To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that Article 21 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, incorporated in the Oslo Treaty of 2008, debars states party to that convention from promoting the adoption by other states of another convention containing weaker restrictions on the use of such weapons.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the United Kingdom is fully committed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and our Article 21 commitments. We will not sign up to anything that would undermine it or dilute our obligations under it. We believe that engaging in negotiations for a protocol on cluster munitions in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is consistent with paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 21 of the convention. These are negotiations within the framework of an international humanitarian law treaty, which are aiming at establishing restrictions on a significant number of cluster munitions, which would have a notable humanitarian effect.
Lord Elton: My Lords, Article 21 actually requires us to promote the norms established by the Oslo treaty and the CCM. The norms in the CCW convention that we are now discussing are significantly lower and permit the use, for instance, of the M85 weapon, which formed a considerable part of the saturation bombing of the Lebanon by Israel in 2006, when 4 million sub-units were used. Can my noble friend not see that the United Nations kitemark on a convention of this sort, which permits the use of many sorts of these child-killing weapons, will lead the rest of the world to think that the use of these weapons is respectable? This is not promoting the norms that we have undertaken to promote.
Lord Howell of Guildford: A lot of what my noble friend says is very wise. I emphasise that our consistent aim has been to ensure that any protocol on cluster munitions which emerges from the CCW parties is complementary to and does not contradict the rights and obligations of state parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I see the concern of my noble friend. The Government are anxious to take account of the worries and views of noble Lords and of Parliament generally. I repeat that we will not sign up to anything that would undermine the gold standard,
10 Nov 2011 : Column 336
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, notwithstanding the changes that we agreed the other day, would the Minister spare me having to thank him for that Answer, which I am afraid increases concern rather than decreases it? Will he not recognise that there is a very strong body of opinion in this House and in the House of Commons, which was brought to the attention of the Minister responsible for disarmament the other day, about the negotiations in Geneva for a protocol whose sole purpose is to ban some antique cluster munitions that are not very relevant to today's world and which, if it is agreed, will have the effect of legitimising the modern cluster munitions weapons, including those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that were used to such disastrous effect in the Lebanon? Will he not recognise that these feelings are strong and well founded? Will he not agree that it would be completely wrong-politically, not just legally-for this country either to support or to subscribe to any convention that makes that distinction and has the effect of legitimising these appalling modern weapons?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord made a number of points. The antique cluster weapons are of course often the nastiest, particularly if they are used, so banning them is no bad thing. As for the negotiation over the protocol, obviously we will take into account the points that the noble Lord has made. However, perhaps he should take into account the point that 85 to 90 per cent of all cluster weapons are with non-Oslo state parties and so are left out of the present commitment, to which we ourselves are totally committed. If his advice is that we should ignore that situation, that sounds to me like a direct attack on a humanitarian benefit that we might achieve. I wonder if he would not like to reconsider his position.
Lord Howell of Guildford: We have already adopted the convention and it is a question of getting more countries to sign up to it. Alas, there are a number of important countries-the United States, Russia and China, for a start-that have not done so. That is the mechanism on the existing convention. If any protocol emerges from this, and that is a very large if-it depends on the force of our stance and our commitment not to sign anything that would undermine the convention-that would have to be approved by the United Nations and would have to receive signatories in the same way.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, will my noble friend give the House an assurance that, where competing international treaties or protocols are being negotiated, the United Kingdom will always strive,
10 Nov 2011 : Column 337
Lord Howell of Guildford: Clearly, we will give primacy to the gold standard, as I call it, of this convention. If it reassures my noble friend, I confess that we are disappointed with the progress of negotiations so far. We will continue to press the world's major users and producers to give up more, be more transparent and be more explicit in their commitment to working towards a world free of cluster munitions, which is the aim of all of us.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Hannay, is that in the current approach there is a risk of legitimising the use of modern cluster weapons. Could the Minister respond to that point?
Lord Howell of Guildford: First, let me say that the previous Government made excellent progress on this. The noble Lord may remember that when I was sitting in his place we supported that, and some brave and bold decisions were taken that we were all very pleased with. The risk is there in the negotiation, but it is a risk that we are determined to avoid. We do not want to legitimise lower standards or undermine or dilute the Convention on Cluster Munitions in any way. That is the approach that we will use in our negotiations. I cannot go into our detailed stance because that would not be very helpful at this stage, but the noble Lord is right that there are risks in this matter, and we are determined to avoid them.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of us doubt that modern cluster weapons are less nasty than the antique ones? Will he give an undertaking that the Government will not in future sign up to any convention that permits the use of modern cluster weapons?
Lord Howell of Guildford: As I said, we will not sign up to any convention that in any way dilutes or undermines obligations. I made the observation on antique weapons merely because it is a minimalist better-than-nothing point that banning antique weapons would be a start. Obviously, we would like to see a total ban, but we have to face the fact that 85 to 90 per cent of cluster munition countries and manufacturers are left out of the present convention. We must battle on to better things, but we cannot achieve it all overnight.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, my department publishes an annual study showing the number of 16 to 17 year-olds studying A and AS-levels and other qualifications. At the end of 2010, a record 600,000 16 to 17 year-olds were in full-time education studying A and AS-levels. A further 413,000 were in full-time education studying vocational qualifications. Record funding of over £7.5 billion is going into 16 to 19 funding this year and the Government are committed to raising the participation age to 17 from 2013, and to 18 from 2015.
Baroness Quin: Has the Minister seen the recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which seems to imply that education cuts are specifically affecting the 16 to 19 year-old sector? Does he agree that with the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, the cuts in education and the deterrent effect of tuition fees, against the background of rapidly rising youth unemployment, 16 to 19 year-olds are facing a very difficult situation? Action may be urgently needed across government to give this vital section of our population increased educational and work opportunities for the future.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I obviously agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about the importance of extending educational opportunity for that age group. That is why we are committed to raising the participation age and why we have put record funding into the 16 to 19 year-old group generally. As we have debated before, we have prioritised, at a time when we have less money than we would like, funding for pre-16s. All the evidence shows that academic achievement up to the age of 16 is the strongest determinant of subsequent success, both educationally and in job terms. We have done that, but I agree with the noble Baroness that 16 to 19 year- olds are important and we are looking across government at our participation strategy to address some of the concerns that she fairly raises.
Baroness Coussins: My Lords, what are the most recent trends, identified by the comparative European and international studies in which the UK participates, into how many students aged 16 and over are studying a modern foreign language?
Lord Hill of Oareford: Given that the noble Baroness is asking that question, I suspect that the answer may well be that other countries are doing more in terms of modern foreign languages than our own country. I share her concern: we want to redress the balance. As she knows, we are keen, through things like the English baccalaureate, to encourage take-up of modern foreign languages in our schools. In time, that should work its way up through the education system.
Baroness Walmsley: What can the Government do to help schools access the technology they need for e-learning and distance learning through which they can access the specialist teachers that they cannot employ in their own schools? That would help students
10 Nov 2011 : Column 339
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend about the importance of technology and the way that it opens up all sorts of opportunities that were not there before, perhaps particularly for children in rural areas. We need to look at that and make sure that its potential is fully realised.
Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, the noble Lord has given us a figure for A-levels. The Question goes on to ask about other, equivalent "further education qualifications". Can he give us any idea of how many pupils are taking the international baccalaureate?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I do not have the precise figures but I will be happy to write to the noble Lord with them. I know of his interest in the subject; we have discussed this before. It is, as he knows, a relatively small number but I am glad to say that I think it is increasing slowly in the maintained sector as well as the independent sector. I will do my best to get up-to-date figures and write to the noble Lord with them.
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, what work are the Government doing to monitor trends in the number of students who go on from A-levels or other pathways of learning to apply to university? In particular, what steps are they taking to monitor whether the changed funding arrangements are deterring numbers from lower socioeconomic groups from making such applications?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, we are developing destination measures, which should help us to get a better picture than we currently have of what happens to children after they leave school, whether they go into further or higher education or into jobs. It is important to know what the destinations are, so we are working on those measures, which will help us. As to monitoring the effect of some of the changes that we have had to make-for example, over the educational maintenance allowance, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin-we will keep it under review to see what impact it has.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance is widely held to be a major culprit in the recent drop in the number of students attending FE colleges? Is he aware of the wide disquiet that exists about the operation of the replacement for the EMA, and will the Government consider reversing the decision if the number of students in FE colleges continues to drop?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, as I have said, we are keen to keep the effect of the changes that we have made under review. As the noble Baroness will know, we were driven to make those changes because the proportion of children in receipt of EMA-46 per cent of them-meant that it did not feel like a targeted
10 Nov 2011 : Column 340
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, like every Government before us, this Government intend to enact the legislative programme set out in the Queen's Speech. The number of pages in primary legislation enacted so far in this Session is less than in other comparable Sessions.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that somewhat spare Answer. However, will the Government give serious consideration to the establishment of a commission of wise people, properly resourced, to look into the now profound and multi-faceted problem of increasing-and increasingly complex-legislation, which has dire effects in terms of citizen disaffection, bureaucracy and failed implementation?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with what my noble friend says, and he is right; legislation is more difficult and complicated, in large part because we live in a more difficult and complicated world. You just have to look at the growth in technology and the subsequent substantial increase in regulation and secondary legislation. There is more legislation from Europe; there are active judges and so forth. However, I wonder whether my noble friend's solution is necessarily the right one. You could not get much more collective wisdom than is present in your Lordships' House, where every piece of legislation is discussed and debated very thoroughly.
Lord Williamson of Horton: Does the noble Lord agree that this epidemic of legislative obesity has produced on average 3,165 pages of government Acts each year for the past three years, compared with 1,325 pages a year under the Attlee Government in 1945 to 1947, when really important legislation was being enacted? This extends to secondary legislation;
10 Nov 2011 : Column 341
Lord Strathclyde: I am not going to quarrel with the noble Lord's figures or, indeed, his conclusion; increasingly people have difficulty in catching up with the changes that are made regularly in legislation. Unless we get this right, there is a danger that at some time in our lives we will all become law-breakers solely out of ignorance. We keep these things under review and we wish to have legislation which is clear and simple and easy to understand. I know that this House will support our efforts.
Lord Strathclyde: No, my Lords, of course not. What is true, however, is that certainly in this Parliament there are more and more amendments being put down by your Lordships. Your Lordships are incredibly active in wishing to see changes or even putting down probing amendments, and that means that we have spent far longer on legislation than we have done in previous Sessions, particularly on Committees of the whole House. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it is also true that your Lordships need to have a little bit of self-denying ordinance so that we do more than just delay the programme of government.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, my noble friend should not feel unduly exposed in this because the problem is of great antiquity. Does he know that Tacitus said in silver Rome that whereas formerly we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws. Dean Swift began trying to find a solution when he said that in Brobdingnag:
"No laws of that country must exceed in words the number of letters in their alphabet; but few of them extend even to that length. They are expressed in the most plain and simple terms, so that people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation".
Seriously, does the noble Lord recall that under the guidance of Lord Hailsham, for example, and his predecessor, Reginald Manningham-Buller, within the Cabinet structure there was severe constant scrutiny of the very problem with which the House is now concerned? It does need to be taken seriously.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, only in this House could we go from Prime Minister Attlee's Government to Tacitus, to Swift, and then to today's Cabinet. My right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal, Sir George Young, and I-and others-yield to no one in our desire to try to make legislation shorter, clearer and better. It is not an easy task-and it is a serious task, as my noble and learned friend pointed out-but I also know that in this House there is a desire to achieve these aims.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the previous Government instituted a process of post-legislative scrutiny that we have taken up, and it kicks in after three to five years, when the Government publish a memorandum. Increasingly in future Sessions of Parliament, we will see more work being done to measure the effectiveness of legislation that this Parliament has passed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, the management of local fisheries, including cockling on the Ribble estuary, has been devolved to the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and, as such, the conservation authority leads in managing the situation in co-operation with all interested parties, including enforcement agencies. In the light of recent events, North Western IFCA has closed the cockle fisheries
10 Nov 2011 : Column 343
Lord Greaves: My Lords, it is nearly 800 years since Magna Carta gave people the right to pick cockles from the shores of England. However, is it not now time that there was a better regime, in view of the chaos when the cockle beds were recently opened in the Ribble estuary near Lytham St Annes? Hundreds of people converged on the cockle beds, dozens had to be rescued and there was general chaos-and it was discovered that many people did not have permits. What will the Government do to help IFCA and other local agencies to protect the interests of the legitimate fishermen in that area who pick cockles so that they have a safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable business, which is being put at risk by what is going on?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: As my noble friend will know, the situation is that North Western IFCA took the decision, in the light of the safety requirements, to protect lives. The Morecambe fishery is closed; the Ribble estuary fishery has just been reopened; and the price of cockles, at £700 a tonne, has encouraged a lot of people who do not have permits to go cockling. However, IFCA recognises the effect that the by-law will have on legitimate fishermen and is urgently looking into possible management measures that it could introduce to ensure a safe fishery and to operate it as soon as possible. The Government support IFCA in this endeavour.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising this important issue. The House remembers the Morecambe Bay tragedy, which involved cockle picking. In the aftermath of that, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was established, which has since made great progress in rooting out modern-day slavery and supporting a competitive industry. Can the Minister therefore reassure the House that the Government remain committed to a properly resourced Gangmasters Licensing Authority that will not be merged into a larger enforcement body?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We are indeed entirely supportive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which plays a very important role in preventing the exploitation of workers. In this instance, the authority has not been particularly involved-there is no evidence of gangs working the fishery-but I am pleased to give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is deep confusion in the north-west of England, in Cumbria and around Morecambe Bay, about the present situation? Although, rightly, most attention has been paid to the saving of human lives, the natural environment is very fragile. Can the Minister assure us that Defra is monitoring that situation to ensure that irreparable damage is not done to the cockle beds and to other related species?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, the noble Lord has clear local knowledge of the area. He will know that the Morecambe cockle fisheries are closed in order to encourage restocking. The Government, Natural England and the IFCA itself are very conscious of the need to preserve a proper balanced ecology, and that is exactly the reason for the closure of the Morecambe cockle fishery.
Lord Storey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is right to remind us of the tragedy in Morecambe Bay, where 23 Chinese workers lost their lives. Does the Minister agree that IFCA needs to be robust in checking permits, that wherever possible permits should be issued to local fishermen, because that is their livelihood, and that where there is illegal fishing we should again be robust in arresting those people?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank my noble friend Lord Storey, who also has local knowledge of the area. The principles he espouses are ones which I personally would endorse, but this is of course a matter for the local IFCA, as the issuing of permits is in the hands of the North Western IFCA.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not sure exactly what the procedures on that are, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord. Healthy food is obviously important, and shellfish infection can be very dangerous. The Government are mindful of that. I cannot tell the House the exact procedures at present, but I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, we do not know Circle's profit margin. I can, however, explain the basis on which Circle will be paid. Circle will effectively receive a success fee for bringing the trust into surplus and keeping it there. If Circle does not make the trust operate at a surplus, it will not receive any fee and it will lose money on the transaction. Circle will receive all surpluses up to the first £2 million
10 Nov 2011 : Column 345
Baroness Thornton: I thank the noble Earl for that comprehensive explanation of taxpayers' money. The issues I want to address are ones of transparency in process and criteria. Will the Minister provide details-I do not expect them this morning-of the meetings and minutes of meetings between Ministers, civil servants and Circle Health Ltd, and meetings with Mark Simmonds, MP, who is a paid adviser to Circle and a former member of the Conservative Front Bench? How will the Department of Health know whether this is a good deal? I can see how we will know whether Circle has made a profit or not. What is the objective here? Will a clinical as well as a financial audit be built in, and will those results be made public? In other words, how will the taxpayer know whether this is a good deal?
Earl Howe: I will, of course, write to the noble Baroness with detailed answers to the first part of her question, which would take too long for me to answer now. I can say that this is a transfer of risk to the private sector. That is why it is a good deal. It is also a good deal in another sense, because patients will still have a hospital in Hinchingbrooke. This is a hospital that in common parlance could be described as a financial and clinical basket case. No NHS bidders were willing to take it on. When the previous Administration left office, only independent sector operators were in the frame to do so. We therefore knew at the last election that there would be an independent sector solution. I think that it is a win-win situation all round. It is good news for Hinchingbrooke patients, and I understand that under normal Freedom of Information Act rules the contract involved will be made available, subject to commercially confidential details being redacted.
Earl Howe: My Lords, there was extensive consultation, but the important point for my noble friend to understand is that this was a locally led process. Ministers-and, for that matter, civil servants in the department-were not involved in the decision process. The decision was made by the strategic health authority board and the recommendation then came to Ministers. However, I can tell my noble friend that support for this decision has been very widespread, not least among the medical community in the area.
Lord Laming: My Lords, will this hospital continue to provide the same range of facilities as it does now? I understand that it does not provide A&E, for example, but will it be given the freedom to reduce the range of services in the future or will it have to carry on with the same services that it provides now?
Earl Howe: My Lords, as part of the franchise, Circle is committed to maintaining the current level of services, including accident and emergency and maternity services, as long as commissioners continue to purchase them for local patients-a commitment made following a consultation in 2007. Any proposals for a significant change to the services provided at the hospital will be subject to public consultation, as with any NHS hospital.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, am I correct in deducing from what my noble friend has said that the choice was either no easy future for this hospital or the course that is now being adopted?
Earl Howe: My Lords, so serious were the problems of Hinchingbrooke, both clinically and financially, that frankly the alternative to a franchising solution might have been closure of the hospital. I think that Ministers in the previous Administration reached that conclusion. It is one of the largest accumulated deficits that we have ever seen in any hospital. The problems facing Hinchingbrooke are therefore very significant.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, given the number of trusts that are in financial difficulties, can the Minister indicate whether he anticipates any further moves of this kind? If so, what processes would the department wish to see in place to ensure both value for money for the taxpayer and the highest possible clinical standards after any such transfer of responsibility?
Earl Howe: My Lords, we do not envisage any other solution of this kind in any other trust. Of course, close monitoring will be necessary, and the contract with Circle is very clear in this instance-it has to perform according to the specification. As I said earlier, if it does not turn the hospital around, the financial risk up to £5 million of deficit, cumulatively, lies with it. I believe that this is extremely advantageous for the taxpayer. On the clinical side, of course the CQC will be extremely concerned to ensure that quality of care is not just turned round but significantly improved.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how often Circle is reporting to the CQC on the clinical outcomes, given that there have been clinical problems at this hospital, how often it is reporting on the financial turnaround and to whom it is reporting?
Lord Avebury: My Lords, if it is this easy for a private company to make the necessary economies to put this hospital back on course without compromising patient care, as was claimed by the spokesman on the "Today" programme this morning, can the noble Lord say why-a question that was not answered on that programme-the NHS could not make those economies itself?
Earl Howe: The previous Government tried very hard to put an NHS solution in place. As I mentioned, by the time they left office no NHS provider was willing to step in and say that it was capable of turning Hinchingbrooke around-the problems were that serious. Given that situation, an independent sector solution was the only one on the table.
Lord Haskel: I do not want to sound like a penny-pinching accountant, but exactly how do you work out profit on a hospital? How do you work out a surplus? What about capital expenditure? What about depreciation? What about all these other things that are involved? Have all these things been worked out?
Earl Howe: They have, my Lords, but the best way of answering the detail of the noble Lord's question is to say that I will send him as much detail as possible from the contract, which factors in all the matters to which he referred.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, the Minister referred to an accumulated deficit. What is that deficit at this point? Will the contract require the new providers to ensure that that accumulated deficit is, over the years, paid off, or is it to be written off at the point at which the new provider takes over?
Lord MacKenzie of Culkein: I understood the chief executive officer of Circle Health Ltd to say on television this morning that his organisation was a social enterprise on the Waitrose model. My understanding of Waitrose is that all employees are partners and that profits are either paid back to the partners or reinvested in the company. Is that the situation with Circle Health Ltd?
Lord Elton: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name. I have to point out to your receding Lordships that, had things been different on Tuesday, I would now be moving a Motion for Papers and nobody outside this Chamber would have had any idea what on earth I meant. Now, following acceptance of Proposal 8 of the Leader's Group on working practices, I am simply drawing your Lordships' attention to something, and the rest of the world can understand what we are doing. Your Lordships are therefore already taking part in a miniscule footnote to a small sub-paragraph of history: a micromove in the direction of transparency; a tiny part of a much larger tide. Incidentally, the very next day, the House agreed the proposal from the Privileges and Conduct Committee to amend the code so as to remind Members that its underlying purpose is to provide openness and accountability.
The first, the accountability agenda, is gradually providing the means by which formal internal systems of maintaining accountability are supplemented by informal external means. This means that, as well as Permanent Secretaries breathing down the necks of Deputy Secretaries, the public are increasingly looking over the shoulders of both. The language in both cases is strictly figurative.
The wealth of information now available to the public -by the "public", I mean principally the electorate-makes them increasingly able to judge the performance not only of the government machine but of Ministers who are driving it. So the coalition Government's early commitment to what I regard as a breathtaking acceleration in the move towards transparency and openness in government was courageous. It was consciously courageous. They said:
The economic benefits of this appear to be part of the second O'Hara agenda. I shall allow that to distract me from the intricate, fascinating and sometimes opaque subject of central government transparency to which I am sure my noble friend will do ample justice in her reply. Some of us were a bit doubtful whether what emerged from the mill of transparency would lend itself readily to the sort of process, or have the sort of effect, that the Government expected. Sceptics remained doubtful when, at the Centre for Public Scrutiny conference a year ago, my noble friend Lady Hanham said that,
Did not the Treasury have to hold seminars for financial journalists on how to understand and interpret COINS before and after the publication of those data? Government, it seemed, was to produce data much as a mill produces flour-it would be for others to turn it into bread and cake.
We waited-really not very long at all-and they did. What is more, they made them easier to use as well as easier to understand. To take a small example: the Department for Transport's parking database was not citizen-friendly material when it was published, but, today, if you put Transport Direct into your web search engine, you can find the nearest car park wherever you are on this island. That is useful not just if you are a holidaymaker; it saves time and therefore money if you are a retailer trying to find somewhere where customers arriving by car can park and get to your shop and spend money there. The same website has brought in data from other sources, both public and private, with a view to making it a tool to plan every aspect of a journey by road or rail, by public or private transport.
In that case, transparency easily outperformed formal internal systems of maintaining accountability. Death rates for some procedures fell by 20 per cent or more. That is a figure to remember. The NHS extended publication of outcomes as a result to more areas of surgery and, today, it estimates that we avoid 1,000 deaths every year by doing so and acting on it. Opening the professionals up to the public also opens them up to each other. In any trade or profession, this identifies best practice and spurs emulation. Spread across the medical disciplines alone, results such as this can bring enormous benefits not only to patients but to the Exchequer and, eventually, to our own pockets and purses. Spread across the whole spectrum, not just of central and local government activity but across amenable private enterprises as well, they may well achieve the savings and the growth, predicted at £90 billion by some, expected of them.
Transparency can be a double-edged weapon. The protection of confidentiality disappears as completely as a net curtain disappears when the light is turned on in the room behind it. However, confidentiality is often both desirable and necessary. The patient who wants to know why his operation went wrong and who would benefit enormously if the outcome of all similar operations could be aggregated and published on a database is the same patient who very much does not want his personal details to appear on a public website. There are difficulties here, not just in deciding where the border between confidentiality and transparency should lie, but in retaining the confidentiality of anything that it is decided should remain behind it. Data on huge numbers of those operations can be aggregated and anonymised, but anonymising processes can be reverse engineered, and techniques for this keep evolving, because there is a market for the sort of personal information that we wish to keep private. All data sets are subject to this potential risk. Getting it wrong could have pretty dreadful results. I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us what response the Government are giving to the 14 recommendations of the O'Hara report on this subject-perhaps not individually, as it would take too long, but in general.
From Monday's debate on Amendment 20 to the Health and Social Care Bill, the Minister will be aware of the anxiety in this House over the balance between benefit and risk when it comes to imposing, for instance, a duty of candour on hospitals. There are major transparency issues also in the Localism Bill, which is also before the House. The public should take comfort from the energy and thoroughness with which this House examines these changes before deciding whether or not to accept them, and in what form. Had there been fewer people getting up at Question Time, I would have drawn attention to that when we had the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a few moments ago.
I spoke of the coalition's early commitment to a breathtaking acceleration of this move to transparency. That was no exaggeration. In 2010, 2,500 government data sets were made available. This year, the number is already 7,500. That is a 200 per cent increase. I understand that this country now has more government data accessible to the public than any other country in the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 351
The move to transparency is an international phenomenon. A very important aspect, and one in which Great Britain has taken the lead, is the introduction to transparency in the giving of overseas aid-transparency not only at our end of the transaction, but at the recipient's end as well. To get transparency at the recipient's end is the present aim and is only just beginning. The International Aid Transparency Initiative -IATI-was launched in 2008 and started by establishing a common format of published accounting for aid programmes. In January this year we became the first country to publish DfID's aid information entirely in this form. At the next meeting of IATI, in Busan at the end of this month, will Her Majesty's Government be pressing other Governments to join the eight organisations now publishing in this format?
Next Tuesday, the first international aid transparency index will be published. We should be among the top three of the 58 donor countries included. We now want to establish the same procedures in recipient countries as we have here, a move which has been recommended by Transparency International among others. To that end, will the Government exert themselves to secure from the EU early legislation to make it mandatory for oil, gas and mining companies to publish in common form all payments they make to foreign Governments, disaggregated by project as well as country? Like Tearfund, I believe that there should also be a requirement to publish production volumes, pre-tax profits, employee numbers and labour costs. The people of countries from which immensely valuable commodities such as oil, copper, diamonds and so on are extracted by foreign or international corporations are often exceedingly poor. By these means we can, for the first time, bring to them the benefits that transparency is already beginning to bring us. When that happens, I will gladly seek once again to draw your Lordships' attention to Her Majesty's Government's commitment to transparency.
Lord Prescott: I welcome the contribution that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I will pursue the topic in a different way, but will take up his opening remarks on accountability. He wanted to look at how Ministers are driving such a policy and will judge them on that. I want to address my remarks to that point on transparency. We can all agree that basic legislation has been passed by all Governments to move in this direction. Indeed, my own Government, in which I was in the Cabinet, introduced the Freedom of Information Act, which was probably the most important piece of the legislation to which the noble
10 Nov 2011 : Column 352
The one difference between this Government and my own of course is that we were able to pass legislation; this Government have been in office only 18 months, so we have to give time to see their legislative framework. We know already that the commitment to the register of lobbyists has not yet come about, although there is some talk that they may introduce that. We will wait and see. In all these matters, I am particularly concerned whether those who are driving this policy in this Cabinet are actually doing what they believe. The Prime Minister has said he wants to see a revolution in transparency. Why did he find it so difficult to tell us how much taxpayers' money he spent on a kitchen and bathroom? I do not deny him that, but it is about transparency over taxpayers' money. When he has his regular meetings with the Murdoch operation-not a company known for transparency-a meal becomes a private meal and we are not entitled to know what was discussed. That seems to set some of the tone.
Looking at other members of the Cabinet who are leading and driving this policy, the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gove, had to admit that he was using private e-mails to avoid having to report under freedom of information rules. He was a Cabinet Minister, avoiding saying what he was doing. The Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Fox, has now gone but he certainly was not showing a great deal of transparency in his actions in pursuing a separate foreign policy. The latest example is the big argument between the Home Secretary and a senior civil servant-three inquiries are under way but there is a great big argument about transparency. That indicates there is not a great deal of commitment to be open in the information being made available about the action of those Cabinet Ministers.
The one I want to address my attention to is Mr Pickles -the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He almost makes himself the champion of disclosure of information, but, as we know, quite recently he had a meal in the Savoy Hotel with Bell Pottinger and some other people involved with planning. He said, "Oh, I don't have to declare that"-and he did not. He did not declare it in the register of interests, he fended off the Ministerial Code and he also declared in those cases that it was a private affair, as did the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron. We have found a new argument for non-disclosure-provided it is private, you do not have to disclose it. More important is what is discussed and said-that is what transparency is about. It undermines the credibility of those who say they believe in greater transparency. Bearing in mind that he makes this point about spending on a private meal, Mr Pickles has also gone out of his way to make clear that I was apparently spending money-something that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, also made a great deal of comment about-on a meal that I had in a casino in Australia. The Government at that time, in 2004, were looking at casinos as part of regeneration, and we insisted that we paid the bill. We used the government credit card. By the way, despite what the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 353
Nevertheless, a great deal of play was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, by Mr Shapps, the Housing Minister, and by Mr Pickles-all three of them party officials, either head of their party, vice-chairman or previous chairman. It seems to me that they are politically motivated people. Years ago I was accused of that and fought a Labour Government who claimed that I was politically motivated. I put my hand up; I was proud to be that. These three people should ask themselves whether they were not acting in a political way in making their statements about that matter. That is my concern, and I want to justify it by making this point.
All the headlines of the Tory press, working with the Tory Ministers, made the point that Prescott was gambling. I have never gambled in my life, except in politics; I have done a lot of that but I have not put money on things. The implication was that I was spending taxpayers' money. That was a lie, untrue, although the words were carefully used. I could have taken action, but it was my department. It was as if I was handling my department's expenditure card. My question is: what is the Government's position on these expenditures? Currently it is not necessary to reveal information for sums below £500, only above £500. With the help of the Library, I have found that in recent announcements by the Cabinet Office and the Departments of Energy, of Health and of Justice, when asked whether they had a record of expenditures below £500, they all said, "No, because it is too expensive to find that kind of information". Furthermore, they said that they cannot go as far back as 2007-08. Yet this department goes back to 2004 and 2006. If you consider every bit of expenditure, of course it is not too expensive.
I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, looked at that information, but it actually said that I spent that money in a restaurant. I admit that the department did spend money in the casino. However, if she is concerned about waste, as she often claims, why did she not investigate the figures to see that £2,000 was spent on that credit card for watches? Why the hell would anyone want to spend that sum buying four watches on a government credit card? Why did that not arise and cause concern? Apparently it did not. In those circumstances, why was it not investigated? The Government gave their own answer in July, saying that the evidence was that the cards were cloned. Why were they so eager to bring attention to me when they knew that the cards had been cloned? To me, that seems a pretty political operation. Given the evidence of cloning, why did they not carry out an investigation? Why did they not look into those circumstances? That is what concerns me. Other departments have said that they cannot go below £500, yet this department could go right back to 2004, with all the expense necessary to do it, and, when asked why it did not fully investigate, it said that it was too expensive. Then why did it go back to 2004? I will be answerable for whatever I have done, but it is the political motivation that worries me about these things.
It is quite right to look at expenditure and it is proper for Ministers and Members of Parliament to be accountable. However, if it is politically oriented, and if other departments are not following the same criteria as that department, and if they do not investigate the obvious problems, which they admitted probably came from cloned cards, please forgive me if I think it is political.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will tell us whether she did investigate properly. I have asked the Cabinet Minister to do a proper investigation. Only if there is honesty can we have proper transparency. At the moment, it looks to be more politically motivated, and that is what concerns me. It has all the smell of hypocrisy. So let us be a bit more honest about it.
Transparency and accountability are vital when companies are in receipt of public funding. The creative industries receive public funds in the form of grants: theatres, museums and art galleries receive funds from the Arts Council, and investment in films comes from the BFI. The commercial broadcasters obtain their revenue on the basis of lucrative licences awarded by Ofcom. Therefore, it is reasonable that the public should be entitled to expect these organisations to be accountable and transparent in all areas, including their equality and diversity policies, and to expect the funders and regulators to enforce this transparency on their behalf.
Unfortunately, they have fallen short on this. The Arts Council requires equality monitoring of the funding recipients but keeps the results secret, as does Ofcom of the companies which have been granted licences. Both merely publish sector-wide summaries. Before the BFI took over, the UK Film Council required equality monitoring of applicants for funding but did not require or collect data for productions when they went ahead. All that means that the public cannot find out what progress has been made in our creative industries regarding diversity and equality.
All major political parties recognise that the influence of broadcasting on society is so great that it should have higher standards with regard to equality and transparency, and be held to greater account. There is separate legislation covering the BBC and all parties in government have ensured that the BBC continues to have a strong equality and diversity remit. Previous Governments also ensured that the same practice applied to commercial broadcasting. The Broadcasting Act 1990, which established the Independent Television Commission to regulate commercial terrestrial television, includes Clause 38 which states:
"Any Channel 3 licence or licence to provide Channel 4 or Channel 5 shall include conditions requiring the licence holder ... to make arrangements for promoting, in relation to employment ... equality of opportunity between men and women and ... persons of different racial groups".
The ITC included in every licence a contractual obligation to carry out equality monitoring of staff and management, and this data was published annually. The public was able to see how well the licence holders were reflecting the diversity of the audiences they served and allowed those broadcasters who were making good progress to be congratulated.
The Communications Act 2003 extended this clause across cable, satellite and radio, and provided transparency and accountability on equality and diversity across commercial broadcasting. But in 2005, Ofcom, the successor to the ITC, decided that it would no longer enforce this clause. It chose instead to encourage "a climate of compliance" and concluded that allowing the public to see the licence holders' equality monitoring data might discourage broadcasters from sending it in. This move clearly set back diversity and equality in commercial broadcasting. The 2009 report on equal opportunities published by Ofcom showed that the employment of women and people from culturally diverse backgrounds fell and that 16 companies had no information on whether any of their workforces had a disability.
There have been suggestions that the Equality Act 2010 on its own is sufficient to cover the broadcasters and that Ofcom should have no role with regard to promoting equality among the licence holders it regulates. But the Equality Act places no greater responsibilities on broadcasters than any other industry in the private sector and will not ensure the level of transparency that is absolutely essential in our extremely influential broadcasting sector.
"For too long those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture-and it's called transparency".
The Government's commitment to equality and transparency should mean that all public bodies, including regulatory bodies, should be doing all that they can to promote equality and diversity, rather than taking the view that it is not their responsibility.
I believe a simple amendment to Section 27 of the Communications Act, to clarify what steps the regulator should take to promote equality of opportunity in employment by those providing broadcasting services, would demonstrate how well the mainstream media is succeeding in reflecting diversity and equality. For several years, the broadcasters have sent this data in for each qualifying licence, so this is not an additional proposal. This approach costs virtually nothing and
10 Nov 2011 : Column 356
I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will ensure that organisations which receive public funding, or are in receipt of licences, are made to publish data fully demonstrating their commitment to transparency and accountability in the areas of equality and diversity.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I add my welcome for this morning's debate, which is on a theme of daily importance to the relationship between the state and the citizen. I, too, keenly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gold. I shall concentrate on a specific, though crucial, element of the question before us: access to public records-the paper exhaust trail left by successive Governments. I shall focus in particular on those contents of the state's archives deemed too sensitive to be released until at least 30 years have elapsed since pens were put to paper, minutes taken, memoranda composed and the typewriters, in those days past, rattled into action.
A key aspect of the coalition's transparency agenda that deserves an unqualified welcome and the hosannas of a grateful historical profession is the announcement, on 7 January 2011 by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that from January 2013 a 20-year rule for record release will replace the old 30-year rule created by the Public Records Act 1967 and brought into force in January 1972. The plan is that each year, starting January 2013, two years' worth of archive will be opened at Kew until the 10-year gap between the old and the new rules has been closed. I am confident that this fresh documentary flow will fructify quickly in the form first of undergraduate, masters' and PhD theses, and then in a fascinating new wave of well sourced books of contemporary British history which will swell through the bookshops.
Why am I so confident? Because this is exactly what has happened over the 19 years since the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, then Minister for Open Government in the Cabinet Office, announced what contemporary British historians came to call the Waldegrave initiative. The noble Lord instructed departmental record offices across Whitehall to re-review those files of interest to scholars which had been held back longer than the 30-year norm to see if they could now be released. The staff of the Whitehall records community and the National Archives rose magnificently to the task. When counting the yield finished in 1998, 96,000 files had been re-reviewed and declassified. I am sure that the total now must be double that.
The Waldegrave product amounted to a new currency with which historians could trade. Much of it embraced once ultra-sensitive Cold War material dealing with nuclear weapons policies, programmes and release procedures, civil and home defence, intelligence and security and transition-to-war planning. To open the World War III war books that had been declassified was to peer into Armageddon.
A stream of richly documented theses and well sourced books has resulted from the Waldegrave initiative. Of course, the documents by themselves are not enough-they never are. Whatever the policy area that gave them birth, their contents must always be blended with the personalities and backgrounds of those who wrote and read them, and the context of the times in which those readers and writers lived and breathed. The files must be revisited, too, with a sympathetic awareness of the hopes that lit the minds of their creators and the fears that darkened them. The historian must always avoid what Edward Thompson once called the "enormous condescension of posterity". One goes back to the archives to understand the minds behind those memoranda, not to sneer at them.
The old files are an indispensible part of national transparency-our theme this morning. They are a very special phenomenon, a kind of frozen history. The scholar needs to apply a touch of the cryogenicist's craft to them: you warm up the cold papers a little bit until their limbs begin to twitch; the files then start to breathe a bit-then you can begin to talk to them, ask them questions, bring them to life for yourself and your readers.
The time may well have come, as Whitehall cranks itself up to implement the new 20-year rule, to set in train what might be called "Waldegrave II"-to set in motion another trawl for files, which it was felt in the 1990s were too hot to be released, to see if they can now be transferred to the National Archives for public inspection. If the Government in these times of fiscal constraint were to mount such an initiative, building on the great success story associated with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, it would not only receive another loud hosanna of gratitude from the historical community but add lustre to the coalition's transparency policy.
Still more might that policy be burnished if the Government accepted the Pilling report on official histories, which urged that new histories should be commissioned when funds allow, and the associated Hamilton report on the better marketing of official histories, once that is produced.
Catch-up history is a retrospective form of delayed freedom of information. A confident democracy such as ours should uncover its state paper trail as fully and swiftly as it can, warts and all. Such good practice is an antidote to conspiracy theory and the hijacking of our recent past for the purposes of crude political partisanship. The pursuit of such a policy of transparency is one of those rare activities that result in unalloyed benefit to scholars, the reading public and the quality and integrity of the state that enables it to happen.
Lord Gold: My Lords, I begin by thanking your Lordships for the warm and generous welcome that I have received since entering the House in February. I would particularly like to thank all the officers and staff here who have assisted me greatly, not least by helping me to find my way around. As I regularly get lost, I fear that their help will be required for some time yet. I also wish to thank my supporters, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, for their guidance on the day of my admission.
Following my admission, I decided that before making my maiden speech I would fully familiarise myself with the work of the House and perhaps pick up some debating tips from noble and experienced Members. That was my first mistake. That is not to say I did not receive tips-I received many. But as I sat listening to debates, I realised what a task lay ahead of me. The quality of debate, the thoroughness of preparation, the skill of delivery, the humour from many noble Members-the passion, as we have seen from the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, this morning-all made me reflect upon my own skills, or lack of them, in this area. My second mistake was not to realise that the longer I delayed, the greater would be my trepidation at the thought of speaking here for the very first time.
My first appearance in this Chamber was not in February this year. In fact, twice before, I appeared as solicitor to counsel who, wearing a long-tailed wig, silk stockings and buckled shoes, addressed the Law Lords from the Bar of the House, trying not to be distracted by Members of your Lordships' House who just wandered in from time to time to see what was going on. It never crossed my mind then that one day I would have the great privilege and honour to be permitted to cross the Bar and take my seat here.
I was not the first member of my old law firm, Herbert Smith, to be made a Peer. In fact there are now three former partners and one former articled clerk in the House. My noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton sits on the Benches opposite. My noble and learned friend Lord Collins of Mapesbury, will take his seat on the Cross Benches when he returns from the Supreme Court, and my noble friend Lady Shackleton of Belgravia-she is the former articled clerk and she has done quite well since leaving Herbert Smith-sits with me on this side of the House.
The firm has not yet managed to recruit anyone to the Liberal Democrat Benches or, indeed, to the Bishops' ranks, although for some reason there was a steady flow of solicitors who, perhaps having seen the error of their ways, left the law to become clergymen, so perhaps there is still a chance.
On 31 August last year, as part of its plea bargain with the US Department of Justice, I was appointed for three years as corporate monitor of BAE Systems plc to ensure that the company was operating in a compliant and lawful way. In taking up this role I followed in the footsteps of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who had been appointed to undertake an inquiry into the way in which the company conducted its business. The noble and learned Lord made 23 recommendations for improvement and change
10 Nov 2011 : Column 359
I mention this work not just to inform but more particularly because it has brought very much into focus the importance of transparency when conducting business, particularly international business, both as to the manner in which that business is conducted and in relation to a company's dealings with its customers. Competition is fierce and, regrettably, sometimes our British businessmen find themselves competing against others, operating to a different code of conduct, who seek to gain market advantage by unfair means and are sometimes assisted in that through a lack of transparency in the way in which other countries operate.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, has stated that this Government are committed to extending transparency to every part of public life. If I may respectfully say so, that is a commendable, if somewhat ambitious, objective. In his letter dated 7 July this year, the Prime Minister wrote:
"We recognise that transparency and open data can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens. We also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity ... with open data increasingly enabling the creation of valuable new services and applications".
I fully agree with that view. Greater transparency results in Governments being more accountable. If we know how money is spent, we are better able to improve controls on spending and reduce costs. More particularly, companies will have a better opportunity to compete if they have access to public sector contract and procurement data that enable them to make informed decisions.
While there remains a considerable way to go before this society is truly transparent, this aspiration is one by which we here in the United Kingdom can provide a lead to the way in which other countries should operate.
With the passing of the Bribery Act 2010 this country is already leading the way in setting a benchmark for honest trading and dealing and, pleasingly, some countries appear to be emulating our example. I know from my work with BAE Systems that there are many international customers who have truly welcomed this approach to open and honest business. Many countries are raising their standards and demonstrating that they will award contracts to the business that truly deserves to win on merit, not as a reward for bribes or other improper behaviour.
I regret to say that there are some who feel that the Bribery Act goes too far and that for British industry to compete internationally it must be permitted to bend the rules a little, as allegedly happens elsewhere. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that this negative view will be proved wrong. If international companies stand firm against corruption, there will be progress even in those countries where corruption is thought to be rife.
So, just as the Prime Minister sets out what he and the Government want to achieve here, I respectfully suggest that we should be seeking to encourage our
10 Nov 2011 : Column 360
Lord Wills: My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gold, in his maiden speech. He comes to this House with a most distinguished career in the law and his speech today demonstrated to all noble Lords what an asset he will be to our debates. I understand that when he stepped down as senior partner at Herbert Smith, the law firm that he mentioned, a note was circulated to staff saying that,
I join previous speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate on such an important issue. Transparency is crucial in the securing the accountability that is fundamental for the health of a democracy. I also congratulate the noble Lord on what to my ears sounded like a most cogent case for transparency. I declare my interest as a member of the advisory council of Transparency International UK.
I start my substantive remarks by congratulating the Government and the responsible Minister, Mr Francis Maude, on their commitment to transparency through the open data programme. That was started by the previous Government, and was a particular project of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I am sorry that in an otherwise compelling speech the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not acknowledge that fact. On this point, I was also sorry that such a distinguished historian as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in congratulating the Government on bringing in the 20-year rule, somehow omitted to mention that that rule was legislated for by the previous Government. Airbrushing history in this way is the opposite of transparency.
I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have taken on the open data programme with real determination and vigour. I was going to rehearse some of the merits of it but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did it far better than I could. This promises significant immediate constitutional benefits in transferring
10 Nov 2011 : Column 361
While the Government should be given credit for their achievements in this area, elsewhere their commitment to transparency is not quite so clear. We have already heard from my noble friend Lord Prescott on one aspect of this, but I want to focus on the Freedom of Information Act. When I raised this issue in your Lordships' House, the responsible Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, responded to my criticism by accusing me of rewriting history because:
"There has been an absolute tsunami of transparency. My right honourable friend Francis Maude has been frightening the life out of Whitehall and his ministerial colleagues by the way he has been forcing through transparency".-[Official Report, 10/10/11; col. 1455.]
That is perhaps not the most fortunate choice of image for those of us who believe in the benefits of transparency but, more importantly, his response wrongly conflates the work on open data and on freedom of information. They are not the same. There is one critical distinction between them: the open data initiative, for all its considerable merits, is a top-down programme. The Government decide what data sets to release. In contrast, the Freedom of Information Act allows the citizen to decide what information they want to have, and then there is an established process that decides what should be released and what withheld.
Those are twin approaches to securing greater transparency and they ought to be complementary. However, there is an asymmetry in the Government's approach, with enthusiastic progress being made on open data while freedom of information has more or less stood still so far-in fact, in some key areas it is actually going backwards. We are a year and a half into the lifetime of this Government and so far they have done virtually nothing to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act beyond the actions already set in train by the previous Government.
I have been criticising the Government about this for many months so, after all these criticisms, I was delighted to see just this week that an exchange in the other place suggested that the Government are at last consulting on extending the Freedom of Information Act to other organisations. I hope that those consultations will be followed by action in the near future, and another 18 months or so will not be allowed to pass before anything happens.
On its own this lack of progress to date would be disappointing, but what is worse is that two landmark Bills brought forward by this Government, both referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, actively restrict the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 362
That is not all. Under the Health and Social Care Bill, NHS work will be performed in future either by NHS bodies or by independent providers. Although the independent providers will not be directly subject to the Freedom of Information Act, they will be subject to a contractual obligation to co-operate with the commissioning bodies in answering freedom of information requests. So far, so good. However, the disclosure clause applies to information held on the commissioning body's behalf,
and the standard NHS contract goes nowhere near covering the full range of information currently available under the Freedom of Information Act from public authorities. It appears, for example, that any request for the provider's correspondence with suppliers whose products have proved to be substandard are likely to be met with the response that this is held for the provider's purposes, not the commissioning body's, and therefore is not subject to disclosure.
It gets still worse. The shredding offence in Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act applies when an authority or a member of the authority's staff deliberately destroys, amends or conceals a record after it has been requested in order to prevent its disclosure, but if a contractor shreds a record in order to avoid having to pass it on to the commissioning body to answer an FOI request, the contractor commits no offence. Again, if a public authority claims that it does not hold requested information, the Information Commissioner can investigate whether this claim is true; but if a contractor claims that it does not hold particular information, there is no mechanism for validating that claim. The contractor would not be subject to the commissioner's jurisdiction. In fairness to the Government, they have not ruled out addressing these issues; they have simply pushed them into the long grass, beyond post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act, and there is no guarantee at all that even then they will take action.
In the mean time, which may stretch on for years, citizens will be denied access to information that they currently have about areas of potentially great concern to them, covering all the range of local authority services and what could turn out to be matters of life and death in the NHS.
In conclusion, the report card on this Government's commitment to transparency and information is mixed. Where they remain in control of the data released to the people they serve, the commitment should be applauded. However, where the citizen is more in
10 Nov 2011 : Column 363
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Elton for moving this Motion. As he has said, the Government are committed to open government and transparency. The Prime Minister has set out a series of transparency commitments to be delivered within our key public services, including health, education, criminal justice, transport and government financial information. The open data consultation closed on 27 October and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something of the responses received and of the White Paper which will follow.
My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the report on privacy and transparency produced for the Cabinet Office by Kieron O'Hara. He stated that privacy is extremely important to transparency, but that they are compatible only as long as the former is carefully protected and considered at every stage. He came up with 14 recommendations, but there are still questions that I pose to the Minister. When does public interest outweigh privacy? Who makes these decisions? What happens when data held are out of date or incorrect? How will this be rectified?
Here in the House of Lords we have, through Written Questions, Oral Questions, debates and our Select Committees, opportunities to hold the Government to account. If we feel that the explanations given are inadequate, we can rephrase the question. Sometimes, however, the answer will be that the information requested is not held centrally or could only be answered at a disproportionate cost. Again, who decides? I hope that this Government's programme for transparency will ensure that this type of response will not be overused.
Personally, I have grave reservations about the way we use computer systems to achieve our goals and particularly the way in which we cede supremacy to them. I give an example: Defra's single farm payment system has been a nightmare since inception. For many farmers and parliamentarians, transparency in dealing with the Rural Payments Agency has been totally absent. Farmers have been heavily penalised for simple, explicable errors in their returns, while the computer systems have proved incompatible, partial or downright wrong. More than once, I and others have had to refer fairly simple solutions to these problems right to the top. Similar problems exist in other departments, and news items over the past 10 days or so have referred to both HMRC and the MoD, for example.
I ask the Minister what operating guidelines are given to government departments and to other arm's-length bodies to make their work more transparent. Does she feel the present guidelines are adequate and if not, when will the situation be rectified? Clearly there will be other sections of Government where restrictions must remain. I think of our security services and the work of the police force, which could be compromised if unsuitable material came into the public domain. However, this does not mean that
10 Nov 2011 : Column 364
Although nobody else has mentioned it, I cannot be alone in wondering whether we have moved too far in the use of tick-box forms to replace observations and questioning of behaviour. It is very hard to obtain a sensible response when computer data indicate that all is well. Even when examination of those data confirms that there is a problem, it seems to be more normal to tweak the system than retrain or replace the person responsible. Will the Minister confirm that transparency will not remove the normal sanctions for inefficiency?
It is crucial that greater transparency works everywhere as it has already done successfully in some areas. My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the help and development that has come from sharing information in the medical system. Perhaps I, more than most, have reason to be grateful for all those who helped me. It is just a year ago since I had a triple heart bypass. Six years ago, British heart surgeons decided to publish data on how successfully they treated patients. They compared their results and methods to increase the quality and effectiveness of their work. Survival rates have improved by as much as 50 per cent. Sharing of expertise has brought huge benefits.
If greater transparency improves outcomes and helps people to find the right doctor, the right school for their children or benefits them in their daily life, it surely must be welcomed. Open data should bring greater choice. They must hold public service to account and, as we heard earlier, could help to stimulate innovation and enterprise through the sharing of knowledge. However, they could also be irrelevant, out of date, inaccurate, intrusive and an opportunity missed. I hope that this will prove not to be the case.
Might I also make a plea for those who live in rural areas? For all of us who live in urban areas, access to computers and information is readily available, but I remind the House again that there are huge swathes of this country where that access is just impossible at this stage. I hope the Minister will pass this plea on to other colleagues within those departments.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for opening this debate. I echo his comments about the modest contribution that your Lordships' House can make to this. I also refer him to the decision in the last Parliament in the other place to establish Public Bill Committee procedures for legislation. The open evidence sessions that take place before a Bill is considered in Committee and gone through amendment by amendment is a welcome introduction.
I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Gold, to your Lordships' House. He made an excellent maiden speech and his point about transparency in international business affairs was important. It echoed the point of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about transparency in
10 Nov 2011 : Column 365
The previous Government, of which I was a member, committed themselves to transparency and like my noble friend Lord Prescott I am proud of the freedom of information legislation. As far as transparency and good governance are concerned, the House of Commons Committee report of 2008-09 on good governance made the point that transparency is a vital prerequisite for any stem of ethical regulation and is the best way of ensuring that office holders have the broader public interest in mind when they spend public money or perform other public duties.
I welcome this Government's commitment to transparency. However, it is one thing to say that you are committed to transparency; the question is, do you actually do transparency? I have to say that this is open to question. For example, in the case of the Public Bodies Act, which has closed down many public bodies and brought functions back into central departments, transparency is being lost. We are moving from public bodies with open board meetings, where a lot of information comes into the public domain, back into government departments. Transparency will be lost. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ludicrous proposal to abolish the Youth Justice Board. The idea that the protection of young people in our prisons is best done by officials, rather than by a board that brought focus, accountability and transparency, is to be very much regretted.
I was very interested in the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, relating to diversity and equality in the Arts Council and Ofcom. She asked the Government whether they would agree to an amendment to the Communications Act. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will be able to be positive on that point. I also hope that she will accept the invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, to establish a new project-the second Waldegrave project or the first Warsi project. It seems well worth having a further trawl through the papers that were not released under the 30-year rule. I am glad that the noble Lord acknowledged the previous Government's efforts in relation to the 20-year rule. I reckon that means that the ministerial office of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was covered by the 30-year rule but this means a speed-up. I am sure he will be delighted that all his actions will come into the public domain very soon.
My noble friend Lord Wills made a very important point on the Freedom of Information Act. The Government have been slow to make further progress with FoI legislation. We are now told that there is a consultation. I should like the noble Baroness to say when she expects improvements and reforms to be made. I hope we will not go into a two or three-year consultation period before any change is made. I hope the Minister will answer my noble friend on the issue to do with the Localism Act and awarding contracts to other bodies. If we are moving to a situation in
10 Nov 2011 : Column 366
It is the same in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill. I will come to the decision announced today about Hinchingbrooke. It is clear that we are moving into a situation where many more private sector providers will be providing services to the NHS in the future. It is also clear, as my noble friend said, that the current Bill does not allow much information about that to come into the public domain. I am sure that my noble friend will table an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill; I certainly hope so. It is not good enough to say that we will simply wait to see how the legislation pans out. By the way, I can tell the Government that I know how the legislation will pan out: it will not pan out very well for the NHS or its patients.
On the NHS, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the outcome information that came from the initiative taken by heart surgeons, led by Sir Bruce Keogh, who is now medical director at the Department of Health. There is no doubt that it had a hugely positive impact in improving the outcome of coronary care services. What concerns me about that is how few other specialists in the health service have followed that example. We need to ask some of the other specialties why they have not followed the example of their cardiac colleagues.
I welcome the Government's intention to institute a duty of candour on the NHS. I am the chair of an NHS foundation trust that has just opened its board meetings to the public. It is invigorating and means that real issues about staffing and quality are out there. I welcome that; it leads to a much improved relationship with our public and, incidentally, our staff. However, I come back to the issue raised today by my noble friend Lady Thornton. Why did the noble Earl, Lord Howe, not answer her Question about contact between ministerial circles and the company involved in the Hinchingbrooke contract? It was a straight question. If this Government were really transparent we would get an answer.
My noble friend Lord Prescott mentioned the personal e-mail addresses used by Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, and his staff, bypassing FoI rules. What about Dr Fox and the grey area over ministerial meetings with lobbyists? What about the delay in setting up a register of lobbyists? Clearly, my noble friend Lord Prescott has identified this problem of a redefinition of private activities by Ministers to get around the rules. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond to the points that my noble friend put to her.
In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for securing this debate, I do not know whether he is happy with how it has turned out. It has certainly been very interesting. We welcome the Government's commitment to transparency. However, I fear that their message to other parts of the public sector is, essentially, "You be transparent but we as Ministers will exclude quite a lot of our activities from the public domain". I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond to that.
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for tabling this debate, which has proved to be wide-ranging. I also thank the other noble Lords who have made contributions today, raising important points, challenges and even kind plaudits. This is a timely debate because we are at an important milestone in our journey towards transparency and open data. I will briefly remind noble Lords of the background to this agenda and then give a quick round-up of progress to date. I will then deal with some of the specific points raised in the debate and cast a forward look towards the Government's ambitions for transparency, which will be set out in a White Paper to be published in the spring.
In opposition we developed plans for a more open way of doing government. We envisaged a time when people knew that they could easily and quickly find out: which parts of government and which initiatives cost what, whether on a regional or national basis; who in government, whether a civil servant or a special adviser, did what and what they were being paid; which government contracts were coming up, and so on. We had a vision that people could choose public service provision using the same customer feedback techniques that so many of us are now used to when, for example, researching hotel options or flights on TripAdvisor, or shopping on Amazon.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave the example of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, which reported that mortality in coronary surgery had fallen by a fifth over five years. The professional body attributed this result to the public reporting of outcomes. We are not just talking about cost accountability; we are talking about data that save lives through the spread and adoption of best practice. As I said, it is a journey. Open data are the means and open government is the end.
Since the election we have ensured that we progress on this journey at great speed. In May of last year, just two weeks into the coalition Government, the Prime Minister sent a letter to all Secretaries of State, setting out the Government's specific commitments on transparency. Much of the data that we released initially were about Whitehall, Westminster, people and money. However, important though this is, the example of cardio surgery shows vividly that there is more to open data and transparency than accountability. Following the success of the previous year's data releases, on 7 July 2011 the Prime Minister publicly set out a second series of further open data commitments, targeting key public services, including health, education, criminal justice, transport and more detailed government financial information.
Today we have an astonishing amount of data on data.gov.uk, with over 7,500 data sets, more than any other comparable transparency service in the world. Much of this is big, complex and not necessarily accessible to the public. In many cases it is used by the professionals, whether that is the surgeons I described earlier or local authority commissioners, NHS managers, school authorities or welfare services.
We are also seeing data being repackaged and released for citizens to use. For example, FixMyStreet helps users to find the right telephone number or form to
10 Nov 2011 : Column 368
We can also use public data to build economic value, stimulating innovation and enterprise in the UK's knowledge economy. A growing market place has already sprung up in the health sector as a result of open data and transparency. Companies such as Dr Foster and CHKS are at the front of this growing industry with an estimated total value of around £50 million per annum. Estimates of the total potential growth contribution of open data-based markets vary from about £16 billion per annum to about £90 billion per annum.
The Chancellor's and Business Secretary's growth review on 29 November will contain a series of commitments to liberate new data to support enterprise and growth in sectors as diverse as life sciences and digital technologies. In addition, a public data corporation will bring together data from government bodies such as HM Land Registry, the Met Office and Ordnance Survey into one organisation, providing easily accessible public information as well as driving further efficiency in the delivery of public services.
I will now respond to some of the specific issues raised by noble Lords in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised the issue of the recommendations of the O'Hara report and the outcome of the open data and public data corporation consultations. These issues are being seriously considered and are broadly welcomed by the Government. We are positive about the specific recommendations and we will respond in a White Paper, which is due to be published in spring.
In relation to international aid, the Government believe that greater aid transparency is essential to efforts to improve results from development to co- operation worldwide. The Secretary of State will be seeking agreement by donors to implement the aid information standard developed under the UK-led International Aid Transparency Initiative.
My noble friend Lady Benjamin raised an extremely valid point. It is amazing to see how shining a light on the decisions that people make can have a positive impact on behaviour, including behaviour around the employment and engagement of people from diverse backgrounds. I will write to her in relation to the specific amendment that she proposes.
I welcome the comments of my noble friend Lord Gold and congratulate him on a both humorous and thought-provoking maiden speech. His work for the Conservative Party is hugely appreciated; he brings much wisdom, calmness and sound judgment to his role as chairman of the Conservative Party disciplinary committee.
I am sure that my noble friend listened carefully to the substance and style of this morning's contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. I am disappointed that the noble Lord feels that disclosure has been somewhat political; the public have a right to know and the Government are committed to openness. He raised a specific question about the level of £500, which was established as a minimum requirement for departments to release information. DCLG, in line with its past releases, chose to release information on transactions lower than £500. The point that the noble Lord made about the casino dinner was released in response to a Parliamentary Question to DCLG, which was answered factually. Sir Gus O'Donnell has received a letter from the noble Lord, and DCLG will respond directly to him in the next couple of days.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, is encouraged by the Government's consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. The Government have introduced provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill to extend the Freedom of Information Act to companies wholly owned by multiple public authorities, whereas currently the Act applies only to companies wholly owned by a single public authority. This will bring more than 100 more bodies within the scope of the Act. We are not stopping there. We are currently consulting on the possible inclusion of more than 200 bodies within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, on the basis that they provide functions of a public nature-these include harbour authorities, exam boards, the Local Government Group and the NHS Confederation, to name but a few.
Lord Wills: Before the Minister leaves that point, can she answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hunt about when the Government will take action on the consultation that she has just mentioned?
Baroness Warsi: The Government's recent open data consultation consulted on an extension to the types of organisations to which the open data policy could apply. The Freedom of Information Act will also be subject to post-legislative scrutiny to see how it is working in practice. Further policy in this area will be developed. At this stage I do not have a specific timeframe, but I can write to the noble Lord once I have further information.
My noble friend Lady Byford asked some important questions about how what we are trying to achieve appears to be hindered by how we achieve it. The Government are committed to achieving the very benefits that she highlights and will give serious consideration to the challenges she raised, which could stand in the way of those benefits. She also raised an important point in relation to privacy, and I can assure the noble Baroness that we will not extend transparency at the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 370
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, raised some important points about politicians. All politicians, all of us who are in the public sphere, must be committed to the very basis and essence of this agenda; otherwise, we will be accused of hypocrisy, not just by each other across these Benches but by the public. I can assure him that all those in this Government are committed to that very basis of transparency and openness. Our goal is for participation and engagement-
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am glad she said what she said, but does she accept that if Ministers redefine some of their meetings as private that is not being transparent?
Baroness Warsi: I completely take the point that the noble Lord makes. I repeat that we all bear the responsibility to make sure that what we say is what we do. I hear what he says, and indeed comments made by other noble Lords, and I will make sure that they are heard by all of us who are in this Government.
Our goal is for participation and engagement from an engaged society that knows it has a role to play in shaping the world in which we live. This is what open government means. Noble Lords may remind me that this is not a new idea, but what makes it a timely one is the increasing focus on how society works and how public services are actually delivered. What makes it achievable is the continuing democratisation of technology, with almost 80 per cent of households now having access to the internet. The fact that some households do not have internet access was raised in this morning's debate and I will take that back.
Providing easily accessible data allows people to choose what services are right for them, localities to determine what their communities need and the public sector monopoly on provision to be opened up. This is a sea change in the relationship between the state and the individual. We are moving from a "We give, you get" approach to public services, to an "I choose when and where" approach.
This Government have every intention of putting into practice the ambitions they stake out on the global platform of OGP. We have an obligation to continue to lead this agenda and to use our successes to bring others with us. I hope that I have whetted noble Lords' appetites in relation to our joint chair of the OGP, for the role we have to play in the growth review later this month, for the White Paper due in the spring and for what I think is an exciting and fast-developing agenda.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I understand from the Table that the change in the nature of the Motion does not deprive me of the opportunity of replying briefly to
10 Nov 2011 : Column 371
I will not pick up all the points everyone made, but I must reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wills. I readily accept that I should have been more courteous in accepting the efforts of the previous Government, but I remind him that what I actually said was not that the present Government invented transparency but that they started an acceleration of the movement-a breathtaking acceleration. I was careful to give 2008 as the date of clarity being brought to the surgical procedures to which I referred. I acknowledge that this movement is not new, but it is very much better and stronger.
Three specific points were raised that are worth following: the possibility of Waldegrave II; the need to look again at Section 27 of the Communications Act; and the importance of accessibility to transparent information if some of our citizens are not to be disenfranchised.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, made a forceful contribution, in which his expression was shared between his voice and his hands-the latter not always as courteous as his voice. However, his point was taken on board by my Front Bench, I am sure.
I conclude by saying that the purpose of this debate was to draw attention to the Government's commitment to this breathtaking acceleration in transparency, and to point out that it has effects that spread through the whole polity and economy of this country. It raises highly sensitive issues of privacy, which have been discussed and raises the question that was central to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott: what actually is private? As I said at the outset, drawing the line is very tricky and technical, and it is important that it should be drawn impartially.
In their present initiative, the British Government are world leaders, as we have already seen. They are extending the benefits of transparency to disadvantaged countries in the world, which is entirely admirable. In the process, the Government are releasing an enormous possible gain for our economy-up to £90 billion, we are told. I therefore congratulate my noble friend Lady Warsi and the right honourable Francis Maude for the part that they have played in pushing forward this initiative.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, it is a great privilege to begin this debate on the eve of Remembrance Day. We are here to recognise the debt that our nation owes to all those who have sacrificed their lives in the defence of the realm. In the Royal Gallery there is a Book of Remembrance in honour of Peers and servants of the House, and of their next of kin, who died in action with the British armed services in two world wars. I am proud that the names of my mother's oldest brother and of my father's youngest brother are inscribed on its pages. The former lost his life in action as a Grenadier Guards officer just before Dunkirk, and the latter, who was a squadron leader, was hit by anti-aircraft fire when bringing back photographs of enemy military installations, just before the American liberation of southern France.
We honour the supreme sacrifice made by so many servicemen and women on behalf of their country, and we owe it to them that their actions should continue to give inspiration to future generations. No one understood this better, I believe, than President Abraham Lincoln when, after the Battle of Gettysburg on 19 November 1863, he appealed to his war-torn country never to forget the sacrifices made in pursuit of a great cause. He said:
"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain".
The same sentiments should surely resonate with us. We too have to rededicate ourselves to ensure that those in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth who have made the supreme sacrifice, did not die in vain. We too have to make certain that their unfinished work in sustaining the cause of freedom and promoting justice is continued.
We have wider responsibilities too. If we put ourselves in the shoes of a young soldier in the front line going in to battle, he would expect us to look after his wife and family if he does not return or is seriously wounded. Therefore, I would like to repeat my support for the Government's action in enshrining the principles of the military covenant into law and their promise to inform Parliament annually on what is being done to meet the requirements and special circumstances of
10 Nov 2011 : Column 373
I believe that we have to keep in mind not only the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in defence of the realm but the practical needs of those who have been bereaved in two world wars, in the Falklands and much more recently as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year is the 40th anniversary of the War Widows Association, and I welcome the Minister's recent assurance that opportunities for wives to visit graves will be continued, and I hope that he will respond constructively to their other concerns. It is a tragic fact that 16,000 members of the armed services have lost their lives serving since the end of the Second World War. They are commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire; and those who fell in two world wars are commemorated on many thousands of war memorials throughout the United Kingdom.
I say to the Minister how strongly I deplore the appalling actions of those who vandalise such monuments because they wish to sell plaques and statues to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, to be melted down. This desecration has to be stopped. I hope that the Minister will consult urgently with other departments and the British Transport Police to establish what concerted action should be taken to prevent those shameful crimes.
When we honour the dead, we must not at the same time forget the many who return home wounded. Those who do not return would expect nothing less. Here, I pay tribute to the surgeons in the hospital at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, which I had the opportunity to visit with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I also praise the work of the dedicated doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals at Headley Court, who fit new limbs and boost morale with such impressive results. Many of the wounded are suffering terrible injuries, and we must continue to improve the accessibility of support for them and their families. The charity with which I am involved, the Scottish Veterans' Garden City Association, is dedicated to providing purpose-built homes for ex-servicemen and women who are disabled. The present total is 612, and more are planned.
Remembrance can take many forms. I have always been moved by the true story of an eight year-old girl in the south of England during the Battle of Britain. She saw an RAF fighter pilot in his parachute being machine-gunned by a Messerschmitt 109 as he drifted towards the earth over Ashford in Kent. She felt that that had been a terrible price he had had to pay for protecting her. Many years later, Jean Liddicoat, as she had become, was a grandmother living in Staplehurst. Her grandson questions her about the Battle of Britain, which he is studying in school. She answers him, and he says to her that in the cemetery next door is the grave of an unknown airman which has been left neglected and forgotten. She goes to see it and, sure enough, on the headstone are the words,
Jean tidies up the grave and makes it look beautiful. Then she starts making inquiries. After eight years of investigating, she discovered that on 5 September 1940,
10 Nov 2011 : Column 374
Jean Liddicoat, to whom I spoke this morning, now knew who the airman was, and she found out as much as she could about him. His name was Freddie Rushmer, and he was a flight commander of a squadron which had more confirmed victories in the Battle of Britain than any other in both the RAF and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. On the day on which he did not return from his mission, there was absolutely no time to go searching for a fallen comrade in the war being waged for Britain's very existence.
Freddie Rushmer had never had a funeral service, so one was arranged at All Saints Church in Staplehurst. RAF officers from No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and representing the present Tornado squadrons attended, but did not expect a large congregation nearly 60 years after the Battle of Britain. When they arrived, they found to their astonishment that the church was full to overflowing with local residents-some were standing outside. Whoever the unknown airman was and whatever he did, they wanted to remember the man whom they believed had died to safeguard their freedoms, who had died for them.
As I said, remembrance can take many forms: a little boy proudly marching on Remembrance Sunday, wearing the medals of the father he has lost; a family seeking out one cross among thousands in a distant war cemetery; and the people of what is now Royal Wootton Bassett choosing their spontaneous way of paying their respects as the fallen were brought home through their town.
Those who died in defence of the realm did not all do so on great battlefields. Many men and women showed the same levels of courage and commitment in secret, and often in darkness, far behind enemy lines. In these days of equality between men and women, we remember not only the women who wore uniforms but those who were parachuted into enemy-occupied Europe in the Second World War on difficult and dangerous missions. The Special Operations Executive had 55 women agents, 13 of whom died in action or in concentration camps. There is a memorial to all SOE agents just across the river from our Chamber, with a bronze sculpture of Violette Szabo. Her face and expression depict her enormous bravery and determination. She was captured, tortured and killed in Ravensbrück concentration camp, but she told them nothing. Later, the very young daughter she left behind grew up to write a most moving account of her mother's heroism. Underneath the memorial are the words:
On the wider role of women and warfare, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, campaigned for the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 375
"There are vast numbers, not only in this Island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a War of the Unknown Warriors".
The debt of gratitude which we owe to all those who sacrificed their lives is inestimable. It places a great responsibility on us to carry on their unfinished work and, as President John F Kennedy, put it, to create and sustain the rule of law, where the powerful work for justice, where minority rights are protected and where peace will be preserved.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, both on securing this very timely debate and on the eloquent and moving speech to which we have just had the privilege of listening. It is both heartening and humbling to see how seriously we as a nation continue to take Remembrance Day. When I was younger, there were serious discussions about whether events around 11 November should come to an end as the memory of the Second World War faded from most people's lives, but this weekend millions of people all over the country will be either taking part in or watching services of remembrance. It is right that that should be so, and it is very appropriate that we should have this debate.
I have no financial interest to declare in this debate, but I remind the House that I am the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group. I shall speak about two matters. The first is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, referred, which is the desecration of war memorials by scrap metal thieves. The second subject, if I have time, concerns preparations to commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I. Both those matters have been the subject of Oral Questions which I have asked recently in your Lordships' House.
I start with the subject of metal theft, and endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, said. The situation is now almost out of control. The increase in the world price of scrap metal, particularly copper, has made it a lucrative crime. It is also one that it is easy to get away with, mainly because of the inadequacies of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. The absence of a proper licensing system for dealers, the use of cash to settle transactions and the imposition of absurdly low penalties for breaches of the law have all combined to produce the present epidemic of crime.
I shall resist the temptation today to speak at length about the disruption to train services caused by cable theft on the railways, the damage to churches as a result of the stealing of lead from church roofs or the attack on public services in the electricity and telecommunications industry, but I want to say something about the desecration of war memorials. At Prime Minister's Question Time last week, Mr Cameron described it as,
In an article in the Daily Telegraph on Monday this week, the Mayor of London wrote about how the plaques on a war memorial in Sidcup commemorating the deaths of 342 in both world wars, including that of Lieutenant George Cairns, who won the Victoria Cross in an act of extraordinary bravery in the Burma campaign in 1944, had been, in Boris Johnson's words,
Your Lordships may recall that in the exchanges on my Oral Question on 3 October, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, whom I am delighted to see in his place, spoke about the theft, just a week before, of 14 brass memorial plaques from Carshalton war memorial. There are countless other examples all over the country.
Following my Question, I have received scores of letters and e-mails all asking for the law to be changed. My response to that on 19 October was to introduce a Private Member's Bill to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House long enough to know that the chances of seeing a Private Member's Bill through to enactment are pretty remote unless it has already been passed in the other place or the Government take it over. I am therefore, as an insurance, pursuing an alternative route with the help of the Public Bill Office. I hope to be able to announce something soon in the hope that I shall be able to count on the Government's support for what comes forward. I am looking with some intensity at the government Chief Whip as I say this.
The other matter that I wish to raise today and that is also directly relevant to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, is the question of how we commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I. This has been concerning the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group for some considerable time. Following my Question on 22 March to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, I was invited by Professor Hew Strachan to a seminar on preparations for 2014 at All Souls College, Oxford. It was attended by the DCMS and MoD Ministers, Ed Vaizey and Andrew Robathan, plus a large number of representatives from France, Flanders, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and India, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Imperial War Museum.
From listening to those discussions, it was very clear that other Governments are far more advanced with their planning than are ours. The Government of Flanders, in particular, has an amazing programme planned for 2014 and beyond. They are investing €15 million in 44 infrastructure projects, including the renovation of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, the expansion of the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele, and the construction of a museum garden and the
10 Nov 2011 : Column 377
I cannot speak too highly of the Flanders Government's commitment to war heritage and to what is now rightly called "peace tourism". Already they welcome 350,000 visitors a year to Flanders, most of them from Britain and the Commonwealth. Thousands participate each evening in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper. Now, as 2014 approaches, they are looking to do much, much more, and I think we should thank them for that.
At the all-party group meeting to which I referred, it became increasingly evident that we in Britain were in danger of being left behind as other countries pressed ahead with their arrangements. The group asked me to write to the Prime Minister expressing concern at the apparent lack of preparedness here and saying that we need a government policy and a clear political lead, with a decision on which government department is to lead on the issue. I received an encouraging reply from Mr Cameron on 18 August, which said that, while there were no detailed plans yet, discussions were "ongoing across Whitehall". Mr Cameron said that he understood our concerns that it is not yet clear where departmental responsibility for organising events across the UK will lie.
Happily, on 2 November-just last Wednesday- No. 10 made the very welcome announcement that Dr Andrew Murrison MP has been appointed as the Prime Minister's special representative and co-ordinator for the commemorations to mark the centenary of World War I. This is good news. I shall be meeting Dr Murrison next Tuesday, and he will be addressing a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group on 6 December. I need hardly say that all Members of your Lordships' House and of the other place will be very welcome to attend.
I should be grateful if, when the Minister replies to this debate, he could say a little more about what Dr Murrison's role will be. We really wish him well. We want to work with him and we want to make quite sure that we catch up with what other Governments are doing so that we commemorate this very important centenary in the right way. It will start in 2014 and will undoubtedly run for the four years through to 2018.
Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, first, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas on securing this debate, on his excellent opening contribution and, as we all know, on his very deep commitment to our Armed Forces.
I was privileged and proud last year to attend the festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall as a guest of the Royal British Legion-something that I have always wanted to do. I was similarly privileged and proud in the early 1980s, when I was a junior Defence Minister, to have an official position at the Cenotaph.
As a constituency Member of Parliament for 13 years, I used to regard remembrance weekend as something very special. My constituency in north-east Lancashire-Nelson and Colne, which later became Pendle-was a very patriotic area and one of substantial recruitment. I always used to attend the legion concert, as well as service parades in the morning and afternoon. When one attended some of the smaller community services, it was very sad and distressing to see the names of so many individuals from one family who had lost their lives, particularly in the Great War-the ghastly, pointless First World War. My own great-uncle, who served in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment, was killed on 3 July 1917 aged 23 and is buried in the Brandhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. What concerned me during those 13 years was the decline, as I saw it, in the numbers attending the individual memorial services. Indeed, I suggested to our local authority that perhaps we should have one major constituency service in the morning, allowing the smaller events to take place in the afternoon.
However, in recent years we have seen a substantial sea-change in the attitude of the public to our Armed Forces following, I think it is fair to say, a realisation that our troops whom we initially sent into Afghanistan were ill equipped and substantially underresourced. The media got behind our forces and, of course, considerable improvements have been made to their kit. Now, the kit is probably the envy of the world in many respects.
As has been referred to, the Government enshrined the military covenant in law during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill. I think it would be fair to say that the combination of a sympathetic and sensible Minister and pressure from a number of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords improved the Bill during its passage. Of course, reference has been made to the very impressive turnout as coffins pass through Royal Wootton Bassett, and yesterday's roll call of deaths brings home to us the current losses. In my judgment, it would be interesting to see whether there is any carry-across or manifestation of increased support for our Armed Forces in poppy sales and in attendance at remembrance parades, as well as continuing support for service charities.
There are around 100,000 war memorials in this country, of which perhaps 1,200 or so are listed. The spate of thefts has been referred to today and previously by my noble friend and colleague Lord Tope. Could the Minister tell us whether there are any laws at the present time that govern damage or desecration to our war memorials? If not, should we not consider their introduction?
In today's paper, there is an indication that the funding for our very impressive National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is going to be cut by a quarter. I visited it a couple of years ago, and it is hugely impressive. I realise, of course, that economies have to be made in defence spending, but do we really have to reduce the funding for such an impressive national memorial?
Turning to the matter of the young, does the Minister know whether the British Legion visits schools on a regular basis? Are poppies made available in schools? Should this not be rather more encouraged? I have
10 Nov 2011 : Column 379
Sadly, some who have given their lives have not been properly acknowledged and treated. It is surely a scandal that it has taken until next year, 2012-some 70 years after the ending of the Second World War-to erect a memorial to the 55,573 brave members of Bomber Command who were killed in action.
I also pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for all the work that it does, which I have seen throughout the world, and to the memorials of many communities overseas. On my visit to Normandy earlier this year to visit the landing beaches, I saw the way so many memorials in small French communities are maintained, with full acknowledgement of the particular regiments that liberated those communities.
Sadly, there is no sign of the world becoming any less violent and there will inevitably be casualties in the future. For our forces, we must provide the best possible medical care, make generous provision for dependants-I know that my noble friend Lord Loomba will refer to war widows in particular in his speech-and always ensure that those who make the supreme sacrifice on our behalf have a decent funeral and an appropriate memorial.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, my younger son is 10 years old and I remember that when I turned 10, my father, the late Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, went to war, fulfilling any young officer's dream: to command his battalion-the Second Fifth Ghurkha Rifles Frontier Force-in battle. He took part in the Indian Army's liberation of Bangladesh. I remember reading in the papers every day a list of casualties and the sacrifices made, and dreading seeing my father's name. Watching my mother enduring the anxiety was awful. My father's battalion sadly lost several of its members in action. As we speak today, the Second Fifth Ghurkhas are celebrating their 125th anniversary on their Raising Day, and the whole regimental family is together in India.
When I say regimental family, that is what the army family is; it is the serving troops and their families, but also the ex-servicemen and their families and the widows like my mother and their descendents. At every one of these reunions, we always remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My father's battalion won three Victoria Crosses during the Second World War: one was posthumous, awarded to Subedar Netra Bahadur, and the other two were awarded to Havalder Gaje Ghale and Naik Agan Singh Rai. I was privileged to have been brought up from childhood with Agan Singh Rai and Gaje Ghale, and in fact Agan Singh Rai was my father's subedar major-his regimental sergeant-major-when my father commanded his battalion.
I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, for this debate and his inspirational speech. We as a nation are tremendous in the way we remember the sacrifices made by our service men and women
10 Nov 2011 : Column 380
Yesterday, my six year-old daughter took part in a Remembrance Day service at her school, which included a minute's silence. She brought home the poppy that she had made and showed it to me with pride. We have the wonderful memorial gates commemorating the service of 5 million volunteers who served in the First and Second World Wars from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. I was proud to be the chairman of the commemoration committee for six years, and these gates exist thanks to the drive and commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who no doubt will speak about this inspirational living memorial.
The public spirit and support for the Armed Forces are probably at an all-time high in modern times, with Royal Wootton Bassett, the hugely successful newly-founded charity Help for Heroes initiative, the work of the Army Benevolent Fund-the soldiers' charity-and the amazing warmth and respect shown to the Chelsea Pensioners of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea, where I am proud to be a commissioner.
We never needed to be told about a big society. The British public have been practising this instinctively for years. I was really happy to read the report of the task force of the military covenant a year ago, which made so many excellent suggestions.
We are told that the Armed Forces community includes regular personnel, reservists, veterans, the immediate families of those categories of individuals, and the immediate families of service personnel and veterans who have died. The level of support has been categorised into four areas.
The first is to give recognition and gratitude, which I think we do. I am grateful to the Government for establishing a Chief of the Defence Staff commendation scheme. The second level is to take positive measures to support disadvantage. This is because our service men and women have such an unsettled way of life, and it worries me that initiatives such as the boarding school scheme for officers' children are under threat. Could the Minister confirm this? It is disappointing to see that the formal ID card for veterans and service families has been rejected, with "value for money" being the reason why the scheme is not being supported. Could the Minister confirm this? The Armed Forces' housing-particularly the Army's-is on the whole below standard. Is there any way the Minister could
10 Nov 2011 : Column 381
The third level of support is the financial package. Here, there is no question about it: the Armed Forces get paid a pittance compared with what we expect them to do. The Army doctrine publicationtells us:
"All British soldiers share the legal right and duty to fight and, if necessary, kill, according to their orders, and an unlimited liability to give their lives in doing so. This is the unique nature of soldiering".
The fourth level is special treatment. We keep hearing about the Armed Forces covenant meaning that the Armed Forces community should get fair treatment. I think the term "fair" is inappropriate; they need to get special treatment always. This is where we fall short of countries such as the United States in the way they look after their veterans and their special hospitals. In India, all retired soldiers and their families are entitled to free medical care from armed forces hospitals for life. This is special treatment, which is so well-deserved.
The Armed Forces are all about esprit de corps and morale. Where morale is concerned, we have had issues. There has to be mutual trust and respect between the Armed Forces, the Government and the Ministry of Defence. I am sorry to say that this mutual trust, particularly between the MoD and the Armed Forces, is breaking down. I have spoken about huge issues of morale across the services. The Government rushed through the SDSR last year with resulting cuts. On the one hand, our forces are stretched, just having completed Iraq; the Afghanistan operations are now 10 years on; and we have to deal with situations such as Libya at the drop of a hat. Our noble service personnel feel that they are out there in these conditions knowing that their jobs are not secure and seeing their comrades being made redundant. They know that the public are on their side but feel let down in many ways by the MoD and the Government. What is more, we are made to look a laughing stock in our short-sightedness. Almost a year ago, in our debate on the SDSR, I said in my speech:
What happened just a couple of months later? The Arab spring and then Libya. We as a country had decided by then to do away with our aircraft carriers, our Harriers and our Nimrods, and we could have done with all of them in the Libyan operations.
The SDSR was all about means and not ends. We in Britain are a major player on the world stage with our hard power and our soft power, and we will be required to intervene again. Once again, it could be "known unknowns" such as in the Iran situation, or it could be "unknown unknowns", in the way the Arab spring happened overnight. With the eurozone crisis, Chancellor Merkel has already said that if the euro falls, there will be war in Europe.
|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page