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House of Lords

Monday, 24 November 2014.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Introduction: Baroness Helic

2.38 pm

Arminka Helic, having been created Baroness Helic, of Millbank in the City of Westminster, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Howell of Guildford and Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Sri Lanka


2.43 pm

Asked by Lord Naseby

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in response to the European Court of Justice verdict on 16 October and its conclusions in respect of restrictive measures currently in place since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was proscribed by the European Union in 2006 and by the United Kingdom in 2000.

Lord Naseby (Con): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, we are studying the implications of the ECJ judgment and considering appropriate next steps. The UK is committed to maintaining an EU listing. The court’s decision was based on fundamental procedural grounds, but the court rejected the LTTE’s argument that it could not be listed as a terrorist organisation because of its involvement in an internal armed conflict. The UK condemns the Tamil Tigers as a brutal terror organisation, and it remains proscribed under UK law.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Answer will be greeted with a great sigh of relief by nearly all the Sri Lankans who live in the United Kingdom and, indeed, virtually all the citizens of Sri Lanka? However, is he also aware that this coming Thursday there is to be a rally at ExCel to celebrate the life of the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Mr Prabhakaran, and the other Tamil Tigers, and to raise money for Eelam? Will my noble friend bring this to the attention of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police? It seems to me that this is covered by the proscription. Frankly, if the terrorism Acts mean anything, this particular rally should be stopped.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I would be surprised if the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is not already aware of it. The United Kingdom Government are actively concerned to promote reconciliation and reconstruction within Sri Lanka among all of its different communities.

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, President Rajapaksa has called an early presidential election for 8 January next year. Last week there were defections by senior Ministers from the Government, including Mr Sirisena, who will be the principal opposition candidate. Given the history of such elections in the past and that reports this weekend suggest that Mr Sirisena’s first broadcast has been blocked and his bodyguards removed, what do Her Majesty’s Government believe are the prospects for a free, fair and inclusive election?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the British Government and others are talking about the best way in which to make sure that there is effective monitoring of the elections. We will of course be raising such issues with the Sri Lankan Government.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, can the Minister say what progress is being made with the United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry into the behaviour of all parties, including the Tamil Tigers, and if the Government of Sri Lanka are giving any signs of co-operation with that at all?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: As the noble Lord is aware, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has just reported that he is not receiving the co-operation which he needs from the Sri Lankan Government.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, will the Government condemn the refusal of the Sri Lankan authorities to grant visas to the OHCHR team which was to investigate the atrocities committed in the final stages of the civil war by both the Government and the LTTE? Will the comprehensive report of that team, headed by Martti Ahtisaari, nevertheless be published in accordance with the mandate of the team at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2015?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the UK was a sponsor of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council. We are actively concerned in this issue. We are not at all happy about the refusal of the Sri Lankan authorities to co-operate with the attempts to have an external inquiry, because of our concerns that the internal inquiry’s recommendations have not yet been implemented.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what action the British Government will take to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government co-operate more fully with the UN report that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, just mentioned in his question?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have actively made our position clear to the Sri Lankan Government and will continue to do so.

Universal Credit


2.48 pm

Asked by Lord McKenzie of Luton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many households are in receipt of the housing element of Universal Credit.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): The information requested is not currently available. The department published its strategy for releasing official statistics on universal credit in September 2013; officials are currently quality-assuring data for universal credit. It is not yet possible to give a date for when these statistics will become available.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): I thank the Minister for his reply as far as it goes, but I am surprised that the department does not have better systems for identifying these statistics. We know that its approach to the introduction of universal credit, which is meant to be a flagship policy, is painstakingly slow. We also know that the Secretary of State has declared that it is unlikely that the target date of 2017 will now be met. The Minister is aware that universal credit can bring great hardship to vulnerable clients, which is why alternative payment arrangements have been put in place. Is the Minister able, at least, to say anything about the extent to which direct payments to landlords now operate in respect of people on the housing element of universal credit, and the extent to which those individuals can be identified early, before they build up debt arrears?

Lord Freud: We have put out some statistics on the level of housing arrears, which show that, right at the start, 16% of people were in arrears. That compares with 7% for JSA equivalents. In the second wave of research, that 16% figure had come down to 12%. We have put in a lot of measures to ensure that we get that figure right down and give people the support that they need to manage their finances.

Lord German (LD): My Lords, universal credit is paid monthly and usually includes rent, which is quite a substantial slab of money. Can my noble friend tell us what progress he has made with the banks and credit unions to ensure that transactional bank accounts are available to people, so that they may take advantage of direct debits and standing orders?

Lord Freud: We have a very active programme working with the banks to ensure that they provide services for the clients who are on universal credit. An exercise is currently going through to expand the ability of credit unions to provide these kinds of facilities by giving them a common banking platform.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of a housing association. More than half of tenants affected by the bedroom tax are in arrears. We now learn that the Government propose to claw back those arrears by deducting a further 20% from those tenants’ benefits. For couples, this means a full £20 to £40 deduction a week from their benefit for living in homes that we allocated to them and from which they cannot move. The Government have created the debt and now seek to solve it by sending those tenants even deeper into debt. It is shocking, and many will never recover. Do the Government not understand that we are wrecking people’s lives?

Lord Freud: We conducted a painstaking process of testing how people respond to paying their housing rent directly. We found that there was a three-month adjustment process until people got familiar with it. We are now ensuring that we have the right systems to help people make that adjustment into the monthly payment situation.

Lord Farmer (Con): My Lords, the principles of universal credit are sound, but timings and cost to the public purse are vital considerations. Can the Minister tell us when all claimants will be on universal credit and how much it will cost to reach this point?

Lord Freud: In the last strategic outline business case the costs of the programme to 2023-24 were £1.8 billion. That is down from the £2.4 billion figure that we had in 2011. Under that case, we anticipate that the bulk of the exercise to transfer people on to universal credit will be completed by 2019.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s recent State of the Nation report, underline the extent to which high housing costs drive poverty among working people, their children and young people. What are the Government doing about these high housing costs?

Lord Freud: The poverty figures show that we are making really good progress in tackling poverty, with 600,000 fewer people in poverty through this Government. We are ensuring that housing costs are covered within universal credit and that people can take control of their lives in that way.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the House will be aware that the Chancellor has announced that the working allowances for universal credit will be frozen until April 2018. There is a real danger, if there is no lift in those allowances—at least in line with inflation—that that will significantly reduce the real net incomes of low earners. Could the Minister tell your Lordships’ House what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the impact of these measures on the level of poverty among those who are already

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in work, especially for those families who are earning too little to benefit from further rises in the personal tax allowances?

Lord Freud: The working allowances in universal credit are much greater than under the legacy system, so there is a freeze that will have a small effect. Nevertheless, the poverty impacts are to take 300,000 children out of poverty.

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, I would like to return to the question of arrears raised by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Not only are people paid universal credit once a month in arrears but that is compounded by the debts they are getting into by having to pay back some of their council tax and crucially by the bedroom tax. Has the Minister read the report of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith went to court to defend his department’s right to levy the bedroom tax on a council home whose spare room was in fact a panic room which a charity had paid to secure to protect a woman who had suffered rape, assault, stalking and death threats from her violent ex-partner? As the newspapers reported clearly, she could lose £11.65 a week or move to a home with no secure space. How can the Minister justify this?

Lord Freud: We have a system with the spare room subsidy where there is support at a local level through discretionary housing payment, and this is exactly the kind of case where you would expect to see that payment made.

Lord Flight (Con): Can the Minister tell the House how many more people are in employment as a result of the incentives offered by universal credit?

Lord Freud: We have some financial incentives within universal credit to encourage people to go into work compared with the legacy system. The best and most recent data we have show that over a six-month period, 69% of people would have had some work in universal credit compared with 65% in the comparable JSA cohort.

Lord Haskel (Lab): My Lords, if business improved productivity by just 1% and divided that between employer and employee, how many millions would be saved on housing benefit, much of which goes to landlords?

Lord Freud: The number of people claiming housing benefit has come down by more than 2% in the last year, which makes the point that for the first time in a decade housing benefit has fallen.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, can my noble friend help me? Why does he think that the official Opposition are ignoring the considerable funds—the hundreds of millions of pounds—that have been made available to local authorities to deal with difficult bedroom tax cases? What possible motive can they have?

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Lord Freud: It is very important that local areas look after the more vulnerable people, and one of the most important elements that we are introducing alongside universal credit and supplementing it is universal support delivered locally. That produces a partnership where we can get all the resources that people need to become independent and take responsibility for their own lives and get them into a place where that can be done. We have 11 formal trials of universal support going on now.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, the Minister was asked by my noble friend Lady Lister about what the Government were going to do about housing costs. Does he believe that housing rents in the United Kingdom are now too high?

Lord Freud: Excuse me, I just missed that. The housing what were too high?

Lord Campbell-Savours: Rents.

Lord Freud: Thank you. We have borne down on rents in the local housing allowance rates and have seen rents come down—I do not know if that was as a direct result, but they have come down at the same time. I have some statistics that I will send to the noble Lord.

Children and the Police


2.59 pm

Asked by Baroness Massey of Darwen

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s inquiry into children and the police.

Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, as the report states, young people may come into contact with the police for a variety of reasons and it is crucial that, when they do, the police treat them in a way that is appropriate to their age and status as children. We agree. The police have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and take this duty very seriously.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the Minister for that response. I also thank the Minister for Crime Prevention, Lynne Featherstone, for her swift response in writing to the report. Does the Minister agree that one of the key issues in supporting children and young people is collaboration between agencies at a local and national level—agencies such as children’s services, social services, education and health, as well as the

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police? What are the Government doing to encourage that collaboration and the sharing of good practice between such agencies?

Lord Bates: Let me also say at this point that the Government welcome the report, which was a thorough piece of work and contained a number of good, strong recommendations. We look forward to discussing that further with the officers when officials meet them on Monday. On the specific point, we are looking at ways in which information sharing can improve. There is now a centre of excellence in information sharing, and multiagency working hubs aimed particularly at safeguarding children. It is very much for those two bodies to take on the recommendations so clearly highlighted in the noble Baroness’s report.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, I declare an interest as the secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. I am delighted that the Government have listened so carefully to the work that we brought forward, particularly in ensuring that 18 year-olds will no longer be detained in police cells. However, the Minister knows that youngsters as young as 15 have been detained. How many children remain in police cells overnight, what ages are they, when will this practice cease, and when will local authorities have the resources to place those children appropriately?

Lord Bates: It is certainly the case that those under the age of 16 should not be in police accommodation overnight but put into the care of the local authority, with an appropriate adult to look after their interests. We also welcome the change made in the Crime and Courts Bill, which applies to 17 year-olds. On specific numbers, I will get those to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, will the Government revise the national crime recording standards —as recommended by the inquiry, in which I declare I took part—so that looked-after children are dealt with in exactly the same way as others when there are trivial events that would not involve the police if they took place in a school or anywhere other than a children’s home?

Lord Bates: My noble friend is absolutely right, and I read that section of the report with great interest because it made a sound recommendation, which is that we should avoid looked-after children in care coming into contact with, and getting engaged in, the criminal justice system at too early an age. The police need to look at the range of options that are open to them in dealing with young offenders from such backgrounds—as they are available when dealing with other offenders in the wider community.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister accept the conclusion of the report that it is important that there are better relationships between children and the police, and the importance within that of safer school partnerships? If that is

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the case, does he understand that these are at risk because of the reductions in police budgets all over the country?

Lord Bates: We understand that police budgets are under pressure, and there is a reason why we have had to take that action. However, the number of police on the front line is increasing as a proportion. Safer school partnerships are an excellent idea but it is for governors and heads to make the decision to employ them. I should also add that there are encouraging statistics on the growth in the numbers of police cadets—up 24% in the first six months of this year. We anticipate that they will increase further. That level of engagement through police cadets in schools could be very powerful indeed.

Lord McNally (LD): My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. Following up the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about looked-after children, both the Youth Justice Board and the police warmly welcomed the recommendations in this report, but it seems that the blockage is at the Home Office, with an overcommitment to statistics. Could the Minister use his influence with the Home Office so that the talks that he will have with the authors of the report can unblock the system and allow the police, the Youth Justice Board and secure children’s homes to approach this matter in a sensible way?

Lord Bates: I will, and I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend does as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. It is an important partner in making sure that we move forward on this. I was not aware that there is a particular issue relating to statistics; this report very much feeds into the wider work that the Home Secretary is doing in reforming the way our police work, particularly in regard to their sensitivity toward children, who are more often the victims of crime by other children than the perpetrators.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, noble Lords will understand how important it is that young people and children have respect for the police. As my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey said, young people are less frequently coming into contact with the police as we see cuts, fewer police officers at schools and fewer PCSOs. They do not come into contact with the police so much because police officers are not known in their local communities. It is also equally important that police have respect for young people. On the back of the report of the all-party group, what advice will be given to the College of Policing to ensure that respect for young people is an important training aspect there?

Lord Bates: The College of Policing has a very important role to play here, because it can change the codes—which it is doing—on issues such as stop and search, and it can change the culture within the police, particularly in relation to underreported crimes such as rape and domestic violence. I therefore think that this is very much going with the grain of what the College of Policing, which was set up by this Government, is doing to enhance and improve standards in service throughout the police.

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Commonwealth: Young Entrepreneurs


3.06 pm

Asked by Baroness Benjamin

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage links with young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth.

Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in so doing, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, at the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum in June, both sides committed to bringing together young leaders in business, entrepreneurship, civil society and academia. In 2014, our support for the Caribbean has included progressing scholarship programmes between higher education institutions and the UK, and enhancing regional competitiveness and enterprise innovation. In the wider Commonwealth, the range of UK programmes includes supporting a social entrepreneurship programme for young women in India.

Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. As part of her Diamond Jubilee, Her Majesty created the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. Part of that programme is to discover, develop and nurture young entrepreneurs across the Commonwealth, which is wonderful. However, more opportunities are needed for young entrepreneurs, especially in the Caribbean. What are the Government doing to encourage links between business schools here in Britain and those in the Caribbean? How much priority does DfID give to encouraging entrepreneurship in the Caribbean?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is not just a question of DfID programmes: there are also UKTI programmes and British Council programmes. The British Council is concerned particularly with a creative young entrepreneurs’ programme, which covers the Caribbean as well as some other areas. It is clearly the sort of area where services and new industries can develop.

Lord Bilimoria (CB): My Lords, last week I spoke at the opening event of Global Entrepreneurship Week here in London. I was delighted that a report released at the event showed that London is one of the top two cities for entrepreneurship in Europe. Is the Minister aware of the Sirius programme backed by UK Trade and Investment, which attracts young entrepreneurs from around the world and which I was involved in launching? Will the Government assure us that they are promoting this Sirius programme throughout the Commonwealth, along with countries such as India?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire:My Lords, I am certainly aware of the Sirius programme. It is being promoted across the Caribbean and the Commonwealth, as well as in other areas.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is Dominican Republic week in the United Kingdom and that various events are being organised by the embassy and by industries with an interest in the Dominican Republic? Will he encourage Commonwealth Caribbean countries to do similar by having a Trinidad week, a Barbados week and a Jamaica week in the United Kingdom? Maybe I should declare an interest as president of the Caribbean Council.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord may be surprised to know that I was not aware that this is Dominican Republic week. However, I am conscious that there are a range of Caribbean-related festivals not just in London but across Britain. Indeed, on one occasion I presented the prizes at the Miss Grenada Commonwealth competition in Huddersfield at what should have been about 10 o’clock at night but turned out to be one o’clock in the morning.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, I have to declare an interest as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Does my noble friend agree that what these young entrepreneurs really need is access to funds to get their businesses started? If, as in many other parts of the world, the banks will not play and are not really being as helpful as they should be, should we not also encourage the development of all kinds of alternative finance built on peer-to-peer lending and so on, as well as many other opportunities, which are enabling small businesses all over the developing world and certainly in the Caribbean to have proper access to funds for the first time?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, of course we should be doing that. Part of the problem in the Caribbean is that, apart from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, we are talking about very small islands with very small economies, and getting major enterprises going in such areas is often a little more difficult than it is in larger countries.

Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, given that the Caribbean area is not, to put it mildly, a priority for DfID aid, should Her Majesty’s Government be doing more to assist some of the smaller islands there, some of which not only suffer from deep poverty but need support in order to succeed in establishing successful trading and business concerns?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, my brief says that the Caribbean is very much one of DfID’s priorities. We are of course conscious of the difficulties that some of the smaller Caribbean economies have. I am told that, apart from Guyana, none of the Caribbean economies is at present demonstrating very strong economic growth.

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Lord Dholakia (LD): My Lords, will my noble friend also have a word with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat to ensure that it promotes such activities so that other Commonwealth nations can benefit? Not only could they learn from us but we could learn quite a lot from some of the Commonwealth countries.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, certainly we are actively engaged with the Commonwealth Secretariat. The UK is the largest funder of the Commonwealth Secretariat and also the largest supporter of its youth fund.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and as a person who was born in Dominica, one of the tiniest islands within the Caribbean. Mention has already been made of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee scholarships which are going to be given to the 53 countries. Can the noble Lord tell us what assistance the Government intend to give to make sure that Caribbean members get a proper opportunity to demonstrate their skill, their talent and their ingenuity?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, that is a very good and complex question, and I think it is better that I write to the noble and learned Baroness with a full indication of where we are. I am very conscious of her background in Dominica and indeed, with my World War I hat on, of the contribution that her family and many others in the Caribbean made to the British war effort in the Great War.

Pensions Act 2014 (Consequential Amendments) (Units of Additional Pension) Order 2014

Social Security Class 3A Contributions (Units of Additional Pension) Regulations 2014

Motions to Approve

3.13 pm

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

That the draft order and the draft regulations laid before the House on 13 October be approved.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 19 November

Motions agreed.

Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2014

Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme Order 2014

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Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2014

Motions to Approve

3.14 pm

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

That the draft order and regulations laid before the House on 21, 22 July and 13 October be approved.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 19 November

Motions agreed.

Business Improvement Districts (Property Owners) (England) Regulations 2014

Motion to Approve

3.14 pm

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 22 October be approved.

Relevant document: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 19 November

Motion agreed.

Wales Bill

Third Reading

3.15 pm

Clause 13: Proposal for referendum by Assembly

Amendment 1

Moved by Baroness Randerson

1: Clause 13, page 18, line 35, at end insert—

“(1A) A resolution moved under subsection (1)(a) must state whether the voting age at the proposed referendum is to be 16 or 18.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson) (LD): My Lords, during the passage of the Wales Bill through this House, many noble Lords pointed to the numbers of young people who registered to vote in the recent referendum in Scotland as a great example of how young people want to get involved in the political process. Noble Lords also expressed the opinion that it would therefore be unfair for young people in Wales to be treated differently from their counterparts in Scotland in the referendum on income tax powers for which this Bill provides. I therefore committed on Report to bring forward amendments at Third Reading to allow the Assembly to decide whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be able to vote in an income tax referendum.

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These government amendments provide that when a resolution to hold a referendum on income tax powers is moved in the Assembly, the Assembly must state, as part of that resolution, whether the voting age is to be 16 or 18 for that referendum. Let me be clear: we are not devolving the competence over the franchise in Wales to the Assembly. The franchise will remain solely within the power of Parliament. What we are doing is allowing the Assembly to make a decision in relation to an income tax referendum provided for under this Bill.

The amendments set out that if the Assembly resolves that the voting age in the referendum is to be 16, the resulting order to be laid by the Secretary of State must also provide for the creation and maintenance of a register of young voters. Many 17 year-olds will already be on the register of local government electors as attainers; that is, those who would reach the age of 18 before the creation of the next register, each 1 December. They would not be moved onto this new register of young voters but would still be able to vote in the referendum. This is because eligibility is based on being on either the register of young voters or the register of local government electors. In short, if, come the day of the referendum, the only thing that would stop you from voting in an Assembly election on that day is that you are 16 or 17, you would be eligible to vote in the referendum.

Of course, the voting age at an income tax referendum would be a matter for the Assembly to decide on when it triggers the referendum. At the moment, the Welsh Government have yet even to commit to holding such a referendum. I again urge Welsh Ministers to do so at the earliest opportunity. I have made no secret of the fact that I personally believe that lowering the voting age might help to reinvigorate our democracy. Many of those who spoke in the Assembly debate on this issue on 24 September also support reducing the voting age and would hope that, if and when the time finally comes to hold a trigger vote, Assembly Members will look at how much the debate on the Scottish referendum was invigorated by the number of 16 and 17 year-olds who became involved and would vote therefore accordingly. I therefore ask noble Lords to support these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, I am delighted to speak in support of Amendments 1 and 2, which I and my colleagues have signed. I want to pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her officials for the patience, persistence and professional care with which they have managed to perfect these proposals after so much discussion and improvement in meetings since I first raised the issue at an early stage of our consideration of the Bill. I am confident that we are now well on our way towards this timely reform. I cannot believe that anyone in the other place, or indeed anywhere else, will stand in its way. It would surely be a brave reactionary—even a foolhardy one—who would now claim that Welsh young people are less mature, well informed and well intentioned than their Scottish counterparts.

I have heard mutters that this is the thin end of the wedge. That is not so. The wedge was firmly implanted by the record number of 16 and 17 year-olds who not

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only registered to vote in their thousands, but then on 18 September ignored the blandishments of the separatists and voted to stay in the United Kingdom. We should recall that all UK parties endorsed the Edinburgh agreement which introduced this simple reform. I observed during the Report stage of this Bill:

“It would surely be constitutionally improper, in what has now been reinforced as a United Kingdom, to differentiate between the basic civic rights and duties of citizens here, simply on their area of residence. If, as I believe, the franchise is the foundation stone of our representative democracy, discrimination on that basis must surely be totally unacceptable”.—[Official Report, 11/11/14; col. 158.]

As my noble friend said, it will now be for the Welsh Assembly to complete the process. I am sure that this will prove uncontroversial since a substantial majority of Assembly Members have already declared their support. In the debate of 24 September, to which my noble friend referred, the Conservative spokesperson, Andrew Davies AM, said that:

“My group has a free vote on this particular issue, because there is no party line on whether there should be votes for 16 and 17-year-olds”.

Julie Morgan AM from the Labour Party said that it was encouraging and quite inspiring to see 16 and 17 year-olds involved in the Scottish referendum. The debate was led by my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Assembly, who committed themselves there and subsequently, but perhaps even more significant was that the Minister, Jane Hutt AM, said that,

“we support the lowering of the voting age to 16”.

The outcome of that debate, held just two months ago and just after the Scottish vote, was 41 to 11 in favour of this reform. It is now surely unthinkable that any future referendum with equally long-term implications for the country and its citizens could be permitted to lapse back into the pre-2014 limited franchise. Whether that is on UK membership of the EU or any similar major decision, these young people have now earned the right to have their say.

This is a triumph for those who have worked so hard for so long to achieve this reform. The recent Youth Select Committee deserves special mention for its authoritative report, published just a few days ago, which carefully weighs the arguments. But the final and conclusive credit must go to the 110,000 young people in Scotland who showed by their actions that they were ready to take on this responsibility as fully adult citizens of the United Kingdom. I am delighted to support my noble friend.

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I am delighted to support the amendment as far as it goes. Of course we had amendments on Report that went a little further and would have dealt with voting for young people aged 16 and 17 in other referenda and in elections within Wales itself. I realise that as far as the Bill is concerned, the peg for this change is the fact that income tax is included in it. My colleague and noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas and I would like to have seen a more general approach by giving powers to the Assembly in the generality in order to address issues such as this. The fact that it does not go as far as we would have liked does not mean that we do not support it in going this far.

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I was very conscious of the tone set by the Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb, as background to today’s debate. Only last Monday, addressing the Institute of Welsh Affairs, he said:

“We now have a unique opportunity to reshape the future of our Union. The appetite for change is there. People want a stronger voice over their own affairs. It is unmistakable in Scotland … And palpable in Wales. And it is a sentiment that cannot, and will not, be ignored. And I am determined that Wales should not play second fiddle in the current debate on devolution”.

That is very interesting, in the context of the amendments before us today, but it begs the question of how much further—and when—the rest of that commitment is going to be borne out.

We are very much aware that we expect to have the report of the Smith commission on Scotland tomorrow and, no doubt, this will have a relevance to these things. In relation to this amendment, however, can I take it that the Government would be minded to enable the Assembly to use similar powers in any further referendum which was only in a Welsh context? Does the fact that the provision goes only as far as income tax indicate—or not—that the Government do not foresee any further referendum in Wales in the context of further devolution and that that will be undertaken as quickly as possible, without being held up by the need for a referendum?

Lord Crickhowell (Con): My Lords, I think I avoided being placed among the die-hards by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, when I spoke on the subject on Report, because I said that I was still open-minded and prepared to be persuaded about the desirability of moving the voting age to 16. However, I did express anxiety about the idea that we should do this step by step, nation by nation, area by area. I would have preferred to see us having all-party discussions and taking a decision on the issue so that it applied to all votes, whether national ones or partial votes of this kind. I regret that we are moving in this ad hoc way because it is not the best way of undertaking constitutional reform. However, my noble friend has put forward these amendments and I am not going to oppose them. My successor as Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire, or Pembroke South—my former constituency has been split in two and I always forget what it is called now—is Secretary of State. He has made firm commitments and I am delighted that he has taken such a strong position on these matters.

I will raise only two questions today. I am not going to challenge the decisions that have been taken, even if I would have preferred that we had got there by a somewhat different route. Many noble Lords will have received a note from the Electoral Commission which raises two issues. It points out that there are time constraints for introducing any change:

“In order to give Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) sufficient time to identify and encourage eligible 16- and 17-year olds to register to vote ahead of any future referendum in Wales, any primary legislation would need to be in place and amended regulations would need to be clear early in the calendar year before the referendum is expected to take place (e.g. by early 2015 if a referendum were planned to take place in 2016)”.

Later, it draws attention to the resource implications by stating:

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“EROs would require additional resources to identify and encourage eligible 16- and 17-year olds in Wales to register to vote, including raising awareness of how to register to vote for this new group of eligible electors. The Commission may also seek further resources as part of our public awareness activity before any referendum”.

All I am asking is that, in the context of these amendments, we should be given the Government’s thinking about these issues and their reaction to the recommendations and report of the Electoral Commission. It seems to me that before we approve the way forward, we should know exactly what the position is going to be on the matter of resources and timing.

3.30 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, in the debate a couple of weeks ago I indicated my worries and concerns. I do not want to detain your Lordships for long but I will make just a few brief points.

First, I was one of those who voiced considerable concern when the Prime Minister—wrongly, in my view—conceded votes at 16 in the Scottish referendum. The subject of the franchise is of enormous importance and it should have been addressed in a proper debate, both in your Lordships’ House and particularly in another place, and Parliament should have come, on a free vote, to a collective view as to whether it was indeed wise to reduce the age from 18 to 16.

When I intervened on the Labour Party spokesman two weeks ago and asked whether it was the intention of the Labour Party to make 16 the age at which you could drink alcohol and drive a motorcar, I was told that that certainly had not been gone into by the Labour Party—and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, who was speaking on that occasion, certainly seemed to indicate that she would not favour such changes.

We have to look—and should have looked—at what the age of majority should properly be. That was why I opposed what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister conceded over the Scottish referendum. I accept the logic of what my noble friend Lord Tyler said—having granted it in Scotland perhaps you should grant it in Wales—but if we grant it in Wales it is almost inconceivable that we will not move to the profound and important decision of the franchise coming down to 16 all over and for all elections. Some of your Lordships will welcome that. I respect that view but I profoundly disagree with it. We are walking into this ad hoc, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell indicated, without having given mature and sensible consideration to all the implications of what the age of majority should properly be.

I am not going to seek to divide the House this afternoon. In the circumstances, that would be ill advised, if not preposterous. I am not going to do it, any more than my noble friend Lord Crickhowell is going to do it. But he has indicated that he is not totally happy. I will go further and say that I am very unhappy about the way in which this has been done. This is not the way to change a constitution. There will be a debate at some stage about the franchise age throughout the United Kingdom for elections. It will not be before the general election next year, where it will remain at 18.

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I will just say to your Lordships that although the pass has probably been sold—and, to mix my metaphors, the bandwagon is probably unstoppable—we have not done this in a mature, considered way and we should have done.

Baroness Humphreys (LD): My Lords, I add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Tyler in congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the progress that has been made as the Wales Bill has made its way through your Lordships’ House. There is great satisfaction among her colleagues on these Benches that so many principles that the Liberal Democrats—and, of course, the Welsh Liberal Democrats—have believed in and promoted for so many years are coming to fruition in the Bill.

I also thank and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Tyler—a fellow Celt from Kernow, or Cornwall—whose diligence and persistence in Committee and on Report have resulted in these amendments today. These Liberal Democrat amendments will see Liberal Democrat policy on votes for 16 and 17 year-olds, if they are agreed by your Lordships’ House, coming to fruition in Wales.

I must admit that these amendments, allowing the Assembly to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds in a referendum in Wales, have the 16 year-old that still exists somewhere inside me, smiling with quiet satisfaction and with perhaps a little jealousy because I am one of those people who believed that I should have had the right to vote at 16. My first foray into politics was as a 16 year-old within a couple of weeks of my 17th birthday, when I was agent to a candidate in my school’s mock election at the time of the 1964 general election. Noble Lords will recall that it was not until 1969 that the suffrage was extended to 18 year-olds and I am sure the same concerns voiced in the Chamber today were voiced at that time. However, had anyone told us in 1964 that in the future young people would not have to wait until they were 21 years-old to vote, but would be trusted to do so in a referendum in Wales from the age of 16, there would have been joyful celebrations. Perhaps, as there is now, there would be a sense of pride that Wales was following Scotland in forging the way to extend full voting rights to 16 year-olds sometime in the future.

My political inspiration came, in part, from an inspirational history teacher who opened our eyes to the world. Since those days, unfortunately, teachers in schools have become far more wary of political education and the danger of being accused of political indoctrination. However, I see these amendments as presenting opportunities for the Welsh Government to introduce an element of political education for those under 16 in the future. They already have, in the Welsh baccalaureate, a module produced by Aberystwyth University entitled “Wales, Europe and the World”, which presents students with an unbiased overview of political systems and political parties throughout the world and allows students the opportunity to debate issues as they arise. A simplified version of this would be ideal as a short module for those under 16.

However, as I said, that is for the future. In the meantime—and in conclusion—I am very pleased to support the amendment and to put on record my

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grateful thanks to the Minister for being able to accept and promote issues that have had support from noble Lords on all sides of the House and my hearty congratulations on the masterful way in which she has steered the Bill through your Lordships’ House. I, along with colleagues from across the House I am sure, wish her continued success as she seeks to build on the consensus she has already begun in preparation for the next stages of devolution to Wales.

Lord Rowlands (Lab): My Lords, I rise briefly to ask a simple question. Could the Minister remind us how many 16 and 17 year-olds there are? If they all registered, what would be the increased percentage of the electorate?

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, in joining this debate, I congratulate the Minister on how she has handled us and steered us through the discussions. I would like to bring in two slightly different matters. First, in speaking of devolution to Wales, I understand that last week transport became the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. How do we somehow get this movement between Wales and England as the line goes from Newport up to Chester? Who is going to be responsible as we go from England to Wales, Wales to England? That needs to be cleared up. Also, in her statement following last week’s debate, the Minister said that she had promises from the 22 electoral registration officers that each one of them had plans to increase the registration in their areas. It would help us tremendously if somehow or another she could make us aware of what each of these 22 various electoral registration officers intended doing.

Finally—I shall not be long—the anxiety in Wales and other places is that young people, as well as others, are becoming divorced from politics. They leave it to other people. Turnout is down. People do not feel that they have any influence over their lives through the ballot box. The eagerness to get people registered is not just so that they will vote and be on the electoral register but that they will be part of political life and involved in the lives of their communities. The Scottish referendum has been mentioned. There, young people did register and vote. They were an essential part of the debate in Scotland.

More strongly still, I remember 27 April 1994, when the South African franchise was opened and Nelson Mandela’s struggle had been won, how enthusiastic people were about the policies of the parties and how they queued for hours—some of them, for days—to register their vote. We need to do something that will enhance registration. Imagine that we have the European in or out referendum and that less than 50% of young people are registered to vote and that fewer than that actually cast a vote—the whole thing would be a shambles. The same applies to older people. We need the majority view on such an issue to be represented.

On the way here today, I was reading a book by David Tecwyn Evans recalling his memories of his life in Llandecwyn in Merionethshire at the end of the previous century and the beginning of last century. Here, he speaks of the elections of 1886, where the children of the school, although their parents were

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probably not entitled to vote, knew the name of every MP in Wales. They knew the issues—tithes, education, disestablishment—and they were interested. It is our job now not just to get people to register to vote but to enable them, through the education system and in other ways, to understand and to feel: it is not only a matter for the head but a matter for the heart. The facts are important, but being part of the argument is also important.

I thank the Minister for the work that she has done. I hope that she will be able to answer my two queries and that, somehow, we as representatives at various levels can enthuse people so that young people feel “rydym yn perthyn”, we belong.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a severely practical question or two. What was the turnout among the 16 to 18 year-olds in the Scottish election? Was it indeed much below that of the 18 to 24 year-olds? My noble friend Lord Rowlands asked her how many 16 year-olds there are in Wales. How many 18 to 24 year-olds are there in Wales, so that we can make a comparison? I cannot sit down without saying a sentence about the speech that we have just listened to. Even in my headiest moments as a convinced Welshman, I have never quite seen England’s relationship with Wales as that of the Nationalist Party to the rest of South Africa.

3.45 pm

Lord Morgan (Lab): My Lords, I intervene very briefly and with a note of apology. I was ill, which no doubt saved your Lordships a lot of time in Committee and on Report, so this is just a last-gasp intervention to say that I support the amendment, which seems highly desirable and long overdue, and I congratulate the Government.

I want to make one point in relation to my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has raised the important question of whether this is the way to change the constitution. The truth is that we have no way of changing the constitution; it is a matter of an extremely haphazard nature. The last time that we changed the constitution was with the Act of Settlement in 1701, which took a synoptic view, but which is a little early for even this noble House to consider. There is no way of changing the constitution rationally, and there should be. I have always supported a codified, written constitution, and I profoundly hope that when the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee reports, it will accept that, partly because I am one of the authors of the report that it is considering, so naturally I support that proposal.

There have been so many illogicalities in considering Welsh devolution such as—I understand that this was discussed when I was not here—why the Welsh Assembly should not have reserved powers, why the Welsh Assembly should be the victim of an asymmetrical form of devolution and why the Welsh Assembly did not have financial powers in the first place. No clear logical view was entertained for any of those questions, and we therefore proceed empirically and haphazardly. In

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this case, we are considering simply whether it makes sense, not whether it is in what you might call an agreed constitutional tradition or follows a convention. Clearly, it does make sense; it is not possible to have young people aged between 16 and 18 in Scotland able to vote but not in Wales—there is no rationality in that. Why should Wales yet again be the victim of constitutional illogicality in a country that prides itself on its constitutional illogicality, showing that its constitution is not therefore unwritten?

That is the settled view of the National Assembly, and it is clearly beneficial in itself, as many noble Lords have said. Young people are able to make a strong contribution, as indeed, as the noble Lord said, they did in 1886. Lloyd George, whom he knows about, is an example of a young Welsh schoolboy who took a very active part long before he was able to vote or enter the House of Commons. So on the merits of the case, on the merits of the value of an input from a thriving and important part of the Welsh electorate, and because there is otherwise no logical or constitutional rubric why we should exclude Wales from this change, I certainly support the amendment.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, I rise on account of two matters about which I have strong feelings. One is the Act of Settlement of 1701. Although my respect for the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, of Aberdyfi, whom I may call my noble friend, is total and absolute, I still have doubts about whether that Act is indeed one that Parliament does not have in its sovereignty the right to repeal. The Act of course settled the succession of the Crown; it said that the succession should devolve upon the Electress Sophia and the heirs of her body, and of course the relevant heir of her body was George Lewis, the Elector of Hanover, George I. It seems to me that Parliament, being sovereign, could repeal the Act of Settlement any day, but that is by the by—I have said my piece.

The second matter is that I support the amendment, which seems to be based on very sound principles. One we have already have adumbrated, and that is the fact that it is a matter for the Welsh Assembly, which is the parliament for the land and nation of Wales, to decide on the right to vote and what age should dominate in such a situation. That is a healthy principle, and one that has been steadfastly upheld by my friends the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Wigley, as Members of the Assembly and indeed as Members of this House. When the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 and jurors were entitled to sit at the age of 18, there were siren voices of caution. Looking fairly and objectively at the evidence, it seems that there was no justification for panic at all. It has worked well in the courts and in relation to Parliament.

The main point is one that has not been made: it is that age is relative to the situation you are dealing with. The age of 18 was decided, if I remember rightly, just before the 1970 election; in other words, 44 years ago. Could one not reasonably argue that a young person of 16 now is probably as mature mentally and physically as such a person 44 years ago? Society is changing rapidly all the time. Standards of health, learning and understanding are improving, and on that basis there is ample justification for this amendment.

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Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, following the decision to reduce the voting age in the referendum in Scotland, young people distinguished themselves during the campaign with their level of participation, and I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Rowlands, on the statistics. However, I share a lot of the views of the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Cormack, on the manner in which this issue is being dealt with. It is piecemeal and haphazard. There has been no systematic debate. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made a point about the reduction from 21 to 18, and there will always be an argument. We all accept that. Why not 15? We can make any argument we want with justification of one degree or another. That is not quite the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was trying to make. The point was that it came out of left field from negotiations between Mr Salmond and the Prime Minister and is being reflected in the Bill. Of course, it would be a very brave person who came to the Dispatch Box and defended not putting it into the Bill in view of what happened just a few weeks ago in Scotland. What possible justification would there be? However, I ask the Minister to reflect and to pass back to her colleagues the fact that there is no process here. It is just random, along with a long series of other constitutional aberrations.

Lord Morgan: Can the noble Lord suggest any example of constitutional change since 1997 that has not been piecemeal or haphazard? We are following exactly same—he is quite right—unsatisfactory practice, so we are considering the merits of the case.

Lord Empey: I participated in a process that was anything but haphazard. It took two years to work out our settlement in Northern Ireland, which then came to Parliament to be debated and enacted. There was a process. As I understand it, the noble Lord’s party believes in a constitutional convention or a commission of some description, whatever we call it. We should not be precious about it. Those are all perfectly meritorious ideas. My point is that the change introduced by the Bill, which follows the process that happened in the Scottish referendum, inevitably has implications for the electorate more widely. We have a position whereby 18 year-olds will be voting next May and 16 years-olds will not, yet the decision that many 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland took two months ago was very important. People could say it was of greater importance than a general election.

The point I am trying to make, which I ask the Minister to pass back to her right honourable friend, is on the concern that this is one further example of a haphazard attempt to change our constitution without any structured debate or rational process. I look forward to hearing her response to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the statistics. However, I will make another, tangential point, which applies whatever referendum takes place, whether on tax or anything else.

When the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, asked about transport and the roads, to some extent he hit the nail on the head. Scotland is, of course, an independent country which has shared its sovereignty with the rest of the United Kingdom; Northern Ireland

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is separated by sea from the rest of the United Kingdom, while Wales is not. You go from one side of the street to the other, from somebody’s back gate, and you are in Wales. Clearly, that means that unique issues need to be discussed when devolved powers are exercised. Again, there is no structure for that; there is no process or long-term debate, and we are basically making changes on the hoof. This process issue is a mistake.

Baroness Gale (Lab): My Lords, we welcome the Government’s amendment, which would give powers to the Welsh Assembly to decide on whether 16 and 17 year-olds will be able to vote in the referendum on income tax. However, can the Minister say whether this is a government amendment, even though three Liberal Democrat Back-Benchers have put their names to it? There is cross-party support for this amendment, and I am sure that the Minister could have asked Peers from other parties to put their names to it as well. However, we welcome it.

To give the responsibility to this age group is a good step forward, which will eventually lead to all 16 and 17 year-olds having the vote in all elections in the United Kingdom. There is no longer any good reason for a delay. Labour will make a manifesto commitment at the general election to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to have the right to vote in all elections. Although some Peers have expressed their views that this is piecemeal, haphazard and so on, this is another step on the journey we are making with devolution. This is how it has been done since 1999—it has been a step-by-step approach—and when the Bill becomes an Act it will give more powers to the Welsh Assembly. However, we appreciate that this is not the Bill that will give universal franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds; that will be a United Kingdom decision, taken by the Westminster Government.

I was pleased that the Minister was able to refer in the amendment to the need to include,

“provision for the preparation and maintenance of a register of young voters”.

We understand that the responsibility for compiling the electoral register rests with local councils and is a devolved matter. The registration of young voters must be a priority and needs active and constant engagement. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, in his enthusiasm, expressed his wishes; I understand that, and we support what he was saying. We therefore hope that when decisions are made on a referendum, the Welsh Government will give every encouragement to EROs in Wales to ensure that they prioritise the registration of young people through at least one visit to every school and college in Wales in enough time to ensure that all young people are fully aware of their right to vote in the referendum. We believe that to be of great importance. I am sure that the Minister will do all she can in her discussions with the Welsh Government to ensure that that happens. We thank the Minister very much for her commitment in bringing these amendments forward today.

4 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): As this is our final opportunity to discuss the Bill, I would like to thank the Minister for her co-operation on it. We knew when

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we started on the Bill back in July that the Scottish referendum could impact on the nature and tone of the debate, and that has indeed been the case. The very fact that we have so many people in here today talking about the Bill tells us something. The scope of the devolution debate across the whole of the UK has changed since September. It feels as if this Bill is slightly out of date even before the ink has dried. It is, however, another welcome step in the process of devolution for Wales. It is clear that it is not only the Scottish referendum that has changed the tone of this debate during its passage, but the appointment of a new and more conciliatory Secretary of State. We very much welcome the shift in tone since his appointment.

I take this opportunity to thank colleagues on all sides of the House, especially people on the Labour Benches, for their co-operation and support on the Bill. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lady Gale, of Blaenrhondda, for her sterling work and active support on the Front Bench. I also thank officials in the Wales Office and Catherine in the Labour office for their work. In particular, I applaud the co-operation afforded by the Government Front Bench, led by two extremely distinguished experts on the issue of devolution in Wales. In particular, we are extremely pleased that we have managed to find a resolution to the issue regarding the reserved model power of government, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of the department’s work on 1 March. Thank you for also agreeing to the issue of votes at 16 in the referendum on tax powers.

The devolution debate is far from over. The Labour Party is in favour of a constitutional convention to iron out some of the anomalies across the UK that many noble Lords have talked about today. If, and when, we form the next Government in 2015, the Labour Party has also committed itself to presenting a new Wales Bill, pushing the boundaries of the devolution settlement further. This obviously needs to take into account the changes across the UK. We know that the coalition Government have agreed to present a cross-party approach in March to further devolution for Wales. We would like a cast-iron assurance that both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat party will, if they are through some terrible tragedy elected to run the country again after the next election, match Labour’s commitment and bring forward a new Wales Bill in the next Parliament.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I assume that we have already dealt with the amendment and are now dealing with the totality of the Bill on Third Reading?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): I am sorry. The noble Lord should speak only once in this debate and we have not dealt with the amendment yet.

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and indeed throughout the numerous debates we have had on the Bill. My noble friend Lord Tyler started his response on this amendment by pointing out that all parties endorsed the agreement that led to votes at 16 in

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Scotland. I make it clear that I strongly appreciate the work that my noble friend has done over a very long period to raise awareness of, and develop a campaign generally on, votes at 16.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the point that he would have preferred there to be wider powers for votes at 16, but he will understand that this question is best considered as part of the devolution of further powers to the Assembly, which is something which is being considered at this time, with a view to agreement and announcements by St David’s Day. He also asked about the precedent for future referenda. These amendments deal with the referenda provided for in the Bill. There are no further referenda planned in Wales. I point out to the noble Lord that the Welsh Government have not yet committed to this referendum. My view is that we should get this one out of the way first before thinking of further referenda.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell referred to the ad hoc approach on this. I believe that our general approach to the devolution of further powers for the Assembly overcomes this problem. The noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Empey, also referred to the way in which the decisions were being made on votes at 16. There has been a response to the success of the votes at 16 in Scotland. There will be a full analysis of the impact of that in due course, but the success in Scotland has certainly sparked debate. Given the points that the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, made about the way in which we make constitutional decisions in this country, it is important that there is considerable public debate on this. One could say that that debate has started in Wales, in general terms, with the debate that was held in the Assembly in which an overwhelming majority of Assembly Members supported votes at 16.

The important thing is that the Wales Office and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales are leading on the four-party discussions, in which the options for the future of devolution in Wales are being considered—the reserved powers model and the scope of any additional powers. That will include, for example, the devolution of powers over election arrangements. I believe that we are embarking on a period of considerable reflection and debate on the nature of our democracy in the UK as a whole, but we have already taken steps to ensure that that debate takes place in Wales. In line with the commitment made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 19 September, we have made sure that Wales is at the heart of the debate on devolution.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell asked two questions. One was related to the Electoral Commission’s concern about time constraints. I point out to him that the detail in the amendment ensures that time would be available in practice to assemble the electoral register required. The details in the amendment are based on a franchise Act of the Scottish Parliament. The Bill, as amended, will allow for 180 days for the Secretary of State to lay the order, plus the time that it would take to pass through both Houses of Parliament and the Assembly. There would be a pre-election period as well. If one takes all those periods of time together, they come to approximately seven months, which is the time that the Electoral Commission recommends for new legislation of this type. We believe that there is

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sufficient time to amass the register as required. My noble friend also asked about resources for awareness raising and so on. I assure him that we are well aware of the resource implications of this.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): On that point, clearly local authorities are subject to considerable constraints. To be “well aware” of the resource implications begs many questions, such as: what are the resource implications? What discussions have there been already with the relevant authorities and are the Government satisfied that this can be done without taking on any extra staff?

Baroness Randerson: I did not say to the noble Lord that this would be possible without taking on additional staff. It is important that the views of the Electoral Commission have been communicated to noble Lords because it is obviously involved in the discussions. The Assembly has made its views very clear on this and there are resource implications from its perspective as well because, as several noble Lords have made clear today, it is important to bear in mind that there has to be a period of awareness raising and education as well as the sheer issue of assembling a register.

Lord Elis-Thomas (PC): The Minister is absolutely right. The National Assembly has resources in the Assembly Commission to promote its own activity, promote democracy generally and promote a particular referendum as we did prior to the previous referendum, which ensured that we have now proper law-making powers. I am certain that the present Assembly Commission will take the same positive view. Indeed, at an event that was part organised by the Assembly Commission last week, a vote was taken on this matter by young people. The young people were in a majority—a small majority—for generally reducing the voting age to 16.

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord brings information from the front line, if I can put it that way, in far more detail than I could have provided to your Lordships. The noble Lords, Lord Rowlands and Lord Richard, asked detailed questions about the numbers of young people who voted in Scotland and the turnout. The turnout of 16 and 17 year-olds was remarkably high. It is my recollection that it was slightly lower than among the older sections of the population but it was remarkably high. I refer noble Lords to the fact that the Electoral Commission is, at this moment, undertaking a detailed study of the impact of the votes of 16 and 17 year-olds in Scotland. That report will be published in the relatively near future and I would recommend it as very important reading for those of us who are interested in these issues.

Lord Rowlands: Can the Minister tell us how many 16 and 17 year-olds there are?

4.15 pm

Baroness Randerson: I will have to write to the noble Lord on that issue because if I were to venture a figure, I fear I might mislead him, and it is important that I am completely accurate on that.

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My noble friend Lord Roberts asked about the further devolution of the rail franchise announced last week. His question pointed to the difference between Wales and Scotland in the nature of their borders. He referred to the fact that the rail line between north Wales and south Wales goes across the border from Wales to England and back again. I will write to him with the details of last week’s agreement. I can assure him that the issue has been taken fully into account in the discussions between the two Governments. I will ask the Electoral Commission to write to the noble Lord with the details of the 22 electoral returning officers in Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, considered the issue of the maturity of young people now compared with 40 years ago. It is important to bear in mind that young people consider rather more strongly that they should have a say in the way their lives are run than was the case a long time ago. My noble friend Lord Cormack talked about the variable age of majority. I would say to him that there has always been a variable age of majority in this country. One could argue that some ages of majority are not entirely consistent with some others. It has always been the case that one could, for instance, join the Army younger than when you could get married without your parents’ consent. There are therefore different approaches to different aspects of life. Perhaps that is something else on which we need to have a consistent and long-term debate, but that has been the state throughout the whole of my life and, I dare say, we will not resolve that debate in the near future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, referred to the signatures on the amendment. I tabled the amendment and three noble Lords exercised their right to add their names, as is the custom in this House. They had signed the original amendment. I would have strongly welcomed the noble Baroness adding her own name because one of the things signifying the tone of debate on the Bill has been cross-party consensus.

Baroness Gale: I was trying to point out to the Minister that there is cross-party support for the amendment, which could have been reflected in the signatures if I had been allowed. I am not sure whether I would have been allowed as it is a government amendment. However, I think the Minister will accept that there is cross-party support for the amendment.

Baroness Randerson: I wholeheartedly recognise that there is cross-party support but repeat that this is a government amendment to which three people added their names. It would have been in the hands of the noble Baroness to add her name if she had wanted to.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for the way in which she has expressed her appreciation for our efforts here today. She made the point that the Bill is already rather out of date. I would say to the noble Baroness that the fact that we are already planning, working on and discussing a future Bill indicates that this is a developing process.

Before I sit down, I should like to thank all those who have participated in our debates on the Bill. It has been a personal pleasure for me to steer a Bill through

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your Lordships’ House to devolve new powers to the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Ministers. “Historic” is a word that is sometimes overused in political debate, but I believe we can justly claim that the devolution of fiscal powers to the Welsh Assembly for the first time is an historic step forward. Although some noble Lords have expressed frustration at the pace of devolution, if we look back, we can see that Welsh devolution has come a long way in 15 years. Our debates have reflected the gathering momentum for further change. The Government are committed to ensuring that Wales remains at the heart of the development of devolution. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I are committed to publishing a framework for a reserved powers model of devolution by St David’s Day with—and I emphasise this—cross-party support.

I am pleased that the Government have been able to listen and respond to the views of noble Lords on two key issues during the Bill’s passage: first, on the lock-step mechanism for income tax and, secondly, on the referendum voting age, which we have just been discussing. I believe it is a better Bill as a result. At its heart, this is a Bill about accountability. It will provide the Welsh Government with the tools to help to build a stronger economy and a fairer society in Wales. For the first time, the Welsh Government will have the power to raise some of their own revenue, making them accountable to the people of Wales not just for spending, but for raising money as well.

I look forward to seeing how the Welsh Government capitalise on the opportunities we are giving them and once again urge them to call an income tax referendum as soon as possible. I thank my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Bourne for their support and assistance with the Bill. The expertise of my noble friend Lord Bourne has been extremely useful in view of the fact that we have discussed the Silk commission on so many occasions. He was, of course, a member of that commission.

This is a short Bill but it has benefited from the expertise of officials from a number of departments: the Wales Office, the Cabinet Office, Her Majesty’s Treasury, HMRC and the DWP. It has been a pleasure to work with them on the Bill. They have been assiduous and endlessly prepared to give their time to assist me and support the many meetings I have held with noble Lords, both as individuals and in groups. I thank them for their assistance. I also thank the many noble Lords who have spoken in our debates. They have displayed a wealth of experience and understanding of devolution. I appreciate the willingness of so many noble Lords to give their time to attend a number of additional informal meetings that I arranged. I commend the amendments to the House.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Schedule 1: Referendum about commencement of income tax provisions

Amendments 2 and 3

Moved by Baroness Randerson

2: Schedule 1, page 33, leave out lines 5 to 10 and insert—

24 Nov 2014 : Column 696

“1 (1) Where a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) follows on from a youth franchise resolution, a person is entitled to vote in the referendum if, on the date of the poll at the referendum, the person—

(a) is aged 16 or over,

(b) either—

(i) is registered in the register of local government electors at an address within an Assembly constituency, or

(ii) is registered in the register of young voters at such an address in accordance with provision made under paragraph 1A,

(c) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart) within the meaning of section 2(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and

(d) is a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union (within the meaning given by section 202(1) of that Act).

(2) Where a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) does not follow on from a youth franchise resolution, a person is entitled to vote in the referendum if the person would be entitled to vote in a general election of Assembly members if one were held on the date of the poll at the referendum.

(3) For the purposes of this paragraph and paragraph 1A, a referendum held by virtue of section 12(1) “follows on from a youth franchise resolution” if—

(a) a resolution is passed by the Assembly under section 13(1) which states that the voting age at the proposed referendum is to be 16,

(b) the First Minister complies with section 13(2) in relation to the resolution, and

(c) as a result, a draft of the statutory instrument containing the Order under section 12(1) which causes the referendum to be held is laid in accordance with section 13(3)(a).

(4) An Order under section 12(1) may include provision for disregarding alterations made in a register of electors or voters after a date specified in the Order and sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) are to be read subject to any such provision.

1A (1) Where an Order under section 12(1) causes a referendum to be held which follows on from a youth franchise resolution, the Order must make provision about the registration of young voters.

(2) That provision must include—

(a) provision for the preparation and maintenance of a register of young voters;

(b) provision prohibiting the publication or other disclosure of that register, or any entry in it, except as provided by such an Order.

(3) Provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) may, in particular—

(a) apply or incorporate, with or without modifications, any enactment relating to referendums or elections;

(b) make other modifications of any enactment relating to referendums or elections.

(4) An Order under section 12(1) must make such supplementary, incidental or consequential provision (if any) as appears to Her Majesty to be appropriate for the purposes of, in consequence of, or for giving full effect to—

(a) any provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), or

(b) the entitlement of 16 and 17 year olds under paragraph 1(1) to vote in the referendum.

(5) Provision made by virtue of sub-paragraph (4) may, in particular—

(a) make modifications of any enactment;

(b) make transitory, transitional or saving provision.

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(6) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (3)(a), “enactment” includes the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 (asp. 13).

(7) For the purposes of this paragraph, “young voter” means a person who—

(a) will be aged 16 or 17 on the date of the poll at the referendum, and

(b) is not registered in the register of local government electors at an address within an Assembly constituency.”

3: Schedule 1, page 36, line 17, at end insert—

““Assembly constituency” has the same meaning as in GOWA 2006;”

Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.

4.25 pm


Moved by Baroness Randerson

That the Bill do now pass.

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I appreciated the tenor of the Minister’s remarks a few moments ago. It has indeed been rather revolutionary in the history of the land and nation of Wales that there should have been so much compromise, understanding and unity in relation to very many matters. We as a people in Wales have a reputation of fissiparous disaffection of a general nature, and nobody could gainsay that, but it may well be that with this Bill—in both Houses but particularly in this House and particularly due to the attitude of the Minister—we have shown a different approach. It is a small but impactive Bill and I believe it to be of very great historical significance in so far as the constitutional situation of Wales as a land and nation is concerned.

I want to raise one matter, and that is the question of the relationship of the Bill to the undertaking given by the Prime Minister on 19 September—that cold morning which followed the heavy events in Scotland the day before. He said that,

“there are proposals to give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers. And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations”.

Those were his exact words and they could mean a very great deal or nothing at all. If by “powers” one means the powers contained in this Bill, for which I wish Godspeed, then those words are utterly meaningless because they were spoken in the heady atmosphere of massive undertakings given to Scotland and weighty undertakings given to Northern Ireland. However, if in fact they referred to nothing more than this Bill, then they meant that no additional powers in relation to Wales were contemplated than existed at that moment—in other words, there was no addition to the status quo. In my view, that would be a very unsatisfactory situation. At best, it would be misleading. It would mean that there was a negligent misrepresentation, to use a technical legal term, on the part of the Government. At worst, it would mean something much more serious than that.

For a number of reasons, I do not for a moment impugn the Prime Minister of any lack of integrity in this matter. First, this was an ex cathedra statement—not

24 Nov 2014 : Column 698

something that had been cobbled together in the wee small hours of the morning of 19 September but probably something that had been prepared a long time before when it was anticipated in the months preceding the referendum that the result might be much more clear cut than it was. Secondly, the second part of the statement reads:

“And I want Wales to be at the heart of the debate on how to make our United Kingdom work for all our nations”.

If no further devolution of a substantial nature were contemplated in relation to Wales, how could that possibly have any relevance whatever? It seems therefore that, with one additional factor, the Government must be contemplating powers well beyond those that we are considering in the context of this Bill. If a Cabinet committee is set up to consider the situation in relation to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and to report in January 2015 on the whole question of constitutional development, if there was to be no constitutional development in Wales, what would be the point of including Wales in such an arrangement?

4.30 pm

Therefore, I ask the Minister—I am confident that she will give a general reply, although one would not expect a detailed reply—to say whether the power that the Prime Minister was talking about on 19 September goes over and beyond the powers in this Bill. Furthermore, specifically with regard to the undertaking that she has given, which the House greatly welcomes, in relation to an 11 December report on reserved powers, will that report be implemented if it is in favour of reserved powers? The second part of the Silk report was accepted on the very day of publication by the Deputy Prime Minister. He did not accept it on behalf of the Government but on behalf of his party. Does that mean that the coalition Government will espouse that statement and undertaking given by the Deputy Prime Minister?

Finally, on a matter raised in our excellent debate earlier this month on membership of the Assembly in Cardiff, will there be a movement deliberately to increase the number of Members to make it a body that can be a credible legislature, which it can never be unless and until there is an addition to the 60 Members because there is no critical mass of Members available to scrutinise this issue? These matters are of the utmost importance and to which the people of Wales are entitled to have answers.

Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): My Lords, perhaps I may invite the government Front Bench to point out the protocol for the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: As I understand it, it is not normally debated but it is quite in order to do so.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, it is not my intention to detain the House, despite this interruption, for more than a few minutes. I welcome very much the significant powers granted to Wales in this Bill, which has been so ably steered by the Minister. Perhaps of

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greater importance will be the conclusions of the consultations which will be produced, I hope, by 1 March. They will be groundbreaking. I also welcome very much the role being played the Secretary of State who is carrying out what I hope is the mandate given to him following the reshuffle by the Prime Minister in the words of my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan.

Following 7 May, my hope is that a Labour Government will bring forward proposals. By our votes in Committee, the Labour Front Bench underlined its commitment, as did my noble friends Lady Morgan of Ely and Lady Gale at Second Reading. They have provided the basis for a manifesto commitment. In the 1970s, when I set up the role of the Attorney-General to police the Assembly if it exceeded its powers, I never expected or contemplated one of my successors being so trigger happy and repeatedly trying to overturn the Assembly, and getting, for his pains, black eyes on two occasions. A simpler, cleaner, reserved powers model would be much better.

I close on the need for a high-power constitutional convention. In 1969, the setting up of the Kilbrandon royal commission by a Labour Government was the vital catalyst for the path that we have been treading over the years. I shall never forget the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, coming up from the beach at Newquay in Cornwall one lunchtime and brandishing his idea for a royal commission as a way forward. It seems from the papers I have seen at Kew that other work along the same lines was also being done by Ministers. The announcement at the next Labour Party conference of a royal commission was the culmination of that work.

Today, something more profound and influential than even a royal commission is needed to map out the role for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as partners in the future of the United Kingdom. I hope that there will be courage on the part of all the parties to work out a broad-based convention so that we can come to the end of piecemeal reform.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I have no wish to detain the House but I want to place on the record on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wigley and myself, both of us former Members of the National Assembly. In fact, I am still a Member—so far—dependent on the will of the electorate, as were the Minister and her colleague on the Front Bench. I thank the Government for their very positive response on all these matters. I should like to refer in particular to one great joy as regards this Bill, which is the passing of a phrase with which I have always had constitutional difficulty: the Welsh Assembly Government.

First of all we were the Welsh Assembly. That meant all of us—the whole family of legislators, officials and Ministers, or rather secretaries in those days. Then we went through a transitional period as the Welsh Assembly Government. Now, thank goodness, we are the Welsh Government for Plaid Cymru and the National Assembly for Wales, and long may we remain so.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I have been talking about devolution and independence with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, since around 1962

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when we were both solicitors in Wrexham. Indeed, I even voted for him in 1964 when he was a Plaid Cymru candidate. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will be interested to know that. Thereafter we developed our ideas on devolution and it was those ideas, which we produced in 1967 in a Bill in the House of Commons and here that was taken up and considered by the Kilbrandon commission, to which I gave evidence. I say all this because of the history that everyone has been giving.

This Bill is just a step; it is not the end. I notice today that the Glasgow Herald says that the intention of the Smith commission is to introduce votes at 16 for the next Scottish Parliament elections. If that happens in Scotland, I am sure it is going to happen in Wales. Similarly, it has been said that Scotland may very well be looking for an airport tax. If that happens in Scotland, to the delight of the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, it will necessarily come to Wales as well. There are further steps to be taken before we have the complete and satisfactory home rule that the noble Lord and I dreamed of over 50 years ago.

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I shall respond briefly to the salient points that have been made in this, our last debate. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, referred to the words of the Prime Minister. Perhaps I may point out to him the solid steps that have been taken since 19 September. The Cabinet Committee has been established under the chairmanship of William Hague. The Secretary of State is of course a member of that committee and, indeed, I attend as well when Wales is being discussed. I would also point to the establishment of cross-party discussions here in Westminster. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will also be in discussions with the leaders of the Assembly groups. We have made the announcement which has been referred to on numerous occasions in our debates of the date of 1 March, St David’s Day, by when we expect to have resolved the issues to a sufficient extent to be able to produce a reserved powers framework for future legislation in respect of Wales. That will deal with the proposals for additional powers in Silk 2, in so far as there is cross-party agreement relating to the size of the Assembly. Silk 2 was accepted by the Deputy Prime Minister in his role of leader of his party. The long-standing devolution credentials of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, are well known and respected by this House. The recent Supreme Court judgment has made it imperative that the issue of the reserved powers model is dealt with.

Lord Wigley: The noble Baroness touched on Silk 2 and the fact that, in Wales, we had a remarkable cross-party agreement in the Silk commission to deliver it. A lot of parties compromised to reach that agreement. Can we be assured that there will not now be further compromise? The compromise has already taken place, the Government have a unanimous report and Wales expects it to be enacted.

Baroness Randerson: It does not, of course, lie in my hands whether there is compromise. It is an issue for the four parties within Wales. I strongly agree with

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the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, who has made clear that the devolution debate has changed. It has gathered force and moved on since Silk 2 was published. I join the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in being delighted at the end of the concept of WAG. I always regarded this as an unfortunate acronym of the Welsh Assembly Government. My noble friend Lord Thomas made the very important point that the Bill is just a step. I say to noble Lords who make me feel like a newcomer that I have only been campaigning for devolution in Wales since 1979.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Consumer Rights Bill

Consumer Rights Bill

Report (2nd Day)

4.43 pm

Schedule 2: Consumer contract terms which may be regarded as unfair

Amendment 29

Moved by Lord Clement-Jones

29: Schedule 2, page 58, line 2, at end insert—

“20A (1) A term which has the object or effect of permitting a trader engaged in the provision of fixed broadband internet access or mobile internet services to block, restrict or otherwise hinder the access of a consumer to any lawful electronic communications network or electronic communications service on the basis of an unreasonable or unusual definition of “internet access”, “data”, “webaccess” or similar word or phrase.

(2) Nothing in this prohibition shall affect filters for the purpose of child protection.

(3) “Electronic communications network” or “electronic communications service” shall have the same meaning as provided in section 32 of the Communications Act 2003.”

Lord Clement-Jones (LD): My Lords, Amendment 29 was moved, as Amendment 56B, in Grand Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Stoneham. It is an important amendment and, although I was not able to be in Grand Committee, in view of ministerial replies and subsequent statements by Ofcom, the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association and I thought that it deserved a better answer.

The amendment is designed to prevent ISPs blocking or discouraging use of services within the legal internet that compete with their own. It would prevent mis-selling of internet services and strengthen the power of the open internet code. At the core of the problem is consumers’ understanding of the services they should rightly receive within their internet contract. Customers assume that they can use all internet services, when in actual fact there are either specific terms and conditions preventing use of services like VoIP or extra charges are incurred to do so.

At present, internet service providers have no obligation to allow their customers to access the entire legal internet, despite selling internet access to their consumers. Some mobile operators have used this to block, degrade,

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impede or surcharge certain services simply because they compete with their own. It is very much in the interests of consumers and the economy that internet users have open access to all the legal parts of the internet, on the basis of fairness for consumers and to facilitate innovation in online services.

Although it disapproves of this anti-competitive behaviour, Ofcom has repeatedly stated that it does not have sufficient powers to prevent the blocking or surcharging of internet services. The amendment would resolve this problem by creating consequences for ISPs that claim to offer internet access but then restrict what the internet means through terms and conditions. The amendment dovetails with the industry’s open internet code of practice to ensure that the UK maintains an open internet for both consumers and industry, but the code is effective only if Ofcom is able to intervene if it is breached. Nothing in the amendment restricts the ability of ISPs to block access to illegal material or implement content blocking at the request of the customer.

4.45 pm

The Government have put forward a number of arguments against the amendment, saying that the UK communications market is extremely competitive and consumers can switch if they are not happy. However, Ofcom’s own research in September 2013 clearly outlined that consumers were not aware of traffic management practices undertaken by ISPs and whether these would affect specific services that they use via their internet service.

The Government also say that the necessary steps are in place for the creation of both the transparency code of practice and the open internet code of conduct, which the vast majority of industry has signed up to. The open internet code is a good code but on its own does not have enough teeth.

The Government say that powers already exist within the Bill. The DCMS seems to believe that the Bill has the powers to resolve the issues of concern. But on 4 November, Ofcom’s CEO Ed Richards gave evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee. In response to a question from Philip Davies MP, he stated that Ofcom did not believe that it had “definitive powers” to prevent blocking. He went on to say that he thought it would be “better” if Ofcom did have such powers. These views are consistent with the views expressed by Ofcom to ITSPA over the past three years. Whether or not Ofcom is right is by the way. If it is not confident that it has the powers, it will not act.

Ed Richards reiterated the view that Ofcom does not currently have clear powers to prevent anti-competitive blocking behaviour on 18 November in a further evidence session to the House of Lords Communications Committee, of which I am a member. I said:

“There has been a debate about blocking by mobile operators of VoIP services and so on. Do you think you should have the ability to be clearer in your requirements, effectively, in legislation?”.

Mr Richards replied:

“My preference and the preference that I have articulated on Ofcom’s behalf before is that it would help us if we were crystal clear that should we think it was necessary we could stop the blocking of access to legal sites”.

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He went on to say:

“There are different circumstances that one would want to make sure you had assessed and thought carefully about first before invoking it, but a backstop power to make sure that you could stop genuinely bad behaviour that was misleading the public about what they were buying feels to me like the sort of power the regulator should have”.

Is the Minister going to say that the CEO of Ofcom is wrong and that it should be denied these powers?

It is very disappointing that despite my noble friend Lady Jolly’s offer in Grand Committee to convene a meeting before Report, the meeting on this amendment with the Minister Ed Vaizey will not take place until Thursday 27 November. Even though that discussion has not yet taken place, I hope that the Government will consider their position, especially in the light of the strong statements by the CEO of Ofcom on at least two occasions. I beg to move.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, we support an open internet, and it is in that spirit that we have signed up to the amendment. There is a case here for the Government to decide where they think the legislation currently lies, and if it is not clear that Ofcom has the powers that the noble Lord spelt out in some detail, it is important that this is resolved.

I think that it would surprise many people to learn that internet service providers have no obligation to allow their customers to access all the legal internet, despite selling “internet access” to all their customers. If DCMS believes that both existing legislation and new additions within the Bill resolve the issue of mis-selling, it is important that the Government agree with us that clarity should be made beyond peradventure. We need to know whether Ofcom is right that it does not have the powers, in which case the amendment will resolve that. If DCMS and Ofcom agree that the necessary powers do exist, DCMS should say so publicly and make it clear beyond any doubt that Ofcom has the necessary powers to act on any relevant open internet infringements. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, the debate on this important issue in Committee was a very good one, as my noble friend said. The discussion focused more on the protections for net neutrality than on the specifics of this amendment. I sympathised with the points made and committed to a meeting to discuss them. I thought it important that the relevant interested parties were present, especially Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy. His diary proved to be completely immovable. The meeting is now in the diary for this Thursday and I am looking forward to it.

It is clear from the discussions so far that this is a really complex area, and one which is causing a great deal of debate both in Europe and across the Atlantic. We believe that we are global leaders in delivering open internet services. In the UK, a competitive market, effective self-regulation and consumer expectation have delivered a much more open internet than perhaps elsewhere.

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As noble Lords may be aware, industry has developed two self-regulatory codes of practice—both now with full sign-up from major ISPs, with Vodafone, EE and Virgin Media signing up to the open internet code in recent weeks. This is the code that governs their behaviour and ensures that they do not block services that compete with their own. Mobile operators that restricted some services such as Skype no longer offer new packages that do so. Ofcom, the regulator, has been in dialogue with the provider whose behaviour this clause attempts to address and there is a commitment to review the wording in its terms and conditions to ensure that these are not misinterpreted in any way.

Critics of this self-regulatory regime will say that there is no penalty for falling foul of the open internet code and that ISPs can change their mind about being signatories at any time. While this is true, it is also the case for many other areas that are self-regulated, for example in online advertising, where great strides have been made to ensure a transparent sector. However, it is also true that in the two and a half years since the open internet code was agreed, no breaches have been reported. If there is a significant change in the number of signatories or we see common breaches reported, the Government will look at this again. Consumer expectations are such that we do not envisage this happening again.

In answer to my noble friend’s comments, we have discussed these issues with Ofcom. We agree with Ofcom that there may be some room for interpretation regarding its powers in this area. However, we do not believe that the amendment would deliver the intended restrictions on internet access providers. Furthermore, Ofcom’s analysis of the market for internet access services suggests that there is not an urgent need for intervention. The market is continuing to move towards the comprehensive provision of neutral open internet access services, and there is no evidence of present consumer harm. Therefore, for the time being, and because of the recent developments in this area, we see no evidence of the need for legislation.

However, by way of reassurance, as noble Lords will know, Clause 64(2) in Part 2 of the Bill means that providers will be unable to hide definitions of the service provided—such as broadband access—in the small print, and will have to give them due prominence. The Bill also retains the protections currently in force through the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999, which give regulators the powers to tackle such abusive behaviours, if proven. We are also taking a power in the Bill to allow us, after parliamentary scrutiny, to update the grey list. This means that were consumer or trader behaviour to change, or evidence of particular consumer detriment to emerge, we could add terms to the grey list to accommodate that. That could apply in this case should changes by providers not take place or we see a shift in provider behaviour across the board that is not currently evidenced. That means that ISPs will not be able to hide any clauses and that there is a route for action for regulators, should this prove still to be an issue. I believe that that is a more appropriate way to deal with this than legislating at this point, especially given that this is being addressed by the regulator.

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We should also be aware of the ongoing process in Europe regarding net neutrality as part of the telecoms single market package. The Government have always championed the self-regulatory approach, but we recognise that not all markets are the same as the UK’s and that there is growing demand for further protections for net neutrality from other member states. It is clear from the European Council that there is the will to include text on net neutrality. We will continue to engage proactively with the European Council on that, and believe that an appropriate solution can be found. The latest text from the Italian presidency shows movement towards a more principles-based and outcome-focused approach, which we believe would be more appropriate.

To conclude, while I am sympathetic to the intentions of the amendment, the Bill is not the right place to do this. Telecoms regulation needs to be handled through telecoms legislation. We do not believe that the amendment will change the regulator’s power in this area; nor do we believe it be necessary at this time, given the market developments. We will continue to engage with the EU in a constructive manner.

I commend my noble friend’s persistence on the issue. The Government are unable to accept his amendment, but I hope that I have offered sufficient assurance to persuade him to withdraw it.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reasonably comprehensive response. Although I do not agree with large parts of it, it was comprehensive. It is interesting that the Minister, along with others, seems to have confused the issue of the open internet with net neutrality. They are rather different issues. It will be useful to have that discussion on Thursday. This is not a net neutrality amendment. It is about the enforcement of the open internet principles. I shall not take up the House’s time by explaining the difference, but it is considerable. The Minister’s meeting with me and the industry on Thursday will be helpful.

The Minister’s reply was a mixture of, “The problem has gone away”, “Voluntary agreements will do the business” and “We don’t need the back-up”, but the bottom line, which I find quite baffling, is, “We don’t agree with Ofcom”. The CEO—albeit the outgoing CEO, who may be more frank than an incoming one —was very clear about the powers that Ofcom did and did not have and what he thought was appropriate.

I do not know what discussions there have been between DCMS and Ofcom, but a dialogue of the deaf seems to be going on. I understand what my noble friend said about this not being an urgent need, but I do not believe that the CEO of Ofcom would have gone on the record twice—first on 4 November with the CMS Select Committee and then a fortnight later with the Communications Committee of the House of Lords—unless he thought that this was a live topic.

I note the slightly comforting words of my noble friend that under Clause 64 no small print will henceforth be allowed and that there will be no hiding place. I cannot remember the exact words that she used, but they were ringing phrases. I hope that they will have some substance. There is scepticism whether they will bite in the way my noble friend outlined. We shall see.

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As the discussion with the Minister has not yet taken place, I reserve the right to bring this matter back at Third Reading if absolutely necessary but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 29 withdrawn.

5 pm

Amendment 30

Moved by Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

30: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—

“Consumer regulators

(1) This section applies to the regulators which are involved in protecting consumers (“consumer regulators”).

(2) It shall be the duty of the consumer regulators to uphold the rights of consumers under this Act.

(3) In exercising their functions, consumer regulators shall have regard to the desirability of—

(a) upholding accurate, plain and intelligible information for consumers about goods and services;

(b) promoting—

(i) fair and reasonable practices in the selling of goods and services;

(ii) fair and reasonable pricing of goods and services;

(iii) the inclusion of comprehensive information on goods and services in contract;

(iv) quick and fair means for consumers to make complaints and have disputes resolved.

(4) Consumer regulators shall have a duty to consider whether a proportion of any fines levied for breaches of rights under this Act shall be used to compensate consumers.”

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes (Con): My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 30. I think it would be helpful if I read it out at this early stage. The proposed new clause states that the section involved applies specifically,

“to the regulators which are involved in protecting consumers”—

that is, “consumer regulators”. The proposed new clause continues:

“(2) It shall be the duty of the consumer regulators to uphold the rights of consumers under this Act.

(3) In exercising their functions, consumer regulators shall have regard to the desirability of—

(a) upholding accurate, plain and intelligible information for consumers about goods and services;

(b) promoting—

(i) fair and reasonable practices in the selling of goods and services;

(ii) fair and reasonable pricing of goods and services;

(iii) the inclusion of comprehensive information on goods and services in contract;

(iv) quick and fair means for consumers to make complaints and have disputes resolved.

(4) Consumer regulators shall have a duty to consider whether a proportion of any fines levied for breaches of rights under this Act shall be used to compensate consumers”,

who may have suffered loss or inconvenience as a result of that.

The amendment proposed previously by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, shows that it is time that this matter was reviewed. This is an important Consumer

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Rights Bill which in many other ways will be of great benefit to consumers. It would be a great pity for it to go ahead without recognising and dealing with the anomaly which exists.

Under the Bill, the regulators are not required to exercise certain functions that one would expect them to exercise. I make it clear at the outset that I am not complaining about, or accusing, the current regulators. I am saying that their attention has never been drawn to this particular role. It is a new role as far as they are concerned. I am very grateful to the National Consumer Federation which has helped me to draft this amendment and, by the way, gets no money from anyone. The federation covers all the other consumer organisations and has gathered all the necessary information in giving this amendment its warm support.

I shall deal as quickly as possible with my reminiscences but I remember that, when we first privatised a public industry—the electricity industry—we received a report from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission saying that the electricity boards did not satisfy consumer needs, their prices were too high and their labour forces were not treated correctly. At last the moment had come to do something to benefit everyone—consumers, employees and the general public. I well remember that not long after the Bill became law, I needed some electrical work done in my home. Along came a nice man from the new electricity company and I said to him, “I hope you are feeling much happier these days in your place of employment”. He replied, “I am not worried at all. I have bought shares”. So I have a very big kite to fly in that respect.

It is obvious that many practices today that regulators come across, such as the ones highlighted in previous amendments, are new. The marketplace, as it were, has changed completely as far as they are concerned and the Bill is the place to stress that there is a very important consumer role. That is why the end of the amendment, which is one of the most important parts, says that consumer regulators shall have a duty to consider whether, if consumers have been harmed or in some way not been given a fair deal, any fines levied should be used to compensate consumers. To my great delight, one regulator did that recently when a big fine was imposed and now £3 million of the fine is to be repaid to those consumers who had suffered either financial loss or other types of problems.

It seems to me that they do not need the Government or the law in order to do that—they could do it themselves—but it will help to have it firmly in print that they may. I do not know what negotiations they went into with the Treasury but they must have been very interesting indeed. People often say to one, “Oh, these regulators, what do they do with all the millions?”. Noble Lords probably know already that the money goes straight to the Treasury, and the Treasury is not by any means an easy nut to crack. They did very well indeed to get that amount repaid to those consumers who had suffered. I want that also to be part of the law and I want it to be a consumer right. That is not a great deal to ask for. It is long overdue. I commend the amendment to the House.

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, I support Amendment 30, which has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, which would ensure that regulators did what they are meant to do, which is to protect consumers and promote their interests.

I shall speak also to Amendment 50C, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. Our amendment would require statutory regulators to develop proper user or consumer representation on their boards, as well as reviewing annually the consumer experience of their industry, including whether consumers were sufficiently well represented and listened to so that their rights under this and other legislation were protected and, indeed, promoted. It would enable regulators to consider whether a levy might be needed to ensure that the consumer voice was clearly articulated.

Regulators exist in exactly those industries where the consumer cannot get a fair deal on their own behalf, either because of effective monopolies of the sort that we have just heard about or because the nature of the service is so complicated, long-term or specialist, such as in financial services or the law, that clients are in no position to evaluate it or to shop around. Despite this, not all regulators put the consumer, in whose interest they are meant to be working, first—sometimes because of industry capture, sometimes because they work at such a helicopter level that they fail to see the real consumer impact, and sometimes, as the noble Baroness has just said, because something new comes along and they are not feeling it from the grass roots up. Usually, however, it is because they do not embed the end-user’s views in their decision-making. They decide policy without researching the consumer’s experience or the consumer’s views, and they sometimes do not seem to understand the ordinary person who pays the bills. Our amendment would embed the consumer voice in the regulators’ governance, where it should have been from the start.

However, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, has a rather craftier alternative, which is to place a duty on the relevant regulators to uphold the rights of consumers and to raise the possibility, as she has just said, of the fines levied by a regulator being used to compensate consumers for breaches of their rights. Given the £1.1 billion fine levied by the FCA last week, that part of her amendment has a particular attraction.

Without these amendments, the Bill will lack a certain crack of the whip in the hands of regulators. I therefore hope they get support.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Con): My Lords, I start by applauding the contribution made by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes in promoting consumer rights. She has outlined her concerns and given her views on what the regulators can do to help consumers, reading from her amendment. Given how much impact her work has had, her input will be invaluable in ensuring that we have a better understanding of what needs to be done when we start the implementation phase of this important Bill.

It is, of course, important that consumer rights in regulated sectors, just as in the rest of the economy,

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are protected and promoted; that consumers are given sufficient information to make informed decisions; that they are aware of how to make complaints and seek resolution to disputes; and that they have suitable representation to secure the best possible outcomes. The noble Baroness raised some important issues with this amendment and in our meeting.

However, I am concerned that this amendment would, first, complicate an already complex legislative and governance framework, through which regulators operate, with a number of new rules and requirements. Rather than helping consumers, it could muddy the waters further and lead to complex, unclear decision-making by regulators.

Secondly, it could perversely duplicate the extremely good work already being done across the consumer landscape. There are already various bodies and organisations fulfilling the objectives of this amendment, which I will explain in more depth shortly. In view of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I should add that similar concerns relate to Amendment 50C, although that comes from a slightly different angle and would provide, in some circumstances, for a levy.

We must not overlook the good work that economic regulators have done. As noble Lords may know, economic regulators have a statutory duty to take consumer interests into account. The nature of independent regulation means that consumers are at the heart of what they do, and I am confident that this remains the case. If anything, the tone of what I have heard suggests that regulators have not been vocal enough about how much their work helps consumers, so let me highlight a few examples. Average monthly household spend on telecoms services fell by 2.9% in 2013. In addition to this, satisfaction ratings across key telecoms markets are close to or over 90%. The majority of consumers remain satisfied with their service overall. Complaints about fixed-line and mobile mis-selling have decreased. In fixed-line, they decreased from 1,200 per month in April 2005 to just over 400 in 2013, and mobile mis-selling has also reduced very significantly. There is now more choice than ever for consumers, with at least 13 major suppliers of bundled residential services, 114 fixed-line operators and four mobile operators.

Ofcom is pushing to make it easier for consumers to switch providers, which is critical for a well functioning telecoms market. Water leaks are down by 40% since the 1990s, so there is a heritage of affordable water bills, with high-quality drinking water and cleaner rivers. Domestic energy bills, while having increased, are still favourable compared to Europe.

5.15 pm

The process for speeding up switching energy suppliers is taking place, and we aim to reach the point where people can change over in just 24 hours. Even now, more than 2 million customers switched electricity supplier between October and March, with nearly a third picking smaller suppliers. Ofgem has also investigated and fined energy companies over marketing activities such as doorstep selling, which have a detrimental effect on some consumers.

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The warm home discount took up to £135 off electricity bills for 2 million households last winter. There are record levels of passenger satisfaction in our railways, despite the record post-war number of journeys made, and Network Rail is on course to deliver its current programme of investment. Regulators have contributed to all those good outcomes for consumers and are continuing to work in the interests of consumers. Without them and their work, consumers would be much worse off than they are today.

The examples given also show how the regulators can adapt to change—a concern emphasised by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. She mentioned a huge £3 million fine being paid to consumers, and of course the FCA example quoted by the noble Baroness is another good example of regulators adapting to change.

I also reiterate the good work done by consumer bodies. Bodies such as the Consumer Council for Water, the Communications Consumer Panel and Citizens Advice were either established through legislation or are registered as charities. Statutory regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority have also created independent, internal consumer panels to challenge and advise on policy from a consumer interest perspective. All those bodies play a huge role in helping consumers, meeting the very objectives behind these amendments—in particular around providing intelligible information and having consumer representation on regulators’ governing bodies to get a better deal for the consumer.

There are examples where consumer bodies have had real bite. The Consumer Council for Water negotiated with 11 water companies in response to rising profits for them and rising bills for consumers. Thanks to those discussions, the water companies have agreed to return £1 billion of that financial gain to consumers. Another result of CCW pressure is the fact that all but two water companies submitted plans in December 2013 pledging to keep prices at or below inflation until 2020. The number of complaints to water companies has reduced for the fifth successive year, and the CCW played a crucial role there.

As I have said on many occasions, Consumer Futures, now part of Citizens Advice, has done a huge amount on behalf of consumers to secure the best deals for them in industries such as energy and post, and to help with redress. For example, the strength of its advocacy and evidence led to Ofcom reversing its original decision and secured a price cap for second-class mail, providing real security for those who rely on sending letters and who are financially disadvantaged. It also constantly keeps energy companies on their toes. It helped secure £55 million of repayments by npower due to unfair billing charges; npower has said that it is investing £20 million to resolve those issues fully.

Let us not forget the superb work of Citizens Advice, because its job is to provide consumers with intelligible information across a wide range of sectors. Its success has been outstanding, and it works across all the utility sectors that these amendments are designed to address. It has helped millions through its website and over the phone; 86% of consumers reported a positive impact of advice on their lives, and 84% said that their understanding of their rights had increased.

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The regulators and the consumer bodies uphold the rights of consumers, providing sufficient representation to them and promoting fair and reasonable practices. As such, I do not think these amendments would, in practice, achieve anything that is not already being done. They are more likely to bring harm than benefit. Regulators already operate within a complex legislative and governance framework. One of the key things that the Government can do to help is to make sure that the duties we ask the regulators to perform have real clarity and focus. The more duties we place on them, or the more we prescribe, the harder we make life for the regulators. This, sadly, has practical consequences that are bad for consumers.

Regulators may take longer to make their decisions with the sorts of changes under discussion. They might face a greater risk of legal challenge on the grounds that they have allegedly not taken account of all elements of their duties, even when they have acted in the right way. This is to the detriment of everyone, including consumers, and benefits only the lawyers. The cost of regulation itself would increase. Investors would look at regulated markets and factor in the greater risk to them of protracted regulation, which means higher costs. These higher costs find their way to the consumer’s bill.

In summary, I have enormous sympathy with the good intention behind these amendments. However, I strongly feel that there is a lot of good work already happening—it has obviously taken time—to promote consumer rights and representation in our regulated sectors. The consequences of adding these duties to an already complex legislative framework for regulators are likely to be worse outcomes for consumers and business at a time when there is a drive to cut the costs of regulation and increase efficiency, which passes through to the consumer.

Again, I salute the wonderful work being done by both noble Baronesses, and would be happy to meet them to discuss these issues in more detail as we get closer to the implementation phase. In the mean time, noble Lords can feel assured that much is already being done across the board to help consumers. I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I thank my noble friend for that very detailed reply. I wish I felt comforted, because I know she has spent a lot of time on and paid a great deal of attention to the issue. She said that these amendments might muddy the water. The problem is that the water is already muddy and the purpose of the amendment is to make it absolutely clear what the duties of regulators are in relation to consumers, along with all their other important interests. The effect of any practices that are being carried out by these industries which regulators have not seen, or have not thought that it was within their remit to deal with, is what this amendment clarifies.

Also, the Minister has rightly mentioned that most of these industries now have consumer representatives, or little personal consumer bodies. I would ask her only to try to get hold of one of them on an expensive 0845 number. They may work very hard but they do

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not have any powers of their own. I do not want that to be the way things happen—I prefer my amendment to that prospect. I do not want regulators to be hampered in the other important work which she has illustrated that they do. The great fines are not feathering their own nests; the regulators are doing what they consider to be their duty. I just want them to be given a new duty, and this amendment defines and clarifies it. I would like to consider this between now and Third Reading. There is a lot still to be done. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

Schedule 5: Investigatory powers etc.

Amendment 31

Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

31: Schedule 5, page 81, line 14, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) to (11)

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, Amendment 31 stands in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.

Rather strangely, as the Bill stands, trading standards officers—who work on behalf of consumers to track down rogue traders, dangerous goods, scams and rip-off merchants—would lose their existing powers to inspect premises, unless they give two working days’ notice of such visits in writing. Because of the outcry over this nonsense when the Bill was in the Commons, the Government have already had to amend it so that officers can still enter without forewarning, either where there is suspicion of malpractice or where evidence might be destroyed. But that is always the case with evidence: it goes walkies when the police or trading standards are anywhere near.

Despite the slight amendment made in the Commons, the requirement for 48 hours’ written notice would still tie the hands of trading standards officers. This new requirement was written into the Bill, despite the fact that there were no calls at all for this change from business, and no evidence that officers misuse their current powers. While it is true that some companies quite liked it once it was suggested, none had demanded it. Meanwhile, enforcement agencies and consumer groups naturally want it removed. If the Government really want to help small businesses ensure that the right people and the right paperwork are ready for a visit, fixing it up by phone to suit the company would be much better than sending two days’ fixed notice by post, with no negotiation over the date. The Bill also does not deal with the difficulty of giving notice to mobile traders.

Even if we win a vote on this amendment, which would remove the need to have 48 hours’ written notice before trading standards could inspect, it does not mean that trading standards officers cannot give notice before they inspect. In fact, they would do so in very many cases. It is good practice to do so, but it would also save trading standards officers’ time: they would not have to go back a second time if the

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paperwork was not there. However, it makes no sense to give notice to people who are potentially breaking the law of when the enforcers will turn up to check on them. That would hamper the enforcers’ ability to tackle rogue traders, since unannounced visits can act as a deterrent, as well as a source of evidence.

Of course, these very same officers do not have to give notice for food safety: they can have unannounced visits. Ofsted can also make unannounced visits. Just last week we saw the impact of a surprise inspection of Colchester hospital by the Care Quality Commission, which led to major steps to safeguard patients. That might not have happened had the hospital management been given two days’ warning. Why must trading standards replace today’s on-the-spot checks with two days’ written warning? How difficult would it be for the very same officer to have different powers for entering the same premises, depending on which breach they are investigating?

The Government have said that a trading standards officer can always enter premises as a member of the public and see what an ordinary shopper can. However, retailers do not put their untaxed or counterfeit cigarettes on top of the counter or out on the shelves. Unsurprisingly, they are hidden below the counter, where an officer would not be able to look. It is not just consumers and trading standards officers who want the 48-hour requirement removed: small firms also dislike competitors undercutting them by underhand means. Indeed, the Tobacco Retailers’ Alliance—I do not often speak on behalf of anyone to do with tobacco, but it is right on this—has written, saying that it is,

“disappointed … that… the Bill … gives a retailer suspected of selling smuggled tobacco 48 hours’ … warning of having their premises inspected”.

It says that that seems,

“madness ... As legitimate retailers, we do not require any notice of an inspection. You can come in whenever you like”.

It says that the provision plays into the hand of retailers who break the law, allowing them to carry on selling smuggled tobacco after inspections. It urges the Government to remove this provision from the Bill and let inspections be carried out without warning so that they are an effective deterrent to those who sell smuggled tobacco.

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He is not in his place, but the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, wrote back to the retailers concurring with their view. He said there is no justification for giving 48 hours’ notice of an inspection of a tobacconist’s shop. It is not as though it is an intrusion into your personal home. Writing in the Grocer,the chairman of a large cash and carry store noted that independent retailers say that,

“test purchasing is less effective if there has to be 48 hours notice of a visit”.

As serious is the fact that there will be fewer inspections because trading standards officers are bound to become risk-averse where they have to articulate and document the evidence of their suspicion or malpractice, or the likelihood of loss of evidence, particularly in cases where, despite the reassurance the Minister gave us, evidence tends to come anonymously from other retailers. We know that a challenge in court that inspectors

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visited without reasonable evidence or gave proper notice in writing could cost their local authority heavy legal fees should they get tripped up by some clever lawyers, even if the inspection then found a breach of consumer law.

We are talking about the sale of dangerous goods, such as flammable mattresses, ineffective carbon monoxide detectors, dangerous toys, dodgy electrics, fake bags and jewellery and rip-off household goods. Trading standards officers stand in our shoes as consumers protecting us against these.

Amendment 31 would remove the Bill’s requirement for trading standards to have to give 48 hours’ written notice. As Giles Roca, director-general of the TRA, asked,

“why change a system that works perfectly well?”.

The Government were unable to answer that in Committee. Instead, they have come up with further amendments today which rather demonstrate that they accepted our arguments in Committee but dare not quite say so. Therefore, they have invented a new term: “a routine inspection”. The Trading Standards Institute, which carries out a lot of the work for the Government, does not recognise that term and does not know what it is. The Trading Standards Institute says it is very happy to give notice of routine visits to advise traders but that is not an inspection visit and it does not know what a routine inspection visit is. In fact, because of the cuts to the number of trading standards officers—I think there are 50% fewer than there were—and the move to an intelligence-led approach, only the older ones can even remember routine visits taking place.

Inspection visits are to find evidence. This will be curtailed if two days’ warning of the inspectors’ arrival has to be given. Why are the Government asking trading standards officers, who act on behalf of consumers, to work with one hand tied behind their backs? I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Sewel): I have to inform the House that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments 32 to 40.

Lord Borrie (Lab): My Lords, I support the amendment that has just been spoken to. I declare in interest in that I am a vice-president of the Trading Standards Institute and I have been the president so I have a long understanding of the work of trading standards people up and down the country. They have been extremely useful in every development of consumer rights and consumer law over the many years since they were called weights and measures inspectors under the old rules of 1880. Now that they are trading standards inspectors and the Trading Standards Institute is a very respectable body, they have as a prime function the enforcement of consumer law. That is so now, although the substance of the law has been altered and is being altered further by this Bill.

One of the principal jobs of enforcement officers is, of course, to see whether a prosecution is justified. No self-respecting prosecutor thinks that any minor infringement of the law is deserving of prosecution and the trading standards officers in each county are well aware of that. They take a great deal of care in

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developing their thoughts that on a particular occasion the goods are dangerous, or the various things that my noble friend Lady Hayter referred to have occurred. To my mind, there is no doubt whatever that it is a far greater deterrent to malpractice if no notice has to be given of an inspection. I was delighted, as I am sure many of us here were, whether interested in this subject or not, with the announcement of the work done by Ofsted in deciding that there are some occasions when schools need to be looked at without notice so that they can be taken off their guard and it is more difficult to show that they are all to the good.