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House of Lords

Tuesday, 13 May 2014.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Broadband and Mobile Coverage


2.37 pm

Asked by Baroness Neville-Rolfe

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of their policy to increase the number of central government transactions carried out online, such as the filing of tax returns, what progress they are making with the rollout of broadband services and the provision of comprehensive mobile coverage.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, in January this year the programme was making superfast broadband available to 10,000 premises a week. The figure is now 20,000 a week, and by the summer it will be 40,000 a week. More than half a million premises have benefited so far and more than 4 million will benefit by the end of the programme. For mobile, the combination of commercial and government mobile rollout will improve mobile services for 98% of UK premises by 2015.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con): My Lords, I am not sure things are quite as favourable as that reply suggests. Broadband and mobile coverage have become essential utilities, like water or power. Without coverage it is like living in the old world without a post box or hot water. Given the huge sums being expended on the rollout, will the Minister encourage the industry and the regulator to buck up and meet their obligations to citizens and businesses, all of whom now need to be able to operate online?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, there is always room to do better, but the programmes are on track. All that can be done is being done to increase the pace of delivery, which is a priority. I should say that the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries is holding an open surgery on superfast broadband in Committee Room 14 at 3.30 pm. Your Lordships are most welcome to attend as it is very important that issues of concern are put directly to the Minister and officials dealing with the matter.

Lord Rooker (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that all local authorities involved in the rollout requiring match funding are co-operating, as there were reports last weekend in some rural areas—I cite Shropshire—of Tory-led councils saying that they were not prepared to put in their £11 million of match funding? It will be disastrous for rural areas if local authorities cannot match the funding that is required.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that broadband is essential in rural and urban areas. I will look into the Shropshire issue, but it is very important that local authorities co-operate because in all areas this is part of our emphasis on growth.

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is virtually impossible to function without broadband? Can he give me an example of how people are supposed to cope until this situation is corrected?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. Clearly, we are in part of the technological revolution and the Government wish to go digital, but it is certainly important that those who do not have the facility are still able to conduct business in a traditional way. As I say, it is important to improve delivery wherever we can.

Lord Mitchell (Lab): The Government’s long-awaited digital inclusion strategy appears to have given up on nearly 10% of the population. Many vital services are now online, yet many of those who need to access them are precluded from doing so. What further action will be taken to make sure that no one is left behind?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I agree with the noble Lord that the whole quest of this is to ensure that as few as possible—and, in the end, none—are left behind. That is precisely why the Government, with their £10 million project, are seeking to fund alternative technology broadband opportunities. Twenty-six suppliers have submitted bids to deal with the hardest spots that are not yet connected. The bids are currently being evaluated, and I hope that the contracts will be awarded in June so that we can help precisely those businesses and people that the noble Lord refers to.

Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB): Does the Minister agree that infrastructure and skills are equally important and that the 11 million adults who are currently unable to use the internet, 4 million of whom are in work, are as important as those 10% who are unable to get broadband?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the noble Baroness absolutely hits the spot in saying that part of what we need to do is ensure that as many people as possible have the ability to go online—I gather that 82% of the population can do so. Virtually all schools have broadband connectivity and, in my experience, the elderly are becoming increasingly conversant in this area. We want to help as many people as possible.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes (Con): My Lords, my noble friend always tries to be helpful. Does he agree that many elderly people and many others have to pay high prices to receive paper bills because they do not have broadband available? They are sometimes charged up to £8 per paper bill. If the Government cannot help these people more quickly than at present, will they at least consider taking steps to make such charges illegal?

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, as I said earlier, the Government wish there to be as many opportunities as possible for people to pay bills online, and that is increasingly the way that things will go. However, I will look into the matter of paper bills. I honestly think that those who are not in a position to pay online should not be expected to pay over and above.

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, I believe that the 98% that the Minister mentioned includes the county of Cornwall, and I congratulate him on that. However, the Isles of Scilly are not included and have probably the worst and most expensive transport links in the whole UK—and they are still on 2G. When does he see broadband going to the Isles of Scilly?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, what a great part of the United Kingdom that is. It is interesting—the noble Lord is absolutely right—that the superfast Cornwall project is doing extremely well, and I am pleased to say that consultation notices have been issued by the Marine Management Organisation to ensure that the cable goes under the sea. That will ensure, I hope by the last quarter of this year, that the Isles of Scilly will have superfast broadband.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, I take us from one end of the country to the other. While I warmly welcome the rollout of superfast broadband throughout the country, what words of comfort does my noble friend have for the inhabitants of Upper Coquetdale, running up to the Scottish border in Northumberland, particularly in the villages of Alnham, Alwinton, Hepple, Holystone, Netherton and Sharpeton, who have not only no broadband but no mobile coverage? They are in a “not spot” and there are no plans for them to get out of it yet.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, that is yet another wonderful part of the United Kingdom. I am very conscious of the important needs of rural areas, and the £150 million of funding for the mobile infrastructure project is precisely to deal with “not spots” in coverage. The rural broadband programme is also terribly important and the £10 million that I referred to is precisely to help rural “not spot” areas.



2.45 pm

Asked by Lord Lee of Trafford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the importance of tourism to the United Kingdom economy.

Lord Lee of Trafford (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the importance of tourism to the UK economy is clear. It contributed £58 billion directly to the economy last year and supported more than 1.75 million jobs. Those figures rise to £127 billion and 3.1 million jobs when the indirect impacts of tourism on the wider economy are included. That is why this Government have invested more than £165 million, including private sector matched funding, in the GREAT and other marketing campaigns.

Lord Lee of Trafford: Given that tourism is our fifth largest industry, that a third of the new jobs created in the past three years have been in tourism and that tourism is so important to many cities, towns and regions in this country, does my noble friend realise why those of us involved in the Campaign for Tourism are determined that tourism features in the manifestos of the major parties in the coming general election, unlike last time, when they did not feature at all? Is it not time that, given its importance, tourism was included in the title of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I emphasise that the Government recognise that tourism is a vital part of the future of the UK economy. Indeed, the Prime Minister met officials from the Campaign for Tourism only last month. The point that my noble friend makes about manifestos is obviously very potent. I know of at least four government departments that have an interest in tourism: the Treasury, the DCLG, BIS and of course the DCMS. There is a Minister with responsibility for tourism but this is a matter that has cross-departmental importance.

Lord Wigley (PC): Will the Minister give attention to the disparity in the number of international tourists who came to various parts of these islands in the decade between 2002 and 2012? Is he aware that over that period, whereas there was an increase of some 30% in London and of more than 40% in Scotland, in Wales there was a marginal decrease and in north-east England a decrease of almost 20%? Will he consider laying down for VisitBritain not only targets for the overall number of international visitors but targets for the regions in England and for the other three nations?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I say to the noble Lord that I do not think we should have any ceiling for the targets. We have to take the opportunity in the United Kingdom to ensure that as many people as possible visit from abroad and indeed that there is as much domestic tourism as possible. I was interested to note that according to the recent Deloitte report there are currently 206,000 direct and indirect tourism jobs in Wales. Indeed, the Great Britain Tourism Survey for last year showed that British residents made nearly 10 million visits to Wales, which was 3.4% up in comparison with the previous year.

Baroness Seccombe (Con): My Lords, there was a startling increase in the number of visitors from abroad last year. Does my noble friend accept that in no small

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part that was due to the enormous success of the Olympic Games? Should we hope for a similar bounce from the Commonwealth Games this year?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I am sure all noble Lords will agree that the Commonwealth Games give us an enormous opportunity to welcome many friends and visitors from the Commonwealth and well beyond. I was particularly interested in the Anholt Nation Brands Index, which is so important in terms of perception of the UK. The UK overall nation brand has held third place—the same as 2012—and in terms of welcome has moved up three places from 13th to 10th and for sport has moved up one place from sixth to fifth. These are encouraging figures and the whole nation should be proud of them.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, makes an excellent point about including tourism in the name of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Can the Minister name any other private sector industry that by 2025 will have created 630,000 new jobs? Can he also tell the House how remote areas of the United Kingdom will be supported by the Government in increasing tourism jobs, not least in those areas which do not have broadband and mobile coverage?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I hope that, by the time the programmes for broadband have finished, all parts of the country, particularly those remote areas which are such wonderful parts of rural Britain to visit, will have benefited. I suspect that I am in difficulties in looking at an alternative but, of course, tourism is made up of many small businesses. That is an area which we are very keen to support. Small and medium-sized enterprises are a key feature of tourism’s success.

Baroness Coussins (CB): Is the Minister aware that the National Gallery is offering its audio guide for its current main exhibition in English only? Visitors from Italy, Spain and France have said that they cannot understand it and feel excluded. Should not all global institutions hoping to benefit from tourism provide their public information resources in several languages, as we do in this House?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a strong point. I know that as part of the China Ready programme, for instance, many of the major visitor centres now have their guides in Cantonese and Mandarin. I encourage the British Museum, a great institution which has the largest number of visitors in this country—many millions—and all museums to look at language opportunities.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, the Minister will be as aware as I am of the decline in traditional industries in Wales. The result has been an increase in the importance of the tourist trade, which today employs about 112,000 people directly and 56,000 others indirectly. Does the Minister not agree that this is an opportunity to encourage that growth? Nothing

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would do more to help that than a reduction in VAT on visitor and tourist facilities and hospitality from, say, 20% to 7%.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I have already referred to the robust figures for Wales in terms of employment. There is a great industrial heritage there and many visitors. However, on VAT relief, one should remember that the United Kingdom provides cultural attractions which have significant VAT relief, including national museums and galleries, and that other countries impose tourist taxes which we do not.

Crime: Domestic Violence


2.53 pm

Asked by Baroness Gale

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of prosecutions brought for domestic violence.

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) (LD): My Lords, the number of domestic violence cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police reduced in 2012-13. However, the conviction rate for such cases was 74.3%, its highest ever recorded level. The fall in referrals was considered in a report on the police response to domestic abuse published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in March 2014. The Home Secretary will be chairing a national oversight group to monitor delivery against HMIC’s recommendations, improve consistency in charging and ensure that the police make appropriate referrals to the CPS.

Baroness Gale (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. He mentioned that the number of referrals by the police had increased and the number of successful prosecutions had reduced. The recent report from HMIC shows that police forces are failing and that victims of domestic violence have been faced with a lottery. The report concluded that the overall police response to victims of domestic abuse is not good enough. Does the Minister agree that much more needs to be done to ensure that police forces are trained and fully aware of what they need to do to ensure that victims of domestic abuse and women who are murdered at the hands of their partners and ex-partners will receive the correct response from police forces so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, who has a long record of campaigning and taking an interest in this issue. Just to clarify, it is the number of successful prosecutions that was at the highest level ever recorded. However, I agree with what she said about the conclusions of the HMIC report—they are very disturbing. That is why the Home Secretary will chair a national oversight group to monitor delivery against the recommendations,

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which have been accepted. She has already written to the domestic abuse leads in each police force and to the chief constables to make clear the expectation that plans should be produced quickly and emphasise that urgent action should be taken to address HMIC’s concerns. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that domestic violence is wholly unacceptable and is very damaging to the victims. It is only right that we take every step possible to improve the prosecution of it.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, does the Minister accept that domestic violence is a gravely reprehensible offence which should normally be dealt with by way of condign punishment? Is that not so because of the greater vulnerability of women in terms of physical strength, economic security and particularly the protection of children? Is the Minister satisfied that the advisory sentencing bodies are sufficiently enthused to pass on this message to magistrates and judges and that this is essential if this disgraceful practice is to be effectively contested?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I echo what the noble Lord said about it being a wholly reprehensible crime. Among the many concerns, I am not aware of the particular question of sentencing. There may well be individual cases where individual sentences are not acceptable. The important challenge for us, particularly in the light of the HMIC report, is to improve policing. It is unfortunate that the report has discovered a cultural issue where:

“Domestic abuse is a priority on paper but, in the majority of forces, not in practice”.

We have to address that issue and tackle it in following up the recommendations of the HMIC report.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill (LD): My Lords, as my noble and learned friend probably knows, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, is conducting a major inquiry into this general subject. Without being in any way complacent, would he agree, as I think he has already said, that it is a matter of some satisfaction that the former Director of Public Prosecutions, in his 2013 report, found that, for the first time, three out of four violence against women and girls prosecutions have resulted in a conviction; that domestic violence, rape and sexual offence prosecutions have reached their highest conviction rate to date; and that guilty pleas have led to most successful outcomes, avoiding the victims having to face the ordeal of a trial?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, my noble friend rightly points out that the number of guilty pleas has also increased, which is helpful in relieving victims from having to give evidence. Although prosecutions are at their highest level, it is also fair to say, in tribute to the previous Director of Public Prosecutions, that when he saw the reduction in the number of referrals in the reports and information which he was given and published, he immediately convened a round-table conference among the key stakeholders. Six action points were taken forward

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from that, which my honourable friend the Solicitor-General announced in the other place. I know that it is also the case that the present Director of Public Prosecutions takes this crime very seriously.

Baroness Thornton (Lab): My Lords, as my noble friend has said, since 2010-11 there has been a 13% increase in reported incidents of domestic violence but fewer cases have been passed to the CPS. If we take that together with the fact that there has been a 31% reduction in funding for refuges for those who are subject to domestic violence, would the Minister agree with Women’s Aid that that means that women and children are more likely to remain in or return to abusive situations? Will the Government’s review make an assessment of how many more women and children are now at risk and will the Government bring forward plans to deal with it?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, an important recommendation from the HMIC report not only looked at the question of policing and the great variations within it across the country but noted that tackling domestic abuse requires organisations in both the statutory services and the voluntary community services to work together to give proper multiagency support to victims of domestic abuse. Again, that is a recommendation that the Home Secretary has accepted. I think it is common ground across the House that we need to be very active in giving effective support to victims of domestic abuse.

Climate Change


3 pm

Asked by Lord Dykes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the United States National Climate Assessment report about climate change impacts in the United States.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, the United States National Climate Assessment is a valuable addition to the growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the current impacts and future risks of climate change. Like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment, it shows that climate change is already having a serious impact on many economic sectors and all regions of the United States. It strengthens the case for ambitious action to tackle climate change in the US and globally.

Lord Dykes (LD): I thank my noble friend for that very helpful answer. Is not the ominous reality of this very detailed scientific examination, along with recent developments such as the alarming weaknesses in the Wilkes Basin ice banks in east Antarctica, that all countries need to accelerate and reinforce their

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carbon reduction programmes urgently? Does my noble friend feel that the UK Government are responding adequately?

Baroness Warsi: I can assure my noble friend that the United Kingdom Government—and the previous Government as well—have always been a leader on the issue of climate change and have sought to strengthen not just their own position but those of other countries. We are leading on legislation, we are leading on targets and we are leading in the international conversations to make sure that we take other countries with us.

Lord Barnett (Lab): My Lords, if we in the UK doubled what we are now doing on climate change, what impact would it have in the United States?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord makes an important point, clearly referring to the fact that the United Kingdom is, thankfully, responsible only for 1.5% of global emissions, unlike the United States. However, it is of course important that we continue to work with friends and colleagues in the United States to make sure that they keep heading in the right direction. We can say that the current Administration in the US are making all the right moves.

Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords—

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howell for his characteristic courtesy. Is my noble friend aware that her reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is wholly mistaken? Is she aware that the latest IPCC report explicitly states that estimates of the aggregate economic impact of climate change are relatively small and that moderate climate change, which is what it predicts for the rest of this century, may be beneficial?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I promised myself that I would try to not get into a discussion on science with my noble friend, but he tempts me. The scientist in the family is my husband, but I would come back to the noble Lord on this particular question by saying that the overwhelming evidence from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is supported by every country in the world, clearly shows that this is a real hazard, it is man-made and it is causing us huge concern.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, the noble Baroness’s robust refutation of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is extremely welcome, but is her view of climate change shared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Baroness Warsi: I have never had a conversation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about climate change. We have had conversations on many other things, but certainly I will speak to him when I next get the opportunity.

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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I will put a rather more moderate question. Is it not a bit regrettable that, whereas in the United States carbon emissions are falling as a result of the huge switch from coal to gas, the opposite seems to be happening here? Is the Minister aware that virtually no new gas turbines are now being built, despite government measures to encourage them? Indeed, some brand new and efficient gas stations are being closed down. Is there not something basically wrong with the policy?

Baroness Warsi: One of the great successes in the United States has been the development of shale gas. It is, of course, a policy of which the Government are hugely supportive. Diversifying our energy consumption and investing in green energy, as this Government have clearly done, will both help ensure that we meet our targets.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab):My Lords, is the Minister aware that if she is asked a quiz question, “What do the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, the noble Lord, Lord Bell, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, have in common?”, the answer is that we are all trustees of the Climate Parliament? In the Climate Parliament, Members of Parliament from all around the world agree with her and not with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson.

Baroness Warsi: I pay tribute to the Members of the Climate Parliament, which is clearly a noble group of people.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the key findings of the United States climate change report is that the process of climate change is now much faster than we had expected it to be? The effects are predicted to fall within a matter of a decade or so, rather than 20 or 30 years from now. Given that, will she persuade her friendly Secretary of State for Education to ensure that children in school are made more aware of the absolute necessity of tackling climate change than they are at present?

Baroness Warsi: I will, of course, pass those comments on. It will take a whole generation to deal with one of the biggest challenges for our generation. As my noble friend said, it takes time between emissions going down and the real impact that that will then have in terms of keeping the global temperature down. The concerns at the moment are that the knock-on impact will be much greater than originally anticipated.



3.07 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on

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Ukraine made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on recent events in Ukraine. I will update the House on the situation on the ground, the diplomatic work going on to reduce tensions, the decisions we made at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday, and the approach we will continue to pursue over the coming weeks.

Presidential elections will be held in Ukraine on 25 May. In the vast majority of the country, preparations are proceeding well under OSCE observation. The UK is contributing 100 observers to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation Mission—10% of the total number; £429,000 for the first round of elections. We have also given £1 million in funding so far to the Special Monitoring Mission. I met the heads of both of these vital missions in Ukraine last week, and I thanked them for the hard work of their teams in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.

But in two of Ukraine’s 25 regions—namely Donetsk and Luhansk in the south and east of the country—the situation has deteriorated markedly over the last two weeks. A constant barrage of propaganda by the Russian media, and a steadily mounting death toll, are contributing to an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and division. So-called pro-Russian separatists—led by people who, by their training, equipment and behaviour, give every appearance of being Russian special forces—have continued to seize and occupy government buildings in the south and east of Ukraine, using many of the same tactics that were deployed in Crimea. We have seen intimidation of journalists, abductions and murders. Missiles have been used to destroy at least four Ukrainian military helicopters, giving the lie to Russia’s claim that these are the actions of spontaneously organised local protestors, rather than of well trained, well equipped professionals. On 2 May more than 40 people died in Odessa, including many pro-Russian protesters trapped in a building that was set on fire, an act we condemn unreservedly.

This weekend, separatist groups staged sham referendums on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. The polls were marked by blatant fraud, including multiple voting, no proper voting lists, and threats and intimidation against Ukrainians standing up for the unity of the country. These referendums met none of the basic standards of objectivity, transparency and fairness, and they have no credibility whatever. We will not recognise these or any other attempts to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The Government believe that our national interest lies in a democratic Ukraine able to determine its own future, and in defending and protecting a rules-based international system. So our objectives remain to avoid any further escalation of the crisis, to support the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, and to uphold international law.

I visited Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia last week to show our support at a time when all three countries are feeling acute pressure. We look forward to the

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signing next month of Georgia and Moldova’s association agreements with the EU which will also establish deep and comprehensive free trade areas, which are currently under parliamentary scrutiny. I gave our strong support to the Moldovan Government’s plans to sign and implement the agreement, and encouraged them to make more progress on reform and in the fight against corruption. In Georgia I discussed and thanked the Government for their contribution to their partnership with NATO.

In Ukraine, I met the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the head of the National Security and Defence Council, as well as the Governor of Donetsk and two of the presidential candidates. I encouraged all Ukraine’s leaders to communicate with people in the south and east of the country, and to counter Russian disinformation. I welcomed the steps the Government have taken to launch an inclusive dialogue on constitutional reform and decentralisation, and to offer an amnesty for those who peacefully leave occupied buildings in eastern Ukraine. I assured Ukrainians of our support for the presidential elections, which must be allowed to take place free from violence and intimidation. On top of our strong support for the work of the OSCE, the UK is providing technical assistance to support public financial management and other reform efforts in Ukraine. We have led the call for the urgent imposition of EU sanctions targeting individuals suspected of misappropriating funds from the Ukrainian state. We hosted the Ukraine Asset Recovery Forum two weeks ago in London, with the United States and Ukraine, in order to co-ordinate this work.

As I have always stressed, the doors of diplomacy remain open. We continue to discuss the situation with Russia, and the Prime Minister had a long conversation with President Putin on 1 May. We strongly supported the Geneva agreement of 17 April and deplore the failure of Russia to join in implementing it. It is right to try now to revive the diplomatic process, and I support and welcome the efforts being made by OSCE Chair-in-Office and President of Switzerland Burkhalter. Last week I met him in Vienna, and I have held further discussions with him over the weekend and yesterday in Brussels. Last Wednesday he met President Putin and put forward a four-point plan, including the immediate launch of a national dialogue by the Ukrainian authorities with OSCE support. We have encouraged Ukraine to respond positively and it is now doing so. The Government have announced that they will hold the first meeting tomorrow, and agreed that there will be both Ukrainian and international mediation in this process.

I strongly believe it is in the interests of all concerned to seize these opportunities to reduce tensions. It is manifestly in the interests of the people of Ukraine, including in Donetsk and Luhansk, where there is a danger of the violence growing even worse and many more lives being lost. It is in the interests of Russia, because some events have already moved beyond their control, and because the long-term economic and political costs to Russia of an escalating crisis will be very serious. It is also urgent, because the situation is deteriorating and the elections are only 12 days away. We look to Russia to exercise its influence and to take every opportunity to restrain those responsible for

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violence and disorder, consistent with President Putin’s remarks last Wednesday that the elections are a step forward.

Yesterday I attended the Foreign Affairs Council, where we made it clear that attitudes and behaviour towards the holding of the elections will have particular importance in deciding whether or not wider economic and trade sanctions will be applied. Preparations for these sanctions are at an advanced stage. There is no doubt that the Ukrainian authorities are making thorough preparations for the elections to be held, and therefore Russia’s willingness to exercise its influence over illegal armed groups in parts of eastern Ukraine will be the decisive factor in whether everyone in the eastern provinces will be able to exercise their right to vote. Since Russia has taken no practical steps to de-escalate the crisis so far, we agreed to add a new group of 13 individuals and two companies to the list of those persons sanctioned. This is the first time that such entities have been sanctioned by the EU in relation to Ukraine.

We agreed to expand the criteria for sanctions. These will now cover not just individuals directly responsible for undermining the security, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, but also a broader range of individuals and entities linked to separatist and illegal activities. For the first time, the sanctions will also be applicable to entities in Crimea or Sevastopol whose ownership has been transferred contrary to Ukrainian law and to those who obstruct the work of international organisations in Ukraine.

At the Foreign Affairs Council, we also called on Russia to take effective steps to fulfil its Geneva commitments: to refrain from provocative actions and intimidation, to use its influence with separatist groups to compel them to disarm and to vacate illegally occupied buildings, and to cease its destabilising campaign.

We demanded that Russia move its troops away from the Ukrainian border. President Putin said last week that troops were returning to their regular training grounds. However we have seen no evidence that Russia has reduced the huge number of its troops stationed just miles from Ukraine, and in fact Moscow continues to encourage the actions of separatists, including through Russia’s state-controlled media.

In addition to these steps, we agreed as Foreign Ministers that the EU will prepare a possible civilian mission to Ukraine to support capacity building in the fields of rule of law and judicial and police reform, and we maintained our firm commitment to sign the remaining provisions of the association agreement with Ukraine, including the deep and comprehensive free trade area, as soon as possible after the presidential elections. It is clear that if Russia does not take the path of de-escalation, the long-term cost to it will grow, in an economy already shrinking and suffering massive capital flight. G7 energy Ministers met in Rome last week and committed themselves to reduce market power and political influence through energy supply. EU leaders will discuss further detailed measures when they meet in June.

The people of Ukraine deserve the right to choose their own Government in a free and fair election, just as we do. They also deserve to be free from external

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interference and duress and to have the chance to chart an independent future without the debilitating corruption and mismanagement of recent years. They should have every opportunity to be a bridge between east and west—not to have their country pulled apart by the fanning of hatred, the wilful sowing of violent disorder and the insertion of provocateurs and separatists from over their borders.

There is now a fresh opening for Russia and anyone else fostering violence and tension to turn back from the brink. The coming days will demonstrate whether they are going to take it, and the UK will do everything it can to encourage that and to support the holding of open and fair democratic elections.

The international community must continue to be prepared to act with resolve and determination to persuade the Russian Government to change their approach, to defend the rules-based international system, and to prevent a deterioration of the situation in the wider region”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.19 pm

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in another place by her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary earlier today. It is clear from the number of noble Lords in their places how important they feel that the Statement she has just repeated actually is. The Minister will know that Her Majesty’s Opposition continue to give our support to Her Majesty’s Government in their handling of this matter.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, the Foreign Secretary is of course right when he says that the situation today in eastern Ukraine is deeply troubling. The violence, as we have heard, continues, the death toll is rising and the situation remains very volatile. We, too, unreservedly condemn—as will all people of goodwill—the tragic events of 2 May in Odessa, in which more than 40 people died. We, too, condemn the sham referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk last Sunday, which were well described as both illegal and illegitimate. The priority must now be for calm to be restored and further violence to be prevented. However, recent events—particularly last week and over the weekend—have perhaps created a key moment, when the real resolve and intentions of Russia must now be tested.

Some commentators have seen some public comments by President Putin as a sign of possible progress. However, as history has constantly taught us, words are not enough, it is actions that count. That is why the international community has to judge President Putin not by his words alone but by his actions. He has said that the referendum should be postponed. Now that it has taken place, surely he must condemn it. He has said that presidential elections might be a step forward. Now, surely, he must help create the conditions for them to take place fairly, fully and peacefully across the whole country. He has said that he has withdrawn troops from the border. Surely he must allow NATO to verify that. He has signed up to the Geneva accord of 17 April. Now he must help to implement it.

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If President Putin fails to take the minimum steps required to demonstrate that he is willing to change course, the West must be prepared to increase pressure in the days and weeks ahead. We therefore welcome the steps agreed at yesterday’s European Union Foreign Affairs Council to extend existing targeted measures, including those against two companies. On the measures agreed, can the Minister say whether she expects that the expanded criteria will result in the addition of further Russian entities—companies—to the list of companies targeted by such sanctions?

We warmly welcome the council’s conclusions on the work of the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine, and most particularly our country’s—the UK’s— contribution, both financial and in terms of personnel, to this particular mission. We also agree with the remarks made by the EU High Representative—our noble friend Lady Ashton—following the Foreign Affairs Council meeting yesterday, when she said:

“We are encouraging the efforts of the Government of Ukraine to reach out to all regions within the framework of the national dialogue, including on the constitutional reform process”.

She went on:

“It is vital to ensure the rights of national minorities”.

The Geneva accord of 17 April still serves as the most credible road map to a peaceful resolution of this crisis. It is a matter of regret that Russia has so far shown no willingness to implement its terms. Can the Minister, therefore, help us by confirming that efforts are under way to secure a further meeting between the signatories of that agreement to the deal, as a way of trying to make progress on its implementation? We note the Council’s conclusions yesterday in support of a further meeting, but in light of Russian statements that no such meeting is being planned, can she set out the likelihood of its taking place?

We also welcome her remarks on the preparatory work being done by the EU on possible wider trade and economic sanctions against Russia. Can the Minister provide the House with any further details about the kind of measures currently under consideration? Can she confirm, too, that any steps taken by Russia to seek to prevent the peaceful process of presidential elections later this month would be deemed a serious escalation and further evidence of its intention to further destabilise the situation in Ukraine? We also welcome the Government’s confirmation that an association agreement is due to be signed with Georgia and Moldova next month, alongside the free-trade area agreement.

Finally, the Government are of course aware that many countries in the region, especially those from the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, but also including our Nordic allies, have a deeper concern that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not an isolated incident but part of a developing and worrying trend—particularly in light of recent claims by the Russian Government about their need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic Russians, irrespective of their nationality or the credibility of any real threat against them. It is little wonder that that has caused apprehension and even alarm, so can the Minister confirm what discussions the Government have had with our EU and NATO allies on our response to these developments?

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We thank the noble Baroness for keeping Parliament informed about these very difficult and serious issues and we express again our support for the Government’s actions in dealing with them.

3.27 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the Benches opposite, and indeed the noble Lord, for the bipartisan approach that has been adopted in this matter and for their support for the Government’s approach.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that actions must follow words and of course some of those words have been positive, such as the reference to the elections as a step forward and the commitment to the Geneva agreement. It is because we must hope for the best but plan for the worst that, at an EU level and bilaterally with many of our partners, we continue to plan for further measures if there was to be an escalation. The kinds of situations to which the noble Lord referred are exactly the kind which would be seen as further escalation. Any sort of prevention of people being allowed to vote or a disruption of these presidential elections would be seen as the kind of areas which would lead to further measures.

The broader criteria will now mean that the people and entities now under consideration go much broader than the initial group of people that we were considering, but I think that the noble Lord will understand if I do not provide him with details of who they are or the kind of organisations that they may be. There are 28 nations at the EU level with which we try to get agreement on these matters, and it is important that we allow the process to take place to reach that agreement.

The noble Lord raised an important point about whether this is an isolated incident. I spent parts of my Recess in Central Asia, where it was interesting to hear from people from the ex-Soviet bloc states, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as to how this was being perceived by them and the impact that it could have on the potential customs unions that Russia wishes to take forward. The actions of Russia in relation to its neighbours—the lack of respect for the territorial integrity of its immediate neighbours—does not necessarily bode well for what is considered to be, I hope, an equal relationship when forming those customs unions.

The noble Lord also raised an important point in relation to the Geneva agreement. The signatories to that agreement were of course Russia, Ukraine, the EU and the US. That is the right format in which to take these matters forward, but there is a whole series of measures agreed back on 17 April in that Geneva committee which have not yet been implemented. Specific things were asked of Ukraine: for example, tabling an amnesty law, which has been done; a commitment to constitutional reform, aimed at decentralisation, which has been made; and guarantees on the protection and status of the Russian language, which have been given. There were certain very specific asks of Russia also, which, as the noble Lord said, have not been met. We want to see progress on the asks that have already been agreed and on the specific things agreed at the Geneva committee.

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It is important to push back on some of the rhetoric we are hearing about what the people in south and east Ukraine want. Credible polls have been held by organisations that are very close to the ground, which said that something like 70% of people do not see a future for themselves within Russia and do not feel that the Russian language is under attack, for example. We have a responsibility to push back on what clearly is not an accurate account of the situation on the ground.

I thank the noble Lord and the Benches opposite for the huge support they have given to our approach.

3.30 pm

Lord Soley (Lab): This is a strong Statement and I welcome it very strongly. Can I ask the Minister to convey—

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords—

Noble Lords: This side!

Lord Soley: It should be this side.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, from these Benches I, too, wish to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Foreign Secretary’s rather comprehensive Statement today updating us on the European Council. It is a happy coincidence that President Didier Burkhalter of Switzerland happens to chair the OSCE at this time, because the OSCE is the right body to defuse tensions. We were very heartened to see that he has suggested to the President of the European Council that he hold a series of round tables to try to mediate the situation. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland—or, indeed, their representatives—will play a prominent role in the OSCE negotiations? That group of countries negotiated the first accord, which I think was acceptable to all sides in the conflict.

Will the noble Baroness also tell us about the position of Germany? I understand that the German Government are keen that Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, should lead a separate round of mediation efforts. I am sure that the noble Baroness does not need me to remind her of this, but I put on the record that it is absolutely critical for the European Union to remain united on this issue through the OSCE. To have individual countries breaking off and setting up their own initiatives for their own geostrategic reasons can hardly be a welcome development from our side but would be welcomed by Mr Putin; it would be an opportunity for him to obfuscate further.

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend has always made very incisive and important points. President Didier Burkhalter is indeed leading the OSCE negotiations. Again, the parameters of those negotiations have been clear in relation to the cessation of violence, the facilitation of disarmament and the immediate establishment of a national dialogue. It is important that Ukraine delivers for the Ukrainian people and therefore allows stability within the nation to form the strength and backbone of its approach with Russia.

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Our European partners and the Foreign Ministers to whom the noble Baroness refers support that process. It is important that there is a unified EU position. However, as I said earlier, there are 28 member states and Russia relies on the fact that the EU may have a difference of opinion within itself. I took great comfort from the Foreign Affairs Council meeting yesterday, given the fact that we managed to reach agreement on a much broader approach to sanctions. The agreement that, if there is a further escalation, there will be an escalation of sanctions shows that Europe is, thankfully, singing from the same song sheet.

Lord Wright of Richmond (CB): My Lords—

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, will the Leader of the House call for shorter questions from Members?

Lord Bates (Con): My Lords, let us hear from a Cross-Bencher.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I welcome the passage in the Statement that refers to the need for the doors of diplomacy to remain open. Although that clearly relates primarily to the difficulties we have with the Russians on Ukraine, does the Minister agree that there are other subjects that urgently need continued diplomacy with Russia, such as the situation in the Middle East, Syria and Egypt and the threat of Islamic extremism, let alone climate change and energy? It is very important that, however we react to Russian misbehaviour, we do not close those doors.

Baroness Warsi: I fully take those views on board. That is why we continue to sit with the Russians on the E3+3 negotiations with Iran. We want Russia to continue to play its role as an international partner, but it must abide by international norms and laws if it wants to continue to do so.

Lord Soley: Perhaps the Minister could take this opportunity to remind the House of the importance of a debate on Russia. I have been arguing for that for some time and the Chief Whip has written to me about it. We need to talk about Russia. The first thing that I would like to ask the Minister is whether we are raising with Russia the recognition that there is genuine concern about Russian speakers or people of Russian ethnicity, but they can be better protected by normal human rights legislation, not by moving in special forces to stir up local trouble. Exactly the same concerns arise about the minorities in Crimea, who will now feel very much at risk in view of the occupation by Russia. The way of dealing with minorities in east Europe and Crimea should be part of the agenda.

Baroness Warsi: The rights of minority communities, and indeed minority languages, are an issue that every country deals with and struggles with. Indeed, part of my role in the United Kingdom is about dealing with faith and communities and ensuring that all communities feel part of our nation. However, what part of international norms is about saying that you have to invade the territory of another country because you feel that somehow you have an affiliation to a

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language that may be spoken by some people in that country? Of course it is important for us to support the Ukrainians in their support for these minority communities and to speak out against xenophobia and anti-Semitism, but it is also important to set out what the international norms are.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Earlier I heard someone in another place say that this was now a matter for the whole of the Atlantic alliance, as of course it is. However, when it comes to the matter of illegal annexations, is it not also a matter for the entire global community, including the rising powers of Asia and including China? Have we had any contact with the Chinese authorities? Has the Minister noticed that Mr Putin is going to be in Beijing in a few days’ time, seeking to secure a major long-term sales contract with the Chinese for gas that he feels he may not be able to sell to Europe? Should we not be a bit cautious? Would it not be a pity if we ended up seeing Russia and China driven closer together as a result of our policies?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend may be aware of the United Nations Security Council vote on 15 March, at which Russia found itself completely isolated, and indeed on that particular vote China abstained. In the General Assembly vote a couple of weeks after that on 27 March, the result was 100 to 11. That clearly shows not just a NATO/Russia or US/EU/Russia issue but actually a world issue where Russia is finding itself more and more isolated.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, yes, Russia must be made to pay a heavy price for its conduct, but does the Minister agree that, if there is to be a lasting settlement, the legitimate interests of Russia will have to be recognised and accommodated, and that those interests include, yes, the cultural and linguistic interests of the Russophone people but also the fact that full membership of NATO should not be extended to Ukraine, and that there should be substantial devolution to those areas of the east and the south of Ukraine that want it?

Baroness Warsi: I hear what the noble Lord has said, but the legitimate and natural interests of the Ukrainian people surely come before the legitimate interests of any other peoples. It must of course be right that the Ukrainian people are free to decide their future. I do not think that the European Union, or indeed the US, are forcing the Ukrainians to go down any path; I was at the Vilnius conference where these discussions in relation to the association agreement started. I refer the noble Lord right back to when these debates were being held at these Dispatch Boxes; we were incredibly careful with our language, constantly asked for matters to de-escalate and constantly spoke with the Ukrainians to ensure that the issues being raised by the Russians were being addressed.

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, the outgoing Secretary-General of NATO has made clear his concerns about the trends in defence expenditure within the alliance,

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particularly in light of the international situation. The United Kingdom used to set an example in this regard and thus was able to speak from a position of moral authority. Given the fraught international situation and the issues that we are discussing today, does the Minister not believe that it is time that the United Kingdom resumed its rightful place in this regard?

Baroness Warsi: This question has arisen on a number of occasions when we have discussed Ukraine. The noble and gallant Lord will obviously always make a strong case for defence spending. I assure him that in relation to the resources required, certainly to step up the Baltic air-policing mission, the necessary Typhoons were deployed.

Baroness Rawlings (Con): My Lords, the BBC World Service used to broadcast in both Russian and Ukrainian, but these services were cut back with the approval of the Foreign Office. This was based on the argument that the new Russia no longer needed such an effort and that funds should be redirected to the Middle East. Russian and Ukrainian now have only an online offer. In the light of the present situation, will the Foreign Office now allocate some resources for changing this situation fully to support broadcasting to this part of the world, particularly television?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend makes an important point; she knows that this funding was cut back in 2011, and of course matters have changed since then. This matter should be kept under review. The decision made by the BBC will be editorially independent, but in light of how much of this conflict appears to be about a war of words and misinformation we should certainly consider the matter.

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, I agree with the Minister’s assertion that the referendums that were held in the east of Ukraine were clearly deeply flawed, and would not pass any normal test of a free and fair election. But I am troubled by the implication of much of what she said, that somehow the feelings in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea are entirely an anxiety manufactured by Russian foreign policy, and that they bear no relation whatever to the real feelings of the people in the area. I put it to her that we are all democrats; we all respect the judgment of the people. Is it really the position of Her Majesty’s Government that whatever the views expressed by people in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea on separation, devolution or independence and whatever their judgment is, these people must remain within the present boundaries of Ukraine under the present constitutional arrangements there? I ask this, of course, with the background of a referendum shortly to take place in part of the United Kingdom about its future boundaries.

Baroness Warsi: I sincerely hope that that was not the impression that I gave. If I did, I apologise; it was not how I intended it. From the outset of this crisis, we spoke about making sure that the legitimate concerns of the Ukrainian people, who were raising concerns about minority rights and language, and about

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decentralisation and much more localised governance, were taken into consideration. This formed the basis of the Geneva agreement, and we have put money into making sure that that is the kind of work that the Ukrainians have started and put in place. Alongside that, the commitments made by Russia too need to be fulfilled and we see no progress on that.

Baroness Williams of Crosby (LD): My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. For five years I was an adviser to the Parliament of Ukraine, shortly after Ukraine became independent. I want to bear out what the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Anderson, said. There are very long historical stories between Ukraine and Russia that are not easy to follow for those of us outside. It is of the first importance that we recognise the need for minorities and their language and culture to be respected and do not involve NATO in any oversight or inspection of the outcome of all this. Does the Minister agree that the OSCE should indicate clearly its support for human rights for minorities? I know this has been said, but it needs to be said over and over again until the Ukrainian Parliament says it too—it is of great importance that we are recognised to be supporting the human rights of everybody in Ukraine, whether they are Russian speakers or Ukrainian speakers.

Baroness Warsi: I completely endorse the comments of my noble friend. That is why we continue to press parliamentarians in Ukraine to speak out against xenophobia and anti-Semitism, but we must also remember those minorities which are now in an annexed Crimea. Let us not forget, for example, the Tatar community, which now feels under siege because of what is happening in Crimea. I do not think we can have one rule for one part of Ukraine and not for the other. We must continue to make those demands and expectations of the Ukrainians and also of Russia.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): Without seeking in any way to undermine the principles very properly enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is it not the case that the attitude of President Putin has been that of unprincipled and utterly ruthless rapacity towards Ukraine, particularly bearing in mind that Russia was one of the signatories of the Budapest pact guaranteeing the very existence of that country and undertaking in the event of any disruption of that situation that the matter be immediately reported to the Security Council? If it be the case that there have to be further sanctions, will Her Majesty’s Government bear it in mind that President Putin has said on many occasions that the defining moment of success in his public life was the introduction of Russia into the G8? Without considering the expulsion of Russia from the G8, the situation could be bypassed by concentration upon the G7. Is that not something that might be demanded on account of not just the rapacity in relation to Ukraine but the possibilities of wider intentions towards many other countries that were part of the old Russian empire?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is right that Russia’s actions contravene its obligations under the UN charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 partition

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treaty on the status and conditions of the Black Sea fleet and are in breach of its commitments under the Budapest memorandum signed in 1994. Russia is not following a plethora of its obligations.

Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords—

Lord Bates: My Lords, I think we have had four questions from the Labour Benches and only two from this side.

Lord Higgins: Does my noble friend agree, first, that the combination of coalition government and fixed-term Parliaments seems to be resulting in longer and longer recesses and that there is a strong case for us having time to debate this issue in this House on a full-time basis? Secondly, is it not extraordinary that we have such elaborate arrangements on the military defence side of things yet very little thought seems to have been given to economic defence, with the result that we do not have the ability to reach agreement on short notice in the light of the present crisis on economic sanctions? What body is setting up the immediate procedure for dealing with the economic problems and the need to take economic measures in response to this crisis? Should we not have a permanent arrangement covering that?

Baroness Warsi: First, in relation to the point on recess, my understanding is that apparently the number of recess days does not exceed what has happened in previous years. As a Minister who is part of this coalition Government, I cannot remember the last time I had recess.

On the economic consequences, it is already clear, for example from the recent downgrade of growth for Russia’s economy from 2.3% to 0.2% this year, the $63 billion capital flight and the downgrading of Russian bonds, that this is having a real impact on Russia’s economy. The format for making sure that these sanctions are having an impact has been, among other things, the EU Foreign Affairs Committee. It is because there is constant planning happening that when there is an escalation in the situation there is an escalation in sanctions, and those sanctions are biting.

Lord Davies of Stamford: The Minister said a few moments ago that she was very careful about language. I put it to her that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was most unfortunate in his language in one section of the Statement, when he said:

“We demanded that Russia move its troops away from the Ukrainian border”.

I do not need to remind the House and the Minister that Russia’s troops are, unfortunately, already within the Ukrainian border, in Crimea. It is most unfortunate, undesirable and dangerous to use language that implies that, even if we have not accepted that situation formally or legally, we have somehow psychologically acquiesced in the annexation by Russia of Ukraine.

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Does the Minister agree with me that President Putin will naturally take whatever he thinks he can get away with? The sanctions that we imposed on him after the illegal annexation of Crimea were so footling—at the time I think that I described them as “derisory”—that it is hardly surprising that he has come back for a bigger bite. Does the Minister accept that, if we are going to need new sanctions, they had better this time be a great deal more powerful, because she has a very considerable credibility gap to cover?

Baroness Warsi: I have outlined the impact that the sanctions are already having. We are designing these sanctions in such a way as to have a maximum impact on Russia with the minimum impact on others—but, of course, there will be an impact on others, including on ourselves. HMG do not accept—the Foreign Secretary has said this on numerous occasions—the illegal annexation of Crimea. I do not think that anything in the Statement suggests that we do.

Procedure Committee

Motion to Agree

3.51 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the 5th Report from the Select Committee (Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee; Written Answers and Statements; Select Committee Membership; Maiden Speeches in Hansard) (HL Paper 167) be agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I beg to move that the fifth report of the Procedure Committee be agreed to. The report covers a number of different areas which I will cover briefly in turn.

The first part of the report recommends a change to the terms of reference of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to add two new grounds on which that committee may draw the special attention of the House to a statutory instrument. This change is being made at the request of the committee. The two new grounds are: (e) that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation; and (f) that there appear to be inadequacies in the consultation process which relates to the instrument.

The second section sets out rules for government departments to follow when submitting Answers to Written Questions. The need for new rules arises from the introduction of a new system to allow electronic exchange of Questions for Written Answer and their associated Answers between both Houses and government departments. The new Question and Answer system will automatically publish all Questions and Answers on the parliamentary website and send e-mail alerts to Members, who will have a dedicated web page for viewing and organising all their Questions and Answers. Answers should be received more quickly, as Members will not have to wait for the postal delivery. Answering

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bodies will be able to include attachments with their answers, containing tabular, graphic or illustrative material which cannot be printed in


. The digital copy of Answers will be the definitive record copy, but a printed version will continue to be published and, in addition, while recognising that we may be somewhat behind the curve of the digital age, the Leader of the House has asked Lords Ministers to continue sending printed and signed versions of Answers to all Lords Members.

The third section of the report arises from a proposal made by the usual channels to reform the rules relating to Select Committee membership with the aim of increasing the opportunities for Members to participate in Select Committee work.

The first recommendation is that from the end of the 2014 Session—I stress that is not from the end of this Session but from the end of the Session which ends with the general election—the rotation rule for all Select Committees other than the House Committee should be three Sessions instead of four. The House Committee presently has a five-Session rotation. That will be reduced to four and then eventually to three. In the longer term, we also propose that the House Committee should come down to a three-Session rotation. To avoid a sudden loss of many Members by reducing the length of service by two Sessions at once, we recommend that this change be implemented incrementally.

Other recommendations include a new rule that Members who leave a committee under the rotation rule should be eligible for reappointment to the same committee, or any of its sub-committees, only after the lapse of two full Sessions. We further recommend that it be set out in the Companion that it is desirable for a Member to serve on only one sessional investigative Select Committee at any one time.

The final section of the report recommends that from the start of the next Session maiden speeches should be marked in Hansard. I beg to move.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, I want to make a couple of comments in relation to the report. However, as we are discussing procedure, I should say that I find it ridiculous that comment and questions on the Ukraine Statement were restricted to 20 minutes. I know that has been extended from 10 minutes but in the other place such discussion is unrestricted. My noble friend Lady Liddell and a number of other noble Lords tried to get in and some of us did not even bother to try as we knew that discussion was limited to only 20 minutes and that a lot of noble Lords wanted to comment. However, we are going to finish early again tonight and then we are going away for three weeks. This is a matter of great importance and it is a great shame that we will not have another opportunity to comment on it at this point. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will have another—

Lord Elton (Con): I hope the noble Lord will permit me to point out that he is not speaking to the Motion on the Order Paper. There is a lot of other pressing business that a lot of us want to get on with.

13 May 2014 : Column 1773

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am speaking about procedure and this is a report on procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, will know that if he was in another place he could raise that issue on a point of order but, unfortunately, he cannot do so here, and he should not have. I have made my point and I know that the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip are listening very carefully.

However, to come to my substantive points, I warmly welcome the position in relation to Written Answers and Statements. It is about time that we had full and proper Answers, and the committee is to be commended for that. I also welcome the changes to Select Committee membership although, in view of the important matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred, it is a bit ironic that the recommendation wants us to work less rather than more. Nevertheless, it is a logical and sensible recommendation.

However, the main point I want to make to the Chairman of Committees is that the relevant measure refers to Select Committees but, as I understand it, it is being interpreted by the Administration to apply also to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, a Joint Committee with the House of Commons. That means we will lose seven Members from the House of Lords—this affects both sides—to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, whereas the Commons Members will continue until the end of the Parliament. That seems to be an anomaly. Whereas it is sensible that this measure should apply to our own Select Committees, it seems strange that it should apply to Joint Committees with the House of Commons given that their Members will continue to the end of the Parliament. I am no longer on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy but a number of Members of that Joint Committee from both sides of the House have asked me to raise that point.

Lord Berkeley (Lab): My Lords, I wish to speak briefly about Written Answers—an issue that I have raised previously. I strongly welcome the idea of going fully electronic but the report, unless I have misread it, does not consider recesses. We have had four weeks at Easter, nearly three weeks are coming up and there will probably be 10 weeks in the summer. I do not see how we can put down Questions and get Answers. If it is going to be done electronically, it could happen every day in the recesses, but the Chairman of Committees may say that that would be too much work in the summer holidays. However, it could be done at least weekly in order for Members to have some chance of holding the Government to account during these lovely long breaks that we are having.

4 pm

Lord Jopling (Con): My Lords, the Chairman of Committees said that he hoped that Answers to Written Questions would come more quickly. Some years ago, I was on the Procedure Committee and it was at my instigation that there now appears a daily list of Questions for Written Answer that are outstanding beyond the target time of 10 working days. He said that Answers would come more quickly; I hope that he is right. I will believe it when I see it. One sometimes gets the impression

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that Answers to Written Questions are being smuggled away—away from the daily


, for instance, in a separate document. Will the Chairman of Committees give me an undertaking that the daily list of overdue Answers will not, in this changed procedure, be done away with but will continue to appear?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): I wish to comment on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about the amount of time allocated to Statements. He is quite right to say that the time allocated today was clearly inadequate because many noble Lords were on their feet wishing to ask questions about a very important matter. We, the Government or the usual channels—I do not know who—have the power to extend the 20 minutes to 40 minutes. Who exercises that power, how do they do so, what consultations do they have and when did they last do it?

Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, I, too, welcome the proposals on Written Answers because they represent a considerable improvement on the current situation. However, given this new technology that we will have at our disposal, has the noble Lord given any consideration to grouping Questions together so that we can see any patterns in the Answers given by government departments, particularly with a view to spotting any systemic evasions and prevarications?

The Chairman of Committees: I shall deal with the last question first. Grouping Questions is an intriguing suggestion that is worth looking into. It would develop almost an internal commentary, would it not? It would be a worth while exercise to have a look at.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made a point about late Answers. I can give him a full assurance that there will be no hiding place for departments that are late in answering Questions.

I did not quite follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when he said that Select Committee rotation was somehow designed to make us work less. It is not. It is designed to make more people work more. That is generally a good thing.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that the issue of tabling Questions in recesses is on the agenda of the Procedure Committee for 24 June, and will therefore receive attention.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Chairman has not answered two vital questions—on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, and on the length of Statements.

The Chairman of Committees: I apologise for not answering on national security. The national security committee is subject to a rotation rule. When it was established, Lords Members were put on a rotation basis. If we had not moved to a three-Session rotation but had kept a four-year rotation, which all our committees are on, we would have had six Members leaving the committee this year.

On the length of Statements, I am afraid that I am not in a position to give any answer.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may help the Chairman of Committees on the question of Statements. My experience is that there are two reasons why we are occasionally allowed to extend the length of Statements. One is when it is a matter of life and death; the other is Lords reform. When you think of it, they are the same thing.

Motion agreed.

Privileges and Conduct Committee:14th Report

Motion to Agree

4.05 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the 14th Report from the Select Committee (The conduct of Lord Hanningfield) (HL Paper 181) be agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): My Lords, this is the second time that we have had to consider a Motion relating to the conduct of Lord Hanningfield. The House will recall agreeing to the ninth report of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct in the 2010-12 Session and suspending the noble Lord from the service of the House for nine months for wrongly claiming the old night subsistence allowance. Lord Hanningfield served a prison sentence for the same offence.

The report that we are now considering comes after Lord Hanningfield was investigated by the independent House of Lords Commissioner for Standards following newspaper articles alleging that in July 2013 he attended the House for very short periods of time, yet claimed the full daily allowance on each occasion. The commissioner found that Lord Hanningfield breached the Code of Conduct in claiming the daily allowance on 11 days in July 2013 when he had not undertaken any parliamentary work. The commissioner also found that, in doing so, Lord Hanningfield,

“failed to act on his personal honour”.

The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct recommended that Lord Hanningfield be suspended until the end of the current Parliament and be required to repay the £3,300 that he wrongly claimed.

In his report, the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, on the basis of the words used in the Guide to Financial Support for Members and the certification made by Members on the claim form for the daily allowance and travel expenses, identifies two conditions that have to be met if a valid claim is to be made. These are that the Member has to be present in the Chamber or at a committee and that the Member has done parliamentary work on the day for which the claim is made. The establishment of a presence does not in itself fulfil the conditions for making a valid claim. The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards does not seek to define what constitutes parliamentary work but recognises that it might take place other than on the Parliamentary Estate.

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Lord Hanningfield appealed to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct and appeared before us last week. Having considered the points that he put to us, we did not uphold his appeal and did uphold the recommendations of the commissioner and the sub-committee.

Suspension until the end of this Parliament is the maximum sanction available to the House. We cannot suspend a Member for longer without interfering with their Writ of Summons. We believe that the maximum sanction is justified in this case, not least because this is not Lord Hanningfield’s first offence.

In January, the House introduced two new sanctions for breaches of the Code of Conduct: denial of access for a specified period to the system of financial support for Members and denial of access for a specified period to the facilities of the House. These penalties cannot be applied to breaches of the code that occurred prior to their introduction, including those that Lord Hanningfield has been found to have committed.

I do not believe that I need to say any more. I sincerely hope that the case before the House today will be the last case of its type. I beg to move that the 14th report from the Committee for Privileges and Conduct be agreed to.

Motion agreed.

Privileges and Conduct Committee:14th Report

Motion to Resolve

4.09 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That Lord Hanningfield be suspended from the service of the House until the end of the current Parliament.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The effect of this Motion is to suspend Lord Hanningfield from the service of the House until the end of this Parliament.

Motion agreed.

Privileges and Conduct Committee:15th Report

Motion to Agree

4.10 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That the 15th Report from the Select Committee (Further amendments to the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Code of Conduct) (HL Paper 182) be agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): My Lords, this is the second set of changes to the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Code of Conduct that we

13 May 2014 : Column 1777

have considered in the past two months. This 15th Report makes three recommendations. The first section of the report establishes a stronger link between the requirements of the Code of Conduct and the system of financial support for Members. To this end, the Committee for Privileges and Conduct proposes that a sentence be added to the relevant claim form stating that, in making each claim, the Member concerned should have regard to the obligation in the Code of Conduct to act on their personal honour. It also proposes that the


uide to the


ode of



be amended to emphasise further the fact that Members should follow not only the letter of the rules but also the spirit of the rules and the sense of the House when claiming financial support.

The vast majority of Members make claims for financial support that are beyond reproach, but public concerns about isolated examples of abuse remain. The changes proposed should serve to highlight the importance of all Members acting on their personal honour, and they reinforce the need for the highest standards of propriety in this area.

The second section of the report proposes a code of conduct for Members’ staff. This follows a recommendation from the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption. The new code sets out the requirements imposed on Members’ staff, most of which already exist but have not previously been set out in one place. The new code for Members’ staff also lays down some general principles guiding the conduct of Members’ staff in their parliamentary work—for example, that Members’ staff should not use their access to the Parliamentary Estate to engage in lobbying.

The final section of the report relates to the imprisonment of Members. The House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill is expected to receive its Third Reading after this debate. That Bill provides that a Member who is sentenced to imprisonment for more than one year will cease to be a Member of the House. However, if the conviction is outside the United Kingdom, the Member will cease to be a Member only if the House resolves as such.

The Bill addresses the most serious cases where Members have breached the criminal law. However, we think that the House should make provision for the Code of Conduct to deal with cases of imprisonment that do not fall under the Bill. If the Bill becomes law in its current form, the Code of Conduct need cover only those situations where a Member is sentenced to, first, imprisonment for up to and including one year; secondly, a suspended term of imprisonment; or, thirdly, imprisonment for over a year outside the UK where the House has not resolved that the Member should cease to be a Member.

Accordingly, we consider that it should be deemed a breach of the Code of Conduct for a Member to be sentenced to imprisonment, whether in the UK or elsewhere, for any length of time, including suspended sentences. Where that is the case, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct will recommend an appropriate sanction. We recognise that there is a need for safeguards in respect of convictions in foreign jurisdictions and we recommend a scheme that takes account of this. That is necessary because a situation could arise when

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someone could be convicted in a common court for an activity that is not a crime in this country, or, indeed, for something which would be praiseworthy in this country.

Together with the 13th Report of the committee, which the House agreed on 6 March, I believe that this 15th Report will make significant progress in strengthening our system governing conduct. I am, of course, happy to answer questions. I beg to move.

4.15 pm

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, I have listened with great interest to what the Chairman of Committees has said in relation to this report and, indeed, to the previous ones in relation to Lord Hanningfield. I am bound to say that the more I listened to it, the more disturbed I got. Are we not now in a somewhat strange position? For a person to be able to claim his allowances, first, he has to be seen by the House or the committee, and, secondly, he has to do parliamentary work. One can easily imagine a situation in which you will be doing parliamentary work for almost the whole of the day without setting foot inside the Chamber or appearing in front of a Select Committee. In those circumstances, noble Lords would presumably do what Lord Hanningfield did—although he did not do the parliamentary work—which is turn up and be seen by somebody here, and then, on your honour, you will have fulfilled both conditions.

I am not raising this point in defence of Lord Hanningfield at all. I am merely pointing out that the present situation almost invites a situation in which people turn up in the House just so that they can be seen in order to fulfil the legitimate requirements before they can get their allowances. I do not know whether anything can be done about this—I suspect that the answer is probably not. However, I would like the Chairman of Committees at least to give us an indication of whether they are thinking about it.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): My Lords, I very much welcome the proposal of the Chairman of Committees. It is the least that we can do regarding prison sentences. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that, among the general public, there is an absolute incomprehension that people who have been convicted of serious crimes, and have therefore served prison sentences, can go on being Members of this House. I have had that said to me time and again, and I am sure he will agree that it is a conundrum that we have to solve.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury (LD): My Lords, I am grateful to the Committee for its work in producing these reports. Nothing can be more difficult, I think, than trying to put into words the circumstances in which we can claim our £300 or £150 a day tax free.

I hope the Chairman will forgive me if I raise one or two points on the Committee’s latest formulation. I am sorry that I did not raise these points with him in advance but, like many noble Lords, I only got round to looking in detail at the new proposals today. However, we know enough about the expenses scandal and the Lord Hanningfield case—and, I fear, others—to know

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that the language of our self-restraint, if one might call it that, is very important. It does not help to leave that language too rubbery and too open to different interpretation. For example, in the latest formulation, paragraph 4.1.3 of the

Guide to

Financial Support for Members

talks about “appropriate parliamentary work”. However, the claim form simply talks about “parliamentary work”; there is no reference to “appropriate”. Paragraph 8 of the

Guide to the Code of Conduct

talks about Members in the discharge of our “parliamentary duties”—“duties” as opposed to “work”, and “work” as opposed to “appropriate parliamentary work”. Those three phrases are more than capable, and with some justification, of different interpretations. I urge the Chairman and his committee to consider that point with a view to further amendments, because we do not want any more of this.

I would also like to add, if I may, that there is constant reference to “honour” and to a “sense of the House”—a breach of honour according to the sense of the House. There is absolutely no guidance on what the sense of the House might be in any circumstances. I understand that you cannot find a form of words that will be clear in every circumstance, but I again put it to the Chairman that he might consider that the committee should have a number of scenarios in which it says that it would be contrary to our honour, in those circumstances, to claim or not to claim.

I am afraid that these are issues that the press are looking at closely. Lord Hanningfield himself, in the Daily Mirror article last July, talked of 50 other Peers clocking in and clocking out as he did. I really hope that we do not leave ourselves in the position where we are vulnerable to another wholesale attack on what is going on here, with us apparently doing nothing about it. If any of your Lordships claimed for the full 139 sitting days last year, that would have come to £41,700 tax free. If you gross that up, it is a lot of money, and I am afraid that we remain unduly vulnerable. This is something that we need to address, because the work of this House is of such crucial importance.

Lord Geddes (Con): My Lords, I have read the report and listened most carefully to the Chairman of Committees. This is probably down to my gross mental inadequacy, but could the Chairman of Committees explain more fully to the House the difference between the sanction proposed for imprisonments of under one year and that for imprisonments of over one year?

The Chairman of Committees: I will make a general point first. This House has responded to individual abuses of the scheme in a way which has shown that it has not been prepared to duck the issue: it has tightened the regime, and tightened it quite significantly over a period of months and years. That is to the credit of this House as a self-regulating House in the full and proper sense of the word. I agree that many people, including some of your Lordships, are enormously frustrated that because of the Writ of Summons, it has not been possible to move to exclude individual Peers even in the most severe circumstances. However, that has now been tackled through the new legislation and through what we are putting in place here.

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On the detailed point about the difference between imprisonments of over one year and those under one year, imprisonments of over one year mean that it is going to be expulsion while for those under one year the House will work out a sanction for itself. That is the difference: under one year it is not automatic expulsion while over one year it is.

I will deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The commissioner has said that there are two conditions that your Lordships have to fulfil to make a valid claim. He has come to that on the basis of what we have agreed in the Guide to the Code of Conduct, the Guide to Financial Support for Members and the certificate that we sign when we make our claims. On the basis of those documents, two conditions have to be met. The first is that the Peer has to be present in the Chamber or at a committee meeting—presence has to be established. However, that in itself is not a complete fulfilment of the conditions.

The second condition is that parliamentary work has to be undertaken for every day that is claimed. That is not defined, and it would be very difficult to get into definitions, but it rests on the concept of personal honour. When this concept of personal honour started to be developed, I was one of those who thought that it was rather a woolly notion and could be easily evaded by someone saying, “Well, in my view, I did act on my personal honour and who are you to say that I did not?”. However, it has proved an enormously powerful concept, because we have got to the stage where it has been operationally developed and applied to cases where it was made abundantly clear that the individuals concerned had not acted in terms of personal honour. The definition is not a subjective definition: it is a more objective definition based on the meaning of personal honour in a particular case and how it would be interpreted by the House generally. That has proved to be the basis on which five people have been suspended, so it has had a very strong and robust application.

Motion agreed.

House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill

Third Reading

4.26 pm

Bill passed.

Local Government Pensions Scheme (Transitional Provisions, Savings and Amendment) Regulations 2014

Motion of Regret

4.26 pm

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

That this House regrets that the Local Government Pensions Scheme (Transitional Provisions, Savings and Amendment) Regulations 2014 will unfairly exclude elected councillors in England, directly elected mayors, the Mayor of London, and members of the London Assembly from active membership of the Local Government Pension Scheme. (SI 2014/525).

13 May 2014 : Column 1781

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, the new Local Government Pension Scheme came into effect on 1 April 2014. It is the first scheme to be introduced that follows the principles for reform of my noble friend Lord Hutton of Furness. The regulations before us set out transitional and savings provisions relating to members of the 2008 LGPS, which is to be replaced by the new scheme. They preserve benefits already accrued by members under the existing scheme and make provision to ensure that members within 10 years of their normal retirement age on 31 March 2012 do not suffer any detriment.

I will be clear: our Motion of Regret does not seek to comment on, revisit or revise what has gone before except in one respect. It regrets the inclusion of those transitional arrangements that deny the right of newly elected councillors to join the Local Government Pension Scheme and of existing council members to remain active after the end of their current term of office. Our Motion does not seek to influence the current consideration being given to a possible restructuring of the scheme or to involve a more collaborative approach. Nor does it purport to address the problems that arise as a consequence of the abolition of contracting out in April 2016, although the Minister might wish to update us on this issue.

Currently we are told that the scheme has assets of some £178 billion; annual employer contributions are in the region of £6 billion and there are some 4.68 million active, deferred and pensioner members. Councillors were given access to a special section of the LGPS where permitted by local authorities’ remuneration panels in 2003. Benefits include a pension based on an eightieth of career average earnings, together with a lump sum life cover and survival benefits. The councillor contribution rate is 6% of basic and special responsibility allowances, so the Government’s description of these arrangements as taxpayer-funded pensions for councillors is less than complete. The most recent data show some 5,000 councillors taking up the opportunity of membership, so while important for councillors, their membership is clearly a tiny part of the overall scheme and cannot in any serious way be said to affect its sustainability.

The proposal to deny access for councillors to the Local Government Pension Scheme was presaged in the Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament in December 2012. As justification for the proposition, the Minister, Brandon Lewis, described councillors as,

“volunteers undertaking public service; they are not and should not be employees of the council dependent on the municipal payroll. They are not professional, full-time politicians, nor should they be encouraged to become so”.

He complained about the allowance system being made worse—he said—by the pension arrangements,

“blurring the distinction between council staff and councillors”.

This was asserted as being,

“a corrosive influence on local democracy and independent thought”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 19/12/12; col. 105WS.]

I ask the Minister for the evidence for this insulting nonsense. How does this corrosive influence manifest itself? How are things different from the pre-2003 period?

13 May 2014 : Column 1782

Initially, individuals were to be excluded from the scheme because they were categorised as volunteers. The Written Ministerial Statement was followed by a consultation last year that suggested adding the Mayor of London and other elected mayors and London Assembly members to those denied access, notwithstanding that it recognised that such positions could be full time and that they carried a salary. This was apparently based on another principle: that the LGPS should extend only to paid employees. Could the Minister enunciate more clearly for us the basis for this principle? Also, in what way is it considered that the Mayor of London, for example, has been unable to withstand the corrosive influence of the pension arrangements thus far? Indeed, if this principle is sacrosanct, why are police and crime commissioners to be allowed continued access to the scheme when all other elected officeholders, including those paid a salary, are to be excluded? To the extent that they remain in the scheme, what is to happen to their contribution rate? What is it that inures Commons Ministers from the corrosive influences of their largely taxpayer-funded juicy pension schemes? In seeking to explain the distinction between pension entitlements for paid employees and paid elected officeholders, how would the noble Baroness rationalise the situation where an elected mayor subsumed the role of chief executive?

It is not only the consequences of the Government’s decision that we regret but the manner in which it is presented and argued. The Government acknowledge that they have no central information about participation in the scheme yet pluck from the air a figure of £7 million that might be saved from the changes. Can we please be provided with the basis for this calculation? If cost is the driver, why have the Government eschewed the prospect of change in the member contribution rate? What consideration have the Government given to the prospects of local authorities setting up alternative collective arrangements for elected members?

The Written Ministerial Statement holds to the notion that councillors receive allowances to compensate them for out-of-pocket expenses, yet notes that they are slowly becoming a form of salary and that, as I said, pension entitlements are making this blurring worse. Of course, this issue will not be unfamiliar to Members of your Lordships’ House but for taxation purposes elected officeholders are treated in the same way as any other officeholder or employee. Their allowances are subject to income tax and, where appropriate, national insurance—after deduction of allowable expenses on the same basis as employees. To the extent that there is a blurring of the payment arrangements, it is suggested that this is a consequence of the diversity of roles and commitment that elected members are today called to undertake. It is spurious to use that as a reason to change the pension arrangements.

People are living longer. Notwithstanding changes to the state pension age and single-tier pensions, we have long recognised that the state alone will not provide sufficient for us all in retirement to live a full life. We have political consensus on the need to encourage greater take-up of occupational and private pension

13 May 2014 : Column 1783

provision, and we have recognised the benefit of auto-enrolment in reversing the impact of individual inertia in this area.

However, the consequences of the Government’s actions for elected local officeholders are not only to shut off access to the Local Government Pension Scheme but to continue to exclude them, as councillors, from the benefits of auto-enrolment. Only to the extent that they have employment income elsewhere will they have the prospect of an employer contribution and the specific impetus to save which is provided by auto-enrolment. Because the thresholds for auto-enrolment are being continually raised by the Government, those elected members who devote more time to council matters and less to remunerative employment will miss out the most. That is hardly an example of valuing those who take on responsibilities for our benefit.

We need politics to be open to people from all walks of life. Some will be able to devote most of their time to the task of being a councillor, some less. That is the strength of our system. To see leaders of our major cities, who oversee billion pound budgets, as just volunteers, is frankly talking down the role of councillor. As the LGA Labour group points out:

“If we want to live in a democracy, then we have to ensure that those that give up their time to deliver it for their local communities are treated respectfully and fairly. Many Councillors make significant salary sacrifices”,

and accept reduced career opportunities in order to serve in public office.

In the words of Sir Merrick Cockell, there is a risk that being a local councillor will become the,

“preserve of a privileged few”.

He called it,

“perplexing that ministers who have been busy adding to the workload of councillors by transferring functions from central to local government”,

should seek to class those councillors as volunteers. We can all point to an impressive array of individuals, not just leaders, in all parties, who do a first-rate job as councillors at a time when we need their talents like never before. As the LGA points out, ending access for councillors in England creates a,

“double standard, as councillors in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland retain their entitlement to participate in the scheme”.

It goes on to say that that does not reflect differences in the responsibilities of councillors in any of the home nations or the dedication needed to serve local communities.

Only yesterday, an LGA report set out just how difficult life is to become for local authorities. Being a councillor, a Member of the Assembly or an elected mayor is not for the fainthearted. They are on the front line in dealing with the budget crisis, of embracing innovation, providing local leadership and driving the growth and skills agenda. They are to be encouraged and valued. In the scheme of things, the Government’s denial of their participation in the Local Government Pension Scheme is very much to be regretted. I beg to move.

13 May 2014 : Column 1784

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP): My Lords, I rise to speak on this matter because, although other Members of this House have been Assembly members—and, obviously, councillors—before, I am the only remaining Assembly member in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for tabling the Motion of Regret. I have also been a councillor, and I can tell your Lordships that I certainly did not feel like a volunteer. I felt like someone who worked extremely hard; it was way beyond anything that a volunteer has to put up with.

I think that it is deeply illogical, in particular, for Assembly members and the Mayor of London to be excluded from the scheme. It is true that we are full-time and we are salaried. We are, in effect, like MPs: we have the same sort of elected demands on our time. Of course, the Mayor of London is also a police and crime commissioner. It seems deeply illogical that other police and crime commissioners will stay in the pension scheme when the Mayor of London will be excluded, although he is a police and crime commissioner by law. I would like a bit of clarification on that: is he excluded as Mayor of London but included as police and crime commissioner? In its report of 2000, the Senior Salaries Review Body recognised the full-time roles of the mayor and the Assembly members, and it decided that they should be members of the Local Government Pension Scheme. The SSRB saw no reason to change these arrangements.

It is also deeply unfair for councillors to be excluded. It is a time when it is harder and harder to find people to stand for these posts: they are less and less rewarding, and to exclude councillors from a pension scheme is not just unfair but also rather cruel.

In addition, Assembly members and the Mayor of London will have to find alternative arrangements for their pensions. This will probably be much more expensive than the local government scheme but it will be funded by the taxpayer. We have heard about savings, but actually it will cost the taxpayer more if we go outside the scheme. Therefore, I deeply regret that this has happened.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, it is important to look at this in context. In opening, I say to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that we have to be careful when we talk about volunteers. There are millions of volunteers in this country who do fantastic work, and we should not categorise them as “mere volunteers”. They do fantastic service for this nation. I recognise that councillors’ work is of a special nature, but we should not detract in any way from the marvellous work done by volunteers up and down all the nations of the United Kingdom.

The nature of councillors’ work is different from that of those people who have, historically, been protected by the Local Government Pension Scheme. I think we would all recognise that the first aim of the Local Government Pension Scheme should be to provide a decent, a good, pension for those who work for our local authorities. Historically, going back to the beginning of the century, councillors were not provided with a pension. It was introduced in the aftermath of 9/11, either on that day or on the next day. That is not to say that it was wrong, but it was perhaps not given the

13 May 2014 : Column 1785

consideration that it should have had. This reverts to the historical position of recognising that councillors are somewhat different. They do—let us recognise it—fantastic service: unstinting, unsung, underappreciated and very often totally unappreciated. However, it is also worth saying—and, to be fair, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said this—that it is only a small minority of councillors, I think about 16%, who are signed up to this scheme. Again, we need to get that into perspective.

I also do not recognise the comments made by the noble Baroness in relation to the cost of the mayor and so on providing for their own pensions. I do not see that there is a tax-funded consequence of that, at least not in the same terms as the scheme that applies at the moment. Perhaps I misunderstood that, but I could not see the consequence there. If I have misunderstood, perhaps that will be elucidated later and, if so, I apologise for that.

The second point that is worth making is that there will be a saving in the scheme, and we have to recognise that resources are scarce. I am not sure whether the party opposite is committed to bringing this scheme back in; I have not heard that said. It is one thing to decry this and say it is a bad thing, but I have not heard any commitment to bring it back in. Perhaps there is such a commitment and perhaps that can be clarified, because there is a saving and all parties recognise that there is a deficit that has somehow to be dealt with. Every saving, no matter how small, contributes to dealing with that deficit. It is very easy to say that we approve of measures to tackle the deficit, but the party opposite often falls into the trap of saying it approves of measures to tackle the deficit and when anything specific is brought up to save money, it is always against them. We need to do that and put this into perspective.

My last word is to say again that we are in great danger of castigating volunteers up and down this country who do terrific work without any allowances or pension arrangements. We need to get that on the record.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association and a serving councillor on Newcastle City Council, albeit one who has not been involved in any way with this provision of local authority member pensions.

I begin by extending congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, who as far as I am concerned is making her first appearance on the Front Bench on a DCLG matter. I may have missed her on a previous occasion, but in any case it is a pleasure to congratulate her on that, and on not having to answer this debate or accept responsibility for this particularly malign set of proposals.

These proposals were launched initially by Brandon Lewis MP, the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, in October 2012. I think that his main claim to fame is that, on an organisation called Phoenix radio, he hosted a talk show called the “Eric and Brandon Show”, which I suppose had a fairly minimal audience in the Brentwood area, where Mr Lewis was at that time the leader of

13 May 2014 : Column 1786

the council. Subsequently, he has of course become an MP elsewhere, while his colleague, who is now the Secretary of State, is the Member of Parliament for the same constituency. Quite whether that broadcast had the impact of the Nick Clegg broadcasts on London radio, I hesitate to think.

However, Mr Lewis must certainly be given the credit for a certain amount of ingenuity. He wrote a letter on 13 March 2014 to Conservatives MPs in England—not that there are many outside England—to explain and defend what the Government were doing. In that letter he said, as we of course understand, that,

“councillors do not receive a salary; rather, they receive allowances to compensate for their out-of-pocket expenses”.

That is an interesting formulation because the actual wording of the Government’s document about this was rather different. The wording in paragraph 1.20 of that document said:

“Councillors are volunteers, elected to their local council to represent their local community. Councillors are not paid a salary or wages, but they are entitled to allowances and expenses to cover their out-of-pocket costs of carrying out their public duties”.

Now, expenses are clearly designed to cover out-of-pocket costs but allowances are not the same thing. Mr Lewis has elided the two concepts in his letter, and quite deliberately so. In addition, he said that,

“following changes made by the Labour Government, allowances have slowly become a form of salary, a situation worsened by the state-funded pensions”,

as if the entire cost was paid by the taxpayer. Of course it is not, as it is a contributory scheme.

However, even that is not quite the full story because paragraph 1.9 of the Government’s document says:

“The provision allowing for councillors’ pensions in England is contained in Section 18(3A) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989”—

when to the best of my recollection there was not a Labour Government in office—

“and the Local Authority (Members’ Allowances) (England) Regulations 2003 made under the powers contained in that section”.

We have one former Secretary of State present from a Conservative Government, although I do not think that the noble Lord was the Secretary of State at the time. But it was a Conservative Government who facilitated or indeed established the concept of making this scheme a possibility. Of course, Mr Lewis carefully avoids that reference but he then says:

“This blurs the distinction between council officers and councillors”.

In whose eyes, it has to be asked, is there a blurring of the distinction? Citizens can distinguish perfectly well between councillors and officers. What is the nature of this blurring that is alleged to be taking place?

I have been a councillor for what might seem an interminable time, particularly to some of my constituents, but I am not alone in having a long period of service. I anticipate that we will hear from other noble Lords today who have had very distinguished local government careers, such as the noble Lords, Lord True, Lord Shipley and Lord Tope, as well as my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who have already spoken. Looking around the Chamber, it is possible that there will be others such as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, and my noble friend Lord Harris—and there is of course the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton.

13 May 2014 : Column 1787

How could I forget her? Of the five noble Lords I anticipated would speak, between us we have served 165 years, 43 of those as leaders of our respective councils. It was not until the late 1980s that I was in receipt of a special responsibility allowance as leader of my council. I did not take the full amount until the last three years of my tenure. I was senior partner at a firm of solicitors and I felt, in the circumstances obtaining in the early 1990s, that I should claim the full £7,000 a year, which was the allowance paid by my authority at that time. We are not talking in general about very large sums.

Among my successors was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who, no doubt, will tell us about his own experience. My recollection is that he also would have received a modest allowance as leader of the council when he served his term. The present leader of Newcastle City Council—with a budget which, as a result of government cuts, is alas declining from the £260 million a year it had originally reached—receives an allowance of £16,500 and a basic allowance of £8,500. The specialist allowance has been frozen and the standard allowance for members in Newcastle has been cut. That is likely to be the situation in many local authorities in this country. When I was leader of the city council, I was in receipt of a combined allowance that was significantly less than was paid to my secretary. Exactly the same position will apply to all my successors, including the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the current leader; and it may well apply in a number of other authorities.

However, there is another matter that Mr Lewis carefully avoided mentioning in his letter to his political colleagues, which is at paragraph 1.11 of the Government’s document. It says:

“Councillors are eligible for allowances to be pensionable if the local independent remuneration panel made a recommendation to that effect”.

In other words, this is not something dreamed up and decided upon by a local authority: it has to follow a recommendation of the independent remuneration panel. Why does Mr Lewis not refer to that? The answer is perfectly obvious: it would demolish the case he is making, which effectively is that greedy local authority members are determining for themselves whether they should be part of this scheme. It is a shabby and disgraceful way to mislead his colleagues, let alone members of the public.

I recall very well that in my early years as a councillor, before I became leader, I had a very good colleague who felt he had to give up his time at the council, because it was going to affect his own pension at work. Clearly, there are many members up and down the country who feel that they cannot continue. Turnover of members is a significant factor, particularly in London. London colleagues may agree, or may not be able to confirm that. There is a particularly high turnover of people who are in employment because it is very difficult to discharge one’s duties as an elected member—at any level, but particularly at a level which carries significant responsibilities—and be in gainful employment. We do not want to see local councils composed of the unemployed, the retired or the rich. A council composed in that fashion is not an adequate

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way of serving the public. We want people who are actually in a job, working in the community and bringing that experience and influence to bear upon the workings of their council. If their employment or their prospects of pension provision are going to be imperilled as a result of public service, that will diminish the pool of those willing and able to serve the public.

These proposals are another example of the Government’s—or more particularly, to be fair, the Secretary of State’s—aversion to local authority members. He has a rather Malvolian response to the criticism that he has brought upon himself over the past few years by his repeated attacks on local authorities and members generally. I recall that wonderful phrase in “Twelfth Night” when Malvolio, villainously cross-gartered—I cannot see the Secretary of State as cross-gartered, while “villainous” is an adjective that might be applied to other aspects but perhaps not his gartering —says in frustration and rage as a result of his treatment:

“I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you”.

This recommendation certainly seems to carry that sentiment into government policy, and it is deplorable.

Lord True (Con): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for enabling this debate, although it gives me no pleasure to intervene in the spirit in which I shall. Given what I know of the many representations that have been made at the highest level in both coalition parties by local government representatives on this issue—representations that have been brushed aside, sometimes rather brusquely—it would be feeble if I lacked the integrity to speak up publicly from these Benches for hard-working colleagues of all parties, including my own, who serve the public as councillors and who, rightly or wrongly, feel targeted by this proposal.

I should declare an interest at the start lest some bright spark declares that I am—what is the phrase?—“on the gravy train”. I lead, nearly full-time, a local authority that, like 58% of councils, is a participant in the local government scheme for members. I am a scheme member, as are 26 others—just half our members. The scheme cost us £65,000 last year. The total cost of member remuneration in Richmond is £56,000 lower than in 2010. For the record, the leader’s allowance is £26,000, which I cut by 12.5% when I became leader.

Against that background, however, we judged cross-party in 2003 that a right of access to a pension scheme in a workplace was a reasonable part of total remuneration. That was a local decision and, like so many other things in local government where all central Governments tend to put their lead boots on, it should be for local determination and local accountability.

I spent half a lifetime judging and advising on public policy—some of it good, some of it bad. There are various tests for a good policy, and among them would be the following. It should not seek to regulate at national level what can reasonably be decided locally or privately. It should be consistent and coherent with other policy—what some call “joined-up”. It should be based on objective evidence. It should address a problem that needs to be solved. It should be proportionate to the issue concerned. It should not be designed, or felt, to discriminate against any group. It should be

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likely to lead to better public administration or significant savings in expenditure. It must respect, if not always follow, the outcome of consultation. Finally, failing all these, it must be urgent or necessary to respond to a clear public call for action.

In my submission, the policy spectacularly fails every one of those tests. On a clear public call for action, there was none. We have seen comments from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which is an estimable group—I share its diagnosis that we are spending, borrowing and taxing too much—but it is not the public. The Taxpayers’ Alliance was quite right to note the generosity of the Local Government Pension Scheme, and in my view the Government were right to reform the scheme. Councillors up and down the country, including me, would have supported the reform of members’ rights, too. But why the removal, not reform, of the right of councillors to contribute to a scheme in the workplace? How does that stand up to the tests of good policy? Does member remuneration need to be decided nationally? I do not think so. Nor, in fact, do the Government; in this provision they are not addressing allowances or setting limits, just attacking pension rights. It does not add up.

5 pm

How does this policy meet the test of consistency? As we have heard, Ministers argue that elected councillors and other assorted idle so-and-sos such as the Mayor of London are not employees. If that is the yardstick, who employs MPs or MEPs? Are the Government about to act on them? If councillors are not employed, why, as has been pointed out in this debate, are their expenses taxed as if they were employed? I make no complaint about that—and, for the record, I do not claim expenses. But why is my local UKIP leader, for example, who has no residence or place of work in our borough, able to stand in the elections on 22 May because government rules say that his role as a councillor is to be considered as “employment”?

It simply does not add up. Members are either employed or not employed. They cannot be employed to suit last week’s policy, not employed for today’s policy, and employed again for the purpose of standing in next week’s election. This is not consistent. How is removing members’ workplace pension rights consistent with the requirement—referred to earlier—that is being imposed by law on workplaces to provide and contribute to workplace pensions? This is regulation in one direction in the interests of pension provision for small businesses, and in the opposite direction for councils. Again, it does not seem to add up. Maybe my noble friend will be able to explain.

Is this policy based on objective evidence of abuse? I think not. It is not actually councillors’ abuse of expenses that has brought the political class into disrepute lately. Those in the two Houses who throw their caps in the air at the stripping of councillors’ pension rights might perhaps look a little closer to home. There is no benefit in one set of politicians belittling another set, so I will go no further down that road—but some others may be thinking what I am thinking.

Does the policy meet a problem needing to be solved, and is it proportionate to that problem? Overgenerous public sector pensions needed addressing. We agree on

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that, but what was the overriding need not to reform member contributions but to abolish member pension rights? Is the cost of these rights so high that the policy is proportionate to the effect on individuals? I have seen no costing from government. The Taxpayers’ Alliance says that the annual cost is £7 million. That would be far lower if there had been reform, but let us accept that figure. The annual publicity budget of one government department, Defra, is £13.6 million—almost double the sum under consideration. No doubt somebody in the Box can say what the DCLG’s budget is for that. When it comes to savings, is this not a case of a speck of dust in local government’s eye and a beam in Whitehall’s perhaps?

If the unique and draconian removal of pension rights is not justified by its cost, how does this policy justify discrimination against one group? Why has this group—not bookmakers, rat catchers, racehorse trainers or any other group that might catch a passing Minister’s eye, but 4,500 local citizens giving public service—been told that the possibility of a workplace pension is not for them? Why were they singled out to be the exception in workplace pension grants? Why is it to be English councillors, not Welsh or Scottish ones? Why them? Can someone explain?

Is this plan likely to lead to better public administration or significant savings to the taxpayer? I fear not. We could save zillions more by a phased reduction in the number of councillors; if that is the way that we want to go, I would rather support it. We have heard that this plan may save £7 million across the land. My own council has saved taxpayers £90 million in the past four years—five times as much per year as this proposal. That is not a bad return in just one local council.

Who are the people directing those large savings up and down the country—and often doing so, frankly, rather better than central government? It is not council officers, however worthy—and they are worthy—because they implement policy. It is the very people this policy attacks: elected members making tough and often unpopular decisions, driving improvement in public service, day in, day out, in the public interest. What a brilliant way to motivate those knee-deep in the battle for taxpayer value.

The Government consulted on this bright idea in 2012. Was there a massive surge of support? No. As we have heard, only two members of the public backed the idea in more than 700 responses. How much more are any Government respected when they listen.

I will conclude. My noble friend, whom I like and respect—by the way, how much I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to the Front Bench—has made it abundantly clear in the private conversations we have had, for which I thank her sincerely, that the coalition Government I support are not disposed to listen to its senior representatives in local government on this matter. After more than 20 years in local government, which I consider a decent, honourable and sometimes quite wise world, I find that a little sad.

It is not the money that is the issue for so many who have spoken to me and asked me to make these points, whether or not they or their councils have chosen to take up those pension rights. Money is not the main point—and in my case, the cuts in my allowance far outweigh any benefit from a pension. It is the signal

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sent out that of all the people in all the workplaces of the land who are singled out as not deserving of rights assigned by law to those in any other productive activity and whose hard work is deemed to have no pensionable value, it is hard-working local councillors. I have to say with deep regret to my Front Bench that that is a wretched and demeaning message. Sir Merrick Cockell, the LGA chairman—there is no more experienced, milder or more loyal Conservative than he—called it a kick in the teeth. Like him, I thought much better of our Government than that.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I rise to speak in favour of this regret Motion. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the opportunity to do so. I first held elected office as a parish councillor in the late 1980s. In 1993, I was elected to Somerset County Council. At the time, I was working full time. However, instead of having just one parish council meeting to attend a month, I now had 10, and all expected attendance and a report on what the county was doing. After 12 months, I realised that if I was going properly to serve the people I had been elected to represent, I would have to decrease my working week, and so I resigned from my job and did a number of part-time ad hoc jobs. All the council meetings were during the working day and week. Very few took place in the evenings and there were none at weekends. The time commitment was considerable.

When independent panels to assess members’ allowances were introduced, in Somerset we fared better than most in that they recommended councillors could have access to the Local Government Pension Scheme should they wish to. Councillors who had found that their employers were not sympathetic to their work as a councillor, or those who had no other means of support, joined. As has been mentioned, the Local Government Pension Scheme is contributory, and councillors, who pay national insurance and income tax on their allowances, contribute to their pension. The majority of those who join the scheme are in positions of responsibility and find that the time commitment prevents them having full-time jobs which would provide for their retirement.

Councils vary greatly in size, type and responsibility, and it is not uncommon for their budgets to be well over £500,000 million per annum, whereas councillors’ pension contributions will be in the thousands, a tiny proportion of the overall budget. These councillors will be providing services to the vulnerable and frail elderly, as well as scared and frightened children; repairing highways after appalling damage due to flooding; preparing plans to extract minerals at the same time as protecting sensitive rural locations; and ensuring that streets are securely and adequately lit and that there is a sufficient supply of appropriate housing for residents. So are these people not worthy of being allowed to enter the pension scheme? How many Scout leaders have these same responsibilities or oversee the same level of budget?

There have been many inquiries into local government and the need to encourage more able people to come forward to be councillors. Sir Michael Lyons’s report in March 2007 was followed by the councillor commission

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later that year, in which I, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, took part. The key thrust of that commission was to look at the barriers faced by councillors and how to ease the process. One of the main principles was that councillors are most effective as locally elected representatives when they have similar life experiences to those of their constituents. They are not all wealthy or retired. Key to effective local representation is the relationship and the connection between councillors and their constituents. Councillors need time to engage with and be seen by their constituents. It is therefore important that the Government are seen to be encouraging suitably able, qualified and representative people to be candidates to serve as councillors of local authorities.

One of the 60 recommendations of the commission—noble Lords will be pleased to know that I shall not go through all 60—was that, in order to ensure that as many people as possible can participate in local representative democracy, ideally the role of a councillor must be compatible with full-time employment and an executive councillor with full or part-time employment. The leader of a council should be able to work in addition to council duties. It is recognised that some leaders of larger authorities may wish to work full-time on council duties, but they should not be required to do so. However, this recommendation is extremely difficult to achieve.

The more rural the council, the less likely it is that cabinet/executive members will be able to work full-time. The drive to the council offices can often take anything from 50 to 90 minutes, and any employment that the councillor may have is very unlikely to be in the same location as the council offices. Why should those who give up their time, damage their career prospects and often do not spend as much time with their families as they would wish, be penalised by not having access to the Local Government Pension Scheme?

During my time on the commission, we travelled around the country, holding evidence sessions with local councillors and employers about their experiences and the difficulties that they faced in engaging with local democratic bodies. How can we encourage young people in rural areas, young mothers, or those in their 30s and 40s to come forward? They are representative of people in our communities, but they need to know that their contribution is going to be valued. They have as much to offer as the retired and the well off. Access to the Local Government Pension Scheme is one way they can be sure that they will have some protection should they take on the role. In rural areas, there is no queue around the corner of people wanting to be councillors.

This measure is a real slap in the face for councillors. The Government are giving the message that their contribution is insignificant and they are not valued. It would seem that in future councils are to be run by the wealthy and the retired. What a bleak prospect.

5.15 pm

Lord Shipley (LD): I should first declare my interest, as I have a small pension resulting from six years’ contributions to the Local Government Pension Scheme as a councillor. This has been a very helpful debate in identifying the key issues that this decision has thrown up, because it is a very bad decision.

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I recognise the role of my party in the coalition in ameliorating some aspects of the proposals. However, the fact remains that the Government’s decision is still poorly thought through and is a bad one, as I say. We should be very surprised and concerned by it because it discriminates against elected councillors, many of whom have heavy workloads as councillors and may have to give up other careers to take on the role, as we have heard. The decision also discriminates against those who have several part-time jobs, of which being a councillor is one. Again, we have heard an example of that.

Recently, during the passage of the Pensions Bill, time was spent discussing how best to recognise that some people may have several part-time jobs in their working lifetime. Being a councillor is such an activity, and it is work. It is formally treated as work in respect of tax and national insurance. Councillors are not, of course, formally employees of a council but because they are remunerated and pay tax and national insurance they are the equivalent of council employees. Therefore, it is very hard to understand why councillors should be excluded from a pension scheme which is available to those who are formally employed by a council.

Council employees may work in full-time or part-time posts and may do so for a short period. Councillors and elected mayors are no different: they may also be full time or part time and may be in post for a short period, should they not stand for re-election or lose their seat at an election. Equality of treatment is missing here. In pension terms, the right of council officers to join a pension scheme should apply also to councillors.

It is sometimes alleged—we have heard this in your Lordships’ House this afternoon—that being a councillor is a voluntary activity. We have also heard it said that it does not take up much time. It is, of course, true that it is a voluntary activity because people are not compelled to stand for election. However, that is not really the issue. In terms of time, being a councillor may not take up much time in a very small council but that is not true in the vast majority of cases.

Full-time elected mayors will not in future be able to join their local government contributory scheme. They may have to give up a contributory scheme in their current employment to become elected mayors but will have no right to continue contributing to a pension through the local government scheme. This seems wrong. Council leaders and cabinet members who carry substantial workloads, often between half and full time, are in the same position. Why should they be denied the right to contribute to a pension?

It has been said that not all councils offer membership of a scheme. My response to that is that I have real doubts about the work of the independent remuneration panels. I do not understand why there is no statutory national scheme for the payment of councillors’ allowances and for a pension scheme. That does not exist yet; I hope that it may do so in future. However, it remains the case that 58% of councils do offer membership. The fact that 42% do not may reflect workloads and the size of those councils, but in total just 17% of all councillors are part of the scheme. My noble friend Lord True asked a critical question—namely, what is the problem that the Government are trying to solve

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and why do they not simply permit the current scheme to continue? Attention has been drawn to the double standard that will now apply, because in Wales, Scotland and, I understand, Northern Ireland pension rights will continue.

My noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth asked about the financial consequences and I think said that the proposal may save money. The problem is this: it is unlikely to save any money because an independent remuneration panel will have the power to allocate a sum of money for councillors to purchase pension contributions. If that is done, it will have to be done for every councillor in that council area. Therefore, if that happens, it could end up costing more. At the moment, only 30% of councillors, where there are schemes, have joined them. The right voluntarily to join the contributory scheme is therefore the best way to approach the issue.

At its heart, this is a major issue of principle. The consequence may be that fewer people will be prepared to stand for election and fewer will be prepared to take on leadership roles. The consequences could well be that leadership roles will be undertaken by those who are older, with independent incomes. It would be a great loss to local government if younger people were less willing to serve, and I hope that the Minister will explain what problem the Government are trying to solve, what analysis was done of the consequences of the decision that has been made, and what the future for local government will be if fewer people are willing to come forward to stand for election.

Baroness Hanham (Con): My Lords, I will be slightly out of line with other speakers, all of whom have local government experience as well. I have been listening carefully to the debate. As a former leader of a council and a former Minister who did not take a pension—I declare that interest—I am very conscious of the work that is done by local councillors and the extra amount that they do as a result of the changes to their responsibilities that have been made over the years.

However, I part from a number of the speeches, for which I am sorry because I am very fond of my noble friend Lord True and everyone who has spoken. I want to draw back because the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others have talked about the difficulty of recruiting people as councillors. I remember extremely well when allowances of any sort were first considered. The argument was that if we did not provide them, only the rich, the old and people who had time on their hands would be able to be councillors. We introduced allowances and some of them are very substantial indeed. I know that my noble friend Lord True says that they were reduced, but he is not necessarily in the majority. Over the years, council allowances have exponentially increased. I am not concerned about that but about the fact that we are beginning to use the same arguments that supported allowances for supporting the pension scheme. I have never understood why councillors were included in it, and I shall tell noble Lords why.

It is because local councillors are responsible for their position to their local electorate. They can be there, at elections, or they cannot—they can be taken away. They voluntarily stand for election. They do not

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know whether they are going to be councillors. They are totally reliant on the electorate to make sure that they are there and for how long. That underlines the voluntary nature of standing for a local council. The work that they do is, of course, immensely important. However, this work can be done alongside other jobs—and many people do that—and therefore I do not understand where the pension comes into it.

I understand why there are allowances. If I may say so, they were quite hard fought for at the time but the allowances are there. I do not think that my noble friend has a policy on which she is going to win very strongly but it is something where the Government have to grasp the nettle. If not, the argument will go on and on as people justify more and more expenditure for local councils.

Finally, I want to make a distinction between councillors and council officers. If councillors ever come to be seen as in any way doing officers’ work and running councils on the basis of officials, then we will have lost the plot. Councillors are there to represent people in the local community which they serve; they are not there to implement policy. There is a difference between employed people on the council and councillors, and I think that that is what drives the distinction between those who do and do not have a pension.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I, too, must declare an interest, having been a councillor for 28 years and being in receipt of a very modest council pension, to which I contributed. The point is that people like me have contributed to their pension and that seems to be forgotten when we talk about the largesse that is provided.