All 16 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 14th Nov 2023

Grand Committee

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Tuesday 14 November 2023

Persistent Organic Pollutants (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
15:45
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Persistent Organic Pollutants (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations, which were laid before the House on 16 October 2023, be approved.

This instrument adds a new substance called perfluorohexane sulfonic acid—PFHxS for short—including its salts and related compounds, to the retained persistent organic pollutants regulation in response to the listing of this substance under the United Nations Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The UK is a party to the convention and is therefore obligated to reflect in UK law the listing of POPs under the convention. This legislative change is permitted by use of the powers available within article 15 of the retained EU regulation on POPs. We have worked with the devolved Administrations on this instrument. These regulations are needed to implement the UK’s commitments under the United Nations Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. POPs are substances recognised as particularly dangerous to the health of humans, wildlife and the environment. This SI preserves and adds to the current regime for managing, restricting or eliminating POPs in the UK.

Let me turn now to the details of the instrument. At the 10th meeting of the conference of the parties last year, PFHxS was added to the list of substances for global elimination under the convention. This decision was communicated to parties and observers by the UN depository in November 2022. The SI adds this new POP to the list of substances prohibited by law from being manufactured, sold and used in Great Britain.

Secondly, the instrument provides some exemptions from the prohibitions by allowing the unintentional presence of PFHxS at trace levels. These limits define the concentrations at which PFHxS can lawfully be found in a substance, article or mixture, where they are unintentionally present and found in minimal amounts. The SI includes two general limits and one that is specific to its presence in firefighting foams.

This instrument was not subject to consultation because, although it represents an update to existing legislation, it implements an international obligation that the UK is required to put into place in law. There were opportunities for UK stakeholders to feed into earlier engagement, both UK and convention led, at various stages before PFHxS was adopted for elimination under the Stockholm convention. The Government have also initiated public calls for information and opportunities to comment on draft evaluation documents for this substance. We received no evidence to suggest that exemptions or derogations were required by industry in Great Britain. Following that previous engagement, a recent Defra-led consultation on other potential amendments to the POPs regulation stated our intention to list PFHxS in annexe 1 of the POPs regulation in order to meet the UK’s obligations under the Stockholm convention.

A de minimis impact assessment was carried out. It concluded that there is no indication that PFHxS chemicals are intentionally produced or used in Great Britain. As such, this SI is not expected to have an impact on businesses, beyond one-off familiarisation costs. It is also not expected to disproportionately burden small businesses.

The Environment Agency is the delivery body for the POPs regulation for England, and Natural Resources Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency are the delivery bodies for Wales and Scotland respectively. They have been involved in the development of this SI and have no concerns in relation to implementation or resources.

The territorial extent and application of this instrument is Great Britain. Under the Windsor Framework, the EU POPs regulation 2019/1021 applies in Northern Ireland. The devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland were engaged in the development of the SI and have consented to it being made on a GB-wide basis.

In conclusion, I emphasise that the measures in this SI are needed to implement the requirements of the Stockholm convention by adding the new POP PFHxS, its salts and related compounds to the list of substances prohibited by law. The Environmental Improvement Plan for England has made clear our commitment to support and protect the natural environment, wildlife and human health. This includes our commitment to manage and reduce POPs in the environment. The draft regulations will allow the UK to continue to meet commitments relating to POPs and to continue to implement the Stockholm convention requirements to prohibit, eliminate or restrict the production and use of POPs. I hope noble Lords will support these measures and their objectives, and I commend the draft regulations to the House.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the information he gave, and I convey the apologies of my noble friend Lady Bakewell, who is unable to be here today—I am standing in her place. The Minister spoke about PFHxS, but I was under the impression that we would be speaking about PFOAs and the extension of the deadline from July 2023 to 2025. I may have got it completely wrong, but that was the brief I was given.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said. These POPs are very toxic substances, with a long lifetime in the environment. It is not for nothing that they are called “forever chemicals”. So I am pleased that the Government have taken this firm line and will make sure that they are banned—and I am pleased that they are not being produced in the UK.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock, it falls to me to thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. The pedant in me needs to point out that we are invited to consider these regulations, not approve them.

The Minister will be relieved to hear that we support the passage of this statutory instrument, which, as he outlined, implements a June 2022 decision on the Stockholm convention, to which the UK is a party, to list PFHxS, its salts and related compounds as prohibited persistent organic pollutants—POPs. The Explanatory Memorandum notes that PFHxS is

“one of the most frequently detected and predominant PFASs in human blood”.

Although not all PFAS chemicals are POPs, it is worth acknowledging the significant threat posed by many PFASs. These forever chemicals degrade incredibly slowly, bringing a risk of large-scale health and environmental effects. From the debate in another place, I understand that more of these chemicals are due to be listed as POPs under the Stockholm convention in the near future. Is the Minister able to provide any timeline for the designation of these additional chemicals? Will the Minister commit to bringing forward further statutory instruments as quickly as possible?

As my colleague, Ruth Jones MP, noted, this instrument represents

“a very good example of common sense alignment with our neighbours”.—[Official Report, Commons, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 13/11/23; col. 5.]

Close cross-border co-operation on environmental and chemical threats is vital. It is for that reason that we were puzzled by the Government’s decision not to seek an ongoing relationship with the EU’s REACH programme —the system for the recognition, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. The replacement UK REACH scheme is still very much in its infancy, with worryingly little information about how it will work in practice. Recent media reports suggest that the department will require less hazard information from chemical companies when they register substances in the UK. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case and whether an impact assessment will be made available in due course?

While this SI keeps us in step with international partners in relation to POPs, there is a perception that the UK is falling behind on broader chemical regulation. That flies in the face of promises made by a variety of Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and Ministers. While we support the passage of this instrument, I hope the Minister will accept that the Government have work to do to convince colleagues that the necessary steps are being taken to preserve the health of the population, wildlife and the natural environment.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. The regulations debated here today ensure that existing legal provisions for the prohibition and restriction of the manufacture, placing on the market and use of POPs will be extended to the new POP substance PFHxS, following its addition to the list of POPs for global elimination under the Stockholm convention. This will contribute to the protection of the current and future health of the population, wildlife and the environment of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.

I greatly appreciate the remarks made by the noble Lord about co-operation. We are seeking to fulfil our commitments to the Stockholm convention and to make sure that business understands that we are aligning with our closest trading partner, the EU. Of course, this has implications for the Windsor Framework and will ensure that there is a single standard on this chemical across the EU, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord raised important points about REACH, and I will seek to cover them now. This instrument is about the management of POPs, which sits outside the REACH regime, as he understands. The POPs regime differs from the REACH regime in that there is no requirement on businesses to register POPs chemicals. The 2023-24 UK REACH work programme will be published by the Health and Safety Executive in due course, following approval by the Secretary of State and devolved government Ministers. It is worth noting that this instrument is now, as I said, outside the REACH programme.

We are developing an alternative transitional registration model for UK REACH. The aim is to maintain or improve existing human health and environmental protections in line with our international commitments, as we are doing with this measure, while reducing the cost to businesses transitioning from EU REACH to UK REACH. On Thursday 9 November, we announced the outline for the transitional registration model, including refining what information registrants will need to provide on how their chemicals are used in Great Britain and what that means for exposure for people and the environment. This will ensure that we reduce to the essential minimum hazard information required for transitional registrations for chemicals that were already on the market at EU exit. This will mean that UK REACH registrants will not generally need to access and pay for data packages held by EU industry consortia. It will also ensure that we improve regulators’ powers so they can require and receive data from registrants quickly for regulatory or risk prioritisation purposes, ensuring that we can respond to new and emerging risks. A consultation on the proposals will be published early next year.

This is a very important issue for a number of noble Lords on all sides of the House. I understand the points that the noble Lord made. Defra asked the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive to examine the risks that PFAS posed and to develop a regulatory management options analysis. This makes recommendations for risk management measures for PFAS and was published in April this year.

Ministers accepted the recommendations, which include work under UK REACH to reduce PFAS emissions by developing UK REACH restrictions, beginning with restrictions on PFAS in firefighting foams. Defra is taking forward the recommendation to bring together work on PFAS strategically through development of a cross-government chemicals strategy and the creation of a working group on PFAS. Aspects such as drinking water standards and F-gases review will be considered within this overall policy development and subject to further ministerial engagement. I hope I have convinced the noble Lord that we are taking this matter extremely seriously. Business wants clarity, and we are working hard to achieve that.

As I have outlined, the changes introduced by this instrument will ensure that the UK can continue to implement its obligations under the Stockholm convention, which aims to protect the health of populations, wildlife and the environment from harmful persistent organic pollutants. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:01
Moved by
Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto
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That the Grand Committee do consider the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 53rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Session 2022–23

Earl of Minto Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (The Earl of Minto) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations were laid in draft before the House on 13 September 2023. This statutory instrument will help ensure that so-called live-in domestic workers will be paid at least the national minimum wage for the time that they are working. The live-in domestic worker exemption was part of the National Minimum Wage Regulations and provides that work done by a worker residing in the employer’s family home and treated as a member of the family is not work for the purposes of the national minimum wage and therefore does not have to be paid the national minimum wage. The exemption was originally created mainly to cater for au pairs, so that they should gain experience of cultural exchange through living and being a part of a family in the UK, although the legislation covers other types of domestic workers as well.

Currently, the National Minimum Wage Regulations state that workers do not need to be paid the minimum wage if they live with their employer and are genuinely treated as part of the family. Such treatment is particularly expressed in the provision of living accommodation and meals, sharing of tasks and leisure activities. The exemption is not compatible with most jobs, and it is hard to prove whether someone is or is not being treated as a family member. The removal of the exemption will remove the inequality facing these workers, who are more likely to be migrant workers and women.

In 2016, an employment tribunal judgment considered whether the exemption indirectly discriminates against women, as such workers tend to be women. The employment tribunal found the exemption had given rise to unjustified indirect discrimination, and thus the exemption was disapplied in this case. After the employment tribunal judgment on live-in domestic workers was published, the Government asked the Low Pay Commission to research low-paid live-in domestic workers.

In 2021, the Low Pay Commission published research into the live-in domestic worker exemption. During the gathering of this research, the commissioners came to a consensus conclusion that the exemption should be removed. The Low Pay Commission heard evidence of employers using the exemption to exploit domestic workers, often non-British nationals, who were required to work long hours and were not fully treated as members of the family. They found examples of domestic workers suffering abuse, including physical abuse, with little recourse for enforcing their employment rights. The commission found that the exemption is rarely being used for its intended main purpose, as in practice there are now few au pairs in the UK.

The Low Pay Commission’s extensive evidence in 2021 on this issue provided a clear recommendation to government that the exemption should be removed. The Government accepted the Low Pay Commission recommendations and announced that the live-in domestic worker exemption would be removed in March 2022. During this period, the employment tribunal decision was appealed, and the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed earlier this year that the exemption should be disapplied. These decisions established the removal of the exemption as a matter of case law.

Taking into account the existing case law and other more general legislation, live-in domestic workers have reasonable arguments that they are entitled to be paid the national minimum wage. However, this is not a matter of certainty, and therefore with the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations we are putting the matter beyond doubt by amending our regulations to remove the exemption from the date that the amendment comes into force. In the meantime, we recommend that live-in domestic workers are paid the national minimum wage in this short interim period.

These amendment regulations remove uncertainty and the risk of accidental national minimum wage non-compliance within this workforce. These regulations need to be put forward to make sure that the workers, and the families that hire these workers, are able to clearly understand the national minimum wage laws for live-in domestic workers. These amendment regulations will ensure that live-in domestic workers are paid at least the relevant minimum wage rate, providing protection from exploitative low pay.

HMRC will enforce the national living and minimum wage for this group, in line with other sectors. HMRC enforces the national minimum wage in line with the law and policy set by DBT. HMRC follows up on every worker complaint it receives, even those which are anonymous. This includes complaints made to the ACAS helpline, via its online complaint form and those received from other sources.

The policy will ensure that all work is treated fairly and will end the misuse of the exemption to exploit workers, particularly migrant women. The overwhelming majority of workers covered by this exemption are employed by families, not by businesses. The impact on businesses will therefore be negligible. However, many vulnerable workers will now enjoy the same protections that almost all other employees receive.

As live-in domestic workers will be entitled to the national living and minimum wage, I would like to remind the House of the achievements of the national living and minimum wage. The Government remain committed to their ambitious target for the national living wage to equal two-thirds of median earnings by 2024, provided that economic conditions allow. We look forward to announcing the 2024 rates in due course. The national living wage, which applies to those aged 23 and over, increased to £10.42 an hour in April 2023. As a result of this increase, a full-time worker on the national living wage has seen their annual pay increase in excess of £1,600 per annum. This increase ensured that our national living wage rate remains one of the highest in the world.

These regulations will provide clarity to live-in domestic workers and the families who employ these workers. With this exemption removed in legislation, there will be no ambiguity between what is in case law and the statute book. Through the national minimum wage and the national living wage the Government protect the lowest paid within our society. It is right that we ensure that the lowest paid are fairly rewarded for their contribution to the economy, and ensuring live-in domestic workers are entitled to the national living wage is vital to achieving this. Protecting workers’ rights, especially those of vulnerable workers, is a priority for this Government and therefore we have taken action to remove this exemption.

This does not remove the right to have a live-in domestic worker, such as an au pair or other domestic staff; it just removes the right to pay them less than the national minimum wage. This is the right thing to do to help protect these vulnerable workers and make it clear that our legislation reflects the case law on this issue.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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I thank the noble Earl for his comprehensive introduction to this SI, which deals with regulations as to work in a family household, and rightly seeks to protect such workers by acknowledging their rights as workers and not as some inferior being. On my Benches, we support this new regulation.

The Minister expanded beyond this SI, for which I am grateful, so can I use the opportunity to say to the Minister that this is only one such unfair anomaly? Could I also call attention for the need of the abolition of the separate apprenticeship wage? I had a briefing from the End Child Poverty coalition, which talked about how this is a barrier to young people from less well-off backgrounds going into apprenticeships, because they are not sustainable.

Could I also ask for an assessment on the policy of having different wages for different ages? Is this the right thing to do? The cost of living is the same no matter how old you are, and it is hugely ignorant of the Government to assume that young people will be able to have support from their families.

Finally, unfairness goes right through the system. Could the Minister comment on the policy of paying under 25s less universal credit? This is punitive, particularly for young parents and care leavers. Again, we cannot assume that parents can or will give financial support to their adult children.

I welcomed the Minister’s expansion on this SI, and what the Government are doing, but I have tried to point out that there are still some gaps, which I hope the Government will remove in ensuing legislation and statutory instruments.

Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not going to ask the Minister questions on the regulations, which I think are fine.

But the background to this is fascinating. I was a founder member of the Low Pay Commission 25 years ago, and the complexity of establishing the minimum wage was quite fantastic. I remember that, when the legislation was settled, we had some very indignant lobbying from the au pair association to say that we were basically killing off the ability to have au pairs. I have to say that it was not a prominent consideration for the original Low Pay Commission, although I am sure that that was neglect on our part. But there was certainly, to some extent, an anomaly. So when that exemption was established, it then of course created the difficulty about live-in domestic workers.

One priority of the Low Pay Commission was for situations when people had complete power over an individual. The then chair, Sir George Bain, who was formerly director of the London Business School and vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, used the word monopsony, which some of us had never heard of as individuals. But we became very expert on the subject of monopsony—basically the power of an employer to tell an employee what to do, and the employee feeling that they have no choice. Very often they were people such as agricultural workers in rural areas and piece workers in declining industries—but they were particularly domestic live-in workers. So for the Government to right this anomaly is very welcome.

There were all sorts of areas that we had to clarify when the minimum wage was established, not least whether London weighting was in or out, how you calculated piecework and how you dealt with the accommodation off-set. I remember going to visit a monastery down in Devon, where we were shown around, helping us to calculate what the importance of accommodation off-sets was. I also note overtime. All those complexities helped to set up what I think was a great social reform.

It is a credit to this Government that they kept it going; I honestly thought that they might go back on it when they got elected. I just wanted to give that little bit of background and say that this is not just a little regulation about a few people; this is quite an important issue, which is about that old principle of monopsony.

16:15
Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for the overview and explanation of the statutory instrument. We on this side very much welcome this instrument. I thank my noble friend Lady Donaghy for her contribution and for bringing us up to speed on what happened 25 years ago.

As many noble Lords know, the national minimum wage was introduced on 1 April 1999 by the last Labour Government. It creates an obligatory threshold pay level. At the time, the party opposite argued that it would cost millions of jobs, but, 25 years later, this has not happened. In fact, the national minimum wage has had negative effects on the overall UK labour market. Today, around 1.6 million workers—roughly about 5% of all UK workers—are paid at or below the minimum wage. When there is such high inflation and a sustained cost of living crisis, this is just not good enough. Employers should be encouraged to recognise that making work pay with a real living wage and strong workers’ rights is good for growth and for the economy.

This statutory instrument removes the option for a person who resides in a domestic family home, but who is not a member of the family, to be asked to do work in a household without remuneration. This means that a potential loophole by which the unscrupulous employer could require someone living with them and treated as a member of the family to unreasonably be expected to perform jobs in the home without being paid at all. From 1 April 2024, such tasks will now have to be paid at the relevant band of the national minimum wage.

Does the Minister have figures for how many employees —nannies, au pairs and other domestic workers—can expect their income to increase as a result of this change in legislation? Can he also indicate which channels or organisations the Government plan to utilise to alert affected workers to their new rights, especially as I imagine some may not be British citizens or have any union representation? Given the sensitivity of employee-employer relationships in a domestic situation, can the Minister inform your Lordships’ House what provisions are in place to support workers who might find themselves in vulnerable situations, or even potentially homeless, if their employer refuses to recognise their right to be fairly paid as a result of these changes, since their access to legal advice may be very limited? Finally, as well as making people aware of their rights and offering support when made aware, will there be any more proactive steps to ensure that as few people as possible slip through the cracks?

Earl of Minto Portrait The Earl of Minto (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions during today’s short debate. These regulations will reward low-paid live-in domestic workers right across the country so that they are paid fairly for the work they do. It will give more clarity on wage regulations for the families that employ these workers, making sure they are paid the national minimum wage. It will also ensure that HMRC enforces the national living wage and national minimum wage for live-in domestic workers, in line with other sectors. The legislation will ensure that all work is treated fairly, and it will end the misuse of the exemption to exploit workers, particularly migrant women.

I will now take the opportunity to answer some of the specific questions asked by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, said that this is only one of the unfair anomalies in operation at the moment. The Government accept that and are working as hard as they can to ensure that this is dealt with. The question about different ages and rates is certainly something that I have always found quite difficult to come to terms with—I always paid everybody the same amount, regardless of their age. I can see the argument for bringing people up to a certain level as they leave education and start building up to a full-time job while living at home. Certainly, the Government have moved to narrow the gaps and, as I said, the full national living wage is a significant salary—that is good news. I will write to the noble Lord about the issue of less universal credit. I do not think that it is our policy to take away universal credit, but I will write to confirm that that is the case.

The noble Baroness asked about au pairs. I am advised that there are still 45,000 au pairs in this country, which is a surprisingly large figure. Although it is a small number in the total scheme of the 1.6 million workers, this is an important step to take—I suspect there are a lot of other people who are not covered by the au pair qualification. Clearly, it is the responsibility of HMRC to police this, and it has been given a substantial increase in the funds it can address towards this area. As I said, it follows up every single report it gets about this. Of course, there is a link to slavery and all sorts of things, which one worries about deeply. On the accommodation off-set, I rather like the idea of the monastery. That does reduce the national living wage but at a reasonable rate—I think it is about £1 per hour at the moment, or something like that.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Leong, about the 1.6 million was well made. The Government have been absolutely committed to the national minimum wage and the national living wage, and they will continue to drive that through as far as possible. We will certainly encourage employers to ensure that this amendment is widely known; I will write with the detail on that. Equally, we will take seriously support for workers, particularly those who are homeless. I hope that covers the specific points raised.

I conclude by extending my thanks once again to the Low Pay Commission—it is wonderful to have an original member in our company. Thanks to its independent and expert advice on this national minimum wage exemption, we can ensure that the right balance is struck between the needs of workers, affordability for business and the wider impact on the economy and the families involved. Again, we look forward to receiving its recommendations for the 2024 rates, which will be published later this month. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Pensions Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) (Equal Treatment by Occupational Pension Schemes) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:25
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Pensions Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) (Equal Treatment by Occupational Pension Schemes) Regulations 2023.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak also to the Occupational Pension Schemes (Amendment) (Equal Treatment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023, the Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023 and the Pensions (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023. These regulations were laid before this House on 18 September 2023. In my view, the provisions in these sets of regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

When the UK left the European Union, much EU law was initially preserved to ensure legislative continuity. Now, however, some pieces of law need to be restated. This is because following the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act after 31 December 2023 certain retained EU law addressed in court cases will stop applying. Therefore, to remove any legal ambiguity for occupational pension schemes, DWP is restating the law addressed in three court cases—Allonby, Walker and Hampshire—the former only in relation to the extent that it applies to guaranteed minimum pensions.

We will be debating four sets of regulations: a set of two instructions for Great Britain and Northern Ireland covering the Allonby and Walker judgments and a similar set of two instructions for the Hampshire judgment. At the request of the Northern Ireland Executive, the Government have agreed to legislate on behalf of the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland. I will start therefore with the Pensions Act and the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) (Equal Treatment by Occupational Pension Schemes) Regulations 2023 and its Northern Ireland equivalent that relate to the Allonby and Walker judgments.

Allonby is about the right to equal pay between men and women where discrimination has arisen in an occupational pension scheme because of legislation on guaranteed minimum pensions—GMPs. Regulation 2 restates the law dealt with in the European Court of Justice’s Allonby judgment, but only to the extent it applies to guaranteed minimum pensions legislation from 17 May 1990 onwards. I will provide a little background, as there are a few things that need to be brought together. First, GMPs, which were a part of the occupational pensions system from 1978 to 1997, are unequal for men and women, reflecting general differences in treatment between men and women in legislation at the time. There are disparities, including the age at which guaranteed minimum pensions can be paid: age 65 for men and age 60 for women. These differences in treatment can result in men and women in identical employment receiving different amounts of pension benefits from their occupational pension scheme.

Secondly, the European Court of Justice’s Barber judgment of 17 May 1990 found that pension benefits must be paid to men and women on an equal basis for pensions earned from the judgment date onwards. This means that pension schemes are required to equalise pensions to correct the unequal impact caused by members having a GMP.

Thirdly, in 2004, the European Court of Justice’s Allonby judgment found that where legislation is the source of discrimination, it is not necessary for a claimant to be able to point to a real-life opposite sex comparator.

This brings us to the Equality Act 2010, which requires schemes to have an equal treatment rule; anything in a pension scheme’s rules that treats one sex less favourably than the other should be read as if it does not do so. However, this applies only when there is a real-life comparator. If a woman wanted to show that she was being treated unequally, for example, she would have to point to a real-life man who was being treated differently. In some pension schemes this was difficult to prove. Noble Lords will remember occupations such as dinner ladies or miners.

16:30
The effect of the Allonby judgment was to override this requirement of the equality legislation as it applied to GMPs earned from 17 May 1990. Therefore, because of Allonby, schemes are required to equalise pensions for the unequal effects caused by the GMP legislation even in the absence of a real-life comparator. Regulation 3 will make the same changes for the Pension Protection Fund.
I turn to Regulation 4. The Walker judgment was about pension rights on which survivor benefits are based where a member is in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership. Survivor benefits are important because they provide the member with a degree of reassurance that, should the worst happen, their surviving spouse or civil partner will continue to receive some ongoing financial support from the member’s scheme.
I will provide the Committee with some background history. Before 2005, same-sex couples could not enter into a legally recognised relationship such as a marriage. This meant that often they did not have that same reassurance. While same-sex civil partnerships were introduced in December 2005, occupational pension schemes were permitted to calculate civil partnership survivor benefits based on the scheme member’s pension rights earned only since that date. The result of this was that someone who retired in 2010 could have 40 years of pension rights built up over a lifetime, but their civil partner could inherit less than five years of survivor benefit rights. A determined man, Mr Walker, challenged the legislation. The UK Supreme Court concluded that the exception to the non-discrimination rule in the legislation was not compatible with the EU’s framework directive on equal treatment in employment.
The Government remain committed to the outcome of the Walker judgment. It is therefore important to remove any doubt by amending the Equality Act to reflect it. The changes we are making will mean that legislation will not allow schemes to restrict the pension rights used to provide survivor benefits for survivors in a same-sex legal relationship to only those earned after December 2005. The change to legislation will give affected scheme members peace of mind and certainty.
I turn to the Hampshire judgment. I will start by giving some context to the Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023 and the corresponding Northern Ireland regulations. These regulations retain the effects of the Hampshire judgment in domestic legislation. Mr Hampshire, a member of the Turner and Newall pension scheme, took early retirement in the late 1990s. His employer subsequently became insolvent and the scheme was assessed by the Pension Protection Fund. Under Pension Protection Fund rules, Mr Hampshire’s benefits were substantially reduced because he was below the scheme’s normal pension age when his employer became insolvent. Mr Hampshire took the Pension Protection Fund to the European court. The court ruled that former employees must receive at least 50% of the value of their pension benefits in the event of their employer’s insolvency.
There was further litigation in the domestic courts which concluded with the UK’s Court of Appeal upholding the High Court’s ruling that the cap on Pension Protection Fund compensation constituted unlawful age discrimination. The cap previously applied to individuals below their scheme’s normal pension age when their employer became insolvent. The Pension Protection Fund is now identifying its members and members of the Financial Assistance Scheme affected by the Hampshire judgment, increasing their payments and paying arrears, where appropriate, to comply with the terms of the judgment. It is also uncapping the compensation payments of its affected members and backdating arrears.
In practice, most Pension Protection Fund members receive more than the 50% minimum established by the Hampshire judgment and few were affected by the compensation cap. However, without the Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023 and the Northern Ireland equivalent, the Hampshire judgment would sunset on 31 December, and there would be no entitlements under the judgment in respect of insolvencies arising after that date. Retaining the effects of the Hampshire judgment beyond the sunset date means that all members of eligible pension schemes affected by the Hampshire judgment can be reassured that they will receive at least 50% of the value of their original pension benefits in the event of their employer’s insolvency.
The regulations also remove redundant references to the Pension Protection Fund compensation cap from the legislation to improve its clarity, ensure that it reflects the High Court’s decision, and provide the Pension Protection Fund with statutory cover. The Pension Protection Fund protects most private sector defined-benefit schemes, has almost 300,000 members and offers a vital safety net to members whose employer has become insolvent and therefore can no longer support the pension scheme. These regulations support that safety net.
These regulations will bring reassurance to members of defined-benefit occupational pension schemes, as well as to the pensions industry. All involved can be confident that nothing will change in practice with regard to the effects of the three judgments after 31 December 2023. I commend the regulations to the Committee and I beg to move.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his complete exposé of all the problems that have existed and how the Government are trying to rectify them. Our Benches agree with these SIs. There is no problem with them. I see other noble Lords have lots of notes; I know from experience that I can be brief knowing that they will deal with the minutiae. This seems to be more rules bringing old EU law into domestic legislation. These SIs raise broader points about discrimination in pensions, which is roughly the scope of the legislation. However, as usual, in bringing old EU laws into place we are missing the opportunity to make pledges to follow the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s recommendations. It reports conversations with WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—women. I would appreciate it if the noble Viscount could comment on how that is going to be dealt with.

Will the noble Viscount give the committee an update on the LEAP—legal entitlement and administrative practices—exercise through which the Government are doing a corrections exercise for historic errors and underpayments to women? I understand that these processes are taking place, but I do not know quite how far they have gone or how quickly they are going or when the majority of cases will be dealt with. I hope that the noble Viscount can put a bit of meat on that and give us some timeframe for LEAP and WASPI women, which are two issues close to my heart.

Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests set out in the register as a pension scheme trustee. I welcome these statutory instruments and thank the Minister for the clarity of his explanation of their history. The equal treatment by occupational pension scheme regulations before us maintain the protection of the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to pension benefits, particularly survivor benefits, which would be lost on 31 December 2023 but for these regulations. That is a pretty compelling reason for welcoming them.

Those protections were originally secured through the EU framework directive for equal treatment and confirmed by our Supreme Court in the Walker case. They apply to occupational pension scheme benefits and to compensation to beneficiaries of pension schemes that enter the Pension Protection Fund.

My first thought was: gosh, the Government are taking things to the wire, time-wise, given that the House rises on 19 December. It does raise worrying concerns about what other pension protections for UK citizens, previously preserved by Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, will be lost because of a failure, whether by intent or neglect, to meet the 31 December 2023 deadline for changes to domestic legislation to be made for them to be retained. What level of confidence can the Minister give the House that all protections of pension benefits for members and beneficiaries preserved by Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act are or will be captured in changes to domestic legislation prior to 31 December? Is it intended that some of those protections will not be preserved? If so, which are they?

These regulations also restate retained EU law on the right to equal pay between men and women where discrimination arises from the legislation on guaranteed minimum pensions by amendments to the Equality Act and the Pensions Act 2004, so the right continues to apply to occupational schemes and PPF payments. Very importantly—it is certainly close to my heart—the regulations retain the intent of the 2004 ECJ judgment of Allonby to nullify the requirement for a real-life opposite-sex comparator to demonstrate unequal treatment. Instead, a notional or statistical comparator can be used. That is such an important judgment and it demonstrates the value of the many ECJ judgments that contributed so importantly to progressing gender equality issues. As my noble friend was reflecting, so was I; I was actually a commissioner of the EOC, which supported the Allonby judgment at the time the ECJ pronounced its decision.

Unless the amendments to legislation are made by 31 December, this particular important protection is lost. Again, that is another compelling reason for welcoming these regulations. What level of confidence can the Minister give us that all rights to equal pay between men and women in the payment of pension benefits to members and beneficiaries, previously preserved by Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, are or will be retained in changes to domestic legislation prior to 31 December? While welcoming what we can see, we are nervous about what we cannot see, so we seek assurances on that.

The regulations before us on PPF compensation are also necessary because again, under the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, without them the more generous PPF compensation payment calculations, which flow from the 2018 Hampshire judgment from the European court, would be lost. So too would the effects of the further clarifying 2020 Hughes judgment in the High Court, which was to disapply the then-existing cap on PPF compensation to those below their scheme’s normal retirement age, when the employer became insolvent. The High Court considered that it constituted unlawful age discrimination. For the intent of these judgments to remain, the regulations before us are required by the deadline of 31 December 2023, and of course there is an obvious and compelling reason why they are welcome.

It is very fortunate that the Government decided as policy to retain the effects of these judgments. It would have been a pretty poor show had they not, given the impact on individuals—and particularly so, given that the PPF is currently well funded, so much so that it is reducing its levy. We are very dependent on government to identify those elements of retained EU law to be retained in domestic law. What assurance can the Minister give that every element of retained EU law that impinges on the eligibility of pension scheme members for PPF compensation and the level and value of that compensation will be retained in domestic law after December 2023?

16:45
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for a very helpful introduction to these orders and particularly for explaining the background to the court cases, which will make reading Hansard for this debate a bit more comprehensible than might otherwise have been the case. I also thank my noble friend Lady Drake, to whose comments I shall return, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, whose confidence in my determination to expose the detail and minutiae I trust will not be disappointed.

All these regulations are a product of Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving. I shall start with the draft Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023—the other way around from the Minister. As we have heard, it was prompted by two court decisions: the Hampshire court judgment, whereby the ECJ found that former employees should get at least half the value of their accrued pension benefits if their employer was insolvent before they hit pension age, and Hughes, when the High Court disapplied the cap on PPF compensation for those below normal pension age on the date of the employer’s insolvency.

These regulations amend the Pensions Act 2004 to ensure that affected scheme members receive at least the minimum level of protection due under the Hampshire judgment and remove reference to the PPF cap. Also, interestingly, they clarify how the Hampshire judgment is being implemented by providing a calculation of PPF compensation by reference to a one-off valuation, as approved by the Court of Appeal in Hughes.

As has been noted, action is needed because, under Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the principles of EU law will sunset at the end of this year and cease to have effect, including where the position has changed as a result of court cases, which is very relevant to us today. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that the effects of the Hampshire and Hughes judgments will be preserved in domestic legislation. Could the Minister confirm for the record that nothing will change from the current position once these regulations take effect and the relevant EU retained law has sunsetted?

Secondly, paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum reports that the DWP met with a cross-section of representatives of the pensions industry to seek views on its proposed response to the Hampshire judgment. There was broad support for retaining the effects of the judgment—but anybody who has worked in government will know that “broad support” can cover quite a range of views being expressed in the room. Out of interest, was there any opposition to retaining the effects of the Hampshire judgment and, if so, on what grounds? I am just interested in who was in the room.

I have read the draft Pensions (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023, which look on the face of it to be identical to the regulations I have just discussed, but amending the Pensions (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 instead of the Pensions Act 2004. Can the Minister confirm for the record that the effect of those regulations will be the same as the other ones, but just in Northern Ireland rather than in Great Britain? When regulations are this technical, it is important for the Committee to hear from the Minister what the intention is rather than just taking my word for it—love of detail notwithstanding.

I turn to the draft Pensions Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) (Equal Treatment by Occupational Pension Schemes) Regulations 2023—these are not catchy titles. These regulations were also prompted by court cases. In the Allonby case—I take the Minister’s point that this is being retained only inasmuch as it relates to GMPs, not its broader findings—the ECJ found that an opposite-sex comparator was not needed to demonstrate discrimination, where that was caused by legislation. In the Walker case, the UK Supreme Court found on the basis of EU equality law that legislation could not allow occupational pension schemes to restrict survivor benefits for survivors of same-sex civil partnerships or marriages so that only contributions from 5 December 2005 matter, when these became possible.

Something the Minister said confused me a little. I think he said that the Government were restating the law to avoid and remove any ambiguity. From reading these judgments, I understood that their contents have so far been resting on retained EU law and that, when that sunsets, there will be nothing supporting them. I may have misunderstood, so perhaps the Minister could clarify that. I understood—or perhaps misunderstood —that these regulations were necessary because without them the contents of those court judgments would not be retained.

Presumably, the Government could have amended domestic law to bring it in line with all these judgments. We have had an awful lot of pensions Bills in the last year; presumably any one of them would have been a means for doing this. Can the Minister explain why that did not happen? Since retained EU law rights will sunset at the end of the year, we need changes to be made. These regulations amend the Equality Act to remove the need for an opposite-sex comparator and they amend the Pensions Act 2004 to introduce the same test for unequal treatment when members are entitled to payments from the PPF. They also amend Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 to reflect the framework directive rights with which the legislation was deemed incompatible.

Will the Minister confirm for the record that the effect of these changes is to maintain the position we are in now, resting on retained EU law? Is the position of the survivors of all marriages and civil partnerships now the same, whatever the sex of either the surviving or the deceased member? Is everybody, in any civil partnership or marriage, in the same position, irrespective of the sex of those involved?

These regulations retain one form of protection, as my noble friend Lady Drake articulated, but still we are left with a significant gender pensions gap, an issue to which the House returns periodically. There are various contributory factors, including the carer penalty and the impact of the gender pay gap that means women are more likely to have lower pension contributions. What plans do the Government have for reforms to reduce the gender pensions gap more widely?

One of the contributory factors is the fact that women are less likely to be eligible for auto-enrolment, so will the Minister tell the Committee when the Government intend to implement the provisions of the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, which enabled the extension of auto-enrolment from age 18 and set contributions from the first £1 of earnings?

As far as I can tell, the draft Occupational Pension Schemes (Amendment) (Equal Treatment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023 seem to mirror the provisions of the previous regulations but amend the Equal Pay Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 and the Pensions (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, instead of the Equality Act and the Pensions Act. Once again, can the Minister confirm that the effect will be the same, albeit just in Northern Ireland?

Finally, I am really interested to hear the Minister’s response to the question from my noble friend Lady Drake: given how close we are now to the end of this year, are there any other areas where DWP has been relying on retained EU law that will be sunsetted in a few weeks? A clear assurance to the Committee for the record would be very helpful on that point. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the three noble Lords who have spoken for their general support for these regulations. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was right when she alluded to there being an element of complexity but, if I may say so, all four of us have seen through that complexity. I appreciate the general support. Nevertheless, I am very aware that a number of questions were raised and, as ever, I will do my best to answer them, in no particular order.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, asked about the WASPI. I understand exactly why he raised that. He will probably expect the only answer that I can give: we are not able to comment on the status of the WASPI at the moment because, as he will be aware, there is an ombudsman investigation ongoing. He has probably heard me say that in the Chamber before; I wish I could say something different, but I am afraid I cannot go any further.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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Does the Minister have any idea of when we might hear or when the judgment will allow us to say something?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I wish I could as well, but it would depend on when the ombudsman is ready to do so, and I am not aware of when that might happen. Of course, we can always ask, but it is fair to say that if we asked, I think we might know what the reply might be. However, that is a fair question.

I said that this was in no particular order. In answer to a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on why there is a reference to resolving ambiguity when these rights arose under EU law—that was towards the end of her speech—in the Pensions Protection Fund regulations, references to the compensation cap in the Pensions Act 2004 are removed by these regulations to reflect the decision in Hughes. I hope that makes sense.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether I can confirm that the effect is to maintain the current position. Yes, the regulations reflect decisions of judgments relating to the current position.

I think the question that was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, referred to the effect of the Northern Ireland regulations and whether they are the same as the GB regulations. The answer is yes, the effect of the Northern Ireland regulations is just the same as the GB regulations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked a very specific question about whether all protections are preserved, and if they are not, which ones would fall away after 31 December 2023. I think that falls into a number of questions she asked about timing, so I hope I can reassure her by saying that, on the timings leading up to 31 December 2023, I am not aware of any issues or concerns over the timing. I hope that gives some reassurance. However, to put a little more into the answer, the noble Baroness may be aware that the Government have decided to allow the Bauer judgment to sunset under the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act. This means that former employees whose employer becomes insolvent on or after the sunset date will not have an entitlement under that judgment. However, I reassure her that I am not aware of any other preserved under Section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which I believe she raised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether the Northern Ireland regulations provide the same effect. The answer is yes—I think I have covered that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether anything will change from 1 January 2024 as regards protection provided by the decisions in Hampshire and Hughes, and yes, that is correct. For insolvencies after that date, the same rules will apply because of these regulations.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, raised a question about the LEAP exercise, and I hope I can give a slightly longer and more helpful answer in terms of where we are with that. He will know that the DWP became aware of the issue of state pensions underpayments —which was not addressed under previous Governments— in 2020 and took immediate action to investigate the extent of the problem. The Government have fully committed to ensuring that any historical errors are put right as quickly as possible where underpayments are identified, and the DWP will contact the individuals to inform them of the changes to their state pension amount and of any arrears payment that they will receive. My department in its annual report and accounts, particularly for the year 2022-23, published on 6 July 2023 updated figures relating to estimated expenditure and the number of cases affected. The overall number of customers to be reviewed is approximately 678,000; of those, we estimate that 170,000 customers will be affected. Between 11 January 2021 and 31 March 2023, 263,350 cases were reviewed. I can reassure the noble Lord that the department is on track to complete the exercise for category BL and category D by the end of 2023—to get into some granular detail on this. I think I understand that, and I hope the noble Lord will be reassured by it. For missed conversion cases, the exercise will run to late 2024—the end of next year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked a specific question about whether there was any opposition to retaining the Hampshire judgment. The answer is that there was very little opposition—hardly any, although I am not sure I can give her any more information on that—to retaining it from stakeholders. I think it was to do with the Hampshire judgment that the noble Baroness raised.

17:00
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about needing to make changes as a result of the Walker case, as it was a Supreme Court decision. I think this was to do with Allonby and Walker, to be fair. Although the Walker judgment was a judgment of the UK Supreme Court, it was based on EU law rights, and it is therefore sensible to restate the law addressed in the judgment so that its effects clearly continue after the end of the year. I hope that is helpful.
On the Walker judgment, the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, talked about the survivors. Schemes had to seek their own advice to ensure that they were legally compliant with the Walker judgment, and they will need to seek their own advice to ensure that they are legally compliant with the legislation going forward. I hope that this answers the noble Baroness’s question.
Towards the end of her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the pensions gap—this question was perhaps wider than these regulations. I reassure her that, as a Government, we have made great strides in reducing the gender pensions gap, with the introduction of automatic enrolment. She will know as well as I do how much we have done in that respect on the enrolment and the Private Member’s Bill we brought forward not so long ago, going from 22 down to 18.
I think I have covered almost all the questions, but I suspect that there may be some more. As ever, I will need to read Hansard carefully, not least to be sure that I pick up the questions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Sherlock.
Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake (Lab)
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I will need to read very carefully what the Minister said—hopefully it will cover all of the points, but, if not, I will drop him a note.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that last point, the Minister mentioned the Private Member’s Bill, but my question was actually about when the Government were planning to implement its provisions—perhaps he could give me a steer on that. I would be grateful if he would read Hansard because, if he thinks that he has answered the questions, I perhaps did not shape them as precisely as I had intended. Could he have a look at that and then come back to me?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Most certainly— I am grateful that the noble Baroness has put me right on the precise question. I knew what she was asking at the time. On the timing and where we are with the rollout of the Private Member’s Bill, I do not have that to hand—actually, it has been handed to me, so perhaps I do; it is one I prepared earlier. The consultation on implementation is coming soon—I am aware that a consultation comes out of that Private Member’s Bill—but, in terms of actual dates, I am afraid I cannot go any further. But I hope that that directly answered that particular question. I feel that a letter is due. A lot of questions were asked about exactly how this should be, and I pledge to answer them all fully if I have not done so this afternoon.

Motion agreed.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Amendment) (Equal Treatment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:03
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Occupational Pension Schemes (Amendment) (Equal Treatment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023.

Motion agreed.

Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:03
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Pensions Act 2004 (Amendment) (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) Regulations 2023.

Motion agreed.

Pensions (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:04
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Pensions (Pension Protection Fund Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2023.

Motion agreed.

Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2023

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:05
Moved by
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2023.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this order, which is the result of collaborative working between the UK Government and the Scottish Government and supports the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce carer support payment in Scotland.

The Scotland Act 2016 devolved responsibility for certain social security benefits and employment support to the Scottish Parliament. The introduction of carer support payment in Scotland under the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 exercises this responsibility. This order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary legislative amendments in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament. Scotland Act orders are a demonstration of devolution in action. I am pleased to say that this order is the result of close working between the Scotland Office and the Scottish Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Defence, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities. I thank all involved for the collaborative approach taken to progress this order.

The order makes amendments to relevant social security legislation as a consequence of the Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023, which were made on 25 October. I shall refer to these as the 2023 regulations. These regulations replace carer’s allowance with carer support payment for individuals ordinarily resident in Scotland. The 2023 regulations introduce carer support payment in Scotland in a phased approach from this month, beginning with a pilot in three local authority areas: Dundee City, Perth and Kinross and the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles. They have been chosen by the Scottish Government to take initial applications from carers across urban, rural and island communities in Scotland. Further local authority areas will be added to the pilot from spring 2024 and carer support payment will be available across the whole of Scotland by autumn 2024.

Carer support payment will initially operate in a broadly similar way to carer’s allowance. Like carer’s allowance, it will be an income replacement benefit—a payment of £76.75 per week for unpaid carers providing 35 hours or more of care a week to someone receiving certain disability benefits. However, there will be some differences, which I will spell out. First, carer support payment will have a shorter past presence test requiring claimants to have been present in the common travel area for 26 of the past 52 weeks. The requirement for carer’s allowance is to have been resident in Great Britain for 104 of the previous 156 weeks. Those good at maths will work out that that is two out of the past three years. Secondly, some students in full-time education will also be able to claim carer support payment, whereas people undertaking full-time education are not eligible for carer’s allowance, instead being supported through the educational maintenance system. The Scottish Government may choose to make further changes to this benefit in future.

I will now take a step back to consider how many people will be impacted by these changes. DWP is currently delivering carer’s allowance to around 120,000 unpaid carers in Scotland. Around 80,000 of them are currently receiving payments of carer’s allowance. A further 40,000 carers have an underlying entitlement to carer’s allowance enabling them to access additional amounts in other benefits, although they do not get paid carer’s allowance as they are paid other income replacement benefits.

I will now go on to explain the effect this order will have and the provision it will make. This order will ensure that those receiving carer support payment in Scotland are treated the same as those receiving carer’s allowance. The order ensures that carer support payment is a qualifying benefit for the Christmas bonus. It ensures that those eligible for carer support payment are treated as qualifying carers and are eligible to receive the additional amount for carers in an award of state pension credit. It ensures that recipients are not disadvantaged in relation to compensatory payments as part of the HMRC tax-free childcare scheme. The order also ensures that it is not possible for any one person to receive both carer’s allowance and carer support payment at the same time. Similarly, no more than one person would be able to receive a carer’s benefit for care provided to a single individual. There are some benefits, administered by Veterans UK, that overlap with carer support payment; this order makes provision to ensure that an individual cannot receive these overlapping benefits at the same time.

The order makes equivalent provision in Northern Ireland in respect of those policy areas that are transferred to Northern Ireland. This is because, when a claimant moves to Northern Ireland they will continue to receive carer support payment for 13 weeks from the date they move while they apply for carer’s allowance. In that time, their carer support payment benefit will continue to attract the related entitlements. The 13-week run of support will also be available when carers move from Scotland to elsewhere in the UK.

In summary, this order makes amendments to UK legislation to support the introduction of carer support payment in Scotland. It ensures that the new Scottish benefit is able to operate effectively and that its recipients are treated equitably. I commend the order to the Committee and beg to move.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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My Lords, I once again thank the noble Viscount for the detail of what the statutory instrument does and does not do. It seems to me that it purely ensures that the carer support payment in Scotland is treated the same as carer’s allowance. That seems to be a good idea. I cannot see why anyone could disagree. It also seeks to ensure that there is no double claiming by playing one set of regulations off against another set. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm my understanding of that is correct because, if it is correct, it seems very sensible. Could he come back to Parliament or write about how these regulations are being observed and give examples of success or failure? I think that to some extent his final comments cover this. I think he was referring to what had happened in the past. I am looking forward to an ongoing report about how these new regulations will help and to examples of success or failure. They need to be monitored in some way. I hope the Minister will be able to oblige as the situation evolves.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as we have heard, this order relates to people who will be eligible for the new carer support payment, which is replacing carer’s allowance in Scotland. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, indicated, it covers two issues, one around benefit entitlement and the other around trying to avoid duplicate or overlapping benefits.

First, the order aims to ensure that people who get carer support payment are treated in the same way as those receiving carer’s allowance when it comes to entitlement to reserved benefits.

Three reserve benefits are named in the order, and the Minister referenced them in his opening speech: the Christmas bonus, the additional amount for qualifying carers on pension credit, and compensatory payments due in quite complicated circumstances under the HMRC tax-free childcare scheme. Is that a comprehensive list? Are there any other payments to which someone on carer’s allowance could be entitled which were not mentioned here or indeed in the order?

17:15
Secondly, I will ask something about the DWP’s role, if any, in the process of transferring claimants from carer’s allowance to carer support payment. As the Minister indicated, they are already starting to pilot the new benefit in three areas of Scotland from this month, and from next year the Scottish Government will begin to transfer the benefits of those already getting carer’s allowance so that they will begin receiving carer support payment instead. Is the plan for DWP to be in touch with those people to whom it currently pays carer’s allowance, or is that being left to the Scottish Government to do? Are there any people who are currently eligible for carer’s allowance who would not be eligible for carer support payment? The Minister mentioned some that are the other way around, perhaps where the benefit is more liberal in terms of eligibility, but are there any who would not be entitled to the new payment who are entitled to carer’s allowance? If there are any, whose job is it to contact those people?
The order also aims to ensure that there is no overlapping entitlement for different benefits or indeed different claimants caring for the same person. I think the Minister may have said this, but could he just clarify that those new arrangements mirror the existing ones for carer’s allowance?
Finally, the Minister mentioned that these regulations and this process have been the product of close working between a number of government departments and the Scottish Government. As the Scottish Government increasingly use their powers over time to diverge from arrangements within other parts of the United Kingdom, there will be a real opportunity there for all parts of the United Kingdom to learn more about what works. What arrangements are in place for the DWP to learn from the experience of the Scottish Government in creating new benefits like this, so that both the devolved Administrations and those in the UK central Government in Westminster in charge of reserve benefits can learn from each other’s experience? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I start again by thanking both the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. This is familiar territory but I thank them for their broad support. I will attempt to answer the questions that were raised, again in no particular order.

The first question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, was simply what this order does. I tried to set that out in my opening statement but perhaps I can answer it in a different way. This particular order, and an associated negative Section 104 order, makes provision in reserved areas to ensure that the 2023 regulations are fully operational at the time of implementation. It ensures that individuals in receipt of carer support payment are treated, as I said earlier, in the same way as individuals in receipt of carer’s allowance. That might answer a question that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on the treatment. It is similar treatment but in my opening remarks I alluded to some differences that were going to come through from the Scottish Government, particularly in terms of the treatment of students. As we know, of course, there are different educational arrangements for students in Scotland compared to England. I hope I made that clear in my opening remarks, in terms of the—

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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Just to clarify, what I was trying to say in the question was that the Minister had identified a couple of areas—one about residence requirements, the other about students—where people who are not currently entitled to claim carer’s allowance would be able to claim the new benefit. I was asking whether it was also the other way round; is there anyone who would not be entitled to the new benefit who is entitled to carer’s allowance, and if so, whose job is it to contact them? The Scottish Government would arguably have no locus in relation to them.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I must admit—please forgive me—that I thought that was a separate question, but I remember it and I shall try to answer it at some point.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, asked whether the order ensures that there is no double claiming. He wanted me to confirm that there is no double claiming, double counting or duplication—and I can confirm just that. I hope that I set that out in my opening remarks as well; that is also the aim, and also comes about from the very close collaboration of working that we have with the Scottish Government and, indeed, other parties that I mentioned in my opening speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, asked about the future, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. On learning lessons and what we will gain from this order, particularly looking north of the border, can I say two things? One is that I have no doubt that there will be a way of finding out whether the three pilots mentioned were successful, however one might define that. I confirm that it is very much a matter for the Scottish Government — so this is an enabling series of regulations, which will enable the Scottish Government in a devolved manner to do what they feel is right. But I have no doubt that there will be a way in which we can find out.

On the noble Baroness’s point about learning from this—absolutely, she makes a very good point. When these different regulations are made in the right and proper way for the devolved nations, we should and will be, with our close collaboration, learning from any lessons that might be beneficial for us in England.

The noble Baroness asked how people should apply for the carer support payment. The application process is a matter for the Scottish Government, and questions on this should be addressed to them. That is not entirely helpful, but it falls in line with my point, which is that this is enabling the Scottish Government to make the changes that they will take forward themselves.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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I was trying very carefully to ask questions of the Minister that related to his responsibilities and those of DWP, not the Scottish Government. I was not asking about how somebody would go about applying for the new benefit. There was reference in the order and Explanatory Memorandum to people being transferred from carer’s allowance to the new benefit. Until someone is transferred, the DWP has a responsibility for them. I was asking whether they could make any contact with those to whom they are currently paying carer’s allowance or whether they were leaving that entirely to the Scottish Government.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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Unless there is a ready answer to that, I think that gets into the granularity of the transfer process, and I shall need to write to the noble Baroness to give her some proper information on that. Again, I make the point that there is a close collaboration between the UK and Scottish Governments. It is a fair question, and I think that I need to get some granular detail on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about impact assessments. The answer is that orders made under the Scotland Act 1998 usually do not in themselves have a direct or indirect impact, whether benefit or cost, on businesses, charities or the voluntary sector, and would not therefore have a regulatory impact assessment. This is the case for this particular order. The noble Baroness may be aware—and I just want to confirm—that this is quite usual for constitutional measures in this respect. Implementing this order is not expected to have an impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies, and there is also not expected to be a significant impact on the public sector. The appropriate impact assessments were undertaken for the Carer’s Assistance (Carer Support Payment) (Scotland) Regulations 2023, when these regulations were prepared. No further assessments were required, as this order is a consequence of the 2023 regulations.

I have a couple of other questions that I should like to answer, which may help the noble Baroness with one of her earlier questions. I was asked when the Scottish Government would start and complete the transfer of individuals from carer’s allowance to the carer support payment. This may be helpful—I hope that it answers the question. From February 2024, the Scottish Government will begin the process of transferring the awards of around 130,000 people getting carer’s allowance in Scotland to carer support payments—it will be initiated by them. This will include around 40,000 carers with underlying entitlement only—carers who have entitlement to carer’s allowance but are receiving another overlapping benefit instead. Case transfer is a joint project between the Scottish Government and the DWP, which we intend to complete as soon as possible, while ensuring that the process is safe and secure. Case transfer for all disability and carer benefits remains on track to complete by the end of 2025.

The noble Baroness asked about similarities and differences in eligibility between the two benefits. I covered some of that in my opening speech, but this might answer one question that she asked. No one is eligible for the carer’s allowance who is not eligible for the carer support payment. That may be the succinct answer that she was looking for.

I hope that I have answered all questions. Again, as ever—with the number of questions that the noble Baroness rightfully usually asks—I normally look, and this case will definitely look, at Hansard, to be absolutely sure that I have answered them all. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.25 pm.

House of Lords

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tuesday 14 November 2023
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Death of a Member: Lord Cotter

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Announcement
14:36
Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Cotter, this morning. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.

Children’s Hospices: Funding

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:36
Asked by
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they are on target to provide £25 million for children’s hospices for 2023-24; and whether they intend to repeat this on an annual basis uprated in line with inflation and allocated directly to each children’s hospice.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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The Government and NHS England recognise the vital role that hospices play in delivering high-quality, personalised palliative and end-of-life care for all ages. The children and young people’s hospice grant plays an important role in enabling that to happen. As such, grant allocations of £25 million have been paid in full to hospices in 2023-24. A further £25 million has been announced for 2024-25, with the funding allocation mechanism currently being worked through by NHS England.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. He will be aware that 80% of the income that goes to children’s hospices comes from fundraising. With the cost of living problems we have at the moment, that is increasingly difficult, so the £25 million grant is a lifeline. Do the Government accept that making this grant permanent, so that hospices know about it going forward, and uprating it by the rate of inflation will give enormous help in stabilising the finances of children’s hospices?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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First, I absolutely recognise the noble Lord’s point that 80% of hospices’ funding comes through charities, so they represent an excellent resource for us. That is why we are pleased to confirm the £25 million for next year. The debate, which I am sure we will get into more later, is about making it a direct grant. We generally think that ICBs are best placed to take control of health services in their area, and it is about trying to get the right balance between making direct grants for the provision of places and saying that ICBs know what is best for their area and should cater for them in that way. I would be happy to talk further about that balance with the noble Lord.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, should we not be ashamed that care for children at the end of their short lives is funded by village fetes, cake shops and elderly marathon runners instead of by central government? The total cost of 34 children’s hospices is £130 million and the totality of it should be funded centrally, not as unguaranteed £25 million grants every year. We should be ashamed of this.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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To put this into context again, only about 6% of children’s deaths occur in hospices, so 94% happen in other settings. I want to get that right for the context of all this. There are many parts to this; hospices are quite close to my heart and I want to donate to them charitably. There are many parts of society where we think there is a role for charities to add value and enhance the system, rather than their being crowded out by government-funded sources all the time.

Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, I am grateful for this announcement. We have a wonderful hospice in Worcester, the Acorns Children’s Hospice, which does extraordinary work with young people. Does the Minister accept that, although a minority of children die in hospices, the number of children cared for by them greatly exceeds that. Their work is invaluable.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, it is. I was surprised to find out that, for instance, the number of young people living with life-limiting conditions was 33,000 in 2001-02 and is over 90,000 today. That is the case because we generally have much better treatments for those children. That is obviously good news, but it means that lots more people with such conditions have to be cared for and we need to make sure that they are.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, as a former trustee of Hope House Children’s Hospices, I draw the Minister’s attention to the clinical guidance published by NICE, which showed that for every £1 spent by the public sector in supporting end-of-life care for infants, children and young people, non-cash savings worth almost £3 would be released back into the NHS. Will the Government commit to provide, ongoing, the necessary funding to sustain hospices and maximise the benefit for the NHS and, most of all, for the dependent families?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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As I said, we absolutely agree on the vital role of it all. The amount of funding that we placed there a few years ago was £15 million, so it has gone up by about 67%. It is excellent value for money, and it is excellent that we managed to get the care and energy of the voluntary sector into it. That is the model that I think we all believe in.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as the joint chair of the all-party group whose secretariat is Together for Short Lives. The thing that is of great difficulty in this sector is uncertainty. In the interests of permanence and certainty, will the Minister include a dedicated long-term strategy in the Government’s mandate to NHS England that addresses the palliative care needed for children and young people so that the sector can have an assured future?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend is correct; it is a long-term part of the statutory requirements of all ICBs to provide palliative care, so it is written into that NHSE mandate. It has to review all 42 ICB arrangements, and we make sure that in each setting they have the 24/7 care set-up required of them.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, following on from the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord’s supplementary question, most integrated care boards will have only a very small number of residents who need services from local children’s hospices. Given that, it raises concerns that spending on those services will not be prioritised at that very local level. Does the Minister accept that there is a case for integrated care boards to band together at the regional level and fund hospice services that way?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, absolutely. Again, there is a balance we are trying to get over here, because we are all agreed on the importance of what they are trying to do. At the same time, we believe that ICBs, generally, are the right people make provision at a local level, because they know best what is required in their area. Clearly, where it makes sense for them to band together, that has to be sensible.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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My Lords, most of us will have the amazing work of our own local children’s hospice in mind today in response to this Question. Ours in Surrey is the care and support that the Shooting Star Children’s Hospices provide for babies, children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and their families. We fully support the children’s hospice grant going directly to a hospice. It is the most cost-effective way; it overcomes the patchy performance of many ICBs and their CCG predecessors on hospice funding, and it avoids hospices having to engage with multiple ICSs when their services go across areas. What actions are the Government taking to ensure that ICBs meet the NICE standards in supporting children’s hospice care and against ICBs that have made no attempt to access the current grant arrangements?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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As I mentioned, it is a statutory requirement for every ICB. NHS England is responsible and is reviewing those arrangements in all 42 trusts. At the same time, this is an element which the CQC follows up to ensure that care is in place. I echo the House’s feelings that the results of the voluntary sector and the hospices are excellent. We need to ensure they get the proper support.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as having set up training in paediatric palliative medicine in the UK and internationally. Together for Short Lives data shows that about £15,000 per annum is spent on children and young people in the active caseload, which is probably almost 10,000 young people having care from hospices, some of them for many years. Given that there are service specifications and guidelines, can the Minister be a bit more explicit as to how those are monitored to ensure that service specifications really do meet the needs of the children and that hospice services are integrated with local paediatric services, given that such children often have multiple and complex needs?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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As I said, it is a responsibility for all of them, but I will happily give the noble Baroness a detailed reply so that it is very clear exactly what they are doing to make sure that happens.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, a bazillion years ago when I was the Scottish Health Minister pre-devolution, we introduced a pound-for-pound match-funding system for hospices. That worked brilliantly because it meant that hospices could raise more cash and the Government provided support for organisations that depend on being voluntary. Would my noble friend consider doing that, not just for children’s hospices but for the movement as a whole, which does such fantastic work?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend makes an excellent point. My understanding is exactly in this vein: £7 million was paid in match funding to children’s hospices in exactly the way he mentioned. As to whether we should be doing that more widely, it is a good idea, and I am happy to take it away and come back on it.

Authorised Push Payment Fraud Performance Report

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:47
Asked by
Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the authorised push payment (APP) fraud performance report published by the Payment Systems Regulator in October 2023.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling authorised push payment fraud and stopping customers falling victim to scams. The Government welcome the publication on 31 October by the Payment Systems Regulator of data on the levels of APP fraud and of reimbursement among payment service providers. This will ensure that firms are properly incentivised to combat fraud and explore all avenues to do so.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB)
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My Lords, this excellent report allows us at long last to see which banks are behaving best and worst in preventing and reimbursing fraud. One of the best ways to reduce fraud would be to stop fraudsters using UK bank accounts to receive the stolen money. We can now see from this report that Metro Bank, TSB, Starling and Monzo are the banks that receive and process the most stolen money. Smaller payment providers are even worse. For every £1 million received by Clear Junction, for example, more than £10,000 was stolen money, and almost 20% of Dzing Finance’s receipts by number were fraudulent. Now that we have this information, what are the Government doing to ensure that banks take real action to stop their accounts being used by fraudsters? Secondly, I congratulate Anthony Browne on his promotion yesterday, but what does that mean for his essential role as the Prime Minister’s Anti-Fraud Champion?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I congratulate the noble Lord, because he was a strong advocate for the publication of this data. As he says, it has indeed been revealing, and I assure noble Lords that action has already been taken on the back of it. On 27 October, the Financial Conduct Authority imposed restrictions on Dzing Finance Ltd, which was the worst-performing payment service provider for fraud volumes received. It now cannot on-board any new retail customers or allow any new incoming funds from retail customers for the purposes of issuances of electronic money or providing payment services without the written agreement of the FCA. In March this year, the FCA wrote to all payment firms, highlighting fraud risks and instructing them to take action to address this. Where issues are identified, the FCA will continue to take action. I also congratulate my friend in the other place on his appointment, but I assure noble Lords that his excellent work will continue under the work of the Home Office.

Lord Sandhurst Portrait Lord Sandhurst (Con)
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My Lords, the Payment Systems Regulator aims to provide consumers with better information about fraud and the risks associated with each bank and payment services firm. If the volume and value of frauds and scams enabled by particular tech sectors and social media platforms were also published, that publicity would drive those institutions to improve standards and protect users. Will the PSR be asked to direct all payment service providers to include in their APP fraud data submissions for the next publication the value and volume of fraud enabled by the largest social media and tech platforms?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, it would be interesting to look at that and at how that data might be collected. The point at the heart of my noble friend’s question is absolutely right. Banks have a responsibility in this area, and that is why the reimbursement obligation is coming forward, but others have an obligation in this area too. The recent Online Safety Act imposes new obligations on the largest social media companies and platforms to prevent their users being exposed to harmful content, including fraudulent content. I am sure those measures will make a real difference too.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, APP fraud rose by 20% in the first half of this year alone and, according to the Payment Systems Regulator, customers of banks and building societies have wildly different and divergent experiences of receiving compensation and restitution. While I welcome the mandatory reimbursement requirement that will come into force next year, in the meantime, what consideration is being given to mandate appropriate resourcing of out-of-hours fraud and complaints teams within banks to ensure that where an APP fraud has occurred it can be reported and acted on with appropriate speed?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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As the noble Lord has noted, a significant step towards ensuring greater consistency and user experience will be the mandating of reimbursement; we already have 10 signatories to the voluntary reimbursement code. Of course banks need to have proper processes in place to deal with suspected fraud, and I think publications such as the data we had at the end of last month shine a light on how banks are performing and allow consumers to make informed choices about where they bank.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, UK Finance has published analysis that shows that 78% of APP fraud originates online and another 18%—especially high value —via telecoms. These companies face no reimbursement liability at all. Will the Government act to change that and make the telecoms and online companies liable?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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As I have said to noble Lords, through the Online Safety Act, platforms and services in scope will be required to take action to tackle fraud where it is facilitated through user-generated content or via search results. They must take preventive measures to prevent fraudulent content appearing on their platforms and swiftly remove it if it does. Additionally, there will be a duty on the largest social media companies and search engines to prevent fraudulent adverts on their services. Ofcom has the power to fine companies failing their duty of care up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover, so there will be accountability in the system for online companies too.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, only 59% of the stolen money has been returned to customers, according to the PSR report. Can the Minister explain what pressures there are on bank directors to, as it were, take care of the customers’ interest? The regulators seem to be incredibly complacent that over 40% of the money still has not been returned. Is it not really a case of restructuring the FCA and the PSR, to ensure that customer representatives have the majority of the seats on the boards of those regulatory bodies so that they can get the protection they need?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I believe that an alternative route forward is already in train: the mandatory reimbursement requirement, which will apply across all payment service providers. As I said, there is currently a voluntary approach in place; a mandatory approach will ensure a much more consistent response for consumers when it is introduced next year.

Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, the latest data from the Payment Systems Regulator shows that instances of payment card and remote banking fraud have fallen by 9% and 29% respectively, driven by greater use of much stronger customer authentication interventions. However, use of such initiatives varies markedly across the financial services sector. Does the Minister believe there is a case for stronger guidance on how digital banking platforms should make use of such technology?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right that we need to use a range of tools to respond to fraud taking place through banking. The regulator does have the powers in place to ensure that payment services firms are taking the appropriate action, not just on reimbursement but to prevent the fraud in the first place.

Autism: In-patient Care in Mental Health Hospitals

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:56
Asked by
Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what provisions they are making to reduce the number of autistic people confined to in-patient care in mental health hospitals.

Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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My Lords, this year we are investing £121 million in community support for autistic people and people with a learning disability. This will support reductions in the numbers of autistic in-patients in mental health hospitals in line with the NHS long-term plan commitments. To ensure that autistic people receive quality care in these settings, we are rolling out a National Autism Trainer Programme and have published guidance on sensory adaptations in health environments.

Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig (Lab)
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The King’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to introduce the mental health Bill, ending the scandal of autistic people being locked up in mental health hospitals, sometimes for decades. By shelving the Bill, the Government have failed thousands of autistic people and their families, who are devastated that there continues to be no legal protection against unnecessary detentions; I believe that is an attack on their human rights. The Minister is well respected across this House as a caring and compassionate individual, but I must press him on this. Will he please explain why His Majesty’s Government do not see the Bill as a priority, and as an opportunity to end a most evil practice?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind words about me; I understand the situation. The Government are committed to implementing those changes and we are looking for opportunities to introduce them. I understand his disappointment that the Bill is not in the current programme of legislation. What I am committed to doing is making sure that as many features as possible from the Bill are implemented through action on the ground; the care and treatment reviews are a vital part of that today. Following the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, we are also making sure that we have regular CQC reviews over the next few years. We are delivering good action in this space, but I understand his feelings.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning (Con)
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I am a vice-president of the National Autistic Society. I also remind the House of my interests in the register and my family interest in this subject. The reason why a lot of autistic people become in-patients in mental health hospitals is the lack of real understanding and training of healthcare professionals in that field. It is a lot better in the big conurbations than in the countryside. Autism is not a mental health condition but, as my noble friend the Minister will know, one of the problems that the Government will face if they are to help to get people out of these institutions is that, like the rest of us, people with autism can develop mental health conditions; autistic-related anxiety is a very common one. Psychologists—one finds more of them than psychiatrists out in the community—cannot prescribe; it has to be a psychiatrist who prescribes. Until you get the right number of trained professionals out in the community—namely, psychiatrists with a specialism in autism; it is no good having just your average jobbing psychiatrist—those people are doomed to stay. I urge my noble friend to look at the levels of availability for the right professionals, to release these people from the incarceration they should never have suffered in the first place.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I and the whole House would agree with my noble friend that having the right people making the right assessments on the right place for those people to be treated is key to all this. We are rolling out training through the National Autism Trainer Programme, in which we have invested £20 million to ensure improvements in autistic diagnostic pathways and people’s capability to achieve them. We are now rolling out the Oliver McGowan training to over 1 million people and looking at rolling out stage 2. However, I agree with her that these actions are vital.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, the tragedy is that so many admissions are due to failings in adult social care. Mencap’s analysis of the latest NHS Digital statistics shows that only 45% of ICSs have met the adult in-patient rate promised by March 2020 and that 26% of ICSs are going in the wrong direction. Can the Minister update the House on future plans for building the right support after March 2024? In the absence of mental health and adult social care Bills in the gracious Speech, what plans are there to fully implement the recommendations in my report, which he kindly mentioned, published by the Department of Health on 8 November? So many of those recommendations were dependent on a code of practice to the current Mental Health Act being reopened.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her report and the meeting that we had to follow it up. Probably the best way forward on this is that a lot of things we are doing and can do can be done absent the Bill. I should be happy to sit down with her and talk through what we can do and where we can go further to make sure that everything that we were trying to put into legislation we can effectively make happen anyway, because we are all agreed as a House absolutely on the direction of travel in which we want to go.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, what is being done to change the commissioning systems and contracts that currently incentivise providers of medium and long- term secure accommodation to keep people in hospital, rather than equip them to go back into the community?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I will come back in more detail on the contractual arrangements, but the point that the noble Baroness raises on making sure that there are no perverse incentives to do that has to be right. The now CQC-led reviews that we have agreed to put in place as part of continuing the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, happen frequently. In the case of adults, there is a review every six months, if appropriate, and, in the case of children, every three months to make sure that every step of the way we ask whether this is really the right place for them to be.

Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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My Lords, these days, more and more parents would like to have purpose-built accommodation for their autistic children. At this moment, they are unable to have that because they cannot access an adaptation grant, also known as a disability facility grant. That needs to change so that parents can build independent self-contained accommodation for their autistic children, which can be done only through legislation and extra funding. Will the Government look into this?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I am aware of the point that the noble Lord makes. About 48% of the reasons why people are not discharged are because of a lack of suitable housing. It is something on which we are working closely with Homes England and DLUHC, to make sure that we can utilise as much of the affordable housing grant as possible. I was not aware that legislation needed to be changed but I will happily look into that to see if it is the case.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of the critical importance of early intensive education for severely autistic children? I hope so. I was involved in such an initiative some years ago and it is remarkable how a child with no speech and tremendous deficits can ultimately go to a normal school, and the prospects to then lead a reasonably normal life are enhanced enormously.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, I have some personal experience here and I know how vital it is to find out early, so you can put together the tools. I have seen some really interesting things. The Bradford pilot looked at children’s scores and whether that was an early indicator. I was at Boston Children’s Hospital a few weeks ago, which is looking at the way that children play on apps and whether that can give indications of whether there is some neurodiversity. There is absolutely the intention of early diagnosis.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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Thankfully, my Lords, understanding of and support for autism have changed substantially since the now 40 year-old Mental Health Act, especially about being clear on what an autism-friendly environment looks like and should be, although sadly that is not often found in mental health settings and ATUs. Did the Government’s decision to abandon the new mental health Bill this Session include an assessment of the impact this would have on patients? This is particularly urgent now that changes to the code of practice, recommended by the excellent report on long-term segregation by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, will not be considered until we deal with the Bill. How and when will the Government deliver the significant changes needed?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I think we are all agreed on the action; there was was an intensive and involved process by the whole House when it came to agreeing the action. That is why I am keen to ensure that we implement as much of it as possible that does not require legislation, which we are doing. I am happy for the noble Baroness to join me at the meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, when we can look at the practical steps to see what is possible.

Artificial Intelligence: Regulation

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:07
Asked by
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, following the action taken by the United States in respect of regulating artificial intelligence, including the recent signing of an Executive Order, whether they have plans to introduce similar provisions in UK law.

Viscount Camrose Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (Viscount Camrose) (Con)
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In the AI regulation White Paper we set out our first steps towards establishing a regulatory framework for AI. We are aligned with the United States in taking a proportionate, context-based and evidence-led approach to AI regulation. The White Paper did not commit to new legislation at this stage. However, we have not ruled out legislative action in future as and when there is evidence of substantial risks, where non-statutory measures would be ineffective.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am a little disappointed in the Minister’s response, but we welcome the discussions that took place at Bletchley Park. While the Prime Minister says he will not rush to regulate, as the Minister knows, other jurisdictions— the US and the EU—are moving ahead. Labour in government would act swiftly to implement a number of checks on firms developing this most powerful form of frontier AI. A Bill might not have been in the King’s Speech, but that does not mean that the Government cannot legislate. Will the Minister today commit to doing so?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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The Government are by no means anti legislation; we are simply anti legislation that is developed in advance of fully understanding the implications of the technology, its benefits and indeed its risks. This is a widely shared view. One of the results of the Bletchley summit that the noble Lord mentioned will be a state-of-the-science report convened by Professor Bengio to take forward our understanding on this, so that evidence-based legislation can then as necessary be put in place. As I say, we feel that we are very closely aligned to the US approach in this area and look forward to working closely with the US and others going forward.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, the Government have noted that AI’s large language models are trained using copyrighted data and content that is scraped from the internet. This will constitute intellectual property infringement if it is not licensed. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that technology companies seek rights holders’ informed consent?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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This is indeed a serious and complex issue, and yesterday I met the Creative Industries Council to discuss it. Officials continue to meet regularly both with creative rights holders and with innovating labs, looking for common ground with the goal of developing a statement of principles and a code of conduct to which all sides can adhere. I am afraid to say that progress is slow on that; there are disagreements that come down to legal interpretations across multiple jurisdictions. Still, we remain convinced that there is a landing zone for all parties, and we are working towards that.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has just said, and he clearly understands this technology, its risks and indeed its opportunities, but is he not rather embarrassed by the fact that the Government seem to be placing a rather higher priority on the regulation of pedicabs in London than on AI regulation?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord that I am not embarrassed in the slightest. Perhaps I can come back with a quotation from Yann LeCun, one of the three godfathers of AI, who said in an interview the other week that regulating AI now would be like regulating commercial air travel in 1925. We can more or less theoretically grasp what it might do, but we simply do not have the grounding to regulate properly because we lack the evidence. Our path to the safety of AI is to search for the evidence and, based on the evidence, to regulate accordingly.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, an absence of regulation in an area that holds such enormous repercussions for the whole of society will not spur innovation but may impede it. The US executive order and the EU’s AI Act gave AI innovators and companies in both these substantial markets greater certainty. Will it not be the case that innovators and companies in this country will comply with that regulation because they will want to trade in that market, and we will then be left with external regulation and none of our own? Why are the Government not doing something about this?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I think there are two things. First, we are extremely keen, and have set this out in the White Paper, that the regulation of AI in this country should be highly interoperable with international regulation—I think all countries regulating would agree on that. Secondly, I take some issue with the characterisation of AI in this country as unregulated. We have very large areas of law and regulation to which all AI is subject. That includes data protection, human rights legislation, competition law, equalities law and many other laws. On top of that, we have the recently created central AI risk function, whose role is to identify risks appearing on the horizon, or indeed cross-cutting AI risks, to take that forward. On top of that, we have the most concentrated and advanced thinking on AI safety anywhere in the world to take us forward on the pathway towards safe, trustworthy AI that drives innovation.

Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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My Lords, given the noble Viscount’s emphasis on the gathering of evidence and evidence-based regulation, can we anticipate having a researchers’ access to data measure in the upcoming Data Protection and Digital Information Bill?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question and recognise her concern. In order to be sure that I answer the question properly, I undertake to write to her with a full description of where we are and to meet her to discuss further.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my technology interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that it is at least worth regulating at this stage to require all those developing and training AI to publish all the data and all the IP they use to train that AI on, not least for the point around ensuring that all IP obligations are complied with? If this approach were taken, it would enable quite a distance to be travelled in terms of people being able to understand and gain explainability of how the AI is working.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I am pleased to tell my noble friend that, following a request from the Secretary of State, the safety policies of Amazon, Anthropic, Google DeepMind, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI and others have been published and will go into what we might call a race to the top—a competitive approach to boosting AI safety. As for enshrining those practices in regulation, that is something we continue to look at.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, around data—that the power of the AI is in many ways defined by the quality of the data—does the Minister have any concern that the Prime Minister’s friend, Elon Musk, for example, owns a huge amount of sentiment data through Twitter, a huge amount of transportation data through Tesla, and a huge amount of communication data through owning more than half the satellites orbiting the planet? Does he not see that there might be a need to regulate the ownership of data across different sectors?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Indeed. Of course, one of the many issues with regulating AI is that it falls across so many different jurisdictions. It would be very difficult for any one country, including the US, to have a single bit of legislation that acted on the specific example that the noble Lord mentions. That is why it is so important for us to operate on an international basis and why we continue not just with the AI safety summit at Bletchley Park but working closely with the G7 and G20, bodies of the UN, GPAI and others.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, there is significant public interest in the companies developing artificial intelligence working together on common safety standards, but in doing so they may run the risk of falling foul of competition law. Will the Minister be talking to the Competition and Markets Authority to make sure that one public good, preventing anti-competitive practices, does not impede another public good, the development of common safety standards?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Yes, indeed. It is a really important point that the development of AI as a set of technologies is going to oblige us to work across regulators in a variety of new ways to which we are not yet used. That is indeed one of the functions of the newly formed central AI risk function within DSIT.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, can I back up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on access to data by research workers, particularly health data? Without access to that data, we will not be able to develop generative AI such as retinal scans, for instance, and many other developments in healthcare.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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Yes, indeed. In healthcare in this country, we have what perhaps may well be the greatest dataset for healthcare analysis in the world. We want to make use of that for analysis purposes and to improve health outcomes for everybody. We do, of course, have to be extremely careful as we use that, because that is as private as data can possibly get.

UK Sanctions Regime: Russia and Belarus

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 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 Thursday 9 November.
“Sanctions are an important tool that we use to weaken Putin’s war effort and to underline our unyielding support for Ukraine. Britain alone has sanctioned more than 1,800 individuals and entities under the Russia sanctions regime, more than 1,600 of which have been sanctioned since Putin’s full-scale invasion. Although I cannot comment on individual cases, we are pleased that the High Court has in recent weeks recognised the Foreign Office’s expertise on deciding which persons should be sanctioned to ensure maximum effect.
We have frozen over £18 billion-worth of Russian assets through designations and over 60% of Russia’s central bank foreign reserves—assets that can no longer be funnelled back to Russia to fund its war machine. Rather than the surplus that the Russian Government predicted for 2022, Russia suffered an annual deficit of £47 billion—the second highest of the post-Soviet era. Its budget remains in deficit in 2023, despite tax increases. We have also targeted those who have enabled sanctioned persons to hide their assets in obscure and complex financial networks, and we are working to crack down on phoenix companies, which continue to operate after sanctions are imposed or which are developing fronts to avoid sanctions.
Just yesterday, we imposed 29 further sanctions targeting individuals and entities operating in and supporting Russia’s gold, oil and strategic sectors—critical sources of revenue for the Russian war machine. Those sanctions include Russia’s largest gold refiner, as well as international networks propping up Russia’s gold, oil and finance industries.
Our co-ordinated sanctions, working in line with our G7 partners, are having an impact. Without our sanctions and those of our partners, we estimate that Russia would have over $400 billion more to fund its war machine. We are starving Putin of the resources he needs to fund his illegal war on Ukraine. Sanctions are thwarting Russian access to western components and technology. Russia’s budget remains in deficit. Our oil price cap has contributed to a fall of 25% in Russian oil revenues between January and September 2023, compared with the same period in 2022, and our export bans have starved Russia of thousands of products needed for the battlefield.
His Majesty’s Government are fully aware, as Members will be, that sanctions are not static. We are constantly monitoring to see where and if they are being circumvented. Alongside our international partners, we are closing loopholes and tackling sanctions evasion, as Putin desperately scrambles to restructure the Russian economy and smuggle goods in through back channels. We will continue to isolate Russia’s financial system and support businesses that are seeking to divest from their links with Russia. We will bring forward further legislation in the coming weeks to deliver on our G7 commitments and further deprive Russia of lucrative remaining revenue sources, including banning imports of Russian diamonds and ending all imports of Russian copper, aluminium and nickel. Finally, we will continue to combat circumvention and seek to degrade Russia’s military capabilities by coming down hard on sanctions evaders and closing loopholes.”
15:17
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by saying how pleased I am to see the Minister in his place. I also repeat what I have said many times before: the Opposition are at one with the Government in supporting Ukraine and sanctioning those responsible for starting this horrendous war.

However, there are serious concerns about the effectiveness of our sanctions regime, nearly two years after the invasion. It is unacceptable that 130 UK companies have admitted breaching Russia-related sanctions. I welcome the Statement of the Minister in the other place, that the Government are closing loopholes, but can the Minister set out what assessment has been made of the alleged existence of specific loopholes to allow indirect imports of Russian- and Belarusian-origin steel, or indeed Russian-origin crude oil that has been refined in third countries? This is a really serious issue in terms of the loopholes that have been identified.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. Your Lordships’ House will be pleased to know that we will be having two FCDO Ministers here, which underlines the strong commitment of the FCDO and, indeed, His Majesty’s Government to your Lordships’ House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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It should have been you!

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I shall carry on with the Answer. The noble Lord is totally right, and I appreciate him confirming again the importance of standing in solidarity against Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine. As an aside, I have literally just come over from a Ukrainian survivor event that we were hosting at the Foreign Office—some of them very young survivors who have been through the most horrendous ordeals. It is important we send a message of unity.

On the specifics, I followed last week’s reports from City A.M. about 130 companies. There is a positive here, because this was voluntarily admitted, although there is of course inadvertent non-compliance. I assure noble Lords that we are working with our colleagues across government, particularly in the Treasury as well as other departments. The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is looking specifically at how we can further tighten some of the procedures. While we have fined companies that have acted inappropriately, and called others out, other methods are being put in place, including warning letters and mitigations. We are working particularly closely with the Treasury team to ensure, as I have always said, that loopholes are identified. Other loopholes identified as the sanctions are applied will also be closed.

The noble Lord rightly asked about some of the other specific industries and the sanctions we have imposed recently, including on areas such as oil and other contraventions. I assure noble Lords that, as we apply further sanctions, we will continue to identify such areas and loopholes. Only last week, on 8 November, we announced a further targeting of 29 individuals and entities operating in and supporting Russia’s gold, oil and strategic sectors, which are critical sources of revenue.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I too admire the Minister’s reshuffle resilience and welcome him to the continuation of his post. I commend the Government on the latest sanctions on gold. The Minister knows that I have been warning about the UAE gold trade in Africa for a number of months now, and the measures in Zimbabwe are extremely welcome. Can he ensure that this will now be expanded to Sudan and other areas where that trade is so pernicious?

On implementation, I looked at the updates on enforcement on the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation website just before coming into the Chamber. The Minister referred to enforcement. The OFSI has said that, since 2019, there has been £21 million of enforcement against UK businesses. But, since the Russian invasion in 2022, there has been only £45,000-worth of enforcement against UK companies. Is the Minister satisfied that there is nearly 100% adherence to sanctions, or could we be doing more on enforcement actions against those who are circumventing them?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I record my thanks to the noble Lord for his kind remarks. I recognise, as he has, that this is about cross-party working and identifying what further steps we can take. I would not be bold enough to suggest that we have 100% compliance or that we are closing every loophole that has been identified; as I said, there will be further action in these areas. I also take on board some of the countries he mentioned where we can do further work. I will work with colleagues across government to ensure that, when we identify particular areas, I will notify the Front Benches in the usual way about action we are considering taking.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, what system do the Government have for monitoring these sanctions? It seems strange that the media seem to have been better informed than the Government. What measures will the Government put in place to make sure that they do this effectively?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, part and parcel of our work with the Treasury and, in particular, the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is, first, to ensure that we identify the actual structures being used and abused in this way to override sanctions and, then, to work directly with companies and inform them of mitigation methods that can be taken. This is ever-evolving, so, with the more sanctions we impose and the more sectors we look at, there is a lag time before they become effective. As I have already alluded to, we have identified that there will be a time lag while actions are implemented for particular sectors. I also accept that some companies act inadvertently and that we should not penalise them financially straight away; we should also look at other methods, including those we are deploying directly.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, would the Minister widen a little the response he has given so far and say what systems we have for working with the European Union so that our sanctions and their sanctions, which are very similar, are implemented in a properly concerted way and that we help each other to chase up over implementation?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord draws important attention to the key issue of co-operation with key partners. Not only are we working very closely with the European Union on the sanctions policy across the piece, but, particularly in light of Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine, we are working hand in glove with the European Union, as well as US partners and others, to ensure the consistency of application, so that all jurisdictions reflect the same types of sanctions applied to close those loopholes. As I have said before, if an individual or organisation is sanctioned either in the EU or in the UK and not in the other jurisdiction, there is a direct loophole that needs to be closed.

King’s Speech

Tuesday 14th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Debate (5th Day)
15:25
Moved on Tuesday 7 November by
Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Portrait Lord McInnes of Kilwinning
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That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Viscount Camrose Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (Viscount Camrose) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, I thank His Majesty the King for delivering the gracious Speech. I am grateful for the privilege of opening today’s debate on the Motion for this humble Address.

The bold, ambitious legislative agenda the Government have set out for the year ahead is testament to the fact that we are taking the right long-term decisions for a brighter future. That is because this Government recognise that, right across all the sectors we are debating today, the United Kingdom has an exceptional story to tell.

Last year we became one of only three countries in the world to boast a tech sector worth more than $1 trillion. We are a nation of scientific endeavour, home to the Jodrell Bank observatory, to the Francis Crick Institute and to pioneering businesses such as Google DeepMind, whose AlphaFold program has used AI to predict the shapes of 200 million proteins—the fundamental building blocks of human biology.

Through our Frontier AI Taskforce—soon to be our new AI safety institute—we are investing more than any other country in the safe development and deployment of this transformative technology. Indeed, earlier this month our leadership on AI was on full display as we hosted the first ever global summit on AI safety and agreed the historic Bletchley declaration.

Beyond science and technology, we all know that Britain today is a cultural powerhouse too, with a film and television industry worth more than £12 billion to our economy producing iconic, award-winning shows. In virtually every part of the globe, people can tune into the inimitable BBC World Service, which reaches an audience of more than 400 million.

But, for our many strengths, we know that there is no room for complacency. In all these sectors we want the UK to become one of the most competitive, pro-business and pro-innovation economies in the world, and in the proposed legislation we have set out in His Majesty’s most gracious Speech, we are making that vision a reality.

Through our Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, we are delivering on our manifesto commitment to end consumer rip-offs while creating a host of growth-spurring incentives for British business. To that end, it will grant new powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to drive innovation by preventing a handful of powerful tech companies using their influence to quash competition and harm consumers. It will hand people more rights over subscription contracts to give them more control over their spending, and it will make it harder for unscrupulous traders to trap people in subscription contracts they no longer want—a practice that currently cheats consumers out of £1.6 billion every year. New powers will also enable the CMA to take tough action against other bad business practices more quickly, without needing lengthy court action.

In all this we want to strengthen the rights of the consumer, recognising that better data protection is a win-win for both businesses and individuals. That is why our Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will let us take full advantage of our post-Brexit freedoms, unleashing innovation in every corner of the UK. It will help create a flexible, common-sense data protection regime, one that takes the best elements of GDPR while cutting red tape and saving British businesses £2.2 billion in increased productivity and compliance costs over 10 years. In the public sector those savings climb to £2.5 billion over 10 years, thanks to reforms to the use of data for law enforcement, national security and digital verification services.

We are reducing the bureaucracy that has been holding us back, while delivering real benefits for the British people. That includes both cracking down on nuisance calls and reducing the number of dreaded “accept/reject cookie” buttons that freeze web pages, sometimes long after they have loaded.

We are ensuring that the rules around data and internet access are fit for the digital age, and we want to do the same for public service broadcasting, because the truth is that many broadcasters are governed by rules written 20 years ago. Our laws ought to drive growth in our creative industries, not constrain it. That is why our new Media Bill is so important—to enable our public service broadcasters to compete, to nurture talent and skills and to drive growth across the UK. The Bill will ensure that audiences, both here and around the world, can more easily enjoy quality British content, supporting our creative industries to produce the next “Killing Eve”, “Top Gear” or “Line of Duty”. It will make sure that public service content is only a click away on connected devices such as set-top boxes, fire sticks and smart TVs, which are in roughly three-quarters of homes. It is right that UK audiences have access to the content they love, be that on commercial or public service broadcasters. Thanks to the reforms in our Media Bill, they will.

We are backing British radio stations through these changes too. They require major smart speaker platforms to ensure that the likes of Gold, Magic, Classic FM and all the stations that listeners love can be played on request. Crucially, the Media Bill complements the sweeping protections we have put in place for young people in the UK through the Online Safety Act. It will mean that on-demand content will be held to the same high standards as broadcast channels so that our children can be protected from harmful material.

At the same time, we recognise that freedom of the press and of our media is sacrosanct. Through this Bill we are fulfilling our manifesto pledge to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which could have required publishers that are not members of an approved regulator to pay costs on legal claims brought against them, regardless of the outcome. This section could have had a negative effect on freedom of speech, undermining high-quality journalism and our newspapers, which play such a vital role in our political discourse and our wider democracy.

Finally, we are modernising the listed events regime to protect British viewers’ access to major sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup. Football is another area in which we have an exceptional story to tell, not least in the tremendous success of our Lionesses at the European Championships last year. In recent times, though, our national game has suffered. We have seen that in the collapse of Bury FC, the devastating impact of the pandemic on clubs and the botched plan for a breakaway European super league. This all underscores the need for an independent football regulator, one that addresses financial sustainability in our national game and ensures that fans’ voices are heard loud and clear. That is precisely what our football governance Bill will establish: a regulator with real teeth that will require a minimum standard of fan engagement. It will hand fans veto rights over changes to team names and badges, the things that are so often part of a club’s heritage. Fans will also be consulted should their local stadium ever be put up for sale. Through the new regulator, we will strengthen owners’ and directors’ tests to help prevent a repeat of what happened at Blackpool FC and Charlton Athletic, where fans had to fight to save their own club.

We also recognise that the current distribution of revenue in the top five divisions is far from sufficient. That, in turn, is causing financial headaches for some clubs, further destabilising the football pyramid. That is why the regulator will have targeted statutory powers to, as a last resort, ensure financial sustainability in this pyramid by redistributing broadcast revenue.

As noble Lords know, the vast majority of football clubs are pillars of their community and are well run, and for these the regulator will have less of a role. Instead, it will focus its efforts on ensuring financial stability in the top five tiers of the men’s English football pyramid, with a mandatory licensing system. Through the scheme, it will have powers to monitor and enforce compliance with requirements in financial regulation, club ownership and much more.

From Liverpool to Leeds, from Wrexham to Wolverhampton, our football clubs are the beating hearts of our communities, steeped in history and inextricably linked to our national heritage. Because of the reforms we are undertaking today, I am confident that they will continue to thrive tomorrow and for decades to come.

In the Bills I have outlined, we are fulfilling our commitment to unlock the UK’s full potential in science, technology, media and sport. We are giving every entrepreneur a fair shot at success, ensuring that corporate power is not unduly concentrated in the hands of a select few. We are backing the rights of consumers, giving them greater control over spending, while clamping down on businesses that engage in drip pricing. We are backing British television, British film and British broadcasters, flying the flag for our nation’s unrivalled creativity and talent.

I look forward to further debating these key Bills in His Majesty’s most gracious Speech and discussing our plans to change our country for the better, building a brighter future for every hard-working family.

15:34
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased to open this debate from these Benches and to welcome His Majesty to his first official King’s Speech as our new monarch. I look forward with pleasure to the maiden speeches that we will hear later in the debate.

I thank the Minister for his introduction, but he knows only too well that this is not a serious programme for government. Instead, the speech represents a sad attempt to plaster over the cracks of a dying Government trying to hold their divided party together and avoiding the big leadership decisions that this country needs to get our ambition and our futures back. I am sorry to say that it is no good pretending that this is in the nation’s interest, when society and business have lost confidence in what we can achieve and are increasingly looking forward to an alternative Government in which clearly defined, long-term national goals will usher in a decade of national renewal. This has been a decade of missed opportunities; this King’s Speech is no exception.

The recent government summit at Bletchley Park is a case in point. It was a welcome initiative and an opportunity for the UK to lead the global debate on how we regulate the power of AI for the public good. We know that AI has the power to deliver life-changing benefits for working people. From delivering early cancer diagnosis to relieving traffic congestion, the opportunities are endless. However, to secure these benefits, we need to get on top of the risks and build public trust. The US and the EU are already moving ahead with real safeguards on the technology while the Prime Minister—and, today, the Minister—says that there is no need to rush to action. At the same time, we were treated to the embarrassing spectacle of the Prime Minister’s cosy fireside chat with Elon Musk, who would be a likely beneficiary of unregulated technology.

Let me be clear: a Labour Government would urgently introduce binding regulation on those companies developing the most powerful AI models that could, if left unchecked, spread misinformation, undermine elections and help terrorists build weapons. We will also harness the new technological advantages that can grow our economy, reforming regulation and speeding up decisions to make Britain the best place in the world to innovate.

As we said at the time, the Government’s decision to withdraw from the EU Horizon scheme, as well as the three-year delay in negotiating our re-entry, caused untold damage to our research community. We lost many talented people to jobs abroad. In contrast, we will value, train and nurture our next generation of scientists and innovators, so that they have a long-term future in the UK. The Government’s short-termism has meant that funding for bodies such as UKRI lasts only three years and endless bureaucratic grant applications have become the norm. In contrast, we will create certainty and excellence, with R&D budgets set at up to 10 years in order to underpin our modern industrial strategy. We will harness technology in ways that can benefit everybody, tackling regional inequality, transforming public services and shoring up the welfare state after years of decline. These are the ambitions that should have been central to the gracious Speech but which are sadly missing.

There is no point in having vibrant new technologies if we cannot even get the basics right. We have seen repeated government failures to meet the targets on the rollout of fibre broadband. As the Minister will know, the Public Accounts Committee reported that DCMS was unlikely to meet even its downgraded target of gigabit-capable broadband for 85% of premises by 2025. So can the Minister update us on progress towards those targets, given that connectivity is vital for rural and isolated communities and is an essential part of our economic recovery? Can he update us on what is being done to ensure that all citizens have access to the smart technologies on which our public services will increasingly rely?

Meanwhile, although we were supportive of the Online Safety Act and will work with Ofcom to ensure swift and effective implementation, we recognise that further regulation may well be necessary—for example, around the right of bereaved parents to access data when their child’s death involves social media platforms. We look forward to the debates on the two carry-over Bills, particularly to protect consumers and to ensure that the new powers proposed by the CMA to ensure competition in digital markets are not watered down by this Government.

On the issue of media, we very much welcome the new Media Bill. The fact is that the current decades-old legislation is out of date. The media landscape has changed out of all recognition with the rise of media giants and the game-changing impact of new technologies. In this new world, our British broadcasters and UK radio have lost market share and lost prominence on smart devices, so they need to be given the tools to survive in a modern era. This should include giving significant prominence to the BBC and other public service broadcasters on all TV interfaces. Instead of fixing this problem, the Government have wasted a year on their disastrous and ill-conceived plan to sell off Channel 4. Therefore, we welcome this Bill, and we hope it can be introduced without further delay.

There is so much more that could be done to support the creative industries in the UK. The legacy of Brexit means that it is harder and more expensive for artists to tour Europe. Lack of funding means that smaller venues are closing at a rate of one a week, and, under Covid, creative freelancers were excluded from financial support. People are being forced to leave this sector, when it could instead be at the heart of our economic growth. This is why, under Labour, the creative industries will have a critical part to play in building communities, rejuvenating our high streets and providing a wealth of local leisure facilities. It is why we will deliver a creative curriculum which brings the best music, art, sport and drama to every child.

Also missing from the Speech is any mention of gambling regulation. Since the government review was announced in 2020 there have been 10 different Ministers responsible for this policy area. The White Paper has been subject to delays and policy downgrading, yet the problems of gambling exploitation and addiction continue to blight many lives. When can we expect to see any gambling legislation to bring in effective regulation of online gambling companies?

Finally, we welcome the announcement that there will be a football governance Bill. We have long called for football reform and will scrutinise this Bill carefully. Football clubs are at the heart of our communities and are a great source of identity and pride in our towns. However, we need to give fans a greater say in the way that clubs are run and to redistribute more television rights to the grass-roots game. Currently, despite bigger revenues coming into the game, the financial sustainability of the football pyramid has never been more at risk. We are increasingly seeing a new breed of owners with little interest in the long-term interest of their clubs. All too often, fans are locked out of discussions and deals which affect the whole community and which are done entirely behind closed doors. We urgently need to bring in new laws to stop any more clubs going bust or being used as a plaything for the wealthy. The Government were given a plan to do this by the fan-led review last year. We support the outcome of that review and will be looking to this new Bill to implement it in full.

We will give all the Bills in this King’s Speech the scrutiny and attention that they deserve, but make no mistake, this is not the sort of legislative package that the country expects or deserves. There is a real mood for change and no attempt at repackaging by the Prime Minister can alter the fact that this is more of the same, from a failed Government who have run out of ideas. We need a sharp break from “business as usual” and a new approach to government that will tackle the complex problems which are holding us back. I hope that the next King’s Speech will demonstrate how change on this scale can be achieved and set us on a course for the national renewal that we desperately need.

15:44
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the council of Queen Mary University of London, with its major research interests. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, in her new role.

I want to start on a positive note by celebrating the recent Royal Assent of the Online Safety Act and the publication of the first draft code for consultation. I also very much welcome that we now have a dedicated science and technology department in the form of DSIT, although I very much regret the loss of Minister George Freeman yesterday.

Sadly, there are many other less positive aspects to mention. Given the Question on AI regulation today, all I will say is that despite all the hype surrounding the summit, including the PM’s rather bizarre interview with Mr Musk, in reality the Government are giving minimal attention to AI, despite the Secretary of State saying that the world is standing at the inflection point of a technological revolution. Where are we on adjusting ourselves to the kinds of risk that AI represents? Is it not clear that the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee is correct in recommending in its interim report that the Government

“accelerate, not … pause, the establishment of a governance regime for AI, including whatever statutory measures as may be needed”?

That is an excellent recommendation.

I also very much welcome that we are rejoining Horizon, but there was no mention in the Minister’s speech of how we will meet the challenge of getting international research co-operation back to where it was. I am disappointed that the Minister did not give us a progress update on the department’s 10 objectives in its framework for science and technology, and on action on the recommendations of its many reviews, such as the Nurse review. Where are the measurable targets and key outcomes in priority areas that have been called for?

Nor, as we have heard, has there been any mention of progress on Project Gigabit, and no mention either of progress on the new programmes to be undertaken by ARIA. There was no mention of urgent action to mitigate increases to visa fees planned from next year, which the Royal Society has described as “disproportionate” and a “punitive tax on talent”, with top researchers coming to the UK facing costs up to 10 times higher than in other leading science nations. There was no mention of the need for diversity in science and technology. What are we to make of the Secretary of State demanding that UKRI “immediately” close its advisory group on EDI? What progress, too, on life sciences policy? The voluntary and statutory pricing schemes for new medicines currently under consultation are becoming a major impediment to future life sciences investment in the UK.

Additionally, health devices suffer from a lack of development and commercialisation incentives. The UK has a number of existing funding and reimbursement systems, but none is tailored for digital health, which results in national reimbursement. What can DSIT do to encourage investment and innovation in this very important field?

On cybersecurity, the G7 recognises that red teaming, or what is called threat-led penetration testing, is now crucial in identifying vulnerabilities in AI systems. Sir Patrick Vallance’s Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review of March this year recommended amending the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to include a statutory public interest defence that would provide stronger legal protections for cybersecurity researchers and professionals carrying out threat intelligence research. Yet there is still no concrete proposal. This is glacial progress.

However, we on these Benches welcome the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. New flexible, pro-competition powers, and the ability to act ex ante and on an interim basis, are crucial. We have already seen the impact on our sovereign cloud capacity through concentration in just two or three US hands. Is this the future of AI, given that these large language models now developed by the likes of OpenAI, Microsoft, Anthropic AI, Google and Meta require massive datasets, vast computing power, advanced semiconductors, and scarce digital and data skills?

As the Lords Communications and Digital Committee has said, which I very much welcome, the Bill must not, however, be watered down in a way that allows big tech to endlessly challenge the regulators in court and incentivise big tech firms to take an adversarial approach to the regulators. In fact, it needs strengthening in a number of respects. In particular, big tech must not be able to use countervailing benefits as a major loophole to avoid regulatory action. Content needs to be properly compensated by the tech platforms. The Bill needs to make clear that platforms profit from content and need to pay properly and fairly on benchmarked terms and with reference to value for end users. Can the Minister, in winding up, confirm at the very least that the Government will not water down the Bill?

We welcome the CMA’s market investigation into cloud services, but it must look broadly at the anti-competitive practices of the service providers, such as vendor lock-in tactics and non-competitive procurement. Competition is important in the provision of broadband services too. Investors in alternative providers to the incumbents need reassurance that their investment is going on to a level playing field and not one tilted in favour of the incumbents. Can the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to infrastructure competition in the UK telecommunications industry?

The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is another matter. I believe the Government are clouded by the desire to diverge from the EU to get some kind of Brexit dividend. The Bill seems largely designed, contrary to what the Minister said, to dilute the rights of data subjects where it should be strengthening them. For example, there is concern from the National AIDS Trust that permitting intragroup transmission of personal health data

“where that is necessary for internal administrative purposes”

could mean that HIV/AIDS status will be inadequately protected in workplace settings. Even on the Government’s own estimates it will have a minimal positive impact on compliance costs, and in our view it will simply lead to companies doing business in Europe having to comply with two sets of regulation. All this could lead to a lack of EU data adequacy.

The Bill is a dangerous distraction. Far from weakening data rights, as we move into the age of the internet of things and artificial intelligence, the Government should be working to increase public trust in data use and sharing by strengthening those rights. There should be a right to an explanation of automated systems, where AI is only one part of the final decision in certain circumstances—for instance, where policing, justice, health, or personal welfare or finance is concerned. We need new models of personal data controls, which were advocated by the Hall-Pesenti review as long ago as 2017, especially through new data communities and institutions. We need an enhanced ability to exercise our right to data portability. We need a new offence of identity theft and more, not less, regulatory oversight over use of biometrics and biometric technologies.

One of the key concerns we all have as the economy becomes more and more digital is data and digital exclusion. Does DSIT have a strategy in this respect? In particular, as Citizens Advice said,

“consumers faced unprecedented hikes in their monthly mobile and broadband contract prices”

as a result of mid-contract price rises. When will the Government, Ofcom or the CMA ban these?

There are considerable concerns about digital exclusion, for example regarding the switchover of voice services from copper to fibre. It is being carried out before most consumers have been switched on to full fibre infra- structure and puts vulnerable customers at risk.

There are clearly great opportunities to use AI within the creative industries, but there are also challenges, big questions over authorship and intellectual property. Many artists feel threatened, and this was the root cause of the recent Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strike. What are the IPO and government doing, beyond their consultation on licensing in this area, to secure the necessary copyright and performing right reform to protect artists from synthetic versions?

I very much echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said about misinformation during elections. We have already seen two deepfakes related to senior Front-Bench Members—shadow spokespeople—in the Commons. It is concerning that those senior politicians appear powerless to stop this.

My noble friends will deal with the Media Bill. The Minister did not talk of the pressing need for skilling and upskilling in this context. A massive skills and upskilling agenda is needed, as well as much greater diversity and inclusion in the AI workforce. We should also be celebrating Maths Week England, which I am sure the Minister will do. I look forward to the three maiden speeches and to the Minister’s winding up.

15:55
Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the gracious Speech and look forward to the three maiden speeches. I will speak briefly about the Government’s policy for science, innovation and technology, the regulation of AI and the use of data for research.

I fully acknowledge the clear commitment of this Government to science, technology and innovation, demonstrated by creating a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, as already mentioned, maintaining UK membership of Horizon Europe, committing to public funding of R&D of £20 billion by 2024-25, passing the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act and creating the AI Safety Institute—all good news.

However, I was disappointed that the gracious Speech did not include the land use framework promised by Defra, the recommendations of the Skidmore review for an evidenced-based net-zero technology road map, nor regulation of genetically modified crops or the reform of narrow A-levels in education.

The science community also needs commitment to long-term funding at least 10 years ahead, as opposed to short-term, stop-start investment in science, as already mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The UK is not alone in seeking to grow its R&D capabilities, with some countries significantly increasing their R&D funding to 3% to 3.7% of their GDP. For the UK to succeed, we also need to be open to the rest of the world.

The punitive cost of visas and health charges, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, undermines our ability to attract talented individuals and we are losing out to our competitors. The Government need to address the issue of visa fees for young scientists.

To become a genuine science superpower, the Government need to go further than they have. A brilliant paper titled Wired for Success, produced by Onward, identifies four key principles as a guide to reforms to make the UK a science superpower. Setting an ambitious target for R&D spend, creating a future centre for technology and exempting the Department for Science from Treasury controls are some of its key messages. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who played a key part in the report, may well say more.

Universities are key players in science-based activity, but some are finding it difficult to fund the infrastructure required to do so. As argued by CRUK, quality-related funding, or QR funding, and the charity research support fund, the CRSF, are two critical forms of government support for universities. But QR has eroded in the last decade and CRSF has declined in value as charities’ funding for research has increased. I hope the Minister will indicate what plans the Government have to increase QR and CRSF funding to universities.

As universities are major players in not only discovery science but innovation, is it not appropriate for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to be the home department for universities, instead of the Department for Education?

As for the regulation of AI, in my view, the broad principles on which AI regulations should be framed, apart from safety, should include the broader societal context, as was well articulated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford in his speech yesterday. We need a bottom-up approach that captures a range of uses. Regulation should identify where responsibility lies and there should be clarity around transparency, accountability and redress. Finally, we need a global angle with regulations that work across nations.

I turn to the use of data for research. The world is on the cusp of a data revolution in biomedical research. Large-scale linkages and analyses of health data will drive innovations in health and care design and delivery. The 1.3 million daily contacts with the NHS generate data on health and well-being, diagnostics, imaging and genomic data at immense scale. The use of this data in a secure and co-ordinated way can optimise health care, manage the health service, augment clinical trials, improve population health management and, importantly, drive research and development. HDR UK—that is, Health Data Research UK—and others are already making progress in vaccine uptake, generative AI for retinal scans and many other areas in health.

The transformative potential of health data research in the UK is far from being realised, with significant gaps in the use of primary care data. A number of challenges remain in order to realise the benefits of health data research at scale. These challenges include demonstrating trustworthiness, creating a data ecosystem, streamlining data access, addressing skills needs, addressing issues on attitudes to risk aversion and protectionism and securing clear specific guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office. Without access to health data for research, the Government’s life sciences strategy could fail.

The law is part of the problem—the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will not have a significant impact on health data science unless it is amended. I hope the Government recognise the importance of the use of health data for research and intend to do something about it through legislation. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

In conclusion, the Government have shown commitment to the UK being a science superpower, but to achieve this they will need to do more, with the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology having a central role with clear delivery plans. They need to engage more widely with the science and technology community. It would be good if the Minister could reaffirm the independence of research funding bodies, including UKRI.

16:02
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted that the long campaigned for Media Bill will be part of this Session’s legislative agenda. But today I want to concentrate on other issues that the Select Committee on Communications and Digital, which I chair, has examined recently, which relate to other Bills or government activity mentioned in the gracious Speech: namely, digital competition, how to deal with frontier AI and digital exclusion.

I start by emphasising the importance of the UK’s digital economy. Big tech firms have developed platforms and tools that are used and enjoyed by millions. We have countless digital and tech SMEs flourishing across the country. Consumers rely on services that are rapidly moving online. A well-functioning digital economy relies on healthy competition. Indeed, it is central to many of the Government’s core ambitions—especially being a tech superpower. But there is extensive and conclusive evidence that digital competition is not working properly. A handful of big tech firms dominate massively, and this is distorting markets.

In most cases we should let markets take care of themselves—I am no fan of regulation for the sake of it—but where there is clear evidence of market failure and distortion, regulators should step in to ensure a level playing field.

The Government’s proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill aims to do just that. However, I am concerned by reports that the Government are backtracking in the face of big tech lobbying. This gets a bit technical, but the key issue is how big tech companies can appeal against remedies the regulator decides. What is currently proposed is a judicial review, which is a widely respected and used form of appeal process in many comparable settings. It is quick, so decisions remain relevant to market conditions, it is fair and it is robust. Most importantly, it encourages a non-adversarial approach, so all parties have incentives to engage in good faith early on. That is how good regulation should work.

The Government are considering changes to this that would open up more extensive avenues for legal appeal, but we must seriously ask ourselves: who benefits, and what is the price? Expanding the grounds for legal challenge does not in itself make the process fairer, but it does favour those with the deepest pockets and creates incentives for protracted litigation to be the goal from the outset.

Big tech firms say there will not be proper checks on the regulator’s work, but that is the job of Parliament and we need to ensure we do it. It is accountability to Parliament, not toothless regulators, that will give us the better outcome. It takes courage to stand up to big tech firms, as my committee has seen from the growing number of SMEs engaging with us and speaking out. The Government got this one right the first time around, so I would be grateful if my noble friend could confirm that the Government will not change the Bill and will stand up for fair digital competition and the interests of UK businesses.

Digital competition is also a central theme of our inquiry into frontier AI large language models. Our evidence suggests that these models are laying the groundwork for epoch-defining shifts in the way our information environment works, the power of big tech firms, and global approaches to digital regulation. At the heart of this is a multi-billion dollar race between operators of closed source and open source models. Unsurprisingly, we are seeing some big tech firms dominating the field already.

Governments have a rare moment of steerage here. Government and Parliament will not be leading the AI research field, but we can determine what sorts of companies are allowed to flourish and within what parameters. We need to get this right. Today, the committee heard from Meta and Microsoft, and it will take evidence from OpenAI and Google DeepMind next week. By the way, on this country’s potential to compete, it is worth remembering that DeepMind was originally a British firm that has since been acquired by Google. Recognising the urgency of this, the committee is working at pace and will publish its report early in the new year.

Finally, I repeat our call for the Government to take digital exclusion more seriously. It is clear that the world is moving online at an unprecedented rate. Lots of this is positive, but not for those who cannot keep up. We must not let people’s ability to connect and use digital services become another dividing line. However, I am sad to report that the Government have refused even to update their decade-old digital exclusion strategy, which is so out of date that many of the organisations it cites no longer exist and its progress updates are in the National Archives. Sorting this out is low-hanging fruit. The economic case is sound and the practical suggestions have been developed. What is needed now is ministerial attention. Will my noble friend refer this again to the Secretary of State and ask that she reconsiders my committee’s key recommendations?

I share the Prime Minister’s ambition for the UK to be a tech superpower. We have the talent and the potential. We just need to remove some obvious obstacles so that we spread the opportunities, correct the current imbalance of power and ensure that we bring everybody with us.

16:08
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I particularly endorse her last comments around digital exclusion. I very much look forward to the three maiden speeches from the welcome new Members of your Lordships’ House.

Our cultural sector, our sports industries and our flair for design are a large part of what defines this country globally. They are also critical in defining our future success and that of our children. By the time a child currently in reception leaves school in 2037, we will need to have shifted to a new economic model and a new social contract, and embedded a new way of working that is no longer exploiting people or the planet. We need a truly sustainable and equitable future if we are to give that child the opportunity to thrive.

At the same time, as AI moves apace, it will, as we heard from the AI summit, largely disrupt the labour market; workers will be deskilled as machines combine highly agile robotics with the ability to recognise patterns, predict language and assimilate vast amounts of information, while learning to constantly improve their accuracy. New and exciting jobs will emerge, with inventiveness, curiosity and unpredictability at their heart, to work alongside these machines of prediction. These are big challenges.

The gracious Speech is the chance to hear the Government’s vision to address these huge challenges. By contrast, it reminded me of a decaf cappuccino. On the surface, there were some good sprinklings of legislative cocoa powder: I am a fan of the proposals on football governance and will want to do my bit on the digital markets and data protection Bills; I will be especially keen to explore how forms of data trust can help build public confidence in data sharing so that we can exploit the potential of AI for good to the full. The Speech also had plenty of froth: we will have to see whether warm words on support for the creative industries, making AI safe, or fixing apprenticeship take-up will amount to anything at all. But at its heart, the Speech lacked substance and offered not a glimmer of hope for future generations that things can get better. It is as though the Government have run out of ideas and are incapable of thinking long-term beyond the next general election.

Yesterday saw a commitment to recycling ministerial resources but lacked the punch we need to get Britain building again, to drive us forward into a sustainable green economy. The Speech lacked the shot of stimulant that the country needs to get us moving again and to fix the NHS and our wider public services that remain underinvested and broken following David Cameron’s years of austerity. Most importantly, it lacked a future vision to offer the opportunities our young people need to face the uncertainties of the future with confidence.

I should draw noble Lords’ attention to my entry in the register, in particular as a director of CENTURY Tech and EDUCATE Ventures, both businesses deploying AI in education. I know from that commercial work that hiring talent in the tech sector is really challenging. What does this Speech have to offer that challenge? I know from work I recently completed for Engineering UK with the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who I am delighted to see in his place, that without reversing the decline in engineering apprenticeships we will fail to have the technical skills we need to transition to a growing green economy. What does this Speech have to offer that challenge?

For the technology and cultural sectors, access to skills is key and a constraint on current growth. What did the Speech have to say on reversing the catastrophic decline in the creative subjects and in design and technology in our schools? How can we build a pipeline of talent into design, engineering and technology if the only applied subject in the national curriculum is fading away? The number of students entering design and technology GCSE has more than halved since 2009. In that time, the numbers teaching the subject have also halved; teacher recruitment for D&T met just 23% of its overall target in 2021-22, and it is getting worse. I wish the new Schools Minister well and hope that he recognises that school accountability in the English baccalaureate and Progress 8 have all contributed to this decline.

This Minister at the Dispatch Box will know that one of our most inspirational Britons is Sir Jony Ive, the designer of a suite of Apple products, including my iPad here, that have changed the world. His dad was a D&T teacher and inspector and Jony left school to study industrial design in Newcastle. For this Minister the question is simply: does he agree that the decline in every creative subject except art in schools at GCSE and the decline in design and technology is now at a critical point for the long-term future of the sectors we are focused on in this debate? Will he be meeting the new Minister, Damian Hinds, and pushing him to accelerate and extend the ambition of the advanced British standard? The Speech promised that it will bring technical and academic routes into a single qualification, but we know that that will take 10 years and not extend below 16. That is too little and way too late for this country’s technology, creative and sustainable futures.

We are all proud of our cultural and digital sectors in this country. As we can see, the rapid adoption of AI means that the competitive advantage of humans over machines can be so only if we are better humans: more creative, more expressive, more caring, more inventive; that is our future. We need a Government who understand the urgency of making the changes we need to deliver that hopeful opportunity.

16:15
Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, although I shall not try to match his skills as a barista. I was very interested but slightly disappointed in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—not that it was not, as always, a well-informed and pertinent speech, but I had hoped that she would speak about the Media Bill. We cannot fill in everything, I know, but I put it to her that both her experience in her committee and her past experience will make her a powerful influence in this House in getting the Media Bill right; I look forward to working with her on that Bill.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I did welcome the Media Bill. I did not want to go into detail because there is not time to talk about every Bill that is relevant to the work of the committee, but I can assure him that I will definitely play a part in the passage of that Bill.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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I never doubted it. One thing that has come up already is that these chances do not come along every day. I was on the 2003 media Bill, which has been mentioned, 20 years ago. No matter how eager Ministers may be later to tweet their handiwork, government business managers are not enthusiastic about giving more time to a matter that they think Parliament has got done and dusted, so we have to get this Media Bill right.

I am particularly interested in making sure that our public service broadcasters are well provided for—as the Minister said—in that Bill. We are very lucky in that little cluster of public service broadcasters which play such an important role. In a way, ITV retains many of its old regional strengths from its federation origins. Although it was not always realised at the time, Channel 4 gave an immense boost to our independent production; thank goodness we saved Channel 4 from privatisation.

For me, the BBC has always been the iron pole around which we build the credibility of our public service broadcasting. One thing that could be done, even at this late stage in the Parliament, is to end the endless war against the BBC from the Conservative Benches. It is a national asset. I always think of a comment by one of the great titans of American broadcasting when Reagan was deregulating public service broadcasting in the United States: “We will only know what we have lost once it’s gone.” That is one of the things that still motivate me to come to this House: the determination that we pass on to the next generation a BBC that is, as it is today, the envy of the world.

The other factor in the media section is the repeal of Section 40. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Black, in his place. I am quite sure that he has the same speech that he has been delivering for 20 years, but it is none the worse for repetition. We will come to that. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the letter sent today to Members from the Press Recognition Panel, which sets out the facts about Section 40. It is interesting that the politicians and the newspapers that have reported on the repeal of Section 40 have all presented it as a draconian issue whereby the winner has to pay both sides in a loss. They always omit to say that this would never apply if only our press would follow what was promised in Leveson and go through a proper media regulator. That offer is still on the table.

If the noble Lord, Lord Black, who has influence in these areas, can exert some of it, it is still possible to implement Leveson in full. That would provide a much healthier approach. We should not be waiting for princes of the blood royal and those enemies of the people, the judges, to regulate our press. That regulation should come from an industry confident enough to set up a proper regulator. On the repeal of Section 40, and if the Minister wants the background, I was the Minister in the Lords at that time. The Foreign Secretary will tell him what a double-dealing stab in the back it was by the Conservatives once they were free of the moderating hand of the Liberal Democrats and free to abandon Section 40.

The only other thing I will mention is that as a lifetime football lover and vice-president of St Albans City Football Club—a declaration of interest—I think this is a chance to get our national game into good order. I look forward to the words of my noble friend Lord Addington. Before him came David Mellor, Tracey Crouch and now the Fair Game campaign—all encouragement for us to get it right.

16:22
Lord Bishop of Newcastle Portrait The Lord Bishop of Newcastle (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be making my Maiden Speech in this House and in this particular debate. I offer my sincere thanks to your Lordships for the kind welcome extended to me and I pay tribute to the dedicated parliamentary staff, whose commitment to public service is exemplary.

The gracious Speech set out the bare bones of a legislative programme that will reveal its detail as we go. However, before making one or two observations on that, I will set out what I hope I might bring to the collective wisdom and discourse of this House from my experiences across the world. I began my ministry as a bishop in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as Bishop of Waikato. My years of working closely with that land’s indigenous people, the Māori, taught me much about the challenges and the joys of collaboration amid difference, division and the complexities of history. There are many phrases of wisdom that I learnt in this context: that leadership in the public square is like climbing a mountain—the higher you go the better the views but the more unpredictable the weather systems.

My life began, however, as a daughter of the manse in Coldingham in the Scottish Borders and my Presbyterian heritage remains close to my heart. My diocese is the most northern in England and stretches from the Scottish border to the River Tyne, across rural, coastal and urban landscapes to the City of Newcastle, encompassing a small part of Cumbria to the west. This region is well known for the riches of its industrial, cultural and sporting heritage. Noting the measures laid out in the gracious Speech for changes in football governance and welcoming the focus on women’s football in particular, the Bishop of Newcastle is the only Lord Spiritual who literally wears the colours of their local football team but, somewhat controversially perhaps, our lanyard colours of red and white speak to the sporting colours of the city I grew up in, Sunderland.

The diverse communities and landscapes of the north- east and Northumberland are etched deeply into my life. The innovation in business and cultural life; issues of farming and rural communities; the creativity, kindness and ingenuity of the region’s people; and the deep challenges of poverty and inequality, transport and educational attainment are on my heart.

The footsteps of the northern saints who mapped out the religious and cultural heritage of our nation have shaped my journey too. For the first time this year, my own footsteps joined 60,000 others for the world’s biggest half marathon, which starts in the city of Newcastle, and of which our region is rightly proud: the Great North Run. This particular long-standing event reminds us of the value of sport in building healthy and stronger communities.

I hope to focus in the near future on aspects of media policy. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin; I am one of her “Play School” babies. The Government published their draft Media Bill earlier this year, which I broadly welcome. It has been chewed over by many commentators and agencies. My time as chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust caused me to focus in a particular way on the place of religion and ethics in our media, not least on the importance of the public service broadcasting remit of the BBC, Channel 4 and other media in a dynamic environment.

It is clear from the draft Bill that particular scrutiny will be required on the detail of provision across communities of faith and particular interests such as science. Currently, as I understand it, there are no metrics for ensuring a minimum service in relation to religion in public service broadcasting; flexibility is being offered instead. But if there are no mechanisms for measuring requirements, then how will we know whether or not broadcasters are fulfilling their unquantifiable remit? My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and I will be tracking the Bill with great interest and attention to detail.

In conclusion, I offer a Māori phrase to noble Lords as I look forward to working with them: “Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi”—“With your basket and my basket, the people will thrive”.

16:27
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an Anglican bishop making her maiden speech in the House of Lords is likely to be able to cope with being followed by a Methodist. I was delighted to receive the honour of being chosen to speak at this moment, and I hope very much that we have just had a foretaste of the nature of the contribution to our debates by—as I must learn to call her—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. She has much to bring, and has hinted at some of it. She was the first woman priest to be ordained in England to become a bishop but, because this was before women bishops could be made in England, she found herself the Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki down in New Zealand. The ministry there, as has also been hinted at, crosses all the borders between the Māori, Polynesian and English populations, so leadership styles have been developed such as co-primates and co-diocesan bishops. A Church of England without hierarchy seems like an oxymoron. Still, for all that, it is marvellous to hear the tones that we will hear more of in future.

One final thing before I turn my attention elsewhere is that the noble Prelate—I cannot ever get it right: as a Methodist, one is just “the noble Lord”—is a trained and deeply thoughtful theologian, and I am looking forward to hearing the insights of the deep studies she has undertaken finding their way into giving colour to the policies that we adumbrate together in this House. She has a challenge and we are very grateful at the prospect of listening to the noble Lady the Prelate. Oh, for goodness’ sake: in the Methodist Church, we have sandwiches, while the Church of England has those fancy little cakes—it is the same with language.

I must turn from natural intelligence to artificial intelligence in the remarks I wish to make. We have just hot-footed it from our committee, and I need not go over the ground that has already been rehearsed by the feisty chair of our committee—the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—who has forged a terrific band of people asking awkward questions and bringing them to the Floor of the House eventually. Today, we had the pleasure, if it was that, of listening to top people from Meta and Microsoft, and we explored the various things that have already been mentioned in this debate. I do not want to fix my attention there; I just want to say what a pleasure it is to sit under her chairmanship and to be able to say so in this House. The more bipartisan things that we say about each other as we try to find our way forward, the better, it seems to me.

In the King’s Speech, there was just one sentence on the subject, was there not? It was:

“The United Kingdom will continue to lead international discussions to ensure that Artificial Intelligence is developed safely”.


It is “safely” that preoccupies me. In the National AI Strategy published by the Government, there are three bullet points. It is a 10-year plan, with forward thinking and long-term thinking. First, we must

“Invest and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem”.


That is easy to agree. Secondly, we must

“Support the transition to an AI-enabled economy”.


Again, I have no problems. Thirdly, we must

“Ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and our fundamental values”.


That is, once again, the area of my concern.

I hope noble Lords will be patient with me if I refer to a conversation I had a number of years ago and that I shall never forget, with Joseph Rotblat, a nuclear physicist and very eminent man, holder of the Nobel Prize for peace. He escaped from Poland, although tragically he left his wife behind and she suffered in the way that so many others did. He was part of the Manhattan Project, developing nuclear physics for, as the scientists thought, the benefits of the world. There was a war on. He subscribed to continuing his research into the application of his science to the making of a bomb only because the story was that the Germans were producing a nuclear weapon themselves. When it turned out that they had abandoned their research, he resigned from the Manhattan Project and came back to Britain, to Liverpool, and began a series of conversations called the Pugwash conferences.

Those Pugwash conferences gathered together leading people in the field of nuclear physics who all had ethical concerns about the science they were doing and the application to which it was being put. In case anybody thinks that ethics is about something sentimental, romantic or non-substantial, let it be said that those Pugwash conferences led to treaties, bans, agreements for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, for the banning of nuclear testing and all the rest of it. Ethics has outcomes that are measurable, but this man, towering above his community, set the standard.

I had a cameo career on the Front Bench before Covid—as well as old age—destroyed that. However, during that time with DCMS, and on the committee since, I have been looking in the start-up companies and at people in the field that we have been talking to where they work, and as they come to be interrogated at the committee, in the hope of finding from within the science itself that authoritative voice that will help us poor lawmakers who take for ever to catch up with the science—although we never do—to set the tone and the direction. Rotblat did it for nuclear physics; who will do it for the technologies we are currently developing? The ethical side of things is the answer to what we heard earlier: the need for transparency and openness and to offer explanations to a public who are bemused. We long for that voice.

I come off the committee in January. I have had the privilege of engaging with ideas that are well beyond my competence, but I find at the heart of it the desire to get that voice that will set us off in the right direction: that authoritative voice from within.

16:36
Lord Willetts Portrait Lord Willetts (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle on her excellent maiden speech. We look forward to her future contributions to our debates in this House, and I think her powerful speech today was part of a Newcastle theme that is already running through this debate. The right reverend Prelate spoke of her commitment to that city. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about the great Sir Jony Ive, who of course studied design at what is now Northumbria University in Newcastle. At the University of Newcastle itself, the Centre for Life is an excellent example of both advances in medical research and applying it to healthcare locally. It was wonderful to have her intervention in this debate.

I begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my role, until last week, on the board of UKRI, my position as chair of the UK Space Agency, and serving on the board of Tekcapital and Darktrace.

I welcome the gracious Speech and the Government’s clear and strong commitment to science and tech. We saw it in the creation of DSIT and the very significant AI summit the other week, and we see it in some of the science and tech proposals in the gracious Speech. I will briefly comment on three or four aspects of that: first, regulation. In the very powerful intervention from my noble friend Lady Stowell, we were reminded that these are deep waters. There are tricky issues in regulation. First, if we get regulation right, we can use it to promote innovation and new technologies. I am aware, as chair of the UK Space Agency, that one of our key advantages in the race for launch from various sites in Europe is that we have space-launch regulations in place, carefully scrutinised in your Lordships’ House a few years ago. Having that regulatory regime gives us an advantage. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act provides a shared framework for life sciences innovation, and I very much hope that the Automated Vehicles Bill, for example, is another case where getting the regulatory regime right for a new technology can help to promote it.

Indeed, the Government did have an initiative, a pioneer fund, to help promote new regulation in areas which required it. It would be very good to hear from the Minister in the wind-up that there is a continuing commitment to that initiative. We must get the balance right; sometimes regulation can be overdone. I welcome the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which may protect the privacy of personal data without being as clunky as some other regimes, such as in the EU.

However, we do not need to regulate everything all the time. Sometimes, we get ourselves into a position where, every time there is a new technology, we feel we need to have a specific set of regulations for it because otherwise it will just operate in a lawless, anarchic world. National, general legislation already exists. It is already a crime to try to create a bioterror weapon, so we do not need to ask, “As people may use AI to create it, what shall we do to legislate against it?” There is a lot of law protecting copyright and privacy and stopping theft and people from developing instruments for the purposes of warlike acts or acts of terrorism. We should remind ourselves that, within that framework, new technologies are always and automatically covered. It would be dangerous if we got into the assumption that, every time there is a new technology, we need somehow to construct a legal regime, otherwise there will be anarchy out there—there will not be.

I was involved in a report from Onward, which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, referred to. He referred to its criticism of Treasury controls. I must warn him that, when he made that remark, I saw a shadow pass across the face of the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson, a former Permanent Secretary in the Treasury, who may have thought that Treasury controls are one of the few things standing between us and national bankruptcy.

I will expand a little on what that report meant by “Treasury controls”. Of course, there have to be decisions about the total amount of public expenditure and it has to be allocated to departments, including the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Governments have to be able to decide their public expenditure totals and then be disciplined in sticking to them. However, a lot of controls around spending are designed, particularly with processes such as procurement and business case rules, for what one might regard as conventional procurement, such as building a bypass or constructing some national infrastructure. They can stand in the way of a proper use of an innovation budget.

When you talk about how the US promotes innovation, you find, for example, that it uses procurement. I have been at conferences in the US, where I have asked some new inventor how he is funding his project. He said, “I have already sold the first 10,000 to the Department of Defense”, even though he has only a prototype and not yet produced any. That is contrary to our procurement rules. Even when we try to promote innovation, we are not allowed to pay for anything until the service has been delivered. However, innovative use of procurement is a powerful means, if used carefully and within an overall spending commitment to make things happen.

Similarly, business cases are necessary if you are doing a standard project, but they can sometimes be extraordinarily time-consuming when the Government are deliberately bearing risk. The target is therefore not risk reduction, as it should be when you are building a bypass. In the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Government are bearing risk. Indeed, in this case—speaking as a Conservative—the reason why the Government are involved is not because they have perfect knowledge of what will happen in every area of science and technology, but because it is the legitimate role of government to bear risk. So I believe that the proposals in our report from Onward were of merit, and I hope that they were consistent with the Treasury disciplines in which all of us on this side of the House believe.

16:43
Baroness Kidron Portrait Baroness Kidron (CB)
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My Lords, I too welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. I admire her bravery in wearing the colours of Sunderland and Newcastle simultaneously.

I declare my interests as chair of 5Rights Foundation, chair of the Digital Futures Commission at the LSE and adviser to the Institute for Ethics in AI at Oxford. Like others, I will start with Bletchley Park. That was kicked off by the Prime Minister, who set out his hopes for an AI-enabled world, while promising to tackle head-on its potential dangers. He said:

“Criminals could exploit AI for cyber-attacks, disinformation, fraud, or even child sexual abuse”—


but these are not potential dangers; they exist here and now.

In the race for AI prominence and the vast riches the technology promises, the tech leaders came to town warning us that the future they are creating is untrammelled, unprincipled and insecure and that AI will overwhelm human agency. I think that that language of existential threat makes for fabulous headlines, but it rather disempowers the rest of us. Because, if we ask if we want to supercharge the creation of child sexual abuse material, I would hazard a guess that the answer will be no; or if it is okay for facial recognition trained on white faces to prevent a black parent or child getting a security pass to enter a school, again no; or if we believe that just because something is technically possible—the creation of a disease or a weapon—it should be done, again no. Indeed, we have a record of containing the distribution of inventions that have the capability of annihilating us.

AI is not separate and different, and the language that we use to describe it—either its benefits or threats—must make that clear. AI is built, used and purveyed by business, government, civil society and even criminals. It is part of the human arrangements over which, for the moment, we still have agency. Language that disempowers us is part of the deliberate strategy of tech exceptionalism, advocated by industry lobbyists over decades, which has successfully secured the privatisation of technology, creating untold wealth for a few while outsourcing the cost to society. Who owns AI, who benefits, who is responsible and who gets hurt is still in the balance and I would assert that these are questions that we must deal with here and now.

I was disappointed to hear the noble Viscount say earlier at Questions that the Government were taking a sit-back-and-wait approach, so I have three rather more modest questions for the Minister, each of which could be tackled here and now. The first is: what plans do the Government have to ensure the robust application of our existing laws? As we saw earlier, the large language models and image creation services have used copyright material at scale. Getty Images has been testing it in court on behalf of its artists and photographers, but other rights holders, including some of the world’s finest authors, are unable to challenge this on an individual basis while their art and livelihood is scraped into vast datasets from which they do not benefit. I ask the Minister whether it would be a good idea to have an analysis of how new models are failing to uphold existing law and rights obligations as a first and urgent task for the new AI Safety Institute.

Secondly, how do the Government plan to use their legislative programme to tackle gaps that have been identified? For example, the creation, distribution and consumption of CSAM content is illegal, covered by at least three separate laws in the UK. But not one of these laws covers the models or plug-ins that create CSAM at scale—in one case, more than 20,000 images in a matter of hours—so the upcoming data protection Bill provides us with an opportunity to make training, sharing and possessing software that is trained on or trained to produce CSAM content an offence.

Also on the Prime Minister’s list is disinformation. Synthetic information that passes for real is also a here and now problem: the London Mayor, whose voice was fabricated, celebrities falsely endorsing products or a child’s picture scraped from a school website to train those aforesaid CSAM models. The loss of control of one’s personhood carries with it a democratic deficit and potentially overwhelming individual suffering. I ask the Minister whether the Government are willing to put beyond doubt that AI-generated biometric and image data constitutes a form of personal data over which an individual, whether adult or child, has rights, including the right to object to its use.

Both the data Bill and the digital markets Bill could create new data models—a subject that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, articulated very well in a recent article in the Times. New approaches to data rights, with new owners of data, are one way of having a voice in our AI-enabled future.

Thirdly and finally, I would like to ask the Minister why the Government have left children on the margins. I attended two official fringe events of the summit, one hosted by the then Home Secretary about child sexual abuse, the other convened by St Mary’s and the Turing Institute about embedding children’s rights in AI systems. Children are early adopters of technology—canaries in the coal mine—and many of us know the cost of poorly regulated digital environments for them. I am bewildered that, so soon after Royal Assent to the Online Safety Act, and in clear sight of the challenges that AI brings, the Government risk downgrading children’s data rights rather than explicitly protecting the age-appropriate design code and the definitions on which it is founded. Children should have been front and centre of the concerns at Bletchley, not pushed to the fringe, and perhaps the Minister could repair that damage by putting them front and centre of the new AI Safety Institute. After all, it is children who will inhabit the world we are building.

Finally, AI will create enormous benefits and upheaval across all sectors, but it also promises to put untold wealth and power in the hands of even fewer people. However, there are things in the here and now that we can do to ensure that technology innovates in ways that support human agency. It is tech exceptionalism that poses an existential threat to humanity, not the technology itself.

16:51
Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge Portrait Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is a tremendous privilege to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. It has been quite the journey getting to this moment, and I am immensely grateful for the guidance and advice that so many noble Lords have offered me. I am especially grateful to my supporters, my noble friends Lady Foster of Oxton and Lady Meyer, and my wonderful mentors, my noble friends Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Seccombe. I would like to express my gratitude to Black Rod, the clerks, the doorkeepers—everyone who works in the House—and the special advisers who have helped me navigate my first few weeks in the role. I am also most grateful for the friendship and support of all my friends in the other place, whom I have had the honour of working with for a number of years.

A peerage is both an honour and a responsibility. It is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously. It is testament to the high level of discourse in this place that debate can be robust yet incredibly collegiate. I have been overwhelmed by the welcome of noble Lords across your Lordships’ House, all of whom have said how important it is for younger voices to be part of your Lordships’ deliberations.

I am part of a generation whose unique opportunities are accompanied by new challenges, from the difficulty of getting on to the housing ladder to the spiralling cost of university debt, the complexities of living in a social media age and the very real fear about our climate. We live in a time of great change. It is a confusing time; it is also a time of instability and anxiety. This is perhaps so for everyone, but it is surely so for the young.

I was born in 1993. George Michael was still at number one and the Spice Girls were about to set in motion a wave of girl power. I am a child of the dial- up internet connection, when mobile phones were only for phone calls and the world wide web was about to be launched to the public. Throughout my life I have witnessed not only the benefits of our ever-closer relationship with technology but, sadly, the threats that such advances can bring. This is an issue of great and increasing concern to me, as I am sure it should be to us all.

I followed with great interest the Online Safety Bill, which represents a landmark in online safety. I was delighted that my vote contributed to making the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online—something of which this Government should be hugely proud. However, the online world is evolving at pace, and we should not be complacent. I am greatly encouraged that the UK has shown leadership by hosting the first global summit on artificial intelligence and that the gracious Speech reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to leading international discussions to ensure its safe development. I look forward to addressing both the challenges and opportunities that technology and, in particular, AI present.

I must also thank the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who put a great deal of trust in me. I will be for ever grateful not only for this but for his kindness and encouragement. I feel immensely privileged to have worked with him and other Cabinet Ministers during my time at No. 10. I was delighted that his commitment to delivering the referendum result, his optimism and his vision for levelling up the country and ensuring that life chances are distributed fairly resulted in the seismic election victory of 2019.

I wish to take a moment to pay tribute to my parents, especially my dear late father. Born in Unstone in 1930, he was a child during the war. He would often tell me of the horrors of those days, such as the time when he went cycling with his brother and they had to jump off their bikes and take cover as a Messerschmitt Bf 109 machine-gunned a passing freight train. Another time, the windows of his family home were blown out when the house opposite took a direct hit during the Manchester blitz. Despite this, my father always had a positive outlook on life. I like to think that this is a quality he instilled in me. He did not even complain when his retirement plans changed because of my arrival in the world. When I was a small girl, he would often tell me that it was possible to achieve anything that you put your mind to.

It was aspiration and the desire to get on in life that helped shape my parents’ politics. My mother has told me of how her own parents’ lives changed when Margaret Thatcher’s Government gave them the opportunity to buy the council house in Alderley Edge that was allocated to my grandfather on his return from the war—a policy I am sure most of your Lordships remember and for which some of your Lordships were perhaps responsible. My grandmother was so delighted by this policy that she went around knocking on all her neighbours’ doors to let them know about this life- changing opportunity. Up until that point, owning their own home was beyond their wildest dreams. It seems that levelling up was alive and well decades ago. It is vital that we create a climate where younger generations have a chance at home ownership, so that they too can feel secure for their future.

I end where I began: with thanks. I express my gratitude to all noble Lords for the warmth of their welcome and the kindness shown to me. During my time in your Lordships’ House, I hope to repay that kindness.

16:57
Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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It is 65 years since the first Baroness and the first life Peer, Baroness Elliot of Harwood, made her maiden speech in this House—also on the fourth day of the debate on the gracious Speech. It is therefore a very auspicious day and my pleasure to congratulate the newest noble Baroness, Lady Owen, on her excellent maiden speech. Like those pioneering Baronesses 65 years ago, as my noble friend has just illustrated, she brings a fresh voice, new skills and energy that those who remember thinking dial-up internet and the Spice Girls were cutting edge are going to need as we navigate the future for science, technology, media and culture. I am sure that my noble friend has many years ahead of her in this House, but whether, like Baroness Elliot of Harwood, she votes against the Government and becomes known as “the despair of the Whips”, only time will tell. We welcome those who work hard and who show commitment. My noble friend does both. I therefore warmly welcome her today and look forward to her contributions in the years ahead.

In looking to the future, one of the challenges that we need to address with some urgency is the future of broadcasting, as we move into a multimedia, fragmented landscape. I too was delighted to find the long-awaited Media Bill in the gracious Speech. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as set out in the register, for I am a board member of Creative Scotland, which includes Screen Scotland in its remit. Screen Scotland is a Scottish success story. In 2021, the screen sector contributed £627 million to Scotland’s economy and provided over 10,000 jobs. Scotland’s annual level of inward investment for film and high-end tv production doubled between 2012 and 2019, with nearly three times the growth rate experienced by the UK as a whole. But we have a finely balanced infrastructure in Scotland that has invested in development, production and skills. While the Media Bill is warmly welcomed, there are a few points that I want to highlight today that I trust we will clarify as the legislation progresses and which are important to get right so that we ensure that this finely balanced and successful industry continues to grow and thrive.

Our public sector broadcasters have successful homes in Scotland—Channel 4 and the BBC both operate from Glasgow, alongside the strongly performing STV, the main channel of which reaches 80% of Scots every month. Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster model allows it to harness the power of the market to deliver a public service both on and off screen. This effective model has played a key role in supporting a large supply chain of UK production companies, many of them SMEs, most of them outside London and a great deal of them in Scotland. Channel 4’s role and economic importance to the production sector was the key defence against plans for its privatisation. However, by giving Channel 4 the power to produce without applying a cap on the amount of in-house content, the Government risks undermining the independent production and distribution sector at a time of very difficult market conditions.

We need to ensure that all our public sector broadcasters, including STV in Scotland, are given significant prominence—rather than just appropriate prominence—on internet-enabled TVs, smart TVs and streaming sticks. We cannot risk public service content becoming more difficult to access in the shift away from traditional linear TV broadcasting. It is with concern that I hear that public broadcasters such as STV are being asked to pay for prominence by big global networks such as Amazon. Figures of up to 30% of revenue have been quoted, which would wipe out the viability of PSBs in general but would be particularly crippling for smaller, regional companies such as STV.

Finally, the draft Bill stipulates that PSBs must make available a broad range of content which is

“likely to meet the needs and interests of as many different audiences as practicable”.

This is not just about journalism, yet other than news and current affairs the Bill makes reference only to provision of

“an appropriate range of genres”.

Removing existing specifications is of concern to providers of socially valuable but perhaps not so commercially valuable content—for example, science and technology, and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle highlighted in her excellent maiden speech, religious broadcasters, and also those for minority languages such as Gaelic. At present, Gaelic is notable in the draft Bill entirely by the absence of any reference to it, unlike the Welsh language and S4C—something which MG Alba is extremely vexed about.

I trust that we will be able to address some of these issues as the Media Bill progresses. The Minister will not be at all surprised to hear that I will be looking to scrutinise it closely from a Scottish perspective, to ensure that public service content is easily accessible for all our nations’ communities and that we enable the Scottish screen industries to continue to thrive in a digital age.

17:04
Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and the noble Baroness, Lady Owen, on their maiden speeches. For all of us in this House, our maiden speech is an ordeal—even, I guess, for a Bishop—but I think we will all agree that the maiden speeches we have heard this afternoon rose to the occasion. Both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness have their own perspective through which they can contribute to our future debates in this House, and we very much look forward to their contributions.

I want to direct my brief remarks to reform of gambling law. Gambling is not mentioned in the King’s Speech and that is not surprising because, although there is much to do in the next 12 months, the measures the Government are going to take do not require legislation. I welcome many of the measures in the Government’s recent White Paper and I declare my interest as a member of the executive committee of Peers for Gambling Reform. In this context, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, its indefatigable chairman, who can take a lot of the credit for the fact that the Government’s proposals in the White Paper are a great deal better than at one time they looked like being.

The noble Lord will be speaking later in the debate about the Government’s proposals more generally, but I want to concentrate my remarks on gambling reform as it affects young people. Gambling, like alcohol, is an activity which gives innocent pleasure to the vast majority of its users. But like alcohol, gambling, when it becomes an addiction, causes immeasurable human misery and even death. All the more reason, therefore, why we should protect young people from developing such an addiction. A 2019 study by the Gambling Commission suggested that there were more than 350,000 child gamblers in the UK and that approximately 55,000 children between the ages of 11 and 16 were at risk of becoming problem gamblers. Those are alarming statistics.

I want to address two areas of risk for young people. One is loot boxes and the other is “celebrity” or “influencer” streaming of gambling content. I do not know how many Members of this House are familiar with loot boxes, but they are games, particularly popular with the young, whereby players can acquire assets, sometimes by paying and sometimes in other ways, to improve their chances of winning. Loot boxes do not fall within the technical definition of gambling because players cannot cash their winnings, but they obviously play to the human instinct to take a risk to get a reward, and they can be highly addictive.

The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto stated that the Gambling Act 2005 would be reviewed, with

“a particular focus on tackling issues around loot boxes”.

It therefore seems that at that time the Government had reason to believe that there was a link between loot boxes and gambling, and that action needed to be taken to prevent the harm which would arise from it.

One of the options open to the Government was to extend the Gambling Act to cover loot boxes, but they decided not to take that course. Instead, after consultation with the gambling industry, they decided to rely on the industry itself to provide protections: but this industry has an obvious conflict of interest. A report in 2021 by the charity GambleAware found that around 5% of loot-box purchases could generate half the industry’s loot-box revenues, with almost a third of these falling into the “problem gambler” category. The danger is that so many of those problem gamblers will be children. The Government have said that they will keep their position under review and will not hesitate to consider legislative options if the measures taken by the industry do not prove satisfactory. Will the Government make that undertaking concrete, and commit to making a report by a specific date?

My second issue is the online streaming of gambling content. Because of the backing of celebrities or influencers, children can indirectly involve themselves in gambling before they are of the legal age to gamble. The noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Owen, mentioned the dangers that come from new technology, and this is a form of that danger. Figures for as recently as August show that a website called kick.com—I have not used it myself, but it is known for streamed gambling content—was visited over 80,000 times, much of that by children. Are the Government conscious of this risk, among the other dangers of technology and online content, and will they consider using their powers under the Online Safety Act to restrict the exposure of young people to it?

17:12
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, the first thing that I must do is congratulate the two maiden speakers. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle— I do not know how many times I have invented my own title for Bishops in this House—gave the sort of speech you would expect of somebody who could work a pulpit and a crowd every time. The noble Baroness, Lady Owen, reminded me exactly how old I was by saying that she was born in 1993. I made my maiden speech quite a long time before she was born, and I can remember every word of it. It is quite clear that she is much better prepared by her life for life in this House than I was at that time. I congratulate them, and I look forward to hearing what they both say in the future, although I make no guarantee to agree with either of them.

The part of the King’s Speech that we have awaited for a very long time, and has a great deal of agreement, is about the regulation of professional football. It is something that the Government were, effectively, forced to do by fan reaction and the stream of embarrassing incidents where local assets—as the Government have quite rightly described them—called football clubs, all of which had an emotional connection to and, indeed, grip on their local communities, got themselves into trouble periodically. Looking back, Leeds United was probably the biggest one. These clubs usually had something in common. They decided that if they spent a lot of money on players or infrastructure, they were bound to get promoted because nobody else is going to spend a lot of money on that, and nobody else can possibly have as good a manager and as good luck. But remember this is sport—you can lose your star striker when he stubs his toe in the changing room. They will go up and go down and get themselves in trouble: that is usually the pattern.

This goes back a long way and often happens to smaller clubs. A new owner comes in and says, “Right, I’ll do a property deal. I’ll get rid of your ground, which is nice and central to all the other amenities of a town. It’s good for housing or other forms of development, so we’ll move you out of town”. That was another disagreement. Nearly 30 years ago, I first heard Supporters Direct, I think, raising how this was happening periodically in the lower leagues of football.

Then we have the other complaints the Government have mentioned about changing kit, extra prices and changing names for marketing purposes. All this should have been addressed a long time ago, but we have finally got around to doing something about it. It is one of the bits of glue in local society; competition and the structure within it provide a common currency. As someone who played a different code of football for most of my life, I am rather envious of that. As someone who plays rugby union, I cannot help thinking that we might need something of this ourselves, because we are haemorrhaging clubs for similar reasons. We have a precedent here. In this very narrow area, the Government are doing something that looks good.

Resilience is really about surviving demotion. Periodically, with the best will in the world, it happens. You do not have to be that bad; others just have to be a little better. In these big competitive leagues, people move up and down. This is why it might be attractive for somebody from the States, for instance, to want a franchising system and not to have to worry about relegation. Here, in effect, we have decided that we approve of it. That is why we are not going for the European super league; we need this structure of going up and down. We take the money and it is great; everybody is happy.

I cannot help but feel that we are missing an opportunity. The Government are going to pump money down, but what about the social potential to improve lives in the communities that support these clubs? I have read through the Government’s response, and in effect we have said that we are not going to do this, but the clubs themselves have award ceremonies that say it is a good thing. I know, because I have been asked to them and rugby union does the same. Why are we not making sure of at least some form of social interaction and support for local communities or other local clubs? Imagining that everybody 10 leagues below is a potential rival is ridiculous; it is just not going to happen. We need to make sure that there is a support structure, so that people are better educated about the game.

I raised this with the EFL, which said that it has a youth policy. I pointed out that this is largely based on talent identification. If a 14 year-old who thinks he might become a professional footballer is told that he does not make the grade—we are predominantly talking about males, which is another flaw in this legislation—he might go through some form of mental crisis. Football has a duty to support those communities.

My starter for 10 would be for every club or voluntary organisation in the country to have a treasurer and a secretary. Maybe the football club could organise mass training, so that people would know how to do the books and fill out the forms. Think how much that would help and how easy it would be for a group like this to do it.

When we go through this Bill, I hope your Lordships consider what else might be done without changing the essence of this. We are not talking about running all local clubs; we are talking about making sure there is public involvement in and support for voluntary structures within the Bill, because we need it. I cannot see why somebody, when we have had to intervene to sort out their mess, should not pay that small price.

17:19
Lord Chartres Portrait Lord Chartres (CB)
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My Lords, research done by the House of Lords Appointments Commission points to the fact that your Lordships’ House still has some way to go in the fields of diversity—in particular, regional diversity. Therefore, it is particularly refreshing, and good, that we now have a fresh, eloquent, new voice from the north-east. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on her maiden speech.

The other respect in which diversity could perhaps be developed is, of course, in age, and that brings me to the second maiden speech. I visited a primary school the other day and they said to me, “Can you remember anything from when you were at school?”. I said, “Yes, I was the ink monitor. I had this can and every day I filled up the little porcelain ink-wells, and we learned how to write with a steel nib, following the pattern of the great Renaissance calligraphers of the 15th century”. They looked totally bewildered, I have to say. The teacher came to my rescue and said, “Oh yes, we have done a project on the Victorians and we have one of those cans over there”.

On the subject of the extraordinary changes that will come upon the world through AI, I was glad to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government’s plan is to

“strengthen education for the long term”

through the enhancement of knowledge and skills among young people. I follow other noble Lords in congratulating the Government on their timely action to ensure the safe development of AI and all those efforts to encourage innovation in technology and machine learning. We do indeed live in a time of technological exhilaration. Let us hope that it is not increasingly accompanied by cultural exhaustion. Education for the long term has to recognise that the great question for the 21st century centres on the meaning and value of human life—here I very much resonate with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth—and to encounter the already powerful current of thought that sees human beings as little different from machines, or, even worse, as rapacious bipeds bent on consuming the planet.

I can understand this desire to enhance skills and knowledge, because that translates into power. We also need the wisdom and humility that translate into service, as well as love. Failure to grasp this elementary point will lead to a new ice age for humanity. Technical knowledge enables us to know how to do something, but humane wisdom enables us to know why it is good for this thing to be done. We already see how the technological environment, conceived in the beginning as a useful tool, begins to shape those who use it. As we flick from screen to screen, constantly diverted by what is presented as new—but is in reality just more of the same—there are trends, spasms of the hive mind and gusts of indignation, but nothing accumulates. Cultivation, which is essential to culture, becomes impossible.

If the Government’s ambition is really to

“strengthen education for the long term”,

then, alongside the acquisition of skills and knowledge, there needs to be at every level a fresh and profound attention and investment in the creative arts—music, for example, which unites numbers and harmony. Music should not, at any level of education, be just a divertissement.

At the same time, we must be very serious about translating and transmitting the texts of the great wisdom traditions of world culture, all of which teach that humility—being close to the humus as human beings —is the beginning of wisdom. We grow by connecting with one another in humility. We grow by self-giving, not by performing on platforms. We cannot genuinely grow up online; we grow up in communities, where we can make one another our work of art and learn profoundly what it is to be human. Any education for the long term must ponder the practical implications of this truth. It is a way in which we shall recover our confidence in the future of the human species.

17:26
Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I take this opportunity to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and the noble Baroness, Lady Owen, on their impressive maiden speeches. I warm- heartedly welcome them to the House. I am also looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ranger.

I welcome the announcement in the King’s Speech that Parliament might be considering introducing legislation relating to science, technology and innovation, and the steps the Government took at the AI safety summit at Bletchley Park. Over the past 18 months, I have had the privilege of leading the work of the All-Party Group on the Metaverse and Web 3.0. I am grateful to my co-chair, Mr Simon Fell MP, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and other members of the APPG across both Houses, as well as our partners in the industry. The APPG’s ambition was driven not only by the commercial imperative of British competitiveness but by potential social changes. We have been able to highlight the amazing array of British innovation, which is encouraging global interest and investment.

The APPG also wanted to broaden understanding of the many components that define the technologies that are termed “the metaverse”. In our research, we collaborated with researchers and academics at Greenwich University, New York University, Goldsmiths, Durham University and Surrey University, innovators, organisations and business leaders across many disciplines. We were guided by our advisers, including Professor Yu Xiong of Surrey University, Professor Fernandes of Durham University, Professor Xing of Liverpool University and Professor Johnson of New York University.

The APPG involved schools in our evidence sessions, where students quizzed senior academics and officials at Google and Roblox. I wish to acknowledge our deepest gratitude to all those who co-operated with us, particularly the many students, for their insightful contributions. They demonstrated their prowess during their questioning of a panel of experts on the use of technology. They made useful interventions on improving their safety and experiences, and on the lack of evident diversity in social media platforms and games. It also is worth noting that this work led to our collaboration with Sir David Amess’s Children’s Parliament, which has resulted in us partnering with schools in Africa.

We organised several evidence sessions in partnership with public and private sector organisations, including the British Computer Society, to enable experts and stakeholders to exchange thoughts and ideas across their different sectors. We examined the potential impact of Web 3.0 and the metaverse on various industries, including healthcare, education and governance. Professor Fernandes has just completed his report, which studied the potential impact of the metaverse on the UK regions. Our report was deliberately mindful of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. There is broad consensus that an evolving regulatory framework will be needed for digital ownership, blockchain, governance and compliance, as many noble Lords have stated.

In principle, I support any government attention on AI, given the warnings issued by experts throughout the world—such as the work of our APPG and that of Dr Lisa Cameron, Martin Docherty-Hughes and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones—who have made significant advances on the discourse of digital transformation. Much of this work leads many of us to conclude that focusing on AI in silos may be detrimental to progressing effective governance of advanced technologies overall.

There is a paradigm shift in digital infrastructures, comprising more autonomous and decentralised platforms, with user-concentric ecosystems and greater personal control of digital identities, data and online interactions—or at least this is promised. It is being developed by monopolies of service providers without adequately addressing the needs and access issues of communities at large.

Therefore, we must address where AI fits within the broader spectrum of a technology ecosystem, including the interconnected nature of the metaverse and web 3.0. Where is it headed given that our knowledge and skills are expanding fast and will produce countless reiterations of products and services? Some of these may seem obscure now but as transformative AI-assisted machine learning widens its scope and function, we as legislators are obliged to ensure that there is an all-encompassing and well-regulated ecosystem which will not only yield benefits to British competitiveness but will honour our social obligation for an inclusive and just society.

This House has distinguished champions and expertise in this field, which was so evident throughout the passage of the Online Safety Bill, and today. We have learned the complexities of the wide range of unregulated technologies in use throughout the world where we have little jurisdiction to stop the horrific harm caused by well-known as well as unidentified creators, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. Hence, our international collaboration in the AI summit is critical to safeguard our national integrity as well as global security.

Metaverse technology is here to stay. The enterprise and industrial metaverses require an extensive set of technical enablers, which means a learned population who can tackle the demands of cloud computing. AI, network structures and connectivity are ranked the most important, according to a worldwide survey undertaken by McKinsey and others. Noble Lords will be aware of notable reports by PwC and Goldman Sachs which suggest the monetary value of the metaverse to be up to $80.2 billion this year.

Many opportunities exist for global co-operation. My time is running out and I will just paraphrase Shakespeare: the tide in the affairs of men may lead to fortune or a life bound in shallows, and when the current is in our favour we must grasp the fortune or lose our ventures. This is our time to progress a global, comprehensive strategy on emerging technology, cultivating the best of our skills and infrastructure.

I end by asking the Minister whether he will consider meeting Professor Fernandes and the team who wrote the report.

17:33
Viscount Chandos Portrait Viscount Chandos (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and the noble Baroness, Lady Owen of Alderley Edge, on their truly excellent maiden speeches. Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I was almost exactly the same age as the noble Baroness when I made my maiden speech and I can assure her, like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, did, that her speech was very much more articulate than mine. I look forward to the maiden speech following mine of the noble Lord, Lord Ranger of Northwood, and will try not to prolong my contribution in order to minimise any final pre-match nerves he may be feeling.

I will speak briefly on each of today’s specialist subjects: science and technology, media, and culture. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests in the register; in particular, as chair of the Thomson Foundation and chair of the Theseus Agency. Not disclosed in the register is that my son is a television and film screenwriter.

Currently, AI, particularly generative AI, dominates the focus of and debate about science and technology, and I will address this area. But the contribution of technology to economic growth and broader prosperity encompasses a much wider range of disciplines than AI alone, even if AI is being deployed alongside them in almost all cases. Our positions in life sciences, green technology and nuclear power, for instance, are all dependent on the base of pure and applied science that this country enjoys.

Two weeks ago, the major US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz—which in the 15 years since its founding has set new ground rules for how venture capital firms provide broad support for technology companies beyond just money—held a reception to mark the opening of its London office, the first outside the US. Co-founder Ben Horowitz singled out the excellence of the UK’s higher education sector as one of the three factors leading to this step.

We on these Benches, and others, recognise this but those of us on the Industry and Regulators Committee particularly fear for the sustainability of this sector, as spelled out in our recent report. The belated decision by the Government to rejoin Horizon Europe is welcome, even if irreparable damage has been done by the delay in rejoining. But the wider financial pressures on the higher education sector and on students themselves put at risk that vital science base, not just in the Russell group universities but throughout the sector. Does the Minister who will be winding up agree that there is a systemic risk to the HE sector’s financial viability and hence to our prospects for long-term economic growth?

Generative AI represents a classic balance of opportunity and threat, which the Government have at least partially recognised. From my perspective, the Bletchley Park summit on AI safety was at best a score draw. I draw on football analogies without having the time, much less the expertise, to comment on the football governance Bill. I welcome the participation of China—as more than half of all published academic papers on AI have at least one Chinese co-author—and the signing of the declaration by China and the 27 countries in the EU but I deplore the exclusion of workers’ representation, which my noble friend Lady O’Grady highlighted so authoritatively in yesterday’s debate.

PAI—the influential non-profit US-based partnership, founded by big tech but now with over 100 members from academic, civil society and media organisations, including the Thomson Foundation—has the impact of AI on employment as one of its four priority areas of focus. Previous speakers, and participants in my noble friend Lord Bassam’s Oral Question earlier, have regretted the absence of any proposed legislation to provide overarching regulation of AI in line with, notably, the US and the EU. I join them. Of course, it is particularly hard to regulate such a fast-moving sector but I was struck this morning hearing a representative of a big pharma company make the point, in giving evidence to the Industry and Regulators Committee, that there is no successful life sciences industry in a country that does not have a world-class pharmaceutical regulator.

I am short of time. Like other noble Lords I welcome the Media Bill, although after such a long wait it may be hard for it to meet expectations. I will raise two specific points. The independent television production industry has grown and changed hugely in the 40 years since Channel 4’s start. Many production companies and groups are now well capitalised and resourced with customers throughout the world. Channel 4’s pioneering role accounts significantly for this, but its work is not done. It remains a vital catalyst in nurturing younger and smaller programme makers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, noted, and it is essential that any change to Channel 4’s remit preserves, if not strengthens, this.

The Government’s briefing on the King’s Speech stated that the Bill will support Channel 4’s sustainability

“by strengthening the broadcaster’s governance arrangements”.

All organisations are capable of improving their governance, but will the Minister say in what specific ways he believes Channel 4’s governance needs improving?

A couple of years ago, a candidate for the Channel 4 board with impeccable professional qualifications and political independence was unanimously recommended by the Channel 4 board, Ofcom and DCMS. No. 10 rejected the recommendation without reason but presumably in the hope of appointing a more biddable fellow traveller. Would the envisaged changes to governance prevent this or at least ensure that there would be complete transparency over the process for board appointments?

17:41
Lord Ranger of Northwood Portrait Lord Ranger of Northwood (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, I rise with equal measures of pride and humility to have this opportunity to speak in your Lordships’ House for the first time. I begin by recognising the long history of this Chamber and the immense warmth and greeting I have felt from noble Peers from all sides of the House. I thank the officers and staff for everything they have done to make me feel so welcome. I have great confidence that this warmth will remain a constant support for my time in this place.

I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Howard of Lympne and Lady Verma for introducing me into the House this summer, and for their encouragement and guidance over the last 20 years as I have made my way from political campaigner to London mayoral adviser and eventually to this place.

I appreciate that no individual’s journey is easy, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and my noble friend Lady Owen on their maiden speeches and their journeys. As a proud British Sikh, a born and bred Londoner, a Conservative and, yes, a Tottenham Hotspur fan, I must say that I have had my own path and its various ups and downs.

I thank my wife Sigita for her ongoing support and patience and the daily inspiration and love I receive from our two young boys, Rajveer and Amrit. I am standing between them and bath-time at home at the moment. But, of course, I stand here also on the shoulders of my parents and grandparents and the challenges they overcame: living through post-partition India, building new lives in different parts of the world and showing how to deal with prejudice. The dignity and values that they instilled in me are a huge part of why I am here today.

I want to recognise my grandfathers. Sardar Jodh Singh Ranger, born in 1913 in Harial, later to be in Pakistan, moved to Mombasa, Kenya in 1948 and worked in the docks of east Africa. He pooled his savings and bought a petrol station in 1966, which he ran day and night for almost 20 years. After sending my father to the UK in 1968, he followed with my grandmother in 1984. My maternal grandfather, Sardar Gurnam Singh Sahni, was born in 1927 in Rawalpindi, later to be in Pakistan. From an early age he followed his father, Ajeet Singh Sahni, into local politics. At the age of 15 he became the general secretary of the Rawalpindi Student Congress, becoming president in 1944. He moved to the UK in 1961 and, as a man who really valued his community, he established the first Indian newspaper in the UK, the Punjab Times, in 1965. He then served 10 years as president of the central UK gurdwara. Their love and guidance are greatly missed.

In my own case, I am delighted to have joined the cohort of turban-wearing noble Lords: my noble friend Lord Suri, who I see in his place, and the noble Lords, Lord Sahota and Lord Singh of Wimbledon. I recognise them for what they have achieved for this country and for their communities, but it also fills me with great pride to be the first British-born turban-wearing Sikh to sit in this House. In a world where we are still fighting wars over religious differences, I hope that this country —my country, modern Britain—can act as a beacon as to how diverse cultures, religions and even political values can sit and work together in peace to achieve progress.

I welcome the gracious Speech. During the last 25 years, my career has enabled me to play a part, in some small way, in the technological change that we see around us. I note my registered interests: my board membership of techUK, my membership of the West Midlands tech and digital advisory board, and my position as a senior executive at Atos.

I have been fortunate to be involved in projects, programmes and policies that have delivered innovating public services. In 2003, as part of the team that delivered the Oyster card for London, I saw at first hand the application of contactless technology in a western society for the first time. It was our first brush with e-money, an early example of personal digital data being captured en masse and, yes, the first time people had to totally trust the machines. This project changed my perspective on the power of good tech delivery. In the proceeding years, I sought out roles that would harness innovation and deliver positive outcomes and societal change.

When invited in 2008 by my friend Boris Johnson to join him at City Hall as his transport adviser, I started by establishing the London Electric Vehicle Partnership, paving the way for London to become an early adopter of EVs. We also delivered the most user-friendly and app-enabled cycle hire scheme, and returned the iconic Routemaster bus with a 21st century design and the latest hybrid technology, championing cleaner air for London. I also convinced the mayor to establish the office for digital London, because it was becoming ever clearer that we were on the cusp of a generation-defining industrial change—the beginning of the digital era.

During the last decade, we have witnessed the initial phase of digital transformation in UK public services. This means that today, if you want to renew your passport, pay your council tax or update your driving licence online, you can. But something is missing: the user experience does not feel integrated or elegantly designed. Yes, I can use my NHS app and manage my income tax digitally, but I need to visit different websites and applications to do so. That is because services are designed around the way government is organised; they are not yet citizen-centric.

Let us contrast this with our experience as consumers. Our interactions with the mega digital behemoths such as Apple, Google or Amazon feel effortlessly intuitive and joined up. These service providers already know us and what we might need, and are an example of what great user-centric experience looks like. They are the benchmark and opportunity for public services over the next decade and beyond.

We are all aware that the future of digital is brimming with opportunity, but I also know from my time in industry that, in the years ahead, what we debate and decide in this Chamber will need to sit alongside what tech businesses around the world decide to do. I humbly suggest that this House will need to do ever more to be relevant in the fast-moving digital world and to ensure we retain that most valuable of commodities, public trust, in our ability to generate legislation that is relevant and inclusive.

We will need to inform about the capabilities of digital technology, promote the opportunities it brings and, yes, protect from the risks—the potential of information overload and the loss of privacy, and the need to ensure cybersecurity for our online and offline lives—as well as maintaining control as we create and deploy technologies such as AI.

As I look forward to playing my part in this House, I see on the horizon the emerging challenge of how we will help shape a fast-moving digital society that can be fair, inclusive and secure, and will hopefully mean that my children and, God willing, their children will look back and say that we protected and advanced society when faced with our greatest moment of technological migration—when society transformed and we helped build a better future for us all.

17:49
Lord Black of Brentwood Portrait Lord Black of Brentwood (Con)
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My Lords, it is an immense pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Ranger and congratulate him on a superb and memorable maiden speech, which was elegant, captivating and moving in equal measure. He has an exceptional track record of distinguished service at the highest levels of industry, government and the public sector, and a specialist knowledge of transport, digital and technological issues, which will be of inestimable value in this House. His many achievements—the delivery of the Oyster card, as described, establishing the Digital London office, helping prepare for the hugely successful 2012 Olympics and championing Crossrail—speak volumes in themselves. He has also been closely involved with key environmental issues as a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, sitting on the board of Bristol 2015 European Green Capital and campaigning on issues such as cleaner air and electric vehicles. With such a track record of accomplishments, many at an international level, and such a strong sense of public service, he will bring real insight and wisdom to our deliberations.

His powerful speech—the harbinger, I have no doubt, of many more to come—gave us an inspirational insight into his family story. I was of course delighted to hear that his maternal grandfather founded the first Indian newspaper in the UK, which is a shining achievement. His journey to becoming the first British-born, turban-wearing Sikh in this House is a remarkable one and his experiences will enrich our deliberations beyond measure. My noble friend is exceptionally welcome. We look forward to hearing from him in years to come on public policy issues of huge importance to everyone in this country—not least digital transformation and artificial intelligence—with the fascinating perspectives that he will bring to our work.

I want to talk about aspects of the gracious Speech relating to the media. I declare my interest as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group, a member of the News Media Association and director of the Regulatory Funding Company, and note my other interests in the register.

First, I want to pay my own tribute to our late friend and colleague the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I had the pleasure of working with him on an issue he held most dear, the freedom of the press, for which he was a consistently passionate and eloquent champion. His commitment to the principles of an independent, self-regulating media was as strong as tungsten, and his calm, wise voice will be sorely missed in our debates.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward

“legislation ... to support the creative industries and protect public interest journalism”,

which has never been under such threat, and I applaud their commitment to press freedom. Central to this is the Media Bill. It will ensure that broadcasters such as ITV can continue to invest in their brilliant British content, by guaranteeing prominence on digital platforms for PSBs. It will take forward the principles established by the Online Safety Act by levelling the deeply unfair playing field between the platforms and the traditional media and bringing streaming regulation into line with broadcast TV.

At this point, I am going to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord McNally, because, for me, the most crucial part of the Bill is the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013—one of the most pernicious and draconian pieces of legislation ever put on to the statute book. It sought, in effect, to put a gun to the heads of the free and independent media by attempting to force them into a system of state-backed regulation or saddle them with costs, whether or not a case was won in court, that would have killed stone-dead investigative journalism and bankrupt most of the regional press and a large part of the national media. Fortunately, common sense has since prevailed, and Section 40 has never been put into effect. But its baleful, chilling presence remains—one reason that we have sunk down the international press freedom tables—and it must go.

Perhaps we can then move on to dismantle the royal charter on state regulation of the press, another otiose part of the detritus of the Leveson inquiry, along with the Press Recognition Panel, which shamefully continues to receive commitments of hundreds of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer, despite its mission to become self-funding.

I applaud too the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. This heavily consulted-on legislation will give the Digital Markets Unit within the CMA the teeth it needs to level the playing field between news publishers and the unaccountable giant tech platforms, and will pave the way for a sustainable future for quality journalism across the UK. We must scrutinise the Bill carefully to ensure that there are no unintended consequences of the sensible provisions to crack down on unscrupulous operators deceiving customers with malicious subscription traps in a way that impacts on responsible news publishers who are building new business models on the back of subscription revenues. We must also ensure that the carefully constructed appeals mechanisms are retained intact. Chief among these is the robust judicial review appeals standard, which is an essential part of the provisions redressing the imbalance in market power. To amend it as a result of aggressive lobbying by the giant platforms would undermine the whole regime. I associate myself absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and my noble friend Lady Stowell had to say on the subject —she hit the nail on the head.

I hope that both pieces of legislation will move swiftly though this House, with as much cross-party support as possible, so that the Government’s stated aim to protect journalism can be fulfilled as soon as possible. Other legislation—including the Automated Vehicles Bill, which could pose a threat to the future of public notices in printed local newspapers—will need careful scrutiny to ensure that it does not pull in the opposite direction to this vital legislation.

As the Government are committed to ensuring a sustainable future for a free press, then one issue that they must tackle—not foreshadowed in the gracious Speech—is the burgeoning imperial ambition of the BBC. Here, I am afraid that I will again upset the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I am going to talk just about its local activities, because I recognise that it is a national treasure and I absolutely support it. However, an absolutely vital part of the rich tapestry of the British media is the local and regional press, yet it is under commercial threat as never before as a result of the BBC’s Across the UK plan. This will inexorably lead to an increase in its online news provision in areas already well-served by independent news publishers, which means the inevitable loss of jobs for journalists in the local press.

The BBC’s royal charter requires the BBC to

“avoid adverse impacts on competition”

and causing harm to commercial providers. But that is precisely what these plans do. The BBC, which I absolutely support, is using the might of its enormous taxpayer funding aggressively to draw local audiences away from commercial providers and deprive them of readers and the revenue needed to continue investing in independent journalism, and does so at the expense of much-loved local radio services, to which it is taking the axe. It is inexplicable that, at a time when the BBC claims to be facing financial pressures—I am sure that it is—it chooses to invest heavily in news provision that is already well-served by the commercial sector.

If the BBC is allowed by the Government—the ultimate arbiter of the charter—and Ofcom to continue down this dangerous path, it will end up eradicating plurality in the local news market and leave local people only one source of news about their area: the corporation’s. As the clock ticks towards the mid-term review of the charter, I hope my noble friend will take note of the strong views of local publishers in particular and act to stop the BBC destroying independent local media.

Our free press is under the most terrible commercial strain. Much in the gracious Speech will help the situation but there is a great deal more to do.

17:58
Lord Rees of Ludlow Portrait Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB)
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My Lords, ideally, crucial sectors such as education and science should be governed by a bipartisan consensus that offers long-term stability. In depressing contrast, turbulence in the Government has triggered unstable policies and a rapid churn of Ministers. The UK risks getting further from, not closer to, being a science superpower. To reverse this trend changes are needed in schools, higher education and R&D.

In our schools, attainment levels are poor compared to nations in the Far East and northern Europe. In particular, there are too few good science teachers. Young children display enthusiasm and curiosity, often focused on dinosaurs and the cosmos—blazingly irrelevant to their lives, but fascinating—but they are starved of the inspirational teaching that could channel this enthusiasm.

There are three things that can be done. First, we should ensure that conditions are good enough to retain excellent schoolteachers and that their pay level is appropriate for practitioners of a serious profession. Secondly, we should encourage mature individuals to move into teaching from a career in, for instance, research, industry or the Armed Forces. Thirdly, we should make optimum use of the web to supplement and individualise what the teacher can do.

At university level, our international rankings are higher but there is a systemic weakness. The missions of our universities are not sufficiently varied. They all aspire to rise in the same league table, one that gives more weight to research than to what matters to potential students. What should worry us in particular at the moment is the financial pressure that current students are under: the fact that they cannot find affordable accommodation near campus and need to do time-consuming part-time work to support themselves. Universities and the public should expect a full-time commitment from those enrolled on three-year degree courses, but that requires that they are properly supported.

Indeed, there may well be a shift away from full-time three-year degrees. Everyone should have the opportunity to re-enter university or technical education, maybe part-time or online, at any stage in their lives. This path could become smoother, even routine, if there were a formalised system of transferable credits across the whole system of further and higher education. The Government’s lifelong entitlement to support, to be taken à la carte at any stage in life, is a good step forward.

Another problem is that the post-16 school curriculum is too narrow. An especial downside is that those who have been turned off science drop it at 16 and thereby foreclose the chance to qualify at 18 for high-quality university courses, so we should welcome the broad support for some kind of British baccalaureate.

It is shameful that we in this country are losing the professionals to staff ourselves and high-level technical expertise, so we should listen to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and strengthen high-level technical education. Degree programmes should be valued by the graduates and geared to job prospects, that is true, but that need not necessarily be related to the salaries. To give one example, if a fine arts degree gives a gifted and committed artist the expertise to follow their avocation, even if their earning is just a living wage, that is surely an outcome to be welcomed.

Of course research is a distinctive activity in most universities, but the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures is rendering our universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated stand-alone labs may become preferable, although there is a downside in so far as they reduce contact between talented researchers and students. Indeed, the UK owes its strength in biomedical sciences to its famous labs that allow full-time long-term research, with government funding massively supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, cancer charities, and a strong pharmaceutical industry.

There is a serious concern that academia itself is becoming less alluring as a career. Some people will become academics come what may—the nerdish element, of which I guess I myself am one—but a world-class university system cannot survive just on those. It must attract to its faculty a share of young people who are savvy about their options and ambitious to achieve something distinctive by their 30s. These people increasingly associate academia with years of precarity and undue financial sacrifice. Indeed, the declared rationale for setting up ARIA was to get round the problem by fostering long-term blue-skies research and freedom from bureaucracy in a fashion not available elsewhere in the system. That is fine, but surely it would have been a far higher priority to render less vexatious the bureaucracy of UKRI, whose budget is 25 times higher than what is envisaged for ARIA.

The effective exploitation of new discoveries is an imperative. Universities and research institutes must be complemented by organisations, in the public or private sector, that can offer adequate development and manufacturing capability. This concatenation certainly proved its worth in the recent pandemic. It is likewise imperative that the UK should foster expertise not only in the biological sciences but in energy, climate and the cybersphere—indeed, in all the fields needed to tackle global challenges. We have traditionally suffered from a lack of venture capital to bring things to market, but I worry that our ability to attract and retain mobile academic talent—students and professionals—is now at risk. We have been fortunate with regard to ESO, but it is an unwelcoming deterrent that, as has been mentioned, someone with a family who wants a global talent visa has to fork out more than £20,000.

I shall mention an enlightened recent contribution to these debates, a report co-authored by Tony Blair and the noble Lord, Lord Hague. They call for the creation of a science and tech policy and delivery unit that is

“independent from vested interests and status-quo forces, and able to devise, drive and unblock a reform agenda”.

That is needed, they say, to end the situation whereby

“the Treasury strongly micromanages science and technology spending and is the de-facto controller of the UK’s national R&D strategy”.

Their report advocates measures to reduce the level of audit imposed on universities and argues for the reform of technology transfer offices to encourage more university spin-offs. They say that UKRI should be restructured and there should be new hubs for regional development and

“a network of research institutes tasked with securing our lead in established competitive areas like synthetic biology and AI”.

I thought it was appropriate to listen to those two dormant ex-politicians on a day when many are celebrating the recycling of another of their number as the Foreign Secretary.

18:07
Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees. He always sees the world through the right end of the telescope. It is a pleasure to take part in day 5 of this debate. I declare my technology interests as adviser to Boston Ltd and Ecospend Ltd. I congratulate all three maiden speakers on their excellent and extremely interesting contributions. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing much more from them in the coming months.

I shall concentrate on the technology elements in the gracious Speech, although relatively shortly into my contribution noble Lords may notice that I am having to concentrate more on the technology elements that were not in the Speech than those that were. In reality, as has been mentioned by many already, it is not overstating the case to say that this is really all about data. It is our data. We should be able to determine and decide; we say why, who and to what. My first question for the Minister is: what is the Government’s plan to ensure that people are enabled to have control over their data, to say when, who, why and for what, and to be rightly recompensed if their data, ID or copyright is infringed by the training of these AIs?

To return to the question I raised at Oral Questions earlier today, would it not make sense to regulate at this stage, to enable, by regulation, all those that use others’ data, IP, images and copyrights to train AIs? All of that should be published in a transparent record to protect those individuals’ rights and to enable at least some decent degree of explainability as to how these AIs were trained. With regard to the excellent speech of my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, what is the Minister’s position on what the Government are going to do about digital inclusion? Without that, citizens are not going to be enabled and will not have the benefit of what these new technologies can bring.

We are certainly at the top of the AI hype cycle at the moment. In many ways, the greatest achievement of ChatGPT is that it has got more people chatting about AI. That has to be a positive thing, but to what purpose and for whose benefit? The Minister said earlier this afternoon that it is too early to regulate; we have not got the evidence; we do not know. Well, one of the great joys and equal frustrations of being born human is that we never fully know, but we know what we need to know to make a success of these new technologies, because we understand critical theory, politics, economics and social theory. We have understood philosophy for thousands of years. So I ask the Minister, when he comes to wind up, to say whether it would not make sense to at least put on some kind of regulatory footing a role where concepts such as fairness, dignity, respect, accessibility, inclusive by design and inter- operability are wired in; golden threads through all of this development, all of this deployment.

Seven years ago, I wrote a report on another emerging technology when it was at the top of its hype cycle: the technology blockchain. My report was Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: Leadership, Collaboration, Innovation. Why did I write that report? Because at that stage, then as now, I feared that many of the public good use cases there could be from these technologies could be lost because of fear, because of misdeployment, because of a connection, a belief that blockchain and bitcoin were the same thing, which they are patently not.

One example in the public space is that 25,000 doctor days are currently spent on assuring credentials. It is extraordinarily important: you want to know that the person operating on you, or consulting you, has the qualifications, the expertise, the experience, the skills that they are holding out that they have. With a very simple technological solution, those 25,000 doctor days could be collapsed into a matter of minutes. Those 25,000 days thus become converted into care. So will the Minister, when he comes to wind up, say what is being done across Whitehall, across the whole public sector, to ensure that all these potential benefits—yes, from AI, but from all these emerging technologies—are being considered, to give us the public sector, the public services, the National Health Service that we could have if we rightly lead on these technologies, with talent leading the possibilities that these technologies can bring to us?

As I said earlier, these technologies are nothing without data, but they will become nothing whatever without proving themselves trustworthy. Has the Minister considered such approaches as the alignment assemblies in Taiwan and other approaches to public engagement? Without that, how can we have fully informed and engaged citizens? How will we get the optimum benefits for all from these technologies? If everyone is not enabled to benefit, the benefits will fall far short of their potential.

Finally, I welcome the Bletchley summit, largely for this point alone. Two generations ago, a diverse and talented team gathered at Bletchley Park in one of the darkest hours of our human history. Through their diverse talents leading the technologies, they more than helped defeat the Nazis. When the Minister comes to wind up, will he agree that, if we have the enabled talent leading these new technologies, we can not only fully address some of the darkest issues of our times but really turn up the light and drive economic, social and psychological benefit for centuries to come?

18:15
Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
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My Lords, on 24 August I landed in Delhi to take part in the B20 before the G20. India was celebrating because the day before, on 23 August, Chandrayaan-3, the Indian spacecraft, landed on the south pole of the moon—the first time ever a spacecraft has done that. India is only the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon, at a cost of $74 million. Now that is cost-effective science; that is world-beating science beyond compare, described as “a victory cry of a new India”.

In the summer of 2019, I was in Oxford to witness the honorary doctorate being given to my friend Dr Cyrus Poonawalla, the founder and chairman of the Serum Institute of India, and a fellow Zoroastrian and Parsee. On that day I spoke to Professor Sir Adrian Hill, who told me of the amazing work they were doing in a race to develop a malaria vaccine, working very closely with the Serum Institute of India to achieve this. This year, we heard the great news that this vaccine has now been approved. It is 75% effective, it is cheaper than the other vaccine that is available and it is going to save millions of children’s lives, particularly in Africa.

Covid was not even on the horizon when I met Sir Adrian Hill in the summer of 2019, yet, because of this cross-border collaboration between Oxford University and the Serum Institute of India, when Covid hit, Oxford partnered with AstraZeneca and they went to the Serum Institute of India and the Serum Institute of India produced 2 billion doses of the Covid vaccine, more than anyone else in the world, again saving many millions of lives. It is no wonder that Dr Poonawalla is being spoken of as a future recipient of a Nobel Prize, because if you go back through the decades of the SII’s existence, by providing cheap, affordable vaccines for developing countries, it is estimated that 30 million children’s lives have been saved.

The gracious Speech promises

“to lead action on tackling climate change”.

As Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, I remember when, a few years ago, the railway department received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize at Buckingham Palace. Fast forward to COP 26 in Glasgow and that railway department, in conjunction with Siemens, a German company, with government help from Innovate UK, developed the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, hydroFLEX. As President of the CBI at the time, I was on board that train with His Majesty the King and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It was a great example of universities, Governments and business working together. What are the Government doing to promote this phenomenal collaboration even further?

AI was mentioned in the gracious Speech, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and others have spoken about it. In February this year, I was in Chennai, as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, to announce the first master’s between the University of Birmingham and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, one of the highest ranked Indian institutions at the moment. It is a joint degree in AI and data science, with the students spending time in both England and India. We need many more such initiatives.

The gracious Speech mentions negotiating free trade agreements. Can the Minister tell us when the free trade agreement between the UK and India will be signed? It was meant to be Diwali last year, according to Boris Johnson. Well, we have had Diwali this year and it still has not been signed. It will greatly enhance trade, business and investment between our two countries, and we need to invest much more in research and development and innovation. We invest less than 2% of GDP. America invests more than 3% of GDP. What are the Government doing to increase investment in R&D and innovation?

I have just taken over from the late, great Lord David Young of Graffham as patron of the Small Business Charter. In conjunction with the Chartered Association of Business Schools, we provide, through 60 business schools, the Government’s Help To Grow Management Course, an initiative of Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor. Already, over 5,000 businesses have gone through this course. It is amazing: the Government pay 90%, and the business pays only 10%. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The turnover of MacMartin, a marketing and design agency —Claire, one of the partners, took part in the course—has tripled, and the head count has grown by 60%. Can the Government make this great programme available to SMEs with fewer than five employees? At the moment, they cannot take part.

I am a proud manufacturer. I manufacture an award-winning product, and the vast majority of it is manufactured here in the UK. Manufacturing makes up less than 10% of GDP, yet we are one of the top 10 manufacturers in the world, and I chair the Manufacturing Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, spoke about our universities’ rankings. In February, I took part in the QS World University Rankings annual conference in India, and in my keynote speech I pointed out with pride that the UK, with less than 1% of the world’s population, has four out of the top 10 universities in the world and 17 out of the top 100 in the world, including the University of Birmingham.

I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students and president of UKCISA. We have a record 690,000 international students, which is wonderful. Some 25% of world leaders today have been international students in the UK, yet net migration is 600,000 and we include international students in those figures. Please could we exclude international students from the net migration figures in the way that America and Australia do? That would scare people less, and that figure would come down by probably half. We could then activate the shortage occupation lists that are desperately required across all sectors.

Finally, in this debate on the gracious Speech today, we speak about science, technology, media and culture. This is the best example of the UK having the strongest combination of hard and soft power in the world, whether it is our manufacturing; defence; financial services; the Royal Family, led by His Majesty the King; the BBC, watched and listened to by 500 million people; or of course, Premier League football. We should be proud of our combination of hard and soft power: the best in the world.

18:22
Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the three noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today and I welcome them to your Lordships’ House.

It would be no exaggeration to say that the content of the gracious Speech was underwhelming: a hotchpotch of mainly minor legislation with little sign of any strategic approach. As my noble friend Lord Knight said, it demonstrated that the Government had run out of ideas. Indeed, various Bills that had been at least hinted at, if not promised, were notable by their absence. There was no mention, for instance, of delivering on the 2019 manifesto commitment to bring forward much-needed reforms to the Mental Health Act, despite a White Paper last year promising what were termed “once in a lifetime” reforms. There was no mention at all of education, despite statements by Ministers in both Houses after the Schools Bill crashed and burned last year that the long overdue register of children not in mainstream education would be legislated for separately, on grounds of safeguarding if nothing else. There was no mention either of reform of the private pensions sector, an issue close to the hearts of many, not least noble Lords, despite the commitment by the Chancellor in his Mansion House speech in July that the reforms would boost the typical pension by more than £1,000 a year. Perhaps he mislaid the envelope on the back of which he had written that down. Not to worry; Labour in government has a commitment to deliver that important reform.

Further, in terms of the main thrust of today’s debate, there was next to nothing on science and technology. Yes, there are the two carryover Bills, but apart from that the DSIT website could offer only:

“plans to introduce a new legal framework to encourage innovation in new technologies such as machine learning was also announced”.

Rather vague, and a missed opportunity to champion harnessing the role of science in the economy and wider society.

I want to focus on physics because it fuels economic growth. Research commissioned by the Institute of Physics in 2019 is highlighted in the most recent issue of Science in Parliament, the excellent journal of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. It showed that, in 2019 alone, physics-based industries directly generated £229 billion in gross value added, which represents 11% of total UK GDP. These firms had 2.7 million full-time employees, accounting for 10% of UK employment. Anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that those working in physics are mainly white-coated boffins needs to get real.

Of course, all governments have an ambition to grow the economy and strengthen society, and that can be achieved more quickly and more sustainably by unlocking the full potential of physics innovation. Physics-intensive firms underpin a third of all business R&D, powering many of the world’s most impactful innovations, such as fibre optics that bring better connections to millions of homes across the UK, or MRI that helps to diagnose disease. A new wave of technological innovation is about to break. Emerging technologies, enabled by UK physicists’ breakthroughs in fields such as materials science and quantum physics, promise to radically transform the way we work and live, to create new business opportunities and to open up new markets.

The research to which I referred earlier shows that, of the total amount of research and development undertaken by businesses in the UK, more than a third came from physics-intensive firms. These figures assume even more significance when considered alongside the fact that almost two-thirds of physics innovators say they expect to increase investment in R&D and innovation in the next five years. Physics-powered technology sectors can become engines for economic growth. To build a green economy, most clean technologies are built on physics discovery and innovation and need physics skills for their continued development. A thriving base of physics innovation is critical to tackling climate change and powering growth of the green economy.

However, a major challenge threatens those developments: a shortage of the necessary skills, which has already put a brake on the innovation activities of some physics-based businesses. Two-thirds of physics innovators say that skills shortages caused innovation activity to be suspended or delayed in the past five years. Meanwhile, the demand for physics skills is growing quickly, which will cause the skills gap to widen even further, stalling plans to increase R&D activity and scientific output.

For the UK to build a more innovative economy requires an equally dramatic increase in the scale and diversity of the R&D workforce to fuel scientific progress. This needs to start in schools, where more young people from more diverse backgrounds should be encouraged and supported to study science subjects, including computer science, where in 2022 the numbers of female students taking GCSEs was just a third of that of male students. There also needs to be much better advice and guidance on studying STEM subjects for young people considering their post-16 options.

I was pleased to see that in its report published in March this year, the Commons Science and Technology Committee made a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion in STEM subjects. It is also incumbent on teachers to challenge gender stereotypes, and the Institute of Physics is calling for the barriers in the current education system to be tackled, so that young people are not prevented from enjoying the rich and inspiring future that studying the sciences can offer. This requires that all schools offer inclusive and equitable environments, including whole-school equity plans to be made mandatory in all nurseries and schools, to shift the dial in the numbers of underrepresented groups studying the sciences. An inclusive environment must be backed up by high-quality specialist science teaching, particularly physics teaching, in all schools. Too often, science subjects are taught by non-specialists, teachers in other subjects who just happen to have passed an A-level in one of the sciences.

However, learning the key skills needed for an increasingly digital economy is not just a challenge for school students. Adults too must be helped to build these skills. Upskilling and reskilling are key to that challenge, and I welcome the campaign to boost digital skills led by the Institute of Coding. Noble Lords will have received the letter that the institute has prepared for sending to the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Statement next week. I have signed it and I hope many others have also done so. The Institute of Coding highlights the fact that the UK has some 870,000 vacancies across the tech sector, at a time when there is growing demand for a digitally skilled workforce with the right knowledge in the right places to make a difference. Of those already working in the sector, the institute reveals that just one in five is a woman and that there are clear disparities between those from other underrepresented groups, who face barriers to accessing both education and employment.

Since 2018, the Institute of Coding’s hybrid short course programmes have supported more than a million learners from hard-to-reach backgrounds and this essential work deserves much greater exposure and government support. It is vital that this work expands rapidly as improving support for digital skills is essential. I would like to believe that it is inconceivable that Ministers and civil servants have not stressed this point to the Chancellor. We shall see.

18:29
Viscount Colville of Culross Portrait Viscount Colville of Culross (CB)
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My Lords, I was encouraged by the Government’s White Paper on AI published earlier this year, with its stated intention of extending AI regulation throughout the economy.

The gracious Speech mentioned the UK leading international discussion on developing AI safely, and of course much has been made of the Bletchley AI summit. While that was happening, I joined a lower-profile but equally interesting fringe AI summit, attended by hundreds of young AI developers, ethicists and policy thinkers from all over the world. They pointed out that AI is already deployed across multiple government systems and the private sector to increase productivity and effectiveness in the areas of medicine, science and employment, to mention a few.

Although the Government have had success in bringing together disparate players to look ahead at AI, the real threat is already here, as my noble friend Lady Kidron said. The National Cyber Security Centre’s annual review highlights these threats only too well. It says that the

“large language models … will almost certainly … make the spread of disinformation easier; and that deepfake campaigns are likely to become more advanced”

by the time of the next general election.

Generative AI can already make videos of people saying anything in a convincing iteration of their voice and features. At the moment, AI models to simulate somebody’s voice on audio are freely available; their video equivalent is available commercially but will be freely available within months. It will soon be possible to make videos of anybody saying anything and spread them across the internet. The possibility of this technology being used to make deepfake political statements will cause havoc in the coming elections, leaving voters not knowing what to believe.

When I asked the Minister, on 24 October, what could be done to ban them, he told me that it was not possible because they are developed abroad. However, in the Online Safety Act, the law now requires foreign players to abide by our requirements to prevent online harm to children and illegal harms to all. I echo other noble Lords in pointing out that there is no legislation in the gracious Speech to show that the Government are taking this very present threat at all seriously.

Any new AI law needs to ensure that this country is pro innovation in the hope of making us a global superpower. The White Paper laid out important principles for understanding how models should being developed; however, the successful development of AI in Britain will depend on effective regulation across every sector of the economy where the models are being trained—and before they are deployed.

The White Paper says that existing regulators could be given extra powers to deal with AI. That is fine for areas of the economy which already have strong regulation, such as medicine, science and air travel, but AI is already being deployed in sectors such as education and employment, where the regulators do not have the powers or resources to look at the ways in which it is being used in their fields. For instance, who is the employment regulator who can look at the possible bias in robo-firing from companies and the management of employees by algorithm? Can the Minister say why no AI legislation is being brought forward in this new Parliament? What plans are there to enhance the AI-regulating powers in sectors where such regulation is very weak?

I am concerned not just by the way that AI models are being trained but by the state of the data being used to train them. Public trust is crucial to the way this data is used, and the new legislation must help build that trust, so it will be very important to get the digital protection Bill right. Generative AI needs to be trained on millions, if not billions, of pieces of data, which, unless scrutinised rigorously, can be biased or—worse—toxic, racist and sexist. The developers using data to train AI models must be alert to what can happened if bad data is used; it will have a terrible impact on racial, gender, socioeconomic and disabled minorities.

I am concerned that crucial public trust in technology will be damaged by some of the changes to data protection set out in the Bill. I fear that the new powers available to the Secretary of State to issue instructions and to set out strategic priorities to the regulator will weaken its independence. Likewise, the reduction in data protection officers and the impact statements for all data that is not high risk also threaten to damage public trust in the AI models on which they are trained.

We see this technology evolving so fast that the Government must increase the focus on the ethics and transparency of the use of data. The Government should encourage senior members of organisations to look at the whole area of data, from data assurance to its exploitation by AI. I know that the Government want to reduce the regulatory burden on data management for businesses, but I suggest that it will also make them more competitive if they have a reputation for good control and use of the data they hold.

So much of our concern in the digital space is with the extraordinary powers that the tech companies have accumulated. I am very pleased that the digital markets Bill is giving the Digital Markets Unit powers to set up market inquiries into anti-competitive practices that harm UK markets. Building on what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for me one of the most egregious, and one of the most urgent, issues is the market in journalistic content. Spending on advertising for regional newspapers in this country has declined from £2.6 billion in 1990 to £240 million at the end of last year. As a result, the country’s newspapers are closing and journalism is being restricted by the move of advertising to the big tech companies. That is the real problem—it is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, caused by competition from the BBC.

This is compounded by those companies aggregating news content generated by news creators and not paying them a fair price. So I am pleased to see the introduction of a means for tech companies to make proportionate payment for journalistic content. I hope that the conduct requirement to trade on fair terms will be sufficient. However, if the final-offer mechanism has to be used to force an offer from the tech companies, the lengthy enforcement period means that it could take many years before the CMA is able to deploy it. There need to be strict time limits on every step if we are to make the FOM a credible incentive to negotiation. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, I ask for the CMA decisions to be appealable through the shorter judicial review process, rather than the longer merits standards asked for by the tech companies.

Finally, I am very pleased by the clauses to help digital subscribers, but I will make one plea. It is often very difficult to terminate a contract online with the “unsubscribe” link being hidden away in some digital corner. I suggest that we take the example of Germany, which requires contracts to have an easily accessible cancellation button on all digital contracts.

18:36
Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I regret that the time constraints make it impossible to comment on the many valuable contributions we have already heard, not least that from the noble Viscount, who is always worth listening to. But I do want to pay tribute to our three maiden speakers.

In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for his comments earlier, I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. On behalf of its 150 members, I recently wrote to the Prime Minister, acknowledging that the Government’s gambling White Paper included many of the measures we have been campaigning for, including a statutory levy, affordability checks and bringing online stakes and prizes more in line with land-based gambling. We strongly welcomed the White Paper, while arguing for additional measures—not least those referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Butler—and pressing for speedy implementation.

Speedy implementation was promised by the Government, and my letter argued that the King’s Speech offered an opportunity to reaffirm that promise, providing the assurances that so many want that there will be no further delay in gambling reform. So I was disappointed that the Speech made no reference to gambling reform. Therefore, I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will give a clear assurance that gambling reforms will progress as rapidly as possible.

However, one issue is woefully addressed in the White Paper: gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship. We and our children are bombarded with, and incentivised to gamble by, ads on TV, on the radio, online, on social media and in direct emails. No wonder the noble Lord, Lord True, speaking from the Dispatch Box last year, said that as a sports fan he was

“sick and tired of gambling advertising being thrust down viewers’ throats”.—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 446.]

The promotion of gambling products has grown exponentially, with an annual spend now in excess of £1.5 billion, and a growing amount of it online. One in six adults follow gambling companies on social media, as do a surprising number of children. Also growing has been the level of public concern about the way gambling companies are using ever more sophisticated means to attract new customers and persuade existing ones to spend more. They use a range of techniques to keep customers hooked, from disguising losses as wins and celebrating near-misses to offering so-called free bets, free money and free spins. No wonder 50 academics recently called for “badly needed” restrictions, claiming:

“In our opinion it has become quite clear that the gambling products being offered and the ways in which they are promoted are harmful to individual and family health and damaging to national life”.


Following a review of evidence, the Advertising Standards Authority said:

“Several studies … found associations between advertising exposure and the behaviour of problem and at-risk gamblers,”


with some

“robust enough to support the existence of an association between exposure and gambling behaviour”.

The charity GambleAware said there was a “missed opportunity” in the White Paper for greater regulation of gambling advertising and marketing. It wrote:

“Almost half (45%) of 11–17-year-olds are exposed to gambling marketing on social media each week. Our research shows that increased exposure to gambling can influence attitudes towards gambling and the likelihood of gambling participation in the future, which in turn comes with an increased risk of harm”.


Under the heading

“Gambling Advertising has no public benefit and contributes to harm”,


the Coalition Against Gambling Ads, citing numerous pieces of research, concluded:

“There is good evidence that, for a considerable number of people, gambling advertising substantially contributes to disordered gambling”.


The White Paper itself points to research showing that gambling advertising and marketing leads people to start gambling, existing gamblers to gamble more and those who have stopped to start again.

Given this link between gambling advertising and harm, some organisations are taking matters into their own hands. The Guardian has banned all gambling ads. Even the Premiership has agreed to ban shirt-front gambling logos, and some football clubs have gone much further, ending gambling sponsorship deals and banning ads. Reading City Football Club, for example, said it is

“pleased to commit to helping eliminate harmful gambling ads, which are a scourge on our beautiful game”.

Even the gambling industry itself has made concessions, albeit small, with the whistle-to-whistle ban on ads during football matches. These are all welcome and, backed by research evidence, show an acceptance of the damaging impact of this barrage of gambling marketing and so the need for greater action. Several other countries are taking action to ban or restrict gambling advertising. The vast majority of the British public want us to do the same.

We were promised a public health approach to gambling. I believe such an approach should lead to significant curbs on advertising, a ban on direct marketing, an end to all inducements to gamble and the phasing out of sports sponsorship, yet the White Paper proposals do little of this. As the charity Gambling With Lives says:

“Gambling advertising is designed to encourage people to gamble. The more people gamble, the more likely they are to be at risk of harm. It’s not rocket science”.


It really is not rocket science.

We have a large number of people who suffer gambling harm, including a surprising number of children, an even greater number of people impacted by it and, tragically, far too many gambling-related suicides. Current gambling advertising is contributing to this and more robust action is needed. I encourage the Minister to ensure speedy implementation of existing White Paper proposals, but will he also acknowledge the need to go back to the drawing board in respect of gambling advertising and come up with proposals that acknowledge the huge weight of UK and international research evidence and the huge public support for far tougher measures?

18:44
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord in what is, after all, the first King’s Speech debate in 72 years. I congratulate the three maiden speakers, who each spoke with character and experience. I know that they will all be feeling a lot better for having completed their speeches, and their temporary absence from the Chamber probably illustrates exactly why.

I think this is the first debate on a gracious Speech for some time—possibly years—in which the word “science”, as we can see on the monitor, is in the title. That is a very welcome development. My noble friend mentioned a moment ago Science in Parliament, the magazine which all your Lordships receive and, I hope, read with interest. That prompts me to refer to my entry in the register of interests, because I am president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which is the body that produces that excellent publication. I also thank the organisations that have provided very useful briefings for this debate, including our own Lords Library, the Royal Society, Cancer Research UK and others, such as the Royal Society of Biology, the Royal Astronomical Society and the London Mathematical Society. Indeed, this week is Maths Week England, which celebrates the importance of maths both to the UK economy and to scientific discovery and innovation.

In the short time available to me, I want to identify five areas which are crucial to the UK’s science future and ask some questions of the Minister to reply to in his winding-up speech, not all of which, if I may say so, were covered by the noble Viscount in his opening speech.

I start with science funding. The very creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology earlier this year shows that, in structural terms, the Government now have the organisational means to further their stated wish to make the UK a science superpower, and the Government’s stated aim of increasing R&D funding to £20 billion a year by 2024-25 is now getting closer. It will lay the foundations not only for the superpower aspiration but the future of the entire UK science base. We are nearing the Autumn Statement. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will reach this target figure by the due date?

Next, I turn to Horizon Europe, to which some Members have referred. It took far longer to rejoin than it should have done, and real damage was done by the three-year delay, but the intention of the UK is now clear. We all want to make sure that Horizon Europe succeeds. Incidentally, I remind the House—the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is gazing at me from a distance—that, next month, the Foundation for Science and Technology is due to hold a session on making Horizon Europe a success. We were due to hear from the Science Minister, George Freeman, who I regret has left his post. I hope that his successor will take part in that debate, but I put on record my appreciation of what Mr Freeman did over many years. Can the Minister tell us what practical progress has been made, in the Government’s view, towards making Horizon Europe a success? Is there now tangible evidence that some of the brain drain of researchers which we had seen has been reversed? Would the Minister like to comment on the points about visa fees and health charges which have been made by others?

Thirdly, the Paul Nurse review of the research, development and innovation organisational landscape was requested as long ago as 2021 by the then Secretary of State for BEIS. If I may remind the House, the objectives of the review were these: first, to explore the existing ecosystem of research, development and innovation; secondly, to identify improvements to the landscape to deliver the Government’s ambition; and, thirdly, to ensure that RDI organisations—ranging across the whole landscape, from those carrying out discovery research to those supporting innovation—are effective, sustainable and responsive to future priorities and developments. We have not had a government reply to that review. Perhaps the Minister will explain to the House why we have not and when we will get it, because it is terribly important for the House to be able to discuss it.

Next, I turn briefly to net zero. We know the Prime Minister announced a relaxation of various targets. Nevertheless, significant milestones remain. The Government responded to the 2022 independent Skidmore review earlier this year. The review called for the creation of an evidence-led UK net-zero road map to send clear signals to global investors. My question now for the Minister is about what preparation work the Government are doing on these issues, and in particular around the need to reform the planning process, without which the necessary infrastructure of the future may not be built in time.

Fifthly, my final question relates to AI, which is surely the most debated subject of the year. Like others, I welcome the recent safety summit, but can the Minister tell us a bit more about the summit and the four pre-summit events held with the Royal Society, the British Academy, techUK and the Alan Turing Institute?

I refer, as other Members have, to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which has been carried over into this Session. One of the Bill’s central features is establishing a framework for the provision of digital verification services in the UK to enable those digital entities and attributes to be used with the same confidence as paper documents. This is crucial, and I follow what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said a moment ago. With the increasing sophistication of AI, how will we be able to tell the difference between truth and lies and between reality and fakes? For example, only last week there was a fake audio put out in the name of the Mayor of London, saying things that were completely untrue. Although the wording of the video clips was perhaps too extreme to be considered plausible, they reflected the intonation of the mayor’s voice, demonstrating the level of online fakery that can now be achieved. Perhaps on this occasion people were persuaded that it was a fake, although I dare say some were only too willing to be convinced.

It is interesting that the Metropolitan Police made a statement that the deepfake audio of Sadiq Khan on social media

“does not constitute a criminal offence”.

Next year we will have an election and I, for one, think our democracy will be at grave risk if we fail to take action to enable people to distinguish between what is real and what is not. The National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of GCHQ, said in its recent annual report that AI

“will almost certainly be used to generate fabricated content; that hyper-realistic bots will make the spread of disinformation easier”.

Perhaps in view of the importance of these issues, might the Government consider taking action in this Session via that Bill to make sure that we have a general election with as much integrity as possible?

I have run out of time. I add only that I hope that in this Session the House will have more opportunities to debate science and technology. There is a great willingness to do so, and it would be hugely beneficial not just for the House but for the Government and the nation at large.

18:52
Baroness Doocey Portrait Baroness Doocey (LD)
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My Lords, I too welcome the three maiden speakers, who made such excellent speeches.

It was very disappointing to me that, yet again, tourism was not mentioned in the King’s Speech, despite the contribution it makes to the economy. I want to focus on the increased contribution that tourism can make to the economy if the Government would just listen and take advice from the industry.

First, there is the Government’s deliberate policy of removing tax-free shopping for international visitors. This has been discussed in the House several times, but we are not making progress. As the Association of International Retail puts it, all the data shows that Britain is suffering from this decision. In 2022 tourism spend in the EU was up by 98% compared with 2019; in Britain it was down by 28%. British shops lost £1.5 billion in revenue as international visitors chose to spend their money in France, Italy and Spain instead. This trend is worsening in 2023: we are now the only major European country not to offer this bonus to international visitors. We are missing out on a rare Brexit opportunity: to offer tax-free sales to the 447 million consumers of the European Union.

By changing this policy, the Government could give an enormous shot in the arm not only to retail sales but to the hospitality, leisure and travel industries. The Treasury would also benefit from all the extra spending on services, hotels, travel and meals. Treasury estimates on this issue are simply wrong, and the mounting evidence contradicting its sums shows why the Chancellor should announce an independent assessment of this policy in his upcoming Autumn Statement. The industry has been crying out for this to happen because policies like this feed into the widespread perception that Britain as a destination is simply not competitive on price.

I also want to address school group travel and the loss to this country of those young people we once welcomed here in numbers, establishing vital early connections that benefited not only them but Britain. EU schoolchildren in organised and supervised groups used to arrive on official lists of travellers without needing a passport, but they can no longer do this because they now need a passport to enter the UK. But because most EU countries operate national ID card systems, the culture of getting a passport is much less prevalent than in the UK. For example, only about a third of Italian children have a passport.

Meanwhile, with British schoolchildren no longer automatically benefiting from visa-free access to the EU, and airlines and ferry companies reluctant to accept UK collective group passports, UK schools are struggling to organise their own trips to the continent. The Government recently proposed changes to alleviate this situation, at least for French children. The industry has waited for more news on this for many months and there are fears that, unless there is an announcement soon, it could be too little, too late to save an industry estimated to be worth £1.5 billion a year to the UK economy.

In short, not only must any changes be rolled out to other countries but they must be implemented urgently before the alternative destinations chosen by trip organisers over the last two years become established choices. Surely, with the upcoming introduction of the ETA, there is scope to reintroduce a more flexible system for schoolchildren. I hope that the Minister can update us when he winds up.

Finally, I turn to seaside towns. These communities are highly dependent on tourism, with the industry supporting half the jobs in places such as Whitby and St Ives. These areas have long faced a spiral of decline, with businesses closing and accommodation falling into disrepair. Covid hit them disproportionately— 90% of the areas that suffered the biggest job losses were on the coast. Now a crisis is looming, with a third of coastal businesses not confident about trading over the next six months, and four out of every 10 expecting to close during the winter to boost their chances of survival.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, says that demographic trends mean that ageing populations and associated challenges in coastal areas will only increase, and warns that we need action to stop the situation getting worse. But he also believes:

“Many of the challenges faced by coastal communities are amenable to strong, targeted, long-term action”.


There is no doubt that a co-ordinated strategy to regenerate these areas is long overdue. That is why, on these Benches, we are proposing new coastal deals, building on the town deals model, to provide new homes, upgrade transport infrastructure and boost tourism. This will involve working with port operators to drive regeneration through development of housing and amenities on port sites.

Together, these changes would make a real difference to tourism and to the economy. Crucially, they would also show a Britain that is truly open for business.

18:58
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, in a lacklustre King’s Speech, with thin pickings for those of us committed to expanding freedom, I am glad to have something positive to say at the start of my speech. I too congratulate the Government on the proposed repeal of Section 40 in the Media Bill. This always was an outrageous attempt at financially strong-arming the press into signing up to a state regulator. Dumping this draconian measure is a rare victory for free speech.

I also want to probe proposals to modernise the mission of public service broadcasting to keep up with new technological changes. It is fine to ensure that viewers and listeners have easy access to public service TV and radio content on connected devices, online platforms and smart TVs, but I am concerned that there is a complacency that assumes that simply making PSB content available will deliver what the gracious Speech calls a trusted source of impartial news. My question is: will it?

This ignores the ongoing problems of partiality in PSB news output. Also, public service broadcasters themselves now often use web and online platforms that can mean one-sided material, even misinformation, being available for ever longer. I will give a couple of examples.

Recently, the grass-roots anti-racism campaign group Don’t Divide Us made a formal complaint about a BBC “Newsround” web article published in 2020 entitled “White Privilege: What is it and How Can it be Used to Help Others?” This was no impartial primer. Aimed at children and teenagers, material was presented by Professor Kehinde Andrews, an openly partisan activist and advocate of critical race theory. A highly contested, unscientific and politically divisive concept—white privilege—is presented as a self-evident truth with no counterview—and that was by the BBC. As DDU director Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert explains, this controversial ideology impugns

“the majority of the British public who happen to be white”

for alleged privilege based on their skin colour while

“patronising Britain’s non-white citizens”

as perpetual victims. This politicised narrative is presented as trustworthy fact on a BBC website. How did the BBC respond to concerns? It was a bit jobsworth-like, I am afraid. It explained that content currently published on a BBC website must be complained about within 30 working days of it being published. So, this partisan material, labelled as PSB for youth, remains online and nothing can be done.

Here is another example. In a very fine speech in this House on Israel and Gaza, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, noted that the BBC “uncritically” repeated Hamas officials’ claims

“that Israel had struck the Al-Ahli hospital”—[Official Report, 24/10/23; col. 592.]

in Gaza, and that the claims were presented as fact. When it was clarified that, actually, it was an Islamic Jihad rocket, the defamatory report remained on the BBC website, unaltered. It was viewed by millions and was cited as verified fact by too many at the start of what has become an ever-growing climate of anti-Semitic hatred on our streets.

Mind you, if you watch PSB news, you may not see the scale of this anti-Semitic problem. In coverage of the Armistice demo at the weekend, I got the sense that some journalists from the likes of, for example, Channel 4, were almost relieved to spot familiar bigots in the guise of Tommy Robinson and friends; these were the dangerous thugs that all bien pensants in the media recognise and denounce. However, they somehow managed to miss the racist bigotry aimed at Jews: protesters dressed up as Hamas terrorists; placards featuring swastikas in the Star of David; and those caught on film shouting, “Kill all Jews”, or, “Hitler knew how to deal with these people”. None of this featured in the mainstream news at all, so I am grateful to those citizen journalists and freelancers such as Inc.Monocle—we should all follow him—for filming and photographing so comprehensively that we have material we all need to see. I note that the Met Police is using that material as evidence for its post-event, Wild West-style “Wanted” posters. My question is: why was more of this not on PSB channels?

Also, as a follow-on to the endless arguments I had with Ministers on what is now the Online Safety Act, it is worth noting that those much-maligned platforms are often invaluable for publishing inconvenient truths and proof of why free speech online is so important. Censorship is never the answer to hate. Hamas despises freedom but, for democracies, it is our lifeblood. This is why I am not convinced by the Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill, which tries to ban boycotts and divestment projects rather than democratically convincing public bodies against treating Israel as a pariah state and using censorious tactics to punish it, Israeli products, Israeli speakers, Jewish shops and so on.

This is also why we should all be anxious about one of the Secretaries of State associated with these debates, Michelle Donelan, calling on UK Research and Innovation—UKRI—to shut down its equality, diversity and inclusion committee on the grounds that some of its academic members put anti-Israel posts on social media. Although I disagree profoundly with the sentiments expressed by those academics—such as labelling Israel as an apartheid state guilty of genocide, which I find disgusting—I am also disgusted when a Government Minister interferes with academic freedom. Surely this makes a mockery of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act that we passed earlier this year and of which I was rather proud.

Talking of equality, diversity and inclusion, it is a sign of the times that, although I welcome confirmation of the construction of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, my first thought was, “They’ll need extra-heavy security because it could be attacked”. My second thought was, “Oh no, I hope the memorial project won’t have an EDI committee or activists might demand that it decolonise the content and rebrand Jewish victims of the Holocaust as colonisers”—a fashionable slander that is very popular in educational and cultural institutions as we speak.

To conclude: sadly, the arts are being poisoned by such intersectional identity politics—so much so that a new organisation, Freedom in the Arts, has just been launched. It was set up by the dancer and choreographer Rosie Kay and a former senior Arts Council officer, Denise Fahmy; both of them were personally cancelled for their gender-critical views. How sad that we need to campaign now, in 2023, for artistic freedom. I urge the Minister to meet them and I hope that DCMS will support their work.

As always, my theme is that free speech is crucial for the arts, innovation, research and democracy, as well as for the excellent maiden speeches that we have heard. We are about to hear another, so good luck to the next speaker. Using our free speech is crucial in arguing against and defeating bigotry in all its forms—something that I associate with the world of arts and culture.

19:06
Lord Lebedev Portrait Lord Lebedev (CB)
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I thank all noble Lords for their kind words. First, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to mark the three exceptional maiden speeches. Congratulations and welcome.

My great-grandfather Mikhail was a deputy in Stalin’s war Cabinet—not a role that naturally encourages a man to speak his mind freely. In fact, my family say that he never felt able to speak openly about anything out of fear—the downright terror that afflicted the country where I was born of being punished for saying the wrong thing. That is why this country’s great tradition of free speech has long aroused such admiration in my heart and around the world.

Ten years ago, I told the Leveson inquiry that a free and independent media was essential for Britain today. It has been alarming since then to see the erosion of free speech that is taking place here. It has been appalling to see an author as distinguished as JK Rowling forbidden from speaking at great universities, supposedly bastions of intellectual liberty, because she espouses views about gender that are probably the views of the quiet majority and have been held for centuries. It was shocking that Coutts Bank decided that Nigel Farage was no longer suitable to be a customer, not because he was insolvent but simply because it did not like his views on Brexit.

I am aware that these examples may tempt your Lordships to conclude that I am some kind of reactionary—or even a conservative. So let me say, in the spirit of Voltaire, that I equally support the right of Jeremy Corbyn to his views on Hamas. I may find those views repellent, but I will defend his right to hold them; it is not just the left that is guilty of cancel culture. I will even defend the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who was abruptly sacked from his party for his views on Covid vaccinations.

I am concerned that some of the provisions in the online harms Bill could give further legal basis for a process of censorship and self-censorship that is already under way. When you muzzle, cancel and sack people merely because they champion their honestly held opinions, you are playing with fire. By allowing people to be censored right, left and centre, we are making a huge mistake. By suppressing free speech, we are not contradicting the nutters and conspiracists; we are giving credence and foundation to their otherwise bonkers assertions. Worst of all, we are allowing the most deadly enemies of freedom to claim an equivalence between cancel culture in Britain and the suppression of free speech around the world.

There are too many countries where you can be jailed for your views, where journalists are shot—including, sadly, Russia. I have read industrial quantities of falsehoods about myself in the last two years, but at least I live in a country where journalists do not fear for their lives. Those authoritarian regimes are growing in number. We must not give them the propaganda win of pointing at us and saying, “What about you?”—believe me, that is what they are saying.

Why the hell is the BBC trying to bowdlerise “Fawlty Towers”, one of its finest creations? Why can we not mention the war? Why are they trying to sandpaper Roald Dahl? Why can we not say “fat”? Have attitudes really changed so fast? Around the world, people are noticing what is happening and saying, “Look at Britain, the home of western liberal values. Look at what happens, in Britain today, if you say or think something about human biology that used to be pure common sense”.

Our positions on gender are so booby-trapped with dynamite and so easy to parody that they are harming the cause of gay rights around the world. We are giving our enemies precisely the stick that they need to beat us with. They are not laughing with us any more; they are laughing at us. It is worse than that, because freedom is indispensable to our national creativity. The freedom to be comically outrageous contributed to the national sense of fun. That spiritual and intellectual exuberance, that amazing artistic, cultural, literary, scientific and journalistic energy, has drawn people of talent from around the world to make this a great home of innovation and ideas precisely because they know that they will be able to live their life as they choose and speak as they find. We would be insane to throw away these freedoms.

19:11
Baroness Morgan of Huyton Portrait Baroness Morgan of Huyton (Lab)
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My Lords, as ever in these debates, the breadth of experience in this House is quite outstanding. I certainly hope that the new Foreign Secretary knows what he is facing when he comes here.

I start by drawing attention to my interests as set out in the register, particularly as master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and chair of the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals as part of Guy’s and St Thomas’. I am also a trustee of the National Heart and Lung Foundation.

Others have spoken comprehensively about the central importance of science and technology to the future success of the UK economy in attracting inward investment, increasing productivity and creating highly skilled jobs. I will not repeat all that. Moreover, and obviously, advances in science and tech are essential to address society’s big challenges and can and must have a global impact on health, wealth and sustainability. It would perhaps be remiss of me not to say that the economic impact of the University of Cambridge is nearly £30 billion annually—80% of which is generated by spinouts, as well as commercial activity carried out there. However, I use that only as an indication that our universities around the UK boost the UK demonstrably and are crucial to any discussion about regional economic growth.

This does not happen by chance. The future of such scientific research and commercialisation depends on long-term commitment, especially from government, and ambitious targets for R&D spending—we must aim to head the G7 on that. It also depends on longer cycles, of 10 years or more, which will provide stability for researchers, innovators and investors; reduction up front on visa costs to make the UK competitive in the battle for talent, as we have heard; and evidence-based rather than populist policies around net zero, to rebuild confidence in the UK’s global ambitions as a serious science nation.

I want to use my remaining short time to talk about the opportunity of further strengthening the UK’s life sciences sector and the dangers if we do not get this right. I was a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee which examined the sector deal, the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, and the Bell report, a while back. A lot has happened since then, a lot of it good but not all of it. However, it has still not been completely gripped across government. I want to focus on the arc that makes the UK unique: excellent universities undertaking basic science and translational science with leading hospitals; central organisation through NHS England and world-class regulators, including NICE; highly developed pharma and biotech beyond the golden triangle, increasing, as we heard earlier, in the north-east; and a universal health service, where the whole population is essentially in the same system, which is very different from virtually all our competitors.

This is, of course, the massive opportunity, the golden nugget. Crucially, we need the NHS and government to support, recognise and reward innovation and move away from heavyweight bureaucracy, but that is for another day. However, above all, the opportunity presented to the UK life sciences sector depends on trust. The key relationship remains between medical personnel—whether clinicians or nurses—and patients. Data is the foundation to realising that potential to lead to amazing medical breakthroughs and for improved patient care and outcomes.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, talked about the importance of the work that is still to be done on data, and I endorse everything that he said. The requirements are obvious and I know that they are appreciated but they are not there yet—collection of data that is standardised across the system, the ability to link systems properly, access to NHS data by third parties but within clear rules, and, crucially, public acceptance of the need for the data to be used to enable short-, medium- and long-term patient benefit, so again it is trust. That crucial trust is easily damaged. It is easy to be captivated by remarkable breakthroughs. We hear this in the media every day. However, there is a gap between the stories and the rollout that can be disappointing at best and heartbreaking at worse.

An example I know well illustrates this. At the Brompton, we have a long-established cystic fibrosis service. Over the years, our clinicians saw young lives severely narrowed and cut short. They also got to know families who put immense time, emotional back-up and resource into supporting children and relatives. Therefore, they were delighted when the new drugs were at last developed that would transform—it is not too strong a word—the quality and length of the lives of their patients and future patients. The first drug got the go-ahead in 2019 and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, then head of the NHS, said that the day marked an important and long-hoped-for moment for children and adults living with CF.

There was a deal—full marks to the noble Lord—to roll out the drugs at a price that was acceptable then to the NHS, while NICE undertook its appraisal. However, that work has now concluded. NICE has reported that the medications are highly effective for people with CF. The effectiveness is not in doubt. It is not marginal but dramatic. However, the drugs are above the range that NICE considers to be an acceptable use of NHS resources and therefore new patients will not receive the effective drugs going forward.

Professor Jane Davies at the NHLI said that the drugs are “genuinely transformative” and reported that there has been a reduction in hospital admissions of at least two-thirds. She added:

“If this … decision sticks, the population that is going to lose the most will be the youngest children who aren’t yet on these drugs, or haven’t yet been born”.


At Harefield Hospital, the percentage of lung transplants related to CF has fallen from 60% in 2018 to 5% in 2022. The DHSC says:

“Cystic fibrosis can be a devastating illness, which is why we have invested over £1.1 billion of funding into research of rare diseases”.


One is tempted to ask how that response will land with parents of patients with CF.

My wish is not to beat up on NICE. It has a really hard job and it is an extremely good regulator, trying to give analytical precision to the use of limited NHS resources. I really hope that there is serious behind-the-scenes pressure on the drug companies—in this case, Vertex Pharmaceuticals—to reduce the astronomical price. I am not naive. Research is expensive and often fails. We need long-term work and investment by pharma, but it comes back to trust—the bedrock which releases our golden nugget of patient data. Patients and families are watching this dance with disbelief. How can we collectively urge patients to share data for research if they see proven treatments being removed? They will feel like pawns.

The danger is still that life sciences are not being handled in a holistic way across government. Is the strategy for UK life sciences really joined up? Will the public’s relationship with personal data be handled intelligently and seriously—because that is right and because it is economically essential?

19:19
Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. I much enjoyed the three maiden speeches delivered today and I welcome and congratulate all our new Members. We all arrive here by various routes; mine involved the gratitude of the Empress Matilda in respect of a previous Brexit. The diversity of paths to these red Benches is one of the House’s greatest strengths, and I look forward to their various contributions. I note my interests in the register, particularly as an IP and technology litigator in both England and California.

The issue du jour is artificial intelligence, highlighted by the earlier Question of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the recent AI safety summit. I appreciate the letter to us all from the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, and the Government’s stated ambition to remain at the forefront of this epochal technological development. I applaud the commitment to ensure that AI development is

“human-centric, trustworthy and responsible”,

a point that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, made clearly. I also agree with the Prime Minister’s commitment to ensure we do not “rush to regulate” before understanding what it is we are regulating; we should not strangle the proverbial golden goose with unnecessary red tape.

However, some issues and implications of AI are already well identified and agreed, not least that discussed earlier: the IP implications of large language model training and the need for technology companies to obtain consent from rights holders for the data and content they ingest. The Government have stated:

“Data mining systems copy works to extract and analyse the data they contain. Unless permitted under licence or an exception, making such copies will constitute copyright infringement.”


The Minister’s earlier confirmation of this is appreciated.

Of course, access to content is key to the training of LLMs, as identified by Sir Patrick Vallance in his recent Pro-innovation Regulation of Technologies Review, and a code of practice is thus long overdue. Can the Minister in summing up please confirm the expected timing of this following the IPO’s consultation?

I note that the recent AI summit agreed to commission a “state of the science” report as a basis for international collaboration. Could we not also consider the state of the law and regulation governing AI development? In such a fast-moving sector, should we consider an IP regulator and the development of a speedier means of legal recourse than the current civil justice system? The Science, Innovation and Technology Committee noted in August that there is a danger that we will be outpaced by other jurisdictions, which are legislating specifically for AI. But I do agree with the Government’s considered approach to AI regulation.

Finally on this point, as to the welcome programme of AI investment, what measures will be in place to ensure protection for individuals—both rights holders and employees—and to ensure that AI is developed in a manner consistent with accepted environmental, social and governance principles? The dangers of entrenching bias in AI are well documented, as are the environmental impacts of the massive data centres in which LLMs are housed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has noted, crucial to AI is data, and the continued passage of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is therefore to be welcomed. However, noting the ambition to “reduce burdens on organisations”, I issue a word of warning. Having chaired the Westminster data protection forum recently, I know that there are dangers in becoming non-aligned. Can the Minister please confirm that the legislation will ensure that the UK is able to participate in the free transfer of data internationally? Will it maintain equivalence with Europe, as well as easy exchange with jurisdictions beyond, such as North America and particularly the Pacific Rim? We must not become a data island in our efforts to reduce burdens.

Talking of the Pacific, I support the introduction of legislation to enable our accession to the CPTPP, an important chapter of which addresses intellectual property. The Bill will expand copyright to allow performers from CPTPP countries to enjoy protections in the UK, and UK performers to enjoy additional protections overseas. To the extent the Government intend to extend this national treatment beyond what is strictly required by accession, will the Minister please confirm that they will do so only after full and proper consultation, as this will have unexpected and unwelcome consequences?

The Government are to be congratulated on the passage of the Online Safety Act, but we must not rest upon those laurels. Ofcom published some 1,500 pages of consultation last week, and there is much work to be done to ensure a smooth implementation. The Minister may be aware that the legislation mirrors the provisions of California’s recent Age-Appropriate Design Code Act. Will he please undertake to ensure a free exchange with legislators in that jurisdiction as they wrestle with the constitutional and practical challenges of such implementation? I recommend the work of the British-American Parliamentary Group, of which I am a member.

A similar discussion on tech legislation could occur regarding the Automated Vehicles Bill recently introduced in this House. California leads the world on the regulation and implementation of this technology, as anyone who has recently visited San Francisco can attest, and the BAPG recently visited California to focus just on this issue. I encourage the Minister to note our trade negotiations with the state of California on a memorandum of understanding on economic co-operation and trade relations, and I recommend that it include co-operation in these important areas.

Now that online safety is legislated for, will the Minister please assure the House that the Government will renew their efforts to review the regulation of pornography, including the long overdue identification and verification provisions? The ease with which young and old can access misogynistic violence and abuse on the internet is a stain on our society and, as the Government’s own research has identified, is doing lasting damage to many people across the country—not just the young and vulnerable.

I turn from technology to culture. The football governance reforms are to be applauded, particularly in the light of the well-being, diversity and safeguarding concerns raised by the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee, upon which I sat. I note the concerns about the unsustainable financial models adopted by many clubs. In echoing the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I ask only that the Minister consider the need for a similar review of rugby union governance, in the light of the number of professional clubs that are collapsing in that sport.

Finally, I bemoan the absence of any discussion of heritage in His Majesty’s most gracious Speech. Given the importance of heritage to His Majesty personally, this is a surprising omission and must have been a sadness for him. On the day of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the formation of Historic Houses, of which I am a member, and following the launch of its recent report entitled, Changing Times, Valuing History, will the Minister please repeat his warm words delivered this morning recognising the importance of privately owned heritage? Will he also undertake that, despite our rush to navigate and master the technologies of the future, we will not forget the important lessons that reside in our rich and varied past?

19:26
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD)
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and I congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches. It reminds us all for a moment of our own maiden speeches. Mine was three minutes long, as I did not know I was allowed extra time.

I am worried about the state of our democracy for many reasons, but today I want to focus on the damage being done by the Government’s creeping control of what they permit we the people to be told, and who they will permit to tell it to us. A 2019 Freedom House report, entitled Media Freedom: A Downward Spiral, said:

“The fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack, and part of the assault has come from an unexpected source. Elected leaders in many democracies, who should be press freedom’s staunchest defenders, have made explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen outlets that serve up favourable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles, a fact that makes it especially alarming”.


It is happening to us and it is happening right now, under our noses.

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World data, media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade, with new forms of repression taking hold in open societies such as ours, and in authoritarian states. Who would think that we would be on the way to being an authoritarian state?

The trend is most acute in Europe—and despite Brexit, we are still in Europe—which was previously a bastion of well-established freedoms. The guidelines for the Government Communication Service, for example, say that dealings with journalists

“should be objective and explanatory, not biased or polemical”,

and

“should not be—and not liable to being misrepresented as—party political”.

The guidelines also state:

“To work effectively, media officers must establish their impartiality and neutrality with the news media, and ensure that they deal with all news media even-handedly.”


I am sure that your Lordships remember when Suella Braverman—now the ex-Home Secretary and author of a love letter today to Rishi Sunak—went to Rwanda to showboat her care for refugees coming to this country. She excluded the Guardian, the Mirror, the i, the Independent and the BBC, albeit in the end BBC Africa-based journalists did manage to get a look in. Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner condemned it as a “chilling” pattern of behaviour from the Government. The editor-in-chief of the Mirror, Alison Phillips, also warned of “really damaging” consequences from the way press places were handled on the visit. She wrote:

“A single instance of the government excluding journalists from newspapers and broadcasters would be chilling enough, but this is not a one off. Rather, it is becoming a pattern of behaviour whereby this government excludes journalists and selectively chooses reporters from sympathetic papers to cover ministerial trips and visits.”


Martin Bright, then editor-at-large at Index on Censorship, which works to defend freedom of expression, said:

“We are concerned to hear that journalists from organisations judged to be critical of the government’s immigration policy have not been invited to accompany the Home Secretary on her trip to Rwanda. Democracy depends on an open and transparent relationship between government and the media, where all journalists are able to scrutinise the government. Index on Censorship believes that access to government ministers, both domestically and as part of international visits, should not be treated as a reward for favourable coverage”.


It was not a single occurrence, because this actually happened less than a year after journalists from the Guardian, the Financial Times and the Mirror were blocked from joining the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, on her trip to Rwanda to sign the original asylum deal. And it is not just trips, because in 2020 political journalists, including the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s Robert Peston, staged a walkout after Downing Street communications staff attempted to brief some journalists but not others— presumably the ones they did not like. Those excluded by former Mirror and Sun journalist Lee Cain included journalists from PA, the Mirror, the i, Huffpost UK, PoliticsHome and the Independent.

One of the Guardian journalists who would have been on the Rwanda flight was Rajeev Syal. He told me yesterday that, on both occasions, the Guardian made representations to the Society of Editors and complained to the Home Office, and that the exclusions came from the Home Secretary’s office on both occasions, not from civil servants. Following the most recent exclusion, the Guardian, the Mirror and others were invited to a meeting at the Home Office by members of the Home Office press and media operation to discuss differences. While this resulted in a thawing of relations, there have been no written commitments or guarantees that exclusions would not take place in the future.

The guidelines are insufficient; in fact, they are totally useless. We need legislation, and sadly there was nothing in the gracious Speech to ensure that this practice and the consequent threat to our democracy was halted in perpetuity. I just want a simple Bill introduced: a media inclusivity Bill that prohibits the Government, whatever Government, whether Labour, Conservative or Lib Dem—I wish—from excluding broadcasters or journalists whom they feel may not be on their side, or who may write what they do not want to hear; and that will prohibit them from excluding specific media from covering them on foreign visits they are making, from speeches they are delivering or from briefings they are giving, or any other occasion to which media are invited. There must be no exclusion of particular media because the Government of the day wish to eliminate potential criticism: our democracy literally depends on it.

19:33
Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to take part in a debate like this, following the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, the noble Baroness, Lady Owen of Alderley Edge and the noble Lord, Lord Ranger of Northwood, on their excellent maiden speeches. They were extremely thoughtful, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

As the noble Viscount said, we are justly proud of the thriving creative sector in this country and how many billion pounds it adds to the UK economy. We have world leaders in architecture, music, film, arts, advertising, design, fashion and photography, among many others. No one is born with creative ability. The skills are learned in the same way that any other skill is learned, in the same way that one will learn to kick a football or a rugby ball or program a computer. A child who is encouraged to make marks will continue to make better marks; someone who is told that their drawing of an elephant looks like a blob will give up, convinced that they cannot draw. Skills that are given the oxygen of encouragement will grow; talents that are ignored will wither and eventually die. It seems more and more that we are producing world-beating creatives despite the curriculum.

As ever, I must declare an interest as a teacher and ex-head of department of design and technology at a state school in Hackney; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for his bigging-up of design technology. How are we teaching the young designers of tomorrow? Are we giving them the confidence to thrive and the tools to do it with? We are trying, but it is not easy. The EBacc and “BritBacc” are a flat back four ranged against the creative subjects. The current curriculum is outdated with its obsession with facts that our students replicate for two days in the summer, and that is what they and their schools are judged on. Although I accept that we need a foundation of basic knowledge before we can build learning, I think that we have gone too far. As Sherlock Holmes said:

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out … so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it”.


I know what he means. I can recite Archimedes’s principle, something that I learned when I was 15 but have never used, yet I cannot remember my wife’s mobile number—maybe we all think that. I wonder whether the change of Schools Minister will mean a change of thinking; I hope so.

Despite the Minister’s praise of the creative media, it was not really mentioned in the gracious Speech, apart from a certain amount of talk of broadcast. It also mentioned secondary education only with the introduction of the advanced British standard. This has the laudable aim of broadening post-16 education, but seemingly by adding maths and English to the mix, rather than giving students a liberal arts-style offering, for instance. Better, more relevant maths is what we need, not more maths.

We need to change our mindset so that creativity and culture play a much stronger role in our education. I was reminded of this last Friday at school. It was PHSCE day— Personal Health Social and Citizenship Education Day—when the timetable is collapsed, and the students study a separate agenda for the day concentrating on topics outside the normal curriculum. While other students were practising putting condoms on plastic phalluses, or learning to write CVs, I was helping a form of year 10s from a mixed religious, ethnic and socioeconomic background discuss the subject of extremism; a topical subject indeed. Much of the teaching was a fairly passive affair and it was only when we allowed the students to debate the subject of free speech that they became truly animated. What developed was a fascinating debate with many good points made. It occurred to me that the confidence and presentation skills that they learned in that debate was a much better preparation for life than much of the passive educating that had gone before. If we could provide a more engaging, more relevant, more creative curriculum, surely that would help to retain teachers and tempt some of the 1.8 million children who regularly miss education, according to the Children’s Commissioner attendance figures, back into school. It is from these diverse, questioning and engaged students that we must grow our creative sector.

The Creative Majority report published by the APPG on Creative Diversity said that:

“Straight, able-bodied, white men living in London are only 3.5 per cent of the UK population ... Nevertheless, this small minority still dominates the creative sector, and in particular occupy a vast number of the most senior creative roles”.


As you can see, I did not exactly buck the trend during my 25 years as a professional photographer.

The report continues:

“men from privileged backgrounds are five times more likely to work in a creative occupation than working-class women. Someone with a disability from a working-class background is three times less likely to work in a creative occupation than someone who is privileged and able-bodied”.

All we have to do to grow the creative sector in this country is completely change the mindset to attract a diverse workforce in all aspects and restructure our education system to put creative skills at the heart of the curriculum. It is that simple; that should keep us busy until the next general election.

19:40
Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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My Lords, I will talk about nuclear technology. The Government must sustain the nuclear industry by ensuring that a sufficient number of nuclear power plants are built to maintain the supply of our electricity. They must also support the development of innovative nuclear technologies to assist in the decarbonisation of our industries.

The privatisation of the electricity industry appeared to validate the opinion of the Conservatives that private industry could be relied on to maintain the nation’s energy infrastructure. With the benefit of newly exploited North Sea gas, the private electricity companies began to replace existing coal-fired power stations with combined- cycle gas turbine plant. These could be constructed rapidly and demanded much smaller capital investments than the plants that they replaced.

At a later date, the same companies began to respond to the Government’s incentives to construct offshore electricity-generating wind farms. The Government’s incentives have been far less successful in inducing the electricity companies to invest in nuclear power plants. The problem here has been the size of the necessary capital investments and the long duration of the construction period that precedes the generation of any revenues.

In the view of some commentators, most of the nation’s requirements for electricity could be met by wind and solar power, which appear much cheaper to deploy than nuclear power. It is claimed that as much as 70% of demand can be satisfied in this way. However, these are intermittent sources of power: often the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, and then no electricity can be generated by these means. At such times, the deficit is currently being met by gas-powered electricity. This is an effective recourse only when the so-called renewable sources of power generate less than 30%, on average, of the total supply of electricity.

Moreover, gas is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide. In the absence of a means to capture its emissions, gas cannot continue to be exploited for this purpose if we are to meet the objective of decarbonising the economy. If the demand for electricity is to be met at all times and if we are to depend solely on the renewable resources of wind and solar power, there has to be a means to store the energy. It is widely believed that the most appropriate means of achieving this is to use any available surpluses of electricity to generate hydrogen via a process of electrolysis. The hydrogen would be used to power fuel cells and turbines to generate electricity and would find other industrial uses.

However, to accommodate the intermittence of the renewable sources of power, if they were to become the dominant sources, would require major capital investments in technologies that have yet to be realised. Large amounts of hydrogen would have to be stored over a long period to meet the eventuality of a prolonged dearth of wind and solar power. When the costs of constructing and maintaining the necessary infrastructure are added to the costs of the renewable sources of power, they no longer appear cheap. Projects to establish such facilities, if they were to be undertaken by the private sector, would encounter the very difficulties that have beset the projects to build nuclear power stations. They would require large amounts of capital and the financial returns would be deferred for far too long.

Nuclear power, which is capable of generating a constant supply of electricity, suffers from none of the problems of intermittence that affect the so-called renewable sources of power. It should be relied on in future to satisfy most of the demand for electricity. Nuclear power is a mature technology which has been exploited for almost 70 years. However, in deploying it today, we should exploit some new technologies. There are three distinct purposes that can be served by nuclear power plants, and they demand different kinds of nuclear reactors.

First, we need nuclear power stations that contribute electricity to the grid. Various reactors are on offer for this role, mainly pressurised water reactors. At one end of the spectrum are the EPRs, rated at 3,300 megawatts of electrical power, which are to be deployed in the mega power stations of Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C. At the other end is the small modular reactor of Rolls-Royce rated at about 470 megawatts of electrical power. We should persist with Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, but they should be succeeded by a fleet of SMRs from Rolls-Royce, which should be distributed widely throughout the country. Pressurised water reactors are described as third-generation reactors. In due course, they should give way to a fourth generation of reactors, some of the leading examples of which are currently under development in this country.

The second purpose, which is to power industrial processes, can be served by much smaller reactors. The British MoltexFLEX molten salt reactor, which is simple and robust, can fulfil this role. It was originally proposed as a marine reactor and it will generate 50 megawatts of thermal power. Another reactor that could serve this purpose, which is rated at 100 megawatts of thermal power, is being developed jointly by Copenhagen Atomics and UK Atomics. The fuel of this reactor is thorium, which is described as fertile as opposed to fissile. Once the reaction is under way, thorium generates fissile uranium and creates very little waste.

The third purpose that can be served by the new generation of reactors is consuming the existing stocks of plutonium. The newcleo reactor, which can be described as a lead-cooled fast reactor, has this capability. Alternative versions will generate 50 or 200 megawatts of electrical power. This is a project with British, French and Italian backing. The newcleo reactor can also consume MOX fuel that is a mixture of uranium and plutonium, which is generated from the waste of conventional pressurised water reactors. A variant of the Moltex reactor, which is of interest to the Canadians, also has this capability. It is described as a waste burner and will generate 300 megawatts of electrical power.

These are all fourth-generation reactors endowed with passive safety. Their proponents are keen to describe them as British projects, but each is of interest to at least one other country. I fear that, unless our Government undertake active sponsorship of these projects, their ownership and intellectual capital will be ceded to those other countries. Financial subventions are required that seem modest in comparison with the money wasted by purchasing unusable personal protective equipment during the Covid pandemic.

Sites must be designated where the prototype fourth-generation reactors can be located. Alternatively, a technology park could be created to host these reactors. If the necessary support were immediately forthcoming, these reactors could be up and running by 2030, which could be some time before the completion of the Sizewell C power station. However, if the necessary support is not forthcoming, the projects are liable to emigrate to other countries, and we would be in the position of importing the products of technologies that originated in this country.

19:48
Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, I have managed to listen to every Member’s contribution during this part of the King’s Speech debate—with a couple of toilet visits. The contributions show a real depth of knowledge and understanding of the issues, which I doubt would be found in any other chamber in the country; “breadth of experience” was the phrase of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.

As has been said, this is likely to be the last King’s Speech before the general election and a new Government are formed. This government programme sees 21 Bills, and we are told by the commentariat that they are designed to create dividing lines between the Government and opposition. Really? The King’s gracious Speech is against the backdrop of a Cabinet reshuffle and the Autumn Statement.

What strikes me about the 21 Bills and the topics assigned to our five days of consideration is that there is no mention of children and families, of education and schooling or of the day-to-day issues that struggling families face. Only today the Children’s Society produced a survey that shows that 82% of parents are very or quite concerned about the cost of living on their families. There is no mention of the NHS.

I turn to science, technology, media and culture. If we are to be a science and technological superpower or a leader in automated vehicles, if we are to develop AI and green technologies, we need a first-class education service that values and rewards its teachers and lecturers and provides our schools, colleges and universities with the resources they need. Universities that have more students from China doing engineering than UK students—is that the way to be a first-class technological superpower? In our schools we are seeing the highest ever number of teacher vacancies and shortages in specialist subjects. For example, more than 400 schools do not have a qualified physics teacher. We have the lowest ever number of people applying for teaching jobs, and more and more pupils having to be taught by a daily rate supply teacher. Added to this, teachers are leaving the profession in their droves; there is the lowest ever retention rate for teachers. At the same time, we are seeing class sizes rising. In our universities we are seeing more and more lecturing staff employed on fixed-term contracts—is that the way to encourage their enthusiasm for the subject? We are also seeing more and more financial dependency on overseas students and their fees.

In many high-tech industries, such as commercial quantum computing, semiconductors or the green technologies of the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, physics is crucial. Why have we allowed a shortage of 3,500 physics teachers in England and Wales? Why have we allowed 40% of our physics teachers to drop out of physics teaching in their first five years? Physics, remember, brings £220 billion to our economy, 11% of our GDP. As my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones reminded us in his tour de force of a speech, this week is Maths Week England. We know that the Prime Minister is committed to the teaching of mathematics. If that is the case, the Government must take on the sustainability of maths at university level and signal to universities the importance of protecting and investing in mathematics. Without this commitment to support them, mathematical skills in the UK will be undermined, because we are seeing maths departments in our universities being closed down.

Talking of undermining, we have seen how the dreadful EBacc has, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, told us, undermined creative subjects in our schools. It beggars belief that for the creative industries—a truly amazing UK success story that before Covid was worth £116 billion in GVA and created 2.3 million jobs—the very pipe steam that should be providing those talented and creative students of the future is stymied. If other countries had that jewel in their creative crown they would be pouring in opportunities and resources to develop it further in schools, colleges and universities. I hope Peers get a chance to read the report on the curriculum that will be published at the end of November by the Lords Select Committee on Education for 11-16 Year Olds.

Let me now put my positive hat on and say that I very much welcome the Media Bill. Our terrestrial TV channels are too important to our sense of belonging as a nation to be allowed to slowly wither away to the margins. As many noble Peers have said—and I did not realise that, as my noble friend Lord Foster said, it is two decades since the last media Bill—this Bill should be used to ensure that we can easily find public service content that we value and enjoy. PSBs should be given significant, not “appropriate”, prominence. The Media Bill also enables us to modernise the listed events regime and close the streamer loophole so that TV-like services that provide live content to UK audiences via the internet are within the scope of listed events legislation. Why are no women’s events listed? Why, for example, if you are cricket fan, do you have to pay to watch test matches?

I very much welcome the tobacco and vaping Bill. Just as tobacco enticed our generation and our grandparents’ generation into addiction, if we are not careful we will see the same happening to our children with vaping. Go around any urban area at school home time and you will see children vaping—school pupils as young as 11 and even younger. They are certainly enticed by group peer pressure, but also enticed by the candy man’s offer of wonderful flavours to enjoy, such as bubblegum, strawberry ice cream, cherry cola, raspberry slush and vanilla custard—all made to look like sweets. No wonder there has been a threefold increase in the number of children using vapes. The health risk to children is frightening. Nicotine can harm developing adolescent brains and lungs. Other health risks are that it can lead to anxiety and depression, becoming a smoker, impotence, sleep problems, exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, chronic bronchitis and lung damage—all so easy with disposable vapes.

I want to talk about the pedicabs Bill. Six years ago, a taxi driver complained to me about what, in those days, were called rickshaws. I constantly asked Written Questions, only to be told in reply that it was not a government matter but for the London Assembly. Clearly, that was not the case. Pedicabs have put passengers at risk with no health and safety standards and fleeced tourists with no proper listing prices; there need to be criminal record checks and safeguarding checks.

I thank the maiden speakers for their amazing speeches—our House is in safe hands, if I may say that. The winding-up person is meant to reference various people—I need to go on a training course to do this, because I always struggle. I enjoyed the important contributions on gambling from my noble friend Lord Foster and the noble Lord, Lord Butler. The comments on football from my noble friend Lord Addington made me think about the need for it to be community engaged.

There were two other contributions that I did not see coming and really made me think. The first was by the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev. I thought that was a very brave speech; freedom of expression and speech are important. Obviously it has to hold up to the law of the land and cannot be racist, homophobic or misogynistic. I remember a little rhyme as a child—sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me. Words can really harm you, and that is why we have to think for our ourselves and teach children the importance of not hurting people’s feelings. I hope we might have a debate at some stage in our House on that contribution. Finally, my noble friend Lady Featherstone was absolutely right; journalists were also not allowed to go on one of the campaign buses because of their political views. I thank colleagues for their excellent contributions.

There are clearly some important Bills, but the Government have failed to use the opportunity to deal with the big issues and real concerns of the day. What I am sure of is that this House will be rigorous and fair-minded in its scrutiny of these 21 Bills.

19:59