25 Jun 2012 : Column 1

House of Lords

Monday, 25 June 2012.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Worcester

2.37 pm

John Geoffrey, Lord Bishop of Worcester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Birmingham, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Transport: Isles of Scilly Ferry Link


2.41 pm

Asked by Lord Berkeley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to create a lifeline passenger ferry link to the Isles of Scilly in line with the Scottish Government’s ferries policy.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am aware that passenger transport services to and from the mainland are regarded by residents of the Isles of Scilly as a lifeline. Ferry services, unlike most of those to the Scottish Islands, are able to operate commercially without subsidy and have done so for many years.

Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Perhaps he is not aware that Cornwall has the lowest GDP in the UK and has been awarded continuing convergence funding, and that it also has the fourth lowest average wage in the UK as well as very expensive housing.

His Answer is correct but the ferry only runs for seven months every year and the return fare is £90. This compares with Islay in Scotland where there are several ferries a day all the year round and the return fare is £12.50. Will he not take forward the report from the Council of the Isles of Scilly proposing an affordable lifeline service every day of the year and as a start allow the Council of the Isles of Scilly to use some of the ERDF money that is still outstanding for some key extensions before the deadline runs out?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am aware of the economic difficulties in Cornwall. As regards the comparison with the Scottish situation, it is difficult to make valid direct comparisons when the circumstances vary and the service is rather more complicated.

It is important to remember that transport links to the Scilly Isles are provided on a commercial basis, whether by sea or by air. Cornwall Council rules itself out of leading the smaller-scale infrastructure schemes so development work has been undertaken by the Council of the Isles of Scilly and Penzance town council. These involve improving provision for freight handling, extending the quay at St Mary’s and dredging at Penzance to accommodate a deeper-hulled vessel. The noble Lord is quite right that the ERDF funds are time-limited.

Lord Bradshaw: Will the noble Earl consider the fact that the present ship engaged in the seven months of the year service will not be replaced on a commercial basis because the helicopter and the ship are running on borrowed time? Will he give serious consideration to extending the PSO arrangements in Scotland to the Scilly Isles? They are part of our economy but they will be more or less cut off when the existing ships and infrastructure fail.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, we are not currently minded to consider a PSO because there is no need to do so as the ferry service is currently run on a commercial basis. The steamship company has recently announced that it will invest in the ship to maintain it in operational use until at least 2018 and we are not aware of any major structural defects that will necessarily prevent seaworthiness beyond that time.

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Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the statement of commercial viability is a thin veneer that masks the real poverty levels in the Scilly Isles? As my noble friend said, Cornwall has one of the lowest GDPs in the country. The fact that the ferry runs for seven months of the year is due to the tourist trade. However, behind that is the local community, which lives in poverty and depends on the mainland for its economy and health services. Will the Minister please review the statement that he has just made to the House?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I cannot agree to review the statement that I made to the House because it is considered government policy. I accept that there are difficulties in the Isles of Scilly, particularly the dependence on the tourist trade.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Is the Minister aware of the great concern in both the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall over the long-term viability of the helicopter service that presently serves the islands in addition to the ferry? I understand that it is about to move from Penzance to Newquay but there is concern over whether it will survive in the long term. Does the Minister’s briefing cover that matter?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my briefing covers that. There are two air services. There is a fixed-wing aircraft, which goes from St Mary’s to a few destinations on the mainland, and there is the helicopter service, which is by definition much more flexible in where it can land. There is an issue over the condition of the runway at St Mary’s; it will not last for ever.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the unrelenting application of free market principles to our merchant marine, which has resulted in it having its smallest ever numbers of officers and men, is very damaging, bearing in mind that it is the fourth service and absolutely necessary strategically for global operations? Are the Government doing anything whatever to support the merchant marine?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, wondered how far my brief would stretch. Unfortunately, it does not stretch as far as the condition of the Merchant Navy.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, surely the Minister has already recognised that the viability of the service depends on the tourist trade and that the people who live on the Scilly Isles—on very low incomes—are paying the tourist price for the vessels, namely £90. As my noble friend indicated, that is more than four times the amount that you would expect to pay to make a similar journey in Scotland. Is it not time that the Government looked at this very seriously? There are clear potential threats to the existing services, which in any case do not meet the islanders’ need.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am confident that there will be a service in the short term. The noble Lord asked about the cost of a ticket for the ferry. I understand that a day return is £35 and a period return costs £85 to £95. However a Scilly Isles resident’s return is £20.50, so they do get a discount.

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Women: Training and Upskilling


2.48 pm

Asked by Baroness Prosser

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their plans with regard to training and upskilling women workers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, we want to build a stronger, more prosperous nation and to help women who are on career breaks or upskilling, who wish to return to work or to improve, to make a full contribution to our economic future. We recognise that the skill needs and barriers to opportunity vary widely for each individual, with women often having a more fragmented career path. That is why we are reforming the skills system to make it responsive to the needs of different groups and to ensure that we draw on the talents and skills of all.

Baroness Prosser: I thank the Minister for that reply. Between 2006 and 2012, the Women in Work Sector Pathways initiative provided, via the sector skills councils, training for almost 25,000 women, with employers’ contributions in cash and kind far outstripping those of the Government. Will the Minister tell the House what measures will be taken to ensure that women get a fair share of available training under the new employers’ investment fund, how this is to be measured and what strictures will be laid on employers to encourage them to include women?

Baroness Wilcox: The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, chaired the Women and Work Commission, the Women’s National Commission and is now deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so to answer a question from her required a bit of study on my part. She was kind enough to let me have sight of her supplementary question. The Women and Work Sector Pathways Initiative was indeed very successful. That is why funding has been made available to sector skills councils to build on that legacy. In addition, the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills has today said that it is willing to consider bids specifically to take forward the work of the Pathways Initiative. We want employers to take greater ownership of a skills system that provides better opportunities for women, so one of the criteria for the bids is their sustainability in upskilling women.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, can my noble friend tell us how many women are undertaking engineering degrees? If she cannot give us that figure today, perhaps she would leave a note in the Library, as this is an important area for women to be involved in.

Baroness Wilcox: My noble friend Lady Harris is very kind in allowing me to say that I do not have the data with me. I will send a list to her and a copy in the office. I know that 56% of women are now in full-time work, which is useful to know, and the number of women employed rose by 23,000 this quarter. Sadly, I cannot give her the data sets today. We are working

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hard to make sure that the apprenticeships women take up—and more than half the apprentices in this country are women—are much higher skilled and very often jobs which would have gone to men without even a second thought. So we are on the job.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, as well as this important side of training women for relevant jobs—retraining them in many cases—would the Minister also ensure that adequate attention is given to young girls? They should be made aware of the needs of the nation and the fact that these are often in completely different areas than the ones that are their favourites today.

Baroness Wilcox: I am delighted to answer that question. We are starting in schools; we have an all-age careers service, which will come into schools to talk to girls much earlier than we have done in the past, to give them much more idea of what is available. We have more than 200,000 different apprenticeships available now, including in nuclear decommissioning and all sorts of wondrous things that girls can learn. So, yes, it is an excellent idea.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: Does the noble Baroness acknowledge, in the way she responded to my noble friend, the value placed on the sector skills councils in producing these 25,000 women going through the course? What she said sounds like good news, but in the context of the remarks by the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, it is also important to realise that many of the sector skills councils will no longer be involved. There are four sector skills councils left. All are really good and will ensure that engineering has a high profile for women, including Semta, Cogent and others. Any effort that the Minister can make on behalf of the whole process will be really welcome.

Baroness Wilcox: I agree completely with what the noble Baroness has said, and I will continue to make sure that we watch what is going on. I visited a building site recently where women who had been long-term unemployed were training as electricians. I was very taken with a mother and daughter who decided to make a team, because they realised that most electricians were male and put all the plugs in the wrong places. They were going to set up their own business, because they think it would be rather good to have a woman electrician coming to a woman’s flat or house at night, and making sure that the hairdryer is going to be plugged in at the right place.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, while I congratulate my noble friend and applaud her aspirations and achievements, is it really necessary to downgrade the English language in order to upskill these women?

Baroness Wilcox: There is no doubt that the world is moving on and we just have to learn new words such as upskilling.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some years ago when I was a member of the EOC we ran the successful WISE campaign—Women Into Science and Engineering. It involved visits to

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schools and employers, and so on, and was highly successful. Is there not a case for running a similar campaign now?

Baroness Wilcox: I, too, remember WISE. I also remember the noble Baroness on these Benches who was one of the first woman engineers in the country and she was very keen on WISE. It is sad that it has gone but we like to think that the things we are doing now are being taken across the board to ensure that girls get the opportunity to do everything available to them.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: Is the Minister aware that many women who want to get into the type of jobs she is talking about may not have done well at school and therefore may need to do basic further education training and access courses? Does she think that the imposition of loans and fees at the further education level will encourage such women?

Baroness Wilcox: Further education is a special area, about which we are very concerned. We are very keen to make sure that there are all-age apprenticeships and, from 2013, we will introduce further education loans so that people will not be restricted from taking up new opportunities because they are unable to take part.

Government: Procurement


2.56 pm

Asked By Lord Haskel

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage the use of new technology in the United Kingdom through Government procurement.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the Government are removing procurement barriers facing innovative companies and SMEs and creating an environment in which they can thrive. We are investing more in the small business research initiative, creating a level playing field for open-source solutions and making the procurement process as a whole faster and simpler. In particular, the G-Cloud framework provides a simple, fast and transparent route into government for the suppliers of new technologies.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, those aspirations are all very well but are the incentives in place for public-sector buyers to carry them out? The Office of Government Commerce tells me that there are 40,000 points of procurement. Why should it take the risk of an innovation failing? After all, it is more likely to get a pat on the back for saving money in these circumstances than for encouraging innovation. How will the Government change this culture?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I am disappointed at the noble Lord’s cynicism. Since we took office, central government’s direct spend with small companies—particularly the SME sector, which the noble Lord is interested in—has doubled from £3 billion to £6 billion. We are achieving this by publishing tenders and contracts

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through the contracts finder website which eliminates many of the difficulties that small and medium-sized businesses were facing. The noble Lord should be aware that more people can access information online now than could previously.

Lord Walton of Detchant: Is the noble Baroness aware that the Medical Technology Group—which represents the interests of both large companies and SMEs in the medical technology field—is very concerned that many of the most important and vital new developments in medical technology are not being fully exploited within the National Health Service? Will she ensure that the concerns of the Medical Technology Group are brought to the attention of NICE so that these developments can be exploited fully?

Baroness Verma: I take the noble Lord’s views on board and will take them back to the department. I also hope I can reassure him that we are working closely with the health service and through the services provided by the online G-Cloud strategies that we have formulated to shorten the gaps he envisages.

Lord Rennard: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House the Government’s policies in relation to the development of the computer code or software they pay for and whether it should be made more freely available for others to use and extend? Does she accept that allowing this could sometimes prevent the public sector wasting money by paying more than once to develop the same software and that it would also be incredibly helpful to the private and voluntary sectors?

Baroness Verma: The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise that point. As part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement last year government departments agreed to release a substantial package of data including material relating to many of the major departments. Most people will also be able to access data rather freely through our Open Data Institute, which we hope to have fully launched by September.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, what proportion of the Government’s expenditure on science and technology is accounted for by Ministry of Defence procurement? Is the Minister satisfied that that allocation of resources is well judged to encourage the most productive take-up of new technology in the United Kingdom?

Baroness Verma: The noble Lord raises a specific point which I think I need to take back with me as I would not want to quote a wrong figure on the Floor of the House. I will take it back and come back to him.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, did the Minister see the horrendous reports at the weekend about health service patients waiting months and months for medication because of procurement difficulties? Will she ask the relevant Minister to come to this House to give a full explanation of something that really should not happen?

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Baroness Verma: My Lords, I do not speak on behalf of my noble friends. The question has been noted and I am sure that the relevant Minister will take it up.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister is aware that the Royal United Services Institute recently did a study in which it discovered that if things that are designed and built in this country are then purchased, 34% of the money will go straight back to the Treasury. Will the Treasury therefore look at this report? Clearly, if things designed and built in this country are a third cheaper straightaway, and forgetting all the other reasons why one would want to buy high-tech things that are made here, it would be a bit of a nonsense to buy those things off-the-shelf from overseas.

Baroness Verma: I think that the noble Lord has answered his own question. I am sure that the Treasury is not aware of all reports but, again, I will raise this one with it.

The Earl of Erroll: Is the Minister aware that smaller innovative companies often have great difficulty joining in on some government IT projects because of the stranglehold that the large systems integrators have on them? Many of the regulations make sure that smaller companies cannot join in and bid for these projects, and many of the frameworks even exclude them from doing so.

Baroness Verma: Absolutely—the noble Earl identifies a serious problem. We have formulated the G-Cloud strategy so that smaller businesses can contract out as well as tender for contracts alongside the large companies. The PQQ requirement has also been ended where contracts are for less than £100,000. We are asking for much less information from smaller companies so that they do not stumble at the first block.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, the financial crisis has made the regional imbalance worse because manufacturing has actually suffered more than the financial sector. What are the Government doing, as the nation’s largest purchaser of goods and services, to help rebalance the economy between north and south?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the economy is a major issue whether it is in the north or the south. The Government are making sure that whatever is available is accessible to people either up in the north or down in the south so that nobody misses out on the opportunity to bid for public contracts. As the noble Baroness will be aware, many bids on contracts now come from smaller companies as well as from across the country.

Education: Special Educational Needs


3.03 pm

Asked By Lord Touhig

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that young people with special educational needs are appropriately supported to enter further education, higher education, training, apprenticeships and employment.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, Support and Aspiration: A New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability—Progress and Next Stepssets out our aspirations to help young people in England with special educational needs to make a successful transition to adulthood. The new education, health and care plans will require services to work together to agree a plan which reflects the young person’s needs and their future ambitions covering education, health, employment and independence. We have also developed supported internships as a way of providing meaningful work opportunities for young people, which we will be trialling from September.

Lord Touhig: I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that Work Choice, the scheme intended to help the disabled into employment, has had very little success in helping people with autism to find a job, while the Work Programme itself seems to find great difficulty in placing anyone with autism in employment at all? Given that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has said that the Government will double the number of people with autism in employment from 15% to 30%, will the Minister tell the House when the Government will publish a programme to achieve that?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, first, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about the importance of doing everything that we can to address the problem of how we help young people with autism into work. The previous Labour Government published a strategy on that in 2009, which the current Government are working with and trying to build on. As the noble Lord says, my noble friend Lord Freud is working in this area. He recently set up an employer round table, where guidance was published for employers to help them with recruiting young people with autism. That is clearly work that we have to carry on. I do not have an immediate and easy answer because, as the noble Lord knows better than I do, this is a long-rooted and difficult problem. But I can say that the Government are committed to doing what we can to work with a range of organisations to address the problem.

Lord Addington: Does my noble friend agree that when dealing with the less commonly occurring disability groups there will need to be a driving sector for unusual problems? Has my noble friend got an example of where this has been successfully achieved—for instance, with the Department of Health being able to drive what happens in the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department for Education and Skills?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I think the point that underlies my noble friend’s question is the importance of finding good practice and sharing it, and trying to make sure that the historic divisions and silos between different parts of Whitehall are overcome. I cannot find an immediate example, although he may have one that he can share with me. But we need to find ways in which to overcome those silos—and that is, of course, the principle that underlies the proposals of my right honourable friend Sarah Teather on reforming the whole special educational needs system.

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Lord Flight: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new technical colleges led by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, are already playing an invaluable role for children whom our schools have failed? They may not have special educational needs, but they have come out of schools inadequately educated. Will the Minister comment as to the commitment to extend the new technical college programme going forward?

Lord Hill of Oareford: That takes us a little away from autism, and it is the case that we need to think about the particular help that we put in place to help children with special educational needs and learning disabilities all the way up to the age of 25. I would not like to lose sight of that, as that is what lies behind the Question.

As for the university technical colleges, the Government have increased the number significantly. We have a number now going forward. We inherited one from the previous Labour Government, and I have been happy to build on that. Now, some 34 have been approved and are moving towards opening.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that support will also be given to those with special educational needs who are in the hands of the criminal justice system?

Lord Hill of Oareford: Yes, my Lords. I know that that is a subject that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, feels very strongly about. He and I have had the chance to discuss that issue, and we need to do what we can to address those needs. It is obviously the case that special educational needs and behavioural issues often lie behind the reason why those young people are in those institutions in the first place.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, we very much support the principle in the SEN Green Paper that a simplified plan involving social care, education, health and benefit providers would make it easier for young people to access the support they need to flourish in the employment market. But given the complexities involved in these proposals, can the Minister confirm that the current pathfinder pilots, which are only just getting under way, will be completed and evaluated before introducing the very radical changes in primary legislation that will be needed to make the proposals happen?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the support that she has given to the idea that lies behind our SEN reforms, which is to try to bring these services more closely together. As regards the evaluation of the pathfinder pilots, 20 are under way and we will be publishing regular quarterly reports. I think that the first one is out today and I will make sure that the noble Baroness has a copy. A more formal interim report will be published in the autumn, which will help shape the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill that is also scheduled for the autumn. The lessons that we learn from the pathfinders will help shape that legislation. We will all need to scrutinise that very carefully.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Is the Minister aware that people training to be dental chairside assistants are allowed to sit the relevant exam only three times? I met one such person recently who has failed the written exam twice and has now discovered that she is dyslexic. She says that to get special assistance she will have to produce many hundreds of pounds, and that if she does not get that assistance and does not pass the exam the next time she will not be allowed to continue in employment although the dentist who employs her is completely satisfied with everything that she has done. She has passed all the other sections of the exam except the written part. What help is available to people like her?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I afraid that I am not aware of that case, but perhaps I could have a word with my noble friend afterwards and look into that on her behalf.

Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Bill Main Page

Committee (3rd Day)

3.11 pm

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed.

Clause 15: Abolition of SOCA and NPIA

Amendment 64

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

64: Clause 15, page 11, line 25, leave out subsection (2)

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this is mainly a probing amendment although not entirely given the complexity and variety of some of the issues involved and the fact that some of the functions of the National Policing Improvement Agency are being transferred before the Bill completes its passage. This short amendment covers a major issue and through it I seek to understand why the Government are proposing this course of action, what benefits arise from abolishing the National Policing Improvement Agency and dividing its functions up between various different agencies and organisations, and what problems need to be addressed in so doing. Even though a number of the functions have already been transferred in that some have gone to SOCA and will go to the NCA and others will go to the Home Office and to the new IT company, the Government need to provide their justification for believing that this is the best way forward. I still feel slightly puzzled by some of the decisions that have been taken around the National Policing Improvement Agency. They show a tendency on the part of the Government to shoot first and ask questions later. That has become a bit of a theme with the Government. We saw it with the health Bill, where actions were taken before the legislation had gone through Parliament, and we are seeing the same thing with this Bill.

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The functions of the NPIA are crucial. When reading the history of these proposals, I was somewhat surprised to learn that so little detail had been made available when decisions were being taken. That was the case almost through to the very end of decisions being taken. I have still been unable to get absolute clarity on what is happening to the various functions of the National Police Improvement Agency, so I struggle to find out why decisions are taken when there is so little detail, and so little follow-up is available. On the functions of the NPIA, the organisation itself commented that it was established in part in response to a perception that,

“existing arrangements for delivering support to police forces and implementing national initiatives—in response to demands from disparate bodies—were inefficient, often mutually contradictory and inconsistent”.

Therefore a number of objectives were assigned to the NPIA:

“The identification, development and promulgation of good practice in policing; the provision to listed police forces of expert advice about, and expert assistance in connection with, operational and other policing matters; the identification and assessment of: opportunities for and threats to police forces … and the making of recommendations to the Secretary of State in the light of its assessment … the international sharing of understanding of policing issues”—

which again, has been very important to the police—

“the provision of support to listed police forces in connection with information technology, the procurement of goods, other property and services, and training and other personnel matters”—

and it ends with a catch-all:

“the doing of all such other things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of any of the objects described above”.

However, in practice, it has brought a large number of responsibilities together: information services, including the fingerprint identification database; Airwave; automatic number plate recognition; the police national computer; police information infrastructure; the police national network; and the National DNA Database. There are also operational policing services such as the Missing Persons Bureau, the Crime Operational Support Unit and the Central Witness Bureau, as well as issues on people and development services: exams and assessment; the National Senior Careers Advisory Service and the Police Advisory Board. That is just a sample of the whole range of absolutely crucial and important functions undertaken by this organisation. It seems to me that the National Police Improvement Agency has successfully managed critical national infrastructure services. It pioneered the police national database and delivered value-for-money savings through its procurement services.

Why, then, did it have to go? What was the rationale behind it, that the Government thought that this organisation had to be abolished and started to dismantle it before the legislation has even gone through Parliament? As I looked through comments that Ministers have made, the Government said in 2010 that they would axe the NPIA as part of “streamlining the national landscape”, and that,

“now is the right time to phase out the NPIA, reviewing its role and how this translates into a streamlined national landscape”.

I am not sure that I understand what that means, because it seems that we will have fewer police bodies undertaking these functions, and yet we are seeing the

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creation of new bodies. It would be helpful if the Minister could correct me if I am wrong on this, but it appears that the functions will be allocated across four different bodies, three of which are completely new agencies: the National Crime Agency, NewCo—the new ICT company—the police professional body, and the Home Office. That is what I mean by shoot first and ask questions later.

I looked at the Select Committee evidence. It noted in its conclusions published in September 2011 that,

“from the little that is already known about the likely distribution of the National Policing Improvement Agency’s functions, phasing it out is unlikely to lead to fewer bodies in the national policing landscape, as Ministers had hoped. In this sense, the landscape will not be more streamlined as a result of its closure. However, there remains a possibility that the landscape—and thus, more importantly, the police service itself—may operate more effectively once those functions have been redistributed.”—

and the committee said that it explores this later in the report.

Involving more organisations to carry out the functions than did so originally is not streamlining. Perhaps it was about saving money. Was there a plan to save money and is that why the organisation was to be axed? I looked at the Government’s case for saving money and I found that to be flawed also. There is no doubt that the National Police Improvement Agency could be streamlined and made more efficient and effective—and it undertook that role itself. The NPIA has delivered £1 billion in savings for the police through ICT and procurement transformation; it has itself changed in the past two years and found £100 million of savings; and it has reduced its head count by 36%. Given the cuts that have already taken place and the way that the spoils are being divvied up, it is hard to understand—and there has to be uncertainty and legitimate concern over—the effect that the proposal will have on the future delivery of services. It would be helpful if the noble Lord, when he responds, can give some information and say why he is, I assume, assured that there will be no dilution of service or of quality of service.

One area that gives cause for concern is that roughly half the NPIA’s employees are destined for the new police professional body, which will also take on a large number of the NPIA’s existing functions. What is the justification for axing the agency? There is the cost involved and the potential loss of expertise that that brings with it. About 250 jobs, including posts involved in cost-effectiveness, are due to go, and the National Senior Careers Advisory Service is, I understand, due to be scrapped. There will not be that same kind of advisory service for the police that exists within the NPIA. The service is moving to NewCo, the new police ICT company, whose budget will be cut by £60 million by 2014-15. That creates enormous uncertainty for some of the critical infrastructure services that are provided.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that that has eroded morale within the NPIA. There is a huge morale issue. The staff have done their best and have gone out of their way to make cuts and savings and to create efficiencies; but the organisation is being abolished and some of the staff still do not know where they are going to go. I worry about the specialist staff who are being lost. There is also the great danger that this preoccupation with reorganisation and structural change

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has taken the focus away from delivering further technical innovations that have helped to reduce costs in the first place.

There is also the issue of timing. I checked what Ministers have said previously about whether the transfer of services will be completed in time. The Home Secretary said that the transfer of functions of the NPIA will be complete by the end of 2012—although originally she said that it would take place by spring 2012. I double-checked and a number of times back in June, the Minister for Police and Criminal Justice said that he believed in consulting “very carefully” with professionals, and that,

“we will shortly be announcing the broad direction of travel”—

even back in June 2011 he was still talking just about the broad direction of travel—

“in terms of where the functions that lie within the NPIA should land, and then further detail will be worked upon and consulted after that”.

The Minister was pressed on what “shortly” meant, and he said, “Before the Recess”. This is still ongoing. I now struggle to know how the new arrangements will be set up by the end of this year. Perhaps the noble Lord can give us some assurances on that, and say whether he believes that the timescale is currently on track.

I looked at what has happened regarding the police professional body, which will perform many of the crucial functions to be taken from the NPIA. No chief executive, no chair and no shadow board have been appointed. The Government have not provided the detail that is needed on how the new body is to be structured. I have to say to the noble Lord that if the Government fail to meet their self-imposed deadline—they chose it; it was not imposed from on high—there could be huge consequences for the service in loss of expertise, delay to service benefits, and the potential for the transitional costs of moving from the NPIA to the NCA, the police professional body, the Home Office or other new companies to be much more expensive if there is any further delay.

I would like the Minister, during today’s debate, to answer a number of questions which arise out of the clause, which would abolish the organisation. First, we need a justification for, an understanding of, the Government’s reasons for axing the NPIA. I appreciate the argument about savings, but I think that has been knocked back, because the NPIA has made its own savings. I understand the Government’s intention to streamline the landscape, as they put it, but I have already shown that the landscape has not been streamlined; in fact, it has grown. There must be some other justification or explanation for why the Government want to take this action. Also, is there an estimate of the savings that will be made by scrapping the NPIA? I do not include the savings that have been made already by the NPIA, or those in the pipeline, but only those made by the changes proposed in the Bill.

One thing I have struggled with—which I mentioned at Second Reading, and to which I hope the Minister can respond—is where all the functions are going. I have been trying to work out a master plan to show which functions go to this or that organisation. It seems that there may be some functions which fall through the colander. Can the Minister provide some

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kind of master plan, or at least tell us which of the functions of the NPIA will be scrapped as a result of its abolition? It is quite a confusing picture for anyone trying to track where functions are going, and what are the cost implications.

A number of police forces have raised the issue of whether there will be any additional funding burdens on local police forces as a result of the transfer of NPIA functions, in particular those functions that will not go to the police professional body, such as training and careers advice. If those have to be taken on by local police forces, that will incur a cost at a time when their budgets are being cut by 20%, far greater than the Chief Inspector of Constabulary recommended. There is a lot of concern among police forces that they will be asked to make up for some of these cuts and changes, and will not be able to do so.

Another point is the loss of expertise. What actions are the Government taking to prevent the loss of expertise as a result of this restructuring? What efforts have been made? Which posts have not been identified? Which posts have been identified as needed to retain skills? In this kind of restructuring it is always the case that people in skilled posts, who have been there a long time, may seek the opportunity to take early retirement, particularly if their future is uncertain. What efforts have been made to retain them and their skills?

Within the new professional policing body—which is not properly set up yet, and there are still some concerns about that—I gather there will be, within that body, another body called the chief constable’s council. We need to understand how that is going to work. How will it improve on the delivery of the existing services currently provided by the NPIA? Will there be some loss of quality, or is it not expected to undertake the range of functions that the NPIA undertakes? All those are crucial functions.

The final question is, how will the Government ensure that the 2012 deadline is met? Will there be another deadline and then another, as we have seen before? I struggle to understand how that deadline can be met, given that so little work has been done already.

As I said at the start, this is a small amendment, but it opens up many questions. It is an enormous cause for concern if the Government have not worked out the plans for what is happening. I would like the noble Lord to reassure me on some of those questions, including one I have not yet mentioned: the premises and the estate, and what will be undertaken with those. It would be helpful to have some answers as we move forward with the discussion on this. I beg to move.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend talked about the Government shooting first and asking questions later. It seems that the decision to abolish the NPIA stemmed from the Government’s desire to be seen to be abolishing quangos of various sorts, irrespective of considering whether the quango was being effective. I do not say that the National Policing Improvement Agency was working as well as it might have, but that does not mean that our first step should be to abolish it. That is the approach of, “If it ain’t broke, take it to pieces anyway”.

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3.30 pm

I would like the Minister to be absolutely clear with the House, before we move on, about what will happen. I will not go through all the different functions of the NPIA but will focus simply on the technology role that the NPIA currently fulfils. I understand that existing major national policing infrastructure contracts are not going anywhere other than to the Home Office. They will pass to Home Office civil servants, for whom I have the greatest respect. They are renowned for their ability to negotiate and manage large technology contracts. They are renowned for their ability effectively to retender those contracts when they come to an end so as to deliver the best value for the public purse. I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to convince us that the change will be definitely for the better and that the management of these contracts in-house by civil servants will be the best way to deliver best value for the taxpayer.

I am confident of that because at the same time, a new technology company will be set up. When we were first told that this company would be set up, we were told that it would be necessary to pay a professional a sum possibly of the order of £500,000 a year to run it effectively. I assume that there has not been a sudden decision by the Home Secretary that civil servants in the Home Office should be paid something in the order of £500,000 a year. Therefore, these very important infrastructure contracts will be passed to the management of Home Office civil servants, but without the professional expertise that is thought necessary for other technology contracts. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of why this is a sensible way to manage these high-value contracts.

The new technology company that will be set up—I listened to a very interesting presentation on it from Mr Bill Crothers, the architect in the Home Office and now the Cabinet Office of these proposals—will be a new entity that will place contracts with technology companies to provide IT services to the police. At the moment, it has no staff, no expertise and no revenue—but somehow it will place all these contracts for new technology for the police service. It will also negotiate the best terms in the absence of knowing whether any police force in the country will buy the technology. The Government have said that they do not want to see police forces mandated to use the services that will be provided through the new technology company. How will the new company negotiate the best terms with private companies if it does not have any staff and cannot give any indication of the size of the market for which they will provide a service? It will not be able to provide them with any indication of the size of the market because it will not be able to say, “Actually, all the police forces in the country will be mandated to use this, so you will be providing for 200,000 police officers” or whatever, because police forces will not be mandated to use the service. It will not even be able to say that any particular police service will use the new technology because none will have bought into it. How will the new technology company be able to negotiate the keen terms that we are promised, particularly when it will not have any revenue to do so? You only get the revenue at the point at which you place the contracts, so how is this negotiation

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process going to operate? I am sure that the noble Lord has detailed explanations in his briefing notes outlining how this is going to happen and why it will work under any conceivable set of circumstances.

The question that ultimately has to be answered is why this will be better and why we are doing it on this timescale. My noble friend Lady Smith highlighted the slightly moving deadline for the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency. We are now being told that the end of this calendar year is a firm deadline so that all these new arrangements, such as the new national police professional body and so on, will be in place. Indeed, steps are already being taken to create the new IT company—an organisation which will not have any staff or anything it can use to negotiate with the commercial sector that provides these services, but which will somehow deliver better prices than the existing NPIA can ensure. This is already being set up in shadow form. The Government have agreed that representatives of the Association of Police Authorities should be the driving force for this new company. I am a vice-president of the association and therefore have great confidence in the ability of police authority chairs to lead this organisation. However, the Government were intent in previous legislation—the passage of which through your Lordships’ House the noble Lord managed to miss taking part in—that the very same police authorities should not be responsible for the delivery of policing or oversight of policing in the future. It is exactly the same people who are now in charge of creating this company.

I do not know anything about the psychology of those who will be elected as police and crime commissioners in November. I suspect that many of them, particularly the Labour ones, will be extremely independent-minded and extremely trenchant in how they pursue their duties. However, it is difficult to see how these incoming, newly elected police and crime commissioners can say, “This strange technology body, set up by a bunch of people from the police authorities that we are supposed to be replacing and better than, is somehow going to deliver a better service than we can negotiate ourselves”. I want to understand the thinking about timing. Why rush ahead and create the new technology body before the police and crime commissioners—who are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries in terms of the revenue savings it will allegedly, magically produce; and without it mandating, being able to negotiate or having any expertise—are elected?

As this is obviously one of those areas of government policy that a great deal of effort and thought has gone into, I am sure that the Minister will be able to satisfy us. I look forward to his explanation of why this is palpably a better system and how it will work smoothly.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: My Lords, I want to speak about a particular aspect of the work of the National Policing Improvement Agency: training. I confess that I also speak from a very specific point of view as Harperley Hall—the NPIA’s newest building, as well as most recently refurbished building, for training—is within two miles of my home. I was the constituency Member of Parliament for much of

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Harperley’s existence and my father was the MP before that when Harperley Hall served Durham constabulary. I therefore know Harperley very well.

I would not expect the Government to maintain a facility simply because it is in the north-east, where we have real challenges in terms of employment, particularly of highly skilled workers. Harperley is an absolutely beautiful place in the most beautiful place in the country—the foothills of Weardale, although I know that that, too, is irrelevant to today’s debate. However, it is attractive to those who go there because it provides a chance to concentrate on the training and the tasks in hand.

Harperley Hall now concentrates on forensic training, and I am sure that the Government will want to ensure that every force in the country has nothing but the highest quality forensic training. How will the Government ensure that in the new structure? Forensic training constantly moves forward and improves, and while I am not going to attack what happened to the Forensic Science Service, because my own party set that in train while in government, it is true that at the moment there is some anxiety, at least about the performance of some of the players. What lessons have the Government learnt from the changes made to the provision of forensic science services? How many cases over the past couple of years have struggled in the courts because of mistakes? We all know about the problems around the tragic death of the MI5 officer when people thought they had DNA evidence, but in fact it had been contaminated. Is that the only case or are there others? Have the Government learnt from that and will they seek better assurances on quality control for forensic training?

I have had the privilege of attending several awards ceremonies for different forces throughout the country. I recall going to one held at Durham University for Harperley Hall a year after the 7/7 bombings. The knowledge and understanding of forensics was absolutely critical to that investigation, and people who had graduated from Harperley Hall had been very much part of it. I am convinced that the Government think that this is important, so how are they going to maintain the quality in forensics training that they currently enjoy if places such as Harperley Hall are not going to continue? How will the Government ensure that what Harperley Hall does so well is maintained? At the moment, it trains people from virtually all the forces in the country, as well as taking on important work internationally by training other forces. That establishes good contacts between police forensic experts in this country and others around the world. Those contacts, let alone the knowledge that is shared, become critical in monitoring, examining and controlling terrorist activities. It is important to keep those contacts going, and I think that a national service helps towards that.

Who will undertake the research and development that drives improvements and developments in forensic science and thus in forensic training? That is a very important point. We have seen forensics change incredibly in my lifetime, certainly in the past 20 years, and training, of course, has to keep up with that. I have had the privilege of seeing some of this at Harperley

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and it is always great fun for folk such as me, who are real amateurs, to see what magic the forensic people are delivering, but I always know, even when I am enjoying it, that it is much more serious than that, because it is a critical weapon in tracking down offenders of all natures. We must not lose that facility.

3.45 pm

I know that forces are now collaborating on shared forensic services. Are the Government confident that there is an overarching strategic approach to that, so that it is not simply a cost-cutting exercise, but an exercise that will add value and deal with the more strategic issues that I know the Minister knows are part of the development of forensics?

I echo my noble friend Lady Smith in needing to be reassured about the governance of new bodies. I think governance is very important for reassuring the public that we are really interested in policing for them and with them. The development of forensics sometimes takes place outside that and we have to make sure that governance connects the public to what is going on in forensics and forensics training, but it is also very important that the NPIA workforce have an idea of what is going to happen; whether they are still going to be there and whether the work that they have built up is still going to be valued in the new structures. It is not just governance that is really important; it is what the new structures are going to be. I hope that the Government can share with us their views on what the new structures governing forensics training will be.

As people have said, the NPIA is due to end at the end of this year. I am not sure that the Bill will have Royal Assent by then—maybe it will, maybe it will not. Are the Government bringing in transitional arrangements, so that people can be reassured, both the public and those people responsible for the work? If you lose morale, people do not perform as well and that could be very dangerous for us, particularly with what is coming up in the next few weeks. It is important, as my noble friend said, that we get reassurance that the Government have an estates strategy, or at least have a timetable for knowing what its estates strategy will be.

I cannot emphasise too strongly the confidence I have in the people who work at Harperley. They are a tremendous bunch of people and they have done terrific work there. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me—and through me, them—that there is a future for Harperley and a future for forensics training in this country, and that they will continue to be able to do what they do for this country in working with forces overseas. I am sure that the Minister has not been there: it is not too far for him to go from home. I hope that he will find time over the summer to visit Harperley.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): I assure the noble Baroness that I visit Durham with great regularity; it is not far from home and I am always delighted to visit any police force anywhere in the country, but even keener to visit police forces in the north of England. I will make a point, sometime over the summer, if I can arrange it, to do just that.

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Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I thank the Minister for that. It is of course not a police force establishment these days but an NPIA establishment. I just hope that it will find a future within the new structure. I sincerely plead for Harperley Hall not simply because it is in the north-east but because it does excellent work on behalf of this country which has saved lives and improved the quality of forensics work both here and across the world. I do not believe that as a country we can afford to lose that. I hope that the Government have some warm words for us this afternoon.

Lord Blair of Boughton: I agree with the conclusions of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the abolition of the NPIA is hasty, ill thought out and potentially extremely damaging. I want to build on a question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about training. What is the future plan for Bramshill House? There it sits, a grade 1 listed building, a place at which I was present when one of the Minister’s friends, Kenneth Clarke, was Home Secretary. He arrived late for a meeting, having just been appointed, to say that he was sorry he was late but he had stopped in the driveway to ring the Prime Minister to tell him that he had found a very suitable residence for the Home Secretary.

Bramshill provides two things of vital importance. First, it provides the strategic training for the most senior officers of the police service. Secondly, it is a centre of excellence for international and European police training. Are there plans for what will happen to Bramshill when the NPIA is abolished?

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, just said. I had the great privilege of being invited to Bramshill on several occasions to speak to different groups of police about family issues. The time I particularly remember was being left with the most senior group being trained, who I understood were destined for high office. I was introduced in two sentences and the door was shut, and I was facing about 50 men—as it happened the group was made up entirely of men—many of whom were not from United Kingdom police forces. Having somehow or other got my way through that, I learnt, when going to lunch, how enormously valuable it is for the police forces round the world to have the opportunity to go to Bramshill. It is a wonderful institution and I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair said, that it will be given the greatest possible respect and encouragement to remain doing what it does so well at the moment.

Lord Henley: I will start at the end of the debate and deal with questions relating to both Bramshill and Harperley Hall. I ought to declare an interest in relation to Bramshill House. A branch of the Henley family lived there many years ago. That was not my own branch but a branch to which I am connected. It might be that they built it and lived there for a couple of hundred years. Later on it became a police college. I must declare that interest. As the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, knows, I also have—as she does—a hereditary interest in Durham. My family

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comes from there. As I said, if possible I will visit Harperley Hall and see what it does. I agree with her that its work is very important.

I want to get over the message that no decision has been made on either of these sites, particularly on Bramshill, but that we will be making a decision fairly soon. I should stress—all noble Lords should be aware—that Bramshill is a very expensive property. It costs something of the order of £5 million a year merely to maintain it. That is before one has thought about its actual function as a police training college. I also understand how important it is to the entire police service. I was a Minister many years ago in the MoD at about the time that we were thinking of disposing of Greenwich. I understood the importance of that to the Navy. I understand that Bramshill plays a similar role for the police service so any decisions on that will obviously be difficult to make. I hope that all noble Lords will accept that they will have to be made in due course. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will update both Houses in due course with her thoughts on these matters.

I want to try to answer the various questions on the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency that were put by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and echoed by other noble Lords. She wanted to know about our rationale. She wanted an estimate of the savings and to know where the functions are going, whether the abolition will increase the funding burden on other police forces, whether it would lead to a loss of expertise, what the police professional body is going to do, what is its likely shape and what is the timing.

The most important thing is to get over the rationale behind the changes. I hope that in doing so I will answer some of the questions that have been put by other noble Lords. I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, in posing his group of questions on this, which were slightly different from those of the noble Baroness, although they come to the same point, accepted that the agency is not working as well as it might—I think those were his words—so this is not a decision that we want to get wrong.

All our reforms of the policing landscape must be underpinned by clarity of responsibility and appropriate governance arrangements to support an effective and efficient law enforcement response. We accept that the National Policing Improvement Agency has done much to bring about welcome changes to policing but now, in the context of these reforms, is the time to review its role and contribution. The closure of NPIA is a crucial element in a wider programme of reform that is reshaping the way that our policing is delivered and supported to provide a service better equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Since the agency was established in 2007, its mission has grown considerably. It has operated and managed the development of the police service’s most critical national services, provided specialist operational services to police forces, helped to improve policing practice and developed national learning, leadership and people strategy products. We believe that that is a broad agenda for one agency to deliver and that the agency has collected too diverse a range of functions and responsibilities to retain strategic coherence. Put

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very simply, we think it has grown like Topsy. Despite some achievements, the agency’s mission is now too unfocused to deliver efficiently and effectively the level of professionalism that we need to see in policing. In these challenging times, we cannot afford to support organisations that are unfocused or unclear about their priorities and accountabilities. To support our wider policing reforms, we need focus and attention at the national level in priority areas. Closure of the agency provides a timely opportunity to ensure that key functions are given greater priority in successor bodies.

If I wanted, I could go through the areas where all the different bits are going and say which bits are going to the National Crime Agency, which are going to the Home Office and which will go to the new professional policing body. I do not know whether it would assist the Committee if I went through all those in detail or whether it would be easier to write a letter in due course and put a copy in the Library.

4 pm

I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has previously expressed concerns regarding the reallocation of NPIA functions. I want to reassure the House that we have not rushed into the closure of the NPIA or the reallocation of its functions. There has been considerable thought and careful and detailed discussions with both the police service and other key stakeholders which have taken place to ensure that these critical decisions are made appropriately. We are working with the police service, with the NPIA and other policing and criminal justice partners to ensure that public safety is maintained.

My right honourable friend has already set out plans to transfer many of the agency’s functions. The noble Baroness suggested that both Houses had not been told much about it and I repeat an assurance that we put out two Written Ministerial Statements—one at the end of last year and one in March this year, I forget which—setting out what we would be doing. We will continue to work with all those bodies to make sure that everyone, including both Houses, knows what is going on.

A number of those functions has already been moved into SOCA—the Serious Organised Crime Agency—in anticipation of it forming part of the National Crime Agency once it is established. Some functions will transfer to the Home Office and the majority of the agency’s functions will transfer to either a new police protection body or a new police information communications technology company.

Technology and information are two of the most important weapons used by the police in their fight against crime. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, had to say about these matters but currently there is a failure to fully exploit the full potential of economies of scale that could come when the 43 forces are spending £1.2 billion, which is the figure for 2010, on information communications technology. Poor deals, often with the same suppliers, are signed by different forces and changing this way of business could bring tangible benefits to forces and reduce the cost to taxpayers.

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I rather regret the tone of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about some of these matters. He was very careful in his use of words but seemed to imply that Home Office civil servants were not capable of delivering in this area. I think that tone is regrettable but we are still looking at the long-term options for some of the technology and other matters in terms of that transfer in this area. I shall give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I am sorry at the reluctance that comes into the noble Lord’s voice every time I stand up. I am grateful to him for the courtesy with which he gives way on every occasion. If it was the view of Government that for the new IT company to function effectively it had to have in its leadership a chief executive who was paid at a commercial rate to attract the degree of expertise necessary, which might be of the order of £500,000 a year, to negotiate those contracts better than existing police services do and presumably better than the NPIA is thought to do at the moment, how will that not be the same argument that applies for these infrastructure contracts which will go to the Home Office? I am assuming that the Home Office will not be able to pay those sorts of sums to attract the technical expertise which is thought necessary for the other contracts.

Lord Henley: The two matters are not related; the Home Office has the appropriate expertise to deal with these matters. I was regretting the tone of voice that the noble Lord carefully used to make it clear that he did not think that there was the appropriate expertise in the Home Office to deal with these matters. We believe that that expertise does exist.

I was about to deal with the issue of the new information communications technology company which will be owned and controlled by police and crime commissioners. It will be led and funded by its customers, who will determine the services it provides. It will be responsive to local operational needs, offering forces a route to better value for money and innovation in the delivery of police information technology services. The company will ensure a more efficient approach to police information and communications technology provision and aggregate demand to exploit the purchasing power of the police service to get a good deal for the taxpayer.

The police professional body will directly support police officers at all ranks and police staff to equip the service with the skills it needs to deliver effective crime-fighting in a challenging and what must be a leaner and more accountable environment. The body will ultimately be independent of the Home Office. It will have a powerful mandate to enable the service to implement the standards that it sets for training, development, skills and qualifications. Its core mission will be to support the fight against crime and safeguard the public by ensuring professionalism in policing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was also keen to discuss timing and allegations that we had not met our targets. I appreciate that this frequently happens and that there can be slippage. I have known this throughout my career. There have been a number of times when

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one has announced that something will come out later in the spring and “later in the spring” has turned out to be July. However, we are on track to transfer the functions of the NPIA by the end of 2012. We began a phased transition of functions last year, with the non-ICT procurement moving to the Home Office. In April 2012, the following functions moved to SOCA: the Central Witness Bureau, the National Missing Persons Bureau, serious crime analysis, the Specialist Operations Centre and crime operational support. Obviously, more needs to be done and there are challenges, but I am more than happy that we will reach the target and do that by the end of the year. If we have any further problems, no doubt we will be the first to let the House know.

The noble Baroness was worried that the transition from the NPIA risked a loss of expertise. Giving staff certainty about their future is key to retaining their expertise, of which we are very proud. That is why we have been making announcements about this for some time and will continue to do so. Again, we are on track to complete those functions by the end of 2012. As a result, the majority of the NPIA’s staff will transfer to its various successor bodies by December 2012. Any reduction in staffing levels will arise from the already agreed budget reductions, which were part of the 2010 spending review.

Having looked at timing, rationale and other matters, I hope I have answered most of the questions that the noble Baroness and others asked. Obviously, we will have to say more later, particularly about the future of Bramshill and Harperley and the police professional body. Announcements will be made at the appropriate time. I hope that the noble Baroness will now accept that the abolition of the NPIA is a necessary part of the changes that we are making and of the Bill. Now is not necessarily the time to revisit what has, in effect, been a long-standing commitment, ever since the first announcement by my right honourable friend. Given the advanced state of wind-down of the agency and the transfer of its functions, now is the time to press on with our reforms, instead of looking back. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to go through many of the points and concerns I raised. Despite his efforts, he has not alleviated all those concerns. He called the closure of the NPIA a timely opportunity. It is an opportunity the Government created because they wanted to close the NPIA. I can certainly take on board some of his points. I can understand wanting to streamline the agency and the functions that he thought were better placed with other organisations. My amendments never suggested that there should be no change, but given the change that the NPIA itself had made, full abolition seems unnecessary. I am still not satisfied that the way in which it has been undertaken has not been piecemeal, as and when the Government think a part of it can be moved somewhere else. The Minister will have understood the concerns from around the House on this, not just on these Benches. I wonder whether he has read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland? It may have been some time ago, but I will refresh his

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memory. There is a trial scene and the comment is made: “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”. That is what has happened with the NPIA. The Government decided that the NPIA was to go and then had to work out where all the functions went. They are still doing this. Yes, it was big for one agency; it grew like Topsy, because new functions came along that were best undertaken there; there was room for improvement and change; but the baby has gone with the bathwater.

On timing, the noble Lord says that all these arrangements will be in place, I note originally, by spring 2012. He may have been relying on typical British weather, but it still does not feel like spring 2012 even now. They are now expected at the end of the year. I expect we may see a further spring—perhaps snow again—before these bodies are in place. The police professional body has no chief executive, no chairman and no board. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey, the new IT company does not have all the processes or financial arrangements in place to enable a smooth transfer. This is an issue that we will have to return to, in order to fully understand and be assured that all the “t”s have been crossed and the “i”s have been dotted. When I looked at the new landscape of policing and what the Government said back in 2010 and 2011, it seems that the goalposts have moved. All we had then was a broad outline. Now we have some detail, but the flesh is not on the bones. I would understand if the Minister said the timescale cannot be met and we are re-examining it. He has not said that, so we will return to it on Report and look at some of the functions and how they will be carried out. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 64 withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed.

House resumed.

G20 Summit


4.13 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it may now be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement that has just been made by the Prime Minister in another place on the G20 conference that took place last week. The Statement is as follows:

“The G20 needed to address the five big threats to the global economy. First, the problems in the eurozone; secondly, the mountain of debt and persistence of imbalances in the world economy; thirdly, the lack of growth; fourthly, the rise of protectionism; and, fifthly, the failure to regulate our banks properly. Let me take each in turn. First, the eurozone. Britain is not in the eurozone and we are not going to join, but when 40% of our trade is with the eurozone, its future affects our future. It is in our national interest for the eurozone to resolve its difficulties. As a full member of the European Union and a significant net contributor to its budget, it is not only vital, but also quite right that we speak plainly about what needs to happen.

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In the short term, we need rapid action by the core of the eurozone, including the European Central Bank, to restore financial stability and confidence to the countries on the periphery of the eurozone as they undergo their vital structural reforms. This needs to be reinforced in the medium term by improvements to the governance of the eurozone that recognise the remorseless logic of being in a currency union.

This clearly was not a eurozone summit: it was a G20 summit. None the less, at this summit, the eurozone countries made some steps towards both. First, they agreed to take all necessary policy measures to safeguard the integrity and stability of the eurozone, including breaking the link between sovereign debt problems and bank instability.

Secondly, they committed to take further steps towards fiscal and economic integration, including through a banking union. Britain does not want to stand in the way of these measures towards closer integration of the eurozone but we will not be part of them. We did not join the eurozone precisely because we did not want to give up the kind of sovereignty over our national economy that is essential to making a currency union work. We have been clear that whatever long-term decisions are made about the governance of the eurozone, the rules that govern the single market must always protect the interests of all its 27 members. This is a red line for Britain: it is vital to our national interests. The eurozone now needs to get on with implementing the agreements reached at the G20. I will be working at the European Council this week to make sure that the eurozone takes these steps in a way which protects the UK’s interests.

To deal with the wider risks of contagion to the global economy, the G20 also welcomed the commitments to increase the resources available to the IMF by more than $450 billion. It is a basic principle of the IMF that the help it offers is for countries not for currencies. Indeed, almost all the IMF’s 50 programmes are for countries outside the eurozone. No country has ever lost money lending to the IMF. Britain’s contribution is a loan on which interest is payable and it will be used only if troubled economies meet strict conditions to get their economies back on track.

Thirdly, on debt and imbalances, as at the G8, there was absolute agreement that deficit reduction and growth are not alternatives. You need the first in order to get the second. The G20 also reaffirmed its commitment to reduce global imbalances with deficit countries strengthening their public finances and surplus countries taking further actions to increase demand and move towards greater exchange rate flexibility.

We welcomed in particular China’s commitment to allow market forces to play a larger role in determining movements in its exchange rate, and to continue reform and increase transparency in its exchange rate policy. This is an important advance for the G20 in dealing with global imbalances—one of the underlying causes of the crisis in 2008.

In a debt-driven crisis where many countries lack the fiscal space to stimulate their economies, the most powerful tools for growth that we have are monetary activism and structural reform. The G20 agreed that monetary policy should continue to support the economic

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recovery and every G20 country has put on the table specific structural reform commitments to strengthen global demand, foster job creation and increase growth potential.

The Los Cabos growth and jobs action plan includes mechanisms to hold G20 members accountable for delivering on the reform commitments made. Vitally for Britain, this includes completing the European single market. The G20 did not just focus on growth in the largest economies; it also reaffirmed its vital commitment to supporting private-sector-led growth in the poorest countries as the best way of helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. Britain led a significant breakthrough on two of the biggest barriers to a successful private sector in developing countries.

We drove forwards the G20’s anti-corruption plan, including securing agreement on important new principles which will deny entry to all G20 countries by corrupt officials or those who corrupt them. On the inability of farmers to access the technology that makes their farming viable, Britain made a substantial contribution to the Ag Results initiative which will harness the creativity of the private sector to help put new technology in the hands of the world’s poorest farmers. We will be building on this further at our special event on hunger at the Olympics in London in August.

Fourthly, on trade, we expressed our deep concern about rising instances of protectionism around the world. The President of Argentina had a number of arguments during this summit—not just with me—and it was made very clear to her that recent behaviour by Argentina on both investment and trade protectionism was not acceptable. At this G20, free trade again won the day. We extended our commitment to avoid any new protectionist measures until the end of 2014 and agreed to roll back new protectionist measures that have arisen, including new export restrictions. Most significant of all, the US and the EU reached a ground-breaking political agreement to move forward with a deep but credible trade agreement with a clear and agreed timetable. The EU-US High Level Working Group will now produce recommendations for taking this forward by the end of this year. The EU and the US make up half of the world’s GDP, so completing a deal here could provide an enormous boost to growth across the world—meaning jobs and growth for Britain.

Fifthly, on financial regulation, this G20 maintained the political impetus behind the reform of regulation across the global economy. We endorsed the strengthening of the Financial Stability Board in holding all G20 countries to account for delivering on their commitments: something specifically recommended by the UK report on global governance at the Cannes Summit last year. We also agreed to push forward with completing the implementation of Basel III.

Finally, in the margins of this summit, I had useful discussions on some of our key foreign policy priorities. On Syria, where the regime continues to pound civilian areas with mortars, attack helicopters and snipers, the EU is today, as a result of UK efforts, extending sanctions to ban any EU companies from insuring ships taking arms to Syria. We will continue work with our international partners, including through the United

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Nations, to stop the appalling slaughter and to help forge a political transition to a democratic future, which protects the rights of all its communities.

On the Falkland Islands, I took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of the planned referendum to President Kirchner. The islanders have to put up with endless attempts at endless summits to put a question mark over their future. They want to determine that future themselves. No one should be in any doubt that, as far as the British Government are concerned, it is the Falkland Islanders who will determine the sovereignty of the islands and their view will be respected by this House, by this country and by the world”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

4.22 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, for repeating a Statement given in the other place by the Prime Minister on the recent G20 meeting. Unusually, I did not see a copy of the Statement in advance. I am not complaining, but it does make life rather difficult.

I will start with the foreign policy issues. On the Falklands, there is support from this side of the House for the absolute need to protect the principle of self-determination of the islanders. On Syria, there is deep concern on all sides of the House about the continued failure of the Annan plan to deliver a cessation of violence, and there is cross-party consensus on the appalling nature of the Assad regime and the need for the toughest sanctions against Syria. We welcome today’s extension of EU sanctions but given the urgent need for an immediate end to the dreadful and escalating hostilities, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that it is now vital that the wider international community unites around the need for the toughest sanctions against Syria?

The Prime Minister said in his press conference that:

“President Putin has been explicit that he is not locked into Assad remaining in charge in Syria”.

If correct, this clearly represents an important step forward. However, Foreign Minister Lavrov said afterwards in a statement that these comments did not “correspond with reality”. Can the Leader of the House clarify the position?

I now turn to the main business of the summit—the economy. With our country in double-dip recession, with world growth slowing and with the eurozone crisis, if ever there was a time for the international community to come together and act, this was it. All we got from this summit was more of the same: drift and inaction in the face of a global crisis. The Prime Minister claimed afterwards that the summit had made “important progress” on a number of issues,

“on the Eurozone, on the lack of global growth and on the rise of protectionism”.

This sounded familiar. Then we realised why—because the Prime Minister said exactly the same after the last summit, in Cannes last November.

The Prime Minister now says:

“In terms of the slide towards protectionism, I think that has been halted”.

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Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister told us precisely the same thing in November? That summit was a success because action had been taken to,

“stop the slide to protectionism”.

That was a great triumph—the slide that had been stopped last November has been halted again.

On global growth, the Cannes summit communiqué said that,

“should global economic conditions materially worsen”,

countries should,

“agree to take discretionary measures to support domestic demand”.

Well, global conditions have worsened and therefore, being true to that communiqué, this G20 should have been a coming together of world leaders to work for a co-ordinated plan for jobs and growth. And what did we get? The communiqué just repeated the same words:

“Should economic conditions deteriorate significantly further, those countries with sufficient fiscal space stand ready to coordinate and implement discretionary fiscal actions to support domestic demand”.

No change, no action.

On the eurozone, I note that the Statement says:

“As full members of the European Union, and a significant net contributor to its budget it is vital that we speak plainly about what needs to happen”.

I think that our partners would have listened to us more if the Prime Minister had not decided to use the veto that never was in December. Actions for short-term political gain have long-term consequences.

The Prime Minister said that while this was not a European Council meeting, progress was made with,

“significant agreements. Now the eurozone countries need to get on and implement them”.

But is not the reality that there is no agreement on the main issues of substance, such as how to recapitalise Spanish banks; how the European Central Bank can stand behind member countries; how to prevent the escalation of problems in bond markets; or how to boost the size of the firewall fund to make it work? Instead, we had more of the same.

For people here at home, the economic reality is that things are getting worse, not better, and there is nothing in this summit’s conclusions to make any difference to that. And there is a simple reason why there was nothing for Britain at this summit: because we have a Prime Minister, and a Government, who simply argue for more of the same. What a contrast with France, where the president is passionate about growth, understanding that it is a prerequisite for dealing with deficits. Austerity is not working; with Britain in a double-dip recession, one of only two G20 countries in that position, can the Leader of the House tell us whether at the G20 the Government were actually arguing for anything different from what they were arguing for last November? From today’s Statement, it does not look as though they were.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that at the time of the Cannes summit, UK growth for 2012 was forecast to be 1.2% and that now the average of independent forecasts is just 0.3%? On the world economy, what this summit needed was a co-ordinated plan to generate greater growth, but the international community

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is divided between those who want a move towards greater growth and jobs and those whose answer to the failure of the last two years is simply more of the same. I fear that, on this issue, this Government and this Prime Minister are on the wrong side of that argument.

There is one important lesson for the Government from the last week. A global summit in the face of an economic hurricane needs action, not words. The reality is that the Government and the Prime Minister have come back from this summit with nothing for Britain—nothing to cope with double-dip recession, nothing to help Britain’s families and nothing to ensure growth in the world economy. I trust that when the Prime Minister returns from the European summit next week he has growth at the top of his Statement and agenda. Britain deserves more than was achieved at the G20 summit, and we deserve a change of direction; a change of economic strategy; a change that puts action first, not words; and a change that puts jobs and growth first.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition is on good form today. Typically, she sees a socialist president being elected in France, looks over the water and believes that everything over there is going swimmingly. However, she has not read what the good president has said. He said that,

“national debt is the enemy of the left and the enemy of France”.

We agree with that. Mr Hollande would balance France’s budget faster than the coalition plans for the United Kingdom. When asked how he would stimulate growth, the French President said, “The means cannot be extra public spending since we want to rein it in”. We can agree with that; the noble Baroness and her party cannot.

We very much welcome the noble Baroness’s support on the Falklands and Syria. The situation in Syria is immensely dangerous, difficult and complicated. We are still discussing with key partners what more we can do, including in the United Nations, to support the Annan plan. There remain differences over sequencing and the exact shape of how a potential transition can take place but we have put in place a strong EU arms embargo, are closely tracking other shipments to Syria and want to work with countries and companies around the world to stop them. We have had useful conversations with Russia but the key thing is to get together, to work together and to try to implement the Annan plan, if at all possible.

I rather admire the fact that the noble Baroness’s research led her to spot that some of the words in this communiqué were the same as those used at the Cannes summit. She read that as signifying that nothing had changed. However, it may also prove some admirable consistency emanating out of G20 summits in that there are still common problems with which to deal, and they are going to be dealt with.

The noble Baroness took a pot shot at what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did at the EU summit at the end of December, which was not to sign up to the communiqué. As I said at the time, the reason my right honourable friend did not sign that communiqué was because he believed in protecting British interests, which is what he did. The noble

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Baroness and her party would have signed it and, we believe, would have sold vital British interests down the river.

The G20 was a success in the sense that many of these gatherings are a success as an opportunity for the leaders of different countries to discuss some of the key issues facing the world and to try to come to an agreement. There was no shying away from the fact that one of the most difficult issues facing the world at the moment is the problems in the eurozone. We have come up with what we believe to be helpful and constructive words to try to encourage the eurozone to find a solution in preparation for the European Council later this week. However, in the end, the countries in the eurozone have to make those decisions themselves.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I remind the House of the benefit of asking short questions in order that my noble friend the Leader of the House can answer as many questions as possible.

4.32 pm

Lord Kinnock: After £325 billion worth of quantitative easing and consecutive quarters of zero growth, is it not evident that the monetary activism of which the Prime Minister spoke earlier cannot get any traction without substantial fiscal stimulus? Therefore, why do the Government continue to resist the proposition that they should establish a national investment bank that through the use of public funds will attract private investment in order to stimulate growth, employment and development in this undergrowing economy? Secondly, when it is clear, as the Prime Minister said, that deficit reduction is not an alternative to growth but is contingent on growth, why do the Government continue to advocate expansionist growth policies in the eurozone but firmly resist exactly the same approach in the United Kingdom, which sorely needs those policies? Is it not clear that the Government’s maxim of securing growth through austerity is oxymoron economics?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, has said. Neither do I accept his characterisation of what we are doing in the United Kingdom and what we are exhorting our colleagues in the eurozone to do. I take his point about a national investment bank in order to try to encourage growth, but our solution has always been to try to encourage the private sector—and private sector banks—to have the confidence to invest in British business.

The UK economy is recovering from the deepest recession in living memory. It was even deeper than was previously thought: over 7% was wiped off the economy. Inevitably, recovery will be choppy, and by historical standards subdued, because household business and government debt rose unsustainably. Naturally, the eurozone crisis is making the recovery even more difficult.

The main point is that we have managed to maintain the lowest interest rates that this country has seen in modern times; a one percentage point rise in our

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interest rates today would add £10 billion to family mortgage bills alone. You only have to look at the interest rates in Spain, Italy and of course in Greece, to see just how much better off we are today than those nations. Despite having a deficit similar in size to that of Greece, the UK has interest rates at historic lows, similar to those in Germany; France’s interest rates are more than 50% higher, and Italy’s interest rates more than three and a half times higher. We can have a philosophical debate—even an economic debate—as to whether or not austerity and growth go together, but our firm view is that they can.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister accept my thanks for that Statement? I must say that I found it a trifle Panglossian, but I do not wish to take issue with what was in it.

Are the Government not concerned that these G20 meetings are becoming of rather waning relevance, and that as each meeting succeeds each other the hopes that the world placed in the G20 when it was set up at the height of the crisis are not really being realised? Are they not, increasingly, simply photo opportunities and things of threads and patches that make no overall effort to get to terms with the challenges that confront us? If the Government are concerned about that, do they have any thoughts about how the G20 machinery could be made to work a little bit better?

Perhaps as an illustration of that, the distinctly disappointing outcome of the Rio meeting on the environment, which was held only shortly after the G20 meeting, was perhaps highlighted by the fact that the G20—the economies that are responsible for between 80% and 90% of the world’s emissions, because they are responsible for 80% or 90% of the world’s economic activity—did not even find time to talk about this subject. No effort was made to prepare a position that might have provided the 193 countries that went to Rio—which could not possibly have produced, in one or two weeks, a very meaningful outcome—with some guidance and momentum. That, too, seems to be lacking from the G20’s present agenda.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point, particularly with his background and experience, on the role of the G20 and, indeed, of the G8. The role of these organisations has changed, particularly over the course of the last five or six years, given the economic situation. However, there is a very important role in their meeting—both G8 and G20—to work through an agenda and come forward with conclusions. The important thing in those conclusions is that they make sure that there is a vibrant system that can check back to see who committed to doing what and to make them accountable. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has views on how to streamline the secretariat, or indeed to make it more strategic, and I would encourage him to put those down on paper.

Do we believe that the G20 has made no difference at all on climate change? No; all G20 countries were committed to implementing the outcomes of the COP 17 in Durban, and we made it clear that we wanted a

25 Jun 2012 : Column 33

successful outcome to the COP 18 in Qatar later on this year. As far as Rio is concerned, the deal delivers much of what the UK wanted and worked hard to achieve, and it puts the sustainable development agenda very firmly back on the map.

Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I declare an interest as a member of the La Pietra Coalition, which is a group of international NGOs and global corporations that came together three years ago to try to influence the G20. Among the items on which we have been trying to influence the G20 is access to finance for women and youth around the world. I am very grateful to officials in Treasury and DfID who have worked very closely with us over the past three years, and I am pleased that at long last there is the following phrase in the communiqué:

“We recognise the need for women and youth to gain access to financial services and financial education”.

It is stated that the OECD and one or two other international organisations will be responsible for this. Given that this Government have played such a part in this matter over the past three years, we should officially take this policy on board, keep an eye on it, and ensure that that access to financial services and financial education does happen, because we know that the GDPs of countries change enormously when women have access to finance and can educate their children.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right and I very much welcome her welcome for the initiative. The Government are very pleased to receive these independent reports from NGOs, particularly regarding the extremely important areas of access for women and financial education. We certainly should keep an eye on it and I shall make sure that officials in the departments are aware of what the noble Baroness said.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords—

Earl Attlee: My Lords, can we hear first from the right reverend Prelate?

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful for the particular stress that the Leader of the House put on support for the poorest countries of the world. As I understand it, there were three strands to that support and to the UK’s part in creating it. The first was an anti-corruption plan. Can he be more specific on how corruption can be tackled within the poorest countries of the world and how the UK can contribute to that? The second strand relates to the inability of the poorest countries to access modern technology. What sort of help can be provided by the UK and does that have implications for our aid budget and aid policy? Thirdly, welcome though the hunger event at the Olympics, to which reference was made, would be, how is that intended to support the poorest countries of the world?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his general welcome. I cannot add anything more on the anti-corruption plan because G20 officials

25 Jun 2012 : Column 34

have been asked to come forward with details over the next few months. We will have to wait and see what will happen on that. As to food security and technology, the UK met its L’Aquila financial commitments in full and will continue to provide broadly equivalent resources to help food security. We made welcome progress at the G20 on implementation of commitments made last year at Cannes, including rolling out the Agricultural Market Information System to improve transparency, endorsing the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, and pledging to continue our work in other areas, such as the platform for agricultural risk management. This is an area to which a substantial amount of importance is given, as is the hunger event at the Olympics in London during August. I think that the idea is to hold a conference to concentrate people’s minds on the issue of hunger around the world, but if I can add more I shall let the right reverend Prelate know.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that when a great democratic socialist—namely, Roy Jenkins—served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was of the view, and remained of the view when he became Home Secretary in the second Wilson Government, that the national debt should not occupy more than about 40% of GDP? That view was expressed by Mr David Laws in an interesting article in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend. Is my noble friend aware that it is possible to have that view and yet be a democratic socialist?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think my noble friend is trying to be helpful. Indeed, he is being very helpful. Our net debt to GDP is considerably higher than 40%. My noble friend is right: as President Hollande has shown, the answer does not lie in increasing debt.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I am delighted that the Prime Minister was able to make it quite clear to the President of Argentina that the British people and the British Government stand beside, and behind, the people of the Falkland Islands in deciding their own future.

Can my noble friend the Leader of the House let us know whether, in the margins of the G20 meetings, the Prime Minister was able to talk with political leaders in Mexico, given the importance and vitality of the Mexican economy, and in view of the forthcoming elections there?

Lord Strathclyde: Yes, my Lords. Certainly, on the first question, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a point on the future of the Falklands which he has made continually, which I know the whole House will agree with. We do not see that this question should be put into any doubt whatever. We have made the proposal that there should be a referendum. We believe wholeheartedly in self-determination. That is the right way forward and we encourage the people of Argentina and its Government to agree with us on this vital matter.

I can also confirm that my right honourable friend had a further meeting with Mexico, and an inward

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investment meeting of British businesspeople in Mexico. It was extremely successful and useful, and showed again this Government’s firm desire to demonstrate our need to grow our economy through exports.

Lord Hollick: The Leader of the House will recall that the verdict of the Office of Budget Responsibility on all of the growth measures announced by the Government is that they will have no impact. Now that the Prime Minister has signed up to the growth plan for the G20, when will the Government bring forward measures to give that some substance?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Government are continually bringing forward all sorts of plans and prospects—not least the speech my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made at the Bank of England only 10 days ago, where he made a specific commitment to try to improve liquidity of the banks, so as to increase lending, which will also lead to growth.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, in the Statement, there was a repetition of the conviction that only the Annan plan will lead to peace in Syria. Is the Leader of the House aware that since it was first announced, the situation has not got better? It has got worse and worse. There is a dreadful parallel here with what happened in Libya. Will he assure us that we are not interested primarily in regime change, and that there have to be intense discussions at a very high level to bring this slaughter to an end?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy for what the noble Lord said about Syria. I said earlier that the situation was extremely difficult and complicated, and continues to be appalling. Syria is descending rapidly into a bloody and tragic civil war, with potentially irreparable consequences for its people and for the future.

We are continuing to discuss with key partners, including in the UN, exactly what the best way forward will be. We still believe that the essential framework of the Annan plan is the best way forward, and that is what we will continue to discuss. We have put forward a strong EU arms embargo, which we are currently tracking, and we will maintain that. The EU has announced further sanctions against the Syrian regime today. The UK is at the forefront of imposing the 16 rounds of EU sanctions against 129 individuals and 49 entities.

I cannot be sure that those things in themselves will work. As the noble Lord said, the international community at the highest level is aware of what is going on. There is a lot of activity and pressure is being applied to the Syrian regime. We have to hope and believe that in due course we will reach the end of this appalling conflict.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I believe that the Statement is rather bland. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the influence of the G20 appears to be declining. My only question concerns the speech that Mr Barroso

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made to the G20 in which he blamed the United States for the economic and financial problems that we have today. Was he speaking for all the nation states of the European Union, including our own? Such a statement is hardly likely to improve relations between the United States and the EU.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I speak on areas for which I am responsible and Mr Barroso speaks on areas for which he is responsible within the European Union. I do wonder whether what he said will influence relations not just with the United States but with the UK, and whether there is enough of a fundamental understanding of the problems that have occurred over the past five years, and therefore of the solutions that will need to be taken into account.

Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

4.51 pm

Schedule 8 : Abolition of SOCA and NPIA

Amendments 65 and 66 not moved.

Schedule 8 agreed.

Clause 16 : Interpretation of Part 1

Amendment 67

Moved by Lord Rosser

67: Clause 16, page 14, line 23, leave out “local policing bodies” and insert “Police and Crime Commissioners”

Lord Rosser: My Lords, the amendment would ensure that persons representing the views of police and crime commissioners are included in the definition of “strategic partners” set out in Part 1. The definition refers to,

“such persons as appear to the Secretary of State to represent the views of local policing bodies”.

Earlier in Part 1, a “policing body” is defined as including within its scope a police and crime commissioner. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the reference to “local policing bodies” in the definition of “strategic partners” also means local police and crime commissioners, or whether it means something different from the earlier definition of “policing body”—and if so, why.

It is important that police and crime commissioners are included as strategic partners. Under Clause 3, the Secretary of State is required in determining strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency to consult strategic partners. Bearing in mind that a police and crime commissioner will be responsible for issuing a police and crime plan and in so doing will have to have regard to the strategic policing requirement issued by the Secretary of State, it would seem odd if the Secretary of State were not required when determining his or her strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency to consult with persons representing the views of police and crime commissioners. Likewise, in preparing his or her annual plan, the director-general of the National Crime Agency must, under Clause 4 in Part 1, consult with the strategic partners. It would seem

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inappropriate if these partners did not include police and crime commissioners, bearing in mind that the annual plan sets out how the director-general intends that the National Crime Agency functions should be exercised. This could well have an impact on the functioning of local police forces, including whether that force is efficient and effective, which it is a statutory responsibility of a police and crime commissioner to secure.

We also learnt from the Minister last week in Committee that the unelected director-general of the National Crime Agency could direct a chief officer of an England and Wales police force to perform a task of unlimited magnitude, impact and scope specified in such a direction without having to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State or even having to consult the elected police and crime commissioner responsible for the force whose chief officer the director-general is ordering to take that particular course of action. That might be, for example, as the Minister told us,

“to take the lead to disrupt a human-trafficking gang that is predominantly based in that force area”.—[

Official Report

, 20/6/12; col. 1800.]

Potentially, that is hardly a minor task in terms of either time or resources.

On top of that, we were also told by the Minister that the unelected director-general of the National Crime Agency could direct a chief officer of an England and Wales police force to provide unlimited specified assistance to the National Crime Agency, also without having even to consult the elected police and crime commissioner responsible for that force—even though, as the Minister said, providing assistance involved transferring resources from the command of one force to another force or organisation.

To many people, that will seem an odd state of affairs, designed to marginalise the elected police and crime commissioner. If elected police and crime commissioners, now that we are going to have them, are not even one of the strategic partners to be consulted by the Secretary of State when determining strategic priorities for the National Crime Agency, or by the agency’s director-general when preparing the annual plan, then it would be further confirmation that police and crime commissioners are intended, in many ways, to be little more than figureheads—a situation and role that any self-respecting elected police and crime commissioner will, I am sure, be unwilling to accept. I move this amendment and await the Minister’s response.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have Amendment 68 in this group, and it is another amendment to the definition of “strategic partners”. The relevance of strategic partners is their role as consultees of the Secretary of State when she determines the strategic priorities for the NCA. We are all familiar with the scope and importance of the NCA’s functions. My amendment would add to the list of strategic partners the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. There was a time when a fiction was maintained about the existence or otherwise of at least one of these organisations but I think that we have moved beyond that. It seems to me unthinkable that the Secretary of State, given the subject matter of consultation on strategic priorities, would not consult those agencies.

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Last week, on Second Reading of the Justice and Security Bill, I commented on how the priorities and concerns of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, which is embedded in the Home Office, seem to have affected—I am not making a judgment on this—all the Home Office’s thinking. As I say, I simply cannot believe that these services and agencies would be omitted in such a consultation. If it is not the case, then why not say so? If it is, then why is it?

5 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, I hope that I can deal with both amendments relatively briefly. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the list of the NCA’s strategic partners currently includes, as he said,

“such persons as appear to the Secretary of State to represent the views of local policing bodies”.

We have used those terms because local policing bodies include not only the PCCs but two others—the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the Common Council of the City of London, which acts as the police authority for the City of London police area. For that reason, the noble Lord’s amendment is completely unnecessary in that the provision achieves everything he seeks. Having said that, I accept what he says about the necessity of discussing all these matters with the people he was concerned about. Just to put him at ease, the term “local policing bodies” covers them all.

I turn now to my noble friend’s amendment, Amendment 68. I think she said that there was a time when a fiction was maintained that the intelligence and security agencies did not exist. We now acknowledge that they do exist and we accept that the functions and responsibilities of these agencies go much wider than purely crime reduction and criminal intelligence. They have a limited statutory function in relation to serious crime because that is not their primary focus and they are therefore not included in the list of partners that the Home Secretary or the director-general must consult—it is the word “must” that I stress to my noble friend on this occasion—when setting strategic priorities in drawing up annual plans. However, I can give her an assurance that the security and intelligence agencies will have an important relationship with the NCA. Provisions in the Bill allow the Home Secretary and the director-general to consult them when it is appropriate to do so. What we think is not appropriate is the use of the word “must” here, and that is why we have not included the agencies in the list set out in the interpretation clause, Clause 16.

I hope that that explanation is sufficient for my noble friend, and that the explanation I gave with regard to Amendment 67 is sufficient for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Lord Rosser: I thank the Minister for his reply and for confirming that the reference to local policing bodies includes a police and crime commissioner. I think he also said that the provision has been written in this way—namely with a reference to local policing bodies—because, as well as a police and crime commissioner, it also includes the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Common Council of the

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City of London. That rather begs the question of why earlier in the clause, where a “policing body” is also defined, it states that it means a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Common Council of the City of London. When we look down the same page to the “strategic partners”, why does the clause not make it equally clear by simply repeating that they include a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Common Council of the City of London, instead of describing them as “local policing bodies”? Alternatively, if the phrase “local policing body” is satisfactory, why in the reference earlier on the page to “policing body” does it not simply say, instead of setting out the first three categories, “local policing bodies”?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not a parliamentary draftsman—I do not think that I ever will be, and I am simple in terms of my understanding of the law. But even I, and I dare say the noble Lord, can probably grasp this one little point. If he looks up to line 4 on page 14 he will see that the meaning of “policing body” is set out in paragraphs (a) to (c):

“(a) a police and crime commissioner;

“(b) the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime”

“(c) the Common Council of the City of London as police authority for the City of London police area”.

Later the meanings under “strategic partners” are set out, with paragraph (c) stating,

“such persons as appear to the Secretary of State to represent the views of local policing bodies”.

The local policing bodies go back to “policing body” at that point. It does not take much understanding of drafting—I appreciate that I am not a draftsman—to understand that what is included in the first bit, “policing body”, must be included under “strategic partners”.

Lord Rosser: The only comment I would make in response to the noble Lord—like him, I have no great wish to prolong this matter—is that since the first reference is to “policing body” and the second is to “local policing bodies”, one might be entitled to ask, what is the difference between the two? Is there a subtle difference or not? Why is it not simply described again as “policing bodies” when it comes to the definition under “strategic partners”?

Lord Henley: I think that the noble Lord is protesting too much, but I will consult those who advise me on drafting matters and ask them whether they can give me a good explanation. I think that “policing bodies” must include “local policing bodies”, so there is no problem. The noble Lord is looking for conspiracies here, I suspect, but there is no conspiracy—it is straightforward, I can assure him of that. We are including the PCCs and the other two that I mentioned.

Lord Rosser: I assure the noble Lord that I do not think that there is a conspiracy. He has made it clear what the reference to local policing bodies covers and that is now in Hansard for the record. I do not believe in any conspiracy theory. However, I would certainly be interested to know, if he would write to me, why it is

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described as “policing body” in one place, with a definition, while a bit further down—under strategic partners—rather than repeating it as “policing body”, it says “local policing body”. One might wonder, why the difference? The Minister has said that he will look at it and write to me and I am extremely grateful for that. No, I do not believe there is a conspiracy, because the Minister has made it clear that police and crime commissioners are included in the reference to local policing bodies. This amendment sought to ensure that that was the case and in the light of the Minister’s response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 67 withdrawn.

Amendment 68 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 : Civil and family proceedings in England and Wales

Amendment 68A

Moved by Lord Beecham

68A: Clause 17, page 16, line 21, at end insert—

“(7) There shall be no restriction on the number of days that a family magistrate may sit in the family proceedings court.”

Lord Beecham: I shall speak to Amendments 68A, 68B and 68C and, notionally, give an indication on the stand part question on Clause 17.

I begin by repeating a declaration of interest: I am an unpaid consultant in the firm of solicitors of which I was a senior partner. I will be saying something about the Court of Protection, with which the firm and I have had dealings which partly inform some of what I will say this afternoon. In addition, I should perhaps, through an abundance of caution, declare that my daughter sits as a part-time deputy judge; but whereas I have occasionally briefed her when I was at the office, she has not briefed me in connection with today’s proceedings.

I shall go from the very particular to the general in discussing these amendments, and deal first with Amendment 68A, which seeks to remove the limits on the numbers of sittings that magistrates may make when sitting in the family court. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised this matter at Second Reading and I share her opinion that it is undesirable to impose such a limit, given the necessity of building up expertise and providing continuity on the part of that part of the magistracy which deals with these very sensitive family issues. That is not a view universally shared, but it is my view and it will be interesting to hear the Government’s response and their justification, if they see that there is one, for maintaining the limit. I believe that the Norgrove report advocated its abandonment and it has logic on its side.

The remaining substantive matters are Amendments 68B and 68C. I should say immediately that the indication that I would move that Clause 17 not stand part of the Bill was a procedural device to allow a general debate which has been superseded by the amendments that I have now tabled. I will not move that Clause 17 not stand part of the Bill. We accept that it is desirable to

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move to the structure of single courts. The question is how they will be administered and what steps can be taken to ensure that the whole system of justice is adequately reviewed, kept under review and improved from time to time.

Amendment 68B seeks to require a report on the creation of the single court and how it works. As I say, we accept the concept in principle. We would like the Government to undertake a review after a relatively short time to see how it works in practice. There are concerns—some of which I will touch on when I come to the next amendment—around access, the venue and the like, particularly in the civil courts. Also there is a question about how the new family court will work. We are reasonably confident that it will work provided that it is adequately resourced but it would be sensible to review the situation before much time passes.

Having said that, my main concerns are reflected in Amendment 68C, which seeks an annual review by the Lord Chancellor of the workings of the whole Courts and Tribunal Service to take into account the experience that will accumulate over time, particularly the experience of practitioners and parties, but also to reflect other changes which are now in train. The civil justice system is undergoing massive change, not only as a result of the proposals in the Bill but also as a consequence of Lord Justice Jackson’s comprehensive if—as we have debated at some length on a previous Bill—controversial review which paved the way for a radically different approach to the provision of legal aid and advice, and the financing of litigation.

In pages 428-34 of his report, Lord Justice Jackson called for improvements in courts administration in the light of a pervasive feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of many litigants and their advisers, occasioned in part by a high turnover of staff and an excessive time spent on processing documents unlikely to involve judicial input. His report called for the establishment of regional centres which could attract long-term staff. It was felt that if you had a small number of centres instead of having them dispersed across the whole country you would be able to find and retain staff with the necessary expertise. There seems to be some force in that intention. However, Lord Justice Jackson stressed that it would,

“be wrong to compel everyone to issue proceedings at regional centres. Litigants who wish to issue claims in person at their local county court and to pay fees at the counter should be free to do so”.

In the event, the Government, for ever waving the banner of localism—I remind your Lordships that “waving” can be spelt in two different ways—have established a system in which all money claims have to be issued not just in regional centres but exclusively in Salford. Salford not only hosts the BBC and Manchester United, it also—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): Does it?

Lord Beecham: Not Manchester United. I withdraw that disgraceful slur on Salford or Manchester United—whichever way you want to look at it. All right, we have the BBC and the Lowry gallery in Salford and we now have the courts’ business centre there, too. Unfortunately, the establishment of that centre has led

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to a torrent of complaints about delays and loss of documents reported on several occasions; for example, in the

Law Society Gazette

on 12 February, 8 March and 12 May, when the headline was “Civil Court System Faces ‘Meltdown’”. On 24 May—as recently as that—it reported on a work to rule by staff intended to last until 31 July which is,

“evidence of a civil courts service reaching breaking point”.

The same story describes district judges being put up in hotels when on duty in Salford, because that is where they have to go, with a deputy district judge—not my daughter—complaining:

“New cuts are announced daily, and yet HMCTS is now squandering taxpayers’ money on hotels”.

5.15 pm

Nor is this the only part of the system to have suffered major criticism from parties and the legal profession. The Court of Protection and the Office of the Public Guardian have long been the subject of complaints over delays, failure to reply to correspondence and, most importantly, failure to protect the interests of people who, by definition, are incapable of looking after their own affairs. This neglect, incompetence or inefficiency can take two forms: first, the management of the funds in court held on behalf of claimants where the Court of Protection has been roundly attacked for keeping funds in accounts paying all of 0.5% interest and secondly, on the other side of its responsibilities, failing to organise timely and effective visits to patients in order to monitor progress.

Again, staffing levels appear inadequate in terms of both numbers and skills. I had occasion some years ago to write to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer to point out that in a case that I was dealing with in the Court of Protection, it was virtually impossible to secure a reply to correspondence concerning the patient’s affairs, that there was apparently no single individual in charge of any file—it seemed to be passed around the office—and I did not feel that anything like an adequate service was being offered to the deputy, or the receiver, as he was then known. The nomenclature has changed since. The patient was a young man who had suffered very severe brain injuries. There was a substantial amount in court, but there were also very substantial problems. It seemed that staffing was an issue. I have to say that that issue—not just that individual case, of course—did not appear to receive any adequate response in terms of change, and although there have been changes in the system with people moving out from London to Birmingham and Nottingham, the problems still seem fairly substantial.

There has, of course, been a change in the law involving the Court of Protection because now, instead of the enduring power of attorney, we have the lasting power of attorney, a new form of document to facilitate the conduct of the affairs of people incapable of looking after themselves. That has led to a huge increase in the number of documents being filed, but that has not apparently been matched by a sufficient investment in staffing or IT, and there have been recurrent problems in this area. Indeed, the Court of Protection was the subject of a critical “File on 4” programme on BBC Radio 4 in 2010 that highlighted cases, in one of which a patient said that the Court of Protection had cost him £50,000 because of the way it had managed his

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financial affairs. There was a series of other cases and there have been other newspaper reports, including in the house journal of the Conservative Party—the

Daily Mail

—that were very critical of the way that the court has operated. Indeed, last November, Sir Nicholas Wall, who heads the Court of Protection, called for it to be opened up to public scrutiny. It is fair to say that his principal concern was not so much the matters that I have been referring to but the delicate and difficult issues about making judgments on medical aspects and the degree to which these were at one time made in secret—certainly not in the full light of day. So, from a variety of perspectives, there are difficulties with that particular area of the court system.

In addition, the Government are abolishing the Public Guardian Board, which was established to have oversight over the operation of the Mental Capacity Act, and are replacing it with three people. Once again, because we have discussed this in the first part of the Bill in relation to the National Crime Agency, the Government are vesting a dual role in a single pair of hands. The public guardian is also to be the chief executive of the guardianship office. So there is no separation of powers; at the moment there is a Public Guardian Board, which is just about to come to an end, with an independent chairman and independent people serving on it. That will be replaced effectively by two people taking on this combined post of chief executive and public guardian—one will have IT experience and the other experience in the mental health field. That is not a satisfactory arrangement.

In her final report, the outgoing chairman has called on the Government to reform and streamline the lasting power of attorney process, which I have just mentioned, replace a creaking IT structure, as she puts it, develop relationships with stakeholders and appoint a powerful and independent champion for the Mental Capacity Act. I invite the Minister to say, not necessarily tonight because he has not had notice of this question, whether he will respond positively to those suggestions.

In addition to these particular problems, there is a major area of concern over access to justice in two senses. The first might be described as physical access, which for many people means local courts within a convenient distance. Many county and magistrates’ courts have already closed, making it more difficult for parties and witnesses to attend. The Government need to ensure that, while they perfectly properly seek to reduce the cost of the system, they do not deter nor disadvantage those who need access to it. Bear in mind that they have already ignored Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendation about allowing proceedings and money claims to be issued at a local court. The closure of courts makes any kind of access that much more difficult, unless you happen to live close to a building which has been retained.

In that context, it will be important to assess the impact of existing and any planned closures and staff reductions as well as the way in which allocations to local venues—which will happen under the Bill, but cases will be allocated to a local court— actually works. The Minister may have indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that at the moment no

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further closures are in the pipeline but perhaps he could indicate whether that can be reopened in the context of the next review of the national finances, when the Government are apparently looking for a further substantial tranche of savings.

Allied in part to this is the question to which the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, alluded in the Second Reading debate, the question of the lay magistracy. As I said at Second Reading, there are some feelings that there is an inexorable slide towards a paid judiciary in the lower courts and, where this displaces lay magistrates in criminal cases, criminal justice runs a risk of moving from involving trial by one’s peers based in the community to a professional system less rooted in local communities. That is a questionable direction and perhaps the Minister could indicate whether the Government have any plans to continue this trend. The point of my amendment is to ensure that these matters are at least considered from time to time.

Then there is the impact on access to civil justice of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. With some 650,000 people being excluded from legal aid and advice, it will be essential to monitor the impact not only on those who need such advice and the organisations that the Government expect to take the strain, but on the courts and tribunals themselves. There will almost certainly be a substantial increase in the number of litigants in person, with all the difficulties that that can present to a tribunal—whether a court or an administrative tribunal—in managing and helping people through the process when they do not have the benefit of legal advice or assistance.

The Government also rely heavily on mediation and alternative dispute resolution as alternatives to litigation. However, as some of us said in the debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, these are by no means appropriate in all cases. It will be essential to assess their efficacy, which will depend on both the availability of suitably qualified personnel to conduct the processes and at least a rough equilibrium in the capacity, in all senses, of the parties. Again, it will be important to review and report on progress in these matters and how the new system is working, and to make changes if necessary.

The Government have also increased the financial limits in the small claims court and plan further increases in future. This potentially disadvantages claimants, who will be unable to recover their costs even when successful. Again, the impact of this policy, the prime beneficiaries of which will be insurance companies in personal injury cases and the like, will have to be assessed. The Government should commit themselves to a thorough review before any further increase to the small claims court limit is made, for which parliamentary approval should be sought.

Four years ago, in his report Should the Civil Courts be Unified?, Sir Henry Brooke rejected the notion of combining the High Court and county courts, which is not the proposition in the Bill, and did not even appear to call for a single county court, although we do not dissent from that proposition, provided that the mechanics of issue and venue are satisfactory. However, Sir Henry said that,

“we have been sleep-walking into a crisis, so far as civil justice is concerned”.

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This was under the previous Government; it is not a matter that has appeared overnight. He called for,

“a five-year strategy for reviving the civil justice system, to be implemented collaboratively by the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts Service”.

I would add the Tribunals Service to that. Instead, we have a piecemeal approach that, moreover, does not at all ensure that the strategy includes, as Sir Henry recommended,

“adequate financing of the system on a long-term sustainable basis”.

It is for this reason that I move the amendment, which is intended to ensure that the Government keep all these matters under review, together with all those affected by the provisions in the new legislation—within the service, those who use the service and those who practise in the service—from the judiciary to the individual applicant, appellant or litigant. In that way, the Government’s aspirations can be better fulfilled. It is necessary to respond to changing circumstances, to be as economical as possible and, where possible, to reduce costs through better case-management and the like. However, it cannot be taken for granted that simply legislating in this way to create these new structures will achieve that objective. Therefore, the amendment is intended to create a framework within which the whole structure can be kept under comprehensive and regular review. I beg to move.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I am very relieved that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, does not oppose the government proposal for a single family court. I agree to a considerable extent with what he said.

To take Amendment 68A, the single family court will implode the family proceedings court at the magistrates’ level. The family proceedings court already takes a considerable burden of difficult family cases, both care cases and private law cases. The magistrates find that sometimes in the family proceedings court they have to sit for several consecutive days. In private law cases, families at odds with each other find it almost impossible to have their case dealt with to their satisfaction at one hearing. As a former president of the Family Division, my experience was that cases returned with monotonous regularity. I would be astonished if they returned with any less regularity to the magistrates’ court, as they deal with a lot of quite difficult private law cases.

5.30 pm

Bearing in mind that legal aid will be removed from almost all private law disputes, other than domestic violence and one or two small matters, very much longer work will go on in the family proceedings court. As I understand it—certainly in the past and to some extent it may happen now—those who wish to sit in the family proceedings court are expected to carry their full share of the criminal courts, sitting in the criminal part of the magistrates’ court. That means they are not necessarily available to sit on repeat hearings. One of the really important aspects of family proceedings is the continuity of the court. The judges at every level—district, circuit and High Court—try as hard as they can to keep the same judge if possible.

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Under the present system, where magistrates who are particularly good at family work find themselves having to sit in the criminal court, they might not be available for that necessary continuity. I am not suggesting that family proceedings magistrates should sit every day of the year, but in proportion to how they sit in the criminal court and family court, I would like very much greater flexibility. Where appropriate and when experienced, they should be able to spend their time sitting in the family proceedings court. The lack of legal aid will be a significant factor in the magistrates’ family proceedings court, as I expect it will be in the district court.

I also very much support Amendment 68B. It would be very important to have a review of the provisions of the single family court, and I have no doubt that a review of the single county court will also be sensible. I am particularly concerned about the lack of legal aid at the single family court, with the impact on the family court at district, circuit and High Court judge levels. There will not only be problems with access to justice; perhaps more serious is the impact of longer cases. As I said at Second Reading, where litigants in person have lawyers, they can usually get the case tried quite quickly. If they do not have lawyers, it is impossible for a couple to settle their grievances—if they could have settled, they would not have come to court. The judge has great difficulty in getting them to settle and basically has to sit and hear the case. Therefore cases that would settle in half an hour are going to be heard for one or two days and sometimes longer. That is going to create an additional delay at several courts, particularly at the district judges’ court.

It will have an impact in those courts where care cases are heard where, according to Norgrove and supported by the Government, they should begin and finish in six months. It is important that the effect of these various proposals should be reviewed by the Government, particularly on the legal aid aspect, in the next year to 18 months. Thereafter, however, looking at Amendment 68C, I wonder whether an annual basis might not be excessive. It is excessive in the sense that it will cost money and I would prefer to have it less frequently—every two or three years—but it should be in depth and action then taken by the Government of the day to improve what that report has said. I would not think that an annual basis was an entirely sensible proposal, but in principle I support these amendments.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I rise to support this group of amendments. Essentially, they are about monitoring the outcome of what has been the largest overhaul of the courts system for a long time. Many courts have closed and some have opened. Last Thursday, I went to the opening of the new Westminster Magistrates’ Court by the Lord Chancellor. It is a magnificent building and I hope that it will be a centrepiece of London justice for the next 100 years. While this is set for London, over the whole country—including London—there have been many closures of smaller courts, which mean we are moving away from the principle of local justice which is administered locally. The reasons for these sweeping changes should be monitored and that is the main purpose of this group of amendments.

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I will now move to the idea of a single family court with a single point of entry. I understand that this change is generally welcomed by all those involved in the family court system. I will repeat a point that has been made before, that lay magistrates are looking for reassurance that they will continue to play an important part in the family proceedings courts. When I have raised this issue before, that reassurance has always been forthcoming from Ministers. I repeat that request today, although it will be in the details of the proceedings of the courts themselves—which I understand will be a separate Bill at a later stage—where the lay magistrates’ concerns will be most likely to get their reassurance.

Amendment 68A states:

“There shall be no restriction on the number of days that a family magistrate may sit in the family proceedings court”.

That is to meet the recommendation of the Norgrove report, as my noble friend Lord Beecham said. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, the main purpose is to increase flexibility and case continuity for repeat hearings. It is my understanding that it is for the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor to determine both the maximum and minimum amount of sittings by magistrates, and it is not a matter for primary legislation. I would argue that it is important that lay magistrates maintain their activities outside court and are not professionalised through excessive sitting. It is right that the route to appointment as a lay family magistrate is through the adult criminal lay Bench, as it is today. That should continue. I acknowledge that it is a conundrum to meet the needs which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss said, while at the same time maintaining a lay Bench which is genuinely lay.

There is an answer. These matters could be determined locally by bench chairmen and I understand that experienced family magistrates can choose to give up their adult criminal work, with the approval of their bench chairman. There are ways round these problems which can be administered locally. The purpose of this group of amendments is to look at the many changes and be reassured that the Government want to review them, write reports about them and keep an open mind about what they are introducing. I wholly support this aim.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discuss these proposals. I should put on the record that Manchester United is in the borough of Trafford. It is very dangerous for people such as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to wander west of the Pennines with football knowledge: they are just not up to it.

Lord Beecham: The noble Lord will acknowledge, and I am pleased to say, that sometimes it is very dangerous for Manchester United to venture to the north-east.

Lord McNally: I agree. The noble Lord kindly gave me a plank on which to walk to firmer ground. His points about the operations of the Court of Protection are wider than the scope of this Bill and it would be better if I write to him and put a copy in the Library of the House. This has been mainly a debate about the

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fundamental overhaul of the civil and family court system in England and Wales, which has the aim of providing an effective, proportionate and efficient system for resolving disputes.

With these principles in mind, Clause 17, as has been said, establishes a new single county court and a single family court for England and Wales. In January 2008, the Judicial Executive Board commissioned the former Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Henry Brooke, to conduct an inquiry into civil court unification, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, quoted from Sir Henry’s report. In that report, Sir Henry recommended that there should be consideration on the creation of a single national court.

Our proposals mean that a single court will provide a more efficient civil justice system where litigants can achieve a more efficient, proportionate and speedier resolution to their disputes. Access to justice will be increased as the single county court will enable Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to introduce more modern means for citizens to engage with courts in a cost-effective way. Court users in general will see a more responsive and consistent service through more effective use of information and communication technology, and the ability to centralise and standardise back office functions.