muslim tenet of al-hijrah, whereby the faithful are instructed to emulate the Prophet after he became established in Medina and sent into exile or slaughtered his generous hosts who did not join his new religion? In this respect, is it not very worrying that one of the schools in question is actually called the al-Hijrah School? If I understood the noble Lord to say that the Government are going to look into this problem elsewhere, will he make sure that they look at least at Blackburn, Bradford, Burnley, Tower Hamlets, Leicester, Dewsbury and Huddersfield?
The parents, mostly Muslim, who have sent their children to these schools expect them to receive a secular education that prepares them for life in modern Britain and an education that opens doors rather than closes them, as the Secretary of State said. That is not what happened here. The al-Hijrah school is in the process of installing an IEB.
By one of those serendipitous moments, only yesterday I was told the story of a lady who was walking through an estate in south London, not far from here, when she was mugged. A young Muslim schoolgirl set about the mugger and saw him off, so the lady thanked her and they went on their way. Three days later, the lady met this young Muslim schoolgirl again and said, “You must be a hero in your school”, but she said, “No, I haven’t told anybody about this”. The lady then wrote to the school and told the head about it. To me, that is a wonderful example of the beauty of the Muslim faith and its belief in helping others, and in modesty.
My Lords, as somebody from a Muslim background who was brought up with a secular education and is a believer in that, I do not believe in faith schools. We should not be rolling out far more faith schools but promoting children growing up by learning about all faiths and none—and sitting side by side, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. However, I have been absolutely dismayed by the way that this has been handled. There has been a drip-drip of leaks, speculation and, as we heard, children in schools being smeared as though they are all somehow subject to extremism. As we have heard, there is obviously troubling information in what has been reported and that must be dealt with, but it concerns a minority of people. I have read reports from teachers on the ground in these schools and parents who want the best for their children through a good education and good GCSEs. When children are taking GCSEs in these schools, is this the time for this constant “Trojan horse” speculation? Given the political football created by the way it has been handled, does the Minister not agree that this is extremely damaging for those children who are just trying to do their GCSEs and are being targeted? They are afraid to go on buses wearing the school uniforms of some of these schools for fear of being singled out and called terrorists, bombers and extremists. Is this helpful?
I agree entirely with the noble Baroness’s comments on the aims. As for the drip-drip, people sometimes refer to the slowness with which some of these Ofsted reports have officially come into the public domain, but it is important in these cases that we give the schools time to respond and that Ofsted can therefore check its facts. However, as far as the timing of this is concerned, we had to act and we have done so.
My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that earlier this afternoon in his maiden speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said that good religious education is one of the best ways of countering religious extremism. I would be interested to know whether the Minister agrees. Given that none of the schools subject to these inspections in Birmingham were faith schools—although listening to our discussion, you would have thought otherwise—does it not seem that appropriate, well balanced and enriching religious education may have been an area of neglect? I cannot help but wonder whether this has been facilitated too easily by the way in which religious education has sometimes been marginalised in the curriculum by the Department for Education in recent years and whether we are reaping some reward for that.
Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, in his opening remarks to today’s session of debate on the gracious Speech, my noble friend Lord Faulks drew attention to the dangers of the so-called compensation culture, which he described as being worrying and as having a chilling effect on volunteering. I therefore very much welcome the series of announcements made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice as part of the Government’s campaign to crack down on insurance fraud.
The background to this is the depressing statistic from the Association of British Insurers which showed that the number of dishonest motor claims in 2013 increased by some 34%—a statistic worth dwelling on for a moment—to 59,900. While vehicle-related fraud is of course a major part of this, the tidal wave of claims of varying quality has a major effect on public bodies such as the National Health Service, education authorities and local government, as well as on businesses of many types. The situation we face has to a significant extent been exacerbated or even perhaps caused by the deregulation of conditional fee or so-called no-win no-fee arrangements, so that an industry of aggressive claims management companies has evolved.
In the introduction from the head of claims management regulation to that regulator’s annual report for 2012-13, he said:
“There is something about the nature of the claims industry which breeds, in too many that operate in it, a different kind of business behaviour—one that is less about putting the customer first and best business practice, but more about poor conduct and treating the consumer as little more than a commodity”.
That is a worrying state of affairs and that same regulator recorded some 12,000 complaints. That is a lot of complaints, many of which related to the PPI mis-selling scenario. Is it not a very rich irony that the greatest mis-selling scandal is now being exacerbated by the second greatest mis-selling scandal, namely that of claims management companies trying to engender greater levels of business?
Is it really right that these businesses should be aggressively touting for business by cold calling, texting or e-mailing the general public to encourage them to make a claim—any claim, it seems, and pretty much against anyone? This is backed up by relentless advertising on the television, online and in the print media, which is clearly targeted at those with time on their hands. The proposition seems to be very much, “Would you like to make some free money? Are you prepared to spend some time with us so that we can help you make a case?”. The regulator gives a case study of a claims management company in the north-west which generated many complaints about the “persistent and harassing” nature of its unsolicited calls:
“Consumers complained that they were encouraged to make a personal injury claim even where they had not suffered injury”.
That is an extraordinary state of affairs.
My right honourable friend’s recent announcement indicated certain areas where further action could be taken, namely: requiring courts to throw out compensation applications where claims have been fundamentally dishonest; banning lawyers or claims management companies from offering inducements in the form of cash or electronic goods; and improving the medical assessment of whip-lash injuries. There is much common sense there, but it might surprise some that courts do not already act on the first of those points and that strong medical assessments are not already in place.
My eye was taken by the measure which will ban lawyers from offering inducements in the form of cash and the advertising of that form of behaviour. However, will the Government take their clamp-down on this industry a step further? We now know that this is a £1 billion-pound industry, with many practitioners within it operating on a very dubious ethical basis, as the regulator conceded. I am not a banner by nature but in these particular circumstances, and until the industry can demonstrate its maturity and capability to act in a fair-minded way, I urge the Government to consider extending their suggested measure to ban the advertising of cash inducements into banning advertising overall for this industry.
My Lords, I am pleased to join the debate on the gracious Speech by raising two issues that are closely involved with each other, though only one, immigration, comes within today’s agenda. The other, higher education, officially belongs within BIS and is to be debated tomorrow, but I think that few in this Chamber, certainly if the debate held here last month is anything to go by, will deny that further education is correctly a matter for education policy.
As president of Birkbeck, naturally I value first and foremost the intrinsic worth of academic achievement and scholarly distinction as at the highest level of public good. At the same time, it is gratifying, to say the least, to recognise just how powerful and global an undertaking higher education is in this country, how much it contributes to the economy and how that contribution has the potential to grow and flourish if it were released from the shackles of ever harsher controls. I will come to those controls in a moment.
First, here are some facts. Higher education is a major export industry of this country, with the potential to grow steadily and further. In 2011-12 it generated a contribution of £10.7 billion for the UK economy, which included £3.63 billion paid in tuition fees by international students. At the same time, the UK is a world leader in international research collaboration: 46% of UK-authored academic papers are co-authored with at least one non-UK researcher.
Why would we want to put shackles on such a benign success story? Yet that is what is happening. International student numbers in the UK are falling. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the total number of non-EU students enrolled on UK courses fell in 2012-13 for the first time since 1994-95. Of particular concern is the dramatic fall in student numbers from India, which fell by 49% between the academic years 2010-11 and 2012-13. The numbers of students from other countries have fallen too, though: the number from Pakistan is down 21%, from Canada by 3%, Nigeria by 4%, Saudi Arabia by 6% and Thailand by 3%. These are terrible numbers—an important crisis in higher education. Numbers from China continue to grow but there must be risks in the overreliance on one market and the dominance of one nationality in the community of students.
That is all happening in this country, while student numbers in other countries are roaring ahead: up 7% in America and 8.2% in Australia. With plans for massive expansion, Germany plans an increase of 25% in international student numbers by 2020. The UK is falling steadily and remorselessly behind in a field where once we were world-acknowledged leaders.
I therefore ask the Government to make an important and significant remedy to this situation. Will they remove international student numbers from the net migration targets? This would not only benefit the higher education sector but help along this Government’s immigration policy of reducing immigrant numbers. The long-term payoff can only be good. International student graduates will take away with them from this country not only good qualifications but a warm and generous impression of the way in which this country conducts its civil life.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this year’s Queen’s Speech, not particularly for its contents—though I accept that the more innovative proposals on pensions, small business, enterprise and employment are welcome—but for its brevity. If anything, I wish that there was even less of it, so that we could somehow burst the myth put about by successive Governments that quantity of legislation equals quality of government. It does not. Indeed, if volume were the route to success, the previous Labour Government would have transformed society. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s leadership, no fewer than 558 Bills were introduced, with a record 58 in one Session in 2005-06. No wonder they missed the signs of the recession when Ministers and civil servants were so busy preparing the next set of Bills. Despite record levels of legislation, our economy went into meltdown, our schoolchildren continued to be outpaced by those of our competitors, our health and social care system was at breaking point and crime increased. The legacy, according to former Health Secretary Alan Milburn in his report today, is that some 3.5 million children are heading for living in families with poverty by 2020.
Legislation was hardly a raging success, yet, sadly, my Government felt the need to follow suit, with 47 Bills in the first Session—though that was over two years. As before, education and health took priority, with a near obsession to create new and ever more complex structures of governance and delivery, accompanied by ever more draconian threats and punishments for failure. For our schools it is not structures, ownership, targets, threats or punishment that improve the life chances of the young; it is inspirational teachers, motivated parents, enlightened and appropriate curricula and trust, not denigration, from politicians. Exactly the same applies to the NHS, where overcomplex structures, created by often confusing legislation, often act as a barrier to innovation, not an incentive.
So much of what Ministers wanted to achieve over the past four years did not require legislation at all. It is somewhat ironic that arguably the most significant successes were not even central to the original Bills. Research and education barely featured as key priorities in the Health and Social Care Act, yet, to the credit of my noble friend Lord Howe, and due to the tenacity of Peers such as the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Turnberg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, the establishment of a research-led NHS, the only publicly funded health service in the world to be research led, is now a reality. That is a huge achievement.
We have already seen the Health Research Authority drive purposefully through a sea of red tape and petty obfuscation to create a single point of entry for clinical trials. The HRA has simplified ethical approvals and, importantly, begun to eliminate the need for multisite approval for patient recruitment on clinical trials. The academic health science networks and the 13 new NIHR collaborations for leadership in applied health research are undertaking high-quality applied health research focused on the needs of patients across England, translating research directly into practice.
Similar progress is being seen in the development of the health and care workforce. With over 1.3 million staff performing over 300 different roles for more than 1,000 different employers, even beginning to think about how you plan and then train a workforce is daunting. Health Education England, within months of its establishment, is doing just that. Later this month it will produce its first workforce tool to allow organisations, whatever their size, and individuals, no matter how important or less important they feel they are, to seek out their training needs. That will include healthcare support workers, who will now be entitled to training and to have that training certificated, and will no longer be expected to deliver high-quality safe care without appropriate competencies.
Many of these initiatives have come not from legislation but from inspirational leaders who have been given the freedom to challenge, find solutions and simply get on with the job. I am delighted that the Government have learnt their lesson: fewer Bills and no new legislation on health and education. I trust that in a year’s time there will not be any either—but I suspect that I will not bet on it.
My Lords, I am concerned at how some of the legislation promised in the gracious Speech, particularly the Serious Crime Bill and the held-over Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, once enacted, will ever be enforced. In the final months of the previous Session, many of our debates were taken up with concerns over the cutting of legal aid, the reduction of fees paid to advocates and litigators, and the obstacles being placed in the way of ordinary consumers trying to access justice and legal advice. I have no doubt that the concerns are well founded, and the recent delays to serious fraud cases demonstrate the damage that is being caused to the legal system and to the expectations of citizens that crime will be properly prosecuted and defended. Our troubles are by no means over; indeed, they are set to increase as more young law students realise that their pathway to a decent career is closed and as more skilled advocates leave the independent criminal bar and practise elsewhere, to the detriment of the diversity and talent of our judiciary and barristers.
However, the intricacies of those arguments are not my main concern today as I speak. I am here to offer a solution, at least for that part of the law that I know best from my teaching days—the division of assets on divorce. A major reason why legal aid has proved expensive is that the law about financial provision on divorce is so uncertain, so tailor-made, so different in outcome judge by judge and so emotionally charged. Therefore husbands and wives spend more than they or the state can afford on just getting to some principles along which they may divide their assets on divorce. One of the worst effects of the cuts in legal aid is that divorcing couples who formerly qualified for legal aid and therefore could be legally represented are no longer able to be so. They appear in court at the worst moment in their lives representing themselves. They do not know what a fair outcome might be, they are overwrought in any case and they need a barrier—a barrister—between themselves and their former spouse while they negotiate life-changing settlements affecting them and their children. But they have no one, and the judges, to their annoyance, and with consequent delays, are having to conduct the litigation for them. The judiciary has complained about this. It is not its job to represent the clients or, in an even worse scenario, to try to achieve fair play when one of the couple has a lawyer and the other does not. The media are replete with accounts of couples who spend more than half their assets on fighting about their ownership after divorce.
My Bill, the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill, will not only help mitigate the results of the removal of legal aid by giving certainty and greatly reducing the need for legal representation in court but assist judges by giving them an easier role. Above all, it will introduce broad-brush fairness into a system which has not been discussed in Parliament for more than 30 years. In a nutshell, it will make prenuptial agreements about financial provision in the event of divorce binding, with very few qualifications, and it will introduce a new simple regime for the division of matrimonial assets on divorce. It is unashamedly modelled on the law appertaining in New Zealand, Scotland, many US states and some European ones. It synthesises the recommendations made over many years by the Centre for Social Justice, the Law Commission and the Government themselves. My Bill provides that on divorce the post-marital assets should be divided equally: that is, everything acquired by the couple after their marriage is to be divided, but not any inheritance or gift or anything owned before marriage. Thus, the model who marries a rock star for a few years will share only in what he earned after it, unless this is dealt with by a prenup, while the long-married couple who started with nothing and worked together to reach a reasonable lifestyle will share practically everything.
The division of assets on divorce is a delicate issue on which opinion is divided. Society has different views about the roles of men and women, and I quite understand that political parties are reluctant to take it up. It is therefore very suitable for a Private Member’s Bill. If we cannot afford to extend legal aid to family and criminal litigation, as in the past, then the obvious answer is to reform the law in a way that obviates the need for expense, or at least reduces it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, that the quantity of legislation does not equate to its quality. As we have already heard, we doubtless all agree that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the NHS deserve a bit of a rest. However, there are none the less those who regret the fact that so little of the gracious Speech related directly to health. For instance, the charity Age UK expressed its disappointment that an opportunity was lost to put in place safeguarding legislation that would have helped prevent the abuse of older people. Certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has already reminded us, the statistics are shocking. Every hour, more than 50 older people are neglected or abused in their own homes by family members, friends, neighbours or care workers. In the course of a year, that means that about 500,000 older people are abused in the UK, which is 5% of the older population.
In addition, the General Medical Council is concerned about the lack of any reference to the regulation of health and social care professionals Bill. This is regarded by many as a once in a generation plan for much needed medical regulation. The GMC observes that if the Bill does not pass before the general election next year, it will be a significant missed opportunity. I agree and hope that we may receive some assurance on this point.
However, like my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, I am delighted that the modern slavery Bill was highlighted in the Queen’s Speech. We have already heard that many others in your Lordships’ House share my enthusiasm for its various provisions. In particular, I am grateful that law enforcement will be better equipped to prevent the distressingly widespread incidence of modern slavery and note the proposed increase in penalties for perpetrators of slavery or trafficking. There is also a promise that the Bill will provide statutory guidance on victim identification and victim services. That is excellent, but it raises three health-related issues to which I will draw your Lordships’ attention.
First, there is the question of potential payment by immigrants for NHS services. This could be used by traffickers as yet another lever in their exploitation of today’s slaves. I hope it may be possible to disseminate a very clear message—for instance, through posters on buses and tubes, television advertisements and so on—that trafficked individuals will not be penalised for attending healthcare facilities.
Secondly, over the past two years, there have been some instances of people being trafficked for the harvesting of their organs. Your Lordships may know that the churches have been working closely and successfully with the NHS to increase numbers on the organ donor register. That campaign has included making next of kin more aware of their relatives’ intentions. This campaign needs to continue and should help militate against organ trafficking, but there will also be a pressing need to alert the public and health professionals to this nefarious trade.
Thirdly, with regard to victim identification, NHS staff may often be the only point of contact that trafficked individuals have with society. That is why it is so essential that front-line staff are properly trained to recognise the signs of trafficking, not least in children. Of course, the healthcare professionals who are sometimes best placed to do this by virtue of their wide-ranging brief and their interpersonal skills are hospital chaplains. This is just one of many reasons why the significant reduction in chaplaincy hours by some trusts seems to be short-sighted and ill advised.
There were some other health-related issues in the gracious Speech which warrant attention and raise important questions. For example, while there is a welcome extension of free school meals, which will improve the health of thousands of children, it is not at all clear where the age cut-off will come. No doubt further detail will be forthcoming in due course. While paying tribute to the magnificent work done by so many in the NHS, I trust that the relative lack of emphasis on health in the gracious Speech will not mean any diminution of attention by Her Majesty’s Government to the huge and crucial issues that we all face in this area.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Willis, I have not come to complain about the lack of a Bill on health. I have come to complain about actions on health.
Let us have a brief look at salt and sugar, two major health concerns. The related health problems from these substances cost the National Health Service billions. Salt is connected with high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, and sugar with tooth decay, diabetes and obesity. The story of the coalition is not good on either, and yet the potential to save billions of pounds and lessen human suffering is massive.
The so-called responsibility deal between the Department of Health and the food industry has been a failure. It was hammered out by the Tories with the food industry when they were in opposition. I recently came across a BBC documentary called “The Men Who Made Us Fat”. In fact, the responsibility deal was effectively written by the men in that documentary, who were all from big food. Only last week, the Sunday Telegraph exposed the food firms ratting on the deal by taking sugar out of the lesser-known brands and promoting sugar-free brands, while keeping the top brands topped up with sugar. That was followed a few days later by the Daily Mail exposing the sugar in coffee: over four times more than the daily limit. Both those papers have done some excellent work and are to be commended.
On salt, the position is even more reprehensible for the coalition. During the previous Government, the Food Standards Agency—a government department, not a quango—launched the salt awareness campaign in 2004. The fourth phase was launched in October 2009. It was a genuine partnership with the food industry. In 2000, the average intake of salt was 9.5 grams a day. By 2008, it was down to 8.6 grams a day, which was estimated to prevent 6,000 premature deaths and save £1.5 billion every year in healthcare and other costs—well on the way down to the 6 gram target. That was a target that the industry was working to, because it was planned and agreed well in advance. In fact, by 2011, intake was down to 8 grams a day. New targets for 2012 onwards were to be agreed in 2010-11.
However, one of the first actions of this coalition was to abandon the programme of salt reduction by not agreeing to any targets for industry to work to. This remained the case for three years. We have lost three years due to the food industry “men who made us fat” having effectively captured Andrew Lansley when he was in opposition. Leading members of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine have said that during these three years—2011-14—some 12,000 people may have died needlessly as a result of strokes and heart attacks. The policy and staff were taken from the FSA in 2010, into the Department of Health, where they were broken up and the policies conducted behind closed doors—unlike what happened when the matter was at the FSA.
Here is the rub: every time anybody raises these matters, the Department of Health claims that it has the backing of the World Health Organisation and says that,
“our salt reduction work is world leading”.
Knowing the responsibility deal was a failure, and that for three years no progress was made, I decided to look a little closer the next time that claim was made. On 9 March, the Department of Health stated in the Mail on Sunday:
“'Far from lacking momentum, the World Health Organisation has said our salt reduction work is world leading”.
Well, I set about asking the DoH where that support came from. In fact, I gave up on the website, which even GCHQ probably could not fathom these days, and wrote directly to the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Of course, he replied very quickly with his general great courtesy to the House. His letter said:
“The WHO has recognised the UK’s salt reduction work as world leading”.
Note the tense: “has recognised”.
The noble Earl went on to say that the WHO had approached us, the UK, “to share our experience”, and gave a couple of those huge web addresses that you get in letters these days. Both of them led me to the 2010 London WHO conference on salt reduction strategies in July of that year. I well recall the event because I opened the second day. By that time, the Food Standards Agency civil servants at the conference were answering to the DoH. It is therefore more than a little disingenuous for the Department of Health to claim World Health Organisation support in 2014 for what happened under the coalition, by using a WHO quote from July 2010 which referred to work from 2004 onwards by the previous Government, which the coalition abandoned within a month of coming into office. We have had three years of doing nothing, costing us thousands of avoidable premature deaths, while claiming World Health Organisation support. Then, in the year before the election, the coalition switches the programme on again.
Frankly, if I was still in the other place down the Corridor, I would bring the roof down on the Government for their despicable political shenanigans. However, I regret to say that all I hear from the Commons is a deathly silence.
My Lords, the gracious Speech refers to a fairer society. The Minister mentioned the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, and rightly referred to the importance of the rule of law. However, I start with the Home Secretary’s address to the Police Federation on 21 May. She made a welcome promise of better protection for whistleblowers in the police. People such as James Patrick have put their entire careers on the line for the truth. However, the proposed new offence of police corruption is otiose. We already have laws enough on our statute books, although of course police co-operation in investigating themselves may be in doubt.
The Home Secretary suggested that leaving police operations unfettered would resist political pressures but that, to me, means inadequate oversight despite the beefing up of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Operations at the front line will always trump policy. We still have many questions but few answers to the points raised about police culture and operations. A senior judge has recently questioned the objectivity of that other safeguard, the IPCC, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
Under anti-social behaviour legislation, the police have virtually untrammelled and incontestable powers. They decide ab initio who they think is the guilty party. The rampantly one-sided exercise of these in a case involving a Sussex MP has been corroborated by cases in south Wales, Devon and Cornwall, Thames Valley and, in the most recent, from Hampshire, police evidence seems to have been total fiction. I have been shown custody records altered post hoc to refer falsely to a more serious offence of violence. I have seen manifestly concocted properties for legal photographs used to procure convictions in magistrates’ courts. This I now find is very easy to do, and applies also to CCTV and audio files. This material is increasingly used as evidence in court proceedings. All that is required is slackness by witnesses and prosecution, and the guidance of ACPO on digital evidence to be ignored, and you have a recipe for misleading the court.
I learn of serious failure of prosecution to disclose documents as required, and of failure of defence teams and judges to ensure compliance. The Attorney-General’s recent guidance identifies this as a threat to a fair trial. I hear of documents that are unsigned or undated, possibly even forged, being accepted by the courts, and a failure to safeguard the interests of people under rulings from the Court of Protection.
Much of this is ongoing, with frequent accounts of files lost, court records deleted or unavailable, police notes absent or officer amnesia in the witness box. A solicitor categorised this for me as “gaming” the provisions of Section 117 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, because a police witness cannot be cross-examined on something he has forgotten, and if the only other evidence is documentary or electronic, however faulty, then that must stand unless the defence can have the evidence struck out: effectively a reversal of the burden of proof. It would also appear from a recent BBC “File on 4” programme that these and allied manipulation of rules of evidence and procedure continue at the highest administrative and professional levels.
Withdrawing most legal aid—a principle I applaud as a general concept—but without rendering the system of justice accessible and affordable to normal folk, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, seems to be a flawed policy. I question why two legal experts are required to represent a criminal defendant. However, if undeserving types were gaming the legal aid budget beforehand, we now appear to have police and prosecution gaming the procedures to the detriment of fair trials. Add these together and we have a situation once described to my father by his lawyer as follows: “Where there is muddle and confusion, dishonesty follows close behind”. I try to remember that.
Once an offence, police notification or occasion of arrest is established, the details go into a police computer system. The citizen does not have rights, or certainly has no adequate rights, to gain access to or check that for accuracy, yet may find material regurgitated at some future date in proceedings, shared with other agencies or disclosed in a CRB check. Necessary protections before the law remain inadequate, open to abuse, and are being manipulated to the unfair disadvantage for defendants in criminal proceedings in particular. This erodes trust in a vital sector of public administration. That imperils the rule of law and ultimately, the stability of society. Oversight must be restored. Senior law officers within the Government have long been aware of the situation, so why no action?
We should not be complacent or wag our finger at other jurisdictions, while all the while corrupt practices infect our own affairs. The Government need to act now—or if not this one, now, then a new one in 2015.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about education in this debate. Although there are no education Bills in this gracious Speech, that does not mean that education will not be a part of much that we will debate in the year ahead. Education affects every aspect of our individual and national life. For example, lack of literacy skills is strongly related to poverty, crime—the rate of functional illiteracy in our jails is a scandal in itself—and social unrest. Equally, our failure to give marketable skills to sufficient numbers of our young people is a direct cause of much youth unemployment and a huge drag on the national economy.
I am therefore proud of the Government’s work in raising the national standards of education in very direct ways. I am now delighted to welcome a new initiative to ensure that every child learns to read at the level appropriate for their age. This builds on many schemes of the past 10 years, from the “every child reading” strategy, launched in the 1990s, to the national strategy, Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life, which was launched in 2011. All those have begun to have an impact on this most basic of educational outcomes, but it has still not been enough.
We cannot afford to get this wrong. Literacy is the gateway to all other learning in both the humanities and sciences, it opens the spirit to great literature, and it is a source of infinite pleasure throughout life. It has always seemed to me to be the first element of the implicit contract between the state and a parent: “Trust me with your child, and I will teach her or him to read”. One national expert said to me, so wisely, that we know when a child is reading, not by tests and grading but when we see them go into the book corner, choose a book, and curl up to read for pleasure. At that point they are reading.
I also celebrate the initiative of charities to deal with educational failure. I particularly commend the charity to which my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott gives so much of her energy and commitment. The charity works on a one-to-one basis with young people who have been identified by their school as in real danger of slipping permanently through the net. They are truanting, failing and losing any opportunity to make a success of their lives. It was a great privilege recently to meet, along with my noble friend Lady Shephard, some of the young people in Tower Hamlets who have been lucky enough to have their lives turned around by this programme. The key to its success is that each young person is encouraged to articulate their own chosen goal. Once this has been established, their mentor—working with many excellent and far-sighted employers in the neighbourhood—arranges a work placement in the field to which they aspire. That is the turning point in their motivation.
One young 16 year-old boy told us that he simply loved cars. He wanted to work with cars and was tired of wasting his time hanging around street corners or shopping malls with other disenfranchised young mates. His mentor got him a placement with a BMW service centre, and that changed his life. He realised while he was there that if he was to work with cars, he needed to win an apprenticeship, and to do that he needed some good GCSEs. Back to school he came, and worked hard for the first time in many years. He has now won the place he so longed for, and from failure his life has been turned to the fulfilment of what had been a distant dream.
For many young people like these, academic subjects do not in themselves attract their interest. Once they see the vocational relevance of academic work, their motivation is focused. There is a real lesson here for policy, and I commend the UTC initiative of my noble friend Lord Baker for recognising and building on this. By combining high-level academic work and real motivation in the vocational subjects, success is being achieved. So many good things are happening, and so many more are to come.
My Lords, in this incredibly wide-ranging debate, the Minister referred to legal aid. I will speak about one aspect of our justice system. This may seem a narrow ambition, but—thanks to a number of highly committed and hard-working people—it is of immense importance both to the individual lives of our fellow-citizens and to the reputation of our legal system. When I use the word “justice”, noble Lords can be forgiven for thinking that I am referring to criminal justice, which of course is discussed and debated all the time, but I am not. I refer to civil justice, and in particular to what I consider one of the most pernicious and damaging policies that the Government have put into practice; namely, the removal of legal aid from vast areas of social welfare law. Whether it be benefit law, debt law, housing law, employment law or immigration law, there are areas where millions of our fellow citizens, at some time in their lives, require some legal help, nearly always in the form of early, quality legal advice. Many who require legal help are, of course, disadvantaged, poor and disabled.
When the Government came to power, this country enjoyed a system built up by Governments of both parties that meant that everyone who needed legal help could get it. It provided quality providers, whether not-for-profits such as law centres or CABs, or solicitors’ firms. However, it was not expensive—at around £150 a piece of advice—and used up only one-10th of the legal aid budget. That represented great value. Thanks to that early intervention many of those problems were sorted out and lives were changed for the better. Crucially, although it was far from perfect and far from generous, that system worked. It was a gem in our legal system. It allowed some access to justice to everyone, and seemed to have the support of all political parties.
Why, then, did the coalition—and here I mean both political parties working together—change the system from the moment it came into office? Immediately, well before the legislation was passed, the number of cases that were helped in that way per year declined, from 485,000 at exactly the moment the previous Government left office to 293,000 three years later. Then, on 1 April 2013, Part 1 of LASPO came into force, and in the 14 months since, numbers have, of course—there being no legal aid—declined further. The number of our fellow citizens who once received legal help but are now no longer able to do so is almost certainly over half a million.
Yet this practical removal of citizens’ rights at a time of continuing austerity and radical welfare reform—both of which mean that more people need help—has received scant media attention and is largely not known about by the general public. Where there has been comment, it has been hopelessly misinformed and inaccurate. Of course, that lack of publicity and interest is exactly what both parts of the Government want. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats vie with each other to claim credit for achievements they are proud of. My guess is that they will not be competing with each other to take credit for effectively destroying a vital part of our civil justice system, for ensuring that hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens, who are often at the bottom of the pile, cannot receive access to justice, and for seriously demeaning the reputation of our much-admired legal system. That policy is this Government’s dirty little secret.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK.
I welcome the proposal in the Serious Crime Bill to expand the definition of child cruelty to include psychological suffering or injury, as well as the long-accepted physical charge. Since this proposal was announced in the gracious Speech, there has been something of a debate on the internet asking how on earth one can decide what is psychological suffering and injury, and where the boundaries lie. Some have even suggested that people involved in contested divorces would suddenly start to cite that their child had been psychologically damaged by their ex-husband or wife. I am sure that the passage of this Bill will make it clear where those boundaries lie and how those judgments will be made by professionals other than individuals with an interest.
When referring to psychological cruelty we are talking not about family disputes but about the constant haranguing of a child to make them feel worthless. Children often believe what their close family members tell them; or, as discussed in the passage of the Children and Families Act, it might also be the public exorcism of children in certain churches or “shutting up”—that is, locking children in their rooms with no access to others for up to months at a time, as we were told last year happens in the Exclusive Brethren Church, where a girl was shut up for three months for accessing Facebook.
Over the years, very few charges have been laid about the psychological damage to children that causes cruelty, let alone brought to court and convictions secured right across the child-cruelty spectrum. Charities such as the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s have for years been campaigning about the damage of child cruelty, especially the invisible psychological and emotional abuse. In the past I have discussed with social workers and doctors the problems of the current law which mean that too many cases are not even brought because of that invisibility and, therefore, lack of evidence. I believe that this new addition of psychological damage will strengthen the child cruelty definition well.
However, as with the stalking law reform debate that we had two years ago, with which I was involved, changing the law on its own will not take effect without a real commitment by the criminal justice system, schools, children’s service and the health service being trained and supported to deliver this. We know from the stalking legislation that where there has been training in both the police and elsewhere, the numbers of charges and convictions have gone up, whereas there is real doubt about those areas that have not yet trained all their staff.
There are also long-term mental health consequences of psychological cruelty. Convicting the perpetrator is important, but it will be useless if the child victim does not get access, and quickly, to child and adolescent mental health services. My honourable friend Norman Lamb MP is right to demand parity of funding for mental health services, and it is disgraceful that NHS England has told CCGs to cut mental health in favour of acute physical services, causing a real shortage of beds, with children having to travel hundreds of miles to access an emergency bed. Many children who have suffered mental cruelty are scarred for life, especially when much of it has taken place out of sight.
We know already that only one in four children with a mental health diagnosis is getting access to the therapy they need. This must be improved. If four children had all broken a leg, we would not say that only one could get access to a plaster cast and, if necessary, physiotherapy afterwards to help them heal. This discrimination must cease. I ask the Minister if there is an intention to provide clear guidance for multidisciplinary professionals who are likely to come into contact with cases of psychological cruelty to children, both about where the boundaries lie and what help the child victims of such cruelty are entitled to access as soon as it has been made plain, including urgent referral to CAMHS.
Equally importantly, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that more help is provided to vulnerable families to prevent neglect happening or to ensure that early intervention is offered before there is a need to resort to criminal prosecution?
Following my noble friend Lord Willis’s comments about quality not quantity of legislation, echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle, I welcome the comments in the Minister’s speech this afternoon that much of this year would be spent in embedding and delivering the new health and social care arrangements. I welcome that, and it is vital to give the new arrangements time to bed in. Moving towards joint health and social care commissioning is an enormous step, but a step that must be taken, and the better care fund is a start to encourage best practice between local authorities and health. However, these are still very early days and the journey towards true joint working will take time to develop.
It is very important that we get every child in this country a good education because they get only one chance. I thank the late Baroness Thatcher and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for giving us our first chance of a CTC, at Crystal Palace in 1992. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, under whose leadership we opened 10 academies. I am proud to say that nine of those are outstanding and one is good, in Peckham. I expect the school in Peckham, sometime this year, to get an outstanding rating. I also thank the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, for allowing us to have another 15 schools by September 2013 and 10 more this September.
I would like to mention all our schools. Some 44% of the children receive free school meals. Our school at Crystal Palace, which we opened in 1992, previously had a pass rate, with five As to Cs including English and maths, of only 9%. Over the past 14 years, our average has been 92%. On two occasions it was the most improved school in the country. From 1995 to 2000, it went from a 9% pass rate to a pass rate of 54%. It then went from 54% to 92%. When we took on the school, it had only 350 students; today it has 1,500. This year we have four students going to Oxford and Cambridge. It is the most popular school in the country with over 2,000 applicants for 180 places. This gave me the confidence to open more schools; so today we have 27 academies—16 secondary, 10 primary and one referral unit.
I would like to say a few words on the referral unit. It is for children who have been expelled. Instead of putting them on the street and leaving them alone, they come to this school. We opened it in September last year and it had 30 students. Of those 30 students, we have now got 27 back into the normal state schools. It is not just from our schools but from all the schools in the Beckenham-Bromley area. We are proud of that. I am also very proud that the Government have made us expand the school so that we will be taking 60 children from this September.
We have had 12 Ofsted reports on our 16 academies in the past two or three years and have got nine outstanding ratings and three good ones. As for the three good ones, we have had two of those schools only since September 2012. Some 75% of our academies have a rating of outstanding compared with the national average of 20%. All our academies, except one, were failing when we took them on. Last September, 80%—or 465—of our students progressed to university. Some 5% deferred and had a gap year for one year. Some 10% went to a Russell university.
Why did I get involved with primary schools? It is important. Our school at Purley had 1,000 applicants for 180 places in 2012. Of those applicants, 16 had a reading age of six to eight years old, or year 2 to 4. Within a year they were put back into their normal classrooms, and today they have a reading age of 12. That is why we wanted to do more primary schools: because the more primary schools we did, the more chance these pupils would have when they got to secondary school. Of the primary schools that we have taken on, nine were failing or in special measures. In the past year, one of those schools, at Peckham, which is a free school, had an Ofsted rating of outstanding in every department: four grade 1s.
Noble Lords have probably heard of the Downhills School, which caused everyone such trouble in Tottenham, and which caused me and my shops a lot of trouble personally. I am proud to say that, within less than a year, this school has been assessed as among the 20% most improved schools in the country. This week we will receive an Ofsted report and I will be very disappointed if we do not get a “good” rating, and there is a chance that we will get an “outstanding” one.
We are very proud that in September we will be opening a school called Harris Westminster, which is linked with the Westminster School and will be a sixth form for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over 50% of the students will be getting free meals. We are very excited about this school. We will eventually take up to 500 students, and in two or three years’ time we will have 600. They will have a first-class education, helped by the Westminster School. We are proud of that. It will be chaired by the chair of governors of the Westminster School, the Dean of Westminster. I thank him very much for all the work that he has done to help make this happen. Our chief executive, Sir Dan Moynihan, is one of the best chief executives who I have ever worked with. Finally, I thank our principals, teachers, support staff and governors for making our group so successful and helping to give children a better chance in life. Our motto is, “All Can Achieve”.
My Lords, this debate ranges over four disparate areas, but there is an underlying, unifying theme across them, which reflects the Government’s record on these important areas of public policy and was to some extent echoed in the gracious Speech. That theme lies in the Government’s obsession with privatising public services, combined with botched and expensive reorganisations. I propose to cite examples of this ideologically driven agenda from the experience of the north-east.
In May the Northumbria branch of the National Association of Probation Officers wrote to the Northumbria Probation Trust and the Ministry of Justice raising serious concerns on the part of employees of the Community Rehabilitation Company and the National Probation Service about job security, workload, increased management spans, reduced support from HR and, especially, the transfer of cases and the split between risk categories. They are worried about the risk to public safety as a result of the split and point to bureaucratic delays in transfers, with existing users being transferred and high-risk offenders going to new officers. There are also concerns about the lack of a legal requirement for CRCs to maintain a level of training, which is particularly important in the area of domestic violence. They call for an extension of the transition process to the new structure until all these issues are resolved. I hope that when he replies, the Minister will be prepared at least to consider that suggestion.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice must also look at what is happening in family law cases, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred, where, as many of us warned, the cuts in legal aid are having a serious effect on family and especially child-related proceedings. The Journal newspaper in Newcastle reported on Saturday a rise of 61% in people representing themselves in north-east family courts, with the predictable result of serious delays—a topic on which, incidentally, I tabled a Question when Parliament resumed last week.
Also in the north-east, we had the experience of a prison riot at the newly privatised Acklington Prison, where 130 staff left: about one-third of the total. The prison is now managed by Sodexo, one of those oligopolies assumed by the Government to be capable of running any public service, despite the record of failure over issues such as tagging or interpreters, where Sir James Munby, head of the Family Division, recently described arrangements as “unacceptable”, and questioned the contracts between the Ministry of Justice and Capita. Not surprisingly, there is widespread doubt about the concept of a huge secure college, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, in opening this debate, doubtless to be privately run, which we will debate when the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill reaches us in due course.
The same contagion appears to threaten child protection, where the Government recently launched a six-week consultation about plans to permit local authorities to outsource children’s social services to the likes of G4S and Serco. This provoked a protest from 37 leading experts in a letter to the Guardian, and prompted a warning from Professor Eileen Munro, who had conducted a review on child protection for Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, in 2011. She asserted:
“It’s the state’s responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation”.
The chief executive of Children England, which represents 100 children’s charities, said:
“Such an important public function must never be open to the real, or even perceived, risk of being done in the pursuit of profit”.
Consistent with these concerns, incidentally, Ofsted—of which we have heard much today—is apparently seeking to bring inspection in-house and not to rely on contracting.
Then we have the NHS, with its injection of a toxic mixture of a huge bureaucratic reorganisation combined with increasing private sector involvement. In my own council ward in the west end of Newcastle, among the most deprived areas in the country, there are three current NHS issues. First, a GP practice—a Darzi practice—was threatened with closure on six weeks’ notice and without consultation as the provider and NHS England failed to reach agreement. While a temporary provision has been made, the future of the practice is uncertain. Recently, Care UK announced it was withdrawing early from another practice in the same area after controversially winning a tender only 21 months ago—although at least in that case it gave adequate notice. And 14 months after NHS England replaced the primary care trusts, we are still awaiting the outcome of a review of a longstanding proposal to build a new health facility on a site in the area which the PCT had agreed—indeed, the whole programme had been agreed and the land was transferred some time ago by the city council. After 14 months there is no decision.
As a final example of institutional ineptitude, I must refer to the closure of cells at Newcastle’s magistrates’ court following the relocation of the police station that was part of the same building, which has meant custody cases being transferred to other courts miles away. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who is not in his place, advised me that the courts would reopen on 3 June. I had to tell him today, outside the Chamber, that recently—just in the last day or so—a letter was received saying that they will now not reopen until 30 June “at the earliest”, while “negotiations continue”. Since that conversation, I have received a message that staff in North Tyneside, where cases have been transferred because cells are available there, have been told that the cells in Newcastle will not reopen at all. What that means for the future of the magistrates’ courts in Newcastle and Tyneside very much remains to be seen.
This catalogue of problems will not be confined to the north-east, and none of them has really been addressed in the gracious Speech. They will be addressed by a Labour Government—starting, I trust, with the next Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, the gracious Speech mentioned a fairer society. We have sadly all heard of the scandalous and shocking events that took place at the mid-Staffordshire trust over a year ago, affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Complacency and indifference to complaints was one of the many findings of the subsequent review led by Robert Francis QC. The Francis report called for cultural change, focus on patient experience, and much greater willingness to listen to the voice of patients and people who use the service.
The Government’s response to the Francis inquiry, Hard Truths: The journey to Putting Patients First, was published last year in November. This report demonstrated the Government’s commitment to supporting NHS organisations to create a culture of openness in the NHS, and to supporting staff and patients who raise concerns or complaints. This is to be welcomed, as is the subsequent duty of candour which places a requirement on all Quality Care Commission-registered providers of health and adult social care to be open with patients and service users about failings in care. Also to be welcomed are new leadership programmes for nursing and clinical staff.
These are important commitments, but little has been done to see things through the eyes of patients and the people who use the health and care services. Visibility and ease of accessibility of the current complaints system for the public is generally poor, and there is unnecessary complexity in it. There remains an overreliance on outdated methods of dealing with complaints. Good governance should be much more than following rules. The landscape of complaints handling and related issues of regulation is a very crowded place: who is supposed to do what, I suspect, is fully known and understood only by officials working in the Department of Health.
There are numerous organisations with overlapping roles and responsibilities, such as clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts, the Care Quality Commission, Healthwatch England, chief inspectors for hospitals, primary care and social care, the Health & Social Care Information Centre in England, NHS England, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman—who has a dual role and is also, confusingly, known by another title—the Local Government Ombudsman, Monitor, and the NHS Trust Development Authority on finance. No doubt there are others.
In my view this unnecessary complexity has been further compounded as new or additional functions have been bolted on in an ad hoc fashion when failings in service delivery have emerged. This cannot, and is not, sustainable for the long run. It aids confusion and fosters a lack of clear accountability and therefore overall responsibility. Despite this, I recognise that some good innovations have been put in place, but their full potential will be difficult to achieve in an overcrowded field. Besides the burden of bureaucracy there are also significant costs at a time when the NHS can ill afford them.
The Government have a Bill on deregulation that will be coming before your Lordships’ House. I would welcome the Government considering modernising the deregulation framework for healthcare professionals and for users of health and social care services. I agree with the chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, who said:
“There needs to be a revolution in the way public services are run, and how the public perceives government. As things are, most people believe there is no point in complaining”.
His statement is backed by a report undertaken by the consumer organisation Which?, which highlighted a survey showing that 35% of people who have cause to complain about the NHS choose not to do so. I suspect that the figure may well be even higher.
According to government statistics, there are 10 million patients aged over 65 and 15 million people living with a chronic condition in England. The number of these vulnerable people is rising, and increasingly there is a much greater blurring of lines between health and social care as more people move to receiving care in their home and budgets are pooled.
I, like the Public Administration Committee, urge the Government to create a new, accessible and transparent unified Public Services Ombudsman, which brings together the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman, and to bring together health and social care complaints at the second tier of complaints handling. The Government should also consider establishing a supercomplainant power for Healthwatch England and simplifying the complexities of the regulatory burden. In that regard I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel. Good things have happened but the NHS, patients and service users deserve more.
My Lords, I base my contribution on two military analogies, one comparatively ancient and one more modern. I have often thought that Governments should base working relationships on the ethos of my regiment, the Rifle Brigade—that is, a mutual bond of trust and affection between all ranks which officers have to earn, trust coming before affection. Last week saw the 70th anniversary of D-day, the success of which was based on meticulous planning.
The whole House, the country and particularly criminal justice system staff would have sat up with a jolt had Her Majesty’s gracious Speech last Wednesday included the words: “In recognition of its duty to protect the public, my Government will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the rehabilitation of offenders”. I say that because the Government are losing public and staff trust by not telling things as they are and mounting inadequately planned operations.
When Her Majesty said in her gracious Speech on 8 May 2013:
“Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales”,
I suspect that she, like everyone else outside government, did not know that this included deliberate denial of parliamentary scrutiny of incomplete and untested plans for reorganising probation. Neither do I suspect that she realised, when she said:
“To make sure that every child has the best start in life, regardless of background, further measures will be taken to improve the quality of education for young people”,
that these included modern-day Dotheboys Halls—secure colleges for offenders aged between 12 and 17 without specification of the rules under which contracted staff are to be allowed to use restraint in the interests of good order and discipline.
Regarding probation, and all the unanswered questions during the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, such as how the supervision of 50,000 short-term prisoners in the community would be paid for, the Public Accounts Committee has published a devastating report asking many of the same, and calling on the Ministry of Justice to set out the key points it will use to assess whether it is safe to progress to the next stage of the programme. The Ministry of Justice tells us that all is well while the probation officers association reports considerable staffing problems, confirmed by advertisements in the Guardian seeking probation officers from Australia and New Zealand at a significantly higher hourly rate than that paid to United Kingdom staff. Will the Minister please explain this variance?
Regarding variance of views, I used to tell Home Secretaries that they could believe either the observed facts that I gave them, or in what my successor called the “virtual” prisons described by officials, but that real improvement could be made only if based on fact. Recently the Chief Inspector reported that the provision of purposeful activity was inadequate in over half the prisons inspected, having plummeted over the past year to the worst levels for six years. Despite this, Mr Grayling said during Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that he had,
“transformed the regime in our prisons so that they are now places of hard work and discipline, where prisoners are expected to engage with their own rehabilitation and work hard to earn their privileges”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/14; col. 47.]
More recently he said publicly that disturbances at HMP Northumbria were merely the reaction of prisoners being made to work longer hours. Last November he imposed changes to the incentive and earned privileges scheme, demanding that, in order to attain either standard or enhanced status, prisoners, including the elderly and disabled, must show their commitment to rehabilitation by taking part in purposeful activity. When he, the inspectorate and staff know that there simply is not enough work for prisoners, what does he think that such abuse of the truth signifies and proves about the living virtue and stored-up strength of our nation, to quote Winston Churchill’s famous words?
Does this matter? Offenders, from whose reoffending the public expect to be protected, will be in prison or on probation whichever party is in power. Public protection and offender rehabilitation are national responsibilities, not party-political matters, which is why I hate the self-styled “tough” Mr Grayling saying that he wants to bring “right-wing” solutions to correct the “palpable failure” of the left. Decency and fairness are not matters of right or left politics.
My noble and learned friend Lord Woolf said in his seminal report on the riots in Strangeways and other prisons in 1990 that, as often happens at times of change, the improvements that were being introduced,
“brought with them periods of increased instability which made the prison system particularly vulnerable to disturbances”.
The latest statistics published by the Prison Reform Trust draw attention to an increase in symptoms of instability, exacerbated by the breakneck speed with which untested change is being imposed. No one can possibly know whether the Government’s plans will work by the 2015 election, but given the lack of trust and inadequate planning I only hope that I am wrong in warning of impending crisis, about which I detect more government complacency than contingency planning, and that the gracious Speech in May 2015 will not have to include the words: “In recognition of its duty to protect the public, my Government will introduce urgent measures to rehabilitate the rehabilitation of offenders”.
My Lords, measures to end smoking in cars while children are present did not appear in the gracious Speech. After the large vote in favour of the measure in the Commons in February this year by 376 votes to 107, it might have been assumed that it was a done deal and a job done and that legislation would follow swiftly. Here I must declare an interest as the author of the Private Member’s Bill introduced in 2012 which proposed a ban on smoking in cars when children are present.
The Government are to be congratulated on tackling the two great obstacles in the way of reducing harm to children through smoking—that is, the introduction of plain or standard packs of cigarettes and smoking in cars. In the face of stiff opposition from the tobacco industry, the Government have shown courage and steadfastness in pursuing their strategy to reduce harm from smoking. In order to have the evidence to support their proposals, they invited Sir Cyril Chantler to undertake an independent review of standardised packaging of tobacco. It endorsed the findings of the University of Stirling in 2012 and, after careful consideration, the Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison MP, said that,
“if standardised packaging were introduced it would be very likely to have a positive impact on public health”,
and that these health benefits could include health benefits for children.
So why are we still waiting for legislation? The Government are committed to undertaking a six-week consultation on the draft regulations. There is then a bureaucratic process that involves a regulatory impact assessment, notification to the European Union, and another six months before the process is completed. We are now 11 months from a general election. Can my noble friend assure me that there will be no further delay and that we can expect legislation before the machinery of government turns its focus on to the election? One can expect continued lobbying from the tobacco industry to frustrate the proposed legislation, which has cross-party support and the overwhelming support of both Houses of Parliament. I urge the Government not to let this prize for which they have worked hard slip through their fingers, like the sands in an egg timer.
I welcome the intention to introduce legislation to stop female genital mutilation—again, a further assault on our children.
Public health is increasingly getting the recognition it deserves, and it is strange for me as a surgeon to be promoting it. However, in developing countries the burden of disease has shifted from infectious diseases to chronic conditions. The level of infectious diseases is, in fact, falling in developing countries. In an article in the Lancet on 31 May, the work of a new health group, of which I am patron, tasked with introducing essential surgery in developing countries, is featured. It has produced a film entitled “The Right to Heal”, which identifies the surgical challenges facing public health over the next 30 years. The paradigm shift to conditions that require surgery is clear: trauma and injury, burns, obstructed labour and fistulae, appendicitis, cataracts, hernia, club foot, and cleft lip and palate. These conditions affect millions of people around the globe and can all be treated by surgery.
As the millennium goals come to an end in 2015, we need a Government to lobby the World Health Organisation and the World Health Assembly to pass a resolution on the use of essential surgery. The Lancet quotes a former WHO director-general, HT Mahler, who asked for an internationally agreed list of essential surgical procedures to support primary healthcare and help countries to decide on their own lists and the related training and equipment that they would need. He concluded:
“The alternative for most people in the world is either the kind of selected essential surgery I am advocating or absolutely nothing at all”.
My Lords, in this short debate I want to speak about the free movement of people across Europe, because I believe that travel around Europe has been a major contributor to peace since the last war. Many noble Lords will not have experienced war, and certainly not invasion, in this country. This possibly influences the attitude that the Government and many other politicians have to immigration, which I want to speak about particularly in relation to the services through the Channel Tunnel—with which I was involved when it was being built about 25 years ago.
I lived in Romania in the 1970s and witnessed at first hand the lack of freedom to move. That was not just to neighbouring countries—you could not go to sunny Bulgaria for a holiday, and you certainly could not go to the West. When the iron curtain lifted and those countries eventually joined the European Union, I thought it was a major step forward. I was rather sad that so many politicians last year, Ministers and others, screamed about the “hoards” and “floods” of Romanians who were going to come here when the borders were opened on 1 January. The numbers actually reduced, I believe—lower than they were last year. We do not necessarily want to believe everything we are told about hoards of people trying to get into this country.
There is of course an economic argument to this, too. Many noble Lords may have read in the Sunday Times yesterday a view that, because Chinese visitors require separate visas to come here from the Schengen countries, the UK is losing out on about £1 billion of spending. That is a significant figure. There is a lot to do and I have talked to the Minister about this on several occasions, but we are not getting very far.
The demand for travel is of course growing. Immigration checks seem to be a major constraint to growth. They add cost and delay, and bring no hope at all of any services beyond London, Brussels or Paris. Apparently, we now have to check everyone going out of our country. I do not know why Big Brother needs to know everybody who is leaving; they should possibly be pleased that people do leave. However, I am told that the scanner for doing such checks will take 12 seconds per person. It is supposed to be a bit like Oyster cards, which, however, take about half a second to get through. There will therefore be horrible queues to get out of this lovely country. The immigration service cannot cope with the present workload because Ministers keep changing their ideas. I came back from Brussels on Friday and our checks took twice as long as the Belgian checks. The train left 10 minutes late in order to allow all the passengers to get on. I do not know why this is the case, but it is a continuing issue.
Looking further ahead, HS2 is now proposed. Admittedly the HS1 link has been removed, but one could still run a train service from Birmingham to Paris tomorrow. Of course, that could not happen because immigration controls would require fixed installations at every station along the route, whether in France, Germany, Frankfurt, Cologne, Aachen or Rotterdam. At every station in each direction there would have to be an immigration desk. Of course, one could not mix domestic passengers with international passengers. What hope is there for anyone wanting to operate those services? The costs would be enormous.
I maintain that it would be possible to develop a system of checking passports on the train before people arrive in the country. I have not heard any reason why that could not be done except, “It’s much easier to do it in one place”. If we are going to have the benefit of the tunnel, which is a wonderful connection between two countries, we ought to go further afield than Brussels or Paris and be able to get on the train and have the checks made much easier. We would then see a modern, up-to-date network of rail services to wherever one might go, day and night, but with immigration checks—which are clearly necessary—that are modern, proportionate and do not, as is currently planned, impose such an enormous cost on the operators that they cannot get a business case together.
My Lords, given the time constraints, I want to comment on just one aspect of the gracious Speech and to ask one or two questions. The aspect on which I want to comment is the provision, which I am sure we all welcome, for a Bill to strengthen the powers to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking. This is an opportunity not only for Members of all sides of this House but for both Houses to come together in an uncontentious but determined way.
My questions relate to the fact that this criminal activity is of the second order worldwide after drug trading. Estimates put the global human trafficking business at $150 billion a year. The European Union estimates that 26.9 million people are traded annually and that 880,000 work in slave labour conditions in western Europe. If those facts and the cash problems associated with human trafficking are to be believed, is not this Bill lacking ambition?
The proposal in the gracious Speech is to bring about measures to amalgamate existing measures and then to appoint an anti-slavery commissioner, as the notes indicate. However, is that really what is needed in the light of the scale of global human trafficking, the devastating stories of human lives around the globe taken and disrupted, the sex trade on the back of that, the abuse of young people at major international sporting events, and the way in which certain countries seek to hide their human rights duties and responsibilities behind commercial priorities or even religious approaches? Is a Bill that simply amalgamates existing provisions adequate?
I wonder whether, in their response, the Government might consider not rushing this legislation through what will be a partial year in this House but, rather, reflecting on the fact that, when this Parliament last seriously took through legislation on slavery more than 200 years ago, it was a 40-year journey. I am not suggesting that we need 40 years in which to bring to a conclusion this horrendous and ugly global trade, but I am not convinced that the normal processes of time, nor this small Bill, will be measured and appropriate or do what is necessary for the scale of the issues involved. Is it not right that, outside the provisions of the Bill at whatever point it is published, we should debate the issues of modern slavery, human trafficking, global supply chains, the mechanisms for legal checking and the processes through courts, and that we should ask hard questions of both DfID and its resources invested in international law and the Foreign Office concerning the extent to which Britain is serious about dealing with the global supply trade systems and the legal complexities that keep this trade ever growing and ever more complex?
I contend that the provisions of the existing Bill are welcome. They will not divide this House—we will agree almost unanimously. It may be possible to move this legislation through almost too easily and too quickly, but I suggest that if we do that we may well lose the weight and substance of this issue facing the Government. We may not deal with it with the dignity required for the women, in particular, who are trafficked and all those in slavery, and we may lose the opportunity to be genuinely heroic. I urge the Government to think about that and possibly to take this issue forward into the next manifesto—and I look to the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to do the same—so as to make a commitment on it beyond this small Bill.
My Lords, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and several others who have spoken that it is a great disappointment that there is not something in the Loyal Address about care and health. It is one of the electorate’s highest priorities and there is still much work to be done on it. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, recognised that and nodded in that direction by explaining how much good work the Government have been doing, particularly in relation to Public Health England. I regret that the noble Lord is not in his place to hear it but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, will draw the following to his attention:
“Alcohol misuse is the third highest preventable cause of ill health and death after tobacco and high blood pressure. Consumption has doubled in the last 50 years and the costs to the individuals concerned, to their families, to the NHS and more widely are huge. Preventing and reducing these harms requires action by individuals themselves and at national and local levels to implement those policies and interventions that the evidence tells us will have the greatest impact, for example, nationally on minimum unit pricing, and for local government, incorporating health into their judgments on alcohol licensing decisions”.
Those are not my words but those of Mr Duncan Selbie, the Government’s chief executive officer for Public Health England, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred. They were in a message that he issued as recently as Friday, 23 May 2014.
Mr Selbie was formerly the chief medical officer for Brighton and Hove, a city much plagued at weekends by drunkenness. Its major hospital’s A&E department can be inundated and sometimes almost overwhelmed from Thursdays to Sundays by people suffering from alcohol or substance misuse. Therefore, he knows from personal experience what he is talking about. Regrettably the Government have, to all intents and purposes, ditched a meaningful and effective policy on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. That was the major plank in their former alcohol strategy, and no matter what they may argue, the opportunity to do this has now gone, and that is to be regretted.
Similarly, under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, much decision-making on health has been devolved to local authorities. The Government have so far rejected all attempts to permit local government to incorporate a health factor into its judgments on alcohol licensing decisions—something which, again, Public Health England advocates strongly.
The Government could have looked at this again if they had tabled legislation in the Queen’s Speech based on the Local Government Association’s January report entitled Open for Business: Rewiring Licensing, but they did not. Instead, we see that they are moving precisely in the opposite direction with the Deregulation Bill, which is soon to come to this House from the Commons. On the last day of business there, the Government introduced late amendments to that Bill which, to quote the Liberal Democrat Minister responsible, is a,
“new light-touch authorisation to reduce burdens on ancillary sellers of alcohol”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/5/14; cols. 786.]
While that comes under the guise of helping local groups such as the Women’s Institute to sell alcohol, it is to be extended to small businesses that want to sell, as he puts it,
“small amounts of alcohol … as part of a wider service”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/5/14; cols. 777.]
What is a small business in that context? What is a small amount of alcohol? Just where is liberalisation in this area going to lead? Is there really a need for it? Do hairdressers desperately need to start selling alcohol to their clients? A whole range of other operations will be named as places where alcohol will possibly be on sale in the future. Who wants this, unless it is your major interest to sell more alcohol and to make it easier to access it? I urge the Government to think again while they are still dealing with the Bill in the Commons and before it comes here. If it does come here, I urge colleagues to oppose it strongly.
Is it healthy and right that Sainsbury’s—one of our more responsible supermarkets—now sells lemonade and dandelion and burdock with alcohol in it? As I have been told by that supermarket, it is authorised by the Portman Group, the drinks industry representative body and the principal partner of the Government in their so-called “responsibility deal”, on which my noble friend Lord Rooker spoke passionately earlier. As the Government seem to have such faith in this body, can the Minister say whether discussions have opened up within it to control and regulate alcohol in powder form now that its partners in that deal have devised a means whereby the drinks industry can produce such a form of alcohol?
My Lords, I propose to address a broad issue to which there is little or no direct reference in the Queen’s Speech, but which I believe is of fundamental interest and importance to this House. It is of course the state of our democracy. If one seeks to measure that by, for example, voting statistics or the number of our fellow citizens who are members of political parties, then the degree of crisis—I believe that that is an appropriate word—facing us now in terms of our political vitality and relevance is extreme.
I remember very well making my maiden speech in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in 1998 and referring to this subject then; it is not new. I believe that it is a continuing and deepening problem. I quoted then from the great John Pym who, your Lordships will remember, led the parliamentary cause into the Civil War before dying in 1643. He uttered a remarkable phrase, which has stuck in my mind ever since I read it 50 years ago, when he talked about the essentiality of what he called the,
“vigour and cheerfulness of allegiance”.
He remarked on the fact that such vigour and cheerfulness was not a feature of those years and on how Charles I had sacrificed that vigour and cheerfulness by his failure to involve Parliament et al. That lack of vigour and cheerfulness is dramatic today. If we add in the several million voters who did not even bother to register at the previous election, fewer than one in five under-25s voted. We need to ask why this is so and we need to address the complex causes of this state of affairs. They are mightily complex.
The Queen’s Speech refers to preparing “school pupils for employment”. How about preparing them to be active and engaged citizens and to have the knowledge, skill and will to engage as citizens in civic life? There are three further obstructions or challenges to the crisis, as I will call it. The first is the breakdown of community life, which continues unabated, as it has almost since the war. It is within community that we learn about citizenship. We do not learn it formally, but informally—involuntarily. We learn about mutualism and the common wealth, and so many things which then and for ever thereafter sustain us in our engagement with our local communities. Community life has broken down everywhere.
What about the complexity of our laws? We know enough about that in this House. We change the laws every few years, usually because we have not implemented the laws that we have. It is a common fact that the number of parliamentarians in both Houses who now engage in legislating is going down and down, which is why we have more debates. It is so complicated. You need to be a lawyer to get your head around half of it. What about the poor citizen, who is not consulted and certainly not informed in language that they can understand?
We need to refer to and remark on the lack of civic leadership, which is acute and impacts on public service, local and national. A number of speakers today have referred to the Bill on slavery. I was reading about the great William Wilberforce the other day and came across this remarkably contemporary quote. He wrote:
“The opposite to selfishness is public spirit; which may be termed, not unjustly, the grand principle of political vitality, the very life’s breath of states”.
How is public service in our time? It is in a dire condition. The natural elites of our communities are now largely opted out of civic engagement. There are wonderful exceptions, but take my own profession—the law. It is, I am afraid, a tragic fact that, from being pillars of the community at the start of my professional life, we are now largely absent. I think that the disaffection and disconnection to which this state of affairs has led, which I have had to sketch very briefly, has impacted devastatingly, particularly on the less able and the less—how shall I put it?—elevated. Of course, UKIP and the Scots Nats tap into the feelings of abandonment, of being outside the tent and of being ignored and overlooked. They have tapped into that with a will. We have to revitalise our national democratic vitality. I am sorry that time means that I have to leave it at that bare exposition.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I want to say a word or two about the civil justice system in this country and the importance that individuals should not only have but be able to exercise their rights of access to the courts, either to prosecute civil claims of their own or to defend themselves against civil claims made against them by others. The ability to have access to the civil courts, whether as claimant or defendant, has a vital part to play in establishing a healthy relationship between individuals and the law and in creating a climate of respect for the rule of law. If any individual is unable to enforce his or her rights in the civil courts, or equally important to defend himself or herself in the civil courts against claims by others, there is a real danger of a diminution in the individual’s self-esteem and a diminution in the individual’s respect for the law itself.
There is no doubt that civil litigation is expensive and that the cost of litigation is capable of constituting a serious impediment to a realisable access to the courts by many, perhaps most, citizens of this country. Of course, legal aid, traditionally, and for many years in my experience, has come to their aid in that regard. Your Lordships may recall that in 1988 and 1989 the then Government adopted a policy that the civil justice system should be made self-financing—the costs to be met by fees charged to litigants. At first, the fees to be so financed excluded judicial salaries, but in 1991 the Government decided that judicial salaries, too, should be included and that all the costs of the civil justice system, save only the costs of the legal aid scheme, were to be met by fees charged to litigants. This was, of course, an impediment to access to justice for all those unable to avail themselves of legal aid.
Since that time, the legal aid scheme itself has been under attack by Governments unwilling to stand the size of the legal aid debts as a burden on the Exchequer year after year. Of course, the consequence of this is that litigants in person will increase in number. The time taken by litigation when the judge does not have the assistance of counsel to represent one or other of the parties will be longer and the whole style of the litigation will change. A judge with a litigant in person before the court cannot afford to have the normal adversarial approach to litigation, with one side against the other and the judge then deciding which of the two is to be preferred in the result. The judge will have to enter the arena and himself or herself investigate the matter, try to discover the real cause of the dispute and the best line of law that should be applied to resolve the dispute. The length of the litigation, as I have said, will increase and at the end of the day I wonder how much in costs will be saved by withholding legal aid from one or both of the disputants.
I ask the Government to make clear their current intentions with regard to legal aid in civil cases. Whatever they are, the Government will, I hope, bear in mind the importance of the respect for the rule of law engendered by a proper ability to appear before the civil courts with legal assistance so as to present the case to the judge and for the acceptance by the general public of the importance of respect for the law. If further inroads are made into the ability to have free access to the courts for want of funds in a way that prevents a proper hearing, that may damage respect for the rule of law, which, in my opinion and the opinion of many, is important for the health of this country’s community.
I therefore ask the Government to make clear their intentions in regard to legal aid, which has been cut down drastically over the past few years and, more recently, in the regulations which came into effect in April this year, which impede the granting of legal aid on applications for permission to bring a judicial review. I need not emphasise how important judicial review is as a form of civil litigation in this country and an individual without legal aid having to make an application for permission is difficult to accept. I therefore ask the Government to think carefully about any further impediment to justice in that and other fields.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s intention to bring forward the modern slavery Bill. It is seven years since I first spoke in this House about the need for action to address the appalling crime of human trafficking. In those seven years much has changed. We have opted in to the Council of Europe’s convention and the EU directive to combat human trafficking; we have established a national referral mechanism and victim support programme; and we have worked to raise awareness among the general public and the staff of our criminal justice and social care services.
However, many of these developments have come about one by one through incremental improvements in legislation and occasional government action plans. It is time that we re-evaluated our response to this continually evolving challenge and the legal framework that underpins it. In 2011, I first proposed a human trafficking and exploitation Bill to your Lordships’ House and I am delighted that we will finally have a new law focused on eradicating this abhorrent crime from our country and offering support and hope to those who have been exploited so cruelly.
I was privileged to serve on the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft modern slavery Bill under the able chairmanship of Mr Frank Field MP and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. We had the opportunity to hear from experts across many fields, from victims of slavery and from those who work hard to catch and prosecute offenders. This issue, in general, receives support in all quarters. I was particularly pleased that, as a cross-party committee of both Houses, we were united in our recommendations to enhance the draft Bill. I sincerely hope the Home Secretary has found our report of use and will be able to incorporate our recommendations into the Bill.
It is vital that the Bill contains not only strong measures which deter, prosecute, convict and punish those who visit this terrible exploitation on vulnerable people, but also gives support, care and protection for the victims. Organised crime gangs play a big part in slavery and human trafficking, and a country which is hostile to this activity will be better for all of us. However, the greatest impact of this awful crime is on those who are deceived, coerced, threatened and exploited. The Bill must reflect that.
Specifically, I hope the Bill will contain measures which will guarantee support for victims in the initial recovery and reflection period. I hope also that a clear definition of these criminal offences will reflect international standards and ensure that our courts are able to convict people who commit the worst forms of exploitation. Last month I welcomed the Minister’s assurance of a measure to enable provision of specialist child trafficking advocates. I hope that this provision has all the necessary teeth set out clearly in our amendment to the Immigration Bill with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord Carlile.
I welcome the news that victims who are compelled to commit crimes by their traffickers—for instance, those who are forced to tend cannabis plants—will be protected from prosecution. I am pleased that our legal system will now recognise that these people, many of them teenagers, have not freely chosen to engage in criminal activity but have done so under extreme duress. I also welcome the desire to see more victims receive reparation from the people who have profited at their expense. This reparation needs to be within a structured framework.
The Bill has the potential to be a milestone in our Parliament’s history, an opportunity to be proactive to a developing problem and not simply reactive. Up until now there has been a piecemeal, random distribution of amendments within other Bills with little sequential structure. However, we owe it to this House, to our forebears who fought so persistently for the abolition of chattel slavery, and most of all to those who are exploited, to make this Bill the best it can be. I assure the Minister that I will continue to do all that I can to help him achieve that goal.
Perhaps I may finish by quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said:
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.
It is widely rumoured that Secretary of State Grayling will be Britain’s candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. I am not entirely convinced that he is cut out to do that job but there is one decisive advantage—he would no longer be the Secretary of State.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, has pointed out, law and justice should be inseparable. I think, as he does, that legal aid is part of that. Unhappily, the Justice Secretary, as he steams furiously forward, sees his prime aim as the virtual elimination of our legal aid system which, hitherto, has been the envy of other countries. The first time legal aid was seen as a vital part of our human rights system was in 1947. It was seen in that light as far as both civil and criminal cases were concerned.
Lawyers were reasonably, although not excessively, remunerated and were an integral part of the system. This country led the way, enabling justice—both civil and criminal—to be done. Although some were unfairly enriched, which was undoubtedly the case, they were a minority, and the system of legal aid certainly worked. It is wrong and unwise to dismantle the majority of our legal aid machinery. However, that is what is happening today as the Justice Secretary alienates those lawyers who seek to make legal aid work, thereby bringing justice to many people. He is apparently unconcerned, or at least insufficiently so, about the fact that today a disproportionate part of the criminal legal aid budget is being expended on very few cases. Surely we should concentrate on finding ways and means of shortening cases or ensuring that legal aid is available for only a reasonable part of the case—and that issue should be appealable, if necessary.
Legal aid should be regarded as a vital part of our social services, not as a luxury, which it certainly is not. It is a mark of our civilised society. Does the Secretary of State really believe that the pressures he is imposing on legal aid will save money? That may be his fervent wish, but is it realistic? As has been pointed out, we are bound to witness the burgeoning of unrepresented people, leading ineluctably to increased costs.
Either the Secretary of State fails to recognise the extent of his actions or he is well aware of the consequences. In either case, he is failing to discharge the essential duties that he has been called upon to do. In personal terms, I am loath to attack the Secretary of State because in my view he is a very agreeable person, but unfortunately he is inured to misconceptions which are damaging our very way of life as far as the law is concerned.
My Lords, arriving at his Cardiff primary school at the age of five, the future vice-chancellor of Cambridge University could use just one English phrase. Today, at the age of 63, he still remembers the kindness that people showed him as he learnt to speak English, and of course he now holds one of the world’s most influential academic positions. The gracious Speech talked about the packed programme of a busy and radical Government, but despite that there is no mention of immigration or of higher education. I want to talk about those two topics and I declare my various interests in the higher education field, as well as being an immigrant. Professor Leszek Borysiewicz has made a defence of the value of immigration. He opposes crude numerical limits and praises Britain’s plural society as one of its greatest strengths.
We all know that the target of tens of thousands has become a real issue. The number of students coming here from India fell by 39% between 2011 and 2012. The vice-chancellor has said that a university such as Cambridge is in the global race, a point also made by the Prime Minister. It is competing not just with other British universities, but with Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. Setting an immigration target of this kind is harming Britain, because for the first time in many years the number of international students coming to Britain has fallen overall. What is even more scary is that the numbers have fallen in the STEM subjects, which we so desperately need students to study.
Michael Kitson, a university lecturer in global macroeconomics at the University of Cambridge, has come up with some great insights. He feels that the popular press has been propelling the bandwagon in immigration. He has said that non-EU students contribute over £7 billion to our economy—our GDP and balance of trade—and, while some students may remain after they have finished their studies, the vast majority leave. When we look behind the figures for net immigration, if students are excluded, the net figure in 2013 was 58,000, averaging 49,000 between 2004 and 2013. Voilà, the Government’s target of net immigration to be measured in the tens of thousands has already been met if students are excluded. When we look at people who come here to work we see that, while 214,000 came to work here in the UK, some 186,000 left the country to work overseas.
The main driver of future prosperity in this country can be summed up in one word: innovation. Innovation is driven by diversity. Just look at Silicon Valley, one of the most diverse communities in the world, and what it has achieved in changing our lives. What has happened over here is that the popular press has been stirring up a hatred of immigration based on anecdotes, rumours and slurs, not on figures. I think we need to come to terms with that. The National Union of Students has conducted surveys which show that 51% of non-EU students think that the UK Government are either not welcoming or not at all welcoming towards international students. We had the Government’s £3,000 visa bond, which set off the alarm bells. In a U-turn, the Government withdrew it. They then had the idea of hoardings saying “Illegal immigrants go home” being driven around. Even Nigel Farage of UKIP objected to them, and they were the subject of another government U-turn. Yet here in this House we have the noble Lord, Lord Glendonbrook, who made an excellent maiden speech. He is an immigrant who has made a brilliant contribution to this country. The Government’s attitude to immigration can be summed up in one word: hypocrisy. On the one hand, we have the immigration cap, while on the other hand, for years I have been saying that we should bring in exit controls at our borders: scan every passport that comes in and scan every passport that goes out. You will then know who is in the country and thus who should or should not be here. The Government must do this. The e-border scheme has been a miserable failure and over £500 million has been wasted on it.
The National Union of Students, which supports the aim of removing international students from the immigration figures, says clearly that such students contribute a great deal to the social and economic fabric of the UK, contributing more than £12.5 billion to the UK economy. Its surveys show that only 1% of all immigrants granted settlement in 2009 progressed directly from a study route to remain in this country. That is because the vast majority of students leave the UK within five years. The excellent post-graduation work visas need to be brought back in by the Government. In any case, we have one of the most expensive visa systems in the world.
I conclude by going back to the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, who has said:
“When I think of how my parents were welcomed to this country, I find that actually quite saddening. I do feel we are an open, democratic country and we should be setting the standards for the rest of the world, not hindering them … One of Britain’s greatest strengths has been in the way it has assimilated so many different communities, and we are a very plural and open society … At a personal level I abhor the idea that we actually have a very strict migration target. There are so many nuances to numbers in this regard that it actually hides the true potential benefit that people coming into Britain can have. We should be looking at the capacity of individuals to contribute to our society here rather than have a political ding-dong over ‘we brought in 10,000 fewer than you did’”.
My Lords, I have indicated previously the impact that forced migration has had upon my family. We had in the Queen’s Speech a Bill for dealing with the abuse of children and the intention to bring forward better controls over trafficking. Those are closely connected. This country has a terrible record in its handling of the migration of its own subjects. It has combined the most appalling suffering of children with the most appalling lack of management of the migration process to get the worst of every world. There should be no smugness around these two initiatives going forward. It is a very small penance to pay for a very big crime.
It started in 1682. The first migration in this country happened when one of the early colonies in North America was raided by the Indians, who took all 84 of its children and would not give them back. No one knows what happened to them. The colony sent a communication back to England by the first available boat saying, “Look, we have no children and therefore no future. Send us some children”. The Mayor of London was asked to deal with it and he did. He sent his beadles out on to the streets of London and took the first 84 vagrant kids he could find. He sent them down to a boat at Rotherhithe and sent them to America. He told the captain that he could pay for the trip by taking the kids out and bringing it back with a load of tobacco on board and that would pay for it, and it did. Unfortunately, it created the precedent of making it seem that trafficking these children was profitable, which it was.
We have a terrible record of having introduced waves of migration in the same way in latter years. The great shock is when you get to 1880 and find that Dr Thomas Barnardo himself—a man of irreproachable reputation, one would think—formed a council for the identification of the migration needs of the whole British Empire and took from each country an indication of how many children it would like. He then went out to find the children to fill the quotas that were requested. This was effectively a disaster because a lot of these children were taken without any recognition or contact with the homes from which they came—they might have had some small misdemeanours in their community—and were swept up. They were the poor of the churches of the country. This was very heavily supported by the Protestant Church of the day, right the way through, and it was not until 21 years later in 1901 that this House debated the subject for the first time and said that it was a probably not a very good thing. But by that time tens of thousands had been sent to Africa because of concerns about the encroachment of the German population in Africa, and many had gone out to Australia.
It is appalling that in the old government building in Sydney today there is an index where you can access the details of every criminal who was ever sent to Australia and what happened to him, but there is no such index for the children who were sent because nobody knows who they were. They are lost without trace. Eventually around 1938 the Catholics decided that this was something they wanted to get in with as well so they started sending migrant children from their own communities to Australia. Then the war came and it was too unsafe to send ships to sea with children on and nothing happened again until 1947, when the Australians set a target: they urgently wanted 4,000 children and 30,000 adults. They did so by first buying two Italian aircraft carriers and converting them into liners, the “Fairsky” and the “Fairsea”, and sending out 2,000 migrants on each of those ships every month. It took six weeks to get there and six weeks to get back.
I regret to say that I was recruited to that exercise as the religious liaison officer for the Australian civil service. My task was to find clergymen who would go with these people. I had to have one clergyman for every 30 kids on board. It was the most appalling thing ever. These children were bussed in—God knows where they had got them from; I was never given any details on where they came from—and they were terrified. They were screaming. They had lost control of every bodily function and they were just a screaming mess. The clergymen and I had to rip the fingers of these kids off the gangplank to get them up on to the ship. It was a very gruesome task indeed. The clergy got paid a good fee for going out there and doing it and they got a free sail trip back again afterwards.
It was an official policy. This is why I am saying that we have a big penance to pay and we need to recognise that in putting it right now we are not doing something that we should be proud of. We should be seriously ashamed of what went on before and I hope that in what we do in this Bill we will reflect a great many of the concerns that we did not honour at the time.
I have explained previously how my uncle and aunt were sent out to Canada by the Church of England. As a small peace offering to the Church of England, I should say what happened to those two. The girl married the grandson of the lady she had been bought for $50 to look after, who had had a stroke. Today her grandchildren operate and run the biggest and most profitable logging operation in the whole of Canada. The boy ended up owning a 35,000-acre farm in British Columbia. When he died 12 years ago, he had double-digit millions in the bank. He left it all to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the stipulation that they could only have it $1 million at a time for every Protestant priest that they could kill and lynch for him. That order was overturned in court and the Jehovahs were allowed to keep the $12 million and the priests all survived.
There is a lot to be concerned about in this. We have a lot to put right and I hope that your Lordships will have some very far-reaching thoughts about what we can do about somewhere along the line trying to restore the record of where all these people were, who they were and where they went. It would be a small penance to pay.
My Lords, my brief contribution to this debate picks up on the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Ribeiro, on the introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes and tobacco products.
Your Lordships will recall that tobacco control clauses were added to what is now the Children and Families Act as a result of initiatives taken by a cross-party group of Members of this House. One of them I see sitting opposite me: the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. The thought that standard packaging could be achieved as a child health measure had not occurred to Members of the House of Commons and we added the new clauses to the Bill in this place. We were delighted when the Government brought forward their own amendments to give effect to the provisions and were able to get them passed by overwhelming majorities in this House and the other place. The votes were a clear demonstration of the will of Parliament that these important public health reforms should be brought in as soon as possible.
For reasons which we understood, the Government decided that they should commission an independent study from the eminent paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler on the public health benefits of standardised packaging, particularly as far as children and young people were concerned, before proceeding further. Sir Cyril’s report, published in April, was a model of careful and rational analysis. I urge anyone with an interest in this area of public policy to read it. Sir Cyril concluded that the policy was justified, saying:
“Having reviewed the evidence it is in my view highly likely that standardised packaging would serve to reduce the rate of children taking up smoking”.
Quite rightly, therefore, the Public Health Minister responded immediately that the Government would publish draft regulations by the end of April for a short further consultation before they were laid before Parliament. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, pointed out, we are still waiting for those.
The Government have committed to a six-week public consultation period after the draft regulations are published. It will then be necessary for them to notify the European Union of the draft regulations. This process can take up to six months. Counting backwards from a May 2015 election, we now have a rapidly closing window of opportunity. If the draft regulations are not published imminently, the chance to vote on them before Parliament is dissolved will be lost. That would be a very great loss indeed. The United Kingdom is a world leader on tobacco control, which is the achievement of successive Governments. It should be the common concern of everyone who cares about the health and well-being of the public that this is so; it should not be a party-political matter.
The facts are not in dispute. Everyone knows that most smokers start when they are teenagers. Two-thirds of existing smokers report that they started before their 18th birthday and about two in five before they were 16. Every day the Government delay in introducing regulations, hundreds more children start smoking for the first time. The younger the age at which smokers start, the greater the harm is likely to be, because early uptake of the habit is associated with subsequent heavier smoking, higher levels of dependency, a lower chance of quitting and a higher chance of death from a smoking-related disease.
While the wheels of government seem to be turning more slowly than usual, the tobacco industry and its small band of remaining parliamentary allies and recipients of its hospitality have been busy, spreading lies and misinformation through bogus research and grotesquely biased opinion-polling, and creating a climate of fear for retailers. Their objection is quite simple. The tobacco industry believes that its claimed “intellectual property rights” trump the requirements of public health—or, to put it more sharply, that its right to design products intended to get children addicted is more important than the children’s right to be protected from that addiction and the health damage it causes.
Cigarettes are the only legal product that kill their customers when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Why should any company be allowed to promote such a product through advertising and marketing— especially to children and young people? When you see what they get up to in the third world, blatantly promoting their products to the poor and vulnerable—so brilliantly described by Peter Taylor in his two BBC2 television programmes last week and the week before—you wonder how their executives can sleep at night.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has the opportunity when he replies to this debate to convince us that we have no reason for concern and that the Government’s policy on this subject is on track and as unequivocal as it was when he spoke on the Anti- social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. He stated then that,
“The Government are determined to try to stamp out smoking as a habit, particularly among young people”.—[Official Report, 14/1/14; col. 141.]
I say “hear, hear” to that, and I hope that he is able to say the same thing tonight.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I am pleased to contribute to this important debate. It has been very interesting and it will be quite difficult to sum up because so many subjects and topics have been covered.
I start by declaring an interest in that I am the chair of the superannuation committee of the General Medical Council. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, now knows what is coming next, because we had a very good debate in the Moses Room recently on a Question for Short Debate on medical regulation. He was as good as his word and took the message back from that. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others in this debate expressed dismay—I think that is what it was—that this opportunity to deal with the modernisation of medical regulation, not just for doctors but nurses and other professions allied to medicine, will now be missed. There is a real fear that, with the election upon us next year and the manifesto priorities of an incoming Government, the chances of slipping something as sensible as medical regulation into an early programme within the next five-year Parliament is remote. The 1983 Act—which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, completely unfit for purpose now—will have to prevail for that length of time.
My plea again to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and the Minister who will wind up is that they take the message back from this debate. It may well be that we have had enough health legislation in this Parliament—we have had our fair share—but I think this would probably be susceptible to cross-party or all-party support. I do not mean by that there would not be robust debates. We would all promise to be very well behaved under the guidance of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as we always are. My spies tell me—my spies are everywhere—that this is a failure of political will and that the Government are frightened of having a health debate in the year running up to an election. That seems to be the height of cowardice, if true.
That is a helpful intervention and if that is what they are trying to tell people it is nonsense. The 11 Bills in this Queen’s Speech could easily have been 12. The 11 are workaday measures and are all sensible and useful. To be honest, as a former business manager, in the fifth year of a five-year Parliament I would leave a little leeway at the end on the grounds that you might get more than you bargained for. I put that marker down. I notice that there are Oral Questions and I will add my name to those who continue to argue for that addition to other measures that will be laid before the House.
I have two minutes left and want to make two points. I am not an expert on migration or immigration. All my parliamentary experience was in the fastness of the Scottish Borders. There are colleagues in this place who know much more about immigration and migration than I. However, over the last three months, I have become really concerned about the mood of the country in this particular field. I have always believed that it was the conventional wisdom that everybody realised that Britain had to be an open not closed society. Actually, former Prime Minister Blair made a very good speech about that in relation to the European Union on 2 June at the London Business School. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a powerful speech concentrating on the academic and student side of things, but we should not just end there. There are all sorts of deeper problems in communities that have more than their fair share of immigration. But I will now spend some of my time in this Parliament trying to understand that problem better because we all have to come up with better answers. We must all be more positive about Britain being a more outward-going country. If I had more time, I would develop that thought because I feel it quite deeply.
The other thing that concerns me a lot is the uncertainty of the mood of the electorate which really feels left behind. An increasing minority of our communities are feeling more and more left behind. It is the lower 15% to 20% end of the income distribution that feels it hardest. My plea to both my Front-Bench colleagues—both are sensible men who have influence in this Government—is that of course deficit reduction and the removal of the national debt have to be priorities, but we have to be careful that there are not indirect and unintended consequences from the diminution of public services that in turn exacerbate the tension in some of our communities which bear large numbers of immigrants. That would be a false economy. My plea to them both is that, in all these important areas of public policy—home affairs, law and justice, health and education—very careful thought is given to the distribution and allocation of resources, some of which will need to go to deficit reduction but some of which should be used to deal with some of the downstream consequences in education in the communities that are affected most.
My Lords, perhaps slightly quirkily, I begin by congratulating Michael Gove—not, I may say, on the subject of today’s Statement, but because he has pledged to change Britain’s appallingly low level of reading attainment, as shown in international school league tables, by ensuring that in future, from their first day at school, every child must be taught to attain the basic standard required. Above all, that will mean that children with special needs must have the speci