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Lord Myners: My Lords, through the agency UK Financial Investments, which holds shares on behalf of the public in the Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Government have asked the Royal Bank of Scotland’s existing board to explore legal channels to ensure that the payment of the pension to Sir Fred Goodwin is in accordance with the rules of the scheme and the terms of his contract. Advice is currently being received from counsel and it will be for the new board of the Royal Bank of Scotland to take whatever action it judges to be necessary

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in the light of that advice to protect the interests of the Royal Bank of Scotland and, through that, UKFI and the general public as investors in the bank.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, is the Minister of the opinion that there is anything wrong with favouring the Scottish economy?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the Government are taking actions across a wide range of areas to stimulate the British economy, to ensure that the worst ravages of a global recession are handled effectively and swiftly. There are signs that the global economy is beginning to stabilise, and we are sure that the United Kingdom will benefit from that.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister said, in response to my noble friend Lord Higgins, that the Government are not producing forecasts of the money supply because it is all in the hands of the Bank of England. Is this not another case of the Government being in denial and refusing to acknowledge that their policies on the money supply could have a significant impact on the economy; and is it not about time that they did start monitoring this and revealing the figures?

Lord Myners: My Lords, what I said was that we do not make forecasts of the money supply. The money supply is of course monitored, as would be evident to anybody who reads the minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee.

Home Owner Mortgage Support Scheme


3.04 pm

Asked By Lord Dubs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, we anticipate that home owners’ mortgage support will help tens of thousands of households to avoid the threat of repossession. The scheme may cost up to £44 million over eight years, which includes the potential cost to government of guaranteeing the 80 per cent of interest deferred by borrowers who subsequently default in the guarantee period. If fewer home owners default, the cost could be much lower.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her Answer. Will she say a little more about the sort of people who will benefit and the ways in which they will benefit as a result of this scheme? Secondly, will she say something about those lenders who are not prepared to join the scheme and what can be done about them?

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Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, I am happy to answer both those questions. With this scheme we are trying to help those people who have suffered an income shock and who need short-term breathing space to get their finances back on track. There are few greater anxieties than the threat of losing one's home and all that goes with it such as the loss of a job, family break-up and the rest. The people who will be helped by the scheme will be households that previously relied on two incomes where one person has lost a job or a single person who has had overtime hours cut. I stress that it is not a payment holiday: a proportion of the interest payments will be deferred, but they will have to be paid back later.

The group of lenders who are taking part in the government guarantee scheme cover 50 per cent of the mortgage market. Four other high street lenders—Barclays, HSBC, Nationwide and Santander—have also confirmed that they will offer comparable arrangements to HMS to their customers, but they do not feel that they need the government guarantee. That will account for 80 per cent of the mortgage market.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that only one building society has agreed to join the Government’s formal scheme? The other remaining building societies feel that it is not necessary to enter the government scheme: they hope to match that scheme for their customers on a voluntary basis.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the building societies that are in the government scheme include the Bradford & Bingley and the Cumberland Building Society. Certainly, we want to go on working with as many building societies, banks and specialist lenders to bring as many people as possible into the scheme. That would be our intention.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, this is the third scheme that has been introduced by the present housing Minister—the right honourable Margaret Beckett. How do the Government intend to review the scheme to see how well it is working? Will the Minister particularly say whether the Government will look at borrowers from the 20 per cent who are not taking part in the scheme? Have they monitored the other schemes, as they have brought in one after the other?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is true that we have introduced a number of schemes to suit different types of situation. For example, the mortgage rescue scheme, about which the noble Baroness knows, is for the most vulnerable. It will help 6,000 potentially very vulnerable people move to shared equity or into the rented sector. Essentially, that will be monitored by looking at the lenders’ use of forbearance, which is considered through the home finance forum chaired by my noble friend Lord Myners. That is also working to improve the availability of data.

As for the 20 per cent who are outside the scheme, as I said in reply to a previous question, we will try very hard to bring in as many people as possible, but we have no targets for the scheme. We want to make it as generous and effective as possible for people who may be in difficulty.

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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, who does the Minister think has caused the income shocks from which these people are suffering?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the House is well aware that this is a product of the credit crunch. Very many people are finding themselves vulnerable who did not expect to be either because they have lost their jobs or because they have difficulties with their mortgages.

Lord Best: My Lords, I greatly welcome the home owner mortgage support scheme, but there is clearly a danger that it will become a damp squib. Will the Minister consider whether it is necessary to give the courts more power to impose a stay of execution for possession orders where there is a good chance of people repaying their mortgages? In those cases where the lenders take very little notice of the excellent scheme now on offer, remembering that in every case they can use their discretion, would those extra powers not give us a better guarantee that repossessions will in fact be reduced as a result of this measure?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a very interesting point. Let me say something about the notion that this is a damp squib. I think one of the ways in which we could certainly accelerate and improve take-up is to make sure, as we are doing, that people who are in need have access to advice. The whole foundation of this scheme is that people in need should go to their lenders and should also take independent financial advice. That would help enormously. Certainly, as the noble Lord will know, we have boosted the court desks; we have made more advice available. The idea that we should look to extend the stay of execution is something that I shall take back to the department.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Best, is it not the case that extensive powers are already vested in judges under Section 36 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970? These powers allow the judge to postpone an application or, indeed, suspend a possession warrant, where there is a possibility that a family will be able to pay and repay all debts within the total period of the mortgage. That is very important, for however parlous the situation might be now, if the mortgage has 20 years to run, it may very well be that that can be achieved within the terms of that provision.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s advice. He has enormous experience in this area. Clearly, repossession is not inevitable, even after a claim has been issued. Provided the borrower is able to pay their arrears in a reasonable period of time, or place the property on the market to effect a sale, and the lender does not have satisfactory reasons for not agreeing, the court does have the power to adjourn the proceedings. So there clearly are different ways of easing this situation.

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, even the impact assessment of the Department for Communities and Local Government is not as optimistic as the Minister. It says that only 7,000—not tens of thousands—might

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be helped every year. Is it not the case that, not only are the criteria for qualifying for the scheme too restricted, but even if a home owner can qualify, more than half the mortgage lenders have refused to have anything to do with the scheme?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I think the noble Lord may be thinking about the mortgage rescue scheme, because that is certainly a figure in that range. We have estimated—these figures are based on our discussions with lenders, which have been very close partners in designing this scheme and the criteria we have set for eligibility— that up to 42,000 households could enter onto HMS in the next two years. If we were to be able to get 100 per cent of the mortgage market—if that was covered—then we would be looking at 85,000 people. As I have already explained, we have enough lenders to account for 80 per cent of the mortgage market. Of course, we have done a great deal, not just through this initiative but through the whole range of initiatives, in providing advice and supporting people in different degrees of difficulty, both before and after the Budget.

Arrangement of Business


3.13 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe will repeat the Statement on the review of Reserves.

Health Bill [HL]

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
11th Report from JCHR

Report (1st Day)

3.14 pm

Clause 1 : NHS Constitution

Amendment 1

Moved by Earl Howe

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—

“( ) In this Chapter the “Statement of NHS Accountability” means—

(a) the document entitled “The Statement of NHS Accountability for England” published by the Secretary of State on 21 January 2009, or

(b) any revised version of that document published under section (Availability, review and revision of Statement of NHS Accountability).”

Earl Howe: My Lords, it falls to me to open today’s proceedings. With this amendment I shall couple Amendment 16 in this group. I take us to an issue which we did not debate in Grand Committee; the role and standing of the Statement of NHS Accountability for England in relation to the NHS Constitution. This statement was published alongside the NHS Constitution and the Handbook to the NHS Constitution on 21 January

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this year. In these amendments I am asking: is the statement an integral part of the NHS Constitution? If it is, why is there no mention of it in the Bill?

If you access the very helpful section on the Department of Health website which contains the NHS Constitution and you turn to the interactive version, you read the following words:

“This interactive version of the NHS Constitution is designed to help you navigate through all of the supporting information that you may need when reading the NHS Constitution. It consists of the following documents”.

Below that there is listed the NHS Constitution, the Handbook to the NHS Constitution, and the Statement of NHS Accountability. It is important to note that the constitution is described as “consisting of” these documents. In other words, the constitution consists of more than the 12-page document carrying that title, and you do not have the constitution in your hand unless you are holding the three documents—four, if you include the Glossary of Terms. This is right and proper.

At the beginning of the 12-page document is the section headed:

“Principles that guide the NHS”.

The seventh of these principles is concerned with accountability and commits the Government to making sure,

to enable people to be clear about the system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS. This system is as important for NHS staff to understand as for anyone else. For one thing, if staff are legally obliged to have regard to the constitution, they surely cannot do that in the fullest sense without understanding and having regard to the statement of accountability.

That is the function of the statement of accountability, which also provides a very useful summary of the current structure of the NHS and what the bodies within it are tasked with doing. Just as there are cross-references between the 12-page constitution and the handbook, and just as it is not possible to understand one document without the other, there are also cross-references between the constitution and the statement of accountability. How might the statement be useful to a patient? If you were someone who was unhappy about some aspect of NHS services and were seeking to understand how best to impress upon the service that it needed to focus more attention on a particular matter, the statement of accountability would enable you to navigate your way around the NHS and its institutions. It is more than arguable that you would not be able to do that properly by reading only the handbook.

Why is it then that the Statement of NHS Accountability receives no mention in the Bill? If it is to be regarded as part of the NHS Constitution, as the department’s website strongly implies that it is, we should be able to see mention made of it here, on a par with the handbook. Indeed, what is the difference between the status of the handbook and that of the statement of accountability? I beg to move.

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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, the British Medical Association has said that it has been a vocal supporter of the concept of an NHS constitution. It is the BMA’s belief that a clearly articulated set of values that reflect a shared consensus concerning the nature and purpose of the NHS will strengthen the public’s trust in it. The BMA considers that a constitution, properly constructed, offers the means to maintain the public’s confidence in the NHS and to safeguard its future.

However, the BMA has concerns with regard to the constitution’s commitment to developing a responsive and accountable health service. Past experience and some evidence suggests that there exist significant failings in enabling patients, public and staff to engage in and influence meaningfully NHS decision-making processes. Recent examples of service redesign, involving poor levels of transparency and a lack of effective consultation reinforce this view.

The BMA continues to be a strong advocate of patient and public involvement as an integral and collaborative process that is essential to grow productive partnerships between patients, the public, health professionals and policy makers. Consequently, the BMA does not believe that the NHS contribution goes far enough in determining a framework that will better enable and safeguard local accountability for widening and strengthening the relationship between the health services at a local level and the populations they serve. I support this amendment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, Amendments 1 and 16 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a statement of accountability, to review it every three years and to ensure that it continues to be available to patients, staff and members of the public.

I agree with the sentiment behind these amendments. The system of responsibility in the NHS should always be made clear and accessible to the public, the patients and the staff. As I explained in Grand Committee, it is critical that the public know how the NHS is accountable at a local level and how they can get involved.

During the formal consultation on the draft constitution, patients, the public and NHS staff told us that it would be helpful to produce a document that explains accountability and the roles and responsibilities in the NHS. The Statement of NHS Accountability, which was published alongside the constitution on 21 January, was a response to what we heard. It is a public-facing document that explains the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the NHS.

However, I do not believe it is necessary to place in the Bill the requirement to review and update the statement of accountability. This is because the Government have already committed to doing this through the NHS Constitution.

Principle 7 in the constitution explains that,

It says:

“The system of responsibility and accountability for taking decisions in the NHS should be transparent and clear to the public, patients and staff”.

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It goes on to commit that,

Therefore, we have already committed to ensuring that the statement of accountability is always clear and up to date. Imposing a timeline on how often the statement must be updated risks being too prescriptive—at least once every three years may be too long to wait, or, conversely, the roles, responsibilities and accountability in the NHS may not change in one three-year period. By keeping the time flexible, we will ensure that it is constantly up to date and continues to be useful to the public, the patients and the staff.

I turn to the point that the noble Earl raised in relation to the interactive form of the Statement of NHS Accountability and the supporting document. I will certainly look at the interactive version that the noble Earl referred to, but I think that the intention was to say that the interactive guide, and not the constitution, contains a statement of accountability.

I hope that I have demonstrated that there is no need for extra legislation on the face of the Bill. The Government have already committed to publishing a clear statement on NHS accountability that is always up to date.

I turn to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, in relation to the transparency of it. I made it quite clear, through the process of the NHS next-stage review in May last year, that any service redesign or reconfiguration has to be evidence-based, clinically led and needs to involve the local population and the public through the whole period of the consultation. Change has to be locally owned.

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