Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations 2022

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Given the concerns expressed by SSAC, the SLSC and stakeholders about the risks to claimants in vulnerable circumstances and the erosion of accountability to Parliament, I hope that, even at this late date, the DWP will think again and withdraw what, as my noble friend said, are really quite shocking regulations.
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for raising this Motion, and noble Lords for their contributions. I would also like to thank representatives of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and members of the Social Security Advisory Committee for their detailed scrutiny of these regulations and for reports relating to their assessment of the impact of these regulations. We have continued ongoing dialogue with SSAC. From the meeting we had with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, we were able to confirm to her that we were in a much better place with SSAC and the committee.

I will endeavour to answer all the questions, because I want to, but I am sure that there will be some things that I have to write about. I ask noble Lords to allow me to do that. Because of the technical nature and depth of the questioning, it is very important that I get those things right. I should also say that we had a pre-brief meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and I am happy to put on record that after this debate, however it transpires, we are prepared to have further meetings so that people can raise points which we can learn from as we go on. I hope that demonstrates that we wish to get this right and be transparent.

The Universal Credit (Transitional Provision) Amendment Regulations 2022, laid on 4 July, came into force on 25 July 2022. These regulations build on insights from the previous Harrogate pilot and from the pandemic and improve the existing legislative framework so that it better supports the DWP’s revised strategy, published in April 2022, Completing the Move to Universal Credit. I can confirm that the strategy is to migrate all legacy benefit claimants into a single, streamlined and simplified benefit system by the end of 2024.

The Motion tabled today by the noble Baroness is driven not by criticisms of the technical provisions and amendments within the regulations; these make needed improvements to legislation that sets out how claimants should be migrated to UC and protections they receive in doing so. They will also remove unnecessary complexities that benefit neither the claimant nor the taxpayer or provisions that do not reflect our policy intent. The concerns are instead focused on the removal of a statutory limit on the number of claimants, in the belief that this risks a lack of oversight of DWP’s progress and transparency about the nature of our plans for migration. These reflect concerns raised by the Social Security Advisory Committee and the Secondary Legislative Scrutiny Committee, and whilst I am sympathetic to their origins, I can assure the House that they are misfounded.

First, moving to universal credit is a good thing for claimants. Overall, we estimate that most people are better off under UC. We estimate that 55% of all legacy claimants will have a higher entitlement under UC, relative to legacy benefits; around 10% of legacy claimants will see no changes; and 35% will have a lower entitlement. That 35% who are not better off will be considered for an assessment for transitional protection to support that move over. Once they are moved over, they take advantage from a more dynamic system of support that focuses on work, incentives and earnings.

However, despite these advantages, the startling fact is that those who could benefit most—those still to migrate over—either are not aware or do not share this opinion of universal credit. Internal work looking at claimants’ attitudes suggests that there is a hesitancy towards moving to universal credit as there is concern that they will not be better off.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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Just to clarify, nobody who has raised the question of uprating has asked the Minister to comment on the amount by which benefits will be or should be uprated. On the assumption that every year there is some uprating, the value of transitional protection will be different before the next financial year or after, so if somebody moves before, they will be worse off than if they move after. The questions are, first, whatever those rates are, will the Government do anything about that? Secondly, will the department warn a claimant who could choose to migrate either side of the line that they will be worse off if they go this side of the line?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The answer to that question is that I will need to write to the noble Baroness. She raised it in our meeting and I have asked my officials to prepare me a written answer so that I get it correct. I will write to the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library.

All noble Lords who have taken part today have asked a number of justifiable and understandable questions. I will make sure with my officials that they are all answered in a subsequent letter. I thank all noble Lords who spoke whose questions enable us to clarify in more detail. Be reassured that the Government are fully aware of the concerns over the scrutiny of managed migration. We believe that managed migration to UC is the right step for claimants and that this is the right time. We believe we know how to protect claimants and are learning from the discovery phase. Given my response, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Motion to Regret.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lord who have spoken tonight and thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for making some important points about the position of vulnerable claimants and asking some good questions. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for a powerful speech illustrating the range of issues that will have to be considered very carefully over the weeks and months ahead. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for raising the questions he did and to the Minister for answering them.

Given the lateness of the hour and the business ahead of the House, I will not respond at great length, but I want to say a couple of things. First, the Minister said that my Motion was “mis-founded” because universal credit is good for claimants, so they should be encouraged to move across, and they do not want to do anything that gets in the way of that. She is right that many people will be better off on universal credit, but others will not. For those who will be worse off, it is small comfort that someone else will be better off. It is incredibly important that those who will be worse off, and especially the significant numbers who are vulnerable, are given appropriate support, that their needs are properly attended to and they are not simply left behind, as she said, when others are moved across.

Secondly, she is right that a number of people are worried about universal credit, but not just on the grounds of media comment. The experience of some universal credit claimants has not been good: waiting a long time for benefits, complicated processes, things that they did not understand. I know, just from the charities and churches that I have spoken to, that the experience has not always been straightforward. There are good reasons for people to be concerned.

There are a number of questions here. The Minister is right: she said the Government wanted to change the regulations because the new approach better fits with their strategy and the old approach placed some regulatory constraint. That was the point: the point was to place some constraint. That is why the Secretary of State did it; that is what it was for; and that is what the Government have simply abandoned.

The Minister has said several times that she will update Parliament at the appropriate stages. The fact is, once these regulations go through, there is nothing to require her to come to the Floor of this House and say anything. The only reason she is here tonight is because I tabled a Motion against these regulations, so once they go through, the department will have complete freedom to whatever it wishes. I am really grateful for the time and the detailed responses she has given, but will she please commit to going through Hansard with some care? I think she will find when she does that there were questions that were not answered, or not answered fully. Secondly, will she please look for opportunities to engage this House and not simply the Work and Pensions Select Committee, so that we, as well as the other place, can properly have our say?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I think I have emphasised the value of regular meetings, updating people and giving them the opportunity to advise us of things they are worried about and things that have gone wrong. I have given my word here. I know our Secretary of State—

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, saves the best line till last. I have no doubt that we want to take people with us; we want to know what does not work, and we want to amend it. I give noble Lords my word and the Government’s word that we will have that interface.

The point the noble Baroness raises about the people who will be better off and those who will not—they will not be any worse off with transitional protection—is a very fair one. These are the sort of things that people talk to each other about and get very worried about, so I will take that back and try to give a more definitive answer than I have given, if that is acceptable to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The Minister keeps talking as if transitional protection is the answer. As noble Lords have pointed out, many people will not get it or will not get it for very long, and there is the whole question of the inflation uprating. It is worrying for people: if they know what is going to happen, they know that transitional protection may not last long at all. So, please do not talk as if that is the answer.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I have no intention of talking as if that is the answer and nothing will be wrong after that. I understand that it has a fixed life. Our job is to work with these people, and I understand the vulnerabilities. I understand the barriers people face when work coaches are trying to find them extra hours they can do, taking into account the things that are stopping them now. The relationship with their work coach will be invaluable. There is nothing in a work coach’s job description that says they must say, “You’ve just got to do this”. I hope that the relationship with the work coach will make a huge difference, and that they will go to their superiors when there are real issues that cannot be overcome through those channels.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers. There are still some outstanding questions, and I remain very worried about the impact on people who are utterly dependent on the benefits they get to keep body and soul together. I very much hope that we will have opportunities to discuss this. However, I have reached the limit of what I can do about these regulations, and voting on this Motion would not change them. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Unemployment Figures

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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My Lords, no specific assessment has been made. DWP monitors a range of labour market statistics to understand the labour market situation, including the overall employment rate and economic inactivity rate as well as unemployment. The unemployment rate is accurate and independently produced by the Office for National Statistics. We welcome the fact that unemployment is at its lowest level in 50 years, but we are also expanding the help and opportunities for the growing number of economically inactive people.

Lord Haskel Portrait Lord Haskel (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply, but the statistics do not properly identify the approximately 9 million inactive people—yes, 9 million—who are ready and willing to work but are unable to do so because of caring responsibilities, mental or physical illness, because they have been let down by back-to-work programmes and failed by the Government or because of changes in the world of work. Since the pandemic, the number has grown by 640,000, whereas in other similar economies the number is declining. What are the Government doing to properly identify and address this inactivity? With low unemployment and many job vacancies, they should be doing this as part of the growth agenda.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I completely agree with the noble Lord on the points he raises and the fact that there are 9 million economically inactive people. We have a breakdown of the groups that they fall in. We know that 1.7 million are looking after family at home, and 2.5 million are people with sickness issues. That is why we are increasing our efforts to increase the support we give. The noble Lord points out that these people have very complex issues; there may be more than one or two reasons for them not working. I am very pleased that we were able to look at the noble Lord’s son’s report on this and, in fact, give it to the Secretary of State, because she is very keen to read and understand it.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s apprenticeship schemes and the support that the Government gave to businesses. Apprenticeships are of course an important route into employment, particularly for some of our young. However, as my noble friend will know, the numbers of apprenticeships have fallen quite significantly. What are the Government doing to support young people, and to identify the barriers that businesses are experiencing, to ensure that these schemes can continue?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I believe that there are a number of activities that the Department for Education is working on to ensure that employers take full use of apprenticeships, and that the National Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus are also encouraging young people to take up apprenticeships. They have a big impact on their lives and are in fact some of the best ways to enter the world of work.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister comment on a particular sector which is very adversely affected in terms of economic inactivity: that is, older women, particularly ethnic minority women, who suffer from digital exclusion? Is she able to say what conversations her department is having with employers to facilitate training to bring back into the workplace older women who now, due to the Covid changeovers in working practices, have become excluded due to technology?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I sometimes worry about using the term “older workers”, but rising economic inactivity in the over-50s is contributing to shortages in the labour market. We are working with employers: one example in terms of technology and skills is the STEM returners work task force that we have introduced. In that way, we are trying to upskill people who have left the workforce and get their skills back on STEM so they can go into high-paid work.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, with job vacancies at record levels—for care workers it is 52%, the highest level since records began—what are the Government doing to invest in the supply of much-needed care workers? Is it not time that the Government addressed the pay of care workers, currently less than that of supermarket workers, rather than trying to find solutions by recruiting workers from the poorest countries in the world, where they are desperately needed at home?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We are cognisant of the vacancies in the care industry. We are promoting work, in partnership with the Department of Health, but we want employers to pay the right rate for the job. The Government cannot subsidise employers, so that is what we will encourage them to do.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, this is obviously a hugely important issue and the statistics are very difficult to make sense of, so it is a remarkably good Question. Does the Minister realise that the importation of workers on a scale that is likely to have any significant effect on the economy would be huge in terms of immigration? Will she therefore make sure that the Government fulfil their promises to the electorate on the sheer scale of overall immigration?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am not wishing to duck the issue, but the answer to that question should really come from the Home Office. I will take it back and ask the Home Office to respond to the noble Lord.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, the number of inactive people in this country of working age is increasing inexorably. In the last three months alone, it has increased by 80,000 people, and of the 640,000 who have become inactive since the onset of the pandemic, 55% say that they are long-term sick. Instead of tinkering about at the edges of this problem, as Kwasi Kwarteng was intending to do with benefits, all of the informed experts who write extensively on this are saying that we need significant investment in health, social care and childcare to release the potential of these people who are being wasted. Is the noble Baroness’s department encouraging the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he makes the economic Statement that we are all waiting for, to announce the sort of investment that will release that capacity? We will otherwise not get anything like the growth we need.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I take the point that the noble Lord makes. Those people who are long-term sick may have mental health issues that are complex, and the mental health support service is an essential element to it. As regards influencing the Chancellor, I am not aware that my Secretary of State has spoken to him, but I will ask her and respond to the noble Lord.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Is my noble friend not worried about the operation of universal credit, which of course is paid as an in-work benefit? People can work for as little as two days and still qualify for universal credit. Should this not be looked at quite closely?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I say to my noble friend that we are increasing the AET hours from nine to 12, and then from 12 hours to 15. We are trying to get to a minimum of people working part-time, but it must take into account the barriers that they face. There is no point in trying to push people into work if it creates more havoc in their life without the proper support to get into work and stay there.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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Does the noble Baroness recognisethat there is a clear link between the lengthening waiting time for operations and those who are outside the labour force? Is that not one of the problems that the Government need to address—to speed up operations—if they want to get people in middle age back into the labour force?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I believe that the Secretary of State for Health, Thérèse Coffey, is focusing on this. I am sorry; I am really not trying to duck the issue, but the fact of the matter is that it is one for the Department of Health to look at. Clearly, we need more people to clear the backlog.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister is here to answer—

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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I am grateful to my noble friend and will try again. The Minister is here to answer for the whole Government, but if she does not want to answer for anything but her own department, can I tell her that one-fifth of adults between 50 and 65 who have left work are currently on NHS waiting lists? Does she accept that the very least her department could do is ensure that it can assure those people that, as well as that problem, it is not about to cut the value of their benefits as well?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We will have to wait and see what is in the Secretary of State’s review of uprating. We have honoured the pledge we made on the triple lock and I am afraid that until we get to 25 November I will not be able to answer that question in all truth.

Minister for Equalities

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what the responsibilities of the Minister for Equalities will be, and whether they will update the gov.uk website to list those responsibilities.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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The Minister for Equalities’ role represents all aspects of the women and equalities portfolio in Cabinet. The portfolio has not changed and includes all areas of his predecessor’s portfolio. This was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s spokesperson shortly after the appointment of the Minister for Equalities and has been reflected on GOV.UK. The Cabinet role will be supported by the newly appointed Minister for Women in the other place and by me here in the House of Lords.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am still curious as to why Minister Zahawi is nervous of having women and equalities in his job title; you would think he would be proud to carry a title showing concern for over half the population. Even more puzzling—maybe it shows the priority this Government are giving to equalities issues—is that it took six weeks and my questions for the responsibilities to be put on GOV.UK. Well, better late than never. When can we expect an equalities impact assessment of the mini-Budget and how it will affect women, black and minority ethnic communities, disabled people and others with protected characteristics?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I do not know when an impact assessment will be available, but I am sure one will be. On the whole question of having “women” in the title, the designation of job titles is way above my pay grade. I cover all aspects of the portfolio in the Lords, and I would rather be defined by what we do and not what we are called.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, I too checked the Government’s website this morning, after recent events, to check who is responsible for women. I saw that Katherine Fletcher MP is down as the current Minister for Women, which of course we welcome—the more Ministers we have focusing on these issues, the better. Figures show that women have been brutally exposed to and are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. They are disproportionately affected by surging poverty levels. That in turn affects their families and children particularly. I am sure that the Minister, who we know is extremely sympathetic to these issues, has heard harrowing reports of women missing meals in order to feed their children. Will there be an impact assessment specifically on the impact of the cost of living crisis, given the stark figures? If there has not been one, are there any plans for one—particularly for disabled women and women from minority communities, who are really suffering? Their children are suffering as well. Will the Minister take this up?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I will be very happy to take it up.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I am very concerned about the push in society to erase the word “women”. It is very worrying. It is disempowering to 50% of the population; it makes women’s experiences invisible. Will the Equalities Minister, as one of his responsibilities, protect the word “women” and prevent it being replaced by gender-neutral language—particularly in public service institutions where Governments have power to do something?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I think that is a very important intervention and the noble Baroness can see from the House’s response that people agree with it. I have my first meeting with Nadhim Zahawi next week and I will put that on the agenda.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, there is nervousness about using the word “woman”. Last night at the PinkNews Awards, Keir Starmer declared that he would make it a crime to misgender. That means people might use the word “woman”, but nobody will define what a woman is. Maybe that nervousness is because people are frightened of misgendering and getting dragged into the gender wars. Can the Minister assure us that “equalities” means that biological women will not have their rights sidelined by an equalities agenda based on gender identity?

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Why has he dropped “Women” then?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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One at a time, please. As far as I am concerned, I agree completely with the noble Baroness and will try to ensure that that happens.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, this House has a really superb reputation for equality, inclusion and diversity. Can the Minister explain why it is necessary in these challenging economic times for the House of Lords to be advertising for a new inclusion and diversity officer on quite a hefty salary?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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That is a very good question. I do not know as I have not seen the advert but I will go away and find out. I am sorry that I did not know that that position had been advertised and cannot answer the question accurately. I think I am going to be speaking to the Clerk of the Parliaments to get an answer, but it is a very good point.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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Does my noble friend agree that there is one area where, to advance women’s equality, we need to improve men’s rights? That is on paternity leave. If we want parents to be able to share caring responsibilities, we need to give them more equal rights. That means improving paternity leave and pay. However, given current economic circumstances, maybe a smaller step the Government could take would be to make paternity leave a day one employment right, as it is for maternity.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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That is another very good point. In 2019, the Government consulted on high-level options for reforming the parental leave and pay system, including making changes to paternity leave. We are currently considering responses to the consultation and will respond in due course.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister demonstrate how, with this very broad role, she is actively engaging with women and ensuring that they are linked to the issues that other noble Lords have raised, and promoting equality for women in this country in her daily workload, including tackling low pay in care and the NHS?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The noble Baroness again raises the issue of people in the care industry on low pay. Obviously, we need to increase pay so that people can live a decent life, but as far as my job is concerned, I am full strength on equalities issues relating to women. I have just come back from the G7, where I represented women. I spoke really vociferously because, as I said in my speech, women are underrepresented, they are underpaid and they are underutilised.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, my views on identity politics are pretty well known both in this House and publicly. I might help the Minister by suggesting that it might be that the inclusion and diversity post is about ensuring that all people from all backgrounds—whether they have disabilities or not—feel included in and are given the support they need to fully participate in this House. Would that not be a good thing?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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It certainly would be a good thing and I am sure people in this Chamber are listening to the recommendation of the noble Lord.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning (Con)
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Will the Government reconsider the decision to abolish the Women’s National Commission, which represented over 100 different women’s organisations around the country? I speak as a former government co-chairman of the Women’s National Commission. The opportunity for women to meet and speak to a Government Minister who then took up the cudgel for whatever the issue was with any other government department had a lot of value at the time. I hope my noble friend will reconsider it.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I had no knowledge of this organisation, but I am very happy to ask the question in the equalities department and come back to the noble Baroness in writing. I will place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government base their equalities policy on evidence or, as the Prime Minister does, on campaigns run by certain groups following a distinct ideology against women?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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As far as I am concerned, evidence is the only thing on which to base a decision. My understanding is that that is the position of the Government.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, among all the excitement about what people are called, would it not be better if we return to a common-sense approach where courtesy and kindness to all prevail?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I could not have put it better myself. I hope we all take up the cudgel on that.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, with the greatest thanks and courtesy to the Minister for mentioning the gender pay gap earlier, does she agree that when the state cares about an area of law or regulation, it takes some direct responsibility for its enforcement, whether it is school standards or environmental protection? Is it not time that we considered amending the Equality Act so that a state agency takes responsibility for enforcing equal pay?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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On the gender pay gap, we have set up a reporting system: we are requiring employers to report their gap, and our gap is now down to 14%. It is not good, but it will get better; we are focusing our efforts on that. In relation to the technical point made by the noble Baroness about having somebody responsible for that, I am being asked a lot of questions today that I have to take back. I hope that nobody takes that as me trying to avoid answering the question.

Older Persons Commissioner for England

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the appointment of an Older Persons Commissioner for England.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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My Lords, I fear I will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because I must confirm that the Government have no plans to appoint an older people’s commissioner in England. The Government’s business champion for older workers, Andy Briggs, engages with business to promote the benefits of employing and retaining older workers in England. The Government are delivering a new enhanced support package for workers over the age of 50 to help them to stay in and return to work.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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The Minister is right; I am really disappointed. I heard Heléna Herklots, the Welsh commissioner, speak to the National Pensioners Convention about how she seeks out ageism, tackles it and ensures that it is no longer continuing in Wales. Will the Minister at least meet a deputation consisting of representatives from this House and the other House, and the organisations concerned, so that we can persuade her that what is good enough for Wales—and indeed Northern Ireland—is also appropriate for Scotland and England?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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As I hope I have proved to the noble Lord on many occasions, I am very happy to meet him and others to discuss this.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, can my noble friend tell me what opportunities there are for older people to receive education and training from her department? In that connection, may I point out that there are many vacancies in the horticultural industry for people whose great skills are required, and with good pay, contrary to popular belief?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am very pleased to say to my noble friend that we are investing £1.34 billion in education and skills training for adults through the adult education budget. We have the flexible support fund, which we can use on a flexible basis, and have launched a £2.4 billion national skills fund. On my noble friend’s point about the horticultural industry, there is a wide range of vacancies, all paying well. We think that people with mental health problems really benefit from being in that sector: I will cite one example. The lady Mayor of Merton has purloined half of a large allotment facility in Mitcham. She is a Labour mayor; her name is Joan and I think she is cracking. My sister, who has real difficulties, has one of the mayor’s allotments and it has turned her life around. She now has five customers whose gardens she does, so we are right behind this type of thinking.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, it is a rare occasion when you will find me agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but on this occasion I would ask the Government to think again. We will all remember the horrific cases during the pandemic, when blanket DNACPRs were put out across care homes. I cannot help but think that had there been an older person’s commissioner in place, some of these cases would not have happened. We have also had the cases at Edenfield and across other care homes. Will the Minister please take this away again and reconsider cross-party working and representation for older people?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has a recruit to his group. I hope that my noble friend will take up that opportunity. I am sure that, given the benefits of such a position as she described, it will be for her to build up the case and put that forward.

Baroness Gale Portrait Baroness Gale (Lab)
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Is the Minister aware that the commissioner for older people in Wales was first appointed in 2008, as the first such commissioner in the world? If the Minister looks on the website of Heléna Herklots, our commissioner for older people, she will see the valuable work that is done. The commissioner is a direct voice for older people to the Welsh Labour Government. I will read out her aims:

“I’m taking action to protect older people’s rights, end ageism and age discrimination, stop the abuse of older people and enable everyone to age well.”


Older people in Wales have this commissioner, so will the Minister consider again getting a commissioner for older people in England?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I know that noble Lords like to get me into trouble but the fact of the matter is that the Government’s position, as it stands, is that there is no plan to introduce a commissioner. I have read the brief of the Welsh commissioner and tried to familiarise myself with her role. I suggest the noble Baroness joins the campaign of her noble friend Lord Foulkes. I will meet and I will listen.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of the issues facing older people, such as lack of affordable care, poor housing, pensioner poverty and isolation, require a cross-cutting approach if they are to be resolved? Would she agree that a strong independent voice for older people is needed at the highest level? If they do not appoint a commissioner, what will the Government do to make cross-departmental working a priority, end the marginalisation of older people and champion their needs?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The noble Baroness has put forward reasons for having somebody to represent older people and I hear that. I am sure that by the time officials in my department have read Hansard they will have got the message, so please join the meeting. On the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, I am not able to commit to or confirm her request.

Lord Geddes Portrait Lord Geddes (Con)
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Would my noble friend agree that, if such a commissioner were appointed, he or she would have plenty of work in your Lordships’ House?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I could not possibly comment.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister has probably got the idea now that an old persons’ commissioner might be popular. I would have thought that the Government might be looking for popular things at the moment. Will the noble Baroness meet representatives of the WASPI women—the 3.6 million women whose pension age unexpectedly rose? I would also like the Minister to take this opportunity to clarify for the House whether the triple lock is to be kept or abandoned.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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On the request to meet the WASPI ladies, the noble Baroness will understand that I will need to go back and talk to our new Minister for Pensions. I will put that request in and come back to the noble Baroness; I will write and put a copy in the Library. In 2019, the Government were elected and committed to the triple lock. As our Prime Minister has confirmed today, we will honour that triple lock for 2023-24 and the remainder of the Parliament.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, could I make a gentle suggestion and say to my noble friend that I am very glad she is thinking of this again? There would be nobody more suited for this job—because he could do both Scotland and England—than the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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Now the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has an agent for the job. I take my noble friend’s point.

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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Is the Minister concerned about the way many older people these days are being forced to open a bank account, following the ending of the Post Office card? It is so difficult for someone living on only a very small pension. Would she look into this? It might be something an older persons’ commissioner would do if we had one.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I am going to be absolutely straight; my knowledge about the change to bank accounts and the Post Office card is not as sharp as it should be. I thought we had put different things in place so that people did not suffer as a result. I will go back to the department, find out the exact position, come back to the noble Baroness in writing and place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, is there a Minister for older people? If so, what does the Minister do, and if not, should there not be one?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am not aware of there being a Minister for older people—unless anybody else can help me out here. As for whether there should be one, I suppose at some appropriate point we might recommend that to the Prime Minister.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Does my noble friend not think that there are enough commissioners and quangos, at enormous expense to the taxpayer, already? Do we really need another one?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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There are a number and there is a cost associated with them. What we should do is look at the outcomes of their work to assess their value for money and the difference they make. I do not think I can say any more than that.

Out-of-work Benefits

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Monday 17th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are planning to take to reduce the number of people in receipt of out-of-work benefits.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary-Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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My Lords, building on all the work that we have done to date, we will continue to support people to move into and progress in work. Unemployment is at a near low of 3.5%, so our efforts have to date been working. Our comprehensive labour market offer gives claimants the best possible chance to be financially independent. We are investing £900 million in each year of the spending review into our work coaches, who are fundamental to help move people from welfare to work. As noble Lords all know, we are raising the administrative earnings threshold, strengthening the support we give to claimants, and setting very clear work expectations of claimants and a very clear outline of what we will do to help them.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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That is helpful, but there is a severe labour shortage in this country. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell me the exact number of people who are on out-of-work benefits within the working age population. Estimates vary but in some areas it is one in five people; in some cases one in four people is on out-of-work benefits. Of course, many people are disabled and need support, but the coalition Government of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats got a lot of people back into work with support. At the moment, the number of people on out-of-work benefits is rising at a time of labour shortage. What more can the Government do?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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My noble friend makes many important and accurate points. As of February 2022, 5.18 million working-age adults, or 12.7% of the GB working-age population, were receiving out-of-work benefits, the largest category being UC out-of-work or no work-related requirements. We are trying to reduce the flow into unemployment and inactivity by supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions; prevention and retention work, including launching a national information and advice service to help employers, because it is only employers who create jobs so they are the ones we need to work with to move people into work; and our interventions that I have already described, including large-scale trials of additional work coach support for the 2.8 million customers with health conditions.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord acknowledged, many of those in receipt of out-of-work benefits are not in a position to take paid work because of, for instance, caring responsibilities or long-term incapacity. Given the evidence of the dreadful hardship they are already experiencing, will the DWP do all it can to ensure these benefits are uprated in line with inflation next year and are not subject to further cuts, as has been rumoured?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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Please believe me when I say that we all understand the desire for benefits to be uprated in line with inflation. I have to wait until the Secretary of State carries out her review, which will be announced to the House on 25 November. We will work with people with really bad conditions and real difficulties to see whether they can move into work, but they will be dealt with compassionately and carefully.

Baroness Seccombe Portrait Baroness Seccombe (Con)
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In the Restart programme, what does “strengthening support” mean and what proportion of those on the programme gain a position and are still in it six months later?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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That was the exam question. As my noble friend knows, the Restart scheme gives jobseekers out of work for nine months more intensive support to find a job. It has achieved more than 226,000 starts. The issue my noble friend raised concerning whether they are still in work six months later is really important. I do not have those statistics but I will go back to the department, find out whether we have them and, whether we have them or not, I will write to her and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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Does the Minister believe the Government are doing enough to remove the barriers that prevent people working? For example, carers are finding it more and more difficult to get any support, and when they do, they are faced with huge bureaucracy. Childcare is unaffordable even when it is available, which is not much of the time. Transport can be very expensive and inaccessible to certain groups of the population. Does the Minister agree that getting people back to work is much more about removing barriers, rather than imposing more punitive conditions on the already poor and vulnerable?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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Let me start by saying that the intention behind our efforts is not to issue punitive measures. Let us clear this up right now: as I have always said, sanctions are imposed only if there is no good reason for people not to take up an opportunity offered to them and they can do it. Some 98.9% of sanctions are down to the fact that people fail to turn up for interview, and the minute that they ring up to book the next appointment, the sanction is reviewed. At the DWP we do not go to work in the morning saying, “How many people can I sanction today?” That is just not the line. The noble Baroness raised a point about childcare, and it is number one on my list. I have just come back from the G7 where I spoke to my colleagues in Australia and Canada who have made enormous strides in improving childcare. The noble Baroness can take it from me that I am on the case.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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My Lords, the number of people available for work is reducing primarily because of the increase in ill health in this country, as the Minister conceded. What discussions is her department is having with the Prime Minister, the Treasury and the Department of Health about how we start taking measures that will improve health in this country and move us away from being one of the unhealthiest countries in Europe?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am not aware of any discussions with the Prime Minister, who probably has enough on her plate at the moment. We are well aware that the longer people have health problems—the longer they exist—the more difficult it is. We are working hand in glove with the Department of Health and with psychologists and psychotherapists to help people who have depression and anxiety. I have found that the best way to stop people losing their job because of mental health issues is to make sure that we work with the doctors so that when they give them their antidepressant prescription, they send them to us quickly and we can get them back to work sooner rather than later.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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My Lords, the high level of youth unemployment is due to the fact many 18 year-olds leave school without any technical or data skills. The Minister’s department announced last week that there are 1.4 million job vacancies in this country. We lack skilled workers, and we will not get more skilled workers until the Government accept that there must be high-quality technical education in all of our schools alongside academic subjects—and that they have not changed.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I completely agree with my noble friend, and we need to take this up with the Department for Education, which has responsibility for this. My noble friend has been a long-time champion of technical and higher education. I will speak to my colleague in the Department for Education, write to my noble friend and place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, in response to an earlier question the Minister rightly said that many people are sanctioned and deprived of their benefits because they fail to turn up for an interview. I happen to know that a good proportion of those people—parents with sick children, for example—are denied benefits because of a failure of somebody in the department. The child wakes up sick in the morning, the parent phones in and says, “I’m sorry, I can’t make the interview; please hand on this information”, it is not handed on and they are sanctioned. This happens time and again. Will the Minister accept that this is the case and look into it?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am very happy to look into it. Before I do so, maybe I can speak with the noble Baroness to get some more information to share with my colleagues in the department.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned people with ill health. The group falling out of the labour market fastest are the over-50s, and the ONS has found that more than half of over-50s who have left the labour market since the pandemic have done so because of physical or mental ill-health. What is the Minister’s department doing to target over-50s who have left the labour market, who are much needed out there and who want to get back into work? Some of them are not technically unemployed; some are not even getting benefits. What are jobcentres doing about those people?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We have our programme for over-50s and our over-50s champions. If somebody over 50 is on a benefit, they will be engaged with a work coach, who will have to identify the barriers and put interventions in place to overcome them. People not involved in benefits will get a mid-life MOT and direction to Jobcentre Plus.

G20 Summit

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Monday 8th July 2019

(5 years ago)

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Lord O'Neill of Gatley Portrait Lord O'Neill of Gatley (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure as well as an honour briefly to speak in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on securing it and join others in commending the tremendous work that he has conducted in his committee. I can only hope that his example is taken up in the commitment of others and that, in the spirit of some comments already made and a couple that I shall now reflect on, it pushes our country on to be more thoughtful and bold on the global stage.

I want to make six brief points. First, the G20 meeting in Osaka took place against a background of many high-frequency indicators suggesting an ongoing slowdown in the world economy. Four out of five indicators that have a particularly good cyclical track record are all softening: Germany’s Ifo leading indicator, as it is known; the US ISM survey of manufacturing; the sub-components of that same index for new orders and inventories; and Korean exports—South Korea is the first country to report its export data every month and does so on the first day of the month referring to the month before. The data for June, published a week ago, show a sharp weakening in exports—a bellwether of what is going on in world trade. The fifth, US weekly jobless claims, is the only indicator that continues to be strong, but if the others carry on in the same way, that will soon no longer be the case.

Secondly, fortunately the G20 statement did acknowledge downside risks to the world economy, which was a relief, not least given that that was its original expertise. Of course, as we have heard, the Trump announcement of a truce—for now—in the trade war with China was also a relief. However, as others have commented, it is not clear that there was anything at the G20 meeting, with the possible exception of increased expectations, yet again, of policy burdens falling on major central banks to do more to help economic growth. That in itself, in my opinion, is a growing concern, as it is now becoming almost an addiction.

Thirdly, as said quite correctly by others, the G20 itself is the most representative body to deal with the many complex social challenges of the world, as well as the macroeconomic ones we have heard some reference to. Indeed, I applauded its emergence way back in 2008, seven years after I first wrote about the so-called BRIC concept, in an article that actually tried to show that we needed a much better form of global economic governance, even if it would be more complicated. With the G20, in principle, we have it. It is much more sensible, as I believe others have mentioned, than the very outdated G7, but it needs to start doing something.

Fourthly, as we see in many of the paragraphs in the leaders’ statement, it is not clear that the G20 is doing anything any longer beyond publishing statements of recognition and showing awareness of what much of the world is talking about. Beyond accounting for itself more regularly, perhaps a separate problem is its sheer size. A couple of noble Lords commented on the exclusion of certain obvious countries, but another part of the problem, which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, talked amusingly about, may be that there are too many. I have long believed that within the current G20 perhaps we need, separately, a new G7, which would, in my opinion, definitely include China, probably India, and perhaps Brazil and Russia, and then, of course, the US and Japan and, instead of many individual European countries, the EU.

Fifthly, noble Lords will notice that I did not mention the UK. The UK would understandably want to be part of such a narrow group, if such circumstances ever came around. Given our history and what we have still in principle in terms of values, we could be an eighth; but we need to demonstrate that we have something powerful that would help the world move forward and become a better place. That in itself partly relies on the Government having a clear and powerful vision for post-Brexit Britain and the world.

Sixthly and lastly, I want to end specifically on the topic of antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, which luckily no one else has yet mentioned. I was relieved that paragraph 33 referred to this huge challenge and I remain proud that the review I chaired under David Cameron played its part in getting the topic on the agenda in 2015, with increased focus in 2016. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication of a number of civil servants who I know worked tirelessly to ensure that this statement appeared. I am irritated, and to some extent alarmed, by what I have picked up about the attempts by some G20 countries to downplay the focus on this issue, including some that claim to share the UK’s championing of this issue in recent years. This in itself highlights, as could many other examples, the weakness of the current G20 operational style: G20 leaders need to urgently change this game-playing approach. In this instance, the so-called market failure in the market for antibiotics is getting dramatically worse. The solutions my review highlighted have been broadly supported by many of those few who analyse these things, but as of yet, we just have words: no incentives or moneys are coming from the G20 or the pharma industry. As we showed getting on for three years ago, if we do not address this, along with the other challenges that need to be met, we will have 10 million people a year dying by 2050. The G20 needs action and not just pleasant words.

It is also important that our next Prime Minister, whoever it is, the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and the rest of the Cabinet get back to start talking about these things powerfully and regularly, as they have done in the past—not least, as one of the many symbols they could give of what global Britain actually is.

I will finish, and I apologise for going over by 30 seconds—

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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Perhaps the noble Lord could bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Lord O'Neill of Gatley Portrait Lord O'Neill of Gatley
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To echo the words and spirit of the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Grocott, it is exceptionally important that the UK be on the front foot at the G20, with thought and serious attention. As a final thought in the spirit of the interesting comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, perhaps the UK can itself outline ways in which the G20 can start monitoring and measuring what it says at meetings.

Brexit: Stability of the Union

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Thursday 17th January 2019

(5 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane
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That this House takes note of the possible effects of Brexit on the stability of the Union of the parts of the United Kingdom.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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My Lords, the business we are about to begin is very important and there is a real desire to hear from every contributor. However, time is tight so, in the nicest way possible, I ask noble Lords to adhere to the time allocated to them. When the Clock reaches five minutes, I will stand up to maintain order in the debate.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, I begin with a word of thanks to those Cross-Bench colleagues who voted for the Motion to be debated. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is to reply to the debate for the Government. In view of our happy co-operation in former lives, I hope that I may refer to him as my noble friend on this occasion. I see from the speakers’ list that I am allotted 15 minutes in moving the Motion. That is an unimaginable luxury but, in view of the long list of speakers, I shall try not to use all that time and so perhaps offer a little elbow room to other noble Lords. I am extremely grateful to the Government Chief Whip for the half-hour extension to the debate.

The Motion is couched specifically in terms of the hazards to the union posed by Brexit, but the seeds were sown long before. We have a worrying habit in this country of doing constitutional change in bits, as the occasion serves, but with little overall intent or co-ordination. I have seen the process at close quarters for 46 years, so I entirely understand how this has come about. The Government, often incoming, have their priorities and wish to demonstrate their authority. The business managers wish to make rapid progress with focused proposals. They do not much like Parliament going into what might be called seminar mode. And of course, there is the ever-looming phenomenon of “Events, dear boy, events”.

The result over several Parliaments is that we are left with a patchwork. Nowhere is this clearer than in the devolution of powers to different parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different models of devolved government. They have developed independently and subject to the successive pressures of the moment; no one, I think, would regard any of them as wholly successful. Moreover, they are characterised by a sort of imperial condescension from the centre—from Westminster and Whitehall, but especially from the latter—and they are inconsistent. As a Welshman by birth and title, I think I may ask why Scotland and Northern Ireland can set their own rates of air passenger duty but Wales cannot. Indeed, why are justice and policing devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland but not in Wales? I am glad that my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd is addressing that question through the work of his commission. England, the largest part of the UK, accounts for some 85% of United Kingdom GVA and a little more in terms of population and GDP, yet, with the exception of London and a few city mayors, it has been largely omitted from these changes. Of course, that poses a pressing but ever more intractable “English question”.

I have described an unsatisfactory and probably unstable system that has come about through a variety of political pressures and aspirations, often worthy in themselves but with unco-ordinated and piecemeal results. Were we not now set to leave the European Union, in any event, significant centrifugal forces in the years ahead would put the integrity and stability of the UK’s devolution settlement at risk. The profound Brexit changes now in contemplation will, I suggest, only increase that risk. I am sure that noble Lords taking part in the debate will have many expert perceptions of how the months ahead may put further strain on the union. I note that your Lordships’ Constitution Committee has described our territorial constitution as “in flux” and our European Union Committee has said that,

“the European Union has been, in effect, part of the glue holding the United Kingdom together”.

What are the main hazards? The first is the Brexit process itself, bearing in mind that in the referendum, two of the constituent parts of the UK voted differently from the other two and differently from the overall result. Secondly, the repatriation of powers will be contentious. Central government will want to protect the UK-wide single market by retaining substantial powers in London, but Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast will not see it like that. Also, the repatriation process will, I think, take longer than anyone at the moment predicts, which is not going to help. The complex exchanges over the Scottish and Welsh continuity Bills and the referral of the Scottish Bill to the Supreme Court demonstrate that there are serious unresolved tensions. The Scottish constitutional relations Secretary has referred to “constitutional vandalism” and has said that he,

“could not conceive of circumstances”,

in which the Scottish Parliament would give its consent to further UK Brexit-related legislation.

Our departure from the EU will intensify debate about the fair funding of the different parts of the UK. It is a commonplace to say that we must move on from the Barnett formula, but it is not yet clear how we should do so. In Northern Ireland, the issues of borders and backstops are already causing great concern and contention, and lurking behind those issues is the aspiration of some for reunification. There is also the risk, identified by the Scottish Government, that future customs arrangements might give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage among the parts of the United Kingdom.

In Scotland, a significant proportion of those who supported independence in 2014 did so on the basis that an independent Scotland would or could become a member state of the EU. The UK having left the European Union would, in the case of Scotland, remove the long-standing unwillingness of the EU to countenance subnational aspirations, as would still be the case with Lombardy, Catalunya, Flanders and so on. This might be a seductive prospect in the context of any indyref2.

Intergovernmental relations within the United Kingdom are the concern of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which has now been in existence for 20 years—20 years this year, actually. This should be the key forum for the discussion of developing relations, but both the Scottish and the Welsh Governments have expressed dismay at the way it is operated. Her Majesty’s Government have the opportunity to make this a much more effective mechanism to support the Brexit process. I trust that this is something that will receive close attention, as recommended by our EU and Constitution Committees and the equivalent committees in Scotland and Wales. I hope that in his reply to the debate, the noble Lord will be able to tell us the Government’s current thinking on how the JMC might be overhauled.

The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has suggested that separate English representation on the JMC would be a way of addressing the English question, although how this would be achieved in practice is not entirely clear. It is a pleasure to pay tribute to the work of the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, which brings together the chairs and convenors of the committees scrutinising Brexit at Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff with, understandably in the current circumstances, the participation of officials from Belfast as observers. The forum, which happens to be meeting at Westminster today, offers a mutually supportive and constructive approach which so far has not, I think, quite been replicated in the JMC, which the forum has described as “not fit for purpose”.

Noble Lords may be chafing slightly at my listing a litany of problems without any suggestion of how they might be cured. In the excellent debate in your Lordships’ House before Christmas, there were calls for a constitutional convention or commission. In replying to that debate, the noble Lord who is now on the Front Bench said that the wide-ranging nature of the issues raised meant that any convention looking into them would take years to do them justice. I have a lot of sympathy with his point of view. It would be hard to argue that such a convention should be anything other than comprehensive, which might further reduce the likely glacial pace of such an initiative. Time is not on our side.

I do not suggest that the Act of Union Bill, which I introduced in October, has all the answers, but at least it seeks to address the problems in an holistic way. I must be careful not to offend against anticipation—this is a debate on the Motion before us, not on the Second Reading of the Bill—but perhaps, with your Lordships’ permission, I may say a few words about it.

The Bill is the result of the work of the Constitution Reform Group, which consists of members of all the major parties, including the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, both of whom are in their place. The group is convened and chaired by Lord Salisbury, a former distinguished Member and indeed Leader of your Lordships’ House, and the Bill has been drafted by the outstanding parliamentary draftsman Daniel Greenberg. It seeks to replace the present top-down method of devolution with a bottom-up method, in which the constituent parts of the United Kingdom—and perhaps the regional parts of England—would decide which powers they wished to pool for greater solidarity and effectiveness. It would replace the central imperial condescension, to which I referred earlier, with a devolution settlement properly owned by its participants. It would also include something perhaps missing from the present arrangements: the R word—respect.

The Bill is comprehensive but it does not attempt to provide a full written constitution. It does not, for example, touch those parts that work perfectly well, such as the courts and the judiciary. But it does seek to address the areas of difficulty, some of which I have outlined. It would not try to bind a subsequent Parliament—no Bill can do that—but it offers an overarching settlement with an indication of how primary legislation of, as it were, the second tier could fill in some of the detail. And there is a lot of detail to be filled in. In a sentence, it aspires to be a plan B. As each day passes, I become more and more convinced that we need a plan B.

Lord Dunlop Portrait Lord Dunlop (Con)
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My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. He and I made our maiden speeches on the same day and he speaks with the greatest authority on constitutional matters.

Brexit raises fundamental issues, not least the question of trust in democratic institutions here and right across Europe. It is absolutely right, therefore, to consider afresh governance within the UK. Brexit is seen as, at best, a challenge to the stability of the UK and, at worst, leading inexorably to its break-up. However, the picture is much more complex. The biggest threat to the union hitherto—the 2014 Scottish independence referendum—took place at a time when no one thought Brexit a serious possibility and after 40 years of EU membership. That should give us all pause for thought. Yes, continued membership of the EU was an argument in the 2014 referendum, but it was neither a primary nor decisive one. Currency and fiscal questions were much more important. Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts since the 2016 vote to weaponise Brexit to justify a second Scottish independence referendum have so far failed. Support for independence remains at or less than the 45% level registered in the 2014 referendum. Why might this be?

First, there are around 400,000 yes voters in Scotland who support Brexit. Secondly, linking Scottish independence to EU membership is a hard sell for many nationalists. In their minds, throwing off the yoke of Westminster for that of Brussels is not the most persuasive pitch. Thirdly, if the Brexit negotiations demonstrate how difficult it is to leave a 40 year-old union, they also highlight how fraught it would be to disentangle a 300 year-old partnership. Alex Salmond’s confident assertions that Scottish independence could be negotiated in 18 months, incurring just £200 million in set-up costs, seem even more fantastical today than they did at the time. Nevertheless, the risks and challenges to the union should not be underestimated. However, the key point, which the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has already made, is that renewing the UK’s territorial constitution is necessary irrespective of Brexit.

The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has proposed a new Act of Union. I sympathise with its underlying purpose to provide a coherent UK framework within which powers are exercised. However, I am sceptical of federal-like solutions. First, there is the problem of England. No federal state in the world has one component part representing 85% of the whole population or has as few as four federating units. There is also scant evidence that this is what people in England want. The British Social Attitudes and Future of England surveys offer little sign of a growing sense of English identity. Attitudes have hardly changed in the past 20 years. England’s laws decided by English MPs is, in surveys, more popular among voters than either creating a separate English Parliament or a set of regional assemblies.

Secondly, there is the problem of the SNP Government in Edinburgh. I have difficulty seeing SNP Ministers agreeing to renew their constitutional marriage vows in a new Act of Union when their raison d’être is to sue for divorce. Moreover, a big-bang approach as described simply provides the SNP with a fresh platform to argue for more powers, and risks hollowing out the UK, when the Scottish Government are struggling to use the powers they already have.

A more incremental approach is required. Over the past 20 years significant powers have been devolved to Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast. However, less attention has been paid to the glue—the institutions and mechanisms —that holds together the UK. Reform here has not kept pace with the extent of devolution which, once the repatriation of powers from Brussels is settled, will arguably have reached a natural limit.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but five minutes have gone.

Lord Dunlop Portrait Lord Dunlop
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Attention should be paid to the machinery of intergovernmental relations, which needs to be strengthened. We also need to look at the cross-UK synergies, weakened since devolution, which need to be reinvigorated.

We need to pursue a decentralised, pan-UK strategy for rebalancing the economy, driven by city regions across the country. This means moving away from seeing everything through a four-nation prism. Many of the problems confronting Glasgow, for example, are similar to those of Manchester or Birmingham. They provide embryonic structures which can be built upon. There are two years until the next Holyrood elections. Strengthening our union must be an urgent priority whatever our post-Brexit future.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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My Lords, the House is pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is replying to this debate as it holds him in very high regard. The only surprising thing is that the noble Lord finds it possible to continue being a member of a Government who, in Brexit, are systematically destroying his own life’s work. If I may say so, he gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “semi-detached”. He appears to be attached to this Government in the way that the moon is attached to the sun, but we are none the less glad that he is speaking today. That is because he harks back to the days when Conservatives were indeed conservative and observed the dictum of Edmund Burke that:

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation”;


but his underlying belief was that it should be the minimum change necessary to preserve a state which, by a long process of organic formation, works pretty well.

In Great Britain—Ireland is entirely different—that is pretty much the way we have handled constitutional reform in this country since the Napoleonic wars, which finally ended Jacobitism and the threat to the Hanoverian settlements. But Brexit has brought an end to all that because for the first time in modern history, the Conservative Party has stopped being conservative and has in fact become a revolutionary party that is seeking to undermine the entire fabric of our existing constitutional settlement, with an impact that will go well beyond Brexit. As other noble Lords have said, it will probably threaten the union with Northern Ireland and possibly in due course the union with Scotland too. It is perfectly conceivable that if Brexit proceeds, England will be a single unitary state within the lifetime of many of us present in this Chamber. Of course, that would make sense philosophically because it is the expression of an extreme form of English nationalism that we have not seen in recent history.

The question that is preoccupying Parliament at large at the moment is how we can stop that process democratically. It looks to me as though that will take the form of a referendum, in which I hope very much that the British people, having seen the kind of Brexit on offer and the threat it poses to their way of life, will actually vote to remain in the European Union.

However, the underlying social pressures and tensions that have led to Brexit are partly to do with the inadequate aspects of our constitutional arrangements and the way they deal with political and social issues. They need reform, and a good Burkean would be paying serious and particular attention at the moment—as the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has done—to the big issue of the government of England. While we have had significant and beneficial reform in the government of Wales and Scotland and have brought an end to a virtual civil war within the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland—I pay huge tribute to John Major, Tony Blair and a generation of politicians in Ireland and Northern Ireland—the government of England has not undergone substantial reform of any kind since Redcliffe-Maud and the big reforms to county and local government in the early 1970s. It is not working well at all.

I will make three brief points on what I believe should happen. We need to reinforce substantially the devolution moves that have taken place in recent years. The single best reform to the government of England in the last 20 years was the creation of the mayoralty of London—a strong executive office with substantial devolution of funding and autonomous powers, accountable to an elected assembly—which has transformed the government of London. The quality of our public services in London, particularly our infrastructure and especially transport, have been changed for the better beyond all recognition because of the introduction of this very welcome measure of devolution. We need the same in all the city regions of England and in the wider regions, and it needs to be done on some kind of agreed basis. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to Yorkshire. There is at the moment a massive stand-off between the Government and local authorities and responsible leaders in Yorkshire, including the mayor of South Yorkshire, on this very issue. It needs to be resolved, city region by city region, with substantial devolution taking place.

Secondly, on finance, you cannot divorce devolution from money, in the way that you can never divorce government from money. The person who holds the budget is the person who wields the power. A good part of the reason why the settlements in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London have been so successful is the substantial devolution of funding. Ever since the settlement that replaced the poll tax with this extremely inadequate council tax, which now is pretty much inoperable as an effective property tax, there has not been an effective funding base for local government.

Thirdly, we need properly to codify this in a new federal constitution, which I think should involve a senate replacing the existing House of Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, said that we suffer from imperial condescension. I do not believe that that is a complete explanation.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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Please could the noble Lord bring his remarks to a conclusion?

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis
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I am bringing them to a conclusion.

The Government in London also suffer from colonial complacency towards England, and we suffer from ideological idiocy in respect of Brexit. Both undermine the body politic and need reversing as a matter of urgency.

Referendums: Parliamentary Democracy

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Thursday 19th July 2018

(5 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Higgins Portrait Lord Higgins (Con)
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My Lords, our debates on Brexit have made frequent reference to referendums, but it seemed to me that the time had come to take a rather wider view of this issue. I am glad to see that a number of noble Lords who have added their names to the speakers list today take a similar view. I look forward with great interest to their comments, particularly the maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Pickles. He will give us a more up-to-date perspective on the view of those in the House of Commons on these issues than some of us who moved from the House of Commons to your Lordships’ House a long while ago.

There is certainly no lack of background briefing on this issue. The House of Lords Library has produced a splendid note, and only this month a massive tome, a report of the Independent Commission on Referendums, was published. In addition, there have been reports by your Lordships’ Constitution Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The latter makes a particular study of the results and the effect of the Brexit referendum.

They all draw a certain amount of attention to the history of referendums in this country since 1975. Referendums were used very successfully by Hitler. Both Churchill and Attlee criticised the idea of them and, notably, Mrs Thatcher described referendums as,

“a splendid weapon for demagogues and dictators”.

While that reflected the immediate context of the time, I think there are still considerable concerns about the way in which referendums affect our democratic system. They are certainly popular with the electorate—perhaps to some extent reflecting the unpopularity of politicians —with the idea that they somehow get a direct feed in, even though in this country I believe we have politicians who are less out of touch with the electorate than in almost any other country in the world because of constituency meetings and so on.

I am concerned that the idea of referendums is constantly referred to as democratic. One can see the arguments in favour of that view but, in fact, it is not what we normally mean by democracy in this country. What we fundamentally believe in, I think, is the idea of representative parliamentary democracy where we elect Members of Parliament and, as Burke pointed out, they then take into account the views of their constituents together with their own judgment on any particular issue. One of the problems with referendums is the extent to which a Member of Parliament or a Member of your Lordships’ House can take into account the views which were expressed. This is somewhat inhibited if a major part of a decision—almost a central part of it—is taken by a referendum. It is noticeable that very few Members of Parliament have stood up and simply said that they reject the decision of this or that referendum.

The crucial issue here is whether the referendum is regarded as binding. I took part at great length in the debates in your Lordships’ House on the referendum Bill. What was clear at that time was that it proposed an advisory referendum, not a binding one. It is clear since then that the Government have regarded it as binding. The effect of that on the extent to which Members of Parliament can express an independent view is obviously very important.

The Prime Minister, soon after the result of the referendum, said very clearly we must “respect” it. Respect is a very interesting word. As far as the last referendum is concerned, there are lots of reasons for not respecting it. It was not a representative democracy, passed by an overwhelming majority of the population. It was a majority of those voting but quite clearly a lot of people did not vote because they realised that they did not fully understand the issues. Therefore, the argument that we must respect it also has to be seen against the background of a campaign that was riddled with lies from beginning to end—not least on the question of the Brexit premium. In addition, there is the recent discovery of the extent to which the finances of the leave campaign might have affected the result. To conclude that we must respect the result is very doubtful.

As far as that is concerned, we have to take into account whether it is binding or not. As I say, it is in danger of undermining rather than helping our democratic system. The report that I referred to from the House of Commons points out that critics of referendums warn that they may undermine parliamentary democracy, particularly so when there is a clear difference of view,

“between … a majority of the public and the majority of parliamentarians”.

It points out that this is probably the situation with the Brexit decision. So this, again, must give us some concern that referendums do not really help the operation of our democratic system—in fact, quite the contrary. I conclude from that that there are some serious problems that we have to face if we are to continue with the use of referendums, and there is a very strong case for the committees of both Houses to look at the issue in great detail.

One thing I am absolutely clear about is that I do not think there is a case for a second referendum on Brexit. We can do without another one, as it would again produce a very confused result. The right course of action at this stage is for Parliament to assert how the pieces of the chaos that have resulted from the referendum, not least in the last few days, can be put right. Parliament really must assert its influence more strongly over the way in which things develop in the present situation. Therefore, the case for referendums becomes increasingly doubtful. At all events, I think that we need to tighten up the rules.

I was surprised to discover in the briefing the existence of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which I had not previously come across—I may not be alone in that. That could perhaps be amended to cover certain issues. I will always regret that during the passage of the referendum Bill through your Lordships’ House, I did not put down an amendment to cover thresholds for both the turnout and the majority. We might have been in a very different situation today had I done so, but I thought that if I did, it would inevitably make the result of the referendum mandatory rather than advisory. None the less, I think that there is a case to be made, perhaps by the relevant committees, for saying that we should not have any referendum in future without thresholds for the turnout and the majority.

I conclude by saying that we certainly need further study by the committees to sort out the present problems that I have referred to. However, I am also influenced by the fact that I spend a considerable amount of my time in the Netherlands, which has had a rather bad experience with a referendum relating to Ukraine. It has been a real problem for the country, so the political coalition in the Netherlands has decided to introduce a measure to ban, flat out, the use of referendums, including advisory referendums. As I said, the difference between advisory and mandatory referendums is very blurred. As I understand it, this had already gone through the lower House of the Parliament in the Netherlands, but there was then a move to have a referendum against having a ban on referendums. This was obviously rather controversial. The result is that there have been further disputes and the matter has gone to the Supreme Court, which has come to the conclusion that you cannot have a referendum banning the use of referendums. That, as I understand it, is the present situation and we will have to wait to see what any appeal against the Supreme Court decision brings.

That brings out the important point that we should consider to what extent the use of referendums in our country undermines the normal representative parliamentary system, in which we have such faith and which I think is unequalled in the world, not least in protecting minorities. One of the great problems with referendums is that they take no account whatever of minorities. They have been described as the dictatorship of the majority, and I think that that is indeed the position, not least as far as the latest referendum is concerned.

I believe that we should consider all these issues very carefully and I hope that the debate will seek to clarify them further. Given the amount of interest in this issue by way of background papers and so on, this is clearly an appropriate moment for us to consider to what extent we should continue to use referendums and, if we do, in what form. I beg to move.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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My Lords, time is very tight in this debate, and I respectfully ask all noble Lords to comply with their speaking times.

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [HL]

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Monday 20th July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

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Amendments 35 and 36 agreed.
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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My Lords, there is a printing error in Amendment 37. It should refer to “provision”, not “provisions”. I am advised that this does not affect the substance of the amendment.

In the Title

Amendment 37 not moved.

Public Services

Baroness Stedman-Scott Excerpts
Wednesday 12th December 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and congratulate him on securing this debate. I declare an interest as the chief executive of Tomorrow’s People and a trustee of New Philanthropy Capital.

The subject matter is important to our country, our communities and our Government. We need professional, effective and robust public services delivered by whoever can best do the job. Noble Lords will need no confirmation that I am completely committed to the voluntary sector and the role that it plays. That it has a role to play in the delivery of public services I have no doubt. However, there are real challenges for both government and the sector if this is to happen and if we are all to step up to the mark.

I hope that my contribution to this debate will be seen as challenging but helpful, ambitious but realistic. It is not a case simply of assuming that the sector can step up to the challenge; it will have to consider some significant issues. I have no desire to set the hares running, but while I know that the Work Programme is new and in its early stages, there are significant lessons that we can all learn from the process of becoming involved in it. That applies to the sector and to government. The sooner we learn those lessons for the benefit of the people we are all in business to serve, the better.

I will address my first remarks to the sector; I am talking to myself now, in the nicest possible way. There needs to be a maturity in measuring impact in a consistent way. This is crucial. It is not what we as a sector believe that we can do, it is what we know we can do, with evidence to back up what we know we can achieve. My second point concerns financial capacity and capability. The issue of working capital needs to be understood. The payment by results point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, is critical. Nobody I have spoken to has a problem with being judged on their results, but it is no good going into these things believing you can achieve something if you cannot prove it. If the voluntary sector is going to come into public service in a serious way, we must face the issue of scaling up. Sometimes in scaling up, organisations lose the magic of what they can do. Sometimes in becoming too big, we lose something. We must not compromise mission for volume and vanity. Coco Chanel said: “Turnover is vanity, profit is reality and cash flow is sanity”. That applies also to the voluntary sector.

I turn now to the Government and say to the Minister that there needs to be maturity in the commissioning process. Progress has been made. This has been demonstrated by the DWP innovation fund. I am grateful to the Government for that, but some people have said to me: “If only the Government would commission what works rather than what can be traded at the lowest fiscal cost”. We may get value into that. I am the first to understand that we are in very difficult times and that cost is a major factor. However, sometimes we spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar.

It never does any harm to remember the people we are in business to serve. We have to hold them at the heart of what we do. Can the sector step up to the mark? Of course it can—but with changes. I am sure that with government procurement changes we can all do a much better job.