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The more society is regulated, the less room there is for common sense. Regulation becomes so all pervasive in the official mind that there is no room for natural morality. I should like particularly to draw your Lordships' attention to the effects on society of the safety regulations that are being introduced by the Independent Safeguarding Authority and the Criminal Records Bureau.
Unintentionally, and yet insidiously, we are developing an unhealthy culture of suspicion that is the antithesis of the big society which the coalition, and indeed the country at large, would like to be developed. CRB vetting now includes 16 year-olds teaching younger kids to read, parents volunteering at school, and foster carers and friends running after-school clubs. All are subject to more stringent security tests for those activities than for selling explosives. Why not include postmen, milkmen and van delivery drivers? Where will it all end?
Of course, no parent wishes to see their children damaged by the action of paedophiles, but, in overall national terms, the level of aggressive paedophilia is minute and the incidents are vastly overblown by the press. A parent might think that the work of the Criminal Records Bureau safeguards their children, but that is in fact a total delusion. The Criminal Records Bureau can record only those who have had a criminal record, not those who have tendency to criminality; such people still get the job. The fact remains that most cases of paedophilia are caused by near neighbours, close relations or online operators, none of whom comes under the vetting procedures. The whole vetting exercise gives an illusion of probity without actually achieving the serious ends that it purports to achieve.
While some may welcome this illusion as being better than nothing, we are building up a society of mistrust, which even discourages adults from stepping in to help children in trouble for fear of being considered potential molesters and being reported to the police. Increasingly, we live in a society where adults distrust each other, and children are taught to regard everyone with suspicion. Paradoxically, vetting schemes further undermine the concept that the best protection for children is the vigilance of other adults.
Millions of people now face checks-many of them volunteers who particularly resent being told that they have to register with the ISA before continuing to offer the service that they have been providing for years. Such vetting assumes that people are guilty until proven innocent, and is gravely undermining the voluntary sector just at the point where we need it more. The bureaucracy to which volunteers are subjected is completely out of proportion to the informal and low-key nature of their activities. Checks cover flower arranging in a cathedral, working on a local newsletter, visiting elderly people to chat and do crosswords, or listening to children read in a school.
Child protection rules mean that volunteers are treated with suspicion and are subjected to humiliating and invasive procedures such as being accompanied to the toilet in schools, being asked to wear ID badges including their CRB number, and even being asked to list all their places of residence for the past 10 years. It is no wonder that volunteers feel totally disrespected
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As things stand, imagine a school trip being cancelled when a vetted mother, who was to accompany the children, falls ill and another requisite character cannot be found. Well, the simple way around all this is, of course, for all adults to be registered, and that is precisely what will happen. The logic is that the majority of the adult population will sooner or later find themselves on the vetting database. That cannot make sense. The whole procedure is doing far more harm than good and destroys the very roots of a caring society. Indeed, it is more likely to put our children in greater jeopardy, because instead of relying, as we used to, on references or word-of-mouth recommendations and common-sense observation, we rely on the vetting and barring scheme which, by its very nature, is far from infallible. All the bits of paper in the world cannot predict what someone is going to do.
It is good that the Government are considering scaling back the whole procedure to common-sense levels. However, therein lies a problem. These schemes are doing immense harm to our whole way of life, our national psyche and trust between individuals. The Government should have the courage to scrap these schemes or society will destroy itself. However, if, in an effort to change, the Government have to take the route to abolition step by step, they could at least first exclude all volunteers from any vetting or barring scheme. A mother should not be required to register on a vetting database before she goes to her child's school. The process of CRB-checking volunteers is a common policy of councils, voluntary organisations and sports bodies, which is enforced by official bodies such as Ofsted and the Child Protection in Sport Unit. The process leads to more than 700,000 CRB checks every year and probably achieves next to nothing. Councils should be told that this is unnecessary, harmful and wrong.
The Government must roll back the child protection bureaucracy from at least voluntary activity, which is currently obstructed by many over-the-top child protection rules. These are as off-putting and as damaging as CRB checks themselves; and therein lies the problem of excessive precaution and over-interpretation-a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his introduction.
In conclusion, I recommend a book that puts this far better than I can: Licensed to Hug by Professor Frank Furedi, published by Civitas. Its very title explains the damage that we are doing to our society, which between us we must try to prevent. The harmful futility of the work done by the Criminal Records Bureau, albeit with the best intentions, is another example of the damaging effects and the unintended consequences of overregulation. Sadly, it is only one example of the many hundreds of bad regulations that are not only destroying sensible and good human relationships but doing incalculable harm to our economy through the inefficiencies that they incur and the mistrust
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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the board of the Food Standards Agency. I do not speak for the agency in this House-we are a non-ministerial government department and we have Ministers in the four Parliaments of the UK who do that-but I will say, on behalf of the board and staff, how grateful we are for this report and for the care and attention to detail that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has given to our proposals for the food hygiene rating system, which is covered at length in the report and is due to be launched next week. We had a short telephone conversation about aspects of the system in the summer. I hope that the rest of the report's recommendations will also be implemented, but I will come to that in my final points.
I take second place to nobody on health and safety matters. I made my maiden speech in the other place in March 1974 on health and safety; I served on the standing committee for the current health and safety legislation; and, as a manager in manufacturing, I was red-hot on health and safety matters in all of the companies in which I worked. As a Member of Parliament, I used to get complaints about health and safety matters-indeed, the former coroner of Birmingham drew my attention to some of the construction difficulties-and I gave attention to those issues. We have heard some examples of such difficulties from these Benches today, but we have not heard about the catastrophic rate of accidents in the farming industry. I make these points because my noble friend Lord Jordan laboured the point that the report deals with some issues but ignores other areas that are fundamental to the health and safety of people at work. I see no contradiction whatever between the contents of the report and the need to take health and safety matters incredibly seriously in manufacturing, mining, construction and farming. In fact, you could implement the report as a way of being much harsher on sectors in which people are being killed on a daily basis. Those are the sectors in which the risk is high but sometimes ignored.
I will draw your Lordships' attention to three items. First, the noble Lord produced his report, as I understand it, as a one-off before he became the business tsar. I looked at those two roles quite separately. However, if No. 10 has problems with noble Lords saying things, I invite your Lordships to check what Howard Flight, who has not yet joined us in the House, said this morning-these things happen. You can tell the truth of a story, but you may not tell the whole story. Why be hanged for telling only half the story? There are some people for whom things have never been worse and will get worse still, but it is also true that, for some people, things have never been better. Telling half the story cannot be a hanging offence-that is my defence of the noble Lord, Lord Young.
The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, has been the only speaker to mention the good Samaritan issue. Given that almost half the country is currently covered
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I turn to the issue of low-risk establishments. A place may look low-risk, but just because people are not wearing boiler suits does not mean that things are not dangerous. Laboratories, shops and offices can be dangerous, depending on the nature of the equipment and the substances that you have to use. You have to be careful and use common sense. That is not the same as what we know are high-risk establishments. A drilling rig is a high-risk establishment. Do not lecture us about big blue-chip companies taking everything really seriously-go and talk to the directors of BP. These things must be looked at in the round to see where the risk is. We must assess the risk and then manage it proportionately. The point made in the report is crucial.
My final example from the report that I have not heard mentioned so far-I missed only two contributions when I had to leave the Chamber-relates to the important issue of voluntary activities, which are covered on page 29. I have a message for the Minister and the Government. Left as it is, the big society agenda will go straight down the plughole unless something is done. The Stalinists in local government, who do not want the big society agenda because they want to do everything themselves, will try to snuff out every local initiative that comes from residents and will hide behind health and safety legislation to stop the operation of the big society. If that is the Prime Minister's big idea, he must do something about that because such initiatives will disappear if this report is not implemented.
That leads me to my final point. The noble Lord, Lord Young, says in his introduction that these reports gather dust. From my experience of Whitehall, which lasted only 11 years and was very short, I say that his report will gather dust. The report cuts right across the piece, so nothing will happen unless somebody with get-up-and-go is charged with dealing with it. The noble Lord was supposed to be dealing with it, but the issue is quite separate from that of his role as business tsar. I say to the Prime Minister that letting the noble Lord, Lord Young, go is a sign of weakness. I am not accusing the Prime Minister of weakness; it is a sign of weakness in the Government. If the report is to be implemented, that will not be done by saying to each department, "Will you and your Ministers play your part, please?". In my experience, such reports are not implemented but must be driven forward in a positive way. It will not cost a lot to do that, but everyone will benefit if it happens. Society will benefit, regulation will benefit and we will have a happier society, which was mentioned in the speeches this morning. However, if nothing is done about the management of this
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his overdue visit to our House and for introducing this debate in what cannot be the easiest of weeks. I am sure that he will forgive me if I on the Front Bench do not exonerate him in quite the same effusive way as my noble friend Lord Rooker did. I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on a most impressive and entertaining maiden speech.
We welcome this debate, which gives us an opportunity to focus on health and safety and, in particular, to tackle the myths, exaggerations and half-truths that surround and undermine it. We will make common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his endeavour to improve the understanding of health and safety and the status of practitioners. However, we do so because we believe robust health and safety provision is a fundamental hallmark of a decent society and should be seen not as a burden on business but as an integral part of good business practice and a fundamental right for workers. My noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya made it clear that those companies with good health and safety systems have good management systems generally and good bottom-line performance. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, that I do not think that there is a conflict between good health and safety provision and liberating business.
Like a number of noble Lords, I celebrate the huge progress that has been made since the passing of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974-legislation that has stood the test of time. We have a good record, which is consistently one of the best in Europe. Since 1997, all measures of injury at work have shown improvement, yet the number of people who are still killed or harmed at work demonstrates how much more we need to do. We have heard the statistics. In 2009-10, more than 23 million days were lost through work-related ill health and some 5 million days were lost due to workplace injury. My noble friend Lord Haskel spoke about stress and the HSE's management standards. We quote statistics but these are individual lives-careers interrupted, family finances put in jeopardy and aspirations dashed. Although no one should support an overzealous and disproportionate application of health and safety regulation, we also need to be mindful of non-compliance. It is disappointing that, so far as I can see, the report makes no positive recommendations on issues such as enforcement, prevention or, indeed, direct responsibilities.
Our approach must remain embedded in the principles of the 1974 Act, which rightly places the responsibility for managing risks on those who create them. We have to recognise that there are now many more SMEs and that fewer companies are unionised, which means that they miss out on the knowledge and worker engagement that has made a fundamental difference to many workplaces. In this context, we support what the HSE has encapsulated in its strategy: the importance of
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We agree that these matters would be made easier in an environment where there was a better understanding of risk and where businesses were not frightened into seeking to eliminate all risk or to refrain from activity because of the fear of risk. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the tragedy of young people being denied opportunities because of risk aversion. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, took us into the area of GM crops, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that path this afternoon. My noble friend talked with passion about outdoor activities and about how those could be prevented from happening if we create and sustain an environment that is too risk averse.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, seeks to improve the perception of health and safety by tackling what is described as the growth of the compensation culture, which he asserts drives risk-averse behaviour. It is asserted that the compensation culture is compounded by businesses-particularly smaller ones-seeking the advice of health and safety consultants, who are often unqualified and some of whom deliver excessive and costly advice. As we have heard, the report's recommendations cover issues such as tackling compensation, providing simplified risk assessment for what are termed low-hazard workplaces and raising standards for health and safety advisers. The noble Lord recognises that the problem of a compensation culture is one of perception rather than reality. In that I believe he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, but it seemed to be at odds with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who suggested that it was a reality. On the basis of perception, it is difficult to discern how pervasive the compensation culture is and to discern the evidence for such a judgment, although the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, had no doubt that it is pervasive.
However, I suggest that there is another side to this coin. The reality is that many people who are injured or made ill by their work never access compensation and, for those who do, the settlements are a million miles away from the amounts reported in the press and, indeed, from the example referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. On a very specific issue, perhaps in his reply the Minister would update us on progress in tracing old employer liability policies. Despite improvements, there are too many sufferers of long-latency occupational diseases who do not access compensation.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, is a little ahead of his Government on the recommendations in Lord Justice Jackson's report, which of course was commissioned under the previous Government. We consider this to be an important piece of work, focusing as it does on the challenges of facilitating access to justice at proportionate cost. We look forward to the outcome of the consultation on abolishing recoverability of CFA success fees and ATE insurance premiums. We also await the deliberations of the Legal Services Board on referral fees.
A number of noble Lords-in particular, my noble friend Lord Sugar but also the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Hunt-spoke about the problems, challenges and activities of claims management companies. We heard from my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury that we need to look again at the role of advertising and we need to test the earlier research, which suggested that advertising was not a major contributor to these matters.
We can certainly support efforts to dispel misconceptions surrounding the risks of litigation arising from voluntary acts. That is particularly relevant, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, with what looks like the onset of snow. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is right to identify the challenges faced by SMEs and the role that the HSE has played in helping them to understand what is required. The development of pro forma risk assessments, awareness raising and education as well as engagement via trade associations have all contributed to improvements. There are recommendations for the HSE to do more: to produce simplified interactive risk assessment forms for offices, classrooms, and shops; to produce periodic checklists; to consolidate existing regulations; and to provide separate guidance for SMEs. Doubtless the HSE will respond in its usual highly professional manner, but can the noble Lord, Lord Young, or the Minister comment on the HSE's capacity to cope with these and other demands that the report imposes in the light of the 35 per cent reduction in its resources? The HSE already has to cope with a difficult balancing act in allocating resources between its enforcement and prevention activities. I think that the HSE has about 1,300 frontline inspectors and, excluding nuclear and major hazard installations, these inspectors cover nearly 900,000 premises and 15 million workers.
The noble Lord's report defines low-hazard workplaces as those where the risk of injury or death is minimal, but that seems totally to ignore health issues. Of course, the same health and safety laws do not apply to all workplaces. There are major hazard regulations, which rightly impose far more prescriptive standards on potentially dangerous sites. However, the general health and safety law that applies to all workplaces is designed to be proportionate to the varying risks. These risks might include threats of violence and abuse of shop workers, MSDs for office workers and exposure to hazardous substances for cleaning staff, and there is still plenty of asbestos around in schools. Therefore, we can support improved ways of helping businesses to understand the identification, management and control of risk but not any moves to remove them from the requirement to risk assess. Periodic checklists may help, but they must not just engender an unthinking tick-box approach.
We are supportive of the proposals to raise standards and the development of the health and safety profession. Indeed, that got under way on our watch, so why would we not do so? The challenges will relate to encompassing the technical and the practical, and low-level support as well as more sophisticated requirements. I say to my noble friend Lord Sugar that, as well as being a health and safety adviser without any qualifications, he can also call himself an accountant.
There are wider educational issues about embedding health and safety in the curriculum and in a range of professional qualifications, as well as creating awareness in our schools. We should also recognise the substantial and knowledgeable input from the trade unions and safety representatives, to which my noble friends Lady Donaghy and Lady Turner referred. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that I think the "not required back" arrangements are still in operation in the offshore sector.
Local authorities play a vital role as co-regulators of more than 1 million workplaces. They have a strong partnership with the HSE and there is increasingly joined-up working among authorities. The report comments, in particular, on the primary authority scheme and notes its successes, but the report also suggests that the scheme needs strengthening to address inconsistent enforcement. I would support that. Like the HSE, local authorities will be under enormous financial pressures with cuts to resources of some 28 per cent, which are to be front-end loaded. The noble Lord's recommendations for local authorities concern refusals to hold events. I accept that from time to time local authorities, like others, may prevent certain activities from taking place. We have heard about the St Albans pancake race and about problems with the hydrotherapy pools from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Sometimes such things come from the overzealous application of health and safety rules using health and safety as a shield, but that cannot be supported. I question how often that happens. I was unable to identify any data on how often events are banned by local authorities, but doubtless the Minister will be able to provide that in his winding up.
Like my noble friend Lord Jordan, I think that the most striking thing about the report is how little of it is actually about health and safety. Most of the proposals are about food safety or public safety-important as they are-but there is no awareness of the problems around occupational disease and no recommendations on issues of prevention. The noble Lord sees the matter only from a perspective of freeing business from the burdens. Nevertheless, I hope that the report will in some way contribute to bringing back a sense of proportion. I end by quoting IOSH:
"For every silly health and safety news story there are countless unreported stories of untimely death, terrible injury or debilitating disease. This is the reality of health and safety going wrong. We need to remember that an estimated 5,000 people's lives have been saved since the Health and Safety at Work Act ... Many thousands more have been saved from suffering serious injury and disease".
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on his work in investigating the concerns about the perception and application of health and safety legislation, together with the rise of the so-called compensation culture, resulting in the report that we have been debating this afternoon, Common Sense Common Safety. This report has been widely welcomed and is fully supported by
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Today's debate has given the House an opportunity to discuss the operation of health and safety laws, and we have had a debate of great quality from many noble Lords. Interestingly, there has been general support-not unanimous support-for the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are fully supportive of the report and individual departments are making progress in implementing the proposals. The great majority of them are included in departments' published structural reform plans. Picking up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about the need for a champion, I think the fact that these recommendations are now embedded reduces that need significantly. A small number of the recommendations do not fit neatly into a single government department's purview and the review implementation team is currently working with the relevant government departments to ensure that these recommendations also are taken forward.
I particularly want to focus on the work of the Ministry of Justice and the Health and Safety Executive. The Ministry of Justice has a central role in the implementation of the compensation recommendations, while my department is the sponsor department for the HSE. That said, the recommendations impact on many other departments in government and I commend them all for their swift and positive response to recommendations and for their recognition of the need for change.
We must emphasise that this is not change for change's sake. We need to build on the achievements of the past and recognise that, when responsibly applied, health and safety and the compensation system have an important part to play in making all our lives better. That is not in dispute. It is right that people should be protected from risk at work, whether in potentially dangerous environments such as oil rigs, construction and farm yards, or in lower-risk areas such as shops and offices. It is also right that those who, due to the negligence of others, are injured or made ill from their work or the work of others should have the right of redress. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and we fully endorse it. The issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, so rightly brings out, is that we need to regain a sense of proportion.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which was pioneered by Lord Robens, was ground-breaking at the time of its introduction with the switch of emphasis from detailed prescriptive legislation to goal-setting regulations. However, his vision has now been distorted by overinterpretation, as my noble friend Lord German pointed out. Rules intended to protect workers in high-hazard industries have been overzealously applied to low-risk workplaces. Consultants encourage businesses to take unnecessary actions to avoid litigation. No-win no-fee adverts encourage people to seek compensation for genuine accidents, rather than to take responsibility for their own actions. These factors have led to pointless risk avoidance.
The Government have therefore welcomed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, as a milestone on the road to restoring proportionate health and safety. We need to push back against the use of health and safety and compensation, which become paralysing rather than protective. The emphasis should be on addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work-related activities.
The Health and Safety Executive is already working to implement the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young, especially those aimed at low-risk businesses. One example is an online risk assessment tool for those working in low-risk office-based environments which can be completed in 20 minutes. I hope that goes some way to satisfying the concerns expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Sugar. That particular tool will help employers to consider relevant hazards in their offices and think about how to control them. It will also help employers to avoid unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. A similar tool is out now for consultation to ease the paperwork burden that teachers face; tools for low-risk shops and for charity shops will be put out for consultation next month and the HSE will consult on similar guidance for small firms.
There is also the new occupational safety consultants register, which will be launched in January 2011. The register will provide businesses with details of safety consultants who have met the highest qualification standard of recognised professional bodies and who are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to give only advice which is sensible and proportionate. That may help to stop the gravy train referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Sugar, and by my noble friend Lord German.
The Ministry of Justice has been equally as prompt as the HSE in addressing my noble friend Lord Young's recommendations. I shall touch on two areas in particular. The first is the concern about conditional fee arrangements and the culture surrounding them. The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, referred to the rogues in the industry. This point was touched upon by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Black. As the House knows, last week we launched a consultation on Lord Justice Jackson's recommendations on the reform of civil litigation, which will close on 14 February. It is in the structural reform plan of the Ministry of Justice, and the Government are very committed to this issue, which we will seek to implement rapidly, although it is up to the Secretary of State at the MoJ to confirm that.
Secondly, in March next year, the Ministry of Justice will launch a consultation on the reform of civil justice, covering the extension of the road traffic accident personal injury scheme. This consultation will address three aspects of the recommendations by my noble friend Lord Young. It will look at introducing a simplified claims procedure for personal injury claims similar to that for road accidents, explore the possibility of extending the framework of such a scheme to cover low-value clinical negligence claims, and explore the option of extending the upper limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims to £25,000.
These are specific examples of our response to the recommendations by my noble friend Lord Young, but noble Lords have raised a number of wider points that I will do my best to address in the time available. I shall start on a warmer note with the request from my noble friend Lady Thomas about hydrotherapy pools. I have to admit that I do not know off the top of my head what the situation is, but I do know that they are likely to be a lot warmer than the 6 degrees centigrade that Highgate men's pond was this morning. I will put a letter in the Library when I have found out what the situation is.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked me about progress on tracing an employer's liability policies. I cannot give him very much hard information. All I can do is assure him that this is receiving my full attention to get a satisfactory outcome. I know this is an important matter, I am in discussion with various bodies and I hope to get some resolutions, although the matter has not been made easier by the current court case about the definition of when a loss occurs.
My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale asked about the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority. The HSE is taking forward my noble friend Lord Young's recommendation to abolish that authority. Its work will be replaced effectively by a code of practice.
Lord Freud: My noble friend will forgive me for not being able to answer him off the top of my head. I am not absolutely sure about how that abolition will happen. I will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library.
My noble friend Lord German and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about the SR settlement of the HSE and the reference to cuts among local authorities in this area. I hardly need to confirm that the HSE faces the kind of spending restraint that is seen in the rest of the public sector. Its current funding of £228.8 million will be reduced by 35 per cent over the SR period to around £150 million. The HSE is looking at how to maintain the position of health and safety in the country within that context and looking at its approach, and will report on how it will manage within that financial environment.
My noble friend Lord German and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, observed that there was a lack of evidence in my noble friend Lord Young's report. I think I can speak for him in saying that there was wide consultation with stakeholders in the course of his review. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raised whether we are talking about reality or perception. My noble friend Lord Young's report said that perception becomes reality at a certain point. The fact that people read silly health and safety myths in the media on a regular basis affects behaviour, has an impact and does not encourage a sensible and proportionate approach to risk. This dialogue about what is perception and what is reality does not properly take that point on board.
Gold-plating was raised by my noble friends Lord German and Lord Vinson. It is at the heart of what the Government are doing in this area. We need to position health and safety as an enabler for business
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The noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Sugar, raised advertising. The claims management regulator has already agreed to look at the code regarding offering inducements and plans to close this loophole by April 2011. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, in particular, will welcome that assurance.
My noble friend Lord Vinson and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about bureaucracy and the criminal records check system. The clearly excessive bureaucracy adds little to our real safety and has become part of the perception problem. Such checks fall outside the HSE's remit, but I will bring the concerns on that to the attention of colleagues.
Lord Freud: I fully accept the concern of noble Lords on that issue and, as I say, we will push this point. In conclusion, good health and safety, particularly in low-risk areas, should be simple and straightforward. It should be about protecting people from real risks, not trivial risks. I believe that the approach of my noble friend Lord Young will help to put the focus back on managing serious risks and to dispel the myth that health and safety is a killjoy activity designed to place burdens on business, take the fun out of life and stop people from enjoying everyday activities. We will not make the United Kingdom a safer place by wrapping everyone in cotton wool and avoiding all risk. We will do it by being exemplars of a common-sense, proportionate approach to risk management, by giving people confidence to exercise judgment and by ensuring that advice and guidance is competent and fit for purpose. I commend the work and the report of my noble friend Lord Young, and I look forward to the successful implementation of his recommendations.
Lord Young of Graffham: My Lords, I am grateful to the House for this contribution to discussion on health and safety. I will not detain your Lordships much longer, but I would like to say just three things and to make one general observation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, not only for his thorough endorsement of my report, but for the way in which we have worked together with his organisation. Next week, at Bluewater, the Scores on the Doors scheme will be introduced, which I believe will not only make a long-lasting contribution to the health of the nation but be a valuable boost to tourism.
I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, on his point about incitement to litigate, but I ask him also to look at the volume of advertising, which I believe has increased remarkably and markedly since 2006. The noble Lord, Lord Jordan, has the honour to be president of RoSPA. Perhaps I may say
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Finally-to give a general observation-the laws and the regulations are there. The one thing not dealt with is people and I am afraid that individuals, from time to time, take all these rules and regulations and assert petty authority or take extreme views. The only antidote to that is common sense and that I commend to your Lordships' House. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the Government's plans for investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock. These plans build on the announcement by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the outcome of the spending review. As we have consistently said, tackling the deficit is our top priority. By taking tough decisions on current spending, we are able to secure our future growth by making vital infrastructure investments.
Over the next four years, we will provide £14 billion of funding to Network Rail to support capital maintenance and infrastructure investment, and £750 million for high speed rail. We will also fund the Crossrail project, the Tube upgrade programme, light rail projects in Birmingham, Tyneside, Nottingham and Sheffield, and provide additional funding to franchisees for extra rolling stock. I can also confirm today that we will fund and deliver the Thameslink programme in its entirety, virtually doubling the number of north/south trains running through central London at peak times. This huge investment will link Sussex, Kent and Surrey, through central London, with Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
The original programme for the rebuilding of London Bridge station, to increase through-running as part of this project, was always ambitious, with substantial risks around delivery and operation of existing services during construction. To reduce these risks, we have reprofiled the delivery of the programme to achieve completion in 2018. This will enable Network Rail to make the further efficiencies in the design and delivery of the programme that we require to ensure value for money. Passengers will start to benefit from incremental improvements on the Thameslink route from 2011.
As part of the Thameslink programme, we will procure a new fleet of trains, with up to 1,200 new carriages. This is in addition to 600 new carriages which will be provided for the Crossrail project. Together with the Tube upgrades, these projects represent a step change in rail capacity in London, providing a significant boost to economic growth potential in the capital.
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As a first step, I can announce today that Network Rail will electrify commuter services on the Great Western main line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury over the next six years. Electric trains will speed up journeys, improve reliability and reduce the impact on the environment on these busy routes.
The Chancellor also announced on 20 October the electrification of the lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool, an investment of up to £300 million. I expect work in the north-west to begin next year and to be completed at around the same time as work on the Thames Valley commuter lines in 2016. Some sections will be completed well ahead of this, notably Manchester to Newton-le-Willows in late 2013, allowing new electric trains to operate between Manchester and Scotland. As with Thameslink, we will require Network Rail to keep a tight rein on costs.
The redeployment of electric rolling stock to these routes will, in turn, free up hundreds of diesel units for train operators to lease as they become available in the period after 2015. This will be welcome news to passengers. The Public Accounts Committee recently found that many services are unacceptably overcrowded, and I understand the frustrations of rail travellers who have to travel on packed trains. More investment is clearly needed. That is why I argued for additional rail investment in the spending review, and it is also why I have taken the difficult decision to allow regulated fares to rise by 3 per cent above inflation for the three years from 2012 in order to help us to pay for these investments.
In January 2008, the previous Government published a plan to bring 1,300 additional carriages into service by March 2014. This plan was never deliverable. In total, only 206 of those 1,300 carriages had entered service by May this year. My predecessors quoted a grand total of rail carriages, but never referred publicly to the fact that delivery of that total was subject to so many caveats and qualifications as to render it effectively meaningless. According to their published plan, the 1,300 carriages were not final and were subject to,
In other words, not so much a plan as a press release. So let me set the record straight: I can confirm today that an additional 650 carriages will have been delivered to the network between 6 May 2010 and March 2014. This is in addition to the Thameslink and Crossrail carriages I have already mentioned.
But it is not just about rolling stock. Network Rail has already started work on station improvements, with funding confirmed for developments at Reading, Birmingham, London King's Cross and Gatwick Airport. Investments on the east coast main line, the Midland
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Beyond these investments, there are far-reaching decisions to be made about intercity services. In February 2009, the Intercity Express Programme, launched by the previous Government, identified the Agility Trains consortium as the preferred bidder to build a new fleet of intercity trains. Then, this February, my predecessor invited Sir Andrew Foster, former head of the Audit Commission, to provide an independent assessment of the programme. Sir Andrew presented his report to me at the end of June, recommending further work on the Agility Trains proposal and a detailed study of the alternatives. I can now tell the House that we have narrowed down the options from the four Sir Andrew identified to two. I have ruled out the option of requiring passengers to change from electric to diesel trains at a point in their journeys, recognising the value to passengers of preserving through-journeys. I have also ruled out the option of a wholesale refurbishment of the existing Intercity 125 fleet, some of which dates back to the 1970s.
The remaining options are, on the one hand, a revised lower-cost Agility Trains proposal that envisages a mixed fleet of some all-electric trains and some electric trains equipped with underfloor diesel engines, and on the other hand, a fleet of new all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end. Both of these options would allow us to preserve through-journeys between London and those parts of the rail network which are not electrified. Both of them would deliver faster journey times. For example, we expect to see time savings of at least 15 minutes for the journey between Cardiff and London, bringing it to below two hours.
This is a major decision that will affect intercity rail travel for decades to come, and we must get it right. To address the outstanding issues on choice of train type and further electrification on the Great Western main line, additional work will be required within the department, with Agility Trains and with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case for electrification into Wales. When this work and discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales have been concluded, I expect to announce a final decision on the Intercity Express Programme and on further Great Western electrification in the new year.
The package I have announced today has been possible only because this Government have been prepared to take tough decisions in order to protect investment in Britain's future. This is a commitment to our railways which will benefit Britain for generations to come. I commend the Statement to the House".
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating this important Statement on investment in a crucial mode of transport in this country-the railway. I find a little tendentious the Government taking pride in investment decisions as if
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I fear that an aspect of this approach may be reflected in the fact that the Statement contains some less attractive news as well as the confirmation of certain projects. Let me deal first with the projects which are being confirmed, both of which are subject to delay-Crossrail by one year and Thameslink by two. The adduced reason for this is that London Bridge station is subject to major reconversion, redevelopment and change. Whoever doubted that? The idea that the difficulties with London Bridge are a ready explanation for additional delay will not wash. What reflects the delay, of course, is the extent to which the Government are prepared to commit resources.
This is also true in areas where much greater disappointment will be felt. The limited commitment to the Great Western mainline development leaves adrift any commitment to electrification in Wales. In fact, the commitment to electrification does not go beyond Oxford in these proposals, and so south-west England will also be disappointed with this limited position.
It has been suggested that the Secretary of State for Wales is so concerned for her constituents with regard to the potential high-speed rail line that she is prepared to resign if it is not readjusted. She has her constituents' interests properly at heart and, as Secretary of State for Wales, she has also the interests of a nation at heart. It would therefore behove her to think about the implications of the limited service and investment in rail in Wales in these proposals as well as her own constituency.
This gives me the opportunity to emphasise the fact-which is true with regard to the high-speed rail link, but perhaps more pronounced, as with all other rail investments-that we have to appreciate that delays cost heavily not only on the resources of the nation but also upon private citizens. If we are not clear about important routes, private citizens will sustain the costs of planning blight. I have no doubt about the difficulties involved in planning the route of the high-speed rail link and the noble Earl will know that we were committed to that development. I hope that when the Statement is made in the new year a similar commitment will be reaffirmed by this Government. I hope also that it will be recognised that it is important to define that route clearly and quickly. Whatever problems there may be for rural England-I do not underestimate the issues for an area of outstanding natural beauty such as the Chilterns-one must also recognise that
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Tendentious reference was made to the 1,300 carriages planned by the previous Government-we also had £1.2 billion of investment scheduled for that. The noble Earl has reiterated the Statement, so I know where its origins lie-namely, with the Secretary of State. If it is contended that the previous Government had submitted a piece of paper rather than a plan, such conjecture is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and freedom of information. It is quite clear that the Permanent Secretary at the department thinks that the plans that were laid for 1,300 carriages were clear and were to be developed. Where does the figure of 650 come from? Well, I am not the leading mathematician in the House, but even I can work out that it is exactly half of a number which the noble Earl pretends had been plucked out of thin air. It had not been plucked out of thin air; it was part of a departmental plan for 1,300 carriages to which we were committed and of which this Government are prepared to commit only to precisely half. We will look at that with critical scrutiny as well.
Of course, we welcome the constructive parts of the Statement; for example, with regard to electrification in the area around Manchester and Liverpool. We recognise that these projects cost significant sums of money and we know that there are limits on public expenditure. There was anxiety on all sides that the Government's commitment to reducing the fiscal deficit might lead to an abandonment of future investment in vital infrastructure. I therefore commend the Government on having made a Statement today which meets some clear objectives in those terms. However, it has been expressed in terms that scarcely bear any scrutiny that would be satisfactory to this House.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am very grateful for the measured response of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We will take on the baton of improving rail services for our people. I accept that a lot of the groundwork was done by the previous Government. I am also proud of the fact that we have avoided the trap of cutting infrastructure investment-the noble Lord touched on that. He referred to some of the slight delays, which I explained in the Statement.
It is important to remember that we have retained the full scope of the Thameslink programme; that is, 24 trains per hour in each direction. I am sure that the noble Lord understands that the decision on electrification to Wales is dependent on the IEP project decision. He needs to understand that all these schemes are interdependent; they are a jigsaw. Today's announcement on the Thameslink project and its beneficial consequences is just one part of that process.
The noble Lord referred to the HS2 route. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is well aware
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Lord Snape: My Lords, those of us who take an interest in these matters will welcome many parts of the Statement that the Minister has just made. The previous Government promised an electrified Great Western main line. That line has never ended at Oxford but goes a considerable distance further west than that. Will he give us some assurance that the Oxford of tomorrow does not become the Bedford of yesterday-namely, a terminus for electric trains-rather than the whole line being electrified?
Without getting into the argument between the two Front Benches on the exact number of new coaches, can the Minister give the House some assurance that he will do what he can to see that those coaches are constructed in the United Kingdom? Furthermore, does he accept that the one downside of his Statement is the proposal to allow train operating companies to increase fares by inflation plus 3 per cent? Is he aware that that was a favourite tactic of British Rail in the days of the nationalised industry under successive Governments? Such increases appear guaranteed to choke off new passenger demand, rather than, as the Government's stated objective supposedly is, to increase the number of passengers carried on Britain's railway system.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to electrification past Oxford. He will have to be patient for our determination on the IEP project, but he will not have to wait too long. He asked where the coaches would be constructed. He will know that EU procurement rules prevent us from guaranteeing that coaches will be built in the UK. Personally, I hope that they will be built in the UK, but we will have to see what happens.
Lord Bradshaw: I congratulate the Minister on the Statement, which, over the whole country, will be gladly accepted by most railwaymen. I deplore the sentiments expressed on the other side of the House, as this seems to be a great day for railways.
I have a few questions, however. The Statement refers to electrification in the north-west. It is important that Leeds is also included, because services across the Pennines are much slower than they would be and electrification between the west and east coasts makes an enormous amount of sense. The overcrowding of existing services, particularly around Manchester, is a blot on the record of the previous Government, because the crowding standards there are totally unacceptable.
Will the Minister confirm my arithmetic that something like 2,450 extra carriages are included? Reference is made to investments on the east coast main line and the Midland main line. I should like to know the nature of those improvements, because it is not very clear from the Statement. I was concerned about the Secretary of State ruling out the option of a wholesale refurbishment of the Intercity 125 fleet, some of which dates back to the 1970s. I am reliably informed by
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The noble Lord talked about bringing the journey time from Cardiff to London to under two hours, but it was under two hours in the 1980s, so that does not amount to much of an improvement. It is the timetable that needs altering-it has been packed with stops here, there and everywhere, making the journey to south Wales much longer than it need be. While we are on the subject of south Wales, my most anxious concerns are about the Severn Tunnel, which is the only way in and out of south Wales. I know that my noble friend in another place will be seeing the Minister on Monday to talk to her about the urgent necessity of doubling the line from Swindon to Kemble, so that there is a viable route between south Wales and London.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend makes several important points. I shall just touch on some of the more important ones. He talked about the future of the HST 125 trains, the possibility of refurbishing them and the possible undesirable effects of those trains staying in the market. There are uses for that rolling stock in the future. One difficulty about that rolling stock is that its operating costs would be higher, while there might be a reliability question. The noble Lord knows how damaging breakdowns are on the system.
The noble Lord talked about the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line. That is a good scheme but it is not in CP4. I am making absolutely no commitment, but it could be a CP5 issue. He also talked about the time saving that arises from electrification. He needs to remember that that route is much more intensively used but that electric trains will give greater acceleration, so there will be a big benefit. However, we will keep the timetabling issues under review and make sure that we are not losing any benefits that we could gain.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the Statement is couched almost entirely in terms of the impact on passenger traffic on the railways. Can the Minister comment on the Government's policy for increasing the use of the railways for freight and on what the relevance of the Statement might be to that?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, we are very keen to move as much freight as possible on to the railway system. The Thameslink project is not relevant to freight but the High Speed 2 project is, because the west coast main line will run out of capacity and, if we do not build High Speed 2, we will not be able to put more freight on to the west coast main line.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister very much for repeating the Statement. I also thank him for the tone of his replies, particularly in his reference to the previous Administration. As he
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I obviously welcome the continued commitment to High Speed 2, to the electrification programme in the north-west and to the Great Western main line as far as Newbury and Oxford. I should declare an unpaid interest as a member of the First Great Western advisory board. I want to press the noble Lord a little bit about what the mechanism will be for reviewing the possibility of going further west than Didcot. Is there a possibility, for example, that electrification will reach Bristol and is it the case that electrification to Cardiff and Swansea is dependent on the Welsh Government making some significant financial contribution?
My worry about the Statement, which I would like the Minister to address, is the question of overcrowding. He will be aware that the figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show that services in London and the south-east are already seriously overcrowded, particularly on First Great Western, where they worsened from 6.5 per cent of passengers in excess of capacity in 2008 to 8.2 per cent in 2009. The consequence of the cascading of electrified stock from the existing Thameslink service to the new electrified services to Newbury and Oxford is that there will be a delay of four years. I am fearful that overcrowding will increase during those four years.
I hope that the point made by my noble friend Lord Snape about the fare increases pricing people off the railway will not come to pass. Like the Minister, I am anxious to see the railway used to the maximum extent. It would be disastrous if we went back to the sort of policy that existed in the 1970s and 1980s, when the response to passenger demand was simply to put up the fares to choke it off. Will the Minister comment on overcrowding as well?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, with regard to the noble Lord's kind words about the difference between this place and another place, I could not possibly comment. The noble Lord talked about electrification out to Bristol. That is an important point. As I said, it is closely linked to the IEP solution and the development of the business case. He talked about a possible contribution from the Welsh Assembly Government. I think that he is thinking along the correct lines. I will talk to the officials and reflect on his points about overcrowding. The decision regarding fares was difficult, but we have to get some more income to pay for the improvements. However, it is certainly not a mechanism to choke off demand and passengers. We want people to travel by rail; we do not want them to travel by car.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the government Statement that he has made is important and will be widely welcomed throughout the country,
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is an important Statement. I also look forward to making further welcome Statements about the development of our railway system. My noble friend is right about capital investment; we are spending for future growth. He talked about the benefits of High Speed 2 for the Midlands, but it would also give benefits much further north.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: I thank the Minister for his courteous replies, but is he aware that in our Welsh folklore there is the story of the dictionary that, under "Wales", states: "For 'Wales', read 'England'"? Is there not a danger here that Wales will be short-changed-just as we were, for example, when at the time of the introduction of HSTs we were given only the hand-me-downs from the east coast main line? Why is more work needed in Wales on this matter, not in the north-west? When the Minister refers to the discussions within the Welsh Assembly Government, does that not mean in effect that the aim of the Government is to force the Welsh Assembly Government, at a time when their resources are being limited, to pick up a substantial part of the bill for the electrification of the line to south Wales?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, we do not intend to short-change Wales. Wales will benefit from the electrification; indeed, Wales would benefit even if we electrified only to Bristol because the journey time to London will be reduced and the journeys will be more reliable.
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, as someone who travels regularly between Cornwall and London, I have to say that the Statement inspires rather less warm feelings in me than it may in those from some other parts of the country. Again, we see a decision delayed. Can the Minister give some indication of what a decision in the new year means in practice? How quickly will we see a decision on the replacement of Great Western intercity rolling stock? I express my deep concern that, while it is great that making passengers change train has been ruled out, changing the locomotive does not inspire great confidence. I hope that we will see a new diesel/electric hybrid able to run all the way through to Penzance.
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord talks about the difficulties faced by Cornwall and the West Country. I am well aware of the economic difficulties in that part of the country. He talks about the disadvantages of attaching a diesel locomotive to the front of an IEP train. It is an obvious difficulty, which will no doubt be taken into consideration when developing and assessing the business cases.
Lord Bates: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the decision on the Intercity Express Programme will be followed very closely in the north-east of England? The Agility consortium, particularly Hitachi trains, is looking to invest £660 million in a plant at Newton Aycliffe in the north-east, which is of course the home of the railway's first steam engine and the location of the first railway line between Darlington and Stockton. While recognising that there is a great need to ensure that major capital investment programmes are well researched and offer full value for money, I urge my noble friend to bring that decision forward as quickly as possible. It is crucial for the north-east economy and for manufacturing; it would also be a tremendous boost to the north-east at a time when it is seeing lots of public spending restraint in other areas. Will he focus particularly on the point in his Statement on the revised bid put forward by Hitachi and the Agility consortium? I think that I heard him say that it had been resubmitted and was now lower than the other option. At times of fiscal constraint, that might be a clincher.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's contribution on the importance of the IEP to the north-east. That was no doubt very high up in the mind of the previous Administration, quite rightly. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is fully aware of all these factors and the importance of, as my noble friend put it, a boost to the north-east. My noble friend talked about a lower cost bid. That is welcome as well, but it is important that we select the correct technical solution to the problem of having a bi-mode capability.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, as one of the small minority of Members of this House who live in the north of England, I congratulate the Government on the large number of measures that are suggested, including electrification in the north-west and improvement to services across the Pennines and in the Yorkshire and Manchester areas, even though the much needed increase in rolling stock is yet again London's cast-offs, which is what we normally get lumbered with. Nevertheless, it is better than nothing-cattle trucks are better than no trucks at all. Is the Minister aware of the need to reinstate a teeny-weeny bit of track in the Todmorden area, known as the Todmorden curve? That would allow trains going from Burnley over the Copy Pit line to join the old Calder Valley main line between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge to turn right as well as left, and allow us not to improve the rail service from the Burnley and Pendle area to Manchester but actually to introduce one.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am aware of the problem of London's cast-offs, as the noble Lord put it. However, it is a sensible way of extracting all the capital value from the rolling stock. The noble Lord asked about the Todmorden curve. This was raised by a right reverend Prelate the last time I was asked a question on the railways in the north-west. It amused the House that I knew the answer. The snag is that I have forgotten that answer but I assure noble Lords that it remains the same.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, it is a privilege to introduce this debate at this crucial time, ahead of the police Bill. The subject of the debate is widely drawn and I could not hope to do it justice in the 12 minutes available to me. I will concentrate, therefore, on more specific and, in my view, topical matters.
A matter currently of considerable topicality is that of elected police commissioners. This has excited a great deal of debate. There are those who argue that the present system of police authorities works well, with a structure refined by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne when he was Home Secretary. They will no doubt argue that the accountability of the chief police officer to the authority works satisfactorily, and that any attempt at political control by the elected councillors is counterbalanced by the presence of the independent members of the authority. Against that is the argument that greater accountability can be enforced through one individual. This is but a summary of the respective standpoints but the arguments hinge on the question of accountability.
The coalition Government are emphatic in their commitment to the operational independence of police forces in England and Wales. In the Home Office publication Policing in the Twenty-First Century there is an assurance that this will not be meddled with. However, alongside this is the determination to elect individuals in the place of police authorities. This, as I have said, is a hotly debated issue both within and outside the police service. Questions have been thrown up on which I should welcome the Minister's views. The first is: will one individual, replacing the 17 to 19 individuals that there are at present, be able to deliver oversight of the huge breadth that modern policing demands? Secondly, I seek reassurance that politics is not in danger of intruding into police operations; for instance, when an election commitment to which a policing and crime commissioner is bound places him at odds with a chief constable's professional judgment. Thirdly, I understand that policing and crime panels are intended to act as a check on the commissioner. Will we not be in danger of replicating the present police authorities under another name? I look forward to my noble friend's comments.
I also touch on the somewhat sensitive subject of special entry. I am aware that there has, to date, been considerable resistance to this within the service. However, there is in place a scheme of accelerated promotion where time on the beat is confined to two years. This is a kind of halfway house to the Trenchard scheme, which was abandoned after the Second World War. However, I suggest that the Minister takes a close look at the outstanding success of officer training in the Armed Forces. Take one example: Sandhurst. Until comparatively recently its cadets were drawn from what is loosely called the "officer class". Now entry is
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There are, of course, differences. A member of the Armed Forces is likely always to have the support and camaraderie of his unit, however small. The police officer, on the other hand, for much of his time on duty is absolutely alone. I accept this, which is why an essential component of any direct entry should be a minimum but meaningful time on the beat. I hope simply that the police service and the coalition Government will keep this matter under review.
It is all about leadership, which brings me to ACPO. It is an admirable organisation and the structure of specialisms by individual chief officers is particularly valuable in making its case to the public. It is also an essential link between the police service and the Government. However, there is a perception out there that ACPO is in practice accountable to no one. That is why I am particularly pleased to learn that Sir Hugh Orde, chairman of ACPO, is on the case. If I understand him correctly, he sees its future not merely as a forum for chief police officers but rather-these are his words-
I refer briefly to the amalgamation of police forces. It is an ongoing subject of debate but I detect no great enthusiasm for it at present. But whichever way this goes at national level, this, together with the current financial stringency, has encouraged a positive approach towards the sharing of services such as traffic, forensic, crime, helicopters and so forth, which must be wholly to the good.
We await with some anticipation the publication of the forthcoming Police Bill, but it is worth recalling that the last attempt to stand back and consider the delivery of policing in its entirety was the Royal Commission of 1962 when, incidentally, "Dixon of Dock Green" was in its heyday. People look back to that model of policing with nostalgia but things have moved on and crime has become more sophisticated and more international. "The Bill" picked up where "Dixon of Dock Green" left off and the enormous popularity of that programme showed how much the public identified with a civilian police serving the community. It is true that there is less evidence of the bobby on the beat but times have moved on. Mobility and communications ensure that police officers are able to cover substantially wider areas. However, let it be noted that the 9.6 million crimes measured by the British Crime Survey in 2009-10 represented a fall of 9 per cent from the previous year. Some 4.3 million crimes recorded by the police over the same period represented an 8 per cent drop. The British Crime Survey estimates that the risk of becoming a victim of crime is the lowest since it began in 1981.
A widely aired criticism is that front-line policing is supported by an overly heavy tail, but modern crime is a sophisticated business and child abuse and sex offences
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As I have said, the last Royal Commission on the police was in 1962. Since then there have been radical changes in virtually everything that affects the working of the police service: its relations with the public, government and cybercrime terrorism, to name but a few. Is it not time for another Royal Commission, which would, I hope, pre-empt the need for a succession of piecemeal police legislation to which we have been subjected in the recent past? As an indirect result of this, the police service is engaged in its third pay review in seven years. The previous Government vetoed the idea of a Royal Commission, I suspect on grounds of cost and time. I hope that the coalition Government will take another look. I hope that I may make a suggestion: would its incorporation into a wider defence review ease the logistics? It is sorely needed. Perhaps that is another question for the Minister.
It has been well said that every country has the police it deserves. Two hundred-plus years after Trafalgar, we take for granted Nelson's hold over the Royal Navy. Talking to police officers of all ranks, I am reminded that their hero and role model is Sir Robert Peel, who conceived a civilian force within and at the service of the community.
That is what this nation still essentially requires of the police. Of course, the challenges in the 21st century are ever-more resourceful criminals, the breakdown of the family, the onward march of technology, terrorism and so on, but there is a basic public confidence in a still-largely unarmed police service. Whether this is, in fact, what we deserve may be a matter for debate, but policing in this country remains something in which we can indeed be proud.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I should declare my background. I was a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority for 10 or 12 years, and I saw some of the changes to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred.
The make-up of a police authority is now quite good. It has members from an independent background, representatives of political parties and some magistrates, although their number has been reduced. The duty of
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We received regular updates from the chief constable, who was immediately in contact with the chairman, the vice-chairman or a local member of the authority if an incident was in their area. However, the chief and the team made the operational decisions. They were not above criticism if those decisions went wrong. I can remember one or two cases when we received pretty poor reports regarding things which should have been done. There is an independent police complaints authority, which is extremely thorough in its investigation of any complaints, and a professional standards committee makes sure that officers are doing what is right and it investigates complaints. Operational independence did not mean that the chief constable was above criticism but, crucially, no decision was made for political reasons.
The noble Viscount mentioned elected commissioners. I am very worried as to who would stand and, more particularly, who would vote, because when considering the idea of elections-which is very fashionable and is postulated as a future for this establishment-you always have to ask yourself: when will the elections be, who will vote, and on what platform will they campaign? There is a great danger of people putting forward fairly extreme views, being supported by a few newspaper editors and getting a small percentage of the electorate turning out to vote for them. We would then find that a very professional chief constable would be made subject to the direction of somebody who knows nothing about policing, probably does not know a great deal about anything else and may be propelled simply by prejudice into the role that he adopts. Will the Minister confirm whether there is any body that will control the elected police commissioner; and, if he has to report to somebody, will the Widdecombe rules apply so that the proportion of representation of each of the parties, including independents, will be maintained? That is the basis for running a proper police authority. If there is such a body, will the commissioner have the right simply to brush it aside?
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, also touched on the effect of relationships between the police authority, the Association of Police Authorities and ACPO. Will the police commissioner be independent of these bodies or subject to them? If he or she is subject to them, how will this work? I am very worried also about how an elected commissioner will manage a large and diverse area. We have talked about police commissioners in small areas, but the authority of which I was a member-
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What will happen to the police commissioner if he is not up to the job? How will one get rid of an incompetent police commissioner? There are procedures for dealing with a chief constable who is not up to the job, but we need to know what will happen to a police commissioner who patently is not. Lastly, will the Minister say whether the police commissioner will be subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary? Will he really be a free agent who will bring something new to the post, or somebody who is not responsible to the members of the community who elected him?
Lord Condon: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for this debate to call attention to the role of the police. I declare my registered interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the deputy chairman of a major security company. I will summarise briefly the importance of the history and legacy of policing. I will then say a few brief words about the current concerns over policing. Finally, I will add my thoughts about the Government's proposals for police reform.
I turn first to the legacy. At 6 pm on Tuesday 29 September 1829, the first group of Metropolitan Police officers marched out from a still-being-converted building not far from here called Scotland Yard. They were dressed in blue cloaks and black top hats-deliberately not in red so that they would not be confused with soldiers. They were not in elaborate uniforms like those of the continental gendarmeries. They carried no pistols, swords or knives-merely small wooden batons and wooden rattles to call assistance. They marched out to be greeted with derision and hostility by the London public. Four years later, it was still possible for a coroner's jury to record a verdict of justifiable homicide when Constable Robert Culley was brutally killed by an angry mob simply because he was carrying out his duty. Within a few short years of PC Culley's death, hostility and derision became acceptance and admiration.
Why am I talking about these things from the past? I do so because I think that they still have enormous resonance for the challenges that police officers face today. Who were those early police officers and what were they asked to do? They were not asked to be soldiers; they were ordinary men drawn from their community for the community. They swore an oath in the office of constable. They were Crown servants with powers and discretion which they had to exercise as individuals. They were accountable as individual constables, not an anonymous group of soldiers taking orders en masse.
The first joint commissioners, Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, in consultation with Robert Peel, who had been arguing for these reforms for seven years as Home Secretary, wrote what I guess today we would call the mission statement for those early police
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If we fast-forward the history through a number of royal commissions and public inquiries, we arrive at the royal commission, already referred to, which reported in 1964-the last and most influential royal commission on policing. It set out the police role as follows:
So to modern policing. I know from my professional roles, from debates in your Lordships' House and just as a member of the public that there is growing concern and confusion about the role and performance of the police. What has contributed to this erosion of trust in what I might call the policing covenant? The breadth and range of the policing role has been stretched almost to breaking point. Greater Manchester Police recently placed all its reported incidents on Twitter over a 24-hour period. It revealed complex, unpredictable demands from the public which had as much to do with agencies from health, education and local government as they did with policing, and certainly the demands on the police were far more extensive than merely preventing and detecting crime.
The barrage of new legislation in recent years from all shades of government has created hundreds, if not thousands, of new criminal offences and police powers, and an expectation of police action. Every inquiry into something that has gone wrong in policing, every inspection of a police force and every inspection of a major theme such as domestic violence or children at risk, vital though these issues are, generates enormous new demands, new procedures, new forms and new bureaucracies. That is part of the explanation for more police officers being on duty on a Monday morning in warm offices than on a Friday night in city centres; it is partly why, in 2009, 2,600 pages of new guidance setting out how police officers should fulfil their duties were issued in a single year; and it is partly the explanation for some police forces currently recording anti-social behaviour under 48 separate categories of form-filling and box-ticking.
It could be argued that all this has led to what, in other environments, would be described as mission creep and confusion. We now have the following symptoms: a can-do mentality of policing is in danger of being replaced by a risk-averse, criticism-avoiding mentality. In certain circumstances, it is safer to do nothing than to do something. Too often, bureaucracy
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The police covenant with the public and the police legacy are certainly not broken, but they are strained and under challenge. The police service continues to attract and retain some of the finest, bravest men and women in our country. There is no shortage of able, well educated recruits; we could have an all-graduate police service, if that were what we wanted. Because of my links with the police service, I am constantly reminded and humbled by outstanding acts of courage and professionalism, literally on a day-to-day basis. However, we are now on the verge of a major programme of police reform and we have the opportunity to reset and recalibrate the police covenant and police legacy which I have described.
Three interlinked issues will generate those changes and have the potential to improve or undermine policing. First, the police service budgets will be reduced by more than 20 per cent over the next four years, with more than 14 per cent of the savings being front-end loaded and coming in the next two years. That cannot be achieved by salami-slice savings. Many thousands of police and civilian jobs will go and tough and necessary decisions and tough choices will have to be made. The police service cannot be exempt from public sector savings, nor should it be. Mature decisions will have to be made about what can and cannot be done, but there must not be a dishonest pretence that the status quo can prevail or that front-line policing will be unaffected.
The second issue which will affect policing is a fundamental review of police pay and conditions which has been commissioned by the Government. It will report in early 2011. That report must not destabilise police morale and performance, but equally some long, overgrown nettles must be grasped to provide modern, flexible and fair pay and conditions for the police service.
Thirdly, the Government have set out in the Home Office document, Policing in the 21st Century, their programme for police reform. I know that very soon those aspirations will be fleshed out in a Bill before Parliament. I assume that it will, as others have said, contain provisions for directly elected police and crime commissioners, a new national crime agency and many other important provisions. Today is not the day for detailed discussion of those proposals and I look forward to participating in your Lordships' House when we examine the proposed legislation. However, it is important today to flag up some of the issues and criteria that I will be testing and examining when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.
First, there must be an honest appraisal of the core functions of the police against the available budgets and foreseeable resources allocated to policing. Tough choices will have to be made by police, by politicians and in consultation with the public. We must face up to those tough choices.
Secondly, the historic office of constable and operational police independence must be enshrined within the new overall framework of political accountability, locally and nationally. With or without locally elected police commissioners, police constables and chief constables must not feel that the independent exercise of their historic office and powers is being undermined in some way. Operational independence is vital and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he agrees with that.
Thirdly, if the chosen way forward is to retain more than 40 local police forces with more than 40 new, inexperienced, elected police commissioners, they must be embraced within an effective and integrated network of policing. They must not become, as I fear they could, a disorganised patchwork of policing. Even with a new national crime agency, there will remain a significant requirement for co-ordinated action between local forces big and small to combat terrorism, organised crime and many other issues. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that however the Bill looks in its shape and form, we will be presented with a network of policing, not a disorganised patchwork of policing.
The fourth issue is value for money. Value for money, economies of scale, procurement of goods and services, outsourcing, the development of a cadre of effective police leaders and combating terrorism are vital issues that suggest to me, and have throughout my career, the need for national and regional police organisations and structures. This is in no way to denigrate or detract from local policing and neighbourhood policing being delivered by very local police officers. The Government will have to show how their devolved patchwork of policing will measure up to the operational needs and financial constraints of 21st-century policing.
In conclusion, the office of constable and the historic legacy of policing must be understood and respected, but not fossilised. The role of policing should be reset and recalibrated for the far more complex modern world we live in and in which the police operate locally, nationally and internationally. By all means let us be bold and innovative and let us change, but in doing so, let us renew and strengthen the police covenant with the public and not undermine it.
Lord Freeman: My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who was a very distinguished senior policeman. In his speech, there were many excellent pearls of wisdom, and I know that when we come to debate the Bill, we will return to them.
I hope the noble Lord will agree that it might be appropriate at this moment to express a personal opinion, with which I hope many noble Lords will agree. I have great admiration for the way in which the Metropolitan Police handled the events of yesterday and the past 24 hours. Like many of your Lordships, I was inconvenienced, but I talked to a fair number of the officers on duty, and I thought they had tremendous patience and good nature and were extremely efficient. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to pay that tribute now.
We should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for initiating this debate. His experience and interest in this field will be valuable in the progress of legislation. I shall make a brief contribution based upon my experience as an elected Member in the other place for Northamptonshire and my experience of dealing with the Northamptonshire police force, the chief constable and the police authority.
I welcome the forthcoming Bill. I note that in 2008, the previous Labour Government were on the verge of delivering a very similar Bill, and it was a shame that it did not proceed. I think there is-I hope there is-broad agreement between the parties on at least the accountability elements of the draft Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his local experience in Oxfordshire and Thames Valley, wearing many hats, not least of which is working with the police authority and supporting the police, will debate what needs to be in the Bill not just from national principles but from local experience.
I strongly support the concept of police and crime commissioners throughout the country. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that there has to be some mechanism of co-ordination and exchange of views, but their responsibility, as with elected individuals, would be to help with the strategy and the relationship between the police force and the local community. They should not be involved in controlling operational matters.
It is my understanding that Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is now largely convinced that there is a clear divide between operational responsibility, which is for the chief constable and senior police officers, and the elected commissioners, who should be able to express concerns, worries, issues and suggestions about policing in their local area or neighbourhood. The Bill should ensure that there is this clear division of responsibility.
We should compare and contrast what is likely to happen under new legislation with the control that Home Secretaries for many years have had in influencing and policing in the United Kingdom. In 2009, for example, more than 50 documents of central policy control were issued by the Home Secretary. Another 60 were under consideration. It might be relevant to quote Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation. He said:
"We need to be accountable, but we appear to have such an unnecessary number of quangos and bodies created to check on us that one wonders if this is merely to create jobs than fulfil any useful function".
A new structure to make it absolutely clear that chief officers will deal with operational matters without interference from those who are elected politicians and that elected commissioners will reflect the views of the local community and are best able to communicate their worries is a sensible and necessary division.
The experience of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw in Thames Valley might vary a little from mine in Northamptonshire. In knocking on doors over 14 years, I found little knowledge and understanding of the role and composition of the local police authority. A commissioner who is directly elected-I hope that independents will stand, and that minorities and those
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My final point has already been made by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. With constraints on expenditure and the problems of reducing budgets for police authorities, it will be helpful to have elected commissioners because not only will they be able to reflect local concerns rather than simply those of the police themselves or of elected Members of another place, but they will, as the elected representative, be responsible for indicating where the priorities should be and how the police have adapted the resources that are available to them in providing the cover that is valued and necessary. I thank my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for initiating this debate, and I look forward to participating in proceedings on the Bill.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for instigating this debate. I should like to speak about issues of governance and, in particular, to comment on the recent government consultation paper, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and people, in the context of forthcoming legislation. My simple question is: will directly elected police and crime commissioners deliver the Government's aims? That question presupposes, of course, that police and people are disconnected. I cannot speak for the country as a whole, but I have no evidence that in Newcastle or in the Northumbria Police Authority area-here I declare my interest as a councillor in Newcastle and as a one-time member of the Northumbria Police Authority-there is any meaningful disconnection. For the most part, local people are happy with the policing that they receive.
I support the Government's general direction to improve communication, to make people feel safer and more secure, to enable them to hold the police to account and to ensure that people have a real say in how their neighbourhoods are policed. However, there is no reason to suppose that, if we have directly elected commissioners, the Government's desired outcomes will be delivered. How does the direct election of an individual covering a very large geographical area or population make the police more accountable-day in, day out and week in, week out-to its constituent neighbourhoods?
There is also an unanswered prior question: to what problem is a police and crime commissioner a solution, and why is it assumed that a single election and a single person will reconnect people and police? I am afraid that I find the proposal deeply unconvincing. Is the proposal designed to reduce crime? Well, it might be, but actually the answer is "Hardly" because crime has been dropping with the current governance structures. Is it designed to improve governance? Well, in my view it will not, for two reasons. First, having directly elected police and crime commissioners will concentrate power rather than disperse it. Secondly, the proposal would build in implicit strains between democratically
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What exactly is wrong with the current system? My police authority area has a police authority made up of nine democratically elected councillors, who are answerable to the community at large and to their own electorates, plus eight independent members, including a magistrate, who bring a wealth of different experience to that police authority. The structure is not perfect, but it is certainly more accountable than what is likely to be proposed.
Three major concerns have been raised by the Northumbria Police Authority, whose views will be shared by many other authorities. First, key constitutional changes are proposed that have not been subject to assessment or consideration in the same manner as the constitutional changes made by the Police Act 1964, which were informed by a Royal Commission. Secondly, proposals are being made for a system that has not been tried and tested in the United Kingdom through the operation of a time-limited pilot scheme. Thirdly, the consultative paper makes no reference to a corporate legal entity or statutory body that the commissioner will work within and which will hold the budget, act as employer, and own the real property necessary for the chief constable to deliver an effective policing service. The paper also fails to identity the fundamental requirement of the chief executive and/or monitoring officer role, which is a key role that was introduced as part of the 1994 Act to ensure propriety in the use of powers.
One possible way forward that could meet the wishes of the Government would be to have an independent police board, with the chair taking the title of police and crime commissioner and a board of assistant police and crime commissioners made up, as now, of local councillors and independent members. The board would work together to set the strategic direction for policing within local priorities and budgets and to hold the police to account for performance in all the geographical areas within its police area. To be clear, a purely advisory role for such a board would be unsatisfactory, because that would simply deny it the real teeth needed to maintain its independence.
The extent to which all these proposals are relevant to neighbourhood policing also needs to be considered. The truth is that they matter little. What matters to local people is how effective policing is in their neighbourhoods. People need structures to enable them to communicate directly with police officers and to get solutions speedily for their neighbourhoods. Police authorities and councils already have structures in place to achieve that, which are led by the councillors elected in their neighbourhoods.
The Home Secretary said that commissioners will ensure that police forces will meet local rather than Whitehall targets. That is good, but it begs the question of what is meant by "local". Many police authorities cover large geographical areas, but what people want is access to police officers at their neighbourhood level to discuss policing issues. That is where accountability must be realised. Neighbourhoods talking to their own police officers-that is how the police can build safer neighbourhoods and build public confidence in
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The basic flaw in the Government's proposal is that the commissioner will set priorities for the police force but it is not clear how the commissioner will know what those priorities should be. Will the commissioners have powers, formal or subtle, to interfere in the day-to-day running of the police? Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in responding to the Queen's Speech, said:
"One of the great strengths of the British style of policing is the balance between ... robust accountability at local level and operational independence. The police service is more effective through the freedom to make professional judgments about how we keep people safe, free from political interests".
As things stand, a police and crime commissioner would appoint the chief constable, set the budget of the force and set the strategic police plan for the area. There would be advisers in the form of councillors and independent members, but they would have no formal powers. I cannot believe that this is wise, for where are the checks and balances that should be a central requirement of our governance of policing? I sincerely hope that the Government will think long and hard about trying to introduce such an untried system of governance.
Many questions arise. Is it wise for community safety partnerships-which, in most cases, have done a very good job in preventing and reducing crime-to be accountable not to their local area but to the commissioner of a much bigger area? Are we in danger of politicising the police in a way that could fuel accusations of partiality? How does the localism agenda fit with having one commissioner per force area? What are the accountability arrangements among the councils, elected mayors and elected commissioners? What budgets will commissioners hold and how will that money be raised? Overall, how will national and local policing be enhanced?
The Home Secretary said that the consultation paper Policing in the 21st Century is the most radical reform of policing for 50 years. That may well be true, but it does not make all of it wise. The Home Secretary went on to say that the police have become too bureaucratic and too much accountable to Whitehall rather than to the people whom they serve. That is also true, but cutting bureaucracy does not require police commissioners; it only requires the Home Secretary to act. Dismantling Whitehall targets is also simple to deliver and does not require police commissioners either. To make police more accountable to the people whom they serve is most simply delivered by neighbourhood governance structures and an independent police board with real powers, as I have suggested.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on securing this debate, the subject matter of which changed, for reasons unexplained, from the role of the security services and the police in national security to solely the role of the police.
I was fortunate enough recently to be able to take part in the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme. I spent more than 20 days with the Metropolitan Police seeing and learning at first hand what the police in London do and the breadth of responsibilities and activities that the force undertakes. The impressions that I formed are obviously mine and mine alone. I spent a number of shifts with officers in the immediate response cars. It was not as dramatic and action-packed as you see in the numerous carefully packaged television programmes broadcast nowadays of police activity in different towns and cities around the country.
A significant percentage of the emergency calls responded to were more to do with what one might describe as a semi-welfare role: numerous incidents arising from domestic arguments and disputes, elderly people convinced that an intruder was in their home or children allegedly locked out of their homes. However, the officers driving as fast as they safely can to respond to an emergency call do not know exactly who, or what, will confront them when they get to the scene. It could be a domestic argument where the parties have already started to simmer down or where one party has already left the scene. It could be someone with a knife or other weapon that they are prepared to use, or, indeed, it could be more than one person in that category.
I saw a wide variety of incidents, including stop and search, fights in the street, anti-social behaviour, motoring offences, searches of premises for drugs, checks that home curfew orders were being obeyed and street prostitution, as well as the procedures and processes at the police station for dealing with those brought in following arrest. I was struck by the outward calmness of the officers whom I was with-I was with a number of them-and the high and consistent degree of civility that they showed towards those whom they had to talk to, question, challenge or arrest at the scenes of the incidents to which we were called. That civility was, needless to say, not always reciprocated. Police officers do get provoked; they have to deal on many occasions with people whom most of the population would not wish to meet. What is surprising is not the number of incidents where police officers lose their cool, but rather how few such incidents are.
I was struck also by the importance of decision-making by officers when first arriving at the scene of an incident in response to an emergency call. They may be confronted by people who are distressed or aggressive, have had too much to drink, are under the influence of drugs, irrational, highly emotional, prepared to use violence or just plain unco-operative and obstructive. The initial assessment by officers of the position and people with whom they are faced when they arrive at the scene can be crucial in determining whether a potentially explosive situation is calmed down and controlled or whether it simply gets out of hand. The
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I also had the opportunity to see the full range of responsibilities and activities undertaken by the police-the work done by officers and civilian staff, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who are not out on the streets but who play a key role in investigating and solving crime. Those engaged in fraud and IT crime do not tend to be caught by officers patrolling the streets or responding to emergency calls; they are apprehended by those doing painstaking and thorough work pursuing leads, seeking and analysing data, interviewing victims and putting together a case that will stand up in court. The same goes for the work of those who attend the scene of a crime and collect possible evidence, seeing whether there is a similarity with evidence from previous crimes or whether it is evidence that, when checked against records, will help to identify the perpetrator. They are not officers and staff who spend their time out on patrol.
There are also specialist units dealing with child abuse and rape cases. They are staffed by officers who do not spend their time patrolling the streets but who seek to provide support for victims at a time of great distress and trauma and to secure the necessary evidence to bring cases to court. There are officers dealing with the threats of terrorism. Once again, they do not spend their time out on patrol but are engaged in collecting and analysing intelligence, working with other agencies and keeping track of the activities of those about whom they have suspicions, with a view to preventing acts of terrorism and, if appropriate, apprehending those who they have good reason to believe are about to act. Many other activities carried out by the Metropolitan Police and, to a less wide-ranging extent, by other forces are directly related to solving and preventing crime but do not in the normal course of events directly involve officers patrolling the streets or driving in immediate response cars, visible to the public.
That brings me to the impact of the Government's comprehensive spending review and the associated reductions in expenditure on police forces. Claims have been made, not least by the Government, that reductions in expenditure should not affect the front line of policing, but that raises the question of the definition of "front line". Does it mean officers out on patrol, on foot or in cars, on the streets, or engaged on other activities, such as yesterday outside Parliament, when they are visible to the public? Alternatively, does it mean any officers or civilian staff whose work and responsibilities are directly related to solving and preventing crime, many of whom, as I saw during my time with the Metropolitan Police, are primarily working inside and are not normally visible to the general public? If the Government claim that reductions in expenditure will not affect front-line police involved in solving and preventing crime, I must ask the Minister to give a clear definition of what the Government regard as front-line policing. The Government may believe that too many civilian staff are employed by the police, but there is no question of a reduction
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It was with some interest that one read in the press the recent expression of considered opinion by the Minister with responsibility for police matters, Mr Herbert, that more police does not mean less crime. The parallel argument to that is presumably that the Government do not believe that having fewer police runs the risk of more crime, which is a very convenient U-turn in approach for a Government who are significantly reducing the amount of money available for policing. During the election campaign, Mr Clegg said that he would put 3,000 more officers on the streets, so presumably he does not agree with Mr Herbert, who also referred to a previous increase in the numbers of police officers, only a small proportion of whom, he said, were visible and available to the public at any one time. That comment relates to the point that I made earlier that to be engaged actively in solving and preventing crime does not mean that an officer has to be clearly visible to the public, which seems to be what the Minister thinks. Indeed, the Home Secretary appears to think the same, as a Home Office spokesman commenting on the cuts in expenditure said:
That carries the obvious implication that police officers and civilian staff engaged in solving and preventing crime who are not on the streets are not making an important and decisive contribution. Hence the importance of the Minister's response, which I hope will be forthcoming, to my direct question as to the Government's definition of the front line when it comes to police work.
A recent survey has suggested that nearly all police forces in England and Wales have frozen recruitment, which, taking account of the existing turnover rate, would lead to a reduction in officer numbers of some thousands. Greater Manchester Police has announced plans for 3,000 job losses over the spending review period, including some 1,500 police officers. The chief constable said that, while there would be a significant reduction in the size of the middle and back offices, it was clear that,
Funding for the West Midlands Police is to be cut by 20 per cent in real terms, as is funding nationally, although for the West Midlands the impact is likely to be greater than elsewhere since that force depends on central government for a higher proportion of its funding than any other constabulary in the country, except, interestingly enough, the City of London's.
Accountants KPMG have estimated that around 18,000 police officers could be lost nationally by the end of the four-year spending review, while the Police Federation has suggested that around 20,000 officers would be lost. At the same time as the numbers of police officers are to be significantly cut, the Government can apparently still find the resources to throw at establishing elected police commissioners. I sensed a certain lack of enthusiasm for elected police commissioners from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and rather more than a lack of enthusiasm from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.
I am sure that some savings can be made through greater efficiency and through changing structures, processes and procedures. It would be stretching it a bit to say that police forces, particularly large forces, are already so efficient that they cannot make further savings in this way. Yet to argue, as the Government appear to be doing, that savings of the magnitude announced can be made without any real impact on the quality and effectiveness of solving and preventing a crime is, at best, a breathtaking statement of unsubstantiated hope about a service where such a high percentage of costs are labour costs.
Fewer police are unlikely to improve communications and contact with the public. This Government will be held to account for the outcome of their decisions on police funding, which they appear to be claiming will not affect what they define as front-line policing-and we await the Minister's definition of that. I listened with real interest to the thought-provoking speech from the noble Lord, Lord Condon, as I am sure the Minister did. Our policy in government was to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of the crime. The measures that we took helped, along with other factors and thanks to the police, to bring down the level of crime. No doubt this Government also want to be tough on crime but, frankly, their approach to police funding so far smacks rather more of being tough on the fighters of crime.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is the first of many debates that we will no doubt be having on the future of policing in this country as the police reform and social responsibility Bill, which we expect to be published shortly, begins to move through both Houses. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for that very interesting speech on his own involvement and how he has seen the different dimensions of policing. As someone who is new to this dossier, I was reflecting on how much policing has changed since I first had contact with police forces as a junior lecturer in Manchester. I was dealing with the Irish Government and therefore, for the first time, coming to terms with Special Branch, which in those days was concerned with Irish terrorism. Special Branch today has to deal with a far wider range of terrorist threats.
Some 20 years ago, I was at Chatham House and was asked to chair a seminar of senior policemen about the international dimension of domestic policing. This was early 1989 and it was fascinating to have a number of policemen who thought that this was a
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When, some years ago, I was the chair of EU Sub-Committee F, I was astonished to discover that there were by then police liaison officers in UK embassies throughout the European Union and beyond, that SOCA had been created to deal with the international dimension of British policing and that, according to the national intelligence model, we now have three levels of policing: level 1, the area that the public care most about and are most conscious of, which is local policing; level 2, which is the national policing of cross-border crime by different cross-border police forces; and the increasingly important level 3, which is transnational crime.
The increasing sophistication of crime is something with which we are now all familiar. Organised crime has ceased to be predominantly domestic; it is increasingly cross-border. Forms of international crime include drug-smuggling, international financial fraud, human trafficking-we had an interesting debate on that the other week-and now also cybercrime, on which I was given my first briefing the other day. We are in another world and the pace of change is increasing. I was struck when I read an HMIC report from July this year that said that there is no time for a royal commission, and that the police leadership needs to rise to the challenges of a cessation of the rapid increase in funding that has come in the past few years and the changing tasks that are required of it. The pace of change requires us to respond.
Many people here have talked about the changes in democratic accountability which the Government are proposing. We will have plenty of time when the Bill is presented to discuss in more detail the role of police and crime commissioners and their relationships with chief constables and with the police and crime panels that will, in turn, hold them to account.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the intention is that police and crime panels will consist predominantly of representatives of local authorities. There is, as he rightly points out, a large question about what we mean by "local". The current structures of police forces and that of local authorities, as we well know, do not fit. That is part of the problem, and part of the reason why the Government are proposing police and crime commissioners to fit these separate entities that are now our largely regional police forces.
My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked a number of questions about who will stand, who will vote and what they will all campaign on. American experience, which has been prayed in aid in this House as a horror story, has actually led to some rather good police commissioners and indeed elected mayors arriving. We must not necessarily assume that democracy is a dangerous thing that might lead to disaster.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the future role of ACPO. It will continue to play an important role in providing professional leadership to the police service but, again, discussions are under
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The move from SOCA to the national crime agency is also intended to pull further together the different abilities of different police forces and the specialised tasks that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has been talking about, while trying as far as possible to maintain the historic principle of local responsibility for local civilian police forces.
We are concerned about value-for-money savings. Police budgets have increased rapidly over the past five years, and we recognise that they will cease to do so over the next four to five years. Government core funding of the policing will reduce by 20 per cent in real terms over the next four years. Taking into account our precept for local budgets, that amounts to an average-I stress, an average-for police forces of 14 per cent in real terms. In December, we will set out to Parliament exactly what this settlement will mean for each police force. However, I stress that real costs have been imposed on police forces by the previous Government through the central targets and the very detailed guidance. As the HMIC report states:
Significant savings can be reached through reducing this sort of central top-down bureaucracy. On average, only 11 per cent of total police strength is visible and available to the general public at any time. We are confident that reducing some of these reporting and bureaucratic elements will enable us to maintain the police front line while reducing costs.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The police front line is increasingly sophisticated because, as I was saying earlier, if we look at what we want the police to do, the police front line is not just what is visible on the street. It is the policeman dealing with domestic violence in a sexual assault referral centre; it is the policeman dealing with financial fraud in the City of London Police which, as the noble Lord knows, is a specialist force for international financial fraud. The front line has become rather more sophisticated in that area, as crime itself has become more sophisticated. The public think of the front line as the police they see on the street. Very often, the public see the front line in police
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Lord Rosser: Can I be clear: is the Minister saying that the reductions in policing expenditure will not affect the quality and effectiveness of the front line of policing as he has just described it?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: That is our aim and intention. We are looking at how far we can reduce costs by reducing reporting requirements, the time spent in the station, and so on. It will be tough, but we will do what we can. That means slashing the bureaucracy that gets in officers' way. There are a number of reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary; I am sure that noble Lords have seen the two reports on policing in an age of austerity and valuing the police. They show us the direction in which to go. I think the first was commissioned by the previous Government, so I am not being entirely partisan in this respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Condon, introduced me to a phrase with which I was not familiar before-the policing covenant. I am much more familiar with the military covenant. The idea of the policing covenant is very interesting, and I look forward to debating it further. We want a police force that has the confidence of the public and is highly professional but which feels itself to have, in the broadest sense, public confidence. The management of the demonstration yesterday was a good illustration; we all recognise how difficult it is to maintain this balance. I look forward to hearing whatever the noble Lord would like to feed to me on what he has on that very interesting concept.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked about recruitment and accelerated promotion. Recruitment to the police has been affected by the rising proportion of young people going to university. Many of my children's friends have gone to university with the intention of joining the police and have then done so as graduates. That is part of the way in which the police themselves are changing.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the question of police pay and the report of the Winsor review. This is not an easy issue. The Government are committed to maintaining the current settlement until its completion. After 2011, however, the Government intend that pay across the public sector for civilians should be frozen for two years after the end of the current agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about ethnic representation. I am happy to say that there has been, under the previous Government, a gradual increase at all ranks in the number of ethnic minority police. It is now approaching 5 per cent among the professional and warranted officers. Among special constables, who are volunteers, it is now approaching 10 per cent. Similarly, 25 per cent of full-time police are now female, as are a third of specials.
The noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the concept of a network of policing. I have already said that we see ourselves resisting further police mergers but encouraging closer co-operation in specialised units and the sharing of facilities wherever possible. The Home Office business plan sets out that, with a national crime agency, police forces will be encouraged to network as closely as possible. Collaboration is the way forward.
We all recognise the vital importance of this topic. Domestic order is the basis for a stable democratic society. Public confidence in how the police maintain that public order is vital, and civic engagement with the police is the basis for a stable society. I look forward to many future debates on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on many other aspects of policing. We face a range of future challenges to the maintenance of our borders. I have not mentioned the establishment of a UK police border command, which we will, perhaps, turn to another day. There is the developing use of the internet, with cyberfraud and other matters. There are links to many other themes, such as active citizenship and the greater engagement of the public in taking control of order and anti-social behaviour in their own communities.
We welcome the increase in the number of volunteers from within local communities in recent years. Alongside this, we value enormously the role that professional and highly trained police provide, often in specialised groups, linking across different forces, working through SOCA now and the national crime agency in the future, and working internationally with forces in other states through Europol and Interpol. How best to balance all these competing demands and tasks within a civilian police force is a constant concern to us all. We all appreciate how well our police attempt to do that. We all also understand how difficult a balance it is to strike.
When I saw the list of speakers I was rather alarmed by the small number, but the shortage of numbers has been well outweighed by the quality of the expertise and experience that has been brought to the debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have taken part. I am also grateful to the Minister for the attention he has given to answering the many questions that were raised in the course of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, for convenience I shall refer to the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2010 as the Schedule 7 order; the draft National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Referendum Question, Date of Referendum Etc.) Order 2010 as the referendum order; and the draft National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Limit on Referendum Expenses Etc.) Order 2010 as the expenses order.
The draft referendum and expenses orders make arrangements for a referendum to be held in Wales on further law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales, and the draft Schedule 7 amendment order makes changes to Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, which sets out the subjects on which the Assembly could legislate following a yes vote in a referendum.
The circumstances in which a referendum can be called, and the parameters of the referendum question, have been prescribed in legislation already passed by Parliament-the Government of Wales Act 2006. That Act provides for primary law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales in devolved areas of policy, if and when the people of Wales decide in a referendum that that is what they want.
On 9 February this year, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for a referendum in Wales. When the First Minister wrote to the previous Secretary of State on 17 February giving formal notice of the Assembly's resolution, he triggered the process under the Government of Wales Act 2006 which meant that the Secretary of State had 120 days from the day after receipt of the notification either to lay the draft referendum order or set out the reasons for not doing so.
Following the general election, it fell to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to respond to the Assembly's call within the statutory deadline. This she did on 15 June, confirming that she would lay a draft referendum order as soon as practicable and, as agreed with the First Minister, work towards a referendum in the first quarter of 2011.
The coalition Government have taken seriously our commitment to hold a referendum. Since we have been in office, we have driven forward working with the Welsh Assembly Government and other key stakeholders to ensure that we would deliver on that commitment. There has been good co-operation, showing that the respect agenda continues to work well.
First, I should like to explain the rationale for bringing forward the draft Schedule 7 amendment order, which, I think it is fair to say, is the most technical of the three draft orders before the House this afternoon. Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out the subjects on which the Assembly could legislate following an affirmative vote in a referendum on full law-making powers and the Assembly voting to commence the provisions in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The subjects cover a
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Schedule 7 also lists exceptions and general restrictions to the Assembly's legislative competence. Subjects such as economic policy and social security would remain non-devolved in the event of the schedule coming into force. The Assembly's current powers to legislate are set out in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. The schedule lists these powers as "matters" under 20 fields, which correspond to the subject areas in Schedule 7. Matters have been added to Schedule 5 incrementally in recent years by legislative competence orders-LCOs-and framework powers in Acts of Parliament. The effect of this devolution of powers is that the Assembly can now legislate in relatively specific areas in many of the fields listed in the schedule, but its current powers to legislate are narrow when compared with the range of subjects which would be devolved in the event of a yes vote in the referendum. However, some of the amendments which have been made to Schedule 5 enable the Assembly to legislate on specific issues which go beyond the competence in Schedule 7.
The last order updating Schedule 7 was made in 2007, and there is now a need to update the schedule in advance of the referendum to take account of the powers the Assembly has accrued in recent years. There are three main reasons for making the changes set out in the draft order: first, to make clear the full range of powers which would be devolved to the Assembly in the event of a yes vote; secondly, to ensure that the Assembly would not lose any of its current powers if Schedule 7 comes into force; and, thirdly, to ensure that exceptions to the Assembly's legislative competence accurately reflect the boundaries of the Welsh devolution settlement.
Many of the changes to Schedule 7 made by the draft order insert powers the Assembly currently exercises under Schedule 5. For example, it inserts a new subject on the provision of automatic fire-suppression systems in residential premises, to reflect a matter which is currently included in Schedule 5 and on which the Assembly is currently considering draft legislation. The draft order also amends subjects and exceptions in Schedule 7 to take account of the Assembly's current powers in areas such as waste, educational transport, the protection and well-being of young adults, and trunk road charging schemes.
The draft order inserts a limited number of exceptions to the Assembly's competence, where they relate very clearly to areas which would remain non-devolved following an affirmative vote in the referendum. It also makes some minor and drafting changes to simplify the schedule, update references to other legislation and rectify errors in the original drafting.
The Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place undertook scrutiny of the draft order. The committee concluded that the Government are right to ensure Schedule 7 is amended in advance of the referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly.
The Government worked closely with the Welsh Assembly Government to agree to these changes. The draft order was approved by the National Assembly
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I move on to the two other draft orders, which would make arrangements for a referendum to be held in Wales on further law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales. The draft referendum order consists of 28 articles and six schedules and makes the bulk of the provision relating to the arrangements to hold a referendum on further powers for the National Assembly for Wales. Provisions contained in the 2006 Act and in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 also apply to the referendum, but the draft referendum order is necessary to fill out the detail of the arrangements, including the key provisions on the date of the referendum and the referendum question.
The purpose of the draft expenses order is to specify the limits on spending by those campaigning for a particular outcome in the referendum. Both draft orders are subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. The draft referendum order is an Order in Council which must also be approved by a majority of at least 40 Assembly Members before it can be recommended to Her Majesty in Council. The requisite approval was obtained in an Assembly debate on 9 November.
I turn first to the draft referendum order. The provision that has possibly attracted most attention to date, perhaps not surprisingly, is the referendum question and its preceding statement, as set out in Article 4. There was relative silence before the general election relating to the referendum question. Work had commenced on the drafting of the detailed provisions in the legal instruments. However, at the request of the First Minister, no work had taken place on the key provision within the draft order relating to the question. It is fair to record that in just five weeks following the general election, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales met her statutory obligations, as set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006, reached agreement with the First Minister and referred the question to the Electoral Commission on 23 June.
The commission required 10 weeks to assess the question and report to the Secretary of State. During that time, the commission conducted a thorough assessment of the preamble and question, including carrying out public opinion research, inviting and gathering views from interested parties, including political parties, and seeking advice on both the English and Welsh versions. The commission produced its report on 2 September and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State discussed the findings with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, agreed to the commission's recommended revision of the question and its preamble, and confirmed the legality of the question as set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006. It is my understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, had also indicated his agreement to the decision to use the revised question.
Apart from the referendum question, the other aspect of the proposed referendum which has attracted attention is the date on which it is to be held. Article 3
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The Assembly Government had made a commitment to hold the referendum on or before the Assembly elections in May 2011. In October this year, the First Minister announced that his preferred date was 3 March and asked the Secretary of State to agree to this date. The Secretary of State considered the request and agreed that it was feasible to hold the referendum then. A yes or no vote on 3 March would provide certainty on the extent of the law-making powers available to the Assembly in advance of the Assembly elections on 5 May. It was also believed that a 3 March referendum would put enough distance between the campaigns for the referendum and for the Assembly elections to allow arrangements for both to be administered efficiently. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales considered that the request to hold the referendum separately was reasonable, and agreed to the date.
While the other provisions in the draft referendum order have not attracted much attention, they are none the less important, as they deal with how people can vote in the referendum, and set out the rules for how the referendum will be run by the chief counting officer and local counting officers.
I turn now to voting. All those registered to vote in the Assembly elections will be able to vote in the referendum. Schedules 1 and 2 make provision for absent voters-those who vote by post or by proxy-and for the issue and receipt of such ballot papers. These provisions are similar to those that apply for elections. With regard to the running of the referendum, the provisions relating to the chief counting officer, deputy chief counting officer and counting officers are relevant. The chief counting officer will be the chair of the Electoral Commission. Under Article 9, she must do all such acts and things as may be necessary for effectively conducting the referendum in the manner provided for in the draft order.
A counting officer will be appointed for each voting area in Wales, which will be the same as the local authority area. Under Article 11, the chief counting officer can direct counting officers on how they should discharge their functions relating to the referendum, or direct them to take specified steps to prepare for it. Counting officers must also conduct the referendum in accordance with the detailed rules set out in Schedule 3 to the draft order.
The timing of the count itself is not yet decided. The default position is that the count should take place as soon as reasonably practicable after the close of the poll. However, the chief counting officer may direct that the count should take place on the following
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There are two further points relating to the draft referendum order that I will make briefly. The first relates to the costs of the referendum. While the costs of the Electoral Commission will be met by the coalition Government, all other costs will be met by the Welsh Assembly Government through the Welsh Consolidated Fund. The bulk of these costs are those of the local administration of the referendum by the counting officers. It will therefore be for Welsh Ministers to make an order dealing with the counting officers' fees and charges, subject to the draft referendum order being approved and made by Her Majesty in Council.
Secondly, the commission's report on the intelligibility of the question highlighted the low level of awareness in Wales of the proposed referendum and its subject matter. While of course it will be a matter for the yes and no campaigns to make the case for either vote, there is value in having available an independent and impartial source of information on the subject matter of the referendum. To this end, Article 16 of the draft order provides for the Electoral Commission to take such steps as it thinks appropriate to promote public awareness in Wales of the referendum, its subject matter and how to vote in it. The Government of Wales Act 2006 already gives powers to the Assembly Commission to promote awareness of the system of devolved government, and the commission has launched its Vote 2011 awareness campaign.
The expenses order is a short draft order that sets the spending limits for campaigners who have registered as permitted participants spending more than £10,000, and whose expenditure is therefore subject to regulation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales consulted the Electoral Commission on what those limits should be, as she was required to do under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. She accepted the recommendations, so the spending limits specified in the draft order are as recommended by the commission. Of course, they are set at a significantly lower level than the statutory limits set for a UK-wide referendum campaign. The 2000 Act provides a framework for the referendum and enables the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is run fairly. This draft order varies the time period for individuals and organisations to register with the Electoral Commission and apply to be the lead campaign organisation to campaign for either the yes or no vote by increasing the period to five weeks, taking account of the Christmas and new year holiday period.
This period will be followed by a further two weeks, during which the Electoral Commission will decide whether to appoint a lead organisation for each side. The remaining period of four weeks up to the poll will be for the campaign proper.
Finally, the draft order makes it explicit that media coverage is not to be regarded as a referendum expense, and therefore broadcasters and newspapers need not register as permitted participants in the referendum in Wales.
I hope the House will agree that it is important that these draft orders are approved and that the people of Wales are given the opportunity to vote and have their say in the referendum next March. I commend them to the House.
These orders represent an important milestone on the long devolution road which I and many others have been travelling for a number of years. Therefore, I can say today that I am a very happy traveller, seeing us go one step further along that road.
"We note that the nature of the Welsh devolution settlement is quite different from those relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Schedule 7, in the form it would have after this draft Order was approved, is unlikely to be the last word on the shape and nature of the constitutional arrangements for Wales. We have sought and received assurances that Parliament and the Welsh Affairs Committee will be properly involved in the examination of any future changes to the constitutional arrangements for Wales".
The question to be asked in the referendum, and its timing, have been debated and agreed by the Welsh Assembly, and prior to its drafting the question was subject to significant assessment and revision by the Electoral Commission, as the Minister said. This has now resulted in widespread agreement that the question on the ballot paper is clear and simple to understand.
The date of the referendum has now been agreed. After significant discussion in Wales, it will be held on 3 March 2011-a date that will take us clear of the campaigning period for the Welsh Assembly elections in May. There was concern over holding them on the same day, so it is very good that the referendum will be held on 3 March. However, there may of course be another referendum on the day of the Welsh elections after all.
The order relating to expenses did not need to be approved by the Welsh Assembly. However, it has been subject to scrutiny by the Electoral Commission, whose recommendations were accepted by the Secretary of State for Wales.
The formula for calculating the level of expenses based on the percentage of the vote for each political party is, again, simple and clear, as it is for other permitted participants. That is important as it will enable political parties and other organisations to know what the funding is, as well as ensure that the electorate is fully informed of both the yes and the no campaigns. I think that that information is really needed.
I also welcome the clarification on expenses relating to media coverage, which the Minister mentioned, as there has been some ambiguity about that in the past. It is now clear that such coverage is excluded from declared expenses. In the past, that has been a worry for political parties and those responsible for election returns.
On the order that deals with Schedule 7, if there is a successful yes vote, that part of the Act spells out the full range of subjects over which the Assembly has full legislative competence. The order under debate today is designed to secure that the amended Schedule 7 takes full account of all the changes to the powers of the Welsh Assembly that have been conferred on it by various means since the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This will be a much more effective and less expensive way of legislating across the full extent of the devolved subject areas than the present system of legislative competence orders.
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