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House of Lords

Thursday, 12 March 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Planning Laws: Basements


11.07 am

Asked by Lord Dubs

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to change the planning laws regarding the excavation of basements in residential properties; and, if so, what those plans are.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, this Government consider that powers already available to local authorities are sufficient to control the planning and construction processes of basement development. Local authorities in areas affected by basement development can adopt appropriate local plan policies, and many in London have. Some authorities provide guidance on basement development to help householders and, indeed, neighbours understand the process and consents involved.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, I disagree with the Minister. Does he not agree that there is an epidemic of these basement excavations, extending from Kensington and Westminster to other boroughs? People are highly alarmed at the prospect of such excavations—on flood plains—such that they may damage neighbours’ houses, particularly when they are narrow terraced houses, and neighbours are appalled at the thought that they are going to have a year’s disruption, chaos and unpleasantness while the building work is going on, such that if it were caused by anybody else it would attract an ASBO. Surely the Government ought at least to give local authorities the power to say no in such places—not to say never, but to say no where it would be better for the interests of the local community to say no.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Of course I sympathise that many developments take place which are not just inconvenient but a nuisance to neighbours. The Government have sought to work with local authorities, such as my local authority, Merton. I believe that about 16 local authorities across London have issued supplementary planning guidance or have adapted local policies to look at this issue. There are other things, such as the Environmental Protection Act, the Building Regulations 2010 and the Party Wall etc. Act, which combined we feel provide a basis on which to look at these issues both constructively—excuse the pun—and progressively.

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Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was my opponent when I fought the seat of Cities of London and Westminster—

Lord Dubs: I lost.

Lord Tugendhat: But on this occasion I very much agree with him. Those of us who live in central London know that this basement business has become an absolute epidemic. It is inspiring a great deal of fear and concern in people. Whatever the Minister may say, the fact of the matter seems to be that individuals can embark on these processes, causing great distress to their neighbours, without any come-back from the local authority or anyone else. If I may say so to the Minister, I think that to those of us who live in the middle of London his reply sounds a little Panglossian.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I am glad to hear that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, are in agreement despite their past rivalries. On this issue, policies are being adopted. For example, Kensington and Chelsea adopted a new policy at the start of this year which is ensuring that “iceberg” developments, which go down further than one storey, can no longer happen and that basements do not exceed 50% of the garden or open plan and do not add more floors beyond implemented planning permission. Kensington and Chelsea has brought in a range of policies and other local authorities are looking at that. It is right that local authorities take forward what they see as best for their area.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, we know that currently some basements can be built under permitted development rights, which can be removed through an Article 4 direction so that a planning application would be necessary. However, in those circumstances no planning fee can be levied by the local planning authority as a consequence of the work that it has to undertake. That may not be a problem for the richer boroughs, such as Kensington and Chelsea, but it is a real issue for some London boroughs, which have had their planning and regeneration departments decimated by cuts. Is it not time to reconsider that issue of the fee?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Again, as the noble Lord has pointed out, a local authority can make an Article 4 direction. As with all things, we are looking at this area very closely. We are seeing an evolving situation and local authorities are progressing. On the issue of the fee, I note what the noble Lord has said, and I will take that back.

Lord Tope (LD): My Lords, the Minister mentioned Kensington and Chelsea. Is he aware that it took that council two years to get its basement policy through the process and finally adopted as part of its local plan? As others have said, this is now becoming a critical problem in parts of London. What can his department do to speed up this process and to give support to local planning authorities, which are trying to resist inappropriate basement extensions?

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I say to my noble friend, as I have already said, that we are already working closely with local authorities. Again, the Localism Act provided a further basis for those decisions to be made on a devolved basis, which is exactly what we are seeing.

Baroness Sharples (Con): Is my noble friend aware that people who live near these excavations are being awoken at 5.30 in the morning by vibration from underground?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Again, I say to my noble friend that Building Regulations prevent and can limit the time of working. When such instances occur, they should be taken up with the local authority.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, if an applicant was required to prove need, most of the applications would stop.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: That is a matter for the local authority and its planning body.

Lord Selsdon (Con): My Lords, the Minister will be aware that my Subterranean Development Bill passed through the House some time ago. At that time, it was determined that there was no need for more primary legislation—only regulation. It was agreed with the officials that they would produce regulations and a report. I am still waiting for that. Can the Minister tell me where that report is?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I pay tribute to my noble friend for his Private Member’s Bill in this respect. He is quite right; my understanding was certainly that guidance has been reviewed since his Bill, particularly on party wall issues. I will take back the issues he raised about not knowing whether the guidance has been issued. Certainly my understanding is that the party wall policy has been reviewed following that Bill.

Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, what assurance can the Minister provide that the HSE is properly resourced to carry out its inspection and enforcement role in respect of these regulations, and to ensure safe working on basement excavations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I share the noble Baroness’s view of the important role of the HSE. Perhaps she is aware that this very week the HSE is carrying out an inspection of basement policies in two key boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea—which has already been mentioned—and Hammersmith and Fulham. The HSE has a very important role to fulfil in ensuring the safety of these developments.

Baroness Hanham (Con): My Lords, in view of the terrible disturbances that such developments have caused to neighbours, is it not time for the Government to look at some statutory compensation scheme for people who live beside them? I declare an interest as somebody who has been sitting in the middle of developments on

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either side of me for the past eight months and been nearly driven mad. My daughter is about to have a basement dug up next to her. Very little effort is made to enable people who are affected by these developments to have any compensation or redress.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Of course I note with great care what my noble friend has said and will take it back. It is somewhat amusing that these schemes are sometimes referred to as “subterranean development”, which sounds like the sun is shining, but for some neighbours, as I fully acknowledge, that is certainly not the case.

Employment Tribunals


11.15 am

Asked by Baroness Turner of Camden

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the recent changes in the procedures to access tribunal hearings, and whether these changes have been beneficial to employees.

Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con): My Lords, as part of a series of employment tribunal reforms, early conciliation was introduced in April 2014. It provides a robust mechanism to resolve employment disputes without the formalities of a courtroom setting. We are closely monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of early conciliation, and initial signs are encouraging. ACAS has already recorded nearly 60,000 employee notifications, with more than 90% of those involved willing to give the service a try.

Baroness Turner of Camden (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but there are still instances where people want to take their case to a tribunal but can do so only if they are able to pay a fee of as much as £1,000 to get a hearing. That is quite unacceptable. Do the Government think that if people cannot afford to pay that to get their hearing they should simply put up with the situation as it is and get on with it? I do not think that that is acceptable, and certainly it is not beneficial to the employee. The bad employer may quite like it, but the good employer does not, and an employee who is disabled and generally upset really would like to get a hearing before a tribunal.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, the point of early conciliation is to encourage claimants not to go to an employment tribunal. Ninety per cent of employees agree with the system and want to work with the conciliation service. Under the new arrangements, 60.5% of cases that went to early conciliation did not proceed to an employment tribunal, and 16.3% of cases were settled. For those who want to go to an employment tribunal, there is a fee remission system based on savings. Broadly, people whose monthly income is below a

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certain level do not have to pay. Anyone who receives means-tested benefits does not have to pay or gets a reduced fee.

Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab): My Lords, the costs involved in going to an employment tribunal are still a deterrent, even taking into account what the Minister said. I ask him to reflect on the fact that, even when you have won your claim at an employment tribunal, the matter does not end there; it depends on the employer paying the award. In a situation where an employer does not pay—I have referred to this previously, including last night—there is a penalty and they are fined, but still no money goes to the successful claimant. Will the Government consider dealing with the costs to a claimant in having to go through the courts to get their award?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I take the noble Lord’s point. If people are ordered to pay awards, they should pay them. We are going to implement a review—or the next Government is—and that is something that can be considered at that time.

Baroness Turner of Camden: Why cannot the Minister simply agree to review—?

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab): My Lords, is not the whole point of having an arbitration system where most claims are settled that those which are not settled are the ones that have to be litigated, because there is no agreement? For there to be a just system, there has to be accessible to that litigant an opportunity to do that. Does the Minister not take the point made by noble friend Lady Turner that if the fee for so doing is prohibitive, the person with a just claim, where the employers will not settle, has nowhere to go?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I do not accept the noble and learned Baroness’s premise. If the cost of the fees was prohibitive and stopped people going to an employment tribunal, that would be the case, but there are many reasons why people do not go to employment tribunals: the level of fees is not the only one. The fee reduction programme that we have in place is there specifically to allow people of limited means to access employment tribunals, as is their right.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, what is the income level that debars people?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: As far as the capital is concerned, it is savings of over £3,000—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): What about the income level?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: I was going to come to the income level. There is a series of levels. I can give some examples. An applicant who has a partner and two children and a joint income of £1,735 per month will

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not have to pay anything towards the fee. Another example is an applicant with an average UK couple’s income of £2,700 with two children would have to contribute £480 towards the fee.

Lobbyists: Register


11.21 am

Asked by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, Alison White was appointed as the independent Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists last September. She has consulted, issued guidance and made good progress on practical arrangements for the register. On 26 February, the Government laid the Registration of Consultant Lobbyists Regulations 2015, which completes the statutory framework for the register. The Government are therefore on course to commence the provisions before the general election.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, I tabled a Written Question asking what meetings the Treasury had had with the drinks industry prior to the forthcoming Budget. I was given no Answer but told to look on the website. The latest meeting recorded there was in March last year. We now hear from the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists that she expects to have only between 50 and 75 people on her register—because, of course, only consultant lobbyists, not in-house lobbyists, are covered—and that even then they will not be on the register by the election because the process is only starting. Does the Minister share my judgment that the register will be a complete failure because it does not include in-house lobbyists and does not provide transparency and will therefore need a radical overhaul?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I do not share that view. From the last four years of dealing with how one implements greater transparency in lobbying, I have learnt that it is impossible to satisfy everyone—indeed, it is very difficult to satisfy anyone. The various associations of professional consultants, lobbyists and others have all in some ways campaigned against it. People have said that MPs and Peers should all be on the register; last week we were told that the Australian system is infinitely inferior to the current British system; et cetera. We are taking a step forward. We have resisted the idea that everyone who lobbies should be on the register, because that would produce a vast register. We are starting by trying to make consultant lobbyists much more transparent about on whose behalf they are lobbying. That is the purpose of the measure.

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, this Government are of course the first to record all lobbying meetings with Ministers, but does my noble friend recall that if any

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organisation—say, Tesco—has meetings with government, it is very difficult to see how many meetings have taken place? Indeed, if one wanted to analyse that over a year, one would have to look at 108 separate spreadsheets. My noble friend will recall that I was given a specific assurance that that problem would be addressed during the passage of the Transparency and Lobbying Act. Do we now have a register of lobbying, so that we can see where those meetings are taking place? Can he confirm that the process will be improved before Dissolution, so that at least the next Government can have a transparent regime?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, all of us in the Government are well aware that each three months our meetings are pored over and officials ask us to specify who met us, and on whose behalf if that is not entirely clear. I recognise that that has not been pulled together for all members of the Government and we should perhaps look at finding a programme which will enable us to pull all that together more easily. However, we have made progress. Whoever forms the Government after the election will discover how immensely difficult this area is and will, I suspect, decide to let this legislation bed down for a period before they move on to the next step.

Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): Does the Minister not accept that what he says sounds very much like the situation in the old days when there was a campaign to get a register of interests of Members of Parliament and, indeed, of Members of this House? However, it is always too difficult and it always takes a long time. What we really need now is action. Will the Minister give it to us?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is action—we have forced professional consultants to register. The regulations set out the terms and conditions under which they will have to register and list the companies and interests on whose behalf they are lobbying. I think we all recognise how difficult it is to define lobbying. All of us in this Chamber are lobbied every day, often by people who are paid for the messages they give us or the meetings they have with us. When they represent a clear interest, that is registered in our diaries if we are members of the Government. That is clear. It is the consultant lobbyists on whom we are focusing.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister confirm, however, that this register will not include the in-house lobbyists of, say, tobacco companies? He talks about satisfying everyone. How does the measure satisfy his Liberal Democrat colleagues because it is entirely inconsistent with alleged Liberal Democrat policy?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, tobacco companies and drinks companies clearly have very strong vested interests. However, if Diageo or British American Tobacco went to see a Minister, that would be recorded directly in the Minister’s diary.

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: But it would not be published for a year.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: It would be published in a good deal less than a year.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I will check on that and write to the noble Baroness if I am wrong, but certainly my appointments are published within a matter of months after they take place.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend think that the register should include instances where Ministers lobby businessmen to obtain funds for political parties?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the question I was considering was whether or not certain newspapers whose reporters spend a great deal of their time impersonating lobbyists should also be required to register.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord referred to what has happened so far in this area as being a step. He also referred to the next step. What is the next step?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I suggest that the next step after two or three years’ operation of this measure will be for the next Government to review how effective this process has been and how many professional lobbyists have registered. There is active resistance to this measure. I have been reading PRNews and various other publications and they all say that the measure is inadequate or unclear. We will see how well the excellent woman who has been appointed to the statutory regulator fulfils her duties. After that, we will consider what we might do to expand our activities in this area. If we were to register every single lobbyist of every single company that lobbies directly for its interests, we would have a vast bureaucracy. That is not something that we should undertake lightly.

Iraq: Nimrud


11.28 am

Asked by Lord Lea of Crondall

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage Arab states and Iran to condemn the destruction by Islamic State forces of the remains of ancient Nimrud, northern Iraq, and demand that they desist.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, the Government utterly condemn ISIL’s wanton destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq. We are not alone. The United Nations Security Council, the head of UNESCO, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab League

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have all condemned ISIL’s systematic destruction of historic sites and relics. We will continue to work with Arab states, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to counter ISIL. We recognise the important contributions they are making to the global effort.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that in destroying these iconic sites in Mesopotamia, ISIS is trying to destroy what are part and parcel of everyone’s civilisation, our common civilisation, with elements imparted into all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and that this is the moment for leaders, both political and religious, in the West and the Middle East to proclaim this together? Does he also agree that those considering joining ISIS from this country, from Britain, should be asked rather sharply to acknowledge that attempts to justify such acts of iconoclastic vandalism are as arrogant and as threadbare as any that could be found for bulldozing Stonehenge?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned iconoclasm. It has been an aspect of a number of religions including, sadly, Christianity in the past. When I, from time to time, give tours of Westminster Abbey for charity, I point out to people the various bits of destruction that the Puritans had executed there, as in many other churches around Britain. We are faced with a radical ideology, which has a particularly narrow definition of Islam, in which iconoclasm is part of what it wishes to do.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn (Con): My Lords, is not the sacking of historic Nimrud, the great Assyrian capital, as mindless as the bulldozing of ancient Hatra, only 100 kilometres away from Mosul? Is it not ironic that the so-called Islamic State, in its gothic ignorance, is bulldozing one of the earliest centres of Arab civilisation? Will Her Majesty’s Government remind the modern-day, latter-day, Arab nations that their cultural heritage is part of the cultural heritage of humankind, which is a matter of concern to us all?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is not entirely easy to communicate with the leadership of ISIL and it is a question of Muslim heritage and pre-Muslim sites which it is concerned about. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, has a great deal of expertise in all this and I also know that for all those engaged in the study of ancient history this is an extremely painful experience. We are doing what we can.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, is not the bulldozing of the ancient city of Nimrud, the Assyrian city that stands for so much of Mesopotamia’s history, as the noble Lord said, on a par with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Sufi monuments in Mali in 2011? Is not this destruction of the collective memory of humankind that has just been referred to, and the murder by ISIL of so many of the people who live in that part of Iraq and in Syria, what Ban Ki-moon called earlier this week crimes against humanity? Will the noble Lord tell us what will be done to bring those responsible

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before the International Criminal Court where they may be tried? What is being done to stop the artefacts that have been acquired now being sold on international markets? What is being done to retake the plain of Nineveh?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of questions. Part of what is going on is the deliberate destruction of these sites, including by heavy explosives, and part of what is happening is the smuggling of antiquities. They are parallel, rather different, activities. We are working with all our partners in the European Union and through UNESCO to stop that trade, which of course provides a means of financing these radical movements. In the Middle East, there are allegations that some of the antiquities are being sold in Lebanon and Turkey.

Lord Kinnock (Lab): My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said across the House and elsewhere in condemnation of these appalling actions. May I, in the interests of the continuity of civilised standards, ask the Minister what he thinks of the way in which Margot Wallström, the Swedish Foreign Minister, was prevented from speaking at the Arab League on the subject of women’s rights?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we regret that event, which was part of a long dialogue between advanced countries and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia was deeply unhappy with it. As part of my preparation for this programme, I have just read a very interesting and depressing article on the links between authoritarian government in the Middle East and authoritarian behaviour in families across the Middle East. We are all beginning more and more to understand that raising the status of women is essential to moving towards more enlightened government and better social and economic development.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, is my noble friend aware that because of the Wahhabi doctrine, which the Saudi Arabians promote, they believe in the destruction of historic monuments, even those associated with the life of the Prophet? Will the Government remonstrate with the Saudi Arabians about the practice of destroying sites associated with the Prophet?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am well aware that the strictest form of Salafism believes in the destruction of idols. There is a certain amount in the Old Testament about the destruction of idols, for those of us who remember those particular chapters. Unfortunately, these are part of the most ancient and crabbed versions of different religions. We argue with the Saudis about producing a much more enlightened version of Islam and encouraging that within their own country.

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, if any further proof was needed, the destruction of the remains of ancient Nimrud shows the sheer barbarism of ISIL. By the way, I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the Minister a happy birthday today. We know him to

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be a very busy and conscientious Minister with many tasks. Will he confirm that there are now no remaining blockages to Britain signing up to the implementation of the Hague convention on the protection of cultural property?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the blockage on that has been a matter of finding legislative time. Reading through the preparation for this, it seems to me that this is an ideal Bill for one of us to take through this House if there is not time in the first Session of the next Government. We last considered the question of ratification in 2004. Sadly, no Government since then have found time in their legislative programme.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, we all think that is extremely sad. Can my noble friend tell us what we are doing to educate Muslim pupils in British schools in the fact that their heritage is being destroyed and despoiled by these evil people?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord about that. It is a very good question. The complex history of the Middle East and the relationship between different religions in the Middle East is part of what is being destroyed. Those of us who have visited, for example, the Great Mosque in Damascus, which has the tomb of St John the Baptist inside it, will know the extent to which what is happening in the Middle East is sadly destroying its historic diversity. That is something that we certainly need to teach our Muslim British about.

Liaison Committee

Motion to Agree

11.37 am

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the 2nd Report from the Select Committee (Review of select committee activity and proposals for new committee activity) (HL Paper 127) be agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): My Lords, the present Parliament has seen House of Lords Select Committee activity at a higher level than ever before, including two additional units of committee activity. This increase, including in particular the growth of ad hoc committees and the introduction of post-legislative scrutiny committees, has been popular with Members and has added to the work of your Lordships’ House and its standing in the country. So, too, has been the practice of inviting Members of the House to suggest their own proposals for ad hoc committees. This year, we had 42 proposals by the time of the deadline.

As usual, the Liaison Committee discussed the work of this Session’s ad hoc committees with their respective chairmen. We concluded that the three new ad hoc committees and the post-legislative scrutiny committee on extradition law worked well. The committee

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recommended maintaining the current high level of committee activity in the first Session of the new Parliament.

We have also made provision to support the work of pre-legislative scrutiny committees in the new Parliament, recognising that the production of draft Bills in the first Session after a general election can—shall we say?—be somewhat unpredictable. There has been one such committee this session—the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, which has recently reported.

Turning to our recommendations for ad hoc committees in the next Session, we bore in mind our previous agreement in principle that one of the committees chosen each Session should be on an international relations subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Helic, proposed a Select Committee on sexual violence in conflict: the UK and global response. As she highlighted in her proposal, there is a growing recognition that war-zone sexual violence is a key foreign policy and security issue. There is cross-party consensus on the importance of this issue but there has never been a parliamentary committee of either House exploring it in depth. An ad hoc committee on sexual violence in conflict would therefore be breaking new ground, and we recommend the appointment of such a committee in the new Session.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Whitaker, proposed a Select Committee on policy for the built environment—another area where a cross-cutting inquiry is overdue. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, proposed a Select Committee on social mobility, focusing on the transition from school to work. The Liaison Committee thought that such an inquiry would be timely in the light of increasing recognition of social mobility as a key social policy issue. The Liaison Committee recommended the appointment of an ad hoc committee on each of those subjects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, proposed a post-legislative scrutiny committee on the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010. This Act is wide-ranging, and the committee agreed with the noble Baroness that limiting the review to disability would help ensure a focused inquiry, allowing it to examine the issues in greater detail within the one Session.

With 42 proposals, inevitably it is not possible to please all Members of the House. However, I am confident that these new committees will deliver as high a quality of report as those which have just reported. In the present Parliament, the House of Lords Select Committee system has gone from strength to strength. Long may this continue. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords, I take this opportunity to congratulate the Liaison Committee and those who have been involved in the negotiations on ensuring that in future Treasury officials and Ministers will appear in front of the Select Committee of your Lordships’ House. Until now, that has not been the case, with the one exception of an economic committee. It is plainly wrong that Ministers and officials should not have appeared before your Lordships’ committee on matters in which the Treasury is clearly involved.

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Therefore, ensuring that in future we will have the benefit of evidence from Treasury officials and Ministers is a considerable step forward.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the Liaison Committee’s report, even though the committee did not choose any of the six recommendations that I put forward as topics. However, I shall try again next year.

I ask for an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that these ad hoc committees, and indeed all Select Committees, will be adequately resourced—that they get the staff to service them, that they are able to appoint specialist advisers, and that they are able to go from place to place to take evidence and, if necessary, to travel overseas. I served on the ad hoc committee on soft power, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. However, I felt that we were constantly constrained in our ability to carry out our work. In this House, unlimited funds seem to be made available for works around the House. I understand that those works are necessary but somehow the money seems to be found for ceremonies and all those kinds of things. But when it comes to the essential work and the reason we are here—to scrutinise legislation and to look at different topics—the money gets squeezed. We keep getting messages saying, “No, you can’t do this; no, you can’t do that”. There is no point in having these Select Committees unless they are properly and adequately resourced. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will give us that assurance.

11.45 am

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, perhaps I may express some considerable disappointment that yet again the Liaison Committee has rejected proposals in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Jopling, for a foreign affairs or an international affairs committee. I express even greater disappointment that the Chairman of Committees should not have thought it necessary to explain why this proposal, which has been put forward on rather a large number of occasions, was rejected. He will be well aware, from last week’s debate on soft power, for example, there is support for it from all corners of the House. Will he please therefore tell the House what consideration was given to the proposals put forward by these three Members of the House? At least we will then hear some explanation of why this rather luddite approach to this policy is still prevailing.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, I warmly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just said. I think many of your Lordships are aware, and I am sure that the noble Lord is aware, that the global established order is now unravelling. Vast changes are taking place in foreign policy and in the interests and the promotion of the safeguarding of this country. Your Lordships’ House is full of considerable expertise on these matters, both long-term and short-term. I have heard it suggested that we must not duplicate the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place. I have to say that having been for 10 years the chair of that committee, I have some experience of how it works and I believe that there is no danger

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of duplication at all. On the contrary, if there was an international affairs committee in your Lordships’ House, it would be able to take up, reinforce and build on the excellent reports that come from that committee. Far from duplicating or getting in the way of it, there would be a very strong case, which I believe is getting stronger by the day, for setting up such a committee. I hope that it will now be considered very carefully.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): Regarding correspondence on the establishment of an international affairs committee, perhaps I may add my voice to that of the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Jopling, and my noble friend Lord Hannay, in the representations that have been made again. I draw the attention of the Chairman of Committees to the excellent debate in your Lordships’ House two days ago on the ad hoc committee that looked at soft power. It is indicative that the noble Lord has already said to us that the first of the new ad hoc committees will be on an international issue of huge importance. While that is greatly appreciated—I am grateful to the noble Lord for that—does he not agree with the point made by the noble Lord about the unravelling of the international situation and the unique expertise held here in your Lordships’ House? If there is any justification—more than any other—for the existence of your Lordships’ House, it is this collective, unique expertise that is drawn together. In the area of international affairs, we have an important and unique contribution to make. I hope that, if it is not possible today to make progress on this, the Liaison Committee will look again at this in the new Session.

Lord Jopling (Con): My Lords, my name was kindly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is quite right. Let us look at the history of this. For many years, a number of us have been coming into this Chamber and complaining that we did not have a specific committee on foreign affairs similar to the one in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that he was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for 10 years and I had the pleasure of being a member of that committee down the Corridor for that same 10 years.

As a consequence of the pressure that we have all put on this, it was decided to have an ad hoc committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has said, each year with an element of international attention. If we are to have an ad hoc committee on international affairs every year, why on earth do we not have a permanent committee, with continuous staff, rather than having to appoint an ad hoc committee in each Session?

I am never quite sure who the people who control our affairs are, although I have my suspicions. I have a feeling that the pass has already been sold. We have these annual ad hoc international committees but, for goodness’ sake, let us have a permanent, proper foreign affairs committee in the same way as they have down the Corridor.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, there has been a chorus for the establishment of a permanent international affairs committee, but does

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the noble Lord agree that this House adds enormous value to the proceedings and scrutiny of Parliament with the work of its European affairs committee? The House of Lords Select Committee on European affairs is known around the world. It has a wide remit, as witnessed by its recently produced and excellent report on Russia. Can the noble Lord tell the House how many applications the Liaison Committee received for ad hoc committees on international affairs last year? It seems to me that a stand-alone foreign affairs committee would duplicate the work of the House Commons. A permanent committee would perhaps need a wider remit to look at international defence as well as foreign affairs.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, I served on the Committee on Soft Power, which was so brilliantly chaired by my noble friend, on the understanding that it would be used as a kind of test for whether or not we would go ahead and have a proper committee on foreign affairs, as my noble friend has suggested. In the debate on the committee’s report it was perfectly apparent that our committee was able to range across a whole range of issues to do with international and foreign affairs, and almost everyone in the debate pointed towards the need for an international affairs committee of this kind.

I say to my noble friend that, although it is true that this House has a tremendous reputation for the work done by its European affairs committees, there is a world beyond Europe. One of the points which came out of the report from the Select Committee was how important it was that we engage with that world beyond Europe—not just the Commonwealth but also Asia and the rest. It was clear from listening to the contributions made in that debate that there is fantastic experience in this House which should be put to good use, which will not conflict in any way with the House of Commons.

If the Chairman of Committees is going to say that it is all to do with resources—he is shaking his head. I am glad to see that resources are not a problem. If it is not about resources, what is the point of having a House with this expertise which is not able to look at the issues at a time of huge international tensions and when people around the country are increasingly concerned? I think that the other place would benefit from the expertise and contribution.

I hope the Chairman of Committees will suggest to the Liaison Committee that we should have an early opportunity for this House to decide. My noble friend Lord Jopling asked who is in charge. This House is in charge, and this House should get an opportunity to vote on the issue of whether or not we should have such a committee.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, what is the procedure for allowing this House the opportunity to elect the members of the Liaison Committee and other committees? It is deemed quite reasonable in most legislatures round Europe.

Lord Laming (CB): My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I hope the House will agree with me that the four reports which have been produced this year

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are of a uniformly outstanding quality. The post-legislation report on the Mental Capacity Act exposed serious problems about its implementation, and I am pleased to say that the Government have taken that on board. The soft power report has already been mentioned, and I thought that the report on the Arctic was, for someone who knows nothing about the subject, quite outstanding. Lastly, the report on affordable childcare was very instructive and will help the future Government, of any kind, to take those matters forward. We must not lose anything of the quality of these reports because they reflect very highly on your Lordships’ House.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for a moment. I am a member of the Liaison Committee and it may be that noble Lords will be interested to hear what goes through some of our minds. We are not against the idea of a Select Committee on foreign affairs, but it is a question of whether that would be better in the immediate circumstances than the position that we have at the moment whereby, annually, foreign affairs is given an ad hoc placing. The system has worked well. I am in the middle of reading the debate on soft power which took place the other day, and it was an excellent debate. It is the same each year whenever an ad hoc committee dealing with foreign affairs makes its report. We then have a debate on those matters.

However, we cannot confine debates on foreign affairs to a very small number of people. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has said, this House has a very large number of people with a vast amount of knowledge about these matters. If they are given the opportunity to become one of the very select few to serve on a committee of that nature, and who I understand would then serve for three years on a rotation basis, only they will have the almost exclusive opportunity to carry out investigations and inquiries into issues of foreign affairs. Under the ad hoc procedural arrangements, far more people have the opportunity to engage in debate on these matters. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, wishes to correct me, but I understand that that is the position. All I would say is that there is another side to this. We are not opposed to the idea, but let us give more people an opportunity to become involved in the inquiries that take place on these very sensitive subjects.

Finally, in the event that we have a foreign affairs committee, who will pick the agenda? It will be the foreign affairs committee. Under the ad hoc procedure, we pick the subject: you pick the subject—the House of Lords picks the subject. If they wish, Members can walk into a Lobby and vote against this report, but if they do not wish to do so—

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I wonder if the noble Lord could answer a brief question. Who is “we”?

Lord Campbell-Savours: “We” is the House—the whole House decides. The noble Lord can oppose the Motion on this report and divide the House if he so wishes, but I presume that he is not going to do so.

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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we always listen to the acute wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with great attention, and I love the way that he often intervenes with a contrary view. However, on this occasion I have to say that I think he has missed the point. In the very words he has used about foreign relations, he has got it slightly wrong. We are not talking about foreign relations; we are talking about international relations. We are not talking just about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but about almost every department of state which now has an international interface and is deeply involved in international affairs. That is certainly the case in Europe, where splendid work is done, but increasingly our interests lie outside Europe and in the rising powers of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is not a question of confining these issues to the narrow experts on foreign affairs. At this moment the House is full of experts covering the huge new relationships that this nation has got to develop with almost every other country on earth, and every other interest, if we are to survive and prosper. I think that we should be playing our part in it properly.

Baroness Corston (Lab): My Lords, may I point out that the European Union Committee has an external affairs sub-committee that deals with international matters—most recently in its report on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat?

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, I defer to no one in my respect for the EU Committee, chaired so well by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, but it is very distorting to say that the only discussion of international affairs in a committee of this House should be in a committee devoted to looking at the foreign and security policies of the European Union. I am a believer in the European Union, but like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I believe that it is very important to look outside the European Union.

I should say that my plea for an international affairs committee of this House, a plea made for the seventh successive year, has not even rated a mention in the report of the Liaison Committee—which merely proves, I suppose, that I am neither great nor good.


Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, if I may suggest a reason why the Liaison Committee is not the best body to decide what ad hoc issues are discussed relating to international affairs, it is that those of us who have been on the EU Select Committee and its sub-committees for a number of years—I am sure that this applies to other standing committees—spend a great deal of time on those committees considering what subjects we should look at next. The expertise of those committees is what produces the next subject. With great respect to the Liaison Committee, I do not think that it has that same expertise.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, there is only one answer to this: this House should decide whether we have such a committee.

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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, perhaps I may deal with a couple of early points, and then get on to what has taken us so much time.

First of all, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for his comments. We have worked with the Treasury to make sure that we get a better understanding of the nature of the relationship between the department and our Select Committees. I am more than hopeful that, from now on, we will have a very much more constructive relationship with the Treasury. I think that that will again enhance the quality of our reports.

To the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I say that we are increasing, year on year, the amount of resource that we allocate to Select Committee work. We obviously have to take into account our responsibility for public expenditure, but that is not cramping the work of our Select Committees; I am sure of that. A usual Select Committee inquiry taking place over about a Session costs about a quarter of a million pounds. I think that that is money well spent, but we have to have a proper, reasonable and responsible attitude to the expenditure of individual committees.

I turn now to the matter of international affairs, foreign affairs, or whatever we wish to call it. I think that the present system is working rather well. Let us look at the topics. The most recent topic was on soft power, on which there was a very high-quality report and a high-quality debate. Today, I hope, we will decide to have a Select Committee on sexual violence in war zones. We will be breaking new ground when we do that. It will be the first parliamentary inquiry covering this area. I believe—and I think the House believes—that it is an important area of policy and one that we should examine. I just wonder, in the back of my mind, had we had a permanent Select Committee on foreign affairs, would it have really looked at soft power or at sexual violence in war zones? I leave that for the House to decide.

The Liaison Committee did consider the establishment of a separate Select Committee on foreign affairs as a sessional committee. I believe that the Liaison Committee has now come to a settled view that it would prefer a different approach to international affairs, whereby all Members of the House have the opportunity to put forward a topic for Select Committee inquiry—that we invite everybody to bring forward what they consider to be an important and relevant area on which this House can bring its expertise to bear. That is now the settled view of the Liaison Committee and I believe that it is the right view.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My noble friend asserts that the Liaison Committee has reached a settled view. Would he be prepared to put that settled view to the test by giving the House an opportunity to vote on it?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as far as I am aware, there would be an opportunity for the House to vote on it now if it wished. That is the matter before us.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees is in a bit of a hole, and I ask him not to go on digging. For example, the point that he made

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about all Members of the House having the right to put forward subjects could perfectly well be fulfilled within the remit of an international affairs committee. All that you need to do in setting up such a committee is to require it to be open to all Members of the House for suggestions as to what subjects should be chosen. It could be done just as well that way as in this way. I do not oppose the choice that the Chairman of Committees has put forward as the international subject for the next Session, but will he please agree to ask the Liaison Committee to consider putting the matter to the House for decision?

The Chairman of Committees: The noble Lord offers us the novel suggestion that a permanent sessional committee would canvass the views of all individual Members of the House. I am not aware of any other sessional committee that makes decisions about its future work programme on that basis. Perhaps others would like to try that novel suggestion out first.

There is another reason why the Liaison Committee has come to this view. It is simply that foreign affairs is a fairly heterogeneous area. It is fairly clear that if you are having an inquiry on Ukraine, say, you are more than likely to want to bring in people with expertise and interests that are slightly different from those of people interested in things like sexual violence in war zones. We are able to bring together the best collection of people with expertise in the whole foreign affairs field to deal with particular topics, rather than having a continuing committee of roughly the same sort of people going on for several years. That gives us a much greater opportunity to have variety and novelty and to bring expertise to bear, and that is why we have such high quality and a high reputation for the work of our ad hoc committees.

Motion agreed.

Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill

Order of Commitment Discharged

12.08 pm

Moved by Baroness Eaton

That the order of commitment be discharged.

Baroness Eaton (Con): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

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Control of Horses Bill

Order of Commitment Discharged

12.08 pm

Moved by Baroness Mallalieu

That the order of commitment be discharged.

Baroness Mallalieu (Lab): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill

Third Reading

12.09 pm


Moved by Lord Faulks

That the Bill do now pass.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): My Lords, with this Motion I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have spoken during the course of the Bill, or otherwise provided support throughout its passage. I extend particular thanks to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, as well as to all parties for their support. In particular, I thank the Bill team for its help.

Bill passed.

House of Commons Commission Bill

Second Reading

12.10 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, this is a very short and tightly focused Bill, which may not detain the House for too long. The origins of the Bill lie in the announcement of the retirement of the previous Clerk of the House of Commons in April last year and the subsequent competition for his replacement. Your Lordships will be aware that the former clerk was introduced as a Member of this House in January, as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. I am sure that we will benefit from his parliamentary experience in the coming years.

As your Lordships may be aware, the process for appointing a new Clerk of the House of Commons was halted in September 2014, following reports that the post was to be offered to a candidate from the

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Australian Parliament. A Select Committee on House of Commons Governance was established in the other place with a remit to consider the governance of that House, including the future allocation of the responsibilities then exercised by the holder of the combined post of Clerk of the House and Chief Executive. The committee consisted of eight members from across the House of Commons and was chaired by the right honourable Jack Straw. It took a great deal of evidence from Members of that House, from staff, and from leaders in the public and private sectors. I think it is fair to say that at the outset there was a variety of views as to whether the administrative responsibilities of the Chief Executive should continue to be combined with the role of the Clerk of the House as chief constitutional adviser to the Speaker, and how any potential division of responsibilities would work.

The committee established to consider precisely these issues, and which itself represented a cross-section of views, came at the end to a unanimous view when it published its report on 17 December last year. The committee recommended that the two roles be split, with a new post of Director General of the House of Commons, reporting to the Clerk, to have responsibility for the administrative side of the role.

The committee made a number of recommendations relating to the governing structures of the other place, designed to facilitate a more inclusive and joined-up approach to the leadership and governance of that House. The committee’s report was fully debated in the other place on 22 January and a Motion was passed without a vote, agreeing to implement the recommendations in full. Many of these recommendations have already begun to be implemented, including the recruitment of a new Clerk of the House of Commons, which I understand is expected to be completed by the end of this month. The necessary changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons were agreed earlier this week, again without a vote.

A small number of the committee’s recommendations require legislative change, which is why we have this small Bill before us. Legislation is required because the governance of the other place, unlike that of your Lordships’ House, is subject to statute: namely the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, which established that House’s governing body, the House of Commons Commission. The Commission is chaired by the Speaker and currently consists of six members in total, including the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader and three Back-Bench members. It has specific responsibility for staff appointments, remuneration and pensions and otherwise is the ultimate decision-making body for the House of Commons as a whole.

I will briefly set out the content of this short Bill. It has three core provisions, all of which take the form of amendments to the 1978 Act and meet the recommendations of the Governance Committee. Clause 1 increases the number of Back-Bench members of the House of Commons Commission from three to four. That is designed to allow for a wider range of views across the House of Commons to be represented on the commission and to reduce the likelihood of the Government having a majority on the commission.

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Clause 1 also provides that two external members and two officials be appointed, taking the overall membership to 11. The appointment of these additional members is designed to provide a wider perspective to support the commission’s work and also to improve the quality of governance by providing a closer link between decision-making and implementation. As recommended by the Governance Committee, that will provide some continuity of membership between the commission and the body charged with implementing its decisions: a new Executive Committee, comprising senior officials of the House. This will replace the existing management board.

Clause 1(4) amends Section 1 of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978. New subsections (2A) and (2B) provide that the external members—like other members—will be appointed by resolution of the House and that they cannot come from Parliament itself. They must be genuinely external and recruited under fair and open competition.

New subsection (2C) specifies that the official members will be the Clerk and Director General of the House of Commons, when the latter is appointed later this year. The new post of Director General is not otherwise defined in statute, so the Bill provides, in new subsection (2C)(b), for the commission to appoint an alternative official if the post is vacant, the name changes, or the post ceases to exist. This allows the commission the freedom to change the name of the senior post at a future point without recourse to legislative change.

Clause 2 adds to the functions of the House of Commons Commission a specific requirement to set the strategic priorities and objectives for the services provided by the House departments. At present, this function is to some extent assumed by the commission, but it is not explicitly prescribed. In view of the existence of other internal committees in that House—the Finance and Services Committee and the Administration Committee, for example—it is important that roles and responsibilities are clearly set out. The precise way in which the commission carries out this function is not prescribed in the Bill, to allow the commission flexibility to decide the most appropriate way to discharge its responsibilities.

Clause 3 provides for commencement. The schedule makes a number of minor and consequential amendments. I can explain both in more detail at later stages should the House wish me to do so. I will just mention one amendment, in paragraph 6 of the schedule, which will allow the commission greater flexibility as to who will chair its meetings. Currently, this must be the Speaker unless the Speaker is absent. Under the revised Act, it will be possible for the commission to allow another of its members to chair a meeting that the Speaker attends. Again, that is in line with a recommendation of the Governance Committee.

As noble Lords will have gathered from my remarks, this is a modest Bill concerned with the governance of the other place. The Bill was introduced there on 4 February after full consultation with the chair of the Governance Committee and the House of Commons authorities. It was given full, if brief, consideration in that House on 24 February and passed without a vote.

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By introducing the Bill, the Government are helping the House of Commons to deliver the improvements to its governance that it has unanimously agreed to. I hope that your Lordships will support the elected Chamber in this aim, and in its endeavour to ensure that these legislative changes can be made without delay to ensure that they can take effect as soon as possible in the new Parliament. I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.

12.18 pm

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, during my years in the other place I did not serve on the commission but worked very closely with my party’s representative on the commission when I was Chief Whip and shadow leader of the House. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope here, because he not only served with great distinction on the commission but also answered in the Chamber for the commission, which was not always an easy task. My current colleague in the other place, John Thurso, does that as well. He of course has the advantage of having been, I think uniquely, a Member of this place and then having moved downstairs; therefore he is in a very strong position to see how Parliament works as a whole. That will be a theme of my remarks.

I discussed this Bill with my right honourable friend John Thurso earlier this week. It is quite clear, as my noble friend said, that this is a relatively modest measure introducing very sensible improvements. It expands the external expertise available to both the commission and the management of that House, and it modestly increases the Back-Bench contribution. I note what my noble friend has just said, because that modest increase makes it less likely that there will be a majority of government-supporting MPs on the commission, and that, I think, is a healthy sign. It is important that the Bill clearly indicates and maintains the position in order to protect the day-to-day working of Parliament from overmighty interference from the Executive—the Government. The latter remains the servant of the former, not the other way round.

I welcome the proposals in the Bill. As my noble friend said, not only has it received unanimous support from all parties but it has gone through its various stages nem con in the Commons. That, if not unique, is unusual. However, I especially welcome the reasons for its introduction, which are set out in the report of the House of Commons Governance Committee, to which my noble friend referred. It is quite a formidable document but it is important and I hope that other noble Lords will have had the opportunity to read it. If they have not, they may wonder why we are spending even a few minutes on this Bill now. I suggest that it warrants careful reading because it is of considerable significance to this House and to Parliament as a whole. We may be a bicameral Parliament but we are one Parliament, and what happens in one House inevitably impacts on the other. Indeed, our customers or clients—our fellow citizens—constantly bemoan the fact that we do not work better in partnership to hold the Executive to account, and I shall return to that point later.

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At a very practical level, the report of the Governance Committee—and therefore, the Bill—has implications for your Lordships’ House. For brevity, I quote from our Library briefing:

“The Committee reported that shared services (services provided to both Houses by one body) ‘already account for nearly half the annual resources spend of each House’ and that there was ‘wide support, in principle’ for extending these further, but what was included would need ‘careful consideration’ ... The Committee supports the ‘development of plans for a single services Department supporting both Houses’ but warned that one House cannot dictate to the other on what should happen”.

I suspect that other Members will share that view. The briefing continues:

They recommended … Joint meetings of the House of Common Commission and House Committee (the equivalent body in the House of Lords), at least every six months”.

It is interesting that the governance report goes further by suggesting, at paragraph 128, that maybe those meetings should take place quarterly. That would demonstrate the relevance of the proposal here to Members of your Lordships’ House.

I am a firm advocate of greater co-operation, and more effective integration where this would achieve efficiency savings or improved service. For example, I suspect that there is a long way to go in the catering departments, and it might well improve better understanding of our respective roles if Peers and MPs shared more Library facilities. Indeed, I would be interested to see where the existing shared services currently are. No doubt big sums are invested in the maintenance of the buildings and in obvious areas such as security. Perhaps my noble friend, at a later stage, can obtain a simple breakdown for us.

Meanwhile, the idea that very occasional joint meetings of the commission and our own House Committee are adequate to provide positive guidance and governance for both those existing combined services and for a proper examination of increased areas of joint provision of facilities is clearly laughable. We need a permanent mechanism. I hope that, in due course, those who are in a position to make a recommendation to both Houses will do so to that effect. I did not expect that to be provided in this Bill, which, as Members will know, has been brought forward at speed, as my noble friend said, to meet a particular, urgent need to resolve the challenges that arose last summer with the retirement of the then Clerk to the House of Commons. He is now a most welcome addition to our Benches.

As I look to the House authorities here to explain how this apparent lacuna is being solved, I hope that we will get some response today—if not, at later stages in the consideration of the Bill. I do not know whether other noble Lords have had this said to them, but I am told that there is to be a parallel examination of the governance of our House—presumably after the general election. That is fine, but when will there be a full, joint, cross-House, bicameral review of the way Parliament is run? This is not just a case of saving money. Many Members in both Houses believe that our combined processes and the eventual product of our work is overdue for review and reform.

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In the Parliament First booklet, published this week with the encouragement of Mr Speaker, I argued that,

“If this was any other organisation … our product or service would not be rated very highly by our customers, and they would try to go elsewhere”.

The absence of any such alternative should not make us complacent. Again, in the report of the Governance Committee, there is an extremely important statement at paragraph 118:

“Bicameral Parliaments are based upon a belief that a constructive tension and dialogue between the two Houses should result in a better quality of legislation and of the other key functions of a Parliament than is possible in unicameral systems.”

The paragraph that follows explains and enlarges on that point. It is extremely important.

A few years ago there was much talk of joined-up government. I believe it is time that we had joined-up Parliament. The two Houses are not in competition. We need to be better, in co-operation, at holding the Government of the day to account. Our relationship is not one of rivals; the only beneficiaries of that would be an overmighty bureaucracy.

In a small but significant way this Bill and the forthcoming parallel exercise in your Lordships’ House offer an unusual opportunity to improve the quality of the service that we offer together to our fellow citizens. I wish the Bill a speedy passage.

12.27 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for the clarity with which he has introduced the House of Commons Commission Bill. This is a short, uncontroversial Bill that, in essence, is a matter for the Commons and we are glad to support it. I pay tribute to the House of Commons Governance Committee, which was quoted extensively by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. It was chaired by my right honourable friend Jack Straw, and it did an excellent job that led to this small Bill, which will have a real impact on the good governance of the Commons.

This comes at a crucial time when Parliament is about to make a hugely important decision about the restoration and renewal of this glorious building, safeguarding it for future generations. We must never forget, in taking these decisions or in our daily work, that Parliament belongs not to the parliamentarians but to the people of this country. As my honourable friend Angela Eagle said:

“We must … future-proof our institution—not only our building, but our Parliament—to ensure that the transparency of what we do and our accessibility … continue to be among the best”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/1/15; col. 422.]

The governance of both the Commons and the Lords is critical as Parliament evolves to meet the needs of people and our democratic system in the 21st century. The Commons Commission and the House Committee in your Lordships’ House have a crucial role in providing leadership relating to restoration and renewal, as well as the governance of our Parliament. We support the Bill, which implements key recommendations from the report of the Governance Committee that require legislative action. They will lead to sensible and timely changes that will increase the professionalism and effectiveness of the Commons. But of course, these are

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matters for the Commons and its Members. They must make the decisions that relate to their House, just as we must make the decisions that relate to this House.

However, as one Parliament, the decisions of each House in this sphere have implications for the other. As the Minister said, this Bill changes the remit and membership of the commission, which will include the new director-general of the House of Commons. His or her role will bring changes to the management and governance structure in the Commons, which in due course could have implications for our own House.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have a House of Commons and a House of Lords, each with its own purpose, traditions and identities, we are part of one Parliament. While the integrity of each House must be retained, there is so much more that we could and should be doing together in order to ensure efficiency and savings from the public purse. I recognise that there are already some shared services which work well, for example, IT services and security, and I am very supportive of the new joint procurement service.

We on these Benches are always keen to see how we can keep your Lordships’ House as efficient and effective as possible. Just in the past few months, an internal report was published by a working group of members of my own group looking at the internal structure and management of this House. The excellent report produced by the group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, agreed:

“The Clerk and domestic Committees should be charged with developing greater collaboration with their equivalents in the Commons. Wherever possible, joint departments should be established”.

I am pleased that following the report of the Straw committee and deliberations within our own House, a review has now been established by the Clerk of the Parliaments to look at this issue.

I firmly believe that at a time of austerity, when we as parliamentarians are encouraging government departments and local councils to work together more and share services, we in Parliament should be taking the lead. Yes, we have two distinct Houses, but we have one Parliament and the crucial decisions that have to be taken in respect of restoration and renewal, followed by the delivery of the project, could be the impetus for great changes with regard to the management of the building.

The House of Commons Governance Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said, encourages,

“the two Houses to begin the process of drawing up a phased medium term programme towards a single bicameral services department supporting the primary parliamentary purposes of each of the two Houses”.

Personally I am very much in favour of such a programme but at each step of the way there must be strong emphasis on the need to retain the integrity of each House, and appropriate service agreements must ensure that the will and needs of the Lords is not subsumed by the Commons in any way. Where change is concerned, I am proud to say that, despite our older profile, we have often been the modernising House, prepared to do things differently and adapt to the times. For example, we led the way with the televising of Parliament,

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opening up our proceedings to the wider world when desire for transparency had not become the demand that it rightfully is today.

I return to the matter of governance rather than management and warmly welcome the agreement that there should be regular meetings between the commission and the House Committee. By the time of the first meeting, which is already scheduled, the membership and remit of the commission will have changed as a consequence of the legislation before us and we will have embarked on a review of the governance structure of our own House thanks to the establishment of the Leader’s Group by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. I warmly welcome this initiative. The current structure is opaque and I believe not fit for purpose in a 21st century legislature in which our citizens rightly demand transparency and accountability.

The Leader's Committee will naturally consider the purpose and function of the House Committee. I note that Clause 2 states:

“The Commission must from time to time set strategic priorities and objectives in connection with services provided by the House Departments”.

This seems to me to be extremely important and something which we already strive to do in the House Committee but I believe that changes are necessary to ensure that its priorities and objectives are truly strategic and benchmarked, and can be properly measured by, for example, key performance indicators. As we celebrate our history and traditions, too often we forget that we are a large organisation working in the 21st Century and we must adjust accordingly.

On these Benches we are looking forward to a constitutional convention, as proposed by my right honourable friend Ed Miliband MP, which will consider the future of your Lordship’s House, not as too often in the past in isolation but as part of the wider constitutional changes that are taking place in our country. The deliberations will no longer take place behind closed doors in Whitehall and be the preserve of politicians but will be extended to the people of this country. The constitution of this country belongs not to one or many political parties but to our citizens, so the process must be inclusive. This will undoubtedly bring about profound change but in the mean time we have to ensure that the governance of our House, the management of our services and the restoration and renewal of our magnificent building are carried out in the most open, efficient and effective way.

12.34 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this brief debate. In reading through the Commons debates on this subject, I was struck by the extent to which the maintenance, restoration and refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster hangs over a great deal of what we are concerned with when we talk about efficient governance, management and co-ordination between the two Houses.

We have not discussed refurbishment sufficiently openly in our House. Those of us who have been down to the basement will know just how severe some of the problems of the Palace of Westminster are. Perhaps

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that is something on which whoever finds themselves concerned with the governance of this House after the election will wish to promote active discussion. I recognise that we have our own Leader’s Group, which will discuss a number of these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked for a full bicameral review of the workings of Parliament. I am not sure that either the House of Commons or the House of Lords is quite ready for that. I have been struck in government by something I had deeply suspected in opposition—namely, that Commons Ministers take some time to understand the role of the House of Lords because nobody has ever really told them about it until they lose their first vote in the Lords, at which point they begin to understand that we cannot be entirely ignored.

As the noble Baroness said, we have made some progress in working more closely together and I am sure that we will continue down that road. Indeed, the whole issue of refurbishment will force us to move a lot further down that road. The other day I was interviewed about the future of the parliamentary archives, which is part of this set of issues. Some very large issues are raised there about the future of this entire estate and how we set in train a whole set of new decisions for the next 50 years or more.

We have recognised that the governance of the Commons is, with this Bill, moving forward in a useful and constructive manner, and that we will in turn discuss our own structures of governance in the Leader’s Group. I hope I may take this as a welcome by the House for this very modest Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Money Advice Service

Question for Short Debate

12.38 pm

Asked by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to implement the report on the Money Advice Service undertaken by Christine Farnish.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I thank those who have signed up to speak in this debate. We may be few in number but I know that this will be a high-quality debate. I declare my interest as the retiring chair of the charity StepChange and as a commissioner on the Financial Inclusion Commission, which reported yesterday. I commend its report as a much needed opportunity for all parties to refocus on the issue of financial inclusion, which is an egregious block on too many of our citizens fully participating in society.

When I applied for this QSD some considerable time ago, I was reasonably confident that the Farnish report would have been published by now. However, it is a case of being in Hamlet without the prince, or perhaps one of these dark Nordic noir detective stories— while I do not watch them, I do have the jersey. Where

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is the Farnish review? Can the Minister tell us what is happening and whether this Government will, in fact, ever publish the report? As I am sure he is aware, there have been rumours of many prospective publication dates, each of which has subsequently passed without action. Indeed, the Minister himself told me last week that it would definitely be available for this debate. All this is very surprising, given that it is supposed to be an independent report, and we know that the Government received the report before the end of 2014, in line with the published terms of reference. So why the delay?

Given the role that the MAS has until now assumed for itself, this delay is bad for the sectors with which it interacts such as the free debt advice sector. As I hope the Government realise, it is particularly bad for the board and staff of the Money Advice Service itself. Why should well meaning, hard-working and committed people endure prolonged uncertainty over the future of their organisation and their jobs? It is already evident that the organisation is thoroughly demoralised and in danger of haemorrhaging staff. This is not a good situation and it must be resolved in short order. The hold-up has already delayed publication of the MAS’s business plan for the financial year 2015-16, which starts in about three weeks’ time, and the next steps on its UK financial capability strategy. This can be in nobody’s interest.

It is worth recalling that the review was prompted by the Treasury Select Committee in the other place. Its report has been included in the Library’s helpful briefing note for this debate. In publishing its report of December 2013, it said:

“The Money Advice Service is not currently fit for purpose. It is far from clear that it has adopted the right strategy or even that it is performing its correct role. In finalising this report, the Committee considered carefully whether to recommend that the MAS be scrapped completely … The review must assess whether the MAS should continue to exist and, if so, how it can overcome the serious problems laid bare in this report. Its findings should be available for scrutiny by the Treasury Committee and others by the summer of 2014. Only then can a credible, informed decision on the future of the MAS be made”.

The committee set quite a high hurdle. Presumably the committee may also have views on the delay that has occurred since that report.

I assume that in the real world what will happen is that, after the Budget, the Treasury will formally respond to the Treasury Select Committee report, basing its comments on the Farnish review and submissions from the MAS, FCA and perhaps others, and that is when we will see the report. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm this. Whatever happens, there is now little time left in this Parliament for the Treasury Select Committee to give proper consideration to this issue and we may have to accept that it will drag into the next Parliament. This does not seem appropriate.

Turning to the review itself, I have high hopes for the report. I hope that Christine Farnish, who is well respected in the sector, has not been constrained about answering the fundamental questions raised by the Treasury Select Committee about the very existence of the Money Advice Service. If she recommends that MAS should survive, I hope that she will set out clearly what its role should be in both the money and debt advice spaces.

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In my view, for what it is worth, I can see a place for the retention of a slimmed-down Money Advice Service but only if its role changes. It should not set out to do what others are doing better. As I have consistently argued in this House, it should complement but not duplicate the work of charities and not-for-profit agencies which work so effectively in providing debt solutions and money advice. Secondly, MAS cannot and should not be a quasi-regulatory body, as only one body can do that—the Financial Conduct Authority, which is already having a significant impact on this sector. No group can be expected to operate to two regulators and that would not be sustainable. Albeit in a slimmed-down form, MAS could be given a new role—perhaps a strategic functionality focusing on creating and influencing financial services policy and as a consumer champion, complementing and supporting the excellent work already done by the FCA’s consumer panel.

In the rest of my contribution I simply wish to set out what all of us in this sector should do to develop a new policy on problem debt. We need to recognise that personal debt has a macroeconomic impact. Recent research carried out by StepChange has shown that problem debt imposes significant costs on our economy —it estimates about £8.3 billion per annum—most of which comes from job loss and low productivity from people struggling with their debts. It also includes the costs of rehousing people, mental health costs, the costs of relationship breakdown and other matters. These are real and effective drags on the proper work that could be done to grow the economy and restore it to full health. Action needs to be taken.

We also need to do more than just recognise the problem. Savings are a recurrent issue with people who have problem debt. New research that my charity carried out recently showed that about 500,000 households would have been able to avoid problem debt if they had had £1,000 saved. Low-income households, in particular, would see their chances of falling into debt reduced if they could put aside rainy-day savings. Low-income families are not saving because the incentives contained in the main savings policies are not relevant to them, based as they are on tax relief. They do not mean much if you do not pay much or any tax. It is also hard for people with tight incomes to make positive choices to save when they have more immediate concerns, such as putting food on the table.

We need to improve credit products available to low-income families so that they do not rely on high-cost forms of credit such as payday loans. People need to be able to spread the costs of high-cost items such as boilers, fridges and school uniforms, and they need products that are not going to hurt them. There is a real problem developing in the rent-to-buy market, an issue touched on in recent debates in this House. We need to think harder about what will provide the low-interest forms of borrowing that are necessary to avoid that.

People with unmanageable debt are not feckless, and need support if they are going to seek advice and commit to working out a resolution of their problems. My charity is calling for statutory protection against interest, charges, collection charges and enforcement action when people get structured help to repay their

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debts. This approach is modelled on the excellent Scottish system, the debt arrangement scheme, which is an obvious, low-cost, high-impact solution that gives people control, rewards responsibility, saves creditors the cost of pursuit and collection and gets them a predictable rate of repayment.

Fourthly, we need to ensure that insolvency solutions are fit for purpose. The consumer credit market has changed dramatically in the almost 30 years since the principal parts of our insolvency system were introduced. As the credit market has changed, so too has the nature of problem debt in the UK and the profile of people who find themselves in difficulty. However, our insolvency options have been updated only in piecemeal ways, leaving gaps in protection and coverage, prohibitive fees and a lack of flexibility around changing circumstances.

Finally, debt advice is underfunded across the UK. There are probably around 3 million people who need it, barely half of whom are getting it. We think that there is a need to go back and make an ambitious but realistic call on all businesses that create problem debt but currently do not make fair contributions. Debt advice on its own is not enough. We need to ensure that those who have decided to seek debt advice are quickly and efficiently offered solutions that will get them into a situation in which they can pay off their debts and be allowed to rebuild their relationship with credit. Ideally—it is something that we aim to do—that process should educate them so that they can manage their finances better in future.

The Farnish report is an important step in the progress we need to make on reshaping the money advice and debt solutions that should be available as we move forward in the 21st century. I have tried to outline some thoughts about what should happen next but, of course, one essential first step might be to have a proper debate about the report, when it is eventually published. Hamlet without a prince is not much of a play, and one could not even put on one’s jersey to watch a noir thriller with no plot resolution. I cast the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in a key role in this small masque and look forward to hearing how the story will end.

12.47 pm

Baroness Coussins (CB): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for securing this debate, and I congratulate him on his appointment as a financial inclusion commissioner. I must also declare an interest, as it is my pleasure to serve as president of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline. Some of the trust’s excellent work is funded, directly or indirectly, by the Money Advice Service.

As a strong supporter of free debt advice, I have been awaiting the outcome of the Farnish review with great interest and I, too, would welcome some clarity from the Minister on when the review and the Government’s response will be published. We might have had a much longer speakers list for the debate today if the review had already been in the public domain, and I regret that this is not the case.

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It would be surprising if the review did not make a strong case for free debt advice and the benefits that it brings to debtors, creditors and society as a whole. This free advice is currently available through a whole range of channels. National Debtline and Business Debtline offer telephone and online advice, as does StepChange. An excellent face-to-face service is also available from local citizens advice bureaux and other locally based charities. The case for the value of free debt advice is clear—and “free”, of course, is the operative word here.

There is of course a large commercial debt management industry that charges for debt advice and debt management services. The bottom line is that these fee-charging companies are charging their clients high fees for a service that is available free from debt charities, which can be trusted to give the best, independent advice for each individual case. I hope that the Farnish review not only makes the case for independent, free advice but places this in the context of the need to promote free services over and above those of the fee-paying debt management companies to which all too many consumers currently turn.

The Money Advice Service also plays an important role in the co-ordination of debt advice, and I hope that the Farnish review will make the case that more consumers would benefit from telephone and online advice. I would certainly welcome this shift, but I must emphasise that this would not be to detract from the work of face-to-face advisers: far from it. A shift towards telephone and online advice would, in my view, help to preserve face-to-face advice for those who really need it.

While there is a useful role for the Money Advice Service to play in that level of co-ordination in the debt advice sector, we should also recognise the close partnership working that is already under way, in particular between the Money Advice Trust, Citizens Advice and StepChange. This partnership working increasingly extends to other organisations outside the debt advice space in recognition of the need for these services to be available to people in financial difficulty at the point of need in a wide range of venues and situations.

The Money Advice Trust, for example, is currently working with the Church of England to develop a resource to help parishioners raise awareness of free debt advice in their communities and to signpost these services where appropriate. We have also embarked upon an innovative partnership with Turn2us to link online debt and benefits advice through its “My Money Steps” tool, and we are exploring the potential for working more closely with food banks to make sure that people in financial difficulty receive the advice they need. We need to encourage the development of these new ways of working, and further innovations in this sector.

Money Advice Service research in 2013 showed that 8.8 million people in the UK are over-indebted. More recent trends show that consumer credit lending is expanding significantly, and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that the UK’s household debt to income ratio, which as I understand it is an aggregate measure of how much debt households have taken on

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relative to their incomes, is set to rise from 146% to 184% by 2020. This is significantly higher than its pre-crisis peak of 169% in 2008.

Furthermore, while expectations of a rise in interest rates continue to recede further into the future, we must none the less consider the impact on households with mortgages when it does eventually occur. Indeed, research last year by the Money Advice Trust and the Building Societies Association showed that 27% of mortgage payers are likely to fall into financial difficulty when interest rates rise. Many will fall into unmanageable debt as a result. Taking all these factors into account, it is clear that demand for debt advice is likely to rise in the future.

Noble Lords will be aware that the question of the appropriate level and allocation of the Money Advice Service’s budget is a central issue that the review has sought to address. The level of expenditure on some areas of the service’s work has of course met with controversy in the past. But if savings in some areas are to be made as a result of the review, I would strongly urge that consideration be given to a corresponding increase in the funding that is available to the service, but specifically for commissioning free debt advice services. Given the clear indications of future rising demand that I have described, an increase in funding for front-line free debt advice services would be a very welcome outcome of the review.

12.53 pm

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for initiating this timely and important debate on a subject which is affecting all parts of society, sometimes with devastating social effects. While the Farnish review has yet to be published, there is no doubt that attitudes to finance and debt in the UK are a matter of real concern. It is not always easy to get precise data on what exactly is going on, but there is evidence that levels of personal debt are continuing to rise, with reports this January of new consumer debt climbing to heights that have not been reached for nearly seven years. The £1.25 billion net increase in unsecured borrowing seen in November 2014 was the third month out of five when consumers had taken on more than £1 billion of new debt.

Over recent decades, many people have come to presume that it is normal to live with debt, in some cases with considerable levels of debt. Anecdotal reports from Citizens Advice centres and other organisations working in debt advice describe the terrible problems caused for some individuals and their families. This is a profound societal change, which has developed over a number of years under different Governments and could lead us into very serious problems in the future if the trends cannot be reversed.

The problems of indebtedness are clearly too deeply rooted to be swept away by the very welcome improvements in the UK’s economy over recent months. However, it is important to keep a close eye on these trends and the extent of the rise in personal debt, not just because of those individuals I have already mentioned but because it could possibly threaten financial stability in our economy. I wonder whether the Minister could tell us what assessment Her Majesty’s Government

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have made of the rising levels of personal debt and, in particular, whether they have any views about the level at which such personal debt could threaten the economy? At what point does that become something of significance for everyone?

If we are to achieve sustained attitudinal change towards personal debt we need to work in the coalitions that my noble colleagues have already spoken about, made up of government, the third sector and civil society institutions. A key part of this partnership must be to improve the availability, quality and consistency of debt advice in this country. For this reason, the Church of England is keen to support the work of the Money Advice Service and other debt organisations. We are concerned that the Money Advice Service should target its work and its resources be deployed as effectively as possible. With the demand for debt advice expected to double over the next five years, the challenges facing the sector are huge.

Locally, many churches are actively involved in helping people affected by debt. There are 270 debt centres affiliated to Christians Against Poverty; I have recently been closely in touch with one of them in Christ Church in Ware, in Hertfordshire. About 140 church-based centres are supported by Community Money Advice. Another church in my diocese, in Bedford, runs Money Advice at St Andrew’s, a free, confidential service financed by church members and used by a large number of people. Many other churches provide informal help to those who are struggling with their finances.

Nationally, the Archbishop’s task group is promoting the use of responsible credit and saving to ensure that there are real alternatives to payday loans and other forms of high-cost credit that push many people into problem debt. We are also very pleased to be working with the Money Advice Trust, to which my noble friend Lady Coussins has just referred, the charity that runs National Debtline, to develop a debt awareness and signposting resource. This will better enable congregation members and volunteers to raise awareness of free debt advice and help those in financial difficulty get the advice and support that they need.

As well as helping those struggling under the burden of debt, we need to work to move our society away from the current situation in which indebtedness is increasingly seen as the norm. We need to find ways of changing attitudes to credit and saving for the long term. I therefore want to focus my remaining remarks on financial education, which is equally important but still an underfunded element of the Money Advice Service’s financial capability strategy. I welcome the strategy’s emphasis on improving the financial capability of children and young people, and agree with its recommendation that the Government should consider the case for adding financial education to the primary school curriculum in England.

Young people today grow up in an increasingly complex world, requiring them to make difficult choices that will often have a significant impact on their future. They live in a culture that is heavily influenced by consumerism, and even very young children are being targeted by commercial companies because of their “pester power” and very real spending power. Online shopping, mobile phone contracts, tuition fees

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and the accessibility of credit cards mean that many young people are making financial decisions and are exposed to debt at a very young age. Millions of children are directly affected by overindebtedness as their parents struggle to keep up with their bills and credit commitments. Teaching our young people financial responsibility is vital.

At the same time, evidence from national and international surveys shows that the younger generation has lower levels of financial capability than their parents. If we are to enable future generations of young people to manage their finances well, children must be given high-quality financial education in school so that they can make informed choices and take responsibility for their actions. Sadly, that imperative is not yet adequately reflected in our education system. Although 94% of teachers and 79% of parents think that it is important for young children to learn about money and financial matters at school, only about one-third of primary schools teach financial education, and only 5% of parents think that young people are leaving school with the financial skills and knowledge that they need to manage their finances.

That is why the Church of England is working with the Personal Finance Education Group, now part of Young Enterprise, to establish an effective national financial education programme for primary schools centred on school-based savings clubs. Building on the evidence set out in the financial capability strategy and elsewhere, we want to give children the opportunity to learn about money at a much younger age, focusing on developing good attitudes and habits towards money, including practical experience of managing their own money. We want to involve parents and the wider community in children’s financial education, so that positive messages about money are being reinforced from a range of different sources. We are very grateful to this Government for funding the pilot of the LifeSavers programme, starting in Bradford, Nottinghamshire and south-east London, and we hope that it will be the beginning of a stronger and long-term commitment to financial education in this country.

Finally, one practical thing that we can do is to encourage take-up of credit unions. I am glad that the St Albans credit union, of which I am a member, not only helps many adults who need advice and help but pays regular visits to one of our local schools to encourage saving. I hope that we can find ways to build on such partnerships to increase financial literacy and responsibility. To that end, the review by the Money Advice Service is vital to ensure that we are doing all that we can to improve the situation for both this generation and those to come.

1.02 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, the Minister replying to this debate and I share a common problem: the report has not been published. The difference between us is that it is his Government’s fault that we are debating a report that we anticipated would have been published long since. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson said in introducing the debate, the report looks as though it will join the long list of challenges

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that will await the May election and will be passed on to the next Administration—a role we will, of course, fulfil with enthusiasm.

The other difficulty in dealing with the report is that comments made on it vary considerably. It is clear that some consider that the Money Advice Service has an important role to play in the significant area of dealing with personal debt and that its performance passes muster. However, there are indications of failure elsewhere which have led to the calamitous situation of the collapse of morale in the organisation. There are even suggestions that the staff may be cut by as much as one half and the budget reduced by nearly 40%.

This is a grim situation to confront an organisation that clearly has a role to play. The Treasury Select Committee, which also was dealing with partial information before the report was published, said in a forthright manner that it did not consider the Money Advice Service fit for purpose. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is consternation all round on the role that the organisation should play in the future, if at all.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Stevenson for having identified and highlighted this issue against a background where, as the right reverend Prelate, joined by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, emphasised, personal debt is a major issue for our society. We are approaching the record levels of personal debt that preceded the great crash. One would have thought that the Government might address themselves to a report that has significant things to say about an agency that is meant to help people in these circumstances, yet they have merely rendered its future uncertain.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will today be able to give some reassurances. One matter on which we would certainly want some reassurance from the Administration is the clear criticism in the report of the service’s potential role in relation to pensions advice. That issue will imminently be upon us in substantial numbers. People who are at the age at which they can take decisions about cashing in elements of their pension for a cash pot will need dispassionate, objective advice. The MAS would almost certainly be a body to which some would look, yet there are references to its lack of capacity for handling advice in this area.

We need these issues cleared up. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, that this debate would have had a very long list of speakers today if we had had the report before us and were able to consider in full how we expect people to be advised and how institutions will respond in giving dispassionate, accurate advice to so many of our people in need. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, the church, among other organisations, is acutely aware of the pressure of debt. That pressure is shown in the recourse that people have to food banks. The right reverend Prelate came very close to home when he mentioned Christ Church in Ware, as I live only four miles away from the church and know the excellent work that it does in this area.

However, we all recognise that such levels of support do not necessarily provide 100% coverage—far from it. All those organisations have limited resources, so

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we want the fullest contribution from those who have the requisite level of expertise and we want the Government to insist on priority for this area. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson made abundantly clear—I do not need to repeat many of the points he made—the Government’s delay and hesitation over the publication of the report, far from tackling the issue, merely creates uncertainty where we need certainty for a rather desperate public.

1.10 pm

Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for raising this important issue. As outgoing chair of StepChange, he is particularly well placed to do that. As part of my preparation for today’s debate, I looked at the StepChange website and was very impressed at the ease with which I would be able to use it if I needed debt advice. However, I am also very aware, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, pointed out, that many people want face-to-face advice. I will turn later to telephone and online advice. The work that Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust do in terms of debt advice is most impressive.

The review that is the subject of today’s debate was established by the Government to ensure that consumers’ needs were being adequately met. It was charged with two things: first, assessing how effectively and efficiently the Money Advice Service is meeting the need for consumer education and advice; and, secondly, recommending any changes to MAS’s role, approach and delivery models that would enable it better to meet this need. The review was led by Christine Farnish and I would like to take this opportunity to thank her and her team for all of their efforts.

The review explores how MAS can improve the quality, reach and cost effectiveness of the debt advice it funds. It also raises important questions about how MAS ensures consumers have access to good quality and trustworthy tools and information to help them manage their money and understand financial products, including with regard to the strategic role that MAS should seek to play in influencing others who provide information and advice to consumers.

As the noble Lord pointed out, the Government have received the report and are currently considering it. They have decided, sensibly I think, that they will publish their response when they publish the report. They are well along the way to being able to do that, although I am sorry that they were unable to do it in time for today. They will publish the report and their response in the coming weeks.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the Government’s response more generally to the TSC report but HMT has already responded to this report in the form of a letter from the former FST, Sajid Javid, which was published. This response accepted the central recommendation, which was to undertake an independent review. The noble Lord also raised the spectre of the review recommending the abolition of MAS. The Government asked Christine Farnish to look at how MAS could improve its work rather than whether it should be abolished. The Government believe

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that MAS has important ongoing functions to play in helping individuals improve their financial confidence and resilience.

On the broad approach which the Government have taken in this area, we believe that everyone, regardless of circumstance, should have access to money and debt advice. That is crucial because helping individuals to improve their financial confidence and resilience also gives wider social and economic benefits and helps to ensure that retail financial markets are well functioning and competitive.

MAS was set up to give people the support they need to manage their money well. Since 2012, it has also had a statutory responsibility for co-ordinating the provision of debt advice. It is now the largest single funder of free debt advice in the UK and has made significant progress in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of debt advice since being given these responsibilities by government. Giving MAS statutory responsibility for debt advice, funding and co-ordination has put the funding arrangements for free debt advice on a far more sustainable footing. From the coming financial year, this funding base will expand to include firms authorised by the FCA for consumer credit activities, including payday lenders. The Government are keen to see the funding base broaden further to reflect that debt problems are caused by a number of factors, including falling behind on bills as well as falling behind on repayments.

In ensuring debt advice is able to reach as many people as possible, the Government recognise the importance of consumers being able to access advice through the most appropriate channel, be it online, face-to-face or by telephone. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised an interesting point in this respect. From the Government’s point of view, the more that people can access debt advice and, indeed, advice more generally, online and by phone is welcome for two reasons. First, it is easier for them because there is more flexibility about how they do it, and secondly, it is better for the Government in many ways because people accessing advice online is much more cost-effective. If everybody were doing that instead of needing face-to-face advice, it would save the Government a lot of money, which they are always keen to do. Having looked at the website, the challenge is that there will be many people who have pretty chaotic financial circumstances and will need face-to-face advice to get to the end point. We are offering three strands of advice—online, telephone and face-to-face—on pension flexibility that we are about to introduce and it will be interesting to see how that breaks down. There we are giving people an equal opportunity to use any of those strands and that might help inform how we look at providing debt advice and other forms of advice. One of the challenges we have at the moment is trying to work out what that split is going to be, but until we start, we do not know.

The Government also believe it is essential that the right options and incentives are available to consumers to encourage them to deal with their debts. For example, the Government share the interest in the idea of giving consumers in debt repayment plans a breathing space

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from interest and charges and are actively considering what further steps might be taken in this area.

As well as being able and encouraged to access free debt advice, consumers must have the assurance that the organisation and advisers they engage with are operating to the highest standards. That is why we agreed with not-for-profit debt advisers that they should be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and be held to the same conduct standards as for debt management firms in order to maintain the confidence of clients. However, the Government have also ensured that the new FCA regulatory regime subjects not-for-profit debt advice providers to proportionate regulatory burdens, including placing them in the lower cost limited permission regime, to encourage the supply of free debt advice that meets consumers’ needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised the importance of encouraging people to have rainy-day savings. I agree with him on that. One of the challenges is to ensure that a range of products is easily available for people, particularly those on low incomes. We are seeing two big developments. One is credit unions. We are now in the happy position of there being almost a bidding war between the political parties about how many more million members they want credit unions to have by 2020, which is very healthy for credit unions. Credit unions are expanding and, more importantly, are expanding the range of products they have available, not least so that young people who want to be able to do the maximum number of financial transactions online or on their phone will increasingly be able to do that via credit unions. Secondly, the main banks’ agreement last December about a basic bank account with more features than was previously the case is another helpful way to get more people into a position where it is easier for them to save.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and the right reverend Prelate raised the big issue of the appropriate level of debt. They share a concern that personal debt is now rising to pre-crisis levels or going beyond it. What we have seen, as the right reverend Prelate said, is a complete change in attitude towards debt from that of my parents’ generation, who grew up in an environment where the Great Depression meant that people were in severe financial difficulties because there was not always a very effective state safety net and there was therefore a huge incentive for people on modest means to save modest amounts for a rainy day—and they did. That incentive has gone, to a certain extent. My children and their friends have a completely different view of debt from the one I have, and a very, very different view from that of my parents. How we strike a balance is a big challenge.

Working in schools is definitely very important, as the right reverend Prelate said. This Government have introduced financial literacy into the secondary curriculum but, as he says, primary schools are potentially—and actually—more important. That is why the work that is just starting, such as LifeSavers, is very important. It is also important not just that we get credit unions into schools but that we encourage building societies and banks to go into schools and get children saving at

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a young age. If you get them saving in a structured way at a very young age, they are much more likely to save later on.

I am out of time. This is a very important issue. The report and the Government’s response will be published shortly. We will have the opportunity to debate it then. In the mean time, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue today.

Young Care Leavers

Question for Short Debate

1.22 pm

Asked by Baroness Eaton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to help young care leavers not able to “stay put” in foster care to make a successful transition to independence.

Baroness Eaton (Con): My Lords, I am deeply gratified by the level of interest your Lordships and other colleagues have shown in this subject—gratified but not surprised as I know that there are many tireless campaigners for vulnerable children on all the Benches of this House. As the last days of this Parliament rush by, it is important to pause and reflect on some of its major achievements. The “staying put” clauses in the Children and Families Act 2014 represent a seismic shift in provision for care leavers by allowing them to stay with their foster parents until the age of 21.

Previously there was no guarantee that young people studying hard for their A-levels or battling to hold down an apprenticeship or their first job would be able to stay with supportive foster parents. The strong bonds of affection that had formed through the rollercoaster ride of the teenage years would hold no sway if a local authority was not minded—or able—to be flexible. Now, however, the importance of these relationships, where they exist, is enshrined in legislation, with the effect, as the Department for Education has affirmed, of ensuring that some care leavers experience the stability and security of family life enjoyed by their peers into early adulthood.

I believe that in this area we are seeing the early and promising signs of what Dr Samantha Callan, an associate director at the Centre for Social Justice, refers to as the “relational turn” in UK social policy. Encouragingly, this emphasis on relationships is an area of cross-party consensus that goes wide and deep, and crosses national borders. Scotland has led on the importance of children’s nurture in the early years and, of great relevance to this debate, Northern Ireland has much to teach us about how some authorities ensure that adults with whom care leavers have some good history are drafted in as their official personal advisers. In England, however, a system operates where young people are allocated a complete stranger, whose case load can be as high as 49 young people, undermining any chance of a meaningful relationship.

I ask the Minister to note that the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, has gone on record as saying that local authority personnel may not fulfil this role as

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well as non-local authority personnel, and to reflect on how, more fundamentally, it is deeply questionable whether introducing a new professional into a young person’s life shortly before they leave care is the most sensible approach.

I am slightly jumping ahead of myself, because my purpose in securing this debate is to draw attention to those care leavers who have not had placement stability and are ineligible for staying put. Perhaps they came into care very late and were adamant that they did not want foster parents because they felt deeply loyal to their birth families. We heard this week that the police are being called into homes where young people are out of control. The safety of the whole family may mean that they are taken into care but, if they wholly reject the idea of a “substitute” family placement, fostering will be inappropriate.

Staying put is not available to the 9% of looked-after children who are in residential children’s homes, yet almost two-thirds of them have clinically significant mental health difficulties. For that reason, if for no other, we simply cannot continue to show those young people the door at 18. It is encouraging that funding from the innovation programme has been secured to test a model of staying put for those in residential care in North Yorkshire, under its No Wrong Door project. It is crucial that the urgency behind the initiative is not lost. One swallow does not make a summer, and one pilot does not mean that we have embedded the ability of young people to stay until they are ready to fly the nest. But even if staying put were further extended it would not help many of the most vulnerable care leavers, many of whom see themselves as “tough” and “independent” due to poor attachments. They may long to leave the system even if they are not ready, especially if they feel that it has let them down. For these young people, we must think more creatively.

From my own experience as a councillor in Bradford, I know just how important it is to take a whole-person approach to this issue, asking not just what children in care need to survive but what they need to thrive in adult life. I am talking whole-person and whole-government. The Care Leaver Strategy driven by the Social Justice Cabinet Committee has brought departments such as the DWP and BIS to the table to add their contribution, but more must be done.

The recent report from the Centre for Social Justice, Finding Their Feet, powerfully illustrates how relationships are utterly pivotal for a successful transition to adulthood for care leavers, and how policy can be built on that insight. Three-quarters of the care leavers that it surveyed said that they had struggled with loneliness after leaving care. That is undoubtedly what lies behind so many of the dreadful statistics. If you do not have someone to turn to for help with bills, you may end up in debt and even be evicted. If you are in an abusive relationship and there is no one to confirm that, yes, the way you are being treated is wholly unacceptable and help you make a safe exit, it can be incredibly hard to escape. This is a very real problem. Barn and Mantovani’s research shows that the impact of rejection and poor-quality relationships with carers can mean that,

“distinguishing between a loving relationship and a sexual relationship can be difficult”,

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for children in care and care leavers. They are heartbreakingly susceptible to sexual exploitation, as many cases around the country have shown.

There are examples of innovative practice initiated by individuals in support of young care leavers. The pilot scheme by my noble friend Lord Freud through CSV which offers grandparent-style mentors to teenagers is a useful contribution in the field.

Another major issue that I would like to flag up for this debate is the centrality of employment for care leavers to be able to reach their potential. Specifically, they are unable to benefit from the investment that this Government have put into apprenticeships because, without family support, they cannot afford to take them up. Wages can be as low as £2.73 an hour. Moreover, while the Department for Education gives bursaries of £2,000 for higher education, there is no comparable support for care leavers taking up apprenticeships, sending the signal that the education path is the only one valued by government. I ask the Minister to take back to the department the idea of bursaries for such apprenticeships. If 10% of care leavers took them up, it would cost a modest £1.8 million.

Local government should also help, but the Centre for Social Justice found that almost two-thirds of local authorities do not provide specific additional financial support for care leavers taking up an apprenticeship. In Bradford we established a scheme to ensure that care leavers were incentivised to take up a traineeship or apprenticeship by topping up their income to £100 and giving them a bus pass if they were working full time. They also get a £10 training incentive. The aim is to ensure that they have £50 of disposable income and are financially better off in work than being NEET and wholly dependent on the state.

The imbalance in support for apprentices brings me to a final theme. It will be no surprise to the House that, as a former chair of the LGA, I am in favour of localism. Where the system works well, councillors are able to take on a direct responsibility as corporate parents and drive improvement. However, in this area there is enormous inconsistency across local authorities. For example, in terms of the number of children who go missing from care every year and for how long, a freedom of information request showed that last year more than 250 were missing for more than a month.

Ofsted has introduced more comprehensive integrated inspections of children’s services, but I suggest that improvement would follow also from more comprehensive data collection so that we know what is happening on the ground. Examples of new data to be collected would be long-term unemployment of care leavers and placement moves. Following on from adoption scorecards, corporate parenting scorecards, which we could introduce, would ensure that conscientious councillors were equipped to drive improvement in their local authorities, and those not pulling their weight would have nowhere to hide.

In conclusion, I reiterate my concern for care leavers’ mental health. The Times has just launched a campaign to highlight the crisis in children’s and young people’s mental health and the subject is rapidly rising up the political agenda. Preventing poor mental health is tightly bound up with ensuring that children grow up

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with consistent and loving relationships, even when their parents have not been able to provide them. Preserving instead of discarding these when children leave the formal care system has to be a priority.

1.33 pm

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, first, I declare my interests as an ambassador for Action for Children and as chair of a charity called Changing Lives, which works with adults and some children with complex needs.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton—I nearly called her “my noble friend” because she is a friend. I knew her when she was leader in Bradford and leader of the LGA. She has raised a very important topic. As Back-Benchers, we have a very short time to contribute, so I shall not say as much as I would have liked to say about the overall care system.

The staying put arrangements, which the Children’s Minister introduced at the end of the Bill’s passage last year, are very important and welcome. However, even if they were able to be fully implemented, they would not solve all the problems for care leavers. The LGA briefing and the Ofsted report this week, to mention but a couple of sources, demonstrate clearly that all is not well with social care for children and young people, and that there is an enormous stretch on the funding for young people and children in care.

Because there is so little time, I want to concentrate on the most vulnerable. I start by reminding the House of a report that recently came out from LankellyChase, called Hard Edges: Mapping Severe andMultiple Disadvantage—England. In my view, that report is an absolutely imperative read for all Ministers. It shows a huge overlap between the offender, substance misuser and homeless populations. That is not rocket science, but the report maps it extremely well.

As children, these people all experienced trauma, neglect, poverty, family breakdown and disrupted education; as adults, many suffer alarming levels of loneliness, isolation, unemployment, poverty and mental ill health. This is what happens to the most vulnerable children whom we are talking about today—the ones who leave care early at 16 or 17 go back home for a while, usually a very short period, and then try to find their way, and those who experienced multiple moves in care. We all know that there are too many in the care system for whom there is breakdown after breakdown. When we looked at adoption, we were meeting young people who had been through 14 or 15 placements in a year. Many of those are young people who enter the care system as teenagers. Vulnerable young people are also likely to be those placed in residential care, precisely because fostering will have broken down or they are not seen as suitable to place with a family. This group is inevitably the most vulnerable and too many of the awful reports about young people this year relate to them.

The research from Action for Children, Too Much, Too Young, confirmed that it is the most vulnerable who experience the most instability after care. For example, I know that Durham County Council, my own local authority, has what Ofsted and others regard

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as a good system for care leavers and for keeping hold of them. I also know, from my chairing of Changing Lives, that we found two young people who had left care and ended up in the direct access hostel. As those of your Lordships involved in the world of the homeless know, such a hostel is the most difficult and brutal end of homeless care. It is for people who are coming out of prison or have been living on the streets, or who are not ready to have independent living or even main hostel living. Those young people ended up there because the placements that they had been found by the local authority broke down. They were therefore with the most inappropriate groups of people and learning not very good lessons, even though we are doing our very best in that hostel. They were not in the right place but had drifted there because their post-care situation had broken down. They also end up being the most costly people for our society.

We can and must do better. There must be a much more coherent and co-ordinated system for all children who have been in the care system. The current arrangements must be seen as the first step, but only the first step. The most vulnerable are simply not covered, mainly because they are not in foster care at the age of 18. The next Government have to have a look at the whole system. They will have to link it to other work, such as that on troubled families, and ensure that much more work with families takes place while children are in care. That was the main recommendation I gave to the Department for Education and the Prime Minister when I did my review of care as Social Exclusion Minister.

Other European countries work much more with the families while the children are in care. Here, we do nothing, so if the children go back and have links back home, nobody is working with the family to ensure that the children and young people have the right support when they leave care. We can and must do better.

1.39 pm

Baroness Young of Hornsey (CB): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, on securing this important debate. The seismic shift to which she referred is being recognised as a critical intervention, contributing to the life chances and well-being of children who have experienced some or all of their life in care. When a state has to step in and take on the role of parent for a child, it is a sign that something has gone badly wrong and needs to be put right.

For the children and young people who are able to remain with their foster parents past the age of 18, it demonstrates that, after all they have been through, there are people who wish to continue giving them the support and care that all young people deserve. They can, at last, benefit from a degree of continuity and stability that has been previously lacking. However, all the positives relating to “staying put” alert us to the predicament of children without the possibility of having that kind of stability, security and continuity beyond the age of 18.

Unsurprisingly, many care leavers feel abandoned, experience poor relationships and have low expectations of themselves and others. Coupled with the onset of

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adolescence and the sense of abandonment and trauma —and often with mental health issues as well— the circumstances are ripe for some care leavers to fall through the net and into the criminal justice system. Looked-after children and care leavers are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. The user-led organisation the Care Leavers’ Association has been working on this issue. I am grateful to it for providing me with a preview of a report on the subject that will be published later this year.

According to official figures, the offending rates of looked-after children in England are now just over four times that of all other children. More than 40% of men under the age of 21 in the criminal justice system have spent time in care, while 61% of girls in the 15 to 18 age group in custody have spent time in care. The experience of care is also suggested as a factor in reoffending rates, with those who have been in care potentially more likely to be reconvicted in the year following release from prison. The Care Leavers’ Association is concerned by this disproportionality. Although the figures are relatively low overall, the negative impact on the children concerned, and the risk of them becoming serial offenders, is unacceptable.

Research suggests that the risk of offending is greatest for these young people if, first, they are inappropriately criminalised due to challenging behaviour; secondly, they enter the care system during adolescence and the transition to adulthood; and thirdly, they experience instability in relationships and lack appropriate professional support. The premise underpinning staying put is clear: create and maintain stability and life chances will be dramatically improved. I have heard it said, “Once a care leaver, always a care leaver”. It is an experience that stays throughout the life course, but it does not have to be the kind of burden that prevents people achieving their full potential.

An important element in processing the experience of being in care is reclaiming a sense of identity and ownership of your life and your life story. To be able to come to terms with the nature of that experience is a vital part of the healing process. There should be appropriate support available to that adult, of whatever age, when she or he is ready to engage with their care records. Such records can be life-affirming and address some of the feelings of guilt and misunderstanding so often experienced. One care leaver, who was in custody when he applied for his care records, said after reading them through, “It feels like I have taken ownership of a period of my life that is fundamental to who I am today. Dealing with the past, embracing what positives I can, and putting to bed the residues that followed me through life … has had a very positive impact on my ability to make positive choices”.

We have made some progress in recognising the role that care records, appropriately handled, can play, but we still have some way to go to ensure that local authorities fully understand the impact a negative experience of receiving files can have. The access to records campaign is working with DfE officials to get the message across about the refreshed guidance on this matter out to local authority and other professionals in the field.

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However, policies and regulatory guidance is one thing, effective implementation is another. One care leaver interviewed by the CLA said, “I got a letter … I’m not getting any leaving care support because I’ve just turned 21, but I never even knew I had any”. All of those who have experienced some or all of their childhood and adolescence in care deserve our focused attention and support. We know, or at least have a good idea, of what some of the problems are and yet we do not seem to be making enough headway quickly enough in finding and implementing effective solutions.

Of course there are financial realities and the Local Government Association has drawn attention to the impact on funds for fostering that the current incarnation of staying put has had on their resources—I have a good deal of sympathy with it—but we have to do something to offer all those who have experienced care continuity, security and the conditions in which they can thrive, and that needs to be paid for. Are we really going to say, especially to those who do not at present have the opportunity to stay put, “Tough luck. We have no money to spare. You will just have to cope as best you can”?

I hope the Minister will be able to offer those young people and those who work with and for them a positive statement about the ambitions of the state for its looked-after children and care leavers.

1.46 pm

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, I, too, express gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for bringing this matter to our attention. It is abundantly clear to us all that people in care are among the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society. At no point in their lives are that vulnerability and risk more acutely felt than when transitioning to independent adult living.

I declare an interest as a former chair of the Children’s Society and as a member of the Good Childhood inquiry published in 2009. It is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who played such a key part in that inquiry, in his place today. I remember evidence given to the inquiry by a young person who explained that the moment of leaving care, inadequately prepared and unsupported, marked the start of a long, lonely journey into crime and abuse from which it later took several years to recover.

The behavioural, emotional, social and learning difficulties faced by this group of young people are well documented and already well rehearsed in this debate. These youngsters are three times more likely to run away than other young people and an estimated 10,000 of them go missing each year. Project workers from the Children’s Society report children telling them that they are being pushed towards making a decision to move into semi-independent living arrangements when they often feel quite unready for it.

This is surely why, at an early stage, half way planning which addresses young people’s emotional development and focuses on the needs which young people have articulated is vital. In particular, this planning needs to attend, as others have said, to relationships and to focus on supporting young people

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to develop friendships and networks, as well as addressing relationships with siblings and family. Further, there is a clear need for support in developing practical housekeeping skills, applying for benefits and so on.

Above all, these young people need support in feeling empowered to have a voice into the key decision-making processes that affect their lives. The evidence is clear that where children have participated in and understood the decisions affecting their future, they are much more likely to co-operate with their implementation. It would be helpful, therefore, to know whether the Minister agrees that Ofsted inspections of local authority provision should include a review of the availability of independent advocacy services for young people in this area.

I wish to touch briefly, as others have done, on some of the most vulnerable groups within the 16-plus population. Disabled young people who are looked after are often the most disadvantaged in accessing information and making choices at transition. This is sometimes aggravated by lack of contact with friends and families and vulnerability to abuse. Further, unaccompanied and separated migrant children regularly experience barriers to appropriate accommodation and adequate support and rehabilitation services. Many of these are placed in unsupervised placements, often because they do not have documentation or their age is disputed. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be a much greater focus on adolescents in these high-risk categories, both in training for professionals and in Ofsted inspections?

Finally, research has consistently found that the health, including and perhaps especially mental health and well-being of young people leaving care, is poorer than that of young people in the population as a whole. That is why they are almost twice as likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol or to report other mental health difficulties, and that is why young people when consulted wanted to be able to leave care when they were ready and to have a chance to stay in care beyond the age of 18, if they do not feel prepared to live on their own. As has become clear in this debate, that is the crux of the matter. We know that transitioning to adulthood is challenging and demanding for all young people today, but how much more so for care leavers, for all the reasons so clearly stated in this debate. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that she is determined to keep a focus on their special needs in the days ahead.

1.51 pm

Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con): My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Eaton on securing this debate. I am particularly pleased—she has made my heart sing today—that she highlighted the importance of securing employment in the transition to adulthood for care leavers. As former chief executive of Tomorrow’s People, I know just how crucial work can be for getting a life on track. Employment provides financial security as well as confidence, a sense of purpose and direction, daily structure, and the chance to widen social networks in a way that claiming benefits is simply unable to do. It is therefore shocking that, in

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England, at least 38% of 19 to 21 year-old care leavers are NEET—not in education, employment and training. In fact, this is probably a gross underestimate since, by the time they reach the age of 21, local authorities have no information on one-quarter of care leavers, who are not counted in the figure.