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I concede that I have less of a problem with subsection (1)(b) than subsection (3)(a) and (b) because there is no context to show that it is actually a provision of a much lower order. However, the clause as it stands can be read as if the Government are able to plead lack of money to elide the targets. That is the way I read it. If I am reading it that way-and reading it any other way does violence to the English language-then while I do not object to the import of the clause, which the Minister has tried to explain to me once before, the way it is written does not achieve that. Potentially, it could give rise to doubt. In any case, it would be useful yet again for the Minister to put on the record the reassurance I think he gave earlier that there is no intention of any kind to plead poverty in the future as a way of eliding the child poverty targets. I beg to move.
Lord Freud: My Lords, this is the million-dollar amendment: do statutory targets work? Let us take a hypothetical circumstance in which we suffer a disastrous depression over the next decade. All the work in tackling the causes of poverty has failed and the Government must spend £19 billion on income transfers. There is simply no more money, or no more money unless something of great value to the electorate is chopped. Do the Government have to do it? This issue was explored-
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, what assumptions is the noble Lord making in his analysis of a recession and the impact that it would have on median incomes, and therefore, as a result, the amount of redistribution that would be necessary?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Forgive me, but that is not my point. The point is that if incomes all fell, the median figure would have fewer people below it as incomes at the top reduced-it is the Ireland phenomenon. The whole point about median earnings and a 60 per cent relative target is that it depends on the stretch of incomes, and the best way to reach your 60 per cent target, alas, is actually to have the severe recession that the noble Lord is forecasting. I wonder to what extent he has taken that into account.
Lord Freud: I thank the noble Baroness. I do not really care about how it happens; all I want the Committee to hypothesise is that something bad has happened and there is no money. Allow me my argument for a little while. I know it is inconceivable, but there we are. Let us just assume that the situation is bad and there is no money to remedy it unless something gets chopped; allow me my little indulgence.
The issue was explored in Committee in another place, particularly by my honourable friend Graham Stuart. He cited the experience under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, when a judicial review was brought against the Government by Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged for failing to keep their legal duty. The Government argued that the
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"It is open to government to have regard to its overall budget and the other calls upon its resources in deciding what steps to take in implementation of the Strategy, including its requirement that efforts should be made to achieve the 2010 and 2016 targets as far as reasonably practicable".
Stephen Timms, for the Government, went on to assure the Committee that Clause 15 does not have an impact on the binding character of the target, but my point is slightly different. Given the case law that has now developed in this area and the judgments that have been made, is it not the case that the Government can use the "resources not available" defence in relation to Clause 1 anyway? My specific question is: does case law mean that a "resources not available" defence applies to statutory targets of the kind included in the Bill?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I shall start by answering the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, to see whether, at least on this occasion, I can persuade him of the relevance of this provision and, I hope, reassure him that it is not a get-out clause. I understand why he is probing this issue.
Clause 15 has no impact on the binding nature of the child poverty targets. The duty to meet the targets is absolute, and the only way of getting out of the duty is by returning to Parliament to repeal the legislation. Clause 15 simply requires the strategy to meet the 2020 target to take into account the broader fiscal and economic context. It ensures that, in preparing the strategy, the Government propose measures that are consistent with the economic circumstances of the time. It also ensures that the advice of the commission, which the Government must take into account in preparing the strategy, is realistic about the costs and benefits of measures to tackle child poverty. Clause 15 does not impact on whether the Government have to meet the targets or not; it simply requires the Government to do so in a sustainable way that delivers value for money. I am sure that the Committee will agree that this is necessary for a sustainable strategy towards eradicating child poverty. Clause 15 is about how we propose to meet the targets, not whether we need them; the duty to meet the targets is absolute.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, posed a different question, asking whether case law means that the Government could pray in aid lack of resources for not having met their targets. One would need to see how case law develops. I hang on to the point that the targets are absolute and not fettered by Clause 15.
Lord Freud:This is a question whose answer I am not absolutely sure of myself. Are not the targets in this Bill exactly the same in nature as those in the fuel poverty Bill? Is there a difference whereby case law would not apply?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I shall try to answer that. The duty in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act was different. In that Act, the duty was to publish
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Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I do not want to prolong the agony here. I think that the targets in Part 1 are judicially reviewable. The context of the clause in the fuel poverty Act that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, appositely raised is absolutely in point, although the duty may be different. The legal remedy is still a judicial review, so the question that he raised is still appropriate; namely-and I liked the way he put it-does the "resources not available" defence then apply to Clause 1? I still have severe doubts about that. I am grateful to the Minister for trying to reassure me again. The language of the clause does not mean that to me, but we shall study closely what he has said and no doubt return to it at some later stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I should have given notice that I wanted to raise one or two questions about Clause 17. They flow straight from the discussion that we have just had. Between now and Report, will the Minister investigate the subtle legal differences about the locus to raise judicial reviews north and south of the border? There is some concern from the
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: I believe that the issue has been the subject of some draft correspondence with the Law Society of Scotland. Again, I am happy to write to the noble Lord, but I think that he is right that the nexus-I forget the precise legal term-to be able to pursue judicial review in Scotland in these circumstances is different. The point to bear in mind is that this is a UK strategy with UK targets. The Secretary of State has the obligation to deliver them. Therefore, even if judicial review were not technically available in Scotland, it is quite likely that there would be the opportunity to pursue judicial review in England. If we can get some more clarity for the noble Lord on that, I will be happy to do so.
Lord Freud: I am as relieved as everyone else that we have finally reached Part 2, which I believe that we will consider rather more rapidly than Part 1. As important as it is for central government to be committed to helping deprived children, the success of the UK strategy will rest on how local authorities perform. Indeed, the Bill stands the risk of being drafted backwards. We start with financial targets, which the Minister has admitted are only part of the story and, as he would not admit, are a crude and possibly counterproductive measure of success in some circumstances, as I would argue.
We move on to the development of the UK strategy, which at least goes beyond purely financial measures, but remains very broad based and high level. It is not until Clause 19 that we can discuss the organisations to deal with the problems on the ground. The Bill, in fact, makes very few changes here. We have another duty in being imposed on local authorities in Clause 20: that they must,
between themselves and partner authorities. Co-operation is of course important. If the relevant organisations are unclear about who is responsible for what, they are more likely to allow cases to fall between two stools. Are there not already several procedures in place to ensure that organisations working with vulnerable children talk to each other? Does the duty not duplicate existing legislation requiring consultation?
My amendments would amend Clause 20 to give local authorities the discretion to identify which of those on the list of partner authorities are particularly relevant to implementing their local strategy and to prioritise establishing effective co-operation arrangements with them. The Bill will be counterproductive if it forces local authorities to waste time box-ticking and paper-pushing to meet the duty, rather than working on cases where government intervention in a child's life is needed. My amendment would allow local authorities to prioritise where they need to improve their engagement with partner authorities to address local concerns without forcing them to waste time going over procedures that are working perfectly well.
The amendments relate to Clause 20, which sets a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority, its partner authorities as set out in Clause 19, and other persons or bodies, as the local authority sees fit. As child poverty is complex and multifaceted, it is clear that a range of partners must be engaged in local action on the issue. Clause 19 sets out those partners who have a key role to play in influencing the drivers and effects of poverty.
When we consulted on the content of the Bill, there was a clear message from respondents that the measures to promote local action would be successful only if they covered action by all relevant partners in a local strategic partnership. That view was shared by witnesses in the oral evidence sessions in another place.
"Clause 20 promotes collaboration among local agencies in tackling child poverty through providing local authorities with a duty to liaise with relevant bodies. I welcome this clause as it will promote greater dialogue between these groups when implementing the child poverty strategy to ensure the best outcomes for young individuals".-[Official Report, 5/1/10; col. 85.]
That is why we have placed in Clause 20(1)(b) a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation with all the partner authorities named in Clause 19. Only by requiring local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority and each of its named partner authorities can we be confident that the full range of individuals, organisations and bodies that can make a real and lasting difference to the lives of children in the UK are fully engaged in that task. That is why the clause is worded as it is. I say to the noble Lord that if in some measure that co-operation and engagement is already taking place, that would be a component of what is required under the Bill.
Amendments 72 and 73 would weaken this duty, essentially giving local authorities a choice as to which partners they chose to cooperate with. That would raise questions about who should be involved in local action and so weaken local authorities' ability to involve all necessary partners. Without child poverty being
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As currently written, the Bill ensures that all local partners are fully engaged in local action. The amendment would allow local partners to remove important pieces from that jigsaw and, in doing so, to reduce the impact they could have on child poverty. Many local authorities and their partners already work together to ensure a holistic and comprehensive approach to tackling child poverty. Unfortunately, progress varies across the country and best practice is not universally shared. We now have to make it a priority for all relevant partners in all local areas. The Bill as currently worded makes that happen. The amendment would give those who are less engaged a get-out clause. I hope that the noble Lord will accept my reassurances on this point and withdraw his amendment.
Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for his response, although I confess that I disagree with it. This Government came in with a range of top-down targeting methodologies, which they found counterproductive. As a result, they have been forced to loosen that targeting structure. One of the ways that they have done so-probably the most important-is by giving a choice of targets to local areas, as well as the freedom to achieve their selection of targets. That is the kind of freedom that is much more likely to come from our Benches. We will wish to move that freedom further, I have no doubt; we do not believe that a rigid top-down targeting approach is the right way to run a country.
The point of the amendment is to give some more freedom to local authorities, within the context of an imposed target for child poverty, to structure their own strategies on how to deal with it in terms of which people they will work with. It will not make one iota of difference to the partnerships and the working relationships on the ground to give them some freedom in whom they work with and whom they emphasise; all you risk by having an absolute number of relationships inflexibly imposed from above is, as I have said, a duty then to start ticking the boxes and say, "Yes, I have talked to this other partner organisation".
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Lord is making heavy weather of this point. He is absolutely right that some of the quite rigid targets imposed on local authorities have been progressively pulled back from and that local authorities have a choice of which targets they can focus on. At the same time there have been changes in the financial arrangements for local authorities where some of the ring-fenced grants have been progressively removed to encourage discretion in local authorities. The whole concept of Total Place in the pilots that are being undertaken at the moment is to seek to encourage local authorities to join up. There has been a progressive movement to build on the benefits of local knowledge and that is going to be hugely important when tackling child poverty.
However, I am struggling to see which of the named organisations or individuals that have to be consulted and engaged with one would seriously wish to delete. I draw the noble Lord's attention to Clause 20(1)(c)
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Lord Freud: I am most grateful to the Minister. The point I am making is slightly different. By having an absolute list, you are unnecessarily imposing a bureaucratic process. If these are the right partner authorities, local authorities will use them. By allowing them freedom, all you stop is a recording of the fact that these relationships have been built. In a very small way, that is the direction in which we would want to put the economy and is the point of this amendment. I accept that this is not the most important amendment in the world, but it gives local authorities the sense that they are in control. The top-down enforcement of what are obviously going to be a set of relationships is entirely unnecessary and somewhat expensive. Again, I ask the Minister to consider how necessary this top-down requirement really is. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) must consult such parents, or organisations working with or representing parents, as the Secretary of State thinks fit;"
Lord Northbourne: If the Minister's assurance in relation to a similar, earlier amendment to the Bill applies, I will withdraw the amendment. In consulting parents and organisations working with parents, local authorities should do the same thing as the Secretary of State. I would make exactly the same speech on this amendment as I did on the earlier one. I beg to move.
(a) after "A person" insert "("C")",
(b) in paragraph (a)-
(i) for "his parent" substitute "C's parent",
(ii) at the end of sub-paragraph (iia), insert "or", and
(iii) omit sub-paragraph (iv) (including the "or" immediately following it),
(c) after paragraph (a) insert-
"(aa) C meets any conditions prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph and C's parent is, in such circumstances as may be so prescribed-
(i) in receipt of any benefit or allowance not falling within paragraph (a) that is so prescribed, or
(ii) entitled to any tax credit under the Tax Credits Act 2002 or element of such a tax credit, that is so prescribed, or"
(d) in paragraph (b)-
(i) for "he, himself, is-" substitute "C is-",
(ii) at the end of sub-paragraph (ii), insert "or", and
(iii) omit sub-paragraph (iii), and
(e) at the end insert-
"(c) C meets any conditions prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph and is-
(i) in receipt of any benefit or allowance not falling within paragraph (b) that is so prescribed, or
(ii) entitled to any tax credit under the Tax Credits Act 2002 or element of such a tax credit, that is so prescribed."
(2) Any regulations made under paragraph (a)(iv) of subsection (4) of section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 and in force immediately before the coming into force of this section are to have effect as if made under paragraph (aa) of that subsection.
(3) Any regulations made under paragraph (b)(iii) of subsection (4) of section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 and in force immediately before the coming into force of this section are to have effect as if made under paragraph (c) of that subsection."
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