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Health Development Agency

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Health Development Agency will play an

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important role in supporting the Government's health strategy. The agency will establish robust evidence on what works in public health and communicate that to the field; advise on developing standards for public health; and support public health agencies and workers in improving public health.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his useful reply. Perhaps I may ask one or two supplementary questions. The first relates to the recent excellent debate on the National Health Service instigated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. It seems to me that, as well as managing illness, we should manage health. Will the Health Development Agency remain a special health authority promoting healthy lifestyles and campaigns for health on such topics as coronary heart disease and smoking?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Health Development Agency will be a special health authority. Its three core functions will be: to ensure that, as regards health promotion, we have the best available research on what works and what does not work; to develop and advise on the setting of standards; and to build capacity in relation to those people in the field who have to develop health promotion programmes. I believe that much emphasis should be given to the latter responsibility. As regards its predecessor, the Health Education Authority, there was a great deal of lack of emphasis and focus in assisting people engaged at local level in those areas.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister will recall that in the last annual report of the Health Education Authority, Yve Buckland, the new chair of the Health Development Authority stated:

    "The HDA will be charged with helping to address health inequalities and with mapping the evidence base for public health and health improvement".

Can the Minister confirm that part of that evidence base will be the recent report entitled The Widening Gap which demonstrates that the greatest factor in ill-health is poverty, that the wealth gap is still rising, and that the key way to tackle ill-health is to tackle poverty?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the new Health Development Agency will be charged with obtaining the best available evidence on matters relating to the improvement of public health. The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the inequalities in health in our society. But this Government's policy developments in relation to the New Deal, child benefits and social exclusion are designed to tackle the issues of poverty, which in turn will tackle the issues of poor health.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, bearing in mind the importance of mapping exercises and the exchange of information, can the Minister tell us what the

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relationship of the agency will be with the health promotion bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, each country in the UK has its own arrangements for health promotion, but it will be important that all agencies work well together. We will ensure that the new Health Development Agency is given every encouragement to promote that relationship and will monitor its performance in that and in other aspects.

Lord Rea: My Lords, can my noble friend say how the Health Development Agency will co-operate with the new Food Standards Agency and how the tasks of each will be allocated?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important matter. The duties of the Food Standards Agency on matters of nutrition was set out clearly in the White Paper, Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change. The agency will have a major role in nutrition. It will also have to work closely with health departments which continue to lead on wider, public health agenda matters. We will expect both agencies to work well together to ensure that the advice they give is both consistent and effective.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, some years ago we had a Health Education Council which was perceived by the government of the day as being ineffective in performing its role. It was then replaced by a Health Education Authority. Now that authority is to be replaced by an agency. Can the Minister tell us in what way the terms of reference of this agency differ from those of its predecessor and can he give us an assurance that it will be more effective in fulfilling its major role?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord puts his finger on an important consideration; that is, the performance both of the Health Education Council and the Health Education Authority over a good many years. It is my experience that, although the Health Education Authority performed a valuable role in certain areas, it could not be said to have been an unqualified success. The Health Education Authority's campaigning role got in the way of a more considered policy development role. First, in relation to the Health Development Agency, its emphasis on the establishment of robust evidence of what works in health promotion and public health will be crucial. Secondly, we are determined to ensure that the agency gives all the support it can to people engaged in health promotion work. I am afraid that neither the Health Education Council nor the Health Education Authority enjoyed sufficient credibility with those charged with improving health at local level.

Earl Howe: My Lords, will the general public be able to gain direct access to the information that the agency compiles?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Health Development Agency will be able to draw together

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information which is of value both to agencies and to the public. We expect the public to have access to that information.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the quality of housing is something in which the new agency will take an interest?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, many factors bear on the state of health of people in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, suggested, poverty is one of those factors and lack of housing or poor housing is also relevant. I have no doubt that, if the agency is charged with obtaining robust evidence in relation to those issues, it will be able to do so. However, I stress that the Government decide upon the priorities to be pursued, not the agency. Having said that, the agency will provide as much information as possible in that regard. Of course housing is an important consideration in the attack on poverty and ill health.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, will the Minister take steps to ensure that the research work of the development agency does not duplicate that of other bodies engaged in the research field?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the agency should not duplicate work being done elsewhere. I expect agencies in other UK countries to share work and in some cases decide that one country should concentrate on one area and another country on another. The sharing of information and the avoidance of duplication is extremely important.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, as it is St Valentine's Day, does not the Minister agree with my noble friend that a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet?

Representation of the People Bill

3.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [New system of electoral registration]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 17, after first ("a") insert ("British citizen or a").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 1 simply states that the words "British citizen" ought to be added to the Bill. I was surprised when I came to read

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the Bill to find that the legislation setting out the right of a citizen of this country to be on the electoral register did not include the words "British citizen". It says,

    "either a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland".

The words, "British citizen" do not appear.

At Second Reading I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, how it came about that those of us who are British citizens managed to get a vote. He said that we were subsumed in the words, "Commonwealth citizen". I do not feel that that is satisfactory. I wager that there are few countries in the world where the voting rights of its citizens do not appear on the face of the legislation which sets up its democratic system and where its citizens are subsumed in a wider definition, such as the definition of "Commonwealth citizen".

That was the first point that struck me as odd. A second point about which I asked the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, was the position in reverse. In other words, if I went to a Commonwealth country, would I be able to register immediately on their electoral roll and therefore have a vote in their elections? The noble Lord kindly wrote to me listing the countries where I would find that I had reciprocal voting rights. It is an interesting list but it hardly includes the major Commonwealth countries.

It seems to be the case that the countries of the Caribbean--Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines--give us those reciprocal rights. Can the Minister say whether they give us those rights on the same basis? In other words, if any of your Lordships were to go to those countries, would we be able to register immediately or would there be some other qualification? For example, in Malawi only after seven years' residence would your Lordships have the right to vote, in contrast to a Malawian citizen coming here who would have immediate rights to vote. I understand that a four-year residence period applies in Namibia.

However, I gather that the system in New Zealand--and I should like the Minister to confirm this--operates on the same basis as our system; in other words, if a noble Lord were to go there, he would be entitled to vote immediately as a Commonwealth citizen and if a New Zealander were to come here he would also be entitled to vote immediately. The position in South Africa is qualified by the words "in certain circumstances", but I am not sure what they may be.

Members of the Committee will notice that I have not mentioned those great Commonwealth countries, Canada, Australia, India and Pakistan, to name just a few, many of whose citizens come to this country. It seems to me that we do not have reciprocal rights. I wonder whether we are continuing with a pretty out-of-date concept in allowing those citizens to come here--that is, people who are not citizens of the United

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Kingdom--and register immediately. Indeed, are we not being rather foolish in not demanding a quid pro quo?

However, there is more to it than that. Indeed, if that had been all, I probably would not have tabled these amendments. We should think back to the referendum legislation at the beginning of this Parliament when we had great discussions as to who should be eligible to vote in the referendums on setting up the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Noble Lords will remember that we had quite a heated debate as to whether overseas voters on the British electoral register--in other words, British citizens who live overseas and are registered on the register--would be allowed to vote in those referendums. The Government decided that they should not be allowed to do so and chose to use the local government register for the referendums.

We have two registers. We have the parliamentary register, on which overseas voters are included, and we have the local government register from which they are excluded. It is the same register, but there are "marks in the margin". Of course, noble Lords are allowed to vote only in local government elections and not in parliamentary elections; indeed, noble Lords have a "mark in the margin". One day soon--that is, if the Government can ever pluck up enough courage--we may have a vote on whether or not the United Kingdom should join the euro. It seems to me fairly pertinent to ask: who should be entitled to vote in the referendum as to whether this country joins the euro? I can see the argument that would say that no citizen of the Union who is not a British citizen should be allowed to vote. Why should a citizen of France or Italy (countries which are already members of the euro) who is resident in this country have the right to decide whether we should join the euro?

Should overseas voters--people who live in European countries and have a right to vote in British elections because they are British overseas voters, like my daughter who lives in Italy--have the right to vote for or against the euro? They may actually know more about how the euro works than anyone in Britain. That could be a good thing or it could be bad, depending on their experience of how the euro is working in the European country in which they live. It is a very pertinent question. Moreover, should someone who is a citizen of any one of the Commonwealth countries I have mentioned--India, Pakistan, Australia or New Zealand-- have the right to decide whether we give up the pound sterling and join the euro? I submit that they should not. The only people who should have the right to decide whether or not we join the euro are those British citizens who are currently resident in Britain, not the other groups that I mentioned.

When and if we come to a euro referendum, we could only deal with such a situation if there were a clear delineation on the register specifying who is a British citizen, who is a Commonwealth citizen and who is not so much a citizen of the Republic of Ireland but a citizen of the Union. As far as I understand it--at least it was so this morning when I checked the

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position--the Republic of Ireland is a member of the European Union. In fact, I think it is also quite keen on the euro. I certainly do not think that citizens of the Republic of Ireland should have any say as to whether or not the UK joins the euro. After all, by the time we come to vote, the experiences of the Republic may be so dreadful as regards the euro that they will all vote against it. That would seem quite unfair. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats would not like that as a possibility, nor perhaps would the Government. As I said, I am puzzled as to what is the Government's current view on the euro.

It seems sensible that we should have some signal on the register to enable us to see clearly who are British citizens. It is right that the citizens of this country should know why they are on the register: they should not be on the register simply as, "Commonwealth citizens". But, much more importantly, if we have a referendum on the euro, whether the Government like it or not it seems to me that we shall be discussing who should be allowed to vote, just as we did when we discussed the referendums in Scotland and Wales. When we reach that point I shall be advocating, as the Government may wish to, that British citizens currently resident in this country ought to be the only people who can vote. If that is the situation, we need to have a register that identifies that particular group perfectly clearly. Therefore, I suggest that we add to this part of the Bill the words "British citizen". The consequential amendments will then ensure that the register is made up in such a way that one can identify who are the British citizens for that potential euro referendum. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I would not in any way object to Commonwealth citizens having voting rights within the United Kingdom. I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that there is a contradiction here when it comes to passport control, especially at Heathrow airport. There is a fast-track entry process for British and European Union passport holders, but Commonwealth citizens--even those with ties to this country, having been born within the UK--are herded through yet another channel, with all the consequent delays.

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