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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20 October 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.



2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Conwy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the Government have invested £5 billion, through DWP, to ensure that people are supported to find work during the recession. This includes more resources for Jobcentre Plus and the Flexible New Deal; increased staffing; our six-month offer to jobseekers; and, of course, the young person's guarantee and Future Jobs Fund.

Furthermore, our Backing Young Britain campaign seeks to help young people find work while they are studying, as well as helping those unemployed.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. In the Prime Minister's speech at the Labour Party conference, he referred to the,

He went on to talk about a further 10,000 skilled internships and 10,000 green work placements. Is all that enough, in view of the fact that the young unemployed now number close to 1 million?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Well, my Lords, the noble Lord asks "is it enough?". It is certainly a good deal more than the noble Lord's party would do, because it is predicated on investment by government. Because the noble Lord's party is on record as opposing the fiscal stimulus, it would not be able to do what we are doing. The Government are supporting and investing in a range of programmes, including the young person's guarantee. It is right, of course, that unemployment continues to rise, and with it youth unemployment, but there are signs that it is easing. We should not forget the fact that young people tend to come off jobseeker's allowance faster than other people. In terms of NEETs, there are now more young people in employment and education than there were in 1997, and the number of 16 and 17 year-olds in the NEET category has declined for three years in a row.

Lord Tomlinson: Does my noble friend agree that, rather than wallowing in the bad news that there is around, in relation to unemployment we ought to recognise that the stimulus package is beginning to work and that the unemployment figures published

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last week were far lower than had been anticipated and seem to indicate that there is a reasonable prospect that unemployment is bottoming out?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My noble friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, unemployment is still rising but it is easing. We should not forget that there is a dynamic market here; the number of onflows on to JSA in September was 357,000, but the number of people leaving jobseeker's allowance was 336,000. Lots of people, young people included, are still finding work through the support that the Government are giving them.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, will the Minister do his best to ensure that the admirable Access to Work scheme, which helps many disabled people get into work, including many in this age range, is not so bureaucratic that, by the time all the paperwork is done, the employer may have withdrawn the job offer? We have heard that that has happened, particularly in the field of the hard of hearing.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, if that has happened in individual cases, we are certainly happy to look at it and take it up. But I think that the noble Baroness will share the view that Access to Work has been a huge success. The Government have doubled funding for it, and it is making a real difference to disabled people in helping them to access employment. I understand that it is on the lists of those programmes that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has his sights, should he ever have the opportunity to introduce them in government. I think that it is due to go, should there be a change of government, which I do not expect.

Lord Freud: I can confidently tell the Minister that that is not one of the programmes that we have in our sights, as he puts it.

The programmes in the young person's guarantee look very similar to those in the New Deal for Young People, which was introduced 11 years ago. That programme managed to place only one young person in five into work, according to the DWP's own employment data. Does the Minister think that the young person's guarantee will perform better than the New Deal for Young People and, if so, why?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do believe that it is an effective proposal, which will help young people to access work or work-focused training. The structure of the programme is quite appropriate and it is targeted correctly. I do believe that the programme will succeed and be an important part of the range of government programmes. It is, again, part of the programme that is funded through the fiscal stimulus.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, while the additional support to help the unemployed-more especially, jobless young people-is most welcome, would my noble friend agree that, in the present economic climate, it is more important than ever to recognise the added vulnerability of disabled young people in seeking to enter and remain in work, and that progress made over recent years in prioritising their claims should continue with renewed energy and commitment?

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point and I agree with him. We must continue to support disabled people into work, notwithstanding the challenges of the current recession. That is why we are investing £1 billion in Pathways to Work between 2008 and 2011, doubling-as mentioned a moment ago-the Access to Work budget from £69 million to £138 million by 2013-14, and planning to introduce a new, more integrated specialist disability programme, Work Choice, by October 2010. Meanwhile, we are taking extra powers in the current Welfare Reform Bill to ensure that customers engage with the back-to-work support that we offer.

Lord Cotter: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as has been mentioned already, it is very important that young people are given every opportunity possible? Internships have been mentioned. Does he agree that it is important that, while they are there, people are also treated fairly through internships and that opportunities are given as soon as possible to provide paid work? Volunteering is another area that could similarly help.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, my Lords, and that is very much part of the approach in Backing Young Britain, where the Government have initiated a campaign which is really a rallying call to businesses, charities and government bodies to create more opportunities for young people. Included in that is the creation of internships for 18 year-olds and non-graduates, as well as providing more apprenticeships and internships for graduates.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, do the Government intend to give more support to rural youngsters to enable them to get to work? In other words, do they intend to put more money behind the Wheels to Work schemes, which currently woefully lack most central government support?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, a range of support is available to individuals through Jobcentre Plus. Certainly, issues around transport, time and access to jobs are taken into account in the way that jobseeker's allowance is administered.

Highways Agency: Traffic Officers


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Trefgarne

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, Highways Agency traffic officers manage traffic primarily on motorways in England, where they perform a number of control room and on-road functions. They deal with incidents, except where there is a loss of life, injury or potential criminal activity, when they assist the emergency services. They exercise their powers under the Traffic Management Act 2004.

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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he not agree with me, however, that every time we pass a new Bill to create a new quango we include provision for a little group of people authorised to order us about? Is this not a wholly undesirable development? Would he like to review the powers of these officers, who are, no doubt, worthy and honourable people, with a view to considering whether they should be reduced, like all others?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, that is a slightly strange question. The powers granted to traffic officers were granted by Parliament, not through some secret process without due consent, but through the Traffic Management Act 2004, which I understand was debated thoroughly in this House and I see on the title page was,

The powers of traffic officers to stop or direct traffic are set out clearly and explicitly in Section 6. As to why we have traffic officers, there has been a big rise in traffic on the motorway network-a 10 per cent rise in the past 10 years alone. The problem of congestion and management of the motorway is a very big issue. If this work was not done by traffic officers, it would need to be done by the police. Mick Giannasi, chief constable of Gwent and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on road policy issues, says:

"The Highways Agency Traffic Officer Service provides a valuable service dealing with minor incidents and traffic management on England's motorways. This work relieves police officers who are able to concentrate on dealing with criminals and investigating serious incidents".

Far from this being a needless quango, these officers perform a valuable service, which keeps the traffic on our motorways moving day in, day out.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is there not an argument for having more of these people, so that they, together with the police and the vehicle inspection agency, could target more foreign lorries in terms of safety and drivers' hours, given the enormous number of accidents that those lorries cause on our motorways?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I will represent his views strongly to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I am always in the market for expanding the scope of my department. One thousand and seventy-two traffic officers patrol 1,759 route miles of motorway, so this is a proportionate service. By comparison, for the railways there are 3,236 British Transport Police officers and police support officers, who cost £271 million. That, of course, is a long-established service, which keeps the railways running. Therefore, it looks to me as though we provide a proportionate service to keep the traffic moving. However, my noble friend is right: there are continuing issues of ensuring that HGVs abide by the law and in particular this serious issue that we face on the roads of overseas HGVs being fully compliant with UK safety regulations.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the noble Lord care to reflect on the fact that over the past 10 years this House has passed legislation apart from that to which he referred-namely, that setting up police community

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support officers-and that each time we have been told that police will be able to concentrate more of their effort on catching criminals? However, it appears to me that every time more people are put in, the police become steadily less visible. Will the noble Lord look at that?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the traffic officers are extremely visible, so much so that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, is keen that they should be removed from the motorways. Visibility is not an issue here; the issue, which was properly debated by the House, is whether it is right to have a class of officers who are capable of dealing with traffic incidents-most of which are fairly minor, but require support to get the traffic moving again-rather than to devote police time to managing these incidents.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, the noble Lord said that traffic officers attend an accident. If they find someone dead, do they then disappear?

Lord Adonis: If the noble Baroness wishes to make me aware of a particular incident, I shall certainly look at it, but I am not aware that the traffic officers just disappear after incidents; they see that they are properly cleared up before they disappear.

Lord Dear: My Lords, in reality, as most of us know, traffic officers are the only uniformed presence on the roads, as police patrol vehicles are almost non-existent. Given that criminals use cars all the time on the roads, does the Minister foresee an extension of police powers to traffic officers, as discussed, or will he press for a more obvious police presence?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are keeping the powers of traffic officers under review, but we do not believe that it would be appropriate at present to extend police powers to them.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, following on from that question, will my noble friend urge chief constables to police more consistently? It appears to me that, as has been suggested, there is a bit of a postcode lottery. Policing is more than about reducing accidents, although that is important; it is about stopping terrorists and serious and organised crime. Will he urge chief constables to be more consistent?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, this Question is about traffic officers. Their whole purpose is to provide a uniform system across the motorway network in England. The Traffic Officer Service has provided that to the benefit of motorists. Surveys find the Traffic Officer Service to be highly popular with motorists.

Baroness Hanham: What has been the impact of traffic officers on relieving motorway congestion after incidents on the motorway? Has there been any assessment of whether incidents are cleared up more quickly if a traffic officer is present?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am glad to be able to give the noble Baroness those figures. In the past two years alone, the proportion of incidents that have been cleared up in less than 40 minutes on heavily trafficked routes has risen from 76 per cent in December 2006 to 91.2 per cent in December 2008. The proportion of

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incidents cleared up in less than 90 minutes on such routes has increased from 90 per cent in December 2006 to 96.8 per cent in December 2008. I take that to be a vindication of the presence of the Traffic Officer Service.

Assisted Suicide: House of Lords Judgment


2.52 pm

Asked By Lord Warner

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the judgment in this case concerned the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, which is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. In accordance with the judgment, he has published an interim policy for prosecutors setting out the factors which might be relevant when deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute someone for assisting a suicide. It is currently the subject of a public consultation, and the finalised policy is due to be published in spring next year. It is not appropriate for the Government to seek to influence the exercise of this prosecutorial discretion.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that despite the humane attempts by the Law Lords and the DPP to clarify in a sensible way the existing law, it is inevitable that Parliament will need to come back to this issue? Does he further agree that progress in Parliament on clarifying the law on assisted dying might be improved if there were some kind of independent commission-dare I say, a royal commission?-to look dispassionately at the evidence to help Parliament in its deliberations?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government believe that any change to the law in this area is an issue of individual conscience and, of course, a matter for Parliament to decide. We debated this issue in this House on a free vote on 7 July last and came to a certain conclusion. We think that it is more appropriately dealt with through a Private Member's Bill and, indeed, I hear that there is a possibility that in another place there may be a couple of Private Members' Bills that touch on this very sensitive topic. As to whether there should be a royal commission or anything like it, that is an idea that I can take back.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the Minister knows that the Director of Public Prosecutions has to consent to a prosecution. Can he give the House an assurance that the Director of Public Prosecutions will take personal decisions in the exercise of his discretion and will personally deal with these matters? Looking at the document that has been produced, the handling arrangements within it suggest that the head of the Special Crime Division might take these decisions.

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