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15 Nov 2011 : Column GC211

15 Nov 2011 : Column GC211

Grand Committee

Tuesday, 15 November 2011.

Arrangement of Business


3.30 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes): Before the first Motion before the Grand Committee is considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of all the statutory instruments the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. In the case of the third statutory instrument, further proceedings in the Chamber would need to be tabled for further action to ensue. In the case of the other statutory instruments, the Motion to approve the instrument will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.

If, as is likely, there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Legal Services Act 2007 (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) (No. 2) Order 2011

Copy of the SI
Copy of the Report

Considered in Grand Committee

3.31 pm

Moved By Lord McNally

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, for the convenience of the Committee I intend to speak to the two orders together.

On the appeals order, noble Lords may be aware that the licensing regime for alternative business structures contained in the Legal Services Act 2007 became operational on 6 October. In relation to that regime, the Law Society has had its application to become a licensing authority approved by the Legal Services Board. In accordance with the 2007 Act, before the Law Society can be designated as a licensing authority by order of the Lord Chancellor, it is necessary for there to be an appellate body with the power to hear appeals against its decisions made in relation to alternative business structures.

The purpose of this order is to modify the functions of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal-known as the SDT-so that it can perform that function, subject to its designation as a licensing authority. As required by the 2007 Act, this order is made on the recommendation of the Legal Services Board following wide consultation and with the consent of the SDT and the Law Society.

In summary, the order makes provision for the SDT to hear and determine: decisions which are appealable under Part 5 of the 2007 Act and under the Law Society's own licensing rules; the orders which the

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SDT may make, where that is not already provided by the Act itself; the orders for costs in relation to those appeals; and onward appeals from the SDT to the High Court. The set-up and operating costs of this SDT appeal mechanism will be funded by the Law Society and met by the licence fee payable by licensed bodies.

The Law Society has elected to use the SDT rather than the First-tier Tribunal as its appellate body because it wanted a consistent approach to appeals by all the firms which it regulates-both alternative business structures and traditional firms-and because the SDT has a wider discretion than the First-tier Tribunal to award costs. During a previous debate in the summer, noble Lords expressed concern about different licensing authorities using different appellate bodies to determine appeals from their licensing decisions. I think that point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I can see merit in using one appellate body for all appeals relating to alternative business structures, and that has also been the Legal Services Board's preference. However, the structure of the 2007 Act means that the Legal Services Board can only recommend appeal routes to which the prospective licensing authority and the proposed appeal body consent. Therefore, licensing authorities cannot be forced to use a particular appeal route.

The Legal Services Board made its recommendation on the Law Society's appeal route to the Lord Chancellor in August, and this order has been brought before the Committee at the earliest opportunity. As I have already said, the Legal Services Board originally consulted on a proposal that there should be a single appellate body to hear decisions of all licensing authorities and proposed the First-tier Tribunal for that role. However, the Law Society did not consent to that proposal and elected to use the SDT as its appeal body. The consequences of this decision impacted on the timing of the Law Society's designation as a licensing authority and were explained to the parties concerned at the time.

Following the Law Society's decision a new draft order was prepared and, in accordance with the statutory requirement, the consultation on the order was undertaken by the Legal Services Board. That consultation was completed in June and the order was finalised shortly after, but not in time for consideration by this House before the Summer Recess. Without the appeal arrangements being in place, it was not possible to designate the Law Society before the commencement of the alternative business structures regime in October. If approved, the order will provide the individuals and businesses affected by the Law Society's licensing decisions with an opportunity to challenge these decisions through an independent and impartial appellate body.

I will now turn to the exceptions order. This is the second exceptions order to be laid this year. The purpose of this amendment is to extend the exceptions to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to include non-authorised persons with a restricted interest in alternative business structures-a point originally raised when we last discussed this by-

Lord Jones: The Minister has already referred several times to consultation. Perhaps now, or in his summing up, he will give any instances of consultation in Wales and with whom consultations may have been taking place.

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Lord McNally: I will address that in my closing remarks.

I was about to say that the matter of the extension of this order was raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, who is not in his place today. Noble Lords will be aware that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act allows individuals lawfully to conceal certain spent cautions and convictions after a specified period of time has elapsed. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act allows individuals to do this by declaring certain cautions and convictions as spent. Once a caution or conviction is spent, the individuals need not declare it when applying for most types of employment, seeking licences or applying for insurance.

The Government believe that individuals who have put their criminal past behind them should be given a chance to reintegrate into society. Research has consistently shown that employment reduces the risk of reoffending. By removing unnecessary barriers to employment, the Government are therefore demonstrating their commitment to clearing the way for ex-offenders to lead law-abiding lives. The Government also recognise the importance of protecting the public; therefore, there must be a balance. In certain specified circumstances, for example, it is right that employers or regulators are aware of an individual's full criminal record history when they are determining the individual's suitability to fulfil a certain role or carry out a specific activity. The exceptions order amending this Act seeks to achieve this balance towards public protection.

The exceptions order lists specific activities for which the employer, regulator or other relevant body is entitled to information about the spent cautions and convictions of persons applying to carry out that activity. These activities are those that present individuals with a particular opportunity to cause harm to the public or involve regular contact with a particularly vulnerable group. This includes work with children, as well as work in certain sensitive financial or legal positions.

Today, I am seeking to extend the exceptions order to those seeking to hold a restricted interest in an alternative business structure. During passage in this House of a previous amendment in an exceptions order in June this year, a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the risk of criminal ownership to alternative business structures. Following that debate, the Ministry of Justice expedited consideration of a business case, seeking further amendments to the exceptions order in relation to the provision of legal services. After careful assessment of the business case, we concluded that the exceptions order should be extended to persons who hold a restricted interest in an alternative business structure. This, the Government believe, addresses the immediate concern of safeguarding the new structures from the risk of criminal ownership-a point that was made at the previous debate by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Thomas of Gresford. It effectively captures those who might pose a risk of improper management of firms providing legal services, including the risk of the exploitation of access to client money.

Schedule 13 to the Legal Services Act requires all those who hold a restricted interest in an alternative business structure to be subject to a fitness-to-own

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test. Information about an individual's spent convictions will form part of that test. Therefore a licensing authority, when determining whether or not an individual is fit and proper, will be entitled to ask questions about the individual's previous criminal history, which will include any spent cautions or convictions.

While the Law Society and other consultees welcomed the decision to make this further exceptions order, they also expressed a desire for further exceptions to be made, in particular for non-lawyer managers of alternative business structures who do not hold a restricted interest. It is important to state that the framework of the Legal Services Act makes provision for a statutory approval process only for those persons who fall within Schedule 13. There is not a separate statutory provision which allows for the approval of non-lawyer managers who do not hold a restricted interest. Our analysis found that all non-lawyer managers will be captured by this order, unless the percentage of their interest or voting rights falls below the statutory threshold that constitutes a restricted interest under Schedule 13. Our analysis is that such persons would not pose a significant enough risk to the management of an alternative business structure to justify making an exception. However, if a licensing authority deemed it necessary-and if the Legal Services Board agreed to the change to its regulatory arrangements-it has the power under Schedule 13 to make licensing rules so that the threshold at which a person is considered to have a material interest in an alternative business structure is less than the 10 per cent threshold set out in Schedule 13.

I am satisfied that this order effectively addresses the immediate risk to alternative business structures of criminal ownership. As we go forward and begin to see alternative business structures in operation, the Ministry of Justice will consider any future business case to extend the exceptions order further, in the usual way. Should compelling evidence be presented that additional roles in relation to alternative business structures or the legal services sector should be added to the exceptions order, then the appropriate amendment could be made.

I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that, when deciding whether or not the exceptions order should be extended to a particular role or activity, the Government must be mindful of the careful balance between access to information about spent convictions and the important goal of improving access to employment for offenders who have proven that they have put their criminal lives behind them.

I believe that the decision to extend the exceptions order only as far as necessary, to persons who hold a restricted interest in alternative business structures, will enhance the regulatory safeguards in relation to those seeking to hold a material interest in an alternative business structure, but will also ensure that this balance is maintained. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I would like to speak on the first of the two orders. I no longer have formally to declare an interest as I no longer chair the Legal Services Consumer Panel, but it was in that guise that I had such an interest in the implementation of this part of the Legal Services Act

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and the availability of the alternative business structure-a sort of one-stop-shop-which has been very strongly supported by consumers of legal services.

As the Minister said, this order is part of the architecture for setting up the alternative business structure licensing system, and it will allow the SRA to become a licensing authority by the end of this year-sadly, not by 6 October as was originally hoped, but nevertheless within 2011.

As has been outlined, the order deals with appeals by applicants who want to be an ABS against the granting of a licence, which is effectively the permit to act as a recognised ABS, by the SRA's licensing arm. Similar appeals about, for example, whether an individual is fit and proper to own an ABS, or to be the head of legal practice or a head of finance administration, and decisions to impose licensing conditions or the imposition of a financial penalty would also be heard. Under the system being put into place by this order, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said, the existing SDT, although slightly adapted, will hear such cases rather than the First-tier Tribunal, which will be used by the other licensing authority, the Council of Licensed Conveyancers. As has been mentioned at an earlier stage, we regret perhaps that there is not a single body dealing with all such appeals in order that a real body of expertise and precedent can be built up, which would give certainty and consistency to this aspect of the new delivery service.

As regards the new service, I know that we do not often congratulate civil servants but the MoJ and the Legal Services Board have worked immensely hard to get all this quite complicated machinery into place. They should be congratulated. As part of that, it is disappointing that the only reason-I know that the Minister gave two-that the Law Society via its SRA arm has insisted on a separate route rather than the First-tier Tribunal is because of the tribunal's own rules about awarding costs. At the moment the SDT, when considering solicitor conduct cases, has the power to award costs to be paid by the losing to the winning side. Therefore, the SRA's costs are always met. Under the new process, having gone to the tribunal, the tribunal would hear not the case brought by the SRA but an appeal against the SRA decision. Thus, as the tribunals do not generally have the power to award costs unless it is a case with absolutely no merit, the SRA would have to meet its own costs. I fear that not using the First-tier Tribunal is the reason for this separate order today.

I think that it is in the interests of business or consumers to understand the rules as they develop. It is also probably not in the interests of the Government or the LSB, which needs to watch carefully over this new system. It is quite a risk to set up something like alternative business structures. The MoJ and the LSB will need to look over the new system of legal service provision and how it is bedding down. It would have helped to have a single appeals body regardless of which front-line regulator was handling the case.

However, the rules that the SDT will apply are to be welcomed. They are virtually the same as those in place for the First-tier Tribunal, which will help with

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consistency in the short term and perhaps allow for adjudications to be combined at a later date. With those comments, I certainly support the order.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome both orders. The Minister will recollect that when the matter was first discussed here, we raised our concern and he was good enough to say that he would take the matter back, examine it and see what appropriate action was necessary. I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has said. The Minister and his staff have worked very hard to effect those changes, which are certainly welcome.

The order sets out an independent appeal mechanism against a range of ABS decisions, which is right; for example, refusing an application for a licence, imposing a conditional licence, disqualifying a person from working in the ABS or imposing a financial penalty. The most interesting part is that appeals on these matters are to go to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. I am told that this helps the SRA to license alternative business structures from the new year onwards. I am also told that the SRA has found significant interest from organisations seeking to become ABSs. It has received over 500 inquiries. Examples of such organisations include private equity investors, claims management companies, the expansion of in-house legal departments, major retailers, accountancy firms and partnerships between non-lawyers and insurers.

I particularly welcome the second order as I am involved in promoting a Private Member's Bill on the rehabilitation of offenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, hit the nail on the head in regard to this. In the end this is about consumer protection and looking at what information is available. I am delighted to support the measure because it sets out an interesting aspect in simple terms. This is a significant step in that not only will the SRA be able to issue licences, but also the Government have agreed to include non-lawyer owners and, in certain circumstances, the managers of ABSs in the exclusions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. That is right, and we very much appreciate the Minister's support. Over a period of time this will ensure that all owners of ABSs will have to disclose all their previous convictions and cautions, which ultimately helps the consumer to understand what happens in this legal process.

Again, I thank the Minister for the action that he and his staff have taken on this, and we certainly support the orders.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister very warmly for his clear and thorough opening remarks and description of these orders. I have little to say about them except to express the support of the Opposition for them both. There is no doubt that the Legal Services Act 2007 will have a major, if not profound, influence in the years to come on how legal services are delivered in this country. That was clear when the draft Bill was debated and discussed by a Joint Committee of both Houses under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and when the Bill went through your Lordships' House some time

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afterwards. I think we can see the importance of that Act in the orders before us. Alongside it there are many sensitivities that surround the bringing into force of various parts of this Act, whether large or small. I hope-indeed I am sure-that the Government and the ministry are aware of and alive to those sensitivities in deciding which way to go.

I shall say a word about the first order, which deals particularly with appeals bodies. On the face of it, it is a shame that there is not to be a single appeals body-I agree with my noble friend Lady Hayter on that-but I suppose that this is one of the sensitivities that I am talking about. It is interesting to see in the Explanatory Memorandum the consultation outcome in relation to this order. For a consultation outcome, this has a dramatic and rather more exciting history than is normally the case in such consultations and it is quite clear that there has been toing and froing before the Government came forward with this order allowing the Law Society its way in this instance. I do not for a moment suggest that that was the wrong decision. However, a single appeals body is an attractive proposition, and I wonder whether over a period of time events might lead to it.

As for the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, I start by wishing the Private Member's Bill under the charge of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, well. It is relevant because, with a senior government Minister present, maybe the Government themselves will have to play a role at some stage in making sure that his Bill, which is much delayed-this came up under the Government I was proud to serve in-gets on to the statute book in one way or another. It may be in the form of a Private Member's Bill with all the difficulties that that involves both in this House and in another place, or with a little help from Her Majesty's Government. Certainly, if the Government were to put their weight behind the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, we would support it too.

However, as far as this order is concerned I am most grateful-particularly to the Minister-for describing in detail why the universal opinion of the various groups that were consulted about this was not met in terms of a slightly wider group being subject to the exemption to the existing Act. He described it very adequately. Is there any concern that by leaving out that group of people there will be some difficulties down the road? It would be unfortunate if people who should be exempted from this Act were not exempted at this stage, and if the Government had to do it on a "first today and then tomorrow" basis.

These are important issues even though they are in orders that are going through this Committee pretty quickly. I have no doubt there will be others that involve the ABS and the other important results of the Legal Services Act 2007. Bearing in mind that the Act was passed under a different Government, we will do all we can to ensure that Act comes into fruition successfully.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for that response. He is always very kind about how clear and thorough I am in explaining

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statutory instruments. He knows as well as I do that it is only because of the hard work of the people who sit behind me. I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and my noble friend Lord Dholakia thanked the Ministry of Justice and the LSB for their work on this. It is exciting. I pay tribute to the previous Government. The alternative business structures will produce changes which, I suspect, will be mainly to the benefit of the consumer in the provision of legal services. What we are trying to do with these orders is to put the last pieces in place to allow them to function.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, both expressed the concerns that were reflected during the last debate-that we have not got a single route here, in that the solicitors have decided to have their separate body. Whether it will cause the problems of a lack of consistency, we will have to see. What I can assure noble Lords is that the LSB will be carrying out further work, and looking at appeal arrangements, and the MoJ will be working closely with the LSB in relation to this. I also understand the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Bach: have we gone too narrow in this extension? As I explained, I do not think we have. However, let us see. The concern expressed last time was that the alternative business structures may allow criminal elements in that would corrupt the new structures. We listened in this Committee and have brought forward extensions, and now think that we have got things right. Again, the LSB will follow the new structures as they go in. So far, only one new alternative business structure has been announced. The Co-op has beaten Tesco; perhaps it should now be called Co-op law rather than Tesco law.

This is an exciting development for which the previous Administration can take credit and which we have been pleased to help bring into being. We will discuss legal services in general in more detail when we get to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in a short while. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and I have discussed before, legal services in general are in flux. The ABSs will provide an exciting new dimension to them.

On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, I can only draw his attention to the fact that the consultations were carried out by the Legal Services Board for England and Wales and the Law Society of England and Wales. I am sure that both bodies carried out their consultations across the geographic areas of their responsibility. If he can draw to my attention the case for them not doing that, I will be happy to follow it up. However, since they are both bodies that have an England and Wales dimension and were both charged with wide consultation, my understanding is that they will have consulted in Wales.

Lord Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for fielding my query. I content myself with the reminder to him: he is the Minister and he will do the work.

Lord McNally: I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Jones: I am grateful.

Motion agreed.

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Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) (No. 2) Order 2011

Copy of the SI
Copy of the Report

Considered in Grand Committee

4.03 pm

Moved By Lord McNally

Motion agreed.

Health Research Authority (Establishment and Constitution) Order 2011

Copy of the SI

Motion to Consider

4.05 pm

Moved By Lord Turnberg

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, this instrument is to set up the Health Research Authority as a special health authority. The main reason given for taking this step rather than the primary legislation route is because there is some urgency in finding a home for the national research ethics committees that will soon find themselves homeless when the strategic health authorities and the National Patient Safety Agency go out of business.

I can, of course, understand why it is necessary to go down this rapid secondary legislation route because even if the Health Research Authority were to find a place in the current Health and Social Care Bill, it would still be a couple of years before it would be fully enacted and we need something sooner. However, there remains the question of why it cannot be put into the Bill as well so that there can be a smooth transition from this temporary solution to a more permanent one. No doubt, we will be exploring that when we come to debate it later in the Bill.

The anxiety remains that we will have to wait a considerable amount of time before we see another round of primary legislation to set up a permanent agency. In our debates on the Bill yesterday, we heard about the doubts being expressed about when we will see further legislation. Can the Minister enlarge on the hint he gave in the debate last week that we might see something relevant to this in 2012?

It might be helpful if I said a few words about why the establishment of a health research authority or agency is so important. It comes directly from the recommendations in the Academy of Medical Sciences's report A New Pathway for the Regulation and Governance of Health Research which the Government commissioned

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last year and which, to their credit, they have endorsed enthusiastically. The report described in great detail the current regulatory burden faced by clinical researchers and proposed a number of solutions, the most important of which was setting up this agency. It pointed out how the UK research effort is being undermined by an overly complex regulatory and governance environment and how this has caused a fall in the UK's global share of patients in clinical trials of all types, as well as a marked increase in the time needed to navigate a very complex research approval process. Regulation has grown as new regulatory bodies have been set up, often in response to some scandal or other, and often with seemingly good reason, but without any consideration of the overall impact of yet another new hurdle and without any evidence whatever that they have improved the safety of patients or the public.

The problem is confounded by the delays and duplication in the governance arrangements within individual NHS trusts. They are now thought to be the single greatest barrier to health research, especially where several trusts are involved in multicentre trials, for example. There is a definite need for a regulatory pathway that allows us to cut through all this unnecessary and complex bureaucracy while at the same time ensuring the safety and interests of patients.

Now we have a research regulatory authority as an important government response, and we have to see how it is going to achieve all that is expected of it. First, the National Research Ethics Service, with its 80 or so local ethics committees, has done a marvellous job in the past few years in streamlining the ethics approval process. It has, for example, made it much easier for those engaged in multicentre research proposals to gain approval. Preserving its function has been vital, but unfortunately moving it by itself from one body to another will do no more than preserve the status quo. It simply moves it from one home to another, yet the research regulatory agency was expected to do so much more.

My questions for the noble Earl are: will the authority have any more responsibilities? For example, will it have any of the responsibilities currently undertaken by the ethics and confidentiality committee of the National Information Governance Board? That committee advises the Secretary of State on whether permission should be given to researchers wanting to use data about patients where it is not possible to gain consent. It is a very important safeguard for patients, but it means that researchers have to have two sets of ethical permission to do the research, one from a normal ethics committee and another from this committee, and that causes all sorts of delays. Can we expect some streamlining here? I see in the Explanatory Memorandum to this order that that might be on the horizon. If so, can the Minister give any further information on that and on when it might happen?

Then there is the problem posed by the delays caused by the local R&D committees in each of the NHS trusts. They can hold up research for months, especially if more than one trust is involved in multicentre research proposals. For example, Cancer Research UK said that the average time for a multicentre research grant to be approved was over 600 days. Can the noble

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Earl say whether the new authority will have any role in easing that problem, perhaps by ensuring that limits are set on the times that trusts can take in considering proposals? Will it, for example, be able to vet research proposals in such a way that it can save local R&D committees from each having to repeat much of the straightforward common areas of a proposal, leaving them to check on aspects of specific local importance? That would certainly help to speed up the process.

The excellent report from the academy outlines a whole range of other regulatory bodies and functions that could and should be rolled up into the new authority. I shall not go into them, save to recommend that noble Lords who have not read the report might find it of some interest.

A research regulatory authority or agency has enormous potential for good if we can get it right. If we do, all will benefit-the researchers, certainly, but most importantly the patients, who will access new treatments sooner and more efficiently. We will gain economically too, because we will regain something that we are already losing: the investment from the pharmaceutical industry, which is watching our debates with interest.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Government for setting up this authority and removing the uncertainty surrounding the ethics committee, but much more needs doing. I look forward with interest to the response of the noble Earl, Lord Howe.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, for arriving one minute into his speech; I did not realise that the earlier business would have been dispatched so summarily this afternoon. I am grateful to him for introducing the debate and giving us an opportunity to address the issues he raised ahead of discussions during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill, to which there are clear amendments on some of these issues. Like him, I say to the Minister without hesitation that I welcome the establishment of this special health authority. He promised it in answer to questions some time after I had arrived in the House and saw the need to move on the academy's report as quickly as possible, and I compliment him and the Government for moving so speedily; there is no issue about that.

The need to find a home for the National Research Ethics Service was important. There was haemorrhaging of staff and good will and, in terms of any research project, it is important that you have a stable, effective and well respected ethics service. We probably have the best research ethics service in the world. We welcome the appointment of Janet Wisely, the current chairman of NRES, as the new chief officer for the Health Research Authority; she is well respected and that level of continuity will serve us well.

4.14 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.25 pm

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, I am delighted to continue. It is a punishment for coming a minute late that we have a Division half way through.

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While welcoming the special health authority, it is important to look at the order that has been referred to the Grand Committee. What we see, particularly under the heading "Functions of the Authority", is the wonderful phrase in Article 3(1)(b),

What concerns me is that, while this organisation is set up as temporary, it could in fact simply continue indefinitely. There is no time limit on it.

As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said in the debate yesterday, we have a real issue over the Government's promises that there will be legislation. In reality, what we have been promised is a draft Bill in the next Session of Parliament, which will deal with research, education and training and any other such matters. As the noble Lord said yesterday, the Government will not be terribly enthusiastic about introducing another Bill. It will probably take us to 2013-or even beyond that-before a draft Bill is fully considered. That takes us right up to the end of this Parliament; perhaps to the final year or final Session of this fixed-term Parliament. Are we really saying that we are going to have a Bill of such importance and magnitude coming before Parliament at that stage? Quite frankly, I have my doubts despite the best intentions of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. If that is the case, we will see this temporary authority simply running on beyond the next election. Unless the Minister can give us a clear indication today of how long this organisation is going to stay in place, whether it has an end date and whether we will have actual, not draft, legislation, then I for one will continue to press the point.

Why do I say this is important? It is because it is not just the research ethics service that is in limbo. Several other organisations are in limbo as well. We have had the Public Bodies Bill. We have two organisations, the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, in limbo and running down their permanent staff. There is a real question about their future and significant elements of both may-I stress "may"-come into this new authority.

My first question is: when Article 3(1)(b) says,

is there a plan or an intention to take key elements out of the Human Tissue Authority and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and move them into this organisation? The legislation is there for that to happen. It does not need any further primary legislation. Secondly, there is the issue of the Medicines and Healthcare Regulation Agency. What is going to happen to that? It is another organisation that is intricately involved with the research agenda and again there is an element of uncertainty about its future. Is there any intention to move parts of that into the new agency? Is that what we mean by "any other such functions"?

The other issue is the research and development permissions for each NHS trust. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, summed it up quite admirably. The main thrust of the Academy of Medical Sciences's excellent report-which, to be fair, politicians on all sides of the House, including the Minister, have supported and agreed-is the key point that the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, made. Recruiting people to trials can

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take over 600 days and while there is a commitment, quite rightly and importantly made last year by the Government, to go to a 70-day average period, how is that going to be driven? Paragraph 3(a)(i) refers to,

Is that what this order actually means, and is it what the Minister means? When I asked him in a Question for Written Answer-I am sorry, but I do not have the reference; Hansard will find it-whether there was any requirement for legislation in order to ensure that NHS foundation trusts become actively involved as part of their duty to promote research and clinical trials, the clear response from the Minister was that there is no need for that because there is perfectly sufficient legislation at the moment for that to happen. I do not know how that is going to happen. If we are going to have an authority, other than the National Research Ethics Service, that simply treads water on every other aspect of research, we will be missing a trick because we could be two, three or four years away from having a permanent solution.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister what work the special health authority will do to prepare for new functions which may come down the line with the new Health Research Authority. What timescales does the Minister envisage for the establishment for the new Health Research Authority and for it becoming operational? Does he have a clear timeline that is not simply in terms of legislation? Indeed, what preliminary work will be done to pave the way for the new national research governance service, which was going to be swept into this organisation too? I think I can give the Minister eight out of 10 for making a commitment to the House. He has made a promise, and I thank him for that, but can we please now have some flesh on these bones as well so that we know what direction of travel we are heading in so that we can all get on the bus?

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I would add my words of welcome to the principles of research which have been supported by the Government. I know that the Minister has done much personally to promote this. In welcoming the Health Research Authority as a special health authority, I also echo the words: "The problem is this: for how long and where will it lead to?". The current regional ethics committees that are going will be covered in this, but they are only half the problem in relation to research. The other half is R&D committees in trusts. There is a separate committee for every trust and people who want to undertake multi-centre research have to take their research through them. If you are researching into rare diseases, you may have to go through every trust in the country in order to be able to recruit enough patients to enter into whatever study you are conducting. That could be 100 or so different committees. It means that researchers have to sign up at every trust. Each trust behaves quite differently. Some speed research through in about two weeks, but others become extremely fussy. Unfortunately, that fussiness often focuses on things like the patient information sheet. The committees will spend time requesting redrafts of that sheet, but the redraft may be rejected by another trust. Researchers end up going around in circles for months on end in what is in fact a pretty futile activity.

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That is because the original research ethics committee which looked at the proposal will have to go through everything, including the consent form, the patient information sheet and so on. The committee also has to look at the protocol of the study itself and the science behind it. If the science is bad, that is really when the research programme should be stopped in its tracks. That is the role of the ethics committee, and if it does its job properly, it could centralise all these other factors and look at them.

Apart from the duplication taking time for researchers, it is duplication across the whole country with people doing exactly the same job and coming to slightly different, but often not very consequentially different, conclusions. There is duplication at many levels. One could say that if something is good enough for the research ethics committee, it really should be good enough across the board. If it is not, there is a question about the research ethics committee and the way it functions, and it needs to be looked at again because it is not up to scratch.

There are quite a few things that I hope can be centralised, and it will be helpful if the Minister will clarify what will and will not be centralised. For example, will checks on the principal investigator's qualifications to undertake the research be centralised? Will the protocol of a study and the science behind it be scrutinised with patient information sheets and patient consent forms? Will there be a way of informing the trust that that has been done adequately and does not have to be done again? At a local level, of course the trust has to look to see whether it has the right research facilities and the right infrastructure. That is not usually about the nature of the research but more about whether it is in a position to participate. That is a feasibility check at a local level. That could be done very quickly, but it needs a different mindset. I am concerned that with the push to autonomy for all the different trusts, a trust can say, "No, we're not going to play ball with this. We want to have our own processes and do our own research ethics rather than participate at a national level", which might strengthen its R&D committee processes.

An issue not being addressed in this order is indemnity for research. Are there plans to establish an all-England research risk pool or some kind of centralised and co-ordinated indemnity so that we free research processes and stop risk-averse behaviour at local level? Sometimes, risk aversion, which is an inappropriate interpretation of risk, is making some of these committees particularly nitpicking in their processes. I recognise that that might need primary or secondary legislation, but I urge the Minister to take away the amendments that we have tabled to the Health and Social Care Bill and think very carefully about them because they would solve quite a large part of this problem. They would not solve it all, but this order is an interim measure, and it cannot last for years because the gaps will widen and we will then carry on losing research from our shores. We are all aware of the urgent need to turn that traffic around and to bring pharmaceutical and all other types of research back because it is a strength and an economic earner for this country if we can get it right. The infrastructure is critical.

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Turnberg for introducing the debate on this order. As noble Lords know, this order establishes the Health Research Authority to facilitate and promote research related to the health service through the research ethics committee that will check that research proposals meet ethical standards and will establish and appoint members to those committees. I think everybody would agree that the provenance of this initiative is the Academy of Medical Sciences's review, which was published in January, and that the urgency arises from the abolition of the National Patient Safety Agency.

I will first ask a couple of questions about the National Patient Safety Agency because I would like to get some issues on the record. We are all aware of the reason that this order has been brought forward. The Minister has been completely clear with the House about the process. It needs to be there to scoop up the National Research Ethics Service. What is happening to the National Reporting and Learning Service and the National Clinical Assessment Service? The National Patient Safety Agency had three functions, and those were they. What is going to happen to the other two very important functions?

In addition the National Patient Safety Agency was responsible for commissioning and monitoring the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcomes and Death, the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, and the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness. I would like to know what will to happen to them. Where are they going to live when the National Patient Safety Agency no longer exists? Indeed, what will happen to the special programmes that the agency has conducted over the years, such as the programme into maternal and newborn babes? This is very important work, with accumulated knowledge and skilled staff, and I am concerned about that.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willis, about the momentum that there is to establish an independent health research body. That was underlined by the discussions we had on the Public Bodies Bill over the future of the Human Tissue Authority and the HFEA. It would also benefit the Committee if we could be brought up to date as to where things are with them, and their future. But the outstanding question is: why can we not start now and include the new agency in the Bill, and get on with it? We will have that debate on the Floor of the House.

I have just a few more questions. How will the independence of this special health authority be guaranteed, because it is not the arm's-length body that will ultimately be created? What costs are involved with this? Are there any extra costs for which funding will have to be found to set up this ethics committee? How will that be progressed? Finally, what will happen to the current board members of the National Patient Safety Agency led by Sir Liam Donaldson?

4.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, for his positive comments on the creation of the HRA as a special health authority

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and welcome the opportunity of this debate to clarify the role of the authority on its establishment on 1 December. As I said last week when we discussed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill, the Government have signalled their clear and strong support for research by increasing the research budget of the Department of Health in real terms over the current spending review period. I fully recognise the importance of ensuring that research is promoted within the health service. High quality health research is critical to the ability of the NHS to deliver world-class health outcomes, an end towards which we are all striving.

I think that noble Lords will agree that regulation of research is excessively complex. Both this and inconsistent local practices need to be addressed. As the Academy of Medical Sciences's report set out, it is still far too difficult for researchers to navigate the complex national and local processes for research approvals. The Plan for Growth, which was published alongside the Budget 2011, announced the Government's proposals. At the national level, we said that we would create a Health Research Authority to combine and streamline the approvals for health research, which are scattered across many organisations. At a local level, we said that we would transform the incentives for efficiency in research initiation and delivery. These two components are critical and we are already tackling the complex local processes for research approvals. Through the Health and Social Care Bill and the efforts of my department and the National Institute for Health Research, we are seeking to embed a positive and proactive research culture across the depth and breadth of the NHS. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, asked me what we are going to do about delays at trust level, and that question was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.

We have developed a co-ordinated system for gaining NHS permission for research that is supported by the National Institute for Health Research. It aims to standardise the checks that lead to trust approval, and centralise those that do not have to be carried out locally. In May we fulfilled our commitment to launch a framework of good practice and standard procedures to facilitate consistent local research management and greatly improve performance.

NHS trusts which adopt these standards will stop unnecessary duplication of checks, a local barrier to getting a research project off the ground that has frustrated researchers for many years. For clinical trials the National Institute for Health Research will publish outcomes against public benchmarks, including-and I address this particularly to my noble friend Lord Willis-an initial 70-day benchmark to recruit the first patient to a trial. Future NIHR funding will be conditional on meeting benchmarks.

I turn back to national-level commitments. The instruments not only fulfil our commitment to establish the Health Research Authority as a special health authority this year; alongside the directions we are giving it, they also ensure that the Health Research Authority will have substantive functions from the outset.

First, the HRA will unify the existing functions of the National Research Ethics Service from the National Patient Safety Agency and strategic health authorities.

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This will provide continuity and a stable platform for the National Research Ethics Service to build on the achievements it has already made. For example, a major obstacle to conducting research has been the completion of the numerous forms required to gain research approvals and permissions. The Health Research Authority will continue to run the integrated research application system developed by the National Research Ethics Service. It is an online one-stop shop that lets researchers apply for all the research approvals they need, not just to ethics committees but to NHS trusts and other health research approval bodies.

Secondly, in addition to ethical approvals, and from the outset, the HRA will have duties to co-operate with other bodies to improve the whole system: to create a unified research approval process and to promote consistent standards for compliance and inspection. This means it will promote alignment across the whole system, working closely with other bodies, such as other regulators. For example, it will work with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency on operating a co-ordinated national approval process for research involving medicines or medical devices. It will also work with the National Institute for Health Research on promoting proportionate action to demonstrate compliance with standards that are consistent on both the regulatory and provider sides. Therefore, it will support the work of the National Institute for Health Research to promote improvements in local NHS approval processes.

Thirdly, and most importantly, from the outset the HRA's role will be to protect and promote the interests of patients and the public. It is crucial that members of the public participating in research are-and feel-safe. The HRA will protect patients from unethical research, and enable patients to benefit from opportunities to participate in research by facilitating research which conforms to ethical standards and the law. Its role in combining and streamlining health research approvals, alongside the work of the National Institute for Health Research with NHS trusts, will improve the timeliness of decisions about research projects. This will increase opportunities for our patients to benefit from research.

The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, asked about the ethics and confidentiality committee function within the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care. The NIGB is an independent statutory body established to improve and monitor information and governance in health and adult social care. It provides advice to the Secretary of State on the appropriate use, sharing and protection of patient and service user information. In particular, it has set up a committee-the ethics and confidentiality committee-for advice on the processing of patient information, including confidential patient information, under the Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002. Confidential patient information may be processed under those regulations only where the processing has been approved by the Secretary of State and, in the case of medical research, also by a research ethics committee. It is intended that the HRA will take on the Secretary of State's role in approving the processing of such information for medical research as part of its role in combining and streamlining approvals for health research. The establishment of the HRA will help to

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ensure that the application and review processes are streamlined and, as I have said, follow consistent standards.

My noble friend Lord Willis asked me to summarise the functions of the HRA as a special health authority. I have already mentioned that it will assume the NRES functions from the NPSA as well as strategic health authorities' functions as the appointing authorities for research ethics committees. In due course, it will perform the Secretary of State's function of approving the processing of patient information for medical research. My noble friend mentioned the reference to directions in the order. Principally, those directions will relate to the need for the HRA to co-operate in the exercise of its functions with the regulatory bodies that I have referred to and with others.

My noble friend asked whether the Government have any intention to transfer HFEA or HDA functions into the special health authority. The answer is no, because we cannot. As a special health authority, the Health Research Authority is generally restricted to exercising the Secretary of State's functions relating to the health service in England. Establishing it as an NDPB in due course will enable functions to be conferred on it which are not specific to the health service in England, including giving it functions which go beyond health, including functions relating to social care. The Academy of Medical Sciences's report proposed that the research-related functions of the HFEA should reside with the Health Research Authority. We will be consulting on the future of the HFEA and on our preferred option that the research-related functions of the HFEA should pass to the HRA. Establishing the HRA as an NDPB will enable it in due course to take on functions relating to embryo research which are not health service functions in England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked me about indemnity for research and the possibility of an all-England risk pool. Trusts are members of the NHS clinical negligence scheme, which indemnifies them in respect of negligence for which they have assumed vicarious liability, whether the negligent activity was standard care or research.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about other functions of the NPSA and, in particular, the National Reporting and Learning Service and the National Clinical Assessment Service. I will write to her on that, but I can tell her that most of the NPSA's functions are expected to transfer to the NHS Commissioning Board after Royal Assent. Patient safety will of course be at the heart of the new system. Responsibility for national confidential patient inquiries has already moved to the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership, which manages the national clinical audit programme.

The noble Baroness also asked me about the cost of the Health Research Authority. The funding will follow the functions. The Health Research Authority will continue the reform of the National Research Ethics Service releasing efficiency savings, we trust, for developing the authority's other functions.

Looking forward, it is important to ensure that we maintain momentum and build on the advances that the Health Research Authority will be able to take

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forward as a special health authority. It is our intention to publish draft clauses on the Health Research Authority for pre-legislative scrutiny in the second Session. Future legislation will allow us to establish the Health Research Authority as a stable and independent non-departmental public body. The current regulatory framework for health research involves many overlapping acts and instruments, so there is much work to be done to ensure that we develop legislation that is fit for purpose.

Research has been a core function of the National Health Service since its foundation. It is key to the future of health and healthcare in the UK. The creation of the Health Research Authority as a special health authority is, I believe, an important step on the road to removing unnecessary bureaucracy that could stifle research in this country.

I am most grateful for the support of noble Lords. We will no doubt be returning to these issues when debating amendments tabled to the Health and Social Care Bill. In the mean time, I recognise the value of these exchanges and thank all who have contributed so fully to this debate.

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, the noble Earl said that in future the NIHR will require trusts to have a 70-day limit on the time in which it can consider requests. Does that also reflect on non-NIHR-funded research from other organisations or is it only NIHR research?

Earl Howe: The NIHR has an obvious lever available to it, which is the funding that it provides. Clearly, if research is going on that is not NIHR-funded, that lever does not present itself.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Before the noble Earl concludes his response to that question, I should like to raise the matter of "any qualified provider", how the all-England risk pool might relate to that, and whether there will be a research obligation and a research link in relation to the broad range of people who will provide services under the "any qualified provider" remit. It would be both their indemnity and how much they would be part of this process.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the precise arrangements for the CSND are being worked through at the moment. I will write to the noble Baroness on that. As I have described, the incentive relates directly to the NIHR funding but the benchmark is measured against other research and all studies that are going on. There is a wider dimension to this.

Lord Turnberg: I should apologise to the noble Earl for burdening his day off from the health Bill during several weeks of hard work. I thank him for his detailed response and will reflect carefully on what he has said. Today's debate will be useful when we debate this issue in the health Bill proper on the Floor of the House. I hope that it will reduce the amount of time that we discuss the Bill, although I cannot promise that. We will wait and see.

Motion agreed.

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Violence Against Women

Question for Short Debate

5 pm

Asked By Baroness Hussein-Ece

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and invited Governments, international organisations and NGOs to organise activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem on that day. Women activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. The date came from the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, who were political activists in the Dominican Republic.

Violence against women has been described as perhaps the most pervasive violation of human rights across the globe. Governments have obligations to prevent violence against women under international and national human rights and equalities laws. Under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Kingdom has obligations to prevent violence against women before it happens.

The UK Government's commitment to tackling violence against women is clear. Our success in tackling this will be a test of this Government's ability to build a fairer society. There is clearly much more to do to ensure that women and girls are not held back. We should strive to be ambitious in our aims and to meet a shared commitment to ending violence. Violence against women and girls in the UK is still, sadly, widespread and has serious social, health, emotional and financial consequences. It is more prevalent among women in England than stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Attitudes that justify and excuse abuse are, sadly, still deeply entrenched.

Gender equality cannot be achieved while violence continues. In modern-day Britain, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. Sexual harassment in schools, communities and workplaces is still routine, and 60,000 women are raped every year. Trafficking and sexual exploitation affect thousands of women in the United Kingdom, and an estimated 6,500 girls in this country are still at risk of female genital mutilation each year. This is a scandal, and we simply cannot go on like this.

Just last summer, Jane Clough, a 26 year-old nurse working in Blackpool Victoria Hospital was brutally murdered by her ex-partner, the father of her baby, as she arrived to begin her night shift. Her murderer, Jonathan Vass, had appeared in court the previous December charged with three counts of rape. He had been further charged with six counts of rape and three assaults. Despite strong objections by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, he was released on

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bail by Judge Simon Newell, who had been told that he posed a real threat to the victim as a witness. Just recently, I watched a TV documentary about this awful case, which was so harrowing. For weeks, Jane Clough lived in fear. She kept a diary of how she feared for her life. Despite this fear, Jane did all the right things. She reported the rape and the violence, but her rapist was bailed, and he went on to kill her. This young woman was badly let down by the judicial system, resulting in her brutal death, leaving a small baby. When will victims receive more protection, and when will lessons be learnt? How can victims have confidence in the system when we still have incidents like this which, unfortunately, are still commonplace?

I declare an interest as a commissioner in the Equality and Human Rights Commission. As part of the commission's role as the national human rights institution and in line with our international reporting responsibilities, we at the commission have supported the drafting of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This convention sets out legally binding standards for all forms of violence against women, bridging some of the existing gaps in human rights protection. However, the United Kingdom has yet to become a signatory of the convention.

In April 2011, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a new convention on preventing and combating violence against women. It has not, as I mentioned, been signed by the UK Government. Since the convention opened for signature in June, 17 countries have ratified, including Austria, France, Germany, Iceland, Macedonia, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine. The commission, and many of us, would be expected to encourage the United Kingdom Government to adopt international human rights standards. Can I ask the Minister whether the United Kingdom Government have reached a decision on becoming a signatory? In a recent response to a similar question, the Equalities Minister stated that the Government would consider the equality implications when making a decision on that signature.

Lord Boswell of Aynho: I speak as a member of the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I have some experience of these situations there and I am very much in sympathy with what the noble Baroness said about the need to combat violence of all kinds against women.

Would it not be fair-I am perhaps setting this up for the Minister also to comment-to say that in the United Kingdom we tend to take a very rigorous view of our ability to have the legislation and the other administrative arrangements in place before we sign up to conventions and that there will always be, as indeed there was in relation to the convention on the trafficking of women, where a number of us pressed very hard for a British signature, a certain reticence before we sign up? It is not a lack of commitment-or at least I hope it is not-but rather a determination to get our ducks in a row before we commit ourselves. Some of the other member states may take a slightly lighter view of their responsibilities, although they should, of course, take them equally seriously.

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Baroness Hussein-Ece: I thank my noble friend for that helpful intervention and for bringing his experience to bear on what I have to say. I hope that the Minister, when she comes to respond, will also ratify some of the problems in committing to a signature.

We all know that internationally-and this is an international day, after all-there is still so much to do. I have raised the plight of Afghan women in your Lordships' House before, and I would like to turn briefly to a terrible incident that happened just last Thursday, which I was struck by. It was reported very widely in the news. A group of armed men stoned and shot dead a woman and her daughter in Afghanistan's Ghazni province. Officials blamed the Taliban, who they said had accused the women of moral deviation and adultery. The police said that two men had been arrested in connection with the murder. The attack happened only 300 metres from the governor's office in Ghazni city, which is on the list of places to be transferred to Afghan security control, and close to the police chief's office and a Western-backed provincial reconstruction team. I find it quite extraordinary that no one called for help in this terrible incident. Security officials said armed men entered the house where the young widow lived with her daughter and took them out to the yard where they were initially stoned and then shot dead. Officials said a number of religious leaders in the city had been issuing fatwas asking people to report any one who was involved in adultery.

We are 10 years on in this country's involvement with Afghanistan, and I think most of us will remember -I certainly remember very clearly-that one of the reasons given for that involvement was to make things better for women in Afghanistan. Despite all these promises, the plight of women in Afghanistan seems to be, and the evidence shows this, worse than ever. Can the Minister say what representations and influence Britain has in bringing the plight of women to the top of the political agenda in terms of our relationship and our activities in Afghanistan? What activities are being developed, or are planned, to highlight what is happening there, and what can be brought to bear to change things?

I will conclude with an appropriate and wise comment from Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century writer and activist, who is regarded as the mother of British feminism. She will have her image beamed onto the Houses of Parliament tomorrow between 4.10 pm and 6.10 pm. The campaign to celebrate her life is being organised by the charity Newington Green Action Group. It hopes to place her statue in London's Newington Green, in Islington, in the ward I represented as a councillor, very near to where I grew up, where Wollstonecraft lived and set up a girls' school in the 1700s. She simply wrote of women:

"I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves".

She lived between 1759 and 1797, and it struck me that 250 years later we are still debating this very basic principle of allowing women to have control and power over their own lives. I hope that one day there will be no need for further debates such as this.

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I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There were other noble Lords who indicated that they would have liked to have taken part, but there is a lot of business going on, and a clash in your Lordships' House.

5.11 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for providing this opportunity to discuss such an important subject and for her carefully crafted opening to this debate. I will use my few minutes to share with you some of the insights I got on the subject while working as a councillor in the community. However, first I invite the Committee to consider how for centuries mankind has sought control. The way of controlling has been by the cracking of the whip by bosses, parents and school teachers. Today, we are very lucky that some of these controls have been removed. At the base of discipline, the end result has been to show who is in charge. Taking control is the key factor. Such behaviour may emanate from a number of causes, including a sense of entitlement, often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes. I well remember a case of a father battering his son to death when he disclosed to him that he was gay. His words to me were, "I accepted my son had grown up, but I had no control over his sexuality, and I had to bear the shame". He said this over and over again. "When did I lose control of my family? I did all I could for my son, and now he has brought disgrace, he has brought shame to our family. My wife was too soft". He then turned and attacked her.

It is always clear that the abuser is responsible for the violence. However, I believe conditioning may be at the root of uncontrolled abuse. How do we begin to address such conditioning? Domestic violence can be defined to include any violence to children, mothers or other members of the family. Domestic violence is dangerous. It is more so when the perpetrator is the man who sees himself as the breadwinner and the supporter of the family. He asks himself how he can become big when he can no longer play that role. He feels helpless, he loses the control he has always had and the power of being in charge which has always been there. If it appears to be slipping by losing one's job, by feeling that others in the workplace are getting better breaks, or even by having a nervous breakdown, then the abuse can start.

When discussing the issue with women, most always want to blame themselves. The perpetrator is in no doubt that it is not the woman's fault. Nevertheless this is so well accepted that the woman herself believes that she is the reason that his control has gone. Although this perception is changing in women, they are still reluctant to report the abuse. Children in households are often sworn to secrecy. Women can always recount cases of others who have been brave enough to seek redress, only to find that even where cases have been proven, somehow the danger they and their families are in hardly ever penetrates the legal system. The abuser either escapes jail, or if he is incarcerated, he serves half a sentence and returns to take vengeance on them, which often leads to their deaths. One young

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woman opened her door without even knowing that the man who had abused her was out, and he shot her as the door opened.

Our society appears to be becoming very violent. Many learned men and women have written in great detail about the causes of violent behaviour, blaming family breakdown, the loss of Christian values, the influence of the media, drugs and criminality as a whole. During this time of recession, can the Government be the voice for change on violence against women? We know from research that the vast majority of domestic violence is perpetrated against women and children, and women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence and sexual abuse. Women may experience domestic violence regardless of their ethnicity, religion, class, age, sexuality, disability or lifestyle. The main perpetrators, as we know from research, are always men. Abusers choose to behave violently to gain control. A perfectly reasonable man can resort to domestic violence if he feels that he is losing that control. The mentally ill can also resort to violence as in their illness they perceive that their control is slipping away from them. The victims of stroke can also become very violent indeed. Does the Minister have any plans to end that sort of violence against women at this time, perhaps by bringing forward new legislation so that at least we can have the final say on the abusive acts that men perform against women?

5.17 pm

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for tabling this very important debate today, on the eve of White Ribbon Day. The debate has highlighted how difficult it is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, but let us look at what is going on in the United Kingdom today. In our country, one in four women and one in six men is affected by domestic violence during their adult lives. In 2004, Professor Sylvia Walby estimated that the cost to the UK economy in terms of both lost productivity and direct costs associated with such violence is £23 billion a year. Tackling domestic violence should be seen as essential not just for reducing costs but also in order to remove a significant barrier to true equality, not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole.

The noble Baroness mentioned the statistics. Currently, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner, which is a terrible disgrace. Some 60,000 women are raped every year, while trafficking and sexual exploitation affects thousands of women in the UK. The noble Baroness described that as a scandal, and I agree with her. Women who suffer from violence need help and support. This Christmas, families across the country will be under added strain as a direct result of the coalition cuts. It is imperative therefore that the Government should take a long hard look at the impact of their policies on women's safety. The Government must ensure that cuts to police and local authority services do not mean that women who experience domestic violence are left vulnerable and without proper support.

Community police officers play a vital role in working with women in their community. Only a few weeks ago I had the opportunity of listening to three women

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community police officers whose work on the ground means that they are regarded as friends in the community. Women who need help are quite happy to speak to these policewomen who will keep an eye on them, which sometimes is all that they need. They are there to help and support them, and will take action if things get worse. These women police officers love their job and are really involved in the community. I hope that this vital work where the police can work directly with the community will not suffer in England. Only yesterday, the Welsh Government announced that they will be taking on a further 500 community police officers, which will be welcomed by the communities in Wales, especially by vulnerable women.

I perceive a worrying theme emerging throughout government, which seems to give little thought to issues concerning the safety of women and the disproportionate effect that policies will have on their lives. Women need to feel safe both at home and when they are out and about in the community. CCTV and street lighting play a key part in making women feel safe on their own streets. The Government's savage cuts to local authority budgets and plans to roll back CCTV use by police and local authorities will jeopardise that safety.

The changes in the definition of domestic violence and admissibility of evidence in the legal aid Bill will mean that many women who are victims of domestic violence will not be eligible for vital legal aid support in the future. Last month, the Women's Institute published a report, Legal Aid is a Lifeline: Women Speak Out on the Legal Aid Reforms, which spells out how women feel about the legal aid Bill and how concerned they are. In the past, women who have suffered violence and abuse over a period of years have had legal aid when they have needed it. The report makes grim reading.

Women are concerned about the gateways to legal aid, as spelled out in the Bill. Comments made in focus groups for the report say that the gateways fail,

Another concern highlighted that, if women are denied access to the legal advice that they need in order to leave a relationship, more women will be killed by violent partners. Women said that not just their safety but the safety of their children depends on legal aid. Legal aid is a vital lifeline for women and children to get out of abusive relationships. Does the Minister agree with women who fear that the removal of legal aid, except in very restrictive circumstances, could lead to violence against them increasing rather than decreasing, which is what we all hope to see? Will she agree to discuss this further with Ministers, not only to make them aware but for them to listen to the voice of women who have experience in these matters? I hope that Ministers will take a long hard look at the findings from this respected organisation.

This year, at the Labour Party conference, the shadow Home Secretary called on the Government to take decisive action and make stalking a separate criminal offence in order to provide greater protection for the majority of women, who make up 80 per cent of stalking victims. With the support of the National Association of Probation Officers and Protection Against

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Stalking, Labour has tabled an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill which will create a specific new offence of stalking and will increase the maximum penalty to five years' imprisonment. Scotland introduced a similar provision in June 2010, which will lead to an estimated 500 to 600 prosecutions-up from an average of seven stalking-related prosecutions a year. The amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill replicates this highly effective change to Scottish law and we hope that Members on all sides of the House will support it.

My noble and learned friend Lady Scotland had hoped to speak in our debate, but she is attending the funeral of the late Lord Gould. The work that she has carried out in the field of domestic violence is well known and she is an expert on it. Had she been here today, we would have learnt about an organisation she has recently established called the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. I can do no better than quote from her notes when she launched the foundation. She said:

"Globally the problem of domestic violence is no less acute. Figures from UN Women show that violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Compared with the UK, globally up to six out of every 10 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Furthermore, a study of 24,000 women in 10 countries by the World Health Organisation recorded that the prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner varied from 15 per cent in urban Japan to 71 per cent in rural Ethiopia, with most areas being in the 30 to 60 per cent range. Internationally much valuable work has been done by UNIFEM and now UN Women, but I believe we can all do more to address this issue.

The Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence will be an invaluable tool for sharing knowledge, promoting good practice and providing the research expertise to help countries, organisations and people to come together to eradicate this deeply damaging problem ... The Challenge for the future is to eradicate that abuse so as to limit the damage and dysfunction that is caused to, not only women, but their children, and indeed their partners. Stopping a potential perpetrator early on is far easier and more effective than dealing with the devastating consequences they may subsequently cause. I believe we have new opportunities to change the status quo. There is no doubt in my mind that we can, if we choose, eradicate domestic violence from our world. The real question is: do we choose?".

We can do no better than take heed of the wise words of my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland. I look forward to the Minister's response.

5.27 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I join all noble Lords in thanking my noble friend for opening this important short debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have participated. The wealth and quality of contributions demonstrates that ending violence against women and girls is an issue which resonates with us all. We must continue to work together with the voluntary sector, the police, local authorities and others to turn that vision into a reality. I hope that I will be able to answer some of the questions through my contribution and, of course, I will gather up towards the end what I feel I have missed out.

The Government take the issue of domestic violence very seriously. We believe that no woman should have to live in fear. No one should think that it is acceptable to be violent. No child should ever grow up in a home

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where violence is an everyday occurrence. As has been said, one in four women in the UK has been affected by domestic violence. According to a UN report, at least one in three women globally says that she has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.

The Government are developing a number of events to support and promote this year's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This will be an opportunity both to mark what has already been achieved and to build a profile of the existing and emerging work that we are trying to carry out to tackle what is often a hidden issue. This is all part of ongoing work. As noble Lords are aware, on 25 November last year, the Government published Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, which outlined four guiding principles: first, to prevent violence happening in the first place by challenging the attitudes and behaviours that foster it and to intervene early where possible to prevent it; secondly, to provide adequate levels of support where violence occurs; thirdly, to work in partnership to obtain the best outcome for victims and their families; and fourthly, to take action to reduce the risk to women and girls who are victims of these crimes and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

A detailed range of supporting actions was published on 8 March this year. We have protected more than £28 million of Home Office funding until 2015 for specialist services to tackle violence against women and girls. This funding is going to support independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and multiagency risk assessment conference co-ordinators, posts which are vital to support victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Other vital services are also being funded, such as £900,000 of Home Office funding per year for providing support to national helplines, including the stalking helpline. This funding is in addition to the Ministry of Justice funding of up to £3.5 million per year for up to three years to rape crisis centres. Last week, the Home Secretary announced a £1.2 million programme over the next three years for services to support girls under 18 suffering rape and sexual abuse.

The Home Office is also running a media campaign to challenge attitudes among some teenage boys and girls and to send out a clear message that any abuse in relationships is unacceptable. Central government funding is one aspect, but we know that many organisations also rely on funding from local authorities. Local authorities also have to make some tough spending decisions, but we made sure that protecting vulnerable people, including victims of domestic violence, was a priority in the spending review. The Supporting People programme will give local authorities 99p this year for every £1 they had last year, so we take the view that there is no excuse for making cuts to these essential services.

We are working to change attitudes towards women. Earlier this month, we launched a campaign on social media and online channels to help stop teenagers becoming victims or perpetrators of abuse. The campaign shows that abuse is unacceptable, helps young people to recognise abusive behaviour and aims to empower them to challenge that behaviour. We are also providing

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training for professionals and front-line staff in areas such as the NHS to spot the early warning signs of and risk factors for domestic and sexual violence.

We are also piloting new powers for the police with domestic violence protection orders in three police force areas: Greater Manchester, West Mercia and Wiltshire. DVPs prevent the perpetrator returning to a residence or having contact with a victim for up to 28 days, for example, which gives the victim immediate protection and allows her breathing space to consider her options. We have directed that local areas and agencies should undertake a domestic homicide review after every domestic violent death to make sure that the right lessons are learnt to help stop future homicides and violence. The Government want constantly to look at new ways of protecting victims and preventing tragic incidents happening. That is why we recently published a consultation on a domestic violence disclosure scheme to seek views on whether to introduce a scheme for disclosing information about an individual's history of domestic violence to a new partner.

We are very clear that our obligations to help women who are being abused do not stop at our borders so, for the first time, our strategy to tackle violence against women and girls also includes the innovative work we are doing internationally on this global problem. In addition to contributing £10 million of core funding to UN Women and £3.2 million to its women, peace and security programme, DfID's business plan for 2011-15 now identifies violence against women and girls as a priority and commits DfID to pilot new approaches to prevent it. The UK national action plan commits DfID to helping 10 million women access justice through the courts, the police and legal assistance. As many as 25 DfID country officers are now pushing forward with integrating violence against women and girls programmes into their operational plans. These include interventions designed to respond to violence once it has happened as well as programmes designed to prevent violence through long-term attitude and behavioural change.

For example, in Somalia DfID is funding training for police officers and legal officials in dealing with sexual violence cases, as well as funding sexual assault referral centres which enable women to access free medical care, counselling and legal advice. Through the Social Inclusion Research Fund in Nepal, DfID has also funded a wide range of work tackling violence against women and girls, including a one-year action research project on sexual violence in schools. Lynne Featherstone MP, the Home Office Minister with responsibility for equality, visited Nepal from 12 to 15 June this year, partly because of these efforts to address widespread violations of women's rights. The Minister met a broad range of people, including the former Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal. Two weeks ago I met the Italian Minister for Women and Equality. We had an incredibly constructive meeting, and the Minister also met the Home Secretary. We found that we are all committed to ensuring that we recognise our shared commonalities in wanting to tackle this very serious issue. I am glad that our European partners are working closely with what we are doing so that we have a consistent approach on how to tackle this really despicable form of violence.

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The UK is responding to the urgent need to reduce the impact of conflict on women and girls and to tackle sexual violence in conflict through its national action plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Before I conclude, I will respond to some of the points raised by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece asked about the Council of Europe convention on domestic violence. The Government are strongly committed to combating violence against women and promoting women's rights more broadly. The Home Secretary has commissioned a cross-Whitehall consultation and has identified that legislative reform in various complex policy areas will be necessary if the UK is to sign and ratify the convention. However, I reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that the Home Office is continuing to work robustly with interested government departments to identify obstacles in the way of signature and ratification so that they can be addressed. My noble friend Lord Boswell was absolutely right to say that we take these issues very seriously, so we want to make sure that what we are signing up to will deliver exactly what it says on the can. We are working hard with our partners, but I reassure my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece because I know she feels passionate about this, that we are making sure that when we sign up we will have something that we can deliver on.

My noble friend also mentioned Afghanistan, and I know that she and I share a common theme on this. The incident she mentioned was despicable and has to be openly condemned, but I assure her that our work in Afghanistan is quite robust and productive. Through our multi-donor Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which helps to pay the salaries of civil servants, we have been able to pay 48,000 women teachers. That has aided 2 million girls to get to school. We know that progress looks as if it is slow, but at least it is in the right direction. I suspect that pressure from the UK and other partners will ensure that that progress continues.

I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids-I call her my noble friend because I think she is-on her eloquent and thoughtful contribution. She set out graphically exactly what the problems are. We all recognise that there has to be a culture change and an attitudinal change. Like her, I believe that this is not about party-political point-scoring, but about us working collectively to ensure that we make progress on this issue. I hope that she will be reassured by my own contribution that the Government are taking some very serious steps towards those changes.

Of course I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that women absolutely have to feel safe. They have to be confident that we as a Government are taking account of this issue. We have no control over the global economic condition, and she knows that we have to work against the backdrop of our own national deficit that needs to be addressed. But that does not mean that we will cut back on making sure that vulnerable people-women suffering from domestic violence-are protected. We take these issues seriously and, as I have said, we have dedicated resource funding for particular funding for particular projects to ensure that women will be protected and will have recourse.

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The noble Baroness asked whether the definition of domestic violence has been changed. I can reassure her that it has not. Women will still have recourse to legal aid if they are the victims of domestic violence. We will have a long and full debate on the legal aid Bill so I do not want to take up my time discussing that here, although I am sure that we will have plenty to say to each other in the Chamber on that one.

The noble Baroness also asked about stalking. Yesterday my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone launched in Manchester a consultation on stalking. We take this issue very seriously.

I have gone over my time. If there is anything that I have not mentioned or have not responded to, I undertake to write to noble Lords. I thank my noble friend for tabling this Question because it is a very important subject.

Transport: London and the Regions

Question for Short Debate

5.42 pm

Asked By Lord Empey

Lord Empey: My Lords, by coincidence a Question was asked in the Chamber earlier today which brought the issue of links between the regions and London very much to the fore. Perhaps I will take the opportunity to refer to that later. It is the case that for decades Governments have had regional development policies in place. Since the Second World War I believe that successive Governments have made it part of their policy to carry out works and to spend money on the development of the regions and their economies in order to bring prosperity to the entire country. One of the ways this was done-Europe did the same thing-was by putting into place meaningful infrastructure so that it was possible to get to and from particular regions. This is how our country has developed since the Industrial Revolution. We can go back to the canals and all sorts of developments; they were all about creating access to all sorts of centres of population from centres of production. The United Kingdom developed in this way over many decades.

We know that there are many proposals on the board for developing rail, the most obvious of which is the proposal to put in a high-speed rail link between Birmingham and London. There are other proposals for road development and for the east and west coast railways to be upgraded. All these things are part of the general infrastructure of our country. Indeed, the European Union through its regional development funds has provided significant amounts of money to improve infrastructure throughout the United Kingdom.

The debate I want to have now is on whether we are going to continue to ensure that the investment that successive Governments have made in trying to improve the economies of the regions is going to be sustained in these difficult times. It was clear from the Question this afternoon-and I found this from my experience in government as well-that when a business makes a decision about whether to expand, or an inward investor

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decides whether to come into a particular area, a key issue and one of the first things that they look for, after whether the relevant labour is there, is the infrastructure. Can they get goods, services and people in and out of a region quickly and effectively so that they can get worldwide access for their goods and services? Can they get executives, and of course the population in general, in and out? Now that we travel much more, one of the key considerations is whether, if you are in one of the regions, you have access to the major hubs, particularly air hubs. That way you can go on holiday or conduct your business as efficiently and effectively as possible.

There has been an enormous debate, particularly in the London area, over airports. We have things like Boris island being talked about and the proposal from Norman Foster for the Isle of Grain. There have been decisions from the Government and the Opposition not to proceed with the third runway at Heathrow. Therefore, air travel and traffic in general is the subject of extremely significant debate in this country at the present time. When the noble Earl replied earlier in the Chamber, he made the point, which I fully understand, that if you are looking at air route access from the regions for instance, there is potential for a public service obligation to get people from a region to the London area. However, from the evidence of the comments made around the Chamber this afternoon, we all know that that is not quite the issue.

The issue is very specific. Heathrow is the principal air hub in the United Kingdom and if you do not have meaningful access to Heathrow, you do not have meaningful access to other routes in and out of the UK. It is as simple as that. If you are going to market remote regions as places where people can do business, one of the first things they will look for is whether they can get to that place reasonably quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. If you do not have access to your principal airport, that is likely to be a negative factor when an investment decision is being made.

My anxiety is this: as we know, in recent days British Midland International has come on the market and Lufthansa wants to sell it. There has been a bid from BA and we know that Virgin Atlantic is also interested. This has significance, not only for Northern Ireland, but for all our regions. I believe that earlier this year BMI removed its Glasgow service. I have no doubt that air routes, particularly for the Scottish Islands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Cardiff, are all vital. Therefore, how can we ensure that our regions will retain appropriate access to our principal airport at Heathrow, as long as it remains the principal hub?

It is not clear to me-and I would ask the Minister to respond to this at the end of this debate-how the Government can ensure that this access exists. I am afraid that it is not enough to leave it purely to commercial decisions, because everybody knows that landing slots at Heathrow and at other key airports are worth enormous sums of money. We are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds. It is also the case that airlines tend to make much more profit out of long-haul flights than from regional flights. It does not take a lot of imagination to see this. Indeed, the

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chief executive of the IAG group, Willie Walsh, has already indicated publicly that he would be looking at some of these slots for international use. Of course, Virgin Atlantic is an international carrier and not a domestic carrier. It therefore seems highly unlikely that, if it should become the owner of BMI, it would suddenly wish to take on and start producing a domestic service, when even its very name indicates that it is an international carrier.

It would seem that there is a genuine, clear and present threat to access of the key slots at Heathrow for the regions in general, and not simply for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's case is more acute because we cannot get into our cars and drive directly to the south-east, nor can we get on a train to the south-east. We have either a ferry and a very long drive, or air access. To all intents and purposes, for meaningful business to be done, you need air access.

As was made clear in the House earlier, in many cases flights are exceptionally expensive if you want to get to the key hubs. I would say to the noble Earl that access to some of the peripheral airports in the London area might be fine for leisure customers and so on, but it is not suitable in all cases for the business customer. Anyone with anything to do with economic development will learn that access has to be as quick and as accessible as possible. It is therefore my intention to draw your Lordships' attention to the critical importance of access as we move forward, and I would ask the noble Earl to address that in his response. I intend to take this matter further, if necessary through the route of a Private Member's Bill, if the law is insufficient to allow the Secretary of State for Transport to have adequate direction powers over this matter. I feel strongly that we cannot sit back and simply wait until a crisis arises. We have to anticipate it and prevent it.

5.53 pm

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Empey on initiating this debate. He has raised an issue which applies to many parts of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is a bit different. I did think of being helpful at Question Time today by suggesting to the Minister that since both parties had rejected the idea of a third runway at Heathrow, much of the domestic traffic could be taken by a high-speed line, and that it should be continued to Scotland and then tunnelled to Northern Ireland. But it might take a little bit longer and it might be a bit expensive. However it does exemplify the problems.

I am not going to talk about HS2 today. I thought I would focus on the connectivity problems of somewhere which is a pretty far-flung part of England-Cornwall, where I live. It is a great countryside and holiday destination, but it has high unemployment, low wages and few opportunities to change that. That is why it has objective 1 status, along with south Yorkshire, west Wales and the Valleys, and Merseyside. The noble Lord, Lord Empey mentioned the objective 1 issues. To quote from the European Commission's definition, it is an area,

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The problems associated with this and the regions are,

That applies to the areas I mentioned. Northern Ireland is actually a transitional one and not an objective 1 area, as are the Scottish Islands. To a greater or lesser extent they all suffer from that.

I go to the Isles of Scilly often, and there is a serious problem with transport there, but I will not mention that tonight because it needs much more debate and justifies another occasion. I shall go into the Cornwall problem in more detail. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey said, it is to do with economic regeneration and connectivity-just as the Government are arguing in favour of the HS1 line from London to the north, if I can put it that way.

It is interesting to compare the rail services between the four objective 1 areas I have mentioned at a time when the Government are about to renew the Great Western franchise. I believe the Minister said that the draft specification would come out in the new year. If we review those four areas and take the centres of Liverpool, Leeds, Swansea and Truro: to Liverpool the journey time to London is two and a quarter hours, and there is one train every hour; to Leeds, it is two and a quarter hours, and there are two trains an hour; Swansea takes three hours and there are two trains an hour, one of them changing at Cardiff. But to Truro it is four and a half to five and a half hours, with one train an hour and 40 per cent of them require you to change. The first train from Cornwall in the morning from Paddington gets to Truro at noon with one change, so you cannot really do a day trip for meetings.

I talked to someone this afternoon who deals with Scottish transport. He said that the growth in traffic within Scotland between the central belt and Aberdeen is quite amazing. I know it is not the Minister's responsibility, but we can get examples from these places which indicate that more people are travelling by rail, as is happening in Cornwall. The growth in the branch lines and the main line in Cornwall has been amazing in the last year. On the Falmouth branch, traffic has increased by 67 per cent in a year, which is pretty incredible. All the branch lines in Cornwall are growing by 19 per cent on average, as is the main line up through the centre of Cornwall. That is good because it indicates that there is a demand. People see it as important for economic regeneration and clearly they want to use the railway, whether to go to school, university, hospital or work. It is great that it is being used.

I would urge the Minister to consider, in the new franchise for Cornwall, an hourly limited-stop service from Penzance, which would probably take four and a half hours-and I mean a limited stop-and in between services that stop at every station. There should be better branch line services, including Sundays, and when you get to rolling stock, the dear old 125s we have seen for so long could be improved and enhanced. They could have automatic door locking and toilet retentions, which they jolly well should have by now.

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They should last for another franchise. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, might have different ideas, but I think it is quite possible.

It is time that our local services, be they mainline or branch line, stopped being third in the hand-me-down. You start off in the rich south-east and then go somewhere north-I apologise to those who come from the north-and then somehow Cornwall gets the old pacers that go clunkity clunkity clunk along the line. They are lovely trains, and they do have seats. I am encouraged that the county council in Cornwall is talking about possibly helping fund some of these trains themselves. I do not know how they will do it, but it is an interesting idea if they are able to do so. Because of the very long journey time we need to keep the sleeper, which is now extremely popular and means that you can get to a meeting in the morning.

In conclusion, I hope to have demonstrated that in rail connection terms, Cornwall is at the bottom of the four objective 1 areas in the UK. It needs, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, a regular fast service to London, along with cross country services-they are possible and necessary. We need better capacity and frequency which can slot in and take the pressure off the pretty appalling local roads. It does not need much investment, it just needs a commitment to support objective 1. Of course, objective 1 will run out at some point during the next franchise and we do not yet know what the European Commission is going to propose for the next stage. But if there is any funding from that source to start the franchise off, that would be good.

There are many other projects that could do with the funding, but I hope that Ministers will take the opportunity to look at the position of regional transport. I have talked about Cornwall, but there are many other areas. Others can talk about Wales, and of course the Welsh Assembly Government deals with that. But it would also be nice to think that, within the franchise specification, the county councils could have a voice in a similar way that the Welsh Assembly Government do with the franchises that go to Wales. I look forward to the Minister's comments and to his acceptance of all these lovely ideas for the new franchise specification which will come out in January.

6.01 pm

Lord Bradshaw: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for introducing this subject. I worked in Northern Ireland for seven years and was an extremely frequent user of the services that were then provided by both BA and British Midland. Of course, BA has abandoned the route and the service has moved to Belfast City airport, but it is still a reasonable service, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, it is difficult to envisage people seeking to do business in Northern Ireland unless there is a good quality, guaranteed service from London. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, Northern Ireland is particularly isolated because there are no alternatives. You can take the sleeper train to Cornwall or a train to Edinburgh or Glasgow. It may take longer than you wish, but the train takes you into the centre of the city. Also, for most places it is possible to get there and back in a day, provided that

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you are willing to get up early. When I went to Northern Ireland, I would get on a plane from London airport at 8.15 or 8.30 am, and I could be back in the evening having had a useful day over there.

In response to the Question asked in the Chamber earlier today, the noble Earl referred to the passenger service obligation and said that there was no such obligation so far as air transport is concerned. I take issue with him on that statement because passenger service obligations exist over a wide range of transport needs. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will back me up when I say that on the German railway, there are periods when you cannot run trains through particular parts of the country because of the passenger service obligation imposed by the Länder Governments to stop such trains interfering with the commuter services around the big hubs.

There are passenger service obligations in the form of what are known as public service requirements which are imposed on most railway franchises. Franchisees are not free to cast a service aside. They have to maintain a minimum number of stops and a minimum speed of service. If you look at the services from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen to the Scottish islands, I think you will find that they are all supported by way of a PSO grant of some sort. So I would ask the noble Earl to go back to his department and say that the answer he was given this afternoon is not the whole story and needs thorough investigation.

In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has said, the reason that IAG has put forward a proposition to purchase the slot and the airline, BMI, and the reason that Virgin Atlantic has shown interest is because of the international value of those flights. We have to ask ourselves, as a country, whether we set more store by people going to visit places such as Euro Disney and Florida than we do by the economic health of our own country. We are very good at talking down our own needs, allowing the market to dangle attractive propositions for us, and losing sight of what we are for. The United Kingdom as it stands is the whole of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland is part thereof.

I ask the Minister to go away, think carefully about what he has said today and seek further guidance because, on reflection, he will find he is wrong.

6.06 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for securing this evening's short debate. Many noble Lords will know that I live in Suffolk. It is not far away; Ipswich is about an hour and 10 minutes from London Liverpool Street, and Norwich, at the far end of the mainline, is two hours away. It is only 120 miles, but it takes as long as it does to get to Brussels. Nevertheless, many people in the east of England commute into London to work, and many have organised their lives around having a good and reliable rail service between East Anglia and London.

Until 2004 we were certainly well served, with Anglia Railways running intercity services and First Great Eastern running commuter services. From Ipswich into London, the competition between the two meant

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that our service continued to improve. In 2004, the franchise was merged and won by National Express, which called the new service One. It was an inauspicious start. Passengers on the platform would hear an announcement for the seven 20 one train. Was it the train operated by One at 7.20, was it the only train going at 7.20, or was it a train going at 21 minutes past seven? Nobody knew; there was utter confusion and within just a few months there was a huge rebranding exercise. Sadly, things did not get any better.

Passenger satisfaction with the service is the second lowest in the UK at 79 per cent. I am not surprised that the figure is so low, because I have observed a steady decline in basics such as cleanliness, the presentation of the trains and the catering service. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that this particular part of the rich south-east does not get good rolling stock; it is very old, and when we get new train sets they are always hand-me-downs from other operators. The only redeeming feature is the cheerfulness and helpfulness of the staff who have to put up with all this and offer a good service.

The performance on the line stands at about 90 per cent, which is obviously a major concern for both passengers and the operator. The line is dogged by basic infrastructure problems such as track circuit failures, broken rails, faulty points and signal failures. When you add to those the usual problems such as weather, trespass, fatalities on the line and, most recently, cable theft, it makes travelling on the line highly unpredictable. For lengthy hold-ups, of course, we have the great Delay Repay system but, unlike all other train operators, National Express does not offer an automatic refund to its season ticket holders, who have to claim it. For the rest of the passengers, if they claim compensation, it comes in the form of vouchers, which can be used only in a ticket office. With fewer stations having staffed offices and passengers having to use machines and the internet, the compensation vouchers are useless. It is no wonder that passengers are fed up.

We were all pleased when National Express lost the franchise and we look forward to the new franchisee, Abellio, starting up on 5 February. It has the franchise for 25 months, until the results of the franchise review can be implemented. It is a good company, and most of us are pleased that it is taking over. The new 15-year franchise terms that come in after that are very welcome and will provide a much greater incentive for investment in the franchise.

I know that the DfT has announced that the new franchise will bring significant improvements to the cleanliness of the trains, passenger information, parking, cycling and public transport connections. However, unless there is serious investment in the infrastructure, Abellio and East Anglia commuters will face an uphill struggle. I wonder if the noble Earl can say anything about any work that Network Rail plans to improve the track and signalling on our line.

The contract for the new franchise was due to be signed today, and I guess it has already happened. So it was with some concern that I read an article in Modern Railways which suggested that Abellio are in discussions with the ROSCO, Angel Trains, to

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reduce the amount of rolling stock on the line. It is talking about reducing the capacity by 4,000 peak-hour seats. Can the noble Earl confirm whether this is correct? If so, how was the decision made and what assessment was made of current passenger numbers, future growth and the safety and comfort of passengers? In addition, I would be interested to hear whether the decision was made before or after the franchise was awarded to Abellio. If it was before, were the other two bidders in the process allowed to rebid on the basis of this reduced fleet?

This line is an essential part of the infrastructure of the east of England. It plays a hugely important role in the economic prosperity of our region and desperately needs long-term investment, both on the part of the rail operator and of Network Rail. In the short term, of course, it will be highly visible in next year's Olympics.

6.11 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for arranging this timely debate. As he indicated, we had a little dress rehearsal at Question Time on a limited dimension of this debate. I hope that the Minister has used the time between the dress rehearsal and the proper play to come up with more positive lines than I felt he gave us at Question Time. However, we did tease from him an important fact, which has been emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about whether the Government had powers to act in a critical situation.

The initial bland response was that these were all commercial decisions regarding these crucial slots. BMI has gone and it may well be that the new owners-we do not yet know who will be the new owners of BMI-will, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, indicated, find the new slots infinitely more economic and financially valuable if they are used for intercontinental travel rather than anything to do with a service to the regions, including the critical case of Northern Ireland.

The Minister developed that theme a little more positively during Question Time, but I hope he will take the opportunity of this debate to be positive about the relationship with the regions, as most of the speeches have asked him to be. That is the immediate critical dimension, not just Northern Ireland, although the Belfast service is probably the most critical service that one worries about. Edinburgh is anxious too, as the noble Lord is almost certainly well aware. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, indicated, the train is an alternative as far as Edinburgh is concerned, whereas it is not for Belfast. That does not alter the fact that if the service to Edinburgh were to be greatly reduced or even suspended, there would be a great deal of consternation among Scots, just as there is at present in Northern Ireland. That is the most critical issue that the Minister needs to address in his response.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, was generous enough to broaden this debate's title to include the regions, not just the specific issues of Northern Ireland. Other noble Lords have taken the opportunity of identifying the problems of ensuring that our regions are economically viable in these troubled times. The great danger is that their situation deteriorates more rapidly than the general economy of the country. They can ill afford to do that.

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As my noble friend Lord Berkeley indicated, there are real problems in Cornwall and the south-west, and transport is an important dimension. There have been concerns about transport issues so far as Cornwall is concerned, and for that matter Devon as well, for a number of years. I do not doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, would identify Suffolk. I have the great advantage of enjoying exactly the same train company services as she does, but being a little closer to the south-east and on the line that also serves Stansted, there is a certain difference in the quality of service. However, nothing is more irksome than seeing classy trains, the rolling stock of the future-the rolling stock of today for people travelling to Stansted even though London commuters want those trains-going past at 60 miles an hour and never stopping at the intermediate stations. So we have our own small grievances. However, I recognise what she has said.

An illustration of just how urgently the Government have to put their thinking cap on in this area was brought home to me with an absolute jolt last year when they introduced the national insurance holiday for people being engaged by companies. That national insurance holiday was extended to all the regions except the south-east. Parts of the south-east winced at that. Try telling Hackney, Haringey and Tower Hamlets that they are enjoying the prosperity of the south-east, and they will tell a very different story. The extraordinary thing was that East Anglia was classed with the south-east as being one of the more prosperous areas. That is light years from the understanding that the noble Baroness probably has about living in East Anglia. Certainly if we had had anyone speak on behalf of Norfolk, they would reinforce the comments she made. I do not think that the Government are filling us with the greatest confidence that they have a deep understanding of the regional problem in the United Kingdom.

I turn to the particular issue of aviation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Empey, drew attention. This is the sharpest issue at present but, as we would expect, the initial response of the Government is to throw up their hands, perhaps with a little dip of the head in sadness, and say that this is a commercial world, that it is nothing to do with them and there is not much that they can do about it. That is largely their policy on aviation anyway, and that is why the third runway has gone by default. We recognise the fact that the third runway is not going to be pursued. It is a limitation on Heathrow, but that does not alter the fact emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, in his remarks. Heathrow is a hub, and that is why our view on High Speed 2 is that it has got to go via Heathrow. It must link with the hub of Heathrow because, as has been emphasised in the debate, for the regional and, in fact, for the whole of the UK economy, we have to recognise that for external investment and for businessmen arriving in this country, to say nothing of the tourist industry, which is not marginal in terms of our overall position, even without the third runway and the capacity limitations on expansion resulting from that, Heathrow is our critical hub. It will not do to say that people will be able to arrive with equal facility elsewhere. It may be the case with regard to some aspects of tourism, but it is not going to be the answer for businessmen

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pressed for time if in fact Heathrow is not included. So we want to see the high speed link via Heathrow, and we also think that there is absolutely no reason why the Government should not look again at the route and take on board the fact that they have had a small number of representations, probably from their own supporters, about the route through the Chilterns and that there may therefore be a different route which could be identified.

However the trouble at the present time is that almost every decision which the Government take looks as if it militates against the unions. When it comes to rail, for instance, the fact is that electrification of the great western line is going as far as Cardiff, but not as far as Swansea, which has a clear implication for the Welsh economy. We know the significance of Swansea. We did not know the significance of Swansea before this year. We know it now because it is playing so very well in the premier football league division, and therefore its status is growing in that respect in Wales. However the trouble as far as the Welsh economy is concerned has always been that Cardiff is the capital city, and has been not only the centre point but almost the potential choking-off point for investment beyond it. That is why it is so important to have effective communication links beyond Cardiff to Swansea, and we regretted that decision with regards to electrification. It is also the case that when it comes to the line up to Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby-important cities which clearly require as much assistance and development as they can get-no electrification is to take place there.

We are also well aware of the reduction in new rolling stock, the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, emphasised with regard to East Anglia. It is the case that the previous Government's projected figure of 1,400 new carriages for the east coast and great western services has been reduced to 600. These cutbacks have an impact upon the regional economies. So my charge against the Government is that unless the Minister can be more positive about the position than we have seen thus far, strategies which are being produced at the present time emphasise the north-south divide. They increase the difficulty in particular of those hard-pressed regions of which undoubtedly the southwest, and particularly Cornwall, is a very clear illustration, and they create enormous dismay in those parts of the United Kingdom which depend a great deal on air links, of which Northern Ireland is inevitably the outstanding illustration. I hope the Minister therefore will be as positive as he can be in response to these very important points made in this debate.

6.24 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for securing this debate. He put the position of Northern Ireland very clearly. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that my department has a very good understanding of regional needs. The Government's vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, sustainable, safer and more secure. In delivering this transport system we will help to improve the quality of life in our communities.

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Transport networks, including those between London and the regions, provide crucial links that allow people and businesses to prosper. Simply put, increasing connectivity between our great cities and international gateways will facilitate the movement of goods and people and encourage economic growth right across the country. The Government's plans, including targeted investment in forthcoming transport projects, will contribute to building the balanced, dynamic and low-carbon economy that is essential for our future prosperity. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, these investments will be sustained. Forecasts show that our country's transport networks are becoming increasingly congested and that demand for travel is set to grow. This will further exacerbate congestion unless we act.

Let me remind the Committee of some of the action that we are already taking. The Government are providing additional Pendolino trains on the west coast main line. By the end of 2012 all the trains will be in service, thus increasing capacity on that route by around 20 per cent. Further to this, the intercity express programme will deliver a new fleet of 100 intercity trains-not carriages-to replace the existing diesel-powered 125 fleet. This will support and accommodate anticipated growth on routes, including those to the north of England, East Anglia, Scotland, Wales and the south-west. Introducing these trains, combined with infrastructure improvements such as the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, will see journey times fall and capacity increasing by more than 30 per cent during peak hours.

Lord Berkeley: The last announcement I saw from the noble Earl's department said nothing about the IEPs going to East Anglia or to the south-west. The south-west was going to retain the 125s. Has the policy changed?

Earl Attlee: No, my Lords. It refers to the cascading of rolling stock. I will touch on cascading later. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about rail electrification. The policy of the Government is to support a progressive electrification of the rail network in England and Wales, and we are looking at the costs and benefits of further electrification. We will continue to work with stakeholders to review these schemes and assess their affordability and value for money.

These improvements will play an important part in making better use of our existing network, but they will not be enough to keep up with increasing demand for rail travel. Additional intercity capacity will be needed in future and the Government cannot afford to ignore this problem. High speed rail provides the best way to meet that pressing need. The Government's proposals for a national high speed rail network will add the capacity that we need, bring faster journeys between major towns and cities, improve reliability of journeys and drive modal shift from air and road to rail. Crucially, high speed rail is an investment in the future of our whole country, bringing economic growth and other benefits to the towns and cities of the Midlands and the north as well as to London. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, this will help to reduce the north-south divide.

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My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport intends to announce the outcome of the recent major public consultation and final decisions on the Government's strategy for high speed rail before the end of the year. While the importance of rail networks should not be underestimated, the majority of journeys between London and the regions are made by road. The strategic road network connects all major English towns and cities, and links in to the road and motorway networks in Wales and Scotland. As your Lordships will be aware, the main road links between London and the regions are the M1, M4 and M6. During the current spending review period, seven schemes are planned on these roads. These will increase capacity and journey time reliability. Six out of the seven schemes are managed motorways, which, through a combination of techniques, including hard shoulder running and gantry mounted variable signing and better co-ordination, will provide around 210 additional lane miles during busy periods. It is also worth noting that three years of research on the M42 managed motorway pilot scheme, which was introduced by the previous Government, has shown that accidents have more than halved since hard shoulder running was introduced.

Air travel has become increasingly popular for domestic journeys. The Government recognise the importance of air links between London's airports and our regional airports, not least because they provide fast and direct links between cities, which is exactly the type of service that both business and leisure travellers demand. A key part of the Government's approach to aviation is to seek to create the right conditions for UK regional airports to flourish. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about the problems of air travel in the south-east. I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that Newquay airport has scheduled services to London Gatwick and Manchester. New scheduled services to Edinburgh, Glasgow and the east Midlands are due to commence in 2012.

It is important to remember that in the UK, airlines operate in a competitive and commercial environment, and have done so for many years. Individual airlines determine the routes they operate, with take-off and landing slots at major London airports governed by European law. Currently more than 90 return flights are operated between Northern Ireland airports and London, and 600 each week between Scottish airports and London.

We want to see a successful and competitive aviation industry which supports economic growth and addresses aviation's environmental impact. Aviation should be able to grow and play its part in delivering our environmental goals and protecting the quality of life of communities. Accordingly, the Government have made a commitment to produce a sustainable framework for UK aviation. In March we published a scoping document to begin a dialogue on the future direction of aviation policy, and we will issue a public consultation on a draft policy framework next year. We are also seeking to reform the economic regulation of airports, to put passengers at the heart of the regulatory regime, and to support investments in our airports.

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I will try to answer as many questions of noble Lords in the time available. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about rail travel from Cornwall. As touched on by the noble Lord, Cornwall County Council has an ambitious programme of local rail improvements. We are talking to the council and Devon County Council about devolving some responsibilities for rail to a group of south-west local authorities. A typical journey time from London to Plymouth is just over three hours, and around five hours to Penzance. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley is correct in his analysis, but there is no easy way of addressing this issue. Trains on this route make frequent calls, so cutting out the number of stops would be one way of speeding up journey times. But the communities at which the trains stop value their calls, and withdrawing those would create difficulties for them.

The noble Lord also talked about what we know as the cascading of used rolling stock. The noble Lord will be well aware that the business cases for rail schemes, including electrification, often rely upon the process of cascading, and it is a complicated jigsaw that the department has to manage.

Lord Berkeley: May I correct the noble Earl? I entirely agree with him that the fewer stops there are, the faster the trains go, but leaving out stops will leave some communities missing. That is why I said that there should be a stopping service in between the fast ones every hour, to pick up the passengers from the communities in between.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that elucidation. The noble Lord asked whether the minimum service levels will be based on the current First Great Western timetable. The proposed approach to the specification of the services for the next Great Western franchise has yet to be developed and would anyway form part of the public consultation.

Many noble Lords have talked about the problem of slot allocation at Heathrow and public service obligations. Perhaps it would be helpful to the Committee if I carefully reiterated the positions. It would be open to the Northern Ireland Assembly to apply to the Secretary of State for Transport to impose a public service obligation on an air route from Northern Ireland to London, should it feel that a case can be made which satisfies the EU regulation on PSOs. If approved, this would permit slots to be ring-fenced at a London airport. As I said at Question Time, there is no other mechanism for the Government to intervene in the allocation of slots at Heathrow or other London airports.

It is important to note that EU regulations state that the PSO must be between two cities or regions and not between individual airports. Therefore, any PSO would have to take into account services to all five London airports. Other European states have exactly the same problems. You may have a region in France that is slightly deprived, and it might want to fly direct to Charles de Gaulle, but it cannot. It might, perhaps, have to fly to Orly and not have the benefit of going to a hub airport. We do not necessarily have a unique problem.

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The noble Lord, Lord Empey, suggested that we cannot leave this issue to the commercial market. It is important to note that any PSO on a service to Heathrow could be subject to legal challenge from other airlines. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about the requirements in franchise rail operations, but he needs to remember that airline operations are commercial operations, not franchise operations.

Lord Bradshaw: Will the Minister pause there to think of what happens with the services to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland? They are not commercial. They are supported by a PSO agreement.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I was just coming on to that point. The noble Lord pointed out that PSOs already exist on air services to Scottish islands from Aberdeen and Inverness. He is correct. They are supported by the Scottish Government as lifeline services that otherwise would not be economic to operate.

Lord Bradshaw: They are lifeline services, but is Northern Ireland's remaining air service to Heathrow not in the same category because, if it disappears, the region will be in real trouble? This is not a trivial point. You have got to concern yourself with regional development. Next year, Londonderry will be the European city of culture. Perhaps the air service will disappear at the same time.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying, but BMI has not been sold, and no services have been stopped yet. I think he is going ahead of himself slightly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked about the Greater Anglia (Short) franchise and customer satisfaction. Although this is a relatively short franchise, she will recognise that Abellio has offered commitments that

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will improve customer experience. She also asked several other very detailed questions, and I fear that I will have to write to her on those points.

Abellio plans to continue to run all those services that are crowded today or are likely to become crowded in the next five years in the formation planned by NXEA. In almost all cases where crowding occurs today, the trains concerned are being operated at the maximum formation allowed by the infrastructure, so it is an infrastructure limitation, not a rolling stock limitation.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, touched on the Thames estuary airport. We welcome the input from the mayor and Lord Foster, and their suggestions will be considered alongside the many other contributions about our future aviation policy. However, such a project would be hugely complex. Detailed consideration would be needed on a range of issues, including airspace capacity, safety and access to the airport as well as costs and funding.

Lord Empey: I know that my colleague in Northern Ireland, the Transport Minister Danny Kennedy, has been to the European Parliament and spoken to the chair of its transport committee, who in turn has spoken to Lufthansa about the slot issue. This is a pertinent issue. I understand the legal difficulties the Minister is in, but perhaps it is something that with co-operation between Brussels and ourselves we have in our own hands to resolve.

Earl Attlee: I am sure that noble Lords will keep a very close eye on this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, suggested that he would return to this matter on a future occasion, and I look forward to all such debates. In conclusion, I thank him for this short debate and for all his efforts in encouraging improved transport links between London, the regions and Northern Ireland.

Committee adjourned at 6.40 pm.

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