The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, our water White Paper set out the challenge of ensuring resilient and sustainable water resources in the face of increasing pressure from climate change and population growth. We need to use existing water resources more efficiently, develop new sources and build connectivity across the network. Water companies are already joining up sources of supply to build resilience. We are working closely with Ofwat and the Environment Agency to encourage further connectivity and to promote bulk water trading.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, by 5 April over half the country will be subject to drought orders. I know that the Minister understands the gravity of the situation but perhaps I may press him further. Will he and his departmental colleagues, as a matter of priority, bring forward a national plan-whether it is called a network or a grid, I really do not mind-so that for the future all parts of the country have an adequate water supply?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: As my noble friend is aware, much has already been done by water companies to improve interconnectivity. My noble friend asked about a plan. We are encouraging water companies to include provision for better interconnectivity in the next price review round, which is due to complete in 2014. This is potentially much more cost-effective than creating a national grid and it will help to address the problem of imbalances in water availability across the country. We need Ofwat to get the incentives right so that water trading is economically attractive for water companies.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I welcome the statement made by the noble Lord a few hours ago in this Chamber, when he indicated that any proposals to secure additional water supplies from Wales would go ahead only with the agreement of the National Assembly as water is a devolved matter. That being so, will he also confirm that there will be a Barnett consequential for the expenditure undertaken as a result of the Bill passed last night that would be relevant to Wales?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord made a valuable contribution to last night's debate. The point I was making concerned the construction of new reservoir capacity, rather than taking water from existing reservoirs, and I think I should make that clear. I am not fully briefed on how the Barnett formula might apply in respect of the Bill which this House passed last night and any arrangements that might be made with Wales, so I cannot help the noble Lord on that point. However, I shall write to him if he will allow me to do so.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is not one of the more obvious benefits of our EU membership the fact that we have been forced to spend at least £65,000 million, or £65 billion, on three EU water purification directives when there was nothing wrong with our water before? No one was getting tummy ache. Would not that sum now be useful for infrastructure and supply?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: No, I cannot accept the noble Lord's premise. The Government owe it to all consumers to make sure that the water is of the highest standards and there can be no derogation from that obligation. The noble Lord is quite right that infrastructure costs money, but the water companies can be incentivised to provide just that.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, what importance do the Government give to some of the work being undertaken at, for example, the University of Leeds on the development of water-free washing machines and at other institutions on water-free lavatories? Is not the effort on finding ways of using much less water worthy of a great deal of investment?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My noble friend makes a very good point, indicating that water efficiency is one of the key strategies which it is in all our interests to pursue, particularly at this time when drought threatens a good deal of the country. That and water capture and storage are strategies which individuals and businesses can undertake for themselves.
Lord Lea of Crondall: Does the Minister recall that the last time the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, invented a statistic regarding the water directive-in this case, £65 billion-he got his arithmetic wrong, as he subsequently acknowledged, by a factor of 1,000? Does the Minister think that the same is likely to apply on this occasion?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I cannot possibly comment on the accuracy of the mathematics of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. He has placed a figure before the House and, of course, is accountable for what he has suggested, but I cannot comment on it.
Baroness O'Cathain: Will the noble Lord tell us whether progress has been made on the things that we can change now rather than the things that will take 20, 30 or 40 years? For example, what progress has been made on stopping the leaks, and what proportion of water is actually lost through leakage every year?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, as part of the Government's drought summit, water companies are committed to reducing water losses and increasing leakage detection. It is important to say that leakage cannot be eliminated altogether. Even new pipes can leak, but water companies have leakage targets to move them to a sustainable, economic level of leakage. Leakage has fallen by nearly 40 per cent since the mid-1990s and is expected to fall by a further 3 per cent in the next three years.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I know nothing of that proposal so I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord's question. Reservoir capacity is important, of course, but even more important is the opportunity to connect up existing river resources and water resources so that they are available across water companies. That is the point that I wanted to make in response to my noble friend's Question.
Earl Cathcart: My Lords, we pipe and store gas and oil around the country, so why not water? The Roman aqueducts did it 2,000 years ago. The Minister previously cited the difficulty in getting water uphill. Quite so, and no doubt the £30 billion or so cost of establishing a grid is also an issue. Why cannot we use wind turbines to push the water uphill? Is not the provision of water a far greater and essential benefit to one and all, rather than getting a few people to Birmingham a few minutes earlier? We should get our priorities right.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, it is possible to achieve both but it is not possible to make water flow uphill as my noble friend rightly points out. I would use the analogy that the amount of money that my noble friend is prepared to spend to put petrol in the tank of his motor car is a great deal more than he would be prepared to pay to fill his bath with water. Some of the difficulty comes from the fact that we as a country do not recognise the importance of water and value it enough.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, we are working towards sustainable natural control of Japanese knotweed. The controlled release of the highly specialist psyllid, Aphalara itadori, is progressing well and we are nearly two years into the release phase. If successful, the psyllid should restrict the growth of Japanese knotweed, slow its capacity to spread as vigorously and enhance
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Baroness Sharples: My Lords, perhaps in my perseverance in asking this Question over 25 years, we are actually getting somewhere. The psyllid is quite a success but are there other ways of ridding ourselves of this extremely invasive and destructive weed?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I would like to thank my noble friend for her persistence, which I think rivals the Japanese knotweed in its vigour and eradicability. Research is going on into a leaf spot fungus, which also has the capacity specifically-this is the key to biological control-to attack Japanese knotweed. Defra and the devolved Administrations are also supporting catchment scale control work on Japanese knotweed in several areas across the country.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, while waiting for this new panacea to have effect, does the Minister agree that Japanese knotweed is pretty lethal stuff and that there are virtually no powers to deal with it if one sees it in adjoining gardens or houses? Short of having to take civil action, which is pretty cumbersome-especially given the legal aid Bill-should we not have better enforcement powers? People do not know about it, and not all police forces have wildlife officers, so why not give local authorities the power to deal with it?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord makes a very important point. Japanese knotweed is a pest and it is extremely difficult to eliminate. However, I remind the noble Lord that this House guards jealously the right of entry. I remember many debates on that issue and I am not sure that this House would be particularly happy to have people's gardens invaded by enforcement officers in the way that he suggests.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: As my noble friend will know, Defra has been extremely vigorous in responding to the red tape challenge. Indeed, the red tape regulatory reduction targets of this Government are being vigorously enforced. Unfortunately, we do not have a psyllid that we can apply to them.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am very pleased to hear of the progress on the introduction of the psyllid, which passed its scientific trials on my watch when I was a Defra Minister two years ago. I was persuaded, as I am sure the whole House will be, at how threatening the plant is. Network Rail's permanent way, embankments and the lines themselves are threatened by knotweed and it has to deal with it at immense cost. Householders in Broxbourne, the borough in which I live, lost their £300,000 home the other day because the weed had infested their land. We cannot take this lightly. The noble Lord is right that we place a great deal of hope on the psyllid but we certainly need to make progress on its employment.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord is absolutely right to remind us of the continuity of government. It was helpful to be able to take up where the noble Lord left off. He was right to point out that this is a serious matter, particularly for those people who find their properties affected. That is why the Government are investing a considerable amount of money in the area. The cost to the economy is £166 million per annum, which is a sizeable sum. That is why we consider it a priority to find effective control.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, is my noble friend confident that other invasive species will not be permitted to come to this country? Clearly this has been a very long-term problem and we need to make sure that we do not allow in such species in the first place.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My noble friend is absolutely right. One of the hazards of climate change is that we may find exotic plant and animal pests coming to this country. Defra is constantly on watch; Fera, our science agency, gives us advice; and we monitor plant imports with the express purpose of trying to make sure that we do not allow such an accident to happen again.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That is exactly how the psyllid works. It is a mite-sized fly or beetle-type insect that has the capacity to suck the sap out of Japanese knotweed. This has proved to be a very effective treatment. It is a biological control; the psyllid is knotweed-specific and does not destroy other plants. This is why we are particularly pleased with the outcome of the trials that were conducted, and why we see it as the most effective way of controlling the pest.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that students who are resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and attend Scottish universities will pay the same fees as those living in other European Union member states.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, as I set out on Report on the Scotland Bill on Monday, higher education is devolved across the United Kingdom. This means that all areas of the UK have made different decisions regarding the funding of higher education. Any change to the devolution settlement would risk a key principle of devolution: that the devolved Administrations have the freedom to set devolved policies as they see fit.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that very disappointing reply. Should the Government not get together with the Scottish Government and end the scandalous discrimination against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have to pay up to £36,000 to go to a Scottish university, where Scottish, Italian and French students can go for free, and where anyone else in the European Union can also go for free? Meanwhile, under the Barnett formula, people from the rest of the United Kingdom are funding a grant for Scotland that works out at about 20 per cent more per head than is spent in England. This is not sustainable; it is unfair to our young people; it is bad for the union; and should the Government not do something about it?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I recognise the sensitivity of the issue-and the tenacity with which my noble friend pursued it in Committee and on Report. It is totally in character that he should continue to do so. As I indicated, fees are only one part of the question. Different student support arrangements are in place in different parts of the United Kingdom. Support for English students, including English students studying in Scotland, is more generous than for Scottish students studying in Scotland. The universities in Scotland have also made generous bursary arrangements for English students wishing to study at Scottish universities. It was suggested on Monday that there should be pan-UK discussions on the matter. I indicated then that I would relay that to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That proposal has been relayed. However, I do not wish to raise unrealistic expectations. It might be useful for Administrations in all parts of the United Kingdom to come together and discuss the issue.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, why are university vice-chancellors thought to be so passive in this matter? We were told the other evening that they had no alternative, and that the lawyers had explained this to them. We were told that they could not revise their financial calculations. University vice-chancellors are supposed to be chief executive officers capable of responding quickly to sudden changes. Why can they not act to remedy an obvious injustice that stains the good name of their universities?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, it was not the university vice-chancellors but the Scottish Government to whom legal advice was given about the limitations with regard to European Union law. The noble Lord asked about vice-chancellors. I received a letter from Steve Chapman, the principal and vice-chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, urging me to resist my noble friend's amendments. That shows that universities in Scotland have been responsive. He wrote that universities had put in place arrangements that meant that English students were not disadvantaged if they chose to study in Scotland instead of England, including the availability of bursaries and other forms of financial assistance at a level that was at least as high as that offered by English universities.
Baroness Randerson: My Lords, in the past the same EU anomaly applied to Wales. The Welsh Government have subsidised Welsh students studying
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I recollect a similar situation arising in Scotland. I cannot indicate that the UK Government have considered the position with regard to Wales. When I visited the University of Glamorgan last summer, I got my ear bent on the university student funding issue. However, as I indicated in my Answer to my noble friend, there would be merit in all the United Kingdom Administrations responsible for higher education getting around a table, teasing out some of the issues and learning from each other.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I have always regarded the noble and learned Lord as a very fair man. He is in the very difficult position of having to justify the manifest unfairness towards English, Welsh and Northern Irish students. I welcome the initiative in seeking to reopen discussions with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Will he also look at anti-discrimination legislation, because this is a clear case of discrimination against students from these three parts of the United Kingdom, and at the end of the day rich students will still be able to come to Scotland while those with humbler means will find it even more difficult?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I cannot accept the proposition of the noble Baroness. As I indicated, the support arrangements available for students domiciled in England apply whether they are studying in England or at a Scottish university. Scottish universities have put in place generous bursary arrangements to help students coming from England and other parts of the United Kingdom. Students from England, whether they are studying in Scotland or England, will not have to pay off any of their loan until they are earning at least £21,000. That should not deter students from poorer backgrounds from coming to Scotland.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, is it not the case that the Scottish Government are forcing the Scottish Funding Council to cut funding by more than £100 million over the next four years, thereby jeopardising the student experience and the teaching quality of the universities? Surely the Scotland Office as well as BIS should engage with this so that we can play fair by students not just in Scotland but in the whole of the United Kingdom?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the position with which the Scottish Government were faced, once this Parliament had agreed a position on student fees and funding support in England, was that they could not risk Scotland becoming the cheapest option for students from the rest of the United Kingdom. Doing nothing would have created an unparalleled level of competition for places at Scottish universities, and there was a concern that this would squeeze out Scottish students from Scottish universities. As I indicated in debate and in answer to this Question, these are serious
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, the Government welcome the finding of the language trends survey that in the past year there has been a 15 per cent increase in state schools now teaching languages to the majority of their GCSE pupils. We believe this shows that the English baccalaureate is starting to have a positive impact on take-up. We are considering the expert panel's recommendations for the national curriculum review and will be announcing our plans shortly. This will be followed by a period of public consultation.
Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I agree that the Government deserve to be congratulated on the boost to modern languages as a result of the EBacc. It is also a welcome finding of the survey that significantly more schools with the highest levels of social deprivation are making these improvements. However, does the Minister agree that it is of serious concern that as many as 46 per cent of state schools still say they have no intention of improving their language provision as a result of the EBacc? Does he agree that this points to the need to accept the recommendation of the expert panel and avoid repeating the mistakes of 2004, by restoring modern languages to the compulsory part of the curriculum at key stage 4?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, as I have said, we are considering the recommendations of the expert panel, which, as the noble Baroness says, were very clear. We will set out our response to that. The sharp uptake after a number of years of decline is encouraging. Given that it has happened in such a short time, there are grounds to hope that the process will go further. I understand the points that she makes and we will take them into account as we ponder our response to the expert panel.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, given the decline in language provision at independent schools-the reason for which is, I am told, dissatisfaction with the assessment of GCSEs and A-levels-would the Minister research this further in his conversations with that sector, to see why a past rich source of language scholars is in decline?
Lord Hill of Oareford: It is still the case that, for its size, the independent sector provides a disproportionate number of young people who go on to study modern languages. That is something that in broader terms one would want to do something about, to increase the uptake in the maintained sector. That is why these figures are encouraging. I am aware that concerns have been expressed over controlled assessment, grading and rigour at GCSE and A-level. Those are issues that Ofqual is leading on and looking at. I agree with the noble Lord that it is something we very much need to keep an eye on.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, when this House rather reluctantly agreed to the dropping of the modern foreign language commitment from the national curriculum in 2003, it was because the Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, agreed that a systematic programme of teaching languages to primary school pupils would be put in place. Will the Minister tell us what happened to this commitment to primary school pupils and how far are they systematically being taught languages?
Lord Hill of Oareford: Part of the answer to that will become clear in our response to the expert panel, which makes recommendations about whether teaching modern foreign languages should be statutory at primary school as well. That will become clear in due course. The last time research was carried out into the teaching of modern foreign languages at primary school, more than 90 per cent of primary schools were doing it. We have a challenge in getting specialist teachers of modern foreign languages into primary schools, and that is something we are seeking to address in looking at teacher training and teacher supply.
Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I declare an interest as a chairman and adviser to many exporters, who will always benefit from a more competitive, globalised UK economy. Does the Minister agree that if we do not start selling around the world even more than we do today, especially in developing and emerging markets, this country will not generate the wealth, tax and jobs that 21st century Britain will need? One of the best ways of closing a sale is to talk to the would-be purchaser in their language. The way to do that is to put pressure on those in state education not to learn what I presume we all did at school at their age-French and German-but Spanish and Chinese. With English, they are the languages of the 21st century. I hope that the Minister agrees with me that the sooner we get Spanish and Chinese Mandarin into state education, the more competitive this nation will become.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I very much agree with the noble Lord. Spanish is one subject that has been growing. French and German have been most sharply declining in numbers and Spanish has been growing. Chinese is small, but growing. One of the initiatives that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State took when he visited China last year was an agreement with the Chinese Government to have 1,000 Chinese language teachers training over here in our system. I agree with him that it is extremely important from the business point of view, but it is also extremely important from a cultural educational point of view as well.
A Bill to make provision about the promotion of online safety; to require internet service providers and mobile phone operators to provide a service that excludes pornographic images; and to require electronic device manufacturers to provide a means of filtering content.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have to admit that this is a trifle contrived, because it relates to a future Bill, rather than the Bill in question. However, noble Lords will be aware that it has been announced that the Joint Committee report on Lords Reform will be published on 23 April. Will the Leader of the House join me in deploring the leaks, of which there have already been two in the past three days? I will be writing to the noble Lord the Leader of the House today to request that a Statement be made on the Joint Committee report on 23 April, and to suggest that we have a debate on the joint report, preferably before Prorogation.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, contrived or not, I know that this is an issue of great interest to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is chairman of the Joint Committee of both Houses, is in his place today. Whether or not there have been leaks-inspired or not-I deplore all leaks, by the Government or anyone else. However, it is a matter for the chairman and the committee itself; it is not a matter for me. I do not know whether it is true-I am sure that it is-that, as the noble Baroness said, it will be published on 23 April. The original date for the committee to finish its work was yesterday and I hope it might be able to publish a little sooner than 23 April, but maybe that will be subject to confirmation. I look forward to receiving a letter from the noble Baroness. I must say-I am speaking without any particular brief on this-it is hard to see how we can have a government Statement on the same day as the publication of a great report that has been nine months in gestation and on which
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Lord Richard: The original date of publication was to be 16 April. That is what the committee accepted, and that was my view. I took the view very strongly that the report should not be published unless and until this House was sitting. It would be quite wrong to publish the report when the House of Commons was sitting and the House of Lords was not. The Government then chose to change the date from 16 April, so that we have an extra week's holiday and come back on 23 April. In those circumstances, the committee decided, and I totally agreed with it, that the publication date should be 23 April not 16 April.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I appreciate that this is not a matter for the Leader of the House directly, but the report on the BBC this morning of the leak suggesting that 12 bishops will be retained also contained the information that the Government would be content to accept that. That suggests that people in the Government are talking about the report, which would be very damaging because it gives the impression that the Government and the committee are working hand-in-hand when, of course, the committee is completely independent. If my noble friend is saying that we cannot have a Statement because the Government could not respond, surely it is inappropriate for people to be briefing the BBC in these terms.
Lord Cormack:My Lords, nobody could doubt the integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but it would reassure the House if he were able to indicate that no copies of this report will be distributed to anyone before the embargo date and that no member of the committee will be in possession of the report. As a former chairman of a Select Committee, I know that that is not normal practice, and I hope it will be the case here. I think everybody in this House will applaud the decision made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, about 23 April and will endorse the Leader of the Opposition's request that this report be debated as soon as is reasonably possible, ideally before Prorogation.
Lord Richard: My Lords, the question of a debate is nothing to do with me, although I have views about when it should take place. As to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, no copies of the report will be distributed before 23 April.
Lord Grocott: I press a question that I should have thought was the most reasonable and fair question that could ever be put to a Leader who is answerable to the whole House and not just for the Government. The debate must surely take place before the Queen's Speech. I cannot understand why the Deputy Leader seems to think it is quite out of order. This House of Lords, faced with a Bill and a report on a Bill that is essentially about the abolition of this institution, is unable even to discuss it before it is finalised. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, has stronger views on this than the Leader. Perhaps he can answer for himself
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think that a number of the matters that were raised are not matters for me but for the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has explained what he is doing and has answered my noble friend Lord Cormack. As for my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I heard the same BBC report, but I assumed that the BBC had read the White Paper and the draft Bill in which it is suggested as one of the options that there should be 12 bishops. They were published last July, so the BBC has taken a bit of time to catch up. As far as I am aware, there is no collusion between the Government, civil servants and the committee, which is why I dare say that I was surprised that the date of publication would not be until 23 April.
When the report is published, I hope that we will be given some time to read it. I think the committee would be surprised. On past occasions the Government have been accused of moving with haste by deciding to have a debate within days and not giving the House an opportunity to read a report. I think we should read the report.
A final point before the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, leaps to her feet, which I can see she is keen to do, and I say this as a government Minister: I do not think there is any doubt in the Government or anywhere else about what the views of this House are on a potential Bill on reform of this House. I do not think there is any doubt here or in another place. It is utterly clear to me and, indeed, to my noble friend Lord McNally and, for the avoidance of doubt, there is not a cigarette paper of difference between me and my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House misunderstood what was said on the BBC this morning. It was said that the Joint Committee of both Houses is recommending and that the Government accept the recommendation. Given the huge amount of work that the Joint Committee has done, surely it would be logical for the Leader of the House to agree that there should be time to consider the recommendations before the publication of a Bill, which may be amended because of the recommendations, is announced in the Queen's Speech. That leads inexorably to a view that the report ought to be debated widely prior to Prorogation.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, if the report is to be published on 23 April and the Leader of the House tells us that we should have time to read and consider it, can we be assured that the House will meet during the week beginning 30 April for four days, or does the Leader of the House have something else in mind for that week?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I cannot think what that would be. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, went back to the BBC report. Let me say this for the record: the Government have not seen the report. No member of the Government has seen it, and no civil servant has seen it. The Government have no view as to the recommendations on the bishops or anybody else, other than those that were listed in the draft Bill or the White Paper. There is no collusion between the Joint Committee of both Houses and the Government in any shape or form. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, can nod in agreement, and I am sure he will. When the report is published, it will be as much of a surprise to me as to my colleagues in government. Apart from anything else, I am very much looking forward to it.
I assure the House that over the next few months there will be plenty of opportunities to debate and discuss the future of this House at considerable length in many different fora. All those matters will be taken seriously. I did not hear my noble friend Lord Forsyth, but I am sure it was a quip that I would not necessarily have been able to respond to very quickly. I can assure noble Lords that there will be a debate before the Bill is published. I will, of course, work with the usual channels on when that will be.
I shall finish with this point. I do not wish to pre-empt the Queen's Speech, but it has been known for some time that the Government intend to legislate in this area. The Joint Committee may well say, "Under no circumstances should you do this". It may say, "You should do this, but here are some things you may wish to consider". I have no idea. The Government will wish to take that into account, and will do so after the publication of the report.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is not the question of how many sitting days we have before Prorogation rather relevant to this? Presumably the noble Lord knows on how many days the House will sit in the week beginning 30 April. Am I right that we do not know, or does everybody know?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it really does depend on the progress of business on the date of Prorogation. We will be taking a view on that shortly. On the question of when the House will sit, by not sitting in the week of 16 April we are saving the taxpayer £500,000. That is quite a considerable amount of money. As I have said, there will be plenty of opportunities to debate the committee report and the whole subject of Lords reform on many occasions in the months ahead.
(1) Any referendum held in pursuance of the provisions of section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 shall not take place until nine months after every Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a paper prepared by their department setting out the implications of an independent Scotland-
(a) to that department and its executive agencies,
(b) for that department's policies, and
(c) for that department's planned expenditure.
(2) Any referendum held in pursuance of the provisions of section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 shall be administered by the Electoral Commission with a single question relating to the future position of Scotland in the United Kingdom."
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I am surprised that there is not more interest in this important piece of legislation. This amendment is very straightforward. If my noble and learned friend is not able to accept it, I hope that at least he will be able to give an undertaking that the substance of it will be adopted by the Government.
It is perfectly apparent that the Government do not intend to use the Scotland Bill to provide for the forthcoming referendum on independence. As my noble and learned friend has made clear, the preferred procedure is to use a Section 30 order, but subject to the important conditions that such a referendum taken forward by the Scottish Parliament would be regulated and run by the Electoral Commission, and that there should be a single question.
This amendment is concerned with what happens in the run-up to the referendum. I take it that if my noble and learned friend is not successful in persuading the Scottish Government of the need to move forward on a Section 30 basis, they will bring forward a Bill in the next Session of Parliament to provide for a referendum. No doubt the date of that referendum would be decided at that point.
It is important that we have an informed debate within the United Kingdom as a whole and Scotland in particular. So far the debate has all been about process, about who is going to set the question and what the question should be. This is an important question. It concerns the future of the United Kingdom as a whole, and will have an immense impact on people in ways that many people, including myself, have not even thought of.
This amendment asks the Government for a clear undertaking that every single government department will set out in a Green Paper, in objective-not political-terms, what the consequences of independence would be and what issues would need to be addressed. There are large-scale issues that are obvious, such as what would happen to our nuclear deterrent given that the Scottish Government are opposed to nuclear material being on Scottish soil, and the costs and employment consequences of that. There are also issues about public sector pensions as Scotland, because of its long tradition of public service, has a disproportionately large number of people involved in public service.
In the field of banking and finance, the Treasury should indicate what would happen to organisations like the Royal Bank of Scotland; for example, how could it possibly meet its requirements for raising capital in an independent Scotland? What would happen on the currency? What would happen on the role of the Bank of England? How would we avoid a Greece-like situation?
In the Department of Energy and Climate Change, what would happen in respect of the interconnectors and how would the so-called green policy of being
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Those are some examples; I could go on but I have no desire to spin out the debate today because I know people are anxious that we should conclude these proceedings as speedily as possible. But if we leave it to campaigners and politicians to exchange perhaps not entirely well informed arguments, the public will tire and the very serious consequences of the disintegration of the United Kingdom, of the balkanisation of Britain, will be lost sight of.
If I were in my noble and learned friend's place, I would say, "I am not sure that it is necessary to put this in the Bill". I accept that, but we should have an undertaking that every government department and its executive agencies will set out the implications for their policies and planned expenditure, so that people go into this with their eyes wide open, and the separatists who advocate breaking up Britain have to explain how they would address these issues. At the moment, people are going round saying that it is up to us to make a positive case for the United Kingdom. I reject that. It is up to those who propose change to explain how they will maintain the benefits that we all enjoy as part of the United Kingdom, wherever we live and whatever our political convictions.
Lord Deben: Does my noble friend agree that this is absolutely crucial for those who are not Scottish as well as for the Scottish? Many in England feel that they need to understand exactly what the consequences are and unfortunately up to now they have had no such opportunity, which is why his amendment is so important.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am most grateful to my noble friend for that intervention. I look at this from a Scottish perspective and I should have given more emphasis to that. He is absolutely right. This will have huge implications for people in England as well as Scotland. I find it very difficult to see how we could keep our role and influence in the United Nations, for example, if the United Kingdom was broken up. I think our country would be seen to be greatly diminished internationally. I do not quite know how it would work, given that the Scottish nationalists are opposed to our membership of NATO. Most countries are queuing up to try to get in to NATO, but this lot want to leave NATO. What is the position of our armed services, whose dedication fills everyone in the country with admiration?
Of course, my noble friend Lord Deben is more enthusiastic about the European Union than I have been and he is right from a sedentary position to ask, "What about the EU?". Would Scotland as an independent nation be able to join the EU? If it was
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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, perhaps I may gently suggest that my noble friend Lord Forsyth finishes his words of wisdom before anyone else interrupts because it interrupts the flow of what he is saying.
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I intervene briefly to suggest that the perceived impartiality of such a series of reports might be improved if it was handled by the equivalent of a Calman 2 commission, preferably of economists of sufficient stature that they would put their own reputation for impartiality above any party advantage. Ideally-I hope that I am not being unduly starry-eyed about this-if the membership of such a committee could be agreed with the Scottish Government, there would be no come-back. I agree that that looks pie in the sky, but there are economists, including economists of a nationalist tendency, who would not put their own reputations on the line by being seen patently to lie about the consequences of certain things. I simply suggest that the equivalent of Calman 2 might be a useful prerequisite for any debate on any amendment. I wonder whether the noble Lord agrees with that.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I think that the noble Lord intervened before I sat down. I do agree with that. The next inquiry of the Economic Affairs Committee of this House, of which I am a member, as the noble Lord will be aware, will be into the economic impact of independence on the United Kingdom as a whole. I agree that many economists can contribute to that in an informed and objective way. I think that the committee will produce some very interesting material as a result.
Lord McCluskey: In addition to economic and legal aspects-many different opinions have been expressed publicly by members of the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government-I wonder whether the noble Lord has considered legal matters such as the right of Scotland or the ability of Scotland, if independent, to join the European Union or to retain
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Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, I assume that my noble friend had serious reservations about the terms of Section 30 being agreed with the First Minister. After all, in recent press comments, the First Minister has said, "Will you please leave this all to us in Scotland and we will organise the referendum as we want it?". I send good wishes to those from the Government who will carry out these vital negotiations but the questions that have to be settled are so important. I support my noble friend in saying that, if we do not get what we want on the question or any of the other important issues, we must have a chance to deal with it at Westminster.
I know that my noble and learned friend when he comes to reply will say, "Oh, but this amendment is not for the face of the Bill", which I accept. But I believe that he has to give us some sort of undertaking that the very matters which my noble friend Lord Forsyth has raised in this amendment are dealt with and that we will get full and frank discussion of what is involved in this whole exercise.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I should like to expand slightly on what the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, and my noble friend Lord Gordon have said. I am greatly reassured to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that the Economic Affairs Committee of this House will consider the issues around the economics of independence. I have one suggestion to make for the Green Paper proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and that is to look at the impact on employment of the proposal for an independent Scotland-in other words, that Scotland should secede from the union.
In the 1970s, a very effective campaign was run in Scotland led by the Scottish TUC, the CBI and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry for the dispersal of Civil Service jobs. A few weeks ago I tabled a Question for Written Answer asking how many Civil Service jobs in Scotland relate to reserved departments-in other words, United Kingdom departments as distinct from Scottish departments. There are 31,000 jobs in reserved departments. There is no question that these jobs will disappear. No sovereign state offshores significant Civil Service jobs. We do not have any British Civil Service jobs in the Republic of Ireland, in Jersey or in any of the other realms and areas close to our shores. It is inconceivable that we would have a situation where these Civil Service jobs would remain in Scotland.
If I was a Member of Parliament for places such as the north or the south-west of England and I saw the prospect of these Civil Service jobs becoming available, I would be crying out for them. There are jobs at every level, from limited skill at entry level to real leadership jobs with real salaries. Even on a random guesstimate of the multiplier of these jobs, on a multiplier of three,
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Some jobs will carry a higher multiplier because they are, for example, in science and technology; in the Ministry of Defence, both uniform and civilian; or they have a long supply chain in Scotland. We need to know what the outcome of that is likely to be for the Scottish economy. Like other noble Lords, I do not expect the noble and learned Lord to accept that this amendment should go in the Bill but I hope that there is already within government at least a Cabinet committee looking at these issues. The economic issue is perhaps the simplest. Once we go on to welfare matters, we are into a degree of complexity that will give us sore heads for a long time.
I urge the noble and learned Lord when he replies to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to take into account the crying need for dispassionate information about the true consequences. Let us take a decision based on fact and not on rhetoric.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I support the objective of my noble friend Lord Forsyth. I believe that the Scottish people need to be presented with much more detailed information about the consequences of separation than are likely to be provided by the popular press or the media. The reality is that the last time we had a referendum on constitutional reform, on AV, the media noticed the issue for no more than two weeks before the vote took place. Although the issue of voting systems is nothing like as significant as that with which we are now faced, which could lead to the break-up of Britain, I do not have any expectation that the depth of analysis that would be available to most people in the popular media would be anything like sufficient to assist the formation of a carefully cast vote. Although it may not be appropriate to put this directly into the Bill, it seems to me that the Government are best placed to analyse the consequences for government departments. Although there is an issue of whether that is the most independent way, the factual description of what would flow can be done. I would go further and say that there is a need for independence not only for a factual explanation of what is feasibly anticipated for Scotland, but the required consideration of alternatives for the whole of the United Kingdom.
That process would require considerable, objective debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said. I am not certain that the alternative would best be discussed or presented by the Government at this stage. To have that debate, properly informed, is imperative if we are not going to blunder into a constitutional catastrophe, not just for Scotland but for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Earl of Caithness: I support what my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said about information. In the United Kingdom we are woefully short on information as to the consequences of this potentially tragic leap that we are encouraged to take. I was disappointed in Committee by the lack of response from my noble and learned friend on these matters. I raised some of them,
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The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, raised the legal point. In Committee, I reminded Members of the number of treaties and obligations that had to be renegotiated with the break-up of Czechoslovakia. That ran into tens of thousands. A huge number of commitments will have to be renegotiated or adjusted. We need to know what they are going to be.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden on his scepticism over the Section 30 order. We cannot alter this Bill. It has been agreed behind closed doors and is subject to a legislative consent Motion. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness was very clear about this when I raised it on the first day of Report, when I asked what happens if we have an amendment at Third Reading. He said, "Well, Holyrood will have something to say about that". So we will not be able to alter the Bill, and we will not be able to alter a Section 30 notice. Again, it will be agreed behind closed doors and presented as a fait accompli.
In addition to giving support to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, I ask my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace two questions. In the Section 30 notice, does he envisage that the referendum would have to take place by a set date? If the Section 30 notice allows for a referendum but there is no fixed date by which it must be held, we will go into limbo. If it is not held by that fixed date, the United Kingdom Government will have to legislate for a referendum to settle this matter.
Secondly, my noble and learned friend likened the United Kingdom to a club. If a member wants to leave, they should be allowed to leave the club without any of the others having any say in the matter. My amendment on the rest of the UK having a say in what Scotland decided was not acceptable to him. Will he therefore confirm that, in the Section 30 notice, he will allow parts of Scotland also to leave the proposed club of an independent Scotland? It comes back to my point about Orkney and Shetland, but it might be the Western Isles or somewhere else. There cannot be one rule for the United Kingdom and another for those in Scotland.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Forsyth has done the House a service in raising this issue this morning, but I am deeply pleased that he is not going to press the amendment, because it is seriously defective. The idea that we should wait until
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: The point of the nine months was that I would like this information to be brought forward as soon as possible. Nine months seemed a reasonable period in which people could have an informed campaign. The Green Papers might be published, but you then need that information to be used as part of the campaign and for people to absorb it. It requires some time.
In the second section, it is of course the case that the single question should relate to the future of Scotland in, or out of, the United Kingdom. You cannot assume that it would be in the United Kingdom.
Leaving that to one side, the kind of information that we would need is what the effect would be, to take one example, on the financial situation in Scotland if it were independent. There seem to be three options: Scotland is in the eurozone, which used to be SNP policy; or it is dependent on the Bank of England, in which case it is not proper independence; or else we have a Scottish currency like the old Irish punt. These options need to be spelt out. That is the kind of information for which my noble friend is pressing, and I hope that when my noble and learned friend comes to reply he will be able to give us some indication of the kind of work that is going on on these issues.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I, too, welcome the general thrust of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in so far as it encourages the preparation and dissemination of objective and credible information about the effects of separation on all aspects of public policy and, by implication, the benefits of the union to the people of Scotland. I resist the temptation to add to the growing list of areas of public policy for which this momentous decision will have potentially detrimental implications. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, listed a significant and impressive number of them, which were then augmented by the intervention of my noble and learned friend Lord McCluskey and, indeed, by my noble friend Lady Liddell.
My own view is that there is hardly any area of public policy in Scotland that will not be affected in some way by the decision, should the people of Scotland
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I agree with the general thrust of the debate and the implication of the noble Lord's opening remarks that the Bill is not the appropriate place for this debate. Whether or not the points that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, made in relation to delay and the wording are correct, I do not think we will try to impose this amendment into the Bill. That is the right thing to do. If there is to be no statutory obligation on Secretaries of State to provide the necessary information to inform this debate then, at the very least, there needs to be a clear undertaking from the Government that they will place an obligation on Secretaries of State to put that information in the public domain. They should draw on the broader debate that is taking place here about what mechanism or mechanisms should be deployed or created in order to disseminate this information and to give it the stamp of credibility and objectivity that will be necessary to inform the debate.
I would be concerned if there were to be a proliferation of initiatives. I accept that it is entirely appropriate and correct that the Select Committee on Economic Affairs, of which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is a member, should address its attention to this important decision. It is at the heart of political life in the United Kingdom at the moment and there would be no better work for the committee to do. I expect that in the other place the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs will carry out similar work and that other organisations, such as academic institutions, will wish to address themselves to this work in the coming period.
In Scotland, a well resourced institution which can bring together this work and give it a genuine stamp of credible objectivity is necessary. Many people in the professions in Scotland-including the legal profession, academics, economists, people who have served in the Armed Forces, people who understand and have made significant contributions to international affairs over the years, many of whom sit in this House-could make a contribution to the debate.
Those of us who are trying to put together the infrastructure that will inform the debate in Scotland ought to apply our minds to the creation of a genuinely credible and independent institution operating out of Scotland-perhaps an academic institution-which could be a receptacle in which all the information could be deposited, verified independently and disseminated. We should clearly invite the nationalists to contribute to that discussion so that what comes out of it has that stamp of credibility and objectivity, and not the taint of a political objective.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I welcome the debate and the amendment moved by my noble friend. Although he has indicated that the amendment might not be appropriate for the Bill, the way in which he has moved it and the issues he has raised have clearly won widespread support across the House. I certainly recognise the spirit in which he moved it and I endorse the points that he has made. He said that it is time to get on with the informed debate rather than debate the process, and I warm to that because there is a host of important issues that need to be analysed.
It is worth bearing in mind that the Scottish National Party has been pushing for a referendum to be held for many years, and it has repeatedly been asked to set out what it means by an independent Scotland. As my noble friend said, the onus is on it to set out what it means by independence. Individuals, businesses and civic Scotland have been calling for urgent clarification of what independence would mean for their livelihoods, for their workplace and for their families.
In September last year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland asked the Scottish Government just six of the many questions that need answering, and these have been echoed in your Lordships' House today. How would membership of international organisations, including the European Union, be assured? What will Scotland's defence posture and the configuration of Scotland's Armed Forces be? How many billions would Scotland inherit in pension liabilities? Who would pay for future pensions? What regulation would be applied to Scottish banks and financial services and who would enforce it? Which currency would Scotland adopt, and how could entry and influence be guaranteed? Lastly, how much would independence cost-what is the bottom line?
Noble Lords also raised other questions. The noble Lord, Lord McCluskey, asked about the legal implications of independence. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, in raising an important point, reminded us of the number of UK civil servants working for UK departments in Scotland-there are considerably more than the number working for the Scottish Government-and asked what their position would be in an independent Scotland. These questions clearly need answering. There is an obligation on the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Party to provide answers.
Although it is accepted that a statutory obligation on, for example, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice or an executive agency to come forward with a Green Paper may not be the way forward, I say to my noble friend and the House that I am confident that all departments will be engaged in setting out the positive case for the union and, by implication, what the other side of the coin would be. We are seized of these important issues.
On a previous occasion my noble friend Lord Forsyth raised the issue-as a number of noble Lords did today-of an independent body to examine some of these matters, and in the other place the right honourable Jack Straw has put forward a similar idea. The proposal has its attractions, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, indicated. I suspect that the proposal would not pass the test if it came from the Government as it might be
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My noble friend made the point that the Scottish Government have an obligation to bring forward their proposals for independence. They have had months to answer the questions put by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and yet they still delay in telling the Scottish people what their proposals for independence are. It is important that they should be straight about the implications of independence and what it would cost.
If a Section 30 order were used to give the Scottish Parliament the power to legislate for a referendum on independence, my noble friend's amendment would have the effect of requiring that it should be solely on the question of independence and be administered by the Electoral Commission. As set out in our consultation, and as emphasised during the debate on the subject in Committee, it is our view that any referendum should have a single, straightforward question on independence and should be overseen by the Electoral Commission.
Section 10 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 allows the Electoral Commission to give assistance to various bodies, including the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. This means that the Electoral Commission could provide advice and assistance to the Scottish Government now about the independence referendum should they so request. However, the Government do not want to rely on this general duty. It is important that the Electoral Commission should be required to consider and report on any referendum question about independence. It is not necessary to make an amendment to the Bill to achieve that. A Section 30 order devolving the power to the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum could clarify this power by requiring that the referendum was on a single question, held in accordance with the PPERA framework and overseen by the Electoral Commission.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about the date. The consultation paper that the United Kingdom Government issued back in January has a draft of a possible Section 30 order in which there is provision for a referendum to take place by a certain date. The date is left blank, and clearly that would be a matter for negotiation. He also asked about the position in respect of places that are very close to me, such as Orkney and Shetland. This was discussed in Committee in an amendment that my noble friend facilitated, and he raised important points about implications. I am not going to repeat arguments from Committee, but there are clearly many issues that would have to be
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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My noble and learned friend has indicated his firm view, which I am sure is shared by the House, that the Scottish Government should answer some of the questions that have been raised in this debate. Does he also accept-I presume that he does-that it is for the Government of the United Kingdom to put forward their views about what are the issues at risk? It is not necessary to answer all the questions, but they should at least make that clear. We cannot have any confidence that the Scottish Government will do that.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The very fact that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State posed these questions shows that the UK Government are seized of what the key questions are, as raised by your Lordships in debate. I will certainly ensure that colleagues right across the Government are aware of the kind of issues that have been raised in this debate. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom Government want to keep the United Kingdom together. We believe that this is the best option not only for Scotland but for the United Kingdom. It goes without saying that we want to ensure that there is a debate that is as informed as possible and that the case for Scotland continuing to be a part of the United Kingdom is made as forcefully as possible. Points raised by your Lordships today will certainly inform the arguments that are put forward in the referendum debate. I share the view of my noble friend that the sooner we get on with the substance of the debate and move on from process the better it will be.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend inform the House whether he has had an invitation from the Scottish Government to give evidence to the committee that they have set up to look at the economic consequences of independence?
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, I would say that the debate in Scotland is currently at a high temperature and needs to be lowered so that people can digest the information. If one looks at the Calman report, as I have done, and at the reports of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons-which has had a plethora of witnesses-one will find many profound issues raised which have not yet reached the public level. It is important, and incumbent on the UK Government, to ensure that that information is put out to the public, for example in the form of a consultation paper. The UK Government need to engage. There cannot be a passive stance to this. I would leave the Minister with those thoughts as he progresses with the Bill.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I do not think that the United Kingdom Government will be passive on an issue as important and fundamental as this one; I can assure the noble Lord of that. I share his view-I would say this, wouldn't I?-on the Calman commission, and not only in regard to specific recommendations on devolved and reserved boundaries and financial powers. Both in the interim report published in December 2008 and in the final report, parts of which were referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, on Second Reading, there are some very good arguments about the importance of our economic, social and political union. I commend these reports to Members of the House. They make a very good case for our union.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I may have missed it, but I did not hear the noble and learned Lord, in his list of areas that will need dispassionate and honest analysis, mention a share of the national debt, much of which, of course, has been caused by expenditure in Scotland.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I know that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury has waited patiently to move his amendment and I am sure that he would appreciate it if I did not say very much. So I will not, other than to make one point to my noble and learned friend.
I thank my noble and learned friend for the response, which is very encouraging. However, for once he was a little more aggressive than I am, when he said that he wanted government departments to make the positive case for the union. That is not what this amendment is about-I do not want government departments to make the positive case for the union, I want them to set out, objectively, what issues should be tackled. I do want Secretaries of State and Ministers to make the positive case for the union and hope that my noble and learned friend might ensure that the Prime Minister-who has said that he will fight to defend the United Kingdom to the last breath of his body, I think-is aware of the strength of feeling in this House that government departments should do this. This is not something that can wait until after the Summer Recess. They should be doing it now. One by one, these departments should be setting out what the issues are. It would be completely disastrous, and actually quite wrong, if we were to allow government departments to step into the area where they were involved in advocacy as opposed to providing information. That would undermine the whole nature of the debate. There are plenty of advocates for the union-what we need are the facts. The First Minister is very fond of quoting Burns:
"( ) If a system of Visitors Permits is introduced, holders of a firearm certificate or a shot gun certificate issued elsewhere in the UK shall not be required to obtain a Scottish Visitors Permit in respect of air weapons."
The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to highlight some of the complications and probable costs that will arise if the Scottish Government insist on visitors permits for air guns.
Clause 11 seeks to devolve to the Scottish Parliament the power to control low-powered air guns, while leaving control of other classes of firearm-including the more powerful air guns-with the Westminster Parliament. Even at this late stage there is no clear idea on what form of control, if any, the Scottish Government will seek to impose, except that some form of licensing for air guns features in much of the comment. I declare my interest as I have done in numerous debates before.
I have no intention to revisit the areas covered during earlier debates on this clause, but there are matters that your Lordships might consider before approval is given to the clause. The question of cost-effectiveness is one of the more important. There are currently some half a million air gun owners in Scotland, although it seems unlikely that every one of them will apply for a licence. Some will decide that they will no longer follow the various forms of sport that now involve air guns, while some will simply keep the air guns they have, taking advantage of the fact that the authorities have no way of identifying those who currently own them. It seems safe to assume that those who misuse air guns will fall into the latter category.
The Gun Trade Association calculates that about 300,000 people will take up licences in the first instance. It is also conservatively estimated that the simplest form of licence would involve not less than two hours of police time. One learns from the Association of Chief Police Officers in England and Wales that the total cost of a firearms licensing officer, including overheads, is £27.40 per hour, so that the total cost of licensing in the first year will be about £16.4 million, based on the simplest possible system. Any added complexities to the licensing system will increase that large sum of money.
There will also be considerable set-up costs, including the adoption of new computer systems or the modification of existing systems, other back-office necessities, equipment to test the muzzle energy of air guns and more. There will be a need for consultation between Ministers and officials representing several government departments including the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, the two chief police officers' organisations and police at practical levels to ensure that differing systems can work side by side. The costs will be very considerable.
The fee charged for the licence will reduce the cost to the public purse, but ACPO has calculated that, presently, fees recover only 27 per cent of the cost of
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Reference to a senior police officer or a prosecutor may result in offering the defendant some form of warning. If the defendant agrees to accept the warning and surrender his air gun there will still be a cost of disposing of the case and of the air gun. The cost of that process must double the charges already calculated, resulting in a very rough estimate of total costs of about £400 in a case where no prosecution is involved. If the matter is brought to trial, the costs of a court will be very high, probably in the order of £1,000 when all costs, including overheads, are calculated. I assume that defence costs might run to a similar figure.
There is a further cost that cannot be calculated in that any legislation will create additional criminals, in this case mostly young men whose offence is mere possession but who will carry a conviction for a firearms offence for a number of years in most cases, and for the rest of their lives in matters such as obtaining firearm or shot-gun certificates. Costs will also fall elsewhere. Police in England and Wales may well incur substantial costs in making inquiries for a Scottish force that has received an application for a visitor's air gun licence, for a visitor's licence scheme must inevitably be provided. Those many shooters from England who visit Scotland each year and contribute much to the economy often take their families with them and may well wish to provide air guns for the younger members to shoot under supervision. When receiving an application for a visitor's permit, Scottish police may ask English police in the applicant's home area to undertake some inquiries. There is a cost involved there but, with the information available, this element cannot be costed. There also seems likely to be added costs for dealers outside Scotland who may supply air guns to those in Scotland and could be required to notify transactions. Once again, this element cannot be costed with the information available.
In Scotland, the number of recorded offences involving air guns has fallen significantly, by 42 per cent over the last decade. In England and Wales, over the same period and with the same legislation, air gun offences fell 66 per cent. The vast majority of air gun offences are concerned with criminal damage, usually in public places and primarily involving young people. The Westminster Parliament has been far from idle in this area. Section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968, still the principal Act on firearms, created various restrictions which were easily evaded by the ill disposed and were often very difficult for the police to enforce. Following
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Further measures were imposed by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, under which sales or transfers of air guns by way of trade or business were restricted to persons registered as firearm dealers, who must now keep records of transactions. It also provided that sales must be face to face and not by direct mail. The age at which air guns or air gun ammunition may be purchased or acquired has been raised to 18 years so that a single age is applied to all firearms following an EU directive on firearms using combustible propellants.
Finally, the Crime and Security Act 2010 amended the 1968 Act to make it an offence to keep an air gun in a manner that will allow a person under 18 to have access to it. Home Office advice about the levels of security required to meet this duty has been proportionate and reasonable.
I list these measures so that your Lordships can be sure that the UK Government keep the problem of air gun misuse under constant review and seek to improve on the already quite remarkable reduction of air gun misuse throughout Great Britain. In doing so the UK Government have tried to impose restrictions that are effective but proportionate and which take account of the legitimate activities of at least 4 million legitimate air gun users in Great Britain-I believe that the figure is closer to 6 million. It is the view of interested parties, researchers and the Gun Trade Association that these measures have not unduly impinged on legitimate air gun users but have made a very significant impact on rates of air gun misuse. There is no evidence to suggest that a costly licensing system will have a significant effect on air gun misuse, but it seems clear that vigorous enforcement of much simplified laws can have a marked effect.
In conclusion, for a British firearm or shotgun certificate holder, it is already established that he or she is fit person to possess firearms, including air weapons. Therefore no further authority is currently required to travel with an air gun in Great Britain. For a citizen of another EU member state, the application to the police for a British visitors permit currently includes the requirement to present a copy of their European firearms pass, showing the firearms that they wish to bring into Great Britain. Should the Scots require an EU visitor to apply for an air gun visitors permit, the EU citizen will not be able to comply. The EFP does not list air guns owned and new EU legislation would be required to change the EFP. If new EU legislation was introduced, new legislation would also be required in the UK.
What I have described demonstrates that the Scots have not thoroughly thought through many of the procedures that will be required if a regulation of air weapons passes into law. Nor have the substantial costs which will inevitably fall on the public purse in England and Wales been worked out. I beg to move.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I support my noble friend in his amendment and in doing so declare my interest as executive director of the Countryside Alliance. My noble friend has highlighted the complexities and consequent costs if the Scottish Government insisted on visitor permits for air guns from those from other parts of the United Kingdom. This reasonable amendment seeks to protect legitimate users across the country from potentially undue and disproportionate bureaucracy. Should we really be asking the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to spend resources and time in dealing with visitor permits for Scotland? I ask my noble and learned friend to reflect on these matters and I hope that sense will prevail.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I support my noble friend in his amendment, which is very reasonable and quite restrained. I suspect that my noble and learned friend will say that the provision simply provides a power for the Scottish Parliament and that it is a matter for the Scottish Parliament, but that is a less than responsible position to take. We all remember the genesis of this proposal and its inclusion in the Scotland Bill; it arose because of some very tragic events in Scotland. But as is often the case, the conclusion is that something must be done-and this is something being done without the consequences being thought through, which can add enormously to the bureaucracy and difficulties.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury has given us a glimpse of the enormous difficulties that could be created for the police in taking them away from their vital duties in pursuit of serious crime. Air guns are not subject to numbering in the way that shotguns and other firearms are, apart from those that are very powerful. One Member of this House, who had an association with the special services, briefed me that they could actually be extremely powerful weapons. But for the vast majority of people using air guns as part of their leisure activity, they are not numbered, and there are very real difficulties with that. It seems a little perverse to argue-if my noble and learned friend is to make this argument-that we are just giving the Scottish Parliament a power and do not need to worry too much about how it is implemented, because that is for the Scottish Parliament, when that will have enormous implications for people in the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the rest of the European Union. I very much hope that my noble and learned friend will at least take this away and think about the very important arguments that have been made, with a view to perhaps coming forward with some practical proposals at a later stage.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, if I might follow my noble friend Lord Forsyth, he said that the reply that our noble and learned friend was going to give was that all of this would just provide a power for the Scottish Parliament. That is true, but it has cost implications for the police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If my noble and learned friend cannot accept this amendment, would it not therefore be in order for the other police forces that are put to extra cost by the Scottish police, in seeking information about firearms, to charge for the cost of their time?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps this would be an opportunity for me to refer to the anomaly-some would call it the absurdity-of the present requirement for a sound moderator, or silencer, to be treated as a separate weapon and be separately registered on a firearms certificate. After all, the silencer is only a tin can which is screwed on the end of the rifle. When the Government are looking into this area in collaboration with the Scottish Government, I suggest that this would be an opportunity to remove that requirement.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: First, my Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his great courtesy in writing to me extensively on this issue to introduce the arguments that he intended to make in support of his amendment. I was in the privileged position of having almost all of the points that he made in advance of his addressing your Lordships' House, so I thank him for that. Unfortunately, despite his great courtesy to me, I cannot find myself being in a position of supporting his amendment. I am sure that he will appreciate why since, in Committee, I argued for even greater devolution of responsibility over air weapons to the Scottish Parliament. It would be entirely perverse and inconsistent for me now to support the restriction on the exercise of the limited devolved powers that the Scottish Parliament is going to receive, having made that consistent and coherent point before.
I do not accept the dismissal by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, of this argument as not being sufficient justification, because to restrict the power that one devolves in this fashion undermines devolution. I do this for two reasons. First, if we agree to devolve this power to the Scottish Parliament, we should trust that Parliament with this power. Secondly, I see no reason to believe that the Scottish Parliament would not be persuaded by the arguments that the noble Earl has made about the potentially unintended consequences of an onerous regulatory process. I am sure that, in consultation, it will be capable of regulating in a way that deals with the issue at the heart of the noble Earl's amendment, although not at the heart of his broader argument about implications.
I do not propose to repeat all the reasons why the people of Scotland are so exercised about the misuse of air weapons, and why there is a public demand for some form of regulation. I and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, have spoken about those before. I congratulate the noble Earl on giving us, in the official record of our debate, a repository of the success of restrictions imposed on air weapons and the obvious effect that sensible regulation has had on their misuse. It would be utterly ungracious of me to point out that I do not remember the Gun Trade Association arguing for these restrictions, and I remember being persuaded on some occasions by lobbying from that area that these restrictions would not work, and would merely cost a lot of money unnecessarily. However, that does not alter the fact that at some stage these arguments may prove to be true, even if they did not in relation to those restrictions.
I congratulate the noble Earl on at least being honest and willing enough to say, from the perspective and interest that he has, that regulation of this nature can be positive and can have a beneficial effect and
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For the reasons I have given, I am unable to support the noble Earl's amendment but I congratulate him on his contribution to the debate today, and on providing a quarry of argument which I am sure will inform the Scottish Parliament's exercise of the powers that I hope it will be given.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for again giving the House the opportunity to discuss these matters. His amendment seeks to ensure that if, following devolution of the regulation of air weapons anticipated by this clause, the Scottish Government were to introduce a system of visitor permits for air weapons, holders of firearms or shot-gun certificates issued in other parts of the United Kingdom would not be required to obtain such a permit in order to use air weapons in Scotland. As has been said, in devolving the regulation of air weapons, the Government are acting on a recommendation of the Calman commission, and we believe that the regulation of air weapons is best controlled locally. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury has made a very well reasoned case and, as has been noted, he indicated that where sensible and proportionate restriction or regulation of air weapons has been used, it has been done so to some effect. Nevertheless, it is our view, as indicated earlier and in the Bill, that this issue is better decided by the Scottish Parliament.
I do not think that this is a small point. I say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth that the nature of devolution is that a power is devolved, and it is then up to the devolved body to determine how it wishes to exercise that power, obviously within the constraints of the law-and, taking into account some of the very pertinent points made by my noble friends Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Gardiner of Kimble, when that body comes to make policy conclusions. Not the least of these is the cost effectiveness. My noble friend has focused on the cost implications of establishing and enforcing a licensing regime, and I recognise the points that he has made so clearly. These will be matters for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to take into account. We hear them regularly talking about the restrictions and restraints on their funding, but the block grant will have to fund any measures that they take. This will obviously be one of the considerations that they have, obliged as they will be to put forward with any accompanying Bill a memorandum on its cost implications.
As I know my noble friend is aware, the Scottish Government have set up a Scottish firearms consultative panel, and I understand that the director of the Gun Trade Association, an organisation of which my noble friend is the honorary president, sits on that panel. The panel is currently considering, if there is to be devolution of this power, how best to implement any proposals for regulating air weapons. The panel will consider cross-border issues. Indeed, I understand that there was a meeting on Monday at which cross-border were on the agenda. If this amendment were included in the Bill, it would fetter the Scottish Government's and Scottish Parliament's discretion as to how they
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My noble friend Lord Caithness raised the possible costs that would feed through into other parts of the United Kingdom. Those will of course depend on the actual nature of the policy that is put in place. I see the noble Lord, Lord Empey, in his place. He will no doubt correct me if I get this wrong, but perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that, as I understand it, air weapons are controlled in Northern Ireland and any person wishing to go there from Great Britain with an air weapon must apply for a certificate of approval. There is a special form available on the website, which needs to be submitted via a sponsor about six weeks in advance of any visit, but there is no fee. However, a visitor to Northern Ireland from outwith Great Britain requires a visitor's permit, the point being that air weapons are already devolved to Northern Ireland. I have always believed that one of the strengths of devolution ought to be a willingness to look at experience in other parts of the United Kingdom where policies have been taken forward. Indeed, there is a policy already in place regarding the regulation of air weapons. I hope that what happens in Northern Ireland will be looked at by the consultative panel.
The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, goes beyond this amendment and indeed the Bill, but I will ensure that it is passed on to the relevant part of the Home Office. I think he will accept that we are not devolving silencers, although some might think that that is an idea.
As I indicated in Committee, the Scottish Government must consult appropriately before they propose any new legislation on this matter and they must make available their estimate of the costs. While the Scottish Parliament will be the final arbiter of matters relating to the regulation of air weapons following devolution, I am sure that in bringing forward proposals the Scottish Government would benefit from listening to the arguments raised by interested parties. The ongoing work of the Scottish firearms consultative panel is evidence that this engagement is already underway.
The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I am most grateful to all those who have taken part in this short debate and especially to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace. I listened carefully to what he said, I know exactly where he is coming from and I could have written his speech for him last night. All I know is that the whole issue of devolving legislative power on air weapons to the Scottish Parliament is fraught with problems, as I have explained. The problems are both of an operational aspect and with regard to the potential
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Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 10, which is almost identical. Noble Lords will no doubt remember that in Committee we had considerable discussion about the phrase "Scottish Crown Commissioner". There was a little problem. If he were called the Scottish Crown Commissioner, he would not have been able to take part in anything concerning England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This was
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, we have been singularly unsuccessful in getting my noble and learned friend to accept any amendments so far in the long consideration of the Bill, but here is one that he cannot possibly refuse to accept. He is surely not going to argue on the basis of syntax that he could not accept the noble Lady's very sensible common-sense amendment, which I have great pleasure in supporting.
Lord Cameron of Lochbroom: My Lords, it is not merely a matter of syntax-it is what the Crown Estate Commissioners represent. They represent a single body with jurisdiction over the Crown Estate in each of the four constituents of the United Kingdom. It is clear that the amendment would cure the problem and recognise that responsibility. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting it.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, noble Lords will remember that in Committee I spoke to an amendment in my name and in the names of my noble and learned friends proposing the amendment of the title in the Bill to the simple title of "Crown Estate Commissioner for Scotland". That did not find favour with the Government-particularly, as I recollect, with the Advocate-General for Scotland-but in the course of the debate it became clear that the Committee was of one view: the least attractive title for the Crown Estate Commissioner was the one that was in the Bill.
The noble Lady, as she has told the House, spontaneously came up with this proposal in the course of the debate, and it appeared to find favour with the government Benches-at least, they were more inclined to respond positively to it than they were to the proposal that had emanated from the opposition Benches. My own view is that there is a distinction between the proposal that I put forward and the one that the noble Lady put forward, but it is in the category of a distinction with little difference. But I understand why the Government may be more inclined to respond positively to something that comes from the Cross Benches. In those circumstances, as Members of the House will see, my noble and learned friends and I have appended our names to the noble Lady's amendment. I support it for all the reasons that she articulated then and which have been debated at some length. Therefore, I do not think that we need to go into them again.
I was not convinced by the noble and learned Lord's defence of the title "Scottish Crown Estate Commissioner" but I was convinced by his defence of the process of selection that I had also sought to amend. I have repeated that amendment by laying Amendment 11, but for the purposes of forward planning I advise that when it comes to the appropriate time I will not be moving it.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, Amendments 9 and 10, tabled by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernathy, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and his colleagues, would change the name of the Scottish Crown Estate Commissioner to the Crown Estate Commissioner with special responsibility for Scotland. As the noble Lady indicated in moving her amendments, she made that suggestion in the Committee stage debate. I indicated at the time that I found the suggestion helpful and committed to reflecting further on the proposal.
I confirm that the Government's original name included in the Bill was taken from the commission's own proposals and discussed with the Crown Estate. However, the Government are happy to accept the proposal from the noble Lady. As indicated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, we believe that the revised name-it is not a question of whether it came from the Cross Benches rather than the Opposition-will properly reflect the role that that commissioner will play. That role will not be exclusively for Scotland; indeed, contributions to our debate in Committee from people with experience, such as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, indicated the value of having commissioners who would have responsibilities across the United Kingdom. We are therefore wiling to accept Amendments 9 and 10. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, has indicated that he does not intend to move Amendment 11, the mode of appointment would seem to be acknowledged and accepted.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I beg to move Amendment 12 standing in my name. I do not intend to move or speak to Amendment 13. This is a very straightforward amendment. I hope that I have caught the Minister on a roll and that he might feel able to accept my amendment. I am tempted to get my noble friend Lady Saltoun to move
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We discussed this issue in Committee and I will not go over all the arguments but essentially the Bill devolves control of speed limits to the Scottish Parliament, so we will have different speed limits north and south of the border, or the prospect of that happening. I think that is absolutely ridiculous, but given that that has been agreed by the Calman commission, and is stated in the report and in the Bill, and given that it was a manifesto commitment to implement the Calman proposals, I will not argue against the principle of the Scottish Parliament having the power to set speed limits. However, if you are going to do something like that, you need to do it properly. The Bill gives the Scottish Parliament the power to decide speed limits for motor cars but not for caravans or HGVs. It is a nonsense to have the Department for Transport responsible for some speed limits in respect of some categories of vehicle while the Scottish Parliament is limited to others. My amendment may not be perfectly drafted but the sense is clear, which is that if we are to have the Scottish Parliament taking responsibility for speed limits, it should do so for every class of vehicle and not for particular classes of vehicle.
I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have been in discussions with the Department for Transport. I know that it is not always easy to get agreement on these matters but I very much hope that my noble and learned friend's well known skills in advocacy will enable him to accept this amendment if for no other reason than that it makes for good legislation and for clarity on the statute book, which is very much required. It is rather ironic that I should put forward an amendment which seeks to give more power to the Scottish Parliament. I beg to move.
The Duke of Montrose: I am very interested in this issue, on which I spoke in Committee. However, I am still rather puzzled as to what the Scottish Parliament will gain from this aspect of devolution because, as far as I can see, it already has powers to introduce any speed limit that it wishes on any road. As I drive along roads in Glasgow and out in the country, I come across speed limits that are set at 40 miles an hour and 50 miles an hour. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will indicate why this aspect of devolution is required.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, I support the noble Lord's amendment. My reading of the Calman commission report is that it made no distinction between the types of vehicles that should be included in this aspect of devolution. I believe that this amendment supports the Calman recommendation and that the power should be devolved in full, as was recommended by that commission. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that the omission of HGVs would create confusion on Scottish roads, should there be an unnecessary change of speed limits.
When this issue was raised in Committee, I think the Minister said that the distinction arose as a consequence of the development of signage, which was deeply convincing. However, he also wisely indicated
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, my noble friend tabled amendments on this matter in Committee and I recall some very interesting debates on them. The Government have included powers in the Bill to allow Scottish Ministers to determine the national speed limit on roads in Scotland. I say to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose that the amendment seeks to ensure that the measure applies to motorways and dual carriageways, which have national speed limits at the moment. There is a power to make regulations to specify traffic signs to indicate that limit. The powers currently set out in the Bill are limited to cars, motor cycles and vans under 3.5 tonnes. The Government drafted the provision in this way as there is already a single clear sign that denotes the national speed limit for cars, motor cycles and vans under 3.5 tonnes. The Bill will allow Scottish Ministers to create a new sign and educate people on its meaning for any change to the national speed limit in Scotland.
As I highlighted in Committee, for different vehicles, including HGVs and caravans, either separate signage would be required, or the speed limit for these classes of vehicles would remain unsigned as now, but people would need to be aware that different speed limits could exist across Great Britain for these types of vehicles.
However, we have listened carefully to the arguments presented by my noble friend and by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on the Benches opposite. I commend my noble friend and others for pursuing this issue. I think it is fair to say that those of us who served on the Calman commission were not made aware of the distinctions or of the importance of signage. We may consider that my noble friend's amendment would give fuller substance to what was originally proposed. Together with the case made by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government for the Bill to provide for devolution of the regulation-making powers for setting the national speed limit for all classes of vehicles, we have decided to accept Amendment 12 tabled by my noble friend, so clearly he has managed to get me while I am on a roll. However, in accepting the spirit and the principle of the amendment, I must make it clear that it will require redrafting to ensure that the measure applies to all roads and not just special roads. Therefore, we will bring forward an amendment at Third Reading which addresses the technical issues and gives full substance to the amendment which my noble friend has tabled. I thank him for his persistence in this matter. I hope he welcomes the fact that it has had a positive outcome. I note that he does not intend to move Amendment 13. Therefore, I shall not speak to it.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I thank my noble and learned friend for accepting the amendment. I also thank the Secretary of State for Scotland for doing battle with the Department for Transport and delivering this outcome. I think that The HouseMagazine has counted the number of words that I have spoken during the passage of this Bill. It is a supreme irony that the only change I have achieved so far is to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament and to deliver more of what is in the Calman report, but such is the nature of politics. As I say, I am most grateful to my noble and learned friend. I am sure that what is proposed makes sense. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and his colleagues for their support on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that the Report stage of the Scotland Bill will resume immediately after the conclusion of the two orders in the name of my noble friend Lord De Mauley.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, this first order permits but does not oblige judges to sit alone rather than, as at present, with two lay members on unfair dismissal cases. It is part of the wider package of reforms. It is not a silver bullet, standing on its own, but neither is it a risk to the just handling and disposal of cases.
As I said in Grand Committee, when we debated these orders on Monday last week, the order seeks to replace prescription with flexibility, and helps to secure value for money. It will allow employment judges to sit alone in unfair dismissal cases before an employment tribunal. It will provide discretion for judges to decide whether to sit with lay members, where appropriate. The criteria against which such decisions must be made are set out in primary legislation. It has been tried and tested for years in relation to other types of case to which it already applies.
Many of your Lordships here today were also present in Grand Committee last week. Noble Lords who then opposed the measure did not argue against flexibility for its own sake. Indeed, it is difficult to see how flexibility per se could be easily argued against in this context. Instead, some noble Lords, and some who debated the matter in the other place, seemed to distrust the motives underlying this reform. The perception seemed to be that this is the thin end of the wedge. Fairness, independence and justice must not be compromised. However, proportionality is key to all those concepts, and the Government have a duty to ensure that value is secured.
The safeguard of judicial discretion is real. As noble Lords themselves cited in Grand Committee, academic research demonstrates that employment judges value the input of lay members. Judges tell us that too. We have good evidence therefore-something noble Lords were rightly keen on drawing out in Grand Committee-to explain why we think panels will continue to sit where they are appropriate, and where they will add value. That is as it should be. There is also evidence of support for the proposal. Some, such as the British Chambers of Commerce, say that we should go further and abolish lay members altogether. Some say that we should row back and drop even this order. Some think we have got the balance right. We have considered the numbers, considered the substance of the arguments put, and made sure that we have listened carefully to all parties with an interest. Our conclusion is clear, and I am confident that it is right.
The Government value the role of employment judges, just as the Government value the role of lay members. Each group brings significant expertise and experience to the system. Judges are well placed to make decisions about how best to manage a case to hearing, including about how and where the respective expertise and experience is best deployed, and with what value. Employment judges are trained in active case-management techniques and to deal with cases in the unique fora of employment tribunals. The safeguards are real. The objective of securing value for money is important.
The purpose of the second order, the Unfair Dismissal and Statement of Reasons for Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order 2012, is to extend the qualifying period for unfair dismissal from one to two years for individuals beginning work on after 6 April this year. It also extends in the same way the minimum period an employee must have been with the employer before being entitled to request a written statement of reasons for dismissing. The purpose of the statement of reasons is essentially one of evidence when making a claim for
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The Government are committed to reviewing all aspects of employment law over the course of the current Parliament. We are doing this because we are serious about rebalancing the economy, supporting job creation and achieving strong, sustainable growth. We want new and growing businesses to thrive and feel confident about taking on more staff.
The legal framework of employment law today is quite different from that which obtained when unfair dismissal rights were first introduced in 1971-by a Conservative Government. In 2012, employees additionally have a wide range of day-one rights: the right not to be discriminated against; the right not to be dismissed for asserting a statutory right, such as asking to be paid the minimum wage; and the right not to be dismissed for making a protected disclosure, otherwise known as blowing the whistle.
The change we seek to make will not affect any of those day-one rights, but it will reduce the fears that many employers have-until a few years ago, I was one of them-that a minor procedural slip-up might land them with a tribunal claim. As the British Chambers of Commerce has noted, a single claim can wipe out a whole year's profits for a small business. That is a burden that many small businesses are simply unable to bear. The British Chambers of Commerce also reported-this is particularly shocking-that 48 per cent of larger firms have been threatened with an employment tribunal claim in the past three years.
This change will have a relatively small impact on employment tribunal claims and individuals who might seek to bring a claim. We have made a conservative estimate that the increase in the qualifying period will bring about only a 4 per cent reduction in unfair dismissal claims. Furthermore, we have not taken account of the fact that employers will not be under such pressure to let employees go, as my noble friend Lord Razzall pointed out in our debate in Grand Committee on Monday of last week. They will have the extra time to give them a chance, to coach them and to train them. Also, as set out in the impact assessment, we estimate that more than half of unfair dismissal claims currently made by those with one to two years' service are part of multiple claims, so we would expect them still to go ahead under one or more other jurisdictions.
The Government are taking other measures that will help employers and employees to resolve disputes outside the tribunal system. I am sure that many noble Lords will agree that this is most often preferable for all parties. We are increasing the role of ACAS in conciliating disputes before a claim is made. We are piloting a scheme to boost access to mediation among small businesses in Cambridge and Greater Manchester, and we will be considering how we can deal more quickly with straightforward employment tribunal claims.
Looking back over the history of unfair dismissal rights, a two-year qualifying period has existed for most of the past 30 years, so it is hardly an unprecedented measure, but it is one that we, and large numbers of businesses, believe will make a positive difference to employer confidence.
As I said, our top priority is to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth. We are tackling youth unemployment by ensuring that more and higher-quality apprenticeships are available. We are taking steps on issues such as tax, planning rules and access to finance to boost enterprise. Critically, we have a credible plan to reduce the deficit and tackle the UK's debts, as set out in the Budget.
The extension of the qualifying period must be seen in the following contexts: the greater employment rights that individuals now enjoy; the Government's measures to encourage early dispute resolution; and our focus on growth and business confidence.
The Government's view that employers' confidence and their perceptions of employment law will be improved by this measure is based not on anecdote but on the views of the businesses that responded to the public consultation and the thousands of businesses surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce-
The Government's view that employers' confidence and their perceptions of employment law will be improved by this measure is based not on anecdote but on the views of those businesses that responded to the public consultation and the thousands of businesses surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the CBI. During the consultation, the CBI expressed the view that,
That accords with my own experience as an employer in an IT company, which I ran for six years. I cannot emphasise enough how much time is needed for training and assessing people. I can categorically say that a year is not enough in every case, and it is a view that the Government share. There is a credible body of opinion that employers will have greater confidence to recruit as a result of this measure. I assure noble Lords that the Government will do everything practicable to monitor and assess the impact of increasing the qualifying period.
As set out in the impact assessment, we are committed to a post-implementation review of the Resolving Workplace Disputes policy package, including this measure, in 2016. The amendment laid by the noble Lord, Lord Young, calls for a review after 18 months. With respect, this will be too soon to be able to make an assessment of the policy's effect, not least because the qualifying period will be two years and will apply only to those starting a new job from 6 April. No employee will therefore have reached the end of their qualifying period in 18 months' time.
While respecting and preserving the important employment rights that have been established over the years, we must give proper weight to those currently outside the labour market: the school leaver looking for the first job, the long-term unemployed striving to get back into work, and the person who was let go during the first year of employment because the employer
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As an amendment to the above Motion, at the end to insert "but that this House regrets that the order will risk the reduction of justice and fairness at employment tribunals, is opposed by both trades unions and employers' organisations, and risks increasing costs through a greater number of appeals; believes that having an employer and employee representative on employment tribunals remains the right way to ensure a fair and just decision and process for claimants; and calls on the Government to place a report into the effect of the changes before Parliament 18 months after the approval of the order".
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his contribution, although that does not mean that I agree with it. I also thank him for the speed with which he responded in writing to the questions that had been raised but, again, I do not necessarily thank him for the content. I do not feel that he helped to clarify or justify the Government's proposals, and that is why we have put down these amendments to the two orders.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said that people felt the introduction of lay members was motivated by further proposals. I do not think that you can really blame people for that, given that the Government have indicated that there are likely to be further movements in employment law. Even if you were not of a suspicious nature, the Beecroft report being delivered to No. 10 might at least have caused your antennae to wave about a bit in anxiety. Therefore, my question to the Minister is: can we expect more in this vein, with the view being taken that if only we lift these restrictions, somehow that will open the floodgates to employment and that the restrictions are the barriers that are really holding back SMEs or even large firms? We believe that that is a false analysis predicated on entirely the wrong views.
On the question of lay members, why do we believe that they ought to be a key part of the process? I do not intend to go through all the reasons as we had a full and frank debate in Grand Committee. When industrial-now employment-tribunals were first formed, the whole idea was that there would be a different approach and a different style. Along with that came lay members. What do they bring? They bring real knowledge and understanding of industrial situations. That is not to say that judges do not, but they do not have the same perspective. Will the proposal alter fundamentally the nature of unfair dismissal claims? We believe that it will. We believe that lay members play a fundamental and important role in the proceedings.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, told me that the safeguards are there and are real. I listened carefully and the only safeguard that I could see was that it
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On the second Motion, on the question of the length of unfair dismissal, it is true that there has been a history of different periods. We have gone from two years, to one year, to six months. Is the Government's proposal justified? We do not believe that it is. Although it has fluctuated over a significant period, there is no evidence to show that it has had a direct effect on employment levels. That is why I said at the outset that it is predicated on the wrong analysis. Since the qualifying period was reduced from two years to one in 1999, more than 1.75 million jobs have been created in the UK, so it does not seem to be a barrier or impediment. The Minister quoted the chamber of commerce. Similarly, I could say that, interestingly, the SME Business Barometer survey asked 500 SMEs about the main obstacle to success. Top of the poll as the biggest obstacle was the state of the economy, with obtaining finance next. Just 6 per cent of respondents listed regulation as the main obstacle to growth.
In the correspondence that I received from the Minister, even he struggled to demonstrate that the unfair dismissal claims were the root cause of the problem. First, they cannot be disentangled. We cannot disentangle employment tribunal claims from the multiple claims; the Minister admitted that in the correspondence. We do not believe that the proposals are evidence-based.
"Making it easier to dismiss staff without due cause is far more likely to harm the prospects of UK plc by fostering crude and out-dated attitudes to employment relationships that will put employees off from 'going the extra mile'. Unproductive and disengaged workers will cost firms far more than the threat of tribunals".
If we want to give employers helpful advice, some things that the Minister suggested were right, such as more use of ACAS and mediation. However, the key for employers is how they treat their employees. We never suggested that training would be finished in a year; we are talking about continual learning in today's workplaces. We are saying that the first year of employment is a long enough period to assess a new employee if the employer is making sure that they are being mentored and are responding to their training programmes. Are we really saying that at the end of that period an employer cannot assess whether an individual is going in the right direction and will make a worthwhile contribution to the organisation? My experience tells me that a year is a significant period of time.
This would signal the wrong route to employers. If we extend the unfair dismissal period, we will be trying to convince ourselves-without any evidence-that this will make employers take on more people. Of course we want employment to increase, but the way to encourage this is to ensure that we create the right economic conditions. I cannot resist saying to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that while the focus is definitely on reducing the deficit-and I welcome the increase in apprenticeships-we still have not seen the growth that was predicted, the forecasts for which have been significantly reduced.
My final reason for moving the Motion was that I read the letter in reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, who made the reasonable request that an employee should be entitled to be given a reason for dismissal before they were dismissed. Unless the noble and learned Lord is more easily pleased than I am, he will be disappointed with the final paragraph, in which the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, stated that the Government consider that requiring employers to give a written reason before giving notice would be an additional administrative complexity for them and would increase their costs. Does that send the right signal to employers about how to treat employees? Surely it is totally the wrong advice to give them. If they are handling their employees in a proper, structured way, and if they have the right HR procedures, they should have nothing to fear from an employment tribunal. On these grounds, I beg to move.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support my noble friend's Motions. We had a wide-ranging debate on both these orders in Grand Committee. I opposed both, and I still do. Both orders undermine the employment rights that many people have fought for over the years. The first deals with the qualifying period and the right of workers to receive a reason for dismissal. The second provides for the removal of lay members from industrial tribunals that deal with cases of unfair dismissal. As noble Lords indicated in our previous debate, this has been opposed not only by the TUC and the CBI but by the Engineering Employers Federation and Citizens Advice.
Those who supported the Government in our previous debate did so, as I understand it, because they believed that if employers did not have to comply with employment laws, they would be able to employ more people. I doubt that. I oppose the orders for a different reason: I believe that, in a civilised community, the worker has rights which must be observed. An overriding one must be the right to continued employment unless there are very good reasons for this not to be maintained. Is it right that employees should simply be regarded as disposable? The loss of employment is often a disaster; not only for the employee but for his or her family. Many may face a decline in living standards and perhaps years spent on benefits. The trauma is even worse when the decision is felt to be unfair and if there is little alternative work available.
I agree that conciliation or mediation should be tried rather than immediate reference to a tribunal, but this is attempted nowadays and may not always work out. The opportunity to go to a tribunal should
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The Government want to change the arrangements for hearing unfair dismissals so that the litigant will appear before a judge sitting alone. In other words, there will be a more legal set-up but no access to legal aid, since this is being removed by legislation recently before our House. There is no doubt that the Government believe there have been too many tribunal cases and that there will be fewer under their new proposals-and no doubt fewer successful cases. This is grossly unfair. There is no more important area of life than the work that most people do. Without it, life changes dramatically, not only for the individual concerned, but the family which he or she has to support. The loss, if unfair, should be compensated. The least the Government can do is examine how these changes impact upon people, which is what is proposed by my noble friend's Motions. I hope the Government will accept them. If they are interested in fairness and justice, they can really do no other.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I would also like to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend on the Front Bench. The two SIs before us today are shabby. They are retrograde and in opposition to models of procedure and rights that have been with us for many years. I do not think that the Minister who argued the case for the statutory instruments today made a better case than he did in Grand Committee. An odd thing that he said today in support of the statutory instrument dealing with unfair dismissal was that, because workers now have certain rights that they did not have 30 years ago, such as those in relation to discrimination, it is reasonable that the qualifying period for claiming unfair dismissal should be extended to two years.
He indicated that there are rights of discrimination-sex and racial discrimination-that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago. That is true. How on earth can that justify greater rights for the employer to dismiss without due cause or indicating what the reasons are? Someone not fitting in or being surplus to requirements would not be an adequate reason if the unfair dismissal qualifying period was available.
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