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House of Lords

Thursday, 22 July 2010.

10.45 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Introduction: Lord Taylor of Goss Moor

10.53 am

Matthew Owen John Taylor, Esquire, having been created Baron Taylor of Goss Moor, of Truro in the County of Cornwall, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Tyler and Lord Teverson, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Reid of Cardowan

10.59 am

The right honourable John Reid, having been created Baron Reid of Cardowan, of Stepps in Lanarkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Alli and Baroness McDonagh, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Baroness Eaton

11.04 am

Dame Ellen Margaret Eaton, DBE, having been created Baroness Eaton, of Cottingley in the County of West Yorkshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Hanham and Lord Bates, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

International Criminal Court

Question

11.10 am

Asked By Baroness Stern

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, our response is positive. The ICC review conference in Kampala was a major milestone in the international community's fight to combat impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern. The stocktaking of international criminal justice will help shape the future development of the court. The UK will now consider whether to ratify the amendment on the use of certain weaponry in a non-international armed conflict. The conference agreed a package, including the definition of the crime of aggression and the conditions for exercise of jurisdiction, to be put forward for discussion and possible adoption in 2017.

Baroness Stern: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware-I am sure he is-of the considerable gratitude from across the world to the United Kingdom for the support which successive Governments have

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given to the ICC, as I learnt when I represented your Lordships' House at an international meeting of parliamentarians for the ICC? Perhaps I may ask him a specific question about sexual violence, which is such a major and horrible aspect of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Government pledged to the review conference to do more for victims, particularly victims of sexual violence. Can he tell us what the Government plan to do specifically to help victims of this deeply appalling crime?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, which of course apply equally to the previous and the present Government of the United Kingdom. The conference at Kampala adopted a resolution on the victims issue which recognised the rights of victims to have access to justice and to participate in judicial proceedings. That applied to victims generally. For our part, the United Kingdom is committed to tackling the problem of violence against women. We will continue to promote programmes in support of this agenda, including measures that will address the special needs of women and children in areas of conflict.

Lord Chidgey:Will the Minister confirm the importance of the step taken in amending the Coroners and Justice Act, particularly in regard to enabling prosecutions of suspects for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes from 1 January 1991? However, can he also tell us how that will be implemented to enable, for example, the prosecution of suspects such as the four Rwandans who have been accused of war crimes but whose extradition failed last year, which has left us in a quandary?

Lord Howell of Guildford: In answer to my noble friend I can only express the hope that this will be resolved. The Kampala conference addressed these issues but did not reach any final conclusions. A great deal of the conference was simply carrying forward and firming up the work of the ICC in the light of its experience, of which my noble friend has just mentioned one example. I cannot give a more specific answer at this moment.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: I congratulate the Government on the amendment to define aggression. However, does the noble Lord agree that the decision to defer its implementation until 2017 demonstrates that those who oppose international answerability are at least as determined as those who support it? Can he assure the House that the Government will oppose any further attempts to undermine what has been achieved?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not quite agree with the implication of the noble and learned Lord's question although obviously I agree with him about the importance of the issue; it is a very complex question which was discussed in considerable detail at Kampala. The UK has a principled position: that the UN Security Council has primary responsibility for dealing with aggression. We maintain that that is right. If in the discussion the complexities of developing a further definition can be overcome, then the general purpose-all are agreed -is the right one. However, there are some obvious

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complexities here that need resolving. They are not in any way against carrying forward the concern with crimes of aggression; the only question is the technique and method by which that should be done.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that an International Criminal Court arrest warrant still is outstanding against Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army? The LRA has been responsible for some of the worst violations against women, such as those described by my noble friend Lady Stern a few moments ago, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda, where it is estimated that the LRA has killed over 1 million people. Will he confirm that a letter was received by the Prime Minister only a week ago from a young woman called Juliet, who is here in London and who was herself raped by the LRA when she was just 12 years old?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord, Lord Alton, always speaks with authority and knowledge on these issues. It is significant that this meeting was held in Kampala, and of course it is in Uganda that these arrest warrants are currently out for a number of people. It is also where some particularly horrific crimes appear to have occurred, including crimes against women, about which we were talking a moment ago. That is the position and I can only reaffirm what the noble Lord has said: this is a good example of where the ICC really can carry forward the causes of peace and justice together in what we hope is an effective way.

Lord Goldsmith: Does the noble Lord agree that it is very important that our allies operate under the same conditions as we do? Would he therefore tell us whether the Kampala conference has advanced at all the prospect of the United States committing to the International Criminal Court, and will the Government-both parts of the Government-encourage the United States to join?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I think that the answer is maybe. The United States sent 23 delegates to the Kampala conference; they all turned up and discussed these issues in detail. I asked those at the conference whether that will lead to a better prospect of the United States signing up to this but they were not sure of an answer. They say that the United States is involved in the discussions and interested in carrying matters forward, but the signs that it will actually put its signature to it are, I am afraid, still a bit fuzzy and remote.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Question

11.16 am

Asked By Lord Dixon-Smith



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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): Tuberculin skin tests are the internationally accepted standard for detecting TB. Many countries have eradicated TB using a test and slaughter approach. In England, evidence suggests that without addressing the disease in badgers, it will be impossible to eradicate TB in cattle. The department has committed to developing affordable options for a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that response. There is evidence that the present testing regime correctly identifies the presence of tuberculosis within a herd, but no longer identifies all the infected animals so that after a series of tests, a residue of infection is left within the herd which can continue to spread the disease despite the removal of the identified animals. Will the noble Lord ask the Government to conduct a thorough review of the implications of this? The existing regime is not satisfactory and there are managerial consequences for biosecurity on the farm. Although this programme was very successful half a century ago, it is not working now. We are effectively burning pound notes.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept that there are occasions when using the current test-what I have described as the internationally accepted comparative test-that some cattle are missed. If we move to another test, known as the single test, there is a possibility of a greater number of what are described as false positives, which again would not be satisfactory. A further test is used, a blood test which is known as the gamma test, and we can look at it. I can give my noble friend an assurance that we will look at all three, but for the moment we think that the comparative test is the best one to use.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I declare an interest as an associate member of the British Veterinary Association. Does my noble friend agree that blood testing is a good alternative or addition to skin testing and reveals more reactors? Will he consider a Defra policy of blood testing as well as skin testing in bovine TB hot spots, particularly where the badger population is considerable?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend, I think, refers to the gamma interferon blood test, which is used alongside the tuberculin skin test in certain prescribed circumstances to improve the sensitivity of the testing regime and identify more affected animals more quickly. I shall certainly look at whether it is possible to use that test solely, but, as I said earlier, for the moment, we believe that the comparative tests that we are using are possibly the best.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming the sharp, 25 per cent decline in bovine TB which is recorded in today's Farmers Guardian, for example. Given that Defra has shelved its own vaccination project, will the Minister assure us that the department will continue strongly to support vaccination and assist those farmers who wish to use it?



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Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct to say that there has been a decline. Addressing bovine TB still involves great expense, in compensation, testing, research and surveillance. Something of the order of £63 million was spent on it in 2009-10. Some £29.9 million has been invested over the years in vaccine development. We shall continue to work on vaccine development and encourage others to do so as well.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, can foxes and rabbits carry bovine tuberculosis?

Lord Henley: The noble Baroness has absolutely stumped me. I do not know whether foxes and rabbits can spread bovine TB. We know that badgers are the principal problem, which is why we want to address them first, but if there is a problem in foxes and rabbits, I am sure that we will look at that as well.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, before breeding cattle are imported into this country, are they sufficiently checked to make sure that they have certificates stating that they are free from TB, and, if not, why not?

Lord Henley: My Lords, my understanding is that when breeding cattle are imported-the same would be true of export-the single test would be used. As I have said, that test can be more accurate, but it leads to more false positives. However, in the cases to which my noble friend refers, a false positive would be better than missing some of the others.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, the Minister mentioned budgets. Will he update us on the Government's latest position on making progress against badgers if they are going to do so?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are looking at all the relevant key evidence, including the published scientific evidence from what was referred to as the "randomised badger culling trial" and subsequent post-trial analysis. Having looked at that, we will draw up proposals. We will then consult on them and consider the best way forward.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a rigorous attack was made on bovine TB, consisting of the double intradermal test, strict regulation of movement of cattle, the attested herd scheme and the TT scheme for milk production. I had the pleasure of participating in that as a young vet. We very nearly eliminated TB from the United Kingdom. It was only when it got into wildlife and badgers in particular that it went astray.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: Does the Minister agree that an even more rigorous campaign to attack TB in cattle is now necessary, because it is causing great harm to most producers?



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Lord Henley: My Lords, we have every intention of attacking the problem vigorously, but whatever we do will be based on the science that is put before us. We will make sure that we understand that science and act on it.

Lord Walton of Detchant: Does the Minister accept that one of the problems with skin testing for tuberculosis in both animals and man is that it does nothing more than indicate that the individual has at some stage been infected with tuberculosis but cannot, under all circumstances, indicate the presence of an active infection, because the infection may well have died out some time ago?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord knows far more about these matters than many in the House and I listen to him with great respect. I shall certainly take on board what he says. As I said, at the moment we believe that the comparative test is the right one but, as the noble Lord well knows, there are other tests at which we can, and will, look.

Visas

Question

11.25 am

Asked by Lord Clement-Jones

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, there are no current plans for such a specific review, but a broader survey across all categories of tier 5 applicants-including, of course, artists and performers-has recently been undertaken, the findings of which will shortly be published. The arts and entertainment task force is closely involved to ensure that the detail of the system reflects the creative sector's needs while being robust and fair.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. It was a breath of fresh air compared with replies on the subject from the previous Government. Will the Minister ensure that, in the process that he has described, he will consult the Manifesto Club and talk personally to the arts community, which has a great concern about this? Will he include also the issue of academic visiting visas, which is a matter of concern to the academic community?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. As I have said, the survey has been completed and the results will shortly be published. My noble friend was good enough to give me sight of a paper from the Manifesto Club which referred to three specific examples of artists. To explain each in detail would take too long today but, to summarise, in one case the applicant cut rather fine the timing of the application; in the other cases, the applicants provided no evidence of funds to support

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them in the UK. Although advice and guidance are available, it sounds as though in the latter two cases better advice could have been provided, and I have made that clear to the department.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, given the devastation that the Government plan to visit upon the arts through massive cuts in public funding for which there is no conceivable justification, is it not all the more important that no unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles should be placed in the way of distinguished performers coming to work with our orchestras, theatre companies and other arts organisations?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I agree at least with the latter half of the noble Lord's contention. Two routes are useful for short-term visitors: one is a concession under tier 5 for non-visa nationals that requires no prior entry clearance-I can explain the system in greater detail to the noble Lord if he wishes-and the other is an entertainer visitor scheme outside the points-based system. We are doing what we can to help.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, does the Minister realise that whether artists are unknown or established, poor or rich, cultural interaction and travel are part of their lifeblood? It should be as easy for overseas artists to visit this country as it is for British artists to travel abroad.

Lord De Mauley: I cannot disagree with anything the noble Earl has said. It is very important to us to encourage and foster culture in our country. Foreign artists and performers are extremely welcome here, but the system has to be conducted in a robust but fair way.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, where an artist-let us say for reasons of health-has to drop out of a performance at very short notice and the only suitable replacement artist is from abroad, is my noble friend aware of the potential difficulty in obtaining a visa for the artist coming in as a subsidiary?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, yes, I am aware of that. As I have tried to explain, there are certain routes to facilitate an artist in that situation, but they have to be used with a system of undertaking proper checks of documentation.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, many artists travel to this country-to study, in particular-on ancestry visas. What is the coalition policy on ancestry visas?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. I am not briefed on that specific point, so I will write to her, if I may.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, ask her first question. She was a very honourable High Commissioner for Australia. I asked, and had an answer from, the previous Government about people coming here to study-exactly those referred to by the noble Baroness.

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Will the Minister consider that there is a great deal of difference between visiting artists and young people who are not yet artists? I have cited in the past Joan Sutherland, who was nothing when she first came here. The time and training that she had here made a difference. The previous Government replied that they had introduced a degree of flexibility to enable young talent to come particularly from Australia, because Australian points are what we are basing this on. No one goes to Australia to become an artist.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I am racking my brains to think of an artist, but I accept my noble friend's general point. I mentioned earlier in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, the concession under tier 5, which allows for non-visa nationals, including nationals from Australia specifically. That is one example. We will look at any suggestions that that my noble friend may offer.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, in view of the supplementary point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about academics, is any check being made of the impact of the points system on academic appointments?

Lord De Mauley: The noble Lord will of course be aware that the Question was about tier 5 applicants and students. I think that academics are dealt with under tier 4, which is somewhat outside the scope of the Question. I will look into what he asks and write to him, if I may.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, tempted as I am to ask the noble Lord why he thinks the Sydney Opera House was built, does he recognise that in the operation of the system the problem often lies not at policy level but on the ground, where there is insufficient briefing and training for everyone to operate the system in the way that is intended?

Lord De Mauley: Yes, my Lords, I take that point. My noble friend may be interested to hear that the independent chief inspector has recently published a report on the UKBA's handling of complaints and correspondence that makes a number of important recommendations. We are determined to act on those and improve our existing practices. In future, I am hopeful that the certain lack of helpfulness to which my noble friend referred will be addressed.

Sheffield Forgemasters

Question

11.32 am

Asked By Lord Hunt of Kings Heath



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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, the decision not to pursue the loan was taken on grounds of affordability.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in the other place made statements to the effect that the reason why the loan was withdrawn was that the company would not dilute its equity share. It has since transpired that the Deputy Prime Minister was aware that the company was in fact prepared to dilute its equity share. Why will the Deputy Prime Minister not apologise to Parliament for misleading it? Why have the Government taken such a crass decision to withdraw the loan from the company, which could have provided a massive foundation to the development of a nuclear supply chain industry in this country?

Baroness Wilcox: Absolutely not. Our decision not to proceed with the loan was a matter of affordability and that only. The shareholder structure of SFIL did not influence any assessment. I have no knowledge of any privy discussions between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. The Government's decision has absolutely nothing to do with this issue. We regard Mr Honeyman and his team as having produced an excellent project with no criticism of him or of the company. Perhaps the Opposition should apologise for the necessity of cuts based on the state of the economy that we inherited.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, I declare an interest as the ex-leader of the trade union that represents most of the workers at Sheffield Forgemasters. The Minister is aware-it has already been stated by my noble friend-that this was a loan, not a grant. Therefore, it is difficult to understand the attitude of the coalition Government. As my noble friend said, two companies make this product for the nuclear industry: Sheffield Forgemasters and a plant in Korea. Is it not the case that this loan should be provided to save jobs in the community in Sheffield and to help manufacturing?

Baroness Wilcox: There is no doubt about it: I shall have to answer again and again that this decision was taken on grounds of affordability. Nobody would argue that Sheffield Forgemasters is not an excellent example of a successful British manufacturing company. The Government wholeheartedly support what the company does and I place on the record our recognition of its excellent work. Once again, I tell noble Lords that the only reason why we took the decision was affordability and we had to take that decision because of the condition that the previous Government left us in financially.

Lord Broers: My Lords, in light of the fact that it is largely German and Danish companies that will build the hugely expensive offshore wind turbines, do the Government not think that they should do more to ensure that the same thing does not happen with regard to nuclear power plants?



22 July 2010 : Column 1070

Baroness Wilcox: I think that the noble Lord will well know the view of this Government-both sides of our Government-on nuclear power. It is something that we have considered long and hard and it was not an easy decision to take. For our party, we will always say that we will not subsidise the nuclear industry.

Lord King of Bridgwater: Does my noble friend not agree that, despite the outrage expressed on the other side of the House, the financial situation of Sheffield Forgemasters might have been much different if the previous Government had not dithered so consistently on the question of further nuclear power for this country, so that that company could have had decent orders instead of having to seek loans from the Government to bail itself out?

Baroness Wilcox: Of course I agree with my noble friend. I say again that Sheffield Forgemasters is an excellent example of a successful British manufacturing company and will, I am sure, continue to be so for a long time to come.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister must agree that the decision to cancel this loan-after all, it was a loan, not a grant-is inexplicable until one realises that it follows a letter to the Government from Mr Andrew Cook, a major Conservative Party donor, who owns two forges in Sheffield. Surely that cannot be a coincidence, can it?

Baroness Wilcox: I assure the noble Lord that the representation from Mr Cook-copies were sent to Clive Betts MP and Angela Smith MP in another place yesterday on their request and will be placed on the BIS website today-had no bearing on the decision-making process. The decision not to pursue the loan was made on grounds of affordability.

Lord Cotter: My Lords, would the Minister not agree-and I am sure that this could highlight the situation generally in the manufacturing industry-on the need for the banks to give support to manufacturing in particular, especially in the light of a recent report from the British Bankers' Association showing that bank lending fell substantially last year and that many businesses are still being turned down for loans? I know that the Government are concerned about this, but I urge renewed efforts to persuade the banks to address this issue. Time and again they say that they are lending, but the facts say not-and this is an example, perhaps, of a manufacturing industry issue where lending is required.

Baroness Wilcox: The banks will say, as they always say, that it is not their money that they are lending but other people's money-

A noble Lord: Taxpayers' money.

Baroness Wilcox: Not all of them are using taxpayers' money. It must be for the banks to protect that investment and make sure that they get a good return. Sheffield

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Forgemasters has concluded that at present there is no available private sector alternative funding structure that is both economically viable for the company and fair to existing shareholders and that the company's best interests will be served by suspending work on the project for the time being. However, as it has also stated, it is still keen to undertake the project.

Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords-

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords-

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords-

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Since the issue is one of affordability and value for money, will the Minister confirm that the Government will publish the value-for-money case?

Baroness Wilcox: The trouble with the party on the other side is that it misunderstands what "affordability" means or implies. As I have said, the Government inherited a massive and growing debt. If that had been allowed to grow beyond control, every company in the country would have had to face the risk of a disastrous rise in borrowing costs and there might have been even less money to borrow from the banks.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

11.40 am

Moved By Lord Strathclyde

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Moved By Lord Strathclyde

Motion agreed.

Administration and Works Committee

Membership Motion

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.



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Communications Committee

Membership Motion

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.

Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee

Membership Motion

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.

Refreshment Committee

Membership Motion

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motion agreed.

Policing and Crime

Debate

11.41 am

Moved By Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I am pleased and honoured to introduce this timely and important debate. I was looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, but I have been informed that he has flu and therefore will not be able to attend. I am sure that the House will extend to him our best wishes under the circumstances, and we look forward to his maiden speech on a future occasion.

Crime is an issue that is never far from the news headlines. Policing and crime affect all our lives. Television and films depict criminal enterprises as entertainment-and that is fine; I love a good detective or gangster film myself. It is important, however, that when politicians engage in debate on these vital issues, they do so on the basis of fact and evidence, not pure invention for the purpose of political advantage.

One of the first duties of any state is to safeguard its people from both within and outside its territory. Citizens from inside our borders need to be protected by those seeking wealth, advantage or gratification through the commission of crime against innocent victims.

I intend to touch on three main issues today: to expose the myth asserted recently by the Prime Minister that violent crime rose under the previous Government;

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to voice the fears of many citizens that serious crime will grow over the coming years because of cuts in front-line policing caused by the slashing of police budgets, the review of security cameras and the reduction in the DNA database; and to express the concern that the coalition Government, against all advice by respected chief officers and others, intend to politicise the police by introducing elected police commissioners, thereby risking for the first time the political independence of a police service that is respected throughout the world.

First of all, on the crime figures, at Prime Minister's Questions on 7 July in another place, the right honourable David Cameron said:

"The point is that under the last Government violent crime and gun crime went through the roof".-[Official Report, Commons, 7/7/10; col. 364.]

Not true-the latest annual update on national crime statistics for England and Wales, released last week on 15 July, demonstrates that the Government are misleading the public about levels of crime.

Both the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime figures show that overall crime is down on last year by 9 per cent. I will cite the British Crime Survey, which is accepted as the most accurate measure of trends. Vehicle-related crime is down on last year by 17 per cent. Domestic burglary is down on last year by 9 per cent. Violent crime is down on last year by 1 per cent. Police recorded crime shows that firearms offences are down by 22 per cent since 2002-03 and knife crime is down on last year by 7 per cent. Since 1997, when the previous Government took office, the British Crime Survey shows that overall crime is down by 43 per cent; overall crime against the person is down by 41 per cent; overall household crime is down by 44 per cent; burglary is down by 59 per cent; and violent crime is down by 42 per cent. I could go on but by any standard these figures demonstrate how impressively the police and the criminal justice system have tackled crime under the policies of the previous Administration.

The Prime Minister has since been rebuked by the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, for misusing violent crime figures. He confirms that the authority remains of the view that the British Crime Survey provides the most reliable measure of the trends in violent crime. Any attempt to suggest otherwise by misquoting or disbelieving the British Crime Survey, which is accepted as a gold standard by most British academics and internationally, is beneath contempt. It deserves to be exposed as a scaremongering propaganda effort of which Joseph Goebbels would have been proud. I know that the facts get in the way of a good story but I ask the Minister, in replying, to apologise on behalf of his right honourable friend the Prime Minister for recent utterances on these important matters. It is accepted by most informed commentators that the fear of crime is far worse than the risk of crime. By stoking the fear of crime the coalition Government create unnecessary concerns, particularly among the elderly.

While dealing with Ministers and their statements, I will comment on the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke. He said last week in his Mansion House speech:



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"Crime has fallen in Britain throughout a period of both rising prison populations ... and economic growth, with strong employment levels and rising living standards. No one can prove cause and effect. The crime rate fell".

He went on to claim credit for his improved economic legacy, which by implication he suggested caused the drop in crime. Again, this is a travesty of the truth. Last year's crime figures which I have just quoted are from a period of recession, which refutes the Justice Secretary's argument that falls in crime are solely down to greater prosperity. He also omitted to say that when crime was remorselessly rising in the early 1990s, Ken Clarke was the Home Secretary. I know because I was the vice-president of the Police Superintendents' Association at that time. While Home Secretary, like a bull in china shop, Ken Clarke took on the police service head-on. He had a history of belligerence in dealing with other public services and appointed the chairman of British American Tobacco, Sir Patrick Sheehy, to bring private sector efficiency and values to the police. How about that? It is just what our respected police service wanted: the moral and ethical values of an international tobacco company.

In the summer of 1993, a mass rally of 20,000 police officers gathered in Wembley Arena to protest about the Sheehy proposals, such as performance-related pay-presumably based on the number of arrests made by each officer. It was a truly historic occasion. I remember the star political speaker against Sheehy being the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, who I see in his seat today as part of the Government on the coalition Benches. The point is that Kenneth Clarke totally demoralised the police service; under his stewardship crime really did go through the roof.

Fortunately for the police, the economic crisis at that time, when Britain crashed out of the ERM, led to the resignation in 1992 of the then Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont. He was succeeded by Kenneth Clarke-you've guessed it-whose legacy left the police service in total disarray. The new Home Secretary at that time, Michael Howard, is well known to your Lordships and has just been introduced into this House. He immediately scrapped the controversial Sheehy reforms and declared famously that "prison works". I spoke yesterday with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who cannot be here because he is in France. He said to me, in terms, "Michael Howard, put it right". The noble Lord, Lord Howard, demonstrated that prison works because crime fell dramatically under his stewardship as prison numbers rose. Ken Clarke now talks of bringing the same private sector values and profiteering to community service in place of short prison sentences. He says that he will empty prisons to save money, thereby putting decent people at risk of becoming victims of crime. Does the Minister agree with the Justice Secretary, Mr Ken Clarke, or with his noble friend Lord Howard, the previous Tory leader, who said yesterday that Ken Clarke is totally "misguided" on this?

There are also rumours in the press that the Sheehy report is being dusted down and revisited. Will the Minister give us an assurance today that this report, with its private sector values, is dead and buried, because the police service is very concerned that it is being revisited? The police are a public service, not a

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private company. The last thing that is required, on top of all the planned cuts and upheaval on the scale of what appears to be being planned for the National Health Service, is a similar operation for the police. Is this really what Liberal Democrat voters expected when they placed their cross on the ballet paper? It certainly was not in the manifesto.

What has brought crime down over the past decade has been record numbers of police and uniformed support officers on the streets, and the willingness to use prison as a deterrent against people who simply refuse to comply with the courts. The police service increased by 16,000 to 143,000 officers under the previous Administration-record numbers-plus 16,000 uniformed police community support officers. This is what the public want. Only this week, Sir Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said that only 10 per cent of police officers were available at any one time on the front line to help the public and respond to calls. This is because of specialist posts, shift rotas, leave and the like. Is it not time for a royal commission to examine the police to see how they should be organised? It is estimated by the House of Commons Library that the £125 million of cuts proposed by the coalition would result in a reduction of some 4,100 police officers. This is on top of the 25 per cent reduction in the Home Office budget.

Another bright idea of the Tory wing of the coalition is the election of so-called police commissioners. It is said to make the police more accountable. Whatever else is wrong with the police, it is not a lack of accountability. They are accountable to the Home Secretary and to police authorities, which have elected members among their number. They are accountable locally to district and parish councils, which have regular meetings with local officers. Most importantly, of course, they are accountable to the law in the courts. I spent some time with the FBI in the United States and saw at first hand how the police were dragged into the political arena through the election of sheriffs. Judges and district attorneys are also elected in some areas.

The system we have has stood the test of time. Police are accountable and the last thing we want is a commissioner standing on a party ticket or on a single issue. I remember talking to a deputy sheriff in America who was a crony of the sheriff, of course, because he appoints them. He was canvassing on behalf of his boss, as his job depended on it. Is this really what we want in this country? The criminal justice system should be above party politics and independent of political pressure. Can you imagine a British National Party member standing on a tough law-and-order and anti-immigration ticket being elected a commissioner of police? Once we allow this poisonous genie out of the bottle, it will be very difficult to put it back in.

Parliament must scrutinise all this very carefully and any planned legislation to take our cherished police service kicking and screaming down this road should be rejected. The police service is totally against such changes and Sir Hugh Orde, the respected president of ACPO, has said that there could be senior resignations if such a policy were to be implemented. Similar caution has been expressed by Sir Paul Stephenson,

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the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, when he stated that regional and national gangs would be allowed to flourish because of a lack of national co-ordination, as local commissioners would stand, quite understandably, on local issues, and we do not have a federal system of law enforcement, as in the United States.

Caution is the watchword. Let us not destroy the good simply for the sake of change. I leave the Minister with the following questions to answer. I hope that he answers, because there is a tendency in this House for Ministers not to answer the questions that they are asked in debates. Does he accept that it is not true that violent crime increased under the previous Administration? Can he assure the House that front-line policing will not be reduced by the proposed cuts in policing budgets? Is he prepared to accept the risk of rising crime and more crime victims by preventing the courts from using prison as a final deterrent and introducing community sentences for profit in their place? Can he reassure the police that the discredited Sheehy report will not be revisited? Finally, does he accept the very real dangers of the politicisation of the police by the introduction of elected commissioners?

11.57 am

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, for instituting this important debate. We also have the benefit of a very balanced report, produced jointly by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the two audit bodies for England and Wales.

I should like to add my support to the Government's intention to consult-I repeat, consult-on plans for the election of police commissioners. This strikes a balance between the practice in, for instance, the United States-on which the noble Lord gave us a valuable insight-where chief police officers are elected on a political basis, and the United Kingdom. The former is quite rightly anathema to senior police officers in this country, since it would remove the ultimate operational independence from the chief police officer, while the Government's proposal would make the commissioner accountable to his electorate.

However, this is a sensitive subject on which there are differing views from within the police forces and outside, as the noble Lord articulated. The Government are wise to consult on this. A factor to be considered will not least be the actual control that a commissioner would have over the selection and employment of chief and senior police officers in the respective forces. I should be very interested to hear the contribution of my noble friend Lady Harris from the Benches of our coalition partners.

I turn to SOCA. At a recent conference of the Police Foundation, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson left his audience in no doubt on the resourcefulness of the masters of organised crime, not only in the sophistication of their methods, but in the ever widening geographical scope of their operations. For instance, I understand that SOCA keeps closely in touch with the US Coast Guard. I believe that SOCA in its short life has made a promising start, but it must be resourced to enable it to have multifocused vision, as it were, on its global activities, while being able to

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address domestic considerations in the United Kingdom. It is in the latter environment that more co-operation between forces would be beneficial to SOCA's effectiveness.

That leads me on to the subject of amalgamation of forces. I entirely support the Government in their view that this can be only on a voluntary basis with mutual agreement between forces. We saw a few years ago the tensions that arose from what was perceived by certain forces as attempted shotgun marriages, if your Lordships will pardon the metaphor.

Where there is real scope for co-operation is in relatively non-contentious areas, such as IT and the back office in general, in forensics and in motorway policing, where a regional or even a national unit might be considered. In many of these areas, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have taken the initiative and that could provide a good example nationally.

Let us not forget the main thrust in this debate. The police community in England and Wales is understandably concerned at the impact of the cuts that will inevitably be required to be made. It has been well said that every country has the police it deserves. We are proud and well served by our police forces, and it is incumbent on the coalition Government that these unpalatable measures are handled as sensibly and sensitively as possible.

12.01 pm

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, before I begin, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the national Association of Police Authorities, a former chair of a police authority and a patron of the National Victims' Association, about which I shall speak later.

According to the British Crime Survey, whose statistics, as we heard, were released last week, crime is at its lowest level for three decades. It dipped below 10 million offences to fall by 9 per cent last year to the lowest level since comparable records began in 1981-the year in which I became a member of a then police committee. Crime recorded by the police also fell by 8 per cent to 4.3 million crimes in the 12 months to April this year.

These statistics do not, however, include some of the more serious violent and sexual crimes, such as homicide and rape, but these are covered by police figures, and even accounting for these gaps does not shift the overall downward trend in crime statistics, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, has told us. However, the figures still mean that 26,000 people fall victim to a crime every day, and the one area that proves resistant to such welcome falls in crime rates is sexual offences. This rise may represent the implementation of new guidelines to improve the recording of rape; nevertheless, it is extremely worrying. However, we should all be very happy and congratulate those who have contributed to these considerable falls in crime. I am sure that your Lordships will wish such gains to be maintained, and indeed built on, because 26,000 people rendered as victims of crime every day is far too many.

We recognise that to wish for continued falls in crime in our present economic context is perhaps to place hope over experience, as previous periods of economic downturn have generally been followed by

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upwardly mobile crime figures. Let us hope that that will not be so this time. I believe that we all have a part to play in helping to ensure that it does not happen. We know that proposals to come before Parliament would fundamentally alter the form and nature of police accountability in England and Wales. I should have thought that the recent crime figures might have persuaded the Home Secretary that police accountability, through the police authorities, had finally come good and that the structures put in place to ensure that police forces focused on providing police services to the satisfaction of their communities was working.

The arguments around this proposal will be brought out when we shortly see the consultation document. I understand that it will not be in the form of a White Paper, which is a little disappointing, but I hope that my noble friend will reflect on the success of police authorities and not consider putting in their place untested and potentially expensive experiments which will deflect politicians and professionals alike from the core policing tasks.

We have been reminded about the Sheehy proposals, which were indeed disastrous, but I also well remember the last time that we were engulfed in proposals to alter police structures and accountability, between 2005 and 2006. Then, we saw considerable falls in police performance in serving the most fundamental of the public's needs, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred. I am talking, of course, about the proposed mergers of police forces which, thankfully, were dropped because of massive opposition across the country. I hope that we learn from that mistaken proposal.

The present system has since 1995 delivered success, huge falls in crime and year-on-year efficiency savings-more than 30 per cent over 10 years. There are welcome signs that the service and national agencies are increasingly making inroads into the terrible threats posed to every neighbourhood by both serious organised crime and terrorism. All those developments are to be applauded and we would be foolish to throw away a system that has delivered such results.

Within the statistics that I spoke of earlier there are others that are more insidious and below the radar. So I now move on, briefly, to voice a very real concern about how victims of crime are treated. Last weekend I attended a meeting of the National Victims' Association, of which I am a patron. This amazing organisation, led by its chair David Hines, supports families of those who have lost loved ones through murder or manslaughter. On another occasion I will bring to the attention of noble Lords much more detail about how both policing and the criminal justice system as a whole have so grievously and badly let down those who have to turn to this charitable organisation for help. It exists from hand to mouth and almost certainly will not be able to continue unless core funding for its services is provided in the very near future. Those families are the lost survivors who receive barely any help or recognition and it is a national shame that that is so.

We heard the most chilling and horrendous stories of how relatives of murder victims were treated. I will, if I may, quote two instances which illustrate areas

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which the police will have to address to improve their help to victims. We were told about Hughie and Betty, whose son was drugged and then beaten to death. The people responsible put his body in the boot of a car, drove it on to the Derbyshire moors and set fire to it. They were caught but because they simply blamed each other, the police did not know which one to charge with delivering the fatal blow and no one was ever charged with George's murder. On top of that, to this day, Hughie and Betty are regularly intimidated by the families of the murderers.

Then there were Carla and Rachel, two young women. Their father, a retired police officer, was beaten to death in the kitchen of his home and his blood covered the floor, walls and ceiling. The police said that there was no funding to pay for a professional clean-up team, so those two young ladies had to do it themselves. On their hands and knees they cleaned up their murdered father's blood, and years later they are still deeply traumatised by the experience.

I met all these relatives and was struck by their dignity and bravery, so I determined to tell noble Lords their stories. I have many more, sadly, to remind us that policing also needs to focus on those many, many victims of crime who are not helped sufficiently by either the police or the criminal justice system. I will most certainly be speaking about the National Victims' Association on other occasions.

This has been an opportunity to talk about policing generally and I welcome that and thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, for bringing it to your Lordships' attention. I sincerely hope that the comments I have made about the National Victims' Association will not be lost in the overall concern being expressed about police funding or crime statistics.

12.10 pm

Lord Birt: My Lords, this debate addresses an issue of rising salience, not least with the White Paper on the presses, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, on his superb timing. It is also a pleasure to participate on what we should term "Mackenzie" day in your Lordships' House, with two successive debates-albeit with slightly different spellings-inspired by a Lord Mackenzie. I, too, regret that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, is not able to make his maiden speech in today's debate. A long time ago, when he was a young man and I was a slightly less young man, we worked together in broadcasting. It was clear even then that he was a figure of exceptional authority and real ability. He will, as your Lordships will see, adorn this House.

No one who has had experience of the police in recent years, at any level, could fail to be impressed by their thoughtfulness and by their sensitivity to the public in general, and-dare I say?-to victims in particular, although the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, powerfully reminds us that there is still, and always will be, scope for improvement. Individual officers deal routinely with bad or extreme behaviour, and we have just heard some vivid examples of that. They

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come face to face daily with the consequences of social malaise or policy failure. They do so with courage and without complaint.

There are many agencies in the criminal justice system, and all have made a contribution to the long-term decline in offending-and there can be no doubt that there has been a long-term decline. However, no one can doubt that the police, alongside those other agencies, have played their part in these important advances too. Yet there can be no room whatever for complacency. Offending in the UK is still high by global standards. Crime is still responsible for enormous individual harms and for massive social and economic costs. Therefore, we need new policies and ever more effective agencies that can bear down on crime, and can reduce it yet more substantially. This needs to happen now against the grim backdrop of deficit reduction, from which no public sector organisation can be immune. This is, then, an opportune moment for a fresh and fundamental look at policing in the UK-a good moment to scrutinise the model that in all its essentials is now 50 years old, a model which was left relatively untouched by the previous Government.

The first challenge is to create a structure that focuses on different categories of crime. It is not self-evident that 43 forces structured around metropolitan areas and old county lines is an appropriate model for dealing with crime and disorder today. SOCA is a real advance, as is the regional focus on counterterrorism. However, many policing functions in the 43 forces may be better provided at local, regional or national level.

At grassroots level, in the immediate locality with which we can all identify, we need an intense and accountable focus on anti-social behaviour and locally generated volume crime. There are issues, too, at regional level. I recently saw an excellent programme on television about a truly impressive and innovative specialist police unit for rape set up by Hampshire police. At the end of the programme, the rape unit was closed down. That was because serious sexual crime in Hampshire was infrequent and its incidence unpredictable, so the utilisation of officers was uneven. The obvious answer, perhaps, was that this very real centre of excellence should have extended its geographic focus to a more appropriate regional level, but structural impediments stood in the way. On the other hand, some crime has a more national or global focus. Cyber crime costs our economy literally billions of pounds, but the police's focus on online fraud is simply lamentable. Here I declare an interest as chairman of PayPal Europe.

At all those different levels, not just at the most local level, the police need to be more accountable for the outcomes that we want them to deliver. At national level, we should also re-evaluate the architecture of the oversight institutions, including ACPO, to ensure that there is a challenging, strategic and performance-enhancing centre at the very heart of British policing.

Secondly, the police need to bring their workforce practices into line with the world around them, which has changed massively over recent decades. Frankly, Governments have, for perfectly understandable reasons, dodged that issue for too long. As with MI5 and SOCA, policing at every level needs to focus more on the offender and less on cleaning up after the offence.

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That points to more intelligence-based policing, greater analysis and a smarter use of technology. Modern policing needs greater flexibility and a wider range of capabilities than a single point of entry currently allows, with different kinds of specialists and front-line officers focusing on different kinds of crime. Moreover, police pay should relate to achievement, not to tenure. Weak performance should also be addressed, as in other organisations, and pensions should be portable, offering greater workforce mobility.

There are operational issues as well. Shift patterns should be more flexible, allowing commanders more easily to match resource to operational need. There is more crime and disorder on a Saturday night than on a Monday morning. Police productivity can be increased in other ways. Procurement of helicopters and the like should be centralised, not localised. Back-office services inefficiently duplicated across multiple forces can be outsourced, and all core policing processes should be re-examined and made fit for purpose and cost-effective-a common call.

I note, as did a previous speaker, the joint report released this week by the Audit Commission and HMIC suggesting that only 12 per cent of police costs could be saved through greater efficiency. From my experience, I would say that, for a mature bureaucracy, that is a very modest target indeed.

The third challenge is one for Ministers, not for the police. Much public and, indeed, political rhetoric connects the notion of reducing crime exclusively with uniformed front-line policing. In truth, we will not bear down on crime as we could and should unless and until policymakers, and all the multiple agencies in and around the criminal justice system, work harmoniously together with matching and complementary objectives and focus hard on the offender. Together, they must aim to prevent individuals entering the pathway to offending and to address the causes of the offending behaviour in those who do, particularly in relation to drugs. Finally, they must strive at all costs to prevent repeat offending.

Only when we have effective multiagency working in democratically accountable structures with high-quality information and performance reporting have we any hope of achieving the massive further reduction in crime which I am sure is possible, and which I am also sure all here desire.

12.19 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, for giving us an opportunity to discuss policing. I am sorry not to be able to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wills. I was going to ask him whether he had left any notes for my noble friend Lord McNally, who succeeded him in his post at the Ministry of Justice, because my noble friend has not found them yet.

The expectations of the police among the public are very high. For one thing, the public expect to see a lot of them and to see almost instant results and success. In this television age we have become accustomed to seeing cases solved within an hour, minus seven minutes for commercials, and often using cutting-edge forensic techniques-would that life were quite so simple.

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Whenever I have raised this issue directly with senior officers, they have been keen to acknowledge the public's wish for highly visible police on the streets and have played down the problems of competing calls on the funds of expensive forensics, but I cannot help thinking-the noble Lord, Lord Birt, touched on this-that there is a major tension here of which we will see more in the next few months.

Public trust and confidence are among the building blocks of successful policing. Without them it must be difficult to achieve policing by consensus. I am afraid that it is inevitable that statistics will be bandied about regarding police numbers, crime rates, detection rates and so on. I was interested to see in the report published a few days ago from the Audit Commission and HMIC, to which several noble Lords have referred, that the forces that achieved the highest cashable efficiencies do not have lower levels of public confidence, which may be something to take on board.

The British Crime Survey tells us that there is a disparity between perceptions about crime rates nationally, which are thought to be constantly on the rise, and people's perceptions in local areas, which are closer to reality. The issue of public trust in crime statistics behoves us all to use them responsibly. If the figures are to give a realistic picture, it is important to understand that in the case of some crimes an apparent increase in the rate may be a sign of success because the victim has been able to report the crime.

I had expected the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, to talk about prevention-he is nodding and I think that he has anticipated what I am going to say-which is an important role of the police.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: I thought that I touched on it when I talked about the numbers of police officers on the streets increasing by some 16,000. That in itself is a preventive measure.

Baroness Hamwee: Indeed. The rollout of Safer Neighbourhoods teams has been welcome in that connection, as well as in others, which is why local authorities have invested heavily in them. It will not be easy for local authorities buying that service or for the police to weigh up the competing calls on money. Policing is a particularly people-heavy activity. I understand that it accounts for about 80 per cent of the budget. There are not the same powers to make employees redundant as in other areas of employment. I am not trying to encourage noble Lords to leap up and say that we are predicting massive redundancies. I am pointing out that there is an issue.

A number of ways of working are perhaps a bit out of date, to which the noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred. There will be outcomes from cutting down on recruitment, and not just in the numbers. It is still a struggle to get our police forces to look like the public they serve. Recruiting from BME communities and promoting those officers to higher ranks has long been an issue and has an impact on the trust of the different communities.

The numbers game has meant that, over a long period, there has been something of a misrepresentation about the numbers in operational roles, at any rate as I

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have seen them. It does not seem necessarily to be better to have a warranted officer dealing with, for instance, human resources problems. I suspect that this is likely to become more of an issue because of the matters to which I have referred. Police officers cost considerably more on average than police staff members. I understand that not only have the headline figures for spending on the police increased, but within those, overtime payments have increased by over 90 per cent. It has long seemed to me that overtime needs to be addressed. Furthermore, officer numbers have increased over the past 10 years by 12 per cent while civilian staff numbers have risen by 46 per cent. That in itself has been a move in the right direction and I hope it does not row back.

Although I hate the term, I was interested to see that a new key performance indicator has been introduced in London regarding the front line: to maximise the use of warranted officers deployed into operational policing in order to produce an annual 2 per cent improvement. This is not wholly new. Something similar has been used in the Met for eight or nine years, with an operational policing measure to accurately reflect the number of police officers and police staff who provide a visible uniform presence, but it has become a performance indicator.

If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, did not serve his cause well by rejecting wholesale, as I heard it, the lessons that might be learnt from the private sector. I do not support transferring every private sector approach into the public sector, but some can work well. Indeed, the private sector can also sometimes learn from the public sector. One of the findings of Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review of policing was the negative impact of risk aversion on decision-making, something which the private sector is better at tackling. I was interested to read Jan Berry's comments, in her recent report, that:

"Over-reliance on compliance with set rules and targets has reduced the ability of many officers to use their professional judgement".

She said also that there are,

Those are important points.

Just before the election, the CBI published a paper on what in its view the private sector has to offer the police by way of smarter working and different working in order to increase productivity and reduce costs. It talks about the need for,

It also makes the point that:

"Success has frequently been measured by inputs-the overall number of officers-rather than outcomes-reducing crime and dealing with the consequences of crime".

I share the focus on practical measures contained in the report, and while I do not support everything it says, there is a lot that is sensible. There is also a focus

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on practical measures, which characterises much of the coalition's programme for government on crime and policing. They range from the use of technology to make policing more effective at lower cost and with fewer time-consuming activities that give bureaucracy a bad name-bureaucracy does have a place-to requiring hospitals to share non-confidential information so that the police can target work on gun and knife crime hot spots.

In the short time that we have today, and without the consultation paper, one can only scratch the surface of what is to be said about crime and policing. There will be plenty of opportunity to extend our discussions to the issues of structure and accountability later in the Session and I, for one, am sure that I will find myself expressing quite firm views about accountability and how to achieve it.

12.30 pm

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Mackenzie for introducing the debate. I was rather hesitant in putting down my name to speak because I lack the credentials of many other noble Lords who are taking part.

I have long been concerned about the relationship between crime rates and the incidence of repeat offending among those released from custodial sentences, particularly among young offenders. I have been impressed by the way in which education initiatives in prison, together with a focus on training for skills for employment, can make a huge impact on reoffending rates. So I was particularly proud of the way in which the Labour Government focused laser-like attention on this issue, developing nationwide schemes through the offenders' learning and skills scheme, the Learning and Skills Council and FE colleges, as well as hugely successful collaborations with the Open University. These were accompanied by the encouragement of a range of initiatives, including many employer-led schemes such as the National Grid Transco young offenders' scheme, which I have long supported. While I was chief executive of Universities UK I encouraged the scheme to find places in the university sector for the employment of young offenders.

Like other noble Lords, I shall refer to the crime statistics published last week which show that the Labour Government's commitment over more than 10 years has paid off. The British Crime Survey showed a 9 per cent drop, the lowest since the survey began in 1981, and crimes recorded by police forces across England and Wales fell by 8 per cent. The statistics show-other noble Lords have referred to this, as did the Daily Telegraph-that crime is at its lowest level on record. Indeed, the Independent newspaper said that the figures,

Although I entirely agree with the Home Secretary in another place that figures for offences are still far too high, I hope the Minister, when responding to the debate, will pay tribute to the impressive way in which the police and other agencies have tackled crime over

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the past 10 years and that he will not be churlish in acknowledging the previous Government's commitment to reducing these figures.

Governments often have difficulty in seeing beyond the short term and there are many pressures which dissuade them from doing so, including the media. I hope the coalition Government will be just as determined as my party was in government to stick with policies that work in the longer term. That is why focusing on reoffending pays such dividends in cutting crime rates. There are a huge number of social, economic and other issues that cause first offences, and these have been explored in many debates in your Lordships' House. For many offenders, a prison sentence is a wake-up call and can provide a chance for greater self-awareness and true rehabilitation, largely through education and the prospect of developing skills that most prisoners did not even begin to think they had.

In a Question earlier this year in the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, who was a moment ago in her place, I was glad to see, said that,

and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, emphasised the importance of all-round education for mature prisoners who can neither read nor write. My Government increased investment in education for all offenders threefold and increased spending on education for young people in custody more than sevenfold. Will the Minister commit to similar levels of investment in this hugely important area at a time when, because of greater economic challenges, ex-prisoners will find it even harder to be accepted as good citizens and potentially good employees?

I hope the coalition Government do not throw away the huge strides that have been made. Only a few days ago, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, in her valedictory address, emphasised the considerable progress that had been made in prisons. On education, she said that in 2003, 78 per cent of prison education was assessed as inadequate by the education inspectorate; in 2009 it was 6 per cent. That is not to deny her criticisms in other areas-including a lack of action on the Corston report and the Bradley report, both produced by Members of this House-but there is no doubt that there has been a sea change in emphasis on education and skills development as the key to reducing reoffending.

I hope the Minister will acknowledge the importance of this in delivering the aim of the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke,

He reminded us that prisoners not given access to education in custody are three times more likely to reoffend.

This should be an entirely non-partisan issue and, although it is important to acknowledge the strides made by the Labour Government, there is no room for complacency. There is a huge challenge ahead. In a recent factsheet on education in prisons, Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, found that 76 per cent of prisoners do not have paid employment to go to after release; almost 90 per cent of prisoners under the age of 21 reoffend within two years; and

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almost two-thirds of adult prisoners reoffend within two years. Employment is said to reduce reoffending by between a third and a half. If that were not compelling enough, the total cost of recorded crime committed by reoffenders is estimated at around £11 billion per year.

The key to much of this is that half of all prisoners do not have the skills required by 96 per cent of jobs. That is what the Offender Learning and Skills Service is working hard to address, along with the heartening number of education and training programmes produced by other bodies at national and regional level.

I conclude with a further reference to the young offenders' programme led by National Grid Transco. This scheme now involves scores of employers and has demonstrated dramatic achievements for the hundreds of offenders who have gone on to rebuild their lives and the 80 companies that employ them. The reoffending rate of young people through this programme is less than 6 per cent, as opposed to the national average of 70 per cent. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary in another place has, like his predecessor in the previous Government, commended the scheme as demonstrating what can be achieved by sustained effort and commitment.

The coalition Government are committed to the values of the big society. Reducing reoffending is a key area where these values are most relevant and will be tested. Will the Minister confirm that they will continue to support these programmes and the important programmes and initiatives delivered via public funding?

12.38 pm

Lord Brett: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate on securing this timely and important debate. I go further in congratulating him because, with the authority of the experience and knowledge that he brings to policing issues, he has presented a devastating case to the House and made my task much easier. I totally endorse his case and associate myself with the pertinent and crucial questions he has put to the Minister. I look forward to the Minister's reply with great interest. I recognise that sometimes we tend to overburden Ministers with questions-when I was on the other side of the Chamber I counted 43 on one occasion, but I do not think there are 43 questions today-and, if he is unable to answer all the questions, I trust that he will, in his usual courteous manner, provide written answers to those who have taken part in the debate.

The admirably brief contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, touched on two issues. He referred to the resourcing of SOCA. Several noble Lords said that SOCA is an innovative step forward in co-ordination, both nationally and internationally. That begs the question of whether the resourcing of SOCA will remain adequate. Are there plans to maintain funding of that very important element?

The noble Viscount's second point was on elected police commissioners and the balance, as he put it, between the United Kingdom and the United States. In my experience of the United States, it is not the case that police commissioners are elected in major cities. In New York, Los Angeles and Chicago they are appointed by the mayor. There is quite an interchange

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between city chiefs of police moving from one major city to another. In each case, once they are appointed, they are answerable to the mayor and the authority-be that the city council or city management committee. Therefore, they are accountable to the public of the city of which they are chief of police. It is true that in the county system, the sheriff or deputy sheriff in many cases is elected, with all the dangers that my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate set out.

It may have been Winston Churchill who said that truth was the first casualty of war. I sometimes feel that language and its meaning are the first casualties of political exchange. That is certainly the case at the present time with many of the political exchanges that we have had between the Government, the opposition parties, the public, within the coalition and beyond. For example, the Government talk of the millions of pounds to be saved by efficiency savings when in truth that means cuts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said in her very thoughtful and wise contribution. The Government would do themselves a great service by reading it with interest, taking her experience and knowledge into account. She made the point that efficiency savings had been with us for a decade. They have been achieved, but to pretend that they can continue and to multiply that achievement and call it efficiency savings is a misuse of that phrase.

Statistics have been given by a number of noble Lords and the facts are simple. Crime has gone down, according to the BCS on 15 July 2010. But the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that crime has gone up. The Home Secretary said that on 7 June. The truth is that violent crime as recorded has fallen by 50 per cent since 1995 according to the BCS. The British Crime Survey was endorsed, as has been said by my noble friend, by Sir Michael Scholar and the ONS as the best and most authoritative survey to tell us what crime is doing within the country in which we live. The BCS was introduced by the Conservatives in 1991, but now, when its figures produce an inconvenient truth, the Government seek to question them.

Accountability is another word that is strangely abused and misused. My noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate spelt out the accountability currently falling to the police and the people and representatives to whom they are accountable-everything from courts at one level to the Home Secretary at the other level, through police authorities and so forth. For the life of me, I fail to see how accountability or transparency is improved by taking the accountability currently afforded to the police through the policing pledge and elected and independent members of police authorities and investing that in a single individual-leaving aside the fears and warnings my noble friend spelt out. The Government would do well to consider that when the consultation comes. I am sure the opinion that will be voiced will be that accountability is hardly likely to be increased by such a move.

Another misuse of the language is the word "targets". The Government tell us that they have removed targets in the health service and in the police service. The target of seeing a cancer specialist within 14 days in the health service and the scrapping of the police pledge were described as the removal of targets. I get

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off the train on a Monday morning at Euston Station and for the past couple of weeks have been bombarded everywhere by big posters promising me that the National Westminster Bank will do a whole series of things about answering phone calls and dealing with my complaints. They rightly call them commitments because they are committed. They are promises. They are something that they would give me were I a NatWest customer, in return for being such a customer.

In that sense, I look to the police pledge as being precisely that-a pledge and a commitment. It was not a target. What did it promise the public? There were a series of 10 pledges that covered treating people fairly with dignity and respect and ensuring fair access at a time reasonable and suitable to them. Others included responding to messages within 24 hours, answering 999 calls within 10 seconds and going to a whole series of regular public meetings. If you were a victim of crime, they would see how often you would like to be informed of progress. You had the right to be kept informed at least every month if you wished for as long as was reasonable. Those were not targets: they were levels of service that we promised the public as part of our commitment in government.

Therefore, my question is a relatively simple one. What are the real reasons for that being scrapped, as it is not a target but a commitment? Has the policing pledge been scrapped because the Government believe that the public do not require the promised levels of service that were being delivered via the pledge? Or is it that, as they know, the intention is to cut policing budgets by 25 per cent, which would guarantee that there would be fewer police and fewer resources, thereby rendering the pledge impossible to meet? That, it seems to me, is the central question and one that I would be grateful if the Minister could address.

The Minister was asked a series of other questions that arise from the commitment to substantially cut funding. Several noble Lords referred to the Audit Commission and HMRC report published on 20 July. Do the Government accept the report of the commission that a funding cut of 12 per cent will negatively affect and impact on front-line police numbers? The simple translation of that question is, do the Government expect police numbers on the front line to be as great at the end of the exercise-perhaps the life of this coalition in four years' time-as it is now, or are the Government for the first time prepared to admit that there have to be substantial cuts, if only because we know that some 90 per cent of the budget goes on policing and police support finances and only 10 per cent is spent on other issues? Taking 25 from 100 does not leave 90. You have to get something substantially less, which can only mean a loss of numbers. Central to that is whether the Government will continue to fund centrally police salaries. Will that be maintained? Given that the Home Secretary seems to be in denial regarding the record falling crime numbers over a period, and to echo the question asked by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie, do the Government accept the view of the Lord Chancellor, who said that the crime rate had fallen under Labour?

All of the contributions to this debate have been valuable. A number, including those of my noble friend Lady Warwick and the noble Lord, Lord Birt,

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have brought wider issues into the debate. All point to the difficulty of maintaining anything like the level of service that we provide to the community, which people expect. They will hold to account very closely a Government who reduce that level. They will be even less impressed with a Government who are not honest enough to tell them what they are doing.

12.49 pm

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, for initiating this very important debate. These are vital issues and rightly deserve the proper consideration of your Lordships.

Perhaps I may start by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and paying tribute to the police for their tireless work on all of our behalves. They work under extreme pressure, often risking their lives, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

I have listened carefully to the contributions of all noble Lords today and take note of what they have all said. I was very much looking forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, whose former constituency is very near my home, on his maiden performance in this House. Perhaps his noble friends will pass him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour is a priority for this Government. We believe that the best way to achieve this is with a democratically accountable police service that adopts a commonsense approach to policing and is free to tackle local priorities. We need to move away from a centrally micromanaged police service, shackled with unnecessary bureaucracy. The public expects, quite rightly, that police officers should be on the streets, tackling crime and criminal behaviour and helping communities to feel safer, not stuck behind desks, away from the public, completing unnecessary forms. Regrettably, that is what we find-a police service tied up in red tape and denied the discretion to do its job properly.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, points, among other things, to a 9 per cent drop in crime levels, reported by the British Crime Survey, as a measure of the previous Government's success. Of course, any fall in crime is very welcome, but this does not show the whole picture. Crime, by any measure, remains too high. As my noble friend Lady Harris said, 26,000 crimes take place every day in our country. The police continue to record more than 1,000 incidents of grievous or aggravated bodily harm each day and perhaps even more worryingly, around 100 incidents of serious knife crime. Muggings and violence against strangers remain stubbornly high, with more than 1 million offences last year, according to the British Crime Survey. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the fact that we are still a country, in the international context, with a high relative rate of crime. Levels of victimisation are much higher in the UK than in many other countries. The latest International Crime Victimisation Survey in 2004- admittedly that is some years ago now but it is still important-found that over 20 per cent of the population of England and Wales had been the victim of a household crime that year, compared with just 12 per cent in France and 13 per cent in Germany.



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My noble friend Lady Harris asked about victim support. We provide funding of £30 million to Victim Support, an organisation that works alongside the National Victims' Association. I assure my noble friend that we will ensure that victims are at the centre of the criminal justice system, and a new victims' commission has been appointed to help this. We will not lose sight of the awful anguish that victims feel, and we are reviewing the services provided.

The British Crime Survey is an important survey, but it does not cover all victims or all crimes. It omits rape, sexual assault, drug offences, fraud, forgery, crime against businesses, and even murder. We have long argued the need for it to capture the experience of young people, and only now, for the first time, is there an experimental element to it which reveals, depending on your definition, anything between several hundred thousand and 2 million crimes against those under 16. The Government share the UK Statistics Authority's desire to have crime statistics that are robust and generate public trust. This is a complex issue and we are considering how this should be achieved in consultation with the UK Statistics Authority and others.

The police service needs more freedom from central control, with fewer centrally-driven targets and less intervention and interference from government. That is why we have abolished the centrally-imposed target on police forces to improve public confidence and have scrapped the policing pledge. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form fillers. And yet the police have been spending more time on paperwork than on patrol. That is unacceptable. We will be ruthless in identifying and eradicating processes and procedures that are unnecessarily time-consuming for police officers and support staff, including in the wider criminal justice system. For example, by November we will scrap the stop form in its entirety and reduce the burden of the stop and search procedures. We will also consider how we can maximise the use of technology to reduce the paper work in policing.

To cut crime, policing relies on the consent and co-operation of the public that it serves, but conditions that support this, such as trust in the police, confidence that the police and councils deal effectively with crime and anti-social behaviour and confidence in the wider criminal justice system are still too low. The bond between the police and local people is too weak. This is because the police have been focusing on the issues that national politicians have told them are important rather than their local communities. The police have been reporting their performance to civil servants in Whitehall rather than giving information to their local communities, so they can judge how well they are doing. I respectfully remind the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, that only 7 per cent of the public are aware that they can go to their police authority if they are unhappy with their policing. As his noble friend Lord Rooker wisely noted during the passage of the Police Reform Bill in 2002:

"The fact is that if one person in three knows the name of his Member of Parliament, I doubt whether more than one person in a thousand knows the name of any member of the police authority in his area".-[Official Report, 16/4/2002; col. 828.]



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Effective democratic accountability of the police is the bedrock of the policing model in this country. Robert Peel set this out as long ago as 1829, when he said that,

which continues to be our guiding principle today. The fact is that the existing accountability model is not working. Police authorities are too invisible and in some cases ineffective. People still do not know how to influence how their streets are policed, let alone how to get involved. Only 8 per cent of local councillors are police authority members, and there is no simple way for the public to change them if they feel they are not doing a good job. We need to replace bureaucracy with democratic accountability.

Lord Brett: The Minister is painting a picture of a populace that is totally unaware of what is going on. I live in a small village with a parish council. The local police officer attends the parish council at least every three months and has made everybody aware of the policing pledge, which is printed in a newsletter that goes to everybody in the village. I am not on the parish council and do not take any active part in it, but it seems to me that that would belie the black picture being painted. I do not think that there is any particular peculiarity about Irthington or Brampton in the county of Cumbria compared to other parts of the country.

Lord De Mauley: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brett, for his intervention. He is very lucky to live in a small village. I am assured that the case that he has portrayed is not the same everywhere.

We need to replace bureaucracy with democratic accountability, which is why we proposed introducing directly elected individuals, elected by and accountable to the public. They will ensure that the police are held to account by the public that they serve, rather than bureaucrats based in Whitehall who cannot fully appreciate local concerns. As my noble friend Lord Bridgeman said, later this month the Home Office will publish a consultation document, with the final policy to be announced in the autumn. We are very keen to hear the views of the public and policing professionals on how this model should work. As the Home Secretary announced at the APA/ACPO conference earlier in the summer, we will soon be bringing forward detailed proposals and introducing the necessary legislation to be implemented in this Session of Parliament.

On the subject of ACPO, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked about its role. The Government's position is that ACPO has an important part to play in the effective delivery of policy. We are working with it to focus its role as the organisation responsible for the professional leadership of the police service and we will do so by ensuring that it is properly accountable and transparent in fulfilling that function and spending public money. We also want to see a return to common-sense policing. We must trust the police service and treat the police as professionals, with the discretion to make key decisions. That is why we will be taking action to return more charging decisions to officers for minor offences.



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We believe that the police are only part of the solution. Lasting success in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will lie in the response of local services and communities to the problems they face, and the Government are committed to empowering that response. That is why we will make sure that crime data are published at a level that allows the public to see what is happening on their streets.

We will also support the police to be available and accessible to their communities through regular police beat meetings, giving residents the opportunity to put forward their concerns and hold the police to account for how they are dealing with problems in their area. We would like to see all adults being part of an active neighbourhood group and playing a role in tackling crime in their communities. We want the voluntary and community sector to play an enhanced role, contributing its expertise and innovation.

Engaging other local services and building a culture of local co-operation is vital. These partnerships need to drive joint action, not further bureaucracy, and be more accountable to communities. As we reduce the ring-fences on central programmes, streamline funding and allow autonomy for local agencies to set priorities, we will want them to answer for outcomes, not inputs or processes.

I turn to funding. I have heard the concerns expressed today by noble Lords about this issue. We have made it clear that value for money must be a key driver of everything we do as a Government. The Government's priority is to cut the budget deficit and get the economy moving in the right direction.

The Budget on 22 June set out our plans to reduce the deficit, including £32 billion per year in spending reductions by 2014-15. The police, along with everyone else, will have to bear a share of that burden. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for his helpful recommendations, which we will consider carefully.

There has been some speculation-the noble Lords, Lord Mackenzie and Lord Brett, asked about this-that this could lead to a reduction in the number of police officers. All government departments are subject to the comprehensive spending review, which is due to be completed in October. Before then, it would be misleading and unhelpful to speculate about the outcome.

In any case, policing is not a numbers game. The test of an effective police force is not how much it costs or the number of officers it employs but how it protects the public it serves. Our challenge is to use our resources most effectively by freeing up officer time to deal with crime. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made some useful suggestions about certain back-office functions.

I turn to some specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, raised a point about co-ordination of effort across the piece, from crime to arrest to documentation and through the criminal justice system. That is why the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, Nick Herbert, has a combined role to enable him to bring together the reform of policy within the wider reform of the criminal justice system. This includes making sure that processes elsewhere in the criminal justice system do not generate excessive bureaucracy for the police.



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My noble friends Lord Bridgeman and Lady Harris asked about our approach to serious organised crime. We agree that we need to ensure that the police and agencies have the capacity and structures to fight serious organised crime. Our proposals will enhance the local accountability of police and create stronger arrangements to tackle crimes that cross force borders, including serious organised crime. For example, we are looking at steps that can be taken to strengthen and further develop collaboration between forces. We are committed to ensuring that SOCA makes an effective contribution to the overall law enforcement approach to tackling serious organised crime.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked about risk aversion. We agree with her and with Jan Berry that police officers need to be less risk-averse. That is why the Government's approach to reducing bureaucracy has at its centre the need to return discretion to police officers. Examples of this, as I mentioned earlier, are returning charging decisions to the police for more minor offences and taking action to amend some of the health and safety practices that get in the way of common-sense policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, and my noble friend Lady Harris asked about our attitude to the Sheehy review. We have announced a review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. The terms of the review will be announced shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, asked about rehabilitation, a subject that we consider very important. We are conducting a full assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending, something that she specifically referred to. We will take time to get this right, and we will consult widely before bringing forward coherent plans for reform. We intend to publish proposals for reform in the autumn that will then be subject to public consultation.

If I have not answered every question that has been raised today, I will write to noble Lords. The changes to policing that I have outlined today will play an important part in giving the public the police service that they deserve-one that is democratically accountable, effective and free to tackle local priorities.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in the light of the crime figures published last week showing dramatic reductions in crime, does he believe that the Prime Minister's statement to the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Questions, when he said that crime had gone through the roof under the previous Administration, was grossly misleading the public?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, in this debate we have discussed at some length the fact that the British Crime Survey figures do not include a number of important types of crime. The key fact is that violent crime remains unacceptably high. Furthermore, internationally, we are still a country with a high relative rate of crime.



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1.07 pm

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, this has been an interesting and informed debate, including the contribution of my noble friend Lady Warwick, who was far too modest about her contribution. I am sure that we will be revisiting these issues in the months after the Recess. All that is required now is for me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Poverty

Debate

1.08 pm

Moved By Lord McKenzie of Luton

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to open this debate and am grateful to all noble Lords who are proposing to contribute. I look forward to hearing maiden speeches from four new Members of your Lordships' House. I also thank the number of organisations that have offered us briefings for this debate. The consistency of their analysis and the intensity of their concerns are startling.

Poverty has many faces, none of them attractive. There are many in our world who live in abject, absolute poverty without sufficient nourishment and with no access to clean water, shelter, simple life-saving medicines or rudimentary education. Defeating such poverty remains, quite properly, a supreme cause of our time. There are, however, issues closer to home that should also command our attention and commitment. These might be described as matters of relative poverty, which, for families, was characterised by the founder of the Child Poverty Action Group in this way:

"Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average ... family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities".

It is from this perspective that I would like us to consider the impact of the recent Budget, which cut spending beyond inherited plans by £32 billion a year, as well as raising net taxes by a further £8 billion. Eleven billion pounds of spending cuts will come from specific welfare measures.

In analysing these issues, let me anticipate and deal with the complaint that the state of the public finances gave no room for any other Budget judgment. Our borrowing has risen because the global financial crisis caused tax receipts to fall and spending to rise. The fiscal stimulus led to more borrowing, but it was the right choice to stop recession turning into depression. We had set out our clear deficit reduction plan, which would have brought the deficit down to 5 per cent of GDP in 2013-14. The coalition Budget goes faster, cuts deeper and adopts a different set of priorities. Let us be clear: the Government chose to do this; they did not need to do it.



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In March, George Osborne declared that we are all in this together and said that he would not balance the Budget on the backs of the poor. It is by that statement that we will judge him and the coalition Government of which he is part. The Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed his Budget as a progressive Budget, saying that it was tough but fair. Tough it was; progressive and fair it most certainly was not. The Budget Red Book presents various charts to justify the claim of being progressive, but the truth has been laid bare, in particular by the IFS. Only by overlaying the Budget measures with the progressive measures inherited from Labour's March Budget can the net result be seen as progressive, even taking account of the personal allowance change. Even this must be treated with some caution, as the analysis does not fully factor in all the draconian consequences of the housing benefit measures. It also cannot as yet take account of what is coming down the track from the cuts that will pour from the expenditure review-cuts that will inevitably impact most on the poor.

When we hear that the Budget is grounded in fairness and that we are all in it together, frankly, we beg to differ. We do so because of what the Budget contains in rises in VAT; in reductions in tax credits; in the freezing of child benefit; in restricted benefit and pension uprating; in narrowing the gateway to disability living allowance; and in illogical and spiteful cuts in housing benefit.

I start with the impact of the changes to housing benefit. These changes include taking a reduced level of local rents for the housing allowance; capping rent levels for each type of property; increasing the non-dependant deduction; uprating the local housing allowance rates by CPI, rather than actual rent levels; and docking 10 per cent from the long-term unemployed. These amount to a net cut of £1.7 billion a year-a cut to be met by the poor and those on low incomes. Penalising working-age people who are unemployed is a particularly savage act. The need for reform of housing benefit to improve work incentives is accepted, but a 10 per cent deduction in housing benefit is entirely arbitrary, will cause incredible hardship to those who seek to make up the shortfall from their jobseeker's allowance and will exacerbate poverty in those very communities where jobs are hardest to come by.

As Shelter points out, the reforms adopting the 30 per cent level rather than the median level of rents for housing allowance will lead to a significant reduction in the amount received by many claimants across the country. Citizens Advice calculates that an average allowance for a two-bedroom property in England will fall by nearly £10 a week, and for a three-bedroom property by £13, worsening existing rent shortfalls. Shelter says:

"We expect that many households will try to remain in their home and be forced to make financial sacrifices in order to do so. For those households already struggling to balance very tight budgets, a reduction in local housing allowance will ... push ... them over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness".

This will be made even worse by the uprating over time of local housing allowances by CPI, rather than actual rents, so that the allowance will be increasingly disconnected from rent levels.



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The National Housing Federation has warned that these cuts will put more than 200,000 people across Britain at risk of homelessness. It says that they will force families to move, for some away from social and family networks, undermining well-being, employment and childcare opportunities. It will amount, in effect, to the expulsion of low-income families from some communities. These consequences are not difficult to predict. There is no massive affordable housing programme to rely on to take the pressure off private sector rents. If the expectation is that there will be downward pressure on private sector rents, this is a huge gamble being taken with the lives of some of our most vulnerable families. From the Government there seems to be no recognition of the consequences, no compassion and no understanding of the devastation that this will cause to so many who need our help.

I turn now to issues of indexation. Until now, most benefits have been uprated by the RPI, with means-tested benefits by the Rossi index, a variant that excludes certain housing-related costs. Moving to uprating all benefits by CPI will mean that the real-terms value of benefits will continue to fall compared to average earnings and will fall at least 1 per cent faster-although the IFS suggests that this would be closer to 2 per cent-than under previous uprating rules. Without countervailing measures, uprating benefits by RPI was anyway at risk of driving inequality as the cumulative gap with earnings widened. Uprating by CPI will, in the terms of CPAG, cause the downward escalator to move even faster. This is a cut to benefits of nearly £6 billion annually-this when research shows that, because of their spending patterns, people on low incomes face much higher inflation rates than CPI. How does the Minister justify this? What rationale underpins this change, other than reducing the costs of benefits?

The use of CPI does not relate only to benefits; it has a profound effect on pensions and pensioners. More than 10 million people get a state second pension, including 6 million women. The reforms to S2P in recent years have been particularly focused on improving outcomes for the low-paid. The average state second pension is now £36 a week. The switch to uprating this by CPI rather than RPI means a loss on average of more than £2 a week by 2015, with growing losses thereafter. There was no mention of that when boasting about the triple lock. There are also ramifications for public sector pensions and for many private sector occupational pensions because uprating is linked to S2P uprating. This comes at a time when pensioners are faced with the burdens of the VAT increase and no benefit from the increased personal tax allowance. As the Public Service Pensioners' Council points out, it was assured by all three parties that any changes to public sector pensions would have a long lead-in time and be the subject of consultation. Where was the consultation? It may be fashionable to attack public sector pensions, but many who gave public service are on low or modest pensions and the uprating changes affect them, too. What evidence is adduced to support the Government's intention that CPI is a better measure of inflation for pensioners than RPI? Given that the coalition agreement specifically recognises that work is needed to amend the CPI index, can the Minister advise us of progress?



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We should give credit where credit is due. We welcome the increases in the child tax credit announced for April 2011, even though-as Save the Children pointed out-those on housing benefit will see a reduction in housing support of up to 65 per cent of this increase. However, these increases in child tax credits are dwarfed by a plethora of reductions to the tax credit regime. CPAG calculates that only 20 per cent of the £3.2 billion of cuts will come from reducing entitlement for families on higher incomes. The rest will have a direct impact on low-income families. The increased rate at which tax credits are withdrawn would lose someone earning £16,420 a year £200. Introducing the £2,500 income disregard for households facing a drop in income- a novel invention, I am bound to say-could mean a reduction in tax credits of £1,000, particularly affecting people who take maternity leave or long-term sick leave.

Families with babies seem to have been especially targeted by this Budget, despite the rhetoric around family values. They lose the health in pregnancy grant, the £545 baby element of the child tax credit and the £500 Sure Start maternity grant, other than for the first child. Then there is the demise of child trust funds. The increase in the child tax credit is not enough to compensate for these. Freezing child benefit for three years will have a disproportionate effect on the poor, because child benefit contributes a larger proportion to their household income than it does for more affluent households. Notwithstanding all this, the Government assert that increasing the child element of the child tax credit above inflation to ameliorate the freezing of child benefit will cause no measurable impact on child poverty in the next two years. Will the Minister please confirm that this assessment is made on the basis of all the measures set out in the latest Budget, rather than just those two items? We welcome the Government's commitment to the child poverty targets but, frankly, this Budget takes us in the wrong direction.

Time does not permit a detailed analysis of how different households might be affected by different combinations of Budget measures, but the Citizens Advice briefing is recommended reading. However, we know that one group will particularly bear the brunt of this Budget-women. This was covered extensively in yesterday's debate on the role of women. The analysis shows that, of the £8 billion net revenue to be raised in 2014-15, some £6 million will be from women-and this at a time when women still lag behind men in earnings and wealth.

That is just one more manifestation of a regressive Budget judgment. If we needed proof, the choice of a VAT increase as a revenue-raising measure is it. The 2.5 per cent increase in VAT is the biggest single item in the Budget, raising some £13.4 billion. Both the Prime Minister and his deputy are on record as acknowledging that it is a regressive tax, hitting the poorest hardest. The IFS analysis shows percentage income losses for the poorest to be more than twice those for the richest. The Government know that the VAT hike will have a significant adverse impact on the incomes of poor families but chose it in preference to targeted taxes on the assets and income of the wealthiest.



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On proper scrutiny, it is clear that the 2010 coalition Budget is deeply regressive. It cuts benefits, reduces tax credits for families on low and moderate incomes, short-changes pensions and pensioners, exacerbates homelessness and chooses regressive taxes. These choices did not have to be made.

We came into politics through a variety of influences. Many of us wanted to bring about social justice, combat poverty and promote equality. The improvement in our own material well-being and our inculcation into grand institutions such as your Lordships' House may have dimmed or deflected that commitment. However, if that cause needed a catalyst-a call to action-it is writ large in this unfair, regressive and ill judged Budget. We have work to do to expose its excesses and we must use our energies to protect those whose lives will be scarred by its ideology.

1.22 pm

Lord Boateng: My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, for initiating this debate, I confess a degree of trepidation in speaking to your Lordships' House for the first time. That trepidation is in no way engendered by the kindness and warmth shown to me and my fellow newcomers to this House by all Members, officers and staff, but by the requirement to be both brief and uncontroversial. That does not come naturally to me. Given the rather rueful faces of some of my noble friends, I think that they probably share that view. Nevertheless, one will do one's best. I am encouraged in that by the traditions of this House. I first encountered those traditions on the very first occasion that I came to the Palace of Westminster many years ago. I came here wearing flares and with an Afro-when one had hair and wore flares-which tells noble Lords just how long ago that was; it was 14 December 1978.

I came here as a young lawyer accompanying a group of black women from the London Borough of Lewisham. They were concerned about what was happening to their children and other young people in Lewisham-black and white, but largely black-in relation to a piece of legislation known as the sus laws. These women had attempted to initiate a debate about the sus laws in the other place. They had a great deal of support for that from their then local MP, Chris Price, but they did not succeed. The then Labour Government did not want to debate the sus laws or to hear from this group of black women in Lewisham. It was your Lordships' House that found the time and the space to discuss this matter in a debate on a Private Member's Bill on the sus laws initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I will never forget it, nor will I forget the respect that was shown to these women and their concerns by the noble Lord and by the late Lord Pitt, who was one of the first Afro-Caribbeans-my race-to find a place and a welcome in your Lordships' House. He was an inspiration to many of us.

I also remember the contribution of the late Lord Gardiner and the response of the Minister in this House at that time. This House listened. The Motion was not carried, but subsequently a Conservative Government-due very largely to the heroic efforts not only of those women but of the right honourable

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Sir John Wheeler-abolished this unfair and discriminatory piece of legislation. However, it was this House, with its tradition of being responsive to the needs of those who might otherwise not get a hearing-the poor and the dispossessed-which showed the way. That taught me something which I have not forgotten in the course of my subsequent career in the law and in politics, and which strengthens my resolve to put before your Lordships a concern that those women in Lewisham would have wanted this House to hear, were they here today. It is a concern about the impact of the Budget, and a number of its proposals, on a group of young people who all too often are not heard in our society-young people at risk and young people in care. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. They do not have much of a chance because they tend to go into care, having been subjected to abuse and disadvantage in myriad ways. When they are in care, I fear that the state does not prove to be a very good parent.

This Budget was introduced in the context of the notion of the big society. It seems to me that if the big society is to live up to its name, it has to find a place within it for young people at risk and young people in care. I learned, in the course of putting together the Green Paper Every Child Matters, way back in 2003, that young people at risk and young people in care are to be found not just in the inner cities of our in country, but in rural areas too, because poverty and deprivation can be found all over our land. Young people-young people at risk and young people in care-tend to be the least advantaged of all.

The big society is often juxtaposed with the big state. That is a false dichotomy. It is not a question of whether or not you have a big society or a big state; it must surely be a question as to whether or not the state empowers and enables citizens to make a contribution, to come together to care, and to form sustainable and cohesive communities. I fear that aspects of this Budget work against that. The removal of ring-fencing in terms of local authority grants will, I fear-I am not alone in this; it is a fear shared by many in local government, many social workers and many who run voluntary organisations-lead to a collapse in funding for voluntary organisations, cutbacks in the special support services provided to children in care and children at risk. That would be damaging.

I ask the noble Lord who will reply for the Government in this debate: please, please, in the course of the spending review that must take place, and is taking place, make sure that there is a stream of work that looks at the impact of the budgetary provisions that we are debating on those children in care and children at risk, and the voluntary organisations that serve them, who will inevitably be affected by the increase in VAT and who do not have a rebate system upon which they can rely.

I ask the noble Lord to think also about how the office of the Children's Commissioner, which is being reviewed, can be strengthened in such a way that it is answerable to Parliament. The Children's Commissioner should be appointed by Parliament and have a specific remit to examine the implications of all Budgets,

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presented in any circumstances, on children and young people at risk, so that they do not as a result of a side wind or neglect lead to their being further disadvantaged.

I hope that I have been brief and uncontroversial-because this cause can unite the whole House-but none the less passionate.

1.33 pm

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. As predicted and as expected, it was excellent. This is just a taste of what we in this House may expect to come from the noble Lord in the many years ahead.

Poverty is a cause which the noble Lord has spoken passionately about for years. In fact, in his maiden speech in the other place in 1987 he spoke of poverty in his constituency of Brent South. He played a leading role in establishing and launching the £450 million children's fund designed to tackle child poverty-of which he has just spoken. In his young life-the noble Lord is still young; he has not yet reached 60 and middle age will come next year-he has achieved much as a passionate campaigner and activist, as a lawyer who is both a solicitor and a barrister, and he has achieved many firsts, including being the first black Cabinet Minister, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in May 2002. During his victory speech as an MP in 1987, he famously said, "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto!" Of course, he was talking about South Africa being freed from apartheid, but he was also presciently talking about his future appointment as British High Commissioner in South Africa from 2005 to 2009, a role in which he excelled. He has made his mark throughout his career, and we are fortunate that he will continue to make his mark here in this House.

Soon in my role as president of the UK India Business Council I will accompany the Prime Minister on his visit to India, following up on what was said in the gracious Speech. I quote:

"My Government looks forward to enhanced partnership with India".

Although I was born and brought up in India throughout my childhood, although I visit India several times a year, and although India is today a global emerging economic superpower with amazing capabilities in IT, aerospace and even in space, every time that I get off that plane I am hit by the dire, abject poverty. Sadly, 300 million people there live on less than a dollar a day, and many of those are not living, but merely existing. This poverty exists now as much as it did during my childhood in India and I console myself about the enormity of the problem and the challenges that this most diverse and complex country in the world, with a population of over 1 billion, faces.

Then I think about us here in the UK, one of the largest absolute economies in the world. Whichever way you measure it-absolute GDP or GDP per capita-we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We are relatively small, with 60 million people, yet it saddens me that we have such high levels of poverty and child poverty. According to Save the Children, 3.9 million children are living in poverty.

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There is no excuse at all for poverty in this country. After all, we have one of the most generous welfare states in the world. We have free education; people are entitled to free housing; those without work get an income to live on; and we have free healthcare from cradle to grave-all funded by the state. So surely poverty should not exist at all. And when I say poverty, I mean poverty of any sort, let alone the scale of the dire poverty in India.

Where are we going wrong and what should we do about it? One answer is that the welfare state is meant to address it and the Government are spending massive amounts on it. Public expenditure has reached 54 per cent of GDP, when it should be at around 40 per cent. This has led us to enter an age of austerity, as the Prime Minister put it. How can we maintain a safety net and at the same time work towards eradicating poverty? I am afraid that increasing taxes in the Budget, maintaining the 50 per cent higher rate tax, maintaining the non-dom levy, increasing VAT, and increasing capital gains tax, will not solve the problem. The Government are not meant to be Robin Hood-taking from the rich to give to the poor. We have seen that this does not work and that even in the boom time, with massive levels of public expenditure, poverty increased. The Gini coefficient that measures wealth and equality is the highest that it has been in 30 years, and over the past decade there has been no increase in the average income of the poorest tenth in our society.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, recently asked a Question in this House: what proportion of wealth is held by the richest 10 per cent of the population? The Answer given by the Minister was 54 per cent. This was shown not to be out of line with other countries, with France on 61 per cent and the US on 69.8 per cent. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I strongly believe that the answer is not, as he suggested, to take action to reduce the level of wealth of the top 10 per cent. It is wealth generation that should generate opportunities for wealth creation. I have said it before and I will say it again that the job of the Government is to create an environment for business-in particular SMEs-to flourish and create the jobs that pay the taxes, that pay for the public services, that pay for the welfare that pays for those who genuinely need our help.

However, in my eight years on the New Deal task force and then the National Employment Panel, it became very apparent to me that work was the best way out of poverty. Yet, sadly, millions in this country are in a benefits trap where generations in certain areas have not worked, because work often does not pay. The difference between welfare support and a 40-hour week on a minimum wage is £37 a week-hardly enough to inspire people in difficult times to seek jobs. For this reason, the welfare reform Bill is welcome in its efforts to simplify the benefits systems, remove barriers to work and attempt to lessen the hold of the awful benefits trap that exists in this country.

However, it is even more challenging when our schools are letting our children and our country down, where over a third of 11 year-olds leaving primary school have difficulty reading, and a fifth leave their

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secondary school without being able to read and write with confidence. This makes it very difficult for them to be employable.

In my role at Cambridge University as a visiting entrepreneur and a member of the advisory board, I was presented with a paper from Professor Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and their colleagues on whether the UK can win in an age of scarcity. Their theory is: "more for less for more"-an approach that places emphasis on delivering more value for less cost for more people. If necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, scarcity is the grandmother of innovation. This is where a developed economy such as ours can learn from some of the amazing innovative models that have been pioneered in emerging markets such as India, Brazil and China.

We have such advantages in this country. We have the finest higher education in the world and cutting-edge research. One university, Cambridge, has produced almost 90 Nobel Prize-winners. Our greatest strength is our people. The Government alone cannot eradicate poverty, even with the best of intentions; we have to work together, and this is where NGOs working together can really help, as we have heard. The coalition Government's answer of promoting the big society and getting communities to work together is fabulous. However, is it not ironic that a big society goes hand in hand with smaller government? It is about people coming together to care, share, help each other and prosper together.

This country used to have a glass ceiling. As recently as three decades ago, it was not a meritocracy. However, today this country is a true meritocracy. It enabled me 21 years ago, with £20,000 of student debt to pay off, to start up a business from scratch. This is a country with opportunity for all, and the poorest person is given hope by that opportunity.

Earlier this week, we in Parliament had a visit from Bill Gates, one of the wealthiest men in the world. He addressed Parliament on development. How inspirational that here is an individual giving away tens of billions of dollars. He changed the world through his business; now he is going to change it through his development work on the alleviation of poverty. I have a saying that achievement leads to inspiration; inspiration leads to aspiration; aspiration leads to achievement-and a virtuous circle follows. We can just imagine that if only we had that virtuous circle in every corner of this country, we would obliterate poverty and genuinely make it history.

Recently, I met those running a charity in India called the Akshaya Patra Foundation. The foundation has a vision that:

"No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger".

Today, it reaches 1.2 million children every day, giving them lunchtime school meals. However, the sad reality is that it has had to adjust its practices. On Monday, after the day off on Sunday, it has to provide double the amount of food for the children because they have not eaten on the Sunday. That is true poverty, and it depresses me that this wealthy nation of ours has poverty in the 21st century. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Our people need to come together, helping one another to succeed. We need to raise the water

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level for all the boats to float and to get bigger, and that is going to take a huge amount of work from government and NGOs and from communities and citizens. A friend of mine defined luck as being when opportunity meets determination. We have the opportunity; we have to be determined as a nation.

I conclude by quoting Jawaharlal Nehru's famous "Tryst with Destiny" speech made on the occasion of India's independence in 1947, as it is pertinent to what we are talking about:

"The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation"-

he was talking about Mahatma Gandhi-

1.43 pm

Baroness Donaghy: My Lords, since I was introduced on 1 July, I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of my welcome and the generosity of noble Lords on all sides of the House in sharing their experiences with me. I am grateful, too, for the dedication and friendliness of the staff, who seem to be able to read my mind when I am uncertain about geographical direction or procedure. I thank them most sincerely for their care and support.

As a former chair of ACAS, my first instincts are to form a consensus based on bringing the parties together. I am not sure whether those skills will be useful in this House. I know from experience that, when the going gets tough, it is difficult to promote agreement between employer and workers but that it is infinitely more difficult on occasion to achieve agreement among members of the same side. If the coalition Government were ever in need of mediation skills, I would be available.

ACAS's contribution to the modernisation of public services was to recognise that the world of work was not just about collective bargaining but about the millions of individuals, both employers and employees, needing advice. Radical changes were achieved with the involvement and consent of the staff and trade unions in ACAS, and without the demotivating effect of so many pronouncements about public service workers. Calls to the ACAS helpline amounted to 1.2 million last year, and the website is much praised by employers and employees because of its quality and impartiality.

The subject of poverty has been a theme that has threaded throughout my life. On the day of my introduction to this House, one of my cousins gave me a copy of a payslip belonging to our late grandfather, Arthur Howard. It was for £1.53, dated 11 November 1933, and came from New Monckton Collieries near Barnsley, where he worked for most of his life. He brought up four daughters on that wage, played the cello and built the first television in Worsbrough Common. He had no money but a wealth of talent and unfulfilled promise. My own parents taught me the value of work, education and caring for others.

After university, I worked at the Institute of Education in London for 33 years. I had become an assistant registrar at a very early age and was probably destined

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to be a registrar or secretary, or to fill a role with one of the newer titles in universities today. I was fortunate to work for the great Lionel Elvin, our director, who had been a member of both the Robbins and McNair committees, and then with Sir William Taylor. Both instilled in me the importance of teacher training and education. So what happened to change me from going in the direction of a potentially glittering university career?

The institute took a decision in 1969 not to give a pay rise to its clerical and library staff on the ground of affordability. Academics were given a pay rise. I decided that it was patently unfair to pick on the lower paid and helped to form a union branch of NALGO. No one had ever been in a union before. We lobbied the institute and were awarded our pay rise, backdated. I carried on recruiting members and for 16 years was privileged to represent all clerical and related staff in universities in their pay negotiations, and set up national pay scales for the first time. Ninety per cent of the members were women and 90 per cent were first-generation trade union members. I spent most of my career boxing and coxing between my paid employment and my unpaid trade union activity. I moved within the institute to become permanent secretary of the students' union and was licensee of the union bar for 16 years. I am aware that some noble Lords on different sides of the House have owned breweries, and it is possible that some of them have been their occasional customers, but I suspect that very few have actually been licensees.

After 13 years on the TUC General Council, I became its president. I would chair the General Council and then sometimes appear before the magistrates' court to apply for an extension to opening hours in the students' union bar. Such were the contrasts in my dual life.

In 1997, the continuing theme of poverty arose when I was appointed a founding member of the Low Pay Commission. This was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I like to think that my practical experience of wage structures and the impact of low wages helped to set up a framework that is virtually intact today. We learnt that poverty is complex-a single mother in the south-east would have to earn over £17 an hour to make up any loss in benefits-yet we fixed on £3.60 an hour because the minimum wage cannot solve everything. We learnt that poverty is not a north/south or even a regional phenomenon. The largest proportion of low-paid workers, in terms of population, live in London and the south-east. We also learnt that the low paid need no lessons in hard work or the ability to calculate their earnings. Observing textile workers calculate their complex piece-rate earnings in their heads to the nearest penny would impress any mathematician.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in moving the regulations concerning the national minimum wage on Monday, was kind enough to say that the proposed increase for this October,



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Those criteria were established at the start of the Low Pay Commission's work, and it is gratifying to see that this evidence-based work continues and is appreciated by the Government.

I am aware of the recent short debate on poverty on 15 June, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, and of the excellent contributions that were made. It is not my intention to go over the same ground. I am aware that the measure for poverty might seem like a dry academic debate to some, but if an official poverty measure is changed, it can be used as a respectable excuse for taking away support systems from those who do not fit the new criteria. The Government have promised to maintain the target of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020, and I shall watch this with interest.

There are people now seeking work who are healthy and motivated and have a good employment history, but they cannot find work, so how will those with disabilities, language and literacy barriers or no work record find work? Joblessness is a scourge on any society and the Government will be judged on how many people are unemployed. The margin between poverty and just about managing is perilously narrow. Cutting pennies here and there from benefits, VAT costs, pay and pensions may not seem a lot to those who are privileged to lead society, but together they will have a catastrophic outcome for individual families.

We are a country of extremes in income and no Government have solved that particular inequality. I make a plea to this Government that more work should be done on why we are a relatively low-wage society. Average earnings of £24,000 a year include paid overtime-mainly done by men-and City bonuses. That completely distorts the real situation. Just as we on the Low Pay Commission discovered, women who earned too little to pay national insurance did not appear on any statistics and could not therefore be counted as a group that might benefit from a national minimum wage. Clearly, steps were taken to rectify the Alice in Wonderland situation, but it shows that statistics without common sense and grounded reality can be used to hold back progress, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes not.

The Economist on 3 July stated:

"The past decade made a disappointingly small dent in poverty, but it may be the best time the poor will know for many years".

I look for an assurance from Ministers that that grim forecast will not be realised.

In conclusion, I thank my two sponsors, my noble friends Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Lord McKenzie of Luton for all their help and encouragement. I offer particular thanks to my noble friend Lord McKenzie for raising this topic today and for giving me an opportunity to make my maiden speech on a subject about which I feel so passionately.

1.53 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Donaghy on her passionate and informed maiden speech. I would have expected no less of her, having known and admired her abilities for nearly 30 years. I first met her when we were both trade union officials in the university sector in London

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in the 1980s. Since that time she has had an impressive trade union career becoming the president of both her own union, NALGO, and then president of the TUC.

Following that time, as we have heard, she served as chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service for seven years, helping to make it into the modern and effective organisation that it is today. It was also one of the periods of the lowest industrial unrest in its history and, as she has indicated, I am sure these skills of bringing peace and harmony to potentially warring factions can be put to good use in your Lordships' House, not least among noble Lords on the coalition Government Benches. Finally, lest anyone might think that her skills are on the soft side, she also served on the Committee on Standards in Public Life for seven years before becoming its interim chair. I am sure that she will play her part in keeping us all in line in the years to come, with her trademark reputation for intelligence, independence and straight talking.

I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Boateng on his passionate and inspired maiden speech and very much look forward to the maiden speeches of other noble Lords in this debate.

Before I start, I declare an interest as the chair of Circle 33 housing association and record that I am a volunteer in The Passage homeless centre in Victoria. I, therefore, have some direct experience of the fine line walked by some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, for whom managing a weekly budget and staying out of debt is a constant trial and burden. It takes only one trigger-perhaps a partner leaves, someone falls ill or an employer closes down-for an individual or family to fall behind with their rent and face homelessness. When you are already living in poverty the financial margins are tight and the consequences of default can be devastating. I say that in the confident knowledge that the previous Government-my Government-both understood this fear and acted on it. They understood that you could be working but still poor and they introduced the working families tax credit to make work pay. They understood that a child brought up in poverty would bear the scars for life and so they increased child benefit and set a goal of ending child poverty completely by 2020. They invested in jobs and training to give people the skills to get secure and rewarding work.

Of course, not everything they did was perfect and not all their ambitions were achieved but I am proud of a Government who invested in public services, reduced unemployment and raised people out of poverty. We went a long way to creating a fair and benevolent society in which the poorest and most vulnerable were protected.

That brings me to this Government's Budget and what it tells us about their values and beliefs. First, they seem to have abandoned the post-war Keynesian analysis that government fiscal and monetary measures can mitigate against economic recession. Instead, we appear to be returning to a rather alarming 1930s free market programme, which became discredited first time round and now risks driving the recession into a deeper and longer trough. Of course, there is a need for a clear deficit reduction plan and part of that will

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inevitably include tough choices on spending. But in the current fragile world economy, there is a particular imperative to prioritise growth as a precondition for economic recovery. That remains Labour's strategy. It is based on sound economic modelling and was already proving to be successful in stopping our economy sliding into a recession. Therefore, the question remains: do the current Government have an alternative growth strategy or are they happy to let high unemployment and increased poverty act as the drivers for future economic policy?

Secondly, despite their election promises, they are intent on squeezing public services and cutting front-line staff. It is obvious to everyone that departmental cuts of 25 per cent or even more can be achieved only by wholesale services being abandoned. Those public servants who are lucky enough to remain will have their income and, therefore, their spending power reduced as a result of the freeze in public sector pay, while those who are made redundant will cost the country billions in lost tax revenues and increased benefit bills. The consequence of this policy is bound to have a further depressing effect and will, of course, particularly impact on the poorest regions where public services play a particularly valuable role.

Thirdly, they appear to be abandoning the goal of ending child poverty by 2020. At present nearly 4 million children are living in poverty in the UK. We know from previous research that child benefit has proved to be one of the most effective and popular ways of cutting child poverty so freezing it for three years will hit the very families who need it the most. Again, this will prove to be a false economy because respected research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that £17 billion every year could be saved from public spending if child poverty was eradicated.

Finally, to return to a subject particularly close to my heart, the cuts in housing benefit will cause hardship to many and may well push families in high-priced areas on to the streets. There has of course been a need to reform housing benefit for some time, but the cuts proposed in the Budget are not the solution. There is a myth developing that housing benefit claimants are wayward families bent on living the highlife. In truth, as Shelter research has confirmed, the vast majority are pensioners, those with disability, people caring for a relative, or hardworking families on low incomes, while only one in eight is unemployed. At the same time, nearly half of local housing allowance claimants are already making up a shortfall of almost £100 a month to meet their rent, so further cuts to this benefit could trigger a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness.

Of course, at the heart of this problem is a critical shortage of affordable housing, which means that more and more families are forced into the private rented sector, often into inferior, poorly maintained properties with rents that are almost double those in the social housing sector. It is this lack of affordable housing that the Budget could have, and failed, to address.


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