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The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, with the leave of the House I would like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my friend the Minister of State for Immigration. The Statement is as follows.
"In June, when the Government announced that they would consult on how to implement a permanent limit on economic migrants, we also said that we would impose an interim limit, until the permanent one took effect. This was to avoid a surge of applications in anticipation of the permanent limit.
The interim limit was given effect through changes to the Immigration Rules which were laid before Parliament and on which an oral Statement was made. On Friday, we received the judgment that the changes announced provide insufficient legal basis for the operation of the interim limit.
The judgment was based on a technical procedural point, known as Pankina grounds. The court decided that this meant more detail about the manner in which
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I would like to make it clear that the judgment of the court was concerned solely with the technicalities of how the interim limits were introduced. It was in no way critical of, or prejudicial to, the Government's policy of applying a limit to economic migration to the United Kingdom, either permanently or on an interim basis.
Tomorrow I will be laying changes to the Immigration Rules which will set out the details the court required. This will enable us to reinstate the interim limits on a clear legal basis. The House will be interested to know that I will also be laying changes to the rules tomorrow to close applications under the tier 1 general route from outside the United Kingdom, as the original level specified on this tier has been reached. I can reassure the House that the policy of using these limits as part of our overall policy of reducing net migration is unchanged. I commend this Statement to the House".
Migration has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to our country, but it is also essential that it is properly controlled for reasons of both economic well-being and social cohesion. Over the past few years, the previous Government put in transitional controls on EU migration; a suspension of unskilled work permits; a tough but flexible points system to manage skilled migration; tighter regulation of overseas students, leading to the closure of 140 bogus colleges; and new citizenship requirements for those seeking settlement.
At the general election, the leader of the Conservative Party proposed to go further in two key respects. First, he proposed a new target to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by 2015. To meet that target he pledged a cap on immigration, which he said would be tougher than the points system. Since then, the Government have been in wholesale retreat.
The Home Affairs Committee and the Migration Advisory Committee have highlighted that the cap not only excludes EU migration but covers only 20 per cent of non-EU migration. The CBI, Chambers of Commerce, universities, UK and foreign companies have highlighted the damage the Government's proposals would have meant for business investment and job creation.
As a result, we have the retreat confirmed by the Home Secretary on 23 November. We have also learnt of the funding cuts in the noble Baroness's department, leading to the cutting of the number of border officers and staff by nearly a quarter, raising serious questions about the security of our borders and whether the Government's policy can actually be implemented.
We come to the way in which the Home Secretary imposed the cap. On 28 June, the Home Secretary came to the other place to announce, without consultation, an immediate and temporary cap on non-EU migration. Details of this cap were then posted on the Home Office website, but not presented to Parliament. On Friday, the High Court ruled that the actions of the Home Secretary were in fact illegal. Lord Justice Sullivan said,
In the light of this chaotic situation, on the consequences of the error, what is the status of those who applied under the illegal cap but were rejected? Will their applications now be granted? Can the Minister tell the House how many more migrants she now expects to enter the UK, while the cap is out of action? And in this light, is it still the target of this Government to cut net migration to tens of thousands by 2015, as the Prime Minister pledged before the election? Or is this mistake one reason why the Home Secretary is now trying to water down this target to just an aim?
Secondly, how did we get into this mess in the first place? Did Ministers ask for and receive legal advice before the summer about the legality of the temporary cap and the rushed way they were introducing it? Can she confirm that, in fact, Ministers were warned by officials and lawyers that there was a real risk of legal challenge if Parliament were bypassed in this way? Will the Minister agree to lay before Parliament all the legal advice on which the decision to proceed was based in order to dispel the impression that they have acted in a reckless and chaotic manner and to show that Home Office Ministers have nothing to hide in this regard?
Baroness Neville-Jones: I am extremely glad to hear that noble Lords opposite can agree that migration into this country needs to be controlled. The problem is that it is insufficiently controlled. The Government remain attached to their target of controlling migration down to levels of the tens of thousands that we had at the beginning of this century.
It is not clear to me how the noble Lord gets the idea that the Government are in "wholesale retreat". Let me give him an example of the way in which the Government are most certainly not in wholesale retreat. In the Statement, it was announced that we were closing the applications for the limit on tier 1 general. This is because the limit of 5,100 has already been reached. Had we gone on at the same rate, we would have had a higher level of migration under that tier; it would probably be roughly double what it was last year. We do not consider that an acceptable rate of migration, and we have therefore closed that category. So it is not at all clear to me that we are in "wholesale retreat".
Of course, we have yet to see the statement and the judgment in writing. It would be unwise of me to go too far until we have seen that. What seems to be clear is that the court was critical of the decision to put the cap limit into the guidance, rather than into the rules. I am not aware that there are further problems. Did the Home Office take legal advice on the matter? Yes, it did. Are the Government going to publish that legal advice? No, the previous Government did not do so, and we are not going to do so either.
Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, I express two declarations of interest. My first is as the chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research. I made a speech in your Lordships' House some weeks ago expressing my severe misgivings about aspects of the Government's policy, in which I said that that policy, as it stands at present, is preventing eminent international scientific researchers from entering this country. That is clearly an unintended consequence-yet another example of some of the unintended consequences that have streamed from Whitehall during the past few weeks.
My second declaration of interest is as a former business manager in the other House and as a member of the Legislation Committee for seven years. The notion that this is a technical oversight is not true; it is a kindergarten error. I cannot recall in my time on the Legislation Committee, or as a business manager in the other place, anyone overlooking the parliamentary procedure to which my noble friend refers.
Some weeks ago I had a meeting with the Minister of State at the Home Office in which I set out my views on the unintended consequences of his actions, and he promised to write to me. I have still not heard back from him-perhaps this is an intended consequence of our meeting. Will my noble friend please assure me that in future these errors will not be committed by the Home Office and will she give me further reassurance that she will have a word with Ministers in the Home Office to ensure that between now and April, when these matters come into permanent effect, they will look seriously at the misgivings that some of us have expressed about their policy over the past few weeks?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I say two things to my noble friend. First, he said that this was a kindergarten error, but we actually took legal advice. On his second, more substantive point, perhaps he missed my honourable friend the Immigration Minister's announcement that, when the permanent scheme comes into effect, it will not necessarily be precisely the same as the interim structure. We are consulting on that structure and listening to what people have said. One of the changes that have already been announced is that we will create a category for international talent-people whom this country badly needs. I hope that my noble friend's anxieties on that score are somewhat alleviated by the Government's willingness to listen to the points that are being made to us.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the press reported Friday's judgment as Parliament having been insufficiently consulted, which seems a reasonable précis of the
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I would like to try to find a positive in this. During the period in which the cap has applied, whether properly or not, have the Government been able to take any comments or details from employers or indeed employees from particular sectors that will feed into decisions about the permanent limits? When the Minister gave evidence to the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee earlier this year, she said that the Government would keep the interim limits under constant review to assess whether they were meeting the objectives outlined and, indeed, that they would monitor any unintended consequences.
Baroness Neville-Jones: The judgment that the court has arrived at indicates that we ought to have formulated the rules differently and the consequence of that is that we stand accused of not having consulted Parliament adequately on that point. I might say that that was not done with any intention to obviate our obligations to the legislature; this was laid out before Parliament in good faith. We felt that one of the ways in which it would be helpful to have greater flexibility when putting in the interim arrangements was to have the figure in the guidance so that it would be easy, in the light of the kind of consultation that we wished to conduct, to carry numbers over from one month to the next. I have to say that, in putting the figures into the rules, as no doubt we will now do, there will be greater rigidity in the arrangements that have to be arrived at.
The noble Baroness asked two other questions. One was whether we would consult on the changes to the new rules. Our obligation in this instance is to get ourselves into conformity with the judgment and I hope therefore that there will be no argument about what we do. She also asked whether we had listened to employers from particular sectors. The answer is that we have been consulting extremely widely and in all sectors.
Baroness Neville-Jones: As I said, my Lords, the object of the Statement tomorrow will be to get us into conformity, as we understand it, with the judgment. Then, when we see the judgment in writing, if we need to make further changes in the light of that, we will certainly do so. It is not clear to me how much clearer I can be on the question of the nature of the rigidity introduced by the cap. There is complex drafting involved in putting a limit in the rules to give us the ability then to change it, which is why the Government decided, in order to retain flexibility, that we would keep the limit in the guidance.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that new controls over migration are of limited value unless there is effective border control over those
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Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I am not clear quite how relevant the points that my noble friend has just made are to this debate. Most of the people coming in, except for a very small number, are sponsored to this country, so it will not be difficult to know when they are moving-their employers will not be able to have a new person in, in the absence of being able to demonstrate that those who previously had that sponsorship have left.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, if I understood the Minister correctly, she said that the Government will be involving the other place in the proposed changes to be announced tomorrow. Will there be a similar process whereby this House can be involved with those changes?
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, it is not the intention of the Government that we question but the fact that this has bypassed the scrutiny of Parliament, which was precisely what the judgment was all about. May I ask the Minister about something that is still not clear? She mentioned that a Statement would be made tomorrow. Are we expecting a Statement or are we expecting changes in the rules for the interim cap? Either way, will we have the opportunity in Parliament to debate or at least to comment on the changes to the rules?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Statement will deal with the changes in the rules. Perhaps I should take this opportunity to say that the rules will then change immediately-that is to say, the rule change will be commenced immediately to rectify tier 2. Also, as was contained in the Statement, the Government will be closing tier 1 on 23 December. As a result of these timetable changes, it will not be possible to meet the 21-day convention for laying rules, but we will write to the Merits Committee about that matter.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, if the object of the Government's policy is to reduce net migration, is not her noble friend's question about numbers of people leaving the country extremely relevant and should not that therefore be taken into consideration?
Baroness Neville-Jones: Hundreds of thousands of people leave the country. This is normal travel. Among that number are those who are here on some kind of
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Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, the Government are right to recognise the concern that the population at large has on the number of immigrants coming into the United Kingdom. The present cap, however, applies only to non-EU countries-presumably that includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand. There is also increasing concern at the number of immigrants coming from within the European Union, which will increasingly become a political problem in the United Kingdom. Are the Government avoiding that issue simply because they are members of the European Union and can do nothing about it?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, we are members of the European Union and there are obligations for free movement of labour within the European Union. The noble Lord is right to say that we honour our obligations.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, would my noble friend suggest that somebody in the Home Office should advertise on the internet on one of the job vacancy websites such as Gumtree and see who answers the advertisement? She would find, as I have found, that a large number of the applications would come from people who have student visas-I am glad to see the noble and learned Baroness over there, because she has had experience of getting caught on this, as I very nearly did-and that many of them, when one replies and asks for their immigration status, disappear very smartly. There are masses of people coming into this country seeking work illegally, so does the Minister not agree that the suggestion of my noble friend of having exit checks would be one way of finding out whether those who are admitted, for example as students, ever leave the country at all? Also, surely she agrees that it would be extremely foolish for the Government to set the precedent of publishing, as has been requested, the legal advice given to Ministers in confidence. That would not be the way of ensuring that Ministers receive blunt, honest and open legal advice in future.
Baroness Neville-Jones: On my noble friend's last point, the Government are clear that we are not going to publish the legal advice that we get, for precisely the reason that he has stated. Such advice needs to be given in confidence by our advisers in the knowledge that it will not subsequently be made public.
On my noble friend's other points, I entirely agree that there are a number of people who try to take up work illegally in this country. It is precisely that practice that the Government want to end. This is why we are
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Lastly, on the point of external immigration checks, the Government are aware of the concern on this issue and they are, indeed, going to bring in these exit checks. There are problems related to the contract which the previous Government negotiated and which we have had to end. That means that we have to find other ways of bringing in that exit check, but we will do so as early as we are able to. I have given my noble friend who asked the question earlier an estimate of when we are going to be able to do this. If we could do it earlier, we certainly would.
Lord Richard: My Lords, could the noble Baroness help me? Did I hear right? The consultation with Parliament is to be by means of a Statement in the other House. That Statement is to be a declaration rather than consultation with that House. We do not know yet whether it will be taken in this House and, if it is taken in this House, we do not know what consultation there will be in this House. In any case, it is going to happen tomorrow and the Government are proposing to renounce-if that is the right word-the 21-day rule. Is that really the position that the Government are taking in order to satisfy the Court of Appeal? If it is, the Court of Appeal may still be interested.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I think that the Court of Appeal would expect the Government to rectify their position as soon as they are able to. As for the noble Lord's other point, as I have said, that is a matter for the usual channels.
Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, with permission, may I come to the assistance of my noble friend? Unless I am very much mistaken, the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is, "Yes, they have to". If they did not do so, there would be difficult consequences for the Government.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Government of Scotland have expressed a view to the Government of the United Kingdom concerning this. It is a matter on which they have expressed a different view from that of the Government of the United Kingdom. Have the Government of the United Kingdom not had some discussions with them in relation to it?
Baroness Neville-Jones: As I said, I am not entirely able to answer that question. Perhaps I may add one point for the information of the House. The Statement tomorrow will be a Written Ministerial Statement and it will be open to your Lordships' House to pray against this matter if it should wish to.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I apologise for my eagerness to get on with the House's consideration of the Bill. I know we have a lot of work to do and that the House is eager to do it. With this amendment, to which my noble friend Lord Bach and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer have appended their names and added a complementary amendment, we come to the political heart of the Bill. This is the buckle that ties together the two bits of the Bill-the AV referendum on the one hand and the reduction of MPs and redrawing of constituency boundaries on the other. The first bit is the fervent wish of the Lib Dem partners in the coalition; the second is the fervent wish of the Conservative partners in the coalition.
Before I explain why I believe that to be misguided, I will get my retaliation in first to an intervention that I would otherwise expect. My objection is not to both measures being in one Bill. I know that there is a case to be made that the Government I supported included many more than two measures in their Constitutional Reform and Governance Act before the general election. It is interesting to speculate about what the full purpose of that Bill was since it clearly could not pass before the general election. Partly, no doubt, we felt that the wise British people would be very appreciative of all the proposals that we were putting forward, but we were particularly interested in the reaction of the Liberal Democrats. We realised that we might have to form some kind of agreement with them after a general
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I will pass swiftly on. What I object to is not that the two measures appear in one Bill but that they are conditional. They enter the concept of conditionality into our legislation. You can only do the one if you do the other, too. This seems wholly wrong. Either these two proposals-the AV referendum and the constituency redrawing-are justified on their individual merits or they are not. There can be no case whatever for saying, "We'll only do one if we do the other", in logic or constitutional parlance, although we understand the political realities of this. It says a lot about the nature of the coalition and, in particular, the atmosphere in which it was formed. This stuff is here because the two coalition partners, when they were negotiating their agreement, did not trust each other. They could see that there was a grubby deal to be made.
The Lib Dems could make some headway on electoral reform. They did not want AV and there was a system they liked more but they understood the realities. The Tories were trying to change the number of constituencies and their boundaries so that they won more seats at the next general election. The deal that was made between them was that they would do both. Because one proposition was likely to lead to fewer Conservative seats and one to more Conservative seats, they decided to bung them together-all that I understand. What is sad, and does not increase one's confidence in the long-term viability of the coalition, is that the parties so distrusted each other that they wanted it incorporated into legislation in the subsection before the House at the moment.
This is a more political speech than I would like to make in Committee but this is a political clause. We have to understand it. Some bits of the Bill are technical. We will come to those and deal with them in a technical way but this is a political clause. My next observation about this provision is that it says a lot about the balance of power within the coalition. The Lib Dems did not say, "Our condition for giving you the boundary changes that suit you is that we get the electoral system that suits us". They feebly said, "Our condition for your getting the boundary changes you want is that we get not AV but a go at AV through a referendum". However, if the referendum is lost, which, as a strong supporter of AV, I hope it will not be, the Conservatives can still have their boundary changes and reduce the number of MPs.
We will come to the substance of the case about the number of MPs later in our debates. Suffice it to say that no case of merit has yet been put forward for reducing the size of the House of Commons. It may be that there is such a case to be made-I look forward to Ministers developing it-but we have not heard a word about it yet. So far we have just heard the Government admit that they got a figure straight out of the air and incorporated it into a Bill. We have seen no case made-not for greater constituency equalisation, which I would grant-for the figure of 5 per cent
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The suspicion must be that the measures in Part 2 of the Bill are entirely designed for the sole purpose of increasing the number of Conservative seats at the next general election. If the Government can produce a statistical analysis from a reputable team of psephologists that says that it will not have that effect, the House will be delighted to see and discuss it. However, I say with no little confidence that they will not be able to do that because the effects are as I have described them.
I do not want to detain the House for too long on this but my third point is about how much the Government must regret the need to link these two measures. How sorry they must be. In any sensible world, if it is true that the coalition wants the referendum to take place on 5 May 2011, it would have introduced two separate pieces of legislation. There would have been one on the alternative vote, which might well have concluded its stage in your Lordships' House if not tonight then in the first session in the new year, after the good examination that we have given it. The Government could then go ahead with the AV referendum. They could then take a more measured approach to the constituencies bit of the Bill. They could even have allowed it to be subject to some measure of joint scrutiny, without prejudicing their timetable to get it into effect by the next election. They could have allowed, as we propose later in the Bill, that there should be some conference-a royal commission or Speaker's Conference-on the number of MPs to take a rational view as to what should happen. That consideration could have moved in parallel to your Lordships' House considering the AV bit of the Bill.
Where are we? Your Lordships have an awful lot of the Bill to consider as yet. We are to do so against the looming timetable; the Electoral Commission has made clear when it requires the Bill to be passed to allow the campaign for 5 May to occur on an orderly path. We are struggling to meet this wholly artificial timetable, imposed by the Government solely because of the political deal that they have done and the fact that neither party trusts the other to abide by its words.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: Is it not even worse, from the Liberal Democrat point of view, that they are clearly not very good negotiators? The deal that has emerged is wholly lopsided, as the chances are that their part of the deal-they wanted AV-will not happen and therefore they will have nothing to show for it at the end of the day.
Lord Campbell-Savours: They would have something to say if the amendment that I tabled was accepted. I have tabled an amendment that would be extremely helpful to the Liberal Democrats on that very issue.
Lord Lipsey: When we table amendments from this side of the House we do not consider their partisan impact; we merely consider their impact on the constitution of this country. I am sure that if my noble friend's amendment meets that test, it will be given proper and due consideration by the House.
In moving this amendment I give the Government and the House an opportunity to say that each of the two propositions-the AV proposition and the number of MPs/seats proposition-should have separate consideration. They should be taken on their constitutional merits as a whole and treated in that way. I deeply regret, and what is more I believe that the Government will have reason deeply to regret, that the reality of the way in which they have chosen to proceed will make consideration of the issues on their merits more difficult for the House.
Lord Bach: I will speak to both amendments. The first is in the name of my noble friend Lord Lipsey, who has moved it so ably, and the second is in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Clause 8(1)(b) is an astonishing paragraph of this Bill. It is very remarkable. It was overlooked in debates in the other place, which perhaps makes it all the more important that we debate it properly in this House and in this Committee.
Clause 8 informs the Minister what to do following the result of the referendum being announced. If more votes in the referendum are cast in favour of the answer yes than in favour of the answer no, the Minister must make an order that brings into force provisions to change our voting system for elections to the House of Commons from first past the post to this type of alternative vote system. However, that is not the end of it. An affirmative result in the referendum is not sufficient according to the Bill. The changes in the boundaries detailed in Part 2 of the Bill, particularly in Clause 10, must also have taken place before the alternative vote system can take effect.
In Committee last Monday the Committee was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord McNally, tell the House that he and the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, were joined at the hip on this Bill. I wondered what it is that joins them at the hip on this Bill. I now believe it sincerely to be Clause 8(1)(b) that joins them thus. It has been clear from the introduction of this Bill that this clause is the glue that holds the Government together. Part 1 of the Bill, as was said at Second Reading, is clearly and plainly the Liberal Democrat part of the deal. However AV may have been described by their leader in the past, the Liberal Democrats have decided that it is worth the candle and that it is best not to go searching for some sort of proportional representation, or certainly not at the moment.
Part 2, which we will come to in due course, slashes the House of Commons by 50 Members of Parliament, from 650 to 600, with all the consequences for the quality of representation. It redraws every constituency boundary according to a rigid mathematical formula, and that is the Conservative part of the deal. The
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This Bill is the coalition agreement in miniature. It is vital for both sides to get their parts of the bargain. I assume that is why noble Lords on the government Benches, those who represent both parties that make up the coalition and whom one might have expected to speak out more on various elements of the Bill, have been so-I was going to say well behaved but perhaps quiet is the better word. As the high point of the coalition agreement, this Bill, and specifically Clause 8(1)(b) and Clause 8(3), accurately demonstrates the inequity, mentioned by my noble friend mentioned a moment ago, of the deal bartered out over those famous five days in May, about which so many books have already been written-and how many more can we expect? As it stands, even if 99 per cent of the population were to vote in favour of changing the Westminster voting system to this version of AV, this change could not come about until the Secretary of State had laid before Parliament the reports of the boundary commissions and a draft Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations contained in the reports of the boundary commissions.
We know, or we will soon find out, that Part 2 of this Bill is controversial in itself, as was clear in the debates in the other place and from the lobbying that we have all received all the way from academia to the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign. The intended rules to redraw the constituency boundaries are unpopular, not least because they subjugate the sensible and logical needs to acknowledge community ties and geography when formulating constituencies.
It is not beyond possibility that the boundary changes detailed in Clause 10 are delayed or altered in some way. What then for the alternative vote? What then if, for example, a large majority has voted for AV? Is that result of that referendum simply to be ignored? As the Bill stands, it seems to say yes to that question. Why did the Minister's party accept this? Why did it not insist at the very least in writing a reverse bind into the Bill? We support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lipsey.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My noble friends Lord Bach and Lord Lipsey have made me think about one slightly wider aspect that really troubles me and which should trouble Conservative Members opposite. My noble friend Lord Bach has just outlined how we face a major change in the electoral system for the House of Commons and a major boundary revision being rushed through without appeal. In addition, we are to get a Bill for a fixed-term Parliament, which we still have to discuss, which again is a major change for the
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Instincts. I thank my former boss-the former Secretary of State for Scotland-who always chooses the right word for me. However, it seems astonishing that Conservative Members can face this situation with equanimity.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My noble friend has only just begun to touch on the scale of the changes that are impetuously and dangerously being rushed through Parliament. We also have the European Union Bill, which will lead to a proliferation of referendums every time there is a possibility of some shift of power between Brussels and London. We have the Localism Bill, which will turn local government absolutely upside down and will, in many ways, eviscerate it. This Government are extraordinarily reckless.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Reckless is the word for it. As my noble friend Lord Bach was talking, I was sitting here and considering what the common factor was behind all this. It is the Deputy Prime Minister. I must choose my words carefully, but I do not think that he thinks in British terms. He thinks in terms of continental European constitutions and is moving our constitution inexorably towards some kind of continental European constitution, with fixed-term Parliaments, a different electoral system, and changing the composition of the second Chamber-all of this. Okay, that is the agenda, but is it a Conservative agenda? Is it one that all my friends on the Conservative Benches really feel in their guts, in their blood, their water or their instincts? Some of them are my friends-there are only three on the Back Benches at the moment but there were quite a few earlier. I am sorry, there are more; there are five of them. I missed the two distinguished Members perching in the corner. Do they really want this country to go that way?
Someone is shaking his head almost imperceptibly, but I can see it. I know that I am going well beyond the terms of the amendment. If someone with the powers of a Speaker of the House of Commons was in the chair, they would be drawing my attention to it. However, this is relevant, because we are going down a road which is really troubling me and should be troubling Members opposite even more.
Lord Deben: My Lords, I wonder whether it is possible for us to imagine the state of mind of those on the other side who, having suggested AV, now consider this to be evidence of a plot. They themselves recognised that we should have a system whereby constituencies should be at least more or less the same size, which was why they stopped-it was they who
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Is it not also a Conservative principle to suggest that the public might make their own choices in these circumstances? It happens to be a Conservative principle with which I disagree. I do not believe in referenda and I never have believed in them. However, it is very curious that noble Lords opposite suggest there is something intrinsically un-Conservative in having a referendum. I do not understand that at all. There is something deeply wrong in referenda, but that does not mean that people who believe in them could not be Conservative.
Why are Labour Members making such a fuss about this matter? Could it possibly be that they are seeking with some real difficulty to find reasons why they should spend as much time as possible discussing these matters? I do not want to help them in that, so I will finish by saying one simple thing. I came to this House expecting and finding that there was, in many cases, a degree of quality in debate unfound in my 35 years in the House of Commons. I am very sad to find that during these recent Bills, those who have experience of the House of Commons and those who have been press-ganged into the little battle have used all the techniques which brought and bring the other House into such disrepute. I am very sorry that yet again on this Bill we have lowered ourselves to doing the kinds of things which are done elsewhere. It is a pity that we cannot look back on our traditions, even for someone as newly hatched as myself, and raise the standards again.
Lord Bach: Perhaps the noble Lord can help me. It is really just information that I seek. He says that it was the Labour Government who changed the rules to make it not possible for more rural seats to have a smaller electorate. I should be grateful if he could give us chapter and verse on that. As I understand them, the rules we work under now were passed under a Conservative Government in 1986 of which I think he was almost certainly a distinguished and leading member. We actually believe that those rules are well worth preserving.
Lord Deben: Perhaps I may reply to that. The change to the sparsity rules, continued in the 1986 arrangements, was brought in by the Labour Government, who argued that it was unfair that some constituents, because there was a smaller number of them in a constituency, would have a bigger vote than other constituents. All that is happening in this Bill is that we are repeating to the Labour Party something which it has long forgotten.
Lord Deben: I do not believe that I get upset as easily as the noble Lord thinks. All that I believe is true is that we tried for a consensus. What is happening now is the correction of a deeply offensive fact that some constituents have a much smaller vote than others, because of the retention of very small constituencies which ought not to be there.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I am very surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is suggesting that the debates so far on the Bill have not been appropriate. If he reads Hansard, he will see that contributions from all around the House have been thoughtful, succinct and related to entirely appropriate matters that Parliament ought to be thinking about. I put it to him that the cynicism of the motivation of the coalition in yoking, as they have, the two main components of the Bill together is a sore provocation to us and might have tempted some of us to engage in wrecking tactics. The fact that we have not done so reflects very well on us.
Lord Soley: I do not want to follow the line pursued by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, because it sounds to me like he was embarking on a filibuster in debating party political issues. I simply say to him that if he is worried about traditions-and he ought to be worried about them-one of the traditions he should remember is that it is particularly important that you do not drive through major constitutional changes without a large measure of agreement between the parties. One of those changes relates to the size of the House of Commons. As the noble Lord will know, if you act as an international observer at elections overseas, one thing that you note is who decides the size of the Parliament and how they decide it. If the Government decide it without the consent of opposition parties, you usually mark the election down. However, that is another matter that we shall pursue at a later stage. The Minister will recognise the filibuster by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who has long experience of doing that. From my experience in the House of Commons, he was one of the people who got a reputation for filibustering there.
I have a particular question for the Minister raised by this amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. It came to my mind when my noble friend Lord Bach was speaking. My noble friend mentioned the important issue of the commission having to report first. The Minister will know that there is an agreement whereby Orkney and Shetland and, I believe, the Western Isles have already been accorded special status. He will also know that there is very strong pressure from the Member for the Isle of Wight-a Conservative Member-and all the major political parties representing the councils on the Isle of Wight to be treated in the same way as the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland. He will also be aware that there is a major campaign in Cornwall for Cornwall to be treated in a way that recognises its historic-and, I should add, traditional, to keep the noble Lord, Lord Deben, happy-boundaries. My question to the Minister is this: if there is a legal challenge based on the fact that Cornwall and the Isle of Wight have not been accorded the same conditions
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Lord Anderson of Swansea: Indeed, if there were to be such a challenge, perhaps I may make the case on behalf of Ynys Môn, otherwise known as the Isle of Anglesey, where there is a similar situation and which is clearly a compact, single constituency. If the Isle of Wight were to issue a challenge, I do not know whether the representatives of Ynys Môn would do the same. Clearly, if there were such a challenge, it would be likely to be at least prima facie justiciable. It would therefore very likely take some time and the Government's timetable would be knocked sideways.
My main point during this brief intervention is that I am perhaps the last person to lecture the opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on the principles of Conservatism. However, I should have thought that one of those principles would be a respect for the constitution-a broadening down from precedent to precedent. The great Conservative thinkers, be they Burke, Hailsham or Oakeshott at the LSE, have all adhered to an enormous respect for the accumulated wisdom of the ages and have therefore had a certain unwillingness to go full steam ahead in changing structures for their own sake. The point has been well made by my noble friends Lord Foulkes and Lord Howarth that this seems to be an enormous bundle of changes, many of them ill thought-through and ill digested.
Finally, another Conservative principle which, again, perhaps is not honoured on this occasion is respect for the wisdom of Parliament. One conclusion that I have reached in listening to this debate is that there seems to be no willingness on the part of the government Front Bench to listen and to modify their position in the light of arguments that have been adduced. I do not think that I have ever come across a case where the juggernaut of the coalition has moved at such a pace, is so deaf to the quality of the arguments that have been raised and is unwilling to make any concession at all. I say with all humility that I cannot see the coalition Government gaining from this if they act in a traditionally non-Conservative spirit which wholly ignores the quality of the contributions not only from this side but in excellent speeches from the Cross Benches. They may well live to regret the attitude that they have taken to this Bill, and I hope it is not a precedent for other Bills that come before this Parliament.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I shall be even more brief than my noble friend who has just spoken. I shall not be bullied or harassed by the tetchiness shown by the
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Lord McAvoy: Surely not. That could not possibly be the case on the other side of the Chamber. I shall get to my point. One evening last week, I spoke on this very important Bill for two periods of about two minutes each and then for a third time for about five or six minutes, making 10 minutes in total, so I do not think that I can be accused of filibustering and so on. I was involved as much as anybody and the only House of Commons attitude that I see in this House is a capacity of Governments of both kinds, Labour and Conservative-because it is an elected House and that is fair enough-to ram Bills through with strict timetables and so on. Here, the Government are trying to ram through an important constitutional change without any regard to the views that are put forward, and they are getting very annoyed because people want to make and answer points. If they do not answer them, they will be on record as never having answered. I genuinely do not believe that there is any filibustering going on here. If the noble Lord had been here more often, he would have heard the wide range of different views on this side of the Chamber on these very matters. Therefore, he should be a bit fairer about this.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I hope that my noble friend will not feel constrained in developing his points at whatever length he considers appropriate. After all, this Bill had no pre-legislative consultation, it was not consulted upon with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, which have a vital interest in the provisions of the Bill, and it was programmed in the House of Commons, so very important parts of it were not considered in Committee or on Report there. Therefore, I think that we have a responsibility to examine it closely and I am very glad that my noble friend is doing so.
Lord McAvoy: My noble friend is absolutely right. I am not going to repeat all the points that have been made but shall leave it at that. However, I am certainly not going to allow attacks such as those to stay on the record without being refuted, despite the annoyance of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness.
Lord Rooker: I shall make a brief response to the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I was not intending to speak in this debate but I have three points to make, one of which he will not know. Until two years ago, I had served as a Minister for eight years on the Front
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My other two brief points are these. I have been here on this Bill virtually every day, missing only a couple of hours one day, because I just happen to be interested. I do not agree with everything that is happening, as I will make clear in a moment. I have taken several Bills through this House, and in no Committee stage in which I was involved was I aware of ever being forced to say, or of agreeing to say, to the House, "I will take it away and think about it"; or of saying, "I will take that part of this argument away, think about it, and then promise to come back on Report". If you cannot make a change of rule, you come back openly, having looked at it in the department. Not once, as far as I know, in these debates in six days has any Minister ever said, "A good idea, or maybe a good idea, and we will take that away. There might be something we can do. It does not wreck the Bill, and it may add to things".
Lord Bach: There was one occasion, probably in the two hours that the noble Lord was not here, when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, promised to take one item away, but the point that my noble friend makes is a good one.
The other point is that there was talk about the previous elections and, to be honest, on this issue concerning equality of constituencies I agree 100 per cent with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. There is nothing between us. If you are going to have one person one vote in a constituency-based system, you have to have the constituencies as near as damn it the same size. This was argued out years ago in the 1970s. I can remember there was an argument at a boundary inquiry. I even remember the late Denis Howell lecturing us and saying, "Look, we might argue for smaller seats in the inner areas because our workload is greater, there is deprivation and there are all the other issues. On the other hand, you have to balance that against the massive distances that country members have to travel. It is different". What is important is the number people who are voting for one parliament.
Frankly, if you look at the history and take the trouble to read or listen to John Curtice, you will see that Labour lost the 2005 election. I know the arithmetic says we came back with a majority of 66 but, if you look at all the facts and stats that came out, the writing was on the wall then simply because of the way
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The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, following that welcome note from the unforgettable noble Lord, Lord Rooker-and I will be returning to what he said a moment ago about the fairness of equality of votes-I first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, who thought in some way I was irritated. Far from it-I just did not realise that he was getting up and I got up to speak at the same time, but I deferred to him because he wanted to interest us in what he had to contribute to this part of our discussions.
I am tempted to speculate, as my noble friend Lord Deben invited me, on the mindset of noble Lords opposite. However, on this occasion I will try and resist temptation because it might take us down further highways and byways. I pause to observe that it might be difficult to do so because while on the one hand some noble Lords from the Labour Benches have indicated that the coalition agreement was to the disadvantage of the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, indicated that was a threat to the Conservative Party and its view of constitutional reform.
I also want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who thought that perhaps the pace of constitutional reform was too much. He was, of course, a member of a Government-and I pay huge tribute to them-who by this equivalent stage in their first term had had a referendum on their programme for devolution for Scotland and Wales, and then introduced legislation on freedom of information and some reform to this House, and passed the Human Rights Act which put forward proportional representation for the European elections. I just regret that they ran out of steam when it came to implementing their election manifesto promise on a referendum on the electoral system, or we might have been able to avoid some of these discussions.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that, in relation to the referendum and the legislation establishing the Scottish Parliament, there was not just pre-legislative debate; there was a whole constitutional convention which he and I were part of, which discussed the whole set-up, including the electoral system? It was discussed almost ad nauseam to get a consensus, not rushed and pushed through in this way.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: As my noble friend, Lord Strathclyde, said earlier, people have been talking about electoral reform for years and years. Indeed, it is less than 12 months since the Government which he supported brought forward their own proposals for a referendum on the alternative vote, so it has had plenty of exposure.
It is important that we address the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, proposed some time ago and which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, indicated, this was part of the coalition agreement, and it is worth recalling that back in those days in May this year, it was very clear that no party had won the election. Indeed, given the instability in world markets at the time and the potential political instability which could be fed by that, my own party, the Liberal Democrats, came to an agreement with the Conservative Party to form a coalition Government to bring, I believe, much needed stability at a very crucial time.
There were several issues in that agreement with regard to constitutional reform and the coalition's programme for government made a clear commitment to both the issues involved in this Bill-a referendum on the alternative vote and a boundary review to ensure a reduction of the House of Commons and equality of value of votes in constituencies. It was the Government's view that both issues should be tackled and implemented together, and we have never made any secret of that particular fact.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble and learned Lord must have been privy to some of these negotiations. Why was it in those negotiations that the Liberal Democrats did not demand from the Conservatives that the question in the referendum went wider than one system? Why did they not ask for a multiquestion to be placed on the referendum ballot paper?
The book from Selsdon suggests that Gordon Brown offered it to the Liberal Democrats, so surely there was a basis on which they could have asked the same from the Conservative element in the coalition.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: It was the late Lord Butler who said, and no doubt he was not the first, that politics is the art of the possible. All I can say is that, casting one's mind back, agreeing to a referendum on the alternative vote was a huge move on the part of the Conservative Party. Indeed, together with other elements, it formed part of the basis for the coalition agreement. Speculating about other voting systems does not take us much further. This is what was agreed and this is what provided the basis of the stable Government which we formed in May of this year.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Does he not understand that the Conservative element in the coalition would not have backed down if the Liberal Democrats had asked for it; it would not have blocked an agreement being made; and, in fact, they were walked over during the course of the negotiations?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am interested that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, seems to have greater insight into what the Conservative Party would do than the Conservative Party itself seems to have.
Lord Howarth of Newport: This is the third time the noble and learned Lord has put forward the claim that the coalition exists to provide stability for this country. Why, then, this Maoist approach to the British constitution?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: As I do not recognise the allegation that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, has made, I am not really in a position to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has identified that these two are linked together. He went on to argue that it was not the Liberal Democrats who got the better of the deal. He made the point that if there is a no vote in the referendum, the boundary proposals still go through. If there was a no vote-as I hope not, and our parties in the collation are agreed about what the outcome of the referendum should be-as a Liberal Democrat, I do not think I could ignore the view of the people. It would be wrong. If the people vote no, I expect that my colleagues will accept it.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, made a point about fairness and the equality of constituencies. He said that that is a Conservative principle, and I am sure he would claim that it is not unique to the Conservative Party because the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, endorsed it, and I have no difficulty in accepting that as a principle. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord McNally has said on a number of occasions, this Bill is about fair votes and fair boundaries. It shows that the two are, in fact, linked. It shows how the two will be linked because it will shape the way in which the other place will be elected in 2015.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: Will the noble and learned Lord also address the question of indecent haste and the fact that there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny? Is he aware, for example, that in Wales, the Welsh Assembly seats are based on 40 existing Welsh parliamentary seats and 20 proportional representation seats? Had they bothered to consult the Welsh Assembly, they would have been told of the substantial implications for the electoral system in Wales arising from the way in which the Welsh constituencies will be reduced from 40 to 30.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: That is similar to the changes that occurred in Scotland after the noble Lord's Government, which he supported, reduced the number of Scottish Members in the House of Commons from 72 to 59 when Scotland had 73 first past the post seats and 28 seats. I am not sure whether he objected when that legislation was brought before this House back in 2005 or 2006, but I hear his point. When we come to that part of the Bill, I have no doubt whatever that there will be discussions on the subject of Wales and the Isle of Wight.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked whether a boundary review could be judicially reviewed. I remind the House that the question of hybridity was raised at the first stage of the proceedings on this Bill in this House and was rejected. Indeed, the position is that the Boundary Commissions can be judicially reviewed. It is our hope that they will not be and that there will be no grounds
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Lord Soley: I am very grateful for that answer. Can the Minister get the advice of the legal officers of the Government and write to me or put a copy in the Library, because I would like to know what the judgment is about this? It is clear that the Government have made a clear commitment to Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles and the Welsh constituency too, I understand. If that is the case, it is hard to see why the Isle of Wight and, I say perhaps less confidently, Cornwall, would not at least have a case. I would welcome hearing the Government's law officers' view.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I recall very clearly that when we discussed this in the debate on the Motion tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on hybridity, the very clear advice we got from the Clerk was that there was no issue of hybridity, which is the other side of the same coin to which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, was referring.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I appreciate the Minister's courtesy to me and to the House as a whole. He just said that he personally believes in the principle of numerical equality between constituencies. As the former Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland, does he now hold that that principle ought to apply to Orkney and Shetland and that they should be subordinated to it?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: For good reasons, which the Bill addresses, there are exceptions. There are only two, and I do not want to take up the time of the House, although we will, no doubt, have plenty of opportunity at a later stage to explain why in these two limited cases, which by any stretch of anyone's imagination are different from any other part of the United Kingdom, an exception has to be made. Two out of 600 does not really depart from the principle of fairness that I illustrated.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I would not want the Minister to mislead the House. It is not just two constituencies. The area provision also excludes the constituency presently represented by Mr Charles Kennedy. Is that not correct?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: That is not correct. The relationship between the area provision and the constituency represented by my right honourable friend Charles Kennedy is that he currently represents the largest area in the United Kingdom. The area referred to in Part 2 is just slightly larger. It is not to preserve a particular constituency. Indeed, if one thinks about it logically, if you start at the top and come down, it
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Lord Campbell-Savours: Can the Minister clarify something very simple for me? Perhaps I misunderstood. Is he saying that one judicial review in one part of the United Kingdom could block the boundary changes that trigger the introduction of AV? Is that exactly what he is saying? Can we have that clarified?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I shall repeat what I said. I said that the Boundary Commissions could be judicially reviewed. Of course, I hope that that does not happen and that there will be no such a challenge. Whether any challenge would lead to a delay would depend on the nature of the challenge and the time it took for it to be heard. I remind the House of the provisions in the next Part of the Bill at Clause 10(3):
Lord Campbell-Savours: The Minister said that the boundary commissions could be reviewed. Can I isolate within that Boundary Commission review whether a judicial review within one particular part of the country will in itself lead to this blockage of the introduction of AV that is being referred to?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think I also said in my response earlier that the length of any possible delay would depend upon whether action needed to be taken as a consequence of that ruling and whether there was a knock-on. I also indicated that as the Bill stands the Boundary Commission review would have to report by 1 October 2013, and that is what we wish to put into statute.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Just before we leave the point about those special exemptions to which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and others have referred, in order to avoid the need for judicial reviews later on or for discussion when we get to later parts of this Bill, could the Minister isolate for us those constituencies that are in dispute? Mr Andrew Turner from the Isle of Wight has written to each of us, as has the leader of Cornwall Council, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned Ynys Môn. If just those three examples are as narrow as that, would it not be sensible between now and Report, in the spirit mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Rooker, earlier, for the officials of the noble and learned Lord's department to meet representatives from those areas to see whether further exemptions could be made?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord is right to identify the ones he has. The others were, I think, incorporated into an amendment that was moved in the other place and that related to some of the highlands seats and Argyll and Bute. I hear what he
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My understanding of that is that in the highlands at least one constituency, if not the existing constituency of his right honourable friend, would be exempt from that rule, and on previous voting patterns it is likely that it would be a Liberal Democrat constituency.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think the noble Lord specifically said that it would be the constituency of my right honourable friend, but in fact that is wrong. Obviously parts of the Highlands and Islands, and perhaps even parts of mid-Wales, raise the potential for large areas to be covered. It would be wrong for us to second guess how the Boundary Commission will apply that. I can certainly assure him that although as a party we have had a consistency good record in the Highlands and Islands, we never take that for granted, and I would certainly not presume from this Dispatch Box that any resulting seat would be a Liberal Democrat seat. However, we would work hard to win it.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The point I was making was that the noble Lord said that he agreed with his noble friend Lord Deben that the prime consideration should be the number of electors: that that was supreme. The Bill exempts Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles. Now there is another exemption, is there not?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Yes, but as I indicated earlier, I do not think that that detracts from the fundamental principle because it reflects common sense on the areas. I am sure that the noble Lord would be the first to complain if we had not done something similar. Let us hear from a fresh voice.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: The noble Lord said that there were good reasons for these exemptions. Given that the Bill says that a constituency does not have to comply if it covers an area of more than 12,000 square kilometres, can the noble Lord, in advance of the debate at a future time, place a letter in the Library of the House of Lords detailing the criteria on which these decisions were made so that we can be better informed when it comes to that debate?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am sure that they are very similar to the criteria which the previous Labour Government adopted when they gave Orkney and Shetland separate seats in the Scottish Parliament, and did so for similar reasons. His having been a member of that Government, I am sure that the noble Lord will be well aware of those criteria. However, I have no doubt that we will come back to this.
I shall conclude where we came in by indicating that Amendments 45 and 46A would separate the two issues. The first amendment moved by the noble Lord would do this by removing the stipulation that the alternative vote provisions are brought in only after the draft Order in Council is laid, and the second amendment would do this by removing the provision that requires the alternative vote provisions to be brought into force on the same day. It does not actually break the linkage as it would leave the requirement that the order bringing the boundaries provisions into force must have been laid first, although that would not necessarily be on the same day. It may be the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to put the amendments together.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I have indicated that the coalition programme for government makes a clear commitment to both issues, and it is the Government's view that the issues are linked, particularly in terms of how the House of Commons will be shaped when it is reconstituted after the election in 2015. As my noble friend Lord McNally has said on many occasions, the linkage is fair votes and fair boundaries. The Government are committed to both provisions if a yes vote is carried in the referendum. The Government therefore wish to see both provisions, if the yes vote is carried, to come into effect in time for the next general election. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Soley: The Minister has been quite helpful on some of these points. I agree that the Boundary Commission can be judicially reviewed and I accept that the House decided that this is not a hybrid Bill. What I am interested in is that when I asked him about the Isle of Wight, on which I will focus in relation to the amendment that we are discussing, a challenge under this current amendment would prevent the system going forward in the way the Bill envisages; so the question whether there can be a legal challenge is crucial.
Let us put Cornwall to one side for a moment because I am not familiar enough with its case. I know the area of the Western Isles rather well, but I do not know Orkney and Shetland. However, I do know that those two areas have similar problems to the problem faced by the constituency of the Member for the Isle of Wight, who has argued the case very strongly in the House of Commons. If there is a similar problem, there are the conditions for a possible legal challenge. Indeed, I think the Minister used the phrase "it is common sense" when he said that the two Scottish
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This goes back to a point made by my noble friend Lord Rooker that there is a case for the Government to be more willing to compromise on this Bill and at least to offer to investigate. I would very much like to know, and I am sure that councillors on the Isle of Wight would love to know, the government law officers' view on whether a legal challenge could be mounted because there was no Boundary Commission review of the Isle of Wight. It seems at least possible, so it would be good if we could have the lawyers' views on this.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I hesitate to say because, although I am only seven or eight months into office, one of the cardinal rules for a law officer is not to expose what your advice to the Government is. Indeed, you do not even disclose whether advice has been given. However, I will reflect on what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said and not necessarily answer his question about advice but perhaps revisit the advice that was given to the House by the Clerks when the particular issue of hybridity was looked at.
Lord Bach: On another subject, which I asked the noble Lord about in my contribution, does he agree that even if, by way of exaggeration as an example, 99 per cent of the population were to vote in favour of changing the Westminster voting system to this type of AV, that change would not come about if the boundary changes were not made? How can he seek to justify that?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I will not justify that particular point, but I will draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that the Boundary Commission report is due, as I have already said on two or three occasions during these exchanges, on 1 October 2013. There will be time to debate the fixed-term Parliament Bill, but the assumption is that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday in May 2015. Therefore there will be ample time for both orders to be laid and implemented together, assuming of course that there is a yes vote. If it is a no vote, no time is attached to bringing forward an order to repeal the relevant sections of the Bill, or the Act as it will be by then.
I reiterate that if the Boundary Commission report is brought forward by 1 October 2013, there will be ample time. Obviously this is also important for electoral administrators and the political parties, and it would ensure that the next general election would be fought both within the boundaries that would then be implemented by order and under the alternative vote system.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Ninety-nine per cent of the people voting for AV, much as I would like to see that, is hypothetical. It is also purely hypothetical that the boundary changes will not go ahead either.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, the Minister stood up to speak 25 minutes ago and he has been most courteous in his responses to the many interventions. He said rather wryly that it seemed to have been a long time since I stood up to move the amendment in my name. I did not manage to speak for as long as he did. I do not think that I spoke for more than 10 minutes, and I was trying to make a substantive case, on which we have had a good debate.
However, I think that the debate was thrown off course at one point by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, whom we all greatly admire. The noble Lord made a partisan attack on ex-Members of the House of Commons on this side of the Committee in a speech made by an ex-Member of the other House. I do not think that we progress best in this House by swapping partisan insults of that kind. Perhaps this should be a warning to us to keep them to a minimum. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I was never a Member of the House of Commons and so I have not adapted to the kind of things that I understand from this debate go on there.
It is important to get away from the partisan, and I do so, as part of my concluding remarks, by referring to the non-partisan committee of this House- the Constitution Committee-which examined the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill and had many prominent Conservatives in its ranks, including the noble Lords, Lord Norton, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Renton of Mount Harry. It said:
"In general, we regard it as a matter of principle that proposals for major constitutional reform should be subject to prior public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. We recognise that there may exceptionally be good reasons for departing from this principle, but the perils of doing so are well illustrated in the present Bill. The case for proceeding rapidly with one Part of this Bill is far stronger than for the other".
In other words, the non-partisan examination of the buckle in the Bill said that it should not be there. However, it is there-the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, was commendably frank about this-and it is there for purely political reasons. Therefore it is right that we in this House, with our responsibilities to the constitution as a whole, should examine whether those reasons are convincing.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, was a little less convincing when he tried to explain the reasons for it being there when he said, "Of course, if the AV referendum is lost I would not want to push ahead with it". With great respect, that is not the point that we on this side of the House are seeking to make. Our point is different: it is that the two sets of proposals are not treated the same. Of course, if the AV referendum is lost, noble Lords should not proceed with an AV proposal, but there is no such conditionality on the proposals for constituency and boundary changes-they are to go ahead nevertheless.
Before the House has even started to examine these proposals-and before the Boundary Commission has started on the extremely onerous, some people believe impracticable, task it is being set-the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, says that the boundary changes and the change in the number of MPs will go ahead. If they do not go ahead-and all kinds of happenstance could prevent them from going ahead-neither will
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I do not propose to force this issue to a Division today. I hope Ministers will think carefully about the situations, that wiser counsels will prevail, and that even now they will find a way of separating the two bits of the Bill so that each can be taken on its merits. I withdraw the amendment hoping that Christmas cheer will suffuse the Government's approach when next we turn to these matters on 10 January.
"Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement on the continuing severe weather. We are facing exceptional conditions. It looks set to be the coldest December since 1910, with average temperatures four to five degrees below the norm for December. Many areas have had record low temperatures and snowfall has been the most widespread since 1981. The forecast is for continued severe cold and further snowfall through the coming week and over Christmas and the new year.
Transport services have suffered extensive disruption in the last few days and there is a likelihood of further disruption through this week. I recognise that this is particularly stressful just a few days ahead of the Christmas break and I understand the frustration of those who are trying to get away or, indeed, are trying to get home.
Transport services were also disrupted in the first spell of winter weather that came unusually early at the end of November. That period tested the systems which, in some cases, had performed so poorly earlier this year. The then Government asked David Quarmby, chairman of the RAC Foundation and a former chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, to conduct a review of winter resilience. His initial report was issued in July and a final report was published in October. It made 28 recommendations, some of them directed at central government, some at local government and some at transport operators. Many of those recommendations have already been implemented, although some will necessarily take longer.
On 2 December, I asked David Quarmby, in the light of the weather conditions we were then experiencing, to conduct an audit of the implementation of his recommendations and to make any further observations
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One of the principal recommendations of the first Quarmby report concerned salt: levels of stocks that local authorities should hold, dosage rates for optimum use of stocks and the acquisition of a strategic stockpile by central government. Local authorities went into this period with significantly better salt stocks than last winter and the Highways Agency, on the Government's behalf, had purchased 300,000 tonnes of salt to form a strategic stockpile, of which over 150,000 tonnes is already at UK ports with the remainder scheduled for delivery through December and early January.
Over the last few days, highway authorities across England have been focused on delivering their planned salting and snow clearance to keep their local strategic road networks open. Together they had ready some 1.25 million tonnes of salt at the start of the winter. As honourable Members would expect, salt usage has been significantly above the norm for this time of year and so my department decided two weeks ago to procure, as a precautionary measure, up to an additional 250,000 tonnes of salt to replenish the strategic stockpile as salt is released to local authorities. Last Friday, DfT offered 30,000 tonnes from the strategic stockpile to local authorities to provide reassurance over the holiday period. That allocation has been taken up and will be delivered over the next few days.
The strategic road network inevitably suffered severe disruption in the wake of heavy snowfall this weekend, but recovered reasonably rapidly and, with isolated exceptions, has operated effectively since Saturday afternoon.
Similarly, heavy snow and the formation of ice at very low temperatures caused some disruption on rail networks on Friday and Saturday. But the rail industry has pulled together to keep essential services running, using special timetables where necessary, and I am pleased to report that commuter services into main conurbations this morning are close to normal. Transport for London has successfully followed its winter weather plans and has been able to run a near-normal service across its network. However, issues with Eurostar are ongoing and have been well reported today, including the impacts of very severe weather conditions in France.
Disruption due to weather conditions of this extremity is inevitable. The measure of resilience is the speed of recovery of the networks from such events. On this measure, the strategic road network and the rail network have performed broadly satisfactorily, having regard to the exceptional circumstances. The experience at airports, and Heathrow in particular, has however been different. Conditions have been difficult across north- west Europe, with Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol all struggling to cope at times. This afternoon it has been reported that Brussels airport will close until Wednesday because of a lack of de-icer. But yesterday's whole-day virtual closure at Heathrow, coupled with continued substantially reduced capacity, presents a very real challenge from which the system will struggle to recover quickly.
I have spoken this morning to BAA and BA, its principal user. I am clear that BA made the right call on Saturday to cancel its flights in anticipation of the closure of the airport. Had it not done so, the scenes in the terminals on Saturday night that we witnessed on our TV screens could have been much worse.
Heathrow operates at normal times at some 98 per cent of full capacity, so when there is disruption caused by snow, or the need repeatedly to close runways or taxiways for de-icing, capacity is inevitably lost and a backlog builds up. There is still a large amount of work to be done to restore Heathrow to full capacity, and further snow and severe icing are anticipated over the next few days.
The immediate focus at Heathrow must be on maximising the number of flights with the available infrastructure. In order for this to be done, I have agreed with BAA this morning a relaxation of restrictions on night flights for the next four days. Operating hours will be extended until 1am and arrivals for repatriation flights will be allowed through the night. None the less, BAA advises that, with further severe weather forecast, Heathrow is likely to operate at reduced capacity until Christmas.
Conditions in the terminals overnight on Saturday were very difficult, with some 2,000 passengers stranded. Once the airport has returned to normal operation, my officials will work with BAA to understand how this situation arose and what it plans to change to ensure that we do not experience a repeat. It is clear from my discussions this morning that some preliminary conclusions have already been drawn.
We recognise that the cost, both economic and social, of this level of disruption can be very great. Winters such as this year's and last year's have been rare in modern Britain, but we need to consider whether we are now seeing a step change in our weather that might justify investment in equipment and technologies to reduce the impact of severe temperature and heavy snowfall. I will assess advice on this subject from the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, and we will work with transport operators to examine the business case in each sector for increased investment in winter resilience where that makes sense, recognising always that spending more on winter preparedness inevitably means that there will be less to spend on other priorities.
This is not just about making sure that people can travel and goods are delivered. Disrupted transport links, combined with cold weather, increasingly impact on other essential services. In particular, they threaten the most vulnerable in our communities. To help those most in need to stay warm in the coldest parts of the country, the Government have so far this winter paid out some £355 million in cold weather payments through an estimated 14.2 million payments to affected households. In addition, winter fuel payments for pensioners have been protected at the higher rate for this winter, with 12.9 million payments made to those older people who meet the qualifying conditions. We have also taken precautionary steps to ensure that the health services are well prepared, with local plans in place to deal with the extra demands that this type of weather brings.
Despite these steps, weather of this severity can cause unexpected problems for many people, including those who would not normally see themselves as vulnerable but who might be in serious difficulty if their boiler breaks down or they cannot get to the chemist to collect their medication. The Local Government Association will therefore work closely with local authorities in England, with support from the Government, to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place across the country. Individual local authorities will publicise information locally on how to access these advice services ahead of the Christmas holiday period.
Severe weather poses significant challenges to the energy supply industry. Difficult driving conditions have affected fuel oil and coal suppliers' ability to make deliveries, particularly to more remote areas away from the strategic road network. This has resulted in delivery backlogs which suppliers have been working hard, in difficult conditions, to reduce.
Distributors are doing all they can to prioritise deliveries to vulnerable customers and those running short of fuel. Working with the Government, the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers has issued a code of practice to its members to help them prioritise orders to those most in need and to alert local authorities when they are aware of a risk that potentially vulnerable households will run short of heating oil.
The severe weather has also led to a very high forecast of demand for gas, expected to be more than 26 per cent above the normal for this time of year. As a result, the National Grid yesterday issued a gas balancing alert to provide a signal to the market to bring on additional supplies and reduce demand from large users on interruptible contracts. There is no reason to expect any disruption to domestic or commercial customers unless they have interruptible contracts in place. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has today issued a Written Statement providing more information on this issue.
Nationally, we will continue to do whatever is necessary to support essential services and to provide advice to businesses and householders on steps they can take to help themselves and others. For example, we have published a snow code to give common-sense advice to householders and businesses to help them safely clear snow and ice from pavements and public spaces without fear of legal action. As an emergency measure, we have relaxed the enforcement of EU drivers' hours and working-time rules to mitigate the effect of the severe weather on critical parts of the supply chain that have been badly hit by the weather. We have published guidance for local highway authorities on the range of actions that can be taken to ensure optimum use of salt stocks. Over the next few days, we will publish updated technical advice based on the latest research findings, so that all authorities can adopt best practice. We have also confirmed to farmers that they can use red diesel in tractors and other equipment to help salt and clear snow from public roads during the extreme weather.
We are not yet through this period of severe weather. My priority remains working with the transport industries to return to normal as fast as the continued freezing
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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. I think that the House will have gained exactly the same impression as was gained on that earlier occasion; namely, that there is great complacency in the Statement in the face of the appalling suffering which so many of the travelling public have endured over this weekend, whether they have been trapped on railway stations without information as to when trains might arrive or caught up in traffic jams without any ability to understand when they might have a chance of escaping. More particularly, the Statement has failed to explain why, at airports, scandalously low levels of information have been given to the travelling public. I thought that the whole point of privatising many of these transport assets was that privatised companies cared about their consumers. There was not much care about consumers over this past weekend, when the advice given to individuals consisted of one telephone number which was inevitably jammed for the whole time that people were trying to get through. There was no alternative strategy for anyone to take.
This will not do. The noble Earl says that his right honourable friend had a meeting with transport bosses today. There is no suggestion that there was any dressing down done about these failures over the weekend; instead, there was a meeting at which they met on, I suppose, cordial terms to talk about the difficulties that the transport system has suffered. This is not good enough in circumstances where so many people have suffered so much.
Regarding airports, particularly London Heathrow, it is also important that we protect our national reputation. Whether we like it or not, London Heathrow is a gateway to much of the world and a lot of people get their experience of Britain from Heathrow. Consequently, the chaos over this last weekend has produced real difficulties and I would have expected the Government to have responded in rather more forthright terms than the Statement has suggested.
The noble Earl referred to the Quarmby report. He knows that in the summer that report produced 28 recommendations. He indicated in the Statement that only a certain number of these recommendations have been carried through. We will be able to see, with the full publication of the report, just where negligence has occurred. It will not do for the noble Earl to indicate that the Government had no warning of this. We did learn from last winter; that is why the Quarmby
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There are several points that specialists in the field have also indicated. I would have thought Ministers would have expected this sort of expertise and advice to be available to them in the department and acted upon. What is this nonsense about lorries jack-knifing in the middle lanes of motorways and blocking the whole motorway? Why on earth has it not been recognised that, in circumstances such as the very difficult travel conditions this weekend, some restrictions should have been put, as the AA recommended, upon the movement of lorries so that they stayed only in the inside lane? I recognise the disadvantages and inconvenience to lorry drivers, but, my goodness, that is as nothing to the blocking of the whole M25 or parts of the M40 by jack-knifed lorries.
Why is it, with our rail system, that information is not readily available to customers? You can have railway lines which are only six miles apart and at the station where you ask the question and at which they are experiencing delays on the line, they have no idea whether it would make sense to get across to the other line, which might be running a fairly good service. The system does not know, or the people are not equipped to deliver the service they should. It is a reflection of the very limited resources that have been put into customer care and that is why, in these circumstances where great difficulty occurs, it is the passenger who suffers.
Finally, it was timely, this weekend, that a Member of Parliament and close friend of the Prime Minister should have indulged in a little light relief on the virtues of chaos theory. I am talking about the leading party in the Government, the Conservative Party. He said something like, "We do not think much to planning in our party, we think that planning can be overemphasised and it might be that a certain amount of chaos theory should obtain". Well, no one in the coalition should be preaching chaos theory regarding transport this weekend. A bit of thought by Ministers, a bit of planning, and some of the difficulties that our fellow countrymen and others have faced might have been minimised.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's exciting response to my Statement. There is no complacency on the part of the Government; we are acutely aware of the challenges. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is giving clear and strategic leadership to all concerned. He does not give a dressing down to operators; he gives encouragement and leadership. The noble Lord made much of the difficulties of communicating in the current situation. Yes, of course there is disappointment, but there are a lot of people affected and it is a very obscure situation.
The noble Lord is right to say how important Heathrow is to the country and, indeed, to the world. One of the problems at Heathrow is clearing the aircraft stands of snow when those aircraft stands are occupied by aircraft. If there is no aircraft in the
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The noble Lord suggests restrictions on HGV operators and drivers. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all commercial vehicle drivers who work so hard in very difficult conditions to keep our shops and businesses supplied.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. I stress how important it is to take note of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. The problem that we suffer is a lack of communication. To anybody who listened to the Radio 4 interviews with passengers at Heathrow and Gatwick, the information that was repeatedly conveyed was that none of them knew what was going on.
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the month, we had similar snowfall and people are really tired of not knowing how our rail network is working in this country. At Victoria Station, it was obvious that none of the indicators was working and the announcements were almost impossible to decipher. Whenever one got the idea that a train was leaving, one jumped into that train, sat for half an hour and was then told that the train was no longer going. One moved on to another train, only to be told that the driver was no longer available. One then moved on to another train where they said it would be another half an hour. By the time one gets home, it has taken three or three and a half hours to travel a distance of 15 miles.
This just will not do. It is time that those in authority provided adequate information to those who use services. That has not happened at Heathrow, it does not happen at many of our stations and it is about time that this matter is put right.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments. Ministers were not happy about the situation on communicating the transport opportunities to people two weeks ago. It is inconceivable that these problems will not be considered in the new year.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. In addition to talking to BAA, will Ministers also talk to the airline operators about the need for them to inform their customers and to ensure, together with BAA and other airport operators, that every attention is paid to the needs of people who may, unfortunately, be stranded.
Secondly, will the Government look again at stopping the Warm Front programme applications? While it is certainly true, as the Statement made clear, that fuel payments have been made, the programme of insulating homes will be slowed. It is obviously too late, in any event, to make a difference this winter, but given what has happened in the past couple of years, does the Minister agree that it might be necessary to look again at that decision in order that there should not be an hiatus in the insulation programme?
Thirdly, on the steps taken by the health service and local authorities, does the Minister agree that it might be desirable to look at whether extra resources might be needed, in certain parts of the country, in order for the health service to cope with the additional demands and pressures that might arise and, indeed, for something like the Bellwin rules-which, I understand, are to be abolished under the new dispensation-to be looked at in relation to local authorities?
Finally, on a more domestic concern, will the Minister look at conditions within this House and consider whether it is desirable to turn the heating off on a Friday, leaving this place to be extremely cold for the staff and your Lordships on a Monday?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I think I mentioned in my Statement-I apologise if the Statement does not say it-that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with Willie Walsh at BA and I expect that Ministers or senior officials will have talked to leaders of other airlines to work out a way forward in order to minimise the effect on travelling passengers.
The noble Lord talked about the Warm Front scheme. It is slightly outside the scope of the Statement, but I appreciate the current difficulties of houses being very cold. We are experiencing it a little in your Lordships' House. It is a little colder than normal. Fortunately, I am not responsible for the conditions inside your Lordships' House, but I always take the precaution of putting on extra clothes on a Monday morning.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the contribution from the Front Bench opposite was particularly ludicrous in what could become an extremely serious situation? To try to make political capital out of that at this time does no service to the responsibility that people have in this House. The idea that somehow you can guarantee to keep everything running whatever the weather is wrong. I sat on a plane in Zurich airport for eight hours while they tried to de-ice it. It iced up again and then they de-iced it and within a quarter of an hour the pilot came back and said, "Our time is up and we will have to abandon the flight altogether". It is impossible to guard against that.
The seriousness of the Statement that my noble friend repeated is in the weather forecast going forward. There are a lot of very frightened people in this country now, in rural areas and other areas as well. There are worries about supplies of fuel oil, petrol and heating generally, and breakdowns in electricity substations are the sort of problem that can come from very severe weather. The country is entitled to expect from this House cohesive action together; consideration as to how we can tackle what may be some very serious problems in the weeks ahead.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's point. He asked what could be done. The short answer is that my right honourable friend could not do much more. The weather conditions that we are experiencing are unprecedented. We have not had such a cold December since 1910.
My noble friend mentioned fuel oil supplies. They should be okay. Backlogs are mounting up of several days and we are monitoring the situation carefully. My right honourable friend has already relaxed the drivers' hours regulations for drivers moving essential supplies in order to help reduce the backlog.
Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, but I detect a deep sense of complacency-not on the Minister's part but running throughout the Government. While we have heard a lot of excuses, we have not heard any plans or action programmes for dealing with the matter. Are there any steps to set out a list of priority users? Has the OFT been alerted to ensure that oil suppliers do not profiteer in the current circumstances? Can we be assured that the emergency services will not have to compete with other users of oil? Has COBRA met? What plans is it offering to the various people who will be affected? Will the Minister say when we will get some real action rather than soft words?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I repeat: there is no complacency in Her Majesty's Government. One of the things that we need to avoid is getting out a long screwdriver and sticking it in places where it would be unhelpful.
The noble Lord asked some important questions about fuel supplies for emergency services. I would be very surprised if the emergency services were not careful to ensure that their fuel stocks never go below a certain level so that they do not have to go into the market at precisely the wrong time, which is right now, when we need to avoid panic buying.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of the hospitals up and down the country that are snowbound, such as Cardiff, Hexham and Goole, have appealed to the public for the use of 4x4s to get patients and staff to and from hospital? If there is an appeal, people respond. Far more important is the problem of low blood supplies. Will the Minister pass on to his colleagues in the Department of Health the need to tell people where they can give blood? In the press there have been notifications that blood stocks are dangerously low, but there is nothing about where people can go in difficult snowbound areas to give blood. Many people will do that. Type O negative is particularly important.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Baroness made a couple of important points. There is a large population of 4x4 vehicles. Some people call them Chelsea tractors. Now they can be useful to society and people can volunteer to help local voluntary groups to move people who cannot otherwise move around. Although the strategic road network is pretty well completely clear, the side roads are not clear.
The noble Baroness mentioned blood supplies. I am not aware of the current situation with blood supplies, but I will pass her comments on to my noble friend Lord Howe. As for heating supplies, I understand that most hospitals run on gas and only a few use oil. I imagine that they would be very careful not to run their stocks down too much at this time of year.
Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, does the Minister agree that now would be an appropriate time to pay tribute to the dedication of all those working in the National Health Service who have been turning up to work, such as managers, clinicians, nurses, ambulance drivers, porters-the whole lot? They have been keeping hospitals open. They have enabled the sick to come in and have kept people in who could not go home. The National Health Service has risen brilliantly to the challenge. I declare an interest as chairman of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. It is time for the NHS to receive the praise that it deserves.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend and would like to pay tribute to all NHS workers who make that big struggle to get into work despite the conditions. That applies to everyone who takes the difficult option of struggling to get to work rather than the easy option of sitting at home and doing nothing.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Minister referred to supplies of salt. Does he accept that many of the pavements in London-and I am sure elsewhere-are extremely slippery. They were this morning. The danger is that the health service will be burdened by even more people who slip and break their arms and legs. Is it not more economic to put more salt on pavements-or in some cases put some salt on pavements-rather than have ambulances and the health service having to bear the burden of what seems to be a niggardly approach to distributing the salt?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, there is not a niggardly approach to distributing the salt. As for pavements, local people can clear them. The Statement that I repeated referred to the fact that people can clear the pavement if they want to. But the noble Lord is right to raise the issue of increased levels of injury through slipping. It is a big problem. A fall for people in their later years can be very serious indeed.
Lord Patel: My Lords, as someone who has had two and an half feet of snow, and dug myself out last night to get down the hill to get here, I know the problem of moving around. If the Minister believes in the science of climate change and the ability to predict what future winters over the next decade or even century will be like, how come the science of meteorology cannot tell me what the weather will be like two weeks from now?
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Does my noble friend agree that winter tyres are a sensible thing to have on vehicles? I shall be disappointed if he does not. Has my noble friend's department considered legislating for the use of winter tyres, as they do in Scandinavia? Is he satisfied by the supply of winter tyres? I have heard anecdotally in central Scotland that there is a now a two-month waiting list.
Earl Attlee: My noble friend raised the interesting point of winter tyres. They are effective, but it is a personal choice and it would be peculiar for the Government to take any steps to mandate them. Suppliers of essential services in remote rural areas might want to consider stocking some vehicles with winter tyres, but it is entirely a matter for them. I suspect the capital cost of winter tyres rarely justifies the investment.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, will the noble Earl ask his ministerial colleagues to look very carefully at the question of winter fuel payments, particularly for the disabled and the elderly? What they are getting at the moment is pretty minimal, bearing in mind the incredibly low temperatures.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the local authorities are accusing the Government of profiteering on selling salt to them at a time when local authorities' budgets are being severely cut and, certainly in some areas, local authorities are forced to salt roads only where there is a steep hill and not on the flat? How can the Government claim that the situation is under control when local authorities do not have the money to buy salt or to spread it?
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I flew down this morning from Glasgow Airport to London City Airport, and I pay tribute to the people both at Glasgow and at London City Airport who made that journey, although slightly delayed, a successful one. They did so for many hundreds of people this morning from Scotland to London. As I passed through Glasgow Airport this morning, it was very clear to me just how important Heathrow Airport is to the travel plans, whether for family reunions or business or holidays, of many of my fellow west of Scotland citizens at this time of year. I heard the Minister, in repeating the Statement made in the other place, pray in aid the statistic that Heathrow is used to 98 per cent of its capacity as a reason for the fragility of that environment-and I agree with him. As I understand it, the Government have no plans to increase the capacity of Heathrow, so they must have strategic plans to reduce its usage. Are those going to be part of the discussions that take place between his right honourable friend Philip Hammond, the Minister, BAA and the operators out of Heathrow? If they are not, we are going to face this problem repeatedly every time it snows, and that airport will be closed.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, yet again a noble Lord rightly raises the importance of Heathrow Airport and the fact that most of the time it is running at
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Lord Snape: My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to those staff, many of them manual workers and low paid workers, right across the transport industries, who have spent the past week or so working in extremely inclement weather to try to maintain some sort of service. To follow on from the point made by his noble friend Lord Dholakia, does he agree that the most irritating aspect of the delay and dislocation is not the fact that things go wrong, because we can all accept the case that they do, but the lack of information to passengers or customers, or whatever the industry likes to call them? Will he accept that industries such as the railway industry-I suspect that this is true of the aviation industry, too-whether publicly or privately owned, are overmanaged and undersupervised? The largely junior staff who have to face the ire of the public are no wiser about what is going on than the people concerned. Would he knock a few heads together to ensure that senior managers are there to make decisions and to face the travelling public when things go wrong?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, the noble Lord talked about manual workers working in the cold. These people are working outside in absolutely freezing conditions to keep transport equipment working, and I think we should all be very grateful to them. Yet again, another noble Lord has raised the issue of the lack of information about what transport services can do. Ministers are acutely aware of this problem; we are not happy about it. I also stress the point that we must not interfere at the moment but, when it is all over, we will be talking very closely with the transport industry to see what can be done in future so that passengers know what can be done.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, the Minister said that his colleague had met the British Airports Authority today, and he discussed the issue of Heathrow Airport. It seems to many noble Lords strange that Heathrow seems able to cope much less well with the severe conditions than other London airports. As my noble friend said, that was the case with Stansted Airport from Scotland, as opposed to the situation at Heathrow, which had only one runway still operating. Will the Minister press the BAA to ensure that additional resources are made available and that Heathrow Airport itself, a very profitable organisation, is forced to ensure that it can cope better in future? Will he address the issue not just of information to passengers who are stranded but of facilities available to them? Some passengers have been sleeping for three or four nights on cold floors. The airline operators or BAA must make some facility available, be it blankets or pillows or whatever, so that people who have nowhere to go will be properly looked after in the short term.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a valid point, but the conditions at Heathrow at the weekend were much more severe than those normally encountered. Advice from industry is that the volume
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Lord Crisp: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to open this debate. I am delighted to see how many noble Lords have decided to take part in it, and I know that a number of others, for reasons of snow and the fact that we already had a large list, have decided not to take part. There is a lot of interest in this subject, and it is something on which there is a great deal of agreement both in your Lordships' House and outside. That agreement is partly the point of the debate, because what we need now is some action.
Professional education in the 20th century has done a wonderful job, not least in the United Kingdom. Life expectancy in the world as a whole has doubled in the century, but the outside world has changed, which means that there is a need for a change in education. There is a broad consensus on what needs to happen, and we can see it happening in many of our leading schools already. As Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, has put it:
It is, if you like, the necessary move from a purely doctor and hospital-based model to something much more diverse and local, more community and more person-based. That was a goal of the last Government and I know that it is a goal of this Government. The difficulty as always is to make it happen.
This Question is about global health and the emerging new discipline of global health. Let me explain why I think it is relevant here. I am talking about global health, not international health, which is what we talked about in the last century when we talked about the health of other people. Global health is about the health of all of us-all the issues that affect us all, wherever we are in the world. It is about our interdependence in terms of disease and how it can fly around the world very quickly; in the 14th century, it took three winters for the Black Death to get across Europe, whereas it took three days for SARS to get around the world earlier this century. We are also interdependent in our use of the same staffing and resources and interdependent in terms of the environment
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The second reason is that the diseases from which we suffer have been changing. There are many more non-communicable diseases, and in that context context itself is vital. We are beginning to understand better the social, behavioural, cultural and economic aspects of global health, and the emerging discipline is about taking on these issues and about understanding and acting on the wider determinants of health. Education needs to do this as well.
Thirdly, global health is about recognising that health is about health systems and how healthcare is delivered to individuals and populations. It is not just the theory of the laboratory and lecture room but the reality of the clinic and the community.
The fourth point that drives very many people is that experience in other countries is extremely valuable to us in the UK. Many who are involved in global health are driven by a passion to do something in poorer countries, but it is good for the UK as well. It develops people personally and they can learn from new examples and new experiences, and of course learn about some of the people living in their own country whose origins may have been far away.
Let me refer to the recent Lancet commission report that was published at the end of November, called HealthProfessionals for a New Century:Transforming Education to Strengthen Health Systems in an Interdependent World. The commission was chaired by Julio Frenk of the Harvard School of Public Health, and by Lincoln Chen of the China Medical Board, of which I was privileged to be a member. This was the first such attempt to look globally, with a global set of commissioners, and to learn from innovation everywhere in the world-not just Europe and America-and to do so across all professions on which we could collect data. It draws out some key lessons about how education needs to happen in the future: about how it needs to be interprofessional and transprofessional, going across disciplines and outside them to involve the public. Education needs to be competence-based, systems-based and IT-enabled.
The report also shows how our institutions need to change, breaking down barriers and connecting not just across disciplines but going outside health across locations and countries. Let me mention just one example that brings it alive: the IHI Open School. There are now 80 chapters in universities across world in 28 countries. This is a coming together of medical students to learn via the internet about subjects that are not covered in traditional courses: quality improvement, systems thinking and such like. They are studying in one school, maybe in the UK, but adding to it from elsewhere. This is the sort of model that I think we will continue to see.
The final point about the report is that it talks about transformational education: the effort to create professionals who are able to lead and make change in today's changed world. A brief illustration of the wide-ranging thinking on this in this country can be seen from the activities of two groups: Alma Mata and Medsin. Alma Mata is a 1,000-strong group of junior
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It is encouraging to see that the establishment is responding, including the Royal Colleges-and we have two former presidents of Royal Colleges speaking in this debate. To take one example, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is very concerned about the lack of support for junior doctors who want to work overseas and who want to include that in their training and not be disadvantaged in their careers by doing so. There are also organisations such as the London International Development Centre, which works with six London institutions and runs, among other things, courses of students as global citizens. There is a very much wider view here about what needs to change. Indeed, developments in partnerships between institutions are very ably supported by THET, and I am delighted to know that Her Majesty's Government through DfID have launched an even more substantial scheme to promote these partnerships.
There is a lot happening in the UK, but this is a worldwide phenomenon and things are moving faster in the US and Scandinavia than here. I can imagine the Minister saying, "Very good, we're happy to encourage this, but what has this got to do with Government and the Department of Health?". My answer is that it really does have an impact on us. I stress that this sort of activity is not just for the benefit of foreigners; it is about creating better health professionals who are better able to care for people of this country with our 21st-century diseases and lifestyles.
I suggest three actions. The first is extremely practical. I ask officials in the noble Earl's department to report to him on what more can be done to help trainee doctors to spend some time abroad as part of their training and to do so in some numbers, not with the odd one or two who take a risk with their careers. That would make this much more mainstream and much more positive.
Secondly, the Minister's department should meet the universities and the professional education schools of medicine and nursing and the wider health schools to consider the findings of the Lancet commission and decide what action might jointly be taken to develop the education of health professionals and to get some impetus and coordination behind the moves that are happening all over this country.
My third request is that the Minister's department provides active support for the involvement of NHS people and organisations in the DfID programme of partnership, recognising that this is a difficult time for the NHS but making it clear from the top that this is good thing for people to be engaged in. It is about the future, and there may even be ways of looking at things like the newly announced early retirement scheme, which might actually help in developing these sorts of programmes.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on initiating this debate, and I admire the outstanding work that he has been doing on this vital subject. His natural modesty precludes him detailing his extensive work. He is, in fact, joint chairman of the Global Health Workforce Alliance, which is giving a new impetus to the subject nationally and internationally. His report, entitled Global Health Partnerships, graciously gives credit to the many initiatives in this field, especially to THET, which was set up by that pioneer Professor Eldryd Parry.
Medical students have for years spent several months of their clinical training working in developing countries and gaining valuable insight into global medicine. King's, Guy's, St Thomas's, St. George's and UCL are already running courses on the subject. A great deal is going on, but much more could be done. We can encourage more partnerships to be set up between medical schools in the UK and developing countries, for instance the new medical schools in Ethiopia. The medical schools and hospitals here need to make it easier for our graduates to go to those countries for longer periods, not only to enjoy invaluable new clinical experiences but to help medical students abroad to achieve their goals. They can increase their help to the medical students out there by demonstrating physical signs, new ways of teaching, how to get the best out of their libraries, data collection and so on.
There is unprecedented interest among medical students in helping to develop this field, and good organisations are at work, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently drew attention to the need for the NHS to help to plan the work abroad of junior doctors. In Guy's Hospital in 1972 we set up a comprehensive surgical training programme involving a large part of the south-east of England. One of the years of the seven-year programme had to be spent abroad, and that proved very popular.
With the hospital ship part of the charity Mercy Ships, we not only provide free surgical treatment to the poorest of the poor but we teach the local surgeons the kind of operations that are appropriate in their country given their available resources. For instance, in Togo this year three Togolese eye surgeons were taught the best way of removing cataracts without the need for the expensive equipment that is used in the West and cannot be afforded in Africa. Now one surgeon is at work in the north of Togo, one in the south and one in between, so they cover the whole country.
An example of the excellent work done by many of the doctors in global health is a junior trainee at Guy's Hospital called Abigail Boys. She works for Mercy Ships intermittently and has done so for the past six years. She came across a 13 year-old girl in Ghana whose tumour of her face was too complicated for Mercy Ships to cope with, so she raised thousands of pounds to bring her to the Royal London Hospital, where she had an amazing 11-hour operation, which was carried out successfully by the distinguished surgeon Iain Hutchison, whose wife enhances the Benches
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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for securing this debate. I had a quick look at his biography, and three areas stand out: his experience of the National Health Service, his involvement as a fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and, above all, his political interest in the developing world. It should come as no surprise that he has chosen global health and medical education for this short debate. No longer can we simply concentrate on learning about what is appropriate for the health of people in the United Kingdom; we have to take into account post-war migration and our interdependency with other nations. We also have to accept that the process of globalisation crosses the geographical boundaries of all nations.
The globalising economy relies increasingly on the skills of people wherever they are available, and international migration is a key factor in ensuring that Britain benefits from this phenomenon. I shall give an analogy. Climate change is not restricted to a single nation. Last week we dealt with the outcomes of the Cancun climate conference. For the first time there is an international commitment to,
Here is a recognition that a nation cannot act alone. The Medsin UK response on global health acknowledges that the health of people in every nation is interconnected. A global health approach seeks to understand how individuals and population health are determined by global, as well as local, factors.
I realised the need for an international dimension to training when some years ago my wife and I had returned to rural Sussex following a visit to India. After some days, despite having taken malarial precautions, my wife developed a fever. The local doctors could not make a diagnosis and her condition deteriorated. She thought that despite all the precautions she had contracted malaria, and decided to take her temperature at regular intervals. The results demonstrated that she probably had malaria. The doctors were not convinced and took her blood to look for parasites, but they did not find any as they took it at the wrong time of day. She remained undiagnosed and decided to treat herself. She obtained medication and worked out the appropriate doses and timing of the medication. I am pleased to say that, after six weeks of being ill, she made an almost instant recovery.
Let me say that many medical colleges have recognised the need for global health issues. My daughter, who qualified at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, decided to go to Brazil for her elective experience. She was fortunate during that period not only to spend time in the cities of that country but to work in the Amazon rainforest, which brought home to her the realities of a broader aspect of health, including the impact of poverty on the health of deprived communities.
There are a number of factors that we need to take into account. I urge the Minister to look at the broader determinants identified by Medsin UK: health financing, human rights, migration and environment. I am tempted to criticise the Government's points-based system of immigration, but I shall refrain from doing so. Suffice it to say that the treatment of overseas doctors by the previous Administration was shameful; we continually moved the goalposts, and many of them suffered serious hardship when having to return to their country of origin.
The present cutbacks in university funding at about 6 per cent, which was announced today, are likely to impact on medical colleges. There is already evidence that some universities will no longer be able to afford training in certain disciplines. It is vital that knowledge is shared with countries abroad. Numerous good practices have been developed in countries such as Taiwan from which we can learn. India is making tremendous headway in providing medical tourism. It is also providing medicines at a much lower cost than we do in this country.
I am delighted that the noble Lord who is to follow me today is contributing to this debate. When I visited Ethiopia, there were those in the healthcare professions who valued his knowledge and advice. That, to my mind, is the acceptable face of our contribution to the third world.
"We will not be successful in our efforts to end deaths from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis unless we do more to improve health systems around the world, focus our efforts on child and maternal health, and ensure that best practices drive the funding for these programs".
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to whom I am grateful for initiating this debate, remarked that the USA and certain other countries are well ahead of us in developing global health as a universal programme of the country. That is not to say that many universities in our land have not embraced the issue of global health. I declare an interest. I am affiliated with the University of Dundee in many ways. I am proud that the university has a module in year two of medical students' training that gives them knowledge and some experience of global health. We run a summer school on a yearly basis that advances epidemiology and global health issues and we also have a major research programme in the university for developing drugs for the less well known tropical diseases.
There are also other universities, including UCL and KCL, which have also started such programmes. We need to do the same as the United States has done and drive this further, to develop a university consortium of global health in the United Kingdom that promotes learning, education, scholarships and also research. That is something we need to address and it could be addressed by the Department of Health because it is primarily a health issue.
Both our research organisations, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, have major research programmes and fellowships that drive them. My college, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, has programmes for global health but the constraint has been the ability to find funding for trainees who wish to take part in overseas training as part of their training. Both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have such programmes. The modules that these trainees undertake overseas are accredited on a case by case basis. The funding, however, is not available and neither is there flexibility in specialist training. That is something that again the Department of Health can assist with.
I am privileged to be associated with an international organisation that has developed training and service in areas of obstetric fistula from which some 2 million women worldwide suffer. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has worked in this area and he referred to his commitment to working with Mercy Ships. He deserves the gratitude of those women in areas in which he has worked for years. We have developed a curriculum for training in this area of obstetric fistula which has now been accepted by all the obstetric fistula surgeons worldwide.
The organisation also works with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, receiving funding from them of more than $10 million over a period of five years to develop a strengthened health system across the United Kingdom. In that respect, Scotland has a programme with which the University of Dundee is heavily involved, including a programme in Malawi for health systems. Our fifth-year medical students go there for attachment for a period of six weeks on a yearly basis.
There are good things being done in this country, but both DfID and the Department of Health can help develop these educational training programmes further. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has said, the interest in this subject is demonstrated by the number of speakers who are taking part in this short debate and the number of others who would have liked to have done so. The time could have been filled many times over. We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, not only for initiating the debate but for the leadership he has given in this subject both by his report in 2007 and in what he is doing now.
I declare an interest as chair of the academic health science centre King's Health Partners. Academic health science centres are by their nature well suited to promote and give leadership to this subject since they bring together research into global diseases, medical training-which can now be delivered remotely and is anyway a highly international business-and clinical care. The four members of King's Health Partners-King's College London, Guy's and St Thomas's, King's College Hospital and the South London and Maudsley-already have individually a proud and established history in various areas of global health. We have had a 10-year partnership with the Tropical Health and Education Trust-THET-to which other speakers have referred. This
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