To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will maintain the fee waiver after 2012 for students spending a year of their university degree courses abroad through the ERASMUS scheme; and what plans they have to extend the waiver to students going outside the European Union.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has made the ERASMUS fee waiver available for the 2011-12 academic year for students at English institutions which participate in the ERASMUS programme. No decisions have been made on the fee waiver for future years. An announcement will be made in due course. The ERASMUS programme is limited to exchanges within the European Union and five other countries so the question of extending the fee waiver to students going outside these countries does not arise.
Baroness Coussins: I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. Will the Minister accept that there needs to be more long-term certainty about the fee waiver because the quality and even the survival of modern languages degrees will be threatened if universities cannot afford to offer a year abroad or if only well-off students can afford to take one, even though the experience and skill that they acquire is what employers say they want? Would the Government be prepared to consider a package of measures to encourage linguists and others by increasing the proportion of the fees covered by the waiver by freezing the loan interest during the year abroad and offering financial incentives to universities to run programmes in Europe and world wide?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a need for long-term certainty and I say that as the parent of a child who is about to make decisions about universities as he completes his AS year. Obviously that is something that the Government will do and I hope that colleagues will be able to make a decision as soon as is appropriate. We also understand the point underlying the noble Baroness's Question about the importance of improving and encouraging the teaching of foreign languages. We are glad that there has been an increase over previous years. Although
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Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, we welcome the Government's support for ERASMUS, but although we have spent £3.1 billion on that programme over six years few of our students take part in it. A significant number of students with disabilities do not get places at all and apprentices in advanced apprenticeships cannot operate there either. Only one in four students who come from a STEM background can get a place on an ERASMUS course. Is it not time that the Minister, in negotiating the new ERASMUS programme, renegotiated the terms of this very useful but ill-focused programme?
Lord Henley: My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of the ERASMUS programme. I can give him an assurance that my right honourable friend David Willetts has written recently to the appropriate Commissioner about where ERASMUS should go in the next seven-year cycle. His more detailed points about dealing with disabled students and others is another matter, but we will certainly do what we can to encourage ERASMUS and its development. That is why my right honourable friend has written to the appropriate Commissioner.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since the start of this programme in 1987 more than 2 million young people have benefited and for many of them it was the first time they had lived abroad and studied, so it is a cultural phenomenon. If this programme is stopped or curtailed it will be a shattering blow to the Government's social mobility agenda. Will the noble Lord keep that in mind when making that decision?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord said. No one is talking about stopping ERASMUS; we are talking about encouraging the Union to make changes to ERASMUS as it develops. The specific Question about fee waivers is a detailed Question for Her Majesty's Government and one that colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will consider and make the appropriate decision in due course.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the limiting of fee remission to those aged up to 25 studying for a first full level 2 and specified level 3 qualification will negatively impact on disabled people seeking apprenticeships, because they can take rather longer? Will he agree to look at the matter again?
Lord Henley: My Lords, again, that would be a matter for the European Union to look at. Again, I will pass that question on to my right honourable friend and I am sure that it is one that he will want to take up with the Commissioner in his further consultations about the future development of ERASMUS.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, ERASMUS is an important scheme to gain valuable work experience and language skills. Applicants to that scheme are not the only group who would like a fee waiver from 2012, as more than 70 per cent of universities will be charging the maximum fees of £9,000 per year. Has the Minister seen the outcome of the High Fliers Research study published today, which finds that more than half of current final year students would not have gone to university if they had faced fees of £9,000? Given those findings and the consequences to the Exchequer of higher than budgeted fees, how will the Government square extending access with deficit reduction? Is it time for another pause to go to listen to the public?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord takes us slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper. We have on a number of occasions debated the whole question of the reforms that we are bringing in; we will have further debates on them in due course, and I look forward to taking part in those debates. This Question is about ERASMUS, which is a much narrower point than the one that the noble Lord is asking about.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can my noble friend tell me where the ERASMUS project is physically based, because the European Union Commission, with uncommon felicity, managed to put the EUREKA programme in the Rue Archimède?
Lord Henley: Oh dear. I am afraid that I cannot answer my noble friend's question as to where it is physically based. The best answer would probably be that I think that it is based in Brussels, but if it is not I will write to my noble friend to let him know.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, Forest Research has moved from a strategy of eradication to one of containment in the west London outbreak area. Outside this, a protected zone has been declared, within which regular surveys will be conducted to ensure that any new infestations are eradicated.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I must declare an interest as a patron of the Friends of Richmond Park. Richmond Park will spend £50,000 or more this year to remove nests of that moth in order that the public can continue to use the park.
The Minister will be aware that the health hazards of the oak processionary moth caterpillar are such that to remove the nests people have to be in full chemical contamination gear, including breathing apparatus. Therefore, he will understand that I am very distressed that the eradication programme has
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for all she has said. She is quite right in, first, underlining the public health issues and, secondly, underlining the fact that some oak woodland areas might have to be removed from public access, as has happened in other parts of the EU, although we hope that it will not happen here.
The reason we have moved from eradication to containment is based on scientific advice that eradication within the five boroughs in south-west London that the noble Baroness is aware of is not possible. We managed to eradicate the outbreaks in Leeds and Sheffield but we got on to those much earlier. We did not get on to this outbreak, which started in the summer of 2006, early enough and therefore it will be very difficult to get rid of it. However, we are very grateful for all the work being done by Forest Research, Fera and by Kew Gardens, which also has an interest as it is right in the middle of the area.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this moth affects other trees as well as oak? In view of the fact that Defra has required the Forestry Commission and Forest Research to reduce their budgets by 25 per cent, with a similar reduction in their staff, is the noble Lord absolutely confident that we have the resources available to tackle this tree-related disease plus the many others that are coming in from overseas at this time?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the first point to make is that we do not know that this disease has come from overseas; we do not know where it has come from. Secondly, my advice is that it affects oaks, but I will write to the noble Lord if it affects other trees as well. Thirdly, there is no question of budgetary constraints affecting the fight against this particular menace. I have spoken to the Forestry Commission today and it was perfectly happy to assure me that they had all the resources it needed to fight the problems of the processionary moth. The simple problem is that there are an awful lot of them in a confined area and there are an awful lot of oaks around, and finding all the eggs, larvae and so on is very difficult indeed. Money is not in question.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, my noble friend in his last supplementary answer said that the Government do not know where this moth originated from. Does he know whether the moth affects oaks in other countries more seriously than it does here?
Lord Henley: My Lords, there are bad outbreaks in other countries. My noble friend Lady Kramer referred to the problems in the Netherlands. As I said, we cannot be certain as to how it got into the country. It is as likely as not that it came in from imports via the plant trade, but we simply do not know. We will do what we can to continue the fight, but, as I said, it will be one of containment rather than eradication.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Minister seemed to imply that the moth had not been found because of a lack of surveyance and that it had been in the woods in south London since 2006. Can he assure the House that there will be enough feet on the ground to survey trees generally in the country to ensure that we do not have outbreaks of disease that are so devastating?
Lord Henley: My Lords, however many feet we have on the ground, I do not think it would be possible for any government agency to cover the entire country in terms of the number of oaks there are and the number of oak processionary moths that might be processing around the country. All I am saying is that that particular outbreak was discovered in the summer of 2006. The Government moved as quickly as they could, but obviously they could not get on top of it. They managed to get on top of the outbreaks in Leeds and Sheffield and we have found no more two years after the attempt to eradicate them.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, would my noble friend take note of very recent research which indicates that there is a green health element not just in oak woods but in all our hardwoods? They are uniquely beneficial to many people suffering from psychological and mental ill health. Might this not therefore be an urgent issue that should be addressed more specifically than may be the case at present?
Lord Henley: My Lords, that is another question, but I agree that trees are good for us. That is why we want, if possible, to eradicate or contain the oak processionary moth so that our oaks can flourish.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, at the moment the problem has largely been limited to London, although I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness and the way in which she raised them. I understand that there has also been an outbreak in Pangbourne in Berkshire, which is worrying because of the number of oak trees found in the wider rural area of that part of the country. Can the Minister give us some reassurance that everything is being done to tackle that outbreak? Furthermore, on resources, given that the end of April and the beginning of May is the crucial time of year for effective spraying, can I again ask the Minister to assure us that the resources are available to undertake such spraying work at the present time?
Lord Henley: My Lords, of course I am aware of the outbreak in Pangbourne, which took place in 2010. It is too early to say whether we have eradicated the oak processionary moth because we cannot really talk about eradication until we have seen two years without any eggs or larvae around. We will report back in 2012 with the good news on that, if we have it. I shall repeat again what I said before: there are no problems with budgetary constraints in terms of fighting this problem.
Lord Henley: My Lords, one is looking out for a moth. It is called the oak processionary moth that exists on oak trees. It is called the oak processionary moth because it processes up oak trees in a processionary manner, whereupon it does what moths want to do. Being more serious, I should make it clear that Forest Research at the Forestry Commission is offering advice, particularly in the south-west London area, on identification. It is not just our officials and those from the Forestry Commission who will be identifying the moth-we want the public to be able to report on outbreaks as well.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, since we launched our review of the national curriculum in January, we have undertaken a call for evidence and are currently analysing the responses. We will announce our proposals on the issues covered by the first phase of the review by early next year. So far as PSHE is concerned, we have been considering the scope and timing of the review announced in the schools White Paper, and we will announce further details shortly.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response and for holding a meeting with me yesterday, which was very useful. Given that parents and children have called for personal, social and health education in the curriculum as part of their life skills education, does the Minister agree that we already have a body of knowledge about this subject and a lot of skills? Is it not time to stop reviewing and to do some implementation?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the time she gave yesterday to discussing PSHE with me and for the advice she gave to my officials. I hope that she will carry on doing that as the review continues. I know from our meeting how impatient the noble Baroness is to make progress and I agree with her that a lot of information is available. However, we want to hold a proper review and to co-ordinate it with the separate review into the national curriculum that is also going on. But her admonition to get a move on is ringing in my ears.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, in relation to the co-ordination just mentioned by the Minister, will the Government bear in mind the beneficial effects on children's achievement in other subjects across the curriculum of high-quality PSHE courses? It gives them the skills with which to learn, as well as the self-confidence, the ability to undertake teamwork and all the other qualities needed in order to become effective learners across the whole of the rest of the curriculum. That is why it is so important that these two reviews are properly linked together.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend. I know how knowledgeable and passionate she is in this area, like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I will continue to look to my noble friend's advice as we go forward on this.
Lord Flight: My Lords, are the Government considering including financial literacy as an obligatory element of the national curriculum? It seems to me that it is an essential skill for citizens going forward in this country.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, generally we are keen to ensure that the national curriculum is as little overloaded as possible because we believe that one should make space in the school day for important subjects such as financial literacy. PSHE would be another good example. That is why we are trying to simplify and reduce the burden of the national curriculum, to leave schools more discretion and time to decide on the subjects they want to teach and the best and most appropriate way to do so, knowing their children.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: How much consideration has been given to helping teachers and, therefore, children understand their emotional responses in bereavement, given that we know that 10 per cent of school children are bereaved of either a parent, sibling or close friend and that those who do not have support become victims of bullying and have a higher instance of depression, suicide, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, and so on?
Lord Hill of Oareford: Again, my Lords, I agree with those points. Part of what one would want to look at in the review is what support children need and therefore what support teachers need to make sure those children have the appropriate knowledge and skills.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, have the Government considered what effect their policies to introduce free schools and particularly schools of different religious denominations will have on personal and social education, particularly education on sexual and reproductive health?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am not sure that any of those developments would have an impact in the way that my noble friend implies. The requirements on schools, whether they are free schools, academies or maintained schools, are not changed in any regard by any of the reviews that are currently being carried out.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that once again Michael Gove has jumped the gun by changing the school league tables to reflect the new English Baccalaureate subjects before the curriculum review, which might have recognised the vital importance of PSHE, has been completed?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I do not, my Lords. There are two separate processes at work. The national curriculum review is rightly a process that we are working through to look at which subjects should be in the national curriculum. The English Baccalaureate review was to provide us with a snapshot of what is already going on in schools. The English Baccalaureate
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The desire to introduce the English Baccalaureate quickly was driven by our concern that too many children, particularly children from poor backgrounds, are being denied the opportunity to study academically rigorous subjects. I am sure the noble Baroness will know how wide the discrepancy is between children on free school meals and children not on free school meals in terms of their current study of what some people would call rigorous academic subjects. Four per cent of children on free school meals study the English Baccalaureate subjects as opposed to 17 per cent on non-free school meals. I do not think that is acceptable. Highlighting the issue and making people realise that there are these discrepancies will help give children from poor backgrounds, in particular, the opportunity to have academic subjects taught to them, which in turn will help them get into universities, which I know is a goal we all share.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, following the unfortunate events on 8 April at Camp Ashraf, Foreign Office Minister Burt released a statement calling on the Government of Iraq to cease violent operations in Camp Ashraf immediately. British embassy officials, including our ambassador in Baghdad, have raised concerns about the incident with the Iraqi President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Human Rights. We have made it clear to the Iraqi authorities that we deplore any loss of life and have urged them to set up an independent investigation into the incident.
Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, but will he acknowledge that for many years noble Lords in all parts of this House have warned of an impending disaster at Camp Ashraf? Tragically, and in the most brutal way, that has now happened. In the light of the recent slaughter of unarmed civilians by Iraqi forces, is it not clear that Maliki's word counts for nothing, that he is in hock to Iran and that he is intent on eliminating Ashraf by whatever means? In those circumstances, is it not wholly reprehensible that the Americans have virtually walked by on the other side? Surely there is only one solution remaining: for an international force or UN-mandated body to intervene immediately in Ashraf to provide essential security and much-needed medical assistance.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, those are some very ambitious demands. Perhaps I should explain to the House that on 8 April Iraqi police and armed forces entered Camp Ashraf, which is an extensive
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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Is the Minister aware that the Iraqis' claims that some of the 35 Ashraf residents massacred by Iraqi troops and some of the 350 wounded were shot by the PMOI leadership are totally untrue, and that the interior ministry conducted a search for weapons and explosives at the camp in April last year but found nothing more than 23 decaying empty packets of firecrackers? In the light of this further assault on these defenceless refugees, will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to make a personal phone call to Mr Maliki to demand the immediate withdrawal of his offensive forces, and to ask the UN to take over responsibility for the safety and security of residents and to restore proper access to medical treatment and supplies to those injured in this recent attack?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I was not aware of allegations that some of the casualties had been shot by their own side-I simply had not heard that. We recognise that this is a very complicated situation. The Iraqi Government are now the Government of a sovereign state.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Of course they have responsibilities, but this is in effect an extraterritorial enclave in Iraq and there are some very large issues. We accept as a Government that, in time, Camp Ashraf should close. The question is how that is negotiated with all sides.
Lord Avebury: My noble friend will be aware that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for a full, impartial and independent inquiry, which you are not going to get from the Iraqi Government. Will my noble friend therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to initiate a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the Secretary-General to appoint such an inquiry and also demanding that the 1,000 Iraqi troops occupying a third of Camp Ashraf be immediately withdrawn?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the fact that Iraqi troops are occupying a third of Camp Ashraf is itself evidence that Camp Ashraf is a very extensive area. As I understand it, that is part of the issue that the Iraqi Government are concerned with-they wish to reduce the area currently occupied by Camp Ashraf. The UN is actively engaged in this. I am told that UN mission members visit Camp Ashraf virtually every week.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the term "unfortunate circumstance" misleadingly and euphemistically represents what has happened in Camp Ashraf? Does he accept that what happened there was a massacre-wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter? Will the Government consider the need to send a delegation from this House, or from Parliament in general, to Camp Ashraf? Furthermore, will they consider sending Nouri al-Maliki and his Camp Ashraf dispersal committee to court at The Hague?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there is a good deal of violence all the way across the Middle East at present, with which the United Nations is actively engaged. I have to reiterate that Iraq is now a sovereign state; that the United Kingdom Government are doing their best to investigate what has happened; that this is a long-standing confrontation going back to the change of government in 2003 in Iraq; and that it is not as simple to resolve as the noble Lord suggests.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, later today we will have the Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. There are 50 speakers signed up to take part in that Second Reading. Subject to progress on the first business today, Third Reading of the Pensions Bill, if Back-Bench contributions on the police Bill were to be kept to approximately six minutes, the House should then be able to rise this evening at around the target rising time of 10 o'clock. This advisory time for Back-Benchers excludes the Minister's opening of 20 minutes and the Opposition's opening and winding-up of 15 minutes.
Clauses 1 to 8, Schedule 1, Clauses 9 and 10, Schedule 2, Clauses 11 to 37, Schedule 3, Clauses 38 to 41, Schedule 4, Clauses 42 to 50, Schedule 5, Clause 51, Schedule 6, Clause 52, Schedule 7, Clause 53, Schedule 8, Clauses 54 to 64, Schedule 9, Clauses 65 to 71, Schedules 10 and 11, Clauses 72 to 89, Schedule 12, Clauses 90 and 91.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pensions Bill, has consented to
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(1) Before the end of June 2016, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report containing an assessment of the consequences of its provisions on any proposals for the introduction of a single tier or universal state pension.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the amendment in my name would require the Secretary of State to introduce a report on the single state pension by June 2016, before Part 1 of the Bill, which refers to the delay in the state pension age for women, is commenced. I would also ask the House to ignore the word "universal" on this amendment-
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I ask that colleagues carry out the normal courteous procedure. Those who are remaining in the Chamber wish to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Could those who are leaving do so rather quietly?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I thank the Chief Whip. The delay in women's retirement age so that, for the most unfortunate, retirement is delayed by two years, was discussed and determined, narrowly, on Report. No one, I think, was happy about the bunching effect, including the Minister. It is the consequence of insisting, despite the coalition agreeing to the contrary, that the state pension age for women would rise to 66 by 2020. I remind the House that the coalition agreement that women's state pension age would not begin to rise to 66 until after 2020 was not an election pledge that was broken in the name of coalition dealings and agreement but was part of the post-election coalition agreement from both government parties in the full knowledge of the costs and circumstances. To break that joint, agreed, published, post-election pledge within the year is, in my view, pretty disreputable. However, that is where we now are, regrettably. I hope very much that the other place will try to smooth out the bunching effect, which narrowly this House allowed to continue.
Since Report-I think on the day after-we have had the long-awaited Green Paper on the new single state pension. I am sure that noble Lords greatly welcome it, as I certainly do. It proposes bringing the basic state pension, the state second pension and pension credit into one pool, allowing the payment of a single pension based on national insurance contributions a few pounds above pension credit level. This would both tackle pensioner poverty, especially among women, and encourage saving. Existing accrued rights would be honoured, but possible future accrued rights would be capped in much the same way as when this House decided-rightly, in my view-to replace SERPS with
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The new single pension is important in a couple of ways. I am raising it now because we did not have the opportunity to raise it on Report, given that the Green Paper just happened to be published the day after Report. There is agreement around the House about the desirability of NEST. It will effectively reintroduce an earnings-related pension, so to speak, to top up the new single pension, performing the same function but in a very different way from the old SERPS. However, as we all know, NEST is risky, particularly for low-earning women. If they do not have a partner at retirement whose pension income lifts them both off pension credit, they find that their savings in NEST are severely depleted by the operation of the pension credit taper. There is no way that someone at 30 can predict whether it is worth saving in NEST if it depends on what partnership and household arrangements they have 30 or 40 years down the line.
Pension credit has done a superb job of tackling the poverty of existing pensioners. It means that pensioners are no more or no less likely to be poor than any other group in society. However, it has added to the risk of future pensioners who seek to avoid poverty by building savings. The single state pension cuts through all of that. It means that your pension income from NEST will depend not on your household but on your own income, which is a far safer, clearer and cleaner path for savers. With a new pension, every penny you normally save in NEST will return to you as your pension. It has built out the risk from saving; it pays to save. That is why, on all sides of the House, we welcome NEST, and I am sure will welcome the new single pension. Hence this amendment.
This amendment seeks to ensure that the new single pension is locked into the pension structure of the future so that NEST in particular is safe. It in no way seeks to reopen an issue that this House has already decided-although I wish we could-on the indecent bunching of women's state pension age so that some women have to wait two years longer than they could reasonably expect for a state pension to be paid to them. Instead, what the amendment tries to do is to build into the Bill a commitment on the new single pension before the commencement of the accelerated raising of the state pension age, which so many of us in this House deplored on Report. It also seeks to ensure that, at a time when NEST is completing its transitional stage in 2016 and with the 2017 review of NEST in sight, it is securely underpinned by the state platform. Hence, the amendment contains the words "June 2016". I cannot, even if I wanted to, make the one conditional on the other. In any case, I do not wish to suggest that it is acceptable to delay women's state pension age because those recipients will get a
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What would be even worse is for women to have their pension age postponed as the Bill currently proposes and then to find that they were still drawing only the existing state pension, with possible vague rights to a state second pension and pension credit very unclear. Under the Companion's rules, I cannot fully introduce new material, even though this pivotal Green Paper was produced one day after Report so that we could not take it into discussion then. I have had to produce this very mild amendment, which states that the Secretary of State should lay a report on the new state pension before June 2016 changes to state pension retirement age come into effect. It is an attempt, in other words, to ensure that the new single pension does not get kicked into the long grass some time down the line, as I suspect HMT wishes it to be, while the cost-cutting delays to women's pensions continue on their merry, savage, way, and while saving in the NEST auto-enrolment scheme continues to seem precarious.
I am well aware that a consultation exercise is currently under way and is to be completed in June, and no Government can give a full commitment before that exercise has been completed. However, from my knowledge of those who have been campaigning for such a single state pension over the years, criticism will come primarily from one group and one group only-those who will find themselves excluded from it because they are already pensioners. However, we all hope that, as the economic situation improves, that too may be revisited, perhaps with the older pensioners-those over 80 and 85-enjoying the new single pension along with newcomers into pensions. The two groups over time may meet; I very much hope so.
This is a tidying-up, Third Reading, probing amendment, by which we can take note of the Government's intentions in this respect, but it is really a chance for the Minister to ensure that the single state pension is locked into the new pensions structure. It will to some extent mitigate the worst effects of bunching, but that still needs to be sorted out in the other place, and it would ensure the safety of NEST. In the hope that the Minister can confirm that, subject to the results of the consultation exercise, it is the secure intention of the Government to proceed down this path, I beg to move.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on her ingenuity in inserting this into the delicate business of amendments at Third Reading, of which I have, with modesty, rather less experience than her. I also associate myself with the spirit of her intentions in this matter at least in two respects.
First, many of us across the House felt some dissatisfaction or sadness that we were not able to resolve some of the issues of rough justice connected with the bunching of women's pensions. While I appreciate that we cannot reopen that in this House now, that
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Perhaps I would be on more confident and more positive ground in saying, secondly, that I share the noble Baroness's enthusiasm for the single state pension, which I believe would be a considerable social advance. It would help to make pensions and saving for them, including private pensions and NEST, worth while. That must be an objective for us all. It would also be an important advance in simplifying the system. We could not discuss this previously because of the timings of government proposals and I appreciate that pensions' evolution and development is an incremental business. However, I would like to share with the House some considerations which the Minister, even if he does not consent to a formal review-I know that those things are not easy for Ministers to do-may at least wish to ponder in moving through the consultation process on the state second pension and in looking at the interaction with NEST.
With due respect to the noble Baroness, I will not confine my remarks specifically to women's issues because some wider issues are also appropriate to consider. First, it is in the nature of pensions, particularly where they are guaranteed or organised by the state, to reflect long-term commitments. Any mid-term corrective action, even if benignly intended-and this is so-may therefore inevitably subvert arrangements which have already been made. I cite as an example that when we reduced the qualifying years to 30, with a view to trying to do something about women's pensions in the past, it had the converse disadvantage of nullifying the benefits of some individuals who had made contributions above that period in order to safeguard their entitlement, on the rules as they stood and in good faith.
At the same time, if we moved to a single state pension, I would find it personally important to retain an element of the contributory principle. Again, a post-Bill development, as it were, has been the issue of whether there should be some association either of administration or even of coverage between the tax and national insurance systems. Paying for something and getting something back is both morally and prudentially wise, although there is a huge amount of further work to do on that area. There are also potential differential impacts, as the noble Baroness has already touched on, from the change not just on women but for those with interrupted or overlapping working patterns. For example, there are people who have spent time abroad or who may have saved for a private second pension at different times. All that is complicated and requires a good deal of careful thinking through.
At some stage-the Minister can help us by giving some indication of this-we need therefore to take a dispassionate and careful look at all aspects of the proposed changes as they now come out. This should
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendment, which shows us that there are very few people who know as much about pensions as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis; we recognise her ingenuity, certainly, but above all her knowledge and her belief in getting the right and honourable thing for all pensioners. I too am extremely sad that we were not able to convince this House to amend the proposals affecting those women turning 57 in March and April this year who were going to be required to work an extra two years, a group of women who had far fewer opportunities for flexible working than women have today. I believe that an attempt in the other place will be made to return a more equitable answer to this problem, and I hope that it would be well received in this House. I too support the idea of the single state pension. It would go quite a long way towards a more equitable set-up for both men and women into the future. I would like to end by very much hoping that we will see a better outcome in many respects than we had first thought when looking at this Bill.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hollis has been an initiator of thinking about, and a passionate advocate of, a single state pension for a number of years. She is truly a leader of the pack on this issue. As she explained, the nature of her amendment this afternoon is simply that it makes a request that the Secretary of State be required to lay a report before Parliament before the end of June 2016, which of course is the start of the timeframe for the acceleration of equalisation of the state pension age under the Bill. That would assess the consequences of the Bill on any proposals for the introduction of such a pension. This does not seem an unreasonable request.
From time to time during our consideration of this Bill, there have been references to proposals for a single-tier pension and the Minister acknowledged this himself at Report, when he referred to being challenged by his noble friend Lord German to say more about the single-tier pension. The Minister duly obliged by referring to a Green Paper, which was due to be published a few days later.
The Green Paper effectively consults on two propositions. One is accelerating the existing reforms so that the state pension evolves into a two-tier flat-rate structure more quickly; and the second, as my noble friend advocates, is a single-tier flat-rate pension set above the level of the pension credit standard minimum guarantee. The Green Paper, incidentally, also consults on proposals for automatically uprating the state pension age, but we are not focusing on that this afternoon. The consultation is just under way and not due to be completed until 24 June 2011. Which option, if any,
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If the proposition emerges that a single-tier pension is to be introduced, it would clearly need primary legislation, and this process would cover the ramifications of existing pension legislation and, doubtless, much else. If legislation does not emerge by 2016, however, notwithstanding the proposal for such a pension, then my noble friend's amendment would come into play.
How might the Bill have consequences for single-tier pensions? It would be difficult to argue that there will be cost ramifications, because the Green Paper makes it clear that any proposals for a single-tier pension must be cost-neutral-that is, for all the fanfare, there is to be no new money beyond existing allocations. Conversely, it would seem perverse to argue that the manifest unfairness in the changes to the state pension age can be justified as necessary for the introduction of a new state pension system, as no additional funding is to be allowed. The state pension age changes are funding the triple lock but you can spend that money only once.
One of the ramifications of a single-tier pension-this was touched on by my noble friend-is that there could be a significant reduction in means-tested benefits for pensioners, and the demise of the pension credit in particular. This would undermine some of the Government's argument in the pays-to-save debate. Even though we do not accept the rationale for the trigger in auto-enrolment, the Government's main justification for the trigger would fall away.
Like my noble friend, I am supportive of the single-tier pension but as things stand we need to understand its full ramifications, the long-term implications and the distribution effect if it is going to be cost-neutral overall. This will doubtless emerge over the next three months in particular.
At points during our debates on the Bill I wondered if some noble Lords were looking for cover or justification for the state pension age changes in the single-tier pension. Whatever the benefits of such a pension-they could be considerable-I doubt whether those noble Lords can get the comfort that they seek for supporting the state pension ages as provided in the Bill at the moment.
I support my noble friend's amendment. It seeks to achieve something important. In particular, it keeps a focus on the progress of the single state pension, which, if achievable, would be a considerable gain.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the opportunity to spend a little time today on our proposals for reforming the state pension. She has been instrumental, as other noble Lords have pointed out, in the move for better pension provision for those left out of the benefits of the heyday of the occupational pension and the earnings-related state counterpart. The Pensions Act 2007, with its enormous boost for women through the reduction in qualifying years for basic state pension and the increasing coverage of the state second pension, could have been the final push for equal treatment in state provision.
Even that was not good enough, though. In March last year, a week before the 2007 Act started to deliver for women, the noble Baroness launched the pamphlet The New State Pension: A Call to All Parties, which pushed for further radical change. Very skilfully, she got my honourable friend, the Minister responsible, to contribute a chapter to that. It proposed a new type of state pension with a near-universal amount, set above the level of the means test and made affordable by paying the pension to new pensioners only. Her main motivation, as ever, was to deliver an adequate state pension for women who, because of low pay and career breaks, have historically lost out in pension provision.
Just over a year later, the Government published their proposals for improving state provision, A State Pension for the 21st Century. That Green Paper confronts the big issue of how to respond to a decline in private saving at a time of increasing life expectancy. It describes how means-testing, with all the damage that it can do to private saving, pervades the state system. It describes the great complexity of the state system. Bluntly, for most people the system is simply impenetrable. Crucially, it fails to answer the most obvious of all questions from potential private savers: is it worth it? How much will I get from the state when I retire anyway? As importantly, it describes the extent of inequality in the state system-how women, on average, get £40 a week less state pension than men and how they are more likely to live in poverty as pensioners.
The Green Paper describes two options for reform to respond to the challenges that the pension system faces. The first option would simplify the state second pension. It would strip out the earnings-related part of the second pension, leaving just a flat-rate amount-the same pension for all workers and people who are credited into the system for caring and other good reasons. The second, more radical, option would effectively fold the basic and second pensions into one to create a simple single-tier pension, set above the level of the guarantee credit. This option, which is clearly similar to the one that the noble Baroness proposed a little more than a year ago, would mean that by 2020 no less than 90 per cent of pensioners-men and women-would retire on a pension above the guarantee credit.
The Green Paper, as I said, was published earlier this month and the consultation is currently under way. As the noble Baroness appreciates, changes of the magnitude proposed in the Green Paper can be progressed only by listening to the views of all those with an interest. It is far too early in the process for the Government to come to a view on the way ahead, so I
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I remind the House that we published an impact assessment, including a gender, race and disability impact assessment, of our proposals to increase the state pension age first as part of the White Paper setting out our response to the call for evidence and again alongside the publication of the Bill when it first entered Parliament. Those assessments will be further amended and revised as necessary for republication when the Bill enters the Commons and yet again once the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. I can therefore assure the House that, were the Government to publish a White Paper on reform, we would be no less diligent in providing detailed information on the impacts of any policy changes by gender, ethnicity and a range of other factors. In short, there will be plenty of opportunity for noble Lords, as well as Members of another place, to scrutinise any proposals for reform and their likely impacts, should the Government decide to proceed with reform.
I emphasise that the proposals that we have set out in the Green Paper do not depend on increasing the state pension age. As I said in our debates on Clause 1, the rise in the state pension age must be brought forward because the sharp upward revision in life expectancy projections has overtaken the legislated timetable. The revised timetable would be necessary with or without the reforms on which we are consulting. We have already discussed at some length the impact of our proposed changes to the pension age timetable, in particular on those cohorts of women who face an increase in their pension age of up to two years. A number of noble Lords have emphasised that point and I do not propose to rerun that debate. However, I draw attention to the fact that a key objective of the reforms, alongside simplifying the system and rewarding those who save, is to look at how the state pension could be made fairer for groups, including women.
The noble Baroness's amendment seeks to ensure that we consider the impact of the state pension age changes in conjunction with our proposals for reforming the state pension scheme. As I said, we are only at the consultation stage on our reform proposals but I can assure the House that although, as I hope I have made clear, these are not interdependent changes, we would undertake such an assessment if these reforms are taken forward. I trust that I have been able to assure noble Lords that the statutory duty that the noble Baroness's amendment would impose is not necessary and, furthermore, is somewhat premature. We will have many opportunities to debate what to do with any reform proposals as they go through the whole process. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part around the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend for their warm support for the principle of the amendment. If the
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I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, that we have to see pensions as part of a structure. However, such a new single state pension is the keystone for any reform not just of state pensions but of occupational pensions that do not generate a savings trap for those on lower earnings. That is why noble Lords all round the House are so delighted to see the possibility of that keystone finally coming into place. The noble Lord said that we should minimise retrospective unfairness and avoid future moral hazard. Those words are well taken; they are wise words for us to absorb.
My noble friend Lord McKenzie is absolutely right that, with the advent of a new single state pension, the issue of the threshold of enrolment into NEST disappears. It does not matter whether you end up with £3,000, £30,000 or £300,000 of savings; you keep the lot if the new single state pension is in place. Therefore, you do not have to legislate to avoid the moral hazard of low-paid women earning less than £7,500 a year going into NEST because their savings may not be worth having, given the effect of pension credit. As NEST will be reviewed in 2017, which many of us are already looking forward to, I very much hope that we shall be able to revisit this issue then as, with the new single pension in place, a threshold of enrolment will simply not be necessary. However modest the savings, they will be worth having and worth encouraging, so that even the poorest of people can go into retirement with a cushion against the adversities of old age.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his generous comments on the background to the single pension and to his officials for their work in bringing the Green Paper forward. My only regret is that the Green Paper came too late for Report and that Third Reading has come too early for the results of the consultation. None the less, we are trying to wedge this in between the two. I believe that the new single pension will transform the pension landscape and should receive huge support. I was delighted to hear from the Minister that there was no interdependence between the deferring of the state pension age-in other words, the raising of the state pension age to 66-and the funding or costing of the Green Paper. That is key. It gives me hope that he and his honourable friend Steve Webb will be seeking to smooth the bunching effect whereby some women have a much rougher deal than others. Some wait nearly an extra year for their pensions and some wait for nearly two years. We all recognise that that is-in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell-rough justice. I would go further than that: it is unacceptable. I and, I am sure, the Minister hope that a decent solution can be found to that in the other place.
However, I am, in a way, using the amendment to do what we would have done had the Green Paper been introduced by a Statement, which was not the case. We are delighted to have the Green Paper in place. We wish the consultation good speed. We hope that the results will come through in such a way that the Government
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(a) employer contributions, and
(b) total contributions,
would be likely to be no less if every scheme satisfied an alternative requirement applicable to it than if every scheme satisfied the relevant quality requirement.
"total contributions", in relation to an active member of a scheme, means the total amount of contributions that have to be paid under the scheme in respect of the member by the employer and by the member.
(a) must apply the test in subsection (2A) when regulations under subsection (2)(b) are first made, and
(b) must carry out subsequent reviews of whether the test continues to be satisfied.
A review under paragraph (b) must be carried out during 2017, and after that each review must be completed no more than three years after the completion of the previous one.""
Lord Freud: My Lords, I am pleased to be returning to the topic of certification and even more so to be moving a government amendment that I believe will address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. I understand those concerns to be twofold: first, on the scope of the Secretary of State's powers and, secondly, on the risk of unscrupulous employers manipulating the certification test.
The aims of this amendment are: first, to strengthen the regulatory framework in which the alternative certification model will operate by imposing tougher preconditions before regulations can be introduced; and, secondly, to introduce an ongoing requirement for the Secretary of State to keep the test under review.
At the outset, before publishing any regulations, the Secretary of State must be confident that at least 90 per cent of jobholders will receive the same level of contributions under the certification test that they would have received if their scheme had satisfied the relevant quality requirement. This is more demanding than the previous requirement, which referred to,
In addition, the Secretary of State must periodically review the evidence base of the test. This is expected to involve analysing the dataset from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, known as ASHE. These are the data that underpinned the development of the certification model and other relevant data on the rate of pension contributions required by schemes. This is tougher than the previous test, which relied on a snapshot of the data at the point of publishing regulations. If, as a result of review, we detect undesirable trends in pay and reward packages that suggest that more individuals than expected are receiving lower than minimum contributions, the Secretary of State can intervene to strengthen or repeal the test.
After the publication of the regulations, the review will take place first in 2017 and subsequently at least every three years. The review will form part of our ongoing evaluation strategy. Its publication will be considered in the context of the evaluation of the reforms. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will note that we have pared back the Secretary of State's power as far as we reasonably can, based on the available evidence. In view of this, I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that the Secretary of State's powers are proportionate to the task in hand. For clarity, I should add that the requirements fall to the Secretary of State and not to employers using the test.
The reconfigured regulation-making power aligns more closely with our dataset from the annual survey from ASHE, which we believe to be robust, representative and reliable. Thus, the Secretary of State will be able to deliver the certification model welcomed by employers and key stakeholders at the same time as affording scheme members the appropriate level of protection. A supplementary delegated powers memorandum has been sent to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to reflect the tighter constraints on the Secretary of State's regulation-making power.
I say in conclusion that we have ended up with the outcome broadly envisaged by the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, tabled on Report. I thank both noble Lords for the expertise that they brought to bear on the issue. The Bill has been improved by their intervention and I am grateful for it. I beg to move.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his introduction and explanation of the amendment, and for his generous attribution. As he explained, when making regulations about the alternative certification test, the Secretary of State is required now to be satisfied that 90 per cent of individuals eligible for automatic enrolment will receive contributions to the level they would have received had the scheme satisfied the relevant quality requirement. The Secretary of State is required to be so satisfied when regulations are first made and at subsequent reviews. We support the amendments because they represent a significant tightening of the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers.
As we detailed, we support a certification process which gives employers an incentive to retain existing good-quality schemes, provided that it does not undermine the opportunity for relevant employees to benefit from auto-enrolment. We acknowledge that the certification
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We stated from the outset that we support the Government and congratulate them on their decision to proceed with auto-enrolment and with NEST. I do so again today. However, we do not do this with unconstrained joy, because a number of provisions in the Bill erode the intended coverage of the arrangements. Some employees might miss out because of the certification process under Clause 10; the three-month waiting period in Clause 6 could reduce an individual's accumulated years of savings by nearly three years; the introduction of the earnings trigger in Clause 5, as currently set, would exclude some 600,000 individuals; and the broad uprating powers in Clause 8 would allow the Government to achieve their aspiration of a trigger of £10,190. As my noble friend Lady Drake pointed out on Report, this would exclude a further 800,000 workers each year, three-quarters of whom would be women.
Collectively, the measures hit the low paid and those working part-time, especially women. They run counter to the overarching objective of auto-enrolment, which is to enable low and moderate earners to save. Should the trigger reach the level of £10,000, the reforms would begin seriously to undermine their original intent. All of this compounds the central unfairness in the Bill, which is the disproportionate way in which women are affected by the raising of the state pension age. As we have had no further comfort from the Minister on this issue today, the parliamentary campaign now moves to the other place.
I conclude by thanking the Minister for the concession that is embodied in the amendment, and his team for their efforts in enabling the matter to be dealt with at Third Reading. They have removed the potential for severe diminution of coverage via the certification process, which is to be welcomed. We look forward to the reviews of how the alternative requirement is working in practice. As this is the last time I will speak on the Bill, I will take the opportunity to thank the Minister for his open approach to handling this important piece of legislation, and the Bill team for the way that they have stepped up to the mark and been helpful to the Opposition as well as to the Minister.
On phasing and parameters, I can assure the noble Lord that it does work. Phasing will be consistent with the amendment, which probably does not surprise him. At the moment the figures are comfortably within the parameters, so there is a safety margin. Clearly, if they fall out of those parameters, it will be due to
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As a result of this amendment the preconditions before the Secretary of State to make regulations will be a better check and balance on his powers due to two factors-that the percentage of job holders that must potentially receive at least minimum contributions is high, at least 90 per cent; and that the strength of the alternative certification requirements will be periodically reviewed. As there might be concern that this will add to the burden on employers, I should repeat for absolute clarity that the requirements fall to the Secretary of State, not to employers, using the test.
Although the government proposal will be more demanding for the Secretary of State, it should maintain the right balance between flexibility for employers and safeguards for individuals. I am very pleased that we have been able to reach common ground on this issue. In my turn, I must commend the close scrutiny to which the Bill as a whole has been subject in your Lordships' House. The quality of the debate has demonstrated noble Lords' accomplishment and high level of expertise. Once again, this House has performed its role with the distinction and spirit that are expected from it.
While I have the Floor I must take the opportunity to thank in particular those noble Lords who have made a significant contribution to the Bill's journey through this House, notably, of course, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in his role as opposition spokesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, for her accomplished performance at the Dispatch Box. I also thank my noble friends Lord German, Lord Stoneham and Lord Boswell, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Hollis and Lady Turner, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for their participation in an active and often challenging debate. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Garden for her proficiency in covering a number of clauses in the Bill. I also thank the Bill team, who have supported the Bill throughout this process with the right material at the right time. I am very grateful to them.
The Bill now passes over to the other place, and a number of noble Lords have presaged a little of the activity that they expect to see there on particular matters. I am just grateful to get rid of any prospect of having to look at PUCODIs again.
Let me reiterate the principles of the Bill which I set out on Second Reading, as they are still absolutely applicable. We need a fair, sustainable and balanced system that adequately and accurately reflects the society we live in. Saving for retirement should not be a thought which occurs only when you first spot that grey hair. It should be a process that begins when you enter the labour market as an adult and continues over the years. The Bill does just that while not losing sight of the key tenet of providing a decent income for the individual in retirement.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, at its heart, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill reflects the coalition's determination to transfer power away from Whitehall and return it to communities and professionals. Both parties of this coalition Government support the democratic reform of police authorities. Our chosen model of reform-to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives-was expressly set out in the coalition agreement. In taking forward this reform, we will swap bureaucratic control for democratic accountability, replacing police authorities with directly elected commissioners in all forces in England and Wales, save for the City of London, which is an exception.
Some have argued that there is a need to delay these reforms. We do not agree. These reforms cannot wait. We do not have the luxury of delaying change when HMIC, the inspectorate, concluded in its policing in austerity report that only four police authorities inspected by it were judged to have performed well in both setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money for their police force. Effective performance in both these functions is essential. Given the state of public finances in this country, it is also urgent. Moreover, the accountability of the police should be to the people and not, as it has increasingly become, towards Whitehall. I shall return to that later in my remarks.
The second fundamental principle to policing in this country is operational independence: freedom from political interference. I am aware that some in this House have been concerned that in altering the arrangements for the governance of the police, this principle, which the Government regard as sacrosanct, might be impaired. There is no necessary connection, but as this is a matter of such importance to us all in this House, I intend to deal with it straight away.
It is important to note that under the Police Act 1996, chief constables had direction and control over their forces and that they continue to do so under Clause 2. Moreover, under the Bill, they will be constituted as corporations sole and will have greater powers than now to appoint their immediate subordinates. To reassure those who remain anxious about the issue of operational independence, the Policing Minister undertook during debate in the other place to develop a protocol in consultation with ACPO, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives, setting out the distinct roles and powers of Ministers, chief constables, PCCs and other bodies in the new policing landscape. That work is well under way and the aim is to have the draft available for this House at Committee stage.
As noble Lords will be well aware, our reforms of the ways in which the police are held to account are the most comprehensive for 50 years. We have not
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Our discussions with stakeholders have helped us better to ensure that the Bill achieves the commitment in the coalition agreement to have proper checks and balances in place. I should like to say a word on this aspect.
An argument has been put forward that police and crime panels do not offer real checks and balances in relation to police and crime commissioners and that they are toothless, but this is far from the case. We expect the relationship between the PCC and the PCP to be as constructive and cooperative as possible. However, we are giving the PCPs the means to ensure, in the event of disagreement, that police and crime commissioners exercise their democratic mandates in ways that are proportionate, effective and reasonable. Their scrutiny powers include a veto, by a three-quarters majority, over the police and crime commissioner's proposed precept and his proposed candidate for chief constable; the ability to ask HMIC for a professional view when the police and crime commissioner intends to dismiss a chief constable; the right to review the draft police and crime plan and make reports and/or recommendations to the police and crime commissioner who must have regard to them; the ability to require the police and crime commissioners to attend the panel to answer questions; the duty to appoint an acting police and crime commissioner where the police and crime commissioner is incapacitated, resigns or is disqualified; and responsibility for all complaints about a police and crime commissioner, although serious issues must be passed to the IPCC.
Those are teeth, and they will be strong safeguards against the fears of some in the House that police and crime commissioners will act irresponsibly in office. The Government believe that the people of this country can be trusted to use the power of the ballot box wisely but we are nevertheless putting backstops in place. I should mention here that, elections apart, the running costs of police and crime commissioners will be cost-neutral. The elections themselves will cost no more than £50 million-not £100 million, and not £200 million, as has been put about. We have put all our costings on the web so that all can see how we have arrived at these figures.
I should like to spend a few minutes discussing each of the five areas in the Bill. The first is police and crime commissioners, about which there is little more to be said. Their introduction will focus policing on what local people want, not what national Governments think they want. Work has already begun to enhance accountability across communities in England and Wales through providing access to detailed street-level crime and antisocial behaviour data. This has generated extraordinary interest in the public and counters the argument that through PCCs we are assuming a level of public interest that is not there to drive the model. On the contrary, this shows that the interest is present and requires stimulation.
At the same time, there are key national and international responsibilities in policing to which the PCCs must make strong contributions. To ensure this the national Government, who will refocus their role away from micromanaging local policing towards exercising a better grip on key national issues, have a proper role to play.
The Bill provides for the Home Secretary to issue a strategic policing requirement that will inform the way in which police and crime commissioners work with their chief officers to deliver their forces' national and international responsibilities. There will be strong duties on them to manage national threats, including through collaboration.
We are determined that when these reforms begin, the transition from the existing system to the new regime is as smooth and as painless as possible for police forces and communities. To this end the Policing Minister is personally chairing a transition board made up of all the relevant partners and charged with delivering a programme of 12 projects to ensure that there is an effective and seamless transition to the regime of police and crime commissioners.
Finally, I want to clarify the position in Wales. The Government have respected the will of the Assembly and amended the Bill to remove the police and crime panels from local government structures and establish them as free-standing bodies, but we have done so without sacrificing the public scrutiny powers and using locally elected representatives. In the Government's view, it is not in the interests of the people of Wales to have a different governance and scrutiny structure for their forces when policing is reserved to Westminster and to the Home Secretary. There cannot be two tiers of governance for a police service whose officers and assets so regularly cross the regional boundary between England and Wales in pursuit of making our communities safer and tackling crime.
I turn now to alcohol licensing. As I have already said, the Bill will give power back to local communities in policing, and it will do the same for licensing decisions. Alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is estimated to cost the taxpayer over £8 billion per year, and last year there were nearly 1 million alcohol-related violent crimes. That is a good deal too many. The Bill will address these issues. Last summer, we consulted on plans to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003. We received over 1,000 responses, which are reflected in these clauses of the Bill.
The Bill will allow early morning restriction orders to be extended to any time between midnight and 6 am. It will give licensing authorities the power to take swift action to tackle problem premises without having to wait for a relevant representation from a responsible authority, and it will lower the evidential hurdle for licensing authorities to make it easier for them to refuse or revoke licences held by irresponsible retailers. It will allow anyone, anywhere to make representations concerning a licensing decision, regardless of vicinity to a premises. It will double the maximum fine for underage sales of alcohol to £20,000. It will allow local councils to charge a late night levy on licensed premises that remain open after midnight to help pay for late night policing and other services such
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Following an amendment in the other place, the Bill includes a provision to introduce locally set licensing fees so that the costs of licensing authorities, in discharging their duties under the Licensing Act, can be fully recovered. All of these measures show that we are committed to tackling alcohol-related crime and disorder by giving more powers to local areas.
The Government are clear that no one person or group of persons should take over Parliament Square to the detriment of others. The Bill contains a tough but proportionate package of measures to prevent encampments, to deal with disruptive activity and to give the police the necessary powers so that the space can be enjoyed by all. It will also restore the right to peaceful protest around Parliament by repealing Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. It will thus deal with encampments not by restricting protest, but by prohibiting the erection and use of tents, structures, sleeping equipment and the unauthorised use of loudhailers in Parliament Square.
I turn now to drug abuse. The Bill provides powers to crack down on the damage caused by so-called "legal highs". Many of us will be aware of the growing concern about the availability, use and potential harm that they pose. The existing arrangements for bringing a drug under control using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 remain our preferred approach. The power in the Bill to make year-long temporary class drug orders will allow us to take swift action temporarily to ban harmful substances which have been specifically developed to get round existing drugs legislation. There will be no possession offence for a temporary-class drug. We do not wish to criminalise anyone, particularly young people, while the harms of a drug are being fully assessed. We have listened to the representations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and those made in the other place and we have made an amendment to the Bill to consult the ACMD before invoking a temporary order on a statutory footing. The Bill also allows the Home Secretary to make an order on the recommendation of the advisory council since the council is able to provide advice of its own volition. This underlines the Government's continued commitment to independent, expert, evidence-based advice.
Finally, the Bill makes reasonable changes to the procedures for obtaining an arrest warrant for universal jurisdiction offences. Universal jurisdiction is a key principle of international justice. It enables some of the gravest offences to be prosecuted in the UK, regardless of where they have been committed. The Government believe that the requirement to seek the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions that a case has a realistic chance of success is a fair and proportionate measure to ensure that arrest warrants are issued in a responsible fashion. The Bill is a package of measures, carefully balanced to tackle problems in our society through restoring power to communities and professionals where it belongs. I beg to move.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the Bill. I warmly anticipate the maiden speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Berridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
The police in this country play a vital role in underpinning our democracy. We have a long and proud tradition of tolerant policing which is by consent of the British people and which is free of political partisanship. That has always characterised the tripartite arrangement between the Home Secretary, the police authority and the chief constable of every force-a balance between operational independence, local accountability and national strategic direction.
I believe that all this is at risk through the Bill, which will lead to the politicisation of our police forces, conflict and confusion between the respective roles of the elected police commissioner and the police constable, a marginalisation of local government and a loss of public confidence. The Government have in no way sought to mitigate these risks by the publication of a Green Paper, by pre-legislative scrutiny or even in a modest way through risk assessment by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. Indeed, the Government have no mandate for this proposal, no evidence base and precious little support from either the police or the public.
I find little to convince in what the noble Baroness has said to us this afternoon. She argues that the police reform was needed because the current governance arrangements were not working and police forces looked too much upwards to the Home Office. I agree with her that police authorities do not exactly make front-page news all the time, but why should they? When the public think about policing and about how crime is to be tackled, their focus is not on glossy leaflets or grandstanding by the chairman of the police authority but on the force and the chief constable, as it rightly ought to be.
Of course we should always be working to improve the relationship between the police and the local community. The way to do it, surely, is to enhance the arrangements through neighbourhood policing, which the last Government introduced so successfully. We did it in a way that respected the independence of the police from direct political interference and ensured broad-based accountability to the police authority across the whole of a police area.
As for Home Office targets, which, by implication, the noble Baroness is criticising, targets can be intrusive but the House should be in no doubt that they had a hugely positive impact on efforts to reduce crime. That was surely graphically illustrated by the BCS figures on violent crime of a 50 per cent reduction from its peak in 1995 to 2009-10. The noble Baroness was rather silent on that.
The noble Baroness talked about the transfer of powers to local government, but I hope that this is not a signal of the Government's intention to absolve themselves of responsibility for the crime figures and from the draconian cuts now taking place in police budgets. She said that the cost of these elections
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What does the noble Baroness have to say to Jessica de Grazia, New York's former chief assistant district attorney, who came over here and said that elected police commissioners in England and Wales would damage public faith in the legal system? She added:
Does the noble Baroness understand that putting in the place of a low-profile group of members of a police authority a full-time politician with a party label seeking to justify a well-paid position is a fundamental change that risks overturning a 170-year tradition of independence? Does she really suggest that, under the current provisions of the Bill, the police commissioner will not seek to involve himself or herself in operational matters? How can that be denied when the elected police commissioner can direct police priorities, hire and fire chief constables and take on political advisers to do his or her bidding? I fear for the operational independence of chief constables and I fear for the consequences of national policing requirements. What does the noble Baroness have to say to Assistant Commissioner Yates, who in a speech only five days ago to a counterterrorism conference said that elected police chiefs would face difficulties in trying to reconcile national counterterrorism demands with,
We have been promised a memorandum of understanding on the relationship between the elected commissioner and the chief constable. I hope that we can see that soon, but I doubt its effectiveness given the levers that the elected commissioners will have over the chief constables. Nothing short of statutory guidelines will do.
I would have more confidence if the proposed police and crime panels had more teeth. The noble Baroness talked about strong checks and balances and said that the panels were not toothless, but the Bill contains a power of veto in only two circumstances-the precept and the appointment of chief constables. For such a veto to operate, 75 per cent of the panel have to vote in favour. Noble Lords should remember that the elected police commissioner will carry a political banner into that role. Seventy-five per cent is a higher threshold than Her Majesty's Government propose for the Dissolution of Parliament. Indeed, the hurdle is so high that it may never be used. In itself, that gives rise to grave doubts about the influence that the panels will have. As we go into Committee, we shall certainly propose to strengthen the powers of these panels to hold the elected commissioner to account.
I make it clear that we are resolutely opposed to the principle of the Bill as it relates to the police commissioners. I believe that at the very least we should ensure that the Government have to satisfy three tests before the Bill is enacted. First, her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary should undertake an assessment of the impact of these proposals and the Act should not be commenced until that has been
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There are of course other items in the Bill. The Opposition support extra licensing powers to enable local communities and the police to keep public order. We are sympathetic to temporary banning orders for drugs offences, as proposed in the Bill, but we will probe strongly the future role and membership of the advisory committee. We believe that the law on universal jurisdiction should be changed to address the problem where private citizens can secure an arrest warrant even when there is no evidence for, or prospect of, a prosecution. However, I also reiterate the Opposition's strong belief in the importance of universal jurisdiction. We will certainly scrutinise the details effectively.
In conclusion, I return to the proposals on the police. The political independence of the police is, I believe, as important to us and our democracy as the independence of the courts. I have no doubt that a single politically motivated police and crime commissioner will make it increasingly difficult to ensure that that political independence is maintained. I strongly urge the Government to think again.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I do not know whether being bathed in sunshine is some sort of endorsement of what I am about to say. Not for the first time in my 20 years in this House, I would not have chosen to start from here. "Here" is a Bill that has passed through the Commons-we are not the House with the democratic mandate-that will provide a new injection of democracy into how England and Wales do policing. Who are we to deny democracy? It is, as regards police and crime commissioners, part of an agreed coalition programme for government, and, in my book, agreements are things that you honour. I will try to uphold the best traditions of this House: constructive criticism and amendments, not to wreck but to improve what comes before us.
I have to say that I have never been much of a fan of personality politics or the transfer of celebrity culture into complex holistic subjects such as government and the governance of complex organisations. We will all have our concerns about who may want to become police and crime commissioners: undoubtedly party politicians and also candidates with simplistic-or I
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The debate around the new model started from accountability and the question of who was responsible for what. Knowing what is operational when you see it is not a substitute for trying to define it. I look forward to the protocol. It is important that both the players and Parliament see a resolution to this issue before the Bill progresses.
The underlying philosophy of the new governance model is accountability. The police and crime panels have the statutory task of reviewing and scrutinising commissioners. That means bringing information into the public domain, exploring it and sometimes checking it. The Minister tells us that the panels will have teeth; clearly we have to explore this. I do not believe that the powers, as drafted, are adequate to provide the checks and balances required by the new framework. The term "veto" seems a misnomer. The threshold for a vote against the precept is high, and it relates only to the precept, not to the budget as a whole, nor to its component parts. The powers to secure the appearance of individuals to answer questions in public and to secure information are limited. Moreover, I am concerned that the panels will not be as representative as we would like. A small number of people would cover some large and very diverse areas; and then, of course, there is Wales.
My noble friend Lady Doocey I am sure will talk about London. Having lived through the legislation creating the GLA and having spent some years as an Assembly member and chair, I am quite clear that London should not be regarded as a testing ground for the rest of England and Wales. It is not an exemplar. The arrangements have been good in part but not perfect, and it is very different from other areas. London is also very different from New York, which is often cited, even if you disagree with Jessica de Grazia. Just one difference is the city council in New York, which is a very powerful check on the mayor. So let us judge the plans for England and Wales on their own merits.
Part 1 of the Bill is largely about governance, but I will apply the "Social Responsibility" of the Bill's Title to it as well. Policing is within a structural framework but it is about people. I hope that we can build on the welcome references to victims, to extending the input of victims, survivors and the voluntary organisations that support them. They have a lot to contribute in addressing the need, for instance, for co-ordinated child protection, as well as in helping victims of human trafficking, rape and the other appalling things that go on in our not always very nice society.
I will not take up more of the House's time today on the policing part of the Bill, except to say that this Bill is about public service reform and constitutional experiment. Is it not sensible to make sure that we-I
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I welcome reducing the burden on local authorities with respect to licensing. The changes in 2003 giving local authorities a new role seemed appropriate then. However, I recall concerns about their operation. We will have to see whether this Bill, as I think it does, gets closer to the right balance of interests between those who want to enjoy various events and activities and those who may be adversely affected. Local authorities are responsible towards both. I do not dismiss the concerns of the trade about, for instance, needing stability and certainty. The late-night levy seems to me to be overly bureaucratic and insufficiently targeted, I question the 70/30 split, and I do not think the balance is quite right as regards conditions on temporary event notices. To those who argue against having some restrictions and that individual licensees are responsible, I say that they may be responsible, their premises may be well run, but they cannot control behaviour outside. I live quite near a pub, and my vocabulary has been increased by what I hear under my bedroom window some nights.
I share the concern of many of your Lordships that drugs misuse needs to be regarded as a broad social and public health issue. We must not let tinkering with the existing legal framework distract us from the need for clear new thinking.
The last pages of the Bill pack in a lot of content. On arrest warrants, my noble friend Lord Alderdice made what I think was a very wise observation from his experience. Does this country not want to be thought of as somewhere people from opposing-indeed, warring-sides can meet to seek progress in resolving their differences?
There is a good deal to say on the subject of Parliament Square. I would prefer as far as possible to rely on the public order provisions, which are of general application. Parliament Square is never going to be the best place for sandwiches and sunbathing while it is simply a medium-sized traffic island, and it does us no harm to be faced with protests every day.
Lord Blair of Boughton: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. In common with a small number of noble Lords speaking today, I served as a police officer for a long period-in my case, 35 years, with 10 as a chief officer. I shall have some other interests to declare later on.
I rise to my feet with a heavy heart. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said, the main measures in the Bill are seen by both parties in the coalition as manifesto commitments in principle. They have been passed by major majorities in the other place and seem likely, whatever happens in this House, to become law in their essentials. I am concerned with only one part
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I am grateful to the Home Secretary, to the noble Baroness and the policing Minister for recently taking the trouble to see me. However, while they listened, their speeches as reported in the other place and as heard today indicate that they did not agree with the concerns that I expressed. I told them that the Government had the right diagnosis but completely the wrong remedy. Despite the honourable service of those noble Lords here who served on them, it is true that police authorities are little known by the public. However, the cure proposed by this lack of public profile is worse than the disease. To replace police authorities with a single, directly elected person is to introduce a foreign species into an indigenous environment without knowing what the impact will be.
Some 20 years ago, after the Bookbinder case in the early 1990s in Derbyshire, a Conservative Government introduced independent members to police authorities in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, precisely to limit improper political interference in policing. I believe that that independence is crucial, which is why I told the previous Labour Administration while commissioner that I could not support fully elected police authorities. It seems strange to me that a Government 20 years later should completely reverse their position.
The proposal is based largely on the American model of police governance. There are a reputed 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. I recently visited Martha's Vineyard, which is about half the size of the Isle of Wight. There are six police forces on that island, the largest of which in Edgartown has 26 officers. The chief holds office at the pleasure of the town mayor; the people of the town know him, know the officers and love the arrangements-but they also know that these officers serve only their small community and that if anything happens beyond the force's capability, which it quite regularly does, in will step the Massachusetts state police, then the FBI, then the Department of Homeland Security and then one of the many other federal organisations. If, after a suitable inquiry of some sort, the Government had proposed breaking back policing to local towns and communities in this community, that would have been logical, but there is little logic in replicating the arrangements for Edgartown with one person representing the interests of electors in all of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire.
Neither of those points are my main objection, which lies in the relationship between the elected commissioner and the chief constable. Here, I must declare my second interest as the only former police chief in your Lordships' House who knows what it is to serve under a person who is acting like an American
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The Government have laid much emphasis on a proposed protocol concerning the relationship between the chief constable and the elected commissioner, which may or may not be statutory. The Greater London Authority Act currently contains specific statutory provisions for the processes which should be followed in the removal or the suspension of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard. However, the present mayor of London, acting as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority-he having assumed that office the day before, after a change in legislation-did not choose to use those processes. He merely told me that he would arrange a public vote of no confidence at the next authority meeting, which I would lose. I could have said, in terms, "So what?", as the commissioner is appointed by the Home Secretary. However, I could see that that would have put my force at war with its own authority and damage the service of which I was a steward. When I saw her, the then Home Secretary could see that as well. We were also aware by the next day that news media had already been enquiring about my resignation. There was no time for recourse to the processes laid out in the legislation because the stable door had been thrown open and the horse had bolted. A pretty similar situation arose in the subsequent case of Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick.
This Bill contains similar, detailed clauses and schedules on the removal of a chief officer. There may indeed be an additional semi-statutory protocol in future, but neither will help a chief officer in the face of an elected commissioner determined to get rid of him or her or, as sometimes happens in the United States-I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, will acknowledge this-of a proposed mayor who campaigns on getting rid of the current chief constable or bringing in another named individual. Politicians appoint and dismiss for political reasons, as they do everything else. How many times will a chief constable go on arguing with a man or woman who can replace him or her for reasons other than proven incompetence or misconduct? How often will the police chief insist on his or her operational duty to deal with national and regional crime, rather than the local issues on which the commissioner has been elected? How robust will the police chief be in examining allegations concerning a friend of the commissioner? Finally, what bright young man or woman will put their pension at risk of such capricious termination by becoming a chief constable? This, as one American police chief put it to me, will introduce into Britain the weakest link in US policing. No protocol or clauses in legislation will stop this possibility.
I said that I have a heavy heart. I have been approached by Members on different sides of the House to support or suggest amendments to the Bill. With the deepest regret, I do not expect to be doing so. That probable decision is because I believe that this provision is simply wrong in principle. No amendment to the powers of the police and crime panel, to the protocol or to any other provision, however wisely suggested by Members of your Lordships' House, will prevent the significant damage that this measure will do to British policing, probably irrevocably.
In closing, I must declare another interest: the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who was my history teacher at school. Of course, I bow to his knowledge of politics as well as of history. I accept that many elected commissioners will be men and women of integrity, although some may not, yet they will all be politicians. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said in the other place in a debate in November 2008 on a Private Member's Bill seeking to introduce elected police commissioners:
"Of course it would politicise the police; people would stand for election on party tickets and for populist policies. Frankly, the Bill is a prescription for anarchy and disaster, and I cannot support it".-[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/08; col. 640.]
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are rightly concerned about the level of public confidence in policing, which is part of the general crisis of disillusionment with political life and public institutions. Clearly it must be right in principle to seek to reconnect the public with the prevention and detection of crime and the preservation of public safety. However, as we all know, doing this effectively and appropriately is not so easy. The current tripartite system of police governance provides a careful balance of responsibilities and powers involving the Home Secretary, chief constables and police authorities, though it must be admitted that it is rather opaque to the public. The Government's solution to the so-called democratic deficit is, as we have heard, the direct election of police and crime commissioners, in an attempt both to release energy for change and to improve communication and accountability. However, this is not without its problems, as we have been hearing. Several of us on these Benches have been made aware of the concerns of our local chief constables on this score.
I think it was Aristotle who identified three types of government: monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. Any system of governance is likely to incorporate the roles of the individual, the representative group and the people. There is wisdom in subjecting an individual to the scrutiny of a group of people with varied backgrounds and expertise, as the system of chief officers and police authorities does. Like others, I wonder whether setting up another individual police and crime commissioner to monitor a force and its chief does not in some respects narrow the potential for scrutiny, and create the potential for personality clashes and, worse, the intrusion of politics with a small "p"-and as we have been warned, even a capital "P"-into the relationship. Furthermore, by concentrating so much power in the office of the commissioner, does it not risk the possibility of police governance being hijacked by individuals or groups with a sinister agenda, particularly as a result of elections with a low turnout?
This may sound like an argument against democracy itself, but current concerns about the legitimacy of the AV referendum result suggest that we need to be aware of these practical problems when setting up a new
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A second major area of concern is the preservation of the operational independence of the police, which is one of the cornerstones of our system. It is agreed that policy must be democratically decided, but that operations must not be under the direction and control of politicians. As discussions in another place have shown, the difficulty lies in determining the meaning of operational independence. As a minimum, it must cover individual decisions to arrest and question, but clearly it involves much more. I can see the objections to a general definition of independence, which neither the Government nor ACPO wants. I therefore welcome the announcement in Committee that the Government would draw up a code of practice, setting out the respective roles of the Home Secretary, chief constables and-if we must have them-police and crime commissioners. However, in these matters, the devil is in the detail, and I hope your Lordships' House will have at least some information about that detail during our discussions.
I close with some brief remarks on the licensing reforms in Part 2. Experience seems to show that the Licensing Act 2003 did not deal adequately with the public order and health problems arising from excessive alcohol consumption. In some respects, it made it more difficult to tackle them. I broadly support the proposals to rebalance licensing procedures to allow the concerns of local authorities and local communities to be voiced and taken into account. This must be part of a broader range of measures to reduce alcohol abuse and challenge the culture of excessive drinking. The proposals, in this respect, are nevertheless timely and welcome.
Lord Howard of Lympne: My Lords, I speak in support of the Bill. In the interests of brevity, I shall confine my remarks to Part 1. It is hardly surprising that I should be in support of Part 1 since I can claim a modest share in the paternity of that proposal. The proposal for elected police commissioners was in the 2005 general election manifesto of the Conservative Party, which I had the honour to lead at the time. I appreciate that that claim, judging by the speeches that we have heard so far, is not likely to endear me to all of your Lordships, but nevertheless that is the case.
At least that claim enables me to rebut conclusively one of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair: this proposal does not originate in any attempt to emulate some model transported across the Atlantic from the United States of America. Rather, it is designed to remedy a weakness in the present arrangements in this country. That weakness can be summarised in one question: what is the name of the chairman of your police authority? That is the question to which, if you ask the ordinary man and woman in the street, not
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Baroness Henig: Would the noble Lord be able to guess how many members of the public out of a hundred would know the name of the present Police Minister? Is that then an argument for the Police Minister to be directly elected?
Lord Howard of Lympne: Not at all. The whole point, as I am about to explain, is that the reason why this single question contains the nub of the case for change is that police authorities should be the means by which citizens hold their local police force to account. That is the point of police authorities, and the anonymity of those authorities is an insuperable obstacle to the achievement of that objective. The point of Part 1 of the Bill is to sweep away that obstacle to provide the basis for true accountability.
The election of the police and crime commissioner will attract a great deal of attention. I would not go so far as to say that everyone in the local community will know the name of the commissioner when he or she has been elected; after all, not everyone knows the name of their Member of Parliament, nor does everyone know the name of the Prime Minister. However, a large number of people would know the name of the commissioner, many more than know the name of the chairman of the police authority. That would provide the transparency that is necessary-this proposal is about transparency-if the holding to account of the police is to become more meaningful, more effective and much better understood by those on whose behalf that accountability is being exercised.
This, however, is a big change, and I recognise that inevitably it gives rise to some concerns. There is a concern that the change will have an impact on the operation and independence of the police, and I accept that it is essential that that operational independence is preserved. As has been pointed out, though, the language in the Bill, which provides that the chief constable has direction and control over his force and officers, is identical to the language in existing legislation. The Government intend to publish a protocol, which I understand they hope to have available by the commencement of the Committee stage in this House. As the right reverend Prelate said, the devil is in the detail, and it is right that that protocol should be exposed to great scrutiny by this House in Committee, as I am sure that it will be. However, I do not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, that chief constables, with the command that they have too of access to the media, the ability that they have too to put their case, will be so pusillanimous as to give way to any police and crime commissioner who oversteps the mark.
There are other concerns, including that someone dangerous or wholly unsuitable might be elected. I think it was Benjamin Disraeli, among no doubt many
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It is a tendency that we in this House should particularly guard against. His words were, as I say, in a different context; he was criticising some of the policies of the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary-criticisms that I wholly share. I assure your Lordships that I am not invariably a supporter of all the policies of the Government. However, his words are equally apposite when applied to those who distrust the electoral process that the Bill would put in place.
The provisions of the Bill are consistent with the localism that is such an important part of the coalition Government's approach. They create transparency, which is also at the heart of that approach, and so essential if true accountability is to be asserted. There are many points of important detail that will certainly merit careful attention and scrutiny on the part of this House. I wholeheartedly support Part 1 of the Bill and I commend it to your Lordships' House.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, I declare an interest as a police pensioner with 34 years' service in the Metropolitan Police. I, too, will concentrate on Clause 1, which concerns the appointment of elected police commissioners. I confess that I have particular difficulty in understanding how a single individual can be expected to represent all the variety of local communities in a police area the size of, for example, the West Midlands or Thames Valley. However, there are more fundamental objections to this plan.
First, there is the very simplistic idea, often held by politicians, that elections are always a guarantee of democratic accountability. My experience of helping to monitor some 14 or 15 elections in countries of the old Soviet empire has shown that the mechanics of voting-now generally efficiently performed-have little to do with democratic accountability, which is much more dependent on a free and open media and a neutral police service that does not serve the sectional interests of politicians. I am puzzled, moreover, by the provenance of this idea that an elected politician should have direct control of a police force. The Home Office has always been irritated by the independence of chief constables, but to turn 43 forces over to the control of 43 politicians will only increase diversity and disparity between individual forces. We will no longer have a common standard of policing in this country.
It is also possible that the germ of the idea was drawn from the United States. That country, as we have heard, has about 17,000 separate forces, some of which are excellent. However, others have more examples of racism and brutality than we have seen in this country. Moreover, the crime rate has been declining both in this country and in America but, nevertheless,
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Secondly, in this country we have had nearly 200 years of a tradition of a police service that is independent of political direction. Before Robert Peel managed to get the Metropolitan Police Act through Parliament in 1829, he had made previous attempts to establish a professional police service. These attempts were rejected by Parliament on the grounds that the whole concept of police was a foreign-specifically, French-idea, which would lead to a police state with a police service acting as a tool of government.
My own direct experience of the police service being used as a tool of government came most vividly during the miners' strike. I was a commander at New Scotland Yard at the time and for a few months was responsible for the police co-ordinating centre that organised the transfer of large numbers of police officers around the country. Every morning someone came from the Cabinet Office for a situation report. I was horrified by their attitude, which was that this was some sort of war game and that the mining communities were the enemy. There was no understanding of the damage that was being done to police and public relationships in those areas.
I would also like to draw on my experience as a chief superintendent at Chiswick and Brentford. The division of Chiswick and Brentford has two very distinct parts, as many of your Lordships who are familiar with London will know. It is a large and diverse community but is inevitably biased in favour of those who are most powerful and most middle class. Chiswick is a leafy suburb of London with riverside communities, low-rise houses and a well-to-do middle-class constituency. Brentford in contrast has two high-rise council estates and a football ground. No part of the division was a high-crime area but the majority of the thefts, graffiti, harassment of Asian shopkeepers and rowdyism and two of the three murders that we had during my three years there were in the Brentford half of the ground. Nevertheless-this is the point of the anecdote-all the pressure that I had from the local community came regularly from the middle-class inhabitants of Chiswick. They wanted a considerable police presence-as someone said earlier, a policeman on every corner-to prevent commuters using their leafy streets as rat-runs. I had difficulty persuading them that there were more serious problems elsewhere in the division. I fear that a single politician representing a particular constituency would be similarly biased in directing what a chief constable did.
In many ways the police service is already highly accountable, and not just to police authorities. There is always intense media interest in all aspects of policing, whether crime detection, civil emergencies or the manner in which public order is maintained. The current widespread debate throughout the country about the tactics of police in dealing with demonstrations is an example of this scrutiny. There are great dangers in having police commissioners, who would inevitably represent a single political party and who would have such power over a chief constable, being able to set a budget and appoint and sack a chief constable. To
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Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I will be speaking on Part 1. I begin by declaring my interests. For more than 20 years I was a member of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and was for eight years its chair. I was also a vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities and am currently a vice-president of the association.
I want to outline a number of areas in the Bill about which I have concern; other noble Lords have indicated them. However, I begin by absolutely agreeing with the Home Secretary when she says that she does not want to run the police. What a refreshing statement that was after years of micromanaging the imposition of targets into almost every aspect of policing by former Home Secretaries. Sadly, though, this is where my praise has to end. The proposals in the Bill are unacceptable in their present form. Making one individual, instead of the present 17 or 19, responsible for oversight of policing makes the argument about politicisation and partiality very real indeed. At best, the proposal is likely to undermine the confidence of minority communities and, at worst, could introduce a real threat of corruption into policing.
Will a police and crime commissioner be able to resist pressure from one community over another, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness, if the ballot box has shown support from one of those communities but not the other? Will the PCC not feel the need to ensure that those who voted get the best service; and might those who did not vote be disregarded? What happens if the PCC is unable to fulfil his or her duties? Almost certainly, the PCC will be male, white and middle-aged. Who will deputise for that person? The Bill states that they should be a member of the PCC's staff, but they are expressly required by the Bill to be non-political. I believe strongly that that role should be undertaken by a member of the police and crime panel, otherwise the PCC could have a wholly unelected person running things in their absence, who may have to make some very political decisions such as what precept to set.
There are serious questions to be asked about how the PCC will ensure diversity in his or her team, or how, indeed, diversity will be assured within the police force-making sure that the police reflect the communities they serve. I question how one person can give confidence to minority communities, and how the vast experience of the 17 or 19 members at present on police authorities can be harnessed. Who might fill the skills gap that they leave behind?
An erroneous argument has been put forward that police authorities have been weak and invisible, yet not one-I repeat, not one-authority has failed the recent inspection of authorities undertaken by HMIC. This compares very favourably with other public sector bodies, of which a minority routinely fail inspections. There has been a massive decrease in crime and a continued rise in public confidence in
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The argument about police authorities being invisible is probably made because they spend their money on policing, not on themselves. Police authorities have been lean and mean in order that front-line policing should not be diminished in any way. Indeed, they do the opposite of what is proposed. Personalising the role of police scrutineer, making it high profile and "visible", will cost a great deal more than at present, as well as set up the possibility of conflict between the chief constable and the PCC over who exactly runs the police.
Talking of costs, calculations have been made about the setting up of this untested and untried scheme. The Police Minister, as we have heard, suggests that it will cost only what present police authorities cost now, plus the costs of elections-£50 million every four years. Independent analysis suggests that the reforms will cost a minimum of £453 million over five years, which is a conservative estimate. That is already £100 million more than the entire cost of running police authorities over the same period. Incidentally, that represents the equivalent cost of 600 police officers. I question whether that is good value for money in an age of austerity.
There is provision in the Bill for payment to panel members, but where will that money come from? If central government is paying for the PCC and his or her office, it must also pay for the panel's office-the members and their staff-otherwise this whole exercise is deeply flawed and completely unfair, and proper scrutiny cannot take place. I hope there is no suggestion that these panels will be paid for out of hard pressed local government funds. That would be ironic indeed, and would take away local representation with one hand, and make it pay more for less involvement with another. The present structure of police authorities, with some variation of membership and perhaps size, would be far preferable to these proposals.
We will debate many other issues during the passage of the Bill, including the timing of the reforms. Hosting the Olympic Games will be the most challenging project that the police in this country have ever faced. The front-loading of the proposed cuts to police funding will have begun to bite. Reforms to police pay and conditions of service will have started to be implemented. One can imagine the effect of that on an already demoralised and unhappy police service. The stability and resilience of forces will be at their lowest. Whatever one's view of the desirability of police reform, this is absolutely the wrong time to do it.
This is a real mess, done without proper thought or consideration of the wider policing landscape. Dramatic constitutional reforms are being proposed without support from the public. A recent poll indicated that only 15 per cent of people want them. We should produce a consolidated Bill covering all national policing issues rather than taking this piecemeal approach. The current Bill predicates some of what might be in a future policing Bill. At a very risky time for policing in this country, we should test these proposals before bringing them in across the country. Only then
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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I will confine my remarks to Part 1 of the Bill. I declare a past interest: some 43 years ago I was appointed a Minister in the Home Office responsible on a day-to-day basis for policing. When I look back at that period, it seems almost a distant pre-incarnation.
The central reality that one should regard as a template for all matters that one considers in the context of the police is that the police service represents two things. In the first instance it represents a disciplined service with a disciplined hierarchy. In that regard, it has much in common with the armed services. However, unlike the armed services, the police force comes into daily contact with the citizens of this land. The idea of a disciplined force is central, because it raises the question of whether a civil commissar can overlook any part of the functions of a disciplined force. The second point, which is equally valid, concerns the force's independence. The independence of the police is as crucial to the rule of law as the independence of the judiciary. Any tampering with those twin pillars-the disciplined hierarchy and the independence of the police-jeopardises the future of the police service. Whatever the temptation may be to pander to any whim, caprice or populist trend, it must be resisted.
The Government's case has not been made in the slightest. Three cases have been put forward. The matter was debated in the other place on 13 December last year. I will not quote the exact words of the Home Secretary; they appear in col. 707 of Hansard. She gave as the main reason for the reforms the fact that the police had failed the public when it came to curbing crime. We heard nothing of that today-and understandably so. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, reminded us-the figures are slightly broader than those that he mentioned-from 1994 to the present, under successive Governments, the spectacular fact is that crime has fallen by almost 50 per cent. That is a huge diminution. Therefore, obviously, the main plank of the Home Secretary's case disappears there and then.
Today we are told by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, that there has to be a transfer of authority from the Home Office-from Whitehall-to local bodies. Nothing of that is proposed in the Bill. Indeed, one could well argue that the police panels would be utterly without identity, as compared with the police authority. We heard from the former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, whose main case was that people do not know the name of the chairman of the police authority. I do not suppose that those people know the name of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls or the head of the Family Division, but one does not impose a civil commissar on them.
Lord Howard of Lympne: Is the noble Lord suggesting that the Lord Chief Justice or the Master of the Rolls exercises some local accountability on behalf of the community? That is the difference between the two. Surely that difference must be apparent to the noble Lord.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I see no difference whatever between an ignorance that is shared by a small community in relation to a local matter and an ignorance that is shared by a large community in relation to exactly the same issue. That is my argument.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: That is the case and it illustrates how completely the Government's case is shattered. The problem is not what has been identified but the solutions that are now proposed. They are disastrous. The idea of introducing a civil commissar, for that is what it will be, into this situation will jeopardise the future of the police service-the best police service in the world. It is a police service whose development we have been very proud of over the last 175 years.
I have no doubt that police commissioners will come in every size and shape, but they will have one thing in common: they will nearly all have been espoused by political parties. The election of an independent will be rather exceptional, yet in all those cases they will have one thing in common. There will be no need for any of them to have the slightest qualification or the slightest knowledge of policing-no more than the man in the moon. How can that bring about a diminution in crime? How can it bring about greater accountability? Anyone would think that our police officers were not accountable, but they are not a gendarmerie or a corps d'élite. Every police officer from the lowest in the land up to the chief constable is answerable to criminal law. Since 1964, every chief constable has been answerable for the actions of his or her officers.
There are massive dangers here. There can be no question of honouring the boundary that separates operational from non-operational matters. It is a shadowy boundary at best and in practice it is impossibly difficult. Imagine a commissioner saying to the chief constable, "I believe we are spending too much money on covert operations-on surveillance-and I want to know what they are", and the chief constable says, "I can't possibly tell you". How then can the commissioner evaluate the division between some areas of expenditure and others?
I shall finish by saying that I believe that the Home Office has served the police badly over the past 12 months in failing to preserve the police budget. Of course, there is a case for an across-the-board sacrifice, but it was rightly decided by the Government that that sacrifice should not apply to hospitals or schools and that in relation to the armed services it should be reduced to 8 per cent. In the case of the police service, the Inspectorate of Constabulary made it clear that the diminution limited to 12 per cent would mean that no front-line cuts would be necessary. But that is not what was agreed. The diminution was set at 20 per cent and top-loaded to apply in the main in the first two years. That is a double jeopardy to which the police have been exposed: first, in the failure to preserve their minimum budget for efficiency; and, secondly, in the proposal for this utterly madcap scheme.
Lord Patten: My Lords, I wish to address two points: first, the matter of Parliament Square; and,
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This excellent Bill, making provision for the administration and governance of police forces, will in the end be effective only if we move successfully back towards a new settlement in the public mind about the police, who do a difficult and dangerous job, sometimes getting killed at home in the civilian front line exactly as do our servicemen and servicewomen in their front lines abroad. We seem to have gone from Dixon of Dock Green to the idea that the police are somehow devils in uniform in just about a generation, as we also seem to have lost that intrinsic British balance between the right to a quiet life and the right to demonstrate.
We saw that not too far from my West Country home near Bristol on Good Friday, with crowds wishing to express their displeasure at a particular supermarket chain morphing from retail nimbys into stone, then bottle, then firebomb-throwing yobs in an instant, injuring police heads and breaking teeth with abandon. A nanosecond later, out came the usual suspects to blame the police for it all, locally and nationally-for violence, for pushing too hard, for using the wrong tactics, for being too heavy-handed or too light-handed, for kettling or not kettling enough. Strange how in fiction the police are often alleged in times of difficulty to go out to round up the usual suspects-no need for that on Good Friday, because the usual suspects were out in numbers, often on autopilot, coming out to speak for anarchist, community, liberal or human rights groups, blaming the police for all the ills of the demonstrations that took place.
I think that we are very lucky to have the police that we have and believe that we need to find ways both nationally and locally to formalise a covenant with them. That is something that we need to think about in government and that chief constables and the new police commissioners will need to do.
That generality explored, I turn to Parliament Square, where we have seen, and I have witnessed, violent and unreasonable protests leading to injuries to the police and an appalling misdirection of police effort and resources away from fighting crime in other parts of the capital. Knowledge that there is going to be another demonstration in Parliament Square outside the Palace of Westminster is a much welcomed burglars' charter to those in that trade who want to operate in our outer boroughs, so I applaud the action that my noble friend is taking with the Government to strengthen our powers in Parliament Square to remove nuisances and to try to prevent them from happening there in the future.
I have looked with interest at the map of Parliament Square, published as an annexe to the Explanatory Notes. Having had some interesting maps in an earlier professional manifestation, I studied this map with care. Sadly, it lacks the traditional indication of where true north lies. The map is produced by the Greater London Authority, so I suppose that we can fairly
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We need some reassurance that the police with their new powers over Parliament Square will be able to act with the same determination in the matter of the pavements immediately opposite Parliament Square, for fear that there may be displacement activity and that those people removed from Parliament Square may move to Bridge Street, St Margaret Street or Great George Street-new betented encampments may spring up by the displacement of activity in Parliament Square almost as traditional as morris dancing to the streets around the margins. That is the one question that I would ask the Minister to think about letting me know the answer to, in future if not tonight.
Thirdly, lastly and briefly, I, too, am prepared to come out and be unpopular. I declare myself as very much in favour of police and crime commissioners. Indeed, had I not made the pledge to dear Lady Patten, I would have thought it an appealing post to stand for, but I do not think that I shall. The problems for police commissioners are excellent and interesting and I predict that, after all the huffing and puffing that has suddenly erupted in your Lordships' Chamber, unlike in another place, such commissioners will very quickly become part of our civic warp and weft. It is important for people to have the opportunity truly to recommend local views and to be truly accountable to local people. The Government's plans for police commissioners chime with the new, or at least reborn, Tory localism, meeting the honourable Liberal Democrat localism, which I thought was well established until I heard some Liberal Democrat views of dissent this evening. This is an excellent Bill and it has my strong support.
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales. The history of the police in this country throughout their relatively short life has been one of those rollercoaster rides of success and acclaim, with periods of crisis and threats of reform. I once wrote a brief history of the association and I was struck by the cyclical recurrence of the crises, with morale and pay dropping off and politicians setting up committees and inquiries to remedy the problems-from Desborough at the beginning of the century, through the Oaksey committee and the Willink commission to the much lauded Lord Edmund-Davies inquiry, set up by the then Home Secretary, the late Lord Merlyn-Rees in 1978, followed by the controversial Sheehy inquiry in the early 1990s, which I am delighted to say the noble Lord, Lord Howard, stamped on after the disastrous stewardship of the now Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.
The police service has been examined exhaustively throughout these years, and from my experience I can say that morale at the present time is at an all-time low. The police are different from other workers and play an important part in our democracy. What singles them out from other employees? First, there is the importance of the job itself. No civilised society can function without the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order in a way that is acceptable to the populace. Secondly, there is the statutory prohibition of industrial action as a bargaining chip. It is extremely important, therefore, that Governments treat their police officers honourably and do not lose sight of the point. This is probably the culminant to which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred.
This is an important Bill that contains many important provisions. In the short time available, I intend to deal with one particular aspect that, as other noble Lords have mentioned, has caused great concern. I come to the debate with 35 years' service in the police service but also 12 years in your Lordships' House, and no proposed change to policing has caused me more concern than this particular Bill.
By popular acclaim, the United Kingdom sets the gold standard for policing in that we police by popular consent, and much to the surprise of foreign visitors the police are largely unarmed. I have lived through many reforming Home Secretaries from all parties, but for all the changes that have been advocated, and in some cases achieved, none previously tried to get the police involved in politics. The strength of the British policing model is the operational impartiality and independence of the police, and this was achieved after many scandals. Some noble Lords will remember the old rotten watch committee system of the 1950s that led to the undue influence of petty politicians on operational matters, and in some cases directly to police corruption.
The trick is to have an operationally impartial and independent police service that is also truly accountable. I believe that this was achieved with the development of the modern tripartite system of governance, with the chief constable working with the police committee and the Home Office. He is accountable locally to the public he polices through the guidance of elected members of the police authorities and to some extent through elected MPs, who can question the Home Secretary. The same Home Secretary, of course, exercises governance on national issues such as organised crime and terrorism. The chief constable of a force is also accountable to the local community through a plethora of consultation mechanisms in his police area, and of course ultimately he is accountable to the law through the courts.
Many years ago, as a superintendent, I spent some months with the FBI. I got to know a number of police chiefs and county sheriffs in the United States. It became obvious to me quite soon that the appointed town police chief was totally beholden to the elected town politician, who had the power to hire and fire. If the politician wanted the police to target a particular problem, which might be to his electoral advantage, he would not hesitate to interfere. In my experience, it was a foolhardy police chief who challenged his political
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With the sheriff, who is directly elected, it is in a sense worse. He is generally elected on a local ticket that deals with real problems in his area. That is fine as far as it goes, but it reduces his interest in regional problems and even more so in the national scene. The worrying thing is that he could be elected almost on a single issue, and sometimes is. All his deputies are appointed by him, and my experience was of them leaving for the weekend to canvass for the sheriff when he was due for re-election. They had to; their jobs depended on it. I found that bringing raw politics into this arena can lead to corruption.
In Britain, the constable's oath of office emphasises a duty to impartiality and accountability to the law. We should be careful not to undermine his ability to honour his oath by creating a greater duty to support an elected politician's chosen priorities. The existing police authorities provide balance and moderation coupled with community checks and balances. It is invaluable for the chief officer to have access to such a range of community views in the whole of his geographical area, provided by a mix of people who are both appointed and elected. The big worry with the present Bill is that all this power and influence is placed on one elected police and crime commissioner. In many cases, the constituency of a PCC will be greater than that of any elected Member of the House of Commons. Some will have populations of over 1 million, cover over 20 parliamentary constituencies and five local authorities. In my judgment of local accountability, a single individual cannot possibly hope to have the same level of representation as a police authority. This creates a less inclusive form of police governance.
High-level police corruption in the United States is very great compared with Britain. In my view, that is influenced by the politicisation of the police. This is an error in the Bill. It has not been justified by any evidence from Ministers, and it puts the police service at great risk of being dragged into politics. There is still time to change, and the coalition Government should be big enough to recognise this by not enacting provisions that they will live to regret.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, on 25 November last in a debate initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, I set out my views on the proposed reforms as they concern police commissioners. I want to make it clear that what I say today has no origins in the recent discord within the coalition. I am seeking not to destroy the Bill but to have its contents more carefully considered.
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