House of Lords
Friday, 7 February 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.
Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Bill
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, this very specific Leasehold Reform (Amendment) Bill will correct an anomaly that currently exists in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 that requires leaseholders of flats who wish to participate in enfranchisement or to extend their leases to have personally to sign those notices. The Bill provides that where notices are served under Sections 13 and 42 of the Act they are no longer required to be signed personally by a leaseholder but may be signed on their behalf.
I begin by congratulating Philip Hollobone MP and David Nuttall MP, who steered the Bill through the other place. It has enjoyed cross-party support and, appropriately for a Private Member’s Bill, is clearly defined in its aim and does not seek wholesale reform, which I hope will ensure its safe passage through your Lordships’ House. I also thank the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners, whose work in campaigning for improvements in leasehold legislation over the years has yielded some very helpful advice, both in the other place and in my preparation for today.
I must declare an interest in this subject as detailed in the Register of Lords’ Interests. Section 13 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 provides the right for leaseholders of flats to participate in collective enfranchisement and Section 42 provides for leaseholders to extend their lease. At present, notices under both these sections can only be signed personally by the leaseholder and not by a person acting under the power of attorney or under direction from the Court of Protection. The wording of the legislation states that these notices must be,
“signed by each of the tenants, or (as the case may be) by the tenant, by whom it is given”.
This wording has since been interpreted by the courts to mean that the notice must be signed personally by the leaseholder. The amendment would thus allow a person such as a solicitor or a relative who has appropriate authority to sign on the leaseholder’s behalf.
The types of individual that this amendment might assist are in many cases the most vulnerable in our society: for example, those who are physically unable to sign because of a disability, those who are seriously ill or those who are mentally incapacitated. It would also extend to those living or working abroad who cannot, for practical reasons, be physically present to sign.
It might be useful at this point to state what the Bill does not do. It does not deal with any other part of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, or with the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. It deals purely with Section 13 in relation to collective enfranchisement claims and Section 42 concerning individual leasehold claims, both in relation to blocks of flats. To extend the reach of the Bill would probably ensure its demise, and I am sure that noble Lords would not wish that to happen. I must also point out that although the Act’s provisions extend to Wales, the Bill does not alter the legal provision in relation to Wales. Housing is a devolved matter, as I am sure noble Lords know, and if the Welsh Government wanted to make the same changes for Wales, they would need to bring forward their own legislation to do that.
I hope the House will recognise the considerable benefits that the Bill would bring to many vulnerable people, who often need others to act on their behalf. If the Bill can enjoy the same support in your Lordships’ House as it did in the other place, it would be a small step in ironing out just one of the difficulties that leaseholders face. I beg to move.
My Lords I congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing forward the Bill. As one ex-council leader to another, I am delighted that she has done so comprehensively and explained it so well. I declare an interest as the holder of a leasehold interest in the block of flats in which I live.
I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I depart slightly from the provisions of the Bill, which she rightly says does not deal at all with other issues of leasehold reform and more particularly the commonhold issues. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, may wish to raise those today and will certainly raise them in a Question next week. I hope that the Minister will forgive me, too, but I take this opportunity to address this almost by way of advance warning. I wonder whether it is not time for the Government to review how the commonhold process is working. How many cases have there been where the right has been exercised and will any further changes need to be made in the legislation that permits commonholds to be created? The impression is that not very many have gone through, so it is perhaps now time, several years after the latest piece of legislation, for a review—although obviously not today. Perhaps the Government will look at that and give an indication of whether they might be willing to conduct a review or perhaps ask the Law Commission to do so.
Having said that, I strongly support the Bill. It is a small measure, but it deals with a matter that can affect a number of people. The House is indebted to the noble Baroness for bringing it forward.
I welcome this amending Bill today and strongly support it, for a number of different reasons. First, there is clearly a need in these days when communications have moved on so far to regularise this position. I was really surprised that even the Court of Protection could not authorise someone else to do it on your behalf—that amazed me. I thought that it had supreme powers to take over and look after things that other people could not, yet it has been confirmed to me that this is an instance when it is not able to do it. So that is very important. I am also surprised that it has taken more than 20 years to get to the point that we have got to today. If it really has been a problem, how come no one has brought this issue up before? It gives us hope that someone is now looking at the problems of leasehold, which is crying out for reform. I am delighted to hear the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, because I strongly agree—and I intend to mention the Law Commission. This Bill is enabling us to discuss this subject a little bit today, which is another reason why I welcome it. I should say that my interest is registered in the register—I am a leaseholder.
I have asked quite a number of Questions in this House over the years, but the only Question on which no one from anywhere in the House came in with a supplementary was on leasehold. Afterwards, a number of noble Lords said to me that they would have liked to come in but they had no idea what it was all about. There is a need to inform the public more about the situation so that they know about such things as the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made about commonhold, and the subject of my Question next week. In that Question, I will ask about the requirement that there is 100% agreement from people in a block of flats to change from leasehold to commonhold. That is almost unbelievable. I have a dossier of printouts from Hansard, with Minister after Minister—including the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who was not able to be here today, but said that I could quote her—agreeing that it is impossible to get 100% consent, for all sorts of reasons. It is sometimes because people are away or, in the terms of the Bill today, because nobody was authorised to sign. For whatever reason, 100% agreement is impossible. If you have a crooked or sharp operator owning the head lease they could bribe one person to oppose the move, and everyone else’s hope is gone.
I was sorry to lose Mark Prisk as Housing Minister, as he chaired an excellent roundtable meeting at the Department for Communities and Local Government last year. It was because of that that the redress scheme, which will come into force this year, has become law, and it will be of great value to many leaseholders. At that meeting was a huge range of people; it included organisations such as the Association of Residential Managing Agents, or ARMA, and ARLA—the letting one—LEASE, and Peverel, who were the villains of the piece but keep sending me letters and have now become angels. There were lots of politicians, including Members from both the Lords and the Commons. It was such a comprehensive meeting. For the first time, all these people, who were concerned but were looking at different aspects of the issue, were together and hearing from one another about the other side’s problems. But ALEP, the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners, was not there, and we were told that we would have another of these meetings. I am really very hopeful that the new Minister, Kris Hopkins, will continue that practice, because we need to make progress.
I support very clearly the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, about the Law Commission. I gave a keynote speech—I do not think that I would ever do it again, because it was such hard work—to the Federation of Private Residents’ Associations, in which I said that it was time that the Law Commission looked at this whole property issue and, in particular, at leasehold and commonhold, although the whole thing needs review. It was interesting because one of the people in the audience stood up and said that they were from the Law Commission and that it did not do anything off its own bat anymore. The Law Commission does a report only if it is asked to do so by the Government, because then the Government pay. I had not realised that—I have been here so long in this House that I remember the days when the Law Commission brought forward reports on a wide variety of subjects. Apparently, that has changed. Therefore, it is very important for us to realise that the initiative for such a report must come from Parliament and from the Government; that is something that we should consider.
There needs to be a much wider understanding of leasehold and the alternatives. In the London area, there are estimated to be about 3 million leaseholders and between 5 million and 7 million people living in leasehold property, and most of them are very unhappy with the situation in which they find themselves. Lots of them, when they took the lease, were delighted to get their flat, having worked out all the problems of purchase, but then found that all sorts of clauses were in there that they had no idea about—they had not taken them in. This is where the problem comes up. It is definitely time to simplify the property law; I ask the Government to look at that, and to look at the possibility of doing something.
Another issue that is very relevant is the Water Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who is a highly experienced surveyor, has tabled amendments to it that will be debated in the coming week. Leaseholders are totally excluded from any hope of getting the type of flood insurance that others get. Other people who will not get any will be occupants of council property and retirement sites. This situation will be damaging. The Water Bill should be looked at because the financial implications of this situation for individuals and even the nation are huge. The noble Earl spent some time explaining it to me yesterday and will explain it himself when he moves his amendments. A joint warning has been issued in relation to the Water Bill on the part of the British Property Federation, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the Council of Mortgage Lenders which all point out how badly leaseholders will be treated in this regard. Sir Peter Bottomley in the Commons has made a great contribution to the leasehold issue over the years. As there is not enough time to detail it now, I refer noble Lords to the Commons Hansard of 24 January 2014, where he sets out very clearly his valuable views.
I would like to put forward a brief list of matters that should be thoroughly examined and that I hope will be brought forward in either primary or secondary legislation in the near future. Above all, there is a need for transparency in leasehold and for honesty and accuracy in all dealings. Leaseholders have suffered from crooked landlords not revealing that they are direct financial beneficiaries of contracts for insurance, building, management and all sorts of things. It is scandalous that the people who pay the bills have not been able to find out whether a huge rake-off from those bills has gone to a corrupt head lessee or freeholder.
The lack of maintenance of buildings is a major complaint. Sometimes buildings have been allowed to deteriorate for years and residents have been completely frustrated in all efforts to get the work done. Peter Bottomley has called for failures in some extremely serious cases to be criminalised. I have not gone into the detail of which aspects he thinks should be criminalised, whether it is the corrupt taking of the money or the failure to maintain buildings, so, again, I refer noble Lords to his comments. The OFT is carrying out an investigation of the residential leasehold property management market.
As leasehold is a property tenure used only in Hawaii and the UK—this was stated very clearly during the passage of earlier Bills in which I was involved—I think it is time that we looked at it again and I commend the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in that regard. I still have a flat in Australia under a system known as strata title. However, I understand that there are faults in the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, and we should also look at that. The major fault is the 100% agreement that is required in certain circumstances.
I have set out these matters in order to place them on record in Hansard as a starting point in explaining some of the problems connected with leasehold property to people in general and to Members of this House. I seek to give us an idea of how to move on. The Minister—Kris Hopkins—sent a letter on 6 January 2014 to the Association of Leasehold Enfranchisement Practitioners, which states, “This Bill aims to make a minor but worthwhile change”. That exactly sums up the position.
I hope that the Bill will make progress. I was fascinated to hear my noble friend, in introducing it, refer to one small step being taken. I was born in Parkes, where the radio telescope transmitted man’s first step on the moon worldwide, because they could not see it in the US. Therefore, the words “one small step” are highly significant to me and may be a good omen that we will get something out of this process. I support the Bill and congratulate my noble friend on bringing it before the House.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as a leaseholder. I congratulate my noble friend on bringing this much-needed legislation forward. It is particularly needed for those people who are responsible for assisting elderly relatives to dispose of property, often because the relatives are going into residential care and the assets need to be sold to pay for that. Once a lease drops much below 70 years, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to whom the relevant property is sold to remortgage or get a mortgage. The necessity of extending the lease is particularly important for those elderly people at that stage in their lives. Many elderly people in that situation would benefit from the proposals in the Bill.
However, I do have a reservation. Where the Court of Protection is involved, people have power of attorney or solicitors have been instructed to act on behalf of a client, it seems to me that there is a clear ability to hand on the right to sign on behalf of the leaseholder. However, has my noble friend given any thought to the question of who assesses capacity in the case of mental incapacity? The House is currently giving post-legislative scrutiny to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and I am pleased to be on the relevant committee. One of the weaknesses that evidence brought before that committee has demonstrated is that, other than among medical and social care professionals, there is very little knowledge of the need to assess capacity: who can do it and how you then act accordingly. I suggest that people such as bankers, solicitors and others are not terribly clear about their responsibilities under the Mental Capacity Act and ask my noble friend to take a look at that.
My Lords, I start by drawing attention to my interests in the register and making clear, as did my noble friend Lord Beecham, that we support the Bill and do not seek to amend it. We congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, on taking up this measure and, we hope, seeing it through to a successful conclusion. We also congratulate David Nuttall on piloting the Bill through another place. It is, as we have heard, a narrow measure, although the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and my noble friend Lord Beecham could not resist the temptation to widen the debate. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not follow suit as I think that is a debate for another day.
The Bill touches on two important rights of leaseholders: the right of collective enfranchisement—that is, the right to compel the sale of the freehold—and the right to require an extension to an existing long lease. We support these rights and consider it important that they can be effectively taken up. As we have heard, a key part of progressing these rights is the giving of notice to a landlord. That is the tenant’s notice in the case of a lease extension and the initial notice in the case of collective enfranchisement. In both cases, these kick-start the process.
We accept that the courts have clearly stated that the provisions of Section 99 of the 1993 Act require the tenant themselves—the leaseholder themselves—to actually sign the Section 42 and Section 13 notices. Mr Justice Lloyd was cited by Mr Nuttall at Third Reading in the Commons, at col. 561 of Commons Hansard of 24 January 2014, as distinguishing the method of signature of notices required under these sections and other notices required under the Act. As the debate in the other place highlighted, we would be advantaged if we could better understand why Parliament chose to make this distinction, but it seems—I have not revisited the debates—that the limited scrutiny at the time does not throw any light on the matter. I do not know whether the Minister can help us further on that today.
As we have heard, the purpose of the Bill is to redress for England the suggested disadvantage that arises from the requirements of a personal signature. I have given the Minister notice of my next question: what is the position when there are joint leaseholders? Are they both required to sign or is either one of them sufficient? It is suggested that this affects broadly two groups: those who delegate some or all of their leaseholder responsibilities either generally or specifically for one of the processes under consideration to a lawyer, management company or valuer, for example, and may themselves be abroad; and those whose mental or physical impairment means that they appoint someone to act on their behalf, under, say, a power of attorney or, as we have heard, the Court of Protection. That is, the first set of circumstances are entered into by choice, the second are effectively unavoidable.
As regards lease extensions, as the Leasehold Advisory Service booklet makes clear, the process is not just a matter of signing a request; there is preparatory work before notice on the landlord is given as well as a prescribed route once the notice has been given. The leaseholder is responsible for the landlord’s reasonable costs from the date of receipt of the notice. Service of the notice will trigger a timeframe within which the landlord can require evidence, and the tenants must respond. The landlord can require a deposit and serve a counter-notice, and there is a timeframe attached to a route to the leasehold valuation tribunal.
However, the leaseholder is very much in control, especially at the start of the process, and it might be argued that there is no compelling reason to change the law for those who choose to delegate the functions, because it should be perfectly possible, even for those living abroad, to factor in the personal signing of a notice. However, the provisions concerning collective enfranchisement and the giving of a Section 13 initial notice potentially have wider implications if it is not just a single tenant who is pursuing an individual benefit. If a potentially qualifying tenant can be successfully challenged, this could presumably undermine the action of the remaining tenants, due to the threshold requirements. It is not so readily under the control of each individual tenant, and reaching people abroad on a timely basis is potentially more important.
We therefore believe that that is a strong argument for the change in the law that the Bill provides. An even stronger imperative in the case of both notices is that when, because of incapacity, someone has to rely on a third party to sign notices and execute transactions, it is through necessity, not choice. I wonder whether the status quo could anyway be challenged under human rights or equalities legislation, because the personal signature requirement could clearly be discriminatory to some disabled people in some circumstances.
However, the Bill rectifies the matter for England but leaves the position open in Wales. The Minister may wish to comment on that. Indeed, what should be the advice to someone in Wales who has entered into a power of attorney? Should they nevertheless individually sign? Is the notice capable of being challenged by the landlord?
The rationale for the Bill has been admirably summed up by its promoter at col. 562 of Commons Hansard of 24 January. We agree with that summary, and the Bill has our support.
My Lords, I share and echo the comments of noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford on, and thanking her for, introducing this Bill. I hope that she will not mind me informing your Lordships that this is the first time that she has spoken in the Chamber, and I do not know how many other Members of your Lordships’ House have spoken for the first time in the Chamber while being responsible for a Private Member’s Bill. She gave her maiden speech in Grand Committee in the Moses Room, so this is an occasion all on its own, even though the Bill is important.
I, too, must declare my interest as an owner-occupier of a leasehold flat. Like other noble Lords have done, I should mention the good work of my honourable friends in the other place, David Nuttall and Philip Hollobone, in introducing and leading the Bill. I congratulate them on the progress it has made so far. I am pleased to say that the Government fully support the Bill as it stands. Some brief and well targeted amendments that were brought forward in the other place by the honourable friends I mentioned, jointly with my honourable friend the Housing Minister, have ensured that the Bill can effectively achieve its worthwhile aim.
Importantly, the Bill will, if it reaches the statute book, affect only the position in England, not in Wales—housing being a devolved matter. This is probably the right moment to respond to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, about Wales. I urge Members of the Welsh Assembly to look at this legislation and consider it carefully. I do not believe that prior to the Bill coming forward—and, I hope, achieving Royal Assent—there is any discrepancy in terms of equality law, but clearly there will be a difference between the treatment of people in England and those in Wales who live in leasehold properties. I hope that the Assembly will look at what we are doing here and learn from it.
As my noble friend Lady Williams explained, the Bill aims, by amending Section 99(5)—
I do not quite follow the position regarding Wales, because it has been explained that Wales is deliberately excluded from the provisions of Bill. None the less, subsection (3) of Clause 2 states:
“The Act extends to England and Wales”.
The Act that is in place, which this Bill is amending, extends to Wales, but because housing is a devolved matter, the way in which we are amending the Act is specific, in that the amendment applies only to England. One might describe it as a convoluted way of going about it, as is sometimes necessary when amending legislation. However, the effect will be that the Act that this Bill is amending remains as it is and applies to England and Wales, but the specific amendment to the Act via this Bill will apply only to England, because we cannot apply it to Wales. It is a devolved matter.
The Bill states that the Act extends to England and Wales. Does it?
Okay, I see where the noble Lord is coming from. The Act extends to England and Wales but we cannot amend it in respect of Wales. Wales has to amend it for itself because it is a devolved matter. I hope that that clarifies the situation for the noble Lord.
I understand it—and the Government support the Bill.
As my noble friend Lady Williams explained, the Bill aims, by amending Section 99(5) of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, to remove current restrictions on who can sign the legal notices required when leaseholders exercise certain statutory rights. At present, the leaseholder of a flat who wants to extend their lease or take part in acquiring the freehold of their block must personally sign the legal notices required. Currently, no one else is allowed to sign on behalf of a leaseholder who is physically unable to do so, even if they are acting under a power of attorney. This includes situations in which a leaseholder has become the subject of mental incapacity and the Court of Protection has issued a direction. This position has been confirmed by case law. I should say to my noble friend Lady Browning, on the point that she raised about testing, that it would not be necessary for anyone to test or prove mental incapacity on the part of the leaseholder in order for this Bill to assist them.
This Private Member’s Bill would enable the legal notices to be signed in future on the leaseholder’s behalf. In bringing forward this change, it will help a range of people. In response to a point that my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes raised about the extent of those affected by the Bill, they are relatively small in number, but our decisions to act should not always be based on the weight of the mailbag we receive. If the case to act is clear—which this Bill demonstrates—and the solution is simple and easy to administer, and doing so brings no downside to others, I am glad that this Government are able to offer their support.
In addition to the elderly and vulnerable, the removal of current restrictions would also be helpful to those who are charged with looking after the financial affairs of a leaseholder—for example, relations who are acting under a power of attorney. The Bill could also help some leaseholders living abroad who need to sign these notices. For example, work may take a flat’s leaseholder abroad for a period, and, without the ability to have someone act with appropriate authority on their behalf in respect of the property, it may be difficult for the leaseholder to exercise their statutory rights.
If individual leaseholders who live or work abroad are hindered in this way, that could have an unfortunate knock-on effect on other leaseholders in the block. Where, for example, several leaseholders want to exercise their collective right to acquire the freehold of their block, in order to satisfy the qualifying criteria they may need one or more leaseholders who live or work abroad to take part. While the Bill would not make any change to leaseholders’ rights, it might helpfully remove a practical barrier to the efficient exercise of those rights.
We have seen from the contributions made today that there is widespread support for the Bill and I hope that it will receive a fair wind during its onward progress. It offers help and hope to leaseholders who might otherwise face an insurmountable barrier to exercising their rights. In doing so, the Bill will assist the families and friends who care for vulnerable leaseholders and thereby give them greater peace of mind, too.
My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes has taken the opportunity to raise a number of interesting issues that are not directly related to the Bill. I am aware that a range of leasehold issues give my noble friend and others cause for concern, and she outlined some of them today.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, joined my noble friend Lady Gardner in raising the issue of commonhold. As the noble Lord knows, commonhold law is a matter for the Ministry of Justice rather than DCLG, but I shall certainly make my colleagues in the MoJ aware of the points that he raised, ahead of the Oral Question that my noble friend has tabled on the Order Paper for Monday.
I will reflect carefully on the points raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes and discuss them further with my honourable friend Kris Hopkins, the Housing Minister. I hope my noble friend will feel that he is just as good at his job of Housing Minister as his predecessor. He is certainly interested in these issues and I hope that we will continue to have a constructive dialogue about the legitimate points she raised, which deserve full consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about co-signatories to a lease. I can confirm that where there are co-signatories, it may be necessary for both to sign the notices in person. This Bill will assist in situations where one or more of the leaseholders is unable to sign in person. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Williams will confirm that when she responds.
I am pleased to give the Government’s support for the Bill. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading today, pass successfully on to its next stages in this House and in due course receive Royal Assent.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can clear up the issue of Wales. It is my understanding that Clause 1 of the Bill specifically excludes Wales. Therefore, because Wales is mentioned in Clause 1, this Bill has to apply to Wales as well.
My noble friend is right. I thought I had clarified this matter in response to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who asked the question previously. My noble friend is correct. The key point, I stress, is that the change this Bill is making affects only leaseholders in England. It does not affect leaseholders in Wales.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate—which, as I expected, ranged further than the Bill. This is because there are so many concerns surrounding leasehold issues. I also thank the Minister for answering all of the non-Bill and Bill questions.
I will pick up on a few points. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked why it has taken more than 20 years to get to the point today where this issue is such an anomaly in the legislation. I agree. However, here we are, and I am pleased that the Bill has had a favourable response. She also pointed to the lack of knowledge generally about leasehold. I confess that I was in that camp until about a week ago. It is a minefield and, as she said, the Bill is but one small step in ironing out some of the anomalies in the original Act.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raised the issue of Wales, as did the noble Lord opposite whose name—I hope he will forgive me—I do not know. I have been desperately looking in the book. To reiterate the point, while the Bill extends to Wales, the legislation does not. I hope that following today’s debate or the Bill’s passage, the Welsh Assembly may take forward this legislation under its devolved powers.
My noble friend Lady Browning and the Minister answered the point about who assesses incapacity. I am pleased to hear that it is not necessary to prove that incapacity.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked about commonhold. This is an important but new area which will be worthy of exploration going forward.
I hope that I have covered all the points that the Minister has already addressed. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, the Bill has, of course, now passed through the other place in the expert hands of my honourable friend Mr Jonathan Lord. It allows the Secretary of State—that is to say, the Home Secretary—to waive the requirement in the case of members of the Armed Forces to have been in the United Kingdom on the date five years before an application for naturalisation. Your Lordships will appreciate that members of the Armed Forces could be on an overseas posting at the relevant date and thus placed at a disadvantage.
Accordingly, the Bill seeks to amend Schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981, which sets out the requirements for naturalisation as a British citizen under Section 6(1) of that Act. That section allows for naturalisation on the grounds of residence in the United Kingdom. The same Act requires the applicant to be physically present in the United Kingdom at the start of the five-year qualifying period for naturalisation. Although so-called Crown service provides an exemption from this provision, that exemption can in practice be used only in cases of exceptional Crown service. The effect of the Bill is to broaden this exemption to accommodate service in Her Majesty’s forces, including the circumstances where a member has been subsequently discharged or has returned to the United Kingdom. The definition of members of the Armed Forces is taken from Section 50 of the British Nationality Act, to which I have just referred.
I am glad to say that the costs associated with implementing this Bill will be negligible since these applications are funded through application fees and no significant change in the volume of applications is expected. Service personnel will benefit from the Bill as soon as its provisions take effect, which is set at two months from Royal Assent. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that not too much of what is about to follow will be seen as motherhood and apple pie. Being at the stage of trying to lose some weight, too much apple pie is no good thing, and I have not yet tried motherhood. Those of us who are survivors of the post-Second World War baby boomer generation probably had parents who served in the forces during that war. My own father was a Royal Marine. He rarely spoke of the war in detail, but often commended the courage and generosity of others with whom he had served. A frequent theme was the remarkable generosity of foreign and Commonwealth nationals who came to serve with the British Armed Forces: Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and so on, as well as Polish soldiers and airmen, and of course, then as now, the Gurkhas. This is a remarkable story, and one that we will remember again next year when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli in the First World War.
For that reason I congratulate the honourable Member for Woking on bringing this matter forward in another place. It is an inspired initiative and it is very encouraging that Her Majesty’s Government have embraced it so readily as an extension of all that has been so far achieved by putting the Armed Forces covenant on to the statute book. Some three years ago, I was pleased to offer a certain amount of time myself, alongside Peers from all parties and, of course, the Cross Benches to this very subject. During my time in this House it has been one of the initiatives in which I have been proud to play a very modest part.
The covenant has brought into statute law a tacit understanding of what our nation owes to Her Majesty’s forces and what they might expect from us in mutual support. It is an acknowledgment of the courage, tenacity and sacrifice made by those serving in the forces on land, in the air and at sea. But all those qualities are underpinned by a deeper foundation rooted in the real generosity of those who have given their time and sometimes their lives. This Bill recognises a still greater sense of self-offering by those who serve in our forces but who hail from other nations and parts of the world. The Bill is imaginative in drawing the implications of the armed services covenant into conjunction with the British Nationality Act 1981, as just noted by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The amending of the requirements of that Act of Parliament ensures that foreign and Commonwealth members and former members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces can apply for naturalisation on equal terms, irrespective of whether they were posted in the United Kingdom itself or overseas.
This is, of course, entirely consistent with the underlying principles enshrined in the Armed Forces covenant; namely, to combat disadvantage and discrimination. It is a clear sign of an act of good faith and of the trust which is implied by the very nature of the Armed Forces covenant. A covenant is an expression of mutual trust with implications, indeed imperatives, for those at either end of the covenant who thus make it a reality. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for lapsing into theology, something which I know earlier politicians have considered takes us away from the main point. It is no accident, I would argue, that the word “covenant” is firmly rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. There are at least four covenants enshrined in the Jewish scriptures, and an alternative name for the New Testament is indeed the New Covenant, which is an exact translation of the Greek. For the reason of the use of the word “covenant” alone, but for so much more in the emphasis on trust implied, the church is entirely supportive of these underlying principles.
The Bill is not about providing preferential treatment or positive discrimination for one particular section of society. Rather, it is about building inclusive communities by combating marginalisation and disadvantage. At heart it is about supporting the common good. For all these reasons I want us to support the Bill with all our hearts.
My Lords, it is very refreshing to be here on a Friday in early 2014 with a Bill before us on which I think we can all agree. It is a rather refreshing contrast to the experiences of recent Friday sittings. I give my support to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne unreservedly, and I do so for personal as well as general reasons. Having been born in Lincolnshire, I was brought up in Scotland during the war, as my father was stationed up there. One of his prized possessions, which is still a treasured memento within the family, was a little silver cigarette lighter inscribed by Polish officers whom he had instructed in the arts of navigation in the war. I can remember one or two of those Polish officers coming to our home and my father saying what marvellous men they were. At the end of the war I went back to Grimsby, the town I had been born in. A Polish regiment, the Carpathian Lancers, was being disbanded. Many of those soldiers became esteemed members of the local community. They also took up British citizenship, not necessarily because they wanted to do so—they wanted to go back to Poland—but because Poland had been absorbed into the Soviet bloc and they could only hope to enjoy freedom by staying in the United Kingdom. As I say, many of them became valued members of the local community.
We have moved on since then, and indeed in a year’s time we will be marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, but it does well for us to remind ourselves, while we are discussing what I hope is a totally uncontroversial Bill, of just what we in this country owe to those who were not necessarily born as British subjects, but who took up arms to fight for freedom and, in the process, to fight for our country and for what they believed in. Today, the circumstances are very different, but even now we still depend, with the much reduced numbers in our Armed Forces, on a number of people who are not native-born British subjects. We all know about the Gurkhas, but there are many others from the Commonwealth and other countries who give valiant service. A number have been decorated for their service in Afghanistan, and some have lost their lives. So it is wholly right that those who enlist in the British Armed Forces should not suffer any impediment if they wish to become British subjects while they are still serving in the forces, when they have retired, or if they have been forced to leave through injury.
This is a modest measure but it is a very important one symbolically. I hope that we will never need to talk of it in a Scottish context. I give my noble friend my total support. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the Bill forward, and I trust that it will receive the unanimous support of all Members of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is right to say that the Bill will receive unanimous support across your Lordships’ House. We certainly welcome the Bill and join other noble Lords in congratulating Jonathan Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on bringing it forward to your Lordships’ House. In addition to its content—which, rightly, has widespread support—the Bill has the advantage of being short and very clear and precise in what it seeks to do. Such clarity of purpose is very welcome in a Private Member’s Bill. I also join in the tributes to members of our Armed Forces. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke with eloquent passion on that issue, and I concur with the comments they made.
We all read and see reports of the activities of those who serve in our Armed Forces, both at home and abroad, but it is really only by talking to them and their families that we can fully appreciate the extent of the work they do and the sacrifices that they and their families make. We welcome the Bill. The principle enshrined in the Armed Forces covenant—that no member of the Armed Forces should face disadvantage as a result of their service—is a very important one. We must also recognise that to fulfil that commitment to our service men and women, they will at times receive special and different treatment to ensure that they do not face discrimination or disadvantage. That principle has our total support. It is also right that it should apply to those who serve and apply for British citizenship.
I know that in the other place they had lengthy debates, which I have read, and they looked at all the potential problems with the Bill; but there are none. Although I do not think that that kind of debate will be necessary here, a couple of outstanding matters were raised in the other place which I do not think were addressed by the Minister, Mr Harper. Perhaps the noble Lord can help with those, either today or in writing.
First, can he clarify the numbers? Government immigration policy has been largely based on numbers—for example in respect of net migration and immigration —but the number of people who will be affected by the Bill is not very clear. I think the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said there will be no impact on numbers, but the estimates that I have seen from looking at the debates in the other place range between 100 and 300. It is slightly unclear. It may be that there is no reliable estimate—I have no difficulty with that—and that the strength of the case of those who are serving in our Armed Forces and wish to become British citizens is enough in itself. However, if there is any reliable estimate of numbers, that would help your Lordships’ House.
The second point was a specific example raised by both Diana Johnson and Steve Reed, my honourable colleagues in the other place. I am aware of the general point, and the Minister may be too, but I will put it to him and hope that he can help me, even if it is in writing after today’s debate. If the length of service is cut short by a military injury or due to an injury sustained while serving in HM Armed Forces an individual cannot fulfil all the criteria required for citizenship, although in both cases he or she would have done so without such an injury, would they still be granted citizenship? It is a matter that can be addressed in guidance, and I do not intend to hold up the debate in any way, but I would be grateful for the noble Lord’s assurances on that point.
We agree that foreign and Commonwealth citizens who serve this country in the Armed Forces should not face disadvantages for doing so when applying for British citizenship. We are pleased to support the Bill.
My Lords, I am delighted to be here myself today to support the Bill on behalf of the Government. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for taking up this Bill, which was so ably steered through the Commons by my honourable friend Jonathan Lord, and to colleagues in this House for lending their support. I appreciate the support the Bill has had from Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, as expressed so positively by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, today.
I can give the noble Baroness some indication on numbers, although it is an imprecise science. The answer is that no separate figures are kept but, anecdotally, caseworkers estimate that they deal with approximately 200 to 300 cases per year. Only a small proportion of those will directly benefit from the provision in the Bill. If I can give any more precise figures I will do so in writing, but that is the situation at present.
This is one of those measures that does not affect a great many people, but those whom it does affect, it affects greatly, so we are right to support it in this House. I have discussed with the noble Baroness the matter of service overseas being interrupted by injury or disability. I have provided my noble friend Lord Trefgarne with a briefing note, as it is his Bill and I felt it appropriate that he should be able to answer that particular aspect.
The Bill is likely to have a considerable impact on the people at whom it is directed, as my noble friend—and fellow Lincolnshire yellowbelly—Lord Cormack pointed out. He gave a graphic description of how lives are affected by those who give service to this country overseas and how the whole point of the Bill is to safeguard their interest in questions of nationality. Once implemented, it will enable us to overlook the requirement to be in the UK on day 1 of the qualifying period for naturalisation, in the same way as we already overlook the requirement to have spent a certain number of days in the UK where the absence was a result of service in our Armed Forces. It is an unintended and unjust consequence of existing legislation that a member of our Armed Forces should have to wait longer to gain British citizenship just because he or she happened to have been posted overseas at the relevant time.
I am sure that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne will appreciate the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, who rightly connected this measure to the Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces covenant. The measure is recognised as a priority commitment under the covenant, which the Home Office takes seriously. The service welfare organisations have both supported and challenged the Home Office throughout its delivery of this and other covenant commitments, and we will continue to work with them for the benefit of the Armed Forces community. The Government wish the Bill well.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the Bill, including the noble Baroness. The right reverend Prelate is of course quite right that the Bill comes within the context of the military covenant and is very much a downstream effect of that particular measure.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about delays caused by injuries that might have been incurred overseas. For settlement applications, the requirement for four years’ service can be waived if an illness or injury is attributable to service and is sustained in an operational theatre. If it is not, a number of factors will be considered, including the severity of the injury, the length of service, the prognosis for recovery and the applicant’s ability to support himself or herself. Limited leave may be given where the applicant does not qualify for settlement but needs a period of recovery before they leave the United Kingdom. A member of the Armed Forces who is granted settlement following medical discharge will be able to apply for citizenship as and when the five-year residency requirement is met. For example, if the individual is medically discharged and granted indefinite leave to remain after two years’ service, he must wait a further three years before becoming eligible to naturalise. The Bill has the potential to help such an individual where he or she was serving overseas on the date five years before the application for naturalisation. The Secretary of State could, at the moment, waive the requirement where the individual was still serving and still overseas, but the Bill will extend this discretion to those who have left Her Majesty’s forces or who have returned to the UK. I hope that that is a satisfactory explanation.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
International Development (Gender Equality) Bill
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, Mr William Cash MP deserves great credit for steering this Private Member’s Bill through another place, from its introduction on 19 June 2013 to its Third Reading on 17 January 2014. It is a modest Bill, intended to ensure that when the Government provide development or humanitarian assistance to countries outside the UK, they do so—wherever possible—in a way that promotes gender equality.
Water, sanitation and hygiene poverty disproportionately blights the lives of women and girls. Lack of water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH—can, first, prevent girls from attending primary school because they are too busy collecting water or caring for sick family members, and, secondly, expose them to sexual and physical violence while walking in isolated areas or seeking private places in which to urinate. Secondary education depends on water, sanitation and hygiene access because girls cannot attend school when they are sick with diarrhoea or when they have to collect water for the family. Those who are menstruating may choose to skip a week of school or drop out altogether if there are no private latrines or hygiene supplies at school.
Lack of education has an impact on the rest of girls’ lives, including their health, their freedom to plan their families and, ultimately, the cycle of poverty. Gender equality is not possible until everyone everywhere has access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. The International Development (Gender Equality) Bill is essential if we are to stop discriminatory legal frameworks, policies, practices and beliefs that prevent some people accessing water, sanitation and hygiene services.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion working hours every year collecting water. With a safe supply of water and toilets, women are able to spend time engaging in income-generating activities or agriculture. Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene and providing expectant mothers with basic services and accurate hygiene information are vital in order to reduce maternal mortality rates and meet global goals for ending preventable child deaths.
Caring for disabled, sick and older family members usually falls to women and girls, as it is considered to be domestic work. The tasks include washing, supporting persons going to the toilet and collecting water. Boys are often forced into the workforce rather than being able to stay at school, to compensate for the loss of income. During a visit to Nepal with WaterAid last year, I saw first-hand the problems that women experience when living without adequate sanitation. I saw how a simple latrine can really transform lives, impacting on health, safety, dignity and education.
In a small village called Thecho on the outskirts of Kathmandu, I met women who were part of a women’s co-operative that was set up to oversee the construction and maintenance of eco-friendly household latrines, vastly improving the quality of life in the community. The previous unsanitary environment had led to serious health concerns. More than this, it was evident that sanitation had a clear and significant impact on dignity, education and livelihoods. Before they had latrines, they had no choice but to defecate in the open. The women said that this put them at risk of harassment and even attack.
My most memorable experience on that visit was marching in my first ever street demonstration—it is never too late to learn. Kathmandu is quite used to strikes and demonstrations, but a street march of 1,000 Nepalis, mainly women, calling for clean water and sanitation for all by 2030 was one of the more unusual scenes it will have seen—perhaps even more unusual for having a Member of the House of Lords in attendance. Unusual or not, I hope that the dignity march helped to bring home the message.
Investment in WASH really is one of the most efficient and effective development interventions that can help efforts to bring about gender equity. Mr Cash’s hope is that this Bill will be a small contribution towards ending the marginalisation and abuse of women which is all too common in many developing countries. I believe the aims of the Bill to be uncontroversial and, since amendments can readily scupper a Private Member’s Bill such as this, I am sure that no one will think of opposing these important measures. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for introducing this Bill to your Lordships’ House. I welcome and support this Bill. It is a subject I have spoken about on numerous occasions, as have many other noble Lords.
I am very pleased that gender equality and the empowerment of women are seen as essential for both the elimination of world poverty and the upholding of human rights. Supporting all efforts to achieve gender equality must be at the centre of the United Kingdom’s international development programmes. I know how much is already being done, which is why I particularly welcome the Bill.
We know that violence against women and girls is endemic in conflict areas and that its consequences are devastating and long-lasting, for not just the individual but the entire community. Sexual violence is not just a by-product of war, it is often a strategy of combat used systematically to terrorise and humiliate. This is a key element that needs urgent attention and vigilance.
Women and girls must be supported in all key areas in creating a positive and enabling environment for them. This can happen in a range of areas, such as: giving them a voice and accountability in terms of maternal mortality; gender violence, as I have mentioned; education, which is so key; conflict and post-conflict reconstruction; HIV and AIDS; and, of course, migration.
Giving women a voice and supporting women’s participation in national and local decision-making in promoting leadership are also essential. Supporting women in this way ensures that not just the women and their families but whole villages and whole areas are empowered. Women are given a voice where they have not had one in the past and have been silenced in the most horrific way.
I do not plan to speak for too long but I will turn to the women of Afghanistan, which is a subject that I have been particularly involved in and exercised about. We in the United Kingdom have a significant responsibility here. Afghanistan has been named the worst place in the world to be a woman, and it does not seem to be getting any better. Just a few days ago it was reported that a new Afghan law would allow men to attack their wives, daughters and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country that has been blighted by so-called honour killings, forced marriage and very vicious domestic abuse. The so-called honour killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of women’s behaviour would be almost impossible to punish if this proposed law was enacted. This is shocking and unacceptable. It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women. The most vulnerable people will not get justice.
After all the years of conflict, war and the billions spent by the UK and other countries on this war, which was intended initially—if we cast our minds back—to free Afghan women from the violence meted out to them by the Taliban, it seems inconceivable that we can watch from the sidelines while this happens.
Countries that spent billions trying to improve justice and human rights are now focused largely on security and are retreating from Afghan politics. It is precisely for this reason that we need to commit that all future aid funds for these women are used to promote and protect women’s rights and education.
Human Rights Watch has said:
“Opponents of women's rights have been emboldened in the last year. They can see an opportunity right now to begin reversing women’s rights—no need to wait for 2015. The lack of response from donors has energised them further. Everyone has known since May that this law could be passed but we didn’t hear any donors speaking out about it publicly”.
This must not prevail. It would be a betrayal of these women.
Last year, I met a group of Afghan women MPs who were visiting our Parliament. I and others were struck by how brave these women were, facing threats daily just to be able to carry out their duties as Members of Parliament—threats that we could not possibly imagine here in the West. They were most concerned that once the troops withdrew this year they would be left even more vulnerable than they previously were. They were acutely aware of, and vocal on, how aid and progress made on, for example, girls’ education could so easily be dismantled. They all made a strong plea with us: that we ask the Government to ensure that funds for Afghan women be protected and be given specifically to the agencies which work with women, and not be allowed to be channelled through the Afghan Government, who we have seen are not reliable on these matters at the best of times.
I note the Secretary of State’s annual report on how effective aid has been in the pursuit of millennium development goal 3—to promote gender equality and empower women. The evidence for the need for this Bill is overwhelming. I again congratulate its initiator, Bill Cash MP, and we on these Benches fully support it.
My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his lead on this important Bill. We should be grateful to him but not surprised: he is known throughout Parliament and far beyond for his devotion to philanthropy, extending his work as a fine surgeon at Guy’s to deploying skills, gratis, on the mercy ships along the west African coast.
I enthusiastically support this present drive to tie overseas aid to the reduction not only of poverty but of gender inequality; that is, as a lever to improve the lives of girls and women. This is a huge area, extending to personal healthcare, to FGM, to marital law, to property rights and, not least, to the education that can enable women to work in areas far above the menial.
I do not have knowledge of west Africa remotely comparable to that of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, but, 40 years ago, I was charged by the British Council to assess some higher education projects that it was considering, first in Ghana and then, a year or so later, in Nigeria.
Well, you cannot report on universities without seeing something of the elementary and secondary education that their students had had. In Ghana, I noted that the schools were clearly progressive, with boys and girls keen to learn despite poorly trained teachers and grim classrooms. The same was true in some parts of Nigeria, especially in Yoruba-speaking Lagos and Ibadan. But in the vast stretches of northern Nigeria, in Hausa-speaking Kano, Zaria and Kaduna, it was a very different story. Girls in classrooms were vanishingly rare, and I raised this matter with the local authorities. I met with a range of reactions, from embarrassment to incomprehension, from puzzlement to outright hostility. One director of education told me that I should try to see the Emir of Zaria. To my great surprise, this emir agreed to speak to me and invited me to talks in his grand palace.
He was both gracious and frank. Girls did not need education; their fathers could barely afford schooling for their sons. What is more, the future husbands of these girls certainly did not want their girls to be educated. They did not want them to have been exposed—his word—to schooling; their mothers would teach them all they needed to know. By the way, when I reported this to the British Council, I was told, “Well, of course, we must never interfere with indigenous cultures”.
Things in west Africa are much better today, but recent horrific events in the north-east of the country are a warning of how easily the clock can be turned back, as it was when the Taliban took over again in Afghanistan—and as it may again turn back there when western troops pull out this year, their mission not so much completed as abandoned.
Pressure through aid conditionality may well be the best tool we can devise, so let us give this Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, a fair wind. One powerful ally will surely be Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF. Earlier this very week, she delivered the Dimbleby Lecture right here in London and, significantly, she dwelt at some length on the issue of female oppression and neglect. Her concern was not merely for the sake of the girls and women in a range of countries across the world, not excluding our own of course, but for the sake of economic development itself. She noted the ILO estimates that nearly 1 billion women in the world are being held back, facing,
“discrimination at birth, on the school bench, in the board room … yet, the economic facts of life are crystal clear. By not letting women contribute, we end up with lower standards for everyone … We must let women succeed: for ourselves and for all the little girls—and boys—of the future. It will be their world—let us give it to them”.
To Madame Lagarde’s rousing words, we must surely say amen. This Bill would just as surely make a powerful contribution.
My Lords, in the three years that I have been in this House, we have had the opportunity and the privilege to debate many of these issues on a number of occasions. It is, therefore, very tempting for me merely to say, “I support this Bill; it is the right thing to do”, and sit down, because we have already had the chance to make these points. However, they are such important points, and so many women across the world have such terrible lives, that I fear I am not going to let your Lordships off so lightly.
I start by echoing the praise of the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, for the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I am lucky enough to share a room with the noble Lord, Lord McColl; I can speak at first hand of his enormous support for many good causes, of his personal support for me, which I very much value, and of his extreme modesty in the wonderful causes that he supports. I quite often have come back after the recess and said, “Have you had a good time, Ian?” and he has said, “Oh yes, I was operating on the Mercy Ships all the way through”. His dedication to these causes is something to be applauded and something that we should all honour as well.
Considering that the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill was originally No. 18 on the Private Members’ Bills ballot, it is a significant achievement that we are having this debate at all. Without the support of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the dedication of Bill Cash in getting it through, as well as the support of the International Development Secretary, we would not have got this far. I would like to pay tribute to her and to her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell; they both focused particularly on policy work at DfID to support women and girls.
Women across the world, whether they live in Sweden or Sudan, are entitled to live their lives with dignity, free from fear and empowered to control their own futures. However, while we know that women are integral to the development agenda, it remains the case that in many parts of the world their contributions are neither valued nor encouraged, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, told us so eloquently. There have already been significant steps taken to challenge the status quo, but the pursuit of gender equality cannot be just an element of the international development agenda. It is true that one of the eight millennium development goals is focused on women and girls, but should this mean that they are excluded from the other seven? Of course not.
Nevertheless, for poor women in poor places, significant gender gaps remain in education enrolment, fertility, access to healthcare and access to the local economic market. Women produce 50% of the world’s food and yet they earn only 10% of its income and own only 1% of its property. Women do not participate in society on equal terms with men, meaning that they are largely ignored in the decision-making process. It is not a coincidence that women in wealthier sections of society have not only received an education, but are more prominent within their communities. Even where developing countries as a whole are getting richer, differences between men and women remain, entrenched in ideology, despite nearly a century of women’s activism.
The participation of women in their communities and wider society is invaluable. Government agendas which fail to address the representation of women may lead to free and fair elections initially, but a male-dominated parliament, as we know only too well, will never be able fully to tap into and harness the entire population’s potential and capacity. Furthermore, by considering the different needs of men and women in emergency aid situations, we can better target our aid at the vulnerable, helping those who need it most. Systemic shocks, such as famine, economic downturn and conflict, adversely affect males and females, and yet women often suffer disproportionately and have very little say in rebuilding their communities after such events. Fewer than 3% of signatories to peace agreements are female.
DfID’s record on assisting women has been really good. Due to the department’s focus on the women’s and girls’ agenda, more than 14 million women have gained access to financial services; almost 3 million girls are in primary education; and more than 4 million women are using modern methods of family planning. The Government should be commended on these successes. The value of these achievements should not be underestimated. By promoting equality between the sexes, we can ensure that women receive a full education, marry and have children later in life and fully participate in their communities.
Let us take a moment to look at the evidence. An extra year of secondary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10% to 20%. Putting resources in women’s hands results in more household spending that benefits children, and a recent study of 30 developing countries showed that women with no schooling had three more children on average than women who attended high school. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that equalising access to productive resources between men and women could raise output in developing countries by as much as 4%. Estimates of the loss of growth owing to gender inequality in education range from 0.3% in sub-Saharan Africa to 0.81% in south Asia. It cannot be said often enough that when half the population is locked out of education and economic opportunity, there is no realistic path to sustainability. Without gender equality, economic prosperity will remain a dream.
As has already been mentioned, education is the solution. By integrating boys and girls in early childhood on an equal footing in an educational environment, entrenched sexism can be eradicated. We must ensure that this integration does not end at puberty. Equality for girls must continue into their teenage and adult years. Access to micro-finance initiatives and the ability to own their own land are as important for women as early-years education. Ultimately, women will escape poverty not, of course, through international aid but through business. They must be able to reap the benefits of their own hard work for themselves and their families.
While I recognise fully that households where women have a greater say tend to allocate a greater share of resources to education and health, these aspects of family life should not be entirely relegated to mothers and female family members. Programmes implemented in the developing world ensuring that children receive regular health checks and vaccinations are very often targeted at mothers, unintentionally reinforcing the stereotype that childcare is very much their remit only. By simply changing the word “mother” to “parent”, or including pictures of fathers and children in literature and posters, we can challenge the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. By doing this, we can begin to combat the exclusion of women from wider society.
My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece focused her remarks on violence against women, and I will not repeat her arguments. Suffice it to say that one in three women worldwide will experience violence in their lifetime; by 2050, 50 million girls will have been forced into marriage before even reaching their 15th birthday. One woman from Tanzania recently reported:
“I see some women being beaten by their husband every day. When you talk to them, they say they are married and they cannot separate. These women will never climb the ladder: they will stay at the bottom”.
There you have it.
Another challenge to gender equality is access to contraception and choice over birth spacing. Traditional contraceptive methods are usually dependent on the co-operation of men, resulting in more than 200 million women who do not want to be pregnant but are not able to use contraceptives. This means that they cannot determine when to have their children and have a harder time feeding them, paying their medical bills and providing them with education. They are trapped in this vicious cycle of poverty, which could be broken simply by providing women with their own contraceptive methods. Again, this can be implemented through education.
I know that my honourable friend in the House of Commons has worked closely on his Bill with the Gender Rights & Equality Action Trust, otherwise known as the GREAT initiative. This organisation also deserves to be commended for its dedication to ensuring gender equality across the developing world. It runs a number of worthwhile projects, including the “Great Men Value Women” campaign, which works with teenage boys to give them a safe space to discuss their vision of masculinity and the tools they need to challenge the stereotypes to which they are often required to conform. Projects such as these are also vital to the gender equality agenda.
I applaud the Secretary of State’s commitment to this Bill and am grateful for the Opposition’s support as well. Who knows what might follow in the future without this Bill, which will enshrine in law Britain’s commitment to promoting gender equality around the world? It will also introduce a reporting duty on the Department for International Development, ensuring that all future Governments are held to account on this issue. It is only through passing the Bill that we can ensure the continuity of the equality agenda, not just for today’s Government but for all Governments.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the Government on this important Bill, which recognises the importance of promoting gender equality in the assistance that our Government give to countries outside the United Kingdom. The Bill could not be more timely. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister spoke about getting more women into public life. He added,
“we will not represent or govern our country properly unless we have more women at every level in our public life and in our politics”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/2/14; col. 264.]
That is relevant not only in the UK but across the whole world.
I have stated before that I am extremely proud that the UK Government have committed to spending 0.7% of income on aid to help the world’s poorest people. It is fantastic that the Bill is intended to focus further on reducing poverty in a way which is likely to contribute to reducing inequality. This builds on the excellent work which DfID is already doing in tackling FGM and focusing on education by improving learning, reaching more children than ever before and keeping girls in school for as long as their brothers.
Children are our future, and I hope that the Bill provides the world’s poorest children with more opportunities to improve their circumstances. As many noble Lords know, reducing the gender inequality gap is key to solving so many problems in developing countries, as we have heard from other speakers. I am also reassured that the Government recognise the importance of annual reporting to Parliament, which will help to provide an incentive for the department to deliver on the main purpose of the Bill.
I wish the Bill all success. I trust that the Government will recognise that gender equality provision should include a clear public statement that gender equality is at the heart of everything we do. Such a public statement should be publicised immediately as part of DfID policy. Gender equality has no meaning unless it is systematically monitored. There should also be periodic assessments to ensure that any shortcoming is addressed.
In this way, we will ensure that the objectives of this excellent Bill are met. I hope that the Bill is the first of many initiatives from the Government to promote gender equality, and I look forward to the later stages of the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord McColl for having introduced the Bill. I pay tribute to him for all his work. Of course, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Cash, the honourable Member for Stone, who piloted this important Bill so ably through the House of Commons.
I welcome the Bill enormously because, as the right honourable Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for International Development, said, the Bill can have a lasting impact on generations of girls and women around the world. Still today, in the 21st century, there is not one country where women have the same socio- economic and political opportunities as men. Still today, too many countries have a patriarchal culture and this, together with discriminatory practices, leads to the disempowerment of women and gender inequality.
The Bill addresses gender equality in the context of providing both development assistance and humanitarian assistance, resulting from both natural disasters and the terrible effects of conflict. Development assistance addresses reducing poverty. According to GADN’s recent report, it is estimated that women account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty. They also make up 60% of the 572 million working poor in the world. In reality, the situation for women is probably even worse, as there is likely to be a significant number living in poverty within households that are officially categorised as non-poor.
Women’s poverty is, in part, caused by gender inequality. According to the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, this discrimination impairs progress in all other areas of development. Unequal distribution of income, lack of control over resources, lack of decision-making power, unequal distribution of household tasks, the care-giving role assigned to women and gender-based violence all contribute to compounding women’s poverty.
As we have already heard from my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece, violence affects women in every part of the world. Seven in 10 women report that they have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Although 125 countries have laws that penalise domestic violence, for 603 million women today domestic violence is still not a crime in their country.
A number of reviews of the MDGs over the past five years have noted that women are less likely to benefit from progress than men in some regions. For example, they may lack the resources, time and freedom of movement to travel to access health, legal or social services due to their enforced roles within the household, or they are restricted by partners, family or society. In times of humanitarian crisis, when natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti occur, state institutions collapse, law and order breaks down, food and medical care are scarce and violence prevails, thus making women particularly vulnerable.
Wars today have shifted from battlefields to communities, impacting on civilians, especially women and children, who make up 75% of all those killed in modern warfare. It is not just by the enemy that women will be attacked. We all know that where a conflict starts, levels of domestic violence escalate hugely, spiralling out of control. In war, women frequently become targets of sexual violence. Raping a woman in front of her family is one of the most effective ways of disarming the men, and sometimes this is used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Although women in conflict bear a disproportionate burden of suffering, and despite UN Resolution 1325 having been passed more than 10 years ago, they are usually absent from negotiations at the peace table and from decision-making in the aftermath of war. Over the past 25 years, only one in 40 peace treaty signatories has been a woman, and only 12 out of the 585 peace accords referred to women’s needs. Thus, women may continue to suffer violence and abuse because no one is listening to them or taking account of how really to protect them. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary, who spoke up to insist that women in Syria were at Geneva II.
In terror, women often flee to take their families to a safer place. Of the 42 million refugees and internally displaced people today, 80% are women and children. No accurate data exist on the millions of widows and “wives of the disappeared”, who often have no means of support and may be targeted within their families and the wider community. According to Widows for Peace through Democracy, there are more than 2 million widows in Iraq; more than 50% of all women in eastern Congo are widows; and there are 2.5 million widows in Afghanistan, with 80,000 in Kabul alone, who often have to resort to begging on the streets. I echo everything that my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece said about the situation for women in Afghanistan and how we need to support them.
The Commonwealth is the world’s greatest pressure group for gender equality, and I welcome enormously the fact that Her Majesty’s Government recognise the injustices to women today, and are trying to address them and improve lives for women around the world in a number of ways, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Jenkin.
Perhaps I may briefly reinforce the remarks that my noble friend has just made about the Commonwealth. It is indeed one of the world’s great pressure groups for gender equality. That fact is embedded in the new Commonwealth charter—the so-called maxima carta—which this House has approved and which commits 54 nations to driving a long way forward to beat gender inequality, although of course there is a long, long way to go.
The Prime Minister has said that Britain will “absolutely lead the charge” to promote equality for women around the world during 2014 because, as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the new director of UN Women, said this week at the eighth open working session on sustainable development:
“A safe and sustainable world demands women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality”.
The Bill contributes greatly to this agenda and thus is important legislation. I very much hope that noble Lords will resist tabling amendments to it, because if they do I understand that, due to time constraints, it may mean that the Bill will fall. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill and very much hope that the House will give it its Second Reading.
My Lords, with the leave of the House and an apology for standing up too soon, I will speak briefly in the gap. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, having been present when some women from Haiti came to talk about the danger to women and girls who have to go outside their living area because of the lack of facilities for them, particularly at night. It is extremely important that that is recognised.
We have changed some attitudes in Europe over my lifetime. I remember that it takes time. As chair of education in Lancashire, I heard that a girl who was very good at mathematics was told by the head of mathematics, “Once we get to the fourth year, you will of course decline in your ability because you are female”. That was said only 30 years ago.
I speak as a mother of three sons and a grandmother of three grandsons. Gender equality is not only about ensuring that girls get access, very important though that is in its own right. When I look at pictures—as a grandmother, I am drawn to pictures of small boys who remind me of my grandsons—and see the ones who are in poverty, distress or illness, it occurs to me that they, too, are suffering because of the lack of education for women and girls. That is because women and girls are needed to complement the skills of humanity and they must have the ability to develop not only their own skills but those of their families—boys and girls. It is too late in some ways to change male attitudes if the experience that boys have in growing up is one where most people seem to accept that a girl’s education is unimportant. The world needs all the skills that it can get. The lives of many women are tied up in circumstances where world development can only assist the whole of humanity in the future.
Many people have paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his work and it is so important that we recognise his words of warning. Tempted though your Lordships may be to add amendments to strengthen or change the Bill, I am sure that the noble Lord’s record calls on us all to avoid that temptation to produce amendments. I wish the noble Lord’s Bill well.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and add my voice to the tributes paid to him. He and I have been involved many times in debates about health, women’s health and Third World health over many years, and I was not surprised to see that he was sponsoring this Bill today in your Lordships’ House. As usual, we have had an informed and passionate debate because there is such expertise, experience and commitment in the House to these issues. I also pay tribute to William Cash MP for introducing the Bill in the Commons. It is a testament to his reputation that he managed to bring this Private Member’s Bill so far up the list. I also thank NGOs such as the GREAT Initiative, Plan and WaterAid for their briefings.
The aim of the Bill, as noble Lords have said, is to embed gender considerations into every aspect of the UK’s aid spending and to ensure consistent and long-term monitoring of how UK aid impacts gender inequality. I cannot resist a small and gentle aside to the Minister, in that I wish that some of this was embedded into the monitoring of our domestic policies and their gender impact. However, I leave that debate for another day. The Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State for International Development to consider gender in the disbursement of any development and humanitarian assistance and introduces an additional duty to report annually on the activities undertaken to tackle gender inequality. From the briefing that I have read, I understand that the Bill may be one of the first of its kind anywhere to enshrine a commitment to reducing gender inequality in development. I commend the Government on their support for that.
Importantly, the debate has shown that gender inequality holds back development. It is not enough to address democratic reform if the political representation of women is not also addressed—or, for example, to fund family planning initiatives that fail also to address men’s roles and responsibilities. That was mentioned by noble Baronesses earlier in the debate. As has also been mentioned, women around the world continue to face serious levels of violence, limited control over assets and property and unequal participation in private and public decision-making. All those issues are important and they all provide us with the backdrop and the reason why the Bill is important.
The previous Government and this Government have put improving the lives of women and girls as a policy priority for the work of the UK Department for International Development. They have seen it as,
“stopping poverty before it starts”.
I was very struck by the remarks made by my honourable friend Meg Hillier in Committee in the Commons. She said that she had visited Nigeria several times, and one of her points was that,
“we went to look at human rights”,
“we quickly concluded that women’s rights, if tackled, would solve many of the wider problems, particularly with children’s rights. That underlines the importance of the first part of new clause 1”—
as it then was—
“which deals with development assistance. If people are aware of their rights, that can make a big difference”.—[Official Report, Commons, Gender Equality (International Development) Bill Committee, 11/12/13; col. 9.]
My honourable friend Gavin Shuker, who has responsibility for this issue on the Front Bench in the Commons, said:
“One of the challenges of gender equality is that all too often it is treated as a women’s issue, but in an international development context, holding back women in a society does not just hold back women; it holds back societies”.—[Official Report, Commons, Gender Equality (International Development) Bill Committee, 11/12/13; col. 6.]
That is absolutely right, so from these Benches we are very happy to give wholehearted support to the Bill. We will certainly do everything we can to make sure that it reaches the statute book.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by my noble friend Lord McColl and introduced so effectively by him. My noble friend has such a formidable commitment to development through his Mercy Ships and so many other efforts, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, and I, too, pay tribute to him. I love the image of our noble friend Lord McColl marching in his first demonstration in Nepal. It shows his level of commitment that that was in a march for dignity for gender equality. Like my noble friend Lady Jenkin and others, I, too, pay tribute to my honourable friend Bill Cash for having the vision, grasp and commitment to introduce and pilot this vital Bill through the other place. I pay tribute to the other noble Lords who have contributed today for their long and considerable contribution to addressing gender inequality worldwide.
There is no doubt that over the past few decades the world has made significant progress on improving the lives and prospects for girls and women. More girls are now going to school. Women are living longer and having fewer children, and more are in productive employment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has made clear, there has been much change but, as she and others have noted, we are nowhere near where we need to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, also made clear, there have been major improvements in the position of women and girls, especially in education, but there is still much more to do.
By 2020, unless attitudes change and without steps to address child marriage, 50 million girls will have been forced into marriage before they reach their 15th birthday. As we have heard, violence against women and girls is a global pandemic: one in three women has experienced violence in her lifetime, a terrible statistic. My noble friend Lord McColl mentioned the dangers even in carrying out simple tasks such as collecting water.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson spelt out the level of violence against women and its devastating effects. It was a milestone when rape was rightly recognised as a weapon of war. Now we must ensure, as she and other noble Lords have said, that women are at the table in peace negotiations. I, too, pay tribute to my right honourable friend William Hague for what he is doing to recognise and combat violence against women in conflict. His involvement is extremely welcome.
Ours is a changing world, and the challenges that girls and women face will become more pressing. More girls and women will live in urban areas and in areas of conflict. The impact of natural resource scarcity and climate change will be disproportionately hard on girls and women because they are so often at the margins. They are in real danger of being locked out of the economic progress that we see in some of the developing countries at the moment.
My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece flags up the situation of women in Afghanistan. She knows that we are very actively engaged there. We are seeking to uphold women’s rights as an important element of DfID’s strategy in Afghanistan, so we provide grants for Afghan women’s organisations that emphasise the strengthening of civil society. They emphasise various areas, including strengthening women’s rights and access to justice, and we are providing £7.1 million to the Ministry of the Interior to help to improve the Afghan police’s role to protect and uphold women’s rights. My noble friend will also know how we are supporting girls’ education in Afghanistan. However, we are also keenly aware that things can go backwards as well as forwards. We assure her that we remain active and vigilant in this regard. We are looking into the recent reports that she flagged up, and I will provide noble Lords with more information on that as soon as we have it. I shall put it in a letter to my noble friend, copy it to other noble Lords who have participated in the debate and put a copy in the Library. We know the importance of ensuring that things go forwards, not backwards.
That is why action to improve the lives of girls and women is rightly front and centre in UK development. We need to turn the challenges of a changing world into opportunities. As we all know, gender equality is a critical building block for progress towards building prosperity. Time and again we see that investing in girls and women leads to incredible returns, not only for them but for their families and communities and for their economies and countries. When a woman generates her own income, she reinvests 90% of it in her family and community. Getting more girls into secondary education is shown to boost a country’s economic growth, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, picked up.
The UK is already helping to change the lives of millions of girls and women for the better. As noble Lords will know, DfID has put gender equality front and centre for the very reasons that noble Lords have laid out. Our strategic vision for girls and women, launched in March 2011, aims to unlock the potential of girls and women in order to stop poverty before it starts. Maintaining our important cross-party consensus, I, too, pay tribute to the previous Government’s recognition of this and to the remarkable vision of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell when he came into the department.
Supporting girls and women enables them to have a voice in decision-making in their household, community and country, and in politics and business. My noble friends Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Jenkin and others have made the case for this very clearly. It gives women and girls the freedom to exercise choice in their lives: to be able to choose to complete education and to benefit from paid work and to choose whether, when and whom to marry. It recognises they should have control over their own bodies and be safe from violence; control over their own income and other resources such as food, water and energy; and equal legal rights and access to justice.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin has given figures for DfID’s work, some of which bear repeating here because they are very important. The UK aid programme has already helped 270,000 girls to go to secondary school. By 2015 we shall have saved the lives of at least 50,000 women during pregnancy and childbirth, enabled 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning, improved access to financial services for more than 18 million women, secured access to land for 4.5 million women and helped 10 million women to access justice through the courts, police and legal assistance.
We are supporting the efforts to end female genital mutilation worldwide through a £35 million programme, the first time that a programme like that has been put in place. Noble Lords will know that yesterday was the international day to end FGM, the first such day, and I was struck and impressed by the level of social media involvement in that by institutions from all over the world, organisations from Africa, Australia, the United States and the EU and many organisations within the UK, as well as the accounts in the Times and the campaign by the Guardian. I pay tribute to those who have brought it to this point and I hope that we will indeed end this within a generation or, hopefully, before.
We are determined to do more to end violence against women and girls. Last November the Secretary of State for International Development, who has been a strong supporter of the Bill, launched an international call to action on violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies. The result was Governments and aid agencies from around the world signing up to a groundbreaking commitment to make the safety of girls and women a life-saving priority in our response to emergencies.
I attended that conference and was very struck by the commitments that were made and that we must hold countries and institutions to. Like my noble friend Lord Howell, I welcome the new Commonwealth charter with its commitments in this area. Drafting things is the first stage, signing up is the second and implementing is the third. We need everyone’s efforts to ensure that that third stage is in fact reached. In June this year the UK will host an international summit where we will challenge the culture of impunity that exists for sexual violence in conflict, and work to ensure that more perpetrators are held to account through improved international collaboration.
So the Bill comes at a critical point in development. Although we have come so far in improving the lives of girls and women, there is much further to go. There are still too many girls and women whose potential is wasted. As my noble friend Lady Hodgson said, holding back women impairs all development. It will not be easy to reach these women as we are talking about some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, so we must keep up the pressure, the resources and the visibility and lead by example.
I am the first to recognise, as did my noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lord Loomba and others, that in this country we have a way to go in terms of gender equality in Parliament, in business and in society.
If the Bill is passed, it will mean that the Secretary of State for International Development must have regard to reducing gender inequality before making decisions to provide development assistance under the International Development Act 2002. It will give our commitment to addressing gender inequality in countries where we provide development assistance a statutory footing, enshrined in law. It will raise the bar on the way that gender equality is considered, crystallising it in the early stages of the programme development.
Gender is not something that can be tacked on to our development and humanitarian assistance programmes for the very reasons that noble Lords have laid out. The Bill will introduce an annual reporting duty in respect of gender through an amendment to the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act. My noble friend Lord Loomba cogently argued that it is by this kind of monitoring and transparency that we ensure the action and commitment that we need.
I note that the Bill will not introduce any significant costs in implementation—not that any noble Lord flagged that up—or impose additional bureaucracy in decision-making or slow processes down—not that any noble Lord flagged that up. It is about ensuring that Ministers and officials fully take into account the interests of girls and women as well as those of others in determining the UK’s bilateral aid programme.
I welcome the debate today and especially the cross-party support we have heard for gender equality. It is heartening to hear so many positive views on the important role that girls and women should have in the world and on their right to a better life. This Bill will help keep girls and women at the forefront in the delivery of development assistance and in the planning that goes into it. The path to sustainable development cannot be achieved where half the population is locked out. Improving the lives of women and girls is already a top priority in our international development work, but this Bill is another important step forward enshrining our commitment to gender equality in law, and the Government are proud to support it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their splendid contribution to this very important debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for drawing attention to the proposed new law in Afghanistan which could increase the violence against women, and to their bravery. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, was a distinguished vice-chancellor of London University 30 years ago. I expect we all hope that when we reach his age we will still be able to speak so lucidly and with such courage on so many different topics. He reminds me of the time when I had to give a speech to several hundred people. I went in, and in the front row, there was a man who had just celebrated his 100th birthday, so I took the microphone down and I said to him, “Congratulations on your 100th birthday. I expect they’d much rather listen to you than to me”, and he took the microphone and made a speech. How right he was! He said that he was interviewed in the village in Kent where he lived, and the BBC interviewer asked, “Have you lived the whole of your life in this village?”. “Not yet”, he said. I hope we will be that bright when we are that age.
I thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin for her contribution and especially for mentioning what a great contribution Andrew Mitchell made in DfID. The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, drew attention again to the fact that the Government are maintaining their 0.7% help to developing countries and how important that is. I was amazed when my noble friend Lady Hodgson arrived and gave such a splendid speech because only three hours ago, she had an operation. These ladies are tough. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, emphasised that the attitude of males must be changed, not before time. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, mentioned the help she had from WaterAid. I should point out that it was WaterAid that had me marching around the streets of Kathmandu.
I thank the Minister for the promise of government support, and finally I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Deep Sea Mining Bill
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, some noble Lords will be aware of my keen interest in the sea as a native of Plymouth, with its rich maritime history. So my curiosity was drawn to this Deep Sea Mining Bill, despite its less than auspicious title. Now, knowing more about it, I am persuaded of the importance of this Bill and of UK involvement in deep sea mining, including, paradoxically, for the marine environment.
First, let me explain the essence of what this Bill is about because deep sea mining is still an industry in its infancy, working in an environment about which little is known, and I suspect the subject is perhaps new to a few of my noble colleagues.
Back in the 1970s, when the deep sea mining provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS—were being negotiated, polymetallic nodules were the only mineral resource envisaged as commercially exploitable in the deep sea. No doubt this was due to the relative ease of access to them. Polymetallic nodules lie on the seabed or partially submerged in the sediment on the seabed. So while they are found only at great depths, at least 3,000 metres deep and up to 6,000 metres deep, no drilling would be required to harvest them.
Why would these lumps of rock be exploitable? The clue is in the name: polymetallic nodules. It is for the metal content. Polymetallic nodules are potato-like rocks in shape and size, by which I mean smallish, but variable. They are created by the accretion of minerals from the seabed under great pressure over some millions of years and in places they lie in great abundance on the sea floor. They contain a variety of metals, mainly manganese, but also iron, aluminium, copper, nickel, cobalt and some rare earth elements. Moreover, some of these metals are found in greater concentration in polymetallic nodules than they are in mineral sources on land.
Around that time, the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981 was passed. This allowed the Government to license companies for the exploration and exploitation of polymetallic nodules in the deep sea in areas beyond any state’s national jurisdiction. Let me be clear that for the purposes of the Bill, we are talking of areas at least beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast of any state. Potentially, we are referring to areas in the southern Indian Ocean, a swathe down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and extensive areas of the Pacific Ocean.
The reason for the “Temporary Provisions” in the title was in recognition that international rules on deep sea mining were still being negotiated as part of UNCLOS. The convention was eventually finalised in 1982. It defined the deep seabed and its resources as the common heritage of mankind. This novel concept meant that they did not belong to any one state: it was not going to be the case of a free-for-all. Under UNCLOS, the benefits from the minerals are to be shared among states, particularly developing nations. UNCLOS provided for the establishment of the International Seabed Authority, based in Jamaica, to oversee the exploration and exploitation of minerals in the deep sea, and ultimately to oversee the sharing of the benefits.
Some 30 years on, despite the early expectation that deep sea mining was imminent, the International Seabed Authority issued its first contract for the exploration of polymetallic nodules to a commercial operator only in 2011. A year later, the ISA approved an application for exploration of these nodules by a UK company, and subsequently signed a contract with them in 2013. The UK Government have sponsored a second application by the same company, and this is expected to be approved by the ISA at its meeting in 2014.
Why, when the Government are already able to issue licences to UK companies, and then sponsor their application to the ISA, do we then need a new Bill to amend the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981? The answer is twofold. First, the 1981 Act predated UNCLOS and, on a few small and technical issues, it is not compatible with the convention. In this new and developing industry, and as one of the early sponsors of a commercial operator exploring in the deep sea, it is important that the United Kingdom sets a good example to others by demonstrating that it upholds international law in every respect, and that it is able to act accordingly as and when required.
Secondly, in recent years the ISA has agreed regulations for the exploration of two other mineral types: polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts. The 1981 Act allows the Government to issue licences only for exploration and exploitation of polymetallic nodules. If the Government cannot license for exploration of other minerals, they cannot demonstrate that they have legislative oversight of the operations of the company concerned and thus they cannot sponsor an application to the ISA. It would be a great shame if, as would be likely, a United Kingdom company then applied for sponsorship to another state. The United Kingdom would, in effect, be turning business away.
The second amendment therefore widens the definition of what is licensable from polymetallic nodules to all mineral resources. This means that the Government can license applications for the exploration and exploitation of polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts. It also means that if the ISA introduces regulations for the exploration of different mineral types in the future, such as oil and gas, no further amendments to United Kingdom legislation will be needed.
Now that I have explained what the Bill does with two apparently small amendments to the 1981 Act, that begs the question of why the Bill is so important. There are two main reasons. I will not be shy in saying that the first is for the economic value to the United Kingdom. Noble Lords will be only too aware that the price of metals has rocketed over the past decade or so. Alas, the consequences have been felt by some of us with rail services having been disrupted when power cables, and occasionally the rails themselves, have disappeared. Metal prices are no doubt why commercial companies are now looking hard at the possibility of deep sea mining. New sources of supply would be hugely beneficial.
For some metals, particularly rare earths required for a lot of modern technology applications, there is a near monopolistic source of supply. In these cases, there are additional, important, strategic benefits in the diversification of supply. Another area of potential benefits is in job creation. Deep sea mining should play to some of the UK’s industrial and technological strengths that have developed over the decades of oil and gas mining in the North Sea, some of which has occurred at great depths. The United Kingdom has, for example, developed some of the most advanced autonomous underwater vehicles—mini-submarines to you and me—which can go down to great depth for exploring and studying the deep seabed. We can also expect our science and academic community, which already has some expertise in the deep ocean floor, to benefit from the study of the environment. It gives me great pleasure to mention the University of Plymouth, which is to benefit from a link-up with the commercial company that the UK Government have licensed. I went to that university when it was a polytechnic, and was honoured to become one of its first governors and am now able to hold an honorary science doctorate from there, so I am prejudiced.
The more direct taxable benefits are difficult to quantify because the industry is still at the exploration stage. International regulations for exploitation have yet to be developed. A good understanding of the environment on the deep seabed has yet to be fully realised. Full environmental impact studies based on the technologies for mining, which are themselves still to be developed, are still some way off. The negotiations for how the revenue from any mining operation is to be shared between the operator, the sponsoring state and the ISA on behalf of the common heritage of mankind have yet to take place. Despite the uncertainty of the regulatory framework for exploitation, and despite this being still a few years off, I am certain that it will happen. There seems little doubt about this, as I noted with interest that both the Government and the Opposition accepted this point in their deliberations in the other place.
That brings me to my second reason why the Bill is important. If we accept that deep sea mining will happen, we want it to do so adhering to the highest possible environmental standards. The United Kingdom will be best placed to help that happen if it is at the forefront of the industry. The Government can do this domestically by, first, carrying out due diligence on the companies applying for a UK licence to ensure that they are able to carry out their proposed work; secondly, ensuring that the applications they consider for a licence employ the best possible standards; and, thirdly, maintaining oversight of the activities and reports of the company during the lifetime of its licence. I know that I am reassured by the idea of a company being given a licence by the UK Government, rather than by many other Governments which I might not name, and which might not be as thorough as ours.
At an international level, backed up by the example set by United Kingdom companies, the Government have assured me that they will argue for the best possible standards in the negotiations over what should go into the mining regulations. As Kerry McCarthy said at Third Reading in the other place,
“we want to be at the forefront not just because of the business opportunities afforded to the UK, but in order to be able to determine standards for ourselves rather than leaving it to others who may not consider environmental protection as important as we do”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/1/14; col. 584.]
I feel bound to add that Kerry McCarthy also proposed an amendment on Report. This was with the expressed intention of strengthening the environmental requirements under which the Government may offer a licence for exploration or exploitation of minerals on the deep seabed. I am assured that this is unnecessary because there are already sufficient powers for the Government to impose high environmental standards. Moreover, as knowledge of the deep sea environment increases and technology improves, the Bill provides the flexibility for the Government to adapt and increase the standards they consider applicable.
On this basis, with support from the Government and thus far from the Opposition too, I am pleased to support this Private Member’s Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on introducing an important and timely Bill. I was also pleased to hear her remind us that she is from Plymouth. I hope that she is able to travel home and back to us without any unwanted contact with the deep sea as she makes her progress. I also place on the record our appreciation of the steps taken to introduce the proposals in another place by the noble Baroness’s honourable friend Sheryll Murray. It is clear from debates at all stages that there is broad support for the Bill—and so it will be from these Benches in your Lordships’ House.
I personally welcome the Bill. I dealt for nearly three years with the interpretation of the international law of the sea, and also with territories, including the hyper-fragile Antarctica territories for which the United Kingdom is responsible. What we do on land has significance for the habitats in the oceans, and how we treat the oceans will have vital ramifications for life on land. The earth is, in a couple of words, wholly interdependent.
I also express appreciation for the work of the FCO officials, not least for the provision of a really helpful set of Explanatory Notes. As the notes observe, part 11 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was modified in 1994, provides for regulation of deep seabed mining. Individual states that are signatories to the convention are required to make certain that mining contractors act within domestic law in each of the assenting states so as to be sponsored by those states for the conduct of the work. Moreover, all those contractors must enter a contract with the International Seabed Authority before any activity can commence, whether exploration or mining mineral resources. Some may regard such a system of safety interlocks as being inhibiting. I do not, and it is clear in moving that the noble Baroness did not think them inhibiting either. I am sure that she is right; this is a prudent set of arrangements.
It is also true that few commercial businesses were interested initially. Companies I spoke with gave three interlinked reasons for that. First, it was technically difficult and expensive to undertake such work, as the commercial risks were high. Secondly, there was little clarity about what might be found, and in what quantities. Again, that compounded the commercial risk. Thirdly, even if there were significant polymetallic nodules or resources lying in the sediment at slightly deeper levels, it was not clear that there was a significant enough market, given that there are known polymetallic resources on dry land and that the size of existing markets for mined products might not at one stage have been sufficiently large. That gave little reassurance to businesses assessing commercial risk. The consequence, at least in my view, was that it was close to impossible to price the risk. Companies could not price it in allocating their own working capital, and neither could they or market analysts price it for either quoted markets or for private equity or debt. It was pretty much beyond reasonable computation. No wonder that things moved at the pace of a deep-ocean snail.
What changed all that—and I was very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for touching on these facts—is that there has been a considerable move in a positive commercial direction. There has been progress in the development of technologies capable of operating in deep water, both submarines and robotics, and the rapid growth in demand for polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides, as well as cobalt and rare earths—which are of some significance in this—created by the huge economic surges in China, India, Russia and Brazil, and now in Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria, has all but overwhelmed the supplies that might be available on land. The same has happened with other commodities as varied as oil, concrete, iron, wheat and beef, which are all part of the same economic trajectory. Finally, the science has become clearer about what could be found at different depths, making the targeting of specific minerals a practical task. In short, it became easier to price risk, raise and deploy capital with a degree of certainty about the returns, and then commence the work.
Two problems immediately surface. The original convention and consequential legislation did not cover all the new circumstances that we have seen and which have been among the areas of change described by the noble Baroness and by me today. The updating this new Bill aims to achieve would be welcome enough on those grounds alone. However, it helps us add the second missing ingredient: the environmental issues and our responsibility to protect the environment. We cannot regard this obligation as merely helpful. It is obligatory and summed up in the initial iteration of Clause 5 of our own 1981 Act. I will quote it briefly because the groundwork was set at that time. It states:
“In determining whether to grant an exploration or exploitation licence the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to protect (so far as reasonably practicable) marine creatures, plants and other organisms and their habitat from any harmful effects which might result from any activities to be authorised by the licence; and the Secretary of State shall consider any representations made to him concerning such effects”.
That is not a bad start. However, more than 30 years on, and guided by the Rio Declaration, particularly at principle 15, we know more but still not enough about the environment. A precautionary approach seems very sensible. That precautionary approach, urged on us by the World Wide Fund for Nature and many others, should be part of our focus today. We have urged the same approach on other nations in fragile environments, for example in our legislation on the Antarctic and in our criticisms of some of the mining proposals others have had in respect of the Arctic as well.
I hope that the House will not misunderstand the argument I am trying to put. I do not say for a moment, “Do nothing until we know every possible consequence”. That is not what I mean by “precautionary”, and would be a legal and practical veto on doing anything. I accept that it is impossible to say that nothing is permitted until we know everything; there would be no progress at all if such an overwhelming test of efficacy was to be imposed. I argue, rather, that we should proceed in a circumspect and incremental manner, using what science can tell us wherever possible.
The first-order question is easy: should we protect the environment and husband its living resources? The answer is obviously yes, but what follows? Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and others involved in advancing the Bill may take a view, even if not in the course of today’s debate. I just wish to record some things which we need to resolve, but I do it in a wholly friendly spirit, because these issues concern us all.
Will the entire procedure for granting exploitation contracts be sufficiently robust and well integrated, given the multiple issues—authority at the mining location, knowledge of the ecosystem at the location, and control over mining practices? Not all the information or decisions will lie in the hands of any one party. They will need to be integrated to get a holistic picture and avoid the scope for real error.
Is the ISA able to monitor and police at scale? I have no doubt that it can do it in a limited way, but I am not as convinced that it can do it at scale; that is something that we should explore. Do we have evidence of risk of extinction for affected species? For example, do we know if sedimentary plumes below known densities of specific depths are dangerous or benign? Can scientists advise us on risk mitigation capable of being written into any set of regulations? What density of mining activity in any one location will be allowed on environmental grounds? Indeed, what will be the criteria for awarding permissions?
There is an opportunity to mine between 1,400 metres and 5,000 metres below the surface. I think that I am right in saying that it is usually near active or extinct hydrothermal vents in the earth’s crust—and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for identifying these parts of the globe. But we know that those are precisely the locations of a vast array of aquatic life; they happen to be particularly dense in species of animal life. Preferred methods will spread the sedimentary plumes far more widely than the water column where the mining is actually undertaken. Will the Government perhaps be able to commit themselves to funding longitudinal research to ensure that we know as much as possible about each incremental step so that we can make the best informed decisions without preventing the development of this commercial and necessary opportunity?
I hope that no one will say, in answering, that we should rely on the United Nations agencies for the research, as they take too long—and much of the research, to be candid, is not that great. We, along with the United States and some our European partners, have universities capable of really credible research in these areas, and I would wish to see that done because I am much more confident of the quality of the research that could be done that way.
Important as these questions are, progress today on the Bill is important, as it will be in later stages. For those reasons, I finish by saying that we support the Bill and wish it rapid progress, and I thank the noble Baroness for introducing it.
My Lords, I start by saying that the Government give this Bill their whole-hearted support. I thank my noble friend Lady Wilcox for introducing the Bill for your Lordships’ consideration, along with her honourable friend in the House of Commons, Sheryll Murray, who brought forward this valuable Bill. Both of them have good links with the sea in south-west England—happier links than in the current conditions. I have had many conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on the fisheries issue.
To some extent, this is a journey down Memory Lane for me. In the 1970s, as a young academic working on British foreign policy, I did some work on the British-Icelandic fisheries dispute and got from there into the question of international fisheries regulation. I then found myself invited to some of the conferences preparing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and I remember hearing about manganese nodules and how they were very much one of the materials of the future. The future is clearly rather longer term than people in the late 1970s and early 1980s were thinking, but it is clear that, as some companies begin investigating whether one can mine asteroids, the deep sea will be rather easier than that, as we search for other resources.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, efforts at global fisheries regulation, in treating global fisheries as the common heritage of mankind, have not yet succeeded in providing the level of enforcement of regulation that we all hoped for then. That raises a number of issues for how well global and regional institutions will be able to co-operate to make sure that, in these very deep oceans, regulations are observed. It is yet another area in which the idea that Britain on its own as a sovereign country, not co-operating with others, can do things—the myth of UKIP and others—is clearly idiotic. We have to work intensively with others to conduct the sort of research that the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, is talking about, and that is much better done in a European, OECD or UN context. That is the way in which any intelligent foreign policy has to go forward—a message that all of us who believe in international co-operation are going to have to make loud and clear over the next few months. We are better together in the European Union, in the UN and within the UK.
We have heard that deep sea mining has tremendous potential, but it is still potential. We expect that at some point in the next generation it will begin to play a very significant role in the world economy. We welcome this Bill partly as reinforcing the ability of the United Kingdom Government to be an active participant at the leading edge of such developments. The Government have already sponsored two applications to the International Seabed Authority by a British company to explore for polymetallic nodules in the north Pacific. We want to make sure that British business is well placed to take advantage of all future developments in deep sea mining. Britain already has substantial expertise in relevant technologies learnt through exploiting gas industries in the North Sea, in deeper and deeper waters. Much of this technology and the associated expertise could also be utilised in the deeper sea mining that is envisaged.
Last year, my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills organised a very successful industry day to alert British companies to the opportunities which deep sea mining might in time provide for them. I am pleased to say that about 80 British companies participated. The economic opportunities which deep sea mining might open up are potentially very substantial. The Government have already taken action to bring them to the attention of British companies.
At present, we are only at the stage where exploration for minerals on the deep seabed is taking place. In due course, we can expect that the International Seabed Authority will move to consider exploitation—in other words, actual mining—of minerals on the deep seabed. The Government are, of course, committed to ensuring that the highest environmental standards are applied at the exploration phase, and even more so at the exploitation phase. The UK delegation made it clear during a first discussion of exploitation regulations at last year’s session of the council of the ISA that we would expect to see the exploitation regulations include the highest possible environmental standards, and we are determined to press this position. We also emphasised the importance of there being full consultations with all relevant shareholders, including, therefore, non-governmental organisations with an interest in the marine environment. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that we will engage with the question of how we manage to enforce what is agreed as well as getting through the process of what is agreed. We certainly need to learn from the difficulties that we have experienced with regard to international fisheries.
During the debates in the other place, we were urged to look again at Section 5 of the 1981 Act. This section requires the Government, when issuing licences, to have regard to the need to protect the marine environment so far as is reasonably practicable. It is clear that deep sea mining cannot have no effect on the marine environment, but we can mitigate the effects, and that is what Section 5 of the 1981 Act already requires us to do. Therefore, the Bill does make amendments to Section 5 of the 1981 Act, but these are all purely consequential upon the fact that Scottish Ministers will now have the ability to issue licences under the Act.
However, in the light of the comments made in the other place, we have looked again at whether more substantive changes should be made to Section 5. We remain of the view that Section 5 is still adequate for our purposes. In particular, in carrying out their duties under Section 5, Ministers would necessarily have to take into account the terms of the advisory opinion from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea given in 2011. This made it clear that, in sponsoring applications to the International Seabed Authority, states must have regard to their environmental obligations. That includes specifically the precautionary approach set out in the Rio declaration. Therefore, we are satisfied that Section 5 is adequate as it stands and, indeed, that it is worded in such a way that account can be taken of further developments in the international law relating to the protection of the environment.
It was suggested in the other place that, since the ISA will shortly be considering the question of exploitation regulations, the Bill might be premature. I can assure the House that this is not so. On the contrary, it is important that the law of the United Kingdom should enable us to ensure compliance with the mining regulations once they are adopted, and that is what this Bill will do. The new Section 2(3A) will enable Ministers to include in licences a requirement on contractors to comply with any rules, regulations or procedures adopted by the International Seabed Authority. Therefore, the Bill is not at all premature. It is, in fact, very timely because it will enable us to give effect to the mining regulations as soon as they are adopted by the ISA. I am happy to reiterate that the Government are committed to applying the highest environmental standards in any applications which they sponsor, and will do all they can to ensure that the ISA also incorporates such standards in its regulations.
The Bill itself applies only to exploration and exploitation on the deep seabed; that is to say, the area of the seas beyond the jurisdiction of any state, including that of the United Kingdom. The Bill makes extensive amendments to the existing legislation— the 1981 Act, which has proved anything but temporary, being now of course more than 30 years old—and, in recognition of this, the Short Title will be amended to remove the reference to its temporary character.
There are two principal reasons why it was felt necessary to bring forward amendments to the 1981 Act. As has already been remarked, the first was that it was passed before the UK’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is therefore not surprising that in some respects the 1981 Act does not fully reflect the requirements of the convention. However, the most significant reason for needing this Bill is that the 1981 Act covered only polymetallic nodules, or manganese nodules as they were known in those days. I have already explained what these are, and it was thought at the time that the 1981 Act was passed that they were the only mineral resources on the deep seabed likely to be exploitable. Now we are discovering polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich crusts; I am sure that all of us would instantly recognise these when we saw them. They happen to be a mere 3,000 metres down, under the ocean.
In the past few years, the ISA has adopted regulations about cobalt-rich crusts and polymetallic sulphides. I am told that cobalt-rich crusts occur on sea mounts in the western Pacific Ocean and there is already interest in exploring for them from China, Japan and Russia. I am pleased also that Brazil, one of the key emerging markets in the world, has just submitted an application to explore for crusts in the south Atlantic. As to polymetallic sulphides, these normally occur at the source of extinct volcanic activity on the deep seabed, as the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, said. There are now six applications to explore for these minerals, covering areas of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
Obviously, I am sure all noble Lords will agree, the Government would like to have an open door to any contractor who wishes to explore for any of the mineral resources of the deep seabed. However, under the 1981 Act as it stands, we could not give a licence to a commercial company that wished to explore for cobalt-rich crusts or polymetallic sulphides. If a company came along with a request for the United Kingdom to sponsor an application to explore for either of these mineral resources, we would be obliged to say no. The company would no doubt simply then go to one of the other 160 states that are members of the ISA and seek sponsorship from it. To put it crudely, the United Kingdom would simply lose out.
It is for this reason among others that the Government fully support this Bill—indeed, they are enthusiastic about it. It demonstrates that the UK is open for business internationally and that we are keen to participate in what will, I am sure, in time—perhaps not in my time—be a ground-breaking and innovative industry. I congratulate again my noble friend Lady Wilcox on introducing this Bill and I hope that it will receive the unanimous support of the House.
My Lords, I have been fortunate indeed to have as my Minister someone with whom I have worked over time. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire knows the area that we are talking about and certainly knows the sea very well; it is certainly worth having him on board. I am always interested to hear about the career of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, because he has always done something with which I have been involved somewhere along the line. He is a man of many parts—there is no doubt about that—and I am very grateful to him.
I should have started my earlier remarks by of course thanking Sheryll Murray, who introduced the Bill in another place. I also thank the FCO officials who have done a wonderful job of giving me a superb briefing and making me sound as if I really know what I am talking about on this very complex subject. However, it is an exciting subject. For me, anything to do with the sea is an exciting subject. So little is known yet about the potential impact of deep sea exploitation but because we are coming at it in the way we are, and with the support of all sides of the House, I am extremely grateful and hope that we will move forward at speed.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 12.54 pm.