There have been 26 exchanges involving Earl of Kinnoull and the Cabinet Office
|Thu 25th February 2021||Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill (Lords Chamber)||1 interactions (163 words)|
|Thu 4th February 2021||Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Border Controls (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Thu 14th January 2021||Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission (Lords Chamber)||2 interactions (11 words)|
|Tue 12th January 2021||Essential Services: Large-scale Technology (Lords Chamber)||2 interactions (20 words)|
|Wed 30th December 2020||European Union (Future Relationship) Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (417 words)|
|Thu 10th December 2020||UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (79 words)|
|Thu 19th November 2020||Union Capability: Dunlop Review (Lords Chamber)||2 interactions (11 words)|
|Thu 19th November 2020||Northern Ireland Protocol: Implementation Proposals (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Thu 12th November 2020||Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Access for Goods (Lords Chamber)||2 interactions (11 words)|
|Wed 21st October 2020||EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Wed 23rd September 2020||EU: Future Relationship (Grand Committee)||3 interactions (1,078 words)|
|Wed 15th July 2020||EU Exit: End of Transition Period (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (113 words)|
|Tue 30th June 2020||David Frost (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Thu 18th June 2020||UK-EU Negotiations (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (65 words)|
|Tue 9th June 2020||EU: Trade and Security Partnership (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (58 words)|
|Thu 21st May 2020||Northern Ireland Protocol (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (113 words)|
|Wed 20th May 2020||EU: Future Relationship (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (104 words)|
|Tue 12th May 2020||Beyond Brexit (European Union Committee Report) (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (364 words)|
|Wed 29th April 2020||Public Services: Update (Lords Chamber)||9 interactions (38 words)|
|Mon 16th March 2020||European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report) (Lords Chamber)||12 interactions (2,182 words)|
|Thu 17th January 2019||Brexit: Stability of the Union (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (544 words)|
|Thu 8th February 2018||Brexit: European Arrest Warrant (European Union Committee) (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (537 words)|
|Tue 7th November 2017||Risk Transformation Regulations 2017 (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (649 words)|
|Wed 13th September 2017||Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)||22 interactions (2,317 words)|
|Wed 6th September 2017||Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (298 words)|
|Wed 16th March 2016||Trade Union Bill (Lords Chamber)||7 interactions (835 words)|
My Lords, the position of businesses and the impact on them are obviously something that the Government monitor and watch with concern. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has told Vice-President Šefčovič that our focus must be on making the protocol work in the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland. As to the last part of my noble friend’s question, I do not resile from, indeed I support strongly, what the Prime Minister said in the other place yesterday.
My Lords, this is an ongoing process and obviously, as the noble Earl will know, my right honourable friend sent a further letter to Vice-President Šefčovič this week embracing a wide range of matters that we believe need to be addressed. However, I certainly agree with the noble Earl’s original remark that cool heads are required in this situation.
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support for the approach that I have outlined. On her specific question, I cannot give a commitment on that at the Dispatch Box now, but I will repeat what I have said to the House: other workstreams on constitutional review will be announced in due course.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. Looking at the colour of our hair, he and I should declare an interest in this matter. We need to extend understanding and use of technology, and access to it, but equally I urge all organisations, including banks, to remember that for many people a personal service is not only a matter of choice but a matter of necessity.
My Lords, I do not believe that this thin agreement—as the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called it—with the EU is in the long-term interests of this country. But I will support the Bill this evening, because the only alternative would be the worse chaos of a no-deal departure.
The British people will discover in the months ahead that this agreement will produce an avalanche of restrictions, bureaucracy, extra costs and delays. As that reality sinks in, at least this deal provides a platform on which to start the long process of building back a closer partnership in the years ahead.
I have two brief comments on the substance. The agreement on security and justice provides for a closer association with the EU than I, for one, had feared. I welcome that. But the principle underlying all the complex detail is that the UK will no longer have direct, real-time access to the EU databases and systems which have become so important for British policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just explained. We heard in the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee that British police had consulted the SIS II database over 600 million times in 2019. In future, they will have to request information from the SIS II database, with all the delays that will entail.
Access to some of the other databases for fingerprints, DNA and passenger name records looks at first sight to be easier, but the overall loss will be significant. I cannot understand how it can be claimed that Brexit will make us safer. The question is rather: how much loss of capability will there be? What will be the operational impact of slower and more cumbersome processes, and more police officers tied up in front of computer screens making requests to the EU? Your Lordships’ EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee will hold an inquiry into this in the new year and will report to the House.
Briefly, my view is that the decision not to continue participation in Erasmus is short-sighted and mean-spirited. Erasmus gave life-enhancing opportunities to many thousands of students from the UK and across the EU. Less well-known is the fact that it also enabled vocational and adult education colleges and schools, many in disadvantaged areas, to set up joint projects with counterparts across Europe. It lifted the admin burden of organisers, which allowed smaller organisations that did not have the resources to arrange projects. I am deeply sceptical that a UK scheme, starting from scratch with the funding envisaged, will come anywhere near replicating the transformational impact Erasmus has had on so many lives. I hope this decision to leave Erasmus will be reviewed at the first opportunity.
My Lords, having spent many years in your Lordships’ House on the Opposition Front Bench with responsibility for foreign affairs following my time in the Foreign Office long ago in the days of Francis Pym, I have always found it possible to combine a passionate interest and attachment to what the Prime Minister recently called the history, security, values and geology that bind us to our friends in Europe with an economic belief that the current European project, which is still in transition, will ultimately face challenges and possible failure on economic and then political grounds. I have always believed that we are better as a close friend and ally on the borders of the EU than one of 28 member states principally tied to the economic and political constraints within it.
Accordingly, I congratulate the Government and the negotiating teams on both sides, and associate myself with the 17.4 million people, including myself, who voted for Brexit and began the process that has led to the passing of this historic Bill. I believe the surprising strength of this deal will in time lead other member states carefully to consider their membership of the European Union.
The Bruges speech in 1988 was the turning point for many of us in government in the 1980s. We can now end the 30 years and more of fractious debate and often exhausting misdirected political energy and demonstrate increasing certainty for business after four and a half years of uncertainty. This Bill—this return to national sovereignty—comes at a time in our history when the establishment pillars of 20th-century Britain are also being challenged as we rightly move to a more meritocratic society where we must level up.
Today, we have loosened and restructured unequivocally the political ties of interstate integration. In 2021 there will be a growing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship, productivity, competitiveness and opportunity in a global market—themes that will need to resonate as loudly in the boardrooms and on factory floors of UK-based companies as they will be reflected in the increasingly unfettered corridors of Westminster and Whitehall.
However, I temper my optimism with a recognition that, as has been said, this future relationship Bill is ultimately a tool—not an end in itself, but a new beginning, capable of unleashing this country’s potential and above all its people. In using that tool in the Bill before us, I regret the use of Henry VIII powers, which are widely evident in this Bill and which permit the Government to avoid parliamentary accountability and scrutiny with, as became known after the Statute of Proclamations in 1539, a swift flick of the quill that leaves spilt ink on otherwise excellent parchment.
That said, with unfettered optimism and determination, the Prime Minister has delivered, but what above all should be remembered is that Parliament today approves the Bill. The PM should be congratulated. Today is a historic day and a most welcome opportunity that cannot and should not be taken for granted. It must be grasped to be successful.
We now come to the 30 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. There are 18 speakers listed. I appeal to all noble Lords, out of courtesy to one another and to the House, to be extremely brief. I am sure that the Minister will also be succinct.
My Lords, I am a poor and feeble plant, but by standing here I am seeking to assist scrutiny. I understand the broader thrust of the question from the noble Earl, but he will also understand that arrangements for the scrutiny of government across the board by committees in your Lordships’ House is not a matter for the Executive. It is matter for your Lordships’ House and it is not for me to declare. As far as my ministerial responsibility is concerned, I am ready to appear before whatever committee, and this House, at any time that is requested.
My Lords, I do not agree that the United Kingdom is imploding. That is unhelpful talk. No political party in this country wishes to actively and swiftly break up the United Kingdom, except the one that I have mentioned. There is important co-operative work going on which will continue in full respect of the devolution settlement. We should all, in all parties, subscribe to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Caine, said.
My noble friend raises an important point and I can certainly reassure him that the Government remain committed to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in its entirety, including all three strands; east-west is vital, as he says. We are delivering on our unequivocal commitment to deliver unfettered access, and I hope very much that noble Lords will reconsider their obstruction of the legislation on that subject.
My Lords, the noble Earl raises an extremely important point. I cannot go into matters that are, as he implies, under active discussion, but we have certainly committed to an intensified process of engagement with the EU to resolve all outstanding issues such as this, which includes securing flexibilities for trade from GB to NI. That is particularly important for supermarkets, where we have been clear that specific solutions are required. The recent joint letter from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister reflects how important that issue is for Northern Ireland, and we will continue to work closely with the Executive to get a solution to this problem.
My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, a Written Ministerial Statement was issued. I am sorry if the noble Earl feels that more could and should be said. I always enjoy my engagements with him. The Statement referred to a number of matters discussed in the joint committee on 19 October. In addition to that, if he wants, I can be more helpful: the committee discussed work on the establishment of a list of individuals to sit on an arbitration panel, as required under the WA. Both parties are progressing work to establish a list of suitable arbitrators. As the noble Earl knows, it was agreed to have a further meeting of the committee in November, and other work will continue in the interim. The discussions are obviously ongoing, and I know that he understands, and I respect that, that there are some constraints on what one can share at a time of active talks.
My Lords, that was a massive contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and a tremendous catalogue of the disadvantages that we will face. Monsieur Barnier reflected recently that the demands of the UK so far as concerned the road haulage sector—for this purpose, that includes short-sea shipping—were too close to the existing Common Market rights without meeting any of its obligations. I want to concentrate on road haulage because it is so essential to our economy and so vulnerable to any disruption.
What Monsieur Barnier said should have sounded warning bells, meaning we should prepare ourselves for a no-deal Brexit, particularly in the light of the steadily worsening relations with the EU and the rhetoric emanating from Downing Street, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hain, drew our attention. Business is not prepared for a no-deal Brexit and the likely disruption of supply chains affecting both food and production lines, which are dependent on just-in-time delivery.
Whatever Michael Gove is saying, the effect on the UK economy is potentially calamitous and awful. When the noble Lord, Lord True, replies to the debate, I wonder whether he will be a little less opaque than usual, not brush those real issues aside, and confirm that the Government will have a new freight management system before we leave the EU. That certainly is not the view of the logistics industry, which we heard this morning. Those people were mostly warm supporters of the Government’s wish to leave the EU and feel angry that matters are now in some sort of limbo. Any special permits likely to be available will in no way be sufficient to meet demand. We heard in a debate on Monday that there were bilateral agreements on the way, that there would be more permits, and that there would be a need for further negotiations. None of that bluster, if I can call it that, actually faces up to the fact that we are in a desperate situation.
Since the UK has been involved with Brexit, the EU has been developing a new mobility package, which it published at the end of July and which impacts on freight transport access and access to the profession. Of course, the UK was not a party to those negotiations, but have the Government made any assessment of the impact of the new arrangements on the UK?
Assuming a worst-case scenario now—I am afraid that we have to—enormous lorry parks will be necessary for goods to await clearance. How large will those semi-permanent additions to local landscapes be? How will local planning consent be required to establish them, or will the Government simply ride over local wishes and dump them on unwilling localities that they choose? Will such facilities incorporate places for people to sleep, service lorries, refreshment and trans-shipment facilities? Who will pay for all this? It is a lot of money. In other modes of transport, it is usual for the operator to build his own facilities. Ship operators build their own ports. Train operators build their own stations. Bus operators build their own bus stations. But these facilities are likely to be very large impositions on neighbourhoods. I want to know how they will be policed, as I fear that they will be centres of totally unregulated crime, affecting both goods and people.
Those are a few of the problems on which the House, and more particularly the logistics industry, wants answers.
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on whose committee I serve and which—before I joined it, I must hastily add—has done so much to clarify the position in relation to Northern Ireland and other aspects of the negotiation. I thank the Minister for his clear and courteous introduction to this debate.
So many of the points I would have wished to have made have already been made, but I shall take three as briefly as possible. First, on the inclusion of the devolved Governments, I do not believe it is too late, even at this 11th hour, for there to be more involvement of the devolved Governments in the formulation of the final strategy and in the final negotiations. What has happened in the past few days in relation to co-operation on Covid-19 has, without doubt, been beneficial to the whole of the UK. Why not do this in respect of the UK negotiations? It is a sad conclusion to say that what has happened to date is wholly inadequate—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, so eloquently pointed out—judged, as people should be judged, by deeds rather than words.
Secondly, it is important to move forward in a way that produces a good long-term relationship while respecting the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. A positive future relationship with the European Union is, without doubt, in the interests of the UK and throughout the EU. I make one point regarding the development of the law. We live in a world that in my current day-to-day experience is, despite the effects of the pandemic, becoming more global than ever. Online meetings and discussion fora have driven globalisation, dialogue and interaction at a faster and more inclusive pace over the past six months, and I think it is inevitable over the next six months. It is so easy to contribute worldwide without having to travel and yet to make the points powerfully at meetings, conferences and negotiations. Moreover we have seen how data is ever more easily transmitted, which is driving and building an even more valuable market quite apart from progress in digitalisation. This means that the law must develop apace. To date, the UK has exercised a considerable degree of influence in the development of the laws that underpin trade, commerce, including trade in data, and other aspects of the digital economy and our financial and professional services. We are currently leaders, and this is hugely beneficial to the UK. From the new year, we will be on our own. In relative terms we must accept that we are a small-sized player, and in such circumstances our reputation and integrity will be central to our continued ability to punch above our size. Apart from integrity and reputation, we need close working relations in order to drive forward legal development. What matters is that we have in place a good structure for legal development and also regulatory co-operation, supervisory arrangements and the management of data, which are allied to it. The City’s suggestion of a memorandum of understanding is well made and entirely consistent with sovereignty, however you may wish to describe it. Relying on unilateral actions, such as the equivalence decisions, is not the way forward in our globalised world.
Our ability—and this is the third point that I wish to make—to move forward and build our position for the future must be done on good, sound legal foundations. It is a common experience for a lawyer that people disagree about the meaning of agreements, even those that may have been made only a short while before. I was not entirely surprised that there might be disagreements about the meaning of the Northern Ireland protocol or difficulties in working it through, but we agreed it. In such circumstances, what is expected is that the parties try to resolve their disagreements through provisions such as those in the protocol and the withdrawal agreement, and if they cannot resolve it by agreement, they do what litigants always do, and that is use the dispute resolution mechanisms. If a quicker decision were needed than through the mechanisms contemplated in the agreement, then modifications would be proposed. That regularly happens when a dispute arises that needs urgent resolution. I see no reason why the current dispute could not be resolved in a matter of a month or more. If the British Government believe that they are right, why not propose that?
Therefore, it is very difficult to understand why that obviously right course was not followed. However, what is entirely understandable is the resignation of the two expert leading government lawyers, Sir Jonathan Jones and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, who carry the highest degree of respect in the profession and have so expertly advised and helped the Government throughout this period. In following what is required, you uphold the rule of law and you comply with the law. As the Civil Service Code reminds us, complying with the law is an essential aspect of integrity. What you do not do is deliberately break an agreement or threaten it. Many have spoken powerfully about that, and I need say no more about it or about the consequences, but there are due consequences for the areas about which I have spoken.
First, the rule of law, our adherence to it and respect for it, is central to our position in the world and our leadership in the development of the law and those other areas of commerce and trade underpinned by the law: financial and professional services and the digital and data economies. That is central to our future, and we do ourselves enormous damage by pursuing the current course. Secondly, we need agreements with the EU and others for the future. Who wants to deal, or at least deal on good terms, with those who break or threaten to break agreements rather than have recourse to dispute resolution? I very much hope that the Minister will be able to explain, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has already asked, why we are not pursuing that course.
My Lords, unfortunately, I could not hear absolutely clearly. I will say, first, that the advertising campaign will certainly be directed to both businesses and individuals. The right reverend Prelate makes the wise point that specialist advisers will be available to help; it will not be simply a question of looking at a website, although I think the government website is to be commended.
My Lords, the noble Earl rightly says that Northern Ireland is on a separate track and governed by a separate protocol. Discussions are ongoing, as I think he knows. There will, as I told the House, be further information later this month. I take note of the points he makes about the timescale. The Government are well aware of the need for clarity and proper dispatch in carrying this forward.
My Lords, I do not agree that there will be a difficulty. The announcement suggests that Mr Frost will take up his appointment around the end of August, and, as the noble Lord said, there will be a period of handover. Mr Frost will remain chief negotiator for the EU talks until agreement is reached, or until they end. That will remain his first priority. As I have already said, he will also be ready to answer to Select Committees of the House in that period.
My Lords, I will preface my answer by saying that some noble Lords will have seen the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the speakers’ list. It is not that he has not turned up; he suffered a close family bereavement, and I know that all noble Lords who may be asking themselves why he is not here will understand that.
The noble Viscount’s question was framed in a manner about the cultural, social and instinctive links that the United Kingdom has with other European nations. Some of those have been institutional links of different sorts, while others have been links that are not in any sense political. I am personally committed, as are the Government, to maintaining the closest possible cultural and societal links between the nations of Europe. The question is what institutions are required to secure that. I submit that the European Union is not one of them; other institutions and arrangements are currently still under consideration.
My Lords, I shall not go into specific dates regarding the text. We have published texts at appropriate stages of the negotiations. We have said—and the Prime Minister said again at the high-level meeting—that October is too late for us to get serious. If I remember, those were his words. I think that the intensification in the negotiations will help us to answer the noble Earl’s question and others.
The status of Northern Ireland under the protocol is well known and often discussed. Northern Ireland will effectively be operating within the EU single market but also within the internal market of the United Kingdom. The arrangements that we have put in place are envisaged in the protocol but, at present, the details of their implementation are under discussion.
My Lords, I do not know about klaxons; I have always found them rather unpleasant. The United Kingdom Government regard Northern Ireland and its people as equal in every way to the rest of the United Kingdom and thus deserving the same privileges and the same attention. I can assure the noble Earl that whatever problems there have been with Covid—we all recognise the need to deal with them—we have engaged, we are engaging and we will engage on the principles and the practicalities of making these systems work, and indeed making them work for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. At all stages, we will respect the Good Friday agreement and the need to carry the consent of parties on both sides of the sectarian divide.
My Lords, Question Time is not the moment for a debate on sovereignty. I must say I think the noble Lord probably used some much firmer language than Mr Frost in his diplomatic career occasionally. One of the issues is a sense that the EU wishes to exercise influence and authority within this country after the end of transition. The noble Lord quoted Latin the last time he spoke. I commend to him the wise advice of the Emperor Augustus, “consilium coercendi intra terminos imperii”—that is, a power should stay within its own fixed bounds. On issues such as the so-called level playing field, the jurisdiction of the ECJ and fisheries, we are asking the EU to recognise that the UK has chosen to be an independent state.
My Lords, I do not think there is any distinction between the two. The Government wish to see good relations between this Parliament—both your Lordships’ House and the other place—and other parliaments around the world, including the European Parliament. But it remains the Government’s view that while we are of course supportive of dialogue between parliamentarians, it is for your Lordships and those in the other place to determine how they wish to engage; it is not for a Government to bind this and future Parliaments to a particular methodology by a treaty.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for all he has done to lead the European Union Committee with such skill and dedication. However, I note that aiming to “win friends and influence people” does not seem to be the UK’s strategy in its current negotiations with the EU. We hear that the Government almost seem to want them to fail, with lasting damage on both sides.
Leaving the EU with no deal, or an inadequate deal, is the next major crisis we may face. We could not stop a pandemic hitting the United Kingdom; we can stop the damage that would result from crashing out of transition on 31 December. At the height of this pandemic, surely the Government must extend the transition period.
As this report indicated, so long ago now, we need to relearn how to work constructively with our neighbours, with whom we share the closest approach to global challenges. With Trump in the White House and China increasingly dominant, the EU must play a major global role. As Sir Ivan Rogers pointed out, we will need to do more than ever before to make our new relationship work. That will need engagement from the very top.
We have another global crisis threatening us: climate change. A vaccine will not take that away. The Government have said that they wish to work with the EU on issues such as this. We used to maximise our influence by leading in the EU; now, we need to ensure that we are at least involved. That will be a difficult, but essential, task.
This report laid out some of the ways in which we can stay informed and engaged. I hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.
My Lords, we must consider this report in light of the global pandemic. Decisions about our future relationship with the EU must be informed by Covid-19, recognising our international interdependence rather than being driven by ideology. Our European neighbours remain our friends and allies. This must continue for the sake of all, and especially for vulnerable children.
Concluding talks by the deadline under present circumstances will be very challenging. I am particularly concerned about the impact on refugee children and our continued co-operation with European nations through the Dublin Regulation. Can the Minister outline the Government’s plans to ensure separated asylum-seeking children in Europe continue to be reunited with family members in the UK, whatever happens to negotiations?
I am anxious too about the impact on vulnerable children who are already here. The success of the EU settled status scheme may be compromised by the pandemic. Local authorities have a duty to apply for their looked-after children. However, the Children’s Society found that just one in 10 of local authorities’ looked-after children has been awarded status. Considering Covid-19, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the feasibility that all looked-after children will have applied to the EUSS by June 2021?
We must consider whether we can achieve a new, fruitful, negotiated relationship with the EU by December under current constraints. Will the Government set out criteria against which Parliament can evaluate the progress of negotiations? Do the Government accept that any trade deal must be negotiated by October at the latest if it is to be ratified before the deadline? At this time, when businesses are facing significant economic uncertainty, we must be mindful that these negotiations are an additional source of concern.
My Lords, I am not going to follow the noble Lord into considering history; otherwise, one could go back further and further into how we got into the 2008 crisis and so on. The thing we must do now is to go forward and look forward. I cannot at this virtual Dispatch Box anticipate what the Chancellor will do in managing the economy as and when we come out of this crisis, but it is this Government’s firm resolve to level up, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated. Indeed, in in this crisis, as we know, additional resources have been given to local authorities and the social care sector. Of course, I understand, accept and share the spirit of the noble Lord’s remarks, if not following him in every detail.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and join in the expression of appreciation of everyone who is working so hard during this unprecedented public health challenge. However, I want to raise a question about the future of the acquisition and delivery of PPE. We are very aware that in the past few weeks, this has not been conducted as efficiently and effectively as everybody would like, including Ministers. However, we know that with the Spanish flu there were two further peaks. Can the Government assure us that by this autumn, we will have sufficient and robust supplies of PPE that meet the right standards from the HSE’s perspective? Looking at the Statement and the four teams that are working together, many people, including me, do not quite understand where the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, who is co-ordinating the manufacture and distribution of PPE locally, will link in with those four teams. We could, of course, become completely self-reliant as a country on PPE, which may be something we want to think about in the longer term. I would be very happy to have a virtual meeting to discuss this further if it is appropriate.
PPE is of course of fundamental importance. If anybody in the country did not realise it at the start of this crisis, it is fully understood now. Ministers have always understood it. We had a large stockpile. Great efforts will continue to be made to ensure that our front line has sufficient equipment. I note the points that the noble Baroness made about the experience of Spanish flu, and I would certainly be interested in talking to her about it on another occasion, but I must reiterate that the Government are 100% committed to securing a stable and safe supply of PPE now and in the future.
Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I want to explore the needs of local authorities a bit further. Councils of all political persuasions are very concerned about the considerable shortfall in the funding they need—for example, to prevent the failure of private sector social care provision. Will the Minister join me in urging the Government to meet this large and urgent need for additional funding—over and above, I have to say, what has already been provided to local government during this crisis?
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My Lords, I regret that the sound was not very good for my noble friend’s question. I certainly caught her concern for farmers, and I take that point; my right honourable friend George Eustice has been addressing that matter. I am sorry that could not catch the other parts of her question, but I will ensure that she gets a written reply.
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That is the point I am trying to make; this should have been answered in the report. It does not matter where it comes from. Whether our closeness to the EU makes any difference to our relationship with it is questionable. The problem is that we have had the nerve to vote in favour of leaving the EU. Therefore, the EU must redefine the position of a country that leaves so that it can mete out special treatment to that country and somehow discourage others from leaving as well. This report should have addressed these issues. Does it make any difference whether or not a country is close to the EU? Does the size of trade make any difference? I agree that our trade with the EU is probably greater than that with the United States, but the United States does a massive amount of trade too. Nobody is asking for a level playing field with the United States, and they would be told where to go if they tried. We should be questioning these things, as I hoped the report would. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, can tell me why this was not included in the report.
The document that I am reading says that this statement was made on 18 February. That is quite a distance from 3 March, when the report went to the printers. I question whether you can reach a decision as a committee unless you have taken evidence. The whole business of whether how close you are to the EU counts or whether the size of your trade is a determinant factor is surely something that the committee can make its mind up about without taking evidence.
We could go on arguing about this indefinitely. However, the noble Earl is rather underestimating the intellectual abilities of his committee if it cannot reach a conclusion on this relatively simple issue without taking evidence. I will move on to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
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I very much welcome the committee’s intention to look at Northern Ireland. For some time, the Government said of the Irish border that it would all be all right on the night and we should not worry about it. They then conceded that there was something to worry about—and the agreement protects the open border, provided it is maintained. But there is still considerable denial about de facto checks and a virtual border in the Irish Sea. I very much welcome the committee’s intention to look at that.
My Lords, across the UK, Scotland and London voted most strongly for remain, which is somewhat ironic given the nationalists’ antipathy towards London and London-based government. Northern Ireland voted clearly for remain, only to find its hard-line Brexit party tweaking the tail of a Brexit-traumatised Conservative Government. A lot has been said, I think rightly, about Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s cavalier disregard for those who voted remain. “You lost. Get over it”, they say, but they have been unable to come up with anything that can unite a majority. When the DUP is challenged for representing a minority in Northern Ireland, it asserts that remain voters are predominantly nationalists and can therefore apparently be discounted—second-class votes.
Membership of the EU resides with the United Kingdom and it is not possible for parts of the UK to be in and parts to be out. I suggest that raises the question as to whether we should ever have sought a simple binary majority, or one that was qualified by the views of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom as well.
During a recent visit to Derry, I was able to see and hear how differences already affect what is located on which side of the border and how people and services operate. Moderate unionists who voted remain are beginning to consider whether the complexities of Brexit might make the prospect of a united Ireland unexpectedly attractive, especially now they see a much more liberal Republic and a frozen conservative Province in the north. The polarisation of Northern Ireland politics has left the Province without a democratic voice. Disillusioned young people at an integrated school that I visited in Derry told me that they thought that violence would return to the Province. I was quite shocked that they were unanimous in their view.
For a long time—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, referred to this—many people thought that nationalism could be contained within the European Union or at least under its umbrella. That is kind of logical given that the raison d’être of the European Union was to find mechanisms to avoid conflicts getting out of control and leading to war—which has been one of its great achievements.
For many years, the SNP campaigned under the slogan, “Independence in Europe”, so leaving the EU is a problem for it. First, a significant proportion of its voters chose Brexit. Secondly, leaving the UK without the comfort of the EU umbrella could leave Scotland in a cold place, with no prospect of a quick re-entry into the EU. Campaigners in favour of remain have sometimes prayed in aid divergence with Scotland as a threat to the union in simplistic terms. The people of Scotland voted remain by a large margin. Theresa May’s dead deal, something similar or no deal would in many ways be a betrayal of Scotland, or at least an insensitive disregard for the concerns and preferences of its people. Of course, that is seized on by the SNP to make the case for a second independence referendum. “Let’s vote for independence and rejoin the EU”, it says, except it is not that simple. First, the UK is overwhelmingly Scotland’s biggest market. Secondly, however sympathetic the EU may be to Scotland’s warmth towards that Union—in contrast with the SNP’s hostility to this union—Scotland would have to take years and deep economic pain before it could accede to membership, during which time it would be outside both unions.
Surely it is time, Brexit or not, to sort out the mess that the United Kingdom has become and to create a constitution worthy of its name, which guarantees the human rights of everyone in the United Kingdom and accommodates the views and wishes of the devolved Administrations and the regions of England in a legal framework. The Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, is a good start. I understand why he asserts that nothing could challenge the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament, but I think that he would recognise that, if it were a matter of a transition to a federal Government, we would eventually need a constitution to which even this House and the other House would have to be subordinated. That is how most modern democracies work. Ours is not working; it is time that we modernised it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for the way he introduced this debate and I dedicate my contribution to the memory of Steffan Lewis AM, who died last Friday at the age of 34. In two brief years in the National Assembly, Steffan had already made a huge impact, not least with the White Paper, Securing Wales’ Future. That document, addressing issues which face Wales in the context of Brexit, gained cross-party support in the Assembly. Steffan Lewis saw quite clearly that Brexit, particularly in its most extreme manifestation, could have significant negative implications for the future relationships in these islands, partly because of the narrow, inward-looking nationalism that underpins much of the Brexit approach. This contrasts with the civic nationalism which we have carefully nurtured in Wales.
The Welsh nation is not a racial construct. We are a mongrel people, defined not by blood and race but by community, culture and values. Those values underpin an outward-looking set of beliefs which recognises everyone in Wales, whatever their language, colour or creed, as full and equal citizens of our country. Our values as a nation have run through our politics. It is no coincidence that Lloyd George led the fight to establish social security and Aneurin Bevan the NHS. Wales is a nation whose roots are deep in our European heritage. In terms of language, culture, religion and traditions, our identity is European and it is an identity we have no intention of abandoning. It is to safeguard our values, communities and culture that we have aspired to greater political self-determination—to greater independence, if you like. But independence is a relative concept and whereas every nation has a right to independence, it also has a responsibility towards its neighbours and the wider world.
Over the past two generations, Wales has secured a considerable degree of independence. In practical terms, we have our own independent education policies; likewise with roads and housing. We make our own laws and determine our own priorities but we also recognise that there are matters, such as environmental issues, which we cannot control alone but must be governed in larger units, be that on a world, a European or indeed a British level.
In determining this, the European concept of subsidiarity should always come into play: matters should be decided as close as possible to the communities on which those decisions impact. Today’s debate is timely, but one of the real dangers is that we see our relationships as a dipole between Brussels and London, rather than as a multilayered, decentralist structure driven by subsidiarity. In that way, we could easily find ourselves centralising on to a British level decisions that have been systematically decentralised over the past two decades within a European framework.
That is why there was so much grief in Cardiff and Edinburgh when we saw—in terms of agricultural policy, industrial development incentives and procurement rules—what was felt to be a power grab by London. This awoke all the old forebodings and generated unnecessary fear. The real danger is that we put into reverse all the gains we have made—in autonomy, identity, assuming responsibility and developing multilateral cultural links—and that we get sucked back into the vortex of a unified, centralised British state.
To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That, more than any other single factor, is what will drive the movement towards greater independence for Wales and Scotland, if that is what happens. It may well be that new structures can be developed in terms of a federal or confederal state which can appropriately serve nations—and indeed regions—with diverse identities, different challenges and our own aspirations. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, is relevant in that regard.
Over the past 12 months, during which Steffan Lewis knew of his bowel cancer, he continued his work with bravery and dedication. He refused to let his illness define his life. Only last month, he proposed Plaid Cymru’s amendment to the Labour Government’s Motion on the withdrawal agreement, spelling out why it should be rejected. To the credit of Labour Members, they recognised Steffan’s case and accepted his amendment.
In the wake of Tuesday’s vote, MPs across party lines may try to secure a sensible compromise, such as a model based on the UK retaining its customs union and single market relationship with the EU, and accepting the free movement of people, goods and money between the countries of Britain and the 27 EU member states as a way forward. If that is so, it will provide a framework within which Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—and indeed England—can develop an evolving relationship, facilitating the maximum degree of self-government to which their peoples aspire, while simultaneously enabling families, businesses and civic society to blossom without the artificial barriers which a blinkered 19th century approach to independence implies.
In conclusion, it is hugely ironic that it is in this context that a key to Britain’s future relationship with Europe may be found. It is an even greater sadness that Steff has not lived to see the relevance of his analysis become centre stage as we contemplate the future relationships of the nations of these islands.
My Lords, I have prepared a speech and shall deliver it, although what of any great value it will add to the series of outstanding speeches that we have already had—and it would be invidious to choose between them—may be doubted.
In the increasingly borderless world in which we live, it is really difficult, as others have said, to overstate the critical importance of the European arrest warrant to international criminal justice. The scheme, as your Lordships know, originated in a European Council framework decision in 2002 and was transposed into UK legislation in the Extradition Act 2003, coming into force on 1 January 2004. It immediately transformed extradition arrangements between EU states, making for an altogether swifter and more streamlined process. It was immeasurably an improvement on what had gone before; essentially, the 1957 Council of Europe Convention on Extradition was criticised variously as being,
“inefficient, cumbersome, slow (which resulted in long periods of pre-trial detention for suspects), expensive, technical, political, restrictive, containing a series of loopholes and subject to less judicial oversight”.
That is the description in the EU Committee report of 2013, paper 159, to which my noble friend Lord Hannay has already referred.
As your Lordships will know, under the Lisbon treaty the Government initially opted out of some 130 measures in the field of justice and home affairs and then, in December 2014, three years ago, opted back into 35 including, notably for our purposes, the European arrest warrant. This for the first time conferred jurisdiction on the CJEU or the ECJ in regard to our operation of the scheme. This opt-in occurred during a 15-month period in which the ad hoc Select Committee on Extradition Law of this House sat. I was privileged to be a member of that committee, under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. On 10 November 2014, we published a short interim report recommending that we should indeed opt back into the scheme. In our final report on 10 March 2015, we reiterated, with emphasis, that conclusion. Of course, we had by then indeed opted back in.
In preparing the interim report, we heard oral evidence from two witnesses: the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who supported the opt-in, and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, who advocated leaving the scheme on the basis that it was an unacceptable extension of European judicial influence. That was not a view that we accepted, nor, evidently, was it a view shared by the Government, who of course then opted in.
I should perhaps note that, during the pre-Lisbon operation of the scheme, and therefore before the European court had jurisdiction over its operation here, a number of EAW cases came before our courts, both in this House and then, after we were banished in 2009, in the Supreme Court. Indeed, I was involved in a number of them, including, shortly before I retired in 2012, a Mr Assange’s appeal—although, in the event, it appears to have taken him no further than Knightsbridge. Against that background, I assert some experience at least of the scheme in practice.
I believe that, both before and after we opted in, overall the European arrest warrant has operated admirably. Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, there have been flaws and obviously there remains room for further improvement. There have, however, been certain notable legislative amendments made to the 2003 Act that have undoubtedly helped; for example, the introduction of a forum bar, the effectiveness of which can be seen this very week in the Administrative Court’s judgment in the Lauri Love case, the computer hacker with Asperger’s who is not now to be extradited to the Unites States but who will, one trusts, instead be tried here for his alleged criminal activities. That was under Part 2, not Part 1, of the 2003 Act and is not therefore an EAW case, but the point is none the less well made.
Perhaps I should note in this connection that I in fact wrote the single judgment of the Appellate Committee of this House in the earlier case of McKinnon, where we unanimously dismissed Mr McKinnon’s appeal—a judgment that was then fully upheld in Strasbourg under the European convention. Of course, at that stage there was no question arising at all as to Mr McKinnon’s health. It was argued on an unarguable case by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick; he failed. Only later was Asperger’s diagnosed and there was of course then executive discretion—which is no longer there—for the Home Secretary to bar extradition. Now, the position has improved under the legislation: there is a forum bar, and the court rather than the Executive will make the final determination on the merits of issues such as oppression.
Thus far, I have focused on the critical importance of the warrant scheme—as all your Lordships have, I think, emphasised—and the imperative need, as I see it, to maintain its operation in the post-Brexit era. Indeed, as I read the Government’s response to the report, there is really no longer any doubt or dispute about its importance and the necessity of maintaining it. Rather, the remaining question is simply about how in future its operation should be judicially overseen. I say this simply remains the question, but actually, as other noble Lords have indicated, it is really rather difficult.
The Government’s response, I think of December last, to this report, consistent with their published paper in September last, the future partnership paper Security, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, while asserting that they will,
“bring about an end to the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK”,
recognises that some form of supranational resolution mechanism will be required, certainly after the transitional implementation standstill period, during which, as I understand it, the Government are now ready to accept that they will continue to acknowledge the CJEU’s continuing jurisdiction in this field. But what will then follow?
As I read the report, while indeed it acknowledges the need for some future international judicial process to be devised in place of the CJEU’s direct jurisdiction, it gives, as others have pointed out, no real clues as to what precisely, or indeed even imprecisely, it currently envisages will fit the bill. For all the reasons set out in this admirable report, it needs to be a court, a judicial body, as opposed to some arbitral body. It needs to be available to individuals and not merely to states. It needs to enforce the scheme, I would suggest, in full measure, and not, for example, some alternative scheme, such as that devised in the case of Iceland and Norway, whereby those states are now entitled to refuse to extradite their own nationals, which under the EAW scheme is not a permitted restriction. Above all, it has to be acceptable to the other 27 EU states.
For my part, I cannot see how any replacement for the existing role of the CJEU would be an improvement on it. As I have said on other occasions, I greatly regret that the Government have demonised that court and, essentially on ideological or doctrinal grounds, are intent on ending its jurisdiction. I cannot think of a single instance of that court’s rulings in this field which has caused the UK the least problem or, indeed, been regarded as in any way unsatisfactory. That court may on occasion be criticised for its integrationist approach and its bias towards ever-closer union, but no such tendency has the least application or relevance in this particular context, and to schemes such as the EAW, and so too, indeed, in relation to other criminal justice measures which we opted back into.
I am conscious that I am taking up a lot of your Lordships’ time, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that essentially the same point arises also with regard to a number of EU civil justice co-operative measures: the various Brussels Regulations, maintenance regulations and so forth, dealing with a host of important questions affecting our citizens and businesses, the recognition and enforcement of judicial judgments, family law disputes and so on. All these were the subject of an excellent report, and subsequent debate last December, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. Frankly, the same problems of certainty, predictability and continuity were left at the end of that debate as I fear may be left at the end of today’s debate too. I would dearly love the Minister to assuage my doubts and misgivings when he comes—as I understand it, comparatively fresh to this issue—to wind up. I just hope he can.
As a postscript, the one point on which I record my disagreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, is on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. My mind of course, as always, remains open until I have heard the last word of the argument on both sides, but my present feeling is that the Government are right to discard that. I can see that it would add nothing whatever to the issue of the European arrest warrant.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for his part in this excellent report and for the thoughtful and persuasive way in which he opened this debate.
I agree with the Prime Minister when, as Home Secretary in 2014, she said, in advocating our opting back in to the European arrest warrant, that our losing the EAW would turn the UK into,
“a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice”.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out her support for the EAW system. When Naz Shah MP put the Prime Minister’s words to Nick Hurd, the Policing Minister, during his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 23 January, the Minister replied:
“The European Arrest Warrant is an incredibly important tool in the box. The data is quite striking. Prior to the implementation of the European Arrest Warrant in 2004, fewer than 60 individuals a year were extradited from the UK to any country, not just the EU. Between 2004 and 2016-17, EAW has enabled the UK to surrender over 10,000 individuals accused or convicted of a criminal offence to other member states. This has included those accused or convicted of murder, child sexual offences and terrorism offences. During that period, the EAW has been used to surrender over 1,400 individuals to the UK to face justice, so it is a very important tool”.
He went on to say that,
“we want to preserve that capability as close to the existing status quo as possible”.
Those words echo those of Amber Rudd, quoted in the introduction to the EU Committee’s report. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, also spoke of the effectiveness of the warrant in combating serious crime across Europe, and all speakers have recognised the importance of reciprocity.
Day after day in this House we hear Ministers answering questions on Brexit topics by saying that the Government’s aim is to maintain our relationship with the EU as closely as possible in its existing form. Those of us who believe that the whole project of leaving the EU is a disastrous mistake have every right to ask, “Then why are we leaving?”.
All speakers in this debate agree that it is crucial for this country to continue to reap the benefits of the European arrest warrant system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, stressed the remarkable superiority of the warrant system over other extradition systems as it has developed to mitigate the flaws that it had. However, the report highlights the serious difficulties in our retaining the system if we do not accept the jurisdiction of the CJEU. I understand that to be the central point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in opening.
Why have the Government made breaking with the CJEU such an unyielding red line if they want to achieve a deep and special partnership with the EU? I see it more as an unbending rod for the Government’s back than a defensible red line. If the Government genuinely want this partnership, they must accept that in areas of European co-operation, whether on citizens’ rights, trade standards, the environment or cross-border security co-operation, European law will continue to hold sway, and its oversight is now and will remain with the CJEU or something very close to it.
In the legal and security areas, the arguments surrounding the European arrest warrant apply equally across the field. They apply to Europol, the EU agency for law enforcement, which is critical to the fight against serious organised crime, people trafficking, cybercrime and terrorism. It is an agency to which the United Kingdom has contributed greatly, not least through its energetic British director. The UK is probably the single largest user of Europol in the EU.
The arguments apply also to data sharing under the Schengen Information System—the vast database to which EU member states have access under the judicial oversight of the CJEU. They apply to Eurojust, the EU agency that promotes co-ordination and co-operation between EU investigating and prosecuting authorities, and to which the DPP has made it clear that she attaches great importance. My noble friend Lady Ludford stressed the DPP’s complete commitment to the European arrest warrant as well. They apply to protection for citizens under the data protection directive. In civil matters they apply to resolving choice of law issues, currently achieved by the Rome regulations; to dealing with issues of jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement in civil and commercial matters covered by the Brussels I regulation; and to the recognition and enforcement of judgments in family law, covered by the Brussels II regulation. In all these areas Ministers claim to want maximum co-operation, yet they insist on rejecting CJEU jurisdiction.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out the difficulties already arising with the European arrest warrant, particularly on the island of Ireland. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made the same point. I would point out in that respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that it was the likely absence of the protection of the Charter of Fundamental Rights that caused the problem with Ireland. I urge him to consider that in the context of his opposition to it.
The Government’s response to this report is typical. It explicitly recognises the need for a mechanism for dispute resolution. Although I cannot manage the eloquence of the language of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, on the subject of the Government’s response, I will say that their proposals are uncertain and muddled: uncertain, because all they can say is that they are committed to a constructive dialogue; muddled, because they imply that post Brexit our law can diverge from EU law in all areas, which betrays a fundamental failure to appreciate that for international co-operation to work one law must govern the behaviour of both parties and that law must be binding.
In European arrest warrant cases individuals have a direct entitlement to have their rights under EU law protected by national courts. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and my noble friend Lady Ludford pointed out, these are cases involving individual liberty. If the system is to retain the confidence of citizens and governments, there must be judicial oversight at a supranational level, which in this context means the EU level, and it must be binding on all parties. Why should the EU 27 be expected to accept a non-binding alternative arbitration system for the oversight of arrest warrants when they already have a functioning, efficient and binding system in place?
Much is said on the other side about the affront to UK sovereignty involved in accepting the direct application of EU law and the jurisdiction of the CJEU. Yet we accept the UN charter and the jurisdiction of the international court in The Hague, and we accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. Why not the CJEU? If Brexit is to proceed on the basis of continuing partnership, then on all areas covered by the partnership we need to reach agreement on a system of judicial oversight that is both binding and workable.
Although I do not necessarily share this view, one can see the argument that, if we leave the EU, the fact that the CJEU will no longer have a British judge and a British advocate-general would make the court appear one-sided. Well then, will the Minister explain why the Government do not seek to secure that areas covered by new partnership issues arising between the UK and the EU will be justiciable by a parallel court? Call it what you like, but effectively it would be a division of the CJEU but with a British judge and a British advocate-general. Has such an obvious arrangement even been considered by the Government?
This whole issue has been blown out of all proportion by the soundbites of ideologues. The UK has been a successful litigant before the European court. Research for the Institute for Government published in December demonstrated that the UK has the highest success rate before the court of any EU member state. These negotiations are difficult enough without red lines that are illogical, unnecessary and indefensible. If this whole sad enterprise is going to proceed, and if the Government are serious about partnership, then in this, as in all areas, will they please stop posturing and make proposals to our partners that have some chance of being agreed and are realistic and workable?
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will be in an equally benign mood when he addresses the regulations in my name.
The Risk Transformation Regulations 2017 introduce a bespoke regulatory framework for insurance-linked securities business in the UK, announced at Budget 2015. The regulations comprise three main elements. First, they provide for UK regulators to apply a new authorisation and supervisory regime for insurance-linked securities vehicles in the UK. Secondly, they introduce a new type of company to enable multiple insurance-linked securities deals to be managed in a single company. Finally, they set out the rules for the issuance of insurance-linked securities investments so that the interests of protection buyers and investors are protected.
In an insurance-linked securities transaction, risk is transferred from an insurer or reinsurer to the capital markets. An insurer contracts with an entity specifically established to take on insurance risk. These entities are often known as insurance special purpose vehicles, and are called “transformer vehicles” in the regulations. The insurer transfers a specified risk to the transformer vehicle, paying reinsurance premiums for the risk transferred, and the vehicle then raises collateral to cover that risk by issuing securities to capital market investors. Investors earn income on their securities from the premiums paid by the insurer. Should the insured event take place, the collateral is released to the insurer to compensate them for their loss. If the insured event does not take place, the collateral is returned to investors. Investors are attracted to insurance-linked securities transactions as they offer a return that is uncorrelated to the performance of traditional financial markets.
Insurance-linked securities are now an important and growing part of the global specialist reinsurance market. As of 2017, more than $90 billion-worth of insurance-linked securities have been issued. By enabling insurers to access alternative sources of capital from the capital markets, this business has brought much-needed additional capacity to parts of the reinsurance market. However, despite the importance of London as a global insurance hub, the rapid growth of the insurance-linked securities market has taken place elsewhere.
The March 2015 Budget therefore announced that the Treasury, PRA and FCA would work closely with the London market to develop a more effective framework for insurance-linked securities business. The London market established an industry group, the insurance-linked securities task force, and over the past three years, the Treasury, PRA, FCA and insurance-linked securities task force have worked together to design the fit-for-purpose regulations that are before the House today. At its heart, therefore, the insurance-linked securities project aims to ensure that London and the UK maintain their position as a global insurance hub—and I am sure that noble Lords will agree that any attempt to increase the competitiveness of the UK’s financial services offer is welcome.
The regulations are split into four parts, and they achieve three broad aims. Part 2 implements a new authorisation and supervision regime for insurance-linked securities vehicles, which will be overseen by both the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority. The PRA will be the lead regulator. By providing a robust and efficient framework for the supervision of insurance-linked securities, consistent with requirements set out in EU law, investors and protection buyers that use UK vehicles will benefit from the world-class financial regulation that the UK provides.
Part 3 ensures that only sophisticated or institutional investors can be offered insurance-linked securities in the UK. As I explained a moment ago, in an insurance-linked securities deal, when an insured event occurs, investors are liable to lose some or all of their capital. These are complicated financial instruments, and it would be wrong for public retail investors to be able to purchase these investments. That is why the regulations restrict the types of investors who can purchase insurance-linked securities; these investors will often hold investments in a number of different insurance-linked securities vehicles to both diversify their holdings and minimise the risk of losses.
Part 4 introduces a new form of corporate body called a protected cell company. A protected cell company allows multiple insurance-linked securities deals to be managed in a single company. Each new deal is held in a cell, and the structure of a protected cell company ensures that each deal’s assets and liabilities are ring-fenced from one another. This type of structure is already common in the insurance-linked securities market and allows for a more efficient management of risk than a new vehicle being set up for each individual deal. Protected cell companies will be carefully regulated by the PRA and FCA, with the PRA ensuring that each cell is fully capitalised.
Unlike conventional reinsurance, insurance-linked securities transactions do not pool risk. Indeed, the regulations require risk to be segregated: the transferred risk of one insurance or reinsurance entity cannot be combined with the risk of any other entity. Nor do these transactions lead to the leveraging or undercapitalisation of risk. They are not a way for insurers or reinsurers to avoid their responsibility of carefully ensuring that their risk is suitably capitalised.
In insurance-linked securities transactions, the transformer vehicle takes on a specific risk and must hold collateral that is at least equal to the risk that has been transferred to that vehicle. The Bank of England and Financial Services Act 2016, which amended the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to provide the enabling powers for the risk transformation regulations, defines risk transformation as the activity of assuming risk from an entity and fully funding exposure to that risk by issuing investments.
Regulations therefore ensure that each and every insurance-linked securities deal in the UK will hold capital that is at least equal to the risk that it has assumed. There can be no leveraging, pooling or undercapitalisation of risk in these transactions. This will ensure that insurers can rely on the protection they arrange through insurance-linked securities deals. That is an important point to bear in mind, considering the terrible impact of Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma in the US and the Caribbean recently. These hurricanes represent some of the largest loss events that the insurance industry has seen and have tested the insurance-linked securities market’s capacity to respond and pay out on claims.
To summarise, the regulations before the House today are aimed at improving the competitive position of the UK insurance market by giving insurers and reinsurers a fit-for-purpose regulatory regime for insurance-linked securities.
We have heard that insurance-linked securities are a growing market—indeed, 2017 has seen a record issuance of insurance-linked securities, with more than $11 billion issued this year alone. EY has estimated that the market could grow to $224 billion by 2021, and the CEO of Securis, a UK-based insurance-linked securities fund has said that,
“the opportunity set for ILS has never been better”.
It is therefore the right time for the UK to improve its offer in this market. These regulations will be accompanied by new tax regulations that provide for a more competitive and straightforward tax treatment for authorised insurance-linked securities vehicles in the UK. The moves have been welcomed by the industry. I am pleased to say that the London Market Group, which represents London’s insurers and reinsurers, has welcomed this new framework for insurance-linked securities business. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order so thoroughly. As he outlined, the Risk Transformation (Tax) Regulations 2017 create the regulatory and supervisory framework for insurance-linked securities. ILSs allow companies to obtain reinsurance protection from a new pool of capital separate from traditional reinsurance, meaning the direct transfer of reinsurance risk to the capital market. The proposed framework is composed of three elements: the corporate structure for insurance special purpose vehicles or ISPVs, called protected cell companies or PCCs; an authorisation procedure for the PRA and the FCA; and the specific tax arrangements for ILSs.
Before I turn to some specific questions which arose from my reading of the regulations, impact assessment and consultations, I will say something about ILSs in general. The assumption—I use that word deliberately—is that they ought to have little or no correlation with the wider financial markets as their value is linked to non-financial risks such as natural disasters, and therein lies my concern. The Government have made no attempt to conceal the fact that the UK will be venturing into the unknown. Indeed, on the first page of the impact assessment the Treasury states:
“London would be the first major financial centre to offer ILS solutions and we think that a major and well trusted financial centre can help grow the global ILS market”.
This is not a statement of certainty. Given the admission that the UK is breaking new ground, I would have expected the Government to have been keen to assess the impact that the introduction of more risk to the market could have on the financial sector as a whole. An IMF working paper puts it well, stating:
“The growth in recent years of Insurance-Linked Securities has widened the exposure of investors (mostly hedge funds and specialist investment vehicles) to insurance risks originated and managed by insurance companies ... But the effect is that catastrophic insurance losses can now be transmitted directly to investors without the cushion of the insurance company's balance sheet”.
There seems to be an untested assumption, throughout the Government’s proceedings, that there is no correlation between ILSs and economic stability. Am I wrong? Have the Government carried out such risk assessments? If they have, I would be grateful if the Minister could publish them. If not, will he go back to his department and urge it to produce them? It is this lack of inquiry which makes me doubly concerned about the lack of a requirement for a formal review to take place.
The Government have stated that there are a number of issues they intend to review periodically, including whether protected cell companies could be used for other purposes and the untested authorisation and supervision of ISPVs and MISPVs. How did they arrive at the view that a formal review, perhaps within a year of these regulations coming into force, was not necessary? I suggest that there are plenty of measures which would merit review: the extent to which ILS shares are traded on a secondary market, the usage and impact of PCC gateways and the tax treatment. The noble Lord knows that conventions dictate that we do not test the opinion of the House on such matters, but let that not undermine the importance that I place on these questions.
I have a few specific points. The first relates to the tax measures. This third component is in separate regulations —the Risk Transformation (Tax) Regulations 2017 — which are not being debated today. Surely it would have made more sense for the two instruments to be debated alongside each other? Can the framework come into force without the tax elements in place? When does the Minister expect this House to debate the tax treatment for ILSs?
Moving to the insurance mechanisms, a PCC will comprise a core— which is the legal entity—and a number of cells. Will there be a limit to the number of cells each ISPV will be authorised to have? Has the department carried out any analysis on the estimated number of cells each company will run? I ask with particular concerns that an unlimited number of cells would increase the risk of instability in the market, especially if cells are grouped. I understand that this grouping of cells will be allowed in limited circumstances. The Government consulted on how the PRA may impose limitations on how PCCs use these gateways, so as to ensure that cells are used with care and are consistent with the EU Solvency II directive. Will the Minister outline the circumstances in which the PRA would enforce such restrictions?
My final point is about the Government’s decision, as a result of listening to consultation feedback, to change from a pre to a post-transaction notification period to the PRA for new multi-arrangement insurance special purpose vehicle cells, or any assumption of new risk. Why the change? What objections were raised to what sounds like a perfectly reasonable suggestion? As a result of this shift in approach, the Government have stated that the necessary safeguards are in place. Will the Minister outline what these are? The consultation response goes on to say that,
“it will be proportionate for the PRA to give permission to mISPVs to enter into specified kinds of risk transfer deals in the future without the need for further authorisation, provided that those future deals are in accordance with the limitations as set out in the mISPVs permission”.
Is it the PRA’s responsibility to monitor whether deals are in line with expectations or is the onus on the company to report it?
As I have made clear, although we will not vote against this order, I am deeply concerned that the Government are inviting further risk into an already unstable and uncertain market without fully considering the consequences. I hope that the noble Lord can relieve some of my worries in his response.
My Lords, I, too, offer my support to my noble friend Lord Hunt. I agree with his two amendments, which seek to attack one of the major menaces of the spurious claims activity in our society at present. Does my noble friend the Minister think that the FCA is qualified and able to take on all these extra tasks? Will there be a new category of authorised person within the FCA? The skills required to regulate CMCs of various kinds may not be exactly the same as, for example, those required to give financial advice. It is also worth checking that there are not any other areas of spurious activity or the encouragement of spurious claims which are already being practised by unscrupulous people.
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My Lords, I, too, support my noble friend’s Amendment 70A. He has highlighted a very important issue. It is right that in Clause 17 the Government are looking to cap the charges made by claims management companies, but this should apply to personal injury claims as well as those for financial products and services. The cap on charges is also important because there will be problems in future associated with the increased use of the small claims track when it is extended to cover cases up to £5,000 for personal injury claims.
I was going to quote the same figures as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, but I have also heard from a number of holiday operators and other representatives of the travel industry that resorts are now threatening to sharply increase prices for British holidaymakers or even withdraw all-inclusive packages from the UK market altogether. This situation is damaging the reputation of British holidaymakers and I support my noble friend’s amendment.
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I rise briefly to support the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in his quest for a more equitable arrangement with the powers that be in terms of the FCA. I think he would be the first to admit that this is a recurring theme in many of his contributions to debates around financial guidance and similar issues. On the surface, it seems extraordinary that a body so well resourced and organised as the FCA should be so diffident in coming forward with helpful advice to get people to work better and more constructively within the sector it is regulating.
This amendment has had to be framed to get it into a debate around claims management but it touches on a much wider issue about all the aspects of the FCA that we are talking about. Indeed, it is about an attitudinal and possibly a conduct approach, which is also part of it. I hope that there is a way to get this matter resolved one way or another because it is part and parcel of the other issues we have talked about in terms of duty of care and responsibility for consumers and the vulnerable. If the FCA—and indeed, by implication, the SFGB—took a more interactive and supportive stance, we would all be better off.
My Lords, it is my turn to rise to my feet to support my noble friend Lord Young, who has been more than a co-pilot for this part of the Bill. Perhaps I see myself more as flight observer.
The amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, aims to ensure that the FCA helps firms to interpret the FCA rules. I absolutely accept and understand his reasons for tabling this amendment in terms of the importance of that interpretation and in order to be helpful. I agree that ensuring that firms understand the FCA’s rules will be vital to the success of this new regulatory framework, and I would like to draw the noble Earl’s attention to the steps the FCA already takes to ensure that firms are well informed of regulatory requirements.
The FCA undertakes a range of communications activities, including monthly e-newsletters summarising all the main changes that have taken place over the previous month and a programme of regional events across the UK for firms to discuss regulatory issues. The FCA holds round tables and other briefings on specific issues with trade associations and firms to help them better understand how new policy may impact their business models. It also maintains a smaller business practitioner panel which represents smaller regulated firms which may not otherwise have a strong voice in policy-making. I have noticed that the noble Earl has, quite rightly, throughout our debates in Committee focused on those smaller businesses that may not have their own strong voice.
On top of this, the FCA is aware of the need to engage with firms about new regulatory provisions. Building on the approach taken in the consumer credit transfer, the FCA will develop a clear communications strategy to engage with firms as a key part of the transition process. The FCA is committed to alerting firms to changes in regulation that affect them and has several well-established channels to support this—for example, in its regulation round-up, which is a monthly e-newsletter sent to more than 50,000 recipients summarising all the main changes that have taken place over the month. That will have links to further information on the FCA website. There is a programme of monthly regional events called “live and local”, across the UK, for firms to discuss the changes, and round tables and other briefings on specific issues. In addition, the FCA sends over 500 speakers each year to talk at industry conferences and events to discuss regulatory issues, and maintains regular relationships with trade associations.
These actions will help to support CMCs through the authorisation process as they work to meet the FCA’s regulatory requirements in the provision of claims management services. The FCA’s strategic objective is to ensure that the relevant markets function well, which will ensure that the market for CMCs’ services functions well. Communication on that basis is vital. The FCA also has a competitive objective, which requires it to have regard to the ease with which new entrants can enter the market. Of course, being able to understand the rules is critical to that.
I hope that the actions that I have set out help to support CMCs through the authorisation process. This short debate with the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, will, I hope, give a nudge to the FCA that it is of critical importance that it undertakes this important issue with care to make sure that the process works. For those reasons, I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.
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My Lords, I support this amendment and speak to my Amendment 73 on the same topic, which seeks to achieve the same aim as Amendment 72. The scale of nuisance calls is of great concern, as has been expressed in previous debates on this Bill from noble Lords on all sides of the House. The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers states that an estimated 51 million cold calls or texts are received each year from regulated claims management companies for personal injury claims. Although such nuisance calls are supposed to be prevented by existing regulations, current measures are clearly ineffective.
Reforms of claims management companies are clearly urgently needed. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing the Bill. Carol Brady’s excellent independent review of the regulation of claims management firms recommended moving responsibility to the FCA, which is what the Bill does, and I wholly support that. However, it is also important to protect the public from nuisance calls and texts, which the claims management companies often plague people with; to reduce the level of speculative and even fraudulent claims, which cause added costs for companies and end up costing other consumers extra money; and to stop customers being fooled into paying up-front fees to unscrupulous claims management companies, which they then never recover after they discover that they did not have a valid claim in the first place.
FCA regulation of CMCs will help toughen the oversight of nuisance calls, but that move alone is not sufficient to properly protect consumers. The FCA has powers of enforcement that are better than the current regime; it can strip those found to be flouting the rules of their ability to operate and can hold directors personally liable. But a ban on unsolicited approaches would add much more protection. It would be clear to consumers that they should not engage with firms which contact them and encourage them to make spurious claims. Currently, the claims management companies act with impunity to entice people to make easy money. But of course this has the effect of imposing higher costs on the wider public, as we have already heard this afternoon, because firms will charge more to cover the risks of such claims. We have seen this clearly with whiplash injuries and we are seeing this with holiday sickness claims. Indeed, the Law Society has also written to me to support the banning of cold calls. ABTA cites the problems that we have already discussed about the dramatic rise in speculative and fraudulent claims. This will cause detriment to the wider public if we do not make sure that we take the opportunity in the Bill to retain effective measures to address the issue.
The Minister has already said how much she wishes that she could ban cold calling for pension companies, and there was support across the whole House for that measure, but it is questionable; we hope that we might be able to find a way to get that into the Bill. However, cold calling for claims management companies clearly is in scope of the Bill. When defining “claims culture” in a Parliamentary Answer on 19 April 2016, my honourable friend in another place, Dominic Raab, said:
“The Autumn Statement referred to the cost to society of the substantial industry that encourages claims through cold calling and other social nuisances and which increases premiums for consumers”.
Therefore the Government have clearly equated claims culture with cold calling, and the logical and fair action would surely be to ban cold calling for personal injury claims rather than restrict the rights of people who have been injured through no fault of their own, which the Government are expected to do in the forthcoming civil liability Bill. These proposals perhaps aim slightly at the wrong target, but the Bill gives the Government the opportunity to aim at the right target and ban cold calling, which they state encourages a claims culture.
As the Government recognise that there is a problem, and there is both industry and public support, the Bill could be amended to include this ban on cold calling. Whether it is through Amendment 72, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, or Amendment 73, in my own name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, I hope that we might take this opportunity to protect the public in this manner by banning cold calling.
My Lords, I too express support for both the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and that proposed by my noble friend Lady Altmann, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider both amendments sympathetically. I expect that she is likely to say that she agrees with the amendments in principle but that this is not the time or the place for such a measure. However, surely it would be popular with the public to introduce a complete ban on unsolicited cold calling across a broad range of activities.
The Law Society and the ABI have both called for a crack-down on nuisance calling of all kinds. ABTA has also suggested that the Bill provides an opportunity to introduce an outright ban. As noble Lords are aware, solicitors, who are more tightly regulated than CMCs, are already banned from making unsolicited calls.
What I find particularly annoying is that if you answer your phone when you are overseas, you have to pay. I get so angry when this happens to me that I am sometimes more likely to start a conversation with the cold caller than I am to just hang up, which would obviously be the sensible thing to do. I say, “Do you know it’s three in the morning and I’m in Japan, and this is costing me money?”, but I find that the cold callers are not a very nice type of person in general and they are not sympathetic. My noble friend Lady Altmann mentioned that every year there are 51 million cold calls in respect of personal injury claims. In that case I am getting many more than my share, because I get about one a week.
It is a difficult area because, as noble Lords have pointed out in earlier debates, the FCA is not necessarily the most sympathetic regulator, and I agree with the noble Earl that we should look more closely at equivalent regulators in other countries. I had the privilege of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the Joint Committee on Financial Services and Markets in 1999, which set up the FSA. We talked at great length about getting the balance right between protecting the industry and protecting the interests of the consumer. We did not necessarily get it right in the sense that the culture needs to evolve in a direction which is more sympathetic to the consumer.
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My Lords, we have Amendment 75 in this group, and I shall speak to it briefly. It is a gentle prod to the Government that in the clause that deals with commencement there is an extensive list of the various sections that come into play. Then at the top of the next page is just a general provision stating:
“The other provisions of this Act come into force on a day appointed by regulations”.
No date is given for that. It would be helpful if the Government could urge themselves to do a bit a more than just leave it open that regulations will come forward at some future date. A lot of what we have been talking about in this area would be helped if there was urgent action, and the urgency should apply to the regulations that need to come forward as well. I hope that will be well received by the Government at this point.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has done another good service to us in bringing forward a possible lacuna in the approach being taken by the Government. It fits in with the various sensible amendments that I have been tabling, asking the Government to look again at the way in which the financing arrangements for debt advice in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operate. I sense that there is also an issue around CMCs that needs a response. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, Amendments 74 and 76, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, seek to extend Part 2 to Scotland. I am grateful to him for the way he set out the case for this extension. The Government carefully considered the scope of claims management regulation during the development of this policy. The current framework for claims management regulation, set out in the Compensation Act 2006, limits the extent of claims management regulation to England and Wales only and this will remain the case as we transfer regulation to the FCA. The matter is currently reserved, so we cannot simply make regulations to devolve the matter to the Scottish Government.
In reaching this decision, the Government had a dialogue with the Scottish Government to establish their view. Their view, as outlined in correspondence from the Scottish Business Minister, was that there is limited evidence of malpractice by CMCs in Scotland, and they concluded that extending the scope of claims management regulation would be unnecessary and disproportionate. That view is clearly challenged, and is about to be challenged again.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl, who has been very influential, as I will explain in a moment, in persuading the Government to think about this again. I will not quote it again, but what I just quoted was the view at the time we consulted. The Scottish Government concluded that regulation would be unnecessary and disproportionate. It may well be that, from the evidence the noble Earl referred to, since then they have changed their view.
As for regulatory arbitrage, it should not mean that a firm can evade regulation by moving across the border. The Bill gives the Treasury a power to define when a person should be treated as carrying on claims management activity in England and Wales, which gives government the flexibility to adapt the definition should the market change. When exercising this power, the Government intend to capture CMCs approaching consumers in England and Wales, and CMCs taking forward their claims should be subject to FCA regulation. This mirrors the current regulatory framework, in which the requirement to be authorised is not dependent on where the CMC is located but based on where it carries out the regulated service.
With regard to nuisance calls in Scotland, the Government continue to build on a package of measures to tackle this problem across the UK. We have already delivered a number of actions, including: a measure in the Digital Economy Act 2017 making it a requirement for the Information Commissioner to issue a statutory code of practice on direct marketing; requiring all direct marketing callers to provide caller line identification; and increasing the maximum level of monetary penalty the ICO can issue to £500,000 for serious breaches of the regulations. In the light of what the noble Earl has said, we will re-engage with the Scottish Government on this issue and keep our position on claims management regulation under review.
Amendment 75, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Stevenson, seeks to establish a timescale within which the Government will commence the legislation relating to the single financial guidance body. I am not sure the amendment would do what the noble Lord wants: these regulations would have to be made within 18 months of Royal Assent, but the regulations could then provide for these sections to come into effect after 18 months have passed. I am sure that was not the intention, but that is the reading of the amendment as I have interpreted it. As indicated in our response to the consultation on the single financial guidance body, the new body will come into existence no earlier than autumn 2018. We want to ensure that we provide for the best possible transition from the existing services to the new body. We are conscious, though, that the process has already created some uncertainty for existing services and for consumers. For that reason, as well as those given by the noble Lord, we would like to move as quickly as is practicable.
We also want to provide time for the chair and chief executive to assess and contribute to the key set-up arrangements. In line with Managing Public Money principles, the Bill must have passed Second Reading in the House of Commons before a recruitment exercise for the chair and chief executive can commence. We anticipate starting this recruitment exercise as soon as possible after that point. We are working with existing services and other key stakeholders to ensure that we remain on track to establish the new body. Although I sympathise with what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve with this amendment, I assure him we have every intention of establishing the new body as soon as is practically possible and ensuring that the body is able to deliver an improved, joined-up service to meet the needs of the public.
Against the background of the undertaking I have given to the noble Earl, and the assurances I have just given to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I hope this amendment might be withdrawn and the others not pressed.
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 42E. Effectively, these amendments would ensure that anyone who received an unsolicited approach about their pension would have to go to Pension Wise before they were permitted to do anything or receive the guidance if they did not have an independent financial adviser.
I admit that this amendment is the result of the fact that we were unable to find a way to ban the cold calling that leads to the scams that we are trying to deal with here in the Bill. I also thank the Minister for the recent statement from the department that it has decided that it will ban cold calling for pensions. However, I hope your Lordships will agree that this seems like an ideal legislative vehicle in which to carry out the Government’s wish to ban cold calling and to protect the public effectively. Banning cold calling effectively protects members of the public from scams. Scams that result in people losing much or all of their pension are almost always the result of an unsolicited approach. So this is a roundabout way of trying to achieve something which is clearly in the public interest and which the Government themselves would like to do.
We could require people who had an unsolicited approach either to have a financial adviser to ensure that what they were doing was right or to have a conversation with our guidance service to assess what they were about to do. Presumably, the first question from whoever was speaking to them from the guidance service would be, “Is this the result of an unsolicited approach—a cold call or an email from someone you did not know, or a text or whatever?”. At that point, it would be possible to protect the person before they could sign away their pension in a scam. There is a classic trick of rushing people into parting with their money or signing on the dotted line by saying that it is a limited offer which is available only today or is about to run out. That would not be able to happen if somebody had had to make an appointment with Pension Wise or the guidance body and had discussed it first.
I hope that we can discuss this issue. If this is not the best way of achieving the aim, I hope that the Government will consider introducing into this Bill another method of achieving it so that we can start the ball rolling on protecting the public and getting rid of cold calls. We have done that for mortgages. I know that the Minister has said that it is a complex matter, but I would be very grateful if she could explain the complexity which means that we should pass up this opportunity to do something that the Government themselves want to do when no other legislative vehicle in which to do so is in sight for the next couple of years. I beg to move.
My Lords, has the definition of cold calling been sought from the trading standards group of scambassadors who have been looking at all types of scams? It would be incredibly helpful to have that definition. I also wonder whether this amendment is too narrow as written. However, I congratulate the noble Baroness on using this opportunity to do something that desperately needs to be done. The amount of scamming is a scandal.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I put to him the point that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, made in putting this amendment before the House. The argument is not about the principle of the opt-in process—it was clearly put in the governing party’s manifesto. The argument is about whether it is being done fairly. The noble Lord simply argued about the principle but the amendment is about the fairness of applying the principle. I am afraid that he did not listen to the clear argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and I am sorry that he did not.
My Lords, I served on the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which he chaired in a consensual, conciliatory and characteristically subtle way. I use those words in a complimentary sense, but I also think that his amendment is deceptively subtle. Ultimately, it is a wrecking amendment and I shall explain why I say that.
The background to the amendment is the report produced by the Select Committee. One of its conclusions—this was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—was that the principle of opt-in should, in effect, be accepted for all members, the only difference being over when and how it should be introduced. A second conclusion was that we were very clear that the transition period for change was far too short and should be extended. The amendment extends the transition period, and I support that.
The amendment is 50 or so lines long and I agree with about 49 of them, but I disagree with the very first line because it takes out the new section that would extend opt-in to existing members. The amendment deals, quite properly, with the transition period for new members. But by taking out the new section that deals with existing members—a proposal which was a manifesto commitment by the Conservatives and was not dependent on party-funding reform—their position does not change and they continue to be able only to opt out. Therefore, although it is deceptively persuasive, it is a wrecking amendment because it strikes at the heart of the Government’s manifesto commitment and I am afraid that I cannot support it.
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My Lords, I support Amendment 13. Paragraphs 101 to 107 of the Select Committee report dealt with our unanimous concerns—this is one of the unanimous parts of the Select Committee report—that Clause 11 would be disproportionately burdensome, especially when considered in relation to the size of the political fund contribution from members, which is an average of 9p a week. This is particularly burdensome.
Paragraph 141(e) declares our unanimous view:
“The reporting duties in clause 11 should be revised after consultation with the Certification Officer, to ensure that they are not disproportionately burdensome”.
This amendment will give effect to that unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee—I look forward to noble Lords on the Government Benches supporting the views that they agreed to.
Looking at the evidence given to the Select Committee, the Certification Officer on 9 February said, in oral evidence:
“The impact of Clause 11 will cause me a great deal of work … I can see that it will cause unions quite a lot of difficulty, for very practical reasons”.
He goes on:
“Trade unions give money from their political funds at not only national but regional and branch level, and there is a job of collating to do. If there is sometimes use of a trade union room for general political purposes, who is the recipient? There is an issue of doubt there. Each payment has to be categorised under one of the six headings in Section 72 of the 1992 Act. A lot of those overlap, so which category is it put into? … In my experience, uncertainty gives way to litigation”.
Is that the intention of the Bill?
The impact assessment, which has come in for quite a bit of criticism, says at paragraph 266:
“We therefore assume it will take a day of a trade union official’s time each year to provide the details of the specific expenditure from the political fund”.
It is on that basis that this clause is in the Bill. It is completely disproportionate and not based on any kind of proper impact assessment. Yet the next government amendment ploughs on irrespective of that.
I wonder whether anyone associated with writing the Bill has any idea how trade unions work. Trade unions have external, independent auditors who ask questions. Noble Lords on the Benches opposite who have dealings with a company will know the kinds of questions; they do not ask any different questions when they are looking at the accounts of unions. Those accounts have to go to the union conferences. The members at the union conferences analyse and debate those accounts and when it comes to the political fund, they have to list the affiliations that the union has. They have to discuss the policies of support that the union has. So transparency is already there. I wonder on what the Government are basing their argument about transparency.
The government amendment, which I hope the House will not accept, has no relevance to dealing with the disproportionality and does not assist transparency. There has been no consultation at any point with the Certification Officer—he told us that in his evidence, in direct answer to a question. There has been none with the trade unions, to which this clause will particularly apply and for which it will cause problems. Yet the Government are trying to say, “We know all about how these funds work and we are trying to get transparency”. This is a very small amendment; it does not prevent the clause going through but simply asks for consultation with the Certification Officer. I hope that the House accepts the amendment.
My Lords, the Government are committed to greater transparency for union members in the use of political funds. Members can then make an informed decision as to whether they want to contribute.
I am pleased that the Select Committee has also endorsed the principle that the current level of reporting is insufficient and that union members are entitled to a reasonable amount of detail about political expenditure.
On the amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Tyler, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, the aim of Clause 11 is to make sure that all unions meet a minimum standard of transparency. The current provisions in Clause 11 ensure that where unions spend more than £2,000 per annum from their political fund, they provide a breakdown of expenditure.
I do not believe that we should start from the position proposed in this amendment, which is to place all the detail on the level of reporting in secondary legislation. Placing these requirements on the face of the Bill helps to reduce uncertainty about what is intended—a consideration which often appeals to noble Lords.
As I said in the Select Committee debate last week, we will reflect on the technical recommendations of the committee in relation to Clause 11. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, pointed out that the provision could mean that a union would have to declare the reimbursement of a bus fare to one of its members who attended a Labour Party conference. That was never our intention. We are not trying to trip people up, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, suggested.
On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the Government have always been clear that the transparency requirements in Clause 11 are important so that members can exercise an informed choice. The proposal for a review would delay this transparency and I cannot see its rationale. However, I have said that I am open to continuing the conversation on how best to achieve improved reporting of political expenditure in the most proportionate way, and on making the requirements of the provision less onerous, with a view to coming back to this issue at Third Reading. As I said earlier, I am already planning to see the Certification Officer, which I am sure will be helpful.
Finally, I turn to the government amendment. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its careful scrutiny of this clause. It has noted that the power to substitute the £2,000 threshold in Clause 11 can be used not only to raise the amount but also to lower it again to an amount not less than £2,000. Raising the threshold would reduce the reporting requirements on unions. However, if, in the future, a Government wished to reduce the threshold back again, the reverse would happen and the reporting requirements on unions could increase considerably. I have listened carefully to concerns voiced by the committee. Our amendment ensures that any decision in future to lower the threshold would be subject to the affirmative procedure, and therefore subject to full parliamentary scrutiny. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean—if I have understood her correctly—that this would increase burdens. I hope that she agrees with me now that I have explained what is intended by this amendment.