Debates between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 26th Feb 2024
Wed 7th Feb 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part one
Mon 5th Feb 2024
Mon 7th Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Report stage: Part 2
Thu 3rd Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Report stage: Part 2
Tue 1st Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage: Part 1
Fri 4th Feb 2022
Wed 26th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 26th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 18th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Thu 13th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Mon 26th Oct 2020
Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 25th Mar 2020
Coronavirus Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I do not need to add much to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because she has explained exactly why this is an important matter. I was slightly astonished when I read the amendment that this was the case and that this was something that we would need to remedy, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for this amendment, which, as she explained, would require the Crown Court to automatically impose a restraining order on anyone convicted of a child sex offence; that would apply regardless of the type or length of sentence passed. There is no need for me to underline the horror of child sex offences and the lifelong harm that is inflicted on the victims. I therefore have a great deal of sympathy with the intent behind the amendment to do even more to try to minimise the impact of that harm, as well as protect the community from any further offending.

Restraining orders are a discretionary power available to judges to impose in cases where there is a need to protect people from harassment or conduct that causes fear of violence. The current regime allows for such orders to be imposed where there is sufficient evidence on conviction, post conviction or post acquittal. At present, applications for restraining orders are considered by the Crown Prosecution Service on a case-by-case basis, recognising that there is a need to keep a victim safe and take their views into account. Actions prohibited by the restraining order, such as going to certain locations or contacting the victim, may be a breach of the order which is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. Variation or discharge of the restraining order must be undertaken by the court.

When dealing with child sex offences, the court has a range of sentencing options available that may include life sentences. The vast majority of offenders who are released are subject to licence conditions that could include conditions to protect the victim, such as prohibiting contact. Breaching the terms of any licence condition can result in an offender being recalled to prison.

Offenders are also subject to notification requirements, commonly known as the sex offender register, where individuals convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence must provide certain details to police, including address, national insurance number and bank account details. Furthermore, they will also be managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA, for the duration of those requirements that, in many cases, will be for life.

Other measures to protect victims are also available. The sexual harm prevention order, or SHPO, can be made in relation to a person who has been convicted of a broad range of sexual offences, committed either in the UK or overseas. No application is necessary at the point of sentence, but courts may consider it in appropriate cases. Otherwise, applications can be made by the police, or other agencies, in preparation for the offender’s release on licence.

The prohibitions imposed by the order can be wide-ranging, such as limiting forms of employment that may involve contact with children or restrictions on internet access. The orders may be for a fixed period not exceeding five years but are renewable. More than 5,000 SHPOs were imposed in the year 2022-23, which shows that the courts are using the tools and powers available.

While I support the well-meaning intention of the amendment, I do not believe it is necessary, because there is a wide-ranging and effective set of measures to monitor and control offenders. I also suggest that the point at which these additional measures would be needed are when someone’s licence comes to an end; until then, conditions such as non-contact and exclusion can be in place on the licence. So it would be better to take decisions on the controls necessary at the conclusion of the licensing period, rather than attempt to predict them at the point of sentencing.

Requiring the Crown Court to automatically issue a restraining order as a condition of release in every case caught by this amendment would constrain the court’s discretion not to issue an order where it was not needed or desired. From a practical perspective, a mandatory restraining order imposed on an offender at the point of sentence, which could be many years before the end of the sentence, would be a duplication of some of the other controls I have already set out and it could create practical difficulties down the line, especially where the sentence is very long.

We also must remember the voice of the victim, which plays an important part in decision-making. Where an offender has received a custodial sentence of 12 months for violent or sexual offences, which of course include sexual offences against children, victims will be automatically referred to the victim contact scheme. Where the victim is a child, a parent or guardian may join the scheme on their behalf. If they choose to join the scheme, a victim liaison officer will inform them when the offender is going to be released and help them to request licence conditions that will apply upon the offender’s release, such as prohibitions on contacting the victim or entering an exclusion zone.

In conclusion, I hope I have adequately explained the wide-ranging provisions already available to safeguard victims, which we should allow the courts to impose as they see fit, according to the circumstances of a given case. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness agrees and feels able to withdraw the amendment. In saying that, I make it clear, as I often do, that I am happy to talk to her after Committee to explore these matters further.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I echo the worry of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about this, partly exactly because it may not solve the victim’s problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, outlined in proposing this amendment. We have also talked a lot about the unevenness of the criminal justice system’s data collection and everything else; I wonder how on earth it would do this, to solve what is probably a very small problem—but a challenge, absolutely—and whether there may be another way of resolving it. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for explaining the background to her amendment. It would require by law that the criminal justice agencies—the police, prisons and probation—identify and record any change of gender identity by a sex offender as a condition of their release on licence. It would also require the police to record the offender’s name and birth sex as a condition of their release on licence.

It may help if I outline the measures we already have in place, which I think address the spirit of this amendment. Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 requires sex offenders who have been convicted of an offence in Schedule 3 to that Act to notify the police of their personal details annually and whenever they change. Those details include information such as names, including aliases, and addresses. They also include details of activity such as foreign travel and residence in a household with children.

Sex offenders subject to the notification requirements in Part 2 of the 2003 Act are managed under the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements. MAPPA is a statutory arrangement, through which the responsible authority—the police, prisons and probation—work together and with other agencies to discharge a statutory duty to co-operate, to assess and manage the risk posed by registered sex offenders and others living in the community.

In February 2023, the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service created a presumption that all transgender female prisoners, whether they have a gender recognition certificate or not, would not be held in the general women’s prison estate. The Prison Service is able to verify, with the gender recognition panel, whether an offender has a gender recognition certificate. Any difference between an offender’s birth sex and assumed gender will therefore be recorded and made known to the probation and police services through their co-operation under MAPPA.

The MAPPA responsible authorities use the VISOR database to share information about registered sex offenders. VISOR enables the recording of sex, gender identity and gender presentation. An offender’s legal sex will be changed on VISOR only if they have provided a GRC to the police, probation or prison service. However, MAPPA agencies are still able to have regard to an offender’s change of gender where it is necessary to manage their risk, or prevent or detect crime.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, with this group of amendments we arrive at a particularly sensitive and emotive set of issues, as noble Lords have so movingly described. I shall do my best to provide responses to each of the amendments in as constructive and informative a way as I can.

I start by addressing Amendment 101, in the name of my noble friend Lady Morgan and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Bertin. The amendment seeks to revise the Government’s new Clauses 44A to 44F, which place a duty on authorised persons, including the police, to request victim information only when it is necessary and proportionate in pursuit of a reasonable line of enquiry. It would instead require agreement before the police could request victim information.

To pick up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, when we were developing this legislation we wanted to consider very carefully the desirability of aligning the provisions around requests for victim information and the extraction of information from digital devices. Where possible, we have ensured consistency between those provisions.

The new victim information clauses in this Bill do not grant new powers to authorised persons; instead, they place safeguards around requests for third-party material. This is unlike the powers governing the extraction of material from devices in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which give new statutory powers to authorised persons to request a device and extract information from it on the basis of agreement.

My noble friend’s amendment is based on the principle of victim agreement, but there is a key point we need to remember here. Unlike the information contained on a personal device, the victim does not own the material held by a third party, and therefore cannot agree to its disclosure. That does not mean that the victim’s views are immaterial, and I will come on to that, but the decision to release this information instead lies with the third party. The third party, of course, must be able to fulfil their own obligations under the Data Protection Act 2018, which governs the processing of personal data by competent authorities.

When considering digital information, it is likely that information held on a device could be accessible via other sources: that is, messages between a victim and suspect could be accessible from the suspect’s device. That is unlikely to be the case for third-party material. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to mandate that a victim agree to a request before the third party can disclose the material, because that may prevent the police accessing vital information relevant to the case.

Furthermore, a suspect’s right to a fair trial is already enshrined in law as part of the Human Rights Act 1998, which new measures must not contravene. This amendment could prevent authorised persons accessing information they need to support a reasonable line of inquiry, whether it points towards or away from a suspect. Investigators should always work to balance the public interest in obtaining the material against the consequential impact on the victim’s privacy.

Of course we recognise that it is best practice for investigators to work with and consult victims, so that their views and objections can be sought and recorded. That is why we have supported police in doing so in the draft statutory code of practice that we have published alongside the Bill.

Amendment 106 seeks to revise current data protection legislation, so that victims of malicious complaints involving third parties can prevent the processing, and subsequently request the deletion, of personal data gathered during a safeguarding investigation where the complaint was not upheld.

It is of course right that people are able to flag genuinely held concerns about children whom they believe to be vulnerable. It is also right that social services fulfil their duty to treat each safeguarding case seriously and to make inquiries if they believe a child has suffered or is likely to suffer harm. However, equally, malicious reporting and false claims made to children’s social care are completely unacceptable. They not only cause harm and distress to those subject to the false claims but divert crucial time and resources from front-line services and their ability to undertake investigations into cases where there are genuine safe- guarding concerns.

Current data protection legislation sets out that data controllers must respond to any request from a data subject, including requests for erasure, and then must consider the full circumstances of a request—including the context in which the data was provided—before refusing. Where a data subject is dissatisfied with the response to their request, the current rights of appeal allow a data subject to contest a refusal and, ultimately, raise a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

I assure my noble friend that, as part of its decision-making process, the ICO will take into consideration circumstances where a malicious claim has been made that may or may not amount to criminal conduct. Where a complaint to the ICO is upheld, the ICO can tell the organisation to assist with resolving the complaint, such as providing information or correcting any inaccuracies. The ICO can make recommendations to the organisation about how it can improve its information rights practices, and can take regulatory action in the most serious cases.

I hope that the process I have set out reassures my noble friend, and the Committee, that the current data protection legislation provides adequate protection. Therefore, in our view, additional provision is not needed.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the noble Earl clarify that he is saying that it is up to the victim to take the action?

--- Later in debate ---
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

I would be happy to write to my noble friend.

Amendment 173 seeks to extend Clause 24 to the whole of the UK. At the moment these measures apply to England and Wales, on the basis that policing is a devolved matter. This aligns with the territorial extent of the majority of measures within the Bill. We have also taken the decision to limit the scope to England and Wales as, following engagement with the devolved Governments, it is clear that there is no appetite at present for these provisions to extend further.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I assume the noble Earl is asking me to withdraw my amendment.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The noble Earl will be able to report with some veracity to his noble friend, who we hope will be back with us next week, that there is a complete degree of unity across the Committee about the need for action on all these amendments.

I thank the noble Earl for the fact that there has been some movement; I think that at least two meetings will flow from this group of amendments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, in place of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her introduction and the suggestion that we should meet to discuss Amendment 106 and take that discussion forward together.

On Amendment 106, we have talked about my honourable friend Stella Creasy, who I have known since she was about 16 or 17 years old, but the briefing we got told us of many other examples of people who had been harassed. As one anonymous case said:

“Out of the blue Z received a call from their local police sharing details of a complaint made about the treatment of her children. The anonymously submitted complaint made a series of false claims accusing Z of neglect and abuse ranging from failing to feed or clothe their children correctly or take them to the dentist and GP. Social services were able to confirm that Z’s children attended school, the dentist and were registered with their local GP. Despite a lengthy investigation Z is no further in understanding who made this complaint, and their children’s record remains”.


She feels wretched about that fact. Of course, that carries forward to what happens to those children. Every time that mother has to fill in a form or a job application in public services of some sort, the fact that the report exists on the record is material.

Many noble Lords hold positions. I am a non-executive director of the Whittington Hospital and have had to go through the usual CRB checks to hold that position. If this was me, I would have to have declared that. That is what happened to Stella Creasy and all these other women who have been harassed and about whom vexatious complaints have been made. It is not just that this is unfair and a continuation of harassment; it has a material effect on those people and their children. We need to find a remedy for this issue.

I turn to the other amendments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for her introduction and for the way in which she talked to her amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made her usual powerful and informed contribution. The words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, were very wise. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, champions some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, was perfectly correct in saying that the effects of Amendments 78 and 79 in my name would be only beneficial, not just for the victims of rape but for all the authorities and for their conduct in dealing with these victims.

The question is: can we wait another couple of years for the Law Commission to report and for the Government to consider it and take it forward? I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, had to say. This issue may not fall within the scope of what the Law Commission is considering. We all need to know that, so that the discussions we might have with the Minister can be resolved in a spirit of information. I praise the noble Earl who has had to stand in for dealing with all these issues in his normal informed and courteous manner.

Finally, Amendment 115 on not delaying therapy is vital. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, the idea that you have to choose between therapy and justice is so abhorrent that we cannot wait another couple of years to be able to sort that out.

I thank the noble Earl. I look forward to the meetings and conversations we will have between now and Report, when I suspect we will return to many of these issues. I withdraw my amendment.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate; it has been interesting, if slightly wider than we expected. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for introducing it. I put my name to Amendment 75. This is the first time that we have talked about women and girls at all; the noble Baroness was right to initiate that. I also tabled Amendment 80, which we on these Benches feel strongly needs to be addressed in the course of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to Amendment 107, which the Government will also have to address, because it is clearly about a very serious issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is completely right about the importance of the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is right about the reputational damage it does to our country. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to that.

I thank Southall Black Sisters for the excellent brief it produced about seeking to ensure that victims of domestic abuse who do not have the recourse to public funds are still entitled to be provided with services in accordance with the victims’ code. It was thorough and I hope that a Minister will respond, even if it is not this Minister. It is very nice to be opposite the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the first time in quite some years; we faced each other for about seven or eight years on health matters. Of course, we have two Fredericks on our Front Benches, which is probably worth noting.

Southall Black Sisters has done extensive research on the effect of having no recourse to public funds. It has made a very serious record of the hardship and cruelty that this can lead to. I very much hope that the Minister will look at that evidence and that we will be able to take this forward. I will not say anything further, because we have had a very thorough discussion about the amendments.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My Lords, I too am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments, which cover a range of sensitive and complex issues.

I turn first to Amendment 104, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the UK’s reservation on Article 59 of the Istanbul convention. We were delighted to ratify the Istanbul convention. I believe that our doing so sent a clear message, not only within the UK but overseas, that Britain is committed to tackling violence against women and girls. I need to explain the point around the reservation, though. First, we are far from alone in making such reservations. Secondly, and more germanely to the noble Baroness’s concern, the reservation does not mean that we are not committed to supporting migrant victims, as I shall now explain.

We will continue to consider the findings of the SMV—support for migrant victims—scheme pilot, along with other assessments, and take account of the domestic abuse commissioner’s report Safety Before Status: The Solutions. This is very much work in progress. I assure the noble Baroness and the Committee that we will consider all matters in the round before making any further decisions on our policies and compliance position on Article 59. We have been clear about this in our last two annual progress reports, which were laid before Parliament, as we have been in many other fora.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my main regret about this debate is that my noble friend Lord Triesman did not mention the London School of Economics, which is where I went. While we were having this debate, I looked it up and there are hundreds of societies at the LSE. I enjoyed the fact that, if you look at the history of the student union—the student union at the LSE is the oldest in the country—you find that I feature in there, having led occupations of the director’s studio for the nursery campaign in the early 1970s. I was trying to think how on earth we would have coped with this legislation when I was a member of the student union executive at the London School of Economics in the early 1970s.

My noble friend Lord Triesman was quite right. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, I do not think what is in the Bill at the moment meets the test of what will actually work and be able to be delivered by our student bodies. It is too complex. My understanding is that student unions also have the Charity Commissioners as part of their regulation, so that adds extra complexity to this issue.

I think I agree with other noble Lords that the Government need to look at this issue again. The noble Baroness’s amendment might provide a good basis for something that is simpler and which can actually be delivered by 18 and 19 year-olds. I look at the Bill team, and some of them are not that far away from having been rather young. They need to think back to what they would have done in their student days and how they might have been able to protect the right of freedom of speech then.

This is one of those occasions when the Government might need to look at this again and ask whether it will work as it is intended. Have discussions taken place with student union representatives in a process of asking them how this will work and whether it will be able to be carried through?

In case noble Lords are looking it up, my name does not appear but I did lead the occupation of the director’s studio for the nursery campaign.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, Amendment 47 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, seeks to change the way in which student unions are regulated under the Bill.

This amendment would remove the duties on student unions in Clause 3, and instead add them to the duties on providers under the Education Act 1994. The addition of these requirements to that Act would mean that the duty would be on the governing body of the provider to

“take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure”

the various requirements set out in the amendment and no direct duties would be imposed on student unions. Amendment 47 would therefore make Clause 7 unnecessary. I note the wish of the noble Baroness to remove the clause from the Bill altogether.

Extending the legislative framework to student unions at approved fee cap providers under Clause 3 is a significant step, which fills a gap in the current legislative framework. Freedom of speech on our campuses is an essential element of university life. Student unions play a vital role in this, providing services and support, representing their members and working closely with their provider. It is important that these bodies are accountable for their actions.

There are examples of where student unions have failed to secure freedom of speech. Notably, the student union at Swansea University failed to support members of the university’s Feminist Society, who were threatened and abused for supporting Kathleen Stock—a name I am sure we recognise by now. Rather than protect their freedom of speech, the student union removed the society’s email account and profile page from its systems, denying this group an important platform for reaching others. This incident illustrates the need for action to ensure that student unions are subject to duties on freedom of speech, since we cannot allow that sort of behaviour to continue unchallenged and unregulated.

I noted the support for the amendment expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, but if we took the approach proposed in Amendment 47, the duty would be on the provider to take reasonably practicable steps to secure the various freedom of speech obligations, as I have said, but there would be no requirement on student unions to comply with those requirements. If they did not, this would potentially only result in an internal dispute with the provider.

Although the Charity Commission is involved in regulating student unions which are charities, that is only in respect of charity law. There would also be no oversight of whether or not providers comply with the duty imposed on them. This means that there would be no enforcement or regulatory action taken if they failed to do so.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the context of the new regime that this Bill will establish, there would be no means for individuals whose freedom of speech has been improperly restricted to seek recompense. Since the Bill will impose new duties on student unions, it is also necessary that mechanisms are in place to ensure that compliance with the freedom of speech duties of student unions is monitored effectively and that action is taken if those duties are infringed upon.

The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, read into these provisions a burdensome requirement placed on every single student society in every university in England. I make it clear to him that the duties are on student unions and not student societies, even though they may be affiliated with their student union. In practice, this means that only the student union—that is to say, one union per provider—will be regulated.

Clause 7 therefore extends the regulatory functions of the Office for Students so that it can regulate these student unions. This new provision will require the OfS to monitor whether student unions are complying with their duties under new Sections A5 and A6 as inserted by Clause 3. If it appears to the OfS that a student union is failing or has failed to comply with its duties, it will be able to impose a monetary penalty.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I need some clarification from the noble Earl. I suspect that most of the things that have caused problems have been organised by the societies and all the organisations that are part of the student union. At the LSE, we had a rugby club that invited strippers to its annual dinner—you can imagine how well that went down—but it was not the student union that dealt with that. It was not its job to deal with what the rugby club was doing. This was a very long time ago, but lots of the things that we have been calling in aid in this Bill have not been organised by student unions. Some will have been, but most will have been organised by their constituent parts—the societies and other parts of the student union.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

I take the noble Baroness’s point. Those societies will be expected to abide by a code of practice which will be promulgated to all students. While the societies will not be subjected to the full extent of the regulation that I have been talking about, expectations will be placed on them. I cannot yet tell the noble Baroness what will be contained in the code of practice but, as I have mentioned, that code will receive appropriate publicity.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is a very important small group of amendments. It seems to me that the previous group was about what the law should say, while this debate has been about is who it is going to apply to. I was struck by my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti’s description of the academic who might suffer. I was thinking back and remembering, and I need to say that I am an emeritus governor of the LSE, but I think I am absolutely not a member of the academic staff there. When I was at the LSE, I attended a whole year of lectures and I fell asleep at every single one, but I do not think that counts with this.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has been very clever in these two groups; his small amendments are exactly how you probe a Bill. I am full of admiration for his ability to do that, and I am grateful. The issue here has been mentioned by most noble Lords, because it is vital in legislation that we define who will be affected by the legislation and in what way. That is why my noble friend Lord Collins added his name to Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. My noble friend Lord Triesman made some very good points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others. I think the Minister will need to continue the discussion on this because by now the Bill team and the Minister will realise that there is a lack of clarity here, which provides enormous risks to the effectiveness of this legislation.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this second group of amendments relates to members and academics, as covered by the Bill, but I will also try to address the questions put to me on related issues.

Amendments 4, 37 and 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, seek to probe the meaning of the term “members” in the Bill. The term “member” in the sphere of higher education has a specific meaning as a term of art. It includes in particular a member of the governing council of a university and those with certain honorary positions, such as an emeritus professor. Such a person may not be a member of staff of the institution and so needs specific provision in order to be protected under the Bill.

A member does not include a person who simply studies or used to study at the university, though some might use the term in that way. Current students would be covered by the term “students”. It also does not include a recipient of an honorary degree, which is awarded to honour an individual and does not give any academic or professional privilege.

The term “member” is well understood in both legislation and universities. In particular, it is already a category of individuals which is protected under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, which sets out the current freedom of speech duties.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for returning us to this issue because I have reflected on the noble Earl’s remarks when we discussed this in Committee. He made an impressive contribution in that it listed many of the safeguards that the Government say are in place to deal with what are clearly very unsatisfactory situations in the care sector, which affect the most vulnerable in our communities.

My question to the noble Earl is: does he really believe that the Government are dealing effectively with the problems that face this sector, which is dysfunctional—I thank the noble Baroness for reminding me that I said that—and places insecurity in the hearts of some of the most vulnerable and eldest members of our communities? If all the things that he listed the previous time we discussed this were working, why would we return to this and say that those safeguards are clearly not working? Asset stripping is clearly still taking place. There are huge dangers to this sector and the noble Baroness has brought this back to the House because of them.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has brought us back to issues that we debated in Committee and I understand her concern about propriety in the deployment of public funds. I have no problem with the idea that Ministers and public servants should do all they can to ensure that public money is used effectively for the greater good. That is what they are obliged to do anyway. However, I do not feel that this duty is best served by accepting the amendment, even though it has been newly worded.

In my answer in Committee, I described how during the pandemic we learned about the importance of speed and flexibility in the way that we respond to a crisis. I suggest that this amendment would impede the Government’s ability to provide emergency support to critical providers. That does not mean handing out money willy-nilly. Any use of the power will be subject to the usual scrutiny and safeguards around the use of public funds, as set out in Treasury guidance on Managing Public Money and Accounting Officer Assessments.

There is a fundamental problem with the proposition that the noble Baroness has advanced. The amendment refers to “day-to-day operations” but there is no single accepted definition of that term. Any company could find itself excluded from receiving critical funding depending on how its accounts and finances are structured. For example, there are potential scenarios where the Government could ask providers to carry out activities at pace which may involve them in creating unavoidable debts, for which they would need reimbursement. In that situation there would be nothing improper in any government funding being used to repay that debt, but even if there were no such debts involved, the problem remains that any private company would be prevented paying dividends, as it would be logically impossible to disassociate the long-term effects of the assistance from the ability of the company to pay such dividends. I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness about unscrupulous people and fraud, but the amendment as worded is not well conceived.

Turning to Amendments 146 and 147, again, nobody can be comfortable with the idea of rogue investors or unscrupulous care providers. However, I made clear in Committee that the Government are committed to ensuring that we have a sustainable care market. We have already set out a number of planned actions, most notably in the People at the Heart of Care: Adult Social Care Reform White Paper, to achieve this objective. Noble Lords are aware that the adult social care sector is complex, as it contains both the public and the private sector. One thing that the two sectors have in common is the need to maintain not only quality of care but financial stability. To ensure that these businesses provide the care that they are required to, local government and regulators, such as the Care Quality Commission, monitor, regulate and support the sector.

As I mentioned in Committee, the CQC has market oversight responsibility, and in discharging those responsibilities, it performs comprehensive financial sustainability analysis for each provider in the scheme, including some private equity ownership structures. Debt leverage and capital structure are important components of this work, but consideration is also given to current and future trading trajectories, cash headroom and market positioning.

We also have in place the CQC-operated market oversight scheme, which monitors the financial health of the largest and most difficult-to-replace providers in the adult social care sector, ensuring that people’s care is not interrupted due to provider failure, which must be a proper concern. Since its establishment in 2015, there have been no major business failures of care providers that have resulted in the cessation of care.

We have always been clear that fraud is unacceptable. We are acting against those abusing the system; 150,000 ineligible claims have been blocked on the Covid-19 schemes, and £500 million was recovered last year. The HMRC tax protection task force is expected to recover an additional £1 billion of taxpayers’ money. Therefore, even if cash is diverted fraudulently, there is still the ability of the authorities to recover such cash.

I assure the noble Baroness that the Government will continue to keep the measures which I have outlined under review but, at present, we do not believe that the proposed and very prescriptive amendments are either proportionate or necessary. I hope she feels that she can come back to this matter at a future date. With that, I am clear that these amendments should not be accepted.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this group contains a number of helpful amendments. I welcome the amendments that the Government have tabled in response to the many and varied discussions we have had. I am grateful for this positive and constructive approach, which proposes transparency at the heart of procurement.

We have discussed with the Government at some length why the NHS has to have its own bespoke procurement regime, which the Bill paves the way for. We have seen two consultation documents about the scope, scale and nature of this bespoke regime. Although they seem quite sensible, we have been assured that the Government feel that the regulations will be based on a sound foundation.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, is quite right about patients not knowing their right to choose. It is a hole in the provision. The right to choose is very important. People absolutely do not know that they have it.

While not being explicit, the new providers’ selection regime will actually get us to where Labour tried to get in 2010 with the NHS as the preferred provider, at least as far as the many complex and expensive services provided by NHS trusts, FTs and other core patient-facing services are concerned. Therefore, the principle is fine. The problem is that it does not extend across everything that the NHS procures, and that is partly the nub of what my noble friend said in his amendments, which I will return to in a moment.

Our view is that in any circumstances where competitive procurement is to be used, the national rules apply, so why does the NHS need a bespoke system for all non-clinical stuff? We have never actually had an answer to that, except that the NHS comes up with wider regulations, and we feel that that it is a waste of time and effort. However, we have had ample assurances from the Government that the NHS bespoke regime will be properly documented and all the rules set out, with some route to enforcement and challenge. We are assured that there will be no award of contract without applying the process that is set out—no back doors and no flexibility when contracting with private companies. With those assurances in mind and the knowledge that campaigners and trade unions will be vigilant and might even stump up for judicial review, and because of the ICB amendments agreed earlier in the week, we will get more or less what we wanted and we will not try to remove Clause 70 from the Bill.

I turn to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hendy, who has our sympathy and approval. Had we been discussing this at a different time of day, we may have sought to support some of his amendments, and certainly the spirit of them. He has posed a legitimate question to the Minister: why do the Government not insist on good employment of staff as a criterion for their procurement regime?

We on this side of the House remain opposed to the outsourcing of NHS-funded services such as cleaning, catering and many others because we can see that it has led to staff being transferred into the private sector, corners being cut and standards dropping. It has been a symptom of chronic underfunding and it is a terrible long-term strategy. It has of course been completely counterproductive because it has sometimes meant that our hospitals have not necessarily been cleaned, serviced or looked after as we might have wished them to be. We have tried at various stages to introduce safeguards and to outlaw altogether the NHS’s tax-dodging habit of setting up SubCos, but those are probably matters for another day.

I would say to my noble friend that I am not sure that changing the procurement regime is the best way forward for this issue, although he has our support in the politics and context in which he introduced his amendments.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, before addressing the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Warner, it may be helpful if I speak to the six government amendments in this group: Amendments 101 to 104, 106 and 107. The first five of these amendments would amend Clause 70, which inserts a new regulation-making power in relation to the procurement of healthcare services, Section 12ZB, into the NHS Act 2006. They amend the clause so that regulations, when they are made under this power, will have to include provision for procurement processes and objectives, for steps to be taken when competitively tendering and for transparency, fairness, verifying compliance and the management of conflicts of interest. Amendment 106 also requires NHS England to issue guidance on the regulations.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, expressed that very well indeed. From these Benches, I say how much we welcome these amendments and thank the Minister for introducing them. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in regretting the fact that our friend Naren Patel—the noble Lord, Lord Patel—is not with us today. His speech on this in Committee was outstanding, as his speeches always are. In fact, the whole debate was the House at its very best in expressing its view.

We welcome these amendments, and I was very pleased to add my name to Amendment 3 on behalf of these Benches. I was not as energetic as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who put his name to all of them, but that was a symbol of the fact that we supported all these amendments.

We support them because, as people have mentioned, they recognise the importance of addressing inequalities from the top to the bottom of the National Health Service, and of monitoring, counting and research—not a tick-box exercise to say that you are tackling inequalities. As I have mentioned before, I am a non-executive member of a hospital in London. In fact, I have just completed three days of its workforce race equality training. That was three days out of my life during the course of this Bill, but it was definitely worth while. It absolutely was not always comfortable, and nor should it have been. It did indeed raise issues, many of which were raised in research published on 14 February by the NHS Race & Health Observatory. It basically says that the NHS has a very large mountain to climb in tackling race inequalities and inequalities across the board. It is a worthwhile report, which I am sure the noble Earl will be paying attention to in due course.

I also want to say how much I support my noble friend in bringing forward her amendments on the homeless. Coming from Bradford, I am particularly fond of a GP surgery called Bevan Healthcare, named after the founder of the National Health Service. It was started by my local doctor in Bradford, who spent his spare time providing GP services on the street to the homeless. From that, the NHS was commissioned to provide a GP surgery specifically directed to the needs of people who are itinerant and homeless, working girls and so on. It is still there, and it is a brilliant example of how to deliver the service, and of the money it saves the NHS at the end of the day. As I think my noble friend Lady Armstrong said, if you get this right then people do not end up in emergency care or worse.

We hope that the Minister will respond positively to these amendments. I thank him, his team and the Bill team, who addressed this issue thoroughly and with a great deal of success.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this has been a very fruitful discussion and I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I especially thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Thornton and Lady Hollins, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, in his absence, the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation for their contributions, both inside and outside this Chamber, in shaping this debate and the amendments before us.

Without wishing to repeat what I said earlier, I commend the government amendments to the House as they will strengthen the ability and resolve of the health and care system to take meaningful action on tackling health disparities. I next thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top and Lady Morgan of Drefelin, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for tabling their three amendments and for the focus they bring to the issues of housing and homelessness. I found the account of the experience in government of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the work of Professor Aidan Halligan, whom I too remember with great respect, compelling. I agreed with so much of what she said.

Let me say straight away that the Government are committed to improving the health outcomes of inclusion health groups, as they are known. That is precisely why we tabled the amendment to expand the inequalities duty placed on NHS England and ICBs beyond simply patients to incorporate people who struggle to access health services such as inclusion health groups, but there is much more to say on this.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend Lord Blunkett for speaking very briefly and giving us some very wise words. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, is absolutely right that the system is inadequate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for tabling these amendments and opening up this discussion. They address the issue of ownership of the organisations that provide social care. We know that almost all social care provision, residential and domiciliary, is not in the public sector and has not been for some time. We also know that the current system is wholly dysfunctional, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Brinton, said. It does not work for the service users, for the staff or even for the providers, which go bust fairly regularly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, described. Of course, it used to be a money spinner for hedge funds and others that got involved to asset strip and leverage profits and remuneration at the expense of service users, both individual self-funders and taxpayers and ratepayers who were paying for other residents.

I have always taken the view that this sector would benefit from an enormous influx of social enterprises and co-operatives. Where social care, domiciliary care and residential care are provided through social enterprises, community enterprises and co-operatives, they are sustainable, they keep their staff and they invest their surpluses back into their social purpose, so everybody gains. To suggest that the Government will fix social care through this legislation is laughable, because the existing market solution cannot be fixed. So we have sympathy with these amendments and fully understand the intent that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, outlined for us.

I am interested to know how the Minister will respond, because it is quite clear that something must happen in this sector because it is so unsatisfactory. I suspect that if the Government are not going to move on this, we may have to return to this later in the Bill.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I appreciate the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, introduced these three amendments and I am grateful to her for the clear explanations she gave for them. I will take them sequentially, beginning with Amendment 237.

This amendment seeks to place restrictions on the power for the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance to bodies engaged in the provision of social care services. It would prevent use of the power for the purposes of repaying debt, paying interest on debt and making distributions to shareholders.

To begin with a general but important point, it is incumbent on all Ministers and public servants to ensure that public money is used effectively for the greater good, and that purpose is implicit in the power contained in Clause 141. However, I fear that this amendment could make the proposed power unworkable in practice. If we look at the way the amendment is worded, any adult social care provider with a trade creditor of any kind would be caught, as would any organisation with an overdraft facility designed to support day-to-day working capital. A company’s working capital, by its nature, is money that is used to fund day-to-day operations in general, and one cannot associate a particular pound with a particular business activity. Furthermore, any private company would be prevented from paying dividends, as it would be logically impossible to disassociate the long-term effects of the assistance from the ability of the company to pay such dividends.

The pandemic has demonstrated the need for speed and flexibility in providing support to the care sector. We do not intend to use the power in the way the noble Baroness fears, but we have designed it in such a way as to provide the maximum flexibility to respond in times of crisis; each individual case will be considered on its merits. Placing additional restrictions through this amendment would impede our activity to provide emergency support to critical providers.

Any future use of this power, whether for emergency purposes such as those we have seen in the pandemic or to deliver specific policy on a national basis, would be subject to the usual scrutiny and safeguards around use of public funds, as set out in Treasury guidance on Managing Public Money and Accounting Officer Assessments. As with any use of public resources, the power would be exercised with a clearly defined purpose, with strict criteria applied in practice relating to the use of the funding to ensure that it delivers maximum value for money.

I turn now to Amendments 238 and 239. Amendment 238 seeks to undertake a review of the financial regulation of companies providing social care, with a view to ensuring that it supports the effective provision of social care. Amendment 239 aims to increase the financial transparency of offshore corporate groups providing social care.

We are committed to ensuring that we have a sustainable care market. This was made clear in People at the Heart of Care: Adult Social Care Reform White Paper, published in December. It is vital to ensure that people have a wide range of high-quality care and support options to choose from, supported by a workforce that is empowered to deliver high-quality care. With that in view, we have already set out a number of planned actions to support the effective provision of social care services.

As the Committee will be aware, under the Care Act 2014 it is the responsibility of local authorities to shape their local markets to ensure that a diverse range of high-quality, sustainable care and support services is provided. We consider that they are the ones best placed to understand the needs of their local populations.

Maintaining quality and high standards is vital, and that means regulation. The Bill introduces a new duty on the CQC to assess local authorities’ delivery of their adult social care responsibilities. Alongside existing duties on the CQC to monitor, inspect and regulate health and care services, this will drive up quality so that everyone can access the care they need, wherever they live.

We are also committing £1.4 billion of funding over three years to support local authorities in moving towards paying providers a fair cost of care. This funding will strengthen the capacity of local authorities to plan for and execute greater market oversight and improved market management to ensure that markets are well positioned to deliver on our reform ambitions, to address underinvestment and poor workforce practices and to provide a stable base for reform of adult social care.

In addition, we are investing at least £500 million over the next three years to begin to transform the way we support the social care workforce. This funding will go towards continuous professional development, so that people can experience a rewarding career with opportunities to develop and progress, now and in the future.

The noble Baroness stressed the importance of transparency in the market and I understand the points she made, particularly about overseas-registered companies. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is continuing to finalise the draft registration of overseas entities Bill, which underwent pre-legislative scrutiny in 2019, to align with the broader reform of Companies House and our plans to verify the data it holds. The Joint Committee concluded that

“this draft legislation is timely, worthwhile, and, in large part, well drafted.”

In their July 2019 response, the Government accepted many of the committee’s recommendations, such as ensuring that Companies House is given adequate resources and introducing a reporting facility. The Government have been exploring how best to implement these recommendations and others, such as civil sanctions. We are also considering how verification will work with this register. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is amending the draft Bill in line with the committee’s recommendations and will introduce it when parliamentary time allows.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, adult social care is a mixed economy. The majority of adult social care providers are private companies. Like other sectors, many private businesses employ debt as an ordinary part of their capital structures or funding arrangements.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, can I say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ribeiro and Lord Alton? They know I have been with them on this journey throughout. I probably would go a bit further than my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 265, because I believe that this country should follow the example of France and ban the exhibition of plasticised cadavers and human body parts.

In 2019, we had an OQ on this, which many noble Lords here today took part in. I said at that time that there is an

“ethical issue at play here”

and that it seemed that the businesses that had

“the exhibitions which use plasticised cadavers and foetuses for supposedly educational purposes could use modern materials and production to create the same exhibits. That begs the question: why use cadavers and human body parts at all? If the answer is that people want to see such things and will pay to do so, I remind noble Lords that people used to flock … to see public executions until 1868.”

It is an ethical issue. I am afraid that the noble Baroness answering that debate at the time said that

“the ethical position is not one for government.”—[Official Report, 27/2/21; cols. 228-29.]

Well, I would say that this debate shows that the ethical position is absolutely one for government.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and many other noble Lords for bringing these amendments relating to these important and sensitive issues to the Committee today.

Amendment 265 seeks to prohibit the use of imported bodies or parts of bodies for the purpose of public display without the specific consent of the donor. The Government share the concern motivating Amendment 265 that bodies may in the past have been displayed in public exhibitions without the donors’ consent. We therefore committed in this House, during the passage of the Medicines and Medical Devices Act, to address this concern, and have since worked closely with the Human Tissue Authority to strengthen its code of practice on public display, which was laid before Parliament last July. The code now guarantees that robust assurances on consent for all donor bodies, including imported bodies, are fully received, assessed and recorded, before the authority issues any licence for public display. The Government therefore do not believe that this amendment is necessary.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for tabling these amendments; I have added my name to both of them. They are about transparency and legitimacy, raising very important questions which the Minister needs to answer.

I go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said at Second Reading, which I think my noble friend referred to. He said that

“we have new provider collaboratives which, in fairness, is where the power in the NHS will lie. The Bill makes no provision for them in terms of transparency, openness or accountability.”—[Official Report, 7/12/21; col. 1789.]

I do not need to say any more than that. The Minister needs to answer that question, because it needs to be resolved before the Bill completes its passage.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for bringing us back to the subject of place-based structures and taking us into the issues relating to provider networks. I hope it will be taken as a given that the Government have sympathy with the intentions behind his amendments.

On Amendment 165, we absolutely agree on the importance of place, and I hope I can provide the Committee with reassurances on that score. First, the linchpin to the accountability issue is, I suggest, the ICB constitution, which is required to set out how its functions will be discharged. That may include how functions will be carried out by committees and sub-committees, which will include place-level committees. The best size for an ICB area varies according to local circumstances, and some of the smaller ICB areas are coterminous with the local authority. In those systems, place arrangements will quite rightly look very different from the large ICB areas.

ICBs need to be clear about the expectations and roles of place-based structures, including what they are responsible for commissioning, what powers have been delegated to them, and what resources they are responsible for. The current legislation provides for the ability to establish place-based structures and set them out clearly in ICB constitutions. However, Frimley is not Cumbria, and Essex is not Manchester. We want to give ICBs the flexibility to determine structures that work best for them. To help them do that, NHS England has the power to issue guidance to ICBs on the discharge of their functions, and is working with CCGs and the current non-statutory ICSs to develop model constitutions for the future ICBs. Those constitutions will, of course, also have to be approved by NHS England before the ICB is established. This approach should achieve the right balance, because it allows us to support ICBs to develop, without the danger of putting in place further legislation which could act as a barrier to future evolution. Requiring the establishment of a separate place-based board is simply not necessary and would come at a bureaucratic cost.

I turn to Amendment 166. I appreciate the noble Lord’s concern about transparency and accountability for groups of providers working together where they are exercising functions that an ICB has delegated. I shall come on to the concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Lansley, about the purchaser/provider split. Provider collaboratives are intended to deliver the benefits of scale, with providers working together to implement best practice and reduce variation in access, experiences and outcomes for patients and populations. For example, this could involve sharing workforce and managing capacity on a wider scale. Depending on the local circumstances, such arrangements may include a delegation of ICB functions. ICBs and providers should have the flexibility, in line with guidance that will be issued by NHS England.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Has the Minister actually seen the model constitution that will be imposed by NHS England, and does it do what he is suggesting it does? Maybe the rest of us could see it, too.

--- Later in debate ---
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My understanding is that it is work in progress—so no, I have not seen it.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it not then unsatisfactory that we should complete the passage of the Bill without having sight of the constitution, so that we can be assured that the assurances that the Minister is giving us will in fact work?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

I do not think that is a reasonable ask by the noble Baroness, if I may say so. I am trying to describe a structure that should deliver what I am sure she wants to see—safeguards and good pointers for ICBs to make their own decisions, while also ensuring that some of the pitfalls mentioned in the debate are not fallen into. If I can let her see the work in progress, I shall certainly be glad to do so—I do not have a problem with that—but I suggest that it is not necessary for her to do that to accept the proposition that I am trying to put forward.

As I have mentioned, the Bill requires an ICB to set out in its constitution how its functions will be discharged, including any arrangements to delegate functions to provider collaboratives. Furthermore, as an additional safeguard, the Secretary of State may impose conditions on the exercise of the power through regulations.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we on these Benches said everything we needed to say on this matter in support of the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, when we had the substantial debate. I do not know when it was—last week, I think. These two amendments flow from that. We probably could have taken them then, but I am sure that the Minister will have useful things to say.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, we return to the very important theme of subsidiarity, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, has brought us in both his amendments and his powerful speech, born of his immense experience in the real world.

I will begin with Amendment 159A, if I may. One of the main reasons for introducing this Bill was to ensure that existing collaboration and partnership working across the NHS, local authorities and other partners was built on and strengthened. This relates especially to the framing and monitoring of assessments and strategies. We intend for these assessments and strategies to be a central part of the decision-making of ICBs and local authorities. That is why we are extending an existing duty to ICBs and local authorities to have regard to the relevant local assessments and strategies. Furthermore, the integrated care board and local authorities will both be directly involved in the production of these strategies and assessments through their involvement with both the integrated care partnership and the health and well-being boards. As a result, they have a clear interest in the smooth working of the ICP.

More widely, there are already several mechanisms to ensure that ICBs and local authorities will have regard to the assessments and strategies being developed in their areas. First, health and well-being boards have the right to be consulted by ICBs and give NHS England and ICBs their opinion on whether the joint forward plans take account of the joint local health and well-being strategy. Likewise, as part of its annual assessment of ICBs, NHS England must consult each health and well-being board on how well the ICBs have implemented the relevant joint local health and well-being strategies.

There are what one might call insurance policies embedded in these arrangements. Each ICB must also include in its annual report a review of the steps it has taken to implement any relevant joint local health and well-being strategy. It must also consult the health and well-being board when undertaking that review. Finally, NHS England has formal powers of intervention if an ICB is not complying with its duties in any regard. Putting all this together, we think that it is sufficient to ensure that ICBs will have regard to both ICP and health and well-being board plans.

The emphasis is on collaboration. Implicit in that concept is the two-way street on the sharing of ideas and exemplars that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, called for and illustrated in his examples. Given the strong collaborative measures in the Bill and the strong foundations of collaborative and partnership working across the NHS, local authorities and other partners on which this Bill is built, we do not think that further provision is required. We would expect an ICP to resolve disagreements through discussion and joint working rather than additional, potentially burdensome procedures.

Amendment 210A brings us once again to the role of non-statutory organisations in helping to create and sustain healthy communities. I want to stress straightaway that the Government hugely value the contributions of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors to the health and well-being of the nation. We recognise their important role in supporting the health and care system.

The Government fully expect that commissioners will also recognise this contribution and role going forward. This role will be particularly important in efforts to recover performance and move beyond a purely reactive service to building a sustainable and personalised health and care system, something the non-statutory sector is uniquely placed to offer. I think the lessons learned, so well described by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in the previous set of amendments, are widely accepted nowadays.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The appointments commission worked extremely well for many years. Why is it not good enough now?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is proposing a separate NHS appointments commission. I am suggesting that it would be unnecessary to add that arms-length body to the existing landscape.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thought noble Lords would have more to say about digital matters. I shall respond to this group very briefly, because my noble friend Lord Hunt, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others have very adequately covered the issues: the potential for digital transformation, the need to use patient data, the need for resources and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, just said, enthusiasm and leadership.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, as she always does, brought us practical applications of the reasons why the amendments are necessary, and it brought to my mind that my digital interface with the NHS is a good example of someone who is absolutely at the coalface. I am part of UCLH’s digital patient management system. It does not talk to my GP and it does not talk to the Royal Free, which is where one has one’s tests in the part of London I live in, and I think, “For goodness’ sake, we really ought to be able to do better than this”.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Cumberlege for bringing these amendments for debate before the Committee today.

Once again, we are dealing here with an important set of issues. First, Amendments 26 and 35 would ensure that integrated care boards appointed a director of digital transformation. The Government fully agree with the spirit behind the amendments, ensuring a strong local focus on digital transformation. However, looking at the pros and cons, we must balance the desire to go further—which we all want—with the important principle that I have articulated before: that the provisions in the Bill should not be too prescriptive when it comes to membership requirements. As we have discussed, it is an essential principle of the Bill that there must be local flexibility to design the board in a way most suitable to each area’s unique needs.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords for what has been a very interesting and important debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for his amendment, and I look forward to further development of the thought process that he has put before the Committee. Of course, it is not new. I started my working life working for Michael Young, the great sociologist in Bethnal Green, and we talked about ethnographic research in our neighbourhoods and places. It was about giving people who lived in those places power and developing their own leadership of what they wanted to happen. Of course, in those days, when he started doing his work, it was about regenerating inner London—the bomb-strewn East End. I had the great privilege of running the Young Foundation: a few years ago, I took a couple of years off from this job here to go and run it, and we were doing exactly the place-based work that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, talked about.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harding, is completely right: there are many Bromley by Bow-type programmes across the country—and thank goodness for that. If the Minister decides to go on trips to places, Bromley by Bow is of course important. I went there when it started out, when I was the founding chair of Social Enterprise UK, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is quite right: it is brilliant, it is wonderful, it does great work —but why has it not been replicated? That is a question I have discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on and off over many years. But there are many other types, and I suggest that the Minister might go to Manchester, Bradford or Nottingham, where there are some brilliant programmes where this place-based delivery of healthcare and other care is thriving.

The consensus breaking out between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is of course that this Bill is an opportunity: how and where in the Bill can that place-based initiative be expressed? Where is it and how can it be encouraged? The King’s Fund did a piece of work developing place-based partnerships as part of the process leading up to the Bill, which was published last year. It has some interesting and useful things which express the sorts of sentiments—but in NHS-speak—that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, talked about today: the importance of connecting communities, jointly planning and co-ordinating services, making the best of financial resources, supporting the local workforce, and driving improvements through local oversight and quality provision. There are certain elements of this which need to be there and need somehow to be built into the Bill, possibly in enabling form, because they mean building multiagency partnerships which involve local government, NHS organisations, voluntary service organisations, social enterprises and the communities themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, rightly asks in his amendment for one voting ICB board member to be nominated by place-based partnerships. That may or may not be a good way forward, but we are trying to do systems change and, whether or not putting one person on a board is the way to do that, it is a very good place to start. So we on these Benches are very interested in how this develops and want to be part of the discussions across the House about how we do that.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, no one is better placed, whether inside or outside your Lordships’ House, to advocate place-based partnerships than the noble Lord, Lord Mawson. I know he will remember that one of my first visits as a Health Minister in 2010, at his invitation, was to Bromley by Bow. What I learned that day made a deep impression on me, so I, like many noble Lords, need no convincing of the case that he and other speakers have made today.

I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has tabled Amendment 165 on place-based arrangements, to be debated by this Committee later in our proceedings, so no doubt we will cover the issues in more detail then. For now, I say that the Government absolutely agree with the importance of having strong place-based elements in ICBs. Place-based structures will play an important role in delivering healthcare services for their population groups and we expect there to be open and clear lines of communication between the board of the ICB and place-based structures.

How is a sense of place given—as it were—tangible substance and meaning? I would argue that we do not necessarily need the Bill to articulate the reality. At a very basic level, an ICB will cover a geographic area. We would expect ICBs to be closely linked to their places via bodies such as health and well-being boards, where they will sit as the successor bodies to CCGs, and local authorities. ICBs will sit on the integrated care partnership as well as the health and well-being boards. Both bodies are vital in bringing together health, social care, public health and, potentially, wider views as well. That will be part and parcel of delivering their duty to involve patients, carers and the public when discharging their functions.

We expect ICBs to have place-based structures in place, but we do not want to prescribe what those structures are. As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said himself, we do not want ICBs to think that place-based partnerships are achievable via a central blueprint, or that a set of instructions from above is likely to be a substitute for learning by doing and local relationships. What we shall insist on is that an ICB sets out the arrangements for the exercise of its functions clearly in its constitution. Different areas have different needs, and I hope it is a point of agreement across the Committee that a one-size-fits-all model would not be appropriate.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, because she has helped me to clarify my thinking about this group of amendments. Basically, they have good intentions and they make good points about the things that need to happen, but I am not absolutely certain they need to be in the Bill. I am also particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her very well-informed contribution about what actually goes on. There are of course problems in relationships between the devolved nations and NHS England, some of which are down to not being very well organised, some of which are down to arrogance on the part of the bigger ones, and some of which are down to the funding not actually being available—and some of them might be politically motivated too.

Amendment 17 opens some new thinking on the subject of integration, and accepts that devolution has given us different systems for care in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but seeks to ensure that what is done in one part of the UK—that is, England—does not adversely impact on other parts. The intention to bring collaboration between the nations is, of course, commendable.

I note that Amendment 205 places some requirements such that

“Welsh Ministers, Scottish Ministers and a Northern Ireland department must make regulations providing that the choices available to patients in England by virtue of regulations under section 6E(1A) or (1B) of the National Health Service Act 2006 (inserted by section 69 of this Act) are available to patients for whom they have responsibility.”


Again, we can understand the need for consistency, but I am unclear about how that will play out against the devolved nature of healthcare—so I think the case will have to be made out for that and, indeed, why that would be included in the legislation.

In a similar fashion, Amendment 301 looks to establish interoperability around the use of data across the whole UK. Again, that is a wholly worthwhile intention, and one that I would hope that the various authorities could collectively work on and agree. Once more, what the role is for primary legislation to address this point is not entirely clear, and I welcome the discussion. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Morgan for raising these important matters both via this Committee and by engaging—as I understand she has recently—with my honourable friend the Minister of State for Health. I am also grateful to all other noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully and knowledgably on these issues.

There is no escaping one overarching reality in this policy area, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has just alluded. As a Government of the whole United Kingdom, Ministers are responsible for all people of the UK; that is a given. However, while the core principles of the NHS are shared across all parts of the United Kingdom, it is the devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are responsible for developing their own health policies. Health is largely a devolved matter in the UK, and the commissioning and provision of health services for people in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland will continue to be a matter for the devolved Governments.

It will not surprise my noble friend to know that the UK Government continue to respect existing devolution settlements, so our aim is close collaboration with the devolved Administrations to deliver the best outcomes for the people across the four nations. This means that, while we are sympathetic to the spirit of these amendments, I am afraid that we cannot accept them.

I shall address the detailed issues. On Amendment 17, I agree with my noble friend that there is more we can do to align our healthcare for the good of patients across the United Kingdom. We are already exploring several projects to support the NHS to work more closely across the UK, and this includes refreshing the current memoranda of understanding between all four Governments and working with the Office for National Statistics to establish a number of UK-wide datasets. Steps like that will improve transparency and collaboration for the good of all patients across the UK. We do not believe that these steps require primary legislation, but we will keep that question under review. We will also continue to work with NHS England to ensure that a number of groups that it currently hosts, such as the rare diseases advisory group, and their specialised commissioning processes, also meet the relevant needs of the devolved Administrations.

Turning to Amendment 205, we know that choice of healthcare is an important right for patients across the UK. The NHS Constitution for England, for example, enshrines the patient’s right to informed choice. We will be preserving the important right for patients in England to choose their first elective outpatient appointment, GP and GP practice through regulations made under powers provided by the Bill. NHS England works closely with the devolved Governments, including on commissioning and ensuring access to specialised services. Requests for patients to have treatment in other nations are generally to secure continuity of care, to provide care close to patients’ support mechanisms, or because of specialist expertise.

The health services in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland already have the power to contract with any NHS provider in England. As my noble friend Lord Lansley rightly pointed out, they already have in place arrangements for commissioning specialised services from English providers, including cross-border agreements, referral schemes and service-level agreements. Taking further steps, as suggested in this amendment, would place a significant burden on a smaller number of providers, particularly those along borders, with consequences for the smooth running of those health systems. From a legal perspective, such a change would be a significant impingement on a devolved competence and would require the consent of the devolved legislatures. Of course, patients matter most, but such a change would also be unlikely to greatly benefit them, since they are already served by existing arrangements.

Amendment 301 deals with data interoperability. The UK Government are committed to working with officials across the devolved Administrations to explore the benefits that healthcare data can provide while working collaboratively to respect the devolved nature of this work. As in other areas, we are looking at ways to improve collaboration on data matters and address issues with data sharing. There are commitments within the data strategy for health and social care to work across central government and the devolved Administrations to improve appropriate data linkage, thus supporting people’s health care outcomes. This builds on the work of units such as the Joint Biosecurity Centre, and the newly established UK Health Security Agency.

That work will help us to collaborate to solve public health issues, improve disease surveillance and overcome any behavioural or structural obstacles to appropriate data sharing across our respective health and social care systems. In addition, we are speaking to the Office for National Statistics about collecting data on performance and outcomes across the UK. We are pursuing this with it, working in concert with the devolved Administrations. The ONS has assured us that it does not need additional powers to gather such data.

The problems encountered by the daughter of my noble friend Lady Fraser in proving her vaccination status are being actively addressed on both sides of the border. I must concede that the problems are not fully resolved yet, but understand that a Covid status pass from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland will be recognised in England and vice versa.

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 26th October 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 View all Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 116-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (26 Oct 2020)
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it may be for the assistance of noble Lords if I make a short statement before we recommence proceedings. As noble Lords will be aware from my noble friend Lord Bethell’s letter to Peers of 13 October, the Government have tabled a number of amendments for consideration in Grand Committee. Many of these amendments are designed to address criticisms of the Bill expressed by noble Lords at Second Reading, and in particular by your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and Constitution Committee, in an endeavour to provide reassurance to this Committee at an early moment.

Unfortunately, it has since come to light that the Government’s intention to move these amendments in Grand Committee, which we had believed was implicit in my noble friend’s letter and understood from subsequent discussions, had not in fact been clearly and properly communicated. I further understand that there was a two or three-day delay in noble Lords on the Labour Front Bench, and perhaps others, receiving the letter. I apologise to the Official Opposition, Liberal Democrat Peers, noble Lords on the Government Benches and those on the Cross Benches for the shortcomings in our communications, which, I need hardly add, we shall use our utmost endeavours not to see repeated.

There is a substantive reason why the Government wished to move their amendments in Grand Committee. It is that, according to the clear advice we have received, a legislative consent Motion by the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot be put in motion until such time as the government amendments to which I have referred become part of the Bill. Were we to delay approval of the amendments until Report, our clear advice was that this would put back the Northern Ireland legislative consent process by up to three months. Such a delay would in turn have serious consequences for the completion of this Bill, whose importance in the context of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union cannot be overemphasised. It is very important for the health of the public that we achieve a timely completion which does not leave us without a means of passing necessary regulations at the start of 2021.

These were the reasons why, in the short adjournment that took place during last Monday’s Grand Committee proceedings, we asked noble Lords to allow two government amendments to go through on that day. We did so particularly bearing in mind that the alternative to moving the amendments was to withdraw them, which might in turn have signalled to the Northern Ireland Executive that the amendments no longer represented government policy. We are sincerely grateful to noble Lords for their understanding and for the agreement reached on that occasion. As I have indicated, we made that request to noble Lords in good faith, driven by clear legal advice relating to the process around Northern Ireland consent Motions. Since then, some doubts have been cast on whether that advice was in all respects accurate. It is still our belief that it was, but we are seeking urgent confirmation of this, which we shall convey to noble Lords at the earliest opportunity.

More importantly, however, for this Committee, we have received unequivocal legal advice from the Public Bill Office that, notwithstanding any amendments approved in Grand Committee by unanimity, it is open to the House, and indeed to individual noble Lords, to return to the issues covered by such amendments on Report and to debate and vote on any further amendments that noble Lords wish to table. That means that by allowing government amendments to go through in Grand Committee, noble Lords would not be precluded from returning to those issues, in any way they chose, on Report. On behalf of the Government, I undertake that the Government will raise no objection to this if it is the wish of noble Lords that such further debates take place. If, notwithstanding the assurances I have given, any noble Lord wishes to object to a government amendment spoken to in Grand Committee, the Government will withdraw that amendment. In the meantime, it is the Government’s wish to enable all noble Lords to engage with Ministers and officials as fully and as regularly as they may require in an effort to achieve what we all desire for this important Bill, which is understanding and, if possible, consensus across the House.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Earl for that statement, which is extremely helpful. I am alarmed, or surprised, that we are at this stage looking at a grey area about whether or not it is necessary for these amendments to be moved and accepted. It is very important that that is clarified, and I would just like to make one or two other points.

Grand Committee is for probing; it is for consensus, and then it is up to the House to take the decisions on Report about that. These amendments, which we are being asked to nod through, really are not consistent with what the Companion says Grand Committee is there for, so the clarification that we will have to return to these at a later stage is, of course, absolutely necessary.

However, that also means that on Report we will have a Bill before us that is not the same Bill as we have now. It will have been significantly amended in some very significant areas of policy. So I am writing to the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee today to ask them to look again at the Bill. When the amendments have been accepted, it will not be the same Bill as we have now.

We will not negative the amendments today, because I accept the noble Earl’s statement and, on the balance of risks, the Opposition would not wish to delay the Bill for three months, into next year. We can see the dangers that that would represent. However, I ask the Government to examine the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Hunt to the Minister and the Bill team in a meeting to discuss the issue. That was that they should look at paragraph 8.127 of the Companion and consider removing from the Bill all the government amendments concerned with this issue. We could then take those in a group at the end, on the Floor of the House. That would give us time to do the stuff we have not yet done and discuss the substance of the amendments.

If the Minister and the Bill team had come to us a month ago and said, “We’ve got this problem with the Northern Ireland consent process, and this is what it means,” we would not be having this discussion now, because we would have worked out how to resolve that problem. I regret that that is not what happened and I hope that we will now move forward in a more positive way. Finally, we will look carefully at what is added in Grand Committee as a result of these very particular circumstances and we may seek to delete or amend some of the government amendments at the next stage of the Bill.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the Northern Ireland component, a time constraint was imposed on the Committee, and people have been looking at ways of solving the problem since our previous meeting. Since 8.30 am I have been in various meetings with various people looking for ways forward. The one described by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is on the table and has been agreed by all party spokespersons. It was finally agreed at a meeting with the Minister and others at 1.30 pm. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his help in resolving this issue.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their responses. I think that this provides a basis on which to proceed with our Grand Committee debate today, pending further clarification on the matters that I referred to earlier between now and Wednesday, our next Grand Committee day. I can assure noble Lords that my colleagues and I will endeavour to achieve that clarity, which we will disseminate at the earliest opportunity.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Earl. I think that we probably need to continue this discussion, to make sure that we end up in the right place, with a Bill that we can take forward to Report.

Coronavirus Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Thornton
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 25th March 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Coronavirus Act 2020 View all Coronavirus Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 110-I Marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2020)
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been another short but important debate and I absolutely agree with my noble friend Lord Adonis; first, about the Resolution Foundation paper that came out this morning, but also on his point about the 5 million gig workers. The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, made absolutely the right point: it is absolutely not in our interest for these people not to have enough to live on and to feel that they have to go out to work, even if they are ill and they will infect people, because otherwise they will not be able to pay their rent. We are very pleased to support this amendment—indeed, we always would have supported it.

I shall make just two points. One is about financial support. I really think we need to know when the Chancellor is going to announce what further support can be provided, not only for those who are self-employed, which is very urgent, but measures to improve access to sick pay and deal with the issues of assisting millions of people through the universal credit scheme by increasing it, suspending sanctions and scrapping the five-week wait for a first payment. Those things are absolutely urgent and important.

The other point I take this opportunity to raise is about renters. I looked at the Bill again last night after having said that I thought the three-month pause on evictions was not adequate to protect people who rent because it would defer a crisis only to the end of the period, when landlords will demand total arrears payments for three months’ rent. The Minister said that of course this could be renewed and turned into six months, but actually the Bill does not say that, so I seek reassurance. This is linked to income support because the people we are talking about are exactly the people who will not be able to pay their rent.

In the event of that, we need to be sure that individuals and families will not get served with eviction notices. Some people will have been given their eviction notices prior to this legislation, and the Government need to take account of that. Those people should not be evicted because they may have been given a month’s notice two weeks ago and they may find themselves evicted right in the middle of the worst point of this crisis.

My final point is about people in shared ownership, which is part of what the noble Baroness behind me said: when you have people with shared ownership, that is an issue. In the housing association world, people with shared ownership apportion their outgoings partly to their mortgage and partly to rent to the housing association. Many housing associations have put up rent from April as a result of the freeze on rent increases being lifted, so how will these tenants and owners be protected in terms of the rent element of those costs? I do not necessarily expect the Minister to be able to answer that question right now, but there are hundreds of thousands of people in the housing association world who will also need our protection.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and other noble Lords who have spoken to this amendment.

I will get straight to the point. The first thing that I ask the Committee to do is recognise the nature and scale of what the Government have done so far to protect the jobs and incomes of millions of people. The package of measures that we have already announced is unprecedented and is one of the most generous business and welfare packages by any Government so far in response to Covid-19. In the context of those measures, which have been broadly welcomed, the Government absolutely acknowledge the calls for more to be done in relation to the self-employed. I completely agree with what noble Lords have said about the vital role played by the self-employed in our economy and our national life. We have always said that we would go further where we could, and I can tell the Committee that we are actively considering further steps, which I will come back to.

We have already improved the welfare safety net to ensure that self-employed people and freelancers are better protected. We are temporarily relaxing the minimum income floor for all self-employed universal credit claimants affected by the economic impact of Covid-19 from 6 April for the duration of the outbreak. This means that a drop in earnings due to sickness or self-isolation or as a result of the economic impact of the outbreak will be reflected in claimants’ awards. It ensures that the self-employed are supported by the benefits system so that they can follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing and self-isolation.

Freelancers and the self-employed will also benefit from the changes announced to the benefits system such as the £20 increase in the universal credit standard allowance, which will mean that claimants are better off by £1,040 a year and will benefit from the increases to the local housing allowance. I add that we are already making sure that benefits are easily accessible and more supportive for those who need to make a claim. Other changes announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor, such as deferring income tax self-assessment payments due in July 2020, are designed to help self-employed people and freelancers through this period.

My right honourable friend the Chancellor has stated that he is committed to going further to support individuals and businesses, and will provide a further update on support for the self-employed in the coming days. That is an assurance that I can give today. I have taken full note of the careful way in which the amendment has been drafted and the points articulated by noble Lords in support of it; they have been well and truly registered. An amendment to the Bill is not required for the Chancellor to provide further support for the self-employed, support that I emphasise is already planned and due to be announced shortly.

I emphasise again that everything is being done to ensure that everyone is supported to do the right thing for the good of us all. It would be wonderful for everyone if I were able to go further today, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will understand why I cannot, but I hope I have provided sufficient reassurance to enable him to feel comfortable in withdrawing the amendment.