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House of Lords

Thursday, 5 February 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Leeds

11.08 am

Nicholas, Lord Bishop of Leeds, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Carlisle, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Russia: Armed Forces


11.11 am

Asked by Lord Spicer

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the Russian armed forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): My Lords, Russia has been modernising its armed forces since 2008. These are being used in a highly assertive manner in conjunction with wider political, economic, misinformation and intelligence activity to project Russian influence, especially towards, but not limited to, former Soviet states. This has been demonstrated by strategic aircraft sorties both in Europe and the Far East, the increasing number of large no-notice snap exercises close to NATO allies and Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Lord Spicer (Con): My Lords, is it not the case that Russian rearmament has been so rapid and the response to it in the West has been so slow that there is now a real possibility of a new cold war, which Mr Putin just might believe he can win? In those circumstances, is it not essential that Her Majesty’s Government ring-fence the defence budget at at least 2% of GDP?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, NATO’s credibility depends on unity and implementing quickly and efficiently decisions taken at the Wales summit—in particular, the readiness action plan that will include a new high-readiness force to enhance NATO responsiveness and effectiveness—and publicly acknowledging the commitment by allies to aim to meet NATO’s target of 2% of GDP spent on defence. We are working with allies to ensure that momentum is maintained ahead of the summit in Poland next year.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Mr Putin has increased spending on his nuclear triad by 42%, even though the country is

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an economic basket case. It has built a new class of ballistic missile submarines; it has introduced a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile; and it has a new class of attack submarines, which, worryingly, have now got a long-range Cruise missile with a nuclear tip, which probably breaks the INF. Does the Minister agree that what Mr Putin calls his strategy of de-escalation, because he sees a conventional imbalance, is actually a strategy of escalation? Does he also agree with Labour that it is imperative now that we maintain our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, the minimum force possible, and replace the ageing Vanguard-class submarines one for one?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. The 2015 Russian defence budget is stated to be the equivalent of $50 billion, which is around 4.5% of Russian GDP. As to the Russian military doctrine, which the noble Lord mentioned, the last one was published in December 2014 and more emphasis is placed on the perceived danger from NATO, asymmetric warfare, advanced weaponry and the use of information and subversion.

Lord Marlesford (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the real tragedy is that in the 23 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has almost wholly failed to restructure its economy? It now has the economy of a third world country, it is suffering from the effects of the fall in the price of oil, and it has at its head a regressive and reactionary leader who is quite unworthy of being in command of the armed forces and who has contracted out of the world’s search for peace, stability and prosperity.

Lord Astor of Hever: I agree with everything that my noble friend has said.

Lord Craig of Radley (CB): My Lords, what was the Russian ambassador’s response to the Foreign Office when it called him in to complain about the transit of a Russian bomber aircraft along the Channel?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the Russian ambassador committed to giving a full explanation in writing of that long-range bomber activity.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, is not the problem for Russia and the former Soviet Union that there is now growing instability? As the Minister said, this is clearly a matter for NATO and the UK, but it is also for the European Union to have some sort of strategy towards Mr Putin’s policy, which is in acute danger of causing either another cold war or something worse.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the noble Lord has made a very good point, and these are all issues which will be discussed at the NATO Defence Ministers meeting being held in Brussels today.

Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD): My Lords, the Wales summit last year, the readiness action plan and the defence investment pledge are all vital. Does the

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Minister agree that we need to co-operate more fully with our partners in the EU and NATO not just in terms of expenditure but also by working to negotiate for de-escalation through diplomatic routes?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. We have been very clear that above all, the solution requires Russia to end its deliberate and continuing destabilisation of Ukraine. Russia must withdraw its equipment and troops from Ukraine, secure its borders and cease support for the separatists. It is clear that the international community has a role to play by exerting the greatest possible pressure to ensure that that happens.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab): My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that when the explanation is received from the Russian ambassador about what those Russian planes were doing so close to our waters, it will be published and a copy put in the Library of the House?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I will do my very best to ensure that that happens. Just for the benefit of the House, on 28 January two Russian bombers flew close to the south coast in congested civilian-controlled airspace, unauthorised and without communicating with UK air traffic control. The UK response was conducted in accordance with well-practised NATO procedures and the bombers were escorted from the UK’s airspace by Royal Air Force aircraft.

Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, the Minister has agreed with the NATO minimum target for defence expenditure of 2% of GDP, but his own party has yet to commit itself to that minimum level for the United Kingdom. Will he take this opportunity to correct the position now, and if he cannot do so, will he explain the inconsistency between that and what he has just said? Will he also explain how on earth we stand any chance of persuading our partners in NATO and Europe to do better, because they are doing even worse than us in this regard?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we have met the 2% target for this entire Parliament. We are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence until the end of the financial year 2015-16, following which decisions will be determined in the next comprehensive spending review.

Women: Postnatal Depression


11.19 am

Asked by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to support women suffering from postnatal depression.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, the Government have prioritised improving mental health care and support for pregnant women and new mothers in their mandate to NHS England, with a clear objective to reduce the incidence and impact of postnatal depression. We have taken steps to improve the size and capability of the workforce—there are 2,000 more midwives and 3,200 more health visitors than in 2010. By 2017, specialist perinatal mental health staff will be available to every birthing unit.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, that is welcome news. Too many women who suffer from postnatal depression do not seek help because of the stigma attached to mental illness, together with the guilt and shame attached to feeling that they are not being the sort of mother that society expects. I hear what the noble Earl says about specialist care, but what are the Government doing to ensure that specialist mother and baby units can be accessed by these new mothers wherever they live in this country, so that they do not end up on acute psychiatric wards, separated from their babies or partners, or not receiving the requisite help? At the moment, I fear that parity of esteem for mental health is not a reality for these women.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we know there is more to be done. There are perhaps two key actions here. One is having a sufficient number of trained professionals in place—I have mentioned the increase in the number of health visitors and midwives—and the other is raising awareness of the risks and signs of postnatal depression with mothers-to-be. Extensive training is available and delivered to midwives, both during their initial training and afterwards. The programme of family nurse partnerships commenced by the previous Government is tremendously important in the follow-up stage after birth to ensure that new mothers are monitored closely.

Lord Alderdice (LD): My Lords, we know that one of the very important elements in support of women in the pre- and post-partum period is the quality of the relationship between the father and the mother of the child, and that where there is a problem in encouraging that, there is frequently difficulty. Given that, is my noble friend satisfied that this element of the relationship is sufficiently addressed, appreciated and nourished in all our facilities?

Earl Howe: The role of the father, as well as of course that of the mother, is emphasised in all the guidance—certainly in the healthy child programme but also in the work done under family nurse partnerships, which targets the most vulnerable families. That programme provides intensive support to young first-time mothers and their babies. It explicitly involves fathers—and/or other family members as well—as long as the mother wants the father to take part.

Lord Laming (CB): My Lords, does the Minister agree that two elements need to be addressed? First, there is the safety and well-being of the mother but,

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secondly, there is the important issue of helping the mother to bond with her new baby. That requires quite intensive work at a critical time in the life of the new baby and of the mother. Could he assure us that these matters are being addressed in these new arrangements?

Earl Howe: The noble Lord makes some extremely pertinent points. The family nurse partnership programme that I mentioned is important in this context, and our aim is to expand that to 16,000 places by April 2015. We launched the NHS Start4Life information service for parents. Parenting classes are available through the CANparent network and we are developing a population measure to show child development at two to two and a half years for inclusion in the public health outcomes framework, so that we can measure the progress we are making.

Baroness Nye (Lab): My Lords, would the Minister agree that midwives had a crucial role to play in identifying and helping women suffering from postnatal depression, so it is regrettable that the Prime Minister’s pledge at the last election that there would be 3,000 more midwives during this Parliament has not been met? The increased number of midwives in training is to be welcomed, but does he agree that valuable mental health care support for new mothers is being lost if some NHS trusts do not have the money to employ them when they finish training?

Earl Howe: It is positive that the number of midwives has increased by 2,000 since 2010, as I mentioned, and there is a record number in training, as the noble Baroness mentioned. But she is right about the role of the midwife before, during and after the birth. The visits that a new mother can expect from a midwife should contain a session where the right questions are asked of the mother about how she is feeling and how her baby is. The signs and symptoms of postnatal depression are ones that every midwife is trained to pick up.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, as well as the importance of the bonding of the mother and baby, and the other very welcome steps that the Government are taking, I hope the Minister will agree that the needs of the children at home—they are very badly affected, one hears, by a mother who is in a state of mental depression—should be taken into account and met equally.

Earl Howe: The noble Baroness is, of course, quite right. Again, midwives and health visitors involved in family nurse partnerships are trained to look at the welfare and well-being of all members of the family.

Baroness Corston (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is still a social stigma attached to postnatal depression? I have heard people say, “She’s got a new baby, what’s she complaining about?”. What steps are the Government taking to increase public understanding of the fact that this is a mental illness,

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unbidden, which affects women who would like to be able to bond with their babies and be proud of them like the rest of us are?

Earl Howe: The noble Baroness makes an extremely good point. I think that the stigma attached to mental illness is slowly diminishing, although there is a long way to go. But she is right that there are common misconceptions around the baby blues and postnatal depression. One of the most important things we can do is inform mothers-to-be of the risks and signs of those syndromes. If we can do that and prepare mothers for the possibility that they will experience this, we are more than half way there.

Housing: Brownfield Land


11.27 am

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote housing development on brownfield land, rather than greenfield sites.

Lord Greaves (LD): In asking the Question standing in my name, I remind the House of my local government interests.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, we have given high priority to development on brownfield land and the Government have introduced a package of measures to accelerate the redevelopment of such land, including £400 million of loans to support 30 new housing zones. We also expect local authorities to put in place local development orders granting planning permission for new homes on over 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the proposals for the new housing zones are welcome but in areas such as mine in east Lancashire, private developers simply cannot recoup the cost of the land and of building the houses in their profits from the sales of houses in areas where house prices are very low by national standards. In these circumstances, do the Government understand that loans are no use at all because they cannot be recouped, and that what is required is direct gap funding of the difference between the cost to the developers of producing the houses and what they can get for the sale or rent of those houses?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend makes a valid point about the need to encourage housing development. In that regard, I can also point him to the estate regeneration fund, currently standing at £150 million, to revitalise housing estates. But we are seeing take-up of the housing zones initiative. Indeed, in London, for example, it has been matched by the mayor by a further £200 million.

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Lord Suri (Con): My Lords, what are the advantages of promoting housing development on the green fields, which are meant to be preserved?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, my noble friend raises an issue and a concern but, on the contrary, the Government—and, indeed, the national framework—are seeking to protect the green belt, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Development in the green belt generally is very inappropriate and it would be permitted only in very special circumstances. Even then, that is very much in the remit of the local authority. Our green belt policy provides rigorous protection against all unwanted and unnecessary development.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, under Section 62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, local planning authorities can be designated as underperforming where the speed or quality of their decisions has fallen below a prescribed threshold. The Government are proposing to extend this measure so that authorities could also be designated where they did not meet the objective of bringing forward sufficient coverage of local development orders on brownfield sites. It seems to have all the potential of a bureaucratic nightmare with a fluctuating baseline. How many councils are currently designated under Section 62A? Given the huge cuts endured by local authorities, disproportionately borne by services such as planning as councils strain to support adult and children’s services, what assessment have the Government made of the capacity of councils and the Planning Inspectorate to cope with the proposed arrangements?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I do not agree with the noble Lord. Our intention is to ensure the freeing-up of brownfield sites. With the objective that we seek to achieve on new homes—I know that it is an objective that he and his party share—it is important that we look across the country and ensure that all brownfield sites are released. The initiatives that we are taking reflect that. On the noble Lord’s specific questions about councils, I shall write to him.

Lord Rooker (Lab): What are the Government doing about the brownfield sites that they own? Figures that I saw in the Financial Times three or four weeks ago showed that the Government own enough land to build 2 million houses on brownfield sites. Surely that would be a mechanism for dealing with the cost of remediation, which is clearly the problem in certain parts of the country outside the south-east.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Lord makes a valid point. The Government are undertaking to ensure that all surplus land that they own and falls under that designation is sold. Such initiatives are being taken to support housebuilding across the country.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, land is very finite in this country. Will my noble friend reinforce the comments that he made about the importance of the green belt and maintaining it? Daily, we read about

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threats to Constable country and other glorious parts of the United Kingdom. It is crucial that this Government do not go down in history as one who allowed the despoiling of some of the most beautiful parts of this country.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend again raises the issue of the green belt, which has remained a constant at 13% of land across England. I assure him that the Government are greatly committed to protecting our green and pleasant land.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be aware of the aggressive behaviour of some developers—I choose Gladman as an example—in pursuing their wish to develop on greenfield sites in desirable locations. Often, their applications are initially turned down by local authorities, but they then pursue local authorities to appeal, where the developers are able to spend a great deal of money and the local authorities are not. Therefore, the appeals are often successful. What are the Government doing to restrict the activities of developers who behave in this way?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I think no one welcomes developers acting on that basis. The only elements within the green belt that are looked at in planning for housing are those that are designated as brownfield sites. If there are instances such as those that the noble Baroness has raised, such applications can be called in by the Secretary of State. Where such malpractice is seen, I would encourage that to be done.

Lord Avebury (LD): What proportion of the 15,000 homes to be built at Ebbsfleet, which is entirely brownfield, will be allocated to social housing? Will a minimum amount of social housing be prescribed for all the new towns that are planned?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: As my noble friend knows, every local development plan reflects the need for social housing to give the correct mix. That will be reflected in the Ebbsfleet development. I am pleased to say that we are moving forward on that. I hope that legislation before this House will ensure progress in that area.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, did the Government meet the target of replacing all the social housing being sold off with a new housing unit? What are the figures? If the Minister does not have those with him, could he please write to me and put a copy in the Library?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: It is always my pleasure to write to the noble Baroness and I will do so.

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National Gallery: Visitor Services


11.36 am

Asked by The Earl of Clancarty

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the National Gallery’s decision to privatise their visitor services.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the National Gallery is considering plans intended to preserve, enhance and extend the services it provides while enabling improved pay and conditions. The Government recognise that it is for the gallery, as an arm’s-length body, to decide on its staffing arrangements.

The Earl of Clancarty (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that another national museum said this week that it privatised its visitor services simply to save money? Is not the National Gallery’s intended privatisation to be of all gallery services—400 out of its 600 staff—with the loss in the long run of all the expertise that permanent staff bring? Is this not in fact a deep privatisation from the inside, enforced by the cuts and wholly against the public interest?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Earl is right. This is designed precisely to ensure that the National Gallery is able to extend its opening times and enhance its revenue. The discussions that have been had under TUPE—the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations —are precisely to ensure that, on the transfer of staff, their terms and conditions are retained. There will be no redundancies.

Baroness Wheatcroft (Con): My Lords, a few years ago the British Museum faced similar protests over plans to privatise support services. I declare an interest as a trustee of the museum. Would my noble friend the Minister agree that, far from damaging the museum, that seems to have enhanced what we do, as the visitor numbers and customer satisfaction surveys imply?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, this is precisely why almost all the senior and large museums and galleries in this country have gone along this path. There are no demons in this. It is all about enhancing the staff’s arrangements, including in part of the arrangement for the National Gallery to pay above the London living wage.

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, if even the National Gallery, which is strongly placed to raise money from non-governmental sources, is driven to such last-resort cost-cutting and unable to maintain its planned programme of opening—and yesterday galleries were extensively closed because of industrial action—does the Minister, who cares about the arts, worry that his Government’s onslaught on the culture budget if it continues will usher in, literally, a new dark age?

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The noble Lord knows very well that the creative industries across this land are in a very vibrant state and contribute hugely to our national economy. They are to be congratulated. I repeat: the National Gallery is one of the last galleries to undertake this process. I discussed this matter with other museums. This is a success story—and a success story for the staff concerned.

The Earl of Glasgow (LD): Are the Government considering allowing these changes to be made because they are dissatisfied in some way with the visitor service being provided at the moment, or is it done for ideological reasons?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, this is a matter for the National Gallery. It is not about an ideology but about securing a better future for the National Gallery and for more people to be able to visit this great institution at weekends and evenings. Yes, the gallery wants to increase its revenue stream. That should be applauded by everyone. However, this is about a success story and building upon it.

Baroness Andrews (Lab): Is the Minister aware that in the past few years cuts to museums, according to the Museums Association, have been about 20%? They are being asked for more cuts in future. Will he follow the example of the Government of Wales in setting up a review to look at the impact of cuts on museums, particularly local museums, which face a perfect storm because of cuts in local authorities? In Wales, they are looking at how solutions can be found through raising additional money, but also they are aware of the substantial contribution museums make to the economic and social well-being of the community. Will the Minister not follow that example?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The noble Baroness spoke about finding other income streams; that is precisely what opening the galleries for longer and enabling more people to come is all about. Under this Government, £2 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the 15 sponsored museums and the British Library, and the Arts Council has funded, in grant in aid, £200 million towards the best of England’s regional museums. These are good stories in a very difficult economic climate. We have the highest growth rate in the G7. This is to be applauded and it needed to be done.

Earl Attlee (Con): Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the directors and trustees of publicly funded museums for the very difficult work that they have to do, bearing in mind the current financial situation?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I congratulate both those who run the museums and those who work in the museums. They are a key part of the partnership that makes those great institutions so vibrant, and we need to support them in trying to do the best for the institutions and their future.

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Baroness Thornton (Lab): My Lords, surely the point here is that organisations, regardless of whether they are public or private, need to pay the living wage and not use exploitative zero-hours contracts for their employees. Can the Minister assure the House that that is not the case with the proposals for the National Gallery? What else are the Government doing to outlaw exploitative zero-hours contracts and ensure that firms pay the living wage?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I can tell the noble Baroness that, under the National Gallery’s proposals, it was to pay above the London living wage and that there was no zero-hours contract arrangement.

Baroness Quin (Lab): My Lords, given that the staff at the National Gallery voted nine to one against the proposed changes on a 62% turnout, and given the concerns that have been raised about not paying the living wage in that institution, should not the staff’s grievances be listened to with the utmost seriousness?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I think that all members of staff should have their concerns and grievances considered. I know that the National Gallery has been seeking to engage with ACAS and the union to ensure that sense prevails. Only 22% of all staff at the gallery voted in the strike ballot. Out of the 603 members of staff, 204 are members of the union.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

11.42 am

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday 11 February to allow the Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

Motion agreed.

Pension Schemes Bill

Third Reading

11.42 am

Lord Newby (LD):My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pension Schemes Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Schedule 3: Pensions guidance

Amendment 1

Moved by Baroness Hollis of Heigham

1: Schedule 3, page 68, line 28, at end insert—

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“The Treasury shall ensure that appropriate information is provided and disseminated so that people can make informed choices as to the effect of pensions freedoms and flexibilities on income-related benefits and social care costs.”

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, from April the new pension freedoms at 55 may bring joy to many but, in my view, they are destroying the integrity of DWP benefit rules—and no one seems much to care. I find that a bit shocking. Many thousands of rather vulnerable people will not know where they stand or what they do; neither will their CAB or Pensions Advisory Service advisers. Yet time is running out, hence this amendment asking for guidance.

Clearly, and currently, DWP has sensible rules for those of working age needing means-tested benefits. Income, say from a mini-job, counts against your benefits, as do savings, say in a building society or in ISAs, which are above £6,000. They taper out benefit until at £16,000 of savings your entitlement to any means-tested benefit is abolished. DWP rules also stop you claiming benefit if you have deliberately got rid of your savings, perhaps by gifting them to your son. Any capital that is truly inaccessible, however, and which you cannot give away or spend—for example, your home and, until recently, your pension pot—is rightly ignored.

11.45 am

These sensible rules have been blown apart by the new pension freedoms, which mean that at 55 you will be able to access your pension pot, just like a bank account or an ISA. What then? Given the savings cut-off point of £16,000, having £25,000 in ISAs would stop you getting income-related benefits, so should £25,000 in an equally accessible pension pot also stop you? What is the difference any more between a pension and an ISA, so that pensions are protected from affecting your income-related benefits and ISAs count against them?

Perhaps I may spell out just three issues. The first is income. Let us say that at 56, you have a modest wage of £20,000. You rent privately and get housing benefit as you have minimal savings. You have a small pension pot of £25,000 and, after April, you take £15,000 of that pension pot to pay off debt or buy a new car. Up to 25% of that pot, some £6,000, is obviously tax-free under pension rules but will count as income against your means-tested benefits under DWP rules. Above that £6,000, you will pay income tax as well as lose benefit on the rest of the £15,000. It is essential that anyone on means-tested benefits at 56 knows what the hit will be for accessing their pension pot. It will cost them—and most, I suspect, would not even begin to know how much. They will need a plain English leaflet from CAB offices, welfare rights offices, the local library or charities, for example.

So far, so sort-of simple—but then we come to a more difficult issue, which is that of capital. What happens if, instead of accessing your pension pot to count as income, it simply sits there as capital, fully accessible when you need it but not yet taken, just like an untouched ISA? Up until now, inaccessible pension pots have been ignored—quite sensibly, they do not count against DWP savings rules—whereas other

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accessible income and savings such as ISAs do. That is sensible as it stops people having, say, £100,000 in building society accounts or ISAs and still getting means-tested benefits, paid for by the taxpayer. That is right, but now the rules of DWP on capital and the new provisions of the Treasury on pensions collide. It is a real mess.

Pensions and ISAs will from April, at age 55, become interchangeable. Pensions need no longer be for retirement; they have, like ISAs, become a savings pot. Both are similarly tax privileged, both are equally accessible and both—or neither—may be fully spent before retirement. There is no difference any more. Yet apparently ISAs will still count against means-tested benefits, while pension pots, though identical to ISAs, will not. Is this fair? No, because if you can access your savings in whatever form they take, you should be expected to do so rather than add to the taxpayer’s benefit bill. If you treat them differently, though, as the Government have arbitrarily and illogically decided, people can game the system.

Let us say that you are earning £25,000 a year, with £25,000 in ISAs and £25,000 in your pension pot. You have injured your back and need to stop work soon, and would want means-tested benefits—but your £25,000 of ISAs debar you. What do you do? It is a no-brainer: you cycle your ISAs into your pension pot and shelter them. When next year you retire at 56, you will get full means-tested benefits and potentially the same access to your savings that you had when half of them were ISAs. Great for that individual, but for the rest of us it means bigger benefit bills to be footed by the taxpayer—and no doubt youngsters of 20 will be blamed for the increase in the bills.

Worse, spending your ISAs on, say, helping your son with his university fees could count as deliberately depriving yourself of capital. Therefore, to check such cheating, you are treated as though you still possess that money, as you cannot give it away and still get means-tested benefits. So will sheltering your ISAs or indeed any savings in your fully accessible pension pot be regarded as deprivation of capital—in other words, cheating? How can the DWP track that? How can people understand all or any of this?

The third issue, and in many cases the most unfair and unpleasant, is social care. Social care at retirement, as noble Lords will know, is means-tested. At normal retirement age your pension pot, even if you have not touched it, is treated as though it was giving you a notional annuity income. This notional income is included when assessing what you pay for social care. Pension pots are not sheltered; okay, but if you are 55 and have built up a modest pension pot at work and now, alas, have broken your back and need social care, even though your pension pot is fully accessible, as if you were 65, your pension is not taken into account for social care means testing. Get injured at 55 and you pay little or nothing for your social care. Live on—as we hope—a few years longer, and your pension is taken into account and your social care bills soar. How is this fair? I reckon that it is age discrimination. How can we expect people to understand such perverse rules? I see judicial review ahead; this is a shambles.

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We raised some of these issues three weeks ago in Committee. We pressed on Report and exchanged several emails, and finally we had a meeting two days ago with the Minister and staff which, although late in the day, we appreciated as it was helpful. However, problems and issues of clarity remain, and the rules are still fundamentally incoherent and inconsistent. In a few weeks’ time people, some of whom are on means-tested benefits but perhaps have a modest pension pot, are going to come into CABs, libraries or charities wanting to know how this affects them, and advisers will need and indeed want to help them do so.

Hence this completely anodyne amendment, whose mild language disguises, frankly, my very real anger at the mess we are in. There is no way that the new pension freedoms can be made consistent with DWP rules in ways that are fair, now that pensions and ISAs are interchangeable. The DWP is having to tear up its rules on capital because HMT has torn up its rules on pensions. So the DWP has simply decided to be arbitrary about it, and the rules become whatever it says they are, with no coherence, consistency or predictability. Policy is being made on the run. This is no way to run a business, let alone a bureaucracy that seeks to be transparent and clear. The DWP is having to pretend that pension rules have not changed, because it is too awkward to handle the consequences. The inconvenient truth is that nobody thought or, I fear, cared a toss about what would happen to DWP clients with a modest pension fund while those with major funds went about toasting themselves with champagne.

We are asking the Minister today for undertakings, and further meetings if necessary, to tease out the remaining issues and to discuss the content of a mass-produced, widely available leaflet for CAB and so on, which explains—it cannot, actually explain, but it could at least try to describe—these conflicting and unfair rules.

This is a mess, and I am deeply dismayed by it. This amendment may be the best we can do for the moment. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey (Lab): My Lords, I should first declare that I am the unremunerated president of the Society of Later Life Advisers, which provides independent advice to older people. I am sorry that I have not taken part in the proceedings on this Bill so far, knowing, as I have, that it is so safe in the eloquent hands of my noble friend Lady Hollis, but I want to intervene in this case to draw to the House’s attention one particular, very dramatic effect of what is happening.

Let us imagine two people, A and B. They both have £40,000 in their pension pot, and they both retire on the same day. One buys an annuity, the other takes the money as a lump sum. A few weeks later, by coincidence, they both have to go into a care home. As they go into the care home, they both say, “I don’t want to sell my home which I am leaving to go into this care home. I might get out one day. Please don’t make me sell”. To person A, the following applies: the council, under the Government’s deferred payment scheme, has to give them a loan to cover the cost of their care, which is repaid when they die, so they do not have to sell their home. However, person B, because they have £40,000 in their pocket, exceeds the £23,250

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limit—the arbitrary limit which I have drawn attention to on a number of occasions—on non-housing assets that they are allowed to have to take advantage of the deferred payment scheme, so they instantly have to go off to sell their home.

The Government promised that nobody would have to sell their home to pay for care. That transposed gradually into a universal guarantee and was then narrowed down still further so that nearly half the people eligible for it were disqualified—but now we find arbitrariness added to arbitrariness because so much will depend on whether you chose to take a lump sum or an annuity. This is beyond rectifying now, alas, as the secondary legislation has gone through, but one thing we can do is to make sure that before somebody decides to take a lump sum, they know that they will in future not be eligible for the deferred payment scheme. That requires authoritative advice. Is that really too much to ask?

Baroness O'Cathain (Con): My Lords, surely there must have been discussions since the Bill had its First Reading between those in the pension business and those who act as financial advisers to people. Frankly, most people do not understand anything about pensions, and I think we have to accept that. Maybe people here do, but most people do not. You go to a financial adviser, who explains. I say, “Oh, take away all that small print. I can’t be bothered to read it”. That is the first thing, and that is a sin that I have committed several times.

The second is that you do not understand the way it is written. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made a point about plain English. I think that should be made on every single Bill that we pass in this House, because it is so convoluted and it is just hopeless. People deliberately make things complicated so that they can hide behind them, but that is not the Government’s fault; it is ours for not insisting that we have much easier ways of looking at these things and for not making people like me, instead of throwing it into the waste-paper basket, take some responsibility for my decision, which I have not made on the basis of proper information.


My other point is that there are always ongoing conversations whenever a Bill is produced and goes through its normal passage in this House. In between the various stages—Report et cetera—we have meetings. Ministers say, “We want to see you. We’ll call for you”, and we can ask for meetings. Is that breaking down? Do we have too much legislation, so that we do not have time to do it or are too involved in committees in the House? What is going wrong? Is it partly our fault? We are supposed to scrutinise these Bills and we are not doing it properly if these sorts of problems, which have been so graphically explained by the noble Baroness, are occurring. We have to do something about it, and the responsibility is ours.

Baroness Turner of Camden (Lab): I will support very briefly what my noble friend Lady Hollis said in her introduction of this admirable amendment. We have

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discussed this during the progress of the Bill through this House, and have made the point on a number of sides that it is necessary that people should be fully informed of what they are doing. It is up to the Government to make sure that those arrangements are available for people to become properly informed of what they are doing. It has to be understood, of course, that people are making decisions about their future and what may happen if they make the wrong decision. It is very necessary that the appropriate choices are made by the people who are facing these alternatives. I therefore hope that this admirable amendment receives the full support of this House.

Lord Bradley (Lab): My Lords, I will be brief, because the issues presented by this amendment have been brilliantly articulated by my noble friend Lady Hollis.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we have sought to ensure that consumers’ interests are fully protected, particularly in respect of the guidance that they will receive from the citizens advice bureau or TPAS. But the accuracy of the information for them is wholly dependent on the clarity of government policy. We are concerned that the treatment of pension funds in respect of income-related benefits and social care do not meet this test of clarity. Such clarity is particularly essential here, because the decisions that people make will have a dramatic impact on their future lives. I hope that the Minister in response will be able to give the House the assurances that we are seeking through this amendment so that there is no confusion in the public’s mind and no inconsistency across the country in the guidance that will be given on this incredibly important issue.

I thank the Minister for his letter dated 4 February, which lays out the Government’s position on how they will deal with some of these matters. But I—and, I am sure, my noble friends—remain concerned that, as they say, “the devil is in the detail”, and we have already heard this morning of cases where there has to be clarity and consistency of treatment of individuals in this respect. Clearly, we will continue to look closely at the regulations that follow and the guidance issued in association with them, to ensure that the public understand the implications of the decisions they take in respect of any entitlement to income-related benefits or social care costs.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness for her amendment, which obviously addresses an extremely important issue.

This amendment seeks to place a separate and additional duty on the Treasury to provide appropriate information on the effect of pension freedoms and flexibilities on income-related benefits and social care costs. I agree that it is vital that people understand how benefits and social care entitlements interact with the new pensions flexibility and that consumers need to be aware of the impact of accessing their pension pot on their eligibility for income-related benefits and help with social care costs.

The Treasury is working to ensure that the content of the Pension Wise service includes information about entitlement and deprivation rules so that consumers

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are aware of these when choosing whether to access their pension savings. We are also working to ensure that people are aware of the need to plan for later life, including the risk of needing care and support and what that might mean for their choices. This will help people think about how they wish to live the rest of their lives. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, the Care Act provides that no one is required to sell their home to pay for care. The difference in this case is that the lump sum is income in the year taken, and we agree that this will need to be covered in guidance, both on pension pots and on social care, which we will provide.

The DWP will issue clear guidance on the treatment of pension pots in income-related benefits in advance of April. This is to help people make informed decisions about accessing their pension pot. We plan to do this, as requested by the noble Baroness, by producing a leaflet which we will both print in hard copy and place online on GOV.UK. Other websites will be able to link to this information, and there will definitely be such a link from the GOV.UK Pension Wise website, which will direct those who are affected by this issue to the DWP information. Pension Wise will be a key way of equipping people with this information online on GOV.UK, on the phone through the Pensions Advisory Service, and face to face through citizens advice bureaux across the country. Alongside the new content being developed for Pension Wise, the new guidelines will also be reflected in the training programme for guidance specialists from the Pensions Advisory Service and Citizens Advice.

As the noble Baroness said, she met my noble friend Lord Bourne and me earlier this week to discuss the substantive policy issue—namely, the interaction of pension flexibilities with the benefits and social care means tests. The principal query that the noble Baroness raised is whether the distinction we make between ISAs and other savings vehicles, as opposed to pension pots, in benefits means testing remains fair after the introduction of the new flexibilities. ISAs are taken fully into account in income-related benefits, whereas we ignore untouched pension pots until someone reaches pension credit qualifying age. The noble Baroness argues that this is an arbitrary distinction now that the tax treatment of the two products is more aligned.

The Government, however, firmly believe that the difference is an important one. ISAs are for use at any time, but we specifically encourage people to save into pensions to provide for themselves in later life. We would not want to design our benefit system in such a way as to encourage people to spend their retirement savings when they are still below pension credit qualifying age. Aligning the treatment of ISAs with that of pension pots in the means test would be expensive for the taxpayer, as people with resources could secure more benefit. On the other hand, aligning the treatment of pension pots with that of ISAs would mean that claimants could lose benefits and so may deplete their pension savings before reaching their retirement. Neither outcome is desirable, and we therefore believe that the current position remains the right one.

This gives rise to a second question that concerns the noble Baroness, which is whether this situation gives individuals the opportunity to move their ISAs,

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which would be taken into account, into their pension pots, which would not be taken into account until pension credit qualifying age. The Government have considered the matter seriously and, in the light of our analysis, we do not feel that we need to act on this matter presently. The numbers of income-related benefits claimants with substantial ISAs is relatively modest and, should people move their savings to their pension pot, the additional upfront welfare costs to the Exchequer are partly offset by welfare savings in later life as those individuals would rely less on income-related benefits as a pensioner. On this issue, we plan to monitor behaviour after April when the new pension flexibilities are introduced, and respond proportionately if we need to.

I should add that people deliberately depriving themselves of money in order to secure or increase benefit entitlement may be subject to rules on deprivation of assets that already exist in both the benefit and social care systems.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Is the Minister saying—he may go on to say this in the next sentence—that if you cycle your ISAs into your pensions, that would be deprivation of capital?

Lord Newby: No, I do not think I am saying that. I will make sure that I am not and correct myself if I am wrong. All I am saying is that the deprivation of assets rules which currently apply will continue to apply in respect of money taken out of ISAs.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That was my question. Can the Minister explain to me why, if money is taken out of ISAs and goes into pensions, that is not deprivation of assets?

Lord Newby: It is not the point at which money goes from ISAs into pensions that is a deprivation of assets. Deprivation of assets may occur if and when money is taken out of one or both of those pots.

Lord Rooker (Lab): I have listened with care to my noble friend, and although I have not participated in the debate, I understand the issue. Surely by moving an ISA into a pension pot, the individual then does not have access to buy, sell or add to the ISA. It is just not available; it is now hidden in the pension pot. Therefore, the individual deprives himself or herself of the choice they had when they had the ISA. It is fairly simple: is it or is it not something that could be penalised? People need to know this. If we are not careful, there will be chaos in this country later in the year as regards people with small pensions and small ISA pots.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I thought I had just said that if you move money from your ISA into your pension pot that does not qualify to be treated as a deprivation of assets. You are not taking that asset as income and you are not spending it; you are moving it from one pot to another.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: So if you have more than £16,000 in a building society, which stops you getting means-tested benefits, and you take that money out of your building society account and put it into a pension pot, is that deprivation of assets?

Lord Newby: My Lords, that is an extremely interesting question to which I do not have the answer. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the amendment before the House, which is to do with whether the Government will give adequate guidance on the issue. The amendment is not about the detailed substance of the rules which are being dealt with not least via a series of discussions with the noble Baroness, as she said. Those discussions will continue. I will happily write to her and other noble Lords about these detailed issues but I stress that the purpose of the guidance—the point of this amendment—is to ensure that the guidance correctly reflects policy. That is what we have committed to do. We have explained how we are going to do it. We have met the noble Baroness’s perfectly sensible idea that we produce a specific leaflet to do it, and we will do that by the beginning of April.

As I explained, we have already had a number of discussions with the noble Baroness and have agreed to meet her after today and before the start of the Recess to continue our discussion on these important matters. I know that she is still unhappy about what the Government are doing with regard to the substance and some of the details of this issue. As I say, we are committed to making sure that we have the maximum degree of clarity. We are committed to having further negotiations with the noble Baroness to tease out—

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, if the Minister is assuring us that there will be information online and people will be able to understand everything, why cannot this amendment be put on the statute book so that there is a duty on the Treasury to inform people about this issue? For me the provision is so simply worded that I do not understand why it cannot be on the statute book.

Lord Newby: My Lords, we are not suggesting that this goes on the statute book because this requirement already exists. The FCA rules on the guidance providers already require guidance to be given in respect of benefits. All we are doing now is fleshing out how we intend those existing rules—which are in the FCA rulebook, or the FCA document which has gone to the organisations providing guidance—will work in respect of benefits and social care.

12.15 pm

The Archbishop of York: Could the Minister explain in a clear way that a simple mind like mine would understand whether you are depriving yourself of assets when you take money out of an ISA and put it in a pension fund? How can I be confident that the guidance, which will come from somewhere else, will be more erudite than what I am hearing at the moment? I for one want to say, in this week when we have seen great difficulties in social care provision and when most people are worried about their social care and

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their pensions, that it seems that this particular bit of legislation actually puts a duty on the Treasury to ensure that it is the one that informs people of this.

Lord Newby: My Lords, for the third time, if you move money from your ISA to your pension pot, that is not a deprivation of asset. The Treasury is in charge of the guidance process.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is the trouble.

Lord Newby: The noble Baroness has an aversion to the Treasury—I cannot imagine why—but the Treasury has this power to provide the guidance under the Bill. The Treasury and the FCA have set out the details of what the guidance has to contain. It is already written into the FCA rulebook that it has to cover benefits. Therefore, the Government’s contention is that there is no need for a second amendment requiring this to be in the Bill when not only will it happen, but the rules saying that the guidance providers must do it are already in existence.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful to all of those who have taken part. It was really helpful to try to tease out some of the very serious issues. They are serious. All of us are concerned about a rising benefit bill, particularly where there are cuts across other objectives such as the health service, education and whatever. We also want to support those services.

These proposals were imposed on the DWP. My sympathies are entirely with the DWP, which is trying to sort out the mess created by an open-handed gesture from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which has not been thought through for its implications for means-tested benefits. That is the problem which is apparent today, from everything that we have heard. We still do not know half the answers. I am quite sure that the DWP and DWP Ministers are doing their honourable and decent best to try to make some sense out of a tangle and mess that has been dumped on them by HMT. I am not blaming any Minister personally, but that is what has happened. HMT’s pension freedoms absolutely tear up the rulebook, particularly on DWP capital, which is there to protect all of us in terms of benefit expenditure. It is only after yesterday evening that we are beginning to get some detailed information. We have been pressing for this for five weeks in this House, let alone down at the other end.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lipsey, who teased out further problems with the interaction between social care and pensions. I look forward to the letter that he so rightly asked for being in the Library.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, absolutely rightly emphasised the need for clarity. She is so right, but how can you have clarity when you have not fully sorted the policy problems behind what you are trying to explain to people? That is why we have come back with a very anodyne amendment, but behind it is the charge that the policy has not been fully sorted. I therefore hope that the actor writing that pamphlet will ensure that the policy is sorted.

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I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, gave the game away, as that sounds too frivolous, but he made the point that you cannot align ISAs with pensions, because that does not work, and you cannot align pensions with ISAs, because that does not work for people over the age of 50. So he is stuck and we are all stuck because, as far as I can tell, nobody at HM Treasury took on board the very real skills and experience of the people at the DWP who have to operate the service in practice. Talk about silo government—although we are all guilty of that; I am not saying that we are whiter than white when obviously we are not. However, here is something that will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and the two departments have not got their act together. The DWP is trying to make rules which are not rules but simply arbitrary decisions, and I am confident that at least some of them will be tested by judicial review over the years.

This is a mess but I hope that this amendment, which I will of course withdraw given the undertakings that the Minister has given today, will at least send a signal, as the most reverend Primate said, and give us the chance to get the policy clear so that the leaflets can be clear. Frankly, in order for that to happen the DWP at the highest level has to talk to the Treasury at the highest level and come up with something which is decent, fair, transparent, consistent and simple, if it can. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Schedule 4: Rights to transfer benefits

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth

2: Schedule 4, page 100, line 8, leave out from “period” to end of line 11 and insert “required by section 91(1A) or (6A).

(1A) A member of a pension scheme loses the right to take a cash equivalent in accordance with this Chapter if, after the member makes an application under section 91, the duty of the trustees or managers to do what is needed to carry out what the member requires is extinguished by section 95(2A).

(1B) Nothing in subsection (1) or (1A) prevents the member from later acquiring a new right to take a cash equivalent in relation to the same benefits.”

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, I apologise that this amendment may not be quite as highly charged as the previous one. It corrects an oversight in relation to the amendments that we made to the transfer provisions on Report and simply inserts the provision relating to when a member’s transfer rights fall away into Northern Ireland legislation.

The amendment makes a consequential amendment to the existing transfer legislation, which sets out when a member’s rights to a transfer fall away. It puts beyond doubt that the right to a transfer value falls away after either three months or any extension period granted by the legislation. This amendment and the one applying to the legislation relating to Great Britain have been made in response to industry concerns that the current situation could place trustees in a position where the right to transfer somehow still subsisted, although the trustees could not action the transfer.

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I also take this opportunity to clarify the purpose of Amendment 30, which I spoke to on Report. That amendment inserted a new limb into an existing regulation-making power in Section 101F(6A) of the Pension Schemes Act 1993. It created a power to disapply, in prescribed circumstances, the right of prescribed persons to transfer pension rights acquired as a consequence of divorce. In describing that amendment, I stated that it restored an existing power. I now understand that this is in fact a new power which expands upon the narrower existing power. I hope that noble Lords will accept this new amendment to align Northern Ireland legislation, along with my clarification of the operation of Amendment 30 made on Report.

As this is the final amendment to which I will speak, before I sit down I would like to take a moment to thank the Opposition for their constructive and positive engagement in this process—I do so sincerely; their engagement has been valuable. I also thank colleagues across the House who have dedicated their time and expertise to scrutinising and improving the Bill. It has been the House of Lords at its best. I think we can all say that your Lordships’ House has done a good job in scrutinising the Bill and that it goes back to another place a much better Bill than it was before.

A significant amount of work goes into preparing a Bill and supporting its passage through both Houses, to say the very least. This Bill contains a wide range of measures and has involved a number of different policy teams from the Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Ministry of Justice. They have worked unstintingly and with dedication. I am grateful to them and to the excellent draftsmen in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, who have worked very hard on this Bill.

I am also indebted to my noble friend Lord Newby for his considerable work and assistance on the Bill, to my right honourable friend Steve Webb, the Minister for Pensions, for his advice and help, and to my noble friend Lord Freud for his support. With that, I beg to move.

Lord Bradley: My Lords, I again thank the Minister for clarification of the amendments, and these are obviously acceptable. I also thank him for the clarifications he has given throughout the Bill’s passage, as well as for the courtesy that he and his fellow Ministers have shown to this House and for the help that he has given to the Opposition as we have debated the issues. I also thank the civil servants for the support that they have given to the Opposition in answering the questions that we have raised.

As we come to a close in the Bill’s passage through this House it is worth reminding ourselves that on Second Reading we considered two Bills together—this one and the then Taxation of Pensions Bill—as it had been recognised that the two were inextricably linked. That has clearly been shown to be the case during our deliberations generally and in our consideration of this amendment. The speed between the announcement of pension freedoms and flexibilities in the Budget last year and implementation of the policy in April of this year has led to a huge number of amendments and

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policy clarifications, with many significant regulations still to come. Let us remember that implementation is barely nine weeks away.

Although broadly supporting the policy, we have tried during these debates to ensure that the interests of the public have been paramount and properly protected. We have sought and received assurances from the Government that the policy is clear and fully thought through, including in our debate today on the treatment of pension funds for income-related benefits and care costs assessment. However, in the light of today’s debate, I remain deeply concerned. We have been assured that not only will the crucial guidance guarantee service be fully in place by April but that it will have capacity and its staff will have the expertise and be fully trained to deliver a quality service for the 320,000 people who may seek guidance in the first instance.

Obviously, we are pleased that the Government accepted our argument for a second line of defence to give the public greater protection. We will continue to monitor closely the implementation of the powers vested in these two pieces of legislation. However, we remain concerned on many issues. These issues will be closely scrutinised both inside and outside this House to ensure that the public’s interests are properly and fully thought through and protected.

Finally, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in our debates. I would particularly mention the support I have been given by my noble friends Lady Drake, Lady Hollis, Lord McKenzie and, of course, Lord McAvoy and Lady Sherlock.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. Clearly, we recognise the support that we have had generally for these important pension freedoms. The noble Lord, Lord Hutton, who is not in his place, certainly spoke of this as a revolutionary measure—which it is in many ways. I accept that guidance is at the heart of it. We need to ensure that these freedoms are exercised with proper guidance and proper advice, which is where this House has been quite properly engaged, and recognise that there is still ongoing work to do, to which we will return.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Deregulation Bill

Report (2nd Day)

12.29 pm

Clause 64: TV licensing: alternatives to criminal sanctions

Amendment 27

Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

27: Clause 64, page 57, line 43, at end insert—

“(14) Any regulations which are made under subsection (1) shall not take effect before 1 April 2017.”

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, our amendment to Clause 64 seeks reassurance that any potential changes to the licence fee enforcement system will not take effect until at least 1 April 2017. This necessary amendment ensures that any impact on the BBC’s income from the licence fee is thoroughly considered before any action is taken.

The reason why 1 April 2017 is vitally important is because this is when the current licence fee settlement expires. Under the current settlement, the BBC has been able to plan its programme-making years in advance and to budget accordingly. Thus any changes to the licence fee enforcement regime coming into effect before 1 April 2017 would have a significant impact on the service and content that the BBC provides. The BBC needs sufficient time to respond to a change in income or else drastic action, such as service closures or the loss of programmes, could be a serious possibility.

Our amendment ensures financial stability for the BBC so that it can continue long-term commitments. From 2014 until 2018, the BBC is marking the First World War centenary with its biggest and most ambitious pan-BBC season ever undertaken. Unique in scale and breadth, and across BBC TV, radio, online and international, national and local services, this commitment is possible only because of licence fee funding and an assurance of income. “Frozen Planet”, “Africa” and “Planet Earth” are all examples of the brilliant factual programmes produced by the BBC’s natural history unit, all of which took four years to make. Quality dramas such as “Wolf Hall” and the upcoming “War and Peace”, also typically take around four years to produce. There is also the current “Taking Liberties—The Democracy Season”—years in the making—marking the anniversaries of the first Parliament and Magna Carta. It is seasons and programmes such as these which highlight graphically why the timing of any potential change is crucial.

The Government made a commitment to the BBC when the current licence fee settlement was signed in 2010,

“to provide a full financial settlement to the end of the year 2016/17, with no new financial requirements or fresh obligations of any kind being placed on the BBC and/or licence fee revenues in this period”.

Our amendment to Clause 64 safeguards this undertaking. As I have already said, the BBC has carried out forward planning under this commitment. Clause 64 will enable the government of the day to act upon the conclusion of the licence fee enforcement review currently being conducted by David Perry QC and due to report in June 2015. The BBC, I know, looks forward to engaging with the review. Its overriding concern will be to ensure a licence fee enforcement system that is both proportionate and successful in maintaining the current low levels of evasion and collection costs. Currently, the licence fee evasion rate is low, at around 5.5%. If licence fee enforcement were purely a civil matter and the evasion rate were to increase to that of utility bills, which is just under 10%, that would cost the BBC around £20 million per annum.

The conclusions of the review by David Perry QC of licence fee enforcement should be considered in the round as part of the upcoming charter review. This is a common-sense approach which would consider

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the interests of all those who would be affected and of course would include licence fee payers. Our amendment, which I should have said at the beginning has strong cross-party support, provides certainty for the BBC’s budgets and planning until the next funding settlement begins in April 2017.

The BBC is a vitally important, well-loved national institution and, as often referred to in this House and the other place, is the envy of countries around the world for its trusted and independent news output and the quality drama and children’s programming it produces. Why risk losing that or damaging our much-loved programmes and services? I hope that noble Lords will agree. I beg to move.

Baroness Corston (Lab): My Lords, I rise with reluctance to oppose the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. I yield to no one in my support of the British Broadcasting Corporation. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have such an institution in this country. One has only to go to the United States of America to see television where there are hundreds of channels but nothing to watch to know how lucky we are to have the BBC. However, I take issue with the criminalisation of a failure to pay the fee.

Whenever I meet women in prison who are there because they did not pay the fine, I get a message from TV Licensing, which is based in Bristol where my old constituency was, saying, “Oh well, not paying the television licence fee is not a crime”. Of course it is not. What happens is that these people, usually poor women, are taken to court where they plead guilty. Some have said to me, “I left the television on because the kids said that the other children at school were talking about programmes they did not know about”, but they could not afford the £145.50 a year it costs to pay for the licence. If it was a civil penalty, of course there would be a fine, and other things like distraint can be used against those who do not pay a fine arising from a civil penalty.

I know that 50 people a year are imprisoned because they do not pay the television licence fee. They are not imprisoned if they do not pay their council tax, but local authorities seem to survive. I once met a woman who had been imprisoned for three months for failing to pay the £145.50 television licence fee and a £200 fine. If she could not afford the licence fee, surely she was not going to be able to afford a £200 fine as well. During those three months in prison she lost her tenancy and was unable to look after her children, who were taken into care. When she came out of prison, she was told that she could not have local authority accommodation for a family because she did not have her children with her, and when she went to social services she was told that she could not have her children back because she did not have family accommodation. That is a Catch-22.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I have just one simple question. I do not think that this amendment is about decriminalisation, it is simply about timing and budgets. The Government have often said that business and arts institutions need to know what lies ahead in

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terms of budgeting. It may well be that decriminalisation should happen, but as I understand it, that is not what this amendment is about.

Baroness Corston: The amendment is about the fact that the status quo remains until the renewal of the charter in 2017. I am merely flagging up the point that we should not allow continuing criminalisation in respect of this penalty, because of the malign effect it has on, admittedly, a small number of people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, said, the BBC itself confirmed in an article in the Guardian in September last year:

“Licence fee evasion is low”.

It is not low because people think they might go to prison, it is low because people believe in the BBC. I simply do not think that the signal that we are sending, that the status quo is all right, is acceptable.

Lord Lipsey (Lab): My Lords, I support the amendment, despite the fact that I have considerable sympathy with the argument put by my noble friend Lady Corston. The status quo has persisted for a good long time. It will inevitably be re-examined on charter renewal—which I will come to in a minute—and it therefore seems to me that we can take a decision on whether decriminalising makes sense when we see whether it is relevant or not to that environment.

I sat on the Davies inquiry into the BBC licence fee in 1999 and, at the end of a year of study, probably knew as much about the licence fee as any man living. Unfortunately, like the man who once understood the Schleswig-Holstein question, I have long since forgotten all of it, save that the licence fee is a perfect way of funding the BBC but unfortunately is a poll tax that bears heavily on poor people. That core dilemma, if I can call it that, is something that we shall have to face up to when we come to charter renewal and to discuss BBC finance at the end of the current period.

At least four options are likely to be available: leave the licence fee as it is; what I guess the BBC will come down for, which is a slightly modernised licence fee, with people paying it for computers as well as televisions, which I am told are the same thing these days; a much greater modification to the licence fee; or some new form of finance. Those will be the broad options available when we come to charter renewal. This will be a very interesting argument.

I will just slip in something that I think would be very helpful at this stage. As part of the charter renewal process, it would be a very good move by the Government to set up an independent inquiry, such as the one I sat on with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, into the licence fee. In particular, it should produce a menu with prices to tell the public that if you want to pay this much licence fee, you can have these services, or if you want to pay that much licence fee, you can have those services and so on. At the moment, we are very much in the dark as to what that menu would be and what the choices would be, and an independent inquiry would greatly illuminate public debate.

To come to the kernel of this point, it does seem to me to be arse about tip—if I am allowed to use such an expression in this House—to take powers to change

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the basis on which the licence fee is collected long before deciding whether you want a licence fee at all, let alone what kind of licence fee you want. An inquiry into this is sitting, which will report. Then is the time for Parliament to take a view of its findings, together with the whole scenario for the funding of the BBC. Arse about tip is the only phrase I can think of for doing it right now.

Viscount Colville of Culross (CB): My Lords, I am a producer at the BBC and I support this amendment. I want to emphasise and support what the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, just said. We are not being asked today to decide whether the enforcement regime for the failure to pay the licence fee should be decriminalised or not—that is the subject of a review by David Perry, which seems to be a very wide-ranging and fair review.

However, if the review decides in June this year to go ahead with decriminalisation, and the Government implement that decision immediately, it will blow a huge hole in the BBC’s budget—the figure is actually £200 million rather than the £20 million suggested by my noble friend Lady Howe. The BBC has already made cuts of 26% over the present charter renewal period, which has resulted in great efficiencies. Thousands of jobs have gone and there has been a reduction in programme hours of current affairs, history, science and arts. A future £200 million cut, I fear, could put the existence of whole channels at risk. We have seen BBC3, the digital youth channel, go online. Between them, the local radio network and the children’s channels CBBC and CBeebies cost £200 million.

In Committee, the Minister said:

“It is right that the Government of the day must be free to consider the report when it completes in June 2015 and be able to act without unnecessary limitations at that point”.—[Official Report, 11/11/14; col. GC 42.]

I ask the Minister why the Government would want to blow a hole in the BBC’s finances at a time when the results of the review can be considered within a year or so as part of the charter renewal. I urge noble Lords to support the amendment and stop a very sudden and damaging reduction in the BBC’s revenue.

12.45 pm

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab): My Lords, I support the amendment. I spoke on this matter in Committee, when the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, made the points he has just made about the £200 million shortfall that could well result. I have not seen that figure challenged in the months since. It is something that we have to take very seriously.

I do not want to reiterate the points made very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lord Lipsey, but I want to refer to the letter that the noble Baroness mentioned. I have a copy here. It is dated 21 October 2010 and is from the then Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, to Sir Michael Lyons, then chairman of the BBC Trust. It includes the important quote:

“The Government undertakes to provide a full financial settlement to the end of the year 2016/17, with no new financial requirements or fresh obligations of any kind being placed on the BBC and/or licence fee revenues in this period except by mutual agreement”.

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We know that the BBC has not agreed to any such reduction, so that is one point. The other point is that in another part of the letter, the Secretary of State says:

“I believe the agreement we have reached provides certainty and security for the BBC over the settlement period”.

I believe that the Government should be obliged because of that letter in the name of the Secretary of State to uphold what was contained in it. Frankly, unless the amendment is accepted, there is a grave risk—it is not certain, I accept—that that will be the effect.

Whether or not the licence fee even has a future—personally, I very much hope it has—we do not know, but we do know that there are more than two years of the current licence fee period to run. The sort of shortfall that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, mentioned is important, as is the 13% reduction in the licence fee because of it being frozen since 2010. The effect of that has to be taken into consideration. For those reasons, I believe that the Government are obliged to accept the amendment because only by doing that can they ensure that they uphold the commitment given by Jeremy Hunt in 2010.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Con): My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a former employee of the BBC and a former chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, and a current pensioner. Just to set that in context, my monthly sum does not cover my congestion charge for coming to this House.

I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. The fiscal arguments have been well rehearsed. It seems very unfair to put the BBC’s fiscal planning at risk at a time when we are not that far away from the full-blown charter review and a total review of the means of funding the BBC. I will not rehearse those arguments again.

I state from the outset to the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, that I speak from the point of view that I would love to see non-payment of the licence fee decriminalised, but there are risks in doing that. There are risks that the enemies of the BBC will see it as an opportunity to remove the compulsory element of the licence fee and move the BBC to a subscription model, which would completely undermine the whole concept of public service broadcasting. I think there are dark forces at work, as you can tell from the overegging of the arguments that they have used. We have heard from those pushing for decriminalisation that the courts are “clogged up” and “overrun” with these cases. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was well rehearsed in Committee.

There is a sense in which this is a solution in search of a problem. There is not really a problem, but if it could be decriminalised without losing the compulsory element, that would be fine. But, of course, with the compulsory element, there would have to be some sanction. What is the sanction? We need to look at that, to understand that and to reflect on it in the context of charter review, not in a hurried order from government just months away from charter review.

I am deeply concerned about this measure. I am in favour of decriminalisation. A timetable is set for charter review. The present licence agreement runs

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out, as we have heard, in April 2017 at the end of that financial year. I see no reason to interfere with the BBC’s financial planning. I see every reason to support this amendment in order to take a measured look so that we do not interfere with the delicate financial arrangements for the BBC. Yes, those arrangements need looking at; yes, we will have plenty of time to do it after the election—I believe that there is one coming soon; I read it somewhere in one of the newspapers. Immediately after the election is settled, the starting gun will go on the charter review process. That is the time for all the stakeholders involved to have their say and to assess the impact of decriminalisation, what the sanctions will be and whether we will continue with a compulsory licence fee or some other form of funding. These are big, fundamental questions. There is a direct relationship between the source of funding and the kind of programmes that you get on your television and radio sets.

I ask the Government to think carefully before rejecting this amendment. Meanwhile, I lend my support to those on all sides of the House who are supporting it.

Lord Rooker (Lab): My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grade, has just said and want to deal briefly with a procedural point. I had the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee which gave pre-legislative scrutiny to the Bill between July and December 2013—in fact, I am so fed up with it that I am bored stiff. However, this measure was not in the Bill. Therefore, I would argue from Parliament’s point of view that it did not have the scrutiny that such an important issue would justify, being put in in the Commons, being done in Grand Committee in this House and then being dealt with now.

It is almost a mirror image of the argument that we have just had on the counterterrorism Bill, where an attempt was made to make a change when it was known that inquiries are going on with a deadline next year for that matter to be properly dealt with, and the noble Lord, Lord King, therefore withdrew his amendment. This is exactly the same. As we have just heard, the licence fee is fixed—in writing, as it were—from 2010 to 2017. I do not want to see people in prison for debts—it is a complete waste—but the risk to the BBC of what might happen if this amendment is not carried is so substantial because of the forces charged up against the BBC in other guises. I declare an interest: I do not have Sky because I discovered that Rupert Murdoch is still alive. So I do not have these sorts of conflicts, but the fact is that those forces are lined up. There should be a proper duly considered argument in Parliament, maybe with differentials, after the review and in the context of us all knowing that a big discussion is going on, rather than its being dealt with in the Bill, which does not give this issue the scrutiny that it justifies because of the way that the Bill has gone through Parliament. I will support the amendment if it is pushed to a vote.

Lord Clement-Jones (LD): My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. As only the fourth spear-carrier on this amendment, I want to make just a few, very brief points.

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We are, I hope, widely agreeing that this debate is purely about timing. As we have heard, there are supporters of the amendment who may go different ways. I happen to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this measure is in a sense a Trojan Horse designed to damage the BBC, but I suspect that there are many others who will disagree with me, including the noble Baroness, Lady Corston.

As we have heard from around the House, it is vital that licence fee penalties are considered in the round as an integral part of the review of the BBC’s charter and funding. The BBC has an agreed settlement until March 2017 and based its long-term planning around that. Unforeseen reductions in income will impact services and content to the detriment of licence fee payers—that is, if a different arrangement is made beforehand which has an impact on licence fee collection.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, there is another very important reason, quite apart from that budgetary one. It is about the undertaking given by government back in 2010. The noble Lord quoted from the letter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has retabled her amendment and of course I strongly support it. We were not given a very decent response by the Government in Committee. My noble friend Lord Gardiner stated:

“Surely it does not make sense to apply any constraints that could hinder moving to a new enforcement regime; nor would any such constraint represent the best approach for licence fee payers, or the courts system”.—[Official Report, 11/11/14; col. GC 42.]

I believe entirely the opposite: this amendment, if adopted, would represent the best approach for licence fee payers. This is not an artificial limitation on timing. As my noble friend suggested, it is about keeping to the letter and spirit of the 2010 licence fee settlement to avoid unforeseen reductions in income adversely impacting BBC services and content, and to make sure that any changes to the enforcement regime are part and parcel of the charter review.

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, I strongly agree with what my noble friend Lord Grade said. I am entirely sympathetic to the idea of decriminalising the non-payment of the licence fee. I obviously understand the arguments on that. Indeed, I think I have put one or two of those arguments myself. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, we are at the start of the royal charter debate. The whole point of that debate, and of the royal charter, is that there should be some certainty as far as the BBC is concerned. That is the whole case that has always been put by Ministers in the royal charter argument.

To give an example, some of us—I might now say many of us—think that the BBC Trust is one of the worst ideas ever put forward by any Government. There are very few supporters of the BBC Trust. There were a few at the time but even then they were pretty limited and now there are practically none. However, what is the Government’s response to the question, “Can we change the BBC Trust?”? It is, “Not a bit of it. You must wait until the charter review. Then we will look at it and see what can be done as far as the BBC Trust is concerned”.

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So I am a little puzzled why this very profound change being advocated by the other place—the decriminalisation of the failure to pay the licence fee—should go ahead in advance of the debate. We would go ahead although we knew nothing about the future of the BBC, the licence fee or the impact that it would have upon the finances of the BBC. That is all basic information that Parliament is entitled to have before making a change of this kind.

Yet we know that some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this change to the Bill are opposed to the licence fee in any event. This is just a mini sideshow as far as they are concerned. They oppose the BBC as a public broadcaster and advocate a subscription system; we know that. These are not penal reformers coming forward in the main but people having a go at the BBC. We know that: they want to change it. We should be realistic about this. For all those reasons, I do not see why this change and, frankly, those kinds of people, should be given precedence. We have said that as far as changes are concerned there is a royal charter process and royal charter period. We should stick to that. I support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

Lord Cashman (Lab): My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate but, having listened to those who have, I am inspired to do so. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, in his assessment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Grade, I have to declare an interest as a former employee of the BBC but, unlike him, I do not receive a pension—not even to cover my congestion charge. However, I see the clause as an attempt to restrain the BBC. It is a seatbelt wrapped over the BBC. It will stop it being able to do any long-term planning. That great public broadcaster will be inhibited from entering contracts of employment with its own staff, let alone the staff it needs to bring in if its long-term planning is to produce the very programmes that we demand and maintain the excellence of its news coverage—although I do not always agree with it.

I urge your Lordships to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. It is sensible; it gives certainty. Any decisions about the future of the BBC should take place after long and considered discussion.

1 pm

Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, I, too, support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I declare an interest as a presenter of some of the BBC’s iconic children’s programmes and an independent television producer. I agree with what many noble Lords have said in support of the amendment.

However, I want to talk about the potential impact on the BBC’s children’s programming if the noble Baroness’s amendment is not accepted. We have already heard that if licence fee evasion were to increase to —let us say—10%, it could result in a reduction in the BBC’s revenue of about £200 million per annum. That could mean that children’s original content provision will suffer. The UK has a highly competitive children’s media market, with probably the highest number of dedicated television channels anywhere in the world. However, with the exception of CBBC and CBeebies,

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most of those channels show little or no UK original content. Their schedules largely consist of material bought in from abroad.

I understand that the BBC’s executive has taken the decision to protect the children’s department budget, but that has meant that the reduction in its budget is proportionately much less than the reductions agreed for other BBC services. The children’s department commissioning budget will reduce from £150 million in 2011-12 to £101 million in 2016-17. So already a planned impact on the budget of children's programmes has been put in place. I believe in the BBC’s sincere and long-term commitment to children’s programming. However, I worry that the BBC has agreed a licence fee settlement until 2017 on which it has based its long-term budget planning. Unforeseen reductions in income will impact services and content, and that will include the high-quality provision freely available for our children.

Therefore, I support the amendment, which is intended to ensure that any impacts on the BBC’s funding resulting from the Perry review are not introduced until 1 April 2017, the first day of the next licence fee settlement. Surely we can wait until then.

Lord Inglewood (Con): I rise to join the chorus in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. This is part of a much wider question, which, as several speakers have said, will be determined over the next few weeks, months and years. It should remain an integral part of that process and not be sliced off like a piece of salami. The only substantive objection against the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in the debate this afternoon has come from the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. I have every sympathy for the predicament that she describes, although I have no knowledge of the facts to which she referred. It seems to me that what she was describing is not a consequence of criminalisation but a consequence of what happened in the courts and the actions of the relevant social services. It is important to decouple the two. I think it would be very foolish not to support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.

Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, I declare an interest as a former governor of the BBC. I recall charter renewal as a long, drawn-out process involving all sorts of different elements, and it would be wrong to pick this one out for fundamental change before the entire charter is reviewed. The other issue is that the licence fee is clearly due for the most fundamental reanalysis because both those who can afford it and those who cannot are very likely to be looking at BBC output on their iPads or computers. That is something that the licence fee arrangements have yet to grapple with. It is an enormous question that deserves careful attention—but in the holistic review of the entire charter. Therefore, I, too, support this very sensible amendment.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I thank all speakers for contributing to this debate and make special mention of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for all her campaigns, but particularly on this issue, which she has pursued with considerable vigour

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over the past few months. I also thank the noble BBC pensioner, the noble Lord, Lord Grade, for his support. It might be of interest to the House that he has had to change long-standing family arrangements to be here today, and we are grateful to him for that. The fourth spear carrier, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has joined the charge and made a valuable contribution.

We have heard little vigorous debate about this issue because just about everybody is in favour, with the exception of the impassioned speech from my noble friend Lady Corston. Like other noble Lords, I share her concerns and regret that we did not tackle this issue earlier, because it is clearly causing considerable dismay.

When issues of public policy need to be resolved, there is no better place to do it than in your Lordships’ House, and this debate has lived up to its highest reputation. I should like to make three points.

First, this is an important matter. The BBC is the gold standard of our broadcasting system, which is one of the best in the world. We should never forget that. We take for granted the information, education and culture that the BBC produces hour after hour, day after day, and never really question how it has adapted to and survived so many changes over the decades, and how the system has evolved to make sure that that happens.

At a time when the very nature of the British state is under question, we should be very careful about tinkering with the long-established procedures under which it operates. I do not need to remind your Lordships’ House that, in survey after survey, the BBC ranks as one of the most important signifiers of the United Kingdom in all four countries. Recent experience in Scotland demonstrates what happens if that becomes an issue of debate in a referendum.

Over time, we have established appropriate procedures for exercising effective but arm’s-length oversight of the BBC, involving, as we have heard, periodic reviews of the charter and licence fee and the regular fixing of budgets. Previous charter reviews have taken two or three years of consultation and debate—although I understand that the timescale for the 2010 licence fee settlement was perhaps weeks, if not days. However, that does not depart from my general point.

Most people in the UK feel that there would have to be a very pressing reason for the Government of the day to depart from long-established procedures for settling the governance and funding of the BBC. I think it would be very unwise for any political party to play around with the BBC for short-term political advantage.

Secondly, I turn to the review. We support the review being undertaken by David Perry QC. We do not know what the review will recommend on the important question of decriminalising penalties. As I said, my noble friend Lady Corston made some very good points that need to be considered. Having said that, this is complicated and, as has been said, is as much to do with the courts and social services as how the BBC operates. This issue has not passed the test of being a pressing reason to depart from normal governance procedures. We think that it is right to wait for the outcome of the review before any decisions are taken.

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We must consider whether there is any reason for intervening in advance of the licence fee settlement, and we do not think the case has been made. In all the reasons that have been given today, I have not heard one to suggest that that needs to be departed from.

Thirdly, we need to probe deeply into what the Government are saying. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lord Watson said, when the 2010 licence fee settlement was announced, the letters that went out at the time said that the settlement would,

“provide a full financial settlement to the end of the year 2016/17”—

the end of the year 2016-17—

“with no new financial requirements or fresh obligations of any kind being placed on the BBC and/or license fee revenues in this period”.

I call on the Government today to honour that commitment on certainty and security, which they can do in part by accepting this amendment.

As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, we need to recall that this clause was not in the Bill when it was first introduced to Parliament, and therefore not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. It came late in the process, when the Government rather unexpectedly accepted a Back-Bench amendment from their own side in the other place. It has never been properly considered or scrutinised; the only discussion has been in Committee in this House. In that Committee, the Minister said:

“The findings of the review … should be considered in the context of the charter review”,

a statement to which we could not object. However, he went on to say:

“It will be for the Government of the day to take forward any further actions as they see fit”.

Further, he said that the argument in favour of that action was that if the review were to find,

“an issue with the current regime,

it can be of benefit to no one to delay the review or to prevent its findings informing any required change to the existing system”.—[

Official Report

, 11/11/14; col. GC 31.]

This is specious, and sophistry. If the review was to recommend a change in process, there could, as we have heard, be a gap of some £200 million a year for the BBC in the last year of an already very punishing settlement. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, suggested, the Government are trying to have it both ways. They are trying to persuade us that they are indeed with the angels on the charter review, requiring it to be a full and proper process, but at the same time wishing to reserve their position in case there is an opportunity for them to cut funding to the BBC in 2016-17. This is wrong.

I put it to the Minister that by resisting this simple and principled amendment today, he will be fuelling a sense that this Government are doing what they can, when they can, to weaken the BBC. As the noble Lords, Lord Grade and Lord Fowler, warned, it opens the door for darker forces in favour of a different funding model for the BBC. It is not just a simple reform of the penal system. The reaction to this issue today, from right across your Lordships’ House, which I aver is echoed across the country, shows that it would be completely wrong for the Government to introduce a significant change in funding for the BBC before the

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start of the next licence fee period on 1 April 2017. If the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will support her.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): Before the noble Lord sits down, is there any reason why, in the mean time, an amendment to the arrangements for the problem raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, could not take effect? This amendment appears to cut that out also, until the 2017 deadline. It strikes me that the problem, which the noble Baroness explained fully, has a very serious and unnecessary effect on families. I should like to see the possibility of that being dealt with. I do not agree that it would be all that difficult because the civil sanction would remain, so I find it difficult to agree that that should be cut out. I understand all the rest with reasonable clarity but I do not understand why this particular aspect should be cut out, as I understand it would be by this amendment.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: I am very flattered to be invited by the noble and learned Lord to reflect on what he has said, which makes a great deal of sense. I suggest that it is for the Government to say whether they could take forward the sensibility of my noble friend Lady Corston’s points because it seems that they might require additional funding, which could of course be provided by the Government, should they wish to do so. It is not my position to say that. However, I think the noble and learned Lord is saying that if one could, with equity, deal with my noble friend’s arrangements then we would have solved one problem. I put it to him that it would not solve the greater problem: that there should be a self-denying ordinance from any Government, and not a willingness to interfere with long-established procedures for making sure that the BBC has the funding it needs to do the job that it is required to do. I hope that he would accept that.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate and comes, as your Lordships’ debates so often do, with a great deal of experience. A television licence is required to watch all live and nearly-live broadcast television content on any device in the United Kingdom. People should not seek to evade this and there needs to be an effective enforcement regime for the failure to have a TV licence.

Clause 64 confers a new power on the Secretary of State, via secondary legislation, to change the sanctions that apply to the failure to have a TV licence. There was significant cross-party support for the TV licensing clauses in the early stages of the Bill in the other place. We believe that the firm commitments set out by the Government at that time should be honoured, particularly given the strong cross-party support. Whatever opinion your Lordships take, the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, made often came to the heart of the dilemma in how we take this matter forward. I will be raising that in greater detail.

1.15 pm

This is a matter that concerns a lot of people. The Government are very clear that the review of the licensing enforcement regime should therefore be a

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priority. The decision was taken to begin this review in advance of Royal Assent, while retaining the clause that commits the Government to carrying out the review to ensure that this important work is completed. I am particularly mindful of the concerns that a number of your Lordships have raised about this review: as a stalking horse for bigger issues such as broader funding and income and, probably worse still, about an undermining of the BBC. It is therefore important that I should at least seek to address your Lordships’ concerns head-on by stating unequivocally that the review of the licensing enforcement regime is no such thing; it is an independent review, set up to deliver recommendations and the best outcomes for the licence fee payer, the courts system and, I emphasise, the BBC itself.

The independent lead reviewer, David Perry QC, is working to tightly defined terms of reference which set out the scope of his work. The key aspects of the terms of reference in this context are that any recommendation must be made on the basis of delivering:

“Value for money for Licence Fee payers and tax payers in enforcement of the failure to have a TV Licence, including operational, revenue and investment costs of the enforcement regime to the BBC”.

That latter point is crucial here: any recommendation made by the Perry review will be made on the basis of revenue and cost to the BBC, and will include considerations such as the amount of licence fee that the BBC has to spend on enforcement. As such, any decision made by the Government of the day to adopt these recommendations will be grounded in these considerations, too.

The review is designed to ensure that there is a strong, evidence-based case for any potential changes to the TV licence enforcement regime. It will not consider any other changes, such as the cost of the licence fee. The review will begin imminently, with formal stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This will be an opportunity for the public, as well as the BBC and other parties, to feed into the review. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, is absolutely right: my understanding is that the BBC is very welcoming of discussion and dialogue, as I would expect.

The findings of the review, which will be completed this June, will be laid before both Houses of Parliament and presented to the BBC Trust. A number of your Lordships, including the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and my noble friends Lord Grade and Lord Inglewood, raised the issue of the findings. To reaffirm what I said in Committee, I emphasise again that the findings will be considered in the context of the charter review. As your Lordships know, the BBC’s current charter expires on 31 December 2016. The Government will not begin the charter review until after the election, so there is no set process for how the review of the charter should be conducted, or when. It will be for the Government of the day to take forward any further actions they see fit.

Clause 64 provides for the sanctions to be changed, either by replacing the criminal regime with a civil regime, with civil monetary penalties payable to the BBC, or by creating a civil regime that sits alongside the criminal regime as an alternative to prosecution,

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establishing powers to impose a fixed or variable money penalty in relation to a TV licensing offence. Clearly, we must not prejudge Mr Perry in his making of recommendations, and it will be for the Government of the day to decide whether they wish to implement any changes to the current system. However, I reassure noble Lords that the clause does not mean that any changes can or would be instantly applied without the requisite scrutiny and debate. This House would have a further opportunity to scrutinise and approve any proposed changes when considering any regulations made under Clause 64. I hope that that point will help, even if only a little, my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Your Lordships’ House and the other place will need to consider all these matters.

Let me go to the heart of the issue about the dates. The noble Baroness’s proposed amendment would prevent any such changes from taking place before 1 April 2017. Of course I understand the concerns that have been presented by noble Lords seeking to protect the BBC. However, any conclusions and recommendations from the review will have been reached through careful consideration of the benefits to the licence fee payer and the BBC. It will therefore not be in their interests to put constraints on taking forward the implementation of the recommendations. As I have already set out, this is an independent, evidence-based review, with clearly defined terms of reference that include the need to consider value for money,

“including operational, revenue and investment costs of the enforcement regime to the BBC”.

However, I emphasise that this is not about cutting costs. The review will also be considering fairness for all licence fee payers and the effectiveness of deterring evasion. Crucially, value-for-money considerations must also encompass the level of licence fee money spent on TV licensing enforcement. If there is potentially an issue with the current regime—obviously we make no assumptions about this while the review is still under way—it can surely benefit no one, least of all the licence fee payers and the BBC, to prevent its findings from informing any required change to the existing system as soon as is reasonable. Our concern is that the amendment would potentially prevent the Government, post election, from being able to ensure that the right enforcement regime for the BBC, licence fee payers and the courts, and probably particularly for the sort of people that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, has referred to, can be put in place following—I emphasise this—the appropriate parliamentary processes.

On the issue of timing, this will not be an immediate process. The issue cannot be seen in isolation. The report’s findings and future implementation on the part of the Government will require serious consideration in the broader context of the charter review. I think that this is what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was referring to; I think that his word was “immediate”. This is not going to mean immediate implementation in June 2015; that is only when the recommendations will be received. So not only is this in the broader context of the charter review but any recommendations made by Mr Perry will have considered the impact on the BBC and whether

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those options would represent an improvement to the current regime. That is clearly set out in the terms of reference.

Being too restrictive in aligning the timing of any changes with the charter review and the licence fee settlement would place unreasonable constraints on the Government of the day that we believe would not represent the best approach for the licence fee payer, and indeed the BBC. In short, should Mr Perry’s review identify potential changes to be made that could, for instance, deliver a better system for the BBC, how could it be to the benefit of the corporation, or indeed licence fee payers or the courts system, to impose any delay in implementing those options?

Lord Rooker: The answer to that is: because it would cause massive unpredictability at the time as no one would know the results. Before the Minister sits down, will he address the point about the letter that was referred to, and the clear statement in it, from Jeremy Hunt in 2010?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: Our overriding aim is to ensure that the system is appropriate, proportionate and fair and represents the best value. It is important that we achieve the best outcome for licence fee payers but also that we achieve an appropriate outcome for the BBC. I do not accept that this will necessarily adversely affect the BBC; the whole purpose of the terms of reference is to ensure that all these matters are given due and proper consideration. If the Government’s options were constrained by the proposed amendment, then that might not be the case.

Much of the discussion of the review and the potential changes to the enforcement regime has presumed that the outcome will be a negative one for the BBC. That is simply not the case. Again, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the terms of reference for the review and to the independence from the Government of the lead reviewer. I reiterate that the intended outcome of the review is recommendations that achieve the optimal result for all—licence fee payers, the courts system and the BBC itself. As I have said, the review recommendations will require serious consideration by the Government of the day, and this House will have a further opportunity to scrutinise and approve any proposed changes.

This process will take time; indeed, along with the wider considerations, any changes would be unlikely to be finalised much before 1 April 2017. However, we believe that to tie any changes to a specific date would be a constraint that could delay improvements—I emphasise “improvements”—to the regime for the people that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern were bringing into their considerations. We should not presume that these are not improvements.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what my noble friend has said. Basically, if he is saying that any Government, not just this one, can set up an independent review and make any changes to the charter agreement, have they not just obliterated the whole principle of certainty over a 10-year period?

5 Feb 2015 : Column 813

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: It is why I emphasised particularly that this piece of work should be seen as running alongside and parallel with the charter review. It is clearly the case that what comes forward from the review will play its part in the charter, for the very reasons that a number of noble Lords raised.

It is for the reasons that I have outlined that, with regard to the timings, I and the Government believe that whoever the Government of the day are, if there are improvements to be made and the review comes forward with legitimate improvements, it would be unnecessarily prescriptive to keep it to 1 April 2017. It is for those reasons that I ask the noble Baroness to give consideration to withdrawing her amendment.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth: Before the Minister sits down, could I be absolutely clear that the Government’s position in resisting this amendment is that it sits outside those undertakings given by the Secretary State, Jeremy Hunt, at the time of the last licence fee settlement? Is the Minister content that the challenge is on the basis that this would clearly be outside those undertakings?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I say to your Lordships what I said before: the review being undertaken on this matter is particularly engaged with terms of reference that refer to what the impact would be on the BBC, so what Mr Perry will be considering is precisely the points that my noble friend makes. As I said, our view is that if there are improvements to be made, and the sort of remedies that may possibly be suggested would be of help, then why not put them forward—to pluck an example—on 1 January 2017 rather than 1 April? It is for those reasons that I very much hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.

1.30 pm

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): Before my noble friend sits down, I have listened to the whole of this discussion and it seems to swing on the results of the price review. Can my noble friend give a cast-iron guarantee that the Government will not operate Clause 64 until or unless that review comes to the conclusion that he suspects it might?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: I may have to think about what my noble friend is referring to. He has his own way of seeking to bamboozle me. This is about an independent review that will furnish the argument, and, because of its timing, will quite rightly be within the context of the charter review. We think it is reasonable, if there are improvements to be made, whatever options are decided to be the best for all the parties that are part of the terms of reference, to set a particular date if improvements could be made for everyone’s benefit; that would be the best way forward.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: May I assume that the nutcracker which the Minister has just experienced from the two noble Lords behind him is correct and that the answer is yes to both questions? The Minister said yes to the noble Lord, Lord Grade, but, in certain circumstances and with certain results—which is the

5 Feb 2015 : Column 814

point made by the other noble Lord—you would go against what the Secretary of State said in open letters to everybody in the country: that the settlement for a five-year period was without precedent and would never be changed because it gave the security required by the BBC to do its job. Now the Minister is accepting exactly the opposite.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, all I am saying is that I am not going to prejudge the review which was established to deal with the matter of revenue to the BBC. Let us see what the review says. But if there are improvements to be made, they should be made within the context of the charter review.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, just to knock things on the head before the Minister sits down, can he confirm that, despite all the discussion that has taken place between Committee and Report, essentially—I quoted the Minister when I spoke—the Government’s position has remained completely the same?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: The Government are utterly consistent in their approach.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his attempts to persuade me and many others that our amendment, which is a thoroughly cross-party amendment, is unnecessary. This debate was one of the most interesting that I have heard in this House—and I listen to a lot of debates. It covered a huge range of issues, approaches and experience. The more I listened to the various questions about why the Government should be able to accept the amendment, the more convinced I was when the Minister argued the other way that there is little doubt about the need to put the question to the vote.

When I introduced this amendment, my approach was a little short of perfect, and I apparently misquoted the odd figure—although £200 million was certainly right. I had it written down, but I read it badly. There were one or two other points. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, because I had a word with her outside and I think that she has a point, but not one that is even remotely relevant to what I and many other Members who have spoken were trying to put over. It is something that I would be more than happy to take up with her, because quite clearly if it results in this number of women ending up in prison, with detriment to various members of their family, something is wrong. Let us face it, nothing in this life is perfect and not subject to the need to change at some stage.

I shall not go on because everything that needed to be said was said in the debate. It has completely convinced me that there is a need to test the opinion of the House.

1.35 pm

Division on Amendment 27

Contents 178; Not-Contents 175.

Amendment 27 agreed.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 815

Division No.  1


Adonis, L.

Alli, L.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anderson of Swansea, L.

Andrews, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Avebury, L.

Bach, L.

Bakewell, B.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Benjamin, B.

Best, L.

Bew, L.

Bilimoria, L.

Birt, L.

Blackstone, B.

Boothroyd, B.

Bradley, L.

Bradshaw, L.

Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carter of Coles, L.

Cashman, L.

Chandos, V.

Clancarty, E.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Colville of Culross, V.

Condon, L.

Craigavon, V.

Cunningham of Felling, L.

Davies of Oldham, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Deech, B.

Desai, L.

Donaghy, B.

Drake, B.

Dubs, L.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Evans of Temple Guiting, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Faulkner of Worcester, L.

Fellowes, L.

Fowler, L.

Freyberg, L.

Gale, B.

Garel-Jones, L.

Gibson of Market Rasen, B.

Giddens, L.

Glasgow, E.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Grade of Yarmouth, L.

Hameed, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haworth, L.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Hennessy of Nympsfield, L.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hollick, L.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howe of Aberavon, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Hoyle, L.

Hunt of Chesterton, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hylton, L.

Inglewood, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

Janke, B.

Janvrin, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Jordan, L.

Judd, L.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kidron, B.

Kilclooney, L.

King of Bow, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kinnock of Holyhead, B.

Laming, L.

Lawrence of Clarendon, B.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Liddle, L.

Lipsey, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Low of Dalston, L.

McAvoy, L.

McConnell of Glenscorrodale, L.

McDonagh, B.

McFall of Alcluith, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Mar, C.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maxton, L.

Meacher, B.

Mendelsohn, L.

Monks, L.

Moonie, L.

Morgan of Huyton, B.

Morris of Aberavon, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Nye, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Ouseley, L.

Patel, L. [Teller]

Paul, L.

Pendry, L.

Phillips of Sudbury, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.

Prashar, B.

Prosser, B.

Quin, B.

Quirk, L.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Rebuck, B.

Renton of Mount Harry, L.

Richard, L.

Rooker, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Royall of Blaisdon, B.

Sawyer, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sherlock, B.

Simon, V.

Singh of Wimbledon, L.

Slim, V.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 816

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Snape, L.

Soley, L.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Storey, L.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Taverne, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Thornton, B.

Tomlinson, L.

Touhig, L.

Trees, L.

Truscott, L.

Tunnicliffe, L. [Teller]

Turnberg, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Walpole, L.

Warnock, B.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

West of Spithead, L.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Wilkins, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Wills, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Worthington, B.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Alderdice, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.

Balfe, L.

Barker, B.

Bates, L.

Bell, L.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blencathra, L.

Borwick, L.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Bridgeman, V.

Brinton, B.

Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Butler-Sloss, B.

Byford, B.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cathcart, E.

Cavendish of Furness, L.

Chadlington, L.

Chidgey, L.

Colwyn, L.

Cooper of Windrush, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cormack, L.

Cotter, L.

Courtown, E.

Cumberlege, B.

Deben, L.

Deighton, L.

Denham, L.

Dholakia, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Doocey, B.

Dundee, E.

Eaton, B.

Eccles, V.

Elton, L.

Empey, L.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Farmer, L.

Faulks, L.

Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Flight, L.

Fookes, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freud, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

Geddes, L.

German, L.

Goddard of Stockport, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Goschen, V.

Grender, B.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hamwee, B.

Hanham, B.

Harding of Winscombe, B.

Harris of Richmond, B.

Helic, B.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Home, E.

Hooper, B.

Horam, L.

Howe, E.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jay of Ewelme, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jolly, B.

Jones of Cheltenham, L.

Kakkar, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Knight of Collingtree, B.

Kramer, B.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Lexden, L.

Lingfield, L.

Loomba, L.

Lucas, L.

Ludford, B.

Luke, L.

Lyell, L.

McColl of Dulwich, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

Mackay of Clashfern, L.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Maddock, B.

Mancroft, L.

Manzoor, B.

Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 817

Marlesford, L.

Mawson, L.

Mobarik, B.

Moore of Lower Marsh, L.

Moynihan, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Neville-Rolfe, B.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Newlove, B.

Noakes, B.

Northover, B.

O'Cathain, B.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo, L.

Parminter, B.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Popat, L.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Randerson, B.

Ridley, V.

Risby, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rogan, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

Sassoon, L.

Seccombe, B.

Selborne, E.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sharples, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shipley, L.

Shrewsbury, E.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stephen, L.

Stirrup, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Suri, L.

Suttie, B.

Swinfen, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L. [Teller]

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Trefgarne, L.

Trimble, L.

Trumpington, B.

Tugendhat, L.

Verma, B.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Wasserman, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Whitby, L.

Williams of Crosby, B.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Younger of Leckie, V.

1.47 pm

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 2.48 pm.

NHS: Maternity Care

Question for Short Debate

1.48 pm

Asked by Lord Harrison

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve maternity care and to ensure that maternity staff are trained and developed to meet future needs.

Lord Harrison (Lab): My Lords, today, we call the midwife. We do so in England and Wales, and I am particularly indebted to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes for bringing to my attention its excellent report, Support Overdue: Women’s Experiences of Maternity Services.

My adult children’s contemporaries are now growing families. In chatting to one new mother and friend of the family I learnt that her experience of childbirth was unsettling, to say the least, and her anxieties find all too ready an echo in the WI report. The report highlights that 700,000 women give birth each year in England and Wales. Indeed, that is the single biggest reason for admission to hospital. Midwives play the crucial role of setting families on the right path, from pregnancy through to birth itself, and then shape the first few weeks of family life. The report highlights shortcomings, which I will examine, while it readily

5 Feb 2015 : Column 818

acknowledges that mothers in England and Wales enjoy some of the highest quality maternity care in the world.

Choice of location of birth still remains an aspiration, not a reality, for many women. For too many women the choice of the four standard location options is a chimera. Thus the Government’s pledge to deliver choice in NHS maternity is defaulted on.

Secondly, maternity care is still fragmented; it is still a long and bumpy road that a woman treads from preconception through to pregnancy, birth and postnatal care. Thirdly, despite the best efforts of NICE, a postcode lottery for postnatal care remains, with wide variations in quality and standard of care across the country. Too often when we call the midwife, she is not there. Despite an increase in the birth rate of some 15% over the past decade, we still fail to provide the promised 1:28 midwife to birth ratio keenly advocated by the four royal colleges involved in midwifery. Despite the recent baby boom, some 50 trusts and boards even now employ fewer midwives than they did previously, which is astonishing. Call the midwife. Unfortunately, some 34% of women complained that they were not given the name or number of a dedicated midwife they could phone if worried or wanting advice. Surprisingly, some nine out of 10 women had not met any of the midwives who cared for them at the time of labour and birth before going into labour. Some 30% of mothers urgently wanted the designated midwife to,

“remain responsible for my care (not pass me on to someone else)”.

Call the midwife—but only one in 10 mothers had the full four choices of where to give birth, a promise unfulfilled in part because we have trained too few midwives. Matters are beginning to look up as more trusts and boards are promoting and expanding location options by building new, freestanding or colocated maternity units, or funding home birth services. Can the Minister update us on offering the full four locations, and give us figures on the provision of complementary services, such as birthing pools and partner accommodation? Can he give us up-to-date figures on the worrying incidence of temporarily closed units or suspended maternity services attributable to staff shortages and capacity problems due to unavailable bed space? Why do only one out of two women obtain the desired home birth?

Finally, three out of five mothers want more not less postnatal care, but a quarter of mothers were unable to call the midwife to fix up appointments convenient to themselves, as new mothers deal with the baby. Will the Minister ensure that CCGs develop transparent frameworks for postnatal care? We all know how crucial the transition to parenthood is for new mums and dads—and, please, do not forget the dads. Can the Minister respond to the Support Overdue report by the WI, and say which recommendations the Government might take up?

Furthermore, are maternity health planners taking into account the wider health needs of women during pregnancy? How is the midwife’s crucial role of influencing new mothers’ lifestyles being supported and expanded? Is the pivotal role of the supervisors of midwives being protected? Too often these valuable personnel are used to cover up midwife shortages, instead of

5 Feb 2015 : Column 819

supervising their charges. When will we fund and ensure one-to-one maternity care, surely the crucial relationship in any happy birth? Has the troubling and outmoded use of handheld notes and paper records to give vital information on risk status during birth been eliminated? I would be grateful if the Minister could update us and respond to the 2013

State of Maternity Services

report published by the Royal College of Midwives.

The Government have funded the increase in midwives begun by the previous Labour Government, but it is worrying that the midwifery workforce has not kept pace with the rising number of births in the last decade, and worrying that the marked ageing profile of the current cohort of midwives threatens real instability to future maternity services as experienced midwives leave in droves. Student midwives’ recruitment stalled in 2014, and even though the baby boom has now paused, the RCW calculates that births still need to fall by some 130,000 before we can satisfactorily match midwife numbers to the current birth rate.

I turn to the findings of the National Audit Office report of these services, and ask whether there is a reply from the Government to the concerns of the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee. Should the department not more rigorously assess whether it can afford to achieve its declared policy objectives? Indeed, are the current tariffs for maternity care set at the right level? What is the Government’s view on the finding that many efficiencies and savings in the service could be found and implemented if more midwife-led birth centres were established, as set out in the Birthplace in England study by NICE?

The PAC also points out that still too few women secure the birth location of their choice. Local maternity networks are an important route to share and spread best practice between and within networks, thereby improving quality and helping to eradicate unacceptable variations across the country. Does the Minister accept that current maternity networks are less well developed than other NHS networks? What can he do about it?

I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, will speak on mental health services for pregnant mothers. Indeed, I hope that other colleagues and maybe the Minister will pursue other aspects of maternity services that I do not have time to turn to, including maternal mortality rates and their breakdown into socioeconomic groups, perinatal deaths and the comforting of mothers suffering still births, the availability of hospital beds, the screening of babies for debilitating diseases, and data collection in maternity services, which is crucial in developing policies.

Will the Minister say more about pay, which has been frozen for midwives since 2011 and 2012, with just a 1% rise in 2013 and frozen again in 2014? This is an important recruiting angle that needs to be prized. Will the Minister confirm that in future the Government will listen to and implement the recommendations of the independent pay review body?

In my final minute, I turn to the European Union and ask the Minister whether there is sharing of practice across the EU. If it stands for anything, the European Union is the swap shop of ideas, which the National Health Service should be involved in—and nowhere more than in maternity services.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 820

Finally, are we doing anything to recognise the wonderful nurses who go out to deal with the Ebola problems that have been experienced, and are we doing more to share the best practice with other parts of the globe, where improving maternity services is so crucial to getting a better world?

I look forward to the debate and hope that the Minister will be able to reply to some of those points and to write to me on those that he does not have time to cover.

1.58 pm

Lord Farmer (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate on steps to improve maternity care. One aspect of maternity care which shows marked variation across the country is staff willingness and ability to involve fathers. This depends to a very much larger extent on culture than on budgets. I wish to make a plea for the very many fathers across the country who have felt thwarted in their best efforts to support their wife or partner throughout pregnancy, during childbirth, and in the earliest days of their new family.

A poll carried out by Bounty found that 96% of mothers considered it to be very or quite important that midwives and health visitors include fathers as well as mothers, yet research reveals that fathers still feel excluded, frustrated at the helplessness this engenders, and fearful because of the risks and uncertainty of labour. Much of this is due to a lack of consideration by maternity staff contrary to guidance from the Royal College of Midwives. This is not so much about their rights as parents as the need for the great majority of new mothers to have their husbands and partners respected and considered part of the labour team. If they are calm and supportive, this can free up extremely pressurised maternity staff to look after any more pressing needs in the delivery suite, yet this requires fathers to have been well prepared from much earlier in the pregnancy.

Feeling needed and helpful rather than surplus to requirements can be a game-changing experience, especially for young fathers who have serious doubts about whether they should be involved at all in their new babies’ lives. The time of the birth and shortly afterwards can be a very special moment—the point when a young couple may decide to try to make co-parenting work, even if they sense that they are unlikely to survive as a couple. It can mean the difference between a child growing up knowing his father and that same child growing up thinking that his father did not care enough to be involved. A million children in this country have no contact with their fathers. Who knows, with a bit of relationship support, that child may even grow up living with a mother and a father.

I have never forgotten the first time I held each of my children while my wife was resting and recovering. The hard work starts immediately. Having the father 100% on board, helping with the practical aspects of baby care, such as walking inconsolable newborns around in the early hours, may protect untold numbers of new mothers against developing postnatal depression. Maternity services are uniquely positioned to help get things off to a good start.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 821

Some noble Lords may be thinking about the recent headline which claimed that,

“it’s better for mothers coping with the pain of childbirth if their partner is not around”.

Personal experience and much other research tells me that it is comforting and reassuring to have that other person present at the birth, and immediately afterwards, who is utterly invested in the well-being of the new member of the family.

When I looked more closely, it was clear that the University College London study was not primarily concerned with childbirth at all, but with how women cope more generally with pain and the effect of their relationship with their partner. Extrapolating this to their experience of childbirth and making any generalisations at all about the desirability of fathers being present is not at all justified and very misleading. There have always been women who, for whatever reason, have preferred not to have the baby’s father present at the birth. This might be because of strains in the relationship or safety concerns. However, the norm is for the father’s presence and support, before, during and after birth, to be very much welcomed because researchers have established that it tends to lead to less anxiety, lower rates of postnatal depression and less perceived pain, so surely this is what maternity staff should be fostering. Doing this as early as possible in pregnancy, without adding to existing high workloads, is not just about holding antenatal classes at convenient times for fathers. Communicating directly with fathers-to-be is now particularly easy through digital means such as Maternity Assist. Health and well-being-related advice and information is sent to both expectant parents on their phones and tablets, which they can both read, discuss and make joint decisions about. It is a world away from a letter addressed solely to the mother which the dad might feel awkward about reading.

To conclude, and to reiterate my plea, can the Department of Health add its voice to that of the Royal College of Midwives and many others to ensure that maternity services are in no doubt at all that they have a key role to play in drawing fathers in as early and effectively as possible?

2.04 pm

Baroness Wall of New Barnet (Lab): My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on securing this important debate about maternity services. Noble Lords have a range of interests to bring to debates and this is no exception. That is terrific. I wish to concentrate on the training and development of maternity staff to meet future needs.

We all know that, with advances in clinical techniques and technology, it is very possible that premature babies, even those who are 22 weeks old, can now, with careful, 24/7 care provided by skilled staff, live to be healthy babies to the joy of their parents. However, that outcome requires a skilled maternity team.

Our midwives and support staff require knowledge and experience to deliver babies who have gone to full term. However, something may still happen that should not, and their preparation for such events, and the

5 Feb 2015 : Column 822

skills they deploy, are hugely important in delivering babies safely, which brings a lot of love and joy for the mum, the midwife and the family.