The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): The latest statistics show 415 rough sleepers in London on any one night: 23 per cent of the national total. The Government are committed to tackling rough sleeping and preventing homelessness. We have maintained the level of the homelessness grant, with £400 million for local authorities and the voluntary sector over the next four years. A cross-departmental ministerial working group has been set up to address the complex causes of homelessness and to improve support for homeless people.
Lord Sheldon: I thank the noble Baroness for that reply because there is some improvement there, which I look forward to seeing. Sleeping rough can be a dangerous experience. One estimate is that rough sleepers have an average life expectancy of 42 years, and that people who sleep rough are 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. It is difficult to get an accurate figure, because to protect themselves men and particularly women sleep in places where they might not easily be found. Is the noble Baroness aware that one estimate is that 3,600 people sleep rough in London at some point and that the London mayor was actually committed to ending rough sleeping by next year? What proposals are there for that claim to be put into practice?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am aware of the seriousness of homelessness and of rough sleeping. That is why we are trying very hard to end the situation. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, a ministerial group is looking across the spectrum of Whitehall to see what needs to be done about homelessness to stop it completely. It hopes to report quite soon. I am sure the noble Lord knows that the mayor is also taking forward an initiative to try to ensure that people are not sleeping on the street for more than one night. The whole issue of criminal activity and attacks on people rough sleeping will come into the care that they will be given when they are being looked after.
Lord Best: My Lords, did the Minister see the report last week from Homeless Link, which suggested that one in six places in hostels for homeless people will have to go because of the cuts to the Supporting People grants? Will she join the Housing Minister Grant Shapps and campaigners in this field in urging local authorities, even in these difficult times, not to cut the Supporting People grants, which both cure and prevent homelessness?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, local authorities have no excuse for cutting the Supporting People grants, which have by and large been preserved in cash terms-the reduction is less than 1 per cent. Although that is part of the unring-fenced grant, we still expect to see that amount of money put towards supporting people. Reductions in the number of bed spaces available cannot be attributed to that because the money is there to ensure that there is sufficient accommodation for people who are rough sleeping and are being taken into hostels.
Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the London Assembly. Is the money also going to provide any specialist help to the estimated one in three rough sleepers who are suffering from mental health problems?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the question of why people rough sleep certainly includes mental health problems. The mayor's initiative to take people in immediately-along with the other hostels-ensures that they get access to both healthcare and support for moving on into housing.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: Is there strong MoD representation on the interdepartmental committee? It is a known fact that ex-service personnel in particular have issues of homelessness and represent quite a considerable number of those sleeping rough.
Baroness Hanham: The answer to that is yes. The Ministry of Defence is represented on the cross-ministerial group. It is well understood that a number of the people who are on the streets are prisoners who have been let out without care. I know that attention is also being given to ensure that better care is given to prisoners before they leave prison, because it is clearly one aspect that is giving difficulty.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, can local authorities really stop organisations distributing food to those in need on the streets? Will the Government ensure that charitable work that has been conducted by organisations such as St George's Crypt in Leeds for generations is not destroyed or damaged by anti-humanitarian by-laws?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that the question refers rather opaquely to the proposal by Westminster to provide a by-law. That is a very specific initiative that Westminster is looking at, and it will involve a
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, could the Minister tell the House just how many young people and children are involved in sleeping out at this time? What special arrangements will be made to deal with them, not least in the light of all the trafficking that has been going on recently?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I do not know the specific number of children who are sleeping rough, but I hope that the answer is nil because it would be a very serious matter if there were more than a few. If I can find out the answer, I will of course let the noble Baroness know. I am very well aware of her interest and that of the House as a whole in the problem of the trafficking of children and women. I know that it will be very high on the police radar to ensure that any child found in the street is immediately taken in.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take in response to the recommendation on gaps in the national preventive mechanism made in the first annual report of the United Kingdom's Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government welcome this report and are studying its recommendations carefully. MoJ officials are in discussion with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Her Majesty's Courts Service and the Provost Marshal-Army-to look at any ways of closing gaps that have been identified.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am very glad to see that there is a report because while this protocol was signed in December 2003, it was not until March 2009 that the national preventive mechanism was set up. It has an extremely important role, not just in prisons but with immigration detainees. The coalition, as noble Lords will know, has 18 members, but what is worrying them all is that in addition to the gaps that have been identified, about which the Minister spoke, there is a problem of resources. They have to resource those extra inspections from their own budgets. Can the Minister assure the House that cuts will not affect the operation of this protocol?
Lord McNally: My Lords, the Government are committed to the operation of this protocol. All the bodies covering it have had to take their share of cuts, but they should keep in mind the overall commitment to honour the protocol when they apply those cuts.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the report also reflects concerns about the length of time that some detainees are kept in immigration removal centres. What is being done to keep their number to the absolute minimum for the shortest possible time?
Lord McNally: My Lords, there is concern, and the UK Border Agency regularly reviews all cases where people are detained under immigration powers. It will consider for release all those who have been assessed as presenting a low risk of harm to the public and/or who are unlikely to abscond. However, there will always be some detainees who need to be detained.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, one area of concern is the fate of deportees when they are returned to their homeland. How often are the in-country reports updated to ensure that the political situation is taken into account? Secondly, what mechanism exists to ensure that they suffer no harm when they are returned?
Baroness Stern: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the bodies in this mechanism is the Care Quality Commission and that last year it inspected 1,700 wards in hospitals where people are detained under the Mental Health Act? It was very concerned about children and adolescents being held in mixed wards because that threatened their privacy, their dignity and their safety. Do the Government have any plans to respond to that concern as a matter of urgency?
Lord McNally: Yes, my Lords. This is being kept under particular review since how young people with mental health conditions are being kept is of concern. As far as possible, the issues identified will be addressed.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps we might return to the issue of resources. The noble Lord referred to the UKBA but would he acknowledge that, in the past few weeks, Ministers have referred to an increasing number of responsibilities being given to the UKBA at the same time as 5,000 staff are being taken off its head count? What we have not had is an explanation of how the UKBA is meant to manage these new responsibilities.
Lord McNally: Cuts are being made right across government. I will not go through the mantra of why that is so, as those on the noble Lord's side know it only too well. However, all departments in which the cuts are being made are looking at how to maintain delivery under a much more difficult regime. That is one of the facts of life that we face as a country.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the Minister care to answer the second part of my noble friend's question? How can the Government justify putting more responsibility on the UKBA when the Minister acknowledges that it is making reductions in effect by putting more responsibility on those staff? Surely a responsible Government would take account of this and not give extra workloads to those whose numbers are being severely reduced.
Lord McNally: The noble Baroness obviously sees herself as the minder of the Front Bench as she often pops up with questions that suggest, usually quite unjustifiably, that I have not answered the question. If she wants it more bluntly, we inherited an economic disaster. Every government department has had to take its hit, including mine; yet there are people within the public service grappling with those realities-in a way, may I say, that the last Government avoided. Those people will continue to do so, and I have every confidence that the UKBA will do that too.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, getting back to the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred in his original Question, the report raised significant concern about detainees with mental health problems, who often do not receive the support and treatment they need when in prison and are often held for long periods in segregation units. Even when they are held in more appropriate settings, they still experience difficulties in accessing mental health services. Can the Minister tell the House what efforts are being made to ensure that all detainees are able to access the services that they require regardless of where they are detained?
Lord McNally: My Lords, mental illness is being addressed by the Government in a new cross-government mental health strategy that was launched in February. On the segregation units, for prisoners for whom segregation is considered to be the only option an initial segregation health screening must be carried out within two hours of the prisoner segregation. In addition, for prisoners in an open mental health situation a mental health assessment must be undertaken within 24 hours. We are taking mental health in the prison population extremely seriously and we will be bringing
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Department for Transport has committed to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to develop a business case for the electrification of the key valley commuter lines north of Cardiff via Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Coryton and Rhymney, as well as the lines to Penarth and Barry Island to the west. There is no current proposal for electrification of the line from Newport to Ebbw Vale.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but I am disappointed by it. By the way, the line at present does not go to Newport-it is Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. It opened on 8 February 2008 and in the first year carried 573,000 passengers, breaking all expectations. At weekends it has to double its capacity to carry passengers. It is the only one of the valley lines not to be included in this proposed business plan. Would he be prepared to facilitate a meeting with myself, himself, his Secretary of State and perhaps a couple of Members of the other place so we can put our case directly to Ministers?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am aware of the success of the lines. The noble Lord asked about a meeting. Yes, I will facilitate that. I think noble Lords need to understand that electrification can have a good business case when the existing rolling stock needs replacing and the frequency of vehicle movements is relatively high. That does not yet exist on the Ebbw Vale line.
Baroness Randerson: My Lords, the announcement of the proposed electrification of the valley lines was strongly welcomed in Wales but there was some disappointment that the electrification of the First Great Western line did not go beyond Cardiff. I was very pleased to hear that the Government are keeping that under review. Can the Minister give us some detail of how that review will take place?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, Governments keep everything under review. It is important to understand that the rolling stock that will be used on the Great Western line is the bi-mode IEP train. The savings in time from Cardiff to Swansea will be minimal because the maximum speed on that line is severely restricted. Therefore, there would be no benefit from electrification in the short term.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, given the success of the service on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, why are there no passenger trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport, for which there must be a big demand? I believe that freight has been running on the line for many years. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. As I understand it, although there is a freight line to Newport, the signalling is not up to the required standards for passenger trains. Under the new signalling project, modern signalling has been provided for but not fitted. Specifying train services is a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government, so if they want to specify that there will be passenger train services from Ebbw Vale to Newport, they can do so.
Lord Brookman: I declare an interest as someone who was born in Ebbw Vale, an event that was followed by the Second World War. I recall the final march about the closure at Ebbw Vale-the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock of Holyhead, and her dear husband were there and her remarks stay with me. Does the Minister agree that commuting from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff and subsequently, I hope, to Newport is of paramount importance for the people who live in that area, especially the young people, to get jobs?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Will my noble friend bear in mind the increased attractiveness of the valleys in terms of enterprise zones and the promotion of work opportunities if the valley lines are electrified?
Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, will the Minister explain this business about being "under review", what the timetable of the review of the electrification of the line from Cardiff to Swansea would be and why he has not done a complete business case on electrifying that line?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, there are numerous possible electrification schemes and we have to go for those that offer the best business case. At the moment, there is not a good business case for electrifying the line all the way to Swansea; there are much more attractive schemes elsewhere. We cannot do everything all at once.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, no one is asking the Minister to do everything all at once. He will recognise that it will be a considerable time before any of this electrification programme takes place, so will he take seriously the possibility that the Ebbw Vale line may well develop in such a way as to merit inclusion in the projected electrification of the valley
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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord says, but it is important to understand that when there are relatively few diesel trains running, the savings that you can obtain by electrification are relatively small. At some point, the demand on the Ebbw Vale line may be sufficient to justify electrification.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Marland): My Lords, exploration for shale gas has only recently commenced in the UK and no commercial production has yet been proven. In a recent study for DECC, the British Geological Survey estimated that there could be worthwhile shale gas resources in the UK. However, on current knowledge, it is not possible to estimate the recoverable reserves and therefore it is too early to assess how shale gas in the UK might impact our energy policy.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, are the discoveries so far not sufficiently encouraging to provide at least the potential for future energy policy? Will he take that potential into account in making his future plans?
Lord Marland: That is a very topical question. We hope that fracking-I use the word, which you might think has come from "Call My Bluff", advisedly-is about to start in Blackpool. We should have the results of that this week. It is being observed. Once we have the results, we will have further study and a greater awareness of what is potentially there.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that fracking is environmentally safe? It has been suggested in parts of the United States that it can cause water pollution. Is my noble friend happy that that is not the case, certainly for the immediate Blackpool operation?
Lord Marland: I have just been asked by those on my own Benches what fracking is, so I will further the "Call My Bluff" scheme, if I may. It is hydraulic fracturing-sending in water and chemicals to discover whether there is shale gas there. My noble friend's question refers to whether the water comes out polluted. It is therefore very important that the Environment Agency is on hand to establish whether it does.
Lord Reay: Is the Minister satisfied that the announcement in the Budget of a floor price for carbon, to be introduced from 2013, will not discourage investment in this extremely promising source of abundant and cheap energy?
Lord Marland: My Lords, it is abundant and cheap in America, where a great amount of it has been found-three times the supply, in fact. However, we have different problems here in the UK. We have a high population density and are unsure of the reserves. There are all the planning issues that go with high population density. Therefore, it will not necessarily at this point mean a huge surge in the gas supply in this country. However, the point that my noble friend makes about taxation and the carbon floor price will be taken into account with this technology.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, rightly mentioned water pollution. Is one of the problems of exploiting shale gas in a country such as ours not that it requires huge quantities of water? When we are likely to face water shortages in the near future, would that not seem to be rather an unwise thing to do? Is it not clear that the biggest consequence of shale gas will be the exploitation of the enormous American supplies, which are already having an impact on the global gas price?
Lord Marland: My noble friend makes a point about the competition that American shale gas has brought to the gas supply. That is very valuable to us now that we are net importers of gas. We hope that it will compress the price of gas. As to water, it has been pointed out that we are an island and there is a lot of water around us. I do not think we will end up with a huge water shortage, provided that we use the right water.
Lord Marland: My Lords, they are largely in the area around Blackpool. I understand that there will be some investigation in Southport and on that coastline. I am not a geologist but it presumably links in some form to Morecambe Bay. That is largely the area that is being investigated.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: I know the Minister is aware that there are concerns, as we have already heard, that there might be risks associated with obtaining shale gas. Why then have the Government not waited for the Select Committee in the other place to report fully on the inquiry that it is undertaking at present, or for the report from the US Environmental Protection Agency on the risk to humans and the environment? That information would have been very helpful to the Government before proceeding. To reassure people who have those concerns, what evidence does the Minister have that it is safe to proceed?
Lord Marland: We have evidence in the United States, as has been referenced. This has been going on for some time, so it is a proven technology. As I mentioned, the Environment Agency is on site to ensure that the process is taking place properly, so I am very comfortable with that. This is not a new technology. We have been using the fracking process in gas development for a very long time, so we have the safeguards in place.
Lord Oxburgh: Does the Minister agree that some of the difficulties with shale gas exploitation in North America and elsewhere have arisen because of an unsatisfactory regulatory regime or through regimes being put into place too late? Is he satisfied that the existing regulatory regime that would cover shale gas exploitation in this country is adequate and derives full benefit from the experience of shale gas exploitation elsewhere?
Lord Marland: The noble Lord is a great expert in this field. However, we have been exploring gas in this country for many years and have a very long knowledge of it. We have extremely sound regulation, but that does not mean that we are complacent about it. We have a very sound industry structure that has stood the test of time, and a great deal of knowledge.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Elton. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds intended to add his name to the amendment but just missed the deadline for the Marshalled List. I am sure that the House will want to hear his views on this matter at a later stage.
Across the Benches Members of this House are saying that the Government are wrong to seek the abolition of the Youth Justice Board. The same position appertained in Committee, with no speaker supporting the Government and five former Ministers, including three from the coalition Benches, saying that the Government were wrong about this. I will not repeat all the arguments made in Committee other than to remind the House that a series of independent reviews have said that the Youth Justice Board has done a good job, with the PAC recently saying that there was no foundation to the Government's case for abolition.
The nub of the Government's argument is that the YJB has done its job and youth justice can be left to local youth offending teams and Ministry of Justice civil servants and Ministers. The five former Ministers made it clear in Committee that leaving this specialist programme delivery work to generalist civil servants who move from job to job carries no credibility in terms of good government. Depending on locally financed YOTs, unaided at this time of severe financial retrenchment, is a recipe for youth justice sinking once again to the bottom of the pile, in terms of priorities, which is why the Youth Justice Board was set up in the first place.
Since the Committee stage, four of us-the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and myself-had a meeting with the Minister and his colleague, Mr Crispin Blunt, who is responsible for youth justice matters. It would be a masterpiece of understatement to say that this was not a meeting of minds, despite the best endeavours of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who, throughout this sorry saga, has tried to retain a balanced and helpful stance. Particularly worrying has been the absence of any sensible ministerial response to the incisive questioning of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on why ministerial powers under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for holding the YJB to account are insufficient for discharging ministerial responsibilities to Parliament and the public.
In Committee, I teased the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about falling into bad company. I have to say that the more I learn of the Government's thinking on this issue, the more it seems not unlike the stories of Richmal Crompton in Just William andthe Black Hand Gang. It is at about that level of intellectual competence. In Committee, several Members set out the YJB's success in reducing reoffending and the entry of juveniles into the criminal justice system. Since then, new figures on reoffending have been placed in the public arena. They show a further reduction in the number of juvenile reoffenders by 0.4 per cent in one year between 2008 and 2009-a number that continued in that downward trajectory throughout 2009.
Alongside these achievements, the YJB has significantly cut the number of young people going into custody. The board's abolition puts all this at risk. Given my considerable experience in this area, I say that the abolition of the YJB is likely to mean an increase in the number of young people being placed in custody unnecessarily-at great cost to the taxpayer and likely damage to young people.
The Government have totally failed to make the case for the abolition of the YJB and we should ask them to think again by passing the amendment. That is my overwhelming preference, and it is in the best interests of vulnerable young people and of the public purse. However, if it turns out that we are unable to achieve this, the second amendment in the group, Amendment 21B, becomes important, because it prevents the YJB's functions disappearing into the maw of the Ministry of Justice and, probably in reality, into the maw of NOMS, without any clear focus on youth justice issues. Having a separate agency with two independent non-executives is better than any ministerial warm words, particularly when one realises that the Ministry of Justice has accepted this model for prisons and the Courts Service. We should retain the Youth Justice Board and its name should be removed from Schedule 1. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendment and to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said about Amendment 21B. I am conscious that one cannot repeat arguments made in Committee. I, too, remember the remarkable unanimity around the Committee.
I am grateful, as before, to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for the efforts he made to continue the discussion. I am only sorry that I could not attend that meeting, but from what I have heard about it, and from a letter that the Minister wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which I hope he will forgive me for quoting, I believe that what is at the heart of the Government's proposal is a fallacy that for years has influenced the consistent failure of the criminal justice system-namely, that policy and operations are one and the same thing, rather than one being the practical deployment of the other. This was brought home to
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I do not dispute that the youth justice system, like any other system, requires cross-departmental working based on one strategy and binding on all concerned. I do not dispute that the Minister for Prisons and Probation, Crispin Blunt, the Permanent Secretary, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, or the director-general of the justice policy group, Helen Edwards, are committed to leading and maintaining a dedicated focus on youth justice within the Ministry of Justice, and to ensuring that the necessary skills and expertise are retained. However, these are inward and invisible signs relating to the production of policy that they are responsible for overseeing. What is also needed, as in all effective systems, are outward and visible signs of the delivery of policy in the form of operations that must also be overseen.
Very few people undertake a journey through the justice system. The majority undertake a journey through only one part, which is why separate programmes need to be made for these parts within the whole. Tell the chief executive of a business that it is not efficient or sensible to have separate departments for finance and sales. Tell the chief executive of a hospital that there is no need for special oversight of surgery, paediatrics, mental health or pharmacy because that complicates matters. Tell the headmaster of a school that you do not need separate maths, science or language departments because it takes too much time to manage the relationship between them. Tell the Chief of the General Staff that you do not need directors of armour, artillery, engineers, communications or medical services because their expertise does not help overall policy formulation. Come on.
This discloses a complete lack of understanding of how systems work in the real world. Systems work where every element within them is co-ordinated into a coherent whole, based on a binding strategy-and where each, as well as the whole, is separately led. Ministers and senior officials who suggest that they might have to spend time managing relationships between different parts are disclosing that their system is incoherent. If there was a proper chain of responsibility and accountability, they should only have to deal with someone who was responsible and accountable to them for making the system work. That person will
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The Youth Justice Board may not be the complete answer to the operational part of the youth justice system, as has been freely acknowledged. Looked at holistically, it includes prevention as well as cure and after-care, and much of its responsibility rests with local government. If it is to be made to work effectively, bearing in mind how many different departments and organisations are involved, it must have an overarching strategy and a coherent structure in which someone is responsible for oversight of policy and someone for oversight of operations, as every other working organisation has.
It may be that after the consultation on the Green Paper Breaking the Cycle, the Ministry of Justice will decide to manage the youth justice system differently. But, until that discussion has been held, and until the operation structure to sit alongside the announced policy structure is confirmed, it makes little or no sense to do away with the body that not only should play a key role in those discussions but which has been responsible for introducing the acknowledged success stories, such as the youth offending teams, the reduction in numbers in custody, the reduction in the reconviction rate and providing direction to the previously undirected children's custody provision. However committed, no Whitehall Minister or official could have achieved that.
These are testing times for the criminal justice system with cuts coming on top of already inadequate provision. I know that the Public Bodies Bill results from the Government's obsession with the alleged plethora of public bodies that seem to be obfuscating responsibility and accountability. However, here it is a Whitehall ministry and not a public body that is guilty of obfuscation. Obviously the Government cannot do away with the ministry but they can do away with the proposal-as they have done, thankfully, for the Security Industry Authority and Schedule 7. I believe that when they think through how the minutiae of a coherent youth justice system is made from so many different elements, they will be thankful that they retained a Youth Justice Board that is responsible and accountable for making it work. I therefore very much support the amendment.
Lord St John of Fawsley: With the leave of the House, I hope that I may ask this question. Does the Minister have any idea why we are not having a Statement on the events of Friday, which has prevented many of us expressing our wholehearted support for the bravery and wisdom of the police and the staff of this House in handling that situation?
The Earl of Listowel: I echo the many tributes paid in Committee to the Minister and his colleague, Crispin Blunt, for the Government's overall policy in this area. I strongly support and welcome the amendments from my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham and the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I fear that in this area I am forced to disagree with the Government's direction of travel.
On the matter raised by my noble friend about strategic leadership in this area, the children involved have very complex needs. As vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and Young People in Care, I am well aware that a quarter of these children will have come out of local authority care. Indeed, 50 per cent of the girls have been in local authority care. With the reduction in numbers of children coming into custody, we are left with a hard core of young people with even more complex and challenging needs. I should also say that I am a patron of Voice, an advocacy charity for young people, which goes into secure training centres and young offender institutions.
I was glad to hear of the discussions that have taken place since the Committee stage. The Government will be bearing in mind the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We heard in Committee that more than 1,000 fewer young people have been taken into custody in the past three years. To keep a young person in a young offender institution costs £120,000 a year; to keep a young person in a secure training centre costs £160,000 a year; and to keep a young person in a local authority secure children's home costs more than £200,000. Therefore, many hundreds of thousands of pounds are saved by the successful regime of the Youth Justice Board in reducing the numbers of children in custody.
That money is being reinvested in making the secure estate more effective at rehabilitating young offenders. I recently visited the Wetherby young offender institution and was particularly interested to see its Keppel unit, which is for the most vulnerable young people. I see the right reverend Prelate nodding to indicate his knowledge of the unit. There, for instance, the boys have showers in their own rooms. Normally there are collective showers, but that easily gives rise to bullying and intimidating behaviour. The boys are extremely proud to have a shower of their own; they arrange their shampoos of various kinds. They also have a very good relationship with the prison officers because the ratio of prison officers-so often criticised by my noble friend when he was chief inspector in previous reports on prisons for young people, with a large number of young people for a few prison officers-has been turned around at Keppel. That is so important to the rehabilitation of those young people.
I fear that I am speaking for too long, but the issue has been raised of the need for strategic leadership in this area. Secretaries of State and Ministers have too much to do to give full attention to that needy group of young people and to make the difference in their lives. The chairman of the Youth Justice Board can do just that and has been doing so. She invited the children's directors and chief executives of the local authorities in the north-east of England, in Manchester, Stockport,
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I echo what has already been said about the care which the Government have taken to reconsider other parts of the Bill and to take into account comments made by those who have had certain experience in the area. I am sad indeed-because I thought that the result might be otherwise-that, so far, the Government have not felt able to change their approach towards the Youth Justice Board.
I speak from personal experience in various capacities, which perhaps I should declare. One is from my concern with criminal justice as, first, a barrister and then a judge. The second is because I have recently become chairman of the Prison Reform Trust. The third, and most important in this context, is because I was involved in-indeed, I led-the Strangeways investigation and report. I have over many years been so disappointed that initiatives which have proved themselves to be successful have not been able to grow and develop to fulfil their full possibilities. My experience goes back to the time before the Youth Justice Board's creation and before its leadership by the noble Lord, Lord Warner.
I can only say to the House, as sincerely and as emphatically as I can, that this initiative has been wholly salutary. It managed to change the whole approach to a part of the criminal justice system-and, if I may say so, perhaps one of the most difficult and important parts of the criminal justice system-in a way which gave new hope to all those who were concerned for this area of our justice system. The best test of the innovation is to ask, "Did it work?". I would not say that it was always perfect-no change would be-but the balance sheet would show a huge improvement as a result of the Youth Justice Board.
I would urge as strongly as I can that the House consider the importance of this matter, as I am sure that the Government intend to do. However, it would be sacrilege if, whatever the motives put forward, we took out of the criminal justice system something that works, and introduced something that has not worked and has not been tried. I therefore hope that before such a result is brought about, there will be at least the pause for which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has asked, to see how matters are dealt with in the
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Since we last debated the future of the Youth Justice Board, the folly of the Government's plan to dismantle it seems ever more misjudged, unnecessary and worrying. It is misjudged because the work of the YJB is highly specialist, dealing as it does with the most damaged, difficult and needy children in our community, who must be managed by people with specific experience and expertise, as they have. Children are not-as I said in Committee-small adults and should definitely not be managed by civil servants from NOMS in the MoJ who just do not have the expertise and whose work is with adults, not children.
It is unnecessary because, as we heard so eloquently in Committee from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the ministerial powers of oversight, responsibility and accountability, which has been an area of central concern to the Minister, Crispin Blunt, are already in place in statute, giving him the power to make changes, decisions and appointments and other wide-ranging powers of overall control.
It is worrying because the desire to abolish the YJB betrays a determined failure by the Government to appreciate just how important, effective and significant this work is with children and young people who offend or are at risk of offending. This work by the YJB over the past few years has resulted, as we have heard, and as the most recent figures show, in a further drop in reoffending by young people. It is an extraordinary achievement.
This failure is exacerbated by a wish to make a decision which is driven by administrative concerns, convenience and cost-cutting-the input side of the balance sheet-rather than recognising and valuing the outcomes now being seen by the YJB, whose work has truly taken off in the past few years and is now achieving real results in terms of properly embedding and co-ordinating the youth offending teams, reducing reoffending and offending through prevention and diversion schemes, joint publications of inquiries, the oversight of the setting of maintenance of standards of professional practice, and much more.
This Bill has rightly concerned itself with rationalising those public bodies which have developed over the years with bureaucracies growing, mopping up precious government resources and duplicating effort which could be absorbed in existing government departments. The tests against which an organisation is validated therefore are that it performs a specific, necessary public service, independently establishes facts and is politically impartial. The YJB's success against these tests is beyond doubt, just as its value is clear to the many bodies with which it works, several of which were quoted in Committee. I will add the words of the
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"It is imperative that responsibility for the custodial component of the youth justice system is held by an agency that understands and appreciates the distinct and special needs of children and young people, particularly those who are vulnerable".
It is because these tests are clearly being met and because of its track record of success and the considerable savings that are being made to the Exchequer through the success of diversion and prevention work, as well as because of the judgment of specialists in the field, that I believe that the YJB clearly should not be abolished.
Furthermore, the YJB itself is quite prepared to look at how to accommodate itself to the administrative thrust of government thinking. It is quite able to see a modus vivendi within the MoJ as an executive agency, with its specialist focus maintained, its separate identity from NOMS and its ability to work at arm's length from government, just as NOMS and other organisations already do. It is a mystery to me why this option has been resisted so far by the ministry and why it appears that my dear noble friend the Minister and, particularly, his colleagues in the Commons are hell-bent on reinventing the wheel in the name of some perceived convenience. The idea that the work of the YJB could be taken over wholesale by Ministers and senior officials is totally unrealistic, particularly when it has taken the YJB years to reach its current levels of expertise. We have already heard from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the marvellous Keppel unit at Wetherby YOI. It demonstrates the extent to which specialisms within the specialist provision of the children's estate are so necessary. It is probably saving lives in the process. I just hope and pray that we are not being served notice that other groups in the criminal justice system not currently at issue but seriously important, including women and the mentally ill, can expect no future special attention, and that the reports of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on women and of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on mental health, whose recommendations have had wide support, are now to be shelved.
We should acknowledge around this House and in the country at large our overriding duty of care for the youngest in our society who need us most and should remember our responsibilities to our most vulnerable children by ensuring that their needs can continue to be met by the very organisation which has the knowledge and skills. To do otherwise would be a serious dereliction of our collective duty. I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I start by tendering an apology to the Youth Justice Board and to your Lordships' House for a figure I gave in an earlier debate concerning the number of deaths of young offenders in custody. Those figures had improved substantially in recent years, but I was not aware of that fact. That improvement was in good part, of course, due to the efforts of the Youth Justice Board.
One might have thought that a Bill that deals with part of the justice system would rest upon a sound evidential base. Where is evidence to support the proposal contained in this Bill for the abolition of the Youth
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Most recently, there have been reports from the National Audit Office and, as my noble friend Lord Warner, mentioned, the Public Accounts Committee in terms of the recent statistics on the reduction of offending by young people. In a report published only three months ago, the National Audit Office declared:
"The Board ... has been an effective leader of efforts to create and maintain a national youth justice system with a risk based approach, and in recent years key youth crime indicators have been falling substantially".
The board has brought together a whole range of organisations and institutions working in youth justice. It has developed a substantial programme of secure estate commissioning. Indeed, it has been so successful that it decommissioned 900 places recently. Value for money is certainly very much part of its agenda. A range of other initiatives has been taken. Those initiatives range from the piloting of YOTs, as we have heard, to the delivery of the persistent young offenders' pledge to halve the time from arrest to sentence, working with the parents of young offenders and much else besides.
Against that background, it is disconcerting that the Government still are unclear about how the functions of the board will be discharged in the future. In particular, there is widespread concern in your Lordships' House and beyond about the potential transfer to the National Offender Management Service, which deals
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As my noble friend Lord Warner indicated, should the amendment fail, as a backstop, an agency would be a better solution. But given the pressures on the department, its ministerial members and the officials working within it, it is inconceivable that the Young Justice Board's functions would be adequately discharged if they are simply transferred into the department. The independence, to a degree, that even an agency status would confer and, in particular, the separation of youth justice from adult justice and NOMS must be a precondition of any organisation of our services for young offenders.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 20A. It is the experience of a number of Members of this Bench that the Youth Justice Board has been among the most effective of the executive agencies since 1997. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his persistence in helping us to explore the qualities of the board and the opportunities that it has taken to encourage work with both young offenders and those in danger of becoming young offenders. From the perspective of this Bench, that experience has been held together by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, who is very sorry that he is unable to be with us today to continue the debate.
Many of us have experience of YOIs and the work being done in them, overseen and encouraged by the Youth Justice Board. The board is ideally placed to help young people through programmes such as the Youth Inclusion Programme and the use of youth offending teams. It has been at the forefront of encouraging the restorative justice procedures about which we have spoken often in this House and which deliver high levels of victim satisfaction as well as positively influencing offending behaviour.
The oversight and commissioning of custody places for young people are highly specialised activities. I do not know whether other Members of your Lordships' House have visited Wetherby Young Offender Institution, but it was good hear the noble Earl and the noble Baroness speak of developments there because it is on my patch and I know it quite well. One gains a real sense that it is exploring ways forward for the young people in its care-I would say the same of the other YOI, that at Deerbolt near Barnard Castle. The young people there need the specialist attention which the Youth Justice Board can and does provide. I, too, do not argue that the Youth Justice Board is perfect and I have on occasions argued with it, but I know that it offers specific attention to those young men who often have both disrupted and disruptive lives.
Surely the YJB is among those public bodies which continue to make a real difference to the health of our nation. If the Minister, to whom I, too, am grateful for
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I am feeling rather good because, in the course of the past 20 minutes or so, I have given way, modestly, to every other section in the House, including the Bench immediately in front of me. So I think that I deserve some credit, and I am looking for it particularly from the right reverend Prelate.
I have only a modest speech to make, which is why I refrained earlier. I want just to make it clear to my noble friend on the Front Bench that those of us who expressed some concern at the previous stage have not melted into night but retain some concern. In my experience, which is not inconsiderable, even civil servants have a completely different mindset if they are serving a dedicated outfit, whatever is said about its independence, outside the department than if they are simply part of the department's mainstream. It is an underestimated argument in some of these debates.
Lastly, I ask again a question that I asked on the previous occasion, and I shall try to do so even more crisply-it is the question that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and others have adumbrated: if youth justice was, by common consent, a mess before and has been made better by the Youth Justice Board, what is the case for believing that it will stay better if it goes back pretty much to where it came from in the first place?
Lord Elton: My Lords, I have moved behind my noble friend not to threaten him but because my voice is very uncertain and I think that otherwise he will not hear what I have to say. I start with an observation on the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. She rightly said that we owe it to the young people who commit grievous crimes to do the best for them and to give them proper, constructive lives. However, I would say that we also owe that to the communities that they wreck and threaten and the families that they disrupt, and to a large extent that is the rest of us. Therefore, this is a popular, not a specialist, subject.
My second prefatory remark is that I was glad to notice that the other amendment in the group, Amendment 21B, has not really been dealt with because, to my mind, it is no substitute. If your Lordships, in the regrettable event of this amendment not being conceded or carried, were to accept that amendment, it would be wise but they would be gaining one slice, or at most two, out of a yard loaf. I shall keep it as short as that.
What have been, and are being, advanced as the reasons for getting rid of the YJB? The first one that we had right at the beginning was that Ministers should be directly responsible for what happens to young people in custody. To encapsulate what I have said before, Section 41 and Schedule 2 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 specifically say that the Minister is to decide who the members of the YJB are, who is to
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The second argument was that Ministers should be responsible publicly for what they do. The Minister is responsible for everything that I have set out, and also, under paragraph 8 of Schedule 2 of the Crime and Disorder Act, he has to lay before Parliament the YJB's annual report so that Parliament is aware, in detail, of what he has been doing and can ask him to defend it-or praise him, if that be the case, although I notice that it is rare that when Parliament wants to praise the Minister it has a debate on an unnecessary measure.
According to the letter quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the board members have full responsibility for the purchase of secure accommodation for children. I should tell your Lordships that I had that responsibility when I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security. I shall detain noble Lords no longer other than to say that I heartily wish that I had had the YJB. It would have been a godsend to have had the Youth Justice Board with its insight and understanding of what was going on.
The next thing we were told was that the YJB is ineffective. A great deal has been said already about the change in offending rates and volumes and reoffending rates and volumes. All those are remarkably good figures, as your Lordships can remind themselves when they read Hansard, but in all respects they compare favourably with what is going on in the adult system, which is what this was drawn from in the bad days gone by.
It is argued that this is a single issue body. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has shown what single issue bodies are and they are not this: they are on the list that he gave about foreigners, the illiterate, sick, mentally ill and so forth. All those are single issues and affect single people, but being a teenager under the age of adulthood as recognised in statute is common to them all. This is a general issue of supreme importance.
I happen to have been a teacher. I taught in schools and colleges and noble Lords should not doubt that the behavioural and emotional responses of young people and adults are different. They have to be managed with tricks out of different boxes. We are talking about a specialism of enormous value to this country, which has produced enormous benefits already, which continue.
I have been told-and I dare say that other noble Lords have been told by the Minister-that the YJB's job has been done and it should hang up his boots, thank you very much. To say that when the offending rates and numbers in custody are all still coming down
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We have been told that this is part of the great national programme of localism. In fact, that has not been mentioned yet but I anticipate, with many apologies, what my noble friend on the Front Bench is likely to say to us. The Government are already committed to localism and to the youth offending teams. The youth offending teams are what determine the level to which functions can be delegated. The Government already acknowledge the need for what they call light-touch performance monitoring of them. Anyway, Her Majesty's Government propose to take all the powers back into themselves. What on earth is localist about that?
It is argued that the expertise of the Youth Justice Board will be preserved in the department when it gets there. I do not doubt my noble friend's word or that of his right honourable colleagues, but they cannot foresee or commit themselves to who will replace those people when they retire, are promoted or simply, sadly, die. If they are part of the Civil Service, they will be replaced by people recruited from the Civil Service, which does not mean that they will necessarily have any of this expertise at all.
My last point in this overlong speech is about cost. I remind your Lordships that in the adult system in the past 10 years the population in prisons has increased by 32 per cent at a cost of £36,000 per head per year at current prices. Over the same period, the number of juveniles in custody has reduced by 27 per cent-almost as much. They are more expensive. My figures are slightly different to those given by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, because his have yet to be reviewed by the National Audit Office. Screening out all that, I reckon that it represents a saving in one year of £58,174 million. If that rather notional figure does not satisfy your Lordships, the decommissioning of 900 places, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred, has saved £38 million net. I should add that administrative costs were reduced by 10 per cent as well.
When a car is running sweetly and the engine is doing what it should, you do not go to the garage and ask them to lift up the bonnet and take a piece out of the engine. This is not a bolt-on extra. This is something that has grown up with and caused the youth justice system to develop as it has, under the care of Ministers-which I greatly acknowledge. In supporting this amendment, which I do with fervour, I am trying to save my noble friends from making a catastrophic mistake.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: I intervene briefly to give a practical example of the value and the practical work of the Youth Justice Board. I do not see how it could be fulfilled by the department.
When I was a Member in another place, a prison in my constituency subsequently became one of the first secure training centres for young people. It was
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One of the real problems-I do not know whose idea it was-was to have children aged from 12 to 15 there. Quite honestly, they could not handle prison. One thing that you have to do when you go into prison is to recognise that the better you behave the sooner you will get out. They simply were not able to make decisions like that; they were ripping up their rooms and all the area outside. The Youth Justice Board had to come in, of course. I talked to Ministers and the Youth Justice Board sent someone for nearly a year, virtually full time, to help the organisation to sort out what it was doing and to enable it to build up a group of people who could provide education. The whole idea had been that inmates would receive more intensive education while they were there-and it just was not happening.
I heard some very salutary stories and had salutary experiences in that period. The Hassockfield STC is now run by a different organisation. No one would say that it was trouble-free-I am sure that the Minister has heard of Hassockfield-but it is doing much better than it was. Part of that is because the Youth Justice Board got hold of it and persuaded Ministers that you could not put children as young as that into a prison environment. It was intended as a prison environment, because somebody thought that it would be a good shock for them at that age. It did not work, and all sorts of things went on that should not have gone on. It is still being used but it is being used for an older age group. I still have concerns, but I know that the regime is now much more aware of what it needs to do to work effectively with young people. That would not have happened without the Youth Justice Board encouraging very clearly another organisation to take over. I do not believe that civil servants in the Ministry of Justice would be able to do that; they would not have the expertise or training, and they would not have the professionalism of the woman from the Youth Justice Board who went in and worked at Hassockfield virtually full time for a year.
I hope that the Minister understands that this is not a party-political thing and should not be. It is about how we get the most effective way of working with young people, even the most troubled, who end up at the moment at something like a secure training centre. I hope that the Minister will find a way of thinking again.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, who is a former Lord Chief Justice, I did not speak in Committee and I hope that my intervention at this stage will be forgiven. However, this has been an astonishingly informed debate and all those who participated have demonstrated immediate experience of the working of the youth justice system
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However, an outside voice can sometimes be helpful in these debates, particularly as, if neither of these amendments is carried, the matter will go to another place where there will unquestionably be knowledge about the youth offending system but not the same direct, immediate experience. I served for 17 years on the Public Accounts Committee and the argumentation that that body has produced, as recently as six weeks ago, appears to be profoundly important in the context in which this measure is being introduced. Inevitably, because the board is one of a number of bodies being wound up, this is seen in the context of economy and value for money. Many of those who have already spoken in this debate have questioned whether value for money will in fact be achieved by drawing these decisions into the department itself.
I do not believe that the implication that Ministers will give it closer insight is sustainable. Ministers are enormously busy and rely heavily on having their attention drawn to weaknesses in a system or in its administration. If the emphasis is to be all on localism-and the place for localism is certainly not being contested by me-it seems highly improbable that there will not necessarily be that experienced oversight of the workings of the youth offending teams, which have had some years to test themselves. It is quite possible that those who have the job of overseeing these matters within the department will feel a need to defend the stance taken rather than a need to spot uncertainties, inefficiencies and unsuitable behaviour.
I recognise that the Public Accounts Committee has not infrequently had the experience of dealing with bodies of this kind within the Civil Service. Ultimately, however, it tends to admit that the accounting officer is responsible for answering the questions. In turn, that might lead to a statement that the real responsibility lies with the policy-maker: that is to say, the Minister. The actuality is very different. The case made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for separating out these functions and having clear responsibility for administration separated from the Minister responsible is unanswerable.
It seems to me that there will be much greater transparency if the Youth Justice Board is preserved. Good and bad examples will surface and lessons can be learnt from both. If this is all done within the department, I fear that the issues will become muddied and unclear. The progress that has been made in bringing about a reduction in recidivism and offending among the young and the economic advantages for the community that have stemmed from fewer numbers in custody, not to speak of citizens' general concern to live peacefully in the community with young troubled people, has definitely been assisted by this relatively new innovation.
I hope the Government will give this real further consideration. We have had lengthy debates on this already and I do not believe that there has been
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Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I spoke in Committee and I have not had the benefit of any discussions between Committee and Report. Like everyone else, I await with great interest the reply from my Front Bench. However, I am reminded that there are two amendments in this group and I think it has been notable that only the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Ramsbotham, have actually referred to Amendment 21B in any depth or detail. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not put his name to Amendment 21B, so I assume he does not support it.
I suppose the question that we are facing is how much independence should be provided to those who think through and monitor youth justice. There is a very widespread feeling in the House, which I share, that a fairly high degree of independence is desirable. In the discussion, it seems to me that the Youth Justice Board is the good boy and NOMS is the bad boy. That does not seem to be an inevitable outcome of running the Prison Service, but is what has come across. What has also come across to me as I have listened to the debate is that the Youth Justice Board is not quite the clear distinction between policy and operations which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, put across to us. Many other people have been involved in improvements, which have been referred to, alongside the efforts of the Youth Justice Board.
This is an enabling Bill; nothing happens as a result of this Bill becoming an Act until a Minister lays an order in front of Parliament. Parliament, at that time, as we shall see later in the Bill, can reject that order. Some people feel that the secondary legislation procedures are such that it is not likely that Parliament will reject an order, but I do not agree. The power is there, so when an order is laid we should not give up the idea that we vote it down. As this is an enabling Bill, nothing happens until an order is laid. The question then becomes: do we believe, as in tennis, in sudden death? Amendment 20A is a form of sudden death, Amendment 21B is a form of giving a degree of independence to an executive agency, and neither of these sections in the Bill, if that is what they become, commits Ministers to lay an order at all. There is therefore still a great deal of time before the Government come to an irrevocable decision. I very much hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will deal with that matter in some detail.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I suppose that I, too, should declare an interest as someone who has practised in the field of family law dealing with children for the past 34 years and who has had the privilege of being one of Her Majesty's deputy High Court judges of the Family Division.
On the last occasion that we met to discuss this issue, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, told me that I had been shooting at an open goal. Well, the goal has not got any narrower. However, if I may respectfully say so, I think that the nature of this debate has been slightly different from that of the debate that we had last time. There is now a degree of sadness and almost disbelief that there has been no material change in the approach taken by the Government. At the end of Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, in essence, "Give me time. Don't shoot me today. Postpone the execution until Report. Give me time to think again and to persuade my Government". The noble Lord, Lord Warner, with the generosity of spirit for which he is renowned, did so; as noble Lords will remember, he said that recidivism could be addressed and that there was still time for repentance. However, there always comes a time when repentance appears not to have transpired and the judge has to make a decision.
The House has now spoken twice. It is important that in this debate there was not one dissenting voice urging on the Minister the wisdom of going forward with the current plan. If I may respectfully say so, I think that it was poignant to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, say that this was-he used a strong word-"sacrilege". Why is that? Those who spoke on the last occasion and who have spoken today struggled and suffered in order, together with the young people, to try to create a system that is able to deliver change in a material way. The system that we had before the Youth Justice Board was agreed by all not to have worked. It was expensive and dysfunctional and it produced poor outcomes. For all its flaws, the Youth Justice Board has created something of real merit and worth.
When we talk about costs, we need to think about the real cost of the demolition of the Youth Justice Board. It does not come in money; it comes in the pain, injury and suffering that will flow not to us but to the young people who have been so advantaged by the board's work. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said so eloquently, it comes in the pain that will be inflicted on us all if vulnerable young people and their dysfunction are not dealt with robustly, carefully and successfully.
This House has a choice. There is a moment when we get to say to the Government and to the other place, "This far and no further". I repeat what many have said. This is not an issue over which the House has divided on political lines. Every person who has spoken has done so with the same voice, because this House cares passionately about young people and about reducing the pain that is caused to them. We should look at the YJB's work not just in terms of the reduction of recidivism among young people. We just need to glance at the fact that there has already been an encouraging sign that the reduction in juvenile crime is effecting a reduction in the reoffending figures that we now see for young people between 18 and 20 and between 20 and 24. The noble Lord knows well that 13 to 24 is the most active age group for criminal behaviour. Therefore, reducing the number of those who enter the criminal justice system, and then reducing reoffending, is very significant.
There is evidence that accountability from a ministerial point of view is delivered very successfully by the method that we currently have. On the previous occasion, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, made that point so powerfully; it is not about removing ministerial accountability because that ministerial accountability currently exists. We need strong, national, co-ordinated accountability through a dedicated body, and that dedicated body is the Youth Justice Board. We know how difficult it is to create a piece of machinery that works. The Youth Justice Board works. It works in its current form. The opinion of the House is clearly that it should remain in its current form. An executive agency would be the least bad option if it has to go, but it is certainly not the preferred option.
I gain comfort from what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said. We need to understand him as saying: "If we lose today, we will come back and defeat you-we hope-on another day, but through a statutory instrument". I would not like to put the House through that pain. I invite the House to vote on this issue, if my noble friend presses his amendment, and say decisively that it does not agree with the removal of the YJB. If the Government need real encouragement to think again, we should ask them to do so by voting in favour of the amendment, as we on these Benches will do in, I hope, great numbers.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I thought of leaving a long pause to wait for one of my supporters to stand up and make his or her speech. At the end of my remarks I will not appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, not to test the opinion of the House. I did that in Committee because I thought that it would be useful to allow my colleagues to read his speech before coming to a conclusion. Rather than just reading the speech, perhaps seeing the result of the vote-whichever way it goes-will also be an opportunity for them to do so.
At the start of the remarks of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, she echoed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Using the word that they both used, the House is being asked to vote on sacrilege. Essentially, that is the case for the prosecution: we are about to destroy something of real merit. That is certainly not the intention of the Government. We do not intend to dismantle the youth justice system. We want to build on what has been achieved over the past 10 years. I agree that this debate has been dominated by well informed, experienced speakers who care passionately about youth justice. My experience in my department is of finding similar qualities in the people dealing with this. It is not a matter of uncaring bureaucrats and caring Peers; those qualities exist across the board.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, suggested that what has happened sounds like an episode of "Just William". Unlike Violet Elizabeth Bott, I promise that I will not "scweam and scweam and scweam" if things go wrong. As with earlier debates, I will report back the result of this one to colleagues. However, I will not hold noble Lords in suspense: my brief does not allow me to make any concessions today.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, slightly overeggs the pudding in that the separation between strategic and operational matters is not as clear as he made out. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made that point. There is real benefit in the department and the Minister providing strategic leadership while retaining the real success of the MoJ-the holistic, local response to youth offending. In referring to the situation in young offender institutions and advocacy, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, may have been trying to return to a matter raised in Committee. We recognise that advocacy and social work provision in youth offender institutions is important. There are legal responsibilities on local authorities and prison governors to safeguard and promote the welfare of young people in custody but we realise that responsibility for funding these services is complex. We have been working on a solution and I expect that I and my colleague, Mr Crispin Blunt, will receive official advice on funding soon. I will write to the noble Lord later this week or next week, putting forward solutions on that point, which he raised in Committee.
I echo the noble Earl's tribute to Frances Done and her chief executive. They have behaved exemplarily throughout in steering the organisation through a period of uncertainty while maintaining the high quality of service which we expect. It is interesting that the noble Earl mentioned the need for local authority initiative. The thrust of the policy the department is putting forward in these new arrangements is that we keep the best of the localism of the youth justice system but encourage local authority initiative and co-operation even further.
I suggest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that undoubtedly the YJB has had an impact but that the holistic approach of the youth offending teams may best explain the success gained during the past 10 years, which has been mentioned on a number of occasions. I emphasise again that we are not going to abandon the lessons learnt in the past 10 years but will build on them. It is worth pointing out that youth policy is not the only policy that the MoJ looks after. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned this. One might equally ask whether one needs a similar arm's-length body for women, the mentally ill or an educational training body. I see lots of nods across the House. Perhaps that is where we have an ideological difference-"When in doubt set up an arm's-length body, or, if not, a tsar"; that was very much part of another age. It is worth pointing out that Ministers and departments can be responsible for distinctive policies that they can pursue successfully, without necessarily setting up an external body to help them to do that.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I can give him an answer. I think I have said previously that all Ministers are birds of passage. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, also mentioned that. However, it is certainly not the intention within our new structure that the YJB be absorbed into or placed under NOMS.
I pay tribute to the contribution of all faith groups, and of the leadership of the Church of England and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, to
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The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that he had not melted into the night. Knowing him so well, I honestly never thought that he would do that. Again, I emphasise that I do not believe that separation is strength in the way that some noble Lords advocated; nor is this going back to where we were 10 years ago. The attack on the policy has relied very much on a concept of going back to where we were. That is certainly not the intention.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly reminded us that we are talking about not only the kind of concern for young offenders to which the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred, but our responsibility to the victims of youth crime to make sure that we are getting this right. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, with great precision, seems to have set out ministerial powers that are clearly considerable but fall short of being able to abolish the body.
We have never claimed that the YJB was ineffective, but we claim that removing a layer from the system is not vandalism. I was interested in the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the example she gave of advice and intervention. Again, I doubt that that kind of expertise or professionalism would be absent under the proposals we put forward. However, I welcome her view that this is issue is not party-political. One has to look only at the list of noble Lords who have spoken to know the breadth of cross-party views on it.
The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred us to the Scottish panel system. I recently visited Edinburgh and talked with the Scottish Minister of Justice about that country's approach to youth justice, which has aspects of some value that we could study. I also heed his warning that it would be wrong for the department to become defensive rather than proactive about its responsibilities. I do not believe that this will be so under the system that we are putting forward. There is an important function for the YJB in commissioning the secure estate. However, it is important that this responsibility should be taken within the department, with the Minister taking direct responsibility for it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that this was not the end of the story. Certainly, whichever way the vote goes later this afternoon, the statutory instrument will still be debated. However, it would be unfair to those who work in youth justice to suggest that, if the Government were to carry the day today, there would be another opportunity to change policy at the statutory instrument stage-although technically that is true.
As I hinted, I cannot concede on the abolition of the Youth Justice Board. Nor am I able to accept that the establishment of an executive agency would be appropriate or proportionate. As I said in Committee, there were good reasons to establish the YJB at arm's length from the Government. This enabled it to lead the national rollout of youth offending teams and to
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It is not true that we have not consulted. We have had 13 youth justice seminars across England and Wales as part of our Breaking the Cycle Green Paper. Early responses to that paper indicate that what is wanted is strategic leadership, cross-government working, a dedicated focus on youth justice and fewer central burdens on the YOTs. These responses are all in accordance with our proposals to bring the functions of the YJB into the Ministry of Justice.
I am not sure that either eloquence or a peroration will work on this issue. I hope that I have met the points that were made and explained how people can come honestly to a different view. It is not-I hope that here the case for the prosecution has been dismissed-a callous act of vandalism by the Government. There is an honest difference of opinion in the House about how to build on the success of the past 10 years of the YJB. However, honest differences can exist in a framework of mutual respect, and I hope that that will remain. I certainly respect and appreciate the many contributions that have been made to this debate today.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who has spoken in this debate. There have been many powerful speeches this afternoon, particularly from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. My experience of the utterances of the senior judiciary, whether serving or retired, is that they do not use words like sacrilegious and sacrilege lightly, so the Government would do well to reflect on what the noble and learned Lord said.
The Minister says that he wants to build on the work of the Youth Justice Board. If I thought that he was going to do a loft conversion I would not be too bothered about this, and I certainly would not have moved this amendment. However, he has sounded consistently like a man on the phone to the JCBs, and it is that which has caused great concern, however much tribute he gave to the work of the YJB in the past.
I do not think that we have learnt much more about the case that the Government can marshal on this decision to abolish the YJB. The Minister has been honest and straightforward about it but I emphasise that he and the Government will find that, if they abolish the board, the cost of custody and the cost to the system will rise substantially. I do not think that anyone who has spoken in favour of the amendment wants the Government to be under any misapprehension -that will happen if they get rid of the board and take the functions inside the ministry. It will not only cost the taxpayer more but will do a lot of damage to a generation of young people who get into the criminal justice system and who are both troublesome and very troubled. I have heard the arguments and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
"(4) Notwithstanding the future of the Library Advisory Council for England, in exercising his responsibility under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, the Secretary of State
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Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 21C, I take it as given that the immense value of libraries to our culture, economy and well-being is understood. It was agreed by all sides in Committee, not least by the Minister. The problem is that local authorities often cannot manage the cuts without unnecessarily damaging their libraries. They might think that libraries are a soft option to cut or might not see them as very important, or those who benefit might not be well enough organised to mount enough of a protest, although there have been some stupendous outcries, and rightly so.
under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 will have the independent and expert resource to help local authorities manage these difficult decisions in the interests of better libraries. Of course departmental officials will be competent and conscientious, and I pay tribute to those with whom I have been discussing this amendment, but with the best will in the world, they are not necessarily going to include among their number the most up-to-date and expert librarians, nor are they independent.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I do not think there is any point in rehearsing what I said when the noble Baroness moved her amendment in Committee. I think all noble Lords understand the value of public libraries to all those in the community who have been fortunate enough to be introduced to books. The trouble addressed in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness is that you can have libraries, such as the one I visited this morning in the borough of Merton, which, to use common parlance, tick all the boxes. Not only was the library very full and animated, light and airy, well equipped and with a highly articulate staff, it was full of volunteers from the community. I do not think we need lessons from anybody about what constitutes a big society. We already have one. Anybody who goes into a well run public library will see that it already exists.
The problem addressed by the noble Baroness-I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some encouragement on this-is that you have good libraries, not-so-good libraries and some that are, frankly, very run down. The interesting thing I learnt this morning when I went into this very well run library and spoke to three highly articulate people who worked for it was that nobody seemed to have heard of the body being abolished. That drove me to ask the noble Baroness what she intended to do with her amendment. I hope the Minister will agree that what good libraries are doing needs to be promulgated widely so that libraries that are not doing well know the standards they can
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I think that in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, lurks a wider point that has affected the House's attitude to large parts of this Bill. It is acknowledged-it was certainly implied in the speech made by the noble Viscount-that there remains a need for spreading good practice and for an advisory role of some kind in order to preserve and enhance library services around the country. I do not know whether the Government accept that but I do know that, for a variety of things, we have been told that these bodies do things which need doing but that they will be done in a different way. It is just that we do not yet know how they will be done. I have sought to address that more general point in one or two of my later amendments.
While, on the whole, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment-I have been bad enough today already-I hope that she will get a constructive response. Around the country-my observation is only in eastern England-wildly variant policies towards libraries are being pursued by different local authorities. I am not sure that I really believe in a complete postcode lottery for libraries any more than I do for anything else.
Baroness Bakewell: My Lords, I have not spoken on the subject of libraries previously and I support the noble Baroness in her amendment. My point follows on from what the noble Lord has just said and it is about local authorities rather than libraries. Local authorities have a spread of responsibilities which, particularly now, are accentuated by the burden of cuts that they have to impose. There is an opportunity for them to see libraries as an easy touch. There is a myth abroad that libraries are the territory of the well heeled middle class who regularly read books but who, in their own lives, buy the books that they want and then patronise the users of libraries by pretending that they are concerned. That is by no means the case.
The evidence of the use of libraries across the country is extremely varied from one library to another and from one part of the country to another. It is also varied in the use that is currently being made of libraries by the public. Libraries have long ceased to be only rows of books for the middle classes. They are used by mothers with buggies full of children and large areas are set aside to serve such people. They are used for story telling by informed librarians and teachers who spread the idea of reading stories among young people, thus giving them an appetite for creativity and reading for the rest of their lives. They are used by people who want to read newspapers but cannot afford to buy them. They are used by the old to find company and some interest in life. They are used by the local community to consult documents issued by agencies, government bodies and local authorities.
The spectrum of people who use libraries needs to be understood by local authorities. Who will make that available to them? We need an advisory council which can come across with the information that will help them make the right decision. The body to which this amendment refers does that.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker for pursuing this issue today and for allowing noble Lords from all sides of the House to emphasise the vital role that libraries continue to play in their community. Once again, the debate has highlighted the major disquiet that many people feel that their cherished local libraries will not survive the squeeze of local government cuts. This is at the heart of the problem because there is a sense that no one in government is championing their cause. You could say that libraries are an orphan service looking for shelter at a time of economic uncertainty and so far have not found it. On the one hand, policy for libraries still lies with DCMS-I am sure that the Minister will once again speak warmly of the important service that libraries provide-while, on the other, the money to fund the library service lies with DCLG, whose overriding obsession seems to be to cut budgets at any cost.
The Government are already taking steps to abolish the only other national library advisory body, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council. Now, the only national body able to speak up for the service is to be subsumed into the Arts Council, with a real fear that it will disappear for good.
I do not feel in a position to judge the success of the Advisory Council on Libraries, but I agree with my noble friend Lady Bakewell that libraries around the country are already going through a revolution, opening up their venues to new forms of learning and studying, providing essential access to information and making the links between books, music, theatre and the wider arts. Staff are doing a magnificent job in redefining the service for the 21st century so that libraries remain relevant and loved by their local community.
How can we be reassured that the Arts Council will retain the professional knowledge to give the advice that libraries will need if they are to flourish? How can we be sure that the Arts Council will champion the service when it has so many other priorities? Is this amendment not just a small gesture to reassure libraries at least that the department is serious about protecting their interests at a time of such uncertainty in the rest of the sector?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for tabling the amendment and for giving the Government the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that we are committed to the effective management of library services. Consequently, we totally support the underlying spirit of what is a probing amendment. I thank the noble Baroness also for her openness to constructive dialogue on this issue. It has led to a position where the department is under no illusions about the importance of this issue in your
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It is worth me making clear from the outset that we believe that existing legislation provides sufficient protection for library services. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 requires the Secretary of State to superintend, and to promote the improvement of, the library service provided by local authorities in England and to make certain that local authorities fulfil their duties as defined by the Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, made a good point about local authorities. That is why we are pressing for improvement.
Ministers are committed to fulfilling their statutory duties. The Secretary of State is providing important practical help and advice for libraries and contributing to the improvement and development of the sector through the Future Libraries Programme. The programme was announced in July and is led by the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Local Government Association. They support more than 30 local authorities participating in the programme to explore options that will help them to deliver more efficiently the front-line services that communities want and need. In line with the decentralisation agenda, the programme encourages local authorities to find their own solutions to the challenges that they face.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, felt that there was no support for libraries. I say to her with due respect that she is mistaken, as the goal of the Future Libraries Programme is to share insights from the 10 pilot projects. This will allow local authorities to identify ways in which effective and efficient services can be maintained by taking a longer-term and more strategic approach to the way that libraries are improved. In addition to the Future Libraries Programme, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council promotes best practice and provides support and guidance to local authorities. Arts Council England will assume responsibility for improving and developing library services following the abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. We will work with Arts Council England and Local Government Improvement and Development to continue to make the best-quality advice available and accessible to support local authorities. We will be discussing a new programme of projects to drive the improvement of library services.
This Government are acutely aware of the statutory obligations needed to improve library services and to make certain that local authorities have the advice and support that they need to deliver an effective service. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, is right: there are good ones and bad ones, and I reiterate the need to make the improvements. This obligation and this Government's commitment already exist without the addition of a further statutory duty such as that proposed in the noble Baroness's amendment, and therefore I hope that she will feel able to withdraw it.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. They have all added appreciably to the debate. I also thank the Minister for her broadly supportive response. I would rather that there were
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, now we are on Amendment 25 and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will be pleased that we have an opportunity to debate it. I am much relieved, as my notes for Amendment 22 had long since disappeared.
Government Amendment 25 would add the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission to Schedule 2 to the Bill, which, as noble Lords will remember, deals with mergers. The purpose of the amendment is to provide a vehicle through which to take forward a merger of these bodies, and it responds to a commitment made in our debate in Committee.
I should remind noble Lords that the Government are also minded to transfer most of the consumer enforcement functions and resources of the Office of Fair Trading to trading standards, and advice, information and education functions and resources to Citizens Advice. For that reason, the OFT will need to remain in Schedule 5 in order to facilitate the transfer of most
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In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked for more detail about the Government's proposed consultation. I can inform him that the Government published their proposals for consultation to merge the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission and on other changes to the competition regime on 16 March. I do not know whether noble Lords have been able to obtain a copy, but it is a substantial document of 172 pages, covering the breadth of that particular aspect of government. The consultation will run for three months. The Government hope for as wide an engagement as possible, including holding seminars and specific meetings focused on specific issues. The Government intend to issue in May a further consultation document covering a model for the consumer landscape.
Growth matters now more than ever. Businesses-particularly SMEs-and consumers have been hit hard by the economic crisis. Reform is now important to create the right environment for business to create and enter new markets-reducing barriers to entry and encouraging rivalry between firms to promote lower prices and better quality products and services. There is longer-term potential for growth through benefits reaped from innovation that stems from greater competition in the market place.
Competition is the cornerstone of growth, innovation and consumer choice. The UK competition regime is regarded as one of the best in the world. But it can and should be even better. That means that we also need to have a strong regime to promote effective competition in markets. The Government believe that creating one, powerful Competition and Markets Authority would ensure a more dynamic and flexible use of competition tools and resource and a single advocate for competition in the UK and internationally and would end duplication for business.
The proposals in the consultation document include: creating a single, powerful advocate for competition to ensure a dynamic and flexible use of tools to promote strong and fair competition; increasing business confidence through faster decision-making, ending duplication and giving more predictability of competition processes and decisions; reducing barriers to entry by making it easier for the competition authority to tackle anti-competitive mergers and reforming anti-trust provisions to increase deterrence of anti-competitive and abusive behaviour; delivering faster results for consumers by shortening end-to-end studies and investigations into markets where lack of competition is giving consumers a raw deal; reducing the SME burden by introducing an exemption for small mergers from the merger control regime; and giving small business a voice in an extended super-complaints process to spotlight market features that harm small companies.
Those proposals are an excellent opportunity to strengthen and streamline the competition regime to deliver better outcomes for consumers and increase business confidence. The Government want to strengthen and improve the UK's competition regime in order to
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Lord Borrie: It would be churlish of me not to welcome the 172-page document that has been issued. I have been one of those who has suggested that one common feature of the Public Bodies Bill is that whole lists of organisations covering every conceivable subject were inserted into schedules, in nearly all cases without any explanation as to why or how their functions would be replaced or where we were to go from here. It was a rushed job. Among the bodies listed when Schedule 7 existed-and I am glad that the Government have got rid of it-were the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission.
The Minister said several months ago when we first touched on this, at Second Reading and in Committee, that the intention was to merge those two bodies. Then it became clear that they were not being abolished but somehow brought together. I say "somehow" because it is only now, or 10 days ago, that we have had the 172 pages of explanation. Delighted though I am to see that document, it still raises the issue of how the Government still want by this amendment to insert the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading into the schedule when they have not yet had the outcome of the consultation. In other words, the Government still want to determine the future and merger of these two bodies before they have received the answers to the question that the consultation paper very fairly raises of what the advantages or disadvantages would be of a merger.
It is not appropriate in this debate to raise large numbers of issues about that very lengthy document, and I hope there will be other occasions on which to do so. However, in relation to the Office of Fair Trading, which is to become part of the Competition and Markets Authority, a number of provisions in the first eight or 10 sections of the Enterprise Act 2002 list a whole lot of functions for the Office of Fair Trading-to promote consumer interest, to educate and inform consumers and to have various other functions. The Minister might say that some of those functions will go to Citizens Advice and some will go to trading standards offices. That might be so. However, as a debate on this Bill and the loss of the National Consumer Council indicated, the Minister explained that Citizens Advice would be adequately resourced to be able to substitute for what the NCC now does. The suggestion in the consultation paper to which the Minister now refers indicates that the consumer functions of the OFT are to disappear, as are the consumer functions of the National Consumer Council. Am I right in thinking that that is the result of bringing together the competition functions of the OFT and the Competition Commission?
Furthermore, how are the new bodies to function? I am interested to find that the consultation document seems to further the idea that has been working well for 40 or 60 years of a two-stage investigation. The main first investigation, the prosecutorial investigation, was done by the first government department, and then the OFT when it came into existence. The second stage investigation was of a more quasi-judicial type, with experts from different parts of business and the professions brought together in panels to determine individual cases. That range of expertise to be drawn upon by the Competition Commission has generally been thought of, internationally, as a very helpful procedure. As far as I read it-I hope that this is broadly correct-it is intended that the panel system should continue but it is suggested that more people should be full-time rather than part-time. I have generally thought that the very part-time nature of the Competition Commission's panel members is their plus point, because on every day of the week except for one, or perhaps two, they are in their own business, profession or work and bring that in to inform their work as members of the Competition Commission when investigating cases.
I then noticed that it is intended that the actual employees-the economists, lawyers and civil servants within the Competition Commission-are to operate as teams not just at one stage or at the second stage but right the way through. That might be because there is a conflict in the mind of the Government. It might be to do with wanting to save money, which you do if only one team operates on the same case throughout instead of moving from one to another. Yet it also makes it more difficult, surely, for the second stage to be truly independent of the investigation. To make a rather crude analogy, you have the work of the court getting mixed up with the work of the investigators and the police.
I have those various doubts and questions, but then I, like everyone else who has it, has only just received the consultation paper. I think the noble Lord said that we have two or three months to go through it and give our answers but why, here and now in March when the consultation paper has only just gone out, are we as the House of Lords being asked to determine in this Bill that there shall be a merger of these two bodies?
Baroness Kingsmill: My Lords, I support much of what my noble friend Lord Borrie has just said. I have always been in favour of a merger of these two bodies and am pleased to see that the Government are thinking of bringing that about. I have received the consultation paper and I have not yet come to terms with all the points therein. This is a merger that, on the face of it, has a lot to commend it-as I said, I have always supported it-but I feel that the devil is in the detail and that there is much detail to be determined.
From what I have seen in the consultation paper, the one aspect that I regret is the separation of consumer protection from competition issues. When I was at the Competition Commission, our primary and overriding rule was the public interest. We felt constantly that we were protecting the interests of consumers. It is regrettable to separate out those consumer interests and consumer
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We also ought to be looking at the separation of the two roles or stages within the competition regime. The first stage is a sort of triage: how serious, how big and how important is this, and what are the main issues? It is important to have that first stage, and it is fundamental to the fairness of the whole procedure that, once that triage stage has happened, it should move on to another panel that looks at it afresh, having had the triage diagnosis to enable it to do so. From my point of view as an ex-regulator and as one who is now on the boards of many companies that have undergone and are undergoing competition investigations, business needs certainty and speedy results. We must ensure that the merged body produces both. If it does, as a result of the consultation document that emerges, that could be a very good thing.
I continue to have a number of questions about this and I think it is a shame that this merger should be regarded and looked at in the context of the Public Bodies Bill. It deserves a piece of legislation of its own and should not just be shovelled in with the consultation document, with such a short time to consider it. Having said that, it is, on the face of it, an appropriate merger.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Minister promised us a consultation document when we debated this in Committee, and we have to welcome the consultation document even if we cannot resist saying, "Decide first and consult afterwards". I suppose if the Minister says that the consultation will be on the detail, that is fair enough.
Since we last debated this issue, I have had a chance to talk to people who know a bit about Citizens Advice and trading standards, and there is a lot of concern as to whether trading standards will be able to manage it, partly because of the cuts in resources to local government and partly because of the question of how trading standards people somewhere in a town such as Carlisle manage to deal with a complaint against British Airways or some other large organisation. Are they well enough geared to take on some of the big boys when they are a small trading standards body in a moderately sized town in the north of England? The balance is not the same as it would be between the Competition Commission and British Airways or between the OFT and British Airways.
However, I am most concerned about the central issue. Of course I welcome the merger of the OFT and part of the Competition Commission, although I am worried about the other parts. I wonder how the process will work. Certainly there will be a detailed input into the consultation process from people who know a lot about it, but what chance will Parliament have to look at the results of the consultation? What
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Lord Whitty: My Lords, my apologies for my premature intervention earlier. I will not repeat everything that my colleagues have said, but we have a potential dilemma here. People are in broad terms in favour of a merger, subject to certain caveats, but the consultation paper indicates that the total approach to competition policy and consumer policy in which this new merged body would operate has yet to be determined. Many of the options in the paper-changes in the mergers procedures and in the relationship between the new Competition and Markets Authority and the sector economic regulators-would indeed, as my noble friend Lord Dubs implies, normally require primary legislation. Changes in the ability of people to raise super-complaints probably do not require primary legislation but the implication of giving that right to SMEs is that some of this is about monopsony and oligopsony as well as monopoly and oligopoly. That certainly requires some explanation and some primary legislative change.
The reality is that the arrival of this document a few days ago indicates that the Government's strategy of introducing a new competition institution by the merger of these two bodies can be properly assessed by Parliament only if you have the totality of the change to the competition regime as a whole. It ought to have been a principle of this Bill that bodies whose basis will require primary legislation should not therefore be dealt with solely on the basis of secondary legislation provided for by this Bill. We saw a smaller example of this the other night when the Government withdrew in effect the proposals for the Security Industry Authority, which will require primary legislation to change to where the Government wish to go.
There is a bit of a constitutional issue here that the Government should be aware of. In general, it is a good idea and I do not propose to oppose it, but the Government are in a bit of a dilemma here and in reality we will have to have a competition Act before we can deliver the new body that the Government are envisaging.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, it is important that this is just a preliminary stage to enable this consultation to happen and, if the results of the consultation are sufficiently clear, to go forward with an order that is, as I understand it, amendable-my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong but I think
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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken because I think this has been very useful debate. I emphasise the point made by my noble and learned friend that by inserting these bodies into Schedule 2 we are not predetermining their merger; we are facilitating their merger after a consultative process. Indeed, although statutory instruments are not normally amended in this House, an enhanced procedure in this Bill will enable a full consultative process to take place on the statutory instruments that might be brought before Parliament.
More to the point, the whole process has been evidenced in the foreword, and if noble Lords have got no further than page 1 they will see the foreword by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State Vince Cable in which he talks about the wish to be transparent and open about this process. Indeed, it is in the Government's interest because the contributions made by noble Lords today have been remarkably powerful and useful. I hope all noble Lords who have spoken will feel free to involve themselves in the whole consultative process, because every single one of them will bring their experience to this regime.
I welcome the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, about the strategic objective-trying to get a unified Competition and Markets Authority in place with a primary purpose to be decisive, well informed and speedy. Business demands that of us. We live in a highly competitive world, but we can help ourselves and our fellow industrialists and businessmen by the way in which we construct markets and make sure that they operate in the country's economic interest and in the consumer's interest. Although the consumer interest part is being transferred-it will be much more heavily based in trading standards and Citizens Advice-the regime will be co-operative; trading standards officers will still feed in abuses of the market that have become apparent during their investigations.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, wondered whether small trading standards departments would be able to take on large organisations. With the backing of competition law, it does not matter how small the authority might be; the power of the law in this regard means that no business, however large, can afford to ignore it. Any systemic abuse through the structure of trading conditions is just the sort of thing that the new authority will take up and investigate at speed.
I am pleased that the idea of the panels is being welcomed. It is part of the detail in the consultation. In many ways, it would be wrong to use this speech to try to predetermine the outcome of that consultation, but there are in the consultative documents steers and guides, at least, to the sort of outcome for which the
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, until about an hour ago I had intended and expected to wind up this speech by claiming a concession from the Government as a reward for good behaviour. Unfortunately, we have just had the debate and vote on the YJB, so my chances of any kind of reward for good behaviour have gone up in smoke. Nevertheless, I hope for a reasonable and positive response from my noble friend.
It is clear to me that the House is fed up to the back teeth with this Bill and would like to see the back of it. Everybody wants to make progress and I will try to fit my speech to that. It is four months since we last debated the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and probably five months since we started to talk about this wretched Bill, so I understand the desire to get on.
Four months ago, we debated the inclusion of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council in Schedule 1. An amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, to take it out of the schedule was defeated. I know that I cannot reopen that debate and I am not seeking to; rather, I am looking through these amendments, which I hope people will have realised are designed to add the justice councils to Schedule 2 and other schedules, to give the Government other options. I hope that the Government will feel that that is a reasonable add-on. It does not detract from the fact that the AJTC remains in Schedule 1, so that, if the Government want to bring forward an order to abolish it, they are quite at liberty to do so-my amendments would not prevent it.
I hope that my mentioning the Civil Justice Council, which was originally included in Schedule 7, has not upset the judges, but I am slightly disturbed by the fact that all the judges on the Cross Benches appear to have fled since the earlier debate. I emphasise that my intention is in no way to threaten the Civil Justice Council but to see whether we can make a more rational disposition of advice on justice matters across the board.
In passing, I observe that my confidence in Ministers has been encouraged by some of the things that have happened since the earlier stage, when I was, frankly, most irritated by the clearly spurious and flimsy arguments that they were using or causing to be used. At least
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At least that is straightforward. I can understand it and even relate to it. I was for most of 10 years a Social Security Minister, including three years as Secretary of State. I know what it is like to have the Treasury breathing down your neck, demanding whatever it is that it demands; you know that you are going to have to do some unpleasant things. I recognise that, but what I cannot quite stomach is the notion that, as a country, we are now so impoverished that we cannot spend a little money in this field related to justice between the citizen and the state. Are we really now that poor?
I also cannot accept the argument that everything that the council does could be done-this echoes earlier debates-just as well by the Ministry of Justice. I asked previously what would happen when people made representations about, for example, the effect on tribunals of proposals for legal aid made by the same Secretary of State. How would any part of the ministry take an objective view on that? That would all be part of department policy and the ministry would just have to straddle both horses. I do not accept that the ministry will be able to do some of the things done by the council or, indeed, by the former Council on Tribunals-I see my predecessor on that body, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in his place.
For me, the main point is that, although the Ministry of Justice now takes what are labelled as administrative justice decisions, the responsibilities for those run right across government. For example, the AJTC is taking a big interest in getting things right first time-improving initial decision-making-which we would all like to see. That is something for every department in Whitehall. The MoJ does not have responsibility for ombudsmen, although, according to its latest pronouncements, it has ambitions to learn a bit more about the subject. The Cabinet Office has that responsibility, although it has not been every effective in that respect, as different government departments have had all sorts of different policies, to the extent that there have been competing ombudsmen in the same field. Even now, the DCLG has proposals in the Localism Bill about ombudsmen that have enflamed more or less the entire ombudsman world. Where does that leave the Ministry of Justice? Will it attack the DCLG? Has it had any influence on those proposals? I doubt it. I simply do not believe that the MoJ can do what it says on the tin.
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