Baroness Verma: My Lords, the UN estimates that the world's population will pass 7 billion this October. Most of the growth will be in high-fertility developing countries. Meeting the need for family planning and maternal and new-born health services would help avert 390,000 maternal deaths and over 50 million unintended pregnancies. The Government are playing a leading role and will enable at least 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning by 2015.
Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I am grateful for that positive Answer from the noble Baroness. Does she accept that it is very important to address the unmet need of more than 200 million couples who would like to be able to use contraceptive methods but do not have them available? Does she agree that funds invested in this field provide a return many times over, not only financially but also, more importantly, in terms of human well-being?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Viscount is right. If we fail to respond to the unmet need for family planning, the consequences of rapid population growth will impact on us all. Reducing unplanned births and family size would save on public sector spending on health, water and social services and reduce pressure on scarce natural resources. Reducing unintended pregnancies particularly among adolescents in developing countries would improve their educational and employment opportunities. This would contribute to improving the status of women, increasing family savings, reducing poverty and inspiring economic growth.
Baroness Tonge: The noble Baroness will know that Afghanistan, in particular, has faced civil war and political unrest for many decades. Forty-two per cent of the population live on less than $1.25 a day and three in five children are malnourished. Nevertheless, the fertility rate is 6.6 births per woman, many of them very young girls. With a rapidly rising population, only 15 per cent of women in Afghanistan can access contraception. Will she ensure that our Government's programme to Afghanistan reflects these facts and prioritises maternal health and family planning?
Baroness Verma: I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising these issues. She is aware that at the heart of our programmes is the maternal health of women and girls. We have focused on ensuring that they receive education and the services that improve their own well-being. But this is also about ensuring that there are rights to access; if they are not available, they cannot be accessed. Therefore, through our programmes, we are pushing to ensure that they know where to get what they need.
Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, while agreeing entirely with the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, can she say how much money has been spent, and how much increased money is to be available, to provide contraceptive services?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that our programmes put women and girls at the heart of being able to access education, healthcare and maternity health. This is not about individual budgets but about programmes being delivered and making sure that part and parcel of our delivery is access to family planning.
Baroness Verma: My noble friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have a relentless focus on results and achieving value for money. I would like to give two examples. Every year, nearly 2 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases, so I am proud that this Government have pledged to vaccinate more than 80 million children over the next five years. Of course, she is also right that it is through education and research, and through ensuring that our aid is delivered in a focused and targeted way, that we will be able to receive the sort of results that we are looking for, and I hope that we will succeed.
Baroness Flather: My Lords, can the Minister tell me how DfID is counteracting the influence of the Vatican in this area? As we all know, the population of Italy has dropped like a ton, so they are not bothered about this issue, but it does affect developing countries.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, faith organisations play a very important part in working to ensure that we are able to give choices to women and girls on when and how they have their babies. It is not about the Government issuing edicts on how family planning should be accessed but about encouraging choice, so that women are able to make that choice and, it is hoped, have better control over their lives.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the effect on family spacing and women's rights is fundamental, but, surely, also important is the effect of the growth in population on soil erosion, on deforestation, and on conflict over resources in so many countries. Why is it, then, that international donors and aid agencies are so coy about mentioning population increase as a factor in development?
Baroness Verma: I am not sure that I can agree with the noble Lord. Agencies accept that population growth is an issue and that it is through targeted programmes that we are going to achieve the reduction in birth rate that we need. But it is also about ensuring that those women and girls have options and are able to access family planning means, rather than us forcing Governments into taking action. This is not a place for Governments; this is for women to have choice and education.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Is the Minister aware that there is very good empirical evidence of the limitations of choice-based family planning initiatives, such as those that were extensively trialled under the Bush Administration, and is she prepared to put DfID's commitment behind services that are not entirely choice-based but actually provide access to the sorts of contraception that young women need if they are to attain independent lives?
Baroness Verma: I will repeat that it is about choice; it is about being able to educate girls and women about what is available to them in their countries. We as a Government cannot dictate how people access family planning: they must be able to make the choices for themselves. But it is also about being able to tell them that through better healthcare and planning they will have less need to have more babies as, often as not, more babies are born is because of the belief that many of them will die.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the newly independent state of South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, and that in a population of 8 million there are only about 10 midwives-and this when 3,000 midwives are needed to ensure safe motherhood? How will DfID ensure that the Government of South Sudan's five-year health sector development plan prioritises the urgent need for obstetric care?
Baroness Verma: The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The onus will be on all donor countries to support South Sudan, particularly through its transient stages of being the newest country on the planet. Again, it is about partnership work and ensuring NGOs and donor countries work closely. It is also about ensuring that our programmes are targeted towards and reach those who we feel most need the help.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, I am advised by the Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for meat hygiene controls, that following
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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Will the agency move much more towards a risk-based, proportionate regime than it has in the past? Secondly, will it consider outside-in other words, private-operators taking over the task that is currently done by state employees?
Earl Howe: My Lords, it is certainly the ambition of the agency to move to a more risk-based approach but, as my noble friend will know, that has considerable implications in terms of EU law and it will take some time for such an approach to be worked through. On her second question, I am aware that the agency will discuss tomorrow the findings of the Macdonald taskforce, so it is probably premature for me to say more on that point.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare my interest as a farmer. Would the noble Earl agree that small and medium-sized abattoirs are essential to our communities? There are serious animal welfare concerns in having to drive animals for miles to gets them slaughtered. The stress on the animals also causes the meat to be not so good. In Worcestershire, we have one abattoir left, and the nearest one to us is in fact in Herefordshire. Do the Government intend to encourage small abattoirs to stay open? Is there any possibility for mobile abattoirs to be developed?
Earl Howe: My Lords, smaller abattoirs are extremely important to the rural economy, as the noble Countess rightly says. They are more likely to be rural. The support to be provided to those abattoirs processing up to 5,000 cattle-a higher threshold than was previously proposed-is intended to help preserve the provision of local services to the livestock industry. That will helpfully reduce the impact on small livestock producers, the rural economy, animal welfare and indeed consumer choice. As regards mobile abattoirs, I am not aware what initiatives are being undertaken, although I believe that there are a few around, so it will be necessary for me to seek further advice on that point.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the agency has now proposed a stepped system of discounts. For the first 1,000 livestock units processed, the reduction on the full cost would be a maximum of 70 per cent. The next 1,000 livestock units would be subject to a 50 per cent reduction and the next 3,000 subject to a 25 per cent reduction. That will directly assist those smaller abattoirs, many of which are based in Wales.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I find it very unusual for the Minister who usually answers on health to be answering an abattoir Question, but I am very impressed by his knowledge. Can he tell us whether there is a health implication, whether the extra costs that were to be passed on were necessary for health and whether they will be continued to be carried out even if the costs are not being passed on?
Earl Howe: My Lords, there is no direct health implication. What has happened over the past few years is that the costs of regulation have progressively been borne by the Food Standards Agency, as opposed to the industry. There has been a decision taken in principle that the regulator should not subsidise the industry that it regulates. That is the reason for the review of the charging arrangements.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, did the noble Lord indicate in his Answer, and will he confirm, that we owe this folly more to our lords and masters in Brussels than to our very own department for the ruin of agriculture? Does he think that the British people would have voted in 1975 to stay in what they were assured was a Common Market if they had thought that this sort of folly was going to be visited upon them by Brussels?
Earl Howe: My Lords, it is quite correct that European legislation requires the national competent authority to carry out official controls in order to verify that food businesses comply with food hygiene requirements. EU law requires the competent authority to charge food businesses for meat hygiene and welfare at slaughter-the official controls-and sets minimum charging rates. Having said that, I do not think that there is any self-respecting country that would wish to neglect meat hygiene, which has a direct implication for human health.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to accept the recommendations in the recent report by Frank Field MP on child poverty that all children should receive age-appropriate parental education in school.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, we will consider Mr Field's recommendations as part of our review of PSHE. Evidence suggests, though, that parenting skills are best taught to parents through a mix of
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Lord Northbourne: I know that the noble Lord is aware that Frank Field, in this and previous reports, carried out research in his constituency on the teaching of life skills in schools and found a widespread majority of young people in favour of such instruction. This is not necessarily a question only of parenting; I believe that Frank Field recommended life skills and parenting. Is the noble Lord prepared to institute a wider inquiry to find out what children and young people really would find helpful in life skills and parenting education?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, part of the purpose of the PSHE review to which I referred is to look at what element of the content of PSHE is most helpful to children and young people. The other part is to look at what support teachers need in order to teach these important skills to children.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the Minister for being a bit hasty just now. Is the Minister aware that several programmes were run in schools that proved incredibly effective at, apart from anything else, ensuring that young people became parents later rather than early? If the Minister were to talk to some of those young people who had those very effective programmes, he might revise his view that it was better to leave it until they nearly were parents. This is about how young people and prospective parents begin to understand things about their own relationships and about the responsibilities that parenting brings. My experience is that when this has been done in secondary schools it has been very effective, and I hope that the Minister will look at this again.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the points that she makes, and I listen to her experience very carefully. The evidence that the department has had about later life is there, but I am not saying that to disagree with the point that what one wants ideally is a mix. That is why the PSHE review will take the views of children into account. We want to ensure that we learn those kinds of lessons and have the best possible PSHE that deals with those points.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the Graham Allen report made clear the vital importance of the first few months, certainly up to three years, of a child's life in brain development, personality development and so on. In the light of that, will the Minister accept that parenting education is needed before the parents are parents-that is, at school?
Lord Hill of Oareford: As I said in my earlier reply, my honourable friend Sarah Teather will respond in
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The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the thrust of the Good Childhood report, published by the Children's Society a couple of years ago when I was chair, that argued that if PSHE education is to be undertaken in schools it is absolutely vital that it is undertaken by properly trained and qualified teachers who have as much experience and qualification as in other major subjects?
Lord Hill of Oareford: Yes, my Lords, I take that point. The right reverend Prelate will know of the Ofsted report that referred to three-quarters of PSHE education in schools being good or outstanding, but it also pointed out that there were some other areas of weakness. As I have already said, part of the review that the department will carry out, which I hope will benefit from the views of outside and expert opinion, is precisely to look at the kind of support that needs to be provided to help teachers provide good quality PSHE.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in the past two years the number of children before the courts has doubled, that the number of children in care is increasing and that the accommodation and opportunities for children in care are decreasing. With that scenario in mind, what else does he hope to do to ensure that children from poor families, whose choices will be even more limited, get the education that they need so that they do not repeat that cycle?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, there is a range of measures that the Government need to take, starting with our response to the early years, which will be coming shortly, the provision of the 15-hour free entitlement to two year-olds, the increase of that to 15 hours for three and four year-olds and the introduction of the pupil premium. Then there is what we can do to raise standards in our schools, which is clearly vital because we know the connection between failure at school, illiteracy and life going off the rails. There is a range of measures that we need to take across the board.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Highlander Scott McLaren of The Highlanders, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday 4 July. My
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Turning to my noble friend's Question, the Secretary of State for Defence recently visited Afghanistan and reported back a clear sense of progress being made. While recent weeks have seen an increase in activity as insurgents seek to regain lost ground, it is judged that the insurgency is under pressure and ISAF retains the momentum.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, these Benches join in the tribute to Highlander Scott McLaren. It is obvious from my noble friend's reply and the Prime Minister's Statement on Afghanistan last week that there is a huge question mark over the future of Afghanistan. I shall ask my noble friend two specific questions. First, how can he justify the rules of engagement that apparently prohibit our forces from firing at the Taliban or insurgents if they are seen to be laying IEDs or similar, leaving them free to continue their murderous activities? Secondly, looking to the longer term, the build-up of Afghan forces, police and army to around 300,000 will clearly result in sizeable annual expenditure of several billion pounds a year. Who will pay for those forces? Will we contribute?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we do not comment on the specific rules of engagement but any use of force in Afghanistan must comply with the laws of armed conflict. However, commanders take the threat of IEDs very seriously. Since June last year, the Government have spent £330 million on equipment to help them tackle that threat.
Turning to my noble friend's other question, the Afghan economy has been growing at an impressive 9 per cent, on average, each year since 2003. It now collects almost $2 billion in revenue. We are optimistic about Afghanistan's economic prospects but recognise that it will need the support of the international community for some time to come. We, alongside our allies and other international institutions, stand ready to support Afghanistan for the long term.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, on this side, we also offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Highlander Scott McLaren, who was killed in Afghanistan last Monday. His death is yet another reminder of the harsh reality that our Armed Forces put their lives on the line in the service of our country.
In her response to the Statement on Afghanistan last Wednesday, my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon asked whether our Armed Forces would continue to receive all the equipment that they need in the months ahead, including the 12 additional Chinooks, which the Prime Minister promised but for which the order has not yet been placed. No direct answer on when the order would be placed was forthcoming. Will the Minister tell the House when the Ministry of Defence will have completed working towards the main investment decision on these helicopters; when it is expected that the order for the 12 additional Chinooks will be placed; and when they are expected to be operational?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the Official Opposition for the cross-party support for our Armed Forces and for the mission in Afghanistan. On the question about Chinooks, as we announced in the SDSR, we plan to buy 12 additional Chinook helicopters as well as a further two to replace those lost on operations in Afghanistan in 2009. The Ministry of Defence is working towards the main investment decision on these helicopters.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, despite the courage, professionalism and sacrifice of our soldiers, the consequence of the myriad mistakes that we have made in Afghanistan is that, sadly, a victor's peace is no longer within our reach? We shall have to take the best peace that we can negotiate. The longer we leave that, the more difficult it will be. Will that peace not have three key ingredients? The first will be a role for the Taliban, who will accept the Afghan constitution in the government of the country. The second will be a constitution that runs more with the grain of a decentralised Afghanistan than the present one. The third will be a regional context that enables the country's neighbours to play a part.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. We are not living in a perfect world but we are doing our very best. As for the ANSF, it is becoming much more professional, much better trained and bigger. We are about to begin implementing the security transition process by which the Afghan forces will take the lead. It will be a gradual, condition-based process that is on track to put the ANSF in security lead in all provinces by the end of 2014.
Lord Dannatt: My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on the improving situation, in Helmand in particular, with regard to the poppy harvest? Does he agree that we are never likely to have a more stable Afghanistan while its economy is largely based on the illegal activity of growing the poppy for opium? Can he comment on the progress that we have made in changing farming practices and, therefore, the economy in the country over the past two, three or four years?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, yes, we are making progress on that point. The noble Lord mentioned corruption. Our support for the Afghan Government cannot be unconditional. The Afghan Government must ensure that British taxpayers' money is spent well and wisely, and President Karzai must personally grip the problems around the Kabul Bank and the need for the new IMF programme.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure that it slipped his mind, but the Minister failed to answer my noble friend's question. When is the delivery of the Chinooks anticipated and when will the order be placed? The need is urgent.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness an exact day. This is a matter on which the Ministry of Defence is working very hard, and as soon as I have some information, I will report it to the House.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, when the US finishes ground-force combat operations in Afghanistan, which it clearly intends to do by the end of 2014, will it still be providing air support and, if it is, will NATO be providing air support? If so, will the United Kingdom be involved in that and, if it is, will it be based at an air base in Afghanistan?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Prime Minister has stated clearly that there will not be significant numbers of British troops in a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015. However, we still expect to have some troops there after 2015-for instance at the officer training academy-as part of the enduring NATO and bilateral partnership, at the request of the Afghan Government. The exact size and role of this commitment will be developed over time, taking account of conditions, military advice and the broader security and political considerations.
That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 12 July to allow the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill to be taken through all its remaining stages and on Monday 18 July to allow the Finance (No. 3) Bill and the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill to be taken through all their remaining stages.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, might I raise a point that is perhaps of general interest? When a matter is debated in the Moses Room and the Minister is unable to give a full reply and promises to write and place a copy of the answer in the Library, should that not be done before the matter returns to the Floor of the House? Perhaps my noble friend the Leader of the House might consider that point, otherwise when the order comes back to the Floor, we will not know what view we ought to take on it.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, perhaps I may take the opportunity of answering. I would always regard that to be the normal course of practice, and if it did not happen, I would very much like it to be brought to my attention.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Chief Whip for inflicting me on the House at the earliest possible moment. I move the amendment with what your Lordships may think is not my customary diffidence, because we have here three excellent
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Nevertheless, we clearly need a better regime than that contained in the original Bill, which required a 75 per cent vote to overturn the precept. As I understand it from previous debates, there is no provision in the Bill to amend the precept. It is the veto or nothing. Presumably it is then envisaged that there would be discussion between the commissioner and the panel about a revision. All the amendments contain the-to my mind, welcome-addition of a proposal to allow the panel to amend as an alternative to a simple veto. I apprehend that the Minister may not be as willing to accept that, but one lives in hope.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 102 and 104 in the group. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, they both deal specifically with the majority required to veto the precept, and taken together suggest that it should be a simple majority of the panel members present. I have made similar suggestions in relation to other powers of veto through separate amendments in other groups.
The usual way to decide things in a democracy is by simple majority. I cannot see what is wrong with that principle. My amendments would apply that principle to the veto that a panel could exercise over the policing precept element of council tax. Before I argue for that, I mention that I remain concerned that there will be confusion between proposals in the Localism Bill about excessive precepts and the provisions in this Bill on the policing precept. The public may well be confused about the difference between the power of veto and the power to call a referendum on a precept. They may well also be confused if there are to be two referenda: one on the police precept and one on the council tax.
I welcome the fact that the Government have now tabled amendments to reduce the required majority from three-quarters to two-thirds, but that is still too high and too confusing for the public. They might well have trouble understanding why a referendum will be decided on a majority, but the power of veto cannot be exercised in the same way. The public operate on straightforward principles, and I think that they would find that quite difficult. Of course, a straight majority would also give the police and crime panel a stronger role in contributing to policing governance and would guard against giving too much power to one person.
We have heard a lot in Committee and on Report about strict checks and balances. In practice, these checks and balances remain extremely elusive. The police and crime panel remains very feeble. One way of strengthening the panel and providing a stronger check on the commissioner would be to go to a simple
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Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I have a couple of brief points to make about Amendment 102, and particularly Amendment 104 to which I have added my name. First, I welcome the fact that the Government have shown that they are willing to listen to some of the concerns expressed in Committee and I am genuinely pleased that they have moved to two-thirds the majority required to exercise a veto. I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that a simple majority might be even better. It would certainly strengthen the role of the police and crime panel, which I think we all agree is essential. Hopefully, when taken in conjunction with earlier amendments about a more collaborative approach, this would guard against too capricious an attitude by the panel, having helped develop the proposals in the first place. I support this amendment but I am concerned about the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, about the relationship between this Bill and the Localism Bill in relation to the precept and referendum arrangements. I agree that this needs to be clarified. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to provide reassurance on this point.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have had a series of debates during the passage of this Bill about the role of the police and crime panel in scrutinising the performance of the police and crime commissioner. The Minister herself has emphasised on a number of occasions the importance of the panel in doing that.
For these panels to do their jobs effectively, they surely have to have a certain amount of leverage. This Bill in effect gives them only two levers; they can veto the appointment of a chief constable, and they can veto the precept that the police and crime commissioner wishes to set. Of course, on other matters it can be consulted and there can be dialogue, but it is very clear from the Bill that the elected party political commissioner can ignore completely any input from the panel unless it exercises the veto. In the past few days we have seen one of the products of a weak regulator, the Press Complaints Commission. That surely shows the problem of having of weak regulators with very few levers. My concern with these new arrangements is that we are establishing police and crime panels inevitably to fail because their influence over elected police commissioners is likely to be limited. The veto in the original Bill was set at a very high level indeed, with a 75 per cent requirement of the members to vote in favour of veto. The Government hinted in the other place that they would be prepared to reduce it and we now see the product of that in the amendment that I am sure the noble Baroness will speak to in a moment.
The question is whether a two-thirds veto is sufficient. Like my noble friends, I do not think it is. To be effective, the police and crime commissioner must
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To get a two-thirds majority of the members still places the bar at an impossibly high level. That is why I very strongly support my noble friend and I have tabled an amendment along the same lines calling for a simple majority of those present and voting. The phrase "of those present and voting" is well known to all noble Lords who have taken part in public life. Remarkably, it is not to be found in the Bill. The veto requirement refers to the members of the panel. I very much support my noble friend Lady Henig in wishing to ensure not only that a simple majority is required but that it should be of the members present at such a meeting. I have also laid an amendment to Amendment 103 of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, so even if the House settles on two-thirds as the majority figure, it ought to be of those members present and voting.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It is. Why is that? It is normally of those present and voting. It seems to me that simply by not being there you count as an assenter-a dissenter, if you like, from a proposal to veto a precept. It seems rather an extraordinary state of affairs.
I refer the noble Baroness to later amendments where the Government propose that an elected mayor within the area of a police force becomes members of the police and crime panel automatically. I am not arguing about the principle, but elected mayors are going to have many other responsibilities apart from serving on police and crime panels. One can think of a number of metropolitan areas so it is quite likely that under the noble Baroness's amendment a considerable number of elected mayors will serve on the panels. However, there will be circumstances in which such people will not be able to be present at a meeting of the police and crime panel and because of the noble Baroness's amendment the numbers relevant to the veto are the members rather than those present and voting. It seems to me a rather extraordinary state of affairs that simply by being away or being ill you add to the threshold that would have to be reached if a veto were to be exercised. I hope the noble Baroness will be prepared to give that point further consideration. It is a very odd state of affairs.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I very much welcome the reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds. I think I said at an earlier stage that it can be a bit disconcerting to see that a Minister has her name to the amendment you thought you had tabled. We came in as back-up on this occasion, although clearly on the same day. I welcome it even though it probably only makes a difference of one individual. However, perhaps as important as the proportion is whether it is a proportion of the whole membership or of those present-I will come back to that in a moment-and
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I know the Government take the view that a simple majority would detract from a commissioner's accountability through the ballot box. There is a subsidiary argument the other way that members of the police and crime panel indirectly elected are expected by their own electors to have perhaps a greater voice than can be exercised when the threshold for the veto is set so high. As I say, that is subsidiary; it is a different position from the commissioner, but one that may be a little confusing to the electorate of the councillors who make up the panel.
It is right and proper that the calculation should be made based on those present, but I have a couple of questions. I do not know whether this is going to cause the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a problem, as I am speaking after him, but what would happen to abstentions under his amendment? Where do they count? Some of us-before I get teased about this-are used to abstaining in person in this Chamber. But we need to sort out-
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It may help if I intervened at this stage. My assumption in drafting "present and voting" is that you have both to be present and to vote. I do not think that abstention can be taken as a positive vote. I hope that is helpful.
Baroness Hamwee: I shall ponder on that. My other question, which my noble friend Lord Shipley may have asked on a previous occasion, is whether, given the importance of the numbers, the Government anticipate providing through regulations procedures for substitutes for members of the panel. Furthermore, is it intentional on the part of those who proposed these amendments that they apply only to the precept and not to the appointments, which is the other candidate for veto? Whatever we end up with should stay the same. I think it is right that a member can affect an outcome by staying away, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can reassure the House on that point.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I hope that when the Minister replies the point raised on substitutes will be answered very fully. As for the role of the members of the panel in the public's eye, in the Government's own words they are there to provide a check and balance should things become difficult and should the public not wish to support the proposals of the commissioner. That might happen midterm; we have all seen this. I can foresee a situation when members of the public may appear and say, "Can't you do anything? You're supposed to have a role-complementary, or a check and balance, or both". I hope that the Minister can answer that in detail.
On members "present and voting", having been a whip in your Lordships' House for many years, I think everyone will accept that being present and not voting is a very different thing to count or even to make presumptions about. I have known Members of your Lordships' House, who have been in the Palace but who have not been present in the Chamber during the voting, who have formed an opinion, in advance of leaving, that they do not wish to vote, in line with their
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Given the time of the year, when there will be a whole lot of different activities for elected mayors, members of local authorities and professionals seeking to formulate their budgets, and when historically quite a few people may be down with flu or other illnesses, I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the point made about the simple majority. Otherwise, we could end up in a situation whereby the hopes of the public, raised by the descriptions of the Bill given by members of the Government, will be dashed when they find that there are no checks and balances.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, in answering I speak to Government Amendments 103 and 192 and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who in his characteristic way spoke with enthusiasm to Amendment 103. We note the views of the Local Government Association, which stated that achieving a reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds was one of its top five priorities at Report; the Government have met that condition.
I recall that when a directly elected mayor for London was introduced many argued that the London Assembly would be toothless, and not provided with sufficient bodies to check the mayor. I think the noble Lords would recognise that because of process and its relationship with the mayor, and in spite of not having enormous powers to check the mayor, the London Assembly has involved itself in a process in which the necessary dialogue between the two has continued remarkably well. Schedule 5 to the Bill sets out-
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene but the noble Lord goads me into it. The point is that the London Assembly has never been able to exercise its power in respect of the budget, which requires a two-thirds majority. That is not because London Assembly members feel they have been previously involved enough in the budget process, it is simply the arithmetic. A threshold of two-thirds is already very high.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that from my experience the power of the London Assembly is best exercised in conjunction with the press, and today of all days I am not sure that I would want to be saying that any sphere of Government should depend too much on the press.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I take that point. The relationship between a directly elected police commissioner and the police and crime panel in setting a precept is set out in Schedule 5; that is a process, a dialogue in which the final result is the question of a vote on the precept. We see that as the end of a long discussion, a consultation, an exchange of views and detailed information between the police commissioner and the police and crime panel. The date of that meeting will be known well in advance. If there is a sharp disagreement between the police and crime commissioner and the panel, if they have been unable to reconcile their
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One of the reasons for insisting on a two-thirds vote of all those who are on the committee rather than a two-thirds vote of those present and voting is because we are concerned that the geographical spread of those represented should be on the panel and should therefore also be there and voting. I recognise that in the parallel Localism Bill currently being discussed by a number of those who are engaged in this Bill, there have been questions about the Standards Board regime and the extent to which it has been exploited by some parties against others-and I speak with some bitter knowledge of how this has taken place on one or two occasions. So, we do not want to have casual votes, casual accusations, and that is the reason why we have stuck to the two-thirds dimension here. We think that this government concession strikes the right balance and that it is the end of a long process in which, as all those in this House who have served on local authorities will be well aware, our intention is to see the normal process as one of dialogue and reconciliation between all those involved. The vote to veto the precept will be an exceptional occasion under exceptional circumstances. For that reason, we hold to the idea that, if it comes to that, it should be a two-thirds vote of all members of the panel.
Having said that, I hope that the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for Amendment 103 has increased as I have spoken, that noble Lords on the other side will recognise that the Government have moved and that they will now be willing to support the government amendment and withdraw the opposition amendment.
Lord Beecham: The Minister has prayed in aid the LGA's claim of a triumph in persuading the Government to reduce from 75 per cent to two-thirds, but it is as modest a triumph as my amendment is modest. Perhaps, under its previous management, the LGA would have been a little less prone to swallow the line, so to speak. However, in reality the position is this. If, as the Minister will be proposing later, you have an authority constituted of perhaps 20 members, it will require, rounding up the two-thirds figure, 14 out of 20 votes to overturn the budget, which seems a particularly high threshold. As we discussed last week on Report, the police commissioner will not be under any obligation formally to consult the local authorities whose areas are covered by the force. The noble Baroness referred to councillor members of that authority as being there to represent the views of their authority, but as I said last week, that is not really an adequate substitute for a proper discussion, particularly as in some cases the members concerned, in order to secure political balance, will not necessarily reflect the views of the majority in control of those councils.
Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out, the position of the mayor is, frankly, questionable. Given the weight of responsibilities that will fall on elected mayors, either current or those who might conceivably emerge following the referendum and election processes in the Localism Bill, I do not think that they
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I recall that in 1923 Mussolini passed an electoral law of a somewhat unusual nature. It said that a party which achieved a 25 per cent vote in the ensuing elections in Italy would get three-quarters of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. I am not of course accusing the noble Baroness the Minister of emulating Mussolini, but nevertheless this is somewhat curious arithmetic. I do not think it should commend itself to your Lordships' House. I take the view that the Government's concession is exactly that, and any concession these days is welcome. However, this is not as welcome as it could have been if they had gone further and adopted the views of my noble friends Lady Henig or Lord Hunt. In the circumstances, I will not press my amendment and I recommend noble Lords to support the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was rather disappointed that the Minister did not come back to the point about why the vote should not be of those present and voting. That is a perfectly normal, appropriate action and standing order for public bodies. I see no reason why it should not relate to the precept. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was quite right in spotting that I should I have put down a similar amendment to the Government's proposal in relation to the appointment of a chief constable. I have no doubt that that can be dealt with at Third Reading. The substantive point is that there will not always be huge amounts of time-you cannot guarantee that. By not attending, one is effectively voting against the veto. I do not think that that is right. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I do not wish to move the amendment. It is wholly consequential to the parent Amendment 118, which I apprehend will be dealt with immediately after Amendment 117. I have been told that by the Table Office. I hope that I am not misconceived.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 116. Amendment 106 would effectively remove Schedule 6 on the composition of panels, which I seek to replace with the alternative high-level proposal set out in Amendment 116.
As I indicated in Committee, the latter amendment goes to the heart of the issue about politicising policing. I am very disappointed that the Government's amendments have not reflected the concerns about political balance as the strength of feeling in the House was evident in Committee. It is fundamental to getting checks and balances right that the political balance of panels is prioritised and determined according to rigorous principles. Crucially, my amendment would ensure that no single political party can dominate the policing panel and its agenda. I cannot believe that any Member of your Lordships' House would oppose this objective.
The balanced appointment objective currently set out in Schedule 6 is not strict enough in this respect because it muddles where the geographic balance, political balance or skills balance is more important; it invites appointments to be made on the basis of a fudge so that none of the criteria will be properly satisfied. I remain concerned-although, in setting out high-level alternatives, I have not gone into too much detail to address this-that the issue of giving some areas a double whammy of representation through the inclusion of district councils in county areas does little to improve the balanced appointment objective. The whole thing seems unbalanced to me.
If we do not get this right and do not set rigorous principles of political balance, as I said in Committee, we risk the majority of panels going one of two ways: they become either the cheer-leaders of the commissioner if they are of the same political persuasion, or there could be a state of constant warfare between the commissioner and panel if they are of opposite political beliefs. Either way, however, they would be an ineffective check and balance against the commissioner and ineffective at contributing to the better governance of policing. I cannot stress how important all the experiences of police authorities have shown this to be. We must get this right, otherwise all the other safeguards that have been built into the Bill will fail.
My amendment setting out the key principles of panel composition also suggests that the number of co-opted members should be increased. I note the Minister has tabled more modest proposals along the same lines. Naturally, I welcome those up to a point. I agree that we need an increase in the number of co-opted members, but I regret that the Government's proposals miss the point somewhat because they suggest that some of these co-opted members might be local authority members. I am concerned about this. We have quite a lot of local authority members on the panels already and this would make the important balance considerations more difficult.
The whole point of having co-opted or independent members in the first place is to bring in people who are politically neutral, who will improve the diversity of the membership and who will cover specialist gaps in skills. Although as an ex-councillor I hate to say this, I know too well that local authorities do not have a
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Equally, it is hardly a secret that independent police authority members are generally widely regarded as among the most able and effective members of police authorities. I am not saying that there are not some very good council members out there too, but independent members bring specialist knowledge and skills to police authorities that are not generally present among councillors. I find it hard to understand what sort of specialist skills the panels will access from co-opted local authority members, and I would like to probe the Government's thinking in this regard. There is a danger that, in proposing more co-opted members who could be local authority members, we might actually be making an already difficult situation even worse. This needs more thinking through.
I have also included provisions about geographical balance in relation to both local authority and co-opted members. This is to address some current weaknesses in the system, but I am clear that this is a secondary consideration to political balance. My proposals also tighten up some of the provisions currently in Schedule 6 that deal with administrative and procedural issues, but I will not describe these in any great detail in view of time considerations.
Although I have touched briefly on key administrative and procedural matters in these amendments, they only outline the key principles which I believe should be followed in determining the membership of panels. In practice my proposals would probably need supporting by more provisions-either through a separate schedule, or by regulations dealing with more detailed matters such as the resignation or removal of panel members-but the principles are clear. The proposed principles build firmly on what everybody with any knowledge of police authorities has agreed to be one of the most important provisions and one of the most important reasons for the success that they have had, and that is political balance.
If the Government are serious about not putting party politics back into policing with their proposals, the very least they can do is to underline that their intent is to ensure a politically balanced panel. That is what I am trying to do here: to ensure a politically balanced panel and to take the best of the police authority make-up on to those panels because it has proved to be so successful. I beg to move.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendments 106 and 116, and I want to add my voice briefly to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I am concerned that we really do not have the proposals about the composition of panels right at the moment.
In the first place, I feel very uncomfortable about all the powers of mandation for the Secretary of State in this section, and I am rather inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that mandation is perhaps the wrong response to the problems that have arisen in relation to panels. It does not sit well with the direction
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I am also very concerned about getting the political balance right, and I agree that in being unclear which objective is most important in reaching the balanced appointment objective in relation to panel membership these issues will be fudged, and we will end up with little balance at all. In my time as chair of a police authority and a member of the Association of Police Authorities, we spent many hours working precisely on getting this particular problem sorted out, and indeed we now have a much better system within police authorities than is proposed in this Bill.
I have other questions on this point. How will we know what considerations have been included locally-I stress locally-in reaching the balanced appointment objective? Who is going to check this? What powers exist to do anything about it if it is not balanced? I am very concerned about diversity among panel members. It is important that panels should try to reflect the populations they serve, otherwise the public, and particularly those sections of the public that are usually excluded, will question whether their representatives understand the issues that matter to them. This is especially important in the policing context if we take into account all the experiences, from Brixton onwards, that have taught us that it is vital to give people a voice in how they are policed.
In this regard, the Government's proposal that there should be more co-opted members is helpful, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that it is unlikely to improve diversity if these additional co-optees are local authority members, as seems to be proposed. We certainly found that in our own police authorities. There is a danger that this will simply be perceived as jobs for the boys-or, for that matter, for the girls-so the government amendment, although welcome, should go further and provide for more independent co-opted members.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by the Government's stance on the question of political balance as far as these panels are concerned. When I was first elected to a local council in the 1970s, it was the customary practice that authorities with a majority for one party or another made sure that they packed the committees. That was the norm whether the authority was Conservative controlled or Labour controlled and, for all I know, it was the same in Liberal-controlled authorities. The Conservative Administration under Margaret Thatcher took the view-on this instance, they were right-that it was better that committees of local authorities, and subsidiary and external bodies to which local authorities appointed, should reflect the appropriate political balance, to reflect the wishes of the electorate.
In constructing these panels, the Government seem to be setting that aside. Why, in the Bill, are they repudiating the legacy of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher? Why are they so opposed to having proper political balance to reflect the different strengths of the political parties in particular areas as far as policing and crime panels are concerned? This is precisely an
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, I follow my noble friend on that particular point about political balance. As currently constituted, police authorities are constituted in a way that reflects the political balance in the area that is affected, whether they are metropolitan areas or single-area county police authorities. I do not understand how the Government propose that political balance should be achieved, if at all, on the basis of the Bill.
I moved an amendment in Committee about using the LGA model, which is well accepted across political groups-including the independent group-in the Local Government Association for achieving a balance within the LGA's internal bodies and its appointments to external bodies that reflects the strength of the different political groups across the whole country. It should be perfectly possible to import that principle into appointments to these panels, at the level of the new structures which are to be created. If it is not done in that way, how is the objective to be achieved-assuming that the Government share that objective? If the Minister is not in a position to explain that at the moment, perhaps it is something that can be further discussed before Third Reading. I am sure that her noble friend Lady Eaton, who is not in her place, will be happy to enlighten her about the consensual approach that we have achieved in the Local Government Association since it was formed around this particular issue.
I welcome the slight movement that the Government have made on potentially increasing the size of the panels, although I noticed that the Secretary of State will be required to approve the numbers. That seems yet another unnecessary intervention. It should perhaps be subject to a minimum requirement but it should be left to the panel to determine. I am glad that it looks, on the face of it, as though we will be doing a little better than the homeopathic dosage of independent or co-opted members that the Bill in its present form provides for. Again, some assurance about how this might work would be very welcome, because the issue of balance is not confined, as other noble Lords have made clear today and on previous occasions, to issues of politics; there is also the geographical issue.
My noble friend Lord Hunt from the great city of Birmingham would not, I think, be content if Birmingham, with its 1 million population, was to have but one member on the West Midlands Police Authority, which might very well be all it would be entitled to, given the number of authorities that would be involved in that organisation. Birmingham would have a population three or four times the size of some of the other metropolitan districts and there are also county areas involved, as well as all the districts in those county areas to be represented. For Birmingham to be represented by one individual, particularly if it ends up with the misfortune of an elected mayor who would be required to serve in that capacity, would be extremely unsatisfactory.
Of course, when it comes to party-political balance, it is quite conceivable that, as already happens in a number of places, the elected mayor does not reflect the politics
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In addition to those issues of party-political and geographical balance, issues of ethnicity and gender need to be reflected and are difficult to derive, and the provision for co-opted members ought to be a way of proceeding with that. While it may not be possible in the Bill to prescribe how that should be done, it would be very welcome to hear the Minister say for the record that it would be expected that efforts would be made to reflect those considerations about diversity of ethnicity and gender in particular-there may be others-which are sensitive and important. We have a range of issues, of course, affecting minority communities in some parts of the country and, in general, issues such as domestic violence are clearly ones in which a gender balance is required.
It would be very helpful to have a clear steer on that from the Minister on the record, if not in the Bill, so I hope that she will be amenable to answering some of the points that noble Lords have raised and are about to raise-I see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, straining at the leash to join the debate.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I shall interject a question from a slightly more sceptical angle, while understanding where noble Lords opposite are coming from. I can understand how the proposal in Amendment 116 might work in a police authority where there is only one local authority. What I do not understand is how it would work in a police authority such as Essex, where there are, if not quite 17, at least well over a dozen local authorities. I shall give way to the noble Baroness-it may be that the question is for her-but I do not understand how such an arrangement could work without local authorities having their choice taken away from them and being told that they have to choose X or Y.
Baroness Henig: Perhaps I can explain to the noble Lord that that is precisely what happens at the moment. In a two-tier area such as he is describing-I am familiar with Lancashire-all the authorities have to get together and, in certain cases, agree to put forward nominations in line with the political balance overall. They do this by a process of negotiation. In Lancashire, there are two unitaries to throw into the mix. On many occasions Blackpool or Blackburn have been told to send a Labour member or a Conservative member in order to reflect that balance. I accept that that is one issue; to get an overall balance, every now and again an individual local authority has to contribute to that balance.
Lord Newton of Braintree: All I will say, if I am allowed to treat that as an intervention, is that I found it pretty messy and I would like to know what is to be done in councils where there is no overall control.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 121 and 123. I mention in passing that it seems clear that the objective of Amendment 140, on which we might have said some things, has been achieved by Amendment 139.
I share some of the concerns of my noble friend Lord Newton. This is a complex matter that requires further thought. We have had some concern about the small size of the panel, so the Government's proposal is welcome. We had wanted four co-opted members and 15 local authority members, making a total of 19 altogether. It is important that the panel is not too big-otherwise it might become unwieldy-but it has to be big enough to enable the diversity and geographical requirements to be met as part of the construction of that panel. Otherwise, it will not represent the area that it seeks to represent.
There are two outstanding issues. The first relates to the political balance of parties. It could be possible for a party-political label to be attached to the elected commissioner, and that party could have a massive majority of the local authority representatives nominated to the panel. That is not in the interests of the general public, and there has to be a system of meeting what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out-that the issue of proportionality must be delivered. Otherwise, the public will not have confidence in the ability of the panel to scrutinise independently and objectively the work of the commissioner.
The second issue that will have to be addressed is that of substitutes. Whatever the size of the panel, the fact remains that if people send apologies some local authority areas simply will not be represented at a key meeting. It would not be sustainable for a debate on the precept level to be undertaken without some councils being present at it. The issue of substitutes has to be urgently addressed. It is entirely possible that there could be an outcome, given the vote that we have just had, where, thanks to a majority of the members of the panel, if people were not present at the meeting, a different result could have been obtained had there been a higher turnout because of the way in which the veto operates. There is then a question of whether telephone or video attendance would be acceptable.
These are not secondary matters; they are fundamental. If a local authority finds that it cannot be present at a critical meeting and yet, for example, a precept is approved that it would not have supported, that is not going to be sustainable even in the short term. The Government will have to come up with some amendments regarding that.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am slightly confused now. Those of us who argued for the "of those present" amendment now see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talking about the need for substitutes, without which the right result may not come out. That is a little confusing.
I am standing up because I have a déjà vu about a déjà vu. I remember advising the Minister to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, about the way that he achieved the political balance that her Bill seeks to achieve but I believe, from the contributions
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The proposal before us today puts most of the power in the hands of an individual who may have been one of the people whom Michael Howard, as he was in those days, thought was unsuitable to dominate what was happening in policing, backed up by a system on the panel that will not give diversity. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to assure me that this proposal, rather than my noble friend's amendment, carries the Michael Howard seal of approval to ensure balance. Although I did not always agree with him when he was Home Secretary, I recollect that he worked very hard to do something that the present Government are busily unpicking. They ought to stop it.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Farrington takes us back to the core of the debate. Of course, the question is: which Michael Howard? I very much agree with my noble friend that the problem we face is that we do not accept that police authorities have failed in the way that the Government say they have. We also do not accept that the police authority should not be the model that might be used to develop the police and crime panels. These issues of political balance and the role of independent members are very important. I should have thought that the model of the police authority was one to be followed.
I know that the noble Baroness has tabled her own amendments. Their intention is to keep the same model as is currently in the Bill but to allow areas to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from existing local authorities or additional independent members, with a cap of 20 members in all. I welcome that as far as it goes. My concern is that I am not sure it is entirely appropriate to give complete discretion to the police and crime panels themselves. If we are preserving any remnant of a tripartite system, it is right for the Home Secretary to lay down through legislation certain minimum requirements for police and crime panels, such as that there should be political balance and a proportion of independent members. That is why I very much warm to my noble friend's amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of substitutes. The problem is that the House has now decided, by voting, that the decision will not be that "of those present and voting". However, the House has not solved the evident problem that, by making sure the veto can be used only in relation to the number of members, there are all sorts of reasons why it will be almost impossible ever to use it. One thinks of illness. I understand that there is no proposal for how to deal with that. What happens if the local
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The Government and the House have now decided to reject a sensible amendment by which the veto requirement should be "of those present and voting". I agree with the noble Lord that this matter has not satisfactorily been resolved. The Government will have to think about this matter between now and Third Reading, because this simply should not stand as it currently does in the Bill.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I must confess, for the first time in taking this Bill through the House, that I am genuinely disappointed, because in the government amendments in this group we have tried really hard to address concerns across the House that were raised in Committee about giving more flexibility to achieve balance on the panel. As we know from previous debates, that balance ranges across geography, politics, gender and ethnicity. Of course, among the group of people who the panel can co-opt it is sometimes necessary, because of local circumstances, to co-opt people with particular expertise in an area who will be a useful addition to the panel. By raising the threshold of the panel size to 20, I have gone far in excess of anything suggested in Committee in order to provide those additional co-opted places on the panel so that these matters can be addressed.
Let me establish for the record that paragraph 30(3) of Schedule 6 already places the same duty on a panel to ensure that it represents the political make-up of the force area. This, of course, achieves exactly the same political balance as the current police authority regulations do. Therefore, while there is more scope for these additional nominated or co-opted people to be invited to sit on the panel-there is nothing mandatory about this; the panel can decide whether or not it wishes to go up to that threshold of 20-we have retained political balance based on what already happens in police authorities. The noble Baroness mentioned the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to do that. I hope she will accept that we have not departed from that principle in the Bill.
However, I was particularly concerned that noble Lords, in speaking to their amendments, did not seem to be aware that it is not mandatory for co-opted members to come from local authorities. They can, if the panel so chooses, but they need not come from local authorities at all. Later, when I speak to my amendments, I will flesh out a little the fact that where the panel opts to co-opt more people on to the panel
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Baroness Browning: I hope that there would be a discussion early on on the panel if there was a debate about the need to co-opt. I hope that would ensure that there was agreement on the need to co-opt. We keep trying to drive down to micromanage the panels. I am concerned to give panels the authority and flexibility to get the balance right, based on their judgment of their local needs, without trying to micromanage through the Bill a lot of situations that may or may not arise. With all due respect, we are talking about adults who-particularly the political nominees to the panel-will be there on behalf of specific local authorities. I should have thought that there would be grown-up discussion.
We have tried to get a balance in the Bill. It is important that the panel has the flexibility to co-opt. Raising that threshold to 20 is far in excess of what anyone asked me to do in Committee and more than generous. I am more than happy to stand here and read out the number for every police force area that will now be able, in the main, to co-opt an extra eight to 10 people. That is a huge number of people to get that balance right.
Baroness Browning: That gives the Secretary of State, as I just described, the opportunity to ensure that the panel's motive is to ensure the overall balance of the panel and to prevent the panel being packed with chums and politically slanted, which noble Lords have been concerned about-we have had a lot of discussion in Committee and on Report about this. Noble Lords have asked whether the members will be of the same political party as the PCC may be seen to have. This gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to look at the motivation of the panel in co-opting
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Baroness Henig: I seek genuine clarification from the Minister. She referred to the schedule that states that the balanced appointment objective means that the political make-up of a relevant authority has to be represented on the panel. That means that in some parts of the country-Manchester, let us say-all the political representation is likely to be Labour, whereas in other parts of the country, because of the councils that make up the relevant area all the representation is likely to be from another party. My amendment aims to reflect the voting numbers. There are parts of the country in which Liberal Democrats and Conservatives would not get a look-in on the panel because all the councils are Labour, and other parts of the country where Labour would not get a look-in because the councils are all Conservative. What the noble Baroness is saying about the schedules goes only so far because at the moment police authorities are made up on the basis of the voting figures at the last election. In other words, there is proportional representation in police authorities that is not in this Bill. That is the difference, and that is the issue that I am trying to get at with this point about politicisation. The noble Baroness perhaps did not give me credit for what I am trying to do here.
Baroness Browning: I hate to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on this because I know that her motives are well-meaning. That paragraph in Schedule 6 has the heading: "Duty to produce balanced panel"-the Bill very clearly already includes the duty to produce a balanced panel. The noble Baroness describes a situation, and it saddens me to say this, in which there may be councils around the country with no elected Conservatives at all, although that can apply to other parties in other parts of the country. However, what I can only describe as the generosity of increasing the number of people that can be co-opted on to the panel means that I would expect a responsible panel to make absolutely sure that it would look to the additional co-optees to redress that political balance. If that is what the panel puts to the Secretary of State, I can see no reason why it cannot do that. If the motivation is to create a politically balanced panel, Conservatives can be co-opted to the panel to get political balance. I see no reason why what I am doing does not address the point that she is making.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Minister has failed to see the critical difference between the proposals in this Bill and the solution to the problem that everybody in this debate wishes to overcome, which was achieved by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. I have yet to hear an answer as to why the proportional representation that was written in to the police authority legislation that we currently have is being done away with. Will the Secretary of State say to authority A: "I am sorry, the system has not worked; you are unbalanced and therefore you will co-opt to
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Baroness Browning: My Lords, perhaps the solution to that is that PCPs can also set out their own rules and practices for all other business and procedures under Part 4 of Schedule 6, at paragraph 24. There is sufficient flexibility already in the Bill, combined with raising the threshold to 20 members, that gives the panel the opportunity to get the right balance that this House has called for. I genuinely mean this.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The problem is that there is too much flexibility. The cases have been quoted to the Minister: there will be panels where the political parties in control of the councils will be almost all of one party. The Minister is saying that you can rely on the panel to which these people are appointed to then ensure greater impartiality. This is why we know it will not work. I have said again and again that the Minister will come back in a couple of years' time with another Bill to put it right, because what she is in fact doing is leading not just to the politicisation of the police commissioner but also the panel, in a way that will be destructive because it does not guarantee either balance or having truly independent members on it.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, again I am very disappointed that the House is not able to identify the flexibility that the increase in the number on the panel offers. I want to make some progress now. I propose to place in the Library of the House as soon as possible-I hope within the next 48 hours-a comparison of the current system and the new system and how it will affect each police authority in the country. If noble Lords have a chance to analyse that, they will see that the flexibility is there. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that I am now creating too much flexibility in the Bill. The inference I have taken in previous discussions was that noble Lords wanted more prescription in the Bill and not flexibility. I believe that these matters are best decided at a local level, case by case, giving the power to the panel to decide what is needed. I am genuinely disappointed that that point of what I believe is a very generous amendment on the part of the Government has not been accepted.
Before I turn specifically to the amendments before us, my noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned deputies and how the panel conducts its business. We can consider the views that he has raised today as the Secretary of State has power in Schedule 5, set out by regulation, to see whether in regulation we can address the problem he has just identified. I will liaise with him on progress specifically on that matter.
Amendments 106, 116, 121, 123, 132A and 140 seek to vary the composition of the police and crime panel. Although I have heard the views put forward again today, I believe the series of government amendments that have been tabled will address many of the issues noble Lords have been concerned about, and I invite noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group not to press them.
Amendment 140, from my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley, seeks to limit the Government's power under paragraph 32 of Schedule 6 to make regulations applying local government legislation to police and crime panels. As I have said, we will take a look at what can be achieved in regulation but the amendment specifically would mean that the power could only be used to the extent necessary to apply the relevant legislation. I can reassure noble Lords that this power will not be used to a greater extent than is necessary. I will say more about it when I come to the Government's amendments.
Government Amendments 120, 122, 124, 126 to 128, 130 to 132 and 134 to 137 seek to address, as I have mentioned, the composition of the police and crime panel. I thank-and they may be surprised to hear me say this-my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Hamwee and, if it is not going to ruin his reputation, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their input. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, looks horrified. I have tried to listen, across the House, to the points that have been made. There have been some very good points made, particularly in Committee, and I have tried to incorporate them into the amendments I have tabled.
I fully recognise the need to ensure that the police and crime panels are able to represent geographically large and diverse communities. I also understand the significant challenges that local authorities face in achieving this under current provisions in the Bill. These provide for the inclusion of district councils, which previously have not been recognised in their own right, which reflects the Government's localism agenda but leads to potential issues relating to proportionate representation.
Fundamentally, the Government still believe that the model set out for police and crime panels in the Bill is entirely appropriate and provides for a clear process and structure in establishing such panels. I believe we have created a structure that is sufficiently flexible to meet local structures while being the right size to avoid being expensive and a bureaucratic burden. However, the Government propose to allow areas to opt to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from local authorities-they do not have to come from local authorities-or independent members.
It is still important not to encourage oversized and unwieldy police and crime panels and it was for that reason that the cap was set at 20 members. For example, Devon and Cornwall's police and crime panel will have 15 members under the provisions originally set out in the Bill; with these new provisions it will have an option to co-opt a further five members. This provision could therefore be used to enable the panel to reflect more directly the geographical representation of the force area. I remind noble Lords that in the Devon and Cornwall force area, Cornwall as a county is a unitary authority. However, we will not prescribe this; increasing co-option will be a local decision. The Secretary of State will retain a role in agreeing to any proposed increase in the number of co-optees, merely to ensure that local areas have considered all the issues arising from their decision, including other areas of balance.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I hope that the Minister can give figures. I understand that there are specific circumstances to do with Cornwall, where it is felt that its representation is overmatched by that coming from Devon. But the figures of interest in terms of reflecting needs and all the communities are for Kent, Essex, Hampshire and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lancashire, because of the difference of size of population and the number of local authorities. I can see noble Lords nodding.
Baroness Browning: I have said that I will make sure that certainly before Third Reading, and I hope within the next 48 hours, I can write to noble Lords and place a copy of that letter in the House Library showing how this new threshold of 20 will impact on every police force in the country. That will show what the numbers would have been if I had left the Bill unamended with my increase to 20, and what the impact will be after raising the threshold to 20. I hope that noble Lords will be sufficiently encouraged and reassured when they have a chance to compare what the situation would have been in the Bill as previously drafted and the situation as with the new amendment that I have spoken to today.
Baroness Browning: I have to say that this amendment is a major concession on the part of the Government. It is free to all noble Lords to come back at Third Reading, but I believe that this is a very significant concession, which reflects a lot of the points raised across the House.
Baroness Henig: The problem is that I certainly, speaking for myself, do not fully understand the extent of the concession. Without being able to see the evidence that the Minister is talking about and to compare the former list and the present list under the amendment with old police authorities, I cannot see the extent of the concession. Given that we have not yet seen this information which will be put in the Library, is it possible to reserve the right to come back to this at Third Reading, if concerns remain? It is difficult to be specific about something that we have not yet seen.
Baroness Browning: My Lords, I cannot say that the Government will come back to this at Third Reading. I am happy to talk off the Floor to noble Lords who have concerns about this, but this is a major concession. In looking at the exact numbers for each police force area, I remind the House that before I tabled this amendment the ceiling for police and crime panels reflected the number of local authorities plus two co-opted members. For most authorities, we will see significant numbers of co-opted members available to the panel to co-opt, if that is its wish, in order to achieve balance. A significant concession has been made in seeking to address many quite legitimate and important issues raised on the Floor of the House in Committee.
Panels will be required to exercise the power to co-opt additional members in such a way as to achieve the objective that the local authority members represent all parts of the police area and the political make-up of the contributing authorities. They will also need to ensure that all the members-local authority and independent-when taken together, have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. To ensure that panels do this, any proposal to co-opt will require the agreement of the Secretary of State, who will look purely on the motivation in terms of achieving balance for that co-option. These amendments are considered to address the concerns that have been raised. I believe that the government amendments, particularly that to increase the panel to 20, have seriously addressed some important issues raised across the House. I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, this is an extremely serious issue. It first raised its head at Second Reading when nearly all the speakers voiced their anxieties about party politics being put into policing and it is a theme that has run right through our discussions since that time. I accept the assurance of the noble Baroness that she is trying to address this, as indeed we are trying to address it. The problem is that many of us, certainly on this side of the House, feel that the noble Baroness's way of addressing it will not be sufficient.
It is all very well comparing panels in the original Bill with panels now, but the comparison I am interested in is between the panels under the Government's amendment and the existing police authorities. We have a tried and tested formula under which there is no party political majority on police authorities. All parties are represented. They have worked harmoniously and they have worked effectively. I suggest to the House that one of the reasons why police authorities have not had a high profile is because they have avoided controversy by having party political balance, with people of all parties working together to resolve problems. That is why we have not seen high profile problems and why police authorities have not been noticed more.
This issue of party political balance is important. We have it now. My concern is that we will lose it. It is a concern that the Minister has not addressed. It is not a question of what the original Bill had in as against what it has in now; for me it is an issue of what we have now-which is very precious- and what we will lose under this proposal if we do not get party political balance on our panels. In the past week or two I have been in meetings with police personnel where a group of Members of Parliament were berating a chief constable for not coming out publically to support the Government's proposals. The aggressive tone of that meeting-I will not go into detail-left me quite shocked. I am concerned that if we do not address this issue of party politics in policing we will have chief constables being put under pressure to do certain things.
This is not an issue about operational or not operational. It is about people saying, "Chief Constable, you are not giving leadership; you are not saying X, Y and Z put forward by the Government". There will be pressure of that kind and it will be insidious. That is
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"Mr Speaker, today I am laying before Parliament the Open Public Services White Paper. There could not be a more important issue. Public services save lives. They rescue people from disease and ignorance. They protect people from crime and poverty. Much of what is done by our public services is fantastic; among the best in the world. But we can do even better. This Government have a vision, set out in this White Paper, about how we can do better.
The central point is this: when public services are not up to scratch, those who are well off can pay for substitutes. But for those who are not well off, there is no opportunity to pay for substitutes. So we need to give everybody the same choice in, and the same power over, the services they receive that well off people already have. This White Paper sets out how we are going about the business of putting that vision of choice and power for all into practice. Our principles are clear. They are: choice-wherever possible we will increase choice; decentralisation-power will be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level; diversity-public services will be open to a range of providers; fair access-we will ensure that there is fair access and fair funding for all; and accountability-services will be accountable to users and taxpayers.
Let me give you some examples of how these principles will apply in specific public services that cater for specific individuals. First, we are going to ensure that every adult receiving social care has an individual, personal budget by 2013, and we are moving towards personal budgets in chronic-health care, for children with special needs, and in our housing for vulnerable people. This means more choice and power for people who need those services: they will be able to choose what the money is spent on. Secondly, we are making funding follow the pupil in schools, the student in further education, the child in childcare and the patient in the NHS. This means more choice and power for people who need those services: they will be able to choose where the money is spent.
Thirdly, we are providing fair access so that, for example, a pupil premium payment follows pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and a health premium
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Fourthly, we are providing open access to data so that people can make informed choices about the services they use; crime maps so people can see whether the local police are preventing crime in their street; health outcomes so people can see which hospitals and which GPs achieve the best results; standardised satisfaction data for all public services so people can see exactly which service providers are providing the quality of service people want; and open, real-time data on road conditions, speeds and accidents along our motorways so people can make informed choices.
We are going further than this. We are not only concerned about increased choice and power for individuals, we are also determined to increase choice and power for communities so that they can determine how money is spent on their communal public services. We will do this by making it far easier for communities to take over and run public assets and assets of community value; by giving communities the right to build houses for their own young people; by giving parish councils and community groups the right to challenge, enabling them to take over local services and making it easier for people to form neighbourhood councils where there are none at present; by giving neighbourhoods vastly more power to determine their own neighbourhood planning; and by giving neighbourhoods the ability to challenge the local police at beat meetings informed by crime maps. We should remember that the people at these meetings will be electors of the local police commissioner.
We recognise, of course, that inevitably some services will continue to be commissioned centrally, or by various levels of local government. Here, too, we are aiming at decentralisation, diversity and accountability. The White Paper sets out the way we will use payment by results to transform welfare to work, the rehabilitation of offenders, drug and alcohol recovery, help for children in the foundation years, and support for vulnerable adults. In all of these areas, a diverse range of providers will be given a huge incentive to provide the social gains that our society desperately needs, by being rewarded for getting people into work, out of crime, off drugs and alcohol and into the opportunities most of us take for granted.
To strengthen accountability, the White Paper sets out the most radical programme of transparency for government and the public sector anywhere in the world. To unlock innovation, the White Paper commits us to diversity of provision, removing barriers to entry, stimulating entry by new types of provider and unlocking new sources of capital. To ensure that public sector providers can hold their own on a level playing field, the White Paper sets out measures to liberate public sector bodies from red tape. To encourage employee ownership within the public services, the White Paper sets out the measures we are taking to
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In the past 13 months, the Government have done more to increase choice and power for those served by our public services than the party opposite achieved in 13 years. The White Paper describes the comprehensive, consistent, coherent approach we are taking to keep our public services moving in the direction of increased choice and power for service users, so that we can provide access to excellence for all. That is the aim of this White Paper. I commend it to the House".
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, our public services face significant challenges over the coming years-cuts that are too far and too fast; an aging population and ever rising expectations-yet it appears from today's White Paper that the Government are simply obsessed with presenting an argument rather than providing the reform that our public services need. The Government have certainly not lacked ambition in the way they have heralded the White Paper, referring to it as bringing a complete change in public services, where power will be placed in people's hands. The Government may believe that the narrative is there, but the content appears to be lacking.
The White Paper contains few new ideas and even fewer new proposals. In many cases the Government are lagging behind their earlier rhetoric and the actions of the previous Labour Government. Indeed, some of the proposals are already being implemented as a result of our legislation-for example, the provision of data on health outcomes.
On personal budgets, to which the Minister referred, the Sunday Times newspaper was told several weeks ago that the right to a personal budget, now used by approximately 250,000 adults, was to be extended to those with long-term conditions and to children with special needs-and yet there is nothing of this in the White Paper.
The Minister also referred to the expansion of mutuals. Back in November, the Minister for the Cabinet Office said that every department would put in place rights to provide for public sector workers to take over the running of services. Almost nine months later, only the Department of Health has obliged and no timescale for any other has been forthcoming.
Ahead of today's White Paper we set out three tests for public services reform. First, will these reforms make services more accountable and responsive to the needs of service users? Secondly, will there be clear accountability for the way in which public money is spent and members of the public are protected? Finally, will the proposals strengthen the bonds of community and family life? So far the Government are failing that test of reform. Their policies are inconsistent between departments and sometimes within them. Little has been done to put service users and their communities in control.
It is now clear that the Government have lost their way on public service reform. After the incompetence
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Perhaps I may ask the Minister, first, are the Government still planning to bring forward proposals for personal budgets and mutuals? Can the Minister give any indication of the timescale on which they are likely to proceed? Secondly, given that the White Paper has little to say on these two important issues and many others, will there be another White Paper with a set of proposals, which are so apparently lacking in this one? Thirdly, in relation to what has been for the employees concerned a major issue about reform-staff pensions and employment conditions-can the Minister assure us that this is being taken seriously and that those members of staff transferred out of the public sector will retain access to the same pensions and conditions of employment that they currently have? Fourthly, if the public will not wear competition by price in the NHS, will the Minister guarantee that this will not form the basis of proposals elsewhere? Finally, we are particularly concerned about the report in today's Guardian that Ministers have been privately advised that schools and hospitals should be allowed to fail. On the day that Southern Cross has closed down, does the Minister agree that the education of children and the treatment of the sick should not be treated as a commodity to be traded and that these proposals should never see the light of day?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, this process is signed up to by all government departments and it has had wide consultation. We are building on what the previous Government were doing-ensuring that there was proper reform and that public services were able to deliver the best possible service and outcome to individual users. I do not accept the noble Baroness's premise that the White Paper is going nowhere and that it has not responded to the needs of individuals. What we are trying to do is very significant. This is about building accountability and transparency into the processes. As with social care, which is a sector I know well, personal budgets are available to some but this is about ensuring that personal budgets are available to many more. It is also about making sure that people are aware of what they are buying into, and that process takes time.
I have not read the Guardian article so I cannot comment on it. However, I will say that for us it is really important that children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are followed by the pupil premium will be able to get better outcomes and go on to enjoy social mobility and rise up, rather than remain stagnated as some children have become through-I am sorry to say to the noble Baroness-
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Before the Minister sits down, I remind her of the very important question that I asked towards the end of my response to her Statement about the fact that it is said that the Government are willing to allow educational and health establishments to fail. That cannot happen, and I would like a guarantee from the Minister that this will not be allowed to happen.
Baroness Verma: I apologise for not responding to that. I have not seen any evidence that we would allow schools to fail. It would not be in the interest of children who are growing up today for us to allow failure: they have been failed for far too long. We need to ensure that every child growing up in this country today has an opportunity to achieve their best potential.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, while I acknowledge the sense of many of the objectives spelled out in this White Paper, does my noble friend recognise that across the whole White Paper the proposals to achieve these ends raise far more questions than answers? The modes of delivery are very far from clear and this House needs to debate them serially and at length. For example, does my noble friend recognise that cuts in public expenditure are seriously diminishing the access of local people to central services? The closure of the income tax offices and the removal of visa and passport offices in the part of the country that I live in are examples of this. Although these are central services, they cannot be neglected as they touch upon the lives of people in the locality. Does she also recognise that there are big questions about who is going to make the decisions on the money that is to be dispensed by the public service locally-is it to be central, or local government, or some new sources of funding? How is the need of the particular person who is to enjoy the personal budget to be calculated if not by some local organisation which is very closely in touch with the specific circumstances of the individual? I repeat that the general objectives seem unchallengeable but the mode of delivery seems highly opaque.
Baroness Verma: I will reassure my noble friend. We are working against a really difficult economic backdrop, and we will have to make some incredibly difficult choices. Having said that, it is also an opportunity for us to open up to a variety of providers and see if services are then better delivered, with best value incorporated into how those services are delivered. As with personal budgets, delivery will not just be left to one set of providers. What is important is working in partnership-in this case, personal budgets and local government. It is about being able to deliver services
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, is it not ironic on the day that Southern Cross has collapsed-closing 560 residential homes, which account for over 30 per cent of residential care places-that the Government are proclaiming the virtues of diversity? How diverse is a system that allows a single private operator to provide such a high proportion of places, with the results that we can now see? In talking about diversity, how many organisations, particularly voluntary ones, have been contracted on the welfare to work programme? It seems to have been commandeered by a handful of national organisations.
More seriously, on the health premium paid to local authorities achieving the greatest improvements in public health, clearly one shares the objective of incentivising the improvement of public health. Is it not going to be difficult for authorities such as my own-the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is also a member-to improve the very serious and long-standing conditions in public health? There are areas where it will be easier to do that and they will be rewarded for achieving targets while authorities that may need investment to secure improvements will presumably struggle to get it. Will that not have to be reconsidered to ensure that the investment goes in the right place to achieve public health objectives? Those are not in any event entirely under the control of local authorities.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, it is a great disappointment that Southern Cross has had to go down the route that it has gone in. The noble Lord is of course aware that many providers perform excellent work and have greater safeguards in place. We do not want to take one example and judge all private providers on it.
I am not quite sure that the significance of the roads question will be answered as fully as the noble Lord would like. I assume that those data are so that the public-the people who use those roads-are able to question why there is not greater improvement and how greater improvement can be brought about. It is not about avoiding roads but being able to say, "Where judgments are to be made about mapping on those roads, how do we deliver better services? Is it about speed or variable speeds"? I suspect that that is what it is, incorporated into that response.
On health premiums, it is absolutely right that those healthcare providers dealing with very difficult health issues in their areas should be given extra support and rewarded if they deliver better outcomes. It is only right that we work in partnership-sometimes with local authorities or across a range of providers. We must not put a full-stop block on this, so that we are driven by the same service that has gone on for
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, as someone who works within local authorities and has local authority experience over 10 years, I welcome the Statement, not least because when we have looked at procurement of services we have, for far too long, seen a repeated reliance on what has happened before continuing. I welcome the White Paper because it opens up different channels, whether it is the state sector, the private sector or, indeed, as we have seen, the growing importance of the voluntary sector in delivering effective services at the ground level, as people desire. One-size-fits-all is not the way forward. Personalised budgets, services which matter to local people delivered by the best provider, are what is desired and this White Paper outlines those objectives. I also ask my noble friend the Minister to emphasise once again that while we have only seen the local DCLG budget being allocated in such a way, we see a relinquishing of Whitehall's control on budgets and all budgets being delivered effectively by the right provider for local people at a local level.
Baroness Verma: I thank my noble friend for his warm welcome for the Statement and I absolutely agree that it is about decentralisation and being able to give more and more control over to local people and local authorities, so that we can actually get the sorts of services that local people need in those local areas. There is no point in trying to micromanage local areas when one does not have the special needs of those local areas within one's own way of delivering. My noble friend is absolutely right that it is really important that the decision-makers are part of the communities that are being served.
Personalised budgets, which are something that I know about, are one very good way of being able to deliver. In her response to the Statement, the noble Baroness talked about personalised budgets. Not enough people are signed up to them; we want to deliver, we are building upon what the previous Government were doing, but, of course, it takes time to roll these things out and make people aware. It is about an awareness campaign as well to make people aware of what is available to them so that they will make informed choices.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I do not have a problem with the direction of travel that the noble Baroness is mapping out; indeed, as she said, it builds on what the previous Government were doing, and more acknowledgement of that might make it easier to reach agreement on some of these areas. The problem that the Government are not addressing-as far as I can see, although I will need to look at the White Paper-is the detail of it. I am very much in favour of co-opting mutuals, but I know from personal experience that, for example, setting up a housing co-op and making it work is very difficult and, frankly, it fails more often than not. That has been tried on many occasions.
On more personalised and individual budgets, again I am very much in favour of that. I have argued for children to have budgets enabling their parents to give them extra lessons in whatever they chose-music, or whatever-but that runs into the problem that every now and then a parent wants something which is not considered to be in the interests of the child. To take what is perhaps an extreme example, a parent might say, "I do not wish my child to be in a science lesson which teaches Darwinism; I want to take them out and give them lessons in creationism". We will run into that problem, so we have to have managerial structures which decide how the money can be used, in what format and who says yes or no. It is not just an issue of money; it is an issue of management structures which allow us to do what I think most of us would like to do, which is to devolve downwards.
Baroness Verma: The noble Lord raises a number of interesting points. I did say that we are building on what the previous Government were doing. We are trying to make it a build-on that will be a bit more directed and focused on what the outcomes are going to be. I think that we are still in that mode of debating. It is important that we debate and discuss the best possible ways of delivering. These conversations do not stop just because a paper is produced. Consultation is an ongoing process, but it is also very important that we do not become so blinkered that we decide that the White Paper is not going to deliver anything. The White Paper is already able to deliver a lot, because we are building on what was already in place.
The structures will, of course, have areas that we will need to fine-tune and to look at how things can be made much tighter, but the Government are making sure that we have continuity plans and safety nets in place so that we can ensure that, when people make those choices, they are not left without support mechanisms. That is why we want to encourage champions to come forward through organisations such as Which? or HealthWatch and also make sure that there are ombudsmen for each sector, so that everyone knows that there is a line of recourse if they face difficulties.
Lord Patel: My Lords, on the face of it, allowing patients a choice as to where they wish their care to be delivered seems a good idea, except that there are several problems. One is the quality of information we have: if that choice is to be based on outcomes, it is pretty poor.
The second is that the outcome is not based on one treatment: it is the quality of the journey of care of a patient that delivers the best outcome. For instance, poor outcomes in cancer may well be, and are, related to late referrals of cancer patients. How does a patient know what quality of information they will be given that will allow them to make a choice as to how they wish their care to be provided, based on these outcomes?
Another issue is that the best quality might be far away from where the patient can go or have access to. So how would they make that choice? Most importantly, if we are going to do this-and the idea seems good-it should be based on what we have learned from pilots. Have there been any pilots done that will tell us how this will work?
Baroness Verma: The noble Lord has raised a number of detailed questions and I suspect that I will not be able to answer them today. I would like to take them away, write to him and place a copy in the Library, because it would be unwise of me to respond to him about outcomes without details of how those outcomes would be delivered.
Lord Reid of Cardowan: My Lords, perhaps I can assist on this. While not agreeing with everything that has been proposed, on the matter of choice there are difficulties in getting information, in travelling away from your local hospital, in transferring records, but that has never stopped the rich exercising their choice. They have always been able to overcome these difficulties. Therefore, if there are obstacles in the way of consumer choice for patients, the answer should not be to remove that choice; it should be to increase facilities for the provision of information. On outcomes, I would simply say that, since the introduction of choice in the National Health Service, hundreds of thousands of people have been taken off the waiting list and the maximum waiting time has been reduced from two years to six weeks from diagnosis to operation. That was due to the element of competition and patient empowerment which was introduced into the National Health Service through choice.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council. There is much to commend in this White Paper in principle, insofar as it gives greater power and responsibility to groups of individuals and third sector providers. However, will my noble friend the Minister confirm that it is not just about sell-off to the private sector for profit and that the Government really mean that this is about groups of residents, individuals and third sector organisations? Secondly, will she comment on increasing choice? While theoretically a very good thing which I strongly support, there has to be spare capacity in a public service; otherwise, choice becomes a mirage. Having spare capacity is inherently more expensive when what people want is to have high-quality services available in their immediate neighbourhoods. At a time of declining public resource, ensuring high-quality services within neighbourhoods, close to home in order to minimise the need to travel, is more important than extending, at higher cost to the public purse, the choice in a wider area.
Baroness Verma: My noble friend should feel reassured first and foremost that it is not about just a sell-off. It is about introducing a much wider and more diverse provision of service so that people are able to enjoy a much more flexible response to their needs rather than, as so often, a stringent delivery of services through local authorities. Often as not, my noble friend will find that within an independent delivery service there is always capacity built in. It is often a prerequisite required of those who deliver services when they buy from the public sector to deliver, because it has to be delivered in their service plans in the first place. So I do not have a worry about capacity.
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