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House of Lords

Thursday, 17 June 2010.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Message from the Queen

11.07 am

Earl Peel: My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:

"I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament".

National Assembly for Wales: Referendum


11.08 am

Asked By Lord Livsey of Talgarth

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, I refer my noble friend to the Written Ministerial Statement made under my name on 15 June 2010. In that, I repeated a Written Ministerial Statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales in which she indicated that it had not been possible to lay a draft referendum order before Parliament by today. She further stated that our aim is for a referendum to take place before the end of the first quarter of next year.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, my noble and learned friend has made that statement on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am not entirely satisfied that we cannot have an October referendum, which was our wish, but I am glad to know that it will be in the first quarter of 2011. My noble and learned friend may be familiar with Edmund Burke's famous remark that there is a point beyond which forbearance ends and tolerance ceases to be a virtue. While Liberal Democrats and devolutionists in all parties in Wales are reaching that point, we need an early referendum for primary legislative powers for the National Assembly for Wales. We face a constitutional obstacle course in Wales.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This is the question. Will my noble and learned friend ensure that there is a referendum poll well before next year's Welsh Assembly elections in May?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I know from the time that my noble friend and I spent together in the other place that he is a very determined and doughty campaigner both in establishing the National

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Assembly for Wales and, since then, in enhancing its powers. I make it clear that I am well aware of the importance that the Secretary of State for Wales attaches to this referendum taking place, implementing the coalition agreement. In her letter to the First Minister, she indicated that the date that the First Minister had indicated before the general election should not be considered until after the general election. That has meant that the consultation work on the question has only now begun and that there will be a further reference to the Electoral Commission for it to research and approve the question. Orders will have to be debated and approved in the Welsh National Assembly and both Houses of Parliament and submitted for approval by Her Majesty in Council. Thereafter, the Electoral Commission has indicated that the statutory period of 10 weeks is the minimum that it believes necessary to allow for all the processes required leading up to polling day. With the best will in the world, it was not possible to do that by October, but we have made the commitment that we wish that to happen by the end of the first quarter of next year.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, the Conservative Party in Wales has a long record of opposing any Welsh constitutional advance, whether it be the setting up of the Welsh Office or a devolved Assembly. Has it now abandoned this posture and will it now campaign wholeheartedly for more powers for the Welsh Assembly? If it has not, how do the coalition Government reconcile that stance with the Answer in the other place by the Minister for constitutional reform, Mr Clegg,

"Yes, the Government do support a yes vote".-[Official Report, Commons, 7/6/10; col. 41.]

in the referendum?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving me the opportunity to make it clear that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister subsequently made it clear to the House of Commons that that was not the position. The Government will not have a particular view on the outcome of the referendum. Our coalition commitment is to ensure that the referendum takes place. The referendum is not the plaything of any one political party. It is for the people of Wales to decide and we will respect their decision.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: In so far as the people of Wales are concerned, does the noble and learned Lord accept that there is a deep conviction and desire in Wales for a referendum, and for that to be carried, making Part 4 a new constitution for the Welsh people?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I note that when the National Assembly for Wales voted on whether there should be a referendum under the Government of Wales Act, the vote was 53 to zero. I am sure that people on both sides of the argument were voting because they want a referendum, but it is not for me at this Dispatch Box to say what the outcome should be. I have no doubt that my noble friends and my friends in the Liberal Democrats in Wales will want me to take a particular view when I am campaigning, but, as

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I have indicated, the Government's view is that we want the referendum to take place and the preparation for it to be as thorough as possible.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that the lack of urgency in his Answer is deeply disappointing to many of us? Peter Hain, the previous Secretary of State for Wales, endorsed a referendum in the autumn. It has been endorsed by every political party in Wales and the Jones Parry report made an unanswerable case for it. Why are the Government dragging their feet? Is this yet another fault line in the so-called coalition?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I wholly reject any allegation that the Government are dragging their feet. I quote from the letter from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to the First Minister:

"Your decision that the date and question should not be considered until after the General Election has meant that we have not yet submitted a question to the Electoral Commission, which has confirmed that it will need at least 10 weeks to carry out its assessment and then report".

I hope that I indicated earlier to your Lordships' House that the timeline is an extensive one. We want to ensure that this happens properly, and we do not want to take any risk that by taking short cuts we could open ourselves up to legal challenge. I believe that we are taking the proper steps in the right order.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, as one who, during the debate on the Government of Wales Bill, said that he would vote in favour of the move proposed in the referendum, I ask my noble and learned friend whether he thinks extraordinary the suggestion that the right honourable Peter Hain should be pressing us when in a major constitutional speech at Cardiff University last October he said that he did not think that the matter should be brought forward quickly-certainly not before 2011.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, having taken office I am discovering that there are many things that I am responsible for, but one of them is not to answer for Mr Peter Hain, thank goodness. I can assure the House that the Secretary of State attaches a huge priority to this. We are taking the steps as quickly as we can, and that is consistent with good governance.

Lord Richard: My Lords, one of the great problems that I have always had in my political life is my nasty, suspicious mind, particularly when it comes to assurances given six months in advance. Can we take it as genuinely firm that, unless there is a catastrophe, this referendum will be held in the first quarter of next year, with no "ifs" and no "buts"?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord can take it as being as firm an assurance as any Minister could possibly give. There are ongoing discussions. It has been discussed by the Secretary of State with the Welsh First Minister and Deputy First Minister. There

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is co-operation between the respective Administrations that that should happen. I should add that the One Wales agreement of the coalition agreement in the National Assembly for Wales seeks a referendum before next year's elections. As part of the respect agenda, we would try to honour that commitment.

First Aid


11.16 am

Asked By Lord Harrison

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government admire the work undertaken by health organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross, and warmly welcome the contribution that "The Difference" can make to the treatment of the ill and injured.

Lord Harrison: Given that the St John Ambulance report suggests that some 150,000 lives could be saved if there was a rudimentary understanding of first aid, and given the paucity of understanding in this country-where only seven out of 100 of us have such knowledge, compared to four out of five of our German colleagues-will the Government redouble their efforts and consider including first aid in the PSHE part of the national curriculum? Will the Minister also study the work being done in the north-west, in a crucial project in Greater Manchester, where ambulancemen and paramedics teach primary schoolchildren about the work of providing and administering first aid? That has gone down very well indeed.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Lord asks several questions there. As I have indicated, we are extremely grateful to organisations such as St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and the British Heart Foundation for the extensive and excellent work that they do. As a general approach, we are clear that the NHS locally is best placed to assess and address what is needed in its areas, as indeed in other areas of healthcare. However, we encourage NHS providers to consider the kind of partnerships that work so well.

As regards schools and PSHE, as the noble Lord will know, first aid is included in the PSHE part of the school curriculum. It is not a mandatory module, though it is often included in key stages 3 and 4. What I can do is convey the noble Lord's concerns to my colleagues in the Department for Education.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister assure me that emphasis will still be placed on the continuing need to educate the public about when to call an ambulance? I strongly support making people more aware of first aid, but there are many

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conditions, such as strokes, which it is too late to treat unless it is done within a certain timeframe. The ambulance service, as I learnt when I had a fall recently, is very good when you call at sorting out exactly what your symptoms are and whether you need an ambulance. Will the Government ensure that the public remain aware of that situation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The kind of basic first aid provided by community first responders, as they are called, is extremely important, not least in terms of operating defibrillators. However, that sort of service should be seen as complementary to and supportive of ambulance responses to emergencies. It is not a substitute for emergency ambulance response, and it is right that my noble friend should raise that distinction.

Baroness Emerton: I declare an interest as a former chief commander of St John. I am in touch with the recent campaign. It is interesting to note that there were 250,000 responses to an advertisement from people showing an interest in first aid, of which 70,000 indicated a desire to learn more about it. As part of this campaign, St John has decided that it needs to concentrate-the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has already mentioned this-on young people and the workplace. An interesting statistic is that 45 per cent of incidents where resuscitation is required occur in offices rather than on building sites. Will the Minister assist St John and the many other agencies by supporting their call to improve workplace facilities for first aid to take place?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. We all know that St John is active in major emergencies and road accidents and was active in the London bombings of five years ago. She is absolutely right that accidents in the workplace are a significant feature of the kinds of injuries that hospitals see. The ambulance service extends training in the workplace in a number of areas. However, I shall go back to the department and inquire about the extent to which St John in particular is doing this work. We may be able to feed in some important messages.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: Given the original Question, and the fact that we are in a workplace, has the noble Earl thought of enabling short first aid courses to be held in your Lordships' House-I do not mean in the Chamber-so that we could respond in an emergency?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I will gladly feed that suggestion in to the Chairman of Committees.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked my question. However, I wonder whether mouth-to-mouth resuscitation might be excluded from such a course?

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the St John's guide on first aid and the five basics is free and can be carried round in somebody's pocket? Should not all restaurants have it because people can choke very easily?

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Earl Howe: My Lords, I was aware that the St John guide is free. I take this opportunity to congratulate it on the way in which it distributes so much free material in this area. The noble Baroness raises a concern about the incidence of choking in restaurants. I am not aware of the extent to which restaurants as a whole are equipped to deal with that, but I will find out.

Loan Companies: Interest Rates


11.23 am

Asked By Baroness Scott of Needham Market

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, my noble friend's Question is timely as the Office of Fair Trading has just released the findings from its review of the high-cost credit sector. Many noble Lords will be aware that I am a long-standing campaigner for consumer rights in this area, and I see this review as an opportunity for Government to reflect on these very high rates of interest and consider whether there is a better way for us to approach this market.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Is my noble friend aware of the growing number of companies, some of which advertise on television, which offer short-term loans at extremely high rates of interest-in one case the APR is 2,689 per cent-plus an arrangement fee? Does she share my concern that a small short-term loan could very quickly turn into a very large lifetime millstone?

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, many of us have seen on television these advertisements by payday loan and instant loan companies offering loans at what seem to be huge rates of interest, running into thousands of per cent. This is a complicated market. The APRs may not be the most suitable method for measuring the cost of these products. For example, borrowing £100 for five days from a company attracts an APR of 3,253 per cent, as the noble Baroness said. That sounds an enormous amount, but in fact the borrower will pay a total of £111-just £11 for borrowing £100-which is less alarming than the APR might suggest. However, that said, we are always looking for ways to try to make credit and lending available to people at all levels in our society. I know that the previous Government and the Government before them struggled with whether to cap lending or let it run free. It has always been the policy of the previous Government, the Conservative Government before them and consumer groups that at least if people have access to some form of credit, they are not being forced on to the black market and loan sharks.

Lord Sugar: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this type of advertising for these loans is rather misleading and that the Government should step in to regulate the content of the adverts, insisting

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that a significant proportion of them-on TV and in newspapers-is allocated to spelling out what consumers are letting themselves in for? I pre-empt the noble Baroness's answer by saying that this is not a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority or the trading standards people. Can we also consider a 30-day cooling-off period when the consumer can change their mind at no penalty to them?

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question and for actually giving part of the answer. The line to take on this is that advertisements for high-cost credit, such as those for instant loans, should carry a wealth warning. We are looking at that interesting idea. The Office of Fair Trading has just made a report which we will be looking at to find a way forward on all of this. This issue affects all of us and it does not matter which side of this House we are on. We all understand the idea that people have to have access to some form of lending and credit, but I can quite understand that seeing these advertisements on the television has upset an awful lot of people, who think that it sounds far too easy. We are and will be looking at ways to see if we can make clearer the information that the general public get, in a language that they can understand.

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, can I receive an assurance that every help and assistance will given to community-based credit unions which do excellent jobs and give people in the poorest areas an opportunity to have a say in the running of their own financial affairs?

Baroness Wilcox: I am delighted to hear someone mention credit unions. They are a wonderful idea. When I chaired the National Consumer Council, we did our very best to get people interested in credit unions. They work extremely well in Germany and Canada, but for some reason they have never taken off as well in this country as we would like. It is a very simple form of people coming together, putting the money together and getting a loan when they need it. We will try again to see if we can market this idea better. It is a wonderful way and we do so hope that we can manage to bring this forward. I know that the previous Government tried as well.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the Chief Medical Officer's recent comments that financial exclusion, which is encouraged by high interest rates, is a major cause of ill health? What plans have the Government to increase the incomes of the poorest so that fewer visits are made to the doctor?

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