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I am reassured by what the Minister says about the work that is being done about the police services agreements, and I hope that those agreements will lead to a situation in which serious internal work is done to ensure that, when the different agreements are forthcoming, they are looked at and compared, and apparent discrepancies are properly examined and ironed out. No one in this House will want to see the new regime coming into being characterised by a series of disputes between operators and the police about the costs that they are having to bear. It would be unfortunate if the transition from one regime to another were not smooth. The issue of the level and fairness of costs is important. On the basis of what the Minister said, I am happy not to press the amendments standing in my name.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 152AW and 152AZ. I begin by repeating the declaration that I made at Second Reading, of being a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. In that latter capacity, I have been involved in the oversight of the discussions about policing with Heathrow Airport as well as with the non-designated London City Airport, which have been protracted and so far unsatisfactory in their outcome.
The amendments deal essentially with two issues; first, to establish which Secretary of State will arbitrate disputes about airport security plans. I acknowledge at once that it is of course the convention that Secretaries of State are indivisible and that the Government are absolutely seamless and work wonderfully together, but the purpose of the amendment is to clarify who will have the lead on these matters. I also want to establish what time limits should apply to settling arbitration disputes.
The first issue is who will arbitrate in practice. This section of the Bill comprises amendments to the Aviation Security Act 1982, which is obviously a Department for Transport Act, and would imply that the Secretary of State for Transport is the relevant Secretary of State. However, the Bill is also a Home Office Bill,
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Aside from these technical points, there may be a difference in the way in which the two Secretaries of State might view disputes. The Home Secretary, being familiar with national security threats, might place more emphasis on that side of the equation, whereas the Department for Transport, being more familiar with the concerns of airport operators, might place more emphasis on commercial considerations, which is precisely the issue that we have been discussing in the past couple of groups of amendments.
This has raised some concern that profitability might be put before security-I note the assurance that my noble friend has already given on that point. When it comes to arbitrating disagreements about airport security plans and airport policing plans, I trust that what we will see is the very closest working together between the two government departments. It is in no one's interest to drive airports into bankruptcy, but it is particularly important to ensure that security is not compromised or suffers in difficult financial times. That means that there should be clarity about what airport operators are paying for, and that should relate to those national security matters.
I hope that my noble friend will offer some reassurance that the statutory guidance to be issued following Royal Assent will include clear mention of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs being involved. I would also hope for my noble friend's confirmation that such reassurance will be within the guidance issued, that, if the Secretary of State for Transport has the lead, they should be obliged to act in accordance with it in all applicable cases, and that the paramount importance of security in such cases will be uppermost in their mind.
The second issue in this group of amendments is whether time limits should apply in relation to determining arbitration decisions. We heard much in the Committee's debates on earlier groupings about who has an incentive to put costs up and who has an incentive to reduce them. Equally, there is an incentive for some to allow these decisions to spin out for as long as possible. If you are currently not paying something, then not doing so until 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014 seems much better than having to pay it now. So the issue of time limits is critical. The concern here is that a decision could, as the Bill's wording stands, be allowed to drift indefinitely. That would mean that police authorities and forces could effectively be out of pocket for some months or even years before being reimbursed for delivery of policing services. Although this would be alleviated by interim payments where agreements already exist, it could prove problematic where they do not. In difficult economic times, this might in extreme situations threaten the policing presence at airports, if money cannot be found elsewhere in the police budget to tide them over until agreement is reached.
Perhaps more serious, because it is probably more likely, is a situation where the dispute is about who should contribute which services to the security plan. This could lead to prolonged uncertainty and incomplete security cover in some respects. It is clear that a prolonged arbitration process in these circumstances would add to an already significant risk. Any absence of clarity in these matters could lead to confusion and potentially very serious consequences. It also makes forward planning and budgeting resources almost impossible if a dispute continues indefinitely.
I appreciate the difficulty in setting a single timescale for all possible disputes and I am not sure that three months is necessarily the right length of time-I am willing to be persuaded that it might be, let us say, four months as opposed to three-but I have included it for the sake of debate. I should be interested in my noble friend's views on what would be an acceptable length of time and how decision-making within a sensible time limit can be guaranteed. I beg to move.
Baroness Neville-Jones: Amendment 152AX is probing. It seeks to clarify the meaning and practical effect of the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to disputes. If the Secretary of State decides not to exercise his power, or exercises that power but the dispute is not resolved, the amendment would allow him to determine the dispute; in other words, if the consultation mechanism does not work properly between the parties, the Secretary of State may step in and take a decision. Under what circumstances is it envisaged that the Secretary of State would not exercise his power to require relevant persons to take steps to resolve a dispute? Can the Minister assure the Committee that it does not affect the obligation of the Secretary of State-a point which arises later in the Bill-to consult those who have an interest in the dispute? In what circumstances would the Secretary of State simply decide that he was going to decide, rather than trying to resolve a dispute with the parties?
Lord Bradshaw: The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, made reference to security as if it were some curtain to be drawn so that nobody could probe the situation once security was mentioned. One has to be very careful: there are plenty of people who will raise various obstacles to the proper appraisal of things that are put forward. Security can be one; safety can be one; and we all know how many of these things can be exaggerated.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, Amendments 152AV, 152AW, 152AX and 152BG seek to ensure that disputes about airport security plans and police services agreements are referred specifically to the Home Secretary for resolution.
Given the legislative convention, to which my noble friend Lord Harris in anger referred, of referring to a Secretary of State generically rather than specifically, I assume the amendments seek reassurance that disputes will be referred to the most appropriate Secretary of State, who will make a fair and proportionate determination. This indeed is how we want the dispute mechanism to work.
The provisions amend the Aviation Security Act 1982. Disputes are likely to cover a whole range of matters, of which policing is only one element. All airports within the national aviation security programme will be subject to these provisions, but not all will have a dedicated policing presence. As the regulator for airport security, the Secretary of State for Transport has contact with the full range of security stakeholders operating at the airport, including the police. The Secretary of State for Transport's remit for aviation security extends to the United Kingdom as a whole, mirroring the application of these provisions. The Home Secretary's remit for general policing does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Given these factors, we believe the Secretary of State with responsibility for aviation security as a whole is the most appropriate person to refer disputes to, rather than a Secretary of State who has a more narrow focus in this context.
However, it is important to clarify-I am happy to answer the noble Baroness's point-that the Home Secretary may well have significant interests in security at the airport, particularly with regards to policing or the functions, for example, of the UK Border Agency. When this is the case, we fully expect that the Home Secretary would be consulted. The dispute resolution provisions already enable this by providing broad powers for the Secretary of State to decide procedures based on the nature and complexity of the matter. Similarly, if it were ever the case that the dispute was to be determined by the Home Secretary, we would expect the Secretary of State responsible for aviation security to be consulted, when appropriate. We have considered this dispute process in consultation with others, and both the Association of Chief Police Officers and industry support the approach taken in the Bill. I hope this provides the Committee with some reassurance.
Amendment 152AX would require disputes about the content of a police services agreement or the costs of policing to be referred to the Home Secretary before the requirement to produce a police services agreement had been established. Clause 77 prescribes the requirement for an airport security plan, containing a holistic range of security measures. If dedicated policing services are identified in an airport security plan, only then is there a requirement to draw up a police services agreement as set out in Schedule 6. The amendment pre-empts disputes over policing and police services agreements in a clause which is essentially about the preceding stages of the security planning process.
Amendments 152AZ and 152BA raise the importance of ensuring that disputes, whether about the contents of an airport security plan or a police services agreement, do not drag on unnecessarily. We agree that there is very little to be gained from allowing such a situation to develop. Disputes need to be handled in a timely and effective manner. What we would question, however, is the inclusion of a mandatory cut-off period for the handling of disputes, which are likely to vary considerably in length, depending on the nature of the issue itself and the complexity of operations at the airport concerned. On the one hand, it may be that a determination need only resolve a dispute about a single security measure.
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It is precisely because of the fact that disputes are likely to be very different that the Bill provides the Secretary of State with broad powers to determine a dispute in a manner he considers to be most suitable. Although the Secretary of State's primary concern will be to ensure that an effective and fair determination is provided, the importance of ensuring that a determination is provided within a reasonable timeframe is also something of which he may be mindful. The Secretary of State may be able to provide an indicative timetable to parties at the start of a dispute once an assessment of the complexity of the dispute is made, to provide the parties with some level of certainty so as to assist budgetary considerations, for example. However, I caution that this will be dependent on the individual facts of each dispute.
It is worth noting that, when parties have been unable to agree a police services agreement and may be in breach of a requirement to have one in place, the airport operator will still be required to make payments in respect of the interim policing services being provided at the airport. The Secretary of State's determination, once made, can require repayment to the airport operator by the police if that is judged to be fair in light of payments made to the police during this interim period. Thus the Bill ensures that there is no financial incentive for an operator to seek to prolong disputes indefinitely.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those responses. I was less clear at the end of the first part of his response than I was at the beginning as to how exactly he envisaged the arrangements working between the various Secretaries of State. What I hope is that, in whatever guidance emerges, there can be clarity about the important nature of security within all this. I would not want to see a position in which commercial issues overrode the situation. However, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and others highlighted about the importance of clarity on what security means and enabling that to be assessed independently by those able to take a step back from it. That is what I envisage the Secretary of State's role will be. I am grateful that we may be able to look at these matters. Any indication that my noble friend can give before Report as to the nature of the guidance to be issued would be extremely welcome.
As for time limits, I understand that there will be different sorts of circumstances and welcome the fact that there will be circumstances in which an airport operator may be required to pay money from the period from which arbitration takes place. However, I
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The past 12 months have seen absolute chaos in some of our financial institutions, with banks being saved by part nationalisation, the Monetary Policy Committee sticking over some months with a 0.5 per cent bank rate, liquidity being propped up by quantitative easing, lending to would-be house buyers and small businesses becoming less accessible-I could go on. However, credit union membership, which has nearly trebled since 1997, grew by more than 10 per cent in the nine months to June 2009 for those belonging to the Association of British Credit Unions Limited. By June this year, ABCUL credit unions numbered 325, with 558,000 members, £450 million in savings and £370 million on loans to members. If you include all credit unions, the figures are somewhat higher.
I have never needed access to a credit union. I have always been in employment that allowed me to save, so I have had cash resources for crises and sudden emergencies. I have always been able to have a bank account. However, many members of our society-not only the poor-have not enjoyed the access to funds or credit that most of us in this House would take for granted. The only lifeline access to credit has been through the tally man or the loan shark, whose clutches are more difficult to escape than we can possibly imagine. Credit unions are based on the co-operative ethos of people helping people. They provide savings, loans and a range of services to members who, on the democratic principle of one member, one vote, elect volunteer directors.
Clearly, credit unions have not been immune from the global economic crisis. There is increased demand for loans, including from many middle-income and higher-income consumers. At the same time, when people are looking for security in their savings, about a quarter of all credit unions reported significant growth in deposits and a further two out of five reported smaller levels of growth. During the recession, however, credit unions have also reported a couple of important downsides, with members struggling to repay, while credit unions are unable to make the money that they have on deposit work for them and for their members.
What, then, do credit unions need in order to thrive? A number of things can happen and, while I shall not be at all exhaustive here, public sector support for credit unions could be significant through some relatively small things-for example, by providing free payroll deduction facilities for public sector employees to pay into credit unions and by promoting the services of credit unions to employees. The Welsh Assembly Government recently announced such an action, which could be replicated widely in the public sector. Credit unions could be assisted to occupy accessible and visible high street premises. Staff volunteering could be encouraged to enhance the skills base and governance standards of credit unions, which are especially important as they go through a process of growth. Organisations that give grant funding could be encouraged to deposit some funds in a credit union to increase the lending pot available. A number of such things could be done.
Many other things need to happen, including the continuation of appropriate funding for credit unions, particularly the growth funds. New things could happen as well; credit unions offer cash ISAs, but when legislation changes they will be able to offer interest on some of those ISAs, which will enable them to compete on a more level playing field with other providers. There are all sorts of future opportunities on which I should like to hear the Minister toward the end of the debate; no doubt, other noble Lords will have further ideas. For example, credit unions are keen to offer their members savings gateway accounts when those become available next year.
There is also the possibility of using the Post Office network. I know that ABCUL has already been in discussion with the Post Office for some months, to explore how credit union services could be accessed through that network. At a time when the Government are clearly struggling to find positive things for the Post Office to do when some of its core services are declining, that is one possibility.
However, the most important thing that credit unions need in order to thrive is the legislative change that they have been hoping for, expecting and anticipating. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and to the two Select Committees for their detailed work in looking at the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill. From their work, it became quite clear that there was a deficiency in the wording of the Private Member's Bill that had passed through the other place and been brought here.
I hope for an assurance from the Minister-and I look to him for this-that he will ask his Treasury officials to work with me to incorporate in a new Bill at the beginning of the new Session of Parliament, after the Queen's Speech, those amendments that are necessary to satisfy the two Select Committee reports and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. If I can have the Minister's assurance that Treasury assistance will be forthcoming, I hope to be able to reintroduce the Private Member's Bill shortly after the Queen's Speech. I hope that that would meet the wishes of all sides of this House, and of the other place, and get the Bill through properly without the technical problems that it produced in its present form.
The need for credit unions is an imperative in the provision of pluralism in our financial services and I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister how, both qualitatively and otherwise, he proposes not only to sustain the current credit union developments but to help to expand them.
Billions of pounds have been spent from the public purse on preventing market forces from devastating our financial institutions. Credit unions do not need such a vast injection of cash, but they do need an atmosphere of tender, loving care from the Government-as do the hundreds of thousands of our citizens for whom they, through mutual self-help, provide a lifeline. This extremely important subject may not affect vast numbers of people; nevertheless, when it affects over half a million of our citizens, the potential for good is clearly evident in the credit union Bill. I hope that we will have a clear and encouraging response from my noble friend the Minister.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, for the opportunity to speak on such an important and timely issue. I am the chairman of an insurance brokering and financial services organisation and in my business life I have supported mutual insurance offices and building societies for the arrangement of insurance policies and mortgages. A number of these organisations have demutualised to become limited liability companies, but I am very much in favour of mutual organisations. I support and promote the credit unions, because they incorporate the ideals of mutuality and transparency.
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