House of Lords
Monday, 27 October 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.
Introduction: Lord Lennie
Christopher John Lennie, Esquire, having been created Baron Lennie, of Longsands Tynemouth in the County of Tyne and Wear, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Falconer of Thoroton and Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Pinnock
Kathryn Mary Pinnock, having been created Baroness Pinnock, of Cleckheaton in the County of West Yorkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Shutt of Greetland and Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, academies are subject to considerably more rigorous financial regulation than local authority maintained schools. For example, they have to publish annual, independently audited accounts; local authority maintained schools do not. They are subject to the rigorous oversight of the Education Funding Agency and anyone in a governing relationship with an academy, or an organisation closely linked to it, can provide services to a local authority maintained school at a profit; they cannot to an academy. However, we are continually looking at ways to refresh the financial regulation of academies.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he concerned about the increasing number of stories of academy chiefs being paid inflated salaries, heads employing family members and friends to provide school services, lavish expenditure on hotels and travel and, recently, a head paying £26,000 for furniture for her office? This is not their money, it is taxpayers’ money, but it seems that a small minority are using the academy funding system as a cash cow. Does the Minister accept that the Government’s centralised oversight of these schools makes it more difficult to supervise academy school expenditure effectively? Does he now accept that that was a mistake?
The noble Baroness picks out some isolated examples. I point out to her, as I have before, that 36 of the 55 pre-warning notices that this Government have issued to academy sponsors have been to sponsors approved under the previous Government. This Government have considerably tightened up financial oversight and improved things such as control of grants. Of course, these figures are but nothing compared with the £10 billion overspend the National Audit Office tells us that the previous Government were heading for under the Building Schools for the Future programme.
My noble friend is quite right that there have been many examples of this, including more efficient purchasing, longer school days, greater freedom over the curriculum, the ability to employ subject-specific teachers in primary schools, the ability to find the money to engage more effectively with the professional communities and business, and the generation of income more effectively from their own facilities.
My Lords, while rigorous financial regulation is important, I am alarmed to hear of a high-achieving school in a deprived area in west London where children are made to endure classroom sizes of up to 80 without adequate toilet facilities. The DfE will not release money for new premises until the financial management is completely up to scratch. Does the Minister agree that it is wrong to use children in this way?
I do not recognise the example to which the noble Lord refers. I would be grateful if he would write to me as regards his specific example. The pressure on pupil places has been considerably relieved by the amount of money that this Government have spent on them, but I would be particularly interested to hear about this case.
My Lords, is the Minister concerned to hear that a head teacher said at a recent seminar that she was having to pay rent arrears and pay for food in her impoverished community to enable children to get to school, to be able to concentrate and to do well? She was embarrassed to do this but she felt that she had to.
Where we receive an instance of fraud we immediately investigate. The EFA has investigated 35 cases of fraud in academies in two years. That compares with 191 reported in maintained schools over one year. If we feel that there are causes for concern we will inform the police or, in more minor cases, introduce a financial notice to improve.
Green Climate Fund
My Lords, the UK recognises the importance of a successful initial resource mobilisation process, and is keen for the fund to become operational as soon as possible. We aim to pledge at the initial Green Climate Fund pledging meeting arranged for 19 and 20 November, ahead of the United Nations climate change negotiations at the start of December. We are a strong supporter of the Green Climate Fund, because we see it as a key new vehicle for helping developing countries adapt to climate change and follow low-carbon development paths.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and I am grateful for all that the Government are doing in this important area. So far, 10 countries, I think, have pledged contributions to the Green Climate Fund, but despite his warm words recently in New York the Prime Minister was not among those offering to make a pledge. Can we have some information about how much Her Majesty’s Government intend to pledge, and can we know what else we shall put on the table, if we are to have credibility at the discussions in December in Lima?
My Lords, the UK is committed to scaling up climate finance, and we have already committed £3.87 billion from our International Climate Fund between 2011 and 2016. The first £1.76 billion of this has already been committed from the International Climate Fund, and is expected to achieve the following lifetime results. However, the right reverend Prelate is right that we need to encourage all member states to come up to the mark and ensure that they are all contributing. This is a very important area. The UK is absolutely committed, and the Prime Minister has made that very clear. He will announce his pledge in November.
My Lords, regarding recent international climate negotiations, does my noble friend agree with me that we should congratulate the DECC team and the Secretary of State on the climate energy deal done at the European Council over the past couple of days? Does she agree that that illustrates that, by leadership from Britain, by persuasive argument and by building up a team of other member states around us, we can succeed in European negotiations and win for Britain?
My Lords, the Minister carefully explained to the House the expenditure by HMG on international climate initiatives, but can she be quite specific? Is she saying that in November the Prime Minister will actually make a pledge to the Green Climate Fund?
My Lords, on Friday the IPCC will publish the synthesis report for its fifth assessment report into climate change. It is likely to say, yet again, that there is now incontrovertible proof that climate change is a serious issue and we all must take notice of that. Does the Minister accept that Friday might be a good opportunity to point that out to some of the Back-Benchers in her party?
The noble Baroness is right. The fifth assessment report has concluded that, and many around your Lordships’ House recognise that. It is not just about Back-Benchers on my side; it is about ensuring that we deliver an informed debate, and perhaps thus far that debate has not really taken place.
My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lord Teverson in welcoming the agreement reached within Europe the other day because it was clearly non-binding, as the noted energy expert Nick Butler has pointed out in an excellent article in today’s Financial Times. It is non-binding in two ways: it applies to the European Union and not to any of the member states, where decisions are in fact taken; and it is explicitly open to review in the light of the forthcoming global conference on these matters.
My noble friend is absolutely right: that it is not a binding target. However, in the UK we have not been under binding targets before but have managed to ensure that our uptake of renewables has increased. We have almost doubled our renewable energy sources since coming into government in 2010. It does mean that we have an agreement now from 28 members, all agreeing that the targets, being non-binding, enable each member state to be free and flexible in how it reaches those targets.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed, in the same words, that there has been a “hiatus” in global warming for at least the past 15 years? Will she give us the opinion of her scientific advisers as to when that hiatus is likely to end?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a couple of issues that we would dispute in a longer debate. What we do recognise is that a change in weather patterns is happening across the globe and that climate change is occurring; it may have slowed down but that is a good thing, and it could well be that some of the measures we are taking today have helped that to occur. If we are to respond seriously to climate change and changing weather patterns, we need to be able to put in place things that mitigate and adapt to those different patterns.
My Lords, the UK Government asked for a 40% carbon emissions ambition to be reached. That is something the Prime Minister put forward earlier this year. I am glad to say that all the European countries have agreed to that 40% greenhouse emissions target.
May I ask the Minister to return to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit? It is a very pertinent question. Is the money that is going to be pledged in November already in the Budget, or is it to be an increase in the borrowing that the Government will have to undertake, at a time when they have just hit a record for the amount of borrowing?
UN Security Council
My Lords, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom is in a privileged position to play an active role in maintaining international peace and security. We use this position to work hard towards constructive solutions to international crises, to promote British values and to confront threats to UK security. This gives us a positive impact on stability overseas, which directly affects the security and prosperity of the people of the UK.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Clearly membership is of use and value to our nation. In that case, and in the context of the national security strategy, have we looked in detail at what capabilities and attributes we need as a permanent member, bearing in mind that many countries feel they ought to be there? Does the Minister feel that the 14% cut in our defence budget since 2010 and the cut to our diplomatic capability enable us to continue in that position? Having mentioned the military, I am sure all of us want to express our admiration for the bravery and sense of duty of our men and women who have just finished 13 and a half years in Afghanistan.
My Lords, I gladly add my words to that sentiment for our serving personnel now and in the past and, indeed, for the United Nations peacekeepers who come from around the world to carry out such difficult tasks. With regard to matters of defence spending and the calculation of how a contribution may be made, in looking at our participation in United Nations matters we take into account overall plans with regard to security at home, in NATO and overseas more broadly. That is part of the work that is done. On the second limb of his question regarding defence spending, we are committed to allocating 2% of GDP to defence and that will continue at least until the general election. After that, of course, there is another spending review.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the privileged status that permanent membership brings also carries a responsibility to have a leadership role among other nations and organisations? In the light of that, have Her Majesty’s Government carried out an assessment of what might happen to Britain’s privileged status if it were to withdraw from the European Union?
My Lords, it is clear that at the formation of the United Nations, after the problems with the League of Nations, we were one of the major five states and therefore part of the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council. We remain there and our position is strong. I do not see any future in discussing our removal. Indeed, the discussion in the United Nations area is about enlarging the Security Council. There is no threat to our membership that I can foresee now or in the future.
My Lords, will the Minister, in the same sense in which she has just replied, confirm that there is no possibility that Britain could lose its place as a permanent member of the Security Council unless it developed suicidal tendencies? The charter makes it perfectly clear that you would have to change the wording to remove one member, and that could be done only if all five permanent members then ratified it. It is, therefore, up to us. As far as the qualifications for permanent membership are concerned, it might be useful to look at the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which set out a long list of criteria which it believed any new permanent member ought to be able to fulfil before being accepted.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has great experience of these matters not only in the diplomatic field but because of his role in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations. I was very glad last week to be invited to stand alongside the United Nations Association to celebrate its 69th birthday. He is right with regard to membership, and our position there is secure.
My Lords, the costs of UN membership are charged proportionately according to the size of a country’s population and national income. Will the Government make an equally strong song and dance about UN membership if fees go up, as they have done with the EU? Will we see members of the Minister’s party advocate withdrawal from the UN if they do?
My Lords, our position on the United Nations is something of which we are proud. We are proud that it works for peace and we are proud that we are part of the multicultural approach to resolving the world’s crises and the humanitarian efforts. We are going to stay there.
Does my noble friend agree that if we are looking for benefits for the British people from international institutions we might invest more time and effort in developing our links with the Commonwealth, which contains 2.3 billion people who use English as their working language and most of the big growth markets of the future?
I entirely agree with my noble friend about the importance of the Commonwealth. The main objectives of the Foreign Office are always to look at policy through the prism of security and prosperity. The Commonwealth is a crucial aspect of that.
Troubled Families Programme
My Lords, the Troubled Families programme is performing very well and strongly. By June this year, more than 116,000 of the 120,000 families we pledged to turn around had been identified. One hundred and ten thousand of these were being worked with, and almost 53,000 have already been turned around. Updated figures will be released shortly, showing that the programme remains firmly on track.
My Lords, this is an important programme because it affects the most disadvantaged families in the country. Does my noble friend think that the co-ordination between the Department for Work and Pensions and his own department which has been criticised in the past is now good? I see from his figures that the programme has been expanded since it started. What are the financial implications of that?
My noble friend raises two important points. Co-ordination was a challenge, but, increasingly, we are working well across the board, both centrally and locally, in the delivery of what is an important programme. More recently, we announced joint working with the Department of Health in identifying certain issues pertinent to troubled families. My noble friend referred also to the expansion of the programme. The programme is indeed being expanded further to include up to 400,000 more families, meaning help for even more people.
My Lords, I hope we all agree that it is important that the Government provide effective and hands-on support to families with multiple and complex needs. But can the Government clarify whether a family once “turned around”—in their parlance—by a local authority can subsequently re-enter the Troubled Families programme? If so, how many have and what does that say about the sustainability of outcomes which the Government are claiming?
The noble Lord raises an important point. This is about ensuring that the issues which lead to families being defined as troubled—I am sure that many noble Lords are aware of the criteria—are intervened on for the long term and turned around. The noble Lord asked specifically about re-entering the programme. The issue is not about the families concerned re-entering the programme but ensuring that the mentor and the local officials who are appointed continue to work with them. As the noble Lord rightly points out, our intention is not just to take them out of the programme on a temporary basis but to ensure long-term sustainability in education, work and good health.
My Lords, every day before we went to school, my beloved mother used to say, “Education is your passport to life. You go to school and learn, learn, learn”. Sadly, not many parents, especially those with troubled families, motivate their children in this way, even though research has shown that reading with your child for just 10 minutes a day can have an enormous effect on their education. What are the Government doing to encourage parents in troubled families to get their children not just to attend school but to be ready to learn? How is the pupil premium helping families in this regard?
My noble friend refers to what she did before she went to school. Often, when I returned from school, I would turn on the television, albeit briefly, and I would see her teaching me a few things, and I am sure that she will continue to do so in the years ahead. Of course, the Troubled Families programme is targeted specifically at the importance of education and ensuring not just attendance at school but development and achievement there. That is why the Troubled Families programme is so important. It is about a person going in and ensuring that they deal with all facets of what is challenging a particular family.
My Lords, tomorrow morning the Prison Reform Trust will publish the latest edition of its well regarded Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile. Among other things that will show the continuing correlation between exclusion from school, being brought up in care and offending behaviour. In the light of this and of other responses already given, can the Minister give an assurance that the Troubled Families programme is being well co-ordinated with the Ministry of Justice’s young offenders policy?
I can give the right reverend Prelate that assurance. Indeed, in a previous incarnation when I was the Whip for the justice department, I saw the importance of many rehabilitation programmes directly through visits programmes. He raises an important part of the mix that defines troubled families. As he is well aware, one of the key elements is youth crime and targeting youth crime and anti-social behaviour. Again, what we are seeing, for the first time I believe, is not just departments working together, but people at a local level working well together to ensure that all people involved, whether in youth crime, those involved in not attending school, as my noble friend said, or those who are not in employment, get sustainable solutions for the long term.
My Lords, I pay tribute to Louise Casey, who has provided admirable leadership in this area and, previously, in removing rough sleepers from the streets of London and elsewhere. I declare my interest in the register in property. Is the Minister concerned about the unfit housing available to many of our poorest families—overcrowded, often damp, neglected, and without play areas for children? Can he say what he is doing with his colleagues to ensure that pregnant mothers and mothers with very young children have decent homes so that they can feel comfortable to rear their children, making strong bonds of affection with them and avoiding this route into troubled families, with their children developing poorly and their relationship with their children deteriorating over time?
First, I join the noble Earl in his tributes to Louise Casey. She has undertaken a great initiative on the programme referred to. She is also, as the noble Earl is aware, dealing with the very challenging issues that we currently face in Rotherham and we wish her well in the inquiry there. I am sure that is the sentiment of all in your Lordships’ House. On the issue of housing, of course the Government appreciate the importance of good, sustainable housing. Therefore, as many noble Lords will know, we have embarked on a programme of housebuilding that is helping those who are most challenged in the rental sector. We are encouraging buy to rent and we are also encouraging more people to enter the housing market. The Government have a raft of different housing initiatives because we believe, as the noble Earl rightly points out, that a good home and a good home for a family at the beginning is the keystone, pivotal point and foundation to ensure that a child and, indeed, the whole family progresses.
My Lords, quite a proportion of troubled families are headed by women who are in contact with, or have been in contact with, the criminal justice system. Is it not vital that the Government continue to support the more than 50 women’s community centres in England and Wales which help such women turn their lives around and make them parents of whom their children are proud? Will the noble Lord speak to his colleagues in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to make sure that the Transforming Rehabilitation programme does not leave these women’s centres behind? That is what I am most concerned will happen.
The noble Baroness raises a very important point. Indeed, in raising that issue she has both great experience and has done an incredible amount of work in the area of women’s rehabilitation, particularly women offenders, and I pay tribute to that. She has raised an important point about the need to work together and to ensure that the women’s groups work at a local level. On a slightly different matter, before coming to the House, I met a women’s group dealing with domestic violence and identifying those issues. I talked about extending the programme to 400,000. One of the defining criteria now will be looking at domestic violence to ensure that those who are impacted are assessed and, most importantly, helped and brought back so they can be proud of their own contribution and the contributions of their families to society as a whole.
As ever, my noble friend raises an important and pertinent point. Of course, I agree totally, but citizenship alone cannot turn everything around. Unfortunately, we have identified families up and down the country who need such intervention in education, employment, health. Together with that, they will want to serve as proud citizens, and citizenship classes are important in that.
Copyright and Rights in Performances (Certain Permitted Uses of Orphan Works) Regulations 2014
Copyright and Rights in Performances (Licensing of Orphan Works) Regulations 2014
Motions to Approve
Legal Services Act 2007 (Approved Regulator) (No. 2) Order 2014
Judicial Appointments (Amendment) Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2014
Motion to Approve
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
Report (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 14th Report (Session 2013-14) and 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.
Clause 70: Likelihood of substantially different outcome for applicant
146: Clause 70, page 67, line 30, leave out “must” and insert “may”
My Lords, the amendment and some of the other amendments in this group are in my name, that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and those of the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Beecham. Under this group of amendments, your Lordships turn to Part 4, with its provisions relating to judicial review. On Second Reading and in Committee, noble Lords from across the House expressed concern that the provisions in Part 4 would damage judicial review for no good reason. It is very disappointing that, since Committee in July, the Government have not come forward with any amendments of their own to address those concerns. I would be very surprised to be told that the Minister made that decision.
I invite your Lordships to bear two principles in mind when considering all of the Part 4 amendments. First, judicial review is a vital means by which central and local government and other public bodies can be held to account to ensure the legality of their actions before independent judges in public. Secondly, when proposals for amendment of judicial review are brought forward by Ministers—who are, after all, the main defendants in such litigation—the proposals require the most careful scrutiny by the House.
Clause 70 would prevent a judicial review application proceeding to a full hearing and any remedy—I emphasise, any remedy—at the full hearing if the defendant shows that it is highly likely that the outcome for the applicant would not have been substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred. I have three main objections to the clause.
First, it ignores the fact that one of the central purposes of judicial review is to identify unlawful conduct by the Government or other public bodies. If Ministers have applied the wrong rule, or they decided a matter without giving a person a fair hearing, the court will say so and it will give a declaration, even if, on the particular facts, the error made no difference. This surely serves the public interest because the risk of a public hearing before independent judges encourages high standards of administration, and once the court has given its judgment, Ministers and civil servants know that they must change their conduct for the future. That is precisely what they do. Clause 70 would undermine these valuable purposes of judicial review.
My second concern is that Clause 70 ignores the fact that even if the defect did make no difference on the facts of the individual’s case, the individual may have a personal reason to seek a declaration that there was unlawful conduct. Last year Lord Reed emphasised for the Supreme Court in the Osborn case that the law requires public bodies to adopt a fair procedure to ensure not only that the right conclusion is reached on the merits of the case but also that the subject of such a decision is not left with a sense of injustice.
My third and final concern about Clause 70 is that, far from speeding up judicial review procedures, it would require the court at the preliminary stage to conduct a detailed review of what would have happened if the defendant had acted differently. That would be time consuming, expensive and an extremely difficult exercise for the judge. It would promote satellite litigation.
Clause 70 would have very damaging effects—nor is it necessary. Judges have ample powers, which they use, to dismiss hopeless or abusive cases. To those of your Lordships who think that there is too much judicial review and that it takes too long, I say that Clause 70 is a blunt instrument to use in such a sensitive context. It would impose an absolute duty on the court. It would prevent the judge from considering whether, in the particular circumstances of the individual case, there is good reason to allow the claim to proceed or to grant a remedy such as a declaration.
Amendment 146, which I commend to the House, would maintain a judicial discretion to consider the circumstances of the individual case. That is surely appropriate in this context. Amendment 146 is to be read together with Amendments 147, 149, 151, 152 and 154, each of which substitutes judicial discretion for the judicial straitjacket which is proposed by Clause 70.
I have spoken briefly in moving this amendment because there is a great deal of business for the House to get through today on Part 4. I hope that that will not lead your Lordships to doubt the importance of this issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, the last four years have seen the construction of major roadblocks on access to justice. Some 650,000 claimants a year, and their dependants, can no longer benefit from civil legal aid or advice, resulting in the collapse of law centres, extreme pressure on advice agencies and the expense and delays caused by litigants in person unable to receive legal advice in the preparation or presentation of their case. As we heard just last week, the family courts are often now clogged with litigants in person. The imposition of charges for employment tribunal claims have led to an 80% reduction in applications. Large cuts in fees for criminal legal aid threaten to reduce the chances of a fair trial.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has made clear, Part 4 of the Bill proposes even more insidious changes which would narrow the scope of judicial discretion in cases in which the lawfulness of decisions made by the Government themselves, or by public agencies, is challenged through the process of judicial review. As the Equality and Diversity Forum reminds us in its briefing, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, has asserted that,
“there is no principle more basic to our system of law than the maintenance of the rule of law itself and the constitutional protection afforded by judicial review”.
The Bill seeks deliberately to make it more difficult and potentially more expensive for citizens, either as individuals or whose interests may be represented by a charity, to seek a ruling from the courts as to whether decisions which might have far-reaching effects were properly made. I remind your Lordships that they already have first to obtain the leave of the court to bring such a case, and very often matters can be and are resolved at that stage.
The amendments we are debating address the major roadblocks, to which I have referred, placed in the path of those who seek access to justice by judicial review of the decisions of the Executive in their many manifestations. One underlying technique adopted by the Bill is to restrict the exercise of judicial discretion in applying the various tests which it sets out. A common theme running through the groups of amendments before us—this group and others—is that of dispensing with the fetters on judicial discretion which the Bill would otherwise apply. Your Lordships will therefore be pleased to learn that it becomes possible for me, in speaking to amendments in this group, to deal with the principal issues and thereby reduce the length of the speeches that I might make when we debate subsequent groups.
Two distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House set out views in the case of Jackson v the Attorney-General, in 2006, which touched on the fundamental issue. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn, said:
“In exceptional circumstances involving an attempt to abolish judicial review or the ordinary role of the courts, the … Supreme Court may have to consider whether this is a constitutional fundamental which even a sovereign Parliament … cannot abolish”.
We are of course not yet in the position of seeing an attempt to abolish judicial review—erosion, not abolition, is what we are facing—but as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, averred:
“Parliamentary sovereignty is … not uncontrolled. It is no longer right to say that its freedom to legislate admits of no qualification whatever”.
It is better, I suggest, for Parliament itself to acknowledge the need for a system which allows the testing of challenges to the decision-making process.
Various barriers will now have to be surmounted if the Bill is not amended. They are clearly designed to have a chilling effect on applicants and those who might support them or offer to intervene. This group of amendments deals with the test of substantial difference to be applied and applies a more stringent test of the likelihood of a different ultimate outcome to be passed. I respectfully endorse and adopt the critique by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, of Clause 70. The next group of amendments relates to the disclosure by applicants of,
“the source, nature and extent of financial resources available, or likely to be available”,
to them to pursue a case, including, in the case of companies or charities, from their members.
The third group addresses the requirement for interveners—which are very often charities—that obtain leave to provide evidence or make representations in a case to make similar disclosures and prescribes that, save for exceptional circumstances, they will not be able to recover their costs. In practice, the involvement of interveners after leave is given by the court, which is required, is often very helpful. They can of course intervene on either side of the argument. Costs can be prohibitive for an individual or charity, and hitherto the court has been able to make an order capping the liability to pay the other side’s costs. The Bill would remove this protection from the initial stage of seeking leave so that it would apply only if leave is granted, and even then the new rules “about available resources” will apply. Other tests are also laid down, which are likely to deter intervening. The fourth and fifth groups of amendments deal with that issue.
The Lord Chancellor has declared that the judicial review system,
“is not a promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners”,
of the kind that a now departed Minister advised to “stick with the knitting”. In fact, campaigning organisations including the Countryside Alliance and the Daily Mail, to name but two, brought all of 50 cases in 13 years—some 3% or 4% of the total number of cases for judicial review.
The proposals on judicial review have been roundly condemned by the Constitution Committee, by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, by 11 police and crime commissioners in a letter to the Times today and, of course, by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which among many other observations said of the Lord Chancellor’s remarks:
“Such politically partisan reasons for restricting access to judicial review, in order to reduce the scope for it to be used by the Government’s political opponents, do not qualify as a legitimate aim”.
Of course, the Joint Committee on Human Rights draws from all sides of Parliament in both Houses.
I hope that Members across the House will support the amendments in this and other groups. In particular, if I may say so, I hope that Liberal Democrat Peers—whose party, to its very great credit, has voiced opposition to their partners’ proclaimed intention to dismantle the Human Rights Act—will do so in the same spirit in which they have opposed those proposals, which, of course, are not yet in any legislative form.
I conclude with the powerful words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court:
“One must be very careful about any proposals whose aim is to cut down the right to judicial review … The courts have no more important function than that of protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of the executive—central government, local government, or other public bodies ... the more power that a government has … the more important it is for the rule of law that such abuses and excesses can be brought before an impartial and experienced judge who can deal with them openly, dispassionately and fairly”.
All of that will be made more difficult if the Bill passes unamended.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said in his introduction to this group of amendments that he could see no good reason why the Government have brought in these changes. However, he will recall that these changes in this Bill, and in the Infrastructure Bill, were first mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech to the CBI in 2013. That was the genesis of this group. The noble Lord is nodding, so I think I am right.
The reason for that is that the Government are concerned, as the Minister has said on a number of occasions, about the fact that we have fallen behind as a nation on infrastructure. I am not making a party point; it happened under the Labour Government and the coalition Government as well, which means that, frankly, we have too few trains to deal with commuters, too many jams on the roads, too few houses, too few schools in the right place, et cetera. Now is the perfect time to give a kick-start to infrastructure. This is why Christine Lagarde. the chief executive of the International Monetary Fund, is pleading with Governments around the world to give more attention to infrastructure spending in their economies. Larry Summers, the ex-US Treasury head has said that at the moment infrastructure spending on housing, trains, or whatever is virtually a free lunch because interest rates are so low.
This is the situation that we face and which the Government are addressing. Therefore, they brought forward the Infrastructure Bill, which we are considering in another part of the House, and these clauses to this Bill. The reason is that judicial review has and is causing delay to many projects up and down the country. I will not go into the details that were advanced before the Recess. My noble friend has outlined some of the examples and I will not weary the House with them again. The examples of delay are obvious. It is also inhibiting the decision-making in government bodies. James Morris, the Member of Parliament for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, who before becoming a Member of Parliament was the chief executive of Localis, the local authority think tank, made the point that judicial review has now entered the bloodstream of decision-making in local authorities and other government bodies to the extent that when a decision is made they have to know whether it will be judicially reviewed and have to hire a barrister to find out the implications of all that. That is slowing down the decision-making in local authorities when we are urging them simultaneously to get a move on with lots of projects up and down the country. Indeed, I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the north of England at the moment urging local authorities to do more there.
Judicial review is also undoubtedly abused. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern made the point in our earlier debates that it is very often used as a blocking device. It is meant to be about the process but very often the people who use judicial review are not concerned with the process; they are using it merely as a means to stop a particular development.
Lastly, judicial review is costly. There have been arguments about exactly how much it has increased in quantum over the past few years, and if you take out the immigration cases I can see that there has been an increase, but it is certainly not that much. None the less, as was made plain once again at Question Time today from the opposition Benches, the deficit has proven difficult to control and we are spending far more money than we are raising from taxation. This is an area where public expenditure has increased, and it has not received the cuts and restraint that other areas in this field have.
The professional interests here—the lawyers and so forth—have objected to the Government’s measures. There can be no objection to their objections; I fully understand where they are coming from, and it is very reasonable that the Government’s argument should be tested fully as to why they are using this particular technique to try to improve infrastructure in this country. The professional interests have used a number of arguments. The first is that there is no reason for this measure, but I think we have now demonstrated that there is clearly a need for further help with infrastructure and to clear away some of the roadblocks from it.
It is understandable that they would be concerned about human rights and the rule of law. We are discussing a clause that would make no difference, or would be highly unlikely to do so, to any end result from a judicial review. It is very difficult to argue that there is a significant change or a significant diminution to human rights if the end product of any particular judicial review would make no difference to the reality of the situation.
Even if that were the case, as my noble friend Lord Marks said at an earlier stage, we should trust the judges. If, let us say, the quantum of judicial review were 100 and it came down as a result of this Bill to 80, I would trust the judges to make the appropriate judgments about what was important and what was not—which cases merited discussion and which did not. That is their role; they are clearly very experienced at it and they have a good reputation, and I see no reason why that should not carry on.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said again today that the measures would not work and would actually slow things down. The Minister gave a detailed rebuttal of that at an earlier stage before the recess—he set out various points on 28 July at col. 1462 of Hansard—and I will not go into that again. However, the truth is rather different. I would make a general point here: no Government of any shape or kind can always predict exactly what the consequences of any measures are. All those who have been Ministers know that you take a suite of measures and apply them, and some will work while some will not and some will work better than others. That is the nature of government; you do not always know what will work. Therefore, for the noble Lord to say that these measures will not work is stretching credibility. It is not a sustainable argument to say in advance what will work and what will not.
I also think, although obviously I am not a lawyer, that it is very unlikely that the judges will make things work in such way that they are inefficient. We know that there is a long trail of meritless cases and that about only 20% of cases get through to the final stage so there is a lot of unmerited work there, and surely that can be conducted more efficiently. It seems to me, looking at it as an economist, not as a lawyer, that there is a pressing need to ensure that this process does not, as many people are saying, inhibit decision-making in the public body. It does not, it seems to me, have an implication of a serious kind for human rights or the rule of law. As the Prime Minister said in his speech to the CBI, when the conditions are so right, it is necessary that we get a move on with infrastructure building in a significant way as soon as possible. It has coalition support. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made a plea to the Liberal Democrats; but I point out to him that at the other end of the Palace the Bill has the support of the Liberal Democrats. It is a coalition Bill, not just a Conservative Bill, and the coalition has supported it thoroughly.
We should look at this extremely carefully and consider whether this relatively small adjustment to judicial review—which is valued, and will continue—is not the right thing to do in the present circumstances and for the future of our country. It is in the public, and also the national, interest.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I had prepared a speech of some length, but I realise, as did the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that it is important to confine the argument at this stage of the Bill as far as possible. I detain your Lordships only because the Bill is extremely important so far as Part 4 is concerned. In deference to the eloquent speech we have just heard, I want to make a few submissions that are important for the context of why noble and learned Lords—who perhaps do not have interests of their own in raising this matter, which the noble Lord, Lord Horam, hinted at—are very concerned about the Bill.
The reason is that judicial review is the final resort available to the citizen to protect himself against unlawful action. It is a residual remedy and is not available in cases where a specific remedy is given, for example by statute. The only course it is then proper to take is the statutory route that has been laid down by Parliament. Having been a counsel for about five years who frequently was involved in the sort of planning and development matters to which the noble Lord referred, I can say that in most, although not all, of the areas we are concerned with there is specific legislation with specific provisions that explain the circumstances in which proceedings can be challenged before the court. The nature of those circumstances is carefully laid down and is now well known. I do not dispute that that may well need to be looked at again and taken through a critical examination.
However, I emphasise that what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was objecting to, and what I object to, is this limitation being placed on judicial review, which is part of the explanation of why in this country we have not needed an entrenched constitution that defines the responsibilities of the Executive and the judiciary and why in the United States they attach so much importance to the separation of powers, which is not part of our law.
We are dealing here with the residual remedy of citizens to deal with their fear of unlawful action by the Executive; that is what we are dealing with in most cases of judicial review. That being so, I suggest that the discretion of the judge to examine the position of the Government, the position of other public bodies and the position of the citizen, and then in accordance with the facts of each individual case decide whether it is appropriate to give relief and what relief should be given, is extremely important.
The amendments that bear my name, following that of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, are designed not to tackle what is proposed root and branch, but to tackle those parts which say that a judge “must” do something as opposed to “may”. We do so not because we think that judges will be offended if they are told that they “must” do something. We do so because it is critical, if judges are going to get the right answer and do their best to get a just result, that they have the discretion to tailor their response to the facts of a particular case. However carefully we legislate, it is dangerous to go down the line of telling the judges what they have got to do. Everybody accepts that the independence of our judiciary is important. I emphasise the importance of that independence not because it is some right of the judiciary; it is important because the citizens know that a matter in issue, particularly in these important areas, will be considered by a judge who is independent. If we protest that we do not want the judiciary’s discretion cut away, we do so for that reason.
I will say no more because the other matters will, I know, be canvassed by others. However, I hope that I have made it clear why I think that this is a worrying piece of legislation, why I think that Part 4 needs to be carefully considered, and why I share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that although an array of legal talent spoke at Second Reading and explained their worries, it has not been felt right to consult them and try to find better ways of doing this, as has happened in many other parts of the Bill.
Judicial review deals with the public’s rights. In those circumstances, I suggest that if we are not going to fall into the trap indentified by Lord Hailsham in his Dimbleby lecture of 1976 of having an elective dictatorship in this country, we have to safeguard judicial review.
I cannot support Part 4 of the Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me if I, too, make some general observations on the whole of Part 4, not limiting myself to Clause 70, to avoid taking up too much time later. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says, there is much work to be done.
At Second Reading, the Minister assured the House that this package of proposals amounted to no more than “proportionate and common-sense reform” of judicial review. My noble friend Lord Horam called it a “small adjustment”. I regret that I see Part 4 as a serious infringement of the right of the citizen to challenge unlawful action by the Executive before the courts and thus, frankly, as an assault on the rule of law. This was the point made so eloquently and forcefully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.
This part of the Bill aims to choke off challenges to unlawful action by the Executive. I fear that, if enacted, it will achieve precisely that. The degree to which it is proposed that judicial discretion be curtailed by these proposals is consonant only with a determination that judges should be limited so far as is possible in the exercise of their power to overrule unlawful government action. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out, the effect of Clause 70 would be to stifle any challenge right at the outset of permission stage, where the Executive may have acted unlawfully but where it appears highly likely that that unlawful action has not made any difference to the outcome for the applicant. Whatever superficial attraction there is for such a rule as between the parties to a particular application, the net effect on the public interest, in what are public law cases, would be that unlawful action by the Executive would go unchecked and unreversed.
Clauses 71 and 72 taken together would provide a code for ensuring that any person of means who is minded to support a challenge to an executive decision is to be obliged to provide information, again at the permission stage, about all his current resources and all his likely resources—full financial disclosure, in other words. The court is then to be told that it must consider making an order for costs against any such person based on that information. Many applications for judicial review are funded by public-spirited supporters seeking to have unlawful action by the Executive corrected. Frequently, such supporters have no financial stake in the litigation at all. No one can pretend that the provisions of these two clauses are not calculated to deter public-spirited individuals from lending financial support to judicial review applications.
Clause 73 on interveners provides for a draconian scheme of punishing those who intervene in costs. The general rule—subject to departure in only exceptional circumstances—would be that an intervener would be unable to recover costs from the losing party, win or lose, no matter how meritorious the intervention, how much the intervention is found by the judge to have assisted the court, and how far the intervener brought their broad experience in the field and new and telling arguments to the hearing of the application. Furthermore, and perhaps even more iniquitously, the court would have to order the intervener to pay all the costs of the other parties in the proceedings as occasioned by the intervention. Again, the court would be able to depart from this rule only in exceptional circumstances.
No one can fail to see that that code will deter interventions. It will make it very difficult for those many well known and thoroughly respected charities, and other campaigning organisations with relevant experience and a deep knowledge of their fields, to mount legitimate challenges to unlawful executive action. It will make it very difficult for those organisations to raise money in those circumstances.
At Second Reading, the Minister said in relation to interveners that the Government were,
“persuaded that there may be a case for some modification of the provisions”.—[Official Report, 30/6/14; col. 1542.]
and that he looked forward to “considering possible amendments”. As has been said, a number of amendments have been proposed by noble Lords, but none has been accepted for consideration by my noble friend and his colleagues in his department. The proposed rules on cost-capping in Clauses 74 and 75 again would severely restrict the ability of the courts to protect meritorious applicants in public interest cases from adverse orders for costs. Again, the effect would be to chill and to stifle such applications by the financial threat posed to those of limited means by the risk of an adverse costs order. The fact that a cost-capping order would be available only after permission was granted would only add to the overall effect.
I turn very briefly to my amendments to Clause 70, which are in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Macdonald of River Glaven. All the amendments in my name should have my noble friend Lord Macdonald’s name to them as well, but for some reason his is not in the Marshalled List. He apologises that he is unable to be here at this stage but he will be here later. I should make clear at the outset that I support the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Beecham, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friend Lord Carlile, which import a general judicial discretion in this area. However, our amendments are designed to ensure that, even where unlawful executive action may have made no difference to the particular applicant before the court or tribunal, the court or tribunal will still be entitled to consider the lawfulness or otherwise of the executive action concerned, to rule on it and to hold the Executive to account accordingly if the public interest so requires it. That principle should apply at the permission stage as well as at the stage of final hearing. We should not forget that these are public law applications designed to protect the citizen and to hold the Government to account. We should be astute, in this House in particular, to ensure that where government acts unlawfully the courts are not debarred or otherwise prevented from saying so.
My Lords, I, too, wish to add my support to these amendments for the reasons so clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Pannick and others. As noble Lords are aware, I have contributed to the debate on this part of the Bill throughout its passage through the House. Let me explain why. I have supported the amendments because I want to show how these government reforms will affect disadvantaged citizens, especially the 10 million disabled people in this country who seek legal justice. Sometimes I think that we forget about the disadvantaged, the poor and the disabled who have no means or recourse to abuse. They simply want access to justice.
I know—I really know—what disabled people experience on a daily basis. I do not need to remind the House that when public authorities get it wrong, my God, they get it wrong and it has devastating effects on the individual. It hits disabled people particularly hard because they are the most in need of taking public authorities to court to get justice for their services—the services that they rely on to survive and live. They are absolutely, disproportionately dependent on public services and judicial review. As I said before, I have never known judicial review to be abused by disabled people or the charities that support them.
Claude 70 will effectively allow public authorities to ignore due process. That cuts across the public sector equality duty, which is so crucial in holding public authorities to account. Coupled with the cuts to legal aid, Clause 70 will effectively deny access to justice to those who most need it—not the big companies or multinationals, but just the people who need it, those at the margins of society. That is not the kind of justice we want in our democracy for vulnerable citizens. This clause has absolutely no place on the statute book in these terms.
My Lords, my name is added to a number of these amendments, and I will not repeat everything that has already been said, most especially by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friend Lord Marks. However, I cannot let this debate pass without making three comments about the unusual speech made by my noble friend Lord Horam.
First, his speech was inaccurate. He blamed judicial review for delays in infrastructure development and for making infrastructure development more expensive. Had my noble friend taken the trouble to read the successful judicial reviews of infrastructure development, he would have found that in 95% of the cases—and I may be underestimating that—the judicial review was granted because of the incompetence and sloppiness of officialdom ranging from government departments through to local authorities and other statutory organisations. The answer to that is for those public authorities to prepare their cases properly, to make their planning applications in due form and for Ministers, in appropriate cases, to call in major planning issues so that they can be decided more quickly.
Secondly, my noble friend’s speech was unusually statist. In his career he has, in a very distinguished way, exercised his principles repeatedly, having been a member of three political parties. As I understand it, he left his first party—the old Labour Party—because he regarded it as too statist, yet nothing could sound more statist than what he said just a few minutes ago. I am personally in favour of HS2, fracking and the Severn barrage.
My thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. However, I would be the last person to deny those who are opposed to those sometimes controversial schemes the opportunity to question them, if appropriate, by way of judicial review. Taking the contrary view is statism of the most extraordinary kind.
Thirdly, my noble friend’s speech was unjust because it seemed to remove the notion that there should be issues of principle about which people can take dramatic action. He has done it himself twice by changing parties as he moved from old Labour towards the party which he now represents with distinction in your Lordships’ House. However, that is the sort of exercise of principle, on more than one occasion, which the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was talking about in moving the amendment. These are not pragmatic actions over small sums of damages; they are actions over great issues of principle. Even if some claimants would not actually win their personal actions for judicial review, we know, from the cases which we have all read and in which some in your Lordships’ House have appeared, that enormously important issues of principle for the future arise from them.
I will stray into future amendments, as others have done. Some of those points of principle have been made extremely successfully by interveners—NGOs that have chosen to put in submissions. Some have done so so effectively that their written submissions have changed the course of a case. Surely we should not inhibit justice by these rather mean provisions, which, in my view, my party—the Liberal Democrats—should never have given a single piece of powder or a single piece of shot to support.
My Lords, I will make a few remarks in support of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, my noble friend Lord Beecham and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. In their consultation paper, which preceded the proposed changes, the Government acknowledged:
“Judicial review is a critical check on the power of the State, providing an effective mechanism for challenging the decisions, acts or omissions of public bodies to ensure that they are lawful. The Government will ensure that judicial review continues to retain its crucial role.”
So far, so good. Unhappily, however, to my mind the Bill fails to deliver on that pledge. I shall confine my remarks to Clause 70 but, as other noble Lords have demonstrated, it is only one example of many.
The judiciary is a vital component in our separation of the powers. Judicial review is indispensible in a democracy proud to be governed by the rule of law. It ensures that public bodies act according to law. They cannot be above the law. Ministers, who are politicians, often will be frustrated if their decisions are challenged or quashed, but that is an intrinsic aspect of government subject to the rule of law, as is the need for Ministers to be aware of their duty to comply with the law. A Government who are confident that their decisions cannot be readily challenged risk becoming a Government who no longer have to respect the rule of law. That is a risk that no Secretary of State for Justice, who also bears the title of Lord Chancellor and is under a duty to uphold the rule of law, should be prepared to countenance.
Clause 70 would enable the Government to escape the consequences of unlawful action if they could persuade the courts that it was “highly likely” that they would have taken the same action had they acted lawfully. The current legal position is that where a public body has acted unlawfully the court may in the exercise of its discretion refuse to grant relief if it is satisfied that the decision would inevitably have been the same had the public body acted lawfully. That discretion is very rarely exercised, for good reason.
Procedural failures are more than “mere technicalities”. It is important that decisions are made properly by those entrusted with them by Parliament or Ministers. Procedural protections are built into Acts of Parliament or statutory instruments because of the importance of participation in decision-making by those affected by decisions or by the public at large. If a decision is unlawful because a defendant has acted unfairly, failed to observe a consultation obligation imposed by Parliament or failed to follow a procedure prescribed by Parliament, the rule of law requires that a claimant should have a remedy. To hold otherwise runs the risk of unlawful administrative action going unremedied. To my mind, the current law gets it right. The only exception should be those exceptional cases where a defendant can persuade the court that the same decision would have been inevitable.
Clause 70 is likely to encourage decision-makers to ignore participation rights. Yet the failure to comply with procedural obligations results in worse decisions as the decision-maker will not have taken into account the full range of relevant material before making the decision. It also undermines public confidence in the decision-making process. Those who have had the right to be heard before a decision is made will feel a justified sense of grievance about the fairness and quality of these decisions.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, lowering the threshold to “highly likely” will require the court to second-guess government decisions. The court will be required to substitute for the decision that has actually been made the decision it thinks the Secretary of State would make if the evidence that the court has looked at had been looked at by him. That is entirely inappropriate because the role of the judiciary in judicial review is to examine the lawfulness of public decision-making, not to substitute its own decision for that of the original decision-maker.
Finally, law reports are littered with cut-and-dried cases that turned out to be nothing of the sort. The best known expression of this came from that distinguished judge, Mr Justice Megarry, in John v Rees in 1970. He said that,
“experience shows that that which is confidently expected is by no means always that which happens … the path of the law is strewn with examples of open and shut cases which, somehow, were not; of unanswerable charges which, in the event, were”,
The effect of Clause 70 is best summed up in the words of the senior judiciary of England and Wales in response to the Government’s consultation:
“A lower threshold than inevitability for the application of the ‘no difference’ principle envisages judges refusing relief where there has been a proved error of law and the decision under challenge might have been different absent that error”.
I agree. The threshold defined in Clause 70 would immunise unlawful decisions from challenge before the courts, and I say that it should be rejected.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, was speaking, I was trying to cast my mind back to a certain event. I think the noble and learned Lord said that politicians should take action only after due and proper thought, and I seem to recollect an occasion when this House was impaired in its meeting because the Prime Minister had accidentally kicked the Lord Chancellor off the Woolsack. I wonder whether that was what the noble and learned Lord had in mind when he was speaking just now; certainly it is what came back to my mind.
I find myself concerned about a number of matters before us today. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, talked about the “legality” of Ministers’ words and about “unlawful conduct” of Ministers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, spoke of “unlawful actions”. That is all fine. I think that there should be the capability for judicial review in such circumstances. But those circumstances conform to my understanding of the only three grounds on which judicial review used to be granted: that the act or decision of the Minister or official concerned was contrary to law; that the act or decision was ultra vires; or that no reasonable man could possibly have reached such a decision.
I would be much happier if I could be assured—not only by my noble friend who will answer the debate, but by some of the distinguished lawyers who have spoken—that that remains the case. I have had the impression recently, when reading about some cases in which judicial review has been granted, that a judge has decided that a rather better decision might have been the one that he proposes to make now. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, shakes his head at that, but I think that he understands a little of my anxiety, and that of a number of others. It seems to me that it would not be right for judges to substitute their judgment for that of officials or Ministers who lawfully took a decision.
Even worse, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, quoted a judge who said that he thought that Parliament might not have the right to change the law that it had made. That seems a very peculiar doctrine. In that case, who does have the right to change such a law? Would it be the judges, or would it be, I do not know, a mob in the street, perhaps? Surely it is only Parliament, which has made a law, that has the right to change it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, spoke of the dangers of elected dictatorship. Of course those dangers are there. I do not like elected dictatorships, but in this country there is a very good mechanism for getting rid to them—at the next election. I would rather do it that way than have some judicial process for getting rid of them. I hope we shall hear no more talk about that, because I do not like unelected dictatorships either, even if they sit in law courts.
I have some very clear worries about the manner in which judicial review has developed in recent years. I hope that we will be able to come to a conclusion here, all of us, that we should go very firmly back to those three criteria alone and no others—no talk about judges perhaps deciding that there is an elected dictatorship and something should be done about it; otherwise, their places on their benches might be at risk.
My Lords, the House will be glad to know that there is a limiting factor on how long I can speak for, which is the state of my bronchial tubes; they are so excited by the subject that I am danger of choking altogether.
I am very glad to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and I am particularly glad to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. I remember when he had ceased to be Lord Chancellor and a Labour Government were tabling an obnoxious provision, I think to take away the rights of asylum seekers in the courts, and the noble and learned Lord simply put his name down to speak—that was all he had to do and the Labour Government saw the error of their ways and did the right thing.
I wish I could say the same of the present Government, whom I support within the coalition. They have had two warnings from two different committees, on both of which I serve: the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has given two reports; and the Constitution Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, five of whose members are members of the Conservative Party and, not as far as I know, dangerous radicals. One might have thought that the warning given by the Constitution Committee that, the judges having expressed their concerns, the Government should heed the warning, might have cut some ice within the Ministry of Justice and with Mr Grayling. I am very sorry that that has not been the case.
Part 4 places obstacles in the way of people seeking to challenge the legality of the actions of the Government and other public authorities. It interferes with the discretionary powers of the courts by placing handicaps in the way of public interest groups and their lawyers, and the ordinary woman and man in the street, in seeking to ensure that the Government and other public authorities act lawfully, fairly and rationally in accordance with logic and accepted moral standards of good government.
Judicial review is the process by which the courts enforce compliance by public authorities with the law. It is an appropriate and necessary judicial function because, as Lord Bingham pointed out in his great little book, The Rule of Law, the courts act as,
“auditors of legality: no more, but no less”.
Tom Bingham summed up the basic principle in the following way—and this I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, because even if he regards me as an unreliable Liberal Democrat, perhaps he will take it from Lord Bingham, one of our greatest judges, in his book—when he said:
“Ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and not unreasonably”.
Those are the principles of administrative law in this country—no more and no less—and they remain as they were when Lord Bingham wrote and as they were 30 years ago.
Who does my noble friend think should make the judgment as to whether the powers that were legally used were fairly used? Different people have different judgments about what is fair. That of the Liberal Democrats is very different from that of the Conservatives—indeed, it is sometimes different from that of the Labour Party.
I ask the same question of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. If he thinks that Ministers, not judges, should make the judgment, then we are in wholly different places. The answer to the question of the noble Lord is that in the end it is for Parliament to make the laws, it is for the Executive to administer the laws, but it is ultimately for the courts to decide and to declare what the law is when it comes to public law, as for any other kind of law.
It is important to emphasise, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Horam, in particular, that there is no automatic right to judicial review. It has to be applied for. It is granted only if the administrative court is satisfied that the application raises a properly arguable case by someone with a sufficient interest—not a mere busybody—who has exhausted any effective alternative remedy, such as a planning appeal.
The application has to be made without inordinate delay. The concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Horam, about delay are, therefore, met by the strict requirements of the administrative court. If the application succeeds, the court has a broad discretion that the remedy is necessary and proportionate. It will not permit the procedure to be abused. It will punish any abuse of procedure with an appropriate cost order.
If, as the Justice Secretary contends,
“‘left-wing’ campaigners have exploited the process of judicial review to frustrate government initiatives”,
—dear me!—the courts have ample powers to ensure that judicial review is not abused, including making cost orders against those who abuse the procedure.
It is an ancient principle, probably going to back to Magna Carta, that under the common law, which is at the heart of our system, no one shall be judge in his own cause. In seeking to interfere with the powers of the courts, and to place obstacles and handicaps in the way of application for judicial review, the Justice Secretary and the other Members of the Government—Liberal Democrat as well as Conservative—are judges in their own cause. They have a political self-interest in what is in Part 4.
But this House is in a different position. We have a vital constitutional role in protecting the rule of law and the accountability in law of Ministers and of government departments and of all public authorities. The House has the opportunity this afternoon to fulfil that role by placing the wider public interest against party-political interest. That is why, though I do not enjoy being a rebel, if there are Divisions on any of these amendments in the name of the very distinguished supporters of this one, I shall cross the floor and shall vote with them.
My Lords, many Members of your Lordships’ House will understand that I very often come to debates on legal matters in order to make sure that legally trained people do not have it all their own way. I have always felt it a danger of this House that legal issues are debated by judges, who, it is often suggested, may have ulterior motives. I speak today because I think the judges are entirely right, and the concern that I have is a concern for my own historic profession of politician.
I well remember the occasion on which I was able to use the fact of judicial review to get my civil servants to understand why I would not accept a particular appeal on a planning matter. It was because it was quite clear to me that the very powerful interests, whose infrastructure aim I entirely approved, had failed in their duty to look for alternatives to the proposal that they were putting forward. They had not, therefore, fulfilled the law. Now, sometimes it is easy for a Minister to make such a decision, but sometimes it is inconvenient. It is important that embarrassment and inconvenience should not be allowed to go so far that it means that Ministers make decisions which are unlawful. Somebody has to decide when a decision is lawful and when it is not. That is what judicial review is about; it is a very simple concept.
I am sad today to disagree with my noble friend Lord Horam, with whom I do not think I have ever disagreed on any subject, even at a time when he was not a member of the Conservative Party, but I think that my noble friend has misdirected himself—if I may use a phrase which I understand is widely understood by legal persons. My noble friend referred to the importance of a whole range of infrastructure projects. I happen to agree with him that they are changes that we need, but I still think that it is unacceptable if we have a system whereby, if the Government have behaved illegally, they cannot be brought to account in the courts.
I look at this particular change and I say to myself, “Well, first of all, I thought we had an argument with King Charles the Martyr”—your Lordships will see which side of the Civil War I would have been on—“about who was above the law”. Clearly, no one is above the law, but someone has to decide when they have tried to be above the law, and we cannot avoid that. We ask judges to make that decision, and it is a proper decision for judges to make. My problem with the changes which are proposed in Clause 70 is that we are asking the judges to make an improper decision. We are saying, “Do not make the judgment as to whether this is lawful or unlawful”. We are saying, “Make the judgment that, if the Minister had acted in this way, the outcome would be the same whether it were lawful or unlawful”. I do not think that that is a judicial decision at all; that seems to me a matter of opinion. It is very dangerous, as my noble friend Lord Tebbit would agree, to give judges the role of making a decision as vague as that. They are after all supposed to be judging not what is but what might have been. My own experience is that judging what might have been is a very dangerous activity. Most of us would be paralysed in our lives if we thought about what might have been if we had done something different.
It is not therefore sensible to ask judges to make a decision other than the proper judicial decision about whether the law has been carried out. “Well”, say the Government, “we are not stopping that. All we are saying is that judges should not be in that position unless the issue is important enough for it to merit that position”. This is where I really disagree with the Government. It is perfectly possible for a person to have been misjudged, for an issue to have been decided not in accordance with the law and for the outcome to be the same as had the law been carried through, but for it still to be an important part of freedom to ensure that the law is upheld. That is the issue of considerable importance.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. He is making the distinction, in a brilliant speech, between judges making the law and interpreting the law, but is that not precisely what the European Court does: it makes the law, which is then interpreted back?
Happily, we are not discussing the European courts at the moment. In case anyone did not know, I am entirely in favour of our membership of the European Union. I think we should keep the defence of people’s freedom by the Bill of Rights that we have in the European Union, invented after Winston Churchill. I could go on for a long time, but I will not be led there by my noble friend. The truth is that we are talking about British law, British judges, British courts and the British defence of freedom that is judicial review. I hope that your Lordships’ House will remember the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, when he remarked that this is part of the structure that saves us from having to have a written constitution. This is the mechanism that we have invented. As a mechanism, every now and again it is annoying to Ministers. That should be a judgment of its correctness. That is what it is there for: to make Ministers annoyed enough to make sure that they do the right thing. In that sense, I have in the past—as is bound to be true after 16 years as a Minister—been annoyed by the facts of judicial review, but it made me a better and fairer Minister because I had to think of the law and not of my opinion at a particular point.
I want to say just one other thing. My noble friend Lord Horam said we should trust the judges. That is precisely what those of us who support the amendments are asking. We are saying that we should not say the judge shall not; we should say that the judge has the right to decide. We think there ought to be discretion but the Government are saying that there should not. I find that unacceptable. I do not want the division of powers that one sees in the United States. I want the kind of elegant association of powers that we in this country have worked out over the years. However, an elegant association of powers is held in place by very delicate mechanisms, which we fiddle with at our peril. This is one of those very delicate mechanisms that we will not fiddle with without very considerable effects. Just in case anybody heard the comment about left-wing people misusing this, I remind the House of what happens in the United States where it is almost universally right-wing people who make life almost impossible for elected Governments by using their system of separation of powers. How extremely clever we have been over the centuries to produce something that works so well, is so delicate and interrelates so well. Having done that over centuries, let us be a bit careful about being too clever with it now.
My Lords, we have heard a brilliant speech. I associate myself very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said about the absolute necessity for Ministers to be obliged to bear in mind all the time how far their policies and decisions are in line with the law. Like the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I was also a Minister for a long time. During that period, on more than one occasion, I was confronted in a very direct way with challenges to the decisions I had made, particularly about issues around comprehensive schools. What I learnt from that experience was, first, to be very careful and thoughtful about any proposals that my department made in my name. Secondly, I learnt to have great respect for the often painful occurrence of reviewing my decisions in great detail, no doubt to the displeasure of a number of local authorities who did not share my view.
I want to make two other quick points. First, our own great Conservative Party has always been deeply suspicious of statism, unlike many right-wing parties in Europe and elsewhere, and has always had a commitment to the idea that the Government might be wrong and that they should be subject to the rule of law like all other citizens and parties in society. I find it, therefore, all the more puzzling that a party with that record and reputation can put forward this extraordinary Bill. I am here, not having taken part in the earlier stages—I had no intention of taking part—only because, when I read in detail both the Bill and the amendments, I became very troubled indeed.
The second crucial point is that the Conservative Party has always been centrally loyal to the concept of its patriotism to the British tradition and British values. As my noble friend Lord Marks, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, have all said, at the very heart of the best of British values is the concept of accepting the rule of law. It is worth saying that almost no other country in the world—certainly no court, such as the European Court of Human Rights, which is nothing to do with the European Union, as may not be realised; it is to do with the Council of Europe—allows an individual, someone with no standing, no resources and no money to challenge the might of the state itself.
I am very troubled by some of the clauses, which will make it difficult for that same humble individual citizen to stand up to the state because he or she lacks the resources to do so or the ability to pay for brilliant lawyers. That is exactly the opposite of what we thought—what I have always deeply believed—that judicial review was all about. Whatever the process may be called, the truth of the matter is that the public broadly, to put it bluntly, trust the judiciary rather more than Governments, who come and go. Our judiciary has undoubtedly formed itself a substantial reputation.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, rightly referred to the judicial system in the United States. Many Members of this House will be aware that over the past five or six years, there has been an absolutely steady uniformity of verdicts—five to four, five to four, five to four—on one issue after another, because, like it or not, the judiciary in the United States is politically chosen. That is why you cannot treat it in the fullest sense as independent; it is heavily dependent on who was President at the time that a particular judge was appointed.
Let us take pride in what we have been and what we are: one of the few countries in the world where an individual is treated as having the full right to challenge the Government and other forms of the Executive. Let us recognise that that has been treated in much of the rest of the world—not least on the continent of Europe —as one of the outstanding claims for the United Kingdom to be treated as an exceptional country, one that, ever since the days of Winston Churchill and the Council of Europe, has been persistently followed. It has had a huge influence on, for example, eastern and central Europe who follow us in that concept of the rule of law.
I conclude by saying that it would be an act of absolute tragedy if we were to allow a law to go through that begins to put in doubt that reputation.
My Lords, not for the first time, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has delivered a brilliant speech—a wonderful defence of Conservative values. I congratulate her on that. She made an extremely telling point when she talked about the politicisation of the judiciary in the United States.
I am very proud to be an honorary citizen of Texas, but when I was in Texas in 1984, at the time of the presidential election, I was invited to go to a $1,500-a-plate barbecue in aid of the man who was running for chief justice of Texas. I said to my congressman colleague, “We don’t do it like that in the UK, and I am bound to say that I am extremely glad of that”. I am very glad that that is still the case.
We have heard some outstanding speeches this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Deben was at his very best. We heard a very powerful speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and a short, telling, moving speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who was, in effect, speaking for the least of the little ones—to use a biblical phrase.
It is a pity that we are here again, because we have been around this course before in debates on the Bill. I had very much hoped that my noble friend who will be responding to the debate, for whom I have a genuinely high regard, would have been able to persuade the Lord Chancellor and others to have taken note of the telling points made in your Lordships’ House. I cannot help but wonder if the fact that we no longer have a distinguished lawyer as Lord Chancellor has something to do with it.
In his speech, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, talked about the significant and powerful difference between the words “must” and “may”. It is a disservice to our democracy to fetter the judiciary. Of course, they can sometimes be exceptionally tiresome. There is not a single Member of your Lordships’ House—other than, perhaps, those who are learned in the law—who has not been exasperated and annoyed from time to time by what judges have said, but the rule of law is what guarantees our liberties in this country. I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, quoted from that brilliant book by Tom Bingham. We must not allow any Government to fetter the freedom of the judiciary.
I have mentioned Magna Carta before and I make no apology for mentioning it again. It was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Next year we shall commemorate Magna Carta and celebrate its 800th anniversary. Already, two of the barons who look down on us in this place have gone: one is gracing an exhibition of Victorian sculpture in the United States and the other is to guard the entrance to the British Library’s great exhibition devoted to Magna Carta next year. Much of Magna Carta is not relevant today, but its centrality is:
“To no one will we sell, to no one deny … justice”.
We are moving in that direction if we do not amend the Bill in this way. That is not a good way to commemorate and celebrate.
The Prime Minister has made a number of extremely powerful comments about Magna Carta, after the first unfortunate one on American television. He has said how crucial it is that we recognise the values encapsulated in that most seminal document in our constitutional history. For all the pettifogging, interference and annoyance that might be caused, one of the things that we have to defend is the right of people like the noble Baroness to take on the big powers and the establishment.
How much I agreed with my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew when he was talking about those infrastructure projects. I do not agree with him on the infrastructure projects—on some I do, on some I do not—but that is another matter entirely. I agree that there must be the opportunity to challenge. No Government should have the power to prevent such a challenge simply because it is inconvenient.
I hope that, in winding up, the Minister will be able to indicate that he has listened to the almost unanimous voice in this debate. I hope that, even at this late stage, he will do something—perhaps introducing an amendment at Third Reading—to recognise that the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in his opening speech and the case made so very powerfully with such quiet effectiveness by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has been listened to in government circles and will be heeded.
My Lords, if those in this Chamber who were opposed to these amendments at the start of this debate have not been converted by what they have heard, nothing that I can add is going to convert them. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that Parliament did not create judicial review; the judges did. It was, I hasten to say, before I became a judge and was one of the best things that our common-law judges have ever done. These amendments are designed to ensure that Parliament does not damage that which the judges created, and they deserve the support of this House.
My Lords, I know that there is always a sigh in this House when a debate is dominated by lawyers. However, I remind the House that sometimes it is lawyers who know the pain that citizens in our country experience, because we represent them, and that this is about the actual lives on which judicial review has an impact. It is always about the person whose business is to be closed down from trading, based on a department’s or a local authority’s decision that they want to challenge, or the person whose mother is in a care home and suddenly finds that it is being moved or closed down, with no consultation as to the impact on her and her family. It may be about the effect on a disabled child of a decision about their schooling. Those things are about real people’s lives and that is why this is not just a constitutional debate of high flown words or complicated legality—it is about the real impact on the lives of ordinary people.
When your Lordships come to vote in our Lobbies, as I am sure you will be asked to do, I say to those of you who are not lawyers that this is really about people’s lives and about the law coming into play to protect citizens. That is why lawyers and organisations such as the Bar Council, the Law Society and Justice—cross-party and no-party organisations—know why the rule of law matters in our nation and our democracy. This is not, I say to the Minister’s noble friend Lord Tebbit, about judges somehow usurping the power of Parliament. This is about justice, fairness and the things that we hold dear, so I say to my colleagues in this House who are not lawyers that this is not a festival of lawyering. It is about ordinary people.
My Lords, we now turn to Part 4 of the Bill, which has proved to be one of the more contentious areas at Second Reading, in Committee and today. The debate has ranged far and wide and it has been magnificent. We have discussed the constitution of the United States, the merits of the European Union, the Council of Europe, King Charles I, fracking, the Severn barrage and HS2, to name a few topics. I am sure that noble Lords will understand if I do not deal with all of them.
Similarly, there have been speeches of an omnibus nature, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend Lord Marks, in the sense that they have covered matters beyond Clause 70. I will deal with those arguments when we come to the relevant groups. We are focusing on Clause 70 at this juncture. The Government have listened with great care to the arguments raised by noble and learned Lords and noble Lords during those debates. I assure my noble friend Lord Cormack that I have listened carefully again this afternoon to the speeches made by a large number of your Lordships. However, we do not resile from our central contentions, which I trust the House will allow me to set out briefly.
First, it is our contention that judicial review, when used properly, is an essential component of the rule of law. It allows individuals and businesses to invite the court to test the lawfulness of public bodies’ actions. Secondly, judicial review as it presently stands is not always perfect. On several occasions, the Government have set out some of the examples of delay and cost which can be caused, such as the challenge to the exhumation licence concerning the mortal remains of King Richard III which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, described as “ludicrous”, despite his own view that York is the more appropriate resting place.
Thirdly, while we have taken some steps, working with the judiciary where appropriate, to rebalance the current approach, such as through the creation of the planning court, some further reform is needed. Noble Lords may be aware that the use of judicial review has increased more than threefold in recent years from around 4,200 in 2000 to around 15,600 in 2013.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, was kind enough during our Committee debates to offer me a copy of De Smith’s Judicial Review, of which he is a distinguished editor. I have to say that he honoured his pledge most generously. I have been in receipt of De Smith and I have done my best to reacquaint myself with its contents. The preface to the seventh and most recent edition reads as follows:
“English administrative law is now one the most celebrated products of our common law and doubtless the fastest developing over the past half century”.
We accept that many judicial reviews will be well founded and brought in good faith, and that much of the growth has been driven by the number of immigration and asylum cases, but it remains a simple fact that a well timed judicial review can delay the implementation of crucial policies or projects for months or even years. Even when decisions are perfectly in line with due process, months can be spent preparing for and defending claims when that time would be better spent taking forward the reforms that the country needs.
The debates have been, perhaps predictably, dominated by those with long experience of the law and, of course, on the government Benches we welcome the expertise which has been brought to bear, even if we do not always welcome the contents of all the speeches. However, there is another side to judicial review—one which pertains to what happens, or does not happen, outside the courtroom as judicial reviews proceed. As they proceed, arguments are made and countered; witness statements are prepared and probed; and fine points of law are weighed and determined. Crucial projects with direct implications for jobs are delayed, perhaps lost.
For example, a judicial review was initiated by a competitor to the proposed development of a supermarket in Skelton, North Yorkshire. That challenge was described by the judge at the earliest possible opportunity as “a hopeless case”. Yet work was delayed for six months. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the case itself, is it right that a hopeless judicial review can be used to such effect? The risk of this happening was recognised by that great judge Lord Diplock who, when emphasising the importance of the permission stage in judicial review said:
“The requirement may also prevent administrative action being paralysed by a pending, but possibly spurious, legal challenge”.
I quote from Inland Revenue Commissioners v National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses 1982 appeal case 617 at page 643.
It is important that we do not ignore the fact that such cases place a considerable burden on the public purse in terms of the time of judges, lawyers, Ministers and officials. Overall figures are not recorded, and are probably not recordable, but by way of illustration, I can report that the total legal costs of the Richard III case to the Ministry of Justice alone have been put at more than £90,000, none of which is recoverable. Consequently, we make no apology for having taken some sensible steps already, and none for making a few more small but important changes.
Outside your Lordships’ House the debate about these reforms has been rather long on hyperbole. Reference has been made during the debate today, and indeed in Committee, to left-wing causes. Of course, I entirely accept that it is irrelevant whether a cause is left-wing, right-wing or apolitical. What matters is whether the challenge is justified and whether it has merit. However, I have seen it suggested that the Government wish to do away with judicial review altogether and even that these reforms will lead to imprisonment without trial. As I will explain, these fears are entirely ill founded. The Government believe that the roles of Parliament and the courts should exist within a relationship of mutual respect and co-operation. In that context, I should emphasise what the provisions do not do: they do not seek to undermine or fetter judicial discretion; they do not seek to challenge the basis on which judges approach questions of judicial review; and we have not altered legal standing, much as that was open to criticism. That was a response to the consultation paper.
The clauses in Part 4, rather, represent a sensible and considered package that will improve the process of judicial review for those with a proper case, put well and founded on flaws that would have made a difference to the applicant. These are common-sense reforms and represent neither the death knell for the rule of law nor a single, double or even triple heresy, as those who listened to earlier debates might perhaps have concluded.
Your Lordships’ House is of course very fortunate in having available the range of legal expertise that it does for a debate of this nature. This clause and Part 4 have been very thoroughly scrutinised, as, of course, is the proper function of this House. However, your Lordships should be under no illusion about the scale of the attack on this part of the Bill. The amendments would remove altogether any reform at all of judicial review, notwithstanding that this—whatever the regrets of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and others—is a coalition government Bill, and one that has been through all its stages in the House of Commons. It is of course entirely open to your Lordships to take such a course, but that would represent a substantial challenge to the will of the elected House by a revising Chamber.
Clause 70 will first be relevant after the defendant is notified that the judicial review has been brought against it by a claimant who is arguing that there were flaws in the process. It will be open to the defendant to indicate that those flaws were minor and highly unlikely to make a difference to the outcome. The court could then consider whether that was the case, either on the papers or at an oral hearing. If satisfied that the “highly likely” test was met, the court would not give permission to proceed.
The defendant might be a government department, a local authority or a local hospital trust. The claimant might be an individual with a genuine interest, but could equally be a large corporate entity advised by the finest legal brains. Judicial reviews are not always an impecunious or disadvantaged individual, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, referred to, pitted against an overmighty government department. The courts can and do already apply no different principles, so to decide that this is a judicial no-go area is to ignore what happens already. However, that threshold requires at the moment that the flaw would “inevitably” have not made a difference. While that is extremely high, the threshold that this clause would apply—“highly likely”—is also difficult to meet. Where a court entertains any real doubt that there could have been a difference, it need not refuse permission or a remedy. By doing that, the clause will help to ensure that judicial review focuses on matters of significant importance, not on mere technicalities that are unlikely to affect the outcome.
The amendments that have been tabled are intended to revise several elements of the clause. They would variously remove or amend the requirements to consider “no difference” arguments, where raised, and to refuse permission or remedy and replace the “highly likely” threshold with an “inevitable” standard—in other words, to maintain the status quo. Amendment 155 would delete the clause entirely, recreating the present approach, and would significantly weaken the effectiveness of the clause in dealing with minor technicalities. Minor failures in process, highly unlikely to have made a difference, would remain a hook to delay a perfectly legal policy that was simply unpopular.
Where the judge is satisfied that it is highly likely that a complained-of flaw would have made no difference in substance to the applicant, it is the Government’s view that continuing that case is not likely to be a good use of scarce, taxpayer-funded court resources. It is the Government’s view that neither the overriding objective nor the public interest is served by prolonging those cases where the judge is satisfied that the “highly likely” threshold is met.
In Committee on 28 July we debated—and have referred to again today—the position of declarations, in which the court sets out its view of the applicable law without providing an enforceable remedy to benefit the claimant. As I set out in my letter of 13 August, the Government’s view is that the clause does not require amendment on that point. The court will be able, so far as it is able at the moment, to entirely properly set out its view of the applicable law when either refusing permission or remedy. If the case has merits, or the judge thinks it might be important or desirable to grant a declaration, then he or she will probably give permission anyway, although not in a weak case. To quote De Smith again:
“If an issue is theoretical, then in ordinary civil proceedings that is a compelling factor against the grant of relief”.
That remains the situation even if one of the parties has a perfectly legitimate reason for seeking clarification of the legal situation. Judicial review is about remedy.
Concerns have been raised about the risk of delay, and Amendment 149 appears aimed, in part, at seeking to avoid that. The Government’s view remains that where a no difference argument is raised, the court should consider it, and that the risk of significant additional delay can be mitigated.
As rules of court will set out the procedural details to give effect to these changes in practice in due course, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt their consideration at this stage. But at present I see no sense, for example, in requiring the court to hold an oral hearing before permission to ventilate no difference arguments which, on the papers, are clearly not made out. In addition, the court could look to costs if raised in inappropriate cases. Consequently, I believe that the risk of additional delay is manageable.
I remain confident that the clause strikes a fair and sensible balance between limiting the potential for the abuse of judicial review and protecting its vital role as a check on public authorities, and that it preserves an appropriate balance in practice between the legislature and the judiciary.
Let me conclude. I understand why there is nervousness when a Government seek to change, however modestly, the law in relation to judicial review. This is by no means the first Government to find, from time to time, judicial review a little irksome. That is of course no reason for emasculating the law on judicial review. Let me be clear: the Government’s reforms do not do that. I understand also that lawyers are protective of this area of the law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, said, it has been created, not by Parliament but by lawyers and judges. However, it is important that the law in this area should not result in an impression that it is created not only by lawyers but for lawyers. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said in Committee that Governments do not like losing cases and that in the immediate aftermath of doing so tend to mutter darkly about the iniquities of judicial review. Then, he said, they calm down. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, from whom the House was very glad to hear, made a similar contribution. A degree of annoyance is understandable.
However, I suggest that calm is the right response to these modest reforms, just as it is when the Government have calmed down after losing a judicial review. It is important that Governments do lose cases. I recently returned from Kyrgyzstan, where I lectured a group of students who were astonished when I told them that the Government in this country regularly lose cases.
I respectfully ask the House that when approaching these modest reforms it adopts a measured approach, notwithstanding the powerful speeches that have been made today, and see these provisions for what they really are: a sensible adjustment to the existing law, not an attack on the rule of law.
During the course of the debate there has quite rightly been frequent reference to the late Lord Bingham’s book, The Rule of Law. In it, there was discussion about the prevailing constitutional principle; whether it is indeed the sovereignty of Parliament, as most of us would have it, or whether there is some new basis—namely, the rule of law referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Steyn. The late Lord Bingham certainly favoured parliamentary sovereignty being the governing principle.
Be that as it may, judicial review should coexist with the right of Parliament to legislate. Nothing about these reforms undermines that. I therefore ask noble Lords and noble and learned Lords to consider carefully the significance of this outright attack on a government Bill and ask the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this fascinating debate. Clause 70 has been defended by the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Tebbit, and by the Minister, whom I thank for his very full response to these amendments, on the basis that there is too much judicial review, it takes too long and is too expensive, and that something needs to be done about it. However, as so many of your Lordships have explained this afternoon, that fails to recognise the threat that Clause 70 poses to the rule of law. As we have heard, that is not something, as the Minister was suggesting, that only lawyers are concerned about.
For my part, I am perfectly prepared to accept greater powers for the courts to throw out abusive cases. I am happy that we should speed up the legal process and make it less expensive. My concern is that Clause 70 is a blunt instrument. It would impose a duty on the judge to dismiss cases which raise issues of public and legal importance. That is why Amendment 146 proposes that Clause 70 should confer a discretion rather than impose a duty; the Minister repeatedly referred to a “fair balance”, and that is a fair balance.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said this afternoon, if the judge is to do justice in this important and sensitive context, he or she must retain a discretion so that judges can continue to decide issues of great public importance. That is what is at stake here. Should an Act of Parliament say that the judge has no power to rule that a governmental exercise of power is unlawful? With all due respect to the Minister, that is not a modest reform. I invite your Lordships to retain judicial discretion. The Minister spoke of mutual respect between Parliament and the courts. I think that mutual respect is best maintained by writing judicial discretion into Clause 70.
I am sorry that the Minister should suggest today that this House performing its vital role of scrutiny of the Bill by retaining judicial discretion is somehow an inappropriate challenge to the elected House. It is nothing of the sort.
Amendment 146A not moved.
147: Clause 70, page 67, line 32, leave out “not” and insert “decline to”
Amendment 147 agreed.
Amendments 147A to 148A not moved.
149: Clause 70, page 68, line 4, leave out “must” and insert “may”
Amendment 149 agreed.
Amendments 149A to 150A not moved.
Amendments 151 and 152
151: Clause 70, page 68, line 7, leave out “must” and insert “may”
152: Clause 70, page 68, line 27, leave out “must” and insert “may”
Amendments 151 and 152 agreed.
Amendments 152A to 153A not moved.
154: Clause 70, page 68, line 34, leave out “must” and insert “may”
Amendment 154 agreed.
Amendment 155 not moved.
Clause 71: Provision of information about financial resources
156: Clause 71, page 69, line 5, leave out from “specified” to end of line 6 and insert “by the Secretary of State in regulations”
Amendment 156 not moved.
157: Clause 71, page 69, line 6, after “paragraph” insert “, or, notwithstanding a failure to do so, the court in its discretion considers that it is nevertheless appropriate to grant the applicant leave to make the application for judicial review”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 157 to 163. Clause 71 requires the provision of information about financial resources in judicial review claims. Clause 72 will regulate the use of information about financial resources on the assessment of costs in judicial reviews. The position is that the Government are seeking to impose duties on applicants for judicial review to provide information about financial resources when no such duties are imposed on claimants in other forms of civil litigation. I am aware of no general evidence of any mischief which these clauses are designed to remedy. They will have a severely inhibiting effect on judicial review applications.
If a claimant is able to demonstrate that they have a properly arguable case on the merits and they satisfy other requirements such as standing and time limits, they should not be further obstructed and deterred by complex requirements to disclose financial information. Even if there were a problem which needed to be addressed, I am concerned that Clauses 71 and 72 again, like Clause 70 on which the House has just expressed its view, are drafted in terms of judicial duties rather than conferring a discretion on the judge which would enable him or her to have regard to the circumstances of the individual case. Amendments 157, 158 and 160 would replace judicial duties with a judicial discretion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support these amendments. First, I declare an interest as the honorary president and a former director of the Child Poverty Action Group. It is an organisation which helped to pioneer the use of judicial review for the marginalised citizens about whom we heard in debating the previous amendment, thus emphasising that we are talking about not just the interests of lawyers but the interests of some of the most deprived, marginalised citizens of our country. I speak also as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I remind your Lordships’ House that in the first of our two reports on our grave concern about the human rights implications of these changes, we said:
“We therefore do not consider the Government to have demonstrated by clear evidence that … judicial review has ‘expanded massively’ in recent years as the Lord Chancellor claims, that there are real abuses of the process taking place, or that the current powers of the courts to deal with such abuse are inadequate”,
notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Horam, said with regard to the previous amendment. I have reread our debates on this issue and I have read all the briefing that we have received. I can only come to the conclusion that the provisions in Part 4 are a series of highly imperfect solutions looking for a problem—a problem that no one else can see.
As regards Amendment 157, in Committee I raised the concerns of NGOs. I said that they warn of,
“the chilling or deterrent effect of these clauses, which appear to mean that people who are not directly party to the proceedings but who have supported an applicant could be held liable for costs”.—[Official Report, 30/7/14; col. 1601.]
Michael Spencer, solicitor for the Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“If individuals or groups fundraise or seek donations to help bring their case, the financial clauses of the Bill will put their donors and funders at risk too”.
The Minister responded quite fully to my concerns and fears. He said that,
“we do not believe that the provisions would affect the common law position concerning when costs would be awarded against a party … These clauses should not cause anyone to pay costs who would not do so under the current law, except those who should but of whom the court is unaware. I hope that will allay, to some extent, the fears that some have about making challenges to a school or some other small project, which they might reasonably hope would be the subject of a judicial review”.—[Official Report, 30/7/14; col. 1612.]
However, I fear that the concerns and worries of groups outside this House have not been allayed. As the most recent briefing from this very wide group of NGOs, which represents a wide range of lawyer and non-lawyer interests in this area, still raises concerns, I discussed with Justice why it was still worried about this, despite the reassuring words that the noble Lord gave us in Committee. Justice said:
“While the Minister’s assurance is welcome, as the Minister explains, he cannot predict how the courts will respond to the change in position proposed by the statute. Similarly, Parliament cannot have a full picture of the rules which the court will be applying, as the Bill provides for the detail of the change to be in the rules to be set down by the rules committee. Yet, there is nothing in the Bill which would send a message to the courts that they should not depart from their previous approach to the allocation of costs. If the Government doesn’t intend to change the position in the common law, the question is: ‘Why not make that clear on the face of the Bill?’. Instead, by leaving the ambiguity in place, and creating a clean statutory slate of instructions for the courts, Ministers are creating a real risk that individuals will be deterred from litigating while the costs risk is ascertained. As and until the position is clear, individual solicitors will be unable to advise their clients on the likely costs risk, if any. Caution will be required. The breadth of the disclosure requirement in Clause 71 makes this chilling and deterrent effect particularly dangerous”.
I will not go on but there is a real danger here that I hope we in this House will prevent happening.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 157 for the reasons already given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. There are indeed currently real perils in Clause 71 in the way of the chilling effect that it must inevitably have. In Committee on 30 July, as reported at col. 1607, in relation to what was then Clause 65 and is now Clause 71, the Minister twice said that the senior judiciary welcomed this provision. I was troubled by that and looked at the response of the senior judiciary of last November. I hope that I have the right document and that I have isolated the right paragraphs; that is, paragraphs 34 and 38. I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, They suggest that, in certain circumstances, there should be mandatory disclosure of financial circumstances. As I read that response—and I am unsurprised by this—the important point is that it refers only to when determining whether to make a protective costs order or when questioning,
“whether to make a costs order against a non-party”.
Those are not routine events, and they would not require, as the clause as it stands does, a disclosure of financial resources on all applications. If I am wrong about that the Minister will correct me, but if I am right, with respect, that wholly deprives him of the support on which he rested in Committee: the senior judiciary’s response.
My Lords, I simply do not accept that it is right that a requirement for financial disclosure should be imposed before the permission stage in a judicial review application. The time for considering such information is when the order for costs is considered, and not before. At the costs stage—the stage with which Clause 72 is concerned—it is clear which side has won, and the judge knows who is and who is not vulnerable to a costs order. Only at that stage is the issue of financial support relevant, and at that stage the present position is that the judge already has the power to make a costs order against a non-party who has financially supported an unmeritorious application. There is no utility in expanding or developing that power further. But if there is to be legislation, I urge the House to accept that it should be left to the discretion of the judge as to what order for costs he makes. There may be some sense, however, in legislating for the court at that stage to have the power to require financial information in order to help the judge form a conclusion. That is the limited purpose of my amendments to Clause 72. With your Lordships’ consent, I shall detain the House no further.
My Lords, those of your Lordships who were present in Committee will remember that I read out a substantial section of a book by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in which he described what I understood to be the use of judicial review as a means of frustrating a government policy that had been passed by Parliament. I shall not repeat the detail now; it is in the book and I have put it on the record here. The problem on which the noble Lord focuses in that passage is that the arrangements made for pursuing this policy involved looking round for somebody who could be a legally aided litigant, and would therefore be provided with legal aid and also protected against costs in the event of his losing. The full detail is given in those passages.
It seems to me that some mechanism is required to enable the judges to deal with such points as part of the decision on whether permission will be granted to a particular individual to proceed. So far as I am concerned, judicial discretion in this area would be perfectly reasonable and, as has been said earlier, rules of court would be required to deal with it. There is definitely a problem here that needs to be dealt with at the opening stage of the proceedings in order that justice may be done in relation to that kind of campaign, which I have no reason to doubt is accurately described by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whom I am sure your Lordships know and respect.
My Lords, my experience of protective costs orders arises from the Corner House case. Corner House was a tiny NGO with almost no money and it was challenging the lack of proper consultation when the export credit guarantee issues arose in relation to possible corruption. My recollection is that the Court of Appeal developed at common law the idea of a protective costs order, but it was extremely careful to limit that so that anyone with real funds would have to account at the earlier stage before such an order would be made.
I have not been aware, in subsequent case law since the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Corner House case, of protective costs orders being abused. My impression is that the courts have been strict, disciplined and very jealous of the need to avoid any waste of public money. Therefore, although I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that there may be some scope for rule-making, I do not believe that there is any need for a statutory requirement such as the one we are now considering.
My Lords, the Opposition will support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. It seems to me quite possible, within the framework of that amendment, to proceed along the lines mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
My Lords, Clauses 71 and 72 are about transparency. They require an applicant for judicial review to provide, with their application, information on funding for their case and that the court considers this information when exercising discretion to order costs. It is important to emphasise that, while permission will not be granted until information has been provided, there is no question of preventing permission if the applicant’s funding is insufficient, and the judiciary continue to have complete discretion in relation to the making of costs orders against third parties disclosed in that information.
Requiring the applicant to provide this information to the court will give the court the information necessary to achieve flexibility in apportioning costs fairly, and to prevent a third party from using a front man or shell company to shield themselves from incurring their share of costs. Your Lordships have heard that there is a potential problem, and although it is not always easy to know what the situation is, this provision should enable the courts to make their decision based on evidence. We say that the judges do not always have all the relevant information available or presented to them, which has the potential to hinder their ability to order costs in a just and equitable manner.
Amendments 157 and 158 would stop the provision of information about financial resources being mandatory, allowing for permission to be granted where no information has been provided but permission is “nevertheless appropriate”—which is undefined. The Government consider this unnecessary, as the clause does not stop permission being granted if insufficient finances are available. It requires only that the court should be provided with an accurate picture. The court still has discretion.
The clauses will not require onerous or invasive information from applicants, and the information requested should always be information that the applicant would have, even if they did not have funding at that stage. The clauses are designed to promote transparency in court proceedings, not to provide for a time-consuming forensic examination of an individual’s financial affairs.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has not moved Amendment 156. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and Amendment 162, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, seek to change when the court should have regard to funding information, and what that information should be. My understanding is that they rely on Clause 71 being removed from the Bill and set out the power for the court to require the applicant to provide certain information about funding when the court is determining, or intends to determine, costs. They also limit the information to sources of funding that are actually available to the applicant, rather than sources that are likely to be available, and rather than looking at the applicant’s ability to fund the judicial review generally, the information would be limited to how the applicant would meet the other side’s costs.
Amendment 161A would mean that those who are likely to fund and drive litigation could escape the appropriate costs liability simply by not promising to provide the support. Amendments 160 and 161 seek to instate a position where the court need not consider financial information provided by the applicant, even if it considers it appropriate. In my view, these amendments are unnecessary and defeat the point of Clause 71 in making sure that the court has clear and transparent information early in proceedings.
The key to Clauses 71 and 72 is they do not create new cost liabilities for claimants, nor does the sufficiency of funding they demonstrate have an impact on the progression of the case. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the courts would not be expected to make an award against a third party who was simply funding the litigation and not seeking substantially to control, influence or benefit from it. I said words to that effect in Committee; I say them again now, and I hope those words will be useful when anyone comes to interpret this provision should it become law. It is clear that the applicable case law requires more than only funding; as in the case law referred to by my noble friend Lord Lester, the person must be seeking to drive the litigation or to benefit from a potential remedy in the case. I should emphasise that.
Under those principles, costs awards are not prescriptive, nor is it our intention that they should be. We are simply allowing the court to make decisions with the appropriate information available to it. For example, the court will not have to make an award against a parent in a school challenge case and would not be expected to do so. We do not agree with Amendment 162 that prospective funding or the ability of company members to provide financial support can be excluded from this consideration, nor do we agree that the court should consider only those who have promised to provide funding. In our view, that creates an easily avoidable threshold.
We also do not agree that this information should be provided only on the making of an order by the court, as stated in Amendment 159B. There is no reason why the court should not be informed of the parties driving litigation early on in proceedings, as this would enable the judge to make decisions on costs without having to order the parties to provide information. Essentially this amendment seeks to favour the opaque, rather than the transparent. What information an applicant should provide will be set out in court rules. The rules will not require invasive financial information but will require the claimant to be clear about the sources of their funding. It will be perfectly acceptable to update the court if funding does not materialise; that was a point made in Committee and I would like to make that clear. The requirements will not be burdensome for claimants. The Government have on many occasions stated that they wish to see a light-touch approach, and I am sure that any rules will be fair and proportionate to the court’s need for transparency.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, made reference to the judiciary’s response. I am sure he has read carefully what it is and I am in no position to contradict it. My understanding was that the judiciary had welcomed transparency, although, having revisited what I said in Committee, I did not seek to rely specifically on that as the only basis for this argument. He may well be right that the comments were directed more at non-parties than in the situation of an applicant. If I inadvertently misled Parliament, I make it absolutely clear that that was not my intention.
The requirement for transparency is wholly understandable and wholly consistent with judges making decisions on the best possible information. The question is: is this going to be chilling? I suggest that it will not be chilling to those who have good reasons for bringing claims and who are, as one would expect, open and frank about what, in financial terms, is driving the challenge.
This has been a useful debate and I hope it has enabled me to be clear about what lies behind Clauses 71 and 72 and to allay any remaining concerns. The Government take the view that these clauses do not take away the judge’s discretion. As is always the case, he or she will make the decision on the basis of the facts of each case. These clauses enable the judge to have better information before exercising the discretion. No judge wants to exercise a discretion in the absence of all the information that could reasonably be made available to them. It is not obvious to me why this is as objectionable as it is said. With that reassurance, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the purpose of Amendments 157, 158, 160 and 161, which are all of a piece, is simply to ensure that the court has a discretion rather than a duty in relation to information about the funding of judicial review. It is very important to be clear in the Bill that the court retains a discretion in relation to these matters. That is what these amendments seek to do in relation to funding issues. I wish to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 157.
158: Clause 71, page 69, line 28, after “paragraph” insert “, or, notwithstanding a failure to do so, the tribunal in its discretion considers that it is nevertheless appropriate to grant the applicant permission or leave to apply for relief”
Amendment 158 agreed.
Amendments 159 not moved.
Clause 72: Use of information about financial resources
Amendments 159A and 159B not moved.
160: Clause 72, page 69, line 44, leave out “must” and insert “may”
Amendment 160 agreed.
Amendment 160A not moved.
161: Clause 72, page 70, line 3, leave out “must” and insert “may”
Amendment 161 agreed.
Amendments 161A to 163 not moved.
Clause 73: Interveners and costs
164: Clause 73, page 70, line 21, leave out subsections (2) to (6) and insert—
“( ) The High Court and the Court of Appeal shall have a discretion whether to order an intervener to pay the costs of a relevant party to the proceedings, and shall have a discretion whether to order a relevant party to the proceedings to pay the intervener’s costs.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 165. Your Lordships now turn to Clause 73, which concerns the costs of interveners in judicial review proceedings. Your Lordships will know that often in judicial review cases the court allows a person or body to intervene because they have knowledge or experience which may assist it in resolving the legal issues. Clause 73 states that interveners may not receive their costs other than in “exceptional circumstances”, and it adds—this is my concern—that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, an intervener must pay any costs that have been incurred by a party as a result of that intervention.
I cannot understand why such a provision is necessary or appropriate. The current legal position is clear and fair: the court has discretion over whether to order a party to the judicial review to pay the intervener’s costs or whether to order the intervener to pay costs to a party. Clause 73 is manifestly unfair. It will create a strong presumption that the intervener must pay costs, even if the intervention is helpful to the court in raising points that assist it in arriving at its substantive judgment. The Minister may say that the intervener can resist paying costs on the basis that there are “exceptional circumstances”, but there is nothing exceptional about the intervener assisting the court: it happens every week in judicial review cases. In any event, if there is a statutory presumption, rebuttable only by showing exceptional circumstances, that the intervener must pay the costs, public interest bodies will be far less likely to intervene. The courts will be denied assistance from those public interest bodies, which will be greatly to the public detriment and greatly to the detriment of the legal system, whether the intervention is from Liberty, the GMC, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or, indeed, the Home Secretary—because a number of interventions in judicial review cases are made by government departments. None of this makes any sense whatever.
Amendment 164 would provide that it is a matter for the discretion of the court whether to order costs to be paid by or to an intervener. I commend that amendment to the House. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. It is a feature of Clause 73, as I am sure the Minister will have noticed, that it does not mention the Supreme Court—one should be thankful for small mercies—but it creates a very unbalanced situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has explained, interventions are extremely helpful. Nobody has a right to intervene—courts at every level give permission if they are persuaded that the intervention would be of use to them—so that I cannot see that there is any compelling reason for turning interveners away. The court values them, and certainly, from the point of view of the Supreme Court, in my experience where we allow an intervention we derive benefit from it.
The regime that the clause seeks to create seems rather unbalanced. From the Supreme Court’s point of view, as we are a court of appeal, it would much rather, I am sure, that those who had a point to make were able to make it at the Court of Appeal level if not at the level of the High Court. While I welcome the absence of the Supreme Court from this clause, it adds to my feeling that there is something wrong about it. Given that the intervener has no right to intervene and that the courts are perfectly capable of controlling the volume of intervention and the time taken by interveners, which the Supreme Court does regularly, I cannot see any value in the reform, if one can call it that, that the clause seeks to bring about.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to find myself speaking after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—not for the first time. I am very worried about a particular aspect of the provisions we are considering today; namely, their impact on children. That is thrown into sharp relief by Clause 73, which requires that interveners pay the costs of their intervention in the circumstances outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, save for those which are “exceptional”.
We had a briefing here, which a number of noble Lords may have attended, from a number of children’s organisations representing children and manifesting their concern for the rights of children. The points that they made were extremely powerful, and I am glad to have the opportunity of raising them in this debate.
Following cuts to legal aid, children are increasingly forced to face court proceedings without a lawyer. In these circumstances, litigation brought by charities, NGOs and children’s rights organisations in the public interest is ever more important. Equally, in the new environment where they are increasingly faced by litigants in person, the courts increasingly value the contribution of third-party interveners providing expert advice to assist them on specific points of law and fact, including points on what is in the children’s best interests.
As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, said in a speech that she gave to the Public Law Project conference in October 2013:
“Once a matter is in court, the more important the subject, the more difficult the issues, the more help we need to try and get the right answer … interventions are enormously helpful”.
That is the testimony of a justice of the Supreme Court. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out, the noble and learned Baroness will not necessarily be deprived of such interventions in the Supreme Court, but I am sure that she was referring also to the value of interventions in lower courts.
Children and young people are disproportionately affected by the legal aid changes. They are often powerless to prevent the circumstances that give rise to the legal problems for which they seek resolution, such as homelessness, and they certainly cannot assert their rights without the help of a lawyer. They are either forced to fend for themselves as litigants in person without the skills to do so, have their problems inappropriately channelled to overstretched and inadequate complaints procedures, or have them go unresolved altogether.
The effect of the proposals about which we are talking today will be to inhibit legitimate challenge, limit judicial discretion to act in the public interest and shield public agencies from effective scrutiny. Despite what the Minister said earlier, it is difficult to escape the feeling that these provisions curtailing the scope of judicial review are animated by a belief that applications for judicial review are somehow vexatious. However, consider the sort of cases that we are talking about—cases where highly vulnerable children and young people seek protection from abuse and exploitation. Those affected include homeless children and young people; children who have been sexually exploited or abused—how salient is that today?—trafficked children; those with mental health problems and learning difficulties; children in care, care leavers and children affected by care proceedings; and young refugees and asylum seekers. The changes we are considering will inevitably have a chilling effect on charities and other organisations that seek to protect children’s rights through court action in the sort of cases I have mentioned. I urge noble Lords to support the amendments, which would negate these provisions, Clause 73 specifically.
My Lords, I wish to make a couple of points in addition in support of the amendment. My personal experience in cases has been that third-party interveners in judicial review proceedings perform a vital task in enabling the judicial review court, if it so wishes, to open its windows on to a wider range of considerations. We are not dealing with a dispute between two civil parties. We are dealing, as has been said, with judicial review designed in the public interest to resolve questions of public law. One such case has been implicitly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—the case in which the High Commissioner for Refugees intervened in a difficult point about the proper construction of the refugee convention read with our other provisions. The court found it extremely valuable and it enabled the court, led by Lord Bingham, to give an authoritative ruling on what were novel issues about the refugee convention.
Another case was from Northern Ireland. One of the strange things about the Bill, which I hope the Minister will deal with in his reply, is that this provision does not apply to Northern Ireland or Scotland. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had to struggle for some years to have a right of audience at all and to be able to make third-party interventions. Members of the House will remember that a couple of years ago, the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland wanted to commit Peter Hain for scandalising the judiciary by daring in his memoirs to criticise the Northern Ireland High Court judge. The Attorney-General applied to commit for contempt. I was instructed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to make a third-party intervention. I like to think that the result of that written submission is what caused the Attorney-General to drop the whole idea, as he did.
Unless I am completely wrong, we are now in the curious position that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be able, with its very limited budget, to be a third-party intervener without this costs effect, whereas the Equality and Human Rights Commission, for example, with its limited budget, will not be in the same position. That seems arbitrary and it will make it harder for our senior judiciary to be helped by third parties, which is the whole object of the third-party intervention.
Another example from the distant past concerned privacy in relation to the disclosure of patients’ medical information in the Court of Appeal. I seem to remember that a third-party intervention in that case was absolutely crucial. It is vital that small NGOs and ordinary citizens who have something to contribute, if the court decides that it wants to hear from them or read their written submissions, should be able to do so without the threat of costs orders being made against them.
My Lords, I wish to add my support for the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Pannick. This provision will, indeed, deter interventions from organisations with limited resources—organisations, as my noble friend Lord Low suggested, that are likely to have the best and most pertinent expertise about the more vulnerable sectors of our society: children, disabled people, elderly people. Judges have publicly recognised the value of specialist knowledge in helping them to make informed decisions, as demonstrated by my examples in Committee. I had the privilege to be involved in interventions in two landmark cases where my organisation and individual knowledge could contribute to the outcome, which everybody heralded as a great success. I know that the Government’s reforms would have deterred me and my organisation from intervening. I believe that cases will be very poor for that.
It is critical that intervention remains readily available and that we do not deter weak charities and individuals who are quite sceptical about getting involved at all. Let us face it, intervening in a High Court case is a scary prospect. I know because I remember I was terrified. Therefore, I believe that these provisions will have a devastating effect, particularly on the community that I know best, disabled people—the very people who need the most support, protection and expert advice, coming from maybe some of the people who know them best and who have themselves experienced what they might have been going through or might go through. Clause 73 cannot be allowed to stand because there will be no interventions of such knowledge and value—interventions that have literally changed the lives of some disabled individuals and interventions that will change the lives of those who come before the courts in the future.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on interveners. The position is that any person may apply to the court to give evidence or make representations in judicial review proceedings. However, we think it is right that people who intervene in judicial reviews should have a fairer financial stake in the case and do so in a way that does not cause the true parties to the judicial review additional costs.
Clause 73 aims to strengthen the costs rules in relation to third parties who voluntarily apply to join in judicial review cases as interveners. It does this by establishing two presumptions: first, that the court will order an intervener to pay their own costs—that is normally the position now; secondly, that it will order an intervener to pay the reasonable costs that they cause a party to the judicial review to incur by their intervention. However, neither would apply where, in the view of the court, there are exceptional circumstances making it appropriate for that presumption to be rebutted. Neither presumption will apply when the court invites an intervention—and courts do quite often invite interventions. The clause will not affect the judge’s ability to invite whichever interventions, from whichever interveners, he or she sees fit.
The clause has been subject to significant debate and, as I said at Second Reading and in Committee in this place, and as my honourable friend Shailesh Vara said in the other place, the Government wanted to look again at how best to ensure that interveners consider carefully the costs implications of intervening, while not deterring appropriate interventions in appropriate cases, and, as a result, whether any changes to the clause were required. We have taken into account the views expressed in this House and the other place. The Government have listened to the concerns raised in Parliament and by stakeholders but consider that the current clause is right and are not persuaded that amendment is needed. The Government have considered and discussed the clause in some detail. I know that my ministerial colleagues have also discussed it with fellow Peers. I regret to say that we have been unable to agree an alternative formulation. The Government recognise that interveners can add value to a case and we do not want to stop that. However, interventions should be made in the right cases after careful consideration beforehand. That means that interveners should have a fair financial stake in the case.
Let me answer two of the questions that emerged from our debate. Do the courts get help from interveners? Indeed, can they not provide valuable assistance in some cases? The answer to both questions is emphatically yes. I should declare an interest as having appeared as counsel in a number of cases in which there have been interveners; on one occasion, I have acted for an intervener. I do not think there is any doubt that the number of interventions has increased. Sir Henry Brooke, a former Court of Appeal judge with particular knowledge of the civil procedure rules, said in 2005:
which was, incidentally, the date of the creation of the Administrative Court—
“there has been a noticeable increase in the number of interventions in judicial review and other proceedings in the Administrative Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords”.
The main criterion for an intervention ought to be whether would-be interveners through their expertise are likely to be able to assist the court in understanding either the legal issues in question or the factual basis of the claim. Interventions should not be the routine response of a body generally interested in the area of law concerned or to use up an annual budget. Nor should interveners duplicate the arguments of a true party to a judicial review or simply act as a cheerleader for one party or another.
One problem that an intervention may cause is its scale. Permission may be granted on the basis of what the then judge thinks would be a modest intervention. What can follow is often a very lengthy skeleton argument and lever-arch files full of authorities. Both true parties to a judicial review are then put to the time and expense of trying to prepare a response. They cannot simply assume that the judge at the hearing—rarely the same judge who gave the permission—will simply cut off or limit the intervention; although many do their very best to do so.
Lord Hoffmann in E (A Child) v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, 2009, AC 536, said:
“An intervention is however of no assistance if it merely repeats points which the appellant or respondent has already made. An intervener will have had sight of their printed cases and, if it has nothing to add, should not add anything. It is not the role of an intervener to be an additional counsel for one of the parties”.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, correctly pointed out, we do not by the provisions purport to tell the Supreme Court how to organise its affairs, but I suggest that the point that Lord Hoffmann makes can find resonance across both the Court of Appeal and first-instance cases. Why should there be any difference between the Supreme Court and judges of the lower tier? Perhaps there is this distinction—apart, of course, from the great respect that the Government have for the Supreme Court and its ability to organise its hearings and what it decides to rely on. By definition, a case that has reached the Supreme Court has been acknowledged as one of great public importance. The same is not always the case in cases of first instance or at the Court of Appeal.
We need to control the costs of judicial review, which are sometimes caused by interventions. We make no apology for trying to encourage potential interveners to think carefully about whether they can truly add anything new. The Government have listened to concerns, including that the clause is too broad or means that an intervener could be asked to pay the costs of the losing side. However, we consider that the scope of the clause and the safeguards built into it present a sensible approach. The court will be asked to consider making a costs order against an intervener only on application by a party, not in each and every case where an intervener is involved. It may be that in suitable cases, the parties agree with the potential intervener that they will not apply for costs against it. Even if the parties make an application, the court will retain discretion not to order costs where it considers that there are exceptional circumstances that make it inappropriate to do so.
It is important also to emphasise that the judge will have discretion over both aspects: causation and quantum. That will ensure that the parties will continue to carry a costs risk, helping to ensure that they do not engage the most costly legal advice available to deal with points that do not truly merit that level of expertise.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I am listening very carefully. The tiny bit that I do not understand is why the judge should not have discretion to decide whether the case merits payment of costs or not. The discretion is very bound, because he has to maintain that these are exceptional circumstances. I find that difficult. Why cannot he be given the right to say, “In this case, they ought to pay because they have been in one way or another negligent”, or have overcharged, and in another case that they should not? Why cannot we leave it to the judge? It is his court and he should make the decision.
My Lords, of course that is the burden of the argument in favour of the amendment, and that is the current situation. The clause is intended to place a higher burden—we accept that it is a higher burden—on interveners to think carefully about the intervention that they intend to make as to whether it is truly worth while.
Before my noble friend’s intervention, I was stressing that the judge has discretion over both aspects: causation and quantum. The intervention may have caused only a degree of additional costs, rather than the entire costs of the action, which will modify the intervener’s exposure to costs. That will be a matter for the discretion of the judge. Of course, it is ultimately up to the judge to decide what are exceptional cases. Judges have different views as to what constitutes an exceptional case, but ultimately it is for the judge. It is very rare, if at all, that one sees appeals on questions of costs having any success. Amendment 164 would remove both presumptions that the clause creates, replacing it with a general discretion, which my noble friend would like, for the court to award costs either for the intervener against a party or to require the intervener to pay the parties’ costs. That is the status quo.
Clause 73 has been criticised for being too broad and meaning that interveners could be expected to pay costs in any circumstances. Critics have said that that means that an intervener would not be able to intervene in important cases and provide assistance to the court, as the risk of adverse costs is too unclear and potentially too great. Under Clause 73, what amounts to exceptional circumstances will ultimately be set out in court rules. That will provide clarity for an intervener at the point where they are considering whether to intervene on the manner in which they should carry out their intervention or risk costs.
Clause 73 does not mean that in every case where an intervener is involved they will be forced to pay all the costs of all of the parties, but it is right that they have a fairer financial stake. All those with experience will confirm that, just as interveners can add value, they can delay and hinder and make arguments that simply amplify or repeat—
I am grateful to the Minister, and I apologise for intervening at this late stage, but I do not understand from his reply how he can cite cost saving as a justification for giving detailed instructions to the courts about matters that are well within their discretion. Nor do I understand why a different rule should apply to the Supreme Court from that applied in others or in Northern Ireland from that applied in England and Wales.
I think that I have answered my noble friend’s point on the difference between the Supreme Court and the courts at a lower level. On costs, as I said, with this clause we hope to deter inappropriate interventions and also to make interveners think about the scale of their intervention so as to reduce the costs for all parties, whether applicants or respondents, and to ensure that those interventions are relevant and genuinely assist the court.
These clauses apply to judicial review in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal jurisdiction on this question because it is devolved, but of course if they intervene in a court in England and Wales that would be a different matter.
Interveners can also, as I think is accepted, make arguments that go beyond what is necessary. The changes that Clause 73 introduces reflect the Government’s intention of ensuring that they do so in an appropriate manner. We submit that the overall effect of the clause, while not drastic, will reduce the number of cases—and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says that there are very many cases where interventions take place—in which the taxpayer is expected to shoulder the burden.
That is what Clause 73 does and why the Government, having considered the issues, are of the view that the provision represents a sensible, workable and balanced position that takes proper account of the role of the judiciary, which will remain at the centre of this issue. Therefore, having provided an explanation of the Government’s thinking, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment, and I commend Clause 73 to the House.
I am grateful to the Minister and to all noble Lords who have spoken. This short debate has, I think, illuminated and emphasised just how bizarre Clause 73 is, because there is no dispute that interventions by third parties at all levels of judicial review assist the court by the provision of information. That is simply not in dispute.
There is also no dispute that interventions by third parties are already under the control of the court. They are under the control of the court as to whether they are allowed, on what grounds, and with what consequences on costs, having regard to the issues in the case. It is true, as the Minister says, that there have been more interventions in recent years, but that is only because courts find them helpful and have allowed third parties to intervene. If interveners act inappropriately —and I am not aware of any cases where this has occurred, with the exception of one possible case in the Appellate Committee, which, as it is now the Supreme Court, would not be covered by this provision in any event—the judge has ample power, at present, to order the payment of costs. That point was correctly made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who also rightly referred to the limited scope of the exceptional circumstances provision. The problem is that there is nothing exceptional about interveners assisting the court. That is what they normally do.
When an expert body is deciding whether to intervene and assist the court, it will know, if Clause 73 is enacted in its present form, that there is a strong presumption that it must pay the costs. The inevitable consequence is that it is unlikely to intervene. This will not achieve the Minister’s policy aim of, as he said, deterring inappropriate interventions; it will deter interventions, however helpful they may be to the court.
Clause 73 makes no sense whatever. It makes no sense, with great respect, to speak of a need to make interveners have a financial stake in the proceedings. The court has ample power to penalise them in costs. Amendment 164 will maintain judicial discretion in Clause 73, just as your Lordships have decided that judicial discretion should remain in Clauses 70, 71 and 72. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 165 not moved.
My Lords, in moving that further consideration on Report be now adjourned, and before those who are participating in the Bill depart from the Chamber, it may be helpful to confirm expectations of timings for the next items of business. The Leader of the House will shortly repeat a Statement on the EU Council. The dinner break business, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, will follow immediately after. I would urge noble Lords to monitor the business, as that for the dinner break is not time-limited. The Report stage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will therefore start immediately after the conclusion of the dinner break business at, very approximately, 8 pm.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, yesterday British forces concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan. I know that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the friends and families of every one of the 453 British soldiers who lost their lives in this long campaign. We will never forget their sacrifice for us. When al-Qaeda attacked the twin towers in 2001 it planned that attack from Afghanistan, operating freely under the Taliban regime. Our incredible service men and women have driven al-Qaeda out and they have built up and trained the Afghan forces, none of which even existed in 2001, so that the Afghans can take control of their own security. I said when I became Prime Minister that I would bring our combat troops home. Today, they are coming home and we should be incredibly proud of all that they have done to keep our country safe.
With permission, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council. Before turning to the issue of our contributions to the EU, let me first update the House on three significant agreements where the UK played an important role: on Ebola, on climate change and on the situation in Ukraine.
First, on Ebola, the world is facing one of the worst public health emergencies in a generation. Playing our part in halting the rise of this terrible disease is not just about meeting our moral obligations; it is also the single most effective way of preventing Ebola infecting people here in the United Kingdom. That is why Britain has been making such a major contribution to the international response, pledging more than £205 million, and sending troops and health workers to West Africa. However, it also means that Britain must use its influence to get other countries to step up their contributions, too.
Before the Council I wrote to all my fellow leaders, urging that we significantly step up our collective response. At the meeting, member states agreed to my proposal to more than double the EU effort by pledging more than €1 billion in assistance. The Council also agreed to increase the deployment of medical and support staff in the region and for member states to guarantee proper care for our courageous health workers.
Secondly, it is vital that Europe plays its part if we are to secure a global deal on climate change in Paris next year. One of the problems we have faced in the past is that instead of just setting a binding target on carbon emissions, the EU has set binding national targets on things such as renewables and energy efficiency. These diktats over how each country should reach its commitments can pile up costs on our industries, consumers and families who do not want to pay any more on their energy bills than they have to. They also create an unnecessary trade-off between cutting carbon emissions and promoting economic growth. At this Council, we have chosen a different path. We have reached a landmark commitment to deliver at least 40% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2030. We rejected any new binding national targets for renewables or energy efficiency, giving us full flexibility over how we reduce our carbon, allowing us to do so at the lowest possible costs for consumers and businesses. This is another example of where British leadership has helped the EU to step up and meet its international obligations, while at the same time protecting our national interest by keeping energy bills down for businesses and Britain’s hard-working families.
The Council also discussed the situation in Ukraine and relations with Russia. We welcomed the Minsk agreement between Kiev, Moscow and the separatists. However, the Council was also clear that much more must be done to implement that agreement before the EU should consider lifting any of the sanctions put in place in response to the conflict and in response to Russia’s actions. The Council welcomed the parliamentary elections that took place in Ukraine yesterday. It made clear that it would not recognise the outcome of any elections organised by the separatists outside the framework of Ukrainian law.
Let me turn to the issue over the UK’s contributions to the EU. I want to be clear with the House how the demand for the UK to repay money has come about and why the scale and timing of this demand is unacceptable. In an organisation like the EU, if your economy grows a little faster or a little slower, then there can be adjustments every year to the amount you pay. In some years the UK adjustment has been negative, as it was in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. In some years we contribute a little bit more. This happens every year. When the UK is growing at 3% a year, and many European economies are growing much more slowly, it would not be surprising to find Britain being asked to pay a little bit more this year. What has never happened is for €2 billion to be demanded. This represents around 20% of our net contribution to the EU last year. Member states collectively are being asked to pay almost four times the highest gross figure requested in recent years.
It is simply not acceptable for the EU to make these kinds of demands, and to do so through a fast-tracked process lasting barely a month. Two billion euros is bigger than many countries’ entire gross contributions. It cannot just be nodded through by the EU bureaucracy as some kind of technical adjustment. It is British taxpayers’ money and it is not small change—it is a vast sum. So this has to be examined in detail and discussed properly. That is why I interrupted the Council meeting on Friday to seek an urgent resolution to this issue. I was supported by the Prime Ministers of Italy, Holland, Malta, Greece, and others. The Council agreed that there would be an urgent discussion with Finance Ministers to resolve this issue going forwards.
It is not just about the scale of the money being demanded; it is also the timetable. The Commission admits that it does not actually need this—indeed, the President of the Commission was not even aware of it on Thursday evening. So there is no pressing need for the money to be paid. There are fundamental questions over the fairness of these payments. For example, the proposal is for funds to be taken from the UK to correct historic contributions to the EU budget dating back to 2002 and to be redistributed based on the current share of gross national income to countries which only joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. It is not just Britain that would lose out. It is perverse that a country such as Greece, at the heart of the crisis in the eurozone, is being asked to find money to pay back to countries like Germany. The revised gross national income statistics on which these adjustments are based are also not yet finalised. The numbers are a ‘provisional estimate’ and the EU-wide process to quality-assure the figures will not conclude until well into 2015. So Britain will not be paying €2 billion to anyone on 1 December, and we reject this scale of payment. We will be challenging this in every way possible. We want to check on the way that the statistics were arrived at and the methodology that was used. We will crawl through this in exhaustive detail.
The events at last week’s Council will not—to use some British understatement—have enhanced the reputation of the European Union in the United Kingdom. As the Italian Prime Minister put it, ‘Even the EU’s founding fathers would turn to Euroscepticism when faced with some of the things that you’ve seen see here’. The European Union has to change. It has to regain trust. That starts by understanding and respecting the fact that these payments and adjustments are about the hard-earned taxes of its citizens. This is just one of the many challenges in our long campaign to reform the European Union. It is vital that we stick to the task. We have already cut the EU budget, got Britain out of the bail-out schemes, vetoed a treaty that was not in our national interest, made vital progress on cutting red tape and completing the single market, and we are leading the push for what will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, between the EU and the US.
None of this is easy. Progress is hard-won. It requires perseverance and hard work. We will carry on defending our national interest and fighting with all we have to reform the EU over the coming years. At the end of 2017, it will not be the Brussels bureaucracy or the politicians of any party who will decide whether we remain in the European Union or not. If I am Prime Minister, it will be the British people who make that decision through an in/out referendum. Others who aspire to this office and who refuse to give the British people their say should explain themselves to this House and the country. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, for repeating the Statement given by the Prime Minister in the other place.
Let me begin by echoing the words of the Prime Minister about the contribution of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. On these Benches, as in the rest of the House, our thoughts are with those who have served our country and the families of those who have lost their lives. Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan will continue beyond the handover of Camp Bastion. We must continue to support the Afghan Government through both political and humanitarian aid as well as in our training mission. Every one of our troops who served in Afghanistan can take pride in both their mission and in what they achieved, and our whole country is proud of them. I also echo the Prime Minister’s words about Ukraine and support for its Government.
On climate change, we welcome the climate and energy package, paving the way for the global UN summit in Paris next year. What action will the Government be taking in the coming months to encourage other countries, particularly China and the US, to agree a more ambitious target, sending a clear leadership signal to all countries in advance of the summit next year? Specifically, why was the energy-saving goal watered down from the Commission’s recommendation of 30%? All opportunities must now be taken to strengthen these elements of the package over the coming months.
I turn briefly to the Ebola crisis in west Africa. The whole world has been horrified by the devastating scenes in West Africa, and our hearts go out to the communities that are confronting this threat on a daily basis. We welcome the UK’s efforts to help affected countries. We are proud of the work of our Armed Forces, our health professionals and our aid community. I welcome the fact that the Statement said that member states agreed to increase the deployment of medical and support staff in the region.
I turn to the EU budget change. The Commission’s handling of this matter has been cack-handed and unacceptable and, as the noble Baroness said, has caused consternation in a number of other member states. The urgent priority now is for the Government to pursue all diplomatic means to get the best deal for Britain. We are bound to wonder if they have done due diligence in their handling of what one might term a fiasco. The Prime Minister says that he was made aware of this matter only on 23 October, and the Chancellor said that he had no warning. However, that is simply not the case. These changes to the budget arise from changes to estimates of gross national income, or GNI. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the Office for National Statistics agreed to, and has been part of, the substantial and planned changes to GNI across Europe for the past two years, since 2012? Can she further confirm that the ONS stated publicly in May 2014 that these changes would impact on our budget contribution? It said in its press release:
“GNI … is used in the calculation of a Member State’s contribution to the EU budget”.
Clearly, the Treasury was aware of this. My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition quoted in another place from a letter from the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the right honourable Member for Loughborough, who wrote to the parliamentary committee on Europe a full seven months ago on 11 March. In her letter she said that changes to GNI were going to take place in time for 2014, and wrote about the high priority that the Government were giving to addressing them.
So these changes were planned for a number of years, the ONS publicly declared that they would impact on our budget contribution, and Ministers knew about them and claimed that they were a high priority. Are there any further budgetary adjustments coming down the line that will affect any amounts due or owing—adjustments that are currently not in the public domain? I think that we deserve to know.
It is hard to see how the Prime Minister can maintain his assertion that there was no warning and that Treasury Ministers knew nothing about these changes. Surely the Treasury must have made its own estimates of the impact on the EU budget that would follow. The reason why this matters is that in our view the Prime Minister could have done much earlier what he did at the last minute on Friday when he called for a meeting of Finance Ministers and entered negotiations about this demand. I think we would all be interested to know how he plans to go ahead and sort out this fine mess.
It is clear that the Prime Minister spends all his time negotiating with his party about Europe, when what he should be doing is negotiating with our partners in the rest of Europe about a reformed Europe and getting a better deal for the British people in the European Union. It is the British people who are paying the cost for the Prime Minister’s focus on his party rather than working in the best interests of the country.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her comments in response to mine on Afghanistan and Ukraine.
In starting my response to the points that she has made, it is important for me to make it clear that the Prime Minister played a leading role in Brussels last week on climate change and Ebola, two very important matters on the agenda at the Council meeting. He achieved very good results that were good for Europe and for the United Kingdom; they felt right and they felt fair. This is in stark contrast to the way in which the previous Government approached some of the negotiations on matters such as climate change in the past. The same cannot be said, though, in terms of it being right or fair, when we consider what happened on the EU budget surcharge.
Taking the questions that the noble Baroness put to me, and starting with climate change, the target of at least a 40% reduction in carbon emissions has been described as ambitious, but it is a very sensible one. The way that we are approaching this, in not having the subtargets as binding agreements on member states, is very important. However, we are now in the best possible position to push our international partners, such as America and China, to bring forward ambitious climate pledges to reach a global deal next year.
On Ebola, the noble Baroness was right to say that the Prime Minister succeeded in ensuring that we attracted a financial commitment from member states, so Europe as a whole now will be contributing €1 billion to fighting Ebola. However, it is not just about the money; we also got a commitment that other European member states will help with their healthcare workers and ensure that they travel to affected countries. This is something that we need to continue to apply pressure on and ensure that we all do our fair share in ensuring that Ebola is properly tackled out there in west Africa.
As far as the budget is concerned and the points that she made about the surcharge, I do not think that it is right to focus on who knew what and when. What people really care about is how much is being demanded and the fact that this amount is unprecedented in the level that is being sought by the EU. It is true to say that there is a process every year that is standard in calculating these contributions, but it has never led to the kind of demand that we have seen on this occasion. Importantly, with regard to the level that the UK is being asked to contribute, no member state will know what amount it is being required to contribute in terms of its net contribution until it is clear what amount the EU is going to return, having identified what the countries’ gross contributions are. It is the net contribution that is key in this context, and it is that net contribution that the Prime Minister has made clear is absolutely unacceptable. He has made it clear that the way in which the European Commission has behaved in going about this process is not right, and that is something that we will ensure is properly addressed in the way in which the Prime Minister has described today.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is quite acceptable for the EU to want to recalculate the basis for calculating gross national income? However, why does this tax have to become retrospective? Can she explain to us why this has to be a retrospective exercise? Why is it not just being taken forward from here, if we get the agreement of Ministers, with the tax applying in the future, not the past?
My Lords, I think we can all agree that the figures that have been produced need to be pored over in the greatest detail and justified, if they are justifiable. However, we have all read in recent days and weeks about the domestic changes that we have made to the calculation of GNI. I ask the Minister —as the Government seem to have been quite coy about this—whether, in the recalculation of GNI, we have included two service industries that have not been included previously, one of which is the illegal drugs trade and the other prostitution. If that is the case, what was their contribution to the increase in GNI and are we in fact the victims of our own success in boasting about the growth of GNI?
There is a lot of talk going on at the moment and many suggestions are being made. People are trying to complicate yet further something that is already incredibly complex. As the Prime Minister has been emphatic in saying, this is a standard process that happens on an annual basis. The UK expects to play its part in this process in the way it has done in the past. What has not happened before, but has happened this time, is this kind of demand being made at this sort of level. We need to understand the detail before we can go any further forward on this matter.
My Lords, I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on the drawdown from Afghanistan in offering our deepest support for the 453 men and women who gave their lives in that cause. I also say to the Minister that we must not forget the many thousands who have been injured and maimed and who continue to live. We must remember our obligation to them as well.
On the EU budget contribution, does the Minister agree that since these reservations, voiced by Eurostat, go back to 2002—indeed, I understand that there were six reservations—they would have been known about by the Labour Government in all the years since 2002, and that the statistics that needed to be looked at have not come out of the blue for either side? Will she tell the House whether the emergency Finance Ministers’ meeting on 7 November will hold bilateral discussions with the other eight states that are similarly affected in order to build a consensus that this cannot go down the route which the Prime Minister is resisting and which they are trying to make him take? Will she also tell the House whether I am right to say that the amount sought is 0.01% of GNI?
My noble friend is right to remind the House that in the context of Afghanistan we must also remember those Armed Forces personnel who were very badly injured through their service on our behalf in that country. I am grateful to her for reminding us of that.
On her point about bilateral conversations on 7 November, I do not have the detail about the way in which the meeting and the conversations are going to be constructed that day. However, it is important for us to be clear that other member states are affected by this and that they feel as strongly as we do. The Italian Prime Minister has it made clear, as he said when he was talking about the demands put on some member states by the surcharge, that this is not a figure but a lethal weapon. On my noble friend’s specific point, I may have to write to her if I am not able to give her an answer during the course of answering the Statement.
Will the Minister confirm that the GNP funding stream was invented here in London, was introduced 20 years ago and has worked extraordinarily well for this country in comparison to the old VAT-based stream? Will she also confirm that the reason the sums are large is that the refund to those who have overpaid is a multi-year refund, covering up to 20 years? Furthermore, will she confirm that for the United Kingdom to refuse to contribute to those who have overpaid would be illegal, unreasonable, unwise and unjust?
As I said in an earlier response, the Prime Minister is clear that this demand, and the scale of it, have come out of the blue without any proper preliminary discussions. We now have to consider it very carefully and in great detail, and that is what we are going to do.
My Lords, in all the hullabaloo about yet another £1.7 billion of our taxpayers’ money going down the drain in Brussels, I notice that the Statement fails to mention a brilliant new spending spree to which the Council agreed—a mere €300 billion over 2015 to 2017. However, the Council conclusions mention it on page 10, where it is referred to as the,
“Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change”.
Can the Minister tell us what the UK’s share will be of this new €300 billion and when we will pay it? Presumably we are looking at about another €30 billion or so over the next two years. Can she also tell us whether the Prime Minister was a party to this further lunacy or whether he was outvoted?
My Lords, is not the real and deeper lesson of this whole budgetary saga that the European Union administration is struggling to cope with a 20th century, highly centralised EU model in 21st century conditions that are completely different and in which these heavily centralised provisions no longer operate or are even necessary? Are the Minister and the Prime Minister not right to focus on the need for fundamental reform, such as many people throughout Europe, as well as many Governments, are calling for, and on winning the allies to build up a course for a better European Union that will fit 21st century conditions?
My noble friend is absolutely right. That is what the Prime Minister is seeking to do and he is attracting a great deal of support from other member states in reforming the European Union, because it is clear that that is what needs to happen.
My Lords, the Prime Minister is putting it about that there is nothing he could have said or done about this until he knew the full details, which happened only on Thursday, and the Minister has been trying to defend him on that basis. However, is that not complete and obvious nonsense? It has been known for many months that these negotiations were continuing between Eurostat and the ONS. Anybody half awake would have known that, even if the recorded growth discrepancies in any one year were fairly small, resolving the whole matter by a single payment could amount to paying a very considerable cash sum. All that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister had to do was simply to follow carefully, via the ONS, how the discussions were proceeding to see whether that danger was materialising. They monumentally failed to do that: they took their eyes completely off the ball and have no one but themselves to blame for the surprise that they found on Thursday and Friday.
I know that the noble Lord follows European matters quite closely but, from what he has just said, he is clearly not familiar with this process, which happens every year. Each country puts forward the calculations of its own measures and then the Commission has to look at each country’s submissions alongside one another. It then proposes what will be refunded in the light of that. No nation state will know the net payment until the last minute. That is why all of the nation states that were affected by this dramatic increase were as surprised as Mr Cameron.
Will the Minister not agree that it is sad that we should be welcoming, as I welcome, the three points on which the Council made great progress with British leadership—climate change, Ukraine and Ebola—but yet again we are caught up in one of these kerfuffles? Would the noble Baroness not accept that, frankly, to suggest that the Prime Minister only heard about this from the British Permanent Representative in the car on the morning of the meeting, when the matter had been notified by the Commission about 11 months ago and had been agreed with various emanations of the British Government in the summer, is not credible? There was a slip-up somewhere and the Prime Minister was not properly briefed; that is surely the truth of the matter.
Given the point of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, about the great benefit to this country of the switch from TVA to gross national income calculations from the time of the Edinburgh European Council in the 1990s onwards, would it not be helpful to the House if the noble Baroness were to let us have the Treasury calculation of just how much Britain has benefited over the years from having a GNI calculation? It is surely also important to recognise that the EU is not the only organisation that works in this way. The United Nations assessed contributions are based on GNI calculations; no doubt our GNI contribution will go up a bit as a result of the success of the Government’s policies. This is the normal way in which these organisations work. Should we not be a bit calmer about it?
I have tried to make it clear, both in the Prime Minister’s Statement that I have repeated and in the responses I have given to points made today, that the Prime Minister has been very active in taking a leading role in Europe, both on the specific agenda items that I have talked about and in saying that we believe, as do others, that the European Union needs to reform. The Prime Minister is absolutely clear that there are real benefits to this country from being in Europe and he has spoken loudly about those benefits.
However, the situation in which we find ourselves with the budget on this occasion cannot be as the noble Lord describes. Why are other European leaders also surprised to find themselves in receipt of a big bill, as the UK was last week? I will see whether there are any specific further data that I can share in response to the noble Lord’s point, but I say to him that people in this country see the benefit of Britain’s place in Europe. They see that it has an important place in achieving some important international objectives, whether about Ebola or climate change. However, those successes and important advances do not come at any price. The way in which the European Union sometimes behaves and operates means that it lets itself down in the eyes of the people who have to fund its membership.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, describes as a “kerfuffle” is about £1.7 billion? We have not got any money. We are borrowing money in order to pay our bills. Surely the point is that the European Union is spending too much. It simply cannot issue continuing demands as it has and argue that that fits some formula or other. Will my noble friend note that the Opposition have singularly failed to indicate whether they would pay this money or not? The truth is that they are a pushover as far as this is concerned. Is my right honourable friend the Prime Minister not right to try to get the European Union to put its house in order and live within its means, as everyone else has to do?
My noble friend is absolutely right on every point. I would add that we should remember that it is not clear for what purpose the European Union needs this extra money, and that this is an organisation whose accounts have been qualified for many years.
The noble Lord was not here for the beginning of the Statement.
It is not ratty to say it. It is the truth.
My Lords, I pursue the point of my noble friend Lord Tomlinson because I was a bit puzzled by the answer. To what extent has the increase in GNI been caused by estimates for drugs and prostitution? Is this the first time that we have done that, and how large were those figures? Above all, were they accurate? Are we not, in fact, making it difficult for ourselves by adding in such figures in such a way that we are then being hit on the head by Brussels?
I think that the noble Lord has already had a go. Is it not the case that the agreement on climate change, happily, does not amount to a row of beans? The official conclusions say that,
“all Member States will participate in this effort, balancing considerations of fairness and solidarity”.
In other words, there is no target for any individual member state, and I commend the Government for having made it clear that energy policy is the responsibility of member states, not of the European Union as a whole, so it does not mean anything.
Is not the fundamental question of the contributions a problem? While the late Lady Thatcher succeeded in securing a substantial improvement in the net contribution which we paid, not only was that net improvement insufficient to do us justice but the previous Labour Government also gave a large part of it away in exchange for a promise of reform of the common agricultural policy, which has not happened. This is why the issue is so sensitive. We already pay more than our fair share into the European Union budget.
My noble friend is absolutely right to point out that the previous Government gave away our rebate, to the tune of £2 billion. That has really affected the demands that Europe makes on our budget.
On my noble friend’s point about climate change, I certainly disagree with his description of what has been agreed in Europe on emissions reduction targets of 40%, but I say to him and the House that the way in which we have reached that agreement is different from the way in which previous Governments did so. We have made sure that we are able to retain flexibility in this country and are able to deliver on these targets in a very cost-effective way.
Will the Minister accept that there are a number of people besides myself in this House who would like a clearer answer to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who has great experience and knowledge of these matters? I would be grateful if she could look at them in Hansard tomorrow and put answers of some type in the Library. They are important. I know that they are complex, and I am not necessarily saying that she ought to have the answers at her fingertips, but I would like to hear them.
Finally, as long as the Prime Minister keeps giving into and appeasing those in his party who want to take us out of Europe, sooner or later they will push him into a corner, where he will have to abandon that appeasement. Frankly, he needs to stand up and fight for whatever it is that he believes in.
On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, as I have already said, I will see what it is possible for me to provide by way of a written answer. As to the noble Lord’s broader point, I restate that the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to securing good reforms in Europe. He is approaching this in a very constructive way because he wants to see a Europe that works properly for the people of Europe. That is what he will succeed in achieving. When he has done that he will hold a referendum in 2017 in which people will have the final say.
Care Quality Commission (Reviews and Performance Assessments) Regulations 2014
Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Care Quality Commission (Reviews and Performance Assessments) Regulations 2014 include no provision for the regular assessment of performance by clinical commissioning groups and local authorities in the commissioning of health and social care and of the NHS Commissioning Board in relation to specialty commissioning (SI 2014/1788).
My Lords, the statutory instrument that we are debating tonight arises from an amendment that the Government sought parliamentary approval for during the passage of the Care Bill in 2013 and 2014. That amendment related to the scope of periodic performance assessments to be undertaken by the CQC and the method by which such reviews are to be devised and will allow an aggregate performance rating to summarise and compare the performance of organisations or the services provided. It is for the CQC to devise such quality standards and methodology in consultation with the Secretary of State and those key stakeholders that the CQC considers appropriate. The scope of those performance assessments is set out in these regulations, which by virtue of Regulation 1 will come into force on 1 October this year. That means that the CQC will be under a duty to undertake performance ratings of those registered service providers and regulated activities that such providers carry out, as prescribed by Regulation 2 and the schedule to these regulations.
I remain somewhat sceptical of the ability of the CQC to place such huge organisations as hospitals in one of only four categories. The Explanatory Note to the SI refers to work commissioned by the Secretary of State on the use of aggregate ratings of providers. This is not the first attempt at performance ratings, but the fascinating piece of work produced by the Nuffield Trust and commissioned by the department has a number of warnings on this. The trust says in its report:
“A rating by itself is unlikely to be useful in spotting lapses in the quality of care”,
particularly for services which “complex providers like hospitals” give.
“It is here that the analogy with Ofsted’s ratings of schools breaks down. Hospitals are large, with many departments and different activities, seeing large numbers of different people every day, carrying out complex activities, many 24/7, and in which people are sick and can die. Put another way, the risks managed by hospitals vastly outweigh those managed in schools. For social care providers the risks may be lower, but many are still dealing with frail, ill and otherwise vulnerable individuals”.
Its conclusion is that,
“unless there is a ‘health warning’ on a rating to clarify to the public what it can and cannot say about the quality of care, there is an inevitable risk that the rating (and the rating organisation) will be discredited, as lapses occur in providers scored as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’”.
It says that it will be just a matter of time. In summary the Nuffield Trust concluded that,
“the overall approach to ratings should allow complex organisations to be assessed at different levels and to promote service-specific ratings where possible, particularly in the case of hospitals”.
I would be grateful if the noble Earl could comment on this, particularly on how he considers the rating outcomes of individual providers are to be communicated to the public in an understandable way that none the less pays due regard to the complexity of the ratings so well described by the Nuffield Trust.
My real objective in bringing these regulations before your Lordships’ House is not so much what is in the statutory instrument as what is not. I go back to our debates during the passages of both the Care Bill and the Health and Social Care Bill in 2012. The noble Earl will know that I have expressed considerable concerns about the fact that the way in which clinical commissioning groups and local authorities commission services is no longer to be subject to regular review, audit and, indeed, rating by the CQC. During the passage of the Care Bill only a few months ago we discussed concerns about the quality of local authority commissioning of care services in the context of the scandal of 15-minute visits and zero-hours contracts. We argued then that the CQC should undertake regular inspections of local authority commissioning performance.
I suggest that the same goes for clinical commissioning groups in the National Health Service. When we debate NHS issues the noble Earl frequently—indeed, consistently —refers to the importance of commissioning. Whenever he is pressed on problems or gaps in services he has put his trust in more effective commissioning. However, it is very difficult to see how the performance of commissioners is properly assessed and held to account in the current structure. The noble Earl has previously argued that we should rely on such things as CCG outcome indicators, backed up by scrutiny from local Healthwatch. I think that that is a pretty weak response. So far there is scant evidence to show that this is effective. I am sure we would acknowledge that often when things go wrong in a health system it is a failure of the system—of course of the providers giving the services, but also of commissioners and, indeed, local authorities. Let us take the four-hour A&E target, which is proving to be a major challenge up and down the country. There will of course be issues in the organisation of the hospital itself, but there will also be issues around the organisation of primary care, the way in which services are commissioned and the ability of local authorities to ensure that there are specific and sufficient facilities in the community for when patients are discharged from hospital.
It is a matter of regret that the CQC, as the primary regulator on quality and standards, is no longer concerned on a regular basis with the performance of local authorities as commissioners, and with clinical commissioning groups. It is true that the CQC has the power to conduct special reviews where concerns have been raised about a particular commissioner. I do not know whether that has happened yet—maybe the noble Earl will be able to tell me—but it seems to me that that is not anywhere near sufficient.
I also want to discuss the position of NHS England. The noble Earl will know that, although the original changes brought about by Mr Lansley were designed to hand over nearly all the commissioning budget to clinical commissioning groups, a rather substantial amount of money was ultimately retained by NHS England for commissioning of specialist services. It would be fair to say that NHS England’s performance on that has given cause for concern. The noble Earl will be aware that the budget for specialist commissioning is hundreds of millions of pounds overspent. In essence, we had an out-of-control budget and the board of NHS England seemingly unaware of what was going on. If an NHS provider had performed so lamentably its board would have been sacked, and rightfully so. I ask the noble Earl how the board of NHS England has been held to account for its lamentable performance relating to specialist commissioning. Have sanctions been applied? At the very least, should the CQC not assess NHS England’s commissioning performance?
In our previous debate on NHS England, the noble Earl informed us:
“NHS England has its own governance processes in place, including the development of the direct commissioning assurance framework to demonstrate that it meets the standards required. As this is developed further, elements will be introduced to bring external scrutiny to its board and function”.
He also said:
“Ultimately, NHS England is held to account by the Department of Health for its commissioning activity against its delivery of the priorities set in the mandate”.—[Official Report, 21/10/13; col. 813.]
I am sure the noble Earl thought that they were comforting words, but how on earth does this apply to the debacle over specialised commissioning? To my knowledge, that has still not been properly resolved.
I am not convinced that the Government have the right approach to commissioning. If commissioning in the health service and in local government is as important as the Government say it is, surely it is in the public interest that the CQC should take a much stronger role in checking and rating the performance of commissioners, and indeed of health and care system performance generally. I hope that this leads to a good debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support in principle the wording of the business that we are dealing with, particularly the emphasis on regular assessment of other than the provider trusts. I share with the House and the Minister why I now feel that that is even more important. I declare an interest as chairman of Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Just last week, we were inspected by the CQC. Obviously, we do not yet know the outcome of that. The CQC was with us for four days and there were 40-odd people there.
As the noble Earl is aware, I have been very supportive of the CQC and share his aspirations for it. To be honest, our inspection was extremely thorough. We have to wait with bated breath for the outcome, but the enthusiasm, what was described as the buzz around the hospital and the way that people felt strongly about the services that they were giving made a huge difference to the whole thing. I am only three months into that trust, but this was not about preparing for the CQC; it was about the culture of the organisation and wanting to improve. I hope that the CQC comes back with recognition of that, whatever the outcome might be.
The inspection was carried out under the new way of doing things, which I think is great. There were many more people across all the spectrums of our services, at a professional and clinical level. That was superb. The reporting back every night was very good and helpful to the chairman and chief executive. All that felt good and thorough, which is what it is all about. I agree with my noble friend’s view about extending that for the very reason that he just gave. The importance of that inspection to the outcome for our patients was absolutely paramount, regardless of what the outcome might be in terms of the grading or level of assessment we might be given. But without that thoroughness and rigour, particularly with the CCGs, who are the ones making decisions about our services, with the GPs who run them—unless there is a deep dive, as we would call it, into any other part of the health service—the gaps that are still a worry for us may remain.
In particular, my noble friend Lord Hunt said that there was an issue around local authorities. All trusts are struggling terribly with A&E. There are many reasons for that, as my noble friend has said. But one of the big reasons is the lack of rigour in social care and local authorities’ commitment to or understanding of the role that they play. From the experience that we have had over the past week, I believe that this is not a threat to people: it is empowering for them to have the CQC in there, ensuring that the rigour that they are supposed to apply to their work is there and that the role they play in patients’ experience really makes a difference. I urge the noble Earl to consider this opportunity yet again. We made a decision in the Care Act, which I think even more now is really a mistake from which we need to move on. I do not share the cynicism of my noble friend, but I share the concern about whether the CQC can embrace all that.
The investigation into my trust was supported, as I understand it, by far more clinicians than ever before and far more people had a much greater knowledge of the health service. If the CQC can continue to develop in that way, I believe it is in its interest—and, more importantly, in our patients’ interests—that those commissioning groups go wider and deeper into other than the provider trusts.
My Lords, I spent a happy weekend making a start on the 500 pages of regulations that have been issued under the Care Act. What can I tell noble Lords? I am living for pleasure alone. I regard this Motion as the first of many to come our way.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the opportunity to go back to some of the discussions that we had during the passage of the Bill, particularly on commissioning. We had long debates about commissioning and the extent to which it did or did not impact on services. We also talked at considerable length about the differences between the commissioning of healthcare in the NHS and commissioning in social care. In these regulations, we are beginning to see some attempt to have proportionate and slightly different attitudes towards commissioning in both those settings. I would like to see us taking a more proportionate look at commissioning across the board. To a certain extent, these are the first of the regulations that begin to do that.
We also had extensive discussion about whether performance ratings should be specific to particular services within hospitals or whether they should go across the piece. My recollection, informed quite often by people with valuable experience such as the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, was that there would be a lot of data generated in hospitals, particularly clinical governance data, which would be there to inform one’s opinion about a particular service in a hospital. However, what would have been missed, and what was missed so spectacularly in Mid-Staffordshire, was the across-the-board bad management practices throughout a hospital that undermined patient care. That was why we ultimately took the decisions that we did about the nature of performance review.
I want to pick up two particular issues that are brought to the fore by these regulations. I notice that prison healthcare has been exempted. I understand that there is a sense in which the NHS or the CQC would be able to look at the performance of only a part of prison healthcare. But prison healthcare is, in terms of mental health, addiction services and so forth, becoming much more important. There is a much clearer focus on the amount of ill health that people have within the criminal justice system. I want to be sure that we are not enabling those prison health services to escape proper scrutiny.
My final question to the noble Earl is more fundamental. We had extensive debates during the passage of the Care Bill about the right of entry for those people who are involved in carrying out performance reviews and the extent to which the people responsible for them should be able to go into any service to assure themselves that those services are safe and the people within them are not being abused. I do not see anything in these regulations that gives comfort to those of us who believe we took the wrong decision during the passage of the Bill and that, as a consequence of our failure, there may well be people in health and social care settings who are being abused at worst or ill treated at best.
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. In response to her comments on nurses and hospitals, she is absolutely right. I emphasised the clinical stuff. However, the CQC interviewed everyone on our board: the non-executive directors, me—as chairman—for an hour and a half, and all our executive directors. It interviewed not just the clinical staff but the whole of the trust to make sure that we all understood what we were doing in the job we are employed to do.
My Lords, this has been a useful debate. Although the Motion to Regret moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, relates to regulations which, as he said, cover a certain area of the CQC’s activities, I note his broader questions and will come to those.
These regulations set out which health and adult social care providers will be rated following inspection by the Care Quality Commission. They came into force at the beginning of this month. However, it is clear that the noble Lord’s main concern is not so much about the regulations, although he did query aspects of them and I will address those in a second. I think—or, at least, I hope—that there is a good deal of agreement between us about the way in which the CQC now approaches its task of assessing service providers. The noble Lord’s concern lies largely around the accountability arrangements for commissioning. I will begin by setting out the purpose of the regulations and summarise the considerable progress that the CQC has made in inspecting and rating service providers.
Noble Lords will recall that the Care Act put in place a new system of reviews and performance assessments of providers to be developed by the CQC. The regulations referred to in the Motion specify which providers will be rated by it. They cover NHS hospital trusts and foundation trusts, general practices, independent hospitals and providers of adult social care. The CQC has set out its approach to inspection and ratings in a series of handbooks for each regulated sector. Each service is judged against a number of key questions: is it safe; is it caring; is it effective; is it responsive; and is it well-led? The CQC produces a rating against each of these areas at both location and provider level.
This new system is providing information about the quality of care that goes beyond mere compliance with minimum standards. This information is of value to patients and service users, to commissioners and, of course, to the providers themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to the comments of the Nuffield Trust around hospital ratings and questioned how such ratings could be communicated to the public in an understandable way. We have committed the CQC to publishing clear, authoritative ratings of providers. Not only are these ratings broken down into the five key questions about services that I have just referred to, but the CQC has also published, where it has been possible, ratings of specific hospital services. The CQC is under an obligation to consult on the development of its ratings methodology. It has done so, and will continue to do so as its methodology grows more sophisticated over time. I completely take the point that ratings must be robust and stand up to scrutiny, but the CQC’s view is that it is more than possible to construct indicators that are genuinely representative of an organisation’s performance.
The CQC has made rapid progress on developing and implementing the ratings system. It has already published more than 130 ratings of NHS providers, and has recently published the first ratings of adult social care providers. Over the next few years, it will inspect and rate every provider that is covered by the regulations. Noble Lords will recall the debate we had last year on whether the CQC should also carry out routine inspections of commissioners. The CQC’s primary purpose is to regulate service providers and the Care Act clarified this by removing its power to carry out periodic reviews of commissioners of both health and adult social care.
Some providers argued that the system we were putting in place left them solely accountable for failings in care that could have some of their roots in commissioning decisions. I listened carefully to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I accept that there is a link between commissioning and quality of care and that, in some instances, it would be appropriate for the CQC to review commissioners. We have therefore maintained a power for the CQC to carry out special reviews of commissioners under Section 48 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008. However, this will be used only where there is clear evidence that failings in commissioning are leading to poor care for patients and service users and it is subject to the approval of the relevant Secretary of State. Let me be clear: where it is justified by the circumstances, the CQC will be able to inspect commissioning.
Although the CQC is not routinely reviewing commissioning, there are other arrangements for the oversight of commissioners. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked me whether any special inspections of commissioners had happened yet. The answer to that is no in relation to local authorities’ commissioning of adult social care, but the CQC is undertaking a special review of children’s safeguarding in Doncaster. I understand that this review will look at both the provision of services and their commissioning by the local NHS. The review is due to be published in the coming months.
For adult social care, the Care Act puts in place clear duties on local authorities to have regard to the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the market as a whole in order to meet the care needs of local people. Last week, my department published statutory guidance for local authorities as part of a package of secondary legislation which implements the Care Act. This includes a chapter on commissioning and market shaping. Furthermore, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services will shortly publish a set of new standards for commissioning services that has been produced with stakeholders. These standards will provide clarity on what good quality commissioning looks like. They will build on best practice and encourage councils to conduct more thorough self-audit and peer review in order to move towards excellence, covering, for example, commissioning for outcomes, integrated commissioning and workforce issues.
Where local authorities struggle to meet these commissioning standards, they are able to seek support through a system of sector-led improvement. Where a need has been identified, a variety of improvement support can be offered. This may include advice and visits from peers in high performing local authorities; mentoring and leadership training for councillors and officers; and bespoke support from national experts. This approach has been developed in partnership with local government partners in order to improve local authorities’ performance and capabilities. It supports local authorities to take responsibility for their own performance and drive improvement, developing a system of performance management by councils for councils. Sector-led improvement is based on the principles that councils are primarily accountable to their local communities; they are responsible for their own performance and improvement; and they have a collective responsibility for the performance of the sector as a whole.
Turning to commissioning of NHS services, NHS England is responsible for the performance management of clinical commissioning groups and has a statutory duty to carry out an annual performance assessment of each CCG. NHS England must be assured that commissioners are acting efficiently and effectively on behalf of local patients. Using the principles set out in the CCG assurance framework, NHS England supports and challenges CCGs to meet the needs of their local population. The assurance process is informed by robust and diverse sources of evidence, including the CCG outcomes indicator set and a detailed delivery dashboard.
Where concerns are identified, improvement actions are agreed. NHS England has broad powers to ensure that these improvements are made, whether this is through the provision of support and advice or by taking action when a CCG is at significant risk of failure. Examples of the support that can be made available are advice and expertise, facilitating peer review and partnership with other CCGs, or the brokering of conversations between CCG and providers by the area team.
The CCG assurance process has so far worked well. NHS England’s year-end CCG assurance assessment for the year 2013-14 showed that 210 out of 211 CCGs were assured, with 132 receiving some support to improve in particular domains of the assurance framework. An NHS England-commissioned survey of stakeholders, including local health and well-being boards, Healthwatch and patient groups, found that 68% had confidence in CCGs to commission high quality services.
The approach taken in this first year rightly focused on developing the capacity and capability of CCGs, as relatively young organisations, building on the domains which were the foundation of CCG authorisation. This focus on developing the organisational health of CCGs has meant that, as of July 2014, only 13 CCGs still have conditions or directions remaining in relation to their authorisation, compared with 153 CCGs initially authorised with conditions. In one case, a CCG was not assured and NHS England has put legal directions in place to improve its performance. As intervention is the element of the assurance framework which most affects CCG autonomy, careful consideration is, of course, required before NHS England will take this course of action.
Assurance ratings are based on the area team’s assessment of the level of the CCG’s insight of the identified issues and its willingness to take the necessary steps to improve. In cases where serious concerns arise, NHS England has shown that it will take necessary and appropriate intervention action. These legal interventions can take many forms, such as directing the CCG how to perform a certain function or asking another CCG to perform that function. They may even require the removal or replacement of the accountable officer or dissolution of a group.
Noble Lords may have seen recent reports of how NHS England is considering developing the CCG assurance framework to emphasise CCG achievement as well as capability. The detail of the assurance framework is, of course, a matter for NHS England but I am sure that noble Lords will be encouraged that NHS England is reflecting on how the assurance system can be improved. Ultimately, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament for the performance of the health system and will hold NHS England to account for how it has fulfilled its responsibilities, including how it has ensured that the health services which both it and CCGs commission are high quality and deliver value for money.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked about how NHS England is held to account by the department. The Secretary of State has formal accountability meetings with the chair and chief executive of NHS England every two months, which are structured around the mandate objectives and NHS England statutory duties. These are also attended by other NHS England board members, Ministers, the senior departmental sponsor and the Permanent Secretary. These meetings focus on strategic issues and any issues of delivery. Actions for NHS England are agreed in the meetings, recorded in the minutes and followed up in subsequent Secretary of State meetings. This process feeds into an annual assessment of NHS England by the Secretary of State. It is a legal requirement that this is laid before Parliament in response to NHS England’s annual report and covers NHS England’s performance in respect of mandate objectives and fulfilment of its statutory duties.
Meanwhile, NHS England is holding itself to account internally for its commissioning responsibilities. Just as there is a CCG assurance framework, a reciprocal direct commissioning assurance framework has been produced to demonstrate that NHS England is also exposing itself to similar scrutiny of its own commissioning responsibilities. NHS England has made a commitment to CCGs and wider stakeholders that it will apply the same level of scrutiny to its own direct commissioning responsibilities as it does to CCG commissioning. The assurance framework is used to identify concerns where the direct commissioning functions of area teams are particularly challenged. In these circumstances, the issues will be escalated through the line management arrangements in order to ensure that extra scrutiny or support is given as required. Ultimately, NHS England’s board will assure direct commissioning processes.
The noble Lord’s particular concern was around specialised commissioning and the overspend that we saw last year. In quarter 4 last year, NHS England forecast an overspend in specialised services of £172 million, an adverse variation to plan which was in excess of £291 million. Departmental analysis found that last year’s overspend in specialised services was due to a combination of factors, some historical and intrinsic, others unique to 2013-14. In April this year NHS England established a specialised commissioning task force in order to make some immediate improvements to the way in which it commissions specialised services and to put commissioning arrangements on a stronger footing for the longer term. The task force is led by Richard Jeavons, Director of Specialised Commissioning, NHS England. Additional resource from within NHS England has been diverted to the task force to ensure that it has the right mix of skills and expertise to enable it to meet its objectives. The task force comprises seven distinct work streams, which are focusing on financial control during the current year and planning for the 2015-16 commissioning round.
NHS England provides updates on the work of the task force to external and internal stakeholders every three to four weeks. There are also briefings given at key meetings and to key groups—for example, the Patient and Public Voice Assurance Group. Updates can be found on the NHS England website. NHS England describes its specialised commissioning task force work as a way to secure financial control in 2014-15 and to plan for 2015-16; it is not a wholesale review of specialised commissioning. The aim is to improve ways of working and to ensure that specialised commissioning is undertaken in the most efficient and effective way possible. The department is working closely with NHS England as it develops proposals for change. NHS England will continue to be held to account through the regular accountability meetings and the annual assessment that I have referred to.
Although these arrangements for the oversight of commissioning are new, I am confident that they are robust. The CQC’s new approach to inspection and the information that it provides about the quality of care through ratings is itself of use in commissioning, and where there is evidence that commissioning decisions are leading to poor care, it will, as I have said, be possible to escalate this to the CQC. I believe that these arrangements strike the right balance, allowing the CQC’s focus to remain on its core task of inspecting and regulating health and adult social care, but retaining an ability to look at commissioning issues when necessary.
My Lords, I am sure that the House is most grateful to the noble Earl for such a comprehensive description of the relationship between the department, NHS England and commissioners for health and social care. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Wall on her appointment to the chairmanship of the Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. I echo her thoughts about the new inspection regime, which is a vast improvement on the old regime. I also acknowledge that the CQC has made some excellent appointments at senior level to help the inspection process.
That is a very good start, but there are gaps in relation to the commissioning of services. I would like to follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker about prison health services. The Explanatory Memorandum states that regulated activities provided by prescribed service providers in prisons are excluded because:
“A performance rating might be helpful to the commissioners of these services, but only if it can be uniformly awarded to all providers in the sector and at present, not all prison healthcare is regulated by CQC”.
This is not the time to go into that in more detail, but I should be grateful if the noble Earl would be prepared to write to us about it—unless he wishes to intervene now. I am grateful that he indicates that he would be prepared to write to us, because it is an important point. There have been vast improvements in the health service within prisons in recent years and I would have thought that they would welcome some ratings from the CQC. I hope that the Government will look into that.
On the substantive point, I simply want to say to the noble Earl that many of the issues that the health service and care services face are very pressing and very challenging. Those services depend on all the people within a system—both commissioners and providers —working together. I still believe that there is a strong case for there to be assessment by the CQC to help systems generally to learn from others, to see where weaknesses are and to improve the whole system approach—something that is missing from the current regime. This has been a good debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
Report (3rd Day) (Continued)
Clause 74: Capping of costs
166: Clause 74, page 71, line 11, leave out subsections (3) to (5)
My Lords, this group of amendments is concerned with Clauses 74 and 75, and it relates to costs capping orders, or protective costs orders, as they were previously called. In a case that raises issues of public importance, the court has a power, before the case is heard, to set the maximum figure for the costs that a claimant will be required to pay should the claim not succeed. The object of such an order is to ensure that a claimant who raises an issue of public importance is not deterred from bringing the claim because of the risk of having to pay unquantified costs should the claim fail.
At the moment costs capping orders are a matter for the discretion of the court. They are rarely made, particularly in contexts other than environmental claims, which Clause 76 rightly recognises to raise special considerations because of an international convention, the Aarhus convention. The Minister, in correspondence, has helpfully referred to three or four cases a year of protective costs orders being made outside the environmental field. It is not a major problem. I have seen no evidence to suggest that the current exercise of the costs capping order power by the courts has caused any problems at all, other than the general problem that government departments would much prefer not to be the subject of judicial review applications at all.
Amendment 166 addresses a particular vice of Clause 74. Clause 74(3) provides that a costs capping order may be made,
“only if leave to apply for judicial review has been granted”,
but such a provision would defeat the very object of a costs capping order. If an applicant cannot seek and obtain a costs capping order in an appropriate case until leave to move for judicial review is granted, applicants will inevitably be deterred from bringing those judicial review proceedings in the public interest in the first place. They will be deterred because of the risk of having to pay an unquantified amount of costs at the permission hearing. I suggest to your Lordships that protective costs orders should remain available, if and only if the judge considers it appropriate in the circumstances of the individual case, prior to the grant of permission to move for judicial review. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry I missed the beginning of the noble Lord’s introduction of this amendment but I got called out. I simply want to speak on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Our latest report says:
“We remain of the view expressed in our Report on judicial review that restricting the availability of costs-capping orders to cases in which permission has been granted would be a disincentive to meritorious public interest challenges being brought”—
that argument has been made—
“and we maintain our recommendation that the Bill be amended to remove this restriction”,
and that we explicitly support,
“Lord Pannick’s amendment … which would preserve the court’s current power to make a costs-capping order at any stage of judicial review proceedings, including before permission is granted”.
I hope that your Lordships’ House will feel able to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. By the same token that the House approved the earlier amendments, logically this amendment must be allowed as well. The vice of the proposed legislation is once again the narrowing of the courts’ discretion and the chilling of the judicial review. In this case, in the most important area of public interest litigation, it is really imperative that this amendment succeeds.