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The second point that I should like to ask him about is social work provision in young offender institutions. My noble friend Lord Ramsbotham referred to the Children Act 1989 and how there was some lack of clarity about whether it applied to children and young people in the secure estate. The Munby judgment established that local authorities were indeed responsible for the welfare of young people, particularly in care, in prisons. Social workers were appointed by the last Government to each young offender institution. In the course of time, the Government gave responsibility for running those posts to local authorities, but there was no agreement among local authorities on how they should be funded. Sadly, half or perhaps more than half of those posts are vacant. I would be grateful if the Minister could look at this situation in the interim, between now and the next stage, and give some reassurance that there will be a continual push to ensure that those vacancies are filled and that the important work that those social workers provide for those young people is delivered to them as needed. We have heard today how vulnerable those children are and their need for expert support in young offender institutions.
Lord McNally: I shall certainly take that back. Part of the problem with the two issues that the noble Earl raises-both the advocacy commitment and the social worker commitment-is that they are responsibilities of local authorities. One thing that we have made clear in this approach is that we intend to make local authorities much more responsible for the delivery of these parts of the youth justice system. However, we note the point and can return to it at Report.
I began to feel a bit sorry for the Minister as the afternoon wore on. He dealt with the debate with his customary charm and evasion, and I pay tribute to those skills-particularly with some of the noises coming from behind him. If he thinks that he has trouble with me, I think that he has a lot more trouble with the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
It is interesting that five former Ministers spoke today from different Benches. They all showed a healthy scepticism about the ability of government departments to take on these jobs. It is worth bearing in mind that it is not just a load of head-bangers like me who are saying that but some of the Minister's colleagues, who have spent their time in the salt mines of government. I note that the Prime Minister was not entirely overwhelmed by the performance of the Civil Service this week in some areas of its activity, so if the Minister gets too energetic in defending the MoJ's civil servants, he may want to think about whether he will join the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in the doghouse in terms of his ministerial prospects.
There is quite a lot here for the Minister to dwell upon. Perhaps I might just correct him and others who spoke this afternoon: they are youth offending teams not youth offender teams. It helps you to convey a sense of knowledge about the sector if you get the titles right, I have always found. I will not spend long talking about the issues that were raised but I will spend a few moments on the secure estate. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, raised the interesting point about money. He was quite right to do so, because the secure estate gobbles up most of the Youth Justice Board's budget. It will gobble up a lot more money if the good work that Francis Done and others have done is not continued to keep down the number of young people going into custody down. The Government might find that any savings they make by taking some of these functions in-house will, in a few years, result in a some surprises in the Ministry of Justice's budget if not such a great job has been done as that carried out by Youth Justice Board in commissioning services and keeping youngsters out of custody.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised an interesting point, which I would certainly want to reflect on before Report. It was an important point about whether one can ensure the good behaviour of future Ministers in this regard.
The Minister mentioned that his colleagues wanted the adult criminal justice services to learn from the advantages of the youth justice service. That is a praiseworthy objective, but it seems to me that he is more likely to achieve that if he looks at the instrument that was used with the youth justice services to try to drive change. It took a long time to get some of these programmes-their structures, relationships and working practices-changed when the Youth Justice Board was set up. The youth offending teams did not all say, "Hurrah! Parliament has passed the Crime and Disorder Act and we're all going to change our practices". It took a lot of hard graft to get people to do that. You are seeing the results of that hard graft coming through in the work of the Youth Justice Board in the past few years. Before you throw it all away, you need to think about how long it takes to get change in most public services.
I will reflect on what the Minister said. I am after not a Pyrrhic victory but a real victory. I am very encouraged by some of the responses from across the House on this amendment. I will reflect on everything that was said, but in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 65 and to speak to the associated amendments. My noble friend Lord Warner just said that he was beginning to feel sorry for the noble Lord, Lord McNally. It may be that my compassion is more easily triggered than his, but my feeling sorry for Ministers started very early on in this Bill-particularly for the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who has had to sit through the bulk of it.
These amendments are designed to improve the procedure for this Bill, both during the remaining stages of the primary legislation and in how we deal with secondary legislation in what remains of the Bill when it is eventually passed. The first five amendments in this group are essentially paving amendments for Amendments 113 and 119, which are the substantive ones and appear quite late in the Bill. It would have been better had we found a hook to hang them on earlier in the Bill, but Clause 8 deals with the procedure for developing the secondary legislation. In other words, these amendments are designed to help, whether the Front Bench opposite believes that or not. It was unfortunate that from the beginning the Government refused the suggestion of a Select Committee, but the amendments provide an alternative to that in relatively straightforward terms.
As I do not really need to remind the Government or the Committee, we have already seen great chunks of the Bill having to be dropped, partly on substantive grounds and partly on procedural grounds. We have lost forestry and much about the Ministry of Justice quangos which were to be merged or abolished under the Bill. I understand that we are about to lose the whole of Schedule 7 and I think we applaud the Government's flexibility on that, but they ought never to have got to this stage and the Bill should not have been constructed as it was.
We need a clear and more formal explanation from the Government of why these great lists of quangos are deemed suitable for abolition or merger. I appreciate that before each Committee session we get a list of the quangos that are likely to come up for decision during it, but they do not really suffice. Today, for example, for our enormously important debate on the Youth Justice Board, which excited great interest here in Committee and beyond, we had five lines explaining the reasons for abolishing that board.
My next amendment deals with an organisation for which there are two lines of explanation. Again, I appreciate that the Minister and his colleagues have sent us several other letters to try to explain this more clearly. However, it would be much more sensible if a clear explanation were put before Parliament, rather than one in the form of regulations and incomprehensible cross-references between clauses and existing legislation, of why the Government deem, for example, that the Youth Justice Board or Ofgem, or any of the regulators, should be abolished and the context in which those decisions are being made. There will shortly be a debate about the Equality and Human Rights Commission, for which we have two whole pages of explanation. It is central to a lot of our law and our approach to society, yet we do not have a realistic explanation of why the change is proposed. As a result, the Government have had to concede a lot of the Bill at the first hurdle.
The Government have also conceded that in some other areas they will in any case need primary legislation. Late the other night, and during the previous Session of Parliament, it was conceded that the self-regulating replacement for the Security Industry Authority would need new primary legislation with statutory backing. If that is the case, the point of having this in secondary legislation falls and the point of these lists-and the whole structure of the Bill-begins to fall. The amendments that I propose here would allow us to proceed with the Bill as it is, unsatisfactory though I think most of the Committee by now deems it. It would at least mean that we were assured that when we came to the secondary legislation stage, both Houses would have before them a very clear explanation to debate and vote on before proceeding with the abolition or the merger of any such bodies.
This would cover everything that is in Schedules 1 to 6-Schedule 7 we will shortly drop-and it would mean that Parliament could have a sensible debate. If we were convinced by the explanation given in prose by the Government, they could proceed in the normal way to secondary legislation. If we were not convinced, they would have to withdraw the intent on secondary legislation, and if they still wanted to do it they would have to revert to primary legislation in the way that they now propose to do, and not only for the organisations that I have suggested. In the area of competition authorities, for example, it has been made clear by the sponsoring department that the Government cannot simply change them thorough secondary legislation provided for under this Bill, but will have to have separate primary legislation to change the whole competition regime-and quite rightly, too.
Even at this late stage, if we adopted the provisions in these two main clauses we could ensure that there was an adequate debate and that we made the decisions on a firm basis. Amendment 113 simply suggests that before Ministers come forward to trigger the secondary legislation under the Bill, they place such a document before both Houses before we proceed. Prior to any discussion of the Youth Justice Board, and before the secondary legislation emerged, we would therefore have had a very clear explanation of why the Government thought that change should be made. The outrage that people felt about the YJB, forestry and other issues would have been ameliorated had it been clear that there would be another chance to have that substantive debate.
Amendment 119 recognises that you cannot just deal with these proposals, individual organisation by individual organisation. There is the whole question of what the government strategy is for various areas of our non-departmental public bodies. I declare a past interest in relation to consumer bodies: until six weeks ago I was the chair of Consumer Focus, one of the bodies in Schedule 1. The future of Consumer Focus, which is effectively to be transferred to the third sector, is inseparable from the overall approach to consumer representation in government policy on a number of fronts.
There are other bodies. We will be debating Passenger Focus later with regard to rail and bus transport. There is a consumer body for water, and those that are represented by Consumer Focus under the Energy Act and the Postal Services Act, including the one that we are due to debate next week. There is a whole range of different structures in statutorily provided consumer bodies, sometimes taxpayer-funded, though not always, and sometimes mandatorily industry-funded. This Government's original intention, which I applauded, was to look at that landscape as a whole; it was the intent of BIS, the main sponsoring department, to look at it in that light. In fact, it has lost a lot of Whitehall battles, and I am sad that that is the case. We are now debating each of those bodies separately and we will come up with different solutions, aggravating what is already a hotchpotch of consumer representation in that landscape.
On an even bigger scale, the same applies to economic regulators. There are economic regulators that appear in several of these schedules-Ofcom appears several times-while some appear only in Schedule 7 and therefore, I guess, they can relax. Others appear once or more in Schedules 1 to 6; Ofgem, Ofcom and the Office of Rail Regulation are all in here. Again, when the Government first came to office, they promised us a review of economic regulation and of what is appropriate for an independent regulator, what is appropriate for a government department, what is appropriate for lighter-touch regulation and so forth. It was an agenda that I did not entirely agree with but at least it would have been coherent. If we proceed under what is laid down in the Bill, however, we will take one view of what is appropriate for the regulation of energy regarding the balance between Ministers and the regulator and a different one for telecoms. Maybe that is justified, but it is not a priori obvious that it is justifiable. A clear and adequate explanation is therefore needed for this
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There could be other groups of bodies that arise in the Bill; indeed, we are about to come on to a load of environmental bodies. The very first amendment that I moved in this Committee session related to scientific advisory bodies. It is not clear why some scientific advisory bodies are to be dropped and others are not. There must be a general explanation of the science policy across government that makes those decisions clear but it has not been put before the House; we have dealt with them on an individual basis. Most of us would hope that Ministers received some independent scientific advice before they took important scientific decisions; hitherto, by and large, independent advisory committees with experts on the scientific areas concerned provided them with such advice. So there are groups of bodies that need addressing.
My main point here is that the Government, having proceeded on this list basis, now need to rescue it a bit and bring us back to what would be a normal parliamentary procedure, with something like a White Paper or a Green Paper, before they actually proceed area by area and organisation by organisation. I appreciate that the Government do not want to do all that in primary legislation. I have been a Minister too, and I understand that sometimes the complications of having to wait for primary legislation to change what appears to be a relatively small part of the machinery of government is very frustrating. However, it has to be done with the approval of Parliament in some sense. If you are taking the process away from primary legislation, at least this House-and to some extent, I suspect, colleagues down the road-would like to see clearly the way in which you are doing it and a clear basis for it. I think that Ministers realise now that a series of schedules and lists is not the way to do it and is not adequate. My amendment would help them in future to assure people that we would have that debate further down the line and assure them that, when secondary legislation came to be proposed, it would be done on a straightforward and understandable basis.
As we all know, the tradition is that we do not vote against or amend secondary legislation. That convention would be stretched if we had not previously had the kind of debate that I am envisaging in these amendments. I am asking the Government at least to recognise that at some stage we need to have that debate and that parliamentary decision on the basis of a formal document from the Government. This would make the Government's life easier; at least, I hope so. It would certainly help us to get the Bill through the primary stage rather faster, and I wish that the Government had come forward with such a measure earlier. For the moment, I beg to move.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support my noble friend. I spent part of my previous career sitting on various quangos, some of which are included in the Bill. I must say that I thought that the quango-sitting that I did was very useful, that our contribution was a good one and so on. I would like to think that they
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I am not sure I have any brownie points left in the bank after various earlier exchanges but I hope I have a few. I express my sympathy with the general thrust of the point that was made very well by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and which has just been supported. I imagine it will be further supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
There is, as I have said on several occasions in the House, a complete lack of intellectual coherence in the approach that is being adopted towards different bodies, particularly in respect of those parts of the Bill relating to the Ministry of Justice. I will not go on again now-although I will later-about the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, which I formerly chaired. However, we have a curious situation in which the AJTC is in-and for the moment stays in-Schedule 1 but the other two justice councils, which were in Schedule 7, have been cast out. The Civil Justice Council's terms of reference were those on which those of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council were modelled. Nobody has explained why what is right for the Civil Justice Council is wrong for the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, with which it overlaps. Picking up the fundamental thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, there is a case for a coherent explanation, across the board, of what the Government are doing. I hope we may get at least some assurance on that in the course of my noble friend's response.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, as predicted, I support these amendments. Amendments 65, 69, 77, 85 and 101 in this grouping all refer to the exercise of powers being subject to Clause 8. I therefore invite the Committee to look at Clause 8, which sets out the matters to be considered by the Minister, and to look at Amendment 107 in my name. It is not before us today because it was discussed earlier in Committee-on day one, when it was grouped with an amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Pannick. Your Lordships may remember that their amendment was accepted, contrary to the wishes of the Government. Although my amendment was not voted on at that point, I hope that might mean that the Government will therefore accept Amendment 107 in due course.
Amendment 107 is fundamental to the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, which is in front of us at the moment. It seeks to amend Clause 8, which requires consideration to be given only to the efficiency of the bodies concerned and their accountability to Ministers. However, Clause 8 as it stands makes no reference to the purpose of those bodies as set out in legislation. Therefore, my amendment, although not before us now, would add to the matters to be considered under Clause 8,
where this and another place have created a body for a particular reason. That does not, to my mind, mean that those bodies can never be abolished, changed or merged. It means that their objectives, and how those objectives should be achieved if they are still relevant, should be taken into account when any question of merger or removal is on the cards. As predicted, I thoroughly support the amendment, and this grouping, in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty. However, that is slightly on the assumption that a body's purpose will also be considered under Clause 8 at the point at which it would be implemented.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, it has been a long time since we last discussed these matters in Committee. Perhaps I may be forgiven for forgetting that I had added my name to that of my noble friend Lord Whitty on one of the amendments that we are now considering-Amendment 85. Since I did so, I cannot see any great reason to be in favour of one amendment but not the others. I am particularly glad to see Amendment 113 in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty. Surely it is essential that the Minister, when making an order under these provisions, should give the reasoning behind the change of status-the transfer or modification-from one to another. Surely one wants a ministerial explanation.
I have, however, come to doubt-this is really a question to my noble friend Lord Whitty-the need for the first five of his amendments, including the one that he is moving. He asks that, in relation to orders to transfer the functions of one body to another, or to modify a body's functions, the Minister should pay attention to Clause 8. However, Clause 8 itself says:
which include efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. I do not disagree with the point just made by my noble friend Lady Hayter, but I ask the mover of the amendment to clarify why he wants to insert certain phrases that seem to indicate simply that the Minister must consider matters referred to in Clause 8, when that is what Clause 8 itself says.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I, too, hope that the Minister will welcome this group of amendments. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, they are helpful amendments, which do not seek to change, amend or delete any body or group of bodies listed under Schedules 1 to 6.
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The amendments of my noble friend Lord Whitty will enable a somewhat fuller discussion to take place. They will also enable Members of both Houses, as well as the public and interested parties, to comment and express their support, opposition or reservations over what the Government propose for the body or group of bodies in question in a proper and open public debate before the Government make a final decision on whether to proceed with the order and its detailed provisions. Such a development would at least begin to address the democratic deficit that the Government are fostering through the absence of any pre-legislative scrutiny, followed by seeking to change or abolish by statutory instrument bodies with important roles, which were in many cases set up by Acts of Parliament.
There would also be another advantage in that it would enable the Government to reflect further on their proposals and intentions on which bodies, or groups of bodies, should have their role and status changed or abolished. It is already clear that this Bill was cobbled together in a great hurry, which is why there has been so much backtracking, albeit welcome backtracking. This has not happened because this is a listening and open Government but rather because this is a Government who seem to think that instant decision-making is the same thing as effective decision-making.
The requirement under these amendments for a report to be made to both Houses that would have to be debated and approved would encourage the Government to think carefully about the necessity and justification of what they are proposing, and would ensure that the implications have been properly thought through and addressed and that the proposals have been subject to challenge and scrutiny in a way that would never be achieved through the laying of a statutory instrument. A statutory instrument is not meant to be the way of implementing what in many cases will be significant change but rather constitutes the detailed implementation of a change which has already been the subject of properly parliamentary scrutiny and debate. That proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate is not happening under the terms of this sweeping Bill, with Ministers all too often simply hoping to get away with saying that the full case for what they are proposing, the implications of their proposals and how it is intended to implement the changes, as well as the details, will have to await the statutory instrument.
I am sure the Minister knows that the Bill has been rushed and is ill thought out and that proper, pre-legislative scrutiny, for a start, would have been beneficial to all
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I hope that I might, without abusing the rules of Committee stage, make a brief further intervention as I had not anticipated the thrust of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on her Amendment 107, for which I apologise. It may be helpful to the Minister if I give him notice of this. As I understood it, the noble Baroness was complaining that the provision in Clause 8 about efficiency, effectiveness, economy and accountability was not sufficient. I hope that my Amendment 106A focuses on that point at least as clearly by saying that one should also take into account,
I would like to see some values incorporated into what the Government have to take account of in these matters. Even if my noble friend cannot give me an assurance on that today, I hope that he will reflect on it.
When I made a somewhat similar point to the previous Government, the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, immediately took the point and brought forward an amendment to introduce values in a similar context into the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Therefore, I hope that that precedent will carry some weight, whether today or in the future.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for initiating this debate with his amendments as it is agreeable to return to the way in which the Bill operates, having discussed individual bodies at length. The noble Lord gave very good value, as he always does. I thank all noble Lords who have participated. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, drew the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and, indeed, that of my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree, to Clause 8. We are still looking at Clause 8 as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee asked us to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has a slightly jaundiced view of the way in which the Government have established dialogue on the Bill. We are genuinely seeking to introduce a necessary vehicle to deal with the reform of public bodies. I think that there is general agreement on that across the Committee. The previous Government had such a policy and we seek to pursue it in our turn.
The group of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would require that, before laying an order under Clauses 2 to 6, a Minister must lay before Parliament a report setting out the reasoning for any change in the status of a body or bodies he or she proposes to make, with the said report being
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The Government agree that Parliament should have access to appropriate information regarding any proposals to use powers under the Bill. The government amendments that we have introduced in Committee reflect this. In the first instance we have sought, along with Peers from across the House, to introduce a new requirement for Ministers to consult in relation to proposed changes under the Bill. Secondly, government amendments have been tabled which would require any draft instrument laid before Parliament to include an explanatory document which includes details setting out the reasoning behind the order.
These requirements give Parliament ample opportunity to scrutinise the reasoning behind the laying of an order. Amendment 113 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would effectively require an additional affirmative resolution process for a report concerning a proposed order before the order itself could be made. This amendment risks Parliament being asked to debate a report on a proposed order prior to the consultation on the said order having been concluded. Additionally, it would create a new burden on Parliament itself and on departments as they seek to deliver on the reform package to which the coalition Government are committed.
Amendment 119 would require a Minister making an order affecting a group defined as an economic regulator or a consumer body to place a report before Parliament setting out the reasons for the proposals in the context of that group of bodies as a whole. The Government, of course, recognise that changes to public bodies should not be considered in isolation. I assure the noble Lord that this was not the case for those reforms set out by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 14 October. In this instance all reforms were agreed at Cabinet level and involved extensive dialogue between departments. I particularly appreciate the spirit of the noble Lord's amendment in relation to relatively discrete groups of bodies such as the so-called economic regulators, where a shift in regulatory practice for one could potentially impact on regulatory stability across the sector, and where it is therefore right that Government act in a proportionate, joined-up manner.
As I said at Second Reading-I am happy to reiterate it-the Government intend the economic and regulatory functions of bodies such as Ofcom and Ofgem to be excluded from the powers of the Bill for precisely this reason. I do not believe that it is necessary to place such a requirement in the Bill, because the Government expect Ministers to consider such issues as a matter of course and because our Amendment 118, which requires Ministers to produce an explanatory document with a draft statutory instrument setting out the reasons for an order, will provide another opportunity to inform Parliament of such matters. For example, where a change is proposed to a consumer body or any other body, the Government will be required by Amendment 118 to
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I take note of this debate, in which there have been valuable contributions-not least the ideas on Clause 8 proposed by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter-and I hope that, given my assurances with regard to our commitment to sharing information with the House, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: Before my noble friend sits down, will he briefly animadvert on the nature of the explanatory document that he has it in mind to produce? Explanatory Memoranda about Bills often state that they are there only to explain the content, not to provide evidence that has led to formation of the policy. Furthermore, such memoranda frequently state that they are explaining only those matters that are obscure or not clear in the Bill. What is required to be helpful to the deliberative process is an undertaking that these memoranda will contain evidence explaining the policy.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: A requirement under our amendments will be that the explanatory documents are properly reasoned and describe not just what a statutory instrument proposes but the reasoning behind the change. They will also include an impact assessment. The idea is that these should be full documents. I understand what my noble friend is saying and I am grateful for his intervention, because Explanatory Memoranda to Bills frequently explain only what a particular clause might seek to do, not its implications. The requirement is that the explanatory documents should explain the reasoning behind a Minister's approach to laying a statutory instrument.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's reply. Indeed, at one point he used the word "agreeable", which perhaps raised my expectations too much. This short debate has demonstrated a need for the Government to provide a clearer explanation of what they are doing in this area. I saw the noble Lord's Amendment 118 and, like the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, I thought that that related to Explanatory Memoranda of the type that normally relate to content, rather than strategy and context. If the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is saying that the content of the explanatory document will go somewhat wider, I accept that that goes some way towards what I am arguing for.
In relation to the procedural points made by my noble friends Lord Borrie and Lady Hayter, when these amendments were drafted there was another amendment-we have now considered it-in addition to her Amendment 107, which would have strengthened Clause 8 and made more sense of it. I had hoped that that could have been sorted out later, if the Government had stated that in principle they were accepting these amendments. However, Clause 8 as it stands asks the Minister to take these matters into consideration but does not require him to explain them to Parliament in any form. I am concerned that Parliament should, at
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That remains an outstanding issue. When we reach Amendment 118, I hope that the Minister can expand further on how he sees this issue. However, the essential point is that Parliament by this Bill is giving up the right to revert to primary legislative procedure in relation to an organisation that was originally set up after full debate on primary legislation. We need a clear explanation if we are going to cut corners in that way. I still hope that we get there in the secondary, if not in the primary, legislation. If the Minister, before we consider Amendment 118 or at Report, can put a few bones on that, I should be extremely grateful. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1) Before making an order under section 2 in respect of the UK Film Council, the responsible Minister must report to Parliament with details on which body will be responsible for performing the following functions currently discharged by the UK Film Council-
(a) supporting film exports;
(b) protecting intellectual property and combating film theft;
(c) providing film research, statistics and market intelligence; and
(d) providing co-production support and diversity initiatives.
(a) the performance of the British Film Institute in discharging its function to promote the UK as an international filming location and to raise the profile of British films abroad;
(b) the performance of the British Film Institute in discharging its function to develop new and emerging talent in film production throughout the UK;
(c) the performance of the British Film Institute in discharging its function to ensure that a broad range of films are available for the British public; and
(d) the criteria used and funds allocated and distributed by the British Film Institute for film production in the UK."
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, the Bill deals with the questions of whether certain functions undertaken by government should be devolved to public bodies and how to ensure that these bodies are accountable. The Government are supposed to check whether a function needs to be carried out at all and then to apply certain tests to determine whether a public body is the "right delivery mechanism".
Our case is that film policy fits these tests and that government has been right to establish public bodies to deal with the delivery of its objectives. The issue is
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I declare a past interest as former director of the British Film Institute. I thank my noble friends Lord Wills and Lord Judd for putting their names to these amendments. My noble friend Lord Puttnam apologises for not being present. He was here last week when we nearly reached consideration of the amendments; indeed, that would have been well timed, because it was the night after the Oscar ceremonies, for which we were on tenterhooks. Unfortunately, he is now abroad and cannot be with us today.
By all accounts, this was one of the best years for British films in the BAFTAs and one of the best years for British nominations in the Oscars across all the technical specialisms, as well as in acting, producing and directing. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords in sending our warmest congratulations to all those involved. "The King's Speech" joins nine other British films that have won an Oscar for best picture. Colin Firth richly deserves his best actor accolade. Tom Hooper is the latest British director to be honoured and joins Danny Boyle, Sam Mendes, Anthony Minghella and Dickie Attenborough-to name but a few of the most recent winners. With the winners for the best original script, David Seidler, and best supporting actor, Christian Bale, Britain kept up its remarkable record of success. We are good at making films.
On another occasion, I should like to draw attention to the excellent work being done, perhaps behind the scenes, at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, which had another good awards season, with 40 graduates involved in the BAFTA nominations and 25 working on films that garnered Oscar nominations. We are good at films and at training people for film.
"The King's Speech" was supported by the UK Film Council with lottery funding and is already the most successful British independent film of all time. It has taken a staggering £42 million so far in the UK and has grossed $278 million worldwide. It is reaching new audiences. Indeed, one could say that it boldly goes where no British film has gone before. As a result of the modest investment made by the UK Film Council, millions of pounds will be recycled back into supporting the UK film industry. In that sense, the film perfectly makes the case for the UK Film Council's work.
The last Government were considering a merger between the BFI and the Film Council but wanted the bodies themselves to come up with a workable proposal. In abolishing the UK Film Council by press release, the Government threaten one of the outstanding achievements of the past 10 years, during which time film became one of the UK's real success stories and a
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I said earlier that the Government had been precipitate in abolishing the UK Film Council. Contrast, if you will, its demise with the careful way in which the previous Government set up the body a decade ago-a process in which I played a small part. Working from an initial proposal from the BFI, a working group co-chaired by the right honourable Tom Clarke MP, the Film Minister, and Stewart Till from the industry consulted widely across industry and abroad before the report, A Bigger Picture, was delivered to the Secretary of State and then implemented. Many of the findings of that report are very relevant today.
Film is both art and business. The British director John Boorman once called it the business of "turning money into light". It is creative and innovative, it powers growth, it stimulates employment, it drives tourism and, as the Americans have recognised from the earliest days, it can promote both cultural and physical goods. If we are to diversify the British economy, we need to support and nurture our creative industries. Film is a collaborative industry and it ought to be at the heart of our drive to develop the creative industries, drawing as it does on so many other allied industries, increasingly in the new technologies.
However, we in Britain have a schizophrenic attitude to film. Is it a coincidence that the Royal Opera House dominates Covent Garden, that the National Theatre draws eyes across the Thames and that the Royal Festival Hall stands proud beside it, but that the National Film Theatre is hidden under Waterloo Bridge, every screening potentially ruined by the traffic grinding its way across above it and audiences constantly frustrated about how to find their way in, let alone watch a movie?
The machinery of UK film is complex, with many moving parts, and there is a need for a single body to continue the work of turning the UK film sector into a professional, co-ordinated and powerful industry, capable of making and distributing movies that will earn back their investment across the world. Every Government in the world, including that of the USA, support their film industry. We have the talent and the facilities-our records show that. What the industry wants is a long-term, stable partnership with government.
When I first put down this amendment to the Bill last year, I did not know at that time that the majority of the functions of the UK Film Council were to be transferred to the BFI. Although I regret the way in which this was done, I support that decision, which I think was the right one. I am confident that the senior management and the board of the BFI will rise to the "challenge", as the Minister Ed Vaizey put it, of becoming the,
However, closer inspection of the plans gives me cause for concern. I understand that only 44 of the 76 UK Film Council posts are to be transferred to the BFI, as no funding is earmarked for several of the functions currently undertaken, including support of film exports, protecting intellectual property and combating film theft, and providing co-production support. Can the Minister give us some explanation of what is to happen to these functions and why it was felt that they were not central to the future development of film in this country?
Of the 44 posts that are transferring out of the UK Film Council, I understand that four are to go to Film London, which is to take over the functions of the British Film Commissioner and be responsible for promoting the UK as a base for making films across the world. Film London is a good body with an excellent track record, but separating out the functions of inward investment not only from the BFI but from the eight regional film agencies, which are combining to form Creative England, and the film agencies in the three nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seems an odd way of restructuring this vital area. Can the Minister give us an idea of how this will work in practice and what benefits will flow from the new arrangements?
I understand that the UK Film Council's research, statistics and market intelligence function, which provides crucial underpinning of data and evidence to help to inform policy, will be transferring to the BFI. However, I also understand that the DCMS will not be providing funding to support it. What sort of Alice in Wonderland world can this be? If the work is worth doing, surely it is worth paying for. I do not see the department, with its own cuts and reductions in staff, doing this. Can the Minister confirm that this function will be funded going forward?
Finally, I understand that the vesting day for the BFI to take over responsibility for former UK Film Council functions has now been brought forward to April 2011, which seems rather tight, given that so much change is under way and that so many staffing and other transfers have still to be negotiated. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us on that point and give us an update on progress.
These are serious questions, which, along with the more general points that I have been making, are the basis of the second part of Amendment 65A. If we believe that our film industry is important to us as a nation both culturally and because of its growing
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Given what I have been saying about the schizophrenic nature of our approach to film, it occurs to me that, should the Committee agree with our proposals, we might come back at Report with a suggestion that an annual report on film be presented to Parliament, perhaps at the end of February each year, so that we can have the opportunity, every year, not only of discussing the place of film in the United Kingdom but of celebrating our ongoing successes at the BAFTAs and the Oscars. I beg to move.
Lord Wills: My Lords, in rising to support the amendments that my noble friend Lord Stevenson has so eloquently presented and to which I have added my name, I draw the Committee's attention to my declaration of interests as set out at Second Reading of the Bill on 9 November last year.
The success of "The King's Speech" at the Oscars, at other awards ceremonies and at the box office this year has been widely celebrated, as indeed has the success of other British films. These are tremendous achievements. "The King's Speech" was a tremendous achievement for the writer, the director, the actors and everyone involved in its production, and that includes the UK Film Council. As Iain Canning, one of the producers of that film, said, the film,
As we have heard and as your Lordships will know, the UK Film Council is now no more. It was abolished last year by the Government by press release. It was hard to understand why the Government took that decision last year, but it is even harder to understand today when we see the tremendous success of these films in which the UK Film Council has played such an important role. The UK Film Council was a flourishing public body competing in a ferociously competitive marketplace. It has helped to treble the turnover of the British film industry in the past 10 years. It supported the development of new filmmakers, funded imaginative and innovative British films, and ensured that British audiences could have access to all the glories of the cinema, with a wider choice of films made available to audiences throughout the country.
the Secretary of State explained that it was "simply not acceptable" to use taxpayers' money to fund an organisation that pays its top eight executives more than £100,000 each. That was the justification that he gave. However, the Secretary of State was wrong in
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I entirely accept that no organisation has a right to an eternal existence but, if politicians are going to butcher successful organisations operating in a world of which they seem to have very little knowledge and understanding, they would be well advised to have good reasons for doing so. That is all the more important when the organisation in question depends for its success on a very rare combination of skills: a commercial eye for an audience, an intimacy with the medium, a human empathy with creative artists, the ability to nurture and to develop them, and an inspirational excitement about the cultural and economic benefits which film can offer and which my noble friend Lord Stevenson so eloquently set out. Such organisations are very hard to create and when they work as well as the UK Film Council was working, they should be cherished, not arbitrarily destroyed.
This organisation was scrapped without consultation, just through a press release, and, as far as I am aware, Ministers have not even had the elementary courtesy at any point since then to say anything in praise of the UK Film Council's remarkable achievements, not even about its role in the creation of "The King's Speech". I note the contrast with the debate which we had earlier today when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, under assault from all sides of the House, still found it possible to pay tribute to all the good work done by the Youth Justice Board. By contrast, Ministers who take responsibility for this in the other place-I obviously make an exception for the Ministers on the Front Bench in this House who are completely blameless in this respect-have not even had the elementary courtesy to say one word in tribute to the organisation which, apparently, they have so arbitrarily scrapped.
Why should the exceptionally talented people who work for the UK Film Council hang around working for a public body when they all have so many other options-much more lucrative options, in most cases-and when they are treated with such discourtesy by the Secretary of State who will determine the future of film in this country? I understand that the haemorrhaging of talent has already begun. Able and experienced professionals are leaving the public sector for other jobs and no doubt more will follow. Successful organisations such as the UK Film Council exist in a fragile ecology and politicians meddle at their peril.
Of course, there are profound challenges facing film in this country but this casual and ill thought-through decision is not the way to meet them. My noble friend Lord Stevenson has already said that last year the British Film Institute and the UK Film Council discussed a merger and both sides decided, after lengthy discussion
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Amendment 65A draws attention to some of the unease that has been created by how the functions which have been discharged by the UK Film Council will be discharged in this new era. All mergers, all kinds of takeovers, whatever you want to call this current process, are difficult in every industry and every business. It is notoriously difficult to make them work successfully. I hope that Ministers are not just standing by and relying on all the talented, highly motivated and able people on both sides of this debate to bring this off themselves. Ministers may have to intervene to bring about a successful conclusion and I hope that they will do so.
In responding to the amendment, I ask the Minister to say whether the Government will ensure that the UK Film Council's research and statistics unit will carry on that essential work long term. I understand that the funding is guaranteed for one year but will they ensure that it is carried on long term? Without a market intelligence function like this, the BFI will be making decisions in the dark. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the Committee what estimate has been made of the impact of not funding film exports. Film exports under the guidance of the UK Film Council have grown by 92 per cent. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson has already said, in 2008, film exports amounted to more than £1.3 billion. At a time when the Government are placing so much of their hopes for economic recovery on growth in exports, why are they taking away the support function from such a crucial industry? Can the Minister name other crucial industries where support for exports has been similarly scrapped?
Can the Minister also say who will take over the UK Film Council's role in opening up film to as wide and diverse an audience as possible? How will the BFI demonstrate a strategy which reflects its new responsibility for the entire film sector and not just BFI-related exhibition and distribution? What can the Minister say to assure this House that the BFI will be committed to representing the interests of the film industry as a whole as well as the UK Film Council has done in the past? That is crucial as technology and the economic structure of the industry are changing very fast. What can the Minister say to reassure the film industry and this House that the BFI will address effectively such key issues as film theft, piracy, pay-TV platforms, which are especially important now that Sky has become
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In the coming years, Ministers-I direct my remarks to Ministers in the other place-will be judged by how far the film industry measures up to the benchmark now set by "The King's Speech". Ministers may move on to new jobs in Government or to none but the Ministers responsible for this decision now risk being remembered as the politicians who carelessly and needlessly destroyed an important part of the infrastructure of the British film industry. They now have to prove that what they have put in its place will be an improvement. I very much hope that they can do so. These amendments give the Government an opportunity to offer reassurance that they now understand that. I hope that they will take it.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I add my support to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Stevenson and join him in congratulating those who won the Oscars. I perhaps should not forget the BAFTAs, which are more local and also well worth winning, as the same pattern of achievement was there.
I want to address the Committee on this amendment as I had the very good fortune to be the first person designated as the Minister for Intellectual Property, a role which I know that the new Government have also taken on as a ministerial post. The enjoyment from that role came from being involved not only in helping to drive forward businesses but in assisting in the development of cultural industries. I was under no illusion while doing so that Governments do not create business; they simply do their best to set out the conditions in which business might be able to thrive. The advantages of doing that are that, certainly in this country, we are unlikely to make much of our living doing many of the things which we have traditionally done, but we make a very good living from being successful in the creative industries.
My noble friend Lord Stevenson has pointed out that film adds between an additional 6 and 9 per cent per annum to the value created. The data that I read when I was responsible for the matter showed that the creative economy as a whole grew consistently by between 7 and 8 per cent per annum. Almost no other part of the United Kingdom's economy had a growth pattern that came anywhere near that level of achievement. I recognise immediately some of the difficulties in measuring economic performance, but very good research from Queen Mary, London University, and other universities, has come back pretty consistently with the figure of between 7 and 8 per cent and one or two estimates which were higher. That is a fantastic achievement.
That is why I want to look particularly carefully at what might disrupt elements of that achievement and I will do so by focusing on subsection (1)(b) of the
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We had a range of options to try to deal with that problem. For a start, trading standards officers locally would try to identify the criminals involved and get their hands on the contraband. On occasion, the police made that effort as well. I have to say-and I mean no complaint by this, because trading standards officers and police forces have many other priorities-that it was seldom at the top of their priority list. The result was that a great deal of the great value in a great product made in this country was consistently lost. Of course it is true that American, French and other films are also stolen, but today we are concerned with what has been achieved in our film industry.
The efforts that had to be made to stop the damage being done to the industry were highly specialised, not only in the companies that made films, which of course had real concern about their property being stolen, but in the British Film Institute, which tried to work with and assist those companies in responding to that wholesale theft.
It was not a simple matter of a fixed pattern of theft. The development of the internet world and digital technology meant that the character of the crime and the way in which people could perpetrate it kept changing. That meant that consistent attention had to be paid to how people stole the intellectual property. Some people-of course, nobody in your Lordships' House-thought, as they did with the music industry, that this was a good fun, picaresque event, involving a modern-day Robin Hood banditry that was perfectly acceptable. You could steal a band's music; you could steal someone's movie; it did not really make a difference; it was all part of the public good and in the public domain so it was all right. I took a different view for a couple of reasons, which I shall sum up briefly for the Committee.
First, you cannot have a viable industry creating great products if people feel that they can steal the product easily. That is why the function referred to in the amendment is vital if we have serious intent to protect the industry. My second reason is that many of the people who were detected in the theft of intellectual property, particularly in music and film, turned out to be criminals who were also involved in a number of other activities, including people trafficking-it was often people who had been trafficked who were selling these products in car boot sales, public houses and so on-and drug distribution. It was often a way of incorporating those individuals in a wider range of crime. There was strong evidence, not least from the police forces, for which I was very grateful, which indicated that we were addressing a problem wider even than the damage being done to the creative industries.
How precisely are we to protect that intellectual property from theft? If we do not, I am genuinely fearful that the film industry will go into decline, as have many parts of the music industry. I ask the Committee not to underestimate just how steep a downward curve that industry has faced.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I add my support to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Stevenson. I do so as someone who served until the general election on the Select Committee on Communications of your Lordships' House. Shortly before the election, the committee produced a detailed report on the state of the UK film and television industry as it was then-that is only just over a year ago.
A lot of the evidence taken by the committee then was in the wake of another huge success for the British film industry, although of a rather different nature from that of "The King's Speech" which we have been celebrating today. That film was "Slumdog Millionaire", which also had huge success at the Oscars and elsewhere and depended for some of its success not on money from the UK Film Council but on a small amount of money, very early in the film's development, from Channel 4. The reason that I mention that in relation to the amendment is that, as my noble friend Lord Wills just remarked, the UK film industry exists in a very fragile ecology. Its fragility concerns how difficult it is not so much to get things finished as to get them started.
The UK Film Council's intervention, which allowed "The King's Speech" to be made, was at the beginning of that process. Anyone who has spent time over the past few weeks reading all the interviews and material generated by the success of "The King's Speech" will know that Tom Hooper, his screenwriter and the other people-the small group who believed in the project-struggled to get it going. Always, when we look at UK films that have big success, we think, "Of course. Why would it not be successful?". It is not like that. One valuable thing that the UK Film Council has done, which is mentioned in the amendment, is to collect data and research on all the various ways in which the UK film industry is active. Those data reveal that the industry is in constant flux. It has moments of huge success and, at other times, moments when its success falls away.
In my view, that is partly because the industry has a relatively small domestic market. It has to get out there and sell itself into a wider world market before it can really start to make money. That is why film export is so important and why it is therefore necessary for the Government and the Minister, when she comes to reply, to explain how the film export aspect of the work of the UK Film Council will be supported and continued as we go on. The American film industry has a massive domestic market, and films can be a success in America using just that domestic market. Our film industry cannot rely on that market. It has to get out there and sell itself. The success of "The King's Speech" is remarkable in that it has become a worldwide success. That is very hard to achieve from a UK base, and anything that is likely to undermine the continuing success of UK film by not properly supporting the export side of it is very much to be regretted.
I would also like to mention one other thing that is not specifically mentioned in this amendment, but I hope the Minister will find something to reassure the Committee about it when she comes to reply. It is about supporting film artists at an early stage in their career. Whether you are a director or a writer, the
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It is a very great matter of pride to all of us when a film such as "The King's Speech" comes along and has such extraordinary success at home and in America, but it is an extremely long, hard journey to get a film such as that up and running and to get it to be as successful as that film has been. We cannot afford to lose any of the potential support for UK film makers.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 65A, particularly subsections (1)(d), (2)(c) and (2)(d). I declare an interest as an actress, broadcaster and producer. I shall speak first on subsection (1)(d) and the subject of diversity. For nearly 40 years now, I have spoken about the need to reflect diversity in film and media and, over those years, there have been many attempts to address the issue. Yet, sadly, this year, it was glaringly noticeable that there were no black or Asian nominees in the BAFTAs or the Oscars, which I find shocking in the 21st century. This is why I am supporting this amendment to ensure that provision is made actively to continue to address this situation.
I fear that this will not be undertaken because there is currently no diversity strategy in place at the BFI beyond a diversity programming group, which delivers various seasons and the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. I find it difficult to understand that a modern organisation such as the BFI is without a focused diversity strategy that is actionable and measurable externally throughout the film industry. Diversity requires strong leadership from an individual to ensure success. It cannot just be an add-on to a blanket organisational remit. There is far too much proof that, although people mean well, there are always other priorities. The BFI says that it is passionate about diversity, but how will it demonstrate that to a diverse talent pool that wants more of what the UK Film Council's diversity department has been delivering for the past few years?
My concern is that without an industry-focused diversity strategy there will be no further collaborations between the Film Fund, which distributes the funding, and the film sector to provide career-enhancing opportunities for diverse talent, which, in broadcast terms, relates to the new Equality Act. I fear that without a diversity strategy no one will actively provide real job opportunities, either in front of or behind the camera, thereby sending a clear message to the sector that diversity is not a vital necessity in order to reflect modern Britain. This will be disastrous.
Over the past few years, the UK Film Council has supported diversity projects to support the sustainability of diverse talent through proper training opportunities.
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I now move on to subsections (2)(c) and (2)(d). I want to highlight the need to allocate a percentage of funds for films targeted at children and young people. The state of UK children's film production is dire. In 2010, the UK Film Council made only six grants totalling £113,500 towards children's and young people's films. This works out at 0.75 per cent of the UK Film Council's budget for filming in that year. Over the years, it was always believed that little was being done to produce culturally significant, good-quality British films for children, but it is clear to see that children's films are a highly popular genre, as recent reports on UK film audiences in 2010 show that most of the popular films received U or PG certificates and so were classified for children.
Yet the problem for British film does not lie with trying to attract an audience to watch the films. Instead, it occurs with trying to keep the money made by successful children's films in this country. Many of the most profitable and lucrative films since 2006 have been British-born stories and ideas, yet they were not necessarily UK film productions, as we do not have the money to make large-budget blockbusters. These are films such as "The Chronicles of Narnia", "Harry Potter", "Pirates of the Caribbean", "The Golden Compass" and, most recently, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Fantastic Mr Fox". The accomplishments of these films show that, through investment in quality children's films, large profits can be achieved and this can bring about a good return. It also shows that, by investing in ourselves, we will be able to keep profits at home and put them straight back into funding and making even better British films for children.
The real question at hand is how the British film industry can benefit from UK children's film productions. On 21 January 2011, BAFTA, along with members of the Danish film industry, hosted an event entitled, "Is Something Rotten in the State of Children's Cinema?". The event focused on the work done by the Danish Film Institute, since the UK is facing similar issues to those dealt with by it a few years ago. Denmark now has a strong film industry in which Danish kids' films take 38 per cent of all box office takings. This can be linked to its film Act in 1997, under which an allocated 25 per cent of the state-funded film budget is put directly into funding children's films. This figure has been ring-fenced, which has allowed Danish film-makers to produce films specifically for children. From 1999
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If the Government encourage the BFI to adopt the Danish model and if the BFI actively promotes the availability of funds for UK children's film productions, this will attract co-production, create an active UK children's film market and establish a creative outlet for our talented British creators so that they too can stand on the world stage and be honoured, like those who created celebrated films such as "The King's Speech" this year. An agreed percentage of funds should be allocated to UK film productions for children and young people to enable this to happen, so I support this amendment.
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on tabling Amendment 65A, which I support, as it is an imaginative amendment that seeks to discuss the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute and how their continuing respective functions will relate to each other. It quite deliberately uses the term "merger".
I will speak to the work of the British Film Institute and to my concerns and hopes for this important organisation in the light of the changes that are to be made. Its multifaceted work does not have a primarily commercial imperative. Its work is inherently good for British culture and British society as a whole. Film has become, as in other countries but particularly in Britain throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, part of the lifeblood of the nation, so the BFI is as relevant today as it has been in the past and will be in the future.
Over decades, the BFI has done tremendous work, not least in saving, restoring and rediscovering British films that would otherwise be lost because of the fragility of the film medium. My own father, Terry Trench, worked in the post-war British documentary film industry, mainly as an editor but sometimes as producer or director. His films are among the close to a million titles that the BFI now holds in its national archive. My father was one of a number of still often unsung heroes of the original British documentary film movement, although now there is a much greater interest in this tradition, due in no small measure to the BFI-the success of its DVD compilations such as "Land of Promise" are a testament to this.
Indeed, the BFI is keen to allow work to be as accessible as possible to the public, although, given the copyright issues, this is not always easy. As it happens, the very first film that my father edited was directed by Anthony Asquith. The BFI recently restored Asquith's early features, including "Underground", leading directly to something of a critical reappraisal of his work. At present, the BFI is in the process of restoring nine of Hitchcock's silent films in readiness for a retrospective in 2012, which in the year of the Olympics will garner considerable international interest.
I think on reflection that it could be a good thing if the UK Film Council was merged with the BFI-I choose my words carefully. However, I hope that this will not lead to the current BFI becoming some type of junior partner within this cinematic coalition, as with clear overall leadership its current role could and should be kept intact and necessarily as properly funded as the UK Film Council, which I understand from Ed Vaizey's announcement on Thursday stands to benefit from a well deserved multimillion-pound injection of financial support, just as the BFI faces an undeserved 15 per cent cut in funding.
Ideally, the BFI would become the guardian of film of the past, the present and the future-the Paul Newman Butch Cassidy role to the UK Film Council's Robert Redford Sundance Kid, if you will. However, if the overall framework overburdens the BFI and then threatens its current work, the merger will be a disaster, whatever extra funding the UK Film Council in effect receives, as there will be no legacy to aspire to and no heritage to make. In the light of this, I call on the Government to look carefully at the balance of funding and to reappraise those cuts, which are aimed at the heritage of the national film industry.
We are still fighting the same ideological battles as 50 years ago, even though the stages for such battles might have changed. My father worked for the state-funded Crown Film Unit, a much respected quango that was set up to replace the GPO Film Unit, whose work of course included the celebrated "Night Mail". What then happened in 1952 to the Crown Film Unit, fresh from its recent BAFTA and Oscar-winning triumphs? A newly elected Conservative Government abolished it, the reason cited being financial in a time of austerity. I hope very much that the BFI goes from strength to strength and that the Government will continue to support its important work.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I have a brief observation to make. We heard a very enthusiastic speech from the Prime Minister in recent days about regenerating the imaginative drive of British industry. We are good at the creative arts and we are good at universities. Why do we have this generalised bureaucratic approach to sweeping legislation instead of getting down to the task-the real discipline-of looking specifically at each of these sectors and the things that are happening in them and devising the strongest possible arrangements to support them in maximising their success? Their success is beyond doubt and it is absolute madness to have been through an episode in which the talent that had got together and that was fulfilling the job so convincingly has been undermined, demoralised and fragmented by what has been proposed. How on earth does this relate to what the Prime Minister was talking about at the weekend? I ask the Government, even at this late stage, not just to try to patch up what has happened and try to find some acceptable solution but to look at the whole thing again and ask how they can really ensure that they have the strongest possible and most dynamic arrangements in place to enable the film industry, and indeed the universities, to succeed as they should.
Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I was not going to speak in this debate, but two things strike me. Here, I ought
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First, my gut feeling about the merger is that it would be much better to have one body speaking to the British film industry and combining all the functions of the two existing organisations. This would reduce overheads, produce greater efficiencies and allow the new body to focus on the important issues for the film industry-in other words, to be one strong voice for the British film industry. Before these amendments came before us today, I asked one or two noble friends who are in the business for their views. I am told that not all but many eminent practitioners think that the Government in this instance have got it just about right.
Secondly, I am not 100 per cent sure why these amendments are being discussed today in our deliberations on the Public Bodies Bill. I did not think that either the UK Film Council or the British Film Institute were public bodies. They are not statutory bodies, so as excellent and as passionate as this debate has been, surely it should have been conducted outside the confines of this Bill.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate with, as is so often the case in your Lordships' House, contributions by dedicated and knowledgeable Peers who are passionate about their subject. I am grateful to those who introduced these amendments but I want to be clear from the outset that the Public Bodies Bill is not the right place to debate the abolition of the UK Film Council or the transfer of functions to the British Film Institute. The UK Film Council is a company limited by guarantee. The British Film Institute is a registered charity established by royal charter. Neither is a statutory body, so neither has a place in the Public Bodies Bill.
However, Amendment 67B, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Wills, and Amendments 77A and 85B, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Wills and Lord Judd, would include the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute within Schedules 2, 4 and 5. Amendment 65A, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Puttnam and Lord Wills, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, would create a duty for the Government to lay before Parliament a report following a merger under Clause 2.
I will consider these amendments together. In answer to the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, about recognition from Ministers of the success of "The King's Speech", as recently as last week the Minister, Ed Vaizey, praised the UK Film Council in a speech at the UK Screen Association. That is on public record. The Government remain absolutely committed to supporting the British film industry. The decision to abolish the UK Film Council should not be misconstrued as an attempt to undermine the industry. I urge noble Lords to consider the substance of our proposals before coming to conclusions as there is a certain amount of support for this merger even from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. While the UK Film
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The noble Lord, Lord Wills, was rightly concerned that the British Film Institute's research and statistics unit should be retained. I can assure him that we, as well as the industry, believe that that is critical. Discussions are progressing well between the BFI, Film London and the UK Film Council, and we are confident that the transfer in April will leave no gap in the service provided to the UK film industry. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is right that we are looking for the full transfer in April 2011. As referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the DCMS is currently discussing with the industry and the BFI the solution to funding the research and statistics unit. My noble friend Lord Cathcart made a very valid point and he is absolutely right. I am most grateful to him for reminding us yet again that these bodies have no place in the Bill.
British film-making continues to have a bright future under this Government. The film tax credit, which is worth more than £100 million each year to the British film industry, will continue with the certification unit moving across from the UK Film Council to the British film industry. Lottery funding available for the industry will increase from the current £27 million to £43 million by 2014, an increase of more than 50 per cent. The success of films such as "The King's Speech" shows that we can be proud of the country's contribution to film-making and I was delighted that this contribution was acknowledged at last week's Oscar ceremony, as well as at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globe Awards. I should like to add my congratulations to all those involved to those of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, asked several questions. He asked whether talented staff will have a fulfilling future. We agree and would hope that they will. Transfer arrangements are currently the subject of due diligence discussions between the British Film Institute and the UK Film Council. He also asked about film exports, as did the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Tough government decisions have had to be taken and priorities established but the UK Film Council continues to work with the industry to promote film exports. The noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Benjamin asked about responsibility for diversity issues. I can assure them that it is part of the fuller policy remit. The noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Triesman, asked about piracy and we understand their concern. The BFI does not represent the film industry on IP issues. The responsible agency for public policy is working with the industry.
We have had an interesting debate and I should like to remind your Lordships once again that these are not statutory bodies and should not appear in the Bill. However, I have taken note of the points and some of the constructive ideas. If I have not answered all questions asked by noble Lords I will of course take them back to the department. I should also like to remind your Lordships that the additional statutory reporting requirement is not feasible as it relates to a
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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. In some senses, this debate has proved to be exactly what we had hoped that it would when we put down the amendments. We did so in a spirit of discussion and debate, which I hope has not been misconstrued on the other side. It is clearly a probing amendment. You cannot reinstate that which should not be instated in the first place and you certainly cannot abolish it subsequently since it has already been abolished. So we were in somewhat of an Alice in Wonderland world. We expected to be caught out and indeed we were.
However, in so doing, the debate has been exactly as we had hoped it would be. There have been contributions from all around the House, which have covered all aspects of what we thought was an important issue. We have made the point that this is something that will not wait simply on some arbitrary definition of what is a statutory body and what is not. I said at the very beginning of my remarks-I am sorry that the Minister did not come back to this-that if the general point being made in this Bill is that bodies devolved from government to bodies whether statutory or not is an important feature of our constitutional hardwiring, why is it that we are not able to work into our system a method under which those bodies can be asked to report back to Parliament so that we can have the sort of discussion which we so patently have had today? That is a question which the noble Baroness might like to take back and think about as we move towards the Third Reading of the Bill.
Several extremely valuable points were made during the debate. I particularly enjoyed those made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, which she has made to me on many occasions when I was in a position to do something about them. I suffered then and I think we have all suffered again today as we realise how bad we are about the diversity issues to which she drew our attention, and how much neglect there is in our overall concern about culture if we do not nurture our children. I wish the noble Baroness all the best in carrying on with putting these points forward. It may not be the case that the Danish model is the right one, but it is certainly something that we should be looking at, and I hope that the BFI will take it forward.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, was too modest when talking about his family's experiences. I think that there is an Oscar lurking in there somewhere, along with other prizes, and we should celebrate that with him. He made the point exactly as one would expect: when we have something successful in the country-we had the Crown Film Unit that did fantastic work which is now being restored and reissued to audiences-when it is doing particularly well, we tend to chop it down on the grounds of cost.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh said that we always have to think about how to get started in the industry. It is not a traditional industry in the sense that you can join at the bottom and work your way up; rather it is one that is feast or famine. If you have a success you
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My noble friend Lord Judd drew attention to the imaginative drive that permeates throughout many ministerial Statements these days. Why on earth can we not recognise that the creative economy is one of the places that we will get the returns we need? It must be backed with really sensible proposals that will take it forward and thus out of the traditional modes with which we have been trying to support it. My noble friend Lord Triesman made the important point that IP is the key to a lot of future creative activity and that those who try to abuse it are often linked into other criminal behaviour. We are going to be in serious trouble if we cannot think through how the rights to creative activities are being taken away from the creators up to the point where sometimes they will not invest in order to achieve the benefits that we would like from them.
All in all, we have had a particular debate. I felt that the Minister did not really pick up on what the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Wills was about. My noble friend tried to say that while we are supportive of where we are, because we are going to have a merger between the UK Film Council and the BFI whether we like it or not, there are some good things to say about it. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, drew attention to the problems that can arise where a cultural body takes on a commercial wing. But the BFI has done production before and, I think, can rise to the challenge going forward. However, as my noble friend Lord Wills said, we now have a benchmark. We know what success means in this world. I recommend to Ministers that they should think carefully about where the UK Film Council took our film industry so that, when we are able to debate this issue again, we can think again about the benchmark and consider whether the changes that are being brought forward now are sufficient and can succeed in achieving a sustainable British film industry, something that all noble Lords will join me in saying that they want.
To move to resolve that this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government have laid before Parliament the Social Fund Maternity Grant Amendment Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/100) at unnecessary speed and without providing more information on the impact on new mothers and children in low-income families; and notes with concern that the regulations will remove funds from some of the poorest families during the crucial early months of a child's life.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Sherlock secured this debate and I pay tribute to her for doing so. However, it is with great regret that she has had to withdraw, and she has asked me to speak in her place. I agreed to do so willingly, but alas I fear that I will not execute the task as well as she would have done. I should also declare an interest as president of HomeStart in my former constituency of Islwyn.
The two poorest groups in our society are those at the extreme end of the age range-pensioners and young children-and the change the Government are making to the Social Fund Maternity Grant is an outright attack on young children born into some of the poorest families in Britain. Put simply, at present women receiving certain means-tested benefits can get a grant of £500 to help with the costs of a new baby. The Government intend to abolish this payment for the second and subsequent children. A woman who gives birth to a new baby will lose the grant if she already has another child aged under 16 in the household.
The Government are planning £9 billion of cuts in the tax and benefits system, and some £4 billion of those are going to come from child support. I believe that this shows that the Government are out of touch. They assume that parents need only to spend the grant to acquire a pram, a pushchair, a cot, baby clothes and all that is needed for a newborn child just once in a lifetime. I suppose they imagine that all these things can be stored away as the first child grows out of them in case another child follows, and they assume that this storage can go on for 16 years.
This is an attack on some 150,000 of the poorest families in Britain. The Government are taking this step without proper consultation and against the advice
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due to the fact that maternity grants are one-off lump-sum payments which do nothing to increase annual income. The department is known across Whitehall as DWP, which is also a word in Welsh-"dwp" means stupid and daft in the head. Anyone who actually believes that this measure will not impact on child poverty is not taking the issue seriously at all. Indeed, Gingerbread has said:
"The DWP fails to recognise the significant and negative impact that this measure will have on the ability of poor and low-income families to buy essential baby equipment. Single parents are more likely than couple families to be poor: 52% of children in single parent families grow up poor. If a single parent has just separated from a partner, they are likely to have experienced a drop in income. If they are pregnant, or later become pregnant and cannot claim the [grant] because they already have a child under 16, many will struggle to buy items such as a pushchair, cot and car seat. If they have fled domestic violence and have no belongings for themselves or their other child, this situation is [made even worse]. The impact is likely to be particularly great where there is more than a two-year gap between children".
The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of your Lordships' House said that the Government's target of 24 January for the coming into force of the instrument in order for the change to take effect in April of this year,
Furthermore, the SSAC was able to consult for only nine days on this proposal-a dismally short period. Alas, this is becoming typical of the Government, who seem to view consultation and scrutiny as optional, rather than viewing them as mechanisms which can improve government proposals and mitigate their worst, ill-thought-out effects.
As the Merits Committee noted, no impact assessment has been provided to Parliament. Little information has been given on the costs of alternative policy options and the department had not explained why the option chosen was preferred. Again, this looks like policy made on the hoof for short-term political, rather than long-term welfare, considerations.
The Social Security Advisory Committee suggested that the way in which Government have alighted on some decisions as part of this policy change lacks reasoned explanation. The committee pointed to the way in which the Government had arrived at the exceptions to the new rules, and why the option to restrict to payments who are the only children under 16 in a family was chosen above the other options presented to them. The proposal is that if there is a child in the family under the age of 16, there is no entitlement to the maternity grant. The SSAC believes that,
"The rationale for limiting eligibility to households where there is no child under 16 is not explained. While it is reasonable to expect some recycling of baby equipment among siblings, the SSAC points out that it seems unrealistic to think that parents of a fifteen year old would retain baby goods that long".
My wife and I have four children, and there was a five-year gap between the birth of our third and fourth children. I can tell your Lordships that when the fourth child arrived we had to go out and buy a whole new lot of equipment.
The Government have not properly considered what costs incurred for children apply to every child and cannot be mitigated by hand-downs. As a result, their proposal to restrict maternity grants to the first child looks increasingly muddled and will produce significant hardships for families across the country.
There will be an intervening period of eight to 12 months between the introduction of the new rules for maternity grants and the introduction of mitigating measures to extend Social Fund budgeting loans to include maternity items. The Social Security Advisory Committee said that,
One of the most worrying aspects of the proposals is the lack of a safety net for those who lose their grant. While a loan facility will eventually be available, the changes are not being put in place at the same time. The mitigation measures will not come into effect until at least eight months after the cuts to maternity grants have been implemented.
"It would be a difficult enough step for someone who would have been entitled to an SSMG of £500, to go to having to apply for a budgeting loan for the required items. But it is an entirely different matter if there is no provision to be made at all within the benefits system and they were expected to borrow commercially instead. People eligible for an SSMG would be unlikely to have access to low-cost credit - indeed many would need to borrow at APRs in excess of 100 or even 200%".
The advisory committee urged the Government to look at halving their budget for this grant and to look at the impact of other changes; for example, to housing benefit, health in pregnancy grant and tax credits. It said that no such evaluation of the rationale had been presented to them. Respondents to the advisory committee pointed out that the cuts in the maternity grant will cause hardships for families which may translate into additional costs for other bodies such as local authority social services departments and the NHS. The SSAC therefore concluded that a more tempered level of saving may be achieved than other outcomes would yield.
The committee also observed that the low-income families eligible to apply for the grant are those most likely to have been in temporary accommodation or in homes with cramped conditions, which would make it unlikely that they would have had places for long-term, regular storage of baby equipment. Anyone with a new child knows how much stuff children can generate as they grow up and grow out of their baby clothing and equipment. People living in cramped conditions simply cannot keep such things just in case they have more children. The policy ignores conditions in low-income families and the realities of their situations, quite possibly because too many in the Government have no experience of, or any concern about, people living in such conditions. Most concerning, it risks exposing children born into low-income families to poverty from the moment they are born. That simply cannot be right for the fourth-richest country on the planet. It is not morally right either.
Rather than listening to the SSAC, the body which is supposed to advise the Government on these issues, the Government have instead pushed ahead blindly and said that they have no plans even to review the policy. It is typical of the arrogance that this Government now display that they never seem to listen to reasoned arguments or objections from any outside source, but rather they assume that they are right and that everyone else is wrong.
There has been a lot of discussion in your Lordships' House recently on early intervention. There have also been many reports recently, including one by Frank Field on child poverty and one by Graham Allen on early intervention. I thought and hoped that the Government would have understood the importance of spending now to save later.
During the recent debate on parenting of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I was greatly impressed by a statement from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He cited the Graham Allen report on early intervention, which said that decades of expensive late intervention had failed. In his response, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said:
"I hope that it is also fair to say that this Government, like the previous Government, recognise the importance of the early years in children's lives and development".-[Official Report, 3/2/11; col. 1500.]
This measure, cutting a grant to low-income families, may well contribute to both poverty and to poorer outcomes for children. It may not seem like much money, but it is to some people and some families generally. The loss of the money could affect the lives of not only the child or children-and some people have twins-but also affect the relationship between the parents. Stress can be created by poverty, and poverty affects relationships. It also affects maternal health, which is a key to good health and achievement in children.
My noble friend Lord Touhig has made all the main points about the illogicality of abolishing the grant for second and subsequent children where there is already a child under 16 in the household. He mentioned in particular-I emphasise this-that the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee pointed out that no impact assessment of this measure has been provided to Parliament and that three of the options considered in the Act paper published alongside the instrument would result in similar savings. The DWP has not explained why this option has been preferred.
There are all kinds of complications which do not seem to have been considered-for example, a family unit where the woman is expecting their first child but there is a child already from the man's previous relationship. Such detail should have been considered. The measure has simply not been thought through and it works against the commitment to early intervention to support families and children by the Government. I support the Motion of Regret and I beg the Government to think again.
That word "regret" is important. The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, in its devastating report of 3 February, made a number of points relating to the withdrawal of the Sure Start maternity grant for most pregnant mothers. One of the points it made is that the Office for National Statistics survey found that,
I therefore ask the Minister why the age of 16 was chosen. It is highly unlikely, for example, that if there is a 15 year-old child in the household-or even a 10 year-old-any equipment from that child could be used for the new baby. The expenditure would be very like having a first child, but with no help whatever from this Government.
"Around 150,000 families in receipt of a qualifying benefit at the point they have a second or subsequent child will be affected by this measure. In order to help mitigate the effects for some of these families, the forthcoming Welfare Reform Bill will include a measure to open up the Social Fund budgeting loan scheme to enable loans for maternity items to be made available. However, due to the discrepancy in timing between the introduction of the changes to eligibility to Sure Start Maternity Grants in April 2011 and the date the provision in the Bill comes into force (expected to be early 2012), families will not be able to take advantage of the extended access to Budgeting Loans during this period".
This is the coalition Government's timetable; they are in charge of it. They could do something about it but they have chosen not to. This means that there will be no government help available for women who are expecting babies between 11 April 2011 and some unknown date in 2012. What are these mothers expected to do? Do they go without? Do they go to a charity or to their church to see whether they can get some help? Perhaps they may be able to get a loan from a bank. If not, perhaps, as my noble friend Lord Touhig said, they may be able to take out a loan with some organisation where a very high interest rate will be charged. What a worry for a pregnant mother.
Of course, depending on the age of the first child, there may be some items that can be used, but there are always additional costs for every child and this can be a strain on a family budget. However, as things stand now, there is no chance of help from this Government. I ask the Minister to listen to the charities which have expertise in these matters and to reconsider
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We know this legislation has been rushed through, allowing only nine days for consultation by the Social Security Advisory Committee, and without proper consultation and scrutiny it is lacking in evidence. I am not aware of any impact assessment and I wonder why there has not been one. I ask the Minister to take careful note of what has been said and the effect that this proposal will have on the families that once qualified for such support under a Labour Government but will no longer receive such support.
Lord German: My Lords, I should like to take a rounded view of these regulations and put them in the context of the activity of the Government in terms of poverty. There are some issues which noble Lords on the Benches opposite have raised which require some answers from the Minister and I shall raise one or two myself.
First, it is important to recognise that these regulations have the effect of providing a level of savings within the DWP budget-that is undeniable-and that these types of decisions are never easy. At face value, of course, this could be simply seen as yet another cost-saving exercise, which is the thrust of the previous three speeches. However, it should also be looked at in the broader context. I shall examine both sides of the issue in my contribution to the debate.
The question is about the level of savings that he and his party are looking for in the public finances and whether they are put back into good order within five years or, as I understand it from his party, within seven years. Perhaps he can tell me because I have been struggling to find the answer to the question. What is the level of interest on the loan that the country now has and the debt that we have to repay if it is to be spread over seven years rather than five, which I think was his party's policy? At the moment we have to repay £120 million a day in interest for the next five years. If we went for the seven-year position, what savings would we need to look at from within the budgets of all the departments in the country? I still fail to understand that. As we all know, it is easy to stand up and say, "Do not cut this or that", if in the end the summation does not add up to the figure-which I understand is the position of the Labour party at the moment.
However, I recognise that this is part of a package designed to save money and that, if the circumstances for the country were appropriate, we would not have wanted to do this. If the finances were strong, I doubt whether this would have appeared on the horizon. Fundamentally, the judgment here comes down to the question of whether this particular set of regulations
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The principal aim of the universal benefit Bill and the new work programme is to lift people out of poverty. That programme itself requires investment: it has a £4.5 billion price tag. Part of that has to be funded from within the savings that can be made from the department, and part is coming from new money that the Treasury has made available. In making this change in these regulations, are we ensuring overall that the poorest and most vulnerable are being supported while helping to lift large numbers of our people out of poverty? That is the fundamental question against which you set these regulations. If the answer to that is yes, then, clearly in the context of that whole regime, you have to move forward upon that basis.
There are some problems and concerns, and some of them have been raised already. I echo some of them and pose a new one in questions that I hope the Minister will answer at the end. First, we have this interim period between the universal benefit Bill passing through your Lordships' House and its becoming an Act in our country. In that interim period, the current interest-free loans will no longer be available. There is a danger that the people who find themselves put in most difficulty by these regulations will turn to high-cost lenders. What comfort at all can the Minister offer for where these people might turn in that interim period so there will be no difficulties for them? It is a short, one-off period before the new loan arrangements for purchasing, say, a cart, buggy and all those matters are in place.
Secondly, as has already been alluded to, what happens when a second child is born in a family and there has been no claim for the first child? You can imagine the circumstances where that might happen. Someone who is in work, has appropriate leave and reasonable funding behind them, might decide that it is not worth the effort, hassle or for other reasons-it might be that parents provide some of this equipment-and do not apply for the grant. Then perhaps there is a period of no work and when it comes to the second child it is difficult to find that sort of money. What happens when this is the first application within the family but the application is for the second child? Again, I would value an answer from the Minister.
My third question will have a much better answer than is the case under the current circumstances. What happens if you have multiple births-twins or triplets?
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Turning back to the issue of where these savings will go, we have to look at these matters in the round. I have talked about the work programme and the universal benefit Bill. I would also like to look at the other issue relating to children, which is the child tax credit. I understand that there is going to be a recycling of £1.25 billion of savings back into the child credit system in the next financial year and just under £2 billion -£1.85 billion-in the year after. If the child tax credit is designed for anything, it is to enhance support to poorer children and families. Taken in the round, will these measures ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are protected? I am sure that few noble Lords feel entirely comfortable with these regulations, especially given the as-yet-to-happen benefits of the changes being put in place by the Government, to which some of these savings will contribute. However, we need to be certain in our own minds that the whole package, seen together, will help to lift people out of poverty and will protect those who are most vulnerable in our society.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I respond in part to what the noble Lord, Lord German, has just said. My noble friends have made a strong case for why this measure should not be made by the Government. The noble Lord makes a perfectly fair point: we are in a mess with our public finances and what else would we do? In these circumstances, political choices have to be made. The thing that worries me about the Government's policies is that, yes, there is a welcome increase in the child tax credit, but if you put that on one side there is an accumulation of things that will hit very poor families particularly hard. We had a debate last year-it was one of the first debates that I spoke in when I arrived-on the child trust fund, which is being abolished. We know that the housing benefit changes will particularly affect poor families in rented accommodation in high-rent parts of the country; some of those might well be young families where there has been a separation and the only alternative is to move into high-rent property. We know that the Sure Start budgets are being preserved, but only in cash terms, and that there is quite a squeeze on them.
In terms of political priorities, the Government have decided to target poor families, I am afraid to say. That is morally very wrong. It belies the claim that in addressing the crisis-I do not underestimate the fact that we have a very serious public finance problem- we are all in this together. Frankly, the people who are being targeted are the people who do not have a strong voice, who perhaps are not very politically motivated and who do not often go to the ballot box, although they may do so a little more frequently from now on than they have in the recent past. None the less, they are people who do not have a record of voting in elections and they are easy game in political terms. That is what I find so disreputable in this targeting of poor families with cuts.
One thing that we have all learnt in the past 10 or 15 years from a lot of new evidence is that there is, first of all, a clear relationship between poverty and stress in the family and between stress in the family and child development. Many eminent experts have validated that relationship, but we are choosing as a result of this measure to increase the pressure on those poor families, which will lead to more stress and have a negative impact on child development.
Some people in the government parties think that if you face a choice of priorities it is better to spend the money on services than on financial transfers. There is a bit of that here and I think that it is one of the reasons why the Government decided to tackle the welfare budget. Of course, there are reforms in the welfare budget that we all want to see. I am not saying that there should not be any reform in the welfare budget, but it is wrong to characterise this kind of thing as a handout; it has a profound effect on opportunity in later life and is vital if we really believe in opportunity. All the parties in this Chamber say that they believe in equal opportunity but, if we believe in equal opportunity, focusing the available money on poor families and helping their children to get a good start in life is one of the most important things that as a society we can do.
Lord Blackwell: As I listen to this debate, I find myself completely out of sympathy with those proposing this Motion. It reminds me of attitudes that I thought we had moved past, of assuming that the state has an unlimited pot of money and that any spending is necessarily morally good. Of course, we all like justifying giving money to people, but the truth is that welfare has two sides to it. Every pound that we give to a family who are welfare recipients is a pound that we take in tax from another family who are having to bear the burden of supporting the first family.
A measure of welfare is, of course, an essential part of a modern society, but it is not a one-way street. We have to balance the amount of money that we spend on our welfare budget with the amount that we are prepared to take off other hard-working families who are not receiving these benefits. When people think about families spending additional money on new equipment for new children, they should spare a thought for the hard-working families who are also often poor but not in receipt of welfare benefits and who are not being given money to go out and buy a new buggy, cot or changing mat et cetera. Those people resent paying extra money in tax when they do not think it absolutely necessary that the recipients get it.
I would not and do not criticise the fact that there is the grant for first children, which is appropriate, but I do not accept the argument that the most useful way in which we could spend extra money taken in tax is to make this grant available for subsequent children. If we want to deal with equality of opportunity, I would much rather spend that money on education than give it to people to spend on buying a new buggy. We need to keep this in perspective and accept that there are two sides to every pound spent on welfare. It is not simply about taking money out of some endless pot owned by the state.
Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, for reminding us of some of the attitudes that still live strongly within the Conservative Party. I am astounded that no Member on those Benches leapt to their feet to dissociate themselves from those remarks.
I commend my noble friend Lady Sherlock for tabling this Motion. I know that she feels passionately about the issue and that it is only unforeseen circumstances, to which she has to attend, that prevent her from being here today. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Touhig for stepping into the breach and moving this important Motion and to my other noble friends for their contributions to the debate and for setting out so clearly why this, of all the Conservative cuts, is emblematic of the unfairness in the way in which the parties opposite have gone about reducing the deficit and in the political choices that they have made in doing so, as my noble friend Lord Liddle said. It is far from the case that we are all in this together, as the cumulative impact of their cuts falls hardest on women and children, as many commentators have demonstrated, and on the poorest families. Before I touch on that broader issue, I shall deal, first, with the anomalies in the amendment as it stands in its own terms and, secondly, with the manner in which it was introduced.
This grant was designed, first, to help low-income families-not all families, as it was targeted on those with very low incomes-with the essential expenditure that we all know is considerable around the time of a baby's birth. Secondly, in a point not yet touched on tonight, the grant was made conditional on receiving advice from a health visitor or midwife to try to ensure that those women who particularly need maternal services but who often do not seek them, or do not seek them early enough, were introduced to antenatal services.
The amendment to the regulations, as we know, will restrict the grant from this April to low-income families where the baby is the only child under 16 in the household. If this grant has to be restricted, and I do not accept that that choice was inevitable, the threshold of 16 years for other children in the household is ridiculously high, for all the reasons that my noble friends have given. It will exclude families who, for example, contain older children from a previous relationship, a young sibling or another young relative of one of the parents. It will disproportionately affect larger families, including those who tend to feature in some minority ethnic groups. It will particularly hit poor families in overcrowded accommodation where the space to keep bulky equipment for years on end is well nigh impossible. The first question that the Minister has to answer tonight is on why the threshold of 16 years has been chosen. Why not, at the very least, accept the much more reasonable and understandable recommendation from the Social Security Advisory Committee's consultation of five years? What is the rationale for 16 years?
The restriction of the grant will also mean that some of the most disadvantaged mothers will not now have to have that early appointment with a health professional and so will be less likely to access antenatal services when they should. Gingerbread has pointed
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The Government have said that other measures such as the Healthy Start voucher also involve a condition of talking to a health visitor, but the eligibility criteria for these vouchers are very different from the Sure Start maternity grant and many women will not qualify. If the Government persist with this amendment, what action do Ministers propose to take to bring these mothers into services at the right time and to protect the well-being of those unborn children? What will replace the mechanism of the maternity grant of connecting health professionals with the most disadvantaged women early in pregnancy?
The second issue, from which in my view those anomalies arise, concerns the manner in which the amendment was brought in. My noble friends have spoken about this. There was no impact assessment; no consultation to speak of, just over a week for the advisory committee to consult; no rationale for the threshold of 16 years; and no explanation of why, even if this needed to be changed and there was no alternative, no other options in changing the grant were taken forward.
A number of other options were available, any one of which would have mitigated the negative impact that this proposal will have. We know that 52 per cent of children in single-parent families grow up poor. The financial hardship of these families, exacerbated when children come along, will be further exacerbated by this measure as it stands. As my noble friend Lord Touhig has said, and I could not agree more, the DWP claim that the amendment will not impact on child poverty figures, because the grant is a lump sum and will not affect annual income, is, frankly, risible; it is the kind of Civil Service-speak that gives government a bad name.
Why were none of the alternative options accepted? What does the Minister think will be the impact on low-income families? Sadly, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Government wanted simply to save the maximum amount of money without a great deal of concern about the consequences.
Finally, there is the broader issue. This proposal, although it is by far probably the worst, has to be considered alongside all the other cuts that the Government are making to services and support for families, especially for the poorest families. If we look only at government cuts to support for new parents, let alone for poorer families in general, we see that the cut in the Sure Start maternity grant is only one of a
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On top of that, for families more generally, there is the freezing of child benefit; the freezing of working tax credit; the cutting of council tax benefit; the capping of income support for large families-I could go on. There are also the massive cuts in local authority funding, which has not protected Sure Start and many other local services on which poor families depend. I cannot believe, despite what the Minister may feel that he has to say this evening, that he can support this measure. It is mean, punitive and unnecessary.
I had hoped, particularly given the drubbing that they received in the Barnsley by-election, that we would at least see some Liberal Democrats speaking today to defend their position as champions of fairness. Sadly, though, we did not; the speech of the noble Lord, Lord German, was far from that. I hope that it is not too late for more Members opposite to support this regret Motion and to try to demonstrate that at least some of them have the interests of poor families at heart. I support the Motion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for bringing forward the Motion, which has given us a chance to discuss the issues. I have listened with great interest to the points that have been made around the House.
Before I go into specifics, I apologise for the fact that these regulations were laid very close to the date on which they came into force, and for the lack of courtesy this showed the House. I have asked officials in the Department for Work and Pensions to review where the processes broke down on this occasion so that we can avoid similar situations in future. I hope this will reassure Members that we have taken the criticisms seriously and are striving to ensure that Parliament always has at least 21 days to consider regulations. During the period of policy formulation there were some difficult and sensitive issues to be resolved about how we defined the family unit and what, if any, exceptions would apply. These may, on the face of it, appear to be straightforward changes. However, it was important that we got the policy right before pressing ahead with the regulations. I acknowledge that we underestimated the time that was needed to undertake this work, which is a lesson learnt for future policy development.
As women can claim the Sure Start maternity grant up to 11 weeks before their baby is due, it was necessary for the regulations to come into force on 24 January for them to apply to babies due on or after 11 April of this year. If they did not, we risked reducing the planned savings by around £1.4 million for each week
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In response to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale and Lady Hughes, I confirm that an impact assessment was published in January. I regret the misapprehension that has circulated. There were some criticisms of the extent of the impact assessment. In particular, it was thought that there was inadequate information on ethnicity. That was due to the fact that the data simply were not available for that piece of analysis. However, the impact assessment as a whole was available.
As noble Lords have already described, the amendment to the Social Fund Maternity Grant Regulations limits payment of the £500 grant made to low-income and benefit-claiming families to the birth of the first child only. It was announced as part of last year's emergency Budget in June. The change will come into effect for all births on or after 11 April. It will also apply to adoptions and other similar arrangements. The previous policy, under which a family could receive a grant of £500 for each child, was a generous one. It was also expensive and poorly targeted. It took no account of the number of children the family had already or of the fact that families, whatever their income, do not buy new items for each subsequent child. Our new approach is the most equitable way of providing support to low-income households with a new child. This was one of a range of measures needed to reduce the deficit we inherited from the previous Government, which, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer commented at the time, is the largest budget deficit of any economy in Europe, with the notable exception of Ireland.
The urgent need to manage the deficit has presented a series of difficult choices. We have not shirked from this responsibility. As a result we are dealing decisively with the country's record debts, planning for the future, making sure that work pays, while at the same time remaining committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society. The decision to restrict the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child was not an easy choice. We believe, however, that the new policy targets support to those families who are starting from scratch, without any baby clothes or equipment, and so for whom the one-off costs are highest. The reason we have structured it so that the payment goes to the first child-this picks up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes-is because in this way we ensure that the mother will receive antenatal health advice and is connected to those services at the beginning of the building of her family.
The intention for this grant-picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig-was never to cover all the costs of healthy eating. It was related to maternity items and associated costs of having a new baby. The Healthy Start vouchers, which remain in place, are designed to cover that requirement.
My noble friend Lord German asked a series of questions on how the structure works. Currently, a family receives a payment for each child in a multiple birth. Under the new structure, a multiple payment will be made if the first birth is a multiple birth but not if a subsequent one is. My noble friend asked what would happen when a second child was born but there was no claim associated with the birth of the first one. The grant would not become available under those circumstances given the structure that we have.
We are mindful that this change may mean that some low-income families need to borrow to cover certain costs associated with the birth of the second or subsequent child. To protect the poorest from the risk of high cost or even illegal borrowing, my honourable friend the Minister for Pensions has included provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill, which is in another place, to extend access to budgeting loans for maternity items, which are currently exempt. This will ensure that the poorest households have access to interest-free borrowing. I hope that noble Lords will support this important measure when it reaches this House.
As noble Lords have pointed out, we recognise that there will be a gap of around nine months between the point at which Sure Start maternity grants are restricted and Royal Assent of the Welfare Reform Bill. However, families will continue to have access to existing financial support. For example, budgeting loans are already an important source of financial support to the most vulnerable families when they face unexpected financial pressures. Currently, people are able to apply for a loan for a broad range of needs, including new or replacement furniture, household items and clothing. While maternity items are specifically exempted from the current budgeting loan scheme, families expecting a new baby may require funding for items that fall within the broad categories that are currently met by a payment. I would encourage people to use this scheme in this period, where appropriate.
In addition, community care grants will continue to be available to support the most vulnerable families in difficult circumstances. For some, this may be around the time that their baby is born; for example, a new mother who leaves a violent relationship and needs help to set up a new home may be eligible for a grant. Healthy Start vouchers will continue to be available to expectant mothers and families on low incomes to help with the cost of maintaining a healthy diet for mothers and young children. Pregnant women receive one voucher per week worth £3.10; families with babies aged under one receive two vouchers per week worth £6.20; and one voucher per week worth £3.10 is available for each child aged between one and four.
We must not lose sight of the fact that this change is needed because of the deficit position. Restricting Sure Start maternity grants in this way will make savings for the Exchequer of £73 million a year. Other options that would have produced similar savings were of course considered. One option was to reduce the payment to £250 for each child. However, we took the view that it was preferable to provide a more substantial contribution toward the costs associated with a first baby than to spread the available funding more thinly.
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As I mentioned earlier, there were a few tricky policy issues that we took longer than expected to consider and resolve. The first thing to clarify was how the policy should apply to different family compositions-that is to say, whether grants should always be available for the first child a woman has or is expecting, or whether to take account of other children in the household, including, for example, a partner's child from a previous relationship who lives with the couple and for whom they have responsibility. We concluded that the fairest solution was to look at the make-up of the family unit as a whole. Given the purpose of the grant, it seemed that basing eligibility on whether there was already a child under 16 in the household would ensure consistency, whatever the family circumstances. The regulations, however, contain an exception for teenage mothers who are dependent on their parents. In a scenario where the mother's siblings are under 16, this will not exclude the teenage mother from receiving a grant.
Secondly, as noble Lords know, the Social Security Advisory Committee and the Merits Committee have questioned why the grant is available only when there are no other children in the household under the age of 16 rather than, say, 10 or five. This point was picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. In response, I would say that setting the threshold at the under-16 mark is consistent with the definition of a child that is used generally within the benefits system. I hope your Lordships will agree that a policy based on the family provides a fairer outcome than a strict interpretation of a first child.
Sure Start maternity grants are provided in recognition of the financial difficulties experienced by parents on income-related benefits and certain tax credits. They are one-off lump-sum payments that do not increase annual income or improve long-term outcomes. I recognise that around 150,000 families a year will no longer be eligible for this grant. This is an inevitable consequence of the need to make savings. However, there was a balance in the Budget and the spending review which took away some elements and added others. Among those that were added were a big increase above inflation for the child element of child tax credits and personal tax allowance. Clearly, in the years to come, there will be very substantial increases in universal credit. Overall, the net impact on child poverty of all the measures has been neutral.
"It is family background, parental education, good parenting and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in determining whether their potential is realised in adult life".
The Government can better spend their money elsewhere. The best way to tackle poverty is to address its root causes. We want to give every child a fair start in life
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I shall concentrate on what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, called the "profound effect" of these contributions. The blunt truth is that, despite substantial increases in this grant and the introduction of the health in pregnancy grant, there has been no change in birth-weight, which is a primary measure of maternal health. There has been no perceivable impact in that area of putting in money in that piecemeal way.
I turn to the point made by my noble friend Lord German about tackling poverty in a coherent way. We are designing the most radical transformation of the benefits system with the universal credit. As the impact assessment showed, it will take 950,000 people out of poverty by injecting a gross figure of £4.6 billion a year every year, once the whole system is in place, to the people who need it most. It will be properly and coherently targeted, looking after people right the way through, and not with bits and pieces of money directed where it is thought best. It will be a coherent structure but, to achieve that, we have to start chipping away at the bits and pieces. That is the difference in the policy that we have introduced. We are fully committed to achieving the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020, and we shall set out our proposal for doing so in March. I hope that the noble Lord will not press his Motion.
Lord Touhig: I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very good short debate. I especially thank my noble friends Lady Massey, Lady Gale, Lord Liddle and Lady Hughes for their important contributions. I am very sorry that we were unable to convince the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. I do not think that £4 billion of cuts in child support, hitting the poorest in our community, is defensible. The noble Lord, Lord German, might have taken issue with my use of the Welsh word "dwp", but then of course he is not a man from the Gwent valleys. He seemed a little uncomfortable defending Tory cuts. I have only one word to say to him and his colleagues on the Liberal Benches, and that word is "Barnsley".
The Minister was right to offer an apology at the start, because there has been a failure in proper communication and consultation on this measure. However, I think that the most disadvantaged in our society need to know that some people are on their side. The great socialist, James Maxton, said that poverty is man-made and is therefore open to change. I think that one way to demonstrate that it is open to change is by testing the opinion of the House tonight.
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