The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud):My Lords, under Article 4 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we are required to consult with disabled people on all decisions and policies that affect them. The Government are fully committed to that requirement. I and my colleagues are keen to champion an approach of involving disabled people during policy development across government. We will continue to talk as widely as possible with disabled people about matters that affect them.
Article 33 requires the same involvement in the monitoring process. How did the Government discharge their obligation to consult closely and actively involve disabled people in the decision to remove mobility allowance from people living in residential care? What steps do the Government intend to take to include disabled people in the monitoring of that policy?
Lord Freud: My Lords, perhaps I may first say on behalf of the whole House how much we look forward to seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, back in her place alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins.
The issue of the mobility allowance was raised in the context of the comprehensive spending review. At that stage the proposal had not gone through a full consultation process, but one would not expect all the measures in such a huge announcement to have gone through the full process. However, the measures will go through a process of full parliamentary scrutiny before they take effect in October 2012. The DLA reform document has also been put out to consultation,
13 Dec 2010 : Column 394
Lord Rix: My Lords, in the comprehensive spending review the Government allocated £2 billion more for local authority social care services. Unfortunately, this money was not ring-fenced. What assurances can the Government give the House that the money will be spent by local authorities on the purpose for which it was allocated?
Lord Freud: My Lords, the Government's strategy is to go down the path of personalisation of services, on which we clearly look to local authorities to take the lead. As the noble Lord pointed out, we have made £2 billion extra available. In practice, local authorities have much more than that available and it is up to them to make sure that the funds go to those with disabilities in the most effective and efficient way.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, further to the first reply that my noble friend gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, will the Government also take into consideration disabled children in residential schools whose parents have a car on the Motability scheme and who, given the need to look after their children in the school holidays, need the higher-rate mobility allowance? I quite take my noble friend's point that there is a public consultation on the disability living allowance-I declare an interest in that I have received the consultation, which is very welcome-but this problem must not be overlooked.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that there is a requirement for residential care homes, children's homes and educational establishments such as special schools to meet children's relevant needs, including their mobility needs.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, are the Government aware that there is still great unmet demand from people with learning disabilities and their families for intentional and village communities, which are also cost effective and care effective? Will the Government ensure that such demand is no longer frustrated at local level, as it has been for many years?
Lord Freud: My Lords, clearly that issue hits on a key point relating to how we organise our services. This Government are putting an enormous amount of effort into localising services and then personalising them. To the extent that those processes come through by 2015, more localisation will be visible.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, the Government stated that, when the mobility component of DLA is withdrawn from people living in residential care, local authorities will have a responsibility to provide for their mobility needs. Can the noble Lord tell the House what this responsibility is and where it can be found in statute?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I want to ask the Minister about Supporting People, which is a vital programme that has helped around 1 million of our most vulnerable citizens each year. The programme is a qualifying service for the purposes of the disabled person's right to control regulations to the extent that it helps people to live independently. Given the 28 per cent cut in local authority expenditure-which we will hear about officially shortly-and given the fact that Supporting People funding is no longer ring-fenced, what assurances can the Minister give disabled people that there will be effective monitoring of the programme to ensure that their rights are protected and delivered?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are protecting the Supporting People budget and are spending up to £6.5 billion until 2015, which is roughly the same as the current spend. Clearly, with the localisation agenda, it is for local authorities, particularly in their personal spending approach, to ensure that the money is spent in the most efficient way possible.
Baroness Verma: The UK has provided £27 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency this year, of which 30 per cent has been spent in Gaza to deliver essential services to the 70 per cent of Gazans who are refugees. We are also providing £2 million to support the Gazan private sector and funding UN and Palestinian Authority teams working to facilitate access for imports to Gaza. We continue to call on Israel to improve access to Gaza for aid and reconstruction materials.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. As she will know, last month I made a visit to Gaza, the details of which are declared in the register of interests. Is it not part of the tragedy of Gaza that, although some goods are now going in more freely, severe restrictions remain on the import of construction materials that are necessary to build and rebuild homes and schools? While no one disputes the security problem, do not the Government agree that there is a danger that such a policy of restriction, which harms thousands of entirely innocent people, will help to recruit a new generation of extremists?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's concerns. We recognise that ordinary Gazans are suffering-indeed, the deterioration of Gaza's
13 Dec 2010 : Column 396
Lord Turnberg: My Lords, is the Minister aware that despite the antagonisms between Hamas and Israel, almost 40 per cent of children sitting down with their families in Israeli hospitals are from Gaza? Is she also aware that a number of doctors from Gaza are training in Israel to go back to set up clinics there?
Baroness Verma: The noble Lord makes a very valid point. Of course, it is by dialogue and improvement in negotiating across both the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel that we will improve the lot for both sides of the argument.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the recent interagency report, Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade, that there can be no just and durable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without an end to the isolation and collective punishment of the people in Gaza?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I very much take on board what the right reverend Prelate says. We know that the situation in Gaza is a tragedy, but we do not believe that isolation of Israel through means of economic sanctions or embargos is the right approach. We will continue to press Israel robustly to make the concrete changes needed to improve the lives and futures of the people of Gaza.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an update on the progress of the talks between Israel and Turkey in Geneva in trying to resolve the crisis created by the killings of Turkish citizens attempting to break the Gaza blockade aboard the "Mavi Marmara"? What actions are our Government taking to try to help resolve the strained relationship between those two countries, particularly given the importance of the strategic relationship between those countries and our own interests in the wider scenario?
Baroness Deech: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Gaza has other very severe sources of hardship, which include: the enforcement of morality rules against women; attacks on Christians; the bombing of Christian schools; the persecution of journalists; and the killing of political opponents? All of those are due to the enforcement of the regime by Hamas. Does she further agree that perhaps the person in Gaza who suffers most is that long-term captured prisoner, Gilad Shalit?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that all those actions are deplorable. We need to ensure that, through dialogue with both sides, we work towards a peaceful settlement.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what action the Government are taking through discussions with the countries of the Arab League about what they are able to do in terms of humanitarian relief? I am thinking particularly of Egypt, which controls the Rafah crossing, and I wonder whether it is allowing any humanitarian aid into Gaza through that crossing.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council and vice chairman of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Group. On a recent visit to a school in Gaza with my noble friend Lord Fowler, I was struck by the irony of the seven year-old boy singing the song he had learnt for us, "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands". Would my noble friend agree that education is vital in holding the line against extremism? Will she confirm that DfID does all that it can to support the UNRWA schools that do so much to bring balance to the lives of children in Gaza?
Baroness Verma: My noble friend is right that education will be key to solving many of the difficulties that both these nations face. Of course, through our aid programme, that is exactly what we are trying to do to ensure that the infrastructure projects are able to work as normally as possible under the very difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, ever since I came to this House in 1998, I have heard members of the Front Bench say that the Government are calling for Israel to do this, to desist from that and all the rest of it. Israel has been in a decades-long breach of international law not only on its pulverisation of Gaza but on its colonisation of the West Bank. When are we actually going to do anything?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend knows that only through dialogue will we resolve matters. The UK is only one of many partners involved in making sure that peace is able to be brought forward.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it is primarily for Parliament itself to determine how it can best hold the Government to account. However, I have sought to help that process in this House by setting up a Leader's Group to consider our working practices.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I warmly welcome the establishment of the Leader's Group, and I am sure that it will have some fruitful deliberations. Do the Government view the Cabinet manual, which we understand that they will be publishing later this week-possibly even tomorrow-as a first step towards a written constitution for this country, as was postulated in today's Daily Telegraph? How will the Cabinet manual improve government accountability in Parliament?
Lord Boston of Faversham: While I normally find myself in accord with what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, says, is it not a rather strange concept that Her Majesty's Government would wish to be called to account?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I always admire the noble Lord for his questions. However, I think that the Government have an interest in the generality of being held to account by Parliament; that is part of our support for the parliamentary process as a whole. I have to say that in this Parliament, I think that noble Lords opposite-the Official Opposition-are doing a very good job.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome this Question. In the previous Administration, the Executive were far too powerful and the legislature so weak. Had it been the other way round, perhaps there would have been better scrutiny of war with Iraq. That said, does the Leader's Group intend to look not only at the composition in terms of reform of the House but at the functions of both Houses and how they relate to each other, bearing in mind that in a fully elected House the Salisbury convention would no longer apply?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, a Leader's Group led by my noble friend Lord Goodlad is looking at the working practices of the House. There is another committee led by the Deputy Prime Minister looking at reform of the House of Lords; that will report early
13 Dec 2010 : Column 399
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is not parliamentary governance and accountability a total fiction at present? To have parliamentary accountability, you need, first, a Government with a clear mandate. This Government do not have a mandate. They were not elected by the people; they were elected by six people in a closed room without consultation of the electorate. Nor do they have an agreed programme. There is no constitutional coalition manifesto; we have a mysterious document called the coalition agreement. Is that not a reinvention of the constitution much to our damage?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I completely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, in almost everything he said. He does not have a long enough memory. There have not been many coalitions, but the whole point about the Government is that they are made up of whoever controls the majority in another place, and the coalition clearly does that.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, in the interests of accountability, would the Government consider attaching where appropriate measurable numerical targets to legislation-for example, numeracy and literacy targets to legislation affecting primary schools?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we in this Government have been trying to get away from targets. I am not entirely certain what point the noble Lord was trying to make, but perhaps I could look again at his question and, if I can think of a better answer, I will write to him.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, the Leader of the House was telling us how much he appreciated the Opposition being very good in this Parliament. Does he not realise that the Opposition could be much better if we had a Speaker with power who could call Members to speak?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the reason I thought the Opposition were doing so well is that out of 24 Divisions, the Government have lost six. We have been defeated in 25 per cent. That is why I think they are doing a very good job. I remember the Opposition of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Labour Party here was considerably smaller. They did a very good job then, which leads me to believe that Labour really is very good in opposition and is probably better in opposition than in government.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I had a feeling that the noble Lord was heading that way. Whatever the realities of the relationship between this Parliament and Europe, what is of primary importance to this Government is that Parliament itself is in a fit state to scrutinise the Government.
Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend was very welcoming and supportive of the idea of parliamentary control of government, which I am sure we all welcome. Will he bear in mind that this enthusiasm is common in every incoming Opposition and cools in the first 18 months, so can he get on with it?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend, with his long experience, is almost certainly right. The basic principle of parliamentary accountability of the Executive is an important one that we should never let go lightly.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to assess the impact on family courts of the increased number of litigants in person who will have to represent their own cases if they no longer qualify for legal aid.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): We are currently reviewing the existing data and research into the impact of litigants in person on the courts. This will contribute to the analysis in the final impact assessments due to be published alongside the legal aid consultation response in spring 2011.
Baroness Deech: I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that existing research shows that cases involving litigants in person take longer and are less likely to settle? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, has said that mediation does not meet the case in every situation. It is also likely that more men will be able to afford lawyers and that more women will have to fend for themselves in these family law cases where the interests of children should be paramount. It is not right to leave parties legally unaided in these emotional and complex issues. Does the Minister really believe that these cuts will in the long term save costs and do no harm?
Lord McNally: My Lords, that is certainly the intention. What we are trying to do is to get a change in culture so that people in family cases do not automatically go to law. Some of the points that the
13 Dec 2010 : Column 401
Lord Thomas of Gresford:Is my noble friend aware of the concern of the family Bar that the cuts in legal aid will disproportionately affect ethnic minority lawyers with the result that, in 10 or 20 years' time, there may be a lack of diversity in judges appointed to the Family Division?
Lord McNally: My Lords, it is difficult to assess the full impact at the moment, but it is certainly true that, in many of the firms that have been dealing with family law, ethnic minorities are better represented. However, I think that it is too early to say that the impact to which my noble friend has referred will come about.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a large majority of our fellow citizens would be willing to pay whatever taxes are required to ensure that everyone in this country, through legal aid, is equal under the law and has equal entitlement to access to justice before the courts? Should not that be a bedrock principle of a liberal society?
Lord McNally: My Lords, one of the Government's proposals, which I think has some merit, is to attempt to move away from a culture in which the taxpayer pays for litigation, particularly in family disputes. Many studies have shown that the litigation route to settling family disputes exacerbates the dispute and causes lasting harm to all sides of the family, particularly the children.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, as a judge who tried a large number of family cases in which both sides were litigants in person, I can confirm that such cases will take much longer. Does the Minister realise that there is a hard core of people who fight over their children and who will not agree through mediation? I would be delighted to take part in consultations with the Government on what will happen.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I fully appreciate the noble and learned Baroness's long and great experience in these fields. Certainly, some cases may be lengthened by the fact that neither side is legally advised, but the intention, as I said at the beginning, is to try to move a large number of such cases away from the court system into mediation and other forms of settlement. I fully accept her point that family disputes can become so bitter and intractable that resolution is very difficult, but that still does not argue the case for the taxpayer funding both sides in that kind of dispute.
Does the Minister accept that, in cases of domestic violence, mediation is not appropriate and that the unequal nature of such relationships demands that there should be proper financial support for the litigants in those cases? Bearing that in mind, will he give an assurance that domestic violence cases will still receive appropriate public support?
Lord McNally: Domestic violence cases will get appropriate public support. In the arrangements for legal aid, a separate fund can be granted for special cases. Where legal aid falls outside the newly defined scope, I suggest that many of the areas suggested by the noble and learned Baroness will be good cases for special treatment.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, at a convenient point after 4 pm, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will repeat a Statement on public order policing, followed immediately by my noble friend Lady Hanham, who will repeat a Statement on the local government finance settlement, followed by my noble friend Lord Marland, who will repeat a Statement on the climate change conference in Cancun.
(c) prisoners in jails in the United Kingdom serving sentences of less than 4 years"
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McNally, whom I have known for many years and from whom I have learnt to expect nothing better. I am always grateful to him for his acknowledgement of the reality of the situation. I am glad that it is not unique on this occasion.
This amendment raises the issue of the voting rights of prisoners in relation to the referendum. We have a clear ruling from the European Court of Human Rights and an imminent announcement of a decision in relation to that from the Government. Following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on 6 October 2005, more than five years ago, many Members will know that United Kingdom's current ban on all serving prisoners from voting in elections contravenes Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The previous Labour Government decided to carry out a two-stage consultation process on options for a change in policy. The second consultation period ended on 29 September 2009, which is now more than a year ago. In its fourth report of 2008-09, the House of Commons and House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights said that it was unacceptable for the Government to continue to delay on this issue. On 21 July 2009, the chair of the Joint Committee wrote to the then Lord Chancellor seeking further information about how the Government were going to respond to the court's judgment. Nothing was done to change the law before the general election on 6 May 2010, although there was an attempt in your Lordships' House to amend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill of 2009-10 by inserting a new clause that would have removed the statutory bar by repealing Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. However, this amendment was withdrawn.
In June 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed "profound regret" that the ban had not been lifted in time for the 2010 general election. The Committee of Ministers said that it would draw up a resolution for action if the United Kingdom Government failed to give prisoners the right to vote in time for the elections to the Scottish Parliament, which will be on 5 May 2011 and are planned to coincide with this referendum, and to the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which will be on the same day.
On 2 November 2010, in response to an Urgent Question in the other place, Mark Harper, the Parliamentary Secretary in the Cabinet Office, said that the coalition Government accepted that there was a need to change the law and that Ministers were considering how to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. As I said, I understand that a decision on this is imminent. It is expected that later this month the coalition Government will make an announcement on how they are going to respond to that judgment with regard to implementation. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could confirm that this is the case when he responds.
When I originally tabled the amendment, I specified a term of six months, which seemed at the time the appropriate period to enable us to start this discussion. However, I heard on the grapevine-I am not sure that I should always believe what I hear on it, but on this occasion it seemed fairly plausible-that the Government are going to suggest four years. If that is the case, it is sensible for this amendment to specify the same so that there will not be any confusion between voting in the referendum and voting in the elections that are to take place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland next May. If the amendment is accepted, the Bill will anticipate what the Government are going to do in relation to elections.
This is a very liberal amendment and I make no apology for that. I am not seeking unduly the support of the Liberal Democrats but it is the sort of thing that I have heard Liberal Democrat lawyers in this House argue for at length on many an occasion. No doubt we will hear the same today, knowing their enthusiasm for consistency, particularly in higher education and related matters. However, I should express my own view, because I have tabled the amendment and I have just argued that the case should be considered. I know that some of my noble friends have a slightly different point of view, so the opportunity has been provided for what I hope will be an interesting debate. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will not mind my saying that he has written to me stating that he is in favour not of the time limit but of giving powers to the judge considering the case to withdraw voting rights. I understand his argument, although I do not accept it as the best way forward.
My view is that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights is correct. Once an offender is sentenced, he is fined or jailed. The appropriate sentence is decided on by the court and it is the punishment that the offender should receive in relation to their offence. In fact, the offender suffers a great deal more than that, especially by being jailed. Almost inevitably the person in jail will lose their job and will not go back to it afterwards. Prison has a huge effect on children and families and there is a loss of status and position within society. All those factors are part of the punishment that the offender faces. Is the decision of the court therefore not punishment enough? Why, on top of that, should offenders lose the right to vote? Voting is a fundamental human right and I cannot see any logical argument for withdrawing it other than wishing to punish someone over and above the sentence decided on by the court.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, for raising this issue, which has been raised on the Floor of this House many times. I am also grateful to him for the way in which he explained the inordinate delay that there has been over the years, which frankly could have been avoided if the nettle had been firmly grasped. The noble Lord mentioned a letter that I wrote to him, which was consistent with what I have contributed to both consultations and, indeed, on many occasions-that one reason for removing the vote as part of a sentence is that that would enable the judge to add that penalty for a particular crime. It is interesting that most of the comments that we see in the press on this issue refer to certain types of prisoner who have committed certain types of crime being given that penalty of having the vote removed. Personally, I would have no objection to that, provided that the measure is adopted as quickly as possible, because too many elections have passed without this happening. Everything possible ought to be done to enable those prisoners who are qualified to take part-whether that is according to the crime or whether, as appears likely, the Government will put a time limit on it-in the referendum and the other elections likely to take place next year.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I do not follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. It is difficult to see what would happen if a judge were to be given discretion to impose the loss of the civic right of voting depending on the particular type of crime. One simply asks this question: if, for example, a prisoner were guilty of shoplifting, which would normally have a very short sentence at most, is that crime one that would make him forfeit those civic rights? If there is a form of assault, is that to be one? There would be infinite argument about how the judge should exercise that discretion. Surely it is better to have a blanket bar if there is to be a bar at all.
I have enormous admiration for my noble friend Lord Foulkes. We served for over a decade in the same team in opposition and I had great admiration for his assiduity-fertile in invention was perhaps the way that we always thought of him. However, I thought, with respect to him, that he appeared to be arguing against himself. Having suggested four years in his amendment, for the reason that he gave, he then appeared to be arguing in favour of no bar at all. I will reread what he said but for the life of me I could not see any consistency.
I confess that my predisposition is, in principle, to be in favour of a bar, but I reluctantly accept that those who have committed crimes and therefore forfeit
13 Dec 2010 : Column 406
I, too, have heard, perhaps on the same grapevine, that the Government will shortly make an announcement and that they favour four years, without any discretion for the judge. If that be their response, though, there is surely a case for consistency. If it be the case in respect of a general election, surely the Government should now act in the spirit of what we are told they will be announcing shortly and say that the same principle should apply to those who are currently serving sentences. If they will, and I suspect that there is the will for this in the House and in Parliament as a whole, they can ensure that whatever length of time they choose is in operation by the time of the referendum, whenever that may be held, be that 5 May or some other date.
If only for the reason of consistency-even though, like the great mass of public opinion, I suspect, I am not personally convinced of the case-I accept that we must follow the European Court of Human Rights. Pace the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, we cannot pick and choose the judgments that we follow. In following them, we should endeavour to attain consistency in the various elections that our people will be involved in.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I support the amendment. It is a timid one but it is the only one we have, and I will wholeheartedly support it. There is a paradox, is there not, about one aspect of the punishment of someone who has put themselves outside society being to keep them outside society? Surely the very heart of rehabilitation is to get a prisoner thinking once again that they relate to the society that they have offended against-to bring them back inside the "big society tent", if you like. It seems to be a self-injury to have the rule at all, although I can perhaps understand how the law is as it is out of respect for public sentiment, however wrong that sentiment may be. With that, I will simply say that I endorse and support what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has said.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene on this. I have two brief points. First, I know that I shall be told that this is a ferociously anti-European thing to say, but it is emphatically not intended to be that. Am I the only person in this House, or indeed in the other House, who always feels slightly uncomfortable when a Government, of whichever party, stand up and say, "This is something we've absolutely got to do, whether we like it or not"? There comes a point where you question the extent to which that is compatible with a sovereign Parliament. It is always a bad argument, and I have seen this on a number of other occasions, if an elected Member of the other House has to go back
13 Dec 2010 : Column 407
Secondly, I am sure that there is an answer to this, but I am simply not versed enough to know it. Given that there are many other countries where I understand there is an unfettered right to vote in general elections, the practicalities of exercising that right in a meaningful way seem very difficult. A normal constituency campaign involves access to constituents and potential constituents if you are a candidate. It involves meetings, if necessary, and canvassing. I am sure that these practical questions have been asked long before I raised them in this debate, but I would like to know what the practical answers are.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I had not intended to speak in this debate but he encouraged me to do so with his introductory remarks. I rise to do two things. First, I remind your Lordships that, far from the European Convention on Human Rights being some foreign, European imposition on our culture, it was in many ways our post-war gift to the rest of Europe. The convention was largely drafted by British jurists. The structure that was put in place to enforce those conventional rights was part of that gift, which we encouraged upon the rest of Europe. This is a very British thing to do in many ways. It has taken decades for this issue to come before the court and for the court to give its opinion and impose back upon us, as it were, an interpretation of those rules that allows prisoners the legal right to vote. It has its roots in our own jurisprudence and legal thought. We should not in any sense blame this on others or suggest that it is being imposed on us.
Secondly, I support and commend my noble friend Lord Foulkes for raising this issue here, although it will not result in amendment of the Bill or in the opportunity, at last, for us to live up to the consequences of the judgment, do what will inevitably need to be done and deal with the issue-to grasp the nettle, as another noble Lord suggested. However, it gives the coalition Government's Front Bench an opportunity to reassure your Lordships' House that we will not find ourselves in a situation where they give either a subset or all of this group of people a vote by decisions made through legislation in this House, and then immediately deny those persons their say in a referendum. That would be an entirely inconsistent position. I look for assurances from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that, if they intend to give prisoners or any class of prisoners the vote, the legislation will allow prisoners to express their preference in a referendum.
There are several practical considerations. For example, in the other place I represented a constituency that had a large prison in it. Working out whether those people were best served by maintaining their relationship
13 Dec 2010 : Column 408
I remember being told many decades ago by a governor of Barlinnie prison that part of the problem was that we had not appreciated that we send people to prison as punishment, not for punishment. This was at a time when the Scottish prison system was in complete turmoil; we were caging people within cells in Porterfield prison in Inverness to control their behaviour. Many people are punished further than the courts intend by being denied that right and that responsibility when they are in prison. For the bulk of our prison population, whether they lose their vote is entirely a matter of luck. Most of them are in and out in such a short period that, if there is a coincidence of an election, it is entirely a matter of luck-to do with how their case is dealt with, the time involved and the proceedings-whether they are denied a vote. It is not as if everybody who is convicted of a crime between elections is denied a vote in the next election; it is entirely a matter of random luck. The sooner we resolve the issue, the better. The opportunity that my noble friend has given us to air some of these issues has benefited this House and the debate. I commend him once again for introducing this matter.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I can be very brief, mainly because I have not so far taken any part in the issue which has been urged for so long and so very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. However, I have listened to the debate this afternoon, and it seems to me that by supporting the amendment we will be taking at least a step in complying with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights which has been outstanding for so long. It may not be the best solution-I do not know whether it is or not-but, on the principle of half a loaf being better than no bread, I lend my support to the amendment.
Lord Bach: My Lords, for many years the law in this country has decreed that if you lose your liberty, you lose your right to vote. However, as we have heard, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that this blanket ban on prisoners voting must be ended. My noble friend Lord Anderson is right: a large number of people in the United Kingdom do not agree with that ruling, which makes the issue a difficult one for politicians of all shapes and sizes. Nevertheless, when Labour were in government-I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in his place as he and I used to agree on this subject just a few months ago-we accepted that we had a legal obligation to comply with the European court ruling, and that compliance would ultimately mean giving some prisoners the vote. Mindful of the need to take account of public opinion-that is a real issue here-in responding to the European court judgment, we undertook a consultation process aimed at identifying an acceptable solution to a difficult problem.
I praise the Liberal Democrats who were always keen, when in opposition, that the Labour Government should act more speedily on this issue than was the case. However, I recall that throughout our discussion on this issue-we debated it for some time in the previous Parliament-the Conservative Party urged us to stay as we were and not to get on with it. Indeed, the right honourable and learned gentleman who is now the Attorney-General said, when in opposition, that it would be "ludicrous" if prisoners got the vote. When I used to sit where the noble Lord, Lord McNally, does today, I was always relieved to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, when he was on the opposition Front Bench, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, among others, against the proposal that prisoners should have the vote. Therefore, let us not have any criticism of us, as I am afraid the Lord Chancellor has been prone to do in the past week or so, saying that we should have legislated on this some time ago. I do not believe that the Conservative Party manifesto stated that prisoners should vote in the previous general election, but I am, of course, conscious that the other half or third, or whatever it is, of the coalition will respond today, and no doubt he will speak, as always, on behalf of the Government.
However, more seriously, it must be acknowledged on all sides of the House that there is a strong sense among the public-I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was getting at-that a decision may be being forced on the country against the will of the people. Indeed, reading what the Prime Minister has said about this issue, one feels that he thinks that, too. Clearly, this issue has some potential to undermine yet again public faith and participation in the political process. For that reason the Government have to respond to the European Court ruling in a way that is mindful of the views of the public and reassures them that their representatives are not simply rubber-stamping decisions made elsewhere. I hope that all noble Lords agree that it must be done in a way that is sensitive to British values and respects the position of this sovereign Parliament.
To be fair, the European Court itself recognises that fact, which is why it agreed to give the Government a degree of flexibility in how they respond to the ruling that a blanket ban on prisoners' voting is unlawful. I believe that the concept is called a "margin of appreciation", which has also been known to apply in other fields, but is particularly important here. In short, therefore, we would argue that the Government are not compelled by the margin of appreciation to give all prisoners the vote, but are required to enfranchise some. It is clearly up to the Government to decide who they believe should have the right to vote and to put that decision to Parliament.
It is rumoured on the grapevine that there will be an announcement before Christmas; I think that that grapevine is called the Lord Chancellor. In reply to the debate last week on the sentencing Green Paper, I think he made an announcement that there would be a parliamentary Statement around this subject before the Christmas Recess, and we look forward to hearing what it has to say.
The amendment of my noble friend proposes to give the vote to all prisoners sentenced for up to four years in jail. That seems to be going too far. While it may be possible to persuade people to accept a change, whereby prisoners convicted of comparatively low-level crimes are allowed to vote, we do not believe that the law-abiding public would easily accept a solution that ends up with people guilty of really serious offences-including violence, sexual assault or crimes against children-having a say in who represents them while they are in custody. That could be the consequence of the amendment, which would set the threshold to as high as four years.
We find deeply unattractive the idea that that a judge should have a say as to whether an individual whom he is sentencing should have the vote. The first reason why it is unattractive is because, frankly, I do not think that there is any judge in existence who would want that power. Secondly, the idea's unattractiveness is demonstrated, for example, by the prospect of a prisoner not being allowed to vote because a judge has used his discretion in a particular way, and whether that prisoner should have a right of appeal about that aspect of the sentence.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, does the noble Lord remember that when we debated this issue on the Floor of the House when he was a Minister, he mentioned that the decision would actually come from the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which would guide the judges in this matter, and would remove the unlikelihood of inconsistencies between judges on different types of sentence?
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am not likely to forget our frequent discussions about this subject. However, can the noble Lord help me? Would he, under his proposal, give the defendant, who the judge has told, "No, you cannot vote", a right of appeal in the normal way against a decision such as that?
We cannot support the amendment, although we are grateful to my noble friend for raising this subject-as, I am sure, the Committee is-because the issue has exercised this House a great deal over the past few years. We very much look forward to the Government coming up with their proposals in the next few weeks.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson; I have known the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, even longer than he has. Where I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is that the noble Lord is a master of fertile invention-particularly when he is on the opposition Benches. What we have had today is a good debate about a matter that has yet to come before Parliament.
The amendment seeks to amend Clause 2, which sets out the franchise for voting in the referendum on the parliamentary voting system. Under Clause 2, anyone who is entitled to vote in Westminster parliamentary elections would be entitled to vote in the referendum. Members of this House entitled to vote in local and European elections will also be able to vote in the referendum, a matter we debated last Thursday.
Sentenced prisoners are currently barred from voting by Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This bar, which has been supported by successive British Governments, has its origins in the Forfeiture Act 1870. However, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, in 2005 the European Court of Human Rights found that the United Kingdom's prohibition on all sentenced prisoners voting breached Article 3 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights-the right to free and fair elections. I was pleased by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, because it is important to remind people when we are debating our responses to decisions of the European court what its origins were.
I was recently at a meeting where the daughter of Sir David Maxwell Fyfe was present. It was worthwhile for the noble Lord, Lord Browne, to remind us of the major contribution that Sir David and other British lawyers made to a convention that was seen as a response to the horrors and excesses of the untrammelled tyranny that Europe had just experienced. Of course it is important that we look at the decisions of the court in the light of our own experiences and customs, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his reminder.
As Mr Mark Harper, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, made clear in the other place on 2 November, the Government accept that there is a need to change the law. Ministers are currently considering how to implement the judgment and, when the Government have made a decision, their proposals will be announced to Parliament in the usual way. There will then no doubt be a full debate on the issues, giving Parliament the opportunity to discuss the issues reflected in this debate.
Lord Bach: As I understand it-I may be wrong-the Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Secretary of State for Justice, said last week in answer to questions on the sentencing Green Paper, when this topic came
13 Dec 2010 : Column 412
Lord McNally: I cannot confirm it because I do not know. If the Lord Chancellor said that he must know about the timetable. However, I am not in a position today to confirm or otherwise whether such a decision is imminent. When it is, it will be announced to Parliament and I am sure that the usual channels in both Houses will find time for a debate, which will be, I suspect, very much along the lines of today's debate.
Lord McNally: That is a very good example of why it will be necessary to have a full debate in both Houses of Parliament. I am sure that Members in the other place want to go back to their constituencies and consult their constituents before taking part in such a debate. When they do, I hope that both they and Members of this House will bear in mind the message of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that what we are discussing is not a heinous directive from Europe, but respect for the European Court of Human Rights, of which we were key architects when it was set up.
Lord Wills: What consideration has the Minister given to deliberative mechanisms such as citizen jurors for engaging public opinion in the way that my noble friend Lord McAvoy has just suggested should be done?
Lord McNally: My Lords, that is not a question for today. We should wait to hear the Government's decision and then go through the normal parliamentary processes and consultations. That will take place all in good time. It would not be appropriate for me to make commitments at this Dispatch Box about either the timing of, or consultation around, another Bill altogether. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that his best support has come from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, who thinks that this is half a loaf, and from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who thinks that it is going too far. I suggest that this is not the basis for pressing an amendment. The Government accept that they are legally obliged to lift the blanket ban on prisoner voting in UK parliamentary elections. However, accepting this amendment and allowing a category of prisoners to vote in the referendum would pre-empt Parliament and prevent it following the proper course of debating prisoner voting in both Houses when the Government have come forward when their proposal. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Pannick: Will the Minister at least give the Committee an assurance that when the Government come forward with their proposals for reform in this area, they will bring forward an amendment to the Bill
13 Dec 2010 : Column 413
Lord McNally: No, my Lords, I cannot make that commitment. The legislation is specific to this referendum. When the Government have a Statement to make on prisoner voting, there will be time to discuss this and many other matters.
Lord Rennard: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Electoral Commission has been able to confirm that such an amendment would be practical if it were approved. It seems that it would involve a change to the franchise and a change to the electoral register process, as well as consideration about how campaigning could take place and how voting mechanisms could be established. I am in favour of such changes being made in future, where appropriate, but it seems that it would be very difficult to do this in time for a vote on 5 May next year.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, is it correct that the Bill proceeds on the basis that those that have a franchise in general elections would have a franchise under the referendum Bill, and that if the legislation covering general elections is altered in the mean time, this would apply automatically to the referendum if it comes after that amendment has taken place?
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the House is entitled to be puzzled by the inability of the Minister to say whether an announcement will be made before Christmas. Either the Lord Chancellor said that it would be made or he did not: which is the case?
Lord Browne of Ladyton: Taking into account the very wise advice from the Minister's noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, I think that the Committee is entitled to ask the noble Lord for an assurance that the Government will promote legislation according to a timetable that does not leave this country in the ridiculous position of agreeing to allow prisoners the vote when the referendum is imminent but denying them the vote in the referendum.
Lord McNally: My Lords, if there were a general election next January, prisoners would not get the vote even if the Government had announced their intentions in December. The two things are separate. The Government will announce their intentions on prisoner voting and it will be handled in the proper
13 Dec 2010 : Column 414
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps by the time the noble Lord reaches the end of his sentence, he can clarify one point for me, because what he is saying is becoming increasingly complex. As I understand it, the Government are rescuing this issue from the long grass, into which it was put for many years while people considered the implications of the European Court of Human Rights judgment. The noble Lord seems to be suggesting that, now that it has been rescued from the long grass, the intention is to embark on a process of Statements, consultation, debates and legislation, which will mean that it goes back into the long grass for very many years. Is that the case?
Lord McNally: Not at all, my Lords; it is called parliamentary democracy. There are enough experts on those Benches, including the noble Lord, to know that the process that I described is exactly what happens when there is a major change such as this-it will require legislation and parliamentary time. However, I really do not think that there should be any talk on those Benches about long grass and delays, given the five years that they spent on two consultation processes, which, as my noble friend said from a sedentary position, is another way of saying "prevarication". We will come forward with specific proposals-not in this Bill but at the proper time. In the mean time, I again urge the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to withdraw his amendment.
Lord McNally: I have absolutely no idea. I cannot, in the Committee stage of one Bill, start committing the Government to parliamentary time for another Bill. One would almost think that the Benches opposite were trying desperately to get past four o'clock, whereas I know that they are probing me and they continue to do so.
Lord Bach: My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer is never upset. We have agreed that, whatever time the debate on this amendment ends, the Statement will follow straightaway, so I promise the noble Lord that there really is no attempt to go on beyond four o'clock.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, at the risk of sounding immodest, I think that this has turned out to be a very worthwhile debate, if only for the last exchanges. I do not mean the fact that my noble friend Lord Rooker crept in through the long grass and was not seen by the noble Lord, Lord McNally; I am referring to the question whether, when the Lord Chancellor said that there would be an announcement by the end of the year, this referred to a government Statement or to the product of what was earlier described as fertile imagination. However, this has been an interesting debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, there has been an inordinate delay. From these latest exchanges, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will realise that, if there is a huge further delay, there will be deep concern. My noble friend Lord Anderson said that I was arguing against my own amendment, but he, having argued against lifting the ban, went on to accept it. At least I managed to persuade him.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: I hope that my noble friend will allow me to clarify my position. I said that my predisposition is to be against lifting the ban but that, because I realise that a change has to be made under our obligations to the European Court of Human Rights, with some reluctance I accept that the ban must be lifted in one way or another.
That brings me to my noble friend Lord Browne, who not only represented a prison in his constituency but who as an advocate represented many prisoners-all of whom were innocent. He gave an erudite explanation and reminded us that the European Court of Human Rights is not part of the European Union but a product of the Council of Europe-a much wider grouping, and with United Kingdom involvement. He hit on an argument that I wished I had thought of, which is that the blanket ban is exceptionally random. It depends on when the prisoner is in prison. If they are not in prison when there is an election, they do not lose the right, but they lose it if they are in prison when there is an election. That is probably the strongest argument of all, which my noble friend Lord Browne put in a gentle and impressive way.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said that my amendment was timid, while my noble friend Lord Bach said that it went too far, so it seems to me to be just about right. There were some questions about its practicality. I do not think that there would be difficulty in giving prisoners the vote; the postal vote provision would enable them to vote.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Of course we can ensure that those in prison get all the available literature. Somebody said to me-I give them the credit-that we would be more likely to get the votes of people who were in there for assault; the Tories would get the tax dodgers; and the Liberal Democrats would get those in for perjury. That is absolutely the last thing that I would suggest. Heaven forbid.
There were some strong arguments in favour of the amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, did not say that he was only half in favour; he said that he was wholly in favour. A number of people have come round, even reluctantly, to say that they are in favour of it. However, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pleaded with me. He got on his knees and asked whether, for the benefit of the House, and to enable the Government to introduce legislation-I hope soon-to cover the referendum and/or elections, I would withdraw the amendment. Because of the eloquence of his plea, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
I want first to express my gratitude to those police officers and commanders who put themselves in harm's way. They showed great bravery and professionalism in the face of violence and provocation. It was this bravery that enabled this House to engage unhindered in democratic debate. I know that the whole House will want to send them our thanks. I also want to thank Sir Paul Stephenson, who led the Metropolitan Police Service through a difficult operation and who serves London as Commissioner with distinction.
Honourable Members may find it useful if I recap last week's events. On Thursday, 3,000 people assembled at the University of London Union to march through central London. By the time the crowd reached Parliament Square, police estimate the number of demonstrators had grown to 15,000.
The police maintained a barrier system outside the Palace of Westminster which allowed pedestrian access and the business of the House to continue at all times.
13 Dec 2010 : Column 417
A cordon was placed around Parliament Square, but throughout those who remained peaceful and wished to leave via Whitehall were able to do so. A large number of protesters remained, many of whom committed acts of violent disorder, damaging historic statues in Parliament Square, breaking windows and starting fires. Sporadic disorder also took place in parts of the West End. It is quite clear that these acts were not perpetrated by a small minority but by a significant number of trouble makers.
Some students behaved disgracefully. But the police also assess that the protests were infiltrated by organised groups of hardcore activists and street gangs bent on violence. Evidence from the other recent protests shows that many of those causing violence were organised thugs, as well as students. It is highly likely that this was also the case last week.
I want to be absolutely clear: the blame for the violence lies squarely and solely with those who carried it out. The idea that some have advanced that police tactics were to blame when people came armed with sticks, flares, fireworks, stones and snooker balls is as ridiculous as it is unfair.
Thursday's police operation involved 2,800 officers. More than 30 officers were injured, of whom six required hospital treatment. All six have now been discharged from hospital. Forty-three protesters were injured.
The IPCC has already begun an independent investigation into the incident which left one protester seriously injured. Honourable and right honourable Members will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on this incident while the IPCC investigation is ongoing.
The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that 35 people have been arrested so far. I expect this number to rise significantly as the criminal investigation continues. I can inform the House that there has been a good public response to the police's request for information on 14 key perpetrators of violence published on Sunday. The Met will continue to publish pictures of other key individuals in the week ahead.
I also want to inform the House about the attack on the royal car. The House will be aware that on their way to an engagement in central London, the car carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall was attacked by several protesters. There has been much speculation about the Duchess being struck through the window of the car. I understand that there was some contact made.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has ordered an urgent review of the royalty protection arrangements in place on the night. I can tell the House that the review is due to report by Friday 17 December. Honourable Members will understand that for security reasons, the public details of the report may be limited. I will await the findings of the review before deciding
13 Dec 2010 : Column 418
Lord Rosser: My Lords, we share the gratitude expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the police at all levels who were involved with the policing of the demonstration outside Parliament last week. A number of officers were injured in simply seeking to do their duty.
Nothing justifies the violence and the criminal damage, much of which bears the hallmark of being planned and premeditated by a small minority who used the demonstration as a cover to carry out their own, far from peaceful, agenda. If major demonstrations become associated with mindless violence and vandalism, that is an attack on democracy, as it will deter decent-minded people who simply wish, with fellow-minded citizens, to express their view peacefully and publicly in that way, from doing so in future. There is also the risk that the violence detracts from the message.
However, while unreservedly condemning the violence by a small minority, we share the anger and dismay of the many thousands of students who demonstrated peacefully over the decision by the Government to increase tuition fees so dramatically on the basis of a phoney argument that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.
As we know, there have been allegations of violence made against the police, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is now involved in an independent investigation. One hopes that the matter will be investigated fully and as speedily as possible.
A further issue was the appalling incident involving the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall who, as the Leader of the House said, were travelling by car to an engagement in central London. The investigation being carried out by the police should establish the facts, but that was a worrying and disturbing incident and must surely lead to a review of procedures.
We understand that a number of those suspected of being involved in the violence and vandalism have been arrested, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, gave the number. Can he tell us how many, if any, have been charged? The perpetrators, whoever they may be, should be brought to justice.
There was a previous demonstration last month at which there appears to have been an underestimate of the number who would be taking part. Once again, a small minority used a peaceful demonstration for their own violent ends. Was the Home Secretary satisfied beforehand, in the light of what had happened at the earlier demonstration, that the intelligence about the demonstration last week appeared adequate and that
13 Dec 2010 : Column 419
The resources needed to police the demonstration last week must have been considerable. Can the Leader of the House give us some idea of the figure? Bearing in mind that cuts in the police budget are looming, can he give us an assurance that, despite that, the police will never be left in a situation where they feel that they do not have the resources available adequately to police major demonstrations in future? Can he also give an assurance that the budget for the policing of the Olympic Games will provide the police with the necessary resources to address major incidents of the magnitude and difficulty that we saw outside Parliament last week?
There has also been speculation about the use of water cannon by the police in future major demonstrations and protests. Will the Minister say whether the Government agree with the view expressed by the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, that the use of water cannon would not be proportionate to the violence at recent protests?
Finally, I return to the actions of the police last week. They were there to enable people to exercise their democratic right to demonstrate peacefully. They were not there to provoke violence or to carry out acts of violence. The police do get provoked by a small minority who have that objective in mind and it must require the exercise of considerable restraint by police officers when they are attacked, and particularly when they see colleagues being attacked and injured-colleagues who are only seeking to do their duty. Inevitably the police will at times have difficulty in such a situation in being sure who are the perpetrators of violence and who are not. Where allegations are made against the police, they should of course be investigated, but we should also be grateful for the work the police did in controlling a very difficult situation last week. We should be conscious at all times of the pressures, the violence and the provocation they faced and of the restraint they showed.
Lord Strathclyde: I thank the noble Lord for the broad support and welcome-and, indeed, for the unreserved condemnation of those who protested with violence on their minds on Thursday. I agree with him that the violence looked as if it was planned and premeditated. I also think he is right that it was an attack on democracy and that it will put off those who are genuinely interested in peacefully demonstrating their views if each of these demonstrations is taken over by those who are violent.
I did not quite follow the noble Lord's argument on tuition fees. I also remind him that it was his party that created the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, which we have broadly accepted and which we will be debating in this House tomorrow.
The noble Lord asked how many students have been charged. I was able to announce that 35 have been arrested but I have no figures yet on how many have been charged-or, indeed, on what the charges could be. Some of them could potentially be for major criminal acts.
On the question of intelligence gained from earlier demonstrations, what I can say is that the police study each demonstration with care and learn lessons from each of them. The tactics of the demonstrators have clearly changed. The police prepare for that, but sometimes that is not enough to avoid those who are hell-bent on violence when, at the same time, the police's main aim, and indeed the Government's aim, is to support the right to peaceful protest. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, Thursday's violent disorder was not just protest; it was wanton destruction and is not acceptable.
As far as funding is concerned, the Government are committed to ensuring that the police have sufficient resources to protect Parliament, the Royal Family and communities from concerted violent disorder such as we saw on Thursday.
The noble Lord asked about the use of water cannon, a matter which has been raised in the press and has caught the eye of some. Water cannon are a potential option for use in public order scenarios, and while it is right that we look at the whole range of options, we need to consider their impact on the British model of policing and whether they are operationally needed. I do not think that anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain. We have a different culture of policing in Britain, one that is based on popular consent and trust between police and public. As I said, a range of measures is available to the police, and I do not believe that water cannon are needed.
The noble Lord finished by praising the police and by pointing out that we should all be grateful to them for the work that they do, and that enormous pressures were brought to bear on them and on their methods. Clearly the police need to learn lessons from this, as do the parliamentary authorities. However, we all owe the police a great sense of gratitude.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I have two questions for my noble friend. First, I understand that Westminster Underground station and the road outside Parliament were closed. Surely it is not right that people should be prevented from arriving here as well as from leaving here.
Secondly, I had a tiny hope that good might come out of very bad and that the people who are tented around Parliament Square might have been overrun. However, to my great gloom this morning, there they are still. How did they manage it?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on my noble friend's first question, I think we all regret that Members of either House could not arrive at Parliament and leave
13 Dec 2010 : Column 421
On my noble friend's second question, she may well say that good could have come out of bad. However, the Government, more strategically, are looking at ways of improving the Parliament Square situation, and I hope that an announcement will be made shortly.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, may I express my sympathy for the difficulties in which the police found themselves, and my admiration for the way in which, by and large, they handled the event? I have two questions. First, the Statement says that those who wished to leave the area of containment and,
but a lot of people in the media have commented that they could not leave. Is there any doubt that the demonstrators who wanted to go down Whitehall to get away from the area of containment could do so?
Secondly, I find what happened to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall slightly puzzling. Those of us who were Ministers in Northern Ireland had the benefit of close protection officers who phoned ahead at all times and who would never have got me into that difficulty, and I fail to see why those of us, like me, who were Ministers were better protected than the Royal Family. Something seems to have gone badly wrong.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on the first point, about being able to leave the area of containment, my understanding is exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said: that those who wanted to leave, and to do so peacefully, were given the opportunity to do so through Whitehall. Furthermore, I gather that many thousands of individuals chose to take that route.
On the second question, the noble Lord is quite right; something went badly wrong. That is why there is to be a security review. It is not my place to pre-empt or second-guess that review, but I am sure that it will take into account everything that the noble Lord said about his experiences in Northern Ireland.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, mention has been made of the number of officers involved. First, does the Leader of the House have any information on the numbers of officers who were brought in from forces outside London? Secondly, he will recall that, at the time of the G20 protests, there was a lot of concern that some officers were not showing their numbers clearly on their uniforms and therefore could not be identified. I understand that comment has been made that, although the number of officers was not large, some officers again could not be identified properly because their numbers were not displayed. Does he have any comment to make on that?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, as I said in the Statement, 2,800 officers were in and around central London on Thursday. I do not have the figures on how many of those originated from forces outside London but if I can find out I shall let the noble Baroness know. As far as ID numbers are concerned, she is entirely correct in
13 Dec 2010 : Column 422
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I join those who have expressed horror at the ease with which a relatively small number of aggressive anarchists were able to hijack what otherwise was a properly constituted and utterly justified demonstration. Perhaps I may invite the Minister to bear in mind the wise and statesmanlike words of the late Lord Callaghan. As the House will remember, at the time of the Grosvenor Square demonstrations in the late 1960s, he said that whenever you are faced with a situation like this, it is best, on the whole, irrespective of cost, to have a surfeit of officers in place, because the more force you have, the less violence you have to use.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, Lord Callaghan had wise things to say from time to time, and I am sure that that was one of them. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to a relatively small number. That was our assessment on some of the earlier demonstrations, but we have increasingly taken the view that that is not so much the case-that this was a much larger number of individuals who were looking for trouble, and looking to make trouble and to use violence as a form of making their views heard.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, will my noble friend Lord Strathclyde comment on the statement made by the Minister last Thursday that the order ensuring Peers and MPs' entry to Parliament has now been dropped? Is he aware that a top constitutional expert in this House has assured me this morning that Peers have not suspended that order, so presumably they still have such rights? Does he agree that if demonstrators and accompanying anarchists are aware that they are able to halt even a part of the work of Parliament, we have reached a dangerous situation indeed?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct to say that nothing should be done outside this building which stops either of the Houses from being able to continue their work, and I am glad to say that nothing last Thursday or on any of the previous demonstrations allowed that to happen. But obviously there can be occasions when so many people have gathered outside that it is difficult to keep every entrance and exit on the estate open.
On the question of the sessional orders, they are of course in place, but my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire wisely explained their effect and raised some doubts in the mind of the House as to their efficacy. This morning I held a discussion, and with the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition, the Convenor, my noble friend Lord McNally and the Lord Speaker, we have asked the Clerk of the Parliaments and the acting Black Rod to report to me and the Lord Speaker on two matters. First, they will report on the
13 Dec 2010 : Column 423
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and it would therefore probably be inappropriate for me to ask any questions about the detailed policing arrangements. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, raised the issue of the tented community opposite the Houses of Parliament and I would also like to ask about Parliament Square. I believe that the arrangements for who is in charge of what in Parliament Square are immensely complicated, but my understanding is that the grassed area in particular is the responsibility of the Mayor of London, and I assume therefore that the fences surrounding the grassed area are the mayor's responsibility as well. It was those fences which were broken down and used as weapons against the police. Given that for previous demonstrations the statues in the square were boarded up-particularly the statue of Sir Winston Churchill-I was surprised that that was not done on this occasion. What representations have the Government made to the Mayor of London about his stewardship of Parliament Square under such circumstances?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I think that responsibility for Parliament Square was handed over to the GLA when it was set up, and therefore to the Mayor of London, so I can confirm that there is a confusing and sometimes disjointed ownership of different parts of the square. The grass is the responsibility of the mayor and the GLA, while the pavements are the responsibility of Westminster City Council. I can also confirm that the fences were therefore the responsibility of the GLA. The noble Lord might well ask why other precautions were not taken to protect the statues or to firm up the fences, but these are precisely the questions that not only the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police but also his commanders on the ground will be posing. No doubt we will learn lessons from that.
In answering the noble Lord, I have an opportunity to give a fuller response to the question put by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who asked about police forces outside London. I understand that no police officers from other forces were deployed on mutual aid arrangements on Thursday.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, what discussions are taking place with the organisers of these demonstrations, in particular the student unions, to discuss the most helpful ways in which they can
13 Dec 2010 : Column 424
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord is entirely correct to point out that there is an absolute responsibility on the student union, the organisers of these marches and the police to have a dialogue in order to decide on a route and on roles of behaviour. As I said in repeating the Statement, the march started off with 3,000 individuals, but by the time it got to Parliament Square it had grown to 15,000 and had created a sense of its own instability. I am sure that the police and many others will be making representations to the National Union of Students, other organisers and, indeed, colleges and institutions of higher education to see what they can do to try and help control the violence.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, on a practical point, does my noble friend agree that it would be extremely helpful if noble Lords who want to get here to register their votes but who do not want their arrival to coincide with the most difficult periods of these protests could obtain information closer to the time about when a gathering is going to start elsewhere so that they can try to arrive before it becomes too congested outside?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend has made a good suggestion. Obviously, with modern technology and communications it is sometimes easier to let Peers know what is happening on the ground but sometimes these things flare up very quickly. In a way, that is part of the point of the tactics that the demonstrators use. It is not always possible to predict exactly when things will happen. Once noble Lords are inside the House, the Annunciator very clearly lets Peers and other users of this House know which Gates are open and which are closed. However, it is a useful suggestion that my noble friend makes.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I know that it is 30 years since I was last involved in riot control and that the Falls Road is not the same place as Parliament Square but, to amplify the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, a word has crept into the vocabulary about what is going on in policing. It is "kettling". Can the Leader of the House explain what it means? I hope that it does not mean trying to contain a crowd in a space because, in my experience, one of the things that a crowd always needs to know is where it can go to, as do the people controlling the crowd who need to try to encourage them to go there.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made a good point. I do not like the word "kettling" either. I am not entirely certain either where it came from or exactly what it means but the word that the police and the Government use is "containment". It is a tried-and-tested method of trying to contain those who are indulging in public disorder and disobedience. Part of the process is designed
13 Dec 2010 : Column 425
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I want to make two brief points. First, on the containment or kettling that has just been mentioned, since this is a matter for police operations, would it be appropriate to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission, when it looks at the incident, to examine whether kettling-or containment-is the right policy for a large demonstration? My second point, which has not been raised, is: how do we protect the statues around Parliament Square and in Trafalgar Square? It is a shame that there are those who deface the statues of some of those people who gave us the democracy on the basis of which they are protesting.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, on my noble friend's first point I am sure that the IPCC will want to examine all aspects of this demonstration and to test the tactics that the police used on that day. While so many of those are of course operational matters for the commissioners, I am sure that it will look at that. On protecting the statues, it is difficult for me, standing at this Dispatch Box, to disagree with my noble friend but I dare say that the police cannot instruct that every single statue in central London be boarded up every time there is a demonstration. Yet something clearly went wrong on Thursday and it is for the police commissioner, the IPCC and the police, in all their internal reviews, to take a view on what happened and, I hope, to make sure that it does not happen again. Let me re-emphasise that if those demonstrators who came along had come for genuinely peaceful reasons, none of this would have been required. The blame for the violence lies entirely with those who came to central London to perpetrate it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I continue to declare an interest as someone who was formerly elected deputy president of the National Union of Students. First, does my noble friend know whether the police have any estimate of the number of non-students taking part in the events? Secondly, on the basis of the degree of organisation shown by those who were not students, does he agree that "anarchist" is perhaps becoming a contradiction in terms?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there was a nice joke at the end there about anarchy and organisation. I note my noble friend's interest. I am sure that when he was vice-president of the NUS, he would not have organised a demonstration such as this.
As for the direct question about how many non-students were in the crowd, I do not have that estimate, but it is clear that there were those present who were not only interested in violence but displayed thuggish behaviour, came from gangs, were well organised and splintered away. We shall have to wait for the review to see what those figures might be.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.
"The spending review set out how the Government would tackle the catastrophic levels of public debt by delivering necessary reductions in public spending to accelerate deficit reduction and put the public finances back on a sustainable footing. This has involved difficult, but essential and responsible, decisions. Every part of the public sector needs to do its bit to help reduce the highest deficit in the United Kingdom's peacetime history and rapidly rising national debt that this Government have inherited.
Last year, the Government borrowed one pound in every four that they spent. That was entirely unsustainable and risked our economic credibility. In contrast, our plan to eliminate the current structural deficit over five years has won the backing of the IMF, kept our credit rating steady and held interest rates down. The Office for Budget Responsibility's latest forecast confirms that we were right to take these steps. Its message is that Britain's economic recovery is now on track.
I have sought to achieve a fair and sustainable settlement for local government by listening to what the local government community has asked for. This will be a progressive settlement and fair between different parts of the country. First, we have focused resources on the most vulnerable communities with significant social challenges. These are often the areas that are most reliant on government grant, so equal grant reductions would leave the poorest places worst off. We have insulated them by giving more weight to the levels of need within different areas and less weight to per capita distributions. We have also grouped councils into four bands, reflecting their dependence on central government. More dependent places will therefore see proportionally lower falls than more self-sufficient places.
Secondly, we have listened to concerns about the front-loading of the reductions. The Local Government Association asked me to focus on local government's total spending power. That includes not just grants but also income from council tax and the National Health Service funding to support social care and benefit health. It said that reductions in spending power should be limited to 8 per cent. So far as possible, I have given the Local Government Association what it asked for. I have made sure that no authority will face more than an 8.9 per cent reduction in spending power in either 2011-12 or 2012-13. In fact, the average reduction in 2011-12 is 4.4 per cent. To fund this, I have transferred an extra £30 million of my
13 Dec 2010 : Column 427
The spending review also announced that the Government will protect the public from excessive council tax rises. We have set aside £650 million so every council can freeze council tax next year without hitting local services. We will provide councils that freeze council tax with the equivalent of a 2.5 per cent increase in funding instead. This will provide real help to hard-working families and people on fixed incomes, such as pensioners. The Government also want to ensure that council tax payers are protected against any authorities that reject the offer and impose excessive council tax rises. We will introduce a power for residents to veto excessive council tax increases through a referendum. In the mean time, the Government can take capping action against councils that propose excessive rises.
When the House debates the final local government finance report next year, I will set out the capping principles. I will also shortly publish details of the figures that will be used to compare authorities' budgets between years, should capping be necessary. The previous Government had planned to cap the police authorities of Greater Manchester and Nottinghamshire after they set excessive increases in 2010-11. Subject to challenge, we will ensure that, should they decide not to freeze, neither can impose an increase of more than 2.5 per cent in 2011-12.
This settlement also supports the Government's commitments to adult social care, providing councils with sufficient resources to protect people's access to care and deliver improved quality and outcomes. This includes £650 million of National Health Service funding in 2011-12 to support social care services, promoting integrated working between primary care trusts and local authorities, and benefiting the health system. The settlement directs more formula grant to authorities that deliver social care.
Despite all the action we have taken, I recognise that local government still faces significant challenges. The vast majority of councils have been making sensible plans to address these. To support them I am restoring real power to councils-ending Whitehall interference and cutting red tape and the burdens of inspection and regulation. The localism Bill, published later today, will deliver a new democratic settlement to councils, overturning decades of central government control. For too long, councils have been barred from using their initiative and creativity to improve services. The limited power of well-being acted as an obstacle to cost savings, such as mutual insurance companies. Today's Bill will fundamentally change councils' freedom to act in the interest of their local communities through a new general power of competence. This will give councils the legal reassurance and confidence they need to innovate, drive down costs and deliver more efficient services.
I am also giving councils much greater control over their budgets. With very few exceptions, we have ended grant ring-fencing so that councils can decide
13 Dec 2010 : Column 428
Proactive councils are already taking the opportunity radically to rethink and transform their services. There are also substantial incentives available for councils to invest in longer-term projects. These include the new homes bonus and £1.4 billion for the regional growth fund over three years-a fund which goes well beyond the working neighbourhoods fund. There will now be a statutory consultation on the settlement for 2011-12 and I look forward to hearing representations from councils.
Finally, this is a transitional settlement, using an inherited system. That is why we have set out details only of the next two years to strike a balance between the need to help councils plan and the need to reform the system. This system, based on redistributing business rates, makes councils heavily reliant on handouts from central government. Some depend on us for up to 75 per cent of their spending power. It is part of the trend that has led to some areas of the country becoming almost completely dependent on the public sector. It makes planning difficult, weakens local accountability, stifles local innovation and there is no incentive for councils to invest in their local economy since they will see most of the proceeds disappear. That is why I have set up a review of business rates, with the intention that in future local government will be able to keep more of what it collects. Ultimately, those councils which invest and support the local economy will be better able to finance themselves. The local government resource review will begin in the new year. I commend this Statement to the House".
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement with every apparent evidence of conviction. This Statement, like most ministerial Statements these days, began with evidence that the Government have succumbed to a new medical condition-deficit attention disorder. There is, of course, a deficit, but the Government have misdiagnosed the cause, which was not government spending-until December 2008, they had pledged to equal it-and they have prescribed the wrong treatment: they have prescribed too much of it too quickly and it is too toxic.
In interviews and Statements, the Secretary of State seems to pretend that cuts of unprecedented magnitude can be achieved relatively painlessly. He cites, for example, the use of reserves. If this were true, he should perhaps have a word with the Mayor of London, who is sitting on, to use the Secretary of State's phrase, £1.5 billion of reserves-about 15 per cent of
13 Dec 2010 : Column 429
The Secretary of State has some other ideas-for example, that councils should jointly employ a chief executive or a finance director. These are facile and ridiculous suggestions. Of course, sharing services is important and it is taking place. Procurement needs to be shared across local government and shared services and joint procurement could, indeed, be extended across the public sector, but local government has demonstrated significant improvements over the past few years.
The Statement makes it clear that there is to be a council tax freeze, but there is no freeze for council or social housing tenants, who face an increase of 6.8 per cent next year, nor is there a freeze for those people who will lose 10 per cent of their council tax benefit- £450 million is being taken from those people, despite the fact that £1.8 billion of council tax benefit goes unclaimed. The freeze lasts for two years at a cost, I think, of £1.3 billion. That leaves councils ultimately with a reduced tax base, which will have to be made good, but what will happen then? In any case, this comes from money that could be used to protect services now.
The Statement makes no reference to the issue raised here and in another place about the capitalisation of redundancy and severance payments, which will be a significant burden on many local authorities. In a debate last week, I asked the noble Baroness how these payments could be made without affecting services if capitalisation was limited to £200 million nationally. I do not know whether she has briefing on that.
The Statement is also silent about capital, where the reduction is 45 per cent and has potentially significant implications not just for councils and their services but for the private sector and jobs within it, particularly, though not exclusively, in the construction industry.
There have been interesting comments in the run-up to this Statement from a variety of sources. A distinguished academic, Professor Tony Travers, in advance of the Statement, called it the harshest settlement since 1945, if not ever. He said that it was apocalyptic in the first year. Some movement has been made at the last minute to reduce the front-loading, which is welcome. It is, however, pretty limited. It may be not "Apocalypse Now" but "Apocalypse Not Just Yet", foreshadowing serious difficulties for many councils.
In the very limited time that was available to my right honourable friend Caroline Flint and me to see the Statement, which we received only an hour ago, and to glance-it was impossible to do more-at the many tables appended to it, I applied my mind to the situation in the north-east of England, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will refer. A quick calculation produced a figure of £215 million of cuts in the next year, after the modest softening of the
13 Dec 2010 : Column 430
Can the Minister also say what impact the settlement will have on the voluntary sector? The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I returned home to a letter from the Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service, in which I declare an interest as an honorary vice-president. It had met the city council and had been apprised of the fact that the budget for supporting voluntary organisations-stemming in part from the working neighbourhoods fund-is to be reduced from some £10 million to £2.5 million. That is, in other words, a 75 per cent reduction for the Government's proclaimed partners in the big society-partners with which the city council, under different administrations, has for many years been pleased to work. Is there an estimate of the impact on the voluntary sector of the reductions?
How do the Government and the Minister react to Birmingham's proposals to cut £70 million from its budget for carers, notwithstanding the provision made for supporting social care through money from the National Health Service, albeit that that programme would have to be agreed with the NHS and may represent continuing expenditure?
Finally, can the Minister confirm the statement made by the Prime Minister earlier this year which clearly indicated that the cuts being contemplated under the spending review would not be restored, even when the economy improved? Does that not reveal the real nature of the Government's agenda?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response. I cannot say that it was much different from what I would have expected, particularly from someone from the north-east who therefore knows how to call a spade a spade.
No one is denying that this is a very tough settlement and, as we discussed briefly last Thursday, any Government were going to have to make substantial reductions in budgets across government because of the deficit situation. I do not think that either side, even the Government who caused it, has said that there was no deficit. There was always going to have to be a way of dealing with it. The noble Lord opposite says that we have chosen the wrong way of doing it. There may be 50 ways of dealing with the situation and some, if not all, will affect some, if not all, of the services which are provided to the community and which defend our country, including social services. There are some ways in which you can cut it and some
13 Dec 2010 : Column 431
I shall try to go through the noble Lord's comments in order. He suggests that we have made particular play on the use of reserves. In the consultations that have taken place on the settlement, it is true that the Local Government Association was extremely concerned about front-loading and its impact. Indeed, it was its own suggestion that this should be based on a spending formula. That would mean that not only the government grant but also reserves, council tax and other grants would be taken into account. Where it has been estimated that councils have reserves that can be used, clearly there will be a reduction in the amount of grant. As the noble Lord said, some reserves are earmarked and some are not. However, it is anticipated that those who have reserves ought to be able to employ some of them as well.
The noble Lord made some play on the changes to services that it is suggested should come about, such as the sharing of services, the sharing of chief executives and the sharing of human resources-in other words, changes to the organisation of councils. Huge sums may not be saved initially but there is no doubt that useful savings are to be made through councils sharing such services. As the noble Lord indicated, some councils have started to do that and others are looking to see how they should do it. My council, to which the noble Lord referred, is one of the pioneers in doing so. The sums saved will not be insignificant-they will make an impact-and, I am afraid, they are the future way forward.
On the capitalisation of redundancy payments, yes, there will be a contribution of £200 million towards it. Councils will be able to ask for capitalisation and, if the amount that they require is not covered by the amount of their grant, there will be other ways, I am afraid, of finding the money.
Tony Travers said that this is the harshest settlement since 1945. I do not know whether it is, but it is a difficult settlement for local government and we understand that. We understand, too, that different parts of the country will fare slightly less well than others. The north-east comes into that category, as the figures show.
The Government very much support the voluntary sector and its work in the community. We believe that the voluntary sector has real attributes and we hope that local government will not target it with excessive reductions, as it will need to co-operate with the voluntary sector in the future. These cuts will hurt and will not be easy-no one will pretend otherwise-but I am sure that the noble Lord will tweak us about that in the future, if not today.
The Earl of Listowel: I warmly welcome what the Minister says about encouraging local authorities to share back-office functions and services and to join together in reducing procurement costs. That is challenging and I hope that the Government may assist local authorities as far as possible. Does the Minister recognise
13 Dec 2010 : Column 432
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, youth clubs are invaluable and are run by the voluntary sector. Some of the other aspects that noble Lords have raised will come out of Home Office funding, not from local government. Nobody would disagree with a word that the noble Earl says. One wants to prevent people from going into prison because, once they are in, we all know that that just leads to further problems. The aspects that he raises are not really for the local government settlement.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I declare an interest as the other half of the "Likely Lads" from Newcastle City Council, on which I am a councillor. I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement from the other place. There has been some listening to local government and, indeed, the settlement is, I think, a little better at first glance than what we had feared. I declare an interest also as vice-president of the Local Government Association. On the issue of front-loading, it wanted a limit on loss of spending power of 8 per cent, and the Secretary of State has agreed on 8.9 per cent.
The word "progressive" was used. I have three questions on which I should like a response. First, is this not a progressive settlement in the sense that there has not now been a reallocation of grant from poorer to richer councils? Secondly, reference was made to the grant of £650 million to keep council tax increases at zero in the next financial year, but there is a question about that sum being built into the baseline for many years to come. If council tax is raised by 2.5 per cent, it is always in the baseline for the future. However, if the Government give the equivalent of 2.5 per cent, will that stay in the baseline? That matters. Thirdly, for further clarity on the capitalisation limit and the cost of redundancy, it is probable that the capitalisation limit will not prove sufficient. If it is not, councils will be required to reduce revenue and spending in the next financial year, which will in turn produce further cuts and redundancies. My noble friend referred to other ways in which that might be done; I was wondering what those other ways were.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked three clear questions. Is it a progressive settlement and reallocation? I think that we will take it year by year. This is a two-year settlement; whether it progresses on, I do not know. Whether it progresses in terms of how the grant is dealt with, we will have to wait and see. The £650 million is the repayment for 2.5 per cent of council tax if it is frozen. The question of whether that will be carried on next year will have to be decided. If it is, that will determine whether it is
13 Dec 2010 : Column 433
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top: Will the Minister confirm that areas of deprivation have lost out from more than just today's settlement, because other grants such as the working neighbourhoods grant went directly to the most deprived and vulnerable people? What will the Government do to make sure that some of those communities do not sink further away from being able to turn themselves around? That is what that money was used for. Where is the money coming from that is being used to dampen the worst excesses of the settlement? Which other areas in the rest of the department are losing in order to make sure that the dampening effect can be exerted on the settlement?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we should be clear that the working neighbourhoods grant was just a three-year fund. There was no expectation-and no money was put aside-for it to continue for longer than three years. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that is the situation. The previous Government could have decided to continue it, but they did not make that decision; they left it as a three-year grant.
The noble Baroness asked where the other money will come from. We have set up a £1.4 billion regional growth fund, which will be administered by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. Councils and local enterprise partnerships will be able to bid for money from that fund, which will be available in particular for private sector-led growth. The expectation is that local councils will work closely with the private sector, not only in local enterprise partnerships but in general, so they will be able to lean on that sector for additional assets.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness encourage local authorities not to target voluntary organisations because of the work that they do to enhance the concept of the big society. Many of them were excited by the idea that the work that they do in communities would be increased. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned, many of them are finding already that their grants are being reduced and that the money that the Government say they have set aside for a transition is totally inaccessible. What will the Government do to ensure that groups that provide things such as visiting services to the elderly and mentoring services to the young-volunteer bureaux of all sorts-will be maintained so they can play their part?
I have a second brief question. How will the Government ensure the maintenance of quality in care services when local authorities are trying to drive down pay levels and numbers of staff, in particular in areas where there are extremely vulnerable residents? I would be grateful to know this.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I have already indicated this Government's strong support for the voluntary sector and their belief that the sector has a major role
13 Dec 2010 : Column 434
I was asked about the care of the elderly. The work that is done will be very carefully monitored; we had some discussion about this on Thursday. It has to be made clear that the quality of the care is extremely important. It is not currently brilliant across the country, and we are very aware that efforts need to be made to ensure that it is universally good.
Lord Bates: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the party opposite had planned cuts of £52 billion to tackle the deficit? If they, as we have done, had ring-fenced the National Health Service and schools budgets, then it was always going to be a tough settlement, whoever was in power. Is it not also the case that this Government are reducing top-down bureaucracy through the comprehensive spending and performance reviews, freeing up councils from ring-fencing and giving them the potential to earn greater sums through business rates and the new homes bonus?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question and I agree entirely with what he has said. It is correct that, with the removal of ring-fencing-I am sorry that the party opposite finds this so hilarious-councils will have access to a greater tranche, if not the entire tranche, of money regarding which they can make their own decisions. They have their own priorities in using the money. Except for the schools grant and the grant from the health service, there is no limitation on how they spend that money, and that will be of great benefit as they go forward. When the noble Lord opposite was the leader of a council, I was also the leader of a council and I am sure that he, like me, would have given his eye teeth to get his hands on the entire budget.
Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, as local government funds the voluntary sector-what the Government may want to call the big society-to the tune of £4.5 billion, the kinds of cuts that she has announced this afternoon cannot do anything but make the big society smaller?
Baroness Hanham: I do not agree with that. I think that we all have an aspiration to see the big society. We all want to see communities working with each other; we want to see charitable and voluntary organisations working better and doing more; and we want to see neighbourhoods and communities getting together to
13 Dec 2010 : Column 435
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, did the Minister notice that the Government were accused by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, of suffering from a serious medical condition called "deficit obsession disorder"? Has she also noticed that a new disease is now prevalent on the Benches opposite? As my noble friend pointed out, the previous Government, when in government, had planned to make substantial reductions. However, now that they are in opposition, they have a serious medical condition called "ignore the deficit disorder". I listened carefully to the noble Lord and did not hear a single suggestion as to any reduction that could be made. Everybody knows that this has to be a very tough settlement. It is not the end of local government as we know it.
A thousand years ago I was Minister for local government. I sense that over the years the constraints on local government and how it has to vie between different expenditures have grown and grown with greater Treasury control. The best hope and a big help for local government going into this difficult time is maximum flexibility so that it can use its funds in ways that make most sense within its own area. I hope that that will be possible within this settlement.
Baroness Hanham: I thank my noble friend for that. He will also recall that thousands of years ago I knew him when he was Minister for local government. I am not quite sure what that says about either of us.
I accept what my noble friend says. First, the Opposition have not offered anything by way of a useful contribution to how this deficit will be dealt with. We have had considerable carping but no ideas have been offered as to what they would have done instead to deal with the deficit that they caused. Of course, the flexibility needed to deal with budgets, policy and organisation is absolutely essential. That will come directly out of the Localism Bill and how we look forward to local government working in the future.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, I deprecate the very last minute at which the data came forward. It is a bit like the late arrival of the Localism Bill; it shows a Government not quite in control of their agenda.
We reject the assertion that these are necessary reductions in public expenditure, just repeated by the noble Lord. Of course, the deficit must be dealt with and, of course, we, as an opposition, have set out credible means of dealing with it. One example is that we would not be spending £2 billion to £3 billion on unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the National Health Service. Even if we were to accept the programme of overall expenditure set out by the Government-which we do not-how do they justify local government having such a savage component to deal with? It is worse than for any other department. What is the justification for that?
The noble Baroness spoke of the focus on the most vulnerable, and I understand that the Government have come up with this revenue spending power comparison-looking at like for like in the current year and next year. I understand that it includes council tax potential and grants. Incidentally, I have a question for the noble Baroness along the way. When is a transfer from central government a grant and when is it a handout-an unfortunate term? To get back to the comparison on revenue spending power between authorities, taken with the assertion that we are focusing on the most deprived, why is it, when comparing the current year with next year, on the Government's own figures, that Hackney loses 8.9 per cent, or £33 million, and Kensington and Chelsea loses 5.5 per cent, or £11 million? How is it that Tower Hamlets loses 8.9 per cent, or £34 million, but Barnet loses 2.6 per cent at just £7.7 million? How can Hartlepool lose 8.9 per cent, or something like £10 million, and Rutland 2.2 per cent? How does the noble Baroness justify that within the parameters of the settlement?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, first, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, the former Minister, that I sat on that Front Bench all the way through the previous Government and I always complained about the lack of time that one was given for dealing with a Statement. Never ever did I receive a Statement more than about 40 minutes before I was due to answer it. So there will be no lessons from across there with that complaint.
The necessary reductions come about because of the deficit. I cannot keep on saying that-we must all deal with the deficit and deal with it we will. We will reduce the deficit more quickly than the party opposite ever indicated it would do.
As regards the reductions in grant for Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea or wherever, their spending power, which is how the Local Government Association wanted to present it, means that reserves and council tax are taken into account. The reductions of 8.9 per cent will depend on how much they can contribute to that, how much council tax they get, how much revenue can come from elsewhere and how much comes from government. The reductions would have been higher all round if extra money had not been made available for the transitional period. However, now no council will lose more than 8.9 per cent. It has been done on a very fair and measured formula to ensure that people do not have big swings within their council tax settlements across the country. They should not be too great.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|