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16 July 2009 : Column 1267

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does this scheme extend to primary schools, where there is a serious shortage of male teachers? Following on from the question about child protection asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will child development be taught on these courses?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I think that it would be helpful for me to write to noble Lords setting out in some detail what the course will cover, but, as I understand it, it is not possible to achieve qualified teacher status without covering issues such as child development and without understanding child safeguarding. I am very happy to provide more detail on that.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, following on from my noble friend Lady Perry's Question, have there been any added incentives or golden handshakes for this particular pilot?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: No, my Lords. The incentive, as I would identify it, is the opportunity to qualify in a shorter period of time. My own experience is that my father came into teaching from industry and was encouraged to do so by the introduction of the PGCE in the 1970s-so the opportunity to train in a year was quite new then. The opportunity to train and become a qualified teacher quickly is in itself a great incentive for some people. We are trying to make sure that we have a flexible range of opportunities for people to come into teaching as we need these experts coming in.

Lord Judd: My Lords, while this new course is very exciting, and the Government are to be congratulated on having introduced it, six months is a very short time. Can my noble friend assure the House that those undertaking it will do so in a context in which education is seen to be about developing questioning critical minds? It is not just a matter of the technical techniques of maths and the rest.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I think that I can reassure the House on that. The Institute of Education is an internationally renowned institution. It is part of our higher education system, which delivers the highest quality of provision. The noble Lord should be reassured. He should also be reassured by the fact that we are rigorously evaluating this, and I am sure that noble Lords will be interested to see the outcome of that evaluation.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister will know that the Teach First programme has for the past seven years been taking top-grade graduates and giving them fast-track training. What retention rates have there been on the Teach First programme?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, 50 per cent of those who go through Teach First stay in the profession. The challenge of Teach First is to get people working in deprived schools. If they move out of teaching, they are expected to continue as an education ambassador. While 50 per cent continue teaching-which is great-we have the other 50 per cent promoting education and acting as mentors and ambassadors.

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Press Complaints Commission


11.33 am

Asked By Lord Taverne

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government strongly believe that a press free from statutory intervention is fundamental to our democracy. The Press Complaints Commission is an independent body that receives no public funding. We monitor how well self-regulation is working, but we have no locus to interfere with the status of the PCC.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am sure that most would agree that the Press Complaints Commission must be independent of government, but it has a poor record in making the press more accountable. In 2007, when the News of the World journalist was jailed, it refused to conduct an inquiry into general illegal use of private investigators, despite strong evidence that it was-and, it seems, still is-widespread. It refuses to consider complaints by third parties. It has ruled that it is not concerned with unfairness of reporting. Do the Government not recognise that the PCC has proved to be a paper tiger on crucial issues in the past few years, should be much more robustly independent of Fleet Street, and should be much more effective in protecting the individual from abuse by a very powerful and largely unaccountable press?

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Press Complaints Commission is concerned about the events of 2007, and that it may have been misled in the evidence and information that was given to it at that time. It is therefore engaging in a fresh investigation into those matters, as, of course, are the police. In so far as that situation appears to be unsatisfactory, the Press Complaints Commission is taking its responsibilities seriously.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, where does data protection take precedence over the freedom of information with regards to the Press Complaints Commission?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a very general question on which at some time I would be happy to give a lecture of at least an hour and a half's length. The press has a responsibility to act within the framework of its freedoms and to act responsibly. The Press Complaints Commission, an independent body, is set up to monitor that position. Of course, from time to time the Government make representations and comments when weaknesses are identified and when public concern needs to be expressed. But the issue is clear: the Press Complaints Commission finds the situation relating to particular events in 2007 quite unsatisfactory, and it is looking at them further.

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Lord Filkin: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Government have been resolute in taking away self-regulation from most professions over the past decade, particularly when investigating complaints against their own members? We have seen the police having those powers removed, and Parliament itself is now recognising that in some areas it is not possible to have public confidence in self-regulation. Is it not time that there was a proper cross-party investigation into a system that would give the public confidence, and that cannot be an industry-led body?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there have certainly been plenty of investigations of these issues. The DCMS Select Committee in other place has looked at these matters, and indeed I had the pleasure of serving on the committee when it did so some 10 or 15 years ago. But we are clear that the press is in a specific position in relation to the British public. We see the dangers and the abuses that occur from time to time within the British press, but we ought also to recognise the dangers implicit in a regulated press, which obtains in some other societies.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords-

Lord Wakeham: My Lords-

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, it is the Liberal Democrats' turn first.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, bearing in mind the loss of readership and advertising and the subsequent loss in the number of journalists employed in the industry, is it now in any way well placed to have the proper resources for self-regulation?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, resources are not the issue. It is a question of the will and judgment of the industry. Of course, what is currently at stake and has occasioned so much public comment is that the Press Complaints Commission may have been misled on these crucial issues in 2007. It may also be that a Select Committee of the House was misled at that time and that police inquiries were not intensive enough. All of those issues were being addressed.

Lord Maxton: My Lords-

Lord Wakeham: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Wakeham!

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, I declare an interest; for seven or eight years I was chairman of the Press Complaints Commission and I understand the enthusiasm for all sorts of things. Will the Minister keep the following points very much in mind? First, if a person does not want to complain, there is no basis on which the Press Complaints Commission should investigate a complaint. Many people would much prefer that the complaint is not gone into. Secondly, if a person decides to go to law over the case, there is also no role for the Press Complaints Commission to intervene. Thirdly, a point that is very important and highly

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relevant here is that if we bring in a statutory system, which appears to be the view of several noble Lords, the truth is that it would be so expensive that the ordinary public would not be able to use it.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the points that the noble Lord raises from experience are important. The most important of all is the fact that the Press Complaints Commission acts on complaint. If no complaint comes forward, action is not taken by this body. What is clear, as the noble Lord has indicated, is that at times issues are of such seriousness to the individual concerned that recourse to law takes place and the issues are settled there. I have already indicated that the Government share the public's great anxiety about the issues that have arisen from the 2007 developments. We are glad that further action is being taken, but we see no case here for the crucial, and very difficult, argument about whether the press should be regulated. At present, the Government are not convinced that this is the case.

Lord Maxton: My Lords-

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sorry but we have reached time.

Arrangement of Business


11.41 am

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it might be of interest to the House if I draw noble Lords' attention to a Written Ministerial Statement made earlier today by my noble friend the Leader of the House. That Statement announced that Her Majesty will open the new Session of the current Parliament on Wednesday 18 November. As ever, the date on which we intend to prorogue will depend on the progress of business after the Summer Recess.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

11.42 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, in moving this Motion I would like briefly to remind the House of why it is being proposed. The timetable of the Parliamentary Standards Bill is and has been intense, and will continue to require a significant investment of time and energy by many noble Lords. However, as we have seen so far, the Bill is benefiting from a high level of scrutiny in this House. The Government have listened carefully to the views of Members of this House and we are, together, amending the Bill and improving its provisions. The Motion would allow consideration of the

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Parliamentary Standards Bill to proceed on a timetable that would allow the Bill to receive Royal Assent before the House rises for the Summer Recess next Tuesday.

The reason for seeking Royal Assent before the Summer Recess is that we want IPSA to be operational by the time of the next election so that Members of the House of Commons returned at the next election are on the new system. Passing the Bill this side of the Summer Recess would also ensure that by the time the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, reports on MPs' expenses, a body to implement and run the new allowances and expenses system would already exist and soon be up and running. I therefore invite the House to support this Motion.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I believe it is completely wrong that the Bill should be forced through Parliament in this way. None the less, the House generally would recognise that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has gone to very great lengths to try to facilitate the discussions that we have had. The problem is that, despite the very radical changes that have been made to the Bill and further changes that may be made today and on Report, it will still be immensely difficult for anyone to know whether the dangers to the constitutional position which were originally proposed for the Bill have been totally eradicated by the action that is taken in this House before it is returned to the House of Commons. I therefore suggest to the Leader of the House that it might be appropriate at Third Reading for the Attorney-General, who fortunately sits in this House, to assure the House that the constitutional position will not be affected by the provisions that remain in the Bill at that stage.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as a Member of the Government, I feel empowered to give that advice myself. However, I recognise the importance that is attached to privilege. I will speak to my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and come back to the House next week. In the mean time, I trust that the House will agree to the Motion.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I support the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Higgins. Perhaps it is an omission on my part, but I intend to quote from the Statement made on 3 April by the Attorney-General on the Damian Green affair when I proposed new Clause 78. The Attorney-General made a number of points about parliamentary privilege and the role of the courts that are very important, and it would be enormously helpful if she could be here to advise the House on what she admitted in the Statement are enormously technical matters.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I said, I will speak to my noble and learned friend. I hope that she will come to the House accordingly, but I must speak to her first. I can give no absolute commitment, but I will do my utmost.

Motion agreed.

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Parliamentary Standards Bill

Bill Main Page

Committee (2nd Day)

11.47 am

Amendment 76 not moved.

Clause 8 : Offences

Amendment 76A

Moved by Lord Strathclyde

76A: Clause 8, page 6, line 29, at end insert-

"(1A) A member of the House of Commons commits an offence if the member-

(a) dishonestly makes a false claim under the MPs' allowances scheme, and

(b) intends, by making the claim, to make a gain for himself or another.

(1B) A claim is false if-

(a) it is untrue or misleading, and

(b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading."

Lord Strathclyde: We now debate one of the most interesting and important clauses in the Bill, Clause 8, which deals with the penalties that are to be brought into force and used by the new body to deal with Members of Parliament who have broken the law. I have given notice that I will oppose the clause in due course.

Amendment 76A is probing and gives the Government the opportunity to clarify fully, as they have not been able to do so far in either House, the nature and scope of this offence. Will the Leader of the House set out in detail how the offence laid out in subsection (1) differs from the existing offence in Section 2 of the Fraud Act? There has been much questioning in another place and in various cross-party meetings of the need for this offence and the reason why a maximum penalty less than that available in the Fraud Act is being proposed. We are also led to understand that there is interest in this new offence at the highest levels of government, so I assume that a great deal of thought was given to it before it was introduced into the Bill.

On the nature of the offence, will the noble Baroness explain clearly the distinction between the dishonesty test in the Fraud Act and the knowingly false test on which this new offence is based? Many Members of Parliament who are brought under the scope of this new offence-I hope they will not be-will not be lawyers or legally qualified, and it is important as this Bill goes through Parliament that we understand the parameters of this new offence. Can the noble Baroness tell us precisely what the difference is between dishonesty and a knowing falsehood in respect of this legislation? What sort of behaviour that was not able to be prosecuted under the existing legislation is to be caught by this offence? Could a simple mistake, for example, be caught by this provision, or could it be something where there was no intention to secure any financial advantage? I doubt it; the Bill states that the MP must be representing something that he knows is false. To me, that sounds a little more like fraud. When she responds, can the noble Baroness give some explicit examples?

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I should also like to press the noble Baroness on the second strand of concern that has been the reason for opposition to this offence over the past few weeks-the perception that this may be a "fraud lite" offence. There have been charges that the Government are establishing for MPs a softer criminal regime than that which applies to the rest of us to ensure that they are not to be punished to the full extent of the law for crimes that are considered to be serious offences outside Parliament. I doubt that that is the Government's intention, but perhaps the noble Baroness can give assurances that this offence will not be used to give the impression that action will be taken against a fraudulent MP that would allow him to be prosecuted for a much reduced crime, which could not, under the current law, ever result in his losing his seat.

Does the noble Baroness also agree that a crime that meets the criteria of the Fraud Act should be prosecuted under that Act, rather than this Bill? In summary, this new offence must add to the existing legislation, not simply replace it.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord said that the first amendment was probing; but his second amendment is very interesting. Is that more than a probing amendment?

Lord Strathclyde: They are both probing at this stage. In other words, I want to hear the Government's justification for bringing forward these provisions. Later on, I shall speak to the whole clause, with which I have various problems. This is just an opportunity for the Government to explain their thinking before the Bill becomes law.

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