All 19 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 3rd May 2023

Grand Committee

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Wednesday 3 May 2023

Arrangement of Business

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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My Lords, I must issue the usual warning, although it may well not be needed, that if there is a Division in the House this Committee will adjourn immediately for 10 minutes.

Police: Restoring Public Confidence

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the case for restoring public confidence in the police.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I sought this debate to give your Lordships’ House an opportunity to consider the need to restore confidence in our country’s police forces, which has been seriously weakened in the last few years, and to try to elicit from the Government a clear indication of what they are doing to ensure that the restoration of confidence is successfully accomplished.

How reassuring it would be to the public if the Government produced a coherent action plan showing precisely how they intend to assist the police in regaining public support and meeting new challenges, of which there will be many. So much good would be done if the Government set out in clear language, free from party-political knockabout, their vision of the shape of policing in the future, at a time when technology is developing at a prodigious rate with huge implications for the police, like everyone else. So frequently, any sense of a coherent plan for the future is lost amid a blizzard of statistics and details designed to scotch criticism of some current problem.

Policing in Britain has always rested on public consent. That fundamental principle was laid down by the great Sir Robert Peel when he created the Metropolitan Police nearly two centuries ago. Today, consent no longer seems firmly assured; that should be rectified. Our police forces need to renew their commitment to Peel’s great founding principle.

I am extremely grateful to all those participating in this debate, and I look forward to deepening my understanding of the issues it raises as a result of their contributions. I think it unlikely that we Back-Bench contributors will disagree about the gravity of the position in which the police find themselves today as regards the confidence reposed in them by the public. It is strongly reflected in surveys of public opinion. In 2020, YouGov found that 70% of their respondents thought the police were doing a good job. Last month, 47% held that view—down by nearly a quarter in just three years. Some 53% said they had little or no confidence in the police last month, compared with 38% three years ago—itself an alarmingly high proportion.

Detailed research embodied in a recent publication of the Social Market Foundation found that

“a substantial proportion of the population across England and Wales has little confidence in their local constabularies”,

with fewer than six in 10 believing that the police can be relied on when they are needed. No more than 22%, just over a fifth, felt that the police would be likely to apprehend a burglar, so widespread has become the habit of issuing a crime number for insurance purposes without attempting any serious investigation. It is hard to overestimate the worry caused to so many people by the indifference which tends to be shown by the police to what is termed low-level crime.

Nowhere has confidence in the police fallen more sharply than in London, and nowhere will the decline be harder to reverse. After a succession of the most terrible scandals, how could it be otherwise? The crisis in the capital is bound to occupy a prominent position in this debate, as it should. It is likely to affect confidence in the police throughout the country in view of the widespread coverage of London’s crisis in the national media. The scandals in London have stunned the nation. Criminals have in some number been allowed to wear the policeman’s proud uniform. A few of the policeman criminals have committed the most heinous offences.

The details have been laid bare in all their horror in court cases and in a succession of independent reports, none more shattering than that of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, published in March. It exposed huge, unforgivable failures in the way that the Metropolitan Police has been managed and run. Awful prejudices and attitudes have been allowed to flourish unchecked for years. The organisation

“has completely lost its way”,

the noble Baroness said in an interview last month, where she spoke passionately about the revulsion she had felt over what had emerged during her year-long inquiry. Her anger is palpable and understandable.

The noble Baroness’s report is packed with horrifying information. The detection rate for rape cases is so low, one police officer told her team,

“you may as well say it’s legal in London”.

More than 1,500 officers have been accused of violent offences against women. Black officers are regularly overlooked for promotion. I do not need to attempt a full summary of the report. The main points are well known.

This great police force has for too long had leaders who tended to look the other way when mistakes were made. Those responsible for the notorious Operation Midland a few years ago hounded two great public servants, Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan, mercilessly. The law was broken when warrants were sought to search their homes. In his thorough independent report on Operation Midland, Sir Richard Henriques listed 43 major police blunders, yet not one police officer has been held to account. Some have been promoted to high rank. The Independent Office for Police Conduct failed in its duty to listen to those who had suffered, like Lord Brittan’s brave widow, Diana. How could public confidence possibly be maintained by such an approach?

Midland had a close relation, Operation Conifer. Both of them were fed by the lies of a fantasist, now serving a long prison sentence. I take the opportunity afforded by this debate to return to it because I feel so strongly and deeply about it. Through Conifer, allegations of child sex abuse against Sir Edward Heath were investigated in Salisbury some 10 years after his death in 2005. No other Prime Minister has ever been accused of grave criminal offences. Clearly, the investigation needed to be handled with care and strict impartiality. Instead, under Mike Veale, then chief constable for Wiltshire, it was conducted with the intention of finding Ted Heath guilty. Not a shred of evidence was found to substantiate the allegations, yet Veale contrived to suggest at the end of the investigation that a few of them might have had some substance, thus overturning the presumption of innocence in a case where a judicial process was impossible.

Prime Ministers are prominent in the history books. As a historian, I find it shocking that no independent inquiry has been held in order to place the truth firmly on the record for all time. It is unconscionable that one of the Crown’s First Ministers should pass into history with even a faint suspicion of wrongdoing because no one in authority today will do anything to help wipe it out. I do not understand how the Government should fail to regard it as an obligation to ensure that posterity has an absolutely accurate account of what occurred.

For me personally, Operation Conifer showed how hard it had become in Britain today to feel full confidence in our police. At least Wiltshire declined to keep Veale after this disgraceful episode. But he found a new berth as chief constable of Cleveland, where he lasted a year before allegations of misconduct forced him to resign. A report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, after a two-year investigation—no one seems to think it important to move swiftly in these matters—led the police and crime commissioner for Cleveland to announce that Veale would face a hearing for gross misconduct. The announcement was made in August 2021. A year and eight months later, it has yet to start. The Government will not be surprised that I should return to the issue in this debate. Over and again I have been told in Answers to Oral Questions that the matter is under the exclusive control of an independent, legally qualified chair. By law, hearings have to begin no later than 100 days after their announcement, but the chair can delay the start when it is in the interest of justice to do so.

Who is the chair? The person remains anonymous. How are the interests of justice served by delay? No explanation has been given. It would be perfectly understandable if the explanation were couched in general terms so as not to prejudice the case when it is eventually heard. Total silence is astonishing. As they say, you could not make it up. Is it not difficult to feel total confidence in a system which permits a former chief constable, the most senior of policemen, to evade justice for so long for reasons cloaked in secrecy and in circumstances where public accountability is totally lacking?

My noble friend the Minister told the House in March, rather to my surprise, that we were about to meet to discuss this issue. I am due to see Mr Philp, the Policing Minister, but unfortunately dates fixed for this meeting have had to be cancelled because he had pressing business elsewhere. This is perfectly understandable and the meeting is now due to take place on 15 May.

We should note with considerable sympathy the conclusion reached by the highly regarded think tank Policy Exchange, after its research into the work of legally qualified chairs, that,

“having been introduced with the aim of increasing public confidence in the police misconduct process, the experiment is having the opposite effect.”

These chairs play a part in hindering the sweeping changes in the Met—which, in Sir Mark Rowley, at last has a leader determined to root out the criminals in the ranks and punish misconduct. Sir Mark repeatedly makes clear that he needs to get rid of several hundred officers. Policy Exchange recommends that police regulations should be urgently amended, so that the decisions to dismiss officers found guilty of criminality or serious misconduct lie with police chiefs. That is exactly Sir Mark’s view. As he said last month:

“If you expect me to sort out cultural issues in the Met and get rid of the people who should not be employed, give me the power to do it. Can you imagine sitting with the chief executive of a big organisation saying they weren’t allowed to sack certain people”?

Before giving Sir Mark his answer, the Government conducted a four-month review, which began in January. The timetable for action after the completion of the review is unclear. What is clear is that, although Sir Mark has made good progress with the limited powers that he possesses, impatience is mounting for the swift ejection of officers who have no business to be in the police and the restoration of confidence in the Met. It was seen at a meeting of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee last week.

We must not let Sir Mark down. As he said last week,

“the vast majority of our people are good people”.

They deserve the full esteem that successful policing brings and to be freed from the taint that the presence of a bad minority inevitably inflicts on the entire Met. The bobbies need to be on the beat again throughout London. Policy Exchange is surely right to stress the need to return to a borough-based policing model with chief superintendents leading police teams in every London borough. It is a point that should be noted in all urban areas throughout the country.

Four things above all stand out as we reflect on the strengthening of confidence in our police today. First, there is the need for first-rate chief constables, fully supported by elected police and crime commissioners in charge of efficient, properly accountable offices. Secondly, we need to ensure that effective use is made of the 20,000 additional police now available as a result of the completion of the Government’s recruitment campaign. It is important to remember that we now have more police officers than ever before. Thirdly, there is the need to equip chief police officers with disciplinary powers that are used quickly and effectively but also humanely and wisely. Fourthly, we need to ensure that police forces throughout our country properly reflect the diverse society that Britain has become, with astonishing speed in historical terms, during the last two generations.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. I congratulate him on an excellent opening speech for this debate and agree with almost every word he said. I pay tribute to him for once again affording us the opportunity to examine the current state of the relationship between the police and the public in our country and, more generally, for his indefatigable work on, and commitment to, this area of policy.

This relationship is fundamental: a nation state in which trust between the police and the public has broken down is itself broken. Max Weber suggested that the defining feature of the modern state is its possession of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and in that definition “legitimate” does a lot of heavy lifting. If we are to continue to operate according to the nine Peelian principles that underlie our model of policing, power is legitimate only where it is perceived by the public so to be. Public trust is not merely desirable but an essential precondition for our policing system to work effectively.

To focus on the Met just for a moment or two, it is evident that across large swathes of London the Metropolitan Police no longer enjoys that trust. To supplement the statistics on polling of the public that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, shared with the Committee, a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the BBC found that 42% of those surveyed either somewhat or strongly distrust the Met as an organisation, that 43% thought more negatively of it compared with the same time last year—so this is a deteriorating relationship —and that 73% felt that some groups were treated differently from others. Perhaps most worrying, however, is the absence of surprise that has greeted those alarming statistics. They were a dismal confirmation of what we already knew rather than an unwelcome surprise.

Some of the reasons for this are obvious and rightly have received extensive media attention. They are the tragedy of Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder by a serving police officer; the verdict of an inquest that failures by the Met contributed to three of the four murders by Stephen Port; and the complete absence of appropriate vetting and oversight that allowed David Carrick to rape and sexually assault multiple women while continuing to serve as a police officer. But the Baroness Casey Review, published six weeks ago, makes it clear that there are deeply embedded structural issues that compromise both the ethical standing and the operational effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police.

Reading through the noble Baroness’s findings, one paragraph seems to exemplify these failings. It is rather extensive but I make no apology for reading it:

“There is currently no plan for the workforce beyond bringing people in, and no sense of how the thousands of new recruits will breathe fresh life into the force after years of austerity. The vetting system is broken, there is minimal supervision, training and development is not taken seriously, there are no training records and the Met do not know what their workforce needs. People are doing jobs they are not trained to do. Initiative after initiative keeps everyone busy, creating teams and moving people around but ultimately gets in the way of the core job of keeping Londoners safe and prevents the development of fully developed plans for change”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, goes on to conclude that, when we measure the Met against the Peelian principles that continue to guide its operation “Public consent is broken”, a finding that speaks directly to the Motion we are debating in the name of the noble Lord.

It is important to widen our focus beyond the Met, to the situation across the country. Police are currently solving the lowest proportion of crimes on record, with, according to the latest Home Office figures, only 5.4% of crimes resulting in a charge. That is equivalent to just over one in 20 offences being solved. As my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper pointed out in a recent debate in the other place, nearly 70% of the public now believe, as a direct consequence of this parlous record, that the police have given up on trying to solve crimes such as burglary or shoplifting altogether. In fact, given that we now know that fraud accounts for 41% of crime on the person and that only 1% of police resources are devoted to it, the Government themselves have even given up on referring to these statistics regarding the amount of crime in the country.

What of crimes that disproportionately affect women? A recent report compiled by the charity Victim Support found that over half of women lack confidence that the police will properly investigate their reports of domestic abuse. This is not merely a measure of confidence but of the lived experience of dealing with the police, with four in 10 women who had reported a crime in the last two years saying they had felt “let down” by the police investigation into their case.

I prepared this speech when the time allotted to us was much shorter than it presently is. I therefore felt forced to adopt a somewhat pointillist approach, adducing specific statistical examples rather than going into this issue more comprehensively. I am even more pleased that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, because he did that for us, so I will not extemporise on that, but these individual data points, taken together, create a truly sobering image of a police service that is losing trust across all sections of the population.

Disappointingly, the Government’s response to this has been to focus on the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, to replace a comparable number of officers that they themselves—although they were in coalition—previously dismissed on the grounds of economic necessity. Ironically, quite apart from the fact that the fiscal situation in which we find ourselves currently is, to put it mildly, not appreciably better than that which apparently compelled the Government to institute these mass dismissals, there are also deeper structural implications. This extraordinary staff churn has not only compromised the institutional memory of the police force but exposed the weaknesses of the vetting process which has contributed to the stories of misconduct among serving officers.

Last week, the Policing Minister proudly announced that the College of Policing had just finished consulting on a new statutory code of practice for vetting which “will be adopted shortly”. This should be juxtaposed with the verdict of Matt Parr, His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who said that, owing to weak vetting procedures, there are police officers numbered

“in the hundreds, if not low thousands”

who should have been disbarred but are now serving officers. Instituting a new vetting procedure after one of the most rapid recruitment drives in police history is patently absurd. It is rather like watching a gang of thieves load the last of your possessions into the getaway vehicle and only then deciding to put a lock on your door and investigate the idea of installing a burglar alarm.

While I understand the underlying principle of operational independence, it seems that, in the interests of devolving accountability, the current structure of policing is deliberately fragmented. It is this that has led to so many of the challenges that we are debating. I remind your Lordships that, when first establishing the Met Police, Robert Peel reflected on this issue, candidly admitting that his legislation was driven by his

“despair of being able to place our police upon a general footing of uniformity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/1828; col. 793.]

I support entirely the call for a specific action plan, and support even more that it be in plain English so that, in terms of accountability for Parliament, we know exactly what to expect of it. However, to conclude, I pose three specific short questions on which it would be helpful to hear from the Minister. First, what work is his department doing to ensure that the structural weaknesses identified by the Casey review are not reflected in other forces across the country that have not have the same level of scrutiny as the Met? Secondly, does he feel that the frenetic drive to meet the recruitment target of 20,000 new police officers is a tacit admission that the earlier austerity-driven wave of dismissals was just a mistake? Lastly, what reflections does he or, more importantly, his department have as to the ability of current nationwide policing structures, including PCCs—I am quite sceptical of them—to ensure uniformity and coherence in policing across this country?

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate. He is an indefatigable, dogged campaigner for justice and we all owe him a great debt. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Of course, he speaks from a legal background as well as a parliamentary one. If I recall, he started as an apprentice solicitor in 1974. I found that in his background because I started as an articled clerk to a solicitor 10 years earlier. It is good to know that he is sharing with us his reflections on this important subject.

I shall confine my remarks to Operation Conifer. My noble friend has already referred to it. In my former role as chair of the trustees of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, some years ago I had the thoroughly unpleasant experience of encountering policing at its most egregious. On the basis of what we now understand to have been completely unfounded allegations, made anonymously at the time but later discovered to have been almost entirely made by individuals who were themselves known offenders, the name of a formidable statesman was gleefully dragged through the dirt. I still have all the cuttings from that period to remind me of what a difficult time it was.

The conduct of the police was unforgivable. From the very outset, when it was announced by a subsequently disgraced officer in front of Sir Edward Heath’s home of Arundells and in front of all the news media, Operation Conifer was a travesty. Not only did Mike Veale—now also disgraced but then chief constable—openly and publicly make an assumption of guilt but he also encouraged his officers in a blatant fishing exercise, effectively replacing the presumption of innocence with one of guilt. A supine police and crime commissioner let the chief constable to evade normal accountability by allowing him to set up a so-called independent scrutiny panel—a novel and self-serving innovation—to which he himself appointed all four members anonymously, until he was forced to reveal who they were. One of them had previously been paid by Conifer for professional services and had been personally implicated in earlier stages of the spurious but lucrative witch hunt, which was now being further pursued by Wiltshire Police at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Almost every aspect of this so-called investigation might be regarded as comically bad, were the matter not so grievously serious. Numerous vital witnesses were never interviewed, including Lord MacGregor, now retired from this House, who was running Ted Heath’s office at the time of some of the alleged offences, or my noble friend Lord Sherbourne. The log books from the police post of Ted Heath’s former home in Salisbury, which would have made an immediate nonsense of many of the spurious allegations, were mysteriously destroyed.

Those of us who were interviewed were almost without exception shocked by the shoddiness of preparation and the almost complete lack of knowledge on the part of the investigating police officers. No good outcome could ever have come from such a shoddy process. Operation Conifer profoundly undermined confidence in the police, and no one has ever been held to account. Until someone is held to account and until the extraordinary ineptitude and malign intent are independently and comprehensively exposed, how can confidence ever be restored?

Successive Ministers have of course successively claimed that Conifer has been reviewed, but it has been reviewed only by police officers marking their own homework. Even the two police-led reviews that did take place, in September 2016 and May 2017, made a total of 49 recommendations for improving the processes of Conifer—hardly a vote of confidence. Just imagine how many recommendations an independent review might have made.

Of course I recognise the need for operational independence for the police and the fact that they must be insulated from party-political influence as they go about their duties. However, they must also be ultimately accountable for how they discharge their duties, or they risk losing the support of the people. We are told that PCCs provide that vital accountability, but what happens when they fail in that task, perhaps after becoming too close to the chief constable, or even falling under their thrall? What recourse does the citizen have then?

The principle that the police should be operationally independent of government does not absolve Ministers from an obligation to commission a review into the way in which that operational independence has been exercised in a particular case, when serious concerns arise.

I therefore say to my noble friend the Minister that we need to close this chapter with a proper, independent review. Until there is genuine accountability, including an effective backstop at ministerial level, I fail to see how the police can ever regain the full trust and affection of the general public. The experience of Operation Conifer—in particular my own personal experience—suggests that, sadly, we still have a depressingly long way to go.

Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O’Loan (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate for us today. I declare my interest as a member of the independent steering group of Operation Kenova, which is investigating referrals from the chief constable of Northern Ireland and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland on murders and other crimes committed by both republicans and loyalist paramilitaries.

My experience both here in the UK and overseas tells me that confidence in policing is the product of trust, and that trust exists when people know and understand why policing is conducted in the way it is. Governments and police forces have to be able to show that whatever is done is done with integrity and fairness and that it is compliant with the human rights obligations in domestic and international law. However, that is not enough.

No matter how well individual police officers conduct themselves, trust in what they do and how they do it will normally exist only where policing operates as part of a well-resourced, human rights-compliant justice system. All parts of that system are vital: the police, the IOPC, the courts and the prosecution service. If one part fails, the whole system, but particularly policing, falls into disrepute. Those affected by the failure do not discriminate between police failures and the consequential actions of prosecutors and the courts, so trust in the police will inevitably decline.

In Northern Ireland I have seen totally unacceptable delays in decision-making and consequential prosecutions by the PPS. I think of the admission by one UVF brigadier of over 200 criminal offences, and his conviction for murder, attempted murder, arson, extortion and kidnapping in 2018. It was anticipated that further trials would follow. There has been a deafening silence.

I think too of the submission by Operation Kenova of 36 files to the DPP in a range of cases, including the activities of the IRA agent “Stakeknife” and the murder of three young police officers, Sean Quinn, Paul Hamilton and Allan McCloy, who died in October 1982 when the IRA blew up their car near Lurgan. The DPP has yet to make a decision on these files. Suggestions have been made of a shortage of legal expertise to deal with them, but legitimate questions are being asked about why there is no decision. Is the hope that the legacy Bill will proceed into law and put an end to embarrassing disclosures in courts? That is what some people think, and it is axiomatic that the absence of prosecutorial decisions, et cetera, will contribute to a general distrust in criminal justice processes and a perception that in these cases the rule of law, which is fundamental to the operation of a trusted criminal justice system, is not being observed in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK.

Confidence in policing is dependent on the proper resourcing and operation of the wider criminal justice system, but what is it about the way in which policing is delivered that can generate trust? The MPS has been the subject of significant reports over the past few decades. I served in 2002 on an inquiry led by Sir David Calvert- Smith KC on racism in policing in all 43 forces in the UK. We found very significant problems and made 125 recommendations. This was 20 years ago; just a few short weeks ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, published her report, in which she heard evidence very similar to that which we heard in 2002. There are yet more calls for change.

In 2021, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, which I led, published its report on the Metropolitan Police. This was an inquiry into the handling of matters following the murder of a private detective in south London in 1987. Over 34 years there had been multiple investigations, inquiries, et cetera. What we found was indicative of a culture within the MPS which did not prevent failure to investigate the original murder or the protection of those alleged to be involved in it. There were also many other failings and unlawful and unauthorised disclosure of investigation material and information—even about forthcoming arrests—to journalists and others over 30 years, including failure to deal with known police wrongdoing. We found failures of management and leadership and, above all, a determination to protect the Met. Our inevitable conclusion, in the absence of any reasonable explanation for the multiple terrible failures, was that ultimately there was a determination within the MPS to protect its reputation and to ensure that the failings were not made public.

That is not unique to the Met. If we are to grow confidence in policing, we must develop a much wider understanding of corruption than the traditional legislative definitions involving monetary benefit. The starting point is the identification of improper behaviour, by action or omission. So much wrongdoing is enabled by failure to deal with individual or collective wrongful acts; it creates a corrupt culture in which officers may calculate their odds of being able to get away with wrongful behaviour.

Looking at particular incidents can enhance understanding of how corruption develops and confidence diminishes in policing. When an officer, often a junior officer, consults police databases for personal gain or shares police information with an outsider, he or she will often be dealt with. However, in the Daniel Morgan case, it emerged that the senior investigating officer in the final police investigation, DCS David Cook, who retired in 2007 but moved to the NCA and continued to act as the senior investigating officer, had decided to write a book with journalist Michael Sullivan about corruption in the Metropolitan Police. He had removed vast amounts of confidential and secret materials from investigations in which he had been involved, other investigations and intelligence operations to, in his words, “set the record straight”.

Searches of his home uncovered enormous amounts of material belonging to the police and other criminal justice agencies. He had disclosed much of this material to journalists and others. He said that he had done so because, if he could not bring the murderers of Daniel Morgan to justice, he wanted to write a book to reveal evidence of corruption within alliances between elements of policing, private investigation and the media. He hoped to make money from the publication of the book and other associated activities. The matter was not effectively dealt with. Again, the imperative was in part to protect the reputation of the police, rather than to expend resources on dealing with the totality of the issues emerging.

Any serving officer with access to sensitive information has the opportunity to remove it and use it for unlawful purposes, whether for commercial gain or terrorist activities, for example. The failure of the Met to prevent DCS David Cook removing materials over such a protracted period continues to cause me concern about the message that such failure to act sends to other officers and about the extent to which such behaviour may be continuing within the police service, unchecked even today.

If the public are to have confidence in policing, they must be able to believe that internal wrongdoing—whether sexual assaults, homophobia, racism, theft of materials, interference with a case or any other form of misconduct or crime—is dealt with. If such matters are not dealt with, it may be because of laziness, lack of professionalism, negligence or deliberate decision. At the end of the day, motive is important in the individual case, but it is vital to know how it can happen. There is clear evidence of how senior officers can, by their acts or omissions, fail to identify and/or confront corruption; fail to manage investigations and ensure proper oversight; fail to learn from or admit mistakes and failings promptly and specifically; give unjustified assurances that all that could have been done has been done; and fail to be open and transparent.

The Daniel Morgan panel recommended the creation of a statutory duty of candour, to be owed by all law enforcement agencies to those whom they serve, subject to the protection of national security and relevant data protection legislation. That did not happen. The creation of such a duty could result in much enhanced confidence in policing, because people would know that, just as there is a statutory duty of candour in the health service, so also there would be a similar duty on policing generally. It is not enough to require individual officers to act with integrity; a statutory duty of candour is required.

What can generate confidence in policing? When the police embarked on their investigations of the abuse allegations made by Carl Beech, alerting the media to those investigations of people such as our late noble and gallant colleague Lord Bramall, whose desk sat opposite mine for many years when I came into your Lordships’ House, it transpired that there was no foundation to those allegations. This matter has been articulated at length by noble Lords. Yet the investigations continued, leaving those under investigation to carry the terrible burdens of suspicion and disruption to their lives—inevitable in such circumstances. When cases such as the murders of Stephen, son of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, and of Daniel Morgan are not investigated properly for decades, trust in policing is inevitably damaged and diminished, even destroyed.

The actions of government can have the effect of enhancing policing, making standards clear and resourcing structures and processes properly. Proper modern policing costs money, and I welcome the recent announcement of the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, however, police numbers are now way below what is required to provide an effective service and continue to diminish, despite a terrorist threat level recently raised to severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The budget has been reduced and police numbers will continue to fall. The circumstances of the very recent attempt to murder DCI John Caldwell, so terribly injured at a local football training session for young people, is indicative of the ease with which terrorists can strike.

We need only to look at the matters currently under investigation by former Chief Constable Jon Boutcher in Operations Kenova and Denton, which are dealing with the activities of loyalist and republican paramilitaries. From the Stalker/Sampson and Stevens investigations and my own work as police ombudsman, we know that the police, the Army and MI5 successfully infiltrated terrorist organisations. However, there grew a time when they allowed people to continue their terrorism to preserve them as agents. People died because of that; it should not have happened.

There is ongoing concern about the activities of informants across the UK today. It took decades to begin to call to account those whose wrongdoing cost lives. Eventually, we reached the point at which accepted mechanisms for accountability were established. That, all the research showed, enhanced confidence in policing.

Now the legacy Bill will terminate existing criminal investigations, civil actions from 17 May and Troubles inquests this month, and will grant immunity to terrorists. It gives extensive powers to the Secretary of State, who is even responsible for making decisions about memorialisation. The Bill has been rejected by everyone. The Government and the Bill have been seriously criticised by the Council of Europe, the commissioner for human rights, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the Irish Government, the US State Department, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and many others. It deprives survivors and victims of the Troubles of their fundamental legal rights. The Government’s legal obligations are being set aside in the Bill.

If we are to grow confidence in policing, the Government must withdraw the legacy Bill and revert to a process for dealing with the past which is legally compliant and can gain the support of all affected. By continuing to push the Bill, the Government are demonstrating their contempt for the rule of law. Our country and our police have operated for centuries in accordance with the rule of law. Confidence in policing can be promoted, but only if government itself operates within the rule of law.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness’s thought-provoking speech. I first had the pleasure of knowing her when, as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I visited Northern Ireland on a frequent and regular basis for some five years. I developed admiration for the way in which she operated with real impartiality. During most of my time there, she was helped a great deal by the fact that there was an admirable chief police officer in Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, from whom a lot of people could learn a very great deal.

As the noble Baroness spoke, I felt that we really have a solution here, because we ought to have a police ombudsman in England. It is not a difficult thing to do but we need a respected figure—not, as my noble friend Lord Hunt put it, people from the police marking their own homework. To have somebody of real distinction, with a real knowledge of the law and of how policing works, could be very helpful indeed. I ask my noble friend the Minister to discuss that with the Home Secretary and his colleagues. It is an initiative that could come out of this debate, which was so admirably introduced by my noble friend Lord Lexden, for whom we all have great admiration because of his tenacity and persistence, particularly on the area on which my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral spoke. If ever there were something that besmirched—I use the word very deliberately—the reputation of the police in this country, it was the way in which the basic presumption that a man or woman is innocent until proven guilty was completely swept aside.

A number of great public servants—three in particular —were themselves besmirched. The first was the great Lord Bramall, whose memorial service was held only a few days ago in Winchester Cathedral; I gather that it was a most moving occasion.

The second was Leon Brittan—Lord Brittan—a colleague of mine and of my noble friend Lord Hunt in the other place. He was the personification of integrity. That does not mean that he was always right, but he was a man of absolute honour. His last days were made miserable, not just by his grave illness but by the way his reputation was traduced. What is more, and in a sense even sadder, was that his wife—now his widow—had to live with it.

The third was, of course, Sir Edward Heath, about whom my noble friend Lord Hunt spoke movingly. He was an extraordinary man. I was one of those elected to the 1970 Parliament when he became Prime Minister. Since then we have had a number of Prime Ministers, but none more honourable than Edward Heath, or more determined to serve his country by doing what he thought was the right thing for it.

I have to say that it is an absolute scandal that this has been so badly handled by successive Home Secretaries. I make a plea, endorsing that made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral: the Government must now pull their finger out and establish a time-limited inquiry under a lawyer of real eminence—possibly a former member of the Supreme Court—given 12 months in which to report back to the Government and Parliament. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom will take that request away from this debate and make a positive report.

We have talked about the Met. I read something in the Times the other day that encapsulated what we are dealing with. We have referred to the appalling Wayne Couzens and the ghastly crime that he committed against an innocent woman, Sarah Everard. We have talked of other police officers who have transgressed. I pay tribute to Sir Mark Rowley, who is clearly trying his best to re-establish the Met, in effect, so that it again becomes a respected institution. But the other day the Times reported about a woman, a property owner, who was disturbed about some threats to the square in which she lived and put up a handful of little notices. The police told her that she should not have done that, but they also said:

“Next time it ends in handcuffs”.

Is that really the way you treat people for a minor transgression?

In recent years, the police have gone right over the top when pursuing so-called hate crimes—not just in London; we had a notorious case in Lincolnshire just a couple of years ago. What people want from a police force is the knowledge that they are a body people they can respect who will help to ensure that their property is safe and, if it is broken into, the crime will be thoroughly investigated. That is what people want. They also want to know that their women can walk safely on the streets. For example, just a few weeks ago a London taxi driver told me he was upset because various road closures and diversions at the end of a street in one of the London boroughs—I think it was Hackney—meant that he had to drop people off at a corner to walk 100 yards or so. He told me, “That’s inconvenient enough in the rain, but the other night I had a young lady, and I stayed in my cab and watched that she got to her door”.

That is not the atmosphere in which we wish to see the police operating. We wish to see them bringing structure by their presence; my noble friend Lord Lexden referred to the bobby on the beat. He, like me, probably remembers “Dixon of Dock Green”—as surely we all do—and the local police station, which gave real comfort and encouragement to people.

Of course, one of the problems that we in this place have to face up to is that there has been a very real sea- change in society. When I was brought up, we accepted that certain things were right and certain things were wrong, and they were really moulded on Judeo-Christian civilisation. We all committed sins. We all did wrong, but at least we knew we had done it. It is not like that today. “You have your truth, I have my truth”; what nonsense. There ought to be certain accepted standards within which society can operate because, if there are not, society cannot properly operate. That is one of the problems that face the police, because people do not automatically accept that a certain thing is wrong. It is also one of the reasons why we have had all these problems within the police. We have clearly had within the police—especially within the Met, as so graphically illustrated recently in the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey—officers who have conceded to your right and my right, your truth and my truth and your wrong and my wrong, and they have not been operating within a consensual society.

What is the answer? Of course there are many but, in the context of today’s debates, one answer is “Dixon of Dock Green”—having units within the Met and in our other towns and cities where it is accepted that there are people there who will bring a sense of cohesion. Remember the cry some years ago in the NHS, “Bring back matron”? We want to bring back the superintendent in the regional or borough office. We want to bring back people who have a degree of real authority, answerable to somebody with supreme authority.

I come back to where I began. I am sorry for speaking my mind in this way. I have thought a lot about this, but I did not prepare a speech for this debate because I wanted to reflect on what others have said. I come back to where I began: I believe that one of the answers could lie, in England—it is for the other nations of the UK to determine how they go forward—with a police ombudsman who would be able to give a degree of confidence to the general public that, where there were real complaints against the police, those would be thoroughly, impartially and scrupulously investigated and fearlessly reported on. I commend that suggestion especially to your Lordships this afternoon.

Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for bringing forward this important debate and all participants for their thoughtful contributions.

Some 20 years ago, when I was chair of my police authority, I made it a rule to take us around north Yorkshire in order to let its residents have the opportunity to see us in action, so to speak, and let them ask whatever questions they wanted during the meeting. I do not recall at any time, over all the years I chaired it, anyone saying to us that they had lost confidence in the police.

Contrast that with today’s findings. In the past five years, 4.3 million anti-social behaviour reports have gone unattended. More than 2,000 such incidents went unattended by police each day last year, and some forces attended fewer than one in five incidents. The Crime Survey for England and Wales found that from 2017-18 to 2021-22 the number of people who thought the police were doing a good job fell from 62% to 52% and that overall confidence in local police fell from 78% to 69%. I am indebted to Richard Brown and Abbi Hobbs for these statistics in their excellent POSTnote 693. For clarity, POST is the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

Analysing Home Office statistics released just this week, we find that, on average, 574 burglaries went unsolved every day in 2022, making a total of 209,424 unsolved burglaries across England and Wales—a 10% rise compared with 2021. So great is the fear of local crime that a poll commissioned by my party found that 40% of UK adults had installed new home security systems in the past year, 1.5 million crimes went unsolved across England and Wales in the first three quarters of 2022 and 25% of adults do not go out after dark because of the fear of crime. Is it any wonder that trust in the police has fallen so much?

In November 2022, a YouGov poll of more than 5,000 UK adults found that 49% of them had confidence in the police, compared with 58% in January 2019. That was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who mentioned other examples, notably the BBC poll. There was also a 10% drop in trust in a survey from More in Common—probably not surprisingly, as it was conducted shortly after the sentencing of the former MPS officer, Wayne Couzens, after he abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. The End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 47% of women reported that they now have less trust in the police following that and other high-profile assault cases.

Cases of police misconduct and evidence of a culture of misogyny have demonstrated why women and girls’ confidence in policing is at an all-time low. The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s first violence against women and girls benchmark found that between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022 there were 1,177 recorded cases of police-perpetrated VAWG allegations. These included domestic as well as sexual abuse, and Refuge, which works on behalf of women and girls who are victims of such violence, reports that those victims are finding it difficult to trust the police when they are constantly hearing about police-perpetrated VAWG.

The excoriating review into Sarah Everard’s murder undertaken by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, which we have heard referred to a number of times this afternoon, highlighted a large number of areas where the police had failed to deal with the criminals in their midst and her report makes very difficult reading. She reported on how the Metropolitan Police Service had to change and gave her advice on how to achieve that. It should be the blueprint for all forces to look internally and make those cultural changes that are now so necessary.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has called for all forces to prioritise reports of violence against women and girls. Operation Soteria Bluestone, the Government’s own rape review, is aimed at developing a new national model for investigating rape and serious sexual assault. Was this intended simply as an annual report, or is it ongoing? Can the Minister give the House an update on its findings?

We must now address why all this has happened. Your Lordships will not be surprised that I believe there to be a direct correlation between loss of trust in the police and the numbers of officers, including community support officers, whose numbers have dropped by an average of 33% in England and Wales since 2015. We will be told, I am sure, that the Government have provided, or are about to provide, an extra 20,000 police officers, but can the Minister tell us how many police officers have been lost or have retired from the service in that time? I do not expect him to answer that today but if he could write to me, I would be grateful. Losing experienced officers and recruiting new ones might go a long way towards explaining loss of trust in the service.

Police managers have a huge responsibility here. Where is their continuing professional training and what is being done to support them? Sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and chief constables are all responsible for ensuring good conduct and rooting out the so-called bad apples. Basically, it is the overall culture and behaviour of police officers that needs addressing. A number of noble Lords have mentioned this, notably the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who gave us vivid examples of police overreaction. I will not go into past painful recollections of my own dealings with badly behaving officers, but suffice it to say that I do not believe that much has changed within police culture. That is a shame, because it takes only a handful of rogue officers in each force to shape the public’s image of policing as a whole.

Police managers must grapple with ridding themselves of these abhorrent officers, who should never have been recruited in the first place. The vetting procedures need urgent attention. When an officer is found to have behaved badly, the chief constable must be able to dismiss that officer quickly and easily. This was always a huge bone of contention when I was chair. The frankly ridiculous amount of time that it took to get to the point of dismissal was utterly depressing. It seems that nothing much has changed, so can the Minister update us on any proposals that the Government may have about that?

How do we restore that lost trust? The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, mentioned a number of things that might be done. I too suggest a number of measures. It starts as soon as we appraise new recruits. Vetting them is crucial, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to. We must find a process that will weed out those unsuitable for the office of police constable. We must ensure that training is carried out properly and is continuous. Forces now do their own training, mainly. In my day, recruits went to training schools. At least then they were all learning the same basics.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, rightly highlighted the importance of human rights obligations for the police. I agree with her. They should quickly weed out unsuitable people, urgently revise the misconduct procedures and make accountability more transparent. At the moment, this is vested in police and crime commissioners—your Lordships know my antipathy towards them. I will not dwell on it, but six police forces are now in special measures; just one was when I was vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities. PCC costs have rocketed to over £100 million as officer numbers have fallen. Those outrageous costs could have funded an additional 3,830 community officers on an average salary of £26,634.

We must ensure procedural justice, to make people feel that they are treated in a fair and just way. Perhaps treating people with fairness, respect, trustworthiness and neutrality would also help. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, helpfully mentioned a statutory duty of candour, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested that we consider having a police ombudsman—a very interesting thought. Most importantly, however, we must get back to community policing, with a police officer who knows their beat and their locals and is visible to them. Community engagement is the golden thread that brings the police and public together to deal with crime. It is the way we do policing in this country.

We were once proud to say that we had the best police service in the world, but we have lost our way. I hope that we can say again that we are proud of that service as soon as possible, but I fear that it will take rather a long time.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I, too, open by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate on the state of public confidence in the police. Of course, I agree with pretty much every word that he said. A number of noble Lords have spoken about his indefatigability, and of course I agree with that as well.

We are all familiar with high-profile cases of the Met’s failure to prevent murder and violent crimes being done, not just by the general public but from within their own ranks. This has been the most prominent and worrying time for the Metropolitan Police in recent times. Just last week, we heard that the Met Police may also be failing to identify serial killers, in the wake of the appalling case of Stephen Port. In an HMICFRS report, five key failings were identified: a lack of training, poor supervision, unacceptable record-keeping, confusing policies and inadequate intelligence procedures. How are the Government urgently supporting the Met to fix that in relation not only to the most serious crimes but more widely?

Numerous media reports have also appeared about the recruitment of unsuitable candidates who have been given jobs as police officers in the lead-up to the deadline that the Government set themselves to meet their recruitment target. The report from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, into the Met highlighted the lack of experience left in the police service, saying:

“On paper, we have the highest number of police officers”,

but that they have lost experienced police officers in recent years so that

“while on paper there are officers on seats, the lack of experience is noticeable”.

The Government need to provide a clear timeline for a legislative framework of standards to ensure that, even at times of high recruitment, we are hiring not rotten apples but only the best candidates—and, of course, there should be clear guidelines and standards from the start of their career. Why is it that in England and Wales we still have no mandatory national standards on police vetting, misconduct and training? Do the Government have a timeline for producing mandatory national standards? This goes to the same point that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about—the lamentable time that it can take to dismiss a police officer.

Delays in dealing with serious crime have also eroded public confidence; 90% of crimes are unsolved, victims are dropping out of the reporting process in their millions, and sexual offences are at record highs. How concerned is the Minister about this, and does he accept that this is an unsustainable situation which demands urgent action?

We also know the problems with police visibility and community engagement. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, about the golden thread, as she termed it, of public consent in supporting our police forces so that they can solve crimes. On this side of the Committee, we believe that neighbourhood policing has been hollowed out, leaving people feeling unsafe in their own neighbourhoods. Restoring public confidence in this area will certainly mean increasing the number of bobbies on the beat, being a visible and reassuring presence in communities. Those bobbies would have genuine local knowledge and relationships to deal with lower-level crime effectively. Have the Government considered the merits of committing to a target for putting more PCSOs and police officers on the streets?

In commenting on some noble Lords’ speeches, which have all given great expertise to this short debate, I want to pick out two particular points. First, I agreed with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, but he spoke about “Dixon of Dock Green” and how it was when that TV programme was on. I watched that programme when I was a boy, but I was a boy in London. I was stopped more times than I can remember by the police force in Notting Hill. I suspect my experience of the police force 50 years ago was very different from the one displayed in “Dixon of Dock Green”, so we should not be too sentimental about the past.

Secondly, I want to pick up the point from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, about confidence in the police. Yesterday, I sat as a magistrate in the City of London Magistrates’ Court, dealing with the usual range of cases; there was nothing special yesterday. At lunchtime, I had a sandwich with a district judge friend of mine. He knew that I was going to take part in this debate. I asked him the one change he would make which would have the greatest benefit in building confidence in the police—one thing. He did not hesitate in his answer. He said, “Bring domestic abuse allegations to court the next day. Do it immediately. If you did that, you would get a far lower drop-out rate”. He is a travelling district judge and does DA work across the whole country. He has been absolutely appalled by the prevalence of this. Different parts of the country deal with it in different ways, but when I put that question to him he did not hesitate in his answer. He said he understood that it would be difficult, but that it would be the single thing that any Government could do to have the greatest impact.

I will tell the Minister, for nothing, that I will feed that idea into the Labour Party as a proposal for the manifesto and the like, but he is very welcome to take it forward himself. Other than that, I welcome this debate. It has shown great insight into the problems ahead of us. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for moving the debate.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this debate. I salute his tenacity—an easier word to pronounce. I also thank all those who have contributed. I apologise to my noble friend that our meeting has unfortunately been postponed more than once, but I promise we will get there in the end.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, delivered a thought-provoking speech about Northern Ireland. She will not be surprised that I am singularly unqualified to discuss the legacy Bill, but I will make sure that her remarks are passed on to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Caine.

Today’s discussion is another reminder of the importance of this topic and I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the Government’s work in this space. I found the debate extraordinarily interesting, as have all other noble Lords, and of course I agree with many of the remarks that have been made. I have also found some of the personal reflections rather moving; I will come back to those.

All noble Lords are right: public confidence is absolutely essential to policing. Without it, the ability of the police to carry out their core functions is undermined, as per our model of policing by consent. My noble friend Lord Lexden rightly mentioned the foundational Peel principles and he had the two ex-policemen on the Government Front Bench today nodding in agreement.

As we are all well aware, recent high-profile cases and reports have underlined the need to root out unacceptable behaviour and to reset cultures. Officers must be held to the highest standards. Before I talk about the Government, I pay tribute to the vast majority of police officers in this country, who serve with considerable fortitude, tenacity—to use that word again—and diligence. They deserve our support and we should not forget that they are the vast majority. I am sure that noble Lords also speak on a regular basis to those who protect us in this place. I would like to say—I place this on record—that they have made it very clear to me that they are also extremely keen to see the sorts of reforms that we are discussing pushed through.

Before I respond to some of the points that have come up during the debate, I will set out briefly some of the steps that the Government are taking to drive change. I will try to avoid the blizzard of statistics that my noble friend referenced but I feel that I need to point out the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales statistics. Other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, have put it on the record today—and it would be remiss of me not to point out—that we are making progress in some areas. For example, the figures for hospital admissions for assault by a sharp object for people under 25 are 25% lower in the year ending December 2022 than they were in the year ending December 2019. I deliberately omit the pandemic years. Neighbourhood crime as measured by the crime survey is down 28% in the year ending December 2022 compared with the year ending December 2019. Obviously, we need police to work with partners to make sure that those numbers are maintained. On homicide, levels have been falling since the end of 2021 and are now lower than they were before the pandemic in March 2020. The current level is 11% below the pre-pandemic level in March 2020. There were 708 homicides then. The picture is not an unqualified dystopia, as perhaps some would have us believe.

I will now try to respond to some of the points that have been made—obviously, if I fail in responding to any of the specific ones, I will catch up in writing. We have done a number of things, starting with establishing the independent Angiolini inquiry, which is currently examining the appalling cases of two former Metropolitan Police officers that have been widely referenced. Part 2 of the inquiry will investigate issues in policing such as vetting, recruitment and poor culture, as well as the safety of women in public spaces, a subject to which I will return. In January, we launched a review into the process for police officer dismissals, to ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing those not fit to serve—I will also come back to that—and the Home Secretary has asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for vetting.

Most speakers have referenced the Casey review and holding the Metropolitan Police to account, specifically my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Ponsonby. The Casey review made for very sobering reading. It is paramount that public trust in the Metropolitan Police is restored. Although primary accountability lies with the Mayor of London, I know that the Home Secretary will continue to hold the commissioner and mayor to account to deliver the necessary improvements. I very much welcome the scrutiny and transparency that HMICFRS brings to police performance and fully support its decision to escalate the Met to its enhanced monitoring phase of “engage”. I am reassured that both the commissioner and mayor are engaging constructively with HMICFRS’s police performance oversight group process. It is imperative that it begins the process to restore the public’s confidence that they are getting the high quality of service that they deserve and have every right to expect. We have confidence in the commissioner’s leadership and his plans to turn around the Met and ensure that the force is delivering for all communities. It is also worth noting that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, observed that Sir Mark and the deputy commissioner, Lynne Owens, deserve a chance to succeed and she believes that they will do so, as do I.

I move on to the subject of institutional racism, misogyny and other forms of unacceptable discrimination. Without question, discriminatory attitudes and behaviours have no place at all in policing and allegations of racism, misogyny and homophobia are deeply disturbing. We expect police leaders to take urgent action to root out discrimination. Allegations of wrongdoing are dealt with under a comprehensive framework, either by police forces or the Independent Office for Police Conduct. By law, forces must refer certain allegations to the IOPC, including criminal offences or behaviour liable to disciplinary proceedings that is aggravated by discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion or other protected characteristics.

The Home Secretary has been consistently clear that culture and standards in policing need to improve, as a matter of urgency. Examining the root causes of poor and toxic cultures will be a key focus of part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry when it begins later this spring. The College of Policing is also currently updating the Code of Ethics, which plays a key role in instilling the right principles and standards from the start of an officer’s career.

All speakers, I think, have referred to the dismissals process. There is no disputing that officers have to be held to the highest standards; that is obviously vital to public trust and confidence in policing. To ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing those not fit to serve, the Government are, as noble Lords will be aware, carrying out a review of the dismissals process. Among other areas, the review will consider the composition of misconduct panels, the role of legally qualified chairs and the consistency of decision-making in cases of sexual misconduct and offences related to violence against women and girls. The process of a review is correct. In another context, my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out that the police should not mark their own homework. Although I understand the superficial desirability of allowing chief constables the right to make the sackings, this subject still deserves to be considered in the round to ensure that all the possible consequences of those powers are thought through. That is what the review is doing and we will report back when it concludes, which I think will be at the end of this month.

On the subject of vetting, the public deserve to have confidence that the right people are recruited into policing. In order to strengthen the vetting regime, the Government have asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for police vetting, making the obligations that all forces must have due regard to stricter and clearer. The public consultation for the updated Vetting Code of Practice closed on 21 March and the college is now considering the responses, before providing it to the Home Secretary to arrange for it to be laid in Parliament. The Home Secretary has also asked the policing inspectorate to carry out a rapid review of police forces’ responses to its November 2022 report, which highlighted a number of areas where police vetting can be strengthened. Separately, the National Police Chiefs’ Council—the NPCC—has asked police forces to check their officers and staff against the police national database to help to identify anyone who is unfit to serve. The data-washing exercise is now complete and forces are manually analysing the information received to identify leads for follow-up. This exercise is expected to be completed by September.

A number of noble Lords referred to violence against women and girls, in particular the very worrying statistics around the appalling offence of rape. With the Committee’s indulgence, I will go into what we are doing on this in a little more detail. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, referred to Operation Soteria, which is the programme being rolled out to improve responses in this area. I can give her the statistics that she was seeking. In the year since the Metropolitan Police has been involved in Operation Soteria—the year ending September 2022—the number of adult rape offences recorded increased by 15%. The number of charges for adult rape offences increased by 79%. That number is still not high enough, certainly not relative to the number of offences, but the trend is in the right direction. The number of investigations closed because the victim did not support further action fell by 8%. Those numbers should give some reassurance that this is working as intended. It is intended to drive long-lasting, sustainable change.

The national operating model, which is being developed through the programme, will be available to all forces in England and Wales from June 2023. However, that is not the only action that we are taking. We are also bringing in new powers to stop unnecessary and intrusive requests for victims’ phones—a vital change in the law that puts an end to the practice of digital strip-searches, as they are known. We are supporting police forces to ensure that no victim of rape is left without a phone for more than 24 hours and we are committed to legislating to ensure that police requests for third-party material are necessary and proportionate. It is early stages, of course, but the trends are heading in the right direction, albeit that I would certainly like to see them speeded up, as I am sure all noble Lords and all police officers would, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very good suggestion about domestic abuse victims, which I will definitely take back. It falls within the MoJ’s remit, so with his permission I will make sure that my colleagues there are well aware of his suggestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, and my noble friend Lord Cormack referenced violence against women and girls, which I will go into in some more detail. We are doing a lot to improve the policing response to crimes of VAWG, as it is known. We recently published a revised strategic policing requirement which includes VAWG as a national threat for policing to respond to. We supported the appointment of DCC Maggie Blyth as the first full-time National Police Chiefs’ Council VAWG lead to co-ordinate and improve the police response to it. The NPCC published its first performance report in March 2023 using data obtained from forces and will publish a strategic risk assessment shortly to outline where forces should prioritise their resources going forward.

We have also committed up to £3.3 million to fund the rollout of domestic abuse matters training to police forces that are yet to deliver it or do not have their own specific domestic abuse training. This also includes funding the development of a new training module targeted at officers investigating domestic offences to improve charge rates. That is very good progress. As always, there is more to do, but the Government are not idle in this area.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, made some extremely good points about police leadership. The Government are clear that strong leadership at every level is essential. Cultures must be reset and standards raised, and the Government will continue pushing for the necessary improvements to be made. However, the drive for change also needs to come from within, and strong leadership at all ranks is essential. We have invested in a new national centre for police leadership, which is being developed by the College of Policing. For the first time, from June 2023 there will be national leadership standards and a professional development framework linked to these standards at every level in policing. This means that every police officer will have a clear set of consistent leadership standards expected of them at every rank, and will know what training is available to help them achieve those standards. That goes some way to answering the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. In addition, the College of Policing’s reformed processes for progression to chief officer will increase transparency and open up access to senior-level development. The first cohort to undertake the new executive leaders programme, which is mandatory for those who want to reach chief officer level, will begin in June 2023.

The Government believe in local policing accountable to local communities. That is why we introduced police and crime commissioners in 2012. PCCs and mayors with PCC functions have been elected by the public to hold chief constables and the force to account, ensuring that the public have a stronger voice in policing. PCCs are central to the work to restore trust and confidence in the police. To do so, they must continue to be strong and visible leaders in the fight against crime. Implementing the Government’s two-part review into PCCs will strengthen their role, ensuring that they are accountable to the public and have the tools and levers they need to carry out their role effectively. It will sharpen local accountability, making it easier for the public to hold their PCC to account for their record on reducing crime, and will turn the dial on their involvement in the criminal justice system, giving them a more defined role. Ultimately, PCCs and mayors with PCC functions are directly elected by the communities they serve and are held to account at the ballot box. I am afraid I do not recognise the cost figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, advanced.

The Government and the public rightly expect the highest standards from our police officers. The ability of the police to perform their core functions—tackling crime and keeping the public safe—is dependent on their capacity to maintain the confidence of the public. As part of the “Inclusive Britain” strategy, the Government are committed to developing a new national framework with policing partners, including PCCs, for how the use of police powers, such as stop and search and use of force, can be scrutinised at a local level. This will help create tangible improvements in trust and confidence between the police and the communities they serve by improving public understanding of how and why police use their powers and to help account for any disparities. Alongside this, the Home Office has committed to seek to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent the use of body-worn video, which will be implemented in the framework. Work is well under way on the community scrutiny framework, which we aim to publish later this year.

Last week, we announced that our unprecedented officer recruitment campaign has met its target. We said that we would recruit an additional 20,000 officers and we have. This means that we now have 149,572 officers across England and Wales. We recruited an additional 20,951 during the three-year campaign, which is testament to the hard work of forces and the brave men and women who have signed up join police forces. We know that there is work to do to improve trust and confidence in policing, but it is worth noting that, during this recruitment campaign, almost 275,000 people applied to join the police, showing that it really is a job like no other. However, let me be clear: there was never a question that this uplift should come at the expense of public safety. We have provided more than £3 billion to police forces to support the recruitment process, including enhancing vetting capabilities. Recruitment standards have been maintained, and this rigour is demonstrated by the fact that, for every 10 applicants, only one officer is hired. That ratio has been consistent throughout the campaign. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that this is not a tacit admission of anything. It is a reflection, as I said yesterday, that demand in policing has changed.

The Government have been clear about the need to return to common-sense policing, where the focus is on getting the basics right. This means making our neighbourhoods safer, supporting victims and taking tougher action. That is what the public expect, and what the public deserve. It is about attending every residential burglary. It is about targeting crime hotspots, whether that be to tackle anti-social behaviour or serious violence, and it is about bringing to justice those who break our laws.

On the subject of anti-social behaviour, which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked me about, I will not go into too much detail, but the Government are committed to tackling and preventing ASB. Since taking up office, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that the people’s priorities are his priorities—and this is one of them. He was behind the publication on 27 March of an ASB action plan, which sets out the Government’s commitment to tackling ASB across six key areas—I will not go into them now. There is also a task force that is chaired, I think, by my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, whose department is also looking at this particular subject.

On Operation Conifer, I really have heard what my noble friends in particular have said on this matter. One thing that I feel I must say is that, even though the accusations laid against some of the people who were investigated turned out to be those of a fantasist, that fantasist was given political cover and there was political pressure involved here; we should not forget that fact. We should also defend the police’s right to investigate accusations of this type. There has been a seriously large number of historical allegations that have been proved, including some into some very public personalities. I will not name names, but we should remember that. In saying that, I am not in any way justifying how that operation was done, some of the things that were said or any other subjects that my noble friends have rightly brought back into the public domain yet again. I completely understand why they are asking for that independent inquiry. However, the Government’s position is that there have effectively been four independent scrutiny panels and so on, which have checked and tested the decision-making and approach of the investigation. Two reviews by Operation Hydrant in September 2016 and May 2017, to which my noble friend Lord Hunt referred, concluded that the investigation was proportionate, legitimate and in accordance with national guidance. There was a review in January 2017 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, as it then was, of whether the resources assigned to the investigation by the Home Office were being deployed in accordance with value-for-money principles. The IOPC has also considered specific allegations related to a former chief constable.

On the subject of the former chief constable, arrangements concerning the establishment of a misconduct hearing are a matter for PCCs, as I have said from the Dispatch Box before. The management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chair. As I have also said, legally qualified chairs 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 it is in the interests of justice to do so. That is obviously the case in this particular instance. It is regrettable, but that is the case. Decisions made within a hearing are done so independently of PCCs and the Government. The Government take accountability of the police very seriously and have delivered a number of reforms to strengthen the police disciplinary system. This included additional independence through the introduction of independent LQCs in 2016. The Government are also undertaking an internal review of the process of police officer dismissals, which is looking at the existing model and composition of panels, including the impact of the role of LQCs.

In answer to the specific comments and questions about anonymity from my noble friend Lord Lexden, I say that there is no specific legislative provision for the anonymity of legally qualified chairs. Decisions concerning the publication of an LQC’s name are a matter for the relevant PCC. Those decisions are made independently of government. I do not know why his or her identity is not public in this case, and I am not going to speculate on that subject.

In closing, I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this debate and thank all those who have participated. Just to conclude with a couple of other remarks, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for his nostalgia trip to Dock Green, but I think that there are enough national bodies with responsibilities in the oversight area, including, of course, the College of Policing, the HMICFRS, the IOPC and the NPCC. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about him being stopped and searched when he was younger, and I wonder who he was hanging around with in those days.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised an interesting subject about the practical and philosophical arrangement of policing in this country, which I think might be a debate that he should impress on the Government to come back to in future days. It would be fun to conduct that debate, although I am probably going well beyond my brief here.

As I have made clear, if the police are to perform their critical functions with maximum effectiveness, they must have the trust and confidence of the people they serve. That is why the Government are taking the action that I have highlighted to drive change and why we will continue challenging forces to raise standards across the board—and, rest assured, the Government will not rest.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, this has been first and foremost a moving debate, not least because of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, on suffering in Northern Ireland, with which, as she knows, I have the deepest personal sympathy. Secondly, it has been a debate in which we have reminded ourselves of past wrongs, particularly those relating to the reputation of Sir Edward Heath—wrongs that await redress and cry out for justice. We do not accept the Government’s view that an independent inquiry is not needed. In this matter, perhaps the case for a police ombudsman, put forward by my noble friend Lord Cormack, is particularly strong.

Thirdly, it has been a debate in which we have noted the malign consequences that have arisen because certain police officers have been determined to protect their own reputations at the expense of justice and the needs of the public. Fourthly, it has been a debate in which we have reminded ourselves of the need to be clear where operational independence of the police begins and ends and where political responsibility starts. Fifthly, it has been a debate in which we have shown overwhelmingly that far-reaching changes are needed, especially in London, where we begin to see the results of the superb leadership of Sir Mark Rowley. He must be given the disciplinary powers that he requires.

Finally, and sixthly, it is a debate in which we have urged the Government to respond with vigour and effectiveness to the crisis of confidence in the police. My noble friend the Minister has told us what the Government are doing. I shall leave noble Lords to form their own judgments about his comments. He can be sure that he remains on probation, as I am sure he would expect. We shall look carefully at his future homework. If change and rigorous policy is pursued before us, it will bring a great prize, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, referred: the restoration of full pride in police forces in our country.

Motion agreed.

Foreign Policy

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the United Kingdom’s changing role in the world and its implications for foreign policy.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, the people of these islands have made an extraordinary contribution to the world, much of which we can be immensely proud of. However, with the contraction of the British Empire, two world wars, the emergence of the Commonwealth and our renegotiated relations with mainland Europe post Brexit, we have to continue to adapt to the changing world around us, not least as we negotiate new trade deals—a theme which I know a number of speakers will pick up on during today’s debate.

Long gone are the days when we could boast that Britannia ruled the waves or when the UK was famous for being the home of the Industrial Revolution and known as the workshop of the world, but as some things have declined, others have emerged. Today, we are renowned as a major financial centre, a provider of some of the best tertiary education in the world, the home of some of the most exciting and innovative developments in science, medicine and technology, not least in the fields of computing and artificial intelligence, and a country which has been at the forefront of international development and human rights. All this is happening in a world with massive population growth, where international trade and travel have grown hugely, where environmental concerns and climate change are rising—rightly—up the agenda, and where the ever-present threat of war, not least nuclear war, continues.

We face many challenges as well as many opportunities. China continues to grow rapidly and, as the Integrated Review Refresh 2023 report says:

“The CCP is increasingly explicit in its aim to shape a China-centric international order more favourable to its authoritarian system”.

North Korea now has nuclear weapons and is conducting regular tests. As President Putin’s war against Ukraine continues, China and Iran are strengthening their links with Russia in what many consider a worrying alliance, not least for those of us in the West. Taiwan continues to be under threat by China and could easily become the focus of international conflict.

Meanwhile, population growth across the world continues apace and is unsustainable. The recent Covid-19 pandemic was also a wake-up call. The virus spread rapidly and no country was able to prevent it infecting its population. It gave us a real-time lesson that, whatever our racial and ethnic background, we are all part of one human race. The pandemic revealed our mutual dependence and we learned a lot about the vulnerability of some of our supply chains.

In every age, a major role of government is the defence of the realm, particularly in turbulent times. I was therefore interested to read the Integrated Review Refresh 2023. Having no expertise in defence, I am content to leave that area of foreign policy to those Members of your Lordships’ House who are experts. I look forward to their contribution in this debate. However, I note that the review is proposing that expenditure on defence should increase from 2% of GDP to 2.5% over time and as fiscal and economic circumstances allow. The reason I raise this is that His Majesty’s Government have made a conscious decision to reduce spending on overseas development assistance from 0.7% to 0.5%. In other words, this is a deliberate policy shift away from assisting foreign countries to develop to increasing our military capability instead.

Of course, there are times when tyrants and bullies have to be confronted. However, it is equally important to develop and deliver a foreign policy that seeks to build a more peaceful world—and peace is dependent on justice. Unaddressed injustices and inequalities breed resentment, and in that dark pool of bitterness is born conflict. It is well said that peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. This is why Christ calls us to share in the difficult and challenging work of building peace. It is why he said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.

This is why the Church of England and other major Christian churches around the world have collaborated and established a peacebuilding team, to support the Church in being a reconciling presence in the midst of conflict. We have urged and continue to urge the Foreign Office to make peacemaking a major plank of its work. It is good that the Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation in the Foreign Office has a negotiations and peace process department. As far as I know, it is the only place in His Majesty’s Civil Service and Armed Forces architecture where a dedicated unit is focused solely on peacebuilding. It is a significant step in the right direction and I congratulate the Government on this. I suggest that a dedicated expert team feeds directly into foreign and defence policy at the strategic level of all policy formation, to offer solutions to conflict built on negotiation, mediation, dialogue and conflict resolution. This is the important strand of a strategic level policy design that appears to be missing from the integrated review.

Allied to this is the need for us to develop and use all the forms of soft power also available to us. The BBC World Service is a vital element of this peacebuilding process, so it is disappointing to see the cuts to expenditure. Impartial reporting is one of the most important contributions we can make to a world that is often economical with the truth or promulgates false news. It was particularly shocking when, during the protests in Iran—when women and young children were being killed while protesting against the tyranny of the Iranian regime—our Government announced cuts to the BBC Persian radio services.

The Government have now pledged a £20 million uplift to the BBC World Service, but that will do very little to restrict the planned cuts. Many BBC language services, which have played a vital role in covering not only the protests in Iran but the war in Ethiopia and the pro-democracy protests in Myanmar, are set to be cut. For example, just £800,000 could save BBC Persian radio and preserve a service relied on by 1.6 million Iranians currently in an uprising against their Government.

Similarly, our overseas development aid not only provides much needed help for some of the most vulnerable people in the world but supports our strategic goals across the world. For example, countries in the Horn of Africa face devastating famine following war, drought and crop diseases. Nearly 22 million people are in desperate need of food. Many are likely to die but many others will join the ranks of those who decide to migrate and will be added to the queues of desperate people who want to get into the UK. There is a real reason why we need to think about trying to help these areas develop. We know that our failure to deliver aid to the very same region in 2011 led to millions of deaths, but it also led to increased security threats, as terrorist groups exploited hunger to recruit people to sign up to their radical groups.

Over the past few months, I have asked His Majesty’s Government a series of Written Questions. It is significant that we have slashed our aid to these very countries. The return to the 0.7% aid commitment would help promote security around the globe—let us be in no doubt. Meanwhile, China is entering into the vacuum and buying its way into these countries across Africa and other parts of the world.

I move briefly on to climate change, which is set to have important consequences for foreign policy in the next decade. We have already witnessed how climate-caused famine can lead to instability in the developing world. Furthermore, as the situation gets worse in the Middle East and Africa, we can expect more refugees to arrive on our borders. The UK’s long-term strategy needs to be aware of the consequences of climate change and focus on environmental peacebuilding. This includes providing loss and damage payments for regions most affected by climate change, be that through famine, rising sea levels or other extreme weather events.

Going forward, our foreign policy needs to be conscious of the severe impact of climate change on the developing world and to ensure that we can adequately protect against its consequences. This also means supporting sustainable development, investing in renewable energy and promoting environmentally responsible policies across the globe. One way we can do this is by investing in green technologies, which not only support the developing world but promote British business.

At a fundamental level, the UK has been, and should continue to be, a country that stands up for human rights across our world. Tyrants are watching with interest as some people in our country want to water down some of our human rights. Surely this is the very time when we need to defend such rights and work with all those who promote them, not least in places such as Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted and killed.

China’s disregard for human rights is a significant threat to the world. The CCP’s treatment of its own citizens, particularly those of religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents and activists, is deeply concerning. I am shocked to see the continued ill treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province by Chinese authorities, or Beijing’s increasingly harsh treatment of Hong Kong protesters and activists, such as Jimmy Lai, who has recently been given a very long sentence.

We have to face the fact that China is not taking a lot of attention from the rest of the world, but we must continue to protest for the sake of all those other countries which may be seeing how the majority respond to China’s bullying tactics. China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region presents a particular challenge to what the strategic review calls “our Indo-Pacific tilt”. How do the Government plan to counter an increasingly active and aggressive China while simultaneously favouring a strategy promoting relationships in the Indo-Pacific?

I turn briefly to the role of and the treatment of women around the globe. This is an area in which our country has been proud to take a lead. The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban just two years ago stands as a clear example of how quickly hard-won victories can be lost. This was a country where the vast majority of women were getting education; they were taking roles in leadership in all sectors of society. What representations have His Majesty’s Government made to the authorities in Afghanistan to ensure that girls will again be able to get an education? This is a fundamental issue that we need to stand for.

Another important area is found at the intersection of our foreign policy and our domestic policy. One of the great successes of the UK is our universities and, in particular, the many overseas students who study at them. This is one of the main forms of soft power that we can exercise in the world, and we have been brilliantly successful at it in the past. A study as recently as 2017 found that 58 world leaders had been educated at British universities, compared with only 57 in America and 33 in France. Not only did these students bring in very welcome income, but it means that we sometimes recruit from their ranks as well some very bright people. Even more importantly, they will get a taste of what it is to live in a different sort of world.

Of course, the problem is that this sort of soft power does not cash out immediately in tangible ways, but it does further our values. For example, to go back to the point I made a few minutes ago on women’s rights, someone educated here will have a deep experience over several years of studying as equals with women. This is something we cannot simply argue; the experience will far outweigh any theory.

These are just some of the many aspects of our role in the world. There are many others that I have not been able to touch on. I am looking forward to hearing how those who are experts in our Committee can speak particularly on areas of defence and trade, in which I have very little experience. I hope this brief introduction will set the scene for others as we reflect on our place in today’s world.

Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity for this debate and for his thoughtful opening remarks. I agree with large parts of what he said, and I am sure we can all endorse the wish that we should work to make this a more peaceful world.

This is a timely debate because it comes on the back of the Government’s Integrated Review Refresh on foreign policy, one of the rare intellectually coherent documents to come out of government. I pay tribute to the role of my friend Professor John Bew, foreign policy adviser now to three Prime Ministers, in writing it. I was a little involved in writing the 2021 original review, so I welcome the fact that this 2023 refresh maintains some fundamental elements of that review’s approach, particularly the emphasis on systemic competition as a key feature of today’s international system, and the clarity that

“traditional multilateral approaches and defending the post-Cold War ‘rules-based international system’ are no longer sufficient on their own”.

Too much of our post-Cold War diplomacy seemed to put too much emphasis on process rather than substance, a belief that the unique mission of the UK was to preserve the processes of international interaction —in which we, as a P5 member, have a privileged position—rather than to consider whether the outcomes of that system actually suited this country’s interests.

This new realism is welcome, and I hope it will be coupled in future with a more clear-sighted view of international institutions and how they work—to see them not so much as producers of global norms or as global NGOs but more, for the time being at least, as what they are: arenas for conflict between the great powers. We saw during the pandemic how the WHO became extremely influenced—perhaps captured—for a time by Chinese perspectives, and I look for these lessons to be learned in our attitude to the pandemic treaty currently being drafted in Geneva.

The IR refresh also states:

“Today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’, or divided into binary, Cold War-style blocs”.

It is certainly true that that is not the only thing going on in the world, but at the same time it is hard to deny that it is a—perhaps the—major feature of the current world scene. The newly revived strength of purpose of NATO and its east Asian partners on the one hand, and, on the other, the closer relationship among China, Russia, Iran and others is surely a clear organising principle at the moment, and it is foolish to think that the latter countries wish us well or to deny that we are engaged in some sort of global competition with them.

It is true that many states around the world are not in either of those camps, but in this world, the strength of purpose and attractiveness of the main players is crucial in determining how those other states play their hand. We have seen in the reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that many of those countries, even those with broadly free societies and those we regard as our friends, do not necessarily always wish to line up with us in condemning Russia if it affects their own direct interests.

There are many reasons for this, but one, I fear, is the current perception that many have of the United States. The US remains the most powerful single country in the world, and it is our closest friend and ally, but it is made less attractive as a society and as an ally by its uncertain leadership under its current President and by the apparent grip that hard-left values have on the Democratic Party and on some parts of US society. We know from comment in other countries round the world that this is weakening US soft power. To many, the US seems in decline, as do we, its western allies.

Where the US and its allies withdraw, we see others occupy the space, most obviously in the recent China-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in the gradual rehabilitation of Syria in the region and in the readiness of Turkey—an ally, at least on paper—to play with both sides in the Ukraine war. We must hope that the US finds it in itself, as so often in the past, to renew its strengths and return effectively to the world stage.

How can our country play its hand in this increasingly difficult world? I will suggest four ways from the many that one could list. First, we should not give in to those who say that we cannot have influence on our own—only as part of a bloc. Obviously, big countries are stronger and more powerful than smaller ones, but the same is not true of large groups of countries compared with smaller ones. The collective uncertainty of purpose shown by the EU in the early weeks of the Ukraine war and, more recently, with regard to China, suggests that the EU as a unit is, more often than not, less than the sum of its parts. Our ability to assess, decide and act quickly and show leadership is a huge advantage, as the early days of the Ukraine war showed.

Secondly, we must invest in our friends, new and old, through thick and thin, and build genuine partnerships and alliances through difficulties, avoiding a tendency we sometimes have to preachiness. Raising our own defence spending on hard power is a crucial part of building the credibility of these relationships. We have begun that with AUKUS and the incipient defence arrangements with Japan, and I hope that in due course the CPTPP will help us to strengthen all those relationships in Asia still further. We have newly strong partnerships with the countries of central and eastern Europe as a result of the Ukraine war, but we must also keep investing in others that matter, particularly the Gulf countries. I worry that some of our long-standing friends think we might be losing interest in them and beginning to look elsewhere.

Thirdly, one country that I am concerned that we do not influence as much as we should is the United States. Although the defence and security relationship is strong, the political relationship and the relationships between much of the bureaucracies are not as taut as they used to be. When I entered the Foreign Office 30 years ago it was a much stronger and closer relationship. I fear there is a view in Washington that the British effort, via the embassy and beyond, is not as dynamic or effective as it once was and not as well plugged into the Republican Party than it could be. Indeed, I have heard it said by well-placed commentators that not just Israel or Ireland but countries such as Poland or France are more effective on the Hill than the UK nowadays. I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on this.

Finally, we need a clear policy towards China. We had the Foreign Secretary’s speech at Mansion House last week. I did not see it as quite as accommodating as many commentators seemed to, and it certainly got across the multidimensionality of the relationship, but it still seemed to be trying to have it all ways and to overestimate our ability to persuade China on issues that are of importance to us. The four elements of our policy might be, “We talk to you, we seek to influence you if we can, but we don’t really trust you and we certainly want to make ourselves less dependent on you”. Overall in that relationship, the right place for us to be is tougher than the EU and closer to the US.

This is a difficult, dangerous and turbulent world. If we are to navigate it effectively, we must stick by our friends, raise our game and stand up to those who wish us harm. I am confident that this is the Government’s intention. If we can do this, I am sure that we will survive, prosper and succeed.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Frost. I admit that I had not expected to use such words, nor did I expect to agree with so much of what he said. However, I do not agree with all of it; I may come to some of that in due course. I join the noble Lord in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and thanking him for securing this debate. This is a precious opportunity to debate these really important issues. I regularly ask the Government to find more time in the Chamber to debate these issues in a longer debate, but other things are going on.

I was particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for opening by reminding us of some of what makes us proud to be British—the constituent elements of our soft power. I am very pleased that he made such a powerful case for our priority for peacebuilding and conflict resolution, which I have not very successfully applied much of my time in politics to trying to achieve. I agree completely that our soft power was built up through long-term strategic patience and application. Peacebuilding requires that, but we seem dramatically short of it. We are not alone in the world in doing this; how the Afghan war ended was the result of a lack of strategic patience.

In preparing for this debate about the UK’s foreign policy, I find myself somewhat hamstrung by the question, “Which foreign policy?” Noble Lords will be familiar with President Nixon’s madman theory of foreign policy. It was drawn ultimately from Machiavelli, who suggested that in statecraft it can be

“a very wise thing to simulate madness”,

to disrupt the calculations of strategic adversaries. Speaking as an observer rather than a participant, it appears that the Conservative Government have in recent years taken this doctrine to the novel extent of applying it inwards, ensuring that our diplomatic positions are sometimes incomprehensible not only to outsiders but even to ourselves. We saw the current Prime Minister’s predecessor assert that the “jury is out” as to whether France can be described as an ally of the United Kingdom, and her successor, only months later, hail the “special bond” that exists between the two countries.

We heard the Armed Forces Minister, two weeks ago in the other place, discuss the UK’s role as a champion of the “rules-based international order”, even as his colleague the Home Secretary introduced the Illegal Migration Bill, with a covering letter blithely admitting that there is more than a 50% chance that its provisions are incompatible with our duties under the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, we see the Home Secretary attempting to dilute the strength of interim measures under the European Court of Human Rights in order that she realise her dream of seeing deportation flights to Rwanda, even as Ukraine relies upon those measures repeatedly in its fight against Russian aggression.

In these 13 years of Conservative government, we have seen our approach to China veer between David Cameron’s aspirations of a golden decade of Anglo-Chinese relationships, crowned by President Xi’s state visit to the UK, and the current Prime Minister’s warnings last November of a China characterised by increasing authoritarianism that poses

“a systemic challenge to our values and interests”.

A couple of weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary signalled yet another reset, saying that a hawkish approach to China

“would be a betrayal of our national interest”

and that

“no significant … problem ... can be solved without China”.

In attempting to discern some sort of golden thread of consistency in this reflexive approach to China, it is worth remembering that this is the very same Foreign Secretary who occupied the FCDO in the Truss Administration, who planned, before their swift collapse, to designate China as an “acute threat” to British security.

We face crippling economic inflation and the loosening of the bond that ties together a currency and its value. But we have seen the same in foreign policy: rhetorical inflation that stridently declares the emergence of the new global Britain while our capacity to decisively influence the world diminishes. We can see this all around us: those who have travelled hear from residents and diplomats, and from the leaderships of other countries which were our friends and allies—maybe they still are—that we are significantly diminished.

The diagnostic work in the refresh to the integrated review has much to commend it. It rightly states that

“the transition into a multipolar, fragmented and contested world has happened more quickly and definitively than anticipated”.

My personal fear is that the more we integrate artificial intelligence into our decision-making processes, the more this acceleration will increase. We are already trying to catch up on that when it is well beyond us; I am not entirely sure where it is going to take us. It is interesting that those who were largely responsible for the development of artificial intelligence are now abandoning it because it has become so terrifying.

What has our response to this darkening picture been? We have, by the Defence Secretary’s own admission, a military that is “hollowed out and underfunded”, with the additional £11 billion promised in the recent Budget returning us only to the level of spending, by percentage of GDP, that we saw a couple of years ago. Even this is a promise and an expectation; it is not guaranteed.

Our soft power and diplomatic strength will be critical if we are to emerge from this potentially era-defining period of conflict and tension with a renewed capacity to defend our values and interests. But on the issue of our aid and development budget, it is clear that this Prime Minister is a hostage to the isolationist and regressive wing on his Back Benches in the other place. Money spent on aid and development overseas, quite apart from the supervening moral imperatives involved, represents UK influence in pasteurised form. Not only have we seen the UK resile from its commitment to the 0.7% target, but we are seeing what might generously be characterised as a creative application of the money that we still spend.

According to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, last year the Home Office spent a third of our foreign aid budget on refugee and asylum-seeker costs here in the United Kingdom. Further, it found that this appropriation of the ODA budget has had a very

“severely negative impact across the UK aid programme”.

In seeking to address this problem, we then saw the FCDO pause all non-essential aid spending, as a consequence of which we then missed our pledge deadline for our contribution to the Global Fund, damaging our credibility with our multilateral partners even further. ICAI also found that this pause caused a delay in our humanitarian response to the floods in Pakistan and the famine in Somalia, again fraying the bonds of trust that bind this nation and others throughout the world.

I wish I had the time to give more instances, but those I have outlined indicate a simple truth. These political choices and missteps are having a real-world impact on the UK’s reputation as a reliable partner overseas. I take no pleasure in offering these examples today, and it is true that we have reason to be proud of the swift and comprehensive assistance that we have offered Ukraine in its vital struggle against Russian aggression. But that assistance does not, by itself, constitute a coherent foreign policy. It is interesting the number of times that that is what Ministers want to talk about at the Dispatch Box in this House when issues of foreign policy are raised—but not the other issues, which are now apparently being displaced by this.

Statecraft is essentially temporal in nature; it is a sphere where the strategist is inevitably outmanoeuvred by the tactician. It may be that we succeed in our inhumane plan to send refugees to Rwanda by breaching our obligations under international law, but at what cost to our long-term credibility as a reliable partner? We may succeed in deepening our involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, but how can we expect this projection of power to be seen as anything but hollow, given the assessment of a US general that our military capabilities are not only no longer tier 1 but barely tier 2?

I have to say—and I am not alone in this internationally—that AUKUS has all the hallmarks of a pre-election announcement. I fear that the scale of the cost for Australia may guarantee that the Government there do not survive the next Australian election. I cannot get any Minister in our Government to engage with this issue with regard to assessing whether we should have put our name to it. We are told that that is a matter for the Australian Government, but I read the Australian press and I know what Australian politicians are saying, and the cost to them is extraordinary.

I realise that the tone of my contribution today may be somewhat pessimistic, but its central message is not, as the right reverend Prelate said. There is nothing inevitable about any of this—all these things are political choices—and what is made by politics can be unmade by the same means. We can choose to end our flirtation with transgressions of international law and regain our reputation for probity. We can choose to work with allies in the Euro-Atlantic space on a coherent, long-term approach to broader strategic challenges while restoring our aid budget to ensure that we once again play our full part in helping the most vulnerable. We must work out what our global role actually is in an increasingly multi-polar world where norms are now contested and fought over.

These long-term challenges will be addressed only by policy-making that is equally long-term in its nature. We are not prisoners of impersonal historical forces but have agency in shaping what the future will look like. In fact, the calamity of Brexit proves that in spades. It is time to develop a more positive vision and prove that we have both the strategic patience and the endurance to see it realised.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this debate and for opening it so very effectively.

We are indeed in dangerous and rapidly changing times. The war in Ukraine is a reminder that, even in Europe, conflict is not far away. Global powers are vying with each other, as was ever the case. But overarching all that is the existential threat of climate change. So where is the United Kingdom in all this?

We have the Integrated Review Refresh, which certainly needed to be “refreshed”. As was said at the time, the first one had an EU-shaped hole in it. It promoted “global Britain”, as if our country could alone compete on equal terms with the three major power blocs: the US, China and the EU bloc, with their far greater GDP. That review claimed to be “once in a generation”. Two years later, it turns out that it needed to be refreshed.

To remind noble Lords of the first review, it claimed that we were renowned in development, but DfID had just been crushed and the aid budget cut. It claimed that we could “shape the international order”, but then came the abandoning of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It said that we were a science and technology superpower, yet we had taken ourselves out of Horizon—we had a strong legacy, but we were damaging our future position. It confidently claimed that the UK could tilt to the Indo-Pacific. It stated:

“What Global Britain means in practice is best defined by actions rather than words.”

Global Britain was well and truly shown up in the withdrawal from Afghanistan; we could neither persuade our US allies, or even expect to be consulted by them, nor stay if they withdrew. What a terrible situation we collectively left in Afghanistan—starvation, the collapse of public health, as shown on the BBC last night, and the denial of all rights to women and girls. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said about our influence or otherwise now in Washington.

Now we come to the refreshed review. It is very different in tone; there is now no talk of global Britain. We discover that we have fulfilled the tilt to the Indo-Pacific and can concentrate, sensibly, on our near neighbourhood. Encouragingly, it says that we will reinvigorate our European relationships. Could the noble Lord spell out what this means? There is a depressing chart listing all sorts of bilateral arrangements, which looks laborious and cumbersome—a contrast to being at the table as of right.

We now hear that in relation to Ukraine and NATO:

“The enduring strength of the European family of nations, and of the UK’s ties within it, has been reaffirmed”.

The foreign policy priority in the short to medium term is the

“threat posed by Russia to European security”.

As we have heard, it also has a different approach to China. Could the Minister spell out the detail? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will expect no less.

Again, there is an emphasis on science and technology. Now we are not exactly claiming to be a superpower but to have strategic advantage—but only if we specialise. What does this mean in terms of an industrial strategy and significant support? Where is the reference to the Horizon programme? The head of one of our leading scientific institutions told me recently that, before we left Horizon, he would get many inquiries every year from scientists whom he did not know across the EU about potential collaboration on projects. Now that has completely dried up. It is urgent that this is reinstated. Can the Minister update us? It was very concerning to hear of wobbles in the Cabinet on this.

The review rightly points to the stability and resilience of our economy as a precondition of our security. We have not yet seen trade agreements that deliver or look like they have the prospect of delivering trade at the level of that with our nearest neighbours. It points to London as a key financial centre; it is, but it is a wounded one. We should note that Arm listed in New York instead of London, with the co-founder pointing out the damage caused to London because of what he called “Brexit idiocy”.

What of the soft power of aid, the justice of which the right reverend Prelate spoke to and the influence to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed? There are no commitments for extra funding, even as we see the impact of conflict in Sudan and the impact of climate change. The Foreign Office and DfID had very different aims, each vital, and the forced marriage has not been a happy one, whatever gloss the Minister will have been given to say and which the review repeats. That is tacitly recognised in this document, which speaks of “reinvigorating” its position as a global leader on international development.

There is some attempt to give development more emphasis, with the Development Minister—and I pay tribute to Andrew Mitchell in this regard—attending Cabinet and a second Permanent Secretary in FCDO. I am not sure how that one is going to work. It is all a rather tacit administration that that merger was disastrous. Given that so much of the aid money went to support refugees in the United Kingdom, which is allowable under DAC rules for one year, surely now that the Afghans and Ukrainians who were benefitting have been here for more than a year, this should now have ended. Can the Minister clarify? What does that then release?

There are no new commitments here on tackling climate change. Meanwhile, President Biden is turning the US approach around. Acutely aware that in the new green technologies, China has a huge head start, he set in place the formidable Inflation Reduction Act. We should welcome this because of the huge investment in green technologies—that is globally important. But while the EU has immediately set in place its critical minerals Act and is engaging closely with the US and allowing countries to support their green industries—something that we were told could not happen—the Chancellor says that the United Kingdom is considering its position. If it considers its position much longer, we will not have a position to consider.

The UK’s automotive transformation fund is only £1 billion, dwarfed by the IRA. The refresh review speaks of “illegal migration” being one of the major challenges of our time, but climate change—and it rightly recognises this—is likely to exacerbate migration, which it does not then call illegal. That is why the development and climate change budgets are so critical. It speaks of climate change and biodiversity loss as

“important multipliers of other global threats”.

They are surely far more than that—they are existential threats.

There is a change between the once-in-a-generation review of 2021 and its refreshed version now. The Government’s feet are more firmly on the ground, setting aside aspirations for global Britain while ignoring our own continent. But with its emphasis on defence, about which my noble friend Lady Smith may say more, and the lack of resources in other areas, this review underestimates the significance of climate change and the need to use aid to ensure that others elsewhere also prosper, so that the seeds of conflict, as right now in Sudan, can be tackled, and populations do not see the need to uproot themselves and undergo great hardships to find a better life. So I suppose we should expect another refresh in a couple of years or so.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and others in thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this important debate. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the convention on the crime of genocide, and today is World Press Freedom Day. It makes this debate particularly timely.

As the noble Baroness predicted, I shall concentrate my remarks on China, including Hong Kong, but I shall also make reference to North Korea and Iran. I refer to my non-financial interests in the register as well as to the sanctions which have been placed on me and other parliamentarians by those regimes.

As the noble Lord, Lord Frost, reminded us, a week ago the Foreign Secretary delivered a speech at the City of London Corporation. It was trailed in advance as his major China policy address. Given the scale and breadth of the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party regime—not, I emphasise, by the people of China, but by the regime currently led by Xi Jinping—I could see no coherent strategy. That is exactly the criticism levelled in two House of Lords Select Committee reports. The tone suggested that rekindling friendship with Beijing in pursuit of something resembling the “golden era” trade and investment opportunities was now a government priority. The Foreign Secretary argued that isolating China would be counterproductive, but I know of nobody—including our own Select Committees—who has suggested that the UK disengage from China. The question surely is not whether to talk to China but how, about what, with what objectives and on whose terms we should engage.

By way of example, I invite the Minister to tell us what the Foreign Secretary will be talking about with the Vice-President of China, Han Zheng, during his coronation visit to London over the next few days. Will he be raising the trashing by Han Zheng of the 1984 Sino-British declaration or his role in the imprisonment of 1,400 political prisoners in Hong Kong, specifically the imprisonment of British citizen, Jimmy Lai—referred to by the right reverend Prelate—and other breaches of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to media freedom in Hong Kong? Will the Foreign Secretary raising this week’s announced decision—a breach of the Sino-British joint declaration—to reduce the direct election of district councillors in Hong Kong to just 20%, in a further emasculation of Hong Kong’s freedoms?

Will the Government be raising the Motion passed in the House of Commons on 22 April that declared events in Xinjiang against Uighur Muslims to be a genocide; or the UK prohibitions on the purchase of goods made in China by slave labour; or recent reports that Uighur Muslims were banned from offering Eid prayers at mosques or even in their homes during Eid ul Fitr, as well as the reported persecution of people with religious beliefs, including Buddhists and Christians in China and other Article 18 violations; or the continued imprisonment of Zhang Zhan for reporting on the origins of Covid in Wuhan? Will the Government be raising the forced organ harvesting, which the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has raised in your Lordships’ House, along with Members from all sides, on a number of occasions; the persecution of Falun Gong; the crackdown on civil society, lawyers, bloggers and dissidents across China and the alarming threats to Taiwan whose almost 24 million people face increasing dangers and, indeed, an existential threat to their vibrant democracy and self-determination? Perhaps the Minister could also explain why Han Zheng is being welcomed at the Coronation at all instead of being sanctioned.

I also have questions about the recent visit to London of Hong Kong’s Secretary for Financial Services, Christopher Hui. Will the Minister tell us whether the three Government Ministers who met him raised with him the case of Jimmy Lai; the seizure by the Hong Kong Government of more than £2.2 billion of Hong Kong BNO pension savings, as reported by Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron; the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy; the breach of the joint declaration; the genocide that I have referred to of the Uighurs; and the threats to Taiwan? If those three Government Ministers did not, why not? Perhaps that is not the sort of engagement that the Foreign Secretary had in mind. Given that the CCP regime consistently breaks its promises and obligations under international treaties, and as the CCP under Xi Jinping is so much a part of many of these problems, do we seriously—and rather naively—believe that red carpets, tea and golden era trade deals are the correct response to genocide and egregious violations of human rights?

Last week, as Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, I spoke at the launch of the APPG’s report on the crackdown on media freedom in Hong Kong—which, on this World Press Freedom Day, I hope the Minister will refer to—and specifically the case of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily. I also spent time with Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien. Jimmy Lai is a 75 year-old British citizen, and yet he has spent the past two and a half years in prison serving multiple trumped-up charges, facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. I know Jimmy and his wife and, in happier times, they were visitors here to your Lordships’ House. Later this year, Jimmy Lai’s trial under Hong Kong’s draconian national security law will begin. He has already been denied his choice of defence counsel, and it is likely that he will receive a severe prison sentence with little hope of a fair trial.

Please will the Minister look at the statements made by Mr Lai’s international legal team—led by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who has herself received rape and death threats—and also raise with the parliamentary authorities the absurd and ridiculous decision to force attendees at last week’s press freedom event to hand over leaflets on press freedom in Hong Kong? Officials apparently said that “Political slogans and materials are on our list of restricted items”—I mistakenly thought that politics was the whole point of Parliament. But, beyond the absurd, Sebastien has specifically and repeatedly requested to meet the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Like his father, Sebastien is a British national. Will the Minister explain why that request has so far gone unanswered? Can he establish whether the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will commit to meeting Sebastien at the earliest opportunity to discuss his father’s case and become more proactive and more public in speaking up for the rights of this British citizen in the future?

Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, recently wrote to the Chinese Government stating that the draconian national security law has interfered with the rule of law in Hong Kong by undermining the independence of the judiciary and removing safeguards to protect fair trial. Will the Minister please provide the Government’s assessment of the current state of the rule of law in Hong Kong?

Turning briefly to North Korea, I declare an interest as co-chair of the all-party group. This year marks the 10th anniversary since the establishment of the UN commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity chaired by the Australian judge Justice Michael Kirby. What steps are the Government taking to follow up and implement the commission of inquiry’s recommendations, particularly its call, 10 years ago, for its findings of crimes against humanity to be referred to the International Criminal Court?

On Iran, which has been referred to, will the Minister explain why the Iranian national guard has not been proscribed as a terrorist organisation and say whether we can expect to see action on this soon? Can he tell us about the plight of Iranian journalists, especially women, who are still in prison and about the gender apartheid faced by Iran’s women and girls?

Finally, I have spoken repeatedly in the House about the short-sighted decision to cut BBC Persian radio services and attacked the decision to abolish the Arabic services. I welcomed what the right reverend Prelate said about this in introducing the debate. Yesterday, the BBC said that the crisis in Sudan had led it to open a new radio service in Arabic on shortwave—QED. It is essential that we continue to broadcast the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and an open society. Are the Government re-examining the funding models for the BBC World Service to ensure that vital language broadcasts to closed societies continue?

I hope that our values will always be at the very heart of our foreign policy as we face the challenges of a changing and increasingly divided and unstable world. If the Minister cannot respond to all my points in detail, I hope he will undertake to write to me on them. In closing, I again thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity to raise these matters.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, I do not wish to detract from the power of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has put to the Minister. I promise I will not add more questions to them; I will come at the debate from a different direction. There are two ways of addressing this Motion: first, the role of the UK as seen through our eyes in the UK, who can easily assume that ours is the only way of seeing; secondly, our role as seen through the eyes of “the world” doing the looking in. I am not being pedantic, but why do we in the UK find it so difficult to look at ourselves through the lens of those who might see the world differently?

In his excellent Chatham House speech on 27 April, the Minister for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, addressed the future of international development. Among the very good, welcome and perceptive observations in his speech, one line is understated and easy to miss: the admission that the UK Government’s cut in aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income has “dented the UK’s reputation”, as well as being “painful for our partners”. Dented? Only the partners who suffered the consequences of that decision can really tell us what they think our role in the world is now and how it is experienced. Painful reality is more persuasive than optimistic rhetoric.

The question that underlies this debate is this: do we in the UK listen to ourselves and the language of mere aspiration, or can we look through the eyes of those who experience us? I ask this simply because there is often a great gulf between our perception of ourselves and that held by others. In fact, the constant repetition of the language of “world leading” and “world beating” in just about any government statement indicates a basic insecurity about which psychologists could probably say a great deal. I would be happy with just “functional”, in some respects.

I raise this question simply because Andrew Mitchell’s speech admitted a glimpse of light into what has been a depressingly dim discourse in the last decade or so. He offers a language that sounds grown-up. In his stress at the outset of his argument on partnership, progress and prosperity, he returns us to something that sounds both sensible and realistic. Global Britain, whatever that was supposed to mean, seems to have subsided and partnership is back—thank goodness. Gone is the hubris that the UK is still a world-beating power that can function alone in a world of shifting economic and military power blocs. We can argue for ever about the rightness or wrongness of Brexit, but I contend that the corruption of our language with regard to the wider world was damaging in ways we rarely take time to understand.

For example, I have been met with incredulity in Germany and elsewhere in Europe when we make statements about the importance of the rule of law, and our moral demand that countries such as Russia and China should stand by it, at the same time as we draft legislation that consciously seeks to breach it. Just remember the internal market Bill, the overseas operations Bill, the attempt to prorogue Parliament and so on. Our rhetoric has to be supported by our action, for the latter speaks louder than the former.

The 2021 integrated review was a good start in recalibrating our self-perceptions, and the 2023 refresh helpfully illustrated how a nation’s role can change quickly depending on the shifting and sometimes dramatic intervention of unexpected factors, unpredicted behaviours or uncontrollable contingencies. At least, it was an attempt to join up different areas of foreign policy to focus on perception, priorities and planning.

To return to Andrew Mitchell, partnership holds the key to future progress and prosperity, not hubris or romantically hanging on to what we think Britain used to be. One way of thinking about this is to look through the lens of those who look at us from the outside. A week or two ago Der Spiegel published a very unflattering piece about a number of aspects of decline in UK culture, referring, for example, to food banks, poverty, the cost of living crisis and neglected urban infrastructure. Read other newspapers and listen to serious political programmes in neighbouring countries: waving a flag does not change hard reality. We might not want to agree with the perceptions of outsiders, but we would be unwise not to take them seriously.

I want to be positive about a change in direction, signalled by Andrew Mitchell’s grown-up approach to partnership, which inevitably assumes what I call a renewed sense of confident humility. I read his speech before considering the conversation among Robert Kaplan, John Gray and Helen Thompson in a recent edition of the New Statesman, which took as its starting point the ideas behind Kaplan’s new book, The Tragic Mind. Indeed, any pragmatic search for policies that drive partnership and progress and dream of prosperity has to be set against the wider and deeper thinking about the existential challenges of great-power rivalry, resource scarcity and what they call the crumbling of the liberal rules-based order in a “global Weimar”. The assumptions underlying political rhetoric and the language in which this is framed must be honest about these challenges, not seduce people into thinking that domestic or foreign policy can inevitably be forged in a world of depleting resources and increasing military threat around finite resources.

Given my previous career as a linguist, it might not come as a total surprise that I want to conclude with this plea: if we are to take seriously the existential as well as pragmatic challenges we face as we seek to plough our furrow in a field that is becoming ever more rutted and poisoned, we must listen through the ears of those beyond our shores who might not think as we do in the UK. This means that we must prioritise the learning of the languages of others if we are to know how we are seen and therefore how we might behave or speak—even framing any future foreign policy in a way that can be accurately understood by those we oppose or with whom we might partner.

Language learning is impoverished in the UK. The assumption that everyone else speaks English is both arrogant and ignorant—a dreadful combination of non-virtues. Our children need to be educated in the confident humility of learning to look through the eyes of others. Only then, as the late German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt repeatedly emphasised, can we understand our own culture, by seeing how we are seen and hearing how we are heard. The Empire has gone, and imperial thinking is embarrassingly redundant —although I strongly commend Timothy Garton Ash’s recent piece in Foreign Affairs, “Postimperial Empire”. We will waste time, energy, money and resource if we in the UK do not learn quickly that learning the languages of others is a massive strength and not a sign of weakness.

The UK’s role in the world must be framed in terms of realism and what I have called a confident humility. It must be framed in the languages of others, and rooted in deeper thinking than mere pragmatism or flag-waving optimism.

Lord Popat Portrait Lord Popat (Con)
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My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, a role that I very much enjoy and which rather neatly brings together my three main political interests: the UK’s SMEs, exports and building better relations with Africa—being African-born, please forgive me if I am a little biased.

I believe that building stronger diplomatic and trade links post Brexit with Africa should be Britain’s first priority to secure our nation’s prosperity and economic future. Our approach to Africa has been outdated for some time. We need to re-invent our role in Africa. Brexit offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our global posture, to shift our focus away from Europe and back to Africa, to rebuild our ties with it and re-establish a stronger presence in the booming economies in Africa.

Africa accounts for 17% of the world’s population. That population will double in 30 years. With Africa now having a global GDP of 3%, you can imagine the prospect of the potential our country has with Africa by 2050. This shows the huge room for growth for UK companies.

Africa’s culture is every culture. Some 70% of the people in Africa work on farms. With a land mass of 30 million square kilometres, which is larger than America, China, India and Europe put together, you can see the fertile land they have. Despite that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, mentioned, some 22 million Africans starve from hunger on a daily basis.

Africa contains 30% of the world’s minerals. The DRC, for which I am a trade envoy, has $30 trillion-worth of minerals; cobalt and lithium, 80% of which are in the DRC, goes to China. Eight out of nine Chinese companies are now in the middle of business in the DRC. We will need cobalt and lithium for defence, car batteries and mobile phones in the future. It is important that we develop a good relationship with that country.

The good news is that the African continental free-trade agreement is creating the largest free-trade area in the world by a number of countries, with a market size of over $3 trillion. Digitisation, improvements in infrastructure and political reform are driving the continent forward. Africa has grown more democratic in the past 30 years, with multi-party elections being commonplace. Opposition parties are gaining ground and most leaders are leaving office peacefully rather than in coups. We noticed that in Ghana. We saw President Mutharika in Malawi challenged by the court, as was Uhuru Kenyatta, and we saw how the rule of law made the opposition leader the new president. Politics is becoming more competitive because of the free press and an open society.

Look at the impact Africa has in other countries. Four out of the five most senior Cabinet Ministers here are of African descent or origin, including our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, from Kenya; our excellent Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, from Sierra Leone; Suella Braverman, from Kenya; and Kemi Badenoch, from Nigeria. You can see the impact Africa has in our country as well. This shows that Britain remains a force for good because of its strong institutions, and stands ready to help develop its fellow nations.

Your Lordships can see why I am in this debate: to encourage a reshaping of our foreign policy to take hold of the trade opportunities in Africa, to ensure prosperity for that continent and for the UK, and to help Africa to get out of poverty. The UK’s trading relationship with Africa is worth about £27 billion, with £18.5 billion in exports. Not long ago, our share of trade was 30%. Today, it stands at less than 4%. We have had a significant trade deficit for the past four decades which currently stands at over £100 billion a year. We have had a major problem with our trade balance for the last 40 or 50 years. We do not have enough exports to pay for our imports. We can see why China’s goods exports to Africa are eight times higher than ours, while we have dropped from being the biggest exporter to the continent to the 13th biggest. China has said to African Governments, “We are your IMF”.

Politicians and others often ask me why China is so successful in the region that I cover. The simple answer is that it is not their success but our failure. By engaging with African countries, we can ensure that they co-operate with us rather than with other, potentially hostile nations, such as China. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke very well about human rights and China at the moment.

However, perhaps the biggest barrier that we have is perception. When I first came into Parliament, my interest was in SMEs, so I set up a Select Committee to see what could be done to help SMEs to increase their exports. I took evidence from a large number of businesses in the UK. Our perception of Africa was through a “Band Aid” lens. We saw it as a poor continent, begging for money, with tribalism, civil war, dictatorship and corruption. Now, we are dealing with a new Africa which is more progressive than ever it was. We must accept that, and that a young democracy takes time to shape its democracy into a good form such as ours.

We should see this as a glass that is half full. By bringing the departments of business and trade together, the Government are acknowledging the importance that trade brings to UK plc. However, this work must be in partnership with the FCDO, and we must ensure that we have the same approach across government. Co-operation between governmental departments will be key to the UK’s success on the world stage. I want to see the Government have the political will for more trade and investment with Africa. The UK is the second-largest investor in Africa. We will hear later from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about our historic ties, particularly with the 18 Commonwealth countries in Africa, which are English-speaking and share a commonality of a judiciary and the rule of law. All that will help us. Africa will continue to develop through this century, with or without our support. We must be at the forefront of this development, with British firms playing a key role. Through increased trade levels with Africa, we can help to bring about the political and social reforms needed as a by-product, with increased prosperity and stability correlating with increased trade.

We need a fresh approach to Africa, which builds on the deep and historic links that we have with the continent and the affection that many Africans have for our country, and with large African diaspora living in the UK. We need a clear trade plan for each African country, working with our embassies and high commissions to identify the key sectors and opportunities available, including on visas. I will give a good recent example. Some four years ago, just before the pandemic, I invited the Mining Minister of Rwanda, Francis Gatare, and 80 UK companies to Parliament to see what opportunities were available. We came up with a French-to-English regulatory framework, and now there are four mining companies in Rwanda. I tried a similar exercise six weeks ago, inviting the Mining Minister and the President of the DRC. The DRC has $30 trillion of minerals. People flew from South Africa, two from Ireland and three from Scotland. On the day that we all got together, the Minister and the president did not get visas and it had been known for six weeks. I am hosting the president on Friday, and I will be embarrassed and ashamed.

We need to sort out our visa problems. Africans with passports, Ministers, could not get visas to come here, and people knew about this six weeks earlier. It is no wonder that the Chinese are there and we are not. We need to open our African market and speed up trade agreements. Currently, we have only eight trade agreements with African countries in place.

I conclude very briefly, because time is against me. Africa is not a continent of problems but one of solutions. One thing is for sure: Africa will shape the world’s prospects. Post Brexit, the future should be Africa.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in a debate on international relations. It is not an area I normally speak on, and I certainly do not have the expertise of other noble Lords contributing today, but it is something I feel strongly about.

It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say that recent years have witnessed some significant deterioration in our traditional strengths on the world stage, our international reputation and, sadly, our international competitiveness. We have taken a major hit to our GDP from leaving the EU. We have lost our position as the key bridge between the US and the EU. There are to be no US-UK trade negotiations during the present Biden presidency. In my view, we have put at risk our attractiveness to international students and all the benefits of that leadership position. About 10% of world leaders, for example, went to a British university. As others have said, we have also diminished our long reputation for compassion, generosity and thought leadership in international development. We have virtually eviscerated the globally trusted international BBC and British Council operations, a key source of our soft power. It is really not a good and certainly not a balanced score card.

At the same time, our world has become much less safe, with much greater levels of volatility. Russia’s brutal full-scale war against Ukraine has resulted in multiple crises for the whole of Europe and may yet lead to the unthinkable use of tactical nuclear weapons or worse. The Covid threat is not yet over—dangerous new variants may yet develop—and new pandemics may emerge and confront us with devastating speed and effect. As my noble friend Lady Northover pointed out, we are likely to see many more severe climate events. These events in turn could lead to large-scale population movements and mass migration in the tens of millions.

We are also witnessing massive shifts in the tectonic plates of global geopolitics and its economic architecture. US global dominance has been replaced by a multipolar world where China is challenging the US for global leadership and where Russia is trying to reassert its claim to be considered a major global player. In my view the Government’s 2021 integrated review identified the right global risks by highlighting the rise of China as

“the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today”

and in identifying Russia as

“the most acute direct threat”

to UK security.

The risks facing us in the UK have increased substantially since the integrated review in 2021, as Ukraine has so vividly demonstrated. In addition, there could be a further major shock to the global system should an isolationist new US president emerge in 2024 and decide, for example, to withdraw from NATO and cease support for Ukraine. We need to be prepared for all these eventualities.

Of course, as others have mentioned, there is still a huge agenda in the areas of tackling gender inequality, seeking to protect human rights and further reducing global poverty, including unacceptable levels of child poverty.

As many commentators have pointed out, the West is losing significant ground to China, in particular, but also to Russia when it comes to the alignment of what is called the global South. Indeed, together, they often seem to be locked in an epic struggle against the West to redesign the whole world order.

In a recent UN Ukraine votes, 141 countries supported Ukraine and the West’s position, only six countries voted with Russia, but 32 countries abstained, including China, India, South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, representing well over 50% of the world’s population across much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. China’s approach to the global South should give us in the UK real food for thought. China has for decades been developing relationships across the global South with individual states as “equal partners”. China offers very long-term and attractive state-to-state partnerships on major infrastructure and agricultural projects, together with massive—and usually non-conditional—financing, including delivery teams on the ground.

Russia has been actively developing state-to-state energy partnerships with many individual countries across the global South, focusing not just on fossil fuels but on seeking to build 50 to 100-year partnerships in the area of new nuclear. Both China and Russia offer long-running education exchange programmes and large-scale support for international students. There are also arms sales and, in many cases, direct military support, including Russian private military contractors. Both China and Russia make no challenge on corruption or governance issues. Critically, both China and Russia have been effective in engaging with many global South states with a history of western colonialisation, leveraging their history and present relationships with their former colonial powers. It is a heady and potent cocktail.

Given all that, what can the UK do to increase our ability to influence international partners and to shape global and regional responses to these critical issues? I think there is a lot that we can do. The relatively easy bit should be rebuilding the UK’s comparative strengths, which have been so eroded in recent times. We need to significantly strengthen our trading security and political relationships with Europe and also try to secure much lower-traction trade with Europe. We need to reinvest in BBC and British Council international operations, and we absolutely need to restore international aid expenditure to 0.7% of GNI.

As acknowledged in the Integrated Review Refresh this year, our overriding defence priority must be the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. We need the dedicated resources and the capability to do that for the role that is set out. What assurances can the Minister offer on this point?

On the wider security front, we should work with NATO and EU partners to take action now to reduce significantly the risk of further Russian aggression against the Baltic states, Moldova and Belarus. This should involve significantly more military force on the ground in the Baltic states, together with a step change in terms of provision of equipment, training and joint exercises. Next, we should significantly strengthen our partnerships, in particular with China’s neighbours, in both trade and security. In parallel, we should seek creative opportunities to work bilaterally with China on specific issues of potential joint interest, including net zero and decarbonisation.

Finally, the UK should seek to develop new strategic long-term partnerships with European, US, and regional friends and players in each region to develop much more competitive long-term offerings to states in the global South. We should be seeking to weaken the competitive position of both China and Russia in the global South. In developing these offerings, we should be mobilising our private sector, universities, and scientific, research and technology communities, among other things.

I conclude by saying, having listened very carefully to today’s debate, that we have a very proud heritage as an international player, but we need, as others have said, to repair our tarnished reputation, built up by so many people of all political persuasions over so many years, as a serious and stable player on the world stage, committed, of course, to democratic values and human rights but also to international co-operation and peace resolution. Not everyone will agree, but it is my view that the shenanigans of Brexit, the extraordinary domestic political turmoil that followed and the sight of having three Prime Ministers over a three-month period was not a good optic for our country. We need to act strategically and collaboratively to re-establish trust, credibility and clout on the world stage. I endorse many of the sentiments expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds in his excellent speech. Without re-establishing that trust, credibility and clout, we are at risk of being seen as an empty vessel on the world stage. I, for one, would hate that.

Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this debate. As some speakers have noted, it was clear, following recent world events, that the Government needed to update their comprehensive integrated review of 2021. While the vision of Britain’s long-term goals remains the same, the balance between security and prosperity—the two pillars of national interest—needed to be rebalanced. The revised integrated review did just that by increasing the defence budget to 2.2% of GDP for this year while, on the international front, our top priorities are to rebalance our interdependence on China and bolster the Euro-Atlantic co-operation necessary to contain Russia’s aggression.

In this, Britain has a unique role. Indeed, our assertive stand on Ukraine has generated huge admiration around the world. We were the first country to pledge our support and we are Ukraine’s second-largest military donor. Public opinion remains steadfast and, unlike other countries, there were no political factions arguing against our military, economic and political involvement. Of all the western countries, we stood out for our courage, generosity and moral leadership. I do not share some of the comments that are beating up the United Kingdom. I do not hear this when I travel abroad. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ukraine, I am incredibly proud of Britain’s support and its determination in helping Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure and defence capability. Not since World War II has Britain been able to validate its reputation as the world-leading defender of democracy, and the champion of law and order.

We should not forget the extent of British soft power and its influence across the world. Just look at institutions such as the BBC, whose coverage of the war in Ukraine has been watched around the globe, while the BBC World Service, broadcasting in 40 languages and with a worldwide audience of some 465 million people, has played an invaluable role in the face of massive Russian and Chinese disinformation. I was unaware that some of the BBC’s broadcasting had been cancelled.

Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, noted, is World Press Freedom Day. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the journalists who have risked their lives to bring us news from war zones, to those who have been killed in the line of duty, and to those who have disappeared or are currently imprisoned in Russia and China because they dared to stand up and express their opinion, some of whom are British. Freedom of speech and its tributary, freedom of the press, are the cornerstone of our democracy. These two fundamental freedoms are what differentiate us from dictatorship. Yet while we are fighting for the rights and freedoms of the Ukrainian people, we are at the same time allowing our basic freedoms in this country to crumble before our very eyes.

How has this come to pass? It all emerged in the United States in the 1990s, with the development of critical race theory and new waves of feminism. Essentially, the ideology behind this new wave is that meritocracy is inherently racist and that judging people as individuals is wrong. Instead, one’s identity is better defined by the social groups to which one belongs. This ideology also challenges the notion of sexuality, claiming, according to, some 105 gender identities.

Without realising it, this new ideology has reached our shores. It has toppled our traditional values and long-held beliefs. It has infiltrated every strand of our society, put children’s welfare at risk and directly attacked women’s rights, family life and religious belief, including Christianity—all at an alarming speed. This happened without the rationality or validity of this new gender ideology even being debated. Instead, anyone, whether heterosexual, transexual, gay or lesbian, who dares express gender-critical views is labelled transphobic and is prey to a witch hunt. Anyone voicing a dissident opinion is silenced—cancelled. We have allowed a small but very vocal minority to infiltrate our society and dictate the rules by which we must blindly abide. Those who do not risk losing their jobs and being vilified on social media, de-platformed, smeared, harassed, intimidated and even threatened with rape or death.

This is happening today in the United Kingdom. A witness we recently interviewed was denounced following a conversation about the definitions of sex and gender at a private party in her own house. A few years ago, this was unthinkable. This was what happened in the Soviet Union, communist China and Nazi Germany—but not in the United Kingdom, a beacon of democracy and free speech. But just as under those totalitarian regimes, indoctrination must start early. Under the umbrella of inclusivity, Stonewall has infiltrated our schools by promoting its ideology, which is biologically incorrect and dangerous. It promotes the sexualisation of children and encourages their transitioning, often without the involvement of their parents.

Recent geopolitical events have shown that Britain still has a role in the world. It has not, I am afraid to say, been damaged by Brexit, as some say. We can still punch above our weight, but how can we uphold our moral leadership if we acquiesce to censorship? Will my noble friend the Minister tell the Committee what steps he will take to ensure that Britain’s role in the world is not to propagate such ideologies but rather to advocate freedom of speech and the restoration of women’s rights? Does he agree that if we fail to do so, we will play straight into the hands of Mr Putin and Mr Xi?

This is possibly why some countries are not following suit and supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. Mr Putin has already accused the West of “moving towards Satanism” and

“teaching sexual deviation to children”.

He explained that in Russia,

“we’re fighting to protect our children and our grandchildren from this experiment to change their souls”.

The Russian people still know which bathroom to use.

Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
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My Lords, I am fortunate to travel around the world a great deal and to listen to what others think about the United Kingdom. Last month, I chaired a geopolitical conference here in London, with 100 YPO—Young Presidents’ Organization —chief executives and chairs from around the world. There was a session on Brexit, and I asked them what they thought of it. Some 99% felt that the UK had made a big mistake in leaving the European Union. Whether we like it or not, that is what the world thinks of what we did seven years ago in voting to do that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, we have had three Prime Ministers in a year; I have lost count of the number of Chancellors we had in that same year.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for initiating this really important debate about the UK’s changing role in the world and its implications for foreign policy. The last integrated review, in 2021, was pretty good in predicting that Russia would be a serious threat—it got that spot on. It spoke about global Britain and about being a science superpower and world leading. We have now had the refresh this year, which addresses the Russia situation as well as China, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke about. We have the quandary of needing to be tough on China while having mutual economic dependency. How do we de-risk our supply chains, particularly with regard to energy?

Looking back in history, our Prime Ministers have built great relations with other world leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan. Tony Blair, before Iraq of course, was a very successful Prime Minister, including economically; and we must not forget Gordon Brown and the role that he played at the time of the financial crisis in convening the G20 leaders to help save the global economy, which was very effective.

I hate it when people talk about Britain as a “middle power”. That is utter rubbish. We are not a superpower, but we are very much a global power. We may not be a member of the European Union, but we are still the sixth-largest economy in the world. We are still in the G7, the G20, NATO, the Five Eyes, AUKUS and now the CPTPP. I suggest that we go even further: we should join the Quad—the security alliance between India, Japan, Australia and the United States. Let us make it Quad Plus and circle the world with the United Kingdom as a member. Would the Minister agree?

James Cleverly, our Foreign Secretary, has said that our influence is in persuading and winning over a broader array of countries based on shared interests and common principles. He referred to this as “patient diplomacy”. As an entrepreneur, the word “patient” does not exist in my vocabulary; we have to be restless and to go forward at speed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, spoke about Russia’s awful invasion of Ukraine. One of my proudest moments in my time as president of the CBI was helping India in its time of need when it ran out of oxygen; lives were literally saved thanks to British business. Thereafter, I convened British business to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine in a big way, part of which was about unblocking the port of Odessa to get the grain flowing. I personally spoke to Chancellor Olaf Scholz before the G7 meeting—I was there representing Britain in the B7—and it worked. After talks with Turkey, Russia and the UN, the grain has started to flow now.

I feel that there is so much that we can do with the European Union. The Windsor Framework is a great step, but we need the Northern Ireland Assembly to recommence. The trade and co-operation agreement is a light agreement; we could do so much more. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke about Horizon. Does the Minister agree that we need Horizon to start immediately?

There does not seem to be any sign of a trade deal with the United States but, whether we like it or not, the United States is our number one trading partner by far.

During the Cold War, our defence spending was 4% of GDP. In the debate in 2019 on the 70th anniversary of NATO, I said that current spending should go up to 3%; the Prime Minister has said that it will go up to 2.5% when “circumstances allow”. Does the Minister not agree that we should be at 3%, with all the threats we face right now? When it comes to Russia, that situation is on our doorstep. On China, our tilt towards the Indo-Pacific is spot on.

When it comes to aid, I personally think that the merging of the Foreign Office and DfID was a huge mistake. Those two big departments should be separate, with their two different cultures and two different approaches, both doing great work. They should be demerged to be far more effective. We have reduced aid from 0.7% to 0.5%, with it likely to remain at 0.5% until at least 2027-28. Can the Minister give us some idea of when that will go back up to 0.7%?

I am a passionate believer in the Commonwealth, with its 2.4 billion people and 56 countries. It is a voluntary organisation; countries join it voluntarily. India, with 1.4 billion people, is of course the largest past of it. It is highly underutilised and we need to do much more.

This country has benefited from good migration, without which it would not be the sixth-largest economy in the world. There is no question that we must deal with the awful situation of boats coming across the Channel, but we also need to deal with the good migration that business needs through the points-based immigration system and the shortage occupation list. I was happy to learn that construction was put on that list in the last Budget; more sectors need to be put on it so that we have access to the workforce we need.

In his opening remarks, the right reverend Prelate spoke about international students. I will not repeat what he said but, as a former international student, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students and president of UKCISA, I know that this is one of our biggest elements of soft power. It brings in more than £30 billion to our economy and builds generation-long bridges—I am from the third generation of my family to be educated in this country. As he mentioned, we educate more world leaders, along with the United States, than any other country.

Can the Minister say why we include students in our net migration figures? We should do so when we declare them to the UN, but when we report them domestically we should exclude them like our competitors do. The moment you take them out, the figures are nowhere near as scary as they appear. Students are not migrants at all. Of course, we have one of the most diverse Cabinets in the world, with our Indian-origin Prime Minister; ethnic-minority people hold three of the great offices of state.

The City of London is still one of the top two financial centres in the world, but having the highest tax burden in 70 years is not the way to be an attractive investment destination. Putting up corporation tax from 19% to 25% is a very bad move. It may be the lowest in the G7, but it is still higher than the OECD average. If there is a Labour Government, any talk of equating capital gains tax with income tax will be disastrous. Money will flow out of this country and investment will leave.

Our Armed Forces are some of the best in the world, but they are too small. They number less than 200,000. When he was commander in chief of the central Indian army, my father was in charge of 350,000 troops—our whole Army, Navy and Air Force number less than 200,000. They are too small. I am proud to be an honorary group captain in Number 601 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Our Armed Forces are very well respected, but too small.

We have some of the strongest elements of soft and strong power in the world, such as our defence services. Our manufacturing may now be less than 10% of GDP, but we are a top 10 manufacturer and I am a proud manufacturer in my business. Some 500 million people watch the BBC around the world at any one time, and of course we have the Royal Family. I am so proud of the Coronation of King Charles III coming up this weekend. Our Royal Family is one of our strongest elements of soft power. Her Majesty the Queen was amazing; she was not only the most famous but the most respected monarch in the world. I think His Majesty King Charles will be exactly as respected. On the environment, he was decades ahead of the game.

I asked His Majesty yesterday, “Why don’t we have a state visit to India?” We need a large prime ministerial delegation, with Rishi Sunak leading a jumbo jet full of Cabinet Ministers, Ministers, business leaders, the press and university leaders going out to India to make that impact. That is what we need to push forward and enhance our trade relations with what will be the third-largest economy in the world and the third superpower; it will be the US, China and India—India must be our best friend going forward. We are not a superpower but we are a global power with huge reach and influence. We must always maintain our respect on the global stage.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, I feel privileged to speak in the concluding stages of this excellent debate. I am lucky to be here at all, because by some quirk or hiccup I got left off the speakers’ list—it was probably my fault. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his skill in securing this debate and on the excellent way in which he set the scene at the start. I did not agree with all of it, but it was a splendid survey.

I have a simple message to add to the wisdom we have heard this afternoon. The growing 56-nation Commonwealth of Nations, which is the largest network of its kind in the world, with more nations applying all the time and expressing interest from remarkable quarters, should be far more central to UK foreign policy, strategy and priorities than it is today.

I call attention to an article by the excellent Sir Trevor Phillips in the Times, on Saturday, I think, in which he set out with amazing clarity and sense the pan-global importance of today’s growing Commonwealth—what the late Queen called “an entirely new conception”. Some of us have been trying for almost three decades to get this message deep into the minds of our foreign policy experts and strategists—so far, I must admit, with very limited success. I should also give a backhanded thank you to the Chinese themselves, who now remind us clearly and almost daily of the dangers to the whole Commonwealth network and to our own security, something people overlook, as they seek to entice numerous new member states—the smaller islands and coastal nations, particularly in Africa, are vulnerable —into their hegemony and the authoritarian control system. One very respected China expert recently called it hoovering up the developing nations, because that is what is going on.

A strong and focused reorientation of both our development and defence policy and our broader international priorities is required to counter this new reality in all its dimensions, which are not just military or aid but to do with a thousand other areas in this cyber and internet world. That applies to both the Chinese and the Russians. I noticed that the esteemed diplomatic editor of the Times wrote persuasively the other day on exactly this issue, as have an increasing number of distinguished media columnists, which gives one some hope.

I understand the difficulty for professional diplomats of grasping the rather elusive concept of the Commonwealth network. It is not a trade bloc; it is not under a treaty; large parts of it are non-governmental; it is, in fact, more and more a product of the modern age— a network, with its own internal dynamic. I also understand, in the light of our debate, that this is also occasionally difficult for the Church to grasp. This is delicate ground, but I was fascinated by an adage I picked up from de Tocqueville. He said that only by distancing themselves from politics do Churches and faiths preserve their power over men and women’s selves—food for thought, I think.

Aside from that, and whether you agree with it or not, we are now moving into an entirely different world where like-minded medium-sized nations need to stick and work together as never before. My noble friend Lord Frost mentioned our likely membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. It has 12 members. When we join, it will have 13. Eight of those are Commonwealth members. You may say, “We don’t all agree with each other and there are arguments around the table”, but there is such a thing as coffee-break diplomacy and, in a few trade organisations I have been in, that has been very important. It is after the formal sessions when agreements can often be struck that shape an entirely new direction and reinforce our interests.

Most nations, particularly the younger Commonwealth nations, want their own independence. There is a silly argument that the media does not quite understand about whether being a realm or not means leaving the Commonwealth—of course, it does not; that is quite a different thing. Our new King remains Head of the Commonwealth and head, if not directly, of the majority of republics, kingdoms, sultanates and others of which the Commonwealth is composed. One day we will get that straight in the media’s mind.

Those countries want their own independence. First, they are not automatically on our side, as we found when our foreign officials went round the Commonwealth to check they were all with us over Ukraine and found that half of them were not. Secondly, they are beginning to look at something like the Commonwealth, or the Commonwealth itself, as a potential safe haven from the enormous forces: the hegemonic grab of China, intruding at every point around the entire systems, as I have already indicated; overinfluence and being overbossed by the United States; and the undiluted ideology that belongs to a previous age, which does not really fit all their conditions as they would wish.

Questions hang in the air about Britain. Are we up to this role? Do we understand that there are entirely new forces operating in international relations? Do we understand that our relationship with the United States—which, again, my noble friend Lord Frost and others have mentioned—needs to be examined quite carefully? The Americans are our good friends and our partners, but they are not the bosses. They are not the ones with whom we are the automatic and submissive satrapies. Our relationship with them should be healthy, and, like the independent countries of the Commonwealth, we wish to use and work on all the values that America can contribute.

Indeed, many countries work both ways. They take gold from China, they sometimes take—and regret it; there is quite a pushback going on—too much intervention from China, and too many dubious contributions and money, which they think is grants but it turns out to be loans, which they cannot pay back. These countries need constant support and help, and that is possible in the electronic age. Every day—not occasionally—friends have to be worked on, and can be, and that is what the British Government should be doing. I repeat the questions. Are we up for that role? Do we have the right relationship with the United States? Can we clarify and get a balanced approach to the enormous looming hegemony of China, with all the difficulties that have been mentioned by several speakers? I do not know the answer to these questions but they are the ones we have to work on. Perhaps the Minister will help us a little. They are very difficult but central to our future prosperity and our security in our new place in a new and very dangerous world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and begin the winding speeches, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is quite common to say, “I am delighted to speak after the noble Lord or the noble Baroness”, and sometimes that seems very formulaic. But on this occasion, it really has been a privilege to participate. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for bringing this debate to us. As so often, it is a shame that we are meeting in Grand Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. If we were there, we would get much more coverage, and the issues that have been raised could be explored much more fully.

This has been an excellent debate. One of the things we have found is that there are many areas of agreement across all four parts of the House. That begins to pay testament to the nature of the United Kingdom and our approach to foreign policy. Needless to say, I am not going to say from these Benches that I agree with everything that everybody has said—it would be a little strange if I did—and there are many things that I would like to amplify. One area in particular that I will focus on slightly more than people might expect is the Commonwealth.

The area that I am going to touch on, but perhaps not speak on as much as some people would expect, is defence. The reason for that is that my day job is as an academic. My professor of politics at Oxford used to say that I wrote good essays but that I did not necessarily answer the question, so I now look very closely at an exam question, and today it seemed to be about the implications for foreign policy. I noted that the Minister who was going to respond was the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, rather than the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, so I thought I would stick primarily to foreign policy, but I will touch on defence as well.

The starting point of the debate is about the UK’s changing role in the world. My immediate sense, when I started to draft notes ahead of the debate, was that we also needed to think about the changing role of the world around us, which many speeches have touched on, particularly the changing role of China. Perhaps slightly strangely, given that we are just over a year into the war in Ukraine, a lot of the discussion has been on China.

The subject that I thought might have caused a much longer debate was actually Brexit. I had a note of just one word: “Brexit”. My noble friend Lady Northover, in her excellent speech, pointed out that the previous integrated security and defence review had a Europe-shaped hole in it. Today’s debate did not pay very much attention to Europe, but that is probably right if we are rethinking our role. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that we need to be strengthening our trading relationship with Europe. That is hugely important and something we need to focus on, as we must on security, but the questions of our role in the world are much greater than that.

I was minded to start from where the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, started: which foreign policy? He was looking for a foreign policy from the Government. It is quite easy to see why. I have lost count of how many Foreign Secretaries we have had since the 2016 referendum. For a number of years, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister appeared to set the frame of what the UK Government thought they were doing internationally. Are we going global? What is global Britain? Are we going to focus on trading relations with countries that we already had trading relations with while we were members of the European Union? It was never entirely clear. Going east of Suez sounded like something that might work very well in a Marvel cartoon, but were we going to do anything meaningful by doing so, as Boris Johnson wanted to do as Foreign Secretary? It was never entirely clear. I think we are beginning to get a sense of where the current Government are going, but there are some areas where we could help to steer the Government in certain directions.

It came as a surprise to me, just as it did to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that we could agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said about partnership—that we absolutely need to be strengthening our bilateral and other relations. I was slightly worried, when he talked about process, that he might think that thickening up relations with our bilateral partners might fall into that, but he very clearly did not. It would be good to hear the Minister’s views on what we are doing to strengthen our bilateral relations with our European partners, as well as with the United States.

I did not entirely agree with the analyses of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, on some of the issues about the United States, particularly on whether we are having problems because Biden is President. We might be having some problems, but they are probably not entirely dependent on which particular president the Americans put it office, because we had a few problems with Donald Trump as well. There are clearly some issues, but they are ones where we need to work very hard.

One of the biggest issues associated with the ignominious departure from Afghanistan, which my noble friend mentioned, is the fact that it is very clear that, when the United States decided to act, the other NATO partners, including the United Kingdom, had to follow suit. Your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee, of which, at the time, I was a member, called on what was then Her Majesty’s Government to talk to the incoming Biden Administration and warn them of the dangers of withdrawal. All the Government said was, “We’re waiting to see what President Biden wants to do”. Surely the United Kingdom should not play a subservient role. We might want to have an appropriately humble role, but we should be talking to the United States and at least try to be equals in putting forward our views.

That takes me to the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as we might have expected, talked about the Commonwealth, but we also heard about it in part from the noble Lords, Lord Popat and Lord Bilimoria. The Commonwealth is hugely important, and perhaps we underplay it. It is an area where the United Kingdom could and should have influence, but it is also one where we need to demonstrate a degree of humility. That is where I disagreed with the suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, that somehow members of the Commonwealth or the global South have not been persuaded by the United Kingdom regarding Ukraine because of our issues on a whole set of social policies. It goes deeper than that. This is not about Commonwealth countries necessarily saying, “The West is too liberal” but perhaps, “We don’t want to be taken for granted”.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, suggested that there should be a state visit to India; I hope that His Majesty the King agreed. However, if we are doing that, it should not be with Ministers saying, “You need to be doing this and we want you to do that”. It should be acknowledged that our Head of State may also be Head of the Commonwealth but that King Charles is not the king of India and we no longer have the Raj. India will very shortly be the largest country in the world, if it is not already, and one that we need to speak to equals, not as a former colonial power. We need to recalibrate what we are doing to ensure that we are working with our Commonwealth partners as partners. That might help us to negotiate and persuade them in areas of the world where we have left a vacuum for China—a vacuum that has been talked about by many Peers.

In winding up, I will devote my final few seconds to the situation in China. As many Peers have said, it is not a country that is necessarily an enemy, although it has significant military power. We need to rethink our relationship while understanding that, as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, said, it is in part the IMF of Africa. We need to understand that if we in the West leave a vacuum, China will fill it, and in ways that do not require conditionality, as my noble friend Lady Tyler said. We need to rethink that, and I hope the Minister will agree with that and perhaps tell us where we can go in our relations with China under the refreshed integrated review.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, with her usual insightful remarks. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on securing this debate. I join other noble Lords in saying to the Government that, given the importance of this debate, it clearly should have been in the Chamber. When we are talking about the importance of Britain in the world, of foreign policy and of the future of our country with our allies across the world, and given the nature of the various conflicts and challenges there are, as was mentioned by numerous noble Lords, it is astonishing that it was not held in the Chamber. I hope that can be taken back to the Government as something that is important.

The serious situation in Sudan and the danger in which it has placed thousands of British nationals has been a stark reminder of how interconnected our world is today. Hearing the desperate stories of innocent civilians escaping Khartoum and the welcome efforts of the Government to airlift diplomats and their families, we can all recognise that foreign policy has never before had greater implications for life here in the UK and beyond. That interconnected nature of our world places Britain and our allies at a crossroads, and we have a choice as to how we move forward, hence the importance of this debate.

We can choose to stand isolated from our closest allies or we can embrace the opportunity that the world offers, including with the United States. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that this should not be as a subservient partner. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, is absolutely right: it is important for the world and for the values that we stand for, and it is important for democracies across Europe and beyond that the United States, the United Kingdom and allies in NATO and beyond stand together. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made this point: that we should stand with the confidence—not arrogance or a belief that we know everything or that everyone should follow us, as though we were some empire-building colonial power again—that the democratic values that we hold and the human rights that we stand for are important. If we do not stand with the United States to deliver that, we diminish that effort across the world. I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Frost, about that.

The challenge is to ensure that, whoever the President is, the United States itself does not turn inwards and that it sees that its own interests are in working with the UK and NATO and standing firm with respect to Ukraine, as we have seen. We have to work with the United States to deliver that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly, constantly reminds us of the dangers of China. That is a challenge for the Government—what our relationship is to be with China, and what relationship will work with China. Of course we have to speak to it; it would be ridiculous to say that we should not speak to China. But how do you speak to China and what do you say? Personally, I do not think that there is anything to be gained by appearing weak or by saying that these are not the values that we stand for—that somehow kowtowing to the Chinese is what works. But surely there is a common interest in dealing with the problems that we face.

I have got carried away as usual—but let me just say what the issue is here. I do not think that the great superpowers of the world can move forward without starting from asking what the common interest is here. To take climate change, there are difficulties on this—but, if climate change is not addressed, there is drought and famine. There is a moral imperative to act on this issue, of course—but as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, said about Africa, the movement of people that we see currently is as of nothing if we do not deal with climate change, famine, agriculture, food security and water. Millions on millions of people will move to search for water, which will affect China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Africa, southern Europe, us, the United States, Mexico and South America. It is in everybody’s common interest to deal with that.

Of course, there are issues. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us about China. I myself have been sanctioned in Russia—but that will not stop him, me or many others in here from saying what we think. The Government should say that we will not be weak on human rights with regard to China—but surely, as has been shown from some international conferences, you can come to some agreement on issues where there are common interests. That is where I would start; that is what we are looking for from the Government. It is not just our country but the world that is at a crossroads here. There are problems that cannot be resolved by individual countries. I shall not get into the Brexit argument, but international co-operation and working together is absolutely crucial, within a framework of individual and national sovereignty. That is what is frustrating.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans mentioned the importance of soft power, which is neglected. As noble Lords will have heard me say in the Chamber, I am a big advocate of defence spending. I do not think that we spend enough on defence as a country; we can argue what that should be, but we need to spend more. Some of the solutions to the problems, as my noble friend Lord Browne said, might come if we could only sort out who was doing what in NATO. We would not all have to have 1,000 tanks or 5,000 fighter aircraft or 20 aircraft carriers. Of course everyone should have an individual responsibility, but the alliance would deliver that power. That is why I think that AUKUS is important and offers a way forward in respect of that.

When we visited the American embassy two or three weeks ago, I made the point about the importance of soft power. That is where the UK has immense reach. I cannot remember which noble Lord mentioned it, but whether you look at the Middle East, Africa or many of the other countries, that soft power is immense and must be given greater priority by the Government. The aircraft carriers sailing around the South China Sea project military power, but my understanding is that it did as much simply by docking at various ports, speaking to people there and trying to understand what was going on. That is why it is so tragic that the Government have cut the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%. It was an awful decision from a moral point of view—but also, that aid package is going into all those different areas where there are problems, and that aid is the soft power that demonstrates to countries that we are not only about preaching human rights and democracy, but that human rights and democracy from a country such as ours delivers aid to people when they need it. We have lost that through the cutting of the budget.

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, may have more influence on people in America than me, but I would be saying to them, “I do not understand that America is often criticised for its global actions, yet look at many of the national global emergencies that occur across the world, and whose planes are flying in the aid? Which flag is on the aid packages going in there?” It should be a source of great pride to the American people that often they are right at the forefront of tackling problems when there is an earthquake or a disaster.

There is a need here. The world is at a crossroads. Standing with America, we the West should project democracy, human rights and values, and demonstrate how they work. We should not shy away from that. We should support those fledgling democracies and fledgling movements across the world that are also trying to grow that within their regions. That is hard power, that is soft power, and it is strategic interest.

I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. If we do not have the confidence as a country, led by our Government, whatever Government that is, to project that with our NATO allies and our alliances, we will not achieve what we all want, and China, Russia and the other autocrats across the world will gain from it. That is the challenge. The Government must be bolder in setting out that vision of where they want us and our allies to go if we are to achieve what we all want.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this debate. Without sounding too clichéd, I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it has been a fascinating debate, and probably the most illuminating debate that I have taken part in, at least as a Minister. I have so enjoyed many of the speakers that we have heard today. Like everyone, I do not agree with everything that I have heard, but I agree with much of it and have enjoyed the passion with which the speeches have been delivered, and the depth of knowledge and wisdom.

As your Lordships will be aware, since publishing the IR in 2021, we have seen a huge escalation in geopolitical competition, with an intensification of threats to our democracy and security. The global turbulence forecast in the review has moved at a quicker pace than anyone had imagined just two years ago. In recent months, we have seen an emerging trend, a transition to a multi-polar and contested world, from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to China’s growing economic coercion. The world is a most dangerous place, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said very convincingly, with far-reaching consequences for the security and prosperity of the British people.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for delivering his speech so compellingly and covering a lot of the points that I wanted to cover. He made the point that the current situation in Sudan, the most recent of this tumult, amply demonstrates the heightened volatility that is likely to last beyond the 2030s. That is why we published the IR refresh earlier this year, setting out how the UK will meet this reality head on.

The refresh describes how the UK will protect our core interests—the sovereignty, security and prosperity of the British people—and pursue a stable international order, with enhanced co-operation and well-managed competition, based on respect for the UN charter and for international law. Rightly, our approach is an evolution as opposed to a revolution. Our strategic ambition is on track, positioning the UK as a responsible, reliable and effective international actor and partner, investing in the global relationships that we know we need to thrive in an era of international uncertainty. We meet our obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as the leading European ally within an expanding NATO.

We do have strong relations with our neighbours in Europe. I say that in response to a number of points made by the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. We have strong relationships, notwithstanding Brexit. I see that in my own work almost every day, much of which would not be possible without co-operation with our friends and allies in Europe, but, yes, we must build on the Windsor Framework to invigorate those partnerships even more. We are deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific, we are active in Africa and we enjoy thriving relationships with countries across the Middle East and the Gulf.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Commonwealth. Although I will not focus on it too much in this speech, because I have so many points to cover, I want to amplify the point made so well by my noble friend Lord Howell, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. It is not just a unique club but an extraordinary club of nations. As one speaker pointed out, it encompasses 2.5 billion people. It is a club unrivalled in its diversity—geographic, economic, cultural and in every conceivable way. There is an incredible strength in it, with these countries—in some ways unlikely countries—bound together by something very strong and with the UK playing a critical role, not least through the role of His Majesty the King. Like others, I believe that there is much more to be extracted from that club. There is much more to be done to strengthen it and give it purpose. That has moved higher up the political agenda, even in the last few months here in the UK.

Today’s debate has touched on issues right across the spectrum of our international interests. There is no way that I will be able to answer all the points made, but I will do my best. My noble friend Lord Frost made a point, followed up by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the importance of our relationship with the US. The US is clearly our closest ally. It remains so and I hope it always will. There has been tremendous political volatility recently, with the election of President Trump followed by a shift towards the Administration of President Biden. That has made the status quo trickier and we have had to navigate uncharted waters in that relationship.

I know this is absolutely not central to our debate, but the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Meyer raised the current obsession within the US, which is unfortunately catching on here as well, with what are often termed culture wars. I can only imagine what our competitors in China and combatants in Russia think when they see western politicians unable even to answer the question, “What is a woman?” It just makes no sense at all. We can laugh at it, but there is something more serious there. The implications go further; my noble friend Lady Meyer made the point, so I will not repeat it, other than to say that we are seeing a creeping intolerance, through every aspect of society, which is antithetical to our values as a country and to any kind of advancement and progress in relation to intellectual discourse, politics or anything else. It cannot just be dismissed as trivia. It is a fundamental issue and I very much share the point that she made.

The UK has provided nearly £6.5 billion in military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine since the start of the invasion. This goes to the point a number of noble Lords made about the position that the UK holds in the world. We led the G7 response, co-ordinating diplomatic activity and imposing our toughest ever sanctions, and we have trained thousands of brave Ukrainian troops.

As a Foreign Office Minister, I have the privilege of travelling the world and, like my noble friend Lady Meyer, I do not hear people outside this country talking down the UK. I hear people talking up the UK and the role that we have played, in relation not just to Ukraine but to other issues such as climate change, which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned and I will come to later. We are seen as a world leader, and I have seen no sign whatever that this has been diminished by the decision we took to leave the European Union—on the contrary. We often hear that we no longer have a seat at the table, but the opposite is true: we have a seat at many more tables than we had before and are able to make decisions often in partnership with the European Union, which we are routinely able to push into much stronger positions.

As we update our Russia strategy, our objective is to contain Russia’s ability to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order. As we face the most significant conflict in Europe since the end of World War II, we need to know that our Armed Forces are ready for the battles to come—a point that has been well made—and that the wider threat that Russia, Iran and North Korea pose to the international order is contained.

We have already announced that we will bolster the nation’s defences, investing £5 billion over the next two years. This will replenish our ammunition stocks, modernise our nuclear enterprise and fund the next phase of the AUKUS partnership. This investment represents significant progress in meeting our long-term minimum defence spending target of 2.5% of GDP and comes on top of the £560 million of new investments last year and the record £20 billion uplift announced in 2020.

Secondly, we know that the prosperity and security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are inextricably linked. It is critical to our economy, security and values that we build on those partnerships. The review makes our long-term commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific a permanent pillar of our international policy. In answer to questions raised by a number of noble Lords, in particular the right reverend Prelate, that long-term commitment is already bearing fruit across defence, diplomacy and trade, evidenced by our recent accession to the CPTPP, which my noble friend Lord Frost talked about. We are its first European member.

The PM announced in March that the AUKUS partnership will deliver a state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarine platform to Australia, setting the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard. This capability will help uphold the conditions for a secure and stable Indo-Pacific. I do not pretend to be an expert in Australian politics but, again, I see nothing to suggest that politics in Australia is moving against this new arrangement. On the contrary: it seems to be embraced cross party—or mostly. The Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to the Pacific nations demonstrated that commitment to partner with our friends there for the long haul, listening to their priorities and working together on issues that are existential for us all but especially for those small island developing states that are absolutely on the front line when it comes to tackling climate change.

As the Foreign Secretary set out last week, and as someone here also said, China continues to present an “epoch-defining challenge” for an open, stable international order. This is our third key area, which I will focus on briefly. As noble Lords will know, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the second-largest economy in the world, with an impact on almost everything of global significance to the UK. Therefore, it is firmly in our national interest to engage with China bilaterally and multilaterally, and to ensure that we have the skills and knowledge to do so.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising, on so many occasions in the short time that I have been a Minister, issues of injustice that flow from the current Chinese Government—I say current, but it has been the same Government all my life. We are not blind to the increasingly aggressive military and economic behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party, stoking tensions right across the Taiwan Strait. The evidence of human rights violations in Xinjiang is truly harrowing.

In response to a couple of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked, I do not know what the Vice-President and the Foreign Secretary will talk about but I hope it will be Hong Kong and the situation in relation to the Uighurs and Jimmy Lai, the noble Lord’s friend, who is clearly being pursued as a mechanism to silence a critic and as part of a broader attack on media freedom—there is no doubt about that. I hope these issues are raised and that the Foreign Secretary is able to lay out the UK’s position on them. I will write to the noble Lord about the commission of inquiry in relation to North Korea, as I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer. On the Iranian national guard, we have responded to Iran’s completely unacceptable behaviour by sanctioning the IRGC in its entirety as well as certain of its leaders specifically. That was announced last week.

Going back to China, our approach must combine these two currents. We will strengthen our national security protections wherever Beijing’s actions pose a threat to our people or our prosperity. We will ensure alignment with our core allies and a wider set of international partners, and we will engage directly with China to create a space for constructive and stable relations.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made the point that there are many problems globally that we cannot solve without China. This international co-operation occasionally works; I saw that myself in Montreal, where China held the pen of the CBD COP 15, working with Canada as the host and delivering something which exceeded anyone’s expectations. I was about to use a word that I would come to regret—I am enthusiastic about efforts to protect the environment—but I certainly did not expect that the outcome would be what it was. To be fair about it, we must acknowledge that China played a very unexpected but positive role. A lot of that was a consequence of engagement. There was a real sense of expectation in China, with the pressure of a risk of being seen to fail, which I think led to them taking a stronger position than they would have otherwise.

To support all these efforts, we have confirmed that we will double our funding for China capability, to continue to build expertise and language skills here in government. I acknowledge the point made by my noble friend Lord Frost about the behaviour of the World Health Organization during the Covid crisis. He is right. While on one level it is also right that we should be critical of the efforts that China made to capture that organisation, I am far more upset with the World Health Organization for allowing itself to be so obviously captured.

Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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Would my noble friend the Minister consider how this country can lessen its economic dependence on China? There is a great deal of research now about not having dependency for more than 25% of imports on any one country, and—

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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With no disrespect to my noble friend, the noble Baroness was not here at the beginning. It may be a rule that she is not familiar with.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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The noble Baroness does make a very important point. I will be touching on it in the remaining stages of my speech but yes, absolutely that must be a focus. That is at the heart of our critical minerals strategy but it goes way beyond that, for precisely the reasons that she has said.

Responding to this ever faster-moving global context means stepping up to protect the UK’s economic resilience, not least by acknowledging the point made by the noble Baroness. We have established a new directorate in the FCDO, incorporating the government information cell, to increase our capacity to assess and counter hostile information manipulation where it affects UK interests overseas. A new economic deterrence initiative will build our diplomatic and economic toolkit. With initial funding of up to £50 million over two years, the initiative is designed to strengthen our sanctions implementation and enforcement, and to give us new tools to respond to hostile acts and crack down on sanctions evasion. A new national protective services authority, located within MI5, will provide UK businesses and other organisations with immediate access to expert security advice. We will be publishing the UK’s first semiconductor strategy, which will grow our domestic industry for that vital technology, as well as the updated critical minerals strategy that I mentioned a few moments ago.

On science and technology, I want to acknowledge a point made by the right reverend Prelate on the importance of investment in science and technology. In a world of technological change, we are investing more in the UK’s science and tech ecosystem than ever before. Through our international tech strategy, we have laid out how we will cement the UK’s place as a science and tech superpower, working with partners to secure strategic advantage and ensure that technology promotes our shared values of freedom. We have already reorganised government to focus better on this area and are increasing our resilience for the long term, spending around £20 billion a year across government on research and development by the next financial year.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised the issue of AI. I cannot go into detail but AI technology is a step forward, which offers potential answers to questions that we have never been able to answer. It is an incredibly powerful tool and there is a question of whether we have demonstrated that we have sufficient wisdom to control such a powerful tool. Rather than rushing in as we are, we should be discussing, debating and figuring out what we want from AI and how we can prevent that incredibly powerful new thing from falling into the hands of people who will not be approaching issues in the benign manner that noble Lords have in this debate today.

I want to talk about Horizon very briefly. A number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned it. Yes, we are discussing association. We want negotiations to be successful. Clearly the outcome needs to be in our interests, but that is very much a government policy and will continue to be.

On soft power, I will talk on international development, because that is probably one of the best examples of where we deploy soft power. Sustainable international development clearly is and remains central to our foreign policy. It is fundamental to the goals of the integrated review. I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for having left the Committee to answer the call of nature half way through his speech. I very much share his views on Lord Mitchell—or rather Andrew Mitchell; he is not a lord, although he may become one—who is one of this country’s great experts when it comes to development, as you could see by the reception he received when he was given that appointment. We spent £11 billion on international development assistance last year, including on climate, girls’ education, global health and so on, and we remain absolutely committed to that broader agenda.

To support our commitment to development earlier this year, we launched the women and girls strategy to tackle threats which have been debated and discussed—three minutes to go; halfway through. This year we will go further and faster to deliver that strategy, the IDS. The IDS was not given the prominence that it merited, and I encourage noble Lords to really have a look at it to see what is driving our approach to international development.

I will have to use the last few minutes to talk about climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, described it as an existential threat, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, praised the King for his history of involvement long before others, at a time when it was almost crank-like to worry about these issues, which have become mainstream, and I totally agree. I also just emphasise the UK’s leadership on this issue. COP 26 was the first COP where nature was brought in from the outside and put at the centre, with 90% of the world’s forests covered in commitments to end deforestation this decade, and 90% of the global economy signed up to net zero—it was only 30% when we took on the presidency. Real leadership through the UK resulted in a COP which again surprised the world in its effectiveness and how far-reaching it was. Our job now is to make those commitments real. We saw some of that at COP 27, where the UK had, other than the hosts, probably the most impactful interventions. We saw that in Montreal, which I mentioned earlier, where the UK did more heavy lifting to get that agreement over the line than any other country, including the presidents and the hosts of that conference. Many countries would agree that we would not have succeeded had it not been for the UK’s involvement.

I see I have only 30 seconds left, which is awful, and I have not even begun to address the comments from my noble friend Lord Popat on Africa, but I agree with him very strongly that there is huge promise there. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made an interesting point about why investing in and supporting Africa is in our interest. One example of that is that the Congo Basin produces nearly two-thirds of Africa’s rainfall, yet it has been cut down at a rate of half a million hectares a year. If that were to continue—it will if we do not intervene—we will see a humanitarian crisis on a scale that exceeds anything even in the Bible. We would be looking at something off the scale. That is not a question for debate. We know that the forests generate rainfall and that cutting down the forests will stop rainfall, and we know that rainfall is necessary for the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people and those to whom that food is exported.

I apologise that I have to conclude. I was going to address the 0.7% question, but I will simply say that I agree very much with the comments made. I urge the Government to move as quickly as possible to restore that 0.7%. It is an incredibly valuable thing the UK has in its armoury, not only doing good but benefiting us as well.

The UK has committed to work with our allies to shape an open, stable, international order with co-operation and partnership at its heart. Today, in a climate-threatened and geopolitically contested world, we are taking steps to adapt. We commit to taking the long-term view, acting with agility and, as always, being a champion for the values that we hold dear. I thank noble Lords again for their insightful comments and I apologise for not answering every question.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, sometimes I am asked what it is like being a Member of your Lordships’ House, and I often say that it sometimes feels like sitting in an incredibly informed, fascinating seminar with a number of world experts, and today has been just that. I will not try to name all the different speakers and the points they have made. I will just say that, for me, the fascinating speech by the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on Africa was very good, as was the speech on the Commonwealth from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford; I was particularly grateful for that.

I am also grateful to the Minister for responding. His Majesty’s Government will hear a lot more from our House on three main clusters of areas, which I hope will be received helpfully. One, which I pick up from many of the speeches, is concern for a long-term strategy worked out with our partners as we address China, including human rights, defence and security. That was coming out loud and clear in many of the speeches. Secondly, the huge importance of the UK’s soft power, particularly in universities, in our aid budgets and in the BBC, was echoed on a number of occasions by noble Lords. Third is the vital importance of integrating climate change and environmental issues into our foreign policy. We will return to these, I am sure. Meanwhile, I thank noble Lords for their fascinating contributions.

Motion agreed.
House adjourned at 5.20 pm.

House of Lords

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Wednesday 3 May 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Climate Change: Net Zero Strategy

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the effectiveness of their Net Zero Strategy in meeting the goals under the Climate Change Act 2008.

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, the path outlined in the net zero strategy is the right one and we are delivering against it; for example, by announcing an unprecedented £20 billion investment in the early development of CCUS. The net zero growth plan reinforces this and the details set out in the carbon budget delivery plan sets out the package of proposals and policies that will enable us to meet those carbon budgets.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, which does not quite match the picture generally, I am afraid. I had intended to find one area where I thought I could suggest improvements, but actually the whole gamut of policies we have are failing. The Government are failing on energy, on housing, on transport—everything. So will the Minister please explain to his department just how bad it is at doing what it is meant to be doing? Perhaps it could bring in people such as the UK Climate Change Committee, or even our House of Lords Climate Change Committee, and actually take their advice. Failing that, will the Government please look at the Green Party manifesto, which has superb, sensible policies? They could really use them.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course, as always, I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for her constructive advice, but I am afraid that, yet again, she is wrong. We are on track to meet our budgets; the evidence is there. We met the second and third carbon budgets; in fact, we exceeded our targets. We are on track to meet carbon budgets 4 and 5 and we recently announced our plans to meet carbon budget 6, which goes through to 2037—so all the policies are in train. I know the noble Baroness always wants to go further, and she is right to keep pressing us, but we are making progress. It is a long transition, but we are making faster progress than any other country in the G7. Our decarbonisation since 1990 is almost 50%, which is far in excess of every other G7 country, including the likes of Germany—where, of course, the Greens are in government.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Does my noble friend accept that the chances of reaching global net zero are almost nil as long as the Chinese and Indians go on building coal-fired power stations?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the point my noble friend is making. Of course, we continue to engage with China and India about the folly of building new coal-fired power stations. Incidentally, picking up my last example, because the German Government accepted the advice of the Greens and phased out their nuclear power programme, last year 30% of German electricity was met by coal-fired generation. In the UK, it was less than 2% and next year it will be zero.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, here is an area for improvement: I was very disappointed that there have been no further announcements on support for tidal and wave power, even though the predictability of this technology could provide baseload and save on the cost of battery storage and hydrogen storage. So far, only 40 megawatts of this technology has been supported by the Government, equivalent to a medium-sized onshore wind farm. The Government’s contracts for difference mean that they have the opportunity to provide more support for this cutting-edge technology, which really needs support in order for it to scale up and make its contribution to renewable energy. So why are the Government leaving the profits to other countries? This is an opportunity for energy security and for British industry.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Again, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Baroness. There are some exciting prospects and we are supporting early-stage tidal projects. It depends whether she means wave-powered projects or the various barrage schemes, which are extremely expensive and have a lot of environmental implications. The approach that we take through the CfD system is to pick the most effective, cheapest means of decarbonisation, because of course it all feeds back into consumer bills. If we adopted the approach she is suggesting, these technologies are relatively unproven and would add to consumer bills.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister claims that we are making more progress than other European countries, but is it not because we started at such a low point? Let me give an example: we have the worst-insulated homes in Europe. Is it not the case that it is a very low level of improvement?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, it is not. The figures I quoted started from a baseline of 1990, so it actually includes some of the progress made under previous Labour Governments. There is no question that of course we have a challenge: we have the oldest housing stock in Europe, a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Six million homes were built before the First World War, so it is a challenge, but the figures still stand: we are making faster progress than any other G7 country.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, have the Government really taken on board, in pursuing this admirable goal of NZ, the absolutely colossal increase in electricity from renewable sources—presumably wind and nuclear are the main ones—which will be required to get anywhere near replacing all the other energy we use in the economy, which is, of course, full of fossil fuels? This is a vast task, requiring immense investment and enormous planning and, although I am encouraged by what my noble friend says, have we really begun on making the 10-times expansion of wind in the North Sea and the six new nuclear power stations if they are big, or the 30 or 40 if they are small? These are vast tasks; we do not yet hear enough about how we are going to meet them.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes an important point. I know he has a lot of experience in this area and he is right to point out the scale of the task. It is an immense challenge to be done over many years; none of this happens overnight. Some of the wind farms that are coming on stream this year were planned a decade ago; it all takes time to do, but over the next 20 or 30 years we need to make progress towards those goals. They are legally binding, so we need to meet them and we are on track to do so.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, following the Minister’s answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the Government are currently way off track to meet their sixth carbon budget for 2033 to 2037. This is a crucial period once the low-hanging fruit has all been picked. What additional measures are the Government considering to ensure that the harder to abate sectors deliver the necessary reductions in large-scale emissions in order to ensure we meet our net-zero targets?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The sixth carbon budget goes through to 2038. We have set out policies to meet— I think—about 97% of the targets under that and we have a number of other policies that are so far unquantified. In essence, the noble Lord is right, of course. As we make faster progress—and we are making very swift progress—the targets become more difficult to meet: but I am confident that we can do so.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in order to get the maximum benefit at the right time from wind power and other power supplies that come at inappropriate times, there is a real case for additional pumped-storage capacity? Will he do what he can to speed up the establishment of a clear financial base? At present that is holding back some very valuable projects.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord makes an important point. As we have more and more intermittent renewables coming on to the grid, we will need to balance that out with increased storage capacity, which may be pumped storage: of course, there is an excellent example in Wales in the Dinorwig plant, but there are examples in Scotland as well. As well as storage mechanisms such as pumped storage and battery storage, the potential of long-term hydrogen storage in salt caverns is extremely exciting.

Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
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My Lords, as I understand it, one of the barriers to installing new low-carbon technology is the shortage of skilled labour to carry out this work. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to invest in and expand training and skills programmes for the installation of low-carbon technology such as heat pumps, EV chargers and solar panels?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed, that will be a vital component. We need to train people for the new technologies. Many of them are already coming on stream. Of course, we work very closely with the Department for Education to expand our skills programme in the green jobs area, but we also have a number of directly funded schemes from the department which are funding tens of thousands of new training places.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. In order to achieve the ambitious programme the Minister has set out, Ofgem, the regulator, will need to play an important role. This House voted to give Ofgem a net-zero duty, in line with the recommendations of numerous bodies, most recently the BEIS Committee in another place. Will the Government rethink their opposition to this sensible, much-supported measure when the Bill goes to the other place?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course, we will continue to keep these matters under review. I am not going to predict what might happen to the Bill in the House of Commons, but we will certainly reflect on what the House voted for.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend resist the blandishments from the Green Party about planning and organisation, given the shambles it has created in Scotland for the coalition there on the bottle return scheme?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course, I accept my noble friend’s advice about Green policies. I pointed out the example of Germany. The Green Party’s opposition to an electric railway line—HS2—is another example of a hypocritical policy, but there are many others that we could choose from.

Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the impact of the cancellation of the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme in their Defence in a Competitive Age command paper, published on 22 March 2021.

Baroness Goldie Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Goldie) (Con)
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My Lords, the integrated review has set the British Army on a course of exciting transformation. Cancelling the Warrior capability sustainment programme, rather than spending taxpayers’ money on upgrading an ageing legacy capability, has enabled reinvestment of resources to support Army modernisation under Future Soldier. The Army’s current capabilities, which include Warrior, will remain effective until new concepts and capabilities are introduced into service throughout the remainder of the decade.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I have a very simple question for the Minister. Can she assure us that, with the cancellation of Warrior, there is no capability gap with respect to the Army’s mechanised infantry vehicle capability? The Minister will know that the Warrior upgrade programme has been cancelled, we are awaiting when all the 623 Boxer vehicles are to be delivered and, with the problems there have been with the Ajax programme, we are unclear when that is due to be delivered. Can the Minister explain why we should not be worried about capability with respect to this particular Army infantry vehicle capability?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I can confirm that the Army has been allocated £200 million to keep Warrior going and to assist with funding of Challenger 2. This is all about bridging the important period of transition from the old configuration to the new. On Boxer, my noble friend—or my noble opponent—will be aware that initial operating capability is expected to be achieved in 2025, with full operating capability in 2032. Ajax is now in a very positive place, having been through, I fully admit, its own travails. It is in a good position and there is no operating capability gap.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving member of the Army and as the Government’s defence exports advocate. There have been challenges in the procurement of the Army’s armoured vehicles—there is no doubt about that—but is not one of the underlying issues that successive Governments have allowed the atrophication of the land industrial base, which is something we have not done, for example, in the maritime industrial base? We have simply lost the skills over time by not having a constant throughput of new vehicles. How will the Government address this issue?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I have admitted at this Dispatch Box, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has indicated similarly, that over successive Governments there has been a hollowing out of the land capability, but my noble friend will accept that there is now an exciting programme for development. I have referred to Boxer and Ajax, and we have the exciting prospect of the armoured future brigades. I point out to my noble friend that the equipment plan for the Army is £41 billion over 10 years, so I hope my noble friend is reassured that very serious planning is in place to augment the land capability.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, regretfully, it seems to me the Minister has not answered the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Warrior was first commissioned in 1984 and, as we have heard, its upgrade has been cancelled. In spite of optimistic noises, there is as yet no service date for Ajax, and it is exactly the same position in relation to Boxer. If British Army infantry had to be deployed now, which armoured fighting vehicle would they have in support?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I do not share the noble Lord’s pessimistic assessment. As I have pointed out, there is in place an exciting programme of land vehicles. For Boxer, initial operating capability will be achieved in 2025. We anticipate that very good progress is being made on Ajax, and they will come into play later on in this decade. I point out to the noble Lord that, as he is aware, we have Warrior functioning; it is part of the transition. We have Challenger 2, and we are upgrading to Challenger 3. We have got a perfectly well-equipped Army. We observe our obligations to NATO and we observe our obligations to keep this country safe.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, between the cancelled Warrior capability sustainment programme and the extraordinarily delayed Ajax programme—it may well be in a good place now, but it is not expected to have what is called “full operating capability” until 2029, which is a full decade longer than was planned—the MoD has spent over £3 billion in failing to introduce or upgrade two armoured vehicles. What lessons have been learnt from this, and what changes to procurement have been made? Is there nowhere else in the world a vehicle already in production that we could buy with some of the £41 billion set down for capability of this nature in the future?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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In relation to Ajax, I confirm for the noble Lord that the initial operating capability requires 50 operational deployable vehicles to be delivered and to be achieved by December 2025, and that will be a significant augmentation of the capability. The full operating capability requires 422 of the 589 operational deployable vehicles to be delivered; that is to be achieved between October 2028 and September 2029. As I indicated to my noble friend Lord Lancaster, there is a very exciting period of development for land capability; I think we should celebrate that.

On the final point of the noble Lord’s question, I have acknowledged that I think there is the opportunity for the MoD, in procurement, to look at different models of getting things when they need them. I think this is recognised within the MoD, and I think the phrase used has been that we have pursued the exquisite, involving cost and time, perhaps at the expense of actually getting what we need, when we wanted it.

Lord Glenarthur Portrait Lord Glenarthur (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the £41 billion that is going to be available for some of this upgrading. Can she say when the upgraded Challenger 3 is likely to become operational?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I do not have specific information about that. As my noble friend is aware, Challenger 2 is operating, and the Challenger 3 upgrade is in place. I shall make inquiries; if I can find something more specific, I undertake to write to my noble friend.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lord, the Minister has said the MoD has a new model of getting things when we need them. Have we had Ajax when we needed it? Does the forward set of dates not suggest we are not really getting things when we need them?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I actually said that the department is aware of the need to look at the opportunity of a different approach to procurement, and there may be situations where there is something on the shelf that would work, would be adequate and can be obtained at a reasonable price. That is certainly an opportunity of which the department is aware, and about which it will be vigilant. On procurement generally, I have said before that defence procurement is probably the most complex in government, and that is why, through last year’s Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, we are working to improve the speed of acquisition and ensure we incentivise innovation and productivity.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister made clear Warrior has a critical role at the present time in the British Armed Forces. Have any Warriors been gifted to Ukraine and, if so, how many? Is there any intention to gift any more to Ukraine, to help them in their struggle against Russia?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I do not have specific information to reply to that question, but I shall make inquiries and disclose what is available to the noble and gallant Lord.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, it must be said that the Minister shows tremendous optimism and does a very good job defending the Ministry of Defence. Does she understand that the optimism she shows is not shared around the House, on these Benches as well as elsewhere? I do not see much excitement about the Minister’s announcement on these Benches and elsewhere. It is not just our opponents who think the defence procurement programme is a mess; it is us as well. Could she please go back to the Ministry of Defence, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister and say that this requires urgency: there is a war in Europe and we need to get on with getting good equipment and munitions, and we are not doing it fast enough?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I hesitate to rebuke my noble friend, of whom I am very fond, but there is at least one person in this Chamber who is extremely excited about the MoD equipment programme sustained by an unprecedented generosity of budget, and it is me, because I see at first hand exactly what is happening. I see the excitement it affords to our Armed Forces; they are motivated and responding to the challenges in front of them. The Ukrainian conflict, while desperately sad in one respect, has certainly heightened the need for us to be investing in our capability. Everyone recognises what we are doing; these new facilities coming on tap, to provide the two new armoured brigade combat teams, are very effective, muscular components. I ask my noble friend not to be too pessimistic and cry into his beer because it is important to our Armed Forces that we show we support them and we are behind everything we ask them to do.

Migrants: Housing

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they will list all facilities they plan to build to house: (1) new migrants entering Britain via the English Channel, (2) migrants currently awaiting first determination on their asylum claim, (3) migrants who have been refused their asylum claim on first determination, and (4) migrants currently in hotels but designated for transfer to other accommodation.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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I can advise the noble Lord that the Home Office is planning initial asylum accommodation at surplus military sites at Scampton and Wethersfield to accommodate asylum seekers entering the United Kingdom illegally on small boats. We are exploring proposals to use a non-military site in East Sussex and a further military site at Catterick garrison for asylum accommodation, alongside an accommodation barge in Portland Port in Dorset. We are developing immigration removal centres at Haslar and Campsfield.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. A week ago, in broadcast interviews, the Home Secretary was asked a simple question: how many places are the Government seeking to provide in this endeavour to lock up those coming across the channel? I am afraid intellectual internal struggle proved futile and, in the end, she reverted to saying simply, “Well, it will not be 45,000 places we will need”. The Minister will have had a chance to think about the obvious question: just how many secure places for migrants are the Government actually intending to provide?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The answer is that the Government will keep the situation under review and see how many places are required, because the effect of the Bill, when it is passed through this House and the other place, will be to deliver a deterrent effect. Furthermore, those who cross the channel illegally will be removed within 28 days, as is planned in the structure of the Bill. Therefore, the need to detain people will be kept under review and, it is hoped, be limited in number.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, if the Government are going to keep things under review, will the Minister please review Scampton in Lincolnshire? It is a historic airfield from which the 617 Squadron flew in the last war. We have plans in Lincolnshire to transform it, now that the Red Arrows have gone, into both a museum and a site of industrial production of the technological kind. The Home Secretary has ridden roughshod over the feelings of local people and plans to desecrate a lovely part of Lincolnshire—can that please be put under review immediately?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I hesitate to disagree with my noble friend but the site in Scampton is well-suited for the purpose of housing asylum seekers. The heritage buildings at Scampton will of course be preserved. While the Home Office listens intently to all representations about the locations of asylum accommodation facilities, it is the case that Scampton is a suitable site and we intend to begin using it.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, has the Minister had the chance to read the debate in another place and the amendments moved by his right honourable friends Theresa May MP and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, specifically to retain the protections for people who have been victims of human trafficking within the United Kingdom? Does he intend, when he speaks at Second Reading of the Bill next week, to give assurances to the House that this will be dealt with? Will he also say why the Home Secretary has refused to appear before the Joint Committee on Human Rights to defend legislation that does not even have a disclaimer saying that it is compatible with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. I reassure him that I have followed closely the debates in the other place, and in my speeches to the House at Second Reading I will extensively cover the questions raised by my right honourable friend the Member for Maidenhead, and address the broader questions in relation to modern slavery. It is not for me to explain the diary arrangements of the Home Secretary, but I can confirm to the noble Lord that the Home Office takes very seriously its engagement obligations with committees of the House.

Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig (Lab)
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My Lords, since 2021, 4,500 unaccompanied migrant children, some as young as 10, have been placed in hotels, and more than 200 have gone missing and have not been found. In March, when I asked the Minister if the Home Office had sought legal advice as to whether it had the powers to do this, he declined to answer me. Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 gives local authorities alone statutory power for child protection—that includes unaccompanied migrant children. Can the Minister say which Act of Parliament has allowed the Home Office to set this one aside?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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There has been no intention to set aside any provision of the Children Act. As the noble Lord will have seen on his careful reading of the Illegal Migration Bill, there are provisions set out that deal with the transfer of responsibility for children and the approach to be taken to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive after 7 March of this year.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, there are so many questions arising about the standards that will apply in the “facilities”—if I can use that term—around safeguarding, how families with or without children will be dealt with, and how children alone will be dealt with, and around facilities for medical provision, legal advice and so on. Will the Government publish the contracts that they are entering into with private sector providers, so that one can keep an eye on what standards are being required of them?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Commercial contracts are commercially sensitive, and the usual policy will be adopted in relation to them. Clearly, certain standards will be promulgated, and the noble Baroness will be able to look at those. I would be delighted to facilitate any visits that the noble Baroness may wish to make to the facilities.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I understand that the Home Secretary’s model for the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers is that of the Greek islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos, where the accommodation is described as “deplorable” by Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been working there. I understand that the trauma of these asylum seekers is made worse by daily stresses and fears and the lack of medical attention. Can the Minister assure the House that every effort is being made within government to require the Home Secretary to change her model for the provision of accommodation for these asylum seekers to ensure that we comply with our international obligations?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I do not recognise the description that the noble Baroness appends to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s alleged assertion in relation to the Greek islands. Clearly, those crossing the channel from France, who have hitherto slept on the hinterland of the beaches in northern France, are much better accommodated by quality hotel rooms paid for by British taxpayers, and that is something that we need to address. We need to provide adequate but basic accommodation in order to disincentivise those coming here who seek to take advantage of the generosity of the British people.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, further to my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s question, surely the Government must have a figure for the number of migrants and asylum seekers that they seek to detain. If the Government have no figure at all—not even a working figure within the Home Office—how on earth do they know how many RAF bases they will need to build accommodation on? How many cruise ships, oil rigs and barges are they going to get if they have no idea of how many people they are going to need to detain?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord well knows that it is not the Government’s practice to share working policy assumptions in relation to these issues. As I said, the effect of the Bill will be to deliver a deterrent effect; fewer people will cross the channel and therefore fewer people will need to be detained.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister give a clear undertaking to this House, without any equivocation, that all measures for dealing with asylum seekers and refugees will be in compliance with current UK law and current UK international treaty obligations?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The Government will always obey the domestic law.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, tens of thousands of migrants have crossed, and are crossing, into this country, in many cases having made an incredibly dangerous journey across two seas and across many other countries in Europe. What does the Minister think is their prime motivation in coming to this country, rather than any of the other countries that they could have accessed?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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There is no single answer which I can provide to the House. There are many people who come to this country and many different motivations. That has been the subject of myriad academic studies, and it will continue to be studied. I am afraid there is no one clear answer.

Childbirth: Black Women

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the fact that Black women are almost four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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While births in England are among the safest globally, we must do more to tackle maternal disparities. Local maternity and neonatal systems have begun to publish action plans to tackle disparities in outcomes and experiences in maternity care at a local level. The Maternity Disparities Taskforce, which held a meeting on 18 April, brings together experts from across the health system, government departments and the voluntary sector to explore and consider evidence-based interventions to tackle maternal disparities.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer. On 17 April I asked the Government about discrimination in the UK experienced by people of African descent—the Minister for Equalities pooh-poohed this report and strongly rejected most of the findings of discrimination. The following day the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee published a report which said that black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women in the UK. Does the Minister now accept that there was a point to my Question, and that research conducted on behalf of the Government since 2000 has shown that black women as a group have consistently remained at the highest maternity risk?

I would also like to ask the Minister about continuity of carer, which means having the same midwife throughout your pregnancy. It is a cornerstone of the Government’s and the NHS’s commitment to deliver safer maternity services, and indeed the report itself says that it is one of the ways to overcome barriers and improve communication and understanding throughout a pregnancy. When will the Government invest in the recruitment of midwives, bringing up their strength by 2,500, which the Royal College of Midwives says is essential to deliver this personalised care?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness; there were a number of questions there. I accept that there is a disparity, which is why the Maternity Disparities Taskforce was set up. I was speaking to Minister Caulfield just this morning, and I assure noble Lords that this is very high on her agenda. That is why, in providing continuity of maternity care, the focus is on making sure that people from ethnic minorities, particularly black women, get priority.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, this is not a new issue. I am pleased to hear that the disparities task force has been set up, but can it look not just at the issues of workforce planning—there is a shortage of midwives—but at the additional antenatal care that black and ethnic-minority women need because of underlying causes, and at the care they receive during labour?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend is right. I was speaking to Minister Caulfield about this very subject this morning. She pointed out that a lot of the reasons for the differences are underlying health conditions and factors such as smoking, weight and alcohol consumption, as well as diabetes. Education is a key part of this, as is continuity of care, and making sure that there is prenatal and postnatal care is absolutely a focus.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, the NHS published equity and equality guidance in September 2021 aimed at improving maternal health for mothers and babies from black and other ethnic groups and those from the most deprived areas. However, no implementation plan or scrutiny mechanism has been developed, so how will implementation and adherence to these strategies and guidelines be assured? Who will report on progress, or the lack of it?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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First, through its local maternity and neonatal systems, every ICB is responsible for publishing an equity and equality plan. It will then be the job of both the CQC and the maternity surveillance system to measure them against that plan and make sure it is being kept up. Every area is different, but each needs a plan to address this issue.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Maternity Disparities Taskforce meeting on 18 April. Can he explain why the Select Committee was able to report that the task force had not met for nine months preceding the writing of its report? It does not look like the task force is putting much energy into this. Can he also say whether the work that is now being undertaken will take into account the fact that black women are regularly underrepresented in research and data, which leads to them being neglected in policy-making?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord is correct that data is an issue. A lot of the frustration that Minister Caulfield expressed is about the fact that we are having to look in the rear-view mirror, because the data is about two years old. One of the fundamental things is to get that live data so that we can see what action works and where more needs to be done.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, it is also sad to note that the rate of black babies being stillborn is 6.9 per 1,000 births, as opposed to 3.6 per 1,000 for white babies. Can my noble friend the Minister please confirm that each trust is under an obligation to collect that kind of data and do specific research as to why a modern country has that really sad rate of higher mortality?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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That is what the equity and equality plans are all about: understanding the local needs of an area. As I mentioned before, a lot of this is often due to the underlying health conditions of that ethnic-minority group. Also, many of us take for granted the fact that we are very clear on how to access medical services, but a lot of people from these ethnic minorities do not have the experience—for want of a better word —of accessing them. A key part of the plan also needs to be about how we can make this care accessible for all these groups.

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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Is the Minister aware of the findings of the 2015 Kirkup report into neonatal deaths in Morecambe Bay? Among its findings, it concluded that ethnic-minority women were on a number of occasions not given respect and agency by white British midwives, which may have contributed to neonatal deaths. Has that been looked at by the department, and what has been done since?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I am familiar with that report, and the more recent Kirkup report on east Kent mentions some of the same issues. That is why part of the investment has been in a training programme to make sure that the suitable cultural awareness is there, because the noble Lord is correct that this is an issue.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, institutionalised racism is a major factor in the higher death rate of black women during childbirth. Numerous surveys have shown that black women are paid far less for their work than their white counterparts, which reduces their access to good food, housing and healthcare. Ethnicity pay gap reporting is a necessary tool for developing policies to tackle institutionalised discrimination. Why are the Government opposed to introducing ethnicity pay gap reporting?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I do not think I would categorise this in any way in terms of institutionalised racism, and I do not believe that noble Lords would think that of the NHS. Clearly, work needs to be done on helping all ethnic minorities to access health services and on education, because there are many underlying conditions. That is what we are doing now. A few years ago, the numbers were quite a lot worse; black women were five times more likely to die in childbirth, but that figure is now 3.7. A lot more work needs to be done, but we are improving.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Does my noble friend accept that the term “institutionalised” is, in the words of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, “ambiguous”, in that it means different things to different people? Can he define “institutionalised”?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The point I was trying to make is that I think all noble Lords would agree that the NHS does a fantastic job in addressing and reaching people of all ethnic minorities. That is something we can all support.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister omitted to answer the first question put to him by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath about the frequency with which the task force met and the gap between its last meeting and the moment at which its report was put forward, if I understood the question correctly. Can he answer that now?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My understanding is that since the task force was set up, which was little more than a year ago, it has had as many as four or five meetings. If that is incorrect, I will correct it. The latest meeting was on 18 April. Again, if noble Lords look at the actions that have come out of it, they will all agree that it is actions that count the most. The task force has been very thorough, and Minister Caulfield is very committed.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the Minister has referred a number of times to socio- economic disparities—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, referred to the issues of poverty. The MBRRACE report and others have shown the disparity in death rates that sees black women dying in childbirth four times more often than white women. Will the Minister acknowledge for the record that there is a tragic difference here—a higher number of deaths—that cannot be fully accounted for by pre-existing health conditions and socioeconomic disadvantage?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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As I have said, this is a complex area. I do not think we understand all the underlying reasons. Underlying health is a reason, and access is another. What the statistics show is that there is a difference, which is why we are so focused on addressing it and making sure that everyone has excellent standards of maternal care.

Code of Practice on the Recording and Retention of Personal Data in relation to Non-Crime Hate Incidents

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
Moved by
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth
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That the draft Code of Practice laid before the House on 13 March be approved.

Relevant document: 35th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 26 April.

Motion agreed.

Register of Overseas Entities (Definition of Foreign Limited Partner, Protection and Rectification) Regulations 2023

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
Moved by
Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 15 March be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 2 May

Motion agreed.

Voter ID

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Thursday 27 April.
“It is vital that we keep our democracy secure. This Government stood on a manifesto commitment not only to protect the integrity of our elections but to enhance it. On that basis, this Government won a majority. We have introduced legislation to implement that commitment and we are now in the process of delivering on our promise. Voter identification is central to protecting our electoral system from the potential for voting fraud. Its implementation at the local elections next week brings the rest of the UK in line with Northern Ireland, where people have had to bring photographic ID to vote in elections since 2003. I remind the honourable Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who is chuntering from a sedentary position, that that legislation was introduced by the then Labour Government under direct rule.
The data collection processes for polling stations are set out clearly in the Elections Act 2022 and the Voter Identification Regulations 2022. Polling station staff will record details of any electors turned away—should there be any—for the purposes of complaints or legal challenges and, in the short term, to provide data to evaluate the policy, which will be conducted by the Government and the Electoral Commission in line with the legislation that was voted on, debated and passed by this House.
The Electoral Commission has published suggested templates of the necessary forms and has updated its guidance in the polling station handbook to reflect the new processes. As required by legislation, the Government will publish a number of reports on the impact of the voter identification policy. Our intention is that the first of those reports will be published no later than November 2023. The data collected will be a significant part of that evaluation.
There are few tasks more important in public life, as I am sure every member of a political party represented in this House and the general public would agree, than maintaining the British public’s trust in the sanctity of the ballot box in our democratic processes. We on the Government Benches take that duty very seriously. I look forward to our first experience of the policy in polling stations in Great Britain on 4 May.”
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government implemented this rushed programme for voter ID against the advice of the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Local Government Association, which all said that it needed more time. Does the Minister now agree that they were right, given that around 1.5 million people eligible to vote do not have the accepted ID or certificate? Tomorrow’s election will be the greatest restriction of the franchise in our democratic history, taking the vote from seven times as many people as were given the vote in the Great Reform Act. What will it take tomorrow for the Government to rescind this policy? How many people will the Government allow to be turned away before admitting that this experiment has failed?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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No, I do not agree that we have done it in haste, because I have spoken personally to the LGA and many leaders across the country who are having polls. I have also spoken to the Electoral Commission. The processes that were put in place worked well; the IT worked well, and we will know after tomorrow what the outcome is. As I said yesterday in this House, the number of people who have not registered for a voter authority card will come out in the data. Whether or not we need to look at any changes, this Government and the people of this country want voter ID. Two out of three people asked said they would feel more confident in our democratic process if it was in place.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I return to a subject that I raised yesterday. It would be so much easier and sensible for all of us if we had an identity card that we could produce on all necessary occasions. There would then be no question of some people not having one of the designated documents, because they would all have the same. Could this please be looked at again if, as I suspect, the figures from tomorrow are disappointing?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Just to let my noble friend know, the Government have no intention of looking again at identity cards, as I said to him yesterday.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, allowing for postal votes, there will be more than 1 million people legally entitled to vote tomorrow who will not be able to do so because of the new requirements. The number of people who do not go to the polling station because of them will never be known; nor will the number of people turned away at the entrance to polling stations ever be known. If the Electoral Commission’s review suggests that wider forms of ID could be accepted, such as the items on the Post Office list for collecting a parcel, will such a change be made before elections in 2024? The cost saving would be substantial. Will the Minister undertake to tell us what that saving would be? She said yesterday that the government scheme would cost £2.42 per elector. There are about 48 million electors, so that would be a cost of £116 million. Which party is this expenditure most likely to benefit?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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As I have said before, we will look at whether there need to be any changes after the Electoral Commission and the Government have collected the data they require from returning officers. We said that we would do that; there will be a review by both Houses of Parliament at the end of this year, and the Electoral Commission will review it as well. We expect its interim report in early summer. That is when we will need to look at whether any changes need to be made.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate the difficult position that the Minister is in, but can she set out a list of all those people who are eligible for a proxy vote organised up until 5 pm tomorrow—election day? It was a mystery to me; I had never heard of emergency proxies. Apparently, they are available to people who, for example, cannot use the photo pass they were planning to use; it is not just an illness or disability issue. Where is the list, because it is very confusing on the websites, of who can get organised for a proxy up to 5 pm tomorrow? Are local authorities organised to do that for people who might have problems? Has this happened before or not?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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In certain circumstances where a person has an emergency that means that they cannot vote in person, they can apply for an emergency proxy. There is full guidance on the Electoral Commission’s website. I should stress that the circumstances where an application for a proxy vote may apply are specific and very limited. Emergency proxies are available if a person’s photo ID is lost, stolen, destroyed or damaged, and the deadline to apply for a voter authority certificate has passed. This can also be used if an anonymous elector’s document is lost, stolen, destroyed or damaged. As the noble Lord said, applications can be made up to 5 pm on polling day.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Can the Minister confirm that the measures being introduced by the Government are very similar to those that were introduced in Northern Ireland, which have been generally welcomed by both Houses?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right: those measures were brought in in Northern Ireland by the Labour Government in 2003. They have been highly successful, and, in fact, the people of Northern Ireland have a higher rate of satisfaction with their electoral system than we do in England.

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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My Lords, are the Government alive to the prospect that they have set the bar too high for forms of photo ID for younger people in particular? The chance that someone would be so keen to vote fraudulently that they would make a fraudulent Oyster ID card as an 18-plus as a way to gain access to a polling station is vanishingly small. In that review, will they be alive to widening out the forms of photo ID for younger people?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Yes, obviously, but it is interesting that, when the research was done on the number of people in this country who had photo ID, it was higher for younger people. It was 98% for the whole of the country, but 99% for young people between 18 and 25. But, yes, we will look at that. I know that the Oyster card has been an issue, but there is a real reason. Oyster cards for younger people have a different process which is not as secure as that for older people’s Oyster cards.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, mention has been made of a review, and it is critical that it happens correctly. That requires three sets of information. The first is how many people were turned away; the second is the precise reasons for their being turned away, and the third is the time of day that they were turned away, because if it was before, let us say, half an hour before the close of polls, people may have been able to go and get the required documentation in some cases. Will the Government have the correct data on which to form an opinion?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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Councils are required by law to record data in polling stations. There are two purposes for that. The first is in the case of any complaints or legal challenges, as we know. That data is on individual electors formally refused a ballot and whether they later returned and voted successfully; it will be sealed and retained in case it is needed. The second set of data will be captured in the short term to help evaluate the voter identification policy. That data will be anonymised and will include both the number of electors turned away and the reasons why, as well as whether they returned and voted later; it will also include data on other aspects of the policy, such as the number of times a voter authority certificate is used. As I have said, that data will be used by both the Government and the Electoral Commission in their evaluations. I do not think that the time of day when those electors came to a polling station will be in the evaluation, but I will certainly get the House an answer on that.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Wednesday 3rd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Lords Chamber
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Committee (12th Day)
Relevant documents: 24th and 31st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Amendment 290
Moved by
290: After Clause 123, insert the following new Clause—
“Developer contributions: childcare(1) This section applies where a local authority is making a consideration under—(a) section 106(1)(d) of TCPA 1990 in relation to a “major development”, or (b) Part 4 of this Act. (2) When this section applies, the local authority in question may have regard to—(a) the current availability and affordability of childcare services in the local area,(b) the impact that any new development will have on the availability and affordability of childcare services in the local area, and(c) the need to promote high-quality affordable childcare in line with sections 6 and 7 of the Childcare Act 2006.(3) When setting obligations to which this section applies, the local authority must publish a statement setting out the reasons underpinning their decision to allocate the level of funding or support they have to early years or childcare services and settings.(4) Nothing in this section prevents a local authority from having regard to any factor not mentioned in this section when making a relevant consideration.(5) “Major development” here has the same meaning as in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/595).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would make clear that local authorities are empowered, but not required, to use developer contributions to fund childcare services and settings. It would also require them to publish a statement explaining why – in relation to large developer contributions – they did or did not direct any funding towards childcare services and settings. This would only apply to major developments, as is currently the case for affordable housing considerations.
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 290 in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Tyler, and the noble Lord, Lord Young. I thank all those who have supported this amendment, in particular the large number of Conservative noble Baronesses I have managed to nobble—it was 16 at the last count, I think —all of whom have indicated their strong support, in principle, for it. I will not bore your Lordships or broadcast my ignorance by opining on the 24 other amendments in this rather large group; I am confident that others will make their own cases at an appropriate, or even inappropriate, point.

We are all aware of the challenges facing parents of young children in the country today. Childcare is too expensive and often extremely hard to access. Even if one is able to afford it, often it is not there. I think we would all agree that, when a parent will lose money if they go back to work because the childcare that they can access is more expensive that what they can earn back in the workplace, the system is not working as it should.

Over the past seven years, the children’s charity Coram—I declare my interest as a governor—has done some research and indicated that prices have risen by 40%, far outstripping inflation and wage growth. However, these price rises have been driven in part by the growing scarcity of childcare services. The Government’s own data shows the systematic underfunding over several years of the so-called free hours, giving nurseries a rather invidious choice between closing down and pushing prices up for the hours that they charge for. The end result is that 5,000 providers closed their doors for good last year. In more than half of local authorities, there is not enough childcare provision for very young children. This is letting families across the country down and is holding back our economy as new parents are forced to give up careers.

Against this backdrop, the Chancellor has announced an extremely welcome massive expansion of government-funded childcare over the next three years. This will see hundreds of thousands of children receive some childcare for free but, potentially, increasing demand for already scarce nursery places. The Government have recognised that this cannot happen overnight but they have not—so far, at least—put in place funding specifically to increase the number and capacity of nurseries. This amendment is by no means the complete solution to the problem but we suggest that it should be part of the picture as we work out just how we are going to deliver on the promises that the Chancellor has made.

It is a long-established principle that, when developers build new homes at scale in what is termed a “major project”, they must contribute towards the extra public service capacity that these developments take up. Whether they are schools, GP surgeries or public transport links, these contributions help to ensure that a major development is acceptable and additive to local communities. Unfortunately, one area where this simply is not happening is the provision of childcare services and facilities. Over the past five years, around £35 billion has been raised from developers to fund affordable housing and community infrastructure. About a third of that has been spent on infrastructure such as repairing roads and extending or building new schools. However, of that £35 billion, the total amount that has been spent on childcare provision is £22 million, which is not very impressive. That is equivalent to £1 for every £1,667 raised from developers—a slight imbalance, perhaps.

There are some areas that have done well. In East Sussex, over £900,000 has been spent on expanding two nurseries. On the Isle of Wight, £200,000 has been spent on extending a family centre. In Knowsley, in Liverpool, almost £2 million has been spent on two new nurseries. However, these represent a disappointingly small set of areas. In responding to a freedom of information request to identify what they had or had not done, more than 90% of local authorities indicated that they had not spent a single penny of developer contributions on childcare or early years support. Since the guidance on both the community infrastructure levy and Section 106 contributions does not mention early years settings at all, this should not come as a great surprise.

Amendment 290 would not force local authorities to spend their money differently. All it would do is make it crystal clear and explicit to them that they can do so and that, in doing so, they will potentially help the Government to deliver on their commitments and policies. Local authorities have focused primarily on schools, not early years provision. While early years provision is meant to be understood as being implicitly included in the schools category, it is mostly not being included or considered at all. On Report in the other place, the Minister, Lucy Frazer, said that

“it is crucial that children get the support, care and education they deserve. It must be the case that nurseries and pre-schools fall within the definition of ‘schools and other educational facilities’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/12/22; col. 962.]

However, the clear evidence from the freedom of information data is that, 90% of the time, that simply is not happening. I am sure that this is not wilful or intentional neglect; I just think that local authorities do not regard early years provision as a priority to be fully considered. All our amendment asks the Government to do is to make it explicit, rather than implicit, that the need for childcare services should be taken into account. It asks the local authority

“to publish a statement explaining why … they did or did not”

allocate funding or support to childcare services.

At Second Reading, I mentioned that I had undertaken some research on behalf of the Minister to find, given her distinguished 10-year tenure as the leader of Wiltshire Council, a term in Wiltshire dialect that would clarify the intent of this amendment. The noun that I found was “jiffling”, which, in everyday English, means “confusion”. I hope the Minister will agree that, of the myriad amendments that she has dealt with so far and will deal with in future, this is one of the more straightforward, more diplomatic and least contentious ones. It is also fully aligned with the direction and intent of government policy and its purpose, which is simply to eliminate the possibility of any jiffling when local authorities evaluate the potential need for childcare services when reviewing any major project. I beg to move.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and add a brief footnote to the speech he made on Amendment 290, to which I have added my name. As he said, the amendment makes it explicit that the infrastructure levy can be used to make childcare accessible and affordable.

I will make four brief points. First, in standing back and looking at total expenditure on all ages of children under 18, I believe we spend too low a percentage on under-fives and too great a percentage on older age groups, in terms of outcome both for society as a whole and for the individual child. I believe that a pound’s worth of investment spent earlier yields a greater return than if spent later. This is not the time to defend that assertion, but it is relevant to the debate.

Secondly, I therefore welcome the priority the Government have recently given to childcare, with £204 million of additional funding this year increasing to £288 million by 2024-25, on top of the £4.1 billion previously announced, together with earlier announcements about family hubs.

Thirdly, in expanding free entitlement, if that additional funding is inadequate, there is a risk that, as the noble Lord just said, providers continue to remove themselves from the market or reduce the quality of care provided. If the latter happens, it would place the priority of providing employment opportunities for parents above the purpose of child development. Increasing the demand for childcare places by making it cheaper without increasing funding for staff salaries may make it harder to find a nursery space in the first place. At the moment, it is not at all clear where the extra places will come from. Sam Freedman, an author and political columnist, posted the following on Twitter:

“we haven’t been given a figure for the new hourly rate but based on the overall cost for 3+4 year olds (£288m for 2024/5) it looks way too low. We proposed adding in £2bn to make it sustainable”.

Fourthly, the current business model for much of childcare relies on cross-subsidy from the better-off parents who can afford the extra hours to make good the gap in statutory funding. I was rereading the report of the Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, published in February 2015, which said this about cross-subsidy:

“There is evidence that the funding shortfall in the rates offered to”

private, voluntary or independent

“providers for delivery of the free early education entitlement is met in some settings by cross-subsidisation from some fee-paying parents. This means that parents are subsidising themselves, or other parents, in order to benefit from the Government’s flagship early education policy”.

At the moment, of course, nurseries subsidise the too-low, free, hourly rate by charging more for one and two year-olds, hence the high prices. But, if one and two year-olds get free hours, as proposed, you cannot get the cross-subsidy. As free entitlement is expanded to more of the market and more of the week, it undermines the current business model for those who are providing childcare. If we want to achieve the Government’s policy on childcare and levelling up, we need to ensure that extra resources are available. That is what this amendment does.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 290, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and to which my name is attached. I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s leadership on this issue and apologise to the Committee, as I was unable to speak at Second Reading. I will just make a few additional points to those already made by the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Young. As a member of the Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, to which the noble Lord, Lord Young, just referred, I very much want to underline the points he made about cross- subsidisation.

This amendment, which makes it explicit that childcare services are considered a proper use of developer contributions by local authorities, is incredibly important. We need to see it written down. At the moment, there is nothing in legislation or guidance, and this would be only an option for local authorities—not something they are required to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, it is hardly a surprise that so few local authorities are spending any of their developer contributions on childcare services. To reiterate his point, in the last five years, only 22 local authorities have spent anything on them.

As all noble Lords know, the childcare sector is under huge pressure. Last year, more than 5,000 providers closed down. Depending on which estimate you prefer, the difficulties in accessing affordable childcare cost our economy between £11 billion and £30 billion a year. Women in particular often have no choice but to give up work after having children. Even if they return later, they will see their earnings stunted for the rest of their careers as a result. We can see this clearly in the gender pay gap: women’s weekly earnings and labour force participation fall substantially when they have their first child and do not reverse a decade later. This is not just about childcare—there are other major barriers that women face—but it is a really important issue. We know we have serious productivity problems as a nation, and this is something that we cannot ignore.
I was also glad to see in the recent Budget that the Government recognise this challenge. I welcome the Budget announcement, but this does not change the fundamental fact that our childcare system is in a precarious state. Liberal Democrats have been calling for properly funded, genuinely free childcare for years because, unless the Government fund free hours at the actual cost of providing them, it will make the problems parents face—a chronic lack of providers and eye-watering fees for full-time childcare—even worse.
Childcare is an essential part of our economic infra- structure. For many parents, it is as crucial to getting to work as roads or trains. I know that this amendment would not solve all these problems, but it would help to ensure that families with children do not see childcare prices forced up or waiting lists becoming even longer as a result of much-needed new and affordable housing. That is why I support this important amendment.
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to the amendments in this group in my noble friend Lady Hayman’s name and in my name, and comment on other amendments submitted. As this is the first group on the infrastructure levy before the Committee, I will make some general comments, which I will try not to repeat in future groups so as not to test Members’ patience.

The introduction of the infrastructure levy has broadly been welcomed by local government and the Local Government Association, as it is non-negotiable and set at a local level. I hope that, eventually, it will rationalise the current system of the CIL and Section 106. However, as my grandmother is from Wiltshire, I feel justified in saying that it is a jiffling picture at the moment.

The proof of its success will be whether the levy delivers more in infrastructure, affordable housing and, key to this group of amendments, some of the social infra- structure that greatly concerns local residents when they hear of new development. Key to this is whether, as the current community infrastructure levy and Section 106 system transitions to this new arrangement, the levy actually delivers at least as much as, if not more than, the current system. What protections does local government have against the temptation for Secretaries of State—I will not name anyone—to top-slice the infrastructure levy?

Forgive my cynicism, but I have the clear memory of the new homes bonus in mind. The new homes bonus was, first, top-sliced from local authority budgets then cut in successive years, so it was really just another mechanism to cut local government budgets. I know that the infrastructure levy is substantially different, in that funding is delivered from the development sector, but will this be too tempting a pot for the Treasury to resist?

The LGA has expressed concerns that significant elements of the levy are not yet clear in the Bill, such as definitions of larger sites, rate-setting and the relationship between different tiers of authorities that will be in receipt of the levy. There also needs to be a clear definition of what infrastructure is in scope and what is not, which is the subject of many amendments in this group. For example, if the system is to move on from Section 106, how will contributions towards issues currently funded by that method be treated, such as skills, apprenticeships and the local workforce—in other words, issues that sit outside the built environment?

Local government has also urged the Government to reconsider the timing of the levy. The new system as proposed may help developers’ cash flow, but local authorities want to ensure that infrastructure is provided early in the development process so that existing local residents can be reassured that there will not be an uncomfortable transition phase while the provision of infrastructure lags behind development and results in a period of pressure on existing resources. I moved around our new town four or five times when I was growing up, as new developments were built, each time to areas with no shops or services and little in the way of public transport. The sequencing of infrastructure is really important.

Like many other voices in local government, I have long been an advocate for removing the permitted development process, which undermines local plan-making and the quality standards of new homes. But if the Government insist on retaining permitted development—it looks as though they will—there must be a way of applying the levy to such change-of-use developments.

Many of the amendments in this group are seeking some clarity from the Government about how the infra- structure levy can be used and how they will demonstrate what is being achieved in this respect. Our Amendment 314, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, raises the key issue of demonstrating how the levy will impact public transport in travel-to-work areas and requests that the Minister must publish within two years of Royal Assent a summary setting out progress. If we are serious about reducing car dependency to aid our net-zero ambitions, clear commitments from this legislation are essential.

Similarly, Amendment 315 probes whether the levy may be used in relation to the contribution required for restoring railways. We have heard a great deal in earlier discussions on the Bill about, for example, the use of restored former rail routes to improve interconnectivity. The levy could provide a very important contribution to this. We hope that when we see the detail of the regulations associated with the levy, it will be empowered to do so.

Amendment 316 again probes the intended scope of the infrastructure levy. When we talk to local people, their concerns about new developments, as well as the impact on the environment, are often about the pressure that these put on services and facilities that meet local and strategic needs and contribute towards a good quality of life, such as health provision, education, community, play, youth services, recreation, sports, faith and emergency services facilities. Too often, they have felt that developers focus just on the profit side of the equation, with little regard for the needs of existing communities or those for whom they are building. Although CIL and Section 106 have made some provision for parts of social infrastructure in the past, they have been too limited in the amount provided and in restrictions on what is provided. As an extreme example, in my borough, a Section 106 agreement could be used only to deliver a bus shelter in an area that had long since lost its only bus service. We would like to see a broad scope for the infrastructure levy, driven locally by local need and with flexibility for it to be used in appropriate ways as communities develop.

It would be wrong not to mention the knotty issue of viability. I draw attention to the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, which say at paragraph 725:

“The purpose of IL is: to ensure that the costs incurred in supporting the development of an area (including by the provision of affordable housing), and achieving any additional purpose specified in IL regulations, are funded at least in part by owners or developers of land, but in a way that does not make development in the area economically unviable”.

One has to ask: unviable to whom? If the infrastructure needed is not to be provided through this route, how is it to be provided? Will it be by the local authorities which are already so strapped for cash they are cutting services, not developing them, or by the Government? My noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 343 seeks to specify a wider scope for the infrastructure levy in the Bill, so that it is clear that developers may be asked to make wider contributions to the infrastructure demands that their development is driving.

Amendment 355, in my name, seeks to limit the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can direct a charging authority to review its charging schedule. We understand why it may be necessary to ensure that charging schedules are kept up to date, but surely these timescales are for local determination, and it should be only in the most extreme circumstances that intervention would be necessary. The community infrastructure levy itself is a relatively new form of charging infrastructure against developments, so it will be important to have a benchmark on what it has achieved in this respect so that it is possible to assess the infrastructure levy against the current arrangements.

I will comment briefly on other amendments in this group. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, is to ensure that large-scale developments can be required to provide funding for childcare services and settings. My noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 343 also seeks to broaden the scope of social provision under the infrastructure levy. In her amendment to Schedule 11, paragraph (c) refers specifically to nurseries, so we support this amendment. The plea of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, was powerfully made. Having been a single parent myself, I know that the issue of nurseries and childcare is really vital, but we need to identify what the infrastructure levy can do with capital and revenue funding streams. It is no good building nurseries if there is no funding to run them. The noble Lord, Lord Young, was right to raise the complex issues around funding for childcare. If we are going to resolve some of this through the infrastructure levy, we need to understand how.

There are a number of amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Wasserman, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter regarding the implications of the infrastructure levy for our emergency services. We understand the motivation behind these amendments: although emergency services may be asked to comment and make submissions on planning applications, they are, more often than not, unable to be there at the point of decision-making. It is important that the Bill gives clarification on how emergency services are to be treated for the purposes of the infrastructure levy.

Amendment 335, in the name of my noble friend Lady Warwick, the noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Thornhill, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, seeks to ensure that infrastructure levy funds cannot be used by local authorities to cover the costs of unspecified items. The wording in Schedule 11, which this amendment would remove, is simply not clear enough. The amendment highlights again how important it is that the Bill is absolutely clear about what can be covered by IL and what cannot.

We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his tireless pursuit of opportunities that the Bill could give to increase the delivery of supported housing, particularly for older people. We believe that this should be a strong consideration in the structure of the infrastructure levy, so we support his amendment. The noble Lord’s Amendments 337 to 339 and 354 all refer to the independent examination of the IL charging schedules by an independent examiner. We look forward to the Minister’s comments on the rationale for this provision in Schedule 11. Is this service to come under the remit of the Planning Inspectorate? If not, who will carry out this role, how, and how will they be appointed?

In respect of Amendment 348 from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, we are interested to hear the views of the Minister on the treatment of town and parish councils under the new infrastructure levy regime. There are over 10,000 parish, town and community councils in England, ably represented by the National Association of Local Councils. Is it the intention of the Bill that these councils be a specified recipient of the neighbourhood share of the infrastructure levy; for that share to be 25%, or 35% for a parish council with a neighbourhood development plan; and for a parish council to have full flexibility over how those receipts are spent?

NALC believes that the higher CIL amount provides an additional incentive to undertake a neighbourhood development plan and to identify extra investment in infrastructure or anything else concerned with addressing demands of development. Do the Government intend to build on CIL for the new infrastructure levy, with a parish council being the body which will receive the neighbourhood share? They are not named explicitly in the Bill. Will the uplift in neighbourhood share still be available to parish councils which have prepared a neighbourhood plan?

I hope your Lordships will forgive me for a long intervention, but this is a huge group with a lot of different amendments in it. In summary, a great deal of clarification is needed around the introduction of the infrastructure levy. We urge that as much of this clarification as possible is included in the Bill and that there is a thorough period of pilots introduced to test the implementation of the infrastructure levy in practice and whether it can deliver against the opportunities that it should be able to realise.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 324, 329, 342, 346, 347, 351, 352 and 360 in my name. I have tabled them on behalf of the emergency services of England, including the following organisations: the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Fire Chiefs Council, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the National Police Estates Group and the National Fire Estates Group. I should declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As extraordinary as it sounds, the English planning system has never recognised the emergency services as critical infrastructure providers anywhere in primary legislation, national planning policy or statutory guidance. The result of this is that, while new development such as housing estates, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, warehouses, factories or even power stations place additional demands on the emergency services that stretch existing resources, it is rare for mitigation in the form of developer contributions from Section 106 and the community infrastructure levy to be put in place to alleviate this.

The failure to recognise the emergency services in legislation is a colossal blind spot in the planning system, which has had dire practical results when the emergency services seek to obtain funding for the essential ambulance, fire and rescue, and police infrastructure needed to support new development of all kinds. This is demonstrated by the following figures. The Section 106 system started in 1990. In the 33 years since it has been operating the emergency services of England have been awarded a combined total of £25.4 million, which is a paltry amount when DLUHC’s own figures show that other infrastructure types such as education receive hundreds of millions of pounds per year from the Section 106 system.

There are 10 ambulance trusts in England, but none has ever received a Section 106 contribution at all. In England, there are 39 territorial police forces, but of this total only 12 have ever been awarded a Section 106 contribution since the system started. Of this total, only four of the 12 forces still receive such contributions on a regular basis. Of the 48 fire and rescue services in England, only five have ever been awarded a Section 106 contribution and none has been a regular recipient.

The situation with respect to the community infra- structure levy, or CIL, is even worse than with respect to the Section 106 system. Since it started nearly 13 years ago, the emergency services in England have been awarded a combined total of only £1.5 million—a terrible contrast with the fact that the CIL system in England raises hundreds of millions of pounds for other infrastructure types every year.

The Government have accepted that these problems exist and that action needs to be taken to solve them, so that the emergency services have an equal seat with other infrastructure providers at the negotiating table. I am grateful for a letter to me on 16 March from Housing Minister Rachel Maclean, which points to the reference to the emergency services in proposed new Clause 204N(3) in Schedule 11 to the Bill, meaning that they are referenced for the new proposed infra- structure levy. The Minister has committed to include emergency service providers as a required consultee for the infrastructure delivery strategy through regulations. The Minister has also committed to reviewing the NPPF as part of a wholesale review and consultation once the Bill has received Royal Assent, to consider whether there can be explicit references made to the emergency services, putting them on an equal footing with other forms of infrastructure such as education. Finally, the Minister has committed to reviewing planning practice guidance to add reference to the emergency services with regard to the use of developer contributions.

The commitments from the Government are very welcome, and it has been helpful to have meetings with my noble friend the Minister, but these measures are not enough, for a number of reasons. The Government have confirmed that the new infrastructure levy will not be introduced fully for 10 years—that is, not until 2033. That means that Section 106 agreements and CIL will continue as the main sources of developer contributions for another decade, and possibly much longer in England. The definition in proposed new Clause 204N(3) refers only to the infrastructure levy. It will not apply to Section 106 and CIL. The new infrastructure levy will be a complex mechanism in its establishment, operation and application, and yet the Bill contains only a single reference that the emergency services may benefit from it, with no other provisions. The experience with CIL of the emergency services demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that they would receive little or nothing from the new infrastructure levy in practice.

Even more seriously, without further amendments to the Bill, there could well be the inadvertent consequence that the current provision will be interpreted by the vast majority of local planning authorities and developers alike as confirming that the Government do not intend for the emergency services to access money raised through Section 106 and CIL. This would close what little access the emergency services have to these two systems, leading to the already paltry amounts being awarded being reduced to zero. That is why the chairs of the emergency services wrote to the Housing Minister on 31 March 2023, offering a way forward—to withdraw six of our eight amendments, provided that two key amendments to the Bill be agreed alongside the measures proposed by the Minister to address their concerns.

The first of those is Amendment 324, to provide a fuller definition of emergency and rescue services. This definition is needed in the absence of one for the emergency and rescue services within the primary legislation governing the planning system. The second is a modified version of Amendment 360, which clarifies that emergency services can receive money from Section 106 agreements and CIL while ensuring that local authorities have primacy of decision-making. This offer was made in a constructive spirit but, so far, we have had no response from the Minister. It would be helpful if my noble friend could provide an update.

We need to find a solution to deal with this issue. If we do not, the existing situation will continue and the thin blue, red and yellow lines will be reduced ever further, as the ambulance, fire and rescue, and police services spread themselves ever more thinly over a greater area to try to cover new developments of all kinds.

Lord Bishop of Exeter Portrait The Lord Bishop of Exeter
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My Lords, I rise in support Amendments 324, 329, 342, 346, 347, 351, 352 and 360 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, and to which I have added my name. They concern planning reform and the emergency services.

A robust and effective planning process is essential for the flourishing of our communities. A key aspect of this is to ensure the adequate provision of emergency services. I welcome the fact that the Bill has included emergency services in the definition of infrastructure under Schedule 11, but, historically, this has not always been the case. It remains the fact that local authorities are not obliged to take into account the views and concerns of the emergency services.

Those living in new developments such as in Plymouth and Exeter, my own diocese, rightly expect to be provided with the same level of service and protection afforded to all citizens. The increased demands on the emergency services posed by new developments require additional funding. In this way, the emergency services are no different from any other infrastructure provider. However, the lack of recognition in legislation and national planning policy has made it extremely hard for emergency services to access funding from the infrastructure levy, Section 106 money and community infrastructure levy systems. The obvious result is that the services provided are diluted.

The Bill in its current form does not mitigate these problems and the thrust of these amendments seeks to address the historic disfranchisement of the emergency services in our planning processes. I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in recognising the vital contribution that those who work in the emergency services make to our common life. It should therefore be incumbent upon us to ensure that in the planning and formation of new developments, the emergency services have an equal seat at the planning table. I gladly support this.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment 331 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Pinnock. It an extremely important amendment and I will be very interested to hear what the Minister says in reply. In that sense, this is, at this stage, a probing amendment. It would enable infrastructure levy-charging authorities to require a developer to pay their full IL liability, or infrastructure funded by IL associated with the development to be built before development may commence, and would enable developers to be required at the request of the authority to provide money for remedial work. Under current systems, of which across this Chamber there is huge amount of experience, there are constant delays in the delivery of infrastructure and remediation and failures to deliver the affordable housing needed in an area, and it takes ages to negotiate and renegotiate the terms of the community infrastructure levy or Section 106.

An amendment of this kind, which would require payment of the infrastructure levy up front, would speed up development because it would concentrate the minds of the developers and bring clarity to the contractual status of the infrastructure levy, and it would, in our view, have a positive impact on the development process. Of course, it would not be compulsory to charge it up front, but it would be possible to do so if a local planning authority felt that it was the right approach. That is the proposal in Amendment 331.

I have long felt that we spend far too much time trying to cope with negotiations where developers seek to make changes to the promises that they have made. I look forward to the Minister’s reply to see whether the Government think that there is some mileage in a proposal of this kind that would get payment made up front rather than later, however staged that process may be through a development being put on to the ground.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 335 in this group. Each amendment in this group deals with the impact of the proposed infrastructure levy on different aspects of social infrastructure. The levy is one of the most consequential aspect of the Bill, which proposes a new infrastructure levy largely to replace the current system for developer contributions. Developer contributions currently play a vital role in delivering affordable and social housing. Section 106 agreements alone accounted for 47.3% of all affordable homes in 2021-22, a figure that represents 12% of all new homes delivered annually. Section 106 is not a perfect process, but while there is clear scope to reform and improve the existing system for developer contributions, it is none the less responsible for a huge proportion of new affordable and social homes. As its proposed replacement, the infrastructure levy represents a radical shift in how this housing will be funded and delivered.

There are 4.2 million people currently in need of social housing in England. This means one in five children is living in an overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable home. Research published last week by the National Housing Federation found that more than 310,000 children in England are forced to share beds with other family members—I have already put down a Question on that issue. That means that one in every six children is being forced to live in cramped conditions because their family cannot access a suitable and affordable home. This equates to 2 million children from 746,000 families.

Against this backdrop of acute housing need, changes to the planning system must, at minimum, protect current levels of new affordable housing. It is with this principle in mind that I tabled four amendments to Schedule 11. Each of those amendments seeks to strengthen protections for affordable housing in this legislation and ensure that the infrastructure levy does not lead to a net loss of affordable housing. I am pleased to have received support for these amendments from the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford.

I now turn to my amendment in this group. A key threat to the supply of affordable housing via the infra- structure levy is its potential to result in the diversion of developer contributions away from affordable housing and towards other unspecified forms of infrastructure unconnected to development. As long as there are clear affordable housing needs, it is essential that local authorities’ use of developer contributions for purposes other than affordable housing is strictly limited. My amendment seeks to prevent levy receipts being spent on unspecified items “other than infrastructure”. In its current form, the new infrastructure levy could lead to the diversion of developer contributions away from affordable housing. By contrast, a high proportion of developer contributions currently obtained via Section 106 agreements is spent on affordable housing. According to research commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in 2020, 78% of Section 106 funds were spent on affordable housing in 2018-19.

I support Amendment 350 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, which is in a later group, which seeks to ring- fence 75% of levy receipts for affordable housing based on the current proportional figure for Section 106 funds.

My amendment attempts to remove the risk of future regulations which would permit the diversion of funds away from affordable housing or infrastructure and towards unspecified items provided by a local authority. I hope the Minister will acknowledge the real and present danger inherent in this part of the Bill and explain how the Government propose to mitigate it.

Lord Wasserman Portrait Lord Wasserman (Con)
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My Lords, very briefly, I support the eight short but important amendments introduced with admirable clarity and persuasiveness by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter. Before I say anything more about these amendment I want to apologise to the Committee for having been unable to attend the Second Reading of this important Bill.

As I am sure all noble Lords agree, it is the first responsibility of government to keep us all safe. It gives me great pleasure to be able to say that this is a responsibility that this Government, and their predecessors stretching back to May 2010, have carried out with notable determination and success. However, this is precisely why I am so disappointed that the present Administration have not welcomed with open arms this set of relatively minor and uncontentious amendments, which, if enacted, would make an enormous difference to the safety of our communities.

As many noble Lords may know, these amendments are the product of a group of high-powered experts convened by those who are responsible for keeping us safe. As has already been mentioned by my noble friend, these were the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, the National Police Estates Group and the National Fire Estates Group. The amendments were developed for the express purpose of filling a yawning gap in our national legislative and regulatory arrangements which they believe limits significantly the effectiveness and efficiency of the emergency services for which they are directly responsible.

What is this gap? It is the fact that nowhere on our statute books—not in primary legislation, secondary legislation, the National Planning Policy Framework or the statutory guidance governing the planning system—is there anywhere which recognises the emergency services as providers of critical infrastructure for community safety. This might not matter very much for those of us who live in major cities, as these cities have had the basic support services for the emergency services in place for decades, if not centuries. However, it matters very much for those who live, work, study or play in new developments, such as housing estates, sports stadia, music venues or commercial properties, such as offices, retail parks, warehouses and factories. In these places the need to provide appropriate infra- structure for our emergency services is nowhere specified in our planning system. It is simply assumed that this infrastructure will be there when it is required.

Simply to assume that someone will magically provide the necessary infrastructure for our emergency services, so that these services will be on hand whenever we need them, is not a way to run a country—certainly not a country which believes, as we do, that community safety is the first responsibility of government, be it local, regional or national. To assume that everything will be all right on the night may be an effective way of saving money but it is not an effective way of saving lives. It is the saving of lives which is the primary aim of these amendments.

I therefore urge my noble friend the Minister to accept these amendments, fill this major gap in our legislative and regulatory arrangements, and thereby make a major contribution to the safety of our communities.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I am speaking to Amendments 336 to 339 and 354 in my name, all concerned with the mechanisms of the new infrastructure levy.

Amendment 336, supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, would require planning authorities, when devising their charging schedule for the new infrastructure levy, to recognise that different kinds of development have different levels of viability and profitability. Not least, building specialist accommodation for older people needs more help than building standardised, uniform homes for sale or rent with the minimum of extra amenities. The amendment seeks to ensure that the charging schedule for the infrastructure levy recognises that more help from the levy will be needed for more specialist developments.

We have had excellent debates in this Committee on housing for older people, and indeed on how the socially worthwhile elements of new residential developments affect viability, so I will not detain your Lordships by making the case that the new levy arrangements should enhance the production of much-needed supported housing, such as retirement accommodation. I simply commend this tweak to the IL arrangements.

I am also speaking to the cluster of amendments in my name—Amendments 337 to 339 and 354—that all relate to one key point. They come from the well-respected Royal Town Planning Institute and are intended to simplify the processes for creating the infrastructure levy. They would do so by getting rid of the requirement for an independent examination of IL charging schedules, relying instead on a simpler, direct relationship between the local planning authority and the Secretary of State.

The RTPI argues that, since the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene if the examination outcomes are regarded as unsuitable, an additional independent examination is an unnecessary extra step and should be replaced, in setting the IL rates, by direct dealings between central and local government. That would have the beneficial effect of deterring the lengthy and costly legal challenges to charging schedules that can otherwise be expected.

As noble Lords know, the Bill introduces a new mandatory framework for local planning authorities to extract the infrastructure levy from developers carrying out new development. Local planning authorities will be required to prepare a charging schedule and a price list outlining local costs and thresholds of development for the levy, and to consult the public accordingly. In addition, the Bill then requires an independent examination, probably by the Planning Inspectorate, before the charging schedule is published. The Secretary of State will be empowered to require charging schedules to be amended.

All this can become a long-winded and expensive process, so the amendments seek to cut out one of the sources of delay and cost. The Bill’s impact assessment says the new system is estimated to cost between £12 million and £18 million, absorbing a portion of the levy to cover those costs. Ministers have indicated that they expect the implementation of the infrastructure levy to take place over this decade, and the impact assessment explains that the expected start-up and administrative costs for the recruitment and training of personnel in local authorities are expected to be no less than £147 million, and perhaps as much as £440 million, over the 10-year appraisal period.

At present only about half of local planning authorities, 48%, have introduced the current community infra- structure levy, the precursor of the new infrastructure levy. The other councils have considered it unfeasible to introduce the CIL, not least because of the cost. That emphasises the need to keep things simple for the new infrastructure levy.

The amendments would remove the requirement for charging schedules to be examined independently, representing a significant simplification. That would reduce the otherwise heavy administrative burden for the Planning Inspectorate in examining every local authority’s charging schedules within a defined period, which would require considerable extra capacity. The Bill ensures accountability through public consultation, which should mean that infrastructure provision recognises the community’s wishes, and through the guarantee of the Secretary of State’s reserve powers to intervene when necessary.

Amendment 335 was introduced ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe; if more than four names had been allowed in support of this one, mine would have been one of them. The amendment would prevent infrastructure levy receipts being spent on any unspecified items rather than being used for affordable housing or infrastructure. When the Bill was in Committee in the Commons, the Minister said that

“the levy regulations may allow levy receipts to be spent on matters other than infrastructure”—

or affordable housing—

“such as improvements to local services and delivery of local programmes that are valued by local communities. Although the infrastructure levy will primarily be spent on infrastructure and affordable housing, that will give us the scope to allow local authorities more flexibility over how they spend the levy if those priorities have been met”.—[Official Report, Commons, Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Committee, 6/9/22; col. 622.]

That somewhat open-ended statement is a bit confusing. It is not of great concern if the final words are the key—namely, that there is flexibility over how councils spend the levy if the infrastructure and affordable housing priorities have been met—but if that opens up the IL resources to be spent on any number of good causes, the whole concept of an infrastructure levy is derailed. Can the Minister please reassure the Committee that this is not an opening of the door to all kinds of worthy but quite different spending? Amendment 335 would clarify the position, and I strongly support it.

Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
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My Lords, I support Amendment 335 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and Amendments 336 and 337 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name as the Church of England’s lead bishop for housing. I am aware, as others have commented, that we are touching on matters that will arise again in the 10th group.

Amendment 335 would address a significant weak spot in the infrastructure levy. As the Bill stands, there is no meaningful protection of developer contributions to the infrastructure levy for affordable and social housing. The amendment would remove the risk of infrastructure levy regulations diverting funds away from such housing provision.

I am glad to support Amendment 337 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. Together with Amendments 338 and 339, it would remove a portion of Schedule 11 containing wide-ranging provision for the examination of charging schedules for the infrastructure levy.

At an earlier point in our proceedings I was pleased to speak in support of the noble Lord’s Amendments 221 and 207, both of which seek to provide for greater inclusion of older people’s needs in development planning in the Secretary of State’s role and at the level of local authorities. Amendment 336 is a further critical piece to address the challenge of growing needs in our increasingly ageing population and the housing crisis. In enabling the charging authority to consider additional evidence, its ability to determine the viability of developments, including older people’s housing, will be better informed. It is particularly key that such developments are given due and quality consideration as we face growing need.

Earl of Lytton Portrait The Earl of Lytton (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 348 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. The reason that I have taken on this role is that I am one of her predecessors as president of the National Association of Local Councils. I express my gratitude for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on the value that she and her party place on that role. I also must declare a professional interest, particularly as a valuer, because from time to time I get to pore over the nitty-gritty of things like development appraisals and viability assessments, which are complex, capable of many interpretations and create all sorts of issues to do with how they may be interpreted.

The introduction of the new infrastructure levy is something to which I give a cautious welcome, but I have some mixed feelings. First, I fear for its flexibility in terms of scheme viability. Secondly, I question the objectivity with which some of that viability is assessed. We have heard about the need for prioritisation and the timing of payment, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. But in global terms, more and more demands are placed on levies that come out of the development process. We have to be careful about what the net figure ends up being when all is said and done. Things such as the timing of payments can have significant effects on the cost and forward funding of things, so it is very important that we get that right and do not end up with, in effect, sclerosis of the system because it can no longer meet the demands for all those mouths that are clamouring to be fed.
I can relate to every single one of the amendments proposed by other noble Lords as necessary social or services infrastructure. It is vital to say that these have to be paid for somehow or other, or else people are committed to unsatisfactory environments and having to travel endlessly for goods and services that are not immediately available. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, made a telling point; she referred to the financing of a bus shelter on a route that no longer existed. Well, I certainly know of parish councils which have complained to me that so much provision had been made under Section 106 contributions for transportation, usually by bus from the local town to whichever area was being developed as a settlement, that there was no way they were ever going to be able to spend that money. There was also no way that it could be allocated to other things. Indeed, for particular large development, that Section 106 contribution might have been lost because it was unable to be usefully deployed for that purpose. I do not know whether that still is the case.
I turn to my main point, which is to do with the role of parish councils and neighbourhood forums. I am absolutely clear that the current definition of a body qualifying as a parish council or a neighbourhood forum, entitling it to receive the neighbourhood share of the community infrastructure levy, which the infrastructure levy will replace, is the right one. It is consistent with the Government’s approach to devolution: to establish democratically accountable bodies that lead their communities. By this means, the neighbourhood council share of the CIL receipts is passed on to parish councils or, in the case of neighbourhood forums, retained by the planning authority, which then involves the neighbourhood forum in determining its use. However, that is at the discretion of the principal authority, and it is not always exercised in a way that supports parish and town council and community-level activities. That may be a matter of simple priorities; I do not indicate it as a criticism of principal authorities. Stuff happens. This is quite an overworked system when we look at how it has to operate in practice. Indeed, the fact that there may be an obligation to pass things on to a parish and town council, properly formed in a location, may itself be a barrier to a willingness by principal authorities to see the formation of new parish and town councils. That is a terrible negative in terms of giving voice to communities and neighbourhoods.
Parish councils are not specifically named in the Bill; the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to that. They are not referred to as an entity to which receipts might be passed. In questioning that, I would also counsel against dilution to narrowly focused bodies that are perhaps not democratically accountable to their wider area. I remind your Lordships that there is no other coherent definition or status in law relating to neighbourhood representation other than parish councils.
There is currently an uplift from 15% to 25% of CIL receipts for a parish council with a made neighbourhood development plan. That provides the additional incentive to go through the process of making that plan in the first place. Of course, it provides for additional investment in community infrastructure that is not dealt with elsewhere. It is right that this should not be any old slush fund, if I can use that term, for general development. It has to be identified; there has to be a properly formulated shopping list, and I think we all recognise that. The problem is that the neighbourhood share of the infrastructure levy, as I understand it and as has been mentioned, could just be 25% as a flat rate. Of course, that does not give any uplift or incentive for communities to go through the neighbourhood plan process. Can the Minister clarify what is intended?
Another issue is that with non-CIL areas, as they are at the moment, parishes do not get the benefit from the basic 15% or the uplifted 25%. All their benefits are brokered through Section 106 and are under the sole discretion of the principal authority. My concern is that if we do not get this right, there will be a marked reduction in willingness to produce neighbourhood plans. That needs to be resolved. It is right that the Government intend to build on the approach that has been established under CIL; uneven and lumpy in its operation though it may be, I think it is the right way forward. That should ensure that communities benefit from the development and that local councils can invest in local infrastructure that is derived from their priorities.
As democratically accountable local leaders, parish councillors should have full flexibility in how the neighbourhood share is used, given, of course, that they need to identify the need. I think that is right. They are often on the front line of dealing with the impact of developments on residents, businesses, services and facilities. The amendment seeks to preserve the principles of CIL and its distribution under the new infrastructure levy. I invite the Minister to consider also the transparency and accountability that must underpin trust in the operations, and which parish councils, in particular, seek to achieve. I know that the Government are at pains to highlight the vital role of the first tier of local government at community level.
I want to mention one other amendment of the many that I would like to support, and that is Amendment 290 tabled by my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool. This is one of those bits of infrastructure that are vital to people’s lives and their work-life balance. If we do not get that right—if we just look at the hard infrastructure and do not deal with the social infrastructure—we will in effect blight whole sectors of new communities, that need to bed in, with an existence that does not give them the comfort and the sense of place and fulfilment that they should rightly have in their home. This and of course a number of the other points that have been made are vital. I have to say that I have been sitting on my hands trying not to jump up and down and say “hear, hear” to many of the contributions by other noble Lords.
Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, this has been an incredibly wide-ranging, detailed and at times passionate debate, particularly in the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Greenhalgh and Lord Russell of Liverpool. We are all under no illusions that this is a radical change in policy, and therefore it deserves the detailed scrutiny that noble Lords are giving it over three groups today.

We are told that

“The aim of the Infrastructure Levy is to create a fairer and simpler system of developer contributions, which will ultimately capture more value for local authorities and local communities”.

Who does not agree with that? Unfortunately, the more I have read and tried to get to grips with it, the more complex it becomes and, particularly following this debate, I believe there are legitimate questions as to whether this proposal will succeed in its aims.

Listening to noble Lords, it seems that the impetus for many of the amendments, such as Amendments 290, 335—to which I have added my name—336 and 348 and the many in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, reflect the extent to which noble Lords are concerned that the current financial situations of many councils will lead them to spend the infrastructure levy on a wider range of social infrastructure, leaving less for other infrastructure. Conversely, other noble Lords are seeking to see if they can spend it on said items. Amendment 343, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to broaden the scope of what infrastructure means. In Amendments 315 and 316, she probed—via the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, of course—what should be spent on transport. Transport is surely a no-brainer if we are seeking sustainable development.

However, I am concerned that we are trying to get so much out of the infrastructure levy to make up for the real issue, which is over a decade of underfunding for councils. I say very firmly that we support the need for government to ring-fence money for social housing because we believe that this is a national housing crisis, but we feel very strongly that there should be real autonomy for councils to meet their own identified needs with the rest of the levy. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify not only the apportionment of money, but crucially, the power and autonomy of charging authorities in spending the cash raised. My noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, made a very clear case about the need for up-front moneys, which I hope the Government will take seriously.

So much of this seems to hinge on the infrastructure development strategy. I say to the Minister that I am sure it would help us all if we had more detail about what is expected to be in it. I would value clarification about who signs it off, where it will sit—presumably in the local plan—and its particular relationship to other local plan policies and the NDMPs.

In two-tier areas, CIL has been really controversial, with county councils being concerned or even angry with the levels of CIL set by their districts. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, being both a county councillor and a district leader, will be aware of this tension in Hertfordshire. I am still not sure where the power lies in the final decisions about the priorities within that strategy. I expect it will be in forthcoming guidance, but it will be an area of challenge, from the top combined authorities down to parishes.

Amendment 348, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, argues for a proportion of the neighbourhood allocation of the levy for parishes. Do we yet know what constitutes a neighbourhood or, perhaps, a parish? It seems to me that districts will be very much piggy in the middle in two-tier areas, with much work to do in collaboration and consultation on an area-wide strategy. They will need capacity and support to do this effectively, which is why the Government’s approach of test and learn seems to be the right one. However, can I make a plea? In asking for councils to volunteer, there is a danger that only positively motivated councils will come forward. Perhaps the department could cast around for a two-tier area that has struggled with CIL to get a more accurate picture.

Several tensions were expressed in the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, regarding the role of the appointed examiner relating to charging levels. His message was a detailed critique, but his overarching message was very clear: keep it simple. The setting of levels is clearly at the heart of whether this is a success. It is very technical and an issue which ultimately determines whether the levy will fulfil its promise to raise more money than the current system.
Yet the work carried out by Liverpool University exploring the different types of authorities and how much each would yield in relation to current levels of CIL and Section 106 provided very interesting evidence—probably what we all know. There is more scope to capture more value on greenfield sites in areas with higher development value—in other words, in rural villages and leafy suburbs with high house prices. I am intrigued as to how this finding sits with the Secretary of State’s declarations regarding green-belt development. Yet again, to those who already have a lot shall more be given. Of course, the work also found the reverse to be true; brownfield sites in areas with low-value housing may even find themselves in the infrastructure equivalent of negative equity. There are no prizes for guessing where most of these sorts of areas are. My question to the Minister is: how will this inequality of councils’ actual ability to raise the levy be dealt with? Have there been any adjustments as a result of this research, which they quite rightly commissioned?
All of this and more has led me into thinking about whether this levy is actually going to do what it aspires to, whether it is worth the risks involved and the 10-year timeframe it will take to deliver. But there will be more of that in later groups. We will also probe in a later group how this relates to the crucial area of affordable and social housing. Much more will be said about that, but it has been kicked off well today by the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, which we broadly support.
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for the length of time that I am going to take, but it has been a very diverse debate about a number of things and some important issues, so please bear with me.

When new development is built, it creates a demand for public services and local infrastructure. The granting of planning permission also increases the value of land. It is important that local authorities can secure contributions from developers to share in the land value uplift that comes from granting planning permission and use this to deliver local infrastructure and affordable housing for communities.

The current system of developer contributions is uncertain and fragmented. The negotiation of Section 106 agreements frequently results in delays in granting planning permission and these agreements can be renegotiated as the development progresses, as we have heard. Local authorities cannot be expected to negotiate as effectively as big developers. The developers can always build elsewhere, which weakens a local authority’s leverage in negotiations. Developers can devote more financial resources to negotiation, out-gunning local authorities. This can generate uncertainty for local communities over how much affordable housing will be available and what infrastructure will be delivered.

Local authorities can also charge the community infrastructure levy, which is a non-negotiable—but optional —charge. Only half of local planning authorities currently charge the levy. Of those that do not, over one-third believe that introducing it would increase their ability to capture land value. The community infrastructure levy is also unresponsive to change in development value as it is charged at a fixed rate per square metre of new development and does not go up in line with house prices. That is why we are introducing the new infrastructure levy; to largely replace the existing system of developer contributions.

The new levy will aim to capture land value uplift at a higher level than the current developer contributions regime by charging rates based on the final value of developments. This should ensure that a fairer price is initially paid for the land by the developer, and then that the developer pays a fairer contribution to the infrastructure and affordable housing. As it is a non-negotiable charge, it should help to reduce delays associated with Section 106 agreements, while maintaining the viability of developments. It will also end the inequality of arms, where local planning authorities must negotiate for affordable housing with developers. The levy will be charged on the majority of types of development, providing opportunities to secure funding for affordable housing and infrastructure from developments that currently contribute very little. I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, that the important issue for developer contributions is housing.

The Government recognise that the new infrastructure levy is a significant change and a major undertaking. For this reason, we are taking a “test and learn” approach to its implementation. This will be vital to monitor and test the design of the levy as it works on the ground. This means that, once levy regulations have been developed following Royal Assent, only a small number of local authorities will adopt the levy initially. This “test and learn” approach will allow the Government to continue to work with local authorities, developers and local stakeholders to achieve a system that is optimally designed. We have published a detailed technical consultation, which closes on 9 June, to inform the design of the new levy regulations. We have approached this consultation in a very open manner with the sector, and we really want to listen to, and take on board, the feedback.

I turn to Amendments 290, 324, 335 and 343, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Hayman. The amendments relate to the definition of “infrastructure”. I will highlight first the point that the priority for receipts from the new levy will be the provision of infrastructure: affordable housing, schools, GP surgeries, green spaces and transport. This infrastructure is vital to support the local community and mitigate the impact of any new development.

Although I understand the desire for future levy receipts to be spent on a wider range of other important priorities, I must be clear that this will not be an unlimited pot of money and that any other spending will come at the expense of affordable housing and local infrastructure that is needed to directly mitigate the impact of new development. Although we have the ability to allow for some spending on non-infrastructure priorities through the Bill, we recognise that there are important trade-offs here. Through the consultation, we are testing the extent to which we should require local authorities to prioritise affordable housing and infrastructure before unlocking such flexibilities.

Secondly, I will address childcare, which I think everybody in the Committee agrees is exceptionally important—I know that this is a priority for all of us in the House and the other place. It is also a priority for the Government, and I am happy to say that, since Amendment 290 was tabled, the Chancellor has announced transformative reforms to the funding and delivery of childcare, as part of the Spring Budget. By 2027-28, this Government expect to spend in excess of £8 billion every year on free hours and early education, helping working families with their childcare costs. This represents the single biggest investment in childcare in England ever, and it means that eligible working parents of children from nine months old to their start in primary school will all have 30 hours of free childcare per week. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that the Chancellor’s announcement means that it is no longer necessary to try to bolt together the planning system and funding for childcare through the Bill.

I make it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, that guidance for applications for free schools already includes explicit assumptions that any new free schools will include proposals for nurseries. Therefore, education investment in a possible new development will include a nursery, unless there are very strong reasons why this would be inappropriate. So the Government are dealing with the issue of ongoing support for childcare and, at the same time, there is already in guidance the necessity for more nursery places where houses are built.

I turn to infrastructure spending more broadly. New Section 204N(3) provides a non-exhaustive list of kinds of infrastructure, which assists with broadly understanding what the levy might be spent on. But spending is not restricted to any of the listed items: the levy can be spent on any infrastructure that supports the development of an area. This means funding the provision, improvement, replacement, operation or maintenance of infrastructure, provided that this in accordance with the overall aim of the levy, as set out in new Section 204A. To strengthen infrastructure delivery, new Section 204Q requires local authorities to prepare “infrastructure delivery strategies”, which will set out a strategy for delivering local infrastructure and spending levy proceeds.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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Where do the infrastructure delivery strategies sit in terms of the local plan process? The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, referred to this. What role will they play in relation to NDMPs? It is not clear from the legislation exactly how they fit in with the rest of the planning process, and it is important that either the Bill sets that out or we have guidance elsewhere—for example, in the National Planning Policy Framework—that makes it crystal clear where those strategies sit.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I understand that, and I will write to the noble Baroness to explain this completely. I know that this is confusing because the NPPF has not been agreed, so I understand where she is coming from and I will make sure that we send her a letter.

Turning to Amendment 324, I agree with my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh that the emergency and rescue services should be among the infrastructure providers that are able to receive levy funds from local planning authorities. For this reason, they are already included in the illustrative list of infrastructure in new Section 204N(3), which makes it explicit that levy funds can be applied towards

“facilities and equipment for emergency and rescue services”.

We do not provide detailed definitions across all kinds of infrastructure, as this is not necessary. The words used must be given their natural and common-sense meaning—so “infrastructure” too must be given its ordinary meaning. I have stated that it can encompass matters not listed in new Section 204N(3).

I understand that those representing the emergency services are concerned that, without a clear definition of “emergency and rescue services” in primary legislation, the emergency and rescue services will miss out on the levy proceeds, and that they will be overlooked by the local charging authorities. I will provide some more reassurance in this regard. As I previously set out, under new Section 204Q, local authorities will be required to prepare an infrastructure delivery strategy. The Bill allows us to make regulations stipulating that infrastructure providers should be consulted when preparing the infrastructure delivery strategy. I can commit today to including emergency and rescue service providers as a required consultee for the infrastructure delivery strategy through regulations. That will put the emergency services on an equal footing with other infrastructure providers when the local authority is considering its spending plans for the levy.
I do not believe that there is anything in the drafting of the Bill, or in the design of the new infrastructure levy, that will place the emergency services at a disadvantage. However, I reassure the Committee that, if unintended impacts come to light through our early implementation of the levy through the test and learn approach, we can seek to remedy that through the levy regulations and statutory guidance.
There is also the question of allowing spending on priorities other than infrastructure. We recognise that there are circumstances where local authorities may wish to have some flexibility to provide revenue funding towards local priorities, and what their communities want to see, which do not meet the natural definition of infrastructure; for instance, a programme supporting local employment in the construction industry or additional support for childcare. For that reason, the Bill contains powers for the Government to bring forward regulations that would enable local authorities to use levy proceeds in this way for funding wider local priorities.
We have published a technical consultation on the infrastructure levy, which considers how the levy regulations could be taken forward in a way that ensures that we are able to prioritise delivering at least as much affordable housing as under the current system, and to deliver priority infrastructure, which is needed to mitigate the impact of development. We are keen to hear from local authorities, developers and communities, through the consultation, to strike the right balance on this issue. I hope noble Lords agree that these stake- holders have an important voice here, and that the Government should give them an opportunity to speak before making a final decision on how to address the matter in regulations.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Taylor, for proposing Amendments 314 to 316 and 363, which concern the publication of assessments on the infrastructure levy, relating particularly to the impact on public transport, railway restoration and social infrastructure, and on how the new levy compares to the existing community infrastructure levy. As I emphasised previously, the new levy will aim to capture land value uplift at a higher level than the current system of developer contributions. That means that there will be a greater contribution from the developers to strategic infrastructure, such as enhanced public transport routes and new or improved walking and cycling routes, to support the development of an area. National planning policy is clear that new developments should give priority to pedestrian and cycle movements and facilitate access to high-quality public transport where possible. We want to ensure that the new levy works to support those policy aspirations. Under the provisions in new Section 204N, it is clear that infra- structure can also include improvements to local transport infrastructure, such as roads or railways. A local authority could also choose to spend the levy on improving community facilities and similar social infrastructure. It will be up to the local authority to decide what local infrastructure needs it has and to direct its levy funds to those areas.
Infrastructure delivery strategies will provide scrutiny and transparency as to how levy proceeds are spent and will ensure that the relevant infrastructure bodies have the opportunity to input into how levy revenues are spent, alongside their communities. Our technical consultation on the infrastructure levy explores the design and operation of infrastructure delivery strategies further.
On the publication of a comparison with the community infrastructure levy within 120 days of the Act being passed, I note that much of the detailed design of the community infrastructure levy is set out in the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010, and the infrastructure levy will be similar in that regard. We are currently consulting on policy questions to inform the design of the regulations and will further consult on the draft regulations once they are prepared. That means that it will take time for a full comparison to be made and for that comparison to be meaningful.
All local authorities are currently required to publish an infrastructure funding statement, setting out the developer contributions they have secured. We intend to maintain similar reporting requirements under the new levy; it will support the development of direct comparisons between the two regimes. Under the test and learn approach, only a small number of local authorities will adopt the levy initially, so that the policy really benefits from the process of iteration. The local authorities will be supported to introduce their levy charging schedules and their infrastructure delivery strategies, and we will assess what further support they may need during the implementation.
I reassure the Committee that the test and learn approach will be conducted with openness and transparency. The Government will be keen to work with a wide range of stakeholders to make sure that the new levy works as intended. I can commit to publishing an evaluation which will allow us to judge the effectiveness of the levy at an appropriate time. The department has already commissioned a scoping study to develop an approach to the evaluation of the planning elements set out in the Bill, which we expect to report on following Royal Assent. The full evaluation, informed by the findings of the scoping study, will then be commissioned. I hope this provides reassurance that the approach to the implementation of the new levy reduces the need for the formal reporting envisaged in this group of amendments, and that I have persuaded the noble Baronesses opposite that the test and learn approach addresses the underlying concerns raised by the amendments.
Amendments 329 and 360, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, raise the important issue of how the Government intend to apply the levy to publicly funded infrastructure, such as the provision of emergency services. I very much agree with my noble friend that it would not make sense for infrastructure that is provided for the benefit of the general public to be charged a levy for providing additional public benefits. New Section 204D(5)(h) in Schedule 11 provides powers to set out levy exemptions or reduced rates in regulations. It is our intention that publicly funded infrastructure will not be subject to the levy, and we are currently exploring this as part of our levy consultation. That would include infrastructure delivered by the emergency services. Even with such an exemption, all development, including publicly funded infrastructure, will be required to deliver the infrastructure that is integral to the functioning of the site. That may include, for instance, sustainable drainage or safe internal road layouts on emergency services sites. We propose to retain the use of planning conditions and a restricted use of Section 106 agreements to secure such matters.
Amendment 360 also seeks to create an exemption for infrastructure provided by the emergency services in the existing developer contributions system. Local authorities may negotiate a Section 106 agreement only where it is necessary in planning terms. For the reasons I have already mentioned, it remains important that the direct impacts of public infrastructure can be addressed, under both the new and existing systems. Local authorities are also able to zero-rate public infrastructure in their community infrastructure levy charging schedules.
Amendment 360 also seeks to make further changes to how the existing system takes account of requests for Section 106 and community infrastructure levy funding from emergency services providers, and to when payments towards infrastructure are made. Issues concerning how the existing developer contributions system works are dealt with in policy and statutory guidance for all other infrastructure providers. We do not say anywhere in primary legislation that, when making decisions about developer contributions, local planning authorities should give particular weight to the representations of a specific infrastructure provider. That would unnecessarily constrain local authorities’ discretion.
However, I am content to put on record that the department will happily engage with my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and representatives of the emergency services to explore how revisions to existing national policy and statutory guidance could address the concerns he raised. I understand that the Housing Minister has already written to him to this effect. While it is not the aim of the Bill to introduce changes to the existing system, I appreciate that it is important that payments under Section 106 and the CIL be made at the appropriate time and that local authorities have the tools to negotiate the timing of infrastructure delivery at the right point. We keep the operation of the existing system under continuous review and my officials will continue to engage with the sector to see if anything else may be needed.
Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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I really appreciate that response, but the emergency services replied to the letter from the Housing Minister with a way forward. They are very concerned that the existing community infrastructure levy and Section 106 system is not working. Although, as the Minister pointed out, emergency services are mentioned in the schedule, the principal concern is how the historic system works, as it will take up to a decade for the new system to come into play. Will the Minister respond to the latest representations, so that we can agree a way forward?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I completely understand my noble friend’s issue and, as I have said, we are very happy to have a meeting to look at what can be done in the existing system. We know what is going on with the proposed system, but I understand the issues and we will meet further on this with the emergency services.

Turning to Amendments 331 and 346, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for speaking on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh for tabling these amendments. I agree that ensuring that development is accompanied by the timely provision of the right infrastructure is important to local communities where development is taking place. However, requiring a full payment of the levy up front would impact the viability of development and result in fewer homes, and therefore fewer affordable homes, being delivered. Large developments can be built out over periods of a decade or more, and it is not necessary for all mitigating infrastructure to be delivered in the early stages of that development.

Lord Thurlow Portrait Lord Thurlow (CB)
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The viability of development, particularly larger schemes, does not put the developer’s position at risk. The increased costs of—in this case—the infrastructure levy come out of the value of the land: in other words, the landowner, who, at the stroke of a pen in a local authority, has seen their agricultural field, for want of an example, rise from £4,000 or £5,000 an acre to £750,000 an acre. That is where the loss of value will occur—in the simple viability of a large development.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that. As I said, large developments can take a decade or more to build out and we do not want to build infrastructure, only for it to stand idle for a long time. This would increase costs for developers, reducing the amount of money that can therefore be put towards other infrastructure and affordable housing, without generating additional benefits for the communities. I agree that infrastructure must be delivered in a timely way, but that means neither too early nor too late. I will turn in a moment to the powers in the Bill that will allow this.

Turning to my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh’s Amendment 346, I clarify for the Committee that new Section 204O in Schedule 11 allows for regulations to be made that require local planning authorities to pass levy receipts to specified bodies. These are the powers that enable a proportion of levy receipts to be passed to bodies such as parish councils, thus retaining the ability for a neighbourhood share to be set up under the levy, rather than the spending of funds more generally. I believe that my noble friend raises a wider point here, making sure that levy payments are made in a way that allows infrastructure to be in place before a development is occupied and begins to impact on the capacity of services such as emergency services.
In relation to both amendments, I can reassure the Committee that we already have powers in the Bill that can be used to deliver important infrastructure at the right time. This includes powers in new Section 204R(2), in Schedule 11, to allow levy regulations to require early levy payments, or payments by instalment, if this is considered appropriate by the local authority. We are currently consulting on how these powers should be used.
Furthermore, it will be possible for local authorities to build up a reserve of funds from multiple sites to deliver infrastructure when it is needed, or to borrow against future levy receipts. For the largest, most strategic sites, Section 106 agreements will continue to be used to secure the delivery of infrastructure at an appropriate time, in line with the agreement. On all other sites, infrastructure integral to the design and function of the site will continue to be delivered by the developers.
Moreover, if a local authority requires an additional sum to be held in bond for remedial works, there are powers for it to do so in existing legislation through Section 278 of the Highways Act 1980 or, if necessary, through Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act. Local authorities will continue to be able to use these powers under the levy, in circumstances allowed by regulations, so no new legislation is required to achieve this. I hope I have provided noble Lords with the reassurance that the issues raised can be addressed through the current drafting of the Bill and through the levy regulations.
I move now to Amendments 336, 337, 338, 339, 354 and 355. This group of amendments, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, relate to the preparation, examination and monitoring of infrastructure levy charging schedules. I will begin with Amendment 336, which would require the consideration of the viability of different types of development, including older people’s housing, when setting rates. Delivering housing for older people is important. Both the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department of Health and Social Care provide capital funding to incentivise the supply of housing options available to older people. Our planning rules already mean local authorities must consider the needs of older people when planning for new homes.
However, we recognise that there may be many different types of development undertaken in an area, and that the economics of these developments are different. The Bill already makes provision which enables charging authorities to set different levy rates for different types of development in their infrastructure levy charging schedules, and requires that they have regard to the viability of development when setting rates. When the levy is introduced, local authorities will need to ensure that all types of development remain capable of being delivered. We also have the ability to prescribe what evidence must be taken into account when setting rates. Therefore, viability is already central to the local authority’s considerations on rate setting. It is up to local authorities to find the right balance when setting rates to capture as much value as they can while ensuring that development still comes forward because it is viable.
Furthermore, infrastructure levy charging schedules will be subject to an examination in public to ensure that appropriate care has been taken in setting rates. Amendments 337, 338, 339 and 354 seek to remove this protection. Having an examination in public is an important procedural mechanism. This ensures that people impacted by the rates have the right to be heard when rates are set, that local authorities pay due regard to their stakeholders and that they take all relevant considerations into account when setting rates. The existing community infrastructure levy has the same process for independent scrutiny of proposed rates, and this works well.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked what the point of costly charging schedules was. The independent examination should reduce the risk of JR, rather than increase it. We want the procedural system to be fair, transparent, consistent and robust. The examination process will deliver this and will also reduce the likelihood of legal challenges being brought on procedural grounds, as I said.
Lastly, new Section 204Y(1) to be inserted into the Planning Act sets out the instances where the Secretary of State may require a charging authority to review its levy charging schedule. Amendment 355 would limit the circumstances in which the Secretary of State could direct such a review. Reviews are important to provide confidence that the charging schedule remains appropriate or alternatively identifies the need to start a process of revision if the rates are not considered to be effective for securing value. This will be important for both local communities and developers, so that the rates and minimum thresholds that have been set remain appropriate and up to date. Historically, we know that local planning authorities have not always reviewed and updated key documents, such as local plans, in a timely fashion. We also consider it important to retain flexibility to be able to regulate for other future circumstances when it may be necessary to direct a review of a charging schedule to be undertaken.
The levy is a long-term transformation programme, which needs to be able to deal with not just the markets of today but the markets of tomorrow. New development models may come forward, new methods of construction may impact on costs, and new sectors of the economy may appear, which have their own unique challenges. I hope I have persuaded the noble Baroness of why the power to direct reviews is valuable, and how important it is to have this flexibility.
I turn now to Amendments 342, 347, 348, 351 and 352, tabled by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, which relate to how levy funds can be spent. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that the emergency and rescue services are fundamental to the safety and security of our country, as we have heard today. To support appropriate provision alongside new development, the infrastructure levy will be able to be spent on facilities and equipment for emergency and rescue services.
New Section 204Q(11) requires levy regulations to determine the consultation process and procedures that must be followed when a local authority is preparing its infrastructure delivery strategy. This can include which bodies must be consulted in order for charging authorities to determine their infrastructure priorities for the spending of the levy. These matters of detail will be determined through regulations. I agree with noble Lords that it is entirely appropriate that emergency and rescue services should be among the bodies consulted on the infrastructure delivery strategies and should be listed in regulations for that purpose.
An important question is the weight that must be given to representations made by particular bodies, such as the emergency and rescue services, when spending or passing infrastructure levy receipts to another body. Specifying a particular infrastructure body whose representations must be given significant weight in the Bill would suggest that this body should be given preferential treatment over other bodies, such as healthcare, education and highways, which are also fundamental to creating sustainable developments. It is important that the planning authority must ultimately make its own decisions about the allocation of limited resources, taking into account all local needs and preferences, in the round. I hope I can persuade noble