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House of Lords

Thursday, 26 November 2009.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Armed Forces: Compensation Scheme


11.06 am

Asked By Lord Morris of Manchester

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the review of the Armed Forces compensation scheme currently being chaired by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, continues. The latest phase of the review ended on 19 November and sought views from members of the public and the Armed Forces. Responses are currently being analysed and it is expected that the final report will be presented as planned in a few months.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful as ever to my noble friend. Will the review's findings be published before the Ministry of Defence makes any decisions and can he say by when he expects this House to be able to debate them? The closing date for written submissions having passed, will oral evidence be taken from war-afflicted veterans and bereaved families still wishing to have their voices heard? Finally, does my noble friend accept that the compelling justification for all possible help for our Armed Forces from this review is that they, alone in this country, contract with the state not only to risk but to lay down their lives in its service, as they have been doing so bravely day by day for months now in Afghanistan?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the noble Lord's contribution over many years to the welfare of former members of the Armed Forces. The review will report to the Defence Secretary and will be published by him with an indication of the steps that he intends to take as a result. It will of course be for the usual channels to determine whether and how this should be debated in your Lordships' House. The review's public engagement phase was widely publicised, with many and varied responses solicited and received, including through a number of focus groups held with Armed Forces personnel and their families. That phase ended on 19 November. On the noble Lord's third point, in last year's service personnel Command Paper, the Government clearly articulated their recognition of the unique nature and demands of military service and how this sets our Armed Forces apart from others who serve and protect society.

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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is it not the case that Her Majesty's Government have already had to increase or even double inadequate levels of compensation, have had to go to the Appeal Court to resolve the meaning of poorly drafted secondary legislation and have been virtually panicked by public pressure to bring forward the review from next year? Is it not also the case that experts maintain that the scheme is based on the wrong principles and cannot, for example, take full account of the continuing effects of disablement? Does the Minister not agree that the present scheme is unfit for purpose and must be replaced after a thorough, independent inquiry to restore public confidence?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I think that there were some six questions there, but I shall do my best. We were always committed to review this scheme after five years. Incidentally, I have studied it a number of times and I do not accept that it is not fit for purpose. We have brought the review forward by a year because of interest in the scheme. The process is to look at the whole scheme, to make sure that the principles on which it was based with regard to fairness, feasibility and sustainability are working and to make recommendations for change. The court case was brought about to ensure that the scheme was properly understood. The decision of the MoD to proceed with the appeal has been vindicated by the Appeal Court judgment by Lord Justice Carnwath, who said that,

It is entirely proper that we considered the scheme, that we introduced some improvements and that we continue to consider it. However, we must strike a balance between being fair to our Armed Forces, which is paramount, and representing the proper interests of the taxpayer.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in supporting the call of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for the report to be properly debated in this House, may I ask the Minister whether he knows how many submissions have been received, particularly from serving members of the Armed Forces?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have that information at hand. However, there was an open invitation for contributions. An important contribution was the decision by the review and its independent chair to use a focus group technique to better understand in depth the concerns of those currently serving in the Armed Forces and those who had left the Armed Forces. It is important that the review is bringing new issues into consideration-for instance, the burden of proof and mental illness-and a new depth to yet further improve the scheme.

Lord Lee of Trafford: Can the noble Lord confirm that plans to compensate victims of terrorism overseas were dropped from the gracious Speech because Ministers could not agree how they might relate to compensation paid to wounded service personnel, given that such payouts backdate only to 2005?

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I hate to reveal the extent to which I was not consulted in the drafting of the gracious Speech. Proposals in relation to victims of overseas terrorism are being actively considered and consulted on across government. I am not going to apologise for the fact that the Government are participating in joined-up government.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, the public image tends to be of injuries to people who have suffered mutilation and loss of limbs, but people also suffer from the long-term residual effects of combat, such as combat stress, which appear years after the combat is over. Are their interests also being considered by the inquiry?

Lord Tunnicliffe: Essentially, yes, my Lords. The present scheme has a five-year time limit for applications. However, that time limit will be considered by the review, particularly in relation to late-developing conditions and mental health.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, ought not this matter be debated in your Lordships' House, where we have the advantage of noble and gallant Lords, before the next review?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am always enthusiastic to have these issues debated in this House, if only for the number of noble and gallant Lords who contribute. However, I repeat that it is a matter for the usual channels to determine whether a debate should take place.

Game Licences: Scotland


11.14 am

Asked By Lord Geddes

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, this is a devolved matter. Game licences were abolished in England and Wales in 2007. They are still required in Scotland but it is for the Scottish Executive to decide whether or not to abolish them. We have had no discussions with the Scottish Executive on this issue.

Lord Geddes: I thank the Minister for that rather appalling reply. Does he not agree with his noble friend Lord Rooker, whom I am delighted to see in his place, who advised on 3 July 2007 at col. GC 97 that game licences are-or, in the case of England and Wales, were-counterproductive in revenue terms? Would he further agree with his noble friend that,

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Could I urge the Minister to do all that he can to persuade his opposite numbers in Edinburgh that this is a complete nonsense?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord can be appalled by the Answer only if he is opposed to the devolution settlement. This is a matter for Scotland. Of course I always agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker, particularly in his view on the licence, which I recall him on that occasion saying was introduced to ensure that working people could not shoot because of the cost involved. The cost involved at that time was £6-in present day values, it would be £1,500-and the cost now is still £6. The Scottish Executive are consulting on a draft wildlife Bill and intend to include in it the provisions that we have already enacted in England and Wales.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, is this not a farcical situation? A friend of mine went to renew his game licence last year and found that his number was the consecutive one to that on the licence that he had applied for the previous year.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, one is always sorry about mishaps. As far as England and Wales are concerned, the Government took steps in 2007 to abolish the licence. Obviously, a great deal of shooting goes on in Scotland and licences are still required at the moment, but I have indicated that the Scottish Executive are fully seized of this matter and are consulting on legislation. The legislation would take a year to enact, but it appears that it could easily be only a year or so before there is no requirement for the licence in Scotland.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, would it not be perfectly reasonable, and no breach of comity between the devolved Parliament and our own, to indicate that a certain number of tourists from this House rather enjoy shooting in Scotland? They are very welcome there but they find it rather irritating that the present law exists. It would be particularly timely to give that indication in view of the impending legislation.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, game shooting brings some £1.6 billion to the UK economy, but I doubt that that is attributable solely to Members of this House, although their interest is acknowledged. The Scottish Government are all too well aware of the significance of shooting to their economy.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who owns game-shooting land in Scotland. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in reply to my noble friend in February 2008 that it was up to the Scottish Executive what they do and how they decide to spend the money, can the Minister tell us how many other functions of the Post Office generate money for the Scottish Executive or Scottish local authorities and whether the costs are charged to them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have not been briefed on the finances of the Post Office except to reassure the House that these licences were issued only at main post offices. In fact, there is an arrangement

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for the licences in Scotland to be issued only at one post office in order to smooth the administration. If the noble Duke is indicating that such smoothness sometimes eludes the issuing of licences, let me say that all the indications from the consultation are that there will not be an obligation on the Post Office in Scotland or anywhere else to issue the licences.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, while we are considering game licences, would it not also be sensible to reduce some of the overprescriptive legislation on firearms, which takes up so much police time? For example, should a silencer, which is after all not much more than a tin can, count as a weapon on a firearms certificate and require a visit from a policeman to inspect it? Could not the same common sense be applied also to firearms legislation in England?

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord, uncharacteristically, is guilty of straying a little from the main Question. He is asking me about the law on firearms, an issue that concerns the Home Office, when we are talking about one particular pursuit, which is the use of firearms in an entirely peaceable and legal way-namely, shooting-in Scotland and, I might add, Northern Ireland and the issuing of licences for it. If the noble Lord wants to pursue the issue that he is concerned about, he should address himself to the Home Office.

Lord Elton: My Lords, where is the single post office at which one can get a shooting licence in Scotland and how far is it from the furthest shooter?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think that the post office is in Dunkeld. It is not meant to be distant from the operations, but shooting in Scotland covers a very wide terrain. The concept is to smooth the administration as far as possible to ease what is an exercise in technicality. No one thinks that the licence provides any useful purpose whatever, as my noble friend Lord Rooker graphically expressed several years ago. That is why in England and Wales we have already abolished it and, as I have indicated, progress is to be made elsewhere.

Roads: Markings and Signs


11.21 am

Asked By Lord Lucas

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Government would consider using their powers to direct local authorities to remove traffic signs where there was sufficient justification.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am delighted by that Answer. I think it would be the first time in 18 years that the Government had done this. When we set out the relevant legislation and the secondary legislation

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that goes with it, we were careful to specify exactly what signs and lines should be used, both on the grounds of safety and to ensure that people understood, wherever they came from and wherever they found themselves, what those signs and lines meant. Is the Minister aware of the extent to which these rules are disregarded, and that if he walks out of this palace he will find examples of flagrant disregard within 100 yards or so? Is he also aware that disregard of the regulations in places like Sunderland has gone as far as creating real dangers to pedestrians and other users of the road? Does he not think that it is time the Government used the powers that they have been given to keep councils in line?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House admires the noble Lord for the zeal of his campaigning on this and other issues; he asked a number of questions along these lines before. By virtue of Section 64 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, the majority of traffic signs in Great Britain are prescribed by the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions. As I said in my Answer, the Act gives the Secretary of State power to direct a highway authority to remove traffic signs, and, where an authority fails to do so, to carry out the work himself and recover the cost from the authority. As the noble Lord says, however, these reserve powers have never been used because we take the view that it is far more appropriate for local and highway authorities to take the responsibility for this; it is impossible for the Department for Transport to police road signs over the whole country. It would be in only the most exceptional circumstances that the Secretary of State would consider using these powers.

In the case of Sunderland there is a legal issue under way, but the Government Office of the North East has advised Sunderland council that restrictions imposed by zigzag markings apply to lay-bys as well as the main carriageway, which I believe is at the heart of the issue in Sunderland to which the noble Lord refers.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is particularly unhelpful when signs on the roads themselves wear out and are not renewed quickly enough? Will he encourage prosecuting authorities to bear in mind that any prosecutions in those circumstances would probably fail and indeed are probably illegal?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: The noble Lord makes a very good point. The responsibility for ensuring that signs remain visible and in use is that of the highways authorities, and I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the department.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does not the existence of large numbers of road signs on roadways, particularly at junctions, serve only to confuse the motorist, who can absorb only so much information? Should not many of those signs be removed? Perhaps we need a little regulation here.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: A national traffic signs review is under way, which was launched in September 2008. It involves all of the interested parties such as

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the county surveyors, Transport for London, the Highways Agency and the enforcement agencies. Its purpose is to consider how the traffic regulations are provided, and it will seek to simplify the regime. I hope very much that when that report is implemented, some time next year, it will meet the point that my noble friend makes.

Lord Bradshaw: We on these Benches believe that the maintenance of road signs is a matter for local authorities, and we would not seek central direction to apply to it. However, the local authorities are very short of money. Can the Minister tell me how many local authorities have taken advantage of the opportunities which exist to impose special parking area restrictions and to decriminalise a lot of acts, so that they get the money and then have it to spend on the road signs?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I very much welcome the noble Lord's support for the Government's approach; this is a matter for local authorities and highways authorities. I am able to answer his question; so far, out of a total of 327 local authorities, 265 English local authorities have civil parking enforcement powers.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is the consultation to which the Minister has just referred broad enough to consider left-hand filters at traffic lights? Those would ease the flow of traffic considerably

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, it is my understanding that everything concerned with traffic signs is on the agenda for the review, and I am sure that the point which the noble Lord makes will be taken into account.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, given the potential danger to vulnerable pedestrians posed by shared space schemes, will the Minister commit to checking such schemes as they are proposed to ensure that they comply with regulations?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, we are aware of the concerns that blind and partially sighted people have about shared space. We are investigating those concerns and producing advice to local authorities on how to overcome them. Comprehensive research is at present being conducted into the matter; if I may, I shall send the noble Lord the appraisal report that has just been published. I should be grateful for his views on that as well.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, following on from my noble friend's question, will the Department for Transport be supporting the mayor's initiative on a pilot to see whether cyclists can turn left on a red light?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: That matter has still to be resolved, and I am afraid that I do not have an answer that I can give to the noble Baroness now. If I may, I shall write to her with a comprehensive reply.

Lord Walpole: My Lords-

Viscount Simon: My Lords-

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