All 18 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 13th Jan 2022

Grand Committee

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Thursday 13 January 2022

Arrangement of Business

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Announcement
13:00
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking.

If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes—or earlier if agreed.

Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021 (Airspace Change Directions) (Determination of Turnover for Penalties) Regulations 2022

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

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Considered in Grand Committee
13:01
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021 (Airspace Change Directions) (Determination of Turnover for Penalties) Regulations 2022.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, these draft regulations will be made under the powers conferred by the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021, which I will abbreviate as “ATMUA”.

Part 1 of ATMUA grants the Secretary of State powers to direct a person involved in airspace change to progress or co-operate in an airspace change proposal, or ACP, where doing so would assist in the delivery of the CAA’s airspace modernisation strategy. These powers are delegable to the Civil Aviation Authority, or CAA, as I have already mentioned. These powers will help deliver quicker, quieter, and cleaner journeys for the benefit of those who use UK airspace and are affected by its use. If the directed party does not comply with a direction, the CAA can issue them with a contravention notice, which may be followed by an enforcement order. If that enforcement order is contravened, this may result in a financial penalty consisting of a fixed amount, not exceeding 10% of the person’s turnover and/or a daily amount not exceeding 0.1% of the person’s turnover. A person’s “turnover” is to be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State, which is the draft instrument being considered by the Committee today.

Airspace has to be managed so it can be used safely and efficiently. ACPs can include proposals to, for example, amend airport flight paths or change the classification of particular airspace. In 2018, the CAA published its Airspace Modernisation Strategy, which set out the ends, ways and means of modernising airspace. The CAA is currently consulting on a refresh of its strategy, and I encourage those with an interest to put forward their views. The programme of airspace modernisation is under way, and includes the wholesale redesign of the UK’s airspace to unlock the benefits of modernisation. It is being delivered by the aviation industry, with support from the Department for Transport and the CAA, which provide joint leadership and oversight of governance as co-sponsors of the programme.

Airspace change usually relies on individual sponsors, airports and air navigation service providers, or ANSPs, to bring forward their own proposals and choose when, if and how, they progress them. Previously, when a sponsor declined to participate in an ACP on a voluntary basis, neither the department nor the CAA had the powers to ensure co-operation and co-ordination. This meant that one sponsor could hold up another or several others, thereby delaying the modernisation programme and the benefits associated with it.

With the recent passing of ATMUA, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct progression or co-operation in an ACP, once Part 1 of ATMUA comes fully into force. Where there are difficulties for a sponsor to overcome, the CAA will seek to help it in finding solutions—for example, in terms of resources. Our intention is that the direction-making powers will be a last resort and will only be issued where they can be practicably carried out. Before any direction is made, consultation would take place as required by ATMUA. These regulations are required to ensure that the legislative framework can operate as intended, and therefore their commencement will be aligned with Part 1 of ATMUA, so far as that is not already in force.

The draft instrument enables the CAA to enforce directions effectively, when imposing a penalty, by setting out how a person’s turnover is to be calculated. The amount of penalty must in all cases be appropriate and proportionate. These regulations have been drafted to take account of the diverse nature of persons involved in airspace change. Maintaining an appropriate level of penalty for all organisations will deter non-compliance and support ACPs to take place in a co-ordinated manner, which will contribute to a more effective airspace modernisation programme. It will also ensure that, where penalties are imposed, they are both transparent and proportionate.

The department consulted on the enforcement powers within ATMUA in 2018. Respondents, including airlines and airports, were broadly supportive, provided that application is proportionate and used as a last resort. The CAA would, of course, have regard to the requirement of proportionality in using the power to fine, in accordance with its statutory duties and the better regulation agenda.

A person’s turnover is determined with reference to the sum of all amounts received in the course of their business, as shown in their published accounts. If the person has not published accounts, the accounts prepared by that person will be used. Turnover includes loans from public or local authorities, but it excludes capital receipts and loans made by a third party. The annual turnover considered is for the most recent business year, ending on or before the last day of the period specified in the enforcement order for complying with the requirement, the contravention of which is subject to the penalty. Only one year of turnover is used in the calculation.

The use of this 12-month period is in line with the Civil Aviation Act 2012 and Part II of the Transport Act 2000, which both specify calculations based on the “last regulatory year”. We are using the same period here to ensure consistency of regulation across the aviation and wider sectors. Amounts are to be calculated according to generally accepted accounting principles and practices in the UK. Provision is also made for situations where a person does not have 12 months of accounts. The turnover period to be used in determining the level of penalty is decided according to the compliance date for the relevant requirement in the enforcement order.

This instrument is being made so that the Government can ensure effective and proportionate enforcement by the CAA against airspace change sponsors who put the delivery of the airspace modernisation programme at risk. I commend these regulations to the Committee, and I beg to move.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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I am grateful to be able to contribute to the debate on this statutory instrument, and I shall be very brief. I note that this is the first use of the power in paragraph 12 of Schedule 2 to the Act, and I simply want to ask my noble friend a couple of questions.

First, could my noble friend give some examples as to why it is felt necessary to bring this forward now, since this is the first use of the power in the Act? Equally, I listened carefully to what she said, and she said that the power would be used only in extremis, but I am not clear how the rate of fine will actually be applied. She talked about it being proportionate, but proportionate to what? Who will decide what that proportionality is? Crucially, what will be the appeal process for any fine that is imposed?

My real concern is about the relationship with the Ministry of Defence, and I would be grateful if my noble friend could outline that relationship. Clearly, the MoD operates a number of airfields across the United Kingdom, most of which happen to be out of the main flight paths in Lincolnshire, but of course some are not—such as RAF Northolt in London. As the CAA moves forward with the Airspace Modernisation Strategy, can she outline what the relationship with the MoD will be in the implementation of that strategy? Crucially, what will be the resolution process if there is a disagreement with the MoD about the implementation of that modernisation strategy?

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome very much this SI today. By way of background, I have had the privilege of reading the CAA publication Airspace Modernisation Strategy, and I have had the chance to look at the Airspace Change Organising Group’s work so far. From my background as a former pilot in the RAF who takes an interest in aviation, my stance is that I certainly do not accept the view put forward as a result of COP 26 that aviation is in decline mode; I think that aviation is absolutely fundamental to the future success of our country and our economy. I welcome enormously the work that the CAA is doing alongside the department involved, because it is absolutely vital for our exports trade and for internal trade that we use to the maximum possible the airspace that is available.

Having said that, I have just a couple of short questions. One of our previous problems, particularly with unmanned aircraft—in other words, drones—was that people claimed that there was not proper awareness, the publicity was not adequate and somehow or other they had missed out on this, that and the other. Given the nature of these penalties, which are absolutely justifiable, we need to take particular care to ensure that there is proper publicity in depth and to check, by way of research, that people are aware of the changes being made.

Other than that, I just ask my noble friend, because I do not quite understand, why, according to paragraph 7.4,

“Public consultation on some of the airspace change proposals is likely to commence in 2022.”


From reading the material I referred to, it is a package in toto, so I am not quite sure how you can regulate just a section of the airspace—unless it is felt that you can do Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland separately. I am not quite clear why it should be just “some”, as opposed to a complete package. I look forward to my noble friend’s responses.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome this regulation. On first reading, I thought that it was a bit of a sledge-hammer to crack a nut, but when you start reading the Aerospace Modernisation Strategy—127 pages of it—you can see why it is necessary. I question whether the strategy will not need some amendment as a result of Brexit, but I shall come on to that.

I have one interesting suggestion, which relates to paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum on the regulations. It seems to me that, having cancelled EGNOS—which I shall come on to—the Government could be seen to be contravening the notice in those paragraphs. Could the CAA instruct the Government to reintroduce EGNOS or face a fine of 10% of the Government’s turnover? That is a pretty stupid question, but it is a consequence of the way it is written. I hope we will never get to that, and I am sure we will not. My interest in EGNOS is that I live on the Isles of Scilly and spent three days waiting to fly out after Christmas, because it was a bit foggy and there are no ships, so we rely on aeroplanes. I think that some of the Scottish islands are in a similar position.

I have been following EGNOS over the years, which, as we all know, is a satellite-based system that is a great deal cheaper than the ILS that they have in Heathrow, Gatwick and other places. Originally, the Government were enthusiastic about EGNOS, and I understand that the Secretary of State wrote to the CAA just after he became Transport Secretary to direct it to prioritise the airspace change proposals necessary to put EGNOS in place. Sadly, of course, in May last year, it was cancelled, and the Secretary of State confirmed that the Government could not agree terms with the EU for continuing to use EGNOS, saying:

“I recognise that it nonetheless remains a disappointing outcome.”


I certainly agree with him there.

I have had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, who played a major part in setting up the Galileo satellite system when she was in the European Parliament. She is very surprised about this decision, which I do not think she knew about. There has been very little comment about it. In April, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, put down a Written Question, which did not really get much of an answer from Ministers, but they did say that they agreed to cancel EGNOS because

“it was not considered value for money.”

13:15
It is extraordinary, really, that a decision such as that is based on value for money. I ask the Minister, when she comes to respond, on what basis the Government calculate the cost and benefit of having airports—particularly in remote, lifeline situations—that do not have the latest navigation aid because it has been cancelled. There is no other solution at the moment; the answer is that you just do not fly. I am not particularly asking the Minister to answer this today; I gave her notice that I was going to make some comments about this.
I would like to know what the ongoing cost of continuing with EGNOS would be. If the Government insist that it cannot continue, what are the alternatives, especially for small, lifeline airports? It is no good putting in a Heathrow-style ILS; that would be ridiculous. How long would it take to develop and install these? I was told that, if it needed a new satellite system—I do not know why we should have to have a new satellite system for just one very small piece of air traffic control —it might take 10 years, which is a very long time without proper transport.
Thirdly, will the Government compensate those airports, airlines and others that followed the Secretary of State’s encouragement to develop EGNOS and were suddenly told in June, “Sorry, you can dump that; you can’t use it”?
I hope the Government can find a solution to this—and fast. To help take things forward, will the Minister agree to set up a meeting for interested Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, and any other noble Lord who is interested —maybe the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe—with BEIS and the Department for Transport to see what the situation is at the moment and how it can best be revolved in future?
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I follow up that final comment by saying that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has raised some important issues, and I would really appreciate being copied into any correspondence that flows from his comments. Indeed, I would like to be invited to any meetings that the Minister chooses to hold.

Although this SI is evidently very technical, it allows us a useful opportunity to ask some important questions, as noble Lords already have, about the progress of airspace modernisation and its implications. This legislation flows from a policy implemented at a time when our skies were busy and there was an expectation of further expansion.

I want to make clear that it is obvious to me that airspace modernisation is a good and vital thing. It is very important environmentally, but it comes in the “Good but difficult” category because, once you develop new air corridors for an airport, you are concentrating flights over one set of people, who, not surprisingly, will be unhappy at that, whereas all the other people who no longer have those flights going over them are relieved that that is the case. It is balancing upsetting one set of people against pleasing others.

Of course, there is also the balance between the benefits to one airport and another, which has sparked this SI. That issue is probably most acute in the south-east of England, but it can and does occur in other parts of the country.

We are now in a very different situation with aviation, so my first question to the Minister is: how have the Government adapted their policies in relation to airspace modernisation, if at all? Have they slowed down the pace of change as a result of the impact of Covid? Whatever emerges as aviation regrows, and I share the view that it inevitably will, there will be a change in pattern in the short and medium term as various parts of the world recover from Covid more rapidly than others. But there will also be a change in pattern of the type of traveller. I venture that business flights will never recover to the level at which they once were. That, of course, spells trouble for any airport that concentrates on a lot of business travellers. They will have to adapt, and I am sure they will, but it means a change in pattern of use and direction for the traffic.

The crucial point of difficulty in the airspace modernisation process is the consultation with residents. The Explanatory Memorandum indicates that this is planned to start in 2022. I would be pleased if the Minister could explain that to us in a little more detail. What proportion of the consultation with the public will take place in 2022? Will just a few pioneer airports do it, or will most of the public consultation take place then?

It will take time for competition to shift, change and adapt to the new patterns. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether it is wise to go ahead to the point where, in extremis, we start fining airports for lack of co-operation when the whole new pattern of competition is still settling down. The aviation industry has had a very tough time. Airports have suffered badly and had relatively little alleviation from the Government. Therefore, anything that adds a burden by fining them for a lack of co-operation could be the last straw for some of them.

I am, of course, attracted to the idea of penalties for non-co-operation being based on the resources and size of the company concerned, but will this take account of the different treatment of airports in the last couple of years? Aviation has not benefited from total alleviation of business rates in England but it has in other parts of the UK, so there has been a patchwork in the way airports have been treated.

Once again, we are in a situation where the CAA is being given additional powers. The Minister used the phrase “in extremis”. What discretion will the CAA have when taking into account the financial difficulties of an airport as a result of airspace modernisation and the implications for its future business?

The EM says that 71 or 72 organisations are affected, yet there is little assessment of the financial impact of this measure. The process of modernising airspace and consulting the public is very expensive; the cost of familiarising yourself with the legislation is really marginal. I am therefore surprised that there is no full impact assessment. I ask the Minister whether perhaps that should be reconsidered. The whole process could, or will, have a significant impact on some individual airports, because modernisation will disadvantage them. That surely needs to be taken into account at this point in time, which is very difficult for those in the aviation industry.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the introduction of these regulations, which help to determine the financial penalties for those who do not comply with airspace modernisation directions. The Minister will recall that during the passage of the Act, these Benches supported the aims of airspace modernisation; we therefore support these regulations, which assist that process. The aviation industry is critical to the UK economy, and it is in everyone’s interests that we redesign UK flight paths to deliver quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys. On this, can the Minister update the Committee more generally on the process of airspace modernisation and the timetable that is currently being worked towards?

On the specific legislation before the Committee, can the Minister explain why this formula for calculating turnover was not included in the original Act? Can she also confirm how the department determined this formula? The instrument has the support of the Opposition, but I would be grateful if the Minister could provide answers to these questions. I would be quite content to receive a letter in response. On my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s issues, I would be grateful to be copied in if there is to be a meeting or correspondence.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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That was a surprisingly short speech by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for which I am grateful. I hear his comments about wanting to be included in correspondence on any meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about EGNOS. I also note the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on being included in that.

The noble Lord has raised a very important point and I am therefore pleased to take that forward. As he said, the UK’s participation in the EGNOS programme ended on 25 June 2021 and, since that date, no UK airports other than the three Channel Islands airports have any arrival procedures in place linked to the EGNOS working agreements or should be preparing to use them. The Government continue to assess the impact on the aviation sector of the UK’s withdrawal from the EGNOS programme but have yet to determine whether there needs to be a UK-led EGNOS replacement.

I am very happy for a meeting to be arranged for the noble Lord and others. I will go one better than a meeting with me and ensure that it is with the Aviation Minister, so that he can hear the concerns directly. I will be happy to attend too but he will be more useful than me on the topic, I fear.

I turn to other issues raised by noble Lords in the consideration of the regulations before the Committee—and I am grateful for all contributions. A number were raised around the airspace modernisation programme as a whole. It feels like a little while since we have discussed airspace modernisation, and it is quite good to return to the topic. The Government remain committed to the airspace modernisation programme; we believe that, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the aviation industry and air traffic levels, the need to modernise the UK’s airspace design remains clear.

13:30
I thank my noble friend Lord Naseby for his positive comments about aviation and the CAA. I agree with him: we want our aviation sector to bounce back, as it is a hugely beneficial sector for our country and our ability to reach out overseas. We are very much focused on taking the airspace modernisation programme forward. As noble Lords will have discussed with me before, it is a complex and long-term challenge, and one that is done in a very deliberate fashion. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, called it “good but difficult”. It is exceedingly difficult and we need to go step by step. That is why the decision by the CAA to call for evidence on refreshing the strategy, which as I mentioned in my opening remarks is under way at the moment, is a good thing. We need to ensure that we are headed in the right direction, and engagement with the industry and the wider sector with an interest in this is very important.
I reassure noble Lords that this issue is not going to be swept under the carpet as too difficult, and something that, in the light of the Covid pandemic, we should just not do anyway, because we are very focused on taking it forward. To that extent, we have had conversations with the Treasury and in March 2021 the DfT and HMT agreed a Covid-19-related funding support package of £5.5 million for the FASI programme, to allow the programme to restart. FASI, as I think noble Lords will recall—in fact, I cannot remember what it stands for, and I shall write. But the point is that we wanted it to restart, because a number of the airports and airspace change sponsors were asking what they could do—so we have £5.5 million to make sure that it goes ahead. That means that we can progress that important project. Funds were made available to support the ACPs in the programme, which will assist airports to reach the end of stage 2 of the CAA’s CAP 1616 process—that is, the develop and assess gateway—by the end of 2022.
We continue to engage with the Treasury on a funding request for 2022-23 to allow sponsors to complete stage 2 of the process, and hope to make a decision on that very shortly. We understand that, for some in the aviation sector, finding funding for this may be a challenge—and I thank my officials for telling me that FASI stands for future airspace strategy implementation. Finding funding for this, particularly for smaller airports, is very difficult, and the CAA will work closely with sponsors to make sure that they are able to progress as appropriate. The CAA’s airspace modernisation oversight team is always there to help sponsors work together, to work through problems—because anything that is alluded to in the regulations today about fining people millions of pounds is an absolute last resort.
We want this to progress in a way that is collaborative and co-operative. Noble Lords know, because we discussed this during the progress of ATMUA, that very occasionally people dropped out of the process previously and it has all fallen apart. The CAA will be given an advisory role by the Secretary of State in monitoring the progress of ACPs as part of this airspace modernisation strategy; it will be set out in a Section 16 letter, an official agreement between the department and the CAA. The department wrote to the CAA on 15 November, setting out the advice that the Secretary of State will require, and that will ensure that the programme progresses in a way that is appropriate.
Lack of resources is likely to be a potential issue for the very smallest of airports. We expect about five of them to be in scope. As previously noted, we will work closely with them. It might sometimes be the case that a direction is issued for a third party to work on behalf of an airport, particularly if the benefits of an airspace change are not immediately visible to the smaller airport.
I turn to the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Naseby on making sure people know. He is absolutely right. The number of people involved in airspace change directly, rather than the general public, is not huge. It is probably about 72 organisations and we work incredibly closely with them. We consulted them on the powers that compel airspace changes and had lots of very positive responses. The negative responses were from community and environmental groups, which were generally opposed for other reasons. Obviously, we were able to assuage their concerns by reassuring about the good outcomes for noise in general aviation and military, which I will come on to.
I assure my noble friend that we are in constant contact with the industry. Indeed, last month, on 8 December, the CAA published its Enforcement Guidance and Draft Statement of Policy on Penalties. I recall discussing this during the passage of ATMUA. This very important document sets out to these 72 organisations what they can expect in terms of enforcement and how it really will be an absolute last resort if we get anywhere close to fines on turnover. We really do not want to go there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, discussed costs and impact assessments. As I noted, we believe that 72 organisations are in scope of needing to get to grips with this. We reckon it will cost each of them £1,333 to get to grips with these regulations, so, as can be understood, any impact from these regulations per se is de minimis and an impact assessment is therefore not required. Obviously, the noble Baroness is referring to the broader project, which is out of scope of an impact assessment for these particular regulations.
I will finish with the very important issue raised by my noble friend Lord Lancaster. I recall having some discussion about the MoD when we took the Bill through. The CAA is very focused on ensuring that its enforcement approach is absolutely reasonable. It is always informed by information received from dialogue with the recipient of the direction, from ACOG and other stakeholders.
More broadly, the relationship with the MoD has been of long standing and it is very involved in the airspace modernisation strategy. Technically, it can be a person involved in airspace change, as one would expect. There are different types of airspace change. Level M changes, which are airspace changes sponsored by the Ministry of Defence, follow different environmental rules from other proposals, but the MoD is currently participating in FASI South, as he will know, from RAF Northolt.
It is very unlikely that a situation would ever arise where the Secretary of State would make a direction to the MoD. I suggest that matters would have severely broken down if that were the case, as many layers of co-operation exist to prevent an issue escalating. CAP 740, the CAA’s UK airspace management policy, sets out how airspace management is structured in the UK and the expectations around how the MoD and the CAA work together. This is known at the joint and integrated, or J&I, approach. Section 70(2)(e) of the Transport Act 2000 requires the CAA to exercise its air navigation functions in the manner best calculated to facilitate the J&I approach. There is a memorandum of understanding between the CAA and the MoD that dates back to 2017. It set out details and expectations on all the parties. As stated in CAP 740:
“The UK ASM Process is so heavily integrated between Civil and Military participants that it is considered inconceivable”
that a breakdown of the process could occur. But I will certainly write to my noble friend to make sure we have provided him with all the reassurance he wants.
I will arrange for a meeting to happen on EGNOS. If I have missed out anything else, I will certainly write to fill in any gaps; otherwise, I commend these regulations to the Committee.
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she clarify further how much progress the Government expect to be made this year on the public consultation? I ask that because I am very aware that there is pressure on airports and the services that they run at this time, and to expect them to be doing public consultation effectively and efficiently at the same time might be rather too complex.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I deliberately swerved that question, yet did not advise her of the fact that I was doing so, because I do not have the answer—it was also raised by my noble friend Lord Naseby—but I will respond precisely on that matter. How the public will be involved, which ACPs are going forward and where, and all those sorts of things, I will put in a letter. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Merchant Shipping (Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments) Order 2022

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
13:41
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Merchant Shipping (Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments) Order 2022.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, the purpose of this order, which was laid before the House on 4 November 2021, is to give the Government the powers to implement the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments—or “the convention”, as I shall now refer to it—into UK law. The order relies on powers in Section 128(1)(e) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which I shall refer to as “the 1995 Act”. This order, if approved, will contain powers to make a new statutory instrument under the negative resolution procedure this year.

As noble Lords will be aware, shipping is essential to our global economy. In fact, it is estimated that it transports around 90% of the world’s commodities. In doing so, it transfers 3 billion to 5 billion tonnes of ballast water every year. This makes ballast water one of the most effective vectors for the transport of species around the world. For example, noble Lords may well have heard of the Chinese mitten crab, which is native to eastern Asia but was first discovered in the Thames estuary in 1935. It is one of the most destructive examples of invasive non-native species, as it preys on native populations, burrows extensively, causing damage to flood defences and riverbanks, and causes commercial losses in fisheries.

I should like to give some background about what the Government have done regarding the convention and outline the Government’s reasons for wanting to ratify it. In doing so, I remind noble Lords that our purpose today is to discuss the use of this draft order as a mechanism to provide the powers for the implementation of the convention, rather than to discuss the detail and implementation of the convention itself, which remains in progress.

The convention was adopted at a conference convened by the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, in 2004, and it entered into force internationally on 8 September 2017. It aims to prevent, minimise and ultimately eliminate the transfer of invasive non-native species through the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments. It does this by prohibiting the discharge of ballast water and sediments unless they have been managed in accordance with the convention requirements. The United Kingdom has not yet ratified the convention.

Noble Lords will note that the convention entered into force internationally four years ago, and it is quite reasonable to ask why we are only now seeking powers to implement the convention. The reason is that the UK had concerns regarding the availability of the equipment required for the sampling and analysis aspects of the convention. Delaying the UK’s ratification of the convention has allowed for these concerns to be addressed.

Subsequently, the UK rescheduled ratification and implementation of the convention to wait for amendments to the convention to enter into force, thereby ensuring that the UK implementing legislation, which is coming down the track, reflects the most up-to-date version of the convention. The Government made a public commitment to accede to the convention in 2020. This was again rescheduled to avoid placing extra burdens on the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government consider that the implementation of the convention into UK law is an important step to ensure that UK waters are protected.

13:45
The convention was negotiated at the IMO by representatives of Governments, the shipping industry and environmental interest groups. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, or MCA, played an active role in the negotiations at the IMO throughout the development of the convention.
The MCA has issued a frequently asked questions document to assist industry in understanding the requirements of the convention. The Government’s proposals for implementing the convention through the new statutory instrument, in the form of regulations, have also been the subject of a 12-week public consultation. The MCA has refined the proposals based on the comments received.
The convention cannot be implemented into UK law unless the Government have the power to do so. That is what this order addresses; it provides those powers, such that we can ratify the convention and then implement it in due course.
I will now briefly explain the powers we are relying on to make the instrument. We are relying on Section 128(1)(e) of the 1995 Act, which provides that Her Majesty may, by Order in Council, make such provision as she considers appropriate for the purpose of implementing any international agreement that has been ratified by the United Kingdom and relates to the prevention, reduction or control of pollution of the sea or other waters by matter from ships.
This order will authorise the making of the regulations by the Secretary of State to give effect to the convention. The United Kingdom has not yet ratified the convention. This is due to the procedure set out in both Section 128 of the Merchant Shipping Act and the convention. It is a little complicated, but it all makes sense if you think about it.
The key thing here is that we will end up with domestic law, once the set of regulations comes through, that absolutely meets our international obligations and reflects recent amendments to the convention. I have highlighted the importance of this Order in Council so that we can get on and ratify this convention and then get on and get through the regulations that implement this very important convention. I commend this draft order to the Committee, and I beg to move.
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this fascinating draft order. It is interesting that the Government blame everything on things coming from the Far East, be they Chinese or Japanese knotweed or Japanese oysters. I expect that equal blame goes in the opposite direction.

This needs doing—I have no problem with ensuring that ballast water is sampled and tested—but I wonder whether the Minister can just help me. How is this sampling done? It is presumably done when the ship is in port, then sent away for analysis—that seems quite clear to me—but what happens if some of the samples are found to be non-compliant with whatever regulations we are coming up with? Will they nail a writ to the mast of the ship, the next time it comes in? Will they send our Navy out on to the high seas? How will these things actually be enforced?

It is wonderful having regulations. These have been coming for a long time. The IMO worked very fast to get them ready by 2017. It probably takes 10 years to do these things, and now we are taking another five. It is important to understand how these regulations will be enforced. They need to be enforced around the world. We can do only our bit, but we can set an example. I hope there is a way of doing it without us spending too much money on it.

Lord Greenway Portrait Lord Greenway (CB)
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My Lords, I too am grateful to the Minister for introducing this order. As she said, the convention dates from 2004 and was not ratified until September 2016 by 30 states, representing 35% of the world’s merchant tonnage. By the time it came into force a year after that, over 60 countries had ratified it, representing over 70% of the world’s shipping.

The Minister mentioned the delay in bringing forward this order. I am not certain that I entirely buy her explanation. It seems to me that when so many other countries, representing so much of the world’s shipping, have already ratified it, it does not do our reputation as a so-called maritime nation much good when we are seen to be dragging our feet over these conventions.

She also mentioned in passing the Chinese mitten crabs. When I went through the list, it read more like something out of a science-horror movie, since we also have round goby, North American comb jelly, zebra mussels, toxic algae and even cholera, which has been transported on micro-organisms such as plankton. There are some very nasty things going around, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, just said, and this convention was brought in for very good reasons.

There is one thing I would like to ask the Minister. What has been the position with our ships? This measure does not mean that an awful lot of ships, in the general sense of the word, would be affected because our Merchant Navy is a shadow of what it used to be. But what has happened to those ships to enable them to continue trading? Have they been, on their own accord, taking the actions necessary to comply with the convention in order to trade? If they were seen to be operating under the flag of a country that had not ratified, they would quickly be picked up by port state control around the world and forbidden to trade. I would be grateful if the Minister could shed some light on that.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome this important environmental measure and thank the Minister for her explanation. In particular, I was fascinated by paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which explains the complexity about which comes first: the ratifying of the convention or these regulations. However, that does not explain why it has taken since 2004 for us to get to this stage.

I realise that we were not alone because, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, just explained to us, it took until 2017 for 30 countries representing 35% of the world’s tonnage to ratify the convention. But it is a serious matter of concern and shame for us that the nations with 70% of the world’s tonnage have now signed up and we have not yet managed to do so, although it will happen soon. It is depressing that, as a once-great maritime nation, we yet again have been slow to adopt international and environmental measures that were a matter of urgency.

Perhaps the Minister can clarify, but am I right that our slowness has simply been because of the huge backlog of maritime measures that the Department for Transport managed to build up? Was it simply overlooked, or has it been a lack of enthusiasm by successive Governments to sign up that has been the problem?

There is a key point, not explained in the Explanatory Memorandum. I am sure that noble Lords will forgive my ignorance, but do ships need new technology to manage their ballast water in the way that will be prescribed, or is it just a matter of better management? I am not clear whether it is that all modern shipping would have the correct equipment, and so on—but I am surprised that there has been no impact assessment. I would assume, whether it is better management or modern equipment, either way there will be costs for ship owners as a result of this SI. However, I welcome the fact that we have finally got round to it.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the introduction of this order to implement the 2004 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. The convention ultimately aims to eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens, which is why the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediment is so crucial. However, given that the UK played a pivotal role in negotiating the convention, it is a shame that it is only now being brought forward. I note that the Minister gave some explanation on this delay but, clearly, it is a matter of concern on all sides of the Committee. I hope that she will produce a full answer and, if there are areas on which she cannot answer today, write to us all.

On the legislation itself, I would be grateful if the Minister could answer three questions. First, are the Government already fully in compliance with the convention? Secondly, what engagement has the department had with the shipping industry over the implementation? Finally, how many countries have ratified the convention, and how many further are in the process of ratification?

We support the introduction of this order and the implementation of the convention, but this is only one step in cleaning up the seas. I hope that the Minister can offer the Committee a brief explanation of the other steps that are being taken by the Government.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate to consider this order. I shall provide a bit more information, if I can, on the timeline to getting to this stage. We probably all wish that we had got here earlier, but there were some reasons behind that. I hope that the next SI will cheer up noble Lords, because we are certainly ahead of the game on that one.

There are several reasons why the UK did not ratify the convention earlier. As the convention was new, equipment availability was limited both to treat ballast water management systems and to sample and analyse the discharged ballast water, which is integral to its enforcement. The industry was not confident in the equipment and was concerned that it would be unfairly penalised. Those concerns were eased by the development of the experience-building phase, which established a period of implementation and review during which ships would not be penalised due to non-compliance with the discharge standard if operating a type-approved ballast water management system.

Secondly, the UK’s ratification was rescheduled to allow time for the latest amendments to the convention to come into force and thereby ensure that the UK’s implementing legislation reflects the most up-to-date version of the convention. These amendments were adopted during the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meetings held in April 2018, and accepted in April 2019. That introduced a phased approach to implementation, which also alleviated the concerns around equipment availability. At that point, it was very much full steam ahead until Covid arrived.

It is true, and noble Lords will have heard me say before, that we have had to delay some of our statutory instruments, which is not ideal. Although I do not think this SI falls under the definition of backlog as set out by Minister Courts when he went to see the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, it is certainly on our list of things to do, so I am really pleased that we are able to do it today. I reassure noble Lords that we are actually making quite good progress on our maritime backlog. I have a little note here to say that a couple of others with very long titles are also heading their way through Minister Courts’s office now, and no doubt we will be returning to this Chamber to debate them in due course. I reassure the Committee that we are very focused on our maritime SI backlog.

14:00
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned enforcement and, as with other similar legislation, any potential maritime offences are investigated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and sanctions applied as appropriate. Sanctions could be an improvement notice, a prohibition notice, detention or, as last resort, prosecution. The person liable will depend on the offence in question, but liability will mainly rest with ship owners and masters. The MCA primarily prosecutes shipowners or managers, and only prosecutes individual ship officers when they are personally culpable.
On industry consultation, there have been lengthy discussions with industry during this entire process. As I mentioned, there is a 12-week public consultation which relates to the implementing regulations that will be coming down the track. We received 11 responses from the shipping industry, environmental groups and ports to that 12-week consultation, and they are broadly supportive of the convention aims. The concerns fell into three main areas: to suggest that the regulations did not go far enough or that clarity was needed on behalf of ports, harbours and statutory harbour authorities and responses highlighting the practical difficulties for some sections of the shipping industry. Obviously, we are very grateful to all who responded to that public consultation, and the Explanatory Memorandum which will go alongside those regulations will set out more about how the convention will be implemented in the UK.
That brings me on to the point about the impact assessment raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because this order is just for us to have the power to accept the ratification of the treaty, then we have to implement it. There is no impact assessment for today’s instrument, but there will be for the next regulation. I am sure she will read it with great interest. Detail on new equipment and everything that relates to the convention and how it will impact the shipping industry will be set out in the Explanatory Memorandum that will be coming in due course, later this year. We will try to get it done as quickly as we possibly can.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, mentioned ships trading beyond the UK. I have an answer here, but I would rather write to him to ensure that my response is as absolutely correct as it can be, and I am absolutely clear. I have a response involving the experience-building phase, and I am not sure that I have fully got to grips with it, so I will check it out and write.
On the number of countries that have signed up to the convention, there are currently 88 contracting states to the convention, which amounts to 91.2% of global tonnage. That is a good thing; it is clear that the UK needs to be on that list. That is why I commend the order.
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she write with a list of prosecutions that the MCA has done on these issues? She mentioned that, for non-compliance, the MCA would be the prosecuting authority. Has it done any yet?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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It would not have done anything against the convention, because, obviously, the convention is not implemented yet. So that would be a difficult list to compile at this stage. Perhaps I will send the noble Lord some nice information about the MCA and its enforcement, shall I? Excellent. We will do that. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation (Legal Capacities) Order 2022

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
14:05
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation (Legal Capacities) Order 2022.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, this order will allow the UK to recognise the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities, or IALA, and assist in the completion of its transition from a non-governmental to an intergovernmental organisation. The IALA may not be familiar to some noble Lords, but its work is fundamental to maritime safety and, given that 95% of all of our import and export tonnage is transported by sea, the wealth and prosperity of our island nation. The IALA is and will remain a technical, not-for-profit body whose key aim is to co-ordinate

“improvement and harmonisation of marine aids to navigation and related services to the benefit of … navigation, efficiency of shipping traffic and protection of the environment.”

It brings together marine aids to navigation authorities, manufacturers, consultants and scientific and training organisations from all parts of the world, providing a vital forum for the exchange of views, expertise and experience.

The UK was a founding member of the current organisation when it was first established in 1957. Our illustrious maritime heritage and continued leadership on aids to navigation through the work of our general lighthouse authorities—Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board and Irish Lights—means that we have played, and continue to play, a significant role in all its achievements. These include the introduction of a single buoyage system, which replaced the more than 30 different types in use worldwide as late as the 1970s. Many of these had confusing and, worse, often conflicting rules. As a result, many ships were wrecked and lives lost simply because there was no consistency and mariners were often unable to fathom intended meaning.

This represented a significant barrier to the improvement of navigation safety and was the biggest challenge faced by the IALA when it was first formed. Although there was a clear need for consolidation and an internationally recognised consistent method of marking and wayfinding at sea, agreement on the details remained difficult. The IALA managed to navigate a path through these problems and created the IALA maritime buoyage system in 1976, adopted by the IMO in 1977. It remains a fundamental cornerstone of maritime navigation today, and has had an immediate and long-lasting impact on maritime safety.

The IALA continues to set international standards for all marine aids to navigation, make recommendations and deliver guidance. It has been instrumental in facilitating the delivery of enhanced navigation safety—for example, in facilitating the introduction of purely electronic aids to navigation, the transition from filament bulbs to LED lighting and the delivery of new power sources, such as solar. It also advises on challenges to navigation safety, such as offshore windfarms, and new technologies, including autonomous vessels.

The UK’s maritime heritage, although at times painful and tragic, means we have an obligation to others to incorporate and share our learning regarding safety in all of the IALA’s outputs. This is vital if we are to prevent the reoccurrence of the mistakes and tragedies that litter our history. That is why this order is so important. It will facilitate the IALA’s richly deserved transition to intergovernmental status.

The order is a very simple SI that confers the legal capacities of a body corporate on IALA in the UK. Article 1 provides that the order may not come into force until the future intergovernmental organisation comes into existence for the UK. If the UK is one of the first 30 states to ratify, this will be 90 days after the date of the deposit of the ratification instrument of the 30th state. If the UK ratifies after the convention is already in force, it will be on the 30th day after it deposits its instrument of ratification. This article also provides that the order’s provisions extend to the whole of the UK.

The UK was a founding member of IALA when it was first established in 1957. We are very keen to be at the forefront of its transition to an intergovernmental organisation. As I have noted, there is a process that things have to go through, and we need this order for the process to really get going and for us to be able to recognise IALA. I commend the order to the Committee.

Lord Greenway Portrait Lord Greenway (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this order. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an Elder Brother of Trinity House, the general lighthouse authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. As the Minister said, Trinity House has been closely involved with the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation since its formation in 1957 under its previous name, the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities, which is where the acronym IALA comes from.

At a meeting in Spain in 2014, IALA agreed that the best way forward to develop and improve marine aids to navigation for the benefit of the maritime community and the protection of the environment would be to seek international intergovernmental organisation status as soon as possible through the development of an international convention. Three subsequent diplomatic conferences were held to thrash out a draft convention, and it was finalised and adopted at a fourth conference held in Kuala Lumpur in February 2020. Just under a year later, the convention was opened for signature in Paris, where IALA is headquartered, and some 20 countries have now signed. Five of these—Singapore, Norway, Japan, Malaysia and India—have since ratified.

The convention will lead to increased international acceptance of standards, enhancing harmonisation, and will raise IALA’s status at the International Maritime Organization from merely consultative to equal partner, facilitating direct links with the experts working at the sharp end of research and development and thereby obviating difficulties that have arisen in the past when dealing with some governmental bodies.

Despite the huge technological strides that have been made in the aids-to-navigation sector over the past 20 or so years—here Trinity House has played a major role—the importance of such aids is as great now as it ever was, arguably more so due to the greater emphasis being given to environmental concerns. Bearing in mind our close association with IALA, I sincerely hope that the Government will see their way to ratifying the new convention at the earliest opportunity.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome this order. As the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, it is well overdue but is certainly going to happen. It appears to be going at a faster rate than on ballast water, perhaps because it will be based in France; we can conjecture on that. However, that is not really what I want to ask the Minister about.

As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, Trinity House is responsible for the lights and other navigation aids in England. It must have been more than 10 years ago that the shipping industry got very upset because it was paying its light dues for when ships use British ports—the light dues go to maintaining the lights—and we discovered that the lights being maintained included all the lights around the Irish Republic as well as those around England and Scotland. I recall that at the time my noble friend Lady Crawley, who was a Minister, was having great trouble negotiating with the Irish Government on the rather simple idea that they should pay for the maintenance of their own lights. She said, “They’re not very keen to negotiate”. That was not a very good answer from the Irish Government.

It was finally sorted out, and the other thing that was sorted out was that Trinity House and the Government together found a way of becoming much more efficient, as they are now, and therefore reducing the light dues applied to ships coming into this country. I am very pleased with the way it has gone, but can the Minister confirm, if not today then in writing, that there is no question that any of the money from ships coming into UK ports and paying light dues goes towards funding anything to do with lights in the Irish Republic?

14:15
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this important measure on maritime safety. I am very pleased to see that someone in the Department for Transport has been much more enthusiastic about signing up to this new convention, opened to signature by the French Government only a year ago, than was the case with the previous convention. It is good to see the UK in an enthusiastic leadership role after recent years when we have been—from the perspective of an internationalist, as I am—withdrawing from our international responsibilities. The development and maturing of international organisations is always good to see, especially one as practical and useful as this one.

I had written down two questions, one of which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has partly answered for the Minister—but I shall still ask it in part. Can the Minister update us on the progress on the other signatories? Are we in good company? The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, gave us some names, but is this regarded by the Government as good progress for something that they clearly support? Since this is a French-based organisation, does the EU join as a group, as one organisation, or do the individual EU countries join—and, if so, what is the progress with that?

I note that IALA will remain consultative. I move on to paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which says:

“Membership of IALA … will allow the United Kingdom to continue to play an active role”,


et cetera. This question is linked to my previous question. Did our withdrawal a year ago from the EU mean that we were put at a disadvantage in relation to this issue of international maritime safety? Did our previous relationship link in any way with our membership of the EU, and therefore leave us out in the cold somewhat? Was that an important—and very good—reason for wishing to join this convention as soon as possible?

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this instrument to help to facilitate and recognise the new International Organization for Marine Aids to Navigation. The Committee will be aware that this new organisation is a transition from the previous International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities, which has functioned since 1957. First, given that only five other nations have ratified the related convention, can the Minister provide the House with an estimate of when the transition will be completed? Secondly, can the Minister confirm whether the support and resources given by the UK to the new organisation will in any way differ from the support and resources given to its predecessor? Finally, can the Minister briefly explain the UK’s strategic aims for engagement in the organisation, as well as related bodies such as the International Maritime Organization?

We fully support the work of the new International Organization for Marine Aids for Navigation, and I am therefore pleased to welcome this order.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, once again, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate on this order. I particularly welcome the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. It is very good to have somebody in the Room who has such expertise.

I will give a little more information on the timeline from the UK’s perspective. All being well and subject to the agreement of your Lordships’ House and it being passed at the other end—I cannot recall whether it has yet—this order will go to the Privy Council in February. This would be the ratifying document that will then go off to Paris at the end of February or in early March.

I am really pleased that the United Kingdom will join a good list of people—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has already mentioned the countries that have ratified or accepted the IALA convention. The other point to note about that is that it has also been signed by 20 different countries, too. The process is therefore well on its way. Looking down the list of countries that have already signed it, there are a large number of heavy hitters—ones we would really want to be associated with. The EU does not really have a locus here. There is no impact of EU withdrawal on this. Looking at the countries that have signed, we have Belgium, France, obviously, the Netherlands, and all sorts of different countries. I do not think that is a fruitful or relevant area to discuss further.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that we need to make sure we have an enthusiastic leadership role in the maritime sector. I know that the Maritime Minister is very keen that we do. We have a lot of expertise on maritime aids to navigation. The general lighthouse authorities will continue to represent the UK at the intergovernmental organisation when it is established. Any member state obligation, should it arise, will be met by the Department for Transport in the first instance with FCDO input. In essence, our involvement will not change too much in terms of resources. Indeed, we will save ourselves around £15,000 a year on subscription costs. That is clearly beneficial.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked whether the Irish pay for their own lighthouses. Yes, my Lord, they do. The Governments of the UK and Ireland have an agreement that all work by Irish Lights in the Republic of Ireland is paid for by the Irish Government.

If there is anything else I will write further, because I am at the end of what I have been briefed to say, but I will check back through Hansard to make sure that there is nothing else. Otherwise, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 2.23 pm.

House of Lords

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Thursday 13 January 2022
11:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Mikheil Saakashvili

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:06
Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they are making to the government of Georgia about the continued imprisonment of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of that country.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, we are closely following events connected to the detention of former President Saakashvili. The former Minister for Europe, Wendy Morton, raised Mr Saakashvili’s detention with the Georgian Ambassador on 15 December, highlighting concerns about his health and treatment. Our ambassador and other officials have raised Mr Saakashvili’s case at senior levels in Tbilisi, including with the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Speaker of Georgia’s parliament. We will continue to monitor developments regarding this case.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. Under Mr Saakashvili’s presidency, Georgia flourished economically. He took significant steps to eliminate corruption and when he lost power in 2013, he transferred power peacefully, the first ever peaceful transition of power in Georgia. Since then he has been stripped of his citizenship and put in prison on trumped-up charges in what Amnesty International describes as apparent political revenge. I pass all this on to the Minister, but my question focuses simply on his imprisonment. Yesterday I received a letter from him, smuggled out of prison, in which he talks about being denied private communication with his lawyers and being repeatedly assaulted by prison officials. Will Her Majesty’s Government protest most strongly to the Georgian Government about this and ask that our own ambassador might visit him in prison?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for providing that additional information. I will of course take that forward and pass it to both our team here in London and our ambassador on the ground in Tbilisi. On the issue of Mr Saakashvili’s continued detention, we are urging the Georgian Government to ensure the fair treatment of the former president. We welcome recent steps to facilitate medical care for Mr Saakashvili and to accord him the right to due process in legal proceedings. I share the noble and right reverend Lord’s view of Mr Saakashvili’s tenure. Of course, when he returned in October he did so willingly and was at that time taken into custody. I will certainly take forward, as the noble and right reverend Lord suggests, any further action on the additional information that he provides.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, while I recognise that it is not for this House or any Member of it to judge former President Saakashvili’s innocence or guilt, is the point being made to the Georgian Government that if, as I think we would much desire, there is to be an ever-closer relationship between this country and Georgia, it is going to count in that matter whether Georgia applies the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights in full and in a correct manner?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the request by the European Court of Human Rights to the Government of Georgia that they ensure the safety of Mr Saakashvili and inform the court about the applicant’s current state of health. We will continue to make that case and, as I said earlier, to ensure that he is given both the right to legal representation and medical care.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the former president’s detention is symptomatic of the greater problem of the deterioration of human rights in Georgia, particularly labour rights. According to the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, just last year 22 workers died in one month alone. Can the Minister tell us, like he did yesterday, what he is doing to raise human rights and to work with the ILO to ensure that Georgia meets the obligations of that organisation, to which Georgia is also committed?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right to draw attention to the issue of human rights and, if I could term it thus, the democratic backsliding that at times we have seen on rights generally across Georgia. I assure him that we are engaging directly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the importance of promoting democratic values, which is central to our foreign policy. On 1 December, during discussions with the Georgian Government in Tbilisi, our regional director for eastern Europe and central Asia raised important issues around various elements of human rights and, beyond that, the politicisation of appointments. There has also been a decline in LGBT rights; the noble Lord will be aware of the attack on the Pride march. All of this forms part of our engagement directly with Georgia.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I was in Tbilisi in 2017 shortly after the former president had his citizenship revoked while he was the governor of Odessa, in Ukraine. He subsequently also had his citizenship revoked by Ukraine. This situation is open to significant influence from Russia, in addition to the concern about the individual case. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has indicated, Amnesty International has raised concerns that this treatment is political revenge. Will Britain indicate to the Georgian Government that operating under the premise of due judicial process and respecting human rights are core elements of Georgia’s membership of the Council of Europe, and that working in this way is the best security against external influence from Russia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I can certainly assure the noble Lord that that is exactly our approach. We will continue to raise this directly and with key partners, including in international fora such as the Council of Europe.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, following on from that question, is the Minister aware that monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe visited Georgia last month? They have returned and said that is absolutely vital that the two main parties overcome the extremely polarised political climate. They are Georgian Dream and the United National Movement, which is Mikheil’s own party.

Will the Minister make particular use the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and specifically ask our ambassador to the CoE to raise this issue at the Council of Ministers meeting, so that multilateral action can be taken? As I said during another Question earlier in the week, this kind of multilateral approach is much better than a government-to-government approach, which is sometimes misunderstood.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and as I have said to him previously, I look forward to working with him directly on this agenda and I pay tribute to his valuable work within the Council of Europe. I am looking specifically at the work of the Council of Europe and will take forward what the noble Lord suggests. Whatever we do in the multilateral fora, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, it is also important that we complement, consolidate and strengthen it through our bilateral representations.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, in light of current events, would it be worth advising the current Administration of Georgia that admission to NATO requires a respect for human rights?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that we remind Georgia in our bilateral discussions of its international obligations. Let us not forget that Georgia itself, in the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, faces direct challenges of the very nature the noble Lord alludes to.

Ambulance Queues: Health Outcomes

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:14
Asked by
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on health outcomes of the time spent by ambulances waiting in queues to transfer patients into hospital Accident and Emergency departments.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name and draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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We recognise that waiting times can impact outcomes, so patients in queues remain under constant clinical supervision and care and are prioritised according to need. Delays tend to be concentrated in a small number of hospitals, with 29 acute trusts across 35 sites responsible for 57% of the 60-minute handover delays nationally so far this winter. These trusts are receiving intensive support to improve, including through placement of hospital ambulance liaison officers and the safe cohorting of patients.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, half a million acute bed days each year are lost due to delays in discharge directly attributable to non-availability of social care, which leads to bottlenecks in emergency departments and ambulances being unable to unload patients. Does the Minister agree that the split of money raised by the health and social care levy over the next three years therefore needs to be more generous to social care, so people stop having to wait up to seven hours in the back of ambulances?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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As the noble Lord will be aware, when the charge was initially announced it was intended to help with social care, which has been neglected for a number of years under successive Governments. Given the pressures of the backlog, the NHS has decided to divert some of those resources to help tackle it. We have invested money in social care in the short-term winter plan, and in the longer term we have announced extra investment to ensure that social care is an attractive career and offers real prospects.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister recognise that his response, saying that this involves a small number of trusts, does not address the data from NHS England for the seven days to January 2, which showed that 23% of all arrivals by ambulance had delays of half an hour or more—that is over 19,000—and that some 10% of patients waited more than an hour to be handed over? This meant that those ambulances were also unable to deliver first aid and first implementation of treatment to people who were waiting. Therefore, when patients arrived at emergency departments, they were even sicker than necessary, and it may be that some lives were lost.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important point. In anticipation of the winter crisis, last year we published the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery 10 Point Action Plan to look at the direct pressures on not only A&E but the call centres, and at some of the wider system issues. For example, when people cannot get access to their doctor, they tend to go to A&E. At other times, they cannot get the replacement medication they want and have to call an ambulance to go to A&E and get it. We are looking at some of the wider system problems to make sure we address the backlog.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, NHS workers on the front line have been warning for months and months that the service is under strain due to a combination of waning workforce, Covid, respiratory infections, a backlog of patients and a build-up of health problems over lockdowns. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has been calling for months for a response from Ministers to provide short-term and long-term solutions. We called on the Health Secretary last summer for urgent additional support to be put in place. Why are we still waiting for that leadership and necessary support to materialise?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I am sure the noble Baroness will acknowledge that a number of people have been calling for ways to address this. The Government announced the Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery 10 Point Action Plan last year, which includes supporting 999 and 111 services, looking at primary care and community health services, greater use of urgent treatment centres, increased support for children and young people, better communications and call handling, improving inflow and hospital discharge, looking at mental health needs and a number of other issues. In each of those 10 points we have drilled down on working with trusts and the ambulance service to make sure we can address the issues that are currently being raised.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, could the Government look at how many lives have been lost as a result of delays? I suggest this might be more of an issue than the Government are aware of.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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We regularly talk to the NHS—every day, in fact. We have, for example, daily omicron calls. Looking at some of the data, over 925,000 calls to 999 were answered by the ambulance service in December 2021, which is nearly 30,000 calls a day. That is 2% more than in November 2021, 22% more than in November 2020 and 9% more than in December 2019. We have invested in more people in the call rooms, working with BT to better handle the calls, and ensuring we have more staff where we need them to handle the whole system and ensure we can respond quicker.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point for me to call her.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, yesterday NHS England data showed that trolley waits of more than 12 hours in A&E rose in December to just under 11,000, which is three times higher than in December 2020. One hospital reported that it had a dozen patients waiting on a trolley for a bed for over 24 hours. The Minister has talked about extra money, but without staff and bed capacity in both hospitals and care homes, the crisis remains. Can he say what the Government are doing right now to help alleviate the current crisis?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for giving me the opportunity to say what the Government are doing right now. We are working closely with ambulance services, NHS England and the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives to reduce the handover delays. The 10-point plan I referred to earlier goes into detail about how we handle this, both in handling calls at call centres—some calls are not emergencies, for example, and patients are directed elsewhere—and in making sure that the wider system is available to make sure that patients are unloaded within the 15-minute target and that ambulances are turned around as quickly as possible. Where we have spotted disproportionate pressures in the system, as in the 29 hospital trusts across 35 sites, we have focused more resources there.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, I appreciate that my noble friend has to read out what he has in his brief, but would he take time to read the report on social care published by the Economic Affairs Committee of this House, which received pretty well universal endorsement? Will he then discuss with his colleagues whether we really have fixed social care and whether the resources he is claiming are sufficient to meet the problem?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for drawing my attention to the report and the work of that committee. I will commit to reading the report and look forward to future discussions with my noble friend and many noble Lords across the House.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Would it be possible at this time to talk also about preventing the next crisis and the crisis after that? Are we not always chasing something? The NHS, which does not spend a large amount of money on prevention, is now being hoist by its own petard,

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. One of the things the NHS is looking at in more detail, and something we will discuss in forthcoming debates on the Health and Social Care Bill, is how we move a system culturally to not only treat patients once they are ill or need treatment, and work in terms of prevention and encouraging healthier lifestyles. When patients are kept too long in hospital, they can lose certain facilities such as muscle function, so we need to look at prevention as opposed to just treatment. Getting the right balance is something that the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care are looking at closely.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, as a result of Covid’s impact, many A&E departments have reconfigured their internal infrastructure and their working practices. Could the Minister tell the House how best practice is being disseminated to other NHS trusts? What support, financial and otherwise, have trusts received to do this?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Given that it was identified that there were particular pressures on 29 trusts across 35 sites, extra resources have been targeted and teams have made site visits to work out, for example, the flows in those hospitals, and to make sure that they deal not only with the immediate issues that those departments face but also with the wider system issues. For example, as I have mentioned, sometimes patients cannot get hold of doctors and go to A&E as a substitute because they want a face-to-face appointment. We are looking at a number of those wider issues. We announced £55 million of winter funding for all ambulance services and have boosted staff numbers by 700, including for the availability of the ambulance fleet, through a £4.2 million investment to improve times. We have also invested nearly £2 million to support the well-being of front-line staff during these pressures; they have experienced increased pressures, so we must make sure we look after them as well.

Lord Lea of Crondall Portrait Lord Lea of Crondall (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, is there a breakdown on the difference between physical resources in hospitals and the shortage of staff?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I am not sure whether there is a breakdown. As my noble friend said, sometimes I have to read out what is in the pack and sometimes I freelance, as I am sure many will appreciate—or maybe will not appreciate when I divert from the government line. But I will endeavour to find out whether those stats are available.

Money Laundering

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:25
Asked by
Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to commission an independent assessment of the scale of money laundering in the United Kingdom.

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office and the Treasury (Lord Agnew of Oulton) (Con)
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My Lords, the UK money laundering regulations require the Government to make an assessment of the UK’s money laundering and terrorist financing risks and to keep this assessment up to date. The Government accordingly published a national risk assessment in 2015, 2017 and 2020. Assessments detailing specific threats are published by UK law enforcement more regularly, including by the National Crime Agency’s National Assessment Centre and the National Economic Crime Centre.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer, but is he not curious about the effects of transnational kleptocracy by British professional service providers such as HSBC and Mishcon de Reya, which enable crooked elites to launder their money and reputations? Would he condemn, as does the recent Chatham House report, the lawyers and PR agents who make quasi-libel defamation cases against journalists and researchers researching money laundering and then go on to deter the ill-resourced regulators, who can be bought off, as in the recent Mishcon case?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that a number of very substantial fines have been levied for breaching money laundering regulations over the last few years. In 2020, Goldman Sachs was fined £48 million; in 2019, Standard Chartered was fined £102 million; and, even in the last few weeks, NatWest was handed a fine of £264 million. This just emphasises our commitment to dealing with this whole area.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, having had the dubious privilege of being one of those who helped to draft the anti-money laundering directives in Brussels, and thereby finding himself described by friends as an expert in money laundering, may I enquire about the word “proportional”, which appears in the directive? Does my noble friend feel that that word is being properly applied by our financial institutions to small investors and those who will never be engaged in money laundering? Does he think that that is balanced and fair and that we have the right approach?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I would certainly defer to my noble friend as someone who is an expert in this area, which I am not. It is extremely difficult to get the right balance in these things, because what one person would consider an intrusion, another would consider a protection. We have to remain alert and sensitive to the different forces, but what is most important is that we have a coherent system which is clamping down on an extremely complex and fast-evolving crime.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, in last year’s parliamentary debate on the Church Action for Tax Justice report Tax for the Common Good, the Minister assured us that progress was being made on reducing money laundering and financial fraud in our British Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies. Would he be able to update the House on this? If he cannot do so now, would he please write to me with information on the progress we are making?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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It is important to remind the House that the overseas territories are independent entities and that we cannot just force them to comply with our own regulations. But we have an ongoing dialogue with them. For example, we have a very useful exchange of information through the exchange of notes arrangements, and they have agreed to introduce publicly accessible registers of companies’ beneficial ownership. The discussions are very much ongoing and I respect the right reverend Prelate’s concern.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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My Lords, at the anti-corruption summit in 2016, the Government committed to producing a register of overseas owners of British properties. In 2018, they produced a draft Bill on that which has still to become law. Could the Government say whether they are in fact committed to stopping this sort of overseas activity in the UK?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, I can assure the House that we are absolutely committed to stopping that. I accept that the introduction of the Bill is taking too long, but active discussions are going on at the moment about a new economic crime Bill and I hope that we might see its introduction within the next few months.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister’s colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, said during our proceedings on the NICs Bill:

“In the last three years, we have recovered over £550 million from the proceeds of crime, charged over 100 people with money-laundering offences, and seen over 75 people convicted for money laundering.”—[Official Report, 10/1/22; col. GC 113.]


That is a pathetic figure—or at least it feels like one. In his original Answer, the Minister indicated that assessments had been made over three recent years. What he failed to do was tell us what the answer was. Could he provide the answer so that we can judge the success so far and see whether the right resources and energy are being devoted to this issue?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, if we were to go the very top-down figures, which are ultimately the most important, I would look at the tax gap, which we have been very successful in closing over a number of years. In 2005-06, the gap was 7.5%; in the last year for which figures were available, 2019-20, it was down to 5.3%. That is of course against the enormous headwinds of the build-up of hot money around the world. I would therefore be more optimistic and say that we are making good progress.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats. The noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point to call him.

Lord Jones of Cheltenham Portrait Lord Jones of Cheltenham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Royal United Services Institute suggests that the scale of money laundering in the UK is “too big to measure”. Transparency International has had a stab at it and says that the problem may be causing £325 billion-worth of harm to the UK economy each year. Why has the UK become such a magnet for this illegal activity, which damages the vital financial services sector and our reputation as a safe place to do business?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, the City of London is one of the largest financial centres in the world and therefore the flows of money going through our economy, particularly in the City, are enormous. However, we lead the world in our attempts to reduce bad activity. I refer the noble Lord to the Economic Crime Plan, which lists some 48 action points to tackle the whole spectrum of money laundering and financial crime. We are in good shape in implementing those, and we are committed to an economic crime plan 2.0 that will be announced this autumn.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, to take us back to the question on resources, there is some evidence that where banks refer cases to the police, such cases are not high on their agenda. Do the police have sufficient resources to tackle this crime and to investigate it thoroughly?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, we have the National Crime Agency as the main crimefighting force in anti-money laundering. It is an extremely effective organisation, and it is well funded. Of course, one could always say that more money is needed, but I can assure my noble friend that we believe that we have adequate resources.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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The Minister has mentioned some fines in respect of a limited number of banks, but much money laundering is in respect of property transactions, particularly in London. Since the passing of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, how many prosecutions have there been of professional people who facilitate money laundering: the estate agents, the solicitors and others?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, more than 97,000 organisations are monitored for money laundering in this country and some 54 anti-money laundering inquiries are open with the FCA at the moment.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has referred to the work of the Assets Recovery Agency. Paramilitary organisations have undertaken considerable money laundering over many years throughout the UK. Can the Minister provide us with a detailed assessment, including figures, of the amounts that have been laundered by paramilitary organisations? I am thinking in particular of Northern Ireland, where it has had an insidious impact on society.

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I share the noble Baroness’s concern about money laundering getting into the hands of serious organised crime groups, but we are very much aware of such concerns. I do not think that one can put a figure on it, because, if we knew what it was, we would be able to stop it. We have created a large umbrella structure to oversee all these organisations. It is overseen by the Chancellor and the Home Secretary. Underneath that sit a number of organisations; for example, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision. A whole range of such agencies are now working and sharing intelligence. I believe that we are getting better all the time.

Railway Timetables: Disruption

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:35
Asked by
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that full railway timetables are restored as soon as possible, following the disruption caused by staff absences.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, the department has been working closely with rail operators to mitigate the impact of Covid-related staff absences on train services. Many operators have implemented temporary revised train timetables, which are providing passengers and especially the country’s key workers with certainty so that they can plan their journeys with confidence. The department will continue to work with operators to ensure that services meet demand as staff absence pressures ease.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I regret that there was no absolute reassurance in that Answer that timetables would be restored. At the same time as reductions, the Government are requiring train operating companies to make 10% savings and imposing a 3.8% increase on fares for passengers. The Government found the money for freezing fuel duty and reducing domestic APD, but rail passengers face the double whammy of reduced services and higher prices. Does the Minister recognise that the Government should do everything they can to encourage us out of our cars and back on to public transport, but instead government policy is setting the railways up to fail?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s assessment that government policy is setting the railways up to fail. We are introducing all sorts of measures under the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail which will improve rail services and make them fit for the future. It is the case that demand is currently running at around 55%; because of Covid absences, we have a temporary timetable in place—I reassure the noble Baroness that it is a temporary timetable, which she will know expires on 26 February. We are working closely with the rail industry in relation to the progress of omicron and how timetables may look in the future.

Lord Haselhurst Portrait Lord Haselhurst (Con)
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My Lords, is not the more potent factor in this situation the lack of passengers, which is making train operators wary of introducing services across the country that are visibly empty?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Not entirely, my Lords. Clearly, the rail operators working with the Department for Transport want to provide the services. At the moment, they cannot do so because of Covid pressures on staff, but we will work in the longer term with the rail industry to streamline the passenger offer, to remove duplication of services and to ensure efficiency.

Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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My Lords, we are obviously in the middle of a public health crisis and the Government have difficult decisions to take, but will the Minister repudiate the prophets of doom who somehow think that we are all going to stop travelling in the usual way once Covid has ended? Will she acknowledge that in the periods when we have opened up between the waves of the pandemic, passengers have returned to the railways very quickly—passenger usage on the Tube in London was up to two-thirds before we had the latest lockdown—and that it would be a huge mistake if the Government were to start cutting services, which would discourage people from returning to the railways after 20 years of massive investment in them, which has been a great good news story for this country?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government are very keen for passengers to return to the railways. We are working closely with the industry as it supports demand and revenue recovery. However, we accept that there may be enduring changes in the way in which people travel, whether it be for work versus leisure. That is why the Rail Delivery Group is working closely with VisitBritain to establish a new domestic rail tourism product, so that we might perhaps go interrailing around our own nation.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the 10% cut that the Treasury has asked all the rail industry to impose. Can the Minister confirm that the Night Riviera sleeper, which keeps Cornwall connected to London and the rest of the country, is safe from this, or will that be cut as part of the 10%?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot comment on the Night Riviera sleeper; I wish I could, but I will write if I can find out any information on it. However, we do need to look at our railways to ensure that they are financially sustainable for the future. The Government have committed £14 billion since the start of the pandemic to support our rail sector. We know that in future, we will be looking for workforce reforms and cost efficiencies. We want passengers to come back and, of course, overall, we want an excellent performance for all passengers and freight.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the less than full railway timetables are not solely caused by Covid-related staff shortages. The hourly Chester to London and London to Chester direct trains have just disappeared. Whenever I make any queries about the return to the pre-lockdown timetable, I am met with an “It’s Covid, innit?” shrug. Can the Minister look at this cavalier establishment of the new normal as a cover for what are, effectively, cuts in services? Worryingly, it is not just confined to the rail network, but it is always at the expense of the public and it is happening without anyone discussing it.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not sure I agree with the noble Baroness. Clearly, we are discussing it today and we have discussed timetables in the past. Timetables are never static: they have changed twice a year for a very long time. It is true that we will be asking the rail industry to submit plans through the routine business-planning process, and it may well be that there are further changes to timetables. We do, however, ask all the rail operators to engage very closely with local communities to ensure that we are able to deliver the right services to the right places.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government recently announced that 100,000 tests would be made available for key workers, but the Minister will be aware that the number of key workers available is many millions. Can she confirm how much of the 100,000-testing commitment will be designated for public transport, and what proportion of the workforce she expects that to cover?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I do not have the figures with me today, but I can say that those 100,000 tests were actually for critical workers rather than key workers. These people are even more critical than key workers. The sort of places we will be using those tests for are places such as operation centres: you literally cannot replace one person for another when it comes to rail service operators. We are looking at those people without whom we cannot do. That is really important, because they are critical—more critical than some other workers.

None Portrait A noble Lord
- Hansard -

They cannot get to work.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister say—she did not really answer the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, fully on this—when we can expect to have a reasonably certain timetable? Those who travel by train regularly need to be able to plan carefully, and many of us feel that, although Covid has been a reason for much, it has been an excuse for many things as well.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I completely accept my noble friend’s point. It is the case that we want all passengers to be able to travel with confidence. At the moment, we are advising passengers to check first, but that is why the process that we put in place because of the Omicron intervention was two-phased. There was a reactive phase over Christmas, which necessitated some short-term cancellations. We knew that employee absences would possibly rise, so that is why we were proactive and put in place this planned timetable just for six to eight weeks until 26 February. That will provide some certainty until then. Then, of course, I would have to ask my noble friend to look at the timetable again.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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Earlier, the Minister said that the Government were very keen for passengers to return to the use of rail. What would she say to rail travellers in Yorkshire, who are facing the insult of increases in rail fares totalling nearly 50% over the last 10 years or so, yet are also facing services in relative decline? There will be no HS2, no HS3 and no full electrification. Yorkshire folk like value for money and they are not getting it. What does the Minister have to say to them?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I just point the noble Baroness to the Williams-Shapps plan for rail. There is an enormous amount in there that will be beneficial to passengers in Yorkshire and beyond. We will be looking at ticketing, which is insanely complicated. Sometimes multi-leg ticketing is cheaper than a single leg and it is all slightly mad. Obviously, we will be very passenger-focused to make sure that the right services exist for people in Yorkshire and beyond.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister confirm that those drivers of trains on shunter routes are paid less than those on, for example, the east coast main line route and the west coast main line route? Is there any evidence of an exodus of these drivers to earn higher salaries as lorry drivers?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am not sure that the skills are interchangeable, but it could be that some people have chosen to become HGV drivers instead. However, I reiterate that the rail services that we currently have are not financially sustainable without workforce reforms. That is going to be an absolutely essential part of the way we take forward rail services in this country. We need to make sure that we have the right people on the right trains on the right pay and with the right conditions.

First Reading
11:47
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as an executive committee member of CPA UK.

A Bill to provide for corporate status of and for certain privileges and immunities to be accorded to the international inter-parliamentary organisation of national and sub-national legislatures of Commonwealth countries known as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and to its Secretary-General; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness D’Souza, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
First Reading
11:47
A Bill to restrict the possession, use and sale of lead ammunition; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Browne of Ladyton, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
First Reading
11:48
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Vaccination Strategy

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 12 January.
“We have built three lines of defence to give us the best chance of living with Covid-19 and avoiding strict measures: vaccination, testing and treatments. Vaccination is the most important of those three, especially in light of the new omicron variant. Recent data from the UK Health Security Agency shows that unvaccinated people are between three and eight times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19, so every jab counts in keeping people out of hospital and saving lives.
Since omicron began making its way around the world, our strategy has been to massively expand vaccination. We set the highly ambitious target of ensuring that everyone eligible for a booster would be offered one by the end of December, and we met that target. Some 80% of eligible adults in England have now had the booster, including 87% of people over 50. That means that, per capita, we are the most boosted large nation on the planet. In addition, more than 1.4 million young people aged 12 to 15 have already had their first dose since the vaccine was rolled out to that age group in September, with thousands still getting jabbed every day. As of 10 January, eligible children aged 12 to 15 are being offered a second dose in their school. The vaccination effort is a vital part of ensuring the safe return of pupils to the classroom after Christmas, and the continuity of in-person education, which we know is so important for their development.
Throughout our vaccine programme, we listened to the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, whose clinical expertise is second to none. As we have done so, our vaccination strategy has been highly successful, allowing us to live with fewer restrictions than many other places around the world and keeping our children in education settings, where they belong. Once again, I underline my thanks to everyone who has made our national vaccination programme possible, including the JCVI, the NHS, our vaccines taskforce, the vaccinators and all volunteers across the country. I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking them for everything that they have achieved.”
11:48
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the staff of the NHS, volunteers and others, who have made extraordinary efforts during the vaccine rollout to save lives and build a world beyond Covid, while a particular debt of gratitude is owed to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, who is standing down from his role.

To drive up vaccination rates, there is a growing need to tackle anti-vax propaganda and stop intimidation and abuse. Will the Minister commit to a communications campaign to tackle misinformation, particularly focusing on places and people with lower rates of take-up? Following the Labour amendment to the policing Bill that was agreed last night in your Lordships’ House, will the Government now take the opportunity to fast-track buffer zones around schools and vaccination centres?

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for raising these issues. The first issue, that of anti-vaxxers, is really important. In a free society we always have to get the balance right between freedom of speech, making sure that people are free to go about their daily work, and making sure that those who want the vaccine get it as soon as possible. The Government are aware of this and are looking at it, but it is really important that we get the right balance. Whatever we think of the anti-vaxxers’ message, they have a right to say it, but we have to make sure that it does not impinge on the liberty of others to get their vaccine, especially since we are encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam. He appears on our daily omicron calls and I have had a number of conversations with him, and I know that there is incredible respect for JVT across the country. Indeed, I know that a number of people tuned in to his Christmas lectures on the virus; as the noble Baroness says, they were an excellent explanation of the virus and how to tackle it.

As for how we reach local communities, particularly those communities that have not come forward, I have had a number of conversations with noble Lords and Baronesses with their own experience of working with local communities in a bottom-up way. We have seen a number of local activities; indeed, my local masjid, or mosque, has a walk-in vaccination centre, and we have seen that in other faith places. A number of faith-based and interfaith networks have worked closely with the local community, because often some communities do not have the trust in authority that they have in priests, vicars, bishops—if I may say so—imams, et cetera. That is really important. We have also recorded promotional films in a number of languages, including Punjabi and Urdu in Birmingham, and got some celebrities to come up. I know I have gone on too long but I am very excited about what we are doing.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I too echo the gratitude that this House and this country shows to Jonathan Van-Tam. Four months on, there are still severely clinically extremely vulnerable people eligible for a third primary dose and then a booster who cannot book their booster because the data system still cannot record this. Many CEV young children with underlying conditions are still waiting for their vaccines, as well as for guidance on how they, their families and their schools can keep them safe from Covid. This is important because there are now more children in hospital with Covid in the last three weeks than in the nine months of the first wave. Please can the Minister say how these people, who the Government say need the vaccines right now to keep them safe, can get them?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for making me aware of the issues. She will recall that we had a meeting on how we can address the concerns of the clinically extremely vulnerable, and I had hoped that a number of action points had flowed from that. If those have not been acted upon, I hope she will write to me and I can chase up the department and the NHS. I had assumed that that meeting, where we gave them some action points, was effective. I am sure she remembers that we requested a letter with action points, but if those have not been followed up, I will endeavour to chase that up.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Baroness Masham of Ilton Portrait Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB) [V]
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My Lords, how much research is being done on persons who may have developed Guillain Barré syndrome after the coronavirus vaccine booster? Is the noble Lord aware that there have been several cases of this serious condition recently?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for the question. I will have to write to her with the answer.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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Can the Minister update us on global statistics on vaccination? This is not only about justice, equality and dignity; it is also about the fact that new variants will arise unless we address the issue of international vaccination. What are the Government doing to ensure that everyone across our world is offered full vaccination? What focus is being given to the international situation, beyond ourselves?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising this incredibly important issue. I know a number of noble Lords across the House feel very strongly about this. Indeed, many of us are part of diaspora communities and understand that many communities across the world are very concerned. From the start of the pandemic, the UK has worked to support access to Covid-19 vaccines. We helped to establish the international joint procurement initiative, COVAX. At the end of 2021, the Government confirmed that they had delivered more than 30 million Covid-19 vaccines to other countries, benefiting more than 30 countries. We have invested £71 million to help COVAX secure early supply deals. The UK is one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment, which supports access to Covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 low and middle-income countries. I have a list of a number of other initiatives that we have taken part in. In addition, in bilateral, G7 and G10 discussions, we have put this issue on the agenda, making sure that we are working in a multilateral way across the world to help those countries.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, first, in relation to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, very few cases of Guillain Barré syndrome have been reported following vaccination with Covid vaccines. That is not so surprising because it occurs with any vaccination, so it is not a reason at all for anybody to be denied vaccination. Secondly, and much more importantly, social media is full of worries that young women are particularly affected, because of the nonsense perpetrated that it will make them infertile. There is no scientific reason behind this. Does the Minister agree that all young women should take the vaccine? Thirdly, there are many pregnant women now in hospital because they were not vaccinated because of wrong advice that pregnant women should not be vaccinated. Again, there is no reason why pregnant women should not be vaccinated, and the recent data which suggests that mothers who breastfeed will transfer their antibodies to the newborn is good news too.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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One of the wonderful things about your Lordships’ House is its range of expertise. I thank the noble Lord for enlightening us on the earlier question. However, as I committed to the noble Baroness, I will check the department’s reply and hope it corresponds with the noble Lord’s response; otherwise, I am sure we will have more discussions.

On young women, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we should be encouraging as many people as possible to take the vaccine, even—I know this is being broadcast publicly—those who have not had their first or second vaccine. It is not too late. We urge everyone to have their first and second vaccine, but also to have the booster. It is the best protection, even for those who have previously had Covid. We know that almost all pregnant women who are hospitalised or admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 are unvaccinated. The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency shows that Covid-19 vaccinations provide strong protection for pregnant women against the virus. It shows that the vaccines are safe for pregnant women, with similar birth outcomes for those who have had the vaccine and those who have not. We have launched a new campaign that urges pregnant women not to wait to take the vaccine; it highlights the risks of Covid-19 to mother and baby and the benefits of vaccination.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I want to pick up the issue of pregnant women. The Government have belatedly—very belatedly—announced a campaign to persuade pregnant women to get vaccinated. Had they done it earlier, some deaths would have been avoided. Is the Minister aware of the particularly low levels of vaccination among pregnant women from ethnic minorities? What are the Government doing to reach out to them in particular, to persuade them to get vaccinated and save their own lives and those of their unborn children?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an incredibly important point that I am sure we all agree with. This is a combination of two issues. One is reaching those communities that generally, pregnant or otherwise, are not being vaccinated. The other is making sure that pregnant women are receiving the message that it is safe to have the vaccine. We are doing this through a number of channels, including through medical staff and the NHS, but we also have a number of targeted campaigns, looking at those communities to make sure we build trust, break those gaps down and give them the confidence to come forward and be vaccinated.

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Crisis

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 12 January.
“Afghanistan is facing a serious and worsening humanitarian crisis. It is affecting well over half the population, with 23 million people facing acute food insecurity. This is now the world’s most severe food security crisis. The UN has this week requested nearly $4.5 billion for 2022—the largest humanitarian appeal on record, reflecting the magnitude of the humanitarian challenge ahead.
The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to address the situation, working with the UN Security Council, the G20, the G7 and countries in the region. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers have all been working extensively with world leaders. In August, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would double its assistance for Afghanistan to £286 million this financial year, and we have now disbursed over £145 million. That will support over 3.4 million people in Afghanistan and the region, providing emergency food, healthcare, shelter, water and protection. We are working at pace to allocate the remaining funding in response to the developing crisis and the new UN appeal. Further details were in the ministerial Statement on 15 December. I thank the British people for donating £28 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal in December, of which £10 million was doubled by UK aid match funding. That has helped to provide lifesaving support.
We were particularly concerned about the impact of the situation on women, girls and other marginalised groups. Last month I, alongside the Minister of State with responsibility for South Asia, Lord Ahmad, met organisations representing women, LGBT+ and religious minorities to discuss support for their needs. In allocating UK aid, we want to ensure that women, girls and other marginalised groups have equal, safe and dignified access to assistance and services. We have pressed the Taliban to respect humanitarian principles.
Our partners report that aid is getting through. We continue to monitor the situation very carefully, especially in the winter months. Aid workers face challenges getting money into Afghanistan due to the banking system. We are working closely with multilateral organisations, banks and non-governmental organisations to address those challenges. We welcome the decision by the World Bank board in November to transfer £280 million to support the humanitarian response, but it is vital—it is vital—that the World Bank produces options to allocate the $1.2 billion remaining in the fund. It is important that donors across the world step up to the challenge, including by responding to the UN’s call for additional funding.”
11:59
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I recognise that the Answer acknowledges the efforts of the United Kingdom to mobilise the international community on this terrible situation that has developed, but can I ask a specific question? Gordon Brown wrote to the Foreign Secretary specifically to ask that Britain convenes an international pledging conference, certainly no later than February—he stressed perhaps earlier, in January—to raise the necessary £4.44 billion to ensure that the 23 million people suffering are fed in the year 2022. Secondly, did the Minister hear on Radio 4 this morning the interview on British Council employees who have been left stranded in Afghanistan? What can he tell us? Can he give us some assurance that assistance will be given to them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for acknowledging the work that the UK Government are doing with international partners in what is, as the noble Lord rightly described it, a terrible and continuing perilous situation on the humanitarian front in Afghanistan. I assure the noble Lord that we remain fully committed. As he will be aware, I laid a Written Ministerial Statement in advance of Christmas detailing the agencies we are working with and the amounts we are giving in support, particularly targeting vulnerable groups. We will make additional announcements, particularly in light of the call to action and the new request from the United Nations.

I share with the noble Lord that the previous request was made for flash funding support for the UN. It is quite noticeable was that it was fully funded; indeed, funds are being distributed. He make a point about Gordon Brown calling for a meeting to be convened. We are, of course, working very closely with the United Nations in this respect. Any calls to action are welcome, and we will see how best we can mobilise further action. I will be speaking with key partners in the region to ensure that the call that has been made is also funded in the manner that is currently required.

On the British Council, I first pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who has been meticulous and consistent in raising in particular the issues of the British Council, along with other noble Lords. Let me give the noble Lord this reassurance: with the opening of the ACR scheme now formally announced, the promised support to cohorts, including the Chevening scholars and the workers associated with the British Council, will be upheld.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, is taking part remotely, and I invite her to speak.

Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, what are the Government doing to secure safe passage of food and essential supplies to the most vulnerable in Afghanistan?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am working directly and very closely with key agencies on the ground in this respect. Just before Christmas, I had a number of meetings, including with the likes of David Beasley of the World Food Programme. I assure the noble Baroness that through direct interaction, including with near neighbours, we have access points which are providing humanitarian support to all regions of Afghanistan. Indeed, I was updated on that just this morning. I will continue to update the House, as I have done, through briefings directly at the Foreign Office as well as through debates and discussions we have in your Lordships’ House.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister say what discussions, if any, are being held or planned with the authorities in Kabul and at provincial level to assist in the distribution of humanitarian aid? I imagine that the Taliban will be there for the next few months at least, if not more, and presumably discussions will take place. Some agreement has to take place, and I wonder what the attitude of the British Government is under these circumstances.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will be aware, we have taken direct action in the sense of having officials who have visited Kabul continuing to engage at official level on these very priorities that she listed: humanitarian support and aid distribution within Afghanistan. Earlier this morning, I met Sir Simon Gass, who is one special representative among others. We are also looking forward to others engaging directly with the Taliban operationally. On the specifics, I assure the noble Baroness that we are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN commission directly on the ground, as well as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the ICRC, all of which have operational agreements and arrangements in each state to ensure effective distribution. There are others such as the Aga Khan Development Network, which has assured me through direct meetings that all its facilities—including support for the population, such as health clinics—are fully operational.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, is this not a situation where we are going to have to work closely and carefully with the Chinese? They seem to be acceptable to the Taliban and are working closely with them. The Chinese are always talking about the win-win nature of their intervention, which I think we have to take with a pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that they have the resources. They are there and they have substantial volumes of aid ready to bring in, and we have the humanitarian skills. Maybe this is an area where, despite all our very extensive differences with them in other areas, we might have to work together to get results.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, there are often challenges to the multilateral agencies working on the ground, particularly the United Nations. It is crises such as the Afghanistan crisis which really show the best of the world and how we can come together in response to humanitarian crisis. The UN provides the umbrella whereby we can work with all international partners, including China as well as others, to ensure humanitarian aid reaches those who most need it.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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Taken together, given the expertise in the FCDO in relation to Afghanistan—even with cuts in funds—will the department play a key role in the MoJ/Home Office decisions made under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme on who will be admitted to the United Kingdom because their lives are in danger in the country? The situation since August has been totally unacceptable.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, since August we have helped close to 4,000 people to leave Afghanistan. The noble Baroness rightly raises the issue of co-ordination. The recent announcement by the Minister for Afghan Resettlement outlined the various schemes and the pathways within each scheme. I have already alluded to one pathway where the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is directly involved with the commitments we have made. I assure the noble Baroness that, overall, both with the department concerned, which is the MoJ, where Victoria Atkins sits, and more broadly—with the ARAP scheme, for example, which continues to be administered and run by the Ministry of Defence—we continue to co-ordinate and work together.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, we know that before the full takeover by the Taliban, there were many examples of co-operation between the Taliban locally and aid organisations, though it was very patchy in different parts of the country. Can the Minister tell us anything about the direction of travel on this post the Taliban takeover? Is it still patchy, or is there any evidence at all that those areas where the co-operation did not work successfully are learning from those where it does and benefits the people? How is this moving? Is it getting better or worse?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, there are various strands. The Taliban themselves are not a homogenous group, and there are various factions within the Taliban which control various parts of the country. However, promisingly, I was updated that with the commitments we have made and the support we have given to organisations, such as the World Food Programme, they have been able to distribute humanitarian aid and support not just to a selective number of regions but to most parts of the country. We are encouraged that there is good co-operation on the ground, but this could change very quickly, so we should we remain ever vigilant. I assure the noble Lord that I will continue to update your Lordships’ House accordingly.

Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg (Con)
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My Lords, the Answer acknowledges the impact on women and girls, and we have seen brave women protesting in the streets across Afghanistan. Can the Minister tell me if any women have been part of the UK delegations meeting the Taliban, and does he agree that such representation sends an important message of support to women in Afghanistan?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the answer to my noble friend’s first question is positive: it is “yes”. We are engaging directly through our diplomats. Secondly, I have certainly been encouraging other key partners, for example Qatari Minister Al Thani and Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Women are an integral and leading part of the world community. If the Taliban want to engage, it is important that we also fully support women’s full engagement. Equally, I can share with my noble friend that some leading lights of the former Afghan Government are right here in the United Kingdom. Earlier this week, I met with the brave, courageous Fawzia Koofi, and we are working directly with Afghan women who were part of the Administration, such as Hasina Safi, the former Minister for Women, to ensure that our next steps and future policies are informed by those who know best, who are the women of Afghanistan.

Committee (2nd Day)
12:10
Relevant documents: 15th and 16th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 3: NHS England mandate: general
Amendment 11
Moved by
11: Clause 3, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
“(3A) In section 13G (duty as to reducing inequalities), at end insert—“(2) NHS England must publish guidance about the collection, analysis, reporting and publication of performance data by relevant NHS bodies with respect to factors or indicators relevant to health inequalities.(3) Relevant NHS bodies must have regard to guidance published by NHS England under this section.(4) In this section “relevant NHS bodies” means—(a) NHS England,(b) integrated care boards,(c) integrated care partnerships established under section 116ZA of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007,(d) NHS trusts established under section 25, and(e) NHS foundation trusts.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would give NHS England a statutory duty to publish guidance on how NHS bodies should collect, analyse, report and publish performance data on factors and/or indicators related to health inequalities.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to open this debate on the issue of health inequalities. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have gone through the Bill to ensure that addressing health inequalities is absolutely central. Unless the Bill deals with the kind of inequalities that the pandemic, for example, has brought into sharp relief, it will have failed. Many amendments in this group directly and indirectly address the issue, and I look forward to the many contributions we will hear. This is one area where our NHS may not be among the best in the world. In fact, inequality is often entrenched. Some might argue that, through the famous inverse care law, it even makes things worse. As with other public services, the better-off, with better connections and sharper elbows, get more out of a service than those with less social capital who are already disadvantaged by other factors.

A report published today by the Northern Health Science Alliance, a health and life sciences partnership between the leading NHS trusts, universities and academic health science networks in northern England, says that

“people in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are 46 per cent more likely to have died from the virus than those in the rest of England, and 7 per cent more likely to have died of the virus than those living in other deprived areas”

that are not left behind. In left-behind neighbourhoods,

“Men live 3.7 years fewer and women 3 years fewer than the national average,”


and

“men and women can expect to live 7.5 fewer years in good health than their counterparts in the rest of England.”

Tackling the health inequalities facing local authorities of left-behind neighbourhoods and bringing them up to England’s average could add an extra £29.8 billion to the country’s economy each year. The co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for “Left Behind” Neighbourhoods, the right honourable Dame Diana Johnson, said that:

“Every person in the country deserves to live a long life in good health”,


but this new research demonstrates that this is not currently a reality.

We are all aware of the work of Sir Michael Marmot. In his review, which explored the changes since 2010, he highlighted five policy areas:

“—Give every child the best start in life —Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives —Create fair employment and good work for all —Ensure a healthy standard of living for all —Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities”.


The key messages from that review make stark reading. This is one of the strongest:

“The amount of time people spend in poor health has increased across England since 2010. As we reported in 2010, inequalities in poor health harm individuals, families, communities and are expensive to the public purse. They are also unnecessary and can be reduced with the right policies.”


In a note that I think all noble Lords will have received from Crisis and other voluntary organisations, they point out that, as it stands, people who experience the most extreme health inequalities, such as those who are homeless, sex workers, Gypsy, Roma, Travellers, vulnerable non-UK nationals and people with substance misuse issues, encounter significant barriers to accessing and receiving the healthcare that meets their needs. These barriers can include stigma, the lack of a fixed address or ID, fragmented services, the lack of continuity of care because of unstable accommodation, and lack of awareness from healthcare professionals of specific needs.

12:15
These can be reduced by the right policies and the right action. Health inequalities are not inevitable. Evidence shows that a concerted approach, implemented through the NHS and wider policies to address socioeconomic causes of poor health, can make a difference. The most recent national cross-government health inequality strategy was successful in narrowing the life expectancy gap between the most and least deprived communities. But I am afraid it was scrapped in 2010, and since then inequalities have widened as improvements in life expectancy have slowed.
The Bill offers a potential route to strengthen action on health inequalities, and there are three ways to improve the Bill: first, strengthening the existing core of inequalities duties; secondly, boosting the triple aim; and thirdly, ICS structures facilitating greater action on health inequalities. This suite of amendments addresses most of those.
Without doubt, healthcare should have the strongest role in tackling inequality and, in that, the strongest role should be played by public health. It is the part that has not been lucky enough to receive at least some protection from austerity, as the NHS did. Some of the unintended but inevitable consequences of the failure to invest in public health have been seen in the pandemic. Cuts have their consequences, and we have all been suffering them.
We cannot avoid, in a debate about inequalities, reference to the report An Avoidable Crisis, an investigation by my noble friend Lady Lawrence into why black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities were dying at a disproportionate rate during the pandemic. It was immediately apparent that the impact on people’s health was inseparable from economic prospects and experiences of discrimination. She says:
“It will require systemic solutions to systemic problems. It is not enough for policymakers to know that ethnic inequalities exist. We need to honestly confront how inequalities at all levels of society have come to exist and the intersectional impact it has on each ethnic group. This means recognising the interaction of faith, class, gender, disability, sexuality, ethnicity and culture in order to truly understand that no community is ever one homogeneous group.
Only then will we be able to respond effectively. We need bold, joined-up policies and an approach that encompasses tackling ethnic disparities, from housing to employment and health.”
Reducing health inequalities is not an ideological or moral standpoint; it is now well accepted that an unhealthy population is less productive, and there is a loss of economic efficiency and we all lose. The Bill offers us an opportunity to start to remedy that situation.
Those who have been lucky enough to go through the proceedings of the Bill Committee in the Commons will have seen that the Government accept the need to focus on reducing inequalities but claim that this is already a requirement expressed elsewhere in legislation. Because at present this is largely an NHS Bill, many amendments seek to make it a comprehensive health and care Bill. Only when mental health, public health, primary care and community care are all working in collaboration will we actually tackle health inequalities. I beg to move.
Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, is taking part remotely in these proceedings and I now call him to speak.

Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s work, to which my noble friend just alluded, has shown that health inequalities have widened across England in the last 10 years. The impact of these inequalities has been both exemplified and amplified by Covid-19. I support Amendments 11, 14 and others that address this massively important problem and I fully agree with my noble friend’s analysis.

Health is powerfully influenced by the social, economic and environmental conditions in which people live and work. Place-based and whole systems are therefore vital to improving health and reducing inequalities. This is recognised in the NHS Long Term Plan and the move towards integrated care.

Sir Michael endorsed the findings of the Creative Health report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Well-being, which in 2017 documented over 100 studies on how the arts and creative activities have supported health. In 2019, the World Health Organization’s scoping review of the role of the arts in improving health and well-being provided evidence that creative activities could mitigate the detrimental impact of stressful environments and the negative health impacts of growing up in disadvantaged conditions. Engaging with the arts, the evidence shows, can improve social cohesion and lead to a reduction in social inequalities in deprived areas. It can build skills and mutual support, which can improve social mobility. The positive effects of the arts can make a particular impact on early years development, as is demonstrated in the evidence provided to DCMS by Dr Daisy Fancourt et al in 2020.

Social prescribing, through bringing people together in shared creative activity and voluntary work, helps to build social capital and better health and well-being in deprived communities.

Research by the MARCH network, a UKRI-funded research programme, has shown that the health benefits of engaging with cultural and other community activities are felt by all, regardless of socioeconomic status. We know that there is a social gradient in participation in cultural and community activities and that those living in areas of higher deprivation are less likely to engage in them. However, the MARCH research indicates that when individuals in areas of high deprivation do engage, the mental health and well-being benefits may be particularly great for them, even greater than for those who live in more affluent areas. Therefore, targeted investment in cultural and community opportunities in areas where people are likely to benefit most can help to reduce health inequalities.

For instance, in Manchester, the Natural Cultural Health Service of the Whitworth art gallery is encouraging activities by local residents from diverse backgrounds that promote physical and mental well-being. Contact, a theatre company, supported by the Wellcome Trust, offers a health and well-being space for use by local community groups. Manchester Camerata has moved its base to Pugin’s wonderful Gorton abbey, in a deprived part of the city. Its musicians are working to support people with dementia and the Camerata is providing a resident composer and musician for local schools. Evaluation has shown that encouraging children to express themselves through music-making has raised their confidence and self-esteem, with a positive impact on their schoolwork and all the implications for them and their community that can follow from that.

The Big Noise project, run by Sistema Scotland in Govanhill since 2008, provides free orchestral training to young people. Evaluation has shown positive health outcomes as a result of improved confidence, social and other skills and emotional well-being. Similarly, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has run its In Harmony project to improve the life chances of children through music, and since 2009 has benefited 2,500 children in the Everton and Anfield areas of Liverpool.

The cultural and VCSE sectors have a key role to play in reducing health inequalities and should be fully embedded at systems level and in the health decision-making process. Integrated care partnerships provide the gateway to making this happen.

The National Centre for Creative Health, a charity of which I am chair, is currently working in partnership with NHS England in pilot programmes with four ICSs with a specific focus on mitigating health inequalities. We are looking to establish how best to embed creative health into healthcare strategies. We are also hosting a further AHRC-funded research project called Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities. The outputs will support ICSs to maximise the potential of the arts and natural assets in improving health and reducing inequalities.

I hope the Minister will assure us that the Government recognise the indispensable role of the arts and culture, as well as engagement with nature, in mitigating health inequalities, and that the system created by the Bill—designed, I hope, with an unambiguous purpose to reduce health inequalities—will fully embrace such non- clinical approaches.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for introducing this group of amendments. My name is attached to her amendments, and I have some amendments in my name; I thank noble Lords who have added their names. I will speak in particular to Amendments 11 and 14 but what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said applies to other amendments, and I agree with them and have added my name to them.

Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated existing health inequalities in England, and the Government have committed to “levelling up” the country. Progress on national NHS commitments related to reducing health inequalities has been slow in recent years, and NHS England has urged local systems to accelerate action to tackle health inequalities after the pandemic. A step change is clearly needed, yet the Bill’s current provisions on health inequalities amount to no more than the same: transposing existing inequality duties from CCGs to the new NHS ICBs.

One area where there is clearly scope for improvement is strengthening reporting on health inequalities. There is currently no explicit requirement for NHS England to publish national guidance about which performance data and indicators relevant to health inequalities should be collected, analysed and reported on by NHS bodies. The NHS’s current system oversight framework, as a means to define national priorities and monitor the overall performance of local systems, also includes little in the way of concrete measures on health inequalities, with those that are included being focused primarily on shorter-term Covid-19-related equity impacts.

The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, addresses this. It would require NHS England to publish guidance on collecting, analysing, reporting and publishing data on all factors or indicators relevant to health inequalities. I hope the Government will commit to considering this amendment in order to drive more action on inequalities and enable better tracking of progress across different areas.

The only thing I would add to this is the NHS Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance that was published by NHS England just before Christmas—in fact, on 24 December; it could not be much nearer to Christmas. On page 6 of this, as one of the priorities for 2022-23, NHS England asks local health systems to:

“Continue to develop our approach to population health management, prevent ill-health and address health inequalities—using data and analytics to redesign care pathways and measure outcomes with a focus on improving access and health equity for underserved communities.”


It also states that in delivering all the NHS’s priorities, it intends to maintain the

“focus on … tackling health inequalities by redoubling our efforts on the five priority areas”—

already mentioned by the noble Baroness—

“set out in guidance in March 2021.”

It reiterates that ICSs will take a lead role in tackling health inequalities and notes:

“Improved data collection and reporting will drive a better understanding of local health inequalities in access to, experience of and outcomes from healthcare services, by informing the development of action plans to narrow the health inequalities gap. ICBs, once established, and trust board performance packs are therefore expected to be disaggregated by deprivation and ethnicity.”


On page 29 onwards there are further details about this.

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Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which I have added my name, therefore goes with the grain of current policy and would help support these efforts and put this in the legislation. Arguably, it will not be possible to do this effectively without more consistent guidance and clarity around how to measure progress on inequalities, which is what the amendment seeks to do. I am led to believe that NHS England might be supportive of this and clearly thinks it is needed to spur action.
I turn very briefly to Amendment 14, which relates to the “triple aim”. I strongly support Amendment 14 —in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and others—which aims to extend this. To send a clearer signal about the importance of narrowing inequalities, the triple aim should be extended so that it explicitly references the need for organisations to consider the impact of their decisions on efforts to reduce inequalities.
The Government so far have argued that addressing inequalities is already implicit in the first aspect of the triple aim—the requirement to consider the effects of decisions on the health and well-being of the population. It has clearly not been obvious to many experts and charities scrutinising the Bill. However, if it is the Government’s intention to ensure that the reduction of inequalities is prioritised, they should make this explicit in the Bill.
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, this is my first contribution to the debate on the Bill and, listening to earlier exchanges, it struck me how many were being made by those who had either run the NHS as administrators or, indeed, as Ministers. I can join that happy band. I was a Health Minister in 1979 and put on the statute book the Health Services Act 1980, abolishing area health authorities. Nostalgia has overcome me, as phrases I used 40 years ago about streamlining the structure and making it more efficient have been recycled in debates on this Bill.

My first piece of health legislation followed the appointment of commissioners to run the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority which was breaking its cash limits and behaving illegally. Unfortunately, our suspension was also illegal, and I had to pilot through the other place the National Health Service (Invalid Direction) Bill, with much hilarity at my expense from the Opposition. So, more than 40 years later, it is good to join in another debate about NHS reorganisation. Today’s debate about inequality was actually raised 40 years ago: noble Lords may remember the Black report on inequalities in health. I was rereading it last night and it struck me how many of the 37 recommendations made 40 years ago are still relevant today.

Mine is the lead name on four amendments, but I plan to say very little on Amendment 66 and leave it to the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Faulkner, to make the case for a specific reference to smoking as a key factor in reducing health inequalities.

As we have heard, the Bill gives integrated care boards a responsibility to reduce inequalities in access to health services and in health service outcomes. The biggest cause of inequalities are factors such as smoking, obesity and alcohol, particularly smoking, which is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society—an issue that was raised an hour ago during Oral Questions. Others will say more about the imperatives of tackling these hazards to health.

I will focus instead on Amendment 152 in my name and will also speak briefly to Amendments 156 and 157. These amendments are supported by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who will focus on housing and why legislation is necessary, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Watkins. I am grateful to Crisis, the homeless charity, for its briefing.

I commend the Government’s welcome commitment to tackle health inequalities and hope the forthcoming White Paper on levelling up will have a strong section on this, following the recent report of the Public Services Select Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I hope that will put flesh on the bone of what risks becoming more of a slogan rather than a policy, meaning different things to different people. I hope the levelling up White Paper will directly address inequalities in health.

As the Secretary of State for Health has said recently, we must tackle the “disease of disparity”, and these amendments highlight the experiences of those groups who are undoubtedly at the worst end of that disease. In current NHS policy and documents, these groups are referred to as “inclusion health populations”—a term used to highlight the need for health services to overcome the social exclusion and marginalisation that many people face, resulting in dire consequences for their health. That group includes rough sleepers, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, vulnerable non-UK nationals and people with substance misuse issues.

These people develop health conditions usually seen in people in their 70s and 80s up to 40 years earlier, and often die from them. Tragically, the average age of death among people experiencing homelessness is 46 for men and 42 for women. Clearly, these are not health outcomes we should accept for anyone. The solutions exist, and chime very well with what the Health and Care Bill seeks to do. However, it currently does not go far enough.

The Bill places a welcome emphasis on integrated services. To tackle the health injustices for people who are socially excluded, we need holistic, integrated health services to meet their needs, and we need them everywhere. They do exist in some places; they are also referred to as “inclusion health services” and they have a significantly positive impact. For example, Pathway, the leading health charity for inclusion health, has helped 11 hospitals in the UK create multidisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses, social care professionals and housing workers. These teams support over 4,000 patients every year who are homeless, with very positive outcomes. An audit of Pathway’s services in 2017 showed a 37% reduction in A&E attendances, a 66% reduction in hospital admissions and an 11% reduction in bed days. However, despite these successful services, inclusion health services are not currently commissioned at the scale required, and access to them is a postcode lottery. King’s College London found that 56.5% of homelessness projects in England do not have a specialist GP inclusion health service in their area—hence the amendments on best practice.

During my time as a Housing Minister, I saw the impact of social exclusion on people, including how not having a stable home to live in is devastating for people’s physical and mental health. Therefore, working closely with expert organisations across these sectors including Crisis, Pathway, St Mungo’s and many others, we want to amend the Bill to ensure a strategic focus in the new systems being set up to help the most socially excluded in our society.

The amendments introduce two important and necessary changes. The first would place a duty on integrated care partnerships to have due regard to the need to improve health outcomes for inclusion health populations when they create their healthcare strategies. Placing a duty on partnerships will make it clear that inclusion health is a strategic focus, and that should follow through and be reflected in the resourcing and commissioning decisions of integrated care boards. I do not regard the requirement to “have regard to” as an onerous imposition.

The second change would make clear the importance on health outcomes of having a stable home. It would mean that, in addition to the partnership having to consider health and social care in its strategic integration arrangements, it would also need to consider housing. This possible change would make clear that housing is on a par with health and social care services. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will say more about this.

With the advent of the Everyone In scheme in March last year, which sought to provide safe accommodation for those who without it would have continued to sleep rough, we saw how critical it is for people to have a place of their own. We need to build on that success and prevent rough sleepers drifting back on to our streets. My amendment legislates to ensure that health, social care and housing services continue to work more closely together to consistently support people who too often fall through the gaps between these services.

These amendments are firmly within the scope of the Bill. They will complement and strengthen its welcome aims to integrate health services across the whole system and tackle health inequalities. The amendments are neither overly prescriptive nor bureaucratic; their aims are simple. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s reply.

Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB)
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My Lords, in October last year, during the debate on the Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living report, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, confirmed that the Government maintain their commitment to ensuring that people live at least five extra healthy and independent years of life. A practical first step towards achieving that goal would be to ensure that tackling health inequalities is a priority in this legislation, and the amendments in this group seek to achieve that. We know that health inequality is a problem that has been getting worse, and we need to tackle it as an emergency. I support the amendments in the group calling for NHS England, NHS trusts and the integrated care strategy to collect relevant information and data, as well as to take the necessary action to prevent health inequalities and improve healthy living.

In 2010, as we know, Sir Michael Marmot published his report on health equity, finding that social position determined people’s health outcomes and that people at the lower end of the social gradient had worse health. At the time, the report recommended that the focus on improving this should not be targeted just at those from the most disadvantaged parts of the country but should take a universal approach to improving health outcomes, which is very much needed. The report highlighted the economic benefits of addressing health inequalities. In particular, it raised the issue of lost productivity, increased spending on welfare and lost tax revenues due to people having to leave work as a result of poor health.

Just before the pandemic, in 2020, Sir Michael Marmot did his 10-year review, and we know how alarming the findings of that report were. For the first time, life expectancy had stalled in the UK. In the poorest 10% in England, the life expectancy of women actually declined between 2010 and 2012 and between 2016 and 2018. Mortality rates for people between 45 and 49 years old increased, and in many cases those were deaths of despair, due to suicide or substance abuse. That is terrible news. The level of child poverty has also increased in the UK to 22%—compare that with Norway, for example, where child poverty is 10%. That is also alarming. The number of years lived in poor health across England has increased and continues to be worse in the poorest parts of the country.

We hear much about the so-called levelling-up agenda from the Government. One finds it hard not to dismiss it as little more than a glib and somewhat trite slogan, because there is little to back it up in real policy to try to address issues such as health inequality. However, I am an optimist and I see the Bill as a step towards trying to address these challenges. But to do this effectively we must have a better understanding of the drivers of health inequality. We must have plans at a local and national level to address those drivers. This group of amendments offers some solutions to start addressing health inequalities through this legislation. I look forward very much to the Minister’s response to these amendments and to hearing his view on how the Bill is going to achieve the Government’s goal of people living at least five extra healthy and independent years of life.

12:45
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, my name is attached to six amendments in this extremely important group. I should like first to turn to Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which my name is attached. Other noble Lords have expressed support for amending the triple aim to explicitly include health inequalities, and I add my voice to that call. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others about the real-life causes and impacts of health inequalities show just how important it is that we strengthen the Bill.

I would like briefly to highlight the specific impact of mental health inequalities, which are pervasive and deeply embedded. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said in our debate on Tuesday, mental illness itself causes inequality. People with severe mental illness live, on average, between 15 and 20 years less than the general population. Black people are more than four times as likely as white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act. There are higher rates of suicide in the LGBT community, yet many in that community do not, or feel that they cannot, seek healthcare because of fear of discrimination. People with a learning disability often suffer with significantly worse physical and mental health than the general population.

The Centre for Mental Health Research has shown that it is often groups of people with the poorest mental health who have the greatest difficulty accessing healthcare that meets their needs and produces good outcomes for them. Unless an ICB is focused on which groups of people have the poorest health in the first place and understands why that is the case, it will, frankly, struggle to reduce the inequalities flowing from that.

Amendment 14 would amend the triple aim duties specifically for NHS England. Amendments 94, 185 and 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, to which I have attached my name, would replicate that explicit inclusion in the triple aim for integrated care boards, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts.

As the noble Lord, Lord Young, has said on health inequalities, regarding them as implied in the first element of the triple aim—to consider the impact of decisions on the health and well-being of the population—does not, in my view, get us any further than where we are today. Given the statistics that I have outlined and the fact, as we have heard, that the pandemic has made things a lot worse, we clearly need to go further.

I turn now to Amendment 65, regarding the role of local health systems. It seeks to strengthen the health inequality duty placed on integrated care boards by giving them a requirement to

“implement systems to identify and monitor inequalities in physical and mental health between different groups of people within the population”

of their area. As things stand, the provisions in the Bill will ensure that NHS organisations are required to address inequalities in a similar way to how CCGs currently do it. But we need to see more ambition. The provisions would be strengthened and not merely transferred. The current requirement to “have regard to” is not enough. Local health systems have a central role to play in addressing health inequalities. They are ideally positioned to understand the challenges in their areas and, to use the jargon—for which I apologise —co-produce local solutions with communities. The development of integrated care systems gives us a new opportunity for local areas to take population health and place-based approaches, so that the vulnerable groups who have been referred to do not fall through gaps.

There is a lot about health inequalities that we do not know; we suspect, but we just do not have the data. Amendment 65 proposes that the Bill includes clearer and more direct requirements for integrated care boards to focus efforts on identifying and monitoring those inequalities. Currently, the quantity and quality of data collected is inadequate for it to be fully disaggregated against the different protected characteristics and provide a real insight into the inequalities that exist. That is why I have attached my name to Amendment 61 in the name of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, which I strongly support.

Robust information and data are prerequisites for any action. Improved data collection—both on health services and on wider inequalities in the area—will lead to a far better assessment of what needs to be done, particularly in areas such as public mental health and the local NHS workforce. I will quote one statistic about GPs. A GP working in a practice serving the most deprived patients will, on average, be responsible for the care of almost 10% more patients than a GP serving a more affluent area. This simply cannot be right.

I will end by quoting from work we have already heard about—the work of Professor Sir Michael Marmot. It needs no introduction. He has demonstrated that efforts to address health inequalities will benefit society as a whole. The NHS Long Term Plan states:

“While we cannot treat our way out of inequalities, the NHS can ensure that action to drive down health inequalities is central to everything we do.”


I urge the Government to ensure that the Bill does just that.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as an NHS patient but not an expert, I will say one small thing about inequalities. Given the way in which the NHS is structured, with no money paid up front and with excess demand and inadequate supplies because of budget shortages, it is forced to allocate treatment by queuing—and queuing, obviously, means that people have to wait.

There is a fallacy that somehow the poor have more time than the rich. In my experience it would improve matters immensely if, when appointments are given, there was less delay in the patient seeing the person whom they are supposed to see. I know that, right now, there are standard regulations that cover these matters, so that people end up waiting three hours. I have done that. But my time is not as valuable as that of someone poorer. You do not measure the value of your time by your income. So it would improve matters if the allocation of services were made using communication devices. This would waste less of patients’ time and help them better access services.

Lord Bishop of Carlisle Portrait The Lord Bishop of Carlisle
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My Lords, I will speak on behalf of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. She has added her name to Amendment 65, and we on these Benches support the other amendments in this group that seek to reduce health inequalities. As we have heard, these amendments would help to ensure that the Bill does not forget the underserved and disadvantaged in our society, many of whom have been mentioned already.

In the Christian and Jewish faiths, there is a Biblical concept—shalom—which embodies a sense of flourishing, generosity and abundance. Shalom can be summarised as experiencing wholeness, or a state of being without gaps. This is reflected in the World Health Organization’s definition of health, which is about not only the absence of disease but mental, physical and social well-being. It is a vision for individuals and for the whole of society. Our efforts to design a more holistic health service are, in effect, aimed at achieving that sort of shalom. We see this clearly in the decision made to place 42 integrated care systems across the country. What is not yet apparent is the relationship of these systems and boards to the wider community.

This Bill must seek to involve local communities—and not just professionals—in the reduction of health inequalities. These amendments highlight the monitoring of both physical and mental inequalities, take account of the experiences of young people and children and place more emphasis on the strength of local interventions to help reduce and prevent health inequalities. I commend them wholeheartedly to your Lordships’ House and to the Minister.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I rise in support of these amendments, in particular Amendment 66 in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Faulkner of Worcester.

This amendment would expand the duties of integrated care boards. We want them to exercise their functions with respect to reducing inequalities relating to

“modifiable risk factors, such as smoking.”

Our aim is to help the Government achieve their manifesto commitments to reduce health inequality, level up and increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. This amendment would mean that integrated care boards would have a responsibility to reduce inequalities in access to health services and the outcomes achieved. They would also be responsible, in consultation with partners such as local health and well-being boards, for drafting joint five-year plans to explain how they would discharge their responsibilities, including those to reduce inequalities.

At present, there are significant inequalities in both patient access to health services and in the outcomes achieved. The biggest causes of inequalities in health outcomes are behavioural risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and alcohol. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, smoking alone is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society. It is a greater source of health inequality than social position and it remains the leading cause of premature death in this country.

We all hope that the integrated care systems will contribute significantly to reducing inequalities in smoking and other behavioural issues, but they are likely to succeed only if addressing such modifiable risk factors becomes a core function of the NHS, working in collaboration with local authorities. Amendment 66 would ensure this.

The difference in healthy life expectancy between those living in the most and least deprived areas of England is around 19 years for both men and women—in other words, almost two decades. Let us look at one place in particular. As measured by the index of multiple deprivation, Blackpool is, sadly, top of the table of the most deprived local districts in the country. Over the last decade it has consistently had one of the highest smoking rates in the country, at over 20%. Most distressingly, more than 20% of mothers in Blackpool are smokers at the time they give birth. So our amendment is needed because the recently published NHS inequalities strategy—which is impressive in parts—does not address the behavioural causes of health inequalities. In fact, it says nothing about them at all.

The Government’s inequality strategy sets out five clinical areas that are crucial to improving health outcomes for the poorest 20% in society. They are chronic respiratory disease, serious mental illness, early cancer diagnosis, maternity and—last but not least—identifying people with high blood pressure who need to be pre-treated to prevent heart attacks and strokes. In all these areas, behavioural factors such as smoking, obesity and alcohol very significantly increase the dangers to health. If appropriate action is taken, it can greatly improve patient outcomes and, at the same time, reduce pressure on our NHS.

To take just one example, chronic respiratory disease is caused primarily by smoking. It is estimated that smoking is responsible for 90% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but one-third of patients diagnosed with COPD carry on smoking. There is nothing in the NHS England inequalities strategy about this, and no target for reducing smoking rates among those with chronic respiratory disease. Yet stopping smoking is the most effective and cost-effective treatment. Only by quitting smoking can those with COPD prevent further decline in lung function.

Smoking, obesity and alcohol are also causally linked to cancer and hypertension. People with mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population. Smoking is the single largest factor in this shocking difference. The question we must therefore ask today is this: given that modifiable behaviour risk factors are core to all five identified clinical focus areas, why are they not included in the NHS England inequality strategy? Perhaps it is because the Government do not see addressing these population-level health risk factors as a core responsibility of the NHS.

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Could it be that the Government are leaving the responsibility for such issues to local government despite knowing that local authorities have greatly diminished resources at the same time as they face considerably increasing costs to fund activities for which they have legal obligations? Addressing modifiable risk factors should be core business for the NHS and local authorities working together. At every level, we need to recognise that funding activities such as smoking cessation services extends people’s lives, improves their quality of life and saves the NHS significant sums of money in the long run.
Amendment 66 therefore seeks to make smoking and other modifiable risk factors to health the responsibility of integrated care systems and local authorities, which must work together if we are to improve public health, with all the benefits that follow, including helping to protect our NHS.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I am delighted to speak to this group of amendments, which I support; I am particularly delighted to speak to Amendment 156, as one of its co-sponsors. I very much support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Young, who has highlighted the appalling health disparities faced by people who are the most socially excluded. I, too, ask the Government to recognise how amending the Bill in the way proposed would help them to realise their ambitions in this area.

We know that the level of ill health among people who would be considered under inclusion health is significant. We have heard the shamefully low average age of death for people experiencing homelessness in England and Wales. We also know that the life expectancy of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities is around 10 to 12 years fewer than that of the general population, although one study has found that this gap can be as high as 28 years. This disparity in life expectancy clearly demonstrates the devastating impact of extreme social exclusion.

It is clear to me that the health and social care system has a significant role to play in tackling the health inequalities experienced by these groups. These amendments would facilitate crucial progress towards that and encourage social enterprise involvement to reach the most socially excluded individuals. We have seen examples of this at the relatively new Plymouth dentistry school, where the training clinic has been set up as a social enterprise to serve some of the poorest people in Plymouth.

In relation to Amendment 156 in particular, we know that NHS services must be integrated with wider services to reflect how people’s lives work. A main aim of the Bill is integration, yet integration could not be more important for the groups that experience the most complex needs and require very effective, co-ordinated care. As I know from my time in nursing, there has been a historic lack of integration between housing, health and social care, yet housing is fundamental to reducing health inequalities. Without integration across these different systems, people will continue to develop acutely poor health.

People who experience social exclusion, and extreme health inequalities as a result, often fall through the gaps in the provision of primary and secondary care, mental health and substance misuse services, health and social care, and even health and wider systems, such as housing. For example, we know that people experiencing homelessness attend A&E six times as often as people with a home, are admitted to hospital four times as often, and stay three times as long. One study has found that homeless people attend A&E 60 times more than the general population. This has tragic results for the individual and also places incredible strain on our healthcare system.

We must act to alleviate the pressures on the NHS where we can. Severe and multiple disadvantage is conservatively estimated to cost society more than £10 billion a year. It is clear that the cost of doing nothing is too high, both to the individual suffering severe health inequalities and to the NHS. This amendment would help address these issues by ensuring that housing is considered by integrated care partnerships. It is non-mandatory, therefore speaking to the Government’s aims of enabling local decision-making and flexibility, but would ensure that partnerships think of the important role that housing plays by providing a stable place from which people can then engage with wider health services. A wide range of expert organisations are supportive of this amendment and related Amendments 152 and 157, including Crisis, Social Enterprise UK, Doctors of the World, and Friends, Families and Travellers.

The NHS must work effectively for all who are entitled to use it, including those who need it most. If we get access and outcomes right for the most marginalised in our society—those who experience the poorest health —we will likely get access and outcomes right for everyone. That is why I call on the Government to support the amendments in this group.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, Amendments 68 and 95 are in my name. I declare my role as president of the Rural Coalition. I support the broad drift of these amendments, which engage with the important issue of reducing inequalities.

Rural health and social care has often presented challenges in terms of proximity to services, the types of services available within a local area and the demographics of rural areas. It is complicated. Rural areas have a higher proportion of older residents, which is always a greater burden on healthcare services compared with areas with younger populations.

Furthermore, a variety of issues that feed into rural health and social care are beyond the remit of the Bill. In March 2017, Defra produced its Rural Proofing practical guidance to help policymakers assess the impact of policies on rural areas. At the time, this was a welcome initiative to ensure that rural interests were being adequately considered and, to quote the report, that

“these areas receive fair and equitable policy outcomes.”

Unfortunately, concerns have since grown among rural groups that this guidance has become a sort of bureaucratic box-ticking exercise in Whitehall that does not take into account the complexities of rural life.

Funding allocations are often the result of specific metrics or formulas, many of which disadvantage rural communities. For example, a 2021 report by the Rural Services Network, Towards the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, highlighted how many of the post-Brexit levelling-up funds disadvantaged poor rural areas due to way in which they measured poverty. The Department for Transport’s own 2017 statistics showed that, on average, travel from rural areas to either a GP or hospital was 40% longer by car and 94% longer via public transport when compared with travel in urban locations.

Further, 2017 figures from Rural England highlighted the higher rates of delayed transfer of care from hospitals in rural areas: 19.2 cases per 100,000 compared with 13 per 100,000 in urban locations. Analysis by the RSN has shown that, when compared with predominately urban areas, rural local authorities received significantly less grant funding per head to pay for services such as social care and public health responsibilities, in spite of the fact that they generally deal with older populations. Other problems include limited intensive care capacity in rural areas, the loss of local services through amalgamations, the relatively few specialist medical staff in rural areas, and the general staff shortage and retention issues facing rurality.

It is commendable that the Government have legislated in this Bill to introduce a duty on integrated care boards to reduce inequalities between patients with respect to their ability to access health services. My amendments would extend this principle and reduce those health inequalities with respect to where someone lives, whether it is an urban or rural area, and place a duty on ICBs to co-operate with each other for the purpose of reducing healthcare access inequalities. In effect, this is a statutory rural-proofing requirement.

This duty to consider rural access when reducing inequalities extends to co-operation between ICBs because rural areas often exist on the periphery of a large geographical region where patients in one area may reside closer to crucial services in a neighbouring board. Naturally, rural areas lack the economies of scale of urban areas, and greater cross-ICB co-operation will be required to utilise joint resources most effectively when delivering different services to rural areas that fall within border zones of ICBs.

One area where a collaborative approach between ICBs will be crucial for rural areas in the near future is the current reorganisation of non-emergency patient transport by NHS England, which will shift to ICBs shortly. Although rural areas undoubtedly are being considered as part of this re-organisation, patient transport is already a rural inequality that needs addressing. Putting rural proofing with respect to health care on a statutory footing presents a more concrete way to implement the existing rural-proofing guidance. The need for co-operation between administrative areas and for overall plans to be rural proofed will become more essential, particularly for secondary health services, if teams of specialist clinicians become increasingly consolidated in ever fewer locations.

Can the Minister outline how the Government intend to reduce the inequalities in healthcare access and funding that many rural areas face, and how they will effectively ensure that ICBs adequately rural proof their plans in line with the Government’s own guidance?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to follow all noble Lords in supporting all the amendments in this group. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on the way in which she introduced the debate when moving Amendment 11. I will speak briefly to Amendment 66, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and me.

It was enjoyable listening to the noble Lord, Lord Young, taking a voyage down memory lane to more than 40 years ago, when he was a Health Minister. He could perhaps have added that we would have become a smoke-free country rather earlier, had his advice and proposals for tobacco control been accepted at the time, and had he not been removed from health on the instruction of Sir Denis Thatcher and given another role in government. He is and remains a pioneer, and I am delighted to be behind him with his amendments; we shall come to other smoking amendments later.

Amendment 66 would require integrated care boards to address the leading preventable causes of sickness and death, particularly smoking. The Bill as drafted fails to get to the root causes of health inequalities and will have only a limited effect. Our amendment would correct this oversight as far as smoking is concerned. In 2019, there were 5.7 million smokers in England, one in seven of the adult population. As the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said, in England smoking is the leading cause of premature death, killing over 70,000 people a year and leaving 30 times as many suffering from serious smoking-related disease and disability.

13:15
As Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, said in a lecture on public health at Gresham College last May, smoking is likely to have killed more people in 2020 than Covid-19, but unlike Covid-19, smoking kills on the same scale every year, and will go on doing for many years without robust action to correct this. It is worth pointing out that he also said that one in five people who die from cancer will die from lung cancer, and
“the reason that people like me get very concerned and very upset about it is that this cancer is almost entirely caused for profit. The great majority who die of this cancer … die so that a small number of companies make profits from the people who they have addicted in young ages, and then keep addicted to something which they know will kill them. So lung cancer is unfortunately still a very major problem”
that exists almost entirely because of smoking for profit.
While overall smoking rates have fallen significantly over the last 20 years, the difference in smoking rates between the most disadvantaged group and the general population has become more pronounced: the inequality has widened. This includes people with mental health conditions, pregnant women, those in routine and manual occupations, and those living in social housing. There is a real risk that people from these groups will be left behind as we move towards a smoke-free 2030.
Given current trends in smoking, Cancer Research UK has estimated that we will miss the smoke-free 2030 target by seven years, and the most deprived quintile will not reach the target until the mid-2040s. This amendment will help to ensure that this prediction does not become reality. The Government announced their ambition to make England smoke-free by 2030 in the 2019 prevention Green Paper. However, in the two years since, we have seen no sign of the “bold action” that the Government acknowledged is needed to achieve the 2030 ambition.
In December 2020, the Government announced that a new tobacco control plan would be published in July 2021 to deliver that ambition. This did not happen and last month, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, told Parliament that publication had slipped to 2022, with no date specified. With only eight years left until 2030, there is an urgent need for action to back up the Government’s rhetoric. This Bill is a great opportunity to get us on track to deliver a smoke-free 2030, and to tackle the severe health inequalities plaguing our society. I urge the Government not to squander this opportunity and to accept this amendment, along with the other amendments on smoking which we will come to later in Committee.
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, now that we are in Committee, I remind the House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I rise to speak to Amendments 152, 156 and 157, to which I am a signatory. I will not repeat all the excellent points made by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and others, but I hope the Government will accept that what is being proposed is central to the success of this Bill, and that is because the NHS does not exist in a vacuum.

We know that prevention and early treatment of people’s ill-health will help them, reduce demand for hospital beds and lead to a more efficient use of public resources. We know well enough that poor housing contributes to poor health. These amendments to Clause 21 present an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate their commitment to truly tackling health inequalities and, in particular, to ending rough sleeping, by the end of this Parliament in 2024. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others have clearly laid out, the beneficial impact on a range of groups experiencing social exclusion and poor health outcomes would be significant. That means that there must be integrated approaches between housing, health and social care at the point when integrated care partnerships create their healthcare strategies.

Research shows that an average local authority might have around 1,400 people a year experiencing multiple disadvantage, including support needs around mental and physical health, homelessness and contact with the criminal justice system. Around 58,000 people a year experience the most severe disadvantage. It is therefore essential that local integrated care partnerships consider all the ways in which health intersects with housing.

I was concerned to read recently that in July last year 77% of women leaving our largest women’s prison became homeless. Homelessness inevitably leads to poor health. As Professor Dame Carol Black’s recent review of drugs highlighted, unless housing and housing support needs are addressed, the health service will fail to improve people’s health consistently, regardless of how effective the commissioned health services may be.

We know this approach works. The Government’s welcome effort to vaccinate people who were homeless went alongside a push for not only GP registration but provision of emergency accommodation. This acknowledged the need to bring together support into housing alongside access to basic health services. Indeed, we have seen the Government revisit this approach just before Christmas, with the Protect and Vaccinate scheme. Since the Government have recognised the need for this integrated approach, I cannot see why they would object to these amendments that would help continue it.

Amendments 152, 156, 157 and others seek to make our NHS systems more effective in the delivery of services to the most excluded and marginalised in our society. As it stands, people are forced to attempt to navigate a siloed and fragmented health service that does not adequately address their complex health needs. For example, one patient with alcohol and other addictions, supported by Changing Lives, could not access mental health services until after his alcohol addiction was addressed. However, with the right support from Changing Lives’ inclusion health approach, this patient is now managing abstinence from alcohol and engaging with mental health support. Crucially, his experiences highlight the challenges in addressing substance misuse in isolation, without making support available to address mental ill-health at the same time.

The Government may argue that it will be sufficient to address these concerns in guidance, but I hope they do not. I acknowledge that guidance would be beneficial in ensuring that approaches to inclusion health populations are considered within integrated care systems. However, without legislation, tackling inclusion health would become nice to do rather than something that must be done.

A recent example of this is Covid-19 vaccine uptake among people who were homeless. We know that where inclusion health services existed, there was a concerted effort to ensure good vaccine uptake, but without these specialist services we simply do not know how effective vaccination programmes have been. The only data available from July 2021 show vaccination rates to be substantially lower among people who were homeless compared to the general population.

I am aware that commissioning strategies and services for inclusion health populations is already on the agenda of some integrated care systems, but we need all integrated care systems to play their part. Guidance will not be effective enough to ensure the provision of specialist support everywhere, not just in some places.

In conclusion, the level of complexity of the marginalised and excluded experience can be met only by embedding inclusion health throughout the health and care system at the highest levels. Legislation is the most secure way to achieve this. Otherwise, there will continue to be a postcode lottery in access to the right healthcare services for these groups, resulting in that “disease of disparity” the Secretary of State wants to address.

Lord Kakkar Portrait Lord Kakkar (CB)
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My Lords, I first join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for the thoughtful way in which she introduced this group of amendments. I support Amendment 14, in the noble Baroness’s name, and Amendments 65, 94, 186 and 195 in the name of my noble friend Lord Patel. This is a vital group of amendments, as your Lordships have already heard, because it is focused on inequalities. Clearly, no society, Government or Parliament can tolerate the inequalities that we see in both clinical outcomes and access to healthcare that have remained despite our remarkable healthcare system and the NHS. It is for that reason that it is absolutely right that, in the opportunity afforded by this Bill, inequalities are properly addressed.

More worrying is that, despite this country’s substantial investment in healthcare and the development of health systems over the past 70 years, these disparities in outcomes and access to healthcare described geographically and across different ethnicities and socioeconomic groups have continued to grow. That is despite all the success we have seen more broadly in delivering healthcare, addressing prevention and improving treatments.

It is also right to recognise that inequalities in outcomes and access to healthcare are best addressed at the local level. Through a focus on integration in not only the capacity of services but the capacity to integrate the development of policy and its execution across healthcare and through local government and the other elements of the state—education, employment, housing and so on—we will have the greatest opportunity to address social determinants of health. There has probably been no other health Bill presented to this Parliament since the creation of the NHS that provides the greatest opportunity to take that combined and collective approach.

It is therefore quite right that one turns attention to the triple aim. This is a laudable addition to the Bill, with an absolutely appropriate focus on promoting health and well-being, ensuring access to quality care for all citizens and ensuring the appropriate and effective utilisation of healthcare resources. Why not add to that triple aim a fourth clear objective to address issues of inequality? The triple aim does not mandate action, but it provides the context in which a framework should be developed locally, cognisant of the healthcare needs of the local population. An ideal framework would ensure that we drive collaboration and co-operation as required to focus activity and the allocation of resource and establish a local vision and determination to address health inequalities.

To fail to take this opportunity would be disappointing and, quite frankly, unacceptable. As we have heard in this excellent debate, if we fail to address these inequalities not only will they have a continuing and profound impact on health outcomes and access to healthcare for large numbers of our fellow citizens, but there are broader societal and economic consequences of continuing to accept inequalities in healthcare. I hope that, in answering this debate, the Minister will be able to confirm that Her Majesty’s Government are prepared to consider this issue and will put inequalities the heart of this Bill in the triple aim—becoming a quadruple aim—and will ensure that, at a local level, data collection and reporting become a primary focus of healthcare systems.

Baroness Harding of Winscombe Portrait Baroness Harding of Winscombe (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as the recently departed chair of NHS Improvement. I support these amendments, especially those that seek to extend the triple aim, such as Amendments 14, 65 and 94, as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, just set out so eloquently. It seems there is no disagreement in the Committee about the importance of addressing health inequalities. Anyone who has lived through the past two years can see that plainly and clearly, as Covid has so cruelly highlighted the health inequalities in this country. The question is how we make sure this Bill genuinely tackles the issue that we all agree about so passionately. Why is it important, as just set out by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, to put the duty to address health inequalities in the Bill?

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I want to make as my contribution a short story about a visit that I made recently in my capacity as chair of NHS Improvement with the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, to north-west Surrey last summer. We visited the team from the NHS trust, Ashford and St Peter’s, as well as the local authority and a number of local community organisations. There was a moment in that visit when the medical director of the trust, a cardiac surgeon, said that he had had an epiphany: the NHS was not the most important actor in addressing health inequalities. He said that had hit him like a train; he had realised that he and his trust, by far the biggest organisation in the integrated care system and the largest employer with the most money, needed to play a supporting role rather than the prime-moving, main acting role. That was a huge culture shift for him and for the trust that he was part of. Over the course of the last couple of years, it has led them to do some small but hugely important things, such as relocating their physiotherapy clinics to gyms, which means that people get more into the habit of exercising when their NHS treatment ends. That requires the NHS to be subservient to the local authorities, voluntary organisations and private sector partners in their integrated system. If we are really to address health inequalities, that requires change from our beloved NHS.
The system that I am describing is one of our very best but they would openly admit that they are still in the early stages of that change, which is why it is so important that we put this in the legislation. I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State care deeply and passionately about addressing health inequalities; both have been very public about their commitment. I urge them to hear the spirit of the cross- party agreement in this Committee today and accept the amendments.
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab)
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in his group but particularly Amendment 68, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, about health inequalities faced by those living in rural areas. When you live in a rural area, it is often difficult physically to access a GP practice—if you do not have a car, try getting a bus in a rural area whose timetable coincides with the opening hours of your surgery—and to access health information if your internet is not up to scratch. There are many rural areas where connectivity still leaves a great deal to be desired. Pharmacies, too, can be difficult to access; although some run outreach services, they are by no means universal.

In rural areas, the important non-clinical services mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howarth are largely dependent on the voluntary sector. During the pandemic, when village halls, with their plethora of exercise, dance, art and social support services, were closed, many older people in rural areas were cut off completely, with disastrous effects on their mental health.

The problems of delivering social care in rural areas are also well known. When care workers are paid for home visits only for the time when they are in the home and not for travelling time—time that will of course be extended by the spread-out nature of those visits—it is no wonder that many private and voluntary agencies are handing back social care contracts to local authorities because they simply cannot deliver them.

Poverty, the underlying cause of inequality, is more widespread in rural areas than is often acknowledged. Escaping to the country is a nice idea, but unless you recognise the particular inequalities faced by country residents, it is not as you see it on the television. Moving as a couple approaching retirement is a different picture when one—usually the husband, both the gardener and the driver—dies, leaving an isolated widow in declining health. The cost of fuel is also more acute in rural areas, and you will find many older people who may own a nice-looking cottage having to choose between heating and eating, with consequential effects on their health and future dependency.

I very much hope that when the Minister replies, he will emphasise that when integrated care boards are considering the provision of services for the purposes of achieving equality of access for patients, they will consider those living in all parts of the board’s area.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, this is my first intervention on the Bill. I draw the Committee’s attention to my relevant interests in the register, namely as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a non-executive director of Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

I support this suite of amendments—particularly Amendments 11, 14, 65, 94, 186 and 195—which explicitly puts the issue of health inequalities in the Bill and makes it central to the aims of the NHS. It also deals with reporting and holding people to account for helping to reduce health inequalities.

The reason for my support is simple. I speak as a former NHS manager who, as a rookie many years ago, in the very early 1980s, was on the general management trainee scheme. For the first three months, our aim was just to go around. I remember asking the very naive question: “Who’s responsible for quality?” I expected the person who was showing me around to say, “Everyone”, but he said, “Follow me.” We went in his car for five miles outside the hospital to the health authority. We then went into a lift, down into the basement and through lots of corridors, and finally came to a door at the end of the corridor. The door was opened and in a dimly lit room was a middle-aged woman, surrounded by piles of paper. I said, “Who’s this?” I was told, “This is Gladys. Gladys is responsible for quality.” It was seen as someone else’s job.

That is why I have cringed a little when the Minister has said, in previous debates and Answers on health inequalities, that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is being established. That is well and good, but that office is not responsible for reducing health inequalities; everyone in the healthcare system and its partners must work together to reduce health inequalities. That is why it is really important that this is explicit. It is not just about health issues; it is about people’s income, work, environment, green space and transport. It should be explicit in the Bill as part of the triple aims—which will become four aims—and become part of monitoring. This issue must become central because something that I have learned about the health service is that unless the centre asks for it, and asks for it to be monitored, it just does not get done because it is not seen as important. That is why monitoring this at both local and national level will hold people to account so it does not become Gladys’s responsibility.

The Bill gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not just to put health inequalities centrally in the Bill but to make them explicit in the way that the NHS and its partners work. With a little extra legal push to the mill, so to speak, as well as the monitoring, the data and holding people to account, I believe that we can finally start to deal with these issues in a systematic way that shows improvement and will allow the NHS and its partners to know where to push a bit harder to get this done. That is why I support the amendments.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, this debate has shown clearly that attacking health inequalities must go beyond the bounds of the NHS as the impact of external factors is massive. I remind the Government that in 2015 poor housing alone was estimated to cost over £10 billion. That was in part because of the poor housing but it was compounded by inactivity and, as a result, obesity.

We should look at the antecedents of complex problems. Marie Curie’s report Dying in the Cold revealed failures in healthcare, bereavement and grief and the challenges of providing care for those with complex needs. Learning difficulties and autism, for which we often do not know the underlying causes, are disproportionately prevalent among people who are socially excluded and at high risk of homelessness, yet for them managing homelessness alone is particularly difficult because of their overall vulnerability. It has been estimated that autism alone has a twelvefold prevalence in those who are homeless compared to the general population.

The antecedents of many of the problems go back to childhood. They carry a life sentence of their trauma, which feeds into worsening health inequalities, aggravating factors such as alcohol and drugs consumption and other behaviours. Unless we strengthen the wording in the Bill to monitor and do something about the data that comes forward, the proposal of my noble friend Lord Kakkar—it is essential that we address this as a core problem to be tackled—will not be realised. I hope that when the Minister replies he will provide some assurance that the Government will consider strengthening the wording in the Bill in the light of this debate.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder if I might be allowed to speak at this point for the simple reason that I am shortly due to take over from the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, in the Chair and if I do not contribute now, I will not be able to at all. I have no special expertise to bring to the scrutiny of the Bill, therefore this is the first time I have spoken on it and it may be the last. I want to speak in support of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, right at the beginning of what has been a very long and extremely interesting debate but which, until recently, when my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley mentioned it, did not refer back to the points he raised.

In making my brief remarks, I draw attention to my own interests, which are mostly to do with the arts. I am thinking about what my noble friend Lord Howarth said about the arts sector and what it can contribute. I ask the Minister, when he comes to reply, if he would look to one side of his department—particularly towards the Department for Education and to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—for further evidence, in addition to the very strong evidence my noble friend Lord Howarth put forward, of the impact of engagement with the arts, particularly on people suffering from often multiple disadvantages.

It is very clear that the data emerging in relation to education points to a strong impact on the health, particularly the mental health and well-being, of young people in education settings when they are able to engage creatively with the arts and arts practitioners. It would be very easy, in thinking about the huge diversity of issues that have been raised here which bear on health inequality, to see engagement with the arts as a “nice to have” extra—something that, if we get everything else right, we can perhaps add in. But it is more important than that, as the evidence is now strongly beginning to show. I therefore ask the Minister not to forget what my noble friend Lord Howarth said at the beginning of the debate in his reply, and to consider very seriously how health inequalities can be properly and creatively addressed by further engagement with the arts sector.

I will say one last thing, which perhaps seems not quite at the heart of it, but it is important. My noble friend Lord Howarth, in giving his examples, spoke about arts organisations, many of which are trying to contribute to this area. To be able to do that, they need people with skills who can deliver the work. Nearly all the people who can deliver the work and have those skills are freelancers. As we all know, they have suffered hugely in the last two years as a result of the crisis that we have all been through. Freelance workers in all sectors, but particularly the cultural sector, have had a very bad time and quite a lot of them have left. I add that as an additional thing to remember when we look at the expectations we can reasonably—and should—have of the arts sector. It needs to be able to properly support the people it has to engage to deliver the work that it can do.

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Lord Mawson Portrait Lord Mawson (CB)
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My Lords, I did not want to speak in this part of the discussion but I will make a few comments. I absolutely support what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, have been saying.

When I first arrived in Bromley-by-Bow 37 years ago this year, I found on my doorstep the largest artistic community outside New York and none of the systems had even noticed or understood its significance. Over the last 37 years, we have been exploring the whole arts and health agenda and the massive impact it can have on local people’s lives.

When we began to put the Olympic project together —as I said on Tuesday, I was involved in it from day one for 19 years—we took that really seriously and engaged with that large artistic and creative community in health, jobs and skills, education et cetera. That £1.2 billion development going on at the moment in the middle of the Olympic park, bringing together University College London, the London College of Fashion, Sadler’s Wells, the V&A, the BBC orchestra and others, is all about this innovation agenda. It is moving it to scale. If this is to happen, we need the systems of the state and the public sector to learn from this entrepreneurial behaviour, which is happening on the ground, in real places and now to scale, and to understand the detail of what it means for the macro systems of the NHS.

I will say more about place later today, but I thank the noble Baroness for making those points, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, because this is fundamental. It relates to the fundamental question: what is a human being? A human being is fundamentally a creative being. Health and creativity and, I suggest, entrepreneurship and doing things, are fundamentally connected.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I came face to face with the nation’s health inequalities every morning in the departmental Covid response group, the COBRA meetings and the COBRA gold, when we went through the hospitalisation details and ICU data and heard stories from the front line of how people who had comorbidities particularly associated with obesity were filling up our hospitals as the virus spread through the country in wave after wave. That health inequality hit this country hard in very real terms. It cost a lot of lives, caused a lot of misery and cost our health system an enormous amount of money. It cost this country and its economy a huge amount of money and it is time that we came to terms with that challenge and solved the problem.

As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, the NHS must step up to its responsibilities in this area. There are complex reasons for these inequalities; some are environmental, some are behavioural and some are to do with access. But the NHS and whole healthcare system must realise that it needs to be involved in all aspects of those, and prioritise and be funded accordingly. The Bill already does an enormous amount to change the healthcare system’s priorities. Putting population at the heart of the ICSs is one really good example of that.

To anticipate some of his remarks, I know that the Minister will point to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. As the noble Lord pointed out, however, it has a tiny budget and cannot take responsibility for the nation’s health. Our councils are stony broke, as I found in my experience of dealing with them over the last two years. There is no one else to do this; this is not someone else’s problem. This is to do with the British healthcare system, and it needs to stand up to that responsibility. Zero progress has been made in the round over the last few years and we have gone backwards in the last two years in a big way. We need to make this a massive priority.

This is a fantastic Bill; I am really supportive of it. It came from the healthcare system originally. In this one area, however, there is a graphic lacuna that needs to be addressed. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, put it so well in his inimitable way. The prioritisation of inequality must be put in the Bill and it needs to be heard throughout the healthcare system that this is the new, central priority that needs to be added to everyone’s job description.

If, for some reason, we do not do that there will be huge consequences. The healthcare system is unsustainable in its current form. We cannot continue to have a large part of the population carrying grievous comorbidities or disease and afflictions which are undiagnosed or not properly mended turning up in our hospitals at a very late stage and costing a fortune to mend. These health inequalities, whether they relate to disease, injury or behavioural issues such as obesity, are costing us a fortune. Only by putting tackling inequality on the face of the Bill can we really give it the priority it deserves.

I also say to the Minister that there is a sense of political jeopardy about this as well. We went into the last election committed to levelling up on health. We have gone backwards in the last two years through no fault of the Government, but if the Government do not step up to their responsibilities in this area, and if the NHS and the healthcare system do not change their priorities, the voters will judge us extremely harshly. For that reason, I urge the Minister to listen to this debate and look very carefully at ways of amending the Bill.

Baroness Neuberger Portrait Baroness Neuberger (CB)
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My Lords, I want to pay tribute, as other noble Lords have, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her very thoughtful introduction. It is remarkable and absolutely wonderful to see consensus breaking out across the Committee. I will speak specifically to Amendments 152, 156 and 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, whose words on the need to make this really serious by stating it on the face of the Bill I echo.

I am a former chief executive of the King’s Fund and am currently chair of University College London Hospitals and Whittington Health. These issues are very dear to my heart and the hearts of those institutions. I also want to say thank you to Crisis for its briefing and add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, in praise of Pathway, which has done the most extraordinary work in this area over very many years.

I want to talk particularly about the NHS-funded Find & Treat service, which was set up 13 years ago and is run by UCLH, which I chair. This service was set up in response to a TB outbreak in London and aimed to provide care for people experiencing homelessness and people facing other forms of social exclusion. The service did exactly what it says on the tin: it went out and found people—and still does—who were at risk of contracting TB, wherever they were sleeping, and offered them diagnosis and treatment. Back in 2011, a study concluded that this service had been not only effective in helping to treat people with TB who were experiencing homelessness but cost effective in doing so, both in terms of costs saved to the health service and improved quality and length of life for the people receiving care. Fast-forward a decade and the evolution of this service meant it could be similarly mobilised at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. It provided urgent and necessary care to people who continue to experience the poorest health outcomes.

The King’s Fund published a report in 2020 on delivering health and care for people sleeping rough. It supported the need for inclusion health services to be provided much more broadly than at present. Importantly, it also concluded that local leadership is absolutely vital in crafting that approach and said that local leaders should model effective partnership working across a range of different organisations.

Embedding inclusion health—I cannot say I really like the term, but everybody knows what it means—at the level of integrated care partnerships will help ensure that our healthcare system can no longer ignore, forget or overlook people who are all too often considered “hard to treat”, despite proven interventions showing the opposite. It will ensure that integrated care partnerships and systems take that vital first step towards closing the gap of the most significant health inequalities in our society by having to recognise and consider people facing extreme social exclusion and poor health outcomes in their local areas.

We all know that there will be considerable discussion during the course of this Bill on the need not to be overly prescriptive and burdensome to ICSs and ICPs by way of legal duties. But ICSs and ICPs know all too well the realities of failing to support people with complex and overlapping needs. I know that the chair of my own North Central London ICS, Mike Cooke, is sympathetic to the spirit of these amendments and believes it is important that extra steps are taken to meet the health needs of the most excluded, such as street homeless people. The chief executive of UCLH, David Probert, and the chief executive of Whittington Health, Siobhan Harrington, concur in thinking that if we extend the aspiration to reach out to excluded groups to something that all ICSs, ICPs and systems must focus on, it would be hugely beneficial for planning and joining up systems to avoid inappropriate or unnecessary admissions and poor care planning. Plenty of people want to do this within our health system.

I support Amendments 152, 156 and 157 and look forward to working with the Government and colleagues across the House and within the NHS to ensure their success in achieving a critical and long-needed systemic change to our health and care system. Addressing the needs of the most excluded has to be on the face of the Bill.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, I will make three very practical points about the impact of some of these amendments. First, on tobacco, we have heard from at least two noble Lords that half the difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor in society is due to tobacco. It seems a no-brainer that work on this has to be continued. I also make the point that it took something like 50 years after the evidence was first available for the control of tobacco to be put into legislation, despite the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. It is not a quick win; we need to persevere, keep the pressure on and keep this very firmly in NHS plans at all levels.

Secondly, I want to pick up on the vital point that housing needs to be much more integrated with health and care. Let me take us back in history to 1919 and the first Ministry of Health, which had responsibilities covering health, housing and planning for many years, understanding the very important links there. Covid has shown that a house and home is an absolute foundation for health and well-being in all kinds of ways. I will not labour that point at this stage in proceedings, but will pick up another that has not come up, which is how important housing is to the provision of NHS services.

Seven years ago, the Royal College of Psychiatrists asked me to look at the reasons for the pressure on admissions to mental health acute wards. I did so; I think it expected me to say that those wards needed more beds, but I came out saying that we needed more housing. I found that something like one-third of the patients in mental health acute wards in adult hospitals either had been admitted because there was nowhere else for them to go or were staying there because there was nowhere for them to live to be discharged to. Housing was the biggest issue. Of the 25 NHS trusts around the country, only about three had specific, strong links with their local housing associations. There is a really big pressure for integration there.

Thirdly and finally, I come to Amendments 152 and 157 about the so-called inclusion health services. I agree with my noble friend on the nomenclature and that the naming is rather awkward, but these are extraordinary vital. We have heard examples of services that work; the issue here is how we can make sure that those services are spread and used elsewhere. I remind the House that, when we talk about inequalities, we all, including me, talk in fairly general terms. If you have a quantum of money and invest it in the health of the well-educated middle classes, you will get a small gain. If you invested that same quantum of money in the needs of this group, you would have a massive gain. That should inspire us to keep the pressure on the Government to make sure that we put tackling inequalities absolutely at the heart of the Bill.

14:00
Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, I shall speak more briefly than I had intended, because this has been a very long debate, absolutely full of expertise, about a suite of amendments all of which have considerable merit. I know that both Ministers on the Front Bench have been listening very carefully and have noted the consensus across the Committee that this Bill will not succeed unless it addresses very clearly the disgraceful health inequalities in this country at the moment.

Health inequality affects quality of life, life expectancy and, in particular, healthy life expectancy, which has now stalled across certain demographic groups. As we have heard, it has been analysed brilliantly by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. It affects the well-being of the patient and their family. The really sad thing is that much of it is preventable. These things are particularly rife in the poorer parts of the country, because that is where the social determinants of health such as housing, referred to by my noble friend Lord Shipley and others, have most effect. We have heard a number of statistics about health inequalities, but I shall give your Lordships just one. People living in the most deprived areas of the UK spend almost a third of their lives in poor health, compared to only about a sixth of those living in the least deprived areas. That says it all.

Unfortunately, inequalities were not at the forefront of the Government’s response to the pandemic. They suspended equality impact assessments for legislation, resisted publication of evidence of the impact of the virus on BAME individuals—as pointed out to them eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence—and failed to provide adequate isolation support for those on low incomes, forcing them to go to work. The Covid pandemic has therefore seen the biggest shift in life expectancy in the UK since World War 2: a fall of 1.2 years in males and 0.9 years in females. It is therefore essential to heed Sir Michael Marmot’s words and “build back fairer” and not just “better”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, kindly mentioned the report of the Science and Technology Committee on healthy ageing. I was a member of that committee under the capable chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. It became very clear from our witnesses that unhealthy ageing happens years before the person is old and depends enormously on their demographic and their lifestyle. For their sake and for the sake of the future of the NHS, for which no Government will ever be able to provide enough funding unless something is done on prevention, we must do something to level up the health outcomes of the nation. This Bill is a very good place to start all over again on that agenda.

I have added my name to Amendment 11, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, whom I must congratulate on the way she analysed these issues at the beginning of this debate. I thank her for that. Also crucial is Amendment 14, so ably promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and my noble friend Lady Tyler. Amendment 11 is an attempt to ensure that NHS England produces guidance about the collection, analysis, reporting and publication of the data which makes transparent the performance of various NHS bodies on health inequalities. Without collecting that, we cannot judge the performance of those organisations. If it is not done consistently, we cannot assess an organisation’s performance in comparison to other similar bodies. That is why such guidance must come from the top. I know that the Government want each ICS to do its own thing in a way which it considers most appropriate for its area. However, for the important objective of levelling up health outcomes across the population, judgment of performance can be made only if the data is comparable between one ICS and another or one trust and another, so we cannot leave it to them to collect the data in any way they like.

Of course, there are big issues about the resources available for the collection and analysis of data, but such information is essential if improvements are to be made. Therefore, a duty to “have regard” to guidance published by NHSE would put pressure on the organisations to so arrange their finances as to ensure adequate resources for this, and, of course, it would be cost-effective.

I also have Amendments 61 and 63 in this group. They would insert “assess and” into new Section 14Z35 inserted by Clause 20, which covers the duty of an integrated care board to reduce inequalities in access to health services across its population and in the health outcomes achieved. Although it is well known that, in general, the lower the demographic the greater the health inequalities, this is by no means uniform, even across a single local authority, let alone across a large ICS area. Indeed, even within a single local government ward, which may be fairly affluent in general, there are often pockets of deprivation. Every local councillor knows where they are. In order to devise policies and deploy services geographically in a way that improves access and outcomes for those deprived communities, the ICS needs to drill down and do the detailed work to identify where they are and what factors are damaging health. It may be poor or overcrowded housing. It may be lack of access to shops selling healthy food. It may be lack of access to leisure and sports facilities in which to take exercise. It may be poorly performing schools or overstretched primary care services. It may simply be poverty, preventing people heating their homes adequately or buying nutritious food. In rural areas, it may be lack of access to pretty well everything, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us. Whatever it is, you cannot fix it until you know what and where it is.

That is one of the reasons why we reject the new power of the Secretary of State to meddle in the reconfiguration of health services locally, but that is a debate for another time. In cases such as this, an overview will not do, and local knowledge is key. That is why we believe it is essential to mandate an ICB to do the detailed research on which to base its commissioning decisions, so that it can fulfil the duty to reduce health inequality put on it by this Bill—once it has been amended by a lot of these amendments.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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You have not heard what I am going to say yet.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate; it has been fascinating. It has touched on a number of things that I feel strongly about personally. Before we go further, and given my background and that of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, I want to assure noble Lords that we both feel very strongly about inequalities. I say that as someone who grew up in a working-class immigrant community. I was born at Whittington Hospital; I also accessed North Middlesex hospital and Chase Farm Hospital, with which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, is associated, though I am not sure I will get any more points for that, to be honest.

One thing I feel strongly about, and saw in many areas when I was an MEP for London, is where the state has failed, whichever Government was in power. I have worked with non-state, local community, bottom-up projects which understood the issues in their communities far better than any national or local politician—there was sometimes even a distance between them and their local ward councillor, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and I were discussing the other day.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, not only for the thoughtful way in which she opened the debate and introduced the amendments but for pointing out some of the people who are often forgotten; for example, the homeless. I have worked with a number of local community homeless projects, such as the Hope Foundation in Acton and Vision Care for Homeless People. Perhaps I may also do a quick advert for the Take One, Leave One project, which is based outside Vauxhall station on Fridays, between 12 pm and 3 pm —people can leave excess clothes and homeless people can pick them up. I urge any noble Lords passing through Vauxhall station on a Friday to support this.

Sex workers, the Traveller community and drug users have been mentioned. Sometimes we think that these issues are remote from us and will not affect us—but everyone is only one of two steps away from homelessness. A broken family, mental health issues, your friends saying, after a while, “Actually, you can’t stay on my sofa any more”—where do you go? When I have met homeless people, they have quite often come from a very different place, not the stereotype that we often hear. They have come from quite a stable family, a good relationship, a good job: but two or three things have gone wrong in their life and suddenly they are homeless. It happens to many people who resort to such desperate measures.

Another thing I am slightly concerned about, if I am honest, is that when I was a young child growing up in immigrant communities, there was a distrust of authority. We see the difficulty, for example with the vaccine schemes, in trying to reach some of those communities. It was not only authority that we were quite suspicious of and concerned about but—I hope noble Lords will forgive me for using this phrase—white, middle-class do-gooders who thought they knew best what was best for us as working-class immigrant people and could tell us what was best for us, rather than listening to us and our real concerns. Quite often we felt that they had captured the agenda, and that was why the money and resources which were supposed to be helping us did not reach the people who needed help: it got captured by the white, middle-class do-gooders.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, for the emphasis on the arts and creative industries. Sometimes, music and the arts are a way of overcoming this distrust, learning about the culture of those communities and also aligning the culture and the issues with some of the very real problems and tensions we face. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, talked about prevention being better than cure. It is an issue we talk about constantly in the department, and the NHS also talks about it. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, as an economist, will acknowledge that economics is often simply about the allocation of scarce resources and finding the most efficient way of achieving that.

My late father once told me, “Never forget where you came from and what you were”, and this is one of the reasons I feel very strongly, as do many noble Lords across the Committee, about the issue of inequalities. How do we tackle this, what is the best way to do it? Will putting it in the Bill solve all the problems? Actually, it will not, but we can discuss how we can make it more effective, and not just feel, “Great, we’ve got it in the Bill, job done”. It has to be more than that. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, it cannot just be an institutionalised Gladys; it has to be more than that. So, I am deeply grateful that we gave this issue the time it deserves. It is really important for me personally. We want to tackle health inequalities and ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life, whoever they are, wherever they live and whatever their background or social circumstances.

I hope I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, with whom I have had a number of conversations about music and dementia. I have volunteered, perhaps rather rashly, to organise a fundraiser with my band and other bands for that. I hope that does not give me an excuse to lay the YouTube link to my band in the Library: I shall try to avoid that temptation.

However, to deliver on the commitment on 1 October, we launched the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities within the Department of Health and Social Care—the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, anticipated that I would say this—and we also set up a cross-government ministerial group to identify and tackle the wider determinants of poor health and health disparities. It is important that this cannot be top-down; we have to go to some of the social enterprises and local communities, but also we must not prejudge, prevent or duplicate the work of the integrated care systems in this. NHS England is already tackling health disparities through the NHS long-term plan. That sets out a clear intention to set measurable goals and to make differential allocations targeted at reducing health inequalities and disparities. This has resulted in funding increases to some of the most deprived parts of the country.

As we know, making sure that these deprived areas get the most funding does not mean it will trickle down to those who really need it; it could well be captured by some of the do-gooders I mentioned earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, talked about those targeted interventions. NHS England and NHS Improvement is also taking forward the Core20PLUS5 initiative as an approach to addressing health inequalities. This will focus on improving outcomes in the poorest 20% of the population, along with inclusion health groups and five priority clinical focus areas.

14:15
I shall now turn, if noble Lords will allow me, to Amendments 14, 94, 186 and 195. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Tyler, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I hope I can reassure them that much of what they ask for is in the Bill. First, NHS England and integrated care boards have a duty with respect to health inequalities. The duty requires them to have regard to health inequalities in both access and outcomes for patients in the provision of health services. NHS England and the ICBs will have regard to this duty alongside the triple aim and, in NHS England’s case, when it produces guidance on the triple aim. NHS trusts and foundation trusts will, along with the ICBs with which they partner, have to prepare a joint forward plan each year, which will include plans for discharging the ICBs’ health inequalities duty.
The noble Lords, Lord Kakkar and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, talked about the triple aim. This triple aim is directly conducive to addressing health inequalities. Having organisations consider the wider effect of their decisions will encourage more collaboration and engagement with communities on how best to meet their needs. For example, the aim of
“considering the health and well-being of the people of England”
means we have to look at those populations with the greatest levels of need, including those not currently accessing services. Indeed, when you ask how an ICB is reaching this aim, the obvious question is, “What about inequalities? Are you just reaching part of the population or the whole population?” So, I assure noble Lords that it really is implicit.
Similarly, it is a key aspect of improving the quality of services to consider those areas within the ICB or the ICS area where they need improvement. You cannot just say “Everything’s great in the richer areas and we’ve considered the wider population”. We mean the wider population, all the population, wherever they come from, whatever their background and whatever their wealth level. To support this, we expect guidance from NHS England to make it clear how bodies can discharge the triple aim duty in such a way as to address inequalities.
I now turn to Amendment 11, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. This places a statutory duty on NHS England to publish guidance about the collection, analysis, reporting and publication of performance factors by relevant NHS bodies with respect to inequalities. We agree that collection of accurate and timely data is an essential part of the department’s commitment to tackle health disparities in terms of planning, goal setting and the use of evidence-based interventions. As my noble friend Lord Bethell said, seeing that data made real to him and others the fact that there were these disparities, and it is important that we continue collecting it. However, we feel that collection of data on disparities and protected characteristics can be best achieved through operational guidance. We want to offer flexibility for the system to adapt the focus and methods of that data collection and analysis, and the power to do that is in the Bill.
We will continue to work with counterparts in the NHS and other system partners to make sure that this data is adequately identified, reported and assessed, and which further amendments, if any, will be required for the ongoing work. High-quality data is fundamental to our approach to reducing the stark disparities in health that exist in the country. If any policy changes are identified which require legislation, we do not rule out bringing them forward.
I turn now to Amendments 61 and 63, for which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. These amendments would add to the duties currently in the Bill on ICBs with regards to health inequalities. I hope I can reassure the Committee that we feel that this is already done. As members of local health and well-being boards—place-based, not just at the ICS level but at the place, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, talked about so eloquently—ICBs will be closely involved in the development of local joint strategic needs assessments, which are the means by which local leaders work together to assess and understand the needs of local people. We are concerned that it might duplicate this effort if an entirely separate assessment were to be made of one aspect of local needs. Perhaps we could look at ways to draw out this particular aspect so there is no duplication. Furthermore, it is our view that ICBs could not effectively discharge their duties in respect of inequalities if they did not identify the inequalities they are seeking to address, making use of the most up to date evidence and data available and learning from each other what data is collected. Is the data collected in a local ICS really giving a better picture as compared with elsewhere?
To help the process, NHS England has published a range of tools and resources to help NHS organisations to take effective action on inequalities, and continues to develop a health inequalities improvement dashboard, making sure that we learn from that data so that we monitor, measure and inform actionable insight to make improvements to narrow those health inequalities. It covers the five priority areas for narrowing health inequalities in the 2021-22 planning guidance, as well as the Core20PLUS5 programme.
I turn now to Amendment 65, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, which would add a further explicit duty to implement systems to identify and monitor inequalities. It is the Government’s view that the ICBs could not effectively discharge the duties already contained in the Bill in respect of inequalities if they did not already do so; nor could they have any confidence that the actions they take are being effective if they do not monitor the outcomes achieved. You simply cannot do it if you are not monitoring. Furthermore, ICBs will have a duty to publish an annual joint forward plan setting out, among other things, how the ICB will discharge its duty in respect of reducing inequalities. Again, this could not be effectively done without having first identified those inequalities. Taken together, I hope the noble Lords might agree that this meets the intention of their amendment.
I turn to Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and spoken to so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Rennard, Lord Faulkner and Lord Crisp. This amendment would expand the duty on ICBs to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities to include modifiable risk factors such as smoking. We do not feel that this amendment is necessary, given the considerable work we are already doing in this area. We have reduced smoking rates in England over the years to a record low of 13.5% in quarter 1 of 2020, and we are aiming for England to be smoke-free by 2030. In a previous debate, in answer to a question about the plan asked by my noble friend Lord Young, we also identified those areas. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, referred to some of the statistics on the high levels of smoking still prevalent in some of our poorer communities. Our publication of a new tobacco control plan next year will include an even sharper focus on that issue.
We are also investing £27 million to establish specialist alcohol care teams in the 25% of hospitals with the highest rates of alcohol dependence-related admissions. We really have not, as a society, properly got to the stage where alcohol is seen as a social tool that loosens tongues and may make people relax, but the step from alcohol doing all those things to relax people to its abuse has a terrible impact on people’s lives. Moreover, it not only has direct health impacts but plays a role in murders, suicides, drownings and so on. We have to recognise what alcohol does as a drug and its terrible impact.
We also have an extensive strategy for tackling obesity, including some of the measures already debated on less healthy food and drink that are being introduced via the Bill. We are concerned that introducing an amendment as specific as this may not be the most effective way to prioritise actions to meet local population needs, a phrase so eloquently used by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger.
I turn next to Amendments 68 and 95, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. The Government are determined to address long-standing health disparities, including the geographic disparities experienced in rural and coastal communities. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who have constantly raised the issues of inequality of health outcomes in rural and coastal areas and how people there access services. For that purpose, the Bill already contains a requirement for the commissioning bodies to tackle these health inequalities, as well as a requirement to protect, promote and facilitate the rights of patients. This means allowing patients to choose to be treated outside their ICB area, particularly if that makes more sense, as alluded to by the right reverend Prelate. To support this, we expect ICBs to actively co-operate with each other for tackling these inequalities. We understand the duty to reduce inequalities to also encompass the need to reduce inequalities between patients with respect to geographical locations, such as rural or coastal areas. The proposed triple aim will also require ICBs to consider the quality of services that can be accessed both in communities but also geographically. I hope I have given the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans some reassurance on this.
Moving on, I turn to Amendments 152 and 157, in the names of my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. These amendments would require the ICP to have regard to the needs of inclusion health populations. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the sort of clumsiness of that title of “inclusion health”. While we agree with the sentiment, I hope I can assure the noble Lords that these populations are already captured in the legislation. As noble Lords will be aware, the integrated care partnership will be tasked with developing a joint strategy to address the health, social care and public health needs of its system, based on the needs identified by the already-existing health and well-being boards, which are better placed to tackle these issues. The joint strategic needs assessments include the health needs of these populations, and those who need to be included more. The strategy prepared by the ICPs to address this will enable them to objectively identify what the inequalities are and target them. The ICP will be tasked with promoting the partnership arrangements. We hope that this will remove some of the traditional divisions between different healthcare services and between the NHS and local authority services.
I would like to touch on some of the work already ongoing in this area. For example, this year alone we delivered £52 million for substance misuse treatment services for people sleeping rough. This will fund evidence-based treatment. One of the criticisms of public health sometimes is that there is not enough evidence-based research, and it is essential that we have it. We will look at treatment and wraparound support for those with co-occurring mental health needs.
Let me turn, finally, to Amendment 156 in the names of my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. It relates to the integrated care strategy, and how the ICP will be required to set out how the assessed needs in its area will be met. We recognise that health inequalities are driven by a range of complex factors. The noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lord Bethell said this. These complex factors go way beyond people’s physical and mental health, and touch on some of the wider economic and societal issues, such as the one the noble Lords raise in this amendment. The Bill already ensures that services that have an effect on health, but are not health or social care services, are included in the clause that the noble Lords seek to amend. Even without this amendment, ICPs will be able to comment on whether housing services—which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, raised—among other health-related services, will need to be better integrated with the provision of health and social care.
This has been an excellent and—I accept—long debate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said. It was probably one of the issues that I was most looking forward to learning and hearing more about. I was impressed by the level of commitment and the passion with which noble Lords spoke. I hope I have been able to give some measure of assurance that the Government take this issue extremely seriously. As I said at the beginning, both my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State and I, given our personal backgrounds, feel very strongly about this. We do not want it this to be captured once again, as it has been captured over many years, by the do-gooders.
I request that noble Lords do not press their amendments but, given the strength of the feeling that I have heard, it would be remiss of me not to offer further discussions with noble Lords so that we can close the gap in the understanding—as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and my noble friend Lady Harding said—that it cannot be too NHS-centric. We have to work out how to address that gap. We think the Bill meets it; clearly, noble Lords across the Committee feel that it does not. Let us have further conversations. I hope noble Lords feel able, in that spirit, to withdraw or not move their amendments at this stage.
Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very able response, but I have to say that I am very disappointed by it. He appears to be sticking to his brief and resisting all of our amendments. I suppose this is not surprising because his brief was written before this very powerful debate. Now that he has heard the debate, I hope he will go back to the department, discuss with his colleagues, and reflect on the need to put something in the Bill to ensure that the new world of integrated care systems really addresses health inequalities.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Hear, hear to that. As I stand in your Lordships’ House, I know that I am between noble Lords and their lunch, so I will do my best to be as quick as I can. I also feel that I need to declare an interest, as I am a non-executive director of the Whittington Trust, so my boss—the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger—is in the corner over there.

14:30
I start by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Kakkar, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Tyler, for adding their names to and being part of this suite of amendments that I have been particularly concerned with. I am not quite sure which one of them said this—it was probably the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar—but Amendment 11 sets the national framework, and the following very short amendments which add inequalities into the Bill are about making sure that the local delivery actually happens.
I thank my noble friends Lord Howarth and Lady McIntosh for their remarks, which wonderfully illustrated how important it is to take—I hate this word—a holistic approach to health inequalities and well-being. I also congratulate and thank the noble Lords, Lord Young, Lord Rennard and Lord Crisp, and my noble friend Lord Faulkner, for again drawing the House’s attention to the importance and centrality of tobacco regulation to delivering health equalities. They were quite right about inclusion health services.
I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for speaking to the amendments about monitoring. Those of us who have been involved in dealing with equalities for the whole of our working lives know that if you do not monitor, assess and count, you will not know what effect you are having. Amendment 65 particularly recognises that, and that monitoring is vital to tackling inequalities. The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, supported the need to address the needs of the most marginalised, and she was right that flexibility and the values of social enterprise are a part of tackling health inequalities at a local level. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley were quite correct to draw rural areas and their needs to the attention of the House.
I think I need to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for their support for these amendments. I hope that they will bring their influence to bear on the Government to accept that there is a gap between the Bill as drafted and what the House wants to see in it.
I am not going to say very much more, but I was not convinced by the reasons for not accepting Amendment 11 and the other amendments in this group, and I think that other noble Lords will not be. I think the Minister can recognise when the House is determined to have on the face of a Bill something which addresses a wrong that they feel should be righted. We know—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said—that words do not actually deliver the change, but words are the place where you have to start to deliver the change with inequalities. You have to see what is in the Bill and then move to implement that. There is a gap between us, but I hope—I am very encouraged by the noble Lord’s commitment to discussions—that we will be able to address it. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: NHS England: wider effect of decisions
Amendments 13 and 14 not moved.
14:34
House resumed. Committee to begin again at a convenient point after 3.34 pm.

Taking Control of Goods (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Regret
14:35
Moved by
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher
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That this House regrets that the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/1288), laid before the House on 18 November 2021, fail to deal with the injustice to debtors from 2014 to the date guidance on the new Regulations took effect.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to move my Motion to Regret Statutory Instrument 1288—enforced in England and Wales—on taking control of goods. Today’s debate provides an opportunity to highlight the fact that since 2014, debtors have been wrongly charged VAT on the enforcement of debt repayments, when the tax should have been charged, of course, to the creditors involved. Enforcement officers are providing a service to creditors and—believe me—not to debtors.

The VAT chargeable is upon the service to creditors, and it is those creditors who should have paid. This issue and the inaction over seven years by both government and industry to clarify the situation was drawn to my attention by the organisation Just and the debt advice services. They focused on the impact of the incorrect charges on the most vulnerable in society and the injustice involved.

I emphasise at the start that the failure to sort out this injustice over the years was principally the responsibility of previous Ministers and industry. We are grateful that the Government are finally issuing this SI, which will ensure that the injustice does not continue into the future. The reason for this Motion to Regret is the failure of this SI to deal with seven years of injustice from 2014 to 2021, which has resulted in millions of pounds of incorrect charging. This debate provides an opportunity for the Minister to clarify steps that will be taken to resolve the VAT payment injustice once and for all and to ensure that debtors are repaid where they were incorrectly charged.

Before setting out why we believe the Government must take action on these misdirected demands, I want to explain why this injustice is so serious. Of course, the link between debt problems and mental health is well established. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute estimates that people with money problems are three times more likely to commit suicide than those without debts. The stress associated with debt is a major contributor to depression and other mental health symptoms. Additionally, money issues often affect entire households, so parents, children, family members and friends are impacted by the damaging effects of debt, not just one individual.

Given that this Government have made protecting the vulnerable one of their primary objectives and so much work has been done by our society over the past few years to make mental health a more mainstream issue that people should take seriously, helping those with money issues should be an absolute priority. Given the cost-of-living crisis in the UK at the moment, it has arguably never been a more important time to discuss these issues.

Let me outline what has been going on. In the High Court enforcement sector, judgment debts for things such as unpaid utility bills are charged to debtors: the person in debt. The creditor—the company owed money —will employ a High Court enforcement officer to recover this money. This officer will ensure that the debtor pays the money owed and will charge the debtor fees for the enforcement action taken. That is not unreasonable, you would think. On top of these fees, High Court enforcement officers will charge VAT. This in itself is not an issue, as in 90% to 95% of cases the officers act on behalf of VAT-registered debt enforcement companies. But, as I have said, this VAT should be charged to the creditor, who can recover the VAT incurred from HMRC if the company is VAT registered.

However, since 2014, the regulations have been misinterpreted by industry and, if I may say so, have been unclear. Instead of charging the VAT or a VAT-equivalent fee to the creditors, this money has been charged to the debtors, as I have said. This means that the debtors, who are already financially vulnerable and face hefty fees—often unreasonably hefty fees, I should say—on top of their debts have also wrongly been charged hundreds of additional pounds. Industry estimates that about £120 million may have been taken incorrectly from vulnerable debtors. That is over £1 million a month—a lot of money from very vulnerable people.

This practice is clearly absolutely unacceptable; how has it been going on for seven years? It is clear from documents publicly available online that the High Court Enforcement Officers Association—the membership body that represents these officers and is authorised by the Ministry of Justice—raised this issue with the ministry as early as 2015, yet no action was taken either by industry or by government. Of course, that is the fault not of current Ministers but certainly of previous ones. I want to make clear that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, wrote to me and indicated that somehow the ministry had only just heard about this in 2019. In responding, the Minister might accept that 2015 is actually the date when the ministry knew about it.

The High Court Enforcement Officers Association, authorised by the MoJ, sought legal advice from Christopher Wilson QC to clarify the issue. Wilson, in his advice, said, “HMRC recognised in 2000 that debt enforcement was a service to creditors and they should issue VAT invoices only to creditors.” Nevertheless, Wilson’s findings were inconclusive, but his most important recommendation was that the High Court Enforcement Officers Association should take the advice of leading counsel on tax matters on the issue. Again, no further action was taken after this.

Four years went by without anything changing. The issue was never addressed and was kept quiet by both government and industry. For the Government, this was a problem they themselves had created by not providing clear guidance in the regulations. Perhaps Ministers at the time felt that any action was an admission of guilt and to do nothing was probably the safest option. The industry had a strong incentive to let sleeping dogs lie: debt enforcement companies appeared cheaper to creditors because they were not charging VAT on their fees. This made them comparable to a creditor using the Government’s own bailiff services, whereby VAT is not charged. They were benefiting from collecting the extra cash from debtors.

In 2019, a new entrant to the industry, an organisation called Just, sought advice from Melanie Hall QC, a tax specialist. It did this after reviewing the previous advice issued to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association by Christopher Wilson QC—something the association and the MoJ should have done four years earlier. This kick-started the process to resolve the issue. Hall’s guidance was clear that debtors should not be charged VAT or a fee equivalent to it. This guidance provided the opportunity for Just to engage the MoJ and for the Government to provide clarity and thereby correct the situation. After six months of campaigning from Just, parliamentarians and the debt advice sector, the MoJ published draft guidance privately—I emphasise “privately”—to key stakeholders in March 2020, clarifying that debtors should not be charged VAT or an equivalent fee where creditors are not VAT-registered. Although this guidance was not perfect, it resolved 90% to 95% of debt enforcement cases going forward where debtors would otherwise have been charged VAT incorrectly.

This was a momentous step in the right direction, though the guidance was issued only privately. Sadly, this was not the end of the story. It took the MoJ a further 19 months to publish this guidance. Covid-19 undoubtedly had an impact on MoJ resources, but the delay in publishing the guidance meant that more debtors overpaid on their debts, reducing their already depleted and no doubt minimal disposable income and potentially costing them an additional £19 million over those months.

After months of silence from the MoJ, Just decided that action needed to be taken and sought an application for direction from the Royal Courts of Justice. This meant taking the Government to court and allowing the court to clarify whether this practice should continue. The prospect of losing in court galvanised the Government. I want to emphasise this point: just four minutes before the judgment hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, the MoJ published its guidance and promised to lay a statutory instrument to clarify the existing regulations. I will leave it to noble Lords to consider whether we would be having this SI had there not been the court case.

That brings us to today. Statutory Instrument 1288 makes clear in Regulation 18(1) that

“where a creditor is VAT registered the enforcement agent may not recover from the debtor VAT or the sum equivalent to VAT on the fees or disbursements.”

I want to clarify that I warmly welcome the clarity provided by this statutory instrument. As I said, my reason for tabling a Motion to Regret to this SI concerns the failure of this crucial document to address the injustices of the past seven years. It is silent on the need for those who have been wrongly charged VAT on the activities of enforcement officers to be repaid. Surely, they should be.

This is especially important because the statute of limitations outlines that there is only a six-year window in which debtors could rightfully claim for this money to be returned to them. This inaction means that, sadly, for some debtors, it is already too late to get their money back. I want these vulnerable people to know that parliamentarians are aware of the injustice they have suffered. Even more importantly, I want to make sure that Ministers have considered what action they should take to ensure repayment of the money wrongly paid by debtors over the past seven years. I have already emphasised the importance of this money to the most vulnerable indebted families. A few hundred pounds could make the difference for someone’s children to eat three meals a day for the rest of the month or for a family to heat their home over the winter months. The sort of sums we are talking about can be really crucial for them. It may not be crucial to any of us, but for these families it really is.

14:45
I am not here today to frustrate the progress of this SI; the clarity it provides for the future is precious. But today is an opportunity to highlight what the Government need to do to ensure that debtors get their money back. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, on 10 December, setting out the actions we believe the Government need to take, alongside the approval of SI 1288, to address the injustices of the past seven years. They are as follows. First, the Ministry of Justice should issue guidance to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association, advising it to write to all debtors who have been overcharged and inform them. At the very least, it is vital to make sure that debtors are made aware they may have overpaid. Secondly, the Ministry of Justice should conduct a full impact assessment to calculate the amount of VAT wrongly charged to debtors by the debt enforcement industry. In their Explanatory Note to the SI, the Government admitted that they had not conducted any such impact assessment. We need to know how much money is owed here. Thirdly, the Ministry of Justice should advise the High Court Enforcement Officers Association to set up a compensation fund for debtors. While the MoJ does not have the legal authority to force businesses to give back money they owe, showing leadership and using governmental influence to advise industry to voluntarily set up its own compensation arrangements is nevertheless surely the right thing to do.
It should not be up to debtors to seek a resolution through group litigation. Debt enforcement is probably something they could not possibly do in their situation. The debt enforcement companies should do what is right. I believe that if the Government ensure that all debtors are informed if they have been overcharged, and if the Government assess how much has been wrongfully overcharged to debtors, it brings everything into the public domain and repayment becomes more likely. These measures can be taken side by side with this SI and without statutory underpinning. I have outlined the historical issue, the injustice involved and the need for the Government to take actions to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are repaid the debts owed to them.
I want to thank all the Peers here today in the Chamber today to support the plight of debtors and to ensure that the money they have overpaid is rightfully returned. I also want to thank Peers who are unable to attend the debate but have expressed their strong support for this Motion and action to refund debtors. They include the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett, Lady Burt of Solihull and Lady Stern, and the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Laming, Lord Howarth and Lord Dholakia.
I know Ministers care about mental health; today, they have the opportunity to do something concrete to improve the mental health of those in greatest need. I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for writing to me. It seems the Government are unwilling to make commitments at this stage and want to await the outcome of the litigation. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Minister’s response today.
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in her very clear and lengthy exposition of the position. I applaud her efforts and seek to follow in her footsteps.

In his Written Statement on 18 November, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, James Cartlidge, said:

“While we take the view that the taking control of goods legislation when considered … with the common law position permits the recovery of VAT costs from debtors in this way, we have accepted … that this is an area where it would be beneficial to set out the position in regulations to put the matter beyond doubt.”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/21; col. 34WS.]


Well, they have done that, but some questions remain.

In enforcing a debt there are three parties: the judgment creditor, the judgment debtor and the enforcement agent. What this instrument does is permit the enforcement agent to recover from the judgment debtor a sum of money equivalent to VAT on his costs and expenses, even though the judgment creditor is not registered and therefore not liable to collect or account for VAT to the Treasury.

A number of questions arise. First, what if the enforcement agent is himself not registered for VAT? How does he account to the Treasury for a sum equivalent to VAT? Would he not just pocket it? What happens to that money? Secondly, when did the common law take cognisance of VAT? Perhaps the Minister will explain the meaning of Mr Cartlidge’s reference to the “common law position”? I find it difficult to comprehend why, if the judgment debtor would not have to pay VAT to the judgment creditor, the common law would force him to pay it to the tipstaff on behalf of the bailiff.

Section 90 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 gives power to the Lord Chancellor if he “considers it necessary or expedient” to make

“supplementary, incidental or consequential provision”

or

“transitory, transitional or saving provision”

by regulations. In Schedule 12—on which this instrument also depends—paragraph 13(3) deals with taking control of goods, paragraph 42 with the sale of goods, and paragraphs 50(4) and 50(7) with the application of the proceeds. How is there power to make this instrument, which, in effect, imposes taxation upon the judgment debtor which he would not have to pay if the judgment creditor were registered for VAT? It is arbitrary; it is luck, a matter of chance.

The Minister will appreciate that if you have worked, as I have, as a solicitor in a close mining community in north Wales—not dissimilar to Tredegar, I may say—there is always concern about the activities of bailiffs and their tactics. I include in that claiming fees for visits to the debtor which were never made, or where the knock on the door was particularly soft and a second visit follows. Clients are not aware or made aware of their ability to go to court to tax the bills for their expenses, and these are not inconsiderable sums. If it is council tax, parking fines, or a debt under £1,500, for example, it is £75 for a letter, a £235 fixed fee for a visit to your home and a £110 fixed fee for taking and selling your possessions. Over £1,500, there is an extra fee of 7.5% on each of the latter two stages. A High Court judgment of under £1,500 attracts fixed fees of £190 for a visit, £495 for failing to keep to an enforcement agreement and £525 for taking and selling your belongings. If it is over £1,500, 7.5% is added to the enforcement and sale fees.

We are about to face a period of inflation, high interest rates and a rise in the cost of living. This will be familiar to those of us who are old enough but not to the youngsters raising their families. I hope somebody judicially reviews this instrument because I do not think it is properly made and I very much hope it will come back to haunt what is left of this Government.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I support this Motion to Regret in the name of my noble friend Lady Meacher. The last thing needed by those trying to deal with a problem debt is an extra 20% charge on top of the collection costs in tax that should clearly have been levied on the creditors, not the debtors. It is surely a great injustice for debtors to have been charged VAT when they should not have been and to have to go to considerable lengths to recover money they have been falsely charged. It is certainly a matter of deep regret and the remedies proposed by my noble friend seem entirely justified.

Perhaps I could take this opportunity, on the subject of bailiffs, to note that there is considerable political and practitioner interest in bailiff reform. Will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s support for the enforcement conduct authority as organised by the Centre for Social Justice in partnership with both the bailiff sector and the debt advice sector? Impressive work has been done by the CSJ in securing agreement between those representing bailiffs and those providing debt advice, such as the charity StepChange. This now needs government to take matters forward and grant statutory powers to this new body to give it real teeth. Perhaps the Minister could comment.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest. A close family member was supported by StepChange, and to say that its engagement and support were life-changing is an understatement.

This is an issue which has united parliamentarians from across both Houses and both sides of the House, as well as the advice sector. It is right that the matter is before us, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for giving us the opportunity to consider it today. I also join her in thanking Just for its briefing and, probably more importantly, for its campaigning on this issue. As she rightly said, I am not sure we would be here today if Just had not taken it as far as it had.

As we have heard, enforcement officers have been incorrectly charging VAT to debtors since 2014. The Government, I think, agree that debtors should not be paying the VAT and Ministers have confirmed this at the Dispatch Box previously. When the matter was raised in Parliament by my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara in 2019, the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, said on behalf of the Treasury that

“any VAT due is payable by the creditor who receives the service. The debtor is not required to pay the VAT.”

As Parliamentary Answers go, that is quite unequivocal. That should have instigated an immediate reset of VAT charging at that point. It would have been nice if the MoJ had listened to the Treasury then.

The SI deals with the charging of VAT and ensures that, going forward, High Court enforcement officers—HCEOs—do not charge debtors. That is to be welcomed. The move should be to the creditors. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, we are concerned that the Government are not tackling the historic overcharging that has been taking place for at least the last seven years. The Government accept that debtors have been unfairly taxed, so can the Minister please explain why the Government are not committing to providing—as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has outlined—tax refunds or other systems to resolve this mischarge to debtors? There is an established principle when someone has been financially wronged: we saw it regarding PPI and heard it in the news this morning in a recommendation from the ombudsman about incorrect benefits payments. Why are the Government taking this position?

There may well be another simple solution. I look for a response from the Minister to this. It could possibly be dealt with as an administration task. The MoJ could order debt enforcement companies to return the VAT to the debtors who had overpaid it. The debt enforcement companies which are VAT registered would then reinvoice the creditors to return this money to them. The creditors could submit this VAT as a cost to HMRC. This means it would not cost the debt enforcement companies or the creditors any money. It would be a return through the VAT system directly from HMRC. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

15:00
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, what we have here is a very serious issue. We already know that, since 2014, debtors have been incorrectly charged VAT when it has been ruled that this should instead be charged to the creditor. Although the Ministry of Justice clarified in its March 2020 and November 2021 guidance that if the creditor is VAT-registered, debtors should not be charged VAT, it did not clarify the actions it would take to look into giving the money back. For this reason alone, I am supportive of the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to regret the taking control of goods statutory instrument.

Also, to put it simply, time is running out. Some noble Lords may be aware, but many will not, that there is only a six-year window in which debtors can rightfully claim for this money to be repaid. This means that many debtors, many of whom will not even be aware that this money belongs to them, have unjustly missed out on their opportunity to reclaim VAT. Therefore, the time for action is now. With every passing day of delay, more and more debtors will continue to miss out.

We have come out of a busy Christmas period, the time when many families’ budgets become overly stretched and more financially challenging. The truth is that it is expensive to be poor in this country at the moment. For the average poor family, the poverty premium—a horrible expression—means £490 extra to pay because of meters, being unable to buy in bulk and paying individually for things that other people could pay for in excess. For one in 10 people, that poverty premium is £780 a year. Will the Government ensure that the debt enforcement sector notifies all debtors who may have overpaid VAT? Will they conduct an impact assessment to understand exactly how much has been overpaid? Finally, will they ensure that the debt enforcement sector sets up a scheme to refund this money?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, whose Motion gave rise to it. The Motion highlights concern about whether debtors have been overcharged in respect of the VAT that attaches to the fees charged by High Court enforcement officers.

The statutory instrument before the House sets out how the VAT that attaches to enforcement agent fees should be collected. The burden of the noble Baroness’s Motion is to criticise the Government for not going further by applying that retrospectively. A number of noble Lords asked what we propose to do to provide compensation to debtors who were charged VAT wrongly prior to the date on which the instrument took effect. I will seek to explain why the use of “wrongly” is itself subject to question.

Let me set out the purpose of the SI and why we have decided that it is necessary to provide clarity and explain why it would not be possible or fair to legislate retrospectively in this area. We decided that it was necessary to legislate because in the summer of 2019—I accept that the issue was floating around earlier—we were made aware that there were dramatically diverging views and practices within the High Court enforcement industry about who the VAT on its fees should be collected from. We initially sought to provide clarity by working with HMRC to draft guidance about the correct approach.

With apologies to the House, I would point out gently to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that we must be careful when we talk about collecting VAT. There are two different issues here. The first is who is responsible for paying the VAT. The second is can you, as the creditor, recover through the enforcement agent a sum equivalent to the VAT. When the debtor pays that sum, the debtor is are not paying VAT; the debtor is paying a sum equivalent to VAT. That sounds like a legal technicality, but it is not; it is a fundamental distinction that it at the heart of this issue.

An important point to make is that neither the guidance nor the SI seeks to change underlying VAT law. In all circumstances, the creditor is liable for the VAT. That is because the creditor is the recipient of the service of the High Court enforcement officer. The guidance and the SI set out the circumstances in which a sum equivalent to the VAT charged to the creditor can be recovered from the judgment debtor as an enforcement cost. We designed that guidance to ensure careful and fair operation of the law so that creditors would not be out of pocket as a result of enforcement costs, while also ensuring that an amount equivalent to VAT was collected from debtors only in cases where the VAT represented a real cost to the creditor. In other words, an amount equivalent to VAT would be collected from the debtor only in cases where the creditor was not able to recover the VAT from HMRC as an input tax. If the creditor was able to recover the VAT from HMRC, the VAT would not be a real cost to the creditor and therefore a sum equivalent to the VAT should not be collected from the debtor.

In March 2020, we consulted interested parties about the draft guidance. Views remained mixed about whether VAT should ever be recovered from the debtor because the debtor was not the recipient of the service. We considered then, as we do now, that it is fair for the creditor to be able to recover the VAT as an enforcement cost in cases where it will represent a real cost to the creditor. That approach is in keeping with the overarching principle that the debtor is responsible for the costs of enforcement. Some consultees questioned the legal basis for our draft guidance. They noted that the regulations setting out the fees that High Court enforcement agents can recover from debtors do not refer to VAT, so we have accepted that it would be helpful to set out the position in legislation to put the matter beyond doubt. That is what this SI seeks to do.

We have listened to the feedback that we received about the draft guidance and taken on board the dangers that a system that is too complicated or nuanced will make it even more difficult for a debtor to understand whether they were paying the correct enforcement costs and, as a consequence, to know whether to challenge an account of the charges they are presented with. The feedback also highlighted how, in a very complicated system to address this issue, more mistakes are likely to be made.

We do not want that to happen. We want to try to have a simple and comprehensible but fair system. We therefore decided that this SI should allow an amount equivalent to the VAT to be recovered from the judgment debtor only in cases where the creditor is not VAT-registered and cannot therefore recover the VAT from HMRC. We think that approach is simple and properly supportable in principle. We think that it is right to allow creditors in those circumstances, although only those who are not VAT-registered, to recover an amount equivalent to the VAT from debtors as it would represent to them a cost of enforcement. We must remember that the creditors may themselves be suffering from financial vulnerability. For example, the creditor may be an individual who has lost their job, sued their employer and got an award of damages for wages. If we do not have this regulation, it is the creditor who will be out of pocket because they will have to pay the costs of enforcement. So I say with great respect that we cannot approach this matter a little simplistically by assuming that the debtor is always the small person, so to speak, and the creditor is always the grasping outfit. That is not the case.

We must also remember that under this SI an amount equivalent to VAT will not be recovered from the debtor in the vast majority of cases as most creditors will be VAT-registered. I should acknowledge that, as we set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, some VAT-registered creditors may make both taxable and exempt supplies. They will be able to recover only a proportion of the total VAT from HMRC. However, we think that putting them together with VAT-registered creditors is the appropriate policy option. We therefore think that this SI strikes the right balance to ensure that an amount equivalent to VAT is recovered from debtors only where it represents a real cost to the creditor.

I accept that we could have acted faster to clarify this matter. We consulted on draft guidance in March 2020. The work to finalise that guidance was delayed as a result of the department’s response to the pandemic. For example, in this area, we diverted resources and introduced legislative bans on enforcement action by enforcement agents in order to protect public health, so the coronavirus pandemic had an impact on this area as well.

I certainly do not want disagreements about what should have happened in the past to delay any further clarification of future practice, so I am grateful to the noble Baroness for amending the Motion to one of regret.

I understand the concerns expressed about whether in the past debtors have paid more than they should have done. I have great sympathy for the wish, expressed by a number of speakers, to ensure that debtors can have their concerns addressed in legislation. However, limits on retrospective legislation are an important safeguard in a just society as well as being a principle of the rule of law. There must be strong reasons to test those limits even where there is the power to do so. This issue is not one of those exceptional cases.

The issues raised in the Motion are largely matters of private law as between debtors, enforcement agents and creditors, and the interpretation of the legal position between those private parties is a matter for the courts. As we have heard, the issue is currently before the High Court in litigation. It is tempting but slightly inaccurate to say that the Government were taken to court, with all that implies. That case is in fact about a declaration being sought from the court as to what the law is. It is fair to say that there are widely divergent opinions on what the correct legal position prior to this SI in fact was.

To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, the common law position is simply this. My friend in the other place was not saying that the common law imposes VAT but that it is a basic principle of the common law that when you enforce a debt, you can recover the debt and the costs of enforcement of the debt. If VAT is to you a real cost of enforcement, an amount equivalent to that VAT is recoverable from the debtor. That ties in with basic principles of enforcement of debts, whether it is VAT or indeed your solicitor’s costs in bringing the matter to court and enforcement. To pick up another point, if the enforcement agent is not registered for VAT, they cannot charge VAT on their fees, so the point does not arise in the first place.

We do not think it would be appropriate to legislate for the past. I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness when she assumes that debtors who paid VAT or a sum equivalent to VAT in the past were wrongly overcharged. That is a point of law which is in dispute. However, we think that debtors must pay the costs of enforcement of a judgment debt. At the same time, we want to ensure that debtors are fairly treated, not just in relation to the process of enforcement but to the costs of the process.

I do not want to give the House a history lesson, but if one goes back to the high sheriff and undersheriffs of days gone by, the predecessors of the High Court enforcement officers, there is an interesting analysis of whether VAT would or might have applied to their fees. Were they acting on behalf of the creditor or on behalf of the court? It is not always very easy to analyse.

VAT itself is not an uncomplex system, so it is easy to understand why successive Governments were perhaps less prescriptive than they might have been as to how it would impact on the fee rates. None the less, where VAT imposes an additional sum and that sum cannot be recovered by the creditor as an input tax, it is an enforcement cost and should be recoverable from the debtor. That said, given that the matter is seized by the High Court, obviously we will keep a close eye on that litigation. We will look at any findings of the court extremely carefully and will consider whether any further action in this area is necessary.

Before I sit down, I should pick up an important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the enforcement conduct authority. We are strongly supportive of the work that is being done by the Centre for Social Justice, in partnership with the enforcement and debt advice sectors, to set up an enforcement conduct authority to provide independent oversight of firms and to consider complaints. We believe that the proposed authority will make a real difference by raising standards in the industry to protect vulnerable debtors while improving the effectiveness of enforcement. We remain committed to reviewing the new body within two years of its operation and then deciding whether it is necessary to put it on a statutory footing.

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, referred to PPI. With respect, I am not persuaded that this is a like-for-like issue. The point with PPI is that people were paying sums which they should not have paid and which went into the pockets of the insurance companies. What has happened here is that VAT has been paid, but there is no suggestion that the enforcement officers have not been remitting the VAT which they collected to HMRC. We should look at each issue on its own merits.

15:15
To pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, I accept that the normal limitation point in claims for restitution, which this would be, is six years. However, to say that “the money actually belongs to them”—“them” being the debtors—is, with respect, to beg the legal question which is at the heart of the earlier dispute.
I apologise for rattling through that. This area is not without its complexity. We have sought to make the position absolutely clear going forward, and as regards past cases, I hope that I have set out the Government’s position with clarity, even if, as I suspect, it may not meet entirely with the noble Baroness’s approval. None the less, I hope that I have set out the Government’s position.
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, even before I thank the Minister, I owe the noble Lord, Lord Low, an apology. The Minister shot up rather quickly after the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Low, was planning to speak. I should have stood up and said something, and I apologise that I failed to do that.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord.

I thank the Minister for his response. I will make just a few tiny points. The Minister made quite a play on how not all debtors have overpaid the VAT sum or equivalent. In fact, 95% of debtors have been in this position and have been improperly overcharged, so we have to bear in mind that the vast majority of debtors are in this position.

The Minister indicated that of course creditors can be in great poverty. I point out to the Minister and your Lordships that we know that the vast majority of these cases involve utility companies and local authorities, not your little man with thruppence ha’penny in his pocket. So I do not think we can buy that one.

I am glad that the Minister accepted—I think—that the ministry should have acted earlier. Most importantly, I thank him for saying that the Government will be keeping an eye on the legislative process. That is our one bit of assurance. I, like others, thank Just very much indeed for pursuing this issue on behalf of these very vulnerable people. We have to rely on the courts to make a sensible decision; let us see how they go.

I thank the Minister but also very much thank noble Lords who have stayed around for an inordinately long time, waiting for this debate. I beg leave to withdraw my regret Motion.

Motion withdrawn.
15:18
Sitting suspended.

Health and Care Bill

Lords Hansard - Part 2
Thursday 13th January 2022

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber