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All I seek to do with this amendment is to insert, in clear terms, that reparation includes restorative justice. That will be a message to those who are involved in the justice process that restorative justice has come of age. I hope the House will support me in seeking to do that, because it is undoubtedly desirable. The Government have issued, I think in the last few days, a consultative document, Punishment and Reform: Effective Community Sentences. A significant part of that document deals with restorative justice. For example, paragraph 115 says that restorative justice,
"RJ is also a vital tool in the rehabilitation of offenders and prevention of further offending. But it is not an easy option to undertake-offenders must directly face the consequences of their actions and the impact that it has had upon others. They must seek to make amends for the damage they have caused and it therefore challenges them to change their behaviour as a result".
The consultative paper refers to the fact that 14 per cent of offenders have reduced their frequency of offending as a result of being involved in restorative justice. Perhaps even more importantly, 85 per cent of victims have expressed satisfaction with restorative justice. It is therefore not surprising that the Government should speak in the terms that I have just cited on the question of restorative justice in this consultation paper.
The consultation paper will serve a very real purpose, not least in respect of restorative justice. I do not know what will come out of the consultation when it takes place, but if Ministers are serious about restorative justice, as I believe they are, for the purposes of sentencing they will need the modest amendment that I am proposing. It should be said expressly that,
The amendment refers to the need for the consent of the victim because that is an essential part of restorative justice. It is not meant to be something imposed on victims, unless they wish to take part, which would add to the effect of the offence. That is clearly not what is intended either by the Government or by me. It is my belief that judges up and down the country will be assisted by this clarification.
I conclude these opening remarks by saying that I am grateful to those who are to speak, and I will see what they have to say, but I would like them to identify any reason why this amendment should not be made. I suggest that if the Government oppose the amendment without having any reason for doing so it would be very unfortunate and would send a wrong message to those trying to improve the criminal justice system.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, earlier in the day in this debate, many tributes were paid to Lord Newton of Braintree. I wish to be associated with all of them. Early on in the passage of this Bill, when we had the initial skirmish about access to justice, he noticed that I had tabled an amendment questioning the fact that this Bill referred to punishment rather than rehabilitation of offenders. We had a discussion about the core values of the criminal justice system. Reflecting on that, I looked at the core values that the Ministry of Defence reckons are the values of this country: liberty, fairness, transparency and the rule of law. Lord Newton and I had a very interesting discussion about that because, although that may be a direction to the military, it applies to the whole direction of the criminal justice system in this country.
I support this amendment so strongly, and hope that the Government will take the wise words of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf seriously, because both this Government and the previous one have set great store by the need to look after victims. Restorative justice helps suitable offenders to address the harm that they have caused to their victims, so it is at the heart of what both the main political parties have been saying on this issue. My noble and learned friend mentioned the fact that 85 per cent of the victims were satisfied with the process. However, there is also another factor, which is that 78 per cent of those victims said that they would recommend the process to others. In other words, this process enjoys their support.
If one has a vastly expensive and overcrowded prison system, it only makes common sense, quite apart from economic sense, to do everything possible to reduce the numbers in it so that what is done there can be made more effective for those who need the treatment that it can provide. Restorative justice has shown that it can result in a 27 per cent decrease in reoffending rates. Therefore, it must be a cost-effective contributor to the process.
I find it extraordinary that here we are at Third Reading with those of us who support the rehabilitation revolution feeling that we have had, during this process, almost to fight the Government to get rehabilitation included as part of the purpose of the Bill. We have had to fight inclusion of the word punishment which the Government added and which would increase the expense. We are trying to reduce expense by proposing all the things that have been proven to be able to do so.
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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I have not spoken on the whole of this Bill and I only do so now because I have seen the good effects of restorative justice in Belfast, in London and at home in Somerset. It is right that it should be one of the things that are taken into consideration in sentencing, and I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I very much support my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf's amendment because his amendment seems absolutely right. I have twice attended such meetings, with quite a long distance in between, where both the victim and the offender were present and able to exchange their views. Both meetings were extremely impressive in the effect which the victim and offender had on one another and in terms of the satisfaction they felt. As we have heard from my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, the very fact that this process has produced something like a 27 per cent drop in reoffending rates speaks for itself. I make that point because I entirely agree that there can be no real, logical reason for not accepting the amendment-linked, as it is, superbly in this way. A great deal of research by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf has gone into it. I therefore hope that, on this occasion, the Minister can accept the amendment.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I support the amendment. Restorative justice is an important tool to have in your kitbag when trying to prevent or mend the effects of crime. It is not a soft option; rather, it is an economic option with extremely good, tried-and-tested results.
In Somerset, where I come from, we had a scheme that ran for five years, from 2005 to 2010. The plan was that the scheme would expand and spread to other communities but, sadly, its funding was cut by around 90 per cent due to central and local authority cuts. In the five years that it operated and the 940 cases that it dealt with, the reoffending rate was less than 5 per cent compared with our more normal courts and probation service reoffending rate of 65 per cent to 70 per cent. Among the 940 cases there were 90 cases of first-time offenders who were thus diverted from the criminal justice system, the likely establishment of a criminal record and the inevitable ongoing costs and negative social impact of that. In terms of pure economics, 30 per cent of the cases referred would have gone to court and thus cost the Somerset taxpayer some £612 per case, compared with £139 per case for the restorative panel.
As everyone knows, restorative justice saves police time, has immeasurable social benefits and brings a new perception of crime and safety into the community, which is important, as well as the re-education of potential criminals. The object of restorative justice is
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Frequently the offender has never had the education, whether from life or from a parent, necessary to understand the effect of their actions. Invariably, when they hear, either from the victim or from the victim's friends and family, about the detailed and personal effects on the victim of what they did, they feel intense remorse, which is very uncomfortable. The context of the discussion enables them also to realise that they themselves actually count, the people around them care and what they do matters and has an effect. They are given a choice that can change their lives and that of their community for the better. I strongly support the amendment.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I can be brief, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has said, setting out the facts about what works well in the county next to the one where I live. It is very impressive.
It is right to say that restorative justice is not for everyone. There is a sort of case where it would be quite wrong: someone who has been a victim of serious domestic violence, for instance, would seldom find it possible to meet the offender, who is often another member of the family. In suitable cases, though, and there is no shortage of suitable cases, it is good for the victim-as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has said, it gives them a voice-but it is extremely salutary for the offender, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has said.
I have had instances where offenders-young offenders in particular; those just grown up-have ended up in floods of tears because they had not appreciated the impact of the way in which they had behaved, particularly in something like burglary or theft when they took from someone elderly some not very valuable things that had enormous personal value for that victim. Being told, with the victim in tears, that a great-aunt's cup that had been preserved through the family had been stolen and thrown on the ground can lead to the offender being in tears too, and this shows that there is a real value.
The figures from Somerset showing the high degree of non-reoffending, which is a great deal more than the noble and learned Lord said was the average of 27 per cent or 28 per cent, shows that restorative justice is a real tool. I find it utterly astonishing that this Government, who have been listening throughout so much of the Bill, have failed to listen on this issue.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, briefly, I support the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. I have been involved in restorative justice through a charity called Why Me? for some years. I became involved because it offered a victim-oriented strategy, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Restorative justice offers an
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There are only two reasons why they might not accept it that I can see. First, there might be a need to restrain public spending. I accept that there is a need for this sort of activity to be carried out by well trained people to be effective. However, there will be a net benefit. If we can continue to achieve the reduction in reoffending rates that has been achieved in the past, there will be a reduction in costs as we avoid some of the costs of reoffending. Secondly, the Government have said that this amendment is overly prescriptive but I have some difficulty in understanding why. As the noble and learned Lord pointed out in his opening remarks, this just adds to the menu of options available. Therefore, it is not prescriptive in my reading of how the amendment has been drafted.
In conclusion, my concern is that if we are not careful, the idea of RJ will fall victim to what I call the Daily Mail effect. Restorative justice is not an easy thing to defend. It can appear a bit touchy-feely. One or two cases that led to difficult headlines in the newspapers could lead to the Ministry of Justice saying, "This is a bit difficult. We had better back off from this one". Therefore, my reason for strongly supporting the noble and learned Lord's amendment is that if we get it into the Bill, we will then have something that can be used in the future and cannot be brushed away by some unfortunate event that might lead to public opinion turning against it and putting temporary political pressure on the Government of the day.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, from the opposition Front Bench I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. I do so not just because he was a distinguished judge and a most eminent Lord Chief Justice, whose words should be weighed very carefully by all sides of this House; not even because he is a fellow Novocastrian and a fellow honorary freeman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; but because what he proposes makes such eminent sense, as several of your Lordships have pointed out. The record of restorative justice is one of success. It is not universally successful but, as we have heard, it has made a significant impact on reoffending rates, is cost-effective and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out, is an alternative to other forms of punishment that are generally more expensive and often less efficacious.
I cannot think of any reason why the Government should resist an amendment phrased in the way that this is. There is an analogous process called "justice reinvestment", which is a rather more collective way of making reparation, whereby offenders put something back into the community through a community payback scheme or something of that kind. Justice reinvestment
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I hope that the Minister, when she replies, will see the enormous persuasive logic of the case made by the noble and learned Lord, supported as it has been on all sides of the House. I hope that the Government will recognise that to incorporate an amendment of the kind that the noble and learned Lord has moved will strengthen, not weaken, the Bill. I hope that they are prepared on this occasion, as they have been on other occasions, to listen to the sense of the House and accept the amendment.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, Amendment 31, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, returns to restorative justice. I thank him for bringing this important issue before the House and for his tenacious support for its principle.
The amendment is very timely as this morning we published our consultation on community sentences, Punishment and Reform: Effective Community Sentences, which includes a chapter on reparation and restoration. I am very pleased that the noble and learned Lord has welcomed this publication. The consultation offers us an important opportunity to seek the views of practitioners, sentencers, magistrates, probation officials, victims and victims' groups about the use of restorative justice as part of our response to tackling more serious offending through the use of community sentences. It asks questions about the use of pre-sentence and post-sentence restorative justice, what more we can do to strengthen and support the role of victims in RJ and, crucially, what might be the right approaches to building capacity and capability and boosting a cultural change for RJ. We want to gather all views on how to do this, and through what means, so that we can develop the most effective approach. Noble Lords have emphasised their experiences of how restorative justice works and have cited research to back up those experiences.
We are anxious to ensure that innovative and effective restorative practices continue to be developed and are driven by local areas and tailored to local need. We certainly want to support initiatives by building capacity in the criminal justice system so that we can deliver the restorative process that this amendment champions. I believe, therefore, that we need to undertake the important consultation exercise that we have initiated today before we can give consideration to whether further specific legislation is necessary for restorative justice, taking into account all the options for how we intend to widen its application.
Noble Lords have made a very powerful case for the use of RJ. My honourable friend in the other place Crispin Blunt, my noble friend Lord McNally and I very much welcomed the meeting that took place earlier today, to which the noble and learned Lord has referred. I hope that it reassured him that we are making progress in this area to increase the use of restorative justice across the criminal justice system.
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness but she has got to a point where I need to ask a question. Here is a vehicle of primary legislation into which something about restorative justice can be placed. If she and the Government wait for the results of the consultation, where on earth will they find the vehicle of primary legislation into which to slot restorative justice?
Baroness Butler-Sloss: I merely wanted to say that here is a piece of legislation into which this measure can be placed. However, if it is not included in this legislation, there is a danger that it will not go in anywhere. In the absence of primary legislation, there is a danger that the Government will have difficulty in implementing the measure. That is the point I am making; I was not trying to get an idea of what is in the Queen's Speech.
Baroness Northover: I understand what the noble and learned Baroness is saying. As we discussed in Committee and on Report, the use of restorative justice can already be taken forward under current legislation. The question is whether further legislation is required. The noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords have made the case that restorative justice is useful, as has the noble and learned Baroness. However, as I say, RJ can already be taken forward and is being developed. We hope-
Lord Woolf: Perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me for also interrupting her, but I should like her assistance. Am I right in assuming that she intends restorative justice still to be supported by the courts? Does she agree that there is no express reference to restorative justice in legislation setting out the power of the courts to make use of it? Although there are references to similar matters, they do not clearly permit restorative justice.
Baroness Northover: I hear what the noble and learned Lord says, and he makes his case very cogently, as he and others have done at other stages. However, he, too, will recognise that the courts can use restorative justice and are doing so. That is happening. However, the Government take seriously the need to develop this area further, and noble Lords have made that case very clearly. The consultation has been brought forward. We expect that what has been said here will be fed into that consultation, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feed his own experience and expertise into that process. The important thing here is to make
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Lord Woolf: I thank the Minister for the way in which she presented her case. She has said everything possible to support deferring the inclusion of the reference to restorative justice, which I think is important because it makes it clear to judges up and down the land that restorative justice is part of the purposes of sentencing. That message can then be incorporated into the process.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his helpful remarks. He was obviously concerned about resources. In the present situation, everyone is concerned about resources. The amendment does not require the Government to put one penny into restorative justice. It does not deal with that subject, so he need not have that concern.
I know that there is every probability that, if we do not do it now, one day this will be done, but this is an excellent opportunity to do it. There is no reason why we should not. With respect to the comments of the noble Baroness, I did not identify any reason why we should not, other than the fact that consultation is to take place, but consultation can go on irrespective of whether or not we do this. We all support the consultation process. In those circumstances, albeit that the hour is late and that we have had a long day on the Bill, I propose to divide the House.
The Lord Chancellor shall publish guidance for Probation Trusts concerning how Probation Trusts publicise to magistrates arrangements for magistrates to claim reimbursement for contact with Probation Trusts including reimbursement for the costs of visits undertaken in connection with community programmes."
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, following our debate on Report, I return to an amendment which concerns a new clause that I propose to insert into the Bill. I feel that there is something very familiar about this exercise, as my hero, my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, has just argued a very simple amendment with huge implications, which is what I feel I have been trying to do during debate on this matter.
I have been careful to follow the rules governing amendments at this stage of the Bill, and I am grateful for the Public Bill Office's advice and help in drafting this amendment. It has meant focusing on one particular aspect which I did not fully explore earlier-namely, expenses-and seeking clarification on some of the Minister's remarks.
In this redrafted amendment, I am requesting that the Lord Chancellor should publish guidance for probation trusts on how magistrates can claim reimbursement for the costs of visits to community projects and programmes. I wonder whether this could be done through Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, as has, I understand, been under consideration lately. If there is to be no statutory liaison for the time being between the magistracy and the probation service, which is what I was seeking, it is still essential that the costs of visits should be reimbursed so that magistrates can see and believe for themselves what local community projects and programmes consist of. There is, quite simply, no better way, even if only one or two visits are made each year. Given that the role and work of magistrates in the courtroom is entirely voluntary, they really should be supported in informing themselves, through local visits, of what their sentencing options are. I cannot emphasise how important engaging with the participants is in understanding what is being delivered. We all want and need magistrates to make informed decisions if the goal of reducing reoffending is to be realised, so this sort of engagement is really important.
I should like to seek clarification from the Minister on some of the sympathetic remarks that she made on Report. She mentioned, without specifying them, meetings between probation trust boards and magistrates and pointed out that "they"-the magistrates-
This comment caused an immediate debate the following day between magistrates and probation about the meetings she was referring to. They concluded that they are the meetings of probation trust boards which magistrates can attend and for which they can claim expenses. Guidance has been carefully laid down by the senior presiding judge Lord Justice Goldring on this: magistrates can attend but solely as advisers or observers-nothing to do with visiting projects or even talking about them.
The exception is when magistrates sit exclusively in the Family Proceedings Court and may become formal members, but only in a private capacity, not representing the judiciary. Furthermore, he advised that there should not be more than two members on a trust, which means a total of 70 magistrates throughout the land from the 35 trusts, which is hardly a significant number out of 29,000 magistrates. This is the only formal contract that results in any payment of expenses that they could think of. It is also quite a different process from any arrangements that magistrates might be able to make to visit programmes, which are custodial alternatives and my chief concern. If I have misunderstood, I should be grateful if my noble friend would clarify the point.
I would also mention that the National Sentencer and Probation Forum-another body-is a management forum consisting of three senior magistrates, two chiefs of probation, two judges and some civil servants. I believe that it discusses issues of performance, commissioning, et cetera, and meets quarterly. Until I had read the briefing for this debate, I did not know of this body's existence. As a somewhat remote management group, does the Minister think that this is the appropriate body to carry forward magistrates' engagement with their local provision of programmes, or deal with expenses?
Will she also clarify that comment? I presume she meant that it is brought to the attention of magistrates, as it is the trusts which provide the programmes that magistrates may find suitable for disposal once they have seen them. Could she also say exactly what she means by "best practice", which is at the heart of the matter if we are to improve understanding and prevent reoffending, which is seriously important? She said:
"We are also ready to work with the Magistrates' Association and others to ensure that we have practical arrangements in hand to encourage magistrates to take part in meetings so that information can be exchanged".
I am not clear about the nature of the meetings she has in mind. However, I am, of course, aware that probation trusts can only provide information and the option to visit, for magistrates to get information that way. They could not be expected to require magistrates to attend any meeting.
This discussion made me wonder inter alia what would happen if the existing training arrangements for Crown Court judges, called continuation courses, and which of course are compulsory, were voluntary and left to individual choice. What would happen then? Perhaps something similar in terms of dropping attendance? However, it is unimaginable that these courses should not be required for judges, and I believe that they should be for magistrates.
Given the positive assurances that my noble friend gave in her earlier responses, will she now confirm the timescales for what she suggested the Government have in mind? We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions-and I am quite sure that the Government have no intention of going down that road. It is important that we should all be given a clear indication of what to expect from the practical suggestions that she made.
I was grateful for the receptiveness of her responses on Report, and I hope that we will hear more, bearing in mind that not a single substantial argument against my case was raised in the House or outside it, except by the Government, who appeared to feel that my amendment was not necessary because of the obstacles that they discerned. The rest of us beg to differ-and I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support the intent of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I will admit to some subversion. When I was Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Magistrates' Association one day brought me a large blue book containing the guidance issued by the Prison Service for visits paid to prisons by magistrates. The association asked me whether I would support it. I read it and advised the association to put it in the bin immediately, because it advised that when magistrates went to prisons, they should accept the programmes laid on by the governor that would show them all the things in the prison that they did not need to use or see.
I advised the magistrates instead that when they went to prisons, they should say: "I want you to do three things. First, show me what would happen if I was a prisoner arriving for the first time, so that I can see the reception arrangements. Secondly, I want to discuss the arrangements that might be made for sentence planning and conduct during the time I am in prison. Thirdly, I want to see what arrangements will be made as I come up to release from prison". Within a month, I had the Magistrates' Association back saying, "Thank you so much. That has given us a purpose when we go on a visit". Then, when I went into prisons, I had a response from the staff who said how refreshing it was to have magistrates coming in who were interested in what they were doing with and for prisoners.
What I like about the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, is that this process should be followed by magistrates showing an interest
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a persuasive case to encourage the Government to invest not money but a modest degree of guidance to assist the process of magistrates effectively learning more about sentencing options, about what happens when they institute different forms of punishment and about what happens, in particular, in relation to community sentencing. This is not a huge burden. When one thinks of some of the legislation that has passed through your Lordships' House in recent months -a Localism Act that with its impact analysis weighed in at something over 8 pounds, as I recall, and contained 225 clauses, a health Bill that had 1,000 amendments en route to your Lordships' House and all the rest of it-one cannot imagine that it would take very much effort on the part of those responsible to produce fairly simple guidelines on a very narrow topic, which is the subject of this amendment, that could facilitate greater awareness of what is available to magistrates in terms of sentencing options. It seems to me an overwhelmingly simple matter and one that the Government could graciously concede without any damage to the Bill. On the contrary, it would enhance the intentions of the Bill and the intentions of government policy, to which we have referred and which, no doubt, we will shortly hear again from the Minister. Along with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I would be at a loss to understand what could possibly persuade the Government that this is not a simple and desirable course to follow. I hope that the Minister will not feel that she is constrained to remain rigid on the position that has hitherto been adopted, which produces nothing to assist magistrates or, indeed, anybody else.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, this amendment returns to the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Linklater throughout the passage of the Bill. As I said on Report, my noble friend Lady Linklater has considerable experience of bringing together magistrates and those working in probation and of building trust in alternatives to custodial sentences. That is the key area here. That is exceedingly important. We agree with my noble friend about the merits of what she is trying to achieve. However, we do not feel that there is need for legislation to reach that goal. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talks about guidance.
As I said on Report, we will look to promote best practice on liaison and information sharing and to make clear that there are already arrangements available for magistrates to claim expenses from probation trusts to encourage such close liaison. We have already begun that process. The national sentencer probation forum has agreed to look at this issue. That forum brings sentencers, including magistrates, together with probation
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I will now address the points on which my noble friend Lady Linklater sought clarification. I mentioned on Report that magistrates can claim expenses from Her Majesty's Courts Service or probation trusts. The rules and guidance on expenses are quite complex. Given the lateness of the hour, I am very happy to write to my noble friend and spell those out in greater detail. In general terms, the Courts Service pays expenses for costs that arise from the formal duties of a magistrate; for example, attending justice issues group meetings or formal training courses. For other activities involving probation, it is open to the magistrates to claim expenses from local probation trusts. I should clarify that when I said before that it was appropriate to claim expenses from the probation trusts, this was indeed for such things as the informal local liaison meetings.
My noble friend raised the issue of best practice. On Report I emphasised that the Government wanted to encourage best practice in regard to local liaison and information-sharing in the way that she has outlined. This can come from probation or the magistrates, and we want to look at examples of effective local liaison, where there are regular, well attended local liaison meetings and where magistrates are aware of the work of probation in their area. That is what we want the national sentencer probation forum to consider.
My noble friend also asked for clarification of what I meant by meetings with magistrates. As I have said, there are two main elements. First, there are the local liaison meetings, where probation trusts and magistrates can come together and discuss issues of mutual concern in the local area; for example, the current availability of programmes run by probation or issues raised by magistrates, such as the availability or type of work being done as part of community payback schemes. We want to look at how these meetings operate now and promote the type of approaches where local liaison works best. Secondly, I also mean the familiarisation visits that magistrates may make to probation, such as visits to see community payback schemes in operation. Again, we want to learn from where this is happening well.
Therefore, I hope that I can reassure my noble friend that we are looking at best practice regarding liaison and information-sharing, and we have already started on that. We will consider any practical solutions necessary to address existing problems under the current
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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank those who have contributed to this short debate. I am grateful to the Minister for replying in the way that she has, which I acknowledge was an attempt to be helpful.
As I pointed out earlier, the reality is that there are 35 probation trusts. Lord Justice Goldring says that no more than two magistrates should attend, and then only as observers and advisers. The forum that she referred to meets quarterly to discuss major management issues, with three senior members of the magistracy, two judges and two senior probation officers present.
I have been addressing the issue that involves 27,000 magistrates visiting the important projects in the areas in which they work so that they can make more informed disposals and understand what is going on. This is also in the interests of good sentencing, good decisions and safer communities. We have not touched on this, but the magistrates do a great deal of work to help keep the standard of these projects very high so that the best possible practice can be realised. I was hoping to hear a bit more about that.
I was terribly interested in the "blue book" story from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. It is another example of what this is about; namely, that seeing is believing and engaging with people, rather than talking about an issue once a quarter or having the occasional visit from probation officers with some information. You cannot get the same insight. I do not think that anything can supplant the actual experience.
As my noble friend mentioned, we have two reviews coming up-one on the magistracy and another on probation. Perhaps the underpinning of the work we have done on this subject during the passage of this Bill will inform a much more focused debate than we have been able to have with my one small amendment. Given the lateness of the hour and in the hope that that is where we will get some positive results, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) in paragraph 1(5), after "require" insert "an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement or", and
(b) in paragraph 3, after sub-paragraph (4) insert-
"(4A) The court may not by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (3) require an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement to be complied with in Northern Ireland."
(a) in paragraph 1(5), after "require" insert "an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement or", and
(b) in paragraph 6, after sub-paragraph (4) insert-
"(4A) The court may not by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (3) require an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement to be complied with in Northern Ireland."
(a) in section 180 (transfer of service community order to Scotland or Northern Ireland), in subsection (2), after "3(1)" insert "and (4A)", and
(b) in section 204 (transfer of suspended sentence order to Scotland or Northern Ireland), in subsection (2), for "6(5)" substitute "6(4A) and (5)"."
Lord McNally: My Lords, Amendments 33, 34, 35, 42 and 43 are minor and technical consequential amendments, which provide clarification of the provision of the alcohol, abstinence and monitoring requirement introduced by an amendment on Report. Our intention is that new requirements should be available to the courts in England and Wales but not to the courts in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The amendment therefore ensures that the new requirement will not be capable of being imposed by a court in England and Wales on a person who is resident in Scotland or Northern Ireland. I beg to move.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I welcome these amendments. I am grateful to the Government for addressing an area that I overlooked in the amendments that I had drafted. I also should like to place on record my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who, with me, met the domestic violence groups, as we had promised in the previous proceedings. We had a very useful and fruitful meeting with open discussion. At the end, everyone agreed that it was very clear that there was never any intention that the pilots should involve domestic violence, particularly not at the beginning, because the issues around domestic violence are so complex. The organisations involved in domestic violence very much want to be consulted at every stage of further development and the programmes in place to help people cope in situations of domestic violence are very important in trying to provide a safer and more stable society.
(b) may not enable a court to provide for an alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement to be complied with in Scotland or Northern Ireland."
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, during the passage of this Bill we have learnt that there is no need for this clause because squatting in people's homes is already criminal. We have learnt that there was a big need for guidance and we would not be where we are today unless there had been an abject failure of successive Governments to issue any guidance on the use of Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. If enforcement of those more reasonable measures in that Act had been properly understood, duplicating the legislation in this much harsher way would not have seemed necessary; nor is there a demand for it.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for our two meetings. She also wrote to me after the Report stage to say that the Government consultation was evidence of demand, so I looked again at the results of the consultation. In fact, out of the 2,217 people who responded, 96 per cent did not want to see any action taken to criminalise squatting, and even more surprisingly, only 10 people, 0.5 per cent of all the respondents, wrote in to say that they had been the victims of squatting. I do not feel that either need or demand has been demonstrated.
We have also learnt that this is going to cost a good deal. In a Bill that is all about cost cutting, even the Government's own impact assessment suggests that the cost of this measure will be between £5 million and £10 million, which is a pretty wide estimate. However, those figures are probably optimistic. If the clause is enforced, it will cost the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office many tens of millions in enforcement, court time, rehabilitation, curfew monitoring and so on, and that is before we get to the costs of rehousing.
I am still against this clause in every way but, on the basis that the Government are determined to push it through, I must look at mitigating in any way I can the injustices being perpetrated against the homeless, and that is the purpose of the amendments I have tabled. My noble friend Lady Hamwee will go into greater detail on the definition of "residential", which we feel is still inadequate. I will address my comments to the commencement of the clause. What will happen to those individuals who will be affected when the law is changed? I need to know about the practicalities of how individual homeless people who are currently squatting will get to know about the change in the law, or will they simply be criminalised overnight? Could there be a system of warning them and offering help to find alternatives? Are local authorities actually prepared to do that?
With nothing set out in the Bill, how will the Government ensure that appropriate help is offered? Evidence given to us by the charity Crisis, which has researched this issue, shows that when squatters who
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Finally, I should like to ask my noble friend about empty dwelling management orders. The number of empty homes is staggering, at over 720,000 across the UK. In London alone, there are some 74,500 empty homes. Some of them are owned by local authorities and housing associations, which is a bit of an irony since those bodies are meant to be in the business of housing people. However, by far the greatest number of empty homes are in private hands. If the Government think it is criminal to squat, they should also think it is criminal to leave properties empty, denying them to society year after year. What are the Government doing to ensure that the scandal of all those empty homes comes to an end?
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, I preface my remarks with the comment, "Better late than never". I add my tributes to those made earlier to Lord Newton of Braintree. Back in the 1980s when I worked with the Child Poverty Action Group, I knew him to be a fair and open-minded Minister. On the day of my introduction to this House, he welcomed me from the Benches opposite in a very warm and generous way. Like so many other Members of your Lordships' House, I thought of him as my noble friend. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, once again, for her perseverance in ensuring that we debate this important issue at not exactly a reasonable hour but at least a slightly less unreasonable hour than the last time. I am pleased to add my name in support of the amendment. As I made clear on Report, Clause 145 is wrong in principle. It is unfair because it treats what is a homelessness and welfare issue as a criminal justice issue, and it is unnecessary because residential home owners are already protected in law.
On reading the previous debates, it feels that the two sides are talking past each other. On Report, the Minister talked about the misery caused by people squatting in other people's homes. The noble Baroness,
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On Report, the Minister likened squatting to stealing a car, a handbag or a phone-but there are no wider social consequences if such consumer items are left abandoned for a year. In contrast, the Government acknowledge in their housing strategy that a large number of empty homes most certainly does have wider implications for the available supply of housing. They accept that we must increase the number of empty homes brought back into use as a sustainable way of increasing the overall supply of housing. You could say that squatters are doing it for themselves, rather than waiting for the Government to get round to it.
The Minister also said on Report that the definition of "residential" proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, would introduce confusion and complexity, but surely a more explicit definition in the Bill would clarify the matter and reduce the need to rely on the courts to interpret case law, as suggested in the Minister's letter to the noble Baroness.
To the Minister's credit, she did not pander to the kind of stereotype caricatures of squatters peddled in the right-wing media. She tacitly acknowledged that we are talking mainly about homeless people. I remind noble Lords of the figures supplied by Sheffield Hallam University for Crisis. These show that 41 per cent of homeless squatters report mental health needs; 34 per cent have been in care; 42 per cent have physical ill health or a disability; 47 per cent have experienced drug dependence; 21 per cent sometimes self-harm; and 15 per cent also have a learning disability.
The Minister pointed out that squatting is often dangerous and bad for health and ideally, she argued, people should be in mainstream services. I am sure that we all say amen to that. However, it is even more dangerous and worse for health to be out on the streets, and there is a growing number of people who are.
"Shockingly 78% of homeless people who squat have approached their local authority for help and have been turned away without a resolution to their housing need. Single homeless people are usually not entitled to housing and although local authorities do have a duty to offer advice and assistance we know that too often this does not happen".
I know the Government will be working with local authorities and that they have allocated additional funds. Can the Minister assure the House that these funds will be ring-fenced? At a time when local authorities have cut back on the support they provide, for example, for women fleeing domestic violence, have cut back disproportionately on the Supporting People fund, and face having to deal with the responsibilities from the delegated Social Fund-all at a time of big cuts in the finances available to them-I do not feel optimistic. That is why Amendment 41 is so important.
Another reason why it is very important that we have a tighter definition for this clause is because it might not be the end. In the summary of responses to the consultation, the Minister, Crispin Blunt, says in his foreword that this provision is "a first step". The document says that:
I find this very worrying. If we accept this clause unamended, we could be on a slippery slope to the criminalisation of all squatting in any kind of accommodation. At the very least, I hope the Minister can give an assurance that the Government will monitor the impact of this clause before they even start thinking about extending criminalisation to non-residential property.
We have been asked to adjudicate on very different perceptions of what is fair. It is too late to remove what I believe is a very unfair clause but it is not too late to mitigate its impact. We have a responsibility to do so.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with what has been said by all speakers on this matter. For any new criminal offence to be created, or for any existing criminal offence to be extended, there is a heavy onus on the Government of the day to show that that is reasonably necessary. It is against that template that Clause 145 fails completely. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the matter, which may very well have been deliberately fomented by the right-wing press. It is said to people, "What would you do if you were on holiday and came back to find that there were 20 people living in your house and having every intention of living there for ever?". Of course, you would say it would be absurd for such a situation not to be visited by a criminal sanction-but it is already visited by a criminal sanction.
The civil law has catered for this situation-whether it be developed property or not-for a long time, since the early 1970s. Those of us who belong to the noble calling of the law will realise that Order 24 and Order 113 apply and provide a procedure that is swift, effective and cheap, provided it is competently carried out. There is no problem whatever so far as the civil law is concerned.
In 1977, with the Criminal Law Act that the noble Baroness has referred to, it was realised that there were situations where owner-occupiers were in fact trespassed upon in their own homes, normally when they were away for a day or two or where people were expecting to move into property but found that they could no longer occupy it. Section 7 of that Act said very clearly that it did not apply to non-residential property. A clear distinction was drawn and deliberately considered in detail by Parliament. That seems to have been a boundary of common sense, fairness and justice.
Why is that boundary being transgressed now? What is the case in favour of changing that boundary? It is my submission that there is no case whatever for doing it. The civil law amply provides for civil sanctions. If those are not obeyed, then of course the courts can
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"The Metropolitan Police, responding on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, considered that the law was broadly in the right place and that the existing array of offences allowed them to tackle the worst cases of squatting (e.g. where squatters cause the rightful homeowner to be displaced) ... They warned that new offences could have an impact on policing in terms of community relations, local policing objectives and cost".
On the question of cost-and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will deal in some detail with this matter-it is abundantly clear that the Government's own estimate of a cost of some £25 million to the public purse over a period of five years is woefully inadequate and entirely unrealistic. They have not taken into account the fact that tens of thousands of persons squatting do not apply for housing allowance. These cases, if people are ejected from their squats, will find their way into the courts. There will be massive expenses adherent to that situation. Again, there is little doubt that the figure of £25 million- I would not seek to try to set a specific figure-can probably be multiplied by 10 or 20, leading to a massive non-saving in a Bill that is dedicated to saving expense to the public purse.
I ask the House to consider one further matter. This is retrospective legislation. Clause 145(1) applies to a situation when a person, the defendant, has trespassed in the premises, knowing that he is trespassing. He may have entered 10 years before, when there was no such thing as a criminal sanction in relation to that type of trespass. That is retrospective legislation and that is what Parliament abhors and resorts to only in the most drastic of circumstances. It is the very thing that is condemned, as the House knows, by Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
All in all, this is a wholly unnecessary piece of legislation. It is utterly merciless, utterly unfeeling and utterly costly, and it is likely to be a heavy and unnecessary burden on the time and energies of the police. The next best thing to rejecting it would be to accept the amendments, which I support wholeheartedly.
The issue is homelessness and housing supply. Whatever is being done now by the current Government, the stark fact is that at this moment the housing needed is just not there and cannot be created in an instant. Ordinary, decent, desperate people, whose motive is not envy, or to deprive others, or to make a political statement, are simply seeking a roof. Many of them would be regarded as vulnerable, in any normal sense of the word. Like my noble friend, I am interested in and concerned about the interface between these provisions and local authorities' housing responsibilities -in particular, whether a conviction is needed for someone who has been squatting to be unintentionally homeless. How does all that fit together, and what guidance will be given to local authorities on this?
My noble friend trailed, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, my reference to the definition of housing. I will not go into a lot of detail; I make the simple point that those who know housing law far better than I do advise that the terms used in this Bill are not ones normally found in legislation. To all lawyers, that raises a question-I can see nods coming from the Cross Benches. One term in particular is,
In ordinary, common-sense terms, one understands that but we are talking about quite precise terms in legislation. The amendment as drafted may not be the best way of dealing with this, but it was an attempt to address the point using current legislation. My noble friend also referred to empty dwelling management orders and, like her, I am concerned to know what the Government's intentions may be on the future of those orders, which are much underused. However, it seems that the Government are not very enthusiastic about them; they are of course a matter for local authorities.
Because of the time, I do not want to rehearse all the arguments that others have made fully, some of which I alluded to last time. However, I would like to ask about guidance to be issued regarding the new offence. Section 7 of the 1977 Act is, as we know, in force and I do not think there is any guidance regarding that. It is wider than this clause, as I understand it, because it covers ancillary land, and that answers the point about the necessity for this clause. I will not go further into that now, but how are the police and the CPS to choose which route to go and which section to use? We have just heard about ACPO's response and its views, and I understand that the Government always issue guidance about a new offence. The guidance this time would need to go further, because it needs to be retrospective.
using language to which we have become accustomed over the years-"such other persons as" are considered "appropriate". The term consultation here really does mean consultation. It does not mean just a period of grace or formality, because the consultees proposed in
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Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, it is unfortunate that the amendments tabled on this important subject by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, should have been reached so late at each successive phase of our consideration-in Committee, on Report and now at Third Reading. It is unfortunate because the House is less full than it might have been, and it is much more difficult at this stage of the evening to win a vote on an amendment opposed by the Government. If it is unfortunate for her, though, how much more unfortunate is it for homeless and vulnerable people all across the country? They will be deeply grateful to her for the passion, determination and eloquence with which she has pursued this subject, and we ought also to thank her.
We face a housing crisis in this country, and that crisis is deepening. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for the letter that she wrote to a number of us following a debate on Report on squatting. She herself has acknowledged that while the nature of the case means that it is difficult to know precisely how many people may be squatting in this country, the best estimate by academics, homelessness organisations and people who provide advice services to squatters is that there are no fewer than 10,000 people squatting and possibly as many as 50,000. Those are large numbers and those statistics, uncertain as they are, underline the gravity of the issue all the same.
What are the Government doing to respond to this problem? It so happens that today the Government have published the national planning policy framework. It is an important document with an extended two-page section in which the Government offer their thoughts on:
words that may sound a little hollow to those who are homeless and those who are squatting. However, there are good intentions in the document. It is a vigorous exhortation to all concerned to act to increase the supply of housing in this country. There is a section at paragraph 51 that is very relevant to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness:
"Local planning authorities should identify and bring back into residential use empty housing and buildings in line with local housing and empty homes strategies and, where appropriate, acquire properties under compulsory purchase powers".
If local authorities were to act on that exhortation, that would be helpful. I would be grateful if the Minister would say how much more the Government intend to do to translate that aspiration and exhortation into an effective and practical reality. I am concerned that even where local planning and housing authorities will wish, as I am sure they will, to increase the supply of housing available for people in desperate need and to follow the particular advice that I have just quoted, it may not be easy for them because their resources have been much reduced and we are now just entering a phase in which local authorities are having to face
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The Government's broader economic strategy has, unfortunately, squeezed both growth and confidence, as the Chancellor was driven to recognise last week. The upshot is that the housing market is pretty well dead in the water. People do not have the confidence to apply for mortgages and bankers do not have the confidence to offer them, so house builders cannot find a market. While the private sector of housing development is stagnant, the Government have seen it as appropriate drastically to reduce funding for social housing construction. In the face of a rising population and rising demand, particularly at the lower end of the market, we are seeing reduced supply. The consequence is that rents are rising, and in the face of rising rents the Government have also judged it right to cut housing benefit severely.
The Government have also introduced their new policy for council tax benefit-a fixed budget for each local authority to limit the total that it can spend on the benefit. Our late friend and colleague, Lord Newton of Braintree, whom we all miss so much, spoke on that very topic in our debates on the Welfare Reform Bill. He asked what the position would be if there was a fixed budget for council tax benefit in a local authority area but a factory closure meant that it had to be spread across a larger number of people. He said that it was mad-that was the word that he used-and I think it is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is absolutely right to pull us up on this and to insist that, in the face of these circumstances and against the background of these other policies, now is not the time to criminalise people who may be driven by circumstances to fairly desperate actions, and to squatting in particular. It is not the time to criminalise them if they squat in a residential premise that has been unoccupied for 12 months and for which there is no planning application. She is also right to ask the Government, at the very least, to postpone implementation of this clause until they have conducted a thorough consultation with people across the country and on the ground who understand these issues. It is of course late. However, if the noble Baroness decides to test the opinion of the House, I will enthusiastically support her.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I shall add only a few sentences to what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said about the undesirability of creating new criminal offences unless there is a substantial reason to do so. Surely that argument is doubly important when the offence carries a term of imprisonment, in this case of up to 51 weeks. We all know-I thought that there was general agreement on this-that short sentences are harmful, leading to greater recidivism on the part of those so imprisoned.
If we are to create these new offences, there have to be extremely powerful arguments in their favour, whereas here the exact opposite is true. I will not rehearse all the reasons that have already been given by noble
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The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the question of homelessness and housing supply. One of the things that worries me a lot is the number of blocks of flats that are blocked up over huge areas and have been, I should have thought, for a good 12 months. They are areas of housing that could have been redeveloped much earlier if there had been any sense of urgency about getting on with that sort of building. We all know that there is a great deal of replacement of existing buildings in this country; it goes on the whole time. We know that we are in a financial crisis and that there are many people out of work who do not have the money to pay rent. I commend noble Lords to remember that just outside our own door, at the entrance to the Underground, one can find signs of people sleeping there at night. They sleep on the cold stone with their tiny bits of property literally outside the entrance to the Underground and cover themselves up with cardboard boxes as best they can. It is hardly a good advertisement for what we are doing to help those who are genuinely homeless.
I would like the noble Baroness who is responding to the amendment to concentrate on how many premises remain empty when they could be inhabited by families. That is no doubt a factor that increases rents. I will leave it at that. However, I have certainly begun to think rather more seriously about the issue than I did when the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, first raised it.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for her determination to challenge what I still take to be the unintended consequences of Clause 145 regarding the further criminalisation of squatters, which is simply unnecessary. I do not want to repeat arguments that have already been made but this measure will have an impact on the care and support that the voluntary sector seeks to provide for the homeless in our cities. Like most cities, Leeds is seeing a steady rise in homelessness. The reasons for this are complex and the voluntary sector and the local authority are working hard to mitigate its effects, at least as regards providing mental health help for the homeless. However, we simply cannot provide accommodation for all street sleepers. Many homeless people are squatting in empty houses to avoid sleeping on the streets. This clause criminalises squatting, thereby affecting some of the
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Lord Campbell-Savours: I wish to intervene briefly in this debate. I have come into the Chamber for the scrap metal debate but it seems to me that we may be overlooking a major flaw in the amendment. Clause 145 states:
So what happens if a building has been empty for marginally longer than 12 months and is being improved? Perhaps it is being improved to meet building regulations, or the person improving the property might be awaiting a mortgage payment to fund improvements, which might mean that they go over the 12-month period.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: I will be corrected if I am wrong but I believe that that matter is adequately dealt with by Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which covers not only persons who are in occupation but persons who anticipate occupation. I think, therefore, that the category of persons listed by the noble Lord will be covered by that provision.
Lord Campbell-Savours: That is the noble Lord's judgment, but perhaps I may finish my contribution. Perhaps the Government intend to comment on the interpretation that he has just given. They might also take into account my further point that a planned improvement which has not taken place over a 12-month period could be the subject of an argument with neighbours, who may well be preventing the completion of the improvement to the property. All I am saying, basically, is that to introduce a current planning application as a way of stopping it could lead to unfair treatment of those carrying out improvement programmes. Let us hear what the Minister has to say.
Lord Strasburger: My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest, or at least a former interest. In a previous life, I was a shareholder in and director of a company that made its money-in fact, quite a lot of money-from keeping squatters and others out of empty properties. You might conclude, when I have finished my short speech, that I am a bit of a gamekeeper turned poacher.
This clause was added late to the Bill, which might explain why it is a rather clumsy and blunt instrument. I am not sure who this new offence is aimed at. Is it aimed at squatters in vacant properties, who are not currently committing a criminal offence, or is it aimed at squatters in occupied properties that might be temporarily empty while the occupiers are on holiday, or even shopping? As we have heard, squatting such as
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This clause is a blunt instrument because its unintended consequence-and I sincerely hope that it is an unintended consequence-is to protect unscrupulous property owners who keep properties vacant for years for purely speculative reasons and, in the process, prevent homeless people having somewhere to live. The amendment deals with that by limiting the period of that protection. This clause is a cuckoo in the nest because such a provision has no place in the Bill and has no connection with any other part of it. Squatting should not be considered in isolation, as we have heard, but should be considered in the context of housing and homelessness.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the House will be delighted to hear that I intend to be brief. It owes a huge debt of thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for having persistently come back with her amendments on this absurd clause, which, as the noble Lord who has just spoken said, does not fit in. "Cuckoo in the nest" is a polite way of putting it. The clause does not fit into the Bill at all and makes one wonder why on earth the Government ever included it.
If the noble Baroness were to test the opinion of the House, we, the official Opposition, would support her because she is clearly right. Everyone who has spoken on the substance of these amendments has said that the current clause is unsatisfactory, wrong and completely unnecessary. Why is it there? There is no need for it to be there in terms of criminal offence. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and others that legislation already exists that covers the point completely. The clause is there to placate the right-wing press and right-wing prejudice. That is something that the House should bear very much in mind when considering this issue.
The Law Society, the Bar Council, ACPO and the Metropolitan Police-all those groups who have had the courage to speak out, as has the noble Baroness against the clause-are not exactly groups associated with squatters. They are independent, able groups that have come to a view about a brand-new criminal offence that is planned. Unless we do something about it this evening, it will almost certainly become law comparatively shortly.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, at Report, I explained the role of the new squatting offence in giving greater protection to owners and occupiers of residential property who encounter squatters living in their properties. Various noble Lords have asked whether that is needed. Interestingly, only yesterday I received a letter from the deputy leader of the London Borough of Redbridge. He states:
"In one recent case in Ilford, a house owned by someone who had died became a squat during the eighteen months it was taking for lawyers to resolve her estate. In a second case a homeowner
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The noble Lord is quite right to say that there is protection for a level of squatting, but, as I explained at Report and put in a letter, so I will not go into it again, the provision covers a number of additional areas where it is difficult to deal with squatters.
I know that many noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lady Miller, are concerned about the impact that a new offence might have on vulnerable people who squat. I thank my noble friend for meeting me last week, and my noble friend and my noble friend Lady Hamwee for meeting my honourable friend Crispin Blunt, my noble friend Lord McNally and me earlier today. Then and at the earlier meeting, my noble friend Lady Miller expressed concern about the possibility of a rise in demand for local authority homelessness services when the new offence comes into force.
We have already given assurances on the Floor of the House that we will work closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to liaise with local authorities and the enforcement agencies prior to commencement to ensure that they are aware of the new offence. That is extremely important. We take very seriously mitigating any problems and we share my noble friend's concern about the welfare of vulnerable people. However, allowing squatting to continue, sometimes in dangerous and unhealthy premises, cannot be the answer. Instead, we intend to continue to work with other departments, local authorities and homelessness services to ensure that vulnerable people are given the help and support they need to find alternative forms of accommodation.
Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, emphasised, a number of those in that situation are suffering from mental or other problems. We have an obligation to them, as vulnerable members of society, to be properly housed. In squats, they have no protection. That cannot be right. The Government have already demonstrated our commitment to preventing homelessness by maintaining investment, with £400 million available over the next four years. We recognise the issues that single homeless people, in particular, face, and we are prioritising improvements in the help that they receive. The ministerial working group on homelessness has for the first time pledged that no one should spend more than one night out on our streets, supported by the new £20 million homelessness transition fund. The working group will publish its second report on preventing homelessness more broadly later in the spring.
Baroness Northover: Most of the money that goes to local authorities is not ring-fenced. The emphasis is on devolving to local authorities the responsibility for the people in the area. Given the lateness of the hour, I am very happy to write to the noble Baroness more specifically on that point if I have not got it right. I do not think that the money would be ring-fenced but, if I am wrong about that, I shall correct it in a minute or write to her. Nevertheless, that money has been identified to provide funding to address homelessness.
Baroness Northover: There is an ongoing debate about what you ring-fence and what you leave as the responsibility of local authorities. If you give them a responsibility to house their vulnerable local residents-or non-residents-they have to fulfil that obligation. It seems that a bit of clarity of thought is needed here. It is not appropriate to place the responsibility for a squatter on the shoulders of an individual who happens to have an empty property. If that person is well off, he should be paying his taxes, those taxes should go to society and society should look after its vulnerable people. Squatting is not the answer; nor is placing such a responsibility on the shoulders of an individual in that way. That is why it is important that we address squatting but, when a problem such as this is picked up, it is also important that we address the transition issues that my noble friend rightly identified. It is important to see what the implications are and that is why we have placed the emphasis on tackling homelessness. As I said, we have announced the first ever £20 million-
Baroness Northover: Yes, I would say so. I do not think it is right that people should live unprotected. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, flags up monitors for heating systems and the dangers involved there. How can anybody be protected or have tenants' rights if they are squatting? I think we owe it to our citizens to make sure that they are housed properly and that they do not live without that kind of protection, as is the case with squatting. Perhaps I may continue.
On preparing local authorities for commencement, we plan to do a range of things, including working with the National Homelessness Advice Service to provide training for local authorities, raising awareness through regional seminars and websites, and working with Citizens Advice to ensure that home owners and squatters are informed of the changes.
One or two noble Lords asked about the consultation. The vast majority of responses-1,990 out of 2,216-were received via the website of the campaign group Squatters' Action for Secure Homes. That is fair enough. However, the remainder came from landlords' associations, local government associations, law firms and so on. We also received responses from individual property owners who had first-hand experience of squatters in their buildings. I have just mentioned the letter that I received yesterday from the deputy leader of Redbridge Council which referred to a couple of cases and the impact on the areas involved.
I was asked by my noble Friend, Lady Hamwee, whether squatters who vacate their squats will be considered intentionally homeless. That is obviously a very important point. Section 191 of the Housing
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I was also asked about whether we could commit to working with Crisis, and we certainly will. We will involve Crisis when we are liaising with the local government department and local authorities on the implementation of the offence. It is very important that that is taken forward. I was asked about the empty dwelling management orders. In January 2011 the Government announced that we would be making changes to those orders. These proposals will limit the authorisation of interim EDMOs to those properties that have been wholly empty for at least two years. They will require local housing authorities to give property owners a minimum notice period of three months before applying to a residential property tribunal for an interim EDMO. They also require the local housing authority to provide all the information that it has on the empty property that is causing a nuisance to the community, and that the community supports the proposal for the local housing authority to take control.
I was asked by my noble friend Lady Hamwee about guidance for the police and the CPS. We will liaise with ACPO prior to commencement on the provision of appropriate guidance, including how the new offence will interact with existing offences in Section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. There were various other points but I shall move on to Amendment 36 and the point about occupying buildings that have been left empty for a year or so.
As I explained, this amendment is problematic for a number of reasons. I explained this on Report and in my letter. There are many reasons why a residential building might be left empty for a year or more, and I have just referred to the letter from Redbridge. Clearly, if a property is inherited following a death or probate is taking a while to sort out, those kinds of issues may mean that a property is empty. Reference was made by my noble friends Lady Miller and Lady Hamwee to the definition of a building. I note that my noble friend has proposed a definition that would sit alongside the current definition in the Bill. We are concerned that that would introduce unnecessary confusion and complexity. We talked about this at our meeting this morning. I am happy to expand on that if required but it is five minutes to 11, so unless noble Lords want to come back to that, I urge them to accept the simplicity of what is there at the moment, which is the right way to go.
I commend my noble friend for her concern for a very vulnerable group of people. As I have just said, it is important to look at this with some clarity in terms of the social responsibility to individuals and how society should ensure that the vulnerable are cared for and housed properly, and that squatting is not the answer. I understand why my noble friend has tabled
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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am tremendously grateful to all Members of the House who spoke in this debate-which finally had the airing that it deserved, even though it was late-and to all Members of the House who stayed to hear it. It was an incredibly important debate about whether we should choose to criminalise a section of society. Many extremely good points were made and I will not rehearse them all at this hour. One theme that ran through all the speeches was that of unintended consequences.
I entirely agree with my noble friend that it is society's responsibility to look after the vulnerable-and, I would add, the homeless. That responsibility does not include criminalising them; that is where we part company. However, I see that Amendment 36 is problematic, and I accept the criticisms around the definition of "residential". We were trying to offer something that was slightly better than what was in the Bill.
Noble Lords concentrated on the issue of what people will do. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, the housing is not there and cannot be created in an instant. Therefore, there will be a group of people who will face very difficult decisions about whether to stay in a squat and be criminalised, to sleep rough or to present themselves to their local authority. We keep coming back to the issue of local authorities and consultation. I think that the Minister accepted that consultation with local authorities was the key. The House would feel very reassured if that were put in the Bill.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, Amendment 38 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. The Minister will recall that in the debate on Report on the exemption of itinerant collectors, exactly one week ago almost to the minute, he said:
I need not repeat how pleased I am that the Government accepted the principle of cashless transactions and agreed with me that the LASPO Bill offered the means to implement it. Having got that right, however, why are they running the risk of undermining their own policy by creating this huge potential loophole?
The Minister will be aware that the exemption caused a mixture of bafflement and dismay-not just in the House, where the only noble Lord to speak in its favour on Report last Tuesday was the Minister, but throughout the scrap metal industry. Operators are almost unanimously of the view that the Government's proposal to mandate cashless payment for the purchase of scrap metal must apply to all dealers, with no exemptions. They pointed out to me-and I suspect to many other noble Lords-that this view is strongly endorsed by sectors that are especially hard hit by metal theft: transport, the energy industry, local government, the Church of England, the War Memorials Trust and law enforcement agencies.
I shall not go over the same ground that noble Lords covered in last Tuesday's debate but will confine myself to one or two observations. First, the exemption is unfair and discriminatory. It grants special privileges to those members of the industry who are most responsible for the problems of metal theft. The itinerant collectors do not all sell on what they have collected to reputable scrap metal dealers; some of the material is shipped abroad in containers. Others will launder the scrap metal they take to registered dealers, and there will be no way of knowing where it came from or whether it was stolen.
I shall ask the Minister three questions. First, is he able to give us any news tonight on the Government's plans for replacing the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and will we see a Bill to do that in the next Session? Secondly, how will the five-year review of the offence of buying scrap metal for cash, as contained in Clause 148, work? Thirdly, can he give an assurance that applications for itinerant trader status will be monitored and, if there is an upsurge in them in order to get around the cashless provisions, that the Government will do something about it? If we do not get satisfactory answers, the Government are in danger of losing much of the good will that their welcome policy on cashless transactions has created by granting an exemption that pleases almost nobody and perpetuates the no-questions-asked philosophy. I ask the Minister to think again. I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I shall add a word or two to what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said. When the Minister addressed the House last Tuesday, he made it clear, and I certainly accepted, that the exception is very much smaller than had originally been assumed by many of those who read
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I made such inquiries as I could to find out how many of these people there are and whether there is any recent trend in people seeking to include themselves in the loophole-as it certainly is-in the injunction for cashless transactions only. A good many authorities that were questioned were quite unable to supply the answer. That does not suggest that at the moment there are very many people who are subject to this. However-and this seems to me to be important-since it has come out that there is this one exemption from the requirement that dealings should be made otherwise than for cash, the numbers are increasing.
When the section that I referred to was originally enacted, it was with a view to exempting those who would be subject to an order under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act from the requirement to keep records of from whom they acquired the scrap metal and the nature of the metal. I remember that when I was first married, the children were fascinated because there was a man who went down the street with a horse and cart and used to shout out as he went down, which was imitated by the children. They thought he was saying, "Hey, Tubby the Tuba". Of course, it was not that, but I do not know what he was saying. With that kind of dealer, one can understand the intention that he should not have to keep records. All he was doing was collecting people's leaking kettles and other forms of waste metal from local householders. It is not like that now at all. It has developed in the 48 years since that Act was passed into an entirely different kind of trade. For instance, when the local authority in Birmingham was questioned, it said that in the course of a year it would normally see 10 or so new itinerant traders seeking inclusion in an order under the Act. In the past few days it has had no fewer than 12. They are already running into this loophole. They want to continue to be able to deal in cash. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has said, this is knocking a very large hole in the measures that we are taking to deal with what has become a very mighty scourge of the community in all sorts of ways.
The more widely this exemption is known, the greater the number of traders who will seek to bring themselves under it. That is what frightens me about this. The exemption does not allow them to go cashless; it is the exemption from other forms of control, leaving people able to continue to deal in cash for materials that will simply never be traceable. That has been defined as the heart of the problem. To their great credit, the Government have introduced a substantial measure, albeit short of the reform that I originally described some months ago as the amendment of the "Steptoe and Son" legislation of the last millennium. That will come, we have been promised that; but in the mean time, they are leaving themselves with a hole.
In addition to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I have two questions. First, can the Minister explain why the Government are making this exemption? Of course, you could not have expected
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Secondly, how many of them will there be? What is the Government's estimate of how many are going to, as it were, pour through this loophole in an effort to maintain what has been right at the heart of this burgeoning crime of the stealing of metal of all sorts? The consequences of that crime have been described over and over again, some of them extremely serious in terms of the damage to people, the inconvenience, the cost and so on. Why are we leaving this loophole and how many people are going to be subject to this exemption?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, I have not found anybody who is concerned with this who has not been deeply disturbed by what is otherwise an entirely welcome piece of legislation, which we are very glad to see even at this fairly late stage in the passage of this Bill. Why is this loophole being left? It is going to be serious. It will increase and we will have to wait for months before we can get the new legislation in place that the Government have promised. I add my words of considerable dismay that we have this now. It may well be that there is something else that I have not understood about the exemption. If so, my noble friend on the Front Bench will no doubt tell us what it is. But at the moment there is not anybody concerned with the trade who for the life of them can see why.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the Minister's case last week was predicated almost exclusively on the basis that the group of people who were exempt was small in number. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has driven a coach and horses through that argument on the basis of the research that he has done over the past few days. It is what we have repeatedly warned the Minister will happen; namely, that the trade will increase in the hands of the itinerants as against those who trade at the moment for cash in this area.
The questions that I asked last week remain unanswered. First, why do we have to wait for a five-year review? It is enshrined in legislation, is it not? Secondly, why can we not have a review, let us say, in six months? In the event that a review were to reveal that what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has indicated tonight is true, what mechanism in legislation exists for repealing the provisions that have been driven through Parliament tonight, at nearly midnight, in what is, once again, a late night debate?
The question in my mind is simple: what could go wrong over the next few months? We know now that the itinerant trade will increase. We also know that it is distinctly probable that thieves who steal this material will sell it to itinerant traders who will find some way to break it up, to sell it abroad or to bring it into the
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The noble Lord smiles in his seat as he dismisses this case, but I think that Ministers are totally out of touch with the real world out there of people who trade in cash and how they operate, and how they simply do not exist anywhere in official records. They are the people who increasingly will take over, as the noble Lord has just suggested, this trade.
We have also not considered the knock-on consequences on traders who trade currently on the margins of legitimacy and who at least could be more effectively regulated if the right regulatory framework was to be put in place at this stage when it is clearly not being put in place. Even at this late stage of this legislation, I believe that Ministers should reconsider the position.
The noble Lord is about to get up and he will tell us all that we have got it wrong; that we do not understand how the market works; that they will be able to regulate the trade; and that these people are already covered by existing legislation. Let me tell the noble Lord that we simply do not believe him. We believe that in a matter of months, or certainly within a few years, it will become quite obvious that this legislation is failing in its intent and it will no doubt be revealed in the tabloids. Stories will surface saying that despite the legislation that was introduced, the trade is still going on. The problem is that an accelerated approach has been taken to the legislating in this area without taking into account the need to accompany this legislation with other legislation, as well as reform of other legislation, as referred to by my noble friend in his earlier contribution.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Henley): My Lords, it might be useful if I intervene now because there are a number of misconceptions about what is going on. Perhaps I may say that I rather regret the words of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for whom I have the utmost respect, because he implies that whatever I say, I am out of touch and do not know what is going on. He seems to suggest that what I say will be untrue. That is not the case. What I would ask of your Lordships is that-dare I say it?-they should listen to me very carefully because I think I can allay the fears and answer the questions that have quite rightly been put by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin about the problems we are facing and where we are on this issue.
I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who was the first person to suggest that we should go down the cashless route. That is what we are doing, and he was the first to spot that there was a
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Your Lordships will be aware that we tabled amendments on Report proposing three legislative measures to tackle metal theft: greater fines for offences under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964; creating an offence of buying scrap metal for cash, and a revision of police entry powers to help enforce the new offence because it is important to make sure that we get the enforcement right. A similar amendment to the one we are dealing with tonight was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, but his revised amendment seeks to remove the existing exemption that allows certain itinerant collectors to be exempted from the cashless offence. I am going to deal with that in due course.
I should make it clear that anyone who trades in metal, whether they are a large multinational, the local scrap metal dealer or a door-to-door collector, which includes the itinerants, must register with their local authority under Section 1 of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. It might be that they do not register, in which case there are sanctions, but it is also why we are increasing the sanctions under an Act which I have said before is past its sell-by date. Failure to register is a criminal offence that under Clause 146 of this Bill will now be punishable by an unlimited fine. Anyone, be they an itinerant or a large multinational, who does not register can be punished with an unlimited fine. As part of its focus, the national metal theft task force, which we announced late last year, will ensure compliance with the registration requirement. I shall say a little more about enforcement later.
The police are currently able to enter and inspect any commercial premises that belong to a registered scrap metal dealer, including those used by itinerant collectors. Our amendment will ensure that they can also enter and search unregistered premises with a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that metal is being traded for cash, and being unregistered may well be relevant evidence in that regard, although obviously that is for magistrates to decide when they issue a warrant.
I do not suppose any of your Lordships who are in the Chamber did so, but when we debated the 1964 Act almost 50 years ago, Parliament chose not to overburden small businesses by including an exemption for door-to-door collectors from some bookkeeping. That is why the exemption was brought forward in that Act. As a result, in addition to the mandatory registration I have already mentioned, businesses can apply to their local authority for an order under Section 3(1) of the 1964 Act, to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred. That order would be granted by the local authority, but only in consultation with the chief officer of police for the police force area. Let me be clear: there is no blanket exemption for anyone who simply claims to be an itinerant collector. They have to
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The amendment that we have put forward follows the structure of the existing Act and the exemption is for a defined and locally known group of collectors to operate. So, if an itinerant was operating in a large number of different areas, he would need a Section 3(1) exemption from each local authority area in which he was operating. It is not a question of having one exemption and then being able to use that throughout the country. If he does not have that, he will be in breach of the law and could suffer the consequences.
It should also be noted that itinerant collectors who have obtained a Section 3(1) order are reliant, obviously, on selling their collected metal into the scrap metal industry. I appreciate that there are allegations that a lot of this metal goes into containers and is shipped abroad. We have no evidence of that-it does not appear to be happening-but if in the future we do see signs of metal going straight into containers and being shipped abroad, it will be easier to deal with because there are a limited number of container ports in the country compared to the vast number of scrap metal yards into which the metal is going at the moment.
On enforcement as we are seeing it on a day-to-day basis, the British Transport Police, as part of Operation Tornado-which is an operation into scrap metal theft in the north-east of England at the moment but which will be expanded in due course-encounter these collectors on a daily basis. On many occasions, the police find that they are unregistered and that they do not have a waste carrier's licence, which they need if they wish to transport waste. As a result, they have had their scrap and, if it is not insured to carry waste or has not been registered to carry waste with the environment agencies, their vehicle confiscated. So there are enforcement procedures in place.
Registered collectors who have a reduced record-keeping requirement under Section 3(1) will, as I have said, still have to trade into the scrap metal industry. When they do so, they will not receive cash-they cannot receive cash-and that is what our amendment does.
So, to make it clear, Section 3(1) reduces the record-keeping requirements for those who only collect metal, but this is in addition to them also being registered under Section 1. It is not about signing up for one or the other, as some people imply, nor is it a matter of choice for the individual itinerant collector just to announce that he is now an itinerant collector. If he wants to be an itinerant collector he must be registered under Section 1 and under Section 3(1).
If the noble Lord's amendment was to be successful and itinerant collectors with a Section 3(1) order are included, the offence of trading in cash would be more difficult to enforce for those individuals because of the nature of the work they do in travelling from street to street in the manner described by my noble friend.
To evidence compliance with the new cashless offence, we have strengthened the record-keeping requirements under Section 2 of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act which apply to the vast majority of the industry registered
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To reassure the House further on this point, the Home Office is willing to work with the Local Government Association, with local authorities and with the police through ACPO, to help them provide advice to their members about the levels of assurance required in terms of identity, residence and any relevant criminal convictions before Section 3(1) orders are issued. That will ensure that they are operated in as tight a manner as possible.
I want to make clear-as I hope I did at Report-that banning cash from the scrap-metal industry is a vital first step to tackle metal theft and remove the drivers behind it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is with me on that. However, it is part of a wider package of work to tackle metal theft, including better enforcement and seeking design solutions to make metal harder to steal and increase the possibility of it being traced.
I will say a little again about enforcement. As I have said, we have strengthened that with the dedicated metal theft task force. We have already seen very significant progress, not least in the north-east, where there is quite a large amount of metal theft. Since the launch of Operation Tornado at the start of the year in the three northern police forces-Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham-we have seen a 50 per cent decline in the amount of metal theft in that area. That is driven by the voluntary adoption by the scrap-metal industry-or at least a considerable part of it-of greater identification checks when purchasing metal. We did not get the agreement of all of them but we are getting a considerable amount; and with this legislation we will get considerably more. I am also pleased to let the House know that the Association of Chief Police Officers is rolling out Operation Tornado nationwide over the coming months. As I have said, that operation has seen a 50 per cent decline in theft.
This is not the loophole that some noble Lords believe it is. We are not proposing a blanket exemption, but are allowing a very small number of specifically registered itinerant collectors to continue to operate as they currently do. I close by letting-
Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Lord talks about the "very small number" of itinerant collectors, which was at the heart of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord
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Lord Henley: The noble Lord will have seen many questions over the years coming back to him with the reply that they cannot be answered without disproportionate cost. I will look very carefully at what he has had to say but, looking at the regulations involved in those itinerants first registering under Section 1 and then getting the exemption under Section 3(1), it was not thought necessary to write to all 400 and whatever local authorities. I will have a look at whether it is possible but I do not think it is necessary. I want to-
I want to end by reiterating that we are committed to reviewing the Scrap Metal Dealers Act as soon as parliamentary time allows. That is why I dismissed the idea that it could not be done in less than five years. When we do so, we will be looking very hard at the role and regulation of scrap-metal dealers and itinerant collectors. I want to repeat the point that all noble Lords ought to grasp. It is not true that itinerant collectors can come by their own whim-they must go through a local authority inspection process and one that requires the approval of the local police. That is the important matter.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: One of the questions that I asked my noble friend was why it was felt necessary to make this exemption. There is nothing new in what my noble friend said tonight that went beyond what he said last week and what my own researches have shown. Why is there still this exemption for the kind of chap whom I described in my speech of 40 years ago? The 1964 Act was passed a few months before I became a Member of the other place, which is rather a long time ago. Why is it necessary to have this exemption now? My noble friend has not fully satisfied me on that.
Lord Henley: I did deal with that-I said that the exemption goes back to that Act and there is proper regulation of those itinerant traders. It is one that we can look at in future, but we do not think that it is right to increase the burden on them, particularly as there is not the opportunity that my noble friend implied for a mad rush of traders to become itinerant traders, because there is a process by which they are
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I felt that I had answered the question and made it clear that, if the amendment went through and those people were removed, it would create problems in dealing with them-as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I am not going to apologise for bringing the subject back at Third Reading, because we have learnt a great deal this evening from the Minister in his very interesting speech.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours for their quite excellent contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has taken the trouble to look at the issue in some detail and has come forward with a series of questions, some of which he has had answers to -although, with one or two of them, he may feel that the answer was a little bit opaque. My noble friend was a bit feistier than the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, but he too made some powerful points. Again, I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said in reply.
One benefit of having this debate this evening is that the officials in the Home Office will be aware that there is great interest in this House about the legislation as a whole and particularly about whether the exemption is going to work. If the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is right and there is a large increase in the number of applicants for exemptions, it will be evident that the loophole has become unacceptable and will do great damage to the much wider and laudable aim that the Government have of eliminating cash from the sale of scrap metal. I hope that we at least see that the Home Office reviews this carefully, and I assure the Minister that we will come back to this on future occasions to ask questions on how it has gone.
I am a little unclear about the five-year review to which my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours referred, which is in Clause 148. It might be more satisfactory if the review took place more quickly than that. However, I express my appreciation to the Minister for the thoughtful way in which he responded to the debate. I am not satisfied on all the points that he has made, but it is not my intention at this time of night to have a vote-although I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, who would like to have a vote. The message from the debate to the Minister is that we want to watch how this legislation develops and, if it goes wrong, I hope that remedies will be offered to us very quickly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1A) An order under this section bringing into force sections 46 and 48 may not be made until the Lord Chancellor has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement outlining the proposed arrangements for insolvency proceedings in the light of the changes made by Part 2"
Lord Bach: My Lords, I will be as brief as I can with this amendment. This is the third time that the issue has come before the House. The names put to the amendment on the first occasion were those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern-who made a very powerful speech-the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and mine. On Report it was just my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and he made a very powerful speech. Now it is down to one, and I intend simply to ask the Minister some questions.
and creditors generally. Despite that, and despite what I would argue are clear arguments in favour of it, the Government have decided against "a carve-out" for insolvency. The Minister announced that there has been,
The insolvency profession has apparently not been involved in any discussions with the Government about this new way of approaching insolvency proceedings and is concerned that the Ministry of Justice and HMRC may have decided that a contingency legal aid fund could be set up for insolvency cases.
My questions to the Minister are as follows. First, what are the Government planning with regard to insolvency proceedings and-to ask the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked on Report-when will this be implemented? Is it indeed a contingency legal aid fund, or is it not? Secondly, if the Government are not going to exempt insolvency proceedings, will they agree to carry out a proper impact assessment to determine the impact that this will have on the taxpayer and business community? Thirdly, have the Government consulted the insolvency profession on how this might work in practice? Fourthly, will this measure help safeguard returns not just for HMRC but for private businesses as well? Fifthly, will this measure act as a fraud deterrent, as the current system does? Sixthly, if this new way does not work, what protections will the Government put in place to safeguard returns to HMRC and businesses? Could there be an exemption, for example, further down the line? Lastly, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will consult the insolvency profession on the details of these proposals? Those are the questions that I would like answered. I beg to move.
Lord McNally: My Lords, as I indicated on Report, we have reached agreement across government in respect of insolvency proceedings. In future these cases will need to proceed without recoverable success fees and insurance premiums. Alternative ways will be developed in time to deal with these important cases. We are working on a programme for implementing Part 2 of the Bill, and the details relating to insolvency proceedings will be set out in due course, before implementation. Insolvency cases will need to proceed without recoverable
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Lord Bach: Of course I am going to withdraw my amendment this evening, and I understand that the Minister could not answer all the detailed questions that I put to him just a few minutes ago. I would be grateful if he would be good enough to get his officials to write to me, through him, with the replies that he was not able to give tonight.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I move this amendment because of the reasons expressed from all sides of the House, and because it is my hope that the House of Commons might debate this properly as it did not have a chance to do so in Committee.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, in December, the water White Paper, Water for Life, set out the many challenges facing the water sector: how much water we have available now and in the future; the impact on our natural environment from water and sewerage management; and the issue that this Bill is designed to address, which is keeping bills affordable.
We have seen in the south-west the long-term impact that investment in sewerage has had on customers' bills. Ofwat's price control regime balances the need for such investment with the impact on customers' bills. However, we should remain alive to the arguments for different approaches when circumstances require, whether to address the exceptional consequences of past decisions, as with the south-west, or a case such as the Thames tunnel, where the sheer scale of such a project dwarfs the ongoing business of a water and sewerage company.
The Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill contains two simple spending powers, which will enable the Government to implement two policies that the Chancellor set out in the Autumn Statement, both of which are designed to reduce the costs of infrastructure investment falling on water and sewerage customers. The Bill will allow us to fund South West Water to keep its household customers' bills down now and to provide contingent financial support for the proposed Thames tunnel in London.
Clause 1 is a general power to enable the Government to give assistance to water companies for the purpose of reducing charges payable by customers. The only purpose for which we currently plan to use the power is to reduce the bills of South West Water's household customers by £50 a year until the end of the next spending review. We believe that the circumstances that they face are exceptional. For years they have faced the highest water bills in the country as they have paid the costs of the £2 billion invested in infrastructure post-privatisation. The benefits of this investment include improved water quality, reduced leakage, cleaner beaches and better bathing water, but the costs have been borne solely by South West Water customers and their bills have risen as a result. We believe that the Government should help to correct the historical inequity. We do not want another such inequity to arise.
London's sewerage system is operating close to capacity -and the situation will only get worse with population growth, urbanisation and climate change. Even after construction of the Lee tunnel and improvements to sewage treatment works, around 20 million tonnes of untreated wastewater will still be discharged in a typical year from combined sewer overflows into the Thames. This is unacceptable on environmental and health grounds, and it needs addressing.
The proposed Thames tunnel offers the most timely, comprehensive and cost-effective solution for dealing with sewage discharges into the River Thames in London. Alternatives have been considered, including by the Thames Tunnel Commission, which is chaired by my noble friend Lord Selborne. However, none of the alternatives identified during the extensive studies carried out over the past decade has been found to swiftly and adequately address the environmental and health objectives for the Thames tideway while at the same time complying with our statutory obligations.
This includes alternatives such as a western tunnel combined with sustainable drainage systems. Implementing sustainable drainage on the scale required to address the combined sewer overflows east of a western tunnel would be hugely disruptive, expensive and unlikely to meet the environmental objectives. The existing sewerage system into which a western tunnel would discharge has limited spare capacity, so the western tunnel would spill more often and lead to significant odour problems, due to the amount of time sewage would be stuck in the tunnel. In-river treatment would not prevent untreated sewage from spilling into the Thames. I do not believe that the public want raw sewage to continue to spill into the Thames. Thames Water's public consultations and complaints to the Environment Agency confirm this. However, we recognise that this is an expensive project.
Clause 2 will allow the Government to provide financial support for exceptionally large or complex works on water or sewerage infrastructure, such as the Thames tunnel. We are willing in principle to provide contingent financial support for exceptional project risks where this offers best value for money for Thames Water customers and taxpayers. However, as a Government, we will want to be assured that, when offering this contingent support, taxpayers' interests remain a top priority. We are therefore working with Ofwat, Infrastructure UK and Thames Water to make sure that the financial structure for the proposed tunnel includes safeguards to minimise the likelihood of government support being called on. We believe that simply having the power available will help us to maximise private sector investment in the tunnel and keep the cost of its financing down.
I am aware that concerns were raised in another place about the breadth of powers in the Bill, and desire was expressed for greater parliamentary scrutiny ahead of government spending. The powers in this Bill are by no means unusual in their flexibility for future circumstance, nor do they remove the need or opportunity for proper parliamentary scrutiny of government spending plans in the usual way. Tough decisions always need to be made about the use of government money. I am sure that any future financial assistance under these powers would inevitably be the subject of much debate internally in the Government, in Parliament and with the public.
In the case of the south-west, there were years of campaigning and then the independent Walker review, which identified this as a set of exceptional circumstances. Financial assistance would never be given to water companies on a whim. However, exceptional circumstances do and will arise, as we have seen with South West Water and the Thames tunnel. As I said, we will need
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I reassure noble Lords that any public financial support for the Thames tunnel or similar projects will be tightly controlled. In fact, both clauses allow full terms and conditions to be attached to financial assistance. A £50 reduction to South West Water's charges will be governed by a funding agreement to ensure that it is transparent on customers' bills and that South West Water will not benefit from administering the payment.
Some noble Lords may be disappointed that we have only today-tonight-to scrutinise the Bill, although it is a small and, dare I say, perfectly formed Bill. The scope of the Bill is limited to financial assistance and, consequently, it has been certified as a money Bill. However, the department's plans for a wider water Bill are well known and we aim to publish that bigger, more substantial draft Bill for Parliament to get its teeth into in the coming months. That Bill will contain the other legislative reforms promised in the water White Paper. I beg to move.
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, the business before your Lordships' House tonight was flagged up as a Bill only last month, at the beginning of February. It is indicative of a poorly balanced legislative programme whereby the other place has completed its deliberations and is therefore largely inactive while your Lordships' House is kept busy night after night. Having this Bill designated a money Bill partially cures that imbalance. However, it is deeply unsatisfactory, and conducting a one-stage passage late at night in your Lordships' House underlines the fact. It is regrettable that several noble Lords are unable to participate because of that.
This short, two-clause Bill belies the years of deliberation, reports, campaigns and research that have gone into the two areas that the Bill covers: South West Water and Thames tideway. Calling it a money Bill deprives your Lordships' House the opportunity to scrutinise much of the background work and reduces parliamentary governance to a unicameral dimension. Avoiding the Bill being hybrid has resulted in it being unnecessarily wide ranging in its scope and the powers it grants to the Secretary of State. Set against the water White Paper, the national policy statement on waste water and the infrastructure planning changes, that is deeply unsatisfactory.
The Minister outlined the Bill and its purpose, although it cannot be stated in the Bill. But this is the wrong Bill. Your Lordships' House cannot amend it. Rushing it out in the last weeks of the Session says something deeply troubling about the department and the coalition's programme next Session. Has Defra missed the opportunity to put forward the right Bill, a new water Bill, in time to be included in legislation for next Session? The Minister has already said that he has secured a consolation prize of a draft Bill instead. How long does that put back the necessary measures that are badly needed?
Clause 1 is of benefit to South West Water householders and brings relief from the legacy of privatisation, as bills in the south-west have risen 43 per cent more than
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The Opposition support the Government in reducing the discrepancy in South West Water bills for consumers. Nevertheless, there are anxieties about the measure. With a cost of around £40 million per annum, South West Water will receive £50 per household. This is rather a blunt instrument. While happily confronting the universality of certain payments, such as universal child benefit, the coalition is introducing another such payment here. Has the Minister considered other options? He will know that for farmers and growers water use is a key factor of production. Has his department looked at whether visitors and holiday homes could contribute further or be denied the subsidy? With a new water Bill, the benefits of WaterSure, introduced by the previous Labour Administration, could be brought to a greater number of claimants for a more focused and targeted operation.
Indeed, the Minister stated that in his introduction. It would be helpful if he could confirm that date and say what his department has in mind after that period. We understand that it might be continued as part of Defra's own budget. Can he say which part and for how long? In view of his department's eagerness to introduce budget cuts, what other expenditure will need to be cut to fulfil this payment to the south-west? Will his department come forward with transparency through a statutory instrument so that Parliament can fulfil its role in scrutinising expenditure? There are grave concerns that the Bill is being used for election purposes.
Lastly, can the Minister inform the House whether his department has sought to see strings attached to the payment? South West Water is a company with a monopoly in the area. Many fund managers have water utilities in their portfolios because of the high dividend policy followed. Have the Government expressed any views regarding company bonuses or regarding any reduction in leakages or an abstraction review while this payment continues?
The opposition Benches support the Bill in relieving financial pressure on South West Water bills. However, we would like to see the introduction of social tariffs across the industry to help those on low incomes. We also call on the Minister to undertake reviews and to make reports to Parliament so that the situation can continue to be monitored. More importantly, we wish to see a sunset clause introduced, whereby the Government have to promote proactively any further payments and state where the payments will come from.
Clause 2 is intended to fund a vitally needed infrastructure project-the Thames tideway tunnel. London's sewers carry both raw sewage and rain run-off.
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I know that several noble Lords-most notably the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who chaired a report on behalf of several local authorities-will speak further about the scheme details and their alternatives. I shall concentrate on some wider issues that need to be taken up. First, we need to understand in some depth the risks of infraction proceedings. It is deeply unsatisfactory that my noble friend Lord Berkeley cannot speak at this late hour, as he has specifically researched this position in Brussels. If the United Kingdom is at risk now, will this continue to be the position until works are complete? Will the Government seek some accommodation that proceedings will not be initiated, especially as construction may temporarily exacerbate the situation? While the Bill gives the go-ahead to finance the tunnel solution, it will still be subject to the planning process and no doubt be called in by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Can the Minister assure the House that while the decision-making process with DCLG is a legal one, the lead will continue to be taken by his department?
That will be deeply worrying for many noble Lords as it means that there will be little parliamentary opportunity to monitor the progress of works, that environmental concerns are being properly addressed, and that innovation and technology advances will be promoted so that value-for-money outcomes can be achieved. Can the Minister say how effective scrutiny and governance of the scheme will be in the future? The scheme no doubt will be promoted by Thames Water in commercial circumstances.
The opposition Benches will support the scheme provided that it meets the EU directive and its standards. Does the Minister know that that can be the case? There are enough valid concerns and criticisms in much of the alternative options that an impact assessment of future complementary projects could be vital. There are the Deephams discharges and whether it is better to rebuild the plant on existing footprint or to rebuild on a new site. Can the Minister say whether that will be designated a nationally significant project as well?
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