18 Mar 2013 : Column 411

House of Lords

Monday, 18 March 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson took the oath.

Northern Ireland: Corporation Tax


2.37 pm

Asked By Lord Lexden

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Newby on 15 October 2012 (HL Deb, col. 1251) and the Written Answer by Lord Sassoon on 6 December 2012 (WA 187), when they plan to announce whether or not corporation tax is to be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the joint ministerial working group on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy has concluded its discussions on the potential devolution of corporation tax and reported its findings to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is committed to meeting the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on 26 March to discuss these findings.

Lord Lexden: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the deep concern that exists in Northern Ireland over this issue, which is taking so long to bring to a conclusion. I welcome very much the news that he gave us about the forthcoming meeting. Since the Republic of Ireland has a corporation tax rate of 12.5%, it is widely felt that Northern Ireland needs its own low rate to help it to compete for new inward investment. Will my noble friend confirm that there is widespread support among businessmen and employers in the Province for the devolution of corporation tax to the Assembly, and that all the main parties are in favour of it? Have their views been fully taken into account? Finally, I pay tribute to my noble friend and his colleagues for their commitment to rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy by stimulating the growth of the private sector, which the Province needs so badly.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I think that account has been taken of views expressed from many quarters. However, the complication, as the noble Lord will be aware, is that if the Northern Ireland Assembly were to cut the rate of corporation tax significantly, its own budget would have to be cut by an equivalent amount.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the Government have taken on board the recommendations of the Silk commission, which, in the context of corporation tax, recommended for Wales that, if Northern Ireland were to have corporation tax powers, so should the National Assembly for Wales? Given that the Government have welcomed the Silk commission’s first report, will he confirm that that will now happen?

18 Mar 2013 : Column 412

Lord Newby: I am not absolutely sure what the noble Lord is asking me to confirm because no decision has yet been taken on corporation tax and Northern Ireland. The Government are sympathetic to much of what has been said on the Silk report and are now in discussion, as he is aware, with the Government in Wales.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, bearing in mind that it is the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy that is the reason for people being concerned about the rate of corporation tax, and that is why the joint ministerial group gathered, were there any other ideas that came from that group that would assist the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy?

Lord Newby: My Lords, a number of measures were announced in the Autumn Statement aimed at rebalancing, or rather promoting, the Northern Ireland economy, including another £132 million of capital expenditure, science and technology funding for the research partnership at Queen’s University and the slightly earlier decision to give the Northern Ireland Assembly decision-making powers over air passenger duty on long-haul flights.

Lord Richard: My Lords, as I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was asking the noble Lord to confirm that if this happens in Northern Ireland, the Government accept that it would happen in Wales, too. Can he confirm that?

Lord Newby: My Lords, that is something that we will confirm once we have a final decision in Northern Ireland.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any decision in relation to Northern Ireland does not constitute a precedent for any other part of the United Kingdom because Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that has a land border with another European Union country?

Lord Newby: My Lords, that is the reason why this has become such a big issue in Northern Ireland. The same considerations do not apply elsewhere in the United Kingdom, although I remind the House that the differential between the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland and the rate in the Republic of Ireland is now significantly less than it was when this Government came into office.

Lord Browne of Belmont: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government will take steps to ensure that any reduction in corporation tax rates in Northern Ireland does not lead to a proliferation of artificial tax avoidance arrangements such as the manipulation of transfer prices and formation of shell companies, which could lead to a loss of tax revenue both in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Lord Newby: My Lords, that is one of the issues which obviously has to be considered as part of this overall discussion. As the House knows, the Government take artificial tax avoidance schemes extremely seriously.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 413

Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I welcome the fact that, after two years of dithering, the Government look as if they are finally coming to a conclusion and a response. However, does the Minister agree that we need action now and not just on the issue mentioned here? Will the Government support our proposals temporarily to cut VAT, give support to small businesses through national insurance breaks and bring forward major infrastructure projects—all of which will give real help to business, construction and manufacturing, get Northern Ireland’s economy moving and put young people back to work?

Lord Newby: No, my Lords. Sadly—from the noble Lord’s point of view—we will not be supporting the noble Lord’s proposals, not least because, taking just the VAT proposal on its own, it would cost about £12 billion. I am not sure where he suggests we should get that money from.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, is not the major but unspoken problem that there would be widespread concern that, if corporation tax was devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Government would wish to be treated in a similar fashion? If that were the case, by how much would the budget of Scotland have to be reduced from central moneys if corporation tax in Scotland was reduced to 12.5%? Would the Minister expect the First Minister of Scotland to demand that the Scottish budget not be reduced by that amount?

Lord Newby: My Lords, it would not really be at the discretion of the First Minister of Scotland because the Azores criteria mean that if there is a differential cut of tax the region or nation that bears that cut has to take the full fiscal consequences of doing so. I do not have the figure on the cost of such a cut to Scotland. However, bear in mind that the estimate of such a change in Northern Ireland is that there will be a cut in its grant of between £300 million and £400 million. I think that the noble Lord can scale that up for Scotland.

Park Homes: County Court Judgments


2.46 pm

Asked By Lord Graham of Edmonton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they monitor the resolution of county court judgments, especially in the case of the park homes industry; and, if so, how.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, we recognise that there are issues within the park homes industry, and the Government have supported the Mobile Homes Bill to ensure that home owners are better protected and that local authorities can enforce against breaches of site licences. On the resolution of county court judgments, these are not monitored and the civil courts only provide a forum in which individuals can resolve their disputes. However, the Government believe that an effective enforcement system is important and reforms have been made to strengthen these methods.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 414

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, as far as it goes. Is he aware that last year a park home owner admitted or acknowledged to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that he had £150,000 standing against his name as unpaid? Does the Minister recall that in the West Country a family of park home owners have £150,000 against their names? Earlier this year, the Isle of Wight dealt with this matter and two park home owners, who have form, were convicted on 11 counts. They were then fined £300,000, and according to the local authority’s press release £275,000 was for compensation. Can the Minister explain why in some cases compensation is guaranteed, when in others it has to be fought for?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, as the noble Lord has acknowledged, the Government are taking steps in this regard. Again, I highlight some of the methods we have looked at. The civil courts offer several enforcement methods, including warrants of execution, attachment of earnings, third-party debt orders, charging orders and orders for sale. We have also looked at the ways by which debtors should be providing means. For example, people can apply for orders to obtain information. As I have already said, the Government recognise that effective enforcement is crucial to ensuring a successful civil justice system. However, we are not planning a return to imposing prison sentences for debtors who do not pay their debts.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, does not the Question highlight the need for effective enforcement in many areas—of sanctions against directors of companies of dubious commercial legitimacy and, in particular, a more determined use of directors’ disqualification proceedings against directors who trade fraudulently or while insolvent?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are more than 85,000 park homes across 2,000 sites and such instances occur. That is why the Government are taking steps to tackle site owners who take advantage of tenants and then reregister themselves as another company. Through the changes we are bringing forward, we are ensuring that local authorities will issue licences to directors who apply to set up other companies, therefore giving them greater control over the issuing of such licences to people who have been found to be neglectful of their responsibility to their tenants.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is well known throughout the House for his support of park home owners’ properties. What sort of protection and advice can Her Majesty’s Government give to such owners on their heating appliances? I gather that in Cornwall in the past 12 months, four people have died as a result of gases and noxious fumes from their heating appliances. Do the Government have any advice for park home owners to help them with this problem?

18 Mar 2013 : Column 415

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I thank my noble friend for his question, which raises a very important issue. Again, this comes down to the site owners, who are responsible for the provision of utilities on the sites. The Government are considering more effective enforcement and looking to work with local authorities to ensure that utility provision is effective and, as my noble friend has highlighted, specifically that the health and safety of people who often may be unable to fend for themselves is protected against unscrupulous site owners.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, why do the Government not monitor county court judgments? It would give them valuable information that they could use in policy development.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I have already observed that we have to strike a balance. The other side of the coin is that various options are open to people in pursuing county court judgments, which are decisions of civil courts. It remains primarily the responsibility of creditors to achieve a resolution. A range of measures is available, including warrants of execution, attachments of earnings, third-party debt owners and orders for sale, all of which can help in getting a resolution on outstanding issues relating to the obtainment of payment.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, will my noble friend try and ensure that all owners of park homes are given clear guidance on the extra protection that they will have when the Bill that is completing its stages through Parliament becomes an Act? Will he do his very best to ensure that these vulnerable people are aware of their new rights?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend is correct. The Bill to which I alluded, and with which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, was greatly involved, seeks to ensure that those with mobile park homes are made aware of their rights and that the obligations of site owners are made clear. My noble friend makes a valid point that I shall take back to the department about the effectiveness of communication across the board in ensuring that the tenants in these properties are made fully aware of their rights.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, on carbon monoxide poisoning, to which the Minister referred, will he institute talks with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that installers receive appropriate training in the heating appliances that are appropriate for park home owners? The quality of installation is well recognised to be a big problem.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I agree with the noble Lord. I remember that when I was a local councillor dealing with these issues on Traveller sites, exactly that kind of undertaking was given by the local authority to ensure the effective and safe provision of utilities. The noble Lord makes a valid suggestion that I am sure we all want to take forward.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 416

Roads: New and Young Drivers


2.53 pm

Asked By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in view of the proportion of fatal accidents involving young drivers, whether they will introduce measures similar to those in force in Northern Ireland placing restrictions on new and young drivers.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Government are committed to improving the safety of young drivers. As part of the ongoing work to reduce the risk of accidents involving young and newly qualified drivers, the department is considering several options to ensure that they are properly prepared and drive safely. We continue to work with young people, insurance companies and key partners in considering any changes affecting learner drivers and those who have just passed their test.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Has the Minister seen the case, settled only this month since I tabled the Question, of Courtney Meppen-Walter, aged 18—a £1,000-a-week junior footballer who has played 17 times for his country—who killed two people and injured two children, and was jailed for 16 months? He was exceeding the 30 mph speed limit by 100% and it had been noted that he had been playing games with a VW Golf before the accident occurred. He has now been disqualified for three years. Does my noble friend think that this was just a case of bravado or was it a most unfortunate example of a young person whom other young people would look up to? Is not the matter very serious and should not something be done? That has been resisted by too many Governments in the past when I have moved amendments in favour of such action.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is an extreme case but, sadly, it is not unique. Young drivers are prone to immaturity and reckless driving. They can also be easily distracted, especially when driving while carrying other youngsters. We are seeking to reduce the risk of these very sad accidents and will carry on the work of the previous Administration in doing so.

Lord Dubs: Does the Minister agree that young motorcyclists are particularly prone to a high accident rate? Do the Government have any proposals to increase the safety with which young people drive motorcycles?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my understanding is that the work is concentrated on car drivers but, if I have any more information about young motorcyclists, I will write to the noble Lord. Over recent years, there has been a tightening-up of the rules for acquiring a motorcycle licence. I understand, however, that there is a problem in relation to more mature drivers starting to use motorbikes for recreational purposes, and, sadly, the accident rate there is not very good either.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 417

Lord Bradshaw: Can the noble Earl tell the House what progress is really being made? Accidents and serious injuries among young drivers cause the largest number of deaths in that age group. I know he said that the department is considering something, but can he give us concrete evidence of any move which may reduce this toll of unnecessary suffering?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that a motor accident is a very high risk for youngsters—probably the worst risk for an untimely end. However, the previous Government made good progress in reducing the accident rate and we will continue that work.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, would the Minister consider having probationary plates on the cars of young drivers until they are about 21 years of age? If he did something useful, it would be very helpful for all those parents who have lost young people under the age of 21 who were driving too fast.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, probationary plates are one of the things that we are considering in order to deal with that sort of problem, possibly linked with other measures—for instance, not allowing young or new drivers to carry young passengers.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course we are happy to support any measure that improves the safety record of young drivers. However, that does not mean that we support the pricing of young drivers off our roads. The increase in insurance for young drivers last year was 53%. How do we expect young people, particularly in rural areas, to be able to get to jobs, apprenticeships or even education institutions if they cannot afford to run a car?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. Some of the measures we are thinking of have a cost and could have an adverse impact, perhaps meaning that young drivers do not bother with a driving licence at all. Therefore, we have to be very careful about what measures we put in place. As to the noble Lord’s substantive point about the cost of insurance, we are well aware of this. At a previous encounter, I said that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was shortly to have a meeting with the insurance industry. We intend to hold a further meeting with the motor insurance industry on 25 March, following the successful summits held last year aimed at tackling the high cost of premiums, especially for young drivers.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I may be a little out of date but in my day as a Minister in Northern Ireland, which was three decades ago, Northern Ireland had the very useful practice of all drivers having a green sign for the first year after they had acquired their licence. That was 30 years ago. Twenty years ago when I was Secretary of State for Transport, we considered that idea in the department. Would it now be a little premature to reach a decision?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is the sort of thing that we are considering.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 418

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that it is very hard to legislate for the exuberance of youths, especially when egged on by other exuberant youths, and that, even with a green plate on the back of their cars, they will test the boundaries of the law as hard as they can? I am not advocating that they should ignore the law but we have to face the facts. We were all young once and did silly things.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, experience from Sweden shows that a longer period of learner driving supervision can reduce the risk of accidents later. It is one of the things that we are looking at and we hope that it will address some of the behavioural issues.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that in government discussions with the insurance companies, the issue of young learner drivers, particularly those on motorcycles and scooters who are working and trying to read maps when delivering pizzas, is dealt with? I understood that it was illegal to employ such drivers for deliveries. It is certainly very frightening to look at them trying to read where they are going and not being fully in control of their equipment.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, during the passage of the Road Safety Bill through your Lordships’ House, in opposition I tried to run an amendment along those very lines but it did not find favour. The reason was that a balance needs to be struck between the impact of the measures put in place and the adverse impact, including the adverse economic impact, on youngsters. It is a difficult balance but I understand the point made by the noble Baroness.

Leveson Inquiry


3.01 pm

Asked by Baroness Boothroyd

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in their response to the Leveson report.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, perhaps I may first remark on the noble Baroness’s extraordinary sense of timing.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The all-party talks have been a productive process. It is appropriate to acknowledge the many hours, day and night, that all parties and interests have devoted to these discussions. As your Lordships will appreciate, the Prime Minister hopes that Mr Speaker will allow him and the other party leaders an opportunity later this afternoon to set out what has been agreed. Until then, I can say little more

18 Mar 2013 : Column 419

but I know that my noble friend the Chief Whip proposes to make a short statement after Questions about our own business today.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, as we have been told by the media during the course of the morning and by leading Members of Parliament that the cross-party talks have been successful, I feel entitled to put my Question and to have an Answer from the Minister today. Therefore, will the Minister assure the House that the proposed royal charter will be protected by statutory regulation? With great respect, I ask the Minister to answer me clearly on this point: will the charter be legally underpinned against future changes without the consent of Parliament?

Finally, last week, the Prime Minister told us:

“There’s no point in producing a system that the press won’t take part in”.

How many publishers or editors were kept informed of the proposals and have agreed to them? Can they opt out if they wish to do so?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness but, as I said earlier, this will be the subject of debate in the other place, and it would be unreasonable to answer now. It would be a courtesy to the Prime Minister and the other leaders if those matters were left for later this afternoon.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question on Leveson that is not dependent on this afternoon’s events. My noble friend will remember that there was a majority of more than 130 on the Leveson-related amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, to the Defamation Bill. He will also remember that a number of people totally overreacted to that and alleged that the Government would withdraw the whole Bill. Will my noble friend confirm that that is not the intention of the Government; that it never has been their intention; and that the Defamation Bill will go through its normal parliamentary process?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I well understand the point that my noble friend raises about the Defamation Bill and its progress, and I am sure that these matters will be clarified.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, first, I place on record our welcome for the cross-party agreement that was announced today. In the light of that and following the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, may I push the Minister a little further? Does he agree that it is important that this House debates the contents of the royal charter, which was published only today so many noble Lords will not have seen it? Will he give us an indication of the scheduling of whether and when we might be able to debate the whole of the royal charter, and not just parts of it in other Bills that have already been scheduled for debate?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am afraid to say that, again, this is rather above my pay grade. It is obviously a matter for the usual channels in the first place. I am

18 Mar 2013 : Column 420

not in a position to suggest business for your Lordships’ House and that is where the position will have to remain for today.

Lord Soley: I put it to the Minister that the royal charter, a draft of which I read today, is statutory underpinning. I understand the problem that he has about the timing, but we should not worry too much about that. The central message is that we need the agreement of the whole of Parliament to take this forward, if only to give the public the confidence in the press that they need. We also need to remind the press that this is an opportunity for it to change the culture that has done it so much damage over the years. I say that as someone who introduced the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill 23 years—nearly a quarter of a century—ago. Much of what was in that Bill is in a combination of the royal charter and the Leveson report. Therefore, let us work together jointly and give the press the opportunity that it needs to improve its standards.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: What the noble Lord has said is a powerful statement of a view that many will share; I certainly do. This is an opportunity for the press to change some of the practices that have occurred but should never have occurred. The important thing is not just that we think of the victims but that we ensure we have in place something that means these things do not happen again. What the noble Lord said certainly chimes with me. I am sorry that the timing of this Question is such that I am not in a position to discuss the detail. It would be a courtesy to the leaders of the two political parties in the other place—

Noble Lords: Three!

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: Three parties—there is no guessing which two I mean. Forgive me, my Lords. It is a courtesy that I would like to retain: the leaders of the three political parties should have their opportunity very shortly.

Lord Dykes: I fully understand my noble friend’s reticence in this matter, but will he confirm at least that the Hacked Off campaign, which mainly represents the victims, has apparently accepted the outline framework of the deal, which should make it easier for all the newspaper proprietors to join in?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I saw some of the Hacked Off press conference and I understand that, as the noble Lord said, there is agreement all round. I hope that is the spirit in which your Lordships, and indeed those in the other place, will take this. We need to unite around the proposals if we possibly can and take the matter forward.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 421

Draft Public Bodies (The Office of Fair Trading Transfer of Consumer Advice Scheme Function and Modification of Enforcement Functions) Order 2013

Motion to Approve

3.08 pm

Moved by Viscount Younger of Leckie

That the draft order laid before the House on 12 December 2012 be approved.

Relevant documents:15th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 12 March.

Motion agreed.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

Motion to Approve

3.08 pm

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill be postponed until after the debate on the Motion of my noble friend Lady Tonge.

As my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble has just said in response to the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, this is when I hope to set out the procedure for the rest of today. In doing so, I make it clear that what I am about to say is against the background of very productive and constructive talks among the party leaders, but also, as is usual in this House, constructive talks with Her Majesty's Opposition. The Chief Whip of the Opposition has not only seen what I am about to say, but has been involved in agreement on that matter. Clearly, this House has a prime interest in knowing how it may contribute to the debate on the deal which is coming to fruition and has been long in negotiation over the past weeks but certainly into the early hours of this morning.

There is also a procedural background, which as a business manager I must operate within. I think my English grammar is going a bit awry here, but I will explain to the House where we are in terms of what is happening elsewhere and here, and I will then explain what it means for us today. The House is of course fully aware that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, together with the leaders of the other main parties, has asked the Speaker of another place for an emergency debate this afternoon on the matter of the party leaders’ response to the report from Lord Justice Leveson on the culture, practices and ethics of the press. Until that debate has started, we will not know absolutely for certain what has been agreed between the party leaders. That is not saying that there is no agreement, it is saying that as a matter of practice we will give them the courtesy of being able to set out what they believe may be contained within that agreement. Until then, we simply have nothing on which we can proceed effectively.

On the timing, we expect the House of Commons to start that debate at about 4.30 pm. In procedural terms, I have moved that our further consideration on

18 Mar 2013 : Column 422

Report of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill be postponed until after the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Tonge. To do so will of course enable the House to hear what the party leaders have to say on the matter of the press before we then turn to it ourselves. As noble Lords will know, we have core amendments on the matter of Leveson in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill today.

I have spoken to my noble friend Lady Tonge. She is aware that we will deal with her Motion first so that she has the first debate. It is my expectation, as it is hers, that the debate on her Motion may not take the full time until 4.30 pm or 5.30 pm. In order to give noble Lords certainty about when this House will be able not only to listen to the leaders in the Commons but also to have its own debate here, I propose that the debate on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will start at 5.30 pm. In other words, we will go from this to the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. If that does not take us to 5.30 pm, a Whip will adjourn the House further to 5.30 pm. This House will have full opportunity to debate the amendments on Leveson, of which there are many, at 5.30 pm. As I have said, I have discussed this with the Opposition Chief Whip, who is in agreement. Therefore, at this stage I formally beg to move that further consideration on Report be postponed until after the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Tonge.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, without in any sense disagreeing with what the noble Baroness has said, is it not the case that in the other place today there will be a Statement on Cyprus and that that Statement is not being taken in this House? The decision on Cyprus is possibly the most calamitous decision that has ever been taken for Europe, for the finances of this country and for the European zone. Is it not inconceivable that the Statement is not being taken here, especially, as the noble Baroness has said, when we have plenty of time?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, that is, of course, a very proper question. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, asks about things that are on the point. It is the case that whenever a Statement is to be made by the Government in another place, it is offered to the Opposition, but against the background of all the proceedings that are taking place today, I understand that the Opposition decided not to take the Statement. If there is another opportunity when it may be properly taken, we will certainly look at a way of facilitating a debate. I may be sending shivers down the spines of the business managers here who have to schedule these matters, but I understand the strength of feeling. There may indeed be other opportunities when we are able to deal with the issue, but for the moment the Opposition decided that perhaps this is not the time. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is keen to contribute and I am happy for her to do so.

3.15 pm

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I am a little unhappy about the procedure set out by the noble Baroness, which is to postpone consideration of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill until the other place has had its debate. It is always open to noble Lords in

18 Mar 2013 : Column 423

moving amendments to withdraw them in the light of any decisions reached in the other place, but that is no real reason for fiddling around with the order that has been established. It is not a sufficient reason to do that.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, perhaps I had better respond before the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, rises to speak. It is merely a matter of timing. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, has ownership of most of the amendments in the first group. The reason it is convenient to do it in this way is that the House would not have a chance to listen to the leaders by the time that any mover of those amendments decided whether to withdraw or even to press them. Again, it is simply a matter of timing so that we all have an opportunity to listen to what the leaders set out. Just the opening remarks alone will make it too late for us to get into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. I think it would be difficult for this House to proceed with a fair consideration of the amendments today.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, do the amended arrangements for business have implications for the deferred Procedure Committee meeting to be held at 5.30 pm today?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the committee will meet at 5.30 pm as previously agreed.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I in no way disagree with the procedure, but is it a fact that a government amendment to the Bill will be placed before the House?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have given as much information as I am able to at the moment. Clearly what the Government are keen to do is ensure that every opportunity is given to the House to discuss the agreement. I know that we are working closely with the Opposition, and particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, because his name is attached to Amendment 84KA.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, we cannot all go to the gallery of another place to listen to what the leaders say, nor can we all crowd around television sets. Will there be a Statement before we begin the debate on the substantive amendments so that we know the background against which we will be debating them?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, in this House it is possible within the proper proceedings of Report stage that, when a Peer moves an amendment, the Minister can get up very shortly afterwards. It is completely within the procedure of Report to be able to set out the Government’s response. I hope that that will be the case. I do not think I have ever heard anyone complain before about a lack of television monitors in this place.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I may comment further on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about the Statement being made in the House of Commons on what has happened in Cyprus. People’s savings are apparently going to be raided by the Government. That is a very important

18 Mar 2013 : Column 424

matter which has implications not only for the eurozone but perhaps throughout the EU and the world. Bearing in mind what the noble Baroness has said about the timing of the debate, I know the House of Commons well and I know that when it gets hold of the Statement on the press, there could be a very long debate indeed. There is no guarantee that we will get the timetable that the noble Baroness and the Government would like us to have. I have to say that I am disappointed that the usual channels on both sides of the House have agreed that such an important Statement should not have been put before this House today.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, perhaps I may say two things. First, it would be an excellent idea if the Minister, at the beginning of the proceedings on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, could inform the House by means of a Statement or whatever exactly what has been happening in the Commons. That would be extremely useful. On the Statement on Cyprus, as is usual, the Government informed Her Majesty’s Opposition that there would be a Statement on Cyprus and we were asked whether we wished to take it. Notwithstanding the importance of the situation in Cyprus, and not underestimating the importance of the Statement, it was offered to us before we knew of the changes to the procedures today, and the Statement would not have come until much later on. We deemed it important for the House to discuss and debate the issues pertaining to Leveson on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. That is why we did not ask for the Statement to be repeated. It does not undermine the importance of that issue at all and I will support the noble Baroness the Chief Whip in ensuring that we have a debate on this issue in the very near future.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, in view of what has been said, is it possible for the Chief Whip to rearrange things now so that we can deal with Cyprus today?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, in this place we work on a procedure whereby we at least have the courtesy of giving notice of such matters as Statements. We offer Statements to the Opposition as soon as they are known and we wait for a response. That response was given against the background of what was known at the time today. Negotiations were clearly in play both in this place and in another place. We cannot at this stage simply turn things on their head. However, I do understand the view of probably the majority of this House that at some stage there should be a debate on the matter. It is clearly something that is not going to be easily resolved, so it is not something that has to be done today, but I will actively look into the matter. In doing so I know that this House is keen to devote itself today to the matter in hand, which is that of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, in which this House will play a significant part in achieving a resolution.

I do not propose to answer any other questions. We have a Motion in front of us. I have given the answers as far as I can. I feel I cannot give any more information. If other noble Lords wish to ask questions I suspect that I will not be able to help them even though I will do my best to do so.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 425

Lord Richard: My Lords, I would like to ask a practical question which the noble Baroness may be able to answer. It is quite often the practice, in this House at any rate, that when Statements are made copies are made available in the Printed Paper Office at the same time. A very important Statement is to be made in the House of Commons. Could it not be arranged that it is in the Printed Paper Office before we start the debate at 5.30 pm?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, that is the normal procedure. As a former Leader of the House, the noble Lord raises a perfectly valid point. It will indeed be in the Printed Paper Office.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I should be very grateful if the Chief Whip could confirm or deny that the Government are contemplating a manuscript amendment this evening on something as important as this, because I would like to adjust my attendance or otherwise at the House accordingly.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I can go only as far as I have already explained. I have answered that question already by evasion, one of the few occasions when I evade, because clearly until an amendment may have been tabled, cleared and published, it would be wrong of me to try to second-guess what is about to happen. As I explained earlier, the Opposition have been in negotiation with the Government, and we hope to proceed. I am optimistic about proceeding in a way later this afternoon in which the whole House is able properly to play a significant part in the resolution of the debate on the Leveson proposals.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask one question. Can she give an assurance that the debate on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will start at 5.30 pm?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, yes. The only reason I said “as close to 5.30pm” is simply in case it starts a matter of a minute or two earlier, but the House will be adjourned to 5.30 pm and I expect that the House will start on Leveson at 5.30 pm. As I explained earlier, if the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Tonge were to take us to 5.30 pm—I do not think she hopes it will—then we will go seamlessly into it. However, what I expect to happen is that the Motion of my noble friend Lady Tonge will take a shortish amount of time. She may find some supporters she did not expect, but after that we will adjourn. It will be on the monitors, but the House can be assured that it will not be debating Leveson until 5.30 pm.

Motion agreed.

Building Regulations &c. (Amendment) Regulations 2012

Building Regulations &c. (Amendment) Regulations 2012 23rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion to Regret

3.24 pm

Moved by Baroness Tonge

That this House regrets Her Majesty’s Government’s decision to lay the Building Regulations &c. (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/3119) before

18 Mar 2013 : Column 426

Parliament, and in particular their decision to change the provisions on electrical safety in the home, which will be detrimental to public safety.

Relevant documents: 23rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I know that noble Lords have heard enough from me already, but I remind colleagues that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is trying to assist the House by going first after Questions, so if colleagues could leave fairly quietly, we can get going on her Motion.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this Motion forward. It was delayed four weeks ago and we waited a long time for it, but now, thanks to her, it has been brought forward. I wish I could provide a little light entertainment for noble Lords while they wait for this hugely momentous Motion, Statement or whatever it is that is going to be coming later this evening, but sadly this is not light entertainment. In a lot of people’s opinions, electrical safety in the home is as important, if not more important, than regulation of the press—but maybe that is a personal view.

In placing this Motion of Regret before the House, first, I declare an interest. Nearly nine years ago my daughter was electrocuted in her own kitchen in front of two small boys aged two and four, with no one else in the house. We discovered that this had happened because of dangerous electrical work carried out when her kitchen was extended and refitted four years previously. I will not go into detail; the full story remains on the Electrical Safety Council website alongside other tragic stories of electrical accidents, including another young mother—also with two little children, also alone at the time—electrocuted in the bath of a rented holiday cottage because of faulty wiring in the bathroom. These stories remain as a warning to householders about the danger of electricity in the home and to people doing electrical work without proper training.

I was amazed at that time to find out that electricians were required to work only to guidelines and that there were no statutory regulations controlling their work. When I approached the Labour Minister at the time, Phil Hope, I discovered to my delight that his department was aware of this problem and was working on additions to the building regulations. These additions are now known as Part P, and required electrical work to be done or inspected by a registered electrician and notification to be sent to the building regulations department of the local council, to ensure that the work was done properly. I was invited to help with the campaign to introduce Part P and to publicise the new regime, which of course I did willingly. I have since become a patron of the Electrical Safety Council.

Part P regulations have been protecting us since 2005. The introduction of residual current detectors—RCDs—has been a great safety measure but, again, there is a question about how many homes are covered and whether the devices they have are adequate. A poll of 4,000 registered installers in 2011 found that 53% believed that the standard of electrical installation work had improved under Part P.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 427

In 2012, to my dismay, the coalition Government decided in their bonfire of the regulations that Part P must go and with it the regulations for electrical installations in the home. Can the Minister tell us what pressure the Government were under to scrap Part P? Was it pressure from a few disgruntled, unqualified cowboys who did not want to be registered or have their work inspected? Some of them certainly wrote to me. Why was the decision made on Part P in particular? No one has suggested scrapping the regulations for gas fitters. They are equally dangerous, why the electricians?

After protest from safety campaigners, the Department for Communities and Local Government agreed to go out to consultation and announced last December that minor electrical work undertaken in kitchens, in bathrooms, more than 0.6 of a metre away from water, and outdoors should no longer be notifiable or subject to inspection. Work done in the very places in the home where electricity and water can be close together—and dangerously so—the Government have decided needs no regulation. Why?

Although statistics are sketchy, the impact assessment published by the department in December showed that since the introduction of Part P regulations, 2.3 deaths per year from electrocution alone have been prevented and, in addition, there have been up to a 30% reduction of mains wiring incidents. In terms of electrical fires, they are estimated to have prevented 2.6 deaths a year and cut by 15% the number of domestic incidents due to faulty electrical equipment. Twenty-seven thousand contractors have had their work inspected for safety on an annual basis in the past nine years and sales of electrical safety testing equipment have gone up by over 100%. I hope, too, that the skills and expertise required by a good electrician are now being valued more as more and more of them seek registration from an approved body so that their work does not have to be inspected. This is all a result of the Part P regulations.

Since the proposed changes to Part P were announced last December, several electrical contractors concerned have contacted the Electrical Safety Council to say that electrical alteration work undertaken by kitchen fitters, in particular, will once again go under the radar and not be inspected.

The department, in its wisdom, has concluded that it is not possible to say whether Part P has delivered health and safety benefits, and yet the Minister, Don Foster, in the Westminster Hall debate last September said that the Government do not want changes to Part P unduly to diminish safety. At an extra session of the Select Committee for Communities and Local Government two days ago, the same confused message came over, with the additional nugget of information that scrapping the regulations would save £14 million. We were also told that the building regulations challenge panel would oversee what was going on in the industry. How much will that panel cost and will it challenge shoddy electrical work? Where does the figure of £14 million come from? It all sounds a bit confused to me.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 428

The consultation undertaken by the department, we are told, showed that of the 158 respondents, 65% supported making more electrical work non-notifiable, but that was the response to an open question. When asked about electrical work in kitchens, specifically, and low-risk areas of bathrooms, a much higher percentage opposed scrapping the regulations. It is also worth noting that although electrical contractors supported the proposals to scrap Part P, building control bodies were not supportive of reductions to notifiable work and the Which? organisation and the Trading Standards Institute were also opposed.

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Committee has also expressed reservations about the consultation. Its report notes:

“In his Statement, Mr Foster said that the new Part P of the Regulations sought to ‘achieve a reasonable balance of risk’. The House may wish to note that the detail given in the Department’s consultation summary indicates that large numbers of interested parties may not be persuaded that this is the case”.

Can the Minister tell us how many consumer organisations, beyond those mentioned, were against reducing the scope of Part P?

This all leaves great cause for concern. Refitting kitchens is big business and very popular with householders. It often requires adjustment to electrical wiring, as happened in my daughter’s kitchen. In 2004, the year she died, an impact assessment carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government showed that some of the worst electrical work at that time had been carried out by kitchen fitters. Recent statistics for 2010-11 on electrical fires originating in the kitchen listed 14,700 incidents. The kitchen is a dangerous area and surely electrical work there should remain notifiable, as it should in the bathroom and outdoors where water and electricity are also in close contact. There is no requirement, either, for do-it-yourself outlets, such as Homebase and B&Q, to insist or even recommend that their products should be installed by a registered and qualified electrician. I ask the Minister: why not? How do the Government intend to monitor these changes over the two-year period of the review that they have announced? Will she promise that Part P regulations can be restored if necessary?

The Select Committee for Communities and Local Government has spent a great deal of time on this issue and I thank the committee and its chair, Clive Betts MP, for its hard work and recommendations. I close by reminding noble Lords that regulations are an irritant, a nuisance and sometimes cost money, but when a much loved person is killed because of a lack of regulations, they all become worth while. I beg the department to reconsider.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for giving the House the opportunity to debate these regulations. Her own appallingly tragic experience brings home to us how important they are.

I must admit that I gave little thought to broader regulations and the impact they have until 2006, when I moved from the Northern Ireland Office to become Minister at the DCLG and was told that I was responsible for, among other things, building regulations. If I am honest, I was not exactly overjoyed at the thought, yet my view quickly changed because it is through building

18 Mar 2013 : Column 429

regulations that we set standards. Their purpose is not rules and regulations for their own sake but for reasons of health, safety, practicality, equality in ensuring good access to public buildings and, more recently, the environment. Those are sound, practical reasons for regulations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said.

Regulations also create a level playing field for the building and associated industries. I clearly recall small, medium and some large companies, and individuals, telling me why good regulation was important to them and their business. It sets standards and prevents good companies and individuals being undercut by cowboys reducing standards. It is important to get the right balance and to be proportionate, providing regulations which offer protection to consumers and businesses but which, at the same time, do not impose unreasonable or unsustainable costs. Whenever building regulations are introduced, that is the guiding principle, as it was in the debates leading to the introduction of Part P regulations in 2005 that are the focus of today’s debate.

My understanding is that negotiations on this regulation of electrical installation started in 1995 following a recommendation from the construction industry deregulation taskforce. That led eventually to the Part P regulations. It would be helpful, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, asked, if the Minister could clarify the reason for reviewing Part P now to make the changes that we are seeing. On page 18 of the impact assessment, there is a summary of costs and benefits of the current operation of Part P that appears to show a significant net benefit of more than £75 million. The analysis also suggests that these benefits would build up over time, although that cannot be accurately measured. The Minister, Don Foster, told the House of Commons in a Written Statement that,

“we do recognise that there is scope to streamline the requirements by removing the requirement to notify smaller-scale, lower-risk electrical work to a building control body”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 18/12/12; col. 83WS].

Is the Minister confident that the Government have got it exactly right where they have drawn the line between what is described in the Statement as “lower-risk electrical work” that will no longer be notifiable and electrical work that should remain notifiable? What exactly is “smaller-scale, lower-risk”?

I understand that the Government consulted on this, and in the Minister’s statement in the Explanatory Memorandum considerable support is drawn from that consultation. Indeed, following the consultation, the Government announced why they were proceeding with that rationalisation of Parts K, M and N of the building regulations. In the Explanatory Memorandum, the Government relied significantly on the consultation responses as the justification for change, saying:

“65% of respondents supported making more electrical work non-notifiable (with 27% opposed). Of those that were opposed, many had concerns that the proposed changes might undermine electrical safety. Others disagreed because they believed these areas of work were not actually lower-risk and were therefore not appropriate to make non-notifiable”.

The situation seems very clear-cut when seeing those figures. However, I am grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for a more detailed analysis

18 Mar 2013 : Column 430

of those figures. When consultees were asked about specific areas of work, the consultation was far more balanced in its responses and there was not such a clear-cut divide as is implied in the Explanatory Memorandum. The scrutiny committee made it clear that:

“Of the 132 responses relating to whether electrical alteration work in kitchens should be made non-notifiable, 51% supported the proposal, while 43% opposed it. Of the 133 responses dealing with alteration work outdoors, 49% of respondents supported the proposal … with 41% opposed. Of the 133 responses”,

to lower-risk work in bathrooms,

“54% supported the proposal while 39% opposed it”.

The committee further said that,

“large numbers of interested parties may not be persuaded”,

that the regulations achieve,

“a reasonable balance of risk”.

I appreciate that the information that the Government give in their Explanatory Memorandum makes a greater case for change than does the scrutiny committee’s analysis of the results. However, it has to be accepted that there are significant concerns about the Government’s approach that the Explanatory Memorandum glosses over and does not indicate as correctly as it should. Can the Minister confirm that the consultation responses specifically on making more work non-notifiable are significantly less supportive of the Government’s position than outlined in the Explanatory Memorandum and that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is correct in concluding that,

“large numbers of interested parties may not be persuaded”,

that these regulations,

“achieve a reasonable balance of risk”?

The scrutiny committee got it right.

One difficulty is that if there are any significant problems with the Government’s approach, they may not emerge for some time. As the Government admit in their economic assessment:

“Part P is thought to have raised the average competence of domestic electrical installers”,

and the statistics bear that out. Since Part P was introduced, more than 27,000 additional contractors have had their work inspected for safety annually, sales of testing equipment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, has increased by over 100%, and the coverage of life-saving residual current devices—RCDs—in homes has risen significantly. In 2009, 62% of homes had RCDs, but prior to Part P coming into effect in 2001, only 40% had them. It is that device that prevents most electrical shocks that can be fatal.

It is difficult to get accurate figures on whether that has contributed to a fall in the number of accidents, injuries and electrical fire-related incidents, because the way in which data are collected is not comprehensive and has changed over time. However, in the absence of that information, the Government’s own impact assessment says that Part P has prevented more than 2.5 deaths each year from electrical shocks, 30% of mains wiring incidents and 15% of portable appliance incidents. With that number of deaths and that number of incidents being prevented, it is a very serious matter that the Government wish to remove that protection.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 431

Among the areas that raise the most concern is electrical work being undertaken in the kitchen, as borne out by the detail in the consultation responses. Kitchen fitters who undertake electrical works currently have notifiable work checked, but that is going to change under this order.

3.45 pm

We should note that the consultation results are finely balanced. However, if we look at the detail—the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised this issue—more support came from developers and home owners, while building control bodies expressed most concern and were most strongly opposed. At a Select Committee hearing recently, the Minister, Don Foster, conceded that the safety implications would be reviewed after two years. I am amazed that that has not already been agreed, given the seriousness of these issues. He also asked the committee for advice and help in putting forward indicators for measuring the effects of the changes. Therefore, the Minister admitted to the Select Committee that the Government did not know what they would be looking at when he agreed to review this policy after two years. Will the Minister confirm that the review will take place after two years and that there will be a debate on its findings?

In December, the Minister stated that,

“the Department will continue to work closely with external partners to identify what more can be done to promote the importance of complying with the provisions of part P through use of a suitably qualified electrician”.

He added:

“In addition, I will be bringing forward further regulations later next year that will introduce an alternative route to demonstrating compliance with part P by allowing for third-party certification of electrical work”. —[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/12; col. 84WS.]

Will the Minister say something more about that? I appreciate that the purpose is to reduce costs for work that remains notifiable but, given that we are talking about the most serious electrical work, it is extremely worrying that any downgrading of safety legislation should be brought forward. When is that legislation coming forward and what will it contain?

I have two further brief issues to raise. The first is the changes to the local authority building control system. Is the Minister really confident that the changes proposed to that system will not lead to a lowering of standards? The Explanatory Memorandum refers to the probability of a risk of non-compliance with building regulations, but that risk is lower when builders and developers know that that work will be subject to inspection by local authority building inspectors. Was any evidence sought about whether there are different risks of non-compliance in different areas or with different builders, contractors or kinds of properties, or will it now be for local authorities to choose when they make inspections at different stages depending on where they consider the risk is in each development? That seems quite an ad hoc approach. It gives no certainty to developers and builders that their work will be inspected and it will not be comprehensive.

Secondly, I am interested in the consultation responses from local authorities and their building control departments and in whether the LGA raised any concerns. One of the issues is resources. The Minister will be

18 Mar 2013 : Column 432

aware that, with cuts to local authority finance, there is huge pressure on local authorities. The Minister and I have previously discussed this at the Dispatch Box. Have the Government undertaken any analysis of the capacity of local government building control departments to meet this new approach?

I think it is right that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and I pose a number of questions to the Minister. The key issue is the Government’s confidence that these measures do not undo the progress that has been made by having far better safety in the home and in having electrical installations that do not increase risk. The Government say that the changes achieve a reasonable balance of risk, but the question is whether that is a price worth paying. These regulations were brought in for a reason. We have heard that they have saved lives and have made safety in the home significantly better, yet the Government are relying on evidence from the consultation, which the scrutiny committee found is not as clear cut as it is in the Explanatory Memorandum, to make significant changes. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance and information today that justifies the approach that the Government are taking.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for bringing this debate to the House today. We all understand that a terrible tragedy occurred to her family, and I am very grateful to her for the measured way in which she has brought forward this Motion.

Building regulations play an important role in ensuring that buildings are constructed to meet reasonable standards of health, safety, welfare, convenience and sustainability. This Motion gives me an opportunity to update the House on this important issue and to deal with the many questions, or as many of them as I can, that have been raised this afternoon. Noble Lords may also wish to note the important report from the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which was published last year in the other place and which has been referred to, and that on 11 February my right honourable friend the Building Regulations Minister discussed further matters raised in the report with the Select Committee.

There are relatively few building regulations in total. Last year the Government publicly consulted on changes to them in England and on associated technical guidance in the approved documents. Prior to that the Government asked the building industry and other interested parties to share their ideas about what needed to be improved or extended, where it would be possible to reduce the regulatory burdens, and how even better levels of compliance might be delivered. Having sought these views, and taking account of the responses to the Your Freedom consultation and my department’s Cutting Red Tape websites, a range of proposals were developed and subjected to a further, detailed consultation. I can now confirm that those consultations and changes were discussed with building control systems and local authorities. The changes are expected to deliver an even better and more cost-effective way of ensuring that buildings remain safe.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 433

I now turn to the specific issue of electrical safety. Discussions with trade bodies within the electrical installation industry and with individual electrical contractors show that they continue to value the national minimum standards provided by the building regulations. However, where there are concerns, we ought to address them. Part P of the building regulations, which deals, as the noble Baronesses said, with electrical installation in dwellings, has come under some criticism for its procedural complexity and bureaucracy. In fact, some respondents called for the provision to be completely revoked. The question that needed to be addressed was whether Part P could be simplified while retaining the safety benefits that it has undoubtedly brought about.

Currently, home owners can face building control fees of upwards of £240 for simple electrical work, such as putting an additional plug socket in a kitchen, approved by a local authority. In practice, such fees also prove a strong disincentive to those carrying out these small jobs—including home owners, who often do it themselves—to inform the local authority that the work is being carried out in the first place. Even for the majority of work that is carried out by electrical installers who are registered to certify their own work, notification imposes additional bureaucracy, as they have to tell the local authorities about the work they have been doing. This leads to consumers, who themselves are not competent in electrical work, relying on somebody else who may not follow the notification rules. Therefore, the scope of notifiable work has been changed, but otherwise this is a reduction in the amount of red tape. By law, all electrical work must still be safe, and this is most easily demonstrated by following the British Standard for electrical installations—BS7671—and the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s wiring regulations.

The changes will see the notification requirements focused on higher-risk jobs such as the installation of new circuits or work undertaken in the vicinity of showers and baths. The noble Baroness rightly drew attention to the problems caused by mixing water and electricity. This reflects the additional technical requirements applied by the British Standard in bathrooms and the skills required for working inside a consumer unit—that is a fuse box, for novices. In kitchens, notification will be necessary only when a new circuit is provided from the fuse box. When notification is not required, we would expect the work to be carried out to the appropriate safety standard, which I have just read out. Quite simply, it still needs to comply with that.

Baroness Tonge: I thank my noble friend for giving way. I think there is some confusion because, at the moment, there are statutory requirements in regulations for electricians to do things safely. What the Minister is referring to are advisory guidelines for electricians to work, which happened nine years ago, before Part P came in. The guidelines may be there but they do not have to follow them. This is the problem: we are going back to the old days. They do not have to follow the guidelines because they are just guidelines.

Baroness Hanham: I shall pursue my speech and make sure that we cover those points when I get to the end. The previous regime of notification tended to

18 Mar 2013 : Column 434

penalise the competent, conscientious installer with additional paperwork, while the unscrupulous installer could ignore these procedures with impunity. The changes that have been made reflect a more pragmatic approach. However, while the notification requirements are being reduced, the department will work with the registration scheme providers and trade bodies to raise general awareness of the safety issues and legal requirements, and how to meet them. Promotion of the competent person schemes, to which I do not think either noble Baroness referred, is now a requirement imposed on scheme providers by my department. My officials are working with the forum of competent person scheme operators, including the Electrical Safety Council, to see how the marketing message can be improved and co-ordinated. We will monitor the impact of the changes to Part P to make sure that we are better informed about how this work is going.

The competent person schemes now have around 40,000 registered electrical installers. Professional electrical installers will stay with the register. It is still in their interest to be able to self-certify their work as compliant with building regulations and not have to pay building control charges. This should mean lower prices for the householder. Whenever a registered electrical installer is used, they also benefit from the knowledge that the work has been carried out to standards of quality and safety. The new Part P will retain the core benefits that have been achieved while keeping administrative costs and burdens to a reasonable minimum. The indicators that can help identify the impact of the changes will be kept under review.

In addition, my department will bring forward further regulations later this year. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked me when. They will introduce an alternative route to demonstrating compliance with Part P by allowing for a registered third party, such as an electrical installer, to certify electrical work carried out by somebody doing DIY or an unregistered electrical installer.

It is not exact to say that safe work would rely only on the guidelines. Compliance will still be required and it is only the bureaucracy that has been removed, rather than the requirement to carry out things to safe standards.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but she was addressing a point that both I and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised. In her last sentence, if I have understood correctly, she said that only the red tape has been removed and that compliance is still required. How will we know?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I was asked about monitoring and if I may address monitoring, I hope that I will be able to answer the noble Baroness’s question. The plan will comprise a monitoring and evaluation strategy, which will cover electrical shock incidents and fires of electrical origin. We will also be looking at statistics on the operation of competent person schemes: that is, the number of registered installers and the number of jobs notified to schemes. Other areas which we will be looking at in preparing the impact assessment will be sales of electrical test equipment and awards of electrical qualifications.

There is a number of potential sources of evidence and it is not always easy to isolate the impact of regulatory changes. However, we will keep this

18 Mar 2013 : Column 435

carefully under control and will bring forward the available evidence in two years’ time at the time of the review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also asked me what pressure had been put on the Government to scrap Part P, and where that pressure had come from. I have explained that there was a consultation to which responses were made. As the noble Baroness said, there were some differences of view, but 71% of all respondents agreed that Part P should be amended. The analysis of Part P impacts on improvements in electrical safety was not entirely conclusive. It is difficult to show that Part P is singularly responsible for a reduction in electrical accidents. However, the Government felt that it had been in use long enough to allow us to form a conclusive view on its influence. Therefore, Part P has been retained, although, as I said earlier, a number of people suggested that it should be abandoned.

I was asked about the reason for excluding kitchens. Most minor alteration work to existing alterations is already non-notifiable. The change that we are making is to make all minor alteration work non-notifiable except when it is close to baths and showers. The British standard for electrical installation work has special rules on that.

Baroness Tonge: I thank the Minister for giving way again. I feel that I must put this on record because I think she has now said at least twice that minor electrical works in the kitchen need not be inspected and are perfectly able to be done by unqualified people, if necessary. I want to put on record that my daughter’s death was caused by a plug and a cable to a cooker hood—a very simple thing, indeed—which was atrociously done and, four years later, killed her.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that but I hesitate to go into what actually happened. We take note of what she said but that might have been considered to be more than minor works because it would almost certainly have involved work in a fuse box, which will still be covered.

I think that I have answered many of the questions that I was asked. Discussions and debates have taken place with my right honourable friend in the other place, Don Foster. We are confident that what we are doing will ensure that there is still safety within the Part P process and that householders will be clear about the requirements around electrical work and how they go about ensuring that work is carried out by someone who is registered with one of the competent person schemes. The industry has not been as successful in this regard as it could be, and this is something that new requirements for registration scheme providers will help to address.

Part P has always been based on all work being required to be safe, but only certain types of work needed notification. We have simply changed the balance of what is or is not notified and we still mean to see that there is proper safety and regulation under Part P. It is important to ensure that the building regulations regime remains current and up-to-date to ensure that regulations continue to fulfil their important role. It is also necessary to make sure that they are understood

18 Mar 2013 : Column 436

by as many people as possible, and we will ensure that there is proper publicity. I hope that, with that, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her Motion.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I thank the Minister and the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench for joining me in this debate. I think that it is a very important one. I appreciate that the Government need to get rid of red tape—everyone dislikes red tape. I can well see that it may cost an individual electrician, and therefore the householder, a little bit less to do a job in a kitchen or a bathroom.

However, I, and all the people I have been in contact with over the past nine years who have had accidents in their family, would willingly have paid £200 or £300 extra on a job to make sure it was done safely and that no one died as a result. There is a balance to be had here.

Part P regulation has done an enormous amount of good for the electrical industry and could still do so. I do not see that the bureaucracy that is being introduced to replace will be any less extensive. We have not been given any figures and I do not see how the challenge panel and the monitoring will be less expensive than the existing system. I thank the Minister for her reply and I only hope that in the next two years of the review there are no fatalities as a consequence of the Government’s action. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

4.07 pm

Sitting suspended.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

Report (5th Day)

5.30 pm

Relevant documents: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Amendment 84EA

Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara

84EA:After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“Royal Charters

Royal Charters: requirements for Parliamentary approval

Where a body is established by Royal Charter after 1 March 2013 with functions relating to the carrying on of an industry, no recommendation may be made to Her Majesty in Council to amend the body’s Charter or dissolve the body unless any requirements included in the Charter on the date it is granted for Parliament to approve the amendment or dissolution have been met.”

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, the amendment is jointly in my name and that of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie.

Although the words are overused almost to the point of lacking any meaning, today is, I believe, a historic one. In signing up to this amendment and agreeing to support its inclusion in the Bill, the Government are joining with the Opposition in putting in place an agreed, all-party, Leveson-compliant solution to the long-standing problem of how to regulate the press.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 437

Taken together with the royal charter, which will recognise and certify an independent regulatory body for the press, this means that we are seeing the conclusion of 70 years of inaction, despite seven major reports. It is now up to the press to make this system work, in the full and certain knowledge that all political parties have agreed the proposals, that the victims are content and that polls continue to show that this is what the people of this country want.

In his report, Lord Justice Leveson proposed a framework that provided for the continuation of self-regulation by the press, but with a legal guarantee that self-regulation would be effective, independent and continue to meet high standards. However, the role of the law, the legal underpinning, was to be limited to setting up a body whose task would be to recognise the self-regulatory system and check it once every three years. Lord Justice Leveson said that that was essential to ensure that, despite all the protestations of a willingness to change and countless expressions of good intentions, the press did not once again slip back into their old ways, as they have done after all the other inquiries and reports.

There is no doubt that some parts of the press are attempting to derail these proposals, despite the fact that they deliver the Leveson principles, ensure that those who are wronged have an effective and cheap route to redress, and ensure a free and vibrant press. However, implementing the Leveson proposals does not censor the press. There is no recommendation for pre-publication regulation. It would not create “a slippery slope” to “a government-controlled press”. It would not restrict reporting or investigative journalism in the public interest. Quite the reverse. As Nick Davies, the Guardian investigative reporter who largely uncovered the phone hacking story, wrote after the report was published:

“From a reporter’s point of view, there is no obvious problem with the core of Leveson’s report, his system of ‘independent self-regulation’ ... There is a nightmare here, but it is for the old guard of Fleet Street. To lose control of the regulator is to lose their licence to do exactly as they please”.

The families who suffered press intrusion and gross violations of their privacy have been pressing for the changes that will in future protect people from what happened to them. The harassment and character assassinations laid bare before the Leveson inquiry were not mere technical breaches of the rules or victimless crimes. For many of the victims, appearing at the inquiry meant reliving the pain and trauma of their abuse by the press, but they did so with enormous courage and determination; and the stories they told made many people feel moved, incredulous, appalled and very, very angry. They included people such as: the McCanns who were falsely accused of murdering their missing child; the parents of Milly Dowler, who were given false hope that their daughter was still alive; John Tulloch, the 7/7 bomb survivor who was tricked into giving an interview; Christopher Jeffries, who was falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yates; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, whose daughter Abigail was hounded for stories following her tragic stabbing while out walking with her son.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 438

It is important to remember that the voices heard in the inquiry represented just a small sample of press harassment and misrepresentation that became commonplace, week in and week out, for those struggling with tragedies in their lives who never sought to become the story. We should also remember that the public overwhelmingly support the establishment of an independent regulator, backed by law. That was borne out by a series of polls conducted prior to the publication of the report by the Media Standards Trust, Hacked Off, the Carnegie Trust and the IPPR. YouGov’s latest survey for the Sunday Times finds that 90% want a system that forces newspapers to print corrections when they say things that are not true. A smaller but still substantial majority wants to punish newspapers that opt out of a new system of regulation; and 62% want such papers to face damages of up to £1 million when they are found guilty of libel.

The sad fact is that the Leveson inquiry should never have been necessary, and the catalogue of incidents that were described and the many more that they represent should never have been allowed to happen. At the end of the day, we in Parliament have to be able to say to these victims that we have seen them right.

Your Lordships’ House has earned a justifiable reputation for keeping the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson in the forefront of political thinking. Indeed, the former Leader of your Lordships’ House said on the occasion of the publication of the report in November 2012 that if the central recommendations of the report,

“can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country”.—[

Official Report

, 29/11/12; col. 340.]

It has been 20 months since politicians from all parties came together to set up the Leveson inquiry. It is nearly four months since the report was published and all-party talks commenced, and here we are at the brink of introducing the results of that process. The Leveson proposals received near-unanimous approval when we debated the report in your Lordships’ House on Friday 11 January, and the House voted by a majority of 131 in favour of similar amendments to those that we are to consider at Report on the Defamation Bill.

This amendment, although it is couched in general terms, ensures that the agreed royal charter on self-regulation of the press may not be amended by Ministers through the Privy Council unless Parliament has given its prior approval to the changes. It is therefore an important entrenching measure, and I very much hope that it will receive support from Members of your Lordships’ House.

The royal charter published today creates a new, independent, voluntary system of self-regulation for the press. It is a welcome step, and the amendment ensures that this can be an enduring settlement, as it underpins the royal charter with the minimum amount of legislation needed to guarantee its success and independence over time. It is worth pointing out that while my amendment ensures that Ministers cannot tamper with the new system—for example, by watering it down under pressure from the newspapers—it also

18 Mar 2013 : Column 439

ensures that they cannot introduce new measures that would threaten the freedom of the press. There must be comfort in the fact that it works both ways.

Therefore, my amendment completes the virtuous circle of an all-party solution that is Leveson-compliant and is as entrenched in our constitutional arrangements as anything can be, requiring as it does a two-thirds majority in both Houses for change. In so doing, your Lordships’ House is fulfilling its proper role in scrutinising legislative proposals and offering the other place a chance to improve on what has been proposed. As the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago in another place:

“We stand here today with cross-party agreement for a new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and free speech and protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent”.

He ended by sending a message to the press. He said that, “we have had the debate” and reached our conclusions, and he added:

“Now it is time to get on and make this new system work”.

I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My Lords, in advance of this debate, it may be for the convenience of the House if I explain the Government’s position on the amendment. Following the statement made in the other place today, I want to make it clear that the Government support the amendment. This measure is part of the announcement made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today in relation to proposals for a royal charter to recognise and certify an independent regulatory body or bodies for the press.

I am sure that noble Lords will join me in welcoming the successful conclusion to the cross-party talks which the Prime Minister set up following the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the amendment before us is not statutory underpinning. The Prime Minister said all along that he wanted to avoid a press law which said what the recognition body is and what it does. That has been delivered. This is not statutory underpinning but a safeguard that says that politicians cannot meddle with this.

The clause put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to which I have added my name, establishes requirements for royal charter bodies established after 1 March 2013 which have functions relating to the carrying on of an industry. It will have the effect that the charter can be amended only if the terms of the charter are met and both Houses of Parliament agree. Let me be clear that this means that any royal charters created to date will be unaffected and that a royal charter created in future will be affected only both if it is a royal charter with functions relating to the carrying on of an industry and if it has requirements set out within it which require the approval of Parliament.

The press royal charter will be the only such charter in existence when it comes into force. It is the Prime Minister’s intention to submit the charter to the Privy

18 Mar 2013 : Column 440

Council for Her Majesty’s approval at the Privy Council’s meeting in May. This will deliver a new system of press regulation in this country. It is a system of tough, independent self- regulation that will deliver for victims.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

Viscount Younger of Leckie: Perhaps I may be allowed to finish; I have just a few lines. It will ensure fines of up to £1 million, suitably prominent apologies, a standards code and a new arbitration service that will be free for victims. I will respond to points made in the normal way at the end of the debate, bearing in mind that this is the Report stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, but I hope that noble Lords will support this important new provision.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Can the Minister clarify one point in his statement? He said “this” country. Can he say whether this applies to the whole of the United Kingdom?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I will certainly respond to that point at the end, in my concluding statement.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I think there is something rather odd about the procedures of this House. It is no criticism of my noble friend at Question Time, but we all remember his rather cautious replies to questions. The first point to make is that all the detail was actually in the Evening Standard, which could be found in the Library. The second point is that it has now been confirmed that the Defamation Bill will be returning to the House and will go through the normal parliamentary processes. That is the point that I wished to establish when I asked about the Defamation Bill. It was totally uncontroversial and, frankly, I think that it could have been confirmed.

I should like to make the same point that was made by the noble Lord who opened for the Opposition. As he said, it is an historic day. This is a compromise solution, but it is a solution to which all three parties have signed up. We have all had to give up something, but that is what happens in compromises. Rather than one party or another making claims that they, and only they, have won, it would be much better to ensure that, by the rules set down, the scandals that have affected some parts of the press never happen again in this country.

This debate is not just about press freedom; it is also about the power of the press and the misuse of that power. That is why the News of the Worldwas closed down, why journalists have been arrested and why dozens of victims of phone hacking have been paid very substantial damages. We now understand that even more victims have been discovered. It is a discreditable episode in the history of the British press, so it is not enough just to say, “I am in favour of the freedom of the press”, as dozens of editorials have been doing over the past months. In spite of the newspapers’ black propaganda about those of us who support Leveson, we all believe in the freedom of the press—there is no question about that. However, we

18 Mar 2013 : Column 441

are also in favour of effective measures to deal with the scandal of press intrusion that has been revealed over the past months.

5.45 pm

I see that newspapers keep on quoting—in defence of press freedom—the Sunday Timesstories on thalidomide and Philby. I absolutely and entirely agree with that and I remember those stories only too well. Who was the editor on that occasion? It was Harry Evans, one of the giants of Fleet Street. What does Harry Evans say about Leveson? He says:

“I regard the proposals on statutory underpinning as an opportunity, not as a threat”.

Therefore, if we are going to accept Harry Evans’s views—and I personally would—I think we might take that into account.

Will the new proposals be effective? I am not going to go into the argument about whether we are or are not seeing statutory underpinning. I simply observe that the Government are putting down amendments to two Bills. First, the Government have put down pages of amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill on damages, costs, multiple claimants and the rest, and I support those amendments because they aim to make the Leveson system work. Secondly, there is an amendment to the Bill before us which applies to royal charters.

As the House may remember, I am not an unreserved supporter of royal charters. As I have noted before, the charter website says:

“New grants of Royal Charters are these days reserved for eminent professional bodies or charities which have a solid record of achievement”.

I have never thought that that totally includes the British press, particularly not at this moment, after the scandals that we have had.

I observe also, in passing, that the royal charter is described as the bright idea of Oliver Letwin. In fact, the idea came—as all these good ideas do—from the Times letter column last December. It was suggested by a correspondent from Budleigh Salterton, who also wrote to me. As with so many things in this debate, you could not make it up. He wrote in the Times that a press body could be set up by,

“a royal charter overseen by the Privy Council, an ancient body descended from the ‘wise men’ who were advisers to the monarch before Britain became a constitutional monarchy”.

It is certainly one way of defending a royal charter. It is not entirely my way of looking at it, but I do not wish to be rude in any way to the writer of that letter, Francis Bennion, whom some of us may even remember as a parliamentary counsel here.

It was not the antiquity of the idea that spurred my opposition but my experience in respect of the BBC when I was chairman of the Communications Select Committee. I found there that we all made our proposals. We said that the divided management proposed for the BBC was completely wrong. Everyone now agrees with that and most people agreed with it at the time. Parliament, of course, did not get a look-in; it was simply agreed between the Government and the BBC, and that was it. That was how the royal charter worked, and those were the reservations that I had at that time.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 442

I acknowledge the very great efforts made in these talks to avoid a similar fate overtaking a royal charter on the press. I pay tribute to that but I do not find it perfect. As far as I can see, only the Government can initiate any changes in this area, but the safeguards are there and it is important that they should be there. At the same time, I acknowledge the hard work that has gone in over the months in trying to develop these proposals—not just by the Government and the Opposition but by those outside, including the much-maligned Hacked Off group, which has done a vast amount of work in this area. Moreover—if I may say so in a slightly defensive way, because I know what my Front Bench feels about my role in this—I commend the Tory MPs who stood out against a solution being imposed on them in the other place.

It is a compromise and no one should claim anything more, but it gives us the opportunity of a new beginning and an end to the deep misconduct which has affected some newspapers. It deserves support and, above all, I hope that the press will now co-operate in making it a success.

Lord Soley: I do not wish to delay the House very long but I have a very long history as regards this matter. I want to make only three brief points. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has said, this is a compromise. It was not the first that I would have come to but the negotiations have led to it being much better. I certainly do not want to make the best the enemy of the good. This is good. That leads me to my second point. It is profoundly important that all Members of both Houses give the agreement as much support as possible in order to convey to the media that this is the will of the people of this country speaking through their Parliament.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has indicated, it has been the job of the press to hold power to account. But one of the things that have gone wrong over the past 40 or 50 years is that the power of the press has been abused in too many cases. They have done some wonderful work and there are some wonderful journalists but some journalists have betrayed that trust. Some editors and owners have also betrayed it and it became the abuse of power. That abuse of power had to be held to account. I have given evidence to many committees and I produced my own Bill some 20 or so years ago, which tried to draw attention to this issue. Getting to this point has been a long, hard journey and we should all be grateful.

In many respects, my final point is the most important. I would almost plead with the press to recognise that this is an opportunity for a change in the culture of the press. What let the press down was an acceptance of standards, attitudes and values within the press that would not have been tolerated outside the press. They let themselves down in that way and not enough of them—although, very credibly, one or two journalists have been particularly outstanding—challenged it. Now, we need to put that behind us and to say that the culture of the press can change.

The press should recognise that people have rights and that the freedom of the press was an extension of the freedom of speech and the freedom of association, which allowed people to meet together and to put

18 Mar 2013 : Column 443

forward their views. That was dangerously undermined when the phrase “press barons” came in somewhere around the end of the 19th century. That was something different from the press freedom for which people had previously fought. The press barons need to be held to account. We have taken a step in the direction that allows that to happen. If the press have the right approach to this, it will be an opportunity for a new start for everyone. I for one would be willing to sign up to that.

Baroness Hollins: With freedom comes responsibility and that is what this is all about. It is extraordinary what has happened to this debate in the 100 days since Lord Justice Leveson’s rigorous report was published. For a time, the debate descended into what the Guardian last week described as,

“bipartite discussions between Conservative ministers and newspapers”.

Then it returned to public debate via the anachronism of the royal charter. But at last an agreement has been reached by all three parties recognising what has been clear to the victims of press abuse from the beginning—this is not party political but a cross-party matter.

I congratulate the leaders of all three parties on reaching an historic agreement to put the building blocks in place to enable the establishment and recognition of an independent and effective press regulator. Before Lord Justice Leveson reported, many people assumed that he would recommend a statutory body to hold the press to the standards they profess to believe in and statutory compulsion for newspapers to join it. However, Lord Justice Leveson did no such thing. Instead, he recommended that the press be given yet another chance to set up their own voluntary self-regulator. Some victims were taken aback but accepted this as the result of careful and diligent public inquiry. The only thing he did ask—perhaps it is the very least he could have asked—was for a body to be set up in law which would from time to time scrutinise whether the industry’s new body met certain tests of independence and effectiveness. He said that those news publishers that met those standards should have benefits in law to give newspapers an incentive to join. He carefully set out some recommendations to ensure that any new body was a real regulator and not just a beefed-up version of the Press Complaints Commission—a new body that would be independent of those it regulates and committed to upholding standards for the benefit of the public. These recommendations now seem to be faithfully reflected in the royal charter, as they are in the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and in the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, which may not now be needed. The issue of exemplary damages will also need to be dealt with.

Some editors have argued at every opportunity to weaken these requirements. However, as set out in these amendments, if the industry sets up a regulator that meets Lord Justice Leveson’s criteria, the recognition body would recognise it. If it does not meet the criteria, it would not be recognised. It is as simple as that. I have no doubt about the sincerity of those who said that the Press Complaints Commission was effective

18 Mar 2013 : Column 444

or of those who say that a new regulator could be established without this mild level of scrutiny. But the time for take-my-word-for-it regulation is over.

Your Lordships know that my family was deeply affected by the unrestrained power of the press to intrude and to distort. The fact is that I have been hesitant about speaking out on this issue for fear of the consequences for my family. This is some proof, if it were needed, that the issue is not about individual free speech but about institutional power—power which is so concentrated in the hands of a few that it can be used to undermine good journalism and good journalists.

I too respect Sir Harold Evans, an editor of high reputation, for having the courage to point out what he called the “amazingly gross distortion” of the Leveson report by his former colleagues in Fleet Street. There has been so much distortion and so little reason to trust. Very senior people appeared to have gone back on their word on this issue, seemingly breaking promises solemnly made to people who have been badly hurt. For all these reasons, it is essential that this amendment and the royal charter succeed. They offer a vital guarantee that Leveson will be implemented in full.

In an earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, pointed out that sometimes leadership must come from the Back Benches. Noble Lords on all sides rose to that challenge. Speaking for myself and, I believe, for many others, I am grateful to those on all Benches who saw and acted on the need for reform and I should like to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for supporting victims of press abuse. I would also like to place on record my thanks to Hacked Off for representing and supporting victims and for its tireless work which has helped to bring truth to power.

While the abuses of power from press companies have saddened and sometimes shaken us, the best journalism makes us all proud. I believe that the royal charter agreed today offers the best chance to ensure much more good journalism in the future.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: I join in supporting this amendment. It actually underpins freedom of the press in that it stops future politicians in the form of privy counsellors interfering in the regulation of the press. I offer my thanks to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness who I believe first suggested this solution in a letter to the Secretary of State. I commend my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister for maintaining faith in the cross-party process and the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition for responding. We have achieved consensus on this hugely important matter, something both Lord Justice Leveson and the victims of press abuse particularly desired. This process has been a victory for working together and for the continued freedom of the press, as well as for the victims who campaigned so vigorously and courageously.

6 pm

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I speak as a former deputy editor of two national newspapers and perhaps I may say, straight at the beginning, that I see in this royal charter, with the backing that it will get in legislation, no threat whatever to the freedom of the press which we all cherish so much.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 445

There is, after this good day for our democracy, just one question that we should think about. Is there a danger that what we have achieved will be undermined by large sections of the press refusing to join the new regulatory body? From where we sit, the idea that they might not may seem fantastical but—noble Lords have long memories—there was such a case in our legislative history, and in many ways it is analogous. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 was passed by a majority in Parliament but was then scuppered because the trade unions refused to register under it although they had enormous incentives—as there exist for the press in this Bill—to do so. It did not do the unions any good at all because what they got in consequence, a decade later, was Thatcherism. They would have done much better to stick with the Heath proposals. I would say the same to the press now. If they do not join up to this body, they will face something far more draconian than what we have in front of us this afternoon.

There are incentives to join—for example, the relief from exemplary damages. However, there are greater incentives to join than that. I think that newspapers that do not join risk their circulations. Just as Liverpool punished the Sun for its reporting of Hillsborough, so the British public will punish newspapers that fail to sign up to this system. If the public do that, how much more so may advertisers who do not wish to place their advertisements in journals which have placed themselves beyond the pale? The odds are that newspapers will be inclined, when they consider it rationally and coolly, to sign up.

However—and this is the true importance of today—if they do not, they will know that it is the united will of all three national political parties and of both Houses of Parliament that they are trying to thwart. If there is a confrontation between our Parliament—reflecting, as in this case it does, the will of the people—and the press, there must be only one winner.

For all those reasons, plus the fact that a number of newspapers have in recent days evolved to a much more sensible approach to these things—I pay tribute to the editors of the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independenton this, and I think that others will follow—when they weigh this and see the united will coming from this Parliament, they will understand that they have to take part in a full and open spirit, and our nation’s life will be the better for it.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for not raising this rather gritty little point before this debate, but of course this is all hot off the press. There could be a lacuna in this amendment. It requires the approval of Parliament for any amendment to the royal charter or dissolution of the recognition body. However, might it be possible—and one is thinking of possibly years hence—that the newspaper industry could decide not to dissolve these arrangements but simply to sidestep them by establishing a parallel and separate body? I would like to have the answer to that question, because I think it is germane.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I wholeheartedly applaud the intentions of those parties that have brought about this compromise and their integrity. I make that

18 Mar 2013 : Column 446

observation, however, subject to one factor. If I am indulging in a pettifogging lawyers’ argument then I apologise if it has no substance. However, if I happen to be right, it will be something that I can regale my grandchildren about for some time to come. A royal charter is, of course, a sovereign prerogative. How far can that prerogative be circumscribed, if at all, by any decision of either or both Houses of Parliament?

Let me test my doubt in this way. The creation of Peers, as we well know, is the prerogative of Her Majesty the Queen. Any decision taken by either House to circumscribe that authority to the slightest degree would be invalid. If I am correct in that submission, does it not apply to this situation equally so? In other words, any decision by both Houses of Parliament to circumscribe that absolute, sovereign royal authority will be less than valid. It may well be, and probably would be the case, that Her Majesty would graciously surrender her prerogative, but that is a different matter. I am raising this point now as a very narrow, legalistic point, and I would be grateful if I could be told exactly what the constitutional answer to it is, if you please.

Baroness Deech: My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s comments, will the Minister explain how any future Parliament could be stopped from repealing this amendment by a simple majority? There is, as far as I understand it, no such thing as entrenchment in our law because our Parliament is sovereign. Were a future Parliament to become extremely annoyed with excesses of the press in some way or whatever it might be, I cannot see any mechanism for preventing a future Parliament from simply repealing this amendment by a straightforward majority.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I intervene very briefly to indicate that it is not just the three main parties that have taken an interest in this. To the extent that it has been possible for my colleagues in another place to be in communication with the larger parties, we are grateful to have been in on the arguments.

I added my name to the subsequent bank of amendments, which may or may not be necessary now, so perhaps I may raise two questions to the Minister. First, will any new commission or regulatory body be subject to freedom of information applications? Secondly, can we have an assurance that any arbitration service will be free for claimants to use so that ordinary people can have their opportunity to get redress against being abused by the media?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am concerned that the words,

“with functions relating to the carrying on of an industry”,

may introduce a lacuna into this amendment. I am not at all sure that we are dealing with an industry now, and I am certainly not at all sure that what we will have in a few years’ time can be described as an industry. The press function in society is undergoing radical changes and may well emerge in a completely different form. The royal charter, as we have it at the moment, seems to anticipate that. So I wonder why we have those words in there. It merely allows someone to argue that this thing that we are regulating is not actually an industry, it is an activity. I cannot see why

18 Mar 2013 : Column 447

those words add anything or are necessary. It seems to me that they make this amendment vulnerable to a Government sidestepping it by just saying that it does not apply because it is not an industry.

I am grateful for the advice of the clerks that I do not need to pursue this by means of a manuscript amendment to a manuscript amendment. This being a subject that has been introduced for the first time at Report, we are allowed to pursue amendments at Third Reading. At the moment, I certainly intend to take that course.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, I add my concerns to those just expressed regarding the requirement of a two-thirds majority in both Houses. I was a little baffled when I read this for the first time. Perhaps we could have an explanation of how it will work in practice. Our understanding, gained from student days, is that no Parliament can bind its successor. If another Parliament, by a simple Act of Parliament—in Churchillian terms, by a majority of one—deletes this provision, then this cannot stand.

I am sure that greater minds than mine have considered the matter and that we can have an explanation, but the House deserves one on this point of how it will work in practice, given past practice that you cannot bind a successor Parliament.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I do not wish to delay your Lordships for long, because I imagine that the House will wish to move to a resolution on the amendment fairly speedily. Nor do I wish to sow doubts about the viability of the compromise which has been reached on grounds of high jurisprudential and constitutional matter. Instead, I raise a rather more down to earth and practical question for the Minister to respond to. I imagine that I am not the only person who has not been able to pore over the detail of the proposed royal charter, but I am aware that two of the things that Lord Justice Leveson required of any guarantee of the regulation of the press were that it should be both independent and effective. I wish to address the question of independence.

There has been much discussion in the media over the last few days of an intervention by some members of the press who sought to ensure that the press should have a veto over the membership of the regulatory body. I would like to be assured that that requirement on the part of the press has been abandoned, and that the regulatory body will be entirely independent in that sense and not subject to press interference over its membership.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said that he did not want to make a pettifogging lawyer’s point. I am no lawyer, but I would like the Minister to look at what may be a pettifogging point. I raise it only because this is a draft charter, and therefore, I imagine, subject, if necessary, to amendment. Schedule 1, paragraph 3.2 of the draft royal charter states:

“a) That every Member shall have:

i. senior board level experience in a public or private sector organisation, including significant leadership responsibility”.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 448

I do not argue with that, but it then goes on to state:

“b) That at least one Member shall have:

i. legal qualifications and skills, together with an understanding of the legal framework within which the Board must operate”.

That implies that it must be somebody trained in the law who has practised, whether as a solicitor or a barrister. It rules out somebody who has qualified for the Bar but then never practised. It occurs to me that there can be relatively few people of whom one can say that they have senior board-level experience in public and private sector organisations, including leadership responsibility, as well as having practised in the law. Of course there are such people, but I would have thought it must be rather a narrow field. I do not ask the Minister to reply to this now, but I ask whether thought could be given to the possibility of moving the provision for senior board-level experience into the lower category, which requires one person on the board to have that experience. That seems to bring all the benefit, but without having to choose from a very narrow field of probably highly successful people.

6.15 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I follow the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lipsey. In this debate, many important points have of course been made. I am troubled by dissension among certain organs of the press. I am not sure that I can be as optimistic as my noble friend about the consequences of that. I think that there is every possibility that those dissenting organs will decide to ride out the views of Parliament, and I am concerned that they might succeed in that direction. I hope not. I hope that the optimistic views of my noble friend Lord Lipsey will prevail, but what happens if they do not? I hope that the Minister will reply to that.

Baroness Wheatcroft: My Lords, this compromise is to be welcomed, and I suspect that the majority of newspaper groups will take the differing interpretations being offered to enable them to sign up to it. It makes no difference whether it is underpinned by statute or by a royal charter protected by statute. Whether it is a dab or a little bit of statute, a workable compromise is being offered, and I welcome it. As somebody who spent a long career in newspapers, I have been appalled to learn—and it has been a process of learning—just what terrible things went on. We should remember that many of the worst things that newspaper groups got up to were criminal. What was wrong was not just their behaviour, but the failure of the police to deal with those crimes. What is going on now is far too late. It was the very close relationships between newspapers and some sections of the police which allowed things to fester for far too long.

It may well be that the climate has now changed, but it is not Leveson that will deal with that. Leveson—or the royal charter and the regulatory bodies that will come about as a result of that—will deal with a much greater wariness on the part of the press as to what and what not to write. That is not a bad thing; a degree of care beyond that which has been exercised in the past would be welcome. Although the damages may well be exemplary in some situations, believe me, what will frighten the press more than anything is the prospect of being directed to publish an apology or a correction

18 Mar 2013 : Column 449

with exactly the same prominence as they gave the original story. That will really make people think very hard. My question regards the internet, because what goes on in the media now, as Lord McAlpine would vouch, is far more online than it was even 10 years ago, and the trend is moving very fast. Can we expect anything to put online publishers in the same category as paper publishers?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My Lords, this is a defining moment in the future of press self-regulation and the response to Lord Justice Leveson’s admirable report. I am most grateful to Members on all sides of this House for their positive and encouraging comments on the conclusion of the cross-party talks. The Prime Minister committed at the outset to a cross-party approach as the best way to identify a strong and durable solution to the question of future press regulation. After many hours of probing and thorough discussion we have reached the conclusion we always hoped for: a tough, new, self-regulatory model that has the support of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition.

A number of noble Lords have expressed concern about the impact of these changes on the freedom of the press, but we have been clear throughout this process that any solution we implement must protect press freedom, a vital pillar of our democratic society. This clause is an additional safeguard against government interference. Its purpose is to ensure that parliamentary approval will be required before a recognition body set up by royal charter may be amended or changed. Of course, Parliament is sovereign and no Government can bind their successors, but this is an additional step. We believe that it is a constructive and workable solution, which protects press freedom.

The charter lock clause applies only to charters that are established after 1 March 2013. Therefore, it will not apply to charters that were established before that date, even if they are amended in the future. It remains the Government’s position that a royal charter is the right vehicle for the BBC, which for many good reasons was established at arm’s length from politicians. As for the origins of the royal charter, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Fowler, I suppose I am equally happy if it came from a Times letter or a man on the Budleigh Salterton omnibus. The main issue is that we are there with it. Further, it is worth noting that there was extensive parliamentary engagement on the development of the present BBC charter.

I should like to pick up on a number of points made by noble Lords, and I shall commence with those of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. He asked whether this applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. He may well have said it, but I would hazard a guess that he had Scotland in mind. The Government are currently discussing these issues with the devolved Administrations and we will bring forward provisions to ensure that the territorial extent of this measure is clear.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, can the Minister clarify that point? Most of us from Scotland would want it to apply to Scotland, just as it will to the rest of the United Kingdom. Is that the Government’s intention?

18 Mar 2013 : Column 450

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I think I can best reply by saying that I shall stick to my previous remark, which is that talks are happening at the moment to work out a way forward. We need to come back on that particular question when we can.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, is it within the power of the devolved Scottish Government to ignore this or is it not?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: As I say, talks are ongoing, so it is best if I respond to noble Lords on the matter raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, asked whether arbitration would be free to use for complainants. I can confirm that the charter provides that a self-regulator must provide an arbitration process that is free to use for complainants. The noble Lord also asked whether freedom of information would apply. Shortly we will debate an amendment on freedom of information, but the Government do not intend to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the regulatory body or, indeed, the recognition body.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, the real question I raised is whether the royal prerogative in relation to charters, which is utterly sovereign, can be circumscribed in any way by any decision of Parliament. Has the noble Viscount obtained specific advice and information on that matter?

Viscount Younger of Leckie: No. The noble Lord deserves a full answer to that question. I think that the best thing would be for me to come back to him in writing.

Lord Wills: Before the Minister leaves this point, can he explain a little more about the Government’s thinking on why freedom of information will not be extended to the proceedings of this new body? It seems rather curious, when transparency is such a cardinal virtue, that it should be denied in the case of this body.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I think it would be best to address that question in the next group of amendments. As I mentioned, we have tabled some amendments there and I will address the point then.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the issue of dissolution. I think it is best if I quote from the draft charter:

“This Charter, and the Recognition Panel created by it, shall not be dissolved unless information about the proposed dissolution has been presented to Parliament, and that proposal has been approved by a resolution of each House. For this purpose ‘approved’ means that at least two-thirds of the members of the House in question who vote on the motion do so in support of it”.

That is how I read it.

Baroness Deech: With all due respect to the Minister, what I asked him about was this: what is to prevent the amendment that I imagine we are about to pass in order to bring the royal charter being repealed by a future Parliament of a different nature?

18 Mar 2013 : Column 451

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I believe that there are safeguards in place, but I think that the best thing would be for me to respond to the noble Baroness with a succinct answer in writing.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, made the point, as I did, that surely we are entitled to have the views of the Law Officers on this very important matter. It is a matter of long standing that you cannot bind a successor Parliament. A simple majority can overturn the whole of this mechanism, requiring a two-thirds majority in both Houses. I find it very difficult to understand and I may be wrong, but I should like an explanation. Moreover, I think that the House is entitled to one.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I am certainly not denying that the House deserves an explanation, but I should reiterate that it is better to offer one in writing where the point will be presented thoroughly. I can certainly agree to do that.

The noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Clinton-Davis—

Lord Clinton-Davis: The answer given by the noble Viscount to my noble and learned friend is not adequate. He should be able to reply on this fundamental point immediately, but he has not done so.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I admit that the answer is not here, but I have pledged to write to noble Lords. We should remember that this debate has arisen out of an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill but, having said that, I am happy to answer questions raised today about this very important matter.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I appreciate that it is difficult for my noble friend but the House is being invited to approve this amendment this evening, and therefore letters that arrive subsequent to any vote can have no effect. This Parliament can bind this Parliament; we all understand that. If there is to be any change, it must be made by a two-thirds majority in both Houses, but after 2015 there will be another Parliament. We really must have an absolute assurance from the Law Officers that they are confident that this will hold. I do not believe it will.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt what is a bit of a spat on this, but perhaps I may make it clear, as the prime mover of the amendment, that it was not my intention in any sense to commit future Parliaments to the amendment that has been tabled today. In other words, I hope that this amendment will be passed by this House today, and then by the House of Commons, by simple majorities. It is therefore open to any future Parliament, if it has the guts or is foolish enough to do so, to bring an amendment to repeal it on a similar basis. The effect of this is simply to safeguard that which is in the royal charter, which is protected. However, of itself, only a simple majority is required.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, perhaps I may try to offer the noble Viscount a little solace. Doubt is being cast on the viability beyond this Parliament of

18 Mar 2013 : Column 452

the compromise set out in the amendment that we are being asked to support. If it is not viable beyond the lifetime of this Parliament, it is difficult to think of a better solution that would be more viable. On that basis, it seems that probably the best course would be to support the amendment and the course of action which is enshrined in the agreement between the parties that we are being invited to endorse. We can move forward in the same spirit of good will and determination to make it work that we are asking of the press in return.

6.30 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for their interventions. All I can say is that I have pledged to write to noble Lords to clarify the position further. The position at present is that Parliament cannot bind its successors. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, we have confidence that this will be an enduring settlement.

The noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Clinton-Davies, suggested that members of the press could side-step the self-regulatory umbrella. They could do that, but at their peril. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, those members of the press who chose to do so would be more likely to lose respect and therefore circulation and they would be liable to greater punitive costs.

Several of your Lordships raised the issue of entrenchment—that is the description that is used. Parliament is sovereign, so could this provision be amended in future? As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, rightly recognised in opening this debate, we cannot bind future Parliaments, but we have every confidence that this will be an enduring settlement, which is just a reiteration of what I said a few moments ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, asked whether the regulatory body would be subject to interference from the press. As the charter sets out, the recognition panel will be independent of the press and will not be subject to any interference.

Noble lords have raised a number of points about whether this is indeed a statutory underpinning of the regulatory body. We may disagree about whether this clause is statutory underpinning, a “dab of statute” or something that avoids politicians fiddling with the royal charter, but I hope that we can agree that the agreement between the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition is something which we can all support and which will deliver the tough press regulation that we all want to see.

Lord Lucas: Before the noble Viscount sits down, may I hope for an answer to the question that I asked? A letter will suffice.

Viscount Younger of Leckie: I pledge that a letter will indeed be written to my noble friend.

Lord Reid of Cardowan: Before the Minister sits down, let me just say that I am absolutely sure that the questions that have been asked by noble Lords are predicated on their desire that this will be successful.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 453

However, they are also asked in the context, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, pointed out, of those who may well decide that they wish to oppose applying the rules of this charter. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that this is thought through in fine detail. If we do not know whether it applies to Scotland—where, incidentally, one of our highest-selling newspapers is printed and published—if we are not sure whether we can bind successive Parliaments and if we are not sure whether constitutionally we can constrain the sovereign through a royal charter, it seems that, although we have absolute agreement on what we want to do, we may not have the nuts and bolts firmly pinned down. The reason why this is important is that, if there is any lacuna or window of opportunity through which people can remove themselves from the process, we should understand that some people will do so. I hope that, before this returns to us, the Minister will make sure that every single dot and comma is bolted down so that we have confidence not only in the will of the people and the will of Parliament, but in the fact that we have produced something that is operationally effective.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, before the Minister replies, like many other noble Lords I have been trying to clarify where we are. I think that it is the case that the detour through the royal charter, which is where the two-thirds majority is mentioned, means that an ordinary vote in both Houses of Parliament would not be sufficient. This royal charter is an instrument of the Privy Council. We are not voting to create a royal charter, as that is beyond our powers. It is the Privy Council that will create it. We are indicating, as it were, a mechanism of access to that which it is intended the Privy Council will create at a future date.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am sorry to prolong this, but it seems rather important. The Minister said in answer to my question that the industry could indeed side-step the whole of this mechanism. Therefore, what we have here by way of protection—namely, you cannot amend and you cannot dissolve—could be rendered nugatory by the industry simply saying, “We are going to set up a parallel, separate body”. I wonder, therefore, whether some of what has been said is not perhaps misleading in terms of its efficacy.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, the last few comments made by noble Lords obviously need to be picked up and looked at by the Minister. He has promised several letters, so I will not try and anticipate them, but I think that several of the questions bear on a point that was made earlier, which I would like to endorse. What we are looking at today is, of course, a compromise. It is a compromise in the best interests of the country. Indeed, it led my noble friend Lord Lipsey to say that this was a good day for democracy, not just because this was a step forward in the right way but because it was something in which we could perceive, behind the appurtenances of government and opposition, a real willingness to try to work together to create something that will last and will be substantial in addressing problems that we all know are there and whose solutions have been eluding us for some 70 years.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 454

However, compromises, although they can work, will often leave one or two things unsettled. My noble friend Lord Reid and others have pointed out one or two that we really have to address. That is something that we can do, although time is short. The rationale for attempting to amend this Bill, and hopefully successfully doing so, was such that it was too obvious for us to ignore, but it raises questions of timescale. In order to get the Bill processed and brought into law, so that it underpins the work in the royal charter, we have to adhere to the timetable. I accept the points that have been made. I think that the Minister will take them away and do what he can with them. There are simple answers to a number of the points that were raised, but it will be important for those to be available to us as we see the process of the Bill going forward. There will be opportunities for that to be done.

I would just like to say three things. First, I feel bad at not having thanked a number of people for the work that has been done in bringing forward the arrangements that we are considering today. Primary among these, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler—we should have acknowledged this when he was speaking—has been an inspiration to many of us. I pay tribute to him and the constant work that he has put in to get us to where we are today. We have learnt a lot from him and we hope that he will see us through to the end of the journey.

The noble Lord mentioned—I echo his support—the work done by Hacked Off. The organisation started off as a rather odd collection of people but it found a rationale in that it provided two things that were really important. The first was that it recognised early on that the people who had the most of a lock on this process were the victims, but that they did not have an organisation. Hacked Off has provided that for them in a positive and supportive way, which was not to shut off the words that we wanted to hear from those who had been so badly affected by this whole process but to encourage and empower them to put across their points of view in such an extraordinarily effective way—we heard a small part of that from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, today. Hacked Off should be given a huge amount of support for what it has done.

It is also important to mention that, although this has largely been a creature of the major parties, the minor parties, from which we heard some evidence, were a key part as well. We would not have got to where we are today if they had not registered firmly in the last 48 or so hours that they had strong views and that they needed to be part of the solution and not ignored. I say thank you to all those.

Secondly, as part of the process, we should also acknowledge the work of many journalists. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, spoke up for many of them and I salute what she said. She also gave us a helpful insight into possible behaviours by those with whom she used to work and perhaps still does. How sad that we did not hear from or have the benefit of the advice of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Black, who I think appeared like ghosts at the Bar and indeed in the Chamber but did not contribute to our debate. We are the worse off for that, although we might speculate a little bit as to why that was the case.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 455

My third point is simply to say that we should recognise that in entering into this compromise arrangement all parties have had to surrender a little bit, but in particular we have committed to two things, which should be on the record. First, during the passage of the Crime and Courts Bill, the three main parties will vote together to oppose any Leveson-related amendments unless they are agreed by all three parties. There are some exceptions that have still to be dealt with, one of which was referred to by the Minister. I put it to him that, as I understand it, it has not yet been agreed that the status of the charter body should be such that it would be outwith the responsibilities of the Freedom of Information Act. That is very much a live issue and bears back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Wills that it is rather odd to try to exclude from that process a body that should be concerned with information and information flow. Secondly, in an earlier debate, we in this House imposed some amendments to the Defamation Bill and it has been agreed that the clauses relating to the Leveson report in that Bill will be removed, if necessary by all three parties voting together. That will unblock the Bill, which, sadly, has languished and has not been seen since we passed our amendments some time ago.

I conclude by thanking the Minister for his support on this amendment. I have noticed that Ministers get quite attached to the Bills that they have to deal with. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, took over from the noble Lord, Lord Marland, half way through the Bill and therefore perhaps has less attachment than he otherwise would have. Nevertheless, he has become a bit ferocious and protective of some things and I was a bit scared that he might take that attitude to this amendment, but he has not done so. He has been more than welcoming; he has been very supportive and has spoken warmly in support of this amendment today and I am very grateful to him for it.

Amendment 84EA agreed.

Amendment 84F

Moved by Lord Skidelsky

84F:After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“The Press

Interpretation: “the media”, “news publishers” etc

(1) In this Act “the media” means—

(a) media organisations, and

(b) servants and agents of media organisations in the performance of functions relating to the activities of those organisations.

(2) In this Act “media organisations” means organisations which—

(a) make broadcasts within the meaning of section 95(1) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006;

(b) publish, for circulation anywhere in England or Wales, a newspaper, magazine or periodical (or online content associated with a newspaper, magazine or periodical), a substantial proportion of which consists of news of, or opinion and discussion about, current affairs;

(c) in the course of a business, publish content on a website, a substantial proportion of which consists of news of, or opinion and discussion about, current affairs in England or Wales.

18 Mar 2013 : Column 456

(3) In this Act “news publishers” means media organisations referred to in subsection (2)(b) and (c).

(4) In this Act “regulated publisher” means a news publisher which subscribes to a recognised regulator.

(5) In this Act a reference to “conduct” includes a reference to omissions; and a reference to a person’s conduct can include a reference to a person’s conduct after the events giving rise to a claim.”

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, this group of amendments stands in my name and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy.