House of Lords
Thursday 28 June 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conclusion reached by the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence in their paper Below the Aggregate: A Sectoral Account of the UK Productivity Puzzle, published in May, that some of the UK’s largest and most internationally competitive companies account for the biggest reduction in UK productivity growth.
My Lords, the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence paper is an important addition to the evidence base, highlighting sectors where recent productivity slow-down has occurred. However, it remains unclear why this slow-down has occurred, why other sectors did not make stronger contributions to productivity growth before the crisis or to what extent this explains our long-standing productivity weakness.
Does the Minister agree that this report, plus the further research from the Bank of England, indicates that our slow productivity growth is less due to the long tail of zombie companies but reflects the weaknesses of the business model applied by some of our biggest and best known companies—a model that incorporates share buybacks, high short-term bonus culture, and lower corporation tax and tax allowances that do not encourage investment. Will the Minister dust off the industrial strategy and review it so that these lessons can be learned?
I assure the noble Lord that there is no dust on the Government’s industrial strategy. In fact, we have invested some £31 billion in a productivity investment fund for exactly that type of challenge. Moreover, we are conducting a further business productivity review, which is open to submissions along the lines that the noble Lord has referenced until 6 July. He will be aware, as a keen student of this area and indeed very experienced in it, that there has long been a UK productivity puzzle—that is why the centre titled the paper in that way—and it has existed since the 1950s and the 1960s. It has been suggested that, at a sectoral level, productivity gains are easier to make in the manufacturing sector than in the service sector and we have traditionally been a service area. We are far from complacent on this and are making progress on a whole range of issues to ensure that we improve our performance in the future.
My Lords, the chairman of John Lewis, Sir Charlie Mayfield, has also examined the UK’s productivity puzzle and he found there is significant variability in productivity for SMEs. Can my noble friend say what support we are giving SMEs to improve their batting average?
There are incentives for R&D spend. We know that things such as infrastructure and capital investment—we have had a patient capital review—contribute to improvements in productivity. We know that education and skills are a key part, and that is why we have T-levels and the apprenticeship levy. We also know that investment is very important, and that is why the capital breaks we have for R&D, particularly in small firms, are very important. But this is a whole-economy effort in which small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the large companies, need to play their part.
Will the Minister respond to one of the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Haskel about share buybacks and, indeed, excessive dividend payments? There is a management culture that all too often seems more interested in the extraction of wealth than the creation of wealth.
If that criticism were true, we would not see that the UK is regarded as the number one location for foreign direct investment and we would not see companies coming here in the numbers that they are. We have a great strength in our economy. We have an historic weakness in productivity and we need to look at all the possible contributions to that and address them; that is what this review is all about.
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord that foreign investment has halved over the course of the last year, so perhaps that is not the best statistic to choose. Meanwhile, manufacturing output has fallen for three successive months, construction output is 3% down year on year and the trade deficit is widening. We are pleased to hear that the industrial strategy does not have dust on it, but when do the Government think that some of their measures might actually take effect?
On the point about foreign direct investment, just look over the past couple of weeks: we have seen Amazon announce 3,000 jobs in the east Midlands; a major biomass investment in Cheshire that will bring 3,000 jobs; and Vauxhall has announced the investment of 1,400 jobs in Luton. We are seeing record investment levels and a doubling of tech investment in the UK. This is all part of a strong, vibrant British economy that we are absolutely confident will continue to progress and improve beyond Brexit.
My Lords, businesses need long-term investment if they are to improve productivity. Does my noble friend agree that we need some sort of incentive for organisations to be long-term shareholders? Algorithmic trading is the absolute reverse of long-term investment, and there is far too much of it. We should have incentives for people to hold for the long term.
My noble friend makes a very interesting point. That was the premise on which we undertook the patient capital review and one premise on which we set up the British Business Bank, so as to offer that kind of long-term patient funding that allows businesses to grow and prosper.
My Lords, what lessons did the Government learn from the very excellent paper produced by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, on industrial strategy? What decisions are they taking to implement some of its recommendations?
My noble friend Lord Heseltine undertook a review for the Government on competitiveness in 2012, which was a key part of what fed into our industrial strategy. The point that he made is that it is absolutely critical that we leverage our technical research and that innovation becomes a core part of what we do going forward. We totally accept that and recognise we need to do more. That is why R&D investment from the public sector is at its highest level for 30 years and why we are investing £4 billion in aerospace research and development; it is all to take forward those types of policies.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of whether any quantitative Treasury analysis has been done on the effect of family breakdown and dysfunctional family relationships on productivity? If so, what conclusions were reached?
First, I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend has done consistently to promote family as a key part of our society. We know the devastating effects that family breakdown can have on people’s health, well-being and educational opportunities. We have not conducted any piece of work in that specific area, but it is certainly something that I am prepared to look at and discuss with him further.
Why do the Government think that productivity is lower in the service sector than the manufacturing sector?
It is a very interesting point. There is an excellent book that a long queue of people were trying to access in the Library by a certain Jonathan Haskel—he may be known to the noble Lord—called Capitalism without Capital. In it, he unpacks that we have not really invested enough in intangible assets, such as R&D, patents and intellectual capital within firms. He thinks that there is more to be done. It is a very live, very important, crucial debate that we have to have as a country. That is the reason for the review, the reason for the strategy and the reason we have £31 billion in the fund.
Boarding School Partnerships
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the Boarding School Partnership information service; and how many children who would otherwise have been taken into local authority care have been given places in state boarding schools as a result of the service.
My Lords, Boarding School Partnerships launched last July and it is independent of government. The service provides information to local authorities on how to make placements in boarding schools. Statistics on referrals into boarding are not collected centrally, but I can report that this year the web portal averaged 700 regular users, 44% up on 2017. Between May and June this year, there was a 50% increase in unique visitors to the website.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging reply. What plans do the Government have to stimulate further the use of boarding schools as an alternative to local authority care?
My Lords, Boarding School Partnerships, working with Norfolk County Council, has recently published its findings on the outcomes achieved by vulnerable children following boarding placements. This showed benefits including improved educational outcomes and a reduction in risk of children going into care. Earlier this month, we organised a conference to bring boarding schools and local authorities together to publicise these research findings. Over 50 local authorities were represented at this conference and, while it is not suitable for all children, we strongly urge local authorities to consider boarding as an option.
My Lords, I commend the Minister and his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who I see in his place, for their excellent work in promoting state boarding schools. They offer outstanding opportunities, particularly to children from vulnerable backgrounds or from military families or other mobile occupations to have a high-quality and stable education. Does he have any proposals to increase the number of state boarding schools? There are 40 at the moment. It would be great if the country had at least twice that number. Would it be a good idea to increase that number, with an emphasis on providing places for children from vulnerable families or whose parents have highly mobile occupations?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is extremely important. Indeed, in the study that was recently carried out by Norfolk County Council, a third of the children were placed in state boarding schools. Boarding schools can offer a holistic environment in which to grow and develop, and it is this stability that can have long-lasting, positive effects on children’s outcomes. We are open to proposals from the state system to consider more boarding facilities. From my own experience in a boarding school, I can say they are very important, particularly if one comes from a broken family.
My Lords, can my noble friend say how many of the 52 young people funded in boarding schools by Norfolk County Council were able to be taken off the local authority’s risk register completely, as a result of their experience and the benefits of attending a boarding school?
I thank my noble friend for this question and pay tribute to the important role that he played in setting up Boarding School Partnerships last year. Almost three-quarters, 37 of the children, showed a reduced level of risk and nearly two-thirds moved out of a high-risk category into universal services. Overall, 33 children were taken off the council’s risk register. These outcomes can only be described as very encouraging. For the right child, at the right time and in the right school, boarding can present an excellent opportunity.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many local authorities had their own boarding facilities in the 1970s and 1980s, and sadly they were closed down over cases of safeguarding concerns. This scheme and the effect it can have on young people in care can be transformational—there is no doubt about that—but the numbers taking up the provision are very small. The Minister suggested how we might increase them. Local authorities have concerns and the Norfolk study, good as it is, followed only 50-odd young people. Do we not need to have a proper look at the cost benefit and the change it makes to young people, and then crusade about this and sell the idea to local authorities?
My Lords, I very much take on board what the noble Lord has to say, and I respect his great experience in this area in particular. I believe my role in the Department for Education is that of exhorting local authorities to encourage them to consider this option. That is why we had the conference the other day. What was so uplifting about that conference was that, after the address from the panel members from Norfolk council, questions were asked for and a forest of hands went up. None of those questions was directed to me; they were all directed to the council representatives, who could speak of their experiences and show how they have overcome a lot of the problems the noble Lord mentioned—safeguarding has moved on enormously in the last 20 years. My role will be to continue to promote, and if there are blockages in the system that I or the Government can sort out, I will do my best to unblock them.
My Lords, I met last year with the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation and acknowledge the good work it does with Boarding School Partnerships. In many cases, there are positive social, care, educational and financial outcomes, but most children in care will have experienced some kind of trauma, and many have unmet mental health needs. The question needs to be asked: are boarding schools equipped to provide the sort of wraparound support that these children may need? Many boarding schools have an established culture of bullying, and the arrival of a pupil who is demonstrably different may play into that. What assurances can the Minister give that he will insist that all care placements are based on the best interests of the child, not the cost to the local authority, and certainly that they should happen only following a full assessment of the child’s needs?
The noble Lord is quite right that this is not a catch-all solution for some of the most vulnerable children in our society; I completely agree with him. That is why this cannot be a centrally directed government initiative. The decisions lie with the directors of children’s services in individual local authorities. That is what I am saying and why I am encouraging them to talk to one another and ensure that they understand both the advantages and the challenges that they face. I will finish on a quote given by a young person to my noble friend Lord Nash last year, when we launched Boarding School Partnerships:
“What is clear from my experience is that the placement at a boarding school, away from all familiarity was, arguably, a gamble. But this gamble became the most successful move of my 20 years in care. It changed me forever”.
Inquiries Act 2005
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to look again at the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Inquiries Act 2005 in its report The Inquiries Act 2005: post-legislative scrutiny (HL Paper 143), published in March 2014, in the light of the report by the National Audit Office, Investigation into government-funded inquiries, published in May.
My Lords, the Government agree with the Select Committee’s conclusions in its report published in March 2014 that the Inquiries Act 2005 and Inquiry Rules 2006 are fundamentally sound, providing a robust and effective framework for the conduct of public inquiries, but that some worthwhile improvements can be made. We welcome the National Audit Office report of last month but do not believe it has identified any issues that the Government themselves did not consider in their response to the Select Committee.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. The House’s Select Committee report on the operation of the Inquiries Act made several recommendations, many to save time and money. The National Audit Office’s remarkable report says that the Government have not acted even on the recommendations accepted from the 2014 report. One of our major recommendations—which was not accepted—was to set up a central inquiries unit. However, we now learn from the National Audit Office report that such a unit has been set up, but just for Home Office inquiries. Would it not be good, joined-up government if this unit were available for all government inquiries, wherever in government it is based?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Government agreed to accept 20 out of the 33 recommendations from his report. The issue about the central inquiries unit is an important one. The role of such a unit would be limited once the inquiry is established, and we believe that departments are much better placed to understand the operational issues relating to their policy areas. That is why the Home Office has its own unit, which functions very well—it set up four inquiries in a short period of time. However, since the noble Lord’s report, the Cabinet Office has strengthened the support it provides to inquiries, and there is a cross-Whitehall inquiries group which contains all the teams from the different departments to discuss learning and ways forward.
My Lords, the National Audit Office tells us:
“Since 2014, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice have committed to various actions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of inquiries … None of these commitments have been fulfilled. For example, they have not acted on recommendations to share best practice … or update and publish guidance … There is no overall oversight across government for monitoring and tracking”.
The NAO also reminds us that,
“the government has spent at least £239 million on the 26 inquiries which have concluded since 2005”.
Given that expenditure, is this failure of departments to follow through good enough?
My Lords, I take issue with what the noble Baroness has said. It is not true that the Government do not follow through on lessons learned from previous inquiries. Indeed, the Cabinet Office has produced guidelines. They remain in draft form at the moment because they are being updated from lessons learned and the findings from the National Audit Office report. I have looked at the guidelines and I have to say, they seem very thorough. This was following consultation with stakeholders from previous inquiries. Governments will own the inquiries they sponsor, but they will have to follow that guidance, which will be finalised in very short order and published.
Elections: Electoral Commission Recommendations
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the continued integrity of elections in the United Kingdom in the light of the Electoral Commission’s recommendations.
My Lords, the Government welcome the Electoral Commission’s report on digital campaigning and will consider its recommendations carefully. In line with this, the Government will consult this summer on whether to introduce an imprint for digital electoral material and how such a requirement could be appropriately framed. The Government are committed to increasing transparency in digital electoral campaigning to maintain a fair and proportionate democratic process.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response, but he will know that the chairman of the Electoral Commission has called for legislation. Will the Government give that careful thought? If so, will they make sure that the legislation also applies to the commission so that it is obliged to respond more expeditiously? More than two years after June 2016, we are still waiting for its comments on the Vote Leave campaign and whether it behaved responsibly or not.
My noble friend will know that the Electoral Commission has made requests for legislation, particularly to increase the sanctions that are available to it. He referred to some commission inquiries. Last month, the commission published an inquiry into the activities of Vote Leave during the referendum campaign. He is quite right that there are two outstanding inquiries: one into Better for the Country Ltd and Arron Banks, and one into Vote Leave, Darren Grimes and Veterans for Britain, which commenced in November last year and, as I understand it, will be completed later this year. The Electoral Commission is an independent body so I need to be careful with what I say, but I am sure that Sir John Holmes will read my noble friend’s comments.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that our legislation on elections and referendums has not kept pace with technological advances, risks interference from abroad and is generally not fit for purpose?
Yes; and I refer to the reply that I gave the noble Lord when he asked me the same question a few weeks ago. We have an analogue legislative process in a digital age and we do need to bring it up to date. I think it makes sense to wait for the outstanding court cases that are currently before the courts, the outcome of the DCMS inquiry into the impact of fake news on modern democracy and the reports to which my noble friend just referred into the referendum campaign. Once we have those, we can step back and look at the legislative framework and see how it will best be brought up to date.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the excellent report published this week by the Electoral Commission into the need to regulate more properly digital campaigning in elections and referendums illustrates the advantages of having an independent body to advise Parliament on the need to change and modernise our laws to protect the health of our democracy? If so, does he therefore reject the suggestion in a report from the former chair of the Conservative Party a little while ago that the Electoral Commission could be stripped of such powers to advise Parliament?
The noble Lord refers to the excellent report Securing the Ballot, produced by my then honourable friend Sir Eric Pickles—now, happily, my noble friend Lord Pickles. The noble Lord will have seen the Cabinet Office’s response dated December 2016 to all the recommendations made by my noble friend Lord Pickles, so he will be well aware of the answer to the question that is contained in this document.
My Lords, do these recommendations contain any suggestions at all as to what can be done to be vigilant about Russian intervention in the British electoral process?
My noble friend raises an interesting question. I think the honest answer is that all countries in the West have to wake up to a new form of conflict where military and non-military weapons are joined together in an integrated and dynamic way in order to achieve political aims. My noble friend is right: Russia is at the forefront of this so-called hybrid warfare, with a wide spectrum of capacity which has the potential to damage political and democratic institutions. That impacts on a wide range of government departments, and we have to make sure they are correctly aligned to see a proper response to this very real threat.
Does the noble Lord, Lord Young, agree that it might be helpful for the Electoral Commission to direct its attention to an aspect of our elections in this country, namely the system of by-elections for replacement of hereditary Peers? Can he confirm that there is one taking place next Tuesday in which the statistics are as follows: 31 electors and 19 candidates? To make it even more absurd, the total number of people—that is, hereditary Peers—who can take part constitutes 0.004% of the electorate in Britain. Is there any electoral system anywhere in the world quite as ridiculous as this? Will the noble Lord please do the very simple thing, which is to acknowledge this and to support a Bill to scrap them?
I commend the noble Lord on his persistence and ingenuity in campaigning tirelessly for his Private Member’s Bill. He refers to an anomaly. This was introduced in 1998. If it was so absurd, why, for the next 12 years, when his party was in office—when he, indeed, was Chief Whip—did he allow this anomaly to remain on the statute book?
Have the Government had a chance yet to consider the publication this week by Bloomberg of a report relating to referendum night, when the use by hedge funds of secret, unpublished exit polling created hundreds of millions of pounds of profit, aided and abetted by the lies told by Farage about what he knew about the exit polls and the result? The use of secret exit polls to make money on election nights is a really serious issue that was not raised in the House’s Select Committee, the report of which will be published next week.
The noble Lord draws attention to a debate taking place next Tuesday, I think, on the Select Committee report on political polling. That, I think, is probably the appropriate place to raise that. I have seen the reports. My understanding is that what happened was not illegal, because the information was not put into the public domain on election day, but I agree that this is an issue that could be raised on Tuesday. The Minister who has the good fortune to reply to that debate will have a slightly longer answer than the one the noble Lord has just received.
My Lords, further to the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on the election of hereditary Peers, does my noble friend agree that there is nothing more arbitrary than the appointment of Peers to your Lordships’ House? At least those who are elected, even by a very small electorate, are sifted to some degree.
My noble friend makes a valid point: there is a small number of noble Lords who can have some claim to democratic representation. Whether my noble friend would extend that argument to the argument that we should all be elected, I very much doubt.
My Lords, perhaps I may pursue the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, on foreign funds coming in to influence British politics. The Minister will recall that the Foreign Secretary suggested last weekend that the CBI’s receipt of EU funds discredited the remarks it was making. The CBI receives I think 1% of its funding from the European Commission. If one were to apply that test to Vote Leave, or perhaps even to the Conservative Party as far as Russian funding is concerned given the donations to it, it would raise awkward questions. Could the Government look at the requirement for even greater transparency in political donations, and donations to think tanks and charities of one sort or another, where foreign Governments and foreign sources, whether in the Gulf states or among right-wing millionaires in the United States, come in to affect British politics and society?
The noble Lord raises a serious issue. I do not know whether he has had the time to read the Electoral Commission’s report on digital campaigning, subtitled Increasing Transparency for Voters, but it makes recommendations on the specific areas he raised. There are a series of recommendations about foreign involvement in the democratic process and recommendations about transparency on where money has come from, with particular injunctions on the social media to make it clear, when they put advertisements on their sites, who has paid for them. This is an important issue and to some extent it is embraced in the report I just referred to.
My Lords, have the Government considered what additional resources and capacities the Electoral Commission may need if it is to address effectively the difficult and complex question of abuses of digital campaigning?
The Electoral Commission is not funded by the Government. As the noble Lord may know from his experience in another place, there is an Electoral Commission committee that sits under the Speaker. That committee in the other place is responsible for fixing the budget for the Electoral Commission. I am not aware that there has been a recent dispute between the Electoral Commission and the Speaker’s committee about resources, so as far as I am aware the Electoral Commission has the resources it believes it needs to do its job.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
That the debates on the motions in the names of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster and Baroness Thomas of Winchester set down for today shall each be limited to 2½ hours.
Nuclear Sector Deal
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given in another place by my honourable friend the Minister for Universities and Science. The Answer is as follows:
“The Business Secretary is in north Wales in Trawsfynydd at this moment launching the nuclear sector deal. The industrial strategy sets out how long-term partnerships between the Government and industry can create significant opportunities to boost productivity, employment, innovation and skills. We committed to agree sector deals with industries that put forward ambitious proposals to boost productivity and earning power in their sector. The Government are today launching the nuclear sector deal, the fifth in a series of deals as part of our industrial strategy.
I should like to take the opportunity to praise the long-standing support and work of the predecessor of the right honourable gentleman, the noble Lord, Lord Hutton of Furness, who has helped facilitate the deal today from industry’s side.
The nuclear sector in the UK is an economic powerhouse currently equivalent in scale to the aerospace industry. It provides highly skilled, long-term employment for 87,500 people and is a driver of regional growth. Nuclear generation currently provides more than 20% of the UK’s electricity supply and its low-carbon reliable baseload power complements the growing renewable portfolio that is enabling the UK to reduce CO2 emissions in line with our commitments.
The nuclear sector deal announces a package of measures to support the sector as we develop low-carbon nuclear power and continue to clean up our nuclear legacy. This deal is about government and industry working in partnership to drive competitiveness across the nuclear sector. We will use this set of initial actions as a platform for future collaboration and investment in the sector.
The Government have notified Parliament of today’s deal by means of a Written Ministerial Statement, and have deposited a copy of the sector deal in the Libraries of both Houses. This is a good day for the nuclear industry and a good day for Wales, where we are focusing on small modular reactors that can help Wales become a world leader in the sector”.
I welcome the announcement and this nuclear sector deal, as it will become an important part of the Government’s industrial strategy. It is excellent news for the nuclear industry. Britain was the world leader in nuclear technology, and this has the potential to put Britain back into a more competitive position against other nuclear nations. I stress to the Government that they must deliver on their commitment, announced today, to achieve these aspirations. Huge sums are being invested by the US and China. Will the Government work with these very large programmes overseas?
It is good news for R&D and the international fusion programme at Culham, and for the development of SMRs. That there is a launch event with the Minister, Richard Harrington, in Trawsfynydd underlines the industry’s importance in the north Wales-Cheshire economy, where there is no hard border. Being in the north-west, I know this will be very safe. I ask the Minister whether Trawsfynydd will be the site for a G4 reactor. It is good news that emphasis will be given to innovation. If the UK is to be on the leading edge, the Government must commit the sums necessary.
I ask the minister that his department commit that the Government will look at all technologies in developing better ways for decommissioning and all technologies available for SMR, even established technologies, such as pebble-bed or HTR, which the Chinese will soon be commissioning as the first in the world. Can the Government give these assurances? How deep is the Government’s commitment? Could the UK become a centre for manufacturing?
My Lords, I welcome the welcome of this deal by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and I am pleased to be able to say how happy I am that he is happy that this is good for north Wales and Chester, his part of the world. I cannot give precise confirmation in answer to his question about Trawsfynydd, but I can confirm that there is new money coming in—money for advanced manufacturing and construction programmes from the Government, and money to invest in the national supply chain.
We also expect to see a 30% reduction over the years in the cost of new-build projects and also—very important for my part of the world, west Cumberland—reductions in the cost of decommissioning of some 20% over the years. This is a good deal not just for north Wales but for the whole country.
My Lords, we generally welcome this announcement, with some reservations. In the Minister’s introduction, not much emphasis was given to decommissioning and waste disposal, which take up a large proportion of our nuclear industry at the moment. Perhaps the Minister can explain how this sector deal will reflect on that.
The Minister also mentioned the number of people employed in the industry, but there is likely to be a shortfall in skills if the expansion, as envisaged by the Government, goes ahead. The need for developing more skills in this industry, as well as many others, is clear. Perhaps the Minister could reflect on that.
Finally, there is a terrible irony in this announcement’s being made in Wales. I feel another Peer twitching behind me because just this week the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon was scrapped by the Government. This was an excellent example of a renewable programme. Does this sector deal reflect on the Government’s cooling even further on renewables?
My Lords, I was wondering when the noble Lord would get on to Swansea Bay. We dealt with that in a Question only the other day. I think there was recognition from all parts of the House, other than on the Liberal Benches, that it would not be wise to go ahead with a project that would cost the consumers of electricity—remember, it is the consumers who pay for that electricity—three times as much as Hinkley Point, which is not a good deal for the people of Swansea or those around it.
As for decommissioning, yes, that is very important. We will continue our work on decommissioning and, as the sector deal makes clear, we are looking, over the next 20 years, or by 2030, for reductions in the cost of decommissioning of some 20%. That is important.
The noble Lord also mentioned the number of jobs in this area and the importance of making sure that we both generate people with the right skills and attract people with the right skills to this country. That is something that we are aware of. Currently, the industry provides long-term employment for some 87,500 people. The deal will potentially support 100,000 highly skilled jobs, in locations from Cumbria to Somerset. We will make sure we have people with the right skills to perform those jobs.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement. It is the first positive Statement on civil nuclear power we have had for some time. It is a sad reflection that Britain was a world leader in this field and squandered that position, disastrously for future energy policy. Will our existing knowledge and future development of small modular reactors enable Britain once again to be a world leader in future nuclear technology? If so, the Statement is even more welcome.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome for the Statement. Like him, I can remember an occasion when we were world leaders; we both know that, in Cumbria, we still are world leaders in what it has to offer. The noble Lord is right to call attention to the importance of looking at developments in modular reactors. I can reassure him that, as part of this deal, we are providing £56 million to support the development of advanced modular reactors.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and, in particular, its focus on SMRs and Wales. I acknowledge the warmth of the statement made, too, by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I declare my interest as an adviser to a nuclear technology company. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Trawsfynydd site is suitable for trialling more than one technology and that the focus on Generation III light water technology does not preclude exploring Generation IV molten salt reactors, which offer potential benefits in proliferation resistance, greatly increased efficiency and the ability to use plutonium waste as fuel, and are already in the licensing process in the United States?
My Lords, I believe my noble friend is correct, but she will appreciate that I was informed about repeating this Answer only some 15 minutes before the House met. I cannot give precise details about the Trawsfynydd site at this stage, but I will write to her with further details. As I said, I think she is correct.
My Lords, as one who worked on the construction of Trawsfynydd in 1963, I welcome the Statement but perhaps I may ask the Minister for some further clarity. First, on the SMR programme, does the fact that the announcement is being made in Trawsfynydd today indicate that the location of an SMR reactor is likely to be Trawsfynydd? Secondly, can he confirm that the lessons experienced over a prolonged period with the decommissioning at Trawsfynydd could be the basis for a study of decommissioning in future? Finally, can he give an assurance that additional money will be available for training and education, particularly for institutions such as Bangor University, to ensure that local people have the skills and take up the jobs?
My Lords, if the noble Lord was working on the site in 1963, it is unlikely that he will be offering himself to work there in any future programme.
It seems the House would like the noble Lord to be working there; whether he wants to is a matter for him and his family.
As I said in response to my noble friend’s question about the same site, I am not fully up to scratch on this and it would probably be better if I wrote to the noble Lord with further details. As I said in the Statement, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is there, as is my colleague, Richard Harrington.
My Lords, the Minister welcomed the various technologies being proposed for future nuclear, but is he aware that the technology being used at Hinkley Point is a French one that is not approved, for safety reasons, in the power stations they are building in France or in Finland? He mentioned the cost of electricity in relation to Swansea Bay, but the cost to the consumer of Hinkley Point will, I believe, be one of the highest of any production we have in this country. Can he make sure that the technology for all these proposed future nuclear stations is proven before massive amounts of money are spent?
My Lords, we have started on Hinkley—that is going ahead and I am satisfied, as is the department, that it is safe. The strike price there was on the high side, but the cost of other proposals being recommended by the Liberal Party—for example, Swansea Bay—are considerably higher and it is right that we look at something of lower cost. We are looking—I cannot speculate on what figures we will get to—to get lower prices for the site at Wylfa in Anglesey. We will continue to do this and that is why we want to go on seeing that 30% reduction in new-build costs between now and 2030. That is what the sector deal is all about.
Police and Crime Commissioners
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the role and responsibilities of Police and Crime Commissioners.
My Lords, the office of police and crime commissioner was created in England and Wales by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The then Government thought that the system of police authorities, established in 1964, was too opaque and conceived of police and crime commissioners, or PCCs, as likely to increase transparency and accountability in policing.
There are 40 PCCs in England and Wales. They are elected for four-year terms and can be re-elected for any number of terms. Their main role and responsibilities are to secure an efficient and effective police force for their area; to appoint the chief constable; to hold the chief constable to account for running the force, and if necessary to dismiss him or her; to set the police and crime objectives for their area; and to set the force budget and determine the precept. Police and crime commissioners are barred by statute from interfering in the operational independence of the police. This system places heavy responsibilities on the shoulders of one person in each area: the PCC. Its success in achieving the objectives hoped for will vary from area to area. It clearly depends upon the relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. On this, there are presumably as many variations as there are PCCs.
I have come to wonder whether it is really sensible to have such important issues depending upon the personalities of, and relationships between, two individuals. There may be a risk that the relationship between a chief constable and a PCC can become too cosy, with the two people too ready to agree with each other for the sake of a quiet life. There is a danger that the chief constable may withhold, or the PCC may fail to require, information or advice that the PCC needs in order to be able to discharge the responsibilities properly. In neither case, it seems to me, is transparency likely to be improved.
On the other hand, if there is a relationship of mutual confidence, the PCC ought to be able usefully to advise, encourage and warn the chief constable without encroaching upon his operational independence. It is a difficult balance to be struck, and I wonder whether it may, paradoxically, have been easier to strike a right balance, and transparency and accountability may have been more easily achieved, when the chief constable was reporting and accountable to a police authority, rather than when he or she is reporting and accountable to an individual PCC.
I propose to concentrate this afternoon on the role and responsibilities of the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon in relation to Operation Conifer, Wiltshire Police’s investigation of allegations of child abuse by the late Sir Edward Heath, an investigation which started in the summer of 2015, lasted for more than two years, and cost some £1.5 million.
Such an investigation would normally be conducted in private and the results reported to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether there should be a prosecution. In this case, there could not be a prosecution, because Sir Edward had been dead for 12 years. On 5 October 2017 when the investigation was concluded, the Wiltshire Police published a summary report on its outcome and the then chief constable made a statement to the media.
That report stressed that the Wiltshire Police had scrupulously complied with official guidance in the conduct of the operation and emphasised the thoroughness and proportionality of the investigation. It reported on a wide range of interviews with Sir Edward’s friends and the people who had worked with and for him for many years, none of which seemed to have revealed any evidence to corroborate allegations of child abuse. Indeed, one of the interviewers admitted to an interviewee that the investigation was a farce.
However, three things happened which marred the process. First, when the investigation began, the senior officer of Wiltshire Police standing outside Sir Edward Heath’s old home in Salisbury made a televised appeal to those who believed themselves to be victims of child abuse by Sir Edward to make themselves known to the police. The immediate effect of this public announcement that Sir Edward was being investigated was to create a cloud of suspicion over his memory and reputation, and continuing public and media interest in the course of the investigation.
Secondly, in January 2017, a newspaper quoted the then chief constable of Wiltshire as saying that he was “120% sure” of Sir Edward’s guilt. If he had said anything of the kind, it would have been a gross dereliction of duty. The Wiltshire Police issued a carefully worded statement reiterating that the duty of the police was to investigate allegations and follow the evidence, but not to express any view as to guilt or innocence. But the damage was done and the effect was to deepen the cloud of suspicion over Sir Edward Heath.
Thirdly, in a report in October 2017, the Wiltshire Police disclosed that it had investigated 42 allegations. Of these, it dismissed 35 but said that had Sir Edward still been alive, it would have interviewed him under oath on the remaining seven allegations. It transpired that one of those seven allegations had already been examined and dismissed by the Metropolitan Police. Two others appeared not to relate to child abuse. We were left wondering whether the other four were equally unfounded but the Wiltshire Police had for some reason decided not to say so and left the seven allegations open.
Research on the internet strongly indicates that there had been a co-ordinated conspiracy to disseminate false allegations of child abuse by Sir Edward Heath and other high-profile individuals. However that may be, the effect of the Wiltshire Police’s report was to leave the cloud of suspicion hanging over Sir Edward Heath’s reputation indefinitely.
This is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation. Many of us are sure that Sir Edward was never a child abuser, that the allegations that he was are completely baseless, and that justice requires that he should be exonerated, just as Field-Marshal Lord Bramall and the late Lord Brittan, likewise subjected to baseless allegations of child abuse, have been exonerated.
The police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire has consistently said that he would like to see an independent review of the operation. The then Home Secretary told us last December that in her view, as this was a local policing matter, it was for the PCC, not the Government, to commission a review. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has told the House, the PCC has the power to commission such a review and he has access to the resources required to fund it.
In January 2018 the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral—who I am glad to see in his place—then the chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, Mr Lincoln Seligman, Sir Edward’s godson, and I met the PCC to renew our request to him to commission a review. He said that he had been advised that a review could be commissioned either by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse—IICSA—or by himself, and that he was considering that advice. He subsequently wrote a long letter to the chairman of IICSA, urging that body to commission a review. IICSA’s reply said that its terms of reference were to investigate how institutions and organisations had dealt with problems of child abuse; that it was beyond its remit to review the investigation of allegations of child abuse by individuals; and that, even if it was to change its mind about that, it would not be able to take on any additional responsibilities for at least 12 months.
We therefore repeated our request to the PCC to commission a review. He replied that he had concluded that Operation Conifer was a national matter and that IICSA was not only the appropriate forum but the only forum to conduct a review, and he invited us to join him in urging IICSA to do so. We replied on 24 April last that we were surprised that he wished to press IICSA to do something which it had told him and us was beyond its remit and that we saw no point in making a further attempt to persuade it. We represented to him that it was his responsibility—and, indeed, his duty—as the officer to whom alone the chief constable is accountable to commission the review that he as well as we wanted to see set up. The commissioner has not seen fit to reply to that letter. Is he thinking that Sir Edward Heath has been dead for 13 years and left no close relatives, and that, if he does nothing, the whole thing will go away? If so, I am afraid that I have to disappoint him. It will not.
This is simply not good enough. It leaves Sir Edward Heath in indefinite limbo, neither guilty nor innocent. The remedy of judgment in a court of law is not available. The only possible remedy now is an independent review by a retired judge or someone of similar independence and integrity. The reviewer’s primary task would be to examine the validity of the seven allegations on which Wiltshire Police said it would have wanted to interview Sir Edward Heath under oath, had he been alive. But the reviewer would need to be given unrestricted access to all the evidence taken by Wiltshire Police in case he or she needed to go more widely into the matter to come to a clear and satisfactory conclusion.
There is another reason for commissioning a review. Wiltshire Police did not emerge from this business smelling of roses. Public misgivings about Operation Conifer were not dispelled—if anything, they were intensified—by the summary report and the then chief constable’s statement last October. It is clearly right for the police to have operational independence but once an operation is concluded they cannot be immune from being accountable for the way in which they have exercised their operational independence or for the consequences of their operations. An independent review would establish what went amiss with Operation Conifer, help draw a line under the whole affair, and allow the new chief constable of Wiltshire to start with a clean slate.
The police and crime commissioner has said that he is reluctant to divert to this purpose funds which could otherwise be used to improve policing in Wiltshire. Of course, we understand that the police in Wiltshire have had to deal with the Salisbury poisoning, albeit with help from other forces. The sum required for a review would not in fact be very great in relation to the total spending of Wiltshire Police, and it would be non-recurring. But if that is a problem, the Home Office provided most of the funds required for Operation Conifer, and the commissioner could consider asking the Home Office to contribute to the cost of a review.
An independent review is the only way of achieving a measure of certainty and finality in this matter. It is the clear responsibility of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, as the officer to whom alone the chief constable is accountable, to commission that review. Justice requires no less. Justice requires it, not next year nor at the Greek calends, but now: action this day. I beg to move.
My Lords, in declaring my interest as set out in the register, including the interest mentioned by the noble Lord as one of his successors as chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, perhaps I may say how strongly I agree with every word the noble Lord has just said, and how strongly I congratulate him on securing this opportunity for us to debate his Motion.
My first-hand experience of police and crime commissioners is confined to my dealings with just one PCC, Mr Angus Macpherson of Swindon and Wiltshire. I am concerned about the way in which Mr Macpherson seemed to maintain no distance at all from his chief constable, who was supposedly accountable to him. He seemed to see his role as unquestioningly defending Conifer and the officers responsible for it, and he was seemingly unaware of countless and authoritative concerns that others had expressed—including in this Chamber, on all sides of the House.
Operational independence is vital, but it does not and cannot mean that the police are not to be held to account or that they are somehow above criticism. My major complaint is that, when I occupied the office of chair of the foundation, outside Arundells there was a public appeal for victims—I quote: “victims”—to come forward. If that was not a fishing exercise, I do not know what is. Of course, the option still remains for Ted Heath’s supporters or colleagues to make a formal complaint about the conduct of Conifer. Raking over those coals, though, is not in my view a priority now, however blatant were the shortcomings, almost 50 of which were highlighted in peer reviews by officers from Operation Hydrant. As the noble Lord has just outlined, there are just seven remaining accusations. I strongly believe that not a single one of them would have stood up.
I first knew Sir Edward Heath in 1965, when he came at my invitation to move a motion of censure on the then Labour Government of Harold Wilson, at the University of Bristol, on the very night that Michael Stewart became Foreign Secretary—which announcement was made to the world outside not by No. 10 but by Sir Edward Heath during the course of the debate. I got to know him exceedingly well, particularly when I was chairman of his Young Conservatives. Of course, there are still a great many people alive who knew Ted Heath personally. Some worked with him, some worked for him, and some were his friends. Others did not like him at all. He was not, in fairness, always the most clubbable of men. But what is so striking is that I have not encountered a single person who knew Ted who also believes it was remotely possible that he did any of the things alleged.
A man, a statesman and a servant of his nation who cannot defend himself has lost his good name for no good reason. Our law is not strong when it comes to protecting the reputations of the dead. Reputations take years to build but they can be destroyed in an instant, and we must not let that happen.
My Lords, I am not a lawyer, just a mere mortal who can smell an injustice a mile off. The case of Sir Edward Heath, a case that I have raised on a number of occasions over the past few years, is riddled with injustice. The Wiltshire police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson and his chief constable Michael Veale have had major roles in orchestrating this injustice. To this day, despite FOI revelations, I do not know who was the manipulator or the manipulated. What I do know is that their victim has been denied all rights to a defence and that his international reputation as a former Prime Minister is trashed worldwide. The scale of this injustice offends every tenet of British justice. I personally never liked the man—I found him difficult and aloof when I was in the Commons—but my personal views are irrelevant. The man had rights, and what I find particularly shocking is the indifference of many—including, if I may say so, some in his own party—who have stood aside in wounding and deafening silence, making no attempt to rescue his reputation, although he is deceased. I say that as a Labour politician.
The question for me is, what do we expect of our public officials? My inclination has always been to trust them in the belief that they act in good faith and in the public interest. Theresa May as Home Secretary introducing the Bill setting up this structure told the House on the appointment of commissioners:
“We need a new approach ... the deal for the police is greater public accountability through police and crime commissioners”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/12/10; col. 708.]
Sadly, it has all collapsed in Wiltshire. When Superintendent Memory stood outside Heath’s home announcing the inquiry to the world and appealing for “victims” to come, and when Mike Veale allegedly pronounced on Heath’s guilt, they destroyed all credibility in local police force objectivity. The question is whether Macpherson advised against those actions—because he should have done. That was his role.
Also, on 19 April the Minister admitted that the Government are not debarred from setting up an independent inquiry under the Inquiries Act. Why do they not do just that and announce that today? On 11 October last year, the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, suggested that the Chief Inspector of Constabulary had a role. Have Ministers followed that suggestion up? Most importantly, has Macpherson met his local crime panel to discuss the Heath allegations? Is there a public record of what was said within panel proceedings? Did the panel counsel caution or has it been ignored and kept out of the loop? I believe that it had a role.
In Macpherson’s letter to me on 13 June last year he stated:
“I am however in agreement with you that an independent review of the evidence perhaps by a retired judge is required. I am in discussion with the chief constable as to how this can be brought about”.
That was reiterated in October, again with FOI references to a judge-led review of the evidence. Within months, Macpherson had changed his mind, pleading limited resources. My question is simple: was he nobbled by Mike Veale and his PR people, Mills and Darwish? Finally, was there ultimately a disagreement leading to Macpherson reporting Veale to the IOPC for destroying police property, a fact that we have only recently been informed about? I believe that too many questions remain unanswered. So much for police and crime commissioner transparency.
My Lords, may I please remind all noble Lords that when the clock strikes four, time is up?
My Lords, I want to move on slightly, to a different police and crime commissioner, because I believe that by looking at individual examples, we can see some of the flaws in the system. I want to refer to the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner. I declare my interest as a member of Sheffield City Council and a vice-president of the LGA. The police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire has never had a turnout of more than 28%. It costs about £8 per vote, and on a recent survey of 50 people, only eight people knew that a PCC existed. Fewer than four could name him, and the rest had no idea of either the position or who was in post.
The key issue is not just whether crime is reducing and people feel safer, but that people feel as though they know who the individual concerned is if there is an issue with crime. That was one of the reasons why PCCs were introduced. In my city last night, another person was stabbed, and since March, seven people have been murdered. This city is described as the safest in England, yet crime, particularly violent crime, is rising. The reasons why this is happening are complex, but maybe one is the complete decimation of neighbourhood policing in South Yorkshire, overseen by the police and crime commissioner.
I contest that if we had had an elected police authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, suggested, our neighbourhood policing would not have been decimated. The police and crime commissioner—haphazardly in South Yorkshire—has passed budget after budget, including when the inspectorate of constabulary has been saying that it was causing problems with neighbourhood policing, which has been decimated. It has taken a new chief constable to talk the PCC round, and he is now re-establishing neighbourhood policing by taking budget allocation from different parts of the police budget back to neighbourhood policing.
The police and crime commissioner also sacked the previous chief constable by press release, based on a comment he made about the Hillsborough statement. That went to court and the previous chief constable won, costing the taxpayers of South Yorkshire £600,000. Those costs and legal costs could have been spent on policing. It is clear that one person is not fit to run a police service; a policy authority is needed.
I turn to the issue of openness and transparency, particularly police and crime panels’ scrutiny and questioning. My colleague, Councillor Joe Otten, who sits on the South Yorkshire police and crime panel, is desperately trying to ask questions but the PCC has ruled that members can ask questions only on an item that he puts on the agenda. So, when my colleague wants to ask questions about tree felling in Sheffield or about the court case, he is barred from doing so.
Can the Minister step in to deal with this? If not, who can? This is a blatant abuse of the democratic process. It is time to accept that police and crime commissioners do not work in the way they should and we should revert to police authorities, so that the community has a properly democratic oversight of its police force.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on securing this debate. I shall now widen it away from Wiltshire.
This is not an ad hominem speech; I am sure that most police and crime commissioners are decent people doing a decent job, and I certainly think that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will be one of those. However, the creation of PCCs has had presumably unintended but certainly unfortunate consequences. It was an unnecessary reform; no one really knows why they were created, and certainly no one is claiming credit for their creation. The reform Act, which introduced PCCs, allows central government to wash their hands of controversial police investigations, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has repeatedly said in this Chamber. Equally repeatedly, the Minister has said that the question raised by the noble Lord—whether an investigation should be inquired into—is a matter for the local PCC. The local PCC has equally often stated that they are not going to do anything about it. Apparently, that is okay by the Government, but it used not to be okay.
At one stage in my career I was principal staff officer to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. In the past, HMCICs would have intervened after consultation with the Home Secretary, as they did in the Stalker inquiry in Northern Ireland and the Soham murder inquiry. Equally importantly, HMCICs had the power to call out failures of governance. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, then an inspector of constabulary, three times in the 1990s declared Derbyshire constabulary to be inefficient—a finding not used against any force for many decades. This led to legislation replacing the then police committees with police authorities with a new class of independent members. This was a Conservative Party reform in the face of the failure of a Labour county council, based on the idea that police and politics—especially local politics—is an unhealthy mixture. The successors to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, do not have any authority over PCCs, whereas they could inspect police authorities.
The main job of the principal staff officer to HMCIC was to co-ordinate selection for chief officers. In the 1990s that job was managing down shortlists to five or six. Now the shortlists are two at most, even in great forces, because the PCC has almost untrammelled power to sack a chief constable by press release. With the advent of PCCs all centralised planning for career progression has ceased, as the Minister knows well because I have talked to her about it. The reason given for the introduction of police and crime commissioners was that police authorities were invisible to the public. Do you think that people living in Slough feel any more represented by a single PCC based north of Oxford than they did by a police authority that was based in the same place but which had Berkshire councillors on it? I do not think so.
A bit like the Brexit bus, the reform was partially also sold on a false prospectus that independent members of the public would become PCCs. Not any longer. Worst of all, leaders of local authorities—of all parties—are complaining loudly that their services are on the point of collapse. Where are the PCCs saying exactly the same thing? What was offered was supposed to be an exercise in the delegation of central government power, but it has turned out to represent an abrogation by the Government of national responsibility for a vital public service.
Every couple of years there is a defence review. Every few years there is a health service review. The last strategic review of policing reported in 1962. This is a total failure of strategic oversight by the Home Office. It simply has no overarching central and coherent strategy for the future of policing and, apart from some rather curious statistics about police numbers, Labour does not seem to have any voice in this matter either. This represents political failure of a serious degree for the public, the victims of crime and the men and women of the police service. The case for a royal commission on the future of the police has never been clearer or more compelling.
My Lords, I have a long-standing friend who became a PE teacher. For 50 years he worked tirelessly to promote sport in schools and communities. He was the sort of the person we should give an MBE to. But two years ago someone went into a police station and alleged that he had been inappropriately touched by him after a gym lesson sometime in the early 1980s.
The police followed the guidance of Sir Tom Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, that the presumption that the victim should always be believed should be institutionalised. As a result, they spent little time investigating the plausibility of the claim or the integrity of the accused. In the face of hostile police and aggressive prosecutors, my friend was unable to prove a negative—that something did not happen 30 years ago. Rather than receiving an MBE he went to prison.
I and his many friends and colleagues believe that this is a miscarriage of justice flowing directly from the Winsor guidance. This guidance was severely criticised by the retired judge Sir Richard Henriques in his report on Metropolitan Police investigations into historic sex offences. He recommended that:
“Throughout both the investigative and the judicial process those who make complaints should be referred to as ‘complainants’ and not as ‘victims’”.
He then addressed the Winsor guidance directly. His criticism of it is withering:
“The effect of requiring a police officer … to believe a complainant reverses the burden of proof. It also restricts the officer’s ability to test the complainant’s evidence”.
He went on:
“Replacing an unsatisfactory state of affairs with a flawed system is no solution”,
“The policy of ‘believing victims’ strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process. It has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale”—
not just PE teachers but also Members of this House. He recommended:
“The instruction to ‘believe a “victim’s” account’ should cease. It should be the duty of an officer interviewing a complainant to investigate the facts objectively and impartially and with an open mind from the outset of the investigation … In future, the public should be told that ‘if you make a complaint we will treat it very seriously and investigate it thoroughly without fear or favour’”.
What part has been played in this by PCCs? Apparently very little. If you look at the published roles of PCCs, there are references to policing and crime but no mention of their role in maintaining the integrity of the judicial process by providing impartial evidence. It is not surprising, therefore, that the PCC in Wiltshire made no attempt to rein in an out-of-control chief constable. Crispin Blunt MP, who had sought an investigation into the case of a constituent whom he thought had been wrongly convicted, said in a recent Adjournment Debate that the,
“PCC has woefully failed to hold his force to account”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/18; col. 74WH.]
When the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, stated in 2016 that the police should be neutral, he was criticised by a number of organisations and people, including Vera Baird QC, chair of the Association of PCCs. Sir Tom Winsor claimed that his guidance related only to the recording of crimes, but this is certainly not how it was interpreted.
I have three conclusions. The Winsor guidance should be withdrawn immediately. In any case, HMIC has no right unilaterally to overturn principles of the criminal justice system. The police should conduct their investigations thoroughly and impartially. Our system relies on the police being a neutral investigator rather than a continental juge d’instruction. If they are not impartial, our system becomes unbalanced. Finally, the responsibilities of PCCs need to be expanded to include the duty to maintain the integrity of the judicial process.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, on securing time for this debate on the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners. I am very sorry, however, that the subject has proved so popular that Back-Benchers have been limited to four minutes. To judge by some previous speeches, I appear to be very much in a minority in your Lordships’ House when I say that I believe that, on the whole, PCCs have made an important, positive contribution to public life in this country. There are a number of reasons why I believe this. One of the more important is the increased attention that PCCs have given, and continue to give, to the needs of victims, particularly the victims of domestic abuse. But, in the very limited time available today and in the light of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, I want to argue that, on the whole, PCCs have increased and improved the democratic accountability of local policing.
Despite some of the arguments that have been made this morning, I believe that PCCs of both parties and none have made it one of their key objectives to strengthen the links between their communities and the police forces that serve them. As a result, police operational priorities now correspond more directly, more completely, more transparently and more accountably to local policing needs. This is done in a variety of ways: through local surgeries, public meetings and old-fashioned newsletters, but also in new ways, through the use of social media and webcasts. In Essex, for example, PCC Roger Hirst held over 120 public meetings last year. In Sussex, PCC Katy Bourne uses monthly publicly accessible webcasts—known as performance and accountability meetings—to hold her chief constable to account for the performance of the force. Of course, the Sussex Police Authority also held the chief constable to account at regular meetings, but those sessions were held only quarterly and behind closed doors.
When there are public concerns, the default reaction of PCCs is to expose them, rather than hide them. In North Yorkshire, for example, PCC Julia Mulligan—who is also the lead on transparency for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners—on hearing the public concerns about illegitimate payments to senior officers in the force, instigated a review. It revealed that the former chief constable and deputy chief constable both received £100,000 of payments from the police authority that had no legal basis. Against the advice of both the force and her chief executive, Julia Mulligan published the full report of the inquiry, as she believed that the public had the right to know how their money had been spent.
I accept it is not all good news and there may be problems in relation to particular officeholders. While PCCs have been good at holdings their forces to account, there may be weaknesses in the arrangements in place to hold PCCs themselves to account. My suggestion for dealing with these weaknesses is simple: I refer to the power of recall whereby, if a sufficiently large percentage of the electorate were unhappy with their PCC, they could vote to require him or her to resign and force an election for a new PCC. This is not a new or radical idea at all; it was considered very carefully by the coalition Government in 2010, when they were developing the legislation referred to by the noble Lord. It was rejected as unlikely to commend itself in another place. This provision would certainly meet some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and I, for one, would support it as a further step in strengthening local democracy, devolution and community safety.
My Lords, it is already apparent that this debate has raised the opportunity for significant injustices and gross underperformance to be noted in this House. I declare two previous interests: first, as a founding member of the Metropolitan Police advisory committee appointed by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in 1990; and, secondly, in a private capacity supporting the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who is directly in front of me, for a number of years as an adviser to assist his progress as commissioner. I also worked with the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and in the latter years with the noble Lord, Lord Blair, who also participated in our meetings.
One of the issues that affronts me in thinking about the role of police and crime commissioners is the inadequacy of the London situation. Whereas police and crime commissioners are present in other parts of the country, and their performance is therefore debatable—as we have already heard this afternoon—in London it is up to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. There is a great uncertainty and a vast vacuum of clarity as to who decides what about policing performance and commitments.
I want to focus specifically on the approach taken by policing in London currently towards the needs of ethnic communities, in particular the black-on-black violence that is evident in parts of London, let alone the fear that many young people have of the police themselves. Some of my own closest advisers who work in this House said to me last week that, had they relevant information about crimes, they would not take it to the police, because they know that they might be arrested themselves simply for bringing information forward. A case of this happened recently.
I want to cross a line, which is a difficult line to cross, in raising a question for the Minister to consider, and that is this question about operational independence. The website police.uk states that the police in all cases, including the Metropolitan Police—for which I have huge respect in particular from many years working alongside the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair and Lord Condon, when he was police commissioner—always aim to do their best. I have no question about that when it comes to the most senior ranks of policing and their decision-making authority and integrity.But if you are a young black person in London, you are four times more likely to encounter the criminal justice system than a white person. Your experience of policing and the criminal justice system is that it is significantly unfair and consistently unjust, irrespective of the negative aspects of many young black people’s own conduct.
In that case, the issue of police operational independence simply does not wash. It is one thing to say, as the websites say, that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is responsible for the performance and accountability of the police. How can it be responsible for performance and accountability if it cannot affect operational decisions? Those two things are a tautology, and there needs to be a new and distinct approach.
I wholly back the approach taken by my noble friend Lord Blair to say that it is about time we had a royal commission on the role and future of policing to think about whether this sacred cow of operational independence is sustainable in fearful communities who will not bring forward evidence to the police or who themselves feel that they will be consistently victims, irrespective of the integrity of their personal lives. It is about time that we addressed that old bogey, brought it to light, and possibly challenged it and changed it for good.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on getting this debate going, but I will make no comment on the issues he has raised.
I have some form on this issue. Back in the 1980s, I worked for the Greater London Council when it campaigned for greater accountability and a police authority for London—which I was later to play a part in with the noble Lords, Lord Stevens and Lord Blair—and we were abolished for our sins. So when the Home Office published its press release back in 2013 saying that it would,
“return power to the people”,
and give locals a “strong voice” in the fight against crime, I could see where it was coming from. There is no doubt that the PCCs have been an interesting fillip to the extension of direct democracy and improved accountability.
However, it would appear that this “power to the people” has not chimed with the public. In the first set of elections, 14.7% of voters turned out, which doubled to 28% in 2016. It seems that there is a major lack of voter engagement with the PCC concept. When the public were asked in a survey, 72% of them said that they did not know much about the elections, and—a more appalling statistic—96% said they were dissatisfied with the Government’s arrangements for elections. It might have something to do with a distinct lack of government interest; the Government spent just £2,700 promoting the 2016 elections.
It is also worth considering the problems that have been flagged up regarding communication and engagement with the communities PCCs serve. It has been suggested that there is a lack of resource available for this type of work. But even without resources, PCCs should be making a concerted effort to use social media, websites and to make better use of face-to-face opportunities to learn about the big crime issues in their localities. It might also be worth political parties considering in future elections the shocking fact that, of the 41 PCCs, only seven are women and only one is black. If our leaders do not better reflect our society, how can we expect people to take them seriously?
One of the main reasons for the introduction of PCCs was the hope that they would lead to greater innovation and better management of the police service. We have seen some positives, which colleagues have referred to. I pay particular tribute to Vera Baird for her pioneering work as the PCC for Northumbria, and to my noble friend Lord Bach for the work he does in Leicestershire.
Overall, it seems that we need a better national benchmark of what a successful PCC might look like. If PCCs are forced to prove their effectiveness through target setting, as they currently do, frankly we are asking for trouble. There are already red flags appearing where such targets create a “gaming” of statistics in order to prove efficiency. Such targets also create competition regionally rather than promoting cohesion nationally.
That said, I think that PCCs should be left in place, as they have the potential to provide a greater clarity of leadership for policing. But they need to be held to account by a body stronger than the existing crime panels. Clashes between PCCs and their chief constables have demonstrated that, while the role is still in its infancy, it could be useful to have greater scrutiny from police and crime panels. We need a better understanding and assessment of how beneficial PCCs are and of ways in which they can be improved. As time passes and they become more accustomed to their roles, we need to ensure they are effectively held to account and provide the leadership required.
I have a few questions for the Minister. Will she take back the suggestion that the police and crime panels’ powers and duties are reviewed to better hold the PCCs to account? PCCs cannot possibly understand and cover whole force areas. For that reason, I would argue that the crime panels need to have a local focus. What better way than to turn them into community councillors? Perhaps the Home Office can consider that too.
Finally, I wonder whether we have yet got the issue of the operational independence and policy priorities of the service and force quite right. The PCCs have a handle on force budgets. In theory, they can dismiss chief constables—although they rarely do—but they can do little to affect priorities. In an age of austerity budgeting, this becomes more important. Perhaps I can invite the Minister to reflect on this point in her summing up and in any review of the PCC system that the Home Office undertakes.
My Lords, as a young television producer, I encountered Edward Heath on many occasions. Indeed, I spent a few months making a documentary profile of him when he was Prime Minister. I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, but I will focus on other matters.
Police activity at the front line is now intensively chronicled by television documentary makers. We see the police coming face to face, day in, day out, with, on the one hand, some of society’s most wicked and organised people and, on the other, some of its most highly disturbed and unsocialised. Overwhelmingly, police officers emerge from these programmes as heroic, patient and stoic, but as with all organisations, the police are not perfect. The present organisational structure needs addressing. Police need to share back-office and other specialist operations. You have only to witness a crime or be the victim of one to experience just how clumsy and chaotic some of the police’s core processes are.
The police lack agility. We have seen an extraordinary epidemic of knife and moped crime in the past few years. I stay during the week in a flat in Clerkenwell, which has the fifth-highest moped crime rate of London’s 654 wards. Last year, Clerkenwell reported 716 moped-related thefts. There is a narrow one-way vehicle cut-through near my flat. It is about 30 metres long and has been the scene of 82 moped crimes in the past five years. We are entitled to a bolder and more effective response from our police. Of course, the Met is accountable to the mayor, not a PCC, but these conditions are mirrored for many forces.
For PCCs, surely it is early days. Certainly the post has yet to excite the electorate and, like all change, PCCs will take some time to bed in. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, I have seen a better picture: the police in the area of my country home have been galvanised by a new sense of meaningful public accountability to an active, elected commissioner with hire-and-fire powers. But government, working with the inspector and the PCCs, needs to put its foot on the police reform accelerator and identify the capacity needed to counter modern crime and disorder challenges.
That all said, the police cannot counter crime alone. They are but one part of a criminal justice system that has suffered grievously in recent years. The last Labour Government split responsibility for the criminal justice system across two Whitehall departments, and thus removed at a stroke the possibility of a coherent, system-wide overview. The coalition and the successor Government initiated ill-considered, back-of-the-envelope, disabling reform of the prison and probation services. I echo and extend the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, for a fundamental and far-reaching strategic review of the criminal justice system.
My Lords, I feel extremely strongly about this matter, but time constraints mean that I can make only a few points. I want to concentrate on the Ted Heath issue. I declare a personal interest: I am on the committee of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. I agree with every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and I am particularly grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
I knew Ted Heath very well over many years. Going back a very long time, in the 1959 election, I was between two universities. I was chairman of the Federation of University Conservative and Unionists Associations and Ted was the president. I was called from Scotland to come down to see him in the beginning of the 1959 election campaign and he asked me if I was free to canvass in his constituency—to look after his ladies—because he was involved elsewhere. I will always remember him saying, “I would just like to introduce you to my private political secretary because you will be seeing a lot of each other” and he introduced me to this woman. He meant during the campaign but actually we married shortly after it and have been happily married ever since, so I have a very strong personal interest in this.
I then became head of his private office in the mid-1960s, including the general election campaign at that time. I was surprised not to be asked by Wiltshire Police in its inquiry about any of this because I very often spent seven days a week—not always Sundays—with Ted, very closely. I knew how hectic and itemised his diary was; those diary items are now in the Bodleian Library but were not looked at by the Wiltshire Police in its inquiry. However, it would prove how difficult it was for Ted to drop off anywhere and engage in some of the activities he has been accused of. We had a police security guard everywhere we went. We went all over the country, campaigning in cities and staying in hotels. There was always a police security guard in the corridor and when we went abroad it was exactly the same. There has always been police security in Arundells and I simply do not believe that the activity that he is accused of could have taken place with all that constant security.
Like others, I wholly support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, and I believe that the Wiltshire Police process has been deeply misguided. I too am shocked by the way in which the police spokesman appeared on TV. If you invite all and sundry to make accusations, knowing that there was no risk to themselves because of the cloak of anonymity, what do you expect? It is a botched process. The matter simply cannot be allowed to remain as it is. It is a gross injustice to one of our most distinguished and internationally respected statesmen.
The Minister, whom I greatly respect, will have sensed the strong feelings across the board on all sides in this matter and the necessary steps must be taken to put it right. I therefore entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said about having a proper, independent inquiry. You could put it back to the Wiltshire Police, who claim they do not have the money for it—£150,000 is much less than what they spent on their own inquiry—but it would be much better to have an independent inquiry by a retired High Court judge. I urge the noble Baroness to set one up and put an end to what has been such a big blot on our political landscape.
My Lords, unlike many who have contributed to this debate, I confess that I have no particular experience or expertise with regard to PCCs, chief constables or Mr Heath, but I want to take part, first because I am a great admirer of my noble friend Lord Armstrong. I want to support him in this debate and, like others, pay tribute to him for securing it and for so cogently and compellingly opening it. Secondly, I noticed that there were no other retired judges down to speak, so I wanted to add my name to the list of those who, absolutely rightly, have deeply regretted the failure—still to this day—to instigate an inquiry into Operation Conifer, which has so cruelly left a distinguished, long-deceased Prime Minister with his reputation and memory stained, and which plainly requires a full investigation now to vindicate the position.
This matter was last considered by the House on 1 March in a Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne. I confess to complete puzzlement as to where exactly the Minister’s response leaves the final responsibility for the continuing failure to hold this obviously desirable inquiry. The Minister, who, like others, I greatly admire, referred the House that day to a policing protocol issued by the Secretary of State under the 2011 Act that undoubtedly enables a PCC to commission an independent review into a police investigation to help the PCC hold a chief constable to account. She also referred to the police and crime panel, sometimes referred to as the police and crime commissioners. They, as I understand it, are elected councillors and independents who replaced the old police authorities. Their function, as I understand it, is to scrutinise a PCC’s actions and decisions. Have their powers been invoked in this context?
A further body mentioned on that occasion, not by the Minister, was the Chief Inspector of Constabulary—the noble Lord, Lord Blair, has returned to that today—and as I understand it he might well have powers and responsibilities in this field. Under the Police Reform Act 2002 the director-general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which, I understand, replaces the old Police Complaints Authority, has a statutory duty to ensure that suitable arrangements are present to handle complaints against the police.
In short, one of the most troubling aspects of this case is that, despite the Home Office’s recognition of the compelling need for a public inquiry into this case and perhaps into other high-profile cases that raise closely related issues, no one seems able to nail the question as to where lies the primary responsibility for setting it up and still less how to enforce compliance with that responsibility. I for one shall not feel comfortable about the PCC’s role in the new overall policing landscape until this question is satisfactorily resolved.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for giving me and the House the chance to debate these matters. When, in the spring and summer of 2011, I walked through the Content Lobby to support big amendments to the then Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, I did not think that, five years later, I would be an elected police and crime commissioner myself. I reminded myself of the Second Reading debates in both Houses and I must confess to being a little shocked at the strength of opposition to the establishment of this new system of civilian oversight of policing.
Was this opposition justified? It might not entirely surprise noble Lords to hear me say that I do not think it was. Taking away some of the natural political hyperbole, the underlying genuine fear was that police and crime commissioners would politicise the police in an unnecessary and in particular an un-British way. I do not think it has. Of course, most PCCs are elected on a party ticket—indeed, it was inevitable from the legislation that they would be—but in practice there do not seem to have been many, if any, blatant examples of party-political partisanship that would embarrass the community and the police force itself. I am proud to be a Labour police and crime commissioner and I hope that some of my beliefs and principles show through in how I do the job, but the notion that I can use my executive position either to do down my political opponents, with whom I have to work every day in my job, or even to work to try to persuade my chief constable and his force to somehow adopt my politics is frankly absurd. I believe, as do all my colleagues, whatever party they belong to, that one of the greatest strengths in our society is that its police remain entirely independent of party politics. Long may that continue.
My role is to hold the police accountable to all the people of Leicestershire and to deliver an effective and efficient police service. Frankly, I do not have much time left to spend on party-political shenanigans, even if I wanted to. This is not to say that this very new system does not have real problems. First, I am not sure that all chief officers have accepted the important role in the system that police and crime commissioners now enjoy and are bound by law to assert. Of course it was intended that there should be a natural tension. But, after more than five and a half years, there is sometimes, I believe, not just tension—which is a good thing—but a lack of understanding.
Secondly, there remains, as has been said, a democratic deficit that all of us, as police and crime commissioners, are doing our best, I hope, to reduce. Thirdly, I am not sure—and I say this to the Minister—that the Government really know what they want police and crime commissioners to be. Do they want them to be the elected champions of all the people in their force area, holding the police to account and partnering with others so that crime can be prevented and the criminal justice system improved? Or do they want us to be fall guys who can be conveniently blamed by the Government, which, I am afraid, continue to reduce their central funding to police year on year?
Lastly—something which I hope touches a bell with some noble Lords here—some of us have a concern that the workforce reforms, pushed at great speed by the Home Office and the College of Policing, will mean that many from deprived communities may no longer consider a career in the police, and we will lose that sort of police officer whom we all know, who may not have a master’s degree but has the emotional intelligence and the common sense—
My Lords, I am sorry. Time is up, if we are to enable other noble Lords to take part.
I shall sit down, but I will just say that I am honoured to be a police and crime commissioner in a fine force with an outstanding chief constable. The jury is out as to whether this is a lasting solution to this issue, but I think it should be given many more years’ chance.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster for calling this important debate and allowing your Lordships to hear from a former chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police and a current police and crime commissioner, and to benefit from the width and breadth of experience in your Lordships’ House. What most worries me in what I have heard so far are the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Blair about the difficulties of recruiting the best people to the most senior roles in police forces. They are finding that it is becoming unattractive to take that role. Whatever one thinks of the current process, if it does not encourage and attract the best people to that role, it is deeply flawed and needs to be reviewed. I hope the Minister will take very seriously what my noble friend has said.
I have worked with young people on housing estates in London. I was even present as the police came to arrest a young woman who was involved in a burglary, a woman I was working with—but not at the time when she was possibly committing the crime. As we all are, I am interested in the welfare of our young people and in diversion wherever possible: diverting young people from crime. I think I am right in saying that some of the £8 billion that police and crime commissioners collectively manage can go towards diverting young people from crime. I would be interested to learn how that is audited, and whether police and crime commissioners are effective in their use of money to divert young people in particular from crime. Are they working effectively together across the piece as police and crime commissioners to do that job?
I want also to reflect on the process. Listening over the years as this policy area has developed, it has struck me that anybody working in the police field has shown little support for the notion of a police and crime commissioner model. It seems to be a theme of politics that, so often, innovations are made without consideration being given to the people who have the life experience, background careers and practice in the field of work. I may be mistaken and it may not be the right example, but when I speak to teachers who have worked for years in classrooms—with pupils, at the chalkboard—and who have a deep understanding of what they are doing, they tell me that they resent and regret being so little consulted on policy. They often feel like political footballs. In these areas so heavily to do with policing, I hope that those with many years in practice are given consideration in developing this policy. If it is true that the very best and most experienced practitioners are being put off by the current arrangements from taking on the most important roles, it is deeply regrettable.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those offered to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, but I must begin by declaring a vested interest, as my son is the PCC for Warwickshire. Obviously, I have followed the role of the PCCs and recently attended a session of my local community forum. This took the form of a presentation followed by questions to the PCC together with the safer neighbourhood team. That included the officer, who clearly knew her patch well. She spoke of the problems that she had encountered and how they were working with residents to try to create a better and more crime-free, peaceful area. I was impressed with the scope of the work of the PCC and his team and the subjects included in his four-year plan.
I was particularly pleased to hear that the national association of PCCs meets regularly to share good practice, national issues and good initiatives. Here, I commend the determination of the architect of the police and crime Act, my noble friend Lord Wasserman, who assisted the Minister during the passage of the Bill.
In Warwickshire, I am impressed also with the objective of putting victims at the heart of everything they do, something often forgotten in the past. Living in a rural area, I was glad to see the emphasis on advising farmers and vulnerable people who live in remote areas of the need to safeguard their property and equipment. Warwickshire has developed a Gypsy and Travellers protocol, and all the relevant agencies in the county are signed up to it—a tremendous advance.
The subjects that PCCs cover are many, but engagement with all residents and communities is to my mind the main priority—consulting them and holding the chief constable to account. A good example of this is realising that the biggest concern was officers on the ground. Following consultation, all the extra money raised by the council tax rise will fund a substantial increase in the number in officers. Noble Lords may say, “She would say that, wouldn’t she?”, but as a resident, I am giving my honest appraisal of this comparatively new body which operates on a budget that is less—yes, less—than when funded by the county council. This body continues to develop, learn and flourish. I congratulate it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster for obtaining this debate and for his important speech in introducing it. In the case of Edward Heath, he will know that we have talked about this, and I was the historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday tribunal. The Cabinet documents available to the historical adviser made it clear that Sir Edward Heath’s responsibility for Bloody Sunday could only be nil. None the less, Sir Edward had to appear in court and undergo quite a vigorous cross-examination. The standard of justice he got in Northern Ireland was vastly superior to that which he received in Wiltshire, which we should be a little worried about at this stage of the proceedings.
On the PCCs more generally and their role, I declare an interest as being chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We produced a report, Command Paper 9057—Tone from the Top: Leadership, Ethics and Accountability in Policing, whose 140 pages I cannot possible summarise in the four minutes available today. It was an attempt to be fair-minded and objective. We heard in the press at the time, as many have heard today, stories of apparently erratic behaviour of police and crime commissioners. We also had many examples of very fine work. We tried to find a balance and to suggest certain reforms. Above all, we were determined to insist that the Nolan principles should have great relevance to the work of modern policing and of police and crime commissioners. The evidence that we saw pointed to greater professionalism and increased visibility by PPCs, as well as a widespread recognition of the importance of the College of Policing’s code of ethics, core policing values and the need for new mechanisms to support high standards of behaviour and propriety. Crucially—the point has already been made by the noble Lords, Lord Wasserman and Lord Bassam, and it is due especially to the work of police and crime commissioners perhaps in the north of the country—there is now much higher visibility in respect of crimes and violence against women in general and not just domestic violence. This is a clear-cut area of success and achievement.
However, there was also clear evidence of significant standards risks. One that the committee highlighted in its report and is particularly relevant to this debate is the continuing confusion over roles and responsibilities, especially where responsibility for governance ends and that for operational decisions begins. That raises key questions of scrutiny and accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who has done important work in this area, said that the accountability of police and crime commissioners was an issue, and I agree. He is also right to draw attention to the concept of recall. We now have recall for Members of Parliament. If in principle we have it for one type of elected official, I cannot see a strong argument for not having it for another. However, when recall was introduced in Parliament, the committee had correspondence with the then Prime Minister David Cameron, in which we said that, if we were to introduce this pit that an MP might fall into, we had a responsibility to ensure that MPs knew beforehand the ethical standards by which they were supposed to live and that it was important to have proper induction, so that the rules and obligations were clear. To the credit of that Prime Minister, he accepted the point completely and supported the committee in this regard. If that is true for MPs who may face recall, it should be true for police and crime commissioners. There must be proper provision of induction courses that explain all the ethical risks and pitfalls that might exist.
When we were going around the country and talking to police and crime commissioners, I was slightly disappointed in respect of this final point. The Nolan principles should apply nationally. We quite understand that the PCCs experiment is all about creative localism and we respect that, but that should not create a context in which police and crime commissioners can evade their commitment to the Nolan principles of accountability above all in public life.
My Lords, along with all my colleagues, I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for proposing this debate and winning the ballot. I fully support his position in relation to Wiltshire.
I have to confess that when police and crime commissioners were introduced, in a Bill in this House, I was highly suspicious of the whole idea, but I have come to realise that they can be—although they are not always—a force for good. Clearly, they all need to learn from the terrible situation in Wiltshire, and, indeed, the other warnings that noble Lords have given this morning. I have been particularly impressed by Ron Hogg, the PCC for the Durham constabulary. He and Mike Barton, the chief constable, have shown that a PCC can think outside the box and support his chief constable to follow sensible but radical policies. If I dare say it, I think that chief constables can be a bit conformist. I am surrounded by three former chief constables and feel a bit hemmed in here—I do not want to misbehave.
Whisper the next bit.
I want to talk about Durham police service’s excellent drug policies—that will be no surprise to anybody—in the context of the recognition of Durham as the leading police service in this country. For three years Durham has achieved an “outstanding” rating for effectiveness in reducing crime and keeping communities safe, and Durham has the third-highest level of public confidence of all police forces. This outstanding performance has been achieved while leading the way with policies that could be described as being soft on drug users and even soft on low-level drug dealers, something I think police services generally are not keen to be reputed to support.
PCC Ron Hogg continues to call for drugs to be decriminalised, so that users will not fear being treated as criminals when considering whether to seek medical advice to help with their addiction. Portugal has proved the success of this policy over 20 years and I think we need to take it seriously. Increasingly, other PCCs are supporting the call for drug policy reform and this has to be welcomed. Durham has lots of other innovative programmes and I shall refer to just two. The Checkpoint diversion scheme has reduced reoffending by about 10%, releasing resources, of course, for more police officers. Under the Checkpoint initiative, introduced in 2015, offenders are selected for diversion to non-criminal justice interventions. The chief constable, Mike Barton, has proposed putting all drug addicts who are arrested through Checkpoint in order to stabilise their lives and get them into treatment. Even some low-level dealers and those caught up at a low level in trafficking are included in Checkpoint: this is really radical stuff, I would say. These people will have been intimidated, pressured or coerced into working for the big guys—we all know about that. This is truly humane, but again, it is a massive resources issue.
Durham’s other target for reform is long-term heroin users: it recommends heroin assisted treatment centres, pioneered very successfully in Switzerland. This programme is costly but highly cost effective. On average, heroin addicts commit 80 crimes a month, according to the Swiss research. Does not treatment, rather than locking someone up in a cell, sound like a good idea for this group? The new Home Secretary has made clear his determination to achieve reform, at least for medical cannabis. I hope our Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will invite the Home Secretary to visit Durham police, if he has not already done so, and urge him to encourage all PCCs and their chief constables to follow Durham’s example. He could cut crime drastically and save huge resources, as well as saving lives.
My Lords, I completely support and agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said. One useful thing that has come out of this debate is that it is clear that the PCC system, which I support, needs some modification. A great deal more care needs to be taken over a new system for selecting the candidates: the sort of people who should become PCCs.
I want to refer to the case of Edward Heath. I first knew him when he was shadow Chancellor and I was working in the Conservative Research Department. Along with my noble friend Lord Cope I worked for him on the 1965 Finance Bill. Subsequently I knew him when he was Prime Minister and I was working in Whitehall. There are very few people in my life for whom I would put my hand in the fire for their total integrity and personal morality. Ted Heath is one of them. What confuses me is the reluctance of the Home Office to accept widespread advice that an independent inquiry is needed. Now the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire has refused to do his duty. I assume he has good reasons for doing so and I suggest that those reasons themselves should be brought into the public domain. Now that we know that we need a public inquiry, why is the Home Office being so difficult? I fear that I have a great suspicion of the Home Office itself.
It is awful to say it, but the Home Office has been shown, in part of its organisation, to be deeply corrupt. It is deplorable, but I have asked Parliamentary Questions and the Home Office has revealed that numerous members of its Civil Service staff have been convicted of serious criminal offences in relation to their duties. More recently, it has been very reluctant to disclose the names of those concerned. In January 2012 my noble friend Lord Henley, and in August 2013 my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach revealed in Written Answers that there had been 37 convictions of Home Office staff, most of whom went to prison, sometimes for long periods of up to nine years. Their names were given in those Parliamentary Answers. On 1 June my noble friend Lady Williams gave a further Written Answer adding 22 cases to the list, but she refused to give the names of those concerned to protect the statutory and data protection obligations. These people were convicted in open court and their names therefore should be open to the media, and are. Indeed, the most recent case was of someone called Shamsu Iqbal, who in April this year was sent to prison for 11 years for assisting unlawful immigration in a case on which millions of pounds of public money was spent. This illustrates why we must have a public inquiry by a retired judge into the case of Wiltshire Police and Sir Edward Heath.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Meacher, I was sceptical about the 2011 legislation because I did not like the idea of giving so much power over policing to an individual appointed with a party political label. I thoroughly accept what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said about the efforts of police and crime commissioners to maintain their neutrality, on which they have to take an oath, but it seems to me that requiring someone who is a party-affiliated commissioner to be entirely neutral is like trying to make water run uphill, so I remain sceptical about it.
Obviously, there has been much reference to the case of Wiltshire Police. I want to add this: if somebody with no public name had been subjected to the sort of treatment that Operation Conifer gave to the memory of Sir Edward Heath, such a person would have been entitled to a review, but figures with the public profile of Sir Edward are clearly in a particularly vulnerable position. Like my noble friend Lord Armstrong, I find the refusal of the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire to initiate the review which would provide redress to the memory of Sir Edward Heath utterly incomprehensible.
I also endorse what my noble friend Lord Blair has said about the responsibility of the Government. The Government have so far declined to launch an investigation into the conduct of Operation Conifer on the grounds that it is a matter for the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner. However, the besmirching of the reputation of a former Prime Minister is not just a local issue for Wiltshire, it is a national issue.
The Minister admitted to me in answer to a Question that the Home Office has the powers to initiate an investigation but has so far chosen not to do so. Will she ask her right honourable friend the new Home Secretary to look at this again and either press the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire to reverse his decision—if necessary by providing the resources for an investigation—or, since that decision was taken on demonstrably false grounds, will the Home Office take on its responsibility to put this matter right?
My Lords, as many noble Lords have said, Operation Conifer has created a climate of suspicion around Sir Edward Heath even though we have seen no evidence of any credible allegations made against him. This is why I and many others have called for an independent investigation into Operation Conifer.
When I asked the Minister on 19 April whether the Home Office would establish such an inquiry, she replied:
“an inquiry … should be considered only where other available investigatory mechanisms would not be sufficient”.—[Official Report, 19/4/18; col. 1247.]
Let me list what those other investigatory mechanisms are. Here I have the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to thank, because in January this year he wrote to me listing who could establish an enquiry. First, he said that a police and crime commissioner can commission an independent review into an investigation conducted by that police force, but the Wiltshire PCC refused, as we know, so it has not happened. Secondly, the Independent Police Complaints Commission can investigate a matter that has been referred to it, but no relevant referral has been made. The Home Secretary does not have the power to direct it to investigate a police force, so that has not happened. Thirdly, the Secretary of State can require Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake an inspection of a specific police force, but this has not happened. Fourthly, the police and crime commissioner can request that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate carries out an inspection into the activities of its police force. But he has not, so this has not happened.
Let me repeat what the Minister said in April: an inquiry should be considered only in the absence of other investigatory mechanisms. Well, they are absent. I can come to the aid of the Home Office here, thanks again to Sir Jeremy Heywood. This is what he said in his letter:
“the Government has the authority to establish an independent public inquiry … where it appears to [a Minister] that (a) particular events have caused ... public concern”.
He goes on:
“The Government also has the authority to establish a non- statutory inquiry in the form of an ad hoc inquiry.”
So there is now no excuse for the Home Office to say no to an inquiry. I say the Home Office deliberately because I believe that the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, genuinely understands the sentiments that I and others have expressed.
We have a new Home Secretary who has already shown his willingness to grasp difficult nettles, so I live in hope. I can well imagine Home Office officials telling him that if he does nothing, demands for an inquiry into Operation Conifer will eventually fade away. Well, we will not fade away and these demands will not fade away.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for securing this debate. I would also like to make it a matter of record that I support the noble Lord in his wish for an independent inquiry of some form or another.
Justice not only needs to be done, it needs to be seen to be done. If there is nothing to hide, why do we not have an inquiry? Having been an HMI for two years, let me tell your Lordships that if that system had been in existence now and I had been the HMI of Wiltshire, an inquiry would have taken place without any doubt at all. I know the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, would agree.
Noble Lords may be aware of my concerns about the introduction of PCCs following the commission that I led in 2013. Our report, Policing for a Better Britain, considered it a failed experiment. Some PCCs and politicians tried to pour cold water on our findings, dubbing them politically motivated. A quick look at the names of those who sat on the Commission—your Lordships will know some of them because they sit in this House—shows that 27 independent universities were involved. Of course the report could not have been politically motivated.
However, it seems clear to me that it would be a waste of time and money to totally abolish the system as it currently stands. That said, I believe there are opportunities for improvement which can be seen in order to tackle some of the flaws which have been pointed out since the inception of the role. They have been adequately talked about before my presentation today.
In light of the recent reporting on funding cuts to police services, the so-called crisis in crime, the rates of violent crime in particular and the looming changes which will no doubt be brought on by Brexit, I find it of vital importance that the role and responsibilities of PCCs are addressed and examined with an open mind and an honest will to improve the service which they provide to the public and to listen to those on the front line. We need to address issues such as what a PCC is and what are their roles. Senior appointment panels have to be re-elected and reappointed. Nobody—or very few people—wants to be a chief constable. Northumbria, the police force of which I was proud to be chief constable for five years, had no one wanting to do the job. It actually approached someone and a very good appointment has been made internally. That is unbelievable. When I went for the job, there were eight applicants—one an existing chief constable. How I got the job, I do not know and perhaps others would agree, but there we go. Other issues that need to be dealt with are the dismissal of police chiefs and police leadership generally.
I have immense respect for the Minister. The starting point could be February 2016 when the then Home Secretary, the present Prime Minister, told the Policy Exchange,
“you could be forgiven for thinking that we were creating a monster. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times over the last three and a half years when I thought we might have done just that.”
She went on in an extraordinary example of honesty by listing several incidents which have given PCCs a bad name, adding that there was no doubt that some of them had brought the office of the PCC into disrepute. She concluded:
“We must not kid ourselves that PCCs are yet universally understood”.
That is a very good starting point for a review of where we are with PCCs.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for securing this debate. I declare an interest not only as a former senior Metropolitan Police officer but as someone who is gazing across the Chamber at three former Metropolitan Police Commissioners. Of course, that will not influence what I say. On Operation Conifer, I say only that I hope the House will soon be given the opportunity to debate my Private Member’s Bill on pre-charge anonymity.
We on these Benches remain sceptical about the benefits of police and crime commissioners over police authorities—despite some very good examples, such as our very own noble Lord, Lord Bach—and advocate their replacement with panels of locally elected councillors or London Assembly members. However, I take exception to what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said about party-political influences. As noble Lords will know, police and crime commissioners are now predominantly party-political candidates. In 2012 there were 12 independents; in 2016 only three independents were elected. I accept that they may not be party political in terms of local politics but when it comes to arguments about, for example, resources for policing, I wonder how vocal Conservative police and crime commissioners have been, compared with Labour police and crime commissioners, about the lack of central government funding for policing. There is a danger of politicising the police—of chief constables being selected according to whether their politics align with those of the local PCC. I can think of a famous example of a chief officer being sacked because his political views did not align with those of the police and crime commissioner.
There is also the problem, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton and Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, of the low number of applicants for chief constable posts. The seventh report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 said:
“It is deeply concerning that there have been so few applicants for recent Chief Constable vacancies … It is also worrying that incumbent deputies often seem to be the only candidates”.
That relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said about the difficulty of having two individuals—the chief constable and the PCC—with so much relying on the personalities of the two.
A case was drawn to my attention where serious allegations were made about the chief constable of a particular force. Rather than initiating an independent investigation, the police and crime commissioner is alleged to have passed those accusations to the chief constable, including the identity of the accuser, placing that person—a member of that force—in an invidious position. Eventually, in 2014, following further allegations from other members of the force, that chief constable was suspended and the matter was investigated by the IPCC. But a misconduct hearing conducted by the police and crime commissioner, rather than sacking the chief constable, recommended eight final warnings, and the chief constable was reinstated. It was only after concerns were raised by the chief officer group of the force, the Police Superintendents’ Association of the force, the Police Federation of the force and Unison, and a public petition of more than 1,000 signatures calling for the chief constable’s resignation, that the police and crime commissioner began the process requiring the chief constable to resign, which he subsequently did. As the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Wasserman, said, there is clearly a need for greater accountability of police and crime commissioners. The person who contacted me asked, “What happens when the police and crime commissioner is guilty of misconduct?”—a question that I did not have an answer to.
As for the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, they already have a huge area of responsibility, not just for the police but for crime and disorder reduction. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners briefing provided for this debate says:
“PCCs work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime”,
“Police and Crime Commissioners are actively involved in work that goes beyond policing including on victim services, mental health, community safety, reducing offending, child sexual exploitation and abuse, youth justice and beyond”.
Despite that, the Government have pressed ahead with giving police and crime commissioners other responsibilities, such as for the fire service. When one considers the sort of scrutiny the London fire and rescue service has been under this week in the Grenfell inquiry, one has to agree with the Home Affairs Committee report, which said:
“Adding further to their responsibilities … is an interesting idea but one which we believe requires detailed scrutiny and should be left until later”.
I am also concerned that an unintended consequence of these additional responsibilities for police and crime commissioners will be the erosion of the role of locally elected councillors and London Assembly members. Coupled with the erosion of central government funding, is this part of a government strategy to undermine local authorities and local democracy?
Police authorities mainly comprised elected representatives from a range of political parties, magistrates and independent members who could make up for any gaps in representation; for example, of minorities. There were representatives from different parts of a police force area—urban versus rural, for example—and local problems and concerns could be championed by individual police authority members and addressed. If not party-politically neutral, they were certainly more politically balanced. Local councillors on police authorities could balance the needs of police funding, which is increasingly falling on local authorities as central government funding for the police reduces, against the needs of other local services; whereas police and crime commissioners only have to consider raising money locally for the police. Crime and disorder partnerships, based on local authority areas, could be better synchronised with police authorities.
As other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Scriven, have said, there is concern about democratic legitimacy, public awareness and accountability. Democratic legitimacy and public awareness of who holds the police to account and how to make representations are still as lacking as under the old system. According to the APCC briefing, PPCs have,
“increased the transparency and accountability across the policing landscape through their directly elected role”.
I am not sure the evidence backs that up. Turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections in 2012 was only 15% and in 2016 was between 23% and 26%. I expect PCCs are as largely invisible as their police authority predecessors. Indeed, the Home Affairs Committee said that,
“public engagement by PCCs … is an extremely important part of their role if they are to be truly representative of, and accountable to, their local areas … We would like to see all PCCs … putting the highest priority on engaging with their electorates”.
Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, arguably the PCC system costs more than the system that it replaced. For example, you have not only the salaries of PCCs but of deputy police and crime commissioners. A PCC can appoint anybody they like to that role. Of course, in addition there is the cost of the elections, and sadly we have already had one by-election as a consequence of the tragic death of a PCC. All these costs add up.
As elected representatives, the only way that police and crime commissioners can be held to account is by police and crime panels. As the Home Affairs Committee report says,
“panel members need to be properly trained, resourced and supported”,
but of course the only training, resources and support they will get are those provided by the police and crime commissioner himself or herself.
Overall, we think the old system had its drawbacks but the cost-benefit analysis for police and crime commissioners comes out negative.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for securing this debate on the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners. It is a question that he has prompted in the context of the handling of Operation Conifer by Wiltshire Police and the approach of the Wiltshire and Swindon PCC. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 gave PCCs responsibility for the totality of policing within their force area, and further required them to hold the force chief constable to account for the operational delivery of policing.
The Policing Protocol Order 2011 states:
“The public accountability for the delivery and performance of the police service is placed into the hands of the PCC on behalf of their electorate. The PCC draws on their mandate to set and shape the strategic objectives of their force area in consultation with the Chief Constable. They are accountable to the electorate; the Chief Constable is accountable to their PCC. The Panel within each force area is empowered to maintain a regular check and balance on the performance of the PCC in that context”.
The protocol also states:
“The PCC is the recipient of all funding, including the government grant and precept and other sources of income, related to policing and crime reduction and all funding for a force must come via the PCC. How this money is allocated is a matter for the PCC in consultation with the Chief Constable, or in accordance with any grant terms. The Chief Constable will provide professional advice and recommendations”.
In respect of the chief constable, the protocol says:
“At all times the Chief Constable, their constables and staff, remain operationally independent in the service of the communities that they serve”.
During Oral Questions on 7 March last year, the Government said that,
“chief officers are held to account in respect of operational matters by their police and crime commissioner”.—[Official Report, 7/3/17; col. 1249.]
How exactly is the PCC allowed to do that if the Government’s view is that operational matters are purely the responsibility of the chief constable? In holding the chief constable to account, can the police and crime commissioner, within their powers, give directions to the chief constable on how they should conduct “operational matters” or changes they should introduce, or is the holding to account at the end of the day in reality limited to the nuclear option of the power to dismiss? Could the Government in response indicate how the power to hold to account in respect of operational matters can be exercised by a police and crime commissioner within their powers?
On 11 October 2017 I asked the Government:
“Which elected person, if any, had the statutory power—if they chose to use it—to challenge how the Operation Conifer investigation was being conducted or even to stop it?”.
In response the Government said:
“The elected power who would have the authority to undertake any of the issues that the noble Lord is talking about would be the PCC”.—[Official Report, 11/10/17; col. 230.]
That again comes back to the issue of the role and responsibilities of a PCC to hold the chief constable to account in respect of operational matters, since presumably the Operation Conifer investigation was an operational matter. When the Government said that the PCC could challenge how the investigation was being conducted, did the Government also mean that the police and crime commissioner had a power of direction in this regard? In other words, can the Government say in what way the police and crime commissioner could have challenged how the investigation was being conducted and what actions he could then have taken within his laid-down powers and responsibilities?
If a PCC does have the power to set up a review into how an investigation is being conducted or has been conducted by their police force, what powers does the PCC have to implement any recommendations arising from that review, which may well be recommendations on operational matters which the Government say are the responsibility of the chief constable and not the PCC? Surely the PCC would not be in the position of being able to set up such an inquiry or review, but then not be able to implement any recommendations arising on operational issues, if their chief constable declined to implement those recommendations? Again, I would like a response from the Government on this specific point.
Similarly, the PCC is responsible for drawing up a budget, and it is presumably a matter for the PCC as to how specific they are in allocating money to different activities and functions, including operational matters. Can a PCC, in drawing up a budget, allocate specific sums of money to addressing specific types of crime such as cybercrime, fraud, burglary, domestic violence or moped cycle crime, for example? If the PCC can do that, is that not also getting involved in operational matters, since the PCC, through the budget allocations, would be determining or at least heavily influencing what level of available police resources should be allocated to addressing different sorts of crime—an allocation with which the chief constable might not agree, or might feel was an operational issue that was their responsibility and not that of the PCC? I would like a response from the Government on the specific point of the extent to which the PCC, through drawing up the budget and the detail they go into in doing so, can in reality make decisions affecting operational matters which, according to the Government, are apparently the sole responsibility of the chief constable.
Then there is the issue of what PCC candidates promise or claim in their election addresses. One I have seen, for a sitting PCC seeking re-election, said that their record over the previous four years had included,
“seeing an overall reduction in crime and incidents year on year”,
“ensuring that our local police are out in their community, rather than stuck behind a desk”.
Is a PCC accountable for “seeing an overall reduction in crime and incidents year on year” and “ensuring that our local police are out in their community”, or are those operational matters that are the responsibility of the chief constable? Once again I would like a response from the Government on that point.
If there is an overall increase in crime and incidents year on year, it will of course be interesting to see whether a PCC seeking re-election would accept responsibility for that in their election address, or whether the tone would change, with the PCC then maintaining that that was an operational matter for the chief constable and that he or she—the PCC—would be holding the chief constable to account for it.
There is of course the Policing Protocol Order 2011, which sets out to all police and crime commissioners, chief constables and police and crime panels how their functions will be exercised in relation to each other. Even with the 2011 protocol, are the Government satisfied that all police and crime commissioners understand clearly in practical terms their powers, role and responsibilities, including in relation to chief constables and police and crime panels, and do the Government consider that all police and crime commissioners have the same view about the practical application of their powers, role and responsibilities? On how many occasions have police and crime commissioners, either individually or collectively, sought the advice or understanding of the Home Office on the practical application of their statutory powers, and what have been the issues they have raised? Do the Government seek to ensure that there is a consistent view among PCCs of how their role and responsibilities should and can be interpreted and developed, and, if so, by what means do the Government seek to do that?
I sense that some PCCs, such as my noble friend Lord Bach, have a very clear view about the extent and breadth of their role and responsibilities. I am aware, too, of the numerous and varied initiatives that Dame Vera Baird has initiated, or been a key player in, in her capacity as PCC for Northumbria, and I get the strong impression—as my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton said—that she is held in high regard for the very proactive way in which she has interpreted and developed her role and responsibilities as PCC. Other noble Lords have made favourable references to the work of other PCCs.
I am not so sure, though, that clarity about their role and responsibilities applies across the board with PCCs. I do not believe that the Government had a very clear idea either on that matter when they passed the 2011 Act establishing police and crime commissioners. There were generalities about the role and responsibilities of PCCs, and not least in relation to chief constables and police and crime panels. My feeling is that the relevant individuals concerned in each police force have been left largely on their own to interpret what the 2011 Act and the protocol actually mean when it comes to specifics, and what they should and should not be doing, and can and cannot be doing. As a result, power of personality has often been a crucial factor in determining what actually happens, and that is why I believe there are still significant differences in the way that PCCs interpret their working relationships and role and responsibilities. That is why some PCCs have a high and positive profile within their areas, and others seem to be rather less visible to their constituents, and rather less active in developing and promoting new and imaginative initiatives to help reduce and prevent crime, and support victims.
My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton and others raised the issue of a review of how the role and responsibilities of PCCs have worked out in practice and how effective and accountable working relationships involving PCCs have proved in reality. I await with interest the Government’s response to this point and to the many other points that have been raised, including by me and the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in this debate.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for securing this debate. He told me he had secured it and thought I might not be very happy, but I am very happy that he secured the debate as it gives us another chance to debate this very important issue that I know is of such importance to noble Lords. Parliament’s only PCC, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, participated in this debate and other noble Lords have spoken. It has been quite a wide-ranging debate—necessarily so—and across the Chamber views have been expressed on a variety of issues relating to the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners.
Since the introduction of PCCs in 2012—40 of them in total, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, pointed out—everyone now has a direct say in policing in their area through their locally elected PCC. Police and crime commissioners have brought real local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform and are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing, as my noble friends Lady Seccombe and Lord Wasserman pointed out. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about his PCC. Others may have other points to make about theirs, but they operate in the full gaze of the media and must justify their record to the public every four years via the ballot box, as my noble friend Lord Wasserman pointed out.
I was very glad to hear from my noble friends Lord Wasserman and Lady Seccombe about some of the good work that is going on in their areas, and I have seen at first hand what the PCC, who is the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is doing in Leicestershire. This is in stark contrast to the police authorities—I must declare an interest as I sat on a police authority—which were not particularly visible and were not felt to be particularly accountable. I note the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Scriven, about their return, but on a personal level I would not want to see it.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made a point about Ministers stepping in to deal with the lack of democracy in the PCC system. As they are directly elected, PCCs are directly accountable to their electorate, and local communities will have their say at the ballot box when the time comes. Police and crime panels have the appropriate powers to scrutinise the actions and decisions of the PCCs effectively. For instance, panels have a statutory power to request information from PCCs, should that be necessary.
At the 2016 PCC national elections, 9 million votes were cast, and PCCs are currently receiving more than 7,000 pieces of correspondence from the general public every month.
PCCs are also providing an impetus to reform. As we have heard, PCCs such as Vera Baird, whom I have also met, are proposing innovative solutions to delivering policing more effectively. PCCs are taking a lead role in driving collaboration between forces, which is a very welcome change, and with other blue-light partners to deliver more effective services and better value for money for the taxpayer. I have seen that in Greater Manchester and in Leicestershire with the noble Lord, Lord Bach.
As was recognised by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its March 2016 report, PCCs are here to stay and their introduction has worked well to date. I also note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, which I have seen time and time again, that their role has not been politicised. In fact, I have seen PCCs not afraid to challenge their own political party on some of the things that are happening. The police remain independent, and that is very pleasing to see.
A number of noble Lords raised questions concerning the Government’s role in relation to the powers of PCCs. PCCs have been elected by the public to hold chief constables and the force to account, making the police answerable to the communities they serve. The police are, rightly, operationally independent of government. It would not be right for government to intervene in or influence the exercise of a PCC’s functions.
I must reiterate that the exercise of a PCC’s powers in relation to the commission of any specific inquiry must be a matter for the PCC in question. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, talked about holding the force to account. Section 36 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act places a duty on the chief constable to provide to the PCC any information necessary to hold the force to account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made a bit of a side point about drugs. I would expect that from her, as she does things very skilfully. She made a point about drug users being made into criminals by the police. The police and, certainly, the Government primarily want people to recover from drug dependency, as opposed to wanting to make criminals of them.
My noble friend Lord Wasserman asked a very interesting question on recall. It was at the forefront of discussions some years ago, but it is good to hear him bringing it back. There is definitely a debate to be had. However, extending the policy of recall beyond MPs to other elected officers requires careful consideration, and we would need to work with others in elected offices to understand the precedent that might be set.
My noble friend Lady Seccombe talked about neighbourhood policing and working with residents and communities. It is such a valuable aspect of local policing. Whether it is in Salisbury or London, these officers play a vital role in keeping us safe every day. There are many examples of the great work they do.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, talked about the police being inclusive, the question of maintaining operational independence and the context of unjust and unfair policing towards BME communities. He made a very important point about the diversity of the police. It is important in policing all communities inclusively. I am pleased to say that the proportion of officers from a non-white ethnic group has been increasing in the past decade. I agree with the noble Lord that, to be effective, a force must mirror the community it serves.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about diversity of PCCs. It is something that all political parties and none would support in terms of engaging people not only in the policing function but in the political process of choosing their PCC. In 2016, 9 million votes were cast, which was a 67% increase in the number of votes cast in the election in 2012, so the turnout is not high but is on a very good upward trajectory.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, talked about the powers of HMIC. While it might be possible for the PPC or the Home Secretary to commission HMICFRS to review whether an investigation was conducted in a way that met the standards required for policing, we do not believe that it is appropriate for the inspectorate to review all evidence gathered and conclusions reached. On the point of the inspection of Wiltshire, it has consistently reached overall “Good”, although I can understand that noble Lords might not entirely agree with that point.
The noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton, Lord Hastings, and others, talked about strategic reviews of the police as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, pointed out that the last royal commission was in 1962. However, a number of key reports have led to police reform subsequently, including the Scarman report in 1981, Sheehy in 1992 and, of course, the Macpherson report of 1999.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, talked about addressing the issue of police funding reductions. Prior to the police funding settlement, the Minister for Policing—I have said this at the Dispatch Box on many an occasion—spoke to every police force in England to understand the level of resource required to meet policing needs. We have provided a comprehensive funding settlement, with increasing investment of over £460 million in 2018-19. The noble Lord will recall the Home Secretary saying recently that he absolutely understands some of the pressures which the police have been under, particularly in light of events over the last year or two in terms of terrorist attacks and other things that have happened.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the challenge posed by flawed recruitment processes, and recruiting senior police. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, may also have mentioned that, or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Butler—they have been a sea behind me, but it was one of them. The issue of choosing police leaders is so important. People need to be able to demonstrate both leadership and be very good in their policing role. In many ways, a career in policing should be a vocation that is attractive to the brightest and the best leaders in society. The Government want to see police ranks opened up, with flexible entry and exit paths to encourage diversity of experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked what the police were doing on moped crime. It is clearly a concern, and I assure the noble Lord that the Government have worked with the police, industry and other partners to develop a comprehensive action plan on what is a very serious problem in our attempt to keep the public safe.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the process for complaints against the PCC. Non-serious complaints go to police and crime panels but, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, when complaints are of a serious and criminal nature, they will be directed to the IOPC.
Moving on to the issue of Operation Conifer and the PCC for Wiltshire and Swindon, I have heard of concerns today, as I have heard previously, about the refusal of the locally elected PCC to commission an inquiry into Operation Conifer, which investigated, as noble Lords know, claims of child sexual abuse made against the late former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I understand the strength of feeling in this House, which I have heard expressed many times. I fully recognise the desire of those who knew Sir Edward personally to protect his reputation when he is no longer able to do so himself. I understand the disappointment at the PCC’s decision not to commission an inquiry. On the point of enough funding to commission an inquiry, Wiltshire has £17.9 million in reserves.
However, that does not change the Government’s position. It is our view that it is rightly a decision for the PCC and that he has the necessary powers and, as I have just said, the necessary funding. This concerns an investigation led by Wiltshire Police into a past resident of the county. The high profile of that individual does not of itself make this a national issue, but I understand the point about it being of national interest. The Government have no plans to launch an inquiry into how this investigation was conducted. It is still open to the locally elected PCC to do so himself, but it would not be appropriate for the Government to step in simply because he has chosen not to.
It is extremely important at this point to remind ourselves that Wiltshire Police’s own report strongly emphasised that no inference of guilt should be drawn from the fact that Sir Edward, had he still been alive, would have been interviewed under caution in respect of a small number of allegations. I can see the sensitivity and concern that those words have garnered. The purpose of such an interview would have been to gain his account, which would have been as important as other evidence gathered as part of the wider investigation. Because he was being accused of an offence, it would have been important for Sir Edward to enjoy the same protections as anyone else in that position and to benefit from an interview under caution. By doing so, the police are able to advance their investigations, and suspects’ rights are protected. Every day people are interviewed under caution and no action is ever taken against them. However, I can understand the feeling in this case, but as the police rightly noted, an interview cannot and should not be interpreted as a sign of guilt. We need to remember that.
We also need to remember that only a court can determine whether someone is guilty and that when an accused person is deceased and cannot present their own evidence to the court, this is not possible. There is no guarantee, unfortunately, that an independent review of Operation Conifer would provide a definitive answer that noble Lords so understandably seek.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether Operation Conifer was referred to the PCC panel for scrutiny, which is a good question. Of course, PCC panels have a role in challenging, scrutinising and supporting each police and crime commissioner. I do not know the answer in the specific case as to whether it did, but it is something that I can take back and ask.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, asked about IICSA, and, of course, the PCC for Wiltshire is of the opinion that IICSA—the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse—is the correct commissioning body for such a review. I must reiterate, and I think the noble Lord was alluding to this, that IICSA was established to consider the extent to which institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It operates independently of government and, within its terms of reference, decides what it investigates and how. It would be inappropriate for the Government to seek to influence those decisions. I think noble Lords are clear—certainly I am—on IICSA’s role, which is distinct from the role of Operation Conifer.
The Henriques report was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, not the Government, so the recommendations are largely for the College of Policing which sets the standards for policing. We are very grateful for the lessons it has taught us about such investigations. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made the point about victims. There has been much discussion recently about the approach the police take to allegations of sexual offences and abuse. The College of Policing is currently considering the recommendations of the Henriques report and will announce its response in due course.
Of course, great effort has gone into building public trust in police investigations into the very sensitive and distressing matter of sexual abuse. It is important that this continues. Starting an investigation from a position of doubt is unlikely to encourage victims to come forward. Existing guidance says that when an allegation is received police should believe the account and record it as a crime unless there is credible evidence at the point the allegation is made that determines that no crime has been committed. In this case it should be recorded as an incident.
Can the noble Lord indulge me? I am literally at time and I implore noble Lords not to stop me from talking. Perhaps the noble Lord and I can talk afterwards.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether PCCs can give directions to challenge police constables and, specifically, whether they can set up their own reviews. Our view is that PCCs can establish a review into the conduct of an operation in order to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the force.
Finally—and I am definitely testing noble Lords’ patience—there is the point about the Home Office being corrupt. Thousands of people work in the Home Office every day. I come across many of them. In every walk of life, most people do their job with great enthusiasm and professionalism. We will always get members of staff who stray from that, but to go as far as saying that the Home Office is corrupt I would strongly deny. I conclude by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate and made a great many interesting contributions.
As to what the Minister said about the Operation Conifer affair, she holds a very straight bat for the Home Office, but we shall be returning to the matter because, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others have said, there are issues of justice in this that cannot be allowed to rest. No doubt we shall need to talk again to the police and crime commissioner, but I do not think we have heard the last of this matter in this Chamber or more generally.
The debate was extremely interesting. I formed the impression that what we think about police and crime commissioners rather depends on the area from which we come; some are better than others. There are still aspects of the system that we have not got right and will need to be examined again.
I thought the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about operational expenditure were very important and need to be considered very thoroughly. The Home Office has been apt to use the doctrine of operational independence to avoid almost any kind of query about police operations. Although I believe that the principle of operational independence is extremely important, once an operation is over—as I said before—the doctrine of operational expenditure cannot absolve the chief constable from having to account for the way in which an investigation has been conducted or for its consequences. It suggests that we need to refine this doctrine a little more than we have done.
Finally, police forces traditionally have been guided that they must believe child abuse allegations. As one speaker suggested, that goes too far. They must take allegations seriously, of course, but they must examine them because this is an area in which false allegations seem to be exceedingly prevalent. People should be taken seriously, but the possibility of falsehood or deliberate conspiracy to make false allegations should never be overlooked. I again thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the continuing violence between communities and armed groups in Nigeria.
My Lords, the tragic topicality of today’s debate was underlined last weekend when more than 200 people were reported to have died in co-ordinated attacks on around 50 communities in Plateau state in Barkin Ladi. These attacks began on 22 June and lasted until 24 June. The majority of the victims were women and children. At one location, 120 were killed as they returned from the funeral of an elderly member of the Church of Christ in Nations. A dawn to dusk curfew was established and, as I heard first hand yesterday from the honourable Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, a member of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, the area remains tense. This most recent episode is shocking, but it is also the latest in an extended pattern of violence that has become all too common across Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt and increasingly in some of the more southern states.
Last week Sam Brownback, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was in Nigeria. On a single day during his visit, there were six suicide bombings by Boko Haram, the largest number ever on any single day. As we will hear later from my noble—and courageous—friend Lady Cox, who has visited these areas, these attacks have been systematic and go on unabated.
Human rights groups such as CSW have catalogued every reported attack. While it may not be definitive, the list attempts to provide as comprehensive a record as possible of known attacks and of the death toll in the Middle Belt during the first quarter of this year, underlining the critical need for urgent and effective intervention. I have sent many of these details to Ministers but in the interests of time I will just give the House a snapshot from a few days in April of this year. On 10 April, 10 people were killed in Ukum in Benue state. On 10 April, 51 were killed in Wukari, Taraba state. On 12 April, 41 were killed in Ukum, Benue state. On 12 April, two were killed in Makurdi in Benue state, and another 41 were killed in Ukum in Benue state.
The charity Aid to the Church in Need, on whose board I sit in a pro bono capacity, has also documented appalling acts of violence, which I have sent to the Government. In April, during early morning mass, militants attacked the parish in Makurdi killing two priests and 17 members of the congregation. ACN has also highlighted the 15,000 orphans and 5,000 widows in the north-east—an area that has come under repeated attack from Boko Haram. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what humanitarian aid we have been able to provide for victims.
CSW reports that in the first quarter of 2018, Fulani herder militia perpetrated at least 106 attacks in central Nigeria. The death toll in these four months, purely from herder militia violence, stands at 1,061. An additional 11 attacks recorded on communities in the south of the country claimed a further 21 lives. One spokesman said: “It is purely a religious jihad in disguise”.
There has certainly been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities right across the Sahel, over land, grazing and scarce resources—I have visited places such as Darfur myself and have seen that at first hand. It is true that attacks by herder militia have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities conclude that they can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice. Between 1 January and 1 May this year, there were 60 such attacks. However, compared with the recent escalation in attacks by well-armed Fulani herders upon predominately Christian farming communities, the asymmetry is stark and must be acknowledged by the UK Government in their characterisation and narrative of this violence. Given the escalation, frequency, organisation and asymmetry of Fulani attacks, does the Minister believe that the references to “farmer-herder clashes” still suffice? In the face of the reports of violence collected by impartial human rights groups, there is no place here for, as it were, moral equivalence; nor is it sufficient for the Government merely to urge all sides to seek dialogue and avoid violence. I would urge the noble Baroness to revisit the narrative, conduct her own assessment and either confirm or dispute the data that I have given to the House already—I know other noble Lords will do the same.
Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Armed with sophisticated weaponry, including AK47s and, in at least one case, a rocket launcher and rocket-propelled grenades, the Fulani militia have murdered more men, women and children in 2015, 2016 and 2017 than even Boko Haram, destroying, overrunning and seizing property and land, and displacing tens of thousands of people. This is organised and systematic. We must ask where this group of nomadic herdsmen is getting such sophisticated weaponry from. I wonder whether the Minister has had a chance to look into this; if not, will she give an undertaking to do so?
While recognising the complex underlying causes of this violence, we must also acknowledge a growing degree of religious motivation behind the violence. The local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria recently revealed that herdsmen have destroyed over 500 churches in Benue state alone since 2011. Perhaps the Minister could also respond to reports that during many of these well-planned attacks by Fulani militia, their cattle are nowhere in sight, and they are often reported by survivors to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” during these attacks. Perhaps the Minister can comment on this undoubtedly sectarian aspect of the escalating violence.
Beyond intermittent verbal condemnations, I cannot see much practical action that has been taken to end the violence, which has emboldened perpetrators even further. Moreover, in the light of such an inadequate response thus far, communities will begin—and indeed already are beginning—to feel that they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice, and a few take matters into their own hands. In the words of an Anglican canon in the Middle Belt, “Why do so many security service personnel spend their time guarding our politicians, rather than protecting our people?” I also put on record a recent statement to President Buhari issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. Among other things the statement said:
“Since the President who appointed the Heads of the nation’s Security Agencies has refused to call them to order, even in the face of the chaos and barbarity into which our country has been plunged, we are left with no choice but to conclude that they are acting on a script that he approves of. If the President cannot keep our country safe, then he automatically loses the trust of the citizens. He should no longer continue to preside over the killing fields and mass graveyard that our country has become”.
That is a pretty awesome statement from a bishops’ conference.
Concern about partiality was also raised on 24 March, by the highly respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Theophilus Y Danjuma, who stated that the armed forces were, “not neutral; they collude” in the,
“ethnic cleansing in … riverine states”,
by Fulani militia. He insisted that villagers must defend themselves because,
“depending on the armed forces”,
will result in them dying,
“one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop … in all the states of Nigeria; otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play”.
I would like to hear, therefore, what practical steps the UK Government are taking to work with the Government of Nigeria in developing effective solutions to bring an end to this escalating violence. Can the Minister tell us whether there is a strategic plan and what representations have been made directly? I know that finding solutions is complex, but there is nothing to stop the Minister calling on the Government of Nigeria to recalibrate security arrangements and to resource their forces as a matter of urgency, in order to offer sufficient protection to vulnerable communities.
As I close, I thank the noble Lords who are participating in today’s debate and go back to where I began: to the more than 200 people, mostly women and children, who were killed in sustained attacks on 50 villages by armed Fulani militia just this past weekend. People are dying daily. On 18 June, the Archbishop of Abuja referred in the Telegraph to what he described as “territorial conquest” and “ethnic cleansing” and said:
“The very survival of our nation is … at stake”.
This alone should serve as a wake-up call. Are we to watch one of Africa’s greatest countries go the way of Sudan? Will we be indifferent as radical forces sweep across the Sahel seeking to replace diversity and difference with a monochrome ideology that will be imposed with violence on those who refuse to comply? We must not wait for a genocide to happen, as it did in Rwanda. Ominously, history could very easily be repeated.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this, unfortunately timely, debate and declare an interest as project director of the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief.
While the focus in Nigeria was, for many years, on violence in the Niger Delta area over oil revenues or on the Boko Haram attacks in the north-east, the escalation of attacks between predominantly Christian farmers and predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen has gone underreported. As the noble Lord has outlined, in only the past week, as many as 200 Christian farmers were killed in central Plateau state, but the crisis between farmers and traditional herdsmen is not confined to Nigeria. Such violence extends across west Africa and the 2017 Global Terrorism Index estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed across west Africa in clashes between Fulani herdsmen and settled communities since 2001. The Fulani are an ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 west and central African countries. The causes of this violence are of course complex but include environmental reasons, religious motivation, terrorism and poor security services.
As the ECOWAS 1998 cross-border transhumance agreement allows herders to move across borders in search of grazing lands, it is not surprising that reports in Nigeria suggest that Fulani are coming from multiple countries. So, in April this year, it was encouraging to note that a further ECOWAS summit was held to discuss the issue, which has led to discussions about changing this agreement to prevent the uncontrolled movement of potentially violent groups across borders. The ECOWAS countries are now co-operating and are particularly looking at greater investment in livestock management and a common agricultural policy. But banning cattle-grazing, as has happened in three Nigerian states, has to be incorporated within a wider plan. The foremost livestock producers’ group, the Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has endorsed the Government’s 10-year national ranch development plan. Have Her Majesty’s Government been approached by ECOWAS or the Nigerian Government looking for Department for International Development expertise and resource to enact such a ranch plan?
It is surely too simplistic to label these deaths as driven solely by desertification and competition for resources. While there have been attacks by Fulani herdsmen on Muslim farmers in Zamfara state, these are overwhelmingly outnumbered by attacks on Christians. Religious polarisation and extremism have helped to escalate violence in Nigeria to a greater degree than in other countries in the region. An existing conflict such as this and a strong ethno-religious identity has bought Fulani groups into wider jihadi movements, such as the largely Fulani terrorist group, FLM, which has joined with Islamic State. The FLM is apparently now seeking to bring the herdsmen’s grievances from Nigeria within its scope. Do Her Majesty’s Government agree that there has been an escalation in Nigeria of late? What do they believe are the causes and what is the extent of Boko Haram’s role in this? Are Boko Haram militants part of these attacks? It might explain the numerous reports, outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, of attacks with no cattle in sight. Is Boko Haram itself now part of a wider terrorist network?
Parliamentarians and religious leaders have an important role in resolving this conflict and the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief’s conference last month for faith leaders and parliamentarians in Accra highlighted the wealth of resources available across west African Commonwealth countries. Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia offer superb examples of how to utilise faith and parliamentary leaders in calming religious tensions and addressing narratives of religious extremism, which will be vital to securing long-term peace in Nigeria.
In the short term, the easy accessibility to an estimated 380 million unregistered small firearms in Nigeria, roughly two guns per person, is a key factor in the scale of the deaths. These arms are looted from the army or black market sources across west Africa. Parliamentarians in Nigeria are currently trying to co-ordinate a meeting of regional parliamentarians connected to their respective security committees to discuss ways of checking the flow of arms around the region. Could the Minister outline whether the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the Inter-Parliamentary Union can be resourced to help this important parliamentary initiative?
The potential for this violence to spread is of concern to us all and I suspect some of the victims are relatives of British Nigerian diaspora, but the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria provide the best opportunity for Nigerians themselves to demand their Government deal with this crisis. On my one visit to Nigeria, I witnessed that talk radio, civil society and religious groups in the south, especially churches, are hugely influential. I had the privilege of addressing an audience of 1 million people physically there. I hope the Nigerians, especially Nigerian Christians, will realise that much more of the solution is in their hands than they perhaps realise.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on their contributions, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this subject to us today. There has been a long history of disputes between nomadic herders and farming communities across the Sahel. In Nigeria, attacks are now occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that references to “farmer-herder clashes” are wholly inadequate. Armed with relatively sophisticated weaponry, particularly AK47s, the Fulani herder militia is thought to have murdered more men, women and children, between 2015 and 2017, than Boko Haram.
It has overrun and seized property and land, and displaced tens of thousands of people. In 2017, herder militia claimed 808 lives in 53 villages in southern Kaduna alone, burning down over 1,400 houses. As pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, during most of these well-planned attacks, herders’ cattle were nowhere in sight. Over 180,000 people in Benue state are currently living in IDP camps because the herder militia violence has displaced them. More than 500,000 displaced people are living in temporary accommodation, and over 80,000 school-age children are living in IDP camps with no access to education.
Attacks continue unabated, with seemingly little government action. This has entrenched impunity. Apart from verbal condemnations, there has been no action to end the violence. No attacker has been brought to justice. With perpetrators emboldened, attacks by herder militia have now spread to southern Nigeria. No longer able to rely on the Government for protection or justice, communities are seeing a growth in vigilantism and retaliatory justice. The growth in murders of villagers and community leaders in Benue has also led to calls for President Buhari to consider his position, and for the reassessment of security arrangements as a matter of urgency.
As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on 24 March this year the respected former army chief of staff and Defence Minister, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma, stated that the armed forces were “not neutral” and that “they collude” in the “ethnic cleansing” of riverine states by the Fulani militia.
Earlier this week, I too had the opportunity to meet with the honourable Kwewum Rimande Shawulu, courtesy of the advocacy organisation CSW. The honourable Shawulu is a member of the Nigerian federal House of Representatives in Taraba state. Among his wide-ranging writing and editorial activities, he is currently chair of the National Assembly Army Committee, which gives him unique insight into Nigeria’s current security challenges.
In our discussions, he was able to rebut the claim that the anti-grazing laws are the cause of the spread of violence. The only states with anti-grazing laws are in fact Taraba, Benue and Ekiti, yet attacks have been occurring over 10 states. For example, in Plateau state, where there are no anti-grazing laws, there have been many killings, including last weekend, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when over 200 civilians were reported killed. Interestingly, while there is some evidence that some of the violence has a religious dimension, the honourable Shawulu argued that the only affected area was Adamawa state, which is predominately Christian. Other areas with similar land and other resources have suffered no attacks, be they Christian or Muslim.
The overriding concern is that the growing instability and lawlessness in the region is providing fertile ground for kidnapping, banditry and terrorism with impunity. If this is not addressed, there is a real danger that the activities of Boko Haram, ISIS and similar terrorist groups could penetrate and destabilise the whole region. If not addressed, this could create a conflict and humanitarian crisis on a scale that would engage the international community, the UN Security Council and the UK. The prospect of terrorist cells spreading through Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, and to territories beyond to threaten Europe cannot lightly be dismissed.
I urge the Government to act now, working alongside their Nigerian counterparts and fellow Commonwealth members, particularly while the UK holds the post-CHOGM Chair-in-Office. I suggest that DfID might examine the aid programme to Nigeria to ensure that provision is made for the communities that have been victims of the Fulani attacks. It should also ensure that minority communities in the north affected by Boko Haram attacks have access to humanitarian aid. There are also issues such as collective Commonwealth support in promoting the non-discriminatory and “even” application of the law to restore and strengthen faith in the law.
The attacks the Nigerian people are suffering can surely be mitigated, if not eroded, with the support of the agencies of the UN, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, the faith community and international NGOs. Can the Minister, in her response or in writing, set out how the UK might plan to play a primary role in such a venture?
My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing a debate on the serious situation that threatens the very stability of Nigeria. With the noble Lord I deplore the violence and, with other noble Lords and indeed the victims themselves, some of whom have been in contact with many of us this week, I call on Her Majesty’s Government to use their influence on the Nigerian Government to ensure the security of their people and to bring the violence to an end.
The violence here and in other extreme situations is symptomatic of underlying issues in Nigerian society, ranging from security to justice to employment to the exclusion of children from education through poverty, and even including the effects of desertification and the epidemic of drug abuse. They all have their part to play. At a more fundamental level still is the distance between the demands of the constitution and the daily lives of many Nigerian people. Intercommunal and interreligious violence of any sort has no root in Nigeria’s constitution. Rather, the constitution is a challenge to political leaders to apply it and to local religious and civic leaders to respect it.
I would like to focus on the importance of unbiased public information across Nigeria, whether through traditional media, social media, formal education, private or state, or informal religious education, in order to build resilience into communities in a way that protects against malign political manipulation of religious identities and nurtures respect and reconciliation between peoples. As shown by another CSW report, Faith and a Future, education impacts on other human rights and,
“can either create a culture of tolerance or fuel stereotyping, animosity and extremism”.
That is surely happening in Nigeria, certainly in the northern and central states, and probably in the south as well. Unfair representations of the other, especially the religious other, are a powerful source of energy for the political purposes of those who seek to gain influence and power. They are not difficult to access and then use to fuel the fires of fear on which hatred thrives and violence depends. Fair, truthful, unbiased education in all its forms has its own greater power to resist the engine of hatred and starve the forces of violence.
Amidst the tragic realities of the suffering of minorities in Nigeria, the appalling suffering of Christians in the northern states to which other noble Lords have drawn graphic attention, the suffering of Muslims caused by reprisals from Christian communities, the prejudice towards Shia Muslims, and even, as we have heard, the wanton murder of Fulani men going about their lawful business en route to cattle markets—amidst the terror of all this suffering, good education in all its forms offers hope for the future. The federal and state Governments have levers they can use—especially in formal education, both private and public—to improve the quality of education as a power for good and not for harm.
Education operates in many forms, but my remaining comments will focus on the content, conduct and character of education within schools, private and state. My interest is in how the religious and ethnic other is portrayed. This includes not only the content of religious education that students receive about their own religion and the religious and ethnic identity of others but the way that content is taught, the way people from minority communities are themselves treated in schools—whether they are afforded their full constitutional rights—together with the character of the educational experience throughout the school: is it cultivating a culture of respect? My understanding is that each state education department has an inspectorate division. This gives a strong lever to monitor the delivery of education according to the principles of the constitution and the guidelines set at federal level.
There are some hopeful signs on the ground. The governor of Kaduna state is pursuing a thorough process of educational reform in which he recently dismissed large numbers of unsuitable teachers and recruited even larger numbers of qualified teachers, increasing their allowances to incentivise teachers to work in rural areas. So I conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government have offered their assistance to state governors who seek to raise the standards of education to a higher level, not only of academic achievement but of more religiously responsible citizenship, and to monitor it rigorously.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this timely debate.
As we have heard, historically attention has been focused in the north of Nigeria, with the much-reported rising number of attacks by Boko Haram. But over this last weekend, as we have also heard, violence between the mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers in central Nigeria, the middle belt, killed 200 people and destroyed countless houses. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about escalating religious violence against Christians and violations of freedom of religion and belief, which are largely unaddressed by the state.
Ethnic and religious relations in Nigeria have always been a delicate balancing act, but these ongoing tensions with this outbreak of violence are as much products of poverty and inequality across the country as they are of deep-seated division. If we want to address issues of safety and security in Nigeria, we also need to address the inequality that modern Nigeria faces. Almost 87 million people in Nigeria live in extreme poverty, on $1.90 a day or less, and this number has increased over time, making Nigeria the country with the highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world. Nigerian government figures show that between 1980 and 2010, the number of people in poverty increased by 153%, with nearly 5 million people facing food insecurity and 49% of the younger generation either unemployed or underemployed. I refer to the register of Members’ interests when I point out that Nigeria sits as the 128th of 149 countries in the Legatum Prosperity Index, with particularly low scores in safety and security, economic quality and health.
However, between 2000 and 2015 the number of millionaires in Nigeria increased by over 300%, and Nigeria has had an average economic growth of 7% annually since 2004. This story is an indictment of successive Nigerian Governments’ failure to manage the country’s wealth, and of a deeply ingrained culture of corruption. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics estimates that small-scale bribery, for example to facilitate bureaucratic tasks, amounts to $4.6 billion a year.
Nigeria’s poverty is significantly more profound in the mostly Muslim north of the country, with 2010 figures showing 74% of the population of the north in poverty—20% higher than in the mostly Christian south. This division is exacerbated by an educational and investment divide between the north and south. The challenge to avoid clashes along existing lines of tension as a result of this is a great one.
In addition, the Boko Haram insurgency has had an enormous impact in north-eastern Nigeria in particular, with 20,000 dead since 2009 and at least 2 million people displaced. The Nigerian military, as we have heard, has shown itself to be ill equipped to deal with this insurgency, and, despite the Nigerian Government’s claims that Boko Haram is in retreat, these statements have only been followed by an increase in attacks. The group still poses a significant threat to the stability of this region.
Those who have been displaced in north-eastern Nigeria number nearly 2 million, in addition to 200,000 Nigerians in neighbouring countries. This situation is a continuing humanitarian crisis, which the Nigerian Government have also shown themselves ill equipped to tackle, leading to the establishing of major internally displaced people camps. However, the situation in these Nigerian refugee camps is appalling, with outbreaks of cholera, crippling shortages of food and water, and reports of up to 30 armed attacks a month on refugee camps in 2017. Far from being places of refuge, the crowded camps have been made into death traps as Boko Haram seeks soft targets.
With the UK Government now committing to aid funding of £200 million over the next four years, compared to the £100 million we committed to in 2017, will the Minister outline how the Government are intending to use this money effectively to focus on the key priorities that affect the country? This latest spate of violence only shows how urgent the need to address inequality is, and with next year’s presidential elections looming it is essential to ensure that the situation is stabilised so that the election is conducted in a safe environment.
We know what leads to prosperity in a nation. It is stable government that is free of corruption; safety and security; a good business environment; and strong skills development. I ask the Minister in particular to outline the balance of aid between a humanitarian response and support for the long-term nation-building response.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing this debate at this tragically critical time. Over recent decades there have been numerous attacks on Christians in the northern states, where sharia law has been established, as well as in Plateau state in the central belt. Thousands of Christians have been killed, hundreds of churches burned, and homes destroyed. The tragedies escalated with the rise of Boko Haram, which also killed Muslims who did not accept its Islamist ideology.
I have visited many times and seen the tragedies of death and destruction in Bauchi, Kano and Plateau states. But more recently, as other noble Lords have described, there has been a very disturbing change in the behaviour of the Fulani herdsmen. Since time immemorial, they have driven their huge herds of cattle through other people’s lands, causing tensions and some violence, but traditionally, they have moved on. However, in the last two to three years they have adopted a new policy: attacking Christian villages, killing local people, destroying homes, driving villagers off their lands and settling in their place. Now there has been this recent escalation of attacks on Christian villages by the Fulani, with, as other noble Lords have highlighted, over 200 civilians killed in Plateau state just last weekend. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last time I was in Nigeria, I visited four villages which had been destroyed by Fulani. I stood in the rubble of the pastor’s home where he had been slaughtered, and I saw the huge numbers of Fulani cattle roaming through the destroyed villages. There are concerns that the Fulani militants are now so well armed that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of driving Christians out of their homelands in northern and central-belt Nigeria.
Time allows only a few examples of quotations from local people, but they are indicative of many more. They provided first-hand evidence of the horror and terror now prevailing in these areas. This is one quote:
“Fulani herdsmen, yesterday 23 June, on a rampage, attacked about 10 villages; ‘in Nghar village alone, about 70 corpses were recovered as the entire village was razed down’”.
This is another:
“The attack last night was vicious … armed Fulani men dressed/masked in black entered Rasak & Gana Ropp villages, shooting randomly … The house of one … family … was surrounded & directly attacked … the Fulani were shooting into the house … as they shouted ‘Allahu Akbar!’”
This is another:
“Other villages in the area … were completely sacked by the armed herders. Survivors from the attacks from these ‘villages are believed to still be hiding in the bushes’”.
Over 60 people are known to have been killed there.
This is another quote:
“The attacks are continuing in other villages and in Gashish. As of 6 pm, at least 30 people were feared dead with several houses and cars razed down”.
This is my last example:
“In a continuing killing spree, Islamic Fulani cattle herdsmen killed eight people in Bassa local council, near Jos. From Sunday 17 June, till today (20th June) we have had no peace in the villages around here … all these villages have been attacked one after the other in three days”.
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, who had taken custody of a baby whose mother was killed, said:
“I am in tears because I have taken a child whose mother was shot dead. A family of four killed, another two young men shot dead and so on … Where are those who will protect the poor? Where is the leadership? It is a week and three days now with daily killings of poor unarmed and unprotected citizens of Plateau State”.
Related concerns expressed by local people include the interpretation of the situation as intercommunal attacks, with both sides being equally guilty. One resident said:
“It is annoying when politicians say this is a clash between herdsmen and farmers. I ask, how does a woman farming in her own farm clash with Fulanis carrying AK-47s?”
Other concerns include: failure of security services to protect civilians; impunity, with no one responsible for the killings being called to account; the escalation in the number of internally displaced peoples; and the destruction of crops, which are the livelihood of local people.
I want to make three requests of the Minister. Will Her Majesty’s Government make representations to the Government of Nigeria to take effective action to protect all their citizens and to call to account those who have been perpetrating atrocities? Will Her Majesty’s Government work with the high commission to ensure that adequate humanitarian aid is available for those suffering the loss of family members and the destruction of their homes and crops, and forced to become IDPs? Will Her Majesty’s Government urge the Nigerian Government to undertake an investigation into the ethnic and religious persecution of the affected people and the operation of the Nigerian army during these attacks?
There is real fear that these developments are part of a strategy by Islamist fundamentalists to drive Christians out of their traditional homelands in northern and central-belt regions of Nigeria. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to respond appropriately to the very real possibility of religious cleansing.
My Lords, the human rights situation in Nigeria has deteriorated significantly in recent years, with a particular surge in attacks by non-state actors—notably armed Fulani herdsmen, also known as the Fulani militia.
Successive Governments have failed to respond effectively, and the violence perpetrated has increased exponentially. Although ongoing in central Nigeria since 2011, attacks spiralled following President Buhari’s inauguration in May 2015, with states experiencing intense violence in a cyclical manner. Such attacks by increasingly well-armed herdsmen on farming communities in the states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba now occur with frequency, precision and asymmetric violence, rendering references to “farmer-herder clashes” obsolete.
Although far from exhaustive, the following events, documented by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, give a powerful insight into the growing problems. Over 150 villagers were killed in Adamawa state in attacks in the run-up to Christmas 2017. During the festive season, villages in southern Kaduna, Benue and Adamawa were then attacked; churches were destroyed and villagers were killed and mutilated. On 24 December 2017, in southern Kaduna state, four villagers were killed as people gathered in the square of Nindem village, in the Godogodo district of the Jema’a local government area, in the evening to sing carols. A female choir singer was shot in the mouth and maimed horribly.
As the new year dawned, Fulani gunmen invaded the home of a traditional ruler in Arak, in the Sanga local government area in the southern part of Kaduna state, killing him and his pregnant wife. Gambo Makama and his wife are reported to have died at around 12.05 am. Their son was also shot, but survived and was hospitalised. Then, 2018 began with an attack by Fulani herdsmen on the Guma and Logo local government areas of Benue state, in which 73 villagers were massacred. At least 1,061 people are thought to have died in the first quarter of this month. Just this past weekend we saw the most recent terrible episode of violence in Plateau state, with over 200 people—mainly women and children—reported to have been killed.
The situation has been exacerbated by inadequate government action which has enabled attacks to continue unabated. Beyond intermittent words of condemnation, the Government have failed to formulate effective strategies to address this violence. This has entrenched impunity and emboldened perpetrators even further, leading to a growth in vigilantism and periodic retaliatory violence, as communities conclude they can no longer rely on government for protection or justice. However, this retaliatory violence is by no means symmetrical—the first quarter of the year saw 106 attacks by the herder militia in central Nigeria, while seven attacks within that timeframe on Fulani herders or communities claimed 61 lives.
The number of attacks and casualties is staggering, and our Government must recognise the considerable escalation in the regularity, scale and intensity of the attacks by Fulani militia on these communities in central Nigeria. We must commit to doing more to encourage and support the federal and state governments to provide protection to those who live in constant threat of attack by a force that constitutes a major threat to national security. As a matter of urgency, we must encourage the formulation of a comprehensive and holistic security strategy that adequately resources the security forces to address this and other sources of violence. Can the Minister provide assurances of action? Will the UK Government do all they can to work with the Government of Nigeria, encouraging them to be more proactive in ending this appalling violence and to protect these vulnerable communities living in constant fear for their lives?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing the debate. It is impossible to capture every aspect of this complicated situation in such a short debate, but I will briefly touch on the battle against Boko Haram, which is responsible for killing or displacing many thousands of people; multiple accounts, dating back over several years, of sexual attacks by Nigerian forces against women in refugee camps; and violence between herders and farmers, which increasingly resembles ethno-religious cleansing. Addressing multiple forms of violence presents a significant challenge to the Nigerian state, but this cannot and must not become an excuse for inaction.
The situation in Nigeria is equally challenging for countries such as ours. We have a moral duty to help, but we must ensure that such help is effective and is mindful of the various sensitivities involved. Can the Minister inform the House what assessment has been made of the UK’s capacity to provide additional assistance to Nigeria and what forms that may take?
The UK rightly provides training to support the fight against Boko Haram. We should continue to provide that training, but recent events highlight the need for us to also play the role of a critical friend. A fortnight ago, at least 31 people were killed by blasts in Borno State after the chief of the Nigerian army incorrectly told displaced residents that the militants had been defeated and it was safe to return home.
There are long-standing allegations, backed up by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that Nigerian soldiers have sexually assaulted vulnerable refugee women. What representations have the Government made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military?
Historically, the struggle between Fulani herders and settled farmers has been a result of competition for resources. Christian Solidarity Worldwide notes that,
“attacks … are … occurring with such frequency, organisation and asymmetry”,
that references to farmer-herder “clashes” no longer suffices. Despite the herder militia taking more lives during 2015, 2016 and 2017 than Boko Haram, President Buhari, who belongs to the same ethnic group, has been accused of turning a blind eye. Last month, NGOs co-ordinated a minute's silence to remember 1,917 people killed by herders and armed bandits between January and May of this year. Concerns have been raised about freedom of expression, with some journalists prosecuted for hate speech after reporting the militia’s actions. Can the Minister confirm whether this conflict and its impact on Nigerian civil society were discussed when the Prime Minister met President Buhari in April? With some arguing that the conflict is being exacerbated by droughts, how are the Government tracking and responding to climate-related conflict across the globe?
I urge the Government to provide practical support to Nigeria that promotes peace and security, supports equitable economic growth, and builds the state’s capacity for the future. As we so often see in other parts of the world, it is only by creating the right societal conditions that Nigeria can overcome religious extremism, promote tolerance and limit the scope for the types of violence that have claimed too many lives in recent years.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate and for his long-standing interest in community relations. I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions this afternoon. I welcome the opportunity to give the Government’s assessment of the situation in Nigeria and to update noble Lords on United Kingdom action.
It goes without saying that the Government regard the situation in Nigeria as both challenging and deeply disturbing. There are a number of issues at play which are having serious humanitarian consequences. The first are the actions of Boko Haram, of which many noble Lords will sadly be aware. Boko Haram claims to represent Islam, but its interpretation could not be further from the spirit of that peaceful religion. It attacks Nigerians of all faiths who do not subscribe to its extremist views. Its activity—the abduction of schoolgirls and the killings in which it has engaged—is appalling. Its actions have caused immense suffering in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in both Christian and Muslim communities. We assess that the majority of its victims are Muslim. Nearly 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Boko Haram and its splinter faction, Islamic State West Africa, remain a threat to regional security. Achieving a long-term solution requires non-military measures to improve security and enable economic growth.
The other worrying issue to which many noble Lords referred and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, particularly covered in his speech is the violence between farmers and herdsmen in various areas across Nigeria, and in the Middle Belt in particular, where attacks are carried out by herders on farmers, and vice versa. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the question: does the description “farmer-herdsmen” suffice? This was a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The description “farmer-herdsmen” is broadly correct, but it does not fully represent the complexity of the situation. Violence has escalated over the past year—the reasons for this are many—but we are not aware of evidence to support the view that religion is driving this conflict.
The other worrying issue is the extent of recent attacks. In an attack by farmers on herder settlements in Mambilla Plateau in June 2017, over 800 people were killed—the majority of them women and children. We are concerned by the increasing violence in recent months. Just last weekend reprisal attacks by herdsmen on farming settlements resulted in at least 86 fatalities—it may be more than that. My noble friend Lord Suri and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, very poignantly described the horrific nature of this violence.
As my noble friend Lady Berridge described eloquently, this is complex and it is far reaching. My noble friend Lord Ahmad noted in this House on 26 March that the causes of these clashes are complex. They relate to land, farming rights, grazing routes and access to water. The situation is not helped by a narrative which overplays the ethno-religious dimensions and oversimplifies a complex picture, conflating criminal violence, caused by cattle rustlers and bandits, for example, with community clashes.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked where the weapons are coming from. Regrettably, one suspects there is a widespread availability of weapons; I thought that my noble friend Lady Berridge encapsulated the extent of that problem, as did the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. In reality, religious extremism or sectarianism is not a key underlying cause of this violence and it would be wrong to conflate these land and water disputes with Boko Haram’s actions.
As Nigeria prepares for elections in 2019 there is a real risk that, without serious effort being made to stem the violence and address the root causes, the conflict between herders and farmers will worsen and become increasingly politicised, threatening peaceful solutions and elections in some states. That is why it is so important that Nigeria not only works to improve the situation in the north-east, but also works to address the causes of the violence between farmers and herders. It is imperative that there is a de-escalation of violence across all affected states. In this context, we welcome President Buhari’s recent commitment to protect the lives and property of all Nigerians and prevent the stoking of religious conflict.
My noble friend Lady Berridge specifically asked about a ranch plan and whether the UK has been engaged with this aspect. We are aware of the Nigerian Government’s proposals for creating cattle ranches for Fulani herdsmen and we are encouraging them to respect the rights and interests of all parties in finding solutions to this conflict.
As many, if not all, contributors have identified, all of this is causing a humanitarian crisis. In north-east Nigeria, 7.7 million people are in need of urgent, life-saving assistance and 1.8 million are displaced. This humanitarian crisis is a direct result of the fragile security situation caused by Boko Haram. My noble friend Lady Stroud spoke with authority on the levels of privation and the challenges that poses.
Very specifically, the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Tunnicliffe, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friends Lady Stroud and Lord Suri, all raised the issue of UK action. The United Kingdom is playing a leading role in helping the Nigerian Government to address immediate humanitarian needs. We have increased our aid funding to £300 million over the next five years. We provide assistance on the basis of need, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, and in line with the international humanitarian principles. Last year our support reached more than 1 million people, including children, women and the disabled. We are also fully committed to supporting Nigeria’s efforts to tackle Boko Haram. We have provided intelligence analysis and training for the Nigerian military. With regard to farmer-herder violence, we encourage and support mediation by the state, local government and traditional authorities to defuse community tensions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry referred to education and its importance. I could not agree more. DfID programmes are supporting improvements in the quality of education and increasing access for disadvantaged boys and girls to get education, focusing on three states in the north of the country where human development outcomes are particularly poor.
A number of contributors, not least the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud, asked what the balance is between humanitarian and development programmes from that spend. As I said earlier, DfID will spend £273 million this year, balanced between shorter-term humanitarian aid and longer-term support to help the Government of Nigeria to improve basic services, and to increase levels of prosperity and standards of good governance. For example, 1.8 million people gained access to clean water and/or sanitation between 2015 and 2017 through DfID programmes and 260,000 additional women and girls are using modern methods of family planning.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud also asked what assessment has been made of the UK’s capacity to provide additional assistance. I think I have covered that with my response in describing what that £273 million is intended to support.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Chidgey and Lord Tunnicliffe, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, all asked what representations the Government have made to Nigerian counterparts in the light of recent events and allegations involving the country’s military. The military training and assistance provided by the UK for the armed forces of Nigeria have consistently emphasised the importance of adherence to internationally recognised rules of engagement as well as the importance of international human rights and international humanitarian law. All our military capacity-building support is delivered in line with HM Government Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance to mitigate the risk of human rights violations. We are concerned about Amnesty International’s report alleging sexual abuses by members of the Nigerian security services. We have made clear to the Nigerian authorities the importance of protecting civilians in conflict and detention.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also asked whether this conflict and its impact were discussed when the Prime Minister met President Buhari in April. They discussed a number of issues, including security threats faced by the Nigerian people. The focus of these discussions was the conflict with Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa in north-east Nigeria and the abduction of the Chibok and Dapchi girls.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also raised climate change and the argument that the conflict is being exacerbated by droughts. Climate change is having a negative effect in Nigeria, particularly in the north, where desertification is increasing. We are currently reviewing the support we are providing to help Nigeria to tackle the effects of climate change.
A final couple of points were raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about freedom of religion and belief, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lady Stroud. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised this issue and tensions between religious communities specifically with state officials in Borno and Yobe during a visit there in May.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Berridge referred to the Commonwealth. I understand that there is no involvement with the Commonwealth at the moment. The Nigerian Government have not asked for assistance from the Commonwealth or from other countries.
It is imperative that the Nigerian Government address the violence and instability in both the north-east and the Middle Belt areas of the country. They need urgently to put in place long-term solutions that lay the foundations for a sustainable and peaceful future for all communities. The United Kingdom will continue to provide support to the Government of Nigeria in their efforts to build that future. I thank noble Lords for ensuring that this deeply troubling situation remains the subject of continuing discussion.
Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of the different challenges facing disabled people in the United Kingdom in 2018.
My Lords, I begin by declaring that I receive DLA and that I have Pompe disease, a very rare form of muscular dystrophy. This is the first debate I can remember that is widely enough drawn to give speakers the freedom to bring any aspect of the challenges that disabled people face to the attention of the House. I particularly look forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
For myself, I ask for understanding that I will have to leave so much out, but I hope that, one way or another, a lot of ground will be covered. What might be left out are a lot of hidden disabilities, which can cause so much misunderstanding. I asked my noble friend Lord Addington whether he thought severe dyslexia made him disabled. “Only when I try to write”, he said—a great answer that can be translated into many other settings. In the hidden category might come fluctuating autoimmune diseases such as lupus, heart problems or autism. People with severe mental health conditions might not see themselves as disabled, but if they and others can easily walk away from a blue badge space in a supermarket car park they will be labelled as frauds. No one with these conditions must be overlooked, particularly by ESA and PIP assessors, or, for that matter, by HR departments.
This year, we are celebrating 100 years since women first got the vote, but it was more than that. They were excluded from so much of public life that it is no wonder the suffragettes were so militant. Today, we take it for granted that women can rise to the top in any profession, but the same is not true of disabled people. It was only 23 years ago that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, whom we miss today very much, and others were disruptively demonstrating outside Parliament against the widespread discrimination of disabled people. That led to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. They then had to demonstrate again some years later to establish the concept of independent living, now enshrined as Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is of fundamental importance to the lives of many thousands of us and which is under grave threat now.
Just for the record, independent living does not mean living alone. Although its basic meaning is simply the opposite of living in a residential care home, it also means enabling disabled people to participate in all areas of life. The main reason it is under threat is, of course, the lack of adequate funding for social care and for NHS continuing care.
The Independent Living Fund was a government-funded discretionary scheme, set up in 1988, working alongside local authority schemes to help people with high support needs live in the community. It helped 23,500 of the most severely disabled people to live independently. In other words, it gave them choice and control over the support they needed to go about their daily lives, hopeful that the barriers to equal citizenship would be progressively removed. Then, the global financial system went into meltdown and the fund was closed to new members in 2010. It was finally closed in 2015, with responsibility and funding passed to local authorities to administer. Crucially, the money was not ring-fenced. Funding for social care has been cut by £7 billion since 2010.
Many recipients were cut back to receiving just enough to fill very basic personal care costs, with the shadow of the residential home looming once again. As one person put it to me, “If you are more or less confined within the four walls of your home, your ambitions are diminished to mere survival”. I met a young man of 22 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when I was in hospital earlier this year. His care package had been scaled right back because of funding cuts. When he asked how he was supposed to manage without full-time personal assistance, he was asked, “Can’t your girlfriend help you?”.
I am not asking for the ILF to be reopened as it was, but I am asking for a guarantee from the Government that the whole concept of independent living will be reconfirmed and enabled to flourish and will not become a postcode lottery. There is no statutory right to independent living, and while the Government pay lip service to its core tenets of increased choice and control, there has been no co-ordinated action across government after support for the Disability Action Alliance was withdrawn two years ago. There is a huge amount of fear that those who have been thriving in their own homes with support might have to move into residential care, with most of their freedoms taken away. The vision of independent living that led to the direct-payments legislation of the 1990s, passed with all-party support and championed in this House by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, is rapidly disappearing. The well-being principle, embedded in the Care Act 2014, is being abandoned.
My main question, therefore, to the Minister is to ask whether the Government will heed the voices of so many disabled people who do not want their lives to go backwards but fear this will happen if independent living is not given a significant reboot. Scope has called for a cross-government strategy—a good idea, which I endorse. Disabled people have a myriad of different conditions, but there is one thing that knits us together, and that is that being disabled is very expensive. Research from Scope has found that on average disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month—sometimes, I fear, because they are not getting as much DLA or PIP as they need. I shall return to PIP later.
One of the most expensive problems many of us with mobility impairments have to face is adapting our homes. A means-tested disabled facilities grant might be available from the local authority. This is capped at £30,000, which sounds like a lot of money but does not go very far if a through-floor lift has to be installed, doors widened and a bathroom changed into a wet room. One family whose son has Duchenne muscular dystrophy had to pay £70,000 of their own savings and racked up £15,000 in credit card debts to adapt their home. They were simply not able to carry their child up and down stairs anymore as he got older.
It is only in the past few months that the Government have finally announced that they are activating—although we do not know when—that part of the Equality Act which gives leaseholders the right, at their own expense, to adapt the common parts of the building where they live. Perhaps the Minister could say when we can expect that to happen. Surely the DFG should rise in line with inflation, and local authorities should be encouraged to ensure that new developments have at least 10% of houses built to lifetime homes standards. In May, the EHRC published an 18-month survey showing that only 7% of housing in England meets accessibility standards; 365,000 people said that they were in unsuitable housing. Few local authorities across Britain set targets for accessible housing, although there is strong evidence that such housing saves on health and social care costs in the future.
I now turn to the Government’s ambitious plans to get 1 million more disabled people into work in the next 10 years. There appears to be a lot of work in progress, which I am sure the Minister will tell us about and which I welcome. Access to Work is a great, if underadvertised, scheme to help disabled people in the workplace. It would make a lot of difference if it could be extended to volunteers and interns, and even made portable. I cannot, however, help coming back to the whole picture. Will there be enough personal assistants or care workers, post Brexit, to assist many working-age disabled people to get ready for the working day? Is there enough accessible public transport that can accommodate more wheelchair and mobility scooter users?
Are there enough accessible workplaces with suitable toilets? The lack of accessible and suitable loos the length and breadth of this country is a disgrace. Even Jobcentre Plus offices do not have them. In November 2017, Muscular Dystrophy UK—on whose board I sit—took over as co-chair of the Changing Places consortium, which is responsible for the campaign for fully accessible Changing Places toilets with a bench and hoist. There are quite a lot of these, but not nearly enough. This comment from a frustrated parent says it all: “The lack of suitable toilets in the UK is the blight of our life and excludes our son Mylor from accessing and enjoying everyday activities most of us take for granted”. The building regulations need to be changed. At a minimum, surely these toilets should be mandatory in all large new-builds.
Before I end, I must come back to my old adversary, the PIP process—the main disability benefit. The payments are a lifeline for many disabled people, but the process could be working so much better. We are constantly told that more people than ever are getting PIP, but, in light of the huge number of successful appeals, I think it should have a comprehensive overhaul. The descriptors need revisiting, with the ludicrous 20-metre rule abolished and 50 metres restored. Bringing back assessments in house from the outsourcing companies is gathering support. The assessors need to be better trained, whoever employs them, and have no targets to meet, internal or not. Above all, the hostile environment, which we hear so much about from claimants, must be banned.
To summarise, I long for there to be a cross-government collaboration with disabled people themselves, not their proxies, which has real clout in making independent living a welcome reality once again, and I would like to hear the Minister say that she will follow this up.
I shall end with a more upbeat message. Disabled people in the media are becoming more visible year by year as TV presenters, comedians, actors and reporters. Long may this continue. I look forward to the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. In doing so, I declare my interest as set out in the register. I thank the noble Baroness for securing this debate and her excellent introduction. Her work and her commitment to this area need no introduction. I am also very much looking forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Her career is impressive. From Westminster Hospital to the Palace of Westminster, via Tommy’s, Chel West and the marvellous Marsden, it is pretty clear that Bishop Sarah, if I may, has positively impacted people’s lives every day. I look forward to sitting behind her in your Lordships’ House in the years to come and to her wisdom drifting up to this Back-Bencher.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, there are many areas that one could cover in this debate: public transport, public realm, aviation, the built environment and so on. I shall limit my comments to just two areas: Channel 4 and public appointments.
At Channel 4, we took the power of the Paralympics to attempt not just to change attitudes towards, and opportunities for, disabled people but to change Channel 4 as an entity. In 2016, I was privileged to chair the channel’s Year of Disability, not least because I got to chair a group of people called the Year of Disability advisers, which made me chair of YODA. We looked in front of the camera and behind it and demonstrated that, sometimes, difference can be driven in a short space of time. We took the power of the channel and used personal testimony. Within seven months, we not only changed levels of self-declaration for disability in Channel 4 but increased it fourfold.
We saw the first audio-described advert. We attracted brands from across the world to put together an innovative advertising campaign involving disabled people and put £1 million into it. Have we cracked it at Channel 4? Not a bit of it. Are we on a journey? We certainly are.
I was honoured to be asked earlier this month by the Cabinet Office Minister to lead a review into disabled people’s participation in public appointments. Public appointments play such an important role in influencing and transforming our society, and not just in the organisations where they are made. However, when it comes to public appointments, how many people know about the full range of opportunities that are out there? Current open opportunities range wide from the Darwin commission and Commonwealth scholarships to data ethics, sea fish and no few in Work and Pensions, Justice and Business. There are many opportunities, but who knows about them? Who applies for them? Who is interviewed? Who is appointed? Who is enabled to thrive in those roles? That is the purpose of the review I am undertaking: to create an inclusive environment where disabled people can flourish through that public appointments process.
I will be going across the country to organisations, groups and individuals to hear their views. What are the barriers? What are the blockers? What needs to be done? I say to anybody out there: be in touch with me; contact me on Twitter @LordCHolmes; tell me your experiences of the public appointments process. How was it for you: good, bad or indifferent? Tell me what your experience was. If public appointments are not reflective of our society, how can we be assured that the best decisions are being made in many elements of our public life?
That is Channel 4 and public appointments, but there is a darker side to this debate, which is that there is still more than a deal of discrimination out there. Just by dint of having a guide dog, I can find myself excluded from restaurants, bars and minicabs. A number of years ago, I went to a restaurant and the guy blocked my entrance; I could not even cross the threshold. He said, “We don’t serve guide dogs”. I said, “That’s okay, I don’t eat them”. That is amusing, but not so amusing is the reality of such discrimination. When you experience discrimination, it is not a cerebral experience. You feel it in your heart and in your guts.
I have no doubt whatever as to my noble friend the Minister’s commitment to disabled people, so I want to ask her to outline the Government’s aspiration for disabled people in educational attainment, employment opportunities and public participation. What are some of the key success measures?
Ultimately, it is even more than just considering the blockers, the barriers and the issues that face disabled people. We are talking about enablement, empowerment and addressing that most desperate of drains on our society: the fact that talent is everywhere but, currently, opportunity is not.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Thomas for introducing this debate and for her dedicated commitment to campaigning on behalf of disabled people at all times and on every possible occasion. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, in terms of his engagement in what could be done for people with sensory deprivation, which is I want to address. I declare an interest: I have a deaf daughter and have honorary roles in a number of charities for the deaf: Action on Hearing Loss, the National Deaf Children’s Society and DeafKidz International.
On 3 May, I asked a Question about video relay services and received a very disappointing and inadequate Answer. The Government estimate that only 25,000 people in the UK are sign language users, with the implication that they were not a priority, because the number is too small, and that attention should be given to the much larger numbers of people who have acquired deafness during their lives and do not rely on sign language. The 25,000 figure is not recognised by the deaf community, which tends to suggest a figure between 50,000 and 70,000, because it includes friends, family, employers and teachers. The figures seem to be derived from the 2011 census, the first to ask a question about sign language, but the questions were different north and south of the border. In England and Wales, the question was, “What is your main language?” In Scotland, it was, “Other than English, what language do you speak at home?” Not surprisingly, the replies were different too. In Scotland, 12,533 people gave a positive response. In England and Wales, with almost 10 times the population, the figure was 15,487.
I suggest the truth is somewhere in between. Yet the Government seem to be choosing the lower figure, because that suits the argument that there are not enough. But these people deserve to have their fundamental rights acknowledged. They are British people, using a British language, which for many of them is their only or principal means of communication. They deserve full recognition. I am not suggesting that they are not given any recognition, but they need more recognition than they have achieved so far. I am also concerned that, in the exchanges that followed my question, there was an unconscious division being made between those with acquired deafness—deafness that comes with age—and deafness that comes at birth or in early childhood. I suggest that to create that division is unworthy, unnecessary and unjustified.
I wholly support, and have campaigned for, providing communication support for all deaf people. The technology we have developed in recent years, including voice to text, subtitling, text and email, has greatly enhanced the quality of life of all deaf people. I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to that effect. When we add in cochlear implants, digital hearing aids and loop systems, it is easy to see how much has been achieved for deaf people of all forms of deafness, acquired at all stages of life. However, sign language users, who are thinly spread across the country, remain frustrated. The voice to text service is cumbersome and not effective and the video relay service is not as freely available as the Government maintain. In Scotland, users can register for access to a wide range of public services using video relay services between 8 am and midnight seven days a week. Why is that service not available in England and Wales? If the Government are not prepared to follow the US example, where it is available 24/7 for all purposes, why not offer it on a limited number of minutes, for example, to registered users? That could easily be absorbed by the telecom companies, which turn over £30 billion a year.
In a recent episode of the Swedish detective series “The Bridge” there was a scene which showed the lead character and her colleague calling out to a woman reading a paper and getting no response. When it transpired that the woman was deaf, the lead character, Saga, signed to her, prompting her colleague to ask if she knew sign language. She answered that she had learned some, but not enough to conduct a police interview. That scene demonstrated the value of teaching sign language as a proper subject on the school curriculum, as I know happens across Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It helps increase awareness of deafness, the sophistication and complexity of the language, and provides a potential pool of future sign language interpreters. Again, Scotland is leading the way on this. I know the Government have a moratorium on new courses or exams, but they have given a positive response, so will they allow the preparation of such a course, so that as and when new qualifications are allowed, it is ready to go? A video relay service would increase the effectiveness of the interpreters we have, raise the quality of life of sign language users and enable hearing people and deaf people to communicate at a distance at any time of the day or night.
The campaign for deaf people has very strong support. Young people are keen to see sign language developed and used, and I suggest that making it a language course for schools and enabling interpreters to be trained, and for it to be accessible by video, is a way to ensure that deaf people, with their own British language, are not excluded from society, but included, as they deserve to be.
My Lords, I too look forward enthusiastically to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I remember her work when she was Chief Nursing Officer, championing the cause of patients and their involvement, and introducing the concept of the modern matron. It is always a pleasure to take part in a debate led by my friend—I mean that in the true sense—the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester.
I want to highlight the specific challenges faced by children and young people who suffer from life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. The needs of these children, who are often diagnosed at birth, is varied and often complex, making it crucial that they can access palliative care throughout their illnesses and their lives. The pressure on parents of having a child with a life-limiting condition is immense, and most relationships suffer, with 36% experiencing a breakdown of the family, making social care vital. A national study by Julia’s House children’s hospice and Bournemouth University found that 75% of couples caring for a child with a life-limiting condition have no access to respite care. The Carers Action Plan, launched at the beginning of June, says:
“The Department of Health and Social Care will fund a project on actions to promote best practice for local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, and other service providers and commissioners on carer breaks and respite care”.
Research by the children’s charity Together for Short Lives found that while 84% of clinical commissioning groups reported that they commission short breaks for children who need palliative care, more than one in five local authorities do not commission short breaks for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, despite having a legal duty to do so.
The second issue concerns the grants to children’s hospices. Children’s hospices provide crucial support for parents and carers—92% of children’s hospice charities provided end-of-life care to children and young people in 2015-16. Despite this fantastic work, voluntary sector children’s palliative care providers receive, on average, 22% of their charitable costs from statutory sources, compared to an average of 33% for adult hospices. The NHS England Children’s Hospice Grant amounts to some £11 million per year—not a large sum of money—despite increasing costs and demands.
Medical advances mean that 55,000 young adults aged between 18 and 40 have life-limiting conditions in England. The Carers Action Plan also says that the Department of Health and Social Care will fund a project to support parent carers to navigate the transition from child to adult services as their child approaches the age of 18.
Will the Minister make sure that the project outlined in the action plan includes young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions in its scope? Secondly, in light of the fantastic work that children’s hospices do and the pressure they take away from the NHS services, can she commit to bringing about parity of funding between children’s and adult services, including by increasing the NHS England children’s hospice grant? If that matches the support given to adult hospice services, it will come to some £25 million per year—not a large sum, compared with a budget of £110 billion.
Finally, will the Minister commit to assist in providing NHS clinical commissioning groups, sustainability and transformation partnerships and local authorities with guidance reminding them that they are responsible for planning and funding short breaks for children with life-limiting conditions? I realise that the Minister is not directly responsible for what I am asking for, but if she agrees, will she pass this on to the relevant Minister and ask that answers be given in writing and placed in the Library?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for securing this debate and I look forward to the right reverend Prelate’s contribution.
At a time when everyone has had to tighten their belt to get the British economy back on its feet, it is important to acknowledge the immense generosity of the Great British taxpayer in helping disabled people like me to face the challenges that go with living with a disability. The latest data from the independent OECD shows that the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7 at 2% of GDP—a record £54 billion.
But if our message to taxpayers is “Thank you”, what might taxpayers’ message be to Government? I can hazard a guess: “Give us value for our money”. For me, that means honouring the promise of the Disability Discrimination Act in time for its 25th anniversary in 2020. We on these Benches claim to be the party of business, so let us enforce the DDA and ensure that the immense market opportunities of tapping the purple pound—disabled people’s spending power—are realised. Let us shift the dynamics of the disability debate and break the unsustainable cycle of dependency. To echo the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, and my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, let us optimise opportunity and help talented disabled graduates to emulate the success of their BAME and women counterparts by realising their potential in corporate boardrooms up and down the country.
What, then, is the message to disabled people about the challenges we face in 2018? Of course, every Government could spend more on benefits but that is by no means the biggest challenge we face. I realised that in the Republic of Ireland last month, I saw it in Argentina earlier this month and again on the Isle of Man only yesterday. In all three, the conspiracy of silence while majority votes were cast to make it easier for non-disabled people to terminate our existence before birth was shocking. So I say to colleagues, especially those with responsibility for women and equalities issues: do not patronise us by making it easier for non-disabled people to kill us simply for the crime of being diagnosed with a disability before birth, and then claiming it is all about equality. If equality has become so distorted that it now justifies a stronger group of human beings condemning another, weaker group to death for disability, right up to birth, we really are in trouble. I believe that this distortion of equality is the single biggest challenge we face because the statistics show that our very survival is under threat.
In conclusion, I ask my noble friend to convey to the Prime Minister and her ministerial colleagues that the Government are right to insist on devolution in Northern Ireland being respected because no human being is ever less human or less equal for being disabled—at any stage of their existence.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their warm welcome and am grateful for the practical support I have received from the officers and staff. I am humbled by the knowledge and wisdom represented in your Lordships’ House and I am very conscious that it is a privilege to be a Member. It is a responsibility that I will take seriously. I pay tribute to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, my predecessor as the Bishop of London, and his service in this House. I am glad that he continues to serve in his new capacity on the Cross Benches. When it was announced that I was to be the 133rd Bishop of London, my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, said that I was a nurse to my fingertips and a modern Boadicea. In this speech, I will try to channel more of the former and suggest that noble Lords speak to my right reverend friend about the latter.
I became a Christian as a teenager so my choice of career as a nurse was a vocation. It was an opportunity to reflect the love of God that I had come to know. I specialised as a cancer nurse and became a ward sister at the old Westminster Hospital just around the corner from here, and then later the director of nursing at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on the Fulham Road. In 1999 I was appointed the Government’s Chief Nursing Officer for England. While in that role I trained for ordination in the Church of England.
When I moved into the Church of England, I continued to contribute to health, first as a non-executive NHS board member and more recently as a member of the council of King’s College London. I am a passionate supporter of the NHS. It has touched my life in many ways: as a parent; at the time of the death of my parents; and, of course for many years as a nurse. I have seen examples in this country of world-class care and, as we celebrate 70 years of the NHS, I pay tribute both to those who had the courage and vision to set up the NHS and to those who continue to care within the NHS today.
They say you can take the nurse out of nursing, but never nursing out of the nurse. I am the Bishop I am today because of that first vocation to nursing, and compassion and healing are constants at the heart of who I am. I would not go so far as to say that this House needs a ward sister, for fear of being taken the wrong way; but I hope that in my time here and with my background, I can bring as much to this place of the pastoral and spiritual as I can of the professional.
I worked in London both as a nurse and as a priest before moving to the south-west as Bishop of Crediton in the diocese of Exeter. The people of Devon are thrilled that, as the Bishop of London, I come to your Lordships’ House with some understanding of rural life. Alas, the diocese of London has fewer farms. We serve a population of four million, covering 277 square miles of Greater London, north of the Thames and west of the Lea, from the Isle of Dogs in the east to Staines in the west and as far north as Enfield. Your Lordships will be delighted to know that you are sitting in my diocese.
London is of course world-facing. It is multicultural and multi-faith. It is a city of energy and diversity, open to all. But it is also a city of inequality and deprivation. As we have seen most recently in the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, it is also a city where people can feel ignored, marginalised and—often justifiably—angry. I am the Bishop of London, but I intend to be a bishop for London. And I will do so alongside those other distinguished bishops for London in this House, my right reverend friends the Bishops of Chelmsford and Southwark.
Along with celebrating 70 years of the National Health Service, I have been delighted to celebrate 70 years of the Paralympic movement. At evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this month we watched a demonstration of wheelchair fencing under the dome. It was a reminder of how sport can enable people with disabilities to flourish. We should not lose sight of the fact that in the UK, one in five of the population has a disability of some sort, the majority of those people acquiring their disability in later life.
Our churches, like our society, need to up their game when it comes to being welcoming and accessible places for people with disabilities. There are some good examples, including the Disability Advisory Group at St Martin-in-the-Fields, here in London. The driving force for their mission is to change attitudes towards those with disabilities—as not simply people presenting pastoral or practical challenges, but equals who bring unique potential to aid our renewal and mission as a church. In wider society, unlocking potential for those with disabilities brings benefit to us all.
As we celebrate 70 years of the NHS I am aware that for people with disabilities, going into general hospitals can be one of their biggest challenges, because their specific needs—such as their spinal needs—are often not met. Therefore, hospitals disable them. I know that as we move forward, there will be more challenges for the NHS and more difficult decisions, which is why I welcomed the recommendation in 2016 of the Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, which called for a cumulative impact assessment of the decisions made in the public sector on disabled people.
I am immensely grateful to all who have welcomed me today, and look forward to the rest of the speeches in this debate, and the many debates to come.
My Lords, it is a real honour to be able to speak after the new right reverend—and right honourable, for she is also a privy counsellor—Prelate the Bishop of London following her powerful maiden speech, in which she demonstrated her extraordinary life dedicated to Christ since her teens. We in this House note that she joins us as the third most senior cleric in the Church of England and the first woman in this role, after a meteoric rise from 2015 when she was made the Bishop of Crediton. She and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester were the first two women to be ordained as bishops in Canterbury Cathedral, and weeks later she was the first woman in the Church of England to lead an ordination service.
We have heard this afternoon of the impressive breadth of her experience beyond her priestly ministry and, indeed, of her many firsts in the Church. Bishop Sarah began her nursing career just over the river at St Thomas’ and around the corner at Westminster Hospital. It culminated in her appointment as Chief Nursing Officer and director of patient experience for England in 1999. It is worthy of note that she was the youngest woman to hold that position. Her passion for putting the patient first transformed nursing, perhaps most memorably through the new role of matron.
In her recent enthronement sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral, Bishop Sarah remarked that 150 years ago that week suffragettes had placed a bomb under the seat in which she had just been enthroned as the first woman to be Bishop of London. She said—I hope she will allow me to quote her—
“Let me reassure you, I do not come carrying bombs—or perhaps not literal ones, anyway. But I am aware that, as the first woman Bishop of London, I am necessarily subversive, and it’s a necessity I intend to embrace”.
This House and its predecessor, the King’s council of barons and bishops, have seen subversive bishops before, and I know that in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London to your Lordships’ House we see before us a woman who will not be afraid to tackle difficult issues and who will speak truth to her faith and to power.
I thank and congratulate my colleague and noble friend Lady Thomas on securing this debate. Like her and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I was a member of the Lords Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee. Today, in the brief time that is left available, I want to focus on the availability of short-term care and social support for disabled children in our country today. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the issues facing children’s hospices, so I shall not repeat those points. However, I want to highlight the Disabled Children’s Partnership’s survey of parents, which found that 64.9% of family members surveyed thought that the quality of social care services had worsened over the past few years; that over three-quarters of family members thought that the quality of health services had worsened over the past few years; and that nearly half said they knew there were plans to reduce social care for children in their area.
Some 49,000 babies, children and young people with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions need palliative care from the point at which their conditions are diagnosed or recognised—which is often, but not always, at birth—until the end of their lives. Parents usually provide the bulk of the round-the-clock care that these often seriously ill children need at home. It is crucial that they are able to access care and support throughout the trajectory of that child’s illness.
Most disabled children receive no regular support at all from outside their close family and friends, and the number who receive social care services—and the number of hours of support per week—is reducing. Yesterday, local councils warned of further cuts to come, and evidence gathered by the Local Government Association shows that local authorities are overspending their children’s social care budgets by £600 million. Can a national inquiry looking at the children’s palliative care strategy, including short breaks, and a family- centred and holistic approach to health and social care interventions, be established very soon? The Government need to issue joint guidance on short breaks to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Secretary of State for Education, and they need to make sure that funding matches the increased demand for children’s palliative care and that direction is given on commissioning responsibilities. It is vital that services—such as those at Nascot Lawn, which I have spoken about in your Lordships’ House many times, and which sadly is going to close—are not closed over the head of the services that these children need.
My grand-daughter has various life-limiting illnesses, and she regards them as special. Aged two, she talks about her feeding tube as her “special tube”. If disabled children can see the specialness and normality of their lives, it is up to us as a country to ensure that we provide the special support that they need to live their lives to the full.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for bringing this necessary and humane subject before your Lordships today. I am so pleased that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has made her excellent speech today, which adds importance to a matter that can so easily be discarded when there are so many demands on our overstretched country.
There are very many different categories of disabled people, all needing different things. Some of the conditions are very rare and complex. I make a plea to the Government to make some of the forms which have to be filled in for benefits or the blue badge scheme more simple and relevant to the different groups. I have noticed, in 2018, that there seem to be more and more people, and a percentage of them will be disabled. There are long queues at A&E, and patients have long waits for operations, many of which are cancelled at the last minute. I have noticed that many more disabled people are using electric wheelchairs. With an electric wheelchair, one has to use a ramp as they are too heavy and too difficult to tip.
It is difficult to fathom why, when some places have steps, the attitude differs. In Harrogate, in James Street, there are two shops side by side with an identical four-inch step. One has a ramp and the other does not. The ramps are now very light, easy to move and do not cost very much. If only the Government had listened to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who had a Bill this year on access, this unequal, casual attitude might have been rectified. I consider the noble Lord an expert, as in another place he had several senior ministerial positions and now uses a wheelchair. As the country moves on, disabled people need helpful and clear legislation, otherwise they will not be able to live independently.
Forty-four years ago, I founded the Spinal Injuries Association with colleagues, as I know how valuable the support of voluntary organisations are to severely disabled people. A year ago, Martin was injured and sustained a T10 spinal injury at the Manchester Arena bomb explosion. Garry, one of our peer support officers, who is spinal cord injured himself, went to support him. Martin says:
“I remember Garry coming to see me, it was the day I’m being told I’ll never walk again. I’m meeting this incredible person, who is telling me that my life can be good”.
When Martin was told he had a spinal cord injury and understood that he would never walk again, he was upset, but he realised that he was surrounded by his family and friends; so with Garry’s help, he is getting on with his life. SIA is always pleased to help wherever possible.
So many accidents happen, with long-term injury leaving the person paralysed. It can happen with traffic injuries, diving accidents, horse riding, building and falls of all types. After the correct hospitalisation, patients may have to contend with getting suitable housing, schools, universities, changes of employment, and with having to drive a hand-controlled car and, if they have a partner, being accepted and living in the community, which may need a great deal of adjusting.
When I drive around I often notice new buildings and new housing estates going up. Can the Minister say whether any of these are for rent and, if so, would they be adapted for someone using a wheelchair? In Australia, rented accommodation suitable for disabled people is reserved solely for lease to them. Can we not do the same in this country? This debate covers many aspects of life, but disability is so diverse, it spans so many government departments. Is it not time for them all to come together to solve the individual disabled person’s needs?
My Lords, I declare my interests as found in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for bringing this important debate to this House today. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for her inspirational maiden speech.
Disability of varying kinds is a feature of the experience of many families, my own included. In every country this can bring challenges but also great joy. Some 15% of humanity lives with a disability. Many go about raising families, founding firms and stunning us with their sporting prowess and the quality of their scholarship and public service, not least in this House. Thousands, though, face extreme stigma in communities, economies and legal systems so weak or complex as to put them perpetually at risk. So while today we are focusing on challenges in Britain, I will, in passing, commend Ministers in the Department for International Development who in London next month will co-host the first ever Global Disability Summit. This imminent important gathering puts our deliberations today in their international context.
As the chairman of the charity Near Neighbours, which seeks to build community cohesion and integration in England’s towns and cities, I am sadly and increasingly aware of how exclusion and hate crime is becoming more widespread in parts of our society. Some families find it hard to give their children—especially their daughters—the chance to work, study, love or travel freely. Some in local neighbourhoods wish that others who live there “had never been born”. Meanwhile, others have religious or ethnic traditions that actively exclude members of their community who could make powerful contributions.
Over 60,000 families were impacted by race hate crime in 2016-17. In 2017 the Community Security Trust recorded 2,254 hate attacks on members of the Jewish community. This was a 10% increase on the previous year. Disabled Britons will recognise these trends. In the same two-year period of 2016-17, hate crime against disabled children rose by an astonishing 150%. Indeed, nearly 6,000 disabled people endured hate crime; sometimes an attack will be because of both their disability and their race or religion.
It is heart-breaking how the patterns of hate crime facing disabled people have come to mirror—and at moments surpass—those faced by other communities more generally. Hate crime against disabled people can be controlling and can involve very close carers or family members as perpetrators. Crimes can involve money, sex and access to housing. They include open abuse in the street or in seeking work. They are hard to record, not least because victims prefer to report to third parties rather than to the police. Typically, they increase in frequency and severity.
Beyond this are the subtle and repeated exclusions. There have been legal cases where hospitality for disabled people in temples and other places of worship has been felt to have been compromised. Discussion of disabilities arising from genetic conditions is often almost impossible, especially in certain cities such as Bradford, where I live. I even noticed that, in Roman Catholic canon law, until 1983 epilepsy was a block to ordination—and it is unclear today whether physical disability or historic mental illness remain so. The upshot can be isolation, alienation and other unwanted challenges where they ought not to be easily accepted.
I am aware that the Home Office has a hate crime action plan. I am also aware of pioneers, such as Boston’s Ruderman Family Foundation, which has given very large funds across America and Israel to make the activities and architecture of synagogues and charities fully accessible. But might we do more? The trick, it seems to me, is how we combine civic energy and resources right across government. I would be especially pleased to hear from the Minister whether she might be able to explore how the lessons of the work of the Ruderman Foundation and those like it might be replicated here. I would be delighted also if she might consider inquiring how the Government’s recent integration strategy, the new Carers Action Plan and successful Disability Confident campaign might be more fully harnessed to mitigate some of the risks that I have described. These programmes are laudable on their own but might benefit additionally from being more actively linked.
If the challenges that disabled people face are as harsh as I have described, often arising from complex and cross-cutting issues, our response must be equally fleet of foot. Disabled people in all our families deserve it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Thomas for this debate and I appreciate being able to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London; it is an honour. I wanted to take part in this debate not only because it is a very important subject but because of my experience—my second-hand experience and observation—as the wife of a person with a physical disability; to be specific, a prosthetic leg, following a leg amputation three years ago. I want to focus on issues of accessibility in public places. I have become aware of how much still needs to be done in this regard.
Disability and limited mobility is the overlooked equality characteristic of all those covered by the equality legislation. Obviously there is a huge spectrum of conditions—we have heard about deafness, visual impairment as well as physical disability—but, when you add up all those involved, plus family members, a very high proportion of the population is affected. It is not a niche concern. A lot of us, even if not currently classified as having a disability, are either partners or members of the family of people who are, or can expect to be, in that category—and a lot of us will get frail in our older age. I think it was the right reverend Prelate who said that one in five people would have a disability as they got older.
I have been able to observe the challenges that my husband faces, and I will give an example. Obviously, people are in different situations, and those who are wheelchair users have their own challenges, but, as someone who is walking—though with difficulty—he gives us an example of the failure to think of those with limited ability to walk. He often takes a train from King’s Cross and requests assistance, but the information desk at which he has to report is further from the main entrance of the station than the platform to which he has to go. He is expected to walk a long way to the information desk for assistance. That is a lack of joined-up thinking about people’s needs. Hotels are another challenge, as getting a stool for the shower often takes some persuasion and, when provided, has been known to be too big to allow the shower door to close. It ought not to be exceptional to have to ask for these kinds of physical supports.
A lot of help would be given if handrails were more common. In one hotel in central London a handrail would have helped to get up a set of stairs. The person whom I asked said, “No, we are listed so we can’t have a handrail”. I would be surprised if the legislation on listed buildings prevented installing handrails. If it does, it needs to be changed. My point is that this kind of assistance would help a lot of people. It is not disability-specific; it could help a lot of people as we age and as we live longer.
Liberal Democrats are known as “pavement politicians”, but the appalling state of many pavements does not help those with limited mobility. I am sure it does not help those in wheelchairs and it certainly does not help those with a prosthetic leg. You also have to deal with the problems of more aggressive cyclists, skateboards and scooters on pavements. There needs to be more concern and awareness that many more of us will need much better accessibility in public places, not only now but as we get older.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I join others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on her impressive maiden speech and also the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, on securing this debate. It is extremely timely because the challenges facing disabled people are at a critical point. There is something of a stand-off between disabled people, their organisations and the Government, and the Government just do not seem to be listening.
In Being Disabled in Britain—A Journey Less Equal, the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently assessed the state of equality and human rights for disabled people in Britain and concluded:
“While progress has been made in some areas, the overall picture … is that disabled people are facing more barriers and falling further behind. … millions of disabled people … are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted, such as being able to access transport, appropriate health services and housing, or benefit from education and employment. The disability pay gap is persistent and widening, access to justice has deteriorated, and welfare reforms have significantly affected the already low living standards of disabled people”.
Since 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has published two reports examining the UK’s record on disability. In both reports the committee expressed serious concerns that the level of protection and support provided to disabled people was not adequate. In 2016, the committee considered a formal complaint under the optional protocol from a number of organisations of disabled people and found that, as a result of austerity measures, there was reliable evidence of “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights to an adequate standard of living and social protection, to work and employment, and to independent living. After reviewing the UK in August 2017, the committee published its concluding observations, which raised significant concerns about disability rights in the UK and made over 80 recommendations for action by the UK Government and the devolved Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In March this year, the EHRC published a cumulative impact assessment of the impact of changes to the tax and benefit system since 2010 on different groups—something the Government said could not be done. Households with one or more disabled members are significantly more adversely affected than those with no disabled members. On average, families with a disabled adult have lost about £2,500 a year since the changes in 2010. If the family also includes a disabled child, the impact is just over £6,500—over 13% of average net income. This compares to a reduction of about £1,000 for non-disabled families. Negative impacts are particularly large for households with more disabled members and more severely disabled members. On average, disabled lone parents with at least one disabled child fare even worse, losing almost £3 out of every £10 of their net income. In cash terms, their average losses are almost £10,000 a year. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Professor John Hills of LSE tell a very similar story.
Of all the challenges facing disabled people, one of the greatest is the Government themselves. When opposing the £29 a week cut to employment and support allowance which the Government introduced in 2016, I said:
“By this action, the Government have betrayed the trust of disabled people and they should not be surprised if they forfeit it for the rest of their time in office”.—[Official Report, 7/3/16; col. 1074.]
That is still my view, but the Government could still begin to turn things round if they got behind the UN committee’s recommendations and began implementing them—and reversed the cut to ESA, of course. A good start would be for them to begin engaging with disabled people and their organisations, which they are not doing at the moment. They could hold a summit with organisations for disabled people to co-produce an action plan for taking the rights of disabled people forward or, slightly more long term, they could set up a task force with the same agenda, like the Labour Government did at the beginning of their term in 1997. I should be most interested to hear whether the Minister would be interested in taking either of these ideas forward with her colleagues.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her powerful and moving maiden speech. It is an honour to follow her, and I look forward to getting to know her here and outside the Chamber.
I will talk today about disabled people in public life, picking up on the comments made by my noble friend Lord Holmes, because this was my area of focus during my time in Downing Street. I have spoken before about the work the Government have done to increase the number of women on public boards and the very clear outcomes achieved. But it is important that we acknowledge that we simply have not had the same success in attracting or appointing more disabled people to sit on the boards of government departments, public bodies and advisory bodies. All of these have hard and soft power to affect lives across the nation. We will not get the solutions to the problems your Lordships are exploring today unless we empower more of those we also want to help.
I can say with genuine confidence that there has not been a lack of will. But the statistics from OCPA on disability—and, indeed, on BAME—show that while there has been some slow progress in recent years, we need to work harder. I therefore warmly welcome this review, to be led by my noble friend Lord Holmes, and I can think of no better person to lead it. I will offer some early observations.
Although there is growing evidence-based consensus across public and private sectors that diversity improves outcomes, there is a long way to go. I look back to recent years, when the Cabinet Office held events to attract more people into public appointments. Many people—I have to say, they were usually able-bodied men—told us privately that it felt like identity mattered more than merit. I want an open conversation about this because we should tackle it in the context of why it matters that we attract more disabled people into public life.
Disabled people are held to the same standard as anyone seeking a role in public life. Just as those who are not disabled will not always get a job, a disabled person may go through the process and not be appointed, but as long as the opportunity has been there and the process has definitely been fair, that can be an entirely appropriate outcome. However, that does not mean that we should not be out there, looking for and encouraging the best talent in disabled communities to come and help us, and identifying the barriers to making this happen. We can hear from today’s examples that public life benefits so much from first-hand experience and knowledge of the specific issues that disabled people face. That life experience really matters.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, we also need to be clear that we are not looking to disabled individuals to participate simply in issues specific to disability. To be honest, in the cross-governmental meetings that I went to, I genuinely think that we became guilty of that sort of siloed thinking that can happen when you have simply got a bit stuck on what seems a difficult issue. I hope, therefore, that the review will explore ways to widen awareness of the range of roles across public life, from our museums to our regulators to our lottery distributors and beyond. This needs to recognise that there is no homogenous disabled strand of society, just as there is no homogenous group called “women”. Both the public and private sectors have rightly invested huge amounts of time and energy in thinking about the multifaceted reasons why women have not always had equality of opportunity. We need to invest the same time and energy in listening actively and responding to disabled communities, because the steps that we have taken so far in outreach and unconscious bias training—which, to be fair, were not aimed simply at increasing numbers of women—have not sufficiently brought other groups through the pipeline. There is a breadth and depth of experience of dealing with modern employment and society among disabled people that we fail to tap into at our cost.
We can be optimistic. Disabled people are already leading agendas in public life—we need only to look around this House. Without minimising the barriers faced by disabled people in terms of prejudice and perception gaps, there is also evidence that, culturally, we as a society increasingly understand that different does not mean unable. My children are growing up watching people with different disabilities read the bedtime story on CBeebies, and they cheered on Lost Voice Guy winning “Britain’s Got Talent”, commenting not that he is disabled but that he comes from Newcastle, like their mum. I think my girls would be absolutely amazed to know that we have had to commission this review. Let us make sure that ours is the last generation that has to do so.
I have absolutely no doubt that my noble friend the Minister will encourage all Front-Bench colleagues and advisory teams to engage fully with the review led by my noble friend Lord Holmes. I should like to see another push, led from the top, for truly diverse shortlists and appointment panels that go beyond the gender debate. I look forward to insightful and action-focused results.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for her important debate, which I am pleased to take part in. I also warmly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her inspiring maiden speech.
I shall talk about the challenges that deaf children face in education. There are more than 50,000 deaf children in the UK, but it is what is sometimes called a low-incidence disability, meaning that many parents and teachers will come across a deaf child only occasionally. Indeed, more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. Around 80% of deaf children attend mainstream schools, where they may be the only deaf child enrolled. It is because deafness is a low-incidence disability that local authority specialist education services for deaf children play such an important role. These services employ teams of teachers of the deaf who can work flexibly and go where the need is. In particular, they can ensure that families and teachers have the specialist advice and support they need so that deaf children can develop good language and communication skills.
The National Deaf Children’s Society has raised with me a number of concerns about the future of these services. First, there is concern about the impact that funding cuts are having. Its analysis has found that over a third of local authorities are planning to cut funding for specialist education services for deaf children. These cuts amount to £4 million in these areas. It has told me of its frustration that the Government continue to maintain that funding is at a record high. This may be so, but it does not allow for funding pressures on local authorities also being at a record high. For example, we are seeing a growing number of children with special educational needs and disabilities, many of whom need a placement at a special school. I hope the Minister will take away the message that there is a need to do more to ensure that funding is adequate, both now and in light of the Government’s spending review next year.
Secondly, there is concern about the sharp decline in the number of teachers of the deaf. Research shows a 14% decline over the past seven years. Many services report that they cannot recruit new teachers of the deaf. It seems clear that there are systemic challenges around how teachers of the deaf are trained and recruited. I would be grateful if the Minister could let me know of any plans to address this. Will the Government consider introducing a bursary scheme, for example, to fund the training costs of new teachers of the deaf?
On a related note, I understand that the Department for Education has commissioned a review into teachers of the deaf qualifications. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that this review will look at the totality of the work of teachers of the deaf, including with families in the early years. I would also be grateful if she could confirm that families will have an opportunity to feed their views into this review.
Thirdly, there is a concern about how local authorities are held to account for the quality of these specialist education services. It seems unfair to many that parents of deaf children receive so little information about the quality of the support their child receives. Ofsted inspections of local area provision for children with special educational needs, introduced in 2016, have started to address this. However, the National Deaf Children’s Society advised that these inspections do not look at services for deaf children, or indeed for any other group of disabled children, in any great detail. Will the Minister agree to look at ways of addressing all these things, perhaps by introducing new ad hoc inspections that look at different services for disabled children?
I conclude by saying again that specialist education services for deaf children play a vital role. A failure to protect these services will put the future of deaf children at risk. I very much hope the Minister will respond positively and constructively to the concerns I have raised.
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to take part in a debate led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who spoke eloquently about the challenges and progress of disabled people in our country. I look forward to hearing her and working with her more closely. There are two very good farms in Tower Hamlets that maybe we can visit together so as to reassure her that there is green space among us. Today I will make some observations as a mother, as well as a professional in the field, although there is a temptation to address so many outstanding issues that befall carers of people with disabilities.
In whichever manner we look at enabling the voices of vulnerable adults and young people, we cannot underestimate the serious lack of progress, especially for those who are beholden to our institutions for day-to-day services and care. I feel strongly that many in their thousands, even as we speak, remain unsafe at the hands of those who care for them. This is the last bastion of secrecy regarding sexual and physical abuse yet to be addressed, although I accept that we have been privy, through social media, to secret recordings of abuse of vulnerable adults taking place in a number of our institutions. As the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, said, the conspiracy of silence is deafening.
I say this with a great deal of pain. Two decades have passed since I withdrew my son from education just after he was 16 years of age. There were years of toing and froing between different education institutions and the NewVIc sixth form. He had come home crying on numerous occasions, but one day he was utterly distressed and absolutely refused to board the bus to that place where he adamantly felt unsafe. He had returned home with soiled pants on many occasion. I never received any explanation. I was told that they knew best, that I was expecting too much, and so on.
That day I asked my son for the umpteenth time for an explanation. He said that John, his aide, had hurt him in the toilet. I shall refrain from discussing or detailing any further distressing information he then disclosed to me. I took him to the vice-principal the following day and asked for an explanation. Although she “felt” my anxiety, she found it implausible that my son could possibly be speaking the truth. I knew her well. Although she was highly educated, and had knowledge of the law and of her obligation and duty to protect, in fact she was arrogant and all but ignorant of basic human values and decency. More importantly, even my son as a disabled person had rights. She could not comprehend that a paedophile could have filtered through to her staff team working in disguise as a carer with vulnerable young adults. She did not accept that abuse of a person with a disability in her charge was possible.
Of course, I am referring to a time, not in the distant past, when such things were denied, and it was not accepted or acceptable to speak of unspeakable abuse of trust or of sexual or physical abuse of people within our institutions. This was a fact. So my “suspicion”, despite that fact that I was a local authority social worker, could be dismissed as a preposterous notion coming from an overbearingly anxious mother. Noble Lords are all too familiar with me being overbearing on some required occasions. They will also agree that, when facing such serious detriment to one’s child’s well-being, a little leniency for anxiety should be accounted for. What irks me and haunts me to this day, two decades later, is the simplicity with which my concerns—indeed, allegations—were summarily dismissed. The teacher in that powerful place had not for one nanosecond considered the possibility that my son with learning disabilities could have been assaulted and that he was speaking the truth. She refused to accept any responsibility for ascertaining the facts or investigating the matter. I withdrew my son from there and all other educational institutions and no one since has bothered about his or our well-being.
Maybe we will say that we are in a better place these days, that tolerating abuse would not be allowed today and that we have begun to acknowledge that there are predators who deliberately seek out opportunities to work in our institutions which allow access to vulnerable people, particularly those whose communication skills mean that they may not be able to explain abuse in a normal way. Indeed, we might have examples of many institutional failures.
I have confidence that such allegations these days would not go unattended and that a full investigation is now mandatory. In fact, it may have been then—laws to protect have always been in place. Fair and just implementation has always depended on the proverbial gatekeepers and on individual leadership to produce good practice. I have worked in the same borough since, and spent time as a team leader in social services in teams where services to disabled people were taken very seriously.
What may not have changed is the experience of vulnerable adults and young people and children with predatory sexual and physical abuse, particularly those with learning disabilities and communication disabilities, whether they are in nursery or are adults. The overall assessment of where we are in the UK on disability rights and policies is more satisfactory than when I sought help for my child in the early 1980s, and his needs were dumped in the bin of prejudice and sheer incompetence. Such instances potentially cost us much more than welfare benefits and healthcare provision.
I want to make just one point: I am not alone, and organisations like Include Me TOO say that many of their members of ethnic minority backgrounds have suffered significant unacceptable levels of discrepancies in their services. Many believe, rightly or wrongly, that diagnosis, assessment, education and support services remain accessible only for those whose parents are already well resourced educationally, financially and in their status.
I congratulate my noble friend on raising this topic. It has been a long time since we had a debate that looked at disability in the round. I also congratulate the House because we have not turned it into a competition of suffering between various forms of disability, saying, “Oh, my problems are so much worse”, or complaining about, “The intensity here, the numbers there”, and so on. That can happen, and we have all been pulled into it on various occasions.
One thing that comes out is that we have travelled a long way, but we have done it in a very messy way. What we do in Parliament is have a nice, big, sexy debate about legislation, then we put down the regulation, the politicians forget about the regulation and it is done badly. What tends to happen is that you have gaps between intention and implementation. Then we get dragged back to it when something goes wrong.
What this often leads to is that we have a right that is not fulfilled because people are not trained or are not informed about the possibilities, and then we have a degree of conflict and missed opportunity. I suggest that, in the case of disability, we have a way out, which is becoming apparent and will, if we choose it, deal with some of these problems. It is in the form of assistive technology. It is now time for me to declare my interests. I am dyslexic, I am president of the British Dyslexia Association and I am chairman of Microlink, which is probably the biggest company in Europe dealing with assistive technology and puts packages together to help people.
What I have found in my use of technology is that, 20 years after I first talked to a computer and it produced a text, people are still surprised by it. I am further appalled that the people installing the standard operating systems on all the computers we are given in this House do not know that quite an impressive set of assistive technology is built into them. I know because I have just had this conversation with them. They are not alone. I have further discovered that the House of Commons DWP Committee has just had a nice big report come out looking into exactly the same thing and stating exactly the same thing. We are not using what is there because half the people do not know it is available.
The waste of human potential and everything that goes on incumbent in that is ridiculous. People do not know that, with a little training, you have a little button or app that you can tap into on a computer that will do things such as read text back to you, allow voice input, allow coloured screens and allow good screen readers. Indeed, some people actually challenged the technology that those who are partially sighted use, or so I was told today when talking to an expert in the field. I am afraid that one goes to the Mac, but let us not mess about with it.
You have these things that people do not understand. The main skills required in modern jobs are often those where you have to communicate through a computer and do your job through it. Ways for other groups to get into and at that information and transport it through are available. What are the Government doing to make sure that everybody knows it is there? What are they doing in education that might suggest that the best way to communicate a text in answer will not always be with a pen and paper?
It is one of the absurdities of our world that when senior civil servants have to take exams they have to be taught how to write with a pen and paper again to take the exam. What becomes normal in, and beneficial to, the whole of society would become beneficial to large numbers of the disabled community. It is taking that cultural step of what is readily and easily available and making it work and go through.
My work with Microlink has taught me one other thing: when it comes to supporting people with disabilities in the workplace, the first thing not to do is make a line manager in any organisation who has a budget for something else allocate some of that for disability. That is according to all our biggest clients, including Lloyds and Barclays. You put it in a central place, take it out and get the support. That way, the person gets the help they need. In commercial activity, this cuts down on job vacancies and people leaving. Unless the Government can take this example and make easily available what is readily available, they will not get the benefit out of this.
I hope we will look at this in the round. If we do not, we will waste huge amounts of resources when we have the resource readily available.
My Lords, it has been a most humbling experience to take part in this debate and listen to the very moving contributions that have been made. It was very ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and had an inspiring maiden speech by the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of London.
I will concentrate on what the Government are doing to help the millions of people with long-term health conditions to stay in work or to get back to work if they have been put out of their job. I have particularly in mind people suffering from musculoskeletal pain, chronic pain and the overlapping mental health problems, simply because I have experienced it for more than 45 years myself.
For the past 10 years, I have worked with the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition, focusing on the more than 8 million who suffer from chronic pain and back problems. Very many need multidisciplinary support. If we look back seven years to 2011, after 50 years’ experience of the sickness absence system, a fresh proposal came forward under the leadership of Dame Carol Black, with a report entitled, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow and a second report, Health at Work—an Independent Review of Sickness Absence. There were clear proposals on how to make it easier for people to stay in their jobs, including, first, the establishment of a health and work advisory assessment unit and a fit for work service, emphasising the capacity of the patient to return to work and not their incapacity; and, secondly, to include an occupational health work-focused assessment for employees off sick, or likely to be off sick, for more than four weeks.
On top of that there was a proposal for an advice service for employees, employers and GPs on this subject. The benefit for everybody if it succeeds would be employees with a better quality of life and retaining their jobs, employers with a more productive workforce, and, for the Government, there would be overall economic benefits. Indeed, looking back to 2000, when the last figures were available, chronic pain cost the economy well over £10 billion.
The Government have made progress and there is a higher proportion of disabled people in work now than four years ago. I welcome that, but much more needs to be done. Last November the Department for Work and Pensions produced a Command Paper entitled Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability. Having read that, I conclude that the Government sense that the fit for work service experiment, as conceived by Dame Carol Black, has failed—or, at the very least, stumbled badly. The Government seem to be proposing in that paper that there should be a fresh approach to this challenge, not least in strengthening the occupational health service—at the moment, there are very few people in that profession—and helping employers and employees in different ways to improve the service.
The Government have set the challenge that we must be in a position by 2019-20 to set out a clear direction and strategy for future reform. To their credit they have set up an expert working group on occupational health to champion, shape and drive the work, plus an interministerial group to co-ordinate. I should emphasise that most employers, especially small businesses, cannot afford to employ occupational health people, and it is these small businesses that are most vulnerable and need most support for their employees. There are some good examples of employers who have a very good occupational health service, helping their employees and co-ordinating with the health service. So I look forward to hearing from the Minister her and her Government’s assessment of the former fit for work scheme and how the Government have decided to learn the lessons of the last four years to remove the obstacles to the success of the scheme and to make it work properly, to the benefit of all concerned.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest in this debate, as the father of a son with learning disabilities and a trustee of a charity helping deaf children to learn in mainstream schools. I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for securing this debate and for her tireless work in this area. The prize named in her honour, sponsored by Bespoke Hotels, has done much to encourage designers and architects to take into account those with disabilities when they travel. I also pay tribute to the wonderful maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
Disabled people face an enormous number of challenges, but each of those challenges is there only because a disabled person is trying to achieve something. If a disabled person faces the challenge of driving a car, they do so only because they want to drive a car. That is different from the barriers faced, say, 20 years ago. Then, they would have been told that driving was not something for them. So, as barriers to ambition have fallen, challenges have appeared. That must be celebrated. The more that disabled people achieve, the more that challenges become apparent. Changing the mindset to deal with obstacles and challenges is important.
Lee Ridley, better known as the Lost Voice Guy, recently won “Britain’s Got Talent”, the ITV prime-time reality show. He has cerebral palsy—but of course, that did not matter: he had the audience laughing in the aisles and the viewers at home dialling in to vote for him in their millions. What the Lost Voice Guy proved is that overcoming the challenge is the most important thing. His disability actually played to his advantage; it defined his act, allowing his comedy to shine through. There are many people who regard themselves as defined by their disability and believe that their barrier is the most important thing in their lives. I think we have to see the glass as half full.
The technology of cochlear implants, for example, has improved drastically in the last 20 years, and, as with most new technology as it develops, the price has come down drastically. Improvements in technology are something that we should be encouraging and celebrating, especially in the fields of language and communication. There are many people who are physically disabled, but I might say that I am impaired in the very many different languages that I cannot speak—such as Gujarati, to choose one at random. But there are now apps that translate entire paragraphs of foreign languages just by hovering the camera over the page.
Traditionalists may balk at this—surely a cultured person will take the time to learn a language. However, these apps and technologies increase, not reduce, communication. The crucial thing is that technology takes away my fear. The fear of a mistake is inhibitive and intimidating. By simply using technology, I am no longer afraid to make a mistake in talking to locals. New technology will deal with my problem in Gujarat, which is my inability to communicate in Gujarati. Similarly, technology must help people with physical disabilities.
I have so far spoken about positivity and technology. The tech entrepreneurs are the sum of those two parts. They are some of the most positive people in overcoming the challenges faced by disabled people. Seemingly, more brainpower than ever is expended on helping disabled people live better lives. In times gone by, the approach was almost functional—a person could not walk, so build them a wheelchair. That is a good thing in and of itself, but today’s problem solvers dream bigger. These days, it is actually cool to solve these problems. Technology is changing the lives of disabled people forever and for the better.
There are more reasons to be cheerful. I have a friend who was born with no arms and no legs, but he has a driving licence. He might have a claim to be the most disabled person with a driving licence, but is it not wonderful that he has one? While he is competent in controlling his vehicle, there must be many others with a worse condition who cannot drive. My friend has freedom. He is able to live on the spur of the moment. He is less dependent on others and less dependent on the state. His independence and freedom mean that he has milk in his coffee if he has run out and needs to go to the shops—everything that people without a disability take for granted.
When automated vehicles are on the road, almost all will be able to share the joy my friend has in his freedom. We should be positive about seeing the benefits of that type of technology. We are often too negative and let the problems of the past make us gloomy about the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has a prize in her name which asks people to be innovative and positive, and to overcome challenges. We should adopt that mindset as we seek to make the lives of disabled people a whole lot better.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester for initiating this excellent debate. I think it is the first that I can remember in getting on for seven years in which we have discussed such a wide range of disabilities. As often happens in this place, a huge range of experience and expertise has been demonstrated, which brings me to my second point: to join noble Lords in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I am delighted that she brings with her expertise on the south-west as well as on health. She will enrich our debates.
When we think of a disability, invariably it is physical and often visible. For those with a learning disability, it is not always physical and not always visible. When considering the challenges those with disabilities face in the UK, we need to remember that it is about making that person’s life the best it can be: how they can experience a meaningful life, ensuring their safety, well-being and interests are met.
Many organisations work in a person-centred way and some do not. I declare my interest in the register as chair of Hft, a charity supporting those with learning disabilities through independent housing and support services across England. I will talk about learning disability and the challenges faced, and about what two young people with learning disabilities did about them.
Person-centred models exhibit the right and freedom of choice, while always keeping in mind a person’s health and safety. People with learning disabilities enjoy engaging in hobbies and interests, just as we do, but sometimes extra support or care are needed to take part in these activities. Charitable organisations such as my own ensure that those with learning disabilities can do the things they love the most while also having fun in a safe and independent environment. Socialising is part of most of our daily routines but for those who live in a sheltered environment, meeting and chatting to friends can be challenging and opportunities infrequent. That is precisely why Luv2meetU and Hum Tum were created at Hft. Luv2meetU, a friendship and dating service, brings together people with learning disabilities at Hft-run events: games, sports, nightlife events and more. Hum Tum allows adults with learning disabilities of south Asian heritage to bond on social, cultural and religious levels. The funding we raise as a charity goes towards running those sorts of events.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, spoke about disability on TV. I was delighted recently that “Silent Witness” had a storyline about a young couple with learning disabilities who were in love. It does happen. The point is for people to connect, laugh, share stories and feel that spark with someone special. We take these things for granted. Those with learning disabilities should not feel alone—don’t we all need that friend who understands?
We have considered the challenges facing those with learning disabilities but it is also critical to consult trusted friends and families. At Hft half the trustees are family members of those supported by the charity. At our council, the human elements are never forgotten. Family members can articulate to other trustees and executives issues that those without that experience could not understand in the same way. This offers invaluable insight. It would not be right or fair for charities to make critical decisions about those they care for without the consultation of the very people whom they support. The voices of those with learning disabilities must be heard, especially when it comes to preferences in care.
That is why our staff and people with learning disabilities are partnered up at local, regional and divisional level. Each house and region has a group where concerns and questions are posed and deliberated. These councils are to ensure consistency of communication and that shared knowledge and experience lead to better understanding. We call the meetings Voices to be Heard. It is worth mentioning that a frequent topic of concern is “mate/hate crime”, where somebody befriends you and hate comes out of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, demonstrated that admirably today.
Two people with learning disabilities in our care travelled to Geneva to share their personal experiences of the effects of austerity with a United Nations hearing. The noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned this earlier. They are two members of our national Voices to be Heard council. They attended the 18th session of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The hearing invited disabled people to share their personal experiences to help inform the committee’s investigation into how the UK Government’s austerity policies have impacted on people with disabilities. Hft’s evidence fell under Article 19, the right to inclusion and participation in the community. Each addressed the 18 members of the committee, warning that increased pressures on care funding are impacting on the opportunity for people with disabilities to live the life they choose. We believe that this violates the rights enshrined in Article 19 of the CPRD:
“Living independently and being included in the community”.
Since February last year, through its It Doesn’t Add Up campaign, Hft has been aiming to raise awareness of the funding pressures faced by social care providers following the introduction of the national living wage in April 2016. This has not always been reflected in money given by the Government to local authorities to fund care packages. Data from the campaign was used to respond to calls for information from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on service provision for persons with disabilities. This was a great opportunity for Henry and Becky to have their voices heard at the highest level and to play a key role in driving positive change against the austerity measures disproportionately affecting people with learning disabilities. They argued that inadequate funding of the social care sector was prohibiting providers properly supporting adults to live independently.
Reductions in benefits are preventing people living as full a life as before, and benefits are now more about enabling people to survive rather than thrive—their expression, not mine. They expressed concerns about provision of Easyread resources in several settings, particularly in health and at elections. Do the Government have a view about where Easyread communications should, and could, be available? It is worth noting that last year, an awful lot of people with learning disabilities, carrying a polling card, were turned away from their polling station by the officer in charge, who told them, “People like you can’t vote”. We visited our MPs. It happened, and we are going to try to sort something out for the next election. However, that was really shameful.
The chair of the committee called the UK Government’s policies a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. It issued recommendations under all chapters of the CRPD. Regarding Article 19, it argued for adequate and earmarked ring-fencing of moneys so that local authorities are properly able to execute their responsibilities in enabling disabled people to exercise choice and independence. Our Government responded by saying that the UK maintains that it is a world leader in disability rights. The response will be published in the summer.
The sector feels that conversations about funding for social care are always about older people, not those with disabilities, despite the fact that within a few years the funding required for people with disabilities will outstrip that for elder care. Can the Minister feed back the frustration of the learning disability sector that, when discussing disabilities, the Government invariably refer to those with a physical disability and rarely to those with a learning one?
I commend to the Minister, if she has not already seen it, the British film “The Silent Child”, which won an Oscar this year. It is all about the power of sign language. The makers of that film went to see the Department for Education and they were promised a GCSE in sign language.
Those with disabilities share many of our own desires: a voice wanting to be heard, preference in the way our daily lives work, a friend or companion to call or hold. The challenge is enabling the quality and opportunity of those practices. Whatever the disability—whether it is hearing loss or lack of sight, mobility problems or a learning disability—it is all about making a life safe and worth living. We should all agree that that is something which brings value and happiness to everyone.
My Lords, let me begin by offering my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on a wonderful maiden speech. That passion for the NHS will sit well with us all in this House. Perhaps I may also say that if she is tempted to exercise the calm authority of matron in this Chamber from time to time, that may not go amiss—but of course, not on these Benches.
This has been a worthy debate and I join with others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for its initiation. As the debate has highlighted, and the briefings we have received confirm, the challenges facing disabled people today are many and considerable. We have heard a very full range of contributions, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not touch on all of them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke about the extra costs for independent living that disabled people face, and about DFGs and the aspiration to have 1 million more people in work—it was a very full contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wyld, spoke about the importance of disabled people and public appointments. I wish the noble Lord success in his review. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about the challenges for deaf people and the need for cohesion and specialist education. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, spoke about palliative care for children and the unfair funding of children’s hospices. The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, spoke about the generosity of the taxpayer. It depends quite where you stand on that as to who gets the benefit and who takes the hit. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke about the Equality Act and short-term care support; the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, about the blue badge scheme; the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, about the Global Disability Summit; the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about accessibility in public places; and the noble Lord, Lord Low, about challenges that I will come on to and strike common cause with him on in a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, spoke about changes to address the position of vulnerable individuals and sexual predators; the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about dyslexia and using assistive technology more effectively; and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about the proposals from Dame Carol Black—proposals I worked with her on a long time ago, when I was in a different role. I do not think we have ever cracked it, because I do not think that occupational health has ever been part of the National Health Service. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that we might have done something different there.
Independent evidence of the challenges facing disabled people can be found in an examination of the UK’s report to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—to which the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, referred—following an investigation under the optional protocol. The committee expressed concerns about extensive evidence which shows that disabled people in the UK face significant challenges to enjoying their rights across all areas of life, including inaccessible housing, transport and information; barriers to achieving justice; inappropriate long-term placements for people with learning disabilities or autism, and the lack of provision for supported decision-making. The briefing from Scope refers to the challenges of accessing social care and employment, and the briefing from Sense refers to the longer-term planning and funding needed for the 1.7 million disabled people supported by their friends and families and the fear of what will happen when family carers are not able to provide that support on an ongoing basis.
Concerns have been raised in particular over three areas of rights for disabled people: an adequate standard of living and social protection, work and employment, and independent living. In my limited time, I want to say something on the first two. As for standards of living, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, mentioned, we now have the benefit of a cumulative impact assessment of tax and benefit changes between 2010 and 2018 commissioned by the EHRC. The conclusion that households with one or more disabled members will face large and disproportionately negative impacts from the changes is to be deprecated, and let us not forget that for most of this period we had a coalition Government who were complicit in these matters. Households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child could face annual cash losses of more than £6,500.
These changes result mainly from the changes to the benefit system, including the freezing of working-age benefits, changes to disability benefits and reductions in universal credit rates. Concerns should focus not only on the structure of the key benefits—PIP, ESA and universal credit—but on how they are administered. The abolition of working-age DLA and its replacement by PIP was announced without any prior consultation and with the express aim of cutting expenditure by 20%, a deliberate hit on disabled people. We know that the implementation of PIP has been little short of a disaster, with the Government just having had to announce a fifth review of benefits for disabled people to identify those entitled to back payments.
Disability Rights UK, which has been pursuing statistics on the DLA-to-PIP move, reports that half of DLA claimants who were in receipt of the higher mobility rate were refused it on moving to PIP, with many losing their right to join the Motability scheme. The introduction of the 20-metre rule has been particularly damaging. Both PIP and ESA have been bedevilled with poor administration from application to assessment to decision-making and to challenge. Surely it is time to bring it all in-house and not to renew contracts, on a short-term basis or otherwise.
New claimants of ESA have lost entitlement to a work-related activity component. The application of sanctions continues to be problematic and the bedroom tax continues to bite—more than two-thirds of households subject to the tax include a disabled family member. Statistics in the NAO report on universal credit, published recently, reveal that while 20% of initial payments for universal credit claims overall are not made in full and on time, two-thirds of claims involving a limited capability for work element are not. The report also said that overloaded DWP staff are finding it difficult to identify vulnerable claimants, such as those with a mental health condition, for instance, and that the case load for work coaches is set to increase fourfold, and that of managers by sixfold.
If the benefit system is failing disabled people, how are they being helped into employment? The Conservative pledge to halve the disability employment gap has been watered down to getting 1 million more disabled people into work. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how all this is going. Recent figures show that the disability employment gap remains stubbornly at about 30%.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has pinpointed that funding for specialist employment support for disabled people will fall from about £1 billion under Work Choice and the Work Programme to about half of this over the lifetime of the Work and Health Programme. It seems that the majority of employment support for disabled people will be by general rather than specialist support in the future.
We believe in a social model of disability—a society which strives to remove the barriers that restrict opportunities and choices for disabled people. There is much to do if we are to make progress, given the austerity years. One of the most depressing pieces of information provided in our briefings came from Scope and its new research report, The Disability Perception Gap. It found that negative attitudes and prejudice remain a major problem for disabled people, the data having hardly shifted since 2009. If we could put the same effort into addressing this as we do and have done on Brexit, we might at least make progress in tackling prejudice and discrimination.
My Lords, let me begin by joining all other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her inspirational maiden speech. We look forward to many more contributions from her in the future.
This has been an excellent, thoughtful and—I feel in so many ways—a positive debate. I thank, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, very much for this opportunity for all of us to share information, and indeed to discuss, as she said right at the beginning, a debate that is widely drawn. I want to make it clear straightaway that I shall share this debate with our Minister of State for Disabled People because so many different issues have been raised, and I apologise in advance if I cannot address everyone on the Floor of the House this evening. I make it clear, too, that in those areas that are the responsibility of the Minister for Health or the Minister for the Department for Education, I will make sure that the concerns are passed on.
The Government are fully committed to making sure that disabled people can overcome the barriers they face in their day-to-day lives. With 13.9 million people in the UK—that is 22% of our population—reporting a disability, it is very clear we must do everything we can to break down the barriers so that disabled people can be empowered and achieve their aspirations. There are more than a few disabled role models in this House—both past and present—who have overcome those barriers to achieve great things in their careers. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham shows—I think she has been here even longer than me—it can be done. But this will not happen overnight; there will be no mythical day or year when disabled people will wake up and everything will be accessible and inclusive.
With reference to my noble friend Lady Wyld, we are making real progress and I feel strongly—I am an optimist, of course—that this is generational. Her children will wonder why there is a review. My children, who are older than hers, will feel that too. With an ageing society, where most people acquire a disability as they grow older, this is becoming even more important. We know that currently 45% of people at state pension age have a disability. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, that we are not separating the young from the old but we need to recognise that different people have different needs and we need to be as bespoke as possible.
Although we have made good progress, we are not complacent and know we all need to do more. This is not just about my department but about every department making sure that their policies and services are accessible and inclusive. Nor is this just about the public sector—the private and third sectors must play their parts as well to ensure that we all live in a country that is accessible and inclusive. We all know that there is no point in building accessible housing if the disabled tenants or owners cannot access the transport system. An accessible transport system does not help if disabled people cannot access their employer’s business or their school, college or university. And how do disabled people spend their money if they cannot access shops, leisure facilities or online services?
Numerous noble Lords raised very good points on a number of issues during this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for raising the important issue of personal independence payment assessments and appeals in this House on 19 June in an Oral Question. I agree with her. We need to be more holistic in our approach, which is why I must commend the hard work that my colleague in another place, Sarah Newton MP, the Minister of State for Disabled People, has been doing to ensure that disabled people can meet their aspirations. I have to tell noble Lords that I have never seen a Minister work so hard.
As my honourable friend announced in May, she is setting up an inter-ministerial group which will drive forward co-ordinated action across government. It will be chaired by the Secretary of State and will focus this Government’s approach to breaking down the barriers that disabled people face. The inter-ministerial group will ensure that disabled people are at the centre of decisions that are made about their lives. We will be reinvigorating the way we work with disabled people and their representatives to inform the IMG. We are keen to ensure that more disabled people can be involved and we are exploring how we can maximise the use of technology to reach every region in England.
My noble friend Lady Wyld made the excellent point that diversity and inclusion make for better and inclusive decision-making across all protected characteristics. Since the 2012 Paralympic Games, we have seen a marked increase in disabled people on television in drama, comedy and current affairs. But it is not only visible impairments that are being discussed—Susan Calman’s “Mrs Brightside” podcast discusses depression, for example. The old attitudes that disabled people face are being eroded, albeit not as fast as we would all wish.
The next area to see an increase in participation for disabled people will be public appointments. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Holmes will be using his vast knowledge and expertise to lead the review that will make recommendations on how to encourage more disabled people to apply for public appointments. This was a point also raised by noble friend Lady Wyld. Inclusive leadership is not just about our own country, but sharing that leadership with countries that have not achieved the level of access and inclusion we have achieved so far, a point made by my noble friend Lord Shinkwin. The Secretary of State for International Development will be hosting a global summit to galvanise the global effort to address disability inclusion in the world’s poorest countries.
A number of noble Lords asked what the Government have done to improve access for disabled people. This Government understand that to achieve real access and inclusion, departments need to work together where their interests overlap. We have set up the Work and Health Unit, a joint venture between the Department of Health and Social Care and my department. Its aim is to create a society where everyone is ambitious for disabled people in respect of work and to understand and act positively upon the important relationship between health and work, something that was touched on by a number of noble Lords and most particularly the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We published the Improving Lives Command Paper in November 2017. We have set a target of 1 million more disabled people in employment by 2027 and we really mean to meet that target.
The number of working-age disabled people in employment in the UK reached around 3.5 million in the second quarter of 2017. This was an increase of 104,000 since the second quarter of 2016 and an overall increase of nearly 600,000 since the second quarter of 2013, when the series started. I say to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that I disagree entirely; we are not failing the disabled community. We are working to support disabled people to stay in work as well as supporting them into employment. We are prioritising interventions on mental health and musculo- skeletal conditions.
So many points were raised around the whole issue of learning disabilities, most notably by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, who spoke with real authority on the subject. We are encouraged by the early evidence of the impact of the implementation of our SEN reforms, improving the lives of children and young people with learning disabilities. But we are not complacent—far from it. There is much more to do and we are committed to seeing this through. As the SEN reforms continue, we are confident that they will make a significant difference to the life chances of children and young people with special educational needs. The noble Baroness referred to Easyread documents. Where appropriate, we provide these, but I will take back her concerns on the extent to which such documents are available.
The noble Baroness also referred to hate crime, as did my noble friend Lady Eaton in her passionate speech, which presented a different angle but one of equal importance with regard to this issue. I will certainly ensure that we look at what the Ruderman Family Foundation is doing to help people from different communities who also happen to have a disability, if I may put it that way. It is a double challenge that we need to confront. In terms of hate crime itself, we launched an action plan in July 2016 with five different criteria. Those criteria are Home Office-led and I understand that they will be refreshed with the hate crime action plan in 2018. We will work closely with our wide network of stakeholders to make sure that the action plan remains fit for purpose, is cross-governmental and absolutely respects those issues raised by noble Lords today.
I also listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, had to say about the tough issue of care of children with life-threatening illnesses in hospices. I assure him that I will pass his questions and concerns to my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, Minister for Health. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also raised these issues. I am sure my noble friend will want to respond in writing, as will my noble friend the Minister for Education, on some of the issues raised by other noble Lords.
With reference to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, I have enormous sympathy—which I am sure all noble Lords will share—for her son and the appalling experience he endured. I am glad that, since that time 20 years ago, we have introduced—as the noble Baroness will well know—strong safeguarding measures across the public, private and third sectors. But of course, there is always more that we can do.
I turn now to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about progress on the evaluation that my department commissioned on the Fit for Work service. On 21 June, we published a report online presenting findings from the evaluation. We remain committed to that and will use our learning from Fit for Work to inform our thinking. We are also working closely with the new occupational health expert group established this year. This group is chaired by Professor Gina Radford and consists of clinicians, employers groups, academics and representatives of charities. My officials would be pleased to discuss this work further with the noble Lord.
One might ask what the point of having a job is if you cannot get to work. The Department for Transport consulted on a draft accessibility action plan last year and will publish an inclusive transport strategy later this year. It will set out our key policy and investment priorities for improving disabled people’s access to transport. This document will also confirm our timeframes and proposals for monitoring delivery.
Since 2006, around 200 railway stations have been made step-free, and 75% of rail journeys are now through step-free stations. This compares to only 50% in 2005. I am looking to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford; I hope she and her husband will accept that this is progress. It is not perfect, but it is progress. Where toilets are provided on a train, an accessible toilet that meets the requirements of modern accessibility standards needs to be provided by 31 December 2019.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred to the blue badge. We consulted on introducing new blue badge eligibility criteria for people with hidden disabilities. The Department for Transport is currently considering the responses.
Before we can get to work, we need to be able to get out of our home and move into the built environment, a subject covered by a number of noble Lords. The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently being revised, defines “inclusive design” as:
“Designing the built environment, including buildings and their surrounding spaces, to ensure that they can be accessed and used by everyone”.
However, the Government understand the concerns visually impaired people have about navigating around shared spaces. The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation’s review of shared space was published in January this year, and we are considering its recommendations.
We launched the Built Environment Professional Education Project in 2013, which was inspired by the 2012 Paralympic Games—the most accessible Games ever. The aim of the project is to make inclusive design an important part of the education and training of built environment professionals. To ensure a smooth transition from a Government-driven project to an industry-owned and led project, in 2016-17 the Construction Industry Council assumed responsibility for the project, but this Government are not just about new initiatives; they are also about improving what is already being done. An example of this is disabled students’ allowances, where we have commissioned an evaluation to seek disabled students’ views on support received from DSAs, as well as views from the higher education providers. This evaluation will report later this summer.
We are committed to ensuring that our welfare system is a strong safety net for those who need it. That is why we are spending £54 billion this year, noted by my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, on supporting disabled people and those with health conditions. That is a real-terms increase of £10 billion since 2009-10. This is around 2.5% of GDP and over 6% of all Government spending—up more than £7 billion in real terms since 2010.
We have also increased the amount of help an individual may receive from Access to Work. This is important in relation to some of the concerns raised by noble Lords. It depends on their individual needs and personal circumstances, but an individual can now have up to a maximum of £57,200 a year, which is an increase from £42,100 in April 2017. The grant is in addition to the Motability scheme and all other disability benefits. In September 2016 we launched the Access to Work digital service, so people can now apply online. In addition, we are continuing to develop our online offer and have introduced other channels to improve accessibility, for example through video relay service to assist BSL users.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, that the Government are committed to ensuring that deaf people are enabled to fulfil their potential and play a full role in society. We fully support initiatives aimed at improving understanding of the needs of deaf people, giving them more say in how they access services and how the barriers they face can be removed or overcome. Deaf people are the largest group of customers supported by the Access to Work grant and their awards in general tend to be higher than those of other groups.
Technology has moved on. There are solutions that help both deaf and deafened people. Those in the deaf community have always been early adopters of new technology, email phones and video phones, as referenced by both the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and also my noble friend Lord Borwick. The video relay service is an easy option for service providers to communicate with their deaf customers where that is reasonable. But we must not forget that in the deafened community, the majority of people with a hearing impairment are elderly, and that for the most part they do not use sign language. They need adjustments such as lip-speakers, speech to text, or note takers.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and other noble Lords, referenced technological solutions, which will continue to break down barriers, not only for the deaf community but for other impairment groups as well. We know about help for the visually impaired to navigate the London Underground, such as Wayfindr, and about Microsoft Seeing AI, which can read text and tell the user what is going on and can be downloaded by anyone.
But technology is not the only way: business can break down barriers. The Government continue to work with business to increase our understanding. The Disability Confident programme is part of that. We are challenging employers’ attitudes to disability, removing the barriers and ensuring that disabled people have opportunities to realise their aspirations. We are working with employers in this way to ensure a substantial contribution towards seeing 1 million more disabled people in work. Over 70% of local authorities are Disability Confident. The Government are leading by example: all main government departments have now received Disability Confident leader status. I could list a number of well-known companies that are already very supportive. However, the Government understand that disabled people still face innumerable barriers, and yes, the Government will continue to break those barriers down and drive all the sectors to do the same.
Several noble Lords, and in particular my noble friend Lord Holmes and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, mentioned the Paralympics, as I did a few months ago. One of my proudest moments was representing Her Majesty’s Government at the Paralympics this year in South Korea. Indeed, I gave up trying to contain myself when the mother of one of our seven gold medallists hugged me and thanked me for being there. I was privileged to be there. Sport is one of the most brilliant catalysts for overcoming barriers.
The Government understand that there will always be more to be done, always another item on the access and inclusion shopping list. The Government will continue to take responsibility, working through that list. We understand that there will always be people who do not think that access and inclusion is happening quickly enough. Indeed, in contrast, at the Department for Work and Pensions we are lucky enough to share a brilliant special adviser with No. 10, Jean-Andre. He happens to have cerebral palsy, and he is ensuring that we constantly question, so that the list of what to do and what to do better is assessed.
In conclusion, the Government will continue to work with the public, private and third sectors to keep breaking down barriers until everyone, whether disabled or non-disabled, can participate in their community and aspire to and achieve their life goals. One of the most important words used in this entire debate is “talent”. There is plenty out there, and we want to make sure that we involve everyone with talent.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords for getting across so much in such a short time. I warmly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London on her most impressive maiden speech, and I thank the Minister for her reply to the debate. I look forward to opportunities for us to continue the conversation about many of these challenges in the coming months.
House adjourned at 5.43 pm.