Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in many rural areas people are dependent

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on off-grid supplies for their energy. In what way and by what mechanism will those people in rural areas be helped by this package?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I fear I shall not be able to answer the noble Lord straightaway. If he will allow me, I shall write to him. I suspect that this will not have a direct impact, but I shall clarify that rather than a make a statement that fails.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, there is much in the Statement that I welcome, particularly a point that has not been commented on directly. The move in support for the social aspects of the programme from energy bills to general taxation will have some impact on the poorest and on fuel poverty and is entirely to be welcomed. The renewables obligation payments are still going to be collected through energy bills. When will the expected increases in those precepts on bills eat up the £50 which has been announced today?

Baroness Verma: The right reverend Prelate asks a really important question. The point is that whatever measures we are taking, they have to be taken in the round with other measures that we are also taking. It is not just the £50 that will, on average, come off a bill. It will be all the other measures that work alongside this. While the right reverend Prelate is right to ask the question, he needs to accept that there are several measures in place that will address a number of outstanding issues, such as making sure that the most vulnerable pensioners get the help they need during the coldest periods of the year. Let us look at the picture in the round rather than identify one measure.

Baroness Rawlings (Con): My Lords, I applaud and welcome the help the Minister has announced today to assist heating in homes. Have the Government considered, as a simple, practical measure, encouraging people to use electric blankets? They are the answer to many of the Government’s aims. They are very green as they use little electricity and they reduce the need for so much heating in the home. They also make the home very energy efficient—that is, they cost less—which is what the Government seem to have as an aim.

Baroness Verma: I thank my noble friend for her endorsement of the Statement. As with all measures, we need to be able to ensure that people are kept warm and safe and that they are not paying over the odds for energy. There are measures in the Statement and measures that we are already undertaking that will help energy efficiency and help consumers to reduce their bills.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): I thank the Minister for the Statement. In doing so, I repeat the question I asked her last week about the Government’s attitude to markets and, in particular, failing markets. Less than two months ago, we were told by no less a personage than the Prime Minister, and by almost everyone else who has been briefing on his behalf, that any intervention in the energy markets was at best a return to the 1970s and at worst Marxism—presumably a return to the 1870s. Today, in her introductory remarks—I think I am quoting her correctly—the

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Minister talked about “forcing transparency on the market” and later referred to “bearing down on prices”. Will she clarify for us whether the Government now accept that it is not only proper and reasonable to intervene in a failing market but it is the duty of government so to do in order to protect people from a faulty market?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I shall respond to the noble Lord as I probably responded to him last time. We need to ensure that there is greater competition. I hate to go back to my earlier point, but under the previous Administration, the number of energy companies reduced from 14 or 15 to six. The big six is a Labour creation. If we have less competition, it is because that competition was taken out by the previous Government. We have now seen seven new entrants in our energy mix. We will see a greater number of entrants coming forward because we have created confidence for smaller providers to come into the marketplace. We do not need intervention as the noble Lord expects. We need to ensure greater competition.

Lord Wrigglesworth (LD): Does my noble friend agree that there is a vital need at the moment to encourage investment in the energy supply industry and in the electricity supply industry in particular? I welcome her Statement, but will she explain to the House how this is going to encourage more investment in the energy supply industry and how the pledge of the party opposite to freeze prices is going to bring about long-term investment in the electricity supply industry, which is so important if we are not going to have the lights going out?

Baroness Verma: My noble friend is right. We need investment. Since 2010, we have seen more than £35 billion of investment in the energy sector in this country. My noble friend will have to get the answer on the Opposition’s pledge from them. It seems that they are empty words that have no substance.

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, perhaps the Minister can clarify the arithmetic, particularly in relation to the eco. Past DECC figures suggested that the eco costs consumers about £47 a year. This Statement claims that we will save £30 to £35 of that cost, yet 60% of the eco relates to affordable warmth and other fuel poverty measures, and they are going to be maintained according to this Statement, so the full cost must fall on the other 40%. By my calculations, that works out at roughly £7, not £30 to £35. The only way to square those figures is by extending the period by another two years, which means halving the annual expenditure on the fuel poverty programme. Even then, the arithmetic does not work out. If that is indeed the case, and the insulation industry seems to be taking that to be the case, does it not justify the stance that we on this side of the House took that the Government’s commitment to the fuel poverty strategy is only to address it rather than to reduce the numbers in fuel poverty? The only measure that we have yet seen is an attempt by the Government to refine fuel poverty downwards, as the Select Committee in the other place pointed out. Will the Minister explain those figures and perhaps justify the position?

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Baroness Verma: My Lords, I have tried to follow the noble Lord very carefully. I will write to the noble Lord if I get it wrong, but I understand that the average saving of around £50 relates to what energy companies themselves have pledged to pass on. I will have to go back, read Hansard and revisit what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Tugendhat (Con): My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that we not only need competition between companies, as she has said, but between different sorts of fuel and sources of supply? We have seen in the United States the very beneficial impact of fracking in diversifying both sources of supply and sorts of fuel. We have great reserves in this country. There are, of course, difficulties about extraction and differences between this country and the United States, but we have riches under our own earth. Does the noble Baroness agree that, in the longer term, the best thing we can do is exploit them?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend is right that we need a broad energy mix and shale gas will be part of that once we have ensured that it is safe and environmentally safe to extract. That we recognise the need for a wider energy mix is shown in the establishment of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil.

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I return to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Reid. Would it not be better if the Minister just accepted that this whole unhappy saga has demonstrated that there are vast areas of policy which cannot simply be left to market forces because there are too many social issues involved? Intelligent government is, therefore, about getting the right mix between the roles of competition, leadership and constructive intervention by the state on behalf of society.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I return to the response I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Reid. We need greater competition to ensure that consumers get the best price available. We cannot market-manage a sector when the noble Lord’s party reduced 14 or 15 suppliers to six. We need to widen the pool of suppliers so that consumers have a greater choice, are able to switch more easily and can be sure that energy efficiency measures will help them to reduce their bills.


Glasgow Helicopter Crash

Statement

5.43 pm

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) (LD): My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the other place on the helicopter crash that happened in Glasgow on the evening of Friday 29 November. Before repeating my right honourable friend’s Statement, I am sure I speak for all parts of your Lordships’ House in expressing our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, as well as expressing our own thoughts for those injured and our thankful appreciation of those who have given such valiant service in the rescue operation. The Statement is as follows.

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“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement to update the House on the crash of the helicopter that happened in Glasgow on the evening of Friday 29 November.

As the House will be aware, at approximately 10.25 pm on Friday evening, a helicopter, operated on behalf of Police Scotland, crashed into the roof of the Clutha Bar in Stockwell Street, Glasgow. It was reported that there were around 120 people in the bar at the time of the accident. Police Scotland has overnight confirmed nine fatalities. This includes the pilot of the helicopter and the two police officers on board. A further 32 people were injured in the crash and 12 remain in hospital. Three of these casualties are being treated in intensive care, where their condition is described as serious but stable. The search of the building continues and it remains possible that more casualties could be found.

I am sure that the House will also wish to recognise the outstanding work of the emergency services, for the speed, professionalism and courage of their response on Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning. Police, fire and ambulance services all responded magnificently, working in difficult and dangerous circumstances. In particular, we should recognise that police officers had to respond in circumstances where they were dealing, not just with the death of members of the public, but also with two of their own colleagues, PC Kirsty Nelis and PC Tony Collins.

Some of the most remarkable stories of courage and selflessness from Friday night and Saturday morning have come from staff and customers of the Clutha Bar and passers-by who came to their assistance in the immediate aftermath of the accident. They responded with no thought for their own personal safety. Members will know that among them was the right honourable Member for East Renfrewshire who happened to be one of the first to arrive on the scene. The right honourable gentleman is not in the House today, as he is in the Philippines, in the course of his duties as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. He is characteristically understated in describing his role, but I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that his response—which was instinctive—did him credit.

I had a meeting with members of all three emergency services in the command centre and I also met with Councillor Gordon Matheson, at the City Chambers where I signed the book of condolence. Glasgow City Council will now take up much of the burden of caring for and comforting those affected by this incident. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has also been in regular contact and his department, through the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, now has a duty to investigate and report on the causes of the accident. Investigations of this sort are inevitably complex and can be lengthy. I know that all those affected will be looking for answers but the gathering of evidence, especially at this early stage, will be vital to the investigation. I hope that the police, and other investigatory agencies, will be given the time and space to do their job.

The House will also wish to know that there has been close contact between Her Majesty’s Government

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and the Scottish Government since the incident. The Prime Minister spoke to the First Minister on Saturday and offered any assistance from the emergency services or other agencies south of the border, should that be required.

I wear today a badge given to me this morning by Councillor Gordon Matheson. It reads, quite simply, “People Make Glasgow”. The response of the people who make Glasgow has demonstrated all the courage and character that has made the city famous throughout the world. We in this House, and the people we represent in communities throughout the United Kingdom, stand in solidarity today with the people of Glasgow as they mourn their loss and start to come to terms with their grief. People make Glasgow: today I wear that badge with pride.”

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.47 pm

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement from the other place. I associate Her Majesty’s Opposition with the expressions of condolence to all those bereaved and sympathy to the injured, and to the great city of Glasgow for the disaster that struck the Clutha Bar overnight at the weekend.

The response of the city of Glasgow, and its people, has won admiration throughout the United Kingdom. The Minister mentioned the emergency services and the hospitals, which have coped with the injured and the deceased. It has been a great response to such a disaster. I come from the town of Rutherglen, a near neighbour of Glasgow, but had the honour to represent the Toryglen part of the city and have always admired the resilience of Glasgow people and their positive response in adversity. I particularly thank the Government for the spirit of consensus and co-operation shown in their actions and behaviour throughout. This has been first class and is much appreciated.

I will ask the two questions put by Margaret Curran in the other House, so that they can be placed on record. We fully understand the pressures of time when it comes to compiling reports, but can the Minister give any indication of when even an interim report might be ready? We fully understand the nature of that question. Secondly, what support can the UK Government offer to Glasgow and the families of the crash victims? Glasgow City Council has to be commended for its reaction to the disaster. Councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said,

“Those who are already suffering physically and emotionally need time to recover and to grieve. Money will be very far from their thoughts, but Glasgow will not allow their suffering to be compounded by financial plight in their hour of need. There will be people who are unable to work, or who face a lengthy road to recovery. Families face uncertain times ahead without loved ones. We can and will help them in the days, weeks and months ahead—and we know many of our fellow Glaswegians will also want to lend their support”.

Glasgow taxi drivers, the taxi association and travel companies are already offering support. The council is promising charitable funds, and the fact that various businesses are coming forward indicates the spirit of Glasgow.

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A remark made by Margaret Curran sums up, for me, the nature of Glaswegians. She said,

“it is the spirit of people who did not turn and run from the Clutha Vaults pub but who ran towards the danger and worked arm in arm to lift men and women to safety”.

Both the Government and Opposition, and all parties in both Houses of Parliament are united in their support of the people of Glasgow. That support for such a resilient group of people will be much appreciated.

5.51 pm

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments and for what he has said about the resilience and the spirit of the people of Glasgow. He said that that has been admired throughout the United Kingdom, but it is fair to say that it has been admired beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. As he pointed out, people ran to help in those circumstances rather than running away from danger. The comments from Councillor Matheson that he quoted represent the real spirit of Glasgow.

The noble Lord asked me about when a report might be expected, although he accepted that it is very early days yet. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch deployed a team of 12 people to Glasgow on Saturday morning, which has been assisting the emergency services with the removal of bodies from the helicopter wreckage and in the immediate vicinity. The helicopter has now been lifted from the roof of the bar. I know that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch will want to give an interim report, but it is too early to predict when that will happen.

The noble Lord also asked about assistance to the authorities in Scotland. As I indicated, offers of assistance have been made to Police Scotland. The Government have made such offers to both the Scottish Government and to Glasgow council. As the Statement said, Glasgow council will now bear much of the burden of what happens from here on. We continue to be ready to provide support, if required, in the best spirit of the co-operation at all levels and by all people that has marked the response to this event.

5.53 pm

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his Statement and for the tribute which he rightly paid to the emergency services. Without in any way anticipating the results of the inquiry, it seems that rather a lot of helicopters fall out of the sky these days. We have seen it in the North Sea and not a stone’s throw from here. Would this not be a good time perhaps to review the maintenance regime that applies to helicopters and the rules that surround it? I appreciate that this was a police helicopter and that we do not know the circumstances. However, should we not look at some kind of review of the safety and maintenance standards that are required of helicopters that fly over heavily populated urban areas?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He highlights the fact that there have been some helicopter crashes and fatalities in recent times. Over a long period of time the safety record has generally been good. However, I

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am sure the whole House will agree that any accident must be thoroughly investigated if lessons can be learnt. It is also important to remind ourselves that helicopters fly many different types of operations and that a helicopter taking large numbers of passengers out to installations in the North Sea is somewhat different from the operation that was undertaken by police and other emergency helicopters in this situation. I am not sure that a generic inquiry would necessarily be the best way forward. However, it is important that there is a thorough investigation of the various accidents that have happened. I am in no doubt that the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and other relevant authorities will try to ensure that that thorough investigation takes place so that we can learn any lessons that are appropriate.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab): My Lords, I am not a Glaswegian. However, all Scotland grieves with Glasgow after this terrible tragedy and is proud of how the people of Glasgow have responded. As parliamentarians, we have in the past few years seen the worst of us. On Friday night, with Jim Murphy, we saw the best of us. We recognise that when a young man puts himself in harm’s way he will live with the memory of that night for the rest of his life.

I will ask the Minister a question, which he may not be able to answer. As we know, these helicopters are used a lot by police and emergency services the length and breadth of Britain and beyond. Given that there is no indication as to what caused this accident and there is no black box recorder, are there any plans to ground these helicopters? If that is the case, what back-up would be available to emergency services throughout the country?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, first, I endorse and echo what the noble Baroness said about Jim Murphy. Those of us who saw that interview realised the spirit of someone whom many of us know. It was all too typical of Jim to do something like that. On the particular helicopter—the EC135—as I said, it is obvious that at this stage of the investigation the cause of the crash is unknown. That type of helicopter has been operated successfully, both in the United Kingdom and internationally, and has a good safety record. At this time we are not aware of any information that would lead us to consider this type as unsafe, but if at any time the European Aviation Safety Agency, which has the approval process, is concerned that the aircraft type is unsafe, it can ground all operations. However, that decision has not been taken.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, as the son of a long-standing emergency worker, I, too, associate myself with the warm tribute that the Minister, and in another place the Secretary of State, gave to emergency workers across Scotland. Those professionals take extraordinary risks to make sure that we continue to be safe and well. I associate myself and the Liberal Democrat Benches with those remarks. Will the Minister commit the United Kingdom Government to ensuring that whatever review is carried out as a result of those investigations into helicopter flights over cities and rural areas, recommendations are acted upon, because

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of the necessity of rotary-wing emergency aircraft for Scotland? Will the Minister make sure that those in the Clutha Bar who have been affected by this tragedy are aware that in perhaps their time of greatest need their fellow Glaswegians, their countrymen and women and those across all of these islands stand with them? Will he ensure that the support that is necessary is provided to those who are affected, not only at the moment but for the weeks and months to come, and that Her Majesty’s Government provide support to Glasgow City Council—to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy—and to the Scottish Government?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, on that final point, it is obvious that it has been a pretty traumatic experience for those who were involved. I hope that over the days, weeks and months ahead, they will find strength and comfort from the strong support for them in the community. I repeat that it has been made clear to Glasgow City Council that we stand ready to give such help as may be appropriate. I echo the tribute he paid to emergency workers.

I have heard it said by some who have been there that because of the particular site of the tragedy, the investigation has been one of the most complex they have ever worked on. Those who undertook much of the rescue and recovery work were doing so in dangerous circumstances. That simply underlines the debt that we owe them. Obviously it is premature to speculate on what kind of recommendations would be made. However, I am sure that the recommendations, be they addressed to government or other bodies, are ones that will require to be properly and fully responded to.

Lord Condon (CB): My Lords, does the Minister agree that the caring and compassionate tone set by Sir Stephen House, the chief constable of Police Scotland, and Rose Fitzpatrick, the deputy chief constable, in all of their public pronouncements has helped with the healing process as the brave people of Glasgow as a whole respond to this very challenging and difficult situation?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Certainly, any public statements I have seen on television by both the chief constable and the deputy chief constable have been exactly that. As I said in the Statement, it is worth reminding ourselves that they themselves suffered the loss of colleagues in this tragedy. Notwithstanding that, they have acted with exemplary professionalism.

Lord Maxton (Lab): My Lords, as an ex-Member of Parliament for one of the Glasgow seats, I take this opportunity to say both that I mourn for the people of Glasgow today and that I am proud of them for the way in which they have reacted to this tragedy. First, it is a compliment in these modern times that there is no photograph of the tragedy because everybody went to help rather than taking out their iPhones and taking photographs. I have a serious question, because it is a very serious moment. The latest reports say that there was no mayday signal from the helicopter before it crashed. Is this correct? Does it not say something about what happened to that helicopter if there was no mayday signal?

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am not aware of that. It is not a report that I have seen or been made aware of, and therefore it would be wrong for me to speculate. Obviously, matters such as that will be examined, and I have no doubt that information will come out in the days and weeks ahead. However, it would be wrong for me to speculate on what I have not heard.

Lord Glenarthur (Con): My Lords, while entirely joining myself with my noble and learned friend’s remarks about all those who have been affected by this horrible accident, I declare an interest as president of the British Helicopter Association, which is the trade body that looks after operators of all sorts of helicopters, including police helicopters. It is, as my noble and learned friend said, far too early to even begin to speculate on the cause of this accident. It will take some time to establish what it is. It appears to be incredibly unusual, certainly in my experience, for an incident of this sort to arise without any warning whatever apparently—although we do not know if there was a mayday call or not.

Does my noble friend agree that it is perhaps not strictly comparable to some of the incidents that we have seen on the North Sea, which often have occurred for other reasons? Perhaps he would also endorse that the safety regime through the regulators, both the European Aviation Safety Agency and indeed our own Civil Aviation Authority, is of the very highest standard. Certainly in my experience all those concerned with this, including all those who live in populated areas where police helicopters have to operate, must be reassured that these aircraft and their crews operate to the very highest standards, and that no stone will be left unturned in trying to establish the cause of this accident.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I acknowledge the experience of my noble friend and share his view that it is important. I believe it is the case that the Air Accident Investigation Branch conducts these inquiries and investigations thoroughly and to the highest standards. Once the AAIB has the details on the cause of this tragic accident, it will be a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority to consider what action may be necessary, and to ensure that these matters are proceeded with, regarding the overwhelming requirement for safety in these operations.

Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): I thank the Minister for his Statement, and particularly for his generous tribute to our parliamentary colleague, Jim Murphy. Although he is a self-effacing character, in a sense I think he recognised that what he did was pretty ordinary for Glasgow where, perhaps because of the industrial culture and legacy, there is a tendency to run towards the danger when others are in danger. In any case, however it may surprise others, it remains inspiring. I obviously associate myself with the condolences for those who have lost loved ones or family, and those who are injured. I will ask the Minister one question. I understand he said that the search continues inside the Clutha Bar for others who may be there. Does he have any information as to whether there are known and

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identified persons, without any names, who are still unaccounted for—or is it simply a matter of searching the bar itself?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I note again the point made by the noble Lord with regard to Jim Murphy. I rather suspect that the self-effacing way in which Jim handled the interviews was because he recognised that he was not alone among those who responded to that situation. I cannot, because I do not have the information, go beyond what I said—and what the Secretary of State said when he stood up and made his Statement in the other place—which is that the search of the building continues. I am not aware of the position regarding people who may have been missing and identified. I know some concerns have been expressed by victims, and some frustration. That is totally understandable in the circumstances. Equally, Deputy Chief Constable Fitzpatrick, who has already been referred to, said:

“The uncertainty for the families of those who have died is at the front of our minds … It remains our absolute priority to give clarity to those affected as soon as we are able”.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas (Con): Does the Minister accept that we all wish to be associated with his messages of condolence to the bereaved, and also to those who have been severely injured or injured at all? Can the Minister tell us whether helicopters of this nature possess black boxes, and whether that will be one of the issues to be looked at in the inquiry?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, it is the case that this helicopter was not fitted with any cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder or usage monitoring system. It is important to say that it was not a requirement. Again, it would be wrong for me to speculate on whether that is something that the AAIB will wish to look at in terms of any possible recommendation. I will just make the point at the moment that it was not a requirement for this particular type of helicopter.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Committee (5th Day) (Continued)

6.08 pm

Clause 87: Notice requirements for new ground

Amendment 56ADD not moved.

Clause 87 agreed.

Clause 88: Review requirements for new ground

Amendments 56AE and 56AF not moved.

Clause 88 agreed.

Clause 89: Corresponding new ground and notice requirements for assured tenancies

Amendments 56AG to 56AL not moved.

Clause 89 agreed.

Clause 90 agreed.

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Clause 91: Offences connected with riot

Amendment 56AM

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

56AM: Clause 91, page 61, line 39, leave out “or a person”

Baroness Hamwee (LD): This group of amendments takes us to Clause 91, which provides for possession in the event of riot-related offences. The first amendment in the group is Amendment 56AM, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, who also tabled Amendment 56ACC. He proposes to leave out the words “a person” from the new grounds so that the ground for possession would be limited to an offence by the tenant residing in the dwelling house, not the tenant or another person. My noble friend, who cannot be here today, asks whether—as he and I read the legislation—this could include, for instance, a lodger or someone who has been taken in by the tenant on the advice of the Government to avoid the spare bedroom tax.

My Amendment 56AB would restrict the ground for possession to the commission of a serious offence, using the definition in new Section 84A in Clause 86 for convenience. I understand and appreciate that granting possession will be a discretionary matter, but the court must take account of some circumstances being such as to justify the exercise. I was concerned, as I have been on similar points, by the Government’s response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said that it was not persuaded by the Government’s justification for this ground for possession. The Government say that this is likely to happen only very exceptionally. The ground is discretionary, which means that the court will not be able to make a possession order unless it considers it reasonable to do so. The court may be less likely to conclude that it was reasonable to evict when the crime was not committed in the locality of the property. As it is a riot-related offence, it may have been committed some way away and have nothing to do with the property. We are talking here about offences which, in all likelihood, are unrelated to the other occupants of the property. The JCHR commented that this response would disproportionately affect women and children.

This Bill is, rightly, victim focused, but I am concerned that this punishment would create new victims—other occupants of the property. If an offender who is about to set out to take part in a riot and to loot is not deterred by the thought that he might be convicted of a criminal offence and be imprisoned, and the effect of that on his family, would he even think about the tenancy? I find it hard to put myself in the mind of such a person, but I doubt it.

My amendments would restrict the offence in question to a serious offence and try to meet the Government part way on this. I have other amendments that would allow the court to transfer the tenancy to the spouse of an offender who herself or himself is not an offender. I am not happy with the clause, but I have cut out the first bit and gone straight to seeking a compromise with the Government. I beg to move.

6.15 pm

Lord Faulks (Con): My Lords, I would like to address the House on this clause. As the Minister will

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be aware, I am very much in favour of the architecture of this Bill and very sympathetic to its aims. However, as in life, not everything is perfect, and I fear that I cannot give my endorsement to this clause, which gives the court additional powers to order possession in relation to secure and assured tenancies in the event that the,

“tenant or a person residing in the dwelling-house has been convicted of an offence which took place during, and at the scene of, a riot in the United Kingdom”.

That distinguishes it from other parts of Part 5, which are concerned with matters that take place in the locality—or the vicinity, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would have it.

I understand that the additional ground for possession has been included in the Bill to reflect the seriousness with which the Government view participation in riots, particularly those on a scale seen in this country during the summer before last. Those who committed offences during the riot on that occasion were dealt with speedily and firmly. Sentences of imprisonment were the norm, and some were lengthy. To some extent, one could say that they were deprived of the right to remain in a dwelling house by that very process. The courts have sufficient powers to deal firmly with offenders caught up in a riot and appeals against sentences were, for the most part, unsuccessful. The criminal justice system—some would say “for once”—in general responded very well to what occurred.

I am concerned that this measure is a step too far. While a court would still have to be satisfied that it was reasonable to grant possession, the fact that the relevant offence can be committed not only by the tenant but by someone residing in the dwelling house means that a tenant wholly innocent of involvement in a riot could potentially lose their home. I do not think that this is a necessary or appropriate provision, given all the other powers that exist elsewhere in the Bill. I am also concerned that what is essentially a procedure by way of civil remedy should carry with it a criminal offence of this sort connected with the civil recovery of possession. Although I share the Government’s concern that those involved with riots should be dealt with in a way that sends out a message to any potential rioters, I take the view, as did the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, that this clause is a step too far.

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and wish to speak to Clause 91. I sympathise with the Government’s reasoning and motivation for this additional ground for possession being included in the Bill and appreciate the strong signals that are needed for people involved in rioting. I was in London in the summer of 2011 so I can directly share the concern of the Government and the general public about the serious nature of the offences of those who participate in riots, especially on that scale. However, as my noble friend Lord Faulks outlined, the criminal courts have sufficient powers to deal with those matters. If I recall correctly, some courts even sat through the night, and many offenders were clearly extremely shocked to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment. The criminal courts were not found wanting and sentences reflected the gravity with which the judiciary viewed this behaviour.

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It is important to note the distinctive nature of the power in Clause 91. Unlike the powers in Clauses 86 to 90, this power is exercised in relation to behaviour that is not necessarily either of any impact on the landlord or in relation to the premises themselves or connected to the dwelling house. I also share the concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. When speaking of the old ASBO regime, he stated that we are,

“using the civil law to do the work of the criminal law”.—[

Official Report

, 18/11/13; col. 750.]

Repossessing premises is a civil law matter, but this provision is akin to bringing criminal penalties for riot into our civil courts. As my noble friend Lord Faulks has outlined, the courts have to be satisfied that it is reasonable to grant possession. However, the fact that the offence can be committed not only by the tenant but by someone residing in the dwelling house means that a tenant wholly innocent of involvement in rioting could lose their home. That is unjust.

Such a tenant could argue that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects their right to a family life and home. However, such arguments can often be lengthy and expensive. Many of these arguments will end up being funded by the taxpayer. Although I share the Government’s concern that rioting should have potentially serious consequences, I am left wondering why if rioting is a ground for repossessing premises, other serious offences, such as paedophilia, are not. I maintain the view recorded in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This clause will be an unhelpful precedent.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, a few weeks ago I was quite taken aback when I received from a Conservative Peer a message of glowing tribute for the two speeches I had made in the Chamber that day. Since I had not been anywhere near the Chamber that day I was somewhat mystified, and that is why I want to make it clear that the speech before last was not made by me, but by someone with a similar name. The noble Baroness currently in the chair and I also have the same sort of problem from time to time, except that there is one big difference between her and me which is fairly obvious. I do not mean politics, I mean gender. So I want to make it clear that the speech before last was made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks: F-A-U-L-K-S. I say that because if I just pronounced it, Hansard would not know what on earth to do.

I have a further point. Had I been making these points in another place with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, in the chair, she would have ruled me out of order long before now, but that does not happen here. My point is that that the numbering and lettering of these amendments is even more confusing than the confusion between our three names. I hope the clerks will look at some more logical way of numbering and lettering amendments. After all, 56 is not the only number that you can use for an amendment. There is 57 for example, and so on. These As, Bs, Cs, Ds and so on are most confusing. However, I am going on too long, taking up time now when I am looking forward to speaking in order, substantially and importantly, on attacks on shopkeepers and public service workers later in the Bill.

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Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, I support my noble friends Lord Faulks and Lady Berridge, although I am not on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. At the time of the riots in London and across the country a couple of years ago, I supported severe punishment by the courts of otherwise minor relatively offences, because those offences took place during a riot. I do not support lenient treatment of minor offences committed during a riot. However, as my noble friends have indicated, the provision to order possession of a property when the offence has absolutely nothing to do with protecting neighbours, for example, from anti-social behaviour, is a step too far. It is politically motivated and is not driven by the needs of justice. Therefore, it should be no part of this Bill.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, Clause 91 is headed “Offences connected with riot” and presumably the intention is again to put victims first. In that case, I come back to an earlier point: why are there two classes of victim of riotous behaviour? Riotous activity by a tenant of social housing or an assured tenancy can lead to eviction, but riotous activity by an owner-occupier cannot, and there is no redress of comparable severity that would apply to an owner-occupier but not to someone in rented accommodation. Will the Minister address this point? In a Bill intended to put the victim first, what is the thinking behind the Government’s apparent decision that there should be two classes of victim when it comes to action that can be taken against those who cause misery through the activity defined in Clause 91?

Under Clause 91, tenants, including the individual convicted of riotous activity, who have caused no nuisance, annoyance or harassment, alarm and distress to anyone living in their own locality could be evicted. Children could be evicted. This clause appears to have more to do with punishment over and above that handed down by the court for riotous activity. This additional punishment is not evenly applied, since it can affect only those in social housing and assured tenancies and not owner-occupiers. Is that fair and just?

Finally, Clause 91 refers to,

“an offence which took place during, and at the scene of, a riot in the United Kingdom”.

Could this include an offence unrelated to the riot, but at the scene of the riot, such as careless or dangerous driving, or a minor assault? If so, could a family in rented accommodation face eviction for such an offence as a result?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Con): With regard to the question that the noble Lord asked me before our tea break, I have nothing further to add. The two classes of tenure are different. Therefore, the possession of property which is owned by someone and the possession of a property which is tenanted by someone are not comparable. The noble Lord is seeking to introduce a red herring. It adds nothing to whether anti-social behaviour should be grounds for possession.

Lord Rosser: I understand what the Minister is saying, but he seems reluctant to admit that under this Bill someone in rented accommodation can be treated

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much more severely than an owner-occupier. He seems unwilling to face up to there being, for the same offence, unequal treatment and indeed considerably more drastic treatment for those in rented accommodation, who can lose their homes while owner-occupiers cannot. There is no penalty of equal severity for an owner-occupier that does not apply to someone in rented accommodation.

6.30 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: An owner-occupier with a mortgage might well find his home taken from him as a result of a term of imprisonment. I say to the noble Lord that trying to compare bottles with cans is not a particularly helpful thing to do. Either he is in favour of retribution—

Lord Faulks: I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. He has been asked this question a number of times. Of course, there are differences. One significant difference, of which he will no doubt be aware, is that if you are a tenant of a public authority, you have additional protection by virtue of the Human Rights Act, whereas those who are not protected by a public authority—private tenants—do not have any such protection.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am grateful to my noble friend for his intervention, which points to a difference. There is a difference in the treatment; there is not a difference in the way in which the victims are dealt with.

Lord Rosser: I am always interested to listen to a lawyer explaining the law. However, that point does not answer the point that I have made: for the same offence there is a much more drastic penalty for somebody in rented accommodation than for an owner-occupier—namely, loss of their dwelling.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord has made that point several times. It is up to other noble Lords to judge whether it correctly identifies anti-social behaviour, which is what the Bill seeks to address.

I would like to talk about the subject of this debate—that is, the specific proposals in Clause 91. As the law stands, thuggish behaviour against neighbours or in the locality of a tenant’s home may be a basis for eviction. However, looting, or other riot-related criminal activity, by tenants further away from their homes would not usually be taken into account. I do not think that is right, although the noble Lord may think that it is. People who wreck other people’s communities through riot-related offences should face the same consequences that they would if they carried out such behaviour in their own neighbourhoods. Clause 91 enables that to happen. It also sends out a strong and important message for the future that if you get involved in a riot, whether that is near your home or not, there may be consequences for your tenancy.

However, I emphasise that we would expect landlords to seek to evict under this new ground for possession only exceptionally. With regard to the concern raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights—that

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the ground amounts to a punishment and may disproportionately affect women and children—it is important to note that safeguards will be in place. The new ground is discretionary, and so, just as is the case for the existing discretionary grounds for possession for anti-social behaviour, the court would have to consider whether it was reasonable to grant a possession order in the light of the facts of the case. The impact on the whole household and any young children is likely to be a relevant factor in this.

Amendments 56AM and 56CC to this clause would mean that possession action under the provisions of Clause 91 could be triggered only where the tenant, and not a member of their household, had been convicted of an offence. Amendments 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E would mean that only convictions for “serious offences”, as defined for the purposes of the new absolute ground for possession, could trigger possession action under the provisions of Clause 91.

As I have said before, it is an established principle of tenancy law that a tenant is held responsible for the behaviour of members of their household. There is also an issue of wider parental responsibility here. In practice, though, the landlord would need to prove that it was reasonable to grant possession, and we consider it unlikely that the court would find this to be the case where a child of a tenant has, as a one-off, got caught up in, and committed, an offence during a riot. Clearly, a tenant, or any other parent, should be held more responsible if their teenage child makes their neighbours’ lives a misery over a period of years than if they just let them out of their sight for a few hours. Similarly, in practice we would not expect this new ground for possession to be used where the conviction was for a minor offence. We would expect these provisions to be used only exceptionally and in relation only to serious riot-related offences. Therefore, a landlord might, for example, consider possession action where one of their tenants had been convicted of a serious assault on a police officer, but not where they had stolen a pair of trainers from a shop. Again, even if a landlord were to apply for possession on the basis of a minor offence committed at the scene of a riot, we would not expect the court to consider it reasonable to grant possession. Therefore, we would, in practice, expect the impact of Amendments 56AM, 56CC, 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E to be limited.

I recognise, however, that, through these amendments, my noble friends—I was also grateful for the speeches made by my noble friends Lady Berridge and Lord Faulks—are seeking to ensure that we establish in law that only serious offences committed at the scene of a riot by a tenant could provide a trigger for possession under the new ground. I am, therefore, ready to consider these amendments further, without commitment, in advance of Report.

Amendments 56CA and 56CB would enable the court, when granting possession against a tenant, to order that the tenancy be transferred to another individual. There may be occasions, for example where relationships break down, where it is appropriate for a court to determine to whom within a household a new tenancy should be granted. In general, however, decisions about who should be allocated available social housing locally should rest with the landlord or, where nominations

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agreements are in place, with the local authority. They, not the courts, understand who is most in need of social housing locally, and are best placed to make decisions in the light of that knowledge.

In short, I believe that these provisions make entirely appropriate changes to the discretionary grounds for possession available to landlords. It will still be for the landlord and the courts to decide whether possession is reasonable in all the circumstances. That said, in relation to the riot-related provision, I will, as I have indicated, take away Amendments 56AM, 56CC, 56B, 56C, 56D and 56E and consider them further. With that assurance, I commend Clauses 90, 91 and 92 to the Committee.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I confess that I am a little confused by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. As I understand it, he supports the concept but takes issue with differentiation between tenures. However, in supporting the concept and saying that different tenures should be dealt with in a similar way, I assume that he is talking about confiscation of a property. However, we do not have to go there as that is not what is provided by the Bill. Obviously, I am very grateful to my noble friend—

Lord Rosser: I said that no redress of comparable severity would apply to an owner-occupier as opposed to somebody in rented accommodation.

Baroness Hamwee: As I said, the noble Lord is concerned about differentiation. That is where my logic—perhaps not his—takes me. I am grateful to the Minister. My amendments on the transfer of a tenancy sought to ameliorate the situation, although I recognise landlords’ concern. As regards what is reasonable for a court or a landlord to do, I am not sure whether the reasonableness concerns the seriousness of the offence or the nature of the household—for instance, whether there is a child in the household. I have a bit of a difficulty there. Having said that, my noble friend made my argument extremely well. I am very glad that this matter will be considered further and will not take up any more of the Committee’s time on it tonight. I look forward to coming back to it on Report, whenever that is. It is probably quite soon. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 56AM.

Amendment 56AM withdrawn.

Amendments 56B to 56E not moved.

Clause 91 agreed.

Clause 92 agreed.

Clause 93: The community remedy document

Amendment 56F

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

56F: Clause 93, page 64, line 14, leave out “one” and insert “two”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, in moving Amendment 56F, I will speak also to Amendments 56G and 56H, as well as Amendments 56GA, 56GB, 56HA and 56HB in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves.

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With Clause 93 we reach Part 6 of the Bill—Local Involvement and Accountability—which starts with community remedies. The first of my amendments is to Clause 93(3), which provides that an action which might be included in the community remedy document is appropriate if it has one of three objects: assisting rehabilitation, ensuring reparation, and punishment.

A community remedy should have an objective of more than punishment. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which has been through this House and is now in the Commons, makes a very welcome switch in direction in penal policy by the way in which it looks at rehabilitation. There is a change in general thinking along these lines as well. My amendment would require two of those three actions—not punishment alone, but either reparation or rehabilitation as well; and it might just be rehabilitation and reparation.

Amendment 56G is on a completely different point: consultation on the community remedy document. It would require the police and crime commissioner, or MOPAC in London—I do regret the loss of the acronym MOPC—to consult with local authorities. I cannot believe that I have omitted to mention the London boroughs, but I am sure that the Minister will tell me that, for this purpose, they are unitary. Amendments 56GA and 56GB from my noble friend Lord Greaves are much better, but they do the same thing.

Amendments 56HA and 56HB are my noble friend’s amendments to Clause 94. They ask about the relationship between the requirements that the community remedy document places on someone, whether by agreement or conviction, and the requirements under IPNAs and CBOs. Are they the same? Are the requirements in Clause 93 the way in which IPNAs and CBOs will also operate, or are community remedies alternative and additional? Why are they all needed?

My noble friend’s amendments also probe the concept of the community remedy as an alternative to a fixed penalty notice or a caution when an offence has taken place. He is concerned that the whole area of penalties versus cautions might become even more muddled. I share this concern. I think I saw a government statement recently announcing changes in the use of unconditional cautions; I might be wrong, but this is not central to the amendments. Apart from, perhaps, my first amendment on consultation, these are probing amendments as to the provisions in this part of the Bill. I beg to move.

6.45 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I shall be brief. I shall certainly be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Subject to hearing from the Minister, it is difficult to see what the problem would be with inserting “two” rather than “one” in Clause 93(3). As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has also pointed out, when it comes to Clause 93(5), although there is consultation, it does not seem as if local authorities are going to get much of a look-in. If the Minister was going to move to two rather than one of the objects having to be carried out, it would be even more important to consult with local authorities.

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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that point. It is clear that local authorities are likely to be engaged in the compilation of suitable elements for community remedies but we do not see the necessity of putting it in the Bill.

I thank my noble friend Lady Hamwee for raising these issues about this important part of the Bill. Dealing with low-level crime, out of court where appropriate, means that victims get justice quickly. My noble friend is absolutely right: there is a review going on at the moment of informal cautions and the consequences of out-of-court settlements. Damian Green announced this in a Written Ministerial Statement on 19November. These remedies strengthen the armoury. They mean that the offender has to face immediate consequences for his or her actions which can make her or him less likely to offend in the future. The community remedy will give victims of low-level crime and anti-social behaviour a say in the punishment of offenders out of court. It will also ensure that victims and the public agree that the punishments used are meaningful, rather than a token slap on the wrist.

The Bill provides that the actions on the community remedy menu must have the objective either of assisting in the offender’s rehabilitation, ensuring that they make reparation or providing a punishment. Some actions will have more than one of these elements; for example, cleaning up graffiti is a reparative action but it also has an element of punishment. In other cases, appropriate actions may have only one of the elements required. One of the actions we have suggested in the draft guidance is that the offender could be asked to sign an acceptable behaviour contract, whereby they agree not to behave anti-socially in future. This assists the rehabilitation of the offender but it need not have a reparative or punitive element.

I know that my noble friend is keen to avoid actions that are purely punitive in nature. However, I see no reason why this should not sometimes be appropriate. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provides that a conditional caution may impose a financial penalty on the offender. On its own, this would be a punitive punishment and may, in some cases, be entirely appropriate. So we should not rule out that option.

Amendments 56G and 56H would make the community remedy document subject to consultation and agreement with the local authority as well as with the police. The PCC has a duty to consult the chief constable and to agree the community remedy menu with him or her. This is appropriate, since police officers will be using the community remedy document and will take ultimate responsibility for the sanction offered to the offender.

However, I believe that the role of the local authority is a little different. The PCC should consult with community representatives and the public. We would expect this to include local councils, as they are likely to contribute a number of actions to the menu. Professionals such as youth offending teams will know what actions are appropriate and what resources are available locally to deliver the more formal sanctions.

My noble friend has tabled a number of amendments—alongside those in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves, who is not in his place

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today—which seek to enhance the role of local authorities in the Bill. In this instance, I believe that it makes a good deal of sense to formalise the relationship between the PCC, the police and local authorities in establishing the community remedy document. There is much to be gained from this relationship and, since the community remedy document will be established in advance—one might say in slow time—there is nothing to lose by making the responsibility to consult a statutory one. However, I believe that the responsibility to agree the actions to be included on the community remedy document should rest with the PCC and the chief constable. PCCs are democratically accountable to the public, and the responsibility of ensuring that the community remedy meets the needs of local people properly rests with the PCC.

For many of the same reasons, I do not believe that the decision about whom it is appropriate to consult in preparing the document should be a joint responsibility of the local authority and the PCC, which is what Amendments 56GA and 56GB, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, seek to do. Responsibility for preparing the community remedy document properly rests with the PCC, and so, by and large, should the decision on consultation.

Amendments 56HA and 56HB, also tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, would mean that the community remedy would be used for anti-social behaviour only and not for low-level criminal offences. The Bill places a duty on the police officer to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of the victim on whether the offender should undertake any of the actions in the community remedy document.

As currently drafted, that duty applies when someone has admitted to anti-social behaviour or a low-level criminal offence which the officer has decided will be dealt with using a conditional caution. The community remedy provides a means to engage the victim in considering what the community resolution should be or in considering appropriate conditions to attach to the caution. The police officer will take ultimate responsibility for the sanction offered to the offender and must ensure that it is proportionate to the offence committed.

I am firmly convinced that this victim-focused approach should apply equally where it is considered appropriate to deal with a low-level criminal offence with an out-of-court disposal. In particular, where the offending is low-level or it is someone’s first offence, undertaking an action from the community remedy menu, such as apologising to the victim or repairing the damage caused, may have a more positive and longer lasting impact on the offender than a formal court sanction.

As I have indicated, I will give sympathetic consideration to Amendment 56G in advance of Report. As for the other amendments, I hope that, having aired these important issues, my noble friend will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Newlove (Con): My Lords, how will the remedies be evaluated? I am inclined to think that the community remedy is not “one size fits all”. I know that it rests with the PCCs but I have said previously

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that I am concerned about how the remedies will be reviewed across the country. Can the Minister give me any idea of how that is going to happen?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Each PCC has to consult within his area on what is considered to be an appropriate menu—if one might call it that—of suitable community remedies. I have little doubt that members of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners will discuss this matter in some detail among themselves and that there will be considerable input. However, essentially it will be about local decisions made to address local problems and finding local solutions for local anti-social behaviour and for dealing with low-level crime at a local level and in a formal way.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I suspect that the debate about the role of the local authority and the relationships between the local authority and local policing bodies is destined to go on and on. However, wherever the word “community” is seen, I move almost seamlessly to local authorities. Police and crime commissioners are indeed democratically accountable but so are local authorities. Local authorities are going to be more local than most of the police and crime commissioners, whose areas of responsibility are very wide, and of course they cannot impose a penalty themselves. Anti-social behaviour is very much a local authority concern. I am not seeking to downplay the role or status of police and crime commissioners—I would expect both to contribute. However, I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56F withdrawn.

Amendments 56G to 56H not moved.

Clause 93 agreed.

Clause 94: Anti-social behaviour etc: out-of-court disposals

Amendments 56HA and 56HB not moved.

Amendment 56J

Moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

56J: Clause 94, page 66, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) Provisions should be put in place under a designated senior police officer to ensure scrutiny of decision making through a local scrutiny panel.

( ) The strategy and usage of cautions and out of court disposals should be reviewed by a local scrutiny panel on a regular basis.

( ) The use of cautions and out of court disposals for serious cases and repeat offenders should be particularly scrutinised.”

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): My Lords, this is a probing amendment, which seeks to put in place a scrutiny element in decision-making through a local scrutiny panel. I have taken the wording of the amendment from the recently published government document, Review of Simple Cautions, which was written by the College of Policing and the Government and was published in November this year.

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Scrutiny is a method by which out-of-court disposals can be reviewed by magistrates, district judges, PCCs, the police, the probation service and YOTs. In London, I understand that MOPAC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, would take the lead.

I understand that the necessary legislation is in place for scrutiny panels to be established and that a number of PCCs have already introduced some form of scrutiny panel. The prime purpose of these panels is of course to help the public maintain confidence in out-of-court disposals. I am moving this probing amendment because I believe that the rollout of scrutiny panels has been very patchy across the country. As far as I know, no scrutiny panels have been established in London, and I believe that that is a cause for concern.

It is worth reviewing the figures relating to the massive change in recorded crime that we have seen in recent years. In 2008, there was a maximum of 360,000 cautions. Currently, the number of cautions issued by the police is about 200,000, which represents a huge reduction. In London, in our youth courts over the past three years we have seen a halving of the number of cases brought to court. There are any number of explanations for this huge reduction in recorded crime, and I shall not go through all the possible ones. However, I will list some of them because I know that they have been widely debated in the press and elsewhere.

The first is that there is indeed a genuine reduction in the level of crime, which of course is to be welcomed. A second explanation that is commonly advanced is the cuts to the police service. A further explanation is the massaging of reported crime figures, as was alleged in the Public Administration Select Committee on 19 November. A further explanation is the removal of police targets for offences brought to justice. Another is that the police are concentrating resources on gang-related offences rather than specific drug-related ones: namely, possession with intent to supply. That explanation is specific to the London area.

7 pm

There are other, more improbable, explanations: I will list just a couple. The first, which I heard from a police officer, is that the riots of 2011 led to a reduction in the current levels of crime because the offenders were locked up for such lengthy periods that they failed to instruct a younger generation in crime. The second is that the banning of lead in petrol in 1998 led to this reduction in crime.

As I say, there is any number of reasons for this. However, the Government will be well aware that there is widespread scepticism about the reliability of the figures used. The method put in place by the Government to try to address that scepticism is the scrutiny panel. I am moving these amendments—which are probing; I understand that the legislation is in place—to try to get the Government to roll out the scrutiny process more thoroughly. My experience is that in London it is just not happening. It is a very important part of the process for the public to maintain confidence in our out-of-court disposals. I beg to move.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, one of the issues that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede raised is the apparent extent to which Clause 94 could be used to

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keep cases that would justify court proceedings under the terms of the Bill out of the courts, where an individual has admitted to engaging in anti-social behaviour or committing an offence to a constable, investigating officer or a person authorised to issue additional cautions. Even where such a person thinks that the evidence is enough to seek an injunction under Section 1 or to take other court proceedings, they can still make a decision not to seek an injunction, not to take court proceedings, not to give a caution and not to give a fixed penalty notice. Instead, they can tell the offender to carry out any action listed in the community remedy document, including making a payment to the victim.

Since the Secretary of State is to issue guidance to local policing bodies on how they should discharge their functions in preparing or revising the community remedy document, can the Minister say what will be the maximum penalties that can be provided for in that document, including the maximum payment that can be ordered to be made to the victim? If an offence has been admitted, can the offender insist on being taken to court or receiving a caution or fixed penalty, rather than carrying out an action listed in the community remedy document?

Will a constable or investigating officer be able to act under Clause 94(3) if the offender has previously committed offences, or will it be only if the offender is not previously known? Will a record be kept and, if so, by whom, of any actions under Clause 94(3) that an individual who has committed anti-social behaviour or an offence has been told to take? Since the community remedy document is to apply not only to anti-social behaviour but to an individual who has committed an offence, what kind of offences will be deemed suitable to be dealt with under Clause 94?

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby spoke about the issue of scrutiny and the apparent inadequacy of the scrutiny that is likely to take place. Certainly, there do not seem to be watertight provisions in the Bill to ensure that such scrutiny takes place of the use of the powers under Clause 94.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for tabling his amendment. As he explained, it is probing in nature and seeks to establish a local panel to scrutinise the strategy and use of cautions and out of court disposals in particular. I listened carefully to the reasoning given for the reduction in crime; there were some interesting comments.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to the out of court disposals review that is currently taking place, in partnership between the Ministry of Justice and the police, and in conjunction with the Home Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service. The review will look at all out of court disposals currently used against adults and consider how they might be reformed. The aim is to ensure that out of court disposals are as effective, simple and transparent as possible. The review includes conditional cautions and community resolutions, both of which will be subject to the community remedy. This public consultation was launched on 14 November to seek the views and

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experiences of professionals, victims’ organisations and the public. The consultation will conclude on 9 January and the review as a whole will conclude later in the spring.

Two key themes of the review—picking up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby—are transparency and accountability. The consultation asks the public to consider whether they think there is more information about out of court disposals that should be shared; whether they are able to hold the police to account for the way that out of court disposals are used; and how they think that the Government can make the out of court disposal system more accountable.

In particular, the consultation asks for views on what sort of offences out of court disposals are appropriate for. I agree that the use of cautions for serious offences and repeat offenders requires careful consideration in each specific case. The Review of Simple Cautions, to which the noble Lord referred, has already been completed. The review made it clear that cautions should no longer be used for indictable only offences, and certain serious either-way offences, unless there are exceptional circumstances, and that those who persist in criminal activity should no longer expect to receive a caution. Those changes have been made to the guidance on simple cautions.

The out of court disposals review is also looking at this issue. Currently, the guidance for all out of court disposals indicates that they are available for all offenders, but are primarily intended to address first-time offending. The latest data, for 2012-13, show that 60% of those getting a caution—that is, either a simple or a conditional caution—have not received a previous caution.

On the issue of senior officer oversight, the simple cautions review recommended that there should be greater local accountability and scrutiny of decision-making. The review further recommended that each force should have a senior officer identified as responsible who would provide local leadership and accountability and who would make use of local scrutiny panels. We are considering that recommendation carefully as part of the wider out of court disposals review. There are clearly links between the matters considered in the simple cautions review and the out of court disposals review, and we will consider these alongside each other. Further, I assure the noble Lord that the issues he and others raised in this debate will be fed into the out of court disposals review.

The draft guidance on the community remedy signposts existing CPS guidance on the use of conditional cautions. The community remedy will work with any changes to conditional cautions or community resolutions that take place as a result of the review, but we need to be careful not to impose anything in the Bill or the guidance that will contradict or restrict any changes to those systems.

I will pick up a few points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He asked about the crimes for which the remedy might be used. They are low-level criminal damage, low-value theft, minor assault without injury and anti-social behaviour, and are currently set out on page 15 of the draft guidance. In addition, the noble Lord asked whether the offender could insist on prosecution. The answer is no. He asked whether the

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community remedy only applied to first-time offenders; I have already covered that particular issue. I was asked what records are kept. The police will keep records in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and will retain them if there is a specific police purpose. As I said, a much more detailed review will end in January of next year.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, indicated that this was a probing amendment. I hope by what I have said that that I have conveyed that there are broader issues to consider as well. We will undoubtedly return to this issue once the current review results are out. In the interim, I hope that the noble Lord is reassured both by my explanations and my commitment that the content of this debate will be included in that review, and that he will be minded to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for that response to my amendment. I am pleased that there will be a further review of out of court proposals. Perhaps there should be a review of the scrutiny panels themselves? The purpose of my amendment is not to address a lack of legislation. The legislation has been in place for years: it is just that it has not been implemented.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: On that point, as I said in my response, one thing that the wider review is doing is talking directly to local players on the ground, including local police, to feed back on the effect. The noble Lord is quite right that legislation is available. What we need to see is practical implementation. We hope that the more detailed review will address those issues.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for that explanation. I will make one last point. In London, where 25% of all crime in England and Wales takes place, as far as I am aware no scrutiny panels are in operation. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56J withdrawn.

Clause 94 agreed.

Clause 95 agreed.

Clause 96: Review of response to complaints

Amendment 56K

Moved by Baroness Smith of Basildon

56K: Clause 96, page 67, line 30, at end insert—

“( ) The relevant bodies must decide under subsection (1)(b) that the threshold for a review is met where the person making the complaint has notified any of the relevant bodies that he or she has been a victim of anti-social behaviour or is vulnerable due to ill health, mental capacity, race, sexuality or religion.”

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): This amendment is regarding the threshold for review for the community trigger. We are concerned that the community trigger will not be effective unless it takes into account the vulnerability of the victim. We all accept that vulnerability

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is important and how somebody responds to anti-social behaviour has a huge effect on the impact it has on them and on the community. Our worry is that the proposed trigger is too weak and will therefore be ineffective.

We put in some freedom of information requests about the number of times the triggers had been successfully activated in the pilot areas. The figure was just 13 times out of a reported 44,011 incidents of anti-social behaviour. The worry is that somebody who is vulnerable is not treated any differently to someone who is perhaps more robust and able to deal with the problem.

I feel so strongly about this because I am reminded of one of the first cases I dealt with when I was a reasonably young county councillor in the early 1990s. A lady who came to see me and with whom I was in regular contact for some time was vulnerable. She was easily bullied. Most of us would have thought that the behaviour of some kids in her street was insignificant—eggs thrown at her windows, for example. It was annoying and irritating, and it went on for some time, but her reaction made her more vulnerable. Trying to get the authorities to act in the days before we had anti-social behaviour orders was extremely difficult. It went on for some considerable time.

That situation has not stopped. The Minister will be aware of recent cases and the case of Fiona Pilkington and 18 year-old Francecca Hardwick which goes back to 2009. They complained 33 times about harassment and anti-social behaviour. In the end, Miss Pilkington set fire to their car and they were both killed. Anti-social behaviour can have some tragic and harmful consequences, particularly where the victims are vulnerable. The amendment would ensure that the community trigger takes into account that vulnerability and the need for a 24-hour response if someone says that they are vulnerable. That should be enough to speed up the process. We do not want to see other incidents with such a tragic consequence.

7.15 pm

My colleagues in the other place raised this in Committee. The Minister, Jeremy Browne, said then that the Bill already provides a framework for taking account of particular vulnerabilities and individual needs. I cannot find that in the Bill or in that amendment. Both the issue of vulnerability and the reporting process need to be explicit and clear in legislation or guidance—I would prefer in legislation. One thing that struck me about the Fiona Pilkington case was the comment that systems were in place for officers to have linked the catalogue of incidents, but they were not well utilised. It is a case of being very specific and clear about what the expectations are. I am concerned that Jeremy Browne was talking about hate crimes. Perhaps the Minister can give me some guidance on this. Hate crime does take vulnerability into account, but anti-social behaviour and hate crimes are not the same thing.

The chief executive of Victim Support also said that she supported the community trigger in principle,

“but we think it could go further than that, to make the most important thing in measuring the test the impact on the victim … We think that should very much be the focus of the test: the vulnerability of the victims”.

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There is real concern that vulnerable victims will definitely feel that their complaints have not been adequately dealt with if they have to make a minimum of three complaints. Under the heading “Review of response to complaints”, Clause 96(4) states:

“In a situation where … at least three (or, if a different number is specified in the review procedures, at least that number of) qualifying complaints have been made”.

For someone who is feeling vulnerable, being bullied and suffering from anti-social behaviour, three complaints can be two complaints too many before we see tragic consequences. Those three complaints do not guarantee a response: they merely trigger a review from the police or council.

I understand what the Minister is seeking here, but it would be helpful if he could look at this in a little more detail. We looked at how this was approached in the Manchester City Council case study and we were quite impressed with the way these issues were looked at. There were four trigger questions to ascertain the vulnerability of the victim. Something like that could be looked at to take into account those vulnerable victims who feel the consequences and suffer the impact far more than others. They could then be dealt with as a matter of greater urgency, rather than having to make three complaints first. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, the noble Baroness has made some interesting and important points and I agree that the impact on the victim is what we should be looking at. But I am concerned about the wording. This may be a start, but it is not the complete solution. Notification is not the same as an assessment and certainly not the same as any evidence that there has actually been previous anti-social behaviour and claiming that there has—one can see how mischief could be made of that. What is vulnerability? These things cover a wide spectrum. I take the point about starting from how the victim feels and whether feeling that makes that person a victim whereas another person might not feel victimised by the same behaviour, but it is a complicated area.

My amendment 56L would provide a trigger in the case of more than one complaint if it is made by somebody living at a different address. What I am getting at is that this needs to be about more than just a tiff between two neighbours and not something that is very short term.

Amendments 56LA to 56LE in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves are, he says, part of his attempt to get uniform and accurate descriptions of councils in different parts of the Bill. The Minister will recognise this. The only thing that I would disagree with him on is the phrase “part of his attempt”—I think one could call it a campaign.

The Earl of Lytton (CB): I come to this area of problems between neighbours or people in residential environments through my work as a chartered surveyor. I see it in terms of being brought into situations where these problems have turned into some sort of property dispute. I have enormous sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, set out, and

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with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. The difficulty is that when people have annoyed each other there are various phases to this annoyance.

The first stage is to say: “Oh, well. They have done something they should not have done”. The second stage is: “If they do that again, I shall take action”. The third stage is when absolutely anything, however minor, triggers the most violent reaction. People who have got themselves in a sensitised situation cannot get out of that psychological bind. That is one of the most difficult and intractable things that one has to deal with. This may result in the police being called out on multiple occasions or the local authority being endlessly rung. That is the reality.

Yes, people will claim that they are vulnerable, although in a sense that is a self-assessment of whether they are actually vulnerable or it is some self-created vulnerability. What I do know is that on both sides of the argument, the perpetrator and the victim are likely to think that the other is completely nuts, irrational and unreasonable in their attitude. I do not know how this Bill or this amendment resolve that issue. There is a case for taking some of these things out of what one might call a heavyweight approach to dealing with the problem.

Whether one fires off in the direction of some other community means of trying to unpick things—getting people to realise that their neighbours’ children are not ogres and the children’s parents to recognise that the affected person is also not an ogre—is a really difficult issue. I am not sure that we have the solution here. However, I shall certainly give the matter some careful thought between now and the next stage, because there is something in terms of social cohesion and peaceable existence for people in residential environments that needs to be addressed much more deeply.

Baroness Newlove (Con): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56K. For far too long we have allowed concerns about the rights of perpetrators to inhibit communities from addressing this important issue at the expense of the majority of law-abiding citizens, who are simply trying to get on with life, raise a family, work and study. What has to happen before we actually face that what is termed anti-social behaviour is so wide that we cannot sit in the ivory tower of Parliament and honestly tie it down for today and tomorrow? We need to allow flexibility for these powers to be meaningful.

I must congratulate and thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for proposing one of very few amendments that think of the victims. I have seen so many provisions and amendments about protecting the perpetrators’ ethical and religious beliefs and considering their disabilities, but for me, this is the first about the victim. I cannot tell your Lordships’ about the number of times that I have been contacted by victims who are ill, elderly, suffer disabilities—or all three. They have to deal with anti-social behaviour and are scared to leave their home. These people need immediate action and cannot wait for the numerical thresholds to be met. So I, for one, fully support this amendment.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, this has been a good debate and we have addressed the whole relevance of the community trigger and how it might operate in

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practice. We have had the four trials—the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to the one in Manchester and the report that we have had on it. We can all agree that persistent anti-social behaviour causes significant harm to victims. That has been made quite clear by everybody who has spoken—my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. However, people can sometimes find themselves being passed from the police to the council, to the landlord and back again, or reporting the same problem over and over again.

The community trigger will give victims and communities the right to demand that agencies that have ignored repeated complaints take action. It is an important safety net and is at the heart of our reforms to put the victim at the centre of the response to anti-social behaviour. I hope that no authority in every instance to has to wait to be reminded three times of anti-social behaviour. Some anti-social behaviour will need immediate response, but the community trigger will give victims the right to a review of the authority’s response when three notifications have been made.

Amendment 56K, from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, relates to the threshold for using the community trigger. The Bill provides that the threshold will include the number of complaints that a victim has made in a certain timeframe; for example, three complaints in six months. However, it will also include an assessment of the victim’s vulnerability, because we know that it is often the most vulnerable in our society who are at greatest risk. Many agencies complete a risk assessment when a case is reported, and will revisit the assessment periodically, because vulnerability and resilience to vulnerability change over time in certain cases, though not in all.

The Home Office summary report on the community trigger trials, which was published in May, contains an example risk assessment matrix. This was the one used by the Richmond Housing Partnership. The matrix asks for details of the behaviour, such as how frequent it is, whether it is getting worse, the vulnerability of the victim—including whether they are being deliberately targeted and how much it has affected them—and the support available to the victim, such as whether they live alone or have a close network of friends and family, and whether their health is affected. The answers are scored and the result provides an indication of the potential harm—I use that phrase definitively, because it appears in the Bill—that may be caused to the victim. It is not a definitive assessment, but it assists the professional in assessing the needs of the victim.

We have added a second limb in response to a recommendation from the Home Affairs Select Committee. It ensures that the potential for harm will be a consideration when setting a trigger threshold, not just the number and frequency of incidents. Amendment 56K seeks to determine that the community trigger threshold will be met if the victim is judged to be vulnerable due to ill health, mental capacity, race, sexuality or religion. I have every sympathy with the intention of this amendment.

I understand that anti-social behaviour can often be motivated by these factors, and that vulnerable people need our protection. However, the broader

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approach to considering potential harm that I have just described captures these as well as other vulnerabilities. Rather than trying to put victims into categories, we require agencies to consider their individual needs.

I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that focus on vulnerability is already provided for in the Bill. I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to page 58 and Clause 96(5)(b), which refers to,

“the harm caused, or the potential for harm to be caused, by that behaviour”.

So that is in the Bill.

7.30 pm

Baroness Smith of Basildon: The noble Lord said page 58; did he mean page 68?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I apologise if I misdirected the Committee. There is direct reference to the subjective nature of anti-social behaviour. That was on the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It also appears in the guidance, under the heading “Putting victims first”, which states on page 10:

“The Community Trigger can be used by any person and agencies should consider how to make it as accessible as possible to young people, those who are vulnerable, have learning difficulties or do not speak English”.

On the following page, under “Responding to the victim”, it repeats that the potential harm to a particular victim is one of the key matters that has to be taken into account. We have already built in the very issues that the noble Baroness has said she would like in the Bill.

I turn to Amendment 56L, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It probes the finer detail of how the community trigger threshold will work in practice. My noble friend seeks reassurance that, for instance, three members of a household cannot report the same problem and have that count as three separate incidents for the purpose of meeting the threshold. This would of course mean that they would essentially jump the queue to get their problem dealt with as a community trigger. The Bill already accounts for this, and I will happily explain how.

Clause 96(11) defines a “qualifying complaint” for the purpose of the community trigger. The complaint needs to be made within one month of the incident occurring, or a different period if specified within the review procedures. This is to prevent someone making complaints about historical incidents in order to use the community trigger. Subsection (12) allows the local agencies to set out what will be considered a “qualifying complaint” where someone makes two or more complaints about the same behaviour or incident, in particular when separate complaints relate to different aspects of one incident. That achieves the safeguard that Amendment 56L is designed to achieve.

We want to ensure that the legislation is robust enough that only genuine requests to use the community trigger meet the threshold, while allowing the procedures to be flexible enough to ensure that the trigger can help those victims who need it most. I hope that I have reassured my noble friend that the procedures are set out in a way that will ensure they will not be manipulated in the manner that she fears.

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As I said, we have trialled the community trigger in four parts of the country since June 2012, and the majority of requests to use the trigger were genuine. We have tested the legislation through trials and I am content that we have achieved a good balance between addressing the needs of the most vulnerable victims, which my noble friend Lady Newlove emphasised, and allowing agencies the flexibility to operate the community trigger to suit local circumstances.

Some amendments have been tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves, to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred. I know that my noble friend is anxious to ensure that we standardise the definition of a local authority in the Bill. In this case, however, the wording used in Clause 97 and Schedule 4 is technically correct. His amendment 56LD inadvertently omits line 19 on page 69, which is still required. Given that our provisions are technically correct, I am not persuaded that there are sufficient grounds to make the amendments.

I hope that, having listened to what I have said, the noble Baroness is content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I am grateful to the Minister; I think he has heard what I said. I should like to read the details of what he said in Hansard with reference to the guidelines and the Bill, because I am not 100% sure that the points he makes fully address the issues that I brought forward today. First, he said that there is a right to demand that the authorities take action. My understanding is that it is not a right to take action, it is a right to have a review of the case. He is right to say that, sometimes, cases of anti-social behaviour are motivated by someone’s vulnerability, but sometimes it is the vulnerability of the individual that makes the anti-social behaviour more severe, because they are less able to cope with the pressures they face.

I am very grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner. She fully understands the point I am trying to make about how people react to anti-social behaviour. For the trigger to be used 13 times in more than 14,000 incidents gives me cause for concern. If I can go back to read what the Minister said and read the guidance, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 56K withdrawn.

Amendment 56L not moved.

Clause 96 agreed.

Schedule 4: ASB case reviews: supplementary provision

Amendment 56LA not moved.

Schedule 4 agreed.

Clause 97: ASB case reviews: interpretation

Amendments 56LB to 56LE not moved.

Clause 97 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.37 pm.

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Wales: Cost of Living

Question for Short Debate

7.37 pm

Asked by Baroness Morgan of Ely

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the current cost of living and changes to the welfare system on the people and economy of Wales.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, when the banking crisis hit in 2008, we knew that someone, somewhere would pay a price, but even the most callous cynic would never have predicted that the people to be hardest hit would be the poorest people in Wales, while the richest people in Britain would be given a tax break and the bankers—the people who caused the crisis—would be receiving massive bonuses.

The cuts to the support mechanisms for the most vulnerable in our society and a compounding of the problem through the increases in the cost of living mean that there are, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, almost 700,000 people living in poverty in Wales today. Let us just imagine what that looks like. Picture the Millennium Stadium full. Now picture it again and again and again. The number of people living in poverty in Wales today would be enough to fill the Millennium Stadium 10 times over. These are people living on a hand-to-mouth existence and in perpetual fear of how they will make the money last until the end of the week.

Research by Sheffield Hallam University found that Wales will lose more than £1 billion a year when all the benefit cuts are taken into account. That represents an average cut of £550 per year to every working age adult. That is 20% higher than the estimated average loss for Great Britain. Under benefit cuts, Wales is the hardest hit.

Of course, the point is that those cuts will not be equally distributed; they will be focused on those least able to cope with them. Merthyr Tydfil will be one of the areas hardest hit in the whole of Britain, where adults will lose an average of £722 per year. The biggest single loss of income will be felt by around 350,000 working-age benefit claimants and 330,000 families in receipt of tax credits as a result of increasing benefits in line with inflation by the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index in future. This matters because the CPI inflation rate does not take into account rises in mortgages, rents and council tax. Guess what? These are going up, fairly significantly.

Just when you think it cannot get any worse you hear that the Government plan to reduce the income of 42,000 disabled people in Wales by removing their disability living allowance, costing them around £55 to £83 a week. This also means that their carers lose carer’s allowance. This will not mean that they cut down on little luxuries. There was never a latte in the local coffee shop for these people. They will have to decide between putting the heating on and feeding their children. Approximately 600,000 children live in Wales and of these around 200,000 are living in poverty—one in three of the total—according to a new report

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from Save the Children. Wales has the highest rate of child poverty of any nation in the UK. What does this mean in reality? It means that parents are skipping meals and are dreading Christmas as they know they cannot give the little treats that most of us can take for granted. Wales is hardest hit by child poverty.

Of course, times are tough and the deficit needs to be reduced but it is galling to hear these statistics while those who caused the crisis are earning more than ever. The European Banking Authority last week claimed that the total number of UK bankers earning more than £800,000 last year increased by 11% to more than 2,700 and their average pay rose by 43% to £1.67 million. The freezing of child benefit for three years will affect 370,000 families in Wales, each losing an average of £2.50 a week, with a total loss to Wales of £47 million in 2014. The cost of food, school buses and school uniforms has gone up, not down. Of course, we expect a Cabinet full of millionaires whose children attend private schools to be out of touch, but do they need to inflict further pain on those least able to bear it?

I want to touch briefly on the bedroom tax. This policy is ripping people away from their communities or forcing them into the hands of loan sharks. Again, Wales is hardest hit, with 46% of housing benefit recipients who live in social housing affected—40,000 households. Let me give a picture of what this policy means for Emma. Emma is 57 and lives alone in a three-bedroomed social housing property. She took tenancy of the property with her husband, who died two years ago. She has lived in the property for 25 years and brought her children up there. She looks after her grandchildren and is in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance of £71 a week. Once she has paid the bedroom tax of £18.50 a week, TV licence at £2.75, travel at £5, electricity at £10, telephone at £5, water at £8.50 and gas at £10 she is left with £11.25 a week for everything else. Emma is still making a valuable contribution to society but can anyone pay for all their food, clothes and other basic requirements for a civilised life from £11.25 a week? Wales is hardest hit by the bedroom tax.

Will the Minister give an assurance that if there are no smaller houses for people to move into in their area they will not be forced to pay the pernicious spare bedroom tax? Thank goodness that the Welsh Government are sensitive to the pressures of costs today. The cut in council tax benefit that the UK coalition has imposed—a new poll tax no less—has led the Welsh Government to put protection measures in place worth £22 million. It means that a quarter of a million poor families in Wales will at least not be hit by this coalition cut.

The people receiving welfare support want to work and do not recognise the miracle uplift in the economy that is supposedly occurring. Most couples with children are now required to work at least 24 hours a week, up from 16 hours, to qualify for working tax credits. These people have demonstrated that they are able and willing to work but they will lose up to £3,800 a year if they are unable to find additional hours. Wales has seen the largest increase in the UK of people who want to work more hours but cannot find them due to the coalition’s failed economic policies. Some 65,000 people in Wales are under-employed. Wales is hardest hit by under-employment.

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The Pope was right and I am not a Catholic so I do not have to believe that he is always right. He claims that the trickle-down economic theory does not work. It does not work from the richest to the poorest and it does not work from the centre, London, to the periphery, Wales. However, it is not just the people living on welfare who are suffering. Wales has the highest proportion of workers of anywhere in the UK, around 300,000 people—the same as the population of Cardiff—earning less than the living wage. Minimum wage jobs account for close to 7% of jobs in Wales compared with the average of 5% across the UK. Labour local authorities are leading the way in paying all workers a living wage, with Cardiff one of the first to sign up. Wales is hardest hit by low pay.

Women are suffering disproportionately from the cuts and are more likely to be on low pay than men, with 28% on less than the living wage compared with 16% of men. What is being done to make sure that than women’s voices are heard? It is not just the poor who are suffering; the middle classes are as well. Real wages have fallen in 41 out of 42 weeks and Welsh workers are now £1,600 worse off, with an 8% fall in annual pay since the coalition came to power. Energy bills in Wales have risen by almost £300 since 2010. South Wales has the highest combined gas and electricity bills in Britain and north Wales the third highest. Wales is the hardest hit by energy bills.

Where are the answers from the Government? The coalition boasts of more than £2 billion of new infrastructure that will benefit Wales. However, virtually none of this will be evident in this Parliament. Electrification of the Great Western main line to Swansea will not start until 2015. The north Wales prison will not be completed until 2017 and major onsite work at Wylfa Newydd will not start until 2018. The poor of Wales need answers now, not in 2015. Can the Minister give some examples of what is being put in place now by the UK Government to give some kind of hope that jobs will be available for those desperate to come off welfare support?

7.48 pm

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, on securing this debate. It is good to see the spotlight on Wales. The noble Baroness and I go back quite a way. I anticipated that there would be some valid points and some party political ones and there were some of both although they did not often coincide, sadly. I thought, first, I would look at some of the points on welfare, secondly, look at the cost of living issues and then, thirdly, try to put it in the context of Wales in general, particularly looking at some of the devolved elements that apply.

The welfare changes have to be seen against the background of the deficit. The noble Baroness did allude to that. The deficit did not suddenly happen. A gaping deficit confronted the country in 2010 as Gordon Brown left office and the coalition Government under David Cameron took over. I think it was common ground among the parties that this deficit needed to be dealt with. Against that background, it was anticipated, and indeed acknowledged, that welfare reform was a key part of that. There have often been warm words

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from the Official Opposition about the need to tackle welfare reform, but nothing specific, and when any particular reform is put forward they always shoot it down. We need more than warm words. We need some concrete evidence of what they would do.

In the reform process the most vulnerable need protection. We have sought to do that with pensioners. For example, pensioners are now getting a protected pension with a rise in line with the consumer prices index, or average earnings, of 2.5%. That did not happen under the previous Government and there was, on one occasion at least, a derisory increase which was howled down even by people on the Labour side. We need to recognise that pensioners are being protected, as they are on the spare room subsidy. The noble Baroness referred to that welfare reform.

On some of the cost of living issues, first, what has happened on energy bills did not suddenly happen. The noble Baroness is well aware of that, having worked as a director for an energy company for much of the period in which these increases were happening. I am sure that her abilities and talents were being used to try to keep those increases down. But this is not something that suddenly happened and we are seeking to address that, too.

One thing that the noble Baroness did not refer to was the fact that employment has remained strong. Indeed, it has gone up at a time when it was anticipated, certainly by the right honourable Leader of the Opposition, that unemployment would go up. That has not happened. It has gone down in Wales in the past year by 22,000. Some policies have been pursued effectively in Wales by the Welsh Government; for example, on enterprise zones, a policy of the coalition Government, but with a Welsh spin. I declare an interest as a chair of the Haven Waterway enterprise zone in Pembrokeshire. We have seen local unemployment fall in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire over the past several months, which is all to the good. Again, there is agreement among the parties, and this is certainly the case in Wales, that there had to be a move from public sector growth to private sector growth. That has long been anticipated.

Perhaps I may say something in a wider context about the devolved settlement after 14 and a half years of devolution. I strongly support devolution, of course, but that does not mean that I support all the policies that have been pursued in Wales. We have seen Welsh GDP fall back not just against English GDP, although that has been the case over the past 14 years, but as against many parts of eastern Europe. We are now behind them, too. Sadly, that is something to be placed at the foot of the devolved Government. The noble Baroness also referred to increases in council tax, but one reason for those is that the freeze which has happened in England has not happened in Wales. That is because the Welsh Government choose not to use the Barnett money to reduce council tax in Wales. That is their privilege but it has been the main reason that council tax has gone up by so much in Wales. That needs to be recognised.

Lastly, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to use her undoubted talents to persuade the Labour Party to embrace the Silk commission on Part 1. Again, I

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declare an interest as a commissioner on the Silk commission. The power of taxation and the power to borrow money, which largely do not exist in Wales at the moment, would be all to the good. Such powers would strengthen Wales’s hand and the Welsh economy. I hope that we can develop consensus among the four parties so that we are able to bring such powers forward and enhance Wales’s position in terms of economic performance.

7.53 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, I congratulate the Baroness, Lady Morgan, on obtaining this debate. I cannot congratulate her on her speech, however, which rather overstates the case. One would have thought, listening to it, that history began in 2010—the year when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury left a note saying that there was no money left. The noble Baroness took some populist swipes and pressed the right buttons about bankers and about a Cabinet full of millionaires who had had private education. I did not know that she was personally opposed to private education. She also talked about the poll tax—she was really going back in history there—being the equivalent of the bedroom tax. That is not, I suggest, the right way to approach the very serious problems that the people of Wales are facing.

A more objective view can be found in the Chief Medical Officer of Wales’s report for 2012-13. It said that there were three major economic issues facing Wales. First, there was long-term structural poverty and deprivation—not structural poverty and deprivation starting in 2010, I point out. Secondly, there was the economic downturn, which happened in 2008, I think, long before the coalition Government came into power. Thirdly, there was the impact of benefit reform, to which I shall refer in a moment.

On escaping poverty and deprivation, we have all been doing that in Wales for centuries. Most of us have benefited from the very good state education that we had in Wales. It is sad to see the state of education today in the hands of the Labour Government in Cardiff. Tomorrow, we will hear from the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, whose report in 2009 about Welsh education was a disaster. It will probably be worse tomorrow and I would like to have had this debate tomorrow evening, when we have heard what it has to say. I have to declare an interest. I have 10 grandchildren who are either going through or about to go through the Welsh system and I have a great deal of interest in the way in which Welsh education performs. It is failed by the current Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff.

On health, equally, the Welsh Labour Government have failed in comparison with what is happening elsewhere in the United Kingdom. According to the Chief Medical Officer, £386 million per year is spent by NHS Wales on smoking. What are the Government in Cardiff doing about that? There is obesity and excessive alcohol, with £140 million going on that and £600 million on physical inactivity. These are problems that have been in the hands of the Welsh Labour Government—occasionally with other partners, I concede, but mainly in their hands—for a period of time and are costing a great deal of money.

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As for the impact of benefit reforms, it is true that welfare benefits, according to the Chief Medical Officer, will be cut by 4.1% as opposed to 3.8% across the rest of the United Kingdom. However, she said it was possible that the welfare policies that have been adopted,

“might have positive impacts on health if they lead to more people moving into work”.

She also said:

“Negative impacts on health might … be offset … by the positive effects on health associated with employment”.

The purpose of that legislation—one of the drivers of welfare reform—is to make it profitable for people to go into work and escape welfare dependency, as much in Wales as anywhere else.

What I am concerned about in Cardiff at the moment is that we have given the Government the power to legislate and now they are producing framework Bills, such as a Social Services (Wales) Bill and an Education (Wales) Bill, with the policies not being spelt out. The policy is to come in regulations, which will be subject to a negative vote at a later date. That is not the way to go about legislation. Those policies should be fully discussed and open to amendment in Cardiff itself. I could go on at length. However, when it comes to accountability, how is it that the First Minister of Wales puts off a referendum for introducing tax powers which would make that Government accountable to the people of Wales, who in my view are being seriously let down?

7.58 pm

Baroness Andrews (Lab): My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend for securing this debate, and for the way in which she introduced it. All noble Lords in the Chamber would surely agree that this is not a situation where we need to indulge in party politics. The situation in Wales is extremely serious.

I must declare my interest. I am a consultant to the Welsh Government in developing a cultural heritage strategy for Wales which will, I hope, address the problems of poverty and disadvantage to greater effect in Wales. My greater interest is that I grew up in Wales at a time when it was celebrated as being among the most successful and spirited communities in the country. The same places are now notorious for levels of disadvantage. The toxic concentration of long-term unemployment, underemployment, low skills, low wages, chronic sickness and low educational achievement has not only reduced living standards but reflects living standards in Wales. The Government of Wales are absolutely right to say that poverty in Wales is everybody’s business, which is why every government department in Wales has to make a contribution—and that includes culture.

There is no question that the structural problems of Wales started with the deficit. My noble friend made no allusion to that at all. The structural problems of Wales, not least, were grossly intensified by Thatcherism, which created a long shadow across Wales to this day. Now we have a third generation who do not know what it means to go to work; we have an entrenched low-skills and low-pay culture and there is no room at all, anywhere, for complacency in Wales. These people

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have to contend with recession and welfare changes, which, as my noble friend said, are hitting Wales harder than many other parts of the country.

We are told that the recession is over. I was in Tredegar a month ago; I was in Townhill in Swansea some weeks ago; I was in Anglesey recently and I have been in Rhyl. The recession is not over in Wales and there is no sign of an end to it. Indeed, Wales has become a social laboratory, rather as London was at the end of the 19th century, where surveys and investigators come to look at the impact of poverty. The figures are horribly familiar: 26.5% are economically inactive, higher than the rest of Britain by 3.5 percentage points. Disability rights, as my noble friend has said, have hit disabled people in Wales hardest of all. With the transition from IB to ESA, the loss by 2014-15 will be £165 per year per working family. The impact on children has been very well described; it is inevitable and it is increasing. Only parts of London are worse.

For those in work, the figure that astounds me is not so much that 23% of employees are earning less than a living wage, but that only 3% are earning more than a living wage. We have already discussed how Wales, with the highest energy bills, has seen the sharpest increase in the number of people falling behind with their energy bills: 85,000 households. Then there is the bedroom tax. I cannot be the only person in your Lordships’ House for whom there is an echo of the means tests of the 1930s, when the inspectors looked at the quality of furniture in people’s homes to assess when they were actually eligible for unemployment benefit. That was when the piano went out, for example.

Community Housing Cymru has said that 78 per cent of its members have seen an increase in rent arrears. It expects bedroom tax arrears to double to more than £2 million by April next year. That is enough to service £40 million worth of debt, which could be used to deliver 400 new affordable homes. Does the Minister agree with me that that money could be much better spent?

There are certainly many brilliant housing associations in Wales, including RCT homes, which I visited last week. They are not only providing affordable housing: they are training adults and young people in very difficult circumstances to acquire very basic skills, because about 40% of adults living in Community First areas, for example, are without basic skills. Their record of getting people into work is three times the predicted employment outcome. Will the Minister promise to visit RCT homes and see how money is being well spent on those sorts of challenging situations? Community First is obviously part of the most challenging problem we have in Wales in terms of the areas it covers.

Part of the task is to enable young people and adults to acquire confidence and skills. Digital exclusion means not just not finding jobs; it means not being able to access legitimate benefits. Libraries are being reinvented across Wales as places where people acquire these basic skills alongside, sometimes, basic services. Will the Minister tell the House how many libraries in Wales are threatened with closure because local authority budgets are reduced? Will she say what she thinks the Government should do about this?

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Above all, Wales urgently needs an economic policy that lifts living standards by anticipating the future. It needs ambitious leadership; a new approach to use public sector procurement for creative social enterprises; a national investment strategy to identify the creative industries of the future and the skills they need; a community regeneration strategy; and a national strategy for voluntary skills development and apprenticeships. These are the strategies than can lift Wales out of poverty for the next generation.


8.04 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, on securing this important debate. It is great to have a spotlight on Wales. I know that time is very short so I will confine my remarks to the findings of an extremely revealing snapshot report published by Shelter Cymru in November this year. It looked at “the bedroom tax”—I do not want to cause offence to the Minister by not referring to it as “the spare room subsidy”—and, based on Shelter’s direct experience, working with people in housing need in Wales, it reported a real increase in the number of people threatened with homelessness as a result of the spare room subsidy, or bedroom tax. It said that landlords were pursuing possession proceedings, sometimes when the bedroom tax was the sole source of arrears, and that some vulnerable people, very worryingly, were facing real injustices because of the failure of their local authorities to provide the level of service suitable to their needs.

All this paints a worrying picture but I ask the Minister to respond to two specific important points. First, what can the UK Government do, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government, to encourage social services to work together with housing agencies to ensure that vulnerable people are not unfairly subject to possession proceedings? Shelter Cymru has seen a number of cases where the bedroom tax has caused serious difficulties for people who should have been protected due to their vulnerability. In one case, a woman in a three-bedroom house was facing possession action for rent arrears but was unable to move. She was in the process of having her two children returned to her from care. If she downsized, she would not have been able to have her children back. However, because the children were not resident, her discretionary housing payment application was turned down. Only after Shelter Cymru’s intervention did social services agree to clear the arrears and consider paying the shortfall until the children could be returned to their mother. What does the Minister feel that she can do to help bring those agencies together in the interests of vulnerable people?

Secondly, I ask the Minister for her response to the handling of the discretionary housing payments, specifically for disabled tenants. We all know that this was a key measure in the Government’s approach to the introduction of the spare room subsidy—or bedroom tax. The provision of funding for discretionary housing payments was, as I understand it, intended to soften the impact, albeit in the short term. However, while discretionary housing payments have indeed offered a temporary lifeline for some households in Wales, some landlords are not routinely letting tenants know about

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DHPs and there is great concern about the future increase in homelessness that this will lead to down the track when people’s awards run out.

In particular, there is serious concern that many housing benefit departments are counting disability-related benefits as income for the purposes of DHP, making it considerably less likely that disabled people can successfully apply. We know that it is within local authorities’ discretion to disregard income from disability-related benefits when making their assessments for DHP, since these benefits are intended to be used for the extra costs of disability. Surely it must be good practice for these disability-related benefits to be completely disregarded in calculating eligibility for these important transitional payments. If not, it means that disabled people need to work extra hard to justify their case in applying for DHP. As we know, there is nothing in the letter of the law to prevent local authorities from doing this, but I would argue that this really is extremely poor practice. It means that while disabled tenants are more likely to be affected by the bedroom tax, they are less likely to be able to access this assistance. They have fewer options to self-mitigate the impact of these reforms as they will often have to wait longer in order to achieve a downsize option.

Shelter Cymru and a coalition of disability charities in Wales are compiling a detailed report on this matter. Is the Minister prepared to meet them to look at what can be done to mitigate such a difficult situation for disabled people in Wales?

8.10 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, I ask the Minister: what responsibility do the Government consider they have to assist the industrial areas of Wales? Wales is experiencing economic change on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented pace. Digital technology, globalisation and the rise of new industrial economies have unleashed tsunamis of disruption on the regions that pioneered the first Industrial Revolution, notably south and south-east Wales. The mature industries of Wales are being battered by competition from businesses in newly industrialised economies that enjoy state-of-the-art technology, which Welsh industries certainly ought also to have, and pay very low wages, which could not and should not be paid in Wales.

Where manufacturing continues and prospers—and there are still magnificent manufacturing businesses in Wales, and we are very proud of them—the workforce is being hollowed out by automation and off-shoring. That hollowing out is occurring among the white collar workforce as well as the blue collar workforce. We are seeing the development of the gap between the 1% and the 99%, with fabulous increases in wealth and income for a tiny minority at the top and really significant real-terms falls in income for a great many people lower down the scale. Therefore, the challenge for the Government is to develop policies to overcome the traumatic distributive consequences of contemporary economic growth.

The Government have a duty to help businesses and individuals cope with this whirlwind of economic change, but the coalition’s response to that challenge is to do the very opposite. Instead of an industrial

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strategy redeploying some of the wealth arising from property values, financial services and exportable services, the Chancellor has engineered an asset bubble, which he calls a recovery. The Governor of the Bank of England clearly has doubts about the validity of this recovery but, from the Chancellor’s point of view, these are policies not in the interests of Wales but to help his party get through the election.

The ethic of the Government is: “To them that have, more shall be given”. Instead of an intelligent welfare state that stays alongside people who are the casualties of economic change, helping them to reconstruct their lives, the Chancellor abuses them as shirkers and people who cannot be bothered to open the curtains in the morning. He cuts their benefits and at the same time he cuts the taxes of the 1%. Instead of a strategy to raise our educational levels and skills to those of our competitors, the Government wage an ideological war against local educational authorities and raise fees for university education to insupportable levels.

For Wales, devolution is a device to absolve the Government of responsibility. They tauntingly propose to people in Wales, whose incomes are on average significantly lower than the incomes of people in England, that they should vote in a referendum so that the Government of Wales should have income tax-raising powers; thus they would be able to borrow to pay for infrastructure and all will be well. Ministers must know that that strategy is disingenuous. The sums cannot possibly add up. Devolution should not be a device to get the Government off the hook. These infrastructure developments would benefit the whole of the United Kingdom and the cost ought to be borne fairly across the United Kingdom.

The cost of living crisis is a crisis of structural change, of growth that benefits only the rich, top managers and shareholders. The creative destruction of capitalism is not going to lead to a free market nirvana in the regions that experience very much more destruction than creation. What responsibility does the Minister consider the coalition has to support people in the crisis of industrial Wales?

8.14 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, I, too, appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate, and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for providing it.

We have heard many statistics, and I shall not add to them, only to say that of the four countries of the UK, Wales is the poorest. We have 73% of the average wage of the rest of the United Kingdom; for instance, when the average income in London was £27,000, in Wales it was £17,000. This has been the case over the centuries; it is not something new. I particularly enjoyed the book written by the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, Something Must Be Done, about the valleys of south Wales during the depression before the Second World War. We were struggling in poverty in those terrible years. It is a historical insight into the poverty of south Wales that goes on from generation to generation.

There has been a chance to turn this round. We have objective 1 funding for the valleys and west Wales, which brought some hope. I am not sure it was

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always spent in the best way, but at least it was some European income for Wales. Anybody who says that we should withdraw from Europe and that Wales would be better off is doing Wales a tremendous disservice. We have heard before that the money we pay into Europe could be directed to the poorest. It did not happen in the past and it would not happen now. I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that the link with Europe is absolutely essential.

Not only do we need to keep the link with Europe, we need to keep the link with our partners across the border in England. Wales has 166 miles of border with England; Scotland has 96. Our border is a very busy one, and the links between north Wales and Merseyside prove that. There was a time when Lerpwl—Liverpool—was regarded as the capital of north Wales. There were so many Welsh people in Liverpool that the streets were named after them. The biggest chapels with the largest congregations were not those in Wales but the ones in Liverpool. You go to Liverpool and what are the names of the stores? TJ Hughes, Owen Owen and Lewis’s were founded by Welsh families. That link has been there for many, many years.

In Wales, we depend on hospitals such as Broadgreen, the David Lewis Northern Hospital, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Clatterbridge. When there was talk of removing the link between Wales and the Walton Neurological Centre, there was an outcry in north Wales because that is where we were, over the years, sending patients in need of that sort of treatment.

We have depended on Liverpool and the north-west, but so have they depended on us. Where would the workforce of the Wirral be without Airbus, which is over the border in Wales? There would be 7,000 jobs lost there if we decided to dig Offa’s Dyke again. Where would my town of Llandudno be without the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pour in from the rest of the UK? We need one another; it is a mirage to say that we do not. My noble friend Lady Humphreys was a teacher in Liverpool, as were many thousands of other Welsh women and men. We sent our teachers there; we belong to one another.

Not only must we keep links with Europe and with our friends across the border but we must take care of our communities, which are now deprived of essential facilities. Try to find a post office in some of our villages: you cannot buy a postage stamp there, or a loaf. The school has closed; the teacher lives miles away; the ministers and doctors are no longer in our villages. Try getting petrol between Betws-y-Coed and Tremadoc. Unless you have to go through Penrhyndeudraeth you are lost. We have got to keep these communities alive because the 73% of people on low incomes have to spend such a large proportion of their income or pension going to places that are now farther away. The links, and the need to keep our communities, are essential.

8.20 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, I commend the initiative of my noble friend, in part because she focuses on the issues of real concern to the people of Wales and not to the elites. I cannot plausibly claim that there was some recent golden age in which

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we were close to the top of the UK premier division of prosperity and jobs. However, I do claim that our position is poor and deteriorating relatively as a result of government policies. We no longer have the high-wage jobs we had in the past. We now seem increasingly to specialise in low-wage, tedious jobs in areas such as call centres. Jobs in the high-paying financial sector elude us. Regional job creation and decentralisation of government entities, such as the Royal Mint and the DVLA in Morriston, seem to have stalled.

The Silk report has some alarming statistics on earnings differentials. Of the 1.4 million taxpayers in Wales, only 4,000 paid tax at the additional rate of 50p. Our economic and social profile shows a great dependence on the public sector—thus Wales is hit hard by the squeeze on public sector jobs. There is greater poverty, greater dependence on welfare and, therefore, more vulnerability to the Government’s welfare changes. The Rowntree Foundation report, published in September, concluded that 26.5% of the working-age population of Wales was economically inactive in 2012. This was higher than in Scotland or any English region.

I recently spoke to a young graduate with a good honours degree and a master’s degree. The only job he could find had no prospects and a wage of £12,000 a year. I invite the Minister to look in the windows where jobs are advertised and see the type of jobs on offer. I wonder how that young man reacted if he heard Boris Johnson exulting in greed and inequality, or if he saw last Friday’s Evening Standard headline: “London has 2,700 bankers earning more than £1 million”. This compares with 212 in Germany, 117 in France and 109 in Italy. I wholly agree with my noble friend that it is hard for a Cabinet with so many millionaires to understand the plight of the poor in Wales. Our Government are just out of touch.

The bedroom tax has already been touched on, so I will not mention it, save to say that the prospect of downsizing to single-bedroom houses is just not available for the great majority of people who are now on housing benefit.

South Wales is the region in Britain with the highest combined gas and electricity bills, while north Wales has the third-highest. The number of energy accounts where the customer has fallen into arrears has increased more in Wales than elsewhere in Britain. In 2012, Wales had the highest proportion of workers who earned less than the living wage than elsewhere in Britain. Clearly, government action—or rather inaction—affects us the most. I could continue with these depressing statistics, so one is inclined to consider some dramatic moves, such as, for example, the abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls, which work as a heavy tax on the Principality.

In conclusion, I recall a classic cartoon that showed people standing on the steps of a ladder that descends into water. One person stands on the lowest rung, with the water up to their neck. Let us call him or her “Wales”. Someone then arrives and boldly proclaims, “I feel your pain; we are all in this together”, and orders everyone, save those on the top rungs, to take one step down in the interests of austerity. Let us call that person “the Government”.

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Earl Attlee (Con): My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, would like to speak in this debate. However, that ability is contingent on time available. If he speaks past 8.25 pm he will eat into the Minister’s time, but perhaps he will be very quick.

8.25 pm

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I am very grateful. I will take one minute flat and truncate my comments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for facilitating this debate.

I will make three points. First, earlier, we heard about the Government’s plans to cut energy bills. However, it appears that they will do little to help off-grid consumers, of whom there are many in rural Wales. My party, Plaid Cymru, wants to see the establishment of a not-for-distributable-profits company, Energy Wales, which could buy gas and electricity on the wholesale market, pass on savings to consumers and invest in services. Dwr Cymru provides a viable model for that.

Secondly, I draw attention to the 51% increase in excess winter deaths in Wales compared with the UK-wide figure of 29%. Last year’s figures showed Wales increasing from 1,260 to 1,900. Hardship can lead not only to misery but to death. People in rural communities in particular are suffering. That is why I want to see winter fuel payments made earlier in the year to off-grid pensioners so that they can buy gas at a lower price.

Thirdly, I will not trespass into Barnett, but I will point out that if the total public spending per capita in Wales was at the same level as that of Scotland in 2012-13, Wales would have received a staggering additional £1.6 billion—more than £500 per person. I hope that Labour will commit, during the 2015 election campaign, to putting that right.

8.26 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson) (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, for securing today’s debate on what I believe noble Lords all agree are important issues in Wales. I have listened carefully to noble Lords this evening and I recognise their concerns. As a Government, we understand that it is and remains a difficult time for low earners in particular, and for those on benefits.

The UK economy is recovering from the most damaging economic and financial crisis in generations. The Government appreciate that times are tough for families, so we have continued to take action to help with living standards. Last year, real household disposable income grew by 1.4%, which is the fastest growth for three years.

One of the key actions that we have taken to help hard-working people is to reduce the income tax burden by raising the threshold to £10,000. Many noble Lords have referred to low pay. This Government’s policies will take the 130,000 lowest-paid workers in Wales out of income tax altogether and will benefit 1.1 million taxpayers in Wales. That will make a real difference to low-income households. That increase in the personal allowance will be worth £705 per year for the typical taxpayer.

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Noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, have referred to energy prices and highlighted the importance of energy costs. We are in the process of restoring the neglected infrastructure that the coalition Government inherited from their Labour predecessor. Between 1997 and 2010, the average domestic gas bill doubled and the price of liquid fuels, on which many rural households in Wales rely, increased by more than 300%.

I must remind noble Lords that in 2000, there were 14 major energy suppliers. By 2010 there were just six. That took the bottom out of the market in terms of competition and its impact. However, we are reforming the energy market and encouraging investment in our energy infrastructure, which will help to stabilise consumer prices and reduce our exposure to fossil fuel price hikes in the longer term. We are committed to ensuring that all customers are on the lowest available tariff and we are making it easier to switch suppliers.

Many noble Lords referred to welfare reform. The picture of poverty that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, painted is one that has existed for far too long and has got steadily worse since the turn of the century. The picture of child poverty is one that is only too familiar to me. The situation has got steadily worse. The picture on GVA, which several noble Lords referred to, is also one where Wales, versus the rest of the UK, has steadily declined since the turn of the century. These are not issues that started with the coalition Government. I am grateful to those noble Lords who pointed out that the history of poverty in Wales did not start in May 2010.

I have also listened to concerns from noble Lords about government policy to reform the dependency on welfare in the UK. I must say I am greatly concerned that there are, for example, 200,000 people in Wales who could work but who have never worked. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for pointing out that this is a third-generation problem in Wales, not something that started recently. Worklessness is a persistent problem in Wales and successive Governments have failed to reform the system. However, this Government are working tirelessly to improve the incentive to work, as work remains the best route out of poverty.

Already we are seeing people moving into work in order to accommodate the changes to their benefits. This is a positive step for Wales, its communities and the individuals who were previously locked into the benefit system. There is no fairness in retaining a welfare system that traps people in a life on benefits; it is not good for them, or their families, and it is certainly not good for Wales.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, referred to the Shelter report. I point out that it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure that all those people who are eligible, get discretionary housing payments. It is important that local authorities in Wales are pursuing that in the way that they should. I was concerned, however, to hear the noble Baroness say that social landlords—discretionary housing payments relate to social landlords—are not letting tenants know about discretionary housing payments in some cases. I will take that issue up with the Minister in the Welsh

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Government to ensure that that is undertaken. I will also write to the relevant body, Community Housing Cymru, about the issue.

In relation to comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, I am very happy to visit RCT Homes. The noble Baroness also asked me about libraries and local government. Those are entirely a devolved issue. Those issues are entirely the result of decisions by the Welsh Government, and it would be improper of me to make detailed comments on their policy and their decision.

I turn now to the spare room subsidy. We accept that some people will need extra help and the Government are continuing to support local authorities in Wales, in particular with the housing benefit reforms via discretionary housing payments. In Wales we have trebled the funding available and are now providing more than £7 million, with extra money for some rural communities. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made reference to council tax increases. Once again, those are, as he pointed out, the decision of the Labour Government in Wales. As a responsible Government, the coalition Government feel that we must be serious about welfare reform. We inherited a welfare system built to deal with a 1940s society and no longer able to deliver the support that people need in a modern, flexible labour market.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, made the point that Wales has been hit hard by welfare reform. Of course it has; it is one of the areas of Britain most heavily dependent on welfare. I point out to the noble Baroness that two-thirds of the additional jobs created in the past year in Wales have been full-time, and that 80% of those working part-time have said that they do not want a full-time job.

The noble Baroness asked me to make a comment about women. There are 20,000 more women in work now in Wales than there were in May 2010.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the Chief Medical Officer’s report and to the importance of good public services, and our dependence on them. That is something that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted as one of the main actions to alleviate poverty in Wales. It said that there was a dependence on, and a need for, good public services. Too often, unfortunately, in Wales, those services lag behind the rest of the UK. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also pointed out the importance of job creation. I am proud to say that that is what the coalition Government are doing in Wales, more than ever before. Overall, 71,000 more people are in employment in Wales since May 2010, economic inactivity has fallen by 49,000, and the number of unemployed people has fallen by 15,000.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out how few people in Wales pay the higher rate of income tax. That is a problem, and it is one that we can overcome only by a very determined effort, with the formation of new businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, asked what we were doing in a time of rapid change to accommodate that change. Our response, as a Government, is a massive investment in infrastructure. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, that it is a great pity that the previous Labour Government

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did not undertake that investment in infrastructure in the 13 years for which they were in power, because it takes a very long time to build infrastructure. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to make up for that lost time.

I do not share the politics of envy that was expressed here on one or two occasions. Wales must aspire to have wealthier people and successful businesses. I am proud of Wales and I want to talk Wales up. I am sad that over so many generations Wales has suffered from poverty and has gradually fallen back in respect of the rest of the UK. I am confident that Wales can deliver, that Wales can prosper and that Wales will continue to cultivate an economy that sustains good jobs, develops infrastructure and improves standards of living for everyone.