House of Lords
Tuesday, 29 May 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Message from the Queen
My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:
“I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament”.
My Lords, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s March 2012 forecast shows public sector net debt falling as a share of gross domestic product in 2015-16. The Government are therefore on course to meet the target for debt set at the June 2010 Budget.
My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer, but since then the Bank of England has forecast that growth will be even lower and it could be lower still according to other independent forecasters. In those circumstances, the debt is likely to go on much longer. Despite that, I am happy to congratulate the Government on being willing to find up to £1 billion to help the European growth fund if needed, if asked—which I hope they are. Will the Government therefore be willing to find—because it is petty cash in the context of £1 trillion or more of national debt—the same amount or more petty cash for what the CBI is asking for: a UK growth fund for infrastructure expenditure?
My Lords, there are all sorts of good ideas and lobbying that come from all sorts of quarters, but if the Government were to treat £1 billion here or there as petty cash, the British public would be absolutely appalled with what we were doing with public expenditure. As for business investment, yes, we talk to the CBI—it comes up with a lot of good ideas—but what is important is that the provisional data for the second quarter of 2012 indicate that business investment is showing a stronger recovery than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR did not expect business investment to reach the level that we have seen in the second quarter until 2013. It is good that business investment is rising.
When the Deputy Prime Minister made his speech in the tractor factory and said that the Government had a moral duty to the next generation to wipe the slate clean for them, that we had set out a plan that lasts six or seven years to wipe the slate clean, to rid people of the dead weight of debt that had built up over time, what was he talking about? Will not the debt have gone up in six or seven years’ time by half a trillion pounds?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the main reasons for the financial crisis and the great recession was the record level of low interest rates—we were talking of 5%? Now, for three years, interest rates have been 10 times lower than that. Do the Government want to help money to flow through? Lending needs to increase to small businesses and it is not happening at the moment. Secondly, could the Minister summarise the Government’s strategy and prognosis for the interaction between debt, deficit, interest rates and inflation?
My Lords, I think we shall need a little longer on the latter part of the question. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, raises an important point in that the first thing we have to do is to ensure that interest rates are kept low. I need hardly remind the House that 10-year interest rates, as of last night, were at almost record lows at 1.75%. We want to see the benefit of those low interest rates flow through to businesses, which is why, among other things, we have the national loan guarantee scheme. In the time of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, there was not 3% inflation but it peaked at 26.9% and interest rates were more than 10%. That is why I know he is sympathetic to the challenge we have and why my right honourable friend the Chancellor is doing such a fantastic job in these difficult headwinds.
My Lords, yesterday’s government announcement on VAT will add £110 million to the annual deficit and hence cumulatively to the public debt. Will the Minister explain to the House why the announcement on VAT was not first made in Parliament, in compliance with the Ministerial Code? Will he also tell us what alternative ways of spending the £110 million of petty cash were considered? Does VAT now apply to humble pie?
My Lords, I am glad that in the space of three minutes the party opposite’s definition of petty cash has come down from £1 billion to £110 million. On a number of issues, including the VAT changes, we said that we would consult. We have consulted and we have come up with what we believe is the right approach, having talked to a range of interested parties.
My Lords, we have not heard from the Liberal Democrat Benches, so perhaps we can now.
My Lords, the Government have stated repeatedly that reducing the deficit must take priority over reform of the Barnett formula. Can the Minister tell us whether Treasury discussions with the Government in Wales have included consideration of a temporary mechanism—the so-called Barnett floor—which, although it would not solve the problem, would at least alleviate the immediate widening of the unfairness in the funding of Wales?
My Lords, we are ranging a little widely at this point. My understanding is that discussions with the Welsh Assembly are going on. We intend to report back by the end of the year. A Barnett floor is one of the ideas that I know has been put forward, among others, and is subject to the discussions with the Welsh Assembly.
In the debate on the Queen’s Speech, the noble Lord assured the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that sustainable recovery was already under way, as he has again said this morning in response to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. How does he reconcile that with the fact that we are actually plunging deeper into recession? Is this recession denial?
My Lords, if one looks, for example, at job creation over the two years since the election, the private sector has created more than 600,000 jobs at a time when some 400,000 public sector jobs have been lost. The latest figures show that unemployment is at a seven-month low. Of course we would like to see growth sustained and at a higher level, but we should not run down the very considerable achievements of the private sector in generating jobs and exports in the economy.
West Bank and Gaza
My Lords, we hold regular discussions in the European Union on aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Most recently we worked to develop and support the conclusions of the May European Union Foreign Affairs Council, which set out EU priorities for assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to maintain the viability of the two-state solution.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she realise that when David Cameron became Prime Minister, he pledged not to cut the overseas aid budget but to ensure that it was well spent? Does she also realise that in the past 10 years, $76 million-worth of damage has been done to European Union and UK-funded infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza? Does she not think that by giving this aid we are financing the illegal occupation of another country? Will the Government press the European Union to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement until the Israelis have either compensated the Palestinians for the damage or refunded the money to the European Union?
My Lords, the Government have not only maintained aid but increased it. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be pleased to know that. On aid to the Occupied Territories, the EU has sustained its level of aid, as has the United Kingdom. We make it extremely clear that demolitions do not help take things forward. It is extremely important for the future of Israel and of the Palestinians that they seek a negotiated settlement. Anything that stands in the way of that, including demolitions, is a mark against it and does not help the process.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the many UK charities that support Palestinians? I will give three examples. Olive Tree supports young Palestinian and Israeli students to come to City University for three years. The Building Bridges programme brings doctors from Palestine and Israel to the UK to train at the Royal Free Hospital. On a personal note, the Daniel Turnberg fellowship that my wife and I run provides research fellowships for Palestinians to come to the UK. There are many more; is the noble Baroness aware of them?
My Lords, since trade is the best form of aid, and since Her Majesty’s Government have repeatedly declared the illegality of settlements in the West Bank, are they prepared to explore the question of whether there should be a differential between trading and doing business with deprived parts of the West Bank under Palestinian authority and trading with the illegal settlements about which they have often spoken, almost in despair?
In 2009, the previous Government put in place a voluntary agreement on labelling produce from the settlements. It is notable that the major supermarkets in the United Kingdom have taken that forward, so that labelling is there. No preferential treatment is given to produce that comes from the settlements.
Is the Minister aware that the aid per capita to Palestinians is the highest in the world, the greatest share of British aid goes to the Palestinians rather than any other country in that area and that the living standards of Palestinians is actually higher than some of their neighbours, including Egypt and tragically Syria and Morocco? Will she assure the House that the money is being properly spent—not on corruption, terrorism and teaching hate in Palestinian schools?
The noble Baroness can be assured that the aid given by the United Kingdom is very closely monitored. It goes through the World Bank trust fund and we are encouraged by reports about how that expenditure is carried forward. I would point out that movement restrictions were estimated to cost the Palestinian economy 85% of GDP in 2010. Obviously, the more that we can do to free up the economy so that the Palestinians do not need that kind of support the better.
The noble Earl is well aware of the situation of children in the Occupied Territories. They have access to education through what the international community provides and we and the EU are very supportive of that. I am aware that the number of textbooks and the range of resources available to children there is not the same as for their Israeli counterparts. However, there is a huge commitment to education among the Palestinians and that is very encouraging.
Energy: Nuclear Power
My Lords, the Government have identified eight sites as potentially suitable for new nuclear power stations. The nuclear power industry has set out plans to develop up to 16 gigawatts of new nuclear power in the UK by 2025. Two consortia are committed to plans to build up to 10 gigawatts of new capacity. We believe that the UK is an attractive place to develop new nuclear.
My Lords, there has been a large measure of bipartisanship on this issue since the 2007 White Paper—which is a good thing, because long-term investment clearly requires a long-term investment framework. However, was not that Answer somewhat complacent? The Minister did not say that we are only 10 years away from the date when we were supposed to replace all the AGRs and that not a single firm commitment has been made to build a single station. He also never mentioned that two of the most promising investors—E.ON and RWE—have just pulled out. Is it not time for the Government, including the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, to display a greater degree of urgency on this matter? Do they not also need to take a slightly more pragmatic and flexible view of financial models and counterparty arrangements, including arrangements that might be necessary although they are contrary to the coalition agreement?
My Lords, I should like first to thank all noble Lords for their support for the nuclear endeavour—it has been cross-party, as the noble Lord mentioned. I was not quite sure whether the noble Lord was not attacking his own party, because we have had 13 years of no activity in new nuclear. It has been 27 years since a new nuclear power station has been commissioned. We are on the cusp of commissioning a new station in this country, at Hinkley Point. By December 2012, despite all the difficulties that we have encountered with Fukushima and things like that, the planning process will be before the Secretary of State for him to opine on.
My Lords, will the Minister give a commitment from the Government to explore the alternative nuclear fuel of thorium over uranium, not least because of the timescale to which he referred, but also because many of us regard it as a far safer source of material? It is greatly greener and more secure, and it needs a commitment to explore it and to put research money into it. I would be grateful for the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the subject of thorium comes up quite frequently when we consider nuclear, and of course it would be wrong of any Government not to explore all the potentially new ways of developing new nuclear. Indeed, the opposition Benches are always pressing on this subject. The Government are of course open to looking at thorium. At the moment, however, our priority is to get Hinkley Point going as quickly as possible.
My Lords, listening to this exchange takes me back 50 years to when I wrote the original Treasury paper on choice of investment in generating stations. Let me add that I got the analysis perfectly right but the facts completely wrong. In particular, I spent my time emphasising the correct rate of interest to use when the main thing that none of us forecast was the rise in the price of oil—but that is another matter. One can moan on year in, year out, but what is vitally important now is that we build some stations. Do I take it that the Government at least agree that it is about time that we got started? The planning process is so long and complex that that in itself can get in the way and cause the whole country to black out.
Obviously, my Lords, I was running round in shorts 50 years ago—and in fact even now I barely understand what the noble Lord is saying. However, he is absolutely right that the fundamental point is that we need to get on with this. As I said, we will have planning permission in front of the Secretary of State by the end of this year, by December, on which he will opine until March 2013 at the latest.
My Lords, although the energy Bill quite rightly spells out the details of the electricity market reform, which the industry regards as an extremely important element in helping it to reach its decision, it does not yet contain what is called the strike price. What will be the figure, and when will the Government be prepared to announce it? The strike price is what the industry is waiting for.
As my noble friend rightly says, electricity market reform is fundamental to the setting out of future investment criteria and investment possibilities and predictability. However, we do not want to put the cart before the horse, and we want to make sure that everyone understands electricity market reform. At that point we will have a process whereby the Secretary of State will opine, having received—
My Lords, the Government’s daft—I am sorry, I mean draft—energy Bill has been described as a potential train wreck and a deterrent to investment. Can the Minister please explain why the Government have chosen to ignore the considerable expertise and experience on energy issues available in this House by giving noble Lords just two weeks, one of them in the recess, to submit written comments to the pre-legislative scrutiny process? Do the Government not wish noble Lords to help stave off another contribution to the omni-shambles?
The fact is that we have enormous expertise and knowledge in this House. On the last Bill I included everyone I possibly could in the debate and that will continue—that is a commitment from me. We cannot take this Bill forward without the enormous expertise in this room, which is hugely appreciated by the Government. Noble Lords have our commitment to that.
My Lords, leaving aside the estimated subsidy of about £8,000 per UK household to build new nuclear power stations, how confident is the Minister in the future of EDF as a nuclear power partner, given the fact that it is 83% state-owned and President Hollande has committed to cutting back France’s nuclear programme substantially?
Naturally I have had many discussions with EDF and AREVA, two of the key French operators. We feel confident—and, much more to the point, they feel confident—that Britain offers them a very good future for new nuclear. At the moment there is nothing to shake my confidence.
My Lords, eight minutes seems like a long time. The UK enjoys a domestic gas supply and extensive import infrastructure and storage. The Government have given Ofgem new powers to strengthen the commercial incentives for the gas market participants to meet their contractual supply obligations. We have also asked Ofgem to report on the need for further measures to improve gas security.
My Lords, it seems clear from the draft energy Bill that over the next few years, before new nuclear and fossil fuel plants with carbon capture and storage come into operation, we shall be increasingly dependent on gas supplies, as the Minister stated, particularly imports as our own resources from the North Sea diminish. Does the Minister agree that in those circumstances and in view of the fact that a number of major countries have indicated their intention to reduce their nuclear power generation, which will increase pressure on gas supplies, it is particularly urgent that we take additional measures to safeguard our supplies, given that rather seriously developing situation?
I totally agree, although I am not sure I agree that there is a seriously developing situation. We now have 240 years of gas supply throughout the world, which is extremely encouraging. What is more, that gas supply is very liberally scattered across countries such as Mozambique, which has just discovered gas, and Algeria, which has discovered more shale gas, as has America. I do not hold with the last point made by the expert noble Lord.
However, clearly this is no time for complacency and this may be an opportunity for me to say that we have 150% of LNG capacity in this country above demand. We are increasing the amount of storage by 20%. We still have just under 50% of our own supply. We have had unprecedented demand for our new round of licences. So the situation is not as gloomy as the noble Lord indicated.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the best way of safeguarding our gas supplies is the most rapid development of our indigenous shale gas resources? Will he give an undertaking that the Government will present no impediment to the rapid exploration and development of our own shale gas?
I cannot guarantee that there will be no impediments; nor would my noble friend expect me to. The reality is that we are taking this very thoroughly and steadily. The Government fully support this development. At the moment, according to the British Geological Survey, shale gas equates to only 5% to 10% of our potential gas supply, but it is still a significant figure.
Given that the gas is coming from countries that are not the most stable in the world, that the nuclear power programme is falling behind, as we heard in reply to the earlier Question, that the BP oil deal with Russia is in great difficulties, as we have heard today, and that our largest oil refinery is facing closure, is the Minister not being just a little complacent?
I might be many things, but I do not think that the noble Lord will find me being complacent. I do not agree with him that gas is coming from unsafe places. Twenty per cent of our gas comes from Norway, with which I think we would all agree we have a safe and clear relationship; 5% to 10% comes from the Netherlands, with which we have another strong relationship; and, of course, 50% is from our own supply. We are not being complacent. We have given planning permission for another 20% of storage. We have made sure that our LNG stations are the best in the world. Ofgem is continually on the case in its work, and our gas generation strategy, which we hope to announce in the autumn, will be a fundamental game changer in that regard.
Does my noble friend agree that there would be a greater chance of increasing the amount of gas storage in this country—we have far less than all the other countries in the European continent—if there were a statutory obligation on gas suppliers, similar to the one that affects suppliers of petroleum, to maintain a reserve in this country? This would enable those who are planning storage plant to raise the capital to pay for it.
Storage is important, but one has to remember that we have 16 days of storage and planning permission for a 20% increase on that. Storage is therefore increasing, but the fundamental fact is that 150% of the nation’s supply of LNG is capable of being delivered and processed very quickly. So I do not think that storage is the be all and end all, particularly as we have three dedicated pipelines—one from the Netherlands, one from Norway and one from our own supply—which give us about 80% plus of our supply. I am therefore not as hung up on storage as the noble Lord might expect me to be.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I am sorry if I caused him to lose his way; perhaps I shall try an easier question. Although gas as well as electricity is used for heating, the excuse given in the electricity market reform Bill for the Government focusing just on electricity is that there will be a greater uptake of electrical heating. What are they doing to promote the uptake of electrical heating and will they regulate to prevent the installation of gas into new buildings?
That is a much easier question, I must admit, although it is not one to which I have a ready answer—I might refer to the Leader again. Gosh, is that the time? I really have now lost my way, again. We are encouraging all forms of heat into homes. It will be price driven and consumer demand driven, and it is fundamentally important that the consumer has the best possible pricing and the cheapest possible electricity and heating, so the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that.
Referendum (European Union) Bill [HL]
A Bill to make provision for the holding of a referendum in the United Kingdom on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Willoughby de Broke, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
My Lords, the issue of policy announcements being made when Parliament is not sitting was raised by my noble friend Lord Eatwell, but, naturally, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, did not address it.
Perhaps I may read a brief extract from the Ministerial Code. It states:
“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament … Every effort should be made to avoid leaving significant announcements to the last day before a recess”.
Why then did the policy changes in relation to VAT have to be made now? If they did, why did the Government not adhere to the Ministerial Code and make the announcement to Parliament? We are one of the Houses of Parliament.
I mention in passing an article by the Chancellor in today’s Daily Mail in which he announces a profound change in policy, some of which I am sure is very welcome, in relation to courts’ and coroners’ proceedings being conducted in secret. Why was that announcement made in the Daily Mail today and not to Parliament?
My Lords, on the latter part I think the noble Baroness will find that a Bill will be published soon on this matter. On the first point, which is significant, she said, quite rightly, that the Ministerial Code says that important and significant announcements should be made to Parliament first. The issue on the pasty tax is of course very good news; on the caravan tax, it is also very good news to those who live in and own static caravans. I do not think that it is the most significant or important decision that this Government have ever made. I suspect, although I do not know for certain, that the Treasury felt this was not the most significant announcement to make and therefore did not inform Parliament by way of an Oral Statement.
On behalf of this House, will the Leader of the House undertake to explain to his colleagues in the House of Commons that the fact that they are not sitting does not mean that Parliament is not sitting? In passing, will he also let us know why this Government seem persistently to revert to a situation where one House is sitting and the other is not? The previous Administration, if I may say so, made determined efforts to work as a bicameral parliament, with both Houses sitting at the same time. The Leader of the House can find the records for this.
Even if the noble Lord is trying to tell us that somehow this business of pasty taxes and caravan taxes is trivial; and even if, being generous to the Chancellor, it was an oversight on his part that the House of Lords is sitting but that the House of Commons is not; and even if the Chancellor had a Eureka moment between the House of Commons rising last Thursday and midday yesterday, at the very least the Government could have righted the wrong by making a proper Statement to this House. Perhaps the Treasury Minister, who is in his place, could do it for us. Above all, the Government need to understand that when this House is sitting, part of Parliament is sitting and they are answerable to us.
I have a simple question. I have never eaten a Cornish pasty in my life and I do not propose to start now. I gather that the comparison is with boeuf en croute, which is another matter. Where I am a bit lost is that from the answer the noble Lord the Leader of the House gave to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition I could not work out whether his argument is that this is a trivial matter and therefore we should not be fussing. Can we assume that no one from the Treasury will in due course say, “What a great thing we have done because it was a totally trivial matter”?
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that yesterday HMRC increased the tax on skips depositing in landfill sites from £2.50 per tonne to £64 per tonne, with no notice? That is an increase of nearly 2,500%. I thought that those sorts of figures were from wonga.com, not HMRC. Is he not aware of the great risk to business that causes and that it should therefore have been brought to Parliament and announced here?
My Lords, whatever the view of the noble Lord the Leader of the House about caravans and Cornish pasties, he must see that the changes that have been made to the courts and coroners proposals are highly significant. When my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition put her original question, she stressed that point to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Unless I am mistaken, he did not address that very important point in his initial answer to her. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to take that point into account now in his reply to the House.
My Lords, I was trying to be sensitive to the feelings of the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. The Bill had its First Reading in this House yesterday, was published this morning and is in the Public Bill Office for all noble Lords to read. Perhaps I can thank the noble Baroness for making sure that noble Lords recognise what happened in the House yesterday; the information is therefore there for all to read.
That is evidence that announcements made in Parliament are very often ignored. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is making a mountain out of a molehill. The pasty tax is not a trivial matter, but it is surely not the most important and significant matter that we are dealing with.
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider Her Majesty’s Government’s assistance and promotion of the export of products and services by small and medium-sized enterprises, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Cohen of Pimlico, L Cope of Berkeley (Chairman), B Drake, L Empey, L Grade of Yarmouth, L Haskel, L Haskins, B Kramer, L Mawson, L Mitchell, L Popat, L Storey;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the European Union;
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published;
That the Committee do report by 28 February 2013;
That the Report of the Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
Public Service Provision
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider public service provision in the light of demographic change, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
L Bichard, B Blackstone, E Dundee, L Filkin (Chairman), B Finlay of Llandaff, L Mawhinney, B Morgan of Huyton, B Shephard of Northwold, L Tope, L Touhig, B Tyler of Enfield, V Younger of Leckie;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published;
That the Committee do report by 28 February 2013;
That the Report of the Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the statute law about adoption, and to make recommendations, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
B Armstrong of Hill Top, B Butler-Sloss (Chairman), B Eaton, V Eccles, B Hamwee, B Howarth of Breckland, B King of Bow, B Knight of Collingtree, B Morris of Bolton, L Morris of Handsworth, B Walmsley, L Warner;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published;
That the Committee do report by 28 February 2013;
That the Report of the Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
Terrorism Act 2000 (Codes of Practice for the Exercise of Stop and Search Powers) Order 2012
Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Code of Practice for the Video Recording with Sound of Post-Charge Questioning) Order 2012
Terrorism Act 2000 (Video Recording with Sound of Interviews and Associated Code of Practice) Order 2012
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Codes C, G and H) Order 2012
Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Controlled Activity and Prescribed Criteria) Regulations 2012
Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2012
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
My Lords, we have no points of order in this House, but I have received advice from the Clerks that this is perhaps the right moment to raise an issue and ask if Ministers and the Procedure Committee will look at our Business, particularly on days when we are about to rise for a recess. We have four short debates today. I make no complaint about the time allocated to mine or to two of the others, but it is really a bit strange that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury should be reduced to a contribution of one minute in a debate when there are 24 speakers and when there really are no constraints upon us. We could surely sit until 4.30 pm, 5.30 pm or 6.30 pm. We could surely have a better distribution of time between debates. I ask that my noble friends and the usual channels look at this in consultation with the Procedure Committee. It does not reflect well on this House when people with the knowledge to make the contributions which we know that they will make to this debate are reduced to one minute each.
My Lords, perhaps I can help. I understand your Lordships’ frustration with the time limit, particularly today. I would say two things. First, a fortnight ago on 16 May, your Lordships’ House itself agreed to the one-hour time limit for each of today’s Questions for Short Debate. That limit has since been advertised on the Forthcoming Business. Secondly, the Companion makes it clear that Questions for Short Debate last for a maximum of one hour and should therefore be limited in scope.
The QSD is not the only route, of course, to the Order Paper. Balloted debates like last Thursday’s last two and a half hours, and party debates are flexible. Today is also not unprecedented: as recently as February this year, we had a QSD limited to one minute per speaker. However, I will of course take my noble friend’s point back to the usual channels.
Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (Amendment) Order 2012
Motion to Approve
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it is a great privilege to have the opportunity to initiate this debate. Before I begin, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on his debate last week, which also focused on the contribution of ethnic and religious communities in Britain. I know that many noble Lords here also participated in that debate and I am grateful for their presence in the Chamber today. Sometimes debates are like buses: you wait for ever for a debate on the contribution of faith communities to Britain and then two come along at once. However, given that this weekend we will celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to focus mainly on the second portion of today’s Question—on the relationship between faith communities and the Queen—and to draw attention to the gracious way in which she has guided and sustained this nation through one of its most challenging transitions into a multiethnic, multicultural and multifaith society.
Many tributes have been and will be rightly paid to Her Majesty for her six decades of sustained and dedicated service to the nation, but one aspect of it in particular should not be forgotten. It is not easy for any society to undergo change, least of all when that change touches on such fundamental markers of identity as religion, ethnicity and culture. It is even harder in a nation where there is an established church to make other faiths feel welcomed, valued and at home, but that is precisely what Her Majesty has done. I believe I speak for us all if I say that we are lifted, blessed and enlarged by the generosity of spirit in which she has done so.
Many noble Lords will wish to add their perspectives, and we will hear today from Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other Jewish Members of this House, as well as being honoured by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, together with his predecessors, has done so much personally to contribute to our national ecology of tolerance and mutual respect.
Let me simply say on behalf of the Jewish communities of Britain and the Commonwealth how much we have appreciated Her Majesty’s kindness to us and to others. This is something of a miracle in itself since Jews hardly ever agree on anything, but on this we are united. It is astonishing how far this spreads. For the past year, wherever I have travelled to Jewish communities throughout the world, one of the first questions I have been asked is, “How was the royal wedding?”. In the United States, in several synagogues that I visited in February, to my astonishment they sang “God Save the Queen”. It may have been the first time since 1776 that they have done so. Each week in all our synagogues, we say a prayer for the Queen and the Royal Family, and this week we will say a special prayer of thanksgiving to mark her Diamond Jubilee and the great gift of her leadership and service.
There are rare individuals whose greatness speaks across all ethnic and religious divides. Her Majesty is such an individual and we are truly blessed by her. She has spoken often of her personal faith and of the Church of England, of which she is the head. However, she has spoken equally of the contribution that all other faith communities have made to the life of the nation. At Lambeth Palace in February, in one of the first official engagements of the jubilee year, she reminded us of how faith itself—not just Christian faith—recalls us to the responsibilities that we have beyond ourselves, and of how, together with the Church of England, other faith communities were increasingly active in helping the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged.
In 1952, the first year of her reign, Her Majesty became the patron of the Council of Christians and Jews, the organisation founded 10 years earlier, in the Holocaust years, by Archbishop William Temple and Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz. It was one of the first great interfaith organisations in Britain. Today there are hundreds of such groups, creating friendships across the boundaries between faiths where otherwise there might have been suspicion and fear. One of the greatest of them, the Interfaith Network, is this year celebrating its silver jubilee; and as we speak, another new initiative, Interfaith Explorers, is being launched at the Regent’s Park mosque in the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of York. That, too, is a reminder of how much other members of the Royal family, such as His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and others, have done in their own right to make all nine of the major faith communities in Britain feel recognised and respected.
We are enriched by our religious diversity. Each faith is a candle; none is diminished by the light of others; and together they help banish some of the darkness in the human heart. I know of few places in the world where friendship across faiths is more vigorously pursued than in Britain. For the way in which she has led and encouraged this great opening of hearts and minds to one another, as for so much else, Her Majesty has lifted our spirits and earned our thanks.
Might I therefore humbly ask Her Majesty's Government two simple questions? First, how have they recognised the role and contribution of faith communities, as Her Majesty has done over her 60-year reign, and how will they continue to do so in the future? Secondly, could they find a way to convey to Her Majesty the thanks of all Britain’s faith communities for all she has given us and all she has inspired us to give to others?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, on his contribution. I also congratulate him on securing this sell-out debate, the way in which he introduced it and the leadership which he gives within this House and in wider society on the importance of faith as a force for good. I associate myself absolutely with his generous remarks about Her Majesty the Queen and her example through faith.
At its best, religion is the wellspring from which societies are refreshed and our attitudes and institutions are irrigated. At its best, religion builds bridges of understanding; at its worst, it builds walls of prejudice. At its best, it is the measure by which we seek to live our own lives; at its worst, it is the stick we use to judge others whose lives and choices we disapprove of. At its best, religion is a light in dark times which guides us and gives us hope that tomorrow can be better than today, but only if we are prepared to devote ourselves sacrificially to making it so. At its best, religion inspires us to rise above the narrow confines of our own experience to reach out and serve the needs of others. I believe that over the past 60 years we can take pleasure from the fact that we have seen far more of the best of religion in this nation. I hope that over the next 60 years we will see and be more of the same.
My Lords, I too thank the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for his inspiring words. I agree with them absolutely. My one-minute message is this: God helps who help themselves. Perhaps that is a little audacious in a debate with such religious luminaries, but the point I want to make is that nowadays faith communities that function well as faith communities function well in society as a whole. For this, we need social capital.
In the Jewish community we have an organisation called Jewish Policy Research; I declare an interest, as the honorary president. This organisation works for all strands of the community, from secular Jews to the ultra-orthodox. It provides information about deprivation, the elderly, child poverty, education in Jewish schools and patterns of charitable giving. It takes a snapshot from the national census. These trends and information enable the community to create social capital; this is essential if the community is to contribute to the inclusive society that we all seek. We cannot have an inclusive society if the faith communities themselves are not inclusive.
My Lords, I thank the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for this important debate. The Commonwealth represents many faiths; as head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty the Queen has united many nations towards a community of communities built on justice, peace and democracy. History will record Britain’s transition from a colonial empire to a society based on equality and diversity as a major contribution made by Her Majesty the Queen. In her reign, we have enjoyed the longest period of stability in the United Kingdom. Equality and diversity are at the core of everything we do; despite this, we worry about our national identity. As Amartya Sen said:
“Identities are robustly plural; the importance of one need not obliterate the importance of others”.
We celebrate the rights and responsibilities that come with British citizenship—the rights of all people to live in peace, to get an education and to get a job and raise a family. We now need to move towards a common citizenship. The aim must be social inclusion, tolerance, equality and a diverse society where human rights flourish. What we can all do is strengthen our resolve to be loyal to the Queen and the country.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s 60-year reign has encompassed six Roman pontiffs and six Archbishops of Westminster. Her Catholic subjects have increased from 4.4 million to 6.6 million people and, in the Commonwealth, from 25 million to 140 million people. More than 800,000 children are now educated in 2,278 Catholic schools in this country, and 1,000 independent Catholic charities helped at least 800,000 people last year. That snapshot of flourishing faith-based activity indicates why Her Majesty’s Catholic subjects have good reason to celebrate in a spirit of true ecumenism the Diamond Jubilee of a Queen whose life embodies religious tolerance and the principle of duty and whose own faith has been such an inspiration, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, reminded us so eloquently today, throughout her wonderful 60 years.
My Lords, like all of us, I am much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for initiating this important discussion and doing so in this particularly auspicious year. It is a pleasure to pay tribute to someone who has done so much to maintain a credible and challenging presence for religious perspectives in the public sphere.
When people speak as though religion were automatically a problem in our public life, nationally and internationally, this often reflects a plain lack of historical and cultural awareness. Usually through no fault of their own, a generation of administrators and local officials has grown up with little or no sense of how our political and legal history in this country has become what it is as a direct result of a long conversation with the Jewish and Christian intellectual world, with the ethics and theology of human responsibility characteristic of that world. A failure to acknowledge this leads to the dangerous assumption that our political and legal settlement needs no argument in its defence because it is obvious to all right-thinking people. But if we are to sustain our legacy of dignity before the law, participative government and hospitality towards minorities, we had better be aware of just how and why our ancestors developed such a political ethic and what depth of thought and imagination is needed to keep it alive. That failure of understanding is, of course, one of the things that lies behind the reluctance in recent years to develop effective partnership between statutory bodies and faith groups in the work of social regeneration. But at present the auguries are good, for a change, in that respect.
I want to allude very briefly to the importance of this in the international as well as the national context and take this opportunity to welcome the work being done by the Department for International Development on protocols for partnership with faith organisations in the field of aid and development. The potential here is enormous, and I encourage the Government to do all that they can to work with the grain of this increasing sharing of our vision for international justice and well-being.
My Lords, not everything in the garden is rosy. I must say that there are a few thorns among the roses. We really need to be more aware of what is happening to many of the women in the faith communities in this country. Noble Lords would expect me to speak about this subject. There are forced marriages and honour killings, and there is the rise of Sharia family law, which discriminates against women. Every child over seven automatically goes to the father; women cannot obtain Sharia divorces and, if they do not get Sharia divorces, the man can claim the children and the wife at any time, anywhere. So we have to look at the negatives as well.
I admire the Queen more than anybody else. I live in Maidenhead and have been mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead. She is a wonderful person; I wonder whether she knows what is happening to women. I would say to all people here from faith communities that they should remember that none of the faiths has ever supported women.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for bringing this topic before the House.
I pay tribute to the faith leaders, groups and communities who have welcomed strangers with open arms in their hour of need and who have helped to make Britain and the Commonwealth a home to those strangers. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of tens of thousands of Asians from Uganda, many of whom arrived here penniless and were entirely reliant on the generosity and kindness of the British Government and our faith communities. Faith communities of all religions and denominations, particularly a large number of Christian organisations and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have helped Ugandan Asians in Britain, from the handing out of overcoats at the airport to the support we have had in developing and integrating our community. We have been blessed to receive such support. In the year in which we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I wish to say one simple thing to all those communities who, through compassion and love, have helped my fellow Ugandans to find a home: thank you.
My Lords, 60 seconds, lots to say: faith a wonderful thing; people of faith an army of active and willing participants in the good society; millions of tasks done with compassion, many repetitive, routine, humble; neighbourly deeds performed with love to anyone in need, whether or not they have faith; the struggle for justice; fighting racism, fascism, poverty; seeking to establish millennium development goals; something to believe in; lots of fun; and a vision to live and die for. I am proud to be a person of faith. And all this in just a minute without repetition, deviation or—I nearly said “repetition” twice, which would be repetition.
My Lords, we have heard moving contributions from those speaking about all kinds of faith communities. Jews have found a safe haven in this country and the Commonwealth for many years under British sovereigns. Her Majesty and her father have continued the tradition of welcoming the contributions of the Jewish community to the life and richness of Britain through some of our trying times. She has more than followed in the steps of Queen Victoria, when Sir Moses Montefiore showed how one can be a passionate Jew and a passionate Englishman.
In the new Elizabethan age over the past 60 years, the world has changed at a frantic pace. However, faith has been a bedrock of stability in often difficult times. This country is all the better for its diversity, and that diversity is experienced nowhere more than in the variety of faith groups that now exist in this country. May Her Majesty’s reign go from strength to strength, that we may move forward towards the vision of Isaiah, where,
“nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for this debate. In many instances where there has been conflict the root of the problem can be religion intertwined with politics. This was true of Northern Ireland, where I lived through the Troubles and saw at first hand how this can and does affect the lives of people caught up in the divide. However, I have also seen changes and how people from different faiths are now recognising the need for dialogue, peace and harmony. The Good Friday agreement and the St Andrews agreement have achieved understanding and peace. The power-sharing arrangement is a good model of people coming together and working for peace. Northern Ireland has been transformed as a place to live and to practise faith with tolerance and in harmony.
Her Majesty’s royal visit to Dublin last year was a pivotal moment, bringing a message of good will for all communities working as one. It brought people together and went a long way to healing age-old differences. During her Majesty’s reign she has reinforced the message of peace, harmony and hope to communities across the world.
My Lords, I would also like to show my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, not only for initiating this debate but for the leadership that he has shown in my community, the Jewish community. I also appreciate being able to participate in the debate with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and to reflect for a moment that those two figures have combined an absolute commitment to tradition with citizenship and modernity. That can be done only through tradition, and it is only in our country, with a monarchy that has reference to tradition, that we can have this sort of participation in the public sphere. More than anything, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for allowing me to pay tribute to Her Majesty and the graciousness with which she has fulfilled her duty. It is also hugely important that we did not have a revolution like the French Revolution and we allowed a means by which people of faith can participate and speak in a public role.
I pay tribute to the Muslim community in east London, with whom I have worked, and to the East London Mosque for its work on the living wage with the Catholic Church, the nonconformist churches and the Church of England. The tradition of a person is not just as a commodity or unit of administration but is a genuinely moral conception. It is the great paradox of our time that it is only with faith that we can fulfil the dream of citizenship.
My Lords, like so many other speakers, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. Next year, he is due to retire from his position as Chief Rabbi, and it is perhaps appropriate that there should be an occasion in this House to acknowledge his remarkable contribution that has enabled the changes that have taken place generally within the community to proceed so well. It is, indeed, a marvellous thing to be a Member of a House of Parliament such as this where so many faiths are represented and so many can contribute.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for initiating this debate and for his personal contributions to faith communities across Britain. It was Kipling who wrote:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With 60 seconds’ worth of distance run”.
Here is my effort. I can think of no better words than those in the prayer of my own Muslim community to Her Majesty, which is:
“In the name of God, the gracious, the merciful: O Powerful and Noble God. Through your Grace and Blessings keep our honoured Queen forever happy in the same way that we are living happily under her benevolence and kindness; and be kind and loving towards her in the same way that we are living in peace and prosperity under her generous and righteous rule”.
Adorned on many a London bus is a message not just of a Muslim community to the Queen but a message of all communities to the Queen: “Congratulations Your Majesty!” and thank you.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak today and to congratulate my dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, on this remarkable debate. I am proud to be president of the Commonwealth Jewish Council, an organisation that is celebrating its 30th anniversary of working and supporting truly unique and diverse Jewish communities throughout the Commonwealth. Each community brings its own values to enrich its country—whether it is a large community such as that in South Africa, which fought against Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and apartheid, or the small thriving Jewish community of only 10 families in New Delhi, who I visited recently and whose ancient heritage is respected and intertwined with other faiths in India—a country built upon many different cultural and historical traditions. Looking back over the past 60 years, we must all recognise and celebrate the contribution of faith communities who brought their individuality to our country and to the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for introducing this important debate. I have been a minister in the United Reformed Church for nearly 30 years, serving in some of Britain’s poorest communities. One thing that I have noticed over the years is that the state tends to be utilitarian, narrow and sectional in its approach, as heard on the BBC “Today” programme in a report about how hospitals are discharging people literally on to the streets. This approach, as well as being uncaring and limited, is also bad from a business perspective because these people will simply end up back in casualty.
In contrast, faith organisations in general have a broader view of care for the whole person. They have a wider concern for those they help rather than a narrow, sectional interest, and this is why they should be involved in the delivery of public services. I hope that policymakers within government will take this point into account as we move forward with the restructuring of the National Health Service and are all encouraged to embrace a localism agenda.
Does the Minister agree that the biggest change in the past six decades has been the transformation of the global community, including the Commonwealth, from a world full of glass ceilings and barriers to a world where there is increasingly opportunity for all, regardless of race, religion or background, and where the glass ceiling has been well and truly shattered? Do the Government agree that, although discrimination unfortunately still lingers and we have a lot more work to do, overall the picture has changed dramatically for the better since Her Majesty was crowned 60 years ago, to one where faith communities have opened people’s eyes, where tolerance has progressed to a celebration of the enormous success of minority faith communities in countries such as Britain, where even tiny communities such as mine, the Zoroastrian Parsees, have achieved so much against all odds, and where the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, and his community are an exemplar? Today, thanks to the achievement of these individuals reaching the very top, the minority faith communities have been an inspiration to the wider communities and countries into which they have integrated.
Do the Government also agree that enormous credit for this transformation is, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, said, due for the way in which Her Majesty has fostered an environment of secularism, multiculturalism, pluralism and meritocracy, creating opportunity for all, and that this is truly the crowning jewel of the Diamond Jubilee of her 60 years on the throne?
My Lords, perhaps the major contribution needed from our faith communities today is job creation. Alas, I do not mean increased church attendance necessitating more vicars but the new social enterprise, the Cathedral Innovation Centre, being launched this very week by the Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, the very reverend David Brindley.
The cathedral had redundant good-quality office space, which it agreed to make available for 14 job-creation, start-up businesses at a peppercorn rent. This represents an in-kind contribution of over £50,000 across three years. The centre will offer highly experienced business mentors who are volunteers from Hampshire’s congregations, and a micro loan fund from Parity Trust to back the ventures, as well as using the Chancellor’s Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme so that taxpayers who back a firm get 50% tax relief. Both Portsmouth Business School at the University of Portsmouth and the Royal Society of Arts have, unsurprisingly, already become partners. If 61 cathedrals in England joined them, the Cathedral Innovation Centre would become a movement, which in the 61st year of the Queen’s reign could see more than 600 new businesses created. What a wonderful Jubilee legacy that would be.
In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for initiating this debate, I remind him that the second bus is less crowded, has more seating and is a much more pleasant experience. For my community—the Jewish community—Her Majesty’s reign has been a golden era. There are fewer than 300,000 Jews in the UK but we are prominent in many aspects of our national life, from the professions to the arts, science, academia, business, philanthropy and, yes, even politics. In this House alone, 10% of the Members are of the Jewish faith. Indeed, the leader of my own political party has a Jewish background and—who knows?—in the next few years we could have our first Jewish Prime Minister since Disraeli. All this has happened because this country is so tolerant and welcoming and so encouraging of its minority faiths to succeed.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sacks for initiating this debate. Interfaith relations have come a long way in the 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign with her blessing and that of members of her family. The CCJ was in place 10 years earlier but these 60 years have seen a burgeoning of interfaith understanding with the World Council of Religions for Peace, the Abraham Fund, the International CCJ, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, the Inter Faith Network, the Three Faiths Forum, the Coexistence Trust and the Woolf Institute. I could go on and on but we have only a minute.
We now need to move beyond interfaith dialogue to interfaith action. It is my dream, alongside that of many others, that before this Jubilee year is out, firm plans will be in place to establish a multifaith school, something that some of us, including my noble friend who is in his place today, have been planning since the Golden Jubilee and for which we need the Government’s help. We have managed a multifaith hospice and now we must learn to educate our children together in all faiths, following the wonderful example of the integrated schools in Northern Ireland and the Hand in Hand schools in Israel. For me, that would be the culmination of the faiths’ contribution in this Diamond Jubilee year and in its spirit.
My Lords, the Human Rights Act has played a major role in securing, on a statutory basis, the freedom of religious belief. However, the protection of the freedom to manifest belief has become much more controversial. The courts have got into the position of having to determine whether a particular practice is intrinsic to a religion or not. The different findings by the courts on this issue have some potential for creating tension and even resentment between different religions. We would be much better off if we abandoned this attempt by the courts to sit as some kind of theological tribunal to determine whether this, that or the other practice is intrinsic to a religion, and tolerated, as far as we can, all manifestations of religious belief so long as they do not cause harm to other people.
We can share a concept of harm—it is a broadly based citizenship approach—whereas a court trying to determine what is intrinsic to a religion is a very hermetic thing that will be a source of increasing resentment as time goes on. We ought to abandon that kind of approach altogether.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend and colleague Lord Sacks for his moving and inspiring words. I have mild criticism for my noble friend Lady Flather for saying that no religion has ever done anything for women.
I begin by applauding the work of Her Majesty and the royal family and their kindness in welcoming different faith communities. Readings from other faiths were a central part of the Queen's Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey even before the founding of the Inter Faith Network 25 years ago. As part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations, Her Majesty visited places of worship of other faiths, including a gurdwara in Leicester, and the Prince of Wales and other royals have joined us in our different celebrations.
The Government too have been welcoming, after some initial wariness of what one official described as “all that bowing and chanting”. In the 1980s, the importance of faith communities was recognised with the formation of the Inner Cities Religious Council, which later became the Faith Communities Consultative Council. My suggestion, through the Inter Faith Network, that we start the new millennium with an all-faiths service of reflection and reconciliation was enthusiastically taken up with a service in the Royal Gallery of this House. Our different faiths have responded well by contributing to the economic and social life of this country, but we have much more to do. We still seem to see our different religions as mutually exclusive, while in reality we share common values that are centred on responsible living. The challenge for us in this Jubilee year is to work with others in secular society to bring these values to the fore, and to change an obsession with the culture of “me and mine” to one of greater responsibility and active concern for others.
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, I welcome the many contributions, including that of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—and we hope not for the last time—from the Bishops’ Benches. I shall not repeat what has been said but I note that religious practice correlates with higher levels of volunteering and participation in civic society. I most appreciate that voluntary work in the field of alcohol misuse. The Salvation Army is there day after day, night after night, throughout the year.
Today’s debate is about government support for the role of faith communities. My question was foreshadowed in the debate last week. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, responded but is not in her place today. Why have the Government disbanded, without consultation, the Faith Communities Consultative Council, and what do they propose to put in its place? As perhaps the only noble Lord here who has no faith, as an outsider I pay homage to the work of the faith communities, and even more to that of the interfaith communities. We need you and we hope that your work will continue.
My Lords, if every debate in the House of Lords were conducted with one-minute speeches, we would achieve an enormous amount. This has been a most gracious debate. At the beginning the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, asked if there was any way in which the debate could be conveyed to Her Majesty. The Palace has already been alerted to it and we will see that a report goes back through the proper channels.
I am very honoured to reply on behalf of the Government. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, not only for initiating the debate but for being a distinguished scholar and spiritual leader, and a globally respected ambassador for the Jewish community. He has done as much as anyone alive to focus our attention on the challenges of community in the global environment and to introduce us as a nation to the principles of respectful co-existence. For that we honour him.
I will first echo his remarks about the Queen’s role in welcoming minority faith communities to our country. Her Majesty was the first monarch to enter a British mosque, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara. The reception for representatives of nine different faiths held for her Golden Jubilee 10 years ago demonstrated their affection for her. Comments today from noble Lords confirmed it. The affection is clearly shared across the Commonwealth by people of all faiths who have seen at first hand Her Majesty’s genuine respect for and interest in their religions, while recognising that of course she is not only the head of state but head of the established church.
In 1952 when the Queen ascended the throne, Christianity in Britain was not only the predominant but in many areas the only visible religion. It underpinned the standards and morals of society. Since then we have received into our midst practising Muslims from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, Pentecostal Christians from Africa and the Caribbean, Hindus and Sikhs from India and east Africa, Catholic and Orthodox Christians from eastern Europe and many more from many other places—some coming here for asylum, others joining family and friends. All of them brought their traditional cultures and religious mores. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, secured an excellent debate last week and I agreed with the points that he made about the connection with those faiths.
We have not attempted to regulate this religious diversity. Elizabeth I said:
“I would not open windows into men’s souls”.
I am proud of the fact that in Britain we have no official register of religions. One does not have to apply for permission from the police or the town hall to follow one’s faith. Everyone here may worship as they wish within the law, and the determination of all of us is to ensure that there is absolutely no change to that position.
Recent Governments responded positively to religious diversity in several ways. Processes have been put in place to ensure that faith groups are properly consulted on the development and implementation of policies that affect them. They in turn are encouraged to make the elements of their faith known to the wider community, and to share their cultures. Over time I have had the opportunity and great honour of visiting a number of faiths, including last week a gurdwara in Birmingham, and have been very proud to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked why we had discontinued the Faith Communities Consultative Council. We do not believe that a standing advisory council with regular meetings is the most effective or fairest way of consulting faith groups.
We retain contact with all former member bodies of the council and others, but we believe in conducting consultations with the most qualified individuals from the right organisations at the right time. There is no intention to break off any of the discourse or consultation that takes place with them; just to conduct it on a different basis.
As well as providing spiritual succour to their followers, religions inspire great numbers of people to offer service to their own communities and more widely. A number of contributions made that clear today. Tens of thousands of faith-based charities and community groups work tirelessly either in international development such as Islamic Relief or Christian Aid, or in providing homeless shelters, support for young mothers or care for the elderly in their local neighbourhoods. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury raised the question of this international co-operation. All departments are seeking to improve the way that they work with faith communities, but I will convey his helpful remarks to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development.
Care of the elderly in local neighbourhoods is part of the support given by faith groups, and annual projects such as the Hindu-led Sewa Day and the Jewish-led Mitzvah Day motivate thousands to perform acts of selfless service. Sikh gurdwaras not only provide free food to all, but run community centres such as the Nishkam Centre in Birmingham, which I visited. Black-majority churches offer free health advice and counselling as well as religious support. I was interested to hear of the cathedral initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. We hope that that will be successful.
This jubilee year, the Government are facilitating a programme—a year of service—to celebrate and link-up social action, and I am grateful to noble Lords for mentioning that. Every month, each of nine faith communities in turn is hosting a day of volunteering around the country and inviting people of other faiths and beliefs to join in. Each day of service is linked to either a religious festival or an existing volunteering day and each has a theme, such as visiting the elderly, feeding the hungry or planting trees. In addition to that, we might also say that they are sharing their faith with others and making connections between one faith and another. For example, this March, the Zoroastrian community marked the Iranian new year by bringing music and laughter to old people’s homes and hospices in different parts of London. We should urge all faith communities to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a year of service.
Many local councils work well with churches and other faith groups, by commissioning services from them, for example. I hope that more of that will come in the future as a result of the Localism Act. However, the present Government have recognised that faith groups can encounter barriers to their social outreach, such as excessive bureaucracy and difficulty with obtaining planning consent. We are ensuring that regulation is proportionate through the changes that we are making to various regulations to try to remove those barriers to work.
I should make specific mention of the Church of England, not only because the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is here with us. The church’s impressive infrastructure and its duty of care to all who live in its parishes, regardless of belief, have persuaded us to make an investment of £5 million over three years in the Church Urban Fund’s Near Neighbours programme. This is providing grants of up to £5,000 to help local people of different faiths to get to know each other and to improve their neighbourhoods together. More than 200 projects have already been supported.
It is clear from what has been said today and from what we all know that it has never been more important to build bridges between our different faith communities. As many noble Lords said, faith can be a force that brings people together rather than dividing them. It also provides support, comfort and strength to many of us, whatever faith we belong to. If we are to realise that promise, it can only be through hard work, discussions and joint working to improve our country and our neighbourhoods. Each faith can contribute its own wisdom, abilities and assets for the good of the whole.
Many contributions have been made today and carried out within the time, and I will not breach that. I wholeheartedly endorse the admiration of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for Her Majesty’s inspiration and example. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken so movingly, but especially to the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who had the grace to raise the debate.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the outcome of the NATO Deterrence and Defence Posture Review and the implications of clarifying NATO’s deterrence posture for European security and the relationship with Russia.
My Lords, I am pleased to have been granted the privilege of initiating this debate today. At the outset, I draw the attention of your Lordships' House to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests, particularly my association with a number of organisations involved in arms control and disarmament.
Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, has now attended two NATO summits: in Lisbon in November 2010 and in Chicago two weeks ago. After Lisbon, in his Statement to Parliament, he said:
“the test for NATO now is whether it can meet the challenges of the present and future. That means real change—not just signing communiqués about change but showing real political will to bring those changes about”.
Then he promised that the alliance would,
“shift its focus and resources still further from the old, Cold Wars of the past to the new unconventional threats of the future”.—[Official Report, 22/11/10; col. 979-80.]
With respect, I must say that that is the correct analysis and the proper test to be applied to NATO's transformation in the 21st century.
As part of the necessary “real change”, NATO spent the year before Lisbon rewriting the alliance’s main doctrine—the strategic concept—but it did not finish the job in time for Lisbon. The alliance managed to agree that,
“as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”.
The apparent clarity of that statement masked an inability of member states to agree on key issues about NATO’s nuclear deterrence. At the same time, NATO agreed to,
“develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence”.
However, that, too, hid significant differences about the role of ballistic missile defence in the alliance's future mix of capabilities.
The Lisbon summit solved this continuing disagreement by a procedural device and tasked the NATO council to continue to review,
“NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance”.
This process, the Defence and Deterrence Posture Review—DDPR—set out to consider the appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence forces for NATO, and reported to the NATO summit in Chicago. Last week the Prime Minister reported the outcome of Chicago in a Statement to Parliament. Unfortunately, however, the Statement did not mention the DDPR.
For completeness, I asked the Library to research any parliamentary material or references relating to the DDPR. Yesterday it reported that, apart from an obscure reference in the Prime Minister's Statement following Lisbon, all it could find were Questions that I had put down and which were answered last week.
Today's debate, therefore, represents a unique opportunity to discuss whether the DDPR achieved the best possible outcome and whether the mixed capabilities mentioned in the outcome are indeed appropriate for the international security environment in the years ahead.
What were the realistic expectations of the DDPR? I and more than 40 other senior European political figures outlined in a statement issued prior to Chicago what we hoped the review and the Chicago summit might achieve. Together, we requested our leaders in Chicago to pave the way for a world without nuclear weapons and to live up to President Obama’s vision in Prague, which they all say they support. We stressed the opportunity to outline a clear NATO nuclear declaratory policy: that our nuclear weapons will be used for deterrence purposes only, aligning NATO’s policy with the declaratory policies of the UK and the US.
We would have welcomed the announcement of an immediate reduction of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe with the prospect of an eventual consolidation of all those weapons within the next five years. All tactical weapons in Europe not only pose a risk to this continent’s safety and security, they lack any credibility to deter 21st century threats. They have no practical military value for the alliance any longer, and one cannot find anyone in uniform who says that they do. In addition, the review created the opportunity to provide greater transparency on the importance of NATO’s missile defence project and on the costs involved for European allies. One would have thought that in times of austerity, European leaders would grasp the opportunity with both hands.
On the issue of missile defence, the review was always going to have an impact on relations with Russia, whether NATO intended it or not. As missile defence is a dividing issue, more transparency would certainly have enhanced deteriorating relations between the United States, the alliance and Russia.
Finally, the review should have spelt out further co-operation with Russia, especially on increasing warning and decision times for political and military leaders so that no nation fears a short-warning nuclear or conventional attack. Unfortunately, the outcome has not lived up to my or my European colleagues’ expectation. In fact, it is a rather indecisive document. In the words of my United States colleague, Sam Nunn, a US senator for 24 years and former chairman of the powerful US Senate Armed Services Committee:
“The Deterrence and Defence Posture Review (DDPR) has made little progress in defining a clear strategy for changing the nuclear status quo and deserves, at best, a grade of ‘incomplete’”.
The DDPR avoided the challenge of resolving differences among the allies on the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO and instead opted for the maintenance of the status quo. Apart from acknowledging the,
“importance of the independent and unilateral negative security assurances offered by the United States, the United Kingdom and”,
to some extent, France, the DDPR broke little new ground on NATO’s nuclear posture. As the allies could not agree on a unified policy on the basic purpose of nuclear weapons, NATO will continue to be governed by different nuclear doctrines, depending upon the state that owns the arsenals and without any input from non-nuclear NATO members.
More disappointingly, no tangible progress was made on the US non-strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. On the contrary, NATO will maintain and upgrade these weapons in Europe, and in doing so is likely to worsen the relationship with Russia. In contradiction, the DDPR states:
“The review has shown that the Alliance’s nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defence posture”.
At the same time, the US is planning to modernise its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The B61 Life Extension Program, which reportedly is a national decision by the United States, was inexplicably conducted independently of the question of implementation of nuclear sharing within NATO. It comes at a significant financial cost to many European allies in a time of financial austerity and in the absence of a demonstrated commitment by those allies to carry their share of the financial burden of existing commitments. It does not explain how this apparent contradiction is to be resolved. More worryingly, this move will prove to be a welcome excuse for Russia to continue investing in the upkeep of its own tactical nuclear arsenal, playing directly into the hands of hardliners in the Russian Federation who refuse to discuss reductions in Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons unless the US withdraws its own arsenal from Europe.
The DDPR has not delivered for disarmament. It is worth remembering that in Lisbon in 2010, NATO leaders committed themselves to the goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons. No longer can our leaders simply make this sort of statement and then ignore it when making their own nuclear policy. The alliance has a responsibility to be the change it wants to see in the world, not just to advocate for that change on the part of others. The only hope those who share our Prime Minister’s vision for NATO are left with is the promise of the DDPR to,
“consider further reducing its requirement for non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia”.
Set against the test set by the Prime Minister for NATO, are the Government content with the outcome of the DDPR?
The DDPR was a major opportunity to make a comprehensive, coherent and balanced assessment of the mix of capabilities required in the years ahead and, importantly, it was an opportunity to spell out the potential contribution that arms control and disarmament can make to reducing nuclear risks in Europe. The issues covered by the DDPR and the decisions made will shape the alliance’s defence and deterrence posture for a decade or more. These decisions have major implications for Euro-Atlantic security and create the environment that will determine our relationship with Russia. If we do not get them right, we are at risk of sleepwalking back into the Cold War. I believe that NATO has missed this crucial opportunity for change, for overcoming Cold War thinking, for a new beginning as a security organisation of the 21st century, and for enhancing overall European security. Perhaps it is no surprise that, in his post-Chicago summit parliamentary Statement, the Prime Minister neglected to mention the DDPR again. For the sustainable security of the Euro-Atlantic area, let us hope that the opportunity we have grasped today is the first but not the only debate that this Parliament will have on NATO’s defence and security posture.
My Lords, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and to start by paying tribute to the leadership he has shown in the creation of what I think is a remarkable group of people, excluding my own membership. One can look across Europe at the number of people who have come together, echoing the leadership given by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and George Schultz in the United States, to consider this issue. I hope and believe that it is a group that increasingly should be listened to.
The difficulty with nuclear weapons is now clear. When one considers the frequent changes of ministerial office, it is an almost impossible issue for a new Secretary of State to deal with, so it is important to draw in those with a background in and experience of these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to Cold War attitudes and the risk of those perhaps reappearing, with some concern about President Putin’s current approach in certain areas. I was Secretary of State at the time when the Warsaw Pact collapsed, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified. I do not think I could have believed at the time that since then, in a very real way, we have hardly moved on in the nuclear situation. The threat against which we perceived the need to maintain an effective deterrent was the Warsaw Pact and the threats coming out at the time, such as that the Soviet Union would bury us. All that belonged very much to the Cold War period. Surely the situation is now different and it needs to be addressed.
I certainly echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, when he said the DDPR report and the Chicago summit did not live up to expectations, but sadly I think it is what we expected would happen. It is disappointing that this has not been taken further forward. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, was too modest to say it, but the letter for which he corralled so many signatures should be compulsory reading for all noble Lords. If anyone has come to this debate not having done so, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. I say that in passing because I hope it reflects quite a broad spectrum. Yes, there is a desire to move to a world free of nuclear weapons, but there are different attitudes within the group about the speed at which it can be done and how realistic it is. But there is certainly a major opportunity for a significant step forward.
When one looks at the situation and the current threats, and the need to assess what our capabilities in defence for the security of our nation should be, one cannot leave out the question of money. Surely that is the great change in the world recently. Suddenly a lot of countries, including our own, are very much poorer than they used to be, and the ability, opportunity and options for spending money need to be much more carefully considered.
I was reading the CND pamphlet that came out quite recently—I do not know if the figures are right, and I do not expect that my noble friend the Minister will necessarily want to comment on this—which claims that if Trident goes forward, with the possible future development of a new missile and new warheads, the figure over the lifetime of that is possibly £100 billion. When one looks at the expenditure options one has against the threats one faces—the economic situation in the western world and in Europe, as was suggested with slightly dramatic force by the Home Secretary only a week ago, a possible collapse of national economies, perhaps with people coming out of the euro, and the risk of extreme poverty, extreme hardship and mass migration—nuclear weapons have got nothing to do with how one might seek to tackle those sorts of challenges.
I am not advocating in any way abolishing our deterrent but I believe that there has always been—and is still—a case for a greater, progressive reduction. I recognise the changes that have been made, the reduction in the numbers of missiles and warheads. But we ought to go further. The United States and Russia certainly ought to go further. Starting from our position in Europe, the key to this has to be an enhanced effort with Russia, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said. Russia cannot afford it either. Given the state of its economy, Russia is spending a ludicrous amount of money on its own strategic and tactical deterrents.
Whatever the difficulties with President Putin, he is undoubtedly a strong president, having now achieved his ambition of reattaining the presidency. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary was in Moscow so recently. I hope that there will be really determined effort to build much more confidence and trust between ourselves and Russia, which is in our mutual interest and could be the most important single step forward to seeing an improvement in this area. We might then be able to manage a deterrent—moving step by step, but those are steps that definitely need to be made.
We were disappointed that more was not done in Chicago. I hope that we can return to the subject and keep it firmly on the agenda.
My Lords, first, I apologise for being one of those people who has not read the letter, but never mind.
I find myself in agreement with the main thrust of what was said by the noble Lords who have just spoken. Indeed, in a debate not so long ago in this House, I drew attention to the fact that NATO’s major problem with Russia is that Russia is probably very frightened of NATO. The Russian successor state has found itself in a declining sphere of interest, with its own borders being pushed back and what it regards as its justifiable interest being constricted at all times. We must also remember that Russia is an incredibly important and powerful state to this day. The importance of Russia in the current situation in Syria probably clarifies how we must speak to Russia and try to get it to at least communicate in language that we understand, so that we can reduce conflict throughout the entire world, if not just in Europe and the closer parts of Asia and Africa.
Of course, everybody sane agrees that there should be fewer nuclear weapons. They then disagree violently about what that actually means to the state at the time. If we are worrying about Russia’s position, we should worry about the position of members of NATO and NATO’s allies. If you are a Pole, Czech or Latvian, just how much more secure do you feel having those low-level nuclear weapons around? It may be an illusory security blanket—one that will mean that you simply die of radiation poisoning slightly later on—but it is there. Unless we can bring that into our discussion more fully, we are always going to struggle.
What do we do with the non-nuclear capacity within NATO? It is not difficult to find somebody in uniform who will tell you, “Don’t spend money on nuclear weapons; spend it on other things”. Aircraft carriers and battle tanks are usually the first call, rapidly followed by the latest whizz-bang fighter jet or bomber. But does that increase tension as well? Does it increase tension within the organisations that you are dealing with and with your potential enemies, who are also your potential allies? How we handle that situation—that ongoing relationship—is going to be incredibly difficult. Getting a holistic approach is also going to be very difficult.
There is also the flipside that we if expand our conventional weapons, how do we deal with the peacekeeping and conflict resolution capacity of NATO, which has had its successes and failures but has been a new area of activity? As long as we are worrying about the nuclear stockpile, we also need to consider how to make better use of our defence spending. As my noble friend Lord King pointed out, the eternal question is: what do you spend money on in terms of preparing military force? It has always been a case of blood and gold being spent together. Preparing to spend blood and gold is how you define your defence capacity. That has always been the case, going back to when people first decided to spend a little bit more money going from bronze to iron weapons.
How to make better use of our defence spending is something that we must bear in mind. If we have this hugely expensive nuclear stockpile, which leads to a great deal of justifiable fear even if it just sits in its bunker and decays, there will always be greater stress on our conventional forces if they are in the same budget. It would be quite honest of the Government—or indeed any Government—to separate out those two budgets. That might be a starting point.
If we are going to encourage things such as missile defence—and the Chicago summit tried to make it clear that it is not aimed at Russia, it is aimed at someone else; the subtext is Iran—it will only work against nations that can fire a limited capacity of missiles. The way to deal with this defence system is to swamp it, as has always been the case. You simply launch more missiles; you take out missiles individually and then some will get through. As Tom Lehrer put it,
“Oh, we will all fry together when we fry”.
If you fry once or fry 100 times, you are still fried. The idea of guaranteed mass destruction worked in the past.
The noble Lord is quite right that without some sort of coherent idea about how to approach making a reduction that reassures Russia, we are never going to progress as quickly as we should towards reducing nuclear weapons to the bare minimum or getting rid of them altogether. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will give us an idea about progress. That is what we are talking about here: are we encouraging coherent progress, at least among our allies?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for the opportunity to debate this rather neglected but extremely important subject. I want to touch briefly on three very different areas.
First, I want to emphasise what lay behind the setting up of the review in the first place, namely the crucial importance of NATO having a clear and consistent understanding of deterrence and defence—one which, granted that there are real differences of emphasis and approach between the nations that make up NATO, is as harmonised as is humanly possible in the cause of collective security.
As I am sure we are all aware, the success of a deterrence policy depends on it being both clear and clearly understood by any potential enemy. Mixed and confused, let alone contradictory, messages tempt potential aggressors to chance their arm. We saw this with the Falklands, and we saw it with the total failure of European nations to agree on how to respond to the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Both the review and the statement from Chicago show that this area still needs a huge amount of work, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, emphasised. In particular, more work needs to be done on the relationship between missile defence and deterrence. Does the Minister really think that missile defence will enhance deterrence for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, emphasised? As for tactical nuclear weapons, is it not high time for these to be withdrawn from European soil, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, emphasised?
The only justification for a deterrence posture that relies in part on nuclear weapons is a belief that it will indeed deter and that it will be more successful than any other in averting war. Its success depends in significant measure on potential aggressors perceiving that it is rooted in a clear and unified resolve. Despite what was said in Chicago, this area requires continuing close attention.
Secondly, we should constantly remind ourselves that the possession of nuclear weapons remains morally problematic. During the Cold War, I was, with spiritual fear and moral trembling, a supporter of nuclear deterrence. The reason why we should remain troubled is not the weapons in themselves but the difficulty of seeing how they can be used in a way which is both discriminate and proportionate. For deterrence to work, the threat has to be believed, and that means that there must be possible uses that are not either intrinsically immoral, by directly attacking civilians, or immoral as a consequence of their side-effects being disproportionate. I accept that targeting must be kept secret—I am not a great believer in declaratory policies—but we should not have a debate such as this without reminding those in the Ministry of Defence who are responsible for targeting policy that this is an area of crucial moral concern. This brings to mind once again how much we still miss the late Sir Michael Quinlan, the architect of British nuclear policy both in its strategic and ethical dimension—which he never forgot. Nuclear weapons remain morally problematic and we need to keep the ethical as well as the strategic dimension alive; indeed, they are inseparable.
My third and final point is rather different. As I am going to Georgia tomorrow to take part in its European week, I cannot forget that Russian forces are still on its soil and refusing either to leave or to loosen their grip on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord King, that we want to do all we can to maintain good relationships with Russia, but we cannot rest content with the situation that prevails in Georgia and we need to continue to use every diplomatic means, both ourselves and with our European partners, to recover Georgia’s territorial integrity. Georgia wants to be fully integrated into NATO, a policy which causes Russia to be extremely alarmed and hostile towards it. Perhaps the Minister will feel able to say something about Georgia in relation to NATO policy within our overall attitude towards Russia.
My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for instigating this debate. I was struck particularly by his comment about the danger of sliding back into the Cold War. I say that because I returned last night from Estonia, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who graces us today on the Woolsack. The noble Lord was there to give up his committee responsibilities and to take up his new ones, which we all welcome.
At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting, there was much talk about Russia. I am the chairman of the committee on the civilian aspects of security. I commend to the House and those who have time to see it a comprehensive paper on Russia written by the Italian Member of Parliament Lucio Malan, which we debated in my committee. It is on the internet and is well worth reading.
When I think about the changes that have taken place in Russia in recent years, I recall particularly the first meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev at Chequers in December 1984, at which I was present. That meeting and the subsequent events led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the drastic decline of Communism. It heralded the dawn of a new Russia and the introduction of perestroika and glasnost. However, the development of new Russia over the years since then has been one of stuttering progress. We seem to have been living in a switchback which has gone from warm to tepid to chilling. As my noble friend Lord King said, we have always made it clear that we want a closer and more understanding relationship with Russia. It seems frequently to prefer the tensions and confrontations of former years. I become alarmed at the way in which things are moving backwards towards the Cold War, which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly talked about. For instance, a Freedom House survey of the scale of press freedom in Russia—where 100 is the worst level of press freedom—shows that in 1994 it stood at 40, that in 2002 it was 60, and that in 2011 it had gone up to 81. Russia seems also to be going back to some of the old malpractices in electoral arrangements. In recent elections in some of the north Caucasus republics, the voter turnouts, as well as votes for Mr Putin, were around 99%.
Only yesterday, those of us who were in Tallinn heard the President of Estonia refer to Mr Putin’s speech on the Monday before the recent elections as anti-Europe, anti-United States and anti-Baltic. Using a horrific phrase, he described it as a,
“throwback to the pre-perestroika period”.
We heard also from the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, who told us that it was felt at Chicago not worth having a meeting with the Russians, as has been arranged in the past, because of the misunderstandings. He cited a lack of trust and transparency. He referred, as did the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, to the stand-off in Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and to the difficulties over missile defence. The Deputy Secretary-General accused Russia of misrepresenting NATO systems. He recommended that politicians in Russia listen to the impressive views of some of their scientists and former military leaders, who agree that the NATO/US missile defence system, even at phases 3 or 4 of its development, does not affect Russia’s strategic deterrent. He pressed again for Russia to join in and develop a joint defence system, to the benefit of all of us as we face developing challenges from the Middle East.
Let us continue to use our good will, as my noble friend Lord King said, to try to build a relationship of trust and mutual benefit with Russia. At the same time, we must not let ourselves be bullied or manoeuvred into positions which are against our best interests.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton for securing this short but important debate on the outcome of the NATO deterrence and defence posture review, which was approved at the recent NATO summit in Chicago and which had been called for at the previous summit in Lisbon in 2010. The deterrence and defence posture review is of course only one of a number of issues which NATO has been addressing, and needs to continue to address, but it is the one that we are considering in this debate. At the previous Lisbon summit, NATO Heads of Government approved a new strategic concept that confirmed collective defence as the first of the Alliance’s “three … core tasks” and contained the statements:
“Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of our overall strategy”,
“As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”.
However, as my noble friend has already said, the strategic concept did not resolve all outstanding issues within the alliance, not least in relation to nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.
One of the purposes in calling for the review to be undertaken appears to have been the need to try to resolve key issues on the future role and basic purpose of nuclear weapons in NATO policy, bearing in mind the differing views held within the alliance’s 28 member states, which range from calling for complete disarmament and withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe to retaining such weapons for the purposes of reassurance to more vulnerable states. The state of the relationship between NATO and Russia both now and in the future, which is referred to in the title of this debate, is of considerable significance, particularly to the latter point about reassurance.
The mandate of the review was,
“to continue to review NATO’s overall posture in deterring and defending against the full range of threats to the Alliance, taking into account changes in the evolving international security environment”.
“Essential elements of the review would include the range of NATO’s strategic capabilities required, including NATO’s nuclear posture, and missile defence and other means of strategic deterrence and defence”.
The review ended up confirming that the alliance was,
“committed to maintaining … defence capabilities necessary to ensure its security in an unpredictable world … NATO has determined that, in the current circumstances, the existing mix of capabilities and the plans for their development are sound”.
NATO will thus continue to be a nuclear alliance as long as potential adversaries possess nuclear weapons.
In the period since the 2010 Lisbon summit, however, there appears to have been no word from the Government to Parliament about their position on the deterrence and defence posture review. Neither does it appear that the House of Commons Defence Select Committee has done work on this issue. My noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton said that in Lisbon in 2010, NATO leaders committed themselves to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how the Government consider that the deterrence and defence posture review has contributed towards meeting that goal, what the Government’s policy contribution was to that review and what representations they made.
What do the Government believe has been achieved by the deterrence and defence posture review? Can the Minister confirm that, to all intents and purposes, the review does not break any significant new ground on seeking to reduce levels of nuclear weapons and decreasing the number of nations that host nuclear weapons? In his speech, my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton argued that NATO should be seeking to reduce nuclear weapons and risks while seeking to enhance and improve the current difficult relationship with Russia. Is this what the Government believe NATO should be seeking to achieve, and if so do they believe that the deterrence and defence posture review and the Chicago summit have brought these goals any closer, particularly in the light of my noble friend’s view that by maintaining and upgrading US non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO will do nothing to improve the relationship with Russia and may result in Russia investing further in its own nuclear arsenal?
Finally, the deterrence and defence posture review said very little about what happens next on the issues that it covered, beyond a reference to being,
“prepared to consider further reducing its requirement for non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia”.
What courses of action will the Government now be pressing for in the light of the review and the issues it covered, or do they take the view that the review, which broadly confirms the status quo, addresses the “real change” for NATO, which my noble friend referred to, and which the Prime Minister referred to as being necessary in the Statement that he made to Parliament following the 2010 Lisbon summit?
My Lords, let me begin by joining in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on promoting this short debate and on his work with his colleagues in the so-called top-level group, which tackles these issues. The profundity of his questioning is a very good way of promoting the debate in a context that is not replicated anywhere else. The only sadness I have to note is that although much wisdom has been put into one hour’s debate, the media coverage is unlikely to be dramatic because they have a shallower and shorter range interest beyond these vital and profound issues. However, this is a valuable moment. I shall not, of course, be able to satisfy completely the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and his colleagues for the longer term, or those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, because that is not the posture that the deterrence and defence posture review took up. However, there are some very important questions, which are in a stage of evolution and development and which I would like to comment and respond on as clearly as I can.
We know that the review was agreed at the last NATO summit in November 2010. It was commissioned to examine the multiple and complex threats that the alliance faced in the 21st century—so it was a forward-looking intention—and to ensure that NATO’s range of capabilities are fully appropriate to the political and security context in which we live today, here and now, and in which we are likely to live in future. The review was agreed and published by alliance Heads of State at the Chicago summit last week. It is not too long, so for those who have not read it is not too time-consuming a read. It sets out the role that NATO’s defensive capabilities play in collective deterrence, burden sharing and reassurance.
The review concludes that NATO’s “existing mix” of nuclear and conventional capabilities is appropriate to meet the threats of today and tomorrow. In that sense, it can be asserted that it confirms and consolidates the status quo, but, as I shall try and show, it also has an evolutionary and ongoing element that is realistic in that we have to meet the here and now but think about tomorrow. It lays the ground for future work in NATO on its nuclear posture and on supporting non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control. The British Government were closely involved in the development and negotiation of the review, together with our 27 allies in NATO, so it is fairly obvious that I will not say anything but that we endorse the conclusions, approach and thrust of the review.
First, let me address the points that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, makes, with some tone of disappointment in his voice, about a perceived lack of progress in reducing NATO’s short-range nuclear weapons. It is worth noting that, since 1991, NATO has reduced the types and numbers of its short-range nuclear forces by over 8%. There is a strong long-term record on disarmament in the alliance, which cannot be completely brushed aside.
However, let me also make it clear why 28 allies have agreed in this review on the maintenance of NATO’s short-range nuclear forces. I will make four points on this. First, the presence of US nuclear forces based in Europe provides an essential political and military link between the European and North American members of the alliance. Secondly, the B-61 nuclear weapon forms an important element of those nuclear forces and the national US life-extension programme for the ageing bombers, which incidentally is paid for entirely by the United States, will ensure that it continues to be a safe, secure and credible nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. That is an important benefit, or condition, of the LEP.
Thirdly, at the same time, the participation of non-nuclear countries demonstrates alliance solidarity, a commitment to maintaining collective security and the widespread sharing of burdens and risks. Most of your Lordships, and many outside, would agree that we need to encourage a burden of sharing as much as possible. Fourthly, as the review makes quite clear, future decisions must also take into account the far greater Russian stockpiles of short-range nuclear weapons stationed in the Euro-Atlantic area. It would not be right for NATO unilaterally to disarm, nor to disarm by, as it were, default—in other words, by not modernising the essential equipment. Future steps must be taken in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia. NATO as an alliance, and individual allies, will continue to work towards this common and worthwhile goal. I will say a little more about Russia in a moment, in the light of the comments of my noble friend Lord Jopling and others.
As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, noted, the review reiterates its long-standing principle that to face the ultimate threats to our collective defence, however remote the contemplation of nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist. It also reiterates that the alliance is resolved to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. The alliance’s nuclear posture must evolve—this is the point that I made in my opening remarks—to meet current and anticipated threats and wider geopolitical developments, as it always has done and must continue to do.
In this context, it is worth noting that the review sets out what NATO can do to help create the conditions in which further reductions are possible, in line with our shared long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. While it is legitimate to say that the review stands on the status quo at the moment, it opens up the creation of the conditions in which further reductions are possible. That is important. It underlines the alliance’s role in supporting wider international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, and announces the establishment of a new committee to focus the alliance’s contribution in this important work. In that sense, it is part of the evolving process, as it has been and must continue to be.
These efforts have been an inseparable part of NATO’s contribution to security and stability since the late 1960s. The review takes this further, not least in setting out for the first time in an alliance context the declaratory policies of its member states. Of course, my noble friend Lord King was absolutely right in his wise contribution that the US and Russia in particular, with their still enormous arsenals, must go considerably further.
The missile defence issue was mentioned by several of your Lordships. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned it. He also raised a point about Georgia, which I just have time to comment on. NATO partners agreed in Bucharest in 2008 that Georgia will one day become a member of NATO. Georgia’s path to NATO is a matter for agreement between NATO and Georgia, and no other country has a veto on this. We welcome the progress that Georgia has been making, and point out that NATO’s ongoing enlargement process poses no threat to any country. It is aimed at promoting stability and co-operation, and building a Europe whole and free and united in peace, democracy and common values.
On missile defence, the alliance and the UK remain committed to a positive NATO-Russian relationship. Although this obviously has its challenges, good practical co-operation is in fact taking place on a range of mutual security issues, including Afghanistan, counter- terrorism and theatre missile defence. The review considered how co-operation, transparency and, I emphasise, reciprocity with Russia can help Euro-Atlantic security.
NATO will continue to develop its partnership with Russia. We are committed to continuing our dialogue on missile defence. The United States in particular has been clear with Russia that NATO missile defence is neither intended nor designed to undermine, nor is capable of undermining, the Russian strategic deterrent. The best way of allaying Russia’s concerns is for it to work with NATO through dialogue and practical co-operation in the context of the need for the defence of Europe as a whole. This sort of co-operation also requires a functioning conventional arms-control regime, in which Russia must play a full part in offering transparency and political will. It means reciprocity and confidence-building measures as we look to future reductions in short-range nuclear weapons.
In response to, and as a reinforcement of, the points made by my noble friend Lord Jopling, I should say that all sorts of reassurances have been offered to Russia. Those reassurances are not about the legal requirements that the ambassador is writing about in today’s newspaper—that is not possible for the obvious reason that it would never get through Congress in the United States—but are all sorts of other reassurances of a detailed kind, and we are now entitled to look for a response from Russia: that is, a commitment to joint defence, as my noble friend Lord Jopling put it. This is something that we should press for and try to create the atmosphere for by elucidation, illumination and constructive dialogue rather than by some of the more negative and rigid response that have emerged.
The threats that we must be ready to counter come from many different directions and in many different forms. The capabilities available to us have certainly broadened. The DDPR has presented a timely opportunity to reassess NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities to ensure that they are able to respond to the modern, multipolar world. That means not only where they have come from and where we are now, which is the realistic moment that we live in, but the future as well.
Publishing the review at the NATO summit in Chicago demonstrated to the world the alliance’s commitment to the collective defence of all alliance members through a mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence; to sharing the responsibilities and risks of delivering those capabilities; and to addressing new threats together. This outward-facing resolve and renewed demonstration of alliance solidarity remains critical to NATO’s effectiveness and unity, which has been one of the underlying drivers in the whole of this operation.
The Government fully share with your Lordships and a much wider audience a desire to make progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. However, in doing so we must be clear about the reality of the evolving security environment of the 21st century and the wider political context, both of which are full of dangers, some of which are outside the immediate security area but often have major potential security repercussions. NATO needs to provide strong defence and deterrence in challenging times, while being open to ways in which we can reduce both the risks and challenges that we face together as an alliance.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for raising some challenging questions. I hope that the challenges will continue. I have stated the Government’s view in response to these challenges, but it is an open-minded response that allows for continuing debate and examination as the uncertain future unfolds before us.
Claims Management Companies
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am delighted to open this debate and I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, is responding for the Government. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is unable to be present today but I know that he has other business and would attend if he could. I received a very positive Answer from him to my parliamentary Question some weeks ago. We also had a very constructive meeting at the MoJ, which his colleague Jonathan Djanogly also attended, as did representatives of Which?, the consumer organisation. I hope that today’s debate will be another part of that constructive dialogue.
Claims management companies have increased in number and have come to the attention of the public and the industries in which they operate much more in recent years. You have only to turn on the TV or listen to the radio to be bombarded with advertisements from claims management companies. What do these firms do? Put simply, they manage claims for compensation on behalf of consumers to a variety of bodies and industries, and charge the consumer a fee for that service. In the case of payment protection insurance claims, that fee can be as much as 30% of the successful claim. A consumer who received £3,000 for PPI mis-selling would give £1,000 of their compensation to the CMC for, I contend, the relatively little work that it had undertaken. If the consumer decides to dispense with the CMC’s services before the conclusion of any claim, charges of £90 per hour plus VAT for the time spent on the claim are not uncommon.
It is right that I should say early in the debate that many in the claims management industry act responsibly. I fully accept that it is an individual’s choice to use a CMC to pursue a claim if they wish. However, large numbers of those in the industry do not adhere to best practice and a few could even be described as rouges. The Government need to take a long, hard look at the industry, look at existing provisions and make a number of changes to beef up existing regulation and ensure that existing provisions are used effectively in an industry that needs effective policing. The Government may have a preference for self-regulation and industry codes of practice. That is fine where it is demonstrated to work effectively but, where it is not, the Government have a duty to act. Noble Lords will be aware that the Compensation Act 2006 provides the broad basis for the regulation of this industry, supplemented where applicable by other consumer protection legislation and depending on the activity of FSA rules.
As I said, the claims management industry has grown considerably in recent years and more than 3,200 authorised firms operate today. The part of the industry that does not adhere to best practice will breach guidelines on cold calling, text messaging and e-mail. Some will take up-front fees and/or fail to disclose properly the amount of compensation a consumer will pay if their claim is successful. Through high-pressure sales they will sign up people who have no possibility of making a successful claim on the basis that they can get you thousands of pounds in compensation. A few weeks ago I witnessed a firm in my local shopping centre going up to people and telling them they could get them thousands of pounds in compensation. That sort of activity is prohibited under existing regulation, but unless it is effectively policed it comes to nothing.
Many noble Lords in the Bishops’ Bar, the Peers’ Guest Room and elsewhere in your Lordships’ House have told me of the text messages and phone calls that they have received which say, “We can get you compensation for that fall you had, that car crash you were involved in or that PPI you were mis-sold”. They then say, “But I haven’t had a fall or a car crash, and I haven’t got any PPI”. This sort of activity is what those sections of the industry that do not adhere to the highest standards indulge in. Also, there are companies that bombard a whole raft of financial institutions with PPI claims on behalf of a customer, without even bothering to check whether the customer has ever had any dealings with the institutions concerned before submitting the claims. This is bad practice and these are ridiculous and vexatious claims. All they do is waste the time and money of the financial institutions concerned, and divert resources from dealing with genuine complaints so that consumers wait even longer for their cases to be dealt with.
It gets worse. After dealing with the financial institution, or in some cases without even bothering to go there, CMCs have been known to submit bulk claims to the Financial Ombudsman Service, again wasting time, costing money to everyone but them and making genuine complainants wait even longer to have their complaint dealt with. Therefore, we need action from the Government and I have a number of points to put to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I do not expect a reply today but I am sure she will write to me, covering the points I am raising.
There is a voluntary code to which some CMCs have signed up. It is about time that we had some declaration from the Government that they want the industry to come together to agree on this voluntary code or some variation on it, and that if it does not happen very soon the Government may force their hand by regulating or legislating further. To put it another way: clean up your act or we will clean it up for you. Where companies have been found to have acted illegally, naming and shaming should be considered as well as disbarring them from further trading.
The Government should consider whether the CMC industry should have to make a contribution to the Financial Ombudsman Service. I suggest that for every ridiculous, pointless, vexatious claim submitted by a CMC to the Financial Ombudsman Service, where it is shown that the consumer has never done business with the financial institution concerned, the CMC should have to pay a £500 contribution to the working of the Financial Ombudsman Service for wasting its time.
I am worried that firms put “Regulated by the MoJ” on their literature as some sort of badge of honour or approval. That should be changed, maybe to something like, “If you have any complaints about this firm, ring the claims management regulator on the following number”. I am not satisfied that enough resources are being put into the claims management regulator by the Government. When you consider that £6 billion has been put to one side by the financial services industry to pay PPI claims, you can see that a potential £2 billion in fees is a very big slice of cake. Existing regulation is deficient in areas such as training, standards and competences. We need a discussion on how these firms should operate in the future.
The Government should also give serious consideration to bringing claims management firms within the remit of the statutory Legal Services Ombudsman. This would mean that consumers could complain about service failure by claims management firms to an independent body and receive a fair and thorough route to redress. This last point is particularly important as it is consumers who are being ripped off. I for one—and, I am sure, all noble Lords present—do not want us to be debating the claims management companies scandal and what we will do to redress it in a few years’ time.
I look forward to the response of the noble Baroness and to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and my noble friends Lady Sherlock and Lord Stevenson.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for securing today’s debate. Topics such as this, which are limited in scope but of real importance to the public, are exactly the sort suited to one hour Questions for Short Debate. The noble Lord has done us a great service by drawing attention to the many problems which are being caused by poor practice and, indeed, often illegal practice, in this area.
I suspect that had the noble Lord tabled a Question for Short Debate on the level of nuisance calls from claims management companies, he would have been overwhelmed by speakers. The number of calls from companies selling their so-called services for payment protection insurance, utility deals, home insulation schemes and accident compensation has now reached epidemic proportions. Debt consolidation services are particularly perfidious, preying as they do on those who are already vulnerable. At home in Suffolk, I routinely receive two or three calls every day from such companies. On one glorious evening, I received five. These related either to PPI, which I have never taken up, to a loan which has never existed, or to some accident which I have never had. It is irritating enough for me, but for elderly and disabled people who physically struggle to get to the phone, this is a real problem. I am increasingly finding people who have turned off their landlines because of the intrusion of these calls. I recently moved to a new flat in London. I had a new phone connected and it was a mere 30 minutes before I received my first PPI call. When the claims management industry gets your number faster than your husband does, things have come to a pretty pass.
The Financial Ombudsman Service website states that when it investigates a complaint, it expects to see evidence that a financial business has carried out a reasonable search to ascertain whether there has ever been a PPI policy. If only the dozen or so companies contacting me every week would do so. As we have heard from the noble Lord already, the impact on the financial services institutions in investigating completely bogus claims is quite large. I ask the noble Baroness: what can be done to oblige companies to do this research before they start down this route?
Will the noble Baroness also raise with Ofcom the question of nuisance calling, particularly the effectiveness of the telephone preference service? Signing up to this service is often offered up as a solution, and millions have done so. However, complaints are simply passed on to the Information Commissioner, as the telephone preference service itself has no enforcement power. Can the Minister confirm that to date there has not been a single case of prosecution under the Act? Would she agree that the epidemic growth in these calls is a demonstration of the fact that the TPS system as currently set up is simply not working? Is she able to say, through work done by the Information Commissioner, what percentage of the problems is caused by overseas phone calls, which are, of course, outside the scope of the telephone preference service?
One of the most worrying aspects of all this is that of data protection. There are many organisations—scandalously, these include public bodies—to which we give information in good faith, which routinely sell on this data. Once they have the details, they sell them on, so that it is impossible to escape from their clutches. I am sure I am not alone in being alarmed that not only my home and mobile phone numbers are used, but increasingly my parliamentary e-mail as well.
The Ministry of Justice website has a large section dedicated to claims management issues. I read with interest that companies should:
“not engage in face to face ‘cold calling’, or in any form of high pressure selling”.
That leads me to reflect that either the companies which are doing the calling are not registered, or that they are registered and are flouting the rules. Perhaps the definition of “high pressure selling” needs to be tightened up. In any event, will the Government consider ways in which the public could more proactively report this kind of behaviour, enforcement could be made, and action could be taken when transgressions are found?
There is a trade body called the Association of Regulated Claims Management Companies, to which companies engaged in these activities can be affiliated. It offers a form of accreditation, unlike the Ministry of Justice, which simply registers companies and strikes them off if they transgress. The Motor Accident Solicitors Society has made the valid point to me that this is a complex area, and people often need help to make claims for legitimate injuries. It is entirely in the interest of good practice in the industry to weed out the bad people and ensure that they are removed. Can the noble Baroness say what sort of dealings the Government have with these trade bodies and how they might work more closely with them in the future?
Finally, will the Minister undertake to hold discussions with the Ministry of Justice to see how a higher profile might be given to how the public can deal with these issues? The MoJ website is highly factual, but does not go in for bold statements. Certainly, in this place, it is the personal injury sector which has been most complained about; however, it is actually the financial services sector which is really worrying the public. The financial services sector has less than a third of authorised businesses operating in this sphere, but it gets more than 90% of the complaints. Most of those complaints are about either cold calling or about up-front fees. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has already said, the MoJ report for last year records 3,213 authorised businesses in this field, an increase of 91 over the year. More than 1,000 were suspended or had surrendered their licences in some way.
This is clearly a sector in which there is a lot of churn. So while we absolutely need a robust regulatory framework, we also need real enforcement and bold public awareness campaigns about how to deal with claims management companies, right from that first call, through to the way that they use personal data and then on to the substance of how they conduct their business.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark for securing this debate. I also congratulate him on his sustained interest in this subject and on pushing it; I am pleased that he has done so. I declare an interest as a non-executive director of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Like other noble Lords, I have had the experience of being chased by claims management companies. Indeed, it is something which is raised almost every time I have a conversation with anybody in which financial services comes up. Most people express particular irritation about the marketing practices of claims management companies. There cannot be many people left in this country who have yet to have either a phone call or a message promising thousands of pounds for an accident they do not remember having or for a loan they do not remember taking out. However, in some circumstances it can be more than an irritation; these messages can create false hope for people who are struggling financially, at whom they are very often targeted. That is more than an irritation.
Concerns are expressed on all sides about this problem. Consumer groups are worried about the fact that individuals are paying significant sums to claims management companies for getting redress, when they could simply go directly to businesses and, if necessary, use the free ombudsman service. In turn, businesses are complaining that the costs of dealing with CMCs, especially if the claims are speculative or unfounded, are significant and can disrupt their attempts to resolve complaints.
However, there is always a question to be asked as to why claims management companies target a particular market. They do so because an opportunity has arisen. We need to remember that CMCs are flourishing in the financial services industry because of the widespread mis-selling of payment protection insurance by the banks over a long period. That mis-selling created consumer detriment on a significant scale. Provisioning is now up to some £9 billion in the banks. The failure of the banks to maintain the trust of consumers by handling complaints well, on the back of that, has created the opportunity into which claims management companies have stepped.
To give a sense of the scale of the problem, I asked the ombudsman service for some figures. It is now seeing record numbers of PPI complaints; 1,000 new complaints every day. It is finding in favour of consumers three times out of four. Some 60% of all the complaints received by the ombudsman last year were about PPI; more than 150,000 complaints.
In relation to the points made by both of the previous speakers, last year the ombudsman service dismissed more than 5,000 cases because there had not even been a PPI policy sold in the first place. Most of those claims were brought by claims management companies.
I understand that the proportion of cases coming through CMCs has fallen; it is hoped that consumer awareness is improving. But there is more to do. My noble friend Lord Kennedy gave a very good, clear description of the level of breach that is going on, and suggested some remedies. However, the picture is complicated, as he would understand. Some CMCs conduct their business in a perfectly responsible way; no doubt, they obtain redress for consumers who otherwise might not have known that they were owed money or know how to go about claiming it. Consumers should be entitled to make a choice to be represented, provided that they do so with sufficient information and understanding as to what they are getting into and a genuine understanding as to what the alternatives are.
What needs to be done? I offer the Minister three thoughts to take away. First, the Government need to act to encourage businesses and regulators to address the detriment in the first place. That way consumers can be involved in the process of securing redress and take away the opportunity for CMCs in the first place. Secondly, the Government need to focus on delivering effective regulation of CMCs so as to allow responsible CMCs to offer a service but discourage the others out of the market altogether. Effective regulation would need to tackle the kind of marketing practices described by my noble friend Lord Kennedy and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. But we also need to make it clear that transparency on charging right at the very front of the process and enforcing rules on cold calling were there, so the consumer genuinely understands the costs.
Finally, I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Kennedy that the ideal opportunity has come to put in place an arrangement for dealing with complaints about CMCs by giving effect to the provisions that would pass responsibility to the Legal Services Ombudsman. I will be very interested in the Minister’s response to those points, as the time has come to do something about this problem. I hope that the Government can be encouraged to act now.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, which has some involvement in this area. I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Kennedy for introducing this debate and for posing the question on how we get higher standards in this area. I also draw attention to the House that I am not the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, if Members have an earlier version of the Speaker’s List. I am having to deputise for him, although I am slightly nervous about raising that issue in this place because it will be recorded that the noble Lord, Lord Young, was unfortunately struck down last night and was unable to be present today, which will probably result in a flood of calls along the lines of the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that once these things get out they are pursued. In this case, I do not think that it is anything that he could possibly claim for—but you know the noble Lord, Lord Young.
It is extraordinary how the growth in claims management companies has risen since 2006, with the change in regulation. It was also interesting to note the rate of churn within those, which suggests that quite a lot of activity is going on below the radar. My noble friend Lord Kennedy made the point that some of the returns on the fees being charged here are astonishing, with up to 30% fees for work being done. It is perhaps overheating as a sector and may need further work and investigation by the Government.
My noble friend made a powerful call for action across a wide range of activities. He mentioned the generic question of fraud. One point that he did not make but which is also of concern relates to whiplash. A recent report in the papers said:
“The data show that nine of the 10 postal areas with the lowest number of whiplash compensation claims per head were in Scotland, where the legal system imposes stricter controls on referral fees. There were only three claims for every 1,000 residents in the Edinburgh and Dundee areas … compared with 22 in Liverpool and 21 in Uxbridge”.
As the claims director at Aviva said:
“I don’t believe people in Scotland have significantly stronger necks”.
In other words, there is a suggestion here that perhaps fraudulent work is at play, which is something that needs more investigation.
We also heard about the cold calling and how that seems to follow people around. Increasingly we have all had problems with text messages, e-mails and phishing expeditions on the PPI mainly, but not limited to that. There are also transgressions in the sector about how fees are charged to consumers who are vulnerable and unable to respond.
Having heard the points made by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and the expertise brought to this debate by my noble friend Lady Sherlock, I think that there are a number of points that the Government should think very hard about. The question was asked whether a voluntary code was the right way forward on this. In some ways, perhaps initially when businesses are starting up, a voluntary code is a good way of doing it. But as the sector matures and people begin to opt out or work round it, a statutory basis probably needs to be considered. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments.
There is also the question of whether or not, perhaps in co-operation with the FOS, there should be a naming and shaming of defaulters and in some sense a penalty through payment. That is something that should be considered, with the maturity of the sector. There is also the important question of the TPS review, the role of the Information Commissioner and whether that should be reclassified so that it becomes a body that has ability to pursue those who default. Obviously, there is a question about overseas calls there.
The whole question of the PPI review seems to be peaking and beginning to come back. It is something that the Government might think about reviewing. It seemed to come from nowhere. We heard from my noble friend Lady Sherlock how and why that happened, but it does not really explain the long tail of activity that we are all seeing. It would be interesting to have a sense of that, and maybe the Government might look at reviewing that and give us a report on it in future.
Finally, at the heart of the debate, the question that my noble friend Lord Kennedy raised at the heart of his speech was what the role was of the MoJ in this sector. In some senses, we have reached the stage in this industry whereby strong and effective regulation—in bold, as some people said—is required. That does not lie happily with the Ministry of Justice as a sponsoring department. The Government might think of the opportunities that present themselves through the Financial Services Bill, shortly due in your Lordships’ House, in which a number of bodies are being given new regulatory authority and duties. It seems odd that this particular sector of the financial industry is not part of that, and there might be an opportunity to discuss further with Ministers whether they could receive an amendment on that issue.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for giving us this opportunity to debate such a topical subject. I thank the noble Lord and other noble Lords for their constructive contributions. I would also like to congratulate him on his dedication and commitment towards highlighting the serious issues that concern consumers. I am very pleased that the meeting that he had with my noble friend Lord McNally at the MoJ resulted in a satisfactory outcome. Of course, we are minded that the protection of consumers using the services of claims management companies is clearly an extremely important matter, as is the efficient handling of consumers’ claims. Much has been done to drive out bad practice in the claims industry, and we are committed to doing more. I am very pleased, therefore, to inform your Lordships’ House what action we are taking in this area and I hope to touch on some of the areas of concern that noble Lords have raised today.
It may be helpful if I first set out the existing conduct rules which claims companies must follow. The rules focus on consumer protection and require companies to give consumers clear, honest and comprehensive information about the options available for pursuing their claim, including self-help, and the associated costs and risks involved. The intention is that consumers should always be in a position to make an informed choice—an issue that was raised across the House. There must be no high-pressure selling, no hidden charges and no misleading marketing. All claims companies must have a complaints procedure to deal with any customer problems. Companies that breach these rules will face investigation and firm enforcement action, which can range from warnings to restrictions being added to their licence and ultimately suspension or cancellation of their licence.
Substantial progress has been made since the claims management regulation regime was introduced in 2007. Practices such as misleading advertising and marketing, and hidden costs, have been targeted and greatly reduced. Cold calling in person and unauthorised marketing in hospitals have been eliminated, unfair contract terms have been removed, and complaints handling has been improved. To date, the unit has removed the licences of more than 700 claims management companies, suspended or imposed restrictions on their licences and threatened many more with such action. As my noble friend Lord McNally stated in response to a recent Parliamentary Question from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, 260 claims management companies lost their licences between April 2011 and March 2012. There will be no let up by this Government in going forward. We realise and recognise that more must be done to tighten up practices. Therefore, we are developing proposals to amend the conduct rules for claims companies and a public consultation is planned for the summer. I hope that noble Lords will assist in that consultation.
The Government are committed to taking a robust approach to tackling those companies that appear to be involved in malpractice right across all sectors of the industry. As noble Lords have highlighted, the practices of some claims companies operating in the payment protection insurance claims sector have been a cause for concern. This sector continues to present challenges for us, and, of course, we recognise that there is much more to be done. However, we cannot ignore the progress that has been made by the Claims Management Regulation Unit in ensuring that claims companies remain compliant. The unit has established a specialist compliance team to focus on tackling the poor practices used by some companies when presenting claims for mis-sold PPI. Since its inception in November last year, the compliance team has already conducted more than 50 audits, issued seven warnings and taken other forms of enforcement action where problems have been found. This work continues and includes targeting those companies submitting claims where no PPI sale exists, those charging upfront fees and those operating call centres to ensure that sales calls are compliant.
The unit is working with the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Financial Services Authority, major banks and credit card providers to help identify non-compliant companies and improve the claims process for consumers. The unit is also encouraging the development of mechanisms for improving the banks’ relationships with compliant claims companies. The intention is to help streamline the PPI claims process for consumers who choose to use them and minimise the burden on the banks. Last year, the unit issued joint guidance with the Financial Services Authority and the Financial Ombudsman Service on best practice when handling claims for mis-sold PPI. The unit produced guidance for consumers, advising them to shop around for the best deal and never to pay an advance fee or agree a verbal contract without seeing the offer in writing first. The guidance also makes consumers aware that there are self-help alternatives to using a paid representative to make a PPI claim.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is aware of issues in relation to claims and unsolicited marketing and believes that the existing legislation and regulatory environment are adequate in seeking to protect individuals from all such kinds of marketing, not merely those related to claims services. However, I very much take on board the concerns that have been raised and I and my officials will take them back to the department. The Information Commissioner’s Office is responsible for enforcing the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which protect consumers from unsolicited text messages and marketing calls. It has a significant suite of powers with which to investigate and take enforcement action where the regulations have been breached. These include the power to issue a monetary penalty of up to £500,000 and to require communications service providers to disclose the identity of third-party users of their networks. The Information Commissioner is putting more resources into tackling this problem and we are providing assistance as necessary. The Ministry of Justice’s Claims Management Regulation Unit has formed an effective working relationship with the Information Commissioner that enables a fruitful exchange of intelligence. Both regulators are now seeking to build on this by establishing a memorandum of understanding, which will set out a basis for sharing information and intelligence to help them carry out their regulatory functions. This should be finalised soon.
The Claims Management Regulation Unit is already investigating individual claims companies believed to be involved in commissioning and receiving the leads generated from text messages and automated calls. The main investigation challenge is identifying who is responsible for the texts and building up sufficient evidence of abuses to take enforcement action. Unsolicited texts and marketing calls can be made by a range of companies, as my noble friend Lady Scott highlighted, some of which are based overseas. These include lead generation companies, data companies and illegitimate companies. The Information Commissioner and the Claims Management Regulation Unit are members of a cross-regulator and industry working group established to pool resources, share intelligence and mount a more effective campaign of joined-up action to try to eradicate unsolicited text messages and automated calls. Other members of the working group include Ofcom, the Office of Fair Trading, the Direct Marketing Association and the mobile marketing industry, including network operators.
I hope noble Lords are reassured that there already exists a robust regulatory environment to deal with this problem. However, I acknowledge their concerns about the fees charged by claims management companies. Transparency is a key requirement of the conduct rules which all claims companies are required to follow. Their fee structure should be clear, transparent, fair and not misleading. Reasonable inquiries should be made as to whether prospective clients have alternative means for pursuing a claim and claims should be pursued only where it is in the interests of the client to do so. While most claims management companies do not charge upfront fees, those that do must provide the key facts in writing.
In conclusion, I have outlined some of the main actions we have taken and our commitments going forward to driving out bad practice across the claims industry. I hope these reflect the Government’s determination to ensure that the regulatory burden placed on claims management companies continues to be effective in protecting consumers. My noble friend Lady Scott asked about trade bodies representing claims companies. The Claims Management Regulation Unit in the MoJ has considerable contact with trade bodies representing claims companies. We will continue to work closely with them to raise standards. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to training. I will take back that interesting thought because there is merit in seeing consistency across the sector. My noble friend asked about further discussions with the MoJ. I am very happy to take that back to the MoJ to see whether a meeting can be set up with noble Lords who are interested in this issue.
As the challenges get harder, the importance of effective joined-up approaches and enforcement operations cannot be stressed enough to ensure that not only are more claims management companies operating in the consumers’ interest, but that all others involved in the claims chain are too. If I have missed any questions that were asked by noble Lords, I will be happy to write to them. I would like to put on record that we wish the noble Lord, Lord Young, a speedy recovery and very much hope that he is not bombarded with unsolicited messages.
Historical Manuscripts Commission
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity to ask this Question for Short Debate.
I would like to dedicate this debate to the memory of a very great Member of your Lordships’ House and former chairman of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Lord Bingham—Tom Bingham, as so many of us knew him for so long. He was one of the great judges of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He loved being chairman of the commission, so much so that when he ceased to be Master of the Rolls and became Lord Chief Justice he continued in the chair. In a sense I am raising in your Lordships’ House the unfinished business in the late Lord Bingham’s files because we were in communication on this subject to within a month or two of his death.
The background to this is that I served as a royal commissioner on historical manuscripts from 1980 until 2003, when the royal warrant, which had been issued for the first time in 1869 to establish the commission, was updated so that the Keeper of the Public Records became the sole commissioner. It is worth reading to your Lordships an extract from that warrant. It states: “Our said Commissioner”—
now the sole commissioner—
“shall make enquiry as to the existence and location of manuscripts, including records or archives of all kinds, of value for the study of history, other than records which are for the time being public records by virtue of the Public Records Acts; with the consent of the owners or custodians inspect and report on them; with the consent of the owners or custodians reproduce and publish or assist the publication of such reports; record particulars of such manuscripts and records in a national register thereof; promote and assist the proper preservation and storage of such manuscripts and records; assist those wishing to use such manuscripts or records for study or research; consider and advise upon general questions relating to the location, preservation and use of such manuscripts and records; and promote the co-ordinated action of all professional and other bodies concerned with the, preservation and use of such manuscripts and records”.
It is important to have the royal warrant on the record in your Lordships’ House because when the merger of the Historic Manuscripts Commission and the Public Records Office was first proposed, there was real concern among commissioners. I was particularly vocal on the commission in expressing that concern. Lord Bingham was very understanding—so much so that he went to infinite pains to seek assurances from Ministers and others that the staff and resources devoted to the HMC would be preserved within the new National Archives, that the royal warrant from which I have just quoted would be embodied in the vision and objectives of the National Archives, and that the new body would be put on a statutory footing in legislation that would encapsulate those undertakings.
Lord Bingham retired from the chair in 2003. I served on the National Archives successor body for two years, and we kept in touch because I remained concerned. In 2009, when Dr Anthony Smith retired from the commission—he is now the chairman of the British Records Association—he contacted me to express his alarm at what he saw as a downgrading of the role and resources of the commission and its identity. As a result, I contacted Lord Bingham, who was, to put it mildly, very perturbed. We had a meeting in this very building with the then Minister—I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Wills, in his place—about six weeks before the general election of 2010. Tom Bingham was by then a very sick man, but he came and was very vigorous, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Wills, would readily attest, in expressing his concern at being personally let down on the undertakings and assurances that he had received. He pointed out that staffing levels had fallen, three permanent posts had gone and people had not been replaced. He was also concerned that the identity of the HMC had been lost; it was very difficult to find it, or any reference to the warrant from which I have quoted, on the website. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, was so concerned about this that he gave certain instructions but, of course, the election intervened and I was away from Westminster for a long time—six months.
When I took my seat in this House, one of the early things that I did was renew my friendship with the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and together we saw the noble Lord, Lord McNally. As a result of the meeting that I helped to arrange with the Lord Bingham and the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and the meeting that the noble Lord and I had with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, there have been some welcome developments. There is an increase in the visibility of the identity of the royal commission. An advisory forum, under the chairmanship of the Master of the Rolls has been established. We welcome that very much indeed, but it is, frankly, no substitute for the vigorous, independent and experienced body that was the royal commission.
The consequence of all this is that a very small percentage of the staff at the National Archives deals with more than 50% of the nation’s historic archives. Perhaps I may quote from a letter that I received only today from Dr Susan Davies, one of my fellow commissioners in the dying days of the royal commission, in which she says,
“the opportunity to consolidate HMC’s functions following amalgamation with the PRO to create that National Archives in 2003 has been missed, and”
there has been,
“a marked decline in the staff allocated to HMC functions, its profile and public information about its work”,
“has been unfortunate to say the least, because it has resulted in a declining ability to carry out those functions”.
She is referring, in other words, to the functions that are clearly listed in the royal warrant.
What I am asking the Minister, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is to respond to this debate, is this: can we please have a proper independent monitoring body that is independently selected, to which the chief executive is, to a degree, answerable, and from which he is obliged to take some advice? This is no criticism of the chief executive but we need to recognise that more than 50% of the nation’s archives are, to a degree, at risk. Can we also have an assurance that, as the budget permits, the number of staff who deal with the HMC functions is increased? Can we have a commitment that those magisterial publications that adorn the shelves of historians and university libraries around the world, and which have now ceased, will, when the time is appropriate, appear again and we will have more scholarship?
What we are talking about here is a nation that has the richest written heritage in the world, and the largest element of it is in archives that are not public records but collegiate, corporate, ecclesiastical, industrial and, above all, private. All over the country, there are those who have archives of immeasurable worth and received a service and an advice service from the royal commission that had no equal anywhere else in the world. All this has, to a degree, been put at risk. I criticise no individual, but circumstances have developed that make all of us who are concerned for the nation’s archives deeply concerned, and I hope that we will have a reassuring response from the Minister.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on securing this debate and on an excellent speech. In my few brief remarks I want to support everything he said, not least about the crucial importance of these archives for our national heritage. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord for his many years of service to the cause of archive in this country.
I am also sorry that this debate has been necessary because, as the noble Lord indicated, it suggests that there remains unfinished business from the creation of the National Archives in 2003, nearly 10 years ago. It was clearly understood then that there would continue to be a distinctive and important role for the commission and the invaluable work that it did with private archives after the creation of the National Archives.
However, when I, as the Minister who had by then become responsible for the National Archives, was approached by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the late Lord Bingham in 2009, it became clear to me that undertakings in this respect given by previous Ministers had not been honoured as they should have been. The initial focus after the creation of the National Archives had understandably been on government records, the significant task of meeting the challenges of digitisation, and on ensuring that records remained available for future generations in the face of rapid and profound technological change. This was a significant challenge for the National Archives, and I understand that.
However, once I looked into it, I could see no reason why this and all the other excellent work being done by the National Archives should be incompatible with honouring the understandings reached between the commissioners and the Government at that time. Therefore, I held a number of meetings, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, the one with him and the late Lord Bingham. I reached agreement with the National Archives on a way forward which, I hope it is fair to say, satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the late Lord Bingham as the de facto custodians of those original undertakings. However, at that point I had already announced that I was not going to stand again for the House of Commons—the general election was imminent—so it is perhaps not surprising that my agreement with the National Archives was not pursued with the same vigour as it might have been had it been reached a few years earlier.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, he and I then met the noble Lord, Lord McNally, last year and, once again, I thought that we had reached agreement on a way forward. Indeed, some welcome changes have taken place, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, described. As I understand it, for example, the new forum is now meeting regularly with a membership that reaches out across the spectrum, and I think that everyone is content with that.
However, issues remain to be resolved. Everybody accepts that the National Archives, like all public bodies, today operates under severe financial constraints, but so far as I am aware—this is something that I have asked for, as, I know, has the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—there has still been no commitment, as had previously been agreed, that, when finances allow, the resources allocated to private archival work should be at least at the level they were when the work was carried out by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. Such a commitment, however caveated, would represent an unambiguous recognition of the importance that the National Archives attaches to this work, and I hope that we will see it in the not-too-distant future.
I am afraid that the website still leaves something to be desired. Because this is the gateway to the National Archives for more and more people, including professional historians as well as members of the general public, I saw this as an important vehicle for honouring the commitments made in 2003 and, above all, for preserving the identity of the commission in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, described. That was particularly important to the late Lord Bingham. However, it was only after the meetings last year that my original ministerial request to have a reference to the HMC on the home page was fulfilled. Even now, it is only a quick link and then that link follows on to a page which conveys little of the significance and importance of private archival work. I really think that, in the light of everything that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said today, the National Archives could do a bit better than that.
The merger between the HMC and the PRO has clearly not worked as well as it should have done. Given the continuing difficulties in meeting the expectations created by the understanding with the commissioners in 2003, despite my ministerial intervention and meetings with Ministers last year, it is now time to keep track systematically of the honouring of those commitments. To that end, I suggest that the Minister agrees to meet the National Archives annually to review progress on this issue and the state of private archival work more generally, and I should be grateful if, in his reply, the Minister would agree to do so.
I welcome my noble friend’s debate and I shall learn more today than I can offer. I was not aware that the Historical Manuscripts Commission had been an integral part of the National Archives since 2003 and that the commission grew out of the long-standing Keeper of Public Records; nor had I learnt about the role of Lord Bingham of Cornhill.
The National Archives is an important and impressive institution rich in history, and since my first visit to Richmond I have kept a sharp eye on the Treasury’s temptations. It is quite right that my noble friend is raising this aspect of the National Archives and the danger of downgrading the commission, especially during these lean financial years.
In my intervention today, my comments will relate only to the edge of the specific interest of my noble friend Lord Cormack and a long way from manorial rolls. I want to refer to a short debate that I introduced in the House on 5 February 2008. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, also spoke on that occasion.
In that debate I raised two separate but related questions: how government papers, including ministerial papers, are kept after leaving their departmental offices and when they are not sent to Kew; and the record of major events described in Crown copyright official histories. The responsibility of these matters lay, and still lies, with the Cabinet Office.
In due course, two reports on the future of official histories were produced for “restrictive” internal purposes but were later released following a Parliamentary Question from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. Although the publication of the current series of books will be completed, I am alarmed that the Government have declined to commit themselves to a new series.
Earlier this year, my noble friend Lord McNally, said, speaking on behalf of the Government, that he hoped to,
“review future work in happier economic circumstances”,
“It would be a tragedy if we were to allow them”—
the official histories—
“to wither on the vine”.—[Official Report, 17/1/12; col. 547.]
That is how it rests. I am not pursuing the matter further today but I shall remain alert to developments.
I turn to the treatment of government papers. My interest and concern arose when I was seeking papers that were important when I was Secretary of State for Transport from 1976 to 1979. Early in 2005, I asked the department to find them for me but after six months I finally abandoned hope of finding anything worth while. Frankly, the papers in the repository in Hastings were in a mess.
Finally, I wrote to the Secretary of the Cabinet, Gus O’Donnell—now the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell—about the availability and condition of the records of all departments. In reply, he said that departmental record-keeping was now of a higher standard than it used to be, and a previous Cabinet Secretary had given guidance to Permanent Secretaries to resolve the problems of storing and archiving private office papers. This guidance had been revised a couple of years ago and the Cabinet Office would monitor how the departments acted upon it.
I should like to believe that all departments now have a model records system comparable to that at Kew. I am not asking the Minister to comment—I had not warned my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire of my interest—but I hope that he will pass on the message to the Cabinet Office with an up-to-date report on departmental records and papers.
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has brought the issue of our archival heritage to the House’s attention through this debate.
I first became involved in the archive world after being seconded from my lecturing job to assist Black Cultural Archives in developing its collection. During that time, I worked with colleagues in the Historical Manuscripts Commission and was struck by their helpfulness and generosity of spirit in contributing time and energy to that project and to others in which I was subsequently involved. To my surprise and delight, I had the honour of receiving an invitation from the chair—the highly esteemed Lord Bingham—to join the RCHM as a commissioner, which I accepted. That was the occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I first became colleagues, albeit briefly. Perhaps uniquely, I recently also served as a non-executive director of the National Archives for several years.
The archives sector continues to undergo rapid change, cultural and technological. Shortly after I joined as a commissioner, the HMC, as we have heard, merged with the Public Record Office to form the National Archives. This decision was taken in order to enable the Historical Manuscripts Commission to keep up with the significant changes taking place in technology and issues affecting public and private archives, and to open up wider access both to researchers at all levels and to funding opportunities. This new body, the National Archives, was tasked with maintaining the quality of advice for the public sector and the owners of private archives, and to ensure that the work of the HMC continued. It also aims to offer the more efficient delivery of all services and better value for money, and to serve as the lead body to take forward government policy on archives.
Last year, the National Archives also took on the role of sole strategic leader of the archive sector, with the transfer of key archival responsibilities from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, a role that now encompasses the full range of the nation’s archival provision, public and private. I recall from our board meetings at TNA on several occasions having discussions to ensure that the Historical Manuscripts Commission functions remain a critical element of TNA’s work, enabling the integrated organisation to continue to support and advise archives outside the public sector and to have an impact across the whole archival spectrum.
Since 2003, the scope of the work has diversified further, taking in a wider variety of record-holding bodies, such as business, religious and charity archives. I very much welcome that expansion, as it allows the wonder of archives to be shared by more communities and fully supports and augments some of the work in which HMC is engaged. Like most other public bodies, TNA has had to continue its operation in the context of substantial cuts. Despite that, I am aware that it continues its work in the private archive sector. In the context of having to make savings of 25%, TNA continues to build on the solid foundation laid by HMC.
For example, the National Register of Archives is an invaluable tool that provides a unique map of the nation’s archival collection, and it was initiated by HMC. The register provides a central point of information about archives beyond the records held by the National Archives, which, as noble Lords will be aware, focuses on collecting government documents and information. The register records the location of more than 300,000 collections, with thousands more added annually. Alongside the NRA, there is the manorial documents register. That is constantly being reviewed and computerised, with half the counties so far completed. There are other initiatives to which I could point, such as the religious archives survey, which not only produced an important reference document but enabled archive staff at TNA to develop new relationships with a wide range of religious bodies connected to many faiths. There is also the business archives strategy, which was launched in Parliament and well attended by major business figures.
In conclusion, of course there is insufficient time to go into further detail and to respond to some of the comments already made by noble Lords. I am sure that the Minister will have gathered by now that I am a firm supporter of the entirety of TNA’s work and that I, and many others, recognise and support the work that HMC started, which is being continued. I hope that he can assure the House that TNA will be funded at a level that enables it to continue to build on the substantial heritage of the HMC.
My Lords, my speech will be both brief and personal. First, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Cormack and your Lordships’ House for being absent when his speech began, against all the rules of the rubric. I had been giving lunch for one of my sons, whose birthday occurs during the Recess, which starts today. Only one screen is on in the Barry Room, and I had my back to it, so I had no idea that our hour-long debates this afternoon were getting on so ahead of schedule.
I arrived in your Lordships’ House in time to hear my noble friend allude to the late Lord Bingham of Cornhill. The late Lord Bingham and I were contemporaries at Oxford at the same college and we were very close friends, taking coffee together after evening chapel every night for a year, with our third companion, Maurice Keen, later a distinguished medieval historian. Six or seven years later, after we went down, Lord Bingham and I were mutual godparents to our respective eldest children.
Fast forward 35 years, to when I was Secretary of State for National Heritage, I asked the authority of the Permanent Secretary, given the circumstances, to appoint the then Master of the Rolls, also known as Lord Bingham of Cornhill, to be chairman of the Royal Historical Monuments Commission. I gather that the National Archives website uses its titles HMC and RHMC interchangeably. The Permanent Secretary acceded.
Fast forward another decade and, as a 70th birthday present, I gave Tom Bingham, then a senior Law Lord, the bound volume of a Select Committee of Parliament in 1800 on our historic manuscripts. In thanking me, he said that he could not imagine any other nation which had preserved all its key constitutional documents in good shape since the 16th century. It is in the memory of the spirit of Lord Bingham that I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cormack on having secured this debate and opened it so cogently. I hope that the alliances formed this afternoon will flourish along the same lines as described in this debate.
My Lords, as an amateur but enthusiastic family historian and genealogist and someone whose family has deposited archives with a number of libraries and record offices, I welcome this debate. Private archives are important, and historians such as Peter Ackroyd, in his History of England, are still mining their riches.
On the face of it, the Public Bodies Act Schedule 5 provision was widely welcomed in the way that the existing structures were given statutory authority. Of course, there were only 12 responses to the consultation. I think we have all learned something today from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. We also welcome the creation in May 2010 of the forum on historical manuscripts, which deals with private archives and academic research. The question today has been posed whether that goes far enough.
What are the key issues for private archives? Accessibility is crucial, digitisation in particular. Deals with commercial sites that digitise records are important—findmypast, Ancestry and the Genealogist can make all the difference, but those deals are often available only to public archives. A strong call to develop a framework to promote and manage the digitisation of the UK’s cultural heritage has come from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in its follow-up report on science and heritage published this month. It states:
“A national digitisation framework is needed to address issues of sustainability, the prevention of duplication and loss of digital records, and to stimulate a potentially lucrative income stream”.
That is part of a set of recommendations to encourage the DCMS and BIS to be much more proactive in their leadership of the heritage science community. That view was echoed by David Willetts MP in his evidence to the committee.
Accessibility also means that indexes and cataloguing are crucial. It means that the National Register of Archives, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, maintained by TNA, needs to be meticulously maintained. What is the basis for inclusion in the index? Catalogue material from major depositories will be found on the index but not, I fear, uncatalogued records, but that material can be of great interest and importance to historians, although there are few resources for cataloguing in many cases. Also, is material from regimental museums—which is so important—included?
Preservation is also crucial. I am told that the National Archives has a robust science and heritage research programme in place that is addressing critical preservation questions facing the archive sector, including private archives. The National Archives is taking a lead in translating environmental research for the benefit of cultural heritage collections. A good example of that is the recently published revised environmental standard for cultural heritage collections, which is based on up-to-date research evidence. The implementation of that environmental standard will, in part, be picked up by the Collections Trust, an independent advisory body working across the sectors of libraries, archives and museums to improve standards of preservation through SPECTRUM, a collections management standard to provide ongoing advice and guidance.
I welcome the Collections Trust’s forward plan for 2011-14, but surely leadership should not be left to the voluntary and private sector. I hope that, in particular, the Minister will address the question of lack of leadership by DCMS and the Ministry of Justice in those areas. Should not the vacancy of the Chief Scientific Adviser post since 2010 have been filled? I look forward to the Minister's reply.
My Lords, I am impressed that in the list of the political interests of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, he has arts and heritage ahead of defence and NATO. Of course, he chaired and helped to found the original Arts and Heritage All-Party Group more than 20 years ago, but I did not know that he had served for so long on the RCHM and the HMC. He has indefatigably defended our national heritage, notably in another place in his debate in 2006 in which he pleaded for more support for museums.
I am not sure of my own qualifications for this debate. I was an historian at Trinity Cambridge under some parental duress. My mother's influence led me to a modern language degree, but I had studied a fair amount of English history. In the 1960s, I gradually became the self-trained curator of our family archive which, in spite of the depletions of a fire in 1830, includes papers dating back to the civil war. Therefore, as a private source of manuscripts and a trustee of our excellent history centre in Dorchester, I thank the NRA, the RCHM, the HMC and now the National Archives for the work that they have done to make historic family papers more accessible over the decades since the last war.
I am not saying that the job is done; in fact every time I look online I wonder whether too many links and references bewilder students. The NR website is refreshingly honest about not always getting it right but access has been greatly improved. When I think of the number of unsorted papers and photographs surviving centuries of neglect in attics in country houses, I know that we have come a long way towards meeting the needs of scholars, writers and researchers.
I well remember the arrival of Sir Edward Warner back in the 1970s, when he came to list the voluminous papers of the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Without him I would never have appreciated the rows between admirals and politicians in the 1770s which thwarted so many naval victories, and Dr Nicholas Rodger would never have been able to complete his superb biography 20 years ago. The study of manuscripts always produces surprises. Noble Lords may know of Edward Gibbon's original record of the 4th Earl's famous invention in 1762 in a chocolate house in St James's. But I have also discovered a reference to early chocolate recipes in the 1st Earl's journal when he was ambassador in Madrid. We are awaiting further results, for apparently he may even have invented the chocolate ice bar.
In political terms, perhaps the most exciting recent discovery was in the same journal during the research carried out by Dr Charles Littleton and others for the history of the House of Lords. It turns out that the 1st Earl, who was made a Peer by Cromwell as well as by Charles II, occasionally kept minutes of council meetings and, in one or two cases, these have proved to be the only record of such meetings.
Next year sees the publication of the very first biographical and institutional volumes of this history, and it will prove to be a most exciting occasion for Parliament. In due course, digitisation and online publication will lead to the first electronic history of the Lords. But new technology does not always work. Only last week an historian asked whether she could consult me on intimate details of the 4th Earl's private life because the name of a courtesan had not appeared on a microfilm. I was relieved to be able to report that there was no such reference in the original either.
During a recession, private owners suffer like everyone else and, from time to time, we have to subsidise the considerable cost of maintaining historic properties and collections through painful personal sales. In these difficult times, we continue to look to the Government not to make our lives more difficult than they are already, and to look kindly on exemption rules and in-lieu arrangements, as I know they have. So I look forward to the Minister's confirmation to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that historical manuscripts in public hands will continue to be cherished and will not be the target of cuts while he is around.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate. I thank him also, as a professional historian, for the role that he has played over the years in protecting our archives. It is always a great reassurance to those of us who are scholars in this area to know that there are Members of Parliament who care about the preservation of the nation’s heritage in this respect. When he was speaking at the beginning of the debate, I felt a real spasm of regret when he talked about those beautiful volumes produced by the Historical Manuscripts Commission that will no longer be produced, a spasm of regret which was enhanced by the fact that the Irish Manuscripts Commission—on whose board my wife, the historian Professor Greta Jones, serves—continues to produce beautiful and relevant volumes of the sort that we no longer do. I am greatly in sympathy with the spirit with which he has spoken.
I am secretary of the All-Party Group on Archives—the All-Party Group on Archives and History since 2008—and we have had to work with the status quo created by the merger since 2003. Some of the things that I am now about to say may appear to be a little glib in the sense that the APG in this context simply cannot undo that which was done in 2003. However, we have been very keen to ensure that the world of private archives is protected. Without the merger, the National Archives’ role would be confined to public records only. When the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, put down this issue for debate, I was assured, on inquiry, that the team numbers of those working in the private archive section have held steady, despite the significant general cuts to TNA funding. I hope that that is certainly true. Again, it is a benefit of sorts of the new arrangements since 2003 that those working in private archives can access research, expertise and information from TNA, which was previously available only to those working in the public records area.
It can also be argued that the merger of 2003 has enhanced the possibility of a number of other developments: the strategy for business archives, launched when the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, was chairman and I was secretary in 2009 by Mervyn King in the Palace of Westminster, which has been a very effective strategy; the religious archives survey published in 2010, also undertaken by the National Archives; and the ongoing project of the Architecture, Building and Construction Survey. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will agree that those are good things and that there are elements of good work still going on. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, receives the reassurances that he has asked for.
I add a brief note to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, when he referred to official histories. I strongly support his general views on that. At a time when the Government are endlessly badgered to deal with the history of the past in Northern Ireland, one of the least expensive ways, and one most likely to bring about truth and reconciliation, would be an official history of the Northern Ireland Office. Many of the things that the Government are badgered about at the moment are extremely expensive but that would not be and it would be valuable and long term in its significance.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those expressed for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for introducing this debate. I join him in suggesting that the memory of the late Lord Bingham should be invoked in our discussions. I met Lord Bingham once on another matter, but at the end of that conversation we spoke a little about archives and it was noticeable how he suddenly became incredibly animated—not that the earlier discussion was not interesting, but it seemed to me that archives were his passion and interest at that time.
I declare an interest as a trustee of a recently formed trust that holds an archive of personal and political papers that will be a mixture of both private papers and papers of relevance to the nation.
The key issue appears to be whether the merger of the Historical Manuscripts Commission into the National Archives will allow the specificity that is necessary for those classes of manuscripts to be retained. It is important that we recognise, as many noble Lords have said, that there has now been some change in the previous arrangements in that there is now more visibility. We shall see whether that is sufficient, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, put it; whether the commission can now have the sort of resources or the focus that it used to have—albeit accepting the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that within TNA the whole resource is greater than it would have been had it been independent; and whether there will be more expertise and possibly more modern approaches to the work that it is doing.
I have two very small points. We want to hear from the Minister whether the undertakings that were obtained by my noble friend Lord Wills towards the end of his time as Minister, when he was trying to resolve the issue, are being taken forward. Some clarity on that would be useful. The noble Lord suggested that the target for the level of activity in the merged institution should be at least as high as it was prior to the merger. That would be a test that we could usefully use to judge whether it has been successful.
I will make two small points. The noble Lords, Lord Rodgers, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Bew, mentioned the ability of ministerial papers to influence official histories, and the need for the Government to commit to maintaining a programme of publishing them. I would certainly welcome this, because the papers are important.
Manuscripts and archives, as we discussed, suggest vellum and an earlier age in which artefacts were stored—as we can see close by in the rolls that look so impressive. However, we should consider the electronic age. The archive with which I am involved has the majority of its records in electronic format. It has proved very difficult to obtain a consistent picture of issues that one wants to look at in the archive because at least 50% of the material is still on paper and the balance is electronic.
There has been no merging of diary records with paper and other records, and it is therefore very hard, because of these mixed modes, to get a picture of events and activities that happened. When one adds to that the fact that government is increasingly involved in leading debate and activity by putting forward things on the web—whether in social media or formally through websites—one can see the difficulty that we face. It is important for the Government to have a view on this, and it would be helpful if the Minister could respond to a few of the points.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate and for the way in which he has kept at this question since the merger of the Historical Manuscripts Commission and the National Archives nearly 10 years ago. It is quite right for noble Lords to remember with great sadness Lord Bingham, whose commitment and dedication as the chair of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts ensured that the nation’s archives and manuscripts were in safe hands.
It is now nearly 10 years since the merger. In the light of what has happened since, I think it is fair to say that we are in the safe hands of a larger organisation. The Historical Manuscripts Commission was funded on a very modest scale, but I recognise that it was said in the Chamber today that we all need to make sure that resources are still there, that private records are given at least as much attention as public records and—perhaps I may add this, although it was not in most of the speeches—that the shift in public and in particular private records from paper to digital form is a challenge that the Government and all their partners now have to face and meet.
My engagement in this area comes as a lapsed historian. I share the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who the other day described the sheer joy of rummaging in an archive, feeling the paper and seeing different handwriting and typefaces. That is part of what we will lose with digitisation. The question of who will look at the noble Lord’s e-mails in 20 years’ time to see what he was really saying when he talked to Ministers is one that future historians will find rather more difficult.
There are a number of private archives still to be rescued; we all recognise that. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the religious archives survey that the National Archives has just done, and looking at how we capture the archives of churches that are now much less prominent than they were, and how we get at the records of the Jewish community and now the Muslim community to make sure that they will be available to future researchers. I note that here and elsewhere we are talking about a partnership between government and other keepers of archives. Southampton University has developed a very good relationship with the Jewish community, for example, in the keeping of Jewish archives. Manchester University has a similar specialisation in Nonconformist archives.
My own involvement has been with the London School of Economics, which has developed a very useful archive of political records. Some years ago I gave my father-in-law’s records of the Liberal Party in the 1940s and 1950s to the LSE, which sorted them out far better than I would have done. I added my own records of the party in the 1960s and 1970s—also not always an easy period—and I am extremely happy that the LSE is cataloguing them rather than me. I was also pleased, with my wife, to take my father-in-law’s Bletchley Park records, which he should not have had in the first place, and give them to the Imperial War Museum. In the past few weeks I have enjoyed talking with other Members of the House about a number of Bletchley Park records, in particular because a 96 year- old who worked with a number of people I know sent us several entirely improper photographs taken of people working at Bletchley Park during the war. They are now on record and digitised, and we will hand them on.
I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by the debate to discuss this question. Perhaps I may reassure noble Lords that matters are under way. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to the advisory forum. It was established—before he talked to the noble Lord, Lord McNally—in May 2010, no doubt as a result of some of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, had been engaged in.
We recognise that the problem of the budget squeeze is real in terms of staffing. There are now 4.5 full-time equivalent staff working in the private archives area, but a number of other people in the National Archives offer advice in different ways to people working in the private archives sector, in particular on the tremendous challenge of the shift from paper to digital that we are all beginning to face. Therefore it is not entirely true to say that staffing has shrunk. I cannot at this point give a definitive pledge that staffing levels will in future be raised, but I will take it back and discuss it with the various departments concerned and with the National Archives, and we will see what we can do.
On the question of a proper independent body, in December this year there will be the first of what it is intended should be an annual consultation with the owners of private archives. It will be held at Syon Park under the patronage of the Duke of Northumberland, and we very much hope that it will lead to a series of continuing dialogues with private archive holders, of the sort to which noble Lords referred.
The commitment on monographs is another difficult one. Perhaps I may move here to official histories. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said. As a historian, I am not entirely sure that I want official histories to continue in their old way. Those that I have read with most interest, and sometimes discussed with the people who wrote them, were particularly in those areas where the archives had been kept closed for 50, 60 or more years, and where someone distinguished and trustworthy was authorised to look through them and publish as much as they were allowed to for the rest of us to read.
The Government are trying very hard to reduce the secrecy of public archives and the length of time they are kept secret. I like to think—it is certainly my advice to my colleagues, and my opinion rather than government policy—that where possible archives should be available to people who are not subject to state control and Cabinet Office guidelines to write the sort of histories that we have had on nuclear weapons, for example, or the Cold War, much more rapidly than before because the archives will have been declassified. That is more desirable than relying on the state—but I take the point about an official history of the Northern Ireland Office. Again, I will take that back.
To reassure the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Wills, I think that we are responding, and moving in the directions in which we have been asked to move. The advisory forum is there. Dialogue with owners of private archives is very much there. Those who look at the website will see—as I have on the last two occasions on which I accessed it—that the Historical Manuscripts Commission appears very quickly when one moves into that dimension of the register. There is also some interesting stuff not just on the religious archives survey but on business archives and private archives.
We now have the National Register of Archives. Despite everything else, more than £250,000 has been invested in this comprehensive spending review period to update and improve online access to these systems so that the processes of contributing information to the register and finding the information it contains are brought up to date and simplified.
The National Archives has also undertaken the revision and provision of online access to the Manorial Documents Register, in which 22 counties have been surveyed since 2003. This is a lengthy task since the register has not been systematically revised since the 1920s. More than £300,000 has so far been invested in this project. Those are not insignificant sums at a time when the National Archives’ funding has been cut by 25%.
I emphasise that private archives and public interest are a matter of partnership with county museums, local repositories and, increasingly now, with universities. The vision and scope of the work with repositories beyond the public records system has grown and developed. The work undertaken today reflects a broad constituency of civil society, serving both traditional record-holding establishments such as record offices, landed estates and universities and an increasingly diverse range of private and charitable institutions.
Advice and support offered to such institutions and individuals reflects the National Archives’ awareness of diversity in the provision and maintenance of private archives. In fundraising opportunities, commercial licensing, the digitisation of software and community engagement, a breadth of advice is available. However, a two-way learning process from the wider expertise is also available as part of a bigger, national organisation.
Looking to the future, the National Archives is soon to launch its refreshed action plan to support the Government’s overall policy on public and private archives. The plan’s central priorities are the sustainable preservation of archival records and their accessibility to all who need and use them. The archives accreditation scheme currently under development will provide further support to specialist record repositories across the public and private sectors.
We recognise that it is vital that records of both the public and private domain are cared for and accessible and that their significance continues to be recognised. I can assure noble Lords—and I have spoken to a great many people over the past week—that the National Archives is striving actively and successfully to sustain a future for our archival heritage wherever it is held and that it is recognised as such.
I assume that the Minister is about to conclude. Before he does, will he address my request for an annual review on progress in meeting the commitments already given? In doing so, will he recognise that for all the splendid work of the National Archives, and he has given a very good defence of it, there is nevertheless remaining unease about the commitments given in 2003 by people who are no longer in position? Although it does not mean that the Government should not honour those commitments, those commitments have not yet been fulfilled. Will he agree to an annual review meeting on that basis?
I recognise the question. My understanding is that the Syon Park meeting in December is intended to fulfil a great many of those commitments. If the noble Lord is not satisfied with that, I undertake to write to him on that score. I spoke to him before this debate, and I have also taken fully into account the concerns expressed by a number of people both outside this Chamber as well as inside it. Looking at the current situation I am relatively assured that most of the points made have been met, except for the question of funding. We would all like a great many more staff to assist.
I am happy to accept that proposal. I look forward to that meeting, which will be after the Diamond Jubilee Recess.
We all recognise the importance of private archives as well as public archives. Several of us here hope, when we finish being quite so committed in the Lords, to spend more time digging around in private archives. That is one of the great joys of retired life as well as everything else. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for introducing the debate and wish everyone a very happy Diamond Jubilee.
House adjourned at 3.05 pm.