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Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am grateful for that offer. Of course we want those discussions. I hope that my noble friend will go back to his department and explain the strong feelings which have been expressed on all sides of the Committee. Not only would the amendment not do any harm; it would do positive good.
I do not want to embarrass my noble friend any further. But we want Northern Ireland deafblind people to be provided for one way or the other. I shall take his word on this occasion. I shall withdraw the amendment on the clear understanding that the issue will be raised again. I hope that between now and Report stage there will be consultation between Members who have spoken in the debate and the department. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This amendment is intended to meet the Government's wish for a "tighter" definition in so far as that is possible and to tie the definition in the Bill more closely to that used for the purposes of planning services.
The identification projects subsequently carried out for or by local authorities have used that definition successfully. I refer, for example, to the Royal National Institute for the Blind's research into services for deafblind people in Essex which identified people with dual sensory disability. The partners in that project, RNIB and Essex social services, stressed that they were seeking to identify people less by the degree of sensory disability and more by their functional response to a combined hearing and sight impairment. They emphasised that the severe combination of sight and hearing loss creates a separate, complex and potentially isolating situation and that even less severe levels of loss, when in combination, occasion profound disability and resulting handicap. That combination is the heart of the matter. If one has a sight impairment, it is difficult. A hearing impairment is difficult. But the combination creates an entirely different--indeed, a unique--disability. That must be driven through the heart of the debate. A recent project in my former constituency, Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, also emphasised that,
Where different combinations of sight and hearing loss have been used as categories or classifications for the purposes of identification, they have usually included the following combinations: deaf/blind; partially hearing/blind; deaf/partially sighted; and partially hearing/partially sighted. The latter category is as important as the others. That is because of the compounding effects of dual sensory loss. The effects of a partial hearing loss and partial sight loss are multiplicative. Where one sense is impaired, as I have just mentioned, even a slight problem in the remaining sense assumes an importance out of all proportion with the actual measured degree of impairment in the second sense. It is not necessary to be totally deaf or
What we need now is a legal definition of "deafblindness" as provided in Clause 5 to ensure consistency in the identification process and in the planning of services to facilitate an appropriate response from local authorities. Such legal definitions as apply to deafblind people--for example, in the "deaf" and "blind" provisions within the Disability Living Allowance Regulations--have been deeply unhelpful and disfranchising, based upon purely medical criteria and failing to take into account the compounding effects of dual sensory impairment. I believe that that is why most people do not understand the problem of deafblindess. They see one aspect or the other, but they do not really comprehend the unique nature of the disability. We should try to get the definition on to the statute book in this clear form and make provision for people who have been neglected for many, many years.
It will be impossible to develop any measurable performance indicators for deafblind people unless the Government, first, adopt a definition which all local authorities can use consistently and, secondly, impose a clear, specific duty on local authorities to identify people who fall within that definition. I beg to move.
Lord Astor of Hever: I rise to support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has explained the problem clearly. We agree that a legal definition of "deafblindness" is needed to ensure consistency in the identification process and in the planning of services and to facilitate an appropriate response from local authorities.
Lord Burlison: I thank my noble friend Lord Ashley for tabling the amendment. It brings the definition of "deafblindness" in line with that used by local authorities and the Social Services Inspectorate. People who have a permanent severe degree of combined visual and auditory impairment resulting in problems of communication, information and mobility come within the scope of Section 29(1) of the National Assistance Act 1948. With that in mind, we are happy to go along with the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This is a purely technical amendment. This clause needs to state clearly that the role of a deafblind link service is to encompass the functions of communication, access to information and to mobility, which are, after all, inseparable. That is what makes the service a unique solution to what are unique needs. If one is guiding a deafblind person, one will need to stop and communicate environmental and verbal information to him via his
Lord Burlison: Once again, I thank my noble friend Lord Ashley for the amendment. We believe that its intention is to clarify that a deafblind link service will cover all those services, rather than just one on the list. We recognise that one-to-one support workers will provide any or all of the services listed in the clause. One-to-one support workers can be provided under Section 2(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. In view of that, we are pleased to give the amendment our support.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Why do I wish to place the selection of life Peers on a statutory basis? Fundamentally, I believe that it is constitutionally undesirable for the composition of a parliamentary body to be determined by the executive. The executive is supposed to be accountable to Parliament.
Moreover, decisions about the size of your Lordships' House and its political composition remain exclusively with the executive. In that respect, I regard it as significant that the PricewaterhouseCoopers information pack, distributed by that august firm in the context of its responsibilities for selecting members of the appointments commission, states:
My purpose in promoting this Bill is to seek a consensus in your Lordships' House on the appropriate way forward. Until recently, consensus was the normal way in which constitutional change came about in our country. I trust that consensus will be established following discussion of appropriate amendments in Committee.
The Government are already on record as accepting the desirability of a statutory appointments commission for stage two of their proposals for reform. As the Government have said that they will certainly move to stage two soon, I cannot understand why there should be any objection to anticipating it. Indeed, that may give the nation some confidence in the Government's assertion that they want to get there.
There may well be arguments advanced later in the legislative stages of this Bill which convincingly demonstrate that persons other than Privy Counsellors might be appropriate to be candidates for seats on the commission. I believe that Privy Counsellors are the right persons, first, because matters of confidentiality and secrecy will be discussed concerning certain candidates and Privy Counsellors have access to information which other citizens do not; secondly, there is something to be said for the fact that, at least in political life, it is the view of some that once the rank of Privy Counsellor is obtained, most, if not all, ambition is vanquished. Therefore, there would be at least a degree of objectivity in the process of selection which might be absent in those who are simply aspirants.
However, at this stage of the Bill, I do not wish to appear dogmatic about this matter. Whoever sits on the commission can do better than what is proposed by the Government. In my view, the saddest observation of all on the Government's handling of this matter is that future selectors of Members of your Lordships' House
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I start by expressing my genuine and humble apologies for the fact that I shall not be able to stay until the end of this debate, and my thanks for my consequential elevation in the list of speakers. Before this Bill was scheduled for today, I had already arranged a number of meetings in the country. I succeeded in cancelling and rearranging those which were to take place in the daytime, but I am afraid that I have an immovable obligation to preside over a meeting early this evening and therefore, with my apologies, I shall have to absent myself.
I hope that, notwithstanding my premature departure, the Minister will answer at least most of the questions which I shall be posing. I have given him notice of them--albeit somewhat tardy and, indeed, scruffy notice. I venture to believe that they raise matters of concern to a number of Members of this House and, in particular, to those Members who sit on these Benches.
For two reasons, to which I shall come, I welcome this Bill and both thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on his initiative in introducing it. My reasons for welcoming the Bill are, first, because it is high time--or, indeed, on the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, well past high time--that we had an appointments commission and, so far, none has been forthcoming. Secondly, when we have an appointments commission, it will be a body that has to perform a very important function and one to which, in reality, a sizeable part of the Royal prerogative is being delegated. In those circumstances, such a body should be established on a statutory basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, it is wrong that a body which is in effect selecting members of the legislature should be set up by the executive act of the Prime Minister, without debate and without the authority of Parliament.
I apprehend that the noble and learned Lord may well say to the House that this Bill is unnecessary because the Government are going to set up a voluntary commission anyway. As I have said, I would regard such an answer as constitutionally inadequate. It is also somewhat unconvincing. During the passage of the House of Lords Bill, the House was frequently told that the commission would be set up almost immediately; indeed, we were told that it could have been in place by the time that the Bill was passed had it not been for the conduct of the Conservative Party in amending the Bill, or inducing the House to do so, to include a statutory commission. Whatever the constitutional validity of
To enable the House to evaluate and compare the prospect of a non-statutory commission as against the commission envisaged by this Bill, there are certain questions that I should like to put to the Minister about the Government's unofficial commission and the way in which it is intended that it will operate. I venture to suggest that these questions will raise issues of principle and importance to the effective maintenance of a genuinely independent element in this House.
I turn to my first question. Clause 1(9) provides that of the eight members of the commission, three shall be nominated by the leaders of each of the three main parties and one shall be nominated by the Convenor of the Cross Benches. As the main function of this commission is to select independent Members of this House, as opposed to merely vetting the party nominations, there would seem to be a very much stronger and more obvious justification for having a nominee of the Convenor rather than three party nominees. Can the noble and learned Lord say whether it is intended that the commission to be developed by the Government will include a nominee of the Convenor? If it will not, can he say why on earth not?
Secondly, Clause 1(7)(c) allocates to the Cross Benches a percentage quota of the membership of this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, that quota is founded on the numbers and proportions that existed immediately before the enactment of the House of Lords Act. Subsection (4) of the clause requires that that quota be maintained. Under the Government's scheme, can the noble and learned Lord say whether it is intended that there shall be an express percentage quota that has to be maintained? Further, if it is so intended, will that quota be that calculated in accordance with Clause 1(7)(c); that is to say, in accordance with the proportions immediately before the coming into effect of the Act? If it is not to be that quota, can the noble and learned Lord tell us what it is be and how it will be defined and calculated?
Thirdly, I should like to know how the fulfilment of that quota is to be measured. Can the Minister say what categories of Members of this House are to be included as counting against the independent quota? In other words, are those who make up the quota to be those Peers who are genuinely independent of any political party, or can the quota be deemed to be fulfilled by counting everyone who is not currently taking a party Whip in the House?
The Government have frequently expressed their commitment to maintaining "a strong independent" element in this House. But that commitment will have very little real value if a considerable part of the quota is in fact taken up by persons who have a firm and well-known commitment to one of the political parties,
We all know that there are persons with a firm and strong party political commitment and who have followed a party political career who, at a particular moment, occupy a non-political post, albeit everyone knows that their politics remain the same and indeed that they will return to their party, and probably to the Front Bench of their party, when they cease to hold the relevant post. Two names spring readily to mind. One is the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who obviously cannot sit on a party Bench while he holds his present post. The other is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern--I mention the noble and learned Lord to ensure that I am not scoring a party political point--who sat on the Conservative Front Bench as Lord Advocate, on the Cross Benches as a Law Lord, and who then returned to the Conservative Front Bench as Lord Chancellor. One ventures to believe that neither of those persons greatly changed their political views while they held non-political office.
I now turn to persons who are currently not in receipt of their party Whip. They may have had their Whip withdrawn. One can think, without doing a great deal of historical research, of one or two recent examples. However, those persons are determined to return to their party fold as soon as their party will have them back. Are they really to be treated as independent and as a partial fulfilment of the quota merely because they have been temporarily expelled for party reasons?
My next point is more serious because it concerns potentially greater numbers. Are those who voluntarily resign their party Whip and move to the Cross Benches for tactical reasons to be counted towards the quota of independents? I can say with some certainty that the officials of at least some parties are certainly not blind to the substantial numerical advantage of moving some of their supporters to a "slot" on the Cross Benches, thereby counting against the Cross-Bench quota, and thus obtaining for their own party additional appointments to their ranks.
The Bill seeks to prevent the parties achieving appointments of people who are too closely allied to them, but it says nothing about the subsequent movements of persons who are presently in the House or who come into the House under party guise. I accept that this point will arise whether we have the statutory commission in accordance with the Bill or a voluntary commission set up by the Government. However, it is an important issue if this House is to maintain a genuinely independent element. I believe that the issue has not been addressed so far, at least publicly; and it is one to which an answer is badly needed.
My final question arises out of that point. Is it intended that once some kind of commission is established all appointments to this House, other than those made on party nominations, shall be of persons who are genuinely independent and who intend to commit an appreciable amount of their time to the
I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to answer some of these questions which will enable us to evaluate whether the voluntary commission is an acceptable substitute for the statutory commission, notwithstanding its constitutional deficiencies. I reiterate my apologies to the House for my premature departure.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, there is an honourable tradition of dealing with difficult subjects on Friday afternoons. In 1906 the government of the day successfully pressed the completion of the Committee stage of the Trade Disputes Bill in a sitting extending beyond 11 o'clock at night. Hansard records that at one point Mr Balfour said,
The parallels that emerge today are more relevant to the efforts made to reform this House in 1968-69. Indeed, our discussions about the current problems of the House may be improved a little if we all read again in full the difficulties which arose at that time, when reforms which were perceived to be a threat to the House of Commons united a most remarkable group: my right honourable friend Michael Foot and Robert Sheldon on one side of the House; Mr Boyd-Carpenter and Enoch Powell on the other. They successfully stopped the reforms in their tracks, in what the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, called "a brilliant mockery of the Bill's proposals". Under those provisions, hereditary Peers could still sit but could not speak. So far, I think we have done better by comparison. However, I do not believe that there are no such independent spirits at the other end of the corridor to take issue with some parts of the present Bill.
In 24 years of attending this House, I have found, somewhat to my surprise, that I have been persuaded that my initial unicameralist views were not wholly correct. But that prompts the question: why do we need a second Chamber? In my submission--this is relevant to the Bill--it is in order to have a proper scrutiny of all important and public Bills. That raises the question: by whom?
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made clear, the Bill makes a special point of the Cross-Bench category. I take issue with the noble Viscount about the question of who are the Cross-Benchers. In my view, if someone with an eminent but political career says that he or she no longer holds to the Whip of a political party, he or she has a personal right to be treated as a Cross-Bencher, even though everyone knows that what he says may still be affected by his past and present beliefs. It would be quite intolerable for the Cross-Benchers to have the power to exclude anyone for reasons of that kind.
This agenda, which is admirably set in Clause 1, will not be accepted as the full agenda by large groups of people. It will not be accepted by the young--who tend to join political parties rather less than when I was young, which I regret. It will not be accepted easily in terms of a set of criteria to be proclaimed by the commission itself. Surely such criteria should be put at least to the House of Commons. The ethnic communities will not buy it; feminists are unlikely to trust it as not having a glass ceiling quota. In other words, this structure will not easily be accepted.
All manner of religious and non-religious bodies will want a special place in the sun, raising issues as to the Establishment of the Anglican Church, and the parallel case for atheists will be quite unanswerable. MI6 may buy it because, under subsection (5), it is to retain a special route to the Prime Minister, but protesters against genetically modified food and other gene manipulation will be unlikely to buy it. What I am saying is that putting eight Privy Counsellors in charge, instead of another person or another group of persons, will not buy acceptance in a very large number of areas of modern life. It might have worked once, but, unless there is a miraculous change in the composition of the Privy Council, the formula of eight Privy Counsellors is unlikely to solve the problems of which we are all aware.