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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, these are, of course, matters for the NHS Appointments Commission. To my certain knowledge, a number of strategic health authorities have close connections with universities. However, the main thing is not so much who is a non-executive director but that universities and strategic health authorities work together. I believe, in the light of what happened last year, that there is a determination to ensure that they work closely together.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of the Royal College of Nursing. Is the Minister aware of the devastating effects on some of the universities and their provision of nursing education of a sudden reduction in funding by some of the SHAs? Between 2000 and 2005, these universities have been working with their NHS partners to expand nursing education to meet the NHS national plan. Now they are being forced to make drastic reductions in academic staff and intakes of students. There is, for example, a proposed reduction of 19 staff at the University of East Anglia. Can the Minister say how universities will be able to meet the need for continuity in nursing education in the futurea need that is bound to expand, given the lack of retentionand what reassurances can he give the NHS about the continuity of provision of new qualified nurses?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have already explained that last year was a very difficult year. We are determined that universities and the health service will work together in the future. Of course the NHS can provide further certainty for universities. Equally, universities can be more flexible in the training that they provide for people who will work in the NHS.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, we are very concerned about the increasing number of displaced Iraqis. We are doing two things. First, we are supporting the Iraqi Government to improve security. Secondly, we are supporting the delivery of urgent assistance to those in need. Since January 2007, we have contributed £10 million to assist displaced and vulnerable people in Iraq and across the region. This brings our total humanitarian contribution to more than £125 million since 2003.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, clearly we are in the midst of one of the worst refugee crises in the Middle East since 1948. Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness one specific question. What steps are being taken to protect those brave Iraqis who have been working with the British as, for example, translators and administrators
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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am well aware of these concerns and the noble Lord may know that a letter was recently sent to the Prime Minister about them. The noble Lord will be aware that we consider applications by asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis and that we have a resettlement scheme which considers some 500 people per year. Those applying under the scheme come in the main from the African continent, but we are looking at whether some of the individuals mentioned by the noble Lord could be accommodated within it.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, given that 1.9 million Iraqis have been displaced within Iraq, 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced in Syria and three-quarters of a million have been displaced in Jordan, does my noble friend think that £10 million will go very far? Could we not divert money from elsewhere within British public expenditure to support more of those living in these very difficult conditions?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, my figures do not quite match those given by my noble friend. The UNHCR estimates that some 1.9 million Iraqis are internally displaced, with 2 million Iraqis living in neighbouring countries, of whom 1 million are in Syria and around 700,000 in Jordan. The issue here is to work with the neighbouring countries so that displaced Iraqis can access services such as health and education. Only around 3 per cent are living in camps, so many slip under the radar. That is why we support organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UNHCR and other agencies which work with those in the region and also with those who are internally displaced.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that her reply to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, about the particular vulnerability of those who have worked as interpreters and drivers for British forces did seem rather weak? People who have risked their lives by working with British forces do represent a real obligation for this country, given that we bear responsibility for getting them into these particular difficulties in Iraq. Can the Government not set a higher priority on looking after those who have risked their lives to assist British troops in Iraq?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I hope that I made it absolutely clear in my reply that we consider these issues on a case-by-case basis. What I sought to indicate to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, was that until now the overall resettlement scheme has provided for people in third countries. The situation is different for those who apply to come to the UK as refugees from Iraq. We are looking at extending the resettlement scheme to Iraqi people who are in countries other than Iraq, some of whom might have worked for the UK Government in
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The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, will the Government acknowledge that particular difficulties have also arisen for the Christian community in Iraq, caught as it is between increased Islamic awareness in the native population and associations with the occupying powers? Will they give some form of undertaking that particular attention will be paid to the needs of Christian refugees from Iraq?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is quite right. We are aware of recent reports that Assyrian Christians in the Baghdad suburb of Dura have received threatening letters. Not only are we looking at this issue in terms of their refugee status, we are also working with the Iraqi Government on these matters.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we have heard estimates from the UNHCR that nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees have fled to Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, but Kuwait has refused to accept any Iraqi refugees since the invasion of the country in 2003, and Saudi Arabia has spent $1.8 billion on border security since 2004 and is now building a 550-mile fence along its northern border to seal Iraq off completely. Will the noble Baroness ask her right honourable friend to urge the Saudi and Kuwaiti Governments to do more to help the international effort to assist the displaced Iraqis?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that, of the many countries in the Middle East, very few are signatories to the 1951 convention; in fact I think only Egypt is a signatory. It is important for us to work with those countries that have accepted refugees, but also with those which, as the noble Baroness said, have refused to accept refugees from Iraq. There was a recent meeting of neighbouring countries, and I hope that this item will be on the agenda of future meetings.
Lord McNally: My Lords, before the Bill is sent on its way, I draw the Houses attention to the fact that although it was presented to the House as an operation to bring together information technology, as Clause 1 makes clear, it is a general enabling Bill. I welcome that. I hope that if this experiment at a joint servicing department is a success, the Officers of the House will look for other areas where there could be joint departments. That would mean both a saving to the public purse and an improvement in services to both Houses of Parliament.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I brought the Bill to this House on behalf of Parliament. I thank noble Lords who have participated in our discussions for their support. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, he will know that there are very mixed views about the extent to which the two Houses might work more closely together in the future, and I have participated in some of those discussions. Any further proposals that are put for joint departments will receive proper consideration by both Houses and will require the approval of this House on the back of a recommendation from the House Committee for further joint departments to go forward. I very much agree with the noble Lord. I hope this will not be the first and only example of a joint department. However, it will be for the two Houses to move together, and noble Lords will know that when the two Houses have to do anything together, it sometimes takes rather a long time.
(1) There shall be a commission to be known as the Commission for Official Statistics (in this Act called the Commission) for the examination of the production, release and presentation of official statistics.
(2) The Commission shall consist of six members of the House of Commons appointed by the House of Commons and six members of the House of Lords appointed by the House of Lords, none of whom shall be a Minister of the Crown.
The noble Baroness said: As we embark on this Committee stage of the Bill, I shall repeat what I said at Second Reading. We on these Benches will have one test for every clause and subsection of this Bill: is it the best way to achieve the highest degree of public trust in statistics? There can be no other rationale for the Bill and we shall fail if, at the end, there remain doubts about the degree of real independence.
With that background, I shall move Amendment No. 1 and speak to the other 12 amendments in the group. The amendments would strengthen Parliaments influence on the Statistics Board and, in doing so, lessen the control of the Government. Amendment No. 1 would set up a commission of official statistics, which would consist of six members from each House of Parliament. At the heart of the amendments is a desire to separate the Statistics Board from government. We shall debate in more detail on a later amendment which bit of governmentthe Treasury or the Cabinet Officewould be the most appropriate guardian of powers over the Statistics Board, but these amendments address the question whether it should be Parliament or the Government in the driving seat.
Clearly, the Statistics Board has to be accountable, but to whom? The Bills answer is that the Government will hold all the key levers over the board, while allowing some reporting to Parliament. The amendments take a different approach and would set up direct accountability to Parliament. Amendments Nos. 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 22, 25 and 29 set out that the commission will replace the role envisaged for the Treasury in Clauses 3, 4 and 5. These involve, in particular, the recommendation to Her Majesty of the appointment of the chairman of the board and the National Statistician, the appointment of the other members of the board and the terms and conditions of those appointments. I am in no doubt that one of the most effective ways of controlling an organisation is to control appointments to it.
The Bill states that the non-executive directors will be appointed for between one and five years. It is a fact of life that individuals who want to be appointed in the first instance, or who want to be reappointed, know that their face has to fit for the person who appoints or reappoints them, usually a Secretary of State. It is also a fact of life that individuals who have
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The other main function of the parliamentary commission will be to examine the budget of the Statistics Board, as set out in Amendments Nos. 237 and 238. The issue of the money available to the Statistics Board is fundamental. The Bill says, in effect, that the Treasury should decide that, but the Government have come up with a formula based on five-year funding deals that they trumpet as solving the problem of giving the Statistics Board the right amount of money. At our Second Reading debate, several noble Lords poured cold water on that idea. All the time that the Governmentand, therefore, the Treasurymake the decision, the board will not have proper financial independence.
Concerns have been expressed at the cuts that have already been forced on the ONS and the way in which the ONS is having to relocate itself far from any natural statistical community. That is not a policy of choice for the ONS, as is clear from the lack of retention of senior staff in the move. Even if the five-year settlement announced in the recent Budget is generousand I have no reason to believe that it isit gives no long-term certainty that the Statistics Board will not be squeezed in any future five-year settlement. We do not believe that the five-year settlement changes the fact that Treasury control is a recipe for funding problems in future. The only way in which Treasury control can be avoided is to give Parliament control over the budget of the Statistics Board. Nothing else, not even the involvement of the Cabinet Office, which we shall debate later, will guarantee that funding will follow the needs of the body.
Amendment No. 112 creates a new schedule which sets out the detailed provisions for the commission. I do not believe that these provisions raise any particular issues that I need to draw to the attention of the Committee. The ideas behind these amendments are often referred to as the NAO model, which has certainly been their inspiration. But the amendments do not replicate the NAO model; they leave the non-ministerial government department structure in place and hence preserve the necessary closeness of the Statistics Boards activities to the other statistical activities across the whole of government. That would involve no change of status for the staff and thus facilitate the continuing movement within the Government Statistical Service. By contrast, the Comptroller and Auditor-General is a corporation sole and an officer of Parliament, and his staff in the NAO are not civil servants.
My amendments thus represent a third way between the extreme independence created for the C&AG and the NAO by statute, with accountability lines to a parliamentary accounts commission, and the pure non-ministerial department model selected by the Government. The crucial differences are appointments and money, which are the aspects that cry out for a different approach if we are to create a properly independent Statistics Board. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has consistently advocated the role of a Joint Committee of both Houses to act as the scrutiny body in Parliament for the Statistics Board, an idea for which he gained much support at Second Reading. My amendments would create what my noble friend desires, but with the added bonus of powers over appointments and money. I beg to move.
Lord Turnbull: At the conclusion of my Second Reading speech, I supported the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for a Joint Committee. The amendments share some characteristics with that proposal but go one or possibly two steps too far. If I were charitable, I would say that it was overkill; if I were uncharitable, I would say that it was a constitutional muddle.
It is ironic that the noble Baroness spoke of eliminating conflicts of interest but would create a new one through this measure. A later amendment would change the residual department from the Treasury, which has a conflict of interest in being a major customer and funder of statistics and which stands to gain or lose from many of the definition issues. It is ironic that these proposals would create another conflict of interest. I believe that the role of Parliament is to scrutinise; under these proposals it would go one step further and become involved in appointing the chairman of the body that it is scrutinising. In rugby terms, this would put a foot into touch. Further, it is unnecessary because the shift of the residual department will substantially change the balance of power.
The argument that this block of spending should more or less uniquely be controlled by Parliament needs to be considered with great care. There may be many other cases. I am not convinced that this block should be ring-fenced and treated separately. I have severe doubts about the amendment. I hope that on reflection it will not be pressed.
Lord Turnbull: The chairman would be appointed under Nolan rules; I think that that is made clear in the Bill. The process would be organised by the Cabinet Office, which would make a recommendation to the Prime Minister, who in turn would make a recommendation to Her Majesty.
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