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House of Lords Hansard
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Grand Committee
01 December 2014
Volume 757

Grand Committee

Monday, 1 December 2014.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

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My Lords, it is now 3.30 pm and, as is my wont at this time of the day, I advise the Grand Committee that, if there is a Division in the House, which I am told is unlikely, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Act 2014 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Act 2014 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

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My Lords, in moving that the draft order laid before the House on 13 October 2014 be considered, I intend to provide the Committee with a brief summary of what the order seeks to achieve. The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient changes to UK legislation in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The order is made in consequence of the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Act 2014, which for convenience I shall refer to as the 2014 Act.

The 2014 Act establishes Revenue Scotland as the tax authority with responsibility for devolved taxes and puts in place a framework that provides for a range of administrative functions that will apply to devolved taxes. That framework includes: the powers and duties of Revenue Scotland; the rights and obligations of Scottish taxpayers; how tax disputes will be handled; details of time limits, penalties and sanctions; the treatment of taxpayer information; and, provisions relating to tax avoidance. The 2014 Act also makes provision for Revenue Scotland to delegate some or all of its powers to Registers of Scotland in relation to land and buildings transaction tax, and to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in relation to the Scottish landfill tax.

The order will give the 2014 Act full effect. It will establish Revenue Scotland as a part of the Scottish Administration in order that it will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament but independent of the Scottish Government. In order to tackle tax avoidance successfully, the order will make provision in relation to information sharing between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Revenue Scotland. Of course, any information that Revenue Scotland receives from HMRC will be treated as confidential protected taxpayer information, as provided for by Section 15 of the 2014 Act.

The order will also add Revenue Scotland and Registers of Scotland as prescribed persons to the schedule to the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014 whilst adding “Scottish landfill tax” to the specified matters in respect of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to ensure the same protection for whistleblowers who assist those bodies, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, as that afforded to whistleblowers who contact HMRC.

Additionally, this order will insert a reference to Revenue Scotland into the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 to disqualify members of Revenue Scotland from being Members of the House of Commons.

Yet again a Section 104 order demonstrates this Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work. I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his explanation and I thank his staff for making sure that I was briefed. I was indeed fully briefed, given the number of items that came my way, but they were all welcome—that is part of transparency.

I have nothing really to add to the clear explanation that the Minister has given other than to comment that this order demonstrates yet again how the 1998 devolution Act is working at a steady pace and with a common-sense approach, with things being devolved or retained as it makes sense to do so. The order also indicates a level of co-operation from the Scottish Parliament that its Members would perhaps do well to publicise more—there is not the friction or arguments every day of the week as might be suggested by some of the SNP people there. There is sensible co-operation, as the Minister has outlined, and this order has our full support.

Motion agreed.

Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 2015.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

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My Lords, I will set out the situation in relation to the common agricultural policy— for convenience, I shall refer to it as “the CAP”—which this order seeks to address. Under the European legislation that governs the CAP, a “farmer” is defined by reference to a “holding” across the United Kingdom. However, farming businesses often do not fall neatly within Administration boundaries and, therefore, there are a number of businesses with land in more than one Administration within the United Kingdom. This means that the European regulatory reference to a “farmer” is not sufficient to identify those Scottish farmers over whom the Scottish Ministers should have administrative competence. This order will define a “Scottish farmer” as having land wholly or partly in Scotland. Collectively, those businesses with land in more than one Administration are known as “cross-border farmers”.

The system of agricultural support under the CAP was last reformed in 2003-04 to provide income support for farmers. Those arrangements were set out in Council Regulations (EC) 637/2008 and 73/2009. As part of those arrangements, the administrative responsibility for cross-border farmers needed to be resolved. Accordingly, two Scotland Act orders, the Scotland Act 1998 (Functions Exercisable in or as Regards Scotland) Order 2004, a Section 30 order, and the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2004, a Section 106 order—I shall refer to them as the 2004 orders—facilitated the transfer of powers to Scottish Ministers so that they could administer subsidy claims for Scottish farmers. These orders also tied in with the UK statutory instrument, the Common Agricultural Policy Single Payment and Support Schemes (Integrated Administration and Control System) Regulations 2009—I shall refer to them as the IACS regulations—since the EU rules require claims for subsidy to be administered by a single competent authority.

However, the current CAP arrangements come to an end on 31 December this year. The latest reforms for direct payments to farmers under support schemes within the framework of the CAP are set out in Council Regulation (EC) 1307/2013, which includes repealing Council Regulations (EC) 637/2008 and 73/2009 with effect from 1 January 2015. Therefore, two new orders, in similar terms to the current 2004 orders, are required so that the Scottish Ministers can continue to administer claims as the competent authority under the IACS regulations in respect of cross-border farmers.

This order, to be made under Section 30(3) of the Scotland Act 1998, was laid before the House on the same day as its companion instrument, the Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Functions) Order 2014, to be made under Section 106 of the Scotland Act 1998. The Section 106 order is subject to annulment and so is not being considered with this Section 30(3) order. However, to fully understand what Section 30(3) achieves, it is important that Parliament is aware of the Section 106 order and how the orders work together.

This Section 30(3) order will ensure that certain functions should be treated as functions that are exercisable in or as regards Scotland, making it clear that the Scottish Parliament has competence to deal with cross-border farmers. Then the Section 106 order will provide that those functions relating to cross-border farmers may be exercised separately by Scottish Ministers. Ultimately, the two orders will combine, in a similar way to the 2004 orders, to allow the CAP scheme management arrangements to continue when the new arrangements take effect from 1 January 2015. Thus, the Scottish Ministers will be able to continue to administer claims as the competent authority under the IACS regulations in respect of cross-border farmers.

As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, pointed out when he responded to the previous order, this demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work and is a necessary solution to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the competence to deal with cross-border farmers. It is interesting that the previous order was under Section 104 of the Scotland Act and the one that we are dealing with now is under Section 30(3) and Section 106 of the Scotland Act. The next order relates to Section 111 of the Scotland Act. There is a whole series of instruments that are designed to ensure that the devolution settlement works properly. It is a tribute to officials not only in my department and the Scotland Office but probably in this case in Defra and the Scottish Administration, because I am aware of the close co-operation that there has been to bring these orders forward. The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee considered this order on 26 November and the other place will consider it on 17 December. I commend the order to the Committee and beg to move.

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My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend for a clear exposition of how this order will impact on the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and use the good mechanisms of our constitutional arrangements to further strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Noble Lords will appreciate that, when I was a Member of that Parliament for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, I represented a number of cross-border farmers as a Borders MSP. There were always ongoing issues with regards to cross-border status.

My query is specific to the context of the radical proposal for land reform that has been outlined in general terms by the Scottish Government, but not in specifics yet. Is the order limited specifically to CAP processing or will it in any circumstances relate to the law of succession of title of cross-border properties? Is this all now within the scope of Scottish Ministers? One has not been able to read in any great detail about the land reform proposals with regard to laws of succession on title for farming properties and land. I wonder whether this will now be wholly for the Scottish Parliament to legislate on, or will that continue to be an area where there are legal aspects for those farming families or the land, both north and south of the border, that remain within the competences of the two Parliaments?

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My Lords, once again, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his clear exposition of what is in front of us. If farmers were facing confusion, doubt or difficulties in any transactions, it is only right that that should be addressed. There are some questions as to why this took so long if those questions had always been raised; nevertheless, this is a good move because it is only right that any extra anxiety, worries or time-consuming matters are removed from farmers and small businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, made an interesting point. I thought that he would keep his fire for the third item of business. I thought of raising the matter myself, but it goes beyond the scope of this order. Seeing that someone has raised that issue, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will give an answer.

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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed for the point that he raises, but he will note that the order indicates that the specified functions under EU law relate to European Union implementation of the common agricultural policy. Therefore, the purpose of this order is to allow payments under the common agricultural policy and the IACS system to be made by one Administration within the United Kingdom rather than having a plethora of different applications. The order bears no relevance to issues related to succession and land on either side of the border—or for that matter in such situations in Wales or Northern Ireland. When it comes to matters of succession, the law would apply in the particular jurisdiction in which the land lies. I am not saying that there would not be a lot of political issues around that, but the purpose of this order relates to the making of IACS payments. I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Scotland Act 1998 (River Tweed) Amendment Order 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Scotland Act 1998 (River Tweed) Amendment Order 2015.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

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My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 20 October 2014 now be considered. I hope that it will be useful to the Committee if I provide some background information on the fisheries management arrangements that prevail in respect of the River Tweed, as well as a brief summary of what this order primarily seeks to achieve.

Freshwater fisheries management and conservation in Scotland is largely regulated by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2003, which I shall refer to as the 2003 Act. In September last year, an amendment to the 2003 Act came into force providing a new enabling power that allows the Scottish Ministers to create a regime for the tagging of salmon caught in Scotland. The new Section 21A of the 2003 Act provides the power to require salmon that are caught, and retained, to be tagged. The purpose behind the regime is to enhance existing conservation measures for wild salmon and to ensure that fish that are caught in Scotland and find their way to market are traceable.

Although fisheries management is generally devolved to the Scottish Parliament, separate arrangements prevail in respect of the Borders rivers, as these flow through both Scotland and England. Section 111 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides:

“Her Majesty may by Order in Council make provision for or in connection with the conservation, management and exploitation of salmon, trout, eels, lampreys, smelt, shad and freshwater fish in the Border rivers”.

For the purposes of Section 111, the Borders rivers mean the Rivers Tweed and Esk.

An order made under Section 111 in respect of the Tweed—the Scotland Act 1998 (River Tweed) Order 2006, which I shall refer to as the 2006 order—is currently in force and broadly replicates much of the 2003 Act. However, existing provisions in the 2006 order do not provide the necessary powers to create a tagging regime. Accordingly, this order amends the 2006 order to introduce a new enabling power to allow provision to be made for the tagging of salmon, which replicates the regulation-making power in Section 21A of the 2003 Act for Scotland.

As a regime for tagging salmon already exists in the Lower Esk in Scotland, by virtue of by-laws made by the Environment Agency, introducing a parallel regime for the River Tweed ensures that similar regulations are in place for all of Scotland’s rivers and will ensure that, when a salmon-tagging scheme is introduced in Scotland as a whole, that scheme can be replicated for the Tweed. The tagging regime that exists in the Lower Esk also exists in England. Therefore, the introduction of a parallel regime for the River Tweed ensures no gap in regulations. Again, this is a practical demonstration of the devolution settlement working and I again place on record thanks to officials in the respective Administrations for their co-operation in bringing this order forward. The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee considered this order on 19 November and the House of Commons will consider it on 10 December. I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I am sure that it is not a duty, if one has the title of “Tweed”, to speak in everything related to Tweed. Indeed, I am not entirely sure whether I should declare an interest, given the title that I have adopted. I shall not delay the Committee much further. In these matters, one tends to defer to the wise men and women of the River Tweed Commission. After communications with the commission and acknowledgement that this is an enabling power for Scottish Ministers to bring forward details of how it will operate, as part of the ability to promote and recognise the produce from the finest river in the United Kingdom, I see no reason why the Committee should object to this—although other noble Lords with greater affinities for lesser rivers may perhaps have an issue.

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The local Liberals in the west of Scotland will be interested in the denigration of the great River Clyde, which provides employment for tens of thousands of people. I would not be so vindictive as to publicise it—or not much. Again, this is a common-sense measure. There is broad agreement on it and I do not think that anyone disputes that. I am sorry to have to say again—the Minister has already said it and I have said it—that it demonstrates that devolution works with common sense and that action can be taken quietly without any razzmatazz or publicity. The people of Scotland are well served by the 1998 Act and all its ramifications, which allow for measures such as this to take place in a businesslike manner. The order has our full support.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for expressing that support. I just say to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, who would probably have participated when the 2006 order was going through the Scottish Parliament, that perhaps he should be thankful that our noble friend Lord Stephen, of Lower Deeside, is not here, as he may have had something to say about the quality of salmon in our Scottish rivers. I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 and Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 and Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

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My Lords, in moving that the draft order laid before the House on 27 October 2014 now be considered, if it pleases your Lordships I will briefly put this Section 104 order in context before setting out what it does. The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998—indeed, in that respect it is similar to the first order that we debated in Committee this afternoon—which allows for necessary or expedient changes to legislation in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The order is made in consequence of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, which I shall refer to as the 2014 Act.

The order is additionally made under Section 259(1) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Section 259 of that Act provides for subordinate legislation to be made in the United Kingdom Parliament containing provisions in connection with civil partnerships. The order cites this power because it adds some consequential references in legislation to civil partnerships that were missed when the Civil Partnership Act was being implemented. Picking up those missed consequential references is clearly not done as a consequence of the introduction of the 2014 Act in Scotland. That is why the separate provision—namely, Section 259(1) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004—is cited.

The 2014 Act introduces same-sex marriage and religious and belief registration of civil partnerships in Scotland. It also allows transgender people who married in Scotland to stay married and obtain a full gender recognition certificate, and it makes other changes to marriage and civil partnership law in Scotland. The order updates existing United Kingdom legislation to give the 2014 Act full effect and ensures similar treatment for Scottish same-sex couples and transgender people across Great Britain. Finally, it also allows for same-sex marriages solemnised in Scotland to be recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.

The 2014 Act is broadly equivalent to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which introduced marriage of same-sex couples in England and Wales. That Act, which I shall refer to as the 2013 Act, is being implemented in phases. The first phase consisted of a number of instruments which came into force on 13 March 2014. The final phase of implementation consists of further affirmative and negative instruments primarily concerned with conversion of civil partnerships into marriage and enabling transgender people to remain married if they and their spouse wish. These will come into force on 10 December.

This Section 104 order makes very similar consequential provision for Scotland in relation to reserved matters, such as pensions, similar to that contained in both the first and second phases of implementation of the England and Wales legislation. This is because the 2013 and 2014 Acts enact similar propositions and give rise to similar consequential provision. The order makes consequential provision for same-sex marriages generally in relation to transgender people and provides for the changing of civil partnerships into marriages overseas.

The United Kingdom and Scottish Governments have worked very closely together on the implementation of the 2013 and 2014 Acts and the various subordinate legislation so that they work together as a package. For example, the orders which will implement the second phase of the 2013 Act also make certain consequential provisions for Scotland, including amendments to certain Armed Forces pension schemes, as well as the Royal Mail pension scheme and schemes relating to particular bodies carrying out functions in the area of transport.

Having set out the context and interaction with the implementation of the 2013 Act, I turn to the order itself and will say a bit more about its content. The order amends the Equality Act 2010 as it applies in Scotland to give protection to celebrants and others who do not wish to take part in same-sex marriage ceremonies and the registration of civil partnerships in a way that is appropriate for Scotland.

The order creates a statutory gloss which provides that references to “marriage” and related expressions in the reserved law of Scotland mean both opposite-sex and same-sex marriage, unless contrary provision is made. The order also disapplies that statutory gloss in certain circumstances and makes contrary provision to it.

The order makes provision for civil partnerships registered in Scotland to be changed into marriages overseas, either through UK diplomatic posts or through the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. The order also makes provision so that same-sex marriages registered in Scotland are recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.

Moreover, with respect to provision relating to transgender people, the order establishes the alternative grounds for applications to the gender recognition panel by long-term transitioned people in a protected Scottish marriage or protected Scottish civil partnership who are resident in England or Wales. It makes provision so that the spouse or civil partner of a transgender person who is resident in England and Wales but who has obtained a gender recognition certificate under the 2014 Act can apply to the High Court in England and Wales or the High Court Northern Ireland to quash the decision to grant the application on the grounds that its grant was secured by fraud. It also ensures full recognition in England and Wales and Northern Ireland of transgender people who married or entered their civil partnership in Scotland and obtain a full gender recognition certificate under the 2014 Act.

The Scottish Government intend that their first conversions of civil partnerships into marriage will take place on 16 December; it is also intended that the first same-sex marriage ceremonies in Scotland will be able to take place on 31 December 2014. The order is part of the wider legislative programme to provide for the introduction of same-sex marriage in Scotland within this calendar year. In addition to the legislation taken forward in this Parliament, 11 instruments have been laid to date in the Scottish Parliament, and I understand that a possible 10 more are planned. As part of that programme, the order makes the changes to reserved law and the cross-border provision I described.

Yet again, and particularly in this case, the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments—Ministers and officials—have worked closely together to ensure that this complex programme of work has met its challenging timetable. The order demonstrates that the UK Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work is bearing fruit. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the practical result of this continued collaboration is to be welcomed. The other place considered the order on 25 November. I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

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My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his explanation. It is a very welcome measure, if I may say so, and I entirely endorse the point that the noble and learned Lord made about the degree of co-operation between those responsible for legislation north of the border and those responsible for legislation in the wider context of the United Kingdom. It struck me that the drafting, particularly of schedule 1, is of considerable interest—I think that part 1 has been very carefully crafted to make it clear that it deals with reserved matters only, in appropriate language, and does not encroach on matters that are the province of the Scottish Parliament. No doubt that is an example of the degree of co-operation between the two Administrations.

I also found it helpful to see the provisions in paragraph 3 of part 2 of schedule 1, which contains a set of definitions, particularly of the expressions “husband”, “wife”, “widower” and “widow” in the context of the measure. I think that the words as defined are now in quite common use, but it is helpful to see them set out in statutory form. I would be interested to know whether that has been done equally north of the border, but to see it in this measure, at least, is encouraging to those who wondered exactly how these expressions might properly be used.

For the main part, this is an excellent example of co-operation. I was going to ask whether the Scottish Government had been kept fully informed, but I take it from what the noble and learned Lord said that there is simply no question about it: they are well aware of this measure, and if further steps need to be taken by the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government to match what has been done here, they will certainly be taken.

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My Lords, I again express my gratitude to the Minister for his exposition and I do not think that the issue needs any further comments. As a firm supporter of civil partnerships at the time and now, I think that what is taking place is common sense. It is also worth mentioning that many fears and doubts were expressed at the time about religious freedom, but thanks to that common-sense co-operation this order will also protect those of a religious background who do not wish to take part in same-sex marriage and the registration of civil partnerships. I was in favour of that protection then and I am in favour of it now. The order should alleviate fears held among religious communities that there is a slippery road to enforcement, as this makes it clear that there is not. That is to the benefit of everyone who has an opinion on this, no matter whether it is for or against same-sex marriages. This order gives assurance of security and protection, and I welcome that. Again, this is sensible, and co-operation such as this gives devolution a good name. We support the measure.

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My Lords, I am very grateful for the support for this order expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. As has been said, it is a product of a considerable amount of work.

On definitions, I can assure the noble and learned Lord that I am advised that Section 4 of the 2014 Act has a similar table of definitions.

I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, that, as I said in my opening remarks, one of the functions of this order is to amend the Equality Act 2010, as it applies to Scotland, to give protection to celebrants and others who do not wish to take part in same-sex marriage ceremonies. I recall that I had some responsibility for this area of the 2013 legislation when it went through your Lordships’ House, and the Scottish Parliament has been equally concerned to ensure that proper protection is given.

Again, to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, I am sure that the Scottish Government still has to make some implementation orders, but equally the United Kingdom Government stand ready for any further measures. One would hope that the work has been done and that a pretty comprehensive approach has been taken, but obviously if, at some later date, things emerged that were not covered—indeed, part of this order deals with things that were not covered in the implementation of the civil partnership legislation—we would stand ready to undertake the necessary legislation to address that. On that basis, I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Compensation (Claims Management Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Compensation (Claims Management Services) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

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My Lords, the Legal Ombudsman provides a route of redress for consumers where they have complaints about the service they receive from regulated legal service providers. There is no charge to consumers for bringing complaints with costs being met by the regulated businesses that fall within its jurisdiction.

Section 161 of the Legal Services Act 2007, once commenced, will extend the remit of the Legal Ombudsman to enable it also to deal with complaints about claims management companies regulated under the Compensation Act 2006. I know that noble Lords will welcome the Legal Ombudsman being able to deal with these complaints. The claims management sector has acquired a reputation for being somewhat unscrupulous as a result of a number of companies engaging in poor business practices. The Legal Ombudsman will provide a new avenue of redress for consumers of regulated claims management companies and will assist the Claims Management Regulator in driving out poor standards and practices in the market. The Legal Ombudsman has a greater range of redress powers, including the potential for awards of compensation which are not currently available.

The fees order enables the Lord Chancellor to impose fees on regulated claims management companies to recoup the costs of complaints handling by the Legal Ombudsman. It sets out the fees payable by regulated claims management companies for this purpose. These fees will be charged on a sliding scale based on the relevant turnover of the regulated claims management company. This will enable the Government to achieve full cost recovery without putting a disproportionate burden on small and medium-sized businesses. The Government will keep the fee structure under review and will consider making changes when more information is available on complaints volumes and the types of complaints that are being considered by the Legal Ombudsman. If this order is approved, we will commence Section 161. It is intended that the ombudsman will commence this new work on 28 January next year, subject to parliamentary agreement.

The amendments to the Compensation (Claims Management Services) Regulations 2006 make the current regulations compatible with the requirements of the Legal Services Act 2007. In order to enable the handling of complaints about claims management companies by the Legal Ombudsman certain changes must be made to the powers of the Claims Management Regulator. These include the removal of the regulator’s power to award redress, the removal of the power to review how a claims management company has dealt with a consumer’s complaint and amendment of the power to issue directions to a claims management company. The amendment regulations also allow for information sharing between the regulator and the Legal Ombudsman in specified circumstances, something that is particularly important in ensuring a robust regulatory regime.

In conclusion, it is right that the Legal Ombudsman’s costs relating to regulated claims management complaints are met by the claims sector in the same way as the costs relating to legal complaints are met by that sector. This fees order will achieve this. The amendment regulations make the relevant claims management regulations compatible with the Legal Services Act and in so doing allow for claims management complaints handling by the Legal Ombudsman. I commend the order.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these two orders, which, not surprisingly, we warmly welcome. They will allow complaints against CMOs to be taken to the Legal Ombudsman and will enable LeO to raise the necessary money to fund that. My only complaint, for which I gather I cannot get redress, is that it has taken rather a long time. It was actually August 2012 when this rather excellent policy decision was taken, and it was announced by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the MoJ, Jonathan Djanogly. However, as the Minister said, it will not actually come into effect until 2015.

However, the Minister might not know that I have long form on this one. The initial delay after the policy was stated was, of course, not his department’s fault, but the fault of the Treasury, which raised umpteen issues about raising a levy to enable the cost to be met for the work that LeO did. It was therefore in my name that we tabled an amendment to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill in order to implement that. It was an effective intervention by his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, together with the noble Lord, Lord Newby that managed to finally unbundle all of this. That enabled the Government to produce the correct amendment, which appeared in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, and myself. That is why I am so happy that this is finally here today. It is a shame that it has taken so long: even that amendment was in December last year, so it has taken another 12 months for it come here. Given the role of the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Newby, in this, perhaps we should call it the McNally/Newby amendment. It will be important for complaints about those companies, so we wish it well and wish LeO all haste and good work in taking on these complaints.

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I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments. As she says, she clearly has form in this area and has made a contribution to the development of the approach to this issue. In fact, the existing arrangements allow for certain remedies that could refund fees and order that the work be redone if feasible and direct that an apology be made. However, this gives a much greater power to the consumer and it seems to us—and I pay tribute, as she does, to the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Newby, in assisting in this—that it should be financed by those claims management companies and that the complaints are now properly directed to the Legal Ombudsman, who should be able to deal with them in the most effective way possible. I suggest that, while this new route is obviously a little bit late, it is nevertheless the right answer.

Motion agreed.

Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) Regulations 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Legal Services Act 2007 (Claims Management Complaints) (Fees) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) (Advocacy Exceptions) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by

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That the Grand Committee do consider the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1) (Advocacy Exceptions) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

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My Lords, the order before the Committee today amends Schedule 1 to the LASPO Act 2012 to maintain the status quo regarding the provision of legal aid for proceedings involving gang injunctions in respect of under-18s and to reflect the expansion of advocacy in special educational needs matters. It also ensures that advocacy is available for new proceedings created by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act which are in the scope of the civil legal aid scheme generally by virtue of consequential amendments made by that Act to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. This order does not alter means or merits and does not bring any new matters within the scope of legal aid.

Before setting out further details about this order and why the Government are taking this action, I will briefly explain some background. Anti-social behaviour orders on application and anti-social behaviour injunctions will be replaced with “Injunctions” under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Legal aid for advocacy in respect of applications for anti-social behaviour orders under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is provided under the criminal legal aid scheme currently, but the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 brings all Part 1 injunctions within scope of the civil legal aid scheme. For under-18s, Part 1 injunctions, along with parenting orders made in respect of a youth subject to such an injunction, will be heard in a youth court and the route of appeal from the youth court is to the Crown Court.

Schedule 1 to LASPO sets out the matters on which civil legal aid is available. This is subject to the exclusions at Parts 2 and 3 of the schedule which detail the availability of advocacy. Because of the general exclusion of advocacy except for specified proceedings, it is necessary to add the relevant proceedings to the exceptions in Part 3 of Schedule 1, which will expand the scope of civil legal aid to include advocacy in these proceedings.

Section 18 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 will amend Part 4 of the Police and Crime Act in relation to gang-related injunctions which concern persons under the age of 18 being heard in the youth court and not in the county court, which is where they are heard currently. As I previously mentioned, the appeal route from the youth court will be to the Crown Court. In order to enable civil legal aid for advocacy in such proceedings to remain available, it is necessary to add them to the list of exceptions for advocacy in the magistrates’ and Crown Courts in Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO to reflect the change in venue for these proceedings.

Part 1 injunctions under the Anti-social Behaviour, crime and Policing Act are intended to address the same kinds of behaviour which are currently dealt with by anti- social behaviour orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions for which legal aid, including advocacy, is currently available. It is therefore reasonable that legal aid for the new injunctions, including related parenting orders, should be made available. That intention is achieved in part by the consequential amendment made to Schedule 1 to LASPO by the Anti-social Behaviour, crime and Policing Act.

However, the amendment made by that Act was partially defective as it failed to take account of an amendment to paragraph 7 of Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO, which had already been made by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Family Court: Consequential Provision) Order 2014. It also did not include provision for advocacy in the Crown Court, which is necessary with regard to appeals. The order therefore provides for advocacy in both the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court in relation to injunctions under Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and related parenting orders.

The order also seeks to maintain the availability of civil legal aid for under-18s in respect of advocacy related to injunctions to prevent gang-related violence. This is necessary in order to reflect the change of venue for such injunctions made by the Crime and Courts Act from the county court to the youth court, which is, as the Committee will know, a specialist type of magistrates’ court.

I now turn to advocacy in special educational needs matters. Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 1 September. Paragraph 96 of Schedule 3 to that Act makes amendments to paragraph 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to LASPO in order to allow for the funding of civil legal aid services in special educational needs matters. However, as I have previously mentioned, Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 allow for advocacy only in certain circumstances and the amendments made by the Children and Families Act do not allow for the availability of legal aid for advocacy in special educational needs proceedings in the Upper Tribunal.

The Government consider it appropriate that legal aid should be available for advocacy in the new special educational needs matters under the Children and Families Act before the Upper Tribunal. Advocacy is already available for similar proceedings arising under Part 4 of the Education Act 1996 and the Government therefore consider that it should be available for these proceedings. It follows that in order for advocacy for such matters to be in scope, an order under Section 9 of LASPO is required to amend Part 3 of Schedule 1.

With that background, I turn to the reason for the order before us today. The injunction under Part 1 will replace anti-social behaviour injunctions and anti-social behaviour orders. The new injunctions under Part 1 will combine the provisions of both previous orders. The order must be made to ensure that legal aid for advocacy is available for injunctions under Part 1 and related parenting orders.

Proceedings relating to gang injunctions have been moved from the County Court to the youth court due, as I said, to the consequential amendment made by Section 18 of the 2013 Act. Although it is yet to be commenced, in the interests of providing for advocacy in the youth court for such proceedings and in the Crown Court for related appeals, we must make appropriate provision in the order. In special educational needs matters, the Government consider it appropriate that legal aid should be available for advocacy in those proceedings.

In summary, in order to achieve the policy intention that I described, it is necessary to make an order specifying that advocacy for such proceedings is in scope of the civil legal aid scheme set out in LASPO. That is achieved by the order before the Committee today. I hope that noble Lords will welcome the order. It makes relatively minor but none the less important changes to the civil legal aid scheme which complement the wider changes made by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and the Children and Families Act 2014. I therefore commend this draft order to the Committee and I beg to move.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for moving and explaining the order. It is always rather worrying when one reads in a background note that, as became apparent in the words the Minister used today, an order that had gone through Parliament was defective. It is hard to know whether that was because the original LASPO Act was so badly thought out that it trickled down to the implementing measures, or because the Ministry of Justice had cut its staff to the bone and was asking too much or simply because it was careless. However, whatever the reason, with regard to this part of the order, will the Minister tell the Committee how many cases have had to be delayed as a result of the defective order or, more worryingly, how many have gone ahead without legal aid being available? Perhaps the legal aid should be used to draft rather better SIs in future.

I hope that the order will be passed today and go through the House and be implemented fairly rapidly because, as the Minister anticipated, we welcome its content. It will ensure that certain young people, particularly those with special educational needs or disability, and people involved in parenting orders will be able to be properly represented at magistrates’ and county courts and in the Upper Tribunal, thanks to civil legal aid being available.

I am sure that the Minister will know that we remain deeply concerned about the types of cases and the number of people affected by having to represent themselves in hearings because of the absence of legal aid. Apart from that policy decision by the Government, it is regrettable that under the Government’s LASPO Act nothing qualifies for legal aid unless it is made an exception. It is a very negative way of describing something. As the evidence today shows, it is rather short-sighted because it means that even quite administrative, de minimis or, in the words of the Minister, minor changes to legal aid, such as these, require affirmative statutory instruments. That does not seem the best way of ensuring that human rights are safeguarded in all our courts. The content today is to be welcomed, but some of the procedures and effects are areas for concern.

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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on this. Clearly, I do not accept all that she says about the LASPO Act, which, in the Government’s view, was a necessary correction to reflect the amount of money that was being spent on legal aid. Some difficult choices had to be made, and of course the noble Baroness will remember that on page 5 of the Labour Party manifesto there was an undertaking to make savings in legal aid.

As the noble Baroness quite rightly said, there was an error in the drafting. These things happen. I do not know precisely who is to blame, but I assure her and the Committee that policy and legal teams within the Ministry of Justice are working together closely to put in place clear procedures to monitor all planned changes to legal aid in primary and secondary legislation to prevent any future possibility of conflicting amendments.

As to the noble Baroness’s question regarding how many cases have been affected by this, I am told that the answer is none. New cases in the youth court are possible only after Section 18 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 is commenced. Current cases are in the county court, and legal aid is directly provided for such proceedings. I understand why the noble Baroness asks that question, but I am able to reassure her on that.

Following from that comes the question of why not very many gang injunctions have been issued as yet. It is a matter for local partners to consider the best way to prevent gang violence and support young people. These gang injunctions are relatively new. We know that local partners regard them as a useful tool, and there is more information and communication to ensure that they are appropriately and properly used. They have become an important, although not oppressive, part of the equipment to deal with the scourge of anti-social behaviour.

Therefore, I hope that I can assure the noble Baroness that this is a necessary change. It will regularise the position and ensure that legal aid is maintained as appropriate. There was an unfortunate slip. Fortunately, however, it has not resulted in any injustice. In those circumstances, I ask that the matter should proceed. I suggest that this is an appropriate amendment and that the special educational needs matters are uncontroversial.

Motion agreed.

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My Lords, the Minister, for quite explicable reasons, is not yet here for the Question for Short Debate. With apologies to those who are to take part in the debate, I suggest that the Grand Committee stands adjourned until—your guess is as good as mine.

The Minister appeareth—no sooner said than done.

Hospitals: Voluntary Sector and Emergency Readmissions

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the role of the voluntary sector in reducing emergency re-admissions to hospital.

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My Lords, it is about a year since I first tabled this Question for Short Debate. I was inspired to do so by reports from the Royal Voluntary Service which described the impact of its Home from Hospital schemes. I regret that, having waited all this time, the Motion was in the end tabled at very short notice, which prevented many Members who would have liked to participate doing so. Given that it appeared on the Order Paper only on Wednesday and that the speakers list was closed on Friday, that comes as no surprise. I am particularly grateful to both Front Benchers and my noble friend Lady Thomas, who will speak in the gap. For the record, I give an assurance that the modest speakers list does not reflect the level of interest in this matter.

I am not one of the usual contributors to debate on health matters, so I thought long and hard before venturing into this area, but I do know about the voluntary sector, and here I declare an interest as chair of the National Volunteering Forum, and it occurred to me that I should table the Motion precisely because I do not come at this from a health expert’s perspective. We have all agreed that the time for silos is over.

It seems a long time ago now, but in 2010, the Secretary of State for Health took measures to manage emergency readmissions, which had risen, in part at least, because hospitals were reducing the length of stay. Despite this, about 19% of emergency readmissions—about 190,000—occurred in 2012-13. The evidence shows that people from lower socio-economic and vulnerable persons groups are at a higher risk of avoidable emergency readmission.

The Government and the NHS have made a good start on getting to grips with this problem by creating individualised discharge plans and ensuring that hospital-led discharge teams provide continuity of care. Of course, the better the integration of primary, secondary and social care, the better the contribution by prevention, early diagnosis and self-treatment. However, as Simon Stevens noted in the NHS Five Year Forward View,

“voluntary organisations often have an impact well beyond what statutory services alone can achieve”.

Last week’s report on patient-centred care from the Royal College of General Practitioners makes specific reference to the role played by community groups and the voluntary sector in achieving self-management of health conditions. Also last week, the NHS published Stephen Bubbs’s report into the commissioning framework for people with learning disabilities and autism, in which he, too, notes the role played by the voluntary sector in the sort of community-based support which reduces both initial admissions and readmissions. It is an area that I am beginning to know well as a fairly new patron of ACE Anglia, which provides just that kind of advocacy and support to people with learning disabilities and autism living in my area. Of course, they are all right. Voluntary organisations can help with early intervention by spotting problems early on and by helping to join up fragmented services. They often bring specialised and local knowledge and, precisely because they are not from the statutory sector, they tend to be trusted.

Provision of hospital-to-home services in a range of contexts can often give patients the time and space they need to make a recovery and avoid readmission to hospital, with all the trauma that that entails. The British Red Cross gave an example of Mrs Jones, a widow in her mid-80s suffering from dementia. Discharged from hospital but needing treatment for a urinary tract infection, staff referred her to the BRC, which arranged for a volunteer to meet her in hospital and then visit her at home to make sure that she completed her course of medication. It ensured that the social services team was aware of her needs, and that she felt supported. She not only recovered well at home but, because of the ongoing support and encouragement she received, her quality of life actually improved on a long-term basis.

AGE UK Cornwall carried out a pilot scheme where volunteers worked closely with patients to identify their needs and offer support. It acted as a key link with the NHS and social services. Under that scheme, emergency readmissions were reduced by 25%. The Midhurst Macmillan Service is a specialist palliative care service covering a 400 square mile area of rural England across three counties. By offering a host of roles from shopping and gardening to emotional support for the patient and their family and liaison with the NHS, the scheme is aimed at reducing the number of hospital admissions. Although they are not strictly emergency readmissions, nevertheless, its work is very successful: 73% of its patients died at home or in a hospice rather than having to be admitted to hospital.

In its recent report, Going Home Alone, the Royal Voluntary Service highlighted its own scheme in Leicestershire which showed that a package of support reduced emergency readmissions by half, from 15% being readmitted in 60 days to 7.5%. It was not rocket science. Contact was made with patients before they left hospital, and someone went home with them and made sure that the house was warm and lit, and that some food was available. They offered support to collect prescriptions, make follow-on medical appointments and liaise with the statutory services. Many of these actions are so simple, but make so much difference. However, like many simple things, they are not always easy.

Like most other services, voluntary organisations have had to deal with funding cuts. In many cases, when they wish to bid to provide services, they are disadvantaged against the private sector because they want to provide decent terms and conditions for their staff and are not going to go down the zero-hours contract route. In some cases, these organisations simply lack the capacity to engage in complex and expensive tendering processes.

The reorganisation of health and social care at a local level has meant that new relationships between the sector and the commissioners have had to be developed. Some health and social care providers are simply not aware of the range and extent of the work of the voluntary sector in their area and so patients miss out on the support they can offer. Then there is the vexed question of substitution. Volunteers do not want simply to replace public services which have been cut, but want to add value.

What we are now calling austerity looks likely to be the new norm. It is hard to take that on board, but we should be planning for it. Government spending should be much less reactive and give some priority to preventive spending, which involves a genuine forward look at the likely impacts of spending decisions made now on outcomes in a decade hence. Policy and funding changes which push costs off into the future are no different from borrowing, and the sooner we understand that, the better.

I am looking forward to hearing from other Members about how we can better harness the collective strengths of the statutory services and the voluntary sector. The old dividing lines have become blurred and the picture has become more complex as a result, but the need has never been greater.

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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising this important question. I am just very sad that we do not have a great raft of speakers because this is such an important subject, particularly the matter of the ageing society. That is going to happen more and more. Partners will be left on their own, and they do not always plan for it; they get to old age and find that they need a major operation and there is no one left in their families to care for them afterwards. If they are not given the right care after a stay in hospital, the next thing that happens is that they will be readmitted. I was struck very much by the case of my brother-in-law, who is 88 and on his own. He needed a major operation and had to have a stoma. This is quite a complicated thing for somebody of that age to cope with. Luckily, when he came out of hospital, he could board in a care home for a week and then he went to his daughter, who was nearby. So he has had very good care and very good neighbours. I am thinking of someone who is not in that position.

My noble friend and I were both at the event recently held by the RVS in the River Room here, at which it launched its report to which my noble friend referred, Going Home Alone. It was an absolutely brilliant campaign. For anyone who wonders what the RVS is, it is the WRVS without the W, because men are now admitted. It is worth saying that because I have tested it on people and they do not know what the RVS stands for.

It is worth reiterating what the RVS says are the six essentials, because, if it aims to reduce readmissions by half, it is worth the Government and local authorities taking them on board, along with others in the care business. The RVS says that, first, the older person must be told the plan for their return home from hospital. They must be accompanied before 10 pm to a “warm, well-lit house”, and they must be able to collect their prescriptions and get their follow-up appointments. After all, that is going to be one of the most important things. They may have forgotten what they were told in hospital, with all the trauma. Then someone must be there to help them shop so that they will not be hungry. They will be used to people doing things for them. They will be used to having meals provided and if meals are not provided someone will have to help them get ready meals. Finally, the RVS says that they need a friendly face to turn to for help. That is very important. Obviously, where there are family members and good neighbours, that is fine, but an awful lot of people in our towns and cities do not have such people. I suggested to the RVS that it might want to try a pilot in some areas where they are short of volunteers by putting a leaflet through everyone’s house. I have found that many people, particularly in my road in London, are only too happy to help if they know that help is needed. This could help in many areas where there is a great deal of untapped potential.

The Government should not leave it all to the voluntary sector; the voluntary sector should look to the Government for help, too. This could be a good partnership. I am pleased that it was raised by the RVS and that it has been raised today by my noble friend Lady Scott.

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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on initiating this debate. Although she said that it was put down some time ago, it could not be more timely with the discussions around the health service being so relevant at the present time, and particularly today. So, although there are few us here, as she pointed out, it is a part of a wider debate and conversation about the development of services within the National Health Service.

I have fond memories of the WRVS as a former MP. We were regularly asked to do, and willingly undertook, voluntary work with it in our local hospitals. Often it was one of the most pleasurable days of the year, going round the wards with tea trolleys and seeing day after day the commitment to and enthusiasm for supporting the professionals within that setting and ensuring a high-quality service to patients within those hospitals.

To add briefly to the context of today’s debate, I looked at the King’s Fund report of 2013, Volunteering in Health and Care. Securing a Sustainable Future, which states:

“The health and social care system is under extreme pressure to improve the quality and efficiency of services. To meet the challenges ahead, service providers will need to think differently about how they work and who they work with … One important group in these debates is the millions of people who volunteer in health and social care, in both the voluntary sector and within public services—an estimated 3 million people across England. These people”—

as the noble Baroness said—

“add significant value to the work of paid professionals, and are a critical but often under-appreciated part of the health and social care workforce”.

The King’s Fund research indicates that,

“volunteers play an important role in improving people’s experience of care, building stronger relationships between services and communities, supporting integrated care, improving public health and reducing health inequalities. The support that volunteers provide can be of particular value to those who rely most heavily on services, such as people with multiple long-term conditions or mental health problems”.

It suggests that, to achieve the best scenario, the critical role of volunteers in building a sustainable approach to health and social care must be acknowledged, and the research recognises five key areas, which I hope we can debate at a future time.

I just want to add topically that, as the noble Baroness pointed out, today the Government are responding to NHS England’s five-year forward plan. In the paragraph on encouraging community volunteering, they acknowledge the importance of volunteers, as I have just described, and they put forward examples of how those volunteers might be utilised most effectively. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. I do not want to stray into the response or the Statement that is to follow but I hope that there will be some recognition of the vital role of volunteers in this country.

As the noble Baroness pointed out, an excellent report on the Hospital 2 Home scheme was produced by the RVS a short while ago. It gave some interesting statistics about the scale of the issue, particularly regarding the over-75s. It is estimated that there are now 5.1 million over-75s in this country, up from 4.4 million in 2010, with there being an estimated 7 million by 2035. Forty-six per cent of those over-75s live alone, and 38% of 75 year-olds now return home from hospital—up from 10% in 2004. The RVS’s report was very timely in showing that a much greater number of over-75s go home from hospital and that they need support to ensure that they are not readmitted, as this debate is about. Before they are discharged, they often feel anxious and not ready to go home. That is often because they know that they are going home alone and that they will not get the support that they require to give them confidence, or may not get the immediate services that are required to ensure that they return home in a satisfactory way and are not looking for early readmission. Early readmission can be a consequence of that anxiety. I am not suggesting that no people in this age group will have to return to hospital, but let us see whether there is a mechanism to ensure that the services that are required to wrap around them at the point of discharge are most satisfactory.

From my experience of working in the voluntary sector with people with mental health problems—particularly those who come into contact with the criminal justice system—I have found that there is very poor evaluation of the cost benefits of the work of the voluntary sector. In the RVS report, it is estimated that savings on readmission are around £40 million a year but there is no solid evidence to support that figure. It is a very good estimation of what those savings can be but the Government should look rigorously at better models for considering outcomes and for assessing the real value to society of volunteers. As I said, from my work with the mental health and criminal justice system, I know that there is a paucity of information about the support that mentoring can give, for example, to people with mental health problems who may come back into the community from the criminal justice system. That value of that to society is completely underestimated. I am not comparing it directly with readmission to hospital but there is a great value to society to be had when we are talking about readmission to the criminal justice system as a result of not having that support. I urge the Government to look very carefully at how we can assess more effectively the savings that can be made through effective mentoring and the use of volunteers.

However, we should never presume that volunteers are in some way a cheap option within the development of public services. They have to be valued as part of the team, and we have to ensure that, when services are commissioned using the voluntary sector, the sector has sufficient support and infrastructure to ensure that it can be an effective part of service delivery. I am always concerned that, as we move into the new contracting arrangements within the commissioning of services, the value of volunteers or the voluntary sector is not adequately taken into account as those contracts are developed to ensure that the high quality and local nature of those services are properly recognised and become integrated into the way in which the 3 million volunteers so willingly give their time and expertise.

I again congratulate the noble Baroness on this debate, and the debate will go forward very effectively now because, as we struggle to ensure that we support people whatever their illnesses or age group, the voluntary sector will become an even more important part of our civic life.

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My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Scott for tabling this important topic for debate and for introducing it so ably. The Government appreciate, as all speakers have acknowledged, that voluntary and community sector organisations make a substantial contribution to the delivery of high-quality local health and social care services. They have a strong track record of designing, providing and supporting services, based on their insight into people’s needs, and they are often well placed to respond in a flexible way to those needs. Their unique understanding of local communities also means that they are ideally placed to reach those vulnerable and sometimes hard-to-reach groups that statutory organisations might struggle to reach.

Moreover, social action and volunteering contribute to every sphere of health and social care and are fundamental to building strong and resilient communities. For example, the Royal Voluntary Service—mentioned by my noble friend Lady Thomas and the noble Lord, Lord Bradley—is a charity that supports older people to live well at home, in the community and in hospitals. With a network of more than 40,000 volunteers nationally, the Royal Voluntary Service uses its strong community links as a platform to deliver a range of services that improve the hospital experience for older people and their relatives, reduce hospital readmissions by linking hospital and home-based services, contribute financially to patient and community services, and provide people with practical and accessible information about local services. These types of schemes can help to avoid unnecessary emergency readmissions.

The report mentioned by a number of noble Lords makes very interesting reading. The conclusion of the report is that, in the RVS’s estimation, this support could save tens of millions of pounds in public money. That needs testing, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, indicated, as there are a number of important assumptions underlying the figure that it quotes. Nevertheless, it points the way to the usefulness and value of the voluntary sector in all the areas that I have mentioned. There are many other voluntary sector organisations that do similar work—for example, Age UK.

I shall now set out the range of actions that the Government are taking to improve integration of care to ensure that people can receive the care that they need and avoid emergency admissions and readmissions, including through use of the voluntary sector. The better care fund is a £3.8 billion pooled budget between health and social care, with areas choosing to pool £1.5 billion extra to bring the fund to £5.3 billion. The vast majority of this is being spent on social care and out-of-hospital community health services, which aim to keep people out of hospital and support them to leave safely as soon as they are well enough to do so.

Underlying the new approach are improvements in seven-day working across health and social care to help quicker, more appropriate discharge from hospital. One of the metrics for the fund is the number of people supported to remain at home at least three months after discharge from hospital. Plans project that, over two years, 11,860 older people will be supported to remain at home at least three months after discharge from hospital. This equates to a 33.7% increase over two years. Schemes in plans typically focus on things such as increasing capacity in reablement or intermediate care services, or multidisciplinary emergency response teams, which focus on avoiding unnecessary admissions to hospital.

We know that the voluntary sector can also play an important role in providing advocacy to people who need it. One of the drivers for the better care fund is to stop people having to undergo multiple assessments and telling their story repeatedly. Having someone to represent them and to help them navigate their way through often confusing health and care services can be invaluable. For example, in Greenwich the hospital ward support scheme trains volunteers to engage with people in hospital to support them to do practical things such as maintaining hygiene or engaging in conversation. The scheme prepares people for discharge, with volunteers on hand to support those identified as socially isolated who will be leaving hospital. Doncaster’s better care fund plan sets out a comprehensive falls prevention programme, through which Age UK Doncaster is being commissioned to help increase physical activity levels in older adults to increase strength, stamina and flexibility. That reduces the risk of falls and fractures, which are a major reason for hospital admissions and readmissions.

As well as providing services directly, we know that the third sector is represented at the strategic decision-making level in better care fund planning, with Nottingham and Southwark being just two examples of the many areas with voluntary sector representatives as members of their integrated care programme boards, as well as the health and well-being board itself.

The £2 million social action fund has delivered improved engagement with the independent, voluntary and community sectors. Eight schemes are being funded, aimed at supporting frail and elderly people. The aim is to scale up and robustly test interventions that use social action to reduce demand on hospital services, with funded projects making their impact over the course of winter 2014-15. We hope to be able to mainstream the most successful interventions down the line, and all evaluations and learning will be shared widely with the sector. The projects will help develop the potential of services that use social action to help older people stay well, manage their conditions or recover from illness or injury, thereby reducing growing pressure on hospitals. Currently, such services are small in scale and piecemeal, and often are not robustly evaluated. By March 2015, the aim for each project will be to contribute to a significant impact in the local area over the winter of 2014-15, develop a robust evidence base on its effectiveness through evaluation by the Nuffield Trust, and lay the foundations for the service to continue and grow on a long-term basis.

I am conscious that I have mentioned only a very few of the many voluntary sector organisations that are relevant to this issue, focusing primarily on the generic services provided. There is also a wide range of different, more condition-specific services provided by the voluntary sector—for example, some of the support provided by charity helplines that enable people to manage their conditions at home. There are also the very important services provided by voluntary sector hospices that support people at the end of their life within their homes, thereby avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions.

I shall highlight one particular example of where I have observed fantastic contributions made by the voluntary sector. Last month, I visited a medical practice in Hertfordshire to see how the role of developing well-being services within local NHS communities works. The Wellbeing Service was developed in order to support patients’ physical, psychological and social needs through improved health and well-being. The practice has engaged with a number of voluntary organisations to help prevent readmissions. I was particularly struck by the help that the volunteers give patients in navigating their health journeys, and I commend their tremendous work on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, asked whether there would be any spend on the voluntary sector from the additional £700 million of winter funding. Planned spend by system resilience groups identified for voluntary sector organisations is approximately £3.9 million. Approximately 110 independent and voluntary sector schemes are planned across the country, covering the expansion of capacity to provide care at home, hospital-to-home aftercare, out-of-hours cover and beds in care homes, the community and hospices. These plans include voluntary sector providers referenced in plans, such as Age UK, the British Red Cross and various hospices and smaller providers. Many schemes are focused around helping with improved hospital discharges, support for patients on return to their homes, community care provisions, and longer-term work to reduce readmissions and prevent admissions in the first place. I think we can be encouraged by that picture.

I conclude by saying that I recognise that the voluntary and community sectors make a substantial contribution to the health and care system. This has been an excellent short debate. Like my noble friend, I regret that there have not been more speakers, but the issues raised by those who have spoken have brought to light what value is available from the voluntary sector in a range of fields in health and social care. I thank my noble friend for having given us this opportunity to look at those areas. I encourage commissioners to engage with voluntary sector organisations to understand the kind of support that they can deliver to prevent emergency admissions, looking at some of the excellent examples that we have heard about this afternoon.

Committee adjourned at 5.02 pm.