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What are the costs and what are the benefits? I hope that in these referenda, which will doubtless go ahead, people will have the good sense of the two-thirds of those who have been asked so far in different parts of the country and say no. I am sorry about the money that will be wasted en route but I am sure they will save their local authorities money if they do say no. Before there is any further development of this scheme I hope that proper costings are made available and proper research is done into the alleged benefits of the system where it has occurred so far. I also hope that other cities will have the opportunity before too long, if the Minister persists with her policy and holds a referendum in a city that does not have a mayor at present, to follow the splendid example of Stoke-on-Trent and say no.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I declare an interest, having been a councillor over a long period of time and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, knows, having served on two major European institutions and met a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. I am proud to be able to say that Europe is diverse. Speaking personally-do not worry; I will not break into song-I do not want to be in America where there is a system that means that you can elect the dog catcher or somebody to do this, that or the other job. I quite like Europe because of its diversity. I like the fact that in Spain people can choose whether they have a Catalonian region. I like the fact that regions were developing in Greece. I am sorry for the problems that now face the people in that country.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made my blood run cold when he said that we ought to get on with this because the campaigns have already started. That rings a bell with other bits of this Government's legislation. We are told that, although we have not finished the health Bill, putting it into effect has already begun. That is not the democracy that I believe in. In the democracy that I believe in, you get the legislation in place and then you enact it. If the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, believes strongly in this, then he and my noble friend up in the north-east are perfectly free to go back and get 5 per cent of the population to agree to test the water. What is not in order is for somebody down here in the Government to decide, "You've got to spend that money".
We have not yet seen the full impact of what the Government are doing in terms of local authority budgets and the effect on services. Earlier today the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, whom I, too, respect, in answer to a question about differential funding for local authorities in the north vis-à-vis the south, said, "That is the system we use"-I hope that my paraphrase is agreed to be accurate-"and that is the way the money is allocated". Well, speaking from the north, that way is not a fair way or a good way. People living in northern authorities that are suffering under the cuts in local government expenditure would not choose to spend this money at this time in this way. It is no good saying that it comes from a different budget, pocket or source. Money is money up north; brass is brass, and if there is brass going, they want it
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I am totally in favour of choices. I actually argued in favour of choices for local people over police and crime commissioners. I asked why we could not have a referendum in each police authority area to ask people whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or whether they wanted a few more police officers on the streets. The Government did not seem to want to ask them that question. In fact, the Government resisted it, as did one or two Liberal Democrat Members of your Lordships' House. At this time there is an issue of accountability. It is no good Members of the coalition, be they on one side or the other, swinging backwards and forwards, saying that the people out there want choice and forcing a referendum on them. What they actually want is choice as to where their hard-earned brass is spent, and at the moment the Government are wasting it on a variety of schemes.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who spoke about the importance of individuals and I think that the Government believe in the importance of individuals. In a local authority, the one good thing about the current system, and people know it, is that if a leader is corrupt, difficult or fails to fulfil their duties, those who work with them day after day know about it and they either challenge them and hold them to account or the leader is unseated the next time round.
As for the issue of cities punching below their weight, that has to be seen against the background of the break-up of the regions. This was all too slow in development under my Government. We do not want sub-regionalism. I certainly do not want anything less than north, south, east, west and central in terms of regional strategy. What I actually want is to see people being given a choice. So let us ask the people, and let us ask them all the questions, not just the one or two that the Government favour. I am sure that I am not allowed to gamble in your Lordships' House, but I would bet that if I went home to Ribbleton in Lancashire and asked the people whether they wanted a referendum or a home help, or whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or more police officers at the end of the street-given the descent into rising crime figures under this Government-I know what they would say. With all her distinguished experience in local government, I believe that the Minister does, too.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I should probably start with the same words as the noble Baroness who has just spoken. For the past 38 years I have been-and still am-a councillor; indeed I am a member of the executive of a London borough council. I have been a member of the Committee of the Regions, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, since its inception in 1994, and I agree wholly with what she said about that. One of the great joys of being on that committee-there are not that many-is learning about the diversity of what I would call "sub-state government" right across the European Union. I have also been a council leader for 13 years. Where I make a unique claim in this Chamber-well, I was going to say "unique claim",
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The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked for comparisons between the mayoral system in London and what went before. That is an impossible comparison. I get very annoyed when I hear people say-with a lot of justification-that the 10 years with a Mayor of London have been a lot better than what went before. Of course they have. Back in the late 1990s, the Labour Government offered us in London a referendum where the choice was, "Do you want a strategic government for London or not?". I and most of us did. Yet we were not offered the choice of having what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to, as I would, as a parliamentary system-the traditional local government system, which at that time existed everywhere in the United Kingdom-or a presidential system with a strong mayor and a very weak assembly. The Labour Government told us that if we wanted a strategic government, which many of us had campaigned for over many years, the only choice on offer was an elected mayor with a weak assembly-a system once described to me as being just like having George Bush with no Congress. Some of us who had long campaigned for a strategic authority in London found that choice difficult to make, but it was the only choice that the Government gave us. Clearly, had there been a no vote in that referendum, we would not have had another choice to come back and say, "Let us have a parliamentary system instead". There would have been nothing. So forgive me if I am a little cynical when I hear Members on the opposition Bench now complain about the lack of choice.
The other way in which I may be unique here relates to the fact that I have noticed that the debates tonight and on previous occasions have almost always fallen into those opposing the referendums being those who oppose the directly elected mayoral system and those supporting the referendum being those who broadly favour having elected mayors. I find that very odd. I have not yet been tainted by my noble friend Lord Shipley to start changing my mind. I have always been and I remain unconvinced of the case for directly elected mayors. There have been some very good directly elected mayors, both in this country and in other parts of the world, yet we all know that there have quite a few very bad directly elected mayors, some of whom have ended up in prison. Maybe we know about them. I suspect that the vast majority that we do not know about at all have been as indifferent as any other system. We simply do not know about them because they did not make much difference.
I am here tonight to support the Government's intention to have a referendum and to encourage those who hope that it will have a no outcome to have a little more trust and confidence both in their ability to argue that case and in the people to believe it.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Tope, accept that those of us who oppose at this time spending this money on forcing people to have a referendum do so because it is inappropriate? The noble Lord does not know which way I would vote about a locally elected mayor. He knows that I oppose the elected police and crime commissioners.
Lord Tope: My Lords, the arguments about whether we spend money on this or that are always easily made in any debate. Tonight, I should be at my own local authority debating our council budget for the coming year, where the Conservative opposition will argue that we should not put £250,000 into this at the same time as we make a £300,000 cut to something else. You can always have these arguments. The costs of the referendums are very small in comparison to the total budget of any of the authorities, let alone to the national expenditure from which they come. Frankly, that is not a terribly strong argument for or against.
My point was that those of us who would argue yes if they had the chance-I would not, but the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Shipley, would-should have more faith in their ability to convince the electorate. Yes, we would all wish for a higher turnout so that the decision, whatever it is, is more representative of the people at large. Again, the more vigorous the argument and the campaign, the higher the turnout will be. What are the Opposition arguing? Are they saying that there should be a threshold? Are they saying that it should be passed only if a given proportion votes for it? We tried that once before in Scotland and it did not resound terribly well. We simply have to campaign for a high turnout for whatever it is that we believe in. I do not want to be that provocative.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the local people already have the ability to make that choice without spending money. Let me say this to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I know that one can stand in this Chamber or in a council meeting and say, "This is a relatively small amount of money". But in an area where an old people's home is being closed or the home helps are being reduced, the general public do not see the money that the noble Lord dismisses as trivial or small by comparison as being small when their services are being cut.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I entirely accept that. I am quite sure that in her distinguished career, the noble Baroness as a county councillor-indeed, chairman of the education committee-must on many occasions have had to make such unpopular arguments. I understand that and I am sure that the noble Baroness does as well.
I do not want to take too long or carry on being quite so provocative. However, we come now to the question of why we should have the referenda. First, it was stated in the Conservative Party manifesto, which was at the time of no great excitement to me, but it was then agreed in the coalition agreement-my party has agreed to the commitment that there will be referendums in the originally 12 and now 11 cities. That is an
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We had the question again about legislation. The Localism Act did not expressly state that these referendums would take place, but it certainly gave the power for them to take place. It was very well known, not least because the coalition agreement referred to it, that this was going to happen. The fact that people are only now in February preparing for a referendum that will probably take place on 3 May is hardly surprising, given all the commitments and all the legislation, including the passing of the Localism Act.
Therefore, I think that the Government are right to be holding these referendums in accordance with the commitments given. Those of us who hope for a no vote should have a lot more confidence in our ability to convince voters. Above all, we ought to trust the people to decide on this. It will decide the issue one way or the other for the foreseeable future. We can then get on with debating an issue that I think is far more important, which is the powers that our local government has-whoever is running it and whatever governance system they choose to have-to get on and revitalise not only our cities but the whole of the rest of local government in this country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the passion at the end was very good. It has been a low-key debate apart from that. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington-if I may hesitantly say so-has quite a short memory, particularly in relation to putting legislation in place before it has been passed. I stood where the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is on more times than I care to recall, telling the then Government that they were introducing and had almost put into effect legislation before it had been passed. Therefore, I do not accept that challenge to what we are doing here, but I do think the noble Baroness must not forget that that was a situation with practically all the legislation that the previous Government put in place. We must not forget that.
The grant to each local authority is done against a formula-as indeed the previous Government did. We have argued for years over which way the formula was going, one way or the other. People have short memories. We must just all try to remember where we came from.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, drew attention to the fact that the coalition Government's programme made it clear that we are committed to creating directly elected mayors. That commitment was carried out in the Localism Act and was a commitment to having a referendum in 12 cities. Those cities are now 11 because Leicester took the decision to move to a mayor under the original provisions in the Local Government Act 2000. The Government believe that there is good evidence that a powerful, dynamic and directly elected mayor
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I did not express myself very well. I said it was skewed in the sense that it was being asked only in those areas that currently do not have a directly elected mayor. It would be a far fairer test if referendums were also being held in areas that already have them and may want to get rid of them, as Stoke did.
Baroness Hanham: I hear what the noble Lord says, but that was not a provision in the Localism Act. It provided for referendums in the 12 cities and not for referendums elsewhere or on other mayors that have already been elected under the 2000 Act, which was implemented by his Government.
The heart of the case advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is the question of compulsion and the cost of the referendums. We are not requiring any particular outcome for these referendums; we are clear that the decisions about local government are for local people and nothing that we are doing departs from that principle. We are ensuring that people in our larger cities have the opportunity to address the question as to whether they want a mayor for their city. We have made it clear that central government will bear the cost of the referendums, estimated to be about £2.25 million, in line with the long-established new burdens doctrine. On the examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, of what her local authority would think about and what people think about, this will come from central Government-
The Minister reiterated that this provision was in the manifesto agreement of the coalition, when it came together. So it was in the manifestos of both parties and in the coalition agreement that there would be no top-down major reorganisation of the health service. I find it difficult to accept why certain things in the coalition agreement are sacrosanct while others are being trodden on daily to the disgust of the medical profession.
Lord Bilston: Would the Minister allow me to ask a question about costs? We are all well aware of the problems that the majority of people in this country are facing at this moment. How do the Government reconcile the spending of £2.5 million on these referendums, £85 million on the AV referendum and £25 million on the referendum for police commissioners? How can we square this vast amount of expenditure when there is so much poverty and we are taking legislation through this House which will make people more impoverished? We are voting on measures which are unnecessary, certainly in the minds of the public. As we have heard, they are not interested in these kinds of changes. They want local government as they have always understood it: councillors working together for their communities, most often across parties, to bring about the improvements that people look for. I suggest that this is a complete waste of time and money.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, when we have had the referendums we will know whether or not people want to have a mayor, or whether they want changes to their local governance system. This is in 12 cities, that is all: the 12 largest cities. It is not in the rest of the country, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, can already have those referendums if they can get enough people to sign the bits of paper under the Act passed by the previous Government.
The value of large cities effectively led by powerful mayors is demonstrated by international and domestic experience. I am not going to quote Barcelona. There is, not least, the Mayor of London: the capital has benefitted from having a strong voice and leadership. As a result it has been possible to start devolving powers from the centre to the mayor, who is then able to work in conjunction with local government and see major infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, implemented. It is exactly because of these and similar benefits which we believe that mayors will bring to other large cities that, in our view, those large cities should all have the opportunity to be governed by elected mayors. Evidence shows that, on average, local authority mayors are known to 57 per cent of local people-over twice the percentage for a council leader. I will not tempt the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to tell me what percentage of people recognised him on the streets of Newcastle. I am confident that it might be a smidgen under 57 per cent, but I am not going to make a bet on it.
Noble Lords on both this and a previous occasion have argued against these orders, and against what they see as being compulsion, citing the current provisions under the Local Government Act 2000, which include the petition trigger and the ability for a council to resolve to change its governance arrangements, as being sufficient. This is consistent with the approach taken by the previous Government, who legislated to hold a referendum in 1998 on an elected mayor for London, which has also already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Tope.
However, I would like remind noble Lords that, under the Local Government Act 2000, which was enacted by the previous Government, there were two further triggers for a referendum. Section 35 of the
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"The Secretary of State may by order make provision requiring every local authority, or every local authority falling within any description of authority specified in the order, to hold a referendum",
on whether those authorities should operate a specific form of governance, which could include the mayoral form of governance. We are not on a unique path here. In fact, the previous Government used the power under Section 35 of the Act to compel the London Borough of Southwark, which I think the noble Lord mentioned, to hold a referendum on its governance model in January 2002. Indeed, this compulsion was in the form of a direction and was not even subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as this legislation is. The provisions in the Localism Act 2011 are therefore not new or confined to this Government, who are concentrating, as I have said, on just 12 cities-but that is now 11, following Leicester's decision to adopt the mayoral form of government.
It has also been argued that there is no appetite for a mayor or, indeed, for a referendum but I would like to be clear that a case for a referendum under these circumstances is not about whether there is a clamour for one. It is about the governance of our big cities and their contribution to the country as a whole, and about how a mayor can help their city to perform even more strongly economically, socially and environmentally. That is why we believe, at the very least, that the people of the city should have the opportunity to address-and seriously address-the question of whether to have a mayor. The choice is theirs.
In the next few months, discussions and arguments will take place about the strengths and weaknesses of a mayoral model-I am saying "mayoral" because I am not sure that it is "mayoreal", as I do not think there is an "e" in it. It is exactly this type of debate and discussion that points to the validity of an exercise in giving local people the opportunity to address the question of whether to move to that. Let us be clear; we see mayors as being better able to deliver growth and prosperity to our larger cities, something which I know that we all want.
During Grand Committee, and indeed today, noble Lords asked about the cost of a mayor against other governance structures, and about internal administrative costs and savings or allowances. As we made clear in the impact assessment, which I am sure noble Lords have all studied, and as I said in Committee, any costs or savings will depend on how much reorganisation a city council decides to undertake to accommodate the mayor. In order to do so, it may of course reallocate resources internally in a variety of ways. However, based on the 11 authorities which have adopted an elected mayor since 2000, there does not appear to be any substantial difference in the corporate and democratic core costs of having a mayor compared with a leader. Perhaps that underlines my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, last time. In the light of the current financial position, I am sure that any elected mayor would want to keep their costs and allowances down to ensure that they remain within budget.
I think it is correct that the version of the question which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was kind enough to tell the department that he would ask is not entirely the question that he asked in the Chamber. I am going to reply as on the first, if I may. He had asked what the costs were in the administration of the Greater London Council in its last year, if that is correct, and what the costs are now that we have a mayor and Assembly. The noble Lord is nodding his head, so I assume that is right. I can tell him that the GLC and GLA are not directly comparable in terms of function, particularly since information on the GLC is now historic. The combined component budget for the GLA-that is, the mayor and Assembly-for 2011-12 is £155.1 million. That is net of any specific grants of council tax and is the closest publicly available figure to an administrative budget that we can find. The noble Lord may wish to note that the current Mayor of London has in fact frozen council tax during his last four years in office, helped in part by this Government's two-year council tax freeze. By contrast, under the previous Mayor of London the Greater London Authority's council tax levy almost trebled.
Finally, my honourable friend the Minister for Cities in the other place, Greg Clark, recently announced the Government's intention that the first election of a mayor will take place on 15 November of this year, fulfilling the Government's commitment that mayoral elections would take place shortly after any referendum which resulted in a yes vote. I am sure that there will be vigorous debate between 3 May and then if there are to be any elections.
We are clear as to why we believe that elected mayors would enhance the leadership of the 11 major cities, delivering greater growth and prosperity. We cannot compel an outcome but we can give local people the option of a change of governance. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shipley for his comments, and, indeed, to my noble friend Lord Tope. I hear what he says. It will be interesting to see the outcome.
In response to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, I simply add that these orders will give the people of the cities involved an opportunity through a referendum to consider and decide on their future governance without the cost falling on the cities themselves. I commend the orders to the House.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for what has been a lively debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friends. To reassure my noble friend Lord Grocott, I think that three local authorities are seeking to undo the mischief of the mayoral system, as he and I and perhaps some of those would see it, although it remains to be seen what will happen in the referendums which will no doubt take place in those authorities.
I entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the original referendum in London. I opposed the proposition at the time, as, indeed, did Ken Livingstone, who was not at all keen on the idea until he was a candidate and was elected. However, such things happen in politics.
The Minister referred to the cost of the referendums and made the point again that that is being paid for by
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However, the Minister did not respond to my question about what is to happen after this round of referendums. There are some 300 other councils. Is it the Government's intention to roll this out across the country? What about the flagship Tory councils, such as Westminster and Wandsworth, which she apparently believes are less good performers than those with mayors? Those are Tory councils with substantial populations and responsibilities. Apparently, there is no proposal at the moment for referendums in those places. We have to learn eventually-
Baroness Hanham: With respect, I have answered that question. I drew noble Lords' attention to the fact that the Localism Act allows for referendums to be held only in the 12 cities. There was no question of there being referendums elsewhere. However, as the noble Lord knows, they can be held, if that is what is required, under the Local Government Act 2000.
Lord Beecham: I am not sure that that is right. However, in any event, irrespective of whether or not the Government have the power to require referendums-I think that they do, but I may be wrong-what the noble Baroness has said constitutes a pretty substantial disparagement of the record of her political colleagues in significant authorities not unadjacent to where we are debating these matters, among others. I find it rather strange that apparently only mayoral authorities are capable of delivering regeneration and economic prosperity. The case that has been advanced is that you need a mayor to make that progress. Frankly, I do not accept that. However, in general there is a continuing lack of evidence in support of the mayoral system. I say with all due respect to the noble Baroness that affirmation is not evidence.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. He gives as a reason for supporting elected mayors that there are to be police commissioners. In November people will have the opportunity of buying one and getting one free because there will be two votes on the same day. But, of course, it will not be free; it will presumably be double the cost. If there is a mayoral referendum, that will cost roughly £250,000 and there will be separate costs for the police commissioner elections, which would also clock up to the same figure in individual authorities. If they are buying two, they will have to pay for two. They do not get one free.
Why the existence of a police commissioner should make it all the more desirable to have an elected mayor, I do not understand. But then few people understand why we should have police commissioners in the first place, including quite a lot of Members on the government Benches in this House and in the
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The noble Lord also welcomed the powers to be given to elected mayors but without explaining why only elected mayors should get them. In fact, it is not only elected mayors who are likely to get them because discussions are going on with other authorities. There is an interesting development around Greater Manchester with the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, which is not predicated on the existence of a mayor either from Manchester or the area as a whole.
I must tease the noble Lord somewhat. It is only a few months since he and I were jointly discussing how we might campaign together against the idea of an elected mayor. This gives rise to the Paul Daniels question. Your Lordships will remember the magician and television personality Paul Daniels and his attractive young wife. She was asked: "What is it about balding millionaire Paul Daniels that persuaded you to marry him?". I gently put to the noble Lord, "What is it Lord Shipley, recently appointed government adviser on cities, that has led you to change your mind about elected mayors?".
Lord Shipley: I have read a lot of the research evidence in that context as a large amount of research has been done on the role of elected mayors. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that a number of countries in Europe do not have our system and that you cannot build an elected mayoral system on to our democratic system of local government. I do not agree. I have read research produced by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I have read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and Terry Leahy on Liverpool and Merseyside. There is also the Warwick commission on elected mayors. There is a body of research demonstrating that you could have stronger economic growth by having a stronger governance system. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that he was talking to me about the importance of campaigning against elected mayors. I was not talking to him about that.
The issue is not who exercises the powers but what the powers are. They do not have to be conferred on a single individual with all the disadvantages to which I referred. Experience around the world is extremely variable. There are appointed mayors, as in Holland. The Labour Party, as I told the Grand Committee, once sent people to see the mayoral system in Holland without realising they were appointed rather than elected-not untypical. There are elected mayors. There is the Barcelona model. There are mayors in jail, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rightly said. There are mayors who are very successful. There are leaders of councils in both categories no doubt as well. The crucial thing about economic development is having the necessary powers and being able to co-operate with other authorities. In that context, of course, that opportunity has been
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However, we are where we are. I will certainly be campaigning against an elected mayor in my own authority. I shall be happy to quote the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in support of a bipartisan approach. I look forward to seeing the noble Baroness campaigning up and down the country in Conservative authorities-while we still have Conservative authorities-for referendums and elected mayors too. That is something she has not yet found time to do. Perhaps she has not really had the inclination, but maybe that will follow after May. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Bichard: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 53 and 54 in my name and in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who has kindly allowed me to lead on this issue. Everyone in this House understands that one of the most difficult responsibilities for any Government is to manage risk, whether that risk is the security of our nation or the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities because very few risks of any significance can be entirely eliminated, and decisions must therefore be made about what is an acceptable-sometimes an unavoidable-level of risk, and what action is proportionate in seeking to minimise that risk.
That is why I emphasised two things when I published my report on the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley in Soham: first, that we cannot create a risk-free society; secondly, that the steps we take to minimise risk should be proportionate. For those reasons, I very much sympathise with and support the Government in seeking to strike the right balance in this very difficult area. Some reduction in the level of bureaucracy associated with vetting and barring is necessary and achievable, and I welcome the Government's attempts to do so. However, I cannot agree that these clauses strike the right balance, even with the amendments tabled by the Minister or by other noble Lords in this House. That is why I am moving this amendment.
To be clear, these clauses relate to those who train, supervise, teach or instruct children outside a specified place, such as a school or a children's home, or to those who are unpaid volunteers in whatever setting. In such circumstances, a person will not in future need to be CRB checked if they are under the supervision of another person who is engaging in a regulated activity and is therefore subject to CRB checks. We can, and probably will, debate how close or intensive that supervision should be. My contention, inconvenient though it may be for those of us who want to reduce the level of bureaucracy, is that no amount or quality of supervision can be sufficient to prevent someone developing a bond of trust with a child that he or she can then exploit at a time when they are free of that supervision. That is how grooming takes place.
The internet provides enhanced opportunities for the bond of trust, once established, to be inappropriately exploited. Therefore, the focus of our concerns should be not on the quality, intensity or nature of the supervision but on whether the person involved in training, instruction, teaching or supervision presents a risk to the child. They should therefore continue to be subject to checks that can help establish whether
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We know that checks cannot be foolproof, but surely we owe it to our children to take reasonable and quite simple steps to prevent those whom we know are a risk from gaining privileged access to children, even if they are subject to supervision. They must do that because children assume that adults who are trusted to offer guidance or instruction to them can be trusted-not just in limited circumstances such as the youth centre or playing field but wherever they are encountered. That is why supervision can never be enough, and why sometimes we have to place the safety of our children before our desire to minimise regulation and bureaucracy. I hope that that is what we will do this evening. If we do not, I fear that we will very quickly find that dangerous adults will realise that there are some settings and some ways in which it will be easier in future for them to gain access to vulnerable children. The people we are talking about are manipulative and clever. They will take advantage of those opportunities.
Finally, I hope that the Minister will at least be able to confirm this evening that the Act will do nothing to prevent organisations, with their local knowledge, making checks where they think they are required. For example, a school with its local knowledge will be able to carry on checking volunteers if it believes that that is necessary and good practice. I beg to move.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, the amendments in this group remove the distinction that the Bill makes between supervised and unsupervised work with children in regulated activities. The Bill would restrict the definition of roles that fall under "regulated activity" and would mean that employers would not be required to do CRB checks for many employees working with, and in close proximity to, children.
Furthermore, employers would not be able to access information on whether that individual had been barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. I note the further safeguards that the Government have introduced following Committee, which amend the definition of "supervised" as specifically that which is reasonable for the protection of the children concerned. That is a step forward and clarifies that organisations and employers in regulated activity are under a statutory duty to provide adequate supervision for the safety of those children. However, without the ability to access information as to whether an individual had been barred from working with children, it is not clear how the Government expect organisations to discharge such a responsibility adequately. They appear, in effect, to be placing the burden of responsibility wholly on to organisations for the protection of children while denying them access to key information.
Perhaps more seriously, the Government's proposed amendment to the definition of supervision fails to recognise the serious issue of secondary access, which has been raised by numerous children's charities and
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Revising and re-revising the definition of supervision through guidelines and amendments is not enough and will not stop men like that from gaining the trust of children and their parents by working without any checks in close and sustained contact with children. I know the Government are determined to remove what they regard as unnecessary regulation, but regulation is often about protecting and safeguarding people-often vulnerable people-from the potentially careless, irresponsible or criminal acts of others. The Government should think hard about the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the potential consequences of the exemption of supervised workers and volunteers, which means that not all those working in regular contact with children and vulnerable adults are regulated.
Lord Harris of Haringey: It is unfortunate that we are debating these amendments at this time of night in a fairly sparse Chamber. I fear that in a few years time people will look back on this debate and say, "Why did Parliament not do more? Why was Parliament so happy to allow those changes to go through without further checks and cautions?". I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, for his amendments. He is quite right to say that a balance has to be struck and that no system will necessarily protect all children against abuse and against predators. However, the omission that is being created by this Bill is enormous. It is saying that if a volunteer, or someone working with children, is subject to supervision, they do not have to be checked at all. The reality is that parents send their child to a school or a club because they assume that it is a safe place. They assume, therefore, that the people who will be in contact with their child at that school, that club or that activity are also safe. I suspect that unless they pore over the details of our debate, which I am sure is not the case, they will assume that all those people are being checked against these registers and lists. Of course they will not be. They are volunteers or they are under the day-to-day supervision that is envisaged.
The reality is that children coming into contact with those adults will again assume that they are safe. The bond of trust, and it does not have to be a very strong bond, will be built up and created. When they see that individual elsewhere, perhaps in the town centre, loitering near their school or wherever it may
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I wonder whether that is really going to be sufficient. Is it really going to provide the protection that is needed? Is it, for example, going to ensure that the individuals concerned never offer their e-mail address, their Facebook page or their BlackBerry messenger identity to children? How can it do that if that offer is made not on the premises of the school or the club or outside the activity concerned? There will be no way of knowing whether that happens. However good the supervision may be inside that school, that club, or during the activities concerned, there will be no way of preventing that bond of trust being created and therefore the vulnerability of that child meeting that individual again outside that school, that club, or that activity. That is where the danger is going to be created.
As I said, most parents will assume that that school, that club or that activity is safe. They will assume that the people there, whom their child will encounter, will be safe, but the Government in this legislation are removing that security in saying, "We're not guaranteeing that. All we're guaranteeing is that physically while your child is in that environment, those people are supervised and therefore no abuse can take place". The real, persistent danger of people who are extremely clever and extremely manipulative in getting access to children is not that they are going to do whatever they do in front of other adults or in the school or club or during the activity time. They will want to do it away from those settings, and they will do it because they have built up that bond of trust. I appeal to the Minister. It may be that he can give us enough reassurances about what,
will amount to, but I doubt whether those assurances can ever protect that trust. The only way that that can be achieved is by not drawing this distinction in this way but by accepting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has made some very good points. He asked whether in future people will ask why Parliament was happy that these measures were passed. I can say to the House that I am not happy that they go through unamended. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said. Given that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act has not been implemented, what is the evidence that the measures in it are, in fact, disproportionate? As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggested, there is evidence that this is not what parents want. There is no great clamour from parents to have these measures changed.
The main point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, was that the measures in the Bill take no account of secondary access. Young people develop a relationship of trust with all kinds of adults in the
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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. I want to concentrate on the people who are likely to abuse. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, of which I have been a trustee for some 20 years. It is the organisation that pioneered the work in grooming and understanding the nature of abusers.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, there is no doubt that these individuals will see this as open season on children-and I choose my words carefully. I have probably been involved with more of these men than most-some women, but mostly men-and so I know just how deceitful, clever, manipulative and strategic they are. They have a long view. These individuals do not just move in, see a child and think they are going to abuse them; they plan their moves carefully. There has been talk about building trust, but when a teacher can systematically abuse a child in a classroom, as in a recent case, noble Lords should take that as an example of what these kind of individuals can do, and then recognise that there are others right across the country who are thinking at this moment, "Will there be another opening for me to reach a child?".
I have also worked with victims of that abuse. Imagine it was your son or daughter who had been buggered or raped by one of these people, who had gained their trust. The child or young person involved believes that they are implicated-the trust means that they carry the guilt. This is why often these youngsters will not come forward early, but if you talk to rape crisis lines or the people who deal with adult abusers, time after time they will tell you how the guilt kept them from telling. Research may show that if you talk to young people there is less of it, but many youngsters will not say that it is happening to them because they have that guilt.
As far as supervised access is concerned, anyone who has recently been to any of the youth provision that is around will know how hectic it is-properly so, for young people enjoying themselves-and that "supervision" is a strange word. In fact, you are just about maintaining the peace in some of these organisations. It is very easy for these individuals to make contact with the young people. As has already been said, modern technology makes it even easier.
I can see the Minister sitting there thinking, "We have heard all this before; we have our position". But I would say to him that if you really care about our
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I hope that I do not sound a discordant note if I congratulate the Government on the fact that they have looked at CRB checks and come to the conclusion that they go too far and too often. It is very important to recognise that a large number of people are CRB checked again and again, far more frequently than is necessary. I must say that I am a governor of a boys' school, which I will visit tomorrow, and I am CRB checked. I have never yet spoken to a single pupil without another adult present, and nor would I do so. It is quite unnecessary for governors to be checked, unless they have particular roles in the school.
However, there is a very difficult balance to achieve. The balance is at its critical point on the amendments now before the House. There is a special case about the situation with secondary access, with those who are not immediately in charge, but who are supervised. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has perhaps unrivalled experience in this House. She manned Childline, for goodness' sake. She has done so much to deal with victims, and through the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, she has done much to deal with perpetrators. What she has to say is of great importance.
I started listening to this debate, thinking "Well, actually, everybody's going a bit over the top. Why shouldn't we continue the excellent work the Government are doing, cutting through a great deal of red tape?". Indeed, I hope that the Government will go on doing it. However, on this secondary access, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, says, supervision is a loose word. The Government might think that there is some point in this amendment and in the following amendments with which we are dealing. However, for goodness' sake do not get rid of the notion of cutting out a great deal of CRB checks that are totally unnecessary, or which if achieved, should not then be done again and again.
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, could I perhaps add to what the noble and learned Baroness has just said? Obviously, from these Benches we have a very particular concern in this matter. I agree entirely that there can be an excess of enthusiasm for CRB, and I have a number of colleagues who find themselves having three, four, five or even six CRB checks in
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In an organisation such as the Church-I nearly said "a voluntary association", though theologically I do not believe that the Church is a voluntary association, but you understand what I mean-people may well be supervised in one area of activity, but not supervised in another. It is essential that we make sure that there is a comprehensive way of assessing the risk that particular individuals might pose to children or vulnerable adults in whatever area of their life they are engaged.
We are very well aware, and have very bitter experience to prove this, of the way in which those who are in apparently unregulated activities have the opportunity to groom people. They may have no direct contact with young people at all, but through their contact with their parents and the position they hold, they find ways of ingratiating themselves with families and with those who can give them access to young people. It therefore seems to me to be extraordinarily important that this question of supervision be tightened up, that while we avoid the danger of going over the top with CRB, we nevertheless make it absolutely clear that just because somebody is supervised in one area does not mean that they are totally safe in all other areas as well.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked that I should take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said in moving his amendment. I can give him, the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, an assurance that I will do that. Our time goes back a long way to when I served with the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, in the former Department for Education and Employment and I hope that we both have a great deal of respect for each other.
I echo the introductory words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when he said-this is important-that we cannot completely eliminate risk. We understand that. He also made the point that we must be proportionate in how we manage these matters and accept that we must try to reduce bureaucracy as and where we can. I was grateful for the wise words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, when she referred to the need to reduce the unnecessary CRB checks that were taking place.
It is important for us to remember that it is a question of balance. It is one that we can never get absolutely and completely right and we will probably have to go on arguing almost until the cows come home before we can resolve these matters. We should try to get it right, but the balance will be perceived differently between one individual and another.
By way of background, I reiterate that the Government believe, as do many outside bodies, that by scaling back the scope of regulated activity, and thus disclosure and the barring scheme, we can strike a better balance between the role of the state and that of employers or other organisations in protecting the vulnerable. Both have a role to play.
Clause 64 and the amendments to it provide that certain activity, which would be within the scope of regulated activity in relation to children when unsupervised, will not constitute regulated activity when it is subject to day-to-day supervision. An example was given to me-I think by my noble friend Lady Walmsley-of a technician in a school. He certainly would be covered. The amendments take us back to the wider scope of regulated activity as it existed under the previous Administration.
Lord Henley: The noble Baroness has caught me out and has got the letter that I wrote. I shall have to look again at the letter I sent to my noble friend and check that. I take back what I said but my understanding is that that is not the case. However, obviously I have got that wrong.
Lord Henley: My Lords, if my letter-written with the great authority of myself-said that he would not, obviously he would not. However, my understanding-I have obviously got it wrong and I will have to look very carefully at that letter-is that he would be covered in a school. Perhaps I may look at the letter and then get back to my noble friend.
Lord Henley: I am grateful to my noble friend for that correction. My noble friend Lady Stowell has just reminded me that there is a strong distinction between schools and FE colleges. For that reason I think it is very important. Oh, dear, I have to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Can he wait and let me finish my remarks? Calm down, as they say. I shall look very carefully at what I said. Obviously there is an important distinction between the two. I now give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Harris of Haringey: All I would ask is that when the noble Lord is looking very carefully to clarify that distinction he also looks at the situation of the large numbers of volunteer assistants in schools and volunteers used for out-of-school activities linked to the school-for example, to interest children in science, since we have been talking about technicians, but it could also be in art or other activities-to see whether they would be covered.
Lord Henley: Of course I will look at those matters and respond to my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Walmsley. I will even send a copy of that letter to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in due course.
Let us return to the amendments because that is the important thing to do. I suspect this might now have to be the last amendment that we can deal with. In putting forward the amendment, the noble Lord has questioned whether we are confident that any supervision
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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Is the Minister seriously suggesting that, if there was a CRB check showing that an individual was dangerous to children, it would not be noted because this was supervised contact? That person could then contact a child through all the known mechanisms, which parents are totally unable to deal with, and abuse that child. Do the Government believe that it is acceptable that that should happen?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I accept the noble Baroness's great experience in these matters. She is pointing to an occasion where a CRB check has been taken out on an individual and it becomes clear that they are not suitable to be employed in the school or wherever. In that case they are not going to be. So I do not quite see the point that she is making. Do I give way to the noble Baroness again? We must get this right.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I was saying that the Government do not take responsibility for secondary contact. The problem is that we are not necessarily talking about a school; we are talking about youth facilities where trust is built up between a young person and a child and where supervision may take place but not the kind of supervision that can have oversight at every moment. A CRB check might well show that one of the volunteers in that setting is dangerous. At the moment those CRB checks would be taken up. But the person concerned might make contact outside the primary setting. That at the moment is covered and children and young people are safe. Under the new situation it seems to me that they will not be safe.
Lord Henley: I do not accept that. Let me see if I can get this right. I think what the noble Baroness is trying to imply is that any number of checks will provide the safeguard. I do not think that safeguard would be provided by a CRB check in the particular case that she outlines because we have now moved on to some secondary setting. Does the noble Baroness follow me?
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: To clarify the point, if a CRB check has not been taken out because this is a supervised setting and the volunteers are supposed
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Lord Henley: Will the noble Baroness accept that there is also a role for the parents in terms of the guidance that they offer their children in that role as well? That was the point that I was trying to get over. I shall give way again.
The Archbishop of York: I go back to the Soham murders. Huntley happened to be a caretaker and these girls trusted him because he was the caretaker and they had seen him in school. On that day, there was no supervision. What happened to those girls? I would rather be on the side of stricter rules and in time try to water them down a bit than assume that, because someone is in a supervised role, they cannot do something worse when they are in an unsupervised role. The word "supervision" is very loose. Unless it is tightened up, people like me will still be left worrying about what happened to those girls. The caretaker was not in a supervised role at that particular point and that is when he did it.
Lord Henley: My Lords, on the contrary, it would be covered now, and following the changes that we are going to make it would still be covered. He was not covered by what was in place before and that is how he slipped through the net. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, was asked to set up his review into these matters and why the changes were made. The point that we are trying to make is that the changes have gone too far-this was the point also made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss-in terms of the bureaucracy involved. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, put it, one can never totally eliminate risk and there has to be a degree of balance in how one deals with these matters. One must be proportionate. Merely to think that any number of checks imposed by the state is going to eliminate all risk is, I suspect, a wish too far. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He said a few moments ago that there is a responsibility for parents in this. The difficulty is that the normal assumption of parents will be that every person whom their child comes into contact with in a club or other activity is safe. So presumably what the noble Lord is saying is that, in the guidance that will explain what all this means, parents will be provided with a list. It will say, "The following people whom your child comes into contact with have been checked and the others on the list have not been checked. Please advise your children not to have any contact outside this activity". That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. Of course parents have a responsibility, but what the Government are doing is creating a situation in which parents will think that an environment is safe, but it is not because some individuals will not have been checked and those individuals may build up a relationship of trust with a child that they could choose to abuse at secondary contact.
Lord Henley: The noble Lord may say what he wishes, but he should not try to put words into my mouth, which is what he is trying to do. He is trying to suggest that we could tell all parents exactly who is safe and who is unsafe. Obviously we cannot do that. What we are trying to do is create a system that will provide the necessary safeguards but does not make parents feel that their children are automatically safe. Parents must still have the duty of looking after their children by warning them of potential dangers. They should not assume that merely because someone has been CRB-checked, merely because the process has been gone through and merely because every box has been ticked, which is what the noble Lord seems to suggest, all is safe.
These amendments seek to preserve what we believe is a disproportionate disclosure and barring scheme that covers the employees and volunteers far more than is actually necessary on this occasion for safeguarding purposes. In so doing, it subjects all the businesses, organisations and whatever to unnecessary red tape and discourages volunteering. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, also made the important point of whether it would still be open to schools, organisations and businesses to continue to check volunteers and others. Of course they can, and we will ensure that they are still able to request the enhanced CRB certificate when necessary. We want to emphasise the importance of good sense and judgment by the managers on the ground when they look at this issue. That is at the heart of our proposal and it is why we think we have got the balance right. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is now looking somewhat quizzical but no doubt we can have further discussion about this between now and another stage.
The right thing is to get the correct balance in how one looks at these things. The noble Lord asked about schools and what they could do. This gives local managers the ability to determine these things flexibly and make extra checks. With the various interruptions I have had, I appreciate the slight muddle I got into earlier over the letter to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. There has been a degree of confusion here.
Baroness Walmsley: I am grateful to my noble friend. Could he just clarify one point? The volunteers we are talking about here are the volunteers who see children on a regular basis. That is correct, is it not?
Baroness Walmsley: I have one second point before my noble friend rises to answer. I accept that people who are not regulated can still be CRB-checked but
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Lord Henley: May I write to my noble friend on that final point to make sure that I get it right? I will make sure that I look at my letter with the greatest care before sending it off to make sure that I have got it right. No doubt we will come back to this at a later stage. Meanwhile, I hope that I have satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and that he is able to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: Could I just put one question to the Minister? I preface it with the fact that I congratulated the Government-and still do-on the laudable effort to cut through a great deal of this red tape. I said that I share the concern right round the House about secondary access. I urge the Minister to go away and look at what we have said. It may be that some areas of secondary access could be differentiated from others-I do not know. He said that he might talk about it later. I urge him to do so.
Lord Henley: My Lords, if the noble and learned Baroness asks me to do that, then of course I will. It is obviously very important to get these things right-I want to get them right. Again, it is always a question of getting the balance right. That is what we are trying to do this evening. As I said, I suspect that the noble Lord may want to come back to this at a later stage. We will see. In the mean time, I hope that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the risk of straining my noble friend's patience-he has been very patient-he offered to come back on points that have arisen today. It is obvious that we are going to continue this subject with the next group of amendments, which we will come to next week. It would be extremely helpful if the noble Lord responded, as he has offered to do, not just before Third Reading but before we return to this next week. He may not wish to give an undertaking to that effect but I leave him with that thought. As the debate has gone on, I have made more and more notes on his Amendment 50A, which will be the first amendment next Wednesday.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not know whether it will be next Wednesday when we come back to this. I remind the House again that we are on Report not in Committee, and I think I have been interrupted and intervened upon more than one would expect. I will try to write to my noble friend before the next day on Report on this Bill. Whether it will be next week, I do not know.
Lord Bichard: My Lords, I very much welcome the tone of the Minister's response. I respect his position entirely and we have known each other long enough for me to be able to say that. I particularly welcome his
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I welcome the sympathetic way in which the Minister has responded to the debate. However, let us be absolutely clear, this is not for me, or I think for other noble Lords who have spoken, a question of bureaucracy and whether we need less of it. We all agree that we need less of it. The report that I produced after Soham was not implemented in full. Checks, for example, are not routinely updated, which is why we have the bureaucracy that we have. I said specifically in the Soham report that I wanted a system that was proportionate, and I do not think that we have ever achieved that.
This is therefore not a question of whether we need to reduce bureaucracy or of supervision. The core of the argument and of my contention is that we should be concerned about risk and not allow people who are a risk to have privileged access to our children-and it is privileged access. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said, we have to draw a distinction between access that someone has in a school or a club and a chance encounter. If people build up trust in a school, it is a much more powerful relationship than it would be through some serendipitous or irregular meeting and
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I welcome the tone of the response, as I said, and the possibility of further discussions, but let us never underestimate the importance of this issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that it is unfortunate-it is no one's fault-that we had this debate without a larger number of noble Lords present, because this is a really important issue. Had I not heard the Minister's assurances at the end about further discussions and about schools and other organisations being able to carry on with the checks as they do now, I would have had to withdraw the amendment-I have no alternative but to do so-with a heavy heart and a great deal of apprehension. The reassurances that we have received enable me to withdraw the amendment with more optimism, and I look forward to those further discussions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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