If the Government do not move at all, we are in some serious difficulty. It is causing considerable upset among employers, among those who have to engage in the new cost-management process within the Local Government Pension Scheme, among the unions and among the members of that scheme. The Minister could assuage those anxieties easily tonight by accepting my amendment or, in default of that, my noble friend’s amendment. It would be wrong for the Government to reject both. We would be on some sort of collusion course, whereas in general the LGPS and the arrangements for it from 2014 are done and dusted in a way that frankly was probably beyond the Government’s dreams only a year or so ago. I think that would be most unfortunate not only for the members of and employers in the scheme but for the Government and for future relations. I genuinely hope that the Government can move on this issue tonight. I beg to move.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I fully support the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Whitty, particularly on the complications that would arise with respect to the Local Government Pension Scheme. The amendment in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson refers to the general proposition in Clause 9(3) that,

“the Treasury may determine the change in prices or earnings in any period by reference to the general level of prices or earnings estimated in such manner as the Treasury consider appropriate”.

The Treasury has a completely free hand to determine the change in prices or earnings to be applied to the structure of the pension scheme. It seems to us on this side that this is really a step too far, so we have proposed that it should be subject not to a negative Commons procedure but to the affirmative procedure so that there can be a truly substantive debate on any particular proposal that might be unreasonable.

In Committee the Minister said:

“Any attempt to exercise this discretion in such a way that did not produce accurate and appropriate estimates”—

I must say as an economist that there is no such thing; there are estimates, but “accurate and appropriate” is something different—

“with reference to a reasonable index of prices or earnings”—

there is no such thing as that either—

“could be challenged by scheme members. Any decision which is not reasonable”—

that is fine—

“even without this amendment … could be challenged by judicial review and struck down by the High Court”.—[

Official Report

, 15/1/13; col. 608.]

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What a cumbersome procedure. The affirmative procedure may be seen as taking somewhat more time and requiring more effort than the negative procedure, but how much better than saying, “Well, if this goes wrong, you’ve got to take it to the High Court”? That really is truly unsatisfactory.

Introducing this very minor amendment will provide an environment for the discussion of changes in the chosen index that can be deemed to be reasonable and to have the confidence of members of the schemes. I feel that this approach, perhaps allied with that suggested by my noble friend, would provide the confidence in the process of revaluation that from time to time can be enormously important in maintaining standards of living, particularly of more elderly pensioners.

Lord Newby: My Lords, as we are debating a group that started with an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I shall take this opportunity to answer the question he asked me earlier about whether the administering authority or the employing authority would determine whether an effect is significant. I am extremely pleased that I did not try to reply at the time because the answer is neither. It will be the “responsible authority”, because that is the authority that will be making the scheme regulations. In the local authority scheme, it would be not the employer but the Secretary of State. I hope that answers that question.

We have debated the amendments in this group before, so I shall try to be relatively brief in explaining why I do not believe it would be fair to restrict the revaluation of accruals from directly tracking growth, including when it is negative. Even though negative changes in prices or earnings are exceptionally rare, the Government firmly believe that if there is no revaluation ceiling, it would be unfair to have a revaluation floor to the benefit of members.

This is the sort of unbalanced risk-sharing between members and the taxpayer that the measures in this Bill seek to remove. The report by the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, specifically criticised this “asymmetric sharing of risk”. In addition, such a revaluation floor could lead to the cost cap being breached, to the detriment of future members who simply end up paying for past members’ accruals growing faster than the scheme revaluation rate. For those reasons, I will not be able to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

I am also unable to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, which would make the annual Treasury revaluation order affirmative rather than negative. As we have said before, this would not be an efficient use of parliamentary time and would be counter to the long-standing convention with other public service pension indexation. The order will be a run of the mill piece of legislation, and it would be incongruous for it to be subject to the affirmative procedure in each and every year.

However, I hope that I can go some way to meeting noble Lords’ concerns. In the years when the values in the order are negative, there will be a strong expectation that the Government of the day should ensure that there is a full parliamentary debate on the changes, not least because they would be so rare. Perhaps we

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can go further than that general statement and look at whether to require the affirmative procedure when, as unlikely as these events will be, the order sets out a negative figure. It seems that this would strike the appropriate balance between parliamentary scrutiny and sensible regulation-making.

I would therefore be willing, if the noble Lords were able not to press their amendments, to take this away to consider it further, with a view to returning to the matter at Third Reading with an amendment that would require any annual order to come before the House for affirmative procedure if the CPI index slipped into negative territory. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for at least part of that response. I also thank him for the clarification of “authority”, although it alarmed me somewhat more than I thought it would. The only more alarming thing would have been if he had said that it was the Treasury. It is clearly not within the bounds of the scheme to assess it, so my noble friend’s point in a previous debate is rather more valid than I was hoping it was. We will perhaps return to that at a later stage, at least informally.

On the amendments in this group, I read the Hutton report fairly thoroughly at the time. I do not recall the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, advocating that we should have negative adjustment. Clearly there is a balance of risk, which is reflected in the changes to the substance of the scheme that has been proposed by the Government and, in the case of the LGPS, has been accepted in the negotiations between the employers and unions. If the noble Lord seeks further rebalancing of the risk over and above what is already reflected in a scheme, which, I remind him, has been endorsed by the sponsoring department and, however grudgingly, by the Treasury, that reopens a can of worms.

Were I in the Minister’s shoes, which thank the Lord I am not, I would probably have said, “I will not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, but I will accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell”. In that case, I would clearly have deferred to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and I and the rest of us could go home reasonably satisfied. As it is, the Minister on the one hand has said explicitly that he is going to reject that amendment, but on the other has described a process that did not seem a million miles from my noble friend’s advocacy of the affirmative procedure.

The Minister said that if there is a negative movement in the index, Parliament should have a full and thorough debate, having a couple of paragraphs earlier said that it was run of the mill legislation. It is clearly not run of the mill if it has not happened for 30 years. That full and thorough debate would normally be accompanied by an affirmative procedure, or something very like it. I am therefore not feeling quite so negative towards the Minister as I thought I would at the beginning of his remarks. He has said that he will go away and look at this. I think that if he looks at it carefully, he will come back and accept, or propose something equivalent to, my noble friend Lord Eatwell’s proposition. In that case, although I will not be completely satisfied, it

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gives a serious safeguard for the members of these schemes, and for the coherent administration of and trust in them, which are so important to tens of thousands of local authority workers and dozens of local authority employees.

I do not regard the Minister’s reply as satisfactory, but rather than press my amendment to the vote or encourage my noble friend so to do, we have to grab hold of the Minister’s offer of further consideration and see what he comes up with at this rather late stage of the Bill. Nevertheless, an important consideration now faces him. I am grateful for his commitment thus far, and therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment on that understanding.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendments 16 and 17 not moved.

5.45 pm

Clause 10 : Pension age

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

18: Clause 10, page 6, line 2, after “be” insert “set in scheme regulations but must be no more than”

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, Clause 10 imposes a normal pension age of 60 on firefighters as well as on police and members of the Armed Forces. My amendment would build some flexibility into that but does not rule out 60 in respect of firefighters.

The Government, under the previous Fire Minister in the other place, set up a review, chaired by Dr Tony Williams. It published its report in January, just a couple of weeks ago. I think it is at best odd, and perhaps even outrageous, that the Government are pressing ahead here and are not taking the review properly into account. The report does not recommend a normal pension age of 60; nor does it make the case for firefighters working to 60. The review was set up to assess the appropriate normal pension age. Nowhere in the review does it say that 60 is appropriate. At most, the review’s recommendations establish a set of conditions —such as national firefighter fitness standards, fitness entry standards at recruitment, fitness training throughout careers, and an accepted testing regime—that would have to be met before working to 60 was possible.

The report provides medical evidence that working beyond 55 is not attainable by most current firefighters. Between half and two-thirds of current firefighters would not be fit enough to work beyond 55. Other figures in the report suggest that more like four out of five firefighters would not be fit enough to work beyond 55. The Government seem intent on imposing a national pension age of 60 despite the medical evidence against that. I hope that in his response today the Minister will explain fully why that is the case.

A national pension age of 60 will hugely disrupt the fire and rescue services. There is also a danger that it will not only discriminate against women but will

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drive out most women firefighters, undermining decades of equality work. A national pension age of 60 will not just remove the link to the occupational nature of the pension scheme; it will also risk making it unsustainable. With higher contributions, it will take a drop-out rate of only 7% to do so.

The Williams report recommended that firefighters over the age of 55 who can no longer meet the fitness requirement should be allowed to leave early on an actuarially reduced pension, calculated so there is no overall financial advantage or disadvantage to the firefighter. This means that most firefighters will get a reduced pension because the national pension age is wrong.

I want to move on to make some remarks about fitness. Aerobic fitness, one of the core components of fitness—along with anaerobic/high-intensity fitness and strength—is often measured using the rates of oxygen uptake, or VO2. The Williams report suggests that at least 42 VO2 is necessary for firefighting. This is the level recommended by experts in the field and is the level that the majority of fire services are using today. The report admits that at 50 to 54 years of age, 51% of firefighters are below the figure of 42 VO2. At the age of 55 to 60, that rises to 66%: two-thirds of firefighters are below that standard. The report suggests that if 42 is the standard, then by 60 years of age up to 92% of present firefighters could be below the minimum standard for operational duty. To push ahead with this is risky and dangerous.

The report suggests that, even in a best case scenario, where firefighters maintain their physical activity status, their body mass index and their smoking status as they age, at 55 years of age approximately 15% of firefighters would be below the minimum standard required for operational duty. By 60 years of age, this percentage would rise to 23%. However, this best case scenario model uses a higher entry standard than the one currently in force. It assumes that firefighters are recruited at 47 VO2, whereas actually the recruitment standard is much lower at 42. This means that the best case scenario is flawed as it assumes a much higher fitness level on recruitment than is in fact the case.

Will the noble Lord spell out clearly what kind of fitness regime and lifestyle changes will be necessary to meet this best case scenario? Most firefighters are likely to do fitness training at work of at least 30 minutes per shift; some do up to four hours a week. Does the noble Lord accept that what may be possible in the future, with new recruits and different standards, is fundamentally different from expecting people now in service to reach these service levels at ages between 55 and 60? It is risky and dangerous. If the noble Lord is not prepared to accept the amendment, can he tell the House why? The amendment commits the Government to do nothing other than accept that the national pension age must be set in scheme regulations and must be no more than 60. It allows for further discussions to take place, and if the Government are not persuaded, they can set the level at 60.

I had a meeting with the noble Lord. He very kindly met me and representatives of the Fire Brigades Union and I thank him very much for that. It was a

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very useful meeting and people put their case across very well. I appreciate that he did that. I hope that the Government will come back today with something positive.

Lord King of Bridgwater: I think that probably all noble Lords have had a most interesting letter from the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union setting out the union’s case on this matter. I do not know whether I read it wrong, but I got the impression from the letter that there are safeguards to protect those who are approaching retirement age at the present time and that the issue arises much more for firefighters who are now 40 to 45. In those cases, when it is recognised that people are going to live longer and when the pension age may rise to 67 or higher, it seems that we are going to be looking for a different standard of fitness. It is quite difficult to argue in your Lordships’ House that nobody is fit any longer at 55.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I think the noble Lord is absolutely right that there is a difference in fitness. That is the problem. A regime could be put in place for people when they first come as recruits. By accepting my amendment, the Government could set the age in scheme regulations, whereas at the moment the age would normally be 60. I beg to move.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, there are also in this group a pair of amendments in my name and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Davidson, both of which seek to add flexibility and that famous characteristic, future-proofing, to the Bill. It is a laudable objective of the Government to have a common movement—a standard process—that can be seen as fair and generally acceptable across the entire structure of public service pensions. However, it is an objective which will, inevitably, from time to time, run up against reality. We have already seen it run up against reality in the case of the uniformed services, which we discussed earlier. It could also run up against reality in a whole series of other circumstances where the best would be the enemy of the good. In other words, the commitment to uniformity would produce elements of unfairness and, perhaps, elements of unsatisfactory performance because individuals were staying in employment longer than they ought to in some circumstances.

We need a degree of flexibility and Amendment 19 relates flexibility to a scheme-specific capability review. These reviews are now becoming quite common within public services, as they already are in private industry. They are designed in some circumstances to relate to the capabilities of individuals with respect to age. If there were to be a thorough review which a Government at the time accepted, this amendment would give the Government the flexibility to amend the pension ages set out in Clause 10(1) and (2). This would provide a degree of flexibility and that is all it is intended to do.

I questioned the noble Lord in Committee about a number of reviews that are currently under way. He pointed out to me that those reviews were not considering issues of pension age and I accept that entirely. However, this does not mean that considering pension age relative to capability will not occur or is not likely to occur. On

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the contrary, it is highly likely to occur over the next 10 years or so. Amendment 19, therefore, provides the Government with the necessary flexibility to respond to scheme-specific capability reviews.

Amendment 20 would incorporate into the Bill a proposition directly taken from my noble friend Lord Hutton’s excellent report. He argued at the time that the relationship between the state pension age, which is the sort of anchor of the whole structure, and the structure of pension ages in the public sector should be reviewed from time to time. This amendment incorporates my noble friend’s proposition.

In Committee, the Minister said:

“The DWP White Paper published yesterday says that we intend to hold a review every five years, so the link will be reviewed when a review is announced”.—[Official Report, 15/1/2013; col. 621.]

He got a bit muddled there but we know what he meant. That is fine, but could he tell us what is going to happen to this DWP White Paper? Is it the forerunner of some legislation? If so, when will that legislative proposition appear? Would it not be comfortable, given the structure of this Bill, to include Amendment 20, taken from the Hutton report, to achieve the goal he declares to be the Government’s goal, as set out in that DWP document?

I entirely understand the commitment to having a standardised, clear, comprehensible system, but there will always be anomalies which have to be appropriately addressed. I believe that these two amendments provide flexibility and would ensure that the Government could do exactly that.

6 pm

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I support Amendments 19 and 20, which aim to ensure greater flexibility in the Bill with respect to pension age. Clause 9, as we have heard, links normal pension age for public sector pensions to the state pension age, with the notable exception of firefighters, police and the Armed Forces. There is a strong case for other sections of the workforce being kept under review, as proposed in these amendments. In the NHS, a review is already under way—the working longer review—of the planned increase in the normal pension age for staff in the NHS pension scheme to 68. It is being undertaken jointly by the Government, employers and health unions.

The BMA, of which I am president, strongly believes that this review should be able to make genuinely evidence-based recommendations, which should cover any—and, if so, which—front-line NHS staff who have roles that are particularly physically, mentally and/or emotionally demanding and, therefore, should have their normal pension age capped at a lower age. The review was a key component of the scheme’s specific discussions between the Government and trade unions. However, these discussions appear to have been sidelined by Clause 9.

The principle is now established that not everyone should be linked to the state pension age. The list of occupations exempted from the Bill could lead to the curious situation whereby someone within those exempted occupations could have a less physically demanding role and would be protected, whereas someone who

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works in front-line clinical care—perhaps in the intensive care unit—is not protected because the NHS pension scheme is not included.

In a hospital setting, for example, there is pressure to deliver 24/7 care and it does not seem fair to protect one group completely on the basis of their occupational status, yet ignore the potential needs of another group. Many front-line NHS staff are engaged in very demanding work. I hope that the Bill can be amended to allow some flexibility. Amendment 19 would allow for further categories of workers to be exempt from the state pension age link if a scheme capability review found it appropriate. I hope that the Government will support it.

In the final report of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission, recommendation 11 states that,

“the link between the State Pension Age and Normal Pension Age should be regularly reviewed, to make sure it is still appropriate”.

As written, the Bill does not seem to allow for that. Therefore, I hope that Amendment 20 also will be supported to make this explicit in the Bill.

Lord Newby: My Lords, as regards Amendment 18, we are aware of, and greatly respect, the hard work done by the police, firefighters and the Armed Forces. But the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, was clear that the normal pension age for these schemes should be equal to 60, subject to regular review. As we know, this fixed age is already significantly different from the position for all other public service workers. A pension age of 60 for police and firefighters is in line with the reforms implemented by the previous Administration. We are not, and nor should we be, in the business of reducing pension ages given the longevity challenges we face. To do so would go against all that the Bill is designed to achieve.

We already have made a commitment to review these provisions as and when future changes to the state pension age are announced. Those reviews will be separate from the state pension age reviews to ensure that the specific impacts on public service schemes are taken into account. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, asked about where we would legislate for the DWP White Paper more generally. We will legislate separately for that. Obviously, it is not appropriate to do that in this Bill. It is a much wider issue and we will deal with the question of reviews in the context of the rest of the White Paper.

I firmly believe that the drafting of the Bill is correct on this issue and that the pension age provisions, including the link to state pension age for other schemes, are rightly the cornerstone of the legislation. It is also worth remembering that setting a normal pension age of 60 does not prevent people retiring before 60 if they wish. Early retirement factors can be taken within the scheme rules and added pension can be bought. Both of those allow for more flexibility over when people can access their pension. All three schemes captured by this amendment already allow people to take benefits from the age of 55 if they wish.

However, I will attempt to respond briefly to the points raised concerning the firefighters and the review by Dr Williams, about which the noble Lord spoke. I should start by making it clear that it is not the case that the review found evidence that a very large proportion

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of firefighters would not be fit enough to work to 60. The report finds that the average serving firefighter is already beyond the required fitness levels at the age of 35 to maintain operational fitness until the age of 60, if those individuals maintain their physical activity levels and BMI.

In our meeting, I discussed with the union that there is an argument for more structured and formal procedures to be in place to help people keep fit. People may spend time on physical activity but quite a lot of it might generously be called pretty informal. Getting a more formal and rigorous fitness regime in place, which would help individuals more generally as well as in their ability to work to the age of 60, falls outside the scope of the Bill and is something that the FBU no doubt will want to discuss further with its employers.

The report projects that in circumstances where people maintain their physical activity levels and BMI, individuals could maintain operational fitness in many cases until their mid-60s. We simply do not believe that it is necessary to make an amendment which enables a lower pension age than 60 for members of the firefighters’ scheme, or for the police and Armed Forces schemes.

The difference from Amendment 19 is that it would allow for exemptions to any of the normal pension age provisions currently set out, should a capability review make such a recommendation. We are not talking about just the police, firefighters and Armed Forces but all other public servants who will have their normal pension age linked to the state pension age.

I should briefly remind the House of the reason for the state pension age link in the first place. To get a grip on public finances, we were faced with a choice. We could either significantly reduce the value of scheme benefits or ask people to work slightly longer before they can receive their pension. We decided that the latter approach is best. Scheme benefits will be marginally less generous in the new schemes but only by a small amount. Instead, we are asking people to wait until their state pension age before becoming eligible for their pension. We think that this is preferable to significantly reducing benefits and increasing hard-working public servants’ reliance on means-tested benefits in their retirement.

We should remember what this state pension age link really means. For those retiring in the near future, it means waiting until the age of 66. When people talk about waiting until 67 or 68 and beyond, they are talking about several decades’ time from now. We are not talking about extending people’s working lives overnight. Instead, we have a lot of time to assess how best to adapt to extended longevity and how to ensure that employers provide the right working conditions to allow people to work up to the state pension age. That is why the NHS working longer review—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, referred—is so important.

I think everyone recognises—I made this point in Committee—that it is not just in the public sector that there are a range of occupations which people cannot do as well at the age of 67 as they can at 27. It is a challenge across society to find methods of working which reflect that so that people can carry on working

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to a later retirement age without being faced with undue stress during their latter years. The review is looking not at the link with retirement age but at how best to deliver NHS services with a workforce who is living longer. I am sure that other workforces in the public sector will need to follow the lead of the NHS in looking at how they can achieve that.

What we should not do is seek to make exceptions to the state pension age link. As I have outlined, the link has very little effect in the short to medium term, but it is a crucial part of the solution to the long-term problem. While we should not dig our heads in the sand, there comes a time when it is best to accept the reality of the situation: people are living longer and the public service workforce must and will adapt to that. The previous Administration recognised that when they asked all public servants—barring those whom we have identified—to work to the age of 65. We are simply future-proofing that approach by tracking the state pension age as it moves beyond 65. If we do not face up to the challenge of increases in longevity now, we would only have to do so in the near future when there will be less resource available. For those reasons, I cannot support this amendment. The universal state pension link is absolutely vital to putting public service pensions on a fair and sustainable footing. I have complete confidence that, with the appropriate foresight and common sense from employers, it will be deliverable across all the relevant public service workforces.

Finally, Amendment 20 seeks to provide for an independent review of the pension age mechanisms in this Bill. I reiterate that the Government are totally committed to reviewing the pension age, as and when future changes to the state pension age are announced. This was one of the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, and we are sticking to it. I add that the House should be reassured that, when coming to decisions on any changes to the state pension age, Ministers will bear in mind the consequences for public servants. We would also expect member representatives to feed into this separate process. None the less, there are good reasons why this Bill does not provide for the review to the normal pension age provisions, which would follow any state pension age reviews that result in a change to the state pension age. For a start, public service pensions link to the state pension age, not vice versa, so given that work on the state pension age reviews is still in its early stages, and we do not know exactly how it will consider public service schemes, it would be premature to lock down details of the normal pension age provisions at this stage.

More importantly, we have not yet even developed those details—and that is sensible. We should not be determining the parameters for such reviews so far in advance, nor should we be trying to do so. It would be for the Government of the day to consider what is appropriate, beyond of course taking into account any changes in longevity. If that were to involve an independent assessment, so be it. However, again, it would be for the Government of the day to decide if that were appropriate. The Government may already have had all the independent advice that they require on longevity from the wider state pension age review, depending on the final details of that process. If, during the course of

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that review, there was no representation from the public sector that it wished to be treated any differently from anyone else, the scope of a review would be rather less than if there was a lot of independent evidence and representations being made from the public sector that it was in a different situation from the rest of the workforce—and not just a different situation, but a worse situation. Of course, nobody is going to argue that the public sector should have a differentially higher retirement age. While we could put a bland commitment into the Bill just to review the provisions from time to time, that would not be worth while without being able to include any details. It would carry very little weight and give no more assurance on this matter than the public statements that we have made on our intentions on a number of occasions. I therefore urge the noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the Minister for his response. I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but it is a bit odd and not really joined-up government to have the previous Fire Service Minister, Mr Bob Neill —I think I am right, but correct me if I am wrong—commissioning a report on firefighters’ pensions for 12 January, less than a month ago, when this Bill is going through. It is not very well organised and I think it should have been done better. However, I hear what the Minister says and, with that, am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Amendment 19 not moved.

Amendment 20

Tabled by Lord Eatwell

20: Clause 10, page 6, line 14, at end insert—

“(4B) The link between the state pension age and a person’s normal or deferred pension age shall be regularly and independently reviewed to ensure that the link remains appropriate in light of scheme members’ longevity.”

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, the Minister has said that, with respect to the notion of the review, the Government will have reviews, because the DWP White Paper says so, but they are not quite sure what those reviews would be—it is all too complicated at the moment and they have not worked it out. Therefore, they cannot include it in the Bill. That is pretty unsatisfactory. On the one hand, they are prepared to make an assurance that there will be reviews but, on the other hand, they are not sure what form those reviews might take, who might be involved or what sort of procedures there might be. They are not willing to back up that assurance in the Bill. Finally, we are told that legislation does not matter very much and that it is just as good as an assurance. That is entirely unsatisfactory.

The issues that have been raised by the noble Baroness need to be considered on another occasion, and we will need to return to this issue at Third Reading.

Amendment 20 not moved.

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6.15 pm

Amendment 21

Moved by Lord Davidson of Glen Clova

21: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—

“Fair Deal

The Secretary of State will, within twelve months of this Act coming into force, bring forward proposals to ensure that a member of a public service pension scheme is entitled to remain an active member of that scheme following—

(a) the compulsory transfer of his contract of employment to an independent contractor; and

(b) any subsequent compulsory transfer of his contract of employment.”

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: My Lords, this amendment, dealing with the fair deal, covers a lot of common ground. But rather as with the last grouping, one finds that the common ground is not found in the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Eatwell has already observed, there is a possibility of an erosion of trust, certainly on the union side, if the outcome of discussions does not find itself reflected in the Bill.

In Committee, the Minister observed that one was not able to accept this type of amendment because one was in the middle of a process of consulting and, therefore, such an amendment might be premature. But the principle appears to be held in common by all sides. The Minister has observed that,

“we are committed to the principle”.—[

Official Report

, 15/1/13; col. 627.]

We do not in any way doubt his sincerity, but we urge that it could be demonstrated that that commitment is found by putting it into the Bill.

The amendment that is before the House allows the principle to be put in the Bill, and allows for the consultation process. When one looks at the amendment, one sees that it permits the Secretary of State to bring forward the proposals within 12 months. That plainly allows any sensible consultation to take place and be concluded. It would also allow the commitment from Her Majesty’s Government to be honoured expressly.

Ahead of the government amendments in this grouping, I observe very briefly that we were genuinely puzzled as to what they were aimed at and why the Government have seen fit to bring them forward. Elucidation would be gratefully received. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I speak now according to the convention, although it may be more logical for the Government to explain their amendments. My Amendment 49 is also in this group. It is another one of these whereby what appears to be the implication of this Bill, if nothing else is done, is that it would unravel what has been agreed between the LGA and the trade unions on the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Pensions payable by the LGPS are revalued using the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971. The amendment is required to enable the same methodology to be used for revaluation during service to continue once a scheme member is in receipt of their pensions. But there is a snag. The current situation, under Section 1 of the Local Government Act 2003, is that the Best Value

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Authorities Staff Transfers (Pensions) Direction 2007 requires this to be applied to those in the best value authorities. So under the existing scheme and direction the provisions relate only to those who are in best value authorities. It does not apply to those members of the LGPS who are employed by other local authorities and other members of the LGPS.

The agreement reached on the position beyond 2014 would provide for all LGPS members who are compulsorily transferred to be able to retain their membership of the scheme subject to the valuations provided in the scheme. I thought that the easiest thing to help the Government out of this one would be to tack on to the back end of the repeals process at the end of the Bill, when everybody is packing their bags to go home, something that simply says that we repeal the direction order. I am informed that it is not possible to do so in that form, but that one way or the other the Government intend to repeal the directions order. If the Minister could tell me how he proposes to do that, and preferably when, my particular concern about this group of amendments might be met.

The measure I am discussing is essentially part of the fair play aspects although the directions order covers slightly wider issues. However, the repeal is essential to achieve what I think most of us are agreed should apply beyond 2014 in the case of the local government scheme. I am really asking the Government to tell us how they are going to do the tidying up. If we cannot do it by repealing that order, how can we do it, and how can we do it so that there is no differentiation between LGPS members who happen to be employed by different member funds of the LGPS scheme? I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me that when he winds up. I hope that that will satisfy me.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I start with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. As he says, the LGPS differs from the unfunded schemes in several respects. While the current fair deal does not technically apply to that scheme, a similar principle is contained in the Local Government Act 2003. That Act requires the Secretary of State to make a direction to specify how pension issues are to be dealt with when staff are transferred out from a best value authority.

The noble Lord is understandably concerned to understand how the Government intend to implement the new fair deal policy for the LGPS, given this existing provision. The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently considering how best to do it. Should it prove necessary to amend the 2003 Act to implement the new fair deal policy, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government will do so at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope that I have given him the answers that he was seeking.

As regards the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson, the Government have stated a number of times—both in this House and the other place—that we are committed to reforming the fair deal. There are provisions in the Bill to facilitate this. Indeed, the government amendments in this group are concerned with fair deal, which I shall come to in a minute, and work is under way to determine how this commitment will be implemented.

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However, consultation closed only yesterday on some of the final policy details of fair deal. We are in the final stages of planning for its implementation. Therefore, in our view there is no need to refer to fair deal in the Bill in the way proposed and we believe that the amendment has serious flaws. As drafted, it would commit the Government to bringing forward proposals for ensuring that compulsorily transferred members of public service schemes can remain in those schemes. It would also seem to commit the Government to bring forward the proposals for the purpose of ensuring that compulsorily transferred staff can remain in their schemes, effectively committing government to implementing the proposals. However, it would not be appropriate to give any member of the scheme an unconditional right to remain an active member if their contract of employment was transferred to an independent contractor. While, of course, it is the Government’s aim that transferred employees would have a right to remain in the scheme when transferred out of the public sector, this right cannot be unconditional. While in the vast majority of circumstances it will be appropriate for fair deal to apply, there may be some cases when it would not.

There have been examples in the past, notably during the financial crisis, of highly paid specialist financial staff who have been brought into government for a time-limited period, and then transferred to independent employers. Although it may have been right to offer these staff access to the schemes while working in government, it would not be appropriate to allow them to retain access to the schemes when they leave, especially as the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for paying these pensions.

Similarly, on the wording of this amendment, a member of staff who was transferred out and then voluntarily moved off the public service contract to do purely private work could remain a member of the public service scheme. Again, this would not be right. The public service pension schemes are in place for those doing public service work, not for everyone who was once engaged in public service work at some point in their career.

These examples demonstrate that the implementation of the fair deal is complex. The Government are carefully considering these complexities to ensure there are no unintended consequences when the policy comes into force. Given this, it is the Government’s view that the fair deal commitment should not be on the face of the Bill. However, I can assure noble Lords that the fair deal will be implemented when we have done all the necessary work.

I hope that I can explain why government Amendment 42 is necessary. This amendment is concerned with people who are admitted to a public service pension scheme but who are not part of the main public service workforces listed in Clause 1. For example, it could apply to staff employed by a hospice who are offering services under a contract to the NHS and whose employer would like them to have the advantage of the NHS Pension Scheme. It is important to note that this amendment does not affect any of the main workforces in Clause 1. It can apply only to other people who are admitted into the scheme under the extension power in Clause 24.

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Under the proposed new fair deal, a range of private and third sector bodies will be able to participate in these schemes in future. The amendment is concerned with ensuring that the schemes can be appropriately modified to reflect differences in the structure and nature of those diverse bodies. First, the amendment clarifies that scheme regulations may make special provisions in respect of people who are allowed to participate in the public schemes. The health and local government pension schemes already have a wealth of experience in providing for admitted bodies. The special provisions that are currently applied to those schemes include requirements for indemnities, guarantees, additional record-keeping, et cetera. These provisions are needed to ensure that the body meets the costs of participating in the scheme. The amendment would also allow for modifications that have already been made in respect of admitted bodies in the National Health scheme to be carried forward to the new schemes. Such modifications currently relate to about 60,000 scheme members and it is important that these can be maintained.

Secondly, the amendment allows for modifications to be made where bodies are admitted to the schemes in the future. Where scheme regulations provide for it, the responsible authority will be able to issue a direction to modify how the scheme applies to the staff of a body that is brought into the scheme. The NHS Pension Scheme currently makes between 100 and 150 such directions every year. Allowing for modifications to be made via an administrative direction will ensure that the scheme is applied appropriately in each case without the need to legislate for every single one or the delays that that would cause.

The Bill provides that a direction may be made only for permitted purposes. Those are that the modification is necessary to protect the public purse from costs arising from that body participating in the scheme, where additional information requirements are needed to allow the scheme and the risks to be managed properly by the scheme manager or to reflect the nature of the employment or the structure of the employer. This is not a new or novel power. The Secretary of State for Health has had broader powers to modify the health pension schemes since 1967. For those who wish to study the details, those powers are to be found in Section 7 of the Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1967. The power explicitly set out by this amendment is more restrictive in scope than this existing power, which provides unfettered scope to modify the existing health schemes. The important safeguards set out in our amendment will ensure that any modifications are appropriate. Allowing bodies to participate in the schemes under Clause 24 will usually be as a result of fair deal. In such circumstances it would not be appropriate for modifications to alter members’ benefits in any way. Modifications that relate to fair deal transfers will, therefore, be limited to ensuring that employers meet their liabilities in full or provide the information necessary to run the schemes properly. I hope I have succeeded in explaining why we think that that amendment is necessary.

Amendment 43 relates to the locally administered public service pension schemes. Under Clause 24(3), scheme regulations may specify bodies or persons that may be permitted to participate in the scheme. It is

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anticipated that the regulations will prescribe the types of body that may be permitted: for example, a body that is providing services related to the main scheme workforce or a body that staff are transferred to under fair deal. Clause 24(5) then provides for an administrative determination to be made to extend the scheme to persons employed by such a body. Clause 24(8) requires an up-to-date list of persons to whom the scheme has been extended.

All these functions sit with the responsible authority. Our amendment allows for the functions in Clause 28(5) and (8) to be delegated to the scheme manager in a locally administered scheme. This is subject to any condition that the responsible authority considers appropriate. This reflects current practice in the local government scheme, in which it is the local authority that determines to admit a body to its pension fund. There are more than 5,000 admitted bodies in the local government scheme, and local authorities are best placed to determine their eligibility to participate in the scheme and to assist in administering the list of those who participate. They will do so within the limits of the scheme regulations set by the responsible authority. In turn, it is the local authorities that will be responsible for managing and administering the scheme for that body. They will collect data, contributions and provide benefit information and pensions to members.

I commend Amendments 42 and 43 to the House.

6.30 pm

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: My Lords, I have indicated in relation to the government amendments that elucidation would be gratefully received. Accordingly, I thank the Minister.

In relation to my amendment, I have listened carefully to him. We are clearly both trying to achieve the same objective and I immediately appreciate the complexity in having to draft these issues. What he has said is dense, but in a good way, and I wish to read it more carefully. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.

Clause 12 : Employer cost cap

Amendments 22 and 23 not moved.

Amendment 24

Moved by Lord Whitty

24: Clause 12, page 8, line 2, at end insert—

“(10) This section does not apply to the Local Government Superannuation Scheme.”

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sorry if this amendment appears to be another bit of LGPS exceptionalism but I hope that it can actually clarify the situation. There is a bit of confusion between Clauses 12 and 13. On my interpretation, Clause 12 applies to all schemes, whereas Clause 13, to which I have little objection, provides for funded schemes. However, if Clause 12 indeed applies to funded and unfunded schemes, it will cause some difficulty for the agreement that has

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been reached on the new cost-management system for the LGPS. As the clause stands, it does not reflect the dual process required by the LGPS and the separate cost management that was negotiated.

We have received some relatively friendly indications from the Treasury that it recognises this problem and we would like assurances from the Minister that the Government recognise the dual process. The other implication for the LGPS is that it is ahead of the other schemes in terms of the 2014 start date. I would therefore welcome reassurance from the Minister that the ability of the Treasury, at various points that are set out, to override a funded scheme—in this case, the LGPS—would not be applied to a scheme that had its own government-endorsed cost-management process in place. If I can have that confirmation, or something like it, I would not press the amendment. Clarification would also be useful on whether the whole of Clause 12 is indeed intended to apply to funded schemes. I beg to move.

Lord Newby: I hope that I can go at least some way in giving the noble Lord the reassurances that he seeks. The Government recognise the unique nature of the LGPS and that the cost-control mechanism for that scheme must reflect it. We have therefore developed a dual process to which the noble Lord referred, which will give scheme stakeholders additional flexibility to manage costs, while allowing the Government to retain final control over the costs and design of the scheme.

Clause 12 will provide for the Government to retain this overall control. They will use these provisions to put in place an automatic backstop which will apply if the scheme costs become unsustainable. The additional flexibilities that we will give to scheme stakeholders in their management of costs will operate alongside this backstop. As the noble Lord knows, this mechanism has been developed after extensive discussions with the LGA and the trade unions. We are confident that it will work and that the process envisaged is not inconsistent with the provisions in the Bill.

I know that this is not the noble Lord’s intention, but the effect of the amendment would be to remove the backstop that is part of the agreed mechanism. Given the importance of the cost-cap mechanism in ensuring the future sustainability of all the schemes, it is vital that the LGPS is covered by these statutory provisions in exactly the same way as the other schemes. All schemes need this mechanism to ensure that they are a sustainable way to provide good pensions that last. There is simply no reason to exempt the schemes. I hope that that will help to satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who clearly recognises the cost-management system that was agreed by the stakeholders of the LGPS. That is now on the record. I am not attempting to sabotage a backstop. However, Clause 12 looks to be a rather more interventionist clause than a backstop would imply. Nevertheless, if it is simply a backstop and the noble Lord recognises that the agreed system will work and will have government backing, then I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 24 withdrawn.

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Clause 18 : Restriction of existing pension schemes

Amendment 25

Moved by Lord Davidson of Glen Clova

25: Clause 18, page 10, line 25, after “scheme” insert “except for a Scottish scheme, where the closing date is 31 March 2016”

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: My Lords, the aim of the amendment is to push back to 2016 the relative closing date for the Scottish LGPS.

As observed in Committee, it was thought that a greater time would be required for the Scottish scheme to be renegotiated, for scheme regulations to be drafted, for consultation to take place and for implementation to be laid down. There is certainly a view in Scotland that more time will be required for this process. Indeed, in a letter from the Scottish Finance Secretary to the Chief Secretary dated 7 September last year, it is stated that the date was “exceptionally challenging” if it were to be in 2014 or 2015. If the Minister can assure the House that the Scottish Government are now confident that they can meet the current timescale, and that trade unions and employers in Scotland have been consulted, I would plainly be in a position to reconsider whether the amendment should be advanced. At this point, however, pending what the Minister has to say, I beg to move.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is extremely straightforward, and the noble and learned Lord has asked me a question about the attitude of the Scottish Government. As I explained in Committee, the Scottish Government may think that the timetable is challenging but they have not asked for the extension of time that the amendment proposes. There has been a series of correspondence between Westminster and the Scottish Government in which there have been no calls for a delay. In fact, when the Chief Secretary wrote to the Scottish Government asking if there were any particular amendments that they would like us to consider tabling, a request for a delay was not specifically made. I should take this opportunity to reiterate that we do not believe that a delay is necessary. There is ample time—just over two years—for the Scottish Government to prepare before the existing schemes are closed. These important reforms do not come as a surprise either north or south of the border.

The noble Lord, Lord Hutton, recommended back in March 2011 that the key scheme design features should be part of a UK-wide policy framework. Everything that has been done since then, for almost two years now, has proceeded on that basis. Furthermore, the new Whitehall-administered schemes provide an excellent basis for the Scottish Government to consider when finalising their scheme designs. We are not suddenly asking the Scottish Government to start these reforms from scratch.

I should also reiterate the financial implications of introducing a delay. This would result in hundreds of millions of pounds of additional liabilities being accrued in the Scottish schemes. These additional costs would have to be met from the Scottish budget at the expense of Scottish jobs and services, something that I am sure

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all noble Lords would want to avoid. In addition to the cost implications, we should also consider the disadvantages that Scottish public service workers on lower and middle incomes would face if the reforms were delayed. They would continue to subsidise the pensions of high flyers for another year. Taking all of this into consideration, I hope that the noble Lord would feel that it would be inappropriate for us to accept this amendment.

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. It may be that the Scottish Government are treating this with a degree of insouciance because they may recognise that, after a certain event in 2014, they may have quite a lot of free time on their hands. At this point I shall withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.

Schedule 5 : Existing Pension Schemes

Amendment 26

Moved by Lord Newby

26: Schedule 5, page 32, line 27, at end insert—

“6A A scheme under paragraph 7A of Schedule 10 to the Rent Act 1977.

Exception: injury benefits and compensation benefits”

Amendment 26 agreed.

Schedule 6 : Existing injury and compensation schemes

Amendment 27

Moved by Lord Newby

27: Schedule 6, page 34, line 18, at end insert—

“1A A scheme under paragraph 7A of Schedule 10 to the Rent Act 1977.

Specified benefits: injury benefits and compensation benefits”

Amendment 27 agreed.

Schedule 7 : Final salary link

Amendment 28

Moved by Lord Newby

28: Schedule 7, page 36, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—

“(ii) such earnings as scheme regulations for the new scheme may specify, being earnings derived by the person from the new scheme service, are to be regarded as derived from the old scheme service (subject to sub-paragraph (3)).

(3) The amount of the earnings that are to be regarded as derived from the old scheme service must not be materially less than the amount of the earnings that would have been the person’s pensionable earnings derived from that service had it ended when the new scheme service ended.”

Lord Newby: My Lords, these are minor amendments that have been urged on us by scheme members. They increase the level of flexibility given to schemes and protect the value of the final salary link for benefits that have been accrued in the current schemes. The amendments concern the definition of pensionable

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earnings to be used in the new schemes and for the purposes of the final salary link. The current drafting ties the definition of pensionable earnings for the use of the final salary link to the definition of pensionable earnings for the new schemes. We have recognised, however, that in some instances this might not be desirable; for example, the differences between the calculation of career average and final salary benefits might make a shared definition incongruous.

Furthermore, we have listened to concerns that imposing a shared definition means that the value of final salary benefits could conceivably be reduced. This would go against the spirit of the Government’s commitments on the protection of the final salary link. These amendments, therefore, mean that schemes may use the same or a different definition of pensionable earnings for the purposes of the final salary link as that used for the purposes of the new scheme. This does not preclude the option of applying the definition of pensionable earnings that is used in their existing schemes for the purposes of the final salary link, if desired.

However, to make sure that the value of the final salary link cannot be undermined by using a new definition, the amendments contain a backstop protection, which is that the definition of pensionable earnings for the purposes of the final salary link may not result in the amount of earnings being materially less than they would have been had the definition provided for in the old scheme been applied when the new scheme service ended. I hope that noble Lords will find these amendments to be a suitable resolution to this issue.

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 7 sets out which periods of time should be disregarded in determining whether someone has continuity of employment for the purposes of retaining their final salary link. First, any gap, or gaps, of five years or less where the person is not a member of a public service or public body pension scheme should be disregarded. This is directly in line with the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Hutton. It allows public servants, for example, to take carer’s leave or to gain experience in the private or voluntary sectors without seeing a detrimental impact on their final salary pensions by losing this link to their future public service salary.

Secondly, and most pertinently to Amendment 30, any gaps of any length of time should be disregarded if a person was in a different public service or public body pension scheme. Again, this is to allow members to gain experience in different areas and to move from one area of public service to another. Crucially, it is also part of the Government’s very clear commitment to public servants to honour their final salary benefits. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would cut across that commitment. It would be unfair to exclude current members of the local government scheme from final salary link protections, which are being given to other public service workers. Additionally, it would create a barrier to movement between local government and other public service and public body employment.

Under paragraph 2 of Schedule 7, members of existing public service and public body final salary schemes are able to maintain their final salary link

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when they move between schemes by transferring their rights to benefits out of their old final salary schemes into their new employer’s old final salary scheme. This amendment would not affect this. However, members of local government schemes should not have to proactively transfer their benefits out of the LGPS to ensure benefiting from the Government’s commitment on protecting their final salary benefits, especially where other public service workers do not have to do this. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will withdraw his amendment.

6.45 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this is complicated territory. The way in which the Minister described the implications of my amendment is not the way in which I understand it. The LGA and the unions are concerned that Schedule 7, as it stands, could reintroduce an additional complication —an additional cost—into the LGPS scheme, which was expressly removed by the agreement between the LGA and the unions. That relates not so much to movement between the LGPS employer and different public sector employers but to the situation with people who have been employed by one LGPS employer, who then leave and come back. I do not specifically stand by the wording in the amendment, so I shall withdraw it shortly. However, the Government need to make it clear where the responsibility lies. It seems to us that responsibility for those in pensionable public service could see the original employer being liable rather than the final employer. That would give rise to unknown liabilities lying with the original employer and not with the employer of the individual once they return to LGPS employment.

This could carry on over a substantial number of decades, so the administrative costs of an employer trying to find out where their ex-employees have moved would be quite substantial. It is difficult to estimate, but some actuaries are telling the LGA that it could cost an additional 1% to the scheme. If that were anywhere near an accurate estimate, it would seriously jeopardise the 19.5% cost-management figure that has been built into the LGPS and would increase the overall cost to the LGPS over and above the ceiling.

I understand some of what the Minister says but, having outlined the dilemma, perhaps he could suggest some other way of doing it. At the moment, there is potentially a quite unnecessary cost loaded on to the management of the LGPS. As I say, actuaries are telling us that that could amount to a full 1% of the total cost. Even if it were half that figure, it would be a serious issue. It needs to be solved. My amendment may not solve it, but I would be grateful for more guidance from the Minister. Perhaps he could have some discussions with the LGA on this issue before the passage of this Bill is completed.

Lord Newby: My Lords, we realise that there is concern about the potential costs involved in this policy, but we do not believe that it generates unreasonable costs. It is about offering fairness and consistency. The likelihood is that most people who leave local government service for prolonged periods of time to work in

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different public service employment would not expect to return. It is therefore most likely that they will transfer their final salary benefits to their new employer’s final salary scheme. However, if liabilities for certain local government funds are increased by the risk of a final salary link attaching to future employment with different local government employers, it would be a matter for individual funds to make appropriate financial arrangements, with the help of scheme regulations if required. Undoubtedly, further discussion will be required on exactly how this should be carried forward. However, we do not believe that it is an insuperable problem for a very good feature of the scheme. We hope very much that negotiations and discussions will take place and that some of the fears of local government actuaries will turn out to be unfounded.

Amendment 28 agreed.

Amendment 29

Moved by Lord Newby

29: Schedule 7, page 36, leave out lines 41 to 43 and insert—

“(ii) such earnings as scheme regulations for the new scheme may specify, being earnings derived by the person from the new scheme service, are to be regarded as derived from the deemed transfer scheme service (subject to sub-paragraph (2A)).

(2A) The amount of the earnings that are to be regarded as derived from the deemed transfer scheme service must not be materially less than the amount of the earnings that would have been the person’s pensionable earnings derived from that service had it ended when the new scheme service ended.”

Amendment 29 agreed.

Amendment 30 not moved.

Clause 21 : Consultation

Amendment 31 not moved.

Clause 22 : Consultation and report

Amendments 32 to 34

Moved by Lord Newby

32: Clause 22, page 11, line 34, leave out from “period” to end of line 38

33: Clause 22, page 12, line 7, leave out “In the case referred to in subsection (1)(a)”

34: Clause 22, page 12, line 14, at end insert “or the Lord Chancellor”

Amendments 32 to 34 agreed.

Amendment 35 not moved.

Amendment 36

Moved by Lord Newby

36: After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—

“Procedure for retrospective provision

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(1) Where the responsible authority proposes to make scheme regulations containing retrospective provision which appears to the authority to have significant adverse effects in relation to the pension payable to or in respect of members of the scheme, the authority must first obtain the consent of the persons referred to in subsection (3).

(2) Where the responsible authority proposes to make scheme regulations containing retrospective provision which appears to the authority—

(a) not to have significant adverse effects as specified in subsection (1), but

(b) to have significant adverse effects in any other way in relation to members of the scheme (for example, in relation to injury or compensation benefits),

the authority must first consult the persons specified in subsection (3) with a view to reaching agreement with them.

(3) The persons referred to in subsections (1) and (2) are the persons (or representatives of the persons) who appear to the responsible authority to be likely to be affected by the provision if it were made.

(4) The responsible authority must, in a case falling within subsection (1) or (2), lay a report before the appropriate legislature (as defined in section 22).

(5) In a case falling within subsection (1) or (2) there is no requirement to consult under section 21(1).”

Amendments 37 to 39 (to Amendment 36) not moved.

Amendment 36 agreed.

Clause 23 : Other procedure

Amendments 40 and 41

Moved by Lord Newby

40: Clause 23, page 12, line 34, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) section (Procedure for retrospective provision)(1) or (2) (procedure for retrospective provision having significant adverse effects) applies.”

41: Clause 23, page 12, line 36, at end insert “or

(c) they are scheme regulations for a scheme relating to the judiciary, unless the pension board for that scheme has stated that it considers the regulations to be minor or wholly beneficial.”

Amendments 40 and 41 agreed.

Clause 24 : Extension of schemes

Amendments 42 and 43

Moved by Lord Newby

42: Clause 24, page 13, line 19, leave out subsections (6) and (7) and insert—

“(6) By virtue of a determination under subsection (5) the scheme regulations then apply to the persons to whom the determination relates as they apply to other persons to or in respect of whom pensions and other benefits are provided under the scheme (or such class of other persons as may be specified in the determination).

(7) Subsection (6) is subject to—

(a) any special provision made in the scheme regulations, and

(b) a direction under subsection (7A).

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(7A) Scheme regulations made under subsection (2) or (3) in relation to any persons may include provision authorising the responsible authority by direction to modify provisions of the regulations in their application to those persons for the purpose of—

(a) securing appropriate protection against additional costs to the scheme that might result from the application of the scheme regulations to those persons,

(b) obtaining information about those persons, their employers and other relevant persons, or

(c) taking appropriate account of—

(i) the arrangements under which those persons are employed, and

(ii) the organisational structures of their employers.”

43: Clause 24, page 13, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) Where, by virtue of section 4(5), there is more than one scheme manager for a scheme under section 1, the responsible authority may delegate its functions under subsection (5) or (8) to the scheme managers, subject to such conditions as the responsible authority considers appropriate.”

Amendments 42 and 43 agreed.

Clause 25 : Non-scheme benefits

Amendment 44

Moved by Lord Newby

44: Clause 25, page 13, line 32, leave out “persons to whom the scheme relates” and insert “—

(a) persons within the description of persons specified in section 1(2) for which the responsible authority may make the scheme, and

(b) any other persons to whom the scheme relates by virtue of section 25.”

Lord Newby: My Lords, I turn to two government amendments to Clause 25. Amendment 44 is intended to remove any ambiguity as to the persons to whom Clause 25 applies. It has always been the Government’s intention that this clause should relate to any person who qualifies for a public service pension scheme under Clause 1(2) of the Bill, as well as any other persons to whom a scheme has been extended under Clause 24—that is, all those who are eligible for a public service scheme and not just those who are currently members of such a scheme. Doubts have been expressed about whether the clause has that effect. This amendment sets out the Government’s intentions unambiguously.

Noble Lords will remember that at Third Reading we debated a proposed amendment to Clause 25 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Noble Lords were concerned that the clause was too general in its scope and could allow local authority employers to undermine the Local Government Pension Scheme by offering alternative pension arrangements as a matter of course. The noble Lord therefore sought to exempt the Local Government Pension Scheme from Clause 25. I gave assurances in that debate that these powers did not allow eligibility for the main schemes to be overridden, nor did they allow employers to make any alternative arrangements mandatory. I stand by those assurances. In short, Clause 25 does not allow scheme managers or employers to act in the unscrupulous manner that a number of noble Lords feared.

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However, I am aware that some people, particularly in the local government sector, still have a lingering nervousness about the clause. The LGA and others have explained that, while they accept that the clause cannot lawfully be used in this way, they remain concerned that some employers will misrepresent it. To put the matter beyond doubt, the Government tabled this amendment, which makes the use of Clause 25 subject to any provisions contained in scheme regulations. It makes it clear that provisions in scheme regulations take priority. Furthermore, it will be open to scheme regulations to restrict how the Clause 25 power is used in the scheme, if that is thought appropriate. My officials discussed the amendment with the LGA and I understand that it is content with this approach. I trust that this provides a further level of reassurance. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I simply thank the Minister for tabling these amendments. Amendment 45 in particular clarifies the position significantly.

Amendment 44 agreed.

Amendment 45

Moved by Lord Newby

45: Clause 25, page 13, line 32, at end insert—

“( ) Subsection (1) is subject to any provision made in the scheme regulations for the scheme that restricts or otherwise affects the power to make payments under that subsection.”

Amendment 45 agreed.

Schedule 8 : Consequential and minor amendments

Amendments 46 and 47

Moved by Lord Newby

46: Schedule 8, page 40, line 36, at end insert—

“15A In section 11 of that Act (provision against pensions under two or more judicial pension schemes), at the end there is inserted—

“(5) This section does not prevent a scheme under section 1 of the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 having effect in relation to a person”.”

47: Schedule 8, page 42, leave out line 33 and insert—

“Schedule 1, paragraph 2(1).

Schedule 2, paragraph 1A.”

Amendments 46 and 47 agreed.

Amendment 48

Moved by Lord Newby

48: Schedule 8, page 42, line 37, at end insert—

“Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (c. 10)

In Schedule 4 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (transfer of employees etc of Legal Services Commission), in paragraph 4 (pension schemes), after sub-paragraph (2) there is inserted—

12 Feb 2013 : Column 628

“(2A) Where an individual who is employed in the civil service of the State by virtue of paragraph 1(1)—

(a) was a member of a relevant LSC scheme immediately before the transfer day,

(b) had been a member of that scheme immediately before 1 April 2012, and

(c) becomes, on or after the transfer day, a member of a civil service scheme,

the individual is to be regarded, for the purposes of section 18(5) of the Public Service Pensions Act 2013, as having been a member of the civil service scheme immediately before 1 April 2012.

(2B) In sub-paragraph (2A)—

(a) “relevant LSC scheme” means a scheme made or treated as made under paragraph 10(1) of Schedule 1 to the Access to Justice Act 1999;

(b) “civil service scheme” means a scheme under section 1 of the Superannuation Act 1972.””

Lord Newby: My Lords, this amendment rectifies a small oversight that occurred as a result of the large number of moving pieces in the machinery of government and it corrects a small injustice that might otherwise have affected staff in the Legal Services Commission. Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, these members of staff will become civil servants from 1 April this year. The Government’s intention is, and always has been, that they will be treated in exactly the same way as other civil servants. This includes access to the transitional protection offered under the pension reforms.

Unfortunately, without this amendment the staff of the Legal Services Commission would fall between two stools. They would not be members of a public service scheme that could be included in Schedule 10 to the Bill, nor would they have been members of the Civil Service scheme on 1 April 2012. They would therefore not have been eligible for the transitional protection for those close to their current normal pension age.

I should add that this is an isolated issue. The staff of the Legal Services Commission are the only members of the Civil Service scheme who would have been left out in 2015. This is because they are the only ones to transfer in between 1 April 2012 and the enactment of the Bill. This amendment rectifies that very small problem. I beg to move.

Amendment 48 agreed.

Amendment 49 not moved.

7 pm

Amendment 50

Moved by Lord Dubs

50: Before Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—

“Amendment to the Railways Act 1993

(1) The Railways Act 1993 is amended as follows.

(2) In Schedule 11 (pensions), after paragraph 11 there shall be inserted—

“11A (1) This paragraph applies if an insolvency event occurs in relation to the employer or former employer of a protected person.

12 Feb 2013 : Column 629

(2) Where this paragraph applies, the Secretary of State shall become liable to discharge any liabilities in respect of relevant pension rights, to the extent that they are not discharged by the trustees of a new scheme in which the employer was a participating employer.

(3) For the purposes of this paragraph—

(a) “insolvency event” has the meaning set out in section 121 of the Pensions Act 2004;

(b) “relevant pension rights” means the relevant pension rights referred to in paragraph 6(3) above.

11B The duty referred to in paragraph 11A also applies if an insolvency event has occurred in relation to the employer or former employer of a protected person on or after 1 October 1994.””

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the amendment stems from the situation that arose on 31 March 2010 when Jarvis, a rail maintenance company, went into administration. The amendment is not intended to make any new demands but simply to close what I think was an unforeseen loophole in the Railways Act 1993. Schedule 11 to that Act was intended to provide railway workers employed by British Rail at the time of rail privatisation with the right to a protected pension. This amendment is intended to restore that right.

In other instances where rail companies collapsed or gave up contracts, the workforce had always been transferred to other companies, but this did not happen with Jarvis, due to complex reasons related to the application of the transfer of undertakings regulations. Nevertheless, many of the Jarvis workers who had been employed by British Rail at the time of privatisation rightly expected that at least their pensions would be protected by the 1993 Act. It was then discovered that the Act does not cover cases of companies going into administration, which meant that these workers simply lost out. It is estimated that some 650 former Jarvis workers have been affected, and that the cost of meeting the pensions shortfall that would arise from accepting this amendment would be in the region of £400,000. The amendment would also honour the spirit of the Railways Act 1993 and ensure that in the unlikely event that another successor company to British Rail went into administration and the work was not transferred to another company, any affected workers who were also employed by British Rail in 1993 would have their pensions fully protected.

I am seeking to put right something that was not foreseen and which clearly represents an unfairness and an injustice. Jarvis’s former BR employees are not receiving the protection that was promised at the time of privatisation. The major flaw in the protection order is that it is an obligation on the employer, but where the employer disappears it seems that there is no entity to take up that obligation. That is obviously a serious gap in the original privatisation process, and the former BR members employed by Jarvis were misled by the UK Government as a result. They expected to get the pensions to which they were entitled, instead of the much lower one they ultimately received.

I do not think that this amendment was debated in the House of Commons because it was not reached. If it was passed, it would mean that the British Government had honoured an obligation and a promise made at the time of privatisation that employees’ pension rights would be protected so that they were at least

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as favourable as the rights they enjoyed under the BR pension scheme. The new clause would provide the protection sought.

However, I understand that there is another option which the Minister may prefer. Under the terms of the Railways Act 1993, the Government could introduce an order to rectify the situation. The Minister therefore has two options. He can either accept the amendment or he can achieve the same end in another way. This is a matter of honour and integrity, and I think it is only right that several hundred workers should not be penalised due to something that was really only an administrative oversight. I beg to move.

Lord Newby: My Lords, as the noble Lord has explained, his concern relates to a situation that has arisen for people covered by the railways pension scheme, which is a very different kind of scheme from those covered by this Bill. That scheme was created as a railway industry-wide pension scheme for the multi-employer railway industry following privatisation. It is a unitised fund made up of a number of different sections, only one of which is underwritten by the taxpayer. Moreover, the scheme focuses predominantly on those working for private sector employers in the rail industry. Conversely, while some of the public service pension schemes in scope of the Bill may admit certain private or third sector organisations, they are predominantly focused on workers in the public sector. I will attempt to respond briefly to the points raised in the noble Lord’s amendment, but I am afraid that the primary focus of his attention should be my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The amendment would create a liability for the taxpayer to underwrite any shortfall in a railways pension scheme section. This underwriting would be required if the section develops a shortfall as a result of the insolvency of a participating employer or former employer who is the employer or former employer of a “protected person”. Protected persons are beneficiaries of the section who still retain certain rights deriving from British Rail days and enshrined in regulations made under the Railways Act 1993 in relation to their pension: for example, if their employer is obliged to provide pension scheme rights “no less favourable” than the relevant pension rights in their former designated pension scheme from British Rail days.

Let me set out the current position. As I have said, the railways pension scheme is a unitised fund that is divided up into sections. There tends to be one section for each employer. Most participating employers in relation to sections of the pension scheme are private sector railway operating companies. Only two sections of the scheme benefit from a solvency guarantee from government. The first of these is the “1994 Pensioners Section”, a closed section that deals primarily with the residual, deferred and pensioner members of the former British Rail pension schemes at the time of privatisation. The second is the “BR Section”, a section comprising a small category of contributing members and beneficiaries deriving from the former British Rail pension scheme. Even if the amendment were within the scope of the Bill, the Government do not believe that it is appropriate to amend the existing legislation in relation to railway

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pensions, as set out in the Railways Act 1993 and regulations made under it, and create a further liability for the taxpayer, as the amendment seems to propose.

The noble Lord has tabled the amendment specifically because of the Jarvis case. One employer, Jarvis, made use of the railways pension scheme, but has become insolvent. In a situation where the sponsoring employer of a section of the railways pension scheme no longer supports the pension’s scheme, there are complex legal requirements affecting how the scheme should operate in the future. The trustee of the RPS has been working with the Pension Protection Fund to understand whether the three sections of the RPS affected in this case are eligible for support from the Pension Protection Fund. The three sections are currently still in an assessment period. In the mean time, the trustee retains responsibility for paying benefits, although the Pension Protection Fund provides guidance on how the trustee should do this.

I hope that my explanation has provided some clarity for the noble Lord, although I appreciate that he might not have got the help he seeks. However, I hope that he will understand me when I say that the railways pension scheme is not a public service pension scheme in the same way as those being legislated for here, and that this is not the appropriate place to deal with the very important matters he has raised.

Lord Dubs: The Minister has given me a fairly complicated explanation and I think I would not be out of order if I said that I want to study it in Hansard rather than comment on it directly, particularly since I am not an expert on the intricacies of this issue. However, the outcome is disappointing. No one is challenging the principle that these Jarvis workers should have been better looked after than they were, given the commitments that were made at the time of railways nationalisation, so what has happened is rather unfortunate. This does not seem to be a fair outcome, whatever the technical process by which the Minister has reached his conclusion.

I should like to make two comments. The Minister has suggested that I should address my comments to the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that he will be helpful to me if I redirect my arguments to the Secretary of State. I have no Bill under which to do that, although there may be other ways. I look forward to receiving the Minister’s help. Also, under the terms of the Railways Act 1993 maybe the Government could introduce an order to rectify the situation. The Minister did not comment on that suggestion, but I wonder whether he could take it away as an alternative to the other option he put forward. However, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 50 withdrawn.

Clause 36 : Regulations, orders and directions

Amendment 51

Moved by Lord Newby

51: Clause 36, page 20, line 26, after “Service” insert “or the Lord Chancellor”

Amendment 51 agreed.

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Arrangement of Business

Announcement

7.09 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, because the Question for Short Debate of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, will now be taken as last business, the time limit for the debate becomes 90 minutes rather than 60 minutes. Speeches should therefore be limited to nine minutes, except for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and that of the Minister, which remain limited to 10 and 12 minutes respectively.

Crime: Women's Safety

Question for Short Debate

7.10 pm

Asked By Lord Desai

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the publication on 10 January by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics of An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, what steps they are taking to protect women’s safety in the United Kingdom.

Lord Desai: My Lords, it is my pleasure to introduce an important theme in our series of Questions for Short Debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak. Peers from all sides have joined; and not too many, so we all have enough time to discuss this issue.

I was in Delhi when the horrible gang-rape incident happened on 16 December. I observed the amazing upsurge of movement among men and women in India, which later spread to other parts of the world, about the very urgent question of women’s safety as they go about the ordinary business of life—both inside and outside their homes. That is very important. This is not just a local Indian problem but a world-wide one. When I got back, I saw that the Government had issued an excellent document. The Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the ONS had published a statistical bulletin, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, which I want to use as a background to introduce the question of women’s safety.

First, although it is a very good document—it lays out the complexity of the issues, the different statistics, and the different sources and definitions with which we have to deal in judging the extent and seriousness of crime against women—parts of the problem are not covered in it. It relates mainly to adult women, aged 16 to 59, and therefore avoids the important question of children. There have been scandals in Rochdale, Derby and Torbay relating to the grooming of young girls and their exploitation. Perhaps other noble Lords will take up that issue. There is also the question of the abuse of elderly women. There are many other facets of the problem, which I hope other noble Lords will bring out.

The way the document lays out the issues emphasises one thing. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, only 15% of the victims of adverse sexual events actually report the case to the police. What we

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have in the statistics of police action on complaints is a very small part of the total problem. We ought to give some thought to how we can increase the rate of complaints and encourage women not to withdraw into a shell if they have had a horrible sexual experience and how we can encourage them to come out and complain.

A major difficulty with rape and other sexual assaults is that 85% to 90% of the perpetrators of the crime are known to the victim. They are partners, somebody in the family or somebody the victim knows very well. Part of the reluctance to complain may be that you might be harming a family member or friend. We ought to set up ways, perhaps after asking experts, to make the extent of the problem more visible to the police and the criminal justice system than it is at present. If we do that, we may be able to find out even more than before.

One rather tragic example is that of Frances Andrade, who was abused when she was a student at a music school. The case came to light many years later and she tragically died while the court case was going on. That shows us that women undergo a huge amount of bad experiences but somehow or other they are reluctant to, forbidden from or cajoled against complaining. We ought to deal with that as a first step.

If you bring together rape, sexual threats and indecent exposure, one woman in five experiences something sexually unpleasant. That is a very large number. It seems to be that practically every woman has an unpleasant experience in their life and somehow we do not find ways of getting around it. Half a million adult women are victims of sexual offences. Typically, according to the survey, the women who are more vulnerable to such attacks are young—16 to 19 years-old—are single or separated, have a low income, are sometimes students and are often physically unwell or disabled, as well as economically inactive. We have a profile of a vulnerable person who is more likely to be predated upon, and when we devise our systems for encouraging them to complain, following through what has happened to them and getting justice for them, we ought to look at this profile very carefully and find out how, based on that profile, we can add better things to protect these women’s lives than we have otherwise done.

I have very little complaint about the way the police operate and the courts go through with a complaint after it has been made. Perhaps other noble Lords will know more about that. There is of course a problem of delay. It seems that it takes more than a year from the beginning, when the police register the complaint, to the end of the process. It may be that this is inevitable—you must not hurry a process in such a way that may make injustice more likely, and we want to be scrupulously fair both to the victim and the offender and not prejudge the issue. Have the Government thought about any means for speeding up this process, while preserving the scrupulous care with which we administer justice? The victims would have some guarantee that there would be a somewhat speedier resolution to their problem than at present.

I do not want to take up all my 10 minutes, because I think other noble Lords will want to say more. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister say what the Government are doing to tackle this problem.

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7.18 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in her influential review into how rape complaints were, and maybe are still, handled—I have to say that the noble Baroness should be speaking earlier than me in this debate—concluded that,

“it is time to take a broader approach”—

broader, that is, than relying on the conviction rate—

“to measuring success in dealing with rape”.

She talked in the report of,

“a range of priorities that needs to be balanced”,

in particular by giving “higher priority” to,

“Support and care for victims”,

as well as of helping,

“the victim to make sense of the police and prosecution processes”.

As the noble Lord said, if we did not understand the need for that before, the response of Frances Andrade to the prosecution of Michael Brewer has made it shockingly vivid.

The Government’s progress review of the action plan on ending violence against women and girls reported that a number of actions had been completed to identify ways to improve communication with victims of sexual violence. The actions taken were the completion of a Home Office handbook and a CPS booklet. Perhaps this issue needs to be revisited. The Home Secretary acknowledged last week that Frances Andrade’s suicide might discourage others from coming forward with complaints.

In late 2011, I attended a conference at New Scotland Yard for SOIT—sexual offences investigation trained; this is a new acronym to me—officers. I was impressed by the concern then shown by police to extend understanding and professionalism in this work, but I wonder whether this is still not something which is often better recognised by the more senior officers. Has it trickled down to the junior officers who will respond initially to complaints and offences?

What also made an impression on me were some of the comments made by victims of sexual offences, though “victims” seems to me to be the wrong word, because the women in question presented themselves very much as survivors. I looked this morning at the notes that I made. They included: “Victims have lots to lose … villains are the defence teams and the judiciary”—I recognise that that is a pretty complicated area and I do not want to be too simplistic, but this is the reaction—and “getting DNA on the database is regarded as a result”. What all that amounts to is the victim not being taken sufficiently seriously and not being treated as any of us would feel we or people whom we know to be in this situation would want to be treated.

Since I thought that we would have even less time available this evening than we have, my focus in preparing my remarks was deliberately narrow, although there is one other particular issue which I will come to in a moment. The noble Lord’s referring to how women are treated inside the home as well as outside prompts me to mention, though not at length, domestic violence. Another point that he made which is similar to what I have been saying was about the attitude of less senior

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police officers. When I mentioned this in a debate not long ago in the presence of a retired, very senior police officer who is a Member of this House, he took me to task afterwards. I raised the matter also with the chief executive of a domestic violence charity with which I used to be associated and she said, “No, the attitude has not changed. We’d like to think it has, but it hasn’t, certainly not to the extent that would be appropriate”.

The other issue that I will slot in, and on which public awareness is probably about 20 years behind that on domestic violence—which is how I have heard others describe it—is that of trafficking of women. Here I make a plea for imaginative understanding of victims. That ranges from how immigration issues are dealt with through response to minor offending by the victims of trafficking to treating the trauma which they have experienced.

It is not a very good idea to add to my speech in a rather disorganised way a whole lot of scattered points, so let me come back to the other item that I wanted to raise. The report which is the subject of this debate inevitably presents snapshots, but it is trends which are the most important. I am not saying that trends are completely ignored by the report, because one trend which is very clear within it is the steady rise in the number of offenders in prison for sexual offences, from around 6,000 in 2005 to almost 10,000 in 2011. That suggested to me that offender management is not succeeding, but then I came across the statistic that more than 80% of those offenders had not previously been cautioned or convicted for sexual offences. I am not sure how these statistics lie together and whether the Government have any comment to make on them, nor am I sure whether they are affected by a tendency to prosecute for a lesser offence than rape, which I presume is to ensure a conviction. Perhaps the questions on this should all be about the rehabilitative skills which will be available in the world of payment by results that we all see coming along the track.

I cannot get away from the thought that perhaps no distinction is being made with other offenders and that the best approach to rehabilitation as well as punishment is the big question. However, I shall return to where I started: I heard it said the other day that someone who is murdered is murdered once—I do not condone that, of course—whereas someone who is raped is raped over and over again, because that trauma is experienced again and again. In the system’s treatment of victims, we would do well to remember that.

7.27 pm

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for securing this debate, which is timely for many reasons, and for his good judgment in knowing that we would in the end be given nine minutes instead of five—that was extremely prescient of him. I am very glad that he cited in the title of his debate the Office for National Statistics publication, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales. I take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics for producing this compendium and for the hard and painstaking work that has gone into it.

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When I was working in 2010 on the report on the treatment of rape complainants by public authorities, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, so kindly mentioned, I was struck many times by how confusing, uninformative and contradictory the official statistics were and how unhelpful they were in enabling people to have any understanding of what might happen to them if they were to enter the system. I therefore recommended in my report that clearer data be produced by the Office for National Statistics so that victims and the wider public would have a better idea of what might await them and how people are dealt with. At last, we have such information and it is very welcome.

I shall refer to just two points in the authoritative report that we are discussing today—I hope that it will be widely read, because there is much in it that is useful and which helps us to understand, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, the complexity of the subject. First, it says that between 2008-09 and 2011-12, the number of rape offences reported to the police increased by 22%. Secondly, it notes that conviction rates for all rapes—of females and males—increased between 2005 and 2011 by 9.9%, and that the conviction rate in 2011 was 51.8%. I understand that the figures for 2012 are somewhat higher. These changes in reporting and conviction are substantial moves in the right direction and reflect the profound changes that have taken place in the police, the prosecution service and the whole approach to serious sexual offences in the past few years.

In many places, most of the time, rape services are better trained and investigations and prosecutions are done by specialists. According to recent research by the Association of Chief Police Officers, 19 forces now have specialist rape teams. The research suggests that these teams increase reporting, victim confidence and victims’ willingness to stay with the long drawn-out process. More victims now have access to a sexual assault referral centre as more of these centres open. Research shows that these centres are universally welcomed. Everyone in the field will tell you that they have made an enormous difference to the humanity and effectiveness of the whole process. More victims, although not nearly enough, now have an independent sexual violence adviser to guide them through the system and help them with the ordeal of going to court and understanding what will happen to them and how they can best prepare themselves for it. The system of independent sexual violence advisers is so admired that the Government of New Zealand have been advised that it should be introduced there.

These improvements are the result of the efforts of a substantial number of people in the police and prosecution service, the health service, the voluntary sector and the rape crisis movement. These are people, often with huge commitment, working together and responding more effectively and creatively to victims. I will mention three very quick examples.

In London people who have been raped can go to the sexual assault referral centres called the Havens. I declare an interest as patron of the Havens. Some of these people are prepared to report to the police and some are not. Some of them come for medical and other help and do not want to go through the criminal justice process. The Metropolitan Police have placed a

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specially trained police officer—a SOIT officer, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, explained—in the centre from 8 am to 10 pm. This officer deals with those who want to report, and those who do not. Of course, it is their right not to report. Those who do not report are invited to talk to the officer anonymously, if they wish, to tell their stories without detail but to give enough information to contribute to intelligence-gathering—and perhaps prevent more rapes, as rape is often a serial offence. This must be good practice.

My second example is the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, which I am patron of, which runs a scheme to protect prostitutes from violent clients. The scheme is called Ugly Mugs. Information is collected from prostitutes who report violent clients and circulated to prostitutes who join the scheme via a website. This project has prevented much violence and rape and helped to arrest perpetrators. I thank the Home Office for supporting it and hope that the Minister will personally ensure that this support continues.

My third example is a project at a Cornwall rape crisis centre, where the counselling the centre offers to victims is now also offered through the probation service to women in trouble with the law, as a very large proportion of those women have been sexually abused in their early lives and those experiences have led them in many cases to the position they are now in.

This Government have built on the work of the previous one to ensure that we have a system that provides an all-round approach, with the victim at the centre; victim services for everyone, whether they report or not; a good healthcare response; efficient law enforcement; prevention campaigns that do not blame the victim; and work to change attitudes. There is very good news in an even more recent report from the Office for National Statistics that only 8% of the public now blame the rape victim if she is drunk or wears inappropriate clothes. That is a change from the previous set of figures.

So we have a system that works to change attitudes and is beginning to make special effort to protect the vulnerable. All this constitutes an approach that other countries want to copy, which is taking us, slowly but surely—there is indeed much more to do, including looking at the delay in cases coming to trial—from the gross deficiencies of the past to a more just and effective response.

I ask the Minister: how are the Government going to ensure that this continues? Specifically, what is the Home Office doing to inform police and crime commissioners that this work, although expensive, is very cost-effective and must be a priority? Will they keep the specialist units? What will be the exact arrangements in the reorganised NHS for providing sexual assault referral centres? Where will the responsibility lie? Where will quality assurance come from? I understand that the Minister may need to write to me about that. Finally, what do the Government envisage happening to the funding of the network of rape crisis centres and other voluntary projects that deal with many thousands of victims as local authorities face more cuts? Will the support come from central government? I look to the Minister for some reassurance on all these points.

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7.38 pm

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I welcome this debate and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for introducing it. I will focus my remarks on drawing attention to three ways in which the scourge of sexual violence against women might be tackled more effectively alongside seeking to increase the number of cases that come to the police, before making a more general point.

The report to which this debate draws our attention tells us that shocking numbers of women are victims of sexual offending. It is a horrifying reflection upon our society. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has noted that the resolution of cases that do come forward takes a long time. If this is to be addressed in the manner that he wants, there is surely a need for greater provision of resources and training for the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others involved in bringing justice to speed up the rate at which sexual offences are brought to court. Investigation has to be thorough and justice must be scrupulously pursued, but a year is a very long time for a case to reach court.

Secondly, independent domestic and sexual violence advisers and other such agencies play an invaluable role in accompanying survivors through the system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, noted. I hope that the Government are prepared to invest significantly in that crucial work. More cases might be resolved if that were to be the case; and some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about cases not being pursued or not being taken sufficiently seriously by the police might be addressed.

Thirdly, I hope that the Government will recognise that recent budget cuts have led many local councils to reduce provision of services for survivors of violence. That is a real problem. I should add that a great deal of good work continues to be done by organisations such as the Worcestershire Forum against Domestic Abuse. Many individuals and organisations in civil society work with that organisation, as they do with others.

I believe that the suggestions that I have made would be a real help, but although they are crucial, they are tackling the symptoms, terrible as they are, of a deeper malaise. Lying behind the horrifying facts that the report highlights is the increasing sexualisation of our culture, which creates an enabling environment for sexual offences to develop. I feel that acutely as the father of two daughters, one aged eight and one aged 13. Reg Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, carried out an independent review of that in 2011, and noted the concern of parents on a number of issues, including the sexualised and gender stereotyping of clothing, products and services for children and pressure on children from a range of sources to act as consumers.

Those are just the background, but I suggest that it is an important one. A lot of what we see is the result of that increasingly sexualised culture. The number of children suffering from sexual offending is one result. Reg Bailey’s report suggests a range of actions to address those concerns which deserve attention, but which I cannot go into now. Suffice it to say that, as all noble Lords will recognise, there are big issues to which I hope that the Government will pay attention.

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I add that it cannot be just the Government’s responsibility. It is good to know that attitudes to victims are changing. Much more needs to happen. Although I welcome the Question to the Government enshrined in the debate, I suggest that responsibility for tackling it lies with us all.

7.42 pm

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Desai for giving us the opportunity to debate the report tonight. It throws up some interesting statistics on sexual offences. On average, 473,000 adults are victims of sexual offences per year, and the majority are female. About 90% of the victims of the most serious sexual offences in the previous year knew the perpetrator. That comes up in every study. For example, victims of rape are often raped by people they know.

One paragraph in the report which struck me was that, of females who were victims of the most serious sexual offences in the past year, as my noble friend Lord Desai said, only 15% had reported such offences. The reasons that they cited why they did not report such incidents were that they were embarrassed, or did not think that the police could do much to help, or saw it as a private family matter, not police business. There is much to be done to encourage victims to report. Otherwise, there is not much chance of ever bringing the perpetrators to justice and they will carry on committing offences.

We know that such offences are prevalent throughout the world. Thursday marks the One Billion Rising Day, which is a global campaign calling for the end of violence against women and girls. The campaign highlights the fact that one in three women world wide will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is a terrible statistic. The One Billion Rising campaign deserves our support, which I hope that we will all give it on Thursday.

International agencies such as the UN, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have policies to deal with violence against women and girls, as does our UK Government. Whatever Government we have in office in the United Kingdom, they all address that issue.

I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of the policies of the Welsh Government on violence against women. They published a White Paper last year, and the consultation ends on 22 February. Following the consultation, they plan to introduce a new Bill, the ending violence against women and domestic abuse Bill. The Bill does not address the criminal justice issues, as the Welsh Government do not have the power to do so. It proposes that Welsh Ministers should have the power to appoint an independent ministerial adviser for ending violence against women. If the Welsh Government do that, that would be a first in United Kingdom. They wish to legislate to require local authorities and public service partners to collaborate on a local and regional level to develop and implement strategies to reduce violence against women.

The Welsh Government will commission an independent review of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence across Wales to inform future strategic direction and funding. The Welsh

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Government want to ensure that all children and young people understand the key concepts of respect, fairness and consent, which are the cornerstones of healthy relationships. They believe that such knowledge and awareness will help inform and drive their everyday decisions and underpin their expected standards of interpersonal relationships.

Although that is primarily the responsibility of parents, the Welsh Government believe that schools also have a role to play in delivering those outcomes. The personal social education framework provides some direction. They believe that more should be done to ensure that schools work actively to support and promote healthy relationships. The Welsh Government propose to ensure that education on healthy relationships is delivered to all schools in Wales. They propose to place a duty on local authorities to identify a regional champion for educational settings on ending violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, who will support schools and promote a whole-school approach.

These are exciting and great measures by the Welsh Government, and I believe that they are relevant to tonight’s debate. Now that we have devolution, different parts of the United Kingdom can do different things. In Wales, in a sense it is quite easy for us to experiment and try out new measures, because we are a small country. We have 3 million people, all in close contact with each other, and can debate these issues. Does the Minister agree with the Welsh Government on their proposals, and will he hold discussions with Welsh Ministers to see how those proposals could be implemented in England? Again, with devolution, we can all learn a lot from each other where there is good practice. We created the first Children’s Commissioner in the United Kingdom, and all the nations of the United Kingdom now have one. I hope that the Minister will agree that this is a good example for the UK Government to look at.

7.48 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for introducing this debate in what is becoming an increasingly important subject. On occasions like this, one is not often of the view that it is good to be further down the list because everybody will have said everything and one will have nothing to say. That is not my view today; I have been extremely glad to have had the opportunity to listen to previous speakers and to learn about their specific concerns. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, indications of some improvement, which is a good sign for the future, as well as the priorities for future action by the Government, so I am glad indeed to be quite near the end.

There is a huge amount to be covered on this issue and even though we had a debate quite recently, I suspect that there will be plenty of others to come. The Government’s report that is the focus of our debate today states, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, that one in five women surveyed had been a victim of a sexual offence at some point in her life since the age of 16. That such a large proportion of women in England and Wales should have experienced this sort of assault

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is yet another indication serving to highlight the urgency of the need to address the very damaging effects of the increasing sexualisation of our society.

Provocative images and language permeate all areas of our culture from film and television to song lyrics and advertising, while the amount of explicit pornographic material widely accessible on the internet continues to grow. The ubiquity of this type of material creates an environment in which, as we are seeing, more and more people are exposed to images of sexual violence which can, in turn, have a serious impact on their own attitudes, expectations and behaviour.

Particularly vulnerable to these harmful influences are children and young people. The sexual offending report records that young women aged between 16 and 19 are the age group most at risk of being victims of sexual offences, while an NSPCC survey reported that physical and emotional violence is commonplace within teenagers’ intimate relationships. It appears that many adolescents are increasingly developing damaging attitudes towards relationships where violence and bullying are accepted forms of behaviour. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, mentioned the importance of schooling in all this and, my goodness, that is very true. Of course there is parental responsibility, but schooling will have an increasing responsibility over the years.

The development of communications technology is increasing young people’s access to sexually explicit material while simultaneously reducing the ability of parents to oversee what their children are viewing. These concerns, among others, prompted me to introduce my Online Safety Bill, which I am glad to see has its supporters in the Chamber today, as it is vital that mechanisms to reduce access to explicit content are made simpler for the ordinary internet or mobile phone user and that greater responsibility is placed on the providers of internet services to ensure that their products are not being used inappropriately.

The opt-in mechanism contained within that Bill would prevent children and young people accessing pornographic material on the internet, whether accidentally or otherwise, by requiring that this material is accessible only to consumers who have purposefully chosen, by opting in, to have access to such websites. Furthermore—and this is vital—service providers would be required to verify that the consumer is over the age of 18. This second mechanism ensures that young people are protected not only from inadvertently being exposed to unsuitable material but from intentionally seeking to opt in. Sadly, we also know that some young people intentionally seek access to pornographic material, and these young people’s own behaviour can be most influenced by the images to which they are exposed. As we all know, having had talks about trafficking children, the group to whom this whole approach is most dangerous is those who have been in care for a long time but have nowhere that they can turn to.

Sexual violence in all its forms, as we have heard, is extremely dangerous and damaging for individuals and for society as a whole. I certainly believe—as I am sure others do, too—that it is vital that we seek to redress this situation wherever and however it occurs, including in the digital arena. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I look forward to hearing what plans

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the Government will in future be making to protect women’s safety in the UK so that, with the increased services that are already being provided, we can begin to feel more confident that this kind of behaviour will diminish rather than increase.

7.56 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for introducing this very important topic in your Lordships’ House. I speak as somebody who supports an organisation in Derby, where I am the bishop, called Safe and Sound Derby. It works particularly with women who are the victims of sexual exploitation, violence and abuse. In this debate, I feel that I really need to speak as a Bishop. It seems less obvious to do that when we are discussing pensions, public service and such things but in this debate I want to speak specifically from these Benches as a Bishop.

That is because the Government have the unenviable but vital and necessary task of trying to regulate behaviour. Ever since JS Mill in the 19th century, we have seen Governments trying to regulate behaviour to protect the individual’s right to be who they want and to do what they want. It is difficult to regulate people’s behaviour without—and this is where the church has a role, so I speak as a Bishop—looking at the ideas, imaginations and inner motives within people that lead them to claim freedoms which, in the terms of this debate, have such terrible consequences upon other people, such as violence against women and abuse.

In their attempts to regulate behaviour, the Government need to be in dialogue with faith communities and churches, which are particularly concerned with people’s inner motives and moral values, and the framework within which to try to live their lives. Our culture is dominated by people’s right to feel something, express it and be who they want to be. That has many great effects and outcomes but it also has some terrible ones, as we are hearing in this debate. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the terrible profusion of pornography and the freedom to access, make and trade it—and to involve people in it. Starting from the base of what people feel they want has seen an inordinate explosion of promiscuity in our society in the past 30 or 40 years, and enormous stress in personal lives. My right reverend colleague the Bishop of Worcester referred to the sexualisation of young people and a sexualised society.

Most violence and sexual abuse takes place in a private space. That is why it is difficult for the Government on their own to legislate about behaviour. Motives, ideas and imaginings can be explored in private spaces, and that creates an atmosphere where people feel intimidated, disoriented and unsure what private space should be about. There are no public norms; you are suddenly in a very small space if you are subject to this kind of abuse and violence. So, besides the Government working with agencies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has said, and the structures in proposals in the excellent report, I invite us to think about how the Government can work with a problem that largely takes place in private space, below the radar—people claiming their freedom to be who they want to be.

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One way of entering into the private space where most of this abuse takes place is through voluntary groups. The Safe and Sound project in Derby, which I support, works with victims and parents in their domestic settings, trying to help them understand what has happened to them and what values those domestic settings need to be about and to defend. In the past nine months in Derby, which is not a large city, Safe and Sound has dealt with 117 young people as well as older women.

We should note that not all these women and girls come from difficult backgrounds. I know that the statistics point that way but this very week in the Derby Telegraph, our local paper, there have been articles on three consecutive days about cases of children from very established and well-off homes being groomed and drawn out of those. The whole ethos of being a teenager, really, is to be uncomfortable in the private space that your family creates and to want to find your own private space; that is what teenage life is about. People who enter that through the internet and other ways, such as taking girls to parties or whatever, begin to create an attractive alternative private space that does not seem to have many moral guidelines. It is called grooming, and young people are increasingly being groomed into sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

Our experience in Derby shows that grooming and abuse are not just happening in an ad hoc way; sadly, in our culture of freedom for people to behave as they think they want to and feel, grooming and abuse are highly organised. They are organised by gangs and by older men grooming younger women. It is a very scientific and commercial operation, sadly, for many people, and young women are manipulated and taken advantage of.

In this context, despite the excellence of the report, its analysis and suggestions, all the evidence shows that there is a significant shortfall in the availability of therapeutic services to deal with women who are confused about what private space is, how to defend one of some quality and how not to get drawn into private space that is abusive and damaging. I hope that the Government will take very seriously, first, the proper resourcing, as other noble Lords have mentioned, of the formal services and agencies that work in this area. Secondly, I hope that they will take seriously the resourcing of the work by voluntary groups such as Safe and Sound, which can enter into that private space of young people and their families and friendships to help people to engage and find a way out of the terrible places into which they are drawn.

Thirdly, and this echoes what the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, was saying, what steps can the Government take to be proactive in the world of education, of the formation of people’s values, priorities and a framework for those inner feelings and imaginations that are powerful in all of us? That partly includes working with schools, as the noble Baroness says, but it also includes working with faith communities and those who give priority to the values that we carry around inside us that guide us, discipline us and challenge us

Speaking as a bishop, I shall end by saying that something that is distinctive about the Christian faith is that it does not begin from saying, “I wish to decide

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how I feel and that’s who I’m going to be”. It begins from saying, “Love God and your neighbour as yourself”—that is, put others first and yourself second. That is the kind of moral and spiritual discipline that forms an adult person: not to love yourself first and do what that is about but to love others first and put yourself second. That is what Christianity is about. It is that kind of moral and spiritual discipline that is the only chance of complementing the Government’s task of providing models and guidelines of behaviour with encouraging people to learn and carry around within themselves some kind of respect and understanding of what human life is about that is based on some kind of discipline, some kind of self-denial and some kind of honouring of other people rather than oneself. I ask the Minister to comment on how the Government can complement faith groups and others to ensure that better standards of behaviour emerge not just from regulation and agencies but from moral conviction and the culture of self-discipline that make adult people proper citizens and would be a major step in bringing this terrible problem under control.

8.05 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, there is no doubt that this piece of research is invaluable. I thank my noble friend Lord Desai for initiating this debate, and commend the work that has been carried out by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics to provide an overview of the available statistics on sexual offending. I will not repeat all the somewhat depressing statistics that this research reveals, but what an important job there is still to do to reduce sexual offending and other violence against women and girls.

The plight of women suffering violence is about to have the spotlight shone on it, starting on Thursday of this week with the One Billion Rising campaign, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Gale. I hope that all noble Lords will consider joining the amazing events that are taking place all over the country on Thursday, not least outside in Parliament Square during the morning—singing, dancing and joyful as these events will be. Noble Lords can access the full menu of events if they put OBRUK into their search engine, or pop into the opposition Whips’ Office and pick up the pamphlet. These events will be joyful and respectful for women and those who love them, but they have a serious message—that violence against women is endemic across the world—and call upon Governments, parliaments and justice-makers to make this violence end. The events aim to increase awareness, raise money and revitalise existing anti-violence efforts.

The report that we are discussing tonight makes it clear that we in the UK still have a long way to go. Part of the build-up to the activities on Thursday were small events and discussions held all over the country involving thousands of women, young and old, from all kinds of backgrounds and ethnicities, and on one thing they were clear: to prevent violence against woman and girls we need to do much more to ensure that both young men and women are supported to develop positive and equal relationships with their peers. This must, of course, be true. When one in three 16 to 18 year-old girls in the UK say that they experience

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“groping” or other unwanted sexual touching at school; when more than 70% of 16 to 18 year-old girls and boys say that they routinely witness sexual harassment at school; and when, according to NSPCC research, “sexting” is linked to coercive behaviour, harassment and even violence in which girls are disproportionately affected, we know that more must be done.

There is a call for statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education, including a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, become a requirement in schools. Does the Minister agree with that? Will the Government support the proposal that is being called for? I invite the Minister to send a strong message of support to the One Billion Rising international campaign and to the millions of women across the world who will be making their voices heard on Thursday.

Violence against women and girls flourishes in societies where prejudicial attitudes towards women are deeply entrenched. In its excellent brief for this debate, End Violence Against Women makes the important point that, similar to the long-term investment that successive Governments have made in, for example, road safety campaigns to change attitudes and behaviours, there needs to be sustained investment in work to prevent violence in order to save lives and reduce the emotional, physical and financial cost of violence in the long term.

The Home Office’s strategic narrative Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls is grounded in the principles of equality and human rights and has prevention at the heart of its approach. Nevertheless, I feel that this remains the weakest part of government actions. For example, a joint inspectorates report into sex offending by boys found that in almost half the cases they examined, there had been previous harmful sexual behaviour that had been either minimised or dismissed as a one-off. In the light of this finding on boys’ sexual offending, how are the Government ensuring that all schools teach young people about sexual consent, gender equality and respectful relationships?

In a 2006 ICM poll for End Violence Against Women, 405 of 16 to 18 year-olds said that they did not receive lessons or information on sexual consent or they did not know whether they had done, and 68% of 16 to 20 year-old girls said that they did not feel they had enough information and support about abuse.

I echo and support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. An important part of this problem is media sexualisation and access to inappropriate images and behaviours involving new technology and young people. Will the Government either support the very practical Bill introduced by the noble Baroness or bring forward legislation that deals with ways of combating the illegal sale of violent and grossly pornographic films depicting all manner of degrading and violent sexual behaviour directed towards women? So far the Government have failed to take decisive action on this, so will the Minister please ensure that robust action is taken on issues such as age verification and combating children’s, particularly young men’s, access to such material?

Finally, how are the Government working across government to deal with these issues? For example, and following the wise words of the right reverend

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Prelate the Bishop of Worchester, how is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, for example, supporting the Government’s efforts to tackle media sexism and sexualisation, which provide a conducive context in which violence against women and girls flourishes?

The contributions tonight draw on the level of expertise and commitment that we have in this House to deal with these problems. This report reveals the scale of the problem. The question now is: how will the Government step up to tackle the evil of violence and sexual assault against women?

8.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach):My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for this opportunity to debate this important matter. All violence against women is completely unacceptable. It is the fundamental right of every woman and girl to live her life free of fear and violence, and it is therefore imperative that we in government remain focused and continue to raise awareness around this issue.

In introducing this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, rightly expressed the universal nature of this issue. Indeed, the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale and Lady Thornton, drew the House’s attention to One Billion Rising, which is taking place this Thursday, 14 February, and which draws attention to the universal nature of this problem. For us in this country, the scale of the issues has been shown by the report that forms the background to this debate. It was reinforced by all speakers, and particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. I also thank her for informing the House about how they are tackling this problem in Wales. As she rightly points out, we can learn a lot from the devolved Administrations on this issue, and I am very happy to take up the invitation to study the Welsh experience.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, talked about the importance of education and the key role it has to play in this. Schools can address this issue through the personal, social, health and economic education programme. When teaching about these issues, schools must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on sex and relationship education. The DfE has conducted a review of personal, social, health and economic education and will be publishing the outcome in 2013. The review was intended to take account of the outcomes of the review of the national curriculum, so this important matter is not being ignored by the Department for Education.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, and respect her for the work she has done to raise awareness on this issue. She notes that the statistics demonstrate that more work still needs to be done to tackle violence against women and girls, and I assure the House that the Government are wholly committed to continuing doing so. That is why we have: ring-fenced up to £40 million across the spending review period as stable funding for specialist local services, support services and national helplines; published a cross-government violence against women and girls strategy and action plan; announced plans to criminalise forced marriage

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in England and Wales; introduced two new stalking offences; and tested new ways to protect the victims of domestic violence.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who mentioned this, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee that we expect every report of sexual violence and rape to be treated seriously from the time it is reported, every victim to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. As such, the police have introduced a number of special investigating teams to deliver a consistent and professional response to the recording, investigation and prosecution of these complex—all noble Lords will agree that they are complex—and serious crimes. All rape cases are handled by prosecutors who have undertaken bespoke training. By February 2012, 849 rape specialist prosecutors had been trained. CPS successful outcomes rose in 2011-12 to the highest CPS conviction rates since recording began. The average length for sentences was in excess of eight and a half years, an increase of nearly 21 months since 2005.

It may help noble Lords if I address a number of other issues. Indeed, I may have to write to some noble Lords; the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was kind enough to suggest that I did so. The Ministry of Justice is spending £10.5 million over three years to fund rape support centres. Furthermore, the Home Office has committed funding of £1.72 million per year to part-fund 87 independent sexual violence adviser posts. The noble Baroness herself should take a great deal of credit for the sexual assault referral centres. There are currently 37 of them in the country. It is important that these local centres are supported.

My friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talked about Safe and Sound Derby. I am pleased to say that the Home Office funds an independent sexual violence adviser in that particular centre. It was good to hear his observations and commentary on our society, and the relationship of individual expression and the difficulties which that then created for some people. He is absolutely right that it is important that we work closely with faith groups. The Government cannot eliminate violence against women and girls on their own. We need the support of the community to do so. It is about engagement with civil society, the voluntary sector and faith organisations. They are vital to success in this area.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned domestic violence. A lot of the violence that we are talking of occurs within the home. My noble friend will know that there are now specialist domestic violence courts, and that these are an important part of recognising that the issues involved are often complicated. We are dealing with matters that have previously, perhaps, been hidden and kept private.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Thornton, talked about the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, and the ways in which that compounds the difficulties that we face. I cannot promise to support the Bill of the noble Baroness,

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Lady Howe. On the other hand, it makes a positive contribution to the formulation of policy in this area. The Government have made a commitment to take action to protect children from excessive commercialisation and, indeed, premature sexualisation. The Bailey review did not make any particular recommendations connected to violence, but, in terms of causation, business and media regulators have taken a number of significant actions to reduce children’s exposure to sexualised imagery. We should welcome, support and encourage these, and make sure that they actually happen, because this is such an important part of ensuring that we make a success of this policy.

The safety of women and girls is paramount. Our approach to tackling violence against women and girls is therefore characterised by key themes: prevention; improving the support available; strengthening multi-agency working; and taking action to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

The violence against women and girls strategy will be refreshed in March to ensure that we continue to identify new ways and opportunities to eradicate these abhorrent crimes. However, ending all forms of violence against women and girls is not possible through government work alone, as I have said. Violence against women and girls is a societal concern. It is the collective responsibility of all of us to challenge embedded gender inequality and to prevent violence through sustained action that seeks to change attitudes and behaviour.

We need to send out a clear message that violence against women and girls is wrong, and that challenging attitudes and behaviour is key to achieving that aim. That is why the Government have launched two preventive campaigns through the mainstream media to tackle rape and relationship abuse among teenagers by creating awareness, changing attitudes and provoking debate.

As we have said, much has been done. The progress that we have made would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the police, local authorities, teachers, health workers, international partners and the women’s sector. I take the opportunity of this debate to thank all of them. Now and in the future we must build on and maintain this momentum and our commitment to enact change, to challenge collectively the inequalities and attitudes that encourage violence against women and girls, and to drive improved services for its victims. I believe that we are on the right path. Our ambition must be to create a society where no woman or girl need live in fear. Together we can make it happen.