House of Lords
Monday, 13 October 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
Introduction: Lord Suri
Ranbir Singh Suri, having been created Baron Suri, of Ealing in the London Borough of Ealing, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Popat and Lord Leigh of Hurley, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Death of a Member: Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
Retirement of Members
My Lords, I should also like to inform the House of the retirements, with effect from 1 October, of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank both noble Lords for their much valued service to the House.
My Lords, I am pleased that people in Scotland have decided to stay in the United Kingdom. A process and timetable have been announced to deliver the commitments on further devolution to Scotland made by the three pro-UK parties; further powers are being devolved to Wales; work continues to ensure that the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland function effectively; and a committee has been established to consider governance arrangements for England.
Can the Minister confirm, preferably by just saying “yes”, that further Scottish devolution will not be linked to the question of English votes for English laws? Can he confirm that a constitutional convention will be considered by the Cabinet committee he mentioned, looking into possible solutions to the West Lothian question?
My Lords, a constitutional convention is one of the many ideas that clearly will be discussed. We need to take these things as fast as possible but not in a hurried way. It is a very difficult balance. I can assure my noble friend that the transfer of powers to Scotland will not be held to ransom by any particular reservations.
The result in Scotland is both welcome and decisive, but it also sends a clear signal to these Houses of Parliament, to this Government and to future Governments that there is a disconnect between the centre of government and the people of this country, not just in Scotland. Therefore, it would be a mistake to see the next steps as being either only the devolution of further powers or simply welcoming the result and moving on. Will the Government also look at other ways in which government at the centre of the UK can re-engage with the regions and nations to show that everyone in the country feels that they have a voice at the centre of government in this land?
My Lords, the enthusiasm, the high rate of turnout and, earlier, the high rate of registration in Scotland was a lesson for the rest of us. It is very much part of the Government’s response to consider the devolution of power not only in further devolution in Scotland, Wales and perhaps in Northern Ireland, but also within England.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that, before the recess, again and again I raised the question of setting up a UK constitutional convention and the Minister equivocated again and again? Surely now is the time for action. If the three party leaders can get together to sign a vow, surely they can get together to set up a UK constitutional convention to work in parallel with what is being done for Scotland.
My Lords, I have said that this is one of the items that is currently being considered. As the noble Lord well knows, I could agree with him that we have a constitutional convention, but that would leave a great deal to be discussed as to what sort of convention, how it should be constituted and so on, which are also issues that we need to consider.
My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that it is not just the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who feel that this country is woefully overcentralised in Whitehall and Westminster, but also people in Yorkshire and in Cornwall? Are the Government prepared to consider the early introduction of a devolution enabling Act so that Parliament can at least discuss how these procedures can follow, rather than trying to have an all-purpose, all-singing, all-dancing convention that could go on for many years considering all the issues relating to the UK constitution?
My Lords, I am old enough to remember the Kilbrandon commission, which took minutes and years in its own time and achieved very little. Indeed, one will even find in the eighth volume a memorandum which I, as a young academic, wrote. I suspect that no one has read it for the last 35 years. We are clearly concerned to move as fast as we can. City deals within the United Kingdom have begun to decentralise economic power to some of the major cities throughout England and elsewhere. City deals are the beginning of what might become a major devolution of power from Whitehall to our regions.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted that the kingdom remains united. I am well aware of the implications that the Minister has mentioned—in particular, addressing the English question. However, I think that they go much wider than that, asking and redefining what it means to be British in the 21st century. I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that the timetable will not be held to ransom—I think those were his words. However, as it is absolutely crucial that there is no ground on which anyone can suggest bad faith in relation to the vows given by the three party leaders during the referendum campaign, will he say in simple language that the timetable, as outlined—that was part of the vow—will be kept?
My Lords, later today there will be a Statement, which will constitute the first part of the timetable, and I hope that many noble Lords will be here to listen to my noble and learned friend the other Lord Wallace repeat it. Therefore, the timetable is already under way; we are observing it and intend to continue to observe it. However, we are conscious that any form of substantial devolution which will include the regions within England will necessarily take longer. Perhaps I may repeat what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said. Part of what we all have to understand is that one of the many things that drove the Scottish yes vote was a sense of disillusion with London as the centre and with Westminster itself. All of us in all parties need to take account of that, think it through and adjust to it on a non-partisan basis.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that disillusionment with London and Westminster in particular is a problem that has been thrown up by the referendum and in more recent polls, so why are the Government bent upon having a government Cabinet committee of all-white, all-male privy counsellors as a way of taking devolution forward?
I beg noble Lords’ pardon. Clearly, there is going to be one woman on the committee, which is fantastic; nevertheless, it is a London-based committee. Why can we not now have an agreement in principle from the Government on a constitutional convention to take these things forward rather than the piecemeal way in which the Government are doing things at present?
My Lords, I think it is a little harsh to refer to the immediate reactions in the weeks since the Scottish referendum as piecemeal. We are moving fast to produce a number of draft clauses next January, before the election. We recognise that there is a limit to how much we can achieve before the forthcoming election but if the noble Baroness would like to suggest that the Cabinet committee should meet regularly in York, Lancaster or Chester just to make sure that it has less of a London perspective, I expect that the committee will think about that as well.
My Lords, we have made real progress, cutting the EU budget, ending the UK’s bailout obligations, cutting red tape through the Business Taskforce recommendations, agreeing three major trade agreements and launching talks with the United States. Support is growing. In June, the European Council recognised that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration and Commission President-designate Juncker agreed that reform is needed, including a strengthened role for national parliaments.
My Lords, on this, her first day answering Questions on foreign affairs from the Dispatch Box, may I wish my noble friend well in that role in the future and with these negotiations? We have been encouraged recently by the enormous number of member states that are now signed up to a much greater role for national parliaments in the EU’s policy formation, and by Jonathan Hill’s truly moving and very warm and strong words in the European Parliament confirmation hearing about the importance of Britain remaining in the European family of nations. Will my noble friend then urge all coalition colleagues now to concentrate on explaining the huge merits of our membership of the EU rather than being distracted by the dark forces that appear all too often in the British tabloid newspapers?
My Lords, I am sure that this House knows nothing of dark forces. It is full of light and enlightenment on this matter, although we may occasionally come to different conclusions. I thank my noble friend for his kind words of welcome. It is certainly a fascinating brief and I know that there are many Members of this House with the greatest expertise in it.
We agree that strengthening the role of national parliaments is a key way of addressing the EU’s democratic deficit. So, of course, we are looking at reform; we have said—the Prime Minister has said very carefully and clearly—that it is important that we remain part of the European Union, but part of a reformed European Union. The work that we have been doing has shown our determination to achieve the right result for both the UK and the rest of the European Union. My noble friend refers to the benefits. We know that at least 3.5 million jobs in the UK depend on trade with the EU. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already spent the summer visiting other European capitals. He has had a good reception and knows that they are working towards developing our negotiations with Europe.
My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the Minister to her important new position. It is certain that she will not be short of work, as today’s Order Paper shows. However, she has the respect of the House and we look forward from this side to working with her on the difficult issues that she will have to deal with.
On this Question, why have the Government not yet published a comprehensive list of reforms that the United Kingdom is seeking, so that the general public can take part in this debate, and when do they intend to do so?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his kind words and look forward to working with him. We may come to different conclusions, as with my noble friend Lord Dykes at times, but I know that we have putting British interests first at the core of our belief. Prosperity and security are key to what we do.
At the moment, we are deep into negotiations with Europe. As I have just mentioned, the Foreign Secretary is visiting his colleagues throughout the rest of Europe. We have already set out some of the reforms that we wish to take through. Clearly, we have already made advances on banking reform, fisheries, and certainly with regard to the budget, making sure that a £29 billion cut in the previous budget would be over a seven-year period, while also protecting British positions on other matters. As these matters develop, we announce them clearly to the British public. I suspect I will be here on a few more occasions giving more details.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her vital new role. I think we all understand that the strategy is one of negotiations in a reformed European Union. Those are the words of the Prime Minister. I understand about the negotiations side of it, but could she say a word more about the reform strategy? It has to be fundamental. How will it be formulated, who will plan it, with whom will we work and how will it be carried forward?
I feel a debate coming on. The work that we are doing between now and the general election has been clearly set out by the Foreign Secretary. For example, we have listened carefully to voters over this year. It has been made clear that the British public feel that change is needed. We will not make any rapid response to some of the tabloid stories to which the previous questioner referred. We shall look very carefully at issues such as migration. Although we agree that free movement is an important principle for the EU, it is not a completely unqualified right. That in itself requires one particular body of people to look at it and to negotiate it. All I can say is that I know my Foreign Secretary has an even busier life than I do and will be well advised.
My Lords, I add my most sincere congratulations to the noble Baroness on her translation to the Foreign Office. Has she noticed the remarks of the Mayor of London, who wishes to include in the Government’s renegotiation strategy the imposition of numerical limits on the number of migrants from existing members of the European Union? Does she agree that such a proposal would be totally inconsistent with the founding principles of the treaty of Rome? Would she therefore agree that it should not be included in the Government’s renegotiation agenda?
My Lords, who could miss statements by the Mayor of London? As I have just made clear, free movement is not an absolute right within the European Union. The noble Lord has great experience in these matters and is aware of that. We want to make sure that we return free movement to its former position, whereby we avoid large-scale migrations in the future wherever possible. We are already discussing that with our colleagues in the rest of Europe. We want to ensure that migration is for the purpose of work and not to exploit welfare benefits. We have made a great deal of progress on that and we have done it in a non-discriminatory way. We are also finding that other countries are now beginning to look at the same kind of work, as in Germany. In that way, one can address the problem without necessarily having to go to the finality of quotas.
My Lords, we have been encouraging dialogue and pushing for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine from the very outset, both bilaterally and through the EU, the OSCE and the United Nations. President Poroshenko attended the Wales NATO summit where allies agreed to support Ukraine with a range of non-military measures, including technical assistance. We fully support the efforts of the OSCE in helping to facilitate the Minsk protocol of 5 September, which must be implemented fully.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on her new job. Can she give us the latest position concerning relations between Russia and Ukraine? For instance, is it true that President Putin is planning to withdraw his troops from the border of Ukraine, as announced in today’s Daily Mirror—which I concede is not exactly a paper of record?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, and I have of course read his contributions earlier this year to the debate on the crisis in Ukraine. In direct answer to his question, I understand that the Russians are now pulling back some of their troops from the border with Ukraine. There have been some thousands of Russian troops on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, and we are of course aware that there are hundreds of Russian troops within Ukraine. Unfortunately the Russians are seeking to do a bit of smoke and mirrors and will not admit that they are there, but they are there. My understanding is that those on the Russian side of the border have been told that they will be pulling back, and some have moved; let us see how many. Is this really the end of a summer exercise or are they there just waiting for a return?
My Lords, senior Russians have said that Ukraine is not a real country and have been very ambivalent about the democratically elected President. If that is so, and if there had been negotiations at the outset, what would have been the purpose? Is it the Government’s view that, from the outset, Russia had the intention to annex Crimea and to destabilise those parts of eastern Ukraine that have a Russophone majority?
My Lords, the position of Ukraine is clear, it is a sovereign state, and Russia has sought to undermine that by its illegal annexation of the Crimea. The noble Lord tempts me to try to go into the mind of Mr Putin as regards his ultimate plans not only for Ukraine but for all the other countries that were once within the USSR. Clearly, from the very beginning, we entered into negotiations in good faith to try to ensure that the sovereignty of Ukraine was maintained. It is Russia that has broken the UN declaration. It is in breach of the UN; it is also in breach of international law. In all the discussions that we have carried forward, what we have tried to achieve is to give the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government space within which, in a ceasefire, they can work to have elections. President Poroshenko said that those parliamentary elections will be on 26 October.
My Lords, we all welcome the withdrawal of the 17,000 troops that was announced yesterday, but we also look forward to seeing the evidence of it. Does the Minister agree that the greater danger is the number of Russian troops who are operating within the Donbas region in unidentifiable combat gear? This is a new dimension to European warfare. Even when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 its troops were identifiable, and therefore the UN Geneva conventions covered them. We now have a new framework for conducting warfare and Mr Putin should not be let off the hook for doing this. We look forward to a good meeting on Friday between President Poroshenko and President Putin, but we must be extremely cynical about his motives in everything that he does.
My noble friend is absolutely right to be so concerned about the presence of unidentified persons—those who are not saying who they really are—in combat positions in Ukraine. It is the same kind of approach that Russia carried out when it brought a convoy of alleged humanitarian aid into Ukraine in unmarked lorries with young drivers who were, I understand, very much combat ready. We have to be watchful.
My Lords, as well as seeking a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk, it is vital that we do not forget those Ukrainians who remained in Crimea and now find themselves under the Russian state. Can the Minister tell us what representations have been made on their behalf, and what progress, if any, has been made by the OSCE monitors in gaining access to Crimea?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate points to a very difficult area indeed from the point of view of the security of those Ukrainians who remain within Crimea. I am certainly aware of discussions that have taken place about trying to ensure that their humanitarian needs may be met. When I was in Geneva I had discussions with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and with the Ukrainian permanent representative to the Human Rights Council about the difficulties faced. However, I do not in any way seek to encourage the right reverend Prelate to believe that the position of the Ukrainians there is anything other than extremely dangerous. I am sure that all efforts are being made to continue to negotiate about their position.
NHS: Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
My Lords, there has been significant growth in the provision of cancer diagnostic tests and treatment over the course of this Government. For example, urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer have increased by more than 50% since October 2009. NHS England is taking action to support the NHS to improve performance, including establishing a cancer waiting times task force. We are investing an additional £750 million over four years to improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
My Lords, on the question of waiting times, can the noble Earl confirm that the 62-day target for cancer treatment has been breached in the last two quarters? Can he say why that is and can he confirm that it is really a result of the shambles that Mr Lansley’s changes have brought to the NHS?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that although most waiting time standards are being maintained there has been a dip in the 62-day pathway standard in the last two quarters. However, survival rates are improving and we are treating a record number of NHS patients for cancer. Last year, 450,000 more patients were referred with suspected cancer than in 2009-10. That is an increase of 51%. In addition, campaigns such as Be Clear on Cancer have been exceptionally successful in raising awareness of symptoms. In large part, that is what has accounted for the pressure on the waiting time standards: in a way, the campaigns are a victim of their own success.
My Lords, it is still true that the chances of surviving cancer can vary dramatically depending on where you live. Can the Minister say what progress has been made in understanding the reasons for those variations and what progress has been made in reducing them?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. He will know that medical opinion is clear that a variety of reasons such as lifestyle and others account for regional variations. We want to see a uniformity of speedy diagnosis throughout the country. That depends on early presentation by the patient and speedy diagnosis when the GP first sees the patient. It is with those two things in mind that a lot of work has been going on, particularly to support GPs, but also to inform the public.
I declare my interest as president of the BMA. Will the Minister outline what action has been taken? Given the crisis in recruitment in general practice, the increased pressures on GPs now that they are also involved in commissioning services and the pressures in emergency medicine, how will GPs have time to tackle obesity? In the obese patient, early diagnosis is much more difficult than in the less obese patient. Also, the incidence of some cancers such as breast cancer is higher in those who are obese.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a number of important points. In August, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced a joint piece of work with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan, which will see GPs offered more support to ensure that cancers are diagnosed as quickly as possible. More generally, NICE is updating its referral guidelines for suspected cancer to ensure that they reflect the latest evidence. GPs already have a guide related specifically to direct referral for diagnostic tests, for which we have provided extra money, and early last year the department part-funded a six-month pilot run by Macmillan of an electronic cancer decision support tool for GPs. That pilot is being evaluated, but Macmillan is working with IT software companies to disseminate an updated version of that tool.
My Lords, given the importance of early diagnosis and of the significant role that GPs play in that, is the Minister concerned that some patients facing the problems that many now have of finding a GP quickly will be put off presenting with those early symptoms? That will thus get in the way of the early diagnosis that is so important.
My Lords, I am aware that in some areas of the country access to GPs is proving problematic and a number of work streams are under way to address that. But we are confident in the light of the statistics that patients are not holding back in presenting to their GPs. As I said, referrals have gone up dramatically over the last few years and the NHS is treating a record number of patients.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a cancer patient. What arrangements are made for determining eligibility for treatment by the CyberKnife at the Royal Marsden and UCLH and does it involve any financial assessment of the likely cost to the NHS of the treatment of a particular patient?
My Lords, my noble friend mentions a particular type of radiotherapy, the CyberKnife. At present there is only limited research evidence of the clinical and cost effectiveness of stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy—the full name. Therefore, it is available only for certain patients with lung cancer. Having said that, NHS England has agreed to make £6 million available over the next few years for new clinical trials which will involve trials on prostate cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and biliary tract cancers. It is important that we generate that clinical evidence before encouraging the NHS to apply this form of radiotherapy to those cancers.
My Lords, clearly a lot of work is going on in the NHS to ensure that we are back on track with the cancer waiting times. Local area teams of NHS England are looking at the causes of those waits and whether there are diagnostic tests that are responsible for the dip in performance. But I can assure the noble Lord that we place a high priority on this area.
Committee (1st Day)
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on reserved powers
The Secretary of State shall lay a report before each House of Parliament which shall lay out a timetable for the transfer of the National Assembly for Wales to a reserved powers model of governance within six months of the passing of this Act.”
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to move Amendment 1, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, who will be speaking a little later. He brings a valuable insight into matters relating to the National Assembly’s competence, having served with distinction as its first Presiding Officer for 12 years.
It is particularly appropriate that this should be the first legislation with which we deal in our first day after the Summer Recess, coming as it does within a month of the Scottish referendum. Scotland and Wales are, of course, two different countries, and we are, as nations, at different stages in the process of securing greater independence. The debate about, and the outcome of, Scotland’s referendum does not of necessity impact on the Bill, but in reality it cannot but do so.
As the Prime Minister, David Cameron, acknowledged within hours of the outcome being known, there will be a need for constitutional change in order to deliver the commitments made to Scotland by all three UK parties, and that, in such a process, the needs of Wales and Northern Ireland, and indeed those of England, will be taken fully on board. Mr Cameron said that it will be vital to achieve,
“a balanced settlement, fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well”.
A tight timetable for bringing forward such proposals and acting upon them has been promised to Scotland and has been repeated today. No doubt the Government will be eager to keep their pledges. I trust that they will be equally committed to delivering for Wales in a timely fashion.
We in Wales are fortunate in that regard, as we have not only this Bill before us today, which provides a vehicle for legislative change, but also the benefit of the two reports of the Silk commission that have been published. The commission was of course set up by the present Government with all-party representation and came to unanimous conclusions. The Government do not have to go away and start from scratch. They have the work of their own commission readily at hand. It would be strange, indeed perplexing, to the people of Wales if the Government did not move forward with alacrity on that basis.
My first amendment, which I am now moving, goes to the very heart of the issue regarding the National Assembly and to the weaknesses of the devolution provided by the 1998 Act. The proposals for Wales were fundamentally different to those provided for Scotland. Scotland’s 1998 Act provided a reserved powers model of government. In contrast, the powers of the National Assembly for Wales were prescriptive. That has led to a lack of clarity and to the unfortunate spectacle of legal wrangles in the courts as to whether the Welsh Government acted within their powers. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas will no doubt have much more to say about those issues.
The Silk commission, in its wisdom, recognised the significance of this problem and recommended that Wales should also have a reserved powers model of devolved government. It said that,
“a reserved powers model for Wales … would bring greater consistency and coherence across the United Kingdom … After careful assessment of the evidence we formed the firm view that a reserved powers model would be superior to the current arrangements, and that it would better satisfy our principles of clarity, coherence, collaboration, accountability, subsidiarity, stability, effectiveness and efficiency”.
I am very pleased to see that Amendment 18A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has been grouped with these amendments. I am delighted that our minds are working along similar tracks. As I understand it, all four parties in Wales are fully signed up to supporting such a change. So what we propose here is in no way controversial. I suggest that it is something that noble Lords from all Benches in this House would be proud to support.
I can almost hear the words forming themselves in the mind of the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. She might eagerly agree with me that such a move would have the Government’s unqualified support but might say that now may not be the right time or that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle. I will address those considerations. The most pressing reason for us to legislate on this matter in this Parliament is to ensure that in May 2016, when the next Assembly elections take place, they will be held in circumstances where all parties and electors know that Wales’s Government, after May 2016, will be working within a reserved powers system. The beginning of a new Assembly is the appropriate time to do that and the parties, in drawing up their manifestos for that election, can do so happy in the knowledge that they will not become enmeshed in the sort of legal challenges that sadly we have seen under the present basis of devolved power.
Some might argue that including these provisions in this Bill does not give Parliament adequate opportunity to consider the detail of the legislative changes proposed. I would answer that in two ways. First, we are not venturing into uncharted waters. For both Scotland and Northern Ireland, the reserved powers model exists. All we need to know is the detail of what will be reserved. The Silk commission has done invaluable work in this area.
Secondly, we might recall that the time that elapsed between the Wales Bill of 1998 receiving its Second Reading and the completion of Lords amendments was just seven months. This amendment is immensely generous in its time provision, giving the Secretary of State up to six months to bring forward his report for a firm timetable, which would aim at having the matter concluded and the necessary legislation enacted to be operational by the Assembly elections of May 2016.
There is a third argument: as there is all-party consensus in the matter, it should not warrant the odium that some might feel in the other Chamber that the initiative has come from here. If we build into the Bill the appropriate legislative hook by passing the paving amendment of the type I have proposed, MPs in the other place can use that to put forward their own proposals to provide a reserved powers model. If we do not pass an amendment in this place, the other place will be technically unable to return to the matter. In other words, we are providing for them the platform they need to consider and—I hope—achieve such a change.
My colleagues and I fully realise that this amendment goes beyond the provisions of the Long Title. That is why we have tabled Amendment 63 to the Long Title to enable us to consider in the Bill such matters as have been raised by the second Silk report. There is nothing unusual in amending a Long Title to broaden the scope of the Bill. Indeed, the Government have tabled Amendment 62 to do likewise for another purpose.
I move briefly to Amendment 2A, which is grouped with this amendment and was tabled in case Amendment 1 is rejected for any reason. Amendment 2A lists in detail the legislative subjects that we in Plaid Cymru believe should now be transferred to the competence of the National Assembly. They include matters such as police and prison services, broadcasting, natural resources and energy, and transport, which the second Silk report recommended should be devolved to the Assembly. It also goes further than Silk in proposing that matters such as criminal justice and the Welsh constitution should be devolved immediately.
We put forward these proposals in the spirit of the proposals for substantial new devolved powers being given to Scotland’s Parliament and in the spirit of the Prime Minister’s pledge that Wales should not be left behind. As the First Minister for Wales intimated, if devo-max is appropriate for Scotland it should also be appropriate for Wales, even if some of the detail of necessity will vary.
There is a remarkable degree of cross-party unity in the National Assembly on this matter. Given the way that Scotland has been urged to work on the basis of cross-party consensus, I very much hope that this will not be rejected when it is happily seen to be arising in the context of Wales. However, having gone to the lengths of laying out in detail the type of matters we feel should be devolved—and the list is neither exclusive nor exhaustive—I readily concede that we would much prefer to have the issue addressed by moving along the lines of Amendment 1 on the basis of reserved powers.
Devolution has been seen rightly as a process, not an event. Today’s Bill gives a most timely opportunity for that process to move forward. My party, Plaid Cymru, aspires to see very much greater independence of political action being in the hands of the Welsh people. However, we accept that in the context of this Bill we are able to move towards a home rule Parliament, with some matters still being reserved for Westminster. We put these amendments forward in a positive and constructive manner to improve the government of Wales. I hope that we shall have a positive response from all parts of the Chamber. I beg to move.
My Lords, I did not realise that this would be merely a double act, so I hope I shall say a few things that will excite other people to take part in the debate.
Amendment 3 in this group, which stands in my name as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, gives the Government another simple option, which is within the existing structure of the Government of Wales Act 2006, in the relevant clause, Clause 108, and the relevant schedule, Schedule 7. This is not the place for me to discourse at any length on the convoluted—or “crablike”, as it was called by the Electoral Reform Society Wales—forward movement of devolution in Wales. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was part of all this and knows it as well as I do. However, it may be an opportunity to remind the House how far we have come in so short a time.
We moved from an executive Assembly, which was in essence a corporate body and therefore a type of local government structure, established at a time when local government was already moving to a cabinet and a scrutiny system. In effect it was the 1978 Act, taken off the shelf of the library of the old Wales Office, dusted down and put forward as a new Bill. I will not say who told me that; it would not be fair to him, because he is now a distinguished retired public lawyer in Wales—I have just given away his identity.
The effect of that was that we were set on a development that was unworkable. The first important and essential act of the Members of the Assembly, when they arrived there in 1999, was to take over the function of debate for themselves. The key outcome, early on in 2000, was a resolution passed by the Members of the Assembly to seek the maximum possible powers within the Act: the maximum possible opportunity to act as a parliamentary-type body.
The first First Minister was called the First Secretary, but when the right honourable Rhodri Morgan came to power, by a change of leadership within the Labour Party and a vote of the Assembly—it is still a matter of dispute; I recollect very clearly what happened, but I will not bore noble Lords with my version—he decided to call himself First Minister. He also decided to call his colleagues in the Cabinet not Cabinet Secretaries but Ministers and to call the Government—previously, we did not really have a Government, although there was a Cabinet—the Welsh Assembly Government.
Unfortunately, as I have said in other places and will not repeat for too long here, that only confused matters even more, because to set together the two terms “Assembly” and “Government” in the same name is to deny the basic separation of powers between scrutiny and executive action. Then along came my distinguished friend, the noble Lord, Lord Richard. In a major report delivered to the Welsh Government in 2004, he set out a route through this mire which still stands at my bedside—if I ever wake up early, rather than am unable to get to sleep, I turn to it. That report set out a clear structure for how the Assembly should function.
We did not quite get to that, but we moved from executive devolution into a form of influencing primary legislation by the request for Orders in Council and legislative consent Motions of this House and the other place. That was a recipe for further conflict, because it became a political argument between the Westminster Government and the Welsh Government as to what we could do. Then we came to the second part of the 2006 Act, which was later implemented by the referendum in 2011 and enabled us to initiate primary legislation—but all that was still within what is known as the conferred powers model.
Amendment 3, inspired as it partly is by the most brilliant recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue of the Agricultural Wages Board, sets out that it is possible to retain our present constitutional model—that is, conferred powers—and achieve far greater competence simply by removing exceptions. The Minister will say that I am seeking to remove all exceptions. Yes, I am by the amendment, but I am just giving the Government something to think about. The exceptions that I seek to remove would raise all sorts of interesting issues, such as hunting with dogs—not a controversial issue in the part of Wales that I represent, but I appreciate that it is controversial elsewhere. In more important areas, it would include energy and transport policy. The effect would be to simplify the way in which the legislation and the constitution of Wales are defined.
My question to the Government arises from my amendment. Before I say this, I have to declare a personal interest. I have been reselected. There was a vote, but the other candidate was AN Other, so I got through. My next term may or may not be my final term at the Assembly; that is a matter for divine providence as well as for me and my constituency party. Why are we now likely on the present timetable—unless the statement to come or the Minister in her response make it clearer to us—to delay the substantive reform of our constitution again beyond 2016 to 2021, if Scotland and Northern Ireland are proceeding apace? Merely to implement either the first report from the commission on the constitution, or even the second one, by 2016, will not give the National Assembly the full powers in its current area of responsibility—whereas this amendment, which removes exemptions, will do so.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to address in particular the need to timetable change in Wales at least at the level of Northern Ireland, if not of Scotland. Clearly, at the moment Wales still has third-grade devolution. It is time we changed that. This matter has to be debated fully, not just in this House but in Wales itself. There is an emerging consensus—and every time we move forward on devolution in Wales it is through all-party consensus. I am very keen to retain that. So I am not pushing any particular amendment; I am asking the Government to give us the assurances that we require.
My Lords, I have followed one basic principle fairly consistently: when one has had major responsibility, one should stand aside when one hands over and not be a nuisance by pursuing the matter much further. After eight years as Secretary of State for Wales, I have deliberately kept out of debates about Welsh affairs and left it to others, so I had not intended to say much during today’s proceedings. My second reason for not saying much is that I am in the middle of some uncomfortable medical tests this week and I will not be here for the whole of this evening’s proceedings, or the proceedings over the next couple of days.
However, I was struck by these amendments and thought that a few words might be constructive and helpful. I listened with a good deal of sympathy to what was said about Clause 1 and the report on reserved powers. That caused me no great difficulty and I shall listen with great interest to what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say about it. I was, however, somewhat alarmed by Amendment 2A. I was rather relieved when, in his introduction to it, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, at least qualified his enthusiasm for the proposed new clause. I think that he was suggesting that it was a testing amendment and might not be pursued too vigorously, at least at this stage.
Similarly, I sympathise with some of what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, had to say on Amendment 3, particularly his final comments about the pace of change. There are important issues to be considered in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum. I am not unsympathetic to that. I was, however, a bit startled by the omission in the amendment of all the exceptions.
That takes me back, rather neatly, to my doubts about Amendment 2A. I confess that it is a long time since I have looked at the Government of Wales Act 2006. I must have done at the time, but it is not as familiar to me as it clearly is to the two noble Lords who have just spoken. I got it down from the shelf and read Schedule 7. I find the extent of what is proposed in Amendment 2A rather alarming. We see the proposed transfer of, essentially, the responsibilities of the Home Office, including youth justice, criminal justice and the courts, sentencing, legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service and judiciary, and the prison and probation services. That takes us to some of the responsibilities of my right honourable friend Mr Grayling.
What struck me about these provisions is that many of them involve matters of constitutional significance. As a member of the Constitution Committee, I feel almost certain that if these matters were being pursued with vigour at this time, the Constitution Committee would want to examine them carefully and draw its thoughts and conclusions to the attention of the House. I am pretty certain that we would not want to go further along the road at this time without that kind of advice.
The same goes for Field 38, which refers to,
“the Welsh constitution and electoral arrangements”.
That is broad and sweeping, too. If you want to start on that, it would have implications not just for the constitution of Wales in electoral arrangements but almost certainly for other parts of the United Kingdom as well. Again, therefore, I am sure that those issues would need to be looked at much more closely before we pursued them further.
On the subject of broadcasting, I note only that now that I live about 500 yards from the border of Wales with England, I find myself in the extraordinary situation where my Sky set is directed to England rather than Wales, although I live in Wales. I have to have an adjustment on my set so that if I wish, as I often do, to look at the Welsh news in the morning, I have to switch to the appropriate item. I make that point only because it identifies the fact that broadcasting is not a simple and straightforward matter, confined to only England or Wales. Broadcasting has a much wider sweep and I think that we would want to think a good deal more carefully before we moved down that road.
My only point in rising at this time is to say that, yes, I will listen with sympathy and some interest to what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say about the report on reserved powers and, possibly, the timetable. However, I urge caution about how far the other amendments may take us. It would be rash at this stage in proceedings on a Bill, which, after all, has already been examined in considerable detail by another place, if we were to sweep on to what would be a major set of changes to the devolution settlement. That might make progress on the Bill more difficult and not easier.
My Lords, many of us warned that the referendum vote in Scotland between Second Reading and Committee was likely to change the nature and tone of the debate on the Bill and it has very much turned out that way. The Scottish referendum has changed the tone of that discussion and the discussion of the constitutional development of the UK as a whole, with our hitherto ad hoc approach to constitutional reform found wanting. There is a desperate need now to review the entire constitutional structure of the UK—and Wales, of course, needs to be at the centre of that discussion.
We have to remember that the cri de coeur from Scotland was not just about constitutional arrangements but a cry from members of civil society and the public, who feel cut out of that political process. It was a plea from people to heed the fact that they do not feel as if they are being listened to. We have to recognise the depth of the disillusionment that has developed regarding the nature of government and its relationship with citizens. It is imperative that we now reach a new constitutional settlement that will lay the foundations for a new, reformed democracy throughout the United Kingdom. There has to be a wider process to draw a settlement reflecting the aspirations of all the UK’s constituent parts. It is time for our constitution to be put on a much more coherent footing. It is also important to respect and honour the promises that were made to Scotland during the referendum campaign. The appetite for more powers in Wales has also been stronger.
We need to recognise that much of what we debate in this Bill needs urgently to be set within that UK context. It would be a mistake to stop the Bill in its tracks, pending the establishment of a convention. We must press on with the Bill, but not compromise any future discussion about Wales’s relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom As far as possible, we need through this Bill to future-proof what we have before us. It is also worth noting that, since the referendum in Scotland, the appetite in Wales for independence has gone down to 3%: for “Wales”, do not read “Scotland”.
It is important that we press on with the Silk 1 commission proposals, which are the basis for this report. That is not least because the Assembly desperately needs the borrowing powers to inject further energy into the growth of the economy. Since Second Reading, the new Secretary of State for Wales has settled into his new role—we noted with interest his interventions at the Conservative Party conference. We are delighted to see that he is coming round to our position on changing to a reserved power model for the Assembly.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for talking us through the tortuous attempts at working towards the devolution settlement that exists today. We are delighted that the coalition Government have seen sense in relation to the issue of reserved powers. They have said publicly that they will legislate to change from the conferred model to the devolution of reserved powers model, but we are disappointed that they have not come forward with an amendment to this Bill.
This has been extensively covered within Silk 2. As this is such a fundamental issue, where we now have cross-party agreement, why can we not get on with the work of changing the model of devolution in the Bill, or at least prepare the groundwork for it? It is not a party-political issue. Anyone setting up a new constitutional settlement would not start from where we are now. We need to remember that there were some difficult birth pangs to the establishment of the Assembly, which came about with a hair’s breadth of a majority. This is one of the reasons why we developed this rather Heath Robinson approach to devolution. However, we have moved on. Devolution is now the settled will of the people of Wales. Indeed, they are asking for further devolution of powers.
As outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, the reserved model will clarify and simplify where responsibility for which policies resides. It will produce greater certainty about the scope of the Assembly and the responsibilities of Welsh Ministers. We have a long way to go with this. More than half the Welsh population thinks that it is the UK Government who are responsible for health matters, so it is a good job that the Prime Minister has stopped attacking the Welsh health system, as the Welsh think that he is responsible for it.
The reserved powers model would increase accountability by empowering people in Wales to understand that settlement better. The UK’s Changing Union project has said that the reserved powers model would benefit civil society organisations, politicians, civil servants and the general public—in short, the democratic process as a whole. It would place the relationship between Cardiff and London on a much more stable and adult footing.
On two occasions, the UK Government have taken the Welsh Government to the Supreme Court to question the Assembly’s ability to legislate in certain areas. They have done this because of the lack of clarity in the conferred model system. Every time this happens, it costs the Government £150,000. They have lost on two occasions, most recently, as was said, in relation to the Agricultural Wages Board. The five Supreme Court judges decided unanimously that it was within the Welsh Government’s competence to set the minimum rates and benefits for agricultural wages.
Once again, it is worth emphasising that we need to get this right for Wales, but there needs to be a discussion within the broader context. I think that our advice to any future proposed constitutional convention, which may look at devolving powers away from Westminster to the regions of England, would be, “For goodness’ sake do not follow the conferred model of devolution”.
Before the noble Baroness moves on from that point—I do not mean to interrupt her speech, in which I find much common ground from a Scottish perspective—perhaps I may offer her one observation, although not necessarily one for her to comment on much further. It is certainly the case that we found in the referendum in Scotland that a considerable number of Scots did not appreciate that the NHS had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament since 1999, under a different model. Perhaps it is not just the fact that the power resides in the institution but the continuing need to have citizenship awareness among the population that is vital. Whichever model is going forward for the Assembly, perhaps that reflection may be of assistance.
The noble Lord makes valid points about clarity about where the powers are and the fact that information to the public is crucial so that they understand who is responsible for what. There is still a degree of confusion about this and we need to think it through in a very clear way if we are looking at a much more structured response to the devolution settlement within the United Kingdom as a whole.
I now turn to Plaid Cymru’s amendment to link the reserved powers to an immediate transfer of the recommendations of Silk 2. It is worth emphasising that the whole Labour Party feels quite positive about the vast majority of the recommendations contained in Silk 2. The case for further devolution of power has been well made by the commission. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for his work on that commission and welcome him to the Front Bench. We are delighted to see him there. It is important that people understand that the Welsh Government have also responded positively to the recommendations.
With this amendment, Plaid has gone further than Silk in recommending, for example, the wholesale transfer of power over broadcasting, as was suggested, and energy, where the recommendations by Silk are far more nuanced. We are anxious to support many of the recommendations in Silk 2, but we feel that it would be more appropriate for us to include those recommendations within an election manifesto so that we can have the endorsement of the general public for this additional significant transfer of powers.
On Plaid Cymru’s Amendment 3, I do not blame them for attempting this power grab—that is what you would expect of nationalists—but to remove all current exceptions to current permitted areas of the Assembly would entail a huge extra amount of responsibility and the duplication of roles that are better shared at UK level. It would seem rather unnecessary that in the field of agriculture, where Wales already has legislative competence, we should establish our own legislation on, for example, scientific or other experimental procedures in relation to animals. Do we really want to establish our own agricultural import and export rules? Imagine the bureaucracy that that would entail. For every job that we would have to create to make that work, we would have to cut one from our health or education services or from another area that currently receives funding. We understand what the amendment is trying to do but think that it is going a bit too far.
This is about competence. It is the ability to do things, were one wanting to do them in that way. In the United Kingdom, we already have institutions, such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which are virtually federal and in which powers and responsibilities are shared between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is not about, of necessity, compelling the Welsh Government or the National Assembly to accept the competence; it is the indication, especially after the Supreme Court ruling of July, that the competence of the National Assembly in the current model is based on those definitions, made by subject in Schedule 7 of the 2006 Act, with exceptions. By deleting exceptions, I sought to highlight the nature of the competence and the possibility of using the reduction of exceptions as a way of translating further powers.
I understand what the noble Lord is saying. The problem is probably that we need a much more detailed discussion about what those exemptions should be and to what extent they should or should not be duplicated. If this is a probing amendment, that is fine—we understand that that is the case. But taking this big step at the moment would be wrong.
Finally, I ask the Minister why an amendment on reserve powers has not been submitted if the Government have changed their position. Why cannot we now get on with the job? We know that there is cross-party consensus on this; let us not waste any more time.
I support Amendments 1 and 18A, but I do so from a rather different position. I am not a censorious critic of the conferred powers model. In the early days of the devolution settlement it was a reasonable and sensible way in which to confer powers. Indeed, in paragraph 4.3, even Silk acknowledges that there was value in the conferred powers model. The incremental argument made for additional powers made sense; it helped the Assembly and the Assembly Government to have greater competence and capacity in those fields.
However, I am now overwhelmingly in favour of moving to the reserve powers. The way in which additional powers have been granted, the whole issue of taxation and, down the line, the whole issue of Silk 2, make it imperative that we proceed and create the process to the greater reserve powers model. I do so not as a critic of the conferred powers model but from the realisation that, in fact, dramatic change has taken place and with that there is a need for the change of model that we have imposed. Therefore, I cannot quite understand why the Government, although they are not perhaps dragging their feet, have not been willing from the Dispatch Box to confirm that it is their objective, too, and that they agree with and support the processes described in Amendments 1 and 18A to proceed towards the reserve powers model. I hope that we hear a different tone from the Dispatch Box today.
Having said that, I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, cannot support Amendment 2A—and nor does Silk. There is a much subtler discussion in Silk of the issues of criminal and civil justice than the rather bald list provided in that amendment. So unless it has been tabled with tongue in cheek, I cannot support that amendment. Silk did a very skilful job in assessing in detail, particularly in Chapter 10, the difficulties of transferring civil and criminal justice issues, even in police areas. In Silk one often reads that we will have to have cross-border co-operation—a real, meaningful co-operation between either side of the border—to make anything work in the criminal justice and civil fields. So I cannot possibly support Amendment 2A, but I certainly support Amendments 1 and 18A.
We support Amendment 1. As the leaders of devolution as opposed to independence in Wales, we have always supported reserve powers. The Bill that I drafted in 1966 was for a Parliament for Wales on a reserved powers basis, including provision for criminal justice and the courts. I rather fancied the position of Chief Justice of Wales that I laid out in the drafting of that Bill. I was a lot younger in those days, of course, but not lacking in ambition.
The one part of Amendment 2A that I query, however, is on the Welsh constitution and electoral arrangements going to the Welsh Assembly. It is impossible to have a federal system of government and any form of devolution if the proposal is that those should be left to the Welsh Assembly itself. What has occurred to me over the past few weeks is the anomaly that would arise if there were to be English votes for English laws in the other place. English laws would be subject to the scrutiny of this House, and consideration and amendment in this House; whereas laws passed by the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are not subject to such scrutiny. When one poses or considers that anomaly, it is obvious that there has to be a considerable constitutional discussion as to how the whole settlement eventually evolves.
For example, in my view, this House should be abolished and replaced by an elected—on a proportional basis, of course—federal body that would deal with scrutiny of legislation from all the devolved Governments. A very much more sensible route and settlement lies along those lines, although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time and we are dealing with this Bill at the moment. The reserved powers issue can be settled much more quickly and that is why I support Amendment 1.
My Lords, there is a great deal of agreement in all parts of the House on many of the matters we are discussing. Although we are speaking on certain, limited planes, we are at the same time looking at the whole question of devolution.
Many people will say that devolution in Wales took off with the referendum of 1997. That is not strictly correct because no transfer of authority from Westminster to Wales was involved in that matter. The transfer proposed was a significant transfer from the executive authority of Welsh Office Ministers—of course democratised by that authority being an elected body, meeting in the name of the Welsh people. It was a great, historic event but not classical devolution as such.
Be that as it may, there have been in this discussion a few cautionary voices, as one would expect. I respect much of what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, one could perhaps say that the voice was rather more than traditionally cautionary, and was somewhat Cassandra-like. However, that is not something that I wish to deal with in detail at the moment.
The thrust of what we are practically all agreed on is that there should be a reserved powers model. There are two excellent reasons for that. One is selfish, if I may say so as someone who has been a solicitor and barrister, and later a circuit judge. It is to avoid a whole generation of Welsh lawyers having constitutional neuroses. It means that if you want to be sure of whether something has been transferred in a particular field, you might have to look at not just a score of different legislative sources but perhaps much more than that. It is like confetti—all over the place—when it could so easily have been done in a different way by a total bulk transfer, subject to exceptions (a), (b), (c) and (d).
It would not be all that difficult if one were to tackle this straightaway on the basis of Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Under the provision, the House will recollect that there were 20 areas of devolved authority ranging from agriculture to the Welsh language. What is referred to in each and every one of those paragraphs is just a heading. It might well be argued that although you could easily draft a Bill—you could write it out almost on the back of an envelope, and that seems to me to be the way in which some legislation has been proposed over the past few weeks—you could never be absolutely certain of what you were including if you dealt with it in that bulk umbrella way. However, I doubt whether the difficulties are as great as that, because when the Government of Wales Act was passed there was careful scrutiny as to the content of each and every one of those 20 categories. Thus I should think that successive Governments and those who advise them have a pretty clear idea in each case of exactly what has been devolved and what has not been devolved.
Therefore it seems to me that on a selfish basis, as far those who practise the great vocation of the law is concerned, there is much to be said for cleaning up in this particular way. In so far as constitutional maturity is concerned, there is everything to be said in favour of that model. I hope that the Government will not plead the vehicular defence and say that this is not the vehicle by which to do this, but will say that this is something that can be done quickly. I suspect that some thought has been given to it over the years. I suspect too that the Government may well have anticipated what Silk concluded in this particular context.
Turning to Amendment 2A, I am a great admirer and respecter of both the noble Lords concerned, the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas. I have known them almost since boyhood. Both have been committed home rulers since boyhood. Few people now alive in Wales have contributed more to the effort to raise the constitutional level of this land and nation. They have cast a generously broad net. One might well say that if one looks in detail at some of what that net might contain, then clearly there might be certain difficulties. However, I do not think that the situation is as bleak as is suggested.
In fact, many responsible bodies in Wales, whose membership cuts across party loyalties of all sorts, have spoken for many years about the position of the police in relation to the Welsh Assembly. I speak as one with knowledge of the matters that come before the courts from time to time—or used to when I was in practice—and the general case is this. The matters relating to the police, youth justice, drugs and various other agencies—some of which have clearly been devolved and others which have not—make out a case for at least the transfer of certain police functions. I am not arguing for the total transfer of certain police functions that have not already been devolved to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly. Such arguments are found in Silk, and indeed many other responsible bodies have come to much the same conclusion. So it is not chimerical or irresponsible to mention that matter.
Let us take broadcasting again, for example. Paragraph 20 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act transfers all responsibilities in relation to the Welsh language, save and except the legal position of the Welsh language in the courts—nothing else. An intelligent layman would therefore be well excused if he said that broadcasting in Wales in the Welsh language must have been included within the umbrella of paragraph 20. That is not so, as we found very much to our cost some years ago when the issue of S4C arose. I shall not go into the detail of that now but something that was crucial to the very future and success of the Welsh language had not been devolved in the slightest degree.
I think that the 20 areas of authority included in Schedule 7 to the 2006 Act could easily and safely be transferred, and very little would need to be done in addition to the information that the Government already have in that regard. It would show good will on the part of the Government and responsibility, candour and integrity in relation to the promises made some weeks ago in the heat of the Scottish referendum. If they mean what they say—and I am prepared to accept that they do mean what they say—this could be in earnest of that good will and integrity.
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate to start the Committee proceedings on this Bill. In response, I begin by reminding noble Lords of the intention behind the Bill. It encompasses three strands: first, issues flowing from the Green Paper issued by the Wales Office early in this Parliament; secondly, amendments to the Government of Wales Act requested by the First Minister; and, thirdly, measures to introduce fiscal accountability and borrowing powers recommended by the Silk 1 report, which so far have been sadly lacking in the Welsh devolution settlement.
Many of us here today are anxious to see the Silk 2 recommendations implemented, and I assure noble Lords that the Wales Office is working actively on that at the moment. Unfortunately, the Silk 2 report was produced too late for us to bring forward legislation in this Parliament. The Silk commission acknowledged that fact and said that it realised that many of its recommendations were for manifestos. The fact that it brought forward its second report too late in this Parliament does not mean that we cannot achieve anything from Silk 2 before the election. We can make a number of recommendations on which we can make progress. We can also prepare for further legislation, and we are doing so.
The Scottish referendum has ensured that a new devolution settlement for Wales is very much on the agenda, and I hope that there is cross-party agreement on that. However, Silk 2 was clear that its legislative recommendations were for party manifestos, and rightly so because, as has been referred to this afternoon, there needs to be discussion, debate and public information before people vote on a number of issues, obviously including this one.
These amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas, seek to leapfrog that manifesto process—understandably perhaps. Plaid Cymru wants to air its manifesto in advance and this is a very good opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the amendments are poorly thought through, for reasons that I will outline in a moment. It is also important to note that some of the new powers suggested in the amendments, as other noble Lords have said, were not recommended in Silk 2. We therefore need that manifesto process and an element of public discussion in order to have the cross-party agreement, which, I am sure noble Lords will agree, is essential if one is to move forward firmly on constitutional reform.
In tabling Amendments 1, 2A and 3, the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas, seek to devolve additional powers to the Assembly. It is worth pointing out that Amendment 18A, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan and Lady Gale, is nearly identical in wording to Amendment 1. Amendment 2A seeks to put Silk 2 recommendations in the Bill in a broad-brush manner that is not appropriate for such far-reaching changes. Through this amendment, the noble Lords seek to insert 18 new subjects into the list of devolved subjects in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 on which the Assembly can pass measures. Amendment 3 seeks to amend Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act to remove all the non-devolved exceptions to the devolved subjects. This would broaden significantly the 20 subjects on which the Assembly can already legislate and have the effect of going very much further than the Silk 2 recommendations. Amendments 1 and 18A require the Secretary of State to set out a timetable in a report before both Houses of Parliament for the move to a reserved powers model in Wales.
I am delighted that there is now a broad consensus that moving to a reserved powers model of devolution is desirable. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, pointed out that I had worked within the current Government of Wales Act in the Welsh Assembly. Of course, I deal with the Act daily in the Wales Office and I understand its complexities. In the Wales Office we are working proactively on how we go forward to a new reserved powers model. I assure noble Lords that there is no hanging back on that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, talked about the six-month timetable on reserved powers. Of course, any timetable of that nature comes across the issue of the general election. The important thing that we must do now is ensure that sufficient work is done on the reserved powers model so that there is cross-party agreement and, after the general election, a commitment to move forward with all possible speed. We must also enable that commitment to be kept where possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, talked about how far we have come in a short time. When we get impatient on the development of devolution, it is useful to remember how far we have come in 15 years, but there is very much further to go. We are certainly not looking at a delay until 2021. I remind the noble Lord that this Government ensured that there was a referendum in 2011 to give the Assembly full legislative powers. That meant that the Assembly assumed those additional powers mid-term. It is important to bear in mind that it is quite possible for the Assembly to move forward mid-term.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke very positively about moving forward with devolution. I strongly welcome the Labour Party’s conversion to the reserved powers model. Some of us have been criticising the original model for Welsh Assembly legislation for a very long time. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to note that the tone and nature of the debate on devolution has changed, and that we need to respond to that and to create a new constitutional settlement. I agree with her that the danger is that if you move forward too fast, you can do so in a haphazard manner. You need to ensure that you have a full public discussion about the aspects of this and that you move forward in a certain way. We have concerns about the complexity of the current devolution settlement. The last thing we want is to replace it with one that is equally complex.
I want to make absolutely clear to noble Lords that none of us in government—I am sure that this is shared across the Chamber—wants to see repeated legal challenges to the competence of the Assembly. It is not good for the Assembly, the Welsh Government or the UK Government. We need clarity. We are committed to making progress on that. Unfortunately, in the short term, the amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas, would deliver anything but clarity. They would broaden the settlement and, crucially, Amendment 3 would remove exceptions and carve-outs that currently ensure that issues such as monetary policy and the regulation of international trade remain decided at a UK level. I am sure noble Lords would agree that it is appropriate that monetary policy and international trade are decided at a UK level.
I was very interested in what the noble Baroness had to say about the reserved powers model. She comes from one branch of the coalition—if I may put it that way—which has been in favour of reserved powers for a long time. Will she assure us that the other branch of the coalition is now also in favour of the reserved powers model?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales made it absolutely clear at the recent Conservative Party conference that he believes that Wales needs to move to a reserved powers model. It is also worth noting that the recent legal judgment, to which reference has been made today, on the Agricultural Wages Board was sufficiently far reaching to ensure that many people have reconsidered the situation in the light of that judgment.
The amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Elis-Thomas, would put in place in the short term a broad but poorly defined settlement until the Government put forward a timetable for putting in place reserved powers. It will disappoint noble Lords in some cases that the Government have made clear repeatedly that this Bill is not the appropriate place for implementing Silk 2 recommendations. If we seek to use the Bill for that purpose we risk—I say this very seriously to noble Lords—lengthening the process and causing serious problems for the Bill in the other place. I remain completely committed to ensuring that we get the Bill through and I do not want to put the Bill at risk in any way. By widening the Bill considerably, it would have a very difficult passage in the other place. Given the proximity of the general election, we would find it difficult to ensure that the Bill passed before the end of the Session. Therefore, I certainly do not intend to put this at risk.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I have listened to her with great attention. I can well understand the need for extensive discussion in manifestos as well as in the other place and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, and various other people. However, as there is such unanimity about the reserved powers model, why can this not be accepted in principle in the Bill, leaving the question of its implementation and the timetable open? It does not have to be six months, but it could be accepted in principle if it is now accepted by all parties. The only point that has not been made about why it should be accepted is a very important philosophical and political point about subsidiarity. The Minister has not addressed the issue of why it cannot be accepted in principle in the Bill, with all the details to be worked out in due course.
The noble and right reverend Lord raises an interesting point and I will obviously take it away and think about it. In so far as thought has been given to this so far, we have been thinking about the scope of those reserved powers being included in legislation at the same time as the principle of reserved powers. There would possibly be issues and problems with separating out the principle from the scope of those powers, but I will certainly reflect on what the noble and right reverend Lord has said.
On that point, potentially some substantial time may have elapsed before the principle of reserved powers comes into operation. The extent of the conferred powers has been shown by the Supreme Court judgment in fact to be highly flexible. To what extent has the Wales Office taken on board the effect of that judgment? Can we be assured that there will be no unnecessary legal challenges in future and that we have learnt the lessons of that judgment?
Noble Lords can certainly be assured that, first, the Wales Office has studied that legal judgment very carefully and, secondly, that across government there is a determination to move ahead with devolution, and the development of devolution, on a cross-party basis, where it is possible to do so. There is a determination to ensure that we work proactively with the Welsh Government on issues. Indeed, that refers back to the Silk 2 recommendations, which included a number of mechanisms for improving relationships between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. That is very much at the forefront of our minds at this moment in terms of making progress.
In conclusion, our focus in the Bill is on implementing the first part of the Silk commission’s recommendations, and that must remain its focus. I urge noble Lords not to put the Bill at risk in the hope of something even better. Do not reject jam today in the hope of even more jam tomorrow. Use the progress in devolution that the Bill encompasses as a sound basis for further devolution. Do not for one moment entertain the idea that the best way of moving forward is to stand still and in some ways set this Bill aside and start again. We insist that this is a positive step forward and it is important that we demonstrate the cross-party agreement that exists on the further development of devolution.
The Leader of the House of Commons chairs the new Cabinet Committee, which is looking at devolved powers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland alongside powers for Scotland. This afternoon, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is meeting Welsh spokespeople from the other place across the parties in order to discuss devolution. Similar cross-party meetings have taken place within the Assembly among the leaders of the political parties there. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have made it clear that they want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on further devolution. The devolution committee includes the Secretary of State for Wales, and I also attend. It is important to note that the Wales Office has a strong voice at those meetings. Events are moving on rapidly. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate: my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Rowlands, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and a number of Peers who intervened. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson for her response. I am somewhat disappointed at the tone of the Minister’s response, particularly given the virtual unanimity in relation to Amendment 1. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to his Front-Bench responsibilities. There is some irony: I look at the Front Bench where there are two Members who were in the Assembly in 1999. I look at this Bench and at the Back Bench opposite. It seems that the Assembly is slowly taking over here. Some of us want to see the process happening in the other direction.
The consensus that was reached by the Silk commission on this matter and the consensus of this House with regard to the reserved powers are ones that need to bring out of the Government a firmer commitment that we have had today. I appreciate that work is going on on these matters, but that is not enough. I accept the comments that have been made in relation to Amendment 2A. Of course that goes further. I understand that it would not carry a consensus and that may be a reason for not going forward on that basis. But I remind the House that the powers in Amendment 2A are ones that have been committed now with regard to Scotland and have been committed with alacrity. We may very shortly hear more about that in this Chamber. If there is an imperative that drives those forward with great speed in Scotland and if there is a total commitment by the Prime Minister to make sure that Wales does not fall behind, how on earth can they be rejected out of hand? I accept that they will not be taken into the Bill, but I very much hope that between now and the new year there will be some indication of further legislation to meet those points. Otherwise, the commitments that have been made do not have the value of the print in which they have been expressed.
The Prime Minister’s pledge that Wales will not miss out means that these issues must be considered, and quickly. But even if the Government cannot accept the matters covered in Amendment 2A, and if they are not prepared to go down the route of Amendment 3, which was addressed by my colleague, we should certainly have a commitment that specific proposals will be brought forward in this Parliament and that further legislation can be concluded quickly after the general election of May 2015 to be in force from May 2016, when the new Assembly comes into being.
I just have a point of clarification. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord’s speech, and I agree with the Minister that there is some awareness. However, some elements of the powers within this clause were of course part of the Scottish Parliament, understandably because of the legal system, which was there beforehand. Some were devolved because of the Scotland Act 2012, and some aspects of these are being considered by the Smith commission, so it is perhaps not entirely the case that they all reside in the Scottish Parliament alone.
We have in the grouping of these amendments brought two different fields into play, and they need to be addressed separately to that extent. Of course matters related to the Home Office are already devolved to Scotland. We are very much aware of that, and that is one reason why matters such as policing, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred a moment ago, have wide support across the party-political divide in Wales and should be devolved rapidly.
Even though I accept what the noble Baroness said with regard to bringing in changes mid-Assembly, that may be appropriate with regard to some of the background systems and the concept of reserved powers without changing any of the actual detail of the portfolios being devolved. But if we are talking about further devolved portfolios of the sort that will come into play in Silk 2, they most certainly need to be specified before the 2016 election so that the issues within those portfolios can be addressed by the parties putting forward the manifestos for that election. I understand what the noble Baroness is saying in regard to the theory, but in regard to the practice we need to have that further detail.
I return to Amendment 1. I reject the suggestion made by the noble Baroness that this has been poorly thought out. It has been drafted on very good advice.
I am very grateful that the noble Baroness is taking the opportunity to clarify that, because that will be helpful for Members in all parts of the House. It is quite clear that we have a cross-party consensus, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned a moment ago. It will be very helpful if we could have some indication between now and Report as to how exactly this is going to be taken forward.
Although there is a mention of “within six months” in the amendment as a period for bringing forward proposals on reserved powers, that does not mean that we need to take the whole six months. I believe that the process can be completed within four months, before Prorogation for a general election. It will be very useful if this has been clarified at that stage, even if some of the detailed legislation has to be taken forward thereafter.
I also reject the suggestion—it is always made at this stage of a Bill, as we are coming nearer Royal Assent—that if we send it back with changes to another place that will open a can of worms. I do not believe it will because I think the same cross-party consensus exists in another place as exists here. If there is that general agreement with regard to the reserved power model, let us just get on with it, not hold back.
The noble Lord might reflect that while there might be consensus within Wales on this issue among political parties, there are a very large number of English MPs in the other place who will quite rightly want to discuss this in the context of their own situation. I fear that we could find the process very heavy going if we started to expand this Bill beyond its original intention.
My Lords, heaven help us if English MPs are going to start voting on matters of purely Welsh concern, but I take the point. I am sure the other point is understood across this Chamber as well.
The issue that I want to stress before withdrawing this amendment—obviously at this stage it is a probing amendment—is please, between now and Report, can we firm up the intentions in general with regard to reserved powers? I reserve the right to come back at Report if that is not done. I hope we can achieve that without that being necessary and that the consensus in this Chamber today will be carried through and can work for the benefit of Wales. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 had been retabled as Amendment 2A.
Amendment 2A not moved.
Amendment 3 not moved.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health on the subject of Ebola.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the Government’s response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. I shall start with the Chief Medical Officer’s assessment of the current situation in the affected countries. As of today, there have been 4,033 confirmed deaths and 8,399 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola recorded in seven countries, although widespread transmission is confined to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This number is doubling every three to four weeks. The UN has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.
This Government’s first priority is the safety of the British people. Playing our part in halting the rise of the disease in West Africa is the single most important way of preventing Ebola infecting people in the UK. I would like to start by paying tribute to the courage of all those involved in this effort, including military, public health, development and diplomatic staff. I particularly commend over 650 NHS front-line staff and 130 Public Health England staff who have volunteered to go out to Sierra Leone to help in our efforts on the ground. You are the best of our country and we are deeply proud of your service.
Among the three most affected countries, the UK has taken particular responsibility for Sierra Leone, with the US leading on Liberia and France focusing on Guinea. British military medics and engineers began work in August on a 92-bed Ebola treatment facility in Kerry Town, including 12 beds for international health workers. In total, we will support more than 700 beds across the country, more than tripling Sierra Leone’s capacity. With the World Health Organisation, we are training more than 120 health workers a week and piloting a new community approach to Ebola care to reduce, and hopefully stop, the transmission rate. We are also building and providing laboratory services, and supporting an information campaign in-country. We are now deploying the Royal Navy’s RFA “Argus” and its Merlin helicopters along with highly skilled military personnel, bringing our military deployment to 750. They will support the construction of the Kerry Town Ebola treatment centre and other facilities, provide logistics and planning support, and help establish and staff a World Health Organisation-led Ebola training facility to increase training to over 800 health workers a week.
Taken together, the UK contribution stands at £125 million plus invaluable human expertise and is the second-highest bilateral contribution after the US. But we need other countries to do more to complement the efforts of ourselves, the US and France. On 2 October, the Foreign Secretary held an international conference on defeating Ebola in Sierra Leone, during which over £100 million and hundreds of additional healthcare workers were pledged.
I will now move on to the risks to the general public in the UK. The Chief Medical Officer, who takes advice from Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, this morning confirmed that it is likely that we will see a case of Ebola in the UK, and that this could be a handful of cases over the next three months. She confirmed that the public health risk in the UK remains low and that measures currently in place, including exit screening in all three affected countries, offer the correct level of protection. However, while the response to global health emergencies should always be proportionate, she also advises the Government to make preparations for a possible increase in the risk level.
Therefore I can today announce that the following additional measures will take place. First, on screening and monitoring, rapid access to healthcare services by anyone who may be infected with Ebola is important, not only for their own health but also to reduce the risk of transmission to others. While there are no direct flights from the affected region, there are indirect routes into the UK. Therefore in the next week Public Health England will start screening and monitoring UK-bound air passengers, identified by the Border Force, coming on the main routes from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This will allow potential Ebola virus carriers arriving in the UK to be identified, tracked and given rapid access to expert health advice should they develop symptoms.
Those measures will start tomorrow at Heathrow, which receives around 85% of all such arrivals, beginning with terminal 1. They will be expanded by the end of next week to other terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick and on the Eurostar, which connects to Paris and Brussels-bound arrivals from West Africa. Passengers will have their temperature taken and complete a questionnaire asking about their current health, recent travel history and whether they might be at potential risk through contact with Ebola patients. They will also be required to provide contact details. If neither the questionnaire nor the temperature reading raises any concerns, passengers will be told how to make contact with the NHS should they develop Ebola symptoms within the 21-day incubation period, and allowed to continue on their journey. It is important to stress that a person with Ebola is infectious only if they are displaying symptoms.
Any passenger who reports recent exposure to people who may have Ebola, or symptoms, or who has a raised temperature will undergo a clinical assessment and, if necessary, will be transferred to hospital. Passengers identified as having any level of increased risk of Ebola, but without any symptoms, will be given a Public Health England contact number to call should they develop any symptoms consistent with Ebola within the 21-day incubation period. Higher-risk individuals will be contacted on a daily basis by Public Health England. Should they develop symptoms, they will have the reassurance of knowing that this system will get them first-class medical care, as the NHS demonstrated with nurse William Pooley, and the best possible chance of survival.
We expect these measures to reach 89% of travellers we know have come to the UK from the affected region on tickets booked for the UK. However, it is important to note that no screening procedure will be able to identify 100% of the people arriving from Ebola-affected countries, not least because some passengers leaving the countries will not be ticketed directly through to the UK. So today I can announce that the Government will ensure, working with the devolved Administrations, that there is highly visible information displayed at all entry points to the UK asking passengers to identify themselves, in their own best interests, if they have travelled to the affected region in the last 21 days. This information for travellers will be available by the end of this week.
We are also taking other important measures. We have tested operational resilience with a comprehensive exercise that took place on Saturday, modelling cases in London and the north of England. Local emergency services across England are holding their own exercises this week and will share lessons learnt.
It is vital that the right decisions are made on Ebola following any first contact with the NHS. So we have put in place a process for all call handlers on NHS 111 to ask people reporting respiratory symptoms about their recent travel history so that appropriate help can be given to higher-risk patients as quickly as possible. The Chief Medical Officer has also issued a series of alerts over recent months to doctors, nurses and pharmacists setting out what to do when someone presents with relevant symptoms. We will also send out guidance to hospital and GP receptionists.
The international profile of the UK as a favoured destination inevitably increases the risk that someone with Ebola will arrive here, so a great deal of planning has also gone into procedures for dealing with potential Ebola patients in the UK, working closely with the devolved Administrations. All ambulances are equipped with personal protective equipment, PPE. If a patient is suspected of having Ebola, they will be transported to the nearest hospital and put in an isolation room. A blood sample will then be sent to Public Health England’s specialist laboratory for rapid testing. If they test positive for Ebola, they will be transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in North London, which is the UK’s specialist centre for treating the most dangerous infectious diseases. We also have plans in place to surge Ebola bed capacity in Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield, making a total of 26 beds available in the UK.
We will always follow medical advice as to whether any measures we adopt are likely to be effective and are a proportionate response to risk. However, I believe that we are among the best and most prepared countries in the world.
Lastly, we are harnessing the UK’s expertise in life sciences to counter the threat from Ebola. The UK Government, alongside the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, have co-funded clinical trials of a potential vaccine which could be pivotal in the prevention effort. We are actively working with international partners to explore how we might appropriately make further vaccine available.
Finally, we should remember that the international community has shown that if we act decisively, we can defeat serious new infectious disease threats such as SARS and pandemic flu.
The situation will get worse before it gets better, but we should not flinch in our resolve to defeat Ebola both for the safety of the British population and as part of our responsibility to some of the poorest countries on the planet. Our response will continue to develop in the weeks and months to come, guided by advice from the Chief Medical Officer, Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. I start by echoing his words by paying tribute to NHS staff members and members of the Armed Forces and of the Diplomatic Service who have been heavily involved in the Ebola response both at home and in West Africa for many months. I am sure that we have all been horrified by the devastating scenes reported on TV as the virus has spread. People will also be worried by reports of a second case of Ebola in Dallas. There will be particular concern that that second case has occurred in a health worker. We look to the Government for reassurance.
The noble Earl repeated the point that the Chief Medical Officer expects there to be a handful of cases. Perhaps he could say a little about what modelling has been undertaken to estimate the potential number of cases. What is the range of those estimates? Is a handful of cases the worst-case scenario? He will be aware of the independent review of the Government’s response to the swine flu pandemic by Dame Deirdre Hine, who said that the only predictable thing about such events is their unpredictability. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are planning for the worst-case scenario so that there can be no sense of complacency?
It is also right that we should consider further measures to ensure that we are fully prepared should an Ebola case be identified here. I would like to ask the noble Earl about the Government’s position, as there seems to have been some confusion. Last Thursday, a statement on the Department of Health’s website read:
“Entry screening in the UK is not recommended by the World Health Organisation, and there are no plans to introduce entry screening for Ebola in the UK”.
Just 24 hours later the Department of Health changed its position. Will the Minister say what official advice on screening his right honourable friend received from the Chief Medical Officer and from Public Health England? Did screening have the support of the Chief Medical Officer? In interviews over the last 48 hours the Chief Medical Officer seemed to be saying that there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of the screening programme that the Government are putting in place. Can the Minister confirm that?
Can the Minister also say who is in charge? He will remember concerns as the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill went through the House about the fragmentation of public health and about responsibility for it seeming to be split between Ministers, the Chief Medical Officer, Public Health England, local authorities and the NHS at local level. There will be questions about who is in charge and who is accountable.
The preparation exercise undertaken this weekend was of course extremely welcome. The Minister will know that a patient was transferred from Newcastle, where they have negative pressure beds, to the Royal Free, where they have what are called Trexler beds. The current advice—which has recently been revised—from the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens is that patients can be handled in either type of bed. Can the Minister comment on that? If only Trexler beds are recommended, is he satisfied that the NHS currently has only two such beds, both at the Royal Free? Can the Minister update us about progress on the proposed second unit planned in Newcastle, which he mentioned when he repeated the Statement?
While border checks and preparation exercises are important, the public will want to be reassured on three key issues. The first is that treatment is available, and that all necessary steps are being taken to develop a vaccine. The second is that the NHS is prepared and that staff are sufficiently aware of the symptoms. The third is that public information is readily available. I will take each in turn.
On treatment, although there is currently no specific treatment for Ebola, there is an experimental medication called ZMapp which the British nurse who was treated here was offered and took. Will it be standard practice to offer that medication to patients, and are the Government satisfied with the current supply of it in the NHS? The best assurance we could give people is that there will be a vaccine which will be made easily accessible to those who need it most. Can he update the House a little more on progress in its preparation?
With regard to preparation, is the Minister satisfied that all relevant NHS staff, including GPs, know how to identify Ebola, the precautions to be taken in any presentation and the protocols for handling it once it has been identified? Can he give an assurance that safety equipment is of the standard stipulated by the WHO? He will be aware that it is a cause for concern that breaches of protocol and the quality of safety equipment have been cited as potential causes of the infections in Spain and the US.
What plans do the Government have in the area of public awareness? Has the Minister considered introducing a telephone advice line? Does he consider that it would be wise to temporarily increase the number of clinicians available to answer NHS 111 calls?
The UK has, rightly, pledged £125 million to assist Sierra Leone in fighting the outbreak. However, with cases doubling every three to four weeks there is widespread agreement that the response of the international community in general has to date been slow and inadequate. The window of opportunity to halt Ebola will close very shortly, and I ask the Minister what extra steps the Government are taking to help the affected countries with resources and clinical expertise? What are they doing to mobilise action by the international community?
Finally, do the Health Secretary and the noble Earl accept that improving global health systems is the best way to prevent these outbreaks, or at least to ensure that such outbreaks are caught before they get out of control? It is indeed shocking that the index case for this outbreak was identified 10 months ago. My own party, along with the Governments of France, Germany and Senegal, among others, has called for universal health coverage to be placed at the centre of global development, yet the UK is currently opposing such plans at the UN. Can the Minister explain the Government’s opposition to this?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and questions. I shall endeavour to cover as many as I can. First, let me turn to the advice that we have received in recent days from the Chief Medical Officer. It is important for me to underline that she has made it clear that we can expect a small number of cases over the next few months but that the degree of risk to the UK remains low. That is the point which noble Lords should keep in mind. It makes sense that we should identify people who have been to the affected areas and give them clear advice, making sure that they know exactly whom to call to get access to the best possible advice and care. The evidence from the Texas case, which the noble Lord cited, is that early identification of cases is absolutely critical and screening will help with that.
The noble Lord mentioned that the position of the Department of Health has changed over recent days. He is right; the Chief Medical Officer has been very clear that we are in uncharted territory so far as Ebola is concerned. We will learn as we go and base our policy on the best possible advice but we took the view that, as a Government, we would be failing in our duty if we did not take proportionate and targeted steps to safeguard the UK. The situation is developing all the time. No system of screening, as the Statement made clear, can offer 100% protection against an imported case of Ebola but our aim is to ensure that as many people as possible arriving from affected countries know the symptoms and how to get access to healthcare services as quickly as possible. We can be entirely confident in our ability to isolate and treat a case in this country, should it emerge, and we believe that the measures which we have announced will help to improve our ability to detect and isolate Ebola cases.
The noble Lord asked what modelling had been done on the number of cases. I am advised that a great deal of work has been done in an endeavour to predict numbers. I cannot give a precise number but the CMO’s advice is based on a risk assessment from Public Health England and she has been clear that, although the risk remains low, we should be prepared for a handful of cases over the coming months.
The noble Lord asked whether we had been planning for a worst-case scenario. As I said, the NHS has capacity available to cope with a number of cases. We are confident that the NHS’s capacity is adequate. We have two specialist beds available using the Trexler system at the Royal Free. There is further capacity at the Royal Free itself and surge capacity at a number of other units around the country. It is important, however, to understand that Trexler beds are not the only type of beds that can be used; other beds are appropriate for treating Ebola patients, given that the staff have appropriate PPE.
Turning to the prospects for treatment of Ebola, we are using our position as a global centre of research to understand Ebola better and help prevent a future outbreak. Working with the Wellcome Trust, we have launched a global call for research which could produce evidence to better manage the current outbreak and any that occurs in the future. The UK, alongside the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, has also co-funded clinical trials of a potential vaccine, as was mentioned in the Statement, which could be pivotal in preventing outbreaks. At the moment I am not in a position to give further details of that work.
The reassurance to the House is that there is now an expert group, chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, alongside Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust. The Chief Medical Officer and Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, have agreed that this group should be a SAGE group—that is, a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. This will include the best experts that we have available.
The noble Lord asked me about international support for the effort in Sierra Leone on top of the support that we are providing from this country. As a result of the conference held in London on 2 October, a number of countries and organisations have made pledges. Australia has pledged £6.2 million, Canada £18.6 million and Switzerland £3.25 million. Cuba has pledged a significant number of staff. At the African Development Bank a further £94.9 million package of grants and loans has been approved, of which £31 million will go to Sierra Leone. Save the Children is launching a £44 million appeal, with £25 million for Sierra Leone.
Turning back to the UK, the noble Lord asked me about GPs and whether they know how to identify Ebola and what to do. As the Statement mentioned, the CMO has sent out a number of alerts, including to GPs. We are not at all complacent about this. We are asking the Royal College of General Practitioners and the BMA about how we could get messages out more effectively to their constituent members, as they have very good channels of communication.
Finally, I hope that I have sufficiently conveyed to the House that there is clear responsibility for the efforts that we are making in this country and in Sierra Leone to contain this outbreak. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable but, as I said, we have a SAGE group in operation; we have Public Health England providing advice to that group, along with the advice of other experts. The lines of accountability are clear.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Statement. I have two quick questions. One relates to the staff who have volunteered to go out to Sierra Leone and to all soldiers. If any of them get infected while they are working there, will they be brought back to the United Kingdom for treatment? My second question relates to the treatment. While there are likely to be early trials of the vaccine that is being developed, it may well prove ineffective. But there are other companies developing other treatments. Are there plans to fast-track approval of these drugs if they are found to be effective? We know that the stock of ZMapp is now exhausted; further monoclonal antibodies development is likely to take some time.
There is a limited amount that I can say to the noble Lord about his second question. A general answer is that we would naturally want to give as fast a passage as possible through the regulatory process to any breakthrough treatment for Ebola. It should be borne in mind, however, that safety is the paramount concern. This is why it is important that the vaccine, which is now in clinical trials, is thoroughly tested for safety as well as efficacy. If there is further news on this that I can impart to the noble Lord, I will be happy to write to him.
The noble Lord asked whether staff who volunteer will be repatriated if they contract the disease. My advice is that decisions on repatriation would be taken on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the clinical condition of the person and the benefit they may gain from repatriation. Repatriation involves a long journey that can potentially be dangerous for the patient. Once there is high-quality treatment available in Sierra Leone, it will not necessarily be in the best interests of the patient to be repatriated. That is why we are building the 12-bed unit specifically for national and international healthcare workers.
My Lords, I totally support the measures set out by the Minister. It is obviously sensible, as it has been in past events, for the Government to follow carefully the guidance of the Chief Medical Officer. Is not the real long-term task permanently to strengthen the inadequate and underfinanced health systems in so many parts of Africa? Would that not be to the benefit of tackling not just Ebola but other life-threatening conditions such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS?
My noble friend has immense experience in this area and I completely agree with him. I attended a conference in Washington a few days ago which was called by the President of the United States at which 44 Health Ministers from around the world were present. I emphasised the very point my noble friend has made: yes, it is important to provide assistance to deal with the current emergency—everybody is agreed about that—but we must not lose sight of the need for the health systems in those poor countries to be bolstered in the way my noble friend mentioned and for there to be adequately trained clinicians and healthcare staff on the ground as well as diagnostic facilities so that in future those countries are capable of some resilience if they are hit by such an emergency again. I can tell my noble friend that DfID funding is going into that effort, as it has been systematically over the past few years.
My Lords, the President of Ghana and chair of ECOWAS—the affected region—will be visiting the United Kingdom next week. He will be received graciously by Her Majesty the Queen, and he will come to this House on 22 October in order to address Members of this House and the other place. The success of the welcome measures outlined by the noble Earl will depend on the active engagement and involvement of West Africa and the whole of the affected region. Will the Minister ensure that the request that the President has put in to meet the Prime Minister and Cabinet members in order to discuss the appropriate co-operation between West Africa and the United Kingdom on these measures will be granted? The President has already made clear, and will make it clear to Members of this House next week, the appalling shortage of PPE and safety equipment on the ground in West Africa as we speak. There is a vital need for further resources and increased co-operation. The Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers need to hear that message.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me prior notice of his question. We very much look forward to the visit of the President of Ghana. His wish to discuss the Ebola emergency with the Prime Minister or a member of the Cabinet has been fed through at the highest governmental level. I cannot yet confirm whether or with whom such a meeting might be arranged, but I have asked that a response be forthcoming to the Ghanaian High Commission as soon as possible.
My Lords, the noble Earl mentioned information to GPs, pharmacists and so on. Can he tell the House anything about information to be given to the general public about the symptoms that we should be looking out for? Obviously I appreciate that one does not want to cause alarm, although I think the public are likely to be alarmed anyway, nor to overwhelm the services, but I imagine the Minister would agree that information is important.
Secondly, can he say anything about advice to air passengers? I do not mean those coming directly from the countries that we know are affected, but all air passengers. I imagine that all of us after a plane journey have got off thinking, “Hmm, with all that stale air, I think I’m about to go down with something—I can feel it at the back of my throat”. Are there precautions that air passengers generally should be taking? If so, will there be advice about this?
My Lords, we are reviewing those very questions all the time. Our position at the moment is that it would be disproportionate to alert the general public to the risk of Ebola, because it remains low. As for air passengers generally, it is important to understand that the virus is transmitted only by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. It is not an airborne infection. So while I do not in the least belittle the importance of a public health campaign should that prove necessary, we do not consider that it is warranted at the current time.
My Lords, I am slightly concerned—I hope the noble Earl will forgive me for not giving him advance notice of this question—about the possible risk of seeming a little complacent about saying that this is low-risk. We know that viruses mutate, for example, and we know that the Ebola virus can mutate. We know perfectly well that it is not airborne at the moment, and we know that the pharyngeal and upper respiratory tract cells are unlikely to harbour the virus. However, can the noble Earl assure us that people are looking at the risk of mutation of this virus so that we can make certain that its mode of transmission does not change and that, therefore, it will continue to be low-risk?
I can give the noble Lord that assurance. There is very close monitoring of the virus itself and the way in which it mutates. I repeat that the official advice is that risk to the public in this country remains low. That advice is based on the fact that we have robust, well developed and well tested systems for managing infectious diseases when they arise, supported by a wide range of experts. The Chief Medical Officer has estimated that we should expect Ebola in the UK, but not more than a handful of cases, and we would be able to cope with those cases.
My Lords, does not the handful of cases to which the noble Earl has just referred contrast very sharply with the prediction that 1 million people may die in West Africa? Given the fetid conditions and grinding poverty in places such as Monrovia and Freetown, does he not agree that this public health epidemic has been brought about because of the conditions that we have allowed to fester for so long?
Would the noble Earl not agree that the WHO was very slow in responding when this was first identified? Does he not also agree that an immediate problem is the disposal of corpses, which carry the risks of contagion? Furthermore, when will the 700 beds in Sierra Leone to which he alluded actually come on line?
My Lords, I believe that the WHO itself has acknowledged that its response could have been swifter. It is easy to say this in hindsight, but I am sure that the noble Lord’s view on that is shared by others. Nevertheless, the WHO has not been slow in rallying support for efforts in the three countries affected. It is now working energetically with many developed countries to provide support, and I would not wish to criticise the WHO in those respects.
On the disposal of corpses, the noble Lord makes an important point. We know that many cases of Ebola in the three countries have arisen as a result of people being in contact with the corpses of people who have died from the disease. That has been as a consequence of the cultural traditions in those countries, which are very hard to displace or persuade people not to follow. It is nevertheless part of our effort in Sierra Leone that we should inform people there that their burial customs need to be set to one side for the duration of the epidemic. This is a very difficult thing to do, for understandable reasons, but that is the effort we are making and it is bearing fruit.
As to the programme for building 700 beds, I do not have a precise date to give the noble Lord but if I receive advice before the end of this debate, I shall tell him.
My Lords, manifestly, this is a terrible disease, not only in its nature but in its scale. According to the rate of growth indicated by the Minister, within around six months we could be looking at between 150,000 and 500,000 deaths, and between 2 million and 5 million suspected cases. Let us hope that that does not occur. However, in view of that, may I ask him one question about screening and entry? I welcome the fact that there is to be extended screening at Heathrow, Gatwick and the Eurostar terminal—two airports and one train station. Manifestly, this does not cover anything like the potential entrants to this country from those regions. With cheap travel and so on, I understand the difficulties in covering every airport, particularly as people break their journeys and do not come directly. However, is it not possible, given the use of so many biometric passports and the technology introduced to UKBA, somehow to target at least people from that area as potentials for screening, wherever they arrive in this country, rather than limit the coverage to three geographical in-ports? Does the Minister have any information on whether this hypothesis has even been tested?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Existing technology used by the Border Force can inform it about individual passengers coming to this country and identify those who have recently travelled from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea on routes with onward connections to the UK. Systems are therefore in place. We know that fewer than 1,000 passengers arrived by air from the affected countries in September. We are not therefore dealing with huge numbers. We know that around 85% of such people arrive at Heathrow, which is why we are starting there. However, it is important to look as widely as we can; the noble Lord is right. Again we should be reassured by the fact that there is screening on departure from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea but we are starting the in-country screening in the UK at the three ports I mentioned, with the intention of scaling up screening, based on our experience. Plans are in place for a further rollout to other UK ports, if that should prove necessary.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff has asked me to apologise to the House for her absence; she had to go to Wolverhampton. I hear the noble Earl saying that the department will consult the BMA and the RCGP about getting the message across to GPs. My noble friend asked me to ask whether a diagnostic algorithm was going to be posted on all appropriate websites, including those of the royal colleges and the BMA.
I am not aware that the system being conveyed to GPs, which is not for diagnosis but for the referral of patients, can be called an algorithm, but there is a checklist of questions that we are recommending GPs use. That advice has been adapted for use in all healthcare settings, including NHS 111, as I mentioned in the Statement. Naturally, we shall take advice on whether the questionnaire and the sequence of questions are adequate. If it needs amending, we shall certainly not hesitate to do that.
The Minister mentioned SARS in his Statement. We have very few precedents, and he has already described this as being uncharted territory in relation to Ebola. What lessons were learnt after the SARS epidemic, particularly in relation to the organisation of global research? It was a different case because the virus was unknown but the same issues of mutation came up as those to which my noble friend referred. How will the lessons learnt be applied?
The main lesson learnt from SARS, which in general was a very successful exercise, was that there are two keys to this. The first is informing people what to do if they think that they have symptoms, and the second is making sure that the NHS knows what to do if presented with a possible case of the illness. I hope my comments have conveyed that those two things are the focus of our activity in this country. We also need to make sure that adequate isolation facilities are available for patients with these highly transmittable conditions. That work has been done in the mean time, hence the isolation facilities at the Royal Free and other hospitals to which I have referred.
With regard to research, could the noble Earl reassure us that the clinical trials will be speeded up by waiving the normal practice of control procedures? It seems unethical to use blind control in a case where the consequences of not being treated are fatal.
I completely take the point of the noble Baroness, and there are processes on which we can draw to ensure that breakthrough treatments are fast-tracked. There are, however, certain necessary stages in testing any new vaccine or treatment that comes forward to make sure that it is safe. It may be clinically effective in its own way but have unacceptable side-effects, so we need to test that. I can reassure her that regulation will not stand in the way of making a breakthrough treatment available.
To answer the earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I shall write to him with further details, but the 700-bed facility is under construction now. The first facility as part of that will be open by the end of October in Kerry Town.
Scotland within the United Kingdom
My Lords, as Deputy Leader of the House I wish to repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland entitled “Scotland within the United Kingdom”. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement to the House about the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom. As honourable Members will well know, on 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum on independence. I am pleased to report to the House that by a margin of 10.6%, or 55.3% to 44.7%, the people of Scotland have voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The referendum was underpinned by the Edinburgh agreement signed between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government in October 2012. That agreement ensured that the referendum would have a clear legal base, that it would be conducted in a way that commanded the confidence of both Parliaments, Governments and people and, most importantly, that it would deliver a fair, legal and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland—a result that everyone would respect.
Over 2 million people made a positive choice for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The franchise for the referendum included for the first time ever in this country 16 and 17 year-olds, and, at a time when our elections have suffered from declining participation, the turnout across Scotland was nearly 85%—something that I am sure all across this House would welcome. Politics works best when people take an active interest in supporting the things that matter to them most. It also adds emphasis to the democratic result.
The decision of the people of Scotland was clear. They voted to continue to be a part of this family of nations, they voted to continue to work alongside people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they voted for us all to remain together as a United Kingdom.
It is important that everyone now accepts this result. We should all move on from the 55% or 45% to working for 100% of people in Scotland, and that is what we are doing. The vow made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition during the referendum campaign is already being put into practice. The Smith commission, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, was up and running on 19 September. Lord Smith will convene cross-party talks to reach agreement on the proposals for further devolution to Scotland. His terms of reference make clear that the recommendations will deliver more financial, welfare and taxation powers, strengthening the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom.
But this process is not just about the parties. The referendum opened up civic engagement in Scotland across sectors, communities and organisations, and Lord Smith has made clear he wants to hear from all of these groups to ensure that the recommendations he produces are informed by views from right across Scottish society.
By St Andrew’s Day, Lord Smith will publish heads of agreement. The Government are committed to turning these recommendations into draft clauses by Burns Night 2015. The timetable is demanding but that is because the demand is there, in Scotland, to see change delivered, and it is a demand we will meet.
On Friday, 10 October, all of the five main Scottish parties submitted their proposals to the commission. In the case of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, these proposals reflect the positions published by the parties prior to the referendum campaign. The SNP and Green Party agreed to join the cross-party talks after the referendum, and they too submitted proposals on Friday.
Today I can confirm that the Government are meeting the first step in the further devolution process with the publication of a Command Paper. The Command Paper we are presenting today provides a clear, factual summary of the proposals for further devolution in Scotland published by each of the three pro-UK parties, as we committed to do during the course of the referendum campaign.
These party plans encompass a broad, complex and often interlinked range of topics from taxation to borrowing and from welfare to regulation. To inform and assist consideration of each of these proposals, the paper also sets out factual information about the current situation in these key policy areas, as well as presenting some background information about devolution in Scotland to date. This publication is wholly without prejudice to the work of the Smith commission, which will look at proposals from all of the parties and others and seek to establish the ground for consensus.
This will be the first time, in the development of Scotland’s constitutional future, that all of its main parties are participating in a process to consider further devolution: this is a truly historic moment and one that I very much welcome.
I am confident that with all five main Scottish parties working together, in collaboration, we will reach an agreement that will provide the enhanced powers to the people of Scotland and accountability for the Scottish Parliament while retaining the strength and benefits of being part of the United Kingdom. That was the message heard loud and clear during the referendum campaign and it is one that this Government—and all of Scotland’s political parties—are committed to supporting”.
My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I record our gratitude to the Government for making copies of it available to us in advance.
Just over three weeks ago, in unprecedented numbers, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. This was an historic decision. The result was emphatically clear and should be accepted by all participants. The Scottish people voted for pooling and sharing resources across the United Kingdom, they voted to continue with devolution and they voted for a stronger Scottish Parliament. Today, I pay particular tribute to my right honourable friends Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, who put the case for the United Kingdom with so much passion throughout the campaign. As well as all the people who took part in the campaign, it is also worth mentioning the 100-town tour of the right honourable Jim Murphy on top of his Irn Bru crate. Following the referendum, we can say with confidence that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people and that we shall have a stronger Scottish Parliament.
A vital part of this campaign was the commitment made by the leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to a strengthened and empowered Scottish Parliament. Led by the right honourable Gordon Brown, we guaranteed a clear and definitive timetable for further powers, and Her Majesty’s Opposition are pleased to see the Secretary of State publishing the Command Paper, ahead of time, today. Can the Minister confirm that a Motion now appears on the Order Paper detailing this timetable?
The process that is ongoing under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, will guarantee that more powers will come to the Scottish Parliament. The Labour Party will enter these talks in a spirit of partnership and co-operation with all the other parties, and we will apply a simple test to reaching a conclusion: what outcome respects the result of the referendum and will make people across Scotland better off? The people of Scotland have voted for pooling, sharing and prosperity, and that is what should guide the Smith commission’s discussions.
The referendum attracted the highest level of participation of any national poll ever held in Scotland, as was mentioned by the Minister. It is important that, as we develop the next stage of devolution, we reflect that. The Secretary of State mentioned in the Statement how voluntary organisations can participate. Can the Minister give us an indication of how individual members of the public can contribute, and can he tell the House how the noble Lord, Lord Smith, intends to engage with people across every area of Scotland?
When we debated the agreement for the referendum two years ago, my honourable friend Margaret Curran said that we would spend the campaign vigorously defending devolution from those who would seek to bring it to an end. Over the last two years, that is what we in the Labour Party have done. This campaign concludes with the devolution settlement not only secured but strengthened. We will continue to argue that the best future for Scottish people comes from pooling and sharing resources inside the United Kingdom, with a powerhouse Parliament that can again change the lives of people across Scotland. That is what the people of Scotland want and that is what the Scottish Labour Party will fight for.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his welcome of the publication of the Command Paper and indeed for what he said about the referendum. I join him in paying tribute to Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy. Gordon Brown’s speech on the day before polling day was one of the most electrifying that I have heard in a long, long time and it was very influential. I do not think that I know about even a fraction of the time and energy that Alistair Darling put into the Better Together campaign. He deserves all credit and praise for that. I think that Jim Murphy took more than one Irn Bru box as he went round Scotland. I know that his campaign was a great inspiration to many people who themselves were promoting the Better Together campaign up and down the country.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, that as a result of this we should and must have a stronger Scottish Parliament. He asked about a Motion on the Order Paper. I understand that there is a Motion on the Order Paper of the other place in, I think, the names of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, Mr Alistair Darling and Mr Gordon Brown. As I understand it—I do not know whether it has been confirmed—there is to be a debate tomorrow. I should perhaps indicate that there will be a debate on devolution in your Lordships’ House on the 29th of this month, and I am sure that noble Lords from all sides of the House will want to take part in that.
The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, also asked me about engagement with the commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. I understand that the noble Lord will be undertaking a stakeholder engagement process, and I encourage all interested parties to respond to that. The commission also has a website, which is up and running and into which people can input ideas and proposals. He said that the test for the Labour Party would be whether the outcome of the discussions respects the outcome of the referendum. I very much endorse that. The importance of pulling resources across the United Kingdom was a message that came through very strongly, particularly in the latter stages of the campaign.
When the Scotland Bill 2012 was going through this House and the other place, the Government set out three principles: any proposal should have cross-party support; it should be based on evidence; and it should not be to the detriment to other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that these are sensible proposals and, within the context, as emphasised by the people of Scotland in the referendum, they should also secure Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is remarkable that a 300 year-old union between nations peacefully and democratically renewed itself. It is incumbent on this Parliament and the parties within it to carry through their vows. As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said, it is very welcome that the publication is ahead of time in commencing its work. Liberal Democrats, with our colleagues and friends in the campaign for Better Together, indicated that a vote of no in the referendum was not a vote for no change.
The Command Paper’s analysis of the proposals by the three parties will assist in informing the public for their participation in the Smith commission. If the vow by the SNP is to be held, that this is a once-in-a-generation vote, then the proposals coming out of the Smith commission and those that will form the draft clauses, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, will also need to stand the test of time for the long term. That is why I and others in this Chamber have put forward for consideration a conference on the new union with a wider scope for other parts of the United Kingdom reform process too.
Will the noble and learned Lord also reflect on my view that if these proposals are to stand the test of time, and if the results of the Smith commission and the draft clauses will, in effect, be home rule proposals, then every household and voter in Scotland will need to be aware of them and their consequences? It will be insufficient for the Government simply to publish draft clauses that may well form part of a referendum. It will be important for the Government to make sure that every household in Scotland, through a publication direct through the letterbox, will be aware of the proposals and the potential opportunities for them, so that this is for the long term and for our lifetime.
My Lords, I agree that these proposals must stand the test of time and re-emphasise the fact that Scotland and the United Kingdom remain united. It would not be right for the people of Scotland, who voted so decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom, if we then adopted proposals that started to unpick and unravel the union. I do not believe that that is what people expect.
My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, are right to draw attention to the fact that the Command Paper has been published ahead of time. I am not sure whether there ever was a budget, so I cannot say that it was within budget. My noble friend asked me to make commitments about sending things to every household. I am not sure that I can make such commitments on the hoof, but I take his point. It is an important point because I sometimes think that we have never been given the full credit for what Parliament passed in the Scotland Act 2012. Indeed, someone who was campaigning on the yes side said to me, “Why did you guys and girls never make more of the powers that have actually been transferred?” We have seen in the past few days, with the Finance Secretary John Swinney making tax proposals on the replacement of stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax, that these powers are now real. With the Scottish rate of income tax kicking in in April 2016, substantial powers are already in train and being delivered on the back of a commitment made by each of the three parties in their manifestos at the last election. So when some people question our willingness to hold to what we commit to, we need to point not only to what we did then, but also to what the Labour Government did in 1997.
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble and learned Lord emphasised the 2012 settlement, because I think that is something that people were not aware of in the course of the referendum campaign. I also thank the noble and learned Lord for emphasising the scale of the majority for the no vote, because, in the past few weeks, I have sometimes wondered if we did actually win. We have learnt that those who shout loudest do not necessarily find themselves on the winning side. It was the quiet majority in Scotland that voted no and were sometimes frightened to admit that. Does the Minister agree that, regardless of the outcome of the Smith commission and the conclusions of all the major political parties in this House, that will not assuage the views of the separatists and that we will have to return again and again to emphasise the scale of the majority for remaining part of the United Kingdom?
On a specific point, the Command Paper contains a number of proposals for variations in income tax and other economic measures. What action will be taken to ensure that there is no adverse effect on macroeconomic policy, because any adverse change in macroeconomic policy will affect not just the people of Scotland but the people of all of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to emphasise that there was a decisive outcome. Just as we are being held quite properly to give effect to the commitments which all parties made in the referendum, so the Scottish National Party should be held to the commitment made by the First Minister that the referendum was a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-generation matter.
I have already named three Members of the other place. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness. Many Members of your Lordships’ House contributed much in terms of campaigning for this referendum and I wish to thank them too.
The noble Baroness asked about the macroeconomic powers and specifics with regard to proposals in the White Paper. It is fair to say that the purpose of the White Paper is to bring together the different proposals and put them in the context of the current situation. It is not therefore doing a subsequent analysis. It is very much a matter for the Smith commission to consider the implications for particular proposals. I have no doubt that a view from the noble Baroness would be properly considered by members of the commission.
I congratulate the Government on this Statement and the response of the Labour Party by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for its unity of view. It fulfils the first part of the promise that was laid out during the referendum campaign and which has been monstrously slurred by the separatists over the course of the last few weeks. The noble Baroness is right and I share her view that when it comes to the commission of our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, he will find it very difficult to produce anything that the separatists themselves will not say is too little, too late, not enough, will not do, and breaks the fundamental promises given during the referendum campaign. I very much hope that the Government will be wise to that and give full support to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in his endeavours.
My noble and learned friend correctly pointed out the scale of the victory in the referendum for those who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. This Statement is rightly about strengthening the Scottish Parliament. However, there is another side to this equation, which is also strengthening the United Kingdom and strengthening other parts of the United Kingdom within the overall devolution settlement. The two or three issues do not need to be tied together, but they cannot be left behind. We have to come forward with constitutional proposals which are going to be fair for representation and for taxpayers right across the United Kingdom. It is only in that way that we will avoid in another generation being faced with an argument about separatism again.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his words and for the contribution that he made in chairing the Conservative Party’s contribution to the debate on the powers of the Scottish Parliament. He is right to indicate that it is Scotland within the United Kingdom. I think we made it clear that it is time for the United Kingdom to come together and move forward. Part of that will be a balanced settlement that will be fair not only to the people of Scotland but also to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He will be aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House of Commons, my right honourable friend William Hague, to draw up plans for that. I hope that they can be taken forward on a cross-party basis. But my noble friend’s underlying point is correct: we need to ensure that there is a sense of fairness in all parts of our United Kingdom.
My Lords, I think that there is a feeling of relief rather than triumphalism in Scotland. Many of us who were the poor bloody infantry in the campaign were conscious that it took rather a long time for the no campaign’s message to be expressed with the clarity that resulted in the 10% majority. It is also to be said that this document is welcome because it is a clear exposition of what the three main elements in the no campaign had to say. It is also welcome because there is no reference to any change in the representation in Westminster at this stage. We have to recognise that issues of that nature could poison the well from which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will want to sup. Therefore, we have to be careful that in trying to produce what might be devo-max or devo-increased we do not lose sight and end up with Westminster-lite. One of the problems in this campaign has been the inability of many of us to get across the fact that Westminster is an effective institution and that working in partnership with an enhanced Scottish Parliament can provide better government not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK.
My Lords, picking up on the point made by my noble friend Lord Purvis, it is important that we remind people that Scotland has two Governments and two Parliaments. Work done in this Parliament has important implications for the people of Scotland across a wide range of issues. If, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has indicated, we were a bit slow in the no campaign to put that forward, we made the case powerfully towards the end. It is a lesson for us that we do not ignore the many things that are done by the United Kingdom Government and the UK Parliament. Of course, we have our political differences over them but, over substantial and important areas of policy, they matter to the people of Scotland. Perhaps it is incumbent on all sides that we do far more about spelling that out.
My Lords, if we are taking it in turns, it is the turn of the Cross Benches which have not yet spoken on this matter. Perhaps we can go to the Cross Benches, then to the Conservatives and then back to the Labour Benches. I implore noble Lords to be mindful that this is a Statement and that contributions should be kept brief. We have a full day’s debate on this matter and wider devolution implications on 29 October.
I shall speak in order to tidy things up. The noble and learned Lord is right—the turnout was fantastic. I am proud to live in the constituency of East Dunbartonshire where the turnout was 91% and where they overwhelmingly voted no. Unfortunately, there are elements in the media and the so-called “45 brigade” who say that we should have another referendum. It is important that the cost of this referendum is put clearly to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. There was a great deal of talk and concern about the poor who had to go to food banks and all the rest of it. We should therefore know the amount of resources that had to be put into that referendum so that anyone who says that they want another referendum soon would at least know the cost of the one that we had three weeks ago.
My Lords, I am sure that the different strands of costs will be published by the Scottish Government as well as such costs incurred by the United Kingdom Government. It would be very damaging indeed for us to continue to have these debates as they were very divisive. Those of us who live in Scotland know just how divisive they were. As the Secretary of State said in his Statement, it should no longer be about the 55% or the 45%, it should be about the 100%, which is what we are committed to address.
My Lords, the Statement makes reference to “working for 100% of people in Scotland”. Does my noble and learned friend agree that all the legislation to date has been for 100% of Scotland, including the Scotland Act 2012, and that Scotland has received more than its fair share under the existing arrangements?
My Lords, I want to add something about understanding the context of what happened in those last 10 days. I am deeply worried. I absolutely welcome the publication of the Command Paper today and fully congratulate everyone involved in the campaign. Many on the other side of the argument conducted themselves well—not everyone but most people. We are now in a situation where expectations have been raised almost exponentially by the vow given in the last 10 days of the campaign. None of the three main parties’ proposals published today meet that expectation. The discussions that take place over the next few weeks must be serious. They must look at the detail of what my noble friend Lord Robertson, the noble and learned Lord and I spent weeks, months and years in the mid-1990s looking at when trying to get tax and financial proposals right for the Scottish Parliament. Unless these discussions are meaningful and go deep into the detail, we will not reach a settlement that will stand the test of time, even if we also solve the other issues in the United Kingdom that have been mentioned by noble Lords. I ask the noble and learned Lord to urge all those involved to be very careful. Having raised the expectations, we do not want to bring them back down again and find ourselves in a never-ending debate and unable to move on to other issues.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, is right to emphasise how much detailed work went into the constitutional convention proposals, in which he, I and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, were involved, and the work in terms of the taxation proposals now embodied in the Scotland Act. It is now two and a half years since that Act was passed. That shows the time that it has taken to get them implemented and to get it right. I agree that we should be under no illusion about that. I do not think for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, is under any illusion as to the challenge he is facing.
On the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about getting on with the powers and using them, he and I did a couple of events during the referendum campaign where we said some of the things that the Scottish Parliament had done. I very much hope that a right and proper debate about the extent of powers will not be used as an excuse for not using the powers that are already there. They should be used to tackle many things in Scotland, including education, health, transport and policing, which are crying out to be addressed.
I wonder whether my noble and learned friend saw the lead story in the Scotsman on Saturday, which began with the sentence:
“The battle lines have been drawn in the fight to shape post-referendum Scotland, as the SNP government yesterday unveiled demands”.
Does he agree that my former constituent, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will have a difficult time in the few weeks that he has to produce the report? If this commission is approached on battle lines grounds, there is an obligation on those who lost the campaign to recognise that they did lose. There is also an obligation on those who won to recognise that 45% of the population voted the other way. We must hope that what will come out of the Smith commission is the maximum amount of home rule consistent with common sense and that the parties will approach the commission in a constructive and consensus-seeking spirit and not in a battle line way.
I agree with my noble friend that a battle line approach will not be productive. I accept that the time is tight for the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. I rather fear, however, that if we were to suggest any slippage the cries of betrayal would be even louder so I think it is important that we do stick to that. However, it is important too that people entering into these talks do so with a view to trying to achieve a lasting outcome. Simply to make a concession, for example, on monetary union, that was going to be made anyway in the context of independence, I do not consider a concession.
I totally agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, but I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is more likely to be correct in his prediction of the outcome of the Smith commission. It would have been better—there is no point saying this—to have defined in advance what further devolution would make sense. Some of us in the House said that. I feel it was a great pity that in 2012 the Edinburgh agreement left only one question on the paper. My concern now is that the difficulties of reaching a consensus on this in the Smith commission will be greatly increased if extraneous issues are brought in. It was a great pity that the West Lothian question emerged at 7 am on the morning after the referendum. I thought that was a very great pity. I hope the noble and learned Lord will agree that in present political circumstances, whatever the mathematical logic of the West Lothian question, the correct answer is get over it.
My Lords, I do not think it was ever possible for three parties to come together in the heat of a referendum campaign and hammer out a single proposal. Many of our opponents would have loved us to have spent our time doing that rather than getting on with deploying the case for the United Kingdom. That is why we now have a Command Paper that sets out the proposals. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that while it is the case that the position on the West Lothian question is being looked at, it has been made clear by everyone that the extra powers for Scotland are not contingent or conditional on that. It is important to underline that.
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) GOWA 2006 is amended as follows.
(1A) For section 3(1) substitute—
“(1) Subject to subsection (1A) below, the National Assembly for Wales shall determine the date of the poll by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales.
(1A) The poll at an ordinary general election to the National Assembly for Wales is to be held no later than the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year following that in which the previous general election was held.”
(1B) In section 3(2) omit “if the poll is to be held on the first Thursday in May,”.
(1C) In section 3(2)(a), for “that day” substitute “polling day”.
(1D) Omit sections 4 and 5.
(1E) In section 13, after subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) The order may not include provision about the date of an election to the Assembly.””
My Lords, I offer sincere apologies to the noble Baroness and the Committee for the delay in the Minister returning to the Chamber to continue the Committee stage of the Bill. I had been reliably informed that she was just outside the Chamber and I know that she certainly is not far away. I would be happy to remain in place for the noble Baroness’s speech and to ensure that the Minister is properly apprised of the points that the noble Baroness makes as soon as my noble friend returns.
While I am here, I remind noble Lords of what I said following the Statement that we just heard on Scotland: clearly there is much that noble Lords would like to debate about devolution following the referendum. I am pleased that we will have a debate in government time later this month. I very much look forward to that. Once again, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and to noble Lords for their patience.
Thank you. We have just heard about the vigorous referendum campaign in Scotland, where people on all sides talked about the need to respect the established devolved institutions. It should be remembered that the current settlement means that Westminster theoretically still has the power to dissolve the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament without any consultation with the Welsh public or the Scottish Parliament, although in practice the Sewel convention means that, generally speaking, Westminster does not intervene in devolved matters.
However, in this clause, we are faced with a situation where an autonomous Assembly is being told what to do by Big Brother in London. Westminster has changed the date of its general election and therefore, of course, so should Wales. If we have learnt anything in the past few weeks, it is surely that you cannot let the teenager find her feet and explore the paths she wants to take, only to put a curfew on her, insisting that she comes home at a particular time when you feel that she needs to be told what to do or when her decisions do not suit you.
If Westminster wants to change the date of its own election, so be it. What seems wrong in principle is that this should lead Westminster to impose a decision upon Wales about when she should hold a vote, without any consultation with her at all. The Presiding Officer of the Assembly said that the power of the decision about when to hold a vote is,
“more appropriately held by the Presiding Officer, as is the case for the Scottish Parliament”.
In the Bill, we have suggested that it should be a matter for the Assembly, but we are open to debate on that. The principle that we are after is at what level the decision should be made—who should be making the decision. If the Welsh Assembly wants to hold its election in the same year as a general election, that is surely a matter for the Assembly itself. It is too early to say to what extent we in the UK will go down the federal route. However, one thing is certain. If you are serious about devolution, you cannot hand over the powers but attach a spring so that they can be hauled back to Westminster every time a devolved structure makes a decision of which you disapprove or every time you make a decision that may impact on that institution.
The Welsh Government outlined in their response to the Green Paper produced two years ago that,
“no change to the Assembly’s current electoral arrangements should be made without the Assembly’s consent”.
This is a fundamental constitutional principle at issue. It is a necessary consequence of a constitution based on the principle of devolution. Clearly, the reason for the introduction of the original clause is to take account of the fact that the five-year Fixed-term Parliaments Act has been introduced for the House of Commons. The principle of broader legislative competence for Assembly elections should be considered by political parties when they draw up their manifestos. This is an issue that was dealt with in Silk 2. However, surely it cannot be right to bind the hands of the Assembly at such a sensitive time in our constitutional discussions.
My Lords, I can readily identify with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely. I agree that these matters should ideally be in the hands of the National Assembly to decide. None the less, we have guidelines that have been laid down from here. By virtue of speaking to Amendment 5, I want to draw attention to the fact that there are real dangers when a Westminster election overshadows an election to the National Assembly.
Amendment 5 provides that the poll for a National Assembly ordinary general election should not be held within 355 days of the date of a UK general election, although I accept entirely that it should be a matter for the Assembly finally to decide on these matters if we can give it the power to do so. The amendment mentions 355 days rather than 12 months to allow situations to arise whereby one vote could be held on 7 May one year, followed by a poll on 1 May the following year, or similar circumstances.
The truth, which may not be immediately apparent to colleagues from other parts of the United Kingdom, is that the UK media are heavily biased in favour of England-only issues. That is understandable because most of the media are based in south-east England and look through a prism from that perspective. In the leaders’ debates in the run-up to the previous general election, for example, party leaders answered questions relating to healthcare and education, without mentioning that those policies were applicable only in England and not in Wales or Scotland. These considerations spill over to arguments in relation to the settlement that will be made to Scotland as well.
Circumstances such as these are highly confusing for viewers, listeners or readers in Wales and can lead to voters making choices based on policies that would not in fact affect them. Wales has a number of daily newspapers such as the Western Mail and Daily Post, as well as very good local newspapers, but the majority of people still get their news and election coverage from London-based outlets. Were an election to the Welsh Assembly to occur in quick succession following a UK general election, or in inverse circumstances, it is certain that any debates surrounding Welsh policies would be totally drowned by UK election coverage. The Electoral Reform Society Wales has said that combining polls would always have a detrimental impact by causing confusion for voters, and that Welsh elections would be “subsumed” into media coverage of the UK general election.
To ensure that voters’ decisions are well informed, we believe that provisions similar to those contained in Amendment 5 would be necessary to mitigate such media distortion, although I repeat that I would prefer that initiatives along those lines should come from the Assembly itself.
My Lords, I agree with the thrust of the amendment but I am bound to say that I am not sure that I fully understand the wording of the first part of it. If one actually looks at the text, it would seem that the amendment proposes that the Welsh Assembly should revert to a system in which the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, with the consent of the Assembly, would be able to determine to hold an election at any moment that he thinks fit. In other words, we would be back to the situation that we were in before we passed the Act a few years ago that set up the five-year Parliament gap.
If the intention of the amendment is that the Assembly should be able to fix in advance a particular term at the end of which an election should be held—in other words, that the Assembly should decide whether it should be a five-year, four-year or even perhaps a three-year term—that I understand and fully appreciate. If the intention is, however, to give the Welsh Assembly the additional powers that the Prime Minister had in the old House of Commons, to call an election at the time of his own choosing, I am bound to say that I am not sure I agree. I accept the thrust of the amendment, which is that decisions on the timing of an election should be a matter for the Assembly, but I am not sure whether the wording of proposed new subsection (1) in the proposed amendment goes anywhere near achieving that.
My Lords, I understand and appreciate the power of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just proposed to make sure that elections are not simultaneous. However, there is a case against that. The most worrying aspect in the whole of my parliamentary lifetime is the decline in turnout. In a democracy, turnout is extremely important. In the last Assembly election, the turnout was just over 40%. In the last general election to Westminster, it was 65%. The high point was in 1950 when we had a UK turnout of more than 83%. It never fell below 70% at the United Kingdom level until 2001, when it fell to 59%. But even now, at 65%, it is some 20 percentage points higher than the turnout for the latest Assembly election. I wonder whether we ought to be concerned about that. Although I understand and appreciate completely the argument that UK issues drown out Welsh issues, there is a point to make about turnout. It is extremely important in a democracy that turnout is upheld.
The turnout when I served Merthyr for 30-odd years was 70% to 75%. It fell to 70% in the last election in which I stood and I was mortified. But at the last election it fell to 59%, and that is in a highly political kind of community that appreciates and understands the nature of politics and elections. A case could be made, contrary to the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that if you run the elections together you intensify the politics. Parties are more engaged in the streets and you raise the turnout from 40% to 65%.
I am dredging my memory but the last time elections were run concurrently was in, I think, 1979, when local elections and the general election were held on the same date. That raised the turnout in local elections to a dramatically higher level than ever before. Although I understand that there is consensus at the Assembly level on separating the elections, I wanted to register the point about turnout.
I am not altogether certain that that would happen. There is some indication that if the polls were on the same day, people would vote for the local Assembly Member from one party and for another at United Kingdom level. But if you talk about a mandate, it is always better to have two-thirds of the electorate giving you the mandate than 40%. I am not disputing that it is obviously the wish of everyone in Cardiff to separate the elections, but we should take account of the fact that turnout is important. There is no doubt that there is a big difference at the moment between turnout in National Assembly elections and turnout in UK elections.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their participation in this section of the debate. Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan and Lady Gale, would give the Assembly the power to decide, by resolution, when Assembly elections are held. It would give the Assembly a wide degree of discretion to determine the date of Assembly elections, which is something that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised concerns about. We might all be rather worried about that issue because it has such a wide scope. By a simple majority, the Assembly would be able to vote for a change to the length of its terms. Such a power would go beyond that given to other devolved legislatures, which do not have the freedom to vary the length of their terms.
The Government believe that the devolution of further powers to the Assembly, such as this, cannot be undertaken in a piecemeal fashion. Once again, this is an issue that is better discussed and considered in a wider context of other changes to the Welsh devolution settlement arising from the Silk recommendations. It is a fundamental change, as has been said today, to devolve to the Assembly competence over its elections, and it would undoubtedly have knock-on effects on UK government elections. The noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, made the very good point that you would get a higher turnout by holding those two elections in coincidence. I do not think, however, that that would be desirable because it is undoubtedly true that the media in Wales are not strong enough to lead a debate on Welsh issues that is not overshadowed, at the time of the general election, by UK issues.
Amendment 5 seeks to preclude an ordinary general election to the National Assembly being held within 355 days of the UK general election. As I have said, I fully agree with the sentiment behind this, that these should be distinct and separate events. I share the concerns of the noble Lord and the Assembly that holding those elections on the same day would not give electors a clear view of Welsh issues. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 changed the length of term of the current Assembly to five years on a one-off basis. Without further provision, the Assembly will return to four-year terms thereafter.
Clause 1, however, already provides for five-year terms in perpetuity for the Assembly’s general elections from 2016 onwards. It already does this without the need for further amendment, making it very unlikely that the Assembly general elections and parliamentary general elections will coincide in future. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome this, and I thank him for his explanation for including his amendment. I believe, however, that the provisions already included in the Bill will go as far as is necessary to ensure that Assembly elections and parliamentary elections do not coincide.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I point out that the Assembly agreed to the change of date of the elections. This is not something that has simply been visited upon it: it has agreed to it. I welcome once again the conversion of the Labour Party to the idea that the Assembly should have the freedom to do such things as deciding its own elections. It is important in that context that we note that views on devolution are changing fast in some quarters, and it is important that there is public debate as to what additional powers are devolved to the Assembly.
On that basis, I respectfully request that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment and that the noble Lord does not press his.
I thank those who have participated in this debate. I stand by the principle that it should be up to the Assembly to determine when its election should be. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about discussion of the Welsh election being drowned out, are valid, but the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, about turnout probably increasing significantly if the elections were held on the same day are also worthy of consideration. Ultimately, however, it should be up to the Assembly to decide. I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, made on tightening up the wording of the amendment. It is a lot better than the one they had in the Commons, in which there was no mention at all of when the Assembly should have elections; it could have gone on for ever without any. We have improved on that.
The Minister also talked about this being a fundamental change. I think there are fundamental changes going on at the moment, and so we need to make sure that we keep perspective and an open mind on some of these issues. On that note, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment and to suggest that it could be returned to on Report.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
6: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Size of Assembly
The Secretary of State must introduce a bill to provide that the Assembly shall constitute at least 80 Assembly Members with effect from the 2016 elections.”
My Lords, Amendment 6 is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Elystan-Morgan. It is rather coincidental that we are debating the Bill on the first day back from the recess, and that it has been sandwiched between a referendum on Scotland and the Scottish Statement.
Many noble Lords will recall that, about two years ago, when the House was debating the referendum and further devolution for Scotland, many noble Lords remarked that, whatever the outcome, the United Kingdom would never be the same. I think that already we have seen that start, and it is not just a start—it is a wave of movement.
This is a simple amendment. Whether it is deferred or whether it is delegated, if it has more power then it is proposed that it must have more people. It may not go down very well with parts of the constituencies in Wales but, for the sake of good governance on behalf of the electorate, to hold accountable those elected into the Assembly, we must have further numbers. I have seen and been told that there are insufficient Assembly Members properly to staff the committees that already exist. We have former Assembly Members here; no doubt they will either agree with me or challenge me on that.
The proposal in this amendment is very simple. The current composition is 60, which is considered insufficient to do the business that needs to be done when the Bill, in this form or its increased form, goes to Cardiff. With increased powers comes increased responsibility, and increased responsibility means a decreased accountability. As we can all see from the paper, there are four or five following amendments which sound very complicated as to how these extra Members should be elected. That is a separate issue. The principle here is that there are not sufficient Members to handle further responsibility. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support this amendment. If one goes back 10 years to the report of the commission that I had the honour of chairing, we then identified this as one of the problems the Assembly had then and would face increasingly in the future. I will spend just two minutes on analysing where the Assembly is in this regard. We have 60 Members in the National Assembly in Wales; the Scottish Parliament has 129 and the Northern Ireland Assembly has 108.
At first sight, those numbers are a bit odd. I do not see why they should be quite as different as they are. If one then goes on to look at what the present 60 in the National Assembly of Wales do, only 42 of them are actually available to hold the Welsh Government to account and scrutinise legislation. Indeed, at one stage it was even worse than that. At the time of the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition, there were 41 Members either from Labour or Plaid Cymru, leaving only 19 from a non-governing party to scrutinise the whole body of Assembly legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is sitting on the Front Bench opposite me will no doubt remember those days pretty well since he was one of the 19.
Can that many Members do that work? The short answer is no. They could not do it 10 years ago and they certainly cannot do it now. I recently came across a quote from Rosemary Butler, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly. She put it like this:
“There are only 42 Members to scrutinise £15 billion of taxpayers’ money, and to scrutinise the government on the big issues of the day—the future of our health service, our education system and the economy. On top of that they have to make sound, thoroughly scrutinized laws for our nation. A quarter of those 42 members sit on three committees, half sit on two”.
She concludes with the comment:
“One would simply not find the same level of workload on Members in Westminster, Holyrood or Stormont”.
That is clearly true.
Over the years, we have given the Assembly greater powers. We have not increased the number of people available to deal with those powers and scrutinise the way they are used. In this Bill, we propose to give them more powers. We will no doubt, in the not too distant future, have proposals to give the Assembly further powers again. To keep the limit at 60 is frankly ludicrous. It hobbles the way in which the Assembly works and means that laws are not sufficiently scrutinised. It means, too, that the way money is spent is not sufficiently looked at. Quite honestly, it breeds inefficiency. The argument for increasing it from 60 to 80 is, frankly, irrefutable.
The only argument now is whether it should be 80 or go up to 100. I have an open mind on that. As a first step, going up to 80 would satisfy me for the moment. If you are to give the Assembly more powers, and if it is to become a Parliament in the sense that the Scottish Parliament is one, 80 may not be enough. Assuredly, if you are to do that, 60 will not be. I support this amendment.
My Lords, it is always a delight to follow a debate proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude for having defined an ideal model in 2004 of what the National Assembly could have been.
My Amendment 9 has a whiff of relative autonomy about it, which will not surprise noble Lords. Although I deny being a separatist and I am not an upper-case Nationalist, I am certainly an avid, totally committed, complete devolutionist. My amendment—which my noble friend supports—proposes that the Assembly should decide its own size. No doubt many constitutional objections will be put forward to this notion. However, the amendment proposes that the decision should be subject to the very important principle of a majority of not less than two-thirds of voting Assembly Members on a vote of the whole Assembly. That is a feature we have already in our constitution—and use regularly. It applies to dissolution Motions and other Motions within our procedures.
My amendment has the support—and I had the assistance in drafting it—of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru. I will not detain the Committee by quoting from Size Matters—I know the Government have read it. However, it provides a comparative analysis of the size of national Assemblies—that is Parliaments; we will come to this at a later stage this evening, perhaps with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. The key issue is the ratio of Members to the size of the electorate in a given constituency, and the relationship between the two. It also looks at the legislative Assemblies of other comparable European regions or nations— whatever you wish to call them. Again, it looks at their size in relation to function. What is relevant in this analysis is the functional level. In other words, with the amount of devolutionary power that the National Assembly for Wales already has, we are reaching the norm of the European Union—and the Canadian provinces, another comparator. However, we are nowhere near the norm in terms of the number of Members.
Therefore, this amendment would give the National Assembly the ability to decide its own membership subject to the agreement of a two-thirds majority of Members. This is a proper devolutionary measure for the nature of the constitution itself. I know that that is a difficult concept for the Committee to understand. I am sorry to say that the United Kingdom is still an extremely centralist state. It is not a unitary state and never has been. It is a state of unions and those unions are different, for historical reasons. But the nation of Wales, despite the great time we had during the Tudor ascendancy, is not well placed in the pecking order of UK devolution. This amendment seeks to redress that. I know the Government will not be able to accept the amendment because it is too autonomous—but it is a constitutional principle that it is important to present in this discussion.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to return to a theme I referred to briefly at Second Reading: the issue of the size of the Assembly. I am also pleased that our debate today may inform opinion in Wales on the number of AMs needed to run our Assembly effectively. My amendment recognises that the Assembly has too few Members to carry out its present functions. It also recognises that there is a simple way to increase its size to 80 Members for the next Assembly elections to be held in 2016, and further recognises that an Assembly of 100 Members at the 2021 elections is possible but dependent on a reduction in the number of MPs that Wales sends to Westminster.
In its publication, Size Matters, the Electoral Reform Society, drawing on the work of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Cymru Yfory/Tomorrow’s Wales, argues that the size of the Assembly is a matter that is,
“too important to be left to politicians”.
However, politicians, whether here or in Cardiff Bay, will ultimately have to make a decision: a decision that will give the National Assembly the tools that it needs to make it the accountable and efficient institution we desire it to be, or leave it overburdened and struggling to cope with its powers.
We are urged, in all our deliberations, to come to evidence-based decisions, and Size Matters provides us with the unbiased evidence we need to guide those deliberations. Of course, it is and would be difficult for Assembly Members themselves to make the case for an increase in their numbers. Fear of criticism from the media and the electorate results in their remaining silent in public. However, privately many will confess that there are too few of them to hold the Welsh Government to account or to scrutinise the volume of legislation for which they are responsible.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has already referred to the fact that with only 60 Members—and only 70% of them, 42 Members, available for scrutiny work at present—their ability to undertake this work is seriously compromised. In the UK Parliament, 85% of Members are available to undertake scrutiny and legislative functions; in the Scottish Parliament, 88%; and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, 85%. There are too few Assembly Members to populate the committees where scrutiny takes place, and because of time constraints arising from other duties they are less able to develop the specialist expertise needed to optimise their effectiveness. Because of this, and the increase in the number of plenary sessions, the Assembly’s own remuneration board has increased the staffing allowance for AMs to allow them three staff members to support their research, policy and constituency work, and is even now giving further consideration to increases that will allow each Assembly Member to appoint a senior adviser.
However, appointing more support or research staff misses the main point. It does not address the issue of AMs being unable to find the time to read papers, however well prepared by their staff, and to prepare for committees. That has led to a strengthening of the Executive, with well briefed Ministers apparently able to run rings around AMs who do not have time to read their briefings.
In these times of austerity, proposing an increase in Members to the National Assembly for Wales is hardly likely to be popular. Arguments we make about workload, efficiency, effective scrutiny, accountability and holding the Executive to account will all seem insignificant to an electorate more concerned about costs. However, the truth is that we get our Assembly on the cheap compared to other legislatures. The average annual cost of an Assembly Member, including pay, travel and other expenses, support staff and equipment is £225,000. The annual cost of an MP is £590,000 and that of an MEP is £1.8 million. Based on those figures an 80-Member Assembly would cost an extra £4.5 million per annum and a 100-Member Assembly an extra £9 million. The Electoral Reform Society’s publication argues that this,
“would be a small price to pay”,
given the benefits that would flow from increased accountability and better scrutiny.
That cost could, however, be offset by the better use of existing resources if Wales had fewer MPs and Peers at Westminster, fewer paid councillors and more AMs instead. The case has long been made for a reduction in Welsh MPs. Each Welsh MP has an average electorate of 76,000 while the figure for the UK is one Member per 97,000. While Scotland cut its number of MPs from 72 to 59 in 1999, Wales did not.
In a footnote, which I found extremely interesting, Size Matters reminds us that:
“It is important to note that the legislation to cut the number of Welsh MPs by a quarter, from 40 to 30, has only been deferred—to 2017—and so remains on the statute book. ... Unless the new UK Government after the 2015 general election brings in new legislation, the reduction in the total of MPs for the UK to 600, including the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs, will take effect from 2018 … in time for the UK general election in 2020 and the Assembly elections in 2021”.
There can be no reason for Parliament to continue denying the National Assembly the capacity to deliver on the functions it already has and to prepare it for the further powers proposed for it. The first part of my amendment calls for the next Assembly elections in 2016 to be for an 80-Member Chamber. There can be no doubt that I would not support the option that some have suggested of an 80-Member Assembly, where two Members would be elected from each constituency. A return to a first past the post system would be a retrograde step, denying Wales the opportunity to elect an Assembly where the number of votes cast for each party is, more or less, reflected in the number of Members elected.
To deny fair votes to the people of Wales while allowing a proportional system to continue in both Scotland and Northern Ireland is illogical and perverse and would result in a Labour Government in Wales in perpetuity. To ensure the continuation of proportional results, Wales needs an Assembly election in 2016 in which 40 Members are elected in constituencies and a further 40 are elected on regional lists. Further, as the legislation to cut the number of Welsh MPs is enacted and takes effect from 2018, Wales needs a 100-Member Assembly elected by STV, so ensuring an even fairer proportional result in the Assembly elections of 2021.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 6 only, which I believe to be a model of draftsmanship, put together in such a way as to bring about as wide and substantial a coalition in favour of a principle as one can imagine.
I believe with retrospect that there are two essential questions facing the House. First, do noble Lords in their heart of hearts believe for a moment that the Welsh Assembly can conduct its important duties, including scrutiny of legislation in particular, on a basis of 60 Members? Secondly, if noble Lords do not—and I suspect that practically every Member of the House can see the force of that point—what are we prepared to do about it? Those are two very simple but, I believe, crushingly relevant questions.
The facts have already been set out very clearly. Scotland has 129 Members; Northern Ireland has 108; Wales has 60. Of course, even more important than that is the fact that only 42 Members in Wales are available to scrutinise legislation. In the case of Scotland there are 113; in the case of Northern Ireland, I am not entirely sure whether it is 90 or 92—I think it may be 92. In the case of the House of Commons, it is 522. However, the issue is not really how many Members you have in relation to the population. There may well be a proper argument in that respect that is deployed later; that is not the issue at the moment. The issue is the minimum critical mass. If you fall below that and fail to constitute a critical mass, you are not a legislature; you are a mock parliament and no legislature at all.
That has to be remembered against this background. It is a single cameral House. I am not for a moment arguing that we should have a second House, which might be very interesting to dissertate on some day. Be that as it may, we have plenty to worry about at the moment in this regard. It is a single cameral House. The scrutiny of legislation in Wales occurs in the Assembly or does not occur at all. That is the point.
This House does its work magnificently as a scrutinising body. Sometimes, we are given more to scrutinise than we should be. I feel that the House of Commons sends huge pieces of undigested legislation through which almost makes a mockery of the constitutional situation, but that is another story altogether.
Again, one has to remember the point already made by one or two Members. When we think of a critical mass, we should think not just of a number but of whether that critical mass is there, in the main, in the Opposition. If it is not—even if you increase the membership to, say, 80 or 100—if you have a strong coalition between party A and party B that is responsible for, let us say, 70% of the membership, you still fail to have a critical mass where it counts.
We are not talking about mathematical representation; nor, with the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys—with whose address I wholeheartedly agree in the main—do I honestly believe that it is a matter of trade-off with local government or the House of Commons. If I remember rightly, the noble Baroness was not a Member of the House when this matter was discussed three or four years ago, when the proposal was carried to reduce the number of Welsh Members of Parliament from 40 to 30. I do not want to spoil the splendid feeling of unanimity that we have had up to now, at any rate on this issue, but the Liberal Democrats could have done better than they did on that occasion. We had a vote to give the Isle of Wight two seats. Not one member of the Liberal Democrats spoke on the issue of Wales. The real condemnation came not from the Opposition but from the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the grandson of David Lloyd George, who said, “My grandfather would not be turning over in his grave; he would have been in the Dwyfor by now”. That says everything.
The only other thing I have to say about that, which is on the face of it an attractive argument but possibly a dangerous course to take, is that in 1993 a proposal was before the House of Commons to reduce the number of seats in Wales—indeed, I think, over the whole country. The Home Secretary at the time was Mr Kenneth Clarke. He said, “No, as far as Wales is concerned, I am not having it. Wales is a land and nation with characteristics of its own and circumstances which are so special and so unique that I will make it an exception”. I do not believe that Wales is any less of an exception than it was in 1993.
The question then is: what should the number be? The Electoral Reform Society, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, has properly referred, has examined 42 countries which are comparable with Wales in various ways. It has come to the conclusion, taking all things into account, that the average number for such sub-parliaments as those countries have—perhaps I do them less than justice in calling them sub-parliaments, but that is the term used by the Electoral Reform Society—is about 100. It also concludes in relation to Wales that the ideal figure would be of the order of 100.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, who has placed Wales eternally in his debt by his report of 2004, mentioned the fact that the committee animadverted on the question of whether the number should be 80 and said that it should, although it was not asked specifically to deal with the matter, nor did it deal with it scientifically or specifically. Nevertheless, it was a measured judgment. Now then: if it was 80 in 2004, bearing in mind the huge changes that have occurred since then, what would it be worth today? I hope that I do not take unfair advantage of the noble Lord, Lord Richard—I certainly would not wish to nor could I do that; he is well able to make his points for himself. If 80 was the genuine estimate that was appropriate in 2004, surely by today one should be speaking of 100.
I would speak myself of 120. Why? If you regard the curve of the development as a constitutional entity of the Welsh Assembly in the 15 or 16 years of its existence, one does not have to exercise a great deal of imagination to see where it might be in a few years’ time. The idea of aiming for 120 is not chimerical, irresponsible or populist—certainly not populist—in any way. It projects what one hopes and expects for in relation to Wales. I would be very surprised if the powers that have been given to Wales do not over the next few years amply justify that.
If we were holding this debate a month or two ago, I would still be making that point, but where do the promises and undertakings that have been showered on the people of Scotland, and the people of Wales and Northern Ireland, about devolution—those promises were falling like autumn leaves in Vallombrosa, as the quotation goes—bring us? If a quarter of what was promised solemnly will in fact be done, 120 could well be justified as the membership. However, it is not a question of numbers. It is more a question of prejudice: the vast storm of prejudice that anybody who argues for an increased number will have to face. That has to be done with courage and integrity. Edmund Burke famously said that for evil to triumph, it is necessary only for men of good will to do nothing. If you wish the Welsh Assembly to fail in its main purpose of being a legislature, all you have to do about the membership is nothing.
I am deeply grateful to my friend for giving way. Perhaps I may make a point that I forgot to make. The real case for 120 is that it is very simple. It is exactly double the number now, and you can double both constituencies—the individual constituencies and the regional ones.
That sounds a bit like double the number you first thought of. It is always good to follow the noble Lord. Certainly he cannot be accused of populism—perhaps courage, perhaps recklessness, but not populism.
I was tempted to go down his path of a second Chamber for Wales. There may, ultimately, further down the path, be a case for a second-opinion Chamber composed of some of the notables from the local authorities and elsewhere in Wales, but that is not a debate for today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, quoted, I think, the Electoral Reform Society, saying that these matters were too important to be left to politicians. That is a little patronising. The Electoral Reform Society consists no doubt of very worthy people who can help us by doing their analysis, but ultimately these decisions will be made by politicians, who have the experience and do not live in ivory towers. However, I agree with her that the whole matter—the matter of numbers—should be seen in the round and that one should look at the numbers in the Assembly and whether those numbers are capable of doing the job. One cannot exclude the number of those in local authorities. On that subject, I hope to move an amendment in respect of the recommendations of the Williams commission on amalgamations of local authorities in Wales, because I detect among the people of Wales a distaste for the number of people currently in the various authorities. Looking at it in the round, including local authorities and the Assembly, and not excluding the House of Commons, I am not convinced of her case for this House, because on the whole we have far fewer Members of this House than Wales warrants. That is, however, another matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, spoke simply and put forward a simple proposition. There is a consensus around his suggested figure of 80. The starting point is that, after a somewhat bumpy start, the National Assembly has now bedded down, is accepted as a proper part of the Welsh political landscape and has been a pioneer for the United Kingdom in several aspects of policy, as I find when I go into my local supermarkets and am charged for bags, a matter that will come to England somewhat later.
The amendment that I am speaking to will not, as politicians often boast, kill two birds with one stone; it will kill three birds with one stone. In respect of the equality of men and women, it is clear that although the position in the Assembly in Wales is better than in most other legislatures, certainly better than in the House of Commons, there is still a disparity. Many parties and many parliaments have struggled with this problem. Selectorates, often with a majority of women, are frequently reluctant to select women for various levels of representation. My own party tried women-only shortlists in both the 2005 and 2010 elections; in the 2015 election, my own Swansea East constituency will have a women-only shortlist.
However, that is not without problems, as one sees in Cynon Valley, and it can be a matter of considerable controversy. It can be a problem when men find it difficult to find a place in the areas where they were born, brought up and worked for a long time. They are demotivated when there is no chance, because of women-only shortlists, of standing in their own constituencies. I put forward this proposal as a serious option for solving the problem. It is a far more acceptable device for ensuring equality and would make Wales a world leader, consistent with our normal radical policies and progressive traditions.
The advantages do not stop there. My proposal would also abolish the list system. The list system has not been a success. I am reminded that “hiraeth” in Welsh is not a longing for one’s own region within Wales but a longing for one’s own valley, constituency, city or village. It is difficult to work up loyalty or attachment to a region in Wales. “My region, right or wrong”: I cannot see anyone in Wales going to the barricades to fight for their region. It is more consistent with our Welsh tradition not to have regional lists.
Thirdly and finally, I come to the increase in numbers. It goes logically with what I am saying that as the powers of the Assembly increase—and one does not know how far that will go, and here perhaps the consensus ends, because some will want a great leap forward while others will want a more incremental approach—there should at the same time be an increase in numbers. It is also clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, said with great clarity and power, that the number in the Assembly, the 60, may have been an appropriate starting point—the 40 and the 20. Indeed, there would have been difficulties had the number of 40 constituencies been reduced to 30—it would have been perhaps 30 and 30 at that point.
However, the numbers are clearly insufficient for the job of scrutiny. At the moment, particularly when there is a coalition, as often happens in the Assembly, everyone appears to have a job. It is rather like the jibes at the old Mexican army—everyone was a general, everyone had a job. We want to get away from that. We want people in the Assembly who are able to do a job of scrutiny and we should agree to have 80 of them.
There are three good reasons for the amendment. We should not be afraid of change. In terms of gender equality, the smaller units in Wales and the increase in the powers of the Assembly, which would be matched with a commensurate increase in numbers, this amendment is proper and consistent with our radical, trailblazing tradition in Wales.
My Lords, that was an extraordinary speech, if I may say so. We Gogs certainly have an identity, and we have an identity when we know that the south-east of Wales is spending the borrowing powers that it is acquiring on two tunnels on the M4 and putting a great deal of development into south Wales that we do not see in the north, where we have our own communication problems. To talk in terms of everyone being concerned about their little valley may do very well in south Wales, but I can tell you that in north Wales we feel very differently about it and we welcome the fact that we have regional AMs in the Welsh Assembly who can express a wider view than that of the little valley that they come from.
Although I am not overly enthusiastic about the list system, I will not see it dismissed in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has done. Nor am I convinced by his idea that we should have proportionality of gender but not of political viewpoint. That would mean that the possibility of a dominant party would swiftly arise. My noble friend said that it would be the Labour Party. I would not go that far, because there are forces at work in some of the Welsh valleys today that are not essentially socialist in their approach. I am against the idea of having first past the post in Wales when it does not exist in Scotland or in Northern Ireland and when we have been fighting hard for it not to exist in England as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made the important point that the increasing amount of legislation coming to the Welsh Assembly means that we must have more Members to deal with it. I think that the consensus in Wales at the moment is that there are not enough people to scrutinise the legislation that is going through.
The noble Lord talked about scrutiny. The fact is that this is about not just primary legislation going through but primary legislation without the advantage of a second Chamber. Your Lordships will recall that I suggested earlier that we should surely be working towards a federal, single-tier Parliament for the whole of the United Kingdom, with committees for Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland that could scrutinise the legislation that comes through. As I said, if we have English votes for English laws that have to go through the scrutiny of this House, that will be a considerable advantage compared to single parties putting through legislation without adequate scrutiny. On primary legislation in Wales, there is a lot to be done, but what is not to be done is what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, suggests in his amendment. I wholly support everything that my noble friend Lady Humphreys so ably said.
My Lords, I would welcome further explanation from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, regarding his amendment. When he suggests that two Members should be elected from 40 constituencies, should the elector have one vote or two in that election?
Basically, whether it should be one or two votes is a matter that should be left to the Assembly. My position is that all these arrangements should be left, so far as possible, to the Assembly. It has mature politicians and it is for them to make those decisions.
My Lords, perhaps I might reply to my great colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, by saying that if you have only one vote as against two, the whole composition of the Assembly, including the one that is to make the further arrangements, will be totally distorted.
My Lords, once again we have had a very interesting debate on how big the Assembly should be and how many seats it should have. I think that this debate has been going on since 1999, when the first Assembly sat. We know that many changes have been made in the Assembly that give it greater responsibilities, with increased powers to make decisions in Wales for Welsh people.
Many calls have been made about the number of Assembly Members. A number of reports have been published saying that 60 Members are insufficient to deal with holding the Executive to account. Increasing the number of Assembly Members has been endorsed by the Electoral Reform Society Cymru and by the Richard commission in 2004. In addition, we know that the current Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, has endorsed this. The Richard commission said that there should be 80 seats. Silk 2 argued for the same and stated:
“The size of the … Assembly should be increased”.
In October 2013, the Electoral Reform Society and the Changing Union project published their report Size Matters and argued that there should be 100 Members, based on examination of legislatures across Europe and the competences for which the Assembly is now responsible.
As other noble Lords have said, there are only 42 Back-Benchers, which means that the ability to scrutinise legislation is severely curtailed owing to the capacity issues experienced by those Back-Benchers. We have noted that other noble Lords said earlier in the debate that the Assembly is small in relation to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and other legislatures across the world. As the legislation becomes more complex, there is a necessity for our politicians in Wales to develop areas of specialist expertise. That is difficult for most Back-Bench AMs, as they are members of more than one committee and it is difficult to build up expertise. In debating this Bill, we will be discussing tax legislation—a new and complicated area where it will be essential that adequate scrutiny takes place. If the recommendations of the areas to be devolved from Silk 2 are taken up, there will obviously be still further pressure on Assembly Members.
The noble Lords, Lord Rowe-Beddoe and Lord Elystan-Morgan, and my noble friend Lord Richard spoke of having at least 80 seats by 2016. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, made the good point that more powers really equates to more seats. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, spoke of having 120 seats. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, argued for having 80 seats by 2016 and 100 seats by 2021, all being elected by STV. That is a controversial suggestion and I am quite sure that it would arouse a lot of discussion in Wales: should we have the whole number elected by STV or should we have the proportions that we have now? I am sure that we will be having that discussion at some time.
My noble friend Lord Anderson also called for an 80-seat Assembly with two Members in each of the 40 constituencies, with gender balance—a good solution, one might think. I am committed to having a gender balance in the Assembly and in all our elected institutions. However, that amendment would be controversial as well, if it were accepted, because we would be saying that there should be a form of quotas in legislation. If you write into law that there have to be two Members in every constituency in Wales, with one having to be a woman and one a man, there would in effect be quotas. I have spoken about having quotas before but we need much more examination of that and I do not think that we would get legislation for quotas passed, certainly not in your Lordships’ House or in the House of Commons. My noble friend also mentioned having a second Chamber in the Assembly, which would be even more controversial.
This debate has shown clearly that there is consensus on having an increased number of Assembly Members, so that they can deal effectively with the new responsibilities and hold the Executive to account. I am sure that there will be further debate, not just in your Lordships’ House, before there is a clear decision on how many Members there should be and by what method of election. But one thing is clear: there is general agreement that the number of Assembly Members should be increased. I am looking forward to further debate as we take the Bill through the House.
Thank you, my Lords, for that interesting debate. I have grasped the picture. There is a cross-party and no-party agreement here today. Noble Lords want the Assembly to have more Members but also have very different views on how many more Members there should be, how that process of enlargement should happen and how they should be elected.
I welcome again the conversion of the Labour Party to the cause of having more Members. If we go back to the days—10 years ago—when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggested having 80 Members, that was not acceptable to the Labour Government then, so I am delighted that we are now reaching agreement on this. However, I have to point out that, although we as politicians here think that what is needed is more Members for the Assembly, I fear that if we asked the general public they would not produce the same answer. Asking for more politicians is not going to be an easy thing, particularly when the public view of politics and politicians is at a pretty low ebb across all parties.
The deal in Scotland was that it had primary legislative powers and therefore the number of Members was reduced from 72 to 59. The people of Wales have spoken. They have had a referendum in which they have provided that Wales should have primary legislative powers and those have been given. Why should the people of Wales object to a reduction in numbers of MPs and an increase in numbers of Members of the Assembly?
The noble Lord makes an excellent point and anticipates part of my speech. There is an issue of ensuring that if the Assembly is to have more Members, and that is to have broad public support, it needs to be done either when there is a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs, as was referred to earlier, or there is a reorganisation of local government in Wales, when I anticipate that there would be a reduction in the number of councillors.
In the mean time, there is an important public debate to be had and an argument to be made by civil society. I am aware that a large number of organisations within civil society in Wales share the views that noble Lords have expressed today. There is an engagement with politics that these things should be done by civil society in order to ensure that any arguments on them are put forward with force and relevance for the people of Wales.
I am grateful to the noble Lords whose amendments have enabled this debate. Amendments 6, 9 and 11, and Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, have formed a useful group and theme. Amendments 6 and 9 require the Secretary of State to introduce a Bill to increase the size of the Assembly to at least 80 Members—in the case of Amendment 6, from 2016. Amendment 9 provides that responsibility for deciding the number of Assembly Members should be devolved to the Assembly. Any subsequent change to the number of Members must be approved by a two-thirds majority.
We recognise in government the legitimate concerns about whether the Assembly has sufficient numbers to provide Ministers and the scrutiny that government through the committee system in the Assembly requires. This has been discussed since at least the time of the Richard commission and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on this issue. More recently, the Silk commission recommended in its second report increasing the number of Assembly Members, although it did not go into the detail of suggesting a number.
The Silk commission was not allowed to consider the matter. With rather restrained mischief it made the point that there should be an increase. It produced this memorable line, which introduces a point that has not been considered in this debate. It said: good scrutiny leads to good legislation and good legislation pays for itself.
I think that it was not a case of the Silk commission not being allowed to consider the matter; the issue was that this was not within the specific remit of the commission. It was certainly something that it considered and discussed, and on which it made a recommendation.
While all of us here today seem to have an agreement that there is an issue to be considered, the First Minister confirmed in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill that the Assembly could undoubtedly cope with all its new powers with the 60 Members. Reference has been made to the Presiding Officer’s views. I think that it would be useful if the Assembly itself considered this issue.
The noble Lord makes a very good point.
The size of the Assembly is a vital issue that goes to the heart of democracy in Wales and the inter-relationship between the legislature and the Executive. The key issue—the noble Lord has just drawn our attention to it—is that with a small Opposition, particularly in the case of a coalition, scrutiny is very difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that everyone has a job. The problem is that everyone has two or three jobs in the Assembly, so the difficulty is with Assembly Members being busy. MPs and your Lordships are busy too, but Assembly Members are spreading themselves across several subjects and committees, which makes it difficult to establish expertise. This is a live issue. It needs to be considered as part of the Silk 2 recommendations and after the appropriate level of public debate.
A recent Electoral Reform Society report found that nearly 80% of Assembly Members believed that changes should be made to the way in which plenary time is used within the Assembly, with a view to making the time that they have available more effective. I am sure that that will have been considered within the Assembly at various times. As our debate today has demonstrated, this is a complex issue with a number of strands of opinion.
I wish now to turn to Amendments 11 and 14. Amendment 11, in the name of my noble friend Lady Humphreys, specifies that from 2021 the Assembly should be elected via the single transferable vote system. That would bring greater proportionality than the current system. We have discussed proportionality this evening. It would replace the current mix of first past the post and the proportional system that we have in the Assembly at the moment. Although we have an element of proportionality in the Assembly, it is not complete proportionality. A change in the electoral system is once again properly the domain of manifestos. I would also like to note a recommendation by the Richard commission report that was accepted at the time by several of the parties in the Assembly but has not been implemented.
Amendment 14, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, would increase the size of the Assembly by providing 40 Members of each gender but because it does not remove the proportional element it would mean there would be 80 constituency Members plus 20 list Members. The Assembly would have a residual element of proportionality but it would be overwhelmingly dominated by first past the post constituency-elected Assembly Members and would undoubtedly be a very different place. However, it would not necessarily look very different from the Assembly today in terms of gender balance. One of the great successes of the Assembly is that there has consistently been a good gender balance. In fact, there was a time when there were more women than men in the Assembly. We were therefore the only legislature in the world in that position.
The noble Lord is seeking to guarantee that gender balance. I am normally very supportive of any initiative that increases the number of female elected Members but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, indicated, there would be an element of controversy. For example, if a female was elected as one of the Members and a male as the other Member, but the second male, shall we say, on the list had more votes than the winning female, or vice versa, there would be local controversy.
However, the main concern with this proposal is that it would reduce the element of proportionality. The offer of proportionality was intrinsic when Welsh people accepted the Assembly in the referendum. It was an integral part of what was offered.
The interlinked issues of the right number of Assembly Members, the optimum balance between constituency and regional Members and the system used to elect them need to be considered as part of the further step forward in devolution in Wales. If there are to be profound changes, there needs to be wider consultation. I know I will disappoint many Members when I say that I do not believe that the thinking behind these amendments is sufficiently mature for me to accept any of them. There needs to be further debate.
I can certainly undertake to relay the points of view put forward this evening within government discussions on the future of devolution in Wales. I understand that there are very clear and strong views. Although I cannot promise action on this issue in this Bill, I can guarantee that I will ensure that the views are widely known within government. I fully understand the issues that have been raised.
The noble Lord is possibly being a little on the cautious side in his estimate of how fast a future Government could produce a further devolution settlement. I cannot give any guarantees about anything that a future Government might do, but if this debate is taken forward and undertaken rigorously within Wales within the next few months, and if parties put something in their manifesto on the increase in the size of the Assembly that they believe is required, we can have a debate on the future shape of devolution during the general election that would enable a future Government to take this forward with considerable speed. I regret that there are a number of “ifs” in that answer, but there is no need for the noble Lord to despair of the outcome.
This debate must continue. It must include civil society and seek to engage the general public if the Assembly is to change as a result of the further devolution of powers so that there can be more Assembly Members. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reply and her summing up of a very interesting debate. I am still most concerned that devolved power as contained in this Bill will become law and more money will be devolved, more capital will go down, more tax-raising powers will come along and there will still not be a resolution for scrutiny. I listened very carefully to what the Minister said in her concluding remarks. I hope the Government understand that it is inextricably linked. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.25 pm.
NHS: Cottage Hospitals
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, one has to look at this subject against the background of a Government who have taken through some of the biggest reforms that the NHS has had. On the whole, the analysis of those reforms is that basically they have gone down well, despite enormous challenges in the early stages. I say that because satisfaction levels for the NHS today are standing at a high level. It is to the credit of the Government that they have seen them through. Not least, they have provided proper money and resources for the NHS, as they said they would.
Nevertheless, one element is missing. It is the element that will provide the answer to the extreme pressure that A&E units are under up and down the country, basically because of rising demand for healthcare—which is not surprising when the population is increasing at the pace it is—and the fact that regardless of who is in government there will inevitably be tight budgets. That is what prompted this debate. Indeed, the missing link in our healthcare in this country is something that is not missing in much of the world. I say that having looked at a number of examples across the world, which I shall cite later. I refer to the cottage hospitals.
The reason why I was prompted to raise this debate at all was that back in April I used the 24-hour care telephone link and was asked to go to the Biggleswade Hospital, which is about five miles from where I live. I think that it was once a sort of cottage hospital; now the 24-hour unit is there, plus one or two other minor health services. It is in a pretty sorry state, quite frankly, and there have been numerous moves by the NHS to close it, but thank God it is still there. That is what prompted me to do something about this whole topic.
I asked myself whether there was a demand. Yes, there is. Are the public in favour? Yes, they are. Are the chiefs in the NHS in favour? Much to my amazement, when I did a bit of digging for this debate, I found that the new head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said back in May—thankfully, after I had decided to table this debate—in his first interview:
“The NHS must stop closing cottage-style hospitals and return to treating more patients in their local communities”.
So the leadership is there and they are onside—that is great. There is a need, plus latent enthusiasm. The question is how we make it happen, organise it and pay for it. What should a 21st-century cottage hospital look like?
What I want to hear from the Minister is that we are going to do some blue-sky thinking. First, we should look at the case histories from around the world. I have looked at Holland, where the Dutch have basically decided that it has to be the local municipalities that determine what each and every cottage hospital does. There is not a formula set up from above; it is totally up to the local municipalities, which involve all the local organisations to decide what they want.
Then I looked at Singapore. I happen to be vice-chairman of the All-Party UK-Singapore Parliamentary Group, so I know a bit more about that in detail, and how good it is to see the president come here next week. They do it differently but, basically, they look at real value for money and really push down hard to make sure that whoever offers the service provides good value for money. Secondly, they have appointed a specific Minister for Wellness. I think that there should be a junior Minister with responsibility for cottage hospitals.
What is to be the catalyst? It has to be the community where there is the ownership; it means a structure where the organisation has involvement at a local level. To me it does not matter whether it is the public sector in terms of parish councils, town councils or district councils. I want to see voluntary groups involved as well as local medical charities and organisations such as Rotary. But you still have to have leadership somewhere, which means that we have to find leadership within those communities. Perhaps that will come from some of the GP practices, or maybe not. Perhaps we can enthuse the Deputy Lieutenants throughout our counties, but we have to find it somewhere.
I move to the nub of the problem—money. We have to find external capital to set up these cottage hospitals. Of course, I accept that the NHS has to determine what the facilities are that have to be provided and to provide the framework and template, but there is no money lying around for more cottage hospitals. That is where, in my judgment, the mutual movement has something to offer. Back in the 1930s, the mutual movement was highly involved through the friendly societies in setting up healthcare and was the backbone of healthcare provision.
I chaired the Tunbridge Wells Equitable Friendly Society for seven or eight years, and we tried desperately to get into healthcare, but we were unable to raise the capital to do it. At the moment, there is one particular friendly society that is at work—Benenden Health. Interestingly, it has announced that it is going to run a pilot with a local healthcare trust to extend the support of the NHS into the community, but it goes on to say:
“Lack of access to capital prevents mutuals exploring this potentially more significantly at present”.
I ask my noble friend to encourage his noble friend in the Treasury to support my Private Member’s Bill, which comes up on Friday 24 October. That Bill is geared to mutuals and mutual friendly societies and their ability to raise capital; it is geared to deferred shares—in other words, to the community. Perhaps we as Members of this House as well as local MPs and all the other leaders in the community can chip in 4,000 or 5,000 as a family unit to get these cottage hospitals going. A market rate will be paid on the interest, but it is locked in there—and that is good, because you want families to continue their association with these units. It is a very exciting opportunity. I have had encouraging meetings with a fair number of mutuals and friendly societies which say, “This is the answer, because then we can raise capital”. It is brand new capital; it has nothing to do with existing capital in the NHS. Without disclosing any confidences, I have to say, having had a meeting with the Treasury this afternoon, that things look encouraging, but you must never count your chickens before they are hatched. But this proposal would allow the local community to run an appeal and have a legacy programme, and it would allow the local community to tap into either the national lottery or the health lottery. Perhaps it is time that we looked more closely at getting the health lottery locked into something local throughout the United Kingdom.
There are so many opportunities, and it is possible to make it happen. Of course, someone has to do the groundwork—and I suspect that the Minister will tell me who is doing the groundwork at the moment. Perhaps an organisation such as the Nuffield Trust should set up a task force involving certain of the mutuals, and there should be a specific Minister, perhaps from the Opposition, because this is totally non-political. But to succeed, we have to tap into the community. I do not know about your Lordships’ local communities; all I know is that it is perfectly viable, as far as I can see, in east Bedfordshire. We live in a vegetable-growing area of the country, and I can see people wanting to look after the ground, the flowerbeds and vegetable patches, growing tomatoes and so on. There is a great drive there, but we have somehow to unlock it, and that is the whole purpose of the debate. It needs a great deal of thinking outside the box, but the building blocks are potentially there. It is politically neutral, and I hope that the details will be the catalyst to make it happen.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on obtaining this debate and on his contribution to it, which I found extremely interesting. I agreed with every word that he said. I completely support the principle of mutualisation in our smaller hospitals, believing, as I do, that in medical matters particularly no one understands the needs of an area better than local people and the medical professionals who support and care for them.
I want to say a few words about the functions and funding of smaller hospitals, with particular reference to the possibility of direct public funding for specific projects. Along with others, as the then Member of Parliament for that part of Suffolk, I fought successfully to keep open Hartismere Hospital in Eye and, after its refurbishment, I was given the honour of performing the opening ceremony in 2012. Hartismere now provides a large number of excellent services for which everyone involved is extremely grateful. But this gratitude is tempered, at least in my case, by what it does not provide and what I had expected it would provide. Perhaps the clue was in the change of name. It is no longer called Hartismere Hospital; it has become Hartismere Health and Care.
Hartismere is 45 minutes from the nearest hospital—not from the nearest acute hospital but from any hospital. This was one of the main reasons for keeping it open. Your chances of surviving a stroke in Eye are a fraction of those you would have from within striking distance of Ipswich, Norwich or Bury St Edmunds. A stroke unit is perhaps too much to expect but we do not have even an X-ray unit. How can you possibly have a hospital that cannot X-ray patients? The other big reason for keeping Hartismere was to provide beds. We were assured that beds would be provided to give proper medical care for patients on their way into or out of the other hospitals—what are commonly called step-up and step-down beds. They went when the old hospital was closed. These beds have not appeared, and although beds have been made available in the nearby Paddock House care home, serviced by a community nursing team, it is not the same. It is really not as efficient—with great respect to all those who run the service well—and it is certainly not what was promised. A large care home development is planned for part of the hospital site and it is hard not to wonder whether the medical services provided and the needs of the local people are not coming second to the development plans. I feel sure that mutualisation— the kind of thing that my noble friend Lord Naseby talked about—would prevent this sort of situation arising and ensure that priority was always given to the medical needs of the local people.
I would like to tiptoe very gingerly on to hallowed ground. I say at once that I have absolutely no wish to disturb the current financial arrangements of the NHS. I am talking about extra funding for hospitals such as Hartismere. At the moment, the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends does a splendid job in raising funds but cannot possibly find the amounts needed on a regular basis to make a significant difference. The following are rough figures that I have put together. The two district councils in the catchment area of Hartismere are Mid-Suffolk and South Norfolk. The total number of households in these two areas is 100,000. If every household was happy to contribute as little as, say, £10 a year to Hartismere, that would total £1 million. That might well get the hospital an X-ray unit. It is the principle I am interested in. One pound per week per household would produce £5.2 million. Perhaps the Government could provide matched funding, in which case the prospect becomes quite exciting. To satisfy those contributing to the scheme, there would have to be some very strict rules. The money would have to go directly to the hospital and not come into contact with any NHS funds or management. It would be administered by a small team of mostly medical people and be used for a specific purpose. The households concerned would have to be consulted and give their consent. I feel sure that for the returns that would be received these amounts of money would be forthcoming.
The principle of taking small amounts of money from lots of people for their mutual good is sound and long established. Provided that consent is given and the scheme is soundly and tightly controlled, it could work; and at a time when the NHS is in a perilous state in many ways, this could provide a welcome boost for improved care in our smaller hospitals. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for raising this interesting Question. I enjoyed his heroic defence of the 2012 Act and the remarkable—and really quite dangerous—changes it brought about. I thought that today’s Times was an interesting read, and I recommend it to the noble Lord.
The role of cottage hospitals in the National Health Service is a very interesting question. We do not really call them that now; we call them community hospitals. It would be fair to say that they have had a mixed experience in the past few years. They are valued by the local community but are often at risk from the centralisation of services, and have tended to see their role downgraded over the past few years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, I was interested in the comments of Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, when he spoke about the experience of what he called running smaller, viable hospitals in other countries. I should be interested to know from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, what he thinks about that. Does he think that clinical commissioning groups should be encouraged to reverse the flow of services away from community hospitals into larger, centralised services? If he agrees, what attitude does he think that the regulatory bodies are likely to take? I am thinking here particularly of the Care Quality Commission, which has the responsibility of regulating all hospitals and care institutions.
I take it from the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Framlingham, that they would like to see an expansion in the services provided by community hospitals. However, that is unlikely to take place unless the regulator believes that it is safe to do so. I would be interested in the noble Earl’s comments on that. I have no doubt whatever that in terms of the current pressure on acute hospitals in particular, the more rehabilitative services and respite care that can be provided locally the better. Perhaps this could be an exciting role for smaller hospitals in the future.
As far as mutuals are concerned, I do not know if either noble Lord has read a report, sponsored by the Department of Health, called Improving NHS Care by Engaging Staff and Devolving Decision-Making: Report of the Review of Staff Engagement and Empowerment in the NHS. I do not know whether the noble Earl will refer to it but it is interesting because, on the one hand, it makes the point that,
“there should be greater freedom for organisations to become staff owned and governed, on a strictly voluntary basis, following detailed consultation with staff and staff-side trade unions”.
Clearly, some thinking is going on, which suggests at the very least that staff ownership—I know a mutual goes much wider than that—is one building block in the establishment of mutual organisations. On the other hand, I put to the noble Earl the comment made by the UNISON head of health—I should declare my interest as a member of UNISON—stating that there was,
“a very real danger that bringing the mutual model into hospitals will be a Trojan horse for privatisation”.
I did not take it from the comments of both noble Lords that that was what they had in mind. I took it that they both saw mutuals as being a support to the National Health Service and that they would not envisage patients paying money to go to those hospitals, which would very much be seen as being part of the NHS—although perhaps not run as other NHS bodies are. I thought that I should raise that issue.
I should also like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Howe, whether another approach could be to extend the foundation trust model. I have just given up chairing a foundation trust where we had 100,000 members, consisting mainly of members of the public but also 11,000 staff members. As members, they elect the governing body of the organisation. The governing body in turn appoints a board of directors. I have found that to be a useful mechanism whereby the board of the organisation is locally accountable. I have found the regular meetings of the governing body to be one of the most challenging experiences as chairman because there was a sense of accountability to the governing body, which represented both the locality and the members of staff.
I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Howe, thinks that perhaps we need to refresh the governance of NHS institutions in a way that allows much more mutual ownership. If he agrees, does he not think that clinical commissioning groups are an area where we should start? In our debates on the Health and Social Care Bill, one of my concerns about clinical commissioning groups was that essentially they have no accountability to their local population. One way around this would have been to adopt the foundation trust governorship model. Although the CCG is essentially a membership organisation of general practitioners, it could have a much wider responsibility and accountability as well.
We are all interested to hear the noble Earl’s comments on this interesting issue. I hope that, at the least, we get a sense of where the Government stand in relation to the role of community hospitals in the future.
My Lords, I first congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate. I know that the role that mutuals play within our society is a subject close to his heart, as he has indicated tonight, and of course the future of our hospitals is a subject of utmost importance to all noble Lords. Before I respond to the particular points raised by my noble friend, I should like to acknowledge the great benefits that cottage or community hospitals provide to those in their local area. I shall set out how the changes we have made to the NHS have provided protection to community hospitals wherever they are needed. Finally, I will describe the role that mutuals play in the delivery of our health services, including our community hospitals, both now and in the future.
Cottage hospitals, generally referred to as community hospitals, are local hospitals, units or centres providing a range of accessible healthcare facilities and resources. They can be invaluable assets that make it easier for people to get care and treatment in the community, closer to where they live. They allow large hospitals to discharge patients safely into more appropriate care, freeing up beds in major hospitals for people who need them, and they can reduce the need to travel long distances to larger facilities.
There are many excellent reasons why people are often extremely protective of their local community hospital. It may deliver a range of essential services, provide employment for local people and afford space for community groups. It is understandable that community hospitals are fiercely defended and inspire such loyalty. It is right that people think about their future place.
The changes that this Government have made to the NHS have given the power to local clinicians and patients to make improvements to their local NHS. Clinical commissioning groups, led by local clinicians, are now responsible for commissioning services. They are free to work out which services are needed and where they should be located to best meet local needs. I beg to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the accountability of clinical commissioning groups, which is real in the sense that they are accountable to NHS England for the outcomes that they produce and the plans that they put in place; they are accountable to the health and well-being boards on which they sit; and they are accountable to their local Healthwatch, which is the body that represents patients and the public in the local community. So I do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in that sense.
It may be helpful if I explain the ownership of community hospitals. Ownership of the physical premises of many of our community hospitals changed when primary care trusts were abolished. Some were transferred to local NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts. Other hospitals went to NHS Property Services, the Department of Health-owned property management company. I recognise that some noble Lords had concerns about these transfers when they occurred. We have been extremely clear that the conditions attached to these transfers mean that these hospitals will be retained unless local commissioners determine that they are no longer appropriate for delivering the local services that the community requires. As with all decisions about local patient services, it is right that these decisions are taken locally, taking account of local views. However, we must acknowledge that sometimes old infrastructure, although much loved, cannot keep up with the community’s needs. Changes in treatments and communities may require new and innovative models of care. Local commissioners should be able to explore a full range of options to ensure that services meet the needs of patients.
I now turn to the potential role that mutuals and staff ownership models could play in the future of our hospitals. However, I need to be clear from the outset that mutualisation is about the services that our hard-working NHS staff and their organisations deliver. It is not about the bricks and mortar where they work. I hope that will not disappoint my noble friend, but we are not considering the transfer of NHS property out of the ultimate ownership of the Secretary of State—unless, as I have said, it becomes surplus to NHS requirements.
Public service mutuals, as we define them, are organisations that originate in the public sector, deliver public services and involve a high degree of employee control. Over the last four years, this Government have worked tirelessly to ensure that citizens have access to effective and high-quality health provision. This is why we have broadened approaches to the delivery of healthcare, including through public service mutuals—a model which is revolutionising front-line provision and bringing benefits to staff, local commissioners and service users.
The Transforming Community Services programme, started under the previous Government, saw the separation of commissioning and provision within primary care trusts. As part of this programme, some organisations spun out of the public sector. We now have over 45 mutuals delivering community healthcare across the country, including in some community hospitals, transforming the quality of patient care through a more engaged and empowered workforce. To build on these successes, last year my right honourable friend Norman Lamb, alongside my right honourable friend Francis Maude, asked the highly esteemed Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund, to consider the options for strengthening the voice and the stake of employees in NHS provider organisations, always with the aim of empowering them to deliver efficient, high-quality services centred on the needs of patients. When he published his report in July of this year, he presented clear evidence that more engaged staff are linked to lower rates for some hospital-acquired infections and positive patient reports of dignity and respect. One study demonstrated that each increase of one standard deviation in levels of satisfaction was associated with a 2.4% drop in patient mortality.
We also know that mutuals can lead to greater job satisfaction, higher productivity and reduced absenteeism, and social enterprises and mutuals have a proven track record of delivering high-quality, responsive, cost-effective services. While there are significant numbers of mutuals delivering community services in a range of settings, a number of different opportunities and challenges arise when thinking about how these mutual principles can be applied to a wider range of acute hospital services where they do not currently operate. That is why, in response to Chris Ham’s report on staff engagement and empowerment in the NHS, we have established a pathfinder programme to support NHS trusts and foundation trusts in exploring the potential advantages of the mutual model. We have made available a £1 million fund to support a number of pioneering pathfinder organisations in understanding what mutualisation could mean for them and identifying solutions to practical barriers. We will use this pathfinder programme to explore and identify the benefits and risks of the mutual model in new areas of the health sector—which could include, but is not limited to, staff working in community hospitals.
I must be clear, however, that the establishment of a mutual model is not a panacea. Mutuals can succeed or fail, as can any organisation. Participation in our pathfinder programme, and any subsequent decisions by organisations to consider the benefits of the mutual model, must be on a voluntary basis, driven by the views of both staff and their patients and users in the local community. Therefore, while I can be clear that this Government understand the benefits of the mutual model and want to explore its potential across a range of health services, we do not anticipate that we would seek to roll this out across all staff working in community hospitals.
I now turn to some of the questions that have been posed. First, my noble friend queried whether we could look at international examples here. He may know that Sir David Dalton, on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, is currently leading a review looking at new provider models. The review includes a detailed look at what we can learn from international examples, perhaps bringing those examples to bear in the NHS.
I was aware of my noble friend’s Private Member’s Bill. I am happy to take away his remarks and to discuss with my colleagues in the Treasury the ideas that he has put forward in relation to health services.
My noble friend Lord Framlingham, in his very powerful speech, signalled his concern about the paucity of facilities in some of our community hospitals and the threat of closure that might ensue from that. I hope that I can give him some words of comfort there. As I have indicated, the majority of NHS services, including those provided in community hospitals, are commissioned by clinical commissioning groups, so how those hospitals are funded is very much a matter for local determination rather than a national decision. However, NHS England expects CCGs’ commissioning decisions to be underpinned by clinical insight and knowledge of local healthcare needs, and that those decisions should have regard to the need to address health inequalities.
As I said, I do not think that mutualisation by itself would provide a panacea to prevent community hospitals closing. Where a community hospital is judged to be no longer viable—for example, because of the age of the fabric or a significantly diminished volume of services being provided—a change of organisational form or ownership alone is unlikely to affect local commissioning decisions. I shall come on in a minute to the issue of funding if I have time—although I suspect that I will not and that I will need to write to my noble friend further on that score.
My noble friend raised the possibility of external funding from the community, and I was interested in his remarks. Our view is that that kind of local levy should not be necessary. The Department of Health capital budget continues to rise in real terms, and indeed provider trusts are funded through the depreciation element of their income, with funds to cover their capital expenditure. Where trusts can prove their business case, the department will provide them with capital loans through the independent trust financing facility and may choose to provide public dividend capital directly in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, capital funding is available where it can be justified.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested that CCGs should be reversing the flow of services away from hospital. To an extent, I agree with him, although I think that largely we are talking about acute settings rather than community settings. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has made it clear that there should be no national blueprint for this: CCGs have to be free to determine the services that they commission based on local needs. Of course, this issue does not bear upon NHS privatisation. Indeed, the pathfinder programme is there to explore the benefits of the mutual model and ways in which staff can be actively engaged. That is a million miles away from privatisation and, as I have said on a number of occasions, the Government have absolutely no agenda on that score.
In conclusion, as I have overshot my time, the Government have taken steps to secure the sites of community hospitals and ensure that they are used for the benefit of the community. Local clinical commissioners are best qualified to take decisions about the services required locally. We are supporting organisations that wish to explore in detail the feasibility and viability of the mutual model for their organisation or significant parts of their services and explore the benefits of mutualisation in a wider range of services within the health sector.
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
7: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Role of National Assembly for Wales
All matters pertaining to the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales contained in this Bill shall be subject to agreement by the Assembly before implementation.”
My Lords, it is my pleasure to move my Amendment 7, which is that all matters regarding the electoral arrangements are subject to agreement by the National Assembly. The key phrase is,
“subject to agreement … before implementation”.
I am not personally against the following amendment, which will shortly be spoken to by my noble friend Lord Wigley, but I submit to him that my amendment is more likely to be acceptable than his, although I think that we are working to the same end.
Essentially, my proposition is clear and simple. It is as clear, pure and simple as the last amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe. In my judgment it is absurd that we should be laying down the rules relating to the electoral arrangements irrespective of the views of the National Assembly. Its Members are the experts in the field. They have the experience of fighting elections for the Assembly in Wales and the decision should be left to them. Even local authorities have a degree of discretion, which is currently denied to the Assembly. Without this, the arrangements are in the spirit of high to low—“We in Westminster and Whitehall know best”, almost as if in colonial times, when the constitutional arrangements were handed down like tablets of stone to the grateful people. Surely we are dealing with a mature and maturing democracy in Wales, where the representatives of the people should decide for themselves. However, if leaving it by Order in Council wholly within the responsibility of the Assembly is not acceptable, the next best thing—perhaps the more realistic alternative—is the one proposed in this amendment. Do we really think that we know best? Have we no trust in the Assembly? I leave this question to the Minister: can it be reasonable that we do not involve the Assembly, not as a matter of generosity but as a matter of law, in decisions on its own electoral arrangements?
My Lords, I support the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has moved his amendment and am very supportive of its thrust. Amendment 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas transfers all responsibility for Welsh general elections to the Welsh Assembly. The provisions in it and Amendment 10 would mean that the Welsh Government could determine the electoral system used for elections to the National Assembly, as well as having control over the administration of those elections. It would certainly be my hope that, if the Welsh Assembly was granted such powers, it would vote to move towards a more proportional method of electing representatives. Plaid Cymru’s policy has long been for a form of proportional representation. I say that looking at Benches opposite and hope that they would concur warmly with that.
Any decisions relating to the electoral system would of course be up to the National Assembly for Wales to make. It would surely be a common-sense move to allow the Assembly to be in charge of its own elections, just as this Parliament is in charge of its own elections. It would once again strengthen the accountability of the institution and I hope that the Government will see the merits of this amendment.
Amendment 17 quite simply would enable the National Assembly for Wales to make decisions based directly on the will of the people that it represents. Over the past 20 years in the UK, a number of referenda have been used to ask questions of the electorate relating to constitutional change—the devolution referenda in the 1970s and the 1990s are examples, as well as the more recent AV referendum.
Referenda are hugely popular in Switzerland and state Governments in the United States frequently use them, as do a number in Canada. There is a definite trend in that the public have grown more likely to want decisions to be made closer to home. A way of ensuring that decisions already within the Assembly’s fields of competence are made to best reflect public opinion is allowing that institution to hold binding referenda. A transfer of this power could be granted by an Order in Council.