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It is very important that we have consultation on constitutional reform, and I have no doubt that I and, more importantly, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will provide opportunities to do that. As for whether the Bill should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee, I thank the noble Lord for the idea, which I shall discuss with my noble friend.

Baroness Ford: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and particularly welcome the priority given in three Bills to housing and planning. This generation will not forgive us if we do not act quickly to deal with the scourge of unaffordable housing, but the next generation will not forgive us if we do so at the expense of the environment, so I am particularly pleased to see these issues twinned with the proposed measures on energy and climate change, and absolutely delighted with the proposals on eco-towns. I look forward to a vigorous debate in the House.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with everything my noble friend has said. I pay tribute to her for the incredible amount of work that she has done on these issues. The approach that she sets out is absolutely right.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, have any arrangements been made for cross-party consultation on counterterrorism measures, or for the government debate on which this matter could be further considered in the light of recent events?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not know the detail of conversations that may have occurred in another place. However, when those details are available, I shall ensure that noble Lords, especially the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, are fully informed.

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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Baroness opposite on the value of this paper’s suggestions about housing. I have a slightly different question. The decline of council housing has resulted in the inability to retain as low-cost housing those houses which have been built for that purpose. The minute somebody moves from a cheaper house to a better one, it goes on the market. Have the noble Baroness or the new Prime Minister, with all his financial experience, given any thought to that matter?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important and interesting point. The Minister for Housing, my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper, will make a Statement next week. I know that she has been considering these issues. I shall ensure that the noble Baroness’s comments are passed on to her. I think that I was the first person in the country to have a shared-equity flat, in Ladbroke Grove in London. My picture was in the Guardian, as I remember. That provision made a huge difference to my life, so one of the things that I feel very passionately about in what we are proposing is the opportunity for young people to use shared equity.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, I have a slightly more worrying reflection. We are, perhaps inadvertently, gradually altering our unwritten constitution step-by-step. It seems to me that this has certain perils. We do not know what the ultimate road will be. We ought to take account of that. The Government are not sure where it will end up; perhaps they have not decided yet. Indeed, it reminds me of the limerick by Edward Lear about the young man of Ostend, who thought he could hold out to the end, but just half the way over from Calais to Dover, he did what he didn’t intend. What do the Government finally intend to do? If we want to alter our unwritten constitution should we not do so in an orderly and systematic way rather than using the salami tactic?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not have a limerick to compete with the noble Lord’s. I think that what he is driving at is precisely what we are seeking to do in the proposals we have set out today: to enable us to consider in the round not only individual pieces of legislation but a legislative programme. As noble Lords pointed out, when one considers housing, for example, there are interconnected issues such as energy and climate change where it is of great benefit to see where the Government are going more generally.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will there not be a one-off opportunity to replenish the supply of rented housing with the selling-off of the land at present owned by health authorities, the Ministry of Defence and local authorities? If all that land were used for building rented housing, there would be a tremendous boost to the supply, perhaps on a one-off basis, which would compensate for all the public sector land sold off in the past to build £300,000 executive houses, as in the case of Orpington and Farnborough Hospitals in my former constituency of Orpington.

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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I thought that I mentioned in the Statement that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Yvette Cooper, the Housing Minister, have identified 550 sites where they believe we will be able to make additional land provision. Of course, the discussions have taken into account Ministry of Defence and local and health authority land.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, first, this is a startling departure from previous arrangements. Presumably, Her Majesty the Queen has been consulted on this. It would be interesting to know that. Secondly, on placing Parliament’s right to ratify treaties on a statutory basis, presumably this House will still be involved in the ratification process. Does it mean—I am thinking especially of European Union treaties—that Parliament will be able to amend treaties, or will it still have to accept either the whole or nothing at all?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, No. 10 has liaised with the Palace at all stages about the proposals to publish a draft legislative programme. On the European Union treaty issues, the Portuguese presidency, which started on 1 July, has said that it will endeavour to finalise the approach that it wishes to take, at the end of which decisions will be taken. Obviously, if there is legislation to be brought forward, it will come to both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, there is clearly a difference between a draft programme and draft Bills. There was nothing in the Statement about chapter 3 of the programme, dealing with draft Bills. Having read chapter 3, I completely endorse it; there is nothing objectionable in it, but I could not find anything new in it. Can the noble Baroness enlighten me? In particular, is it the intention that most Bills will be published in draft? Will she also say something on the one notable omission in relation to the legislative process, to which my noble friend alluded: the absence of any reference to post-legislative scrutiny?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we have tried to bring together the different processes in the document because we felt it would be appropriate. It may be a reiteration of current practice, but it is none the less, as the noble Lord will know, important to put the whole process in the document. I trust that the document will be read not only by Members of your Lordships’ House and another place but more widely, and it will be available on the web. Therefore, it is important to set out the process. Draft Bills are always done on a case-by-case basis. I take what the noble Lord says, but part of what we are trying to do is ensure that there are many more opportunities to consider the issues as well as the detail of the legislation. I hear what the noble Lord says about post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, we are all thinking about that at the moment.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords—

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Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I greatly welcome the Statement and the plans to build 3 million new homes by 2020. Does my noble friend agree that those homes should be built to meet people’s changing needs throughout their lifetime and not put wholly unnecessary pressures on health and social care services because of their inaccessibility? That is the interconnectedness that she just mentioned. Does she further agree that builders and developers will not build to the lifetime home standards unless it is a mandatory requirement and not just voluntary as at the moment?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, those are important points. As I indicated in my comments about single people, it is important that we think about the housing needs of our population in the round and build accordingly. I take on board my noble friend’s comment.

Pensions Bill

4.28 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pensions Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Lord Fowler moved Amendment No. 1:

“Post-legislative scrutiny

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will be brief. Perhaps I could at the start make one point clear to the House. Last week, the Government were defeated on an amendment on added years, which we all remember. My speech on that occasion was much praised by the well respected columnist Jackie Ashley in the Guardian, who said that “the most eloquent support” for the amendment came from me. Personally, I totally agree with that assessment, but I have to admit that the words that she quoted as spoken by me were in fact uttered by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. That is a great pity, because it was the best notice that I have received in the Guardian for years.

This speech is mine, which is probably a great mistake, but I have hopes that my speech writer last week may have some sympathy with the amendment. I am delighted—and I say that with feeling—that my Front Bench are supporting me on this occasion and that I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, and the Liberal Democrats.

Noble Lords: Oakeshott!

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Lord Fowler: My Lords, I beg both noble Lords’ pardon.

I have never had so much trouble in trying to persuade the Government to act in their own interests and to prevent the kind of expensive errors that can cost the taxpayer dear and harm the public. I think that I am semi-encouraged by what the Leader of the House said a moment ago—that the Government are “thinking” about post-legislative scrutiny. That is better, given that they have previously rejected it out of hand. We need a little bit of form, as I am sure the Minister would agree.

We now accept the case for pre-legislative scrutiny of proposed legislation before it is introduced and we accept that it can be of immense value. It enables some of the issues that might otherwise cause problems to be hammered out beforehand, and it can produce better legislation. But that is only half of the problem. The other half is what actually happens after legislation is passed. Have its intentions been carried out? Have new problems arisen that have not been foreseen? That is why post-legislative scrutiny is important. In my experience, major problems have arisen in pensions legislation, and they have arisen here. The legislation may be clear enough, but its implementation can fall down.

I give two examples of that. The first is my own legislation, the Social Security Act 1986. Among its provisions was a measure, now accepted by this Government, to reduce the maximum amount of SERPS that widows or widowers could inherit on the death of their spouse. We postponed the start date for 14 years to 2000, so that people could prepare for the change. As Secretary of State, I issued a leaflet after enactment which everyone agreed correctly set out the change. My then Minister of State, John Major, promised a major publicity campaign to inform everyone of the change, even more than they had been informed by the debates on the legislation.

After the 1987 election, we both left the Department of Health and Social Security. There was no major publicity campaign, which John Major had promised; even worse, the department issued a leaflet that was wrong. The department’s leaflet, NP32, wrongly stated that a widow could inherit the whole of her late husband’s pension. The error was not discovered until 1995—interestingly, in a debate in this Chamber and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. The error was entirely administrative—that is admitted. Rachel Lomax, who became permanent secretary at the Department of Social Security, explained the reasons to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. She said:

She added:

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These were not the words of a politician but of a leading civil servant in Whitehall, and anyone with government experience knows exactly what can happen in the government machine.

How would post-legislative scrutiny have helped? First, any scrutiny of that kind would look at the proceedings of Parliament—at what Ministers have actually said, particularly when they are giving assurances on what will happen. They would have spotted that John Major’s assurance of a major publicity campaign was not being carried out. Equally, any scrutiny would have examined the leaflets issued. They might also have looked at what was happening in the marketplace where some unscrupulous or ill informed insurance salesmen succeeded in persuading people to leave good final-salary schemes for contributory schemes.

That takes me to my second example, which was discussed at length earlier in our proceedings. I refer to a range of people who claimed that they had been misled into joining occupational pension schemes that then folded. That was examined by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. I do not want to go into the detail of that case, which has been well rehearsed, and to which we will doubtless return. The first of the three findings on the maladministration said that,

the minimum funding requirement—

That was a case and the advice given stretched from 1995 to 2004. It is also possible that the kind of post-legislative scrutiny that I am advocating in this amendment could have prevented at least some of the advice being given in the terms that it was, which would have been a saving to the public Exchequer and would have benefited the public greatly. It should be remembered that errors in pensions can cost many millions of pounds either in savings forgone or in compensation. That is why it is in the interests of any Government to allow sensible measures of post-legislative scrutiny. I support post-legislative scrutiny, as indeed does the Law Commission, of all Acts of Parliament. Ministers may not always like the result of such scrutiny—I see that—for it may reveal mistakes in implementation, but the sooner mistakes are picked up the better and less costly the whole process will be. Nowhere is that more important than in pensions legislation where mistakes can cost so much.

The amendment would give the Government maximum flexibility. I emphasise that; we are not advocating an expensive course. The Government Front Bench and my own Front Bench should note that we are not talking about an independent commission, which cost £1.5 billion, corrected to £1.5 million last week by the Minister. We want independent scrutiny; there is no point in doing it unless it is independent. The most obvious course is for it to be carried out by a Select Committee—whether joint or of only one House—or some other form of parliamentary committee. We are not asking that all issues should be debated again. We are

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concerned to ensure that the intention and declared aim of the legislation is being implemented. That is what the amendment is all about. If passed, it would be attached to this Bill, although as I said, there is a case for attaching it to all Bills. It would certainly be attached to the next Bill on pensions, which we know will follow.

This Bill has important provisions in a whole range of areas, including the uprating of the state pension, an increase in the state pension age, preparations for the personal accounts scheme and the delivery authority. No one can argue that this is insignificant legislation; it is very important legislation and it is very important that we get it right.

There is one further and final good reason for taking the step set out in the amendment. The new Prime Minister wants the role of Parliament restored. I agree wholly with that aim. This measure would take us a further step down that road. I beg to move.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment introducing a new clause. Both government and Parliament tend to regard Royal Assent as the end of the legislative process. Legislative success is judged in terms of how many Bills are enacted, not in terms of what effect they have. It is essential that we recognise that the legislative process exists beyond Royal Assent. That is a midway point, not an end point. It is essential that we devote more time and resources to assessing whether an Act has fulfilled its purpose. Otherwise, as my noble friend has said, the danger is that problems only become apparent too late or, sometimes, not at all.

Post-legislative scrutiny, as suggested by this amendment, can serve to improve the quality of legislation introduced to Parliament. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, endorsed the principle of such scrutiny and recommended that each Bill be accompanied by a list of criteria by which one can judge whether it had fulfilled its purpose. That, it recognised, would help to concentrate the minds of Ministers and departments. It would inject greater rigour into the process and provide a reasonably objective basis for assessment. I chaired the committee in that inquiry. All the witnesses who gave evidence on the subject recognised the value of engaging in such scrutiny. They included the then Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, who said in his evidence to the committee:

I reiterate that last point:

How do we know whether it is having the desired effect? The best way, as my noble friend has said, is by engaging in post-legislative scrutiny. There are now a number of precedents for such scrutiny. I strongly

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believe that we need to build on those precedents and, if possible, inject a structured means for regular, post-legislative scrutiny.

The Law Commission, as my noble friend touched upon, reported last October and recommended a means by which Parliament can engage in more consistent post-legislative scrutiny. The Government have yet to reply to that report. In the mean time, they could do no better than endorse this provision. The timescale stipulated in the new clause seems eminently reasonable. The principle that underpins it is unassailable. The provisions are not over prescriptive. I commend it to the House.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, if your Lordships have any doubts about my claim on Report that my noble friend Lord Fowler and I were still talking to each other, my name on this amendment would, I hope, dispel them. My noble friend is quite right in saying that over the past 10 years we have had major improvements in our consideration of Bills. We have produced valuable pre-legislative scrutiny—on the Disability Discrimination Bill, for instance, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, will remember—where the Joint Committee’s deliberations informed not only the Government in drawing up the final Bill but also the debates on that Bill in both Houses. It is a far better Act than it would otherwise have been, mainly because of the direct input of stakeholders, not least the disability charities. The interests of stakeholders are what the Statement we have just been listening to was all about. Such pre-legislative scrutiny is not pertinent to every Bill, especially those where it is necessary to have them on the statute book within a year. Nevertheless, where Bills are suitable, the procedure has worked well.

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