House of Lords
Monday, 7 July 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Ely
Stephen David, Lord Bishop of Ely, was introduced between the Lord Bishop of Truro and the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, took and subscribed the oath and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
House of Lords: Question Time
My Lords, as a self-regulating House, we all have a responsibility to uphold our rules of conduct at question time. The rules on supplementary questions set out in the Companion could not be clearer: no reading and no statements of opinion. Supplementaries,
“should be short and confined to not more than two points”.
I agree very much with my noble friend that brief questions are to be encouraged: brief questions tend to elicit brief answers. I think that it is incumbent on everyone in the House to make sure that they understand the rules set out in the Companion. I think that over time behaviour sometimes slips. This is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of those principles to which we all say, “Hear, hear,” but which we need to put into action.
My Lords, I am sure that the Leader agrees that question time is both the best of this House and, sometimes, the worst. Does he also agree, as I think he does, that occasionally the transgressions come from the Dispatch Box? On statements of opinion, does he agree that from time to time opinion is expressed about the conduct of the Opposition, which is perhaps not always relevant to the Question being asked? Will he consider stressing to his colleagues how important these rules are?
Does the Minister agree that question time is primarily for Back-Benchers? Does he also agree that, unless it has become obvious that nobody else wants to ask a question, it is not appropriate to have two or even three consecutive questions from any Benches?
I agree that question time provides an important opportunity for Back-Benchers. Noble Lords may be interested to know that, so far this year, 370 Members of your Lordships’ House have asked an oral or a supplementary question. That is an encouragingly large number, although it sometimes feels as though certain Members of the House ask more than that number might suggest. The House at Oral Questions is generally pretty good at working out whose turn it is to ask a question, but I agree with my noble friend that none of us should make an assumption that we automatically have a right to ask a question or a flow of questions from one side of the House.
My Lords, does the Leader agree with me that it is a rule of this House that, if a question comes from the Government Benches, it should go around the House? That was certainly always the tradition when I first came here. When, as now, two parties are in government, there should be a question from the Government and then questions from around the other Benches—not a question from each bit of the Government.
I hope that noble Lords who are regular attenders would agree that the way in which questions move around the House works pretty well. It is worth pointing out that over 50% of noble Lords who are the most frequent askers of questions are from the Labour Benches.
I certainly do not think that we should have jostling and bullying. Most of the time the House operates pretty well and noble Lords give way to other noble Lords and give them a chance. The House wants to hear from a wide range of people. However, I take the point. Sometimes we hear from some noble Lords more frequently than from others—they might all like to reflect on that. I had a thought that might help with that, which I would be happy to discuss with the Clerk of the Parliaments to see whether it is possible. If we could publish more frequently information on the frequency with which some Members ask questions, that might help us to draw the conclusion that we ought to share them out more widely.
Does the Minister share the concern that perhaps women Members of this House do not get their fair share of questions? However, I carried out a little survey in which I calculated the number of interventions by noble Baronesses and discovered that they asked proportionately rather more questions than one would expect from their number in the House.
My Lords, in the absence of a Speaker, we are told by the Government—indeed, by both Governments—from the Front Bench that it is for individual Members of the House to police the House and all its proceedings. However, does that not just create resentment and embarrassment between colleagues? The system does not work.
I disagree with the noble Lord very strongly. The principle of self-regulation that we have in this House is worth fighting for and preserving as strongly as we possibly can—all of us. I would not wish on this House the example provided by the other place. A few years back the House looked at the question of whether we would prefer to have a system here that mirrored more closely that of the other House, with a Speaker. It voted fairly clearly, concluding that it preferred to stick with our current arrangements. However, it is incumbent on all of us who care about self-regulation to make sure that we do it. I do not accept the noble Lord’s characterisation that most of the time it does not work. I think that most of the time it works extremely well.
Does my noble friend agree that some of the worst offenders in asking non-questions are those who have been here longest and should know better? It might be useful for him to write to some of those offenders and point out that they are breaking the rules, so that they do not repeat that.
It is incumbent on all the groups in the House to help to police this and, if they need to, to communicate to some of their members. The point that I make about publishing more information on the number of times people ask questions, and perhaps the number of words that they use, might help to shine a spotlight.
British Council: English Schools Abroad
My Lords, the Government have not provided guidance to the British Council regarding staff serving on governing bodies of English schools abroad. The FCO has not instructed its posts to cease support for schools or other bodies. British embassies’ association with local schools will have a historical basis dating from a time when it may not have been possible to open local English-language or British-style schools without such links.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and I am delighted with her response that there is no conflict of interest with English schools abroad. I will relay her Answer to the governing body. I fully understand the Government’s policy of saving taxpayers’ money. Can she reassure the House that the new government policy for only commercial entertainment will not be extended to British schools abroad, when more than a third of our 1,000 students attend British universities?
I can confirm to my noble friend that specific guidance was issued by the British Council. I will send her a copy of that guidance, which clearly shows the British Council acted on its own legal advisers’ advice, rather than on any advice of the Government. On British embassies and high commissions abroad serving their communities, I assure my noble friend that a whole host of events are held at high commissions and embassies, many of them with civil society organisations, NGOs and communities. They certainly are not all commercially based.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that in this month last year her right honourable friend Hugo Swire announced a triennial review of the work of the British Council—admirable work, which it conducts all over the world. Can she tell us where that review now stands?
The noble Lord is right: there is currently a triennial review. It is part of the wider review of non-departmental public bodies. The work of the review started in August or September last year and is still ongoing. Recommendations have been submitted to the Foreign Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. In due course there will be a report.
My Lords, due to the drop in the number of students from overseas coming to this country, many British universities are now setting up campuses abroad. Does the Minister agree that it would be wise to instruct the British Council and the British embassies to ensure that those universities are assisted in their presence so that more people can benefit from attending not only English schools, but the other universities that are there as well?
I can assure my noble friend that overseas students are a key priority for the Government. Indeed, more than 6,000 British overseas schools provide the first cohort of overseas students. That is why we have a relationship with them. Indeed, many of our ambassadors and deputy ambassadors sit on the boards of many of these schools. The British Council does a tremendous amount of work promoting English and education. That is sometimes the first experience people overseas have of the educational opportunities available in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, would my noble friend confirm further the excellent work that is done by the British Council in the field of education where British Council centres exist? Since the Foreign Office has done such wonderful work in reopening embassies in many parts of the world, will it consider reopening British Council centres that have been closed down in various parts of the world?
I support my noble friend’s comments. The British Council is a global brand. It hugely strengthens the reputation of the United Kingdom and connects with people about the United Kingdom. It builds trust and awareness on a whole series of issues. I can tell my noble friend that the decision on the overall strategy direction and management of the British Council is taken by the council’s executive board of trustees, and this would be a decision that it would take. Of course, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to support the British Council’s grant in aid, which for this year has been set at £153.5 million.
Scientific Research and Development
My Lords, the Government recognise that investment in science and research are key to long-term competitiveness and growth. Therefore, we have protected the ring-fenced science and research programme at £4.6 billion per year from 2011-12 to 2015-16. Furthermore, we have committed to providing £1.1 billion a year of science capital spending, increasing with inflation.
I thank the Minister for his helpful response to my rather stuttered Question. I am afraid that I got overtaken by what has happened thus far concerning what we should say and what we should and should not read. If I can remember to ask the question as I intended to, I want to know what the long-term framework for science and innovation is. We all agree that we ought to have advance notice and enough time for some of the bigger programmes to put their financing together but do the Government have anything planned in the long term for science and innovation?
My Lords, I would never accuse my noble friend of stuttering at all—her question is quite clear. The Government will define the future scope and scale of the UK’s science and innovation system to 2020 and beyond. Just to throw some light on this, in the Autumn Statement of 2014 some of the key questions will focus on business investment in R&D, research infrastructure, skills and talent, and the balance in funding between curiosity-driven and applied research. The strategy will define the scale and scope of the UK’s science and innovation system by 2020 and indeed beyond.
My Lords, nowhere is there a greater need for government and industry to work together than in the development of new antibiotics. Industry is desperately in need of government support in this area. Do the Government have any plans to help with this?
As the noble Lord may be aware, the Government have a series of thematic priorities covering a range of things from agriculture and food to the built environment, the digital economy, energy, and health and care. Healthcare providers are also included in this, and these thematic priorities will formulate part of the strategy for 2014, to which I have alluded.
I apologise for my premature intervention. Are the Government aware—I am sure they are—that vice-chancellors are deeply concerned about the possibility of our exit from the European Union? This would have a devastating effect on scientific research and development in our universities.
The Government’s position is quite clear. The European Union has benefits and the Government wish to see a renegotiated Union—something that I think many noble Lords share. The Prime Minister has stood up for British interests. Universities are working closely with business and others, and the UK continues to be among the top in terms of research. Looking at some of the statistics, the UK has, for example, won 85 Nobel prizes for science and technology, and we plan that that should continue with the new strategy.
What plans do the Government have to help science-based companies to really scale up? Too often our brilliant scientists are bought before they have had a chance to contribute to the economy. I am thinking, for example, of DeepMind, our leading artificial intelligence company, which was bought by Google before it really had a chance to grow.
As ever, the noble Baroness speaks with great experience. The Government recognise the importance of business investment in R&D and we are looking to give this great encouragement. R&D tax credits are the single biggest form of government support for business investment in R&D and are available to all sectors. In 2011-12, the R&D tax credit scheme supported an estimated 73% of UK business. However, I agree with the concern aired by the noble Baroness. It is important that we keep the best and the brightest in Britain working for British companies.
Each government department had an independent scientific budget under the management of the scientist. That was a very important part of the Government’s research budget, but that budget seems to have disappeared. Can the Minister tell us what happened to it?
It is important to recognise that the Government are currently consulting. I have already talked of the new strategy that will be outlined in the Autumn Statement and the consultations we have had. The strategy will be led by Sir Mark Walport who is the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. It will draw on external experts both in government and outside, including those with experience of successfully commercialising science, and will identify what is best. What we deliver as a country is more important than what we deliver as individual departments.
Does my noble friend recollect the very important statement he made in Grand Committee that nuclear research infrastructure would be part of the overall scientific infrastructure arrangements that he announced? Does he recognise that if infrastructure is to be protected, it is no use unless the running and operating expenses are given similar long-term assurances? Will they be within the arrangements that he described as taking us up to 2020 and beyond?
My noble friend has a good memory in reminding me of what I said in Grand Committee. He mentioned nuclear in Grand Committee and part of the thematic priorities within that are energy and how the challenges of a secure, affordable and sustainable energy sector can be maintained. The issues my noble friend raises about sustainability are primary in our thoughts.
Given my interest as UK business ambassador for healthcare and life sciences, what assessment has been made of the life sciences strategy announced by Her Majesty’s Government in December 2011—in particular, its impact on inward investment for research and development for biomedical sciences in the United Kingdom?
Inward investment remains an important part of this. As I said, the strategy and the different announcements that we have made will come together in the Autumn Statement in 2014. All disciplines, including what the noble Lord alluded to, will be included within that. The Government believe in prioritising and in ensuring that the UK is recognised as a centre of research excellence, and we will continue to attract through our new scientific strategy the best from the international field as well.
Given that the Government are seeking to reduce the draft amending budget No. 3 of the European Union 2014 and the 2015 draft budget, how is it expected that investment in research and development will add to the growth agenda to which this Government have signed up?
The Government play a leading role and will continue to lead on the European front. Let me give the example of our investment in the space industry specifically. A large proportion of our investment in that industry is with our European partners and the European Space Agency. We continue to collaborate across a series of different fields.
My Lords, I return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, about whether the Government had plans to help the development of antibiotics, the urgency of which is very great. My noble friend answered by saying that health and healthcare were part of the Government’s plan but he was not specific about antibiotics. I, along with others in this House, would like an answer to that question.
My Lords, in his initial response the Minister suggested that the Government were supporting the practice started by the previous Government of maintaining ring-fencing for a large science budget. Is it not a fact that when the Government came into power in 2010 they cut almost entirely the capital budget and restricted the revenue budgets to cash only, so we have lost about £500 million over that period?
The Government have made clear their priority for spending in this area and that is why both in my original Answer and the supplementary I also mentioned that since 2010 a further £1.5 billion of capital has been provided to science and research, along with more than £600 million of additional resources. This underlines the Government’s commitment to this important area for the country.
Legal Aid: Social Welfare Law
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, 15 months after the coming into force of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, what is their assessment of the effect of the Act on the legal advice system in relation to social welfare law in England and Wales.
My Lords, we have made hard choices in reforming legal aid. However, we have retained it for the highest priority social welfare cases and we continue to spend an estimated £50 million per year on this area. Although the Act is relatively new, the reduction in legal aid for social welfare matters is broadly in line with expectations. We are monitoring the impact of legal aid reform and will conduct a post-implementation review within five years of implementation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer but he and the Government know that the effect on social welfare law advice has been devastating. In the year 2013-14 alone—this is from the Government’s own figures—there was an 80% fall in the number of social welfare law cases, including a figure of 45% in housing cases. These cuts affect the poorest and most vulnerable, including many disabled people, in our society. Are the Government to some extent ashamed of the removal of access to justice from hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, all caused by deliberate coalition government policy?
The noble Lord mentioned housing. In fact, legal aid remains available for eviction and possession cases, housing disrepairs, where there is a serious risk to health or safety, homelessness assistance and all debt matters which may represent a threat to somebody’s home. As to the cuts in legal aid, they are concentrated on matters where the Government, after careful consideration, have decided that having a lawyer is not always the answer.
My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interest as a practising barrister. My noble friend’s department has in the past largely dismissed fears for the future availability of publicly-funded barristers, given the cuts in the scope of legal aid and in remuneration rates. Does my noble friend share my concern at the 38% drop in available tenancies in chambers over the year to 2011-12 and the long-term decline in the availability of pupilages, particularly in chambers doing legally-aided work? How can we reverse this trend?
My Lords, that is a little way from social welfare law. Of course we need lawyers to represent those in every section of society in all sorts of fields. The fact remains that there is less for lawyers to do and inevitably there will be fewer lawyers to do it. It is important that the profession maintains high standards but I do not think that I can comment on numbers in particular chambers.
My Lords, getting back to social welfare law, the Minister will be aware of the report of the commission, which I had the honour to chair, on the future of advice and legal support on social welfare law. One of the chief recommendations of that report was that the Government should develop a national strategy for advice and legal support in England and that there should be a Minister for advice and legal support within the MoJ with a cross-departmental brief to lead the development of such a strategy. Will the Government give serious consideration to the early implementation of that recommendation?
I am indeed aware of the noble Lord’s commission and its report on the future of advice and legal support on social welfare law. Indeed, I answered a debate on the subject on 25 February this year. As I told the House, we keep the position under review and are keen that there should be effective mechanisms to help individuals. However, it was made clear in the Cabinet Office review of the not-for-profit social welfare advice sector that while the Government accept the role they have in supporting the sector there is a need for the sector to adapt to the new funding realities. Indeed, that was very much acknowledged in the noble Lord’s report and during the course of contributions made in that debate.
My Lords, I, too, should like to make reference to the Low commission. The church, faith communities and charities are all too keenly aware of the impacts of some of the cuts in legal aid on the poorest communities in our country. Sometimes a professional lawyer is needed. Would the Minister still regard the proposals of the Low commission for a nationally resourced strategy to provide support and legal advice as an important priority?
My Lords, as I said in response to the debate, it was a valuable contribution. The LASPO reforms were implemented only in April 2013; it is relatively early days. We are considering carefully the effects of these reforms. We have not ruled out the possibility of further changes but, at the moment, the various steps we are taking are helping to ensure that those who need representation are receiving it.
My Lords, with regard to DLA, is the Minister aware that if an appellant submits a paper hearing there is something like a 20% success rate, if the disabled person attends there is something like a 40% success rate at tribunal, but if they have legal advice, there is something like a 60% success rate? Does this not mean, in all fairness, that legal advice denied is justice denied?
My Lords, I obviously cannot comment on individual cases. It may be that cases with lawyers proceed only if lawyers have advised that there are reasonable prospects of success. As to those cases which fail, I do not accept that the tribunals are not able to do justice in the absence of lawyers. Most of the tribunal members are extremely well trained. They are capable of eliciting the facts. Simply to say that there cannot be justice without lawyers is, with respect, simplistic.
Will my noble friend accept that those of us who supported these changes because of the large sums spent on legal aid in this country as compared with other countries would still be concerned to ensure that what we thought was going to happen is happening? Is he aware that many of us feel that rather than waiting five years before we have the kind of assessment which is surely necessary, as we are dealing with the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, we really ought to look at this rather earlier?
My Lords, I share my noble friend’s concern, as do the Government. My answer was “within five years”, and I take note of what he says: that five years might be regarded as too long. Nevertheless, I am sure he would agree with me that we need time to assess these matters, particularly in view of the fact that before April 2013 there was a spike in the number of applications so as to take advantage of the old regime. It will take a little time to assess the true effects of the reform.
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 5, Schedule 1, Clause 6, Schedule 2, Clauses 7 to 17, Schedule 3, Clauses 18 to 26, Schedule 4, Clauses 27 to 29, Schedule 5, Clause 30, Schedule 6, Clauses 31 to 40, Schedule 7, Clauses 41 and 42, Schedule 8, Clauses 43 to 60, Schedule 9, Clause 61, Schedule 10, Clauses 62 to 71, Schedule 11, Clauses 72 to 78.
European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Iraq) Order 2014
European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Mongolia) Order 2014
European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Philippines) Order 2014
European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Vietnam) Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Legal Services Act 2007 (Approved Regulator) Order 2014
Legal Services Act 2007 (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) (Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys) Order 2014
Legal Services Act 2007 (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums (Civil Sanctions) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this Bill contains important, sensible and proportionate measures to improve the regulatory regime in the UK in a wide range of areas. It is not a radical, wholesale overhaul of regulation. The coalition Government are not, of course, opposed to regulation. This Government believe in and will protect the sensible and necessary regulations that ensure that the safeguards are in place to protect people and the environment as well as to promote competition and economic growth.
However, if it is to protect the interests of consumers and the safety of the public effectively, regulation must be sensible and proportionate. In many areas in recent years, we have seen regulatory burdens grow out of all proportion, surpassing what is necessary and costing businesses and public services additional millions of pounds. The Government’s aim when coming into office was to reduce the administrative burden on business created by regulation, and to encourage enterprise, innovation and, most importantly, the creation of new jobs, which give this country long-term economic security.
In April 2011, the Prime Minister announced that this Government should be the first in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation rather than increased it. The one-in, one-out policy, and later the one-in, two-out policy were introduced as one of the major components of the Government’s strategy to achieve this aim, ensuring that the flow of new regulations is necessary, effective, justified and proportionate, in order to minimise unnecessary burdens on business.
The Red Tape Challenge was introduced in April 2011 to give business and the general public the opportunity to challenge the Government to get rid of unnecessarily burdensome regulations. More than 30,000 comments were crowdsourced online from individuals and businesses, harnessing the knowledge of those people faced with understanding and complying with these regulations. In the light of this public feedback, departmental policy leads presented a package of deregulatory proposals, which were then reviewed and challenged by Red Tape Challenge Ministers.
The intention was to reverse the default setting by asking departments to consider the legislation they are responsible for in a fundamentally different way. The starting point has been that regulation should be delivered in a non-regulatory way, unless there is good justification for the Government being involved. The Red Tape Challenge sought wide-ranging comment on a large number of regulations, from health and safety and environmental regulations, to housing and construction and insolvency law. The final report will be published towards the end of the Parliament, setting out the achievements made by the Red Tape Challenge and the one-in, two-out programmes in reducing the overall burden of regulation on business in this Parliament.
Looking to the future, legislation for new statutory deregulation targets was announced in the Queen’s Speech. This will require a target to be published for the removal of regulatory burdens in each parliamentary term, and for government to report transparently against that target. During the course of this Parliament, the Government have also invested a large amount of time in looking at how the agencies undertake the enforcement of these regulations, to ensure that they are measured and proportionate and not applied arbitrarily without thought to the impact on business.
The Deregulation Bill is thus a small but important part of the Government’s ongoing process of reducing the number of unjustifiable regulations. Much of what the Red Tape Challenge has done has been achieved by alterations to secondary legislation and administrative changes. However, during the course of the Red Tape Challenge process, many reforms were found that required primary legislation to fulfil. This Bill will create around £400 million in savings over 10 years and declutter the statute book of obsolete or confusing legislation. Those who have read all the way through to Schedule 20 will know that a number of 19th century statutes are repealed.
The Government believe that it is good housekeeping to review and tidy the statute book to make it easier for the users of the law. Several pieces of legislation were identified through the Red Tape Challenge as being no longer of practical use. The Government are using the opportunity of the Deregulation Bill to repeal those obsolete laws. This is in addition to the excellent work done by the Law Commission through its statutory law of repeal process, which principally focuses on repealing primary obsolete legislation.
The Bill was first published in draft and underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which reported in December 2013. I look forward to his contribution to this debate, as well as those of three other members of that committee: the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Naseby. The Joint Committee welcomed the concept of the Bill, saying it hoped that there would be more of the same sort in the future. The Joint Committee also suggested that the Bill could benefit from the addition of some more substantial items when it was introduced.
The Government accepted the primary recommendations of the Joint Committee and have added 30 new clauses to the Bill. The Bill was introduced to the other place in January of this year as a carryover Bill. It underwent extensive consideration in Committee and two days of debates on Report before being passed to this House.
Some of the key measures in the Bill are as follows. Clause 1 exempts self-employed people from Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, except those who are on a list of high-hazard industries or activities, which will be set out in regulation. The proposed change emanates from a recommendation made by Professor Löfstedt in his review of health and safety and will exempt around 2 million self-employed people from the health and safety legislation that is unnecessary for the work activities they are undertaking.
Clause 2 removes the power from employment tribunals to make wider recommendations to employers in discrimination cases. These have been identified by businesses as a burden and are often surplus to requirements because businesses, keen to avoid further tribunals, often undertake the necessary actions without any such recommendations needing to be made.
Clauses 3 to 5 implement some of the key recommendations of the Richard review, simplifying what apprenticeships are and the process by which they are developed and awarded, and providing the legislative basis for a new payment system to route funding directly to employers so that they are more responsive to their needs.
Clauses 21 to 26 implement the recommendations of the independent stakeholder working group on unrecorded rights of way that require primary legislation. They are part of a carefully balanced package of reforms that is supported by the full range of interests on rights of way, from the Ramblers to the Country Land and Business Association. Some noble Lords may have seen the useful briefing from the Ramblers that reached my inbox this morning. It is a remarkable consensus around the particularly emotive and contentious but important issue of public rights of way.
The reforms will make the procedures for recording or changing rights of way more streamlined and flexible but will also give local authorities more scope to use their judgment in dealing with insubstantial or irrelevant applications and objections, and enable the development of locally negotiated solutions. They will help towards completion of the definitive map and statement by the cut-off date, in current legislation, of 2026. There are also provisions to enable the right to apply for an extinguishment or diversion to be extended to all landowners, while enabling any public funding expended in that process to be recovered in full where an application is solely in the landowner’s interest. The provisions fit broadly with the Government’s aim of reducing regulation, of smaller government and of giving more power to local authorities and local people to resolve disputes.
Clauses 29 to 34 relate to housing and development matters. These include: reinstating the original qualifying period of three years for right to buy; relaxing restrictions on Londoners to rent out their homes for less than three months at a time; introducing a regime of optional building requirements for local authorities to support the Government’s housing standards review; and a clause addressing an unexpected judgment related to tenancy deposits.
Clauses 35 to 40 remove some of the outdated burdens relating to transport legislation, bringing legislation into line with practice; for example, removing the requirement on local authorities to seek permission from the Secretary of State to establish, alter or remove zebra crossings. This section also includes measures limiting the use of CCTV when issuing parking fines by post and removes the automatic reopening of formal investigations of marine accidents when new evidence, however trivial, comes to light.
Clause 43 removes the criminal sanctions which currently apply when householders make mistakes presenting waste for collection. A civil penalty regime will exist instead when a householder fails to comply with requirements and this causes harm to the local amenity. The Government believe this to be a more proportionate course of action.
Clauses 45 to 48 change the nature of child trust funds to bring them into line with the arrangements of the much more widely used junior ISAs.
Clauses 52 to 59 make reasonable and rational alterations to the regulations around alcohol and entertainment which have been discussed on a number of occasions in this Chamber since I became a Member. These include sensible changes such as removing the requirement on community film clubs to obtain a licence to exhibit films, while maintaining all the regulations related to age-related restrictions; and creating a new light-touch form of authorisation under the Licensing Act 2003 for community groups and certain businesses to sell small amounts of alcohol. This section also commits the Government to undertake a review of the alternatives to criminal sanctions for non-payment of TV licences.
Clauses 79 to 81 make some changes to legislation to make it easier for users of law. These are the power to spell out dates in legislation, enacting part of the Government’s good law initiative by creating a power to combine different forms of subordinate legislation, and a power to use ambulatory references for international shipping instruments.
Clauses 83 to 86 create a statutory duty for non-economic regulators to consider economic growth when carrying out their functions. This duty will be supplementary to, and will not supplant, the regulators’ other statutory obligations. It will make them take economic growth into account as they exercise their regulatory functions. Guidance on this has just been published. I hope that a copy has reached the Opposition Front Bench. There is a copy available in the Library.
The wide-ranging nature of the Bill should emphasise the Government’s comprehensive consideration of all areas of regulation to ensure that regulation is proportionate and necessary. Most of the measures are relatively technical and not politically contentious. No doubt we shall be told in the course of Second Reading that some are considered contentious. As such, this is an important step towards relieving businesses, individuals and public sector organisations of unnecessary administrative burdens, freeing them up to pursue economic growth for Britain without excessive regulation. The Government look forward to the detailed and expert scrutiny that this House can offer. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
I thank the Minister for introducing the Deregulation Bill today and look forward to the many speeches to come. With more than 30 noble Lords listed to speak, I am sure that every clause and schedule will get some attention as we start what I suspect will be a long job, stretching out, perhaps, until the end of the year. We intend to scrutinise very carefully this rather mixed bag that the Government have put before us. I am joined on the Front Bench for the majority of the Bill by my noble friends Lady Hayter and Lord Tunnicliffe, but others will have to come in with their expertise on areas of the Bill.
I join the Minister in thanking noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, particularly its chair, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lady Andrews. It has clearly improved considerably since its first publication. Indeed, we will hear reference in the debate to how much change there has been, since, as the Minister said, some 30 new clauses have been added since the Bill left the Commons. That suggests that, in some senses, the pre-legislative scrutiny could only have partial effect, sadly, since a lot of the Bill, almost 30%, has emerged since it finished its work.
Although the name of the Bill is the Deregulation Bill, it contains a number of measures which would properly be regarded as re-regulation. It might be helpful at some point if the Minister could explain precisely, perhaps by means of a chart—he is good at these things—what is deregulatory, what is re-regulatory and what is simply shifting burdens around the various places that have to undertake them. That would be helpful to us as we progress through the Bill.
I am sure that your Lordships’ House enjoyed the Minister’s attempt at making this Bill sound central to future economic growth. However, I hope that it will not come as too much of a surprise to him if I tell him that deregulating the sale of knitting yarns, freeing our children to buy their own chocolate liqueurs, decriminalising household waste and abolishing dog collars are not measures that are going to generate jobs or deliver prosperity. If your Lordships will forgive me for saying it, some of the clauses and schedules are barking mad.
People up and down the country are being hit by the cost of living crisis as their wages do not rise at the same rate as prices, yet instead of measures to stimulate the economy, the Government give us this Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills—forgetting, of course, that one of the few things that are not dealt with in it are Christmas trees.
All Governments have a duty to reduce unnecessary regulation at every opportunity, but unfortunately this Government’s approach to regulation is simplistic. Smart regulation underpins fair markets and can level the playing field for small firms and new entrants—the very people and businesses that create new jobs and prosperity. Smart regulation saves lives. For example, it is a matter of great pride for all of us that the 2012 Olympic infrastructure was built without the loss of one life. Regulation played a part in that. The men and women working on those construction sites knew the value of having clear health and safety regulations in place.
Smart regulation can help to drive innovation and growth. Yes, regulation is a concern for some businesses, but most sensible business people understand that rules are needed to protect people’s safety and rights, promote competition and prevent employers being undercut by those who do not play by the rules. As the Federation of Small Businesses has noted, the concerns of business are often more about how regulations are developed and introduced, how they are enforced, and the existence of duplication and overlapping rules that waste their time.
When in power, Labour sought to reduce regulation by introducing the Better Regulation Commission and an ongoing better regulation programme, and made a number of legislative changes to reduce the cost of regulation. Our programmes for simplifying regulation delivered £3 billion of savings to business per year. In contrast, the impact statement for the draft Bill estimated that it would save businesses and civil society a mere £10 million over 10 years, although the Minister has said that the figure is now £400 million over 10 years. Perhaps he could outline where the additional savings have come from. These figures underline that, while we all agree that unnecessary regulation can be a burden on business, a sensible approach to deregulation is about more than repealing one or two minor statutes.
By my count, the 86 clauses in, and 20 schedules to, the Bill cover at least 12 major Whitehall departments, and some measures apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are some proposals in this rag-tag hotchpotch of a Bill that are welcome and that we do not oppose. However, there are some rather disturbing proposals hidden beneath the knitting yarn and the piles of redundant dog collars which we will vigorously oppose.
There are fresh attacks on employment rights, with the removal of yet more powers from employment tribunals. Those are measures that the Government’s own impact assessment claims will have a negligible effect on businesses or may even cost them money. We will not support any new attacks on hard-working people.
I turn to the first part of the Bill. Exempting self-employed people in certain industries from health and safety regulations will simply create confusion about who is covered and who is not. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is opposed to that, calling it,
“a very short-sighted and misleading move, it won’t actually help anyone; it won’t support business; but it will cause general confusion”.
Even the Federation of Small Businesses, which supports the change in principle, says that there is a question mark over how effective this clause will be, as it crucially depends on how well drafted and extensive the “prescribed description” list is. We understand that the HSE will consult on this later this year, but I put it to the Minister that it will be impossible to proceed to scrutinise this clause if we do not know precisely what the prescribed list contains. The draft that we have seen raises more questions than it solves. I hope the Minister will ensure that we have a complete list by the time we get to the Committee stage.
As the Minister mentioned, the Bill will also remove employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations to employers who have been judged to have discriminated against someone unlawfully. Such recommendations are only advisory, but they promote good working practice. Why are the Government trying to limit the ability of tribunals to make observations which might help to drive up standards? What are they afraid of? The House of Commons Library considered the impact assessment for that measure and found that, despite the Minister labelling it deregulatory and counting it as an “out” under the Government’s arbitrary one-in, two-out system, business will incur a cost as a result of the removal of the power. What sort of Government proudly propose a deregulatory measure that actually costs businesses money?
Building on Labour’s progress in government, the Bill seeks to introduce a growth duty on regulators, as the Minister explained. This duty will compel them to “have regard” to the promotion of economic growth when carrying out their functions and to carry them out in a necessary and proportionate way. We support the aims behind this duty and clearly the additional principle that regulators should go about their business in a proportionate way. I received a letter from the noble Lord this morning together with some draft guidance. I thank him for that. But I have not had time to absorb it or check whether it covers our concern that the duty does not inhibit or contradict the primary function of any regulator, particularly those dealing with social issues and the EHRC.
We have concerns about other parts of the Bill. Housing is a critical part of the cost of living crisis for families up and down the country, so should there not be a coherent, long-term approach, rather than ad hoc tinkering? The number of homes built for social rent has fallen to just over 7,700, the lowest in 20 years—indeed, since records began—and a fall of 75% from 2009-10. At the same time, the Government have pledged to replace housing sold under the right to buy, but there is mounting evidence that they are failing to ensure that this actually happens. In light of this, why do the Government refuse to undertake a review of the effectiveness of the current right-to-buy system and the impact that their right-to-buy policy is having on the supply of affordable housing? What is the rationale for the change in planning requirements for offering short-term lets in London, which may have fire and personal safety implications?
The decriminalisation of waste will apparently reduce the regulatory burden on households, but it may increase the burden on local authorities, and particularly affect their ability to reach their recycling targets. We have been told, in a helpful note by the councils, that operating standard collection arrangements is crucial to helping councils and residents further increase recycling levels to meet EU targets. Why remove that power? The Deregulation Bill also removes the offence, punishable by a £1,000 fine, of not complying with prescribed arrangements for refuse collection and converts this to a £60 civil penalty. The current arrangements are used proportionately and principally as a deterrent by councils. The proposed civil fine will not serve as an effective deterrent and will undermine the work of councils to encourage and support residents to increase recycling rates. The new trigger for a penalty is that the resident’s behaviour is,
“detrimental to any amenities of the locality”.
That is a novel test, with no legal precedents to define it. It almost certainly would not allow a council to enforce, for example, recycling arrangements which may be needed to get best value for money from a waste collection contract.
Speaking of fines, we will want to discuss in some detail the thinking behind the Government’s proposals to decriminalise failure to pay the licence fee collected by the BBC. We agree that it makes sense to consider this issue in the round, but we want to be assured that the terms of reference for the review will be debated in both Houses of Parliament and that the results of the review will feed into the charter and licence fee discussions and not be separated from that process.
We will look closely at the measures in the Bill to deregulate taxis and public hire vehicles outside London. The Government’s proposed reforms to the taxi and minicab trade will enable people without a minicab licence to drive one when it is “off duty”, end annual checks on drivers’ licences, and allow minicab operators to subcontract bookings to other firms in other areas. There has been widespread criticism of the Government’s last-minute decision to insert these reforms into the Deregulation Bill. Campaigners, industry bodies and unions are also warning that these changes will have severe safety implications, as local councils do not have the powers to enforce the changes safely.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety, has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide,
“greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women”.
The Local Government Association has said that,
“it is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans”
to ensure passenger safety. All this when we have now received the major review that the Law Commission has been carrying out since 2011 on taxi and private hire deregulation. The law as it stands—both in London and Plymouth with its bespoke legislation, and in the rest of England and Wales with its different legal framework—is built on the premise of broadly local trade in local areas and allows each local authority to regulate the taxi and private hire trade in its own area. Crucially, it gives local enforcement officers sufficient powers to enforce the existing law over the drivers, vehicles and operators in each respective area.
The report of the Law Commission, which specifically considered deregulatory measures, would set up new trading conditions, freeing private hire operators and drivers to work in a national environment, and for both taxis and the private hire industry to compete on a pricing basis that the public would understand. However, it also proposed making sufficient changes to the enforcement regime such that local authority enforcement officers, in particular, specially trained stopping officers, would have new powers to enforce the proposed legislation over vehicles, drivers or operators, regardless of whether they were registered in their licensing authority area or had come from outside.
We have a strange situation. The Bill’s proposals, which were introduced without proper consultation, will have to be repealed when DfT brings forward, as it intends to do, the Law Commission proposals. That begins to look more like a response to special pleading than a genuine attempt to deregulate. I thought that this was a deregulatory Bill, not a double regulation Bill.
The Bill contains a controversial blanket ban on the use of CCTV for parking offences, something that the LGA, the British Parking Association, cycling groups, head teachers and charities representing blind and disabled people have argued against, while businesses and motoring groups offered mixed responses, with some motoring groups calling the ban a retrograde step and some businesses stressing that CCTV could remain beneficial at particular times and on particular occasions.
We will be supporting the proposals in the Bill for public footpaths. The present system for recording public paths on definitive maps is not operating with the speed and efficiency needed to ensure that all the rights of way are properly recorded, which would give certainty to all.
Finally, as we are out walking, I come back to dogs. Noble Lords will be aware of the old filmmaking saw, which said that you should aim never to work with children or animals. I wonder whether that holds true for legislation too. I have a strong feeling that this part is going to cause an awful lot of trouble. At the moment, dogs must always be sold with a collar and tag. The Government announced in February 2013 that they were going to introduce micro-chipping for all dogs in April 2016. The provision in the Bill, however, will create an 18-month gap between when the Bill is passed and when those rules come in. The LGA opposes the clause on animal welfare grounds. If a dog becomes lost at present, anyone who finds it is able to read the information on its collar. Members of the public will not be able to read a microchip and determine where an animal belongs. That will make it harder for members of the public to contact owners when they come across a stray dog and increase the likelihood that people will deliver stray dogs to councils. That would constitute a new burden and would surely need to be fully funded. Is that another spending commitment in a time of austerity? That is yet another nonsensical policy in this rather disjointed Bill. The Government seem to have been caught out on an unworkable proposal permitting dogs to be sold without collars before their own compulsory micro-chipping requirements have been introduced.
Good regulation protects consumers’ and employees’ rights, ensures that our industries play their part in moving to a green and sustainable future, keeps citizens safe and saves lives. It is important that it is effective and enforceable. Challenges arise when ill-thought through regulation has unforeseen consequences or is interpreted bureaucratically and inflexibly. It is fair to say that the overall reaction to the Bill has been underwhelming—lukewarm at best. Ministers are delighted with it, but that is because it seems to be about removing burdens as much on Ministers as on business. By my count, half the proposals in the Bill will take away burdens from Ministers and the Government, and fewer than half will remove them from business.
Once again, the Government’s rhetoric extends far beyond their reach. When we get into Committee, and on Report, the Opposition will seek to remove or amend the iniquitous clauses in the Bill and to improve the others. We look forward to the journey.
My Lords, it is strange having a Second Reading debate when the principles of the Bill seem fairly straightforward and the argument will all be over the detail of the matters to be deregulated, which are more properly dealt with in Committee
The Liberal Democrats believe that regulation plays a vital legislative function and can be hugely important in protecting people, businesses and other interests, but we are critical of overcentralisation in our national Government and we certainly accept the need, particularly when recovering from a deep and damaging recession, to look critically at regulations to simplify and eliminate those which are over-complex and outdated. We know, too, that many of the jobs coming in the recovery are being created in the SME sector and among the self-employed. That is critical to future competitiveness, flexibility and creativity in our economy. We supported the Red Tape Challenge and the one-in, one-out system for new regulations and the extension to the one-in, two-out policy. We accept that free markets do not simply happen; we need regulation to ensure fair competition and free markets. Much has to be done to simplify and reduce regulation as standardisation is increasingly achieved in the EU.
The Government having focused on deregulation, the Bill is an inevitable consequence. We may argue in this House over some of the detail, but the direction and objectives we strongly share. There are a number of measures that we welcome and have strongly supported. One of the great successes of the coalition, building on the foundations left by the previous Government, has been the growth in apprenticeships, with more than 2 million created in five years at a time of strong economic adversity. The Bill seeks to put in place the new framework for delivering apprenticeships proposed by the Richard review. The review proposed a new, simplified structure of apprenticeships and funding to give employers a greater say in their structure and content. This new approved apprenticeship scheme means that apprenticeships will be delivered to a recognised standard, with the Government funding their part of the training aspects through HMRC. The Secretary of State will have the power to amend the apprenticeship standard agreed with employers. Flexible, more efficient and simpler administration will mean that authorities and employers can concentrate on updating apprenticeships and improving standards. We strongly support this measure.
I also support the efforts to help local communities run functions in their communities without undue regulation. It is obviously long overdue for us to look at the alcohol rules for these events. I give credit to the Minister in the Home Office, Norman Baker, who has helped to push through some of these reforms in the Bill. The sale of limited alcohol at community events is to be deregulated. The exhibition of films in community premises not requiring a licence, as it does currently, may be a small measure but is clearly long overdue. The deregulation will encourage community participation and, indeed, promote our creative industries.
We also support the whole complex deregulation on rights of way. I expect the devil is in the detail. I suspect more differences will be revealed as we go on. However, we clearly needed to ease the process of recognising public rights of way and dealing with registering historic rights of way, which now seems to have the support of the principal stakeholders. Therefore, we support deregulation in this area.
There are, however, some matters that will need attention when we get to the detail. Health and safety has already been mentioned. With the growth of self-employment, we need to make sure that the new provisions excluding the self-employed, except those in dangerous occupations, do not simply create greater complexity rather than give a general commitment to good health and safety practice. We need to look at the detail of this and be convinced by it. On the right to buy, there is no great principle at stake in reducing the qualifying period from five to three years, although I think we probably would have preferred to see how the current measures stand up over time. However, we do not want to see social-needs housing simply become a way of finding an incentive to home ownership. The objective of that housing should be to serve social needs. The key issue is whether we will use the proceeds from the social housing sold to add to the housing stock, rather than diminish the social housing stock as we have done over the past 30 years, except in the past couple of years of this Government.
On the licence fee, clauses provide for an appropriate review of penalties for non-payment. We accept that it is a review but we are not necessarily being committed to how that will be done in the future. Ideally, it should be done at the same time as the charter review. The key should be to look at how any new system can improve on the current low level of evasion and reduce the £111 million cost of collection. The BBC cannot stop people using its services without paying the licence fee, unlike its competitors, such as Sky. We should be aware that if the BBC reverts to the utilities’ record of dealing with bad debt, it will lose £200 million of revenue.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to reducing and simplifying unnecessary regulation. It is needed to improve the country’s competitive advantage and that should be a preoccupation of all elements of government and, indeed, the country as a whole, particularly in relation to small businesses, which often hold the burden of regulation. This is one small step to grasp the need for simpler legislation, which does not hold back the creative and dynamic aspects of small businesses. Small steps will help but we will need many more.
My Lords, I think that I need to begin with an apology. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for drawing our attention to matters relating to dog collars. I was not going to refer to them but I will make sure that one of my colleagues does when we get to Committee.
I have no more interest than any other Member of this House in regulation for its own sake. In fact the New Testament, on the principle that,
“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”,
specifically warns people against submitting to unnecessary regulations in matters of religion. This is something on which I will comment when we get to York later this week for the meeting of the General Synod.
In the same spirit, I welcome many of the provisions in this very miscellaneous Bill. The exemption of members of the Sikh community from the requirement to wear safety helmets in carefully defined circumstances has been consistently asked for by that community—and since the Health and Safety Executive supports it, so do I. The additional test required from driving instructors with a disability is unnecessary: every applicant should be tested for their suitability to do the job on the same basis. Many other provisions update past legislation on the basis of change in technology or of circumstances. The fact that we can use more sophisticated and reliable equipment to test drivers for drink or drugs at the roadside, for example, is very welcome, and it is reasonable to permit healthcare professionals, for whom this sort of work is normal in other professional contexts, to carry out such tests.
I will comment on the closing of prisons, even though I am the bishop for a county in which there is not a single prison. The removal of the requirement for a statutory order to close a prison, when none is needed to open one, is logical enough. However, we should not let this pass without observing that closing a prison is not a trivial matter, in at least two respects. First, the present wave of prison closures is shutting long-standing smaller prisons with a strong track record of working constructively with offenders and building instead large establishments, whose physical fabric is doubtless much superior to the old buildings but whose effectiveness in actually reducing reoffending is, to say the least, unproven.
Secondly, closing prisons has a real and often negative effect on the communities in which the prisons are set. There are cities where the closure of a prison has not only cost jobs but worsened planning blight in that area. There are also rural communities that have been hard hit by short-notice closures.
Some would regard any relaxation of rules about alcohol as a bad thing. As has been commented already, the small revisions in this Bill to the licensing arrangements for the sale of alcohol at informal and irregular community occasions seem a prudent step, which will not catapult church halls irresistibly into the centre of the excesses of the night-time economy.
I also welcome the measures on rights of way. These will help to retain and protect indefinitely those rights of way that have existed for centuries but do not necessarily appear on the definitive map. I am much less enthusiastic, however, about the removal in Schedule 19 of a requirement to consult statutory bodies such as Natural England when proposing new by-laws, orders or regulations. No longer will there be a requirement to consult,
“bodies whose statutory functions include giving advice to Ministers on matters relating to environmental conservation”.
In total, there are 15 instances of the removal of the statutory duty to consult, but very few of these proposals relate to obsolete bodies or legislation.
There are two aspects of the Bill which may be moving deregulation in the wrong direction. First, as has been said, there is the removal from employment tribunals of the power to make “wider recommendations”. The task of the tribunal would be solely to respond to the situation of the particular person in front of it. If there were any evidence that tribunals had exceeded their natural remit by ranging over issues remote from the one brought to them, there might be cause for concern. There seems to be no such evidence.
If some injustice done to a particular employee is found not to be a one-off event but to be due to an element of unfairness built into a policy or practice of the organisation, the most economical way to deal with that is for the employment tribunal to point it out. For example, if an employee has a just complaint of direct discrimination, the tribunal may well deal with that as an isolated incident. If, however, the case is one of indirect discrimination, it is most likely that there is something wrong embedded in the way in which the organisation works. This clause would prevent the tribunal from making a sensible recommendation in such a case. It is unclear how such a point, made at an early stage by an employment tribunal, could amount to an illegitimate burden on a business when it may well remove the need for a more complex resolution of the problem further downstream.
Clauses 73 to 76 impose a duty on regulators to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. I have great respect for the judgment and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, to whose report these proposals owe their origin, and his concern that regulatory functions should not place any unnecessary check on economic growth. Nevertheless, the integrity and independence of regulators is important. They come in many varieties, of course, but at least some of them stand for objective principles of justice, in many cases articulated in international law, and all of them must have regard to law. For many of them, also, their independence is important, so a Bill that gives Ministers the power to issue guidance on how regulatory functions can be exercised so as to promote economic growth looks like a prima facie compromising of independence.
Of course I am not suggesting that anyone in this House regards economic growth as good in all cases. A burgeoning industry in illegal drugs would be agreed by all not to be good—but what about, for example, growth in the alcohol industry or the tobacco industry? Judgments here would be more nuanced. Then there is the gambling industry. Current government policy tends to see the gambling industry primarily as an engine of economic growth. To place the Gambling Commission, for example, under a statutory duty of this kind is questionable. In general, the question of whether or to what extent a particular type of economic activity is a legitimate driver of economic growth is a moral one that should not just be subsumed under a catch-all principle that regulators should promote economic growth. The prevention of damaging or unjust economic activity, surely, is equally germane to their mission.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, who raised some important issues, not least his final point about gambling. My general position is that one of the most effective actions that any Government can take is to look at the regulations that are in force to see if they are relevant in the modern day. It may be that they were entirely sensible 20, 30 or 40 years previously when they were introduced, but the question is whether today they still have the same force. It is not only that they may have no relevance; it may be that they also hold back business development and, above all, prevent the development of services that are to the benefit of the public.
I will give three very short examples from my own experience. When I was Transport Secretary in 1979, we had an elaborate system for controlling the provision of coach services up and down the country. If I wanted to run a coach service from Birmingham to London, I had to go to the traffic commissioners and ask for permission. Invariably my application would be opposed by British Rail and the National Bus Company on the grounds that they already had services. Frequently the traffic commissioners would find for them. In other words, the decision rested with the commissioners, not with the travelling public. We abolished those restrictions and the result has been a very fast-developing coach service in this country, which has meant a tremendous addition in cheap coach travel, particularly for young people, up and down the land.
The second example is that when I was Health Secretary, we reviewed the regulations governing opticians. Competition was limited. It all seemed very much, frankly, to the benefit of the optician and not of the customer. Again, we deregulated, with the effect that today there is a very competitive market, which is also to the benefit of the public.
The third example is perhaps the best known: the abolition of the regulations and restrictions of the Dock Labour Scheme, about which my noble friend Lord Brabazon also knows a great deal. I do not doubt the original intention and justification, but the days of exploitation of labour had gone, and the trouble was that the regulations were standing in the way of port development and new employment opportunities. I remember going to Liverpool and being told—lectured, perhaps—on the need for me to direct sea traffic to the Mersey. This was self-evidently not something which it was in my power to do, but what we could do was to take away the restrictions. The result was that new business has developed in ports all round this country. We have seen an utter transformation of that industry.
I am, therefore, a great supporter of sensible deregulation—and, indeed, in one or two areas, which perhaps we can come to in Committee, I would go further. It encourages jobs when all too often regulation destroys them. As far as I can judge, the vast majority of the measures in this Christmas tree Bill—and I agree with that description—will be beneficial to the public. It is the interests of the consumer that must always be pre-eminent.
Having set out my belief, I have two questions. The first is on health and safety. I acknowledge that the Government have sought to be careful here, but I am concerned that too much of the public debate starts from the premise that health and safety legislation is almost by definition unnecessary. I dispute this. For many years I worked in the aggregates industry. In the 1930s quarries were notorious for their accident record. Even in the postwar years their record was not particularly good.
The irony was that, all too often, the injuries concerned people who were trying to help; they were trying to get into motion a machine that had stuck and were then drawn into it. What was needed was a culture of safety. To its great credit, the industry has taken giant steps to respond to that. When I was chairman of one company and then on the board of an international company, health and safety was the first issue on the agenda, before profits and the results of that particular month or quarter.
I think that, if we believe in wider share ownership for the benefit of staff, we should be in favour of measures to protect the safety of staff. The Government say that their measures will not harm safety. I say only that, in Committee—and I echo one or two points that have been made—we should be given more information on the self-employed occupations that will be excluded by this legislation.
My noble friend Lord Gardiner will not be in the least surprised that my second question concerns measures to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee. The most obvious question about that is, “What on earth is it doing in this Bill in the first place?”. We have a whole period of debate on the future of the licence fee and all the other broadcasting issues that go with the royal charter.
The Government’s reply is that we cannot wait, but when it comes to the future of the BBC Trust, virtually everybody agrees that it is a completely outdated and, dare I say it—well, “useless” may be putting it a bit high, but it is certainly an outdated body.
Yes; I said “useless”. We are told that we cannot consider that, and that we will go ahead with the appointment of a new chairman for a body which, self-evidently, has the executioner’s axe hanging over it.
The process of change here is not beyond criticism. We set up a review of an unspecified nature, and then, depending on the review—the result of which, obviously, we know nothing whatever about—we delegate to the Secretary of State the power to change the law, not by primary legislation but by regulation. However well intentioned this clause may be, I do not believe that giants of the past such as Enoch Powell or Michael Foot would have approved of it as a measure and as a way of developing legislation in this House.
Therefore, self-evidently, there is much to discuss in Committee. Indeed, you might say that the Bill provides the whole justification for this House, because we have the time to do that while quite clearly the other House does not. As I said, I strongly approve of the direction of travel of the Bill, but I also register that the detail deserves careful scrutiny and debate.
My Lords, I was very pleased to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill between October and December last year, because I was coming to the end of my four years on the Food Standards Agency, so I had not done much committee work in the House. I volunteered to do the job that nobody else wanted to do, and that was the one that came up. However, I must record that in my view and that of members of the committee, the Joint Committee received the most exceptional support from the clerks in both Houses, and we let their respective bosses know about that at the end of our deliberations.
By and large, I am pleased with the Government’s response to the report. The Joint Committee ceased to exist once it had reported on 16 December last year, so I only speak for myself on the Bill. Ministers removed and amended material, and carried out further consultations as recommended by the Joint Committee. The key removal was of the massive Henry VIII clause, which was described as an outstanding example of its type, and which would have caused your Lordships’ House much waste of time. The lawyers and the constitutionalists would have loved it, but it would have been a complete and utter waste of time. It is not there any more. It was a bit cheeky that it was in the Bill in the first place; Ministers and civil servants need to be on notice not to try to bypass Parliament again in the way they tried in the draft Bill. I do not say that out of any romantic attachment to the House of Commons, as the Minister patronisingly implied the previous time I spoke, but because that is not a good way to do legislation. That is the fact of the matter with Henry VIII clauses.
I will refer to just a handful of matters in this Christmas tree Bill. It is true that, unlike most Bills, the Long Title allows Members to hang any subject they like on this one. If the House of Commons was full of campaigning Members of Parliament at the present time, they could have had a field day on economic, social and constitutional issues that could have lasted for months and months. However, it would be quite wrong for this House to do that, because we are unelected, and I will not give examples of the kinds of issues, because it will only give noble Lords ideas. I would have liked to have done some of that myself, but the opportunity was not taken by the elected House, so the chance has been lost.
The Joint Committee concentrated on areas we had submissions on—several hundred of them, although half were on the rights of way issue, which is a separate issue. Our view was that if that was amended in any way and dealt with again, it should be a separate Defra Bill. We think the package in the Bill should be maintained, because it is an agreed one, which is important.
There should be two procedures to assist our scrutiny as the Bill comes to this House. They are not new; I raised them before the previous general election. First, we should have a list of subjects that have been added to the Bill after pre-legislative scrutiny and which therefore have not been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, and confirmation that they have been consulted on. I do not think anything should be added to the Bill that has not had a consultation. It is quite right to add things after pre-legislative scrutiny, but they have to be consulted on. Secondly, a list of areas should be set out where the Commons, under the timetable of the Bill, has not done its work. It has not discussed much of the Bill. The draft Bill had 65 clauses; it now has 91. The draft Bill had 132 pages; it now has 204. As I said, I have no problem with extra subjects being added—I know at least one which I fully support that will be added by the Government and which has been subject to consultation. That is a key element.
Although this is not dealt with in the Bill, the Joint Committee had views on the use and abuse of the Law Commission, from which we took evidence. It was crystal clear that there was massive tension between the Law Commission and Ministers in the Cabinet Office. The plain fact is that Ministers in general take no interest at all in the Law Commission’s trawl tidying up Bills every three years. As such, the departments do not take any interest. For example, when the Law Commission did its trawl of departments in 2011, the legislation listed as being “no longer of practical use” in Schedule 20—originally Schedule 16—could have been offered up by the departments. Not a single subject in that schedule was offered by the departments because of uninterested Ministers and lazy Permanent Secretaries. However, in this case it is the result of Cabinet Office Ministers saying to their colleagues in other departments, “We want three or four subjects that are no longer of use and we want them in a Bill”. When Ministers do that for colleagues, the department then takes an interest because the Ministers are interested. We then end up with Schedule 20. That is not a good way to deal with legislation.
It appeared as though there was an attempt to bypass the Law Commission. I do not say that in a critical way, but that is what it looked like. I plead guilty, by the way, because I have been there, so I know what happens; there is some guilt there. The Law Commission has been doing this work for 60 years, and there is only one occasion when it recommend abolishing a subject that it later turned out was still in use. It has a good track record on this; both Houses trust the Law Commission. Can the Minister confirm whether the issues in Schedule 20 have been checked again?
I will briefly mention two or three points from the Bill. I strongly support non-economic regulators having to take growth into account. I accept there will be problems regarding the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, but the growth duty must complement and not override the regulator’s existing duties. That is what we were informed would be the case. At all times it is essential that consumer and public confidence is maintained in the relevant regulator.
I used an example in the committee from when I was at the Food Standards Agency—before the Bill saw the light of day. We constantly pointed out that we regulated on the basis of risk, not size. However, we had no problem embracing a growth duty, simply because the meat industry cannot export to Russia and China, for example, where requirements on abattoirs are greater than in the EU, unless the FSA has regulated and can sign off those businesses. We encouraged growth because we ensured those businesses conformed to the rules and requirements of, for example, the Russian Government. That was an important element. At another time we said no to the idea of stopping regulating kitchens in village halls. Kitchens in village halls can kill people if they are dirty, just as kitchens in large hotels can. It is not a question of size, but of risk. It can therefore be adequately embraced by non-economic regulators.
There are two or three other changes. I am coming to the end of my speech and I will be brief. We did not take any evidence on the clause on marine accident investigations. We ought to look at that a bit more closely as it goes through this House. We should look at removing the automatic duty to reorder a hearing in the light of new evidence. The cases of the “Gaul”, which sank in 1975 and was discovered in 1997, and the MV “Derbyshire”, which sank in 1980 and was found in 1994, are both highly relevant.
I shall not say much about health and safety, although we took a lot of evidence on it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I had an interest in this. My maiden speech in the other place 40 years ago was on industrial safety. All my experience had been in manufacturing industry, with people doing things wrong, guards not working and so on. I realise that that is not necessarily covered here but it is the culture that is important. I remember that I sat as a member of the Standing Committee on the health and safety Bill which resulted from the work of the Robens committee. Industry in this country had a disastrous record on safety in general. It has vastly improved over the years and we do not want to turn the clock back.
I do not think that the Government have got the legislation right on insolvency practitioners. Clearly there was a massive difference in the evidence from Ministers and from the insolvency profession. I do not think that the Bill should be left as it is, with three choices. In most cases, practitioners told us that they cannot work out what kind of case it will be until they start working on it. It might look like a private case but, at the same time, it might also be corporate. Therefore, there is a real problem and it will lead to confusion. This needs to be cleared up. I think that the Government have got it wrong here.
The Government have also been stubborn in Clause 61 in abolishing the powers of the Senior President of Tribunals to report on standards. Frankly, I think that tribunal standards ought to be reported on by the senior president so that Parliament knows whether the tribunals are up to the job. That work is not burdensome. Likewise, as has already been referred to, the Government have persisted in getting rid of the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations. I think that that is a mistake and that it ought to be looked at again.
As for the new material, the Government have only themselves to blame here. I am not complaining about the new material, but we have to do our job properly. This legislation will affect millions of people in their daily lives in very diffuse ways that cannot be pinned down because it is not just one piece of legislation that is relevant here. As we have heard, a massive amount will affect at least a dozen departments.
This House has to be given the opportunity and the time to do its job, particularly on the clauses not dealt with by the House of Commons due to the timetabling of legislation. That is not a complaint; it is the reality and it is what we are here for. We are a revising Chamber—we are not here to start this Bill—and this will be a really good test of whether we do our job properly. Whether we are elected or unelected does not make any difference.
My Lords, I very much echo the closing comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I begin by declaring my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. That is quite a substantial interest for this Bill because local authorities are the regulatory authority responsible for implementing many of these and other regulations. They have people with the detailed knowledge and experience on the ground of how well the regulations work or, as it quite often the case, how they do not work. Therefore, it is a significant interest and I suspect that it is going to take up a considerable amount of time in the months ahead.
Until May this year, I also had the huge pleasure of serving as a representative of European Union regional and local government on a European Commission body with the rather grand title of the High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens. It was intended to deal with the never-ending task of trying to reduce the regulatory burdens imposed by the European Union. I learnt quite a lot of things there but I learnt two in particular as we went from, first, the Better Regulation programme to Smart Regulation and, in my closing months, to Regulatory Fitness, known as REFIT. First, I learnt that, as the Minister said in his introduction, better regulation most certainly does not mean no regulation; it means appropriate regulation that is fit for purpose—and a purpose that is both necessary and proportionate. The other thing that I learnt was that somewhere there was always someone who thought that those regulations were necessary. Those people are still there and they still think that the regulations are necessary. There is always a reason for having regulations and there are always some people who think that they are good and necessary.
In the time available, I simply want to highlight just one or two causes of concern in the Bill. Overall, I certainly join my noble friend Lord Stoneham in welcoming the Bill. I know from my work in Brussels that the Red Tape Challenge—one in, one out and, even more particularly, the one-in, two-out process of the UK Government—was very much admired in the European Union. We spoke on it quite often and had presentations from the UK Government on its effectiveness. There were even attempts to try to introduce it to the European Commission, which was sometimes just a little less enthusiastic in its support.
I come from the point of view of welcoming the direction and intention of this Bill—there are many parts that we will certainly welcome—but, inevitably in debate and in Committee, we talk about those things on which we are less happy and rather more concerned. The ones that I particularly want to highlight in the few minutes available today start with Clauses 9, 10 and 11 and concerns over private hire measures. Here, I shall quote from a letter from the police and crime commissioner for Dorset to my honourable friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, who unfortunately received it just after the Bill left the House of Commons. The commissioner was alerted to the provisions by the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester and feels that,
“an unintended consequence of these measures is to potentially increase the risk of crime and incidents, such as serious assaults and thefts, following a night out”.
We can go into more detail on that in Committee, but he seeks support in lobbying for the removal of these clauses and,
“instead, for the introduction of a dedicated Taxi Bill along the lines proposed by the Law Commission. Their draft bill has been written after extensive research and consultation and would give the opportunity for much better scrutiny of major reforms of an important industry”.
I understand that it is now rather too late in this Parliament to be introducing such a substantive Bill as a draft taxi Bill, but I hope that the Minister will say in his reply why the Government have chosen not to do that and have instead introduced measures that at least two police and crime commissioners—and many others, I am sure—feel are deeply unsatisfactory and worrying.
The next clause about which I am concerned is Clause 34—I speak as one who, until May, had been a London councillor for 40 years—on the short-term use of London accommodation. I ask the Minister: who was consulted by the Government before they introduced that clause? I ask that in particular because the clause is opposed quite strongly by London Councils, the body representing all 32 London boroughs and the City of London. It is opposed quite strongly by Westminster City Council, arguably the one that will be most affected by these provisions. Reflecting on the financial incentives for engaging in short-term letting, it makes the point that in 2005 the rent that could be charged for a short-term let property was 273% higher than comparable rents for private sector rental properties. It is understandably very concerned about that. It is not only the London local authorities that are concerned about the provisions in this clause. I have had representations from the Bed and Breakfast Association and the British Hospitality Association. They are all concerned about the effect that this clause, if implemented as it stands, will have on the letting property market in London. This will need much more careful consideration in Committee.
In my last two minutes, I turn to two clauses that concern me: Clause 38 on parking and Clause 43 and Schedule 11 on waste collection. Anyone who has been a councillor for any length of time knows that the two subjects you never, ever touch within a year of an election are parking and waste collection. Why on earth are the Government interfering in these matters within a year of a general election? Despite that foolishness, I have to ask again about those two core activities—the core business of local authorities. Minister after Minister in all parties will say that it is local people who know best and that one size does not fit all. Why are the Government now trying to interfere and to regulate—never mind within a year of a general election—in these matters that are essential to local government?
My 40 years as a local councillor were spent representing a controlled parking zone in a town centre area vital to the local economy. We all know that one size does not fit all. That was in the London Borough of Sutton. It has a different regime from the Royal Borough of Kingston next door, or the London Borough of Croydon next door or indeed the London Borough of Wandsworth, which I know the Minister knows particularly well. Why are the Government interfering? What is the justification for this? We will go into it in very much more detail in Committee. However, as I think has been mentioned, the consultation from the Department for Transport on parking received a lot of responses, almost all of them hostile. On the issue of the CCTV ban, which this clause covers, six of the eight organisations responding—from the British Parking Association to cycling and disability groups—were strongly opposed to the Government’s proposed ban. Only two had a mixed reaction, one of which was from the motoring organisations, so even they were not unanimously agreed on the ban. We still do not know exactly what the exemptions are. It is difficult in this area to distinguish between what are actually government proposals and what has come from the Friday afternoon press release from the Secretary of State, preparatory presumably to his Friday evening in the pub, where most of these utterings seem rather better fitted than to legislation.
Waste collection again is causing considerable concern to local authorities, not least the likely increased cost and complexity of introducing these additional regulations. As has been said, this is a big deregulation Bill. I thought that the clue might be in the name. In fact we are proposing to introduce more regulation, which will make carrying out the essential task of waste collection more complex and more expensive. I know that my noble friend the Minister is, if anything, an even stronger localist than I am. I look forward in his closing speech to his justification for why these measures meet the test of proportionality and necessity.
My Lords, I, too, will comment on a small number of proposals in this Deregulation Bill and touch on two issues that are not in the Bill but are relevant to it. The first issue is the concern expressed by some other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate—Clause 1, which aims to limit the general duty on the self-employed to comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Only those who are definitely picked out would be covered by the Act in future if the Bill goes through.
As the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Rooker, have made clear, this is a pretty big change to the existing provisions and is a genuflection to those who consistently sneer at the health and safety culture, which may have its ludicrous moments from time to time but generally has served this country well. If you look at international league tables on, say, skills, health and safety, industrial relations or productivity, the one that Britain comes top in now is good health and safety. On the others we are languishing in a lower position than is comfortable. Therefore, this is an area of excellence and I pay tribute to all those who have done a good job in making it like that. It seems to me now that to give the self-employed the impression that they are going to be outside the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is a big error. A process of prescription would no doubt be controversial, rather costly and protracted. Different sectors will argue like mad about whether they should be in the scope of the Act. I think that more red tape rather than less is being introduced.
I am not alone in thinking that this prescribing will be onerous, so the effect of Clause 1 will, I think, be to remove most of the self-employed from the general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. I know other figures have been given but it is going to be quite a process arguing whether you are in or out. It will be confusing to the average self-employed worker who is thinking, “Am I covered, am I not covered?” and will be referred no doubt to a lawyer and to the subsections in a particular piece of legislation. I recognise that this was recommended by the majority of the Löfstedt review of health and safety regulation, but the subsequent consultation by the Health and Safety Executive has shown many to be against it, arguing that confusion and possibly increased risk will result.
The present system covers everybody. At least it is straightforward; it works. The message is, “Don’t take risks with other people’s health and safety—or, indeed, your own”. Under the Bill, will that change? Will the impression be different? It could well be, and many will not bother to take it quite so seriously as they did in the past. Worse, people who control a workplace with many self-employed people—often bogus self-employed; they are doing the same jobs as employees—will tend to think that they have no duty of care and guess that they are exempt from the law. The most dangerous industries, such as agriculture and construction, have a high proportion of the self-employed. The confusion from this clause in those sectors could cause complacency and poor practice. The Government have today published a consultation on health and safety, proposing that construction becomes a prescribed industry, but the exact borders of that are not clear. I understand that already a lot of questions are being raised about it.
On self-employment in general, the fatality rate per 100,000 is already twice that of employees. Self-employment is rising quickly in this country: 9%—330,000—since 2008, while 40% of the new jobs that have been created since 2010 are self-employed. Going freelance has been very much the fashion, or maybe the only option, for many. The increase has been marked in all sorts of occupations that you do not associate with self-employment or freelance working: admin, secretarial work, sales and customer service and, perhaps more traditionally, personal service occupations. It would be naive to think that all these people were budding entrepreneurs. Many of them are the bogus self-employed, relieving an employer of his obligations under PAYE, national insurance, pensions and employment law, with many of the workers concerned thinking that they are going to get a tax advantage out of being self-employed. This measure could be a further incentive to go self-employed, or to be forced to give up employee status. It is wrong and it could be dangerous. It is encouraging to see Members of the House on all sides raising questions about this. I hope that the Government will consider these representations seriously.
There is a complete change with my next concern. Clauses 10 and 12 on private hire cars and taxis were touched on by my noble friend Lord Stevenson. The purpose is to reduce the effects of the current rules that apply to taxis and private hire. I will not go into detail, but there will be more unlicensed and less controlled private hire and taxi drivers flooding the streets than before if this goes through. The risk, particularly to women travelling in cabs and taxis at night, is being highlighted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Local Government Association, Unite, the GMB and RMT, the main unions concerned with workers in this area. I ask the Government to take this threat, particularly to women, very seriously indeed.
The role of the local authority licensing body becomes much more difficult under these provisions. In a sense, one risk of deregulation is that you merely move the pinch point somewhere else. Licensing these people, and being responsible to a degree for what goes wrong in this area, will become a new industry if we are not careful. It would be a real problem.
I mentioned that I wanted to talk about a couple of things that are not in the Bill. I can do that very briefly. I was looking for the deregulation of trade unions. After all, as Members of the House will know, we are awash with scrutineers and assurers. The lobbying Bill added £500,000 to the costs of the average large trade union just recently. We are swamped with regulation. The fact that a strike is scheduled for later this week seems to have prompted the Conservative Benches to suggest all kinds of new regulations in relation to strikes, as if a law every two years on trade unions, when the Conservatives were in power, was not enough. I think that it would have been a very good idea to apply the Deregulation Bill to trade unions, but that does not seem to have crowded on to, at least, the Conservative Party’s agenda. I want to encourage them, in a genuine spirit of helpfulness, to go down that road. I do not even have to be consulted too much about it, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, suggested, if a new clause comes in.
On the second area, I am pleased to see that the Bill does not propose to make further changes to the Sunday trading rules. A big lobby has been pressing for provisions in the Bill and I am pleased to say that the Government, so far, have not accepted them. Long may that continue.
My Lords, I had the privilege of serving on the Bill committee under the superb chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I should also like to pay tribute to the clerks who backed us up. They did a superb job on a very tight schedule—we were given the best part of just over 12 weeks. The Government set us the target of reporting by Christmas. We stuck to that target and I think we did as good a job as any committee could hope to do in that time span. We recognised that this is a very important part of the Government’s programme. I pay tribute to the Ministers who gave evidence to us. I commiserate with the Minister who will take the Bill through in all its detail, but it is a very important part of the Government’s legislation and one that I greatly welcome.
However, something changed en route and it appears that, in reality, we looked at only two-thirds of the Bill at best. As someone who has been Chairman of Ways and Means in the other place, the situation jars with me when colleagues from all sides have worked extremely hard to take evidence, to listen to it, to reflect on and question it, and have proposed to the Government of the day that certain changes should be made. In fairness, the Government respond very positively in almost all areas to the committee’s evidence and recommendations. However, we then discover in Committee that a number of new clauses appear on the horizon, which get a fairly peremptory examination. Even more surprising, we discover on Report that new clauses appear in the Bill.
I must say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that, in all conscience, the Government are not being fair to the public, who justifiably want to give their voice on clauses that come forward, and I do not think the Government are being fair to Parliament as a whole. Inevitably, I suspect, that will mean that the Committee stage will take rather longer here than it otherwise would. Looking back on the previous Session, I seem to remember that we had to break early because there was no work to be done. The same applied at the other end. So I question why, when we had a perfectly good, succinct, tight Bill, the decision was taken to add other bits. Was it that certain departments of state were a bit slothful in coming forward or was it that Ministers got a little too enthusiastic? In future, I hope that there will be an annual Bill that is tightly drawn. As the noble Lord said in his introductory comments, it is the deregulatory dimension that we all want in Parliament, rather than the repositioning of existing legislation. I hope that can be really tightly drawn and stuck to. That way, across government as a whole, we would be doing the public a great service.
I will just mention three other areas. First, in the Law Commission, there is a body to review laws that are out of date. We took evidence and, frankly, we were somewhat aghast at how long it took to do its job. Parliament, particularly Ministers, should be putting pressure on the Law Commission to move faster. The Law Commission said to us that it did not have the resources to do it. If it is beneficial to the public, particularly the public purse, Ministers and the Law Commission need to sit down and find a way of making what is called the SLRs work better. We said in our original report that there should be an annual SLR Bill. I do not need an answer today—my colleagues and I would like the answer in writing—but my question is: have there been consultations with the Law Commission and, if so, what were the results of those deliberations?
Secondly, we received evidence from BALPPA, which regulates the leisure park industry in our seaside towns up and down the country. It gears up its programme of events, et cetera, to the school holidays. We questioned the association quite deeply because the Bill proposes that we should deregulate school terms. I am a grandfather, and there must be other grandfathers here, and fathers. Honestly, what we really want is predictability. If you have a boy and a girl, you want to know that they and their friends will be on holiday at the same time. I hope that we can have another look at that. Certainly, if you look at the evidence from the USA, where they deregulated around Labor Day, absolute chaos flowed and it adversely affected the tourism industries. I ask the Minister: has there been any economic assessment of the impact of deregulating school holidays on tourism jobs in the seaside areas? I think that is important.
My third point concerns the economic growth duty, which I spoke about at some length in the committee. I believe it is absolutely fundamental that every department of state thinks about the economic impact of what it does. That applies to the whole lot. We had what I would call some howls of protest from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, saying that we would be interfering with its role in life; in particular, it might be struck off the list in Europe. I totally fail to see how it would interfere with any of the human rights bodies if we—society—asked them to reflect at length on the impact of anything they do, propose or criticise. That is what we recommended in our report and it seems entirely justifiable from society’s point of view.
My Lords, I, too, had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee under the energetic leadership of my noble friend Lord Rooker. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. I agree with much of what he says but there are a few things that I will take issue with.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who is not in his place, put forward some very impressive examples of effective regulation but I think he would agree with me—and picking up what the Minister said—that what we have in the Bill is one of those exercises that Ministers and officials across Whitehall absolutely dread. The call to arms went out from the Cabinet Office: “Something more must be done about regulation so it is your job to find more examples of regulation and bring them forward”. At a long stretch, many departments did bring things forward, so amid the many useful things in the Bill—the Select Committee commended the Bill in many respects—we have a real mishmash of odd initiatives, ranging from fire, fuel and farriers to the defence of the grey squirrel and much else, as we have already seen. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, very eloquently put it, the Bill has proved an irresistible magnet for all manner of things which the committee never had a chance to look at and which the House will want to debate. These measures were shoved in without warning, consultation or thought for the implications for public safety and security, as my noble friend Lord Monks said. I am sure that this will be followed up by many noble Lords.
We make it very clear in our support for the Bill that we are in full support of proportionate regulation to enable enterprise of all sorts to flourish—who could not be? The Bill, however, suffers from being, in large part, opportunistic. Indeed, there are elements of the Bill, as we explored in our debate, about the cavalier treatment of Parliament itself. The Bill will benefit from close scrutiny from your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has already discussed the extraordinary Clause 51 in the draft Bill which would have given Ministers carte blanche to declare, by order, that certain legislation could be removed,
“if the Minister considers that it is no longer of practical use”.
Our evidence found that neither officials nor Ministers could tell us what on earth that clause actually meant, let alone what it would do; so, very sensibly, Ministers decided to throw it out. My only surprise was that the reason they gave was that there was no public appetite for it. I should have thought that that was the least reason, frankly.
A lot of fun went out of the committee when we lost that clause, but we still became very involved with the sorts of issues raised, for example, by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the Bill’s title and whether the Bill was, indeed, deregulatory in every respect. Decriminalisation as regards household waste, for example, is hardly deregulatory in a conventional sense. Likewise, we have examples in which the burden of regulation is simply shifted from one agency to another, as in some of the education clauses. My prime concern in this respect is in relation to the new duties that are created. I have to part company, sadly, with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, over the duty to promote growth in Clause 83. This, in a Bill which aims at decluttering, is a massive piece of new clutter.
I am grateful to the Minister for circulating the draft guidance, but can he tell us in the wind-up, in fewer words than Ministers tried to tell us in the Joint Committee, how, by creating a new duty, the Government are minimising the burden on public bodies? We do not need to be told in statute how important growth is, so why on earth is this in the Bill at all? Many regulatory bodies work within a remit that presumes and encourages growth, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has already pointed out. The regulator I know best, English Heritage, conducts its primary work of conservation within the balance of priorities established, after long debate, around sustainable growth as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
The committee has been assured, and the House was assured this afternoon, that the clause will not confuse or override existing requirements. However, where are the safeguards that regulators will not be hauled up to account for their lack of success or lack of sincerity in promoting growth? The draft guidance, which I was grateful to see, in fact leaves it to the regulators to decide for themselves where the balance lies. It states:
“The growth duty does not automatically take precedence over or supplant existing duties held by regulators—Section 2”.
What does “not automatically” mean in this context? In their response to the committee the Government said:
“The final guidance will be published at an early stage to support Parliamentary passage of the Deregulation Bill”.
Can we have an assurance that this will be available before Committee stage in the autumn?
In short, there is a real concern that this clause could cause genuine mischief. It could be used to pressurise bodies and distort their proper functions as well as creating additional burdens to demonstrate compliance. That is not just the non-economic regulators, which have a particular problem, but the economic regulators as well. The clue as to how the Government think it will work is what the Minister said in another place—that in the last resort a business will use judicial review. I am astonished by that. Not only is it a totally inappropriate expectation to build into the legislative process, it completely sidesteps the Government’s plans to emasculate judicial review that we in this House discussed only last week. Frankly, I would much rather all this be in the Bill, where we could see it with some security. I appeal to the Minister not to use this crude definition of growth but to go back to the tried and tested definition of sustainable growth, which has been worked out in practice and is so much more consistent and sensible. Otherwise we will be into short-term improvisations regarding the nature of growth, and that would be really dangerous.
Clause 1 has already been raised as a cause of concern around the House. Our committee had several witnesses who described the changes as unnecessary, unhelpful and unwise. I know that the prescribed list has been published, but it is vague in parts, and it is not clear whether some trades are in or out. There is another aspect which exercises me: the clause requires the prescribed list to be set out by negative resolution. This is for a change which will have a major impact on safety at work. When that was challenged, the Minister gave us the reason for not using an affirmative order—that the increase in parliamentary time that would be required was not considered appropriate. We see many inadequate explanations for inadequate parliamentary scrutiny, but that is one of the worst.
Another set of policy issues flares up around the housing clauses. First, we have the reduction from five years to three years in the qualifying period for the right to buy. In all logic, given the housing crisis in this country, it is bizarre to reduce the permanent housing stock any more. Evidence from the LGA suggests that for every seven local authority homes lost, only one new one has been built. Will the Minister give a commitment to publish the impact statement before Committee? We have wasted an opportunity here to enable councils to fill the housing gap. The Bill could have allowed for the full retention of receipts by local authorities and been the vehicle to remove the housing borrowing cap.
We have in Clause 32 a useful and almost welcome new provision to create new powers for the Secretary of State to include optional requirements in building regulations. That means that, for the first time, new homes can be built which are flexible and adaptable for people growing old and people with disabilities. However, it is optional. It needs to be a requirement, not least because the only place where this is happening is in London—our thanks are due, first, to Mr Livingstone and then to Mr Johnson. If the requirement is optional, it will deter other local authorities from following the very good lead set by London.
There is much that we will return to in the Bill. There is no doubt that it has been cobbled together, and there is the sound of barrels being scraped in many clauses. However, there are useful things in it, too. I look forward to a more forensic examination in Committee.
My Lords, the two clauses in the Bill that I want to touch on briefly, Clauses 18 and 61, have caused the Law Society of Scotland some concern over their possible implication and consequences. It wishes these concerns to be raised at this stage of the Bill, but it may be necessary or appropriate to return to them in Committee.
Clause 18 seeks to alter the regime for insolvency practitioners by introducing a new regime of partial authorisation for an insolvency practitioner. Such a partial authorisation would entitle an individual to act in insolvency related only to companies or another individual to act in insolvency related to individuals. Full authorisation would be reserved for someone who was authorised to act in relation to companies, individuals and insolvent partnerships.
The Law Society of Scotland understands that, in England, the law relating to the insolvency of corporate bodies is separate from that relating to the insolvency of individuals. It is therefore easier to understand why one might want to split up the authority to act into a partial authorisation. On the other hand, in Scotland there is no such separation between the law applicable to corporate work and the law applicable to individuals. The Law Society’s concern is that many of the statutory instruments that are currently required to be followed by insolvency practitioners in Scotland could not be confined within a partial authorisation, as proposed in Clause 18.
It might be asked why the Law Society should be concerned about this, because the obvious solution might be that everyone in Scotland wishing to be an insolvency practitioner should just apply for full authorisation. However, it seems perfectly commendable that the Law Society’s concern should be drawn to the Government’s attention, to see whether this clause requires examination in a little more detail at later stages.
The other clause that has given rise to concern is Clause 61. This provides that Section 15A of the Social Security Act 1998, which deals with the functions of the Senior President of Tribunals, should be amended to omit the provisions that require preparing and publishing an annual report on standards of decision-making in certain decisions made by the Secretary of State, against which an appeal lies to the First-tier Tribunal. In other words, the Senior President of Tribunals has publicly to make an annual report on the view taken about the standards of decision-making, in certain decisions made by the Secretary of State and his or her staff.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that arrangements have been put in place to compensate for consequences of removing this statutory duty on the Senior President of Tribunals. They go on to state:
“Alternative and more direct methods for providing feedback from the judiciary to the Secretary of State have in practice been developed”,
and been effective. Speaking as a judge for a number of years, I was unaware of any alternative and more direct method for providing feedback to the Secretary of State, other than issuing a judgment or opinion once a case was decided. Again, I suggest, the Law Society commendably considers that these alternative methods should be specified at this stage, before the Bill goes much further.
I do not expect the Minister to be in a position to comment in detail on these matters. The first is quite complicated and I have advised the Law Society that we should write to the Minister’s department for this to be considered fully. If there then has to be a debate on it at a later stage, all those taking part can be properly informed about the issues and arguments, one way or another.
My Lords, I will focus on Clause 52 and Schedule 16, which the Government introduced late in May, after the draft Bill had been considered by my noble friend Lord Rooker and his committee. I will take a somewhat different line from previous contributors who have spoken favourably about Clause 52. This clause deals with selling alcohol at community events and ancillary licences. Part of this Bill includes the community and ancillary seller’s notice, which means that those whose core business is not selling alcohol or providing regulated entertainment can sidestep regulations to sell alcohol as part of a wider business contract.
What we have here is not really a deregulation but a new form of alcohol licensing—in a sense, a do-it-yourself application form of licensing—which we have not seen before. It will remove barriers currently faced by certain businesses such as hairdressers and tanning salons, and make it simpler and cheaper to obtain a new community and ancillary seller’s notice. It will make it much harder for local licensing officers to object to them. Overall, it will mean even easier access to alcohol. It means alcohol being available in a whole new range of settings with very little oversight of its sale and consumption.
That is all within the context of the worrying rising series of health harms. One person is killed every hour these days by alcohol. Annually, 1.2 million people are admitted to hospital due to alcohol-related causes. Liver disease is the only major disease against which we have not been making progress over the past 10 years. Rates in people under 30 suffering from the condition have increased by 112%. Of course, alcohol is a factor in almost half of all violent crimes committed.
The intention to launch ancillary licences was first promised in the Government’s alcohol strategy, published back in March 2012. However, the strategy also promised a minimum unit price of 45p per unit and a public health licensing objective. Both those measures—I put this very kindly indeed—have yet to materialise. Had we had them, they could have acted as controls and safeguards to make sure that the ancillary licence policy would not lead to increased consumption and increased strain on public services. Regrettably, we have not had them.
A range of organisations has raised opposition to Clause 52 and the accompanying schedule. Among them is the Alcohol Health Alliance, the British Medical Association, Alcohol Concern and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, which recently stated:
“At a time when alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths are on the rise, we need to ask: is it sensible to encourage people to drink more?”.
Perhaps even more important is the impact that the legislation could have in normalising alcohol as a must-have for almost every occasion. That is the important issue that the House needs to address: the changing culture which the Bill presents.
So far, the community aspect has principally been addressed. When the Government have said that the Bill is mainly about community changes, they have prayed in aid the Women’s Institute which, they claim, has been asking for the change to be introduced. I find it somewhat baffling, and I suspect that the Women’s Institute may find it somewhat baffling, that it is being offered licences for community events that start at seven o’clock in the morning, because that is what the licences will offer. I think that the WI is being used as a Trojan horse. It may not fully understand the rest of the legislation which is proposed along with the community aspect. Perhaps even the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, who have spoken favourably for the change, have not looked at the ancillary side of the legislation
The legislation will offer the opportunity for alcohol to be sold, for the first time, by small businesses—the so-called ancillary sellers. That could take place on a very wide scale indeed. That is where the growth is likely to take place, not with community events. It is the prize that the drinks industry has been looking for. It will be getting the quid pro quo offered to them in the 2012 alcohol strategy for swallowing minimum unit pricing and public health criteria being introduced into licensing considerations. However, they have managed, through the pressures they put on the Government, to see and avoid those being introduced so far. Instead they are now benefiting from the ancillary licences.
I regret that when my party dealt with this in the Commons, while raising objections and generally being concerned, it did not push the issue to a Division. I am hoping that on reflection, having looked at the evidence a little more carefully, it may be willing to change its mind on that further down the line as we come to deal with the clauses. I just do not believe that this change is going to be limited to what the Government describe as bed-and-breakfast businesses. After all, how many bed-and-breakfast businesses are going to offer alcohol for sale at seven o’clock in the morning? There are some crazy contradictions within this policy.
I think that instead we are going to see instead a wide-scale application for the licences to go into a whole range of areas where hitherto we have never seen alcohol on sale. Most certainly hairdressers will apply to offer and sell alcohol, and health establishments, such as tanning shops, will do the same. There is nothing, so far as we can see, that would prevent sandwich bars starting to offer alcohol with sandwiches; nothing to stop cafes moving in that direction; nothing to stop coffee shops—and even more.
When I addressed this topic during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I asked the Government whether I had got it right or wrong. I have had no replies so far, nor have any of the other advocates opposed to this been able to establish just where the licences will end and to whom they will be limited. I look to the Minister to see whether he can produce more evidence of where it is likely to go. I think it is wrong to leave this for the consultation period after the Act has gone through, and then put forward regulations, which we cannot change, because by then the culture change will be well and truly under way. That, I believe, is not what this House wants.
My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in this important debate. I declare an interest as a previous chairman, and now a vice-president, of the Local Government Association. I welcome the Government’s objective to bring forward legislation that will reduce any burdens on local government and business in our communities. Removing red tape is an important issue for local government, especially because of the vast statutory duties that local government is responsible for. I believe that there are other aspects recommended by the Local Government Association that will help councils deal with these burdens further, but there are other elements in the Bill that need further consultation with local authorities.
Having looked through the Bill, I would welcome clarity on whether the Government have consulted with the Local Government Association, particularly on Clauses 10 and 12 on private licensing vehicle reforms and Clause 38 on parking, and what response they received from the LGA. I note that the Government wish to deregulate private hire vehicles to help families, but I wonder whether councils have been fully engaged with these proposals. Others this afternoon have also raised their concerns on this clause. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, has already mentioned women travelling in private hire cars. As a female, regular user of private hire vehicles, Clause 10 raises concerns for me on safety and whether the person driving the vehicle has been properly vetted. Will the Minister ensure that the Department for Transport, if it has not done so already, meets with the Local Government Association to discuss these reforms?
Similarly, I understand that many councils have raised concerns about the Government’s proposals to ban the use of CCTV for parking enforcement. At this point, I must declare an interest as I am a member of an advisory board for the Marston Group Ltd. I know that councils are concerned about these proposals as they could prevent them using CCTV for parking enforcement, particularly outside schools, at bus stops, and on clearways. In particular, we must ensure that children are protected from irresponsible parking outside schools. As I understand it, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to exempt certain places from a ban but if the Bill takes effect before the guidance is in force, it may be impossible to enforce parking restrictions which will be referred to within the guidance. It would be helpful if the Minister could agree to meet with the LGA on this very important issue.
Councils have been at the forefront of recycling over the past decade, with recycling rates rising from 13%, 10 years ago, to 43% today. Clause 43 aims to deregulate the criminal penalties for people who consistently refuse to deal with their household waste properly. These proposals may have wider unintended consequences and an impact on those individuals, their neighbours and the wider community. I am sure that the Minister will congratulate councils on their efforts in increasing recycling rates over the years and on some of the incentivising schemes that they now have in place to encourage recycling. Will my noble friend look seriously at the potential implications for local communities of these proposals? I am sure he would agree that we do not want recycling rates to decrease as a result of councils having the inability, as the last resort, to enforce the law when they need to.
I draw two additional aspects to the attention of my noble friend, on local authorities’ licensing arrangements and statutory notices. First, will he look closely at the excellent proposals being put forward to assist councils with cutting red tape from local business through the Local Government Association’s document on rewiring licensing? As he is probably aware, local government must issue more than 150 licences. The LGA’s proposals would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy by allowing small businesses to apply for a single licence, rather than the complex layers of licensing currently in place. I ask my noble friend to look closely at the rewiring licensing document and commit to undertaking a review of all local authority licensing regulations, and how they may be simplified as part of this Bill.
Secondly, statutory notice requirements which date from the early 1970s are burdensome on councils; their publication process has not moved with the times. The Bill deals with elderly legislation and reforms it for modern-day use. Will the Minister look at whether it could be used in a similar fashion to update these requirements? Councils are spending £26 million a year on advertisements when councils in England are facing a huge funding gap between March 2014 and the end of 2015-16. Such adverts could be published in a digital form at much less cost. Publication is very important but the medium used to do so must be modernised.
The Bill provides great opportunities to support local councils and small businesses, which I support, but I hope that my noble friend will note the concerns of local government and consult with where necessary.
My Lords, I want to make just two points in relation to the Bill, as some others that I might have made have already been covered adequately by Members of this House. My first concerns Clauses 21 to 27 and Schedule 7 on public rights of way. I welcome the briefings from the Open Spaces Society and the Ramblers, which I am sure many of us have received. They are basically in support of these clauses, whose purpose is to speed up, streamline and simplify the process for getting the official maps of public paths up to date. At the moment, many of them are not. It is urgent because there is now a cut-off date of 1 January 2026—that seems a long way ahead but we might get there very quickly—which means that if the process has not been completed, any pre-1949 unrecorded routes will be extinguished. That will be damaging for the rights of walkers, riders, cyclists and carriage drivers. I should say that I am a very keen hill walker myself, so I feel close to this issue. These clauses came from Natural England’s stakeholder working group on unrecorded public rights of way, so they represent a consensus by representing the public path users’ body, the landowners, the occupiers and the local authorities. That is a pretty impressive consensus, so I hope that these clauses will go through unamended and unaltered because they represent something very important.
My second point is quite different, and it is really a sin of omission. It concerns Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It is essentially a provision that adversely affects the commercial television companies—that is, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. I should say that I used to be chair of the All-Party Group on ITV and am now the vice-chairman, and I have had very helpful briefings from some of the broadcasters.
To repeal Section 73 would be a clear deregulatory measure. Many representations have been made to the Government, who seem to say two things in reply. The first is that there is ongoing litigation between the public service broadcasters and TV catch-up. This has been going on for some years. In fact it has been going on for such a long time that it is getting to the stage of being like Jarndyce and Jarndyce. In any case, it is not appropriate to wait for ever for litigation that is so prolonged. That is not right. Secondly, Oliver Letwin, a Minister at the Cabinet Office, has said that this Bill is not the right vehicle for such change. My goodness me, those of us who have been around for a long time know that, time and again, Governments have two excuses for opposing things: either an amendment is technically defective—well, I am not amending anything yet—or the Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for such a change. That has been a standard excuse from Governments over the years. Oliver Letwin, after saying that the issue is rather complicated so the Bill is not appropriate, then does the other usual thing, which is to pass the buck. He says, “Try DCMS”. We have now tried the Cabinet Office, DCMS and BIS. Government departments seem to be passing this issue from one to the other. I shall argue in a moment that it is a clear deregulatory measure and that the buck should not be passed any longer—particularly because if nothing happens now, we will be stuck until after the election and heaven knows how long it will take.
Originally, Section 73 had a purpose, but that has gone. The passage of time has eroded it. Indeed, the Bill says that other measures have become obsolete with the passage of time. British television is at the heart of British creative industry. It is vibrant and dynamic and it has great content and global reach. The way in which Section 73 works undermines investment in our commercial television sector and is quite an outdated measure. There is no longer a level playing field. What happens is that what are called third party aggregators, often large companies, take the content for free without payments to those who have created it. That seems quite wrong. The simple fact is that Section 73 is an historic measure, designed effectively to deliver a subsidy from public service broadcasters to encourage cable rollout in the 1980s. That is a long time ago now.
Section 73 prevents public service broadcasters having any form of negotiation for the supply of PSB channels to the cable platform in the UK. There is not even a commercial opportunity for them to negotiate. It is perverse that, for example, PSBs subsidise Virgin Media, which is owned by Liberty Global, a multimillion-pound global TV distribution platform. We have British television companies, some of which are doing fairly well but which are not that affluent, subsidising an enormous global player. If Section 73 were to be repealed, that at least would enable some form of commercial arrangement to be reached on cable transmission but within the overall Communications Act framework. That framework includes the “must offer” obligation of PSB channels to key platforms such as cable and satellite, subject to the agreement of terms.
British television content is the envy of the world and its continued success depends on its ability to get a return on investment. I am in the Labour Party and I am talking about business and so on. This Bill provides an important opportunity to repeal Section 73. I urge the Government not to miss the opportunity to consider amending the Bill to repeal the section. I do not know what we are waiting for. It is not as complicated as the Cabinet Office says. It is fairly straightforward. There has been so much discussion and negotiation. I think we ought to get on with it. It would be best if the Government brought forward their own amendment. I hope the Minister will agree to that, but, if not, I would like the Government at least to accept a Back-Bench amendment on this issue.
My Lords, I, too, had the privilege of being a member of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill in draft form. As it turns out, it was very much in draft form. As many noble Lords have said, the Bill is significantly different from the draft Bill. It is inevitable that such a Christmas tree of a Bill will grow as it progresses, but that fact raises significant questions about the role of pre-legislative scrutiny.
When the draft Bill came to us, it was 240 pages long. It was described by Ken Clarke as,
“a slight mountain of a Bill”.
It covered 10 ministerial departments and four agencies. It made changes to more than 70 underlying Acts. Some of these Acts made changes to previous Acts. The committee was given 12 weeks to scrutinise all this. We thought this was inadequate, and we said so. We would have pressed the point more strongly had we known that the Bill was to be carried over. We found this out only when Oliver Letwin, in evidence to us, mentioned it in passing. This seems entirely unsatisfactory. Perhaps when the Minister replies he could commit to a more open discussion with pre-legislative scrutiny committees in future on the question of the time necessary for thorough scrutiny. As it was, with this Bill we had no choice but to restrict ourselves to certain areas and to leave others entirely unscrutinised.
I also ask the Minister to think about helping the process of scrutiny in another way. In a complex Bill such as this, it would help greatly for references to underlying legislation to be given a hypertext link. That is a lot easier than having 70 other Bills open before you. It would have helped your Lordships’ House to have those hyperlinks in the text of the Bill. Could I trust the Minister to commit to doing that well before Committee, which I understand will start after Recess?
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has mentioned, the original draft of the Bill proposed giving Henry VIII powers to disapply legislation. The Joint Committee recommended that these powers be removed. I am very glad that the Government have agreed to do that. In the course of our inquiry into these and similar proposals in the Bill, however, it seemed to us that, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has also said, there was an unhelpful tension between the Government and the Law Commission. The draft Bill contains a schedule containing legislation to be disapplied by order. The Government removed the order power but retained the schedule. It is now Schedule 20 to the Bill. This schedule repeals parts of 28 separate Acts. These range from the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Act 1977 through the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 to the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. Clause 82, which asserts that all this legislation is no longer of any practical use, will repeal about 119 clauses. Some of these clauses are whole Acts themselves.
Does anyone seriously believe that Parliament will subject these 119 clauses to close scrutiny—or, indeed, any scrutiny at all—as the Bill passes through its stages? The Joint Committee’s report found that the Law Commission was better placed to give detailed scrutiny to this kind of allegedly obsolete statute. We stated:
“The skills, research and consultation needed to ensure that Parliament, external organisations and the public can be satisfied that a piece of legislation is genuinely obsolete strongly suggest that the Law Commissions are better placed to conduct that work than Government departments. Added to which, the independence of the Law Commissions from Government and their track record since 1965 reinforce the trust that Parliament places in the Law Commissions”.
This is a key point. Whom should we trust to say that legislation is obsolete and may be safely repealed—government departments or the Law Commission? I am in no doubt that the answer should be the Law Commissions. We recommended that Schedule 20 items be referred to the Law Commission for a safety check. We acknowledged that, to meet the growing demand, the Law Commission would need additional resource. We also agreed with the Law Commission’s own proposals for more frequent and responsive SLR Bills. We recommended that the Government consider making such Bills annual, as my noble friend Lord Naseby said.
The Government did not sound very enthusiastic about any of this in their response. They disagreed with our recommendation to give more resource to the Law Commissions—and did not give a convincing reason why—and so the mass repeal proposed in Clause 81 and Schedule 20 remains part of the Bill. I suspect that we will discuss that further as the Bill progresses. The case for subjecting all those proposed repeals to the Law Commission for a safety check remains very strong, as does the case for an annual SLR Bill.
However, there are other controversial matters in the Bill; I will point to just some of those that were investigated by the Joint Committee. We were concerned about the level of consultation undertaken by the Government in preparation for this very complex and wide-ranging Bill. The original Bill had 61 relevant clauses in it, excluding recitations, titles and so on. Only 10 of those clauses were subject to formal consultation, a further 18 had had some kind of consultation under the Red Tape Challenge scheme, and the rest had no formal consultation at all. That raised two questions: was that an appropriate level of consultation, and was it appropriate to rely on the Red Tape Challenge as a means of consultation?
The Joint Committee concluded that in some cases consultation had been insufficient. We were also alarmed by Oliver Letwin’s assertion that pre-legislative scrutiny was part of the Government’s consultation process. It is not. The Government should not rely—as they apparently were—on Parliament to consult on their behalf, but should undertake proper consultation themselves. I wonder whether inclusion in the Red Tape Challenge amounts to proper consultation. It is not clear that it should, and I would be interested to hear the Minister speak to the robustness of the Red Tape Challenge process. In the event, the Government agreed to remove certain clauses pending further consultation and, in particular, to consult further—which is important—on the authorisation of insolvency practitioners.
The committee welcomed the Government’s reasons, when it came to it, for proposing a duty on regulators to have regard in broad terms to “economic growth”. We discussed at some length with our witnesses and among ourselves the question of measuring or judging the success of that requirement. That was an important consideration; we need to be able to assess the effect of any piece of legislation. However, we acknowledged that with the growth objective, that would be difficult. We understood the difficulties involved in attempts to quantify. Nevertheless, we thought that the Government should consider by what criteria the impact of the duty could be demonstrated, and welcomed the Minister’s commitment to reflect further. I am not sure that the further reflection—if that is what it was—in the Government’s response to our report was terribly helpful. It was all rather vague and woolly. That is an important and unresolved issue, to which I expect to return at a later stage.
Also unresolved is the consequence of the application of the growth duty to the EHRC. The commission spoke to us about the,
“intrinsic incompatibility between the growth duty and the duty to promote and protect human rights”.
That incompatibility would risk the “A” status of the commission and the British candidacy on the UN Human Rights Council. The JCHR agreed with this assessment. In their response to our report the Government recognised the need to avoid jeopardising the international standing of the EHRC. They said that they would consider this issue further with the EHRC before finalising the list of regulators to whom the growth duty will apply. In the helpful draft guidance notes I received from the Minister this morning, there was no list and no mention of the issue in the covering letter. Can the Minister tell the House what progress is being made in discussion of whether that growth duty will apply to the EHRC?
There are also some other committee recommendations where the Government response seems to require further discussion. I refer in particular to Clause 2, which removes the employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations, to Clause 43, which deals with household waste decriminalisation, and to Clause 70, which deals with gangmasters. I am sure that the list of clauses your Lordships will want to discuss in detail will be much longer than that, and I look forward to those discussions.
The purpose of the Bill is a very good one. It is a very welcome Bill and contains good things. The provisions for apprenticeships and their funding in Clauses 3, 4 and 5 are especially welcome, as is the whole part on “Alcohol and entertainment”. This grew from one rather lonely clause in the draft Bill on the exhibition of films in community premises to the larger-scale liberalisation for local community events.
That part also contains, in Clauses 59 and 60, provisions for review of the penalties for non-payment of the BBC licence fee and powers to decriminalise such non-payment. I welcome the opportunity that gives us to discuss how to balance protection of the BBC’s revenue with the importance of not sending people to prison for non-payment of the licence fee. However, I would have welcomed it even more had we been discussing this in the context of charter renewal.
Finally, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his outstanding chairmanship of our Joint Committee. I would like to thank our truly excellent clerks, Christine Salmon Percival and Geraldine Alexander, for their invaluable work.
My Lords, as we have heard in this debate, everyone agrees it is right to remove unnecessary regulatory and legislative burdens from individuals, civil society, businesses and public sector organisations. However, this hotchpotch of measures is not proportionate in some areas and will not promote growth or jobs. There are two specific areas of the Bill that I want to focus on in my contribution today, both of which, if carried, will put at risk workers’ and consumers’ safety. These relate to the clauses on health and safety and the last-minute proposals thrown in at the end of the Committee stage in the other place on taxis and private hire vehicles.
Regulations that protect the health and safety of workers are not red tape: ask the many people injured in the construction industry or the families of those killed. Nor are the regulations that help women decide on the safest way home or to work red tape. The health and safety proposals will have a negligible impact on self-employed people but will create confusion, as we have heard in the debate, where there has been clarity for the past 40 years. At best, the Government believe this clause may save self-employed people 37p each per year. As the Minister said, the Health and Safety Executive has only today published a consultation on the list of self-employed people who will continue to be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It is 60 pages long, so I have not been through it thoroughly, but it is beyond me how any self-employed joiner is expected to know whether they are involved in,
“construction work (within the meaning given in regulation 2(1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulation 2007)”.
The same is true of most others. It is a recipe for confusion and the only people who will benefit will be consultants and possibly undertakers.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health is also worried that this exemption could cause growth in bogus self-employment and poor health and safety standards—a problem highlighted so well by my noble friend Lady Donaghy’s report in 2009. The institution believes the current requirements for the self-employed are not onerous and make good business sense. Exemption would give the wrong message and may encourage the unscrupulous to gamble with people’s safety and health.
Turning to the other area, taxis and minicabs are not just for the well-off. At certain parts of the day they are the only form of public transport available. For elderly and disabled people taxis and minicabs are often their only option throughout the day. Safety organisations, police and crime commissioners, licensing officers, councils and industry bodies warn that the Government’s proposed reforms will have severe safety implications. People without a minicab licence will be allowed to drive one when it is “off duty”, threatening to put vulnerable passengers, such as women, at increased risk of rogue minicab drivers. Mandatory annual licence checks, which help councils ensure drivers are fit and proper, will end. Minicab operators will be allowed to subcontract bookings to firms in other areas, meaning that someone getting into a minicab cannot be sure it is from the firm they booked with. Ask a person with disabilities whether that is right.
The Government cannot rely completely on the Law Commission for this regulation. Its final report, published in May, recommended significant new enforcement powers and safeguards for local authorities in conjunction with these measures. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson said, local licensing officers do not have the powers to ensure these changes can be enforced safety.
Ministers in the other place said these measures work in London but Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police work together for on-street enforcement in the capital, which has significant problems with unlicensed operators. Between 200 and 250 cases of sexual assault concerning unlicensed minicabs are reported across London every year. It is conservatively estimated that five times that number go unreported. The recent protests we have seen outside the House over Uber and the questions it raises on the impact of new technologies on the trade underline why the Government’s piecemeal reforms will not work. We need to consider regulation and enforcement of the licensed taxi and private hire trades comprehensively. These piecemeal measures are wrong. Deregulation will have wider consequences, including for people with disabilities’ access to taxis and minicabs, and the production of black cabs, which is still an important part of the UK automotive sector.
The Government need to stop and listen. Listen to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety and expressed concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide,
“greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women”.
Listen to the Local Government Association, which says that,
“it is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans”,
to ensure passenger safety. Listen to the group of 15 cross-party police and crime commissioners from across the United Kingdom who have written to the Government to oppose these measures. If Ministers continue to refuse to listen, I am confident from listening to the contributions in today’s debate that noble Lords across this House will stand up for the travelling public and refuse to endorse the Government’s rushed and risky proposals.
My Lords, I am afraid I have a fistful of declarations of interest to make, not only as a vice-president of the LGA, but as a landowner, a member of the CLA, a landlord, a practising chartered surveyor, chairman of the Rights of Way Review Committee and, of course, due to my involvement with parish and town councils. I am afraid I do not speak for any of those other interests.
Much of the Bill is welcome. Anything that calls itself deregulation is a start—in particular, I briefly point to the issues of dealing with short-term lets and the health and safety of self-employed trades—always provided it produces net reductions in burdens and does not just shift them around or create other problems in their wake. I am sure other noble Lords will relate to that.
I wish to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and refer to Clauses 21 to 27 on the matter of rights of way. I agree that they represent the essence of what the stakeholders working group agreed to. I particularly pay tribute to the way the disparate interests involved with that sought to find common ground. I think that should be applauded. However, it had quite a narrow remit, and many issues of current management and usage of the rights of way system remain unaddressed. I hope that the Minister will confirm that these remain in focus and that the Bill, when it has been ticked off, does not just become a means for ignoring the ongoing need to do something.
I think we all agree that the rights of way system in this country is a thing of glory and great value culturally, economically and socially. It more than merits better treatment, with an even-handed and objective approach as befits a national treasure. At present, it is deprived of resources, a primary cause of the delays in recording historic rights and of procuring necessary change along the way. This risks leaving many stakeholders inherently dissatisfied, if not irate, and the current day-to-day management and administration suffers.
Therefore, I hope that we will not settle the issue of unrecorded rights of way after 2026 only to open up, as we approach that date, some other area of contention that we have not thought of. The Bill deals with some aspects but not with others. I hope that the Minister can reassure me about the intentions for the rest, as I have said. I accept that the rights of way network is very large and often incoherent. Its statutory basis is complex and the coalition inherits a legacy of many past Administrations doing too little or nothing, with occasionally some expensive and ill-targeted legislation on the way.
I am a landowner within the Exmoor National Park. I know how useful it is to both users and landowners to have a focused, resourced and authoritative body such as a national park authority to deal with issues of network coherence and management. Such bodies have proved effective in defusing negativity and removing obstructive stances by just process, expertise and reasoned dialogue. We need more of that.
Therefore, the key to all this is resources for rights of way, which outside of national parks, as I have suggested, have been decimated. If that deepened voluntary dialogue between stakeholders, I would welcome that as a slightly back-handed compliment. The administrative machinery that underpins any necessary change is essential, and access to the countryside on urban fringes is no less important than access across rural broads or remote uplands or along the coast.
Despite the limited claims of the Bill, which I support, I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government are apprised of the hugely beneficial opportunities offered by investment in a national rights of way system, not least its eventual rationalisation, making it fit for the 21st century and less of a bone of contention.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon by my right honourable friend Theresa May, the Home Secretary.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the sexual abuse of children, allegations that evidence of the sexual abuse of children was suppressed by people in positions of power, and the Government’s intended response.
In my Statement today I want to address two important public concerns: first, that in the 1980s the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child sex abuse; and, secondly, that public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. As I do so, I want to set three important principles. First, we will do everything we can to allow the full investigation of child abuse and the prosecution of its perpetrators, and we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims. Secondly, where possible, the Government will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency. Thirdly, we will make sure that wherever individuals and institutions have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose these failures and learn the lessons.
Concern that the Home Office failed to act on allegations of child abuse in the 1980s relates mainly to information provided to the department by the late Geoffrey Dickens, a Member of this House between 1979 and 1995. As the House will be aware, in February 2013, in response to a Parliamentary Question from the honourable Member for West Bromwich East, the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, Mark Sedwill, commissioned an investigation by an independent expert into information the Home Office received in relation to child abuse allegations, including information provided by Mr Dickens. In order to be confident that the investigation would review all relevant information, the investigation reviewed all relevant papers available relating to child abuse between 1979 and 1999.
The investigation reported last year and its executive summary was published on 1 August 2013. It concluded there was no single ‘Dickens Dossier’ but there had been letters from Mr Dickens to several Home Secretaries over several years that contained allegations of sexual offences against children. Copies of the letters had not been kept, but the investigator found evidence that the information Mr Dickens had provided had been considered and matters requiring investigation had been referred to the police.
In total, the investigator found 13 items of information about alleged child abuse. The police already knew about nine of those items, and the remaining four were passed by the Home Office to the police immediately. The investigation found that 114 potentially relevant files were not available. These are presumed—by the Home Office and the investigator—destroyed, missing or not found, although the investigator made clear that he found no evidence to suggest that the files had been removed or destroyed inappropriately. The investigation found no record of specific allegations by Mr Dickens of child sex abuse by prominent public figures.
Upon completion of the investigation, the Home Office passed the full text of its interim report and final report, along with accompanying information and material, to the police for them to consider as part of their ongoing criminal investigations. As Mark Sedwill has said, the investigator recorded that he had unrestricted access to Home Office records and he received full co-operation from Home Office officials. The investigator was satisfied that the Home Office passed all credible information about child abuse in the time period—from Mr Dickens and elsewhere—to the police so they could be investigated properly.
I believe that the Permanent Secretary did the right things in listening to the allegations made by the honourable Member for West Bromwich East and ordering an independent investigation. I am confident that the work he commissioned was carried out in good faith. But I know that, with allegations as serious as these, the public needs to have complete confidence in the integrity of the investigation’s findings.
So I can tell the House that I have today appointed Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to lead a review not just of the investigation commissioned by Mark Sedwill but also of how the police and prosecutors handled any related information that was handed to them. Peter Wanless will be supported in his work by an appropriate senior legal figure, who will be appointed by the Permanent Secretary. Where the findings of the review relate to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it will report to the Attorney-General as well as to me.
I will ask the review team to advise my officials on what redactions to the full investigation report might be needed in order that, in the interests of transparency, it can be published without jeopardising any future criminal investigations or trials. I expect the review to conclude within eight to 10 weeks, and I will place a copy of its terms of reference in the House Library today.
In addition to the allegations made by Geoffrey Dickens, there have also been allegations relating to an organisation called the Paedophile Information Exchange, a paedophile campaign group that was disbanded in 1984. In response to another query from the honourable Member for West Bromwich East, the Permanent Secretary commissioned another independent investigation in January this year into whether the Home Office had ever directly or indirectly funded PIE. That investigation concluded that the Home Office had not done so, and I will place a copy of the investigation’s findings in the House Library today. But, again, in order to ensure complete public confidence in this work, I have also asked Peter Wanless to look at this investigation as part of his review.
I now turn to public concern that a variety of public bodies and other important institutions have failed to take seriously their duty of care towards children. In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse. This includes abuse by celebrities, such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford, and other towns and cities. Some of these cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously, and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse, including the police, social services and schools have failed to work together properly.
That is why, in April 2013, the Government established the national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people, which is led by my honourable friend the Minister for Crime Prevention. This cross-government group was established to learn the lessons from some of the cases that I have mentioned and the resulting reviews and inquiries. As a result of its work, we now have better guidance for the police and prosecutors, new powers for the police to get information from hotels that are used for child sexual exploitation, and better identification of children at risk of exploitation through the use of local multiagency safeguarding hubs. In the normal course of its work the group will publish further proposals to protect children from abuse.
I know that in recent months many Members of the House, from all parties, have campaigned for an independent, overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child abuse. In my correspondence with the seven Members of Parliament who wrote to me about the campaign—the honourable Members for Birmingham Yardley, Brighton Pavilion, East Worthing and Shoreham, Richmond Park, Rochdale, Wells, and West Bromwich East—I made clear that the Government did not rule out such an inquiry.
I can now tell the House that the Government will establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry panel will be chaired by an appropriately senior and experienced figure. It will begin its work as soon as possible after the appointment of the chairman and other members of the panel. Given the scope of its work, it is not likely to report before the general election, but I will make sure that it provides an update on its progress to Parliament before May next year. I will report back to the House when the inquiry panel chairman has been appointed and the full terms of reference have been agreed.
It will, like the inquiries into Hillsborough and the murder of Daniel Morgan, be a non-statutory panel inquiry. This means that it can begin its work sooner; and because the basis of its early work will be a review of documentary evidence rather than interviews with witnesses who might themselves still be subject to criminal investigations, it will be less likely to prejudice those investigations. But I want to be clear that the inquiry panel will have access to all the government papers, reviews and reports that it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public sector, private sector and wider civil society. I want to make it clear that if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry in line with the Inquiries Act.
I began my Statement by saying that I wanted to address the dual concern that in the past the Home Office failed to act on information it received and, more broadly, that public bodies and other institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. I believe that the measures that I have announced today address those concerns. I also said that I wanted the work we are doing to reflect three principles: that our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes; that wherever possible and consistent with the need to prosecute, we will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency; and that where there has been a failure to protect children from abuse, we will expose it and learn from it. I believe that the measures announced today reflect those important principles, and I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Home Secretary’s Statement, which we welcome. There is a lot at stake today. Child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, is an abhorrent crime that devastates its victims. There has been mounting distress and revulsion at the avalanche of allegations, arrests, charges and convictions that we have seen to date. The clear evidence is that abused children have had their pleas for help and reports of crimes dismissed. The fact that no action was taken must be fully investigated. Even when the abuse is historic, the trauma continues into the future. The truth may be painful and distressing, but nothing less will do.
We have rightly been angered and we have demanded action when there has been evidence of abuse and potential cover-ups. That has now been brought to the Government. It is truly shocking, as the Minister said, that allegations are being made that the Home Office not only failed to investigate evidence that was brought to it, but that crucial documents were lost and others may have been destroyed. The Minister will, I am sure, understand the concerns already expressed of a deliberate attempt to cover up crimes and to protect perpetrators.
The 2013 review that has now come to light was clearly inadequate. It was not announced to Parliament and it was not revealed that more than 100 related files had gone missing. The Minister will recall from previous debates that we called for a much wider, overarching inquiry. Indeed, I raised this with Ministers in your Lordships’ House on both 6 November and 14 November 2012 in debates on child abuse. At that time Ministers rejected those calls, but today’s announcement is a step further towards that and we welcome it.
I would like some clarification on the new process, both of the review and of the inquiry panel. Both have to be thorough investigations. Peter Wanless is highly regarded and, alongside his personal integrity and expertise, he brings the reputation and trust of the NSPCC. Nothing matters more now than reaching the truth, because only through the truth can we achieve justice and support for victims and provide stronger and better child protection now and for the future. I want to ask the Minister a few questions. What legal expertise and support will be provided to Mr Wanless? He will no doubt want to talk to those who have been victims themselves, so will professional support be made available when he does so? There have been reports that police officers have felt unable to provide information as they had signed gagging clauses. Will the Wanless—the Minister calls it a review—inquiry be able to override any such clause where criminality is suspected? Will the inquiry be able to obtain information from individual civil servants, whether in work or retired, and from any government agency or its employees? What powers will the Wanless inquiry have to compel witnesses to provide evidence? Will it be given access to any and all papers, notes and minutes of meetings from government and government agencies? The inquiry cannot just be given the information that it asks for; it needs to have the freedom to investigate and to search for information that it might not yet know is available.
The Minister will understand the serious concerns regarding the apparent mystery of the disappearing Dickens file or files that were handed to the then Home Secretary. What records and notes were kept of those initial meetings? Was the 2013 review able to identify whether any investigation or action followed from those meetings? Can the Minister confirm whether the Home Secretary has been advised of the identities of the private office staff and senior civil servants who were aware of the documentation and asked to review its contents and whether they were involved in the 2013 review? Can he confirm that they will be asked to co-operate with the Wanless inquiry? Will that 2013 review—inadequate as I think it is recognised now that it was—be published? When were the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister told that the files were missing or destroyed? Finally, can the Minister confirm that there will be no hiding place from justice for those who have committed child sex abuse crimes or have been involved in destroying or hiding evidence? Will a further Statement be made on the terms and references of the inquiry panel once the appointments are in place? At this stage there are more questions than answers and I hope that the Minister will agree to keep Parliament informed as this process proceeds.
Action has to be taken to deal with the past, but equally important are the lessons that we learn for the future. The Minister will know our concerns about the Government’s changes to the vetting and barring system. The system is designed to protect children, but we believe that the Government have weakened it. Is he aware that the number of people barred from working with children as a result of committing sexual offences against children has fallen by 75% in the past three years? Can the Minister assure me that the Government will, in the light of increasing evidence that perpetrators of child sex abuse have evaded justice for many years, reconsider the changes that they have made to this legislation?
We welcome the two investigations. I hope that, given the importance of the issues, the Minster will be able to answer my questions today, but if he is unable to do so I hope that he can write with answers to those specific points.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her comments and indeed her support. I suspect that the whole House will be pleased to have heard the Statement made by the Home Secretary today and will recognise that it is a determined attempt to find out what lies at the bottom of the issues that the inquiries and the reviews will be addressing. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured by the comments in the Statement about the review made almost immediately on the Permanent Secretary’s arrival in the Home Office.
I disagree with the noble Baroness. I do not think that the review was inadequate. It was a very important inquiry. It has shown us some truths about where we are within the Home Office on that issue. It has also given us encouragement to set up a further review that goes across all the reviews across government. Perhaps I should concentrate on the questions that the noble Baroness asked me in that regard. She asked whether Peter Wanless—he is a superb choice for the job and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take it on—will have professional support. He will have high-quality legal support in the work that he is given. He will have a team that will enable him to get to the bottom of this. This is not going to be a half-baked job. It is going to be a thorough job delivering within eight to 10 weeks, we hope, a review of the situation.
As I said in the Statement, there will be total access to Home Office papers and staff and to government agencies to enable Peter Wanless to get a thorough view of the situation. It is not the inquiry; it is a review of where we are and what we know already. The inquiry is another thing, which I will perhaps come on to. As I said, we will be able to see all documents. The terms of reference will be placed in the House Library so that noble Lords can see them.
I think that it is important to see the Wanless review in connection with the inquiry, which is a much more far-reaching affair, designed to discover the extent to which government and non-government departments, the police and other authorities have failed in their task of protecting children and why this has happened. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that that may well be a much longer process, but there is a commitment to come back to this House before the election with a Statement as to where we are on that issue. The noble Baroness will know that I will always co-operate in trying to provide information to the House on any subject of this nature. I have not been able to answer some of the inquiries that the noble Baroness made, but I am very happy to do so and will make sure that a copy of the answers is placed in the Library for other noble Lords to see.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will welcome the reviews, not least because, I suspect, questions on the destruction of files go much wider than the Home Office. My experience of three government departments is that Ministers are never consulted in or out of office on such destruction. My suspicion is that decisions on destruction are taken at a fairly junior level and that at times the whole system can be fairly chaotic. May I ask my noble friend whether one of the aims will be to ensure that we have a system that is fit for purpose and applies to all departments in Whitehall and where decisions on destruction are taken at an appropriately senior level?
I agree with my noble friend. I know that he speaks from considerable experience of government in this respect. There are in fact guidelines in place. New guidelines were brought in in the late 1990s to deal with the destruction of files. I imagine that one of the outcomes of all this business will be to determine how come 114 files are missing. At this stage we do not know whether the files are significant. Mark Sedwill was of the view that they were not. I think that the House would be entitled to ask what the titles of the files were. We do not know what they were. My noble friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that we will learn lessons here that could well be important in other aspects of government. Tragic and uncalled-for events teach us lessons about how we deal with things in the future. I hope that we learn from this episode.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement. The church is keen to be involved in any such overarching inquiry. A question was asked in the other place about whether the church is involved in this matter. Is the Minister aware that my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the Home Secretary some weeks ago asking for an inquiry such as this? The church is very willing to be involved. In a situation such as this—in which, inevitably and sadly, people involved in various authorities at a high level would be related to other authorities and institutions—it is crucial that such an inquiry is allowed to go wherever it needs to go. The church and other organisations and institutions should explicitly be involved in this matter. Perhaps I may add as chairman of the Children’s Society that we would be keen to stress that the voice of children and young people should be always in the centre of one’s thoughts on any matters such as this. If any matters come to light through this inquiry that need to be directed to the police, that will, one hopes, happen and they will be dealt with swiftly and decisively.
I pay tribute to the role of the church in the care of children. I am sure that the Home Secretary will note the offer of involvement in the review and these inquiries. I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate has raised this issue. The involvement of church activists in the national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people is an important start.
My Lords, by far the most harrowing constituency surgery meetings I ever attended were those where representations were received from victims of historic child abuse. People were haunted by that abuse 40 or 50 years later. One of the most difficult days I had as First Minister of Scotland was when I had to issue from the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament a formal apology to those victims on behalf of the Government and people of Scotland. However, there is still no independent inquiry into historic child abuse in Scotland. I warmly welcome what the Government have announced today which, I presume, at this stage covers England and Wales. Victims and perpetrators will have crossed borders over the past decades. What discussions could take place to ensure that any review at this stage or future inquiry will cover those victims and perpetrators across the whole UK?
We know that these are devolved matters in some areas. As the former leader of the Scottish Parliament, the noble Lord will know that Scotland is affected as much of the United Kingdom has been by these matters. We have inquiries going on in Northern Ireland and north Wales. In so far as it is not a devolved matter, the inquiry will indeed embrace the entire United Kingdom, but it is about England initially. However, I am sure that we can all learn from each other’s experiences. If there is a willingness to accept, across the United Kingdom, that information should be exchanged between the Governments and Assemblies in other parts of the United Kingdom and the inquiry, I am sure that that will be made clear.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that I have received a comment about gagging and whether people will be prevented because they have signed a commitment not to talk about matters. I make it clear that this is to be a wide-ranging review. It will have access to all papers and reports, as I have said, and, subject to the constraints of criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses. We have made it clear that if the inquiry panel deems it necessary, the Government are prepared to convert it into a free inquiry. It will have considerable powers.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement, particularly the independent inquiry. Indeed, I added my voice to those who were calling for such an inquiry during my debate in your Lordships’ House on 26 June.
There is no reason why such an inquiry should in any way interfere with the work of the police as long as the panel has available to it people from the police and the prosecuting authorities who know what is going on and which inquiries are actually under way. I ask my noble friend whether such people with up-to-date knowledge of what is being looked into and may be looked into in the future will be attached to the panel so that it can avoid straying into areas that might prevent perpetrators being prosecuted in the future. That is very important.
I ask my friend whether the inquiry will focus more on learning lessons than pointing fingers. It is the role of the police and the prosecuting authorities to point fingers and to bring perpetrators to justice, but they are not in the position, as the panel will be, to learn overall lessons. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said about victims. They need to be at the heart of this. We need to be sure that they can be heard and will have support in order to be heard.
Finally, what will be the scope of the recommendations that the panel will be able to make? Clearly, it will be making recommendations on changes of practice. Will it also be able to make recommendations on changes in legislation? What will be the procedure for the Government to respond to those recommendations in the fullness of time?
I will start on that final point. There will be no limit on what the inquiry will be able to tell us all about what it finds. That is the whole point of it. My noble friend assumed too much when she said that it would not be pointing fingers. I think it will point fingers, and it should do so if it feels that areas of government have failed, either now or in the past. The panel needs to be able to tell us that, and it is right and proper that it should do so.
Of course it is important that people who have been subjected to child abuse feel that this inquiry is about what has happened to them. However, the principal thing that I would urge them to do is to go and tell the police what has happened to them. It is for the police to bring justice to these incidents. We are trying here to learn the mechanisms whereby we can have that framework and whether that is possible or easy to do.
My noble friend asked about the constitution of the panel. I cannot give information on that. No doubt the panel will be constructed to provide the right sort of expertise. We do not want the panel to be so inhibited by the situation regarding criminal prosecutions that it fails to do its work properly. It will have a proper legal basis for making inquiries so that prosecutions, if necessary, can follow from what it discovers.
My Lords, the two inquiries that the Home Secretary has announced are of course welcome. Does the Minister recognise that an eight-week review into an existing review into whether the Home Office handled things properly and a more wide-ranging inquiry into whether public and other bodies have carried out their duty of care will not address the central, corrosive concern that is all over today’s newspapers, which is that it is not just about celebrities who have managed to get away with child abuse over many decades, but about people in power—Members of your Lordships’ House, Members of the other place and former Members of the other place? How will these processes address and restore the confidence that people in power are not being allowed to get away with things?
The inquiry will be entirely independent and able to make whatever recommendations it makes without fear or favour. I would not be supportive, and I do not think this House would be, of anything that smacked of a cover up. This is about finding the truth and making the truth evident. If people have done wrong in the past, that will be revealed by the inquiry. The review is designed to check that all aspects of the review conducted by Mark Sedwill, in the first instance, and the review into the Paedophile Information Exchange were properly conducted and whether there were any failures in the Home Office. I should say that the inquiry that Mark Sedwill set up found no evidence of wrongdoing by prominent figures. However, that is not to say that it will not be discovered; that is a matter for the inquiry to find out when it comes to it.
Does my noble friend accept that he has had huge support from every side of the House for what is a really important decision by the Home Secretary? Does he also accept that the whole House would want to thank Mr Wanless for taking on what will be an extremely unpleasant job? That is true of anyone who is going to take part in the inquiry and we ought to appreciate that. I hope he will also accept that anyone with information of any kind is duty bound to give that information in whichever of these arrangements is appropriate. Does he further accept that those without information are also duty bound not to talk to the public in ways which suggest that they seem to have, or pretend to have, or sometimes claim to have information which they do not have? The issue here is too serious for it to be a matter of innuendo. This is a matter of finding the truth. Those who have information should give it; those who do not should shut up.
I agree with that, but I think we are right to have embarked on this difficult exercise. I think nothing less would satisfy public opinion. We need to get to the bottom of what is going on. We need to be satisfied in ourselves that we have done all we can do to make sure that child abuse does not flourish in any institutions with which we are associated. I agree totally with what my noble friend has just said, but I think the Home Secretary has provided us with the opportunity to get to the bottom of it all.
My Lords, although I welcome this inquiry, I ask the Minister to take back to the Home Office the issue of children’s homes. I carried out an inquiry for the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, when she was Health Secretary. Children’s homes have often been a pivotal point for vulnerable children being exploited by people in authority and power. The inquiry will be a good opportunity to explore this area very seriously as we know from previous inquiries that this has been a source of children who can be abused. We need to make sure that things are improving and are now a lot better than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s.
My Lords, I too welcome this Statement by the Home Secretary and thank the Minister for repeating it here. One of the names mentioned regularly in the press in recent days is that of the late Cyril Smith MP. Can I assure the Minister that no complaint—or even rumour—of misbehaviour on his part when a Member of the House of Commons ever reached the Liberal Party? If, indeed, he was one of those named in the 1980s by Geoffrey Dickens MP, I find it odd that he never relayed that information to the Liberal Party. However, what is important is that the short, sharp Wanless review must reassure the public that, if politicians were guilty of molesting children, they will be revealed just like anybody else and there will be no cover up.
My Lords, I speak as leader of a local authority which has premises which have been the continuing subject of police investigations, with which, obviously, the authority is co-operating and has co-operated. I welcome the Statement and agree with many of the things that have been said in this House. Fundamentally, my noble friend has said that the police investigations will not be prejudiced. At one point he said that they were less likely to be prejudiced. Can we be assured that the investigations in train will not lack for resources at any point and will not be suspended and will be pursued relentlessly in every case where they are currently underway? People want to see perpetrators brought to justice.
Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, returning to the Deregulation Bill, I dare say that not every noble Lord will wish to hear my speech. I do not blame them. I will leave a moment or two for the House to settle down.
This Bill has been described by the Minister as a wide-ranging measure. Other noble Lords have described it as a Christmas tree. I have heard most of the speeches on the Bill so far and they have ranged over a very large number of topics. However, there is one little gem hidden away in the Bill on page 203—out of 204 pages. Paragraph 40 of Schedule 20 states:
“Omit section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996”.
I had the honour to chair the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, which reported a year or so ago. One of our recommendations in paragraph 170 was,
“the repeal of section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996. The anomalies it creates are more damaging than the mischief it was intended to cure. There is no persuasive argument for granting either House a power of waiver or for restricting such a power to defamation cases alone. A wider power of waiver would create uncertainty, and have the potential to undermine the fundamental constitutional principle of freedom of speech in Parliament”.
The Government told us:
“There are clearly problems with Section 13 of the Defamation Act. It is at odds with the principle that freedom of speech is a privilege of the House, not just individual members and it can create an imbalance where one party to proceedings can choose to use the parliamentary record but the other cannot”.
The Government went on to say:
“However, the Government is not aware of any instances in which anyone has used the power of waiver and as such it would not appear to be a pressing priority to repeal Section 13”.
However, I am very pleased that three of my Commons colleagues managed to table an amendment to put this into the Bill. It was accepted—indeed, I think the Government added their name to it—and is therefore now in the Bill.
I do not suppose that a great number of your Lordships have actually got as far as paragraph 40 of Schedule 20—perhaps I should not say that—although I did hear that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, at least got to the preceding paragraph about dog collars, so he must have jolly nearly got there anyway, on which I congratulate him.
Anyway, the amendment was successful and is now part of the Bill. I congratulate the Government on that and I hope the Bill will get a smooth passage through its remaining stages.
My Lords, this is even more of a pot pourri of a Bill than the previous regulatory Bill in which I participated in your Lordships’ House. However, there are some continuing themes concerning equalities, a lack of thought about people who need to be considered because of their vulnerabilities, and the fact that regulation is often the way in which public bodies and businesses ensure that protection and fairness.
I will be speaking about three matters. Clauses 83 to 86 concern regulators having regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. Clause 2 concerns tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases—I think we have been here before. I will be looking at Clauses 10 to 12, as other noble Lords have, concerning the safety of vulnerable groups in the taxi licensing regime; I will not stray into the detail of licensing. Finally, I wish to speak about clauses that are not yet in the Bill but which I hope the Government might bring forward in their own amendments, which would assist the growth and development of co-operative schools.
I will speak about co-operative schools first. Given that the Bill is supposed to be about removing barriers and creating a level playing field for enterprises, and that this Government are to be commended for their support for co-operatives and mutuals, I suggest that this matter is absolutely at the heart of that support. I am aware that the Government have been holding discussions about amendments on this matter and I hope that we might see a positive outcome.
The matter concerns adding two additional clauses to the Bill. The first would remove a clause from the Education and Inspections Act 2006 which is a barrier to enabling nursery schools to become full members of trusts—or, indeed, academies. This would help to provide a vehicle for parental and family engagement in early years. The second would amend the School Organisation (Requirements as to Foundations) (England) Regulations 2007, to ensure that schools are able to establish themselves as industrial and provident societies, should it be desirable, and bringing co-operative schools in line with other types of co-operative organisations.
Despite an all-party commitment to co-operatives and mutuals in the public sector, co-operative schools have had to work around existing legislation because no provision is made in the relevant Education Acts for schools to be established as industrial and provident societies as currently defined in the 1965 Act. My proposed new clause seeks to amend this and ensure that any future legislation provides a level playing field and a more understandable legal framework. I hope the Minister will agree that these new clauses would be a good addition to his Bill.
Clauses 83 provides that while exercising their regulatory function, regulators must,
“have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”,
“in particular, consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth”,
of ensuring that any regulatory action they take is necessary and proportionate. At Second Reading, Oliver Letwin, the Minister for Government Policy, described this as,
“probably the single most important clause in the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/14; col. 37.]
We need to pay it particular attention, I suggest. Clause 84 would enable a Minister to specify in a statutory instrument which regulatory functions would be subject to this duty; in some cases it might not apply to all the regulator’s functions. Clause 85 would give power for a Minister to issue guidance on how,
“regulatory functions may be exercised so as to promote economic growth”,
and how regulators subject to the duty could demonstrate that they were complying with it. Regulators subject to the economic growth duty would have a duty to regard any guidance. We saw the draft guidance an hour or so before the debate started, and I will return to that in a moment.
I understand that the background to these provisions is the post-implementation review of the Regulators’ Compliance Code, and the independent report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth, which recommended that the Government should impose such an obligation on regulators,
“to take proper account of the economic consequences of their actions”.
The Government ran a consultation on this in 2013, which maintained that a growth duty would,
“enable regulators to respond more comprehensively to the challenge of stripping back burdens to the minimum necessary and proactively supporting growth”.
The Government stated that,
“the duty needs to be imposed via primary legislation to provide the legal foundation needed”.
On these Benches, we share the concerns that have been expressed by the Joint Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Rooker, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which have consistently expressed concerns about the implications of applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC. The Joint Committee believed that the duty in Clause 85 to have regard to ministerial guidance,
“raises serious questions about the EHRC’s independence”,
because of the implications of the proposed growth duty for the UK’s compliance with the United Nations’ Paris principles if the duty applies to national human rights institutions such as the EHRC. They are supposed to be independent organisations which decide which human rights and equalities issues to address. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said:
“Applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence”,
and that this should not be pursued in the way that the Government are doing.
The chair of the EHRC, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, was asked whether applying the growth duty to the EHRC might undermine the Paris principles on the independence of the commission. She said:
“We have tended to agree with this Committee that, prima facie, it would indeed threaten the A-status”,
of the EHRC as an international equality and human rights body. She continued:
“Therefore, it would be proposed that we come under the duty with respect to very specific functions. The debate between us and government at this stage is over how specific it would have to be and whether it is worth the candle when you get to that degree of specificity”.
I think she is probably correct.
I looked at the draft guidance that we received before the debate to see if I could find some comfort from it. Actually, I think it created more smoke than elucidation. What we have to do in Committee—as I intend to—is consider what might happen were this duty to be applied under particular circumstances. So we need to look at, for example, maternity leave where companies have been found wanting and the cost of putting that right, and whether that could be balanced against the economic growth duty.
I will be seeking, as I think other noble Lords will, to look at the proposal to remove the power of employment tribunals under the Equality Act to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases. This is an important power. It is not one that we should throw away. Most companies, when they lose, apply the tribunal’s recommendations to all their employees, but not all do. Surely those employees deserve the same protection as others, so we will be seeking to remove that from the Bill. We will also be asking the Government what the evidence is that this needs to be done because we do not think that the evidence is there any more than it was the first time the Government tried to do this.
Finally, on taxi licensing, we oppose the Government’s proposal to reform taxi minicab law because it will put passengers at risk. My honourable friends in the Commons opposed this when it was inserted late in the Committee stage. We believe that these targets to cut red tape are rushed and risky, poorly drafted and badly consulted on. Where they have been consulted on, safety organisations, the police and industry bodies are warning that the Government’s proposed reforms could have very severe safety implications. These include the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety and has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide greater opportunities for those who are intent on preying on women.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, I praise the golden words to be found in paragraph 40 of Schedule 20 to the Bill:
“Omit section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996 (which allows an individual litigant in defamation cases to waive the ban in Article IX of the Bill of Rights on proceedings in Parliament being impeached or questioned in court)”.
As the noble Lord said, this was the view of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, which he chaired so ably. We are very much indebted to the members of that committee in another place who pushed this matter forward so skilfully, but it was the view not only of our committee, but of the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, in 1999. What it does is effectively to resolve the ambiguities created by the Neil Hamilton case of 1996. We are indebted to the Government for finally grasping this nettle and I offer my support to this part of the Bill.
However I register a caveat. In the debate occasioned by the Second Reading of the proposed legislation of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on this topic on 27 June, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made an important point. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who has played a major role in bringing about the change envisaged in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made a point that must be reflected on, even by those who are extremely enthusiastically in favour of this change, when he said that,
“the question is whether it is right that a Member of Parliament can be defamed by people in respect of something that he or she has said or done in Parliament and that, if that happens, he or she has no remedy”.—[Official Report, 27/6/2014; col. 1522.]
There is a problem here. In my view, the balance is right. The principle of parliamentary privilege cannot be, as it were, individualised. That was the problem with the situation we had from 1996 to the present. It must be placed at the level of Parliament as a whole if it is to be understood and respected by the public. None the less, a difficulty is created. I draw the parties’ attention to the duty of care that they will have, particularly to new Members, in the next Parliament. It is related also to another piece of legislation, which is in the Queen’s Speech, for recall. In both these cases, if they get it wrong the consequences for a new MP could be really dramatic. That is the way we are going.
There is a sense that Parliament understands that the public expects higher standards from Members of Parliament than they do from other public servants and Parliament is trying, through these measures, to address public concerns about honesty in our public life. The impulse that is leading Parliament to act in this way is entirely reasonable, but it does mean that Parliament has a duty to ensure that new Members understand the ways in which legislation is changing. There are vulnerabilities now that did not exist in the past and prices to be paid if we get these things wrong.
It is perfectly reasonable to argue that IPSA has effectively resolved the issue of expenses—that the recent issues have been historical ones that go back to before the time of the new IPSA regime. However, anybody who believes that issues around lobbying, or even cash for questions, have disappeared and are issues of the 1990s simply has not been reading the newspapers in the past three or four years. Therefore, it is all the more important that the induction programme for new MPs should help with these questions.
At the beginning of the previous Parliament, the Hansard Society put on an induction programme that was poorly attended. The ethics section was particularly poorly attended. The parties must have a major role here. They should encourage new Members in the new Parliament, explain where public opinion is and explain the ways in which legislation is changing. They should also explain, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out on Friday 27 June in this Chamber, that Members now have a vulnerability they did not have before: they do not have the protection that they previously had over what they say in the Chamber. These are important matters and it is the responsibility of Parliament, and particularly the responsibility of the parties, to take them on board.
I welcome this new legislation. It is absolutely correct in principle but there is a caveat: there is a responsibility on the political parties that are pushing the legislation through to make sure that newly elected Members know exactly where they stand and where the law now stands. It is not, in this matter, where it has stood since 1996.
My Lords, I speak from the Back Benches because we have two excellent Front-Benchers who are concerned with the Bill. I find that my usual blissful state of either opening on legislation or winding up has now been reduced to a middle position in the debate, where everything I want to say has already been said and, if I make a mistake, there are enough people behind me to call me out. So it is with a degree of nervousness that I make a few short comments on the Bill.
We have serious reservations about the three main transport areas of the Bill. Those concerned with the regulation of taxis and minicabs, particularly the deregulation of minicabs, which my noble friend Lady Thornton identified a moment ago, raise serious risks for the public. We should recognise that people, particularly women, book minicabs for the security of the service being offered. That is being blown apart by the Bill. The cab firm could pass on the telephone call and engage another company. The person who has booked the cab will not have that surety, and it has the potential to let rogue drivers exploit the looseness in the Bill. There have been a few examples in recent years of dreadful things being carried out in cabs.
The Bill needs to be amended in that area. We should recognise that the black cab trade is worried about this situation. It is always worried about minicab competition and so it should be—minicab competition has the right to present a challenge—but we know that new technology, such as the Uber technology that is a source of great concern at present, is creating a situation whereby anybody can call a minicab at any time and minicabs will not suffer from the restrictions forced on them in the past. The black cab trade is central to safe, secure and proper transport in some of our cities, particularly London, and is admired all over the world, in all the world’s great cities. We should take threats to that seriously.
The second area we are concerned about is the banning of CCTV for parking enforcement. I have great sympathy with the Government in seeking to tackle a problem whereby the citizen receives a fine through the post, not having been aware that a charge has been laid, to which they have to make immediate return. We do not seem to have tackled this issue thoroughly or properly. On 10 June, the Government said that they had not reached a decision; on 17 June an amendment was made to the Bill in another place and was immediately translated into the Bill by a government majority.
There are real risks to road safety. There are risks at schools. There are risks in bus lanes, where drivers will chance it if they think they will not be surveyed. There are risks at bus stops. There are risks at yellow boxes on junctions. They are a good idea and have eased congestion, but a good idea is destroyed if one driver chances it and sits in that box and blocks the traffic. If the Government are open to persuasion that there should be exemptions to ending closed circuit TV prosecutions in these areas, those exemptions should be in the Bill and we will seek to achieve that.
The measure in the Bill on maritime accident investigation seems to us a miserable and mean little gesture on the part of the Government. The House will know that the most significant case in recent years involved the MV “Derbyshire”, which was lost in the South China Sea a few years ago with everybody on board—all 42 crew and two wives travelling—lost. There was always the suggestion, while nothing could be proved, that somebody had blundered and that the accident had occurred because seamanship was deficient. When the wreck was eventually identified, it became clear that the circumstances in which the vessel went down were nothing to do with error on the part of the crew or with their seamanship. The case was reopened thanks to great efforts by my noble friend Lord Prescott, who was Minister at the time and who had a long history with the seamen, and great pressure from the National Union of Seamen, which, together with international forces that came in to help, funded a great deal of the investigation. It is now suggested in the Bill that the Secretary of State should not be bothered to reopen such investigations except in specific circumstances.
Sea accidents are such that we should treat them with the greatest seriousness. We surely cannot have a Bill in which they are taken lightly. My noble friend Lord Rooker, in his excellent speech, identified this issue as one that did not add to the quality of the Bill. At least I have kept to time.
My Lords, I was very pleased that, in introducing the Bill, the Minister reminded us that one of its main purposes was to create jobs and enterprise. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who hoped that the Bill would stimulate the economy. My noble friend Lord Fowler told us quite rightly that it was important that restrictions and regulations that were brought in some time ago to meet the circumstances of the time should be looked at again, as the world has changed. That brings me neatly to the one point that I want to make today, which is about Sunday trading.
It is now 20 years since the Sunday Trading Act became law and, of course, the world has changed considerably since then. Sundays are now a huge family day, with great sporting events—people go to football in a way that never happened on such a scale previously—concerts and cultural activities. It is a fantastic opportunity for families to get together. The Government recognised this two years ago during the Olympics. They recognised that, in the new world, the current restrictions were not appropriate, so they relaxed the Sunday trading laws for eight consecutive weekends. They knew that people and their families wanted to shop at a time of their choosing and not at a time laid down by officialdom and red tape.
Sunday trading was mentioned in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, who is not in his place. I say to him that there has been one other major development in today’s world, which is the number of people who work right through the week on different days and at strange hours. They do so because they want to meet the needs of their customers. In particular, there are those in the public sector, the public servants on whom we all rely, who have to provide 24/7 service to their customers, patients and so on. Should not those public servants be on the receiving end of similar flexibility on a Sunday as well?
There has been another change since the Act came in 20 years ago, which is 24-hour online shopping. I think that younger people find the idea very quaint that people should not be allowed to shop between certain hours on a Sunday.
Under the current law, shops of more than 3,000 square feet can open only for restricted hours on a Sunday. Smaller shops do not have restricted hours. As a result, the big supermarket chains have been opening their own small stores of less than 3,000 square feet and then charging in them significantly more than in their larger supermarkets. Surveys show that, in some of these supermarket “mini” or “local” stores, prices are on average 10% higher. Customers rightly see that as something of a rip-off.
The noble Lord gives an excellent example. About six months ago, I did a shopping survey in the town where I live, Ludlow. I bought identical products in One Stop, which does not label itself as Tesco but is wholly owned by it, and in the Tesco supermarket in the town. All the products went to the food bank afterwards. The noble Lord is absolutely right: there is a 10% difference in price. A small store can open from 6 am to 11 pm because it is not governed by the Sunday trading laws, but there is definitely a premium to be paid in those small stores owned by the supermarkets.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that comment, which is reinforced by surveys that show exactly the same thing: prices are on average 10% higher. That is a rip-off in my view.
An anomaly in the current law is the way in which garden centres have been caught up in these restrictions—I do not think that that was ever the intention—because their products are spread over a larger area than 3,000 square feet. Garden centres are a big part of family outings.
I am not asking the Minister for much. This is a very large Bill, with more than 200 pages, so I am sure that it would not be impossible for him to add perhaps one extra page.
My Lords, I want to address the provisions relating to taxis and private hire vehicles. We choose to use taxi operators that we trust. If I ask my children to use a taxi at an odd time, I tell them which taxi rank to use, because that is the one that I have confidence in and which I trust. The proposal to allow taxis to subcontract to other operators will mean that it will not be possible for anybody to have their choice. We are going to take the choice away from people about which operator they want to use. We change operators from time to time when we are not satisfied with a particular company, but if this Bill is approved, we will have no control over who will come. It may well be a company that you have left because you were not satisfied with it. If you ring company A, company B may turn up, and you may not necessarily want to use it. Therefore, we need to think again about this particular aspect of the Bill allowing subcontracting to other firms.
Regarding the provision allowing a driver without a PHV licence to drive a licensed PHV when it is not being used for private hire, I know many people in the taxi trade. Many of my family are in the trade and I know that by allowing taxis to be used by others, some of them may benefit. In some cases, spouses may want to use the car when it is not being used for taxiing purposes, but they cannot at the moment because the law does not allow them to do so. In that case, it would be helpful to allow other family members to use those vehicles for other purposes—for family purposes—when they are off duty.
However, I have been strongly lobbied by many companies and unions, particularly Unite, GMB and RMT, which have put some valid points forward. There is a higher risk that those cars could be used as taxis by rogue drivers. They could be made available to those who are not necessarily taxi drivers and have not taken their tests. By allowing this to happen, we could compromise public safety. However, it may well help if we allowed named drivers to use those vehicles instead of any driver. In that case, at least we would know that the people who use those vehicles will be known to family members. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to this and perhaps have named drivers, instead of any person, driving those vehicles when they are not being used for taxiing purposes.
My Lords, this is an extraordinary Bill, covering almost every aspect of life. I shall concentrate on aspects of particular concern to me. Others have done the same and I am interested to hear what they say. Why do we have regulation? Surely it is because we live in a competitive environment and need to protect the interests of others who would otherwise risk being damaged. If we change the regulations, we have to be very careful that in so doing we do not damage other people who would otherwise be vulnerable.
As we know, the Bill begins with a clause on health and safety at work. It proposes to include a general duty on the self-employed to others involved in the undertaking, but not particularly to employees. There is a reference to the construction industry, in which quite a number of self-employed people are involved, but I am more concerned about the general duty to employees as a whole. In the last Session, the Government introduced a change to the legislation, making it more difficult for employees to sue for compensation in the event of injury—or even death—at work. In this House, we opposed that change, but the Government defeated our amendment in the House of Commons. What is proposed in this Bill does not assist ordinary employees very much, although it may be relevant to self-employment, but in Committee we will have to return once again to the issue of ordinary employees who are still at risk, as far as certain undertakings are concerned.
We then have a reference to employment tribunals: a change to the Equality Act so that a tribunal will not be able to make recommendations wider than the actual case under decision. Like other noble Lords, I do not see why this is necessary. No reason at all has been given for this change and it should be opposed in Committee. I certainly intend to do so.
Clauses 3 and 4 relate to English apprenticeships. It is said that the funding proposals will encourage individuals to do approved English apprenticeships or to work afterwards. I hope that this is so and that there are arrangements for suitable funding. This is extremely important. It is an aspect that, again, we should look at in more detail when it is before us in Committee.
There is then a list of recommendations dealing with taxis and private car hire. As someone who uses car hire frequently because of disability, I am interested in ensuring that the drivers are safe and mostly good in their driving—and they seem to be. Driving in London is crowded and often expensive and the Bill will obviously make no difference to that, but is it really a good idea to allow people who are not licensed to drive private hire cars? I do not think so and neither do a number of noble Lords who have already spoken in the debate. It was noted that women could be at risk, particularly going home late at night. I hope that this is something that shall look at with great scrutiny in Committee.
The Bill refers to housing, in particular what is known as the right to buy. A clause reduces the qualifying period for people who wish to buy their social housing from five to three years. There is no doubt that this provision was popular with many people, who were thus able to acquire property that they would not have been able to afford on the private market. However, many of us were critical at the time, because no replacement was made of the social housing that disappeared as a result of the right to buy. It therefore does not seem right in the present circumstances to make it easier for people to buy local authority housing when there is still such a shortage of social housing. I think that everybody agrees that there is a terrible shortage of social housing and there should be concentration on that.
As far as the final schedule, Schedule 20, is concerned, there is a set of proposals for legislation to be removed. It is proposed that legislation that is no longer of practical use should be removed. That includes legislation on formerly nationalised industries that have been privatised. Obviously, legislation is no longer required for such industries, especially ones such as mining and steel.
There was a TV programme recently, “Benefits Britain”, dealing with areas where, once, steel provided employment for the whole community—no longer. The people were feeling hopeless, left without employment. The Bill has nothing to say about that. There is a reference earlier in the Bill to a sustainable community strategy to be undertaken by local authorities, but the Bill does not recommend that that should continue. It is clearly necessary that there should be some development to provide alternative work in areas that have been rendered into that situation, providing no employment and no support for the local people.
There are a number of other issues in the Bill to which I shall not refer because many noble Lords have dealt with them this afternoon. It is clear that a number of issues are matters for further scrutiny and could be rendered more acceptable to some of us if they were amended. We will pursue that when the Bill is before us in Committee.
My Lords, by my calculation, I am the 25th cab on the rank today—licensed or unlicensed, I am not sure.
The Bill is indeed a weighty tome, a very heavy volume. In a previous life, I might have been tempted to put it on one side and wait for the film, but even if it is made at Pinewood, I do not think that would be appropriate.
I should like to refer to two or three matters. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to Clause 34, about short-term use of London accommodation. This being a deregulation Bill, that caught my eye because I was trying to understand why London was separate from the rest of the country in respect of legislation of this kind, whether this was regulation or deregulation, and whether there are homogeneous rules across all London boroughs. That is a source of great confusion to me in a deregulation Bill. It would be very interesting to know, at a time when housing is in such short supply, particularly in Greater London, whether there is cause for reregulation of some kind and why we cannot just be consistent with the rest of the home nations.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, with whom I have had many an agreeable conversation over the years on matters of broadcasting, raised the issue of Section 73 of the Copyright Act 1988. That is not in the Bill. The noble Lord eloquently described the anomaly that it has created. Opportunities in the legislative timetable of Parliament to put right things that have gone horribly wrong are very rare, and this is one of those things, at a time when the creative industries in this country are so important to economic growth. The Bill is about growth. The growth of investment in British television product is leaking a lot of value as a result of the 1988 Act, which was designed to create greater competition in the fledgling cable market. The cable market is hardly fledgling now; it is dwarfing the public service broadcasters in this country. It has attracted Liberty, one of the world’s biggest media companies, to own Virgin Media in this country. It appears that the commercial public service broadcasters are now leaking value as a result of Section 73, and this is absolutely the appropriate time in the parliamentary timetable to redress that and ensure that funds are flowing into British production, as they should. I look forward to participating in debates on amendments to that effect.
Clauses 59 and 60 relate to the BBC. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Fowler is not in his place, but it is probably just as well, because an argument about the BBC Trust would detain your Lordships far too long, and we can take that offline. As my headmaster used to say, “See me afterwards”.
It is of course right that the Government should consult and consider whether it is possible to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee. However, Clause 60 seems to anticipate charter review—a point made by many noble Lords—which is worrying. We do not know what the funding future of the BBC will be, we do not know what the governance structure will be, and so on: that is all part of a process to come immediately after the election, if it has not started already.
Also, the power of the Secretary of State in Clause 60 could in unscrupulous hands be used in future as a stick to beat the BBC and, perhaps, challenge its independence or even threaten it. I am not saying that the present Secretary of State would have any such thoughts, but it is a worrying trend. I hope that the BBC clauses will get a good debate. I hope that we can get reassurance from my noble friends on the Front Bench that implementation will await the outcome of charter review. It makes no sense at all to put the cart before the horse.
In summary, as I said, I am hugely supportive of a deregulation Bill of this weight. As your Lordships will know, this House is a repository of some of the greatest expertise in the land on a million different subjects. They are all contained in the Bill, and I wish those on our Front Bench all the very best in steering it through.
My Lords, I think I start from that point. I have a whole range of comments on the Bill, which start with Clause 1, relating to the self-employed being excluded from health and safety duties, and end on page 202. As a vice-president of the LGA, I know that one of its anxieties has been about the provisions on the breeding of dogs on the last but one page of the Bill.
However, as comments have been made on most of those points, I will start by being a bit more general, philosophical and procedural. Although the Government do not exactly look like Bourbons, they have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. The coalition started this Parliament by bringing into this House a Public Bodies Bill which managed, in all parts of the economy and society, to alienate large chunks of civic society. We had representations, and the Government had to drop a major part of the Bill. Thanks to my noble friend Lord Rooker and his committee, one of the worst parts of the original draft of this Bill has been jettisoned this time, because we had pre-legislative scrutiny. Having a portmanteau Bill such as this is exactly the wrong way to go about modernising our regulation.
I am in favour of better regulation; I am not necessarily in favour of deregulation. The best way to deal with our legislative inheritance and what is needed for modern society is to take each area of regulation, look at it every two or three years, and ask what is still relevant, what is cost-effective, what is working, what is absolutely redundant and what is counterproductive. Each area needs to be looked at as a consistent whole. The way not to do it is for the Cabinet Office to write round to the rest of Whitehall saying, “Can we have 24 clauses that we need to delete so that we can get rid of them all in one Bill in the last Session of this Parliament?”, but that seems to be what it has done.
The one area in which the Government have taken a more coherent, comprehensive approach from full consultation is rights of way. I told the Minister that they were very sensible to do that. I was the Minister who brought in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act; it was a pretty torrid time in this House, I can tell you, with all sorts of different interests, but we have a package which is largely agreed. I agree with other speakers that that may not be the end of the story, and I warn the Minister that there will be attempts to unravel or add to it, but that is the way we should approach each of those areas. Instead, we have piecemeal bits of legislation that we are going to cross out. Some of them are utterly redundant, and I am absolutely in favour of crossing them off the statute book—there are still bits in Norman French that we ought to be deleting from the statute book. These need to go. We have a process for doing that; we have a Law Commission, which is proposing how we get rid of redundant statutory provision. It also, incidentally, has good ideas on how we consolidate legislation. Having got that machine, somehow we never find enough parliamentary time to implement its recommendations; the next Parliament needs to look at how we can do that better.
There are some areas that I will comment on specifically but I think the Government and future Governments have to reflect on the way we deal with this. The better regulation approach—I see the noble Lord, Lord Curry, just coming in—was looking on behalf of the whole of government at different areas. Rather than this piecemeal, portmanteau Bill, perhaps we should have followed procedure a bit more closely. Having got that off my chest, I will comment on one or two aspects of the Bill.
I follow my noble friend Lord Davies in relation to the transport provisions and, in particular, CCTV. This is populism gone mad. If we cannot enforce parking restrictions, we not only endanger the safety of road users and pedestrians but also provide no parking space for motorists. If people can continue to park in restricted areas with impunity, there will be no parking space for the vast majority. By adopting the Jeremy Clarkson interpretation of the motorists’ interests, the Government have gone down exactly the wrong road. Just as the taxi provisions are not in the interests of the users of taxis, these parking provisions are not in the interests of the vast majority of motorists; our towns will get clogged up and there will be more accidents.
On housing, the right to buy is perhaps the most obvious aspect of my general contention. The right to buy has been hugely contentious. I do not oppose the principle of right to buy. However, in the present housing crisis, it is very important that any exercise of the right to buy is put in the context of what is available in social housing, and affordable housing generally. We have one provision in relation to eligibility for right to buy. The right to buy was very good for those people who would never be able to afford their own house or who were too old to get a mortgage. That does not mean people who have been in social housing for only three years. The right to buy is for people who have been tenants for a large proportion of their life and deserve a chance to get on the housing ladder. At the same time—tomorrow, I think—in the Moses Room we are dealing with the change in the right to buy provisions relating to the discount. Therefore, we have two changes in different parts of the House in relation to one subject that needs to be seen in a wider context. The right to buy ought to be a local decision. The provision, eligibility and discounts for the right to buy are not suitable for national legislation, but should address the housing market in the locality. In any case, it is an example of something that needs to be seen in the round.
Clause 83 relates to putting another requirement on all non-economic regulators. Most legislation on regulation over the past 15 years has inserted the provision on economic and non-economic regulators that they should have regard to sustainable development. Quite often the previous Government, in their initial years, were slightly resistant to that, but they were persuaded by the sensible arguments of the Liberal Democrats by and large, to put those provisions in. That meant one had to look after the economics, the environmental effect and the social effect. Obviously the main focus for any individual regulator was one or other of those three corners, but they all had regard to all three. This seems to have an override, even for areas such as human rights and environmental controls that should not be overridden by short-term economic considerations. There is a real danger in that.
The world and his wife will be agitated about various aspects of the Bill. Some of it—probably most of it—is very sensible and I can support it. However, I wish the Government would not go down this road. When one gets to almost the very final page, there is an interesting provision relating to the deletion of offences by people who fly kites. I am in total agreement with that because it is a grave inhibition on the work of the House.
My Lords, I shall not be tempted to follow the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Oldham and Lord Rooker, into discussing Clause 40 regarding marine accident investigations. We will have plenty of time for that in Committee. I will confine my remarks to Clause 81, which seeks to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 in relation to the implementation of international maritime conventions, which emerged from the International Maritime Organisation just across the river on the Albert Embankment. Currently in this country these are implemented through a mix of primary and secondary legislation. This has led to a very complex regulatory system that is confusing, time consuming—statutory instruments can take just as long as primary legislation to go through both Houses—and resource intensive. It also results in delay that can often be to the detriment of British shipping. For instance, our ships can be challenged during control inspections in foreign ports for not being up to scratch with the latest convention when those changes have not been incorporated into UK law. Conversely, we are not able to challenge foreign ships when they transgress in our own ports on the latest changes for the very same reason.
The new clause will permit any change in maritime conventions to which the UK is a party to be automatically incorporated into UK law by the use of dynamic ambulatory references. I am not a lawyer—I am sure a lawyer would understand that—but it is very much a speeding-up process. What are the advantages? First, it will simplify the whole process and level out the playing field for both UK and international shipping. Secondly, it will remove the lengthy process of having to issue a new statutory instrument every time a change is made to a maritime convention, and it will do away with the risk of gold-plating legislation, something that we are rather prone to in this country. Thirdly, it will improve the reputation of the UK abroad, where we are deemed to be rather slow and out of date in adopting new international maritime standards in law.
UK shipping was reinvigorated by the introduction of the tonnage tax in 2000. Since then, the UK-owned fleet has increased almost threefold and the UK-registered fleet, albeit from a very low base, by more than six times. Shipping is still important to this country. The shipping, ports and maritime sectors between them contribute £31.7 billion to UK GDP and support more than 500,000 jobs. Shipping is a highly competitive business and anything that can be done to help, as in this instance with the new clause, is very much to be welcomed.
My Lords, I hope to persuade the Government to consider an amendment to the Deregulation Bill. I declare an interest having formerly worked in independent television for 30 years. Like my noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Grade, who spoke earlier, my concern is that the content of our public service broadcasters—BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five—is increasingly being retransmitted without payment by cable and online streaming companies. These companies package public service broadcasting content on their platforms and can then place their own unregulated adverts around it. With personal video recorders now encouraging the time-shifting of programmes, and capable of storing hundreds of hours of high-quality drama, popular entertainment and, of course, sporting events, these personal video recorders are major revenue drivers for pay-TV platforms.
The issue of retransmission is rising up the policy agenda worldwide. In the United States, the steady decline of television advertising revenue is being offset by the income that broadcasters get from retransmission revenue: $2.36 billion in 2012. That may explain why US TV is increasingly producing so many successful drama series, while our advertising-funded PSB channels struggle to maintain their output of quality popular programming, with their share of advertising revenue in decline.
We can debate whether we still have the best TV in the world, but what is indisputable is that sales of programmes and formats provide very valuable income for the UK’s creative sector. ITV’s “Downton Abbey”, for instance, sells in 250 territories with an estimated 100 million viewers in China alone. Reformatted, “Strictly Come Dancing” can be seen in 50 countries, and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in more than 100. However, in these times of disruptive technologies and increasing commercial competition across the media, our public service broadcasters should not be subsidising international media conglomerates such as Liberty Global, which now owns Virgin Media.
Our PSBs do not get paid by those who retransmit their output because of the now redundant Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. As the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said, this legislation was originally intended to encourage the rollout of cable in the United Kingdom—but the world has moved on in the past 26 years. We now have a highly competitive pay-TV market in satellite, cable and, increasingly, online. Section 73, designed to boost cable coverage by allowing retransmission of UK public service channels at no cost, has now become the unintended loophole for commercial online platforms to stream PSB programming without permission or payment. These companies do not reinvest their online profits in the UK creative content that makes their services so attractive. Indeed, they divert money from the UK production sector because of Section 73, which could be repealed by an amendment to this Bill.
The personal video recorders—the so-called PVRs—used by customers on cable or online platforms can store, as I said, hundreds of hours of PSB-produced drama or entertainment. For instance, ITV’s “Downton Abbey” is time-shifted by almost half of cabled homes, using their TiVo PVRs, but most viewers then fast forward through the recorded advertising breaks, which means that ITV gets paid less by its advertisers. Given the importance the Government attach to our creative industries, they should surely be more purposive towards the timely removal of Section 73 in this fast-changing digital world.
They may be inhibited by ongoing litigation between PSBs and one of the many online streaming services, which has been going on for some four years already, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, but that kind of litigation need not be an excuse for inaction. My advice is that the Interpretation Act 1978 speaks to this very issue. It provides that where an Act repeals an enactment, the repeal does not affect any investigation, legal proceedings or remedy. The irony is that the copyright Act of 1988, which includes Section 73, itself came into force despite related ongoing legislation at that time.
The Government promised, more than a year ago, that they would consult on Section 73 in the current review of the Communications Act. That has not happened. However, do they not agree that the Communications Act 2003 superseded Section 73 by making a “must offer” provision that ensured PSBs must offer their content to platforms,
“subject to the agreement of terms”?
That is the crucial difference, since it means that PSBs can enter into commercial negotiations with each platform, as they do with BSkyB; in contrast, Section 73 prevents this from happening by allowing the retransmission of PSB content without any payment in recognition of the value that it represents.
The Bill is designed to remove burdensome regulation. Section 73 clearly meets that criterion. Supporting its removal by subsequent amendment to the Bill will help to ensure that our public service broadcasters can continue to produce and commission quality programming made here in the UK.
My Lords, I start prepared in principle to cheer on its way any Bill labelled a Deregulation Bill. Mind you, it has come out this afternoon, if one did not realise it from reading the Bill, that much in it is not exactly deregulation but reregulation and so on. One of the worst features of modern life is the multiplicity of regulations. I do not mean that regulation itself is bad. Of course not; we all realise that regulation is essential in very large parts of life. The problem, particularly for a small business, for example, is on the one hand the multiplicity of regulations and on the other the fact that they are constantly changing. This changing factor is part of the difficulty, which is a problem when it comes to a Deregulation Bill.
I have been arguing in favour of deregulation for a long time—over 40 years or so of parliamentary life—but so have a lot of other people. The previous Government, as well as the present one, have given a lot of attention to it. Yet throughout that time, and for that matter before, regulations have been and still are breeding like weeds in a garden. While I welcome the Bill in general, I have some reflections on Second Reading about deregulation and the complications of regulation itself.
I do not think that I am the only Member of this House who believes that one problem with our modern legislative drafting habits is that every Bill, even this one, is littered with statutory instruments—even though the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and his colleagues have succeeded very well in getting the Henry VIII one removed from this Bill. Yet statutory instruments flow through the Moses Room like the waters of the sea when Moses first arrived on its banks—except that there seems to be no way of stemming the tide, as he did when he parted those waters. Moreover, they are only the statutory instruments that require debate by your Lordships’ House. They are affirmative instruments, for the most part, but businesses have to take account of many negative instruments as well.
I am contemplating moving a new version of Dunning’s famous Motion of 1780, which would say that “The number of statutory instruments has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”. How far we will get, I am not sure—and I emphasise “diminished” rather than abolished. For the record, I do not blame the proliferation of statutory instruments on the parliamentary draftsmen; I think that the blame lies within the various departments. Legislation is insufficiently prepared, so the details of a Bill have to be filled in after enactment. For some details, that is entirely in order, but too many are left to be filled in in that way. I pay tribute in passing to the existence and work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I look forward to its report on delegated powers memoranda, which it is currently working on.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, my noble friend Lord Naseby and others, I am a supporter of the work of the Law Commission in this field of deregulation, particularly on cancelling parts of the law that are no longer required. I also think that it is better placed than Parliament to look at areas of the law, and to suggest improvements and parts that should be done away with. I am sympathetic to the idea of annual SLR Bills—an idea that should certainly be considered further by government.
I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, did just now, the difficulty of finding legislative time for Law Commission Bills in general. I am also sympathetic to the idea that my noble friend Lady Eaton drew our attention to: namely, the Local Government Association proposals for rewiring licences in that field. My noble friend knows much more about it than I do, but I have read something about it in the past and I have seen an account of it, about which I can say only that it looked good to me.
I reflect on my experience of deregulation as a Minister. Sometimes, of course, efforts to simplify have exactly the opposite effect. For example, when I was at the Treasury, along with Customs and Excise we went to great efforts to make VAT easier for small businesses instead of having a sharp cut-off between those who were not involved and those who were fully enmeshed. Several alternative schemes were introduced for VAT for small businesses, but the danger then was that you needed knowledgeable advice about which scheme you ought to go to for your particular circumstances in business and how it was going to move over the next few years, in order to know which scheme to choose. The schemes were good and worth while, but deciding which one to use gave you another complicated headache.
I know what a difficult business deregulation inevitably is. I have every sympathy with my noble friends on the Front Bench as we look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill—which, as we have heard today, is going to be of some length and complexity, to put it no stronger. This has been frequently described as a Christmas tree of a Bill, but I think that Christmas is going to be a long time coming as far as my colleagues are concerned. However, the Second Reading of the Bill is the time to congratulate the Government on tackling the subject vigorously and to wish them the best of good fortune in the debates to come.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. He will not need reminding that it was Moses who created the first 10 regulations.
My mother used to say, “Say something positive first, dear”, so this is my positive bit. I welcome the proposal in Clause 70 to clarify the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. Anything that strengthens the arm of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s work is to be welcomed. I believe firmly that its remit should be extended to cover the construction industry, as it is an area that is crying out for some protection for exploited workers. However, today I shall concentrate on two areas: Clause 1 on health and safety for the self-employed, and Clause 34 on short lets in London, which have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grade, and a noble Lord who is not in his place.
I will deal with the short lets in London first. If this measure is passed, and I profoundly hope that it is not, the unintended consequences will be detrimental to rich and poor alike. This is a strange gloss on the Prime Minister’s slogan that “We’re all in this together”. Take a settled residential block north of the river. All the residents are comfortably off, with security provided 24 hours a day. If this legislation is enacted, the sub-letters and online letting companies will march in. The premiums are such that you can make three times as much income as you can from ordinary longer-term lettings. Even if we disregard the diminution in housing stock in London, which is already at crisis point, the health tourists would move in and out with their families, treating the place like a hotel and an A&E department combined.
If you are really unlucky, the prostitutes and housing benefit fraudsters will move in, while at best it will become a temporary residence for overseas businessmen and their families, who are often no respecters of other people’s property or peace of mind. The residents will experience an increase in unauthorised rubbish dumping—and flooding, if they live in flats below the temporary residence. By the way, it will be virtually impossible for the fire authorities to keep track of this. The nature of the residential block will change and there will be nothing that the majority of residents can do about it. They in turn will be tempted to move in order to escape the disruption when temporary letting becomes the norm in that block of flats. To my knowledge, this is already happening at the margins.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, the British Hospitality Association, the Bed and Breakfast Association and many others have sent submissions about this clause. Westminster City Council has provided an excellent briefing as well. That council has done a sterling job in fending off the marauders. Yes, I am praising a Conservative council. All those bodies are saying the same thing: the proposed change will pave the way for largely unregulated short-term online rental companies to operate more freely in London and remove the main mechanism by which regulators currently have the chance to ensure the safety of the public. The largest of these online companies, Airbnb, has over 23,000 premises in the UK for paying guests—premises which do not comply with government guidelines on fire safety.
Other cities in the world are striving to adopt the same controls that we are about to throw away. Paris, New York and Singapore have experienced housing inflation and anti-social behaviour in residential neighbourhoods. Westminster City Council has dealt with 7,362 enforcement cases in the past 15 years, equating to nearly seven years’ housing supply. In fact, this proposal is so unpopular, I think it must have been cooked up at the same dinner party as employee share ownership and the abolition of 100 year-old health and safety legislation on strict liability.
I turn to the proposal in Clause 1 to exempt the self-employed from health and safety law if they are not on a prescribed list. The Government claim that they are following a recommendation by Professor Lofstedt, but that is only partially true. The professor must be rather bruised by his encounters with this Government. He makes a recommendation that is circled about with conditions and caution, and it is snatched by this Government like a hungry child wanting a liqueur chocolate—of course, they will be able to have liqueur chocolate fairly soon. Professor Lofstedt indicated that any exemption should be for those,
“whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others”.
The Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin, said that,
“about two thirds of the people in the country who are self-employed will no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/14; col. 41.]
That really gives the game away, doesn’t it? It is a sad day when we mark the 40th anniversary of that Act in this way.
It is also regrettable that the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health was dismissed by the Solicitor-General as an organisation of “consultants”. I know that IOSH has written to correct this but it should be remembered that it has a royal charter and 44,000 members worldwide and is recognised by the ILO. It is a distinguished and knowledgeable organisation and is severely concerned by this clause. It deserves to be listened to.
The current draft of prescribed activities, produced very late in the day, includes construction, which I know a bit about. I am not reassured. I make it clear that I am not referring to the large construction companies, which are seized of the business case for a healthy and safe building site. It is the refurbishment industry, which is notorious for recruiting underskilled workers and for accidents. What happens if an employer informs his workers, who may be bogus self-employed, that, “This is not a building site so we’re exempt”? They are desperate for work and will take what they are given. Will the Government make it clear what is and what is not a building site? Is scaffolding around a house or a trench dug in the garden to be covered by the word “construction”? Are self- employed plumbers, electricians and carpenters covered in domestic housing? If not, how will the householder be alerted?
It is estimated that 90% of construction workers in London are self-employed or bogus self-employed. There is a worrying proportion of cowboys operating in London: small operators who know that there is a slim chance that they will be inspected by the HSE and who will exempt themselves from the prescribed list with little or no comeback, so there is an increased risk premium in London for workers and the public.
I remind the House that we kill 50 construction workers a year in accidents at work, let alone serious injuries and the scandal of unreported accidents. In addition, 32 construction workers die every week of lung-related diseases, and that figure is going up, not down. If three-quarters of the self-employed are to be exempt, as Oliver Letwin says, this must include some construction and allied workers.
The current Health and Safety at Work etc. Act is simple and easily understood. Everyone knows where they stand. Creating a prescribed list will cause confusion and encourage the cowboys.
My Lords, having seen successive deregulation units created and then relabelled within government over the past 25 years, I can see that it is clear that, more than previous Governments, the coalition has got to grips with the deregulation agenda. I therefore welcome many aspects of the Bill and in particular the further cuts in red tape in the Licensing Act regulation, particularly those relating to community events.
There are, however, differing views as to what is sensible deregulation to ease a regulatory burden and what should be retained to protect the consumer, keep a market open or protect an individual right. I hope, therefore, that the Government will prove as flexible as they were in response to pre-legislative scrutiny.
There are a number of issues about the content of the Bill. As we have heard from many noble Lords, if the BBC is to continue to be financed by the licence fee, it is important that we retain a system that is successful in maintaining the current low levels of evasion and of collection costs. At the very least, the Government should review, under Clauses 59 and 60, the appropriate penalties for non-payment of the licence fee, which should be considered as part of the total review of the BBC charter and licence fee funding.
As we have also heard, Clause 34 involves amendments to Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Acts 1973 and 1983, which require that London residential property owners and tenants seek planning approval prior to using residential property to sell accommodation on a night-by-night basis. We have heard also that many of us have seen the brief from Westminster City Council. This makes a devastating case against the proposal. We are in the middle of a major shortage of housing accommodation in London at a time of strongly rising population. This would lead to an unsustainable loss of permanent residential accommodation.
Existing provisions ensure that whole blocks of flats are not blighted by hotel-type use year round. I hope that the Government listen to the very council that would be most affected. We must keep London as a place to live, not just to visit. As the British Hospitality Association says, and as we also heard today, cities such as Paris, New York and Singapore have enacted measures recently to control the surge in commercial use of residential properties. Have the Government carried out an impact assessment on these proposals?
Another area where there seems to have been no economic impact assessment is the provisions of Clause 51 and Schedule 15. These provisions potentially mean not only that the summer holidays could be a great deal shorter but also that each of 25,000 schools in England could have its own holiday arrangements, causing confusion for parents, teachers, pupils and industry. This could, not least, have a major impact on the UK hospitality and tourism industry, which employs 3 million people, many of them in seaside areas. We have heard the reference to BALPPA, which represents British leisure parks and attractions. It says, in its brief:
“Shifting term times would be devastating for those that rely on seasonal trade which cannot be recouped elsewhere”.
It points out that, where similar schemes have been introduced in the US, the evidence clearly shows that moving school holidays reduces tourism spending, and that this is not made up elsewhere.
Coming to the omissions rather than commissions, and with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is not in his place, I have some ideas for additions to the Bill. We have the issue of busking. The Mayor of London has rightly been fulsome about the place of busking in London life. In the Bill we should explicitly remove Part 5 of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, which provides for busking licensing schemes at individual London councils’ discretion. We should also remove Section 54(14) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which was recently used against buskers in Leicester Square.
As I explained to the House, the King’s Parade, the winners of the mayor’s busking competition, were interrupted by the police mid-song as they performed in Leicester Square and informed that they were in breach of Section 54 of the archaic 1839 Metropolitan Police Act. They were bundled into a van by eight officers and held at Paddington police station for more than six hours. This 174-year-old piece of legislation, which also—I think the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would be pleased by this—prohibits kite flying, sleigh riding and doorbell ringing, was used to justify the arrest.
There are more than adequate powers under separate legislation to deal with noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour. For example, there is the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Control of Pollution Act 1974. There are also powers to make by-laws available to local authorities with respect to street nuisance. Camden, under the London Local Authorities Act, has banned street music at any time, amplified or unamplified, except through a special busking licence. Camden’s approach runs completely counter to the arguments heard and accepted by government and Parliament during the Live Music Act debates.
We have also heard that another potential missed opportunity is the inclusion of provisions to repeal Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. We have heard eloquent speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Grade and Lord Macdonald on this subject. It is quite clear that Section 73 of the CDPA is an outdated copyright exception that allows cable operators to retransmit PSB channels without permission or payment to broadcasters or to the people who created the content. We have heard why it was introduced. Cable is now a highly effective and well resourced competitor to Sky and Freeview. Pay TV platforms are able to make money from PSB content while benefiting from a regulatory regime under which no payment goes back to the public service broadcaster or to any content creator.
As we have head, reform is even more urgent as a result of personal video recorders—PVRs. These enable consumers to record programmes and avoid watching advertisements. PVRs are revenue-earning and customer-retention devices, yet none of the value that the pay TV platforms derive from them reaches those who help to create the content on which they depend. Section 73 now simply represents a subsidy from the PSBs to cable operators. Section 73 is also being relied on by online service providers, such as TVCatchup, to make money from the PSB channels by retransmitting them while selling their own advertising around PSB content.
The Government have said that they must wait for the end of current litigation with TVCatchup, but there are no legal reasons that would prevent them supporting any amendment to the Deregulation Bill. Indeed, ongoing litigation is not affected by a change of law, as set out in the Interpretation Act 1978. The UK is not alone in reviewing this issue. In the US, News Corporation—yes, News Corporation—has led the charge in favour of fees. I urge the Government to consider using the Bill to promote growth in the creative industries by including a clause to repeal Section 73.
Finally, we need an urgent review of noise abatement legislation to cater for the situation where a venue with a very good record and no complaints is subject to a complaint or potential complaint from a new occupier or developer. Venues are closing with great rapidity as a result of this inappropriate use of noise legislation. We need to act fast. I look forward to my noble friend’s reply.
My Lords, I will speak on housing and, like my noble friends, against the folly of Clause 1 and its changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act. Clause 29 reduces the qualifying period for the right to buy from five to three years. We know that this is part of what the Government have labelled “reinvigorating the right to buy”. It has been accompanied by secondary legislation that increased the maximum percentage discount for houses sold to 70%, and increased the cash cap to £75,000—£100,000 in London—which in future is to be uprated by CPI.
We want to see people enabled to purchase a home, and we support the right to buy. However, housing is in crisis in this country, and especially affordable housing. Last year the Government built the lowest number of homes for social rent for more than 20 years and since records began. Section 106 agreements have been watered down, the capital budget for affordable housing has been cut by 60%, and the affordable rent model is anything but affordable. If recent reports are true, the Government are in panic over the prospect of yet a further fall in housebuilding as the general election looms. The Government’s favourite scapegoat to blame is the planning system, but can the Minister confirm that some 9,000 sites with full planning permission have not yet started building?
Therefore we will press the Government on their declared replacement policy. The formulation which they adopt is that they would use the receipts from additional—note, not all—right to buy sales to replace every additional home sold. We will wish to probe in Committee exactly what that means and how it would work in practice. It does not appear to cover sales under the preserved right to buy, which is to the detriment of the finances of housing associations.
We can see the merit of rationalising technical housing standards and their inclusion in the main building regulations, albeit with scope to deal with local circumstances. The Minister will be aware of the briefing from Leonard Cheshire which welcomes proposals to incorporate lifetime homes standards into building regulations, but expresses concern that they will potentially be optional. We will wish to be reassured that this is not the case.
We should be proud of our health and safety system in the UK. Over 40 years it has helped save countless lives and protected many from injury and ill health. Since this Government came to office there have been three reviews of its scope and operations — that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, of Professor Lofstedt, and the triennial review. Each in its way has concluded that the system and the HSE is fit for purpose and doing an effective job.
We oppose Clause 1 not on ideological grounds, nor because our instinct is to resist any weakening of health and safety requirements, and nor because we believe that there is still a lingering antipathy to its cause in some higher reaches of government. We oppose it because whatever minor benefits the clause might bring are more than outweighed by the confusion and uncertainty it will engender.
The position at present is very clear. Under Section 3(2) of the 1974 Act every self-employed person is required to conduct their undertaking to ensure that,
“so far as is reasonably practicable … he and other persons … are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety”.
What could be fairer or more decent than that? Yet the Bill will restrict the requirement to those engaged in prescribed undertakings expressed by the Minister in another place to be “high-risk” activities. Notwithstanding that there is only a draft list of prescribed undertakings thus far—although an HSE consultation with a list commenced just today—Oliver Letwin proclaimed in another place that I think about two-thirds of people who are self-employed will no longer be covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. Why is that something to be proud of?
The Government, as my noble friend Lady Donaghy said, point to Professor Lofstedt as the reason for doing that, but that was not his recommendation. He recommended that an exemption should apply to those self-employed who have no employees and who pose no potential risk of harm to others. Even then, he acknowledged:
“The actual burden that the regulations currently place upon these self-employed may not be particularly significant”.
That point was reinforced by evidence from IOSH to the Public Bill Committee, where Richard Jones made clear:
“To our mind, the proposed exempted group … is not overly burdened by health and safety at the moment”.—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 25/2/14; col. 5.]
As the TUC points out, there is no need to make any change, because anyone who is self- employed but does not pose a risk to themselves or others cannot be prosecuted. They have no need to do a written risk assessment.
The HSE was clear that the best basis for any exemption should be to allow it only to those who would not be expected to put others at risk at any point in the normal course of their work and only if they did not work in certain prescribed industries. Paragraph 18 of the 2013 impact assessment states that,
“we explored the possibility of being wholly prescriptive and making a comprehensive list of the occupations, industries, or combinations thereof that would be covered by the exemption … However, discussion with sector experts within HSE made it clear that within occupations and industries there are many exceptions and atypical cases. Relying exclusively on such an approach would therefore risk unintended consequences”.
What is the huge burden that offending legislation imposes on the self-employed, and which holds back the advance of entrepreneurial zeal? The HSE’s original assessment was that the risk assessment would take—15 minutes a year. Annual savings for the new and existing self-employed would be about £500,000 a year—in aggregate, that is—but there would be upfront familiarisation costs of nearly £2 million. All of that, therefore, for the self-employed to save a quarter of an hour a year and on average less than 50p. The figures for today’s updated assessment tell the same story.
However, the proposition for exemption now in the Bill has greater health and safety risks. The HSE made it clear that some of the occupations proposed to be exempt have injury rates statistically higher than the average for all occupations. These, it said, include motor mechanics, furniture manufacturers, animal care occupations, metalworking, and maintenance fitters. That is a deeply flawed and dangerous position for the Government to take.
First, in framing the exemption using a prescribed list approach, we know that some who operate in risky businesses in a risky way will fall within the exemption. Secondly, even if the exemption could be phrased in a narrower way, the estimated savings are tiny. The prospect of exemption for some will provide another spur to the encouragement for individuals to declare a self-employed status—bogus or otherwise.
There is scope for huge confusion about whether someone will be exempt or not, particularly among the self-employed, who might typically get their information through informal channels and in circumstances when Ministers are talking up the scale and scope of exemptions. There could be confusion for those who take on an employee for part of a year, or whose activities are partly within a prescribed undertaking and partly outside. I hope that the Government will reflect and draw back from Clause 1.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will flag up a couple of points in the gap which will need further attention as we go through the Bill.
There is a dearth of accessible housing in the UK. As a result, one in six disabled people and more than half of disabled children live in accommodation that is not suitable for their needs. The need for disabled-friendly housing will only grow as the population ages, and providing good housing can reduce the need for care. The Government’s proposal to incorporate lifetime homes and wheelchair-accessible standards into building regulations is therefore most welcome. However, I am concerned that those standards will be only optional and concerned at the suggestion that planning authorities will be able to adopt them only where they can satisfy a rigorous needs test and show that they are strictly necessary and justifiable, not just desirable.
The GLA has committed to all new buildings matching lifetime homes standards and to 10% of all new homes being built to wheelchair-accessible standards. I would like to see the approach taken by successive mayors in London rolled out across the UK and I believe that the Bill should be encouraging that. Instead, I am concerned that it could actively discourage authorities from taking that positive approach if they are required to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops. I therefore seek the Minister’s assurance that the Government accept that the level of evidence gathered by the GLA is sufficiently rigorous to support the introduction of lifetime homes and wheelchair-accessible standards. I would also like to see an exemption from the community infrastructure levy for fully wheelchair-accessible housing and a reduction for that which meets the lifetime homes standard.
I turn to my second point. The Bill includes provisions on parking. Clause 38 amends the Road Traffic Act to prevent local authorities from issuing penalty charge notices through the post and using CCTV for parking enforcement in particular circumstances. I was glad to see that the Opposition have some reservations about this. The clause was inserted following a government consultation on local authority parking strategies. The Government acknowledged that a common theme in responses to the consultation was the need for a uniform approach to pavement parking, but this has not been followed up in the Bill. That is a major omission. Pavement parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially parents with pushchairs, wheelchair users and other disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, who may be forced out into the road where they cannot see oncoming traffic. Pavements are not designed to take the weight of vehicles and they cause pavements to crack and the tarmac surface to subside. This is also a hazard to pedestrians, who may trip on broken pavements, and particularly to blind and partially sighted people, who cannot observe the damage. It is also expensive. Local authorities paid more than £1 billion on repairing kerbs, pavements and walkways between 2006 and 2010; £106 million was also paid in compensation claims to people tripping and falling on broken pavements during the same five-year period.
Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, with the support of at least a dozen other organisations, is calling for laws across the UK prohibiting pavement parking unless specifically permitted, such as have been in place in Greater London since 1974. Local authorities report that existing measures are insufficient. In a recent YouGov survey, 78% of councillors supported a national law with flexibility for local authorities to make exemptions. The Transport Select Committee described the current system as unduly complex and difficult for motorists to understand. A Private Member’s Bill with cross-party support has been presented in the other place by Martin Horwood MP. There is considerable support for a law of this type, and I very much hope that the Government will give it serious consideration.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, which—a bit like this Christmas tree of a Bill—has been like a Christmas party, with people calling in to raise concerns, including about inadequate consultation, last-minute clauses and lack of evidence, which leads us to query whether this Bill is more about dogma than good governance. Why do the Government speak with a forked tongue—more red tape for charities and unions under the lobby Bill, as my noble friend Lord Monks reminded us; more red tape for trading standards officers under the consumer Bill; and an attack on localism in this Bill, despite the Localism Act passed in the Session before last? None of us likes red tape—unless it is around those presents under the Christmas tree—but it is worth remembering that regulation is brought in for pretty good reasons, such as to safeguard children or the public, or, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to ensure that the interests of the consumer are pre-eminent. Whether we are introducing or abolishing regulation, it is always worth asking who it helps and whether it is worth the candle.
Like the Consumer Rights Bill, which we debated last week, I like the title of this Bill, as indeed I think does the noble Lord, Lord Cope. It is the content that leaves me a bit queasy, for the reasons that we have heard today. As the 35th speaker, there is nothing new for me to say, but I think that one or two themes have emerged. The first is the absence of evidence for some of these changes. The second is the inadequate consultation that took place, particularly with local authorities over both alcohol and minicab licensing, or with the taxi industry over the clauses that put the safety of passengers at risk. Indeed, there seems to be a lack of consideration for consumers, just six days after the Second Reading of the Consumer Rights Bill.
I start with Clause 1. Apart from the points elaborated by my noble friends Lady Andrews, Lady Donaghy, Lord Monks, Lord Collins, Lord Whitty, Lord McKenzie and Lord Rooker, as well as the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham and Lord Fowler, I wonder how the Bill provides for the interests of those, mostly the elderly, whose hairdresser visits them at home; those who are passengers of self-employed drivers; and myriad others who are protected by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That legislation places duties on the self-employed to ensure that they do not expose themselves or others, including non-employees, to health and safety risks. That includes customers, clients, visitors and the public. Who asked those people whether they wanted to lose such protection?
Similarly with taxis and minicabs, serious concerns have been raised by my noble friends Lord Monks, Lord Whitty, Lord Collins, Lord Davies of Oldham, Lady Turner and Lady Thornton, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Hussain. Like everyone on the government and opposition Benches—not, I have to say, the Bishops’ or the Cross Benches—I have visited Brighton many times for the wonderful delights of party conferences. We arrive at the station and jump into those very familiar Brighton and Hove cabs, and we know that we are going to be safe. We know that they have been tested for safety and that their drivers have been tested for competence, insurance and trustworthiness. Brighton and Hove, by way of example, now worries that ending annual relicensing will diminish its effectiveness as a regulator, while having out-of-area cabs on its streets—over which the authority has no control—will pose a risk to customers. As my noble friends have already said, it will be women who will be the most vulnerable to illegal pick-ups by unlicensed drivers in minicabs or even from licensed drivers, who will no longer be checked annually. So just who asked for this measure, introduced with minimal consultation? It was certainly not women or passengers, nor, as we have heard, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust or crime commissioners.
As for banning CCTV for parking, this comes from the same Government who brought in the Localism Act but now decide to dictate to local authorities how they can enforce, or not enforce, parking as they think best, and despite six of the eight consultation responses opposing a CCTV ban. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, it is, after all, local government that knows its area best. In my own borough of Camden, more than 85% of CCTV enforcements cover major junctions, bus stops, pedestrian crossings and no-waiting areas. In a busy urban area these are key to keeping traffic moving and for safety, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and my noble friends Lord Davies of Oldham and Lord Whitty said.
On alcohol licensing, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, outlined the worry that the new ancillary licences might allow virtually any business, when serving drink is not its primary purpose, to sell alcohol. Health groups fear that this could lead to virtually unlimited alcohol premises. Who demanded this? Why were local authorities, health bodies and others not properly consulted? What research was undertaken on any downside, including any impact on the emergency and ancillary services? Why is there no requirement to make public health a licensing condition? Why is there no minimum price legislation? And why piecemeal changes rather than making this part of a proper strategy, which the Government had laid out in 2012 but seem to have abandoned, to tackle the million crimes linked to alcohol, let alone the cost to our health service?
Turning to insolvency practitioners, here the Government, I think, have got it wrong with their suggested regime of partial authorisation for insolvency practitioners, as my noble friend Lord Rooker, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said. Splitting the regulation of this tiny profession into two—for company and for individual insolvencies—would particularly harm small firms, two-thirds of which do both corporate and personal insolvency work, just at the same time as the Government’s small business Bill is meant to be helping small businesses.
Furthermore, it would require the development, delivery and oversight of new, additional systems of exams and qualifications. It would also allow some insolvency practitioners to undertake corporate bankruptcies, which almost always also affect the status of the individuals involved, with no qualification over the needs of the latter. In Committee, we will seek to ensure that this does not become the case. Regulation is usually for the consumers, the community or the vulnerable, as my noble friend Lady Turner said. It used to be the Tories who argued that the City was overregulated, and look where that led us.
More locally, as a cyclist—albeit not today in lycra cycling from Cambridge and across Westminster Bridge—I take great comfort from knowing that lorries on our roads are not overloaded, that their tyre pressures are checked, that their drivers are qualified, that their insurance is in place, that their fumes are not excessive and that their brakes work. All of that, of course, is as a result of regulation. However, that does not seem to be enough for this Government. They now want all regulators to include the growth duty, including, I presume, the Health and Safety Executive, the Information Commissioner, the Gambling Commission, the Charity Commission, the Electoral Commission, the Health and Care Professions Council, Monitor, the Legal Services Board and Ofsted—soon to be headed, we gather, by a Tory donor if the papers are to be believed. All those will now have the growth duty. It will be essential that the economic growth strategy does not trump the principal objective of those regulators, because that surely is the protection of the public interest.
Will the Government heed the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, the ICC, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, and indeed the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said:
“Applying the economic growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence”,
because it would be compelled take directions from the Secretary of State? Has dogma trumped common sense and good governance? Anyway, is this really deregulatory, as my noble friend Lady Andrews asked?
There are other issues on which we will await with interest the response of the Government, including the proposal from my noble friend Lord Macdonald to amend the copyright Act 1988 in relation to broadcasting. That attracted the support of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and my noble friend Lord Dubs, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Grade.
In the light of comments by the noble Lords, Lord Fowler, Lord Grade, Lord Stoneham, Lord Sharkey and Lord Clement-Jones, we also seek reassurance from the Minister that no decision on decriminalising BBC licence non-payment will be taken prior to the review of the royal charter.
We also look forward to the Minister’s response to other issues raised by my noble friends Lady Donaghy, Lady Turner, Lady Andrews, Lord Whitty, Lord Davies, Lord McKenzie and Lord Rooker and the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham, Lord Grade and Lord Clement-Jones, on a range of issues, such as right to buy, London short lets, gangmasters, maritime investigations and even school holidays.
Despite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, there is no demand from consumers for a relaxation of the settled position on Sunday trading. Let us leave well alone something that balances family shopping preferences with workers’ rights, the interests of corner shops and the legitimate expectations of churchgoers.
Like the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Brabazon, I welcome paragraph 40 in Part 8 of Schedule 20—and yes, I did read it. It repeals sections of the Defamation Act 1996, as would have been the case with the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to which we gave a Second Reading on 27 June, but which now will not be needed in the light of this legislation.
I turn finally to knitting yarns. Perhaps I see myself as une tricoteuse at la Place de la Révolution, or Place de la Concorde as it is now, watching the guillotine fall on the supposed red tape. But this is no revolution. It is a slightly tacky hotchpotch of a Bill, conceived for effect and designed by committee. We will bless the bits that do no harm and welcome the few that help, but we will seek to amend those that pose risks to workers, consumers and to the public at large.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest of which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in his opening speech reminded me. My wife was a member of the previous Government’s Better Regulation Commission from 2006 to 2008. She reminds me that after the change of Prime Minister the previous Labour Government abolished it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, reminded us that what the House of Lords does best, and what is indeed becoming our core role, is to examine the details of legislation placed before us. We can all agree that this Bill has a wealth of detail. Those who got all the way through to Schedule 20 understand that fully and thus we shall have lots to explore at the Committee stage. It is evident from today’s debate that there is particular concern over Clause 1 and Clauses 10 to 12. Many other clauses and parts of schedules have been warmly welcomed. Some have been queried, with much more information requested, and there will indeed be much to explore in Committee which will start when we return in October. I note what is being said about generous time being needed for that stage.
Between now and then the Government, as always, are open to consult off the Floor, with all those who wish to do so, including the Local Government Association, although not within this Bill taking on the whole universe of local licensing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, perhaps suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, requested hyperlinks to previous legislation. In informal consultations the other day, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked for a Keeling schedule for the entire Bill. We have noted both of those requests and will see what we can do. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, talked about the distinction between better regulation, smart regulation and fit regulation. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others said, there is a difference between deregulation and re-regulation.
One of the things we have learnt over the past few years is that there is a constant need for adjustment and adaptation in regulation. We need to look constantly at what is no longer necessary, even as we look at what is now needed. We need a great deal more regulation of the internet, for example. If the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, were here, he would have linked the transformation of broadcasting with that of the transformation of the taxi market by things like Uber and the transformation of short-term lets by the arrival of Airbnb. These are all new phenomena that technology has pushed on us in what one of the contributors remarked as being this fast-changing digital world.
I note, however, that excessive regulation does sink economies. It was not until the crash of the Greek economy and finances that we discovered just how amazingly overregulated the Greek economy was and how much that held it back. I remember as a student the beginnings of the deregulation of the British economy by that nowadays underestimated politician, Edward Heath, in his deregulation of the retail market. The growth agenda is important and we always have to look at it in making sure that old regulations go even as new regulations are sometimes needed.
Underlying some of our discussions there have been suspicions of a hidden agenda: whether or not the health and safety culture is threatened—I wish to assure noble Lords that it is not; whether the BBC is about to be undermined; whether the proposals on marine accidents are really an attempt to get away from marine accident investigations. Again, I can assure noble Lords that they are not. We will come back to those issues in detail in Committee.
A number of other issues have been raised that are not currently within the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Clement-Jones, Lord Grade and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, referred to the issue of retransmission revenues. I listened with interest to some of this. I think I have received nearly a dozen communications from Virgin Media in Saltaire over the past 12 months. Since it put cable through Saltaire it is extremely keen for us all to subscribe and is sending me some extremely generously printed brochures almost every month.
I take the point that public service broadcasters should not be subsidising commercial enterprises. We are of course willing to talk to others about how and within what framework we address Section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, although the Government may be reluctant to concede that that fits appropriately within this Bill.
I noted in Schedule 20 that anyone who keeps a pigsty is part of what we are now repealing. I am just old enough as a small boy to have visited farms where they still had pigsties and indeed once visited a farm where they were in the action of killing a pig. That is part of the thing that no longer takes place and therefore we no longer need it.
We also touched on busking and Sunday trading. I share the feeling of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that it is probably quite a good thing that we are not tackling Sunday trading as well as everything else on this occasion. Perhaps the next Government will wish to reopen that immediately.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked where the figures for savings from the Bill came from. Officials have prepared a summary table of the Bill and I am very happy to share this with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, following the debate and to put it in the Library for all noble Lords. It is part of the Red Tape Challenge. Many of these are estimates but we are fairly confident that they are not too imprecise.
Clause 1, the health and safety clause, has clearly set a number of concerns running. The prescribed list of high-hazard activities is now being consulted on. The consultation went out today and is available online. It will run for 12 weeks which means that it will be completed by the Committee stage and the regulators will thus be able to issue at least some guidance towards that by the time we are in Committee. The new regulations will use definitions of health and safety already present in law, which means that we are not changing the context of health and safety. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I am informed that Professor Löfstedt wrote to the Commons committee in support of the clause as drafted. We will both investigate further to see who is quoting Professor Löfstedt more directly.
On the question on whether the number of self-employed workers is growing because of the expansion of bogus self-employed contracts, the Government are taking parallel action in other forums to stop the use of such bogus contracts. For example, in this year’s Finance Bill, the Government introduced changes to the agency tax rules to put a stop to the growing use of those requirements. This is not intended to allow any expansion in that area. We are looking at professional people who work at home and do not employ others. That is the category from which we hope to lift unnecessary regulations.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and other noble Lords raised the question of tribunals. There is no evidence to suggest that the wider recommendations prevent reoffence. That is why the Government decided to remove this burden. In one very clear recent case involving the Metropolitan Police and a diplomatic protection officer, the tribunal made no wider recommendations but the Metropolitan Police has made it clear that it recognises that there are wider concerns. I do not think this is such a difficult issue. There is some evidence, which was presented to the Government in the consultation, that this involved additional cost for smaller employers and did not produce great benefit for others.
A lot was said about taxis and private hire vehicles and I am sure that we will have an impassioned debate on this issue in Committee. We are conscious that there is a range of concerns including, as a number of noble Lords have said, questions of safety. The question of the use of private hire vehicles by others when they are off-duty clearly needs to be examined. However, we have looked at the Law Commission recommendations and are satisfied that taking these measures forward neither undermines the Law Commission review nor necessarily means that we will not take the Law Commission proposals into account at a later stage when it produces its Bill.
Parking has also raised a lot of issues for many noble Lords, with the question of CCTV and parking fines. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that we have not considered the risks of removing the use of CCTV as we are not talking about doing that. There were a number of questions about how CCTV is used at a local level, on which all of us have slightly different and ambivalent views. Again, we will come back to that in detail in Committee.
On short-term lets, as someone who had never really thought about this problem previously, I listened with interest. I live close to Wimbledon where, every year, a number of well-off local people seem to let out their houses for two weeks at a time for remarkably large sums. I have to admit that the Wallaces had considered whether we should go away for two weeks. My wife, however, said no, because she actually likes going to Wimbledon herself rather than sitting and watching it on TV. There are some important issues about, first, what is now happening; secondly, why the regulations in London are different from those in the rest of the country; thirdly, how far the evolution of short-term letting through the internet is beginning to change the situation anyway; and fourthly, therefore, how we respond to that.
On the right to buy, we recognise worries about whether there is an underlying agenda and how this will affect the future provision of social housing. A problem we all face with social housing is that the previous Government did not build enough social housing and this Government have so far, disappointingly, not been able to build as much social housing as we would like. Part of what is required under the Bill is that councils which sell houses use the money to build new social housing as part of the deal.
On optional building regulations, Clause 32 will not amend standards related to safety. It will allow for certain requirements to be adapted locally, but will provide for the range of what standards are permissible to be set nationally. I am happy to discuss this further with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and others as part of the consultation between now and Committee stage.
The Minister referred to 12 weeks earlier. We are going to have at least 12 weeks between Second Reading and the start of Committee stage. That is very unusual. I can see at least 800 or 900 amendments. If events take their course, they will not be tabled until 10 October. Would it not be a good idea for the staff of the House, and the Minister’s own staff who are providing those responses, if we were able to table amendments from, say, 1 September rather than have to put them all in on the day we come back, which would not be conducive to having a decent debate on the Bill? It is a bit unusual, but we are in unusual times. We can do it if we decide to do so. Perhaps the Minister could take some advice and come back on that.
That is a very constructive suggestion. I will take it away and we will discuss it.
On short-term lets in London, I am told that the question was included in the consultation issued in February last year on a review of the property conditions of the private rented sector. Nearly 100 responses were received and the Government will publish their response shortly.
One of the happy surprises I have in facing this Bill is that my initial feeling that the rights of way clauses of the Bill would be the most difficult turns out not to be the case. The Ramblers, the Country Land and Business Association and others have written to me to say that they are united in asking for no further amendments to this part. I hope that we can all hold to that. It is remarkably unusual to find a situation in which all those involved in a deeply contentious area, which has been contentious for a very long time, have come to an agreement and are asking us to put it into law. Let us see how far we can get on that following their consensus.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and others asked about the TV licensing review. As a matter of course, I can tell him that the terms of reference will be laid in the Libraries of both Houses and the review itself must begin within three months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.
That was not the main purpose of most of the comments, which was to allow for a discussion of the terms of reference of that review on the Floor of the Chamber. Simply to place them in the Libraries is not sufficient. Will the noble Lord reconsider that?
I am told that the Government are currently committed to putting the terms of reference to both Houses at a later stage. I think that the noble Lord is asking for an early consultation. Again, let us talk off the Floor and see how far we get on that. My noble friend Lord Gardiner speaks for the DCMS and it may therefore be particularly appropriate that he would speak on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, was particularly concerned about the potential growth of alcohol consumption. I hope that in Committee we will be able to reassure him about what is proposed in these measures, which I recall have been discussed in terms of local arrangements allowing local communities to have events with fewer hoops to jump through in what I am told are community and ancillary sellers notices. The intention is strongly that this will be limited to a small part of any business that is allowed to do so. We do not see hairdressers offering gin and tonics to those who come to have their hair cut, which I think was almost what the noble Lord was suggesting, and other matters of that sort. Again, we will explore that further in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had concerns about the repeal of the duty of the Senior President of Tribunals to report. I am told that, since the duty to report was introduced in 2007, other and more effective feedback mechanisms have been introduced—the production of a report by the Senior President of Tribunals no longer represents the most effective way of providing feedback. What the tribunals now do is to introduce summary reasons in employment support allowance appeals, starting initially on four sites. These summary reports have been found to be more useful than what was done before. Again, I am happy to talk further if that helps.
I have taken a lot of time and I have not talked about the closure of small prisons or the whole relationship between the Law Commission and this Bill. It is perhaps time for a short debate on the future role of the Law Commission as there is quite a lot of interest in that.
Before I close, I will talk about the question of the growth duty and in particular the EHRC, because I know there is a lot of concern about that. We are considering the question of how far the growth duty extends to non-economic regulators. Again, that is something that we will discuss further. We look forward to a lively and lengthy Committee stage. I congratulate all those who have read the entire Bill all the way through to the end of Schedule 20. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to put some probing questions to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and perhaps ask for his help with something that I am rather puzzled about. I detect a less than enthusiastic response from the medical and health establishment to the development and potential of what is being called the polypill. Perhaps the noble Earl will share the reasons for it and helpfully suggest a way forward for some more constructive engagement on the issue, if that is at all possible.
As we know, strokes and heart disease remain a major public health problem. Across the population as a whole, the chance of having a heart attack or cerebrovascular accident rises as people get older, and age is the single most important predictor of future cardiovascular disease. But we know now—there is robust evidence—that the consumption of fixed-dose polypills containing effective combinations of low-cost off-patent statins and blood pressure medicines can safely cut the rate of unwanted vascular events by 70% or more in otherwise untreated subjects, whatever the initial combined level of their blood cholesterol and other disease risk factors. The use of such a preventive technology across the general population, with access determined by age alone, would prevent the need for much more costly and inefficient risk-testing, and maximise the health gains. Clearly, it is aimed at people in their 50s and 60s who would not at the moment meet any treatment threshold.
The use of the polypill focuses on primary prevention, whereas the majority of current medical activity is focused on secondary prevention. Of course, if a first heart attack or stroke is prevented, there is no second one to prevent. My understanding is that if people take this daily from the age of 50, one in three people would benefit and would gain an extra eight years of life without heart attack or stroke—similar to the benefit achieved by stopping smoking in middle age.
I suppose that the polypill can be thought of as a form of drug-based vaccination that reduces vascular disease rates. However, unlike the situation with vaccines, there is no threshold level of use needed to ensure herd immunity—the higher proportion of healthy people taking the polypill, the greater the benefits—but no one needs to be encouraged against their personal judgment to take it if they do not wish to do so.
An article in the BMJ in April, which contained research news, said:
“Inconsistencies in the design of studies investigating the potential of polypills to prevent cardiovascular disease make the impact of these pills difficult to prove, a systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration has found. However, the reviewers are confident that polypills do have a role in protecting large populations against cardiovascular disease”.
One would have thought that there would then be a great rush of enthusiasm by the NHS and indeed the medical and health sector generally to use the polypill. But as far as I can see, we have had mostly silence and in some cases downright hostility. There has clearly been difficulty making a polypill with a licence for the primary presentation of cardiovascular disease, and pharmaceutical companies see little commercial advantage because the components of the polypill are all generic. I understand that they are also put off by the uncertainty and cost of obtaining regulatory approval.
I wonder whether we are seeing here a parallel to the statin debate, which, as a lay person, I have found utterly confusing. I pick up the sense among some sections of the medical profession, particularly the public health profession—and I stand here as president of the Royal Society for Public Health—that pills are not really virtuous. It feels as though there is a puritanical approach which suggests that healthy living is the only appropriate policy to adopt in the prevention of stroke and heart disease. I also suspect that doctors fear the workload implication of this kind of medication when it comes out. Perhaps they also fear losing control. In a sense, the use of polypills could be seen as the public very much taking ownership of their own health.
There is no evidence that the use of polypills would lead to increased vascular disease risk-taking. I understand that the available studies imply that health-promoting behaviours tend to be positively correlated with one another, as might be the case with health-damaging behaviours. As with vaccines, the introduction of a general polypill prevention programme within the NHS would probably require a positive, proactive approach, possibly in the form of some government/private partnership.
I was interested in the Government’s approach to antibiotics last week. Clearly, the current mechanisms—the factors that lead pharmaceutical companies to make major investments—were simply not going to produce the goods and the Government felt that they had to step in. Will the Minister consider whether his department might at least play a somewhat more active role in this debate than it has done hitherto? Would he, at the very least, be prepared either to convene a study or an objective, independent review of the potential of the polypill? Would he, at the very least, be prepared to meet me and colleagues to discuss whether there is a way to take this forward?
I am puzzled that, on the face of it, the polypill could lead to a major reduction in the number of heart attacks and strokes that occur in this country, yet the combined efforts of the medical, health and pharmaceutical establishments seem to want to look the other way. Why?
My Lords, the name polypills is slightly unfortunate. When I heard about this, I immediately drew parallels with polyclinics, keeping it in the health arena, at least; but one of my adult children wondered whether this was veterinary medication for our avian friends. The principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has outlined—I thank him very much for securing this debate—is that the polypill combines four medicines into one; three to lower blood pressure and one to lower cholesterol. Personally, I prefer the name that they have used in Australia and New Zealand, SPACE: single pill to avert cardiovascular events. It seems a neater acronym and explains much more simply what it does.
I thank the Library for its very helpful research pack, not least because it references the proposal that all over-50s should take it. This is some of the research referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Some even suggest that those over 35 who have an at-risk profile might consider taking it every day. Indeed, Dr David Wald at Queen Mary University of London, after his trial, says that 28% of people will benefit by avoiding or delaying heart attacks. However the QMUL studies trial was only 84 patients; perhaps I should say “people”, since it was targeting people who were not yet unwell. Those results show that the blood pressure of around 12% of participants was reduced and 39% had reduction in cholesterol. All this is good, but to have a drug compulsory—because that is how it would be seen, even if it were voluntary—for anyone over 50 seems to me a fairly low benefit ratio.
The papers also describe a cost of “only 50p per day”. This sounds relatively cheap, but it is £15 per month or £180 per year. Even more than that, Dr Wald suggests that it could be sold over the counter and not as a prescription-only medicine. I do not know what the current rate is, but the per-patient allocation for medication in the NHS is not large, and anything over £100 starts to raise eyebrows. The pill would therefore be a substantial burden on the pharmaceutical bill, especially if it was to be used for the entire population over 50 rather than for those who need it.
Even if we accept that there is a good reason to give four tablets in one for healthy people, other considerations still need to be aired. The first is side-effects. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to statins —I suspect that we all know somebody who is on them—the side-effects of which can range from memory loss, muscle problems, polyneuropathy, acidosis, anaemia, cataracts, immune depression and pancreatic and liver disease. Even if you are lucky enough not to have a response to a single one of those drugs, mixtures of drugs may well have combination side-effects. I know from my own area of rheumatology that some people react badly when a mixture of drugs is taken, and they are instructed to take certain drugs in the morning and others in the evening to avoid such contraindications.
I am slightly unhappy about the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to the polypill being parallel to vaccination. I would much rather that people who were thought to be at risk, which could well be anyone over 50, went down the public health route and were asked to consider lifestyle changes, including stopping smoking, looking at their diet, having their cholesterol tested regularly and, most importantly, undertaking some activity. A lot of publicity was given two or three weeks ago to evidence showing that, for the population over 50, you do not have suddenly to become a Tour de France cyclist or a marathon runner and that steady walking that raises your exertion level a bit every day will do the trick.
I therefore wonder whether this “wonder drug” is not trying to solve too much in one easy go, but I am not alone. In an article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 19 July 2012, Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP, was reported as saying that more evidence was needed before a mass programme was embarked on and:
“The history of medicine is rich with ideas that sounded great but either didn’t prove effective—or worse, did harm”.
Natasha Stewart, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, was reported as saying:
“Research into polypills is encouraging, but there are still many questions to answer before this ‘wonder drug’ is prescribed … However interesting this potential new pill is, medicines are not a substitute for living a healthy lifestyle”.
The polypill sounds very enticing, but I am concerned about it for three reasons. First, it is already being described as a wonder drug long before extensive research and careful monitoring of side-effects, including those caused by combining four into one, have been done. As I said earlier, many people are already under strict instructions not to mix certain drugs because they interact. Secondly, the cost at 50 pence a day is not insignificant. To prescribe the pill for a large number of people who will not need it in the longer run seems futile. Like Public Health England, I would much rather see proper medical assessment MoTs being given at 35 and 50, so that people becoming more at risk can be given lifestyle change advice, have regular tests on cholesterol and other things that will indicate whether they are at risk, and can consider whether their level of activity is appropriate. My final concern is that, if the polypill is made available across the counter and not on prescription, some—perhaps many—may think that the pill alone will protect them without their looking at their own lifestyle issues.
Having been pretty depressing about all this, I want to end on a positive note. If further research at a statistically significant level can demonstrate the benefit of the pill, and if the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is satisfied with its efficacy, quality and safety, then, yes, I would welcome it, but there is too little for us to go out and be utterly positive about at the moment.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt for introducing this debate. It is pretty obvious that he, like me, has been briefed by Sir Nick Wald—and I suspect that the noble Earl may have heard a little from him too—so if what I say sounds a little familiar, I hope he will forgive me. Heart attacks and strokes remain among the biggest killers, despite the improvements in mortality rates in recent years. We know many of the risk factors—smoking, alcohol, obesity, salt and lack of exercise—and we must not be distracted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, says, from dealing with these public health issues. They are not mutually exclusive, of course.
We know that we should do more to detect and treat high blood pressure and raised blood cholesterol levels, but there is one important risk factor that we can do little about. That is age. There is a straight-line relationship between age and the incidence of heart attacks and stroke. The older you are, the higher the risk. The most striking thing about this is that about half of those getting one of these killers do not have one or other of the conventional risk factors—they have normal cholesterol and normal blood pressure. They come as a surprise in people thought to be fit, and it is in these unsuspected and unsuspecting individuals where the polypill may play a role.
The rationale for the polypill relies on a number of basic principles and here I rely specifically on Sir Nick Wald’s briefing, so what I say, as I pointed out, may not be entirely novel. First, we know that using drugs to lower a raised serum LDL cholesterol reduces the rate of heart attacks, and lowering the raised blood pressure reduces the incidence of strokes, but the intriguing observation is that the same drugs reduce even normal levels of cholesterol or blood pressure to a similar proportion as in those with raised values.
Furthermore—and here is the nub of the argument—lowering even normal levels reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke. For example, Nick Wald calculates that a fall in blood pressure of 10 millimetres of mercury reduces the risk of stroke by about 60% and reducing serum LDL by 1 millimole per litre lowers the risk of coronary artery disease by 40%. The fact is that there does not appear to be a lower limit below which reducing blood pressure or cholesterol is not effective in reducing risk.
The second principle is that you can achieve as good or better effect in reducing blood pressure from a combination of two or more hypotensive drugs given in half or lower doses than a single drug given in a normal dose, and in this way markedly reduce the incidence of side effects. You get the same impact on blood pressure with many fewer side effects from a combination of half doses.
Therefore, combining these pieces of evidence—risk increasing with age, lowering risk factors even when they are seemingly in the normal range, and combining low doses of drugs to reduce side effects—leads to a conclusion that points to a need to give polypills as a preventive measure to those at risk, namely all the population over the age of 55, say, regardless of their conventional risk profile. Indeed, if they have other more obvious risk factors they are likely to be treated for them by one means or another already. It is the unsuspecting population where a polypill is most likely to be effective. In these, it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure as well as risk.
Nick Wald has suggested that one in three individuals taking a polypill containing small doses of simvastatin, losartan, amlodipine and hydrochlorothiazide would live an extra eight years than they would have done without the pill. It could reasonably be concluded that we should be giving everyone over 55 a polypill of this type, and it would help those harbouring unsuspected coronary artery disease or strokes. If this were a preventive programme like vaccination, as my noble friend suggested, we probably would not hesitate, but of course it is not a one-off, single shot like a vaccine. It is to be taken life long, every day, as a prophylactic treatment, more like the contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy, although of course for rather longer.
So many issues would have to be overcome, and a number of critics of the mass medication that such a programme would entail have to be answered. There is the question of regulation. Although all the constituents of the pill have been through all the regulators and are in fact well out of patent, the MHRA and MEA may well need convincing that the combinations do not need further appraisal and approval. There is the question of side-effects. Although doses are low, there are undoubted side-effects with all the constituents of the pill, even in the low doses used here. They may well become significant when trying to reach whole populations.
Some say that we are already an overmedicalised society and we do not need yet more pills for everyone. I am not sure that that is a terribly good argument, because we rely quite heavily for our longevity on many of the medicines we take. I am one of the few, it seems, who is on simvastatin without side-effects, out of a huge population who are similar to me. In any case, no one is forced to take drugs if they do not want to. Nevertheless, those are views that we cannot easily dismiss and are to be taken seriously.
We come to the question of whether the polypill should be available for prescription on the NHS or simply over the counter at pharmacists. It is probably very cheap, and the economic value of preventing those diseases is a strong argument for prescription. It would at least allow us to get a clear angle on the number and incidence of side-effects, which free availability would not. It would allow doctors the opportunity to assess their patients for other preventable risk factors at the same time, which we have to do something about. On the other hand, an approach in which people simply decide whether to buy the pill over the counter is certainly more libertarian, but would probably not make a great impact on the epidemiology of those diseases, nor on the health of the nation.
There are certainly interesting debates to be had, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for starting us off on this topic.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. One issue raised earlier was about the dosage and combining those dosages in relation to particular side-effects. It was only 12 months ago, I think, that NICE advised against giving particular doses of simvastatin together with a modifier. When doses are given separately, you can take the evidence and change them. When they are combined in a polypill, that goes out of the window and you are left with all the elements at the dosages that have been agreed. Is that not an argument for retaining the current position of giving separate dosages rather than combining them all?
Those are very good points. The doses used in polypills are very low, in fact—20 milligrams of simvastatin, when the normal dose is 40 to 80 milligrams. The other drugs in the polypill are half doses. The point is that, if you have raised LDL cholesterol or raised blood pressure, you should certainly be on the treatments; they have been shown to be effective. It is people who do not have raised cholesterol or raised blood pressure who we are aiming to treat—or to prevent their diseases—so it is a different situation. The point about safety is important. It is clear that we need and should have proper clinical trials of those doses, but the impact of such doses, from what we know about them in this combination, is that they are likely to be safe in the vast majority of cases. What we do not know is the number who will get side-effects.
My noble friend, and other noble Lords, mentioned the importance of clinical trials, which I am sure is absolutely right. Is not the problem here that in fact no pharmaceutical company will conduct a clinical trial because all the drugs used in combination in the polypill are off-patent, so there can be no protection of that research by any company taking it forward? So there is, if you like, a block here, although people can see the potential benefits. Rightly, noble Lords are asking for clinical research, but there is no possibility of that happening unless the Government take a hand themselves, which is why the debate on antibiotics is interesting. They are completely separate subjects, but the Government had to step in there because, at the moment, the market simply cannot respond to the issue.
I agree entirely. I think that it will be difficult for the drug firms themselves to conduct trials because these are generics and they are manufactured by a number of companies. The only way forward, I suspect, if we are to have a clinical trial, is through NHS funding—that sort of trial. My final remark is that I very much look forward to the noble Earl’s response.
My Lords, perhaps I might say a few words since we have a little time in hand. I am very interested in the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because preventing cardiac disease is something that we should be considering for the future. Indeed, I think we are all agreed on that. However, I can see many of the problems. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that we have to be careful that people, especially young people, do not think that this is a sort of panacea—especially with obesity and the danger of diabetes, for example—and that by taking this magic pill we will somehow put off the moment. That would be dangerous. However, I can see that with more research—this is where I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness—this is something that we should keep an eye on. I am very grateful for the debate, which I found extremely interesting.
My Lords, perhaps in the time we have I might make a very short intervention because I agree with my noble friend in her analysis. I feel that there is a real issue not simply with the polypill but with the research, which needs to take place where there are combinations of drugs being given anyhow. You can give a combination of drugs without having serious clinical research and that is okay, but if you combine them into a single dose, you need a complete clinical trial. That issue has to be addressed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for giving us the opportunity to debate a particularly interesting subject and for having elicited a number of very well informed speeches. In calling for this debate, he has done the House a considerable service by enabling noble Lords, including myself, to bring ourselves up to date on what progress has been made in the development of the polypill concept. As has been said, heart attacks and strokes are major health issues in the western world and a growing issue in the developing world. Reducing mortality for people with cardiovascular disease and improving their outcomes is a key priority for the Government. We have made it clear, through the NHS and public health outcome frameworks and the Government’s mandate to NHS England, that we want to see action taken across the health system to reduce avoidable premature mortality from cardiovascular disease.
The 2013 call to action on premature mortality set out the Government’s ambition for England to be among the best in Europe in tackling the leading causes of early death, including cardiovascular disease. In April this year, we published Living Well for Longer, which brings together what the health and care system will do to meet this challenge.
There has been a great deal of interest in the polypill and its potential for reducing the risk of heart disease over the years. It may surprise some noble Lords that the concept was first introduced into the scientific and public domain as far back as 2003. It was proposed in an article in the British Medical Journal by two people whose names have been mentioned already, Professors Nicholas Wald and Malcolm Law of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. Using mathematical modelling, they estimated that a polypill comprising a statin, aspirin, a combination of three blood pressure lowering drugs and folic acid, could reduce heart disease events by 88% and stroke by 80%. Their article concluded that their proposed polypill could,
“largely prevent heart attacks and stroke if taken by everyone aged 55 and older and everyone with existing cardiovascular disease.”
Although the effectiveness of the combined drug and any possible side-effects had yet to be evidenced though patient trials, this captured the imagination of the public health research community, particularly for the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Essentially, the polypill is a combination of multiple medicines which aims to prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease: that is, strokes and heart attacks. Each of the constituent medicines is either at the current recommended dose or at lower doses. The premise is that these combinations should be used in preference to using the same medicines separately. In practice, the polypill can refer to either the fixed-dose combination medicine to reduce cardiovascular risk, patented as the polypill, or any other fixed-dose combination medicine, such as the red heart pill. However, any discussion of polypills is complicated by the huge range of drugs which might be included in any combination.
Polypill active ingredients are licensed separately as medicines and well established in their own right; their use together in fixed combination is what is novel. Just like any other medicine, any application for a marketing authorisation for a polypill needs to be supported by data demonstrating that its quality, safety and efficacy are satisfactory and that the risk-to-benefit profile is favourable for the proposed treatment before such an authorisation or licence can be granted.
My noble friend Lady Brinton drew attention to the side-effects of polypills and statins. She was absolutely right to do so. My information is that the evidence is not yet there on the side-effects of the polypill. Patient safety must of course be paramount in that context.
No polypills are currently licensed for use in the UK for the prevention of heart attack or stroke. I understand that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has provided scientific advice to a number of sponsors and companies for combination products of this type. However, no application has yet been made to the licensing authorities. In the event that a marketing authorisation proposal is submitted, the data supporting any claims for benefit in the stated patient population, together with any evidence of adverse events, will be carefully reviewed. Only if the overall balance of benefits versus risks is favourable will a marketing authorisation be granted.
Without a marketing authorisation, as the noble Lord will know, doctors can prescribe an unlicensed medicine under their own professional responsibility. That addresses one question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, as to whether it is in theory available on the NHS. The answer would be yes, in those circumstances, but any national action to promote the use of a drug that is not licensed is out of the question, as I am sure he is aware. I understand that there are several clinical trials of polypill products in progress in various countries and it will be interesting to see the results.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, questioned whether it was the fear of additional workload that was deterring doctors in the context of the polypill. My information is that the evidence on that front is as yet unavailable one way or the other, as regards the primary prevention setting, but that clinical studies are now under way. Indeed, I have in front of me the details of three polypill phase 3 clinical trials which had either completed or were close to completion as of May 2014. I can let the noble Lord have details of those trials if he would like me to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, raised the possibility that the polypill could be prescribed to those people who do not fall into the risk group. That is, of course, the primary prevention group. I am advised, though, that as age advances, the risk of side-effects also increases proportionally. I suggest that before embarking on a course of this nature, we would need evidence that the polypill influences benefit more than risk. We therefore come back to the issue of clinical trials in order to demonstrate that.
Having said that, to answer another of the noble Lord’s questions, I accept that the polypill could be more convenient for some patients and could help them to adhere to their medicines. Whether it would prove cost-effective is something that NICE might in due course consider.
I know that not everyone is convinced by the polypill. There are, for instance, concerns about the medicalisation of otherwise healthy people. Even by its proponents it is seen as secondary to other forms of prevention. Professor Wald himself is quoted as saying:
“This is not the solution for primary prevention … Primary prevention requires education of the public. As a priority this is much more important than any polypill”.
There is a range of population-based interventions that could be put in place to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Each has its pros and cons and may be suitable for some patients and in different circumstances. We know that many premature deaths and illnesses could be avoided by improving lifestyles. The Government’s public health programme includes national ambitions to reduce smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol—all with appropriate metrics included in the public health outcomes framework.
In addition, through the NHS Health Check programme people between the ages of 40 and 74 are offered a range of tests that include measuring their cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The check has been designed primarily to help healthcare professionals identify cardiovascular risk in the adult population earlier so that steps can be taken to reduce it, but it is worth emphasising that it is also targeted at a range of other conditions.
All 152 local authorities are now offering the NHS Health Check programme, which is a significant milestone in the programme’s evolution. In 2013-14 a total of 2.8 million people—almost 20% of the eligible population—were offered an NHS health check, and just over 1.4 million of them received one, giving a take-up rate of 50%. This is the greatest number of NHS health checks offered and accepted in one year since the programme began.
That is all extremely credible. However, the polypill is aimed at those who have passed the health check with flying colours—that is, they have normal cholesterol and blood pressure, do not smoke and are not overweight. It is with this group of individuals, who are not suspected of having the liability to develop a heart attack or stroke, where it seems to have its place.
Again, that is the primary prevention group, and the point that I was seeking to convey earlier was that we would need evidence that the benefit-to-risk ratio was sufficiently positive before proceeding down that course. That is not to say that it is not, but there is work to be done to prove it.
In March 2013 the Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes Strategy was published. This set out possible actions within the current legislative framework, systems architecture and financial settlement to deliver improved outcomes for people with CVD. It set out a framework for 10 actions that would make a real difference in improving outcomes for patients and their families. While I could expatiate on that subject, I am told that my time is drawing to a close, so suffice it to say that I hope that noble Lords have found today’s debate as interesting as I have.
The polypill is certainly an interesting concept. It may be that this type of approach would be more suitable in developing countries, where the real epidemics of cardiovascular disease are building up and where clinical trials are taking place, rather than in a more sophisticated healthcare system such as ours, where prevention and tailored therapy are more the norm. Time will tell.
On the issue of market failure, which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I am not convinced that the same arguments apply to the polypill as apply to antimicrobials. For one thing, there are a number of clinical trials of polypills in progress, as I mentioned, and the MHRA has provided scientific advice to a number of companies, so clearly there is commercial interest out there. We do, however, welcome any technologies that contribute to providing the best treatment for people with cardiovascular disease.
In answer to the main question of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, of whether the Government will consider playing a more active role in this debate, I would certainly be interested in looking at the noble Lord’s proposals in more detail and would be happy to discuss the matter with him at a suitable moment. With that, I thank him once again for introducing this extremely interesting topic for our consideration.
House adjourned at 9.26 pm.