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Grand Committee

Monday, 30 June 2014.

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) (Green Deal) (Amendment) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

3.30 pm

Moved by Baroness Verma

That the Grand Committee do consider the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) (Green Deal) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma) (Con): My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate. Since its launch in spring 2013, the impact of the Green Deal has been steadily growing. At the end of May, more than 230,000 Green Deal assessments had taken place, and almost 24,000 of those took place in May alone. More than 800,000 energy efficiency measures had been installed in almost 700,000 homes through ECO, cashback and the Green Deal by the end of April. That is a great achievement and I look forward to seeing that momentum continue.

On 9 June 2014, we launched the Green Deal home improvement fund. The fund will help even more people to install energy efficiency measures in their homes by providing them with money back on the contributions they have made towards their improvements. People in England and Wales can now get up to £7,600 back through this new fund so that they can take control of their energy bills and have warmer, greener homes. This includes up to £1,000 for installing two energy efficiency measures from an approved list, up to £6,000 for installing solid wall insulation and up to £100 refunded for their Green Deal assessment.

Those who have bought a property in the 12 months prior to application can also receive up to an extra £500 when they carry out energy efficiency improvements. We have already made it clear that by learning lessons from the Green Deal cashback scheme we will strive to improve it, so we have simplified the customer journey even further and expanded the range of companies that can participate. More than 800 companies have already registered.

DECC is working hard to improve the energy efficiency of the private rented sector. Action to improve the energy efficiency of private rented properties is badly needed. The high proportion of inefficient properties in the sector contributes to the high level of private rented-sector households in fuel poverty: an estimated 21%, or one in five households, compared to 8.5% of households in the owner-occupier sector.

We expect to consult shortly on our proposals for the implementation of new energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector using powers

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in the Energy Act 2011. The Green Deal provides a mechanism that did not exist previously for tenants to work with landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. We want to make sure that tenants do not live in cold, damp, draughty houses and still pay too much for their energy.

The Green Deal’s pay-as-you-save principle creates a win-win for both landlords and their tenants. Landlords will benefit from having an improved property, and the electricity bill payer, who is normally the tenant, will contribute towards the cost of the improvements through instalments collected via the electricity bill while also benefitting from a warmer house. Green Deal repayments will appear on the tenant’s electricity bill and will be collected by their electricity supplier.

The amount that can be borrowed to pay for improvements using Green Deal finance is protected by the golden rule, which limits repayments to the level of savings that a typical household can expect to make on their energy bills.

Tenants will only pay Green Deal instalments that fall due while they are paying the bill for the property—that is, while they occupy the property and are benefiting from the improvements. When a tenant leaves the property, the responsibility for repayments will pass to the new electricity bill payer—or the landlord if the property is not re-let.

At the end of February, my department made important amendments to the Consumer Credit Act 1974, introduced by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (Green Deal) (Amendment) Order 2014. Those amendments clarified who was to be treated as the “debtor” and “creditor” under a Green Deal plan, to help Green Deal providers to write Green Deal plans in the rented sector.

The amendments resolved two key issues. First, to address concerns relating to the difficulty of determining whether a particular Green Deal plan was regulated, the February amendments provide that almost all domestic Green Deal plans will be regulated by the Consumer Credit Act, regardless of who is making the energy efficiency improvements to the property. Tenants moving into the domestic property can therefore be reassured that they will receive the protections afforded by the Consumer Credit Act. Non-domestic Green Deal plans will be regulated only if the person arranging the improvements is an individual, and not a business. That approach greatly simplified the process for Green Deal providers and ensured that in all appropriate cases Green Deal plans would receive statutory rights and protections under the Consumer Credit Act— including, for example, where a Green Deal plan is set up by a corporate landlord during a void period. Secondly, the amendments also ensure that landlords and tenants signing up to the plans will receive the statutory rights and protections that they need under the Consumer Credit Act at the right stage. The Green Deal Finance Company and the landlord organisations have welcomed these changes.

I turn to the amendment that we are debating today. On 1 April 2014, responsibility for consumer credit regulation transferred from the Office of Fair Trading to the Financial Conduct Authority. As a result, the consumer credit regulatory regime was also

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transferred to a different legislative framework—that established by the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. To ensure that the new regulatory regime for consumer credit remains consistent with the changes that were made to the Consumer Credit Act in February, we need to make some consequential amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001, known as the RAO for short. The RAO sets out which activities are regulated for the purposes of the new regime.

The order that we are debating today puts these important consequential changes into effect. The amendments to the RAO mirror the policy approach that was taken in the Consumer Credit Act. The drafting of the RAO amendments has therefore been kept in the same terms as the amendments that were made to the Consumer Credit Act in February as far as possible. The order clarifies who is to be treated as the “borrower” and “lender” for the purposes of the Green Deal under the RAO. The definition of “borrower” follows the same approach as was introduced for the definition of “debtor” as part of our February amendments. The “lender” for the purposes of the RAO will be the Green Deal provider, again reflecting the definition of “creditor” introduced in February. The order also explains which Green Deal plans are to be treated as “credit agreements”, and therefore regulated under the new regulatory regime. Our amendments to the RAO will therefore ensure that Green Deal plans will continue to receive Consumer Credit Act protections in line with the policy introduced in February.

The order makes transitional provision to ensure that—for plans which have been entered into since 1 April and which, but for the amendments made by this order, would not have been regulated—the CCA applies in a way which is appropriate. That balances the Government’s desire to ensure that consumers are protected and receive adequate information about their credit arrangements, with the need to ensure that Green Deal providers are not subjected to unfair requirements.

The amendments brought about by this order do not change Green Deal policy; they are important in consequence of consumer credit regulatory changes that were introduced on 1 April. They ensure that the Green Deal plans will continue in a manner that was agreed by noble Lords in February. These changes will ensure that Green Deal providers will continue to have the clarity and confidence that they need to issue plans to consumers across all sectors. I commend this order to the Committee.

Baroness Worthington (Lab): I thank the Minister for her introduction of this order and for her very comprehensive explanation of what it achieves and why it is needed. We fully support it and have very little to say other than it is purely a technical amendment to maintain continuity and to keep things functioning in the light of consequential amendments arising from changes to another piece of legislation.

We still hope that the Green Deal will succeed in its intended aims. It got off to a slow start but there are now signs that it might be picking up a little. In general, we are fully behind the Government’s attempts

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to bring about a successful policy that encourages consumers to undertake energy efficiency improvements under the pay-as-you-save model. It is important to keep it under review and there will obviously be a point when fundamental changes will have to be assessed to show whether enough people are coming forward.

We are concerned that if this policy is only ever taken up in a small pocket of households it will not become normalised, and there is a risk that people who want to sell property with a Green Deal might have to take a penalty and be unable to realise the true value of their house because of fear over this mechanism. It is likely that that will be the case in the early days of the policy. Therefore, it is important that we have cross-party consensus to try to ensure that we do not see a class of stranded consumers. We will come back to that general point in the future when we have the opportunity to discuss other technical amendments in policy-related debates, but for now we have no problems with this order.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Baroness welcomes the order. I absolutely agree that these policies must be kept under review. We have done that, so we have been able to improve and simplify the measures and mechanisms needed to go out there and reach a greater number of people. I accept what the noble Baroness says about wanting to normalise the Green Deal into every home where improvement is needed.

I shall finish on a positive note. Assessments are going on. There were 234,050 assessments made up until the end of May 2014, which shows that we are on an upward trajectory. We cannot be complacent. We must make sure that we are reaching out to the very people who need to have their homes improved. I am very pleased that the noble Baroness welcomes the amendment and I commend it to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

3.44 pm

Sitting suspended.

Banking Act 2009 (Banking Group Companies) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

3.47 pm

Moved by Lord Newby

That the Grand Committee do consider the Banking Act 2009 (Banking Group Companies) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, I am also pleased to introduce the Banking Act 2009 (Exclusion of Investment Firms of a Specified Description) Order 2014, the Banking Act 2009 (Restriction of Partial Property Transfers) (Recognised Central Counterparties)

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Order 2014 and the Banking Act 2009 (Third Party Compensation Arrangements for Partial Property Transfers) (Amendment) Regulations 2014. I will refer to the statutory instruments respectively as the banking group companies order, investment firms order, partial property transfer order and third party compensation regulations.

The financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 highlighted the need for the government to resolve failing systemic financial institutions in an orderly manner to protect UK financial stability and the economy. Moreover, resolution should be achieved without recourse to public funds. Since the financial crisis, a wide programme of financial sector reform has been under way at domestic, European and G20 levels. The reform has focused not only on banks but on investment firms and central counterparties, which also have the potential to cause major widespread disruption to the financial system.

Since 2009 a special resolution regime has been in place to deal with the failure of deposit-taking institutions such as banks and building societies. The regime gives the UK authorities a permanent framework, providing tools for dealing with failing banks and building societies. It gives the Bank of England a key role in implementing a resolution using the statutory resolution tools. The Financial Services Act 2012 widens the special resolution regime to include banking group companies, investment firms and central counterparties.

The powers provided for within the regime will enable the Bank of England, as resolution authority, to use the following tools to deal with the failure of investment firms and banking group companies: to transfer some or all of the securities or business of a firm or its parent undertaking to a commercial purchaser; and to transfer some or all of a firm or its parent undertaking to a bridge bank—that is, a company owned and controlled by the Bank of England.

The powers provided for within the regime will enable the Bank of England, as resolution authority, to use the following tools to deal with the failure of central counterparties: to transfer some or all of a firm or its parent undertaking to a bridge central counterparty—that is, a company owned and controlled by the Bank of England—or commercial purchaser, and to transfer ownership of a CCP to any person.

The Financial Services Act 2012 also extends the bank administration procedure to investment firms and banking group companies. The bank administration procedure is applicable when, during the resolution of a bank, a partial transfer of property takes place and the “residual bank”—ie, the part left behind—is insolvent. This procedure ensures that the residual bank continues to provide services and facilities required to enable the transferred business to be operated effectively. The same procedure will be available for the residual part of an investment firm or banking group company. The instruments that I present today are required to underpin and bring into force the widened scope of the special resolution regime and bank administration procedure.

The EU’s bank recovery and resolution directive requires there to be resolution tools in place for investment firms and banking group companies, and the instruments presented today are consistent with this directive. There

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is widespread support for putting in place a resolution regime for investment firms, central counterparties and banking group companies. We first consulted at the end of 2012 on broad policy options, and subsequently took powers through primary legislation. Then, following extensive work on regime design with firms, the Government published detailed proposals on the secondary legislation in September last year.

The statutory instruments I am introducing today take into account the feedback we received from a wide range of stakeholders during the consultation period. These instruments put into place the necessary safeguards and definitions required before the special resolution regime can be extended to investment firms, central counterparties and banking group companies.

The first of these orders—the banking group companies order—specifies conditions which must be met by an undertaking to be considered a “banking group company” for the purposes of the special resolution regime. The aim of using resolution tools in respect of banking group companies is to ensure that resolution over a failing bank in the same group as the company is effective, and in particular to ensure that any intra-group service provision to the failing bank—for example, the provision of IT services—remains in place while in resolution. Subject to exceptions, the banking group companies which may be resolved under the special resolution powers are the subsidiary and parent companies of a bank, investment firm or central counterparty in resolution, and other subsidiaries of its parent companies.

The investment firms order excludes small investment firms from the scope of special resolution regime and bank administration procedure. Specifically, this instrument narrows the scope to investment firms of a type that is required under the capital requirements directive to hold initial capital of €730,000. Over 2,000 investment firms operate in the UK, of which 250 have capital above that threshold. The activities those firms are permitted to undertake, such as trading on their own account and underwriting financial instruments, taken together with the value of assets held on their balance sheet, means that a failure by such a firm could threaten financial stability in a way which the failure of a smaller firm would not. This order reflects that reality.

The partial property order places restrictions on the making of partial property transfers made in respect of central counterparties. This order provides legislative safeguards for the benefit of direct and indirect users of clearing services provided by CCPs. Those safeguards will provide them with greater certainty as to how a partial property transfer might affect their contractual rights, and ensure that there are appropriate restrictions and limitations on the making of a partial property transfer.

Finally, the third party compensation regulations put in place third party compensation arrangements in the event that some but not all of an investment firm has been transferred during resolution. This statutory instrument ensures that creditors are no worse off as a result of resolution action taken by authorities with respect to a failing investment firm which results in the transfer of part of the failing entity than they would have been if the entire entity had entered resolution.

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I hope that I have assured the Committee that these statutory instruments represent a necessary step forward in putting an effective resolution regime in place for investment banks, central counterparties and banking group companies.

Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the statutory instruments, all of which relate to the special resolution regime. I have spent an enjoyable weekend trying to understand them, but it is clear that enthusiasm for such an exercise has not been widespread. Nevertheless, my understanding of them is much as the Minister has described them. The first, on banking group companies, seems to fill a hole whereby service-giving subsidiaries may fall out of scope during the resolution process. The order makes sure that they remain in scope and that the resolution does not end up being tool-less in that area.

I admit that I failed on the second order. Its general intent to exclude small companies is pretty clear, but why it defines small companies as those with initial capital of less than €730,000 in one part and then uses €125,000 as the threshold in another I cannot understand. If the Minister could enlighten me, I would be delighted by the depth of his briefing, but in all probability I shall receive another letter.

As the Minister said, the third order relates to recognised central counterparties. As he well described, if there is a resolution process with a central counterparty, it is possible that some parts of the central counterparty will be an ongoing concern while others will not. There may be differential equity between creditors. The rules seek to make sure that creditors are treated fairly in that situation—I think that that is roughly what the order says. The fourth statutory instrument is on the general rule on partial transfers: creditors are no worse off than if there had been a full bankruptcy or administration. Faced with orders of such stunning reasonableness, I can say no other than that we have no objection to them and wish them luck.

However, learning from the Minister at our previous outing together, I shall stray into the general area of the special resolution regime, as he did into that of mutuals when we were discussing a stunningly small order that we together approved. This has been a very fruitful exercise, because the importance of the special resolution regime is totally misunderstood. The special resolution regime happens only in dire circumstances. If a major firm is failing—let us say, a large bank such as Barclays—and approaching being not viable, we have dire circumstances. The regime set up for such circumstances is illustrated in a document that I have from May 2011, but I believe that it remains just as applicable today. It sets out the extent to which, in a recovering regime, the PRA would seriously interfere with the way in which such a failing firm would work. It would demand changes in management and the composition of the board. It would talk about capital distribution and limiting planned business activities. There would have been a massive amount of activity from the PRA before one approached the situation where the special resolution regime was going to happen.

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Essentially, with a large firm—one of the big six, eight or whatever banks—the PRA would have been devoting a large part of its resources to making sure this failure did not happen. We are now facing a situation, where, despite all that effort—the stress test, all the new rules and so on—a firm is either no longer viable or likely to become so, and is put into the special resolution regime. It is put into the special resolution regime— if I have read the supporting paperwork correctly—by the PRA. The PRA, in consultation with the Treasury and the rest of the Bank, takes the view that this failure mode is likely to happen.

The Treasury is involved because one of the ways out of the mess is the way out we used last time. I think Alistair Darling and his people did a brilliant job, frankly, because they were faced with a catastrophic situation, with—as far as one can say—no real prior thinking-through by the regulatory authorities of what the right mechanisms would be. Indeed, as we know from later analysis, there was not even a lot of thinking about who was responsible and so on. They did a brilliant job with a very crude tool— essentially they nationalised the banks. This has the significant downside that the taxpayer ended up footing the bill. The whole objective of the special resolution regime is to create a series of more complex tools which allows resolution to take place without the taxpayer picking up the bill. The most recent part of that has been the extension to central counterparties, which have clearly emerged in analysis, and the bailing provisions, which move the problem to the creditors—to the industry—as opposed to the taxpayers.

If the Treasury decides that it does not want to go down that route, the Bank—no longer the PRA—is in charge of the special resolution regime. Its objectives, as far as I can see, are to maintain all the key functions as going concerns. That does not mean keeping the business alive as a going concern—that was the PRA’s task. The Government are clear that it is not a no-failure situation—they want failure to occur if that is the proper thing to happen. Nevertheless, the resolution regime provides a way of taking the activities forward in such a way that the public, the trading communities and society in general carry on having the banking facilities they need to survive.

The more you think about it, and about our experience of the last crash, the more frightening this scenario is. This looks as though it is a 60-hour exercise—when we have got to this situation we are thinking about close-of-play Friday and having it sorted out by Monday morning. That is a pretty challenging world to live in. I may have called it wrong; it may be being thought of as a more gentle process. However, one has to remember that we are contemplating using this process only in a situation which, at the moment, we cannot contemplate. Broadly, we are trying to put right all the things that typically lead to bank failure—through various ratios, protections and so on. From having read other bits of this stuff, I think that the thing that mitigates this mess is the extent to which the PRA will have amassed a lot of previously unavailable information, including specific information to help the bank in the resolution situation. This will mean that the bank will start with some information. I accept that most of this is about central

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counterparties, but given banks’ behaviour and the irregularities we have seen, one fears that in such a catastrophic situation it would be even worse than expected; in other words, despite all that information, when you dig into it you have got a real crisis.

Failure would be catastrophic. The impact assessment that accompanies the orders quotes the banking commission as saying that a failure could have net present value of 63% of GDP. That is an enormous impact and would be one of the most catastrophic events that could hit the United Kingdom, short of war. It is difficult to think of anything worse than the financial services of this country in collapse.

Who is actually going to do this resolution exercise? The situation is better than previously because the Bank now has a series of tools, but it is more complex because of the complexity of the tools. The answer is: the Bank of England special resolution unit, headed by Andrew Gracie, who reports to a deputy governor, Sir Jon Cunliffe. I have looked briefly at the CVs of those two men and they are successful and respected public servants. But the questions I have for the Government are: how big is their support? How big is this unit? How prepared is it? How developed are its systems?

Looking through the reports, both of the PRA and of the Bank, it is difficult to see. We can see one or two favourable things and one or two slightly worrying things. The favourable thing is the point I raised more than two years ago about the quality of staff of the regulator and the Bank of England. Mark Carney has made a big point of making the development of people one of his key aims. I am really pleased to see that sense of the value of people, and great chunks of his report are about that resolution. What is less happy is the level of staff turnover. There is 8.1% staff turnover at the Bank and 11.6% at the PRA. The thing that worries me most in the reports is the relative lack of saliency about the special resolution regime and the resources needed to support it.

I have spent most of my career in environments where one faces catastrophic low-incidence events. I started as an aeroplane driver—getting that wrong can be pretty catastrophic—and moved into the rail industry, where, sadly, we did have catastrophic events that killed large numbers of people; I ended it in the nuclear industry. What you learn from those industries is that if you are facing a low-incidence high-consequence event, it is not natural to worry about it and therefore you have to put in place special regimes that focus on it; it has to become almost obsessive.

My questions for the Government are: how are they assuring themselves that the Bank is up to this massive challenge? How does the special resolution unit train and practise for this challenge? That is how other industries I have been involved in face up to these things; they specifically train for them. In 3,500 hours, one engine stopped and that was not very exciting; every simulator detail, engines were stopping all over the place. That is how you do it: you practise for the catastrophic. What exercises have been conducted to test the unit and its systems? You can learn an enormous amount from the conducting of exercises and simulations,

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which, instead of being a theoretical exercise, come much closer to reality as you play out the events in a real-time way.

What pan-government exercises have been conducted? One of the problems of high-level emergencies is that senior people in government are introduced into the emergency, usually with absolutely no understanding of the series of decisions that they are going to face. You can get into that situation if you do not have a system of pan-government exercises to ensure that everyone knows what they are doing.

Lastly, what mechanisms have been put in place to work with our US and European partners in such an emergency? I gave the Minister a brief overview of the questions that I would be working through but I do not expect detailed answers to all of them. Still, after he has given his general reassuring reply—that is what he is paid for, really, so I expect nothing less—I would value it if he read the report of this session, looked at the questions, talked to people in the Treasury and at the Bank and produced a more researched, thoughtful reply. I cannot stress enough that you have to put the systems in place to assure yourself that, in the unlikely event that a low-incidence high-consequence event actually happens, you will be prepared for it.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having taken so much time to grapple with these extremely technical orders. On the difference between €730,000 of capital and the €125,000 of capital, the reference in the order to €730,000 refers to initial capital while the €125,000 is operating capital. However, the €730,000 figure is accepted across the EU as the slightly arbitrary point at which a firm is potentially significantly important. If I have got that wrong, I will write to him. He raised a bigger point, of course: how can we be sure that, if we are faced with a catastrophic event, we deal with it in a competent manner? One of the challenges here is that, slightly differently from when the noble Lord was an airline pilot or indeed running the Underground, the number of variables that can go wrong or interact with each other in a banking crisis is very high. It is not as though you can plan for 10 eventualities; there will be many more variables than that.

We have tried to put in place a legislative framework that gives us the powers we need; you cannot deal with these crises if you do not have the powers, and that is what the plethora of legislation over the past few years seeks to do. We think that we have an adequate infrastructure—or, rather, a superstructure—in place, with the PRA and the other changes at the Bank and the greater responsibilities that it now has. Secondly, we think that under the governor’s stewardship, as the noble Lord said, the quality of staff of the bank is very high.

The noble Lord pointed to the level of turnover. I think that that is a general concern in the public sector more generally, and has been in the Treasury as well as the Bank. It is fair to say that as far as the Treasury is concerned—I do not know about the Bank—the level of turnover has reduced somewhat over recent years, but it is still pretty high. In reality, that is in the nature

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of these institutions: there will be quite a lot of churn among people who are coming into and going out of the public and private sectors in the banking world. However, we think that we have a very high quality of staff.

Of course, one of the challenges which the noble Lord referred to is that although there is a special resolution unit, fewer people work in this area outside a crisis than when there is a crisis, otherwise you would have a huge number of people sitting around doing nothing for a very long time. Therefore the way the Bank and Treasury seek to deal with that problem is, of course, that other people in the institution would be brought in—just as they were at the time of the RBS and Lloyds crisis—to help on resolution.

There is a recent example of where it was not in the end necessary to have the full resolution procedure because the PRA and the Treasury—and in particular the Bank—had worked so closely with the relevant institution. That was the case with the Co-op, which last autumn faced quite severe problems. In the end, it was possible for those problems to be resolved by the Co-op without recourse to the provisions in the Banking Act or the Financial Services Act. However, that was possible in part because it was working with the Bank very closely over a period, and as a result of that it came up with an effective solution.

The noble Lord quite rightly referred to the fact that when you get to a crisis, sometimes you have to act very quickly, which is what happened with RBS. I hope that in future most cases such as that would be more analogous to the Co-op case than to RBS. In the Co-op case, it was clear for a while that there was a difficulty, and over a period of months—not a huge number, but over a period of weeks and a small number of months—options were identified and implemented. If the PRA is doing its work, it will not be taken completely by surprise in the way we were with the banking crisis. Of course, that does not mean that nothing will happen as a surprise. As the noble Lord pointed out, while we hope that the degree of information the PRA gets from the banks is always perfect, it will sometimes be less than perfect. One thinks of crises in the past that have occurred because the bank’s senior management and the compliance people did not know what a rogue member of staff was doing. As we know, that brought the bank down, for example, in the case of Barings. Therefore there will always be a risk.

The noble Lord asked specifically about training and practice exercises, and about how we work with our EU and American partners. There have been a number of training exercises to look at such situations. Scenario planning is obviously part of the role of the special resolution unit, and it does that. We work very closely with our American and European partners to see what lessons we can learn, and to have in place good working relationships and mechanisms to activate if we find that a bank is in real difficulty and that we might need to use the resolution procedures.

If I can say anything about that more formally, I will write to the noble Lord. However, both the Treasury and the Bank are acutely aware of the need to be able

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to use the powers they now have in an effective and timely way, and they are working very hard to make sure that they are up to snuff as regards doing that. As I said, the Government have considerable confidence that we have put a legislative process and structure in place that give the Treasury and the Bank the powers that they need and the people and structures internally to ensure that they are properly exercised. This is some way from the extremely important but rather technical amendments that we have been discussing today. I hope that all noble Lords in the Committee will feel that the statutory instruments are necessary and proportionate, and I commend them to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Banking Act 2009 (Exclusion of Investment Firms of a Specified Description) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

4.19 pm

Moved by Lord Newby

That the Grand Committee do consider the Banking Act 2009 (Exclusion of Investment Firms of a Specified Description) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Banking Act 2009 (Restriction of Partial Property Transfers) (Recognised Central Counterparties) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

4.19 pm

Moved by Lord Newby

That the Grand Committee do consider the Banking Act 2009 (Restriction of Partial Property Transfers) (Recognised Central Counterparties) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

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Banking Act 2009 (Third Party Compensation Arrangements for Partial Property Transfers) (Amendment) Regulations 2014

Motion to Consider

4.20 pm

Moved by Lord Newby

That the Grand Committee do consider the Banking Act 2009 (Third Party Compensation Arrangements for Partial Property Transfers) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Anonymous Registration (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

4.21 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Grand Committee do consider the Anonymous Registration (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, unfortunately there has been a fatality on the line from Cardiff, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is unable to get here. At short notice I am moving this Motion, which was tabled in her name, based on my modest expertise on the transition to individual electoral registration; noble Lords will recall that I have moved somewhere around 30 SIs on the subject in the last 12 months. I shall speak also to the four other Motions standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the Order Paper, which are on the draft Donations to Candidates (Anonymous Registration) Regulations 2014, the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Anonymous Registration) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014, the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2014, and the draft Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.

As noble Lords may recall, the introduction of anonymous registration to Northern Ireland was first discussed in March, when we brought forward the first piece of legislation in this series. The five instruments before the Committee today mainly complete this process. Two further instruments are required, one of which is subject to the negative resolution procedure and the other of which has no necessary parliamentary procedure. We intend to make all the remaining instruments at the same time after these five instruments have been approved by Parliament.

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Anonymous registration allows a person who is at risk to register to vote without their name and address being included on the electoral register. Persons with an anonymous entry and their proxies will be permitted to vote only by post and not in person in Northern Ireland.

Collectively, these five instruments apply the provisions introduced earlier this year across all elections in Northern Ireland, and make additional amendments to ensure that the system of anonymous registration will work effectively. Let me now briefly describe in turn what each of these instruments achieves.

The draft Anonymous Registration (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Order 2014 makes minor and technical amendments to ensure that the process created by the first order is crystal clear in relation to postal proxy voters and tendered postal ballot papers. The amendments ensure that procedures for proxy postal voters and tendered postal ballot papers are consistent across all elections.

The draft Donations to Candidates (Anonymous Registration) Regulations 2014 relate to donations to candidates at parliamentary elections. They provide that, where a donor is making a donation to a candidate at a parliamentary election and that donor is anonymously registered, a certificate of anonymous registration issued within the UK will be treated as evidence that an individual has an anonymous entry in the electoral register.

The draft European Parliamentary Elections (Anonymous Registration) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014 implement the system of anonymous registration in respect of European Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland and mirror the provisions for parliamentary and local elections.

The draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2014 makes amendments to ensure that the newly amended provisions on anonymous registration will work for Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

Finally, the draft Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 implement anonymous registration for UK parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland. The amendments to electoral registration for parliamentary elections will apply also to local and Northern Ireland Assembly elections. These regulations specify how applications for anonymous registration should be made and determined, the relevant court orders and injunctions that can be used to support an application, and the individuals who can provide attestations in support of anonymous registration applications.

The system of anonymous registration will come into force in Northern Ireland on 15 September 2014. Over the summer, we will continue to work with the Chief Electoral Officer, the PSNI and the Electoral Commission to ensure that there is full understanding of the introduction of anonymous registration.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that it is important to complete the package of legislation necessary to introduce anonymous registration across all elections in Northern Ireland. Anonymous registration is an

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important safeguard that allows vulnerable people to exercise their right to vote without fear or threat to their safety. I commend the instruments to the Committee.

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for stepping into the breach at very short notice, on this occasion to ensure that the regulations can go forward promptly and that everything is in place in good time for the elections in 2015. I welcome that.

However, many people looking on from outside may find it a little strange that, after 30 or 40 years in which peoples’ lives were very much at risk, including anyone coming into the public eye for any purpose, it is now, when one hopes that we are at the other side of the peace process, that we are introducing anonymous registration. To some extent, the reason is that it has been introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom and this order ensures that Northern Ireland is not out of kilter.

I hope that that turns out to be the only good reason for it. One worry of very recent times has been that, perhaps out of a fear of pressing the nuclear button of sectarianism between Protestants and Catholics and unionists and nationalists, some nefarious individuals have turned their attention to others who have come into the community from other parts of the European Union and elsewhere, and we have seen a rise in the kind of racism and xenophobia that we have not previously seen in Northern Ireland. Tragically, every few days, one sees intimidation of people from other parts of Europe and the world. I hope that some of the campaigns that we have been trying to develop in recent times, including the Unite Against Hate campaign and others, will have a positive effect that ensures that anonymous registration is merely a harmonisation measure and not one that is necessary for the situation in Northern Ireland.

However, in general terms, I welcome this and the other instruments, which will put the house in order in time for elections next year.

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for stepping in at such short notice. He is welcome to the Northern Ireland brief, even though it might be temporary—but we never know what fate awaits us.

Her Majesty’s Opposition, in the spirit of consensus and bipartisanship over Northern Ireland, also support the statutory instruments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I have an “however”: however, this has been promised for quite a while. It has been a year since the miscellaneous provisions Bill was passed. The point was rightly made at the time on all sides that we wanted parity on anonymous donations, for instance, and anonymous registration. Has the Minister been briefed on what assessment has been made of what progress, if any, has been made towards removing anonymous registration and the provisions for anonymous donors?

As ever, we are at a delicate time in Northern Ireland, with a conference due on Wednesday which, we hope, will tackle the real outstanding issues in

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Northern Ireland which are blocking further progress. However, within the confines of security, which we fully understand, I am trying to get a feel for what assessment the Northern Ireland Office has made of the temperature in Northern Ireland, what is the nature of those assessments and what they entailed. I am also trying to get a feel for how active Northern Ireland Office Ministers have been in Northern Ireland itself. We all want them to be proactive—carefully proactive, but proactive. I would hate to get a sense that, for the past year, they have just sat on the situation and have not made any assessment of progress towards agreement on such statutory instruments.

I hope that I am not being unfair to the Minister—he is only just here—but can he undertake to give us in writing a summary of what Northern Ireland Office Ministers have been doing over the past year? We need a picture of the Secretary of State’s engagement, if any, with the Parades Commission, because that is a really sore point on both sides of the community divide. I am not looking for revelation of issues or contacts that would stir up the pot, if you like, but we need to ensure collectively here that Northern Ireland does not feel that Westminster is not bothering, not looking at it urgently and taking not an offhand approach—that would be unfair—but a light touch, when it needs to be a wee bit firmer.

We need to find out what the community approach would be. Several people have expressed concern to me about anonymous registration and anonymous donors. It seems that, a year later, we have stood still. Perhaps I am being unfair through lack of knowledge, but I should like to get some picture of what the Northern Ireland Office has been doing. If the noble Lord is unable to answer now, as I fully understand, I would appreciate a report in writing, because if we are proceeding to normalisation, why are we not moving a wee bit faster? Everybody—the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, the DUP, the Government—says that they want it. What progress is being made? I should appreciate a response.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the weather in Northern Ireland is warm at this time of year—the noble Lord asked about the temperature. Part of the reason for introducing these measures in September rather than June was that the PSNI is, for reasons that he well knows, rather busier over the summer than it is in the autumn. That is a simple explanation of why they did not come in three months earlier.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that we are introducing anonymous registration in Northern Ireland partly to ensure consistency with the rest of Great Britain. We all understand the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland which call for anonymous registration, but anonymous registration in Great Britain—on the mainland—is to do with witness protection in a number of instances, wives who have been battered by their husbands or women who have been battered by their partners. Those are, dare I say, less abnormal reasons for anonymous registration. We hope that, over the years, the number of those who look for anonymous registration in Northern Ireland will fall towards the mainland level. We anticipate that around 2,000 people may apply for anonymous registration in Northern Ireland,

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which would be considerably higher, proportionately, than on the mainland; I think there are of the order of less than 2,000 across the mainland. However, this number will fall if and as the situation in Northern Ireland becomes less tense than it has been.

On the question of why we have not moved more rapidly, there have been two consultations on how to put in anonymous registrations. It is a delicate and complicated process. The first was during the previous Government, in 2008; the second was under this Government. Part of the complication of the introduction —the reason we have several different SIs today—is that it requires changes in every part of the electoral system and in other areas, such as obligations for jury service. The preparation of eight different statutory instruments by the NIO unavoidably took some time. Legislation which was essential for the conduct of elections in 2010 and the triple poll in 2011 unavoidably took priority over anonymous registration.

On the question of donations—which are rather different from registration—we intend as far as possible to bring greater transparency about the origins of donations in Northern Ireland. Legislation will shortly be brought forward that will allow for more details of Northern Ireland donations and loans to be published while still protecting donor identities. I hope that provides some assurance. I am happy to write further to the noble Lord if there are other issues at stake. Full public consultation on the draft order to increase transparency took place, I understand, in January, and we are working on the responses to that consultation, which will shortly be followed by legislation.

Motion agreed.

Donations to Candidates (Anonymous Registration) Regulations 2014

Motion to Consider

4.38 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Grand Committee do consider the Donations to Candidates (Anonymous Registration) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

European Parliamentary Elections (Anonymous Registration) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014

Motion to Consider

4.38 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Grand Committee do consider the European Parliamentary Elections (Anonymous Registration) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

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Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

4.38 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Grand Committee do consider the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2014

Motion to Consider

4.38 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the Grand Committee do consider the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Health Care and Associated Professions (Indemnity Arrangements) Order 2014

Motion to Consider

4.40 pm

Moved by Earl Howe

That the Grand Committee do consider the Health Care and Associated Professions (Indemnity Arrangements) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, in July 2010 the four UK health departments accepted the recommendations of the Finlay Scott review, which recommended that all regulated healthcare professionals should be required to hold appropriate insurance or indemnity cover as a condition of their registration when carrying out work as a regulated healthcare professional.

The Government are committed to requiring all practising regulated healthcare professionals to hold indemnity or insurance cover, and have been for some time. The Government are also required to implement Article 4(2)(d) of the EU directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare, which reinforces that direction of travel and further commits us to legislation.

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The purpose of this policy is to ensure that people have access to appropriate redress in the unlikely event that they are negligently harmed during the course of their care. All patients should have that by right. The overwhelming majority of regulated healthcare professionals will be unaffected by the proposals because they already have insurance or indemnity cover. For employees in the NHS or independent sector, cover is already in place because of an employer’s vicarious liability for the negligent acts or omissions of their employees. Personal cover is required in relation only to self-employed practice.

The order makes provision that all practising regulated healthcare professionals must hold an appropriate insurance or indemnity arrangement as a condition of their registration—and, in the case of medical practitioners, a licence to practise—with the relevant regulatory body. It will be for individual healthcare professionals to assure themselves that appropriate cover is in place for all the work that they undertake. Unless healthcare professionals, who are practising or intend to practise, can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the regulatory bodies that such arrangements are or will be in place, they will be unable to be registered as a healthcare professional and will be unable to practise. I commend this order to the Committee, and beg to move.

Baroness Cumberlege (Con): I declare an interest as a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, a vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives and a patron of the National Childbirth Trust and Independent Midwives UK. I have other interests that are in the Lords’ register. I thank my noble friend for introducing this statutory instrument so clearly and for meeting the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and myself, when we discussed the issue of independent midwives.

Draft statutory instruments are not usually a very gripping subject, but this one is because it affects the livelihood of so many people. It is therefore being introduced as an affirmative resolution. Not many statutory instruments, when enacted, will ensure that a professional is denied the right to practice—denied their livelihood. However, I start from the premise that every practitioner should have professional indemnity insurance. Some independent midwives are possibly the only group reluctantly acting without it but not only do they recognise the need for it, they want it and are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. This statutory instrument has concentrated minds and focused on the practicalities to achieve it, and from that point of view I welcome it.

It has been a struggle because insurance bodies draw no distinction between midwifery care and obstetric care, and of course the service given by each profession is very distinct. Obstetric treatment is very often a high risk activity, whereas midwife care is much less so. Successive Governments have adopted a policy that women should have choice—choice in healthcare but particularly choice in maternity services. This policy has been very widely welcomed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust, which

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have listened to women and have fought fairly long and hard to achieve this choice. All the evidence that they and others have gathered shows that women and their partners want choice. After all, there is nothing more important in life than giving life and bringing up the next generation.

Over the years, choice has been eroded thanks to the closure of maternity units, but in some places midwife-led units or birth centres have replaced them. They are often under threat as well. I welcome midwife-led units because they are another form of choice but I regret the diminution of home births because that is a choice denied. I ask my noble friend: how many home birth services in the NHS are on temporary hold and how many have closed? I know that they are very detailed questions and I would welcome a written reply if that suits my noble friend better than responding now. I am asking these questions because Independent Midwives UK provides for home births. That is a government policy and one that has been strongly endorsed by NICE. Independent Midwives UK provides continuity by a named midwife throughout antenatal care, birth and postnatal care—another government policy. Throughout the NHS this has proved to be pretty unachievable because community midwives are drawn into the acute services whenever there is a shortage, and because there is frequently a shortage it happens frequently.

The department’s new definition of continuity is co-ordination. A named midwife should co-ordinate the care, as my noble friend said previously. We should ask women what they think. Is co-ordination the same as continuity? Of course it is not, when in extremis women cannot even get their co-ordinator on the telephone 24/7 but they can with an independent midwife. Do they build a relationship with the co-ordinating midwife, assisting at that seminal moment of giving birth? No, because she is not there; she is too busy co-ordinating.

Independent midwives in all their forms—as social enterprises, employee-owned organisations, provident industrial societies with “bencom” status and so on—want to provide choice, continuity and care for women both in the independent sector and for the NHS. They are based in their communities and many provide services for vulnerable women, asylum seekers, those with mental health problems and so on, on a pro bono basis, but like the rest of us they cannot live on fresh air. They are seeking commissions with clinical commissioning groups. They are working towards direct referrals from GPs who welcome the continuity of knowing the midwife responsible for a mother who needs advice and support. Can my noble friend suggest ways in which the Government could support independent midwives, who are the professionals who not only support the Government’s policy but are the professionals who actually carry it out?

The NHS mandate, which sets the agenda for NHS England and which my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues shape, is an opportunity to ensure that alternative choices are there for women and their partners. Will he encourage the ministerial team to focus on this issue and enable independent providers

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of services to thrive, thereby enhancing government policies, giving women choice and providing the continuity that they seek?

In closing, I pay tribute to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which has taken a very measured view of this statutory instrument, has listened and has tried to meet the needs of all concerned, amending its guidance as necessary. I look forward to my noble friend’s reply, in writing if necessary.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, I completely endorse all the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and I am glad that there has been some give from the council to try to move this difficult issue forward.

I want to make a slightly different point. In these febrile days, when everything in the EU is damned, it is most welcome that this regulation comes from a new directive that is going to give patients across the EU the security of knowing that there will be indemnity and insurance available in every state. It may not be directly comparable but there will be something there. I am pretty sure that this will not hit the headlines but I see it as a major benefit to those of us who travel in Europe, as well as those coming to the UK. It is the sort of thing that is completely hidden from the headlines; it should not be.

On the difficult issue of indemnity insurance for midwives, I have been wondering, having come late to this debate, whether or not there is scope for NHS England, the regulatory councils and the insurance councils to try to work better together. The financial services industry talks frequently about the problems of insuring a very small service. This clearly is that, and it does not fit into an ordinary framework. Yet the midwives have been through exactly the same training as their counterparts elsewhere in the NHS and I am sure that clinical commissioning groups will demand that they have insurance cover. That is absolutely right. Therefore, the problem is in looking at this small cohort of midwives rather than seeing them as part of the greater group who have qualified under the same professional regulation.

I ask the Minister whether discussions will continue to ensure that no one could be denied service simply because they may not fall neatly into one of the categories. Again, I congratulate the Nursing and Midwifery Council on at least trying to find a solution to this difficult problem but it should not be said, as it is in paragraph 8.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, that there is a balance that has to be made here and, as it affects only a few people, we should perhaps be prepared to let it go. I do not believe that we should.

Baroness Emerton (CB): My Lords, I have one or two points to make. It is not very often I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, but we really have to focus on the safety of mother and child.

I am talking about independent midwives only, not the whole directive, because I support the directive. I think there is a problem in that the midwifery profession generally is the most regulated of the nursing professions. They are required to be relicensed every year. They are under a supervisory midwife. They are, if anything,

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more supervised than the nursing profession. I chaired the professional conduct committee of the previous regulatory body and the midwifery cases that came forward were, in the main, where things went wrong with independent midwives. Mistakes are made—I am sure we all accept that—but the problem is that very often they lack support out in the community.

In a situation where things go badly wrong, there is the issue of who is going to pay the compensation to the mother or baby who has to be cared for for many months or even years. The other noble Baroness—I am afraid I cannot remember her name—said that we ought to be looking at something to help the independent midwives, but how do we help a very small group among a very large number of midwives and try to support them when very often the compensation is enormous?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his introduction to the order, following, as he said, the Finlay Scott review. The Opposition have no argument with the principle of the order, but I want to raise with the Minister some of the practical consequences of its implementation. The Government’s consultation states that about 4,200 self-employed nurses and therapists may be required to obtain indemnity cover. For most concerned, the insurance premium is modest. The Department of Health’s consultation estimate was that for nurses the insurance premium would be £195 per annum, and for therapists between £255 and £256 per annum. There should not be a problem with those practitioners being able to pay that premium, but we run into great difficulty when it comes to independent midwives.

I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, that of course the safety of the mother and baby is paramount, and her point about the issue of professional support for independent midwives. I am sure that she would recognise that for some women, the support of an independent midwife is very important to them. Sometimes the reason why a woman will turn to an independent midwife is that they find that statutory services are either not prepared to help her to have a baby at home or are less than sympathetic. It would be a great pity if, as a result of the order, that very small group of professionals was unable to practise. The RIA accepts that affordable commercial cover is not available to independent midwives working as individuals. The consultation estimates that there would be an annual cost of indemnity cover of about £15,000 per individual independent midwife. There is no way that an independent midwife is likely to be able to pay that sum.

It is fair to ask the Minister whether he considers that independent midwives will be able to practise in future as a result of the order. I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made, about the benefit of this EU regulation, but what an irony that the Conservative Party, in particular, with its histrionics about Europe and the extraordinary behaviour of our Prime Minister in the past few days, is now bringing in a European order that will put independent midwives out of business. I wonder whether the Government really recognise that. They may find that independent

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midwives are in fact no longer able to practise, and the Government may come in for considerable criticism as a result.

I was unimpressed by the response given by Dr Dan Poulter in another place. He has been very unsympathetic to the issue of independent midwives. That is a great pity. When this order was debated in the Commons a few days ago, I thought that the government response was weak, unsympathetic and gave very little comfort indeed. It is all very well talking about social enterprises in the Wirral as if that is an answer. Clearly, that will not be an answer for many independent midwives. The impact of agreeing to the order is that independent practitioners will not be able to practise any more. Either they will be forced to come into the NHS or they will simply not be available to women in future. I would like the Minister to give his assessment of what he thinks the impact of the order will be on those independent midwives.

Having read the Commons debate, I am not clear what happens to staff who provide care, sometimes complex care, independently but who are not a member of a regulated body. What about care assistants practising independently? The Minister said that where they are employed they are covered because of the vicarious liability of the employer, but I am not clear about those practitioners in the health and care field who provide services but who are not part of a regulated profession.

As a general principle, the Opposition support the order because it is eminently sensible, but the Government could have found a more sympathetic way to help independent midwives to be able to practise in the future. I for one am fearful that, as a result of the order, they will not be able to do so.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I shall endeavour to answer all questions that have been put to me as fully as I can. To the extent that I cannot, I shall of course write to noble Lords after this debate.

The centre of attention in noble Lords’ contributions has been independent midwives. Independent Midwives UK is the body which has expressed most concern about the regulations. I am the first to say to my noble friend Lady Cumberlege that continuity of care and service in the NHS is important, and that is part of the mandate to NHS England. We fully accept the value of independent midwives. NHS England will refresh the maternity commissioning guidance to CCGs over the summer to support the plurality of providers and to help social enterprises get NHS commissions.

However, as my noble friend is aware, we are dealing here with self-employed, independent midwives. It is therefore important to look at the factors which pertain to that group of people in particular. My noble friend suggested that the order effectively puts certain independent midwives, the self-employed practitioners, out of business. I do not see it in that way at all. We recognise that self-employed independent midwives may be required to change their governance and delivery practices to comply with an indemnity policy, and it is for the individual practitioner to determine a suitable

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operating model under which they are able to continue to practise. Social enterprises are the obvious route to that.

The suggestion that independent midwives have not received the fullest attention from officials in my department is seriously misplaced.

Baroness Cumberlege: I have never said that. The department has really helped independent midwives keep up to date with what has been going on. Nor am I opposed to the order. I said earlier that I start from the premise that every practitioner should have professional indemnity. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, did not hear that.

Earl Howe: I fully accept my noble friend’s statement on that score. It has been said that the Government have not been sufficiently supportive of the attempt by IMUK to overcome these obstacles, and I welcome my noble friend’s recognition of those efforts.

Independent Midwives UK made an application, as my noble friend knows, for government funding for its proposal. That was considered, but the conclusion reached after independent expert advice was that the proposed insurance model was not feasible and would not provide long-term protection to pregnant women.

Alongside that, we were mindful that the creation of any government scheme specifically for Independent Midwives UK would effectively position the Government as the underwriter of the independent sector. My noble friend is as aware as anyone of the sensitivity of that. That would have undermined any private sector solution, which in turn would reduce the onus on midwifery service providers to demonstrate financial responsibility in what is undoubtedly a high-risk area of clinical practice—that is, it would reduce the onus on them to be responsible for showing an underwriter the appropriate steps being taken to mitigate risks. So, for a number of reasons, we were not able to take those proposals forward.

However, we explored a number of routes. One was that a corporate body should be formed that would be eligible to join the clinical negligence scheme for trusts, although that would not cover non-NHS work. We made funds available via our Social Enterprise Investment Fund to support the development of social enterprise solutions where the market does not offer affordable indemnity to individuals. That was not seen as a viable route either, although a new social enterprise called Neighbourhood Midwives was set up through that route and is now offering maternity care in the private sector with appropriate indemnity cover in place. Its business model is a 100% employee-owned mutual providing management and support to small, community-based neighbourhood practices.

My noble friend Lady Brinton asked about the insurance sector. From the start of the discussion in 2010, dialogue has been in progress with the Association of British Insurers, individual insurers and insurance brokers, who have indicated that insurance would be available for corporate bodies employing midwives to deliver NHS or non-NHS services. It would be necessary for corporate bodies to demonstrate the robustness of their governance systems to provide adequate assurance

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to an indemnifier. Where providers can demonstrate safe outcomes as well as good risk management processes, this would affect the price that was quoted, making it more affordable. There are also other factors that can be varied, depending on the appetite for financial risk, and which can reduce the price, such as excess provisions. This concurs with the independent research commissioned by the NMC and the Royal College of Midwives that suggests that independent midwives would be able to obtain insurance as employees within a corporate structure. As I say, some independent midwifery providers have secured insurance by fulfilling the above principles.

I heard my noble friend Lady Cumberlege say that the order effectively deprives certain individuals of the right to work. I do not share that view. The right of an individual to practise their profession is not an absolute right; the state may impose certain conditions provided by law that an individual must satisfy in order to practise their profession. Those conditions should be both proportionate and justifiable.

The bottom line here is that we believe it is unacceptable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, emphasised, for individuals not to have recourse to compensation where they suffer harm through negligence on the part of a registered healthcare professional. The NHS constitution in England reinforces this by including,

“the right to compensation where you have been harmed by negligent treatment”.

In requiring all practising regulated healthcare professionals to hold an indemnity arrangement as a condition of registration, the order does not make the practice of independent midwifery illegal—far from it. Midwifery outside the NHS will still be accessible in the ways that I have already described. I note that Independent Midwives UK is advertising insurance as a benefit of its membership, so I wonder whether any self-employed midwives will in fact have to stop practising.

My noble friend Lady Brinton hit the nail on the head when she expressed her welcome for the EU directive and the principles that underlie it: that all patients across the EU should be treated by healthcare professionals who have insurance or indemnity cover.

The noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, touched on the issue of compensation. As she knows, compensation for negligence can be very high indeed. It is for this reason that the Royal College of Midwives no longer offers insurance. Its scheme was stopped after an issue involving an independent midwife.

If we distil the arguments to their most basic, the implication behind a number of criticisms of this order is that choice in natal care should trump other considerations. I am afraid that the Government take a different view. Our policy is that patients should have recourse to redress if they are harmed, and the most cost-effective and proportionate way of achieving that is by requiring all practising regulated health professionals to hold appropriate cover.

Having said that, we lay great emphasis on choice, as my noble friend is aware. The policy set out in Maternity Matters: Choice, Access and Continuity of Care in a Safe Service, published in 2007 but endorsed by the current Government, aimed to introduce by the end of 2009 four main areas of choice in maternity. The choices are: how to access maternity care, whether

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via a GP or directly through a local midwifery service; the type of antenatal care—depending on the circumstances, midwifery care or team care with midwives and obstetricians; the place of birth, depending on the circumstances, supported by a midwife at home or in a free-standing midwife-led unit in a hospital, or supported by a maternity team including obstetricians in a hospital; and where to access postnatal care, at home or in a community setting.

I hope my noble friend will concede that maternity has been a major focus for the current Government. We have invested heavily in training additional midwives. There is a record number in training at the moment. We have invested large sums in improving and refurbishing birthing units, as well as introducing specialist mental health midwife training so that every birthing unit will have a specially trained clinician available by 2017. This is a major part of our agenda.

I think I have said as much as I can in answer to questions. I will, however, respond in writing to the points that I have not adequately covered, including my noble friend Lady Cumberlege’s question about how many home births might be on hold or suspended as a result of this order. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

United Nations International Widows’ Day

Question for Short Debate

5.15 pm

Asked by Lord Loomba

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure public awareness of United Nations International Widows’ Day.

Lord Loomba (LD): My Lords, International Widows’ Day is a UN-ratified global day for effective action to help widows and their children around the world. It takes place every year on 23 June. Since the UN adopted 23 June as International Widows’ Day in 2010, the UN Secretary-General has issued messages to all member states to raise awareness of the plight of widows, who suffer from poverty, illiteracy, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, conflict and social injustice. In his latest message, which was issued on 23 June this year, he urges an end to harmful practices and abuse against widows.

So that noble Lords understand the severity of the plight of widows, I will read a report on the Secretary-General’s message this year, which sums it all up:

“No woman should lose her status, livelihood or property when her husband dies, yet millions of widows in our world face persistent abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and destitution, stressed United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today in his message for this year’s International Widows’ Day.

In his message, the Secretary-General expressed his concerns about the number of widows subjected to harmful practices, including ‘widow cleansing’, often involving rape, and the increase in the widow’s risk of HIV infection, as well as ‘widow burning’.

Mr Ban underscored that such violent acts could also negatively affect the lives of their children. He has stressed the need for ‘stronger action to empower women, promote gender equality and end all forms of violence against women’.

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The UN General Assembly declared 23 June 2011 as the first-ever International Widows’ Day, and it has been marked annually ever since. The Day raises awareness and is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows worldwide and to bring the often invisible issues affecting them to a point of international concern.

In many cultures widows not only are considered inferior to their husbands, but they also become ‘useless’ at the moment of their husband’s death. Their social status appears to be inextricably linked to their husband’s, and when he dies, a woman is likely to lose her place in society, lose basic rights, and to become a victim of life-threatening abuses.

Millions of the world’s widows have to cope with poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill-health and different forms of discrimination, which could dramatically impact their physical and mental well-being.

‘It is our collective responsibility to safeguard the human rights and dignity of widows, in line with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, stressed the UN chief.

‘Together, we can eliminate the challenges faced by widows around the world and allow them to realize their potential as equal members of society, he concluded”.

I declare my interest as founder and chairman of the Loomba Foundation, which I established in 1997 in memory of my late mother, who became a widow at the early age of 37. I was only 10 years old at that time, so I grew up as a widow’s son and saw first-hand the discrimination and prejudices faced by my mother. After realising that widows’ problems were huge in India and across Africa, in 2005 I launched International Widows’ Day, which was adopted by the United Nations at the 65th UN General Assembly in 2010.

In south Asia, widows suffer because of stigma and religious beliefs, and in many countries they are considered to be evil and inauspicious people. They are uneducated, cannot find a job, and depend on their relatives and community, who abuse them physically, psychologically and sexually. They are deprived of their possessions, which means that they cannot pay to educate their children; many of them are driven to factory labour and prostitution to support their families.

In Africa, unjust “customary laws” persist in many communities, even when national laws and constitutions appear to proffer justice and equality. Apart from losing their wealth, widows can face degrading treatment and find it impossible to earn a living. The fate of widows magnifies the problems of poverty and disease.

Conflict has fuelled the crisis by directly creating huge numbers of widows in countries such as Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few. The widows who are left behind to care for their families have an essential role to play in the healing and reconstruction of their societies, but they are prevented from doing so by being destitute, disenfranchised and disempowered. We cannot rest at peace if we let this situation continue further into the 21st century. The UN has given a clear mandate to all member states that widows must be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Governments should take action to uphold their commitments to ensure the rights of widows as enshrined in international law, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as I have said before. Even when national law

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exists to protect the rights of widows, weakness in the judicial system of many states compromises how widows’ rights are defended in practice. Programmes and policies aimed at ending violence against widows and their children, poverty alleviation, education and other support to widows of all ages need to be undertaken, including in the context of action plans for the framework of post-millennium development goals.

In post-conflict situations, widows should be brought in to participate fully in the peace-building and reconciliation process to ensure that they contribute sustainable peace and security. We should empower widows through access to adequate healthcare, education, decent work, full participation in decision-making and public life, and lives free of violence and abuse. It creates opportunities for widows to help and protect their children and to avoid the cycle of perpetual poverty and deprivation.

In conclusion, I ask my noble friend the Minister to raise awareness of International Widows’ Day through DfID, UN Women, the Foreign Office and any other NGOs, as it is an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition of widows, who have remained invisible, uncounted and ignored for a long time.

5.24 pm

Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this short debate because it gives us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the problems faced by so many widows across the world. More than 100 million live in poverty alongside some 500 million children, and I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, in doing so much to draw attention to their plight and for demonstrating such clear leadership on this issue through the Loomba Foundation.

I first became aware of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, a few years ago when I attended a fundraising event for the foundation, and I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of that foundation to alleviating the suffering of widows who face serious violation of their human rights.

As the noble Lord reminded us, 23 June this year was the 10th International Widows’ Day and it is a clear testament to his campaigning ability that the UN adopted it formally in 2010, on the resolution of Gabon, as an international observance day for widows to raise awareness of the need for change.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, has identified many of the problems. Several stand out. First, in addition to 100 million widows living in poverty, around 1.5 million children of poor widows will die before they reach the age of five. Secondly, on losing their husbands, many widows lose their home because they cannot inherit property. They may be unable to remarry or they may have to marry their husband’s brother. They may be prevented from working and so have no means of supporting themselves or their children. They may be seen as unlucky within a family. They may face violence. They may face a lifetime of social exclusion.

In addition to the Loomba Foundation, I pay tribute to organisations such as Womankind, Women for Human Rights and Widows’ Rights International,

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which empower widows to live an independent life. They help them to overcome problems such as a lack of legal status, which can make the difference to their ability to inherit property, as well as getting access for them to other rights provided by the state, such as a widow’s allowance.

Evidence shows that educating the children of widows is an important means of empowering them to escape poverty. In addition, making widows self-sufficient economically through training and small amounts of business start-up capital or equipment has proved very successful, building their self-reliance and confidence.

What can the UK Government do? The Government’s aim should be to secure for widows the full protection of the law in their country, full rights to property ownership, equal rights generally and equal status within their families and communities. That aim should be integrated with the drive to achieve the millennium development goals.

Intergovernmental agencies and individual Governments have been very supportive and work has been done by them to try to reduce poverty and reduce discrimination, but, crucially, this is not just an issue concerning the rights of women, because widows may not be treated as having the same status as women. This is a fundamental issue which International Widows’ Day is now addressing.

This debate asks Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure public awareness of United Nations International Widows’ Day. From my perspective, this is a human rights issue, so my question is: what might the Government do to bridge the gap between aspiration for change and achieving real improvements for widows in poverty? We have a substantial overseas aid budget, so how might we use our influence to effect change in attitudes which can discriminate so cruelly against widows?

We have a clear duty to provide leadership. I hope that the Minister may be able to indicate what practical measures could now be taken in support of widows across the world whose human rights are not being respected.

5.30 pm

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD): I warmly thank my noble Friend, Lord Loomba for giving us the opportunity to discuss this incredibly important topic. I pay tribute particularly to my noble friend Lord Shipley for his speech, and I endorse the points that he made more fluently than perhaps I would be able to do myself.

I work a lot with widows. I have always seen economic freedom as the key to widows gaining a new foothold in life. Of course, the law is crucial—they must be allowed to work in order to be able to find a way of working—but custom and practice are also crucial in implementing the law. If custom and practice are dramatically against you, it is extremely difficult to work and earn a living. When one looks at work, one has to think what sort of work they can do, how and when they will do it and what their alternative employment might be, and whether the source of work that a widow is allowed to do will in fact bring such a stigma on her family that carrying out that work may be something that she cannot even bear to do.

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I chair the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, and the women whom I work with are trapped in continuing complex emergencies. For them, very often the only possible work that is immediately open to them is to become prostitutes, and once you become a prostitute it is extremely difficult to shake off that stigma again. I therefore work with those who are doing all that they can to create different kinds of employment for widows that would give them not just an immediate leg-up but a future.

It will come as no surprise to noble Lords on all sides of the House that I intend to comment briefly on Iraq, where until last month there were 1 million widows and now, alas, there are considerably more, and there will be more next week and the week after. Human misery is rising as the result of the toll of 50 years or more of war, with the first tranche of widows coming as a result of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, when 1 million people were killed and perhaps 250,000 were left widowed. I will also comment on the needs of the widows’ children. The figures in Iraq show that there are 4 million orphans. “Orphan” sometimes means the loss of both parents but in this context nearly always means the loss of the father, so I am going to comment on how that problem may be tackled as well.

The work that I believe is best for widows comes within a much wider programme. I would counsel against us picking out widows; we need to be helping the entire community so that our help for widows does not seem to stigmatise them by accident. Indeed, I think that work for widows should come from within the community itself because it must be permanent help; it cannot be a short-term thing. There will be more widows tomorrow, the day after and the day after that. There has to be not just a safety net but a continuing programme of personal growth and development that enables women who are widowed not only to have a life for themselves but to have a proper one and something for their children, their elderly and anyone else they may be looking after.

The AMAR foundation works throughout Iraq. It works in Syrian refugee camps in the north and has a vast programme in Iraq for the prevention of gender-based violence, which, incidentally, is critical for working with widows. It runs a large programme on gender violence awareness through the radio and the internet, which is crucial. It runs a very big programme with women health volunteers, as well as an educated child initiative. It has mobile health centres, health posts, health clinics and road safety training. It works on the empowerment of widows throughout the country. Indeed, it is working in 16 of Iraq’s 18 governorates and currently employs more than 2,000 local professionals on projects across the country. A very large proportion of this work is for women, and a large proportion is therefore for widows and their children. We work through the 23 primary health centres that we have created, the six mobile health centres and some health posts, with about 500,000 patients connected with the primary health centres and the mobile health centres. Last year there were between 250,000 and 300,000 health consultations.

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Of course, if you look at that, women’s health is primarily the focus, as it is in all contexts everywhere. We take up about 80% of all health inputs and outputs in every society: pregnant women, pre- and post-pregnancy and so on, elderly women and, of course, the women at home. At the moment I think we visit 34,000 women at home every month; one-third of them are single parents, mainly widows. The mothers and children instructed during those visits number about 140,000 every month.

Turning to the widows and vulnerable women who receive skills training, in the past 12 months we have given 12,000 sessions of skills training, and 2,500 children have been enrolled in accelerated learning programmes through kindergartens and primary and secondary schools. We are teaching in 171 schools, seven kindergartens, three universities, 12 of our own training centres and, most importantly, five prisons, where you will find more women and more widows, because they are so vulnerable. The programme being run at the moment aims to integrate 1,000 widows and female heads of households into Iraq’s social and economic fabric by empowering them with skills, qualifications, social support and employment opportunities, and by increasing their rights—and their knowledge of their rights—as Iraqi citizens.

One of those important points is to help those women to find what is available to them from the Government; for example, there is a widow’s stipend. Only a small proportion of widows in Iraq get that stipend, because most widows there cannot read and write, so they do not know that it is available to them. A key thing is to teach widows literacy and numeracy. We have a very important programme that teaches adult literacy and numeracy to about 7,000 adults a week, of which a proportion are widows. I strongly highlight literacy and numeracy, which are absolutely crucial. That is one of the first steps to take when you think about widows.

On access to employment opportunities, my noble friends Lord Shipley and, I believe, Lord Loomba mentioned the Government and the international community. In order to get those widows known about, we create access to employment opportunities by involving businesses, government, parliamentary committees and academic institutions in the project itself. That means that bit by bit those ladies become known, and their opportunities emerge because of that.

We teach practical skills, assisting them to set up their own businesses. The practical skills, apart from literacy and numeracy, are sewing and design, food preparation, hairdressing, IT, English language for business, and human rights—the latter so that they know what is theirs by right. We teach English language because with that you have the globe, and IT because you can get into the internet. However, the practical skills are ones that they have confidence in themselves. They know that they can do hairdressing—they are taught how to do it so that it can become a business. They know that they can cook and do nursing.

Therefore, the programme does the full range of training courses, all integrated with the Ministry of Education’s own education opportunities, and it is seen as a highly successful programme. I also suggest

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that no programme can succeed for widows or for any other section of the community unless it is sustainable. As part of the programme, we have heavy-duty monitoring work, but on top of that we have a sustainability programme. So far, we have been steadily raising funds locally—not necessarily here, although we have done some here—to enable this project to continue in perpetuity.

That is a very small example of programmes globally that I know many other wonderful organisations are carrying out. However, I have put it in front of your Lordships in the hope that it may provide an example of a simple but highly effective way of working.

5.40 pm

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for initiating this debate and for his strong commitment to the empowerment of widows. It is only because of his commitment that we have International Widows’ Day. As we have heard, over the past 16 years the Loomba Foundation has lobbied the UN and Governments, and has succeeded in being heard. In 2005 the foundation launched 23 June as International Widows’ Day and the UN adopted it in 2010. It gives us an opportunity to raise awareness and focus on action to bring the often invisible issues affecting widows to international attention.

In every society, women have endured exclusion from their communities and families, and have suffered the loss of their homes, livelihoods and identities, all brought on by an event completely out of their control: the death of a husband—their life partner. Fifty years ago, my own mother was left a widow with four dependent children. Like the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, I was 10. We lived in a house tied to my father’s job. In a very short period, she had to cope not only with the grief of losing her husband but the loss of our home, family income and status. Her determination to keep us together meant facing a court hearing to be rehoused following our eviction and quickly finding a job to maintain a household.

Since then, we have seen progress in this country, with legislation for equal pay and against sex discrimination. Those changes in the law enabled my mother to become an economically active individual rather than dependent on the state—an issue so ably highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. Today, widows in the West still face social isolation and commonly live with severe insecurity and poverty due to lack of employment. Persecution of and abuse against widows and their children is not a crisis limited to the developing world: large groups of widows can be found in those circumstances in Europe, including Russia, and central Asia.

Global research commissioned by the Loomba Foundation in 2009 revealed that 245 million widows and more than 500 million children suffer in silence worldwide. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, highlighted, more than 100 million widows live in poverty, struggling to survive. Many of these women and their children are malnourished, exposed to disease and, in some cases, subject to slavery. Widowed women experience targeted murder, rape, prostitution, forced marriage, property theft, eviction and social isolation.

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As we have heard, today there are many more widows than ever before due to armed conflict, the AIDS pandemic and the age difference between partners, with many young women being married off to much older men. As we have heard in previous debates, among the survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide were thousands of women widowed during the conflict. In some parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, around 50% of women are widows. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said, there are estimated to be millions in Iraq who have been placed in that situation, and 70,000 in Kabul, in Afghanistan.

In post-conflict situations, high numbers of children depend on widowed mothers—often young women, sometimes children themselves—as their sole support. The response of agencies such as UN Women has been to work in countries such as Rwanda, Pakistan and Afghanistan to advance widow’s rights—we have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, talk about Iraq—through targeted programmes as part of their work to support women’s economic empowerment, political leadership and participation and, more importantly, a role in peace and security.

As the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, highlighted, Ban Ki-moon said last week when marking the 2014 International Widows’ Day that we need,

“stronger action to empower women, promote gender equality and end all forms of violence against women”.

Violence against women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights, affecting women of all backgrounds, ages, cultures and countries. Widows are no exception and may in fact be at particularly high risk of violence. In many countries, but particularly across Africa and Asia, widows find themselves the victims of physical and mental violence, including sexual abuse, related to inheritance, land and property disputes.

Last year, in a speech to the House of Lords, Lakshmi Puri said that the lack of reliable hard data remains one of the major obstacles to developing the policies and programmes to address the poverty, violence and discrimination suffered by widows. There is a need for more research and statistics disaggregated by marital status, sex and age, to help to reveal the incidence of widow abuse and illustrate the situation of widows.

Empowering widows through access to adequate healthcare, education—highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson—decent work, full participation in decision-making and public life and lives free from violence and abuse would give them a chance to build a secure life after treatment. Importantly, creating opportunities for widows can also help to protect their children and avoid the cycle of intergenerational poverty and deprivation.

At this point, I again pay tribute to the Government and, in particular, the Foreign Secretary, for leading the international community through hosting the recent Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. I welcome the Government’s support for initiatives that support widows through broader programmes working on women’s empowerment, asset ownership and inheritance and, through that, the targeting of cash

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transfer programmes. I should like to hear from the Minister how she believes such programmes are progressing and whether she can highlight those that we know are working more effectively and update us on their extension.

In a recent debate, I raised the conclusion of this year’s session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which I believe can make a significant contribution to this debate. The denial of the rights of women and girls remains the most widespread driver of inequality in today’s world. Gender-based violence, taking many forms, is a major element of that massive and continuing failure of human rights. What specific actions have the Government formulated to carry through the declaration and decisions of the New York meeting and to face up to the challenges identified by the commission both domestically and internationally?

Today’s debate is about our joint efforts to erase the stigma of widowhood, the barriers widows face to resources and economic opportunities to survive and the high risk to widows of sexual abuse and exploitation. I know from personal experience that widows are more than victims: they are mothers, caregivers and heads of households. They are the drivers of change, with their own aspirations and their own voices that need to be heard. Women’s empowerment and the protection of women’s rights are our greatest weapons to prevent discrimination and violence against women and girls—widows in particular.

5.50 pm

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, this has been a very moving debate. We have heard the direct experiences of both my noble friend Lord Loomba and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and their situations with their own mothers in widowhood and their families. I thank my noble friend Lord Loomba for securing this debate, and noble Lords for their participation and the contribution that they have made in this area. My noble friend’s foundation has very much led in this area, and I pay tribute to him for that.

My noble friend rightly emphasises the message of the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, that around 23 June International Widows’ Day should be a time for raising awareness of the plight of widows, and noble Lords have contributed very effectively to that. For millions of women and children, the death of a husband and father can all too quickly trigger a descent into poverty, social exclusion and rape or other forms of violence. The effect on children has been powerfully described by my noble friend Lord Shipley. When a husband dies, many countries do not recognise that the widow has any rights to inherit what he has left behind. A widow and her children may find themselves not only homeless and without an income overnight but perceived as an economic burden to their community and stigmatised due to their association with death. Widows suffer from double discrimination both for being female and for being widows. As I said, my noble friend Lord Loomba has very close personal experience of the dreadful disadvantage that widows face. We also heard about that from the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

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Harmful traditional practices see widows forcibly married, raped, traded or exiled. Underlying this abhorrent situation are discriminatory social norms against girls and women. These deeply held prejudices keep girls and women locked out of education, jobs and the community, and condone horrific forms of physical and psychological violence. That is why my noble friend Lord Shipley is right to locate the treatment of widows within basic human rights.

My noble friend Lady Nicholson is right with her emphasis on the importance of economic freedom of widows, and I pay tribute to her for her work. We know well that the economic position of women is often key to their status and independence, and underpinning that, as she indicated, is support for health and education, including skills training. She is right that the focus may need to be on the relief of poverty so that we do not further stigmatise widows. I hope that she will be reassured that DfID’s A New Strategic Vision for Girls and Women identifies economic empowerment as one of the four key pillars for action.

As many noble Lords know, preparations for a post-2015 development framework are under way, and my noble friend Lord Loomba rightly emphasised its significance. We want to ensure that the new framework is focused on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and we recognise that within that group no one should be left behind—that is key to this. I should flag up that we are well aware that conflict and fragile states are likely to affect women and girls disproportionately, and of course DfID is a major contributor to humanitarian relief. Thus in the latest conflict in Iraq we are providing £5 million to reach 140,000 displaced people with lifesaving assistance. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Loomba referred to other conflicts in Rwanda, Afghanistan and many other areas. We are acutely aware that women and girls are often disproportionately the victims in these conflicts.

The post-2015 development framework seeks to address those who have been left behind and have not yet been brought into the kind of situation in which many of us in our society find ourselves. We are working hard to ensure that the new framework includes a standalone goal on gender equality, as noble Lords will know, with a holistic set of targets that address the root causes of the inequality and discrimination that affect widows. These include eliminating violence against women and girls; promoting women’s economic empowerment; fostering girls’ and women’s leadership and participation; ensuring universal sexual and reproductive health and rights; and improving girls’ education.

Achieving the targets will mean that a widow will not lose everything when she loses her husband. She will be able to own her own home, start a business, access finance and challenge the prejudices that discriminate against her. This in turn will improve the life opportunities for her children. My noble friend Lord Shipley was right to emphasise the importance of educating the children of widows as they seek to pull themselves and their families out of poverty, as we have seen successfully being done.

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The UK Government are leading the way in raising public awareness to end the discriminatory social norms that are at the heart of the plight of widows. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his tribute to the leadership of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. As he knows, this was co-hosted by my right honourable friend and Angelina Jolie. The organisation Widows for Peace through Democracy organised a series of events, including a play entitled “Hidden”, depicting the lives of women and child victims of wartime sexual abuse. There was also a discussion around justice for widow victims of conflict. I hope that my noble friend Lord Loomba was able to hear reports of what they discussed.

Next month, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Home Secretary will host with UNICEF the Girl Summit to rally world leaders, organisations and the public to seek to bring an end within a generation to child marriage, early marriage, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, an area in which my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone has led as the Government’s champion for combating violence against women. Ending discrimination against girls and women, which underpins the many forms of violence against them, is critical not only as a human right but in unlocking their full potential. This is important across all stages of life, including for those who are widowed.

I can assure noble Lords that DfID works to support widows in the poorest countries. For example, in Rwanda, which was cited by my noble friend Lord Loomba and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, DfID is supporting 2,500 widows who are also HIV positive to ensure that they receive psychological support as well as support to improve their incomes. DfID’s support to the Government of India’s national AIDS control programme has resulted in a reduction in the age eligibility for widows’ pensions in some states from 60 years to 35 years to make them accessible to younger widows.

In conclusion, I want to stress the importance of a continued partnership between government, civil society, the private sector, foundations and of course the public. I welcome the extraordinary efforts of my noble friend Lord Loomba to establish International Widows’ Day. The collaboration between the Loomba Foundation and UN Women is a great opportunity to expand outreach and awareness about widows. As one of the largest core funders to UN Women, the UK through DfID supports the partnership between UN Women and the Loomba Foundation. UN Women plays a critical role in taking forward what is decided at CSW. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, was right to flag the importance not only of taking forward what is agreed at those meetings but of stopping things moving backwards. In many areas around the world, we see a real challenge in that area. The United Kingdom is well aware of that challenge and we welcome the fact that there is tremendous cross-party support for countering it. That is extremely important.

I assure my noble friend Lord Loomba and other noble Lords that we recognise the dire situation of many widows. It is surely only through a combined

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effort that we can achieve real gender equality and empowerment for all girls and women, including widows. This has been a moving debate that has brought home the reality of the position that women so often find themselves in if they are widows. I

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therefore thank all participants for all that they are doing to help such widows, and the Government support them in that.

Committee adjourned at 6 pm.