Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, we need a full and thorough consideration of all aspects of media ownership legislation. The Secretary of State has asked Ofcom to examine what are the best options for measuring media plurality and to recommend the appropriate approach. We will of course be taking into account the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry before any final decision is taken on media ownership.
Lord Fowler: I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is it not the case that too often in the past decisions on media ownership have been influenced by political considerations? Given that, does my noble friend agree that it is totally wrong that, as at present, politicians should have the final say on who owns the media, and that if we want to prevent too much power resting in the hands of one company that system should be changed-and changed as quickly as possible?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I would like to be able to give a more positive answer to my noble friend Lord Fowler but, as he and many noble Lords know only too well, we are at present having sensitive discussions. He is aware, too, that there is new legislation in the pipeline and we will be receiving a new communications Bill during this Parliament. However, I agree with him, as does the Secretary of State, that too much political consideration has been taken, and as a result the Secretary of State said on 14 September at the Royal Television Society conference that he was looking at whether we should have the same approach for media plurality law as we do for competition law. It could be better for these decisions not to be taken by politicians, as my noble friend so rightly said, and we are exploring this option. These are early days and no decisions have been taken. As I said, we will consider the recommendations on this.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot remember which section the noble and learned Baroness was talking about, but we are fully aware of
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Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, in view of the fact that the ownership of websites has been excluded from previous legislation, what steps have the Government taken, and will they be taking, to rectify this serious oversight?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ryder asks a fascinating and important question. In determining the appropriate size of media ownership, we will be considering the extent to which websites should be included. The current rules are outdated and do not even acknowledge the existence of websites, yet websites could conceivably have an important role in controlling access to new sources and have implications for plurality. That is why the Secretary of State has asked Ofcom to look into this matter, and we will consider carefully the recommendations that Lord Justice Leveson makes in this area.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether, in considering issues of plurality, the Government will also consider issues of diversity, as these are not the same? Plurality does not always guarantee diversity, which is what citizens need.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, plurality in the context of media ownership refers to the number of owners and size of ownership of different media outlets and does not cover diversity, as the noble Baroness mentioned. I am sure all noble Lords agree that a healthy democracy needs correct information, and, in general, to be able to participate effectively in a political process, access is needed to all sides of the debate. However, this is unlikely to happen if the media are under the control of a too tightly restricted number of owners.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, as the monopoly of opinion is the most fearful of all monopolies, is it not the case that the accretion of power in the media should at least be subject to the same tests of competition as all other forms of enterprise?
Baroness Rawlings: The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, makes a very valid point. In most cases, competition rules will prevent unacceptable levels of media concentration. However, there is no guarantee of that, because competition rules address only the abuse of market power. It is possible for an organisation to have a very large share of the market but not abuse its position for unfair competitive advantage. This would be acceptable in competition terms but it could still cause very real worries from the point of view of media influence, as the noble Lord said.
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, I have just come from sitting on the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. Can the Minister reassure the House that the furore over the behaviour of certain sections of the Murdoch press will not result in a detrimental encroachment on press freedom? We do
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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, if there is a renewed bid, it will have to be looked at on its merits. As with any other bid, on another occasion it could be possible to include additional grounds for intervention, such as a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards. However, we are not proposing to frame legislation with the aim of blocking any specific deal. If or when we come forward with proposals, they will have to protect plurality in all circumstances.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in the light of all that has occurred, it would be unwise for the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State to meet members of the Murdoch family privately? Can she give an assurance that it is now the policy that any such meetings will be attended by civil servants and properly minuted?
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, tourism directly supports 1.7 million jobs, with visitor spend of £90 billion each year. Deloitte estimates a direct and indirect value to the UK economy of £115 billion, and suggests that tourism could indirectly and directly support a total of nearly 3 million jobs by 2020. The Government's tourism policy launched in March includes a range of proposals to help tourism achieve its potential as a central part of Britain's growth strategy.
Lord Lee of Trafford: Following the very happy and successful royal wedding, visitor numbers at Buckingham Palace have risen by 30 per cent, and at Westminster Abbey by 60 per cent. Given the obvious popularity of the monarchy, will my noble friend tell the House what plans the Government have to promote the Queen's diamond jubilee next year? Also, does she now agree
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Baroness Garden of Frognal: Certainly my Lords. Visit Britain has created the You're Invited programme to showcase Britain to the world and to attract more overseas visitors, and that is backed by a £100 million marketing fund, funded by the Government and the private sector. Certainly that will be used to make the most of the international interest in the royal wedding, and to build on that for the major events, marketing and PR activity that will focus on the diamond jubilee celebrations as well as the London Games themselves. As regards the noble Lord's second question, tourism is vital to the nation, but in particular parts of the country it is a major form of employment.
Lord Harrison: Will the Government acknowledge that inward tourism is the major export industry, and a successful one, in the United Kingdom? When will the Government get rid of the pernicious air passenger duty which so inhibits visitors coming to this country and spending their money here?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, we constantly look at the different factors which might inhibit people from coming here. On air passenger duty, the noble Lord may not agree, but aviation is relatively lightly taxed in comparison to other forms of taxation. There is a consultation out for this which we will be looking at closely, and will be hoping to come back before the end of the year to see whether there are factors which might cause a need to look again at air passenger duty.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the millions of tourists who come to enjoy our great heritage assets and our beautiful countryside do not, as a rule, come to admire burgeoning wind farms? In view of the very questionable benefit to our energy supplies that these monstrosities produce, will my noble friend talk to her colleagues in the appropriate departments to ensure that tourism is not killed off by turbines?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, burgeoning wind farms are slightly outside my remit for this Question, and there are those who think they are rather beautiful in particular circumstances. I will leave that question for another day.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, given the importance of tourism to our economy, what possible explanation can the Minister give for ignoring the potential of a 10 per cent increase in tourism at no cost whatever just by stopping putting the clocks back in this ridiculous way, which we do year after year. It is madness. Can she tell us why she is doing it?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: Once again, I really cannot claim sole responsibility for daylight saving. This issue comes up on various occasions in different contexts. A Private Member's Bill going through the other place is looking at this. The issue will not go
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Lord Storey: My Lords, we have heard that the Government have identified tourism as one of the five industries which will drive the UK economy. Given that next year we join the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which will see taxation for travellers to the UK increase, and given that many of our European competitors are doing away with aviation taxation to stimulate tourism, what is our response to protecting our own tourism industry, also given that, in terms of tourism taxation disadvantage, the UK is 134th out of 139?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend raises a very important issue. We are fully aware that tourism is a very competitive industry, so the UK must always ensure that it is not being outgunned on different fronts by other countries, that the unique assets in our countries, which tourists might want to visit, make it worth while and that the finances do not discourage people from coming here rather than going elsewhere. All these matters are currently under consideration to try to ensure that we make the most of people coming to our country and that they get a warm welcome here.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, tourism is clearly one of the most important potential growth sectors in the economy. Can the Minister explain what the Government have done to ameliorate the damage caused to the tourism industry by the riots last August?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, that is obviously a very concerning issue on all sorts of fronts, one of which is tourism. The pictures that went around the world were not such as would attract people to come to this country. We hope that more positive messages have gone out since then. The causes of the riots are obviously being looked at, tackled and addressed, but we hope that we will send out positive messages about the parts of the country which were not subjected to riots so that people are not deterred from coming to visit this country.
Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that, as a matter of information, all timescales are not the same, as she said in her reply, because Scotland and Wales have to rely on Westminster for theirs whereas Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are able to choose their own? There was an amendment to the Scotland Bill which allows the Scots to choose their own timescale and so increase their tourism by having lighter evenings if they so wish.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I cannot really add to my previous Answer. It is for the Government to consider that they wish the four countries of the UK to be on the same timescale. My understanding is that most of the resistance comes from Scotland, rather than Northern Ireland, for very valid reasons in which some people there believe. We shall just have to wait to see how this discussion unfolds.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what recent discussions have been held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the sale of government-held shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB, and regarding the effect of additional quantitative easing on that sale.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide range of organisations. It is not the Government's practice to provide details of all such meetings
UK Financial Investments-UKFI-manages the Government's shareholdings in the banks. UKFI aims to dispose of the shares in an orderly manner and it continues to monitor market developments and to look at the range of alternatives. The ultimate decision to proceed with any transaction will rest with HM Treasury.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am glad to hear that. However, last week it was reported that the Governor of the Bank of England told the Chancellor that he would not use QE to help the banks, including presumably the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, but, in fact, the quarterly review said that the Government authorised the Bank to pursue a number of activities targeted to improve the facilities of banks. Who is making decisions here: the governor or the Chancellor?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I think we risk straying from the Question. I know that, in a masterly wheeze, words about QE were added to this Question late in the day by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I think that quantitative easing is one of many questions relevant to the sale of bank shares but a relatively small consideration in present circumstances. Given that the Question is about the sale of bank shares, this is one of many factors that is relevant.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, although privatisation of RBS and the Lloyds Banking Group-ideally after separating completely the retail and investment operations of the two groups-is clearly some way off, does my noble friend recognise that the immediate need is for the Government to adopt a much more hands-on relationship with them than hitherto to ensure an adequate flow of lending to small businesses?
Lord Sassoon: I very much agree with my noble friend that the immediate priority is not so much consideration of the sale of the banks-UKFI will continue to monitor that closely-but to keep credit flowing. In relation to that, the Merlin agreement is critical. We treat the management of RBS and Lloyds on an arm's-length basis, but we will ensure, as we have, that we have an agreement with all the major banks to increase lending on what it was last year and
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Lord Myners: My Lords, given that the Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and, conceivably, ever, how can it possibly be sensible for the Government to be actively seeking to sell the taxpayers' interest in Northern Rock to City financial institutions?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we have a portfolio of banks which the Government either wholly or partly own. The Question was about Lloyds and RBS, but we also, as the noble Lord well knows, own Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley. It is within the mandate of UKFI, which was set down by the previous Government, of whom the noble Lord was a member, to have responsibility to seek over time to realise value from the banks. That is precisely what it is exploring in the context of Northern Rock. It is following the noble Lord's policy.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the downgrading by Moody's last week was long expected by the markets. It is largely a reflection of the fact that under the Vickers proposals-the independent commission's proposals-there will be a different relationship between the banks and the taxpayer: the taxpayer will not be on the hook for the banking system in the way that it was. As a result, as expected, Moody's changed the ratings on a number of banks. Equally, it made it clear that that was not a reflection on the well capitalised state of the UK banking system. The UK banks continue, as Moody's and others have said, to be in a more robust state to withstand shocks from the eurozone than banks on the continent of Europe.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I am not sure that I understood one of the noble Lord's earlier answers. Does the Treasury expect to get back all the money it has put into the two banks mentioned in the Question? If so, when can we expect to see that money?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I do not think that I touched on that point in a previous answer at all. UKFI has a responsibility, on behalf of the Government, to look, over time, at ways to create value out of the shareholdings, and that is what it will do. There is no question of any particular benchmark; we need to ensure that the taxpayer gets maximum value, subject to questions of competition and financial stability, over time, from the holdings in the banks. That is the mandate that UKFI has.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, when the moment comes for the disposal of the bank shares, can my noble friend give an assurance that the Government will make a more responsible decision than was contained in the sale of gold by the previous Administration?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister will have appreciated the fact that two of the more challenging questions have come from his own side, from the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Newby, about the future of RBS. What preparations are the Government making for recapitalisation of RBS if that proves to be necessary?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, it would be completely wrong in any circumstances to speculate on individual banks. The FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury look at all sorts of scenarios in relation to banks and other systemically important parts of the financial system. As a result of the recapitalisation of the banks and the stringent stress tests which the FSA has conducted repeatedly, the UK banking system is well recognised by the credit rating agencies and by many other commentators and is in a relatively good situation. We now want to see stress tests carried out right across the European banking system as a matter of urgency to proper standards.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing I declare an interest as I chair the All-Party Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the Government's Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty was indeed launched in October 2010. We have made considerable progress and today the updated strategy has been laid in Parliament and published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. We have raised the issue of the death penalty at all levels bilaterally and through the European Union, including in specific cases of British nationals and others. We continue to fund a range of projects, including in China, Nigeria and the Middle East as well as in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and Africa.
Baroness Stern: I thank the Minister for that positive reply and for the excellent efforts that the Government are making on this subject. Can he confirm that 21 out of 58 Commonwealth countries are still using the death penalty and that there are over 11,000 people on death row in the Commonwealth? Does he expect any progress to be made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this month on raising the question of abolition or, failing that, the question of minimum standards, so that people are not condemned to death without a fair trial?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for chairing the All-Party Group and for her thanks. I have to be realistic about the prospective pattern at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. It is going to be difficult to get this issue on to the agenda and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. HMG's focus is going to be on pressing for the introduction of a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as recommended by the Eminent Persons Group and supported by a number of Commonwealth countries, as a force who would be in a good position to promote this cause. If I promised anything more than that, I would be misleading the noble Baroness.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I declare an interest as representing a number of people on death row in Trinidad and Tobago. Is the Minister aware of the Government of that country's attempt to amend the constitution to reintroduce hanging earlier this year and of the concerns expressed by Amnesty International? What steps are this Government taking to monitor any deterioration in human rights in Trinidad and Tobago since the declaration of the state of emergency in August 2010?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, Trinidad and Tobago has just been through the UN universal periodic review process, looking at human rights across the board. It has also announced the abolition of the death penalty for felony murders, although that does not meet the problem that my noble friend rightly raised. The United Kingdom raised the issue of the death penalty during that UN review process. I observe that the debate over the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago is closely linked to problems of serious crime and a related state of emergency, as my noble friend indicated. The UK has seconded a criminal justice adviser to work alongside the Trinidad and Tobago Government. That is all I can tell my noble friend at the moment.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, one of the most repellent aspects of this issue is when the death penalty is used against young people under the age of 18. The Minister spoke of progress in his initial answer. Can he tell us whether any progress has been made in respect of approaches to Iran over its use of the death penalty for crimes of a so-called moral nature, particularly for young women under the age of 18?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I must confess to the noble Baroness that I find it difficult almost to find the words to express my disgust and contempt at the news coming out of Iran, in this case relating to the execution not of a young girl but of a young boy. I was appalled to hear of that execution, which was conducted in the most revolting way. He was subjected to the worst form of execution-suspension and strangulation-in front of a public crowd. The president of Iran has said that Iran does not execute children under the age of 18, but that appears to be contradicted by that horrific event, which contravenes the international obligations to which Iran has signed up. We have of course raised this case with the Iranian authorities and will work extremely hard to secure a strong resolution on human
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The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I was grateful for the Written Ministerial Statement that we received today from the Government on the death penalty. Will the Government also give particular attention to the death penalty being used in Iran in cases of blasphemy and apostasy? I bear in mind the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor who faces execution for failing to renounce his Christian faith.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The right reverend Prelate is quite right to raise this case. We are deeply concerned for the fate of Pastor Nadarkhani. In a statement on 28 September, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary deplored reports that the pastor was being forced to recant his faith or face the death penalty. Alongside my right honourable friend, I pay tribute to Pastor Nadarkhani's bravery in the face of such threats. We will continue to work closely with our EU partners to try to ensure that the pastor's legitimate rights to freedom of religion and belief are met.
That Standing Order 40(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 11 October and Wednesday 12 October to enable proceedings on the Health and Social Care Bill to take place before oral questions.
I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for inviting me to lead on this amendment. The issue is one that I first raised at Second Reading last July. I felt strongly that Clause 2, dealing with the military covenant, was not getting the visibility and treatment that its importance to all service personnel, to veterans and to their families-a very large constituency-deserved.
The Prime Minister and other senior Ministers have repeatedly stressed the high esteem in which they hold the Armed Forces and said that they were determined to give formal recognition to this as part of the law of the land. However, the Bill before the House inserts a single clause giving meaning to those sentiments at the tail end of ad hoc and miscellaneous provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006. Regrettably, it will follow immediately after Section 359, which deals with pardons for servicemen executed for disciplinary offences in World War I.
There was a stark mismatch between the fine sentiments of the Ministers and the derisory legislative approach intended. I argued for a special part of its own for the covenant in the Act to emphasise and reflect the importance of this government initiative.
The collusion of noble Lords who support me in this amendment demonstrates that a very satisfactory outcome has been reached-albeit after some hesitation by the Government. This amendment inserts Clause 2 as a new stand-alone Part 16A of the 2006 Act. This far more adequately reflects the importance of this new legislative initiative of the Government.
I am most grateful for the way that both the noble Lords, Lord Astor and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, have helped in achieving this satisfactory outcome. I pay tribute to their efforts in support of an amendment that, from the time that I first raised it, has engaged their personal interest and sympathy. I am also very impressed by the strenuous efforts of all the officials involved, working in very shortened timeframes, to get this amendment, and Amendments 5, 6 and 7, into shape and through all the necessary hoops of government. They have done us all proud. I thank and congratulate them. Thanks to all these efforts, Amendment 1 has, I believe, the Government's full support. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for his kind words. He first mentioned his concern during the Bill's Second Reading. He made reference to the unfortunate juxtaposition that would result from the Armed Forces covenant clause being inserted into the Armed Forces Act 2006 directly after Section 359, which deals with pardons for soldiers executed during the First World War. Since then, he and I have had several exchanges. We have discussed the possibility of a printing change that would remove the need for a formal amendment, and considered the possibility of adding provision to the next Armed Forces Bill. At each stage, as the noble and gallant Lord has said, I have made clear my sympathy for the point that he raised. I am therefore pleased to be able to support his amendment, which will have the effect of moving the
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This is a good outcome. Once again, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for his helpful and constructive approach. I pay tribute to his resolve in pursuing this matter and I am pleased that we have been able to meet his concern.
I should now like to speak to the government amendments in this group. Further to discussions at the Bill's Report stage, these amendments clarify the role that Ministers and departments other than the Ministry of Defence will have in contributing to the annual report. If the amendments are approved, the Defence Secretary would be under an obligation to obtain the views of the relevant government departments on the matters covered in the annual report, and to seek those of the relevant devolved Administrations. He will be required to set out those views in full, or to summarise them in the annual report. In the case of a summary, he will need to obtain the department's agreement to any summary.
We have accordingly responded to requests from several noble Lords to bring forward proposals of our own on the subject. I am very grateful to officials in the department and elsewhere who have been able to get the amendments ready in time for the House to consider them this afternoon. When we come to the amendments later, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and her colleagues and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, will accept that the three amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Wallace meet the aims of their own amendments. I also hope that they will accept that the formulation that we have adopted fits better into Clause 2 and reflects the legislative conventions by avoiding references to other Secretaries of State.
During the passage of the Bill I have sought to make it clear to noble Lords that the Government are committed to an open and inclusive approach in preparing the annual report in order to maximise its value to Parliament. The statements that I placed on the record at Report taken together with the amendments that we are now considering lay a strong foundation for the future. I accordingly invite your Lordships to approve the government amendments.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words about the government amendments that we have now seen and thank the Minister for his co-operation in listening to the voices of several Members of this House on all sides who raised the issue at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. It has perhaps taken a little longer than we would have liked to have reached this position, which is very much a last-minute position, but very real progress has been made. Those of us who have been involved in the passage of the Bill will want to acknowledge and thank both Ministers and officials for the level of co-operation and the constructive outcome that we have.
I particularly mention Amendment 7, which is important in making it clear to those entitled to be covered by these provisions exactly what their positions are. They are named in different categories so no one who is entitled should have any doubt that the Armed Forces covenant will apply to them.
We have had a good level of co-operation. We have proved the usefulness of this House for those who have any doubt and I am sure that in another place these changes will be widely welcomed. I appreciate the work and co-operation on all sides of the House. We should all be very pleased with the conclusions and the final drafting that we have.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I first speak to Amendment 1, which is in my name as well as that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. I repeat his thanks to the Minister and his officials and to the officials in this House who came in for some criticism the other day for possibly being slow over this matter.
In Committee and at Second Reading a number of us made comments about how the veterans part of this covenant would be overseen. I am enormously grateful for the way that the Government have moved and for the amendments now before us. However, thinking through how this might happen, I still think that in the years to come the Government may well find that they will have to have somebody outside the Ministry of Defence responsible for overseeing the delivery of the veterans part of the covenant. A number of us have suggested in the past that that would be better done by having a Minister for veteran affairs in the Cabinet Office. I suggest that whoever is given that appointment will also need someone like a commissioner responsible for the 24/7 oversight of the work being done for veterans in response to whatever is presented by the various Ministers in each of the annual reports.
Lord Empey: My Lords, I, too, speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 7. I, too, am grateful to the Minister for his attention to these matters. I recall when I first went to see him in July that his officials were somewhat sceptical about the need for some of these changes. But if these amendments are accepted, the Bill will leave the Chamber a better and stronger piece of legislation than when it came in. The military covenant is gradually being defined to the extent that it will mean things to people. I was anxious to avoid some potential political slip-ups in the future, particularly with regard to devolved regions, and to try to ensure a degree of compatibility and comparison in terms of the treatment available to people in different parts of the country so that over time we did not see disparities developing.
I thank the Minister for communicating with us and making himself and his officials available, which I think has contributed to the comments that have just been made. I believe that we can now move forward in a much stronger position with the concerns raised on all sides of the House addressed. I certainly will be supporting these amendments.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, we, too, welcome the amendments moved by the Minister in response, I think, to Amendments 6 and 7 moved on Report and also Amendment 1 moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, just now with government support. We appreciate the work of the Minister and his officials, first, in listening to the points being made since the Bill was first debated in your Lordships' House and, secondly, in bringing forward the Government's own amendments to address those points-amendments which I am sure have support from all sides of the House.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister and officials for the time they have spent looking at all aspects of the Bill and the amendments we have just debated are most welcome. I now want to return to the question of including the operation of inquests in the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant. This would be incorporated into the new wording of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister's comments that the report must be open and inclusive and I would hope that the operation of inquests could therefore also be included. The covenant report is to be about the effects of membership or former membership of the Armed Forces on service people. The reference group would steer and guide the detailed content of the report in relation to healthcare, education and housing and in such other fields as the Secretary of State may determine.
Why do we need the operation of inquests in the Bill? I suggest it is needed because the quality of civilian inquests is very variable and there is no office of chief coroner to address that. This amendment would complement such a post whenever it comes into being. Currently, the narrative verdict is used differently by different coroners and the information in the narrative verdict is not collated. However, it is important data, particularly in relation to former members of Her Majesty's forces. For example, self-harming behaviours that are fatal may be linked to previous trauma. The long-term effects of emergency resuscitation techniques in the battlefield or from the use of equipment may as yet be unknown but they will emerge with time. Of course, many ex-service personnel die and there is no inquest-they die in civilian life and die of diseases like everybody else.
However, sometimes there is an inquest. I take asbestos as a specific example from history. The family of someone with mesothelioma may develop it from
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The long-term sequelae of battlefield injuries may result in early deaths in civilian life. Cataloguing these can provide information for trauma management in future and the information will not be captured unless inquests into deaths of ex-service personnel are specifically catalogued. I am aware that many do not want to be followed up when they return to civilian life. They want to get on with their lives and put the past behind them. That makes health follow-up particularly difficult and is precisely why unnatural and untimely deaths, as would be referred to a civilian coroner, may represent the only point at which long-term sequelae of active service could be picked up.
I return to the operation of the inquests themselves. Those who die on active service are subject to support from the Defence Inquest Unit of the Ministry of Defence. It provides coroners in the civilian world with a summary of the incidents in which people have died on active service and suggests who to call as witnesses. The unit meets the pledge in the covenant to support the bereaved, but it is involved in the inquests only on those on active service, including those who die in training. Sadly, year on year, there are deaths in training; one man died very recently. The tragedy is that the number of deaths in training really does not seem to be falling year on year; it seems almost to be flat-lined.
The Armed Forces covenant document requires that help and support are given to the bereaved families, as is done by the Defence Inquest Unit, but it does not specifically state that the operation of inquests themselves will be monitored. Yet some bereaved report experiences at these inquests that were unexpected and deeply traumatic. The waiting time for inquests has only recently fallen and has not yet reached the target time of nine months. Bereaved families often feel unable to grieve properly awaiting the inquest, and my concern is that unless we maintain a spotlight on inquests themselves the timing may slip. In civilian life we know that some people are waiting up to seven years for an inquest.
Currently, the quarterly reports to Parliament are a very important catalogue of deaths, but the reports will cease when we are no longer in the theatres of war. The reference group for the report on the covenant will include the Royal British Legion, which has been very active in campaigning for a chief coroner. Despite all the discussions since the Public Bodies Bill, no development has obviated that need. To have the operation of inquests on the face of the Bill will complement such an office; it will not replace it.
This amendment will not incur expenditure; it will ensure joined-up government between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice, the latter having responsibility for inquests. The report can incorporate the current quarterly reports on military deaths and
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These annual reports, as they are proposed and as I hope they become, will be a historic document of our forces' health and welfare. I suggest that we must also record their sacrifices of life through active service. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Finlay in this amendment, having also supported her in the campaign to get the chief coroner into post as part of the Public Bodies Bill. She has already mentioned that. I mention this because it has been 149 years since the coroners legislation was last updated, and it is now not fit for purpose. Those constituents who are finding it so are the families of those armed servicemen who are killed overseas. They have to wait an inordinately long time now for the inquest. This adds to their distress and is the very antithesis of everything that the Armed Forces covenant is all about. Therefore I hope that by putting this in the Bill and having it included in the annual report on the covenant, we will put pressure on those who ought to see that the coroners regulations and way of operating is updated and made fit for purpose, particularly for our servicemen and their families.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. Once again, I thank the Minister for all that he has done in helping us forward on the covenant. I have seen all too often in the see city of Wakefield recently the tragic sight of funerals at the cathedral of people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The clergy often finds itself at the sharp end of this, as it were, because it is trying to minister to families who are feeling particularly raw through the normal outcome of war and the sadness that that brings.
I support the amendment for two reasons. First, the delays that we have heard about reinforce that rawness and sense of loss that families find so difficult to cope with, particularly having lost loved ones in these tragic and, in some ways, unforeseen circumstances. Although people realise that they are taking a risk when they join the military forces, somehow one always thinks that it will be someone else who actually dies in battle.
Secondly, there should be proper monitoring of what is going on, as the noble Baroness said. It seems to me that remembering people who have lost their lives and having them recorded is essential in this process. The fact that it is not going to cost anything ought to encourage us to go with this amendment. I realise how much the Minister and the Government have worked to improve the Bill, but if we do not include this amendment, I think that ultimately it will not capture the proper operation of inquests. For that reason, I ask noble Lords to support this amendment.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. Although I did not take part in the debate last week, I listened very carefully to it. Arrangements had been made so that we did not vote last week; I expect that we will today on this amendment.
Following the Bill closely, I feel somewhat incredulous that the Government have not conceded in this area. This proposal is very much diluted from where we originally started. About three years ago I was privileged to sit in on a consultation, conducted by the Ministry of Defence, with the bereaved families of members of the Armed Forces. It was somewhat humbling to sit there and listen to them talk very constructively about how things could be changed. It would not help them, since they had already been in that situation, but it would help bereaved families of service men and women in the future and ease their lives with regard to delays in inquests. I gather that there is still a backlog of inquests.
I regard this as quite a simple amendment. It is about our duty of care to our service men and women. The covenant covers active service personnel and veterans, but what about service people who lose their lives and pay the ultimate price? What about the families they have left behind? This is a very small, light amendment. It does not call for huge expenditure. In my view, it meets what the whole ethos and spirit of the covenant to our Armed Forces personnel is really all about.
A number of colleagues have thanked the Minister for the changes in the Bill, which will leave the House very different from how it arrived. I give much of the credit for that to the Minister, to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and to the civil servants who have worked hard on this; I am not sure that these changes would have been achieved in another place. I ask why, on this last small request, which is really about the duty of care, the Government will not concede.
The amendment would not cost money and it certainly would not cost a lot of time. It would help the families and it would prevent us going back to the situation that we were in three years ago. It looks likely that multiple deaths will still be dealt with in Wiltshire, but inquests on single deaths in the Armed Forces look like going to a coroner who has probably never dealt with one before, which cannot be right. I give this amendment my wholehearted support, and hope that, if not through the Government conceding, then through a vote, we can get this into the Bill.
I do not wish to repeat the arguments already advanced in support of the amendment about why it is essential that there should be a specific reference in the Bill to the report covering the operation of inquests. Suffice to say that the decision not to proceed with the creation of the office of the chief coroner has strengthened the case. One of the roles of the chief coroner accepted on all sides of the House was the monitoring of investigations into service deaths and ensuring that coroners are trained to conduct investigations into military deaths. The chief coroner would also have
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The amendment would not reverse or amend the Government's decision in respect of the office of the chief coroner, but it would ensure that the issue of the operation of inquests-which, as has been said, remains a matter of considerable concern-is one that the Secretary of State has to report on each year in the Armed Forces covenant report, and thus is guaranteed to be the subject of continuing parliamentary and public scrutiny, challenge and debate.
In his responses in Grand Committee and on Report, the Minister-I think that he will accept this-has accepted that the operation of inquests is a subject that would be required to be covered by the Secretary of State in the Armed Forces covenant report at present but, his view is, not necessarily in future. The Minister argues that we currently have forces deployed overseas in military action-obviously, for example, in Afghanistan-which, sadly, continues to result in fatalities and consequential inquests, but that, hopefully, this will not be a permanent situation and thus there is no need, as there is with healthcare, housing and education, to have the operation of inquests included in the Bill as a required subject matter to be covered in the annual report.
I am sure that we all share his hope that the situation regarding fatalities will be transformed, but under current policy the current operations in Afghanistan will be continuing for just over another three years, and inquests are not always resolved and finalised quickly, as has been pointed out. Further, the anticipated position could well not materialise and we just do not know when or where our Armed Forces might be deployed overseas in the future. It is also the case that not all fatalities on active service occur overseas, as has been said, and there are fatalities in this country, including, in some years, some high-profile ones. It seems unrealistic to claim that, even though a highly sensitive issue such as the operation of inquests is one that the Secretary of State would almost certainly be expected to address for the next few years in an Armed Forces covenant report, such is our apparent certainty over what is going to happen in the highly uncertain and volatile arena of world affairs in the medium and longer term that we should decide now that it is not necessary to include any reference to the operation of inquests, along with healthcare, housing, and education in the Bill.
We have an Armed Forces Bill every five years-it is the one piece of guaranteed legislation that emanates from the Ministry of Defence, which is a department that generates very little new legislation. As a result, legislative changes and amendments that are required tend to be left until the next Armed Forces Bill. It may well be that experience of the processes and procedures provided for in this Bill for the annual Armed Forces covenant report will lead to some amendments being
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, during both Grand Committee and Report stages, the noble Baroness gave a detailed and moving account of problems which had been encountered by bereaved service families in the course of a coroner's inquest. I have considered carefully what the noble Baroness said on Report; it seems to me that she has three main areas of concern, and I shall try to deal with each in turn.
The first is the process and quality of inquests. In the past decade, more than 500 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who have lost their lives in military operations, including 12 service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. Sixty-three of these inquests were held this year alone. Several years ago, bereaved families could have waited around two years for an inquest. Last year we completed 131 inquests into operational death, for which the average date was 15 months, and only 11 and a half months for those where there did not have to be a service inquiry. For those who died last year the average wait is currently eight months, although this will increase, as a small number of inquests have yet to be held.
These improvements are a direct result of changes we have made, including the setting up of a dedicated defence inquest unit. But we are not complacent. The Ministry of Defence will continue to support coroners to ensure that they are able to hear inquests into service deaths promptly. This we hope will go some way to ease the burden on families at such a difficult and distressing time.
The defence inquest unit deals generally with around 20 to 25 coroners, and as the noble Baroness said on Report, the Ministry of Defence has held training events for them. I note, too, that the noble Baroness also raised concerns over the wide variation in the standards and performance of coroners. At present there are 99 coroners in 114 coronial districts. She will be interested to know that the Government propose to take forward a package of measures aimed at improving the standard of service provided by coroners, including statutory provision set out in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, such as training regulations for coroners, and powers to make new rules, regulations and guidance. In the mean time, the Government will also publish a new charter for the current coroner service in early 2012. This will set out the minimum standards of service that those coming into contact with the system
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Moreover, as the noble Baroness has acknowledged, quarterly ministerial statements on military inquests are already provided to Parliament and have been since 2006. They are accompanied by detailed tables, outlining the status of each operational death in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am sure that information of this kind will continue to be presented to Parliament for as long as there is public concern about how the inquest system works in relation to service personnel.
I also refer the noble Baroness to the commitments that I made on Report. The Secretary of State will have regard to a whole range of subjects included in the scope of the Armed Forces covenant, as set out in the guidance document published on 16 May. That includes the operation of the inquest system for bereaved service families. Again, I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the membership of the covenant reference group. Both the Royal British Legion, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and the War Widows Association of Great Britain are there to ensure that the Secretary of State receives very clear advice.
Noble Lords are well aware that the Ministry of Defence does not and cannot have total control of the process. Inquests and coroners are independent of government. In so far as the Government provide a legislative framework for inquests, that is a matter for the Ministry of Justice. Of course the Ministry of Defence has an interest in ensuring that inquests are effective and that they understand the military context. However, it would be wrong in principle for the Ministry of Defence to take on a general legislative responsibility to report every year on the operation of the inquest process.
The second main issue concerns the information about the health of members of the Armed Forces that can be obtained from inquests. It is true that valuable epidemiological information can sometimes be obtained from inquests into the deaths of those who die in service. However, the noble Baroness expresses concern not only about those who die in service but those who have left the services. The difficulties of tracking what happens to all former members of the Armed Forces until their deaths are well known. Whether their deaths are the subject of an inquest will, moreover, depend on whether the death is violent or unnatural, the cause of death is unknown, or the death occurs in detention. Therefore, for those veterans whose deaths are from illness or plainly from the long-term effects of injury, there will be no inquest. The focus of the inquest is on the cause of death. For example, if a veteran is killed in a car accident, the effect on his health of military service or injury is very unlikely to be looked at in the inquest. If he or she dies of, say, cancer or heart disease, there will generally be no inquest at all. As a result, tracking veterans and then examining the inquest, where one is held, is unlikely to be a major source of information.
I accept the noble Baroness's point that inquests can yield information about the long-term effects suffered by those who have been in a theatre of war and been
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"The problem often is that the service personnel who are at highest risk are those who are emotionally isolated and who present to clinical services that do not understand the long-term sequelae of what has happened previously".-[Official Report, 4/10/11; col. 1045.]
This indeed is an important area of concern. However, if I may be blunt, I do not see how a duty to report on inquests would help in this area at all. What the noble Baroness refers to here is an issue of long-term healthcare for veterans, which comes squarely under the existing requirement of the clause to address healthcare for serving personnel, for veterans, and for Armed Forces families.
The noble Baroness mentioned deaths in training. It is very important that deaths in training are carefully monitored, and that, if there are indications of underlying failures, they are the subject of government action. A report might be the right way to take that action; but it could not be a report on the effects of service in the operation of inquests-the inquest would be a source of information for the report, not the subject of the report.
I believe that, for the reasons I have set out, there is no need for the legislation to refer to the operation of inquests. Moreover, if I have understood the noble Baroness correctly, its aims in respect of veterans would not be realised. I therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I am grateful to the Minister for his very detailed response to the points I have made at previous stages of this Bill. I am well aware that we are at Third Reading, and will therefore be very brief.
I fully understand the package of measures that are going to be introduced to improve the inquest system in general, and that the system will be evaluated and monitored. I suggest that reporting on how that affects military deaths would be particularly useful, so those measures do not remove the need for my amendment.
In terms of tracking, and the information that is obtained from inquests, of course many deaths occur in civilian life. However, to take an example such as a death in a car accident, it is precisely the question of whether there are more alcohol-fuelled deaths in road accidents among ex-service personnel, and if there is a link to trauma that they have experienced previously, that makes such information highly important.
I accept that some of the points will be covered by the health requirement. However, they will not all be covered by it, and we will miss an important opportunity if we do not incorporate inquests, particularly because there has been so much concern over military inquests in recent years. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
"(3A) For the purposes of preparing an armed forces covenant report, the Secretary of State must obtain the views of any relevant government department, and seek the views of any relevant devolved administration, in relation to the effects to be covered by the report.
(a) set out in full or summarise the views of a relevant government department or relevant devolved administration obtained pursuant to subsection (3A); and
(b) where the views of a relevant devolved administration have been sought but not obtained, state that fact.
(3C) The Secretary of State may not include in an armed forces covenant report a summary under subsection (3B)(a) unless the relevant government department or relevant devolved administration has approved the summary."
(a) members of the regular forces and the reserve forces;
(b) members of British overseas territory forces who are subject to service law;
(c) former members of any of Her Majesty's forces who are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom; and
(d) relevant family members.
(2) In section 343A "relevant government department", in relation to an effect to be covered by an armed forces covenant report, means a department of the Government of the United Kingdom (apart from the Ministry of Defence) which the Secretary of State considers has functions relevant to that effect.
(3) In section 343A "relevant devolved administration", in relation to an effect to be covered by an armed forces covenant report, means whichever of the following the Secretary of State considers to have functions relevant to that effect-
(a) the Scottish Executive;
(b) the Northern Ireland departments;
(c) the Welsh Assembly Government.
"relevant family members" means such descriptions of persons connected with service members, or with persons who were service members, as the Secretary of State considers should be covered by a report or part of a report;
(a) a service member, or
(b) a relevant family member by reason of connection with a person who is or was a service member,
as a reference to the service member's membership or former membership of a force mentioned in subsection (1)."
After section 339 of AFA 2006 insert-
"339A Commonwealth medals
Medals awarded by Commonwealth governments, including the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal, to present or former members of Her Majesty's armed forces and other Crown servants may be worn without restriction.""
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 8 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Touhig. I am grateful for their support. As I made clear in my remarks at Report and Committee stages, the current arrangements are not satisfactory. This is not so much a criticism of individuals but of a process that is no longer-to use that popular phrase-fit for purpose.
I propose to respond to the points made by the Minister when he resisted this amendment in his letter of 23 September and at Report stage. In that letter to me and to other noble Lords who have spoken on this topic, the Minister said that when exceptions to the long-standing rule of no double medalling and the five-year moratorium are allowed, the results are then seen to be anomalous and unfair.
This is surely the wrong conclusion. The problem arises because the rules are out of date, and are no longer suitable for dealing with the donor countries and international organisations of today and the variety of involvements of many individual recipients. I am glad the Minister has put a review in hand. However, it must address the matter of what guidance there should be on accepting-or refusing to accept-foreign awards. The no double medal and the five-year moratorium have been breached at least since the time of the Korean War in the early 1950s and, in one way or another, in almost every year since. It is simply not tenable to claim that they are the right benchmark. I suspect that the mindset-or default position-is to try to deter an offer first, rather than have to deal with the much trickier problem of refusing or prevaricating over one once made. That is why these rules are still prayed in aid. However, they have lost their validity with the passage of time.
Secondly, in his reply to my earlier amendment, the Minister claimed that the HD committee was non-political, being made up of senior Crown servants, and was the source of advice to the Queen on the acceptance and wearing of foreign medals. However it defies belief that an award proposed by a foreign head of state or Government to one or more British subjects would not be considered by Ministers at some stage. Surely the interplay of diplomatic and cultural, economic and security interests and so on between a donor and this country must be taken into account on how best to respond to a generous gesture by a putative donor.
Lacking the speed of modern communication, those considerations may not have been uppermost 70 years ago, but surely they cannot be ignored today. Ministers must have some part to play, particularly if a refusal is mooted. Moreover, as is clear from my remarks at Report about the Minister's letter of 23 September, and in the Written Statements that I quoted about the rules and government policy, the Queen, as is normal, will on this topic act on the advice of Ministers. The Minister says so himself. I assume that this advice is couched to deal with agreements to restricted or unrestricted acceptance. I doubt that any submission put to Her Majesty seeks formal approval to refuse an award.
The Minister, in answering my points at Report, said that the effect of my then amendment would be to
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The Minister's next point was that a problem would be created by establishing a separate principle that applied to medals offered by the Governments of Commonwealth nations, as opposed to those offered by other allies. He said that it would not be easy to justify to non-Commonwealth allies or members of our Armed Forces why we would generally decline the offer of a medal from them, while readily accepting a medal offered by a Commonwealth nation. Surely, that misunderstands this amendment, and I note too the mindset or default opinion which is expressed in the words "would generally decline the offer".
On the one hand, my amendment would facilitate, without recourse to any archaic HD committee rules, the acceptance and wearing of Commonwealth medals. That would be set down in statute. Until the rules are changed, as I believe that they should be, the treatment of other friendly nations or international organisations would be, as now, unchanged, apart from explaining to them that the new Commonwealth arrangement was approved by Parliament and had received Royal Assent. I do not see that causing any greater diplomatic difficulty than already exists, as the Minister asserted, and almost certainly a good deal less, even without any changes to the HD committee rules. Those rules, or the way in which they are applied by officials, seem designed to deter as far as possible any foreign offer. That approach must surely merit thorough re-examination.
As I mentioned at Report, there is renewed interest in Government to strengthen the Commonwealth heritage-in short, to put the C back in FCO. It would be timely to adopt this amendment so that the Prime Minister, at the forthcoming CHOGM in Perth at the end of this month, could mention it then as a gesture of the Government's determination to strengthen their Commonwealth ties.
I now turn to the vexed question of a particular Commonwealth medal, the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal, which is mentioned in the amendment. UK subjects have Her Majesty's approval to accept that medal but not to wear it. The Minister, who has one, says that he keeps it hidden in his top drawer. However, I welcome the statement at Report saying that the Minister would,
Can the Minister confirm that he has written? Has he any indication when he will receive a response? Indeed, does this not also confirm the involvement of Ministers and that this is a topic not solely left to the HD Committee, as has been claimed?
I do not wish to detain the House by going over in full all the arguments brought to the Minister's attention that favour removing the restriction on wearing
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This individual, an RAF veteran of Malaya and North Borneo, describes his experience on ANZAC Day. He says that when marching with Malaysian and North Borneo veterans of the Australian Defence Force, he is unable to wear his PJM medal, although all the ADF veterans have royal approval to do so. It appears, he says, that the Queen of Australia rejoices in them wearing the PJM, but the Queen of the United Kingdom does not. As he and others have pointed out, that appears to be an insult to the people of Malaysia. He personally concludes, regretfully, that he can but agree.
It is time that that ridiculous anomaly was righted forthwith. Will the Minister accept my amendment? He does not automatically have to resist now that the Bill is to return to another place. The amendment would give great pleasure to numerous veterans-a gesture to their loyalty and valour worthy of the military covenant-and smooth the HD committee's work with Commonwealth countries pleased to make a national award to UK Crown servants. Agreement now would allow holders to wear their PJM on Remembrance Sunday this year, and wear it with pride.
I urge the Minister to accept the strength of those arguments and those of other noble Lords and to let the revised Bill complete its passage through both Houses with the amendment to gain Royal Assent. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: I put my name to the amendment, as I did in Committee and at Report. I declare an interest as a holder of the Pingat Jasa Malaysia. I shall not repeat all the arguments made so well by my noble and gallant friend, which have been put forward on numerous occasions. I should just like to mention three points.
First, as my noble and gallant friend said, the existing rules are utterly discredited. It was mentioned in the previous amendment that the coroners' regulations are 149 years old; some of the regulations for these medals go back to the Crimean War.
Secondly, it is all very well saying that it is a committee of civil servants who will draw this up, but it is actually Ministers who should give advice. I am concerned that Ministers do not appear to have given the ruling on this issue that they might have done.
I mention that in coming to my third point, because we are all abundantly clear-it has been made clear by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and by the Minister in this House-that the Foreign Office is trying to put back the C into the FCO. There is an emphasis on the Commonwealth. This is a Commonwealth medal. To my mind, it is discourteous not to accept something from the Commonwealth when the people who were awarded it went out honouring a treaty obligation to help a fellow Commonwealth member in trouble. This really ought to be put right as soon as possible.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig-in particular, his remarks about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. This has been a running sore for far too long, and it is about time that we sought to heal it. I have been a long-time critic of the Committee on Honours, Decorations and Medals, the so-called HD committee, which advises Her Majesty the Queen on these matters. As has been said, the committee advised Her Majesty that the veterans of the Malaysian campaign should accept the medal but must not wear it. Over the years, like others, I have tabled Parliamentary Questions. When I sat in the other place, I obtained an adjournment debate and tabled EDMs, all to no avail: the rule still stands.
If any of us were to walk down any high street in Britain today and stop a complete stranger and say, "Do you know that this country has allowed veterans who fought in the jungles of Malaysia to accept a medal from the King of Malaysia but they must not wear it?", they would think you were "dwp"-a Welsh word meaning daft in the head. British soldiers gave their lives in this campaign. We are told that this cannot be changed because of the five-year rule and the double medalling rule. We now discover that these are not rules at all but merely conventions which the HD committee operates. We are here this afternoon in the glorious surroundings of this magnificent Chamber of the House of Lords and yet only halfway round the world in Afghanistan somebody's husband, son or father is risking his life for us as a country in defending British interests. What sort of message do we send to these brave young men when we say that someone who fought for our country over 50 years ago should be treated so dishonourably?
I recognise that the HD committee has a difficult task. I have done my best to understand how it reached its decision. I have attempted through freedom of information requests to discover how this has happened, but I have been totally thwarted by the Cabinet Office. However, we have a chance to do something about this today. This is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is a privilege to sit here, whether in the elected House down the corridor or in this House. People in this country still expect Parliament to do something about righting a wrong or ending an injustice. I believe this should be a free vote in both Houses. If your Lordships' House was to carry this amendment today, I have no doubt that on a free vote down the corridor it would be passed overwhelmingly by Members there. If ever there was a case for parliamentarians to be allowed to use their conscience, this is one. This is about how we respect and treat those who have served our country. The Minister is a good and decent man and well thought of all around the Chamber. We know he has worked hard to try and resolve this matter and we certainly wish him well. But this is a case when the Executive should stand aside and Parliament, unfettered by the Executive, should speak for the people of Britain.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I chair one of the honours committees within the mainline honours system, although happily it has nothing to do with this. However, because of my familiarity with that system and some of the problems
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Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am afraid I have disobeyed my late great friend Lord Weatherill who said, "If you are at all in doubt do not listen to the debate". I have listened to the debate and I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Newton. It really is nonsense. I am actually standing before your Lordships wearing a decoration-Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland. When I received it for services which do not begin to compare with the bravery that the people we are talking of displayed in the Malaysian jungles, I received a letter from the Queen's private secretary giving me unrestricted permission to wear it whenever I wished to. It seems a total nonsense to give permission to these brave people to accept this medal and then to say, "But you cannot wear it". There is no logic in that argument whatever and I hope that my noble friend who will be replying to this debate-for whom I, too, have very real regard and respect-if he cannot give the logical answer will say that we ought to let Parliament make up its mind to allow these brave veterans, most of whom are very old people now, to enjoy at least one Remembrance Day where they can wear this decoration of which they are rightly proud.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, I rise as someone with no military medals, though my late father had some. I find it incomprehensible that we are not proud that service people fighting for this country were awarded medals by one of our Commonwealth nations. If we are proud that they should be awarded such medals, why should they not be allowed to wear them? It seems incomprehensible that they are not. We talk in your Lordships' House about the cost of this and the cost of that-I was told that the cost of national defence medals would be higher than I imagined-but the cost of doing this is nothing other than perhaps a dent in some civil servant's pride. There is no reason why this House should not encourage the Government to allow people to wear medals such as the PJM medal.
Having been awarded a medal from a Commonwealth country, the recipient does not have to wear it. There is no saying that if you have received a medal from a Commonwealth country of which you might, for current reasons, disapprove you have to wear it, but the idea that you cannot wear it seems anathema.
The Bill has to go to the other place. It is not on this one amendment that it may ping-pong. Therefore, contrary to my normal loyalties to the coalition, I will vote with the noble, valiant Lords in favour of the amendment.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I listened to the debate on medals in Grand Committee. I said at the end of it that our position was neutral but that I had found many of the arguments very persuasive. I have read
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We have taken enough time on this; I shall not repeat the arguments except to say that I unknowingly applied the test described by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, to a peculiar group of people called the opposition Whips. I tried to explain to them that we were going to debate how the King of Malaysia had presented a medal to British soldiers, how the Queen through Her Majesty's Government had agreed that they could accept it, and how they were not then allowed to wear it. It took me 10 minutes to convince them that I was being serious, especially, as I recollect from Committee, there is one day or one week when the soldiers are allowed to wear the medal.
We will support Amendment 8. I take this opportunity to say how flexible and how positive the Minister, his fellow Ministers and their team have been throughout the Bill. I earnestly invite him to maintain that theme and accept the amendment. Unfortunately, if he is unable to do so and there is a Division on it, we will join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and his colleagues in the Lobby.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, does my noble friend not think that we should also point to how these actions will be seen in Malaysia, which is a very important country that is deeply attached to ours? We have very strong links in higher education and business. It seems to me needlessly insulting of the people of Malaysia to do this.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the debates that we have already had on the subject of medals can have left no doubt about how important this matter is, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to address it again today.
The debate has had a number of strands: the process and rules for deciding on the acceptance and wearing of awards given by foreign and Commonwealth nations; the position within this process of Her Majesty as the fount of honour and the person to whom loyalty is owed; and the desire-shared, I believe, by all noble Lords-to recognise and support the Commonwealth. The amendment put down by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, relates to all these strands.
The position of the Government on the fundamentals of how the system should work remains the same as that of the last Government, when in 2007 the HD committee considered for a second time the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal. It is the same position as has been held by every previous Government since King George VI established the HD committee.
The foundations of this position are quite simple. First, when British citizens, whether civilian or military, carry out their duties to the sovereign and their country, it is for the sovereign to decide on the award of honours for that service.
Secondly, the advice given to the sovereign about the grant of honours should be consistent across government-expert and, so far as is possible, dispassionate. Decisions on whether to reward service should not be made in the glare of public debate or potential party political argument about the wider political context in which that service was given.
Lastly, there should be consistency in our response to the wishes of all states, foreign or Commonwealth. In particular, our response to all our allies and friends should be consistent. I do not pretend that absolute consistency has been, or can always be, maintained. Sometimes exceptions are, and no doubt will be, made. But it is nearly always when exceptions are made that unfairness or anomalies are likely to occur.
The amendment would have two direct effects. First, it would lay down for the future a new rule about medals-that those awarded a Commonwealth medal shall be entitled in all circumstances to wear it. Secondly, it would apply this rule to Commonwealth medals awarded in the past. These include, as the amendment specifies, the PJM medal.
In doing so, the amendment would also have a number of indirect effects. By overturning past decisions that have been made on Commonwealth medals, it would establish the precedent that Parliament may overturn-and after any length of time-any decision of the sovereign as the fount of honour. Her decision is needed on the full details of what is proposed, as to both the acceptance and the wearing of medals. The amendment would overturn, specifically, past decisions on Commonwealth cases. I need hardly say that it is Her Majesty who is Head of the Commonwealth, not Parliament.
It would establish a further precedent that Parliament is able to lay down and change the rules which are to be applied to decisions on the acceptance of honours from foreign and Commonwealth states. It would assert that Parliament can do so in a way which alters the fundamentals that I have described of the existing arrangements, such as the need for a basically consistent approach to awards by all friendly and allied states.
Equally profound in its implications is the argument that must underlie this amendment-that decisions on the award of honours, and whether to change decisions previously made, are better made in the emotive and often party political atmosphere of parliamentary consideration, than with the detached and largely non-party political approach envisaged in the arrangements set up by King George VI. I believe that it would be wrong in principle for this House to lead the way towards such a new approach to the award of honours. As to the particular new rule that the amendment would put in place, I simply point out that it would create a different principle for the wearing of medals awarded by Commonwealth nations from that which applies to those awarded by other allies.
The operations in which our Armed Forces are involved are increasingly international, with British units regularly working alongside UN, NATO or EU
10 Oct 2011 : Column 1347
That does not mean that I do not attach a special value to our membership of the Commonwealth and to our connections with its members. They are of the greatest importance, historically, culturally and constitutionally. But I do not believe that the creation of the distinction which this amendment would make between our Commonwealth and other friends is the way to reflect our respect for the Commonwealth.
Neither does it mean that I do not understand the force of the points that have been made in these debates about particular cases, and about the way that the process works, or is perceived to work. I have therefore instructed Ministry of Defence officials to consider the process by which advice about the institution of medals and the acceptance of foreign awards in respect of military service is put together, considered and submitted to Her Majesty.
As I explained on Report, this work will also consider the way that decisions are promulgated. My officials will ensure that they have the benefit of the views of the current chiefs of staff and they will discuss the issue with HD committee members. They will then consider whether any advice should be given to Her Majesty about the need to review the process and to make changes. Once my officials have reported back to me, I shall report the outcome to Parliament through a Written Ministerial Statement. I aim to do so before the end of the year.
I have been particularly struck with the force of the points made about the decision on the PJM medal. We have heard about how it is seen in Malaysia and about the continued importance and awareness of the issue not only in Malaysia and among those working for or representing the United Kingdom in Malaysia but among all those who were awarded the PJM medal. I shall put in hand, through my officials, representations to members of the HD committee about these issues, with a request that their advice to Her Majesty is to consider again whether those who have been awarded the medal should be permitted to wear it. Again I shall report the outcome to Parliament through a Written Ministerial Statement, and I aim to do so before the end of the year. However, for the reasons that I have explained, I do not believe that it would be right, in order to improve the system, for Parliament to overturn Her Majesty's decisions or to establish a precedent for laying new rules. Such an approach would not in my view support the essential merits and aims of the existing system, or support Her Majesty in carrying out her role as the fount of honour.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I hope he will be pleased if I simply say that I, at any rate, in what I acknowledge is an extremely difficult area, found his reply entirely
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"I propose to write to ministerial colleagues in the FCO emphasising the strength of feeling that continues to exist, both in this House and elsewhere, specifically about the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal ... I will propose that they look again at whether they can advise the HD committee to recommend to Her Majesty that those who were awarded the medal should also be permitted to wear it".-[Official Report, 4/10/11; col. 1074.]
Lord Craig of Radley: I thank the noble Lord for that assurance. There is a fundamental disconnect, I feel, between the approach that I and my colleagues are taking and the one that the Minister has taken. It is all to do, fundamentally, with whether the HD committee rules to which we keep referring are still fit for purpose. My contention is that they not fit for purpose. On that basis, I propose to ask for the view of the House.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I gather that it is traditional at this point for the Minister guiding the Bill to say a few words of thanks. More than 30 noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords spoke during the debate at Second Reading in July. That is testament to the deep and abiding interest in the Armed Forces that exists in this House. In our exchanges since then, we have at times taken different views on some issues. However, I have been impressed, as I always am, by the courtesy and helpfulness that have been shown to me by noble Lords on all sides of the House. It is difficult to single out individuals, but I should like to pay tribute to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for his hard work on the Bill and for his tenacity in pursuing issues that he thought were wrong. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is not in her place now. I should also like to thank the many people behind the scenes, in the House and elsewhere, who have supported us during the Bill's passage. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the Armed Forces. This Bill is for them. We owe them our best efforts at all times, and I believe that we have a Bill that meets the high standard that they set for us.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I will be brief, but I would like to thank the Minister and his team for all the considerable help that they have given on this Bill. The Minister has been prepared to listen with an open mind to the points made during our discussions. Where he has felt able to make changes in the Bill to address some of the concerns that have been raised, he has done so. We wish to express our thanks to the Minister for all the work that he has done on the Bill and for his major contribution to the fact that our debates have been constructive and conducted without rancour, and conducted with the interests of our Armed Forces in our minds.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I do not intend to move the amendment but I urge the Government, in considering issues of procurement and the like, to bear in mind the need to ensure that reasonable conditions, in terms of pay and other conditions of service, are applicable not only to those employed within the public sector but to those with whom it contracts, and to seek to encourage the concept of the living wage, which has been adopted in London by successive mayors and which other local authorities are seeking to promote. I do not wish to detain the House further so the amendment is not moved.
(1) Arrangements involving the Commission may be entered into by persons within subsection (4) for the provision of administrative, professional or technical services by any one or more of the parties for any one or more of the parties, whether for consideration or otherwise.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), arrangements for the provision of services involve the Commission if the Commission is one of the parties to the arrangements and at least one of the following conditions is met-
(a) the Commission is the party, or one of the parties, by whom the services are to be provided;
(b) the Commission is the party, or one of the parties, to whom the services are to be provided.
(a) the Commission, or
(b) the Commission jointly with any one or more of the parties,
to have the function of discharging, on behalf of a party, any function of that party which is of an administrative, professional or technical nature.
(a) the Commission,
(b) the Parliamentary Commissioner,
(c) the Health Service Commissioner for England, and
(d) the person administering a scheme approved under Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1996 (scheme for enabling complaints to be investigated by a housing ombudsman)."
(a) by any person authorised by the Commission to do so, and
(b) to the extent so authorised.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the three government amendments in this group give the Local Government Ombudsman the power to operate shared services with other public sector ombudsmen and clarifies the organisation's ability to delegate functions to its staff.
Making provision for our public sector ombudsmen to share back-office functions makes sound, practical sense, providing as it does scope for better, efficient working. Moreover, making provision for public sector ombudsmen to share services, like a single point of contact for complaints from the public about public sector service failures such as social housing, has clear advantages for the public.
The amendment provides assurance that the Commission for Local Administration in England, as a corporate body, has the power to delegate functions to its officers-for instance, the ability for a member of staff to negotiate and let a contract for cleaning the office. This in no way relates to the delegation powers of the commissioners themselves, who have clear powers of delegation that allow officers of the commission to investigate cases.
The other two amendments in this group, first, make provision for the commencement of the provision that I have just described and, secondly, amend the title of the Bill to give the Commission for Local Administration in England its proper title.
A local authority may by byelaws make provision requiring that, on receipt by the local authority of a petition from residents of a particular street or other residential area to the effect that one or more properties in their street or area are not being maintained to the standard appropriate
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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am so pleased that we have actually reached one of my amendments. I flew back from Sydney yesterday specifically to be here for it but I felt sure that another 25 would have popped in ahead of me again. Fortunately, that has not happened.
This amendment comes about because at the moment, councils have no authority to do anything to maintain standards of appearance-and buildings at all-and this can be very bad for other residents adjoining. The home that I sold in 1977 to very rich people, who now have vast resources in this country, was done up at that time and has not been touched since. It is really quite sad to go past and see the gutters falling off and the stucco all in pieces. People in that street told me that they have repeatedly asked if something could be done about it, and the council has said that no, it has no powers to even request this. These people have taken petitions up to the owners of that house, but nothing has happened. When I asked the council, it said that it has powers if something is unsafe and going to fall down, or if it is a listed building-although even if it is a listed building, it cannot ask for it to be maintained; it can only prevent it from actually falling down when it gets to that point. I was surprised that the council says that it has no powers in this respect.
It should not be a case of demanding that people keep a place in immaculate condition. I know of a similar case in Montpelier Square, where local residents get very distressed by this. It is worth thinking about having an enabling power for councils. I hope that it would be needed. I beg to move.
I am not sure that the amendment is necessarily the right way to deal with this. My understanding is that in conservation areas there are provisions under the Town and Country Planning Acts for steps to be taken to maintain properties of this kind. It is not without interest that in Edinburgh recently there have apparently been problems with requirements being imposed on local residents by the local authority-who appear to have powers similar to those advanced in this amendment-which have caused some controversy. Apparently large sums of money have had to be laid out on improving or maintaining properties, and some of those who are benefiting from those expenditures have been connected with the decision-making process. That would not be applicable if the amendment were carried, and one would hope that it would not occur. Nevertheless, it is difficult to define exactly what standards would be required.
There is, however, a more general point which applies to this and the other amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, and that is the general by-law-making
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The noble Baroness has touched on an issue, perhaps almost inadvertently, that is worth considering: the capacity of local authorities to make particular provisions for their areas without necessarily having to have everything approved by central government. I do not know how the Minister will respond; I suspect that he will acknowledge the good intentions but say that perhaps it is not appropriate for this Bill, and I certainly would not press him to go further than that. However, I ask the Government to take back the issues of by-law-making powers and consent regimes generally, not for the purposes of this Bill, but as part of a localist agenda.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for introducing her amendment and welcome her back to Britain. Local authorities already have extensive powers to take action where a property is dangerous or having an adverse impact on the amenity of the neighbourhood. I see no need for additional powers. Under the Housing Act 2004, local authorities can tackle poor conditions across all residential properties. If a property is found to contain serious hazards, the local authority can instruct its owner to undertake any works necessary to ensure that it is safe. Inspections and any subsequent enforcement to address the disrepair can be triggered by complaints to the local authority.
Local authorities have a key role to play in identifying empty properties in their areas, and in developing strategies to bring them back into effective use. We encourage local authorities to work with owners to persuade them of the benefits of bringing their property back into use. However, where it is clear that owners are not prepared to co-operate with efforts to get their property occupied through agreement, local authorities have enforcement powers to deal with them. Further powers available to local authorities to tackle disrepair and poor maintenance include those in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Where properties have an adverse impact on the amenity of the area, local authorities can require that they are tidied up, repainted and, where necessary, rebuilt. I hope this will satisfy the noble Baroness and that those who are concerned will have more luck in getting their local authorities to pursue the powers that they have.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for his reply on this matter, which he went into in detail. I am even more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who understood the sort of point that
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(a) in specified circumstances,
(b) at specified times,
(c) if specified conditions are satisfied,
(d) in specified areas,
or any combination of those.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, this amendment came to me because someone who lives near me in central London phoned me and said, "I don't know what to do. I can't open the windows on this swelteringly hot day because all the people who are working on the local building site are sitting along the garages below my residence, and the smoke is so intense that I can't open the window. I am going to die of the heat". She did not die of the heat; nevertheless, I rang the local council. It was not something I had ever thought about before. I said, "What can you do about it?". The council said, "We can do nothing. We get these issues all the time, particularly with restaurants and bars. Lots of people now congregate outside them because they can't smoke inside". If anyone happens to live within reach of the smoke, it is absolutely deadly for them. It would be helpful if the council could make this a planning issue.
Last month, I read in the paper that Australia proposes to bring in completely smoke-free streets. I did not hear anything about that while I was there; no one mentioned it. It is obviously of more interest to the press here than it is to people there. That is a bit extreme. My amendment is fairly short and simple but I have had the most intolerant e-mails and letters from people, saying that I am a fascist who is trying to ruin their lives and take away their right to a bit of healthy smoking whenever they feel like it. It is obviously a very emotive issue-quite unnecessarily so. I am not suggesting anything wholesale. However, I am suggesting that people should have the right to live in their homes and open their windows without finding themselves so adversely affected. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, again, one sympathises with the motivation behind this amendment. Quite apart from the particular case to which the noble Baroness referred, it is not a particularly attractive
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Enclosed areas are of course covered by the existing legislation, and, as I understand it, there is power to designate areas other than enclosed areas, if, in the authority's opinion, there is significant risk that without designation persons in the area would be exposed to significant quantities of smoke-areas where, although they are outdoors, there is a concentration of people or of prevailing structures around the area that might lead to people being exposed to the smoke. If that is indeed the case, as it appears to be under the Health Act 2006, there does not appear to be any need for the amendment. I would encourage local authorities to look at that Act. No doubt the Minister in replying will have more information about that.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, again I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. Indeed, I have great sympathy for the amendment as it seems to me that the place immediately after the no-smoke zone ends is the problem territory, whether it is outside a public building, or wherever it may be.
The amendment would give local authorities an explicit power to make by-laws designating areas as smoke-free. The Health Act 2006 makes provision for the prohibition of smoking in enclosed public places and workspaces. It came into force in England on 1 July 2007. Section 4 of the Act provides regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State for Health to make further regulations-for England-designating as smoke-free any place or description of place that is not smoke-free under the Act. This could cover outdoor places. Therefore, if the evidence on the harms of exposure to second-hand smoke becomes more robust, and the Government's preference for voluntary local action to extend smoke-free places where there is a clear need is shown not to be working, the Government can consider using Section 4 of the Health Act 2006 at a later date. I would say that, at the moment, the Government do not intend to make use of these powers. However, I know that colleagues in the Department of Health welcome the debate on this important issue and will continue to monitor developments and the evidence.
While we are sympathetic to local authorities making by-laws that preserve public health, our preference is to see local authorities promote the benefits of environments free from second-hand smoke on a voluntary basis. Creating smoke-free areas through legislation gives rise to complex issues, which I know that colleagues at the Department of Health would want time to consider carefully, and I do not think this is something we should be dealing with at this late stage of this Bill. As such, I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment and trust that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw it.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister and the spokesman from the Opposition for their very good and sound comments. I did not mention earlier
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This is a serious issue. I do not know what will happen in the future. I appreciate the points made about this being perhaps more of a health issue and therefore I am pleased to have aired it today-what a silly remark, to say "I have aired it" when we are talking about smoking. I have taken on board the comments that have been made and thank noble Lords very much. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the compliance of pedicabs with road traffic legislation;
(b) where pedicabs may be stationary whilst seeking business;
(c) the playing of music in pedicabs;
(d) the roadworthiness and appearance of pedicabs; and
(e) such other matters as the local authority may determine.
(a) to seat one or more passengers; and
(b) for the purpose of being made available with a driver in the course of a business for the purpose of carrying passengers."
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, it is rather an overdose of me today, but it does make up for all the times I have sat here quietly. I have mixed views about this amendment myself, particularly as yesterday I came back from Heathrow by cab and the taxi driver was very strongly opposed it. I thought that that was interesting. He said, "The moment you license them, you are legitimising them. They are so dangerous". He had seen people injured. I find that this happens all the time when I am driving home in the evening. I will see a pedicab suddenly move from the left hand side of the traffic, without any signal, cut right across the traffic and possibly even do a U-turn. They really are a danger. In the central London area they are also a danger when they park on footpaths. People cannot walk past them and sometimes have to go out into the street to do so. It is a genuine problem.
I was interested in the cab driver's remark asking whether you are legitimising pedicabs if you licence them, particularly as there is a Bill before the House or perhaps some other technical measure. However, this issue is being considered in a wider context. My points about loud music and so on are all perfectly legitimate, although I am not sure that this is the opportunity to consider them. Meanwhile, so that we can hear the Minister's reply, I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, perhaps I may add to what my noble friend said. In fact, I introduced the London Local Authorities Bill which originally included a clause to provide for the licensing of pedicabs. It went through a long process of petitions that were heard. In the end, the promoter of the Bill, which at that stage was the City of London, decided that it was wiser to drop the pedicabs provision in order to get the Bill through. However, it was perfectly clear that the proposal aroused a lot of opposition. There is quite a lot of financial interest in this pedicabs business. I am talking primarily of London-I do not know about the situation outside London-but it is possible for those employed to drive pedicabs to make quite a lot of money if they are prepared to work hard, late into the night and in the small hours of the morning. The amendment is obviously not without some merit because there are members of the public who will use pedicabs in preference to hanging around for buses or going down to the Tube.
Therefore, I hope my noble friend can say something on this. There is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but perhaps not so much by amending this Bill but through a local authority private Bill. The issue should eventually be picked up by the Government and some form of regulation should be imposed.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, as a cyclist in London, I have come to know the London Pedicabs Operators Association quite well. Yes, pedicabs irritate taxi drivers-and they irritate me because they are wider than my bicycle and I cannot always get past them. However, taxis, cars and white vans irritate people. At some stage, we all have to live together and hope that it all works well for the benefit of the community and for people who want to go somewhere late at night. Of course, tourists love pedicabs.
However, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is something wrong with the current situation. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned the private Bill debated here in, I think, 2009. My understanding is that there was a voluntary registration scheme that the pedicab association was prepared to sign, given that Westminster City Council apparently made specific undertakings in Committee to provide pedicab ranks around Westminster. That has not happened and the whole idea seems to have evaporated.
Perhaps I may move on to early this year, when a new plan came from the mayor's office, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, Westminster City Council and the London Pedicabs Operators Association. They were asked to draw up a framework mechanism, documentation and software to satisfy the requirements of a formal licensing scheme that would include a partnership agreement, and to write a code of conduct-which is important-and a memorandum of understanding between those parties. However, again, nothing seems to have happened on this.
The pedicab association says that many of the issues listed in the noble Baroness's amendment would in fact be in some of the agreements that it was setting out to achieve. The one thing that it says would be very difficult-and I agree-is to have,
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There is an issue here but I believe that licensing by TfL on a reasonable basis would work well. I know that taxi drivers do not like pedicabs because they see them taking away business, but we are not really here to preserve the monopoly of taxis in taking people around London. There is also the TfL cycle hire scheme, which seems to be doing quite well.
I believe that some of the issues that the noble Baroness lists in her amendment should be in some kind of agreement, but someone has to take that forward and I think that it should be TfL with everyone else's agreement. However, every time there seems to be a step forward, something stops it. Perhaps, as the noble Baroness has suggested, people do not want a registration system because that would legalise pedicabs.
I think that pedicabs are here to stay. They are good fun. If they are registered, there will be some control over them, and I hope that that will get rid of those who do not comply with the regulations and that it will allow a good service to be properly enforced, with vehicles that have back red lights and front white lights, which are important. The noble Baroness makes a very good point with this amendment but it is probably not the right way to go forward at this stage.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, first, I think I should make it clear to the House that my father was a licensed London taxi driver and that both my brothers are licensed London taxi drivers. In fact, one or two noble Lords have mentioned to me that they have been picked up by them and taken home after a busy day in your Lordships' House.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: As far as it goes, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. Pedicabs, and the way in which they operate, can be a nuisance, and it is only by licensing them that we can get some control over them. It would therefore be good if local authorities could establish local by-laws for the licensing of pedicabs in their area. If people are going to travel in them, we should make sure that they are roadworthy, that there is proper insurance cover for passengers, that there are rules about where they can stand when waiting for business, that the people peddling them comply with traffic legislation and that, where breaches occur, there is provision to get them off the road.
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