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Baroness Thornton: No, my Lords, I do not accept that. Good nutrition places demands on a huge multidisciplinary team within a hospital. Although

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the noble Baroness is right that the key for improvement lies locally, the Government have put in place a range of national initiatives—such as the national action plan led by Gordon Lishman of Age Concern, and the Patient Environment Action Plan, which will be assessed twice in the coming year—that will give a national framework to be delivered locally by clinicians and nurses.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness. Will this plan give people, particularly frail people, the reassurance they need that the unpleasant experience that so many have in hospital when they are given meals will not continue? Will it ensure that non-pureed food is not given to patients who cannot swallow, that vegetarians will not continue to be given meat dishes, that food trays will not be placed at the end of the bed and so on? Will the plan really cover those very important points?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the answer is yes. It is unacceptable that some of our most vulnerable older patients and other patients with special requirements do not receive the help they need to eat or the food that they enjoy. It is very important and we are keen to respond to constructive criticism. The Nutritional Action Plan will help to deliver exactly what the noble Baroness seeks.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her appointment and I look forward to the good work that I am sure she will do in her role. One of the solutions, in addition to seeking to use families to assist with feeding, is to take up the opportunity of using more volunteers. I speak as a trustee of the Community Service Volunteers, and declare an interest. We have considerable difficulties in persuading trusts that greater use should be made of volunteers, even though there are many volunteers around and willing to do this work. Can my noble friend, as a new commitment in her new post, give an undertaking that she will look into this and endeavour to get greater freedom for volunteers to be used in this respect in the future?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the answer is yes.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Minister is aware that good nursing care depends not only on financial resource but also on the underlying attitudes of people in the profession to their patients. Can she tell the House what steps are being taken to assess current attitudes to the care of elderly people? What steps does she propose should be taken to improve those attitudes to ensure that older people are treated, as they should be, with the utmost respect?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate. There are three strong mechanisms for assessing the quality of food and nutritional care: the Healthcare Commission’s annual health check,

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in-patient services, and the annual Patient Environment Action Team inspections. These show how seriously the Government are taking the issue.

Elections: Review of Voting Systems

3.24 pm

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government have published a review as a contribution to the continuing debate on electoral reform. The next immediate step is to publish a White Paper on Lords reform that will honour the House of Commons vote in support of a substantially or fully elected Lords. The White Paper will include options on the type of voting system to be used for elections in the second Chamber. The deliberations of the cross-party working group on Lords reform will form the basis of the paper, which will be published within the next few months.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure we all look forward to debating these issues when the White Paper comes. It has taken a long time for the report to arrive from the department, but it is practical; it is a useful mini-encyclopaedia. Does the Minister agree that one of the interesting things in it, for people such as me and my party who are strong supporters of the single transferable vote form of proportional representation, is that not only does the paper suggest that STV is the best form of PR, allowing the constituency link to remain and allowing people to vote for individuals rather than for amorphous party lists, but that it might be the most proportional system of all the ones we have in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is certainly a report for anoraks. It is objective and does not make value judgments; it merely goes through the experiences of the devolved countries and the London and European elections. It is helpful in terms of the wider debate on systems of election more generally, and I hope noble Lords will read it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord says it is a report for anoraks. It is yet another great big damned thick square book that the Government have produced. Its price is £33.45 but it does not really say very much, despite the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, describing it as encyclopaedic. What is the cost of this report, rather than the price?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is worth every penny. The cost of publishing the review was £30,000.

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Lord Tyler: My Lords, is it not rather ironic that the Minister just now and the Minister in the other place keep referring to the necessity of making this House more democratic and representative while MPs in the other place seem not to be very keen on that? As the Minister will recall, he told us that the report was completed before Christmas, yet it seems to have taken a month to get it out. Was that because some ministerial spin was necessary with regard to what was in the report, to put the emphasis on the need to make this House more democratic rather than to end the voting swindle that ends up with unrepresentative MPs at the other end of the Corridor?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Of course not, my Lords. With the first-past-the-post system we have a clear result and strong government. We would have to think carefully before we changed that.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, the report may be for anoraks but some of us can speak from experience. I have 30 years’ experience of fighting elections under STV as well as practical experience of this system. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the single transferable vote system is the worst of the lot in terms of its practical consequences. It does not enhance the democratic process. If the noble Lord looked more carefully at our experience, he would see that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thought that was a very telling comment.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that it is now more than 10 years since the Government undertook to allow the British public to express their opinion on voting systems, which was followed by the commissioning of a report by the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead that was never put to the public for their advice? When will the Government listen to the public on the important question about the rights of the people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have always said that if there were going to be a change to the voting system for the House of Commons, there would need to be a referendum. We have no proposals to change that system.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the existing electoral arrangements for the European Parliament in this country are both difficult for the public to understand and unsatisfactory from the perspective of those who are elected?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, if the noble Lord is asking me to defend the closed list system, I am afraid I would have great difficulty in so doing.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords—

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, the Minister attacked the Liberal Democrats for supporting PR. Could he justify an election where, let us say, the

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Conservative Party won 60 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons with the support of only 43 per cent of the electorate?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there are advantages and disadvantages in all electoral systems. The key advantages of first-past-the-post are that the public have a clear choice, that it produces strong Governments with majorities in the House of Commons and that it does not give undue weight to small parties.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the Liberal Democrats bang on about proportional representation, but does the Minister agree that it is not a system, but merely one of about 12 different systems in each of which there is an umbrella that will produce a different result? Therefore, would it not be better if the Liberal Democrats did not bang on about it so much, but kept to first-past-the-post?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, they certainly bang on, and I suspect that we all will continue to do so on this fascinating question.


3.31 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the third item of business today is the Committee stage of the Climate Change Bill. We did not, as we had hoped, finish the Committee stage last Monday and aim to do so today. With the understanding of the House, it is intended that the Committee will sit late—until 11 pm if necessary—to complete the Committee stage, although I hope that this will not be necessary.

Safety Deposit Current Accounts Bill [HL]

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the introduction of a mandatory requirement for banks and building societies to offer safety deposit current accounts to allow money to be stored for safe keeping and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Local Transport Bill [HL]

Read a third time.

Clause 39 [Quality contracts: application of TUPE]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 1:

(a) the person provides information in accordance with a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (5)(c),

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(b) the information is false or misleading in a material particular, and(c) the person knows that it is or is reckless as to whether it is.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report, I moved an amendment to what is now Clause 39, which your Lordships’ House accepted. This further amendment ties up a small loose end.

Clause 39 would insert new Section 134B into the Transport Act 2000 to make provision for transfer of employees on TUPE terms when an existing deregulated service is discontinued because a quality contract comes into force. The detailed process for managing the transfer would be set out in regulations. Among other things, such regulations could require the operators of existing services to provide the local transport authority with information about the people whom they employ in providing services which the authority intends to be provided under a quality contract. The reason for this is to facilitate the employees’ transfer to a new employer should the contract be awarded to a different operator following the tender process. This information, suitably anonymised, would be made available to tenderers who, if successful, would be obliged to take on any of these employees who were willing to transfer.

The clause would also amend Section 26 of the Transport Act 1985 and Section 155 of the Transport Act 2000, so as to enable the traffic commissioner to impose licensing or financial sanctions against operators who fail to comply with the request for information.

However, as well as simply not making a return, an operator could provide false or misleading information, either through carelessness or deliberate deception. It is no secret, as my noble friend Lord Snape has made clear in the past, that many bus operators who are totally opposed to quality contracts schemes and might need some persuading to co-operate in a task such as this even if it were in their interest to do so. They might not take much trouble to ensure that the information was correct and complete. They might even deliberately spread confusion to complicate the implementation process. More seriously, if they were among the tenderers, they might see some advantage to themselves in misleading their competitors about the number of jobs, pay scales and terms of employment. That way, they might deter some potential new operators from putting in a bid, or persuade others to bid higher than they need.

The question of whether an operator has provided information is one of fact; it is well within the traffic commissioner’s competence to judge whether there were mitigating factors or whether the operator has misbehaved and should be penalised. But providing false or misleading information, particularly if it could be done for commercial gain, really requires a criminal sanction and for evidence to be considered by a court of law.

This amendment would make such behaviour a criminal offence, triable in a magistrates’ court and with a maximum penalty at level 4 on the standard

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scale. That is the same penalty that applies to making a false statement to obtain a public service vehicle operator’s licence, a certificate of initial fitness for a bus or coach, or various other documents issued by the traffic commissioners. The severity of the offence could vary from fairly trivial to very serious. Even trivial offences could cause undue hardship to individual workers, but the courts would use their discretion in the usual way. I beg to move.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, given that my noble friend indicated—in my view rightly—that an offence under this amendment could be very serious indeed, how was the decision reached that the penalty set out in the amendment was appropriate? As my noble friend said, the provision of false or misleading information could lead to other operators deciding not to bid or to put in a higher bid than necessary to the advantage of the incumbent operator providing the false or misleading information, who might also be a bidder. Should not the maximum fine that could be imposed, if justified, reflect the financial advantage or gain that could have been secured by the operator providing the false or misleading information? It is surely not much of a deterrent if the maximum fine is way below the financial advantage that might be secured from deliberately or negligently supplying false or misleading data. I should be grateful if my noble friend could indicate why the level of fine indicated in the amendment was deemed appropriate because I do not regard the matters to which he referred as the justification for it as necessarily being commensurate with the potential severity of the offence.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend asks a reasonable question. I believe that we are right to insert a criminal penalty in the Bill. The nature of the offence will have a bearing on the outcome in the court but I cannot prejudge a magistrate’s view on this issue. As I understand it, a level 4 fine reaches a maximum of about £2,500. That sends an important and powerful message to those who seek to flout the legislative intent here, and I believe that it is a most helpful approach. The court will reach a proportionate view when considering this important issue. The penalty is based on similar penalties elsewhere in transport legislation. More serious offences can also fall within the terms of the Fraud Act. That would be for the prosecuting authorities to consider when bringing a charge. I believe that we have the balance about right. This is a useful and necessary encouragement and therefore I am sure that the House will welcome the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Chapman moved Amendment No. 2:

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(a) the designated vehicle is being used to provide a local service (within the meaning of section 2 of the Transport Act 1985), and(b) a person falling within paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) has indicated to the driver that he wishes to travel on the service.”.(a) after “at the time of the alleged offence” insert—“(a) in the case of a regulated taxi,”;(b) after “it was required to conform,” insert—“(b) in the case of a designated vehicle, the vehicle conformed to the accessibility requirements which applied to it,”;(c) for the word “taxi” (in the last place where it appears) substitute “vehicle”.(a) a certificate of exemption issued to him under this section is in force; and(b) he is carrying the certificate on the vehicle.
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