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Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Communications Data) (Additional Functions and Amendment) Order 2006

Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Directed Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Sources) (Amendment) Order 2006

Enterprise Act 2002 (Disqualification from Office: General) Order 2006

Collection of Fines (Final Scheme) Order 2006

Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment of Schedule 1) (England) Order 2006

Representation of the People (Form of Canvass) (England and Wales) Regulations 2006

Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) (No. 2) Order 2006

Recovery of Health Services Charges (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

3.16 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I beg to move the first eight Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft orders and regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.
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Lord Chancellor (Transfer of Functions and Supplementary Provisions) (No. 3) Order 2006

3.17 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 May be approved [27th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order is the last piece of the jigsaw that we need to put in place to enable the House to elect a Speaker. The main purpose of the order is to implement decisions the House has already taken about the Speaker's pay and pension.

The Select Committee on the Speakership, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, recommended that the Senior Salaries Review Body should be invited to propose appropriate salary and pension arrangements for the post of Lord Speaker. In March this year the SSRB recommended that the Lord Speaker should receive the same salary as a Cabinet Minister, then £101,668, subject to annual uprating on 1 April each year. The SSRB also recommended that the Lord Speaker should receive the same pension arrangements as those applying to Ministers, MPs and the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. On 2 May, after a Division, the House agreed these recommendations. The House also agreed that the Lord Speaker should be entitled to claim the same expenses as other paid office holders in the House. Today's order gives effect to those decisions. The details are set out in Schedule 2.

Noble Lords will notice that the maximum salary is set at £103,701. That is slightly higher than the figure proposed by the SSRB back in March because of the annual uprating arrangements that apply on 1 April each year. Paragraph 5 enables the Lord Speaker to join the parliamentary pension scheme and to receive a pension from that fund. My right honourable friend the Leader of the other place will in due course bring forward regulations to put in place the detailed arrangements for that. Paragraphs 6 to 8 deal with severance payments and allowances.

In Schedule 1, the order transfers some minor statutory functions from the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Speaker. Paragraph 1 provides that the Lord Speaker should have the power to recall the House to consider emergency orders made under the Civil Contingencies Act.

There is one additional duty that has not been discussed in the House before. At the request of the Church Commissioners, paragraph 2 provides that the Lord Speaker shall be an ex officio Church Commissioner. As such, the Lord Speaker will not be a member of the board of governors, but will be invited to the annual general meeting.

Finally, paragraph 3 provides that it will be the Lord Speaker, along with Mr Speaker from another place, who will have the function of nominating the members of the Statutory Instruments Reference Committee. I beg to move.
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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 May be approved [27th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Amos.)

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I am slightly worried about the way in which this rabbit has popped out of the hat in relation to the new Lord Speaker becoming a Church Commissioner. I take it that there is no restriction on the religious affiliation of Church Commissioners and that they do not have to be Christians or members of the Church of England; if they do we could find ourselves in some difficulty. It is something that ought to have been made plain to the people who are standing for this onerous task before they put in their statement of what they will do. It seems to me that it has been added to their CV after they have put in their 75 words. I am not saying that many of them would have made this a major plank in their platform, but it is odd that this rabbit has appeared suddenly out of this hat.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I accept the concerns that have been expressed. This is being done at the request of the Church Commissioners. The duties are not onerous, as I mentioned in my opening remarks. It would fall to the ex officio commissioner to attend the annual general meeting should they so wish. It does not matter if the Lord Speaker is not a member of the Church of England. The Church Commissioners particularly want this provision because there could be a situation in the future where there was no ex officio member who was a Member of this House; for example, if the Lord Chancellor position were to move to another place or if the Lord President of the Council title went to a member of government in another place. That is purely the reason why this request has been made.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I add to the concern that has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Tordoff. It seems totally incomprehensible that someone can be a Church Commissioner possibly without any religious belief whatever. They might as well make me president of the National Secular Society. This should be looked at again. I am sure that I am not the only person in the Chamber to express a certain hesitation about this responsibility.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, there is a precedent for this position. I was once an ex officio Church Commissioner and, as far as I was able to ascertain from the records, I was the first Methodist lay preacher ever to be a Church Commissioner. It created no problems, and occasionally I was able to make a helpful suggestion.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend. I reiterate that in this respect it is not about giving advice on spiritual matters. As I understand it, it is about the management of the assets of the Church. The ex officio member is not on the board of governors. As Lord President of the
12 Jun 2006 : Column 14
Council, I am also an ex officio Church Commissioner, and no one has ever asked me what my religious beliefs are.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Childcare Bill

3.23 pm

Report received.

Clause 1 [General duties of local authority in relation to well-being of young children]:

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Grand Committee, I explained that Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 remove the words "reduce inequalities" in subsection (1)(b) and "reduction of inequalities" in subsection (3)(b) of Clause 1, which outlines the duty placed on local authorities. The amendments provide substitute wording with emphasis on raising the quality of outcomes for the most disadvantaged of our young children.

The issue of reducing inequalities between children lies at the heart of the Bill, and yet it raises fundamental questions about what exactly this phrase means, how it will be measured, and how it will be delivered. It goes without question that we would all wish to give every child the very best start in life. That is an aim that I wholeheartedly endorse, particularly in the wake of the Government's failure to meet their target for reducing child poverty. A good start in life not only produces a better result for each child, but is good for their family and society as a whole and, as the Government rightly point out, will, it is hoped, lessen the chances of needing later intervention.

We must support and improve the well-being of children in the broadest sense, but it is vital to place the most vulnerable and disadvantaged at the heart of our deliberations, and to focus resources to meet their needs. We had an interesting debate in Committee in which I highlighted our concern that the terminology in the Bill—to "reduce inequalities"—not only lacks clarity but could lead to levelling down rather than the much needed hand up that these children require. The wording that we propose not only focuses on,

but requires improvement in those outcomes.

In his response in Grand Committee, the Minister had two main rebuttals. The first was that the amendments could result in a straightforward watering-down of the Bill, arguing that the idea of levelling down would be contrary to the duty to improve the well-being of children in Clause 1. He suggested that it was mind-boggling to try to understand how a local authority could go about reducing the advantages and performance of some
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compared to others or, as he put it, the more advantaged. The second argument was that we only need look at the abundant evidence of what the Government have done in early years provision since 1997. While I have no desire to cast a shadow over some of the significant achievements of this Government, I respectfully disagree. We need to look only at Sure Start to see that it has not been working as it should have been and still leaves out the neediest, whom, the Minister suggests, the Government's systems have included, a subject to which I shall return in a minute.

I would also like to add a word on resources here, in advance of the debate that we will have on Clause 6. We live in a world of limited resources and, in this case, one where the LGA has grave concerns about its ability to deliver such an ambitious project. Surely in such circumstances it is better to focus what there is on the most vulnerable. The issue must now be viewed in the light of the recent admission by the Prime Minister in his Let's Talk initiative that Sure Start for under-fives and policies for children in care have failed the socially excluded. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that that serves only to strengthen my resolve on the issue. The Prime Minister is reported in the Guardian as saying, of the multi-billion pound Sure Start scheme:

That is why we believe that the focus should be on those most disadvantaged. The Prime Minister stated that Sure Start has not worked, and admitted that there need to be "different systems of delivery" and that,

His comments not only go against those made in objection to the amendments in Committee, but support our amendments. We really should put the emphasis on the quality of outcomes for the most disadvantaged into the Bill.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 5. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to set statutory targets for local authorities relating to,

That links into the questions that I have just raised on how inequalities are to be measured. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 remove the words regarding targets from Clause 1(3) and (4) and replace them with "establish procedures for assessing". Amendment No. 5 aims to ensure that, in exercising their functions, local authorities do not concentrate on meeting one duty to the detriment of another.

As your Lordships know, this Government are particularly fond of targets, but a wealth of targets can often move the focus away from the root of the problem and make it simply an exercise in numbers. The discussions that we had in Committee highlighted
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the concern that targets had the potential to have unforeseen consequences. Briefing that we received from the National Children's Bureau summed up fears that,

The aim of our wording is to replace the idea of central targets with provisions to monitor the performance of local authorities in improving outcomes.

The Government's document, Childcare Bill: Duty to improve well-being and reduce inequalities in outcomes for children up to 5, provides helpful detail as to how they envisage that the proposed targets will work. It also tells us that local authorities' performance in childcare is already subject to inspection and monitoring via Ofsted, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and, most recently, the joint area reviews. All of that is additional to the local authorities' own performance data. In Grand Committee, the Minister did not update the House on the results of the joint area reviews that have taken place since last year. I hope that he will do so in his response today.

3.30 pm

The LGA argues that progress on improving outcomes according to the five Every Child Matters outcome measures is exactly what the joint area reviews were established to assess—not based on targets, but a holistic assessment of performance, including self-evaluation and input from children themselves. The duty to improve outcomes in Clause 1 echoes existing duties under Sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004. Assessment and monitoring procedures are already provided for in that Act; thus, the imposition of additional targets seems repetitive and unnecessary.

The Minister argued in Grand Committee that targets were to complement and reinforce the Government's desire for a robust improvement of strategies. Indeed, he said that they were to help early childhood services establish equivalent status within more established local authority services. Whatever the desire, we feel that this is one set of targets too many. After all, as the Minister stated, with the exception of local authorities that are deemed to be excellent, all local authorities are required to prepare and publish their plans for children and young people, setting out their strategies to improve the well-being of children. Does the Minister not agree that that requirement already ensures that these issues have an equivalent status to other duties?

The National Children's Bureau believes that the new targets outlined by the draft statutory guidance regarding the outcomes for children and narrowing the gap between children with the poorest outcomes in the rest of England already exist in another form. Interestingly, it was a matter that we did not discuss in Grand Committee: the Sure Start unit's public service agreement target from the 2004 spending review, which aims to,
12 Jun 2006 : Column 17

I have been led to understand that the base-line sample for the Sure Start PSA is the July 2005 results of the foundation stage profile. This means that there has been no analysis of how that PSA is working as data from July 2006 have, of course, not yet been produced and will not be published until December this year. Why do the Government want to enshrine in law the current PSA and introduce a new PSA target before performance against the existing target has been analysed—particularly in light of the recent admission by the Prime Minister regarding the failures of Sure Start? Can the Minister explain how the old and new PSA targets will differ?

I apologise for taking so long on this matter, but can the Minister say why the draft guidance refers to the "poorest performing young children" while the current PSA refers to "disadvantaged areas"? Can he explain that shift in rhetoric? The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised questions that merit further answers on how children are to be identified as poorly performing and why that language is used in relation to such young children.

Our third amendment emphasises that one duty should not be achieved at the expense of another. That ties in with the need for an holistic approach to improving outcomes for our youngest children. I thank the Minister for his response on what happens if an authority excels in one area but not in another and on the potential impact of the Secretary of State. He explained that the Secretary of State could intervene in a proportionate manner. Can he confirm that that will be used only as a last resort when all other routes have been tried?

I restate what I said in Committee: by setting targets the Government are undermining the flexibility of local authorities to determine how to meet the needs of young children and parents in their area. That is especially important if they are keen to avoid duplicating the existing provision of the private, voluntary and independent sectors. This is not a numbers game and it most certainly should not be about ticking boxes. I beg to move.

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