The Lord Speaker: My Lords, I have been invited to represent the House at the opening by Her Majesty the Queen of the fourth Session of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on Friday 1 July. Accordingly, I seek leave of absence from your Lordships' House on that day.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, arrangements for couriers and traffic regulation during the Games are the devolved responsibility of Transport for London, but the Department for Transport is taking a keen interest in this area to ensure that the UK and London keep moving next summer.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for an encouraging reply-more encouraging, I might say, than the courier industry has received thus far from the Olympic delivery committee. Might the Government be able to persuade the Olympic delivery committee, which is in charge of the arrangements, that the courier industry is not the freight industry, which seems to be its only concern? The courier industry's service is used and relied on by most of commerce and by other organisations. It offers a valued service of 24-hour or same-day delivery. If that is not available during the Olympic Games, many businesses may suffer.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, yesterday I had a meeting with officials from TfL in order better to understand its plans for helping to deliver a successful Olympics and Paralympics. TfL's structured programme of consultation with the larger trade associations began
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1630
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not the ODA but LOCOG which will be responsible for administration at the time of the Games and that if anybody should be working with the transport industry, which of course they should, it should be LOCOG?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend is nearly right. On 9 February 2011, responsibility for the 2012 Games travel demand management, Olympic and Paralympic route networks and road freight management programmes in London transferred to TfL.
Baroness Doocey: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that licensed black taxis should be allowed to use the Olympic lanes during the Games? If they do not do so, a lot of them will have to put their business on hold for the six weeks of the Games.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am not absolutely sure of the answer to the noble Baroness's question, but I am quite sure that TfL has taken this into consideration. Very few routes will be unavailable to cars.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the trouble with giving way is that one's question is then addressed by the previous speaker. Could I just offer to the Minister a word of encouragement and warning? I am hot-foot back from the Olympic site this morning. Everyone who goes there is enormously encouraged by the preparations for the Games, which I am certain will be hugely successful when they occur. But perhaps I may give the Minister this word of warning: I had the misfortune many years ago to introduce the London bus lanes and left out the interests of the black cab trade. I still bear the scars to this very day, so I warn him lest he bear such scars.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, part of the reason why we are in such a good position with the Games is the good planning put in place by the previous Administration. With regard to the use of black cabs, noble Lords will understand that the primary route for getting to the Games should be public transport-buses, the underground and railway systems.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, given the role of the runner Pheidippides in bringing the news of the battle of Marathon to Athens, could my noble friend see whether there was any way, since
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1631
Earl Attlee: My Lords, when I had my discussions with the TfL officials I was very impressed with the number of different problems they have considered, and I am sure that they will do everything they can to minimise all roadworks where they could cause a problem.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, when the noble Earl has his next meeting with TfL officials, if he has any spare time, can he tell them that there was not exactly dancing and singing in the streets at the news of the vastly inflated salaries that they are being paid and the fact that there are now more than 360 TfL officials being paid six-figure salaries?
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, could the noble Earl impress upon the people organising the transport that some people cannot use buses or the underground because they are disabled and they use taxis instead and that these are a very important component of transport?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Countess makes an important point. The blue badge scheme has been provided for and there will be dedicated parking places for blue badge users. However, they will have to be booked in advance.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): No. 10 Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office take a straightforward approach; they fly the union flag at all times, with limited exceptions mainly for the patron saints' days for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord speaks of silly gestures, but the idea that flying flags is any indication of the policy of commitment, in our case to the European Union, is frankly absurd. If we flew the flag for every relationship with every multilateral organisation, we would be for ever hoisting flags and taking them down again. There is frankly no relationship between our activist and forward position on the European Union-we are playing a major part, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister over the weekend-and the actual flying of flags, which is not the intention of 10 Downing Street.
Lord Dykes: I thank my noble friend the Minister for his renewed commitment to Europe, which he has just expressed. Is it not a pity that we do not fly the European flag a little bit more? The only European flags within the vicinity of this place and Whitehall are on the Slovenian embassy and the former headquarters of the Conservative Party, which is now the European Commission and the European Parliament. That historical irony could now be built on if the Government were bold enough to fly the European flag alongside the union flag, which is the routine of all other member states.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Some departments and some public institutions do fly the flag if they wish to do so. I repeat to my noble friend that the flying of flags is not connected with the very strong policy we have in relation to the European Union, in which we are paying a very active part and dare I say a slightly more successful part in some areas than was the case under the previous Government.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would the Minister accept that the flag that is being talked about should not be referred to as a European Union flag? It is also the flag of the Council of Europe, and it was its flag long before it was adopted by the European Union. In view of the fact that later this year we assume the presidency of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe, will he make sure that we do not cause unnecessary offence during our presidency?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Of course one will make sure of that. I do not think I said "European Union flag"; if I did, it was certainly a slip of the tongue because rather than talking about the European flag, I was referring to the union flag of this union in which we live.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, given the growing anger of the British people with our EU membership, do the Government agree that they were, for once, rather wise not to fly the Union flag on Europe Day? Do the Government also agree that the British people are not fools, so they can clearly see that the riots in Greece-and soon elsewhere-are caused entirely by the euro and by the failing project of
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1633
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is making the same mistake as others in associating the hoisting and waving of flags with policy, which is a quite different issue. He also raises broader questions about the position of Greece and the eurozone. Undoubtedly there are major problems, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and other right honourable friends have been taking a very active part in working to see that the eurozone system is at least able to stay together for the time being to buy time in order that longer-term solutions can be put in place. It is in our interests that the eurozone should prosper and not undermine the European economic system.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, in so far as our own national flag can be flown upside down as a sign of disaster, is it not possible that we could apply the same rule to the Union flag and perhaps resolve everyone's difficulties?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am not too expert on the art of flags. Indeed, there is a complicated word that I have forgotten to describe the whole philosophy of flag flying. I am sure one of your Lordships will know it. As to flying flags upside down, I think I would recognise when the union jack is upside down but I am not sure I would recognise whether the round stars of the European Union were upside down or the right way up.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, the Minister assures us today, as he has throughout the passage of the European Union Bill in this House, that this is a pro-EU Government. Will he now persuade his Prime Minister to make for the first time a major speech explaining our interdependence with the European Union and the eurozone, and how the stability of our banks and our prospects for economic growth depend on it, instead of saying that we simply will not pay a penny? Is it not time that the Government started to fly the flag for our membership of the European Union in a real sense when they talk to the media in this country?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not know where the noble Lord has been these past few days. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister needs no persuading and has made his position absolutely clear. As he pointed out in the other place the other day, the conclusion statement from the last European Council meeting included, at his behest, the crucial words:
and by the developments over the situation in Greece. My right honourable friend is perfectly well aware of the vital importance of maintaining economic stability in Europe and the recovery of the economies in difficulties. No persuasion is required.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that what he has just recounted is quite different from the kind of major speech that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has called for? Is it not true that the Minister has given the impression that we are wonderfully clear of any problems because the eurozone crisis is a matter for the Europeans and that all we are concerned about is not paying any money?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I seem to be finding difficulty in communicating today because I have just given the opposite impression in great detail. I quoted my right honourable friend; I quote many other Ministers and I could quote myself ad nauseam. We are all extremely concerned with the stability of the eurozone. Going back 10 years, I admit it is perfectly true that some of us might not have thought that the idea of the eurozone was going to be perfect sweetness and roses all the way and there has been some proof of that. However, now it is here we have to make this work and see that the southern countries of Europe can overcome their terrible economic difficulties. It is utterly in our interests to do so, as my right honourable friends have said again and again. There is no such alternative impression.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Thank you for that. Many people will regard the action of the Government as rather small-minded and counterproductive. How do the Government see their way to advancing the interests of this country, rather than diminishing it? Is the Government's attitude not to be deplored?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord was a very distinguished commissioner, as we all know, but on this matter he is again associating No. 10's wish to fly the flags that I described with a symbolism far beyond the reality. The reality is that decisions about flags are one matter and our policy, commitment, strategy and the centrality of the European Union in our foreign policy are another, to which we give the greatest possible importance and adherence.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am sorry that that is the Minister's Answer. On 18 August 1911, there was an historic Act that changed the face of Parliament. While we are celebrating all this year the Armada, the Battle of Trafalgar, the Battle of Waterloo and the wives of Henry VIII, is it not time that we thought of the magnificent achievements of the last century in health, education and the extension of democracy? Is it not time that somehow this House and this Parliament were able to celebrate the more recent achievements of Parliament?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am all in favour of celebrating the achievements of Parliament and indeed of the last century and the many changes that took place. I am not entirely convinced that the Parliament Act was a victory for this House. In fact, it marked the time when we lost considerable power out of the foolishness of our predecessors. However, for those who wish to celebrate, I understand that on Saturday 16 July, from 7 pm to 11 pm, BBC Parliament will show a continuous programme on the causes and effects of the Parliament Act 1911.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in 1911 Lloyd George and many other Liberals were totally opposed to an elected House of Lords on the grounds that it would be much more reactionary on social reform by including, as he put it, people like glorified grocers? Apologies if there are any noble Lords who fulfil that description. Therefore, is not the Government's proposed legislation on the House of Lords a totally inappropriate sequel to the Parliament Act?
Lord Strathclyde: No, my Lords, I could not possibly agree with that. I am surprised by what the noble Lord says, with all his knowledge about Lloyd George. You have only to read the preamble to the 1911 Act to understand that those who passed it clearly wished and hoped fervently for an elected House in due course.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: On the issue of a preamble-I am sure that its words are constantly in the forefront of the noble Lord's mind-is it not the case that it is a massive misconception to believe there was any reference in it to an elected House? What was anticipated was a more popular House-a much broader concept than an elected House. Is it not the case that 47 years later, with the Life Peerages Act 1958, that was greatly achieved? It created a balance of gender, geography, ethnicity and background which is so necessary for a reviewing Chamber.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the passing of the 1958 Act was a significant moment and a significant improvement in the selection of Members of this House. I have no idea whether it was influenced in any way by what happened in 1911. All I know is that at the previous general election all three main parties stood on a manifesto in favour of an elected House.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, will the noble Lord give an assurance that the Government are not using the opportunity provided by the centenary to plan on using the Act for that purpose in the event that they were stupid enough to bring forward a Bill in, say, 2013-14?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that was a very complicated formulation. I think the noble Lord was asking whether we would use the Parliament Act to pass a new Parliament Act. I have said before-no doubt I shall be asked this many times-that the Parliament Act is part of a process when the two Houses disagree over a piece of legislation. There is no such legislation before the two Houses and no disagreement. Therefore, at the moment there is no prospect of using the Parliament Act. However, if such a Bill were brought forward, the Parliament Act would be available.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, could we not be constructive on this? Could we not commemorate the Act by unveiling a plaque in this House to commemorate the wonderful achievements, as Members of this House, of the Earl of Oxford and Asquith and Earl Lloyd George?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, if my noble friend were to put forward a proposal to the House authorities, I am sure that the appropriate committee would consider it most seriously. However, 1911 was an interesting year for Acts that we rarely think about. The Geneva Convention Act was passed in 1911, the Official Secrets Act was passed in 1911 and the Factory and Workshop (Cotton Cloth Factories) Act was also passed in 1911.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I do not want to be accused of driving a wedge between the two parties of the coalition, but will the noble Lord confirm what he appeared to say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno? There was, in his Answer, a sense of sadness and nostalgia at the passing of the Parliament Act, which diminished the powers of this House. The noble Lord is a leading member of the Government. Is it the Government's position that they regret the passing of the Parliament Act?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Government's position is that we have no current plans to mark the centenary of the Parliament Act. In answer to the Question from my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I wondered whether it was appropriate for this House to celebrate the passing of the Act when it removed so much power from us, which might well have been used exceptionally wisely over the succeeding 100 years.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, after their rip-roaring performances in last week's debate, would it not be appropriate to commission a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe", with starring performances from my noble friend Lord McNally and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sure that one of the tasks of the newly appointed Joint Committee will be precisely to look at the workings and applicability of the Parliament Act. Might it not be a good idea, to mark the centenary of the Parliament Act with further tangible House of Lords reform, to ask the Joint Committee also to undertake an immediate report on the Steel Bill, which would help the House and Government decide on the best course of action when the House returns in October? I understand that the noble Lord's Bill might be debated then.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their reaction to the views, recently reported by the media, of senior serving officers about the overstretch of the Armed Forces as a result of involvement in current military operations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, the vital expertise of military personnel is fundamental in the decisions made by the Government in operational matters. There are a number of fora at which Ministers and military chiefs routinely discuss operational issues, and the three service chiefs will retain the right of open access to the Defence Secretary and to the Prime Minister. At all levels of the MoD, service personnel and policy staff interact on a daily basis.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister and the Government are satisfied with the professional military advice of the chiefs of staff on current and future operations? While there can be every expectation that operations over in Libya will continue as long as is necessary, is it not inevitable that shortages of manpower, equipment and finance mean that other commitments may be adversely impacted?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I can give the noble and gallant Lord the confirmation that he has asked for. I cannot praise the chiefs enough. They are showing very strong leadership at a difficult time and when we are fighting two wars. As regards the noble and gallant Lord's second question, as recent events have demonstrated, we are still capable of making a major contribution to NATO operations. In Libya we are the third largest
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1638
Lord Rosser: My Lords, in the Statement yesterday on the structure and management of the Ministry of Defence, the Government said that service chiefs would run their individual service and also be accountable for their budgets and delivering strategy. Under the new regime, with greater accountability by service chiefs, are the Government saying that service chiefs will not be allowed to speak out on concerns about the overstretch of the Armed Forces if they believe the resources they have been given do not enable them to implement the strategy commitments they have been told to deliver?
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that with regard to Libya, whatever resources are necessary to see the matter through to a successful conclusion will continue to be made available?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I can confirm that. The Treasury has agreed to meet these costs from the reserves and, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has said, we can sustain this operation as long as we choose. On that I am absolutely clear.
Lord Soley: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is a very widely held view in the Armed Forces and elsewhere-and I know him to be a thoughtful Minister on this-that we cannot go on with the assumption that there is no need to review the White Paper on defence? Frankly, both foreign policy and defence issues have changed so much in recent times that not to revisit it would be a disservice to our Armed Forces.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the SDSR was based on a thorough, realistic assessment of the threats we face now and could face in the future. It ensures that we can continue to conduct operations today while preparing our future force. Our rapid and highly effective contribution to the NATO mission to protect the Libyan people is testament to the flexibility and professionalism of our Armed Forces and proof that the UK has the capability to project power and influence at very short notice.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, following the question that has just been asked, would the Minister accept that Britain's ability to resource recent and additional deployments-deployments that would not have been possible a few months later-draws into question the very plans that have been discussed? Is there not now a very good reason why they ought to be reviewed again in light of the increasingly unstable international position?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Government will continue to provide sufficient resources to achieve operational success in Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We are quite clear that we can manage what we are being asked to do in Afghanistan and Libya at the present time.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, last week we welcomed back 16 Air Assault Brigade after its third tour in Afghanistan. One of its officers told me that our kit in theatre is now the envy of US forces-specifically the lightweight helmet, body armour, small rucksack and even boots. Given that each day the MoD unfortunately seems to be getting a kicking on procurement issues, will my noble friend take back to Main Building a good news story, for once?
Lord Astor of Hever: I am very grateful to my noble friend and I entirely agree with him. I know that he was able to inspect with me the latest equipment and clothing issued to troops, including the advances in personal protection, that were on display in Portcullis House earlier this year. This is a good news story, and there is no doubt that these advances, such as those that my noble friend mentioned, are helping to save many lives in theatre.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this is a substantial group of amendments that includes several government amendments. Perhaps I can put our amendments into some context and address the issues raised by the other amendments in this group.
Our amendments set out the requirement for relevant authorities to approve and publish a pay policy statement which, in addition to the measures already in the Bill, must set out an authority's policies on remuneration of its lowest-paid employees and the relationship between the remuneration of its chief officers and the rest of its workforce. As Will Hutton set out in his report on fair pay in the public sector, published on 15 March, there is value in ensuring that decisions about senior pay are taken in the context of similar decisions on lower-paid staff. Such an approach broadens the debate beyond discussion about salary amounts of top earners and into whether the pay of those individuals is justified.
These measures, therefore, further increase local democratic accountability and transparency over how decisions on pay are made, and embody the commitment
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1640
The opposition amendments would take those measures beyond the scope of pay accountability. Our intention, through the provisions in the Bill and our amendments, is to bring greater accountability and transparency to an authority's approach to remuneration of its own employees. We do not seek to prescribe what the approach should be by requiring authorities to publish a list of numbers, or by roaming about on other matters such as local decisions around recruitment or engagement with providers-which would be the effect of the opposition amendments. Our Amendment 101, in its requirements relating to the remuneration of the lowest-paid employees, is broader than the Opposition's proposal and will lead to the publication of policies in a rounder way than by focusing on policies relating to total salary costs and numbers of staff, which is what Amendment 101A would achieve.
Amendment 101 would require authorities to disclose their policies on the relationship between remuneration of their chief officers and the rest of their employees, including the lowest paid. We do not feel it necessary to require authorities to break down their policies in this regard in the way proposed in Amendment 101A. Indeed, Will Hutton, in his report on fair pay in the public sector, highlights that, in seeking to measure pay dispersion using a pay multiple, comparison between top and lowest pay is not the most effective approach. As we have made clear, charities, voluntary organisations and businesses-particularly small businesses-have repeatedly called for the amount of regulation and red tape surrounding local government contracts to be reduced. I am sure that noble Lords opposite agree with that general principle. In this context, it is not appropriate to use this Bill to impose further duties on authorities to have policies relating to the pay of those who work for an organisation with which it contracts.
Nothing in the Bill limits the extent of information that an authority may include in its pay policy statement. Authorities may take the local view to include any other policies as they think fit. This could include policies on contracting staff where they have developed them locally. We will undertake to make this clear in guidance rather than set it out in the Bill.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord True for his work in submitting Amendment 105. Perhaps I can reassure him and other noble Lords that local authorities must always abide by relevant employment legislation when carrying out their duties as employers. This obligation extends to the formation of their policies on pay. Pay policy statements are intended to be an articulation of such policies. The measures that we are introducing do not take precedence over employment law. A pay policy statement could not be lawfully used by relevant authorities to sanction matters that are not in line with their existing legal duties and obligations. Similarly, any changes to policies included in a published pay policy statement, which must be approved by a full council, must also adhere to requirements placed
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1641
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for introducing the government amendments. Indeed, I thank the Government for bringing forward the proposals, which build on the debate in the other place. I see that he has taken the opportunity to get his retaliation in first on our amendments. I will speak to Amendments 101A, 101B, 102A and 108B.
"That does not prevent a local authority from developing a local policy to ensure that bodies with which it contracts are open about their rates of pay as a matter of contract".-[Official Report, Commons, 17/5/11; cols. 210-11.]
Although significant growth in executive pay is largely a private sector phenomenon, we support the thrust of greater transparency. We also support the Government's approach to tackling this in the manner provided, rather than as in the other two options set out in the impact assessment. As the fair pay report also concludes, evaluating these by benchmarking off the salary of the Prime Minister is a nonsense, particularly if you add in the benefits that the Prime Minister gets, which include a central London flat with access to rather a large garden, not to mention the odd country estate. A more realistic figure of his remuneration might be in excess of £0.5 million a year. However, the report also concludes that putting in limits of fixed multiples of lowest pay would, in a sense, be unfair as well.
These provisions regarding transparency on pay are important if we are to address public anxiety about the perceived explosion in senior pay in the public sector. However, transparency on pay is not just about senior pay and fairness in senior pay; it is a matter of understanding the context in which that pay is set.
We accept that there has been growth in pay in some senior roles in the public sector but there are many myths about public sector pay, some of them stoked by the Secretary of State. Will Hutton made a powerful case for fair pay in the public sector. He said:
"Fair pay is essential to high quality, well managed public services. Public services are vital co-creators of wealth and well-being ... Public trust in public services requires that public service pay is fair and seen to be fair, and that public services stand up to high standards of scrutiny".
We agree with that. As my honourable friend Barbara Keeley explained in the other place, the Local Government Association estimates that of 1.7 million employees in mainstream local government jobs, 60 per cent earn less than £18,000 a year. According to the LGA, more than 400,000 council workers earn less than a living wage, including more than 250,000 who earn less than £6.50 an hour. Indeed, a quarter of those experiencing in-work poverty are employed by the public sector, and the average public sector pension is not a gold-plated amount; it is just £4,200 a year. Therefore, we need a rounded approach to transparency in local authority pay which is fair and consistent and which focuses on those at the bottom end of the scale as well as those on median earnings. We also consider that excess pay should not just be tackled in the public sector but that focus should also be put on pay in the private sector which is paid from the public purse.
As we have heard, the government amendments require relevant authorities to prepare pay policy statements to include remuneration of the lowest paid and the relationship between remuneration of their chief officers and employees who are not chief officers. They would lump together all employees other than chief officers. This potentially meets the Hutton criteria of comparison with median earnings, as I think the noble Lord said. Our amendment would simply require the statement to provide information about the numbers as well as about the remuneration of the lowest-paid employees so that the position could truly be seen in context. It would also require that, rather than just look at the relationship between the remuneration of chief officers and other employees, the statement should also look at the relationship between the remuneration of chief officers, the lowest-paid employees and other employees. The retention of a focus on low pay is an alternative approach to the specific linking of senior pay to multiples of low pay-that is, the 20 times factor-which the Hutton report recommended against and which seemed to find favour with the Minister in the other place.
Our Amendment 101B would add to the policies which must be included in an authority's statement its approach to the engagement after retirement of former chief officers. We read press reports of senior officers retiring one day, only to be recycled as expensive consultants the next. I do not assert that to be true; nor do I argue that it should necessarily be inhibited, but transparency will help to set this issue in context.
Our Amendment 108B is an attempt to take account of indirect employment, whether specifically structured-for example, to avoid the rigours of these provisions-or otherwise. It is accepted that to devise a comprehensive description of the range of circumstances might be difficult to enshrine in primary legislation; hence, with some embarrassment I am bound to say, we have resorted to giving the Secretary of State an extra power to produce guidance-but guidance that must be subject to consultation with local authorities and trade unions.
Finally, we included provisions for the statement to cover the approach the authority takes to the pay policy of those providing goods or services. Indeed, I think that that was recognised as something which would be appropriate by Andrew Stunell in the other place. It is in a very mild form, and simply builds on the Minister's remarks that authorities are free to adopt this approach. If they are free to adopt this approach, guidance may be one way to remind them of that; putting it in the Bill is another, not as a requirement but as something for consideration.
The Minister dealt with Amendment 105, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True. We accept and agree with that position. Amendment 108A simply reflects the removal of mayoral management arrangements from the Bill and obviously has our support.
I believe that our amendments go with the grain of what the Government are supporting. I accept that the Minister will not accept them today and sees that some of them can be encapsulated in guidance. However, I believe that we ought to be mindful of the fact that people who might be directly employed would be caught within these provisions, whereas those who are one stage away-perhaps in an agency company but otherwise directly engaged in working for the local authority-would be outside these provisions. One can see the scope for those wishing to use those mechanisms to get round these pay transparency provisions. I therefore urge the Government to see whether some mechanisms might not, as we have suggested, be most appropriate to tackle this lacuna in the proposals.
Lord True: My Lords, perhaps I can speak briefly to Amendment 105 but before doing so, I pray the indulgence of the Committee if the debate is prolonged, as I have amendments to the Education Bill in Grand Committee. I mean no offence if I have to withdraw at some point. I should also say in preamble that, having seen the news yesterday on the transparency of Transport for London and given the matters we will be considering in Clause 206, I wonder whether "a relevant authority" might include Transport for London within the meaning of these clauses.
I am grateful for my noble friend's remarks, but my concern is about politically inspired resolutions put to local authorities, particularly in the run-up to elections. I accept that the wording of my amendment may not be correct. I am not someone who has argued for extensive regulation but we have seen, even from such an august person as the Secretary of State, that public comment on the level of senior officers' pay attracts the attention-often very approving attention-of the press. My fear is that, notwithstanding the niceties of employment law and the effective risk of constructive dismissal, in the approach to an election it would be unbearably tempting for a minority party in a local authority to lay a resolution calling, say, for the reduction of chief officers' pay by 10, 15 or 20 per cent. Why stop there? "Vote for us and we will cut senior officers' pay".
In those circumstances it is politically quite difficult for the governing party in a local authority to resist such a proposal if put as a resolution to a council. Any member of a council can put forward a resolution just
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1644
Having asked my noble friend to consider the matter, I am grateful for the consideration he has given so far and I am reassured by some of the things he has said on the point, but I hope that, in considering any guidance, he will take very seriously the points that have been made. It would be a great pity to see a rash of resolutions coming out of local authorities asking the impossible of senior officers, who are in most cases distinguished public servants doing their best for local people.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's point, but I have to say that it would be a huge infraction on the responsibilities and rights of elected members of councils to indicate what might go on a council agenda and what might not. That is going much too far. Although I expect members to behave responsibly, if they are irresponsible, it would be the task of those answering such a resolution to make the case. We ought to have the self-confidence to do that, so I do not think, with all respect to the noble Lord, that his amendment should progress.
I seek some assurances from the Minister, to see whether I have understood him correctly, apart from anything else. Later-many, many hours later-we will come to the question of the community infrastructure levy and whether or not it should be a material consideration in determining planning matters. There will, I think, be quite strong views about that. I wonder, having heard the Minister, whether it will be permissible for councils to take into account the factors referred to in my noble friend's amendment as a material consideration in the awarding of contracts. If I understood him correctly, the noble Lord indicated that that would be permissible, although it should not be prescribed, and I can understand that position. Perhaps he will confirm or disabuse me of that notion.
I also ask the noble Lord whether he has a view on the living wage, which has been espoused-I think before an election but certainly after an election, to revert to the point of the noble Lord, Lord True-by no less a person than the Mayor of London, who has adopted the concept initiated by his predecessor of promoting the living wage. Does he accept that it is right for councils, if they choose, to adopt such a policy in respect of their own authorities and to seek to reflect that in the conditions upon which they let contracts?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this has been a short but very useful debate on a very important aspect of local government policy. I assure noble Lords that the guidance which will be issued will take
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1645
Our amendments build on that approach and will increase accountability for local decisions about the lowest paid in the local government workforce. I say local decisions deliberately. The Government are quite clear that these decisions on pay and reward must remain ones for local determination. I hope that noble Lords opposite will acknowledge that the Government have fulfilled our commitment to reflect on discussions around low pay in the other place and brought forward appropriate amendments, as, indeed, we do today.
The Government did not undertake at that time to consider measures to increase duties on local authorities with regard to their relationship with bodies with whom they can contract. We believe such proposals would be burdensome. Charities, the voluntary sector and business have called for regulation around contracting to be reduced. There is general consensus that in order to achieve greater participation of the voluntary sector and small businesses in local government contracting, we need to make the process of contracting as simple as possible.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that procurement policy is governed by legislation. There are procedures for procurement, which has to be done on an open and transparent basis. There is no suggestion in our amendments that we are seeking to interfere with that process, nor would we do so in any immediate guidance that we might issue. It remains open to local authorities individually to develop policies in relation to the staff of contractors, if they wish to do so.
I have undertaken to make it clear in guidance that, where authorities have local practices on any matter they deem appropriate to include in a pay policy statement, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them including them. I cannot comment on the living wage, other than to say that I do not think it is a matter for this Bill. We would wish to be much more specific about what the noble Lord means by a living wage before any legislation could include any such reference.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Before we conclude, I thank the Minister for what he said. We accept that from the Government's perspective, they have fulfilled the obligation they made in the other place. As I said in speaking to my amendments, I do not think they have fulfilled it as fully as we would have liked, but when can we expect to see the guidance in this area? That would help our deliberations and could potentially preclude a return visit to this matter on Report.
In respect of the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord True, who is no longer in his place-I understand he has to be elsewhere-competitive resolutions are not quite the environment I would have expected. It is
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1646
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I understand exactly what the noble Lord is referring to, but I hope it has expedited this debate to the advantage of the Committee. I cannot give an answer on when the guidance will be available. If I am able to get that information, I will write to the noble Lord.
(b) the remuneration of its lowest-paid employees, and
(c) the relationship between-
(i) the remuneration of its chief officers, and
(ii) the remuneration of its employees who are not chief officers.
(a) the definition of "lowest-paid employees" adopted by the authority for the purposes of the statement, and
(b) the authority's reasons for adopting that definition."
(a) the employee's salary,
(b) any bonuses payable by the authority to the employee,
(c) any allowances payable by the authority to the employee,
(d) any benefits in kind to which the employee is entitled as a result of the employee's employment,
(e) any increase in or enhancement of the employee's pension entitlement where the increase or enhancement is as a result of a resolution of the authority, and
(f) any amounts payable by the authority to the employee on the employee ceasing to be employed by the authority, other than any amounts that may be payable by virtue of any enactment.
(a) the remuneration that may be provided to that employee in the future, and
(b) the remuneration that is to be provided to employees of the same kind that the authority may employ in the future."
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I expect your Lordships will be familiar with the provisions of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, and specifically all the requirements laid down in Chapter 1. On the off-chance that all its details do not immediately spring to mind, perhaps I might be forgiven for outlining the relevant chapter.
The duties referred to relate to the promotion of democracy, and the Act sets out a number of issues upon which councils have a duty to promote understanding. They include the democratic arrangements of authorities: that is,
In addition, the Act requires councils to promote the understanding of and information about a range of other organisations with which local councils are connected: for example, monitoring boards, courts boards and youth offending teams. The Act also requires councils to promote understanding among local people about the magistracy:
These are fairly simple tools with which to promote the involvement of people in local governance-using the term broadly-with both local authorities and, as I have indicated and as the Act makes clear, a range of other local institutions that impinge upon the life of the community and are very often dependent on the voluntary participation of members of that community. They are examples of engagement with society which any Government, including the present one, would presumably wish to encourage very strongly. I therefore do not understand why this Bill seeks to remove that duty. This Bill purports to be about localism and local government, about involving people in the decisions affecting their lives and those of their community, about encouraging wider civic responsibility, so why does this clause remove a basic, not particularly elaborate or expensive, duty to promote exactly that? What is this clause doing in this Bill?
Lord Tope: My Lords, the noble Lord began by suggesting that we might not remember the provisions of the local democracy and everything else Bill. Some of us in this House remember it only too vividly. The noble Lord had the good fortune, if I might say so, not to have been a Member of the House then, but I remind your Lordships that we spent many, many hours on this part of that Bill.
The short answer to the noble Lord's question as to why my noble friends and I rejoice at this clause is prescription. We spend many hours in this House, including on this Bill, complaining about central government prescribing in detail to local government what it should and should not do, what it can and cannot do, and even more particularly how it should do it. That is what Part 1 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill did in enormous detail. I am sure my noble friend Lord Greaves will remind us exactly how many pages, words and possibly even letters it took to do this. That Bill started in your Lordships' House and we spent a long time trying to improve that part of it, arguing that it was not the business of central government to prescribe exactly what local government should do and how they should do these things. Of course we should promote democracy. Of course we should encourage all these things. All good local authorities of whatever political control are already doing that. They have been doing it, in most cases very successfully, for many years and will carry on doing so whether there is an Act of Parliament requiring them to do so or not. So I, for one, rejoice at this clause, and this might be one of the few times I say that during this Committee.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I underline what my noble friend has just said. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is not here to take part in the discussion today because she was the Minister who had to take this nonsense through the House. She did it with great composure and good manners, although I am not sure what she secretly thought about it. The other Minister involved was the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, who is here. Perhaps he can tell us whether he is quite as appalled that this duty is going as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, suggested.
I regret to say that I, too, am extremely familiar with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, particularly this part of it, and it is seriously flawed. As an explanation of local democratic involvement, it completely missed out the voluntary sector, local partnerships and so on, which some of us tried to put in but failed. As my noble friend said, it is extremely prescriptive. If it is localism, it is top-down localism of the kind that we are criticising in this Bill, and it is very pleasant to see that this Bill is getting rid of a bit of that.
The effect that this part of the Act has had since it was passed appears to have been zero in most parts of the country. I am not aware of any authority having done anything significant as a result of this legislation, and in two-tier areas it set up a ridiculous bureaucratic system of exchange of information. Again, I have no idea how many councils have actually been carrying out this duty, but I suspect that a lot of them have just been ignoring the legislation because it was fairly useless. So I, too, rejoice that this duty is going, and I wish that the spirit behind this clause was more prevalent in some other parts of this Bill.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I will not please you all but I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. This clause removes the duty on principal local authorities in England and Wales to
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1650
The Government are committed to enhancing local democracy, but they also want to guard against adding costly burdens to local authorities. Many authorities are already doing lots of good work to provide information to people about local government systems without having a duty placed on them to do so.
In the debates on Thursday, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was concerned about guidance and notes being produced in Eland House. Of course, guidance and notes were ready for this duty, which has not been commenced. They would have said that each authority should hire an office manager, administrative support and promotions and systems at £86,000. For 154 authorities that would cost £13.2 million. Districts with two-tier authorities would need half an officer and a promotions budget, amounting to another £9 million. At the prices of three years ago, it would cost £22.2 million. That is the burden of doing the work as well as the financial burden.
My noble friends and noble Lords opposite, many of whom have been part and parcel of local government, have barely made speeches in town halls up and down the land without promoting local government and local democracy. We do not need this provision, which can be left to the good nature, without prescription, of local government. I urge that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I entirely agree with noble Lords who reject the notion of overprescription in this or any other part of the Bill. However, removing a duty to promote democracy altogether sends an unfortunate signal. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, seemed to admit that he wanted to add to prescription when the Bill was originally debated because he wanted to include bodies to which reference is not made, which is a slight inconsistency.
Lord Greaves: In my defence, I should say that there are two lines of attack for Governments, although I should not use that phrase at the moment. The first is that the whole thing should not exist. The second is that if it does exist, we should try to improve it, which is our view on a lot of this Bill. If this was such a wonderful thing, why did the previous Government spend two years after the Bill was enacted not commencing this part?
Lord Beecham: The noble Lord will be aware that, no doubt for good reasons, I was not a member of the previous Labour Government and I cannot answer for
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1651
If we want to encourage participation in local government and voter turnout, the people standing for election or seeking to serve their community as magistrates need encouragement and information. The community as a whole needs to be informed about what its local authority can and cannot do, and how it might be influenced. Much of the Bill is about those processes going on in different ways at different levels. The duty would have reinforced the thrust of the Bill. With respect, I still do not see why it is being removed.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I would never presume to take my noble friend Lord Shipley to one side, not least because he is considerably larger than me. My noble friend is not able to be with us for a short time because he is attending the Economic Affairs Committee of the House.
Lord Beecham: Indeed, but had he been here, I assume he would have supported the amendment to which he has ascribed his name, and with his long experience of local government-including as leader of the council in which we both serve-I would have thought that might carry some weight with his colleagues, but apparently not.
However, I hope it will be recognised that all of us have a responsibility in public and political life to encourage greater participation. If we are not going to do it under the auspices of a duty, let us at least in our various capacities endeavour to do it more broadly, because local democracy needs that kind of support.
Lord Beecham: This is another example, and I think I can anticipate the response that I am likely to receive from the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Greaves, and the Minister. I would invite them to think a little more carefully about this, and, again, I would accept in advance criticisms about the degree of prescription. It does not seem to be necessary or desirable for Government to lay down how things should be done, as opposed to setting out, in some areas, what should be done. In this instance, we are faced with a less satisfactory alternative to the process
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1652
The Bill proposes a different method, which I consider to be less satisfactory and which I believe the noble Lords may also consider unsatisfactory, which is the system of local referendums. We will debate it later today, no doubt. This is a much more elaborate system in a different context, because in that case one is seeking the opinion of a community on a simple proposition, subject to a referendum with little authority, given that there will hardly be a significant threshold to call a referendum, let alone in respect of turnout. This is a much more elaborate and expensive way of doing things than dealing with petitions properly and encouraging them to come forward.
Again, I do not understand why the Government feel it necessary to remove these provisions, accepting, again, that the prescriptive element is otiose and could be dispensed with. Petitions are a better way for the public to draw attention to matters with which they are concerned, and for the public to get a response to those concerns in a reasonably structured way. It is true that in some councils there is a process for public petitions-certainly, in my council there is, and no doubt others as well-but it is not universal, and it is not something which is sufficiently developed. In terms of local accountability and transparency, petitioning is a good method, and preferable to the alternative which is enshrined in the Bill. I ask the Government to reconsider this clause. Even if local referendums remain, which will be debated later, and perhaps a view taken on report, it is not mutually exclusive, and the petitioning process could be left as it now stands in the Bill.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I do not want to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and I will not do so. Once again, I rejoice at this clause and very much wish it to stand part of the Bill, unlike my noble friend, Lord Shipley, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. We spent many hours-I have a recollection that it was probably many days-on this part of the Bill. We discussed pages and pages in extraordinary detail, debating how to collect, submit, and process petitions. When the Bill started in your Lordships' House, the debate seemed to be based entirely on the premise that a petition to a local council was of the same format and standing as a petition to Parliament. In fact, all of us who have been councillors will have seen petitions to councils, and know that they are not usually the most formal documents you are likely to come across. They are of their nature at their best, because they are collected by and within the local community and do not have any formal standing or, often, any formal wording, as was originally suggested in the Bill.
We asked for evidence during all of this that local authorities were not dealing properly with petitions. I find it hard to believe that there can be a local authority of any size in the country that does not receive petitions. I wanted evidence that they were not dealing with them properly. The one merit of our hours of debate
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1653
The other useful factor of the debate was that it addressed the rather more modern issue of e-petitions, to which some local authorities probably had not then given sufficient attention. As a result of the Bill, and subsequently the Act, some authorities, including my own, probably gave them more consideration and put them on their websites.
We do not need an Act of Parliament to do that; we do not need pages and pages of prescription to do that; it is quite simply good practice, which could, possibly was and certainly should have been disseminated by the Local Government Association, in which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, played such a leading part. I shall not disappoint the noble Lord: I once again rejoice at this clause.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I cannot resist adding just a little bit to what has been said. I went back to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act when I saw Clause 29 stand part on the Marshalled List. There are in it 10 pages of detailed, prescriptive instructions to local authorities about how to receive petitions. Our discussions on that part of the Bill were extremely long, and I hold my hands up and say I was largely responsible for that. I remember my noble friend Lord Tope, having arrived back from one of his European trips, coming into the Moses Room, where we were discussing the Bill in Committee, and saying, "Good heavens! You're not still on petitions, are you?". But we were. I again pay tribute to the two then Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who is in his place, for making some effort to improve that part of the Bill. I think that it was 14 or 15 pages when it started off, and we at least got it down to 10.
My view is that very few authorities have taken petitions through this system, and that most petitions to local authorities since the legislation came into operation have continued to be dealt with as they always have been. I do not think that my own council has had a single one. We have had one or two that appeared to qualify. In those cases, we have suggested that the petitioners do what everybody else does and just go along to the area committee, talk to the petition in the normal way, and get it dealt with within days rather than the weeks and weeks of bureaucratic procedure set out in that part of the Bill. So I, too, rejoice that this nonsense has gone. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that we are getting a bigger and more dangerous nonsense, which we will discuss later on today.
At present, local authorities are required to make, publish and comply with a scheme for the handling of petitions made to the authority. It must include centrally prescribed information, and the scheme and any subsequent changes to it must be approved by a meeting of the full council. Local authorities are also required to provide a facility for making electronic petitions to the authority.
The current legislation means that local authorities must respond to a petition in a certain way and must hold a full council debate if it is signed by the number of people specified in the council's petition scheme. Senior officers can also be called to account and are required to take part in a public meeting if a petition meets a signature threshold. Petitioners can request that the council's overview and scrutiny committee reviews the council's response to the petition if it feels it is not adequate. The prescription and cumbersome bureaucracy this has piled on local authorities is unjustifiable. I am not aware of any evidence that the service received by local people has improved, yet unlike the previous matter it has already resulted in a burden of £4.2 million across the sector, as well as money spent on set-up costs.
I am delighted that the Local Government Association has been brought into this because it says that the prescription around petitions is one of the "top five" burdens that it has asked this Government to review. I want to remove this prescription while protecting and enhancing the democratic voice of local residents and saving money. When I served for 25 years as a member of Calderdale Council we had many petitions. They came in many ways but they often came to full council. They were brought to the council, handed to the mayor by a member and then the council either looked at them on that occasion or more likely then said that the appropriate council committee would look at them. I never recall a problem about a petition being ignored; petitions were always looked at. If we are about localism and local people doing their own thing, I believe that people who are involved locally and involved in local authorities know what to do with petitions and how to cope without this overarching prescription.
Lord Beecham: I thank the Minister for this reply. His council's example is one that many councils follow and would have followed without the legislation and if the legislation goes will continue to follow it. However, that does not necessarily mean that all councils will do that. This ought to be the general practice. The Minister referred to consideration at a meeting or referral to an overview and scrutiny committee. These are examples of good practice which ought to be universal not optional. Again, taking the point about overprescription in terms of the details of how things are to done, I am sorry that the principle of a universal approach to enhancing local democracy, which the Minister and his noble friends will undoubtedly endorse, will suffer as a result of the removal of this duty. It is of a piece with the inconsistent approach that the Government are adopting in this Bill which, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has confirmed, we will be discussing later and in a form which is certainly worse than the
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1655
Lord Beecham: My Lords, this is a different matter. We are now on to a substantive issue which the Government seek to introduce into the law of the land and to bind into the practice of local authorities.
I understand that John Major as Prime Minister was a great devotee of the novels of Trollope, regularly reading them, and I think his predecessor Harold Macmillan was much the same. I am wondering whether the present Secretary of State, Mr Pickles, has become a devotee of Dickens. He seems to be metamorphosing into a fusion of Dickens' characters-a combination of Wackford Squeers, Mr Bumble and Gradgrind, leavened by a dash of Mr Pickwick. However, he is now developing, and has for some time developed, an obsession with waste and refuse collection. This seems to add Boffin, the golden dustman, to the cast list of Dickens' characters which he is absorbing into his persona. I have never understood the Secretary of State's obsession with this issue. He has, to put it mildly, irritated local politicians of all parties, including the then chairman of the relevant board of the Local Government Association, Paul Bettison-a leading member of the Conservative Party and a leading figure in Conservative local government circles-by suggesting that charge and waste reduction schemes should not be implemented. He has, of course, opined many times about the number of refuse collections that should take place nationally.
First, this obsession seems inappropriate in any event for a Secretary of State. Secondly, one has to ask: what is a specific provision on a particular service doing in a Bill about localism? The Bill makes considerable play of giving councils a power of general competence and talks about the role of local government generally and of local communities, while Ministers frequently refer to the need to avoid prescription-we have heard that more than once this afternoon already. What could be more prescriptive than banning local authorities from a proposal to deal with waste problems, especially since the prescription that the Secretary of State would apply takes no notice of differences in localities or the implications for environmental issues such as recycling?
It is not as if the proposals about charging schemes were prescribed in their turn or as if councils had to embark on such policies. That would have been equally wrong because, again, different circumstances apply to different places. Even within an individual authority, there are areas where particular schemes would be appropriate and others where they are clearly not. It is obviously a matter for local decision but this Secretary
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1656
Noble Lords opposite have rejoiced at the abolition of prescription in the two areas which we have debated so far this afternoon. I hope they will join me in rejecting this considerable area of prescription that the Secretary of State wishes to impose on local government with absolutely no warrant at all, on the basis of evidence or of the public good.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, the noble Lord is persuasive in his arguments by suggesting that what is happening here is that the Government are removing the freedoms of local authorities, but it is not quite like that. The freedoms that he is talking about are very prescriptive and if he reads the particular part of the Climate Change Act, he will discover that. These waste reduction schemes are all nonsense, really. I keep using that word but I remember that this is another part of a Bill where I made a nuisance of myself in your Lordships' House by detaining the House for probably too long while it was being debated and discussed.
The Bill refers to schemes relating to the amount of waste, the size and type of the containers and the frequency of collections. There was what was colloquially known at the time as the chip-in-bin scheme, where a chip in a bin would in some magic way measure the amount of waste being provided. There was the big bin and little bin scheme, where if you had a little bin you were okay and got it for free, but if you had a big bin you had to pay more for it, which affected large families. There was the pound-a-sack scheme, where you had to go and buy approved sacks for a pound each and fill them up-a scheme which was reported to have worked extremely well in Maastricht, but probably nowhere else. There was also a frequency of collection scheme, where you had a weekly collection, but if you wanted it more frequently you had to pay-the pay per day scheme. So these four schemes took on an iconic quality as far as the last Government were concerned, but they have never been brought into effect because they are not the way to go about it.
Rather unusually, what the Secretary of State is doing is championing a waste collection service that is a universal free service. That is what he is championing and I thought the Labour Party used to believe in such things. But not now, it wants the chips-in-bins and the pound-per-sacks schemes and all the rest of it. I am delighted to see this go. I wish we had been able to persuade the last Government that we should not have wasted all that time on legislation that was never introduced.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, Clause 30 removes powers that enable local authorities to run pilot waste reduction schemes. We announced our intention to remove these powers in June 2010. We believe that rewards rather than penalties are the best
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1657
This Government are clear that rewarding householders for recycling or for reducing waste is to be encouraged; we want to help them to do the right thing. Removing these powers in the Climate Change Act will free up local authorities to use their broader well-being powers or general powers of competence, as appropriate, to provide rewards for waste reduction. Since their introduction there has been little appetite for using the Climate Change Act powers. No local authority has yet applied to take up a charge-and-reward scheme and no schemes will be dismantled as a result of their removal.
This clause simply removes Sections 71 to 75 of Part 5 and Schedule 5 from the Climate Change Act 2008. This will remove the provisions for waste reduction schemes but have no wider effect on the powers of, or burdens upon, local authorities. It is interesting that Royal Assent was on 26 November 2008, two and a half years ago, and no one has sought to bring this in. I therefore beg to move that these clauses stand part of the Bill.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, this is another case of local authorities having the power to do anything they like except what the Secretary of State decides they should not do. It is on a simple point of principle that this amendment is moved. I regret very much that the Minister and his noble friends do not seem to grasp the inconsistency inherent in their position, but so be it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, I beg leave to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend Mr David Willetts.
"With permission, I would like to make a statement on the higher education White Paper. It sets out how our reforms will build on the changes to student support announced last year. We will put higher education back on to a sustainable financial footing. We will put students at the heart of the system, improving the academic experience, with universities and colleges more accountable to their students than ever before. We will also take steps to improve social mobility without compromising academic excellence or institutional autonomy.
We inherited an enormous deficit which required difficult decisions. We could have reduced student numbers, or spending per student, or provided less help with living costs. However, these options would have been unfair to students, to universities and to the country. Instead we are introducing a pay-as-you-earn system that provides more support for students, does not require reductions in student numbers and increases the cash flowing into higher education. We estimate there could be a cash increase in funding for higher education of around 10 per cent by 2014-15. Our reforms ensure that no first-time undergraduate will have to pay fees up front and asks them to contribute to the cost of their education only once they earn more than £21,000.
This increase in the repayment threshold-up from £15,000 under the current system-means that graduates will benefit from smaller monthly repayments than under the current system. For example, someone earning £20,000, the median starting salary for graduates, repays £38 a month under the system we inherited from the previous Government. In future they will pay nothing. At the moment, a graduate earning £36,000, the median salary for all graduates, pays £158 a month. Under our scheme, that falls to £113 a month. Our reforms also recognise that for many people higher education does not mean a full-time, residential degree. Some students want to work or take care of their family while studying. To support them, many part-time students and distance learners will become entitled to loans to cover their full tuition costs for the first time.
I can announce today that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have agreed that, for undergraduate medical and dentistry students starting their course in autumn 2012, the NHS bursary will be increased in years 5 and 6 to cover the full costs of tuition. For graduate entrants starting in autumn 2012, access to student loans will be made available so that there are no additional up-front tuition costs. We will consider arrangements for subsequent years. More information is being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
These changes to higher education funding enable us to put financial power in the hands of learners. To make that effective we need to liberalise the system of quotas we inherited from the previous Government so that more students can go to universities that offer a good-quality, good-value student experience. The White Paper therefore proposes unconstrained recruitment of the roughly 65,000 high-achieving students who score the equivalent of AAB grades or above at A-level. Quotas for these students will be abolished and funding will go to whichever university offers them a place they accept. In addition, we will create a flexible margin of about 20,000 places to reward universities and colleges that combine good quality with value for money and with average tuition charge, after waivers, at or below £7,500 per year. This adds up to around 85,000 student places-roughly one in four places for new entrants-contestable between institutions in 2012-13. We aim to expand this further year after year.
We will also extend the scope for employers and charities to offer sponsorship for extra places, provided they do not create a cost liability for government and
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1659
These reforms put students in the driving seat. Putting this power to best effect means not just liberalising the quotas regime; prospective students also need to know far more about the academic experience on offer. We will therefore transform the information available to them about individual courses at individual institutions. Each institution will make available key items of information such as contact hours and job prospects. Information will also be available to outside bodies such as Which? to produce their own comparisons. It will lead universities to match their excellence in research with a high-quality academic experience.
We also want our universities to work with business to improve the job prospects of their graduates by providing the knowledge and skills that employers value. The sandwich course, which gives students practical experience of work, declined under the previous Labour Government. We want to reverse that. We have therefore asked Professor Sir Tim Wilson, who made the University of Hertfordshire one of our most business-friendly universities, to review how we can make England the best place in the world for university-industry collaboration. We want our universities to work with business across their teaching and research activities to promote better teaching, employer sponsorship, innovation and enterprise.
Student choice is more real if, as well as liberalising quotas and transforming information, there is a greater diversity of institutions to choose from. We will therefore remove the barriers to more provision from the Open University, further education colleges and private providers. We will simplify the regime for obtaining degree-awarding powers. We will also review the artificial barriers to smaller higher education institutions taking the title "University".
We want students from a wide range of backgrounds to benefit from these reforms. We are increasing maintenance grants and loans for nearly all students. We are introducing a national scholarship programme and we will strengthen the Office for Fair Access to make sure institutions fulfil their outreach and retention obligations for people from disadvantaged groups. This will not be at the expense of institutional autonomy. The Director of Fair Access will continue to have a duty to protect academic freedom, including an institution's right to decide who to admit and on what basis.
In order for universities and academics to focus on educating their students, we will strip back the burden of excessive regulation and form filling. We will explore whether it is possible to reduce costs associated with corporation tax returns. HMRC has today announced its consultation on the possibility of introducing a relief to remove some of the VAT barriers which currently deter institutions from sharing costs. We will reduce burdens from information collection. We will give power to students to trigger quality reviews where there are grounds for concern, yet cut back the burden of automatic review for high-performing institutions. The Higher Education Funding Council for England
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1660
We are now inviting people to comment on our proposals as part of a broad consultation. Subject to parliamentary time, this will be followed by a higher education Bill next year, to make the necessary legislative changes to deliver these reforms. This White Paper offers universities the prospect of more funding provided that they attract students. At the same time it saves money for the Exchequer by asking graduates to pay back more as their earnings increase.
Our universities already transform people's life chances, and we expect them to do even more. We will protect their autonomy and reduce the regulatory burdens they face. Above all our proposals benefit students by driving universities to focus on the student experience. They will have real choice, with better information and a wider range of institutions to choose from. I commend this White Paper to the House".
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement on higher education made earlier today in another place. This White Paper is the third policy initiative in higher education in recent months, but instead of bringing forward policies to enhance and extend a higher education system which is the envy of the world, the White Paper is nothing more than a hastily put-together rescue package for the department, sheltering behind some vacuous notions of competition and quality.
The truth is that, having taken the disastrous decisions to cut teaching budgets, to cut funds for investing in research, to cut science funding by 10 per cent in real terms over the CSR period, to curtail overseas student visas and to open the way to make university three times more expensive for students than it is at present, the Government have created a funding hole in the higher education budget estimated to be at least £600 million and perhaps as much as £1 billion.
We do not believe that the measures outlined today will put higher education back on a sustainable financial footing. It is surely just wishful thinking to assert that privatising higher education and switching to a higher education voucher system-one of only four in the world-will ensure that student demand is satisfied, that teaching and learning quality is maintained or improved and that research activity is preserved.
The simple truth is that this White Paper has one limited aim, which is to drive down the cost to the public purse of running our higher education system. The direct effect will be to reduce the unit of resource for teaching and hence reduce quality and further reduce the flow of good, qualified graduates into the workplace at the very time we need them most.
In the Statement the Minister mentioned that the Government wanted to take steps to improve social mobility, but the only mechanism mentioned is the plan to strengthen the Office for Fair Access. On demand, the White Paper says that the Government adhere to the Robbins principle, but it is "Subject to expenditure constraints". I really do not think the
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1661
On social inclusion, children within the wealthier sections of society are three times more likely to go to university. Very few pupils on free school meals get three As so they are effectively excluded from applying for the selective universities. How exactly will the proposals in the White Paper boost the number of those from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, when this is a requirement on institutions, not on HEFCE? There are also regional differences. For example, pupils in north-east schools are far less likely to go to university than those living in the south-east. Can the Minister point to measures that will redress this imbalance?
I turn to some of the more detailed comments. As the Minister said, universities will be able to expand the number of students they take who have AAB grades or better. It is well known that 50 per cent of those who get AAB grades or better are actually from private schools or grammar schools. In practice, virtually all students with AAB grades on entry can already get a university place. This proposal therefore ignores the many equally talented would-be students who do not go down the traditional A-level route, and ignores those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am advised that the Institute of Physics has already warned that this measure may deter study of the sciences or maths at A-level. Is this a fair outcome?
The Government are going to cut student places at most universities. The places will be put into a central pot from which universities will have to bid for any extra places they want to offer. On what criteria can these bids be judged, other than by their value or cheapness? Of course, in future years, the Government can put more and more places into the central pot, depending on budgetary pressures at that time. It may be worth pointing out that this approach was tried in the early 1990s and resulted in a near-catastrophic reduction in funding per student. We fear that that might be the case this time around.
The proposal to offer loans to students attending private universities shows that the Government have no real concern for the health of the public universities, which are an integral part of the nation's infrastructure in a way that private institutions are not. There is surely a lesson to be learnt here from the United States, where private universities got rich at the expense of the Government, despite a shocking record on student achievement and employability.
The Government's higher education plans are unfair, unnecessary and unsustainable. The proposals in the White Paper are a direct response to the black hole in the Government's higher education budget that was caused by their earlier policy decisions. To encourage economic growth, most of Britain's competitors are increasing funding for their higher education and research budgets. The Government's proposal will mean that English universities will have among the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world, while being among the worst in terms of public funding. At heart, this White Paper is about depressing
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1662
Lord Henley: My Lords, that address by the noble Lord on behalf of the Opposition was rather extraordinary. He started off by making allegations that this White Paper was allegedly "hastily put together"-I think that those were his words. I can assure him that it took a considerable amount of time, and haste certainly did not come into it. As the noble Lord will know, we were hoping to get this out somewhat earlier but, in our desire to get these things right, it was delayed until this day. That is often the way with these things.
The noble Lord then made allegations of cuts to higher education. Yes, we have had to cut the amount of money from the public purse going to higher education. We have had to make reductions in a large number of other departments, but again, as my noble friends and my right honourable friends in another place have done on many occasions, I have to remind opposition Members: whose fault is that? We inherited a deficit of quite stupendous proportions and we had to address that before we could even begin to start-we had to tackle the debt. We therefore had to find some sustainable way of funding higher education, which is a public good, and we have come up with a scheme that in effect, as was made clear in the Statement, will by 2015 increase by some 10 per cent the amount of money available to higher education.
That must be a good thing, but we have to ask the serious question as to who should be paying for higher education as a whole. I got the impression-and I should be very interested to hear from the noble Lord or one of his noble friends whether this is the case-that it is now the policy of the party opposite that all the funding should come from the taxpayer and none from those who benefit from it. Under the scheme that we are proposing, a great deal of money will come from the students who benefit from the higher education they receive. However, in addition-because in the end we will get back only a certain amount of the money-a great deal is coming from the public purse. There is a balance between the public benefit we get and the private benefit that the individual students get. I was rather surprised by the tone of the noble Lord's response, which seemed to suggest that all funding should come from the taxpayer. That was how I understood it and I imagine how it was supposed to be understood by most people listening to it. The noble Lord's party did not do that when it was in government and I would be interested to know whether that policy has changed.
The noble Lord then asked a number of detailed questions. I will look at those in due course but I will comment on one or two of them. He pointed out regional differences in terms of access to universities. That is unfortunate. We have to look at the schools. Again I am grateful for everything that my right
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1663
The noble Lord then talked about plans to allow universities to attract more of the AABs or equivalent. I think he slightly misunderstood what was set out in the Statement. We know that most people who achieve AAB or above, or the equivalent, will go to university, but we want the universities to be able to compete as to how many they can get. There should be no artificial cap on the numbers, and that is what the White Paper sets out.
I was rather saddened by the noble Lord's attack on the private sector within education, which includes principally the private universities but also other institutions offering degrees. They offer a valuable service and we should not back away from that. We should continue to support them and I am very glad that my right honourable friend has found a means of doing that.
Lastly, the noble Lord alleged that the whole scheme was designed to depress demand for access to higher education. That is not the case. The Government are still committed to encouraging as many people as possible to go to university within the current restraints on the public purse-and we know whose fault that is. The noble Lord will know that things have changed a great deal over the years since he and I were at university, when about one in eight of us went to university. If we go back to our parents' generation, the proportion was probably about 2 per cent-of course, it depends on the age of your parents. Now the percentage is in the high 40s. We believe that is a good thing, but obviously it does change the way one has to think about how university should be paid for.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement, which has been extremely useful. It clears up a degree of uncertainty that there has been around universities for a very long time. As the noble Lord said, it has taken a long time for the White Paper to come to us, rather than a short time. I also welcome a number of other aspects of it. The opening up of the university system and the creation of a far greater diversity of routes for higher education are thoroughly good things for this country. As many noble Lords around the House will know, I have for a long time advocated the facilitation of the part-time route so that those who want to earn and learn can do so and have access to support equivalent to that for full-time undergraduates. That is extremely important. The Minister will know that one or two minor issues arise here and I will raise them with him
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1664
Can the Minister provide clarification about the AAB issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised? At the moment, as I recall, we provide somewhere in the region of 350,000 undergraduate places every year. As I understand it, 65,000 of those places are going to be put into a pot to be bid for by any university, according to what students want to do, and a university will then be allowed to exceed its quota if an AAB student wants to attend. The other 20,000 places are for institutions that charge less than £7,500 per year. This is not creating new places; they are existing places. In effect, as I said, 65,000 places are being taken out of the pot at one end and 20,000 at the other end. I worry about that slightly. The noble Lord is quite right that the problem is that our secondary schools perhaps do not produce enough AAB students. However, there is a real problem here. There was an experiment by King's College in which medical students worked with local secondary schools in south-east London, bringing forward pupils who were not achieving at that level. However, by the time those pupils had been through the degree course, they achieved just as highly as the others, which shows what potential there is. Universities need to have flexibility in that sense. There is a danger that we shall expand the universities taking the top-achieving students, thus depriving some of the lower-achieving students. I confess that that worries me.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred to the cost. As the White Paper says, the Government reckon that by 2014-15 the scheme is going to cost more. As the Minister will know, the cost of loans is going to be very considerable, and it looks as though the Government may well end up spending more on the loan scheme than they are putting in at the moment in direct grants.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very grateful for the comments of my noble friend Lady Sharp, particularly regarding the fact that the White Paper has cleared up uncertainty, and for her emphasis that we-or, rather, my honourable friends in another place and in BIS-have taken time over it. I am also grateful for what she said about the need for diversity in higher education. We should always remember that higher education is not just hallowed colleges in Oxford or Cambridge but a whole range of different things. I was grateful that she mentioned part-time students at the Open University and matters of that sort. I think that something like a third of all students are part time, although I shall have to check that figure. I was trying to find it in my briefing pack but could not. I was also grateful for what she said about the fact that we want to put more emphasis on sandwich courses. We will certainly look to see what Sir Tim has to say about that.
On the AAB cohort which we were talking about and which I mentioned in the Statement, the figure that I have is of the order of 300,000 students coming in each year, not 350,000, but we will not quibble about 50,000.
Lord Henley: Well, we will try not to quibble about 50,000 but I can see the odd accountant sitting opposite me. Of those, 65,000 are AAB students. We are not creating new places for them but we are allowing the HE institutions to compete for them. Therefore, the University of X might want to expand certain courses by bringing in more of those students, but that would mean, by definition, that the University of Y might lose out. However, we think that it is necessary to bring in that element of competition. The 20,000 places that I added to that are not for AAB students but for those where universities offer value for money with their courses coming in on average, after waivers and so on, at or below £7,500. Again, it will be open to universities to compete for those places. It is not a question of creating new places at this stage. However, if matters were to become more contestable, we would certainly want to look at that in the future, and, as I made clear in the Statement, we aim to expand the scheme further year after year.
I noted what my noble friend said about the cost of loans. Obviously loans are expensive but they would be considerably more expensive if they were not arranged by the Government. The Government can, after all, borrow at considerably cheaper rates than individuals.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. He will be aware of widespread concerns about the damage that these reforms pose to the position of the humanities in higher education. I wonder whether he shares those concerns and if so, what he will do about them. If he does not share those concerns, why not?
Lord Henley: I simply do not accept those concerns, as was made clear in the debate we had some six months ago when we debated the original announcement about student loans. It will be up to the universities to attract the right students. Those students will bring the money with them that will pay for the courses.
Lord Krebs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Statement. It will obviously take time to absorb the details. I declare an interest as the principal of Jesus College, Oxford, and say that from the perspective of those of us in the higher education sector the Government's approach seems slightly schizophrenic. On the one hand we hear about creating a market, liberalising the university sector and deregulating, but on the other hand we hear of increasing constraints imposed on us in reporting, access and the level of fee that we can charge. As I said, there is a slightly schizophrenic approach.
I have a particular question to ask the Minister. If, as he has indicated, the aim is to place the student in the driving seat to create a market where student choice and wishes determine the outcome, that leaves open the question of where the university sector will end up. We know from the report from the Royal Society a couple of years ago that this country suffers from a serious shortage of students educated in engineering, the natural sciences and mathematics. Do the Government have a view on what proportion of students should study STEM subjects? If so, why are
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1666
Lord Henley: I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, and obviously much in this White Paper needs to be discussed. After all, it offers up the idea of consultation on a number of subjects, which is a matter that we will take on board. He then suggested that we had a slightly schizophrenic approach. I remember being castigated on many occasions by my late noble kinsman Lord Russell on the question of academic freedom and attacks that the previous Conservative Government were allegedly making on institutions. We are very anxious, as we make clear in the Statement, to preserve academic freedom and to leave the decision-making to universities. Obviously, when public money is involved-and considerable amounts are involved-it is right that we should make our views known.
The noble Lord then talked about the STEM subjects. He gave an example of the shortage of engineers and asked what our approach should be. We have to be very wary of government setting down specific targets for this or that number of engineers. The noble Lord will remember that the former Soviet Union produced a very large number of engineers, no doubt at the sort of central direction that some noble Lords opposite might like-but look where it got them. I seem to remember the expression, "Upper Volta with rockets". That is not a route that we would want to go down. What we are setting out is probably a better approach.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement and for the further thinking that the Government are clearly doing following the earlier Statements and papers on higher education. Perhaps I should begin my question analogically. In honour of the millennium, I was offered finance to pay for a stained glass window in the cathedral over which I then presided. Alarmed that I had already commissioned an artist, the donor asked me whether I had gone for three competitive quotes for the window as he had done in the previous year when he was repairing his garage roof-in other words, economics came before creativity. Value for money in higher education is obviously crucial, but can the Minister assure us that the pursuit of enterprise, competition and, indeed, a focus on business will not lead to utility triumphing over a liberal education, removing breadth of curriculum and marginalising not only the arts and humanities but other less obviously utilitarian disciplines?
Lord Henley: My Lords, in the debate before this Statement, the noble Lord opposite castigated my right honourable friend Mr Pickles as a Gradgrind figure. We obviously want to be wary of aiming just for value for money, but we have to be very careful to make sure that public money is spent appropriately. I
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1667
Lord Lucas: Does my noble friend agree that the practice of cross-subsidisation must now end? It may have been acceptable, when it was just government money, to take £5,000 from the money provided for a humanities course and give it to a student doing an engineering course. Now, when we are asking a humanities graduate to pay £9,000, it is surely totally unacceptable to take half that money and spend it on an engineering student.
Lord Henley: Again, I want to leave this as a matter for the higher education institutions themselves. It is up to them; they do not have to charge the same amount for each student if those students are doing different courses. If students are doing a humanities subject, there is no reason why the institutions should not charge less than for other, more expensive subjects. It must be a matter for them.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I will respond to a couple of points that he made in reply to my noble friend Lord Stevenson. We do not deny the deficit; our counteraccusation to Her Majesty's Government is that they are dealing with the deficit too far, too fast. Of course, we have not retreated to the position that all funding should come from taxpayers; we recognise the challenge of expanding higher education-indeed, we introduced student fees. This is about the level of them. I share the welcome given by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to support for part-time students, and I hope that we will see an expansion of sandwich courses-and that response from business.
In the beginning, when the Government responded to the Browne report and put the figure of £9,000, there was a lot of confidence that not all universities would rise to that figure. Yet currently more than 80 per cent of universities have indicated their intention to charge £9,000. I was interested in the response to the previous speaker that there might be a variation, but the current public position is charging £9,000. Will that be a deterrent to potential graduates when they see the potential size of their loan increasing so much-figures of £40,000 are not exaggerated? I know the response will be that there is no upfront payment. Nevertheless, people will see a loan that eventually has to be repaid.
Lord Henley: I am very grateful for the noble Lord's admission on behalf of his party that it does not deny the deficit. I am also grateful that he has recognised that funding must come from the beneficiaries of education as well as from the taxpayer-from both sides.
The noble Lord turned to the Browne report which, as noble Lords will remember, did not recommend a maximum. However, we felt that it was probably right to fix it at £9,000, particularly as the noble Lord, Lord
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1668
The noble Lord also asked the very valid question: are we worried that the perceived level of debt might put off a number of individuals because they see themselves ending up with a debt of £27,000-plus? That is a genuine fear and we must address it. That is why only last week my right honourable friends Vince Cable and David Willetts sent a letter setting out what we are doing to get information across. They have set up a new independent task force on student finance information, headed by Martin Lewis and Wes Streeting, a former president of the National Union of Students, to try to get the information over that it should not be looked at as a debt but, in effect, as a sort of graduate tax, except that it is not a graduate tax; you start paying only when you start earning above a certain amount and you pay at quite a low rate over a long period of time. It is not the burden that people have when taking on other forms of debt.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: If I heard the Minister aright, he said that the purpose of strengthening the role of OFFA would be to ensure that the universities fulfilled their obligations about outreach. That will create no difficulties for the universities because I am convinced that all the universities I know want to widen the area of society from which they draw children of talent. However, he also said, if I heard him correctly, that there will be no interference in the academic freedom to make that selection on the basis of merit. Can he therefore assure us that the quotas that have been talked about for students to be drawn from different areas of society or different backgrounds in education will not now be pursued?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am very grateful for that intervention from the noble Lord, who speaks with considerable authority as a former master of University College, Oxford. I must add that I have enjoyed his hospitality there on a number of occasions; I declare that as an interest. I am also grateful that he welcomes the fact that there is encouragement to fulfil greater opportunities for outreach, which is what all institutions should be doing. I also stress that there will be no interference in academic freedom. As I said earlier, I bear on my back scars from the late Lord Russell about alleged attacks on academic freedom, and I do not want to reincur them. Quotas are not the right way to set about this. Each institution in discussions with OFFA, after it has proposed a level of fees above £6,000, should look at what it can do to try to improve fair access to all areas of society.
Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the Statement. I want to ask two specific questions. The first is on simplifying the regime for obtaining degree-awarding powers and making sure that the qualifications and assessment process for FE colleges and private providers will be the same as it is for universities. One of the strengths of the sector at the moment is the qualification assessment basis, and it would be a shame if it were lost in a diversification of the sector. Secondly, I declare an interest as I was bursar of a Cambridge college for a decade. I am delighted to hear that HMRC is consulting on changing the VAT regime. I am slightly concerned that the Statement refers to "some of the VAT barriers". That has been a considerable issue to higher education institutions over the years. It has cost them a lot in administrative terms, and the accountancy profession has earned an enormous amount of money by advising universities. Can we be assured that there will be real change in the VAT regime for universities?
Lord Henley: I shall be very brief, bearing in mind the time. I think I had better write to the noble Baroness about what we want to do about simplifying degree-awarding powers. As for HMRC's consultation on VAT, I am always very wary of ever making any commitment that involves the Treasury, so again I think it would be wise if I wrote to my noble friend on that matter.
"(b) the council has complied with section 127A, as inserted by subsection (7) below.".
(a) the local authority shall give notice of its intention by advertisement in two consecutive weeks in at least one newspaper circulating in the area in which the land is situated, on the authority's website and by notices on the land, and shall serve a copy of the notice on every other local authority and planning authority whose area includes or is adjacent to that area,
(b) the notice shall indicate the location and boundaries of the land and of any land to be given in exchange, and where further information and plans may be inspected or copies obtained,
(c) subject to subsection (2), unless the land to be appropriated or disposed of does not exceed 250 square yards (209 square metres) land must be provided in exchange that is not less in area and is equally advantageous to the public, to be vested in the local authority subject to the like rights, trust and incidents that attach to the land to be appropriated or disposed of,
(d) the notice shall provide for a period of not less than 28 days from the date of the first advertisement during which objections can be made to the authority,
(e) if the authority decides to amend its proposal these shall be subject to further notices in accordance with paragraphs (a) to (c),
(f) a proposal that remains subject to objection and is not withdrawn by the authority shall be referred to the Secretary of State for decision.
(2) If the local authority considers that land in exchange for that appropriated or disposed of under this section is unnecessary wholly or in part, the notice must state this and give the reasons for the statement.""
Lord Greaves: My Lords, Amendment 109A, which is on its own, is a long and apparently complex amendment, but it need not take us too long. It is about open space and what happens when open space is disposed of by local authorities. The amendment seeks to amend the Local Government Act 1972 to return it to something like its original form before it was amended in 1980.
The substance of this amendment comes from concerns raised by the Open Spaces Society, which argues that protections are insufficient, particularly around publicity, consultations and the requirement to consider objections. It is about urban open space in particular, which is precious and increasingly recognised as vital to life in towns and cities. The coalition agreement and government promises have made proposals for new designations and protections for green spaces in urban areas, although we have not yet seen the details. It would be a good time to strengthen protections for existing open space in these areas.
When we discussed a related amendment, Amendment 24, the Minister suggested that we might have a meeting to discuss the technicalities and see what substance the Government thought there might be in these proposals. Does she agree that perhaps we can discuss this amendment at the same time? On that basis, I beg to move.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this amendment. We were not quite clear what was behind it but he has been very clear about the thrust of the amendment. We support its general direction, which is about protecting open space, particularly urban open space. I do question the use of the phrase "equally advantageous to the public". I do not know if that is an existing term used in other legislation, but one of the requirements of the amendment is that it must be "not less in area"-understood; that is quite easy to determine-and is "equally advantageous to the public". There will not necessarily be a single approach by the public as to the advantage of a particular piece of open space: it might
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1671
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for those short contributions-short, I suspect, because I have indicated that I would be happy to have discussions with the noble Lord about this. This amendment has appeared quite late on in proceedings. I do not quite understand its place in the Bill. I think it has found its way in by a devious route. It would be more helpful for the House to see exactly what lies behind the anxiety of the Open Spaces Society about this.
In acceding to speaking to the noble Lord about it, I have to say that we have particular reservations about paragraph (c). As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has just pointed out, that requires a council to provide land in exchange for that appropriated or disposed of unless they can provide reasons under subsection (2) of the proposed new section. This is a difficult area. In order to provide an alternative piece of land, it is possible that the local authority would have to compulsorily purchase another bit of land in order to fulfil this obligation. So we would have considerable doubts and that is one area that I would expect to have a sharp discussion on. Having said that, I am happy to talk about this and come back to it at a later stage if the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment for the moment.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and I will, of course, withdraw the amendment on that basis. I am not sure what she meant by "devious route". This appeared on the agenda. It consisted of me sitting at my computer and typing out the amendment and then taking it to those excellent and helpful people in the Public Bill Office who give advice on exactly how things can be done and whose office is one staircase below mine. So it was not very devious at all. This is a good moment to pay tribute and thank the people in the Public Bill Office who are extremely helpful to all of us in putting amendments down.
"Equally advantageous" and "exchanged land" are not alien concepts. Similar language is fairly frequently used as far as open space is concerned in relation to planning applications, particularly where people wish to develop on a common. I would have to check the Commons Act 2006 and the Planning Act 2008 to see what the exact wording is. I am not suggesting the wording in this amendment is perfect but I am putting it forward to get the problem discussed. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to do that and on that basis I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Only a Welsh Minister may require a local or public authority located in Wales to make a payment of an amount determined by the Welsh Minister in respect of any EU financial sanction imposed on the United Kingdom."
Lord Wigley: My Lords, Amendment 110, in my name, introduces a significant group of amendments on the fundamental issue of passing on European fines to local authorities generally. I must admit that I have some grave reservations about the generality of Clause 31 and Part 2 in totality. Amendment 110 is a probing amendment by which I hope to receive adequate clarification of and assurance from the Minister on the Government's intentions with regard to Wales. However, other amendments in this group may well need to be pressed or at least the option kept open to return to these issues on Report if an adequate response is not forthcoming from the Government.
The basic question behind my amendment is whether these fines can be imposed on Welsh authorities. Clause 36 is quite explicit that Part 2 powers concerning European fines apply only to local government in England. I flagged up at Second Reading the fact that I understood from the Welsh Local Government Association that a letter was sent to a Midlands MP by the Local Government Minister Greg Clark confirming that, under the Bill, the fines apply only to England. Is that the case? If the intention is to apply fines to Welsh local government, by what mechanism is this going to be achieved? There is the possible scenario that Westminster Ministers might impose fines on Welsh local authorities in Wales over the heads of Assembly Ministers.
There are valid reasons to be fearful of the dangers that might arise if central government can pass European fines willy-nilly on to local government when a local authority might not have caused the problem generating the fines or where it might genuinely believe that it was acting in line with UK or devolved government policy in pursuing the action that might have led to the fines. Other amendments deal with these more general issues. Amendment 114A proposes a framework of arbitration that is certainly worth consideration. If no satisfactory response is forthcoming, there will be an opportunity to vote on the clause stand part to delete these European aspects from the Bill.
I do not resile from the concept that if any local authority has behaved in a totally cavalier manner and has through its actions brought fines and penalties on the UK, it is right that those who act in that way might be open to suffer the consequences. However, fines are usually imposed through the system of courts with a proper system of checks and balances to ensure fair play. The Government of Wales have recognised that in rare circumstances the question of such fines might arise, but they understandably feel that the responsibility
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1673
There are constitutional and practical reasons for the Government of Wales' approach. In constitutional terms, the National Assembly has full responsibility for local government in Wales and should take any umbrella responsibility on matters such as these. In practical terms, the Assembly has responsibility for ensuring the financial settlements for local government in Wales and so should be involved in any discussion. Furthermore, issues that could generate fines, such as non-compliance on issues such as air quality or waste, are within the responsibility of the Assembly. There is also a need for any passing on of fines to be seen as reasonable and proportionate. Local government in Wales may feel that its circumstances will be better understood by those in Cardiff Bay compared with those in the Treasury in London.
Finally, there is the general question that it is inappropriate to punish local authorities when they are not party to direct discussion with the EU on such matters. They do not have a direct voice in negotiations with the EU in a way that influences EU law. If the National Assembly has the responsibility to implement any such fines in Wales, can we have an assurance that the UK Government would not block Welsh government Ministers from having a direct interface with the EU on such matters? At the end of the day, it would probably be fairer if all these matters were not in this Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Tope: My Lords, as well as speaking to Amendments 110A and 186B, I shall speak particularly to Amendments 114A and 115A. Before doing that I should declare some interests that I have not previously needed to declare. I am a member of the Local Government Association's European and International Programme Board. I have been a member of that and its predecessor bodies for more years than I care to remember. I am also a member of the Committee of the Regions, the EU body established in 1994 under the Maastricht treaty to be the voice of regional and local government in the European Union. Since the Greater London Authority has some interest in these matters as well, I should mention that I was a member of that authority for its first eight years of life and chaired the European sub-committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Amendments 110A and 186B would make sure that any fine could be passed on to a council only in respect of an EU instrument that has been specifically designated by both Houses of Parliament through affirmative resolution so that Ministers would not have carte blanche to pass down any fine. The amendment, which happens to come first on the list, is fairly limited and restrictive.
The substantive amendments before us are Amendments 114A and 115A, tabled by my noble friend Lady Eaton. First, I need to pass on her apologies. She was keen to introduce these amendments but she cannot be here. Today is the first day of the Local Government Association's annual conference in Birmingham, at which my noble friend has to make
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1674
In the measured terms that we customarily use in your Lordships' House, it is rather hard for me to express the surprise-the shock, even-anger and concern that were felt in the local government world over all this. The surprise was because the first the LGA knew-this must have been the first any local authority knew-of this being an issue of concern, or indeed an issue at all let alone a proposal, was when the Bill was published. I understand that there had been no prior warning, no prior discussions, no attempts to see whether the problem, if indeed there was a prospective problem, could be resolved in a more satisfactory way than by the inevitably rather blunt instrument of legislation tucked away in Part 2 of a very substantial Bill. I regret that, because it is not generally the way in which any Government in this country have worked on these matters. I do not know how or why it came about, but that was apparently the first that the LGA, and indeed local government generally, knew of such matters.
For that reason, local government and many other organisations would much rather remove Part 2 of the Bill altogether. That was why my noble friends and I put down clause stand part debates for all of Part 2. It remains my view that it would be better if this part was not in the Bill at all. If the Government foresee difficulties and problems of this nature, they should discuss them with the LGA and other interested bodies and find a more satisfactory way of resolving them. I suspect that we are not going to lose Part 2, but I still urge the Government to do that.
My noble friend Lady Hanham was, like me, a member of the Committee of the Regions for many years, and she will be familiar with the practice adopted a few years ago by the European Commission which it chooses to call, in true Eurospeak, "systematic dialogue". "Systematic dialogue" is more or less what it says; they meet and discuss with representatives of local government and regional government throughout the European Union any issues of concern, issues that are coming up and so on. That ought to be the good practice adopted in this country, and I hope, regardless of the outcome of our discussions on this Bill, that government will undertake to do as we used to do some years ago-I remember going to some of the meetings myself-and discuss issues such as this with local government representatives so that this part of the Bill never needs to be used. I think we would all accept that if we ever get to the stage when government is imposing or passing on EU fines, something somewhere along the line has failed to work. We should not get to that stage, and I therefore hope that the Government will agree to work with the LGA in a spirit of systematic dialogue, of willing co-operation, to try to ensure that that does not happen.
My first contention is therefore to remove Part 2 altogether. If that is not to happen, and the Government insist that this issue needs to be dealt with in this way, through legislation, we need to look at how that is
28 Jun 2011 : Column 1675
I want to deal today with what is described as unconstitutional. The issue is that the Minister, under this legislation, is set to act as judge and jury in this matter, and to be not only the final arbiter but the only arbiter in determining what fines are passed on, in what proportions, how, in what way, and so on. That cannot be right, and more importantly perhaps, it cannot be sensible. It is hard to imagine anything being more open to judicial proceedings because it is so arbitrary and unfair. If we are to proceed with Part 2, we have to look for a system of arbitration that is, first, seen to be entirely independent of the Minister-in other words, the arbiters should not be appointed by him or act as an advisory body-and is, secondly, fair and accepted by both sides.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|