All 18 Lords Chamber debates in the Lords on 14th Sep 2023

House of Lords

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Thursday 14 September 2023
11:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Introduction: Lord Rosenfield

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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11:07
Daniel Robert Rosenfield, having been created Lord Rosenfield, of Muswell Hill in the London Borough of Haringey, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord O’Donnell and Lord Deighton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Employers: Fire and Rehire Tactics

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Question
11:12
Asked by
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent employers from using fire and rehire tactics.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business and Trade and Scotland Office (Lord Offord of Garvel) (Con)
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My Lords, earlier this year the Government consulted on a new statutory code of practice on fire and rehire. We are currently analysing responses to that consultation. A government response and the final version of the code will be published in spring next year. The code sets out employers’ responsibilities when seeking to change contractual terms and conditions of employment and seeks to ensure that dismissal and re-engagement is used only as a last resort.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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The code of practice as published is toothless, unfortunately. It contains no legal obligations on employers and adds only 25% to any compensation, no matter how small it may be—that is no solution. As we all know, what is needed is legislation—as there was in Australia this week—to end the scandal of fire and rehire; most decent people in this place and across the country support that view. When the Bill was proposed in the other place, the Government disappointingly ordered an unprecedented Friday three-line Whip and gerrymandered to filibuster and therefore embarrass a proper vote. I have been informed—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Question!

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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With respect, I will continue. I have been informed that my Bill will not get a Second Reading. Can the Minister explain why the Government seem to be using every trick in the parliamentary playbook to prevent us even debating this much-needed change in the law?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his follow-up question. The UK labour market is strong by historical and international standards. In fact, in all employment law we are trying to get the balance right between workers’ protection and employers’ flexibility. The employment rate is at 75% right now, and wages have gone up by just short of 8% in the last year, so we think we have the balance right. The Government are taking action to ensure that this practice is a last resort. We are not banning it outright. In the code, we have measures whereby employees’ compensation in certain circumstances, as the noble Lord alluded to, can be increased by 25% if the employer has unreasonably failed to comply with the code, which is quite a big disincentive for the employer. But we believe that there are certain circumstances in which flexibility is required, so we are seeking to get the balance right.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, when we left the European Union, the Government said that they would introduce legislation to protect workers and that it would be better than in the European Union. Can he name countries in Europe where this could happen?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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As I said, when we look at the standards of employment law against our competitors in Europe, we have a strong labour market, a strong rate of employment and a long-established suite of protections for all our workers, employees and self-employed people.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, what is the assessment of the Minister’s department of how much compensation would have been received if the proposed guidance had been in force when P&O sacked hundreds of its employees? As another noble Lord said, 25% of nothing is nothing; it is all smoke and mirrors.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for raising that rather infamous case. What P&O did was illegal. It was not fire and rehire but dismiss and replace. It would remain illegal whether or not the code had been in place, and P&O has received considerable censure as a result. The code, which will come through in the spring, will give real guidance and protection to both employers and workers.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My Lords, we know that companies quite often have to close down or change their practices, either because of a competitive market or because they have been managed badly. In one-factory towns, for example, where one company is a major employer, when it has to close, are there any forums for the Government to work together with trade unions to retrain those workers who have lost their jobs to compete in the new global economy?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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This is exactly why flexibility is required, because certain changes of circumstances require the workers and managers of a company to get together with the trade unions and the directors to solve the problem through consultation and consensus, and that is generally what happens in the UK. Indeed, as my noble friend will know, we have a number of measures to help employees back into work.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, is there a code of fire and rehire for Ministers in the Government?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I welcome the noble Lord back to Questions. I think that is a very good proposal; we can put it forward to the relevant department.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, this Session has been plagued by thick Bills. To effect the change that my noble friend calls for would take only a very simple Bill. Can we expect it to be announced in the King’s Speech in November?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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As we have said clearly, we are consulting and there will be a code of practice. This practice is used very rarely. Even the TUC in 2020 indicated that only 3% of employers had used fire and rehire and only 9% of employees had experienced it even as a threat. Therefore, the code is the right way forward in this case.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, does my noble friend not think it a disgrace that a third of our Ministers on the Front Bench are unpaid and that there are instances of paid Ministers being fired and then rehired on the basis that they do the job on no salary? Should the Government not tackle this in the interests of democracy and fair dealing to our Ministers, who do such an excellent job in this House in very difficult circumstances?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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My noble friend raises an interesting question—this is going off on all sorts of tangents at this point. Those of us who are in this House consider it to be a great privilege, those who are asked to serve the Government consider it a great honour, and we continue to serve the country as best we can.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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I am sure the House has a great deal of sympathy for many of the new Ministers who have come in, especially as they are not being paid. They may not recall, although I hope the Minister does, that his Government gave a promise in 2019 that an employment Bill would become an Act during the course of this Parliament. I go back to the earlier question: will the Minister say whether an employment Bill will be in the King’s Speech in November, or is this another broken promise?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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Throughout the course of this Parliament, commitments have been made around the manifesto commitments on employment given by the party on this side of the House. Over the last Parliament, six Private Members’ Bills have been brought through to enhance and protect workers’ rights. As I said, we are trying to strike the balance between workers’ protection and employers’ flexibility.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, in answer to my noble friend’s question about P&O Ferries, the Minister rightly characterised its behaviour as an illegal act. However, P&O Ferries is now economically active and out there, doing what it always did. Will the Minister undertake to do an analysis of the turnover and profit of P&O Ferries now versus the sanctions it received? If those sanctions prove to have been insufficient, as I believe they will, will the Minister undertake to increase them to prevent a repeat of that disgraceful activity?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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My understanding is that the P&O case is still under consideration with the insolvency authorities, so I cannot comment further on it. Further consultation is going on, taking account of this case and specifically the difference between dismissal and redundancy. That will also be in the code of practice. P&O has received censure. It continues to operate within the laws of the United Kingdom and should be allowed to continue to do so.

Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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My Lords, good business leaders recognise that without workers they have no business. Valuing workers, treating them with dignity and respect, and mutual trust build a dedicated, motivated workforce. Unfortunately, some employers still adopt fire and hire practices with relative impunity, disrespecting their employees’ livelihoods and well-being. In turn, that damages the reputation and profitability of their business. Do the Government think it just for workers to be treated in this manner? Why will they not stop it?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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As I indicated, only 3% of employers have ever used these tactics. The majority of good employers understand full well that the health of their company requires a happy and motivated workforce. This is a minority situation. The code of practice will give it greater clarity going forward.

Africa: Partnerships

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:23
Asked by
Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the Foreign Secretary’s speech on 1 August, what plans they have to deliver successful UK partnerships with countries in Africa.

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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My Lords, His Majesty’s Government are committed to developing long-term, diverse partnerships and to strengthening our offer to African countries to help reduce poverty, tackle climate change and progress towards the UN’s sustainable development goals. Our offers provide principled partnerships, working with likeminded allies, where appropriate, on issues that matter to our African partners. Together, we will build long-lasting partnerships with African countries and institutions that will lead to a free, safer, more secure, more prosperous, healthier, greener and open continent.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to partnering with African countries to assist them to reach their full economic potential. How will the Government use the SDG summit taking place next week to set out clearly how they will overcome the linked challenges of climate, nature and development, in order to be able to keep to their commitment?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. The UK Government are committed to developing long-term, diverse partnerships and to strengthening our offer to Africa to reduce poverty, tackle climate change and reinvigorate progress towards the UN’s sustainable development goals. The year 2023 is the halfway point of the SDGs and, despite significant progress, sub-Saharan Africa is the most behind. The SDG summit provides an important opportunity for the world to recommit to delivering SDGs.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Wales-Lesotho partnership, under the name Dolen Cymru? For 20 years, it has helped establish and then develop educational and health links with the people of Lesotho. It is supported by the Welsh Government. Do the UK Government co-ordinate their work in Lesotho with that organisation? If the Minister does not have the answer to hand, perhaps he could write to me.

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. It will not surprise him to hear that that is not something I have in front of me. I will be more than happy to take it back to the department and to write to him, as he suggested.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, I have a particular concern about Sudan. The conflict there has now fallen off the media headlines. The cuts in overseas development aid have made a big impact there. What will partnership look like in the light of those cuts? We hope that they will one day be restored. Secondly, how are the UK’s diplomatic efforts in Sudan being reinforced at a time of greatest need?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. In May this year, the Minister for Development and Africa announced that the UK would provide £21.7 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan as part of our contribution at the UN Horn of Africa pledging summit. This followed an earlier announcement of £5 million to help meet the urgent needs of refugees and returnees in South Sudan and Chad. The UK is also working through the African Union-led core group to end the hostilities, to push for urgently needed humanitarian access and to secure a viable peace process.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the most recent, striking acts of African partnership has been the decision of the G20 to admit the entire African Union—all 55 members—to its councils? This is a dramatic move and a reminder of how the world has changed. Will he outline how he thinks it will affect the priorities of the G20? Has he noted that 21 of the new G20 members are Commonwealth members, with several more applying? Will he undertake that we will give maximum support to the rest of our fellow members if they wish to form a caucus within this new group?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. I think it will make a substantial difference to the ability of Africa’s voice to be heard at the highest possible level. The Government continue to work closely with all countries in Africa. It is to be hoped that this will deliver the changes we need.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, there was a great deal of emphasis in the Foreign Secretary’s speech in Lagos on population change. It will increase to 2 billion by 2050. Some 25% of the population of Africa will be under the age of 25. There was no comment, either in the speech or in anything that the Minister has said, about the threat that this rapid population change will pose to the economic, social and political order. Will the Minister tell the House what the UK intends to do in its relations with African countries to address this threat, particularly in the context of climate change?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. With regard to the final point made by the noble Baroness about climate change, the UK is contributing $1.8 billion for South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership of the total $8.85 billion being provided by the international partners group. This includes France, Germany, the US, the UK and the EU. The UK is also backing a new project with Senegal, announced in June, which is worth €2.5 billion. We continue with our commitment to support countries with ambitious energy transition plans. We believe that is one of the ways in which we can help those countries.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, since this is the first time I have asked the Minister a question, I welcome him to his brief. For partnerships to be effective, does he agree that we need reliable and sustainable relationships? It is regrettable that in eight years of this Government there have been eight Ministers for Africa, and the last time a British Prime Minister made a bilateral visit to an African nation was five years ago. At that time, Theresa May promised that

“by 2022, I want the UK to be the G7’s number one investor in Africa”.

It is not. We have broken that promise. Does the Minister agree that, if we are to have partnerships, we first need to keep our promises?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for his opening comments. I agree that it is vitally important that strong partnerships are established, and lasting relationships built. On trade, where partnerships are very strong, UK export finance has provided more than £3.5 billion for projects in Africa since 2020. The UK was the first non-African country to sign an agreement with the African continental free trade area. This is a signal of our readiness to generate new trade and investment opportunities for Africa and for UK business. The Prime Minister will personally host the UK-Africa summit, which aims to create opportunities for mutual prosperity, inclusive growth and job creation.

Lord Haselhurst Portrait Lord Haselhurst (Con)
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My Lords, just thinking of the African situation alone, is it not somewhat counterintuitive that the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association should be having its budget restricted and its work made more difficult when such a positive contribution could come from there to bring some extra democracy to the continent of Africa?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question and for his work within this organisation. It is vitally important that it continues to do that good work. Clearly, budgets in some cases have been reduced. I do not have the details in relation to that organisation regarding its budget, but I will certainly take that back to the department and write to him in the coming weeks.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi on 4 September evidenced the determination of African countries to work together to set out a positive agenda for driving green growth. However, the debt burden and rising interest rates increasing the cost of borrowing from capital markets are inhibiting the huge potential for green growth in Africa. What are the Government doing across Whitehall with international partners to reform multilateral development banks so that the growth potential is fully realised?

Lord Mott Portrait Lord Mott (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for his question. The UK is a partner for African countries that are disproportionately affected by climate change. I will give some examples of the work that we are doing in relation to this, which demonstrates our commitment to supporting those countries. We have ambitious energy transition plans, providing £1.8 billion of international partners group finance, and we are delivering on our commitment to double international climate finance to £11.6 billion by 2025-26. The UK has supported the “room to run” guarantee to the African Development Bank, which is expected to unlock up to £2 billion-worth of new financing for projects across the continent and £200 million to the African Development Bank and the climate action window.

Electronic Trade Documents Act 2023

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:33
Asked by
Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the (1) economic, and (2) environmental, benefits arising from the Electronic Trade Documents Act 2023; and what plans they have to communicate those benefits to relevant stakeholders, including small and medium-sized enterprises.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my financial services and technology interests as set out in the register.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business and Trade and Scotland Office (Lord Offord of Garvel) (Con)
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The Electronic Trade Documents Act will provide an economic boost estimated at just over £1 billion over a decade, substantially reducing paper use. We are the first G7 country to put digital and paper trade documents on an equal footing. Given the international prominence of English law, this will kick-start digitalisation globally. We advocate similar change by trading partners. We will support businesses through international trade advisers, trade and investment hubs and initiatives promoting digitalisation, including the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Electronic Trade Documents Act offers us the potential of combining our common-law tradition with our expertise in new technologies such as blockchain and our excellent financial services ecosystem? Does he agree that we must work to ensure that everybody in the business department communicates through every channel—particularly to SMEs in the UK—the opportunity that exists through this Act and, similarly, that all our missions overseas communicate to companies and politicians around the world to enable them to see the benefits of passing similar legislation? As my noble friend the Minister knows, it takes two to trade.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for those comments and questions. This is a quite remarkable Act. In fact, it is the only Act of Parliament that I have read from beginning to end. It is only four pages long and 1,500 words; I recommend it for its brevity and its conciseness. It simply does one thing, which is to take the architecture of 300-plus years of mercantile trading which has been done in paper form and translate that into digital to have the same legal impact. The onus is now on the Department for Business and Trade to communicate this to our SMEs, as my noble friend indicated. To that end, we are using international trade advisers and the International Chamber of Commerce, and we have set up the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation at Teesside University. A lot of work will now be done to raise awareness of this, which will be for the great benefit of our trade.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, in reading the Act, my noble friend will have realised that reliable systems for authenticating electric trade documents is one of the central operational issues. Will the Government therefore give their full support to the International Chamber of Commerce, which I am glad he mentioned, as it did so much good work in helping to bring this Act forward? Will they also try to put together assurance for what those reliable systems look like that will help traders to trade confidently?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that. I can report that, as the Minister in this area, I have chaired a forum with the International Chamber of Commerce where we are at the forefront of this initiative. By the UK leading the way here, with G7 and others following through, this will become a standard mechanism of trade and will be followed by the new operating border and the single trade window. We will therefore be moving rapidly to 2025 and a situation where trade can be expedited across international markets to the great benefit of our economy.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, estimates suggest that this important legislation could save businesses approximately 50% in costs by moving to forms of electronic trade. The impact assessment attached to the Act had a best-estimate adoption rate of 5% in year 1 and 45% by year 10, while the highest adoption rate predictions suggested 10% in year 1 and up to 80% in year 10. The difference in extremes between these adoption rate predictions will have far-reaching consequences. Given the potential for major cost savings and increased efficiency, can the Minister reassure us that the Government will develop a clear strategy, including guidance and awareness-raising, to support stakeholders and businesses who are keen to move towards early adoption and to inform those who are not yet engaged or are unaware of the benefits of so doing?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I can assure her that this is a great focus for the Department for Business and Trade. At the moment in the UK, only 10% of our SMEs are exporting. Overall, we are a great exporting nation; we have recently gone from sixth to fifth in the table, and we are second in services, so we have a strong export tradition, but we could do better among our SME community. My personal ambition is to drive that number up, and digital has a key part to play in that. There are some 280,000 SMEs exporting. We want to double that, and the digital route will be the way to do so. We have already identified 100,000 essentially new business which are born digital and born international, which will be a great boost to the SME trade. That will be a great focus for our department going forward.

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

Baroness Harris of Richmond Portrait Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in a letter to Peers in June, the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, stated

“industry stands ready and eager to support the delivery of this Act for UK businesses of all shapes and sizes, developing guidance and standards to ensure it’s a success”.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s response, how are the Government actually working with industry, as well as others he mentioned, to ensure this? Should not we now have more detail about the implementation of the Act?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that question. That is the nub of what we are dealing with: we have passed the Act, which is a great first step, but we now need to implement it inside our ecosystem. There are going to be great advantages, some of which have already been identified in terms of cost. There are also advantages in data collection. We believe that we can greatly increase our trade finance to SMEs; currently trade finance for exporting is perhaps not the most accessible. We believe that the digital mechanism for data collecting will greatly increase the ability to access finance and reduce its cost, so we see benefits everywhere around this legislation.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, while supporting my noble friend Lord Holmes, I want to ask my noble friend the Minister two questions. The first is about the transferability back into a paper form in cases where there has to be default due to a lack of digital experience. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, given that other international bodies have not yet come on board with this very useful initiative by the British Government, is it not a good idea to confirm what nature of law is to apply in each document coming through this system?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that. The purpose and intent of the Act is to give equal weight to paper and digital proof of ownership—bills of lading, letters of credit et cetera—so they can be in either form. On the legal regime, the Bill is modelled on the United Nations law, so it comes from, as it were, a higher authority, but through custom and practice and mercantile law over the last 300 years or so, maritime law is governed largely under English law. There is therefore an easy adoption and an understanding that mercantile trade can continue under English law. As the rest of the G7 countries come forward and adopt similar legislation, I am sure we will find alignment in these matters.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, the Minister and his colleagues need to be congratulated on making sure that the UK is very much in the lead. He mentioned that the UK would encourage other countries to make sure that their systems are moved on to a digital and electronic platform. Which international organisations will he work with to ensure that this is encouraged and happens? One point puzzled me: why does Part 1 refer only to Scotland?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I will take my copy of the Act here to refer to. In terms of international bodies, this has come through the UN system and the major body we are working with to get to businesses directly is the International Chamber of Commerce. On the small jurisdictional point in relation to Scotland, under the devolution settlement Scots law needs to be separate from English law—although it is largely the same when it comes to mercantile. There is a provision in the Act to make sure there is alignment between Scotland and England.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, this Act should be a major boost to UK corporates and indeed corporates around the world. As an aside, is the Minister aware that, apparently, up to 67% of British SMEs as yet do not have a website? That is another area which the Government might wish to consider in helping to push the trading figures forward.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord. The world has gone digital now and I think even that 67% are aware of that. The DBT is very much at the forefront of raising that awareness.

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991: New Breeds

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:44
Asked by
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to add new breeds, in view of recent attacks.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and refer to my interests on the register, including the fact that I am an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, we take dog attacks very seriously and are making sure that the full force of the law is applied. This ranges from lower-level interventions to more serious offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act. The Government have commissioned urgent advice on what steps they can take on dangerous dogs. As a critical first step, we are immediately convening police experts and other stakeholders to define the breed for the purposes of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer but it is clear that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is not working as it was intended. Dog attacks are on the increase, the public are feeling threatened and the Act is putting huge pressure on veterinary professionals and animal welfare charities. Can I urge my noble friend to use his good offices to take this opportunity to have a complete overhaul of the Act; to focus not on the breed but the deed; and to look increasingly at anti-social and aggressive behaviour on the part of dog owners, which should not be tolerated?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Every single one of these attacks is a tragedy. So often, they happen in the home, and some of the people involved really should not be in charge of a dog. We are concerned about the breed that people are concerned about now, XL Bullies, because we see from the available data we have that they are disproportionately involved in serious dog attacks. There is a divergence of opinion on this. My noble friend mentions organisations that campaign on this and are unhappy about the breed-specific nature of it. They have one view; another view is that none of the fatal attacks that have taken place in recent years were carried out by a prohibited breed that was registered under the Act. We want to get this right. That is why we are talking to everyone, including the police, vets and campaign groups. We want to make sure that we are keeping people safe.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, in the United States, the National Rifle Association argues—spuriously, in my view—that it is not the firearm that is the problem but the person carrying it. In this country, we control dangerous firearms and have very few mass shootings—the opposite of what we see in the United States. Does the noble Lord agree that a dangerous dog that is bred to fight and is inherently dangerous is rightfully being looked at as being banned?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I entirely understand the noble Lord’s point. Most of us who keep a dog can know its breed precisely because there is a breed registration book and it is perfectly easy to describe it. There is no evidence of how you define some of these “fighting dogs” or “status dogs”, as some people call them. I am not making some bureaucratic excuse for not taking action because we are taking action but, in order to make the law effective, if we are going to ban a breed, we have to really ban it and not allow people to get round it by having some nuance of that breed.

Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, I was chief constable in Merseyside when a five year-old child in St Helens was murdered by one of these awful breeds. As the Minister said, there are difficulties in defining the breed; I think a Labrador can be regarded as one of these breeds on some occasions so it is really not straightforward. One of the things I instigated at the time, with the agreement of the CPS, was an amnesty for owners of illegal breeds because the main thing is to get these dogs off the streets and not leave them in position. Of course, it is hard for the owners to hand them over voluntarily because they are declaring that they are an illegal animal; it is hard for neighbours to declare it, too. At a time when the Government are considering what to do next, might they consider a national amnesty for the present illegal breeds to get the dogs off the street rather than worrying about, as has been explained, the consequences?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very good point. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, there is an exemption procedure whereby the person can keep the dog provided that they stick to various conditions, such as it being taken out on a lead and wearing a muzzle. Of course, that does not solve the problem entirely. We want to see these dogs removed. There are ways of doing that and very serious penalties, including up to 14 years in prison, for people who break those rules. We are talking to the National Association of Police Chiefs and making sure that we are doing everything in the realm of the possible but our priority is to get dangerous dogs off the streets.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend is taking such urgent action on this. I suggest that he should be more radical when looking at the Dangerous Dogs Act. It is time that that was sent to the knacker’s yard and a new system instituted altogether. I say this with some regret because I was the one who introduced it in the other place in the first place.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I know that the Act is sometimes held up as a poster boy for the malign effect of knee-jerk legislative reaction to a terrible incident. However, as I said, the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro—the four species banned under the Act—are not breeds that have been involved in these awful attacks. One could therefore argue that there may have been more attacks if they had not been banned, but we are looking to make this effective and we want urgent action.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, the phrase that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners, is patchy as breeds vary considerably. Spaniels are excellent at identifying victims in earthquakes; border collies are excellent at working with sheep. Labradors are brilliant assistance dogs; Alsatians and Rottweilers are brilliant guard dogs. For all, it is part of their inherent nature. The DDA should be reviewed bearing this in mind. Will the Minister give assurances that, if such a review takes place, it takes account of more evidence than just a single video clip?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I absolutely can give that assurance. We in government are lay people in this. There are real experts who understand animal behaviour and lawyers who can advise us on what will stand up in court. If we are to review this Act, we must make sure that we do not lose any benefits we have had from it and that we keep this House informed of every stage of the process.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, in view of the great increase in pet dogs in recent years, particularly during the pandemic, should we not reconsider reintroducing dog licences?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I love agreeing with my noble friend but I cannot in this case. It was a very bureaucratic document that cost more than it amounted to and was no more than a tax on dog owners. It would not deal with this problem effectively because the people who keep the predominant dog species involved in these attacks would not, by and large, have bothered getting a licence anyway.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we know that the American bully is easily recognisable but concerns have been raised that it would be hard to define it within the framework of the Dangerous Dogs Act as it exists at the moment. The breed is not recognised by the Kennel Club, for example. The Minister and other noble Lords have talked about the importance of replacing or updating the legislation. It is not working at all for cross-breeds. The Minister has talked about the fact that many of the attacks are not done by dogs that are covered by the legislation, so I really do urge him to commit to updating the legislation because I cannot see how we will move forward without it.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am very happy to have a discussion with the noble Baroness and any others about what precisely they mean by updating this legislation. Many campaign groups, such as the Dogs Trust, want us to get rid of its breed-specific nature as part of any reform. I am concerned about that because it might remove some of the elements that work, but we are open to those discussions.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow Portrait Lord Sterling of Plaistow (Con)
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My Lords, two weeks ago, the “Today” programme interviewed a leading professor, I think from Chicago University, who specialises in the behaviour of dangerous animals in contact with human beings. She said that, in America, they are breeding these specific dogs and changing their genes to increase the chance that they will fight. She was asked for her opinion—“What would you do?”—and said, “Ban them totally”.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I totally understand my noble friend’s point; that may well be what comes out of this urgent review. It is of concern right at the top of the Government. He is absolutely right that these species are bred for purposes that we do not want to see in this country, in our homes and certainly not on our streets. Since 2022, there have been 16 fatalities, nine of which involved some form of cross-breed bully dog. The clue is in the name.

Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Bill [HL]

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Third Reading
11:55
Motion
Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Etherton Portrait Lord Etherton (CB)
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My Lords, I take this opportunity as the chair of the Opposed Private Bill Committee to thank its other members: the noble Lord, Lord Reay, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Willis of Summertown. On behalf of the entire committee, I thank those who supported us: Chris Salmon Percival, Clerk of Private Bills, who stepped in to clerk when the previously designated clerk was unable to attend; Che Diamond, the assistant counsel to the Chairman of Committees; Mike Wright, the private and hybrid Bill manager; and Kiran Kaur, the committee operations officer.

I am happy to say that we amended the Bill in a way that improved it and was acceptable to both the presenters and the petitioner.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I will make three points. The first is to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for chairing the committee. I had never sat on an Opposed Private Bill Committee before and there is a sort of judicial element to the proceedings; we benefited from his experience and wise counsel.

Secondly, I bring to the House’s attention that this is a Bill about cemeteries and running out of space. In years to come, we will find more cemeteries in this position, so we may have further Bills of this kind.

Thirdly, the Bill involved something called the 75-year rule. I will not talk about it now, but this is something that the Law Commission may be considering and, in the fullness of time, this House may return to the subject.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)
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My Lords, I intervene very briefly to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and the other members of the committee for their hard work and scrutiny of this Bill. I beg to move.

11:57
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Conduct Committee

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Agree
11:58
Moved by
Baroness Manningham-Buller Portrait Baroness Manningham-Buller
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That the Report from the Select Committee Amendments to the Code of Conduct (4th Report, HL Paper 221) be agreed to.

Baroness Manningham-Buller Portrait Baroness Manningham-Buller (CB)
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My Lords, in begging to move that the fourth report of the Conduct Committee be agreed to, I shall speak also to the fifth report.

The Conduct Committee is committed to minimising the number of new editions of the Code of Conduct. These reports propose the first changes since May last year. As I have previously said at the Dispatch Box, I hope to appear here as infrequently as possible.

The code itself is 34 paragraphs long, but the guide is 208. Updating, clarifying and, wherever possible, simplifying remains a work in progress. The fourth report proposes a number of amendments, mostly minor, which the committee has considered in the last year.

First, the report recommends redrafting the scope provisions of the code to make them clear—and this is important—without changing the substance.

Secondly, the report proposes a change to the provisions, setting out what happens when a Member under investigation by the Commissioner for Standards leaves the House. Under current rules, the investigation would come to an end in nearly all cases. The report proposes that the commissioner should, in those cases, be authorised to complete a pre-existing investigation, but only if the Conduct Committee is assured that is in the public interest. I hope noble Lords can think of cases where we would judge that to be so.

Thirdly, the report proposes uprating the threshold for registration of shareholdings from £50,000 to £100,000. This is the first time the threshold has been updated since 2010.

Fourthly—and in this case the committee was responding to requests to look at this from Members of this House, from several noble Lords—the report sets out a way for them to register substantial private equity investments or corporate debt securities. We required some expert help in understanding these issues, which we sought. The provisions would now require Members to register such investments in category 4 and they establish a threshold for doing so.

Fifthly and finally, the report proposes some other minor changes to the code and guide, which are explained in the report.

I now turn to the committee’s fifth report. Earlier this year, the committee decided to review the provisions in the code and guide on parliamentary advice and services for the first time since they were agreed in 2009 and 2010. We were not seeking to tighten the rules, which have broadly worked well, but rather to ensure that they are expressed as clearly and logically as possible, so that all noble Lords understand them. To inform the review, we issued a consultation paper containing draft proposals, to which all noble Lords were invited to respond—28 did so, and I thank them for their thoughtful and helpful suggestions, some of which were incorporated into what we did. We also spoke the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, my noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale.

As the report notes, noble Lords broadly recommended the changes in the draft proposals, although some, naturally enough, queried individual provisions and made drafting suggestions. We considered all these responses and did make changes as a result. We are grateful for that help from noble Lords. The Conduct Committee welcomes engagement from Members of the House on the work it is doing on noble Lords’ behalf.

I will not go through every proposed change in the report, since many of them are straightforward drafting improvements, but I will touch on some of them. The proposed redraft of the provision on paid parliamentary services aims to make it crystal clear that Members cannot—and these are the key words—in return for payment or other reward, either do something or not do something in parliamentary proceedings; engage with parliamentarians, Ministers or officials on the issue; or provide ancillary parliamentary services, such as setting up an APPG or sponsoring a security pass. I repeat: this is in return for payment or any other reward.

The report then clarifies the limited exceptions to these rules, proposing, we hope, a much clearer explanation of the circumstances in which Members can, on occasion, provide parliamentary advice or services to an organisation or person in which they have a financial interest. This allows Members to carry out the full responsibilities of their outside jobs and ensures that the code does not inadvertently make Peers less attractive than non-Members for roles.

Again, with the help of a suggestion from a noble Baroness, we looked at the application of the rules for Members who undertake public sector roles. We are very grateful for being steered in this direction and we propose two key changes. First, we propose that the term “public bodies” is broadened with the clearer phrase “public sector organisations”. Secondly, while we endorse the existing exemption from the exclusive benefit rule, which attaches to such roles, we see no justification for the exemption from prohibition on paid parliamentary advice and services. The report proposes the removal of that exception.

I hope your Lordships will agree that these two reports offer some modest but sensible improvements to the code and the guide. I beg to move that the fourth report be agreed to.

Motion agreed.

Conduct Committee

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Agree
12:05
Moved by
Baroness Manningham-Buller Portrait Baroness Manningham-Buller
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That the Report from the Select Committee Parliamentary advice and services: proposed changes to the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Code of Conduct (5th Report, HL Paper 243) be agreed to.

Motion agreed.

Powers of Attorney Bill

3rd reading
Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Third Reading
12:05
Motion
Moved by
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate
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That the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed.
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I believe the House allows a Member proposing a Bill to say a few words of thanks.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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I am sorry, I have already called the voices, so I think we must move on.

Combined Sewer Overflows

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 13 September.
“I restate that I have always been clear that the current volume of sewage discharged by water companies is totally unacceptable, and they must act urgently to improve their performance so that they meet government and public expectations. I confirm that the department, the Environment Agency and Ofwat have received the information notices and will, of course, comply with their requests. We do not agree with the Office for Environmental Protection’s assessment of our compliance with the law, and the House should note that the OEP itself has said:
‘We recognise that a great deal is already being done to tackle the issue of untreated sewage discharges, and we welcome the intent of Government measures such as the Plan for Water and storm overflow targets, as well as commitments to increase investment’.
The public are rightly disgusted by sewage discharges from storm overflows, and so are the Government, which is why we have taken more action than any other Government on the issue. I remind honourable Members that the European Commission took the Labour Government to court in 2009 for breaches of the law. Subsequently, we have started the construction of the Thames Tideway tunnel, which is due to be completed next year. It is taking a decade to construct.
However, a decade ago, the Conservative-led Government took action and started requiring the monitoring of storm overflows. That work will be completed by the end of this year. It is owing to that that the scale of the problem has been unveiled. I note that in Wales, which is run by a Labour Government, discharge occurrences are much higher—38 times a year for outflows versus 23 in England.
The Environment Act 2021 included new powers and responsibilities, which increased understanding. Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. That led to some of the action that we are taking.
We have been repeatedly clear that water companies’ reliance on overflows is unacceptable. They must significantly reduce how much sewage they discharge as a priority. We are holding them to account, and that is also true of our regulators. I remind the House that active investigations, including an active criminal investigation, of water companies are under way.
We welcome the opportunity to set out the scale of the action that the Government are taking. No Government in history have done more to tackle the issue. Last year, we launched the storm overflows discharge reduction plan. Our strict targets will lead to the toughest-ever crackdown on sewage spills, and we require water companies to deliver the largest-ever infrastructure programme in water company history.
I am therefore happy to answer today’s Urgent Question, but I say, yet again, that the Conservative Government are cleaning up the mess left by a Labour Government, and we will get on with the job.”
12:07
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we have had discussions about sewage discharges over a number of years now, including several extensive sessions during the relatively recent passage of the Environment Act 2021. Everybody is clear that, under the law, sewage should be discharged only in exceptional circumstances—everybody it seems but the Government, the arm’s-length bodies their Ministers are responsible for and the water companies those bodies regulate. In the OEP’s view, Ministers and regulators are guilty of

“misinterpretations of some key points of law”.

That is extremely worrying. We also think it is worrying that the Environment Secretary has chosen to disagree with her own environmental body, in one of its first major investigations of government conduct.

During the passage of the Environment Act, colleagues across your Lordships’ House voiced concern about the OEP’s lack of enforcement powers. Regardless of one’s views on the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, the previous situation was clear: if the Government were found to have acted unlawfully, there could be fines or other enforcement action. Could the Minister confirm today that, if the OEP recommends legislative or regulatory changes, or seeks to take enforcement action against Defra, his department will comply? Does he regret that this question even needs to be asked, following the adversarial approach adopted by his Secretary of State?

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I suggest I have a different understanding of how an OEP investigation works. Let me be absolutely clear about this: the OEP has not satisfied itself, on the balance of probabilities, that Defra has failed to comply with environmental law; rather, the OEP believes it has reasonable grounds for suspecting the Defra has failed to comply with environmental law and has asked us for more information to help it make its decision, and of course we are complying with this process. Her allegation is that this is a done deal; the OEP’s concerns that the Government have somehow broken the law is under discussion. We now have two months to reply, and the OEP then has two months to adjudicate.

The aims of the OEP investigation are to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the public authorities—Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency—and to determine whether they have failed to comply with their respective duties. The OEP will consider the responses from all three public authorities in detail before deciding next steps. We should not prejudge its conclusions. The OEP’s press release clearly states that:

“If the response changes the OEP’s view on whether there has been a failure to comply with the law, or sets out steps the public authority intends to take to rectify the failure, then the OEP may decide not to take any further action in relation to the alleged failure(s).”


My answer to her final question is: yes, of course we will comply. We have created the OEP to try to find the best possible way to hold government to account on environmental policy following our leaving the European Union, where we were subject to infraction fines if we had broken the law. Through the Environment Act, we wanted to create something that held government departments to account. We believe in the OEP and what it does, and we will certainly comply with its findings.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, in its statement on Tuesday, the OEP identified serious breaches of environmental law. Despite what appears to be heavy investment to combat combined sewer overflows, Defra is accused of breaking Sections 18 and 94 of the Water Industry Act 1991 and other water regulations in deliberately allowing sewage overflows to continue when there has been no rain. Given yesterday’s debate on nutrients, are the Government really serious about protecting the environment as set out in the Environment Act, or are they only paying lip service?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I know the noble Baroness well enough to know that she does not really believe that. We sat through hours and hours of debate on the Environment Act, the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act. She knows that this Government have done more to protect the environment and deal with the unacceptable problem, which has existed for centuries, of sewage going into our rivers. She knows that we are investing in monitoring. The previous Government did not have a clue: they knew of 7% of sewage outflows. I started that change in 2012, and we now know of 91%; by the end of this year, we will know of 100%. That light of transparency is helping resolve this problem.

We have a record investment programme of £56 billion to deal with the problem. We have tougher regulation: there was a debate on nutrients yesterday and a debate in the Grand Committee on increasing penalties for breaches of rules from £250,000, where they are capped, to unlimited amounts. That is an example of tougher regulation that we are bringing in. At the moment, we have the largest ever criminal investigation by the Environment Agency into this matter, and we have a very serious civil investigation by the regulator Ofwat. We are absolutely committed to dealing with this, and we are doing more than any other Government have done previously.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I will focus on the positive going forward, which is that the water companies are going to find the money to tackle combined sewer overflows. Is my noble friend confident that the level of expenditure can be found in the context of the current price review, which becomes effective on 1 January 2024? Also, does he not think that it is grossly unfair on water companies to be expected to connect to inadequate Victorian pipes that cannot take the effluent coming from these new housing developments? They are being forced to because of the current legislation.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My noble friend knows that there is a major investment in infrastructure, the largest ever, which is seeing many of those thousands of miles of Victorian pipes being replaced by modern ones. It is absolutely vital that any developments take into account the sewage infrastructure. That is why we are insisting on the entire impact of those, and any, developments being reflected in investment, and why we are front-loading a lot of the expenditure. We are requiring water companies to do a lot, but that is what their customers and the people of this country want. We have the right system by which to make that happen, and we want to encourage that expenditure to happen as quickly as possible.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the current system of private monopolies dates back to 1989, when Margaret Thatcher sold off the publicly owned water and sewage industry for £7.6 billion, debt free. Since then, average household bills have risen 40% above inflation, the companies are now £54 billion in debt and have since paid out £66 billion in dividends to shareholders. Of the bills that people are paying today, 20p in the pound is going to shareholders or to cover that debt. Given that the regulation of these companies and the economic situation are clearly failing, surely it is now time for the Government to at least set up the process of looking into how we can bring these companies back into public hands and run them for public good.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I may have misunderstood the noble Baroness, but I have certainly had it put to me in this Chamber that, when this system of private ownership was put in place, it was somehow an ideological Conservative Government that was doing it. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was done because we were the dirty man of Europe: our rivers were stinking, and a very small percentage of our beaches were compliant. Now, we have nearly 93% of our bathing waters in good or improving conditions. I am not naive; I know that there are serious problems. But if the noble Baroness is really suggesting that the way of dealing with this is to completely change it and require the taxpayer to pay billions of pounds to purchase these companies back, which would see investment in this country into the regulated utility sector fall off a cliff, that is very dangerous not just for our water industry but our energy companies and every other regulated utility.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, while entirely accepting the thrust of what my noble friend just said, there is continuing concern, as he well knows, not just about sewage but, as I have raised many times before, the terrible state of one of the loveliest rivers in the kingdom, the Wye. When can we expect to see proper improvement in those ghastly situations?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I thank my noble friend. The Secretary of State held a meeting in the Wye Valley with all partners concerned. Out of that have come a number of actions. What is frustrating is when local authorities, for example, do not allow planning permission for measures such as biodigesters, which would deal with the chicken manure that is causing the nutrients to flow into the river, which results in large parts of the River Wye effectively becoming ecologically dead at certain times of the year. We need joined-up thinking not just between government and regulators but between local planners and farmers, and an understanding that, when a producer company vertically integrates its supply chain and we do not understand its impact in planning, it takes years to get right—but we are absolutely determined to do it.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2023

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
12:18
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 6 September be approved.

Relevant document: 51st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, before getting into the detail of this order, I take this opportunity to apologise sincerely to the House that news of the Home Secretary’s decision, which we are here to debate, became public before the order was laid. I am grateful to House for its consideration of this draft order, which will see Wagner Group, a truly brutal organisation, proscribed.

Some 78 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Not only is proscription a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations, it sends a strong message of the UK’s commitment to tackling terrorist activity globally. Wagner Group are terrorists. As such, the Home Secretary proposes amending Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 by adding Wagner Group, also referred to as Wagner Network, to the list of proscribed organisations.

For an organisation to be proscribed, the Home Secretary must reasonably believe that it is currently concerned in terrorism as set out in Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000. If this statutory test is met, the Home Secretary must then consider the proportionality of proscription and decide whether to exercise her discretion.

Proscription is a powerful tool with severe penalties. It criminalises being a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation, and wearing articles of a proscribed organisation in a way that arouses suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter. Penalties are a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Proscription also supports other disruptive activity, including immigration disruptions and terrorist financing offences. The resources of a proscribed organisation are terrorist property and are, therefore, liable to be seized.

This builds on sanctions already in place on Wagner Group. Terrorist financing incurs criminal, rather than civil, penalties, and allows the Government ultimately to forfeit terrorist property, rather than just freeze an individual’s assets. The Home Secretary is supported in her decision-making by the cross-government proscription review group. A decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration, given its wide-ranging impact. It must be approved by both Houses.

A great deal of carnage can be laid at the feet of Wagner Group, a Russian private military company that emerged following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Putin’s first illegal invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. It has acted as a proxy military force on behalf of the Russian state, operating in a range of theatres including Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique and Mali. It has pursued Russia’s foreign policy objectives and the objectives of other Governments who have contracted Wagner’s services. In the hours following Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, Wagner was reportedly tasked with assassinating President Zelensky—a task in which it failed, thanks to the heroism and bravery displayed by Ukrainian security forces.

Wagner Group describes itself in heroic terms, even suggesting, abhorrently, that it is the saviour of Africa. That private military companies remain illegal under Russian law is something that has never particularly concerned Putin. Putin can distort the truth to suit himself all he likes, but the truth is that the Wagner Group are terrorists.

With this House’s consent, Wagner Group will be proscribed. Having carefully considered all the evidence, including advice from the cross-government proscription review group, the Home Secretary has decided that there is sufficient evidence that allows her to reasonably believe that Wagner Group is concerned in terrorism, and that proscription is proportionate. Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of the group’s activities supporting this decision. I warn the House that some of this detail is deeply unpleasant.

Wagner Group commits and participates in terrorism; this is based on its use of serious violence against Ukrainian armed forces and civilians to advance Russia’s political cause. Wagner played a central role in combat operations against Ukrainian armed forces to seize the city of Popasna in May 2022 and during the assault of Bakhmut, largely occupied by Russian forces this year. This assault has resulted in the virtual destruction of a city once home to 70,000 people. Wagner barely showed any more concern for the lives of its own side. Defence Intelligence has assessed that up to 20,000 convicts, recruited directly from Russian prisons on the promise of a pardon and an early release, were killed within a few months of the attack on Bakhmut. Wagner’s relentless bombardment of Bakhmut was one of the bloodiest episodes in modern military history.

Noble Lords may also be aware of multiple reports alleging unbelievable brutality by Wagner commanders against their own troops who retreat, desert or otherwise refuse to carry out their leaders’ orders. The most notorious of these—the killing of a purported deserter, murdered by a sledgehammer blow to the head—has even been glorified by Wagner’s leaders and Russian ultra-nationalists. This macabre culture and brutality are indicative of the fact that Wagner Group is a terrorist organisation, not just a private military company.

The group carries out preparatory acts for terrorism, including undertaking activities intended to cause serious violence against people or serious damage to property, directly to advance a political cause and to intimidate opponents in Ukraine. Ukrainian prosecutors have accused Wagner Group fighters of war crimes near Kyiv, in which the tortured bodies of civilians were found with their hands tied behind their backs in the village of Motyzhyn.

Wagner Group has also been implicated in serious acts of violence and damage to property while working in several countries in Africa. A UN report published in May this year implicated Wagner Group in the massacre of at least 500 people in the Malian town of Moura in March 2022, including summary executions as well as rape and torture. In June 2021, a panel of experts convened by the UN Security Council detailed atrocities in the Central African Republic, including

“excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings, the occupation of schools and looting on a large scale, including of humanitarian organizations”.

Despite its mutiny in June this year, and the reported death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin last month, Wagner Group remains a violent and destructive organisation. Proscription sends a strong message of the UK’s commitment to tackle terrorist activity and builds on our existing cross-government work to counter Wagner Group’s destabilising activities. Its leadership’s recent feud with senior Russian military figures is a predictable consequence of Putin’s disastrous decision to invade Ukraine, but it is fundamentally a distraction from the fact that Wagner Group continues to commit violent acts around the world.

While Putin’s regime wavers over what to do with the monster it has created, Wagner’s continuing destabilising activities only serve the Kremlin’s political goals. All this means that the case for action is now stronger than ever. Wagner is vulnerable. A leadership vacuum and questions about its future provide a unique opportunity to truly disrupt its operations and the threat it poses. That is why this House must proscribe Wagner now.

This decision comes after public calls from President Zelensky for international allies to take action and list Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation. In doing so, we stand alongside our allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and France, whose parliaments have called for Wagner Group to be labelled as a terrorist organisation on the EU’s list of terrorist groups. We continue to work in close co-ordination with the US, which designated Wagner Group under its transnational criminal organisations sanctions programme earlier this year. In formally proscribing, we will be leading the international effort by taking concrete legal action against Wagner Group. I urge our other allies to follow suit. This decision demonstrates that the UK will maintain its unwavering support for Ukraine, in co-ordination with our allies. It shows that we stand with the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Wherever Wagner Group operates, it has a catastrophic effect on communities, worsens existing conflicts and damages the reputations of countries that host it. Wagner may be at its most vulnerable, and Russia’s military leaders may be grappling to regain control of the organisation, but the brutal methods it has employed will undoubtedly remain a tool of the Russian state. Let there be no misunderstanding: whatever form Wagner takes, we and our allies will pursue, expose and disrupt it. Wagner Group is a terrorist organisation, and we must not be afraid of saying so. We will hold Russia to account for its use of these malign groups and the devastation they inflict around the world. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, while confronting terrorism with the relentless enthusiasm the public rightly expect. I commend this order to the House.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, since I and many other noble Lords in this House have long called for the Government to proscribe the Wagner Group, it is unsurprising that I give this legislation a warm welcome. The sad fact is that war, armed conflict, is a terrible thing. It results in death, maiming, destruction and wholesale suffering, but most of us understand that, regrettable as it may be, it cannot be eliminated from the world. We therefore have to do all we can to contain its devastating effects.

The global community in the 20th century put a great deal of effort into constructing laws of armed conflict that would do this, yet we see in Europe a conflict during which the most horrific war crimes have been, and are still being, committed. It is not just in Europe; we see it in many countries throughout Africa as well. In so many instances, the Wagner Group has been and is at the centre of them. The proscription of the group is therefore to be warmly welcomed. But it is not alone in committing these war crimes; only this morning I heard evidence of some of the things that have been going on in Ukraine, which frankly makes one’s blood run cold.

My simple comment to the Government is: well done on this. I welcome it; it is a step in the right direction. But if we are to live in anything approaching a civilised world in the future, there is much more to be done in addressing the war crimes being committed today in Ukraine. I hope the Government will take the strongest action in that regard.

12:30
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and gallant Lord. I agree with every single word he said. I also agree with what the Minister said in outlining these measures, which we support from these Benches.

Ever since the formation of this private military consultants group, after the illegal invasion of Crimea by Dmitry Utkin then led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, I have been following not only the activities but the tactics of this group. I followed the fact that it had been recruiting from prisons; that it had carried out its activities way beyond those norms which the noble and gallant Lord indicated; and the spread of its activities, which are on the one hand formally not permitted under Russian law but on the other hand are a very useful tool of Putin to extend some form of terror and influence across the Sahel and other parts of Africa. This led me to be the first in Parliament to call for the group’s proscription in April last year; I did so again on 23 May, 9 June, 7 July, 15 November, 21 December and have done so countless times this year to Ministers from the Home Office, the FCDO and the Treasury. So I am very pleased that the Minister has brought forward these measures to see this evil organisation categorised as exactly what it is: a terrorist organisation.

I was alarmed during this process by some of the responses from the Government. I hope the Minister will allow me to make just a couple of comments with regards to the missed opportunity in not proscribing earlier. On 11 July, my noble friend Lady Northover questioned the Defence Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. Citing my calls, my noble friend said that

“surely the case for proscription is now more pressing than ever”.

The Minister replied:

“I would observe that proscription in its own right is perhaps less effective because of the particular environment in which it applies”.—[Official Report, 11/7/23; col. 1644.]


However, that is entirely the point. The Wagner Group has, to some extent, acted with impunity. Therefore, the signal from the UK to act now is very welcome, but it is worth nothing that it was this Government and this Treasury who issued a sanction avoidance licence to the leaders of this terrorist group in order to use the English legal system in palpably malign legal activities under a SLAPPs action. It was this Government’s Treasury that permitted the abuse of our system, therefore His Majesty’s Government—and Her Majesty’s Government before—have been slow to act. There was a Treasury derogation of sanctions that this Parliament had approved; we in this House would have said that that was outrageous had we been informed. I say this to the Minister: I hope that there will be no other actions such as those sanctions derogations for the other groups that the noble and gallant Lord indicated are acting similarly to the Wagner Group.

My second point relates to some of the areas where this group has been acting; the Minister and other Ministers have heard me say this before. I have seen Wagner operatives in Sudan at first hand. I saw them in Khartoum. I have seen the breadth of their work, not just purely within terrorism activities but in misinformation, disinformation and disruption of processes. Regrettably, they have continued to operate. I have raised in Grand Committee the fact that the Wagner Group has been contracted through a number of joint ventures that Russia has operated in—one with regards to the Kush gold project in Sudan with the United Arab Emirates. At this gold project, Wagner has been under its security consultant’s arm. I am sure that they are but I hope the Minister can confirm that all elements of the Wagner network are so proscribed, and that there is no loophole where some form of private sector separate contracting security operatives could operate within this. Wagner, operating under security for the Kush gold project, which provides funds to one of the warring parties to Sudan—the Rapid Support Forces—is in effect, to my knowledge, being operated under a financial vehicle between Russia and the UAE. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate what discussions we are having with our allies to ensure that any commercial relationship with the Wagner network, or those who advise the Wagner network, will also be within scope of the Home Office’s activity.

In supporting this measure, I hope that His Majesty’s Government will be assertive not just in following suit with our friends in the European Union and the United States—I welcome the fact that the Government are in discussions with them—but in using all of the money laundering measures that we have in place and our diplomatic relations with those in the Gulf to indicate that their relationships with this network are now beyond the pale for any UK operatives. I would be more than welcome a briefing from officials in due course should the Minister allow me to do so because it is simply the case, as we all know, that proscribing is welcome but is not the end of the process. It is about how we ensure that it is implemented not just alone but with our allies in order to ensure that this evil network is halted in its activities, which are against humanity.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement and the Home Secretary for giving the Statement yesterday. This is the right thing to do; maybe it is a bit late in the day but it is the right thing to do.

The problem we have in this area is that we are not always consistent. We have done the right thing here but I have here on my phone the front page of the Jewish Chronicle, published today before the Jewish New Year, which is tomorrow night. The headline reads:

“James Cleverly: ‘We will not ban Iran’s Terror Guards’”.


In everything that was read out by the Minister, you could cut and paste in “IRGC”. The IRGC has done everything—and more, in my view—that the Wagner Group has done in terms of the UK. I know that the Home Secretary and my noble friend the Minister will say it is under review and all of that, but it is the consistency that I hope the Government will look at. In the middle of the interview, it says here that Foreign Secretary Cleverly said that

“he would not ‘speculate’ on whether the policy might change in future, pointing out that any decision of this kind would be taken ‘across government’, not by the Foreign Office alone”.

I welcome that statement because it seems that everybody across government is supportive of the proscription of the IRGC; it just seems to be that the Foreign Office is not. I congratulate the Minister today but I do wish we would be consistent.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point, which I am sure the Minister will take on board. I join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in welcoming what my noble friend the Minister said earlier. Many of us—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who was the first to raise this on the Floor of the House—have referred to this matter in the past. This is a truly evil organisation.

What worries me is this: in the light of the brutal events in Russia a couple of weeks ago, with the death of the founder of this ghastly group, what is going to happen in Africa? There is a real danger. I hope that my noble friend, although I realise that he is from the Home Office not the Foreign Office, will be able to give some reassurance that activities in Africa are being monitored as closely as possible and that we are doing all we can to strengthen our relations with legitimate and acceptable African Governments. What is going on at the moment is subversion of the most brutal kind and suppression of nascent democracy of the simplest sort.

I believe that, if we are not careful, bearing in mind the population of Africa by the middle of the century, we will see a danger build up that will distort the very fabric of world civilisation and relations. I think proscription is excellent. It is too late, but it is good, and we are grateful for it, but we must have careful regard for what these people are still doing, even though their dreadful, satanic funder is now dead.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, for his statement and for the apology that he made in his usual courteous way. Any such debate should begin by paying tribute to all the exceptional people who work tirelessly in our security services, the Government and the police to keep us safe.

The order before us today adds the Wagner Group to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. It therefore becomes an offence to engage in various activities, as the Minister outlined, such as promoting or supporting the group, and it allows property to be seized. We fully support the Government in taking this action and welcome the proscription of the Wagner Group. It is a necessary step to meet the threat it poses.

The Minister will know that there have been calls for this proscription for a considerable period of time. The shadow Home Secretary called for it in February and the former chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was a strong advocate of it and, although he has moved on to other areas, I hope he had an influence. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, have also been strong advocates for this designation. In May, we saw France take action against Wagner as a terrorist organisation and the United States has designated it a transnational criminal organisation. Given all this, it would helpful if the Minister could explain why it has taken until now to designate Wagner, whether there are any lessons to be learned about whether the Government could have acted sooner, and why they did not act more quickly.

The Minister will know that, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and others, there are concerns about other groups, such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and our security, so it is important to ask the Government what their policy is towards these state-sponsored actors, which we discussed quite significantly and at great length during the passage of the National Security Bill, which is now an Act. Can the Minister confirm that there are ongoing discussions across government to address any tension that exists, including in the proscription group that the Minister mentioned? We know that there are difficulties between the Home Office and the Foreign Office with respect to the proscription of various groups, so will the Minister say a little bit about how the Government are seeking to resolve that? Can he outline what, if anything, the recently refreshed Contest strategy had to say about the national security threats posed by state and non-state actors?

Can the Minister update us on the 81 individuals and entities recently identified by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee as linked to Wagner? Is it still the case that by July, only one-quarter of those 81 individuals had been sanctioned? Surely more can be done more quickly. Can he lay out for us the territorial application of this order? We know that Wagner has a record of violence, theft and murder, from Ukraine to Syria, from Mali to Mozambique. We know it has been involved in the massacre of civilians in places such as the Central African Republic and that it trades violence for natural resources. Indeed, the Minister helpfully outlined many grotesque details of what the Wagner Group has been involved in. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, highlighted that in his contribution. It would be helpful for us to understand what practical effect the order will have on any of these activities and what practical effect the Government consider this proscription will have in the UK.

The Government have the defending democracy task force. Can the Minister say anything about it, given the threat that Wagner poses? Can he give us any update on the Government’s view on the future of Wagner, given recent events? We strongly support the Government’s actions in Ukraine. Of course, President Zelensky called for the proscription of Wagner, so this is another important step in the demonstration of our solidarity with Ukraine. The Minister mentioned that the Government are trying to encourage other Governments to take similar action. Can he say more about that?

12:45
Much remains to be done, including ensuring that sanctions bite and that dirty Russian money is seized and confiscated in much larger quantities and more quickly than is done now. There can be no doubt that some of that money will have been used to support Wagner and its various activities. Can the Minister assure us that this is being done and that the new laws the Government have introduced are being used against the billions in money, property and assets that have been identified in report after report, here at home and in our overseas dependencies?
I say once again that we fully support the proscription of Wagner. In doing so, we all demonstrate once again our commitment to protecting democratic values, human rights, freedom and democracy. Wagner is a state-sponsored terrorist group, and we are all united in standing up against it. This order represents one more important step in doing so here in the UK, across Europe and, indeed, across the globe.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have contributed to this debate. A lot of ground has been covered, and I am encouraged by the supportive atmosphere in which the discussion has taken place. Members of the Wagner Group are terrorists, plain and simple, and am I confident that the House recognises, as do the British people, that we have a moral responsibility to act. We must and will confront terrorism wherever and however it occurs, and that is why we are taking this action.

I turn to the specific points raised. I start by reassuring, I hope, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that, in addition to our continued training offer to the national police of Ukraine to support Ukraine’s collection of evidence of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, the Home Office is currently providing short-term funding to the war crimes documentation centre, run by a Ukrainian NGO in Warsaw. It ensures that first-hand testimony from Ukrainian refugees in Poland is recorded. The UK is also providing £2.5 million to the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group to support Ukraine’s domestic investigations and prosecution of international crimes. We are also working extremely closely with the ICC in support of its investigations. That is a very comprehensive package of support, and I hope it continues and is enhanced.

A number of noble Lords asked what would happen if the Wagner Group merges with the Russian MoD or Redut. HMG keep the list of proscribed organisations under very careful review. It is not government policy to comment on whether an organisation is under consideration for proscription or whether the Government will consider a specific organisation, but proscription sends a strong message about the UK’s commitment to tackling terrorism globally and calling out terrorist activity wherever it is committed. The turmoil currently facing the Wagner Group presents opportunities for impactful disruption of its activities, and I will come back to that later.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Coaker, and my noble friend Lord Polak asked why it has taken so long. The decision has not been taken in isolation. It builds on a strong response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the Wagner Group’s wider destabilising activities, including extensive sanctions. The Government sanctioned the Wagner Group in February 2022, imposing asset freezes on any funds identified as belonging to Wagner in the UK and travel bans on any of its members. The Foreign Secretary expanded these sanctions in July this year, with 30 new UK sanctions targeting a range of individuals and businesses linked to the actions of the Wagner Group in Africa. The House will be aware of the recent significant events surrounding the Wagner Group, so it was right for the Home Secretary to consider the impact of those key events when taking the proscription decision.

Now is the time to proscribe. The turmoil currently facing the Wagner Group, as I have just said, presents opportunities to disrupt its activities. Proscription sends a strong message of the UK’s commitment to tackling terrorism globally and calling out terrorist activity wherever it is committed. This proscription reiterates the UK’s unwavering support to Ukraine and condemns Russia’s aggression, Wagner’s role in the war in Ukraine and its wider activities, which have consistently been linked to human rights violations, as others have noted.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked what the impact of proscription is. It sends a very clear message and will enable us to disrupt significantly. In addition to the proscription offences, proscription can support other disruptive activity, including the use of immigration powers, encouraging the removal of online material, EU asset freezes and so on. The resources of a proscribed organisation are terrorist property and therefore liable to be seized.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also asked why Prigozhin was able to circumvent sanctions to sue a journalist in this country. I refer the House to the statement made on this matter by my noble friend Lady Penn on 30 March this year. Following a review of how these licences are granted, it is now the Government’s view that in most cases the use of funds frozen due to sanctions for the payment of legal professional fees for defamation cases is not an appropriate use of funds and, in many cases, will be against the public interest. OFSI will in future take a presumption that legal fees relating to defamation and similar cases will be rejected.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked for clarification of the application of proscription offences. The membership offence under Section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000—TACT—has extraterritorial jurisdiction, applying to anyone, wherever they are in the world. The support offence applies to any UK citizen or resident. Terrorist financing offences could also apply outside the UK. Once Wagner is proscribed, we will expect social media companies to identify and remove content that promotes or supports the Wagner Group.

I anticipated the question by my noble friend Lord Polak on the IRGC and I understand it, because there is obviously significant parliamentary, media and public interest in a potential proscription decision. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have discussed IRGC proscription, with the House of Commons unanimously passing a Motion in January to urge the Government to proscribe. As Ministers have previously made clear to the House, the IRGC’s destabilising and hostile activity is unacceptable, and we will use all tools at our disposal to protect the UK and our interests at home and abroad. That includes considering proscription where appropriate.

The UK Government have sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety. While the department keeps the list of proscribed organisations under review, as I have said, our policy is not to comment on the specifics of individual proscription cases, and I am unable to provide further details on this issue. Ministers have previously confirmed to the House that this decision was under active consideration, but they will not provide a running commentary. I say to my noble friend that there is one difference: the IRGC is an Iranian military body answerable to Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Home Secretary’s role, as discussed in relation to Wagner, is to consider all available evidence before arriving at a decision.

A number of noble Lords asked what efforts have been made to persuade international allies to take co-ordinated action against the Wagner Group. His Majesty’s Government continue to work with key international partners to ensure that the Wagner Group is held to account on the world stage and to promote global efforts to curtail Wagner’s destabilising activity. When it comes to proscription decisions, the Home Secretary will consider the position of key international partners and, where appropriate, departments will undertake proactive engagement to explore the benefits of concerted multilateral action to increase the effect of proscription. The Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence have been very supportive of international engagement over this particular decision. I would also like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that this is very comprehensive and there is no way for Wagner or its offshoots to hide.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about Contest. I refer to the Government’s recent refresh of the integrated review, which set out that the UK will use all tools at our disposal to protect the UK against the modern threats we face.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I will be happy if the Minister wishes to write to me on this, but I raised a point regarding entities that have contracted the Wagner Group as private security. This can include joint ventures with commercial organisations and countries we have friendly diplomatic relations with, including in the Gulf. Can the Minister write to me about how we will apply the extraterritorial aspects of this with regard to that component? That is very important to ensure that there is no avoidance of the very valid reasons we are doing this.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a good point. He reminds me that I should have commented on his comments about a very specific country, which of course I am not really able to do in detail. I am sure that diplomatic efforts and overtures are ongoing. I am certainly happy to write to the noble Lord in as much detail as I am able to.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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I was concerned when I read the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report about the 81 individuals who had been identified as linked to Wagner and how only a quarter had been actively sanctioned by the Government. Can the Minister update us on what is happening with that? If not, perhaps he can write to me and put a copy in the Library.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will not expect me to comment on live or ongoing situations. I will find out what it is possible to say and certainly have a conversation with him or place a letter in the Library, depending on what I am able to say.

I offer thanks to all who have participated in this debate. Through this proscription, the UK will again demonstrate that we will not waver in our support for Ukraine and will hold Russia to account for its aggression. We condemn Wagner’s role in Russia’s war. Its wider activities have consistently been linked to human rights violations. Through this action, we are sending a message loud and clear that the United Kingdom will never stay silent in the face of injustice or stop fighting terrorism. Finally, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about Wagner’s future, I sincerely hope that it does not have one. I commend this order to the House.

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland Budget (No. 2) Bill

Second Reading (and remaining stages)
12:56
Moved by
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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My Lords, before I begin my comments on the Bill itself, I once again place on record my gratitude to your Lordships for considering this important Bill on a heavily truncated timetable.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I set out the budget allocations for each Northern Ireland department for 2023-24 in a Written Statement, which I placed before your Lordships’ House on 27 April. All this Bill does is put those allocations on a statutory footing; it does not change the numbers. I do not propose to repeat the contents of that Written Statement, which sets out the respective departmental allocations. Those budget allocations, as with the 2022-23 Northern Ireland budget, were developed as a result of extensive and sustained engagement with the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

The Bill will mean that Northern Ireland departments have a total available resource budget of £14.2 billion and a capital budget of £2.2 billion. This includes the Northern Ireland Executive block grant set at the spending review in 2021 and through the subsequent operation of the Barnett formula and income from regional rates. I emphasise that the sum available for this budget would have been the same provided to an Executive for 2023-24 if an Executive were in place.

Of course, it is the Government’s clear wish that these matters were being dealt with by a fully functioning Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, operating in accordance with the 1998 Belfast agreement, and we are working tirelessly to bring that about. However, in the absence of an Executive, it is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland departments now to make the specific spending decisions to ensure that they live within the budget limits as set out in this Bill. I recognise that this is not easy and will require difficult decisions.

Noble Lords will remember that the UK Government inherited a significant prospective overspend in 2022-23, to the sum of £660 million, and a reserve claim of £297 million was provided to balance last year’s budget. With agreement from my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, flexibility has been granted on the repayment of that reserve claim. This will provide some protection to front-line public services in Northern Ireland from having to take the most severe reductions.

With the leave of the House, I will speak to the clauses—I apologise that these are somewhat technical and legalistic in nature. Clauses 1 and 2 authorise the use of resources by Northern Ireland departments and other specified public bodies, amounting to £27,403,514,000 in the year ending 31 March 2024. In short, these clauses authorise the use of resources to that amount by departments and other specified public bodies for the purposes set out in Part 2 of the schedule estimate.

Clauses 3 and 4 authorise the Northern Ireland Department of Finance to issue out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland the sum of £22,790,893,000 for the year ending 31 March 2024, and the use of that sum to finance the expenditure that departments will need cash to fund. In short, these clauses allow the Department of Finance to allocate actual cash.

Clause 5 authorises the temporary borrowing by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance of £11,395,447,000—approximately half the sum covered by Clause 3. This is a normal safeguard against the possibility of a temporary deficiency arising in the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland, and any such borrowing is to be repaid by 31 March 2024.

Clause 6 authorises the use of income by Northern Ireland departments and other specified public bodies from the sources specified in Part 3 of the schedule estimate, for the purposes specified in Part 2 of the schedule estimate, in the year ending 31 March 2024.

Clause 7 provides for the authorisations and limits in the Bill to have the same effect as if they were contained in a budget Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It also modifies references in other pieces of legislation to the Northern Ireland estimates that would normally form part of the Assembly’s supply process.

Clauses 8 and 9 are self-explanatory, in that they deal with matters such as interpretation and the Short Title.

The schedule to the Bill sets out the estimates for each Northern Ireland department—that is, the amount of money authorised for use, the purposes for which it can be spent and other sources of income from which it can draw. For each department, Part 1 of the schedule estimate sets out the amount of resources authorised for use by each Northern Ireland department and other public bodies, and the sums of money granted to each Northern Ireland department and other bodies, for the year ending 31 March 2024. Part 2 of the schedule estimate sets out the purposes for which resources and money can be used by each Northern Ireland department and other bodies for the year ending 31 March 2024. Finally, Part 3 of the estimate sets out the sources from which income can be used by each Northern Ireland department and other body for the year ending 31 March 2024. I apologise again for the technical and legalistic nature of those clauses.

Before I conclude, I make a short statement on legislative consent. Clearly, we have been unable to secure a legislative consent Motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly, given that it is currently not sitting. Of course, if it were sitting, we would not have needed the Bill at all. However, the continued absence of the Assembly and the Executive means that we have been left with no other option but to take action here in the United Kingdom Parliament.

I hope I have provided your Lordships’ House with sufficient detail on the background to the Bill, the necessity for it and the intended effect of each provision within it. I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

13:03
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of the various clauses. Obviously, this legislation should be debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly and agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and all the Ministers. Unfortunately, we do not have those institutions, but that is where the debate should be taken. Decisions should be made by local MLAs and local Ministers.

We are also debating this in the aftermath of a very successful—if I may say so—economic conference organised in Belfast by the Northern Ireland Office, the Department for Business and Trade and Invest NI. Significant announcements about job creation were made, and I hope that this will be sustained and that the conference, and the interaction with the United States and other countries, will lead to further job investment. That is what this is about: bringing people together, creating jobs and opportunities and galvanising the local talent in Northern Ireland for the betterment of all the people, irrespective of what those industries may be, whether they are in the manufacturing, digital or communications sectors.

I refer to the fact that Northern Ireland does not have political institutions. To the Members from the DUP in your Lordships’ House, I gently say that the people of Northern Ireland should no longer be placed on the altar of DUP political expediency. We need to move forward and show how we can exploit the economic and political opportunities from being able to trade in the two markets—the UK internal market and the EU single market. We need to galvanise the benefits of the Windsor Framework. Yes, there are some burdens, but, by and large, from what I can see and the evidence we have taken in our protocol committee, there has been a delay in publishing the guidance and then in the SIs, which are to be debated next week and which deal with the implementation framework. Therefore, I urge the Government to expedite that as much as possible. The bottom line is that we need to be able to develop those east-west and north-south opportunities from an economic perspective. To do that, we need the restoration of the political institutions to fuel and drive our economy and health service for the betterment of all.

It would perhaps be helpful if, in the Minister’s wind-up to this important piece of legislation, he could advise the House of progress in discussions with the DUP and when restoration is likely to take place. I note that talks are with only one party, but, as I have said before in this House, I believe that all-party talks should have taken place and priority should be placed on talks reconvening. In this respect, I refer to the comments made earlier this week by the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, Steve Baker.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some informed documents and, only this morning, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions published a press statement, which I am sure the Minister is aware of. It asks for the overspend to be written off, for a review of the Barnett formula—others are suggesting that as well—and for a special transformation fund to be established to deal with an infrastructure fund.

Last week, on 4 September, a think tank called Pivotal, based in Belfast, stated that Northern Ireland suffers from a “governance gap”, with the absence of proper decision-making amid a budget crisis leaving public services to deteriorate. Its report states that a lack of strategic planning means that services are stuck in a

“vicious cycle, where problems are growing and our ability to tackle those problems is shrinking”.

Pivotal stated:

“Immediate challenges are not being met and neither is there a clear focus on long-term strategy … issues—like childcare, infrastructure and climate change—remain unaddressed”.


I refer to one of the environmental time bombs, shall we say, that the Minister will be aware of: the Lough Neagh blue algae problem. Lough Neagh is the biggest source of fresh water in perhaps the whole of the UK and Ireland.

Civil servants—the Minister has already referred to this—have been in charge of running government departments for 10 months, but their powers are limited, and we have already dealt with that legislation in this House. They are unable to make any major or significant changes, so are constrained in how they can tailor public services to ongoing challenges. Funding is extremely tight and this is made worse by the inability to get the most out of the cash available, another point raised by the Pivotal report. Examples include growing health waiting lists. Health has seen its funding allocation rise, but we must remember that it is the biggest government department, taking around 46% of the Northern Ireland block grant, yet it faces a shortfall of £732 million, while a lack of progress in the Bengoa-style transformation means that costs continue to rise. Trolley waits of several days in A&E are the norm and the length of time waiting for care packages results in bed blocking in hospitals.

Somebody raised with me an interesting point about the funding of health and social care in Northern Ireland: there is one funding pot, while here in Britain there are two different funding pots. In that respect, there are those who ask for a Barnett change to allow health funding passing to Northern Ireland to reflect this unique funding arrangement for health and social care. An important point to emphasise is that additional money supplied to health is siphoned off other government departments that can ill afford to allow that money to go to health. Education has cancelled programmes such as Engage, holiday hunger schemes and Healthy Happy Minds. Those are all early intervention or prevention programmes valued by vulnerable children in particular, but this is still £382 million over budget, with impacts on the most vulnerable children. Then there is the impact of RAAC, which is probably not yet costed and will need to be factored in in the Northern Ireland situation.

Policing accounts for around 60% of the Department of Justice budget, yet the former chief constable indicated some months ago that balancing the budget may be difficult with the reduction to that department’s budget. Imagine now the added costs of the data breach and a possible fine from the Information Commissioner. The state of our infrastructure system requires investment. Increasing depletion of our roads infrastructure is another common feature.

I simply highlight those issues to suggest that while this budget has already been allocated and we are simply giving legislative effect to it for this financial year, it will be utterly constrained and unable to deal with the pressing needs of Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to provide an update on ongoing discussions with the head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland on revenue raising measures and the preparation for the new programme for government if there is restoration.

It is interesting to note that the Pivotal report made recommendations including the need for departments to work together to consider the cumulative impact of cuts, particularly on the most vulnerable groups. Early intervention and prevention schemes should be prioritised rather than seen as optional, and an appropriate amount of additional funding will be needed to stabilise public services. Any new funding would need to be sustained for three or more years. If such a package coincided with a re-established Executive, it must come alongside firm commitments to reform to ensure that real change takes place.

I accept the budget as presented by the Minister because government departments are already working on it and with it in very constrained circumstances. I do not accept the levels of financial allocations and think that they need to be urgently looked at. Most of all, the UK and Irish Governments need to recommit to an active role in ensuring the restoration and maintenance of the Good Friday agreement institutions, and measures must be put in place to prevent further falls of the Executive—as a former Assembly Member, I like others in this Chamber was a victim of such falls; they have happened over several years of the Executive. Obviously, that will mean reform of some of the mechanisms. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope there is restoration, but I also hope that in having restoration, we have an Assembly holding the Executive to account to ensure that we have significant funding allocations to allow our economy to grow and develop and to avail of the many economic opportunities from the Windsor Framework and other measures currently at play.

13:15
Lord Alderdice Portrait Lord Alderdice (LD)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, I thank the Minister for presenting to us the context for the Bill and for the technical elements of it. I would not dispute with him any of the technical aspects he described: they are fairly straightforwardly part of such a budget Bill. However, in opening the Second Reading debate on the Bill in the other place, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, said something that I do disagree with:

“The Government have brought forward this Bill because the Northern Ireland parties have been unable to form an Executive and subsequently set a budget”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/23; col. 101.]


That is not true. It is not that they were “unable” but that the DUP was unwilling to form an Executive. The DUP’s Paul Givan resigned as First Minister following its objections to the Northern Ireland protocol.

It is entirely justifiable to protest against policies you do not agree with, complain about them, argue about them, debate them, but it is not justifiable to bring down a whole form of government as a protest, to bring down the Assembly and the Executive. It is quite true that Sinn Féin did the same thing: it was unwilling to form an Executive with the DUP previously, and that too was unacceptable. But there is a difference: Sinn Féin had a serious dispute with its partners in government and was protesting against them. As I say, it was not justifiable, but the difference is that the DUP on this occasion does not have a dispute with Sinn Féin—at least, not on this issue—but with the UK Government. The dispute is with the Government fulfilling a policy of Brexit that the DUP itself had urged upon them and supported, even though these consequences were emphasised to them by many of us. Brexit is a policy that most people in the United Kingdom now regard as a failed policy, and the majority of people in Northern Ireland never voted for it or supported it in the first place.

I entirely accept that if the Executive and the Assembly were restored tomorrow it would not resolve the problems that are described in the budget Bill. The abnegation of responsibility has worsened the financial situation, but it would not be resolved if there was devolution immediately. There is a huge deficit, as the Minister said—a black hole of at least £660 million and it may well be more. The consequences for all public services, and indeed the private sector too, in Northern Ireland are enormous. The education system is in chaos and the health service, which is the part of the public sector I know best, is dissolving before our very eyes. It is not just a question of increasing waiting lists and there not being enough money; it is now becoming clear that many of those who, like me, were consultants in the National Health Service in Northern Ireland are leaving. Some of them are taking early retirement; some are going across the border, and some are leaving Northern Ireland altogether. Many young people are choosing not to come in and, if they do, not to take up positions as partners in general practice or as consultants in the NHS. These are not matters that will be resolved overnight or even by the provision of money. There is a fundamental, deep disruption and disturbance in the way Northern Ireland works.

Trying to deal with this is not going to be at all easy. On the question of funding, does the Minister truly believe that the amount of money being made available by His Majesty’s Treasury is enough for Northern Ireland? Is it the case that, if all these other issues we are talking about, such as devolution and better co-ordination, were to be dealt with, there would be enough money? I am not sure that there is enough money to provide for the kinds of services the people of Northern Ireland ought to be able to expect as part of the United Kingdom.

We mentioned the question of the governance problem. Let us not forget that this is not the first time that the DUP has chosen to make Northern Ireland a difficult place to run. After the Anglo-Irish agreement, the slogan used was to make Northern Ireland “ungovernable”. That is different thing, and of course it was the case at that time that there was a Government here in Westminster who were determined to make sure that the rule of law prevailed and that Northern Ireland was properly governed. There was a police service that insisted on ensuring the rule of law. My colleagues in the Alliance Party used the law to ensure that people were made to go back to work in governance.

What is happening now is not about Northern Ireland not being governable. It is about Northern Ireland being no longer workable as an entity, and that is a different thing. It is entirely possible for people to make Northern Ireland unworkable, but what sort of an outcome is there going to be when you bring down the house around you? Does that serve the best interests of the inhabitants? We are in a very serious place whenever Northern Ireland becomes an unworkable place, and that is what is happening now.

So what should we do? First, we must understand that the UK Government are the responsible Government. In the absence of devolution, and even in its presence, the UK Government retain the responsibility for governing Northern Ireland, and therefore they have to take responsibility for the shambles that Northern Ireland is now in. I have been warning for years that this was what was happening and what it was leading to. The longer the Government keep postponing addressing this, the worse the situation gets.

So how should the Government address this? They tried to persuade the DUP to go into government with Sinn Féin; the DUP said no. They are trying now to persuade the Government to take responsibility for the financial consequences and they have pointed out what a difficult problem that is going to be. In fairness to the DUP politicians, when they were in a position of responsibility for both raising and spending the money, for example when Peter Robinson was leading Castlereagh council, of course I disagreed with them on many things, as did my colleagues, but he did act responsibly both in raising and in using the necessary funds, and keeping the books balanced. That is not happening now.

We have to think seriously how we deal with this. There is a question as to whether politicians have to continually have a veto over how things are run. Maybe the Government need to engage more and more directly with those in the business community, because they are the only ones who are going to keep things going. They are not going to argue about the constitution. They are going to say, “Let’s see how we can keep business going and make the money that is necessary for the wheels to go round”.

It is also important that, if strand 1 and strand 2 cannot operate, the British Government co-operate with the Irish Government to try to make things work as well as possible. If they do not, it is the people of Northern Ireland who will suffer ultimately. Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom will become less and less viable as a proposition. Some people in Northern Ireland would welcome that, but it is certainly not something that pro-union and unionist people want to see. The question is whether the Government are prepared to go beyond the rigidity and resistance of some of Northern Ireland’s politicians or whether there will be continued drift and, ultimately, disaster.

13:23
Lord Browne of Belmont Portrait Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of the budget. However, it is a matter of regret that once again we have been tasked with considering a budget for the people of Northern Ireland. As with the previous budget discussed in your Lordships’ House, one would have much preferred the budget to be discussed in its rightful place: the Northern Ireland Assembly. Decisions about spending priorities for Northern Ireland should be made at Stormont, not here or in the other place. But, unfortunately, this is not possible right now.

We know why this is the case. We find ourselves in this all too familiar situation because Northern Ireland remains a place apart. Within the context of the United Kingdom, rules are being imposed exclusively on Northern Ireland over which we have no say. As things stand, there is no accountability or scrutiny over those laws. Unfortunately, these barriers remain an impediment to the restoration of the Assembly.

In terms of the Budget, the cost of living is affecting every person across the United Kingdom, and in Northern Ireland in particular this pain is being felt. Unless there is a fundamental change in how Northern Ireland is funded, the situation will only get worse. With or without a Northern Ireland Executive, and with or without the Northern Ireland protocol or Windsor Framework, the reality of the Barnett formula will continue to lead to budgetary uncertainties and continued year on year pressures in Northern Ireland.

It is abundantly clear that spending in Northern Ireland is already clearly below need. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where spending has now fallen below the Government’s definition of need. The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the Northern Ireland Office requires the Executive to repay a £279 million overspend for 2022-2023—which, interestingly, is a similar amount to the additional sum of £322 million that the Executive should have received in 2022-2023 had it been funded to the UK Government’s level of need. The decision not to base the budget for Northern Ireland on need is causing many of the issues we see today, and pressure will continue to grow on public services.

The overall budget for Northern Ireland this year has fallen by 3.2%, whereas the budget in the rest of the United Kingdom went up by 1.7% in real terms. As I have stated, one of the major reasons for this glaring disparity is the simple fact that the formula used for the rest of the United Kingdom—one based on need—has not been applied to Northern Ireland. Like budgets before it, this budget will leave the Northern Ireland education system, for example, facing a future funding crisis that will impact many children and young people. Spending on education has gone up by 6% in the rest of the United Kingdom, but it has fallen considerably again in Northern Ireland. According to analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom, spending per pupil has fallen consistently in Northern Ireland every year since 2010. In 2022, spending per pupil was estimated to be £6,400 in Northern Ireland, and that again is much less than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. With the recent additional pressures on an already stretched education system, schools in Northern Ireland cannot cope with further underinvestment.

Turning to policing, the Police Service in Northern Ireland was facing an incredibly serious situation long before recent events. The PSNI was already operating with roughly 1,000 officers below the levels stated in the New Decade, New Approach arrangements. With the consequences of the recent serious data breach and the knock-on impact on police officers and their families, and the mitigation measures that have had to be taken to protect officers, an already stretched policing budget will be stretched yet further. With morale low, the police service is in the middle of a very difficult period. The most recent cuts to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice do little to help the current mood among officers and staff. Can the Minister say whether additional funds can be made available to assist in relation to policing?

There are many areas where this budget underwhelms and underdelivers. I am sure that my noble friends who follow me will be able to give the finer details of the budget. The budget situation in Northern Ireland is very complex and uncertain. Indeed, it requires political leadership and co-operation to find a sustainable solution, particularly around the protocol and the Windsor Framework. I think we all want to see Northern Ireland prospering with a growing economy, attracting inward investment. I want to be able to stand in your Lordships’ House and, once again, laud an uninterrupted period of stable devolved governance. I think we all want to see institutions back up and running, and Northern Ireland in a position to set its own budget.

13:30
Lord Hay of Ballyore Portrait Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP)
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My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for explaining the detail of the Bill to the House this afternoon. It is our desire to see an Assembly and a functioning Executive back up and running at Stormont again but we know also that the elephant in the room is the Windsor Framework. It is disappointing that we are in a situation where we are discussing a Bill that should be debated at Stormont with locally elected representatives and Ministers in a functioning Executive.

This debate is about the budget for Northern Ireland. Most debates relating to Northern Ireland are overshadowed by the Northern Ireland protocol and the issues that still need to be addressed in the Windsor Framework. Regrettably, we have been here too many times before; it is true to say that key decisions on health, housing, education and infrastructure have been put on hold in recent months and years because of uncertainty over funding for Northern Ireland. We have had the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the other House tell us that the budget was an appropriate settlement for Northern Ireland departments. I am not surprised that this particular Secretary of State would say that.

The stark reality of this debate is that the budget given to Northern Ireland departments is very much a punishing one. This budget is simply not enough for the effective delivery of vital services across Northern Ireland. We have a growing health service waiting list, a crumbling school estate and infrastructure plans that have been long postponed. It is clear that, on health, infrastructure and, in particular, education, the budget is very bad news. While it is true to say that there is no magic money tree, such punishing cuts as those we are discussing today will be felt by pupils, hospital staff and many of the front-line workers that we all rely on in Northern Ireland.

The budget will hurt economically and will have an impact on the delivery of public services. That has already been alluded to, with the £297 million that is scheduled to be taken from Northern Ireland’s allocation this year and next—a huge sum of money that will impact on many services across Northern Ireland. The Department of Health received more than half the total budget and by far the largest percentage cash increase of all departments. Despite significant savings, a funding gap of £732 million remains. For example, the Department of Education has a funding gap of £382 million. Many of the schools and principals we have spoken to have had to cut many of their schools’ outside activities across Northern Ireland, which is sad in itself. At the Department of Justice, there is a funding gap of £141 million. As has been alluded to, a former chief constable has said that he may not be able to operate policing in the budget that has been handed to him. We are short of 1,000 police officers in Northern Ireland. The list goes on.

When we last addressed a budget in your Lordships’ House, I said then that I hoped that it was the last time we would deliver a budget for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, we are here again. We want to see a solution that brings long-term, firm foundations for the restoration of political institutions in Northern Ireland; that is what my desire would be. I want to see a solution that brings firm political and financial foundations, which are key to the future of a working Executive. Chronic underfunding in Northern Ireland should not continue. To get Stormont up and running and to begin this process, we must see the remaining issues in the Windsor Framework be resolved as soon as possible.

13:35
Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for presenting this budget. I feel rather sympathetic towards him in that he cannot come here for happy debates. One day, I hope that he will be able to do so. Luckily, much of what I was going to say has been said but, in particular, I would like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, looked at this from an objective point of view and gave one or two extremely appropriate conclusions. I think we get too bogged down in the details of what is going on when we must look at how it really might all collapse.

Of course, our biggest problem is that we have a lack of local democratic accountability, with the absence of an Executive currently as a result of the protocol. Therefore, at present, there is only one democratically accountable legislature: here. Of course, we have heard how the civil service is currently unable, because the Government dictates this, to take many of the actions we would like to see. We have this void, or crevasse, between the refusal of the DUP to take part in the Executive and the refusal of the Westminster Government to interfere with theoretically devolved issues—although there have been cases where they have done so, so it is not an impossibility. Abortion may well have been one of them. They can do it if they wish but they do not wish to do it; of course, they have their reasons for that.

However, it is the 1.9 million people in the Province who suffer the long-term hardship—hardly the politicians or the Government. They suffer the damage to civil society without this democratic accountability and they do not have a say in here. We keep hearing that the position of the Government and the EU is that the protocol, after the Windsor Framework, works okay. I am not totally against it but, to a certain extent, I am fed up with hearing that it is okay because big businesses say that it is. Big businesses can afford to have a back office with half a dozen people scribbling out to cover the regulations but Northern Ireland is not a country of big businesses; there are very few of them. There are thousands of micro-businesses and small SMEs. I know of a haulier whose company, A1 Transport in Fermanagh, employs 85 people. Since this started, he has had to produce 70,000 documents to move his lorries back and forth across the border and to this country. He literally has not got the room to store them. This goes on and there will be even more documents as this business gets tighter.

The DUP has continued, rightly or wrongly, to make a stand against the protocol and the Windsor Framework. I do not like to admit it but the big problem is that so many things that this Government have done have made the average person so very angry in Northern Ireland that they have gone to the extremes. I dare say that the support for the DUP comes largely because people are so unsatisfied with what the Government have done. Legacy was one thing the other day. It has really had a big effect on people; there is a lot of discontent.

However, they are the UK Government and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, they are responsible for the United Kingdom, regardless of devolution or anything else. We, the people in the Province, are caught between two immovable rocks: the DUP and the Government. They are the only people who can ultimately solve this challenge. What we need is real leadership, but we are not getting it. It needs to come from outside those two groups—perhaps from the Prime Minister; we have not seen him involved very much. I am hesitant about the Taoiseach after the things he has said in the last few days; that does not help things either. If we have a compromise or fudge, this problem will return; without a shadow of a doubt, we would be in this position again in no time.

We have major decisions on infrastructure to be made, such as on roads, education and, as we have heard, health. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, talked about the disintegration of health, and I will highlight one particular example, without going through all the different parts. South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen was a state-of-the-art new build opened by the late Queen in 2012. Believe it or not, it has hundreds of single rooms—no wards—clean air technology in the theatres and everything else. It has served a population of 83,000 people. The Western Health and Social Care Trust has suspended the acute services at the hospital due to financial difficulties and other reasons, such as the absence of direction from a democratic authority telling it to get on with the job. I am aware that the decision is statistical and due to a problem with recruitment—that may be so.

I was once on a hospital board in Belfast. It is a medical requirement for most important hospital interventions, such as childbirth, accidents, disease and whatever else to have acute services somewhere in case things go wrong—the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, knows that better than anybody. Therefore, those somewhat straightforward interventions now have to go somewhere else, in case the patients need acute help. They have to go to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. That means that 83,000 people—if they need treatment; obviously not all at once—have to travel for 60 minutes or more. Of those, 68,000 will have to travel for 90 minutes or more, and 25,000 will have to travel for two hours. That is travel time, let alone the acquisition of an ambulance, which is a totally different subject.

In this country we have a universal postal service, as well as the equivalent in education, although we do not call it that, and health—the right of our citizens to access a service, whatever it is. We know that it costs more to post a letter to, or to run a school in, the outer isles—that is what the universal service is about. The removal of services from such a large number of people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone should be considered unacceptable behaviour on the part of an unaccountable body. But it does not have to be unaccountable if the Government make provision for interfering where things are quite clearly wrong. The health status of 83,000 people is being compromised in a manner that is incomparable anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

It has long been NHS policy to take account of the geographical situation and to compensate where necessary. According to the NHS Technical Guide to Allocation Formulae and Pace of Change for 2019-20 to 2023-24:

“Travel time to the next nearest hospital is an indicator of whether or not consolidation of services onto fewer sites is feasible”—


it is not feasible. We used to have a measure called the golden hour; what has happened to that? Believe it or not, the Western Health and Social Care Trust has said that things have changed and the golden hour is no longer the mantra. But what has not changed is the need; it is identical. The road accidents, childbirth issues and diseases are the same, so what has changed? All that has changed is its decision to not go by the golden hour.

There was a consultation and one of the documents was signed by 30,000 people—30% of the population. It was treated by the trust as one entity. It did not like it at all and virtually disregarded it. I know about consultations; we did one for an inquiry here into bank closures. Every major bank that came to us said, “We’re consulting; don’t worry”. We never saw one bank that failed to close or was turned around as a result of any consultation, so I think that the definition in the dictionary ought to be slightly different.

Will the Government live up to what they should be responsible for: ensuring equal treatment and opportunities throughout our nation, regardless of whether the devolved system is in place and working? That says a great deal about levelling up in our nation, does it not?

13:45
Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, I owe a great deal to the personal kindness of the Brookeborough family over many years, including the current noble Viscount, his father and his grandfather. I am particularly glad to follow the noble Viscount, who has given such service to Northern Ireland, particularly when the security situation was at its most difficult. I listened with great enjoyment to his vigorous contribution to the debate.

I speak, as always, as an unwavering supporter of Northern Ireland’s role in our country, which is of such importance to us all. Exactly a century ago, a new unionist Prime Minister took office in Westminster. In May 1923, Andrew Bonar Law was forced to resign because of the cancer that was to kill him the following October; Stanley Baldwin was the new unionist premier. Bonar Law, the only British Prime Minister with an Ulster family background, had devoted himself to protecting the interests of the newly created Northern Ireland; Baldwin was no less diligent.

Bonar Law had ensured that Northern Ireland had the resources and support that it needed to defeat the murderous assault that the IRA mounted against it in 1922. Baldwin helped to safeguard Northern Ireland’s territorial integrity when an independent commission considered whether its boundaries should be revised.

Unionism is more important than Conservatism. I rather wish the party had retained the name that it used proudly a century ago, instead of elevating its Conservative element. As the Unionist Party, it would have retained at its very heart an absolutely overriding sense of responsibility for the varied interests of all parts of our union. I think it is unlikely that Mr Boris Johnson would have become leader of an organisation called the Unionist Party, since he cared nothing for the union, as he showed with his infamous betrayal of Northern Ireland four years ago—the immediate cause of the discontents and difficulties that have assailed our fellow country men and women in Northern Ireland ever since.

It is evident that the Government do not believe that the difficulties and discontents can be brought to an end simply through the restoration of the devolved Assembly and Executive—it will represent just the beginnings of their resolution. Acute financial problems, highlighted in the legislation before us today and mentioned so frequently in the debate, will have to be overcome if Northern Ireland is to have the fully functioning Executive to which reference is so often made—fully functioning in the sense that it works efficiently and successfully.

Speaking in the Second Reading debate on this Bill in the Commons, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said:

“Successive former Executives have failed to make the strategic decisions required to put the public finances on a sustainable basis”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/23; col. 101.]


It is of course the duty of our national leaders to ensure that the public finances of Northern Ireland gain the stability that good government within the union requires. The task is formidable indeed.

Earlier this year, we were helped to understand why by the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, a personal friend from long ago when I was closely involved in an organisation called the Friends of the Union. Speaking on 7 February, the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, told us that

“no Sinn Féin Minister of Finance has ever succeeded in presenting a Budget which other parties could support … Finance Ministers have to look for support and consensus on the Budget that they bring forward. Every other coalition Finance Minister was able to achieve that, but no Sinn Féin Minister was able to”.—[Official Report, 7/2/23; col. 1183.]

Has Sinn Féin turned over a new leaf since then? Has it undertaken to observe the financial disciplines that are essential for good government? I sometimes think that in this House, we give insufficient attention to the stresses and strains that the involvement of Sinn Féin creates in the administration of Northern Ireland. It is not a conventional political party at all: it is part of a movement dedicated to achieving, by one means or another, the dismemberment of our union, our country. The successful administration of Northern Ireland’s public affairs is unlikely to hold much appeal to Sinn Féin: it is dedicated to the destruction of Northern Ireland.

Every unionist will always insist that Northern Ireland must enjoy all the benefits of being part of our union. I listened the other day to our Health Minister, my noble friend Lord Markham, who touched on the importance of change within the NHS. He said:

“Without a doubt, we have to make productivity improvements and look to technology, AI and all the things we can do to improve output”.—[Official Report, 12/9/23; col. 780.]


I thought to myself that Northern Ireland must have these things, too—in fact, there is no part of our country where they are needed more than in Northern Ireland, where the health service has suffered so seriously in recent years, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in his boisterous contribution, and from others. It is tragic to think that health and the other great public services immediately cease to have democratic oversight when devolution falters. Elsewhere in the union, these services form part of local government. In Northern Ireland alone, they have been merged with devolved institutions.

It is axiomatic among unionists that Northern Ireland should enjoy good relations with the Republic of Ireland, in the interests of both of them. But it is crucial, if good relations are to be maintained, that the union is given proper respect at all times by Irish politicians. That is surely incompatible with the suggestion made recently that the Irish Government should be given an enhanced role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, including consultation over its budget. Perhaps this extraordinary suggestion reflects Mr Varadkar’s belief that Ireland is on the path to unification. That republican delusion is nothing new, but its repetition at a time when great efforts are being made to restore the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland jeopardises the good relations which unionists want.

13:52
Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP)
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My Lords, things do not seem to have changed or moved since we debated my amendment to the Finance Bill in May. For reasons that I hope to explain, they have since deteriorated. In order to understand the implications of the Bill before us today, we need to have regard to two key co-ordinates. The first is the UK Government’s definition of need. This is provided by the Holtham formula—an adjustment to the Barnett formula—which the UK Government embraced between 2012 and 2016. It is important to remember that the purpose of adjusting the Barnett formula through the Holtham formula was not to make sure that each part of the United Kingdom received identical funding per head of the population, which is arbitrary and meaningless. Rather, it was to ensure that each part of the United Kingdom receives the funding per head that it needs, mindful of the challenges it faces in order that we all enjoy comparable public services.

This provision of comparable public services underpins the reality of our common community. We recognise that, to be part of a common community underpinned by a common citizenship, we must have the same effective rights, including in relation to public services. In this context, it is no more appropriate to suggest that all parts of the United Kingdom receive identical levels of funding, regardless of need, than it would be to say that some parts of the United Kingdom are worthy of better public services than others. The common body politic of our union cannot make these distinctions. The political community that we enjoy is predicated on a common citizenship wherein the equal value of all citizens is testified to by the provision of comparable public services.

In the words of the Holtham Commission, its purpose was to

“set out our proposal for aligning relative funding with relative needs in a way which we believe is workable, simple to operate and fair to all parts of the UK”.

Crucially, although it was commissioned by the Welsh Government, it was to generate not a Wales needs-based formula but a UK needs-based formula. We can all be grateful to the Welsh Government for performing an important task for every part of the United Kingdom.

The result has been a sophisticated formula that demonstrates that spending per head in Wales must be £115 for every £100 spent in England for there to be comparable service provision. Spending per head in Scotland must be £105 for every £100 spent in England for there to be comparable service provision. For there to be comparable service provision in Northern Ireland, spending per head must be £121 for every £100 spent in England. The UK Government formally adopted this definition of need in 2012. In that year, it indicated a willingness to intervene to align spending in Wales to the definition of the Holtham formula because the Barnett squeeze was such that it would inevitably happen.

In 2016, this commitment was brought into more direct effect through the agreement between the Welsh Government and the United Kingdom Government on the former’s fiscal framework. This consisted of two elements. First, a 5% budget uplift was applied for the purpose of slowing down the Barnett squeeze and thus the point in time when spending per head would reach need. Secondly, a Holtham floor was set at the level of need to ensure that, notwithstanding what the Barnett squeeze might otherwise have done, spend could not fall below need as defined by the Holtham formula. This has been in place ever since. Because spend in Wales has not fallen below need, it has benefited from millions of additional pounds of taxpayers’ money to slow down the Barnett squeeze. Consequently, the level of spend in Wales remains slightly above need.

Although the Holtham formula has not changed, it became necessary to recalculate the Northern Ireland definition of need using that formula because the Holtham calculations were made before the devolution of justice. Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council used the Holtham formula to update the Northern Ireland figure so that it was fully cognisant of the breadth of current devolution. The outcome of this project was the publication on 2 May of a seminal Fiscal Council document demonstrating that the current Northern Ireland definition of need is £124. This is our first co-ordinate.

The second co-ordinate is the UK Government’s definition of spend for the current spending review period, set out in the Treasury’s block grant transparency document. When aspects of this document are updated, as in July this year, the basic definition of relative need between Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is calculated only by the block grant transparency document at the start of each spending review period.

This is because the task of coming up with fair, comparable figures, mindful of administrative and other difficulties within the UK, is resource-intensive. As such, the block grant transparency measure of spend provides the only robust comparable measure of spend across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for the three-year spending review period. It is on this basis that decisions are made for the period about what needs to happen in Wales to ensure that its funding does not fall below the definition of need provided by the Holtham formula.

The Treasury defines relative spend between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as relative funding per head averaged over the SR21 period 2022-23 to 2024-25. This is found in table 4C of Block Grant Transparency: December 2021. In dealing with the current spending review period of 2022 to 2025 in Wales, decisions protecting the Holtham floor definition of need and the 5% uplift are made for the spending review period on the basis of this block grant transparency average measure of relative spend for the three years—and not any other definition.

This does not mean that other figures will not emerge but, crucially, to be treated consistently and fairly, decisions about requisite interventions in Northern Ireland with respect to protecting spending to the Holtham definition of need—and an uplift in the event that our spend was still slightly above need—must be based on the definition of spend in Block Grant Transparency: December 2021. In Wales, the definition of spend in the document for the spending review period is £120, while in Northern Ireland it is £121. That means that in Wales, spending for the spending review period has been deemed to be £5 above need, so it has not been necessary to apply a spending floor at the Wales level of need of £115, but Wales benefits throughout from the provision of the 5% uplift, which slows down the Barnett squeeze and involves spending taxpayers’ money to keep spending in Wales above need.

By contrast, Northern Ireland’s situation has deteriorated such that we have missed out on uplift because spending has not fallen to need but to £3 below need. This is a hugely disruptive change, visited on us very suddenly since 1 April 2022. It means that, in this spending review period, in 2022-23 we were underfunded by £322 million. In this year, 2023-24, we are underfunded by £341 million and in 2024-25, we will be underfunded by £458 million. This injustice is greatly compounded by our being required to pay back £297 million across this and the next financial year.

When we confront the scale of the underfunding, the fact that Northern Ireland is currently in the midst of an acute funding crisis—and there is a need for funding cuts in the round—is no surprise at all. It is affecting all aspects of life, from SEN funding to childcare provision, which a recent report by the campaign group Melted Parents NI shows is more expensive in Northern Ireland than any other part of the United Kingdom.

I thank the Minister for bringing this budget to your Lordships’ House. I wish it would go to Stormont. Maybe one day things will dictate that it goes that way. Until then, this is the only way and the Government have a responsibility. When things crank up, the Government have to do some heavy lifting. They are refusing to do it at this time but I thank the Minister for this report today.

14:04
Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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My Lords, I join others in thanking the Minister for bringing this forward. If I am critical of the Government, I hasten to add that it is nothing personal. To paraphrase “The Godfather”, “It was only business—tell Lord Caine that I like him”. Where I make criticisms of the Government, it is not to detract from the Minister’s contribution today. The level of disappointment here—irrespective of whether we have a devolved settlement—is to do with the inadequacy of funding provided for public sector services in Northern Ireland by this budget. As the previous speaker, my noble friend Lord Morrow, highlighted, this reinforces the position in 2022.

As anyone who has been involved with any government department will know, that department often has a wish list of things that it would like to do—desires, if you like. But this is not about desires for public service expenditure; this is about public service expenditure needs. Since the beginning of 2022, for possibly the first time—certainly since 2015, when the Holtham formula was largely adopted by the Government—we see a region of the United Kingdom funded below its objective needs. As highlighted by my noble friend Lord Morrow, the figures were produced by the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council, in addition to other bodies. It should be noted that the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council is a government body, not a think tank or a lobby group. It identified the shortfall last year as £322 million; this year it is £431 million. That is £0.75 billion over two years, exacerbated by the money that has had to be paid back over the past two years because of last year’s overspend, which would not have arisen in the first place had there been proper levels of funding.

That needs to be seriously addressed. In the long run there is a need to look at the Barnett formula in great detail. The Barnett consequential squeeze has meant that since 2019, on average, UK expenditure has gone up by about 6% per annum; in Northern Ireland it is 3.6%, with the result of where we are today. That indicates why there is a longer-term need to look at Barnett. As indicated, the Holtham formula can produce a solution, at least in the short term. It probably took about seven years of discussions between the Welsh Government and the UK Government to get adoption—I expect the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, will be more familiar with this—but when it was adopted it was meant to be a UK-wide formula so that it could be applied to Northern Ireland to provide a level of support.

I am the first to acknowledge that there is a need for reform in public sector provision, as there is throughout the United Kingdom. This is good because we should always be looking at how we can get the best value from our public services for the expenditure put in place. However, I add at least three caveats. First, any form of public sector reform often requires initial investment to produce savings. It is not something that will produce an instantaneous result. Secondly, in my experience, whatever the value of public sector reform, in and of itself it is not enough to fill the gap: we need additional expenditure. Specifically in Northern Ireland, do we believe that, even in a restored situation, Sinn Féin in particular, given its track record on public sector reform, will embrace it or even just tolerate it? In the past it has moved to block and veto any reform and we would be deluding ourselves if we think that will be an easy route.

As for the current budgets, the department with which I am most familiar is the Department of Education, where the permanent secretary has identified a shortfall of over £300 million on current activities. That needs to be contextualised because it is simply doing what it is already committed to. It does not take into account the fact that, for the last two or three years, we have not had an agreement between the teaching unions and the management side, so teachers’ pay in Northern Ireland is considerably less than in the rest of the United Kingdom. If there was an agreement tomorrow, there simply would not be the money to pay that level of uplift.

The fact is that we are unable to progress childcare. Again, the level of provision and entitlement for parents is the least of anywhere in the United Kingdom. More than 80% of the education budget goes directly in salaries to front-line workers. Much of the remainder falls under a situation in which parents have a statutory right to access various things as legal requirements. The headroom within the Department of Education to meet that shortfall is extremely limited.

That means that, like some of the cuts already made, any of the pressures in the Department of Education will have to be met by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. For example, the report A Fair Start identified that the interventions required to tackle educational underachievement, particularly among the economically disadvantaged, will not be able to progress in the way that they are meant to. It means that SEN pupils, particularly those identified, will not have the resources and support that they need. It means that, because some of the programmes designed to try to boost those who have issues around educational underachievement and the socially disadvantaged are not statutory, they are the first that any department will cut. That is the crisis we face in education.

I conclude by mentioning another subject that should have been a good news story from a financial point of view but has been handled in a deeply dismaying way. Earlier this week, we saw the announcement of a package of support, spanning a number of years, through the PEACE PLUS programme. This is designed to support Northern Ireland and the border counties in the Republic of Ireland. The source of more than 85% of its funding came from the British Government and I commend them for it. However, the presentation of the announcement by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, made it look largely like this was an intervention by the Irish Government. I have to say that both his recent comments on a united Ireland and the overreach from the Irish Government on PEACE PLUS are deeply unhelpful. When the Minister is winding up, I would be grateful if he could address the situation with PEACE PLUS and the presentation of its funding sources.

14:12
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I am grateful, as we are all, for the Minister’s presentation of this budget. We all recognise the need for it and agree to process it rapidly, because services in Northern Ireland depend on it. It is fair to say, however, that every speaker has identified that, in reality, it represents a shortfall.

As mentioned, there was a debate in the other House about how this almost looks like a punishment. The Secretary of State has denied that. We know, partly because of the financial mismanagement of government, that there is no money across the piece but, in this situation, why is Northern Ireland being squeezed harder than anywhere else, given the circumstances? Could the Minister explain why this is quite so tight, if it is not part of the pressure to get the Assembly back up and running?

The implications of this are, for example, that the other devolved bodies, Scotland and Wales, can negotiate pay agreements that do not appear possible in Northern Ireland, because the money is not there to fund them. This means that public sector workers in Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged relative to those in other parts of the United Kingdom if this settlement is not supplemented. Basic cash affordability needs to be addressed.

Looking at the summary of all the departments, with the exception of health and infrastructure, every single one is facing a cash cut. The real-terms cut across the piece averages 16%. The issue there is the expectation of problems for health and education. I am told that it means that no new school building programme will be followed. Although it is a very small department and the amount of money is small, the Authority for Utility Regulation is being cut by 40%, yet utility regulation is quite important. Could the Minister suggest why that is and what the implications are?

The contributions we have received have been interesting. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, went through all these points in detail and made a very clear case for why the pressures in Northern Ireland need to be addressed and, of course, why we need an Assembly up and running.

It slightly took my breath away when the noble Lord, Lord Browne, opened his speech by saying that he wished this budget was being presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly. He implied that it was almost anybody’s fault that that was not happening other than the DUP’s. I am hopeful because every single DUP contribution has said that the DUP wants this to happen. That is, perhaps, an early indication that we are getting to the point where it might happen and this will never happen again. I can look cheerfully across and say that if that is the implication, I welcome it and look forward to hearing it because this cannot continue.

On a more serious point, the argument for why an agreement cannot happen is to do with the protocol and the Windsor Framework. I think the way it is put is that a foreign power makes rules binding on Northern Ireland, on which Northern Ireland has no say. We used to have a say, because we used to be part of that foreign power and we were able to make decisions and representations through elected representatives. The DUP campaigned to end that and these are the consequences.

It is worth noting that this week Apple has introduced its new iPhone. It will have a new connection—no longer a lightning connector but a USB-C connector, in conformity with the rules adopted by the European Union. Apple is an American company. Apple and the American Government have absolutely no say in the formulation of those rules, but Apple—the biggest company in the world—has had to conform to them. That is the reality when you trade; you negotiate terms but you also have to accept terms.

The problems that I acknowledge still exist within the Windsor Framework need to be addressed; we had a debate about that earlier this week. A very good committee report suggested how they might be addressed, but I suggest that they do not justify the continued dysfunction of the Assembly. There are issues that need to be addressed but I contend that they should be addressed from inside, not outside, if they are to be resolved.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, basically said that the people of Northern Ireland are caught between the DUP and the Government. That is, I suppose, a practical fact. The challenge to the Minister—not the Minister here; to be fair, my challenge goes to other Ministers—concerns the initiatives that the Government are prepared to take to try to break the deadlock. They share some degree of blame for the impasse. It is not all the DUP’s fault; the Government have some responsibility for that and some responsibility for trying to resolve it. I think that was the point that the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, wanted to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, gave us a very detailed exposé of the Holtham formula. Speaking from a Scottish perspective, the problem with that formula is that it represents—I know what he will say—a significant cut in the per capita allocation that Scotland currently enjoys. It is something that the SNP is unwilling to acknowledge but it is a fact. On the other hand, it probably genuinely addresses the need, as the noble Lord, Lord Weir, pointed out, not the desires. Northern Ireland needs more than it is being given just to stand still, never mind to catch up with the serious situation it faces. So I think we have to accept that we will pass this budget today—

Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble Lord has made in relation to the Scottish situation, but one advantage of the Holtham formula is that it is meant to provide a floor rather than a ceiling. From that point of view, it would not obviate a level of cutting funding for Scotland but ensure that areas such as Wales and Northern Ireland do not fall below a minimum.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I accept that. It is a perfectly fair point. For a long time, Wales has argued that the Barnett formula has not worked well for it, and it has not worked for Northern Ireland. The issue has not been the Barnett formula but historic spending. I speak not as a nationalist but in terms of Scottish representation. Any suggestion that the formula should cut back in Scotland would be politically unacceptable and pretty disruptive. I accept that what it offers is a framework for Wales and Northern Ireland to get fairer allocation than has been the case. Again, that is a responsibility for the UK Government to address. The devolved Administrations can ask for it, but it is up to the UK Government to determine whether they will do anything about it. But it has real validity.

As I said, we will pass this budget, and it will provide the immediate funds that are necessary, but it will leave Northern Ireland in a powerless situation where all the issues affecting the United Kingdom are significantly worse in Northern Ireland across the whole spectrum—every aspect of the public service, whether waiting lists or the general problem across infrastructure. I therefore ask the Minister: at what point, assuming there is a point, will the Government recognise that this needs to be addressed? As I said at the beginning, if it is not a punishment, is there nevertheless a reward at some point that can be secured? There needs to be.

My final point is the obvious plea for the Assembly and the Executive to be re-established, because it is just not acceptable that the people of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives are not meeting to debate these issues, make these recommendations, draw up their own budgets and, yes, make collective representation to the UK Government if they feel the overall funding level is not adequate. We are all weary of saying to the DUP to get back to the table and get back in, but we must say to them that this cannot go on and, if it does for very much longer, then, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie says, the demand for reform will come louder and louder. I suggest that such reform would not be entirely comfortable to members of the DUP. I am trying to make a rational appeal, as it is in the DUP’s real interest. They have a better chance of having their concerns—which I accept are legitimate from their perspective in many cases—addressed if they address the democratic deficit than by sitting and making the sort of speeches that they have made: “We all wish there was an Assembly, but there is not, and it is somebody else’s fault”. That is not good enough. The DUP have it in their hands to get it right. If they do, then they can start to negotiate with other parties and the Government to say, “This budget is not enough; Northern Ireland deserves better”, and, collectively, they will get it. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that, at some point or other, if that happens, there is space to negotiate.

14:23
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been said by nearly everybody who has taken part in this debate that we should not be having it and that this should be decided by the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland at Stormont. But we are where we are, so we clearly need to support the Government so that Northern Ireland can have some money. Without the Bill, its public services will not function. The debate today—this is a money Bill, so ultimately this is a matter for the Commons—is about whether in fact there is sufficient money and whether things would be different if there were a restored Executive.

On the first part, it is not as simple as saying that Northern Ireland is the same as everywhere else in the UK. It obviously and clearly is not. I was looking at English counties and which ones might be comparable to Northern Ireland in geography and population. One that I looked at was Hampshire, which has a population of just under 2 million people—the same as Northern Ireland. Hampshire County Council has doubtless grumbled and complained over the last number of years about the level of rate support grant that it gets from the Government, in the same way that Northern Ireland would complain that there simply has not been sufficient public funding for public services in the whole of the United Kingdom. There is a difference, however, between Hampshire and Northern Ireland. A lot of my time in the two years that was the Finance Minister for Northern Ireland was spent persuading my Treasury colleagues in particular that there was a difference, and that they had to make sure that the part of our country that had come out of 30 years of conflict was treated differently financially from anywhere else. Although it is a quarter of a century since the Good Friday agreement, the impact of those 30 years remains.

The other issue is that the basis for getting income in Northern Ireland is very different from Hampshire, in that Hampshire is much more prosperous than Northern Ireland. The level of resourcing—if you look at the different sorts of local taxation—does not actually bring in an awful lot of money in Northern Ireland. When we were discussing the strand 1 negotiations before the Good Friday agreement, I remember that we came to a day devoted to finance for Northern Ireland. We spent one hour on it, on the basis that there simply was not sufficient money for a special income tax, for example, to come from the people and the businesses of Northern Ireland. However, I am sure that that does not mean that we cannot look—or that the Assembly could not look in later years—at issues like water rates, which are paid everywhere else in the United Kingdom but not in Northern Ireland, although it will be argued that, in Northern Ireland, the rates form part of that. There are possibilities, but that is not the answer.

What is certain is that there is the combination of difficult financial circumstances in Northern Ireland and the fact that there is no Government. There is a county council in Hampshire which is elected and has to take the decisions; nothing is elected in Northern Ireland to take those sorts of decisions. They are not even really taken by direct rule Ministers. Although we are producing a budget here, we are not saying how to spend that budget. So, what do the Government do? We agreed with the Government on allowing civil servants to take decisions on budgets, but how far can they go? They cannot take decisions on policy, they cannot take decisions on programmes and they cannot take decisions on spending commitments. In other words, all they can do is oversee the ticking over of the budgets in departments.

That combination, where no meaningful decisions can be made on those issues, means that nearly every department in Northern Ireland is paralysed in terms of its spending. I will not go through it, because Members of your Lordships’ House have gone through, in detail, the effect on the health service, the education services, the police—particularly the result of the leak—and the criminal justice system and so on. They are all in serious trouble, because of not just a lack of funding but a lack of decision-making.

That combination is lethal, so how do we overcome it? There is one obvious way, but there are others too. The Treasury itself should be made to realise that Northern Ireland is different. The Treasury is not known for backing a long-term strategy and long-term issues. It is a very short-termist department—it always has been and I suspect always will be. It is therefore up to the Prime Minister and the other members of the Cabinet to persuade the Treasury that things are different in Northern Ireland.

That also applies to the point made by several speakers, including very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, with regard to the Barnett formula. Yes, that formula was introduced by a Member of this House many years ago, but he disowned it eventually and indicated that an element of need had to be taken into account when exercising formulae for spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As has rightly been said, the Welsh Government looked very carefully at the issue with the Holtham commission and came up with a formula which means that the amount of money now going to Wales is based on proper need. I cannot see for one second why the Government cannot look at that formula in relation to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is obviously in great need, and those people who are most deprived in Northern Ireland are suffering most because of the absence of an Assembly and the absence of adequate funding.

The other perhaps small issue that could be looked at is that, apparently, every month in Northern Ireland the government departments issue communiqués about what they have done. It might be useful if they issued communiqués about what they cannot do: “We can’t do this, because there is no Assembly” or “We can’t do that, because there are no Ministers”. That might indicate how significant this is.

My final point is that this can be resolved only when you have a democratic system running government in Northern Ireland. We need the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive and the restoration of strand two on north-south issues—all those must be resolved ultimately and soon—for the issue of finance to be resolved. It is a huge issue. I am hoping that, in the next few months, the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and tell us what is exactly is happening with those negotiations and that soon there will be a restored Assembly and Executive for all of the people of Northern Ireland.

14:32
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful, as ever, to all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate on the budget. In particular, I acknowledge the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Weir of Ballyholme. To continue his “The Godfather” analogy, I set out the budget provisions today and made the DUP an offer that it certainly has refused.

At the outset, picking up on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen—for whom, as I have said many times, I have a huge respect—and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and others who have spoken about the restoration of the Stormont institutions, there is nothing I would like more than to stand at this Dispatch Box and announce the restoration of the institutions and a fully functioning Executive and Assembly. I am a firm supporter of the 1998 agreement, as are His Majesty’s Government. As I said at the outset, we are working tirelessly to try to bring about that situation. I am not in a position, as noble Lords will understand, to give a commentary on progress. My right honourable friend said earlier in the week that some significant progress has been made. Noble Lords behind me have pointed out the issues around the Windsor Framework that still need to be resolved before they feel confident to go back into an Executive. Just to be clear, His Majesty’s Government never felt that they were justified in pulling out of the institutions in the first place—and before any of them stand up, my comments would apply equally to the actions of Sinn Féin between 2017 and 2020. We believe the right place for the Northern Ireland parties is within the Executive running local services for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.

My right honourable friend has made some progress. In response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, I can assure her that we are not talking to just one political party in Northern Ireland. Shortly before the Summer Recess, I spent a day with all five major parties in Northern Ireland, and my right honourable friend is in discussions with all of them constantly and will continue to be so. However, she will understand that one party is having difficulty going back into the institutions, and therefore it is right that we seek to look at and address its concerns.

I will not go into the details on the Windsor Framework, as many noble Lords here were present for the very long debate held in Grand Committee on Monday, where my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon set out extensively and clearly the Government’s position. To reiterate briefly, we believe that the Windsor Framework provides the basis for the restoration of the institutions, but we will continue to work through these issues with the hope of an early resolution.

In the absence of that, a number of noble Lords raised the role of the United Kingdom Government, including the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. As the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, pointed out, we have given powers to civil servants to take certain decisions in the public interest in Northern Ireland essentially to keep public services moving. As I said when I introduced the legislation—the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act and the Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Act—this is not intended for the long term. These are not sustainable measures for the government of Northern Ireland. The priority has to be to get the institutions back. In the event that that is not possible, we will obviously have to look at what further interventions might need to take place from the United Kingdom Government consistent with our position as the sovereign Government within Northern Ireland. So we do not rule that out, but our priority has to be to work to get the institutions up and running.

A number of noble Lords referred to the allocation of funding in the budget. I am the first to acknowledge to your Lordships that this is a difficult situation and a difficult budget, as noble Lords have pointed out. Unfortunately, it is a reflection of the reality in which we find ourselves, or which the Government found themselves in in October last year when Northern Ireland Ministers vacated their departments under the rules. They left office, and we had to start working with the Northern Ireland Civil Service on the figures and initially uncovered a £660 million black hole in the finances. So we have been working very closely and in tandem with the Northern Ireland Civil Service in order to address that situation. I am the first to admit that it is challenging, and I pay tribute to the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the heads of the Northern Ireland departments for the work that they have done with my officials in the Northern Ireland Office to try to establish a basis for putting Northern Ireland’s finances on a sustainable and longer-term footing.

A number of noble Lords referred to individual departments and programmes within individual departments. I am happy to write to noble Lords on that. I do not intend to go into the details of each programme, not least because of time but also because, while the Government have set out the allocations within the budget, within each department it is then for the Permanent Secretaries and officials, absent of political direction from Ministers, to determine the individual allocations internally. The Government have, under the current legislation, no powers to direct or control civil servants within departments on the spending of money and the allocations for individual programmes. However, I will just pick up briefly on the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who made a very good and powerful pitch for his local hospital in Fermanagh. I am aware of the difficulties, of course, but it is for the Department of Health to allocate funding from its budget of £7.3 billion. We have no powers to direct it, but I acknowledge that he makes a very powerful case.

What I would challenge is the assertion made by a number of noble Lords on the DUP and Opposition Benches that Northern Ireland has suffered from chronic underfunding over a number of years. I remind the House that public spending per capita in Northern Ireland is some 20% higher than the UK average. The settlement in the 2021 spending review was the most generous since the restoration of devolution in 1998-99.

There have been numerous occasions, to which I can testify, when—to follow the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen—the Treasury has recognised the exceptional circumstances of Northern Ireland. In the 2014 Stormont House agreement, with which I was involved, there was an additional £2 billion of extra spending power for the Northern Ireland Executive. There was an extra half a billion in the fresh start agreement in 2015, an extra £1 billion in the confidence and supply agreement, and more money—I think over £2 billion—in New Decade, New Approach. The Government have recognised the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and I reject the assertion that it has somehow been starved of cash since 2010.

However, I listened with interest, as always, to the noble Lords on the DUP Benches—echoed, to some extent, by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy—about the reform of the Barnett funding formula. Following our last budget debate some months ago, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and his colleague the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, came to see me. We are, as a Government, open to sensible suggestions and discussions around funding. However, I would point out, as noble Lords have, that in respect of the funding reforms in Wales following the Holtham commission, that was a conversation between the United Kingdom Government and the Welsh Government—not a conversation between the UK Government and just one party in Northern Ireland.

These matters are, as has been acknowledged, principally for His Majesty’s Treasury. They would normally take place from Government to devolved Administration. As other noble Lords have pointed out, the negotiations over the Holtham commission took some seven years to resolve. Even if there were a case for reform, and that reform were agreed, it would not necessarily be an overnight fix for the problems or issues we are dealing with in the budget today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, referred to revenue raising. I point out that it was his noble friend Lord Hain who was the first, I think, to put water charges on the table back in 2006-7, before the restoration of the Executive in 2007 following the St Andrews agreement. The position is that the Government have taken the power and directed the Northern Ireland departments to look at revenue raising or potential revenue raising measures. Those departments reported to the Government some weeks ago. We are now looking, in the absence of an Executive, at directing the departments to consult on some of the options they have presented to us. However, we are not in a position to implement any of those recommendations; we do not have the powers. The purpose of the exercise is to present a range of options for an incoming Executive to examine once devolution has been restored. It is clear that, if the Northern Ireland budget is to be put on a sustainable footing, there will have to be a combination—obviously—of difficult spending decisions and some revenue raising.

I am conscious of time. I listened, as always, with enormous interest and respect to my mentor on many of these matters, my noble friend Lord Lexden, who reminded me of the role of two heroes of mine: Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin in the 1920s in respect of Northern Ireland. I am tempted to add a third great unionist Prime Minister, Sir James Craig, who was instrumental in the 1920s and 1930s in establishing the funding settlement for Northern Ireland, which has lasted many decades. My noble friend said he regrets the fact that the word “unionist” is no longer used in my party’s name as much as it was. I can assure him that I have always made it clear that I regard the term “unionist” as being as important, if not more so, in our party’s name as “Conservative”—but that is probably a personal view.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Weir of Ballyholme, raised the role of the Irish Government. I assure both of them that, of course, matters regarding the budget are entirely strand 1 issues and internal Northern Ireland and United Kingdom matters. Of course we discuss many issues with the Irish Government, but, in the absence of an Executive looking at the budget, it remains that decisions over the budget are entirely for the United Kingdom Government. There is no formal role for the Irish in that, and rightly so.

My noble friend also referred to the words of the Taoiseach earlier this week in respect of a united Ireland. I echo my right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s comments that they were not necessarily the most helpful in the current context. Noble Lords will know that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is clearly set out in the Belfast agreement, based on the principle of consent. There is no indication whatever that there is anything but a substantial majority for the union and Northern Ireland’s continuing position within it, and I warmly welcome that. This Government’s view is clear: there is no inevitability about a united Ireland, nor is it desirable. The best future for Northern Ireland is within a strong and stable United Kingdom.

I have tried to answer as many points as possible, and I have probably been speaking for slightly longer than I anticipated. If there are any other issues, I am of course happy to take them up outside the Chamber in meetings and correspondence with noble Lords.

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

Courts (Prescribed Recordings) Order 2023

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
14:46
Moved by
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 17 July be approved.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, this draft instrument relates to both transparency and security in our court system. Generally, and for good reason, there is a statutory prohibition on photography and audio recording within court buildings. Photography is prohibited under the Criminal Justice Act 1925, and audio recording is prohibited under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. More recently, Section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 permitted certain exceptions—your Lordships will probably have seen sentencing remarks being broadcast recently in the Crown Court and live-streaming by the Court of Appeal, and there are some other examples. This statutory instrument deals with security and transparency, and it is made under those powers, building on the existing exceptions.

There are four aspects to the statutory instrument. The first is CCTV in court buildings, which is in Articles 5, 6 and 10 of the instrument. CCTV clearly plays a most important role in the safety and security of those who work in, or visit, our courts. The instrument ensures that the continued use of CCTV cameras in court precincts—but not courtrooms—is fully authorised and lawful. Indeed, there is currently CCTV in many court precincts. That is thought to be perfectly lawful, but this statutory instrument puts the issue beyond doubt, in case any issue ever arises in that connection.

The second aspect, in Articles 7 to 9 of the statutory instrument, relates to the use of body-worn video by operational staff. This is already common practice outside court buildings, but there is a legal issue as to whether body-worn video cameras can be lawfully worn within court precincts. Of course, such cameras are worn regularly by those who have to deal with potentially dangerous and difficult situations, such as police officers and prisoner escort staff, particularly staff from the prisoner escort and custody services transporting prisoners to and from the court.

There was a pilot scheme in 2017-18 to pilot the use of body-worn video within court precincts. There was a doubt at that time over the legality of the practice, so it was paused and then the pandemic somewhat overtook events. This provision deals not only with prisoner escort and custody staff but with police officers and court and tribunal security staff. Noble Lords will be aware that wearing body-worn cameras is now common practice in the police force, including when officers are authorised to carry Tasers, in which circumstances they are mandated to wear body-worn video. These updated provisions provide for body-worn video to be worn in the court context, but I emphasise that under Article 9 of the instrument, the body-worn video is not switched on unless there is a security alert or an escape.

The third provision is, I hope, an extremely innocent one. It is the practice in adoption cases for a photograph to be taken of the judge, who robes up for the occasion, with the family. Just in case anybody were ever to challenge that practice, this instrument makes it perfectly clear that photographs taken on that occasion are fully authorised, despite the statutory prohibitions on photography in court buildings.

Lastly, the instrument corrects a small omission in the previous order, the Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020, which authorised circuit judges and certain others, including High Court judges, to have their sentencing remarks filmed and broadcast. What that earlier order did not quite provide for was the situation that occasionally arises in which the judge sitting in the Crown Court is actually a Court of Appeal judge. That was the situation in the lamentable case of Wayne Couzens, who pleaded guilty to murdering Sarah Everard, which was presided over by a Court of Appeal judge, Lord Justice Fulford. The order amends the earlier instrument to make sure that we have included Court of Appeal judges.

I hope this is relatively straightforward. All stakeholders have been consulted, the Lord Chief Justice has given his assent and I commend the instrument to the House.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very happy to say that we support the statutory instrument and the various changes that the Minister outlined. I will just give a couple of comments and anecdotes. The first concerns CCTV in court precincts. I sat on the case—the only time I sat with the Chief Magistrate, as a winger, a magistrate—of a tribunal judge who had been assaulted in the courtroom. Of course, there was no film of that assault, but there was CCTV of the corridors approaching the courtroom, and from that we could see people going in and out, we heard the evidence and we reached our determination. It turned out that the person we convicted of assaulting the judge questioned the CCTV and was looking for the sources of it. The CCTV was able to be provided and we went ahead and convicted the defendant.

I have another small point on which I cannot resist picking up the Minister. On his third point about adoption cases, it is not just judges who do adoptions; magistrates also do them in family courts, and I have done a number myself. They were very happy occasions, and we took many photographs for the records of the families concerned. Nevertheless, we welcome all the minor changes outlined by the Minister and, on that basis, we accept the SI.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I stand entirely corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in relation to magistrates, whose work I have paid enormous tribute to on previous occasions, and I do so again. We entirely depend on our extremely important lay magistrates and I apologise for the omission, which was correctly drawn to your Lordships’ attention. I comment the instrument to the House.

Motion agreed.

Private Parking Code of Practice

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question for Short Debate
14:55
Asked by
Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reintroduce the Private Parking Code of Practice for private parking operators that was withdrawn in June 2022.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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My Lords, on 2 December last year I parked my car at Abergavenny station, buying 14 days’ parking from the ticket office. There was a train strike on the 16th, so I could not get back on the right day, but I rang a number given by the ticket office to extend my stay by a fortnight. The phone message said it had been extended, but when I returned to the car it had been ticketed by APCOA, the operator.

What followed that experience will be familiar to many in your Lordships’ House. Notices from the company fluttered down on me, demanding payment. All used legal language; none pointed out the simple fact that I cannot be made to pay without court action. My “appeal” was turned down, but it was not an appeal in the normal sense: it was an appeal to the company that had delivered the fine in the first place—what a surprise it was turned down. It passed my debt to a so-called debt enforcement agency. I particularly enjoyed its note saying that it had not received a reply from me and would therefore proceed to legal action, when at no stage had these notices contained an address to which I could reply. I had found other ways to write to it to say that it was not getting a penny out of me without taking me to court.

I looked around the same car park the other day. Yes, there was a notice by the spot I parked in; it was in Welsh. Yes, there was a machine to pay at; however, it was covered in polythene that said it was not in use any more. Yes, it said I could pay at the ticket office, except that was not open—indeed, it may soon be closed permanently. As an averagely intelligent person, I could find no accessible way to pay. I therefore parked off-site and, believe it or not, my car was towed away—a bad day for Lipsey.

Of course, this may mean no more than that APCOA, the firm concerned, is impossibly incompetent, but after this experience and reading government documents and press coverage about these companies, I am more inclined to believe in a conspiracy theory, although I am not given to them. These companies have one object and one object only, and that is to maximise the amount of money they can make from charges. They make it either difficult or impossible to pay, and they utter empty threats to bully the poor motorist into coughing up, together with blandishments of reduced charge if he or she does so. I understand that the company’s CEO is a Mr Philippe Op de Beeck. Certainly, his skills and those of his company would befit the mafia: Philippe, “capo dei capi”.

At this point in my speech, I would normally turn my attention to what the Government have done. After 13 years in power, this kind of abuse remains, so far as I can see, legal and unchecked. How the Government manage to criticise my party, the Labour Party, for being tough on motorists, when they allow this kind of abuse to flourish, simply escapes me. I bet there are many more people who are cross about the illegal parking charges levied by these companies than about ULEZ.

Anyway, the Government did finally act: in February 2022 they produced a draft code of practice. The parking companies behaved exactly as you would expect the Mafia to behave: they threatened judicial review, a kind of SLAPP action designed to deter the Government from taking the action they were threatening to take. And did the Government play the part of hero—one of those brave cops who chased the Mafia down the streets of Salerno? No, of course not. They threw in their hand, so actions such as APCOA’s against me could go on extracting money from unsuspecting motorists who had done absolutely nothing wrong.

This is a sad tale—particularly for me, but for many others who have had similar experiences. However, in this case, I am absolutely delighted to say that it may have a happy ending. In July, the Government produced a new consultation document designed to pave the way for a new code, not dissimilar to the old one. The greedyguts of the parking industry will no doubt continue to argue that any charge limits proposed are excessive and make their trade uneconomic. You hear weepy tales of all the poor parking attendants who will be made redundant if the charges have to be reduced at all. Whether the code will deal with every abuse the parkers now commit, we shall see.

I pray every night that APCOA carries out its threats and brings a court action against me—a court action it will assuredly lose, and with it such reputation as it may have. It would be a great story for the pro-motorist press—the Daily Mail or the Express—to report. Not only have I been able to study this subject, but I had an excellent chat with the Minister last night and I thank her for finding such a length of time for an appointment with a Member of this House on what is probably not the most important piece of business this week—although many people might disagree with that. I am very grateful to her, and I think we saw eye to eye.

I hope therefore that the Minister, when she rises, will confirm that the Government really are determined to act, irrespective of judicial reviews, that the parking industry, which has started to realise that it cannot win this one at the end of the day, that the public hates it and that its position is insupportable, will realise that the game is up, and that ripped-off motorists throughout the country will come to realise that they are not powerless against their abusers—not while this Parliament exists to stand up for them.

15:03
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on securing this debate. It is, perhaps, a slightly strange moment to have it, being right in the middle of the call for evidence to which he referred, which closes on 8 October. We might have perhaps had the debate when we had made a bit more progress, as he indicated—but so be it.

I remind your Lordships of my interests and inform your Lordships of my employer.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but my Motion was put down long before the new document came out.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. None the less, we find ourselves in a very poorly attended debate for 90 minutes, possibly due to its timing, which might have been deferred. So be it.

I was drawing your Lordships’ attention to the fact that my employer, Cavendish Financial, acts from time to time for clients in the parking sector, but purely to offer corporate finance advice and on no other matters. I first spoke on this subject in the debate on my noble friend Lord Hunt’s private Bill, which became the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, on 18 January 2019. I think that I am the only speaker from the Second Reading of that Bill present today.

Very many people have an interest in parking. There are some 250 billion vehicle miles travelled in the UK every year, and, interestingly, vehicle ownership has increased by 57% since 1994. I do not accept the suggestion that this Government are anti-motorist, particularly since the most egregious anti-motorist act was taken by the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. I was canvassing in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and felt the degree of irritation that people were, in effect, prohibited from driving their cars into central London by the ULEZ charge.

I was motivated, in part, to speak in my noble friend Lord Hunt’s debate because Westminster City Council had moved dramatically to reduce the single yellow lines available in its borough and increase the double yellow lines. My freedom of information request revealed that, in one ward alone, some 433 metres of single yellow lines had been lost to double yellow lines. It is true that many people claim that the main benefit of being elevated to the peerage is to have free parking in SW1. I am not sure that that is entirely fair; none the less, many of us have a strong interest in this matter.

In the debate on the Bill, we heard from its sponsor, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, that there were a lot of issues facing customers, relating largely to appeals, poor signage and collection—as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, mentioned. The Bill received widespread support from all sides of the House but was of course challenged by a judicial review—which the parking operators are more than entitled to do. While I certainly take some exception to a British industry being described as a “mafia” when it is carrying out regular, lawful business, I accept that the challenge does not seem to have been handled well by the then DHCLG. I gather that the officials were slightly out of their depth and, as a result, we have been in abeyance. But there is a call for evidence and I understand that discussions between the new department and the industry have taken place as recently as this week.

So the implementation of the private parking code of practice has stalled, primarily due to the proposed imposition of a reduction in the value of parking charges and the removal of debt recovery fees, without any impact assessment being carried out. DLUHC, as it is now called, has claimed that the increase in the number of parking charges issued over the past decade is indicative of a system that is inherently unfair and not fit for purpose. It is seeking to reduce the number of charges issued and to see more people being able to park with peace of mind. However, its proposal to reduce the deterrent value of a parking charge is counterintuitive; it is more likely to lead to an increase in abuse, reducing the available parking for compliant motorists who do the right thing.

DLUHC also proposed a ban on debt recovery fees, on the grounds that they were not fair, and related that to the fact that motorists who pay the debt recovery fee were contributing to unrecovered costs from motorists who do not pay. That would appear to be the norm across a number of sectors and most industries, certainly including all the retail sector; the difference between the parking sector and a standard business is that the cost of parking enforcement tends to be borne by the non-compliant motorists and not the compliant motorists. So the bone of contention seems to be about the amounts that can be charged and debt collection.

On the amounts to be charged, clearly if they are too low, they will not be a deterrent. At the moment, only 0.27% of parking events led to a PCN, suggesting that the deterrent is high enough to bite. As I understand it, the industry is, in principle, in agreement. The majority of the rest of the code and the trade associations are aligning their codes with the single code, where practicable and, hopefully, with a view to early adoption.

The rest of the code will continue to drive professionalism and improve standards while codifying minimum standards across the sector and adding layers of external oversight. It would be a win-win if the two contentious and unjustified points were removed from the code and the rest was immediately adopted. There is scope for the value of parking charges and debt recovery fees to be reviewed by the scrutiny and oversight board after the code is implemented and its effect properly considered and reviewed.

The code of practice talks about charges as low as £50, dropping to £25 outside of London. Let us think about this. If four people share a car and take it to, say, a railway station and park illegally, would they think it too painful to share a £25 charge for the car to be left somewhere that could inconvenience their fellow citizens? Even in London, £80 falling to £40 means that there would not be enough bite; even TfL recognises this and has just increased its deterrent from £130 to £160.

As for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, about the charges being unpopular, 81% of respondents to a DHCLG consultation undertaken earlier were in favour of charges of at least £80 and even £100 or £120. The current proposals represent a 58% reduction in deterrent for most common breaches outside London. For some reason, charges by local authority councils outside London are set by His Majesty’s Government but not in London. I have no idea why; perhaps my noble friend the Minister can explain it. Of course, with inflation, the £100 set in 2012 should really be £137 now.

Parking fines affect only a small proportion of motorists and businesses—in particular retailers, who need motorists to feel encouraged to come to shop and carry goods home with them easily.

Finally, I mention APCOA, which the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, referenced, in respect of one specific matter: Heathrow. It is not exactly a parking charge but it is in lieu of one that, when one goes to Heathrow, one has to pay a £5 penalty for visiting. I do not object to that in principle but I object to the method by which payment is required, which is that one has to go to a website, enter details then hope that it has been processed properly on the basis that you know if it has been but you do not know if it has not. I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that an idea might be to require Heathrow and other airports to have a tap machine that, as one passes, pays the £5 charge, thus negating the necessity of having to go to a website. Most people are slightly stressed when travelling to an airport and have other things on their mind. It would be great if regulation were brought in to make that payment simpler.

Let us hope that common sense prevails and that the code is brought in with sensible levels as soon as possible.

15:12
Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for bringing this short debate to your Lordships’ House. I think he was rather kind to the car parking companies because he has to listen to what some people out there actually think about them.

Anyway, there are 40 million cars on the road. Most drivers are responsible but some of them park illegally and get fined; I and my wife were fined once. Responsibility also lies with the car parking company, which sometimes cuts corners with signs and tries to entrap innocent, unsuspecting drivers with the latest sophisticated CCTV—more about that later.

Over the years, I have run all kinds of businesses, including shops, cafés, car parks and so on. The car parking business is one of the least labour-intensive businesses because of the latest technology. These days, every time I pay my car parking fee, I hardly ever see anyone walking around with a yellow jacket like we used to all those years ago. Last year, the car parking industry told the Government that, if they introduced a new code of practice, it would lose thousands of jobs. I disagree. The car parking business is a cash cow. Compared to other businesses, it has far fewer workers yet it is far more profitable. The industry’s threat of job losses if the Government did not introduce a statutory code does not stack up.

This is an industry worth more than £3 billion. There are well over than 40 million cars on the road. The public need to park somewhere when they go about their business. They need assurance that they are getting value for money when they pay for car parking. I do not know of any other industry that is so big and yet is not properly regulated. The Government should introduce a statutory code of practice as soon as possible. Furthermore, there should be an ombudsman to oversee any dispute relating to fines or pricing, like Ofgem and Ofcom. Perhaps it should be called Ofpark and be financed by the parking industry.

I want the Government to take note of this point. Designated car parks, such as those operated by NPC or in a hospital or at an airport, are clearly proper car parks with payment required at the entrance or exit. During the past 10, 15 or 20 years, we have seen the advent of very clever CCTV cameras. They are now everywhere. They are on private land belonging to pubs, supermarkets—any location you can think of. The cameras are looking and waiting to catch drivers out. Most drivers know they are there and take precautions, either paying or leaving their number in the computer inside the shop or supermarket.

The signage is the problem. Signs are 60 centimetres by 80 centimetres, mostly tucked away somewhere in a corner, in the dark or covered in dust. They inform drivers that, if they do not pay, they will be fined. Some people get caught out. A few days later, a letter arrives with a photograph of your car number plate and threatening legal language saying that, if you do not pay up, you will be taken to court. Most drivers pay up because they cannot be bothered to appeal or go to court, which is time-consuming and can mean taking time off work. This is what happens. It is nothing more than a page out of Del Boy’s book of money-making scams: “Come on, Rodney. Let’s stick a few of these clever CCTV cameras here and there, give a certain percentage to the owners and keep the rest. Lovely Jubbly!”

I am not disputing the ownership of the land, the owners’ rights or the legality of the practice. It is just the sneaky way in which they try to do this to the motorist. As I said, the problem is about signage. Signs are not clear; they are confusing and misleading. Some innocent, unsuspecting drivers sometimes get caught out. The people who put up the CCTV know the score. The reaction of most drivers on getting one of these letters is, “Oh, I didn’t know there was a CCTV camera. If I had known, I would have done something”.

In introducing a new statutory code, the Government should make it clear that signs in these particular types of car park should be much bigger and displayed clearly on all sides of the car park—at the front, at the back and so on. There should not just be a 60-centimetre by 80-centimetre sign obscurely tucked away in the corner where people can hardly see it. It should be written on the road as well so that, when a driver enters this particular place, they know what will happen if they do not pay up.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has accepted that this practice by a small number of cowboy companies is unacceptable. DVLA data estimate that, between 2022 and 2023, more than 2.8 million drivers will be fined. In recent years, the number of car parking companies has grown expeditiously because there is easy money in it.

The AA has said that:

“Private parking companies are acting like pirates, plundering innocent drivers”.


The RAC Foundation said that parking companies were booming like the “Wild West”. I have here some other examples from newspapers. A lady was fined £100 for being 21 seconds over the—

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly within his time limit; I just encourage him not to use props in the Chamber.

Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord for reminding me. I did think that I still had three minutes left.

The Government need to introduce a statutory code for the parking industry as soon as possible, to sort out the fines and so on. Also, the Government might be aware that, in some local authorities, you can only pay via an app. If you do not have a phone on you or do not know how to use the app, you are in trouble. Perhaps the Government can look at that as well.

I have a lot more examples, but I had better take it easy—I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I appreciate it.

15:20
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the indulgence of the House in allowing me to speak in the gap.

I thought that we had tamed the worst excesses of parking operators with the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, but clearly that is not so. In some ways, these problems were unforeseen at that time because, as we increasingly pay by app and by debit and credit card, it becomes the case that the more technology that there is the more technology there is to go wrong.

I want very briefly to bring to the Minister’s attention a recent complaint that came my way about a station car park. I do not expect her to be able to answer at this moment, but I hope that the issue will be considered. For Northallerton car park, you must register on the APCOA site. It seems that you must pay a £1 fee to a company called Alltainment, which appears to be linked to the apcoaconnect website, although Alltainment appears to be a digital entertainment site. The complainant who came to me said that the site tried to take £39.99 from her credit card, until her bank intervened to urge caution. What is the link between APCOA and this apparently related company? Why are the operators of station car parks operating in such an apparently dubious manner?

In this case, to add insult to injury, when the complainant tried to get on to the website to complain and to set up the system again, the website told her that there were no car parks to be found at Northallerton station, despite the fact that she was standing in one and had parked her car in one and the signs were all around her to say that one existed. That level of inefficiency causes huge frustration among the public. I would be grateful if the Minister could, in time, respond to me in writing about this issue.

15:24
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for a very timely debate—which reminds us that this important issue is still outstanding business—and for his very colourful introduction. As ever, I thank our Library for the thorough and helpful briefing on this subject. As a council leader until very recently, I am afraid that parking is one of the subjects guaranteed to make my blood run cold and the mention of double or single yellow lines by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, did nothing to help that feeling.

Of course, the difference between local authority parking proposals and those from the private sector is that local authority-run schemes generally recycle both the parking charges and the fines for breaching them to improve the local area. But whether parking schemes are operated by local authorities or the private sector, they have a tricky balance to strike between ensuring that parking is available and managed well, keeping our roads passable and having reasonable enforcement processes that will dissuade irresponsible parking.

The code was introduced to tackle some of the very sharp practices of some operators that were becoming notorious as their operations expanded. The figures for the proliferation of private parking schemes are eye-watering, as are the increases in the number of tickets issued. Parking fees amounted to an estimated £2.62 billion in 2021-22, a figure which has doubled since 2017-18, so the companies’ plea of poverty has a bit of hollow ring. There were 8.6 million parking tickets issued last year—about 23,000 a day.

The introduction of the code in 2022 was widely welcomed by motorists and the organisations representing them. It enshrined the common-sense practices and transparency that they wanted to see and was a relatively modest ask of the private parking sector. Who would not want to see better signage and marking, clarity on ticketing and payment, clarity on how unpaid charges are dealt with and the level of fines, and professional standards about complaints handling? When the code was “temporarily” withdrawn following legal challenges in June 2022, the Government undertook to carry out the impact assessment and consultation that was needed before Summer Recess this year.

When the code was withdrawn, a DfT spokesperson said:

“We’re determined to end rip-off parking practices, and it’s very disappointing that … the parking industry are resisting this”.


However, now we discover that, far from the code being reintroduced in July 2023, the call for evidence was issued only on 30 July—a year after the code had been withdrawn—with a closure date of 8 October, and that needs to be followed by the impact assessment. What is the reason for a delay of a whole year?

One of the complaints of the parking industry was that the introduction of the code would result in the loss of over 3,000 jobs. Can the Minister tell us whether the department has asked to see the workings of this assertion? Has it carried out its own assessment of how accurate that is? My noble friend Lord Sahota raised the point that much of the monitoring and operations are now carried out using electronic surveillance, so can we get clarify whether the 3,000 jobs figure is accurate? Can the Minister reassure motorists that the Government still intend to deal with all issues arising from the previous practices of private parking companies by the use of a strong code of practice combined with enforceable measures on those companies which do not comply?

It seems that some elements in the private parking industry have been unwilling to use, as they could have done, all or part of the code as a set of voluntary guidelines during its suspension. That might have helped convince us of their willingness to adapt to some consumer pressure in this area. They have taken the suspension as an opportunity to carry on just as they were or—as in the worrying case set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—have actually got worse. Can the Minister tell us how we can support motorists to know where they are with private parking fines, as so many people are now having to carry out their own appeals on matters that would have been covered were the code in place? How quickly do the Government expect to be able to carry out the impact assessment after the call for evidence closes? I suppose the key question here is: just when do we expect to be able to reintroduce this important code of practice?

Nicholas Lyes, the RAC’s head of roads policy, said when the code was withdrawn:

“The fact that parking companies take issue with the capping of charge notices and debt recovery fees shows precisely why both the code and the cap are needed. For too long, some companies have been allowed to prey mercilessly on drivers who might make an honest mistake and then have to face both over-zealous enforcement and threatening debt recovery letters. The Government must stand up to these companies and get the code over the line so we finally have fair and transparent enforcement in the private parking sector”.


His comments were very much supported by the fellow organisation, the AA.

While none of us has any sympathy with irresponsible, inconsiderate or dangerous parking, too often we are not talking about any of those. The latest case I heard was of someone who stopped at a local shopping centre—it was in Flitwick, which might indicate why they were there—which had a pub restaurant, for a lunchtime meal. The pub was very busy and took so long to serve them that they eventually cancelled their order and left the car park just five minutes after the allotted parking time. Incidentally, it was so badly signed that the complainant had not been able to find any sign indicating the parking restrictions. Just a few days later, they received a fine of £100 from the private parking company. It is no wonder people get infuriated.

Please can we get this code back in place as quickly as possible to ensure that private parking is fair and transparent to motorists?

15:30
Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for bringing forward this important debate and other noble Lords for their considered and insightful contributions. It is fair to say that there are a lot of stories out there. I am sorry to hear about those experiences and, after preparing for this over the last few days, I am sure that everyone has a story. It seems to be a widespread issue to which everyone can relate. I am sorry that such stories are not rare. I assure all noble Lords that the Government remain committed to implementing the private parking code of practice as soon as we can.

Parking is a crucial part of our transport infrastructure; we all have an interest in how car parks are managed, especially given the important link between transport accessibility and the vitality of our high streets and town centres. There are good private parking operators delivering this crucial service. As was referred to, most times people park it is hassle free and does not result in any grievances. However, from public correspondence, the interventions we have just heard, news media reports and various consumer and motoring group campaigns, we know that poor practices are persistent within the private parking industry. Rest assured, the Government are committed to reintroducing the code of practice to ensure fairness for drivers, vehicle keepers and landowners.

Examples of poor practice range from confusing instructions on signage, which many noble Lords referred to, to the use of intimidating and pseudo-legal language in the enforcement of parking charges to the opaque appeal processes that were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey—I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and I would be able to help the noble Lord with the Welsh signage, but it is not fair that he did not understand the requirements of those parking restrictions.

There are reasons why the code was drafted and introduced. Data on parking charges are still not collated and centrally held, but I understand that the number of parking charges issued is getting larger and can have significant impacts on individuals and businesses. This lack of central data is being addressed. However, DVLA data on the number of requests made by private parking operators for registered vehicle keeper data provides a proxy for the volume of parking charges issued. As was mentioned by a few speakers, in 2019—which is the latest year for which I have data—private parking operators made over 8 million requests to the DVLA. That represents a significant increase from the 2012 figures, which were about 2 million. As was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, 2012 was when the Protection of Freedoms Act banned clamping and introduced keeper liability.

As others have mentioned, the significant increase in the number of parking charges issued is not in line with the increase in the number cars or indeed the demand for parking. We know that the increasing number of parking charges has negative impacts not only on motorists but on parking operators and landowners too. Non-compliance with parking restrictions can have adverse consequences for access to businesses, while motorists of course face financial penalties and, potentially, county court judgments.

That is why we developed the code following Royal Assent of the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019. The code of practice and the enforcement framework seek to meet three key objectives: to create consistency across the parking system and raise standards, to ensure fairness for drivers and registered vehicle keepers, and to increase transparency in the way the private parking industry operates. In doing so, the code seeks to tighten obligations on private parking managers to ensure—as just requested by the noble Lord, Lord Sahota—that signs at the entrance to and within the premises are designed and located so they are clearly visible and convey all the information drivers need to see.

The code seeks to standardise requirements for consideration and grace periods. It also tries to raise standards for complaints and appeal handling, including the introduction of a requirement to consider mitigating circumstances and an ability to cancel parking charges in certain prescribed circumstances. It also prohibits misleading or intimidating language in car park charges or debt recovery notices.

The two controversial measures are introducing new parking charge levels that are proportionate to the seriousness of the contravention, and introducing new debt recovery fee limits or potentially banning them altogether. As noble Lords know, the code was laid in Parliament in February 2022. However, shortly after its introduction, a number of private parking operators, and indeed debt recovery agencies, initiated a judicial review proceeding into the Government’s decision to introduce within the code new levels of private parking charges and to ban debt recovery fees. It was accepted that the original processes, unfortunately, were not adequate with respect to the impact assessment conducted prior to the introduction of the code. The Government therefore decided to concede those challenges and temporarily withdraw the code to ensure that its impacts were rigorously examined. Failing to do so would open us up to further challenges and could ultimately set us back further. I recognise that the setback is frustrating but, as we know, a further judicial review is possible and therefore we cannot cut corners. I hope noble Lords will recognise the need for this and we remain totally committed to delivering the code of practice.

While developing the new impact assessment, the Government have engaged with a range of relevant groups, including consumer representatives, parking trade associations and representatives from private parking operators and debt recovery agencies. To ensure the decisions are as well informed as they can be, we decided to publish the draft impact assessment to test the initial assumptions and run a formal call for evidence alongside it, to give all stakeholders an opportunity to provide relevant evidence.

My noble friend Lord Leigh referred to the parking charges element of this. We are of course considering the level of parking charges. My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of an effective deterrent. We are trying to find further evidence to demonstrate how effective or otherwise the deterrent would be with each option to inform the decisions on these matters.

This call for evidence, which closes on 8 October, is a key moment. I encourage those who have evidence that supports or contradicts our current understanding to come forward to help develop the options. I recognise that this creates another delay, but it is a necessary delay to demonstrate that an informed and evidenced decision is being taken on these elements of the code. The Government are taking a genuinely open approach to these decisions, and without knowing what the outcomes of our current call for evidence will be, unfortunately I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, a specific date for when the code will come.

We know that, following the call for evidence, we will publish a new impact assessment, which will need to be subject to further public consultation, on the options for parking charges and debt recovery fees.

In conclusion, I hope that the recent publication of the draft impact assessment, albeit slightly later than expected, and the call for evidence demonstrate that not only are the Government committed to publishing the code but keen to make sure that the measures set out in this new code work and stand up to legal challenge. The draft impact assessment estimates that, should we do nothing to improve the sector, parking charges will continue to rise. The estimates we have seen are that, by 2033, private parking operators will issue over 12 million charges a year. The Government are therefore working to try to stop this from happening.

I will look into the specific case of Northallerton car park on behalf of the noble Baroness and will respond in writing when I have spoken to the department about the specifics. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for bringing forward this debate and all noble Lords for their contributions. The Government look forward to continuing discussions on this important topic and delivering the expected results.

Climate Change: Migration

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question for Short Debate
15:41
Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what consultations they are having with European and other partners on how best to manage the likely migration as a result of climate change.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed in his contributions that we were dealing with an international problem that requires international solutions. If this is so with the present refugee crisis, which is caused mainly by war, oppressive regimes and dire poverty, how much more is this the case when, on top of this, we have a mass movement of people predicted by climate change?

In fact, that movement is already taking place. Although it is not always easy to separate out displacement as a result of political and economic factors from that due to climate change, it has been estimated that, even now, a huge number of people have had to move because of the latter. For example, in 2022, it was estimated that 32.8 million people fell into this category. In other words, movement of people due to climate factors already forms just under half of the 71.1 million total displaced people in the world. This breaks down to 19.2 million having to move because of floods and 10 million because of storms, with 2.2 million as a result of wildfires, landslides and extreme temperatures forming the remainder.

To take just one example, the climate crisis has already uprooted millions of people in the United States. In 2018, 1.2 million people were displaced by extreme conditions of fire, storms and flooding, and the annual toll had risen to 1.7 million people by 2020. The US now spends the amazing figure of $l billion on a disaster every 18 days. If this is the impact on a developed country, it is not difficult to imagine the effect of climate change on those with fewer resources and a less developed infrastructure.

If this is what is happening in the present, scenarios for the future suggest that movements of people could be on a truly massive scale. One cause, as we know, is rising sea levels. Take Bangladesh for example: by 2050, climate experts predict that rising sea levels will submerge some 17% of the nation’s land and displace about 20 million people.

The World Bank has produced a scenario-based analysis which estimated that

“as many as 216 million people could move within their own countries due to slow-onset climate change impacts by 2050”,

with 86 million predicted to be displaced in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The UN’s International Organization for Migration puts the figure even higher, predicting there could be as many as 1 billion environmental migrants in the next few years, while more recent projections point to 1.2 billion by 2050 and 1.4 billion by 2060. After 2050, that figure is expected to soar as the world heats up further and the global population rises to its predicted peak in the mid-2060s.

Floods, fires and drought bring great hardship and suffering and force people to move. Most will seek to move within their own country, but some who are particularly desperate and resourceful will do anything to get away to what is perceived as a better life in a country overseas. It has been estimated that, since 2014, 28,000 people have lost their lives at sea. This reminds us that, unless the problems are tackled locally, there is bound to be an increase in the number of desperate people who will do anything for the chance of a better life in a more developed country.

The good news is that this issue is being discussed in a number of international organisations, including the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the GFMD; the International Dialogue on Migration, the IDM; and the International Migration Review Forum, the IMRF. The GFMD is currently ongoing, under the chairmanship of France, and its findings are due to be reported at its summit in January next year. It would be good if the Minister could say something about how these findings might best be discussed in Parliament. The IDM is an organ of the International Organization on Migration—the IOM—which brings together all stakeholders. It is urging countries to adopt a more preventive approach rather than just a reactive one.

The main body for Governments, however, is the IMRF, which serves as the “primary intergovernmental global platform”. It has a global compact, which is a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework”, which, as it says,

“fosters international cooperation among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law”.

The IMRF takes place every four years. The summary report of its last meetings noted that speakers had highlighted the “importance of shared responsibility” in finding solutions to challenges, while noting that the pandemic had

“revealed gaps in migration governance”.

Looking to the future, it is probable that most migration will remain local or regional. It is vital that, in order for regions and countries to cope, the international community should assist in the initial phase of relocation by providing the necessary requirements for a smooth transition. This means stronger resources for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, in acute situations, and measures to integrate migrants with the local population. It is likely that, rather than an acute crisis, there will be slower and more orderly movements. In relation to this, it is good to note the UK climate change fund to help countries adapt to climate change. Perhaps the Minister might be able say something about this and how the fund will work—or is working already—to achieve this.

Another concern, which is not unrelated to this, has been raised by a number of concerned bodies. It is that, at the moment, there is no definition of “climate migrant”. Perhaps the Minister might be able to take that back to his department to ask whether consideration of that might be possible, because that would make it possible to have a much stronger legal framework for this whole issue.

I began by quoting the words of the most reverend Primate: that when it comes to migration, we are dealing with an international problem that has to be tackled internationally. It is therefore good to note that the issue is under discussion in at least three organisations under the auspices of the UN.

The danger is that these will just be talking shops, and—however useful they may be—in the end decisions have to be made and money has to be raised and spent. Is the Minister confident that we do in fact have the right mechanism in place for making decisions about how those countries most affected can be best helped and that resources for them can be made available? I mentioned earlier that the IMRF has commented on “gaps in migration governance”. In other words, are we confident that when decisions have to be made, there is a body capable of making them and making sure that the appropriate funds are available? Perhaps the Minister can reassure us on this issue. I beg to move.

15:50
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this debate, for his excellent and comprehensive introduction and particularly for setting out so clearly some of the work undertaken by international bodies. I will not repeat any of that, because he spelt that out very clearly for us. As he noted, the climate crisis is at the heart of famines, conflicts and food insecurity across the globe today. We have already seen the disastrous effects of climate change in many parts of the developing world.

I want to focus on a few thoughts, particularly on the Horn of Africa, where we see this perhaps most clearly at the moment. Indeed, a terrible natural humanitarian disaster is unfolding before our very eyes, with thousands now fleeing the region in search of food security and water. It is vital to develop an effective strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the developing world. The Horn of Africa is currently facing a climate-induced drought and a serious food crisis affecting more than 36 million people, more than half of whom are children. UNICEF estimates that up to 5.7 million children need urgent treatment for acute malnutrition.

I have spoken repeatedly in your Lordships’ House of the need for a decisive emergency response to this crisis. As a country, our current pledge is £143 million to that region. Yet back in 2017 we were investing £861 million a year, as we were responding both to the immediate crisis and to long-term development. While I continue to urge His Majesty’s Government to scale up their short-term response, this debate is more centred on our long-term climate strategies. As well as the immediate need for emergency aid, it is vital that wherever possible we think creatively about the money we are investing to increase trade. We need these economies to get a much higher level of resilience so that, wherever possible, they are able to deal with the problems of internal displacement themselves.

Therefore, the focus of what we are doing, which in the long run will benefit the wider world—and indeed may benefit us indirectly—needs to be on how we are attending not only to those great trade deals with some of the wealthier countries in the world but to parts of Africa. Let us be quite clear: many other major players—some with what one might say are more dubious motives—are now investing hugely in parts of Africa. We need to see this as an absolute priority, both for the sake of the people there and as we seek to build long-term peace across the world. Africa has now become the scene and centre of the most extraordinary battle for hearts and minds. So this is really in our own interests, as well as helping those in desperate need.

The approach from the UN and the various NGOs has shifted focus towards promoting climate adaptation and the creation of economies and societies that are more resilient to climate impacts. Such adaptation includes building more resilient infrastructure, large-scale planting of trees, trying to stop erosion and problems with the environment, helping and training farmers, and providing resources to switch to more drought-resilient crops. This is all key.

Getting it right early on will not only save lives and cut costs but lessen the impact of climate migration down the line. Therefore, although we know that some international organisations are now looking at long-term strategies for climate adaptation, can the Minister tell us His Majesty’s Government’s plans for us to adopt a similar long-term strategy based and rooted here in the UK? The only sensible course of action for us, based on present trends, is to anticipate a significant rise in climate-related migration. It is, in the modern world, a relatively new phenomenon—hundreds of years ago it was quite common—but it poses some associated challenges and questions that we must address urgently.

I want to mention one further area, which is the importance of family. Earlier this year the Justice and Home Affairs Committee released a report, All Families Matter: An Inquiry Into Family Migration. It opened with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.


It is terrible to think that in some cases Governments are breaking up families because of some of the laws on migration. Families are the foundation of a good society and a building block of community. Here in this country we need to invest, as always, in how we support family life, which is the basic place where values are nurtured and where people are brought up and provided for.

The report speaks of how bespoke routes created to address emerging crises are often inconsistent on which family members are allowed and helped in migration and on what terms that takes place. With climate migrants potentially being one of the greatest challenges that we are going to face, it is important that we try to get this right and ensure a fair and consistent approach to family migration rules. We have witnessed the catastrophic effects that climate change can have on the developing world, and we can expect it only to get worse, so our immediate focus needs to be on providing climate-vulnerable countries with the tools necessary for adaptation and resilience. This will, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, require international co-operation. Surely, with our honourable tradition of seeking to be a leader in our world when such crises emerge, this is now the time for us to step up and take a leading role. I hope the Minister will be able to set out His Majesty’s Government’s approach to this important area as we seek to work on the role that we can play in trying to solve or ameliorate the worst effects of the crisis emerging in front of us now.

15:58
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and very much agree with his expressions of concern about our current family migration policies. I am sure the Government would like to claim to be the party of the family, yet we have migration policies that regularly separate refugees and other families on a huge scale. That is something that one hopes to see change in future. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for securing this important debate. It is a pity that it comes at the end of a week when the House is exhausted by a deluge of government legislation, but it means that those of us who are here perhaps have a chance to take a broader view than is commonly possible.

I am going to start with a longue-durée perspective, inspired in part by recently listening to the University of Georgia academic Kalyani Ramnath, author of Boats in a Storm: Law, Migration, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia, 1942-1962. It recounts how people from what are now India, Burma, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, who had traditionally moved freely around the Indian Ocean, were suddenly trapped—families divided, trade routes disrupted—by the imposition of the idea, imported from Europe, of the rigid Westphalian system of states. All of this is within living memory; a change from freedom to restriction and great suffering inflicted by borders.

It is a useful reminder that freedom of movement has been the normal condition for nearly all of human history. Our current rigidity is, on a global scale, an extremely recent development. We can all enjoy reading the travel narratives of Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo. Neither of them talks about significant border issues—or immigration issues at all. We have to ask the question about this rigidity: is it going to be fit for this age of shocks, of the climate emergency—the desperate urgency of which has been driven home to us again and again this year as the El Niño weather system has magnified the boiling of our world? Clearly, the rigidity is now a huge problem. The people of the Libyan city of Derna, formerly with a population of around 100,000, have so tragically suffered this week. Perhaps 20,000 people have been swept to their deaths, one description speaking of a seven-meter high wall of water surging along a valley in the city, gouging out whole neighbourhoods.

That is a powerful, tragic and little-covered reminder of a truth driven home to me a few years ago by a Women’s Environmental Network event on climate migration, which stressed that, while much of the debate around climate migration is “How do we stop it?”, the reality is that, for many, the inability to migrate is literally a death sentence. Being trapped in place that is literally unsurvivable is as much of a problem as being forced to move. Potentially, of course, it is a greater problem. That is not to say, of course, that the world must not do everything it can to mitigate emissions to reduce the scale of the coming disaster, but, as so many have experienced this year, there is already a great deal of disaster built in.

The Green Party position is absolutely clear. We want to create a world in which no one is forced to move by the climate emergency, or by other human-inflicted disasters, including war and conflict. We have the political vision to see that this is possible. But we also want a world in which people are free to move when they want. As a migrant who has lived on three continents, I had the privilege of my place of birth—a place stolen from its original inhabitants in hideous acts of genocide by incoming migrants who were my predecessors—which made it easy for me. We must work towards a world where everyone who wants it has the same freedom that I have been lucky enough to enjoy.

In the meantime, we have huge numbers of people trapped and dying at borders that are increasingly fortified to keep them out, from the charnel house of the Med to the desperate badlands of Mexico adjoining the US border, and across the border in states such as Arizona. UN figures from the first half of this year show that 11 children die every week attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Those figures came out just a month after an estimated 100 children died when a fishing boat sank off southern Greece. We should be putting significant pressure on the European Union to acknowledge the horrors that “Fortress Europe”—its policy—has created and to see a situation that provides an orderly, safe route for people to seek sanctuary. I am very proud that the European Green Party has been an absolute leader in fighting back against Fortress Europe and in promoting orderly, safe, just policies.

It is worth focusing a little on how the climate emergency interacts with, magnifies and even causes conflict. I will take the case study of Somalia, where there have been six failed rainy seasons in a row, which has led to three years of insufficient water and food insecurity. Since the middle of 2021, one-third of all the livestock in Somalia has died. Some 20% of its people are displaced, many of them heading to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. Each week, 2,000 people from Somalia arrive at the Dadaab refugee camp alone. Some people in the UK like to talk about our alleged small boat crisis, which, in the first half of this year, saw 11,500 people arriving across the channel because no safe, orderly routes were available to them. That amounts to six weeks of arrivals at one refugee camp in Kenya.

The fact is that most refugees are either internally displaced in their own country or are in neighbouring countries that are massively wracked by poverty and inequality, and a global system that still sucks resources out of the global south and into the global north. I note that, this morning, your Lordships’ House discussed the Foreign Secretary’s speech in Africa, which, I was pleased to note, included a reference to the need to reform the international financial sector. Of course, looking at the issues of debt, this is still pumping huge amounts of money out of the global south and into the City of London, down the road. That is leaving people with no choice but to become refugees. Of course, in this context, I cannot avoid mentioning the cuts to overseas development assistance and the diversion of funds to be spent here in the UK, instead of for their proper purpose.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, gave us many of the figures and much of the scale of this, but it is worth focusing on the fact that some people, particularly on the Benches opposite, like to attack the idea of net zero by 2050. Of course, what we should be looking at for the UK is net zero by 2030, or by the early 2030s at the absolute latest. If climate mitigation measures are not taken, there will be a world of climate refugees. Middle-level estimates are that 216 million people could be forced to move within their own countries by 2050, but there could be an 80% reduction in that if the world—that is, primarily the global north—does what it needs to do now on climate. These estimates range from 25 million to 1.5 billion people being climate refugees. I would ask every person who questions climate action in the UK to consider what the impact of failing to act adequately on the climate, as we are now failing to act, will mean for that figure of climate refugees.

16:08
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this debate and raising this important issue. It touches on two of the primary challenges that we face in the 21st century; as we have heard, they are deeply connected. We heard astounding statistics, such as that, by 2050, perhaps 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change.

I was reminded of many of the weather events of this summer in Europe. We saw about 19,000 people evacuated from Rhodes due to wildfires; there were images of holidaymakers fleeing but being given refuge and hospitality by local people. We saw temperature red alerts and the hottest June on record globally. This is the climate crisis close up and, at the most basic level, it involved the movement of people and the support of other people—a small snapshot of a much larger global issue.

Just recently, at a refugee and asylum seekers service in Gloucestershire, we had a conversation about the fact that some regions of the planet are becoming uninhabitable and simply will not be able to adapt to extreme temperatures. A recent report published by Christian Aid pointed to research that supports what we have already heard: higher temperatures will lead to greater projected asylum applications to European countries.

However, as we have also heard, we need to keep this in perspective, set against the backdrop of millions of people displaced within their own countries and across neighbouring borders. I, too, was going to talk about Somalia but we have heard about that already. What is really important is that so many people across our world are being displaced for reasons other than climate change, such as war or persecution, and then discovering that the effects of climate change are adding to their suffering. Another example concerns the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who are being further impacted by adverse weather disasters due to climate change.

None of this can be separated from the issues of poverty that underlie all we are talking about. The option of air conditioning simply does not exist in many places where people live across our world and the world’s poorest are bearing the burden of the climate crisis, which is not of their making. We also know that, for a whole host of reasons, the impact of climate change is predicted to affect women and girls disproportionately; we have already heard about children. It is not surprising that people are on the move. It is simply not an option for us to pull up the drawbridge and leave others to deal with the consequences of global migration. Working with our European partners is a practical necessity to deal with a crisis that is global in scale. As we have already heard, we have a collective responsibility to work with our European partners; many of those bodies have already been named. We cannot expect other countries to pick up the tab when we hold so many of the resources.

There are practical questions that we must address. The issue of the definition of a refugee has already been mentioned. The refugee convention described a refugee as

“someone unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted”.

That reflected the realities of 1951, not 2023. We would be wise to explore a more extensive definition that takes into account the drivers of migration that have developed over the past 70 years and, in particular, reflects the way in which climate change affects migration patterns. One way of addressing this is to invest further in climate adaptation, as well as in loss and damage payments, to help people respond to the impact of climate change in the countries where they live. It would be good if the Minister could say what is being done to address this.

One day last year, at the Lambeth conference, bishops from across the world gathered in the grounds of Lambeth Palace on one of the hottest days of the year. The grass was like straw. We sat in the shade of marquees and heard stories about the effects of climate change on real lives in real places. Some of it was very hard to hear. We had food that day—extremely good food—and plenty of water as we talked and listened to one another but many of the stories I heard were about climate change devastating food production, the failure of crops and people no longer being able to survive in the places of their communities. We also heard stories of hope. For example, I heard of churches in Uganda providing seedlings for tree planting and of the church in Kenya teaching and encouraging dryland farming, but all of it requires investment so that people can stay and build strong communities where they are.

This is an issue of justice. For me, as a Christian, that really matters, so I am grateful for this debate, which has highlighted the need for us not simply to keep looking for instant solutions to a problem that is about us here in the UK endeavouring to manage the inflow of people. This is about the need to work closely with European and other partners to engage in a courageous global vision and seek long-term and often slow but persistent ways to address the push factors, as well as just ways of managing the flows of increased movement across Europe.

16:14
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, it is always interesting for me when I speak on behalf of my Benches and yet agree with every single world that has been said by all previous speakers in the debate. I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, on bringing this debate to us. In many respects, this is the issue of our time, in this generation, and it is incumbent on us, as leaders of this generation in the world, to ensure that we correct—or at least ameliorate—some of the issues and start to have some solutions so that we do not pass this issue on to another generation who will be even less equipped than us to address it.

I left the debate on the Abraham Accords in Grand Committee, in which I spoke, early in order to be in the Chamber for this debate. In Grand Committee, we referenced the natural disasters in Morocco and Libya. Although it was a debate on the geopolitical relationships between countries on the one hand, noble Lords were also seeking to address the impact of climate and people movement in the Gulf, Middle East and north Africa, as we are in this debate. They are connected, as are so many areas. It is interesting that the Home Office Minister is responding to this debate; the Home Office is, in many respects, a recipient department that probably sees itself as having to try to address this issue, whereas the Foreign Office and the Treasury are departments in government that we need to hold to account because they have more tools available to them to address the root causes. I will return to that issue in a moment.

I regret to say that we are a long way from having a fully integrated government approach on the climate emergency and its consequences when it comes to the movement of people. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was right: the debate in the Chamber on the Horn of Africa meant that we could have a debate on the impact on the individual human, rather than simply all the statistics and figures. However, the statistics and figures, with which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, started, are stark. The Groundswell report by the World Bank, from which I believe he sourced his statistics, indicated that the 260 million people who are likely to migrate as a result of climate change are doing so within their own countries.

The backcloth of the debate is not only natural disasters and the climate emergency. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, myself and others, including the Minister, are veterans of the Illegal Migration Bill. I regret to say that we saw then how the Government were quite willing to weaponise the fear around the statistics on the number of people being forcibly displaced. The Home Secretary said that 105 million people are on the move and are coming here—of course they were not. Migration being used as a tool to create fear for political purposes is not unique to our Government; this is, regrettably, becoming a trend in other countries that are among the richest in the world.

When we look at the World Bank statistics, they require global consideration. In east Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank estimates that 49 million people will be displaced in their own countries owing to climate change. In south Asia, it is 40 million. The noble and right reverend Lord indicated that the figure is 86 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 17 million in Latin America. These are enormous figures. We have seen, in certain areas, ways to try to address the issue.

The World Bank indicated that it could be addressed if we act now to cut global greenhouse gases, to integrate climate migration into green, resilient and inclusive development planning, to plan for each phase of the migration, with proper strategic planning of countries working together, and to invest in understanding the drivers. The World Bank indicated that the numbers that I cited could be reduced by up to 80% if we act—so all is not lost. Therefore, the focus must be on how Governments such as the UK’s can be leaders in that action.

Unfortunately, in many respects, we are being embarrassed by other countries that are most affected and are taking the lead themselves. Over the summer, and at the moment—this was referenced in Questions earlier in the Chamber—African countries have signed a continental agreement to address climate mobility, led by Kenya and Uganda, at the Africa climate summit in Nairobi. John Kerry was there, representing the US President, and the IOM and the other networks were putting together a strategy. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate who represented the UK at the Africa climate summit in Nairobi. I hope that there was ministerial representation, but, if that was not that case, I hope the Minister will be able to indicate who represented us.

The Government have also, regrettably, stepped back from a leadership role. That is not just my position—the Minister might not be surprised to hear me say that. That was from a former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who resigned because he felt that the Government were resiling from a leadership role. I will quote from his resignation letter. He said:

“More worrying, the UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate and nature. Too often we are simply absent from key international fora”.


He went on:

“The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested. That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis”.


Now ministerial leadership can change, and we can see, hopefully, some differences in approach. But that seems unlikely. What is harder to reverse are the devastating reductions referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, with regards to official development assistance. The very tools which the UK worked with our partners not only to design and fund but to make sure would be effective—thought leadership, financial support at scale, and implementation—have been cut dramatically.

It was the hottest month on record in July this year in this country. At that time, the Government released figures showing that they had cut at least £85 million from the funding of international climate programmes. The UK has reported to the OECD that in 2019-20, we supported the Rio commitment by £1.8 billion. The latest report to the OECD is that has been drastically cut to £449 million. This is not just a case of citing other statistics. These are programmes which have been either reduced massively or cut altogether, and the UK was the global leader in support for them.

The International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, reported to Parliament’s International Development Committee and revealed how much the reduced funding was affecting climate programmes. For example, the international forest unit will lose £38 million after being cut by 51%. The adaptation, nature and resilience department is being halved by 51%, losing £23 million—despite Ministers saying that the UK needs to do more to help lower-income countries adapt to the effects of climate change. Adaptation was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. We have pulled back in so many areas from supporting those countries that can least support themselves for adaptation.

The UK partnership for accelerating climate transition is being cut by 49%. Known as PACT, the programme works to accelerate partner countries’ transition to low-carbon development and help aid eligible countries meet their climate targets. These are not academic reductions; these are reductions that will make an impact on our ability to address the very crisis that is causing the migration. So I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Home Office is leading—with other departments in Government—a change of direction. I suspect that we may not hear that, but we cannot wait. This is an emergency. The UK cannot simply be having our political discussions debated upon us receiving; we need to be part of solving the problems. We need a change of policy and that is urgent.

16:24
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for his excellent and comprehensive introduction to the debate. The problems that have been outlined are of such an overwhelming scale that it is difficult to comprehend effective action. We have heard what action has been taken by the British Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, spoke specifically and eloquently about cuts in government budgets. Nevertheless, the overwhelming scale of the problems we have heard about is very difficult to comprehend.

It is my understanding, having read the Library’s report and other reports, that a clear and direct link has not been established between climate change and migration, yet the UNHCR estimates the number of people who are forcibly displaced by severe weather-related hazards each year. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, cited the figure of 32 million people displaced last year, which is a UNHCR figure. There is a consensus among international climate authorities that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of such weather events. However, there is not a consensus on what the future flows of migration due to climate change will look like—although various figures on that were cited in today’s debate. The World Bank figure cited by a number of noble Lords was that as many as 200 million people could move within their own countries due to slow onset climate change by 2050.

Many international conferences and meetings have focused on migration and climate, all of which have emphasised the need for international co-operation that recognises obligations under international law—that is the only way to address these massive problems. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others have said that this is perhaps the greatest and most challenging issue of our time. There is a real passion among many people to try to address the problems.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned air conditioning, which reminded me of an experience I had some 30 years ago at an oil and gas development conference where we were addressed by the Turkish Oil Minister. He said that that was the first year that Turkish people were spending more money on air conditioning than on heating their homes. It was a turning point in Turkey, but I suspect that many other countries have had that flipping in the use of their energy and an overall massive increase in their energy over the last few decades. Who are we to say that they should not turn on the air conditioning units? Nevertheless, we need to find better ways of people being able to live in the climate as it changes.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned wildfires in the States. I have just returned from Seattle and Portland in the northern States, and I was also in Canada. In Seattle and Portland, I could smell the smoke from Canada, and they gave routine predictions on the smoke every day. There were also a number of evacuations in Canada while I was there.

Canada is a very wealthy country, and this was handled. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, but it was almost routine—these things are happening every year. While there is nothing new in wildfires, the scale and consistency of them is a cause for concern. Nevertheless, I make the point that in a mature, wealthy country such as Canada, they were able to handle these wildfire situations and were of course trying to mitigate against them as far as possible. I was there nearly a month, and while I was there, there were no reports of any deaths as a result of the wildfires in Canada.

To return to the politics a bit more, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, we have debated migration issues in this Chamber at length, and a number of speeches on previous legislation have talked about the impact of climate change on migration, and we have heard about the Government’s cuts in this respect. I really want to hear from the Minister today something about the Government’s aspiration for taking a leading role in the world, for people to look to Britain to try to address the profound issues which we are facing. We on this side always say we can do this only with a proper international, ongoing source of co-operation. Just pulling up the drawbridge is not going to be the solution to these problems. Can the Minister give us some hope that the current Government aspire to international co-operation to try to deal with these profound issues?

16:31
Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Migration and Borders (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions and add my congratulations to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on securing this important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, this debate is reminiscent of certain debates that we had during the passage of the Illegal Migration Act—in particular that of the most reverend Primate’s amendments in respect of a 10-year plan on migration. As a result of that experience, we all know that these issues are particularly live and pertinent to many Members across the House, including the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries.

The topics that are discussed are hugely complex, and it seems difficult to do justice to them in the short time that the House has had to do so, but I will endeavour to answer the questions raised. Let me say in opening that this question as posed by the noble and right reverend Lord will find answers only in co-operation—he is absolutely right to say that. That is co-operation between countries, between government departments, and between business and civil society.

The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Saint Albans, who spoke on the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest, made an important point. We need to consider our policies and action related to climate change and migration strategically and in the round—with regard to our trade policy, development policy and wider international engagement. The tone of our debate on this subject, like our response as a country, must be tempered and careful.

Throughout the evidence that we have on the links between climate change and migration, there remain many variables and possibilities. Obviously, we are increasing our understanding of this area. We do not and must not make policy in this country according to mob rule. Selfish protestors who disrupt people as they go about their lives do nothing to address the cause of climate change. The reality is that climate change is already influencing where people live and how they move. Where this is the case, the effects of climate change are generally just one factor in a wider range of immediate considerations.

In the Question before the House today, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes the distinction between the EU and other partners. I understand why he has set out the Question in that way. His interest is in the proximity of and dialogue with near neighbours. There is value in this view. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester rightly noted the importance of working with our European and wider partners. However, I respectfully urge that we approach this with a wider lens. This is not to denigrate in any way the importance of our European relationships. We must also place the upstream source at the forefront of how we think about this issue. This grasp of the global situation is representative of how we, as a Government, are approaching the dialogue on this subject.

With this in mind, I can inform the House that the United Kingdom is involved with a range of international conversations and discussions around climate change, as identified by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in his speech. They include three international bodies: the Global Compact for Migration and its associated events, namely the International Migration Review Forum and regional reviews; the Global Forum for Migration and Development; and the International Dialogue on Migration. A further joint workshop between the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees was also held earlier this year in June.

At the International Migration Review Forum in May 2022, the United Kingdom Government attended side events on the climate migration nexus. They supplied a speaker at a Guatemala-organised side event on this topic. The international community clearly needs to work together to make sure that any resultant migratory movements are done in a safe, orderly and regular fashion. They must work to benefit both the countries of origin and of destination, as well as those people affected and on the move.

To help develop our understanding of the challenges and potential solutions arising from this issue, the United Kingdom has funded research on the relationship between climate change and human mobility. We are using this and the growing body of evidence from around the world to support the development of a comprehensive policy position on climate migration. Evidence shows that climate extremes and environmental degradation are often amplifiers of other principal migration drivers—economic, social and political. We should recognise the complexity of the causes of migration and the links between them, as well as seek to provide people with options for sustainable livelihoods.

I turn to the specifics. A rapid evidence assessment published by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in 2021 made a number of important findings. First, climate-related shocks can contribute to increases and decreases in migration but there is no upward trend in weather shock-related migration. Secondly, there is little evidence of existing impacts of long-term climatic and related changes on migration. Thirdly, there is strong evidence that adaptations to climate-related shocks and hazards can reduce migration pressures but maladaptation contributes to displacement and migration. Fourthly, there is strong evidence that perceptions and narratives of climate change, weather shocks and local environments affect migration practices and decisions. Fifthly, poverty-affected individuals and households are particularly affected by both migration pressures and barriers to movement, while young people are the most likely to move in response to climatic pressures. Finally, there are no rigorous global estimates of the number of people who have been displaced or are migrating in response to weather shocks or climate change; high-end projections of future climate-related migration are not considered credible.

I turn to a number of other points raised by noble Lords. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans noted how some of the most acute impacts of climate change are falling on people in Africa. Mindful of this, only this month in Nairobi at the Africa Climate Summit, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Minister for Development and Africa announced £49 million for new finance and resilience projects and reaffirmed £11.6 billion of funding for an international climate finance pledge. This reflects the degree of seriousness that this Government place on the issue and underlines the UK’s commitment, with the international community, to the issue in Africa. More widely, the UK is the third-largest donor of the UN Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund, with over £4.2 million pledged. I hope that this answers the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to the Government’s presence at the summit.

As to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, about the concept of climate refugees, the 1951 convention, which the right reverend Prelate mentioned, does not recognise climate change and it therefore cannot be used as a justification for grant of refugee status. The UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration caution against the use of language around climate refugees. Our priority must be to focus our wider efforts on migration and climate change rather than this.

I conclude by reiterating the need for a temperate tone and for co-operation. This issue affects us all. Harmonious working is therefore vital. I reassure the House that His Majesty’s Government will continue to work with all their internal component parts—as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked—and with all our international partners in Europe and beyond to ensure that our response to climate-driven migration is evidenced and effective and, as I was rightly exhorted from the Bishops’ Benches, to ensure that it is fair both to the individuals displaced and of course to the British public.

Procurement Bill [HL]

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

Thursday 14th September 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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House adjourned at 4.42 pm.