All 24 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 20th Mar 2023

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Grand Committee

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Monday 20 March 2023

Arrangement of Business

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Announcement
15:45
Lord Geddes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes) (Con)
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My Lords, as is customary before opening the Grand Committee, I must advise your Lordships that, 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.

Medical Devices and Blood Safety and Quality (Fees Amendment) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
15:45
Moved by
Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Medical Devices and Blood Safety and Quality (Fees Amendment) Regulations 2023

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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I am grateful to be here today to debate these important regulations. Before I turn to the detail of the statutory instrument before us today, I would be grateful for the opportunity to highlight the vital role that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—the MHRA—plays in safeguarding our public health. The MHRA’s work to regulate medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion ensures that the healthcare products used across the UK are safe and effective. It charges fees to recover the costs of providing a direct service for regulatory work; these fees are set in statute and, as such, legislative change is required to amend them.

We have seen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond the innovative and agile regulator that the MHRA can be. It must therefore have a sustainable financial footing; this is particularly vital as it strives to achieve its vision of being a world class regulator, embracing the opportunities of EU exit and keeping patient safety and access to healthcare products at the heart of regulation without adding additional burden on to the taxpayer or the Exchequer.

This instrument updates the fees that the MHRA charges in relation to its activities regulating medical devices and blood components for transfusion. Its fees have been updated several times in the past to ensure that they remain appropriate, as is standard practice for government bodies that charge fees. However, to provide certainty and stability to the sector throughout the EU exit transition period and the Covid-19 pandemic, the MHRA has not updated its fees since the financial year 2017-18 for medical devices and financial year 2010-11 for blood components for transfusion.

Additionally, a recent change in the legal status of the agency has made the need for full cost recovery more acute. The MHRA previously operated as a government trading fund, which gave it the ability to retain and rely on cash reserves to better manage areas of under-recovery, notwithstanding the fact that fees should fully cover costs. However, since April 2022, following the review by the Office for National Statistics, the MHRA was reclassified from a trading fund to a market regulatory agency. As a result, the MHRA is no longer able to retain cash reserves.

Full cost recovery for the MHRA’s services has become essential to ensure the future financial sustainability of the agency. The SI therefore introduces amendments which fall into three categories. First, there is a 10% indexation increase on all fees. The indexation is linked to staff costs, which have risen in line with the wider Civil Service pay award by 10% since the last substantial MHRA fee increases in 2016. Staff costs account for over half of the MHRA’s total expenditure and therefore have a substantial impact on cost of fees charged. Secondly, there is a further uplift for a specific number of activities that were identified as significantly under-recovering via their fees to ensure cost recovery. Thirdly, there is the introduction of some new fees for services that require cost recovery since the last fee changes in 2018 for medical devices. The SI also introduces two new optional services related to clinical investigation of medical devices which industry may wish to use. These new services relate to obtaining expert regulatory advice or statistical reviews from the MHRA in relation to clinical investigation of a medical device.

The MHRA is obliged to recover the costs of its regulatory activities in accordance with the Treasury’s managing public money guidelines. The amendments that this SI will introduce to the fees for the MHRA’s regulatory work on medical devices and blood components are necessary to ensure that the MHRA recovers its costs associated with delivering these services. It is appropriate that the regulated bear the cost of regulation and that the MHRA does not profit from fees at the expense of industry.

The full cost-recovery approach ensures that the MHRA does not make a loss which would fall on UK taxpayers and patients to subsidise. The MHRA is committed to regularly reviewing its fees and ensuring that these remain fair and reasonable and continue to reflect the true cost of providing regulatory services. The MHRA is also committed to delivering a reliable service and publishes performance targets that are reported against in its annual report and accounts, which are laid before Parliament.

The fees updates are important to ensure that the MHRA has the resources it needs to deliver reliable services. The fees updates will, in turn, contribute to operating modernised systems and processes, recruitment and retention of skilled staff and keeping pace with technological advancements.

To summarise, with this instrument, we have the opportunity to ensure that the MHRA has the financial security it needs to support the delivery of a responsive and efficient regulatory service for the protection of patients and improvement of public health across the UK.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his concern and his introduction on the very important matter of blood. Much detail is given by the department in the papers that we have, particularly in the Explanatory Memorandum. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into producing what we have before us.

Currently, a lengthy inquiry by a learned judge and his board is drawing to a close. It regards how, a generation ago, contaminated blood was given to unsuspecting patients, resulting in great distress—and worse—for not only the patients affected but their families. I think the learned chair will report soon; the Minister might confirm that.

My basic question is: can the Minister say what sort of people are involved in the receipt of these fees? One presumes that they are medical professionals or ancillaries who perhaps deal with the details of making available what is required. Can he give examples of the status, titles and work of those who receive the fees? He might agree that, on the face of it, the fee rise is steep.

Clearly, time has gone by, so I intend my interjection to be very brief, but I think I have raised a pertinent question. I rise in this Committee fairly often because I believe that many important regulations come to us, but debates are thinly attended. In many cases, what we consider in our debates here would be better taken on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. That is an opinion, but what we are debating now is very important, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, we echo the Minister’s comments in praise of the agency for the valuable work that it does in the United Kingdom. Of course, we also want to make sure that it is effectively funded for that work, but we have a few questions on the instrument before us.

First, if we look through the Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister has already explained the item referred to in Paragraph 7.6, that

“the Office for National Statistics reclassified the MHRA from a Trading Fund to a Market Regulatory Agency”,

and said that this affected the way in which it can use cash reserves. In exchanges with the Minister prior to the Committee we talked about the fact that we do nerdy regulation in here. I am curious to know whether any more detail might be made available in writing or otherwise about the way in which that classification or reclassification can take place and the effect that it has, as clearly it may be relevant to other agencies in this space. Understanding what it means to move from being a trading fund to a market regulatory agency is quite important for our work more generally.

Specifically on the cost increases, paragraph 10.2 tells us that there was “a general acceptance” of the need for increased fees in the responses, noting that people said that there was an understanding of the need for an increase in the fees but that they expected to see corresponding consistency in the service that they were given. Again, I hope that the Minister can come back to that later and talk about the assurances that the industry is looking for with regard to the service. However, if we look in detail at the consultation responses, we see that they were not uniformly positive. If we look at the category 1 increases, which was the simple 10% indexation, it was 61% for and 39% against. However, if we look at category 2, where there are some cost-based increases—they are significant and we will touch on those—it was 56% against to 44% for, so clearly, people were more uncomfortable with that. When we come to the third category of new fees, opinion was just in favour but was more balanced: 55% for and 45% against. Importantly, the consultees were then asked whether they thought there would be some impact of the new fees structure on particular kinds of businesses, and 89% said yes and only 11% said no, so a significant number of the consultees felt that in particular small and medium-sized enterprises might be disproportionately affected. We should not gloss over that. I know that officials are trying to summarise things when they produce an Explanatory Memorandum but if you summarise, sometimes you lose these important nuances where there was a much more mixed picture in the response to the proposals.

Paragraph 12.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum tells us that the anticipated costs that will fall on businesses, charities and voluntary bodies will be £1.9 million per year, which is echoed in paragraph 25 of the impact assessment, where it says that these costs will fall on businesses. Of course, the direct costs do, but those businesses will in turn have to pass those costs on to someone, and in most cases the eventual purchasers will be NHS bodies. Therefore again, at one level, it will fall on the business; I do not think that the businesses will simply absorb that cost, and there will be an impact on the taxpayer which does not necessarily come out. I hope that the Government will look at that and at whether, perhaps by increasing the regulatory costs, perhaps for good reasons, we end up increasing the cost base of the equipment. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and I were just in the Chamber talking to a Question about the cost pressures on medical equipment and devices and the need to replace significant amounts of outdated equipment with more modern equipment. In many cases, that more modern equipment will go through this approvals process, which will add on cost, so we need to be mindful of that cost base impact.

That brings me to my last point, which was about the impact of the new costs—again, we should not lose sight of them. We get the detailed figures in the annex to the instrument, which is extremely helpful. However, certainly for medical devices, if we look at the status quo ante and the status quo post the adoption of the regulations—these are my rough calculations and I am sure that the people who advise the Minister will be able to do it in more detail—there are costs potentially of £40,000 or of that order under the current regime for somebody to get a new medical device through the designation process, the audit process, and so on. In many cases, those costs are increasing three or fourfold, so you are talking about somebody potentially having to find £150,000 and numbers north of that now to get a medical device through the process.

16:00
That is quite a significant cost base. For the large multinationals, it may be a drop in the ocean, but for the small and medium-sized enterprises which the Government want to encourage in the medtech space those kinds of numbers could make a significant difference. The concern is that we do not create barriers to entry, so that a small medtech provider which has developed an innovative product and wants to get it through the approvals process and made available does not find that fee level a significant deterrent. In some cases, they can make a device available outside the approval process if it does not require that kind of designation. In other cases, the designation is essential, and, without it, the device cannot be used in a healthcare setting. That is the other element that I hope the Government will keep an eye on. Those are my two questions about monitoring. It is a theme we always come back to when we look at statutory instruments—we talk about them here—but it is important to understand the effect they will have down the track, perhaps in a year’s time. The first of those two critical questions is whether we have seen a significant increase in the cost that the taxpayer ends up paying for medical devices and blood components that could be traced directly back to the increases in approval costs. Secondly, has there been an impact on the market, in particular on small and medium-sized businesses—there is important feedback to consider—such that some of them are saying, “I would have got my device approved, but now when I look at a fee that is running into six figures, that feels like too much of a hurdle, and therefore I am going to stay out of the market”?
With those questions, including the nerdier questions on the designation of agencies, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify some of those points. In principle, we do not oppose the idea that there needs to be a properly funded approval process—and I hope that it is one that works consistently and to a high quality.
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the SI and the important provisions within it. As my noble friend Lord Jones said, it is an important SI, and we acknowledge the role that the MHRA plays and the need to increase the fees that it charges for regulating medicines and related products.

I appreciate that the Minister said that the MHRA has not increased its fees to this extent since 2016-17, which was in an effort to provide the industry with certainty and stability through the EU exit period and the challenges of the pandemic.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan, asked some questions the responses to which I would also be interested to hear. The consultation process was important, and I am glad that it took place and has guided the SI and its provisions, because the views of relevant stakeholders are key in making sure that we get things in the right place.

There is a clear acknowledgement from noble Lords that the MHRA needs to be financially stable, because it needs to be able to deliver regulatory services that protect and improve patient safety with high-quality, safe, effective and innovative medical products. I certainly welcome the greater clarity that the SI provides on the increased costs of providing quality care in our health services. However, I have a question for the Minister specifically on the SI. Where the increased costs of the fee simply cannot be absorbed by the NHS, which is already facing the worst of crises, could the Minister outline how the Government will ensure that the increase will be accommodated without affecting the stability of NHS finances and without impacting patient care? In other words, how will it be done?

I will make some more general points about the work of the MHRA. Innovative companies in this field often say that a key block to their progress—a key block to getting their work through the MHRA—is the speed, or the lack of speed, with which it can be processed. Can the Minister indicate how he will ensure that the MHRA stays up to speed with the latest advances and is able to process them as quickly as possible?

It would also be helpful to know how the department scrutinises and assesses the work of the MHRA. For example, what is the formal matrix for success and the speed at which it processes new devices? How well does the MHRA communicate with other organisations in the sector? What engagement does the department have with the MHRA, both to hold it to account and to improve its practices?

In drawing my more general points to a close, I note and welcome the recent announcement of the extra £10 million of funding for the MHRA. Can the Minister outline the blocks to quick approval to which this money will be targeted? How will the impact of this additional money be measured, and is it sufficient to deliver the service we need to ensure that UK patients have faster access to the most cutting-edge medical products in the world? As part of the additional money, the Chancellor announced last week that treatments already approved by “trusted” regulators internationally would be nearly automatically approved. Which countries are counted as “trusted”? Has an impact assessment been carried out for this change and, if so, can it be published?

We are always looking forward and looking to make further strides in patient safety, it is certainly my opinion that this statutory instrument takes us further along this route, and we welcome it.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions today and, as ever, will try to reply and follow up in writing where necessary. I shall try to take them in order, for ease. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked who is working on the bloods, for want of a better word. We have qualified professionals who are working to WHO standards, such as phlebotomists. Related to this was the question of who is in receipt of these fees. It is twofold. Obviously, a lot of fees go to fund MHRA itself, but a lot of the cost base is when it is hiring in subject-matter experts. In that case, they get the fees.

The general point raised by all noble Lords was the basis of this. As I said, it is a cost-recovery model. There are swings and roundabouts there, but it has tried to ensure that where there are bigger increases, it is only because that is the legitimate cost, but on average it comes to about 12% to 13%. I think that we would all accept that, for something that has not increased since 2016-17, that is reasonable. It is quite a bit behind inflation. That notwithstanding, I am very alive to the impact on SMEs, having been, as I said, in a similar space myself in the past. There are easements and waivers that can be applied, if that is the case.

To the general point about how we are trying to keep up with the speed of advances in the industry, it is very much the understanding that the industry is providing a service. Of course, safety must always be paramount, but it is a service to bring in innovation and attract new people into the sector. It has a transformation programme to ensure speedy replies—but I was pleased to hear that it is also looking to introduce a consulting service to help companies get into the field. That will be different from the regulatory side—obviously, we need a Chinese wall between the two. But it is recognised, especially for a small company, which does not have a regulatory team in place, that being guided and hand-held through the process, and having someone to tell them that this is what they need to do to get in, is very important. That is something that it is committed to doing.

As for holding the MHRA to account, to be candid, I see that very much as my job. That is obviously for officials as well, but I have the brief for the ALBs, and I set up regular meetings with them. As I said, I am very much alive to the fact that that is needed to make sure that it really is serving the industry properly. Part of holding it to account is about making sure that it is providing a decent service level. That is something that I will look for it to carry on doing. Consultation is useful as a formal process, but it should always talk to its customers and get that sort of feedback.

I have to fess up that I probably cannot answer some of the nerdy questions right now, particularly on the reclassification of the agency. I will have to phone a friend or get my colleagues to reply on that point. Likewise, I think we would all agree that the extra £10 million is welcome in this space. How the MHRA will go about that distribution and how it will measure that effectiveness is something I will follow up in the detailed letter that I will send.

Similarly, on which countries are counted as “trusted”, my understanding is that often the MHRA looks at the processes that are in place—again, I will come back in detail on this. Rather than a country being trusted, per se, it is more about the scrutiny process that it undertook. Obviously a regulator would be accepted as good in a place, but again, I have some personal experience. If you can see that the CDC or the FDA has gone through a very similar process, does it really make sense to do that all again? Clearly, it is felt that I have not quite answered the question—but I mentioned the waivers.

At this point, I hope I have covered most of the questions that I can right now, but I will follow up in detail. I appreciate that noble Lords are generally supportive of what we are trying to do here, and that we all agree that the MHRA has an important part to play and that the cost recovery is a reasonable approach, particularly with some of the price increases in recent years. As I said, I will happily follow up in writing. On that, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
16:14
Moved by
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2023

Relevant document: 30th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to present these draft rules, which deal with two vitally important issues, to the Committee. I will first touch on the provisions in relation to deprivation of citizenship in this instrument.

Keeping the public safe is a top priority for the Government. Deprivation of citizenship, where it is conducive to the public good, is reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm. It is key to our ability to preserve the UK’s national security. The Committee will recall that the deprivation measures in the Nationality and Borders Act attracted much considered and thorough debate. This House and the other place agreed that, in cases where the Secretary of State intends to make a deprivation order on the grounds that it is conducive to the public good without giving notice, an application must be made to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or SIAC, which will consider the Secretary of State’s reasons not to give notice.

In November 2022, we took a first step towards implementation of this process by amending the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997, giving the Lord Chancellor powers to amend procedure rules in relation to these applications. We now intend to make the required amendments to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules 2003, which is the purpose of this instrument.

This instrument sets out a clear framework for the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Secretary of State when dealing with such applications. It makes clear the information an application is required to contain and makes provision for the Secretary of State to vary or withdraw an application. It confirms the Secretary of State as the single party to proceedings and makes provision to appeal a determination of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission where necessary. The instrument also sets out that the commission must give a determination within 14 days of receipt of an application or its variation. This reflects the fact that the Secretary of State may have to act quickly in the interests of national security. The instrument is the final stage in implementing the safeguards relating to Section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which were agreed in the passage of that Act.

Turning to credibility statements, Sections 19 and 22 of the 2022 Act create additional behaviours that should result in an asylum or human rights claimant’s credibility being damaged. These includes a requirement for decision-makers to consider the late provision of evidence in response to an evidence notice or a priority removal notice, without good reasons, as behaviour that should be damaging to a claimant’s credibility.

As part of this suite of measures being introduced to encourage the timely provision of evidence in support of asylum and human rights claims, Sections 19 and 22 of the 2022 Act also establish a requirement for both the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules and the asylum and immigration chamber procedure rules to secure that when judges dispose of asylum and human rights decisions, and where credibility issues arise, they must include in their decisions a statement on how they have taken account of all potential credibility-damaging behaviours when reaching those decisions. These changes to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) Rules effectively secure in rules what judges are already required to do, according to the current case law.

The instrument and the creation of new procedure rules, however, make it abundantly clear what judges are required to do. This will assist in making sure that there is clear and efficient decision-making. I commend these rules to the Committee.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I hope that the Committee and the Deputy Chairman of Committees will understand that my sitting down today is not a sign of any disrespect to any Member or to the Committee. I thank the Minister for his introduction to this instrument. I do not think he will be surprised to know that I am not thanking him for the instrument itself, and very much not for the Nationality and Borders Act.

Those of us who find difficulty with proceedings in any number of areas, particularly when they are closed, are generally assured by the Government that we should not worry because there is judicial oversight. I cannot recall whether this was so in the case of Section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act, but the instrument points up the hollowness of such an argument. As the Minister explained, Section 10 provides that the Secretary of State does not have to give notice of deprivation of citizenship in certain circumstances, and, if she

“reasonably considers it necessary, in the interests of”

certain matters,

“that notice … should not be given.”

That is in new Section 40(5A)(b) of the 1981 Act, which includes

“the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country”.

I understand the Minister to have included that in his list of high harms. It is quite easy to think of examples of what might be necessary so as not to annoy another state, which I think would come within the relationship between the UK and another state. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether he expects this power to be used very narrowly, and confirm that proportionality will apply?

We are reliant on the commission to assess the reasonableness of the view of the Secretary of State but even the commission does not have a free hand. Under Section 25E in the new Part 4A,

“The Commission must determine the application on paper without a hearing”.


My second question is: why is it “must” and not “may”? If we are to have any confidence in the process as a whole, should we not trust the commission to decide for itself whether determination on paper is appropriate? Can the Minister explain this? Can he explain to the Committee what will happen if the commission, having seen the paper application, has questions of the Secretary of State and wants to hear from counsel on her behalf?

I admit that I have no experience in this, other than debates in your Lordships’ House over the years and briefings from professionals and others involved in the process, but it seems that it is all too easy for such an application to become completely formulaic. Once there is a formula which is considered to pass the not “obviously flawed” threshold or test, that will go to the commission without, apparently, its being able to say, “Yes, but”. The “obviously flawed” test is in the new Schedule 4A. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that the Home Secretary herself could want a hearing? We will never know because there is no one to ask. We are not even getting that close to the territory of closed hearings and special advocates here.

I find it difficult to understand what role this appeal court would be left with. We will know next to nothing—probably nothing—about the use of these powers. Paragraph 14 of the Explanatory Memorandum tells us:

“As the Home Secretary decides each case personally and due to the very low number of cases expected to be affected by these provisions, no specific monitoring or review of these measures will be undertaken.”


In this situation, reporting is almost a synonym for monitoring. Can the Minister at least give an assurance that there will be reporting? I cannot see that it could be very difficult. What harm would be caused? I do not think that I need to spell out why a report in the public domain is desirable and essential. So often we are told, not only by Home Office Ministers but from the Dispatch Box, that there is no need for a review of a provision in primary legislation, because there is an automatic, periodic review of all legislation that the Government put through. However, no review of the measures means no review of Section 10. In our view, there should be reporting, not just of numbers but, for instance, of whether men or women are affected by deprivation orders, and, importantly, whether each individual has, or is considered to have, dual nationality. Indeed, can the Minister confirm—I appreciate that it is a bit beyond this instrument—whether the powers will be used only in the cases of individuals who are citizens of another state? Does the appetite for secrecy really mean that the state is protecting us?

I have been doing my best to avoid reference to an ongoing case, and I do not seek to draw the Minister into it—I know that he will not be drawn in—but it is justifiable to ask about the cohort of women known to be in a camp in Syria, who are held there because of their IS connections. Can one really say of them that their whereabouts are unknown? They are not going anywhere; they are known to be in the camp, although they cannot contact lawyers. For reasons the Grand Committee will understand, given his widely reported comments last month regarding a case before SIAC, have the Government consulted the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation? This is about legislation; Jonathan Hall is independent.

I have referred to judicial oversight. What I take from the instrument is that oversight of the process can be no more than minimal, and therefore oversight of the process is eliminated.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her remarks; I agree with much of what she said.

I will confine myself to dealing with the SI before us, notwithstanding what many of us thought about the Nationality and Borders Act. As the Minister told us in his helpful introduction, the SI makes two required amendments to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission after the introduction of the Nationality and Borders Act. They are two amendments which many of us sought to introduce. We all support keeping our nation safe, but as a democracy, even in circumstances of national security, safeguards need to be built in. We all agree that citizenship is a privilege and a right, but in depriving someone of their citizenship, some checks are needed, to say the least. We therefore welcome the changes to the process, although I may have comments about how we actually got here.

The amendment requiring the Secretary of State to make an application to SIAC when making an order to deprive someone of their citizenship is important and welcome. That application must include an explanation as to why it is necessary for that order to be made without providing notice to the individual, and SIAC will then be required to determine whether the Secretary of State’s view is “obviously flawed”.

I have some questions for the Minister. What does “obviously flawed” mean? Can he give an example of what is meant by that? Can the Minister say who can advise the Minister that such a deprivation of citizenship is necessary? Is it only the Home Secretary who can apply to SIAC, or can the Foreign Secretary, for instance, do it? I think that I know the answer, but, as I mentioned to the Minister outside the Grand Committee, it is sometimes necessary to put those things on the record. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to, are such applications made public in any way, either when they are made, or during or after any SIAC determination?

16:30
Can the Minister also confirm that the only way for anyone to provide any evidence or papers to that body is not in person or by video but only on paper? Can he confirm whether legal aid is available to such individuals, and will any provision of the National Security Bill change any of that? Does any individual have a right of appeal or do all have a right of appeal, and if they do, who is the right of appeal to?
Can the Minister comment—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made this point—on how SIAC was given 14 days to make a determination? What account was taken of the complexity of some of the potential cases and the gravity of the decision? No answer was given when I read the Hansard of the debate in the other place, so how was that timeframe of 14 days agreed, why was it regarded as appropriate, and what criteria were used to say that it was the right length?
Can the Minister also explain why in Rule 25B(3), which relates to the information laid out in Rule 25B(2), if you do not know any of that information, you do not have to provide it? Included in that list of information to be provided is the person’s nationality or nationalities, but according to Rule 25B(3) you do not have to provide that in any application. How can you have a hearing to deprive someone of their citizenship if you do not know what it is? I gave the Minister warning of that question. There may be a simple answer to it that has completely evaded me, but if so, it would be quite useful for us to understand what that means.
Under Rule 15, Rule 47 is amended, and we have the amendment before us. That refers to Section 22 of the Nationality and Borders Act—in other words, the late provision of information. In Section 22(4), a PRN recipient’s credibility is damaged if material is provided late—as I understand it, that is replicated in the SI. However, also in that amendment, a provision says that if there is good reason for that late provision, that can be taken into account and not be used to damage the credibility of the person who is appearing before the commission or giving evidence. Does that “for good reason” still apply to the SIAC? In other words, if you have a very good reason for not being able to get something to the commission, your credibility is not damaged if you have a good reason. That is in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022; does it apply to these processes?
Notwithstanding those questions, we support the amendments that have been made—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we might not be particularly pleased with how we got here but they are safeguards that were put into the Bill on amendment and they are now being taken forward with this SI. Some important points of clarification and detail are needed, in answer both to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and to some of mine. However, as far as it goes, we welcome the two amendments in the SI.
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for those two considered contributions. I obviously appreciate the strength of feeling about deprivation of citizenship, but perhaps the Committee will bear with me if I repeat what I said earlier: maintaining our national security is the priority for the Government. It is vitally important that we are still able to take deprivation action, even if we do not know where a person is, to protect the public and keep our country safe. This instrument brings us closer to being able to do that, but let me explain the type of case we envisaged being covered by the new process of referral to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Imagine someone who has been spying for another country against the UK and is now living at an unknown address in that other country; or the head of an organised crime group whose current whereabouts are known only through a police informant, and to use the address would put the life of that informant at risk; or a supporter of Daesh who has committed terrorist attacks and is hiding in the mountains of Syria. Such people pose a direct threat to the safety and security of the UK, and it simply cannot be right that our hands are tied because we cannot take away their British citizenship without giving them notice of the decision. Of course, depriving a person of the privilege of being British is a very significant thing to do. That is why the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 provides for judicial oversight of such decisions.

I will now take the opportunity briefly to address the additional points raised. I turn first to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I was asked initially to confirm whether the powers would be used in a narrow and proportionate way. That is certainly my understanding. The application of deprivation powers is clearly a serious use of state power and will be done only in cases which warrant that significant step. I was then asked about reporting. I imagine that the reference there was to reporting statistics in relation to deprivation. Some statistics are certainly provided but, for obvious national security reasons, detailed statistics cannot be. The Government take very seriously their obligations to keep these matters under review.

I was asked specifically whether the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation was consulted in respect of this measure. I am afraid I do not have the answer to that question to hand. I imagine that there has been some engagement with this legislation, but I will of course find out and write to the noble Baroness in respect of that question.

I turn to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. His first was on whether, in the rules, the phrase “Secretary of State” referred to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. I think that phrase is subject generally to the definition in the Interpretation Act: that it applies to any of His Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State. But in practical terms, I certainly understand that the power will be exercised by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

I was then asked as to the extent to which the existence of the proceedings should be made public. The view is taken that these proceedings are generally, for reasons of national security, best done in a closed environment and, we would suggest, best done on the papers. In the circumstances of an application to commence proceedings without giving notice, the Home Office is the only party to proceedings and, given that this is about the administrative process of giving notice, it is unnecessary to have an open hearing with several judges. The individual will not be aware of the deprivation decision at this point and will not be in a position to give legal direction. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission will determine whether the Secretary of State’s decision not to give notice is “obviously flawed”, in line with judicial review principles. I hope that answers the next question which the noble Lord asked me, which was, “What is obviously flawed?”. It is something that would be upset on judicial review for being unlawful in the public law sense, so when it would be unreasonable or unlawful.

I was asked whether legal aid will be available. Obviously, in the case of no notification, it is hard to envisage a situation, given the lack of co-operation of the other party, where legal aid would be appropriate. But certainly, in principle, in relation to deprivation proceedings, legal aid is available and there are no plans to alter that.

As to the right of appeal, obviously, SIAC itself is an appellate body, in that one is appealing against or challenging a decision of the Secretary of State. Further appeals under SIAC are possible under the procedure rules; indeed, we have seen in various recent cases the involvement of the Court of Appeal.

I was asked about the time for making a determination described in Regulation 7, at new paragraph 25E of the rules, the provision that

“The Commission must determine the application no later than 14 days after”


receipt of the application. That period was agreed with the chair of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, as it was suggested that it was an appropriate time for the chair to consider that application, balanced against the potential urgency. Of course, the only question the chair is considering there is whether it is appropriate for notice to be served—that is, whether the Secretary of State’s application should succeed.

I turn to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in respect of Rule 25B set out in Regulation 7 and, in particular, the question of the meaning of Rule 25B(3). If the Secretary of State has the information listed, it must be provided, but if the Secretary of State does not have it, the Secretary of State does not have to provide it, and that does not prevent an application going ahead. Ultimately, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission will decide whether it has sufficient information to decide the application. Clearly, if it decides that it does not have adequate information, it will refuse the application.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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If I understood the Minister correctly, he just said that if the Secretary of State does not know the information, the Secretary of State does not have to provide it to SIAC, but the Secretary of State is applying to SIAC for a deprivation of citizenship. How can you deprive it if you do not know what it is?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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This is the application process to proceed without serving notice. The Secretary of State may know, for example, the person’s name, the person’s nationality or nationalities and the relevant Home Office reference, but not the person’s correct date of birth. As I understand the operation of sub-paragraph (3), that means that the absence of that one particular, given that the Secretary of State does not know it, does not invalidate the application.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I was not asking about date of birth, was I? I was asking about where the Secretary of State does not know the nationality. I appreciate the case where you do not know all of the name, and so on—but it seems to me pretty key, if you are starting the process to deprive someone of citizenship but you do not know what their nationality is.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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It is clearly right—this comes back to another question I was going to deal with in a moment—that the power can be exercised only in cases of persons entitled to more than one nationality. The question is whether the department knows of an entitlement to British nationality and an entitlement to another nationality. If there are other potential nationality entitlements, it may be that, if those are not known, their absence from the application will not of itself invalidate the application. That is, as I understand it, the intent of that sub-paragraph.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I do not want to dance on the head of a pin, but now the Minister has got into the potential for denying potential nationalities, and I would say that that is fraught with difficulties. I will leave it there—but it is an interesting point about the need for clarity. The Home Office not knowing what someone’s nationality is and being able to miss that out from a SIAC appeal as the basis of a process leading to, at some point, depriving someone of nationality or citizenship, seems a bit much.

16:45
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I can certainly write to the noble Lord about it, but the short point is this: if SIAC is concerned, on the balance of probabilities, that somebody has only British citizenship and not another, it will not make an order of deprivation. I hope that, to some extent, answers his question.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I think the Minister is saying that it is perfectly open to SIAC to reject that application on the basis that the Government do not know what they are doing with respect to that nationality and that they should come back at a future date when they have done a bit more work on it.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Indeed, as with any court.

In respect of the noble Lord’s question on Rule 47 as to credibility, the question being whether a claimant’s good reasons for responding late to a priority removal notice would be taken into account in cases that go to SIAC, the answer is yes.

To pick up one point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the use against dual citizens, it is right and clear in the statutory regime that an order using a deprivation power cannot be made that would have the effect of rendering a person stateless, hence the need for two nationalities, except that there is a very limited provision in Section 40(4A) of the Act, but that power has not been used to date. In any event, deprivation on conducive grounds is used sparingly and against those who pose a serious threat to the UK. It is correct that the conducive power is limited so that it can be applied only to those who are dual citizens or where there are reasonable grounds for believing that the person can become a national of another country. Parliament chose to enact the power on that basis to avoid the prospect of leaving individuals stateless, which would be contrary to the UK’s commitments under the 1961 statelessness convention.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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If the Minister is coming to his closing paragraph to urge this instrument, then I am afraid that I have a number of questions to remind him of. However, I am glad to hear what he said about dual nationality. I was concerned because I thought he used the phrase “potential nationalities”. I do not know how one can potentially be a national of a particular country.

I will run through some points that I do not think he has been able to pick up. I raised the proportionality point in connection with Section 40(5A)(b)(iv), which is when the Secretary of State considers it necessary in the interest of the relationship between the UK and another country. I hope the Minister can confirm that there will be proportionality in that, rather than the general point he made.

I do not think the Minister answered the question on “must” deal with the matter on the papers rather than “may”, nor my question on whether the commission can call for more information and can even ask to hear from the Secretary of State.

The Minister referred to paragraph 14 of the Explanatory Memorandum. He might need to take this away, but to repeat, we are told by this that, because there is expected to be a “very low number” of cases,

“no specific monitoring or review … will be undertaken”.

My question was about reporting and the Minister answered on reporting in a general way. I would be glad to hear that there will be specific reporting on these deprivation without notice applications.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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In relation to Rule 25E, the noble Baroness is quite right. It is imperative that the commission determines the application on paper and without a hearing. As I elucidated a moment ago, that process is deliberately framed so that it can be resolved quickly because of the national security issues implicit in a deprivation decision. I am afraid that it is a “must” for a reason, and not a “may”. Clearly, SIAC, like any court, is able to make a decision on the information available to it and, if it feels that it lacks information, it is entirely open to it to ask for further information from the party appearing before it. I hope that that answers the question.

On the dual nationality point, the word “potential” is significant. The question in the statute is whether a person is eligible for citizenship of another country. That gives rise to the power to deprive under Section 40(4A), which is the power that I mentioned, which has yet to be deployed to date. As to reporting, I hear the noble Baroness’s question and I shall find out further detail and write to her in respect of it. I hope that I have therefore addressed the questions posed.

I want to be absolutely clear that the power to deprive an individual of citizenship has been possible for over a century. Section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act does not change the reasons for which a person can be deprived of their citizenship, nor does it remove a person’s right of appeal. It is simply about the mechanics of how a deprivation decision is conveyed to the individual concerned and recognises that, in certain exceptional circumstances, it may not be possible to give notice.

The Home Office will always try to serve any deprivation notice at the point of a decision, including providing information about the person’s statutory appeal rights. Where that is not possible, and the person later makes contact with the Home Office, they will be issued with a decision notice and an explanation of their appeal rights. Section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act clarifies that the timescales for lodging an appeal in these cases starts from when they are given the notice of the deprivation decision and not when the decision was first made.

In conclusion, this instrument is in the final stage of implementing the safeguards, as noble Lords noted, which will hold the Government to account in relation to decisions to deprive a person of citizenship without first giving them notice. It will also ensure that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission is required to include credibility statements in any relevant decisions that it makes that dispose of asylum and human rights claims. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Electricity Supplier Obligations (Green Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
16:54
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Green Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations, and the Electricity Supplier (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, were laid on 8 and 20 February 2023 respectively, and were recently debated in the other place.

The purpose of the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 is to improve the operation of the EII exemption scheme. This will ensure that access to the scheme for existing recipients is not negatively impacted by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that new applications can benefit from the scheme earlier than would otherwise be possible.

The purpose of the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Green Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 is to ensure that electricity suppliers in Great Britain contribute to CfD scheme costs more in proportion to their market share, regardless of whether they source electricity from the EU or the UK.

I acknowledge the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the other place, all of which have provided helpful reviews of these regulations.

These statutory instruments amend the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Amendment & Excluded Electricity) Regulations 2015 and the Contracts for Difference (Electricity Supplier Obligations) Regulations 2014.

The Electricity Supplier Obligations (Amendment & Excluded Electricity) Regulations 2015 provide for a scheme that helps to mitigate the risk of carbon leakage by exempting eligible businesses from a proportion of the costs of funding renewable electricity and minimise the risk of companies or production moving to overseas territories with less robust net-zero targets. These are costs associated with funding the renewables obligation, the contracts for difference and the small-scale feed-in tariff schemes. The costs associated with these schemes are passed on by electricity suppliers through their electricity bills. They have a particularly high impact on foundation industries such as steel, paper, chemicals and cement, which are critical to many infrastructure projects and provide well-paid, highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom. As foundation industries, these businesses are critical in the development of new projects, including offshore wind, and therefore play an important role in the transition to net zero.

The exemption also provides relief for new and emerging industries, such as battery manufacturers—critical to electric vehicles—and manufacturers of semi-conductors, which are of key importance to the UK high-tech economy. They provide jobs not only directly but indirectly, such as in the aerospace and automotive sectors. They employ people from Cornwall to Kent and from Grangemouth to south Wales.

The original legislation was put in place in 2017 and since then over 320 businesses have benefited from the exemption. Businesses which applied in 2017 are now due to be reassessed under the regulations; they will need to be reassessed this year using the last three years of data. For these businesses, this will include the 2020 and 2021 trading periods. This new instrument makes amendments that will allow businesses to exclude data from that period, which, of course, does not reflect the normal course of their business, thereby preventing an unintended consequence from the Covid pandemic’s effect on industry.

This instrument also allows companies applying for an exemption to apply for relief with one quarter of financial data, rather than two. This will help and encourage businesses and start-ups to apply for relief.

The sectors eligible for the existing exemption scheme employ around 400,000 workers and account for more than a quarter of total UK exports. Many are located in areas of economic disadvantage and provide good, high-paid jobs. In the UK, our electricity prices for medium and large industrial users were the highest among the EU countries in 2021. Clearly, electricity costs have a significant impact on the competitiveness of such enterprises. The industries affected operate mainly in international markets, so higher electricity prices place them at a competitive disadvantage, resulting in the risk of carbon leakage, whereby companies choose to move their production to countries with less ambitious climate policies.

17:00
Existing legislation covering energy-intensive industries allows eligible businesses to receive an indirect exemption of up to 85% of the costs of funding renewable electricity schemes. Where an eligible business applies successfully for the exemption, its electricity supplier receives a reduction in the costs, which, in practice, it passes on to the eligible business. That approach mitigates the costs of the renewable electricity schemes, supports industrial competitiveness and provides certainty for businesses. The costs of the exemption are distributed to all other electricity users.
I turn to the contracts for difference scheme, which is the Government’s flagship renewable electricity support scheme. It is designed to offer long-term price stabilisation to new low-carbon generators, and to incentivise investment by giving greater certainty of revenues to electricity generators by reducing their exposure to volatile wholesale prices. This scheme has been very successful in driving the substantial deployment of renewables at scale in Great Britain while rapidly reducing the costs to electricity consumers. Payments to electricity generators supported by the CfD scheme are funded through a compulsory levy on electricity suppliers in Great Britain, known as the supplier obligation. Individual suppliers contribute to the costs of the schemes in proportion to their share of the British electricity sales market.
Electricity suppliers may currently apply to seek a partial green excluded electricity exemption from their supplier obligation to make contracts for difference payments. That is through the importing of renewable electricity generated in an EU member state and supplied to customers in Great Britain. Now we have left the EU, the aim of the change is to address that distortion by removing the exemption.
The proposed excluded electricity regulations amend the existing legislation to improve access to the EII exemption for new companies, by reducing the period for which financial data must be provided on initial application from two financial quarters to one. They also allow companies which are reapplying for eligibility to provide three years of data over the last five years and to exclude data from, for example, 2020 and 2021 from their application to account for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The green excluded electricity amendment of the CfD regulations will remove the availability to electricity suppliers in Great Britain of a partial CfD scheme cost exemption. The exemption currently allows electricity suppliers to reduce their liability to pay CfD scheme costs to the extent that they import green electricity from the EU. That results in suppliers’ cost obligation being proportionally further away from their market share. Now we have left the EU, that is no longer appropriate. Moreover, the removal of the exemption means that all electricity supplied by a supplier, no matter where it was produced, will have the supplier obligation applied to it in the same way.
In conclusion, the Government, in consultation with industry, have seen a clear rationale for the amendments to the regulations to improve the operation of the EII exemption scheme, and, through removing the green excluded electricity exemption, to bring a closer alignment between a GB electricity supplier’s market share and its proportion of the contracts for difference scheme costs. The green excluded electricity amendment also delivers part of the Government’s priority to address the UK legislative legacy of being a member of the EU. The exemption will continue to apply in respect of electricity supplied up to 31 March 2023. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I assume that we will take both SIs together. I thank my noble friend for bringing forward these two regulations, with which I broadly agree. I will limit my remarks to the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations.

I listened carefully to what my noble friend said. He said that the costs arising from the scheme will be distributed to all other users. Does that mean all other users, both domestic—that is, households—as well as industrial? If that is the case, is this part of the charge on standing charges? I will put down a marker—and I hope my noble friend will agree with me—that it seems very unfair that at this time of household stress and cost of living constraints, standing charges are the one element of a bill that we are not able to control. As individual householders we can control the unit charge, but we cannot control the standing charge. Therefore, if this is being spread across all users, both domestic and industrial, as my noble friend indicated, it seems a little unfair that this will be or is already an additional cost on the standing charge. Would it be possible at some stage to have a general debate on what constitutes the standing charges? I realise that that is not the purpose of today’s debate, but that would be very helpful indeed. My question is, what is the impact of this measure, with which I am in broad agreement, on household bills?

I absolutely accept that the EII plays a useful role, covering high electricity-using businesses such as, we are told, in the very helpful paragraph from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report on this, energy-intensive users in sectors such as

“steel, paper, plastics, chemicals, cement and glass.”

Cement and ceramics are often overlooked, despite being high-energy users. That paragraph also says that the charge covers potential market failures:

“the Energy Intensive Industries … Exemption Scheme”—

to which my noble friend refers—

“offers an exemption for eligible companies to receive a discount from their electricity costs to address high energy costs and potential market failures.”

Another question that arises from this is: in the event of a market failure relating to an industrial user in this category—I am sure that a number may be teetering on the edge—is it left to the others in this category to pick up the costs of that failure, or is it once again a charge to all users, domestic and industrial?

My two final points are, first, that no impact assessment was done, which possibly might have been useful. Secondly, paragraph 10.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“This consultation ran for 5 weeks and closed on the 16 September 2022.”


That seems a short period to run a consultation which covers the holiday period. Was there any particular reason for that, or had the department taken other soundings before it launched the formal consultation? However, with those few queries, I support the two regulations before us this afternoon.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of the SIs. I will take the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 first and then the other one second. I can broadly support this SI, but I have a few points that I want to raise.

The Explanatory Memorandum explains that the proposals were made in the review of the scheme to provide relief to energy-intensive industries for a proportion of

“the indirect costs of funding renewable electricity policies”.

However, it makes no mention of the responses to the consultation. I am afraid that I have been unable to find a government response on these proposals. My first question to the Minister is: is that response in the public domain and, if so, where can I find it? Also, how many consultees responded on questions 3 and 4, which cover the proposals in this regulation? What was the distribution of views and what alternative proposals were made? Did any consultees highlight risks or unintended consequences? It would have been useful to have seen responses on that.

As trading data will be unaudited, what independent checks will be carried out on that data to ensure that gross value added is not being under-reported or energy costs overstated to meet the eligibility criteria of at least 20% of the GVA being from electricity costs? When will the Government respond to the other proposals in the review?

I will close with a thought on a more strategic outlook that the Government could take. Rather than piecemeal subsidies, a possible longer term and more comprehensive solution to carbon leakage would be the carbon border adjustment mechanism, whereby high-emissions industries migrate to the parts of the world with the lowest effective price on carbon. A CBAM would allow tariffs to be charged on imported goods in proportion to the difference between their emissions and those for the corresponding goods made at home. Ministers reported in May 2022 that they would consult on such a mechanism by the end of last year. That time has come and gone, so I wonder whether the Minister could provide an update to the Committee on when we might have that consultation. There are rumours that it might be due to start in the next month or two. Can the Minister confirm that or say no to it?

I turn to the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Green Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. The Minister mentioned briefly, and it was laid out clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum, why the UK’s departure from the EU means that the UK Government are no longer required to make provision to exempt certified green imported electricity from EU member states from the electricity supplier obligations—that is, as the Minister explained, from payments which are used to support feed-in tariffs and contracts for difference. This instrument will remove the green excluded electricity exemption from the contracts for difference scheme so that the electricity from renewable sources that is imported to Great Britain from an EU member state, and is currently exempt from the contracts for difference reconciliation scheme, will no longer be exempt.

The Explanatory Memorandum tells us that the current

“exemption benefits licensed electricity suppliers in Great Britain who import renewable electricity from EU member States”.

That is clear so there is an incentive to import green electricity, as things stand, which is a good thing. Can the Minister confirm that the proposed abolition of the exemption means that the energy supplier obligation reconciliation payments will have to go up, as a result of losing this benefit? That is the logical conclusion of the statement in the EM. Removing the exemption will put in place an incentive instead for energy suppliers to move away from green energy imports from the EU, and I wonder whether that is the Government’s intention.

17:15
I see the Minister shaking his head, but the EM states that the current exemption “benefits licensed electricity suppliers”, so I do not see how getting rid of it will also be to their benefit. Further clarification on that would be greatly appreciated, because the outcome, whether intended or not, has the potential consequence to be the reduction of green energy supply to GB consumers.
The consultation response from the Government says at pages 7 to 8 that the removal
“provides financial incentives to those suppliers who import renewable electricity from EU trading partners.”
However, it is not clear that the abolition of the exemption provides any incentive for suppliers to import renewable electricity over any other kind. In fact, it does quite the reverse. Perhaps the Minister could explain that statement in the Government’s response and offer an example to make it clearer to me, to whom it is just not clear, how this might be the case. It would be great to have that on the record. Lastly on this, what assurances have Ministers obtained from Ofgem or elsewhere of the harm to green specialist suppliers, which provide an important element of consumer choice and have often led the way, and which bigger suppliers have subsequently followed? The last thing we want is to dampen their enthusiasm.
Again, the Explanatory Memorandum states that the removal of the green excluded electricity exemption “addresses a distortion”—the Minister also himself used the word “distortion”—
“where the costs of the”
contracts for difference
“scheme, borne by UK suppliers, are not evenly distributed in relation to an energy supplier’s market share.”
I am not sure about that. To me, it does not make sense that that will be the case, because the whole raison d’être of the contracts for difference scheme is to allow incentives for the generation of green electricity. It is there to distort the market. It should not matter to our Government where that renewable energy has been generated. Climate change is a global issue. We benefit from the manufacture of goods all over the globe. Surely we want those goods to be less carbon intensive, wherever they may be produced, so we should be encouraging the global rollout of renewable energy, and the proposed abolition of the GEE will have the opposite effect. We may have to disagree on that, but if the Minister has an example, I should really appreciate it.
The Explanatory Memorandum says that
“The withdrawal of the UK from the EU means that the UK is no longer legally required to maintain the GEE exemption.”
I agree that that is indeed the legal case. However, there is also a moral imperative and a common sense one. Is it not the case that this abolition of the GEE from energy supplier obligation calculations will make it harder for us to realise our statutory net-zero targets—which are more important than ever in light of the IPCC report today?
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation of the regulations and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Hamwee, for their contributions and questions, which the Minister will no doubt deal with when he comes back.

I will take the reverse order from the Minister: I will deal first with the green amendment and then with the energy intensive amendment. Contracts for difference are the main way in which the Government support low-carbon electricity generation projects. While we were in the EU, a supplier could seek a reduction in their liability proportion in the levy by offsetting low-carbon electricity generated in the EU area. The UK is no longer under an obligation to offset any low-carbon electricity generated in the EU area. Following industry consultation—I do not know how thorough it was, or how much there was—removing the green excluded electricity was determined to be the fairest way of proceeding following our exit from the EU. As I understand it, the supplier obligation applies to all licensed suppliers of electricity to pay for the contracts for difference.

The statutory instrument is relatively straightforward: it removes something that was implemented when contracts for difference first became the major instrument of the development of renewals in the UK. It looks to close a potential loophole in state aid regulations. Suppliers importing electricity from Europe should not have that supplier obligation applied to them and the electricity they are bringing in from European sources. As we no longer have responsibilities over state aid, it is no longer appropriate to continue with the arrangement that was dependent on the state aid loophole. In the past, suppliers had to provide proof of power coming in to claim that there was no money to pay, as it were, for that energy coming in. Now the opposite is the case: suppliers will have to provide evidence of what is coming in as a renewable source, via the interconnector, from Europe to ensure that they pay. Can the Minister say why any company would now produce evidence of green energy imports through the interconnector in order to pay? Nothing in the regulations requires that evidence is given so that payment is made, and there is nothing about enforcement action or penalties against bodies which do not provide information to enable future payments to be made.

Also, there is no inversion in place for the relationship between the strike price and the reference price. As I understand it, that means that, instead of normal procedure as far as the contracts for difference in this country are concerned, the supplier does not get a payment from the Government in respect of the strike price. As the reference price is currently above the strike price, the supplier has to pay back into the Low Carbon Contracts Company. The company then has a reasonable obligation to pay back that money to suppliers. So I ask the Minister: are companies now obligated under the SI to pay money into the LCCC for contracts for difference which were pre-exempted, and also to get money from the LCCC when the general strike price is inverted against the reference price?

The energy intensive industry exemption, as the Minister said, provides relief to around 320 electricity-intensive companies in the UK. It launched in 2017, and it needs to be reassessed this year under the scheme’s rules. Following consultation, the Government decided to implement two minor changes to the operation of the scheme. The amendments to the scheme are designed to improve accessibility to the EII scheme and to account for the Covid-19 pandemic period. First, it will allow companies applying under the exemption from the indirect costs of funding contracts for difference, the renewables obligation and the small-scale feed-in tariffs to be able to feed in three of the previous five years for assessment, as the Minister said, in order to account for possible lower trading and electricity usage during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic years. Secondly, it will allow new companies to apply with only one quarter of trading rather than two, as was the case previously.

Labour does not oppose those sensible changes which take account of what happened during the Covid period. Companies will be judged against their present performance rather than that of previous years. It is likely that companies previously exempted from the scheme can now be brought into it. Does the Minister agree with that? Could he comment on the observation made in the other place that the mining of hard coal is on the eligibility list? Given the environmental effects of that industry, it seems at least curious as to why it may be included under the EII scheme.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to the debate. The electricity-intensive industries exemption provides relief for key foundation industries, including companies operating in the steel, paper, chemicals, cement and glass sectors. The scheme also supports emerging sectors ,such as battery manufacturers and companies making semiconductors. The companies this scheme supports are located all over the UK and provide high-paid, good-quality jobs both directly and in the supply chain.

These EII regulations are necessary to improve the operation of the current excluded electricity scheme. They will make it easier for start-ups and new businesses to apply. They will also allow businesses to account for the impact of Covid-19 when reapplying for relief. We will update and publish our guidance on the GOV.UK website to ensure that businesses are aware of these proposed changes, and proactively engage with stakeholders to ensure that they are too.

Following the consultation in spring 2023, we will come forward with our proposals on the recently announced British industry supercharger, which aims to roll out further support to important manufacturing businesses. This will be through exempting firms from certain costs arising from renewable energy obligations, as well as the GB capacity market costs, while also exploring reductions on network charges, which are the costs that industrial users pay for their supply of electricity.

The proposed removal of the green excluded electricity exemptions from the CfD scheme means that a supplier in Great Britain will pay a proportion of the contract for difference scheme cost that is closer to their market share. It will remove a condition placed on the British scheme by the European Commission and ensure that the supplier obligation is applied to GB suppliers in accordance with their market share.

We are proposing these legislative amendments following a public consultation. It generated 28 responses from a cross-section of the energy industry, representative bodies, brokers and other concerned parties, with the policy proposals receiving wide support.

I will move on to the specific questions raised. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about redistribution costs, the impact of standing charges, impact assessment and the consultation period. I say to her that, for the EII exemption scheme, any increase in the bills of non-eligible consumers arising from these changes is likely to be extremely minimal. For this reason, it was felt that a new impact assessment was not required. The redistributed cost applies only to the policy cost element of an electricity bill and does not impact or increase the current standing charge.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked a number of questions about consultation responses, the number of consultees and the distribution of comment, and about the carbon border adjustment mechanism. The Government’s response to the consultation will be published shortly and it will set out further detail on the distribution of comments received. I can tell the noble Baroness that, in total, there were 64 responses to the EII exemption consultation, including from electricity suppliers, currently eligible businesses and other organisations.

Regarding the distribution of comments, there was significant support for the amendments proposed under this SI, as they improve access to the schemes and ensure that firms are not disadvantaged by the impact of the Covid pandemic. The scheme continues to have a robust process both for initial applications by EIIs and for the required reassessment that an EII needs to go through to continue to receive the exemption. This includes an assessment of the company’s accounts, its electricity bills and any other supporting evidence. As officials are in regular dialogue with firms in the energy-intensive sectors it was felt that, given the relatively minor and technical nature of the changes, five weeks represented a sufficient consultation period. As stated, we will publish our formal response shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, also asked about a carbon border adjustment mechanism. I agree that this could represent an easier solution to the problem of carbon leakage, but I am sure she will accept that it is more of a long-term change. The EU is also looking at it on a longer timescale. We will shortly publish a consultation on a potential CBAM, but I am sure the noble Baroness will realise that there are lots of potential implications of such a mechanism.

17:30
Further, with regard to the noble Baroness’s comments about the potential for incentivising EU imports, she made the point that the effect of removing the GEE will incentivise suppliers to no longer import from the EU. But it is not the case that the abolition of the GEE will make it harder for us to meet our net-zero obligations, because those suppliers who use the exemption will have to pay a scheme cost proportion that is much closer to their GB market share. Although this is an increase in costs to them it is, in the grand scheme of things, considered very minor. There are in fact more suppliers who will benefit from the change than not—again, though, the overall effect is relatively minor.
The overall costs to industry remain the same, as supplier obligation costs remain unaffected. There is unlikely to be any impact, positive or negative, on consumer bills as a result of the change, because the suppliers that use the green excluded energy exemption evidence their purchase using EU-derived guarantees of origin. These certificates can be, and often are, purchased separately from the electricity that they represent because, for government accounting purposes, all imported electricity counts as zero carbon, even if it was in fact not generated that way. It is obviously impossible to tell.
The effect of these regulations is that all electricity supplied by suppliers in the UK will be treated equally for the purposes of the supplier obligation, regardless of where it was generated. They remove the way that a supplier’s market share, and therefore the proportion of the scheme costs that it is liable for, is calculated. Once the amendments come into force, Great Britain suppliers will no longer be able to discount imported renewable electricity from their market share.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked about companies providing evidence on the electricity bought through an interconnector. The contracts for difference scheme offers extremely good value for money to consumers and continues to help deliver lower prices. The impact will depend on the outcome of the competitive auction process and, subsequently, on wholesale market prices. In fact in 2022, the CfD generators paid a net total of £357.5 million back to the Low Carbon Contracts Company, because of course the strike price was way below the actual market price of electricity. That demonstrates how good and effective the CfD scheme actually is. Many other countries across Europe and the world are seeking to emulate the scheme because it has been so successful.
The regulations further currently provide that eligible imported electricity will not be considered chargeable supply for the purpose of calculating each supplier’s underlying liability for CfD payments. Suppliers have to submit evidence of eligible imports to the Low Carbon Contracts Company within six months of the end of the quarter in which the electricity was supplied. The LCCC then determines the amount of electricity that qualifies as green excluded electricity, according to criteria set out in the regulations, and takes this into account when calculating a supplier’s reconciliation payments.
Once these amended regulations come into force, suppliers will no longer be required to provide evidence of imported electricity. Only data on electricity demand obtained by EMR Settlement Ltd from the GB balancing mechanism will be used to calculate suppliers’ liability for CfD payments, or alternatively, CfD refunds in the event of net generator payments back into the scheme. EMR Settlement is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elexon Ltd and provides settlement services—the collection and distribution of payments from and to suppliers and CfD generators, on behalf of the Low Carbon Contracts Company.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, also asked about previously excluded sectors. In fact, there will be no change to the current list of eligible business sectors or companies under this amendment, with only those companies which meet the current criteria being eligible to apply for and receive the exemption.
In response to the noble Lord’s question about the inclusion of the mining of hard coal as an eligible sector, that sector meets the criteria as being both highly electricity and trade intensive. This means that its electricity costs make up a significant percentage of its operating costs and it is, of course, subject to a significant degree of international competition—as a result the same arguments apply that I outlined earlier in relation to carbon leakage.
Our net-zero strategy makes it clear that unabated coal has no part to play in our future power generation, which is why we are planning to phase out coal completely from our electricity supply by 2024. Coal’s share of our electricity supply has already declined significantly in recent years, from almost 40% in 2012 to less than 2% in 2021. For similar reasons, coal mining in the UK has itself been in long-term decline, reflecting domestic demand, and in fact only a handful of operational mines remain in the UK.
I hope I have provided sufficient reassurance to noble Lords, and I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.
Motion agreed.

Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
17:36
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion agreed.

Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Home Detention Curfew) Order 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
17:37
Moved by
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Home Detention Curfew) Order 2023.

Relevant document: 30th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move. As your Lordships will know, the home detention curfew—or HDC—scheme allows certain prisoners to be released from prison early and kept on an electronically-tagged curfew in their home. The scheme was first established some 20 years ago. The statutory instrument before us extends the permitted maximum HDC by 45 days—around six weeks—from 135 days to 180 days. I will say a little more about the effect of that in a moment.

In parallel with the statutory change, which extends the HDC period, the Government are at the same time introducing non-statutory policy changes to exclude certain kinds of offenders from the scope of HDC. As your Lordships know, in statutory terms, certain offenders are totally excluded from HDC—for example, when they are sentenced to more than four years or are registered sex offenders, terrorists, or others. Other kinds of offenders are presumed unsuitable under the relevant HMPPS policy framework, including, for example, foreign national offenders liable to deportation, those convicted of possession of an offensive weapon, possession of firearms, and so on.

Following the discussions that took place in connection with the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made important contributions, further offences are now being added to the “presumed unsuitable list” to coincide with the coming into force of the statutory instrument on 6 June. These are offences relating, for example, to stalking; harassment; the breach of a non-molestation or similar order; controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship contrary to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. In other words, offenders guilty of those offences will be presumed not suitable for HDC, unless the prison governor concerned is persuaded of exceptional circumstances.

In addition, since April 2022, it has been mandatory for information to be gathered from police and children’s services about domestic abuse or safeguarding risks. It is only after that information has been gathered and a full risk assessment made that an offender may be released on HDC. While the HDC period is being extended, these parallel measures protect the public—in particular, from potential abusers.

The net effect of these measures, in parallel, is that fewer offenders are likely to be eligible for HDC, whereas those who are eligible may be on HDC for up to six weeks longer. In practice, the net increase of prisoners out on HDC is expected to be about 300 up from the current figure, which is about 1,850. I should add that, in practice, because of the requirement to serve a minimum of a quarter of any prison sentence, this statutory change affects those serving between 18 months and four years, with those serving between two and four years eligible for the maximum period of 180 days.

In addition to these developments, technology in this area continues to improve. GPS now allows the monitoring of offenders away from home, which also enables certain types of offender, such as those known as acquisitive offenders, to be targeted. If one is wandering away to do some shoplifting, the GPS can follow one, as it were. It also now permits alcohol monitoring, so alcohol monitoring tags have been rolled out across England and Wales. This technology development is supporting the policy.

HDC has been used successfully for 20 years to better manage the transition of eligible offenders from prison back into the community, and the changes I have outlined continue along that path. The other place has just approved the statutory instrument this afternoon, and I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that introduction, and we support the SI. As the Minister said, the current maximum period that an eligible offender may spend in the community on home detention curfew is 135 days, and this is being increased to 180 days through the order. He gave an example and talked about the improvement in the technology for those who are on HDC. Are all prisoners on home detention curfew on some form of electronic monitoring, or are some deemed to have no monitoring necessary?

The Minister also spoke about the greater use of GPS monitoring, rather than just home curfew monitoring, and alcohol monitoring. Would he care to speculate on what other forms of technological improvement we might see in the next few years? I have been involved, on and off, in giving tags to people on bail, and so on, and I have seen the technology used and abused over the years. It is interesting how the technology has developed and how the courts and prison system is learning to work with it appropriately. I should appreciate it if the Minister would speculate a little on how that might change in future.

The MoJ states that the purpose of running the home detention curfew is to ensure that offenders have a smooth transition back into the community from custody. We agree with that, and we support the scheme as a whole. However, we say that there is limited evidence to support the claim about reoffending statistics. The draft Explanatory Memorandum points to research published in 2011 that shows that offenders released on home detention curfew

“were no more likely to engage in criminal behaviour”.

That is a rather lukewarm endorsement of the policy—even though we do support it. The Ministry has said that it will publish internal evaluations on the expansion of the scheme in 2024. Given the lack of clear supportive evidence for the effectiveness of the scheme, despite the length of time it has been running, will the Government ensure that robust evaluations are made as soon as possible?

17:45
The Minister spoke about the changes to the suitability criteria planned for the HDC policy framework. He read out a list of offences which would be presumed as unsuitable for home detention curfew, which, broadly speaking, were in the domestic violence framework, if I can put it like that. I will ask about stalking specifically, because I do not think that the Minister mentioned it. Should stalking be included in the “presumed unsuitable” category?
As the Minister said in his conclusion, the net effect of the scheme means that there will be fewer prisoners eligible for home detention curfew, but those who are eligible will be out for longer—and we support that broad principle. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to the questions I have raised.
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his remarks and questions, and I shall deal with them as far as I can.

I understand that all prisoners on HDC are on some form of electronic monitoring, and some have a kind of location monitoring in addition to help them, so that one knows more precisely where they are exactly and what they are up to, if I may put it like that.

I am reluctant to speculate today on exactly how far this scheme will develop, and I am sure that the Government will be very interested in drawing on the experience of the noble Lord himself and others on how it works out. He referred to the “use and abuse” of the systems. Of course, every time one invents new technology, someone tries to find some way around it or some way of defeating it, so we will need to work that through. However, the general direction of travel is that the technology is improving all the time and we will learn by experience how to use it in an appropriate way to achieve the mutual objectives of helping prisoners back into the community.

On the “no more likely” point of the general efficacy of home detention curfews, the Government’s position is that they work and that they help people to make the transition from prison to the community. It is certainly the Government’s position that the improvements in technology that I have mentioned—the location and alcohol monitoring—will reinforce it, so that is how it will evolve. We have committed to make an internal evaluation in 2024, and we probably have to wait a little bit of time until we see how it goes, so that we can properly evaluate the new extension we are talking about. We will certainly make that evaluation, which will be further information on which policy decisions can be taken.

On the noble Lord’s question about suitability criteria, if I did not mention stalking, I should have done so—it is at the top of the list. The scheme offers a very important protection for the public and for people particularly concerned with stalking and the stalking risk, as it were.

I have endeavoured to answer the questions of the noble Lord as best I can, and I therefore commend the instrument to the Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Judicial Pensions (Fee-Paid Judges) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Approve
17:49
Moved by
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Judicial Pensions (Fee-Paid Judges) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, the statutory instrument before us today amends the Judicial Pensions (Fee-Paid Judges) Regulations 2017, which established the fee-paid judicial pension scheme 2017. The statutory instrument was approved in the other place on 21 February.

At present, the fee-paid judicial pension scheme provides only for eligible fee-paid judicial service on or after 7 April 2000. The main purpose of the statutory instrument is to provide pension benefits for certain eligible fee-paid service before 7 April 2000. The situation arises as a result of three cases.

The first was O’Brien 1 in 2013, when it was decided that fee-paid judges were workers and therefore eligible for pension benefits that mirrored those of salaried judges under the then judicial pension scheme. That was from 7 April 2000, the date when the relevant EU regulation was transposed into UK law. It led to the 2017 regulations.

In 2018, in O’Brien 2, the European Court of Justice found that eligible fee-paid judicial service prior to 7 April 2000 should also be taken into account for the purposes of calculating pension benefits. If one was already a judge on 7 April 2000, service before that date should count towards the pension.

In 2019, in the Miller case, the UK Supreme Court found that the time limit for fee-paid pension entitlement claims runs from the date on which the judge retired from judicial service rather than the date on which they left the fee-paid office concerned. You had until your ultimate retirement date to make the relevant claim.

Although we now have a new judicial pension scheme, these regulations ensure that the judgments I have just referred to are fully implemented and that the judges concerned get pension benefits in respect of their historical fee-paid judicial service.

The detail of the regulations is, if I may say so, impenetrably complex, as a result of different pension arrangements over the years. There was a different arrangement in force between 1981 and 1995, and then again between 1995 and a later date. These regulations deal with the pre-1995 provisions as well as the post-1995 situation. They make certain changes or additions to eligible offices and provide for a way of dealing with small amounts; one can commute to have a lump-sum payment, if there is just a small pension entitlement; they provide for the purchase of additional benefits; they apply to various techniques for reconciling various amounts outstanding; and they correct certain minor errors. These are very detailed matters indeed, but the essential purpose is to make sure that the pensions to which those judges are entitled are enshrined in the statutory instrument.

There was a consultation in 2020, and the responses received were broadly supportive. Officials have been in close touch with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, which have been kept apprised of developments, and, as I said, there has been close consultation with the judges affected.

In closing, I will make two points. Questions have been raised as to whether these regulations are affected by the retained EU law Bill currently before Parliament. On the assumption that the Bill becomes law, the regulations provide for already acquired pension rights, and I can confirm that they will not be sunsetted or otherwise adversely affected as a result of that Bill. Assuming that in due course it becomes an Act of Parliament, the relevant rights will be preserved.

Lastly, I point out, in case anyone has ever glanced at my CV, that I have no personal claim under any of these regulations.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the cavalry has just arrived in the form of my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton, who is a pensions expert. Unfortunately, he will not say anything on the SI, which I will take as a level of endorsement of it. He is nodding his head—jolly good.

As the Minister said, the SI amends the judicial pensions regulations 2017, which established the fee-paid judicial pension scheme and provide pension benefits for eligible fee-paid judicial service from 7 April 2000 to 31 March 2022. It mirrors the pension benefits for salaried judges under the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993.

As the Minister set out, the SI amends the 2017 regulations, as required by O’Brien 2 litigation. In several ways, it is very complex. The Labour Party supports the SI. In essence, its purpose is to ensure that the work of fee-paid and salaried judges is undertaken and remunerated in the same way, and that that is recognised in their pensions.

I thank the Minister in particular for being very clear about the retained EU law Bill. I was indeed going to ask about that, and he could not have been clearer in saying that the Government will not put any sunset clauses in and will expect to retain all the provisions under this SI after the retained EU law Bill is passed.

I will go no further than that, because the Minister has answered the questions I was going to ask. As I said, the Labour Party is happy to support this statutory instrument.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, in those circumstances, I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.58 pm.

House of Lords

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Monday 20 March 2023
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Community Pharmacies

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:36
Tabled by
Baroness Cumberlege Portrait Baroness Cumberlege
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have for making the best use of community pharmacies.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my noble friend Lady Cumberlege’s name on the Order Paper.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, community pharmacies make a vital contribution to the provision of primary care. The Government and the sector continue to implement their vision, agreed in 2019, to make better use of the skills and expertise of community pharmacy teams. This aims to develop the role of community pharmacy in managing demand for urgent care, supporting optimal use of medicines and prevention and detection services. We continue to explore what else community pharmacy could be commissioned to do.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con)
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Is my noble friend aware that, since 2015, funding for community pharmacies has been cut by around 30% and around 720 pharmacies have closed? Many pharmacies have had to reduce their hours and provide prescriptions and other services at a loss. The NHS estimates that 6% of all GP consultations could be transferred to community pharmacies; however, this service is limited due to unnecessary bureaucracy, requiring patients to be referred by their GP. Can my noble friend please confirm whether the Government will enter into discussions with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee to look at introducing a fairly funded “pharmacy first” service as soon as possible, to help to relieve GPs’ workload?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that important question regarding pharmacies. Although we are yet to label our service offer as “pharmacy first”, we have already introduced and funded a range of services in community pharmacy that make use of the clinical skills of pharmacy teams and take the pressure off GPs and other parts of the NHS. We continue to discuss with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee how the Government can best support community pharmacies and the sector to provide services to patients.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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Due to government policy, primary care networks are recruiting pharmacists from community settings. In January 2023, it was confirmed that about 4,100 pharmacies have been recruited into PCNs, with a large proportion of those being recruited from community pharmacy. Community pharmacy owners are now becoming more dependent on locum pharmacists to fill vacancies, and the fees have gone up by 80%. What will the Government do to deal with this problem as a matter of urgency to support local community pharmacists?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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Health Education England’s 2021 community pharmacy workforce survey identified an increase in the number of pharmacists from 23,284 in 2017 to 27,406. From 2026, all newly graduated pharmacists will have a prescription qualification, and we will upskill the existing workforce. This will provide further opportunity for the community pharmacy sector to better support the delivery of primary care.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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Of the 720 permanent pharmacy closures since 2015, 41% are in 20% of the most deprived areas. I cannot see how this squares with the Government’s vision of using pharmacies to relieve pressures on GPs and primary care. Both large and small pharmacies are affected, including those in supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco. Boots is reducing essential pharmacy services, such as the provision of blister medicine packs for the safe taking and administering of daily medicines by patients, domiciliary care workers and carers who look after elderly and disabled patients. How will the Minister address this issue, which stands to affect thousands of patients?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, 80% of the population live within 20 minutes’ walking distance of a pharmacy. There are twice as many pharmacies in more deprived areas. Despite a reduction in the network in recent years, there are still about the same number of pharmacies today as there were 10 years ago.

Lord Rogan Portrait Lord Rogan (UUP)
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My Lords, in answer to my Written Question last November the noble Lord, Lord Caine, conceded that

“This Government has had no discussions with Community Pharmacy NI about funding for pharmacies in Northern Ireland.”


In the subsequent four months, the crisis facing community pharmacies in the Province, which rural communities are so reliant on, has continued, with the future of some clearly at risk. I urge the Minister to ensure that community pharmacies in Northern Ireland are given active support from His Majesty’s Government so that they do not become the latest casualties of the political vacuum in the Province.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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Unfortunately, I was not in the House in November last year, but I hear very strongly what the noble Lord is saying about healthcare and pharmacies in Northern Ireland and I will certainly feed that back to the department.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth Portrait Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, what has to happen in the independent pharmaceutical sector for the Government to realise that there is a crisis? This has been running for years. Independent pharmacies are closing at an alarming rate, as we have heard from other Members of this House. The Government seem to be in total denial. What has to happen for the Government to recognise and confront this issue? How many pharmacies have to close? Are they waiting for them all to close before they recognise the problem?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, there are more than 11,000 pharmacies in England. Some people know the true value of local pharmacies, but people do not always know just what pharmacies are able to do and how skilled pharmacists are at diagnosing minor illnesses. We want to continue to unleash the potential and make the best possible use of the skills and knowledge of community pharmacy teams to support the wider NHS. As I said earlier, from 2026 all newly graduated pharmacists will have a prescribing qualification: we are upskilling the existing workforce.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, do the Government recognise that local pharmacists may well be the people who know best of all who is seriously ill and potentially at the end of life in a particular area? They may have been involved in dispensing a just-in-case box for the family. They may know that that a patient is taking a lot of complementary therapies but, without access to the clinical record and a systematic way of feeding the information in, they become an add-on to the clinical service, rather than being able to contribute. They may also be unable to give really appropriate, targeted advice as part of the clinical team. Will the Government seriously look at ways of ensuring that community pharmacists can, with patients’ permission, access the clinical record, to really understand what is happening to these patients, who are very vulnerable and need good advice?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises several good points there. From my personal experience of pharmacies, they do have access to those records, but unfortunately that is not across the board and there is still more to be done on that front.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, would the Minister like to have another go at answering the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grade? I did not really get from him any sense of how the Government are dealing with the crisis in community pharmacy. There has been a 30% cut in real terms since 2015. As he said, many independent pharmacies are going to the wall. They are faced today with huge inflationary pressures, yet all we get are platitudes from the Government. When will they do something?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, they are private businesses and some close, some open and there are changes. As I said in an answer I gave earlier, there are still the same number of pharmacies as there were 10 years ago.

Lord Flight Portrait Lord Flight (Con)
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My Lords, what proportion of GP services could be provided by pharmacies?

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, we can anticipate that our Prime Minister understands something about pharmacy for obvious reasons. In my experience over some years, the opportunity lies in the hands of local NHS commissioners. The contract allows them to commission additional services such as minor illness services and, in the past, medicine use reviews, but they often did not do so. What steps might the Government now take with ICBs to encourage them to undertake more of the commissioning of additional services?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that very good question. ICBs are encouraged to do exactly what he says. I refer to an answer I gave earlier: from summer 2023, NHS England will start piloting prescribing services in community pharmacies—exactly as he suggests.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, the best use of community pharmacies will come at a price. Can the Minister give us an indication of how much that will cost? Has anyone calculated how much it will save GPs? If he does not have the figures to hand, could he put them in the Library?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness is exactly right: I do not have those figures to hand, but I will write to her.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My noble friend is aware of the work I do with dispensing doctors and the fact that they have a role to play where there is no pharmacy. Is he as concerned as I am that routine procedures, such as syringing of ears, are being taken away from general practice? Why can general practitioners not continue to do such routine procedures?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very good point. I have experience in my own family of GP practice doing exactly that. I am not aware of that being deliberately taken away but, if she wants to speak to me about a specific case, I will certainly look into it.

Police and Crime Commissioners

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:47
Asked by
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have held with the Police and Crime Commissioners for Cleveland, and for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government engage regularly with PCCs and chief constables across all force areas. There have been no recent specific discussions between the Government and the PCC for Cleveland or the PCC for Leicestershire. However, there have been official-level discussions that I am happy to advise the House about separately as required. The Government recently responded to written correspondence received from the PCC for Cleveland on 9 February. The correspondence sought clarification on the management and extension of misconduct hearings, which are matters for legally qualified chairs.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the House that for many months, through many questions, I have been trying to find out why a police gross misconduct hearing in Cleveland, announced in August 2021, has still not started. A former chief constable, Mike Veale—a man dogged by controversy, to put it politely, since he vilified Sir Edward Heath several years ago—is due to appear at this hearing. A detailed report on the complaints against Mr Veale, still unpublished by the Independent Office for Police Conduct following a two-year inquiry, preceded the announcement of this hearing 18 months ago. Things often proceed far too slowly where police misconduct is concerned, but this must surely be a record. Are the Government absolutely content for this hearing to be indefinitely delayed, perhaps never to take place? Are the Government absolutely content that the legally qualified chair, who has sole charge of this hearing, should remain anonymous, even though, in the words of a Written Answer that I received on 22 February:

“There are no provisions in legislation which entitle legally qualified chairs of police misconduct hearings to remain anonymous”?


Are the Government absolutely content that an autonomous, anonymous chair should deny the public any reason why this hearing has not started?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I refer my noble friend to an answer I gave in Grand Committee on 23 February, when I said that

“the Cleveland PCC has no power over the legally qualified chair”—

except inasmuch as he appoints him or her—

“who must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided a notice referring them to proceedings, but may extend this period where they consider that it is in the interests of justice to do so.”—[Official Report, 23/2/23; col. GC 494.]

That is the case here and, as I have said many times from the Dispatch Box, I am afraid I really cannot go beyond that.

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, following on from the noble Lord’s Question, are the Government aware that the office of the Cleveland police and crime commissioner has delayed answering a series of relevant freedom of information questions on two separate occasions, claiming that it needs more time? Last Friday, on the last possible date allowed by the law, it refused point-blank to answer any of them. Does this course of action sound like it comes from an open, public-facing organisation or one perhaps covering its tracks?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am not familiar with the FoI requests that were put in, so I cannot really speak to them. I was very pleased to see that Cleveland’s most recent PEEL report, which was also published on Friday 17 March, indicates that very good progress has been made under the leadership of the chief constable, Mark Webster. The noble Lord will also be aware that the PCC, Steve Turner, attends the PPOGs. I commend them both on doing a decent job.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.

Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority. If police and crime commissioners have been so successful, as the Minister and the Government claim, why have so many of them let their police forces fall into special measures?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I think I have partially answered that. I am delighted to say that Cleveland is starting to make serious progress on the engagement front. I have also answered a number of questions from the noble Baroness about police authorities before. For reference, they consisted of 17 members, nine of whom were elected, drawn from a local authority and reflecting its political make-up. The remaining eight were called independent members and were appointed from the local community for fixed terms. The implication in this House was that they were in some ways more democratic than the police and crime panels and police and crime commissioners. I do not think that is the case.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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Does my noble friend accept that, despite his answers, there is considerable unhappiness about this whole story? I understand how difficult it is for him but, frankly, it will no longer wash that an individual who has behaved in a wholly unsatisfactory way, as far as one can see, is just not taken to task. Will he agree to look at this again and find an answer for those of us who have been pressing for many years to try to get one?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I completely accept the noble Lord’s unhappiness—and possibly share it, because I have to answer this question on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the Government have no powers to intervene, as he will be aware, in the misconduct process. There are reasons why it has been held up, but I cannot say them.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, the Government have promised to make police and crime commissioners more accountable, because getting held to account only once every four years is not really enough. What exact measures will the Government put in place to make sure that they respond to the people for whom they are responsible?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness asks a good question. As she will be aware, we have passed secondary legislation to enact changes to the PCC voting system. This reform will clarify and simplify it and make it easier for the public to hold their PCCs accountable at the ballot box. We are increasing the transparency of PCCs by amending the specified information order so that PCCs are now required to publish additional information to allow the public to hold them to account, including their progress against the Government’s national priorities for policing, recent HMICFRS reports and additional complaints information. There are also recommendations to improve scrutiny, which I can go into. A lot has been done.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, month after month and year after year, Ministers stand at that Dispatch Box and give wholly unsatisfactory answers. There is deep concern, as my noble friend Lord Deben made plain a few moments ago, and as my noble friend Lord Lexden has made plain time after time. If the rules prevent my noble friend the Minister giving a satisfactory answer, one is tempted to quote Mr Bumble: if the law says that, the law is an ass. Will my noble friend try to do something so that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box next time, he can give a sensible and meaningful answer?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend finds it unsatisfactory. I think it would be unsatisfactory for me to stand here and make a comment that might prejudice a judicial inquiry. I am not going to do that.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and his persistence in trying to learn the lessons from this hugely unfortunate episode. Law and order go to the very heart of what a civilised society stands for. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, will tomorrow deliver a report on the Metropolitan Police that will give the police force yet another good kicking. Does the Minister not agree that it is not enough to leave all these things up to police and crime commissioners, let alone the Mayor of London? The Government have to take a central role in dealing with what is an ongoing and deeply serious problem.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I agree up to a point. The Government are taking a central role, not least through the review into the dismissal process that I have talked about before. I have little doubt that that will become a topical subject within the next 24 hours. That will look into the composition of misconduct panels, including the impact of the role of legally qualified chairs; more broadly, it will look at things such as the appeals mechanism and the effectiveness of the performance system, including for officers who have failed vetting. That review was launched on 17 January and was said to take about four months to conclude. We are getting towards the end of that process, so there will be more to be said.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said he has no powers to intervene. He also said there is a judicial process in which he does not want to intervene. Can he give the House a date by which that judicial process will start?

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I will make what I hope is a helpful suggestion. Could the Minister not give a briefing to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and perhaps to the Leader of the Opposition on a privy counsellor basis? If there is some good reason, they could then reassure those who are understandably indignant about this delay.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am happy to reassure the House on that point. I am seeing my noble friend Lord Lexden this Wednesday. He chose not to mention it, but I will.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest having, together with the late Lord Newton of Braintree, presented the seven Nolan principles of conduct in public life to Parliament. Does my noble friend the Minister recognise that two of those principles, accountability and openness, are not evident in the responses he has been able to deliver so far? Can he please ensure that all holders of public office know that they have to be

“accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to scrutiny necessary to ensure this”?

On openness, they must

“act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.”

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I accept the question from my noble friend. Yes, they are expected to adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life, as determined and published by the Nolan committee. The office of the PCC is also expected to ensure that the PCC is adhering to the Nolan principles. In each force area, the actions and decisions of PCCs are scrutinised by their police and crime panels. On the case of Leicestershire—which I suspect is at least partly informing my noble friend’s question—I am happy that the standards are now being met there. They should have been met before, but the Government—as we have said before from the Dispatch Box in the strongest possible terms—expect that PCCs appointing to senior positions in their offices follow the process clearly set out in legislation. I am very pleased to say that Leicestershire is now doing that.

Council of Europe: Death Penalty

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:59
Asked by
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they remain (1) opposed to the use of the death penalty, and (2) committed to the United Kingdom’s membership of the Council of Europe.

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, it is a long-standing policy of the UK Government to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle, and we have no plans to reintroduce it. The United Kingdom is committed to its membership of the Council of Europe, which remains an important forum for our human rights and foreign policy agenda.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful, as always, to the Minister for his Answer. Noble Lords will appreciate that I tabled this Question some weeks ago in direct response to comments by the Prime Minister’s appointee as deputy chair of the Conservative Party about the death penalty, but also because of consistent comments on and off the record by Justice and Home Affairs Secretaries at the other end of the Corridor. By contrast, the Minister is a strenuous advocate for rights, freedoms and the international rule of law. Is this contradiction at the heart of government sustainable, let alone helpful?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, what I can say to the noble Baroness is that when I speak from this Dispatch Box, I speak for the Government and I emphasise and stress what the Government’s policy is, and that will continue to be the case.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, the European Convention on Human Rights is a core part of the Council of Europe—indeed, some would say the raison d’etre—yet there are persistent voices in the Conservative Party calling to leave the convention, fearing some blockage in the policy relating to boat people. Do the Government agree that if we were to leave, by design or inadvertence, that would in effect mean leaving the Council of Europe?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, during the Second World War and, indeed, just after it, Sir Winston Churchill was one of the key architects of the Council of Europe and that remains the case. I can do no better than to quote the current chief executive of the Government, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who said on 27 February that “the United Kingdom is a member of the European Convention on Human Rights and will remain a member of the ECHR”.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, having a policy is one thing, but there is also a requirement to be a strong advocate. As the noble Lord knows, I questioned him last week about the situation in Saudi Arabia, a country that last year executed a huge number of people—81 in one day. Can he reassure me that on future occasions when someone’s life is under threat, not only he but the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will stand up for this policy and urge Saudi Arabia not to execute people?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I assured the noble Lord last week when we discussed the tragic execution of Mr al-Kheir, we remain absolutely vigilant in respect of imminent executions such as those that took place. This was a tragic event and totally against our policy. I assure the noble Lord of my good offices and indeed others across government in making the case that, as I said in answering the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the United Kingdom has opposed, still opposes and will continue to oppose the death penalty in all respects.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, I accept the good faith of the Minister, and I try to avoid on these occasions autobiography in your Lordships’ House, but as Crown counsel successfully and defence counsel unsuccessfully, I have participated in cases where the accused would have hanged but for the abolition of the death penalty. Nothing in that experience ever persuaded me that capital punishment should be restored, which makes it all the more astonishing that his party should have appointed someone to a senior position who believes that it should.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I of course equally respect the noble Lord, and I listened very carefully to his question. I have quoted the Prime Minister, and let me assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also articulated her view that the current sentencing is sufficient to deal with crimes of all different natures, including the most severe. She herself has voiced her opposition to the introduction of capital punishment.

Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, in view of the comments to which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has drawn attention, does the Minister agree that there is something deeply ironic about a society condemning the taking of a person’s life, and in order to demonstrate exactly how strongly it does so, doing exactly that through a judicial killing?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am not quite clear as to the premise of the right reverend Prelate’s question. However, I do agree with him that when we articulate policies from the Dispatch Box in your Lordships’ House or the other place, we should articulate what those views are and what the law is. Let me say once again for clarity that the Government have no plans to introduce capital punishment domestically, and we will continue to oppose the death penalty internationally.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned his responses as of last Thursday, when we discussed the killing of Hussein Abo al-Kheir. We know that Saudi Arabia resumed the death penalty in November 2022 and that it murdered 11 people in March alone through those means. We also know that it has restituted its law whereby you can be executed for drug smuggling and narcotics offences—which, in some terms, are not as serious as you might expect, even in a country like Saudi Arabia. How many times has he called in the Saudi ambassador since the death penalty was reinstated in November?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, if the noble Baroness was present last week, she will know that I recounted I think at least eight or nine occasions on which I have been in touch and had direct discussions with His Excellency the ambassador for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, on the evening before the sad execution of Mr al-Kheir, I was in touch with the Human Rights Commission of, the Foreign Minister of, and, indeed, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, given that the rights adumbrated in the ECHR are anticipated—predated, sometimes, by centuries—by the laws of this country, what does my noble friend the Minister fear would be the right we would lose if we were to abrogate the convention?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I think we have heard one of the points from the other side of the House. It is extremely important that the United Kingdom is a guardian of the rule of law internationally. We also make the case very strongly that as we ourselves have evolved, we hope that other countries have evolved. In 1965, I believe, we abolished the death penalty. We worked constructively with other countries towards achieving that aim. Of course, the conventions that we set up and create need to adapt and evolve, but the convention to stand against capital punishment and the death penalty is, I believe, the right one, and long may it continue.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare, as a possible conflict of interest, that I am a member of the Council of Europe and this Parliament’s delegation to Strasbourg. Last week, I was in Paris for a meeting of the migration committee. I am delighted to hear the noble Lord’s reassurance of a total commitment, but it does not feel like that from the point of view of the other parliamentarians I meet. Their comments about last year’s Nationality and Borders Act and our current Illegal Migration Bill suggest huge scepticism from them and the UNHCR about the commitment of this Parliament to the conventions of the Council of Europe. Can the Minister give me a little ammunition, since there are no Conservative Members on the migration committee? I am the only defender of British policy—can your Lordships believe that? Is there any way in which he can help us to rebut, qualify or put in a different perspective the current thinking, which is very radical, of the Council of Europe towards us?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Of course, I would be delighted to. First and foremost, in terms of an immediate response, I have already quoted my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I would be happy, as I always am, to meet with the Council of Europe and its members in advance of their next meeting to ensure that they are fully equipped with the lines they need about our defence of the ECHR and our membership of the Council of Europe.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Does the Minister anticipate bringing these matters before the council? Why, in his view, do countries continue with the death penalty, and does it in any way act as a deterrent against the very acts these people are being murdered for in any case?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Viscount that we consistently bring up the issue of the death penalty. Indeed, as he may be aware, in the universal periodic review that takes place in respect of each country, including the United Kingdom, we look very carefully at what the issues are and which ones we should raise, and we hold countries accountable. Many countries with perhaps quite challenging human rights records aspire to be members of the Human Rights Council. When you are there, you need to stand up for its values and standards.

Medical Devices and Equipment

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:09
Asked by
Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions have been held between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS Supply Chain, and healthcare manufacturers regarding the impact of costs pressures on the supply of medical devices and equipment.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, we are back to medical matters. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the department and NHS Supply Chain hold regular discussions with industry. There is an established process for reviewing price increase requests, which is set out in the terms of agreement of contracts. Each request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This Government are committed to working with healthcare manufacturers to secure value for money for taxpayers and support patients and care providers in accessing the products that they need.

Lord Hacking Portrait Lord Hacking (Lab)
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My Lords, I think I detect that the Government acknowledge the importance of the provision of healthcare products to both the NHS and its patients. I refer in particular to operated medical beds and pressure mattresses, going all the way down the line to such matters as catheters and colostomy equipment—I mention those because your Lordships may be more familiar with that area.

I have two questions. Do the Government recognise that providers of healthcare products, mostly fixed-price products, have faced and are facing colossal increased costs, to the point that there is a real prospect that some of them will no longer be able to provide their healthcare products to the National Health Service? Do the Government recognise the importance of providers of healthcare products to the National Health Service?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his important question and pay tribute to his expertise in such matters. This Government recognise the importance of the provision of healthcare products to the NHS and its patients. In February, the Government published their first ever medtech strategy. Supply conditions are proactively monitored and officials engage extensively with industry to identify threats to the supply of medical equipment. The department works closely with NHS England and the NHS to minimise the impact of potential supply disruptions on patient care. The department has agreed annual increases on Part IX drug tariff products used in primary care, and an exceptional price increase request mechanism exists.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, on 31 January, the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Markham, told me in a Written Answer that we still have 118 million items of PPE stored in the People’s Republic of China at a cost of £260,000 every single day. That is a massive cost to the NHS, both in opportunity cost and the cost to British taxpayers. The noble Lord said that the Government would act rapidly to end this. Can the Minister tell us whether we now have any items of PPE left in the People’s Republic of China and what the total cost to the British taxpayer has been?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the People’s Republic of China is not part of the Question and remit I have here, but I will certainly pass the noble Lord’s question on to my noble friend Lord Markham.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister may be aware of research that we have carried out showing that many hospitals are using outdated equipment, including X-ray machines that are more than 20 years old. What are the Government doing to ensure that NHS England’s advice to replace equipment such as scanners and X-ray machines every 10 years is being followed? What are they doing to make sure that cost pressures do not become another reason to delay further the replacement of this essential equipment?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question. As somebody who used to deal in such equipment, I totally agree with him that you should always have the latest, most up-to-date equipment. Twenty years sounds like an awfully long time in technological development terms, so I take on board exactly what the noble Lord says.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the Question talks about

“the impact of costs pressures on the supply of medical devices and equipment.”

Therefore, the fact that we are paying for the storage of PPE that cannot be used is relevant; a Question on this was answered some time ago. Would my noble friend the Minister be good enough to reply in writing and set out the current position of these astronomical costs?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. I hear it loud and clear and will feed it back to the Minister, my noble friend Lord Markham.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, one important set of healthcare products is the media which are used for embryo culture. They are widely used in in vitro fertilisation by different manufacturers, having been obtained commercially. Can the Government assure us that they are notified of the secret ingredients in these media? What control is made over those ingredients, which may have a detrimental effect, before they are used in human embryos?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. I will certainly ensure that the department hears it, and I will feed back to him.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My noble friend will recall that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in this country was the leading regulatory agency for the approval of new medical devices, including 40% of the most significant such medical devices. What benefits for the authorisation of medical devices might stem from the announcement in the Budget last week of additional resources for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. The Government’s medtech strategy, published in February, will support medical device manufacturers by recognising the importance of domestic production to support resilience and identify practical support. The good news that was articulated in the Budget last week can only add to that.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, rising cost pressures affect not only the supply of medical devices and equipment; spiralling costs are also threatening the supply of drugs in the UK, particularly generic medicines. What assessment have the Government made of how many drug companies they expect to exit this market altogether due to lack of profitability? What assessment have they made of the impact on patient care and NHS finances if the NHS has to pay an increasing amount for a smaller range of drug options?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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When agreeing contracts with healthcare manufacturers that stipulate fixed pricing the manufacturers have full opportunity to account for the inflationary pressures of their tenders. NHS Supply Chain has established processes, where suppliers can apply for price increases due to exceptional circumstances. It has accepted price increases where they were justifiable, and it continues to consider such requests.

Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding (Con)
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My noble friend spoke earlier about the need to replace equipment in hospitals with the latest, most up-to-date equipment. Can he assure the House that, if it is serviceable, the redundant equipment will be put to good use? I am thinking particularly of Ukraine, where hospitals and kit have been blown to bits. We could at least send them stuff that we consider to be surplus.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very good point. Notwithstanding wanting to have the very latest state-of-the-art equipment in our hospitals, the surplus could still be workable and could be used elsewhere in the world, including in Ukraine. I will feed that back.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, it is reliably estimated that, in 30 years, the cost of the NHS will match 100% of GDP in this country. Can the Minister say something about what long-term strategic plans are being undertaken given the eventuality of the NHS simply running out of money and the country running out of money at the same time?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an important point. As it is outside the Question and the remit I have here, I cannot give her a robust enough answer, I fear, so I will write to her.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, surely at the heart of this Question—and it relates to China—is that what we learned during the pandemic is that we were overreliant on supplies from China. The Government say that they wish to encourage alternative sources of supply, including from UK companies. However, we hear from those companies that the cost pressure on them means that they cannot invest sufficiently to produce alternative sources of supply. What is the Government’s approach to ensuring that we are not dependent on China in the way that left us so exposed during the pandemic?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises an important point. Unfortunately, we were far more reliant on China, not just in the NHS but elsewhere in our economy. However, contracts and framework agreements fixed prices to provide budgetary certainty for the NHS and to avoid the need for frequent price reviews or constant retendering, which are inefficient for the NHS and for suppliers. When I reflect on my business career, I know from that context that the NHS is a very good customer, providing security on payment for goods and services, working under equitable terms and conditions of contract, and being prepared to encourage the concerns of suppliers facing exceptional pressures. It is a very good customer.

Passports: Strike Action and Voter ID

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Private Notice Question
15:19
Asked by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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To ask His Majesty’s Government (1) what assessment they have made of the effect of strike action in April on passport applications and (2) what steps they will take to ensure that those with delayed applications will not be prevented from voting in elections on 4 May.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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My Lords, His Majesty’s Passport Office is working to manage the impact of the strike action. We have comprehensive contingency plans. There are currently no plans to change the published processing times for passports in response to the proposed strike action.

A passport is only one form of identification which is acceptable for voting purposes. The full list can be found on the government website. The public do not need a passport to be able to vote. This strike action should not have any impact on people being able to vote in May.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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The current 10-week delay in passport applications is frustrating for travellers. The five-week strike will cause further problems. It will also reduce the number of people who have one of the specified forms of photo ID to let them vote if they have elections on 4 May. The uptake of local authority voter ID cards has been pathetic. During debates on the then Elections Bill, Ministers referred frequently to the Post Office’s ID requirements for collecting a parcel. Will the Government now consider allowing the forms of ID that are accepted by the Post Office, including bank cards or utility bills, to be used for voting, or are they really trying to suppress the vote?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord asked two questions. First, in relation to the Passport Office, the department remains confident that the 10-week service standard for the return of passports will continue to be met. As the Minister with superintendence of the Passport Office, I have been very proud of the work that it and its excellent staff have done in recovering from the massive surge in applications which followed the Covid pandemic. The Passport Office remains fully resourced, following a significant increase of more than 1,200 staff between April 2021 and last summer. Last week, 99.6% of standard UK passport applications were processed within 10 weeks. More than 2.2 million applications have been processed in 2023.

I turn to the issue in relation to voting. As I have already said, a passport is only one form of ID which is acceptable for voting purposes. Expired forms of identification will be accepted, as long as the photograph is a good enough likeness. We estimate that around 80% of the eligible voting population hold a valid UK passport. This increases to around 85% when those whose passport has recently expired are included. On the basis that such a high proportion of voters hold a valid or recently expired passport, we do not plan to change our processing times. As the noble Lord has observed, anyone eligible to vote who does not have an acceptable form of photographic identification can apply for a free voter authority certificate.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, we know that voter ID fraud among those who vote at polling stations is absolutely minimal. It is extremely likely that, even if people have photo ID, they will not remember to take it to the polling station when they go to vote. There will therefore be a considerable number of people who do not vote in elections if the Government stick to their requirement that everyone turns up at the polling station with photo ID. Will the Government therefore withdraw their photo ID requirement for people voting at polling stations?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid I simply do not agree with the noble Baroness. This Parliament has passed an Act to require people to present voter identification and that is what will happen.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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There is a simple failsafe. It is really important that people can vote and, having sent off their passport, they might not think that they will need it. But every time the Passport Office receives an application, it sends an email that says, “We’ve safely got your passport”. Attached to that email could be a little notification saying, “If you’re relying on this as your ID for voting, please make sure that you have one of these other forms”—or it could signpost them to the free voter certificate, which would kitchen-sink this so they can vote.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that suggestion. Great efforts are made to advertise the availability of the voter authority certificate. Anyone concerned that a document that they intend to use will not be available by polling day may also apply to appoint a proxy up to 5 pm on polling day itself—so considerable steps have been taken to address my noble friend’s point.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has come up with a very practical solution to this potential problem. Can the noble Lord undertake to the House and the noble Baroness that he will look at her suggestion and come up with a more considered answer?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I can certainly indicate that careful consideration is given to these issues. As always, we will consider all the recommendations and advice given to this House, including from my noble friend.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, should we remind ourselves that photographic evidence has been required at polling stations in Northern Ireland for many years and that the system there has worked extremely well?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend, who is of course correct that paper identification has been required at polling stations in Northern Ireland since it was introduced in 1985, and photo identification since 2003, when it was introduced by the last Labour Government. It has proven to be highly effective at stopping fraud and preventing the crime of stealing someone’s vote.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, I will add to the last question and publicly commend the Passport Office—or certainly one unit within it, the international section—for providing an absolutely exemplary service. Would the Minister care to add to my positive remarks?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am incredibly grateful to the noble Viscount for his comment, which I will pass on. I am always very impressed by the Passport Office staff. Their work to turn around delivery times has been exemplary across the Civil Service, and it is most regrettable that the action taken by the PCS will imperil this.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, this delay in passport applications will undoubtedly lead to some people not having the relevant voter ID available to them on the day in order to vote. Another uncertainty is being put in front of potential voters. The Minister has been saying that people can apply for local authority voter identification, so I will give him some figures to show how minimal that is. In my council area of Kirklees—I have relevant interests—there are an estimated 4,000 voters who will need voter ID from the local authority. There have been 278 applications to date, many of which have been returned for lack of a good-quality photo. What are the Government going to do to make sure that every voter who turns up on 4 May can cast their vote?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I believe that I have already answered that question a number of times in the course of proceedings in this House and I will not repeat it again.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it is not only passports that are registered as a document of note for voting? Many documents other than passports are approved. Would he care to run through them?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend; he is indeed correct. Some 20 forms of identity document would suffice including: a passport—needless to say—issued by the UK, any of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, any British Overseas Territory, an EEA state or Commonwealth country; a national identity card issued by an EEA state; a driving licence; a blue badge; an older person’s or disabled person’s bus pass; an Oyster 60+ card funded by the Government of the United Kingdom; a Freedom Pass; a Scottish national entitlement card; a Welsh concessionary travel card for those aged 60 and over or disabled people; a senior, registered blind, blind person’s, war disablement, 60+ or half-fare SmartPass issued in Northern Ireland; or an identity card bearing a proof of age standard. I do not think I need to carry on.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, could the Minister say why the young person’s bus pass and railcard was not on there?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Plainly, that was an issue that the noble Lord should have raised—and no doubt did raise—during the debate on the Elections Bill. It is quite a long way from the topic of this Question, which is about the strikes by the PCS.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Can my noble friend the Minister, having gone through that extensive list, say whether the department has made any estimate of how many people do not have any of the forms of documentation that he listed?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Well, of course, elections fall within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities rather than the Home Office, but I am delighted to make that inquiry and write to him, and deposit the answer in the Library of the House.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is the Minister aware of the different political culture in Northern Ireland, and the fact that in the 1983 general election there were clear justifications for the introduction of some form of ID? There has been no such justification in Great Britain. The returning officer for Northern Ireland said that, after the introduction, it took at least 10 years for turnout levels to return to their previous levels, as a result of the introduction of ID. The Minister read a list; as a canvasser, I would not be able to read out that list to everyone on the doorstep—but the Post Office list is a very good list and it would extend the right to vote to many more people.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not accept that there is no need for the voter identification provisions. In any event, as I say, those matters have been approved by the other place and by this House—so that, I am afraid, is that.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, can I ask the Minister what he is doing, what the Government think and what assessment they have made about postal votes, because they are not monitored in the same way and ID does not have to be produced in the same way? Voter fraud instances have been higher in postal votes than they ever have for people voting in person.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I am afraid that this question, too, is an awfully long way from the Private Notice Question in relation to the action taken in the Passport Office. As to forms of identity for voting in person at polling stations, if the noble Baroness wishes to put a Question about postal voting, she can put it to the relevant Minister in DLUHC.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB)
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My Lords, like many in this House, I am registered to vote in two places. I have had no information from either local authority about the need for voter ID yet. It is only a number of weeks before the election; at what point are people going to be informed by local authorities of both the need for voter ID and the ability to apply for a local authority voting card?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord is perhaps fortunate in that I received notice last week, together with my council tax bill for the coming year. I understand that that is fairly wide practice.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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Is the Minister prepared to instruct those conducting elections to monitor those people who have been refused the right to vote, and publish those figures?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As I say, that is not a Home Office issue, so I am afraid that the answer is no: I have not given that instruction. No doubt the noble Lord can make inquiries of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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European citizens are, I guess, allowed to vote in these circumstances, and they only have European documents. The Government may wish for these to be added to that already extensive list.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Yes, indeed; the noble Viscount is right. EU and EEA passports and identity cards are valid.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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The noble Lord asked me to write to him because my question was not apparently pertinent to the Question on the Order Paper. Could he confirm that he speaks for the Government?

First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Child Support (Enforcement) Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Powers of Attorney Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill

1st reading
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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First Reading
15:35
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Higher-Risk Buildings (Key Building Information etc.) (England) Regulations 2023

Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:35
Moved by
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 23 January be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 14 March.

Motion agreed.
Third Reading
15:36
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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My Lords, it is with deep regret that the UK Government have been unable to secure legislative consent for this Bill from the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd. We have also not been able to secure a legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly, given the lack of a functioning Executive. This is disappointing, given that the same approach was followed in the Trade Act 2021, for which the Scottish and Welsh Governments did recommend consent.

The Government have sought to agree compromises with the devolved Administrations. However, despite the best efforts of officials and Ministers, we have not been able to reach an agreement with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I remind noble Lords again that during the passage of the Bill and the deals it implements, the Government have undertaken extensive engagement with the devolved Administrations, including ministerial meetings, official-level meetings and meetings of ministerial fora, and there were 25 chief negotiator calls with the DAs regarding the Australia free trade agreement alone. In addition, as I have made clear in each debate on the Bill, I reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to consult the devolved Administrations before exercising the concurrent power in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking through the Bill, which is a first for both the Minister and the country—our first trade deal signed following our exit from the European Union. The Minister’s enthusiasm for the Bill was always evident throughout its passage. We now have a trade arrangement with Australia and New Zealand. We will wait to see the overall and specific effects, particularly upon our agriculture sector. While the overall impact is predicted to be very limited, a factor caused by the huge distance between Australia and New Zealand and the UK, there were some specific concerns about certain Australian farming methods and the effect on small hill farmers in the UK. I suspect that these account largely for the failure to get agreement from the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

My thanks go again to the Minister and his team of advisers for their openness and, on this side, to Milton Brown, who again has shown good judgment in facilitating the progress of the Bill.

15:38
Motion
Moved by
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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My Lords, it has been a pleasure to take my first Bill through your Lordships’ House. I thank noble Lords for the constructive approach that has been evident throughout the Bill’s passage. We have had robust discussions and debates on the Bill. Likewise, I have had the privilege in recent weeks of engaging with Peers outside the Chamber, and I have benefited from those conversations, which have been in-depth and valuable. The experience, diligence and practical knowledge of noble Lords have challenged and tested the strength of the Bill and its underlying trade deals. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this provides reassurance to the public on the quality of our democratic processes, our accountability and the constructive challenge function of your Lordships’ House. It remains for me only to give a few specific thanks to noble Lords and others before we complete our consideration of the Bill.

First, I thank the Opposition spokespersons, the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for the constructive way that they have continued to approach the scrutiny of the Bill—as well as the additional work outside in engaging with our various high commissioners, which I personally appreciated very much.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for the valuable conversations that we have shared on this legislation and her continued championing of our important agricultural sector. I hope that she has been reassured throughout the Bill’s passage through this House of the Government’s commitment to maintaining our high food standards and safeguarding measures for this sector and UK farmers within both deals. It was due to the scrutiny of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we identified the minor drafting error in Clause 2(1)(a), which has subsequently been corrected.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley, whose knowledge, frankly, makes my job all the easier as he makes the points in my speech before I get the chance to do so. It is absolutely right that I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and all the members of the IAC for their considered input.

This has been very much a team effort. Behind the scenes, the extraordinary Bill team have put in an unbelievable amount of effort. My thanks go to: James Copeland, Thomas Bingham, Donald Selmani, Jack Collins, Alex Garcia-Pineiro and Catherine Ajani. I also thank my private secretary Sehar Shaheryar and other officials who make up my private office, led by Simon Moore.

Finally, I thank the parliamentary staff, the doorkeepers and the clerks for their professionalism and continued support and to your Lordships’ House.

The Bill provides a power to give effect to our procurement commitments within these agreements, improving three areas of our existing procurement legislation in the UK. We will see benefits to our public services and companies trading in these partner countries—ultimately, unlocking billions in government contracts in a more secure way than ever before.

In conclusion, the Bill will achieve the essence of our post-Brexit vision of Britain. Some noble Lords have questioned the presence of the Government’s trade agenda during the Bill’s passage. In response I say: here it is. These deals guarantee a global interconnectedness of trade deals, with the United Kingdom at the very heart of these new routes, meaning new opportunities for our businesses and citizens. This will result in new markets for our goods and services and new ways to travel and share our cultures. To our friends, trading partners, clients, suppliers, brothers and cousins in Australia and New Zealand, I say, “Hold tight! The UK is coming.” I reiterate my thanks one final time and, with that, I beg to move.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Purvis, who is, unfortunately, unable to be here this afternoon. We thank the Minister for his comments, as well as his patience and expertise during the passage of this Bill. We thank the Bill team for their help and support, as well as the Labour Front Benches and Cross Benches. We also thank Elizabeth Plummer in the Liberal Democrat Whips’ Office, without whose help I do not think that my noble friend Lord Purvis and I would have been where we are today. We support the passage of the Bill and thank the Minister for his help.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on steering his first Bill successfully through the House—my congratulations go too to the whole Bill team. I am grateful to him for the time he took at every stage to talk me through. He knows of my disappointment that the Scottish Government have withheld their consent, and that this is not the deal that the British farmers would have hoped for; but we live to fight another day and I look forward to future trade Bills coming through.

Earl of Sandwich Portrait The Earl of Sandwich (CB)
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My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lord Kerr would have loved to be here. I am speaking on behalf of the Cross Benches. I was a member of the IAC until January; the Minister will remember that we had some animated conversations when he first came on the scene. He has kindly sent me a handwritten letter since then. I was sorry to miss the debate last week on agriculture but I welcome the assurances that he gave then. I am speaking now only to congratulate the Minister on taking this enabling Bill through to the end. I am glad that he has obviously enjoyed the exercise. He is not going to be one of those uncomfortable Ministers on the Front Bench, if I can put it that way.

I remind the Minister of one thing that we discussed: the need for HMG to develop a proper trade policy that explains to people what the UK stands for; that is what he was talking about just now. By this I do not mean a checklist but a framework for FTAs in which there is more mutual understanding, in advance, of the issues involved. This does not breach secrecy rules but helps the process of consultation with stakeholders—and there are many stakeholders.

We said in our report that the FTA was politically significant because it offered an insight into the Government’s vision for trade in the absence of a policy. Australia and New Zealand was a relatively easy start in this as we have so many common values and standards with them, but they are not typical of the CPTPP, which is coming quite soon and offers much wider challenges. All I ask is that the Minister and the department continue the dialogue with the IAC that was already started with the previous Secretary of State; as the Minister knows, it is an ongoing process, and perhaps he could confirm that in his reply.

15:45
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the Minister for skilfully conducting the debates on this important Bill, which I think will lead to much greater things in our future. I want to put before him three issues, almost housekeeping issues, that have arisen during the handling of the legislation, one of which has just been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.

I declare an interest as a member of the International Agreements Committee, where the issue of trade policy and how specific or general it should be has been a matter of lively discussion. That is of course relevant to everything that we have been talking about.

I ask the Minister to keep the three points that I want to comment on in mind when we enter into future discussions on these sorts of areas in FTAs, of which there are going to be plenty more. First, the CRaG system—the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—has come under a bit of strain, and the question has arisen as to whether, when the other place resolves that something should not be ratified, the 21 days that then follow are enough to get the appropriate debates organised, or whether in fact the Government are not obliged to have a debate and maybe it does not fit into parliamentary time and the net effect can be that there is no debate at all. Perhaps that is an area that needs looking at again.

Secondly, the whole of the CRaG system depends on the assiduity, energy and powers of the committees. The resources on the clerical and research side of many committees, including all the ones that I have served on for 30 years, have been second to none, and have been particularly superb here in the House of Lords itself—but are they enough, given the size and number of the treaties that are coming through? We are not even talking about the EU treaties that are handled by the International Trade Committee; we are talking about thousands and thousands of treaties and agreements, let alone instruments, pouring through day by day. Today’s giant Executive generates a continuous flow, a cascade, of these things. Do the committees have the resources and underpinning that committees in similar parliamentary systems to ours, here in Europe and elsewhere, seem to have? Should there have been harder thinking about whether, in a modern society with a modern Parliament trying to hold the Executive to account, the resources of committees are the key—the physical resources, clerical resources, research resources and back-up, and the power to summon and so on. These are all matters of lively discussion that have arisen in this area.

My third point is a bit of a puzzle, but we are going to hear a lot more about it: the question of consent from the devolved Administrations. I need to have one thing clarified for me. I thought foreign policy was a reserved matter under the devolution legislation that we passed through both Houses. When the Holyrood Parliament refuses consent, I want to know under what powers it is doing that. As the Minister has indicated, that does not actually stop a Bill proceeding and being enacted, but it is a rather curious situation when, if the devolved Administrations have views on this, they can just sit there and not provide consent. Is it because they think Scotland should have some separate relationship with Australia and New Zealand—I cannot believe that is the case—or is it simply some inner procedural matter where they do not feel there has been adequate consultation? Either way, it is a very uncomfortable situation to encounter. My noble friend has handled it excellently, but these things sit there and require some hard thought if future Bills of this kind, of which there will be many, can be conducted in a reasonable way where Parliament feels that it really is getting a grip on what is happening.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I greatly appreciate noble Lords’ comments. I think I was so keen to get this Bill through that I slightly jumped the gun. I apologise to those noble Lords who were waiting to speak. I greatly appreciate the personal comments towards my own enthusiasm. I have hugely enjoyed the process of working with so many noble Lords in the first of what I hope will be a series of very exciting, exhilarating and profitable trade deals for the whole of the UK.

I have always been very specific, as have the Government, that this is a journey. We are very keen to hear how we can engage better. It is absolutely in the interests of the Government and these trade deals that there is a broad consensus around their power and effect to elevate our economy to new heights; otherwise, we will not be able to broadcast the ramifications and specifics of the trade deals to the country and people will not take advantage of them. Personally, I am continuing to engage at all possible points.

I am delighted to answer a few of the questions. In terms of the committee resourcing, I will certainly take that away. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for raising that. The IAC under the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has done a very good job. A number of noble Lords have spoken to that today and during the debate. It is certainly worth making sure we have the resources in this House to ensure we are scrutinising according to the appropriate CRaG process.

The noble Lord touched on the consent issues. They have clearly been an important feature of the debates around these trade deals. It does not necessarily look like we have resolved them for future trade deals. However, as the noble Lord rightly said, these are reserved powers. If you consult your Walter Bagehot, as I did over the weekend, he makes it very clear and is absolutely right that the Executive should be making treaties and be given the freedom of rein to implement them across the entire United Kingdom.

Having said that, we have made huge efforts to consult and engage with the devolved nations. I personally made extra efforts, which I would not describe as effort at all but part of a necessary process of good governance and communication, to ensure that devolved nations felt that they had a way in to this process. It is absolutely confirmed that our negotiators spend a great deal of time with officials from all parts of the United Kingdom to make sure that their views are fed in. This reflects on the sort of trade we are trying to do in terms of the specific industries of these nations. We are one United Kingdom, and our power in negotiating global trade deals comes from that fact. It would be a great mistake to try to abrogate that for any reason. Having said that, consultation and communication are paramount to us, and I personally commit to them.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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Will my noble friend confirm that the Bill is about incorporating into domestic legislation the procurement provisions and chapters of the treaty? Although treaty making may be a reserved power, the implementation of the procurement-related legislation reflects directly on devolved matters. That is why consent should have been provided by the devolved Administrations.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that comment. I do not believe that is necessarily the case, in the sense that this is a procurement Bill relating to a trade deal, so it is right that concurrent powers can be initiated. I believe that is the case. That is certainly how we have operated on the premise of this Bill.

We wanted to gain consent because that is good practice, but, as I say, we focused on consultation and communication, which has achieved the same goal. The whole point of this Bill and the trade deal it underpins is that it will lead to greater trade, more commerce and economic activity and greater wealth creation for the entire UK, which we should celebrate.

If I may come to a conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their extremely helpful scrutiny. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned. It proves the power and point of this Chamber. Any of the body politic who discuss significant revision of the powers of this Chamber should think very carefully about the actions taken on this Bill. Through the scrutiny of this House and the participation of individual Members, we have been able to draft a more effective Bill and draft it correctly, for which I am extremely grateful. I am very excited about the opportunities that the Australia and New Zealand trade deal will give us, our citizens and this nation. With that, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with an amendment.
Committee (6th Day)
15:55
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Amendment 165
Moved by
165: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—
“Disposal of landIn section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 (disposal of land by principal councils), after subsection (2B) insert—“(2C) Police and crime commissioners and the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime are to be treated as principal councils for the purposes of this section.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment amends section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to confer a power on police and crime commissioners and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to dispose of land held by them in any manner they wish. This power is subject to the requirement of Secretary of State consent if the disposal is made for less than best consideration.
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, government Amendment 165 and the consequential Amendments 508 and 509 seek to give police and crime commissioners, including mayors who exercise these functions, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime the same powers to dispose of surplus land as local authorities.

The Government’s general principle is that public bodies should dispose of surplus land at the best possible price reasonably obtainable. However, we recognise that selling land at less than best consideration can sometimes deliver wider public benefits, which is why there is a long-standing framework under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 for enabling local authorities to dispose of their land for less than best consideration. Under this framework, the Secretary of State’s consent is required, but there is a general direction granting consent if the undervalue is below £2 million.

Prior to 2011 and the creation of police and crime commissioners, police authorities were covered by Section 123, but that is no longer the case. While police and crime commissioners now have broad powers to dispose of land as they see fit, there is no specific provision relating to disposal at less than best consideration. This perceived gap in police bodies’ powers was raised in the other place, and I know that this matter concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Having now explored the issue further with the Home Office, the Government agree that police and crime commissioners should have the same disposal powers as local authorities. Therefore, this amendment extends the scope of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to cover these elected police bodies.

These amendments will give police and crime commissioners greater certainty that they can dispose of land at less than best consideration where doing so will deliver wider public benefits. It will further empower police and crime commissioners to act in the interests of their local communities. The associated consent framework—with consent to be given by the Home Secretary in the case of police and crime commissioners —will increase transparency and public accountability.

For the reasons I have outlined, I hope that these amendments are welcome and that noble Lords will support them.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the government amendment, which concedes a principle of public bodies—the police—being able to use less than best consideration for land no longer needed. I am unashamedly seeking to extend that, as a result of the MP for Twickenham, my honourable friend Munira Wilson, introducing in the other place the idea of enabling public bodies to dispose of land for less than best consideration. That was already available in a limited form but the idea here is that it is out of date because of the change in land valuations—that is what the Minister said.

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There are two reasons for changing this. The first is for reasons of inflation in land prices. It is hard to arrive at a conservative estimate—conservative with a small “c”—of inflation in land prices between 2003 and 2023, given that an accurate analysis of the true level of inflation is difficult to ascertain. Secondly, it may be more helpful to refer to increasing or uprating in line with inflation, rather than referring to a concrete figure. For example, according to the UK house price index, average house prices across England have risen by 160% since 2003. Research by Savills suggests that urban land prices in the UK are still below their peak in 2008 and that greenfield land prices have only recently returned to that level. The point is that inflation in land prices is not necessarily the best or most accurate way of making these judgments.
The other way of doing it is by percentage difference in value. The Government’s own land value estimates for 2019 reveal that while the average price of a hectare of land for housing in London was £35.5 million, in the north-east it was just £1.1 million. There is a huge percentage difference and cash difference in land values across the country. What this is attempting to do is to create a fairer way of making these judgments about best consideration, as set out in Amendment 174. That is what we are trying to do.
I accept that the Minister and the Government have agreed that this should be extended to local police and crime commissioners, which is very positive. Our amendment seeks to extend it to all public bodies, for the reasons that I have explained. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, is not able to be here today. He is a signatory of Amendment 174 and has asked me to say what he would have liked to say, if the Committee agrees.
The poorest communities generally have the poorest public facilities of all sorts, including access to open spaces. Therefore, it is desirable that public bodies disposing of land do not further impoverish the community or miss opportunities for creating new local facilities because of the rules governing the sale of land. It is also vital that public bodies work in a more joined-up fashion, considering, for example, how the NHS can support education or social housing and vice versa. The NHS is a national body, and many of its facilities serve wide populations that go far beyond local communities, and it needs to take these wider regional and national health considerations into account when disposing of land. However, it could also be enabled and required to take local community needs into consideration. If the Government do not support this amendment, do they have alternative proposals which would ensure that the NHS takes into consideration local community needs, not just those relating to health, when disposing of land?
In conclusion, there has been a great deal of movement on the idea of changing best consideration to enable public land to be sold for community benefit. The Government have conceded that for police land. This amendment would extend it to other public land and has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who obviously has considerable experience and expertise in the National Health Service. He considers that it would be a very positive change to enable the National Health Service to be able to dispose of land no longer needed for public good. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. She regrets that she is unable to be in her place today; I wish to make some points that undoubtedly she would have contributed had she been here.

As already indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Government’s tabled Amendment 165 is very welcome. The review of Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972, and the correction of the omission of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—and of police and crime commissioners generally—are necessary and positive steps. However, there remain ways in which the general disposal consent 2003 could be improved to better allow public bodies to dispose of assets for less than market value for social, economic or environmental benefit. We believe that such measures would be very much in line with the Bill’s desired outcome: levelling up communities across the country.

Noble Lords will be well aware of the significant variation in land value across the nation’s regions. The introduction of a percentage value discount would help ensure that local authorities, no matter where they are in the country, could offer the same level of discretion when selling sites for community good. I hope that the Minister will therefore accept the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for an adjacent percentage value to take into account varying land prices in different regions.

I also echo calls for the Minister to confirm today that the Government commit to launching a consultation on a new directive to update the current consent order on the disposal of public land. I am aware that Munira Wilson MP, who has been active in these matters in the other place, has received a letter from the new Housing and Planning Minister in which Mrs Maclean confirmed that the Government will take forward a consultation on a new direction with higher thresholds after the passage of the Bill. Is the Minister able to reiterate this commitment on the Floor of the House?

I also hope the Minister will accept the call by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for a new disposal consent order increasing the cash value amount in line with inflation in land prices. In her letter to Munira Wilson MP, the Housing and Planning Minister recognised that the current threshold of £2 million was provided in 2003 and that land values have increased over the last two decades. Amendment 174 would increase the cash value amount that public authorities can give a discount on to £3 million. It should be noted that this is in fact a conservative estimate of the inflation in land prices over the past 20 years.

To conclude, I repeat my welcome for the government Amendment 165 and urge the Minister to reiterate the Government’s commitment to consult on a new directive, create such a directive and accept Amendment 174’s provisions for an adjacent percentage value. I hope that we can continue in this spirit of co-operation truly to level up our country.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 312A in this group, which would insert a new clause with the heading:

“Duty to optimise the use of public land”.


As this implies, the amendment attempts to ensure that the precious asset of land owned by public bodies is put to “optimal use”. The amendment tries to do two things. First, it would place a duty on local authorities to have a land use management plan for sites in their ownership to ensure that developments are brought forward for the public good. Secondly, since the duty to optimise the use of public land would very often be exercised by disposal of the land to others, the amendment also seeks to define the meaning of the phrase “best consideration reasonably obtainable”, which governs sale of publicly owned land at present.

Earlier amendments in this group would extend the current disposal regime to cover police and crime commissioners, the NHS, importantly, and all other public bodies. This amendment seeks to resolve long-standing complexities and arguments over the treatment of landholdings by public bodies. I pay tribute to the land economist Stephen Hill, who has studied this question for many years, for his preparation of the amendment. He has been aided by Keith Jenkins, the property lawyer, alongside distinguished real estate experts, academics and leading practitioners who all have my thanks for their work on this subject.

An essential feature of the levelling-up agenda is the need to improve the built environment to create better places to live and work. Securing the land for improved conditions—for affordable homes, green spaces, local amenities, et cetera—is the key to this. The amendment’s first objective, therefore, is simply to bring more public land into play. It would do so by requiring local authorities to prepare a land use management plan, demonstrating how use of their land will be optimised.

This approach was advocated by your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington. Several local authorities are showing the way with land use plans. For example, the West Midlands Combined Authority has set out what is expected of public landowners; its public land charter requires those landowners to

“apply a consistent, joined-up approach to best consideration”

that aims to achieve “sustainable long-term” value for their land. Amendment 312A would spread this good practice everywhere.

However, securing the best economic, social and environmental uses when public land is sold has been constantly thwarted by public bodies’ acceptance of a higher price offered for the land by other bidders for what is often a less than optimal use. We all have stories of hard-pressed providers of public services understandably wanting to secure as much hard cash as they can from disposing of their land assets, even though doing so conflicts with efforts to improve the quality of life for local citizens.

I will use NHS land to illustrate this point. I have been involved in negotiations to acquire a redundant hospital building for an extra care housing development for older people. This use of the old building and surrounding land would lead to substantial annual savings for the NHS and care services, keeping people out of hospital and residential care as well as reducing loneliness and care needs. But the NHS trust was adamant that the sale must be to the highest bidder— in this case, a developer of luxury flats for overseas buyers—irrespective of the benefits to the NHS and care services that our extra care housing project would achieve. Very often, the reason cited by the public body for taking this line is that there is an obligation on it to secure the highest price, which gets equated with the “best consideration reasonably obtainable”. This is likely to mean the land is valued so highly that it prohibits a development that would achieve important social objectives.

Amendment 312A addresses this issue by creating the duty to go for the optimal use of the land, not the highest price offered, defining “optimal use” and interpreting “best consideration” by reference to constraints on the use of the land from predetermined local and national requirements. It spells out that this means fulfilling four imperatives: first, the requirements of the local development plan and the neighbourhood plan, if there is one; secondly, any national development management policies that will follow from the Bill; thirdly, the environmental principles in the Environment Act 2021; and fourthly, any other objectives or requirements determined by the Secretary of State.

In other words, securing the optimal use of publicly owned land must simply but definitively accord with national and local government requirements. The value of the land is thereby constrained and moderated by the need to comply with these legislative and administrative requirements. In this way, the value of the land is captured by the planning system for economic, social and environmental uses.

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I believe this redefinition would help colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who have been trying to clarify the best consideration requirement since their 2018 planning reform consultation. When the Secretary of State appeared before the DLUHC Select Committee to discuss the Bill last June, he said that this was still an outstanding issue. This amendment unlocks that position. I realise that this approach is dependent on the existence of a valid and up-to-date local plan, which we may in future call a local development plan. The amendment’s outcome obviously needs all councils to finalise their plans before it can be made a condition in any sale of publicly owned land for the development to meet local requirements set out in that plan and, where relevant, in a neighbourhood plan. I sincerely hope that other measures in the Bill and in related guidance will ensure that local plans materialise for every council. A plan-led system without a plan goes nowhere.
I will return to the issue of capturing land value with later amendments covering privately owned land. However, this amendment—requiring public bodies to look at their landholdings, determine their optimal use and dispose of their sites on terms that make these optimal uses viable—stands in its own right. It would bring thousands of sites, large and small, into play on terms that make possible all the good things that local communities need. I commend the amendment.
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 312A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. I declare my interest as a patron of the Community Land Trust Network, and a vice-president of the LGA. I apologise for not being present at Second Reading.

As always the noble Lord, Lord Best, has fully set out the rationale behind this amendment, which is quite complex. He gave an example of a redundant hospital which could have been used for extra care. When considering disposing of land they own, local authorities and other bodies feel that they have to get the best price possible. This often means that local communities are cut out of the equation, even when they may have excellent plans for a site or building. The inclusion of this proposed new clause introduces the duty to optimise the use of public land, which is quite different from getting best value or best consideration.

Often, local community land trusts are formed specifically to provide housing in areas which are either unviable for developers or on small and difficult sites. The local community has, however, identified a need for housing that may be of mixed type and tenure. For example, there may be young families wishing to stay in the area and, equally, there may be older people wishing to downsize but there is nothing of the right size in the area; it could also be for single young people wishing for a space of their own. The price of land is expensive and local authorities are obliged to get best value, which means going with the highest bidder, although this may not always meet the needs of the community. If local authorities are permitted to make the optimal use of public land, this opens up the availability of land for communities to have the facilities and homes that they need. I will try to explain this by giving an example. If a council has policies in certain areas—such as increasing social housing and achieving net zero—the council could then say, “How much would it cost somebody to develop homes on this site to achieve net-zero standards? What would the homes sell for or what would the rent be?” If this cost is deducted from the value of the land, you arrive at the correct valuation that will achieve the optimal use for the site.

It may be that a community is looking not for homes but to enter into a community shop run by volunteers. Both small rural shops and pubs have closed at an alarming rate over recent years; communities are now discovering what a valuable asset they have lost in terms of shopping at a convenient local venue and a venue where they could meet for a coffee and a chat. Perhaps a small local school has stood empty for some time, and it could be attractive to a developer. At the same time, it could be the saviour of the community in bringing residents together to create a much-needed facility for use by all ages. Levelling up is surely about the examples that I and others have given.

This is a complex subject but one that the Government are aware of. The Secretary of State received a letter in December 2021 on it and there has been subsequent correspondence with DLUHC. There were over 34 signatories to the original letter and the amendment is supported by various luminaries of the planning and real estate profession, including Yolande Barnes, professor of real estate at UCL, and various chairs and former chairs of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, including members and fellows.

The credentials of what is proposed have strong foundations. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has made a strong and lucid case for this amendment, which will make a real difference to the way in which local authorities, mayoral development corporations, Homes England and others approach the issue of best consideration for land, which should be a great asset to all communities. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Best, and other speakers on this group of amendments.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and to join her in commending the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his expert collaborators on tackling a huge issue for communities up and down the land, but particularly for some of our most disadvantaged communities. It is important that we put this in the context of where we are now. Since the late 1970s, about half of all public land— 2 million hectares in total—has been sold from public to largely private hands. That means that local government has 40% less landholding than it did four decades ago; the NHS estate is down by 70%.

What we have seen, as we have heard from other speakers in this group, is not just a loss of land—people might or might not have ideological views about that—but a loss of capacity, facilities, access for local people, and the simple destruction of what had been a public resource. I think of one of these that I visited a few years ago on the Isle of Wight, a particularly tragic tale. The Frank James Hospital had been donated as a charity—a beautiful, big piece of land. It was a public facility that over decades—the best part of a century—the public had raised money for and put money into, but was sold 20 years ago to a developer and is still sitting there rotting.

Closer to us here, some noble Lords may know of Caxton Hall, which was a huge centre of historical interest and a place to hold public meetings in the vicinity of Westminster, at one point fairly affordably—something that anyone who has tried to organise one of those will know is a very rare breed indeed these days. Now it is, of course, private flats.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, has hit on something really important here, and I offer to do what I can to work with him if he wishes to take this forward into the next stage of the Bill. We have lost space for political campaigning. We have lost space particularly for our young people—those public spaces were often where young people gathered and where they were not surveilled, overseen, and expected to spend money; they were just a public space for young people to gather. So much of that has been lost. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said through the ventriloquism of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, this is very much a levelling-up issue. When you go to the poorer communities around our country, the public spaces have been sold off, but they also do not have even private spaces that you could rent because there is not enough money to support that kind of private space. This is a crucial issue to pick up in the Bill.

I will briefly comment on the Government’s Amendment 165, which broadly concerns the principle of choosing to dispose of land for “less than best” consideration. It is an excellent idea. The example that comes to mind is of a police and crime commissioner deciding to give at very low cost, perhaps even at peppercorn cost, a piece of land that might be used to build a youth centre on—that facility that we have lost so terribly in most parts of the country. That would clearly be a very good thing for a police and crime commissioner to do, directly serving their mandate.

What worries me a little about this is the Secretary of State consent element, which is just one more centralisation. I wonder whether there should not be a range of local and regional bodies having an input, rather than it coming down to Westminster. None the less, I applaud some degree of progress.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate on a number of important amendments. It is, of course, essential that these new combined county authorities and constituent local authorities should be able to use land in their ownership and negotiate with partners to use land resources to create facilities, regenerate their areas, and make best use of the scarce land resources we have. The other reason this is so important is that making best use of these brownfield and previously developed sites affords the ability to make environmental protections to those parts of the country where we do not wish to see development. That is another reason for doing this. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, also takes into consideration the fact that there may be attempts to frustrate development. That certainly struck a chord with me, as the saga of the development of my town to the west of the A1(M) has dragged on for over 27 years without resolution—but that is enough about my personal pain.

I welcome the Government’s amendment on the issue of there being no specific provision relating to disposal below value. This is a big issue for local authorities whenever we are looking at these things. I think there is a degree of misunderstanding about it in local authorities, where a lot of arguments go on between the legal side and the policy side about how the power of environmental, social and economic improvement works, in conjunction with the audit side of having to achieve best consideration. I hope that these amendments will help to resolve some of these issues. The ability to empower PCCs to include considerations other than monetary value alongside local authorities is welcome, although I will come on to some of the issues around that in a moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, rightly pointed to the very steep price rises and the 160% inflation that is currently linked to valuations. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, channelled through the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised the issue of the assets available to more deprived communities and what we do about making sure that we do not exacerbate that rather than using the powers of the Bill to level up. Using the power of land to provide preventive facilities—as in the example the noble Lord, Lord Best, used—which will do long-term good for the community and potentially save long-term revenue funding for the public bodies concerned is a really important way forward for determining how the value of land is determined in the first place. If it is going to provide facilities for that community and save revenue for the public body in the long term, surely that ought to be one of the considerations we can take into account.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester highlighted the outdated nature of the figures currently used. This has been one of the common themes of the data used that we have highlighted throughout the consideration of the Bill. We must get up-to-date data here, otherwise we will end up giving ourselves problems that we should not need to have.

Turning to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, he made a very clear exposition of why the need to be able to make best use of public land—and therefore improve the built environment—is crucial to levelling up, and how the use of public land charters could help. It was interesting to hear that the work of the Select Committee had looked at that closely and determined it.

We cannot blame hard-pressed public bodies, which are so desperate for cash, for sometimes having to go for the option that will give them the most funding when looking at valuations on their land. Of course, the long-term solution to that is to fund public bodies properly in the first place—they would then not have to make those tough decisions—but we are where we are with that.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the high level of public land that has already been lost. We are where we are with it. The amendments in this group seem to me to be a good way of giving some options around how we can take other issues into consideration.
I was grateful for the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the involvement of community and local community land trusts. In our debate on this group, we have already spoken about the link between local development plans and, for example, the public land charters proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, including how they might work sitting together, incorporating both national and local principles. However, we also have the neighbourhood plans, which are being promoted as part of the levelling-up procedure. Those plans being developed at the local level will also be dependent on the use of public land in some cases to deliver the wishes of that neighbourhood. All that needs to be taken into account.