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I am puzzled by that definition. A publication of data from a database may start off in the form of a spreadsheet consisting of three columns but is reorganised to consist of seven columns. Has enough been done to prevent the data set being published? How is anyone to know that? How is anyone to interpret that? How is any user to know that something is publishable? It seems to me that we are setting ourselves up for endless arguments. I am particularly concerned that authorities may find that, by reorganising data, they are able to conceal it from publication. It does not seem to me that that is the Government's intention. I very much hope that they will explain to me their understanding of how this subsection may not be used in that way.
Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I support the intention, if not the precise wording, of Amendments 55A and 56. I feel that, if the legislation goes forward as is proposed at the moment, a series of what I hope are unintended consequences will ensue, which will be seriously damaging to the research community in this country.
One of the points that has not yet been made or emphasised is that the ability to demand information under the Freedom of Information Act is international, so it may be demanded by any person, anywhere in the world, without any specific purpose whatever. We may say that there is copyright, or that the information is released under certain conditions, but probably the places that we would have most concern about making demands of this kind would not respect these conditions, and we would have no means of enforcement.
A serious point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas-although I do not support the purpose with which he made it-is that it is not clear from the legislation, as it now stands, what constitutes a data set. My days at the bench are a little behind me, but if I spend a couple of days carrying out a series of experiments and arrive at a series of data points, are
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I wonder whether we should not think of some reasonable amount of time-this concept has been used by research councils from time to time-during which the results of any particular piece of research should be accessible only to those who have carried it out, after which they could be available subject to the Freedom of Information Act: a year, maybe, or two years, or something like that. Certainly the results should be in the public domain; but equally, the person or group that has put in the time, building the apparatus and making painstaking observations, should be the person or group with first access to them.
Another point worth making is that the costs of redaction of some of the information which would be freed under the legislation at the moment are really significant. As I understand it, they would be able to be passed on to the individual or group requesting the information. However, a good example would be data which were acquired from a health study-perhaps clinical trials, or something of that kind-where all the information that would have made it possible to identify the individuals concerned has to be removed: this is a long and expensive business and it is the kind of cost against which someone requiring the data might seek to complain. Provided all of these things are genuinely covered, it seems to me that this is not a serious point, but it has to be recognised.
Overall, what the Government have to recognise is that the net effect of the legislation going ahead as it is now would be to make the UK a relatively unattractive place to do research. It seems to me that this goes counter to the trend of all other government thinking.
Viscount Hanworth: I shall speak briefly in support of Amendment 56. It is clear that this amendment is seeking to address a substantial problem with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We have seen some remarkable evidence of how the provisions of the Act can be used maliciously to frustrate research programmes by those who dislike the conclusions that the research is supporting. Is it not the freedom to conduct research without hindrance that we ought to be protecting? It is clear that the existing regulations within the Act that relate to vexatious requests have proved to be inefficient in warding off the nuisance. The amendment seems to fulfil that purpose perfectly.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 56. In speaking to it I declare an interest as the Chancellor of the University of Exeter. I too thank the Minister for the time that he spent meeting with those of us who have concerns, which was much appreciated.
The Minister argued in Committee that there is little evidence to support the view of the university sector that the Freedom of Information Act is causing difficulties in universities. However, I have spoken to
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In particular, the University of Exeter has described the difficulties which the Freedom of Information Act creates when the university negotiates contracts with commercial companies-for example, where the university is working closely with a company to carry out research that might lead to a commercial product and where release of information might prevent a patent or product emerging.
Exeter is not alone. The University of Oxford has described similar difficulties with contract negotiations. For example, Glenn Swafford, the director of research services at the University of Oxford and a man with direct experience of negotiating commercial contracts, has provided examples of exactly these sorts of difficulties. In one case, the university was in negotiations with a large multinational company for a studentship involving £24,000 funding. Significant resources went into the negotiations, with FOI being the major sticking point. The contract was not signed, and although a one-off compromise was secured because the project in question was already under way, Oxford believes that the relationship has been permanently soured. The university has provided other similar examples of long and difficult negotiations.
The point is that large multinational companies have plenty of choices about who they choose to do business with. We want them to do business with UK universities. This Government and the one before them have done much to encourage this kind of research collaboration. But universities across the country believe that this legislation is a barrier to all that. We must take that risk seriously. As Universities UK has pointed out, my noble friend the Minister has argued that there is not enough evidence of harm to justify this amendment. I and others believe that if he examines the material that Universities UK has collected he will see that there is clear evidence of harm.
Secondly, much of what universities have argued has been about the consequences that this legislation may have in terms of people deciding not to invest in UK research. This will be a disaster. Companies do not generally publicise those types of decisions. That is not a reason for ignoring the risk to the UK's economic interests.
Therefore, I would like to ask my noble friend three questions. Does he acknowledge that universities have commercial interests, for example, competing for students, academics and research grants? Will he undertake to reflect on how far the current exemption for commercial interests extends to universities' competitive interests? Lastly, can he explain how or whether the exemption for commercial interests might apply where information does not have the quality of a trade secret, because it is not yet commercially exploitable, but nevertheless points towards commercially exploitable information, perhaps subject to further exploration or research?
I believe that we all want to send a clear message that this Government have our universities' best interests at heart, and wish to protect their standing in the
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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I support both Amendment 55A and Amendment 56. I do not want to repeat all the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I must admit that I found it exceedingly difficult to follow what he was saying at various points in his speech. Perhaps the Minister can reflect on the issues that he raised and explain them to the rest of the House. I also felt that the noble Lord had misunderstood some of the things said by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who was referring to the release of research data before publication, not after it. I think he was confused about that.
I want to reinforce two points. The first has already been raised today, and I raised it in Committee, which is the cost of all this to universities, and higher education institutions in general, when they have to release enormous amounts of data, prepare them for reuse and sometimes have to redact large amounts of data. Can the Minister reassure the House that he will look again at the regulations that relate to charging for such work? Otherwise, publicly funded institutions will have to spend large amounts of taxpayers' money on requests to release information which may be justifiable in the public interest, but where the cost may be too high to make it desirable.
I also want to reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Universities are slightly difficult to define as institutions. They are not public bodies under any conventional definition, although they are of course in receipt of substantial amounts of public money. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister could reply to the noble Baroness's questions about how they are to be defined with respect to commercial interests. The work that they undertake in knowledge transfer may have substantial commercial impacts on them. We need to know whether something which may not be a trade secret but may eventually lead to viable, commercially exploitable data and work should be defined as commercial.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I speak as Chancellor of the University of Essex and as a lawyer who has spent a good deal of his professional time dealing with issues of publication of research, in particular in relation to the Association of Medical Research Charities. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Brinton and all the arguments advanced in support of it.
I shall make two points. The first is strongly to support what Universities UK has requested, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Brinton. If ever there was an area of law and practice in need of thorough practical review and, as far as possible, simplification, it is this, because it is a nightmare at the moment and getting worse. Without my noble friend's amendment, or
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I emphasise that this is a playground for lawyers and a nightmare for everyone else as it is because the judgments on the different aspects of this extremely difficult balancing act between freedom of public information on the one hand and necessary and proper restraint on the other could not be more complex. I do not envy my noble friend in having to summarise the debate, but I hope that the Government will take the Universities UK request seriously and urgently and that he will be able to support the practical and sensible points in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Brinton.
Lord Judd: My Lords, this country desperately depends on the quality of research in universities. Our future depends on its quality in economic but also in social terms. I am concerned about the chilling effect of the present situation. Young researchers beginning to flex their muscles in applying their originality of thought and their intellectual excellence feel that they have to be very careful about how they do that, lest something is taken out of context and used by people for purposes which have nothing to do with objectively trying to assist good research.
I have seen a circular used in a university sent from people in the administrative department not only to younger members of staff but quite widely to staff reminding them of the hazards of the Freedom of Information Act and the need for them to take great care in the way they approach their contribution to research. That made a huge impact on me when I saw it. I thought it was the beginning of the end. It had a cooling effect, a chilling effect. What should have gone out, if anything, was a robust letter saying, "We are determined as a university to support our researchers in every way possible, whatever the implications under the Freedom of Information Act". I am fully in favour of the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, but to pretend that there is not a tension here, with dire consequences if it is not properly handled, is stupid. It would be wise of the Government to listen carefully to what was said in moving the amendment and to take seriously the experience and concern of Universities UK.
Lord Bew: My Lords, I support Amendments 55A and 56. I must confess the interest of being a working professor in one of our universities. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who has spent much time with those of us who have been concerned about these matters. I am very grateful to him for that.
The Government's view is that the exemptions already present mean that many of the fears held in this Chamber are unjustified. I want to make one brutal, simple and crude point, which partly picks up on the points already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. We must think about multinational concerns and how the country is viewed from outside. For
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Unfortunately, my noble friend Lady O'Neill has had to go. I want to make one point which I know was on her mind in moving her amendment. Her concern relates to public authorities-here, meaning universities and other publicly funded institutes-being required to release research data sets on which they hold copyright in a reusable form without any conditions on their subsequent dissemination. A research data set that is released without conditions on its further use is, in effect, made available to the entire world and so will be fully available in jurisdictions where respect for intellectual property is poor and remedies for its violation are non-existent. In other words, we are talking about something entirely different from the case involving Cambridge, King's College London and Professor Crick, which we talked about earlier. It is an entirely different utilisation of another person's data set.
I was discussing this with a distinguished researcher at our university at the weekend. She said to me, "Actually, I'm sitting on a very sophisticated data set and it is just about possible that I am not asking the right questions of it. There might be somebody in another United Kingdom university who would ask different questions and could do something with it. It is just about possible that that might be so". However, the danger-and it is the concern that the amendment of my noble friend Lady O'Neill addresses-is: if we do not control the reusable aspects of such an exchange, we will leave ourselves open in a way which is not sensible from a national point of view. I am sure it is the view of my noble friend Lady O'Neill that we cannot ignore the reality that science is both international and competitive and that sophisticated science is now done in some places where there is scant respect for intellectual property. An unreciprocated requirement for United Kingdom university researchers to provide any data sets that they create and hold without any conditions on their republication or dissemination will damage the competitive position of UK researchers and so of UK science.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I have spoken before in favour of Amendment 56 and shall not repeat the arguments which illustrate how much work goes into cleaning up the raw data necessary to form data sets to develop meaningful analysis and the problems that can arise from forced distribution before those data have been properly presented and analysed.
I should like to reinforce the arguments made around the Chamber about what a disincentive to young researchers it is if they feel that all their work can be poached and used by somebody else. As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned, it is also open to foreign researchers to poach and make use of those data, pre-empting the results. Similarly, it can be a disincentive to commercial collaboration, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, suggested in relation to her amendment, one way to prevent the data being poached is to collaborate with a commercial partner. However, at a time when Her Majesty's Government are trying to encourage collaboration between commercial partners and universities, it seems very unfortunate to encourage the use of freedom of information in this way.
What I cannot understand is the Government's opposition to the amendment. Effectively, this scheme has been piloted in Scotland and has been found to be very satisfactory. It is very unusual for us to have legislation that has been piloted in this way. Given that it has proved so satisfactory, I cannot understand why the Government are so resistant to accepting it.
Lord Nickson: My Lords, I have made a rare appearance here because I thought that the Scotland Bill would be coming up yesterday and was suitably disappointed. I did not come to speak in this debate. However, having spent a lifetime in industry and having also been fortunate enough to be the chancellor of a very junior Scottish university to that of my noble friend Lord Sutherland, I should like to say to the Minister and the Government that I have never heard a debate in this House containing such conviction, unanimity and passion, and given with such authority from so many sides. I am deeply impressed by what I have heard. I merely rise to support the amendments and to plead with the Minister and the Government to take what has been expressed with great seriousness.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I should like to add a couple of words to the debate. I have a sort of interest in that I am helping a New Zealand company called Pingar, which works in the area of contextual data extraction from large unstructured data sets-what are called "big data".
One is aware that there is a huge amount of information out there, particularly in public data sets, which can be reused very usefully, and on that I agree with most of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. We must try to make this information available in useful ways. We could make a lot more use of this information to help the country, and indeed humanity, as a whole.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the definition of data set is most peculiar. When information is analysed and put into tables and some sense is made of it, further information may then be extracted and combined with other data, and that is probably the best use that can be made of it. Therefore, it seems a bit odd to include in the definition only raw data before they are analysed. However, it is probably that I just do not properly understand the Bill and all its ramifications in that area.
However, there is an area where I sympathise entirely with these two amendments. A research establishment in a university is publicly funded and is at the cutting edge, and it may spend a lot of money acquiring raw data. Having to reveal those data to someone else before anything is done with them is like giving that other person a free ride regarding all their data acquisition. Why should someone not be second into the field, waiting until someone else has spent all the money acquiring the data, asking for the data set and then running their own analysis? For a researcher, the most valuable part is the raw data.
I found it fascinating that on Amendments 55ZA and 55ZB the Minister was urging secrecy-we had to keep all this stuff from the Civil Service secret so that citizens could not find out whether their money was being used usefully. Now, we are opening up everything where public money has been spent so that UK plc can advance itself in the research area and so on. We are suddenly opening that up so that anyone can get hold of it.
The first of the two amendments relates to putting copyright restrictions on data sets to make sure that they cannot be taken freely, yet in other legislation the Government are making sure that we give large amounts of money to large American corporations which have bought copyright from British creators so that they can enforce that copyright. Therefore, we are looking after the interests of large commercial companies but we are not looking after the interests of our research establishments and universities. I am terrified that they are going to lose the competitive edge that they might have.
The interesting thing that came out of the whole Crick/Watson DNA episode was the fact that they got together-there was a meeting of minds in an informal environment where they exchanged ideas. Again, what worries me is that the Government are trying to prevent that with their Immigration Rules and tier 2 immigration arrangements so that we will no longer attract people and encourage a flow of brains in and out of the country. That would be far more valuable than trying to open up data sets so that other people could use them abroad.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I support Amendments 55A and 56. I do not believe that this is about restricting the scope of the Freedom of Information Act; it is about fixing the Act to fit the purpose. We have heard compelling arguments about disincentives to young researchers and to collaboration and about the potential competitive disadvantage that our universities could suffer. Our universities are one of the most important drivers of jobs and growth in this country. They enrich the cultural fabric of our society. If universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland believe that they are at a competitive disadvantage compared with those in Scotland, the US and Ireland, among others, I believe that we need to have a safeguard in place. We should heed their concerns and seek to revise our legislation as soon as possible. I support both amendments.
Lord Henley: My Lords, some time ago my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said that he was looking forward to me summarising the gist of this
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I would never be one to underestimate the concerns of the higher education sector, a sector that is probably better represented in this House than any other group in the country. I have been higher education spokesman in this House on two separate occasions so I know how powerful a body it is. Therefore, we listen to it with great care and I will take considerable care in everything I say. For that reason, I remind the House, as my noble friend did on an earlier amendment, that there will be a full post-legislative review of the workings of the Freedom of Information Act. That review is being carried out under my right honourable friend Alan Beith, the chairman of the Justice Committee in another place, and I shall certainly ensure that he gets a copy of this debate. Even if I did not send it to him, I am sure that he would take note of it.
As I said, I do not think it is up to me to try to summarise the debate, but I want to try to allay some of the concerns that have been put by noble Lords. I start by dealing with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. I fully accept her apology. I saw her at lunchtime today and I know perfectly well that she was not able to be here. Similarly, I say to my noble friend Lady Brinton that I knew that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, was not able to be here. One of the problems with the way in which we do business is that sometimes things happen and it is impossible for noble Lords to be present for a debate.
In his new amendment, the noble Lord seeks to amend our new Section 11A of the Freedom of Information Act by making a further provision in relation to the conditions that may be specified in a licence authorising the reuse of copyrighted data sets. The intention behind the noble Lord's amendment is to ensure that such licences contain conditions which restrict republication or communication of data sets to third parties. As currently drafted, the Bill provides that public authorities, when making their data sets available for reuse, must use one of the specified licences which will be set out in the code of practice in due course. This amendment seeks to allow the specified licences to set conditions on republication or communication of the data set to third parties.
I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendment is necessary because the specified licence may already set any conditions such as these. Whereas previously public
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The terms of the licences for reuse will be specified in the revised code of practice, which will ensure that standardised licences are used so that public authorities-universities-know what is required and the public know what to expect. Published licence terms will provide clarity, certainty and consistency as to how information and data can be reused. In most cases, public authorities will use the open government licence to make data sets available for reuse. Public authorities across the wider public sector are increasingly making their information, in particular their transparency data, available under the open government licence. The Government encourage the adoption of the open government licence throughout a range of policy guidance and by working with stakeholders.
To the extent that we are affecting public authorities' copyright rights, it is only in relation to making data sets available to the public for reuse under licence. If information is held by the public authority but is not owned by it, it is most likely that the rights to the information will be owned by a third party and therefore it would not have the authority to license its reuse. The clause does not affect any other rights and the licences will still require acknowledgement of the data sets' ownership and source when reused, and will not allow for distortion, derogatory treatment or misrepresentation.
By setting out the specified licences in the statutory code of practice, we will ensure that standardised licences are used. These licences will cover all conditions on reuse which are considered appropriate. The statutory code of practice will be issued by the Secretary of State, who must consult the Information Commissioner and then lay the code before Parliament so that Parliament will have a chance to see it. However, licensing conditions, including any conditions on reuse, would be a matter for consideration when revising the code of practice. It is not appropriate to prescribe some of the conditions, as proposed by the noble Lord in the amendment, in primary legislation.
Before considering that amendment, I turn to Amendment 56ZA, in which my noble friend Lord Lucas has suggested that the whole clause could be removed. I suppose that might be a solution for all noble Lords. We could start from scratch, but I am not proposing that at the moment. However, as my noble friend has indicated, his main purpose is to probe the definition of a data set, as provided for in this clause. I am grateful to him for meeting me last month so that I could better understand his concerns. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who came to a whole series of meetings. I have a sneaking suspicion that in this debate I should be offering yet further meetings with any noble Lords who wish to have them so that we can
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The Freedom of Information Act provides the public with a right to access information that is held by a public authority as defined by the Act. The intention of Clause 102 is to make available for reuse as much raw data held by public authorities-universities in this case-as possible so as to encourage greater transparency and accountability. The clause brings together access and reuse, and the Government believe that encouraging greater use of raw data sets and their reuse under licence will allow the public and organisations to use them, for example, to develop new applications.
The definition of a data set in new Section 11(5) of the Freedom of Information Act is necessary as there is currently no such definition in that Act. However, I assure my noble friend that, in providing for a particular definition of a data set for the purpose of the new duty to release such data sets in a reusable format, we are not prohibiting the release of other data sets that have been subject to alteration or analysis, as they are already provided for in the Freedom of Information Act. It is important to be precise with the definition so that public authorities know what is expected of them when releasing raw data sets for reuse under the Act.
Amendment 56, in the name of my noble friend Lady Brinton, seeks to introduce a new exemption in the Freedom of Information Act to provide enhanced protection for information relating to research programmes and projects. In responding to the points made by my noble friend and others, I hope that I will be able to provide appropriate reassurances on this issue. We are all agreed that the UK's position at the forefront of international research must be protected and enhanced. I would not want to do anything that could endanger that. We are also agreed that, notwithstanding this Government's commitment to transparency, adequate safeguards must exist within information rights legislation to make sure that that position is not undermined through inappropriate and premature disclosure. We understand the point that the universities made. From discussions that I have had, from the debate and from Committee, I am well aware of the concern that exists in the sector on this issue.
Before outlining why I believe that adequate protection already exists, I will consider the cost of responding to requests. This point was raised by a number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Although a new exemption would not provide protection in this regard, I am aware that, for example, the cost of anonymisation and redaction is of major concern. The noble Baroness and others made that point. I assure her and others that the Government are mindful of that, and of the costs that it would bring to public authorities.
The Freedom of Information Act, passed by the previous Government, provides that where it would cost more than a certain amount to locate information that has been requested, there is no obligation to provide it. The cost limits beyond which freedom of information requests need not be complied with, and the mechanisms for charging for information, are detailed in the Act and in regulations made under Sections 9, 12 and 13. I have the sections in front of me if noble
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As I mentioned, the Act is currently subject to post-legislative scrutiny. It is for the Justice Select Committee in another place to make sure that it considers it in the right manner. I anticipate that it will want to look at what has been said. Therefore, I repeat that I will certainly write to Sir Alan and make it clear that we debated this in Committee and today, and I will make sure that the concerns first enunciated at Second Reading by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, are relayed to him.
In relation to Amendment 55A, the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, questioned whether it was appropriate to amend the Act before the outcome of post-legislative scrutiny was known. That concern, too, was put to me in Committee. Through the Bill, we are introducing key transparency commitments set out in the coalition agreement. In the much wider exercise of post-legislative scrutiny we will look at what other changes could usefully be made to improve the Freedom of Information Act for the public and for all bodies subject to it.
I appreciate the argument that the Government have asked Parliament to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Act and that we ought to wait for the outcome of the review before introducing Clause 102. However, we see the new right to data sets available for reuse as a different matter, and we are committed to implement our commitment to transparency and open data to release the benefits to the public as soon as possible. However, I will offer some reassurance on the timing of the commencement of Clause 102. As I indicated, we will need to revise the code of practice made under Section 45 of the Freedom of Information Act before the provisions can be brought into force. That will necessarily take time, and public authorities will need adequate notice. Given this, we do not envisage commencing the provisions before the summer, which will allow the post-legislative scrutiny process to take its course without delaying the commencement of the clause. We are committed to ensuring that the Freedom of Information Act works effectively, and post-legislative scrutiny is key to this.
I turn back to some of the exemptions. The key is for the Government's desire to ensure an appropriate level of transparency in public life not to undermine the ability of universities to carry out the sort of ground-breaking research for which they are justly renowned. In the ever more competitive environment in which our higher education institutions operate, the ability to do so free from obligations to reveal their thinking at too early a stage is crucial. The Freedom of Information Act seeks to achieve this balance by providing exemptions to the obligation to disclose material in response to a request made under the Act. The Act currently achieves exactly that balance. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was no doubt part of the team that steered the Act through this House.
As I said in Committee and in further meetings with noble Lords, a number of exemptions protect research-related material. Therefore, the amendment provides alternative protection rather than necessary additional protection and is not necessary. Protection already exists in Section 43 for trade secrets and for information the disclosure of which would be at least likely to damage commercial interests, and in Section 41 for information provided in confidence. I think that we are agreed that it would be improper to provide an absolute guarantee of confidentiality in relation to research programmes, because the Act does not do so for any other type of commercially sensitive information. It is therefore appropriate for Section 43 to be subject to a public interest test in this context, as it is in all others. My noble friend's proposed new exemption would also be subject to both a public interest and a substantial prejudice test, so she cannot believe otherwise.
I am aware of other concerns relating to the scope of Section 43: for example, concerning its ability to protect information where future commercial exploitation is the long-term aim but is not yet realisable owing to a research programme being at an early stage. Concerns have also been raised about situations where a university's financial and academic position may be undermined, and damage may be done to its ability to secure funding, to its research ratings or to its ability to attract high-calibre students. Again, these are entirely legitimate concerns. It is important that universities should be able to compete in an increasingly demanding marketplace.
It is not for me to prejudge any request that might be submitted; it will be for the Information Commissioner to determine whether any decision taken by a university to employ an exemption is correct. Therefore, my further remarks will be hypothetical in nature. Section 43 will be relevant where commercial prejudice is likely, and may be used where the public interest test favours non-disclosure. I see no reason, for example, why in an appropriate case the exemption should not cover an early-days case of the sort I mentioned. The information that a particular research team was looking into an issue could itself be commercially damaging if it enabled a rival to gain an insight into the methods the team intended to use that it would not otherwise have had. This might be so despite the fact that details of the research were not yet available for commercial exploitation. As always, the facts of the case will be key and the university will have to show that there would be commercial prejudice and that the public interest favoured non-disclosure.
I appreciate that I have spoken at length. I could go on about other exemptions-for example, in Sections 40 and 22-but now is not the time to do so. I will repeat, first, that we have a commitment to greater transparency, which is why we will not introduce new exemptions into the Freedom of Information Act unless the necessity for doing so is clearly demonstrated. Secondly, post-legislative scrutiny is taking place, and that will be the time to look at these matters. Having said that, I repeat that I am more than happy to have further discussions with noble Lords between now and Report.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very careful reply, the care he has taken over the various points made and his willingness to have further discussions. I have no doubt that that offer will be taken up.
However, I have two or three points. First, I have no doubt that the commitment to freedom of information is as strong among those who proposed these amendments as it is with the Government. In fact, one of my prouder moments, many years ago, was when I was given an award by the society that campaigned for what became the Freedom of Information Act because of the way I conducted a particular government inquiry. I am committed to the importance for public services and within the public sector of freedom of information.
Secondly, I will read with care what the Minister said about licences. One question that I will want to have answered-it may well be in Hansard-is about what degree of input a researcher, a research institute or a university will have into the drawing up of the licence that is applied to a particular publication. I am not yet clear whether Rosalind Franklin's photographs would have fallen under the definition of a data set. If they had fallen under that definition, I do not think the cause of science or human life would have been advanced by having them accessible to whoever wanted to use the Freedom of Information Act to drag them up at that stage.
My third point is on the costs of responding. I chaired a group that advised a research project in Scotland called Generation Scotland. I shall not go into the details, but it was shot through with personal information. I can reassure the Minister that the cost of redacting any of that would be immense. Indeed, such is the sensitivity at a personal level of some of the information that the body responsible for managing it allows no one individual access to the whole data set. It is a double-lock situation, and that is absolutely right. That is not against the public interest; it is in the public interest and that of the 15,000 families in Scotland that have contributed very sensitive information for that research.
I welcome the comments and look forward to more detail on the timing of the commencement of Clause 102. In closing, I simply re-emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lord Oxburgh. We are talking about information for the public. In this case, the public is the entire world. The public is every competitor we have in the research business and in the commercial business that will spin out from it. That is still the real concern.
(2) In Part VI (other public bodies and offices: general) of Schedule 1 (public authorities), after "The Consumer Panel established under section 16 of the Communications Act 2003" insert "The Corporation of Trinity House"."
Lord Berkeley: This amendment is designed to include Trinity House within the scope of the Freedom of Information act. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has reminded the House this evening that a review of the FOI Act is going on, which is very welcome, but I am hoping that the Government will accept my amendment on the basis that they have already committed to include Trinity House in the FOI Act, as I shall demonstrate, and it would save a lot of time and effort.
Trinity House is the lighthouse and navigation aids authority that maintains the navigation aids around the coast of England and Wales. I think it should be included because I believe it is a public body. Ships going into UK ports pay light dues into a central fund called the General Lighthouse Fund, which is administered and disbursed by the Department for Transport to the three lighthouse authorities in England, Scotland and Ireland. This amendment would bring Trinity House in line with the Northern Lighthouse Board, which looks after the lights in Scotland and is already covered by FOI. If Ministers are concerned about how much extra work it would be for the GLF, I understand that the Northern Lighthouse Board has received just over 40 FOI inquiries, so I do not think it is any great effort for lighthouse authorities to be included.
I thought of including the Commissioners of Irish Lights in this amendment, but since the Minister for Shipping, Mike Penning MP, is at the moment negotiating with the Irish Government a very welcome change so that the lights around Ireland are not funded by ships going into UK ports by the time of the next election, I thought I would leave the Commissioners of Irish Lights out.
The Independent Light Dues Forum wrote to the Ministry of Justice on 25 January 2011 welcoming the ministry's announcement about opening public bodies to public scrutiny and the possibility of including Trinity House within FOI. The ministry responded on 23 February last year saying that Trinity House would be consulted about possible inclusion, which is absolutely right, of course. On 5 May, I received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that stated:
"We intend to extend the Act to bodies which we believe to perform functions of a public nature, such as the Trinity House Lighthouse Service, through secondary legislation under section 5 of the Act rather than the Protection of Freedoms Bill".
When she replies, will the Minister say why it matters which legislative route is to be used to deliver the same outcome? I think it is quite important that this happens quite quickly. It is a year since this was first raised, and I hope that the Minister will accept my amendment, if only to avoid me bothering her again. I beg to move.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his introduction of his amendment. As he explained, the Government
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A body may be included in such an order to the extent that it exercises functions of a public nature. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, this consultation includes the Trinity Lighthouse Service and is currently ongoing. The consultation process is an important one. It is designed to ensure that all relevant legal and policy factors are considered before a final decision is made about whether some, or all, of the functions of a body such as Trinity House should be covered by the Act.
The Corporation of Trinity House undertakes a number of important functions. Without wishing to express a view while the consultation is ongoing, I can understand why the noble Lord might consider its functions as a general lighthouse authority to be the sort of thing that could be covered by the FOI Act. As he said, the letter that he received from my noble friend Lord McNally stated that to be the case. The fact that the Northern Lighthouse Board is already covered obviously provides another point of comparison.
However, the Corporation of Trinity House also undertakes a number of other functions as a charity and as a provider of deep sea navigation pilots for ships trading in northern European waters. In light of this, we need to consider carefully which, if any, of the corporation's functions should be brought within the Act. The consultation process currently taking place is designed to allow for this sort of consideration to take place.
In response to the noble Lord's specific question about why it cannot be done via this Bill, I have two points. First, the process of consultation is already under way. As he knows better than I, Trinity House is a complex organisation because not all of its functions would be captured by public authority functions. It is something that requires careful consideration. That has started; it is under way. Secondly, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, in an earlier debate, the Freedom of Information Act provides the facility for us to extend the scope of the Act to a public authority, or at least part of an authority that has public functions, such as Trinity House, and that is under way.
If we were to accept this amendment now, we would effectively be pre-empting the outcome of the current consultation. The consultation must be allowed to run its course. Having made the case for bringing Trinity House within the scope of the Act, and in light of me having repeated and restated the points that my noble friend Lord McNally made to him in his letter last year, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
It is very unusual for a government consultation to go on for nine months. Have the Government started another consultation? It is very good to have such long consultations, but it is a bit unusual. When is the consultation on the Trinity House issue going to finish? I would be very grateful for the noble Baroness's response.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We certainly plan to conclude the consultation fairly soon, and to bring an order under Section 5 for all the new public bodies that we are currently consulting on later in the year.
(1) It shall be a requirement that each child who might have been the victim of a human trafficking offence shall have a legal advocate appointed to represent the best interests of that child if the person who has parental responsibility fulfils any of the conditions set out in subsection (3).
(a) to advocate that all decisions taken are in the child's best interest;
(b) to advocate for the child to receive appropriate care, accommodation, medical treatment, including psychological assistance, education, translation and interpretation services;
(c) to advocate for the child's access to legal and other representation where necessary;
(d) to consult with, advise and keep the child victim informed of legal rights;
(e) to contribute to identification of a plan to safeguard and promote the long-term welfare of the child based on an individual assessment of that child's best interests;
(f) to keep the child informed of all relevant immigration, criminal or compensation proceedings;
(g) to provide a link between the child and various organisations which may provide services to the child;
(h) to assist in establishing contact with the child's family, where the child so wishes and it is in the child's best interests;
(i) to attend all police interviews with the child; and
(j) to accompany the child whenever the child moves to new accommodation.
(a) is suspected of taking part in a human trafficking offence;
(b) has another conflict of interest with the child;
(c) is not in contact with the child; or
(d) is in a country outside the United Kingdom.
(a) an employee of a statutory body;
(b) an employee of a recognised charitable organisation; or
(c) a volunteer for a recognised charitable organisation.
(a) provides services to the child; or
(b) the child needs access to in relation to being a victim of a human trafficking offence.
(a) shall by order set out the arrangements for the appointment of a legal advocate;
(b) may make rules about the training courses to be completed before a person may exercise functions as a legal advocate; and
(c) shall by order designate organisations as a "recognised charitable organisation" for the purpose of this section.
"human trafficking offence" means an offence under section 59A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (trafficking people for sexual exploitation) or an offence under section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 (trafficking people for labour and other exploitation); and
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, Amendment 57A is in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. These names demonstrate the widespread support across the House for what I believe is a very important amendment.
On 25 November last year, during a debate on my trafficking Bill, one subject came up again and again: the plight of rescued trafficked children in the United Kingdom. Although my Bill is wide-ranging and touches on many different aspects of tackling trafficking, it was to this subject that speaker after speaker chose to return. At the very heart of the concern is the fact that the reports of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre demonstrate that between 2007 and February 2010, out of 942 trafficked children who were rescued in the United Kingdom, a staggering 301-one-third of the children-were lost. I understand and warmly welcome the fact that in the past year the loss rate fell to 18 per cent, but this is still a completely unacceptable situation.
It brings to mind the small boy called Bao, who comes from Vietnam. When Bao's mother fell ill, the family needed to take a loan out to cover the cost of her healthcare. In return, Bao was told that he needed to come to the United Kingdom to work off the loan. Your Lordships can predict what happened on his arrival. Bao was initially forced to work as a domestic servant but later was moved to a cannabis factory, where he cultivated plants throughout the day and night.
After a police raid, Bao was arrested and prosecuted for the offences that he had committed while under coercion from his traffickers. Although he was eventually identified as a victim of trafficking, he remained very fearful of those who had exploited him. Desperate to return to his family, Bao was devastated to learn about
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This is the precise situation that Amendment 57A seeks to address. The reality of trafficked children is that they are extremely vulnerable and need appropriate and specialist support once rescued from their situation of exploitation. It is an incredibly sad reflection on our priorities as a nation that we should take such poor care of these extremely vulnerable children. First, they are kidnapped or lured under false pretences and trafficked to the United Kingdom, a foreign country with a foreign language, usually far away from their families. Then they are rescued and all too often while in local authority care they are lost, probably retrafficked. I find it hard to conceive that we are not doing more to help these children.
It is important to be clear that Amendment 57A is not just about trying not to lose rescued trafficked children but about ensuring that they receive proper levels of care when they are not lost. In providing a constant reference point, the provision of a legal advocate will help address the distressing experience of these rescued children, who are passed from official to official, denied any sense of continuity and required to go back to the beginning and recount their painful story again and again. There are also accounts of children turning up to court and discovering that their social worker is not present. The provision of a legal advocate will mean that even if a social worker is not able to attend court, the child need not be alone.
Of course, I am aware that the Government are concerned about this issue. However, they contend that the Children Act 1989 provides all the legal powers that are necessary to address this problem adequately. In the first instance, they point out that the Children Act places on local authorities a general obligation to protect the welfare of all children within their boundaries. The Act then makes provision for three relevant roles that can be called upon to assist a local authority as it seeks to rise to this challenge.
First, Section 26 of the Children Act makes provision for assistance in the form of advocacy services for a child who makes or intends to make representations to a local authority either under their case review or on any issue in relation to their care by a local authority. Secondly, Section 23ZB requires local authorities to appoint "an independent person" who should,
if they think it is in the child's best interests. Thirdly, Section 25A requires local authorities to appoint an "independent reviewing officer" for each child in their care. These responsibilities are defined by Section 25B as providing independent oversight, including monitoring the performance of the local authority in respect of each child's case.
However, there are at least two problems with the Government's suggestion that the provisions of the Children Act will suffice. First, the loss of 32 per cent of trafficked children occurring in the context of the Children Act and its provisions hardly suggests that the Act is fit for the purpose of protecting trafficked
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Secondly, while the provisions of the 1989 Act are very welcome, they fall a long way short of the definition of the recommended best practice in the care of rescued child trafficking victims; namely, the provision of a child trafficking guardian. A trafficking guardian is someone who is appointed as soon as the child is identified as a victim of trafficking with the intention that they should remain in place during the child's case and until a long-term solution is found that is in the child's best interests. The guardian would accompany the child to all meetings with officials, be they in law courts, regarding education or with social services, where crucially they would be recognised and would have the right to advocate on the child's behalf.
There has been considerable confusion about the term guardian in the UK, partly because in our law the word "guardian" is generally used in the parental sense of parent or guardian, who is someone quite different. For that reason, I have given the role a different name in my amendment-namely, "legal advocate". However, to make what we are talking about really clear, the UNICEF guidelines on a child trafficking guardian are the basis of subsection (2) of the new clause proposed under Amendment 57A. There could then be no confusion about what is proposed.
When we look at the internationally accepted definition of a guardian for a trafficked child, the shortcomings of the current Children Act provision become all too obvious. I will set them out briefly. First, Section 26 advocates do not comply with the definition of a trafficking guardian because they advocate on the child's behalf only in relation to local authority case reviews and are not appointed from the moment a child is identified as a victim of trafficking but only if the child determines that they would like to avail themselves of their services, which raises an interesting question.
Last week, I spoke to a solicitor who pointed out that in making provisions for a Section 26 advocate, who crucially can be commissioned only if the child requests it, the Children Act assumes that the child in question is mature enough-probably 10 years old or more. The solicitor wanted to know how this would help the young trafficked children who had recently come to their attention: one was aged four months; one was one year old; and another was two years old. There are also "independent visitors" but they are not given the right to advocate on behalf of a child in all their engagement with the state. Instead, their role seems to be more of a befriending and advice service to the child in question.
Finally, there is the independent reviewing officer but they do not appear to accompany the children anywhere and are not required to have direct contact with the child between their reviews. I do not believe that these positions adequately rise to the contemporary challenge of human trafficking. It is very clear to me that, even viewed collectively, these roles do not provide anything comparable to what is understood today as a child trafficking guardian. I am delighted that the
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Over the past several years, trafficking has become a lucrative business in the United Kingdom. Traffickers are clever and opportunistic, and stop at nothing when there is profit to be made. I think of a two year-old called Karolek, who along with her mother was brought to the United Kingdom from eastern Europe and used as a means through which fraudulent benefits could be claimed. Both Karolek and her mother were rescued but her mother is now being groomed for sexual exploitation and is in no place to provide the best care for her child, leaving Karolek in a very vulnerable position. Had Karolek been given a legal advocate, the vulnerability of her situation would have been identified by someone with appropriate authority and action taken.
In short, I must tell the House that I am not persuaded, on the basis of the 32 per cent loss rate, the levels of care or the careful scrutiny of current provisions in the Children Act, that our current arrangements are satisfactory. It is for that purpose that I am today moving Amendment 57A. It has been designed with two main considerations in mind. First, it addresses the shortcomings of our current legal provision by requiring the provision of a legal advocate from the moment a child victim of trafficking is identified. The legal advocate role is defined using the UNICEF framework for what guardians should do for the victims of child trafficking under subsection (2)(a) to (2)(j) of the proposed new clause.
With these provisions in place, it is very much less likely that rescued trafficked children will be lost. Once rescued, they will have one consistent person advocating for their best interests and working to ensure a plan for their long-term welfare. While the child may have to deal with numerous officials, he or she will have the benefit of a focused and present point of contact and support who can advocate for the services that they need.
Secondly, Amendment 57A rises to the key challenge to be very mindful of cost, which appeals to me as a Scot. If child trafficking guardians were required and the state was to pay for them, the total cost would be considerable. As a good Scotsman, I am very committed to the policies that seek to place our public finances on a firmer foundation than they have been in recent years. As a good Conservative, I am also very committed to the idea of the big society and the concept of the big society legal advocate, which has been advanced by various parliamentarians in another place.
The truth is that charities and voluntary bodies are queuing up to make provision of the legal advocate role. They have been writing to me during the past week. Their frustration is that currently the law does not recognise them or enable them to play a proper child trafficking guardian role in the internationally recognised sense of the term and as reflected in the wording of my amendment.
On the use of volunteers, I particularly underline the fact that, regardless of how one is appointed, this is no job for do-gooders with compassion but without proper training. Anyone serving as a legal advocate must be properly trained, be they paid or a volunteer. This is not incompatible with our traditions and is eloquently demonstrated not least by our volunteer magistrates system.
I am not suggesting that this will have no cost implications, but they will be limited compared with an alternative that is funded completely from the public purse. Furthermore, when one has regard to the cost to the state resulting from children going missing and the potential for ensuring that a child has good support through any criminal cases brought against traffickers, one can see that it constitutes an extremely good investment and excellent value for money. Amendment 57A presents a win-win opportunity. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps it may be convenient if I briefly intervene at this stage. It might save some time later. It is certainly within the scope of the guidance in the Companion to Standing Orders if I speak now, but I assure my noble friends that obviously I will respond as Minister at the end of the debate.
I want to make one brief point to my noble friend. We have all listened carefully to his words and they have made a deep impact on us. Although these matters fall slightly outside my immediate area of responsibility within the Home Office, I am certainly content to ask colleagues in the Department for Education to invite the Children's Commissioner for England to review the current practical arrangements for rescued child victims of trafficking and to provide advice both to my right honourable friend in that department and to us in the Home Office. We will then be in a position to come back to these matters at a later stage.
I hope, with that assurance-I repeat that I am prepared to respond at the end of this debate-that my words might at least reduce the amount of time that we need to devote to this debate when there is a lot of other business to be taken this evening.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that short and welcome intervention, but my real tribute must go to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his tireless efforts on this issue and his splendid introduction to the amendment. It is said that a society should be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members, and the children who have entered our shores to work in modern-day slavery are truly some of the most vulnerable in our society. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has been an extraordinary advocate for all those who have been trafficked, but especially children. We all must have found the ages of the children mentioned this evening deeply shocking.
As the noble Lord said in the debate held earlier this month, the UK should be striving to be a beacon of good practice in this area, not simply doing the minimum to toe the line. When children are trafficked into this country, they often arrive alone and without any trace of where they have come from, with no way to communicate and without anyone who cares for their best interest. The lucky children will be picked up at the border, but others become known to the authorities only many months and sometimes years after entering the country, having been forced into prostitution or slave labour by their traffickers. Those children who are identified will come into contact with scores of extremely dedicated professionals-border agency staff, the police, social services, foster carers and lawyers-all of whom will have partial responsibility for their care, yet no single adult will have responsibility for providing advocacy for a child in all those situations.
The purpose of a guardian or a legal advocate is, as termed in this amendment, to mediate between all the different agencies on behalf of the child and to provide the continuous oversight and physical presence that they need while navigating the process. As the noble Lord said, between 2005 and 2009 32 per cent of child trafficking victims went missing from care. As a citizen, I am ashamed of that. Child victims of human trafficking need highly specialised protection because of the nature of the criminal world that we are dealing with. Human trafficking has a net value of $36 billion a year, with human lives as its commodity, and organised criminal groups will go to terrible lengths to abduct a child from care. Articles 14 and 16 of the EU directive require member states to implement measures that are tailored to the specific vulnerabilities of these children. The appointment of a guardian or legal advocate as described in the amendment would ensure that the UK was fully compliant with both the letter and the spirit of the directive in providing the child with a legal advocate who will provide advocacy for that child from the moment they are identified both in dealings with authorities and in court.
I hear what the Minister says and I am glad that the Government are now going to pursue these issues further with the Children's Commissioner, because I can think of no better person who can really push these issues forward. I hope that the Minister will be able to keep us informed of progress as the discussions take place, and of course I trust him to do that. However, I have to say that I am absolutely certain that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, will pursue these issues doggedly until he is satisfied that every child who is trafficked into this country has a legal advocate. I am confident that the issue will be pursued to its successful conclusion.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I, too, have put my name to this amendment. I declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation. I am also extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for this amendment and for the dedication with which he has pursued both through his own Bill and during the passage of this Bill what is so needed for these children.
The amendment looks to one element of the needs of the most disadvantaged group of children in the world: those who have been trafficked, removed from their families, however inadequate the family situation may have been, and brought here, to a foreign country, where they probably do not speak the language, to become sex slaves, domestic slaves, thieves or minders of cannabis farms. As the noble Lord has told us, they have no family life, no chance to go to school or to lead the life of an ordinary child. This is modern child slavery, and how do we treat those who escape? The signing of the EU directive and the excellent strategy against human trafficking have put the Government on the right track. The issue is the extent to which the good intentions are actually carried out. I suggest that the United Kingdom is only semi-compliant with the directive, but we are all on the same side in trying to achieve the best possible outcomes for these children. I was delighted to hear the preliminary and most helpful comments from the Minister; none the less I would like to continue to make the speech I have prepared.
Article 14 of the directive was set out by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, but how do we deal with it in England and Wales? As the noble Lord said, the care and protection of these children is covered by the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004. Local authorities have a statutory duty of care, protection and accommodation to children at risk. However, I agree with the noble Lord that the present set-up within social work care does not meet the needs of the trafficked child. At present, no one in this country has parental responsibility for such a child. Mothers and fathers have parental responsibility, and local authorities share parental responsibility if they have a care order, but under Part III of the Children Act 1989, not Part IV, parental responsibility remains with the parents, who may be anywhere in the world and may themselves have been the traffickers; so the child is in a sort of administrative limbo.
We know, as the noble Lord pointed out so graphically, that traffickers get in touch with children who go missing-and no one actually knows how many children do go missing. The figures on missing children generally, those within the UK as well as trafficked children, are seriously inaccurate. There is no effective trafficking database, but the figures given today, although I would be surprised if they are the total, are indeed shocking. Those children who remain with a local authority have no consistent person to whom to turn. They are exposed and subjected to a bewildering variety of processes over which they have no control with no consistent individual to help them surmount the hurdles set before them.
I also remind noble Lords that these are foreign children who do not necessarily speak English and have no one in this country with parental responsibility or whom they know. One only has to contrast such a child with a child living in this country who comes to the threshold of care proceedings as being "at serious risk of harm". That child is always allocated a guardian for care proceedings, usually from CAFCASS. The amendment seeks to ameliorate this sad and most unsatisfactory situation.
I have to say, however, that the wording of the amendment is not perfect. The phrase "legal advocate", which I am afraid I suggested, may not be the best
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An unsatisfactory alternative is to continue to use social workers to carry out this role. It is not often that there will be one social worker with the time, or even possibly the commitment, to give this child what is needed. I know from personal experience what social workers cannot do for children living in this country, so how will they be able to do it for trafficked children coming in? Ideally, the resources should be given to free up individual social workers to look after the relatively small number of identified trafficked children, but this is pie in the sky.
The Salvation Army has a contract to provide help and accommodation for adults, but not, of course, for children. A real possibility would be for the Government to look to the voluntary sector and find a children's NGO to provide this service for these children. As an example, Barnardo's already offers legal advocates for trafficked children in certain circumstances and gives other help. I believe that CARE is about to offer something similar, and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, spoke of a number of NGOs which had been in touch with him.
I would like the Government to look to the NGOs to see what could be offered, to which I hope the Government would make a modest contribution to help the relevant NGO carry out the task. I hope that the Children's Commissioner for England will look at that, and I am delighted that the Minister has accepted this proposal from the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I very much hope, therefore-and I feel it is true-that the Government accept the underlying principle of this important amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and his co-signatories, as well as the organisations which have clearly done so much of the work of which we have heard. I commend them for ensuring that so many of your Lordships have been lobbied, which has led to an increasing understanding of the complexities of trafficking and the response to it.
In view of the Minister's remarks, I shall cut down what I have to say this evening. What is needed for children in this situation is so multifaceted that the proposal for guardianship, if I can call it that, is appropriate, particularly because of the ability that such a person would have to look at the child's interests as a whole and not as a series of separate issues with too much demarcation and not enough interconnection. What is also needed is somebody able to give time to the child. Adults who are trafficked can take a lot of time to articulate their feelings, their needs and their story. If that is so for them, how much time is needed for children?
Social workers-like the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I do not criticise individual social workers-may be seen as representatives of the state by some children. Consistency and trust have also been referred to. Speaking more from instinct than knowledge, I rather doubt that all local authority children's services can have as deep an understanding as is needed of the complexity of this problem. I would like to see more psychological services and a focus on specialised and supported foster care. Foster parents looking after trafficked children who have been rescued must have a hugely important role. If the reason for so many children missing from care is in part the bond that they have with their traffickers, who will be the people that they know best, whose language they may speak and who may well have taken steps to ensure that the child stays in contact, or if it is a matter of fear, voodoo and witchcraft, work needs to be done to counter that relationship. So we are talking about a range of actions, and this proposition addresses a lot of the issues.
In giving assurances to the House about how the Government hope to take this matter forward, the Minister referred to practical arrangements. I am sure that he did not mean to limit what would be looked at by the Children's Commissioner to practical arrangements, because what is needed goes far wider than that. I appreciate that an enormous amount of negotiation must underlie the assurance today, so I do not want to push him into a place which is difficult for him, but if he can say anything about that, it would be helpful. Perhaps he could say something also about the work that might be done with the Children's Commissioner for Wales, where a lot of work in this area has been done and where different arrangements perhaps apply.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I most warmly support the amendment and welcome the tripartite negotiations announced by the Minister. I hope that speed will be of the essence and that we shall be informed of the outcome before Third Reading. I hope that he will not simply say, "Further negotiations are going on. We hope to make some practical arrangements". I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, will not let go of the matter and will keep an eagle eye on the negotiations.
The objective of the Bill-the protection of freedoms -is deficient unless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, it protects the freedoms and interests of the most vulnerable members of society. It is hard to think of a more vulnerable group than children who have been trafficked. It is bad enough imagining the distress of an adult who arrives in a foreign country alone and oppressed and has to contend with traffickers, the immigration authorities and the police. How much more traumatic and inhibiting it must be for a child to face the same challenge.
In this situation, children need to be supported and represented so that their best interests are safeguarded. The issue at stake is whether we rest content with minimal provision, as required by the EU directive, or whether we seek an effective and properly resourced system of advocacy. I for one would go for the latter: a better system of advocacy for the children. I do not find the phrase "legal advocate" difficult. "Guardian" would be quite difficult to understand, but I can see what a "legal advocate" might do. However, other people may think differently.
Our recent performance in losing 32 per cent of trafficked children in local authority care between 2007 and 2010 suggests that we need to raise our game. How can so many be lost? It is too huge a loss. We should seek a better way, as outlined in the UNICEF definition of the role of a guardian and the standards set out in the various international instruments.
The amendment offers us that better way. The provisions of the Children Act 1989 are good as far as they go, but they do not meet the special requirements of children who have been trafficked. The noble Lord's amendment sets out the duties of a legal advocate with admirable clarity and provides for suitably qualified and trained people to fill that role. It has the advantage, by drawing on employees of statutory organisations or volunteers with specialist NGOs, of keeping extra costs down.
I am grateful, too, for Amendment 57A, because there was a fear, generated in the margins of your Lordships' House, that Amendment 57 would provide an incentive for opportunistic and misguided parents to traffick their own children in order to gain entry into the United Kingdom. There was that fear and the new amendment deals with that. Again, I do not know on what evidence that fear rested, but for me it would still be wrong to fail to provide support for genuine child victims simply out of fear that unscrupulous parents might take advantage of the provision.
To return to Amendment 57A, I am personally not convinced of the Government's argument that the status quo is good enough. I do not think that it is. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, and his supporters have given us an opportunity to remedy a serious gap in our provision for victims of trafficking, particularly children. I thank him for that and urge that we seize the opportunity with both hands. I am grateful for the consultation that will take place. I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will not kick it into the long grass.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment so comprehensively and competently set out by the noble Lord, Lord McColl,
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I do not want to put the Minister in an embarrassing position. I know that he supports issues on trafficking because he has responded very sympathetically to previous debates. I agree that the Children's Commissioner is a good person to handle this, but I would like to be assured that there will be specific terms of reference, with possible extra resourcing. The commissioner must be able to draw on the expertise of organisations such Barnardo's, UNICEF, and CARE that have done so much research on this issue. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York mentioned the long grass in his closing remarks. I always fear long grass when we have reviews and I would not want this to go into the long grass in any respect.
Your Lordships' House has debated and been concerned about the trafficking of children for many years. Indeed, there have been relevant debates quite recently, including the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the debate of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. The Minister responded sympathetically. I also recognise that much has been done by the local safeguarding boards, NGOs and the police in response to accommodation support, safety and employment needs. But I want to dwell for a moment, and I shall be brief, on the appalling state that trafficked young people find themselves in and why they need such support.
I declare an interest as a patron of the University of Bedfordshire child protection unit. In that capacity, I have met many young people who have been trafficked and who can and do set out their problems passionately. The concerns are well documented in the ECPAT booklet called Safeguarding Children: Top Ten Questions on Child Trafficking. One of the key issues that has been pointed out by other organisations such as CARE, Barnardo's and UNICEF, is that children who are trafficked are,
I will return to that because it is a key issue. These children are likely to go missing, although I understand the figure has improved. They are certainly vulnerable to abuse and subject to abuse very regularly. Most have language and communication difficulties.
Of course they need support and advocacy as they are in a system that is too complex for them to understand. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends the prompt appointment of a guardian for unaccompanied children and says succinctly what such a person should do. Such a person should be consulted and informed about actions relevant to the child, have the authority to represent the child when plans or decisions are made, have expertise in childcare so as to protect the best interests of the child, act as a link between specialist agencies or individuals and provide continuity of care.
I want to emphasise the point that so many noble Lords have already emphasised. It is very important that such an advocate, guardian or mentor must have training and expertise in dealing with children and
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UNICEF has produced a similar list of 12 expectations on the role of guardians, including keeping the child informed of rights and any proceedings undertaken. Care points out that while the Government may maintain that the role of guardian is adequately filled by existing arrangements, current social work provisions via local authority care, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has said, fall short of the care that is needed. Apparently, in some cases, appointed social workers have not shown up to children's court proceedings. I have enormous respect for social workers, but they cannot do everything. The situation is far from ideal. We know that social workers and CAFCASS are overwhelmed with needy cases. Surely these trafficked children need more support and our sympathy.
I am sure that the Children's Commissioner and her office will take this on board but my key point is that child victims of trafficking have multiple needs. It is not just about preventing them from disappearing. There are immigration issues, emotional and psychological trauma, absence of parents and other support. All that points to the need for a person who can get to know the child as an individual, can cope with the trauma, is familiar with the legal and social care systems and is trusted and respected by the child. A guardian or mentor is such a person. I look forward to the Minister's response on this and to more information if possible on the role of the Children's Commissioner.
Lord Wei: My Lords, I very much welcome Amendment 57A and the announcement by the Minister, which is a positive step in the right direction. In light of that, I want primarily to direct my comments to the scope that the amendment provides for the use of volunteers.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, supported across the whole House, is important. The voluntary legal advocate whom he proposes does not complicate matters by introducing additional bureaucratic burdens on the child. They would simply provide a means of helping all the things that must already be done to be done. They would provide additional capacity to provide more support for the child and the reassurance that there is one person who will help them who will remain constant so that they do not have the emotional trauma of going back to square one to explain their painful story all over again.
The legal advocate would be able to provide general advice and support and crucially be permitted to accompany them on all their interactions with state agencies and act as advocate to all those agencies on the child's behalf. That is based on internationally accepted best practice as set out by UNICEF.
One of the most important parts of the McColl amendment is that it does not tie the Government's hands but provides scope for legal advocates to be the
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The number of children rescued between 2007 and 2010 is roughly 300 a year. I know from my work in the voluntary sector that it would not be difficult to find 300 volunteers a year to be voluntary legal advocates for a child. Indeed, I have been approached, as have other noble Lords, by voluntary organisations that are ready to rise to the challenge and pilot such approaches. This presents us with a win-win situation, because not only does it address a very pressing problem, but it would do so in a way that would help further build British social capital.
I am aware that there are those who may feel nervous about the role of volunteers. In response, I make two key points. First, the amendment is keenly aware that anyone serving those deeply vulnerable children must be properly trained, as has been mentioned already, and all would be subject to the same robust training framework. This is no place for some well meaning volunteer who just feels compassion but who has not been properly trained. Secondly, I would simply point those tempted to suggest that volunteers cannot do the job to our magistrates system. Magistrates are volunteers. They are properly trained and have to deal with very sensitive situations. Although there may be some who are defensive of their turf and tempted to justify their fears of volunteers by pointing to training, we must recognise that volunteers can be, and are, trained, as our magistrates system eloquently demonstrates. Another great example of the very successful use of volunteers to which I would direct noble Lords is that provided by court-appointed special advocates-CASAs-in the United States, who are trained volunteers and who have a proven track record of dealing with extremely delicate situations very effectively.
Of course the opportunity to make proper care available for victims of trafficking through volunteer legal advocates is hugely important in the current fiscal environment, where money is so tight. This is not to say that Amendment 57A would have no costs to the state if the volunteer route were used, but it would be minimal-and money well spent when one has regard for the imperative of providing better and more sensitive care for incredibly vulnerable children and for further reductions in the numbers lost.
My political hero is Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, who arguably did more than anyone else in this House-and in another place and beyond-to establish the tradition of compassionate conservatism in the 19th century, demonstrating concern particularly for vulnerable children in factories and mines and for those sweeping chimneys. I am sure that if he were here today, he would be fronting this amendment, which comes in the very best tradition of my party, historically and recently; and which, crucially, also resonates with the traditions of other parties, whether your vision of society is big, open, good or otherwise. I very much hope that we can continue to support the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his efforts to secure these measures.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am one of those who want to speak in the next debate, and I can see the Minister glaring at me. However, it is particularly important, numerically, that we support what the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and indeed my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, have said. It is crucial that we get this right. I am not going to spend hours adding my thoughts to it but do just want to make one point. Not only is the number who have slipped through the net shameful-and it is really shameful-but we are facing a rather more difficult and dangerous period. There is a lot of money to be made in this area, as noble Lords have said, and we are just about to enter the Olympic period. I want to make that one point. I hope everybody who wants to speak is going to be heard, because this is a crucially important matter that we must get right. I have great confidence that the Minister will take note of what is being said. The amendment is not perfect, as everybody has said, but what is behind it is crucial.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I welcome this amendment and commend it most strongly to the Government. I am also glad to hear the Minister's indication that the Government are going to look sympathetically and positively at what the amendment says and what lies behind it. I will make a couple of points. First, it is particularly significant that the amendment stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. The noble Lord is not a man who indulges just in rhetoric-his humanitarian commitment is demonstrated in his own direct work, for example in west Africa. When somebody with practical demonstration of human concern speaks out, it is always doubly important to listen. The noble Lord and the other supporters of this amendment have of course spoken up for civilised values and are trying to give some substance to what we like to say this society is about-what we believe the England, or the United Kingdom, we want to live in is about, when it comes to a pressing social issue. By putting the amendment forward so well, it seems to me that they have also endeavoured to give substance to the commitment that we gave before the world when the conventions were being drawn up. It is not just about what the conventions demand-we were speaking up positively in favour of the conventions. It is therefore particularly disgraceful when we have situations that contradict what those conventions say.
I want to say one other thing. Very recently, we were celebrating Charles Dickens's 200th anniversary. I have absolutely no doubt whatever that, had Dickens lived today, he would have been writing powerfully about this story. My noble friend Lady Massey has spelt out the realities. Of course, another reality is the damage that is done to the future lives of children in this predicament-the potential delinquency and all that follows from that; the potential recruitment to ugly causes that could easily arise from experiences of this kind.
Most important of all, we talk about the need for expertise and people with knowledge of the law who will be able to find practical solutions because they are professionally qualified to do so. That is crucial, and we do not want to go down the road of sentimentality; but at the same time, what would Dickens have brought out? Dickens would have brought out that child's
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However, for love to be effective, it must be backed by serious work and commitment, from people with serious and relevant qualifications bringing them to bear. We will not find a solution simply by good, decent, administrative intent; we will find it by the quality of the relationships. In speaking out as I do on this point, it should be stressed over and over again that this is not just a matter of the responsibility of the immigration or other authorities, it is our whole society's responsibility. Dickens would have wanted to wake up the nation, as a community, to the reality of the situation in its midst. There has to be an awakening of social and public responsibility across this land, if we are to find the real and lasting solutions to not just this issue but all the issues of which this is a particularly acute symptom. I, for example, would love for this amendment to have gone a little further. I do not think it would have been practicable in this context but, perhaps at some stage the amendment could be taken forward to include all children in the immigration system who find themselves alone, not just the children who are victims of trafficking.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: The Minister's reply to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and others has been most warmly welcomed. When he examines this, will he put his mind to the further thought that trafficked children are highly likely to be retrafficked? This splendid amendment has an underlying assumption that somehow the children will be safe forever once they are here and there is a legal guardian and a framework around them. Of course, that is not the case. Trafficked children are hugely vulnerable. Naturally, there is a point in this amendment that locates their parents again and very probably, in most cases, an effort will be made to restore them to those parents. However, the volume of children who are retrafficked is dramatic and appalling. When they consider this amendment in such a positive light, I wonder whether the Minister and indeed the department will think about trying to stop the trafficking at source.
I declare an interest as president of a charity registered in Romania, which has been working against traffickers in Romania for 20 years. There is a great deal that we from this country can do for other developed nations, including Romania which is the subject of all sorts of trafficked children from Moldova, Russia and China. They pour through rather large and porous borders, and many of those children end up here. Vast numbers of them are then retrafficked.
I wonder whether the Minister could consider the next step of putting a great deal of focus on how to strengthen at source the anti-trafficking barriers. In
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Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I greatly applaud and welcome this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and its other signatories. I also appreciate very much the humanity and sensitivity shown by the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, if I may say so, has added to the very great respect and admiration that the House already has for him. The problem is one which is a stain upon the honour of this community. These trafficked children are the most vulnerable imaginable, while their state is the most pitiable imaginable-and yet our system fails them. Morally, our responsibility is immense and could not be greater. Legally, the responsibility has already been spelt out. As many of us know, in Part III of the Children Act 1989 there is Section 17, which requires a local authority to be responsible for a child in need, and Section 20, which requires it to accommodate a child who needs accommodation.
If I may turn to the Welsh language for a moment, there is a saying: "Dyw mater pawb yn gyfrifoldeb neb"-the business of everybody is nobody's special responsibility-and that is the whole issue here. Somehow or other local authorities, which I know have responded well within the realities of the difficulties which they have, find it difficult to do exactly what they should in relation to these children, with the result that a very substantial proportion escape the protection which they so gravely need. In those circumstances, I believe that the amendment is excellent. It concentrates the mind, as Dr Johnson might have said. It places a focus of responsibility which is not already there in Part III of that Children Act.
It may be that the amendment is not perfect. That does not really matter, as its thrust is obvious and honourable. I had the very great privilege 43 years ago, if your Lordships can believe it, of taking the Children and Young Persons Bill through another place. I remember being thrilled then by one of the expressions in that legislation, about the responsibility of a local authority towards a child who was in its care to befriend. We have heard that expression already, but I do not think that it appears in fact in the amendment. However, I am sure that it could be incorporated in legislation in this context. I therefore feel that we are doing something which is essentially moral and good. We are supplementing a lacuna which exists not so much in the law as in the way in which local authorities have reacted to their duties in this case. It is very much to the credit of this community that it shows that sensitivity in relation to what is a very worthy cause.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I am very aware that those who push against an open door are liable to fall on their face. I suppose the trouble here is that we do not know how open the door is, given the
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I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who, as has already been said by my noble friend Lord Judd, has shown his own compassion in West Africa by his presidency of Mercy Ships. He has indeed shown himself to be committed and flexible; for example, he has listened to concerns about the former subsection (1)(c), which in my judgment could certainly have been misused for illegal immigration. The key point in subsection (1) is that the main consideration is the welfare of the child. There is no doubt about the nature of the problem. They are bewildered, vulnerable children. The Children's Commissioner's report of last month, Landing in Dover, shows some of the failings of the current system. I am sure the Minister concedes that that system is far from adequate. We need to confront it. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has put forward a proposal that might help the Minister in terms of public funds. It may be that local social services departments can provide adequate help but, if not, the voluntary spirit will be available, as the noble Lord, Lord Wei, said.
Clearly, there are concerns about the potential volunteers. Is the problem manageable? I submit that it is, given the relatively small number of children who are trafficked. Equally, there must be some concerns about the adequacy of the training. I do not wholly accept the precedent of magistrates. Yes, magistrates are amateur, but they have training and the legal clerk is always there to advise them on the law. The volunteers, it is said, are available and there is a great spirit on the part of non-governmental organisations to be ready to help. I hope that the training will indeed be adequate. Of course many social workers do not in any event have specialist training in this field.
That said, we travel in hope. I believe that the Government and indeed the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whom I congratulate again, have set out proper criteria based on the UNICEF guidance. I believe also that Greco -the Council of Europe organisation which is going to mark the Government in terms of their adherence to the obligations under the Council of Europe convention-is more likely to give a very positive report when it comes to comment on the Government's conduct in May or June of this year.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I will not delay the House for more than a moment. This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak during the passage of the Bill, and I want to add a factual point that may be of use in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl.
I had the honour of succeeding the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, as president of UNICEF. In that capacity I spent seven years travelling to all parts of the world, looking at the issue of child trafficking, and was forced to witness things that would have beggared the imagination of Charles Dickens. One important point kept coming back: when I was moved at times to begin to lecture areas of the world where the situation was particularly bad, they always responded, quite correctly, by saying, "Look at your own situation". The situation in the UK is actually very poor, and it ill behoves us to tell the rest of the world what it should be doing about child trafficking until we can be sure that our own record is as close to immaculate as legislation can make it. I was frequently extremely embarrassed by being lectured back about the UK's record on child trafficking in places where I had thought that we had the moral high ground. We lost the moral high ground a number of years ago.
I harangued my own Government any number of times on this issue and eventually we got a signature to the UN convention, but the situation needs improvement, and quickly. We have very little to be proud of, and I was hoping that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, would go a long way towards allowing us to begin to tell the rest of the world how to put their house in order.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was rather suspicious that I might be trying to kick this into the long grass-she put that suggestion forward. I assure her that I have some experience of kicking things into the long grass, but that works only when all parties agree that something should go into the long grass and stay there. If I may continue with the analogy, it was her noble friend Lady Royall who asked that I keep her informed of progress while giving me the assurance that my noble friend Lord McColl would be dogged in his pursuit of me to ensure that things progressed. When someone like my noble friend is dogged in his pursuit, there is no grass long enough for these matters. This issue will not go into the long grass, as I said; I want this to go to the Children's Commissioner for her to give her views and come forward with practical ideas.
On that point, I would like to come back to my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who herself was rather suspicious when I used the expression "practical arrangements". I have no shame whatever in using those words because they are exactly what we want. We want to ensure that we are making progress in this area, rather than merely passing amendments so that we feel good about passing amendments.
I do not want to go into the amendment of my noble friend Lord McColl at this stage because I do not think it quite achieves what it sets out to do and there might be better ways of doing it. I repeat what I said to him earlier today in a private conversation: we have made some progress in this area. Noble Lords have been quoting the figure of some 32 per cent of children still being lost, but we have had considerable
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At this stage I would like to say that we have made progress, I have listened to everything that has been said and the Children's Commissioner will take note of all that has been said in this debate. I look forward to progress and to keeping the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, informed about it. I will also look over my shoulder for the dogged pursuit of my noble friend Lord McColl, who will see to it that I do my utmost to ensure that progress is made in this respect. I hope that with those assurances my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am particularly grateful to my co-signatories, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord Carlile. I am also grateful to the Minister for the assurances and the concession that he has given, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(2A) Where, in connection with the provision of up-date information under section 116A, the chief officer of a police force
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"(2) The Welsh Ministers may by order made by statutory instrument make such transitional, transitory or saving provision as the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate in connection with the coming into force of any Welsh provision.
(a) shall include persons representative of government departments and public bodies whose responsibilities have relevance to the treatment of female offenders and the prevention of offending by women (including, but not limited to, responsibilities for criminal justice, housing, education, employment, benefits, social services and health services), and
(b) shall work with specialists who have the experience and knowledge to provide the necessary expert advice.
(a) to develop a strategy to reduce offending by women and for the delivery of appropriate and effective services to women in the criminal justice system,
(b) to monitor the extent to which the aims of that strategy are being met,
(c) to set standards with respect to the specification, commissioning and provision of services to women in the criminal justice system and services to reduce offending by women,
(d) to make grants, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to bodies to enable them to develop good practice in the provision of services to women in the criminal justice system and the prevention of offending by women.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, 19 years ago I was proud to make my maiden speech on women in the criminal justice system. In that speech I highlighted the disproportionate and discriminatory response of our justice system to women offenders. I spoke of the complex needs of women offenders and the fact that many women are locked up on short sentences for petty crime, causing untold destruction to their families. I spoke about how the prison system does not do what it should for women offenders, and how we must look at more effective ways of tackling women's offending behaviour in the community.
Since I made that speech, a number of high-profile reviews of women in the criminal justice system have been published and recommendations have been taken on board by successive Governments. Still, though, the problem of women in prison pervades; 15 years ago there were some 1,800 women in custody but
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I remember listening to the male governor of Styal women's prison, who had spent his career in men's prisons, talking about his experience of arriving at Styal. He spoke of how shocked he was at the levels of self-harm. He described how in a male prison there was an average of six prisoners on special observation for self-harm each day, while in Styal it was an average of 50. He described the high levels of mental health problems and the fact most women were there on short sentences, some women for eight days or even less. I remember his words: "I've never seen such a concentration of damaged, fragile people". In this weekend's Sunday papers, he reiterated that statement, which he made a few months ago.
When women are sentenced to custody, that has a profound effect on family life. Many women have children or elderly or disabled dependants. Each year, 18,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment, and just 5 per cent of those children will get to stay in their homes when their mother goes to jail. In 2006, the Social Exclusion Unit found that only half the women in prison who lived with or had contact with their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit from their children since going to prison. Sending women to prison is also, for the most part, ineffective. Two-thirds of women serving sentences of 12 months or less are reconvicted within a year of release. The impact on the children of those women cannot truly be imagined, but we know that it is dramatic.
We conclude, as I concluded in my speech 19 years ago, that our current approach to women in the criminal justice system is not working. At this point, I declare an interest as patron of the women's centre in Brighton and Hove, which provides an excellent example of cost-effective treatment of women offenders in the community that works. The Inspire project is a partnership between five women's organisations, all of which play a part in delivering a holistic service to women offenders that addresses their complex needs. It helps women with accommodation, employment, health and well-being, and drug and alcohol problems, debt and financial issues, children and families, and experience of domestic and sexual violence. Women engage well with the services and the project's success in reducing reoffending is to be commended.
The Inspire project is one of a number of innovative projects that work with women offenders across the community. These projects are not only effective in reducing women's offending but very cost-effective.
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The Bill represents an opportunity to bring about the radical change that is needed to reform the criminal justice system into one that works for women. That is why I and others were so disappointed to see that women had not been properly considered in the Bill, which was my motivation for tabling this amendment. Amendment 182A calls on the Government to establish a cross-departmental commission with responsibility for maintaining effective governance and the oversight of women's justice. This is much needed to ensure that women are given the support they need to stop their offending behaviour and to become active members of the community. The amendment offers an effective way of ensuring that the needs of women in the criminal justice system are considered at the highest level of decision-making within government.
The commission would draw together representatives from government departments and public bodies whose responsibilities are relevant to the needs of women in the criminal justice system. It would include representatives from justice, health, social services, housing, education and employment. These key agencies would come together to develop, implement and monitor a cross-departmental strategy to reduce offending by women, and to ensure that the right services for women offenders are provided at the right time. It would also provide a report to Parliament each year, documenting progress through measurement, monitoring and accountability.
Amendment 182B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on women in the criminal justice system, also calls on the Secretary of State to establish a women's justice commission, although it also asks for the commission to remain independent of government. However, I wonder whether there is not a case for exploring how we could bring the two concepts together.
Finally, it is essential that appropriate arrangements such as these are in place to maintain the effective governance and oversight of women's justice. Without them, I fear that the needs of women offenders will continue to be marginalised and go unmet. I will then have to make another speech about women in prison in years to come-although certainly not in 19 years. I sincerely hope that that will not be necessary. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said, it is a great pity that the position of women in the criminal justice system was neither included in the Bill nor debated when it was being processed through the other place.
I was very glad that so many recommendations from the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, were accepted by the previous Government and supported by the coalition. Many repeated what I recommended in two earlier thematic reviews on women in prison in 1997 and 2001; that the Prison Reform Trust recommended in a report chaired by Professor Dorothy Wedderburn in 1999; and that the Fawcett Society recommended in three reports published between 2002 and 2006. Like the noble Baroness, we all appreciated
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Several times during the passage of the Bill, the Minister has told us that such and such an amendment is not necessary because a group has been appointed in the Ministry of Justice or NOMS to look at what is being put forward. I have to admit that every time he does I clench my fists and groan inwardly. Policy-making groups inside ministries are neither capable of designing and overseeing, nor designed to direct and oversee, the implementation of strategy-a word that is frequently misused because it is so imperfectly understood. A strategy is an overarching direction that binds everyone and everything involved in achieving a particular purpose. I have quoted previously the senior civil servant in the Home Office who berated me, saying that she wished I would stop talking about strategy because it was not a strategy that was needed but strategic direction. When I asked her what she meant, she replied, "Top-down, of course", implying that every ministerial utterance was to be regarded as strategic direction. No wonder offender management is in a muddle.
Strategies require implementation, not just verbiage, and verbiage does not become strategy just because it comes from the top. I plead guilty as charged by any noble Lord who may accuse me of allowing my military background to influence my understanding of strategy, as well as my appreciation that nothing involving people will succeed unless they are overseen and led. That background fuelled my appreciation that all was not well with offender management in general, and with the treatment of and conditions for women in particular, when I saw what was and was not happening during my first inspection of Holloway more than 16 years ago. I admit to my astonishment when the then director-general of the Prison Service told me that there was no such person when I asked to see the director of women's prisons, who I presumed was responsible and accountable for their custody. The Prison Service, he told me, thought that a civil servant in the policy branch was quite sufficient. When I asked him who the governor of a women's prison could go to for help and advice, he said the area manager, who was responsible for the budget but might or might not have worked in a women's prison. In my report on that never to be forgotten inspection, I included a recommendation that a director of women's prisons be appointed.
Since then, I have watched a series of expensive changes to the bureaucracy of offender management predictably fail to bring about the desired improvements on the ground because they did not include the appointment of individuals responsible and accountable for overseeing implementation in different types of
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I repeated my recommendation in every other inspection report and the thematic reviews of women in prison that I mentioned earlier. Those reviews were only about prisons, but I was immediately attracted by Professor Wedderburn's recommendation that there should be a women's justice board, on the lines of the Youth Justice Board, that was responsible and accountable for women everywhere in the criminal justice system. I warmly supported the proposed wider responsibilities of the chairman seeing my hoped for director of women's prisons as an essential, responsible and accountable subordinate. I also saw the chairman sitting alongside the director-general of the Prison Service, the director of the National Probation Service and the chairman of the Youth Justice Board on an executive board in which each was responsible and accountable to Ministers for their part of the offender management system.
My Amendment 182B differs in only two respects from that tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould, Lady Corston and Lady Hamwee. I recognise the noble Baroness's suggestion that we should get together and decide on one to go forward on Report. First, and semantically, I prefer the title "women's justice board" to "women's justice strategy commission" partly because it resonates with the success of the similarly roled Youth Justice Board and partly because the fact that boards produce and oversee strategy is already well understood by the public. Secondly, to accentuate the point that the chairman is responsible and accountable to the Secretary of State, I believe that he or she should be his or her principal adviser on women in the criminal justice system.
My Amendment 182C mirrors recent introductions such as the requirement on the Secretary of State for Defence to give an annual account to Parliament of the operation of the Armed Forces covenant. The treatment of, and conditions for, women in the criminal justice system have been allowed to go by default for too long. My amendment is designed to ensure that this cannot happen in future.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I added my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, because I wanted my noble friend to have a voice from behind him. I know that he needs no prompting on
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I was attracted to the amendment because of the issue that it addresses but particularly by its reference to so many facets of women in the criminal justice system and areas beyond that system, including housing, social services and employment. The knock-on effects of the treatment of female offenders on their children, their housing situation and the likelihood of their becoming homeless are well understood and I do not need to reiterate them at this time of night. However, as has been said, women in this situation have particular needs and are affected by particular factors.
I was attracted by four words in the noble Lord's Amendment 182C: namely, "just and appropriate treatment". I stress all those words. I was also attracted by the reference in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, to "services to women". That is a very important phrase to include in the amendment. I hope that the Minister will give us a positive response. Therefore, I do not wish to take up any more of the Committee's time as I am aware how much business we need to get through tonight.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I support the aims of these amendments. In my view the issue of women in prison is one of the great injustices that have still not been dealt with in our society in spite of tremendous efforts by totally dedicated people and many excellent reports all saying the same thing. To impose punishment on someone who manifestly needs help and treatment is inhuman, degrading and quite unacceptable. I wish to concentrate my brief remarks on those women in prison who are seriously mentally ill.
What a long history we have of locking up such women and failing to find another way. I still remember the 2006 BBC2 film that opened with a young woman cleaning up the blood of the latest incident of her cutting herself very severely. The basin was filled with blood, as was the toilet bowl. The film related that every night several of the prisoners tried to hang themselves and showed prison officers running from one attempted suicide to the next. Has this problem been solved? Not according to Clive Chatterton, the former governor of Styal Prison, whose comments have already been quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. In his letter to the Lord Chancellor, quoted in last Sunday's press, he describes a 20 year-old on remand for theft who repeatedly slashed her arms, then attempted to hang herself before setting fire to her body. When taken to hospital, she tried drinking a bottle of toxic disinfectant. Her last failed suicide bid involved swallowing a tampon and drinking water in the hope that the cotton would swell and obstruct her windpipe so that she would choke. Self-harming, he observed, was frequently the single element of their lives where the women could exert control.
Rachel Halford, director of the excellent campaign group, Women in Prison, said that these women "have no power, which mirrors their previous experiences of abuse and neglect". A woman in prison told her, "Putting the blade in and watching the blood come
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I understand that the Government are in talks with the Department of Health about putting an end to holding mentally ill women in a totally unsuitable place-a place of punishment. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us how these discussions are progressing and whether the Government see a way of ending a situation that many of us in this House have talked about time and time again. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is present. She has raised this issue frequently. Under this Government will some arrangements at last be put in place along the lines of the measures proposed in these amendments so that this disgraceful situation does not continue for another 19 years?
We must accept that factors which affect female offenders are fairly complex. The use of more non-custodial options seems to bypass female offenders. We are told that the reason why we do not have a separate framework in law for women is because we have a different structure for them.
When I last spoke in a similar debate, I was told that to go down the route towards a women's justice board could risk marginalising women further when what is needed is to mainstream the provision that we give women and ensure that under the national offender management structure sufficient priority is given to service provision for and management of female offenders.
The fact remains that there are shared issues and special and specific issues which affect women. I wish to spell out in what ways female offenders' characteristics and needs are different from those of male offenders, and what needs to be done about this. First, a much higher proportion of female prisoners have mental health problems than do male prisoners. Surveys show that more women prisoners have a psychiatric history before entering prison. Many more have histories of self-harm than male prisoners, as explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. More have personality disorders, neurotic disorders, learning disabilities and problems of substance abuse, and much more, as far as having more than one diagnosis is concerned. Many more women prisoners have suffered past physical or sexual abuse at the hands of adults or partners.
Secondly, a much higher proportion of women prisoners are sole carers for young children. In most cases where male prisoners are parents of young children, the child's mother is looking after them on the outside, but in only a quarter of cases of mothers in prison are the children being looked after by their current or former partners.
Thirdly, because there are far fewer prisons holding female prisoners, women are much more likely to be imprisoned a long way away from their home areas. This makes visits from their children and other relatives more difficult.
Over the last 18 years the courts have responded to the growing mood of toughness in penal policy by adopting a more punitive stance towards women offenders. During that time the number of women prisoners has risen more than twice as fast as the male prison population. Yet most women sent to prison are neither violent nor dangerous and the majority have few previous convictions.
Against this background, what is the case for the establishment of a women's justice board? The analogy the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made with the Youth Justice Board is very appropriate. The Youth Justice Board has set standards for provision for young offenders; commissioned provision for young offenders; and developed initiatives ranging from intensive supervision and surveillance schemes for persistent young offenders, to youth inclusion programmes for young people at risk of offending.
There is an equally strong case for the establishment of a women's justice board. A women's justice board with responsibility for commissioning provision for women offenders could set standards to ensure that provision meets women prisoners' particular needs. This would include standards meeting women offenders' needs for mental health services, for the maintenance of family contact and for culturally appropriate support for foreign national prisoners. A women's justice board could commission smaller units for imprisoned women spread around the country, so that women could be held nearer their families and home areas.
In short, the establishment of a women's justice board could be the single most important step we could take towards improving the treatment of women offenders. These amendments will go a long way to deal with the issues I have identified.
My experience is twofold. It comes first from being a practitioner and a judge, involved daily in the sentencing process for prisoners, and secondly, since I ceased to be a judge, from my involvement with the excellent bodies we have in this country trying to promote issues within the prison and justice system as a whole. In the former, my capacity is well known. I think it is also well known that I am the current chairman of the Prison Reform Trust. I am also the president of the Butler Trust. I know from my experiences that the Prison Service works hard to address problems. I have seen prison officers behaving in the most commendable way to try to alleviate the difficulties that they are faced with.
The fact is that, in all parts of the justice system, women prisoners need a separate voice, in exactly the same way as young offenders need a separate voice.
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I want to add my very brief words in support of these two proposals. Indeed, I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham will get together and work out the best framework. A women's justice board-I hope that that title will be retained-is without doubt something that has been called for, for a long time. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I would like to say how pleased I am that the Youth Justice Board has been retained-very wisely, if I may say so.
It is clearly a fact that women need rather different treatment, which is increasingly being recognised. There is a parallel with the kind of treatment and systems for young people, because they are a special group. Women above all have care for their young, and it is crucial that we stop the business of separating children from their parents by the systems that we have within the criminal justice system. We have been told by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, that it costs something like £15,000 to treat a woman within the community compared with £56,000 within the prison system. Far more important, even than that cost, is to keep the family together. One of the really good things that this Government are concentrating on, I am glad to say, is community sentences. It is with an increase of confidence in community sentences that we are likely to see these sorts of programmes for women really develop.
I also want to support my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham's demand-and it must be a demand-for someone to be in charge. He has made this point again and again. Someone must be responsible for what is happening and reporting back to Parliament on the progress made. Programmes for treatment-not just for youngsters and/or women but for many people, whatever their age, within the criminal justice system-will emerge from this, and we can learn from the report back.
Lord Bach: My Lords, this has been a short but very important debate, and I commend all those who have spoken so far, showing great expertise. We have heard their voices before on this subject, much to our advantage.
The previous Government commissioned the report from my noble friend Lady Corston after the tragic and avoidable deaths of six women in a short period who were detained in the secure estate. Her report of 2007 was a watershed moment in our understanding
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We are concerned that some of the recommendations are no longer getting the necessary resources. Everyone knows that we all want the same end, but it is a question of what means are employed to get it. We invested £15.6 million in the provision of additional services for women at risk of offending in the community, creating one-stop-shop support services and developing bail support to meet the needs of women. I understand that that has now been lowered to £3 million and that three of the one-stop-shop support services are no longer being financed. One close to where I come from is in Derby. Can the Minister find out and tell us the position? Is much less money being put in than was planned and are three of the one-stop shops not to receive any funding in the next financial year?
We set up a central ministerial responsibility. Two powerful women Ministers, Maria Eagle and Vera Baird, were put in charge of ensuring that the Corston recommendations were fulfilled. I believe that Mr Crispin Blunt is now in charge, but no longer is there that successful joint ministerial responsibility. Why has the women's justice policy unit, set up in the Ministry of Justice but including civil servants from many departments, being disbanded? I hope that those are fair questions, and if the Minister cannot answer them tonight, of course he can tell us by letter in due course.
I support the two sets of amendments. It is good to hear that both noble Lords will get together so that another amendment can be put at Report, which we very much hope will be accepted by the Government or, if not, by this House. Far too many women go to prison each year. The system is clearly still out of kilter. We should be grateful to my noble friend Lady Corston for starting us on a route to fixing a system that has been described so graphically this evening, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. Of course, the system is not fixed, as my noble friend Lady Gould said in moving her amendment. We want a system that works for the public, victims and offenders.
A powerful statutory voice at the centre of the system, whatever it is called, would be of huge benefit. As has been said around the Committee this evening, it worked very well with the Youth Justice Board. We are delighted that the Youth Justice Board is to survive. That would not have happened had it not been for this House. Its very existence hung in the balance for almost a year. It survived, and we are grateful to the Government, and particularly the Minister, who I am pretty sure played an important part in that decision. However, I hope that that does not indicate a certain state of mind towards the institution or organisation recommended in the amendments. As the Opposition, we certainly support the amendments and very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to them.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, in a debate. I can only say that if the initial speech she made was 19 years ago, she must have started very young. I am sorry that circumstances prevent the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, being with us but, as I have said before in this House, the Government-and I personally-have tried to continue the road map that she set out for the treatment of women prisoners.
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