The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, the costs of a reformed House will depend on a number of variables. In particular, both the net cost and total cost of salaries and allowances will depend on the transitional arrangements and the number of Members. We intend to consider the views of the Joint Committee before finalising our proposals for the reform of this House.
Lord Grocott: With respect to the Leader, that is not the most satisfying response I have had to a Question. I find it particularly odd that we have no figures when Governments of all persuasions manage to tell us how much an aircraft carrier will cost but cannot workout what 300 senators will cost. It is particularly unsatisfactory because the Deputy Prime Minister has already announced to the country that his flagship Bill in the next Session, announced ahead of the Queen's Speech, will be a Lords reform Bill. He has apparently done this without having the faintest idea of what his project will cost. I hope that I might therefore ask the Leader, on behalf of the House, to speak to the Deputy Prime Minister and ask him please to give us the detailed costings with all those variables, which he must have. If he does not give us an answer, the suspicion will be that he knows it will cost a lot more than the present House and he is simply too embarrassed to tell us.
Lord Strathclyde: I am sorry if I disappointed the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. It may have been in his estimation an unsatisfactory reply, but that does not stop it being true. The fact is that the Government have not made a final decision on the arrangements for the House, particularly on the transitional arrangements or the size of the House. There is a process of pre-legislative scrutiny continuing under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and until that process is over we will not be able to come up with these figures. However, as is perfectly normal, if a Bill is published after the Queen's Speech in the next Session of Parliament, it will include a financial memorandum with a detailed breakdown of the costs of a new House.
Lord Cormack: But does my noble friend still hold to the view that an elected House would be more expensive than the present House? That being the case, and bearing in mind the current financial straits that the country is in, is it really a good use of public money to have a highly expensive elected House when, at the moment, we have a highly effective House that is capable of being reformed without being elected?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is no doubt that this is an effective House and a very good value House and therefore I hold to a view that I have made public in the past: that a reformed House, directly elected and with fully salaried Members, would cost more than the current House. However, it would have a legitimacy, and a power and authority, which this House does not have. I remind the House, as I have done many times, that at the last general election all three main parties carried a commitment in their manifestos to reform this House.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Should not addiction to constitutional reform be treated with the same bracing cure as addiction to welfare benefits? Will the Government set a cap on the amount that ordinary, decent, hard-working British citizens are to be required to pay to support the constitutional reform dependency of the Liberal Democrats?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, will my noble friend take due account of the very exaggerated estimates of the potential cost, which do not take into account the fact that the allowances of current Members of the House are untaxed while, presumably, a salaried Member of the new House would be taxed? Has my noble friend taken note of the fact that Mr Mark Harper, the Minister responsible for the Bill, has indicated to the Joint Committee in open session that at present a Member of this House based in London can take home more than an MP?
Lord Strathclyde: I agree with my noble friend on the question of taxation, and indeed with my honourable friend Mark Harper, the Minister in the House of Commons. However, I am not sure that that is a very useful comparison. After all, it would require a Peer living in London to turn up every single day, and one of the strengths of this House is that it is part-time and people choose to come when they feel that they have something of value to contribute.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, how do the Government's proposals for reform fit in with rumours in the House of Commons that the Government are about to pack the House of Lords with an additional 50-perhaps even more than 50-coalition Peers? Where are they going to sit, where are they going to park and where are they going to have their offices?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that issues such as where new Peers may or may not park are at the top of the agenda in the highest echelons of the Government. I too have heard this rumour but I have no idea where it came from. I thought initially that it was something to do with the Cross Benches as there was a letter in one of the newspapers from a leading Cross-Bench Member. There is no plan to pack the House with at least 60 government supporters. It would look absurd and it would be absurd.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, if it becomes possible for that figure to come out-we all appreciate the difficulties that have been enunciated-can we be sure that, at the same time as it is published, figures for the expense of running the House of Commons and of running the current House of Lords are side by side with it?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I understand the point that my noble friend is making. The comparative figures between this House and the House of Commons are already in the public domain and are well understood. As I said, this House provides very good value for money.
Lord Kakkar: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader has placed great emphasis on the report of the Joint Committee scrutinising the draft Bill. What arrangements will be made for that report to be carefully scrutinised by your Lordships' House in good time?
Lord Strathclyde: How to scrutinise the scrutineers, my Lords. I have not yet given great thought to how this House will do that, but there will be discussions in the usual channels. It is likely that in the new Session of Parliament we will find an opportunity at least to debate the Joint Committee's report, and we will make an announcement in due course.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader mentioned variables in relation to cost and I quite understand the variables. As the Joint Committee itself is looking at variables, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Joint Committee is looking at the variable costs?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am not responsible for the Joint Committee and nor are the Government. There are 26 members of the Joint Committee, including Members of the Cross Benches and a Bishop, so I am sure that if they wish to study the variables, in whichever shape or form they wish to, they will be able to do so and they will be able to attach figures to them.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the Statement to Parliament of my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on 10 January outlined our response. We have issued our strongest objections to the decision by the Mercosur countries to deny access to Falkland Island flagged vessels. While we do not accept that the decision has any basis in international law, our priority has been to ensure that the trade and commercial links between the Falklands and South America are not compromised by this political declaration. We have achieved this.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting reply. Does he agree that it would be desirable to restart direct discussions-not negotiations, since there is nothing to negotiate-with Argentina, since it is at Argentina's behest that this action has been taken?
Lord Howell of Guildford: If I might alter slightly what the noble Viscount has said, no action has been taken. Brazil, Chile and Uruguay have all agreed to continue welcoming shipping if it is flying the British Red Ensign flag, which these ships fly. If there is an intention of action, that action has not led to any results at all. As for talking to Argentina, we have said all along that we are anxious to have sensible and creative discussions that could be of assistance to Argentina itself in the longer term, so long as we respect the wishes of the Falkland Islanders, which must be paramount in accordance with international law.
Baroness Hooper: My Lords, what steps are being taken by our splendid ambassadors in the region to counteract the tactics of the president of Argentina's Government in persuading Argentina's neighbours to support its claims of sovereignty in this way? In other words, what advice is the Foreign Office giving to ambassadors on the ground to prevent other countries following suit?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I think we have been a little ahead of the game. Obviously, the intention of Argentina was, sadly, to obstruct the movement of Falkland Islands shipping. Before that could happen we secured, for a start, the full assurance of Brazil, Chile and Uruguay that they would continue to welcome shipping flying the British ensign flag and would not interfere with trade. We have every reason to believe that the same attitude will prevail in all other ports where Falkland Islands shipping may call. However, we have taken action. Our ambassadors have moved very quickly and we are, as I say, ahead of the game.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, would the Minister agree that the best form of soft security for the Falkland Islands is very good, strong British relations with the South American neighbours of Argentina? Can he give us an update on what has happened to British relations with those countries and why this matter has come forward as it has in relation to Falkland Island
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Lord Howell of Guildford: As far as relations with Latin America generally are concerned, I can safely say that where excellent relations existed before they have been built on and are even more excellent now. Considerable effort has been made in renewing and expanding our relations with Latin America. My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary was in Brazil the other day on a highly successful visit. My honourable friend Mr Jeremy Browne, the Minister of State, constantly visits Latin American countries, and visitors have come here with whom I and others have liaised very closely. We feel that we have a very good developing relationship, which includes the expansion of our embassy facilities and capabilities in the region.
There are many theories as to why agitation and tension have arisen over this matter. Many experts point to the possible discovery of commercial deposits of oil around the Falklands. It is a great pity that Argentina bowed out of the hydrocarbons declaration, which would have enabled it to benefit from these developments on the oil front. However, it decided to stand aside from this and, instead, to complain and apparently grow angry at what is happening. That may be one reason.
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what discussions we have had with our European Union colleagues, particularly our Spanish and Portuguese allies, to enlist their support with their Latin American friends to oppose this ban?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We keep in constant touch with all our EU colleagues on this matter and have had considerable understanding and support. Inevitably, there are different perspectives but the general acceptance is that in international law the Falkland Islands people have the right to have their wishes respected and that any development in the future must be guided by those wishes. If they wish that to change, it will change; if they do not wish it to change, it will not change.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Will my noble friend tell the House whether the reports are accurate that almost all the ships that are now banned from visiting Mercosur ports while flying the Falklands ensign are owned by Spanish shipping companies? In light of that, are we having discussions with the Spanish about the commercial damage which is clearly being done to them through this ban? Are we having discussions with Chile, as President Kirchner has asked the Chilean Government to ban commercial flights to the Falkland Islands?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We have had discussions with Chile of a thoroughly positive nature. It is one of the countries that has agreed to accept ships flying the
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, while jaw-jaw is better than war-war, as Churchill said-the great man died 47 years ago today-there is no doubt that the world is extremely dangerous. We have seen the events of the Arab spring and in Libya and tensions in the Falklands. Will the Government look at their reduction in defence spending bearing in mind these very serious risks?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The question of our capability and abilities to meet the world's tensions are under constant review. Some of these involve military and others soft power deployments. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right that dangers are springing up. Later this afternoon this House will have to deal with another one that he did not mention-that is, the situation in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, the Government are committed to eradicating child poverty but recognise that income measures and targets do not tell the full story about the causes and consequences of childhood disadvantage. We will measure the success of our approach to tackling child poverty through a new set of indicators including, but not limited to, the income targets set out in the Child Poverty Act. They include measures of family circumstances and drivers of children's life chances.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response. Does he accept that children are in poverty through no fault of their own and that, in neglecting early years, social costs may be very significant later? Will he also say whether proposed legislation such as the Welfare Reform Bill and the legal aid Bill will have a negative or positive impact on child poverty?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we certainly agree on the importance of early intervention. We have put in a number of measures to reinforce that, including: the fairness premium, on which £7.2 billion is being spent; the expansion of free early education for three and four year-olds and for 40 per cent of two year-olds; and the introduction of the pupil premium. As for the Bills mentioned, in the long run the universal credit is predicted to take 350,000 children out of poverty, but rather more important than that is reducing the number
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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: The Minister has said that the best way to get children out of poverty is to ensure that their families are in employment. How do the Government intend to bring the number of jobs available into line with the unemployment figures in the short term rather than the long term, because it is short-term measures that will have an effect on children? In addition to the issues he has outlined, what other financial help will he give to families in the short term while jobs are becoming available?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we have a large number of measures to deal with unemployment in the short, medium and long terms, but the really important area here is to look at the long-term unemployed who have been excluded from economic activity. That is one of the most important areas of effort that we are undertaking to try and get those families back into the economic activity of the country.
Lord German: My Lords, the work programme is one of the cornerstones of the Government's action to alleviate child poverty. Today's NAO report on the work programme reports that harder-to-help people are not being referred to the programme in the numbers expected. Surely, as the Minister has said, this is the most important group to help to get back into work. What response does my noble friend have to the NAO report in that respect?
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are concerned about the slow way that people on ESA are moving into the work programme and we are looking closely at how to accelerate that process. Clearly, one of the ambitions of the programme is to get the hardest-to-help people back into the workforce, and there has been a rather slow start in that area.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government dismissed the projected 100,000 increase in child poverty due to tax credit cuts as a "statistical quirk" arising from the relative nature of that poverty when, in opposition, the Prime Minister promised,
Lord Freud: My Lords, one of the recent decisions we have taken was to up-rate benefits by the CPI at 5.2 per cent, when average earnings in the period have increased by 2.8 per cent. Interestingly, that is the core reason why the IFS projections for this year and next show a decline on last year. Looking further ahead, we clearly have a lot of work to do in maintaining any reduction in child poverty and the IFS warns us that we need to have government policies to do that. However, I should point out that what we are driving towards is behavioural change, whereas the IFS measures concrete changes of income transfer.
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, further to the previous question, the Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggests that within three years, by 2015, the number of children in poverty will have increased by 400,000. What will the Government's response be?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I was trying to answer that question just now. The IFS projections are valuable and important, but they do not absorb changes in future policy and they do not make any assumptions as to behavioural change; many of the policies that we are driving are trying to get people back into work and reduce worklessness in that way. In particular, as regards universal credit, the report does not take into account the reduction in workless families that we are expecting.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, if the reforms going through the House at the moment are carried, many families lose their homes and children are put into care, the cost will be £2,900 a week for each child who is in care. Have the Government taken that into consideration?
To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the costs to local government and business of preparing for the new coinage, in the light of reports that the new size cannot be used in existing parking meters and vending machines.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Treasury published a full impact assessment on this measure last February, which is available on the Treasury website. The impact assessment was compiled after consultation with representative industry groups and estimates the overall net benefit of the conversion of 5p and 10p coins to nickel-plated steel to be about £40 million. The Royal Mint has been working with the industry for more than two years in anticipation of this change.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I think the gap in the Minister's Answer is that, although the Government will save money, there will be a cost to the industry in changing vending machines, payphones, parking meters, et cetera, because the new coins are marginally thicker. The cost to the vending industry will be about £25 million. The fear now is that if the £1 coin was changed, it would cost the vending industry more than £100 million to adapt. I seek assurances from the Minister that if any change is considered, there will be full consultation with industry, a two-year period in which the industry can make the changes needed and consideration of compensatory payments, given the very high cost involved to the industry.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, first, on the implementation of the introduction of the new 5p and 10p pieces, the Government took the view, after consulting the industry, that there should be a delay of one year from the date of January 2011, when the previous Government had originally intended to introduce the coins. The noble Baroness refers to the Automatic Vending Association. When we announced the delay in the introduction, the association's CEO said:
"This ... is fantastic news for the vending and coin machine industries because it allows them more time to update coin mechanisms, providing a saving of £16.8 million to the vending industry-a real help in the current economic climate".
When it comes to the £1 coin, the issue is rather different. It is one not of cost saving but of potential risk and a drop in confidence as a result of counterfeiting. The counterfeiting of £1 coins is estimated to account for almost 3 per cent of the stock, but the Royal Mint conducts regular public awareness surveys to ensure that public confidence in the pound is high, and the Government have no change to the £1 coin in mind.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, the consultation with business and industry and the saving are welcome, but after the new coins have been in circulation for a period, will it be obvious to the consumer which coins they have in their pocket when they arrive at a parking meter?
Lord Sassoon: Noble Lords may not be aware that they may have in their pocket two different sorts of 1p and 2p coins, because they were changed from cupronickel to copper-plated steel in 1992. When looking in my pocket this morning, first, I could not distinguish them and, secondly, I had not been aware of the distinction. This is well trodden territory as successive Governments have updated the coinage, and there should be no particular difficulty.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will have derived some reassurance from the Minister's answers thus far, but given that in the not too distant future there are likely to be changes to the higher denomination coins, would it not be politic now to have a full-blown consultation on, or perhaps even a commission into, the coinage to look at the future, to give people the opportunity to make their views known and to prepare?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, prepare for what? I have already said that there are no plans to change the £1 coin and I am happy to say that there are no plans to change any of the other denominations of coins. It is all rather hypothetical.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall ask a Grocott-type question, if I may. Has the Treasury done any calculations or estimates of the cost of changing the coinage in the event of Scottish independence? Is this not another example of the folly of the independence line?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am not sure what we can do about that, but I can assure the noble Lord that, based on the experience with the 1p and 2p coins, there will be many cupronickel 5p and 10p coins still in existence for many years to come.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on issuing a new set of coins to popularise the Olympic Games and the fact that a number of coins represent particular sports. Can I regret the fact that the new 50p coin, which defines the football off-side law, is incorrect?
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, the usual channels have agreed that it would be desirable for the Committee-stage debate on the question of a referendum on independence
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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, the Minister will recall that on 10 January I raised this with him when he made the statement and asked that the whole Committee stage be held over until after the consultation. My intention was to ensure that there should be no discussion on the referendum and all aspects of it while the consultation was under way. I therefore thank the Minister very much indeed for finding a solution that enables that to be put into effect.
Lord Neill of Bladen: I refer to the letter from the Scottish judges asking for additional clauses to be put into the Scotland Bill. Where does that fit into the Minister's programme? How do we handle that?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for welcoming this. We recognised the issue and found a way to resolve it. On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, I certainly recognise the importance of the letter sent by the Lord President of the Court of Session. It is likely, although one can never be sure, that the clause to which that relates in Part 2 of the Bill will be debated on Thursday 2 February. I hope that copies of the letter will be available in the Printed Paper Office for our consideration. There are both government amendments and amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, which I am sure will allow us to have a very full and informed debate on that issue.
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
21st Report from the Constitution Committee
22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
21st Repors from the Delegated Powers Committee
22nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Lord Avebury: I am most grateful to my noble friend. I was saying that it would have a catastrophic effect on the provision of advice and representation to Gypsies and Travellers on issues relating to their accommodation. I am sure that I do not need to remind your Lordships that in the most recent survey by the DCLG in England, almost one in five of the caravan-dwelling population of Travellers was homeless, and that in terms of health, education, life expectancy, employment and access to public services they are the most deprived ethnic minority in our country. The tragic events at Dale Farm in Hertfordshire brought the plight of residents there to the attention of the whole country as their eviction was played out on TV day after day, at an estimated cost to the taxpayer, and to the council tax payers of Basildon, of £18 million.
Ministers say that Travellers must obey planning laws like everyone else; but they demolished the system created by the previous Government under which an obligation was imposed on local authorities to provide planning permission for Travellers' sites that would accommodate the number of Travellers in each area, as determined by an independent assessment of needs, buttressed by public inquiries. Since the Secretary of State gave local authorities carte blanche to rip up those plans and decide in their unaided wisdom whether to allocate any land at all in their development plans to Travellers' sites, the number of sites for which it was intended that planning permission should be granted has plummeted by half, according to research conducted by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain.
At the same time, because of the unsympathetic attitude to Travellers who want to provide their own accommodation caused by the scrapping of circular 1/2006, Travellers who want to provide their own accommodation now have greater difficulty than ever identifying plots of land on which they would have the remotest chance of getting planning permission. They invariably find that there is an immediate hullabaloo from settled residents in the neighbourhood, whatever the planning merits of the site, because Gypsies and Travellers are the only communities against whom open racist prejudice can still be voiced without challenge.
This is the context in which Travellers are to be deprived of legal aid in cases that involve eviction from unauthorised sites and from rented sites; other issues concerning rented sites; High Court and county court planning cases such as injunctions, planning appeals or stop notices; and, finally, homelessness cases. In paragraph 28 of Schedule 1, loss of home is kept within the scope of legal aid, and "home" includes a caravan that is the individual's only or main residence. However, the words left out by the first four amendments in this group, and by Amendment 87, would address the exclusion of a caravan that is occupied by a
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A great deal of media attention has been given recently to local authority housing that has been left unoccupied for months, or even years in some cases. If the same is happening on local authority Traveller sites, where the shortage is even more desperate, it is surely desirable that the courts should be able to look into the matter. There is a difference between caravan dwellers and housing trespassers because there are houses in which a homeless person can be accommodated, but there are no sites on which a person dispossessed from a caravan site can find alternative accommodation. There are just no alternative sites available.
At the July 2011 count of Traveller sites, there were 4,000 caravans on unauthorised sites in England, of which just over 2,000 were on land not owned by the occupiers and therefore vulnerable to possession orders. When these provisions come into force, almost certainly there will be some landowners who seize the opportunity of kicking the Travellers off, in many cases without even having to turn up in court, and if they do, coming up against an unaided defendant. Since there is nowhere that they can lawfully take their caravans, the evicted Travellers will end up on a different unauthorised site to await yet another eviction. This churning of people living on unauthorised sites will have further harmful repercussions for the lives of the families concerned and, primarily, for the health and education of their children. That will be the effect of removing access to legal aid from people forced to live on unauthorised sites because of the failure of successive Governments over the 50 years of my political lifetime to ensure that Gypsy and Traveller caravan dwellers have places to live. Do your Lordships want to deprive these communities of the right to defend themselves against the threat of repeated eviction? I certainly hope not.
Turning to Amendment 77, it is ironic that after the success of the campaign over many years to extend the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to local authority sites, the Government have proposed that all the provisions of that Act, other than the ones concerning possession actions, should be taken out of scope. The Community Law Partnership, to which I pay tribute for the excellent work that it does on behalf of Travellers and for its help in drafting and briefing on these amendments, has lodged an application for judicial review on behalf of a Traveller challenging the failure of the equality impact assessment to address the impact of this proposal on Gypsies and Travellers. For many of them who live on rented sites, there will be no legal advice on breaches of covenant, quiet enjoyment, succession, re-siting of the mobile home, rent increases or repairs. Few of them will have the ability to deal with such cases on their own because of the widespread educational disadvantage that affects these communities and the consequent low levels of literacy and numeracy that they suffer. All we are asking for is for initial advice,
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Finally, Amendment 79 restores the right to legal aid in the large number of planning cases that appear not to be covered by paragraph 28(1)(b) because of the use of the term "eviction". This could make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain that for the purpose of claiming legal aid, the loss of home resulting from the dismissal of a challenge under Sections 288 or 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act or the granting of an injunction under Section 187B of that Act may be considered equivalent to an eviction because in any of those cases the occupier forfeits his home in the end, even if there is a delay before he actually has to leave the site. The Community Law Partnership asked the Ministry of Justice for clarification of this point, and in its reply the department stated that,
Immediately following these key issues, in paragraphs 75 to 82, the Government deal with the other issues raised but totally ignore the needs of the Travellers-the usual experience of these communities and the agencies that try to help them. In this case, however, it is not only the Travellers themselves who will suffer if these amendments are not accepted; the greater levels of harassment and evictions of Travellers on unauthorised sites that will inevitably follow the withdrawal of legal aid in planning cases, coupled with the abandonment of a strategy for securing that an adequate number of planning permissions are awarded to meet the needs identified by the Government themselves in their twice-yearly count, means that there will be more unauthorised sites than ever, with the attendant health, education and social problems.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has set out very clearly and powerfully the way this group of amendments would work. I will briefly give noble Lords a couple of examples to flesh out what they mean in real cases.
For instance, there are two Gypsies on different plots, both facing injunctions to make them leave their own land because they have not yet obtained planning permission-notoriously low down on most local authorities' to-do lists. With legal aid, lawyers managed to hold off the injunctions on the basis that there were
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I should just add that the other Minister's amendments to the previous group of housing clauses, offered in the witching hour last Wednesday, are welcome, but they are not nearly bewitching enough. They do not materially alter the unfair situation that Gypsies and Travellers will find themselves in if the Bill becomes law.
I also cite the case of a family on a private caravan site, protected by the Mobile Homes Act 1983-unless this Bill becomes law-but facing harassment by their landlord. The harassment was clearly intended to force them to leave the site. Their legal aid lawyer obtained an injunction to stop the harassment. One of the victims said, "Without a solicitor acting for us, they would have got us out by now"-again, they would have been homeless. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, Gypsies and Travellers are often illiterate and harassment can be very complex in legal terms.
Gypsies and Travellers are often illiterate because that is what happens when you are moved on all the time as a child. Is it any wonder that our Gypsy and Traveller children have the lowest attainment rates in school, are more likely to die in infancy and have mothers who are more likely to die in childbirth? These are the consequences of constant eviction and moving on. The reason for even more moving on will still be the lack of legal sites, but added to an overwhelmingly unmet need-if the Bill becomes law-for legal advice and assistance in establishing such entitlement as exists.
Of course, the costs of unnecessary evictions are huge, but the most important disbenefit, if some form of these amendments is not accepted, will be to the ordinary human rights accepted for all other citizens not to be made homeless. As it stands, this Bill discriminates against a defined minority-ethnic group-whatever previous government letters to me have said-and I hope the noble and learned Lord can provide a more positive attitude.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 79, to which my name is added, and I declare my interest as a landowner. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and my noble friend Lord Avebury, for drawing my attention to these amendments. All children need a degree of stability in their lives if they are to do well. Instability for Traveller children arising from repeated displacements-the "churning" to which my noble friend referred-impacts particularly adversely on their educational outcomes. Displacement risks undermining the education of Traveller children, excluding them from society and contributing to a cycle of generational failure. I would encourage the Minister to accept this amendment as a means of improving educational outcomes for Traveller children and of promoting their inclusion in society.
I should like to pray in aid two documents; namely, My Dream Site, which includes research with Traveller children and is published by the Children's Society, and a 2003 Ofsted report, Provision and Support for Traveller Pupils. The Ofsted report states:
"The average attendance rate for Traveller pupils is around 75%. This figure is well below the national average and is the worst attendance profile of any minority ethnic group ... The 1996 Ofsted report The education of Travelling children estimated that at least 10,000 Traveller pupils of secondary age were not registered at school. This survey"-
There was a marked difference in attitude towards school from the children who had been settled on a site for a stable period of time. These children had an opportunity to settle into a school routine and knew what was expected from them in a school setting. The opportunity to build up a relationship with staff and with other children seemed to make attending school a far easier experience. They appeared to have less of a problem with being bullied because of living a nomadic lifestyle. Some of the children no longer identified themselves as travellers but saw themselves more as settlers. These children had been able to attend one school and had lived in one place for most of their lives".
To conclude, all children need a degree of stability. The education of Traveller children is likely to be significantly impaired by continued upheavals, which can lead to their exclusion from society and failure for successive generations of Traveller children. I support this amendment because it may contribute to improved stability for Traveller children and I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the treatment of Gypsies and Travellers by states and other public agencies in the West over the last 100 years and longer has been in large measure a major disgrace. The worst instances have certainly not occurred in this country, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, put it to us, there remains a remarkable degree of prejudice against Gypsies and Travellers still, unfortunately, extensively licensed by public opinion. I was struck, in the two constituencies I had the privilege to represent in the House of Commons, by how very difficult it was, in
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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I, too, want to add my voice briefly in support of the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Perhaps it would have been surprising if anyone other than the noble Lord had moved these amendments. I was at school when the noble Lord, as Eric Lubbock, Member for Orpington in the House of Commons, moved his Gypsies and caravan sites legislation in, I think, 1967. Many of us admired the courageous way in which he has continued over the following years to raise the plight of Travellers and Gypsies in the discrimination and racism that other noble Lords have referred to in the debate.
As a young city councillor in the 1970s, I served in Liverpool on the committee which was charged with the duty of creating a caravan sites Act. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, who is in his place, will recall the controversy that that aroused at the time. But we fulfilled our statutory duties and took on the prejudice that inevitably was raised. The not-in-my-back-yard syndrome is one with which we are all familiar. Indeed, it has to be said that the presence of Travellers or Gypsies in a community can raise a number of issues, not the least of which are questions of educational provision. In the 1970s, that provision was made, and I agree with what my noble friend Lord Listowel said about the importance of providing stability of education for the children of Travellers as they progress through life.
A few months ago we saw what happens when there is an unregulated approach to these matters. At Dale Farm there was a terrible culmination in violence that involved the use of Tasers. We saw the police having to be pitted against members of the Traveller community as they were evicted from their homes. That is not a sight that most of us want to see repeated on a regular basis. But I fear that unless amendments of this sort are incorporated, and if we deny people access to justice, which was the point made by the noble Lord in his speech, all these other things will follow. They will be the corollary. If we do not provide opportunities for resolution on planning disputes and access to amenities, as well as on questions of discrimination and the others that have been raised during this brief debate, we will see more incidents like Dale Farm. For that reason, I hope that when the noble and learned Lord comes to reply, he will tell us just how many unauthorised sites there are in the country, what is the estimated shortfall of places-that will give us a barometer of how many disputes will have to be resolved in the
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I end by returning to his point about the importance of ensuring that people have access to justice. That runs all the way through the proceedings of this Bill in your Lordships' House, and it will continue to be the question. You cannot get justice on the cheap, and groups like these should not be left on the margins, unable to access the courts.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support the case that has been made so well by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker. It is well known that the Gypsy and Traveller communities are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in England and Wales in terms of health, education and discrimination. It is almost universally accepted that these disadvantages and problems would be addressed if there was adequate site provision. Of course, that does not really happen, because it looks to me as though local authorities fail to follow government guidance on encampments, to take into account human rights considerations and to follow a proper and reasonable process in relation to sites for Travellers. If Gypsies and Travellers get involved in county court and High Court planning cases without the assistance of legal aid, they will eventually end up homeless. That is surely to be avoided and a distinct worsening of the situation. It is something that we should not be prepared to countenance. I therefore hope that the Government will give due consideration to the excellent case which has been made by my noble friends with a view to accepting it. These people deserve our support and consideration.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I find myself in total agreement with everything that has been said so far by all noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment. The arguments have been put fully, lucidly and with great force, and certainly do not need me to underline them. However, I would say two things. Many years ago, I felt that there was an equitable balance between the interests of Travellers and those of the community at large, a balance which had been brought about by the legislation for which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, fought so valiantly over the years. It was necessary under that legislation for local authorities to provide certain basic facilities for Travellers. That balance was maintained by a flagship judgment by the late Mr Justice Peter Pain, a most humane and pioneering judge, who said to a county council in Wales: "You are seeking injunction to remove these Travellers from a lay-by whose freehold is vested in your good selves. On the other hand, you have, I think in a cavalier way, done nothing at all to implement the obligations which were placed upon you to provide for Travellers. An injunction is an equitable remedy. I exercise my judicial discretion not to grant it until I am convinced that you, too, will carry out your statutory obligation". Unfortunately,
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The other thing that I would say, as one who exercised a family jurisdiction for some years, is how obvious it was to me that insecurity ate like acid into the lives of children of Traveller families, particularly in the context of education.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I support the amendments. I was a member of the National Equality Panel, and one of the most shocking of our findings was the degree of educational disadvantage among Gypsy and Traveller communities. Reading the very helpful briefing that we have had from Community Law Partnership reminded me of the importance of this. A number of noble Lords have made the point about educational disadvantage and children's need for education and security. Of course, access to justice is that much more important for a community which suffers high levels of illiteracy and educational disadvantage. As Community Law Partnership points out, we are talking about some very complex areas of law. I therefore hope that the Minister will look sympathetically on the amendments, which would protect one of the most vulnerable minority-ethnic groups in this country.
Lord Pannick: When the Minister comes to reply, will he clarify how these provisions will operate? Notwithstanding the provisions that are being debated today, is it the case that Gypsies and Travellers will remain entitled to seek legal aid to challenge acts or omissions of public authorities under paragraph 17 of the judicial review, and remain entitled to challenge under paragraph 20, which relates to convention rights, in the same way as other litigants? Is it the case that the provisions we are debating will not prevent Gypsies and Travellers claiming legal aid if they have proper grounds for contending that they are not trespassers? I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify those matters, because they have a considerable bearing on the fairness of the provisions that are under challenge through these amendments.
Most of the cuts to social welfare legal aid appear at best naive and at worst socially and economically disastrous. However, the cuts with which these amendments deal-subject, of course, to the answers to the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has just asked the Minister-unfortunately, appear maliciously, deliberately and uniquely to target a group which, as the Committee has heard, is one of the most marginalised in our country. It is ironic-more than ironic, it is distressing-that in a society where popular and governmental discrimination against groups of people is, thankfully, becoming rarer and rarer, the tolerance and acceptance which we think is the mark of a civilised society does not seem to apply to this group of people.
Gypsy and Traveller communities do not come in for an easy time, whether it is from the press, which seems to delight in portraying them as villains or an irredeemably alien culture, or from politicians, who have not done enough to help these communities preserve their way of life and certainly have not done enough to ensure sufficiency in the provision of housing.
Every victory for this community-as, for example, the acceptance in April last year that local authority sites should be subject to the Mobile Homes Act 1983 -has been very hard won. Legal aid has played a significant part in these victories and in establishing these rights and ensuring that they are rightfully and lawfully exerted.
Although the Government have claimed that the exemptions they have put in place are to deal with squatters-a subject to which we shall no doubt return in Part 3-everyone knows that at least a quarter of the Gypsy and Traveller population who live in caravans do not live on authorised sites. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to that in opening his amendment. Many believe that this population, due to an acute crisis in the availability of sites, has little option but to trespass. If the Government's intention is specifically to disfranchise a protected group which is already, as I have argued, much maligned, I suspect that it will end up causing much more trouble than it is worth, and that Gypsy and Traveller communities will continue to express their culture.
The Bill fails to give these communities a basic ability to stand up to oppressive behaviour by public authorities-and we have seen that kind of behaviour, I am afraid-and, frankly, it is unacceptable to mortgage the future of these communities for the purposes of the Bill. Legal aid has played an important part in gaining whatever benefits these communities have, and it would be a tragedy if they were taken away.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, we have had an important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, it is no surprise that the amendment was moved by my noble friend Lord Avebury, whose record over the best part of half a century in standing up for the rights of Gypsies and Travelling people is well recorded. As I understand it, he continues to be the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma Travellers. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is vice-chairman of that group. We have heard important views on wider issues, not exclusively on legal aid. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised the important educational issues relating to Gypsies and Travelling people.
I will focus on the amendments and the impact on legal aid. Amendments 73, 74, 75 and 76 go together as a package. They would ensure that legal aid remains available in relation to possession and eviction matters for persons who are clearly trespassers on the property or land where they reside. As has been pointed out, the Bill currently excludes such persons from receiving legal aid under paragraph 28.
While we are generally retaining legal aid where a person is at immediate risk of losing their home, the Government do not consider it appropriate for the
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I hope the noble Lord will be reassured that Gypsies and Travellers will have access to legal aid under paragraph 28 in relation to loss of home if there are any grounds to argue that they are not trespassers. That is certainly the intention. It is quite clear that that is what will be delivered.
I emphasise again that legal aid will remain available for eviction and possession cases where there are any grounds to argue that the client has not entered and remained as a trespasser. On the other point, we are also retaining legal aid for most judicial review cases as set in out the Bill, and also-as the noble Lord asked-with regard to breach of convention rights by public authorities. I can confirm that Gypsies and Travellers will continue to have access to legal aid in terms of that particular paragraph of the schedule, along with others.
My noble friend also referred in his amendment to the Mobile Homes Act cases. Amendment 77 seeks to bring into scope legally aided advice for all matters arising from the Mobile Homes Act 1983. That Act gives rights to residents who have agreements with site owners to live in their own mobile homes on site. As I have explained, we have generally retained legal aid where the individual is at immediate risk of homelessness. This includes possession and eviction from a mobile home site. However, the consequence of the amendment would be to extend legal aid to cover all matters under the Mobile Homes Act 1983. It would make legal aid available for what we regard as lower priority matters where legal aid is not in our view justified, for example disputes about the sale or inheritance of mobile homes.
The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, was on the more important issue of harassment. I hope I can reassure her that legal aid is available for harassment injunctions under Sections 3 or 3A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and, by extension, under paragraph 32 of Part 1 of the schedule.
Baroness Whitaker: I am grateful to the Minister for that point, but perhaps I may refer back to his remarks about judicial review, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I am still not exactly clear what happens when it is not quite an eviction but a matter that would lead to an eviction. For instance, would judicial review be available to defend a county court possession action or a failure by a local authority to follow or have regard to relevant government guidance? It is those cases that lead to eviction but are not exactly eviction actions-and indeed the Gypsy is a trespasser on the prima facie case but, after judicial review, might be found not to be a trespasser.
It is certainly my understanding that that is the case, but I shall conclude my speech and double-check that. That paragraph of Schedule 1 will apply and entitle Gypsies and Travellers in the same way as it entitles others. I am as certain as I can be that that is the case, but the noble Baroness gave some very specific examples. Perhaps the best thing for me to do would be to set out in writing to her, and circulate it to those who have taken part in our debate, precisely the position in regard to the very specific cases that she raised in her intervention. I hope that she will accept that. There is certainly a general power or provision to bring within scope judicial review cases, and I believe that that addresses the point, but I want to be absolutely certain with regard to the specific issues that she raised. Obviously, other Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate will be copied into that letter.
Amendment 79 relates to this and brings in issues of planning. I hope that I can reassure the Committee, and my noble friend in particular, that it is unnecessary. Planning matters that concern eviction from home will remain in scope under paragraph 28 of Part 1 of Schedule 1. Accordingly, legal aid will, for example, remain available to defend an application for an injunction to evict a person from a site under Section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or for a planning appeal under Sections 288 and 289 that might result in the individual being legally required to leave their home, including the land where the home is located.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and my noble friend in moving his amendment raised the Dale Farm-type situations. To look at the legal issue that arises in relation to the amendment, we are retaining legal aid for eviction cases, including eviction from a mobile home or a caravan site. Legal aid will remain available for eviction from an unauthorised development, subject to the means and merits tests, as apply in other cases. It is important to distinguish those cases from situations where people have set up unauthorised encampments. So there is a difference between an unauthorised development and an unauthorised encampment on a site that they neither own nor have permission to enter. In these circumstances, they would be outwith the scope, as I have indicated; but if the issue is one of an unauthorised development on property that they own and have a legitimate right to be there, legal aid would be available.
Amendments 87 and 88 refer to "trespass to land" in Part 2 of Schedule 1. Amendment 88 concerns cases where the client is trespassing on land, including land surrounding a building, but is not trespassing in the building itself. I recall in a debate that we had last week under an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew that we sought to reiterate that the reference in this part of Schedule 1, specifically to "trespass to land", is not intended to generally exclude matters falling within Part 1 of Schedule 1 that involve trespass to land but to generally prevent funding for the tort of trespass to land. I indicated during last week's Committee debate that we are giving active consideration to the exclusions in Part 2 of Schedule 1 generally to ensure that the drafting fully delivers on that particular intention. Clearly, we will
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Part 2 of Schedule 1 generally excludes funding for tort claims, because they are primarily concerned with money and alternative funding arrangements can be made available through conditional fee agreements. However, tort claims for trespass to land are not excluded under the Bill where they concern allegations of the abuse of position or power or a significant breach of human rights by a public authority.
The debate has ranged more widely, and I am sure that if the House has not debated the wider issues in recent times, they merit a debate sooner rather than later. The Government understand the issues here and consulted on their new draft planning policy for Traveller sites over last summer. The Department for Communities and Local Government is considering all the consultation responses and intends to publish the new policy as soon as possible. Let me just put on the record that the Government are taking measures to ensure fair and effective provision of authorised sites for Travellers more generally, which seemed to be one of the issues being raised, including providing £60 million in England over the current spending period to help local authorities and other registered providers to build new Traveller sites in consultation with local communities. Councils will also be given incentives to deliver new housing, including Traveller sites, through the new homes bonus scheme.
For the reasons given, and with some of the reassurances that I have given on the scope being not quite as narrow as has perhaps been thought, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment. As I have indicated, I will certainly respond-
Lord Alton of Liverpool: Before the noble and learned Lord completes his remarks, I asked him a couple of specific questions. I realise that he may not have the answers to them now, but they would help us to keep this issue in context, especially when we get to Report. He has just given some information about the amount of money that the Government are going to spend, and that is welcome. However, could he in due course tell us more about the numbers of unauthorised sites and how many such cases using legal aid there have been-perhaps over the past decade, and certainly in the course of the past year-and what that has cost the public purse?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I apologise to the noble Lord for omitting to address that. When writing I cannot be certain either that the information is available in the form that he wishes or how easy it might be to extract what the specific nature of some of those cases was, but to the extent that we are able to provide the relevant information I will certainly do so at the same time as I respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, first, I must express deep gratitude to all those noble Lords who spoke in favour of this amendment: the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the
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In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, there are in fact 2,000 caravans on unauthorised sites, which are therefore legally homeless at the moment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, the problem is that they have no option but to trespass. The answer that my noble and learned friend the Minister gave to the first of these amendments, the ones which deal with legal aid for persons liable to eviction, was not satisfactory because that was the whole point of the amendments. It is all very well to say that they will have access to legal aid under paragraph 28 if they are not trespassers, but all of those 2,000 caravans, except those which are on sites owned by the Gypsies and Travellers themselves, are in fact trespassers and have no option.
When people are thrown off a site such as Dale Farm-there is another one at the moment in Meriden, where the local authority is similarly kicking people off a site that they own and have developed themselves-they will have no alternative but to camp on the roadside or to try to sandwich themselves into an authorised site where there happens to be a little space left on one of the pitches, only to find that the local authority there takes steps to secure their removal immediately.
I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his remarks on the challenges to an injunction under Section 187B or an order under Sections 288 and 289, but I asked him whether it was not preferable to have these spelt out in the Bill, and I hope that between now and the next stage the Government might consider the wording necessary to do so. I believe that it would be possible to quote my noble and learned friend's remarks in a court of law if there were any doubt about the matter, but it is always best to have things spelt out in statute if you can.
The debate has raised issues that go far wider. In concluding his remarks, my noble and learned friend spoke about the £60 million that was allocated by the Department for Communities and Local Government for the construction of new sites. Unfortunately, very little progress seems likely to be made on that front; in none of the cases where grants have been made has there been either an application for planning permission or steps to identify the land.
I rang around some of the local authorities and housing associations that had received money under that heading. They all told me that they were at an extremely preliminary stage and that when they get around to identifying particular pieces of land, they will come across the problem that so many of your Lordships have spelt out today: there will be immediate opposition from local residents that will make it very difficult for them to proceed. In spite of the fact that this money is available, your Lordships should not
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In these circumstances, it is vital that Gypsies and Travellers have access to legal aid for all the purposes dealt with in this amendment. I hope that before we get to the next stage my noble and learned friend and others in the Government will consider what we have said today and think about restoring the right to legal aid, particularly in the amendments that are dealt with early on in this group. As far as we have got, though, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend, and I am sure that we will have further advice from the Community Law Partnership when we come to the next stage of the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) incitement to commit a sexual offence,
(b) an offence committed by a person under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (encouraging or assisting crime) in relation to which a sexual offence is the offence which the person intended or believed would be committed,
(c) conspiracy to commit a sexual offence, and
(d) an attempt to commit a sexual offence.
(5) In this paragraph references to a sexual offence include conduct which would be an offence under a provision of the 2003 Act or section 1 of the 1978 Act but for the fact that it took place before that provision or section came into force.
(6) Conduct falls within the definition of a sexual offence for the purposes of this paragraph whether or not there have been criminal proceedings in relation to the conduct and whatever the outcome of any such proceedings."
(a) the Equal Pay Act 1970;
(b) the Sex Discrimination Act 1975;
(c) the Race Relations Act 1976;
(d) the Disability Discrimination Act 1995;
(e) the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/1660);
(f) the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/1661);
(g) the Equality Act 2006;
(h) the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/1031);
(i) the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (S.I. 2007/1263).
(a) breach of a term modified by, or included by virtue of, a provision that is an equality clause or equality rule for the purposes of the Equal Pay Act 1970 or the Equality Act 2010, and
(b) breach of a provision that is a non-discrimination rule for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010."
"Mr Speaker, yesterday I attended the European Union Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, where member states agreed a new and unprecedented set of sanctions against Iran. These include a phased oil embargo, a partial asset freeze of the Central Bank of Iran, measures against Iran's petrochemical sector and a ban on Iranian transactions involving gold. This is a major increase in the peaceful, legitimate pressure on Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme. It follows the financial measures that the United Kingdom imposed on 21 November and the widening of EU measures on 1 December.
Sanctions measures, often close to those of the European Union, have been adopted by the United States, Canada, South Korea, Norway, Switzerland and Japan. These are in addition to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council itself. The Australian Foreign Minister has already announced this morning, at our joint press conference, that his country will replicate these new EU sanctions, and we will urge other nations around the world to do the same.
Iran is in defiance of six UN Security Council resolutions that call on it to suspend its uranium enrichment programme and to enter into negotiations. Its recent decision to enrich uranium to 20 per cent at an underground site at Qom demonstrates the urgent need to intensify diplomatic pressure on Iran to return to negotiations. This is a programme that can have no plausible civilian use and which Iran tried to keep secret. The International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed serious concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme, most recently in a report last November, and Iran is now in breach of 11 resolutions of the IAEA board of governors.
Sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Our objective remains a diplomatic solution that gives the world confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes. We are ready to talk at any point if Iran puts aside its preconditions and returns to negotiations. Iranian Vice-President Rahimi was reported as saying in December:
However, it must be borne in mind that 95 per cent of Iran's oil exports, representing over 80 per cent of its foreign trade earnings, transits the Strait of Hormuz. It is very much against Iran's interests to seek to close the strait to oil exports.
Britain maintains a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security. The Royal Navy has been conducting such patrols since 1980. At the weekend, HMS 'Argyll' and a French vessel joined a US carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz. This was a routine movement but it
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We call on Iran to answer the questions raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency; to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions; to suspend its enrichment programme; and to return to the negotiations that are the only way of reaching a peaceful and long-term settlement to its dispute with the international community".
We on these Benches welcome the extensive international engagement in this policy, especially from our European partners, but also from other long-standing friends and allies. I was, of course, pleased to learn of the announcement by the Australian Foreign Minister this morning. Will the Minister outline how much support this policy has managed to garner at international level, particularly from Russia, China, India and Japan? The ban by Russia and China on supplying military equipment as well as training and maintenance is very welcome, but will the Minister say what assurances they are giving that this will be continued, and what influence they are exerting on Tehran to ensure a more responsible attitude from the regime?
On the diplomatic front, we have seen reports that at a meeting in Moscow on 18 January, Russian officials presented the Iranians with a proposed framework for negotiations with the P5+1, probably based on Russian proposals made in August. Can the Minister inform the House of any response the Government have received from Russia? The Government and the EU have rightly made it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people. Before the Arab spring, we had the green movement in Iran, in which we saw huge numbers on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities seeking reform. Although this protest was barbarically repressed, it showed the considerable public alienation in Iran from the regime. In that light, what assessment have the Government made of the state of public opinion in Iran and of divisions in the political elite? What weight do the Government give to the threat by Iran to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz? Do the Government intend to participate in any international naval task force to keep the strait open? What agreement have the Government obtained from other P5 countries for such action as well as from those in the Gulf? What reaction has there been from other countries in the Gulf to the threat to the Strait of Hormuz? Given the defence cuts, can the Government guarantee that vessels could be made available for such operational activity?
The policy position as set out yesterday by the former Leader of your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lady Ashton, in her capacity as the EU's high representative on foreign affairs, is undeniably correct. However, there is no doubt either that the crisis in the Gulf could further weaken worldwide economic growth,
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Finally, in the event of a crisis in the Gulf having a material impact on the world economy, what indications have the Government had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in such circumstances contingency plans are in place to deal with any economic effects? The position in the region, the attitude being struck by Iran and the economic impact of any implementation of the threat by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz are unquestionably serious. Your Lordships' House and we on these Benches look forward to the Government continuing to keep this House fully informed.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, that was a formidable list of questions. I will seek to answer them all as best I can. If I leave any out, I know that the noble Baroness will understand and we can correspond later.
The first question on which she rightly focused is how much international and global support there is for this programme. Clearly, if embargoes are undermined by other countries continuing to trade, this weakens the situation. We must be realistic. The agreements are with the list of countries that I read out and with the EU in a very united form. However, the big consumers of Iranian oil tend to be in Asia, particularly China and Japan. How much support can we expect from them? The Japanese have indicated that on a phased basis they would be able certainly not to increase any imports from Iran and possibly to run them down. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has indicated-indeed, within my hearing in Abu Dhabi last week-his country's strong opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
From that it ought to follow that China will be realistic about not increasing and maybe reducing its imports of oil from Iran. Statistics indicate that China has already run down its imports to some extent, and we will have to see how that develops, but very clear messages have been conveyed to the People's Republic of China that as a responsible world power and a member of the WTO-and in its own view and those of others, a burgeoning superpower-it has to behave in a constructive and responsible way, in line with its own wishes to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power.
Other countries involved are big customers of Iran, including India, from which I do not think there have been any indications so far on this matter. There are also smaller customers such as Sri Lanka. However, the big customers are the two countries I have mentioned, and their reaction has been as I outlined in my previous few comments.
The Russian position has been shifting, but I am not sure that I can comment on the detailed proposals made on 18 January to which the noble Baroness referred. I shall certainly examine that further, but if
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Public opinion in Iran is very hard to assess. We all read reports of great differences of view in high circles in Iran between the mullahs and Mr Ahmadinejad, but it is hard to assess these things. My own judgment, which I think is shared, is that generally Iran feels that it has a right to develop a nuclear capability and will press ahead. It will take a lot of pressure, which is now being mounted, to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to discuss how its actions can be confined to civil nuclear power, in accordance with the IEA regulations rather than in defiance of them.
The noble Baroness asked about our defence capability. HMS "Argyll", as my right honourable friend said, moved to the area at the weekend. The naval presence in the Gulf has been continuous for a long time and is contributing to security. Your Lordships can rest assured that all necessary contributions to the forces, which include a major American force and French ships, will be entirely what is required to meet the situation-the situation being the threat from Iranian Ministers that they would attempt, if they could, to block the Strait of Hormuz. That would be an illegal act blocking an international trade round, and will be prevented and resisted.
Oil-consuming countries face problems because some have been fairly reliant on Iranian oil. That is less so in Europe, as I have indicated, although Greece has a heavy reliance, and it is for that reason in particular that this embargo on oil is being phased in over a number of months up to 1 July, rather than being brought in instantaneously. Iran therefore has these problems. Italy is importing Iranian oil as a repayment for previous exports, and that too will have to be phased in. Japan will also need a phasing-in operation, although it is not exactly clear at what pace that will happen.
The noble Baroness mentioned contingency plans. We certainly have contingency plans, both at the financial level and in relation to the flow of oil and other energy supplies. Indeed, there are contingency plans in relation to the whole physical matter of closing the Strait of Hormuz. Should that be attempted, I believe it would be frustrated; but if it were to be attempted, there are other means of getting oil out of the Gulf area. There are the pipelines west to the Red Sea from Yanbu, and coming on stream-I do not think it is yet fully technically commissioned, but it is nearly ready-is the Fujairah pipeline, which crosses the corner of United Arab Emirates and bypasses the strait altogether. That can carry 1.9 million to 2.1 million barrels a day. So there are ways of moving oil-not at the volume that is going through the strait at present, which is about 17 per cent of the world's daily oil supplies, but many contingencies can be developed, and we are certainly participating in them at this stage.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Iran is not currently in breach of its NPT obligations in seeking to enrich
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Lord Howell of Guildford: To answer my noble friend's last question first, it has been the constant position of Her Majesty's Government that we would like Israel to come out fully and join the non-proliferation treaty if, as is widely alleged, it has nuclear weapons. We have not been given any firm facts on that, but it is an important aspect. As to Israeli action, that is constantly debated. Again, we have not been hesitant in making clear that action by Israel against Iran would lead to very dangerous developments. We take a very strong view that that is not the way forward and is at all costs to be avoided. That is the position vis-à-vis Israel.
My noble friend is absolutely right that one of Iran's claimed excuses, shall we say, for pushing ahead-one of its reasons for defying IAEA resolutions and UN resolutions, as it has-is that it should have nuclear weapons because it says that Israel has a nuclear weapon. That reality must be faced. My noble friend is not entirely right in saying that Iran is not in defiance of resolutions; it is; it has broken resolutions in the past. I hope that I did not misinterpret what she said on that. This is the problem: we have a regime in Tehran that cannot be trusted and has been declaring that it was co-operating and collaborating with NPT and IAEA resolutions when it was not, as has been revealed by various alarming discoveries along the way.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, should we not all calm down a little about this? The Iranians think that they have total justification for possessing nuclear weapons. For the life of me, I cannot see any case against their having a nuclear weapon. Who on earth are they going to use it against? If anyone says Israel, you cannot imagine a more suicidal act for a country to perform than to launch a nuclear weapon against Israel. That would mean the total incineration of Iran. We ought to realise that with the Iranians we are dealing with people who deal in braggadocio, who say things they do not mean that sound great on television for local consumption. We should calm down-let them get on with it and waste their money.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is pointing to what one would regard as a certain reality: people should not behave in a suicidal fashion. One hopes that he is right. Similarly, one hopes that what might
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Baroness Afshar: I declare an interest as someone who was born in Iran and still works very closely with Iranian academics. My worry is that in Iran views are very divided about nuclear weapons, but the moment there is a threat of sanctions and a threat against Iran, it is likely that even among those who are absolutely opposed-I work with the resistance movement-a great many would back the Government. The fear of Israel is very real, and the idea that there is one law for Israel and one for Iran is absolutely understood by Iranians. The idea that Britain will bring its Army or Navy will be seen as armed defence of Israel. That would undermine any negotiations on the table. It would be very much better if negotiations were conducted perhaps a bit more quietly and with less threat. As an academic, I know that we are suffering enormously because brilliant Iranian students who want to do postgraduate work in this country cannot do so. As someone who came to this country as a student I can tell you that sometimes we turn good.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness speaks with a lot of experience and understanding in her analysis of the psychology of the Iranian policy-makers and the Iranian Government, which, as she rightly said, is a divided house in itself. All kinds of internal conflicts are going on inside Iran. As to the question of getting back to negotiation, that is something that we all want. The aim of this policy, as my right honourable friend in the other place has made clear this afternoon, is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, and to do so in ways that will then lead to a sensible discussion of its nuclear programme and recognising its rights, if conducted properly and in accordance with NPT and IAEA resolutions and requirements, to have civil nuclear power. That is recognised, but negotiation there must be. Bringing Iran back to the table is the task. So far, doing that by saying, "Please come back", and through the normal diplomatic niceties has proved totally inadequate. That is why we have come to the point when the pressure must be increased and the Iranians must be brought back to the table. Any suggestion that instead they will grow more violent and take action to close international waterways must be totally rejected and opposed.
The Marquess of Lothian: My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what active consideration is being given by the Government to the proposal made this week by Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia that the international community should pursue the concept of a totally nuclear-weapon-free zone, properly policed, that would include both Iran and Israel?
Lord Howell of Guildford: This is an idea, an aim and an ambition that the Government fully share. The idea of a WMD or nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East is one to which we certainly subscribe, and this must be a longer-term aim. How we get from here to there is, of course, the problem. Prince Turki al-Faisal is an extremely wise and perceptive commentator and certainly I read very closely everything he had to say on the matter. That would be the ideal. How we would get from here to there would certainly include how we deal with the situation not only in Iran but also in Israel.
Lord Luce: My Lords, I fully support these robust sanctions. Will the Minister not agree that there seems to be an ineluctable slide towards conflict, which could erupt from an incident of any kind? Iran is a very important country with a remarkable history. Is there not a very strong case for telling the Iranians that we should resume negotiations not only on nuclear issues but on much broader matters of mutual concern in the region, and on bilateral relations?
Lord Howell of Guildford: This kind of approach would be very good, if we could get Iran to recognise that it must conform to the IAEA requirements and if we could have some trust and reassurance that it is not moving surreptitiously to the full weaponisation of its nuclear programme. If that assurance was there and if Iran was prepared to talk, we could certainly develop closer relations with what, after all, is a very great country that deserves respect-although it forfeits it by some of its actions-for its history and prominence in the region, and we could move in that direction. However, to get Iran even to come to the table on that basis has so far proved impossible.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret to say that I very much agreed with the Minister when he rightly said that whichever part of the Iranian Government one looks at believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear weapons. The problem with that is that it does not stop with the conflict with Israel; it drips into the conflict right across the Gulf, including, as he said, Saudi Arabia. Perhaps I may ask him about the short-term issue of access to oil. Can he tell us anything about Saudi Arabia's undertaking to make up the shortfall in any Iranian crude, and whether its undertaking to try to hold the international price at $100 a barrel has been dealt with officially by Her Majesty's Government and that of Saudi Arabia?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We cannot yet to talk in terms of undertakings, but there have been indications. Obviously it is up to Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers in the region, such as Kuwait and the United
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There is also a problem of matching the quality of oil concerned. As the noble Baroness knows, although the Iranian oil that Greece, for instance, has been heavily reliant on is slightly sour, the make-up oil from Saudi Arabia would be considerably sourer and would carry a much heavier sulphur content as well, so there would be difficulties for refiners. The usual complexities that arise when one moves oil flows around inside the oil market would occur, of the kind that I have just described. Therefore, I cannot say that there is a neat package of additional oil supplies ready to come into place. One has to realise that the Iranian oil does not necessarily disappear; it will not stop being produced and will probably continue to enter the market, although one imagines at a certain discount in relation to the major customers such as China.
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard: My Lords, the effect of sanctions may be to cause opinion in Iran to coalesce behind the Government, the risk to which noble Lords' attention has been drawn by an expert. Will the Government do everything they can as imaginatively as possible to make clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the quarrel is purely with the regime? Will the Government also urge their European partners to avoid unnecessary irritants in relations with Turkey, a country which has enormous experience of peaceful coexistence with Iran and a country whose expertise and experience is extremely important to us at this difficult time?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I give a most emphatic yes to both those propositions. Indeed, in relation to the second one, it is very important that we work very closely with Turkey, which has indicated very clearly that the idea of Iran becoming a fully weaponised nuclear power is extremely unwelcome to it and that it will combine with the necessary actions and strategies to prevent that. At present, the main strategy is pressure through sanctions, but there are other tracks of diplomacy to develop as well. One can pursue more than one track in these matters, but this is the one that we are now engaged on, which we hope will bring results.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I endorse very strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said. Looking at the practicalities of the immediate threat, can my noble friend assure the House that there are adequate minesweeping capacities should the Strait of Hormuz be blocked by the Iranians?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend asks for assurances. I can give him assurances that all the necessary deployments and efforts will be made to achieve that. We are advised that it can be assured that any mines that are planted, for instance, by night or surreptitiously, will be very swiftly removed. There is the conviction that there can be no sustained blocking of the Strait of Hormuz and that any attempt to do so will be defeated. That is what I can tell my noble
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Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, the Minister said that there are no firm facts that Israel has nuclear armaments. Are there any firm facts that Iran has nuclear armaments? Has the European Union applied any sanctions against Israel? If not, why not?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is raising the broader issue that we have touched on in these discussions and in many debates about the position of Israel and the position of Iran. On the second point, we are pretty sure that Iran is still short of achieving nuclear weapons, but we are also fairly well advised by the IAEA and other bodies that it is on the path to doing so. As far as the Israeli situation is concerned, I was stating the official position. Obviously, it is common talk that Israel possesses these weapons, but it has not officially asserted or confirmed that it does. Therefore, in terms of international facts-and I must use my words carefully-it cannot be asserted without question that it has nuclear weapons. That is the unsatisfactory position at present, and it is one from which we would all like to move. Of course, in the longer term, a middle-eastern nuclear-free zone would take us in that direction, but how we get there is the issue before us now and before all diplomats in the free world.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Is it not obvious, as the Minister said, that doing nothing and saying nothing is not an option at the moment? Is it not vital that Britain's voice must be heard and that the Government are doing exactly that? Is there any indication of the Iranian Government acceding to the reasonable international pressure which is being employed at present? If not, is there any possibility of that in the future?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We clearly hope so. That is the aim of the policy. At the moment it does not look like that. It may be in the next few days that, as has happened in the more distant past, the Iranian authorities will come forward and say, "Yes, let's return to the negotiating table". They may add all sorts of impossible conditions and qualifications that make that difficult, or they may see sense and, in the interests of the Iranian people-with whom we have certainly have no quarrel; I should have made that clear in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr-they will begin discussions in a sensible, calm way on how we prevent the whole nuclear proliferation pattern running away into a horror story in the future for the Middle East.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, there is a very detailed calculation going on at the moment in the United States and elsewhere about the difference between the very bad impact of Iran having nuclear weapons, and about proliferation and so on, the impact of attacks on her nuclear system and what it is believed will be the short-term effects of these. Does the Minister
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Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is absolutely right. As Prince Turki, who we have already mentioned, said the other day, wars lead to more wars. Once we were in a pattern of violence and conflict-which might be reached by accident, which is a very terrifying prospect-there is no telling where the consequences would go. I think Prince Turki said that one consequence would be retaliation not just against the western powers but the entire Gulf state community and indeed all those who were deemed to have had any association with those who had done the attacking. Who knows where the consequences would lead? What we do know is that if we get to the point of violence, this policy will have failed and a new one will be required. That is something we are determined to avoid.
"( ) all areas of employment law not otherwise covered in this Schedule"
Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 82, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beecham. We come now to employment law, which, if the Government have their way, would be taken out of scope of legal aid altogether.
As a country we spend £4 million a year on legal aid for employment matters. That goes to help some 13,300 people at around £300 per head. Representation, as opposed to advice, is provided only to a handful of people a year, measured in the dozens not the thousands, and at pretty negligible cost. The kind of issues at stake will be well known to the Committee; they include unfair and wrongful dismissal, redundancy, employment contracts, discrimination, strike action, data protection and employee confidentiality, and wage issues.
These issues are of importance to the individual who has become a victim of an unlawful practice, but the Government consider them insufficiently important to merit public money-there seems no other interpretation of the Government's intentions. Further, the Government consider that there are alternative sources of funding available for these cases. The Government's consultation document says:
"We note that damages-based agreements are available in employment cases and that there are other sources of help available in this area of law. For example, some Trade Union members are usually entitled to legal assistance, the employer may be willing to engage in civil mediation (which is sometimes paid for by the employer), or, if the dispute concerns unfair dismissal or flexible working disputes, and there are no complex legal issues, the
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I cannot resist the comment that this must be one of the first times that a Conservative Minister and Secretary of State have plotted together to drive people into the arms of the trades unions, but so be it.
More seriously, we have to acknowledge on all sides that the majority of British workers are no longer members of trade unions. Damages-based agreements are not yet widely available and, we believe, open up the possibility of predatory behaviour by interested parties. In looking at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal's website, it does not take long to find evidence of pretty dodgy employment law claims management companies taking huge chunks of people's damages-and that is before the lawyers get paid. If this part of the Bill goes through, the consequence will be that a large proportion of employees who have been dealt with unlawfully will end up representing themselves and will not have the benefit of legal advice.
When we asked government departments whether, when they are taken to a tribunal, they would typically be represented, hardly surprisingly, the answer was a unanimous yes. Similarly, private employers will often-although certainly not always-be represented at a tribunal by lawyers, whether they are solicitors or barristers. In practice, this means the creation of a highly prejudicial inequality of arms between employees and employers. That of course can be alleviated, as we all know, by high quality advice pre-tribunal, but even that cheap but successful option is no longer to be provided. We argue that in real terms it will mean an erosion in individual employees' rights, especially those at the margin-for example, those on minimum wage and those who are most vulnerable. Those firms which choose to behave in the worst possible way by playing fast and loose with their employees' rights may well be advantaged. It could be a bit of a race to the bottom, which is a cliché but precisely what happens when we start restricting access to justice. Good companies and employers that treat their employees with respect and that honour the law will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those who employ predatory practices. We do not believe that it is in anyone's interests to encourage such a system.
I am afraid that it looks as though a concerted effort to curtail the rights of employees is taking place in our system. The law creates many of these rights because of the fundamental basic inequity of power between employer and employee. If these rights are to be taken away from employees gradually, that balance will shift. We have to make a decision as to whether that is a good or a bad thing. I am not talking about just the taking away of legal aid from scope; I am talking about the discussion that is going on at the moment about fees for employment tribunals, including the fee to begin a claim and the much larger, additional fee if the claim goes to hearing. I am talking about unfair dismissal and the qualifying period being doubled from one year to two years and, even though this may sound trivial, the payment of expenses to witnesses and claimants to attend an employment tribunal.
We on this side believe that such moves are unhealthy and a backward step in the very sensitive field of the employer/employee balance of power relationship. As my right honourable friend John Healey MP says today in an article in PoliticsHome, the emergence of the Trade Union Reform Campaign appears to be a rather extreme part of this process, but here we are discussing legal aid and whether it should remain in scope or be taken out of scope.
The cost of ensuring that people have good quality advice on employment rights and are able to exert those rights before a tribunal is, as I have said, £4 million a year. If those 13,000 people were not able to get some money or their job back, and if only a tenth of them went on JSA, that £4 million would immediately be spent just on that benefit. There are lots of examples of cases where employment advice has proved to be beneficial, and I want to mention a case referred to in the document London Advice Watch Report, which sets out the findings of a research project on the provision of social welfare law advice in London. The document was launched in the Palace of Westminster a couple of weeks ago, and among the speakers were my colleague Mr Andrew Slaughter MP and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The document cites the following case:
"A man who had worked at a large retail chain for eight years was fired for gross misconduct after making a mistake on the till which cost the shop a very small amount of money. Tower Hamlets Law Centre helped him claim unfair dismissal and won him his job back, along with compensation for lost earnings".
The facts of that case are incredibly simple and straightforward, and I would bet that they are replicated many times in England and Wales, but it is just this sort of case where, if advice is not given, an employee who is unfairly sacked will go without a remedy. To use the phrase again, he will be without access to justice.
We think that this is £4 million that is well spent under our legal aid system, and has been for many years. That is why it is economic, humane, just and sensible to continue this provision and why we are putting forward this amendment to keep employment law in scope. I beg to move.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My noble friend has put his finger on the spot. The issues we are discussing are of prime importance, particularly for people who are not members of trade unions. I hope that they would be, but they are not, and we have to face up to the facts. We are talking about people who are particularly vulnerable, and I hope that the Liberal Democrats in this House are equally concerned about this issue. Employment law should enshrine issues which are vital to protect the lives of ordinary people. In that regard those who, unwisely or wisely, are not members of trade unions should be properly protected, but they are not. Indeed, they are going to be worse off if this particularly noxious proposal is carried.
I hope that the Minister will see sense, but I have seen little sign of that. He knows that I have a high regard for him, but I am surprised that he is part of the present coalition-I thought more highly of him than that. Vulnerable people need to be protected and I am concerned that that is far from being the case at present.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend's amendment. The Government have not got their act together on this. We are told that these rights are being taken out of scope because there are other means of dealing with them. Well, the other means of dealing with them, of course, are via the arbitration system, but it is not very long ago since we debated in this House a set of proposals emanating from another wing of government, the Business Secretary, which were designed to weaken employment law on arbitration.
It was proposed that in future a dismissed employee should have to pay a fee before getting a case to an arbitration tribunal. And then, when the employee came before an arbitration tribunal, he would not face the kind of arbitration tribunal that we are used to for dismissal cases, with lay members from both sides of industry sitting on it-oh, no. In future, there would be no relatively friendly environment in which an individual could make a submission, perhaps without being legally represented, but a judge sitting on his own. In other words, it would be a much more legal system, and this legislation makes provision for no legal aid to be provided. That is totally unsatisfactory.
On the one hand, you have a Government saying, "Well, there are other means of dealing with the situation through a non-legal system"; on the other, they are doing everything possible to make it difficult for someone who has been dismissed unfairly, as they feel, to take their case to an arbitration tribunal instead of the law. This is absolutely unsatisfactory and I really do think that the Government have to re-examine their policies in this regard. It is totally unfair to individuals who believe that they are doing a good job of work, who become dismissed and who feel that they have a case, and there is nowhere for them to take it.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. It must make practical sense to put employment cases back into the scope of legal aid. Worryingly, we face the prospect of rising unemployment. We could see significantly rising unemployment if there were to be a disorderly collapse of the euro. Let us hope that that does not take place, but the interaction of global economic circumstances with the Government's deliberate policies to reduce employee protection in the interests of liberalising the labour market could result in significant numbers of people becoming casualties. While the Government might argue that the overall economic process will be benign in the interests of this country, it is unquestionable that these circumstances may be malign in the interests of individuals.
In a process of economic adaptation, it is extremely important that, as a society, we take decent and proper care of those who may be the casualties of it. It must be a basic right that people should have legal aid to ensure that they are well advised and that, where necessary, they are represented and their cases can be well made in employment tribunals. What they are personally suffering is a product partly of events and partly of policy, and all of us have a responsibility to ensure that, in times of great economic difficulty, no more people suffer in these processes of change than is truly necessary.
If someone has a genuine right to bring a case against unfair dismissal or some other aspect of their employer's treatment of them, and they are not supported to make that case, it leads to a sense of injustice. A sense of injustice pervading society in a context of economic stress and social strain cannot be something that the Government want.
If we look at the implications for individuals, again, surely Ministers do not want people to suffer unduly or to incur the costs to the public purse that one can foresee occurring. If someone loses their job, as my noble friend Lord Bach has pointed out, they are liable to become reliant on benefits and could be on the start of a slippery slope that leads to debt, homelessness, the destabilisation of family life, and physical and mental ill health, all of which carry costs to society and to the public purse which surely the Government would wish to avert.
I do not know whether it is the case-it has been suggested to me that it is-that the Government have received advice from those responsible for the conduct of the employment tribunals that it is a mistake to take employment cases out of the scope of legal aid. It would be helpful if the Minister could advise the House whether the Government's policies have been endorsed or criticised by employment tribunals and whether they have been advised that it would be wiser not to take this course.
For all the reasons that noble Lords have put forward and those that I have suggested, I hope that the Government will accept the amendment. If they are unable to accept it today, I hope they will look carefully again at this area of reduction in legal aid before we come to Report.
Lord Pannick: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment so persuasively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I do so for three reasons. The first reason concerns the vital importance of employment rights. Few areas of the law are of such day-to-day practical importance to the individual as their rights under employment law. This is surely at least as important as environmental pollution rights, which are within scope under paragraph 37. I do not understand why equality is included in paragraph 38 and so is within scope, covering as it does some employment rights, including the important right not to be discriminated against on prohibited grounds, but not other equally important employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed.
The second reason-the noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned this-is the inevitable inequality in advice and representation between the employer, who almost always has legal advice and representation in the employment tribunal, and the employee. This will undoubtedly result in inequity and in decisions being given that are contrary not only to justice but to the law.
The third reason is the absolute inevitability that the lack of legal advice and representation will result in people wrongly losing their jobs and becoming reliant on state benefits. I hope that the Minister will address this point because the very limited financial savings that we are talking about are completely illusory for this reason.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, obviously, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said in his introduction, the purpose of the amendment is to make legally aided advice, assistance and representation available for all employment matters.
I have said from the Dispatch Box on one or two occasions in the context of these debates, and I have heard my noble friend Lord McNally say it-no doubt, he has also said it on many occasions when I have not been here-that we are faced with a need to prioritise resources. Clearly when individual issues are properly the subject for debate, it is always possible to make a case for that particular sphere of law or to bring that particular subject within scope. That has been evident from the contributions of noble Lords in this debate. Given the limited pot-it is not a bottomless pocket-my noble friends have had to address how we prioritise. As has been said on numerous occasions, we believed that the more important objective and priorities were those involving life, liberty or homelessness. As a result, we did not feel able to include within scope the employment law issues described by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and others in the context of the amendment.
It is also important to remember that one of the other things that we have looked at and that has been addressed is where there are other opportunities for funding to be made available. That was touched on particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, when he moved the amendment. Also, employment tribunals were designed, at least initially, to be simple. Their purpose is to enable parties to make or respond to a claim without the need for legal representation. While we recognise that clients find advice in the preparation of their case undoubtedly useful, when these tough choices had to be made we did not consider that this group of clients were generally likely to be in the category of particularly vulnerable people whom we have provided for in other parts of the Bill. We do not accept that the tribunal cannot be accessed or that justice cannot be obtained without legally aided advice.
In fairness, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, quoted from the Government's consultation paper, in which we outlined other sources of advice such as the free helpline of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service or the trade unions. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that numerous people are not in trade unions, but a considerable number of people are still covered. I seem to recall USDAW announcing earlier this week a very successful action that it had taken on behalf of its members in branches of Woolworths. It had managed to get claims. I am sure the noble Lord would agree that there is still an important and valid role for trade unions.
ACAS also offers a free arbitration service for some disputes concerning unfair dismissal or flexible working. In some cases, an employer may indeed be willing to engage in civil mediation. There is also help available from the pay and work rights helpline and the redundancy helpline, and the tribunal's public inquiry line can provide factual information although, I accept, not legal advice. Again, in some cases, voluntary organisations or charities may be able to offer assistance.
A number of noble Lords mentioned other issues that are not immediately pertinent to the debate on legal aid. DBIS is still consulting, although it might not have even got to consultation yet. I will certainly make it my business to ensure that-
Lord Clinton-Davis: Many of the people we are talking about are inarticulate. In my view, they have to have some sort of professional advice, but advice on the spot that is legally articulated on their behalf. No one else will do it. What does the Minister say to that?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: There is a distinction between advice that is preparatory to a tribunal and advice in representation. I will check this but at the moment what has been sought is in many respects advice preparatory to tribunal. The number of cases where there is actual representation is very small.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Will merely advising people and preparation be enough? Is it not vital that those in this position should be able to put their case to the tribunal? They cannot always do that by themselves, can they? They need professional advice.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, in many cases professional advice by representation is not actually available. I have already said that I do not for a moment deny that the advice that people get in the preparation of a case is valuable-of course it is-but we get back to the issue of looking at the competing priorities for funding from a limited pot. We have said that cases involving life, liberty and homelessness are more important priorities. We are looking, too, at circumstances in which the tribunal is itself intended to be a forum in which people could much more readily access such things informally, without the need for, or recourse to, lawyers. When I was a law student, the idea was still alive and fresh. That difficult choice was made against a background where there are other sources of advice available-I shall not list them again-and in the context of a tribunal that is intended to facilitate those who do not have representation. I do not shy away from it being a difficult choice, but it was made against other competing priorities.
I was about to take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, made. We have mentioned other proposals that have been on the airwaves. A different department is responsible, but I will ensure that these concerns are drawn to the attentions of BIS, and will respond to the more specific points when it is possible to draw them to the attention of the department whose responsibility they are. I think that I am right in saying that in some cases the consultation has not been completed.
Lord Howarth of Newport: I put another question to the Minister, although I am very grateful for his answer to that one. He himself suggested that we are no longer in a golden age, if ever we were, in which tribunals were easily accessible and user friendly. Will he say whether the department has received representations and advice from the employment tribunals on this
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I think that I asked whether someone could come to my aid and give an answer to that question. Perhaps if I talk slowly, that may be possible. Failing which, I may be able to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Bach, if he responds to this amendment, or I will have to resort to writing to the noble Lord. Frankly, I do not know the answer, but I shall try to find it out for him.
Lord Howarth of Newport: While the Minister awaits advice, will he tell us about the processes that led to the drafting of the impact statement? A number of us have argued that there will be knock-on consequences for the public purse to the budgets of other departments and the wider economy from taking these cases out of scope. What examination have the Government made of the cost implications elsewhere for their own policies, which the Minister keeps telling us he is applying only under duress, to save money on the legal aid budget itself? The justification offered by Ministers for this is that it is essential to contribute to the reduction of the deficit, and this is how they are going to contribute to the reduction of the deficit. Many of us simply do not believe that the net effect of these policies will be to reduce the deficit-it will be to increase it. What calculations have the Government made about that?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: As the noble Lord acknowledged, the question goes wider than this particular case. I remember dealing with or at least considering the matter in relation to an earlier amendment last week. While it is often said, I do not think that any substantive evidence has been given that the cost to the public purse will be greater as a result of these policies. Certainly, if part of the purpose is to ensure that the deficit was addressed, it would not make sense to rob Peter to pay Paul, or whichever way round it is. The Government's view is that in the totality there is benefit and that this will make a significant contribution to the reduction of the deficit. I apologise to the noble Lord, but despite the extended debate I still do not have the answer to his question.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, since this seems to be a harry-the-Minister moment and I need to make up for yesterday, can I put a couple of questions to my noble and learned friend that I would like him to think about while he is waiting? First, in my considerable experience of tribunals generally, employment tribunals have always really thought that they should be courts. They behaved much more like courts than any other form of tribunal. Indeed, the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council was so called because the employment tribunals insisted that they were not administrative justice and wanted "tribunals" in the title, reflecting their feeling of difference. Perhaps he could comment on that.
Secondly, and linking with this legal aid point, I picked up on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I take the point about priorities, and I am not going to say that the other things which he mentioned are of lower priority than this. I had a constituency case, years ago, where somebody was up against one of the big banks, with QCs all over the place, so to me the question is: is it fair, just and right that people should be left without advice and assistance when they are up against that sort of might? I am not sure that the answer is yes.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the lesson of this is to get an answer quickly so that you do not get other questions accumulating. I know that my noble friend has considerable experience from his time in dealing with tribunals. I cannot remember what his exact role was, but I know that he was very much involved and I remember meeting him when he had that role and I was in another Parliament. As I indicated, over the years it has perhaps become much more formalised but we should not lose sight of the fact that the intent of the tribunals system generally, no matter what they might want to call it, is to have a forum in which people can much more readily come and put their case forward than one with all the formality of the court. Indeed, as I indicated, that was part of the thinking as to why we are dealing with the tribunal system. Perhaps the necessity of it is, let us say, that there was a less compelling argument as to why these cases should therefore be brought within scope than would otherwise be the case.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, one of the points that I made was that the Government were intending to change the nature of the tribunals, by removing the lay people who sit on unfair dismissal cases and replacing them by a judge sitting alone. In other words, they are giving a much more legal feeling to the person who appears before them than when there were laypeople on tribunals. I am not a lawyer, but I have a lot of experience of tribunals. I sat for many years as a member of the arbitration commission, and so on, so I know quite a lot about the way in which laypeople operate on tribunals. It is certainly a much more friendly arrangement for an individual appearing before such a tribunal than if he or she appears before a judge sitting alone. That changes the nature of the tribunal and of the apparatus. I wanted to raise that with the Minister.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I accept that there is obviously a distinction between a tribunal and a more formal court setting. It was in the context of those proposals, which are not before us in legislation, that I indicated I would respond in more detail. Likewise, I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. He asked a perfectly straightforward and fair question and I very much regret that I cannot give him an answer, but I will certainly do so and ensure that that response is circulated to other Members who have participated.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Would the Minister, between now and Report, consider the experience of someone such as myself, who was removed from
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, it is always possible to speculate on what might happen in one case or another. To take the noble Baroness's point, if it were a case where there were efforts to prevent her joining a trade union, that suggests that there was trade union involvement there, and one of the points that I have made is that trade unions have been a source of support over many years. However, it is difficult to look at the circumstances of one case without drawing conclusions that may be inappropriate. I simply observe that there are other forms and sources of advice that could be available in such circumstances, but perhaps not least from a trade union.
I conclude by making it clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, highlighted, although legal aid has been removed for employment cases, it will be retained for judicial reviews and claims relating to contravention of the Employment Act 2010; discrimination claims are available there. That is consistent with what we had indicated we believed to be an important priority. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the concept that employment tribunals are a cosy chat between an employee and his boss in front of a very receptive body of people is quite wrong these days. An impression of unfairness is created for the employee who is seeking his rights when he finds perhaps even a QC appearing on behalf of a wealthy employer. I have appeared many times for employers, sometimes for employees and sometimes on my own behalf.
The excuse, or the reasons, given by the Minister would be far more acceptable if he were to say, "Well, if a union is backing an employee, that is fair enough; they can pay for legal representation". If he is there on his own, why not just have the boss-the person who did the sacking-in front of the tribunal, not lawyers who in many cases are overpaid when they are dealing with the individual appearing in front of them?
Lord Pannick: Before the Minister sits down completely, I have a question arising out of his emphasis on legal aid being available for equality claims. If I have understood this part correctly, paragraph 40 makes clear that legal aid will be available if your claim is in connection with a claim that is within scope. Is it right, therefore, that if I am a dismissed employee and I wish to be eligible for legal aid under the new regime, I should add a discrimination claim to my claim for unfair dismissal and then both of them would be within scope for legal aid? If that is correct, the consequence of excluding general employment claims from scope will simply be to encourage unmeritorious discrimination claims to be brought in order to ensure legal aid for unfair dismissal claims.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: To pick up my noble friend Lord Thomas's point, I do not think I ever suggested that tribunals were a cosy chat; indeed, I suggested that they were of a somewhat different nature from those of 30 or 40 years ago. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that employment tribunals were designed to be simple and accessible, and that the parties can make a response to a claim without the need for representation. Similarly, an employment tribunal and its chairman must, so far as is practical, ensure that the parties are on an equal footing-that is actually in the rules.
With regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, says, it is the case that where an employment claim involves both discrimination and non-discrimination matters, we will consider that under the rules that we put in place for connected matters under paragraph 40 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. Those rules will be set out in regulation but, as with any application that is within scope, this will not necessarily bring in these cases automatically. Of course there is still the merits test, albeit that it was a category that was in scope.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what I was going to describe as a short debate but is now a medium-sized one. None the less, it has been a passionate debate, with many strong views being expressed. I am grateful, too, to the Minister for answering the sometimes difficult questions that were rightly posed to him. I am particularly glad to thank the noble and learned Lord for acting as a recruiting sergeant for trade unions. Speaking as a member of a trade union, I think that that is a splendid thing to do from the government Front Bench. He is quite right; this is a strong argument for people to join trade unions and get the help that that brings. I know he was making a serious point.
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