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Deregulation (Northern Ireland) Order 1997

4.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th October be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to introduce measures which will remove burdens on business in Northern Ireland. It follows and builds on the general thrust of the 1996 Deregulation and Contracting Out (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Government are committed to cutting unnecessary red tape by introducing a simpler regulatory system for business. We are also conscious of the burdens regulations place on the citizen and are committed to seeking to improve the regulatory interface in this area. The order is consistent with the thrust of our efforts to improve the quality of regulation. The provisions in the order make good sense. That is demonstrated by the small but valuable response to the consultation exercise. Public comment was invited, and almost 300 individuals or bodies with a particular interest in the order were contacted directly and their

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comments sought. Only 22 responses were received. We have to assume that the rest did not feel strongly about the order one way or the other, or else they were just favourably inclined.

The order contains eight measures to benefit business. Of these measures, six will ensure that parity is maintained with deregulation orders which apply in Great Britain and which were made under powers contained in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. The six will remove constraints for new credit unions seeking registration, increase opportunities for the expansion and growth of credit unions and broaden the pool of savings and incomes from which members can directly benefit; they will remove restrictions and reduce costs on industrial and provident societies; they will remove resolution restrictions on private companies; they will increase the number of gaming machines permitted in registered clubs from two to three and allow the Department of Health and Social Services to vary this limit in future by subordinate legislation; they will extend the validity of a vehicle's first MoT certificate; and they will remove redundant controls on the manufacture, storage, sale and use of rag flock for upholstery.

The remaining two provisions are unique to Northern Ireland. Article 9 removes restrictions on the use of pre-payment meters for purchasing energy efficiency goods and services. Article 10 removes the requirement of exporters of potatoes to non-European Union countries to have a potato shipping licence.

The order is a sensible and reasonable provision. It removes unnecessary or outdated obstacles to commerce in Northern Ireland without compromising the Government's commitment to ensuring that adequate protection for the public is maintained. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th October be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I, like, I am sure, all noble Lords, am in favour of deregulation. The proliferation of regulations is enormous. They are a terrible burden to small businesses, large businesses and government. Regulations grow like weeds. Therefore, the task of deregulation is a completely continuing one, just like gardening.

Some acts of deregulation are more significant than others. Some just tidy up the statute book, or parts of the statute book, which no one uses. Article 8 of the order repeals the Rag Flock Acts of 1911 and 1928. I do not imagine that will reduce the burden on business very much. It is probably quite some time since a business filled in a form required by those Acts. That is not a reason for not repealing the Acts if they are no longer required but it means that there is not much saving for business from that article.

There are some more significant changes, as the Minister set out, for credit unions, industrial and provident societies and for companies. They are desirable in themselves. The amendments to the potato marketing Act look to have some significance. However, it seems to me that by the order we are getting rid of most of the Act. Can the Minister say whether

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there is anything left of the potato marketing Act; and, if so, why it has been left? Why not repeal the whole affair?

The order is supposed to allow companies to save £7.5 million. I presume most of it is from the clauses relating to the credit unions, companies and industrial and provident societies, but it would be helpful to know that.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on bringing forward the order. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, made a comparison with gardening. It was the setting up of committees that came most to my mind. Once established, committees, with a constant agenda of apologies, minutes, matters arising and the date of the next meeting, usually have a sufficient agenda to continue even when their purpose has long since been forgotten. It is often the same with regulations. As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, some of the regulations were established in 1911 and have continued until now. The Government are to be congratulated on bringing the order forward. We welcome all the changes, not least the fact that there will be estimated savings to Northern Ireland business of £7.5 million. That will be widely welcomed at home.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I shall be brief in view of the importance of the succeeding debates. I am a little puzzled by the words in Article 7,

    "vehicles adapted to carry more than eight passengers".

We all recognise that Orders in Council cannot be amended. However, it would make the legislation more readily understood if we had an explanation as to the meaning of that phrase. Does it really mean "vehicles adapted" or does it mean "vehicles constructed"? It is difficult to envisage how a vehicle could be adapted and also comply with the road traffic and safety regulations.

The phrase I have just quoted also appears in the public processions legislation which is currently before your Lordships. The references in Article 7 will probably become law before the public processions Bill becomes law. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is important from the point of view of the police traffic division that it should have clarification on that point.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, I have one question on Article 7 concerning motor vehicle tests. It says that the first time an MoT is necessary it can last for a period of up to 13 months. Does this continue for ever and a day, which is not said? In other words, on successor periods, can it be a 13-month period or any other time when the test takes place; or does it have to be an exact 12-month period for successor tests?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall try to do justice to the questions that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked about the financial savings to business. The main savings are on Article 6, dealing with gaming machines, where we estimate that businesses will save roughly £2.5 million; and on Article 9, dealing with electricity pre-payment meters,

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where we estimate the saving will be some £5 million. Smaller sums will be saved on various other measures that we have before us.

The noble Lord also asked about the potato marketing provisions. He asked why we did not repeal the whole of the Act. The sections in the Act dealing with the licences are repealed. However, I should like to look further into the question asked by the noble Lord and write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked about the use of the word "adapted" in relation to public service vehicles carrying more than eight passengers. That word is taken from the legislation that is being amended. It is my understanding that the intention is that it is to apply to all vehicles carrying more than eight passengers. If that is not correct, I shall write to the noble Lord. I shall also have to write to the noble Lord about the other point he raised.

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, asked a specific question to which he expected an answer. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, asked about the extension of the length of the period under which MoTs will be carried out. Again, it is a fairly technical point as regards the time period. Although I believe that I know the answer I prefer to check. I shall write to the noble Viscount when I have had a chance to look into it. I hope that I have dealt with all the specific points that were raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Long-Term Care: Royal Commission

4.41 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. The Statement is as follows:

    "As people approach old age, many become anxious about how they will be looked after, how much it will cost and who will pay. So, at the general election, we promised we would establish a Royal Commission to work out a fair system of funding long-term care for the elderly. Today, I can announce that the new Government are keeping another of their promises. The Queen has agreed to the setting up of the Royal Commission whose terms of reference will encompass the United Kingdom as a whole.

    "It is to be chaired by Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University. I am confident he will bring to the commission the skills and experience necessary to ensure rapid and vigorous scrutiny of the issues involved and practical cost-effective proposals to deal with them. He will be joined by eleven other commissioners: Professor Dame June Clark, Professor of Community Nursing at the University of Swansea; Sir Nicholas Goodison, deputy chairman of the Lloyds TSB Group and former chairman of the Stock Exchange; Dr. Iona Heath, a GP in Kentish

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    Town who represents the Royal College of General Practitioners on the British Geriatrics Society; Joel Joffe, a human rights lawyer, founder director and former deputy chairman of Allied Dunbar Assurance and former chairman of Oxfam; David Lipsey, political editor of the Economist and a public interest director on the Personal Investment Authority; Professor Mary Marshall, director of the dementia services centre at the University of Stirling; Claire Rayner, writer, broadcaster and president of the Patients' Association and a former nurse; Paula Ridley, the chair of the Liverpool Housing Action Trust; Professor Robert Stout, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Queen's University, Belfast; Robin Wendt, the former secretary of the Association of County Councils and a former civil servant at the DHSS; and Len Woodley QC, a Recorder who chaired the Laudat Mental Health Act Inquiry.

    "Briefly, the commission's terms of reference will be to examine the short and long-term options for a sustainable system of funding of long-term care for elderly people, both in their own homes and in other settings, and to recommend how, and in what circumstances, the cost of such care should be apportioned between public funds and individuals. I have placed the full terms of reference in the Library of the House.

    "The commission will consider the implications of its recommendations for younger people who have long term care needs because of illness or disability and have regard to the Government's review of pensions. The Government want both sound and swift advice, so the commission has been asked to report within 12 months; it will therefore be different from previous Royal Commissions.

    "This commission will be different from its predecessors in other ways, too. In the past, some Royal Commissions have included representatives of the pressure groups involved in the topics to be covered. This one does not. The commissioners are not supposed to be representatives. They are there to take a fresh look.

    "However, pressure groups and representatives of users and carers should have their say. So the commission will establish a reference group of organisations to help gather views and receive advice. The chairman of the commission is today inviting a whole range of organisations to serve on this reference group. It will include charities and other groups involved in long-term care, the financial services sector, NHS, local government and other service providers together with representatives of the major religious faiths in the UK. By this means the commission will be able to draw on the most up-to-date experience of users and carers.

    "The commissioners will also be making visits around the country to listen to other users and carers. They plan to be out and about so that they can really get the full flavour of the current concerns in different parts of the country.

    "The task of this Royal Commission is neither simple nor easy but it is important. The present situation cannot go on much longer. People are

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    entitled to security and dignity in their old age. So we must find a way to fund long-term care which is fair and affordable for both the individual and the taxpayer. With the independent advice of the Royal Commission, I hope we will be able to establish a consensus from which we can fashion a sustainable system of long-term care which will meet the needs of elderly people well into the new century.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.46 p.m.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. The issue of long-term care and its funding is one which, for thousands of families up and down the country, has become an ever-present and personal reality. We on these Benches are in no doubt of its importance. If we look at the demographic position, older people represent the section of the community which is growing the fastest. The proportion of the population aged 85 and over has doubled in the past 25 years to 1.8 per cent. and it is expected to continue rising over the next 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that 5 per cent. of people between 75 and 85 years of age and over 20 per cent. of all those over 85 years of age will eventually require long-term residential care at a cost of £20,000 or even more, each year, for an average of three years.

For the state to fund that cost it is necessary for an individual to prove need on the basis of a means test, a principle which has applied ever since 1948. Many of us know the worry and sense of unfairness felt by elderly people who are sometimes obliged to sell their homes in order to pay for long-term care while those with no assets whatever and who have made no attempt to provide for their needs in retirement pay nothing and receive exactly the same care. We all understand those concerns. Before they were elected, the Government, I believe, criticised the means testing rules, but without a means test the cost to the public purse would be very considerable.

During the last Parliament the means test thresholds were changed substantially. The amount of an elderly person's capital assets, protected under the rules of means testing, was tripled. That was a positive step. But the sense of unfairness felt by many people did not go away. In May last year the previous government published a White Paper called A New Partnership for Care in Old Age which in essence proposed a partnership between government and the individual to encourage people to take out indemnity insurance or annuities to cover the possibility of their needing long-term care in old age, offering them in the process the incentive of having more of their assets protected in any means testing procedure. The proposal that we put forward represented an addition to the programme of care in the community, not a slice out of those programmes.

We felt that the benefit of this approach was that it would enable any amount of protection to be secured--any sum of cover, large or small--and could even be of benefit to those whose need of long-term care might, as it were, be just over the horizon and would not simply

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be applicable to those of younger years. The Community Care (Residential Charges) Bill, prepared by the last government, would have achieved those objectives.

One of my worries about a Royal Commission is that it will take a good many months to reach its conclusions. The Government will then need to take their time to consider those conclusions. The whole matter is one which in any case requires fairly extended lead times to achieve change on any appreciable scale. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Royal Commission will be operating strictly to the 12-month timetable that she mentioned.

In the meantime, over and above that, will the Government consider the possibility of bringing back the Bill drafted by the previous government as a government Bill? The Minister may say that she does not wish to pre-empt the Royal Commission's findings. If she does, I would respectfully say that I do not see that as being a satisfactory answer to the many thousands of people who cannot wait for the Royal Commission to report, and for the Government to cogitate, produce a White Paper, and, in due course, publish a Bill.

The issues are clear and salient. The risk of an individual needing long-term care at some point in his or her lifetime is plainly an insurable risk. Do the Government accept that part of the solution, at least, must lie in private provision, perhaps through annuities or as a standard element in pension schemes? Do the Government agree that saving for long-term care is feasible for most people to undertake during a working lifetime? If the Government do agree, what is to stop them pursuing those ideas sooner rather than later, whatever the Royal Commission's conclusions turn out to be? This does not seem to be a matter of mutual exclusivity.

I wish to make a comment or two upon the Royal Commission itself. While, for the reasons I have explained, we on this side doubt whether a Royal Commission is the most appropriate route to take in the current circumstances, nevertheless we join the Government in warmly welcoming Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland to his new post as chairman. We have every confidence in his ability to look at these important matters thoroughly and dispassionately. He is well suited to the appointment. We wish him and his fellow commissioners well in the task ahead of them.

Will the Minister assure the House that Sir Stewart and his commission will examine all the options for schemes which might enable more people to bear the costs of their own care while, at the same time, protecting their assets from the means test along the lines that I have described? Will they look also at the comparative merits of private care and local authority-funded care and the need for a level playing field between the two when a local authority takes responsibility for funding a residential care place?

I repeat my good wishes to the commission. We await its report with considerable interest and anticipation.

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