All 18 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 2nd Jul 2019

Grand Committee

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Tuesday 2 July 2019

Arrangement of Business

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Announcement
15:30
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Academic Health Science Centres

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

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Question for Short Debate
15:30
Asked by
Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy and timetable for re-designating academic health science centres.

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I thank those other Members of the House, some of them very distinguished in health issues, who have put their names down to speak. Someone pointed out to me that if I were unfortunate enough to suffer a stroke, this would be the moment to do it.

I declare an interest as recorded in the register of interests. I serve as a non-executive member of the board of an AHSC—namely, King’s Health Partners, which includes King’s College London, King’s College Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. From 2009 to 2014, I chaired the board of King’s Health Partners.

I need not remind your Lordships what an exciting time this is for advances in medical science. The concept of academic health science centres offers a means to exploit those opportunities for the benefit of people locally, nationally and across the world. By bringing together great biomedical research institutions with outstanding teaching and clinical hospitals, it offers the opportunity not only to trial advances in medical science but to bring them to fruition for the care of patients.

Apart from the United States, which pioneered the concept of AHSCs, the United Kingdom is perhaps the country best equipped to make the most of those opportunities. In London and our great academic centres, we have ground-breaking research universities: colocated with long established and world-famous teaching and clinical hospitals. In 2009, the NIHR accredited the first five AHSCs: three based in London, one in Cambridge and one in Manchester. In 2014, following a further competition, they were reaccredited and a further one in Oxford was added. The accreditation was for five years and is due to be renewed in 2019.

It is important to recognise that this was simply a structural initiative. No extra money was provided and the institutions remain fully within the state sector. King’s Health Partners is the AHSC which I know best. This year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. I believe that our achievements over that time, stimulated by the AHSC initiative, have been impressive. Brilliantly led—indeed, driven—by its chief executive, Sir Robert Lechler, assisted by a small but outstanding team, the reach of King’s Health Partners has been remarkable.

As I said, the underlying concept of AHSCs is to bring together frontier-breaking research with teaching and clinical care. Sir Robert approached this in King’s Health Partners by establishing 22 clinical academic groups, embracing the full range of medical specialties and bringing together from the four institutions the leading members in each.

King’s Health Partners has a number of assets which have assisted in making the most of those opportunities: two NIHR biomedical research centres, which provide unparalleled facilities for experimental medicine and in which 600 clinical trials are current at any one time, covering more than 3000 patients; the leading research institute in the country in psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience, colocated with the leading hospital in the care of mental illness, which has enabled advances to be made from the increasing recognition of the links between physical and psychological illness; and a diversity of population in south London, where the widest range of physical and psychological conditions give unique opportunities for research and treatment.

In addition to the advances made in individual specialities, King’s Health Partners has pioneered a number of other advances. As a response to the ever-increasing demands on health services, it has pioneered the concept of value-based healthcare and preventive measures, not least through the concept of the vital five factors in the prevention of disease—blood pressure, obesity, mental health, alcohol intake, and smoking habits—which have been promulgated through KHP’s academic health science network in south London. This work will make a real difference in reducing future demands on the health services, as well as giving people the prospect of happier and healthier lives, and is of course a key plank in the long-term plan for the health service.

At a recent seminar to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the AHSC, we had presentations of some of the advances made in patient care over the last 10 years that have made a major contribution to the life prospects of patients. They include: treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma avoiding the side-effects of radiotherapy in children; advances in the application of naloxone for heroin addicts; genetic treatment to reduce inheritance of breast and ovarian cancer; separation of the elements of cannabis so that the benign element can be used in patients; a new approach to recognition and treatment of prenatal eclampsia; MRI recognition of scar tissue to assist life-saving treatment of heart attacks; and improvements of means to prevent rejection in organ transplantation. On top of that, we can be immensely proud of the contribution that British science has made to dealing with the Ebola epidemics in Africa. There is so much going on that it is impossible to cover it all in one speech—for example, exploitation of the opportunity provided by informatics to join up patient records across our health system.

I am sure that the other AHSCs can tell a similar story. The nub of it is this. Certainly on the basis of my experience, the concept of AHSCs has been an outstanding success. They promote a national asset in which the United Kingdom is a real world leader. They are a magnet for talent and worth investing in. At a time of severe pressure on resources, they make a major contribution to more cost-effective healthcare for our National Health Service. There is great potential still to be tapped.

Reaccreditation will provide both a stimulus and an opportunity. It would be cost effective if that were accompanied by a modest financial grant. We are talking of only a small handful of millions, which would make a big difference—chickenfeed in relation to the overall cost of the NHS. Therefore, I hope that in her reply the Minister will provide that encouragement, and in particular give us a firm timetable for the process of reaccreditation. King’s Health Partners has been preparing itself for that and is waiting for the signal.

15:39
Lord O'Shaughnessy Portrait Lord O’Shaughnessy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for calling this debate on this vital topic. I also think the Library for its briefing. I declare my interests both as a visiting professor at Imperial College AHSC, where I work with the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, and as a former Minister with responsibility for this area of policy.

The topic that we are really discussing today is innovation in the NHS and how we make the most of it. It strikes me that medical innovation is both our greatest opportunity and our greatest challenge. It is our greatest opportunity because for the first time we face the prospect of truly personalised medicines that could take hitherto untreatable and often terminal illnesses and cure them for life. We face the glorious fact that we in this country are responsible for huge amounts of medical innovation in our universities, our hospitals and elsewhere besides. However, it is also our greatest challenge because of the NHS’s reputation for adopting innovation, which, frankly, is not good, not least because there is huge pressure on database services to deliver the basics, meaning that many staff do not have the resources or the time that they need to adopt innovation. So at once innovation is our greatest strength but its adoption is our Achilles heel.

The Minister knows this better than anyone. She knows the importance of tackling this topic and resolving the tension. In the six months that she has been Minister she has already shown great resolve in this, both through the creation of the boosted accelerated access collaborative, and through her work on health data to take advantage of that opportunity and the launch of NHSX. Those are all crucial factors as we move towards the idea—a culture change, really—of thinking of the NHS not just as a health delivery organisation but as a research and development one too.

As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, alluded to, in this sense AHSCs are both a microcosm and an exemplar. They demonstrate, in one connected set of institutions, the ability to move from basic science in the lab all the way through to clinical application. I have seen the benefit of that myself when visiting UCL and the biomedical research centres at Oxford, where patients were among the very first in the world to have treatments for their cancers that had been invented in the labs just metres down the corridor.

I believe that redesignation is essential, not just to retain this excellence but, critically, to lead the system to a different and more research-oriented future. I speak from experience when I say that I know it has been the intention to redesignate, and I believe that that is still the case. I look forward to the Minister describing how and when that is going to happen. This time, though, I think we need to do it not just as a badge on these fantastic institutions but with a specific dual purpose with funding attached. The first of those purposes would be to prototype the bench-to-bedside approach and then to roll it out through the NHS. The truth is that we have fantastic adoption in some parts of the NHS but it is extremely patchy. I believe that AHSCs should be given a system leadership role to demonstrate what can be done and then work with other trusts to make sure that that can happen.

Secondly, as I have said, we in this country have one of the greatest opportunities that exist in the whole medical research realm through the use and the maximisation of value of our health data assets, something that we have discussed many times in this House, and using the wonderful technologies that we have in artificial intelligence—many of the leading-edge technologies are developed in this country—to apply them to the healthcare challenges that we face. That would not only give us the chance to change what happens for patients in the NHS but would retain our global leadership in this area.

I would very much appreciate hearing whether the Minister shares these ambitions for our AHSCs. I believe that through that redesignation, by giving them a turbo-boosted purpose and extra funding, they can lead the way for the future.

15:43
Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for initiating this important debate. As he did, I took part in the debate nearly nine years ago introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I was a non-executive director at King’s at that time and an independent panel member of the National Institute for Health Research. I was going to say a bit about King’s but I think the noble Lord has covered that, and I will spare the rest of the company. However, I chaired consultant appointment panels for a number of years, and it was clear from the calibre of applicants, all with research and international experience, that the AHSCs were expected to provide an atmosphere in which they could work and flourish.

My first question to the Minister is: given the internationalism of the best clinicians, how will the Government ensure the flow of talent needed and maintain that standard? In her speech to the Association of British HealthTech Industries last month, she said that,

“we must be relentless in our drive to ensure that the UK maintains its place at the cutting edge of health innovation”.

Only yesterday, in repeating the Statement on the NHS long-term plan, the Minister referred to,

“more investment in research and innovation”.—[Official Report, 1/7/19; col. 1270.]

Does she consider £39 million sufficient to maintain AHSCs as centres of excellence? The Government have enjoyed a lot of good will from these institutions and structures. I wonder whether it has now worn a little thin.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, is sorry not to have been able to take part in this debate; she is on her way to Bangor—I am sure that there is a song about that somewhere. She indicated that what she regards as the jewel in the crown could be in jeopardy. Grants are so hard to come by that we are not growing our next generation of researchers. What action is being taken?

I want us to be able to compete on the world stage to attract the best consultants, researchers and innovators and, of course, to keep pharmaceutical companies here in the UK, but this is ultimately all about people. Perhaps I may give two examples from King’s. The CAR-T, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, to which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has referred, is treating adult patients with lymphoma. Mike Simpson, a 62 year- old solicitor from Durham, was one of the first to receive the treatment. He said:

“I’m incredibly grateful for being given the opportunity to have this therapy … I describe it as my L’Oréal treatment… because I’m worth it”.


King’s College researchers, along with Cambridge University, have identified why arteries harden and how a medication used to treat acne could be an effective treatment for the condition. Trials are due to start shortly. I am sure that such exciting and positive developments sometimes help us forget the shortage of, and growing need for, skills in the health service, but we should feel proud of them and ensure that they continue. I hope that the Minister can answer my questions.

15:47
Lord Willis of Knaresborough Portrait Lord Willis of Knaresborough (LD)
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I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for initiating this debate. Given the number of people who will no doubt speak on behalf of different academic health science centres, the Committee should take it as read that I believe that they are all doing excellent work, because I want to explore one or two other areas.

On the need for a 21st-century research-led healthcare system, there is no political discord whatever—I think that we all agree on that, full stop. When the noble Lord, Lord Patel, managed to get the words “research led” on to the statute book during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, it was remarkable because it created a journey to which I think we all aspired.

There were some excellent signs. The early establishment of some academic health science centres during the years of the Labour Government was positive. In 2014, it was good to see the re-designation of six of them, five of them being in the “golden triangle” and the other in Manchester. I believed that was exciting but hoped it would pave the way for more. Why is there excellent research only in the south-east rather than elsewhere in the country? So far, that expansion has not transpired. If we simply go ahead and re-designate those already there, what will happen to my area, Yorkshire and the Humber? Are we saying that there are no initiatives worthy of designation in Yorkshire and the Humber or the north-east? Surely not. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

My first plea in any reaccreditation exercise is to include areas that have a strong track record of collaboration between academia and research. In so doing, please use the opportunity to simplify structures that Peter Drucker once described as,

“the most complex in human history”.

Drucker was interesting, but it cannot be right to have differing governance, finance, clinical and political structures in each of the organisations, most with scant involvement of the people they serve. I have a great deal of time for Drucker but he had not looked at the rest of the health research landscape when he made his comments. As Professor Ovseiko argued in 2014, in a superb article on improving accountability through alignment, unless our model of competing structures for research, education, patient care and funding is radically streamlined we will not realise the huge potential for improved patient care that lies within our grasp.

The current landscape defies logical examination. We now have academic health science networks in every region with a remarkably similar mission to the AHSCs, except that they have a budget. Some have close ties with their AHSC, if it exists—not so in Yorkshire and the Humber—some do not. They should surely be brought together within the AHSN using its organisational structures, which are already there and are being paid for by the taxpayer. What about the collaborations for leadership in applied health research and care—the CLAHRCs—of which I am currently chairman, which are soon to be replaced by another set of organisations, the applied research collaborations, for which I am a prospective chairman? Again, some have close ties with a regional AHSN, some do not. For good measure, how do we ensure that our remarkable research effort actually benefits all our citizens, not simply the regions where the organisations currently are?

Finally, money is essential in this. We have a host of small elements of money. We need this to be properly funded. The whole nation needs to be involved and to take this wonderful opportunity forward.

15:52
Lord Kakkar Portrait Lord Kakkar (CB)
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My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Butler of Brockwell for introducing this debate so thoughtfully. I declare my interest as chairman of University College London Partners, one of the designated AHSCs, and professor of surgery at University College London. As we have heard from the noble Lord, AHSCs were first designated some 10 years ago, following the review by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi of Denham, at the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Their clear purpose was to overcome the two translational gaps: the one between a discovery and establishing a therapy in man, and the one between that and ensuring it can be used more broadly across a relevant population. As we have also heard, there has been huge success in achieving the two objectives of overcoming translational gaps 1 and 2 with great effect on outcomes for individual patients, performance in broad health economies and opportunities for wealth creation in our country. It should be borne in mind that the life sciences represent, after financial services, the second most important part of our economy.

The nature and complexity of innovation and the broader questions attending health systems have changed over that 10-year period. We are faced with demographic change and important fiscal challenge and restraint in health economies. It is broadly accepted that the adoption of innovation is critical if health economies are to remain sustainable. Organisations such as academic health science centres therefore have a pivotal role. As we have heard, successive Governments have recognised not only the potential role of these centres, but the broader question of innovation in health economies through the creation of other designations, such as AHSNs, collaborations for applied research, biomedical research centres and so on. As we come to this third designation for academic health science centres, the question for Her Majesty’s Government is: what specific purpose do they see for AHSCs in the changed landscape for innovation in our health economies? Where do the AHSCs sit in terms of these other structures and designations, how are they to be co-ordinated, and how will we determine their success? We also have to try to understand whether the designation of academic health science centres in the future will be attended by contractual obligations, as we saw recently in the redesignation of the academic health science networks. To date, each of the AHSCs has been able to perform effectively, but driving its own agenda determined by its own local priorities and regional, national and global opportunities. Will that be the case in the future?

There remains also an outstanding question about how government and arm’s-length bodies in the NHS propose to facilitate the most important opportunity for academic health science centres: that is, their capacity to mobilise data across complex health economies and bring those to bear, not only on drug discovery but on changing the patterns and application of clinical care, development of the workforce, and of course the utilisation of vital resource most effectively. Do Her Majesty’s Government propose to deal with this particular question of mobilising the opportunity for health informatics in redesignation of academic health science centres? Finally, as we have heard, these designations come without any funding. Is it proposed that, at the time of redesignation, some funding is provided to the AHSCs?

15:56
Lord Darzi of Denham Portrait Lord Darzi of Denham (Lab)
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My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for calling this debate on the future policy of academic health science centres. I declare an interest: I chair the Accelerated Access Collaborative, I am a non-executive director of NHS Improvement, and I am professor of surgery at Imperial College London.

As some in this House may recall, in 2007 I led a review of London’s healthcare—A Framework for Action —which recommended the creation of a number of AHSCs in the capital. That created significant noise nationally. Subsequently, in 2008 we published the NHS next-stage review, called High Quality Care For All, and the Department of Health, under the auspices of the NIHR, commissioned five academic health science centres nationally.

AHSCs are organisations that hold a joint and equal responsibility for the delivery of healthcare, education and research. The combination of scientific method and clinical care has been seen as the fastest means of ensuring that scientific advances are translated into improvements in patient care. The establishment of the AHSCs in the UK was through a competitive process, as we heard earlier, judged by an international panel, and represented an attempt to regain this lost momentum. With no additional funding, the universities and their NHS partners in these five centres pledged to combine strategy, operations, and in some cases finance to deliver innovations in teaching, research and service delivery. Over the last decade, as we have heard, the AHSCs, with their BRCs, have made a significant contribution to translational research. Translation has typically either meant “bench to bedside”, meaning basic science to first in human use, or “knowledge translation”, meaning uptake of new innovations. This brings me to the Accelerated Access Collaborative and its role in the NHS innovation landscape.

The AAC is a convening board bringing together NHS commissioners and providers, NHS arm’s-length bodies, industry, patient organisations and Government to ensure that the innovation landscape builds a strong pipeline of proven innovations that meets the service needs and to increase the adoption and diffusion of such across the NHS. The remit of the AAC has recently been expanded by the announcement of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood, to include six priorities: implementing a system to identify the best new innovations; setting up a single point of call for innovators, so they can understand the system and where to go for support; signalling the needs of clinicians and patients, so innovators know which problems they need to solve; establishing a globally leading testing infrastructure, so innovators can generate the evidence they need to get their products into the NHS; and overseeing a health innovation funding strategy that ensures that public money is focused on the areas of greatest impact for the NHS and our patients.

In light of all this, I see the AHSCs as having a unique and distinct contribution to make to the innovation ecosystem and the priorities of the AAC by providing a pragmatic testing environment, enhancing the uptake of innovation through their expertise in research methods, access to data and our great NHS clinicians.

The Accelerated Access Collaborative will work with the department of health over the next month to define further the role the AHSCs and their future designation.

16:00
Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for this debate. I am thankful to follow the presentation of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi; after all, he was the one who started the whole concept of the AAC. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Prior of Brampton, will follow me because he might be interested in what I have to say.

Hitherto we have all been supportive of the idea and the successes of the academic health science centres, so let me take a slightly radical view. If we are serious about how good our academic health centres are, we should look at models that really deliver the change. The noble Lord, Lord Darzi, mentioned teaching, research, innovation and clinical application, the key themes of the successful, leading research-based academic health centres in the United States. Are we saying that we have been serious in adopting this in our clinical practice, taking scientific inquiry into clinical application? Yes, of course we have started and have been successful.

In the United States, however, policy-making in healthcare involves a pluralistic approach. In our case it is the department of health that decides on the policy. If academic health science centres are to be successful, they need to be part of that policy-making. That has implications for us to be more pluralistic and for the academic health centres to be involved. For instance, if we agree that this is a good idea, the recognition of the distinctive nature and contribution of academic health science centres might greatly facilitate the development and implementation of policy in a number of areas. These include addressing the current crisis in clinical academic careers in the United Kingdom, growing and modernising the NHS workforce and meeting concerns over clinical governance.

There are, however, additional questions of interest to society that cannot be adequately framed in the absence of an academic health science centre concept. For example, what is the role of AHSCs in supporting government objectives for UK success in a knowledge-based economy—the so-called strategy for life sciences that we are now developing—in improving the impact of research, and in technology transfer? How can AHSCs leverage their academic resources to contribute to improved quality in the NHS? What is the social and economic contribution of AHSCs to local communities? Can AHSCs provide leadership in the development of new models of partnership working and the development of clinical networks? Even to pose these questions it may be necessary to develop a model that is unique to Britain.

Academic health science centres have hitherto been extremely successful. They need to be supported even more and included more in developing our policies.

16:03
Lord Prior of Brampton Portrait Lord Prior of Brampton (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I should first declare an interest as chairman of NHS England and a non-executive director of Genomics England. I support the noble Lord, Lord Butler, especially and all the arguments other noble Lords have made.

I will begin by taking noble Lords’ minds back to 1980, when two Senators in the US, Senator Bayh and Senator Dole, passed the Bayh-Dole legislation, which forced universities receiving money for federal research to commercialise their IP. Until that day the IP had sat in the ivory towers of the universities and had not been exploited. From 1980 on we saw this extraordinary growth in Silicon Valley and, latterly, Boston as universities were forced to commercialise their intellectual property.

We have been much slower in the UK. Until recently, universities, particularly Oxford and Cambridge, were ivory towers. That has changed and the AHSCs are part of that change. We have developed an ecosystem in the UK that is both hard to replicate elsewhere and extensive. Whether it is the BRCs, the HSCs, the AHSNs, the Crick or the LMB, we have an extraordinary and competitive life sciences ecosystem. It is becoming even more competitive as we see the convergence of biology with data, statistics, computer sciences and artificial intelligence. That puts the UK in a very strong position.

Money comes into this. I have done the Minister’s job and I was involved at BEIS with the industrial strategy. Our problem is that our ambition is so low. Our ambition was to get up to the OECD average for research spending in five years—2.4% of GNP, at a time when the Germans were already at more than 3%. We have to argue for £5 million for a new LICRE digital application across London. We have to argue for £20 million or £15 million for a new dataset for people with polygenic risk scores, for example. We are fiddling while the rest of the world—China and the US—is putting huge resources into this. When I was working on the industrial strategy, I looked at countries as diverse as Singapore, Israel, Ireland and Switzerland, where there was active government involvement in research and industrial strategy. America is always seen as the land of small government, but the NIH is a massive funder of life sciences research.

I do not know how we can change the mindset of the Treasury and the British Government. The only good thing that might come out of Brexit, which I think is a universally bad thing, is that it will provide us with a big shot in the arm. Whether we put in the money through AHSCs or through other vehicles in our ecosystem—UKRI, the MRC, the BBSRC—I do not care, as long as we get more money into fundamental, basic research and support the translational research for the BRCs, the NIHR and the AHSCs. I am fully in alignment with the redesignations of AHSCs. Whether more money comes in through them or other parts of the ecosystem, we have a huge opportunity in life sciences. I know that the Minister supports that, too.

16:07
Baroness Masham of Ilton Portrait Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Butler of Brockwell for bringing up the matter of redesignating academic health science centres. As noble Lords know, the six NHS university health partnerships that have been designated by the department of health are Cambridge, Imperial College London, King’s Health Partners in London, Manchester, Oxford and University College London. I ask your Lordships and the Minister to look at a map, where you will see that Scotland and the north of England have been left out. There is a serious north-south divide. Both Newcastle University and Glasgow do some excellent work. Will the Government extend the list to include the north of England and Scotland, so that the work to research new treatments and to improve health education and patient care can also be promoted in these areas? That would help to alleviate the discrimination between north and south.

I declare an interest as president of the Spinal Injuries Association. There is a great need for research. Spinal injury causing paralysis is life-changing. Several bodies are raising money for this, on aspects such as bowels, bladders, pressure sores and sexual matters. Some of this research has links to some of the six partnerships on the list, but the ultimate aim is to find a way of joining the spinal cord. That needs global co-operation and the highest dedicated research, with hospitals and universities working together.

The disruption that Brexit is having on the NHS is evident. I have several reasons for being concerned about the £30,000 threshold, and universities may also have concerns. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of the £30,000 threshold on delivering research and on specific groups such as early-career researchers, part-time staff, technicians and other specialists working in the UK?

Many people with disabilities of all sorts live in hope that universities will find cures for their condition. It would be helpful if NICE were able to speed up its assessment of technology, which is increasing as research moves on at a great pace.

16:11
Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con)
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My Lords, I shall describe how I tried to enhance the co-operation and understanding between academia and hospitals by having all the trainees in a third of the south-east region spend a year or two on the academic side. In 1971, as professor of surgery at Guy’s Hospital, I started a comprehensive training programme that lasted until the trainees were appointed to a consultant post.

Several years were spent in district general hospitals and several years at Guy’s. The trainees experienced a wide range of surgical disciplines, including anaesthetics and intensive care. They also spent a year or two on the research side, including a year at Harvard. This gave them an involvement in research that they carried with them into their consultant work in the NHS. In addition, many of them became professors of surgery. The Guy’s Hospital training programme gave junior staff not only more comprehensive training but more security and a more stable family life. It also shared out the junior staff more fairly with the district general hospitals in a third of the south-east region. Most important of all, it encouraged young trainees to embrace academia early on in their career.

16:12
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I join everyone in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for putting forward for discussion this important subject of the future of the academic health science centres. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for asking: what about Yorkshire? I say that as a Bradfordian.

We could probably have done with at least another hour to do justice to this subject and indeed to the distinguished speakers who have taken part, such as my noble friend Lord Darzi. We have four ex-Ministers here, and then the Minister herself. It is all right; I have been in rooms like this with virtually everyone in the room knowing more than I do about the subject being talked about.

I think we would all agree that these health centres provide essential research in medicine, clinical trials, cancer treatments, mental and physical health integration and much more. At a time of such uncertainty regarding our collaboration with Europe colleagues to conduct health science research due to Brexit, it is vital that we have clarity on the next steps for the academic health science centres in the UK. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Prior, about the lack of ambition regarding finance, funding and our position on research. I am not sure that I quite understood whether he thought that Brexit was a good or bad thing for the future of research, and I will come back to that.

I have declared in the register of interests that I am a member of the Camden Clinical Commissioning Group, so I am at the foothills of the NHS. However, I am aware of the research done by Moorfields and UCL on, for example, laser treatment for glaucoma, which is important to our CCG. The treatment is said to have had high success rates, with the research suggesting an annual saving to the NHS of £1.5 million in direct treatment costs, potentially rising to £250 million if the treatment proves beneficial for patients with later-stage glaucoma. In Camden CCG, we are proud that our area has many major research centres—Moorfields, UCL and Great Ormond Street—and regard our job as primary care commissioners as being to make sure that we co-operate with them.

I return to Brexit. One of the health science partners, the University of Cambridge, stated:

“Both the NHS and the UK life sciences industry desperately need clarity and certainty to plan successfully for Brexit, and time has almost run out”.


That was in March, but it remains true, and the Government must consider what solid solutions can be offered. If we fall out of the European Union at the end of October, that presents an enormous challenge to the centres. It makes it more important that they exist and receive sufficient funding, I agree, but the collaborations that need to be carried out across Europe and the world seem to become more difficult. I would like the Minister’s view on that.

16:16
Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for raising this question on AHSCs. I pay tribute to his work as the former chair and now non-executive director at the King’s Health Partners AHSC and to his speech setting out some of the achievements that have been delivered. This has been a supremely expert debate, so I feel somewhat cautious in summing up. I thank noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon about their work in AHSCs, notably the noble Lords, Lord Kakkar, Lord Patel and Lord Darzi, and my noble friends Lord Prior and Lord O’Shaughnessy, who have been so instrumental in developing the system to where it is today. This is a timely debate because, as many noble Lords said, we are developing policy options for AHSCs going beyond the current designation. As noble Lords know, it is due to end in December this year. I acknowledge that this is a tense time for AHSCs, which will now be thinking about planning their future strategy. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for making the point that this is a cross-party issue and that there is wide agreement across the Chamber about the importance of AHSCs. I will say at the front that there is also consensus about the need to go forward to designation; the question is how we do that.

First, in response to some of the wider points that were made in the debate, I say that the Government recognise the critical role that health research plays not only in fuelling the life sciences sector, which is one of the most productive within our economy, but in driving up the quality of diagnosis, treatment and care in the NHS. We are committed to creating the best environment for clinical research and to achieving the ambition set out not only in the life sciences strategy but in the sector deals. This is the only sector to have two sector deals, and that is because of the quality of the sector and the relationship between research, industry and the NHS, which has developed into an outstanding ecosystem in the past few years. We have to pay tribute to the role that the NHS long-term plan will play in that, due in no small part to the leadership role of my noble friend Lord Prior.

This country is a world leader in health research, with a world-class science base and three of the top 10 globally ranked universities. As my noble friend Lord Prior said, we have an extraordinary life sciences sector, and we must be as ambitious as we possibly can be in driving it forward. We are investing more than £1 billion per year through the NIHR to fund research, skills and facilities to enable high-quality research. I can answer the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy: about £100 million of that was invested in a range of training programmes, and we have also created the NIHR training academy so that we can think about how we link that to international training.

We must ensure that we protect the valuable collaborations that we have because that ensures that we have the highest quality clinical research in the world. The commitment to increase our R&D investment from 1.7%, which has quite frankly not been good enough, to 2.4% and beyond that to 3% was hard won from the Treasury. I know that because I was one of the first to campaign on this as chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee some time ago. I will be one of the first to join noble Lords across the Committee in campaigning to drive further and faster, as we must not only have this commitment from our leadership candidates—and I am sure that others will join us in that—but keep driving forward blue-sky investment and further investment through the people, programmes, centres of excellence and the NIHR. That is how we will have an integrated health and research system which is one of the best in the world, designed to transform scientific breakthroughs into life-saving treatments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, is right that we should be proud of what we have already achieved. Between them, the existing AHSCs cover health research and education in a wide range of clinical disciplines including mental and physical healthcare, cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases. It would not be right it we did not pay tribute to some of that today. Noble Lords have already done that. While we do not fund the AHSCs specifically, of the 20 NIHR biomedical research centres, 12 are at the heart of these six AHSCs, representing more than £700 million of NIHR investment over five years from April 2017. This significant NIHR-funded research infrastructure is key to enabling its engines for world-class excellence in early translational biomedical research.

The existing AHSCs were designated based on recommendations made by an independent panel, which we heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. On the regional spread, I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will be disappointed that they can be designated only in England, not in Scotland, but it is open to the new designating committee to consider the regional spread as that goes forward.

Over the past 10 years, the six AHSCs have facilitated the strategic alignment of some of our leading NHS providers and their university partners in world-class research and health education, leading to improvements in patient care and playing an important role in driving economic growth through partnerships with industry, including life sciences companies, which is one of our key priorities. It is through this strategic alignment that these partners have secured funding. An example is the £10 million funding from UKRI for a new centre for medical imaging and AI at King’s Health Partners as part of the industrial strategy challenge fund. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, spoke about the success of UCL Partners, which has, among many things, been leading on the adoption of a learning health system to standardise data entry. This has allowed seven CCGs to trial and support interventions into early detection of atrial fibrillation, which is a key priority of the long-term plan, and for primary care networks. Specific examples are the ways that we are going to change healthcare for individuals. Imperial AHSC has supported North West London STP’s integrated care record to bring together the health and social care information of 2.3 million patients in the sector, enabling the identification of patient cohorts and the evaluation of service developments.

London’s three AHSCs are collaborating through the MedCity initiative to grow the life sciences cluster of London and the greater south-east, working with the Oxford and Cambridge AHSCs. In Manchester—not in the south-east—the AHSC is working with the AHSN to align research and education into the health and social care priorities of the Greater Manchester population. A single blood test-driven decision aid for patients presenting with chest pain at the emergency department is being rolled out. Since June 2016, more than 7,000 patients have been treated using this tool and the diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction was ruled out in more than 99% of cases, with patients returning home within hours of their arrival in the emergency department. This is evidence of how the AHSCs have changed clinical practice on the ground. Additional data published today by the NHIR clinical research network shows that NHS trusts which are part of the six AHSCs have undertaken more than 3,600 clinical studies and recruited 148,495 participants in 2018-19.We know that other academic health science partnerships have formed, further strengthening the health research and health education interface in London but, as my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy said, we must ensure that the deep research base that we have in this country is matched by a health system that embraces innovation and translates research funding into improved patient care, so that innovators can develop, test and deliver those products that patients and clinicians need and so that examples such as those I have just given can be adopted.

We know that in the past the system has been too fragmented, too complex for innovators to navigate and too slow to adopt promising technologies. That is why last summer, at my noble friend’s instigation, the department undertook an innovation landscape review, which identified the need for a system which was more joined up between healthcare partners, and for improved support for late-stage evidence and a better strategic alignment of priorities, such as how we support emerging technologies, including AI, drug discovery, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and precision medicine.

As my noble friend Lord Prior pointed out, it is also important to recognise the role of collaboration between NHS, industry and academia. During the landscape review, we found huge appetite for change and more ambition within the healthcare stakeholders who need to implement it. That is why the sector deals, the NHS long-term plan and the tech vision have all begun the process of transforming a significant part of strategy within government policy. Through the establishment of the accelerated access review and NHSX, as has been mentioned, we have started to build the necessary infrastructure effectively to support health innovation in this country. Under the expert leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, the AAC brings together senior leaders from the key government, NHS and industry partners with patient and clinician representatives to promote innovation within the NHS. Already, the AAC has made significant progress in supporting uptake.

We must agree that AHSCs and other structures must work hand in hand with AHSMs and wider innovation infrastructure to ensure that this is wired into the ARCs and will be in AHSCs. This is why I have asked the AAC to consider AHSCs, to ensure that the whole system is joined up, because that is what it is leading on. It is important that we give the AAC and the noble Lord the opportunity to build a cohesive health, research and innovation ecosystem that meets the challenges that we have set and the ambitions that we need our life sciences sector to deliver. That is why I have asked the AAC to consider AHSCs’ role within the health system as part of the boost agreement. That will ensure that the future designation of AHSCs complements the innovation support landscape, rather than adding further complexity. The AHSCs will therefore support the AAC in achieving its new objectives, including commitments to establish globally leading testing infrastructure, improving the system’s capacity to adopt innovation.

We plan to extend the existing DHSC AHSC designation until March 2020 to enable that new designation process to be held. We will announce the timescales soon. I appreciate that is not necessarily the answer that noble Lords want, but I hope that the strategic vision, the need for ambition and the purpose, which is to deliver innovation for patients which changes their quality of care and the ambition of our life sciences ecosystem is understood as the reason for that change.

16:28
Sitting suspended.

European Union–Western Balkans Summit

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Question for Short Debate
16:30
Asked by
Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the recent European Union-Western Balkans summit in Sofia has strengthened their support for European Union enlargement now and after Brexit.

Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful for this further opportunity. I warmly thank the Minister and all distinguished colleagues for taking part. We are close to the 20th anniversary of our military intervention in the western Balkans, as I shall mention later. A secure and stable western Balkans means a secure and stable Europe. This is an obvious mantra which most of us would sign up to. However, I leave it to others to discuss security or Russia today. I will focus on enlargement.

If you go back to the good old days, when we were active EU members, it was consistently British government policy, under all Administrations, to support a wider Europe. This is not forgotten and I hope that the Minister will confirm it. We did not want a Europe pinned down by the eurozone, closer union or a European Army. We had the pound and NATO to look after our interests. We believed in the nation state and border controls to allow us to draw up our own immigration policy. But at that time, despite all these reservations, we could proudly call ourselves Europeans. It is quite tragic that, owing to a narrow vote in an advisory referendum, we have now had to abandon a position that originally commanded a majority view, namely to belong to a Europe that could look outwards rather than inwards and could adapt to the priorities of its members.

The great test came in the 1990s when, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU had an immediate opportunity to invite new members from eastern Europe who were queueing up to join. Countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, and later Slovenia and Croatia, met the criteria early, but there were others who did not. In that category were the western Balkans, and many of them—even those that are NATO members—remain in limbo for a range of reasons, chiefly the EU’s chapters on the rule of law, governance and corruption. While enthusiasm for enlargement in Europe, especially in Paris, has waned, for those countries it remains very much alive. The UK in particular is seen to be deserting them owing to Brexit, although I recognise the efforts our Government are making to dispel this impression.

The political background is becoming much more unsettled with the rise of anti-immigration parties and the gradual end of the Merkel-Macron entente. A few weeks ago, Le Monde reprinted a photo of the two presidents happily together in the forest of Compiegne back in November. Below it, a headline said that the differences in the bosom of this Franco-German couple are finally revealed. Monsieur Macron opposes enlargement because he wants more reform and a closer union. The Dutch and Austrians support him against Frau Merkel who is in favour but has to go through constitutional procedures. As a result, EU foreign and Europe ministers recently postponed an important decision to open accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

I said in an earlier debate, in January, that the idea of enlargement has been discredited quite unfairly, because it remains a sensible policy for Europe. The key figures are now changing but Donald Tusk is one of those who keep reminding Ministers that decisions have to be made. Speaking before the summit in Sofia last year, he said that Europe remained the western Balkans’ strategic choice:

“Investing in ... the Western Balkans is in the EU’s best interest. And it will be the objective of our summit”.


After Sofia he was even more forthright:

“I don’t see any other future for the Western Balkans than the EU”.


They,

“are an integral part of Europe and they belong to our community”.

There is therefore still plenty of good will behind the so-called Berlin process, which is now nearly five years old. It continues later this week in Poznan, when member states will again consider the more practical aspects, such as the economy, connectivity, the civic dimension and security, which underline the whole purpose of enlargement. The Minister will assure us, I hope, that even if and when we are outside the Berlin process, we will support these objectives. This is because we are already deeply engaged. We have supported not only enlargement in general and the candidature of Macedonia and Albania but the specific case of Serbia’s and Kosovo’s membership.

As noble Lords will know, while recognised by the UN as an independent state, Kosovo is not yet recognised by Serbia, Russia or even some EU members, including Spain, which fears the consequences for its own separatist campaign in Catalonia. But we have just passed the 20th anniversary of the end of the Kosovo war, and it is time to recall the full horror of that event.

The war between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbia/Montenegro lasted from February 1998 to June 1999. As a result, 13,500 died—more than 10,000 of them ethnic Albanians—and more than 1.2 million fled. There were atrocities on both sides, but NATO finally intervened to save civilian casualties, although some could not be avoided. Even today, 3,500 NATO peacekeeping troops remain in Kosovo because of the continuing tension between the two communities. On an IPU visit, I witnessed this tension from the elegant bridge over the Ibar river at Mitrovica, which separates Serbs in the north from Albanian Kosovars in the south. Only a few weeks ago, the Serbian army went on full alert when Kosovan police arrested Serbs during an anti-corruption drive. Four police were injured while removing a roadblock but the situation calmed down in a couple of days. These things are happening.

Since Sofia, we have continued to encourage dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia; this was once the favourite project of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, when she was high representative and is now her successor’s. The latest topic is a proposal to swap land which has a majority of ethnic Albanians on one side for land that is largely occupied by Serbs. The idea is firmly opposed by both the Commission and member states, because such a swap could lead to similar proposals in Bosnia and elsewhere and might become a tinder-box. However, according to one Kosovar MP who was here recently, although it is a bad idea, it is about the only subject that will keep the two presidents talking. I expect the Minister will say that the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue keeps alive the prospect of membership but that there are many other criteria in the rules that still stand in the way.

Similarly, North Macedonia’s name change and Albania’s local elections should assist their EU applications, but these, too, are being held up by ethnic tensions and the chaotic political scene on Sunday in Tirana. So the situation is still uncertain, both because of differences and changes among European leaders and because of the innate problems of the region.

What can be done besides encouraging good governance? I argue that every effort should be made to encourage investment alongside the gradual reform of institutions, to ensure greater stability and security. The region as a whole has seen stronger economic growth, with even Kosovo’s economy—usually one of the slowest—growing at 3.9% last year and continuing upwards.

The Poznan summit will certainly consider energy. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development supported by the EU, has embarked on an impressive regional energy programme financed through the Western Balkans Investment Framework. This includes green technology investments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and an online catalogue of over 4,000 energy-efficient products called the technology selector. There are specific targets to combat climate change and appalling pollution—mainly caused by 16 coal-fired power stations—which must be met urgently. All this can be achieved if the Balkans are seen as a European priority that now requires our support.

I very much look forward to hearing what others, including the Minister, will say.

16:40
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I have always, as has my party, supported the enlargement of the European Union to bring in the former socialist states of central and eastern Europe. It was right that in 1990, despite the Prime Minister’s mistakes in her approach to German unification, we were among the strongest supporters of setting the countries of central and eastern Europe on the road to enlargement.

I was one of those who had to go over there in 1990 to 1991 to explain to representatives of those countries that this was not as easy as they thought and that it would take a great deal longer than they expected. I recall a conference in Kiev in December 1991 in which the foreign minister of that newly independent state said that Ukraine had two foreign policy objectives for the following two years: firstly, to join the European Communities and, secondly, to join NATO. The Americans in the delegation looked at me and said, “You are going to answer that one”. It has been and remains difficult but enlargement, at least as far as the Polish-Ukrainian border, is part of how we extend security, prosperity and democracy across Europe.

My interest in this comes from that period and from helping to set up the international relations department in Central European University, finding myself teaching Bosnians, Croats and Serbs together and hearing some of their stories of what they had been through together over the previous two or three years. Teaching international relations to people who have seen their friends killed a year or two previously is not easy. My interest in this also comes from having worked with Paddy Ashdown and learning from him that the British could not stand away from this. I remember well how irritated John Major was as Prime Minister when Paddy began to raise the issue and how, gradually, John Major was brought around. To his intense credit, John Major was the only politician who attended Paddy’s family funeral at his own request. He was a great Conservative who really understood how important all this was.

Now the “bastards” on the right-hand side of John Major’s party—who said to him that south-eastern Europe was no concern of the party’s, that the Germans could sort it out and that we should be a global Britain—have won. We no longer have a coherent foreign policy and, in a sense, this debate is therefore at the margins. However, it was right to commit to eventual enlargement and it is still right that we should support it if we are to continue to have any influence, which, of course, we are just about to give up. These are small, weak and internally divided states, and the combined European contribution to the stability of the western Balkans over the last 20 years has been considerable. This has been achieved through EUFOR; financial assistance—part of our net contribution to the European budget, as the recent Foreign Secretary and former Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph would not wish to admit; and working on good government and the rule of law. We have helped to stabilise those countries while recognising that there is still a long way to go.

We must recognise also that enlargement fatigue, as it is so widely called, is well established in the other member states of the European Union. This is not entirely surprising when we see that Hungary, where I used to teach the students to whom I referred, has now, sadly, gone backwards, that the university in which I taught has now more or less been expelled, and that Bulgaria and Romania are now full members without having completed the full transition to the rule of law, anti-corruption and transparent democracy. Welcoming in new countries that are further down the road on that is not entirely easy. They have polarised politics; to one degree or another, corruption remains a problem; their economic conditions are poor; and, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has already noted, there are external pressures such as Russian interference and Chinese attempts to engage using cheap loans.

What do the British Government intend to do after we have left? Apparently, as I read in a government statement some months ago, we are promising financial assistance, so some of the money that Boris Johnson promises we will save by not contributing to the European community budget will perhaps go into what that budget was going to in the first place: financial assistance to south-eastern Europe.

Beyond that, it is not clear what influence we will have. I note that the government statement talked about maintaining our commitment to European values in the region, although at present we are not showing very much commitment to that as a “global Britain” which, if either of the two candidates for leadership wins, seems to represent a foreign policy in which, first, we follow President Trump and, secondly, we cosy up to the autocratic regimes in the Middle East and disengage from the European continent.

It may no longer matter whether or not Her Majesty’s Government support further enlargement, which I regret. I regret also that a substantial part of the Conservative parliamentary party may well not care.

16:46
Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on securing this debate. I realise that he has had to wait some time to reschedule it, but it turns out to be just the right moment. After all, this year we remember that it is 15 years since the big bang expansion of the EU in 2004, and later this week at Poznan we have the next round of the Berlin process, so it is on the money that we have the debate today.

As the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, have said, the western Balkans have gone through some transformations since the appalling conflicts in the period of the 1990s. Slovenia and Croatia have joined the EU and NATO, Albania and Montenegro are NATO states and Serbia has candidate status. However, the region suffered very badly from the results of those conflicts. The legacy is instability, yet of course stability is the very thing that the UK needs in that region. History has taught us that if you have instability in the western Balkans it becomes a direct danger to us.

The UK’s Ambassador to Montenegro, Alison Kemp, speaking in May this year at the workshop on the fight against corruption in the western Balkans, said,

“ensuring compliance with and implementation of key standards and reforms required in the areas of rule of law, good governance, and human rights remains a pressing issue. This was recognised in the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans, launched in February 2018, which indicated that a concrete and sustained track record in tackling corruption is a key benchmark for West Balkan countries wishing to join the EU”.

However, as the noble Earl said, the EU 27 themselves have exactly not shown unanimity on the question of further enlargement. So is not the real question today: how serious are the EU 27 about further enlargement, with or without us in the EU? Austria, France and the Netherlands have all expressed caution about extending membership. Chancellor Merkel and President Macron displayed distinct differences of view about enlargement at the mini-summit in Berlin on 29 April this year.

Chancellor Merkel sees the place of states in the western Balkan region as being within the EU. She is pragmatic and understands that it is will take some time for them to adapt to be able to open and close chapters to be able to become members. President Macron, however, appeared to show little interest in further enlargement, believing it would further weaken the cohesion of the EU and fuel populist or far-right movements.

Does the UK intend to try to resolve the apparent blockage on enlargement caused by the reported difference of views held by Macron and Merkel? Against that background, the EU Commission says that Albania and North Macedonia have made good progress towards EU membership and that accession talks should now be opened. Do the Government agree with the Commission on this point, while we may disagree on so many others?

I note that my noble friend Lord Callanan issued a Written Ministerial Statement on 5 June after he attended the General Affairs Council. He said:

“Under discussions on enlargement, some Member States hoped that progress would be made at the June European Council to allow accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania”.


Was the UK among those who spoke in support of making progress at the Council?

The question of enlargement was expected to come up at the June EU Council. Can the Minister say whether it did? I listened carefully to the debate in this House on the summit Statement eight days ago but did not hear any indication that there was such a discussion. The Leader of the House said that the,

“European Council focused on climate change, disinformation and hybrid threats, external relations and what are known as the EU’s ‘top jobs’.—[Hansard, 24/6/19; col. 979.]

and I gather that they still have problems over the last item. So was progress made on enlargement at the June Council, or has that discussion been relegated to September?

The International Relations Select Committee report last year concluded in paragraphs 60 and 62 that EU membership for the countries of the Western Balkans was,

“the most reliable path for Western Balkan countries to achieve security, stability and prosperity”,

and that the UK should remain a,

“champion for accession”,

outside the EU. Do the Government agree with the committee’s assessment? If so, what are their plans to be that champion now and after Brexit?

16:51
Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his initiative. I wish he had been with me some 15 years ago when I was ushered into the office of the then Greek Foreign Minister, Papandreou. On the wall was a large map of Europe. It was of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has said, the time of enlargement. One piece of the jigsaw was missing: the western Balkans. Papandreou said to me, “This issue is manageable and should be managed”, looking at the relatively small number of countries that are there and of course the relevance to us in Western Europe. If we do not go there and seek to find means of getting closer to those countries, they will continue to come to us in terms of corruption, drugs and gang warfare. We are aware that some of the worst gangs in London are Albanian and Kosovan.

Papandreou’s aim of a European perspective for the western Balkans has been echoed in a series of warm declarations since, culminating in the Sofia declaration of 17 May 2018, which talked of a shared vision,

“underpinned by our historic, cultural and geographic ties and by our mutual political, security and economic interests”.

It is significant that prior to the Sofia summit it was 16 years or so ago that the Thessaloniki summit took place. Although there have been many warm words since, there has been relatively little and slow progress. On 18 June this year, as has been said, the EU foreign and European Ministers postponed a decision to open accession talks, not even allowing the relevant countries to be on the foothills of accession.

The fact is that there are forces in Europe that are increasingly cautious about enlargement, partly because of disagreements but also because of the problems within those countries. We think of the paralysis in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the time of Dayton. Clearly there are many relevant factors, not least the backsliding, the authoritarian developments, the corruption which leads to hesitation about enlargement and the fact that many see risks to Europe in that enlargement.

Serbia and Montenegro are the frontrunners, but Serbia has not taken the normal first step of getting closer to NATO, in part because of the role of NATO in the Kosovo war. Serbia recently welcomed President Putin with ecstatic crowds in Belgrade, which suggests that it is not wholly committed. Certainly the Prime Minister wishes to ride two horses.

So far as Montenegro is concerned, I have met Dukanovic on many occasions. There are allegations of continuing corruption, particularly in his case. There are allegations of cigarette and tobacco corruption and links over centuries with the Italian Mafia and its predecessors. Nevertheless, Montenegro is forward in terms of adopting first the deutschmark and then the euro.

Some argue that the region should be seen as a whole, but that would penalise the front-runners. The date of 2025 has been mentioned for leading candidates. It is always useful to have a target date, but its realisation needs one to be very sceptical.

How then should we make progress? Obviously, it should be through step-by-step initiatives such as those set out in the annexe to the Sofia declaration. I am particularly concerned about the first priority in that declaration on law and order. If and when we leave the EU we shall still be a member of the Council of Europe, which has expertise in law and order, justice and institutions such as the Venice Commission and the European Court of Human Rights. We might argue that the European Union has the money and the Council of Europe has the expertise. Recently it has made a new priority of working with the countries of the western Balkans. Exactly a week ago, the council elected a Croat as its secretary-general. There are clearly links between the UK and the area beyond the European Union. I think of the British Council. It would be foolish of us to think that since our weight will be reduced within the European Union we can still argue credibly for enlargement. If we are a member of a club and we leave that club, we can hardly have much credible voice in seeking additional members for it. Indeed, any such initiatives might be considered impertinent by members of the club.

16:57
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, the answer to the question we are debating today—whether the recent EU-west Balkans summit in Sofia has strengthened support for EU enlargement—can be provided quickly, clearly and shamefully. It is no. Support for EU enlargement since the Sofia summit has not been strengthened. If anything, it has been weakened. When the Foreign Ministers met in June, they made no progress towards opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked questions about the recent EU Council and I shall be interested in the answers, but I have to point out that if you read the communiqué you will see that the Heads of State and Government did not spend a single minute on enlargement; they merely noted the Foreign Ministers’ decision not to open negotiations. That is pretty feeble. We are still a member of the European Union and we were a party to that lamentable performance, so I hope the Minister can explain why and what we did to resist such an undesirable outcome.

Why does this matter? Ever since the 1990s, when Yugoslavia broke up and the west Balkans flirted with the sort of full-scale hostilities which caused the region massive damage and suffering twice before in the 20th century, it has been pretty clear that a large part of the task of stabilising the region and ensuring its future prosperity would be played by embedding its countries in a supportive international environment, to be done by membership of the United Nations, NATO, the Council of Europe and, mostly importantly, the EU. That was the conclusion of the report produced by your Lordships’ International Relations Committee 18 months ago and quoted by the noble Baroness. I suggest that it remains as true today as it was then.

The EU’s failure in June was open to criticism most particularly in respect of North Macedonia. Not only has the reformist Government in Skopje moved the country sharply towards EU standards and away from the previous nationalist agenda but that running sore in the western Balkans, the dispute over the country’s name, has been settled with Greece. I gather that subsequent progress has been made on accession to NATO—perhaps the Minister can tell us about that and when North Macedonia will become a full member of NATO. However, it would not fully compensate for the pusillanimity over EU accession.

Is the damage done by the failure irretrievable? It almost certainly is not. North Macedonia’s and Albania’s EU accession bids will be back on the agenda when the Foreign Ministers meet in October and the Heads of Government do so later that month. What will the Government say then? What will they do in the run-up to those meetings—we will still be a member then—to assure a better outcome and what are the prospects for achieving that?

This whole sorry saga illustrates another prevailing theme: the collateral damage done by Brexit to the UK’s influence. For long one of the champions of EU enlargement and stabilisation of the western Balkans, we are now little more than a faint voice crying from half way out of the door. It is surely no good us trying to deny that loss of influence. If anyone is tempted to do so, I suggest they try talking to anyone from any of the countries of the western Balkans. Is it irretrievable? Perhaps it is not, but that is a story for another time and another place.

17:02
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for bringing forward this timely debate. I am also relieved that I am only winding up for the Liberal Democrats and do not have to answer the debate, because it is one of the most depressing debates that we could be having at the moment. We face challenges to British influence and severe questions over the European Union’s willingness to enlarge. How different it was a quarter of a century ago, when there were prospects of eastward enlargement and the UK played a key role in leading it.

In 2019, enlargement to the western Balkans remains vital to those countries. As the noble Earl said, it remains vital to our security and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, suggested, the security of the western Balkans matters to the United Kingdom. However, it is unclear what influence the United Kingdom can have. When the International Relations Committee, whose report has been referred to already, took evidence from Sir Alan Duncan, I asked that question of him. I perhaps did so slightly inappropriately. I queried what influence the Government thought they could have when certain members of the Tory party were spending such a lot of time denigrating Germany’s role in Europe and suggesting that European integration was a bad thing. Surely that made it somewhat difficult—or impertinent, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, put it—for the UK to be advocating enlargement to the western Balkans, or at least encouraging the western Balkans to seek to join. If we are too good to be part of the EU, why on earth should we be encouraging other countries to join? That seems a little strange. Anyway, Sir Alan Duncan suggested that my question was “inappropriate” and therefore decided not to answer it, so I wonder if today the Minister could give an answer about whether she feels that British influence on this question is in fact declining. As a country that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just suggested, essentially half way out of the door, with a declining voice, how does the UK envisage having an influence?

It could all have been so different, and arguably should have been. The idea of enlargement and the reasons for countries seeking to join the EU are very similar to the founding reasons for European integration: peace, security and stability. The six founding member states understood the reasons to co-operate. The countries of central and eastern Europe that joined in 2004 understood the reasons for being part of the European project, and so have the countries of the western Balkans—up to a point. As we have heard, there are questions about how far countries have actually changed. The EU has seen enlargement as a way of exercising soft power and exporting the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, all values to which the UK aspires and which we think of as British values as much as European. However, we have already seen that the countries of central and eastern Europe that got their act together, met the Copenhagen criteria and were allowed to join in 2004 or 2007 have begun to turn their backs on those European values. Viktor Orban talks about illiberal democracy. Other countries are facing questions of corruption or questions about their judiciary.

The EU’s ability to exercise its soft power may have come under question, but at least it was a positive aspiration. It was an aspiration best understood by Germany, which always felt that you could expand geographically but also deepen the integration process. We have heard that France under Macron is reluctant to enlarge to the western Balkans, but in many ways he is simply reiterating the concerns of France over decades, feeling that enlargement will weaken the integration process.

Do the current UK Government believe that in the final days of our membership of the EU—unless of course by some deus ex machina we do not leave—they can exercise any influence over President Macron and the other laggards on enlargement to persuade them that it is in the interests of the EU to enlarge? What influence do the Government think they can have on the countries of the western Balkans? We in this Room may feel that it is in the interests of the UK and the western Balkans to see enlargement, but so far the countries seem to be facing the dictum that I first heard in Budapest in 1996: “They pretend they want us and we pretend we’re ready”. The idea still seems to prevail that the EU does not look terribly open to enlargement, and perhaps the western Balkan countries are not as ready as they would like us to think they are.

17:08
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for initiating this timely debate. He opened with the mantra: “A secure and stable western Balkans means a secure and stable Europe”. It is worth repeating because it is the crux of this debate. We have a shared interest in working together to increase stability and help the region on its Euro-Atlantic path.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, the excellent report of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee identified a number of challenges, and those challenges are still there: US disengagement and increasing Russian influence. Regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU, we cannot afford for the Balkans to be unstable. We have seen six western Balkan nations seeking eventual membership of the EU: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. While the EU opened accession talks with Montenegro and Serbia last month, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, highlighted that member states chose not to agree to the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. As the FT put it in its editorial:

“Setting these countries on the path to membership is vital not just to maintain reform momentum but to send a message to the wider region—the most volatile in Europe—that the EU’s doors remain open”.


In particular, I strongly believe that the Greece-North Macedonia agreement deserves to be acknowledged by opening talks. I hope the Minister will agree with that this afternoon and will ensure that we use our influence. As we have heard, the failure to open negotiations was largely due to the concerns of France and the Netherlands. Commentators have suggested that they were fuelled by enlargement fatigue and anti-migrant sentiment, although 14 members states released a joint statement urging that talks begin. It is about expectations and hope. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made this point very strongly. At the summit in Sofia we had a very strong commitment about the EU’s intentions to strengthen its support for the region’s political, economic and social transformation. Social transformation is vital in embedding the values we have heard about into those countries. EU enlargement and the accession process are vital components of delivering change and the economic development required for longer-term peace and security.

Yesterday I met the Serbian ambassador. Obviously there are tensions and difficulties in Serbia. It is in a process of change, but if the people of Serbia see that we are turning our backs on them and that the pathway we are advocating will not be delivered, we will end up with greater problems.

We have the Berlin process, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, with the sixth annual summit between EU and western Balkan officials in Poznan. The focus is on youth, culture and security. Foreign Affairs, Interior and Economy Ministers will be working together and meeting the following day. At last year’s London summit, there were 140 civil society and youth attendees. What has happened since the London Berlin process? What will be reported to the delegates at Poznan about progress? Whatever path we follow, we want to be able to identify progress, because if we do not we will fuel disillusionment. We need to maintain confidence in the process. We need more than simple talking shops. We need political engagement. It is not for me to answer for the Government about how we maintain positive momentum, but it is important not to see this progress as simply engagement with Governments. It is about politicians and parliamentarians. It is about broad engagement with civil society. I know the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, will meet WFD officials shortly, and I would like to know more about the programmes we are undertaking to use soft power to influence the agenda so that, whether we are outside or inside the EU, we continue our engagement.

17:15
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry for coughing, but the air conditioning is not doing my throat any good. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for tabling this debate and all noble Lords for their interesting contributions. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it is actually a pleasure to respond to this debate which has been constructive and illuminating. It is certainly timely, coming in the same week as the western Balkans summit in Poznan under the Berlin process and two weeks after the General Affairs Council discussion on enlargement.

I recognise that there is concern in the region and, indeed, among some in this House that the UK’s departure from the EU might lessen our commitment to the western Balkans. I reassure noble Lords that this is absolutely not the case; quite the opposite. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the western Balkans matter—as he rightly identified—for the security of the UK and of Europe, and that is why we are increasing our engagement in the region. I shall say more about this shortly. I reassure the noble Earl, my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, on the issue of EU enlargement. Irrespective of our departure from the EU, we remain of the view that the EU accession process is important in helping the countries of the western Balkans to become more secure, more stable, more rules-based and, ultimately, more prosperous. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for underpinning and underlining that point. We will continue to support those countries committed to the accession process to meet the necessary requirements. That was the message that the Prime Minister took to the EU-western Balkans summit in Sofia last year, when she reassured EU and western Balkans leaders of the UK’s continuing commitment to promote prosperity, security and stability in the region in the years ahead.

The General Affairs Council two weeks ago, to which I referred, endorsed conclusions on EU enlargement which reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to enlargement as a strategic investment in peace, democracy, prosperity, security and stability in Europe and recognised what has been achieved in the region so far. We welcome these conclusions and played an active role in their drafting. The conclusions, and the Commission’s country progress reports, which were published as part of the annual enlargement package on 29 May, also rightly highlight the significant challenges that remain in the western Balkans and the progress that must be made ahead of accession. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns raised the particular issue of France and Germany. President Macron is very sceptical about enlargement. He said again this week that that was his view. On the other hand, Chancellor Merkel remains very attached to enlargement. The important point is that the EU has agreed to return to this question in October at the latest. We do not play a leading role in the debate on EU enlargement, but we think that the EU should recognise progress when it is made. For example, progress has been made in North Macedonia.

My noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Collins, asked what was discussed at the European Council. I think that the question was discussed at the General Affairs Council rather than the European Council. As I said, the Commission has recommended that accession negotiations should begin with North Macedonia and Albania. I am not aware of whether my noble friend Lord Callanan spoke during the General Affairs Council debate, but the overwhelming majority of EU member states—and the UK, of course, is one of those countries—were ready to accept the Commission’s recommendation. It was France and one or two other countries that wanted to postpone the discussion until October.

On that tack, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who asked specifically about North Macedonia and its NATO application. I understand that membership was agreed in principle in July 2018. Ratification by each of the member state parliaments is pending, and that will have to be obtained, but I believe that accession is expected by the end of 2019 or in early 2020. The UK will ratify the relevant accession protocol in early autumn this year.

Obviously, the countries of the region must adhere to the core values of the rule of law, fundamental rights and good governance. It is right that rigorous conditionality is maintained, requiring countries to demonstrate a commitment to European values and to meet the necessary conditions before accession. It is clear that the countries of the region all face significant challenges in meeting these conditions, albeit to differing degrees. These challenges are set out in the country progress reports, and I group them into two key areas.

The first is security, from terrorism and violent extremism to serious and organised crime, including trafficking of people, drugs and firearms. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, who raised these important matters, and he is right to do so because, as he observed, they can directly affect the United Kingdom. We should not lose sight of the threat of malign Russian interference. That also has implications for the security of the region, as we saw in the Russian-backed attempted coup plot in Montenegro in October 2016, which was, quite frankly, an outrageous example of Russia’s attempts to undermine European democracy.

The second key area of concern relates to weak governance, corruption and the erosion of the rule of law. Sustained progress is needed to address these issues. Disturbingly, we have seen movement in the opposite direction, particularly on freedom of expression. According to the Reporters Without Borders world press media freedom index, western Balkan countries are ranked among the lowest in Europe. We are deeply concerned about the politicisation of the media, violence against journalists and unbalanced media coverage in election periods.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was pessimistic in his contribution, as to some extent was the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, but let me seek to reassure them. The UK remains at the forefront of work with European and other international partners to address these challenges. The noble Earl also raised this in his contribution. As the Prime Minister announced at the London western Balkans summit last year, we are increasing our spending on the region to £80 million a year by 2021 and doubling the number of UK staff working at our embassies on security-related challenges. The UK’s growing portfolio of assistance is focused on supporting stability, increasing security co-operation and implementing much-needed administrative reforms, as well as enhancing the region’s long-term prosperity. Importantly, the UK is also investing in the region’s law enforcement, rule of law and civil institutions. I need not tell your Lordships how important that is.

My noble friend Lord Ahmad had the opportunity to emphasise the UK’s commitment to the region during his visit to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina two weeks ago. Two particular priorities for the visit were conflict-related sexual violence and media freedom, both of which will be the subject of major international conferences here in London this year, with the involvement of the western Balkan nations. Your Lordships may be aware that there is to be a media freedom summit this month and a prevention of sexual violence in conflict conference in November. The precise date and the personnel for that are to be confirmed.

This brings me to the Poznan summit, to which a number of your Lordships referred, in particular the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who specifically asked what we have done and what we hope to achieve. The challenges I have talked about will be among those addressed at the next summit of the Berlin process in Poznan later this week. It is to be attended by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan, and, I understand, the Security Minister, Mr Ben Wallace. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns rightly identified that the Poznan meeting is an important moment to emphasise our enduring commitment to the region and to acknowledge the progress the UK and our partners have made through the Berlin process since our UK summit last year.

That includes progress in three key areas. First, in education and skills, the UK’s £10 million 21st century schools programme is equipping students throughout the region with IT coding skills. Secondly, in security and organised crime, Interior and Security Ministers will take forward the security agenda launched in London and discuss important issues, including improving real-time information exchange between law enforcement agencies, combating modern slavery and human trafficking, controlling the spread of small arms and light weapons and the need to combat corruption and illicit finance. Thirdly, in regional co-operation and reconciliation we are working with the region to take forward the landmark joint declarations on missing persons, war crimes and good neighbourly relations which were signed by the 14 Berlin process leaders in London last year.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, spoke tellingly when he used the phrase “social transformation”. He speaks for us all. That is what we want to see, and we hope that that might be the consequence of the aggregate approach which has been taken in endeavouring to support these western Balkan countries in their endeavours.

In conclusion, the UK remains committed to working with European partners to drive forward reform, embed stability and address shared challenges in the western Balkans. We remain of the view that the EU accession process is important for delivering security, stability and prosperity, and we will continue to support countries committed to the accession process to meet the necessary conditions.

17:26
Sitting suspended.

Publicly Funded Infrastructure Projects

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Question for Short Debate
17:30
Asked by
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they take to provide Parliament with up to date cost and cost/benefit information for major infrastructure projects to which public money has been committed.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this debate concerning the information that Parliament and the public need about major projects. There is a lot of information around. According to the Treasury-owned Infrastructure and Projects Authority, more than £300 billion-worth of projects are on the go in the MoD and the Department for Transport alone. They are projects with government funding, but there are quite a lot of other projects which some argue should be included in this category, such as Hinkley Point. We should then ask: are they good value for money? Do they fulfil the function for which they were planned? Would there be a cheaper and better way of doing it? Are Ministers keeping an eye on their projects to make sure that they do not go badly wrong?

The IPA is supposed to give Ministers this information, but do they take any notice? The IPA has a successful role in project delivery. It does a great work in collecting and analysing data, looking at the structures of management and risks. As many noble Lords know, it publishes a score-card in its annual report—many noble Lords probably have a copy. It uses a traffic-light system: green means that a project is going well; amber denotes some concern; amber/red signifies:

“Successful delivery of the project is in doubt … Urgent action is needed to address these problems”.


Red is:

“Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable”.


There are hundreds of examples. I shall select two successful projects. DCMS’s broadband delivery programme has been green for four years, and the Department for Transport’s management of a search and rescue helicopter contract has been green for five years. Who are the culprits? The MoD earned five reds last year and many amber/reds—I shall not list them. The Department for Transport’s Crossrail programme had five years of green and then it went amber/red. Where is it going to go next? We do not have the latest information, but I expect that it will get rather worse.

What happens to the information that the IPA provides? My worry is that the answer is nothing much. Who challenges Ministers on whether what they want to build is the most suitable solution to a problem? It should be Parliament. One has a fear that many projects become vanity projects. Should the new Astute-class submarines be called the Penny Mordaunt class, or should HS2 be called the Grayling line? We could give all of them names, but it is not a good idea.

I fear that the policy of successive Governments on big projects is to set up a structure which defies scrutiny until so much money has been spent that they argue that it is too expensive to cancel or alter. Then the blame game starts, with those who fear for their future careers trying to jump ship before they are found out. I am afraid that this applies equally to Ministers and officials—who knows what and when?

I shall give two examples. Crossrail 1, a joint TfL/Department for Transport project, was going swimmingly until last summer. It was going to open in the autumn and now it will probably be two years late. We can debate why this has happened. Let us not go into blame game now, but how did the news of the delay and cost overrun not get to the promoters much sooner? We will know eventually, but it is pretty embarrassing for everybody concerned.

HS2 is 10 times worse, not only because its costs are very much higher than that of Crossrail but because the evidence of cost overruns, cover-ups and, I must say, fraud and worse are rampant even before the permanent construction work has started. I will not discuss the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, which is excellent, because Ministers have promised us a debate on it before the Summer Recess. Many people on HS2 believe that the specification was ridiculously high. It started as a vanity project to get to the northern cities faster. It eventually became a project to create extra capacity on the network, but they did not change the spec.

On costs, the House of Commons Library briefing on 20 June noted:

“A comprehensive breakdown of costs for the full Y”—


of the scheme—

“has not been published since 2013”.

That is six years ago. This was confirmed by the IPA giving HS2 an amber/red category for six years running on a project estimated to cost more than £50 billion on the Department for Transport’s figures. The department argues with me and the cost engineer Michael Byng, who has suggested that it is more like £156 billion, but no one has ever challenged his estimate. The Government just say that they do not recognise it. They have not come up with any alternative, even in front of the Select Committee a few years ago.

I fear that there is a concerted effort by officials and successive Ministers to prevent scrutiny of the costs and programme, to refuse to discuss ways to reduce costs and generally to batten down the hatches over a six-year period for what I think is the single most expensive project on the IPA list. My worry, therefore, concerns, first, the project’s scope. There were many estimates. There are rumours that the estimate signed before the Select Committee was inaccurate. The property requirements for both permanent and temporary works have not been properly estimated. On parts of the engineering, the approaches to Euston, alternative proposals for Wendover, track design and, of course, the engineering and cost implications of very high speeds, came up against officials who would not consider any option offering to reduce the cost. There seems to me to be a strong element of putting your head in the sand, hoping it will all go away. Contractors have signed up to design-and-construct contracts but they cannot make the figures work. That is why we are getting delayed at the moment.

In addition, there have been many staff changes. There is a churn of staff which is disastrous in such a project: get rid of people who know too much or who disagree with the policy and we will keep to the original budget over six years. The Permanent Secretary, Philip Rutnam, was promoted to the Home Office when the original cost estimates were challenged, and David Prout, who was responsible within the Department for Transport for HS2, retired to run an Oxford college. HS2 has had at least four chairmen in that period. The chief executive, Alison Munro, felt able to sign the estimates, knowing, I think, full well that the budget was shot to pieces. She left soon after, as did Beth West and Jim Crawford, who resigned last week. Two whistleblowers, Andrew Bruce and Doug Thornton, who are both highly skilled professionals on property issues, were sacked half an hour before they were due to present their findings on property costs to the Department for Transport’s client board. They were sacked because they refused to lie about property cost estimates.

The last matter here is that Simon Kirby, a former chief executive, was found a job at Rolls-Royce—very conveniently—because he was blamed for awarding £2.7 million of unauthorised redundancy policies to HS2 staff, which I have on good authority was actually used to pay off the whistleblowers. This is a very sad situation, coupled with a culture of secrecy. New Civil Engineer wrote a piece last week saying that HS2 has signed a total of 280 nondisclosure agreements,

“with ‘external parties’ between 2012 and March this year, with 40% of those signed in 2018 alone”.

The department found it more difficult to avoid internal scrutiny by the IPA. One of the senior advisers, Paul Mansell, was embedded in HS2 for a year and reported in a confidential report, which I think everyone now has, that,

“the status of the programme is between Amber-Red and Red”.

I will not go through all his conclusions but they basically say that the project will remain fundamentally flawed unless greater transparency and frankness are provided. Mansell’s report was leaked and the IPA confirmed his findings later.

There is a big problem here. I hope that the new “lessons learned” report from the Department for Transport will put some of these things right, but I believe that other government departments need to take note of what has gone really wrong with Crossrail and HS2 and come up with some solutions to make the new projects a better place.

17:41
Lord Framlingham Portrait Lord Framlingham (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on obtaining this debate today. I am grateful for his forensic dissection of the problems of HS2.

How many of us, when we are having work done on our own property or making a major purchase, fail to take steps to ensure that we are getting value for money and that our money is being sensibly spent? If we are doing that with our own money, how much more important is it when we are spending someone else’s—in this case, taxpayers’ money, with all the present demands on it for important and deserving causes?

HS2 is a totally misconceived project. It was supposed to cost £50 billion but will probably cost in excess of £100 billion and maybe more. Just imagine what could be done with that money if sensibly spent. Recently the TaxPayers’ Alliance did a splendid operation, working out just what it could do with it. That amount of money would seriously transform the rest of our communications network.

When I first came to take an interest in HS2, I could not believe what I discovered. The biggest infrastructure project in Europe had been put together in a totally shambolic way that was guaranteed to produce chaos and failure at the cost of misery to thousands of families and businesses whose lives would be disrupted, and of billions of wasted taxpayers’ money. On 31 January 2017 I asked the House of Lords to put a stop to HS2. It could have done so but sadly I did not receive sufficient support. On my side were two former Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury, the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Macpherson, who surely know the true position better than anyone else.

Today I want to highlight and question the unbelievable bunker mentality of those responsible for HS2, both Ministers—I absolve our present Minister, who is absolutely blameless—and civil servants, who display intransigence, blocked ears and total unwillingness to listen to reason and common sense. Ever since April 2015 experienced transport planners and engineers have been seeking meetings with Ministers to explain their grave reservations about HS2. Inexplicably, all such meetings have been rebuffed. On 14 April 2017 Mr Jonathan Tyler, principal of Passenger Transport Networks in York, wrote to Andrea Leadsom, then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, setting out all the attempts that had been made to meet Ministers to discuss HS2. I do not have time to give all the details but they include letters to everyone from the Prime Minister downwards.

I quote from the letter:

“On 31 October 2016 a group of 54 people with extensive experience in transport planning, regional economics and railway management wrote to Mr Grayling requesting a meeting to express their concerns … On 2 December 2016 a civil servant in the High Speed Rail Group of the DfT replied saying, ‘I am sorry to have to tell you that the Secretary of State is not available to meet with you to discuss these issues’ … On 8 February 2017 the group wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, the Permanent Secretary of HM Treasury, the head of the Government Economic Service, the Comptroller of the NAO, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons and the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, expressing our concern that the process of the Bill authorising the construction of HS2 had not allowed a number of significant issues that we and others had raised to be properly addressed. We summarised these issues, asked for them to be investigated and offered a meeting … In early February 2017 the diary manager of Andrew Jones, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the DfT, wrote to Jonathan Tyler saying that his letter to the Secretary of State had been passed to Mr Jones, who, because of the pressures on his time, would be unable to manage a meeting”.


This attitude is both rude and, more importantly, totally unbusinesslike. Not to avail yourself of second opinions from such eminently qualified people on such a massive project is unforgiveable. Meanwhile, HS2 heads for the buffers, with costs and building timescale totally out of control and the Department for Transport sending out what can only be called fairy-tale press releases and Answers to Written Questions.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Amid mounting demands from the Green Party, and the Brexit Party, to cancel HS2, at least one of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership has promised a review, which will reveal the true position. Although some expenditure has already been incurred and preparatory work undertaken, a notice to proceed has not yet been signed, and will not be for some time. A timely and speedy review will result in a halt to the project, which will give time for the true position to be established; a thorough investigation to take place; sensible, non-governmental advice to be taken at long last; and, hopefully, lessons learnt about how to properly plan and cost major infrastructure projects.

17:47
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for initiating this important debate. It pinpoints our national inability to build big projects successfully. They are almost always dogged by controversy, delay and cost overruns. Why has the “can-do” country of the 19th and early 20th centuries become the “Can we? Can’t we?” country of the 21st. We have a system which takes so long that the approach to the project—if not the project itself—is outdated before we start. The Heathrow third runway is an example of this. It has been kicking around for decades and, in that time, approaches to aviation have changed and we would not invent the project now. There is a very lengthy, cumbersome planning process, with delays to big projects. I am not arguing for public opinion to be ignored, but it should not be beyond us to streamline the system without sacrificing democracy. Above all, there is a system of tendering which incentivises both project sponsors to encourage funders with an artificially optimistic idea of the project and tenderers to minimise costs. This means minimising problems and failing to allow for a realistic level of difficulties encountered during construction.

We deal with these projects piecemeal and efforts to have a joined-up approach to skills have so far failed because we agonise and dither for so long and because government is structured to take the short-term approach. We do not have an integrated approach nor a long-term programme for government, so we cannot get skills co-ordination on a grand scale. I give the example of Great Western electrification. It has cost double what was anticipated, and some major errors have been made along the way. Yet another emerged this weekend: equipment installed in the Severn tunnel is rusting before it has even been used. We have known for more than a century that the Severn tunnel is very damp.

For the rest of my speech I shall concentrate on HS2. I take a rather different view from that of the noble Lord. I call myself a critical friend. I am 100% behind the purpose of the project. I support linking the Midlands and the north and eventually Scotland using a new line created according to the highest standards. The problem is that HS2 has not been good at PR, to say the least. There has been a lot of opposition to the project, some of it local, for obvious reasons, and some of it for entirely misguided reasons. HS2 has entirely failed to inspire us and to answer those criticisms. A country that still reveres Brunel does not feel the same about HS2. Important decisions on the progress of HS2 have coincided with the macho posturings of the two men vying to be leader of the Conservative Party. It has become a kind of virility test to denounce the project.

Conveniently, that fits with the financial hole they are rapidly digging for themselves. All those tax cuts have to be paid for, and HS2 has a very big price tag. It would normally be unthinkable to cancel a project so late in the day, a project that is so well advanced with so much money already spent, but there is nothing normal about the times we live in. There is a very urgent need for HS2 to get its act together and bring its costs under control. The north is already suffering from a lack of trust in politicians. If the Government cancel HS2, they risk a massive backlash, and if they take fright at the cost of phase 1 and cancel the rest of it, all they will have done is to change Birmingham into a outer suburb of London, and the north will not forgive them for that.

If the Government cancel HS2, we will be an international laughing stock, but there are serious criticisms that must be addressed. The Economic Affairs Committee report published in May lists those serious concerns and the solutions to some of them. Speed costs money. The report questions the value for money of building to the highest speeds in the world, especially when a large part of the route will be in tunnels where it is not possible to do very high speeds. It points to the flaws in the cost-benefit analysis, which artificially relies on aggregating up very small time savings per journey. One must question the value of saving five minute on a journey of several hours. The committee also pointed to the elderly surveys on which the cost-benefit analysis relies. They must be updated. Finally, it also questioned the obsession with Euston. Old Oak Common would be an excellent terminus. It is a real regeneration project and is very well placed in a network of rail lines. That is where the terminus should be.

17:54
Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, I have not made any secret of my support for this great project. For me as a former railwayman and as a resident of the city of Birmingham, it is not just an ethereal paper concept; it is a great contribution to the regional and, eventually, the national economy. In and around Birmingham cranes can be seen all over the place. Values are rising and hundreds if not thousands of jobs have been created. It is not just in the city of Birmingham, of course; between Birmingham and London there are 250 sites where work has already commenced. Almost 10,000 jobs have been created and 2,000 businesses are already benefiting from this project before it has even properly commenced. Incidentally, 98% of those businesses are British.

I respectfully remind those who oppose this project, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, that it is not just ex-railwaymen like me who are in favour; virtually the whole of British industry happens to be in favour of HS2 in its entirety. In June 2019 business leaders including the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and London First published a joint open letter calling on the next Prime Minister to commit to delivering HS2 in full.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley and I have been friends for approaching 40 years now, and I hope we remain so after this debate. We first met when I was an officer —I think I was the chairman—of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Channel Tunnel. In a different capacity, he was an accurate and hard-working paid advocate of that concept. I remind him respectfully that, when completed, the Channel Tunnel cost £4.65 billion, around £12 billion in today’s funds, and was 80% over budget at the time. Although I have listened to him on many occasions, I do not think he pointed out at the time that that great project could and should have been cancelled because it was likely to be over budget.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley
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Which great project?

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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I am referring to the Channel Tunnel.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley
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I never said it should be cancelled.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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No, I just said that my noble friend did not say it should be cancelled, despite the massive cost overrun—about which I do not remember him complaining at the time, although I might be wrong. Because of the nature of the way that we do business in this country, most of these projects overrun.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, touched on that point during her refreshing and accurate contribution. The fact is that these projects overrun, not just in this country. We have a habit of flogging ourselves and thinking that only we can get things wrong but these great infrastructure projects overrun all over the world. Fly to Berlin and try to land at Brandenburg Airport; building commenced in 2006 and the latest opening date is 2020, although even that is not particularly certain, and it is eight times over budget, yet we are born and brought up on the myth of German efficiency. I do not know whether the German equivalent of the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, is wandering around Berlin shaking his head sadly at the overrun of that project, although I am sure that there are similar gloomy outlooks.

I am not surprised at the noble Lord being a member of a committee set up by the Taxpayers’ Alliance to look into this project, but I am a bit surprised at my noble friend. I have to say to him that I have never been a fan of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Right-wing self-appointed guardians of the public purse do not normally attract members of the Labour Party so I am a bit concerned and surprised that my noble friend should have agreed, particularly as the organisation produced a brochure about a better way to spend the billions. The picture on the front is of a motorway junction, so there is a bit of a clue to where the Taxpayers’ Alliance would like money to be spent.

I do not think that the doom and gloom that we are seeing about this project is sustainable long-term. In my view it is a great project that should continue and be implemented and opened as quickly as possible. One thing that I never hear from its critics is any alternative, although I hear ethereal stuff about spending the money on “something else”. Let us look at the west coast main line, the area of railway that will get most relief from the completion of HS2. I picked a random hour of arrivals and departures at Euston station. Excluding the Underground, there were 42 trains in and out of Euston station between 10 and 11 am this morning. Three of them went to Birmingham, one through to Scotland, one direct to Glasgow and three to Manchester.

Where will these trains go? These days, it is impossible to modernise a railway system and run trains at the same time. It did not used to be. In my younger days—I confess that I remember the first electrification of the west coast main line—much of the work was done between trains, although there were lots of alternative routes. The Manchester trains went over to Great Central. The brains that run this country decided to close that line, so the trains went on the Midland main line, now closed between Matlock and further north. There are no alternative routes. The Liverpool trains went on the Great Western from Paddington to Birkenhead. That does not exist any more; indeed, part of it is a tramway through my former constituency.

There is no alternative to HS2, and I hope that the gloom mongers, sincere though some of them may be, will have their arguments refuted and that this great project gets the go-ahead.

18:00
Lord Freeman Portrait Lord Freeman (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on securing this debate. I must say that I have learned more from him in debates on transport in the House of Lords than I could possibly have imagined before joining. I agree with his analysis to a certain extent. I very much agree with the general approach to HS2 of the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Within the limited time I have available, I hope to return to what he said.

As a Rail Minister, I looked at HS1 in great detail, and I tell the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that it was very difficult constantly to keep up with fresh problems discovered by the contractors. We had to change the route in some cases, particularly near the Channel Tunnel, to accommodate construction and, as far as possible, avoid excessive noise to some of the houses on the route. Changes are almost inevitable, and he is absolutely right to suggest that there should be regular updates by the Department for Transport as projects proceed.

I was deputy chairman of the HS2 Select Committee considering the route as far as Birmingham. We regularly asked for and received information about the cost of changing the route, both to avoid noise and inconvenience and to make the train route as fast and comfortable as possible. I think HS2 will be a tremendous advantage to those travelling north. Birmingham is already assigned as the first major stop, but if there is to be further development of routes across the Pennines, the extension of HS2 will only help that. Given the advance in identifying problems of pollution coming from certain motor vehicles, high-speed trains will do a great deal to provide clean and fast services.

I am bound to point out to your Lordships that, according to the newspapers, Boris is against HS2 and Jeremy Hunt is in favour. My colleagues will correct me afterwards on whether that is true, but it shows that there is still a great deal of debate.

Returning to the purpose of the debate, we owe the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, thanks. It is very important that the department regularly monitors the costs of any major transport project so that Ministers can decide where to make adjustments or amendments to the project—or indeed extend it. That has been a gap in the past, certainly in my experience. A regular flow of information about the actual problems that inevitably occur when you are building a railway line enables Ministers to make decisions to save money or change the route.

I therefore very much welcome the prospect of a high-speed rail link to the north, I am absolutely certain that it will come, and the fact that Jeremy Hunt came out this morning publicly to support it, which I am delighted about, gives me a great deal of confidence. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on securing the debate, which I have enjoyed and learned a great deal from.

18:05
Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for creating this debate. This is a subject on which I have some form. Between 1988 and 2000—some 12 years—I was managing director and chairman of London Underground, and over that time I sponsored many projects, which probably all added up to about £6 billion-worth of expenditure. In London Underground, all decisions were subject to cost-benefit analysis. This took account of time for the customers, the environmental impact, the ambience of the railway, the money—both revenue and cost—and safety. The whole process worked well for us, and we refined it over time. In projects up to, say, £200 million, we tended to be able to deliver on time and within, say, 10% of the cost. It works well with incremental improvements—improving a station, buying a new fleet, and so on. However, big projects are different, and my big project was the Jubilee line extension. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, approved it at £2.1 billion but it turned out to be £3.5 billion: some 70% over budget and 21 months late—thank God the benefits were massively greater in reality than in the original projection.

Why are big projects a problem? First, they have not been done before; when we built the Jubilee line extension it was 20 years since we had last done an underground railway line. The projects are so big that you have to have multiple contractors. That in itself is a tremendous overhead, because whatever you say in your contract, you have to integrate them and make sure that they work together. Big projects happen over a long time, and things change over time. One of the things that changes is that you discover problems in the environment you are working in, or perhaps the techniques are not there. The other thing about big projects is that their real value tends to be beyond the normal parameters, particularly as regards regeneration. Therefore anybody who tells you that they delivered a major project on time and on budget has cheated.

How can we do better and should Parliament have a role? Two things have happened since I was in that role. First, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has been formed and produces its annual report; I believe the latest one was on 4 July last year. The second is that the DfT has produced an excellent report, developed with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, called Lessons from Transport for the Sponsorship of Major Projects. This was developed by Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary at the DfT, and Matthew Vickerstaff at the IPA.

Here I will pause to ask: what you are looking to do with the project? You are trying to get value for money, which means that you are trying to create a total contribution to the general good across the board that is better when compared with total cost. I propose a solution, which seems to have emerged in a couple of speeches, which is that departments, in this case particularly the DfT, should produce an annual response to the annual report of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. This should cover: the total projected costs that have changed since its last report; the expected date of delivery; a review of the benefits, which will change over time as the world changes; and any changes in scope and any new initiatives—and this should be laid before Parliament.

Having worked in this environment, that will change how people manage and will create a situation where there could be an opportunity for structured scrutiny by, say, an appropriate Select Committee or debates in the House. It would create an internal discipline which would force rigour and better communications within the project. I put my solution to the Minister. I hope she will take it back to the department and perhaps tell us whether there is any warmth for it.

18:10
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to respond to this important debate, and I echo other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on having secured it. At the risk of stating the obvious, there are extreme views on HS2, and we have heard them today without falling out, which is a major concession.

With noble Lords’ permission, I shall set out the Government’s position on major infrastructure projects and the vital matter of transparency, which all noble Lords raised today, before turning to some of the specific points raised. This Government have demonstrated their clear commitment to transforming the nation’s infrastructure. More than 4,900 public and private infrastructure projects have been completed since 2010. We are increasing public investment to levels not consistently sustained in 40 years, including through our £37 billion national productivity investment fund. We established the National Infrastructure Commission in 2015 to provide impartial, expert advice to government. Alongside the spending review, we will publish a major national infrastructure strategy, responding in full to the commission’s landmark assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs.

It is essential that this significant investment is properly monitored, and the Government take this extremely seriously. Transparency is crucial for accountability, but it is also essential so that the Government can learn lessons when things go wrong and seek to improve in the future. This is a key reason why the Infrastructure and Projects Authority was established in 2016. The IPA oversees the Government Major Projects Portfolio. This includes the Government’s most complex and strategically significant projects and programmes including, but not limited to, infra- structure. As of the 2018 annual report, the GMPP included 31 infrastructure projects with a total whole-life cost of £196 billion.

Large projects in government must undergo independent assurance and pass through a staged process of assurance and approval points before they are given the green light. Those projects on the GMPP also have to provide quarterly data returns, which include up-to-date information on project costs, benefits and timescales and assessments of delivery confidence. This intelligence informs the IPA’s work with government departments to support improvements in the delivery of major projects.

The Government have published clear transparency guidance which sets out how major project data is used and published. The National Audit Office has access to the full body of data, and its analysis supports the work of parliamentary committees in holding government to account. Additionally, committees often seek input from the IPA directly. The National Audit Office also holds the IPA itself to account and has consistently been positive about its efforts while acknowledging the need for continuous improvement and identifying areas for further action. A snapshot of GMPP data is published each year in an annual report. Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg, and the IPA supports departments in properly undertaking projects of all shapes and sizes. As noble Lords will know, Parliament is also able to probe spending through its routine scrutiny of departmental annual report and accounts documents and supply and supplementary estimates. Also, the IPA publishes an annual National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, which looks ahead to future public and private investment, and a summary of data on all PFI and PF2 projects. Over and above this, departments also publish relevant information directly, including progress updates, business cases and cost-benefit analysis information.

It is worth noting that the UK Government’s approach to managing, monitoring and providing transparency on major projects, and tracking costs and benefits, is regarded as world leading. Aspects of the Treasury Green Book have been used as best practice and adapted by the G20 and the New Zealand Treasury. We have been invited to share our experience with countries across the globe, from Indonesia and Hong Kong to Australia and Brazil. However, we are not complacent. The recent experience of a number of high-profile projects demonstrates clearly that we still have a great deal of work to do. As in the rest of the world, major infrastructure projects in the UK are prone to escalating costs and increasing timescales. Commercial, technical, political and behavioural factors all play a part in these challenges. The Government are committed to identifying and addressing the causes of these issues. For example, in recent years we have strengthened the way in which the benefits of projects are captured and tracked, to help avoid unrealistic claims—that might get a smile—or skewed decision-making. Having previously called for action in this area, the National Audit Office commended the IPA in a 2018 report for driving improvement in the reporting of monetised benefits for major projects, and for ensuring a clear,

“distinction between cash savings … and wider economic benefits”.

More recently, in response to challenges in the rail sector, the IPA and the Department for Transport have carried out and published an in-depth study to identify key lessons from transport for the sponsorship of major projects. These lessons are now being implemented in the DfT and elsewhere, with oversight from some of the most senior officials in government. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, questioned the time taken to get infrastructure projects through. There is clearly some optimism and short-termism, as she raised. Improving infrastructure delivery will be the focus of our forthcoming national infrastructure strategy, and the IPA is focused on optimism bias as a key risk to project deliverability, cost and timescales. This was a key theme in the recent IPA-DfT lessons-learnt exercise.

The spending review will see a renewed focus on delivery because too often in the past Governments have signed off too optimistic or unrealistic plans for complex major projects. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is carrying out a zero-based review of major projects. As in the past three spending reviews, we will be running a zero-based review of capital spending to maximise the value of our investments. The Treasury will appraise the bids, with the guidance of a panel of independent economists and delivery experts, according to several criteria including strategic case and economic value. We are finalising membership of the expert panel and will communicate this in due course. I am able to tell noble Lords that HS2 is within the scope of the zero-based review.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked why HS2 has been amber-red for the past six years. I apologise if I am stating the obvious: HS2 is one of the Government’s largest and most complex projects. The delivery confidence reflects the overall scale and complexity of the programme. A red or amber-red does not necessarily mean that the project will not be successfully delivered but that sufficient risks need to be investigated. By taking the right steps following the IPA reviews and managing challenge effectively, DCAs are often improved; they do change.

My noble friend Lord Framlingham is consistent and persistent in his position on HS2, and all credit to him for those characteristics. Parliament has approved phase 1 of HS2 following scrutiny by both Houses. HS2 still has strong support in this House and, as I understand it, in the Midlands and the north. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Snape, expressed his support for the project.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said that HS2 costs are out of control. I am advised that HS2 remains within the limits of the 2015 spending review.

I come to the point made by my noble friend Lord Framlingham about HS2 being scrapped. This debate is not about whether HS2 should be cancelled but about how all major infrastructure projects are monitored. HS2 will become the backbone of our national rail network. It will improve capacity, connectivity and growth, carrying over 300,000 people a day. It remains government policy, was a manifesto commitment and retains cross-party support.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her support for the project. It is good to know that local authorities, elected mayors and regional businesses in the Midlands and the north support HS2 and recognise that Northern Powerhouse Rail is dependent on HS2 infrastructure being delivered.

I am going to run out of time, which is common these days in such important debates. If I have not answered anyone’s question, we will review Hansard and I will write to them. I finish my contribution by recalling the words, “a country with a can-do culture rather than a can’t-do”. I hope that, with all the good will and all the commitment there is to make our country a great country to live in wherever you are, these projects will be successful. We will work very hard to make sure that they are.

18:21
Sitting suspended.

Pakistan: Aid Programmes and Human Rights

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Question for Short Debate
18:30
Asked by
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the relationship between their aid programmes and human rights and the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, and in particular the case of Asia Bibi.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, Pakistan’s illustrious and enlightened founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, crafted a constitution which promised to uphold plurality, famously saying:

“You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State”


and that:

“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed”.


Tragically, 70 years later, Pakistan’s Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and minorities, such as the last 4,000 remaining Kalash clinging to a precarious existence in three remote valleys, all face shocking persecution and discrimination.

Last week in Brussels, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, claimed that “individual incidents” of persecution were being whipped up by what he called “western interests”. He said they were comparable to knife crime in London. Try telling that to the two children forced to watch a lynch mob of 1,200 burn their parents alive. Pakistan fails the Jinnah test, not western interests, when no one is brought to justice for the murder of the Christian Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti. It fails the Jinnah test when 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are forcibly married and converted. It fails when, in Punjab, Sadaf Masih, a 13 year-old girl, is kidnapped, forcibly converted and married and when, in Sindh, the same thing happened to two Hindu girls. It fails when it ignores the National Action Plan’s requirement to stop anti-Ahmadi sectarian hate propaganda. It fails the Jinnah test when children from minorities are forced to work in brick kilns, workshops, and factories. It fails when Iqbal Masih, an incredibly brave 12 year-old Christian boy, is shot dead for rebelling against enslavement. It fails those minorities who are ghettoised into squalid colonies and forced to clean latrines and sweep streets and, notwithstanding Mr Qureshi’s assertion that “there is no truth” in stories of girls from minorities being sold in faith-led trafficking to Chinese gangs, saying that Pakistan “would never tolerate that”, we have evidence to the contrary.

I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan Minorities and last autumn, with the co-chair, Jim Shannon MP, and Marie Rimmer MP, we heard horrific accounts of abductions, child marriages, rape and forced conversions and saw first-hand the appalling conditions in the apartheid-style “colonies” where many from the minorities are forced to live. We saw families living in hovels with dirt floors, in shacks without running water or electricity, with little education or health provision and in squalid and primitive conditions, all completely off the DfID radar. Thousands upon thousands of people are condemned to lives of destitution and misery. This left-over from the caste system is graphically illustrated by the case of a boy beaten and excluded from school for touching a water tap. Untouchability remains a curse.

As I asked on Saturday in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, if Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are to visit Pakistan, will they be visiting one of these colonies and meeting the minorities? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.

There is an old Punjabi saying that he who has not visited Lahore has not lived but, despite its Mogul glories, this is where, in 2016, 75 people, mainly women and children, were killed and more than 340 were injured while celebrating Easter in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.

Beyond the killings, everything is stacked against the minorities. Take the case of Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman who was incarcerated for nine years, sentenced to death for so-called blasphemy. In Islamabad, members of the Supreme Court promised our group that Asia Bibi’s case would finally go to appeal, and to their great credit they bravely defied rioters and lynch mobs. She was finally allowed to travel to Canada, although sadly the UK failed to take her. Do not underestimate the bravery of those judges. When Shahbaz Bhatti and his friend Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of the Punjab, spoke up for Asia Bibi and called for reforms to the blasphemy laws, both men were murdered. Conversely, Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Taseer, has been lionised and idolised as a hero.

Asia’s case is only one of many. Asia’s cell in the prison at Multan is already occupied by Shagufta Kauser, another illiterate Christian woman. She and her disabled husband, both unable to read or write, face execution for allegedly sending blasphemous texts in English. By some estimates, more than 70 people are currently on death row for alleged blasphemy crimes. What recent representations have we made about Shagufta Kauser and the need to reform laws that frequently target minorities?

In 2016, after seeing fleeing Christians and Ahmadis caged like animals in detention centres, which my noble friend Lady Cox has also visited, I chaired an inquiry on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, who is here today. Our report catalogued systematic persecution and the failure of Home Office country guidance to recognise the nature of this persecution. We concluded that,

“we need to dispense with the fiction that the … minorities are treated fairly and justly. There is outright persecution and we should not hesitate in saying so”.

Following the Sri Lanka Easter bombings, some of those escapees now face even greater danger. In 2016 we recommended that Home Office interviewers, caseworkers and presenting officers needed better training in understanding that persecution. The report also urged DfID to ensure that overseas aid is provided in Pakistan only to recipients able to demonstrate their commitment to upholding Pakistan’s international human rights obligations, not least Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief.

Over the past decade, £2.6 billion of British aid has poured into Pakistan—on average, that is £383,000 every single day—but failure to differentiate how and where we spend that money leads DfID to say that it has no idea how much of the aid reaches these destitute, desperate minorities. Disturbingly, last week the National Audit Office, after highlighting an example from Pakistan, said that,

“overall government is not in a position to be confident that the portfolio in its totality is securing value for money”.

I welcome the decision last week of the International Development Committee of the House of Commons to conduct an inquiry into British aid to Pakistan. It should also look at the work of Professor Brian Grim on 173 countries, which found that where minorities are respected and religious freedom upheld, that,

“contributes to better economic and business outcomes”,

and to,

“successful and sustainable enterprises that benefit societies and individuals”.

I hope that new Ministers in the department will reassess how DfID spends UK money, why it does not target beleaguered minorities and why it is not made conditional on the removal of hate material from school textbooks and discriminatory adverts reserving menial jobs for minorities. I hope they will insist that the provision of an affirmative action programme, endorsed by the constitution, is implemented.

Pakistan must challenge forced conversions, forced marriage and the prevailing culture of impunity. I took evidence from a man who had escaped from Pakistan who had seen another man and his family burned alive. That man went to the police, who in turn informed the assailants, having told him that he would be next. He and his young family fled the country.

Our all-party group has also been told of widespread and systematic police brutality and torture. We were told about the beatings of victims who were hung by their arms or feet for hours on end, forced to witness the torture of others and, in some cases, stripped naked and paraded in public. Such brutal treatment needs to be investigated by an independent, autonomous national commission for minorities such as that proposed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2014 and established in accordance with the Paris principles.

When the Minister replies to our welcome debate, I hope that we will hear how our Government will work to make these things happen and to create the kind of society envisaged by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where Pakistan’s beleaguered minorities are at last treated with respect as equals and fellow citizens. I thank all noble Lords who are participating in today’s short but welcome debate.

18:39
Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Portrait Lord McInnes of Kilwinning (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this important debate before us today and for his dedication to bringing injustices across the world before your Lordships’ House.

At the heart of all we do as part of our important role as an international aid superpower must be constant self-evaluation to ensure that our aid programmes are achieving results in the context of each state that we help. At the same time, we must be aware of the important soft power that international aid allows us in improving lives for everyone in any state we help, including minorities. How to ensure that aid is concentrated on those who really need it in any state is a significant debate within the international aid community. This applies especially to minorities, who are often among the most marginalised in any society.

I do not want to repeat in this short contribution the powerful evidence that we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and, as has been identified by the Foreign Office, that Pakistan is currently woeful in its treatment of minorities. From state-sponsored blasphemy laws to the death penalty, we see how a state creates an easy mechanism for the persecution of religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus.

In Pakistan, most of these minorities are among the third of the population who live in poverty and who should be the very people benefiting from our aid programmes. At the same time, Pakistan is of course an important strategic partner for the UK and a state that receives significant support in aid—more than £300 million in 2019-20. The reassurances that I seek from the Minister are around the direction of that aid.

I applaud the focusing of UK international development on education, especially for girls in Pakistan, to ensure they have as many opportunities as possible. I hope that an educated population would by its nature become more pluralistic and less susceptible to the persecution of minorities in these difficult times. I want to ask the Minister about three specific issues.

First, is my noble friend confident that aid in Pakistan is reaching those minorities within the bottom third who live in poverty? It is essential that any aid be focused on need and not on ethnicity or religion. Secondly, can she reassure me that educational programmes that the UK supports in Pakistan are assessed to ensure that they do not allow bigotry or sectarianism to be taught in any UK-funded educational programme? Thirdly, will she impress on her colleagues in the Foreign Office the need to ensure that we make all possible representations against the misuse of blasphemy laws and the retention of the death penalty?

18:43
Lord Bishop of Coventry Portrait The Lord Bishop of Coventry
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to whom I pay great tribute for securing this debate, I believe that there was a strong case for Asia Bibi and her household to have been offered asylum by Her Majesty's Government. In my contact with the family spokesperson, he was clear that the UK was their preferred destination.

I am troubled by how parliamentarians can hold the Government to account in cases such as this when we are told that live cases are not open to discussion. That sense of dis-ease is reinforced by the absence of evidence of diplomatic activity in the Asia Bibi case before it became an international news story.

Last week, I was speaking to a bishop from south Punjab, who said, “There are many Asia Bibis here”. There are many, too, in interior Sindh who suffer similar plights but do so hidden from the world’s media and Governments, their cases not reported. He described the spectre of blasphemy charges hanging over Hindu and Christian families who speak out against injustice or crime. He spoke of Christian girls being abducted into sexual slavery—in a way which we have already heard about—and then forced to convert, their families powerless to defend them because of the threat of the abuse of blasphemy laws.

The bishop’s deepest concerns—and it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord McInnes—were about the effective denial of education for many children from religious minorities, causing them to descend deeper into permanent spirals of poverty and depression. His account was a graphic illustration of the findings of the 2018 CSW report, which tells of bias, discrimination and abuse undermining the constitutional commitments of the Pakistani Government regardless of religion or caste.

DfID is doing much good work in supporting the general aspirations of the Pakistani Government, but I am not yet persuaded that mechanisms are in place to ensure that our aid is addressing the concerns of the bishop and his people and the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, and the needs of other minority people in south Punjab. The ePact evaluation of phase 2 of the Punjab education sector programme deems:

“Inequities in educational access and attainment are persisting”.


It recommends both that equity of access, including socioeconomic status, disability and gender, are mainstreamed and that systems are devised for assessing the success in doing so. Will this advice be applied to future DfID programmes? Does the Minister agree that that task cannot be done without building in some element of minority community criteria? Is the current programme hitting the spot?

18:46
Lord Hussain Portrait Lord Hussain (LD)
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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. Pakistan is a big country with a population of 200 million people. Minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others constitute about 3.5% of the total population of the country. There are several hundred places of worship across Pakistan that belong to various religious minorities. Various articles in the constitution of Pakistan, such as Articles 20, 21, 22, 26, 27 and 28, accord rights to minorities as equal citizens of the country, free to profess their religions and visit their places of worship.

Minorities have visible representation in the parliamentary set-up of Pakistan. There are special reserved seats for minorities in all houses of representatives: four seats in the Pakistan Senate, 10 in the National Assembly, and eight in the Punjab, nine in the Sindh and three each in the Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. On top of that, minorities are free to stand in any elections as citizens of Pakistan, and they do get elected.

It is important to mention here that there is a 5% jobs quota in the public sector in Pakistan allocated to the minority communities, which constitute only 3.5% of the total population of the country. Furthermore, 11 August is observed as Minorities Day. There is a special ministry at the federal level, called the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony, which looks after minorities’ rights in the country.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. It arouses sentiments among the general populace that have led to death and destruction in Pakistan, sadly. Many in Pakistan believe that their country’s blasphemy law is misunderstood, as if it protects only Muslims. In reality, however, it protects all Pakistanis equally. According to the official figures, the majority, 95%, of those accused under the blasphemy law are Muslims. The maximum penalty under the blasphemy law is death but, as I understand, no one has ever been executed by a court of law under this section. I stand to be corrected.

While I very much appreciate DfID’s support in education, reducing poverty, building resilience and many other important sectors in the poorest areas of Pakistan, will the Minister say what Her Majesty’s Government can do to help the democratic Government in Pakistan and support their endeavours to make the country more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous?

18:49
Baroness Cox Portrait Baroness Cox (CB)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this important debate. As he emphasised, the brutal application of sharia law, in conjunction with the failure of the authorities to ensure due legal process, has resulted in horrendous violence. Blasphemy laws have been used by extremists as a pretext for murder. Young girls have been abducted and forced to change their religion or have been forced into marriage. Others are in prison or have been sentenced to death for apostasy.

Countless families have been forced to leave their homeland. For example, as my noble friend said, thousands of Christians have sought asylum in Thailand. They arrive in Bangkok on cheap tourist visas, but as soon as their visa expires they are technically classified as illegal aliens and are subject to arrest and detention in horrendous conditions. Given the plight of Pakistani refugees in Thailand, have Her Majesty’s Government raised concerns with UNHCR about the failure to resettle them in safe countries?

I had the painful privilege of meeting some of the families who had escaped to Bangkok. I sat and wept with those who have endured horrendous suffering. One man, called Cale, was accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. He described how he was arrested by the police and taken to a remote location where he was tortured, hanged upside down, shackled and beaten for seven days. After a month in prison he was cleared of the charges, yet the local mob wanted to kill him. He told me, “They want to punish me with a very painful death such as no one has ever seen before. They want to kill me in a way that the Christian community will always remember”.

I also met a courageous man called Hosea. He was kidnapped by a mob in Pakistan for being an apostate. The mob shackled him with metal chains and attempted to amputate his leg. He eventually escaped with his wife to Thailand, but his relatives in Pakistan are still in danger. He told me, weeping: “Even last week my brother and my 16 month-old nephew were taken captive. They grabbed the baby, repeatedly smashed him into a wall and demanded to know my whereabouts”.

These testimonies are indicative of the wider context of Pakistan’s serious violations of human rights, yet our abject refusal to insist that minorities are prioritised only reinforces Pakistan’s culture of impunity because it gives the impression that the UK does not care when victims are subjected to unspeakable violence. Where is British aid money being spent? Will Her Majesty’s Government specifically tackle the plight of minorities? That includes support for adherents of different religious faiths who suffer at the hands of extremists, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists as well as Christians.

On a related point, which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did Her Majesty’s Government refuse asylum to Asia Bibi because of fear that that would prompt unrest in the UK and attacks on embassies? If that is so, does the Minister agree that such an appeasement of militant extremism indicates a serious threat to our democracy and a betrayal of the fundamental principle of providing asylum for refugees under threat of death?

18:52
Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to the wonderful work that he does in the field of human rights.

When India was partitioned in 1947, as we have heard, the founding father of the new state of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then terminally ill, said that it would be a country that respected all its minorities. He did not live to see his hope tragically ignored. A rigid and intolerant form of Islam, Wahhabism, funded by Saudi dollars, now pervades the country.

Strict blasphemy laws are used to prevent open discussion of religion, and the death penalty can apply to Muslims who try to convert to a different faith. As we have heard, a convert to Christianity, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, spent nine years on death row before eventually being allowed to flee to Canada. Others have not been so fortunate. In one case, children were made to watch as their parents were burnt alive in a brick kiln. Minorities are frequently allocated menial tasks such as the cleaning of public latrines. Homes of minorities are frequently attacked and women and girls kidnapped and converted or sold into slavery.

I have at times questioned the appropriateness of Pakistan, with its ill treatment of minorities, still being a member of the Commonwealth, a club of countries with historic ties to Britain. Members are required to abide by the Commonwealth charter, with core values of opposition to,

“all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.

By any measure, there is a clear case for expelling Pakistan from the Commonwealth, but this will not help its suffering minorities and could make their plight worse. The way forward is to look beyond charters and lofty declarations to clear targets and measures of performance for all erring members—Pakistan is by no means the only one—to nudge them to respect human rights. We must also target aid to specific projects geared to fight religious bigotry and prejudice.

Pakistan is a country revered by every Sikh as the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. He taught reconciliation and respect between different faiths. In this, the 550th year of the Guru’s birth, the Prime Minister Imran Khan, in welcoming Sikhs to visit the birthplace of their founder, stated his desire to move in this direction, and we owe it to Pakistan’s minorities to redouble our efforts to help him and nudge him to do so.

18:55
The Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I was talking recently to a distinguished Pakistan citizen, with businesses around the world. I asked him what life was like in Pakistan at the moment. “Just like here”, he said. “Really” I said, “what about the blasphemy law, and the people suffering under it”? “Oh”, he said, with a rather dismissive wave of the hand, “It’s the uneducated people in the villages”. I am afraid it is all too easy for the elites, whether in Pakistan or this country, to live in an environment divorced from the reality of life for so many. The fact is that the blasphemy law in Pakistan is blighting the lives of countless people, causing apprehension, anxiety and in some cases imprisonment and death. Too many, like the government Minister mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, live in a cocooned world of their own and have shut their eyes to what is happening in the countryside.

As we know, Pakistan is a country with a number of minority groups. Between 0.22 and 2.2 percent of the population are Ahmadiyya Muslims, although they are actually forbidden by law from even describing themselves as Muslims. Some 2.6 percent of the population are Christian, about 2.5 million in all.

Between 1987 and 2017, 1,500 people or more were charged with blasphemy: 730 were Muslims, 501 were Ahmadis, 205 were Christians and 26 were Hindus. Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, said, no judicial executions have yet taken place, at least 75 people involved in accusations of blasphemy were murdered before their trials were over, and as we have heard, prominent figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated. It is this mob violence, so vividly brought home by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, which is so frightening. It affects not just the accused and their family but anyone who stands up for them, especially any lawyer or judge.

We rejoice that Asia Bidi is now safe and in Canada with her family, but we cannot forget the suffering that she had in the years before. We cannot forget that the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke against the blasphemy law, was assassinated as a result. We know that the blasphemy law is being used to settle grievances and vendettas in villages. We look to the elite in Pakistan to open their eyes to what is happening. It is quite wrong for successive Governments to refuse to stand up to religious extremism and intimidation. In negotiations about aid, we look to the British Government to make it quite clear that this law causes untold suffering and is totally unacceptable. I hope that the Minister will take from this debate a clear message that aid needs to be directed towards minorities.

18:59
Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh (Con)
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My Lords, I accept and respect everyone, irrespective of race, colour, creed or caste; I have been brought up in a multiracial community. I have been concerned about the persecution of Christians and other minority groups in different parts of the world, including Pakistan. I have met Muslim and non-Muslim leaders and spoken on this issue at several meetings. I am looking forward to the Bishop of Truro’s final report. I am in touch with the Pakistani high commissioner, who has taken numerous initiatives towards promoting interfaith harmony.

The rights of minorities are protected under the constitution of Pakistan. Articles 33, 36 and 37 provide legal protection to minorities. The Pakistani Government have established legislative measures that promote and protect minorities’ rights. There is political will on the part of Pakistan’s Government to improve the position regarding the rights of minorities. As far as Christians are concerned, Islam considers them as people of the Book, and the Books of Allah include the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. It would therefore be wrong to subject Christians to any discrimination.

The problem unfortunately is with certain religious and community leaders who are insular and have their own agenda. It is necessary therefore to change the culture and attitude of these people, and we need to support Pakistan in this regard. I met Dr Shoaib Suddle in the House of Lords following his appointment as the chair of a commission for minority religious equalities. He personally reached out and briefed me and other partners in the UK, earning our support for his proposed activities. He has a long-term programme of work, which will include implementing reforms for the freedom and protection of minorities in Pakistan. This will be consistent with words spoken by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech on 11 August 1947:

“You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan ... We are all … equal citizens”,


as a nation in the state of Pakistan. I very much hope that this vision is now achieved.

19:01
Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. Pakistan has the opportunity to be a great country, but presently its development is limited by an overpowerful military interfering in democracy and a lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights. This is most obvious in its treatment of minorities. As we have heard, 95% of the people are Muslim, and Pakistan has recently created a sense of exclusionary nationalism focused on a definition of Muslimness which has had a dire effect on the status of minority groups, as declared by Minority Rights Group International in 2018.

We have heard that Pakistan was founded on religious tolerance, but recent years have seen the problems of extremism and of minorities being persecuted increase significantly. On human trafficking, the Government said recently:

“The UK Government’s approach to tackling modern slavery … in Pakistan is to reduce the permissive environment through community-based activities and to strengthen legislative and policy frameworks for more effective”,


protection of those affected.

A reasonable question for the Minister is: against a background of worsening religious persecution, what confidence do the Government have that their anti-trafficking programmes can deliver value for money when the structures of the state seem to be undermining them? The Government insist that their aid programmes are blind to religion and are determined by need and need alone. This is for entirely understandable reasons, not least wishing to avoid giving preferential treatment to people of a particular religion, which could easily be viewed as discrimination, but the “need not creed” approach is failing Pakistani minorities. The most marginalised and persecuted groups are most commonly defined by their religion. In Pakistan, blindness to religion is hindering our ability to help. Consider the case of the more than 1,000 Pakistani Christian girls trafficked to China since 2018. The traffickers are specifically targeting Christians, even waiting outside churches with signs promising Chinese Christian husbands. This an example of faith-targeted human trafficking. The UK’s anti-trafficking programme is well established in Pakistan, but if it remains blind to religion it will be less effective as a result. I serve as a trustee of an anti-human trafficking charity, the Arise Foundation. It summarised the problem, that,

“prevention work is most effective when it addresses why people are at-risk. If our aid programmes remain blind to the fact that the faith of these girls is putting them at risk, how can they possibly be effective?”

So I put that question to the Minister today: what steps are being taken to incorporate religion as an indicator of vulnerability in Pakistan? No one wants our aid programme to discriminate unjustly, but if a misplaced sense of political correctness is preventing us from reaching these girls and others like them, I would argue that we need to change our mentality, fast.

I wonder about the apparent blind eye that is being turned. The Pakistan Foreign Minister said last week that there was no truth to the reports that I have just outlined, but I have had a report from a senior official in Pakistan who told me directly that the reports were credible and that 65 Chinese and 16 Pakistani nationals have been arrested already within the ongoing investigations. Can the UK confirm whether it believes the reports or finds that there is evidence for them? I think there is good evidence, as has been said, that we need to target our aid wisely and reset the dial for the strategy of suspending it.

19:05
Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. According to DfID’s development tracker, almost one-third of Pakistan’s population, about 60 million people, live in poverty, 22.6 million children do not go to school and half the population cannot read or write. Moreover, Pakistan carries a high risk of natural disasters—2010 saw the worst floods in its history, killing thousands and affecting 23 million people—and it is a little-known fact that the country copes with the second highest number of refugees in the world.

Given its obvious need and our joint history, there can be little argument about the legitimacy of the aid that Pakistan receives, so long as it is properly audited and adheres to the overarching principle of the UN sustainable development goals that no one is left behind, and that includes vulnerable minorities. I hope the Minister will address the issues raised today.

There is one point about the treatment of minorities that I do not think has been mentioned yet: the prevalence of the problem on a regional level. India’s record is worsening year on year, such that in the world watch list by Open Doors it now ranks in 10th place and the BJP-led Government promote the message that to be Indian one must be Hindu. Myanmar is another case in point, where national Buddhists see any non-Buddhists as unwelcome outsiders, and that includes Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Add to that list Nepal, Bhutan and Turkey, all of whose leaders have found that appealing to national religious identity is a way to boost their power, especially in rural regions. What work are our Government doing on a regional level to promote interfaith understanding and tolerance, particularly in rural areas?

I want to be absolutely clear: I abhor the use of the death penalty wherever it is employed, and utterly condemn the misuse of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. But is there hope that change is coming? As ever, to enact change, leadership is essential, and the courage of the judges in upholding the acquittal of Asia Bibi is commendable. That took real courage, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, given the fate of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, two brave politicians who spoke up on Asia Bibi’s behalf and were consequently murdered. Does the Minister believe that the new Government in Pakistan are indicating that they want to change the direction of travel and move away from extremism? If so, that is the vision of Pakistan that we must help to promulgate. It is a geopolitical necessity for us.

19:08
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. He set out clear evidence of discrimination and human rights abuses in Pakistan.

As we have heard, humanitarian and development support for its people is evident. One-third of them live in poverty, half the population cannot read or write and one in 11 children die before their fifth birthday. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us, Pakistan is the largest recipient of direct UK aid. Part of that ODA is channelled through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund CAPRI project, the stated aim of which is to increase Pakistan’s capacity to “investigate, detain and prosecute” suspected terrorists. In her letter to me of 13 June regarding my questions on this subject, the Minister wrote that all such projects have robust measures in place to protect human rights and that she was confident that the CAPRI programme has been delivered in a way that is consistent with the UK’s opposition to the death penalty. What are those robust measures? Will the noble Baroness explain exactly what they are tonight?

Last month, the annual review summary for the UK-funded rule of law programme in Pakistan revealed that the full report, which remains undisclosed, accepts that “human rights risks” are,

“a concern which we continue to stress”.

The Government have consistently said that they want UK aid to be more transparent. Will they demonstrate their commitment to this by publishing the full report for scrutiny by Parliament?

I conclude by repeating some of the remarks made by other noble Lords, particularly about the Asia Bibi case. We are all pleased that she has now safely relocated with her family to Canada but, as we have been reminded, there are 17 other cases that do not get the same publicity. What representations have we made to the Government of Pakistan in respect of each of those cases?

19:11
Baroness Sugg Portrait The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Sugg) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate, and join the tributes made to him for his work on Pakistan and human rights more widely. I also thank all noble Lords for contributing to this short debate. There has been lots to say and not very long to say it in. I share the concerns that all have expressed about minorities in Pakistan. Nobody should face discrimination because of their religion, let alone the examples we have heard tonight of trafficking, forced marriage, forced conversion or threatened or actual violence. Freedom of religious belief is a high priority for the Government’s work in Pakistan. We raise it regularly at the highest levels of government and support grassroots campaigning with our programmes. We continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all people in Pakistan, particularly the most vulnerable, as laid down in the constitution, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his opening speech.

We have heard much distressing testimony and evidence tonight, but there is some hope. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked about the new Government and whether they wanted to change direction. Prime Minister Khan has stated his desire for a more tolerant and pluralistic Pakistan. We welcome his commitments to improve transparency and inclusion. Some progress has been made to date on the passing of a new Child Marriage Restraint Act and the issuing of 3,000 visas to allow Indian Sikhs to make pilgrimage to Pakistan, but there is clearly more to be done, and we continue to support the Government to implement other commitments, including the creation of a commission on minorities, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the Christian divorce bill.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord McInnes, the noble and right reverend Lord Harries and many other noble Lords raised the blasphemy laws. We remain deeply concerned by the misuse of those laws, and that religious minorities, including Christians, are disproportionately affected. The harsh penalties for blasphemy, including the death sentence, add to these concerns. The long-term objective is to overturn these draconian laws, which are used not just against minority communities but against Muslims, as the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, highlighted. My noble friend Lord Ahmad raised our concerns about freedom of religion or belief, the blasphemy laws and the protection of minority religious communities with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister in February 2019. The Foreign Secretary raised those concerns with Foreign Minister Qureshi during his recent visit. We will continue to urge Pakistan to strengthen the protection of minorities, to explain the steps being taken to tackle the abuse of the blasphemy laws and to honour in practice its human rights obligations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others asked where in Pakistan aid, DfID money, is being spent and whether we are specifically targeting minorities of all faiths. We have a number of programmes which directly target and benefit minorities. Our new AAWAZ II programme will address a range of modern slavery issues, including child labour and forced or early marriage. Our first AAWAZ programme saw great success, holding community forums and peace festivals and supporting a national anti-hate speech campaign. That programme developed early response mechanisms to try to pre-empt some of the violent conflict we have seen and really work on interfaith and intrafaith conflicts and community dialogue.

In the first AAWAZ programme, we specifically developed and disseminated key messages on non-violence and tolerance in communities. We have also funded a survey on women’s well-being in Punjab, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, and trained nearly 6,000 people from minority groups through the Punjab Skills Development Fund. As I said, the new AAWAZ II programme is currently under development, and we will ensure that it definitely reaches the people who need it.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of data collection. It is the case that for our bilateral programmes we do not currently have a breakdown by religion. That is not because we do not see the issue of treatment of minorities as important; it is due to the sensitive nature of collecting data. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, highlighted this. There are a number of reasons for this lack of reliable data—sadly, people are reluctant to declare—but we are working proactively to improve this. We recently had some success in collecting more and better-quality data on people with disabilities in Pakistan. We learned from that and will build on it to focus our energy on collecting data from other vulnerable and minority groups. It will be challenging, but we have learned lessons which can be applied to other groups.

We are working very closely with a number of NGOs to help to target minorities, and I agree with the right reverend Prelate that we must do more to focus our programming on minorities. I talked about our AWAAZ programme. That funded four NGOs that work specifically with religious minorities: the South Asia Partnership, Aurat Foundation, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme, and Strengthening Participatory Organization. This made a vital contribution to the programme’s work to raise the voice of poor and excluded people in Pakistan, increase their choices and give them control. As I said, as we develop our successive programme, AWAAZ II, we are looking to identify NGO delivery partners to continue this vital work on inclusion.

I reassure my noble friend Lord McInnes that our development assistance really targets the poor, regardless of race, religion, social background or nationality. We know that those affected by discrimination are likely to be among the poorest. We know, and our NGO partners have confirmed, that our focus on the poorest and most marginalised ensures that we benefit minority groups.

We should not forget, as many noble Lords have said, that being in the religious majority does not prevent many millions of Pakistanis from suffering poverty and its consequences. As has been highlighted, almost a third of Pakistan’s population live in poverty. It is therefore right, and indeed in keeping with Christian values, that we should provide support to people in need, whatever their religious background.

The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, asked about the result of our aid. Since 2011, we have seen real success. UK aid has supported primary education for 10 million children, skills training for almost 250,000 people and microfinance loans for 6.6 million people. We cast a wide net, and justifiably so, but within that net we ensure that minorities receive our help.

My noble friend Lord McInnes asked about education. We have a strong programme of work on education within Pakistan. We have helped provincial governments to review primary curricula and textbooks in English, Urdu, mathematics and science. This has included a reduction in religious content, removal of discriminatory content and the inclusion of new content to promote knowledge, understanding and respect. We have also helped governments to set and implement systems and standards to help remove that discriminatory content. We have trained nearly 100,000 teachers in equity and inclusion and worked with civil society organisations to champion issues of inclusion, but that is a work in progress, and we will continue on that project.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about the asylum offer for Asia Bibi. The UK Government’s primary concern has always been the safety and well-being of Asia Bibi. We were in close and extensive contact with a range of international partners to ensure a positive outcome, and of course her acquittal and release were good news for all those who campaigned on her behalf.

The noble Lords, Lord Hussain and Lord Sheikh, asked what we are doing specifically to support the Government of Pakistan in this area. We are working with that Government to support projects to tackle child abuse and modern slavery by empowering communities to realise their rights, helping to increase citizens’ awareness of their fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution and lobbying to reduce the scope and scale of the death penalty. We also supported a national human rights conference in October 2018 to commemorate the late human rights activist Asma Jahangir. That is on top of the wider profile of HMG programmes that seek to counter violent extremism, strengthen the rule of law, improve government services, reduce poverty and deliver education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of refugees in Thailand. We have raised our concerns with the Government of Thailand about the detention of foreign nationals seeking refugee status, including of course the nationals of Pakistan. We have repeatedly urged Thailand to sign the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and have closely followed the detention of around 100 people, mainly from Pakistan, in October last year. We do not believe that those actions were aimed at a specific group or groups but apply to anyone deemed an illegal visa overstayer. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is working very closely with the Royal Thai Government on asylum and resettlement issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the issue of the importance of the Commonwealth. That is an organisation where we have a strong voice, and we should continue to take action on freedom of religion and belief. DfID works closely with the FCO to raise concerns on freedom of religion or belief with partner Commonwealth Governments. Heads of the Commonwealth have recognised that freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of religion or belief are cornerstones of democratic societies and are fundamental to achieving the sustainable development goals. The UK funds the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy, which is promoting freedom of religion and belief in the Commonwealth during our Chair-in-Office period.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked about trafficking and modern slavery. We are deeply concerned about the reports of trafficking, and we continue to urge Pakistani authorities to investigate and take action as needed. As the noble Lord highlighted, our approach is to reduce the permissive environment through community-based activities, but we are also providing support to the Government of Pakistan to tackle modern slavery, including trafficking, more effectively. We recently provided support and advice to enable the recent passage of the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2018 and the Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act 2018, which provide a stronger legislative framework for the effective prevention of trafficking. The AAWAZ II programme that I mentioned earlier will address a range of modern slavery issues, including child labour and forced and early marriage. As the noble Lord highlights, there is some deeply concerning evidence that we have seen on that. We will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, highlighted the report by the Bishop of Truro that was commissioned by the Foreign Secretary, and we look forward to its publication. We have seen the interim report, and I think it is going to be a really important piece of work that looks at how we as a Government target our activity on freedom of religion or belief. We very much look forward to that report, which will be released shortly.

There is also the International Development Committee’s inquiry on aid to Pakistan. We look forward to the hard questions that it is going to ask. That will be welcome scrutiny. We work hard to ensure that our aid is targeted properly, but the more conversations such as this and the more scrutiny that we can have, the better, because that will help us to improve.

We actively make the case whenever we can that the most stable societies are those that uphold the right of freedom of religious belief. Our substantial aid programme has helped us to position ourselves as a partner of choice for the Government of Pakistan. That allows us the access to raise these issues at the highest level and to provide advice and assistance to support the implementation of reforms. We have promoted, and will continue to promote, the rights of all Pakistanis as part of our effort to make the best use of every penny of aid to work towards a prosperous, stable and inclusive Pakistan. We should also welcome the royal visit to Pakistan, which will highlight the relationship between our two countries. I am afraid that I do not yet have details of the programme but I know the Foreign Secretary will respond to the noble Lord’s letter in due course.

I understand the frustration that we are not doing more and that we are not moving more quickly; the message tonight has been clear. However, through our programmes, our partnerships and our diplomatic relationships, we target minorities where we can and continue to build the data picture so that we can do so more effectively. I agree with my noble friend Lord McInnes that we must keep our programmes under constant review, and we do so.

I think we are making progress with DfID in Pakistan. We are seeing some positive outcomes. I speak to the team there on a regular basis, and their commitment and diligence on this is clear. We are working hard to identify and reach those most in need in what is a very complex and challenging environment, from both a data and an operating perspective. I know there is more to do on that, but I hope the Committee will recognise the work of the DfID team in Pakistan as we continue to make progress. As I say, it is slow going, but the commitment will continue from both DfID staff and myself to ensure that our aid programmes in Pakistan and indeed elsewhere really reach the people who are in desperate need of our help.

I think I am out of time. I hope I have answered the majority of the questions.

Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg
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Not yours; I apologise. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised the issue of the regional picture and what we are doing in rural areas. I will probably follow that up in writing, if that is okay. On the noble Lord’s question, we work to assess and analyse before we start programmes. I will see if I have anything further to add to the letter that I wrote to provide him with more reassurance, but I will have to do that in writing as well, I am afraid.

Again, I thank noble Lords. There has been a lot of interest in this debate as it is an incredibly important issue. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who provides the very helpful service of keeping me updated on the deeply concerning evidence and testimonies on this issue. I hope I have provided some assurance of the work that we are doing and will continue to do. I will continue to work very closely with my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who is the PM’s special envoy on this issue, the Foreign Office and the DfID teams in Pakistan to ensure that with all our programming we help the one-third of Pakistanis who need our help, but also ensure that it gets to the minorities who need it.

Committee adjourned at 7.27 pm.

House of Lords

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

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Tuesday 2 July 2019
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Derby

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

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14:39
Elizabeth Jane, Lord Bishop of Derby, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Homes for Social Rent

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

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Question
14:43
Asked by
Lord Evans of Watford Portrait Lord Evans of Watford
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the number of homes for social rent.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con)
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My Lords, a £9 billion affordable housing programme will support the delivery of at least 12,500 social rent homes in areas of high affordability pressure outside London. We are providing the Mayor of London with a £4.8 billion funding package and the flexibility to deliver social rent. The GLA is responsible for the delivery of affordable housing in London. In September 2018, we announced £2 billion of long-term funding for housing associations, supporting the delivery of additional affordable homes, including homes for social rent. Last week, we opened bidding on £1 billion of this funding through Homes England.

Lord Evans of Watford Portrait Lord Evans of Watford (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply but, according to independent research, we have a shortage of 3.91 million homes and need to build 340,000 homes per year until 2031—new homes, more quickly and to a more consistently high standard. What are the Government doing to incentivise innovation in the housing sector, and what support is being given to SMEs to challenge current housing issues, using volumetric technology in offsite manufacturing?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, the noble Lord is right about the challenges that we face. Just this morning I met Mark Farmer, who is heading up the committee that is looking at, and rolling out, modern methods of construction. We are making significant progress. An app has been developed specifically for London but it can be rolled out across the country with minor amendments, which is great news for us all. It covers design, climate change responsibilities and speedy delivery. The committee is making headway on bringing together the standards that we need so that money is advanced by lenders.

Baroness Grender Portrait Baroness Grender (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that the £2 billion put into the not very affordable housing programme falls woefully short of the £14.6 billion per year of capital grant recommended last week by the National Housing Federation and others? Without it, we will continue to see the nearly 40-year legacy of chronic failure to build social, not affordable, housing—a policy that has now driven our most vulnerable into the arms of the most unscrupulous parts of the private sector.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I accept that we need to deliver more social housing. That has been the case for some time, including through the coalition years. However, I point out to the noble Baroness that last year we had the best year of housing delivery overall for 31 years in all but one year, and that is good news for all of us.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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Does my noble friend recognise that social housing has been lamentable for perhaps the last 20 years across all Governments, including the Labour and coalition Governments? Against that background, perhaps I may press him once again to look at new towns and gardens towns to make sure that they have a major element of social housing provision?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his point about social housing delivery. He is right that it has been a challenge for successive Governments. We have delivered 79,000 social homes since 2010, which, it has to be said, is better than the numbers achieved in the previous nine years. In relation to his point about garden villages, we had previously announced 29 and last week we announced another 19. That is significant. It includes providing a special community village for dementia-friendly housing, which again is very good news, and I hope that that will also feed into the discussions that we are having about modern methods of construction.

Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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My Lords, I welcome very much that last answer. In that connection I declare an interest, in that I have set up a commission to look into the housing crisis and the contribution that can be made by civil society and particularly the Churches. It comprises a former Permanent Secretary and a huge number of significant experts. One of the commission’s earliest priorities is to look at how we create communities rather than simply build houses. That means that there is a need for multipurpose community facilities and for looking at the sociological aspects as well as the mere physical construction. Will the Minister undertake to listen to the representations from that and similar inquiries over the next 18 months to two years?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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I thank the most reverend Primate very much for that contribution and I certainly give that undertaking. It is not just a question of putting up more housing; it is very important that we create or build on effective communities with the additional housing that we are looking at. That is a challenge. It is at the heart of the garden towns and villages programme and we want to carry that forward.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, this is Rural Housing Week, as I am sure all noble Lords are well aware. Rural housing is extraordinarily important because house prices are higher in rural areas, incomes are lower and a much larger proportion of homes are being sold under right to buy. Some schools are closing and we are getting child-free villages. Will the Minister allow me, at the National Housing Federation’s rural housing conference tomorrow, to say that the Government will indeed prioritise those small village schemes that can make such an immense difference to a community, allowing people to work, live and bring up their families in villages?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I know better than to try to stop the noble Lord doing just that. I am keen to associate myself with that during what, as he rightly says, is Rural Housing Week. We do this already, although I recognise the challenges, having represented a deeply rural area. We do already have rural exceptions and provide weighting for housing developments because of the small and medium-sized enterprises prevalent in rural areas. The noble Lord is absolutely right: we need to do more.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register. Does the Minister support an increase in the number of co-operative housing schemes? If so, what support do he and his department give to local authorities and others to increase the number of schemes year on year?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Portrait Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth
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My Lords, I know the noble Lord is very wedded to this and I am certainly happy to look at it. If he has specific schemes that he wants me to look at, I will very gladly do that with him. We have to be much more open-minded and diverse in forms of supply across the board. Certainly, the Co-operative movement and co-operative housing have a lot to offer in this regard.

Brexit: Other Policy Areas

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:51
Asked by
Baroness Massey of Darwen Portrait Baroness Massey of Darwen
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that appropriate consideration is being given by all departments to other policy areas alongside the preparations for the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, the Civil Service has the capacity to deliver policies as prioritised by the Government and to deploy resources appropriately. We are ensuring that we properly resource and deliver on these priorities, such as backing the long-term plan for the NHS with an extra £33.9 billion a year in cash terms by 2023-24, creating record high employment, building more new homes, developing fresh policies to protect the environment and investing record sums in infrastructure.

Baroness Massey of Darwen Portrait Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that response. However, is he aware of the frustration within and outside Parliament about the number of key social issues that are being ignored or deferred because of the emphasis placed on Brexit? I am thinking of Bills on such issues as domestic violence, mental health and social care. When is the Government going to catch up?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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On the issue of social care, the noble Baroness will have heard responses from my noble friend who was pressed on the progress of the Green Paper on social care. I cannot add to what she said. As regards Brexit squeezing out legislation, we made it clear at the beginning of the session—which we knew would last slightly longer than usual—that Brexit would be a priority. However, we have so far introduced 63 government Bills, 44 of which have received Royal Assent, and, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, 10 exit-related Bills are in Parliament or have received Royal Assent. So we have introduced 52 Bills that are not related to exit. It is not the case that Brexit has squeezed out all relevant social legislation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister referred to the capacity of the Civil Service. The Conservatives were keen to reduce Civil Service numbers, did so in 2016 and planned to in 2017. Since then, I understand that they have had to go through some emergency recruiting to bring numbers up to what is needed to handle preparations for Brexit—and in particular a no-deal Brexit—and have not yet started on the number of extra civil servants we will need to staff all the agencies that will have to be created to replace those EU agencies that provided us with shared services. Can he give us some estimate of the additional number of civil servants who have already been recruited and the extra numbers we will need if and when we leave?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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I wish I could, but I honestly do not have those figures in front of me. The Civil Service has always had the flexibility to reflect government priorities and move people around from one department to another. At the beginning of the Blair Government, when constitutional reform was a priority—with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and reform of your Lordships’ House—resources were pushed into that. In the 1980s, when we had nationalisation, resources went there. So the Civil Service has the capacity to respond to challenges and, in my view, has always risen to that challenge.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, does the Civil Service have the capacity to respond to all the pledges that are currently being made?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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It would be premature at this stage to cost all the promises that are being made by the two contenders for the leadership of my party. When one of them becomes leader and Prime Minister, no doubt the Civil Service will then present him with a bill. Reality will then move in and difficult choices will have to be made about priorities.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Secretary of State has acknowledged that the Government do not have what they call the “bandwidth” to deal with social care alongside Brexit. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has described social care in England as adrift on a “sea of inertia”. Is it not time that the Government did something to put an end to this inertia? I am afraid that the Minister’s response on social care was a bit dismissive in this context.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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I genuinely regret it if I sounded dismissive. I have sat through many exchanges on social care and the undertakings given to produce it by a given date. I understand the disappointment of noble Lords that that date has not been arrived at. There was an exchange with my noble friend relatively recently. I understand the urgency. We will produce the social care Green Paper as soon as we possibly can.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, am I the only one to suspect that the complaints about Brexit dragging on, and the damaging implications of that, come from the very same sources as those designed to prevent Brexit ever being brought about? Would the logic of all this not be to get on with Brexit, get it finished and done, close down the Brexit department and get on with the rest of our lives?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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Yes. The Government plan to leave the European Union by the end of October and then we will indeed be able to get on with some of the other pressing issues. But I make the point that the Government have been taking action that does not require legislation. We had the Statement yesterday repeated by my noble friend about the 10-year NHS implementation plan. We have had Statements about zero carbon and about a breathing space for those in debt. We have announced 22 new free schools. So it is not the case that pressure on legislation is crowding out important initiatives that drive up the quality of life in this country.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has just taken her oath, in which defence was twice mentioned. Of course, defence and the security of the realm are the absolute highest priorities of any Government. Yet we are stumbling towards a comprehensive spending review with Armed Forces that everyone accepts are underfunded, and there seems to be almost no debate about it. Does the Minister agree that the amount of time this House has spent debating the most serious matter for any Government is rather small?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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If the noble Lord had joined my party three months ago, he would have been able to vote for one of the candidates who has made a specific pledge on defence expenditure. No doubt he is regretting that he did not take that step.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party has suggested that Civil Service leave during August should be cancelled. What impact does the Minister think that will have on Civil Service recruitment?

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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If my party has any members who are civil servants, I think they would be unlikely to vote for that candidate. But the statement was qualified by saying that this would happen only if the Permanent Secretary was unable to give an assurance that all the Brexit preparations had been done; only if that assurance was not given would the threat be implemented. I am sure that the Permanent Secretaries will rise to the challenge.

Displaced Yazidis and Survivors of Daesh Violence

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:58
Asked by
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken (1) to support access to justice for displaced people from the Yazidi community in Iraq, and (2) to enable survivors of Daesh violence to return home.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, the UK has supported accountability for Daesh crimes in Iraq, including those against the Yazidi community. We led international efforts to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 2379 in 2017 and to establish the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh—UNITAD. We have committed £23.5 million to the United Nations Funding Facility for Stabilization to rebuild areas liberated from Daesh and to encourage the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Daesh victims.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, recent fires in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq have led to significant damage not only to the crops in that area—therefore affecting the decisions of those who might wish to return—but to the mass war graves that are key evidence if there is to be justice for the Yazidi families, many of whom are still living in and around Dohuk. In the absence of a strong system of governance, bringing proper security into this area is proving very difficult. Will the British Government put pressure on the Government of Iraq, with whom they have a good relationship, and other international partners, to ensure that more speed is given to the need for a fresh system of governance in Sinjar, and a stronger security response to these fires and other ongoing issues?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The noble Lord raises a vital issue. Security, marginalisation, access, services and jobs are the principal concerns for minority communities. Last week, President Salih met the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, and the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mr Mohamed Ali Alhakim, met the Foreign Office Minister Dr Murrison and my noble friend Lord Ahmad. We reaffirmed our commitment to Iraq, including in areas such as security, but the noble Lord might be interested to learn that President Salih also discussed with Ministers the work of the Government of Iraq in the Nineveh Plains area to generate a local police force from the local population, so that the Christian community feels safe to return home. There is work happening on both fronts.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister is to be congratulated on the work of Her Majesty’s Government in promoting Resolution 2379 at the Security Council, setting up the investigative team. Can she tell us what will happen next to bring people to justice by, for instance, supporting Germany, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands in establishing—as they have called for—an ad hoc tribunal, so that those who committed crimes against humanity and genocide can be tried?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The investigative team has been working hard to collect and preserve evidence of the commission of Daesh crimes before that evidence is lost. It is important that it is Iraq which decides any next steps for crimes committed on Iraqi soil and against Iraqi victims. The UK is clear that those who have fought for or supported Daesh should, whatever their nationality and wherever possible, face justice for their crimes in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which is often in the region where their offences were committed.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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Could my noble friend the Minister say what plans the Government have to protect the rights of religious minorities in the region, such as the Yazidis, through DfID’s programmes?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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Since 2014, DfID has committed £252.5 million in humanitarian support to Iraq, and that is providing a vital lifeline of shelter, medical care and clean water to millions of the most vulnerable in Iraq, including minorities such as Yazidis. We have also contributed £23 million to the United Nations Funding Facility for Stabilization, which has been helping to stabilise areas liberated from Daesh and re-establish security, basic services and inclusive local governance.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, has the Minister met or heard Nadia Murad, the Nobel laureate and young Yazidi woman, who has written and spoken about the abuse that she has suffered? If she has, does she agree that what Nadia says shows that sexual violence was deliberately used, and should therefore be counted as a war crime?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I assure the noble Baroness that I have indeed heard of Nadia Murad and, as the noble Baroness will be aware, the UK is working with partners to develop the Murad code. The code will capture international standards and best practice that Governments, international agencies and NGOs should adhere to when gathering evidence for judicial purposes. I am pleased to say that we will launch the Murad code at the PSVI international conference on 18-20 November.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, picking up that last point, the conference will be vital in raising awareness of the horrendous crimes that were committed, including horrendous sexual violence. Can she give us a commitment that the Government will ensure that first-hand testimonies, particularly of the Yazidi women, are heard at that conference, and ensure that the world truly knows what went on?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The noble Lord makes a very important point. I do not have detail as to the format of the conference, but I can certainly make further investigation and I shall undertake to write to him.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that constant armed interventions by members of the Security Council—I refer particularly to Russia, Britain and America—in factional disputes in the Middle East make the refugee crisis there infinitely worse? Does she further agree that it is time to look again at the role of the Security Council and to get some constraints on the way it operates?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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The noble Lord raises an issue that is somewhat wider than the scripted Question on the Order Paper, but none the less it is an important point. The Government’s view is that the United Nations Security Council is an extremely important body. It might not always work to everyone’s satisfaction, but over the years it has proved to be a forum for very effective action, not least relating to the subject matter of the Question, which, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, led to international efforts to pass at the Security Council the very resolution that is helping desperate people in Iraq.

GP Services in Rural Areas

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:05
Asked by
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they propose to take to ensure that there is adequate provision of GP services in rural areas.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so refer to my interests declared in the register.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford) (Con)
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My Lords, primary and community care will receive at least £4.5 billion more a year by 2023-24. Incentives have been in place since 2016 to attract GP training to hard-to-recruit areas, including rural areas. NHS England is consulting on allowing digital-first practices to be set up in under-doctored areas and everyone will have the right to digital-first primary care by April 2021, which will provide another way for patients in rural areas to access services.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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I thank my noble friend for that Answer. She might be aware of last week’s Telegraph report, which shows that almost 2,000 villages are at least three miles from their nearest GP practice. That figure would be higher were it not for the fact that rural practices can dispense medicine where community pharmacies are inviable. Will my noble friend take this opportunity to commit today to specific support for rural general practices over and above what is already in the NHS long-term plan, which has a particularly urban-centric focus? I remind my noble friend that we in rural areas are struggling to get 4G, let alone access to digital medicine.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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I know that my noble friend, who comes from a family of GPs, has personal experience of this. She raises an important point. We are encouraged that, in the last year, 300 more doctors, 300 more nurses and 700 more staff with direct patient care responsibilities working in general practice have been recruited. HEE has recruited record numbers of doctors into GP training, but we recognise the challenge of recruiting in hard-to-reach areas. That is why we have put in place the targeted enhanced recruitment scheme and we are identifying ways to improve this, such as the under-doctored digital-first practice. We recognise that we need to do more, however, and I would be very happy to meet my noble friend to discuss ways in which we can do that.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is aware that Cumbria is one of the blackspots for recruitment of GPs, with, in many cases, surgeries completely dependent on the odd locum and the good will of the general nursing practitioners. Bearing in mind that there are 19 million visitors a year to the Lake District and the national park, as well as the resident population, this is not a satisfactory situation. Is she prepared to look into the particular problems of GPs in Cumbria?

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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I am definitely happy to look into the situation in Cumbria, but this is one reason we have increased the funding specifically to primary and community care above the rate of the general increase to the NHS. It is also why we are bringing in incentives for GPs to work together at scale through the primary care networks and why there will be seven new service specifications for this. They will include enhanced healthcare in care homes, personalised care and supporting early care diagnosis, but also local action to tackle inequalities. This will be one of the specific areas for ICSs, which will lead the way we improve social care, as my noble friend Lord Young pointed out in his earlier answer.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister expect there to be at least one doctor in each digital-first centre? If not, how do the Government expect patients to be examined when they need an examination? I do not think a machine will be able to do that.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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The noble Baroness is quite right. The digital-first proposals have been launched as a consultation so that we can work out the funding and contract changes to ensure that we get digital-first primary care right. It can mean telephone as well as video consultations, but there would also have to be physical premises in the area to provide face-to-face consultations where necessary.

Lord Bishop of London Portrait The Lord Bishop of London
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My Lords, I speak as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Health and Social Care. Living now in a city, I know the challenge of rural health provision, but GP services are not just about doctors. They are also about nurses and community workers. Can the Minister comment on the possibility of developing direct access training for district nurses and health visitors?

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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The right reverend Prelate is quite right. We need to expand the wider workforce to support GPs. One reason this has been such a challenge is the shortage of the wider workforce. That is why there was a commitment in the people plan to recruit 20,000 extra staff—such as physiotherapists, pharmacists and nurses—for GP practices, to ensure that we can provide the support staff for sustainable community services. There is an emphasis on moving towards more community care. That is why the funding has been provided, and why there is such an emphasis on that part of the service.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, I live in a very rural part of Cornwall. My GP practice is 18 miles away. It struggles to recruit GPs and then to keep them. The proportion of the English population who live in rural areas is 19%—the equivalent of the population of London. Can the Minister explain why very few NHS plans consider rurality, with its high levels of deprivation and loneliness and their associated diseases? Might that be one reason why GPs choose not to work there, or why they do not stay for long?

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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The noble Baroness is very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country, but she is right that rurality has a significant impact on health outcomes. It is considered as part of a number of plans. As for recruitment and retention, these have been part of the plans that the NHS has brought in, particularly for GPs. That is why we have had the recruitment and retention plan for hard-to-reach areas for GPs since 2016. We are evaluating that programme and are still considering it.

Baroness Byford Portrait Baroness Byford (Con)
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May I press the Minister, following the earlier Question on housing, on the need for her department to talk to the MHCLG, to ensure that when new-build housing developments come in, there is enough tie-in between health provision and housing? My understanding is that unless the number of houses is more than a certain amount, there will not be any new GP practices, thereby putting much more pressure on existing ones.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford
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My noble friend is right; infrastructure must be in place before there is an expansion of development. NHS England is accountable for ensuring that patients have access to a GP practice, although the commissioning of general practices is delegated to local CCGs. It is an important planning consideration, and must be taken into account when new developments occur.

Third Reading
15:14
Bill passed.

Hong Kong Protests

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
15:14
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question in the other place earlier today with reference to Hong Kong. The Statement is as follows:

“For a number of weeks now, the world has been watching massive, yet largely peaceful, protests in Hong Kong, in opposition to the proposed extradition legislation. Unfortunately, a small number of protesters chose to vandalise the premises of the Legislative Council yesterday. Her Majesty’s Government strongly condemn any such violence, but also understand the deep-seated concerns that people in Hong Kong have about their rights and freedoms. Of the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the 1 July march yesterday, the vast majority did so in a peaceful and lawful manner.

The United Kingdom is fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which is guaranteed by the legally binding joint declaration of 1984. We reject the Chinese Government’s assertion that the joint declaration is an historic document, by which they mean it is no longer valid and that our rights and obligations under that treaty have ended. Our clear view is that the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 obliges the Chinese Government to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms, and we call on the Chinese Government to do so.

In respect of the recent demonstrations, the main responsibility for addressing this tension rests with the Government of Hong Kong, including the Chief Executive”.

15:16
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. I welcome the acknowledgement by the Government that they reject the notion by the Chinese Government that the agreement is a historic document, but yesterday’s editorial in the state-run China Daily said that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China and that its affairs concern China only. There is no doubt that China appears to be moving to a ‘one country, one system’ position, using these incidents to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. Will the noble Baroness outline what the next steps are for this Government in terms of upholding our obligation to that legally binding agreement? We need to hear more than simply kind words. The people of Hong Kong deserve better.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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My Lords, I make it clear that the joint declaration remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over 35 years ago. It is a legally binding international treaty registered with the United Nations. We do not want to become hysterical. We do not consider that recent events represent a breach of the joint declaration. Having said that, we expect China to uphold that declaration. It is legally binding until 2047, and we would pursue a breach bilaterally if such a breach were to occur. We are perfectly clear about the status of that joint declaration, and we are perfectly clear that it endures until 2047.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness said there has been no breach, but if you look at the statement from the Chinese foreign ministry, it must give her pause for thought. The spokesperson said that the joint declaration resolved the Hong Kong issue, that Hong Kong had been returned to the motherland, that China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997, that the UK no longer has any responsibility for Hong Kong and that,

“Hong Kong matters are purely an internal affair for China”,

that brook no foreign interference. What action, therefore, is the United Kingdom taking to ensure that this treaty, which is lodged at the UN, is upheld? Does she think that, in the wider context of the situation in Hong Kong, it becomes even more important that we work with our EU colleagues on this matter and that we support multilateral organisations such as the UN?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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With reference to the last part of the noble Baroness’s question, yes of course we do. The United Kingdom is regarded as one of the most significant participants in United Nations proceedings. China’s interpretation of the situation is not one that we agree with. It is an interpretation which is at variance with the facts and the law. What we have done at the most senior level—indeed, the Prime Minister made the point repeatedly to Chinese Vice-Premier Hu on 17 June—is to say that we expect China to abide by its obligations, and we will continue to take seriously our obligations to monitor the implementation of the joint declaration. It is worth observing that we have a relationship with China which is broad and deep, and it brings enduring benefit to both countries. But we have a constructive dialogue and we are clear and direct where we disagree. Above all, our policy on China remains clear-eyed and evidence-based; it is rooted in our values and our interests. We will continue to stand by the joint declaration, and we will make that view robustly to the People’s Republic of China.

Lord Garel-Jones Portrait Lord Garel-Jones (Con)
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To what extent does my noble friend the Minister feel that the Legislative Council in Hong Kong is in any sense aware of the depth of feeling among the Hong Kong people? Does she not agree that attending to these concerns is not only in the wider interest but in the interests of China itself?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I thank my noble friend for his wise and profound observation. It is clear that the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Chief Executive were taken aback by the potent sentiment expressed in the recent demonstrations. It is a positive development that they have suspended the extradition Bill, which seems a sensible precaution to take. But my noble friend is quite right that anything which undermines Hong Kong’s future success and prosperity, and hence its contribution to China, inevitably affects China and has an impact on that country. I would therefore have thought that China had an interest in ensuring that Hong Kong remains a prosperous, successful and viable economy, enjoying its strong rule of law and widely acclaimed judicial independence.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, will the Government press for an independent, judge-led inquiry into the events in Hong Kong since 12 June, rather than the police-led inquiry that is currently on offer from the Hong Kong legislature? Will that inquiry look into allegations of sexual violence against women perpetrated by the police, some of whom—the senior police—are British citizens?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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We have urged the Hong Kong Government to establish a robust, independent investigation into the violence during the protests of 12 June, and that is a matter that Hong Kong must properly pursue. The noble Baroness makes important observations, and I am sure that in any independent investigation there will be a wide remit as to the scope of what the investigators seek to ascertain.

Lord Steel of Aikwood Portrait Lord Steel of Aikwood (LD)
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Does the Minister agree that it is unfortunate that the people who broke into the LegCo building and trashed it are actually playing into the hands of the Beijing Government, who will look for any opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong if they see lawlessness in place? Would it be right to condemn those and urge people to return to peaceful demonstrations, which were shown to be successful with the withdrawal of the extradition Bill?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I thank the noble Lord. There was widespread concern about the violence that took place yesterday, and the Government have condemned it. He is correct that it is unnecessary and counterproductive. There was a lot of sympathy with the broad spread of the lawful protests, last month and yesterday. The majority of people seemed to perform them in a peaceful and lawful manner, which is to be commended. It is perfectly clear that, when people protest in that respectful and law-abiding manner, results can ensue. The noble Lord is quite correct that it is entirely counterproductive for anyone protesting to break the law and think that in some way it advances the cause of the protest.

Lord Bishop of Carlisle Portrait The Lord Bishop of Carlisle
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My Lords, may I ask what advice Her Majesty’s Government might give to those from this country intending to visit Hong Kong at this time?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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We would advise anyone intending to visit any country to take the Foreign Office’s advice and pay attention to what that advice is. Last month and yesterday, there were significant protests of enormous scale, but nothing should detract from the fact that Hong Kong is a successful, prosperous society. It operates under the structure of “one country, two systems”; it has its own distinctive legal system and protection of human rights; it has its own rule of law and an independent judiciary. It will be for people to make their own judgment as to whether they travel there. As I say, for anyone travelling anywhere abroad we always advise double-checking with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, the reality is that there is very little we can do, and we must not make meaningless threats. I commanded the battle group and the amphibious force off Hong Kong during the withdrawal. We had some very difficult incidents with the Chinese which we dealt with talking through back channels and getting agreements with them. Does the noble Baroness not agree that the way we must handle this is very quietly in the background? It seems to me that the Hong Kong police encouraged the violence by not being there, and they want to do that because of the effect they will then get from mainland China.

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I thank the noble Lord. We try to ensure in our discussions with China that we are blunt, we are direct, we say exactly what we think and China is left in no doubt as to our feelings. He is correct. I think these matters are always better dealt with by dialogue and sometimes behind closed doors.

Lord Jopling Portrait Lord Jopling (Con)
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Does the Minister recall that, when the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal was established on 1 July 1997, it made a clear statement that it replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of London as the highest appellate court in Hong Kong after 30 June 1997. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Chinese Government in Beijing ever refuted that statement?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie
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I am not aware of that. I am assuming that the Chinese Government are as well versed as my noble friend is in the legal system of Hong Kong. I am not aware of any such refutal of that situation. If I do learn of any such refutal, I shall let my noble friend know.

Problem Gambling

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
15:27
Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for DCMS earlier today in the other place:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement about today’s announcement on support for those affected by problem gambling. While we all want a healthy gambling industry that makes an important contribution to the economy, we also need one that does all it can to protect those who use it.

Problem gambling can devastate lives, families and communities. I have met users who have lost more than the UK’s annual average salary on credit cards during one night of gambling online and parents who are now without a child as a result of gambling addiction. Over recent months I have also met representatives from the gambling industry and colleagues from across the House to discuss what more needs to be done. We can all agree that it is best to prevent harm before it occurs, and to step in early where people are at risk. But we also need to offer the right support for those people who experience harm. We have already acted to reduce the minimum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2, from £100. This has reduced the potential for large losses on FOBT machines and has reduced the risk of harm to players and wider communities. We have also tightened age and identity checks for online gambling websites, an important step to protect children and vulnerable people who may be at risk.

Today five of the biggest gambling companies have agreed a series of measures which will deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers. This announcement has been welcomed by the Gambling Commission, GambleAware and Gamban. These are companies which, together, represent around half the British commercial gambling industry.

At the heart of this package is a very significant increase in their financial contribution to fund support and treatment. Last year voluntary contributions across the whole industry to problem gambling yielded less than £10 million. Now five operators—William Hill, Bet365, GVC, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral; Flutter, formerly known as Paddy Power Betfair; and Sky Betting & Gaming—have pledged that over the next four years they will increase tenfold the funding they give to treatment and support for problem gamblers. In this same period they have committed to spending £100 million pounds on treatment specifically. The companies will report publicly on progress with these commitments, alongside their annual assurance statements to the Gambling Commission.

Last week NHS England announced it is establishing up to 14 clinics for those with the most complex and severe gambling problems. This includes where gambling problems coexist with other mental health problems or childhood trauma. It has also been announced that the first NHS problem gambling clinic offering specific support for children is set to open. The funding announced today enables a huge boost for the other treatment services that complement specialist NHS clinics and will help us to place an increased focus on early intervention. I know that Members across the House have argued for a mandatory, statutory levy to procure funds for treatment and support of problem gambling. I understand the argument, but of course the House knows that legislating for this would take time to complete; in all likelihood more than a year. The proposal made this morning will deliver substantially increased support for problem gamblers this year.

It may also be said that receipts from a statutory levy are certain, and those from a voluntary approach are not. However, it is important to stress two things. First, these voluntary contributions must and will be transparent, including to the regulator, and if they are not made, we will know. Secondly, the Government reserve the right to pursue a mandatory route to funding if a voluntary one does not prove effective. This is a clear financial commitment from the industry to address the harms that can come from gambling, but this is not solely about spending money: this is a package of measures, spanning a number of different areas, to ensure we tackle problem gambling on all possible fronts.

First, a responsible gambling industry is one that works together to reduce harm and wants customers to be safe, whatever platform they use or however they choose to gamble. The companies already identify customers whose gambling suggests they may be at risk, and they take steps to protect them. Their licences require this, but they will go further. We have already seen the successful launch of GamStop, the multioperator self-exclusion scheme. I am pleased that companies have committed to building on this through greater sharing of data to prevent problem gamblers experiencing further harm.

Secondly, the five companies will use emerging technology to make sure their online advertising is used responsibly. Where technology exists that can identify a user showing problem gambling behaviours and target gambling adverts away from that person, they have committed to using it. More generally, the industry has already committed to a voluntary ban on advertising around live sport during the daytime, which will come into force next month.

Thirdly, operators have committed to giving greater prominence to services and campaigns that support those in need of help. They have pledged to increase the volume of their customer safer gambling messaging; to continue their support for the Bet Regret campaign, which is showing promising early results; and to review the tone and content of their marketing, advertising and sponsorship to ensure it is appropriate. These are welcome commitments and represent significant progress in terms of the support operators give for those impacted by problem gambling. However, as technology advances we need to be even more sophisticated in how we respond. The five companies which have proposed these measures today will be working closely with the Government, charities and regulators so that we can address any new or developing harms.

These are landmark measures and I commend the leadership of the five companies that have put them forward. They are proposals from some of the industry’s biggest companies and I believe it is reasonable for the biggest companies with the largest reach and the most resources to do more and show leadership. The industry as a whole needs to engage in tackling problem gambling, and we want other firms to look at what they can also do to step up.

I repeat: it will remain open to the Government to legislate if needed, so this is not the end of the conversation. We will keep working hard as a Government to make sure we protect users, whether online or in the high street.

There is still much more to do, but today’s announcement is a significant step forward. It means substantially more help for problem gamblers, more quickly than other paths we could take. We must and will hold the companies that have made these commitments to them, and we will expect the rest of the industry to match them. They will change lives for the better and contribute to the ongoing work we are doing to make gambling safer for everyone.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

15:35
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Statement and thank the Minister for repeating it. I and others will welcome those who have made the commitments that were described in this Statement and recognise that it is indeed a step in the right direction.

I am just back from Birmingham, if I may start autobiographically, from the Methodist conference. Some 25 years ago I was the president of that conference, and I was installed in my office in Leeds town hall. It was the year that the National Lottery was launched, and I was launched into putting the Methodist position on the National Lottery almost from the time I left Leeds. I confessed to myself that it was useless to put what some noble Lords would recognise as a traditional Methodist position on gambling: it was here to stay, it was part of our culture, so where was the room for manoeuvre?

I remember going on television with my noble friend Lady Bakewell on a Sunday evening; I limited myself to two points, which I have stuck to ever since. First, the proceeds of the National Lottery should not be used to spend on programmes that were properly the responsibility of government—they would be extra, over and above. Secondly, since there was a proven percentage—I had the facts at my fingertips in those days—of those who gamble becoming problem gamblers, a levy should be imposed on the National Lottery to deal with the problem gamblers that were going to be produced by that industry. This was directed towards the National Lottery at that time, but why not impose it on all lotteries? Those were my two points 25 years ago; they remain my two points now.

The Statement is good, as far it goes, but we have to recognise that this voluntary levy is simply not producing the goods. My O-level maths, which is where I left the subject formally, in the year that King Uzziah died, suggests that the agreed percentage of the turnover of the gambling industry should produce something like £145 million a year. It produces £10 million. The voluntary agreement is not working. The Statement says that we should be prepared to recognise that what has been proposed is for now, but it will take a year to produce the necessary legislation to achieve the mandatory levy. Let us do what has to be done now, and do the legislation a year hence also. We can wait a year, but we cannot wait for things to happen until we come back and say, “Let’s do it”, because then it will be a year after that. It seems necessary for us to move inevitably towards a mandatory levy.

I know that these figures were given in the other place an hour or two ago, but they are worth repeating. SportPesa, which sponsors Everton, and Fun88, which sponsors Newcastle, gave £50 last year. Both are white labels of TGP Europe. Best Bets gave £5: I have just paid more than that for a taxi to get here. GFM Holdings Ltd gave a pound. What on earth would you get for £1 anywhere these days, even on the high street? Pounds shops are giving up on that one.

We have 430,000 gambling addicts, 50,000 of whom are children—it is just not acceptable. The mandatory levy is the step that we have to take, and I urge the Minister not to just echo his master’s voice from another place in suggesting that because it will take another year it is better to settle for what we have. It is necessary to take the first steps towards imposing a levy now, so that the National Health Service, which picks up the cost of dealing with problem gamblers, can perhaps have—even in a hypothecated way—the proceeds of such a mandatory levy to deal with the problem.

I trust that your Lordships will see this point of view, which makes a lucid and obvious case, and that the body language, if not the words, of the Minister shows that he agrees.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am a member of your Lordships’ Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry Committee.

It is, however, my membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm that has led me to meet the parents of a number of children who have committed suicide because of gambling. It has given me the opportunity to meet people with mental health problems who have done everything they can to exclude themselves from gambling websites but are still being bombarded with gambling advertisements and free bet offers. I have also met people who have lost thousands of pounds in a very short time because they have been using multiple credit cards.

For far too long, the gambling industry has failed to take responsibility for the harm that it is causing not only to individuals but families and communities. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, pointed out, far too many of the gambling companies are failing to contribute even the 0.1% of the gross gambling yield to the voluntary levy for research, education and treatment. This Statement is of course welcome. The commitment by the so-called “big five” is welcome and I congratulate all, in all parts of the House and elsewhere, including Ministers, who have managed to shame some—but not all—of the gambling companies into taking this action.

An increase from £10 million to £60 million for research, education and treatment is of course welcome, but we should put it into context. Just some of the £60 million will be used to help the approximately 430,000 people, including children, with gambling problems, when we know that only 2% of them are getting any form of treatment. That £60 million should be compared with the £40 billion annual turnover of the gambling companies, the nearly £1 billion of government cuts to our public health budget and the annual salary of the boss of just one gambling company: today we are welcoming £60 million, while Denise Coates, the head of Bet365, earned £265 million last year.

The £60 million is welcome but, as the Secretary of State admits, there is much more to be done, and we need to ensure that this is not a cynical ploy by the gambling companies to prevent the Government introducing further regulation. The Secretary of State says that he is not yet minded to introduce a compulsory levy. If we do not have one, how will the many companies that are not party to this deal, and which do not make an adequate contribution, do so? Surely the way forward is a compulsory levy.

Further, what more does the Minister believe needs to be done to prevent problem gambling in the first instance? Does he agree, for example, that we need to do more to ensure that individuals can afford to gamble at a particular level, and that we should ban the use of credit cards for gambling? Does he agree that we need a code of practice for advertising? The industry says that it is keen to have one but has so far failed to come up with the goods. What will the Government do to make sure that we have one?

Should we not also have a system of redress for individuals? I am sure the Minister is aware that, if an individual has a problem whereby, for example, they have self-excluded but are still bombarded with advertisements and therefore lose more money because they are tempted, they can go to the Gambling Commission and report it. The commission will take evidence from them and other such individuals—it may take action against the gambling company or even fine it, as has happened in the past—but there is no redress for the individual because the commission does not act as an ombudsman. At present, all someone can do is go to the gambling company and seek redress or take expensive legal action. Does the Minister agree that we need a proper redress scheme? Today’s Statement is a small step, but it is certainly not a giant leap.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I am grateful to both noble Lords. Among the criticism, I think that today’s announcement was welcomed. It is important to reflect on the fact that, whether there is a mandatory levy or not, this is a considerable amount of money in addition to the existing sum.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said that the current voluntary levy does not produce the goods. We agree, which is why we negotiated with the five biggest companies a significant tenfold increase: they have agreed to increase 0.1% to 1% and, in the first four years, to commit a minimum of £100 million to treatment. Providing more money is not the only important thing here; the companies have also agreed to other voluntary things. We hope that noble Lords will accept that this is a big step forward. Of course, many people have talked about a mandatory levy for some time, saying that nothing would happen without one. Today’s announcement shows that something significant can happen; a tenfold increase is significant in anyone’s terms. As I said, this is about not just money but the attitude of the five largest companies, which should be given credit for providing leadership.

I agree that there is an issue with the remaining 50% of the industry. As I said, and as the Secretary of State made clear, we have not taken a mandatory levy off the table. However, the difference between this approach and doing the mandatory levy now is that we will get money into where it is meant to be, which is treating problem gamblers. That is to be welcomed.

The issue of credit cards was raised. We acknowledge the question of whether they should be used for gambling. We are looking at the evidence that the Gambling Commission has finished taking and at what the banks can do in addition to what they currently do, using their data on customers to look at forms of behaviour that their systems tell them might indicate problem gambling.

Today’s announcement comes in addition to the 14 new clinics already announced by the Secretary of State for Health; they are there to treat problem gamblers and addicts. We think that the Statement brings significant benefits. We will observe what happens over the next four years. This is entirely transparent. The companies will say what they do in the annual assurance that they must give to the Gambling Commission, so we can monitor them. We hope that the extra money and action will make a significant difference to what is generally acknowledged to be a significant problem.

15:49
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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I welcome this announcement today, but I notice from a press release from the companies that they see it as a health issue:

“The key priority will be to quadruple the number of those accessing treatment from 2.5% to 10%”.


After four years, 90% of those with gambling addiction problems will still be unable to access help. Surely that cannot be acceptable.

We know from Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, that it looks like it will cost the NHS between £260 million and £1.2 billion a year. This is costing the general taxpayer a huge amount, when the industry, as I have said in the past, is privatising the profits and nationalising the costs. The key issue here is that we have to treat this as a public health issue. I declare my interest as a member of the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, which is just beginning to do its work. We need to take a fresh look at this. In particular, we have to legislate. All these companies are competing with one another, which is one of the reasons why we have this explosion in advertising; even the “whistle to whistle” ban is not going to stop the logos on shirts and the wraparound adverts that are blazoned all the time. We need to legislate to put these companies on an equal footing and protect the vulnerable, especially the young.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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The right reverend Prelate, who has been vociferous in his views on this—I have been on the receiving end for several years—has done good work, but he is overexaggerating slightly. On the increase in the proportion of problem gamblers receiving treatment, we will never reach 100%. They have to agree to be part of it. We have significantly increased the resources available to do it. We had one gambling clinic in the east; another has just opened, specialising in children. We have announced plans to open 14, and today’s announcement is in addition to that. In every other sphere of potentially harmful industries, such as smoking and alcohol, the industry pays taxes and the treatment of people affected by those industries is paid for out of general taxation. The gambling industry pays £3 billion in gambling tax plus income tax and NI. In addition to that, the top five companies have agreed to pay a 1% levy on that to fund treatment. They are producing a large amount of money. Because it will be transparent, we will monitor what needs to be done, but this is a dramatic increase in resources in a very short time and it will make a significant difference.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, betting advertising around televised sport, both live and recorded, has reached saturation point. The dominant sports broadcaster in this country is part of a bigger business that has a sporting and gaming division and it advertises on the platform on which the sport is broadcast. The sports advertisers use sports presenters and sports pundits to advertise, and they advertise live odds on the events that are happening and being broadcast. All this is aimed at—and has succeeded in—blurring the difference between the advertising and the event itself. It all looks like the one thing and it works for them. In this context, therefore, what on earth is expected to be delivered by a voluntary ban on advertising around live sport only during the daytime? What do the Government expect this to deliver in reducing this problem, and why did they agree to it if they did not expect it to make a real difference?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I do not see why the noble Lord thinks that the proposal will not make a difference, but it is in addition to other areas. It works in sync with the fact that there is now agreement to use online technology to target gambling advertisements away from people identified as being at risk of problem gambling. Responsible gambling messaging will be increased and the tone and content of marketing will be reviewed. That is an addition to the previous commitment that the noble Lord mentioned of a whistle-to-whistle ban and the funding of a new multimillion-pound responsible gambling advertising campaign led by GambleAware. We are asking gambling firms to act responsibly. Where they do not, we will continue to talk to them as we have—the results of which have come today. We are not, however, ruling out legislation. We expect change and we expect firms to behave responsibly, but if they do not we will have to take other measures.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I remind the House of my declaration of interest. I just do not understand this—I really do not. I do not think I can be accused of putting forward the Methodist point of view but, given that we have this agreement, why can we not set in train plans for some sort of legislation? That seems sensible. Secondly, given that the chief executive of one of the firms joining in this year paid herself four times the amount of money that the whole industry is putting into this scheme, is the amount sufficient? How do we expect those firms that have not joined in—the 50%—to join in? Is it not necessary to say to them, “You have not joined in voluntarily, so the first thing that will happen is that everyone has to join in up to the level voluntarily agreed”?

I want to see this move on and I ask my noble friend to accept that there is problem gambling, and that we should make gambling more difficult. So why is it possible to gamble on credit? That cannot be right. It should never be possible to gamble on credit. That is the first thing the Government could stop.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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As I said, the Gambling Commission has just finished taking evidence on that very subject and it is something that we will look at. The Secretary of State has indicated that it is an area that concerns him. We have to work on the basis of evidence, but that evidence has been collected and I assure my noble friend that it is an area being considered at the moment.

I just do not think there is any connection between the amount that a private owner of a gambling company pays him or herself and the issue. The issue is: where is the harm to the just under 1% of problem gamblers and how are we addressing it? Today’s announcement means that it will be addressed. Combined with the increase in NHS facilities, it means we are able to do a lot more to help problem gamblers than we have before. The remainder of the gambling industry not among those five big companies will be under no illusions after today. Hitherto, we were told that a voluntary system could not work and today we have increased the amount available tenfold. We will see what the remaining 50% of companies do, but it is much better to get people to contribute the right amount voluntarily than to make regulations for the sake of it. But we will monitor that and regulation will come if it is necessary.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, following on from the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, of the Methodist Conference, I declare my interest: I became the Minister with responsibility for gambling back in 1995. Indeed, at that time we wanted to deregulate the gambling industry in a reasonable, balanced and gentle way to bring it up to date and more into line with the circumstances we found ourselves in. However, I never thought that we would end up with the situation we have now. The Statement, as far as it goes, is helpful but does not tackle the underlying problems that all of us see day after day as we watch television or go online. We are bombarded with advertising encouraging gambling at all levels. My noble friend talks about problem gambling. It is difficult to assess at what point someone’s gambling habits become a problem. Is it a problem to them or a problem to society? All gambling must have regulation and be responsible. All those involved in producing the gambling industry must be responsible and answer to regulation that the Government must bring up to date—and bring up to date soon.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I absolutely agree, and that is why we are doing so. The industry is regulated by the Gambling Commission, which was set up to do that. One of the licence conditions is that those in the industry should behave responsibly. Having said that, we have made recent changes. It is not just a question of the amount of money spent on treatment, important though that is, but a question of preventing problem gambling in the first place. I accept my noble friend’s point, which is that while the statistics are not perfect and debatable, and the number of problem gamblers small, there is a wider problem to the extent that, even if there are fewer than 1% problem gamblers, they affect a wider number of people, including families, communities and so on. However, the figures are not particularly big in numerical terms and are not, from all the evidence we have, growing; they are under 1%. A lot of work has been done on increasing the preventive element as well, not just treatment. There has been agreement on using new technology to divert advertising away from online gambling. More people are gambling online, so using online technology is a modern response to that.

We want to increase the availability of online messaging to review the tone and content of gambling companies’ marketing. We have launched a modern, up-to-date online system, GamStop, which is not perfect but is making a significant difference. It is a real-time self-exclusion scheme and the results so far have been good. That is in addition to the changes in advertising. The Government have not sat still and done nothing. We understand that changes have been made and that we must monitor the evidence to make sure that we are up to date. As I say, this is not cast in stone and, together with our advisers, the Gambling Commission, we will monitor the situation to make sure that we keep up to date.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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I commiserate with the Minister for having to repeat this embarrassing Statement. Does he realise that it essentially shows that the Government have become the pawns of the big gambling industry? He has said, with the full authority of the state behind him, that the Government are not prepared to move at all to tackle a massive social evil that is wrecking hundreds of thousands of lives, including those of young people who are becoming addicted to gambling in their early and mid-teens, which will then afflict them for life. Instead, the state is relying on the industry that has caused these evils to regulate itself by making paltry contributions, given the overall figures involved in this industry.

The noble Lord started to lose the House when he accused the right reverent Prelate of exaggerating. He made a compelling argument, along with the noble Lord, Lord Foster, about exactly what the social evils are and why the Government should be addressing them. When people come to look back at this massive social evil of gambling, they will equate it with the problems caused by tobacco addiction in the previous generation, when, after huge rearguard actions by the industry involved—particularly on the issue of advertising—the state finally moved. After that, everyone said, “Why has it taken so long?” The big issue that the Government will have to address is: when will they move to end the wall-to-wall advertising that promotes people into gambling? To my mind, that is morally and socially unjustifiable. Until the Government start to move on banning gambling advertising, everything they do in the meantime will seem beside the point.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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The noble Lord has made many predictions in this House and we will see whether he is right. If it were true that the present Government were pawns of the gambling industry, they would not have reduced the FOBT limit from £100 to £2.

Viscount Thurso Portrait Viscount Thurso (LD)
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My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on his comments about technological advances, particularly with regard to what my noble friend said about pop-up advertising. These adverts are insidious. They are made possible by the use of cookies and algorithms, and are directly designed to entrap the people most likely to want to gamble. Can anything be done with the technological advances that he is talking about to prevent that kind of advertising?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I shall not give a technical answer to that but there is technology using cookies and other data to direct advertising and gambling advertisements to certain people. If you can do that, you can also target it away from people, and that is what the companies have committed to do today. Banks and other financial institutions can use data and algorithms to work out when people are getting involved in problem gambling. We are investigating that with the banks and it is something that we would expect them to do. As I said to my noble friend Lord Deben, we are also looking at the use of credit cards in that respect.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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First, following on from that point, can the Minister say whether the Government have had discussions with the gambling industry about the use of algorithms? Secondly, he says that the Government are now looking to the industry to act responsibly and will be monitoring what it does. How long will that period of monitoring last? Thirdly, a Select Committee in this House has been appointed to look at this issue. Will any agreement that the Government reach with the gambling industry inhibit the implementation of recommendations from the Select Committee?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I do not know specifically whether we have directly talked about algorithms. However, I know that we have talked about the use of data, which of course is the food for algorithms. Essentially, whenever you use data and computers to make decisions, you use an algorithm. I assume that is the case but I have not been given the specifics on it. The noble Lord asked for how long the industry will be monitored. We have been clear that there will be monitoring. It happens the whole time. Gambling companies have to give an annual assurance to the Gambling Commission and that will continue on a permanent basis. We will certainly take the Select Committee’s deliberations and conclusions into account, and we may or may not act on them depending on what they are.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham (Lab)
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My Lords, when will the Government review the outcome of the change to fixed-odds betting terminals, which has recently come into force? Will there be a review this year?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I do not know the answer to that but I will write to the noble Lord. The evidence that the Gambling Commission gets will be monitored continually. I shall have to ask whether it will be made public but the commission will certainly look at that. I signed off a Written Answer today about the number of outlets. That of course is significant in terms of the reduction in the FOBT limit, because that was one of the worries that the gambling industry had. It will be interesting to see what happens to the number of outlets. However, I will write to the noble Lord on that subject.

Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Motion to Approve
16:10
Moved by
Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 9 May be approved.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Buscombe) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations amend child maintenance legislation to enable the delivery of the child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The new child maintenance scheme was launched in 2012. It is underpinned by the key principle of encouraging and supporting parents to take responsibility for their children’s upbringing. We know that children have better outcomes when their parents work together.

Following separation, we want parents to make private, family-based arrangements for child maintenance where feasible, avoiding state intervention altogether if possible. Where parents are unable to make a private arrangement, the Child Maintenance Service can support them. This can be done by calculating a maintenance liability and enforcing payments where appropriate.

Following staged implementation, the Child Maintenance Service is working well and avoiding the widely recognised problems encountered by previous schemes. This Government now want to build on and make further improvements to the Child Maintenance Service.

Last November, this House approved regulations which closed known loopholes, introduced tough new sanctions for those who evade their responsibilities, and addressed the historic arrears built up under the Child Support Agency. This package of regulations would introduce further measures to support the compliance and arrears strategy. It includes provisions to make deductions from benefit more consistent, improve information-gathering processes and address uncollectable debt. This is alongside clarifications to the calculation and fees regulations so that they better reflect the intent of the 2012 reforms.

I will first explain the proposed changes to deductions from benefit payments. This Government believe that all parents should support their children, irrespective of their financial circumstances. Therefore, where a parent is in receipt of benefit, they should continue to contribute to their children in line with their income. This has been a long-standing feature of successive child maintenance schemes.

Under the current scheme, parents receiving certain benefits are liable to pay the flat rate of maintenance. Where a parent does not make payments voluntarily, the CMS can deduct the child maintenance they are liable to pay directly from their benefit payment. The regulations before you today are designed to make these deductions more consistent, as currently there are different rules governing what can be taken for ongoing maintenance and towards child maintenance arrears.

At present, the Child Maintenance Service can make weekly deductions of £8.40—£7 plus £1.40 in collection fees—towards ongoing maintenance from certain benefits and, at the same time, £1.20 towards arrears from a smaller list of benefits. So some parents have deductions of £8.40 per week whereas others contribute a total of £9.60.

The proposed changes to legislation would enable deductions towards arrears to be made from the same benefits from which deductions can be made towards ongoing maintenance. The regulations also ensure that £8.40 per week is the maximum that can be deducted from a parent’s benefit in all cases. This will prevent deductions towards arrears and ongoing maintenance being taken at the same time, as well as ensuring that deductions towards arrears will be taken only after ongoing liability has been satisfied. These changes send a clear message to parents who fail to pay for their children.

Additionally, the Government are proposing changes specific to deductions from universal credit. The Child Maintenance Service can already deduct £8.40 towards ongoing maintenance from universal credit if the paying parent has no income from employment. The new regulations will allow the service to do the same where the paying parent has earnings, in line with other benefits. This will apply only in cases where the paying parent is liable to pay only the flat rate; that is, based on earnings of £100 a week or less. The collection of maintenance and arrears will be more efficient from parents who are in receipt of universal credit and are also in work. At present, deductions would have to be made directly from their earnings if payments are not made voluntarily. This change introduces a more consistent approach to clients with similar financial circumstances.

16:15
I will now move on to the proposals surrounding protected trust deeds. A protected trust deed is an arrangement in Scots law between a debtor and their creditors. Scots law provides that child maintenance arrears that are covered by the deed cannot be collected once a parent enters into its terms. Currently, arrears covered by such a deed are permanently suspended on the child maintenance computer systems. Although dividends may be received towards arrears while the deed is in operation, once it expires any arrears covered by the deed are legally uncollectable. These regulations will extend the write-off powers of the CMS to cover arrears that are within the terms of a protected trust deed once the deed has expired. This change stops the CMS from holding on to information about uncollectable arrears at a cost to the taxpayer and keeps our legislation in line with that in Scotland, providing clarity to parents.
We propose changes to regulations relating to the powers of entry used by the CMS to access private properties. Sometimes there is a need for the CMS to enter private properties to gather information. These powers of entry provisions allow CMS to gather information to recover arrears, trace a parent, or make sure that the maintenance calculation is up to date and accurate. In 2012, Parliament passed the Protection of Freedoms Act. This Act placed a requirement on all departments to consider their powers of entry and decide whether they were still necessary, and, if so, whether any additional safeguards could be put in place to protect the public from unnecessary intrusion.
With this in mind, the Government are proposing an additional safeguard. This will mean that an inspector will be required to apply for a judicial warrant where they are refused, or expect to be refused, access to premises, or where they cannot contact the occupier. Although the CMS cannot use its current powers of entry to access a wholly private dwelling, it is my belief that this small change would give reassurance to the public that judicial consideration has been given when inspectors request access to dwellings to request information. We estimate that around 20 judicial warrants will be sought by the CMS each year. The occupiers of these premises will retain all the usual rights of appeal available via either the magistrates’ court in England and Wales, or the sheriff court in Scotland.
The next proposed change that I will explain covers improvements to how we gather information. Where there is a need to trace a parent, to decide on the best enforcement power to use, or to calculate a maintenance liability, mortgage lenders and occupational pension providers can be a valuable source of information. To collect information from such organisations, at present there is a requirement for the CMS to arrange for one of its inspectors to schedule a visit to their premises. This can be time-consuming and intrusive for them and costly for the taxpayer. Repeat visits are often needed as the information is not available on the first. We therefore propose to add mortgage lenders and occupational pension providers to the list of persons required to provide the service with information, in writing, on request.
I will now move on to outline a technical change to the regulations, concerning the way in which expenses are taken into account within the maintenance calculation. When calculating child maintenance, the CMS aims to produce a reasonable reflection of what is affordable for the paying parent. Usually, this figure is drawn from the taxable income provided by HMRC. Currently, the income figure given to the Child Maintenance Service by HMRC is supplied after any deductions for pension contributions are made, but before any deductions for non-taxable allowable expenses are made. This means that parents need to notify the service directly to get these non-taxable expenses deducted from their income figure. I am proposing this change to make it clear in law that the income figure that is used to calculate maintenance must be used after deductions for allowable expenses have been made.
In 2014, the CMS introduced collection fees for cases where parents could not agree the transfer of maintenance payments between themselves. These are aimed at incentivising collaboration, and can accrue alongside ongoing maintenance. As with the maintenance liability, they can also accumulate when left unpaid. Collection of these outstanding collection fees can be enforced as if they were unpaid child maintenance. When a parent does not pay their child maintenance liability, and the CMS is unable to collect the debt using its administrative powers, the CMS can apply to court for a liability order.
During a recent liability order application in a Scottish court, the way the sheriff interpreted the regulations meant that the liability order was granted, but did not include the collection fees. In this interpretation, fees would be included in the liability order only where some maintenance payment had previously been made, but would not be included where no maintenance had ever been paid. This creates a clear incentive for greater non-compliance, and is not in line with the intention of the policy. As such, I am proposing a change aimed at clarifying the policy intent. This change will provide the courts with a clear direction on fees when a liability order is sought. In addition, this will support the use of collection fees, helping to incentivise parents to work together where possible.
These regulations are designed to build on the continuing success of the child maintenance reforms. They improve collection measures and information-gathering powers further, and help make child maintenance fairer for all separated parents. In short, these amendments to the regulations ensure that the commitments in the compliance and arrears strategy are fully realised. I commend this instrument to the House.
Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, clearly, we are in favour of all measures to ensure that children are getting the financial support they need. A large part of this is making sure that both parents contribute to the raising of a child, through official child support or otherwise. According to the charity Gingerbread, child maintenance alone lifts a fifth of low-income single parents out of poverty. Where parents are unequal in income, as is often the case after a separation, it is right that suitable payments for child maintenance are made. It is good to hear of the proposed changes to the Child Maintenance Service scheme, which has been a long, infamous project, causing disastrous circumstances for children and families and costing a great deal in time and resources for all involved, including the Government.

Although we are generally wary over giving powers of enforcement, we are in favour of the proposed changes to inspection. Requesting information from mortgage lenders will cut down on the number and intrusiveness of current inspections. It is important that both parents support their children; the cost of bringing up a child is considerable and generally falls on the mother, who is more likely to be in low-paid, insecure employment. Some 90% of single parents are women, and they are twice as likely to be in poverty as any other group.

However, in recognising and enforcing payments for child support, the Government need to recognise and act on the issues that drive child poverty. For example, the two-child limit, which restricts support to a family’s first two children, is one of the key factors of child poverty, as demonstrated by many recent reports. The benefit cap also hurts families and households with multiple children, or those who live in expensive areas.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the report published last week, All Kids Count: The Impact of the Two-Child Limit After Two Years, produced jointly by the Church of England and the Child Poverty Action Group. This presents detailed and disturbing evidence of this policy’s impact after two years. It is based on interviews with more than 430 families. I urge the Minister and all Members of your Lordships’ House to give the report careful consideration, and the Government to take action on its findings.

I would welcome a new approach by the Government towards child poverty, which is widely acknowledged to be growing. Having said that, I broadly support this statutory instrument.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab)
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My Lords, I have just two quick questions. First, where the recipient who is due to make payment is subject to a benefit sanction, what impact does that have on the amounts that are collectable, as proposed in this order? Secondly, the £8.40 can be an amalgam of the collection fee and the maintenance payment. So far as the government accounts are concerned, how is that split and dealt with?

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of these regulations, and all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly my noble friend Lord McKenzie; he always comes up with questions I would never have thought to ask, and they are always excellent. I hope the Minister had thought further ahead than I did—although I see someone running to the Box so perhaps she had not.

I very much agree with the points made about child poverty and the role that child support plays in helping to provide a platform on which single parents can build an income which helps lift their children out of poverty. So we do not oppose these regulations. It is important, wherever possible, that both parents should contribute towards the cost of raising a child after a break-up. An adult may leave their partner but they do not get to leave responsibility for their children.

I accept that the regulations are designed to provide a series of changes and clarifications to make it easier to collect arrears and maintenance payments under the Child Maintenance Service scheme. I will concentrate on a few specific points: the proposal to allow deductions for child maintenance to be made from universal credit where a non-resident parent has earnings and meets the criteria to be eligible for the flat rate; the increase in the amount, plus collection charges, that can go towards paying arrears; extending the scope; and the enforcement points.

The proposal to allow deductions of £8.40 from benefits for arrears in cases where the non-resident parent is no longer paying ongoing maintenance seems sensible. I can understand that for someone on a low income, £8.40 is a lot of money, but it is entirely possible that the single parent on a low income could also be on benefits, and both parents may well have suffered from the cut in living standards brought about by the benefits freeze and the other cuts in benefits. That seems to be an element of fairness that has to be addressed.

It is also very important that non-resident parents are clear that they will be chased for any arrears they owe. I ask the Minister for a broader update on this. She mentioned that we debated some child maintenance regulations last November. At that point the key thing the Government did was to write off billions of pounds of arrears from the old CSA system, and the quid pro quo for that, because we pushed them at the time, was that they would promise to pursue enforcement. This really matters because otherwise there is a moral hazard question. If a message goes out to parents: “If you just hold off long enough and don’t pay, in the end the Government will give in and write it off”, clearly that creates a disincentive to pay the money that should be paid for your children. So it is really important that we do not get back into that question. Ministers made the case in those regulations for a clean break with the old system, but that places a huge onus on them to make sure that arrears do not build up again in the new system.

I looked at the latest statistics and I am a bit worried. Since the new Child Maintenance Service began, a total of £259.2 million of child maintenance is unpaid, which should now be paid through the collect and pay service. That is 11% of all child maintenance due to have been paid since the service began. In the last quarter of last year, only 66% of paying parents using that collect and pay system were compliant; and compliant does not mean that they pay all of it but that they are paying some of it. So only two-thirds who were using the actual statutory system of compliance were paying anything at all. I may have misread those figures, but can the Minister confirm whether that is right? If the figures are right, is she happy with them? If she is not happy with them, how much difference does she expect these regulations to make to that performance?

16:30
The Minister mentioned the Government’s preference for parents making a private arrangement. We have been here before. Mrs Thatcher—as she was then—originally set up the CSA precisely because money was not being paid for children. People were leaving relationships and not paying money for their kids, so it really matters that the system works. Can the Minister tell the House what proportion of separated parents have a functioning child maintenance arrangement in place now, compared with before the reforms the Government brought in? I am worried that making people pay to use the system is going to be a disincentive, and that those who have to pay will struggle to afford it.
I have a few more specific questions. Can the Minister confirm when the deductions from universal credit proposed in these regulations will take place? It was originally intended that they would be introduced only when universal credit was fully rolled out. However, since that day seems to become ever more distant, can the Minister say if this is still the case? I see that during the consultation, at least one respondent suggested that the Government should not wait until universal credit was fully rolled out to bring in these deductions, but should start sooner. In their response, the Government said that they were considering it. Where are we up to on that? I cannot see from the regulations what the start date for that will be.
The other changes seem mainly technical or procedural. I will not pursue those, but I want to say a brief word about the proposal to amend the CMS’s powers of entry by allowing an inspector to apply to the relevant court for a warrant. Can the Minister help me on this? The department has used the 2012 Act to review whether they think the powers are being used appropriately, and whether they are needed. Clearly it thinks they are needed, but the only change being made is that inspectors will be able to seek a warrant to enter premises where they have previously been refused entry. However, in paragraph 7.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum, it seems not only that they may seek a warrant but that they must seek one, if they have been previously refused entry. I realise that we are firmly into geek territory here, but can the Minister say why we are going for “must” and not “may”? Why not leave it to the discretion of the inspector?
Can the Minister also say what evidence there is that this change is needed? What is the problem to which this is a solution? Have there been any complaints about these powers, or is it just that having used the 2012 Act, this was the only thing the Government could find to offer up in light of that recommendation? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Sherlock, for their contributions. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, is supportive of the statutory instrument. We have been working hard since 2012 to ensure that this system is fairer. It is important that, wherever possible, we encourage both parents to support their children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, referred to the two-child limit, which is not actually related to these statutory instruments but I will touch on it very briefly. We are very clear that people should take responsibility and think hard about whether they can afford additional children, in the same way that those who do not rely on the state often make the difficult decision to limit the number of children they have to how many they can afford. It is also important to point out that, although the limit was introduced for children born after April 2017 and the change of policy was notified a good two years earlier, people continue to receive child benefit for as many children as they have.

On the benefit cap, it is very important to note that the cap is lifted when the parents are working a sufficient number of hours. Indeed, a couple with three children have to work only 24 hours a week between them—just 12 hours a week each. The benefit cap is then lifted and they are then in receipt of income equivalent to a net income of £35,000 a year, plus their housing benefit. I think most noble Lords would agree with me that that is generous. This is funded by the taxpayer.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked what happens in cases where the parent has a fraud penalty or is sanctioned and is possibly in financial hardship because of the sanction. Some clients will have a fraud penalty or undergo sanctions while claiming benefits and may be eligible to claim a recoverable hardship payment. If a claimant has a fraud penalty or sanction applied to their universal credit award which is equal to or more than 40% of their standard allowance, the only deductions that can be taken at the same time are arrears of housing service charges or rent and fuel. These are to help protect the claimant and their family from being made homeless or having their fuel supply disconnected. All other deductions cease while the fraud penalty or sanction is being applied, so no child maintenance deductions will be taken. From October 2019, the 40% maximum deduction rule will be reduced to 30%.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on her ordination last weekend. That was very good to see, although it has not put her off from taking time out to ask me some difficult questions.

On the question of write-off statistics, up to the end of March 2019 217,500 cases held on the CSA computer systems with non-paying historical debt had the debt adjusted or written off. Some cases on the CMS system with debt below representation thresholds have also had their debt adjusted or written off. Activity on CMS system cases started later than on the CSA system and the data we need to report on them is not available yet. However, the CSA case load continues to reduce: the number of CSA cases held on CSA or CMS IT systems decreased from 809,000 in December 2018 to 674,00 in March 2019. The reduction in case load is mainly due to the closure of cases with government-only debt—a debt owed to parents of less than a thousand pounds. This historic debt continues to reduce, but the CSA has written to 125,200 parents with care to ask if they want a last attempt to be made to try to collect the debt owed to them.

We have not written off any debt without authority. As part of the case closure process, we brought to account some outstanding payments and activities and tidied up details of some cases. A significant number of CSA cases involved moneys being transferred directly between the two parties, and the case records have been adjusted to reflect this.

In July last year, the Government published their new compliance and arrears strategy for the Child Maintenance Service. This sets out how we are tackling the legacy of the failed Child Support Agency and the steps we will take to prevent arrears accruing at such a high rate again. Where it is cost effective and reasonable to do so, we are offering parents the choice of whether they would like us to make one last attempt to collect their debt. Where the collection of the outstanding debt is not possible or appropriate, we are writing it off. It was a difficult decision—we took some time to come to it because we strongly believe in enforcement—but many of the sums involved were very small. At the same time, it was costing the Government—in other words, the taxpayer—a lot of money to maintain this system and the debt within it. We prioritised the collection of maintenance for today’s children over historic debt where no child stands to benefit. The majority of the historic debt was owed to parents, not the taxpayer.

There was another question on how many parents on “collect and pay” actually pay. In the quarter ending March 2019, 67% of paying parents using the collect and pay service were compliant, up from 60% for the same period in 2018. This includes parents who transferred from the direct pay service having failed to pay their liabilities.

The noble Baroness also asked whether parents would be encouraged to be non-compliant, as they have seen outstanding CSA debt being written off. The write-off of CSA arrears is a one-off exercise and the regulations allowed us to do this only for debt accrued on the CSA schemes. These were historical arrears and this was in recognition that the majority of the CSA debt could not be collected, given its age and the circumstances of the parents. Where there is a possibility of successful collection at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, we continue to do that. Looking forward, we believe that we are building a better CMS. In this package of regulations, we are making further provision to collect payments and stop arrears like this building up again.

Have we made use of the new enforcement powers? We have started to use the powers from the previous package of regulations, which allow us to deduct from joint and business accounts and disqualify a parent from holding a passport. In these early stages, the new enforcement powers are proving successful, and we continue to monitor their implementation. Where a parent fails to pay on time or in full, we aim to take immediate action to re-establish compliance before enforcement action is needed, but new powers introduced in the 2018 regulations enable disqualification from holding or obtaining a UK passport and deductions from joint and business bank accounts.

Moving on, we are proposing to change our power of entry process so that inspectors must seek a judicial warrant to access premises where they have previously been refused entry or may apply for a warrant to enter premises at which they expect to be refused. Inspectors will also be able to apply for a warrant authorising entry if they are unable to contact the occupier of the premises in advance. A judicial warrant is a safeguard, which will allow occupiers to make representation before a magistrate as to why an inspector should not be allowed to enter, but we expect this to be quite a low-impact change, with the Child Maintenance Service expected to apply for fewer than 20 judicial warrants a year. This change brings us into line with the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and we believe that it adds a modest protection in a very small number of cases.

Deductions from universal credit will come into force on the day after the day these regulations are made.

I think that I have covered most of the questions. The fee for an application to the Child Maintenance Service is £20. This is intended to encourage parents to consider whether they really need a statutory scheme case, but it is not so high that it creates an obstacle to entering the scheme. Where an applicant has experienced domestic abuse or is under the age of 19, they are exempt from paying the application fee. It is not our intent to create a barrier of any sort for vulnerable claimants.

These regulations build on our earlier changes as part of the child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. They will make deductions from benefit more consistent, allow writing-off of unenforceable debts suspended on the CMS systems, improve our information-gathering processes and update the CMS calculation and fees regulations. I commend this statutory instrument—

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down I want to thank her for her kind words. I should perhaps have reminded the House of a now rather historic interest, as a former board member of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. Can I press her on a couple of questions which I think she did not pick up?

In one question, I was asking whether the Minister was happy with the compliance rate. I think we agree broadly what it is, at 66% or 67% of those paying something. That seemed quite low to me. I wondered whether the Government were satisfied with that and, if not, what difference these regulations might make. The other question I asked was about the proportion of parents who currently have an effective child maintenance arrangement in place, and how that compares to before when there was a more widespread statutory system. Is she able to comment on either of those points?

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I would like to take both comments away because those are quite useful questions to ask. Perhaps the noble Baroness and I could pursue them beyond your Lordships’ House, in our continuing to review the system as it is. Thank you.

Motion agreed.
Third Reading
16:45
A privilege amendment was made.
Clause 1: Rules for an online procedure in courts and tribunals
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out “technical”
Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the House for its engagement on this Bill throughout its passage. I will first turn to government Amendment 3 on the topic of paper processors. I thank noble Lords once again for their engagement over recent weeks and commend the constructive discussions that we have had on this topic.

On Report, amendments were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beith; the noble Lord, Lord Pannick; and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to ensure that it was clear in the Bill that the ability to submit paper forms and documents would remain available throughout proceedings governed by online procedure rules, not just at the beginning of the application. I am aware that noble Lords were concerned that people should be able to receive documents from the court in paper form as well as to send them.

Of course, our original government amendment tabled before Report sought to address this issue, but I agreed to go away and look again at whether we could provide additional clarity. It has always been the Government’s intention to ensure that paper processors are available at each stage of the process. We are committed to an accessible justice system which supports the needs of all our users. I hope that our new amendments clarify this to the House.

The new amendments make provision for users to choose a paper option at any time throughout their proceedings, and this includes both the sending and receiving of documents. Our system must be accessible and useful for everyone, and with the Bill as drafted I now think that we have achieved that.

I will now turn to government Amendments 1, 2, 5 and 6. Before Report, the Government tabled two amendments relating to support for users of our online services. The first of these provided that, when making new court rules, the committee must have regard for the needs of those who require support to engage online. The second amendment followed this to ensure that the Lord Chancellor should also have regard for the needs of litigants who require digital support when deciding whether to allow or disallow the Online Procedure Rules. These amendments did, and still do, ensure that rules will be made with due consideration of the support which is in place for those requiring assistance to engage with digital services under the Online Procedure Rules.

I had tabled these further amendments to both clarify the intention and ensure consistency of drafting between the earlier government amendments and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, which was accepted on Report. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, places a duty on the Government to provide support for users of the online system. The amendment does not use the word “technical” to qualify this support, and instead requires the Lord Chancellor to provide support to assist those people accessing or who wish to access the online procedure by electronic means, in accordance with the electronic procedure rules. The support will be such as the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate and proportionate to assist users to gain greater access to and make better use of online services. The government amendments ensure consistency with that approach. They also underline our intention that users who might otherwise be digitally excluded must have appropriate and proportionate support to assist them to access the electronic services that will underpin the new online procedure.

In addition, there are consequential amendments. Amendments 4 and 7 are minor consequential amendments. Amendment 4 follows on from the insertion in Clause 5(7), by way of amendment on Report in the Lords, which allows the Lord Chief Justice to appoint a judicial member as chair of the Online Procedure Rule Committee. This amendment means that the Lord Chancellor, subject to the concurrence and consultation requirements in Clause 7, may if necessary amend Clause 5(7), as he may amend other provisions in Clause 5.

Finally, following amendment on Report in the Lords, Amendment 7 is consequential to the insertion of Clause 10(3), which requires the Lord Chief Justice’s concurrence before the Lord Chancellor may amend legislation in consequence of, or in order to facilitate the making of, Online Procedure Rules. It allows the Lord Chief Justice to nominate a member of the senior judiciary to give such concurrence. I beg to move.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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I think we are in danger of slight confusion, with too many amendments moved at the same time. This is obviously a mark of the Minister’s enthusiasm for his amendments, which is actually shared by Members around the Chamber, because they are the fruit of the discussions to which he referred. I simply want to say, before it all becomes water under the bridge, how very much I welcome the Minister’s Amendment 3, which fully achieves what I have been trying to do in amendments both in Committee and on Report. This is, as the noble and learned Lord indicated, to ensure that someone who does not feel comfortable with or able to use the online system can participate in the same process using paper, can receive any documents they have to receive and can put in any subsequent documents, not just the initiating documents, on paper, because the Courts Service will scan the documents and provide the necessary copies as well.

I suspect that this is a minority and even a generational thing. When people like me have ceased even to think of engaging with court cases, or are lying beneath the ground, everybody will be online—but that is certainly not the situation at the moment. We do not want the law to be blind to the concerns of those for whom this is a very new kind of proceeding, and one for which they do not have the necessary skills or experience, particularly when dealing with something as difficult as a legal case. So I am very grateful to the Minister for all he has done in this respect and I support this—and indeed his other amendments.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
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My Lords, I support not only the amendments to which my name is attached but all the amendments proposed today. Taken with the earlier amendments which the House considered and which the Government have added, this makes for a much better Bill than ever it was. The particular point I wish to emphasise is that, as a result of these changes, the House, and in particular the Government, have recognised the impact of the constitutional reforms of 2005. The emphasis ought now to be recollected whenever there are any proposals to address the way in which the courts system works. Beyond that, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, for his personal contribution to the discussions and improvements—and, through him, I thank his team.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham (Lab)
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My Lords, I join noble Lords who have spoken in this very short debate in thanking the noble and learned Lord for the way he has approached the Bill. He has sought very clearly to achieve consensus; he has been open to discussion; and he has obviously been persuaded to make important changes. It is something he might like to have a word with other ministerial colleagues about, because it has not always been the case that Ministers have responded so constructively to debates in the Chamber. On this occasion, I am sure that the House will unanimously agree these amendments. Certainly we on these Benches—such as we are this afternoon—will do so.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I wish simply to join in the unanimous praise and gratitude for the Government’s acceptance of those amendments that they have accepted, and their tabling of these amendments today. The Online Procedure Rules are intended to introduce a new and simplified procedure. We were concerned to ensure that litigants who were going to find it difficult to use that procedure, particularly in so far as it was a digital procedure and they would not be using paper means to conduct proceedings, should not be excluded by difficulty from approaching the procedure and should have afforded to them the kind of assistance they would need to handle litigation, without the need for lawyers, under the Online Procedure Rules.

We are particularly grateful for the Government’s acceptance of Amendment 4, which imposes a duty on the Lord Chancellor, as the Minister has explained, to provide assistance or support for digitally excluded people, and these amendments tie in the obligation to have regard to the needs of those people in conducting that litigation. I was particularly concerned about the use of the word “technical” in relation to that assistance, because it seemed to us that that might be unduly restrictive. I am grateful for the excision of that word from the amendments.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister very much, even in relation to a Bill which, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has just said, seeks to reduce the role and importance of lawyers in litigation. I want to add two points. The first is to remind the House that the concerns which the Minister has so satisfactorily addressed arise from the report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. This confirms the value of the committees that serve this House—I am of course a member of that committee—and reinforces the importance of the non-partisan nature of these committees and the value of the work they do.

Secondly, without in any way undermining the sense of unanimity and gratitude to the Minister, I just remind him that there is one contentious issue which goes to the other place. Your Lordships’ House insisted on amendments, against the wishes of the Government, to what are now Clauses 9(4) and 10(3), requiring the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to use his good efforts to ensure a satisfactory resolution of that issue, as well as all the other issues. The Minister’s role in this Bill has been quite exemplary, and he has done a great deal to ensure that it will leave this House in a much better state than when we started it.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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I am obliged to all noble Lords and all noble and learned Lords for their observations regarding the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, observed, it may be difficult to anticipate the speed with which these online procedures are taken up by individuals, but one is reminded of a character in an Ernest Hemingway novel who is asked how he became bankrupt and replies, “Gradually and then suddenly”. It may well be that we will see a similar development with these digitised procedures.

I note what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have said. The term “satisfactory resolution” is of course open to interpretation. I observe merely that the extent of permanent constitutional reform anticipated by some of the amendments that passed may not be as great as the noble and learned Lord anticipates. However, we wait to see the reaction in the other place.

Again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the Bill. It leaves this House a better Bill than it came in—I have no doubt at all about that.

Amendment 1 agreed.
Amendments 2 and 3
Moved by
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert “, in accordance with Online Procedure Rules”
3: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (6) and insert—
“(6) Where Online Procedure Rules require a person to initiate, conduct, progress or participate in proceedings by electronic means, Online Procedure Rules must also provide that a person may instead choose to do so by non-electronic means.”
Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.
Clause 7: Power to change certain requirements relating to the Committee
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: Clause 7, page 7, line 19, leave out “(6)” and insert “(7)”
Amendment 4 agreed.
Clause 8: Making Online Procedure Rules
Amendments 5 and 6
Moved by
5: Clause 8, page 8, line 9, leave out “technical”
6: Clause 8, page 8, line 10, at end insert “, in accordance with Online Procedure Rules”
Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.
Clause 10: Power to make amendments in relation to Online Procedure Rules
Amendment 7
Moved by
7: Clause 10, page 9, line 9, leave out “(4)” and insert “(3)”
Amendment 7 agreed.
A privilege amendment was made.
17:00
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Post-18 Education and Funding Review

Tuesday 2nd July 2019

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Motion to Take Note
17:01
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That this House takes note of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding led by Philip Augar.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who are to participate in this debate. I am very conscious of the knowledge and experience of the Peers down to speak and await all contributions with great interest. It gives me great pleasure to debate this report and the review of post-18 education and funding that it informs, not least because I no longer have to keep noble Lords in suspense about the publication date—“shortly” or “soon” becomes “now”.

I reiterate my thanks to the panel led by Philip Augar for its exceptional work. The panel consulted a wide spectrum of experts and received almost 400 responses to its call for evidence. I also thank all the stakeholders, including colleagues from across the House, who contributed to the review. Alongside Dr Augar were Professor Sir Ivor Crewe, Jacqueline de Rojas, Professor Edward Peck, Beverley Robinson and, last but certainly by no means least, the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who I am pleased to see is in her place today. On behalf of the House I thank her for her hard work and effort.

Noble Lords will be eager to know what decisions the Government are going to make. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that I cannot commit to any decisions here today. But I come in listening mode and am prepared to answer as many questions as I can.

Whatever route a student chooses, post-18 education should set them on a successful path for their future. We recognise that good careers information, advice and guidance are vital to help people of all ages make informed decisions about their options, including routes into further and higher education. That is why we launched a comprehensive careers strategy, as well as investing more than £70 million each year until 2020, to help ensure that young people and adults received high-quality careers provision. Meanwhile, the Careers & Enterprise Company has also invested in more than 150 employer-engagement programmes, benefiting 540,000 young people.

However, it is important to remember that most students in post-18 education are not at university. As Augar emphasised, further education and technical colleges play an essential part in delivering the modern industrial strategy, with its long-term plan to boost productivity. We are all more likely to have multiple careers during our working lives and must be conscious of the need for reskilling and upskilling.

Around 1.5 million jobs in England are at risk of some automation in the future. That is why we are bringing together businesses, workers and government through the National Retraining Scheme, which will help prepare adults for future changes to the economy, including automation. We will also look carefully at the panel’s recommendations on how we can encourage more flexibility across our post-18 system to support people in accessing the right education for them throughout their lives. I share the Secretary of State’s strong belief that both the HE and FE sectors can, and should, continue to thrive together. To ensure a genuine choice for young people, and to give employers access to a highly skilled workforce, we want to see a system where technical education has the same weighting for a young person as an academic route.

I will take a step back and look at how we reached this major review—the first review since the Robbins report in 1963—to look at the totality of post-18 education. As many noble Lords will note, our current system of post-18 education already has many strengths. First, we have a world-class higher education system, with four UK universities in the world top 10 and 18 in the top 100. That is truly to be celebrated. Secondly, we have record numbers of 18 year-olds entering university, including from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thirdly, students from the lowest-income households have access to the largest-ever amount of cash support for their living costs. Fourthly and finally, our student finance system removes up-front financial barriers and provides protections for borrowers so that they have to contribute only when they can afford to do so.

We should not overlook all that we have achieved on the back of the Higher Education and Research Act. The Office for Students became fully operational in April last year and will, inter alia, play a key role in delivering the Department for Education’s objectives to improve and support informed choice through the provision of effective information, advice and guidance to all students. The teaching excellence and student outcomes framework now holds universities to account for teaching and graduate outcomes; I will say more about that later. Finally, diversity and flexibility in the system continue to increase; for example, with possibilities for new providers and accelerated degrees.

We are already reforming technical and vocational education by establishing a technical education system that rivals the best in the world and introducing new T-levels in phases from September 2020, backed by the investment of an additional £500 million per year once they are fully rolled out; developing proposals to introduce employer-focused higher technical qualifications at levels 4 to 5 to rival traditional academic options; reviewing classroom-based higher technical education at levels 4 to 5 as part of creating a world-class system; and, finally, overhauling apprenticeships to put quality at the heart of the programme and to increase employer investment and engagement in training their workforces for the future.

I will now focus on the challenges we face, because challenges remain and parts of the system are not working as well as they could. We have seen further growth in three-year degrees for 18 year-olds but the post-18 system does not always offer a comprehensive range of high-quality alternative routes for the many young people who pursue a technical or vocational path at that stage. When young people apply to university, it is based on the assumption that a degree will set them up for a bright future, but today’s analysis shows that this is not always the case. In universities, we have not seen the extent of increase in choice that we would have wanted. The great majority of courses are priced at the same level and three-year courses remain the norm, when some courses clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others. It is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money. Although 18 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are now 52% more likely to go to university than they were 10 years ago, they are still less likely than their more advantaged peers to attend the most selective universities or to have the support that they need to complete their degree successfully and achieve a 2.1 or a First.

We have been concerned by the recent large increases in the number of unconditional—or conditional unconditional—offers received by students and the potential impact that these offers can have. We also have concerns about the serious issue of grade inflation. We must not allow the credibility of our world-class universities to be damaged by pockets of low quality. That is why the Secretary of State has tasked the OfS with driving out bad practices which are not in the student interest.

Meanwhile, although the funding system is a progressive one with built-in protections, those elements are not always well understood. Going to university should be a positive, life-changing experience but students need appropriate support, particularly as they matriculate, to deal with the challenges that starting university can include to ensure their well-being.

We have a vision for the future. The UK is truly a world-leading destination for study and research, but we recognise the concerns and that is why we committed to conducting this major review. Studying for a degree is expected to benefit those undertaking it, with improved employment opportunities and a wage premium alongside wider individual well-being and other social benefits. Low-value outcomes are not just about economic returns. High-quality provision in a range of subjects is critical for our public services and for culturally enriching our society. University is not just for investment bankers but for those who will go on to contribute to many other sectors, including our creative industries. We want to ensure that higher education improves the life of students and of wider society and we want to equip students with the information to make the right choice for them about where and what to study. Now our graduate data—commonly known as LEO—represents a step change in our ability to understand students’ labour market outcomes on leaving higher education.

Before I conclude, I want to draw attention to a recent announcement by the OfS. It has awarded £6 million for 10 large-scale projects to encourage higher education providers to find new ways of combating student mental health issues. These projects involve more than 60 different universities, colleges and other organisations, including NHS services, the police and charities, together contributing an additional £8.5 million in matched funding, taking the investment up to £14.5 million.

I greatly look forward to this debate and to hearing the views of all who are speaking today. The independent panel’s report forms an important step on the road to achieving our vision of the post-18 education system. I hope that noble Lords will forgive the cliché, but it rings true in this case: it is not the end of the process but rather the beginning. We will continue to engage with stakeholders now that the independent panel phase is complete, as we work towards the completion of this review. I beg to move.

17:12
Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, I too welcome this timely debate and thank the huge number of organisations that sent us briefings. It shows the importance of the work we are talking about. We all welcomed the Government setting up the Augar review and there was excited anticipation and expectation. Here at last was an opportunity to put right the inequalities in our post-18 education system. I am afraid, however, that the editorial in the Guardian summed up my feelings about the published review. It said that the proposed rebalancing of the post-18 system meant,

“that FE colleges are no longer quite such poor relations”.

Further education, for so long the Cinderella of the education system, may look just a little bit better dressed, but is still very far from being invited to the ball. The media headlines were not about the rebalancing of vocational education but all about the impact on our universities. I do not think it was a helpful message from the spokespersons of the wealthiest universities that, should their income suffer, one of the likely cuts they would have make was to their outreach activities. Their budgets for increasing diversity and encouraging disadvantaged students would be the first to be cut. This was not a particularly helpful or thoughtful comment on the review.

Of course, the real beneficiaries of the proposed cut in fees will not be those who take out huge loans: they will be paying even more back over the longer repayment period. The beneficiaries will be those better-off students who do not need to take out a loan: they will benefit from a cut of £7,500 over a first degree course.

Both broadcast and print media paid scant attention to what was said about England’s 200 further education colleges, which are the backbone of our vocational training provision. Our further education colleges represent the essential engine to meet our growing skills gap.

Just 37% of men and 34% of women undertake post-secondary, non-tertiary education in the UK, which compares badly with the 49% of men and 44% of women across the industrialised nations of the OECD. I understand that £8 billion of government funding was received last year by universities to support 1.2 million students. That was more than three times the £2.3 billion allocated to 2.2 million full-time and part-time students aged over 18 in further education. While the proportion of students attending university has risen over the past decade, the number in all forms of further education has declined. In this country, we have a very elitist view of education in that schools and parents judge their pupils’ success by how many go to university. Last year, I visited an academy in a very poor part of London. As I went in through the door, the banner across the front portal read, “We Want All Our Children to Experience a University Education”. But actually, a vocational education or apprenticeship might be better for many young people. Further education is often seen as for other people’s children.

For many young people, particularly those whose parents did not go to university, their choices at 16 depend on the advice they receive at school. With schools incentivised to direct their students into the school sixth form and then to university, many students are not even told about the vocational options or apprenticeship routes open to them. Only this week, I was talking to a colleague who became the education officer in a local authority 40 years ago. He told me that he always made a point of looking behind the door of the head teacher’s office when he visited a secondary school to see whether there was an unopened box of FE college prospectuses. Is that still the case? I hope not.

At an event hosted by the APPG on Apprenticeships, every one of the seven apprentices invited to meet the group explained that they had been forced to do their own research into starting an apprenticeship. Not one of their schools had offered them any information or guidance. Following the addition of the “Baker clause” to the Technical and Further Education Bill, the Government reminded every school that, since 2 January 2018:

“Every school must ensure that there is an opportunity for a range of education and training providers to access all pupils in year 8 to year 13 for the purpose of informing them about approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships. Every school must publish a policy statement setting out their arrangements for provider access and ensure that it is followed”.


I struggled to find the necessary policy statement on the school websites that I looked at, even though a model statement is set out in the guidance. Buried on one school’s site was a link from the heading “Not going to uni”, but the link was broken. Does the Minister know how many schools are meeting this statutory requirement?

Much of the report is good, and I will accentuate the positives in the 216-page review. It is encouraging to read that,

“there is a ‘powerful case’ for change in the FE sector … which in recent years has had its ability to innovate and plan for the long term ‘severely restricted’ by the funding regime”.

The report makes some very sound proposals. We support the proposal for a national network of colleges but have to consider the impact on students in rural areas. We very much welcome the £1 billion capital investment fund. We support the proposal that all adults should be able to study for their first level 2 and level 3 qualifications free of charge. We agree that there is no case to set a lower base rate for 18 year-olds in college compared to that for 16 and 17 year-olds. We agree that level 6 apprenticeships should be available only to those who have not undertaken a public-supported degree.

For me, as vice-president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Teaching Profession, the most important recommendation is on the further education workforce. With average salaries being £7,000 less than in secondary schools, it is little wonder that FE colleges struggle to recruit staff. Can the Minister assure us that the 23% contribution to teachers’ pensions, which is hurtling towards colleges, will be funded by the Government?

In many of the technical areas that further education students need to study, salaries in the private sector are twice that of an FE lecturer. In terms of lifelong learning, we must ensure that our workforce is able to access the education that the changing patterns of employment will require. More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle was able to say with confidence:

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”.


Rousseau said much the same thing, with equal confidence, 300 years ago. How times have changed—and at a much faster rate than ever. For those who missed out earlier in their education, or those who need to retrain for a new career, lifelong learning is an absolute must. We must pay tribute to the Augar review for emphasising this.

All of us in our political careers regret things that we have been forced to do or see happen. For me—I hold up my hands—it was the coalition deciding to end maintenance grants. That was a real loss to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Now I am pleased that reinstating them has been suggested in the review. I very much hope that it will happen.

Finally, it is interesting to note that Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have both announced spending plans as part of their leadership campaigns that even their own Chancellor thinks are in cloud-cuckoo-land. I have, to date, heard neither pledge to meet the cost of the Augar review. There is, of course, still plenty of time for each of them to agree to implement this review—at least one of the positive legacies that Mrs May craves.

17:22
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I intend to focus my remarks on the Augar review’s recommendations on further education, always a neglected area of public debate, not least in this House. Before doing so, I want to pick up on one aspect of the review concerning universities.

Unlike some commentators in the HE sector, I greatly welcome the recommendation to reduce tuition fees for undergraduates to a maximum of £7,500. The coalition Government’s decision to treble fees at one go was a mistake and unlikely to be sustainable, as we are now seeing. I can think of no other example where the price of a public service to the user, in this case graduates, has been increased by so much at once. There are several unfortunate outcomes, including the need for huge write-offs of unpaid loans, leaving a large problem for the public finances in the longer term, and the disastrous decline in part-time and mature undergraduates.

I welcome the recommendation to return to government grants to make up for the loss of fee income but regret that it is focused on STEM subjects. We must stop perpetuating the myth that science and engineering courses hugely outweigh others in their usefulness and value to the economy and society. For example, courses that prepare people for jobs in the creative industries, financial services, business or public sector management, as well as in education or social work, are as important. Can the Minister say categorically whether all undergraduate courses will have their funding made up by grant if fees are reduced to £7,500?

I now turn to further education. The Augar committee must be congratulated on taking up the cudgels on behalf of the colleges and the intermediate-level vocational and technical courses that they provide. It has been a feature of Conservative Governments to neglect FEs. When Labour took over in 1997, there were many failures in education that needed addressing after 18 years of Tory rule, but there were few greater than in further education. Close to a third of FE colleges were running deficits—in some cases, very large ones—and capital grants were far below what was required. The way they were managed needed attention, as did the training of their teaching staff. The Government addressed these issues, along with providing a 12% per annum increase in their funding.

When the Conservatives came back into power in 2010, once again FE went to the bottom of the pile. Whereas universities have been relatively unaffected by the austerity programme, FE has sustained huge cuts, which continued until very recently. I have often puzzled over Conservative Ministers’ long-standing reluctance to support the FE sector. Why do they not get it? Is it that they just do not know people involved in FE, either as staff or as students? Neither they nor their children normally go to these colleges. Nor is FE given much coverage in the media; it is always about universities or schools.

This debate has been initiated by the Government and I am grateful to them for that. I know that they are trying to fill in time here, as we have little to do with virtually no legislation of any significance while the ghastly saga of Brexit continues. However, I assume that they would not have initiated this debate unless they were prepared to give some indication of their intentions on Augar’s recommendations. Therefore, in commenting on some of them, I will ask whether they agree with them and, if so, what they will do. I would be grateful for a reply that does not just hide behind bland referen