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House of Lords

Wednesday, 16 June 2010.

3 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Several noble Lords took the oath or affirmed.



3.07 pm

Asked By Baroness Pitkeathley

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UK.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, we understand the urgency of reforming both the NHS and the social care system to provide more control to individuals and their carers. The coalition agreement makes it clear that we will,

and we will,

including carers.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. In national Carers Week, I am sure that millions of carers will be glad to hear of the Government's commitment to support all that carers do. In their national carers strategy published in 2007, the previous Government pledged that no carer would be in financial hardship by 2018. Are the coalition Government planning to honour that pledge?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all that she has done over the years to highlight the work of carers and their needs-indeed, the Government are very pleased to support Carers Week. We are entirely supportive of the ambitions set out in the previous Government's strategy. We naturally need to focus on delivering the things that will have the greatest impact on improving carers' lives. I think that there will be three strands to that. The first is to make sure that carers are able to stay in work if they wish to. The second is to help carers who wish to get back into work to return to employment-Jobcentre Plus has in train a number of initiatives in that regard. The third is the safety net of benefits and we will review the benefits system in a way that encourages, among other things, fairness.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, my noble friend said that respite care is seen as important. Will he assure us that the huge contribution made by so

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many families who unstintingly give their time, love and care is fully appreciated and that he recognises how essential respite is for them?

Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend makes a critical point. She would like to know, I am sure, that there is already money in the baselines for primary care trusts to ensure that carers can get breaks. The continuation of the area-based grant, of which the carers grant forms a part, will need to be considered in the wider context of future spending reviews but, at the moment, £256 million is allocated in the budget for the current year.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, will the Minister give special consideration to child carers, who may need extra support, both from the social services and from the voluntary sector? I know that some is already given, but there really is extra need for it.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness draws our attention to an extremely important area. Supporting vulnerable children is a priority for the Government. I would say that many young people are happy to help to care for a family member; it helps them to develop a sense of responsibility. However, inappropriate and excessive levels of caring by young people can put their education, training and health at risk and prevent them from enjoying their childhood. We are therefore very mindful of this area of need.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords-

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, young carers are often overlooked. Is the Minister prepared to meet young carers and organisations that represent them to discuss their needs? We have done this in the past and, while some of the issues have been resolved, some have not.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness a ready undertaking: I should be glad to do so.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is my noble friend aware-

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, will the Government collect information to help the growing numbers of young, usually working-class grandparents who need to work and who increasingly care nearly full-time for their grandchildren, as well as, frequently, for their ageing parents at the same time?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises another important area. One thing that we propose to introduce is greater scope for flexible working, as I said in my original Answer, to enable all employees to avail themselves of that. It will allow greater scope for grandparents in particular but it will also allow neighbours and friends to engage in caring on a much wider scale than they can at the moment.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, would my noble friend say-

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Can the noble Lord say whether it is

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appropriate that carers for those who are disabled on account of substance abuse should be subject to the same disability, as it were, as the person for whom they care?

Earl Howe: My Lords, this is a complex question and one that my noble and learned friend will, I hope, know that we are bearing closely in mind. Those often young people who look after disabled parents are in special need, as I have said, but we recognise, too, the huge responsibility placed on parents who care for a disabled child and who often bear particular burdens. On that score, while noble Lords will be aware that the child trust fund has been abolished, the changes that we introduced in so doing include provision for more than £20 million a year, starting next year, to be spent on providing additional respite breaks for carers of severely disabled children. In passing, I pay tribute to the work of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords-

Lord Alderdice: My Lords-

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords-

Noble Lords: This side!

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if my noble friend asks a very quick question, we can get on with it.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the cost of providing day care alone for a severely disabled person is something like £40,000 a year? Is he further aware that, while a woman who has chosen to have a child can set the costs of care against tax to get back to work, the spouse of a disabled person cannot do so?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I recognise everything that my noble friend has said. We recognise that carers play an indispensable role, which is why we are going to reform the benefits system to make it fairer all round.

Railways: Network Rail


3.16 pm

Asked by Lord Bradshaw

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Government are committed to making changes to Network Rail's corporate governance to ensure that the company is properly accountable to its customers. The Government are in the process of considering potential forms that that change might take, and no decisions have yet been made.

Lord Bradshaw: I thank my noble friend for that Answer. In view of the fact that the Office of Rail Regulation has written to the remuneration committee

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of Network Rail about its indifferent performance during the past year, does he agree that it would be inappropriate for the directors of that company to take bonuses for that performance?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Government do not have the power to veto the award of bonuses, but we hope to make it clear to Network Rail's board that excessive payments are not acceptable in the wider economic climate.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, following the exchanges yesterday on the question that I asked the noble Earl regarding railway electrification during the exchanges on my noble friend Lord Berkeley's Question, a report has appeared in today's Sun newspaper that says:

"Plans for faster electric trains across Britain will be scrapped because they cost too much, the Government said yesterday".

As the noble Earl, for this purpose, is the Government, does he have anything to add to that statement and will he confirm whether it is true?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I never thought that I would get on to page two of the Sun so fast. No, the Government have made it clear in the coalition agreement that we support further electrification of the rail network, which helps to reduce carbon emissions and cut running costs. Clearly, though, we are in the early stages of the new Government and Ministers are considering the full range of transport policy to ascertain what is possible.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Network Rail. We are supposed to be the Government's organisation but I have to say that it is not working very well. Has my noble friend considered a mutual structure for Network Rail, which might fit in with its devolved interest and with giving more power to the people? That might also solve the problem of too many bonuses.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Government have a commitment to review the structure of Network Rail, and we will do so.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, whatever the deficiencies of Network Rail, which the noble Earl says he is going to address, will he acknowledge that he is blessed to deal with Network Rail in comparison with his Labour predecessors in 1997, who had to deal with the botched Conservative privatisation of rail and the notorious Railtrack?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, when I was in opposition I could never get to the bottom of why the party opposite created the Strategic Rail Authority and then abolished it.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, will my noble friend also discuss with Network Rail the very worrying appearance of extra-heavy costs in their operations and the infrastructure costs? In comparison with other European countries, they seem to be strangely and unusually high.

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Earl Attlee: My Lords, we are concerned about the efficiency of Network Rail. When Sir Roy McNulty's report comes out, it will inform us about the next steps that we need to take.

BBC 6 Music


3.19 pm

Asked by Lord Clement-Jones

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the Government have made no representations to the BBC. This is a matter for the BBC Trust.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am sure that it stems from a desire for the BBC Trust to be seen to be totally independent, but I hope that he does not consider the BBC Trust to be impervious as well as independent. Will he, with his departmental colleagues, ask the BBC Trust to take note of something in the order of 1 million people per week who now listen to 6 Music? With the demise of NME digital radio, it is the only radio station that is showcasing new British music. The destruction of 6 Music, I hope he will agree, would be cultural and economic vandalism.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his supplementary question. There has been consultation about 6 Music over a 12-week period and the BBC is considering this. Anybody who happened to switch on to Radio 4 this morning at about 7 o'clock would also hear about further consultations for Radios 3, 4 and 7 that are taking place. The remarkable thing is that, since the suggestion arose that this particular radio station would cease to be, the listenership has doubled.

Lord Colwyn: Will my noble friend the Minister report any progress on the Live Music Bill, which so nearly became law in the past Parliament and would have given licensing exemption to small venues, thus encouraging musical performance, especially for young musicians?

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, my noble friend may well be right about that. I am afraid that I have no news about any timescale for such a Bill.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, while the noble Lord may wish to retain the independence of the BBC to make these decisions, will he understand and communicate to the BBC that many of us are wedded to the more recondite products of the BBC, including Radio 3 which, as he has just announced, is also receiving invitations from the BBC for commentary? The BBC is the pearl of radio output and it would be a severe loss to this country and culture if it were to be reduced in any way.

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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying. He will be heartened to know that the listenership of Radio 3 is double that of 6 Music. The BBC will no doubt look at today's Hansard and note the comments of noble Lords. I am happy to make certain that that happens.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will my noble friend give some thought to the fact that this House is probably not the best place to discuss new, cutting-edge music for the young? We should listen to people outside before we make any decision.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: I am well aware that the BBC is there, as Lord Reith said,

and 6 Music is at the "entertain" end of that. I happen to believe that the BBC is for all three objectives. Whether this particular station is to the taste of their Lordships or not, with all the consultation that has taken place, proper regard of the way forward must be taken in coming to a view.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, in his initial Answer, the noble Lord gave a very proper statement about the BBC's independence and the independence of the BBC Trust. Does he therefore condemn the actions of spin doctors at No. 10 who apparently felt that it was proper for them to tell the BBC who it should invite on to the "Question Time" panel?

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I do not quite think that the decision about who should appear on "Question Time" relates to the business of whether 6 Music should continue. It struck me as a strange affair but people come up with ideas like that when they work in organisations such as No. 10.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Does the Minister feel that the BBC may have become distracted in concerning itself with the future of its music radio stations by the fact that it has been paying inflation-busting pay increases to the great majority of its employees?

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I have not seen the payroll so I am not able to comment. I know it is of concern to many people that they should get value for money. It occurs to me that value for money is a good way of looking at this. Nevertheless, the BBC is looking at this as it looks at all radio stations-on a five-year programme. As I mentioned earlier, it is now reviewing other programmes and we will see what it comes up with, but it is the BBC's affair. The BBC Trust makes the decisions once it has the ideas from the BBC executive.

Crime: Rape

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