Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1135

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that all those exemptions are currently subject to an annual review, which creates very considerable uncertainty and problems for the universities concerned? Could not the Government consider giving them the three-year guarantee that they get for general funding in universities?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, in September 2007 HEFCE was asked to redistribute £100 million by 2010-11 to provide 20,000 full-time equivalent extra opportunities for newcomers to higher education. It is a phased change—£25 million in 2008-09 and £60 million in 2009-10.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, with the economic problems we face and the prospect of an increasing number of people becoming unemployed, should not the Government’s focus be on the poor and people on low wages who are being made unemployed or who are likely to be made unemployed? What additional work is being prepared to try to assist those people?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, certainly that is the focus of our attention. I give the House some further figures. There is a significant demand for higher education and something like 100,000 applicants fail to get a place every year. Twenty million people, 70 per cent of the workforce, have no first degree, compared to only 60 per cent in USA and Japan. Our student finance funding is focused on those most in need. Something like 40 per cent of students in the lower income group will receive a full grant. We believe that we have got the focus of our policy right.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I declare an interest in that theological education is one of the areas likely to be most affected by these funding changes. I am grateful for the opportunity to express gratitude to HEFCE and the Government for the way they have worked with us to try to ensure that the unintended consequences of the changed financial arrangements do not impact disproportionately on those training for the ministry. It would be helpful if the Minister could reinforce his commitment that foundation degrees will continue to attract HEFCE funding for those who already have a degree. As the noble Baroness said, at a time when social capital is all the more important, I do not see, unless the Minister can help and explain, how these proposals will help to get back into work in mid-career those who already have a degree but need to be retrained and reskilled to degree level.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I can certainly give the right reverend Prelate an assurance on foundation degrees. We regard them as an important route to higher education. Certainly, I do not see them at risk in any review. Again, I think we are doing the right thing in focusing on people going for first-time degrees. A separate amount of money has been allocated to help people who are made redundant in the current circumstances to retrain and reskill.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK. Given that a thorough review of policy in 2010 is

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1136

promised, will the Government confirm that the review will be comprehensive and that it will take into account the very different effects on different institutions, particularly the impact on different types of provision, given, as other noble Lords have mentioned, the downturn in the economy? Will he assure me that all institutions, however affected, will be consulted during the review?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I can certainly assure my noble friend that all institutions will be consulted. We have taken some special steps for specialist institutions. Safety net funding on the Open University’s budget was increased by £4 million and on Birkbeck College’s by £5 million. Universities generally can recoup their money by recruiting more first-time students.

National Probation Service: Budget

3.29 pm

Lord Ramsbotham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Ministry of Justice is seeking efficiency savings over the next three years as set out in the department’s annual report. Budgets have not yet been fixed but, as is the case across government, the Probation Service will need to make efficiency savings of about 2.5 per cent in the next financial year. This will involve difficult decisions but the NOMS agency is working to determine how the saving can be achieved in ways that protect front-line services. The aim is to reduce overheads, remove administration and drive improvement in underperforming or expensive services.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat disappointing and disarming reply. As we all know, there is not only overcrowding in prisons but a large increase in the number of prisoners and offenders requiring supervision in the community. If we are to reduce the use of imprisonment, we also need to have confidence in the community sentencing process. I recently saw an organisation diagram for the National Offender Management Service but I looked in vain, first, for the National Probation Service and, secondly, for the director of the service. In addition to managing offenders, you have to manage the staff of these services. Can the Minister tell the House who is the professional appointed to be responsible for the Probation Service in the administration of probation services in this country?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Secretary of State, of course, has a statutory duty to ensure that probation services are carried out. Although I understand the noble Lord’s disappointment, I hope I have just clearly expressed that the changes which must take place have to address unexplained variations in cost and performance between similar services provided elsewhere. Some probation boards do much better than others with the

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1137

same resources, but that is true of organisations across the board. What matters is that any changes that have to take place—and they have been much exaggerated—aim first to reduce overheads and secondly to simplify processes so that scarce resources can be targeted effectively at front-line work with offenders.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, given the enormous pressure that the Probation Service is already under in coping with its existing workload, can the Minister explain how the Government will support the service when it must deal with the explosion of prisoners on IPPs, who will be subject to licensed supervision for at least 10 years and possibly for life?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we are not going to attack the front-line work that the Probation Service does so brilliantly across the country. There are administrative changes and savings that can be made. As I have said before, in this organisation as in others, benchmarking and evidence-gathering have shown great variations in the cost and performance of similar services being delivered in similar probation areas. This will not be easy but it has to be done.

Lord Henley: My Lords, in the report referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, in her earlier Question—a report that was co-written by the Chief Inspector of Probation—there was, as the Minister will remember, a general request for the Secretary of State to ensure an increased allocation of resources. The Minister is now talking about a saving of some 2.5 per cent. How will he bring those two factors together?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we would very much like to be able to spend more on a whole range of issues but, being a responsible Government, we know something that the other side seems to have forgotten—you can only spend within your means.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that the business of government is hard, and it is about priorities. What we will not sacrifice is the front-line work being effectively done with offenders. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that since 1997, staffing numbers in the Probation Service have increased by over 7,000 and the probation resource budget has increased by nearly 70 per cent in real terms. Only in March of this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State committed an additional £40 million to ensure that magistrates had tough community sentences at their disposal, and an additional £17 million was found for the Probation Service for this year. So I do not think that we will take lessons on this subject from the noble Lord.

Lord Dubs: My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, can we let my noble friend go first, and then the noble Lord?

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1138

Lord Dubs: My Lords, of course it is right that the Government should seek to make efficiency savings across all expenditure. Can my noble friend provide an assurance that the efficiency savings demanded of the Probation Service will be no greater than those demanded of the Prison Service?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend an assurance on the exact amounts because we do not know exactly what the figures will be. However, as I said in my first Answer, we are seeking efficiency savings over the next three years, as set out in the annual report. We want to be fair to every part of the Ministry of Justice.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that an across-the-board, unimaginative reduction of one-fortieth could be extremely counterproductive and could, indeed, foreclose the prospect of a non-custodial disposal in many appropriate cases, leading to a critical situation in relation to prison overcrowding?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree absolutely with the noble Lord. If it were just done across the board and without any imagination at all, it would be an absurd thing to do. We have to concentrate on where savings can be made—and savings can be made in almost every organisation—while ensuring that we focus on dealing with offenders who have been in prison or been given community sentences. As the noble Lord will know, in February this year we announced a further investment, in addition to the investment that I mentioned, of £13.9 million over the next three years to fund six new intensive alternatives to custody projects. I hope that that is something that the House will support.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, when we fought through the Offender Management Bill last year the Government made it clear that they wanted offender management to be a seamless exercise both in prison and out of prison, which would require more resources for those out of prison. Have the Government now abandoned that objective?

Lord Bach: No, my Lords, we certainly have not. Those who are out of prison on community sentences are the front-line people we are determined to ensure do not suffer as a result of any cuts which we have to make. We will concentrate on them as it is essential to go on helping them. The noble Lord heard me mention figures a few minutes ago. The amount of money that the Government have put in over a number of years, and the number of extra probation officers, is a good record.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008

3.37 pm

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1139

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 23 October be approved. 30th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 November.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2008

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 23 and 29 October be approved. 30th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 November.—(Lord Bach.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment) Order 2008

Legal Services Act 2007 (Functions of a Designated Regulator) Order 2008

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 22 October be approved. 29th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 17 November.—(Lord Patel of Bradford.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Pensions Bill

3.38 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): 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.

Before the House begins Third Reading on the Pensions Bill, it may be helpful for me to say a few words about the Third Reading amendments. In line with the guidance recommended by the Procedure Committee and agreed by the House, the Public Bill Office has advised the usual channels that one amendment on the Marshalled List for Third Reading today falls outside the guidance given in the Companion and set

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1140

out by the Procedure Committee. This is Amendment No. 17 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Joffe.

On the basis of the Public Bill Office’s advice, the usual channels have agreed to recommend to the House that the amendment should not be moved. As ever, this is ultimately a matter for the House as a whole to decide.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, that is helpful, but it would help us if the noble Baroness were to explain the reason for that.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the subject of the amendment has already been dealt with on the Floor of the House twice and, therefore, it is not appropriate for it to be debated again today.

Bill read a third time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton) moved Amendment No. 1:

1: Clause 8, page 6, line 1, at end insert “or in respect”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 6 to 9, 20, 24 to 29 and 32.

We wish to ensure that the Bill is as clear and as error-free as possible before we send it back to the Commons. Therefore, as is normal at this stage, parliamentary draftsmen have suggested a number of minor and technical amendments designed to correct inconsistencies and improve drafting. I will take each of the amendments in turn.

On Amendment No. 1, if a jobholder opts out of pension saving under Clause 8, the jobholder and the employer get their contributions refunded. As drafted, the wording suggests that the regulations on refunds made under Clause 8(2)(b) should deal only with “jobholder” contributions. The amendment is intended to make clear that the clause covers employer and employee contributions and brings the drafting into line with other clauses that refer to contributions.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are designed to clarify the drafting of the clause that introduces the test scheme standard for defined benefit schemes. The amendments confirm that the terms “such persons” and “J” refer to scheme members.

On Amendment No. 6, Clause 37(3) allows the Secretary of State to make regulations about the way in which the regulator can estimate the amount of contributions that an employer has failed to pay. Amendment No. 6 is intended to make clear that regulations can be made covering how the regulator can estimate contributions paid by the employer on behalf of the worker, as well as contributions paid on the employer’s account in respect of that worker. The amendment will also bring parity with Clause 38(2), where the same terms are used.

On Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, Clause 60 currently gives the regulator power to inspect employers’ premises where it has reason to believe that documents relevant to the administration of a qualifying scheme are being kept. However, an employer’s scheme would not be a qualifying scheme in relation to workers without qualifying

19 Nov 2008 : Column 1141

earnings under Clause 9. It is also possible that an employer might declare his pension scheme to be a qualifying scheme when, in fact, it does not satisfy the requirements as set out in Clause 16. Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9 replace the reference to a “qualifying scheme” with a reference to a,

of the employer, and will therefore ensure that the regulator’s powers of inspection would apply in all relevant circumstances.

Amendment No. 20 amends the interpretation clause for Part 1 to make clear that people without qualifying earnings who opt into a workplace personal pension under Clause 9 are active members of their scheme, just as jobholders who opt in are active members.

I shall now speak to Amendments Nos. 24 to 29 and 32. The amendments to Clauses 132 and 133 clarify two things. First, any conditions associated with the purchase of additional voluntary class 3 national insurance contributions under Clause 132 must be prescribed in regulations by the Treasury. Secondly, the clause requires that an eligible person must have 20 qualifying years or 20 full years of home responsibilities protection in order to buy the additional contributions. This amendment clarifies that we are referring to a qualifying year for the purposes of entitlement to certain social security benefits.

The amendment to Clause 146 clarifies that an order is not required for the commencement of the extension to the rules on the purchase of voluntary class 3 national insurance contributions. The right to buy additional years for eligible people will take effect automatically on 6 April 2009, and this is specified in the Bill at Clause 146(4).

I hope that noble Lords will agree that these amendments are straightforward but necessary to ensure that the Bill leaves this House in the best state possible. I beg to move.

3.45 pm

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, silence breeds consent.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, we are generally happier with these amendments today. The way in which the Minister and the department have tidied up and brought forward the amendments is a credit to them. We had vigorous discussions at earlier stages of the Bill, and on these amendments today the noble Lord has generally shown himself to be a listening Minister, which is not something that I would say about every Minister in this Government.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page