House of Lords
Thursday, 16 October 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
Introduction: Baroness Shields
Joanna Shields, OBE, having been created Baroness Shields, of Maida Vale in the City of Westminster, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Marland and Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Rebuck
Dame Gail Ruth Rebuck, DBE, having been created Baroness Rebuck, of Bloomsbury in the London Borough of Camden, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Hollick and Baroness McDonagh, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Hansard Society: Audit of Political Engagement
My Lords, while some of the findings are more positive compared with those published in the previous survey in 2013, there remains a number of results that should concern us all—for example, regarding the accountability of MPs and perceptions of Parliament. The Government, politicians, the media and many others in society all have a role to play in engaging people in democracy and overcoming a number of significant challenges to us all that are highlighted in the audit.
I declare my interest as a trustee of the Hansard Society, which is proudly celebrating its 70th anniversary, having been founded in the latter stages of the Second World War by one of the most remarkable of independent MPs, Stephen King-Hall. I pay tribute to my noble friend in the Cabinet Office for renewing its financial support for the widely respected Audit of Political Engagement. Does my noble friend agree that above all the audit underlines perhaps the greatest challenge that we face as a democratic body—namely, the widespread disinclination to cast votes in general elections, particularly marked among the young, which we must all labour to correct?
My Lords, I entirely agree that this is an extremely valuable report and I hope that a large number of noble Lords have already read it. I particularly enjoyed reading the preface by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who I think is the president of the Hansard Society. It is not just a question of the low propensity to vote; it is the problem of very low perceptions of Parliament and the extent to which there is clear disillusionment with Westminster among the young, in the sense that they want to be engaged in political activity but not in party political activity, and not particularly in activities concerned with Westminster.
As a fellow officer of the Hansard Society, I, too, welcome this audit. Is it not clear from the record registration levels in the Scottish referendum, and indeed the turnout there, that when each vote is seen to be counted and has an impact on the result, there is much more engagement by the public, including young people? Does my noble friend recognise that many of our fellow citizens feel cheated by the first past the post system, which of course does not produce that result? Does he not recognise that until we address that issue, the likelihood is that there will be many more people voting in referendums than in elections?
My Lords, we all need to take account of the extent to which, in the course of the Scottish referendum campaign, people across Scotland, including young people, got re-engaged in politics in a way in which they are not engaged in politics in England. It is quite clear from the barracking that there was across the House just now that not everyone in this Chamber agrees with the wise words of my noble friend Lord Tyler on the voting system, but we need very much to focus on the problem of alienation. If we were to find ourselves on a less than 60% turnout in the next general election and the party that then took office got less than 35% of the vote, which is to say fewer than one-quarter of the total votes possible, there would be clear questions about the legitimacy of that Government. I saw in the Guardian, so it must be true, that Labour’s strategists had indeed been talking about the 35% point at which they might possibly have a majority Government on a less than 60% turnout. There are some real problems that we all have to face.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Hansard Society, which is a broad church including people as widely separated in view as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and myself. I put it to the Minister that one thing that really turns the public off is the inordinate length of current election campaigns, which was, I fear, an almost inevitable consequence of fixing parliamentary terms at five years, no matter what. Does he at least agree that there may be some merit in my Private Member’s Bill, which is due to get its Second Reading shortly, entitled the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill?
The noble Lord, as so often, demonstrates his wonderfully conservative approach to all matters of constitutional reform. I do not agree with him. I think part of the lesson of the Scottish referendum was that a remarkably long campaign produced enthusiasm and a real focus, my Scottish friends tell me, on some of the underlying issues, which is perhaps something we need to do in a national campaign.
My Lords, I was prompted to respond to the Minister’s remarks on the length of the Scottish referendum campaign. I plead with him to take a serious look at the health and well-being of those who have had to go through those 18 month, and I urge him to think again. Does the Minister agree that the quality of debate among 16 and 17 year-olds during the referendum debate was astonishing? I admit I was wrong; I was one of the people who thought that it was wrong for the franchise to reduce the voting age to 16. I was comprehensively proved wrong. I heard some of the best debates I have ever heard in a lifetime in politics from 16 and 17 year- olds. I urge the Government and the Hansard Society to look at the lessons that have to be learnt from that, but please, not in a long referendum campaign.
The noble Baroness is looking remarkably fit and well. I congratulate her on that after all her effort. The involvement of young people and the very serious approach which young people in Scotland took to the issues in the campaign provide lessons that we all need to think through. It is not possible to introduce voting at 16 in British elections between now and the May election campaign, so it is not an issue we have to consider at the moment, but it is perhaps one that we all need to discuss over the longer term.
My Lords, we now have a variety of electoral systems across the United Kingdom, of which the oddest is perhaps the London system of the supplementary vote. The question of what sort of electoral systems most engage the public at which level is one to which we need to return.
My Lords, the recent HM Treasury call for evidence sought views on how government and others could do more to support the development of the credit union movement. The call for evidence closed on 1 September. Responses are currently being considered by the Treasury and an announcement will be made in due course. We are also working with others, including the Church of England, the Ministry of Defence and banks, to facilitate increased access to credit unions.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of London Mutual Credit Union. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Newby, here. I hope it is okay with the noble Lord, Lord Freud. Will the noble Lord join me in congratulating Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall on her work in support of the credit union sector? She is today hosting a reception at Clarence House to support International Credit Union Day. Will the noble Lord arrange for me to meet the relevant Minister in government to discuss how to get government departments to follow the example of Clarence House and this House and arrange for civil servants to be able to join a credit union using payroll deduction?
My Lords, I would be happy to do that. The Government are keen that civil servants should join credit unions where possible. Some work has been undertaken on how we could do that at reasonable cost. In the mean time, civil servants are being encouraged both to join credit unions and to get involved as volunteers. For example, an accountant at DWP is the treasurer of a credit union in Sheffield. That is a good example of how civil servants can use their experience and benefit the credit union movement.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the independent non-executive chair of the Lending Standards Boards and as having agreed to take a similar role with Cornerstone and this particular project. I join the noble Lord in welcoming the recognition of today’s International Credit Union Day. I congratulate my noble friends in the coalition Government on the project itself. Will the noble Lord join me in urging all credit unions, all parties and everyone in the financial services sector to make this project a success and to raise awareness of the great work done by credit unions, not only in the UK but throughout the world?
My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. I am myself hosting a reception in the Treasury this afternoon to mark International Credit Union Day. At that event I will be having discussions with, and we will be hearing from, Paulino Rodrigues, the chief operating officer of Sicredi, a very successful Brazilian credit union movement from which we are attempting to learn some lessons on common branding and operating standards to give a real boost to the sector.
My Lords, I join in the expressions of good will that have come from all other Members. So that the House may judge how far we lag behind other countries, will the Minister confirm that, in the United Kingdom, the level of personal credit derived from credit unions is less than 2%? Can he give some indication of how that compares with countries such as Australia, Canada and, of course, the Republic of Ireland?
The noble Lord is right that the number of members of credit unions and the amount of money involved is a lot less here than it is in some other countries. There are now about 1.1 million members of credit unions. Although by the standards of some other parts of the world that is not very high, it does represent something like an eightfold increase over the past 20 years, so credit unions have been growing. The challenge for everybody now, having got to a firm base, is how to get a step-change up in professionalism and the ability of credit unions to manage larger volumes, and a better marketing campaign to ensure that people understand why credit unions might in many cases be better for them than the traditional banks.
My Lords, I bring attention to my membership of the Credit Union Foundation and the Lloyds Banking Group grants committee for credit unions. One of the lessons of the past has been that grant funding has made the sector weaker rather than stronger. Capital ratios are the key. Given that mutuals are unable to raise capital, any proposals by the Government should ensure that the capital allocation of credit unions is improved. Will the Minister keep this point in mind so that we have a credit union sector which is growing, is more stable and can serve the best interests of the poor members of this country?
I begin by recognising the valuable work that the noble Lord does with Lloyds in this respect. The part that the big commercial banks can play, not so much in funding—although that is useful—but also in transferring expertise, is very important. One of the key things now for credit unions in increasing the amount of capital they have at their disposal is to encourage large numbers of people with some relatively small amounts of capital to become members of a local credit union and deposit some capital with it. The work of the Church of England, for example, is potentially very important. There are many members of the church who would be able to join a credit union and put in a relatively small amount of money which could collectively transform the capital position of the many credit unions with a very small capital base.
My Lords, the investment made by the Government in the credit union movement has paid dividends. We note with pleasure that 7% of the Scottish adult population is now registered with a credit union. However, for them to rationalise, streamline, offer new products and help people avoid payday lenders, credit unions need to have good back-office bank functions and new products. What progress has been made with the banking sector and the Post Office to provide those appropriate back-office functions which will allow them to become more streamlined and help people to keep out of the hands of payday lenders?
We all agree that we want to make it easier for people to keep out of the hands of payday lenders. The credit union expansion programme, to which the Government have committed some £38 million, is attempting to do exactly what the noble Lord describes. For example, it has established an extremely inelegantly named but very important thing called an automated decision-making tool, which makes it easier for credit unions to determine whether an applicant is eligible to become a member of the credit union. That kind of back-office support will make it much easier for credit unions to expand.
My Lords, the Government believe that the level of piracy off west Africa remains broadly stable year on year, but increased levels of reported kidnappings at sea have raised the profile of the issue. Piracy is one symptom of regional maritime insecurity. The UK is working bilaterally and multilaterally to address it through capacity-building initiatives in support of the 2013 Yaoundé code of conduct, which seeks to build and develop regional maritime security.
Is my noble friend aware of the estimates from the US maritime agencies that the incidence has increased by 80% between 2010 and 2013? That involved 1,200 vessels and no fewer than 279 kidnappings. In the light of that, should we not use the experience that we all had in Somalia: in particular, first, ensuring that vessels themselves have defensive methods on all ships and that transponders cannot be switched off; secondly, ensuring that when there is an incident, the navies of the nations are there to arrive on the scene in good time; and, finally, that UAVs are made available to locate all sorts of vessels?
My Lords, it might be helpful if I explain to the House that although we are talking about piracy, the matter falls into two legal capacities, and some of the figures amalgamate the two. Of the criminal attacks taking place at sea, some are in territorial waters—which is where the majority of the real theft is done, from oil tankers anchored off Nigeria—but outside those territorial waters there are also kidnappings and thefts of a much lower amount. Perhaps I may give a general answer to my noble friend’s three major questions. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to take from our experience internationally in Somalia and replicate it in west Africa. First, most of the crime in west Africa is in territorial waters, and in the area covered—from Senegal right the way down to Angola—there are a range of functioning Governments who can implement their own efforts to combat maritime crime in territorial waters. Outside territorial waters, maritime crime clearly has less of an impact. However, international discussions are going on. My noble friend raises the point, “Why not arm?”. The Government and the UK maritime industry have made it clear that they do not wish to see private armed guards on boats, because another difference between Somalia and west Africa is the level of sheer vicious assaults in the latter area. In west Africa they are not afraid to kill.
My Lords, the waters in the Gulf of Guinea are highly complex, as the Minister says, with overlapping territorial seas and a lot of stuff taking place in those waters. However, there is no doubt whatever that the threat to the mariner is growing and growing, and we have to do more than we are doing. Does she not agree that we have a perfect storm developing in this region, with the huge growth of kidnapping and piracy in the south? There is a discussion to be had around Abubakar Shekau and ISIL, and now Boko Haram is taking over territory and declaring an Islamic state—then there is the growth of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and the incidents taking place in Chad and Mali and all those countries. There is Ebola in the west and the enhanced flow of drugs from Colombia into west Africa. Some of these are Commonwealth nations, and we as a nation should do more in that region to try to pull this together. Ideally, I would like to see ships going there from east Africa, but of course we cannot do that because we have too few. Perhaps a motor boat with noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who served in the Navy, could go out there and do something.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the Merchant Navy, which is often the unsung hero; without it, world trade comes to a halt. The noble Lord referred to the Royal Navy. Two Royal Navy vessels visited west Africa last year and three so far this year. They conducted a series of visits and training exercises; their efforts vary from hosting senior officers and training small boat crews to organising multiple ships in a passage exercise. So they are covering all the bases to make sure that the skills are there and that action can be taken. There are also diplomatic efforts to ensure that we encourage the Yaoundé agreement to go ahead and so that the Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre in the Gulf of Guinea is operative, and we contribute funds to that.
Does the Minister agree that the real problems lie in the buoyant black market for oil in the region and the endemic corruption, up to government level—and, in one of the worst cases, up to admirals in the Nigerian navy, who have been implicated? This problem, as she says, can only really be solved by countries working together internationally to help to develop regional maritime security in the area.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. The only thing that I would add is simply the figures. He refers to the amount of theft of oil in Nigeria. Conservative estimates indicate that up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day are stolen in Nigeria.
My Lords, last year I lectured on a cruise that went round the west coast of Africa and was surrounded briefly by a number of pirate ships. It was quite striking how very different the coast off Somalia was to the coast that came before that, because as many people will know it was guarded and protected by the gathering of European navies to take responsibility for safety in that area. I very much agree with the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord West. Is there no way in which the Commonwealth could work together with the International Maritime Organization to extend that kind of protection further down that extremely dangerous coast?
Children: Online Privacy
My Lords, the Government are concerned by recent reports about the hacking of social media and have established the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National Crime Agency, with the powers and international reach to tackle these types of crime. The National Crime Agency offers advice to children and parents, and our Cyber StreetWise campaign also advises individuals and businesses on how to stay safe online.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. As he will know, many of the more than 100,000 pictures leaked online in the so-called Snappening incident were of young children, and many of those pictures would constitute child pornography. What are the Government doing to ensure that social media companies tighten up their security? Are the Government considering tougher penalties for social media companies that have not taken sufficient action to protect their customers from data hacking, including pictures? Indeed, why are the Government not taking a harder line on protecting children online?
Obviously, I recognise the expertise and the consistent interest that the noble Baroness has shown in this important issue. I reassure her and the House of the absolute seriousness and determination that I am sure that we all share to protect children against this type of event. For the benefit of the House, it should be said that the Snapchat incident was not in relation to the messaging application itself but in relation to Snapsave, which was an online website that was hacked into. The scale of that, with some 700,000 images per day uploaded by children, also affects the challenges that we find. As for what the Government are doing, one thing that we have done is to establish a joint US and UK taskforce to look at this whole issue. We are delighted that today the noble Baroness, Lady Shields, who heads that taskforce, has been introduced into your Lordships’ House, and can help us in developing and strengthening further the protection that we all seek.
Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will encourage all of us—parents, grandparents and relatives—to do all we can to help young people and children to understand the enduring harm that the use of social media can do if they use it in particular ways?
The noble Lord, Lord Laming, is absolutely right: there is, of course, a role for government and a vital role for the industry but there is also an essential role for parents, and even for children themselves, to be aware of the dangers in which they place themselves when they place these images online.
Does my noble friend the Minister accept the notion that children’s images and messages go into a so-called cloud and can be hacked, leaked and spread? Should those images not be allowed to be stored? I very much agree with the point that this is about ensuring that young people themselves in our schools are made aware of the dangers. That should be part of PSHE.
My noble friend makes an important point. From this September, e-safety guidance must be taught in our schools at all key stages. It is vital that children are made aware of this. We shall need to look very carefully at the issue of storing images online given that the Snapchat application is attractive to young people because images can be uploaded and then disappear, allegedly after a period of up to 10 seconds.
Will the Minister expand a little on the underlying points in the contributions of the previous two noble Lords who have spoken, because fundamental to this issue is that children are educated to understand what privacy is and what it is to have boundaries about what you are prepared to share with other people and what you really should not? Can he say with confidence that the way that the current PSHE syllabus is set up is robust enough to take that into account?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to keep this matter constantly under review. We cannot be at all complacent about it and the relevant advice will need to be strengthened as the technology advances. The Government have set up a website through the National Crime Agency called Thinkuknow, which is aimed specifically at young people—indeed, children as young as five—and has specific information on this issue. In the context of this Question, new guidance is available there to young people who feel that they may have been a victim of this particular hacking incident.
My Lords, as the shocking case in Indonesia showed, not only are children in this country at risk, but adults in this country are preying on the privacy of children in countries which may not have the same capacity as we do to ensure the privacy of their children.
Yes, indeed, my noble friend is absolutely right. That is why the child exploitation unit command within the National Crime Agency is now able to tap into the National Cyber Crime Unit. There are officers in some 40 different countries around the world. It is also why the Prime Minister will host a conference in December with representatives and partners from more than 50 countries to see what more can be done.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. The child abuse image database seeks to convert images into a string of data, which can then be checked across the industry to identify the victims of these crimes to make sure that they are safeguarded. However, the need to develop new technology further is absolutely critical and the work is ongoing.
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 1, Clause 7, Schedule 2, Clauses 8 to 19, Schedule 3, Clauses 20 to 28, Schedule 4, Clauses 29 to 32, Schedule 5, Clause 33, Schedule 6, Clauses 34 to 43, Schedule 7, Clauses 44 to 46, Schedule 8, Clauses 47 to 66, Schedule 9, Clause 67, Schedule 10, Clauses 68 to 77, Schedule 11, Clauses 78 to 84.
My Lords, with permission, I wish to repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question made in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise and Minister of State for Energy, Matthew Hancock.
“Tata Steel yesterday announced that it is in negotiations to sell its Long Products division based in Scunthorpe. At the same time, it has committed to invest further in its Port Talbot strip products business, as it focuses its European business on strip products. I can understand that any announcement of this sort brings uncertainty, and we will do all we reasonably can to support the companies in ensuring a competitive future for the business.
Over the last four years, we have seen a restart of steel production in Redcar, we have introduced support for energy-intensive industries and steel production in the UK is higher than in 2010. The steel industry has an important role to play in generating future economic growth. It underpins a number of key advanced manufacturing sectors and sustains the livelihoods of many local communities. Steel is a critical part of the supply chain for high-technology industries like aerospace, automotive and construction. These all require high-value, continually improving steel products in order to remain competitive.
Decisions on company ownership are of course commercial matters for the companies concerned. Nevertheless, we are working with the metals sector, including our steel-makers, to develop further our metals industrial strategy. On this side of the House, we believe there is a sustainable long-term future for the steel industry in the UK.
Already we have taken action. We are in contact with both companies to work to secure the future of the business. My right honourable friend the Business Secretary met the global head of Tata in India this week, who personally reaffirmed his company’s commitment to the British steel industry. The national infrastructure plan identifies a pipeline of over 500 projects costing around £250 billion to 2015, almost all of which will need steel. The pipeline includes more than £1.4 billion in railway infrastructure and commuter links; 95% of the steel for the UK’s rail network will come from Tata Steel for the next five and possibly 10 years. We have reduced energy costs on energy-intensive industries, including a £7 billion package of measures to address energy costs, with £3 billion to compensate energy-intensive businesses for the impact of policy costs in their electricity bills.
After decades of decline, steel production in the UK is rising, and we will not rest in our determination to ensure that manufacturing, including of steel, has a strong future in our country. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place. I am sure that everyone in the country will appreciate the uncertainty and anxiety that yesterday’s announcement by Tata Steel will have caused for thousands of steel-workers, their families, affected communities and firms in the metals supply chain. I hope that the Minister will join me in expressing that to those people.
As the noble Baroness said, steel is a vital foundation for much of the UK’s manufacturing supply chains. The UK is a leading global player in sectors such as aerospace, automotives, construction and energy infrastructure, and the production of steel here in the UK underpins much of that competitiveness. However, we now know that Britain’s largest steel manufacturer is preparing to sell half of its capacity. What contingencies will the Government put in place to maintain and enhance the skills and capability of that industry to ensure that they are not lost to the UK?
Secondly, what commitments have the Government obtained from the potential new owner regarding the maintenance of existing sites and industrial capability, the safeguarding of jobs and additional investment? How binding are these commitments likely to be, or are we in danger of repeating the mistakes we encountered during the Cadbury takeover? Is the Minister concerned that we have learned that the unions have not been involved in any consultation or communication with the potential new owners?
Thirdly, this matter affects England and Scotland. What discussions have the Government had with their counterparts in Scotland to ensure a co-ordinated and united response for the good of the steel industry across the United Kingdom?
Finally, do the Government have a plan for what happens if negotiations for the sale break down? It is clear that Tata wishes to divest itself of its Long Products division, so what active role are the Government taking about maintaining that capacity in the United Kingdom? Should an effective industrial strategy not consider and mitigate these risks?
My Lords, we share the concern about the uncertainty for the communities, as I made clear in the Statement. Fortunately, we have done a great deal of work on skills, including providing a stronger steel industry, which makes the prospects of a good outcome much more likely. I understand that the unions were warned about the announcement, but clearly there were constraints relating to inside information. I emphasise that no closures have been announced; this is the beginning of a possible sale. I reassure the noble Lord that we are actively engaging in discussions with both the Tata Group, the existing owner of the asset, and the Klesch Group, with which we will discuss its intentions. The Scottish angle will be attended to and is very much in our minds.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement. Does she share with me the real concern that there is among the workforce? They went through a terrible time in 2009 before Tata took over in 2010. I know that they and the unions were very constructive in encouraging and enabling Tata to go into the Teesside site. This is devastating for Teesside and threatening for the economy of the north-east, where we build cars better than anywhere else and where we are going to build trains, as from next year, probably better than anywhere else. Yet we are not confident and the Government are not giving us confidence about the future of the steel industry in that area. Will she recognise that internationally there has been significant dumping of steel product and steel outside of the EU? That is threatening the British steel industry. We need more clarity and action from the Government. The north-east still has the highest unemployment rate in the country. The Government need to recognise that and come to our aid.
I note and share the concerns that the noble Baroness articulated. As I have already said, we are trying to move forward in a situation where no closure has been announced—this is a change of ownership. I also agree with what she said about the great steps forward we have made in building cars and expanding our rail industry and rail networks, and their supporting supply chain.
The steel industry has become much stronger under this Government. In the period 1997 to 2010, steel production fell by more than 8 million tonnes; since 2010 production has risen by 2 million tonnes. There has been an improvement. The work of the labour force has obviously been an important contribution to that.
To what extent does my noble friend feel that this whole saga is related to the very high energy costs here and throughout the rest of Europe, which are clearly driving some industries away despite the Government having made efforts to meter the costs of a very energy-intensive industry? What ideas should the Government be developing to prevent this situation occurring again and again?
My noble friend is right to mention that background but there is some good news in this area. As I said, we are introducing a £7 billion package, part of which is already paying out compensation for additional costs in the energy-intensive industries, including steel.
I should also respond to the point that was made about cheap imports and dumping. That is something that we discuss with our EU counterparts. Obviously, it is mainly a matter for the EU but we are well aware of the importance of keeping an eye on it.
Decisions on company ownership are of course commercial matters for the companies concerned. As a businessperson, I know that important rules on consultation exist in this country. I emphasise again that, at this stage, we are not talking about closures or job losses but about discussions about a possible change of ownership. As I have said, the workers and the unions that represent them have an important part to play in industry, its success and our recovery from the difficulties of the recession.
My Lords, does my noble friend understand that Lincolnshire is not a highly industrialised county and that the impact of closure, if it came to that, on Scunthorpe would be significant? Will she please assure me that every possible advice and assistance will be given to all those involved, who will necessarily be fearing for their livelihoods? The impact of a closure on the whole county would be very significant, were it to come to pass.
I thank my noble friend for making that point. Of course, if there are job losses and adjustments to be made, we will all share the concerns of the local communities concerned.
Since this Government took office, the claimant count has fallen by 27%. In Scunthorpe, the long-term count has fallen by 22% in just the past year, so there are signs that the economy is recovering. However, I emphasise the point that I have been making all along: we are not talking about closures; we are talking about a possible change of ownership and we will actively engage on that. Fortunately, because of the changes that have been made in recent years, the steel industry is stronger and more competitive. We need to press forward to ensure that that continues.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I start by welcoming the Minister to her first substantive debate in our House. I know that she will bring the wisdom, good judgment and élan to this role that she has brought to all her other appearances in the House.
I also thank her for facilitating a visa for me to go to Moscow last weekend—a visa which, I discovered for the first time in about 15 visits, was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Had it not been for her good offices, I would not have obtained it.
Francis Fukuyama wrote his seminal tract, The End of History and the Last Man, 25 years ago in response to the demise of the Soviet bloc, whose collapse was final in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama’s perspective was that of a political philosopher grounded in liberal democratic western thinking. We were at the end of the 20th century, which was dominated by ideology —totalitarianism, communism and fascism, with conflict and massive loss of life—so, now that millions had risen up for personal liberty, political freedom and market economics, there would be little attraction for ideology, would there?
That was not an unreasonable proposition at the time and, as the western world reacted swiftly to embrace the peoples of that part of Europe who had lain behind the iron curtain, so too did we change our institutional structures to consolidate and reassure those millions that their freedom would not be ephemeral. EU and NATO membership signalled that it would be tangible, sustained and durable. This spirit of co-operation extended to Russia as well, with partnership forums, the opening of markets and of course its accession to the WTO.
However, we were wrong in our assessment that the division of Europe was over and that we would operate in a spirit of co-operation. Ultranationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, predatory capitalism, gross human rights violations and a stealthy expansion of the state at home are there for all of us to see in Russia—a European country. One can add to that list belligerent action against neighbouring states, annexation, the use of hybrid warfare, cyberwarfare, targeted assassinations abroad and disappearances of people—that is the new normal as the projection of Russian power.
This miscalculation on the part of the West was not just revealed in the morning mist in Crimea this February; for the 140 million ordinary Russians, it has been coming for some time. In fact, it has been building up since 2000, when Vladimir Putin first came to power. It is the people of Russia who have paid the price for their country’s misrule, which looks set to continue well into the 2020s as elections are fixed again and musical chairs reflect choice between President and Prime Minister.
But now Ukrainians are also paying for Putin’s imperialism. The invasion and occupation of Crimea is already rendering Crimeans poorer as their economy has collapsed along with the region’s tourism. Crimean Tatars are once again dispossessed in their own land. Non-ethnic Russian Ukrainians are displaced or consigned to being non-citizens in their own country. It is an occupation carried out by subterfuge using Taliban tactics, where the combatants are not allowed the protection of the Geneva conventions by displaying their insignia on their uniforms. An occupying army of a United Nations Security Council permanent member, which has sworn to protect international peace and security, now tears up its obligations to the charter. However, in doing so, it also tears up its own treaties with Ukraine. What is any country to make of Russian bona fides?
And what of authoritarianism at home? In Russia, independent media have been crushed under new laws specifically designed to suppress media freedom. Under media control laws approved by the Duma last month, more than a 20% stake in media outlets will be banned. This will affect the precious few print and TV outlets that are financed by foreign media groups so as to make them unviable—unviable because it would take a Russian backer enormous courage to keep them independent. Who will put their heads above the parapet to take on Mr Putin’s repressive security apparatus. Recall how many brave journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya have gone unremembered.
In July, President Putin signed a law banning commercial advertising on paid cable and satellite television channels from January next year. He also abolished the limit of 35% of the advertising market for any one company. The aim is to bring down the independent networks which are mainly advertising-funded. It is a tried-and-tested trick designed to kill independent voices through manipulating their revenue streams. It is always more effective than simply arresting the journalists, as they can be replaced, but if the money dries up the suppression is more effective.
What of civil society groups? In June, we saw the already repressive foreign agents law given wider reach, so that eight more Russian NGOs have been listed in the foreign agents register including Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, Memorial. The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers highlighted the simple fact that their sons who were soldiers were dying in Ukraine and were being secretly buried at home. Their crime was to expose the fact that Russian soldiers were in combat in Ukraine. They are now on the foreign agents register. The LGBT organisation, Coming Out, is on the register and a gay dance teacher was found murdered in St Petersburg recently.
But the Leviathan that is Russia today does not suppress only the weak. It is an authentic predator using its power against all who are not on its side. The courts are fixed to support predatory capitalism. Noble Lords will recall the treatment of the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his company Yukos, who were brought down only when he challenged Putin politically. The lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s folly was to allege that Russian officials, presumably to the benefit of those higher up, had stolen large amounts from the state. He was held without charge and beaten to death just seven days before he would have been released.
We know that the President's magic circle, as it is known, is shrinking. Apparently, he used to consult with all political sides before taking decisions. Now he relies on hardliners committed to authoritarianism at home and confrontation with the West. Even the oligarchs are no longer safe. In a policy of “you are either with us or against us”, they are being peeled away with court indictments. The list is growing, with the addition of Yevtushenko. The list of former friends of Putin continues. This is Russia today—imperialism abroad, predatory capitalism at home, monopolised by the magic circle.
So what is the West to do? Pragmatically, we know that we cannot take on the world’s second largest military machine for the sake of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. That is shaming because we were the guarantors of Ukraine’s security through the Budapest memorandum. But we are democracies which have to weigh our options. The EU is not yet the foreign policy player that its size and position merits. The US, increasingly isolationist, has along with us,
“swallowed the annexation of Crimea”,
as it was put in the Financial Times recently by Lilia Shevtsova.
Belatedly we have come together in uniting behind sanctions and they are beginning to bite. The rouble has devalued considerably, capital flight out of Russia is reputed to have reached $120 billion and investment is drying up. Even cash-rich China is wary of lending to Russia on the basis that its banks have strategic investments elsewhere which might be jeopardised if they are exposed in Russia. China’s solidarity in this case is subject to its bottom line.
The war that was recently launched is now being accounted for on the debit side. It is slow. The facts on the ground will probably not change in Crimea, but it may forestall further adventurism. For the Syrian people, there may be a small ray of hope. If Russia can see that it cannot stoke conflict all the time, everywhere, it might become more constructive in seeking a solution to the Assad impasse so that we can turn our attention to ISIS, which even Russia abhors, not least as it fears for its own backyard.
The lesson we have learnt from the new Crimean crisis is that we have to be ever vigilant. Our peace dividend was cashed in much too quickly and now we will need to reconsolidate its ability to defend its members. But while we do what we can, the real challenge for Putin’s adventurism will come from his own people. In launching this occupation in Ukraine, he too has miscalculated. A state’s propaganda machine is not invincible in today’s world of social media. The truth of the war and soldiers’ sacrifice is permeating Russian consciousness. The economic situation is deteriorating and civil society cannot be suppressed for ever. Our task is to hold our nerve and continue to highlight our solidarity with the Russian people, despite their rulers.
We in the West also pay too little attention to the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising the central Asian republics and the caucuses of Belarus among others, which is to be launched next January. This is Russia’s attempt to recreate a new bloc to leverage its influence against the EU. I wonder if, in her closing remarks, the Minister can say what relations we have with the individual countries to build better relations, as we cannot leave them to the Russian sphere of influence alone.
In closing, last weekend I had the privilege to meet the party of Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergei Mitrokhin, my Liberal counterparts, in Moscow. Yabloko is one of the few forces opposing Putin’s authoritarianism and one of the few domestic voices against the annexation of Crimea. It is standing up for human rights and for the rule of law. The party’s message to the West is that we must not turn away, but engage with the Russians because the country will change one day. Of course we must, but with resolve, keeping our eyes wide open.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Falkner on bringing forward this Motion and on her excellent overview of the situation. She is absolutely right to say that this is a matter of enormous concern. The flouting of international law is always of concern and doing nothing is not an option. I think that the UK has a role in addressing the situation, but not a central role. Indeed, I do not even think that the United States has a central role to play. This is a global issue that requires the attention of all organised and responsible states that want the global order to be reasonably maintained and not undermined. Just as we think the caliphate issue, with the smashing of borders and the violation of all human rights norms, is a global matter, so this is a global matter as well. I do not even think that there is a central role for the military side, as my noble friend said, nor even is there really a central role for tit-for-tat trade wars of the kind that are going on now, nor, I fear, for western sanctions as long as other countries, including China, carry on tending to ignore them.
The real central role in this situation is going to be played by the world crude oil markets and by gas availabilities. The Russian economy today—and the power of Mr Putin and his friends—floats on a gigantic sea of oil and gas revenues. At the moment a huge surplus of oil and gas is building up throughout the world and, as one can see in the newspapers every morning, the prices of these commodities are falling very fast in some areas. That is less the case for gas because it is regional, and the big fall has been mostly in the United States—outside Europe and outside the OECD. However, the price of oil everywhere is falling fast, and I suspect will fall a great deal further. A weaker oil price will devastate the Russian economy. When Japan ceases to drink enormous volumes of oil and gas daily and gets its nuclear industry going again, which Shinzo Abe intends to do, that will mean a further dramatic weakening in demand and a further dramatic fall in oil prices. What this means is that “General Oil” and “General Gas” are the decisive players in this situation.
It also means, from the point of view of statesmanship and policy-making in the western capitals and certainly here in London, that we have to play that most difficult role of all for statesmen: a waiting game. There is not an instant solution or instant line of action which can make much difference. This is a most difficult thing of which to persuade people, because they of course want action when there is a hideous situation and when horrors such as the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner occur. This situation is not going to be settled by big battalions; it is not a Cold War confrontation, as some Cold War warriors have suggested; and, not least for reasons of oil but for other reasons which I will briefly enumerate, it requires great patience and allowing greater forces to work, which they will.
There are three other reasons. First, it is not a straightforward war but a hybrid war—it is one of those obscure, new patterns of conflict which are spread across the globe, where it is very hard to identify who the enemy is, where cyberactivity undermines activity on the ground, where soldiers who are not soldiers and not wearing uniform appear but whose involvement is denied, and where propaganda and communication begin to blur the whole situation. Secondly, the Russians have always used such techniques—they call it “maskirovka”, which is the traditional Russian way of proceeding when they are anxious to pursue their interests and it is almost impossible to pin down or categorise in terms of war, action, policies and solutions. Thirdly, there are arguments on both sides. The Russian-speaking people in the Donbass region perhaps should be allowed to have more regional autonomy. We have had these sorts of arguments here in our own affairs and we are having one now about Scotland. The home rule case for Donbass may have something in it.
The price of oil will not eventually decide the matter, because lower oil prices means—I do not want to sound controversial—higher oil prices. The lower oil price, if it lasts, will incidentally knock out the whole fracking situation in the United States, where they need at least $80 to make most of their investments worth while. Eventually, therefore, it will go wrong, but in the mean time there is a real chance that it will bring the Russian economy to its knees.
When this phase is over and when Russia comes to its senses, we will need Russia. It cannot be isolated and we cannot isolate it. The Russians say that they want a united front against terrorism and so do we all. We need the commitment and involvement of Russia, as we need that of China, India and the great new powers of Asia, in dealing with all the issues: the caliphate, the upholding of international law and so on. These matters threaten Russia, particularly that of the caliphate, just as much as they do us in the West with the danger of being penetrated by jihadism.
In the end, Russia is an inextricable part of the new global network and the new order, and there is no escape. In the end, it will have to rejoin the global system and realise that its policies are deeply self-defeating, but it requires patience, great skill and all kinds of new intelligence techniques, and it requires us waiting for the greater forces which lie above Governments and nations, such as the international oil price, to do their work.
My Lords, I broadly agree with the noble Baroness’s analysis and congratulate her, and I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are not back in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and we do not foresee a Cold War of the scale of the last. However, perhaps we were optimistic following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as indeed we were over the Arab spring. Hopes were raised at that time that we would be dealing with a new Russia, a democratic Russia with rule of law, and a more co-operative Russia abroad. We have speedily moved from that, as we saw at the NATO summit in Newport, where Russia, the problem country, was the main focus of the debate.
We contrast the position post 1989 in Russia with that of eastern and central Europe. We have to ask ourselves why there is a difference in Russia and perhaps less of a difference in the Caucasus republics. I would follow the analysis of Putnam when he examined the difference between north and south Italy. There is a lack of a mature and civil society in Russia, an equating of opposition with treason and a centralisation with very limited checks and balances in Russian history.
Perhaps we need to turn to Russian history to obtain an accurate analysis of Russia today. The 19th century saw tsarist autocracy. Yes, serfs were then liberated but it is interesting that the former so-called “Kremlin’s banker”, Pugachev, has stated that businesses in Russia are serfs to the state, with none beyond the reach of the President. After the brief opening under Kerensky, the Bolsheviks took power and we had democratic centralism, which was harsher than the 19th century autocracy. We saw in the 1930s the purges and climate of intense fear, followed by, yes, the great patriotic war and the heroism of the Soviet people. Then there was Kruschev, then Yeltsin’s anarchy, followed by Putin in 2000. This was helped by—as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said—great oil and gas resources, to the extent that some US critics talk of Russia today as a gas station with nuclear weapons. Abroad, we have heard the traditional fear of encirclement which continued through the Brezhnev doctrine. We could read the position well: we were warned in the speech of President Putin at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. Nevertheless, we should remind ourselves that promises were made to the Russians in the early 1990s that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. There is a danger that those promises may be forgotten.
The noble Baroness detailed the issues of human rights in Russia. There is no need for me to follow her over that trail. One sees it equally in the reports on human rights by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the State Department and Congress, and Human Rights Watch. All have common themes, with perhaps the only bright light being that of a better treatment of the disabled. Of course, we return to the old themes in Putin’s Russia: the triumphs of the Second World War on the lines of Yaroslavsky, the glory of the tsarist empire allied with the Orthodox Church, Slavophilia and, perhaps most of all, the cult of personality—which we saw in spades during the birthday celebrations of the President and the 12 labours of Hercules. I invite noble Lords to look at the case of Magnitsky, who was killed in 2009 having exposed tax evasion. None of those responsible for his death has been punished. That is a tragic commentary on the state of Russia today.
Outside the borders, we have been ready to give Russia the benefit of every doubt as it flagrantly ignores international law. It still occupies parts of Georgia; Crimea has been annexed and is a new frozen conflict in Europe; eastern Ukraine is invaded by Russian troops. That is all in spite of Russia’s international obligations. However, perhaps there is a good side. Do I detect a new realism as the western response slowly is mobilised? Certainly, there is much less trust in Russia. Particularly now, we are much more wary than we were prior to events in Ukraine. The old naivety may have evaporated but nevertheless there will be common mutual interests such as counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation and ISIL. We will perhaps just have to sup with a longer spoon.
One brief postscript: if we are to make valid criticism of Russia, we must come with clean hands. Our own commitment to human rights is in peril because the Conservative Party has pledged to walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights, in effect to make it only advisory. Dominic Grieve, who was sacked as Attorney-General, said of this plan:
“It’s incoherent, it’s a bit anarchic, it breaches our international legal obligations. It’s a complete breach of precedent”.
I end on this point: those in the Kremlin must be rubbing their hands with glee—I repeat, with glee—at this because we have a very clean record with the European Convention but the Russians have had far more breaches. If we are to sully our hands in this way, we can hardly expect to be taken seriously either by the Russians or our allies and those concerned with human rights in the world.
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lady Falkner in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on being about to reply to this international debate, which I am perfectly certain that she will do with the eloquence, common sense and competence that she has shown throughout her career. I am delighted to see her on the Front Bench on this issue.
I have been involved in trying to teach democracy in Russia for the past 12 years. My memory goes back to the days of glasnost and perestroika, when it was possible to have open discussion about the problems that Russia had: the problems of establishing proper local government, issues of corruption and all the rest of it. Those were the years of trust between our country and Russia. Among the many things that were achieved during those years of trust, perhaps the most remarkable was the securing of all nuclear materials in the whole of what had previously been the Soviet Union over a period of only three or four years in collaboration with the United States. That was one reason why, after the fall of the Soviet Union, we did not encounter the terrifying terrorist outbreaks that one might have seen, given that there was a great deal of nuclear material loosely distributed all over what had been the Soviet Union. That shows what trust can achieve.
Trust has steadily eroded ever since in a way that, as my noble friend Lady Falkner pointed out forcefully in her speech, has affected our relations with Russia. I can bear that out to some extent from my experience, because in running seminars about democracy throughout Russia, from Siberia to Ukraine, we have run into more and more difficulties and less and less approval from central government in the Kremlin. I could give details, but there is not time. However, there has been a slow decline, and distrust between Russia and the western alliance is now so great that it is very hard to get co-operation on almost anything. One of the most disturbing aspects of that is the decline of discussions within NATO of the best possible ways to try to deal with some of the threats that confront us. That does no one any good. The fact the NATO-Russian Council does not meet now, at a time of great tension, tells us a great deal about the perils that we run in the world.
Secondly, as a result of that deterioration of trust, we have seen a steady change in the attitudes and behaviour of the Russians. That has culminated in what has happened in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said: the Ukrainians did not start very sensibly by trying to rule out Russian as the second language of Ukraine. The blame is not entirely distributed on one side. The noble Lord was also absolutely right to say that we do not sufficiently consider the history of Russia. The history of Russia is a history of one invasion after another, one occupation after another, and growing fear within Russia herself which has led to security being the overwhelming consideration for those who vote. Mr Putin has very strong support within Russia at present. That does not flow from a lack of love for democracy; it flows directly from fears about the security of the country which are deeply rooted in history.
Thirdly, although I agree with my noble friend Lady Falkner’s statements about what has happened to human rights, and the wise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on the subject of trying to go back to national human rights when we desperately need to protect international human rights, we are underestimating the consequences on Russian politics of the steady eastward drift of NATO. I consider that to be very serious. Of course we should accept the independence of Georgia and Ukraine, but it is unwise to talk as widely as we do about the possibility of both joining NATO. Ukraine has long been the buffer for Russia against the attacks of other countries. The thought that she might roll NATO’s power right up to the border of Russia itself is not timely. I hope very much that Her Majesty’s Government will consider carefully, as to their credit they have done up to now, the idea of strongly backing some forces in the United States that want to see Ukraine and Georgia become members of NATO as quickly as possible. They should be independent countries and supporters of the European Union, yes. But should they be members of NATO? Not yet, I suggest, as it is much too soon to walk in that direction.
Finally, we desperately need Russian co-operation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out the particular dependence of the former parts of the Soviet Union in the Baltic, which are on up to 100% Russian gas and oil. These countries could very easily be brought down industrially within a matter of weeks unless we can re-establish some sort of co-operation—not just about oil but in two other fields. One is terrorism, to which the noble Lord also referred; the other, strangely enough, are crises such as the infectious disease crisis represented by Ebola, where we have to have international co-operation to deal with those challenges. We have to recognise that fact.
In conclusion, I say simply that we need Russia, as Russia needs us, but that should not stop us being critical of the massive attacks on human rights that have been experienced. We also need to recognise the absolutely essential need for co-operation on the challenges now facing the world. That means that we have to take into account the special Russian sensitivity towards the onward eastward movement of NATO and ask ourselves whether that should not perhaps be paused for the time being until we are able to get co-operation and trust back on track.
My Lords, I have been involved in business in Russia since 1995—mainly with a steel firm in Stary Oskol, some 600 kilometres south of Moscow—because I believed then and believe now that through business relations we will best establish good relations between the United Kingdom and Russia. I have also been a very strong believer in the Budapest memorandum, which relates to the subject of this debate, feeling it absolutely essential that countries which give up nuclear weapons should be strongly supported and feel that they have some form of military guarantee. It is of course nowhere near as strong as an Article 5 NATO agreement. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said just now: it is a great mistake to expand NATO to either Georgia or Ukraine. We were advised about this many years ago by George Kennan; he was completely correct.
Although I disapproved of the way that the former President of the Ukraine was removed from power, I strongly condemned the annexation of Crimea. It might be possible—I said so publicly very soon after it happened—for an eventual agreement, on the lines of the Cuba-US agreement, between Ukraine and Russia over the military base of Sebastopol. I still think that that is one of the routes through. There has to be a resolution between those two countries about Crimea. The world cannot accept that annexation without there being a negotiated settlement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. They are meeting, probably as we speak, in Milan and there is a real possibility of concluding a serious negotiation.
There has been progress made over gas supplies, which is the first essential. The second essential is to get a real ceasefire, which has not yet materialised. The third essential is devolution to east Ukraine. It will never be content without some serious measures of devolution. It is something which we in this country ought not to be standing in the way of but encouraging. The fourth element is getting back into the international community on things like international air conventions. It is still a terrible tragedy that we have not achieved that resolution in the light of those appalling casualties from the shooting down of the Malaysian plane, and we need to know the full facts of that.
However, the essential issue seems to be that the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia have to understand that a peace negotiation and continued and increasing business relations are in both countries’ interests. It is very hard to see Ukraine, with all the financial difficulties that it has had and its considerable and long record of corruption, achieving the economic growth and prosperity that it deserves without co-operation, first, heading towards membership of the European Union, and secondly, retaining good, strong working relations with the Russian Federation. There is no escape from that, and some of the language that we have heard in the past few months, seeming to think that a solid division between Ukraine and Russia is in the interests of Europe, let alone the world, is a great mistake. We need to say that constantly to our Ukrainian friends on this issue. I have always supported the decision by Boris Yeltsin and President Kravchuk to separate out the Russian Federation and Ukraine, but no one could believe that this could be done without full cognisance of the history of those two countries at every stage. Sometimes in our debates we seem to have been blind to that factor.
So I think that a negotiation can be achieved between these two countries. They may make agreements that we in the West would not necessarily make—for example, there is another border dispute involving Russia, and that lies between Moldavia and the Ukrainian frontier. This is an area ripe for negotiation and solution, and might be one of the ways of easing the problem for the Ukrainians of the loss of Crimea. It is in this pragmatic way that I would like to see negotiations.
I say this to the Government: only four countries are signatories to the Budapest memorandum: the Russian Federation, Ukraine, the United States and Great Britain. Quite frankly, we ought to have been involved in the negotiations right from the start. When the crisis blew up on the streets of Ukraine and the President was in the process of being toppled, an EU initiative was taken, with three Foreign Ministers—German, French and Polish—going in and negotiating on our behalf. The Russians were there with an observer, after strong pleas from President Obama. They made an agreement. While the ink was still not dry, that agreement was broken, which did terrible harm to relations. We have to find a better way of dealing diplomatically with the Ukraine and Russia problem.
My Lords, on two occasions in my career I have been involved in British foreign policy, as a political adviser in 1982 to the then Foreign Secretary Francis Pym, and then as foreign affairs spokesman in your Lordships’ House—prior to the outstanding work undertaken by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, with whom I am in strong agreement today—where for years the noble Baronesses, Lady Symons and Lady Williams, and I sparred and reflected on the need to offer sound advice and effective stewardship to those in Russia seeking to undertake an economic revolution; prevent the lurching to and fro between revanchist politics; and alleviate the threat of civil war in 1993 and the chaos of monetary, military and economic relations among the successor states of the Soviet empire. As Professor Sachs reflected on the early years after the ending of the Soviet era,
“the West did almost nothing to affect the outcomes for democracy and market reforms in Russia, despite all the high-minded rhetoric to the contrary”.
From the power vacuum that Vladimir Putin experienced as an insider at the early stages of his political career, the Russian people have sought political resurrection through strong leadership, “a strong hand”, always aware that deeply embedded in the Russian DNA was a growing link between a yearning for nationalism and an awareness of what they perceived as the historical injustice to the sizeable Russian-speaking minorities in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, especially in the other major Slav state, Ukraine, and in Crimea.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I believe that it is only by wiping the fog off the history lens that we can identify the building blocks to design a foreign policy towards Russia to counter perceived Russian aggression to the outside world and resurgent domestic nationalism. This pragmatic foreign policy should be equally beneficial to Russia and the successor states of the Soviet empire. On the one hand, such a policy should consistently reflect our belief in human rights, the rule of law, parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions. In so doing, we should never lose sight of recognising that, despite the Russia/Ukraine history, where the borders frequently changed in the 20th century, this House today rightly believes that international law should never be ignored, borders must not be changed by force and countries under the rule of law must be entitled to make their own choices.
So, the questions that we need to answer are as follows. Are the steps that we are taking now likely to achieve the goal of a new Ukraine that is acceptable equally to its people and to the interests of Russia and of the West? Is there a direct correlation between strengthening sanctions and the likelihood that Russia will withdraw support from eastern Ukraine? I am unconvinced that the current approach will necessarily succeed. If I am right, we need to be absolutely sure that our actions will not succumb to the law of unintended consequences. What is important is the need to explore a foreign policy based on compartmentalisation.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by compartmentalising our approach to Russia. Russia should be, and is, critical to the overall success of the war against ISIS. Russia is a key conduit to Iran and Assad. I am sure that Russia should and would welcome our approach for a joint policy towards ISIS, especially so since Russia itself is not immune to fanatical and murderous extremism. That was amply demonstrated only a few days ago when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Chechen capital, Grozny, killing five police officers and wounding at least 12 civilians. It is therefore essential that we seek to separate out a row we have with Russia on the key issue of Ukraine while designing a framework of engagement on strategic, political and economic matters that are relevant to us both. That is not to say that we should not maintain strong pressure on the Russian Federation about Ukraine and Crimea using a range of measures, but we should compartmentalise that approach in order to pursue areas of mutual interest.
The key date woven into this growing tapestry of cross-border interests was 30 August 2013, when the vote about taking concerted action with the United States against Assad was lost in the House of Commons, with a corresponding collapse of momentum in Washington. Once the West backed down from taking action in the face of the blatant use of chemical weapons, the pendulum had swung. A new era—sadly but correctly interpreted by President Putin as an age of reluctance—was born in which American power remains dominant but no longer determinant. Months later, the timing of Crimean annexation could wait until President Putin had returned to Moscow after the closing ceremony of the winter Olympic Games, while public support continued to climb across Russia as the troops moved in, dismissive of the United Kingdom in particular. We risk failing to grasp the importance of Russian influence in achieving our foreign policy goals.
Martin Wolf, writing on the conflict, concluded that,
“there is no greater foreign policy question than how to deal with today’s Russia”.
I add that there is no greater foreign policy question than how we see ourselves and, from that perspective, how we win the peace as well as wars, and how we define our role in foreign policy in the 21st century. If we do not follow a policy of compartmentalisation towards Russia and the successor states of the Soviet Union then, as you move east through Europe, starting in France and Germany, you can rest assured that Governments on mainland Europe, through either the front or back doors, will deliver on this agenda. In the mean time, as my noble friend Lord Howell said, the global oil price is most likely to prove the most potent foreign policy factor for a change in Russian policy direction towards both Ukraine and the West.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I thank my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine for tabling this debate. I will also say a word of appreciation for the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She and I came into this House on the same day, 5 November 1996—an auspicious day to come into such a place. I have always found her contribution to your Lordships’ House something to be admired and appreciated. I know that, in her new position, that will not change.
It would be perfectly possible for me, as in previous debates on Russia, to speak about the human rights abuses, the lack of democracy and the totalitarianism of Mr Putin’s approach, and to criticise—indeed, condemn—it. However, those issues have already been aired in the debate, perhaps most notably by my noble friend Lady Falkner in her excellent introductory remarks. I am not sure that for me simply to repeat that would take us very much further forward. Nor would it give us very much guidance as to what we might do—not in our tactical approach to this dilemma but in our strategic approach to these large questions.
My noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Howell have pointed up some strategic dilemmas for this country which we must face, however unappetising they may be. Since the end of the Cold War, much of our strategy has been dependent upon maintaining our relationship with the United States of America and playing as full a role as possible in the developing European Union. The dilemma is that as the United States maintains a posture that is still to some extent informed by the Cold War and its increasing focus upon Asia—but also, sadly, by an increased retrenchment as it is decreasingly able to impose its authority upon many areas of the world for economic, political and military reasons—the European Union has signally failed to develop a common foreign or security policy. With the frankly naive notion that the extension of democracy would be welcomed everywhere it went, the European Union has extended into the east and has brought with it the cover not of a European security policy but of NATO. We all know that, were it not for the United States, there would be no NATO. The European Union countries have no capacity to project force or protect themselves without the United States of America. So far as Russia is concerned, as far as the European Union extends itself, NATO comes behind as the only realistic defender.
Ukraine is not just a buffer state to Russia. An extension of European Union relationships, treaties and involvement is seen as an extension of NATO. Ukraine also has many of the manufacturing units of Russia’s military capacity. Many Ukrainian factories still produce the materials that the old Soviets used. For that to become part of the orbit not just of the European Union but of NATO is wholly unacceptable not just to Mr Putin but much more widely in Russia.
We need to appreciate that notions that the extension of democracy, the European Union and all that we hold dear will be welcome is foolish and naive. Naiveté in these matters is often dangerous. While we are right to hold our critique, we must realise that we have miscalculated and misunderstood what the Russian reaction was likely to be, not only on Crimea and Ukraine but also on Syria. The result has already been nothing short of catastrophic for the whole of the Middle East, where the structures of stability have dissolved completely. We would do well to listen to the wise words of my noble friend Lord Howell, and take time to reflect rather than feel that we can jump to an immediate resolution to a vexing problem, which will be faced not only by us and our children but by our grandchildren, too.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on her escape from the hurly-burly of the red Benches to the deep peace of the Foreign Office marriage bed, where she will be quite at home in these Elysian fields—the land of lost content—where all officials are uniquely brilliant, and all advice uniformly perceptive.
I will start by quoting from President Putin’s article in this morning’s Politika in Belgrade:
“Unfortunately, the vaccine against the Nazi virus, developed at the Nuremberg trials, is losing its effectiveness in some European countries. A clear sign of this trend is open manifestations of neo-Nazism, which have become common in Latvia and other Baltic states … We are especially concerned in this respect about the situation in Ukraine, where an unconstitutional state coup in February was driven by nationalists and other radical groups”.
That is the message pumped out daily inside Russia by the controlled state media. The annexation of Crimea produced a huge boost in President Putin’s popularity, and the propaganda is very widely believed in Russia today. They believe that military action in the Donbass was necessary in response to attacks on ethnic Russian minorities by fascist thugs and paramilitaries abetted by the regime in Kiev, which was installed by NATO.
I do not know whether President Putin believes any of that himself, but I do not know whether the Government are taking action to disabuse him. The official reaction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the NATO summit in Wales was that it proved that the alliance was unable to change its “genetic code” and was still determined to dominate the military sphere in Europe in breach of all previously agreed security arrangements. I do not know whether the regime believes that, and the little decision made about rapid reaction forces—a few hundred men—is hardly likely to convince the Russian Defence Ministry and Foreign Ministry that NATO poses a very serious threat to Europe.
However, I do not know whether the Government are exploring those misapprehensions with President Putin or whether they know what his strategy is, and I have to admit that I am not entirely clear what our strategy is. I am clearer about German policy. The Germans seem to be much more actively engaged and much clearer about what they are trying to achieve. We are much louder in our rhetoric but much less clear about our strategy.
I will therefore ask the Minister four questions. First, is it the Government’s policy to point out to Moscow in respect of minority rights in the Baltic states that the three countries’ accession to the European Union was made conditional on the extension and entrenchment of minority rights, and that any doubts or concerns about their performance against those undertakings in respect of such rights should be pursued by peaceful means in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights, which is an institution created at the instigation of Conservative lawyers and maintained down the years by successive law officers of this country, and which most of us feel has a very important role to play in sustaining human rights across Europe? Is that our advice to President Putin, and if, as I hope, it is, what response are we getting?
Secondly, in respect of NATO—here I echo points already made in this debate—are the Government pointing out to Moscow that while Article 5 of the Washington treaty applies to all allies, including the newest ones, President Poroshenko has not applied to join the alliance, it is not UK policy to encourage him to do so, and a Ukrainian application, if it arrived, would not be supported by the British Government? I believe that that is our position, but I would very much like to hear the Minister confirm that. If we are making that point to President Putin, what response are we getting from him?
Thirdly, in respect of the continuing conflict in the Donbass, are we telling Moscow that we believe in the territorial integrity of Ukraine and that we also have no objection whatever to further devolution from central to regional authorities but believe that that is entirely a matter for the Ukrainian people to decide for themselves, and that full OSCE monitoring in the conflict zone should be permitted forthwith, and all foreign forces withdrawn? I assume that that is what we are saying—but, again, I would be very grateful if the Minister would confirm that.
Finally, in respect of sanctions, is it the Government’s policy that if all foreign forces left the Donbass—and OSCE monitors confirmed that they had—sanctions would at once be unwound, provided only that the energy blockade of Ukraine was called off? I remind noble Lords that there has been no gas supply from Russia to Ukraine since the second week of June and that the interruptions of several EU member states in the past month can hardly have been accidental, when winter is approaching. My concern is that we should not entertain unrealistic hopes that ever tighter sanctions might secure the reversal of the illegal annexation of Crimea. Are the Government making these points, and do they envisage any multilateral process to follow up, perhaps in the context of the Budapest memorandum, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, suggested? The signatories to the Budapest memorandum were also the guarantors of its terms; we cannot do nothing—we cannot pretend that it does not exist.
While it is right to reject nonsense about Nazis and NATO, we need to talk to the Russians and not just at them—and not just because of the plight of Ukraine. The two external powers that could, if they chose, do most to bring about an end to the unfolding tragedy in Syria are Iran and Russia. I believe that we are talking to the Iranians, and I hope that we are talking to the Russians. We should be sufficiently humble and ready to acknowledge that the Russians were on to the threat of al-Qaeda long before we were, and we should be ready to accept that, because of the policy that they have followed and the policy that we have followed, their influence in the Middle East is considerably greater today than is ours—possibly in Ankara, probably in Cairo and Tehran and certainly in Damascus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, pointed out. It is in our interest to engage the Russians not just about Ukraine but across the board.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who made some extremely important and perceptive points. I begin, as others have, by thanking my noble friend Lady Falkner for introducing this debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on her new responsibilities, which I am sure that she will discharge with vigour, finesse and aplomb.
The first thing that I became really involved with when I was elected to another place in 1970 was the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. I sometimes think that we forget the enormous progress that has been made in the form of the Soviet Union since those days, when I and my colleagues were refused visas to go to Russia and we had the door of the Soviet embassy shut in our faces. Now what do we see? Only yesterday, I had to the House a young man whom I met earlier this year when I was giving a talk in Oxford, a Russian studying at one of the colleges in that great university. We talked—and, of course, he has great democratic aspirations, but he recognises, as we all should, that when the wall came down and the iron curtain ceased to exist there was no democratic infrastructure for the people of Russia to look back on. That country has never had a proper democracy. That young man recognised this—and he also recognises that Putin, for all the misgivings we may have about recent actions and pronouncements, has given the Russian people back a large measure of self-respect. He is enormously popular among Russians. Whatever the slight misgivings there may have been in the conduct of polls, there is no doubt that he won an overwhelming victory and, if there were an election tomorrow, he would win another one.
I have been greatly reassured by the realistic tone of so many of the speeches that we have heard this morning. We cannot envisage a stable Europe without good relations with Russia; that is essential. We have to recognise that every country, either implicitly or explicitly, regards itself as having a certain sphere of influence. What has happened in Ukraine this year has not been to our delight, but there are two sides—and that has been put most eloquently by a number of speakers in this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Owen, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, made an extremely important point when he talked about the signatories to the Budapest agreement. We are one of the signatories. Therefore, we are in a position to take an initiative. These matters were not well handled earlier this year, and there is a certain amount of drift now. Let our Foreign Secretary seek to convene an international conference on the Budapest memorandum, and let us say to the Russians that we understand their worries. After all, we have to remember that the great patriotic war actually began with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and what happened thereafter, when the Germans turned on the Russians, seared their memories. We have to seek to understand and to engage, and I very much hope that there will be a real attempt to engage. Although the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and others were right to say that this is not another Cold War, nevertheless much of the rhetoric of the past six months has been reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Cold War and has not advanced the cause to which we are all in this House dedicated—human rights and the equality of peoples, with a balanced and civilised world order.
We need to recognise that Russia has its legitimate interests. It must conduct itself in accordance with international law, but in the knowledge that we understand its worries and its background. Certainly, any question of Ukraine joining NATO should be completely off the agenda. Ukraine is a free country, and must be a free country, but there has to be a measure of devolution within that country that recognises the legitimate rights and aspirations of all citizens within that country. The attitude towards the Russian language adopted earlier this year was inimical to a sensible resolution of the crisis.
I very much hope that when my noble friend comes to respond she will indicate that the British Government are not only willing and able but determined to take a role in seeking to bring the signatories to the Budapest memorandum around the table to discuss and give the sort of safeguards that were implicit in the sensible and sensitive questions asked of my noble friend by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. If we can do that, this debate, as with so many debates in your Lordships' House, will not only have been a good debate in itself but might even be of some help in resolving a problem which, if it is allowed to develop, can only play into the hands of those wicked people in ISIL, against whom we are all united.
It is a pleasure to follow that excellent speech. I join the queue of noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on having secured this debate. I apologise to her profusely for having arrived late and thank her—or the noble Baroness opposite—for not sending me packing as a consequence.
“Rise Like a Phoenix” was the title of the song with which Conchita won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The Eurovision Song Contest was set up in 1956 as a contribution to uniting a war-torn Europe. Europe in this context is not just the EU but stretches well into central Asia. Russia first entered the contest in 1994 and Ukraine several years later. For those of you in the know, Conchita was a lady in a slinky dress with full make-up, except that she was not a lady at all and she sported a beard. She is the alter ego of Tom Neuwirth, an Austrian who lives as a gay man in everyday life, who said that he created her as,
“a statement for tolerance and acceptance”.
In his winner’s speech he said:
“This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom”.
The Russian entry in the contest was booed by much of the audience. Ukraine gave a substantial proportion of its vote to Conchita. This included telephone votes from Crimea, which Russia had already seized by then. Widespread disapproval of Conchita was expressed in Russian official circles, including by Mr Putin. Dmitry Rogozin, his Deputy Prime Minister, remarked:
“Eurovision showed the eurointegrators, their europerspective—a bearded lady”.
In response, Russia is contemplating reinstating Intervision, which was set up in the 1970s as a Soviet alternative to Eurovision. It is likely to comprise participants from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, established as a counterweight to NATO, and will be held in Sochi.
In the context of Russia’s military adventurism, is this trivial stuff or just a bit of fluff? I do not think so, and I offer two reasons for this belief. First, the turn towards moral conservatism in Russia by Mr Putin is a key part of his geopolitical strategy and the effort to reposition the country as a regional superpower. The anti-gay legislation in Russia is linked to an onslaught on multiculturalism, which is seen to be decadent. Russia had the right to annex Crimea, so Mr Putin says, because it was the place,
“where Prince Vladimir was baptised”,
and Vladimir’s embrace of Orthodoxy determined,
“the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus”.
What is going on here is, to some extent, going on across the world—a battle in a cosmopolitan, open society, where principles of democracy and freedom are not just registered in the political sphere but also intrude deeply into everyday life. It is not only in Europe where we see that struggle occurring. On the other side, there is, as we see around the world, the emergence of sectional authoritarianism. Again, it is not only in Europe that this is happening, but it is important that this battle is won.
Secondly, there is also a struggle between two organising principles of power—military force versus economic interdependence in a globalising world. The economic sanctions deployed by the EU and the US have widely been seen as ineffective. After all, as has been said, Mr Putin is riding high in the polls in Russia. I do not think it is true at all that they have been ineffective. Russia is on the edge of recession and the economy is in dire trouble—even more so as oil prices start to slide, as other noble Lords have remarked. There is real trouble there.
Conchita received a lot of support from Russian bloggers and on social media. Mr Putin’s attempt to regulate the internet will fail. The democratising forces he has for the moment suppressed are still there and will return at some point, perhaps in an overwhelming way.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Falkner for securing this timely and important debate. It has been an extremely good and thoughtful debate and, if I am absolutely honest, slightly surprising in its tone. I have been surprised by quite how moderate it has been.
As several noble Lords have already remarked, next month will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is worth recalling that it was a time of tremendous optimism for democracy and international relations. At this time, Gorbachev used to promote the concept of a “common European home”, and my Russian friends in Voronezh and St Petersburg used to talk about their hopes that Russia could finally join the European family as a full and equal partner. Two years later, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed and Russia and its former Soviet republics entered a period of profound economic and political change.
My noble friend Lady Falkner has already touched on the Eurasian Economic Union in her speech. Hillary Clinton has said that she feared that this was President Putin’s attempt to recreate the old Soviet Union. It certainly is an attempt to produce an alternative to the European Union for the Soviet republics. I would be hugely grateful if my noble friend the Minister would say a few words in her concluding remarks about the Government’s assessment of the likely economic and political impact of this new organisation.
I believe that in a debate on Russia and democratic principles it is worth recalling—as the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Anderson, did so powerfully in their speeches—that, unlike the Baltic states and many of the countries of central and eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, the USSR, and the Russian empire before it, had no tradition of parliamentary democracy in the western understanding of the phrase. In effect, it has moved from one system of autocracy to another. The only real exception to this were the very brief but chaotic Yeltsin years before the economic crises that befell the country resulted in many Russians losing faith in their political system and their leadership. It is with deep regret that I believe that the European Union’s eastern dimension strategy did not live up to its rhetoric in the 1990s and that opportunities were missed in the 1990s to build a genuinely fair and democratic society in Russia, based on democracy and the rule of law. Since President Putin’s third term as President, we have witnessed a gradual drift back to many of the old ways of obsessive state media control, paranoia and lack of respect for international law. The acts of aggression by Russian armed forces in eastern Ukraine are a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and international law.
Two weeks ago, I spent a fascinating five days at a festival of languages in Astana, Kazakhstan. It is clear that the recent events in Ukraine have sent a shiver down the spine of many people in Kazakhstan. While I was in Kazakhstan, I found myself one evening watching a political programme on one of the many Putin-controlled Russian TV channels. I watched an hour-long documentary about the situation in Ukraine. To say that their interpretation of events there was a little different from ours would be an extreme understatement.
The recent media coverage in Russia of the Scottish referendum also made for fascinating viewing, where a presenter on “Russia Today” referred to the “North Korea” levels of turnout and Russia claimed that the conduct of the referendum in Scotland “did not meet international standards”.
And so, sadly, we are now very far from the “common European home” aspirations of 25 years ago. However, as many other noble Lords have said, I believe that we have not been blameless. We have failed to understand the Kremlin’s responses to NATO expansion, as many noble Lords have clearly said. We have also failed to understand even the impact of EU enlargement over the last decade, because in Russia so many Russians see the two as one and the same.
Following the war on terror, it is perhaps understandable that we have paid less attention to what was going on in Moscow, as we thought that the Cold War was at an end. As a result, we have not been sufficiently sensitive to what was a rather predictable reaction from a Kremlin filled from the ranks of the former KGB and Russian intelligence services.
In conclusion, reluctantly, I believe that we must persevere with our policy of sanctions. I say reluctantly because politically the sanctions are currently having exactly the opposite effect to what was desired and are uniting even many liberal Russians against the West. But there is very real evidence that sanctions are making a strong economic impact, and the Kremlin must be made to understand that when it breaches international law there are and must always be strong consequences. We have to remain resolute in our response to Russia’s recent actions, but we must also maintain, as so many noble Lords have said, open channels for dialogue and negotiation, because surely none of us would want a return to the world as it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow someone who is so knowledgeable and reasonable. I welcome the Minister to her complicated portfolio and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for bringing this important subject before us. As she explained, Russia has been on our minds for most of this year because of the theft of Crimea and the attempted isolation of eastern Ukraine. There is a clear case against Russia in international law, yet we do not seem to be able to do anything about it. There is the so-called precedent of our intervention in Kosovo, which still bothers some EU members, but it is irrelevant because that intervention was clearly based on the responsibility to protect against a clear case of genocide.
The Budapest agreement and the Council of Europe are all possibilities for dialogue, but I do not see them as reasons for prosecution. It seems unlikely that Russia will be taken to any court, except perhaps courts of arbitration over its many seized assets. Russia had no difficulty in fending off Georgia’s attempt in 2008 to take it to the International Court of Justice over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Why should Russia worry now?
The West’s only non-military weapon is sanctions. European Union sanctions on assets and individuals are having some measurable but limited effect, and there it is a trial of strength between the two powerful economies, with Russia holding the key energy card—although that card has been somewhat devalued. Will the Government do something to uncover Russian corruption in London, which has been the subject of other debates in this House previously? It somehow still escapes our anti-money-laundering legislation.
This debate is also about democratic principles, and this has been much discussed. We must be under no illusions about Russian democracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said. Democracy is an elastic concept. We can use it to express some theoretical Athenian objective, but around the world it is being stretched in many directions and can accompany even the worst tyrannies. The Russian state has always been an autocracy but can be described as a guided democracy. Mr Putin makes quite a good show of democracy. He has a popular mandate. He is genuinely interested in democratic principles as long as they serve the state and are created by it.
Although he is an ex-KGB officer and hardly a man of the people, there have been occasions when the President has directly engaged the people, especially in a crisis where the state has proved itself incompetent. There were, for example, the forest fires of the summer of 2010 in Nizhny Novgorod, when Putin ran the gauntlet of angry villagers—19 were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed and fire engines ran out of water. There was the revolt at the alumina plant in Pikalyovo a year earlier, when the power station was shut down, and Putin took pleasure in humiliating the responsible oligarch, Deripaska, in front of hundreds of factory workers. These were farcical times in which the President appeared less like a tsar and more like Houdini, a showman or a skilled master of public relations.
The same theatre applies to the rule of law. The Yeltsin reforms of the judiciary, which did away with the KGB and led to so much expectation in the 1990s, were only paper thin. In his battles and power struggles with the oligarchs, the President has made a continual show of using the law while in reality he and his friends, using the old KGB techniques—as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said—have brazenly ignored or distorted the law in their favour. There has always been an inner circle around the throne, and today this consists of the oligarchs and shareholders who benefit directly from the vast wealth surrounding state-owned assets.
Under various European treaties, we are signed up to the Copenhagen principles, which summarise good governance, democracy, the rule of law and transparency. But we should not make too many assumptions about European influence on Russia. The attraction of enlargement is, or was, based on the obvious wealth of eastern European states that have recently joined or been associated with the EU. Yet, the vast majority that have not been in Europe do not see it that way. They have suffered steady economic decline, repression, unemployment and inequality. The magic of privatisation did not rub off in Russia, as communists could easily predict. Not surprisingly, they have also been antagonised by the EU’s gradual enlargement towards Russian territory, demonstrated by the confrontation of the two ideologies in eastern Ukraine. Enlargement is clearly coming to an end.
Even in Georgia, where there is great expectation of the new association agreement, there are hesitations about conditionality, and ordinary liberties that are familiar to us are still a long way off. There is no doubt that we should be rethinking our whole attitude to Russia. Does the noble Baroness accept that we have not given it enough attention in the Foreign Office, and is she satisfied that, even now, we have sufficient expertise in the FCO? Sub-Committee C of the European Union Committee, to which I belong, is currently looking at Russia and will soon produce a verdict on the EEAS’s perhaps overenthusiastic policy towards Ukraine. Perhaps this policy could not have been avoided, given the vast economic power and political influence of the EU, but it is certainly time to review it.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, on securing this debate. It is focused on international law and democratic principles, and of course your Lordships’ House is united in wanting to see both those fundamental principles upheld in Russia and elsewhere. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Moynihan, referred to, it is not clear what the West’s current strategy is and how it is designed to work. I welcome the Minister to her new role and post but should be grateful if, in her summing up, she could explain.
The plan seems to be that sanctions will force President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin into a volte-face, so that they relinquish Crimea and withdraw support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Yet the sanctions and Western policy are having the opposite effect. The Russian people, the cowed oligarchs and the Kremlin are united as never before behind President Vladimir Putin. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned President Putin’s popularity. His opinion poll ratings stand at 86%. He has never been more popular domestically and he is almost guaranteed re-election in 2018. Crimea is Russia’s only access to the Mediterranean, with the Black Sea fleet’s headquarters at Sevastopol, for which Russia fought several wars and lost many thousands of lives over the centuries. Russia is determined never to give up Crimea again, and President Putin knows he will go down in history as the first Russian leader since Catherine the Great to reunite the Crimea with Mother Russia.
One Russian businessman confided in me that the result of sanctions is to make Russia more authoritarian, illiberal and anti-western in outlook. The gains in trade, liberalisation and democracy of the past 23 years since the break-up of the USSR will be lost forever and will lead to a lost generation. Many young Russians have travelled extensively and have even been educated abroad. We are cutting them adrift.
Having studied and followed Russia for the last 36 years, I must admit that I am slightly puzzled by the West’s reaction to the Ukrainian conflict. Even during the Soviet Union and after the invasion of Afghanistan, trade and other links were maintained with the Soviet Union, even despite the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. The era we are embarking on will thus be worse than the Cold War: we will have geopolitical and economic instability together. In picking a fight with Russia over Ukraine I fear we are fighting the wrong war against the wrong enemy at the wrong time. A diplomatic solution to the current crisis was on the table from the beginning and accepted in principle by Moscow and Kiev: greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine’s regions; linguistic rights for ethnic Russian speakers; and maintaining Ukraine’s military neutrality.
Realistically speaking, eastern Ukraine is a political and economic burden Russia would rather do without, and no Russian I know would seriously contemplate invading the EU or a NATO member state, thus starting a third world war. Russians may be many things, but they are not stupid. Even ethnic Russian speakers in the Baltic states believe they are better off in the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, it is true that economic sanctions are hitting Russia very hard indeed, but they will also hit us in Europe too, especially since EU-Russian trade is 14 times greater than US-Russian trade. The German economy is already slowing, dragging the eurozone into recession, partly as a result of falling exports to Russia and weakening business confidence as a result.
Is this the time to pick a trade war with Russia, with global economic recovery on a knife edge? Would it not be better to solve the Ukrainian conflict diplomatically and focus on the many areas of mutual interest where Russia and the West need each other, as several noble Lords have referred to, such as trade, energy, space, the real existential fight against Islamist fundamentalism, and international co-operation on Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea? It may not be a perfect solution, but it is better than the alternative in an imperfect world.
My Lords, I add my voice to congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on her new role, which I know she will carry out with her usual wisdom, competency and courtesy. I also applaud the excellent opening speech by my noble friend Lady Falkner and thank her for moving the debate. She draws attention to some countries that are often overlooked by us in the West. The events this summer in Ukraine have given us all cause for concern.
We have had a number of excellent contributions and I recognise that there are many in this House with far greater depth of experience in these areas than me. However, last week I visited Kyrgyzstan to learn about the situation regarding human rights there, especially women’s rights. It was my first trip to that part of central Asia and I met with people from the world of journalism, NGOs, development agencies and activists running grass-roots organisations. My remarks draw on what I heard there, some of which I found more than a little concerning. In today’s globalised world, what happens even in these far-flung places has a direct effect on us here in the UK.
In Kyrgyzstan I was told that the state has a heavy hand, with much oversight from the security services. Corruption is a challenge, with political and economic power intertwined and rumours that positions have their price. Kyrgyzstan is a very poor and undeveloped country that reports chronic trade deficits. Russia holds strong economic influence there, being its main trading partner. Some 38% of its GDP comes from remittances, with 70% of its migrants working in Russia. There is great pressure for Kyrgyzstan to join the customs union—which is officially a trade zone, but is exploring economic harmonisation with an intense political component.
Although many of Kyrgyzstan’s laws are actually quite progressive, implementation is hard to achieve, with judgments being open to influence, and there are many reports of torture being used to obtain confessions. A low awareness of rights means that it is easy for people to become victims of fraud. Although in theory the law protects property ownership, apparently many high buildings are put up without the necessary documentation. Ownership problems result when corrupt officials sell land registration several times over on the same property.
I was disappointed to hear that there is a feeling that while the West needed the “Stans” to provide supply routes to Afghanistan, a blind eye was turned to what was going on there. While I was there an international human rights film festival was held—which apparently would not happen in many of the surrounding countries—but great concern was expressed by many about the space for civil society getting smaller. In May 2014, amendments to the criminal code dealing with making false communication a crime created a liability on people who disseminate information, with anecdotal reports that people handing out leaflets that are disapproved of by the state can now just be thrown into jail.
Russia is also pressurising Kyrgyzstan to adopt some of its laws. Three are of particular concern: the LGBT law banning homosexuality; the assembly law, creating concern that this might be used to disperse peaceful demonstrations; and the foreign agents law, which would prohibit foreign funding for anybody working on political issues. In effect, that might mean that bodies funded from abroad could be shut down. Apparently, Russia has stopped foreign aid for many organisations. At present in Kyrgyzstan, 65% of the funding for the 10,000 NGOs in the country comes in through foreign grants. I was told that the authorities distrust the NGOs and view them as agents of influence.
Some sections of society appear particularly disadvantaged. The very regressive laws on property rights for widows and divorced women lead to homelessness. Many women who do not understand the importance of proper marriage registration lose their rights. Domestic violence is all too prevalent and the few shelters do not take children too. Bride kidnapping is very common, even in broad daylight in the centre of Bishkek. Although sometimes staged, I was told that usually the girl had no idea that this was going to happen. Rape will follow, making the girl unmarriageable, so the families will urge their daughters to stay.
Although it is signed up to most of the UN conventions, the state has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are no official statistics there on disabled people. There is no state care and families have to struggle to look after their disabled relatives. The booming narcotics trade in the southern town of Osh, estimated to be double the value of the country’s GDP, has created huge problems, with drug addicts and scant services.
The country is mainly Muslim. Although there is meant to be freedom of religion, some religions, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Ahmadi Muslims, are not allowed to congregate. However, one of the most concerning aspects of my trip was the reports of radicalisation. Outside Bishkek there is no infrastructure for young people, leading to huge problems in the villages and the new-build housing blocks. There are reports of many young men going to Syria to fight for gold, glory and God—even some young women are going too. In a country that has a low level of understanding of Islam generally, those returning seem more informed and have a strong influence on local norms, which further impacts negatively on women’s rights. Some I met even questioned whether the Islamic element might have state ambitions.
In talking about Kyrgyzstan I seek to illustrate how Russia is leaning on its former states. I very much hope that the UK will use all its diplomatic power to promote good governance in Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding countries; to urge them to reverse the current trend of a roll-back on civil rights and increasing authoritarianism; to encourage them to maintain their independence from Russia; and to put pressure on their Governments to stem the tide of fighters going to join ISIL.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for introducing the debate. It is a very important subject. I had at first feared that we would be heading for conflict with Russia—even a return to the Cold War—but there have recently been more favourable developments, with the prospect of discussions taking place between the two sides.
Ukraine is a much-divided country: the east does not want to be governed from the west by Kiev and Kiev is suspicious of Russian involvement. It has always been necessary to try to resolve these differences through negotiations. There have of course been many allegations about Russian involvement. But what about the West? What about the CIA? What about NATO, which has a number of states on the border with Russia?
The demonstrators who brought about the downfall of the previous President, who, incidentally, was elected, were not all nice, progressive democrats. Some were very dubious people, including members of the Svoboda party who were rather racist and probably nationalistic. However, these people were supported by the West—by the CIA and by statements from NATO leaders.
In my view, we must try to restore relations with the Russians. Culturally, they are close to us in all sorts of ways—in music, the arts, literature, scientific developments and, as we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, business. It is to our advantage to have these close links.
As for Crimea, Russia has links going back a very long way, to the days of Catherine the Great, and still has a naval base there. The people living there have had some sort of vote, the result of which was in favour of rejoining Russia. We have been told that it was not legal, which has been disputed by Russia. However, if, by any chance, the people there want to rejoin Russia, I do not see why they should be prevented from doing so if there are arrangements for the protection of minorities.
I am strongly in favour of restoring relations with Russia. I have been there on a number of occasions, not only a long time ago, during the Soviet era, but much more recently. I have great respect for the Russian people, who have suffered greatly from interventions. During the last war many millions were killed and there was the dreadful siege of St Petersburg. The transition from the Soviet era to the present capitalist one was a very difficult period for the Russian people. Before that, of course, there were the Napoleonic Wars, which gave us War and Peace. It is interesting to recall that, when he was a young man, Tolstoy served in the army, defending Crimea against interventions from Britain and France in 1854—a little remembered western intervention. There is some history here. Let us hope that the future is much better.
It is in the interests of both sides to make progress in the discussions. There has, of course, been a lot of criticism of the present President, Vladimir Putin. He appears to be popular with the Russian people at the moment, particularly following the annexation of Crimea. On the other hand, we have to come to terms with people whom we may not particularly like if we are to avoid a conflict. We need further discussion if we are to avoid the sort of problems that have arisen recently. I hope it will be possible to accept what is now on offer, which seems to be negotiations between the two sides that are currently in conflict in Ukraine. Putin seems to be willing to make some gestures in the direction of resolving the problems that exist. Of course there will be problems but they can be matters for discussion, which I hope can be reasonably arranged so that this can be brought to a close. We have far more bringing us together than separating us. I therefore hope that that is how we shall proceed to deal with the issues that have been raised in today’s debate.
My Lords, I declare a number of interests. I was an adviser to the Romanian Government when they were negotiating their membership of the European Union. I am a vice-president of the English Speaking Union and I have been involved in establishing branches of that union in Russia, particularly in St Petersburg, and eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. I am also a visiting professor at St Petersburg State University, which, as many noble Lords will know, is Vladimir Putin’s alma mater.
I must say that I am not entirely persuaded about the popularity of Mr Putin. I know what the opinion polls say and I know about his control of the media, which reflects that judgment. However, from my own conversations, particularly with people in St Petersburg, there is deep unease among many in Russia over what is happening. Also, there is occasional derision towards Putin’s position. The ludicrous assertion that the level of voting in the Scottish referendum was North Korean was greeted with embarrassment and derision by many people I know in Russia. We should be realistic.
I was somewhat shocked by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, that we were in danger of—I think I have got the words right—picking a fight with Russia over Ukraine. May I remind the House that it is President Putin who has picked a fight with democratic principles and international law over Ukraine? It is not the West that has picked a fight with him. I hope that, in her reply to this debate, the Minister will reassert that. There is a very important issue of principle involved.
Because of ISIS and its present command of the headlines, the ambitions and, indeed, the ambiguities of Vladimir Putin are somewhat misunderstood and ignored. However, his activity, particularly in east Ukraine, is destabilising for very specific reasons. I shall focus on just two aspects of this destabilisation.
The first is the economic dimension. Reference has been made to the impact of western sanctions on Russia and we all know about the West’s dependence—which, at 40%, is still considerable—on Russian oil and gas. Let us look at the impact of western sanctions. It is a very complicated picture. The Russians have self-inflicted much of the impact of these sanctions. They have, for example, forbidden agricultural imports across a very wide range of products from the United States, the European Union and Norway. The result is that there are now shortages of important foods in the shops in many Russian cities and prices have risen dramatically. That is a self-imposed impact. The fourth tier of sanctions has also significantly impacted on access to capital and investment, particularly for smaller entrepreneurial companies in Russia.
At a lecture in St Petersburg, I was once asked: what is the basic economic relationship that Russia should look for with the West? I replied that to benefit trade you must have reciprocity. It has to be a two-way street. One of the problems is that the Putin Administration has viewed it as a one-way street. It has been about using the power of oil and gas—the so-called nuclear weapon—to gain what he wants. What will happen about that? There have been references, rightly, to the fall in the oil price. That has happened for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the impact of shale in the United States. But let us not underestimate the almost total dependence of the Russian economy on oil and gas. If this fall continues it will, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, indicated in his speech, have a very dramatic effect on Russia.
What are we doing to lessen our dependence on oil and gas from Russia? There is a lot of infrastructure investment. In particular, the new pipeline going through Albania is going to be of considerable significance. Albania, incidentally, now has candidate status. It is hoped that its President will visit this country before the end of the year, and I think that we have to really stretch out a hand in that relationship.
I end by looking at the relationship between EU enlargement and this whole issue. When Helmut Kohl, as German Chancellor, negotiated with Mr Gorbachev, he indicated to the Russians that we would not allow a situation where NATO and the EU reached the borders of Russia. I think that that was prudent and right, and we should not entertain the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. However, that is not to say that we should allow a situation in which permanent destabilisation of eastern Ukraine is permitted. Therefore, I think that we must remain committed to EU enlargement where that is applicable but, above all, we must maintain the present levels of sanctions until there is a significant change, and we may not have to wait too long.
We used to talk about an EU-Russian agreement. That may now seem a very distant prospect, but the fact that it is distant should not in any way reduce our commitment to trying to achieve it. However, to achieve it, we have to be realistic, not optimistic, about Mr Putin and contemporary Russia.
My Lords, I add my voice to the double congratulation to the two noble Baronesses—one on securing this debate and the other on her new role. I declare an interest as director of the British East-West Centre, a UK organisation which supplies, among other things, election monitors to the former Soviet Union countries. It currently has about 80 monitors on the ground out there.
It is impossible in the time available to cover countries as diverse as Estonia and Uzbekistan. I look forward to the day when we stop referring to these countries as “former Soviet”, in the same way as we no longer refer to Russia or France as former members of the Triple Entente from 1907, as I am sure your Lordships are all fully aware.
While the focus of this debate may be on current issues in Russia and Ukraine, the fact is that in much of the post-Soviet area both democracy and international law are widely disregarded and abused by the powerful. We remember of course Stalin’s famous comment that what really matters is not that people vote but who does the counting. Rigged elections, torture of detainees and harassment of journalists, as well as personal concentration of power, all paint a pretty bleak picture of our neighbours to the east, but, turning to Russia specifically, there is another facet to this which needs to be recognised.
Russia, in particular, has plenty of reasons to distrust and dislike the West. After the Soviet Union imploded, many in the West—and I quote a recent British ambassador writing in the Daily Telegraph—
“simply stopped taking Russia seriously”,
and rode roughshod over its concerns about, for example, NATO, Georgia and Kosovo. I have also spoken before in this House about the way that the EU and the US, in my view, got themselves into an absurd tug of war with Russia over Ukraine, which had the effect of leading directly towards the current armed conflict. The sanctions that are now being imposed are being effective but they are also playing straight to Russians’ easily triggered sense of siege mentality and they drive Russia to seek cosmetic or actual alliances elsewhere. Where that leaves us is with a quasi-cold war stand-off, characterised by antagonism that is both increasingly unpredictable and commensurately dangerous—what Angela Merkel has called a long-term confrontation.
Make no mistake, my Lords, I am no apologist for Mr Putin. In fact, I do not think that apologies are really his style. He did earn a degree of respect for his determination to restore prestige for Russia as a powerful nation in world affairs but, when he quickly began to concentrate power to himself, to strong-arm the organs of the state and, latterly, to become a militaristic adventurer, our views changed. History also shows us that the more concentrated power tends to become, the less those in power seem to be able to see when it is time to go. All the more reason, then, for the West not to give Mr Putin excuses for further forays into the surrounding countries.
What of the future? I have three points to make. First, I believe that our relationship with Russia needs a complete reboot. While Mr Putin remains in place, we can expect the same calculated disregard both for democracy and for intentional law, combined with a sharp ability to play up any western evidence of hypocrisy in these areas. Therefore, we need to be robust but the idea that we can, by force, eventually persuade Mr Putin to give up either on Ukraine or on his own position begs a question as to who or what we can expect to get next.
As for Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it was economics that finished off the Soviet Union. Crimea and a shattered eastern Ukraine will be extremely expensive for Russia. Last night I saw an estimate of $100 billion to date. Although popular initially, the cost—not to mention the young Russians who have been sent to their deaths—may make Russia come to regret this adventure. Nevertheless, as many noble Lords have commented, we need a workable relationship with Russia—for example, in relation to Syria, as has been widely quoted, but also in relation to places such as the Arctic. There are many areas where we have common concerns and we need to build on these rather than, as currently, getting stuck in fairly pointless confrontations.
Secondly, and looking more widely across the region, many people were, as has been said, very optimistic about the future, but how many stolen elections and abuses of power does it take until that fades? The fact that people like to use English law for their business dealings, the fact that thousands of people turned out on the streets in Moscow not so long ago to protest against the regime and the fact that, despite harassment, courageous individuals and organisations try to highlight injustices show us that the people of the region seek democracy and the rule of law, whatever their leaders may do. That is why I underline the need for us constantly to bear witness to the degree to which elections are falsified or otherwise and the degree to which laws are followed or otherwise.
Finally, I place my faith in the next generation. The increasing number of young people educated in the West going home with friendships in this country—and to a degree, one would expect, with our values—may prove to be the most significant factor that in the long term enables us and the countries that we still refer to as the former Soviet Union to get along with each other rather better.
I strive in these matters to be an optimist but it is going to be a very long haul indeed to get the leaders not only of those countries but of our own to understand each other rather better.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on securing this debate and on the outstanding way in which she opened it. We have heard a number of important and valuable speeches from noble Lords around the House who have enormous expertise in this subject. I confess that I do not, as I suspect will become obvious in the next few minutes. We also look forward very much to the Minister’s reply to the debate—as has been said, her first debate in an important and difficult new role.
Monday’s British newspapers had a photograph of President Putin shaking hands with Lewis Hamilton, the British Formula 1 driver, after the latter’s brilliant win at the Grand Prix at Sochi on the Black Sea. The president had celebrated his 62nd birthday a few days before—we have heard about the 12 labours of Hercules. Both he and Lewis Hamilton looked like tough, active men ready for any physical challenge—alpha males if ever you saw them. It is worth noting and certainly it was reported that this was the first Russian Grand Prix of its kind in size and international flavour since before the 1917 revolution. The photo was interesting because it seemed to indicate at one moment Russia’s seeming desire to be a major player in the modern world, part of the international circuit that includes sport along with other activities, while at the same time being prepared to offend the international order—by behaving in the way that it has in Ukraine, for example. This represents a difficult challenge, particularly for the rest of the world, whether the EU, the United States, NATO or whoever you like to choose, including, if the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, will forgive me, those states that were of the former Soviet Union, some of which of course themselves are now NATO or EU members.
That Russian behaviour towards Ukraine, whether by the annexation of Crimea or the involvement in the civil war in the east of the country, has been completely unacceptable and against international law is if not universally then widely agreed. This is not the first time that Russia has interfered in the internal affairs of independent countries that were formally states of the former Soviet Union. But this year’s involvement in Ukraine has been more obvious, more blatant and more offensive to other countries and the world order than any other action it has taken since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, it has been said that no country has seized the territory of another European country by force since 1945.
Perhaps the West was slow in responding adequately to such a shocking breach of international law and international standards of behaviour. That may be in part because of the rapidly changing political situation at that time in Ukraine. It may also have been because agreeing a course of action at EU-level took time, with countries being concerned—hardly surprisingly—for their own economic self-interest. As my colleague the shadow Foreign Secretary said in an article in the Daily Telegraph in July this year:
“The EU has the capacity to act. On Russia, it has so far lacked sufficient will. EU leaders know that tougher sanctions will likely involve costs for segments of some EU economies, but inaction will also have costs in the long term”.
The NATO summit in early September in Newport took significant steps forward in agreeing co-ordinated action that can help to ensure the alliance remains effective in responding to new and emerging threats. Now of course it is a priority to ensure that all parties uphold the ceasefire in Ukraine. The deal signed between Ukraine and Russia is a welcome step towards stability. It is clear that co-ordinated EU and US action to put pressure on President Putin has played a role in bringing the ceasefire into being. Now, as has been said in the debate, we want to see meaningful negotiations.
What is Russia up to in the long term and what strategy or tactics is she employing? Here, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who talked about this issue too. In the same way that many noble Lords have said that Russia’s recent behaviour can be seen in historic terms going back centuries—not just to the 19th century but earlier than that—so its hybrid war, to use the phrase employed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, involving the Russian art of maskirovka seems to be the method employed. Is it part of a much larger and wider Russian campaign—or perhaps I should say Putin campaign—military, political and commercial, to influence and destabilise nations right across eastern Europe? One hopes not, but it is a consideration that one has to make. Indeed, I have a slightly frightening quotation from the defence journal VPK published last year in which Russia’s chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov explains that after invading Georgia in 2008, Russia's military thinkers decided to adopt new “methods of conflict” for the 21st century:
“Open use of forces, often under the guise of peacekeeping, is resorted to only at a certain stage”,
wrote the chief of staff. He continued that instead, the bulk of the fighting should be done through,
“the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”,
including inciting foreign populations and using “concealed” armed forces. That is a frightening idea, but it may be rather too close to reality.
If true, these tactics seem to fly in the face of the idea of an increasingly civilised rules-based world. All these factors are of huge concern to those of us who want to have dialogue and fresh relations with the great country that is Russia. It is a great country. Its sacrifices against Nazism and fascism were so great that it is sometimes hard all these years later to appreciate them. The heroism of the Russian people was immense. Where would the world be, as has already been said in this debate, without the incredible culture and art that Russia has given the world? Yet there is now thrust on us, whether we like it or not, I am afraid, the necessity not only to engage with the Russians but to stand up and resist actions that offend against the principles of international relations and international law in the way in which the Russians have done in this calendar year. It is our duty to do so. We have to use caution and remain cool, but it is our duty. We cannot escape the consequences of these actions. I hope the Minister agrees with that analysis and I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I, too, join in congratulating my noble friend Lady Falkner on securing this important debate—even more so because she was so prescient. She put the subject down in a ballot way back in July. Sadly, of course, she was right to do that because so many difficulties have developed over the summer it is very timely that we debate the matter now. I am also grateful to her for her valuable work in highlighting the situation in Russia and across the former Soviet Union, and to other noble Lords who have contributed to the debate today.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, finished with a challenge. Was he enunciating the right approach? I think that he was. Many noble Lords around the House have reflected on our relationship with Russia. They have put it within an historical context. We have heard from academics, such as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, to whom I always listen and read. We have heard from those with experience in the area, such as the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, and others who have business interests in Russia. There was also a reflection from the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, that we should re-establish our relationship with Russia. I can tell her that the relationship has not broken down and we are working at it. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, over this summer Russia has taken action that is in breach of the United Nations charter and in breach of international law. It cannot be business as usual, but it is right to reflect.
I was intrigued by a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, which I hope I have got right in paraphrase. He said that we need to be robust in our relationship with Russia and that we need to reboot it. I think that that was a very interesting way of looking at it because we can take account of all the developments that have taken place so far. In doing that, of course we have to have the skills to negotiate. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether we have those skills. I am confident that we have them within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I may have been there only for around 10 to 11 weeks, but I am very impressed by what I have seen so far. On the basis of the briefings I have had since my arrival, I am confident that there is real expertise on Russian matters both in London and across our diplomatic network. I am also encouraged by broader initiatives to develop greater expertise. We have reopened the FCO language centre, which I think will assist us, as well as the Diplomatic Academy. However, the noble Earl was right to say that we should guard against complacency and I am very happy to write to him with further detail about the FCO’s position and how it ensures that the expertise does exist and persist.
Many references were made to the notion that we must not go back to the Cold War, but it appears as though we are trying to press Russia so hard that it is the direction in which we are going. That is not the case. It is Russia that has been making relationships difficult by its actions in Ukraine, not the other way round. Some 25 years after the end of the Cold War, it is clear that some of our hopes for the countries of the former Soviet Union have been dashed, at least for now. It is time for reflection and looking at the next steps. Some countries have indeed taken positive steps, including in the field of human rights, which is the core issue of today’s debate. But in general the situation of the rule of law and democratic principles in the region is a troubled one; there is no escaping that. At least part of the blame must lie with Russia, and there is no escaping that either.
We have had a range of valuable contributions from my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Moynihan, and from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, looking at the perspective of development from the time of the Cold War until now—at a time when some are calling this a “hybrid war” and asking where we should go next. I heard many Lords talk about their worries with regard to NATO expanding to take account of new countries, but I have to say clearly that NATO has to take its own decisions in the light of applications made to it. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, raised this issue, as did my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and my noble friend Lord Cormack. What I can say is that at the 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO agreed that Georgia would become a member of NATO, and we continue to stand by that decision. At the 2014 Wales summit just recently, NATO agreed a substantial package of support for Georgia. Those measures aim to strengthen Georgia’s defence and interoperability capabilities within the alliance, and help to advance its preparations towards membership. So while it is not happening tomorrow, one has to be in a position to be able to join; one has to go through the various stages to do so, but they are in train.
There was also a question about Ukrainian membership of NATO, with a lot of messages that this is a cause for deep consideration before further steps are taken. Under NATO’s open door policy, all European democracies are entitled to pursue membership. However, at this time the urgent priority for Ukraine is to find a way to bring the conflict there to an end. Our focus as the Government is therefore on the steps that will de-escalate the crisis and enable Ukraine to prosper as an independent and sovereign state. Throughout all this, I take again the message from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that Moscow needs to understand that military aggression, the destabilisation of a sovereign neighbour and the flouting of international commitments have serious consequences, and therefore it cannot be business as usual, but we can reflect and consider before taking further action.
Over the past two decades and more, we have endeavoured to build a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia. We have supported its integration into the international community and the international rules-based system. But, as has been said, by Russia’s recent actions, the offer of partnership has been rejected and instead a path of confrontation has been chosen. That is something we regret. Through the peace negotiations we need to work towards making sure that the problems caused by Russia in its illegal annexation of Crimea and other activities in the area can, it is hoped, be undone to as great an extent as possible. But Russia’s actions in Ukraine demonstrate a staggering disregard for international law. Not all of Russia’s recent actions are without precedent. Looking back, we can see evidence of Russia using similar tactics to interfere in or put undue pressure on sovereign countries in the region but, as I say, its actions in Ukraine are on a different scale.
I was interested to hear the very robust response of my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond to the noble Lord, Lord Truscott. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, appeared to paint a picture whereby we picked a quarrel with Russia. No, we did not. It was not we who put pressure on Ukraine and it was not we who created the crisis. Russia made its own decisions. Through its illegal annexation, Russia violated Ukrainian sovereignty, and over the summer it has not stopped there. During this spring and summer, Russia has intensified its destabilisation activities in south-east Ukraine. They are aimed at preventing Ukraine from charting its own democratic course and making its own sovereign choices.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, that we do not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia; that is not going to happen. Those actions violated the various charters, so we will not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea.
What is the state of the UK’s bilateral relationship with Russia? We are trying to engage, although certainly the Russian leadership has rejected the path of negotiation and has chosen a path of confrontation over Ukraine. We deeply regret that, but it does not mean to say that we cannot try to work together in other areas. What we have said, together with our UK partners, is that we have always made it clear to Russia that a closer EU-Ukraine relationship need not be at the cost of a Ukraine-Russia partnership. I say this to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell. When Russia initially expressed concern about the association agreement in 2013, the EU quickly engaged in a dialogue to set out the facts and dispel the myths. We are committed to continuing that dialogue to provide a sustainable way in which to de-escalate tensions while still not allowing Russia to dictate Ukraine’s sovereign right of action.
My Lords, I wonder if the noble Baroness will recognise the difference between the European Union’s response to the Ukrainian initiatives and the initiative taken by President Putin in November 2010—he was the Prime Minister at the time—when he wrote an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung calling for a free trade area running from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Why did we not respond to that in a positive way, which might have reduced the significance of the Ukrainian view?
My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend was in the House when we started the debate—he may well have been—but there has been a lot of reflection throughout it on the relationship between this country and Russia. I am shortly to refer to EU sanctions and their impact on Russia.
There has been much comment during this debate to the effect that, “We’ve got it wrong. We didn’t expect Russia to change its attitude. We expected them to develop in a way that was going to be consensual throughout Europe”, but whatever could or might have been done in the past—but I suggest should not have been done—we are looking now at the situation that persists and I would not want to unpick that.
The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, asked whether we would have engagement with Russia on key international issues. Yes, indeed, we do. Regardless of what it has done, we have made it clear that we will engage on other key international issues, such as Iran, Syria and Islamic extremism—matters that other noble Lords have raised—and it is crucial that we continue those negotiating relationships.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, described so graphically, the attack on and illegal annexation of Crimea have caused severe problems to the people of Crimea and Ukraine during the summer. The Russian Federation not only stirred up a conflict that has caused suffering to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens but it has fuelled that conflict through the supply of troops, armour and sophisticated weaponry. That led to the very sad downing of civilian flight MH17 over Ukrainian soil. Russia has waged a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to mask the true cause of civilian suffering and human rights violations in Ukraine; namely, the actions of the Russian-backed separatists. It has also deployed troops and equipment directly in Ukraine. It says that it has not. Putin makes a joke about what uniforms people may wear; well, you can buy those in any shop. It is clear that Russia has provided not only materiel but troops within Ukraine. Putin plays smoke and mirrors; he is an adept.
We have noted from comments by my noble friend Lady Kishwer—I mean Lady Falkner; she is so much a friend that I use her first name—that families of Russian soldiers are not even allowed to know that their sons are fighting, and dying, in an illegal military operation against a neighbouring country. As she points out, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers found out that their sons were dying there and highlighted the fact that they were being secretly buried at home in Russia. For telling the truth, that committee is now on the foreign agents register. I find that absolutely extraordinary.
Noble Lords have spoken about how much we must encourage the ceasefire between Poroshenko and Putin to hold. They are having discussions in Milan this very week, as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred to earlier. The plan which was set out and signed in Minsk on 5 September had several points to it. We are still waiting for Russia to complete its commitments. I know that Putin has this week reduced the number of troops on the Ukrainian border, but that commitment must transfer into a commitment to take troops out of Ukraine and to move the tens of thousands of troops away from the border not just while it is ASEM week in Milan but for good.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, referred to the Budapest memorandum. I say firmly that the UK is willing to engage on the basis of the Budapest memorandum; it is Russia that has refused to do so. But we do not give up. The position at the moment is that we would like to engage, but they will not.
I turn to human rights in the former Soviet Union. Many noble Lords, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out not only how Russia has run roughshod over fundamental rules that govern relationships between states but that its actions have undermined the principles that govern the relationship between states and their peoples. It has subverted democratic principles and the rule of law both within and outside its borders and put human rights under serious pressure in a number of ways. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, used that as a lever to refer to issues around a Conservative Party announcement at the Conservative Party conference. We will have plenty of time to engage on that. Work on human rights is in my policy portfolio at the Foreign Office and I am working on it 100%. There will be no let-up in our enforcement as a Government of our duties with regard to human rights and I would expect all our duties on human rights to persist beyond an election whichever Government is in office, because it is part of our society. However, I think that a debate on the European Court of Human Rights really is for another day.
My Lords, I am aware that I am not going to be able to answer half the questions that I had hoped to do so.
Significant points were made on freedom of expression and belief by my noble friends Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Falkner and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. They spoke of the way in which human rights have been trampled on and how the media have been hindered in Russia. Indeed, we find that there is a foreign agents law, too, which prevents NGOs carrying out their proper function.
Torture remains a concern in many parts of the former Soviet Union—I have just been advised by one noble Lord that I should not say that—including states such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. My noble friend Lady Hodgson appealed for UK influence with regard to human rights and women’s rights in Kazakhstan, which she has recently visited. I will certainly take that back. She can be assured that we have put pressure wherever we possibly can.
Sanctions were referred to by many noble Lords. I shall refer to them briefly at this stage. Sanctions had to be imposed as a way of bringing home to Russia the import of its action in illegally annexing Crimea and its activity in Ukraine. They are having an impact, exacerbating negative trends in Russia’s economy, which shrank by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year. Sanctions of course are always under review—the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in particular referred to this—as to their effectiveness, but it is important that they remain.
Throughout all this, a rather bleak picture has been painted. As I finish, I simply say that we remain committed to upholding the rule of law, democratic principles and human rights in all the countries, Russia and those that surround it.
My Lords, it has been a remarkably focused debate given how wide the title was. I think that we have seen great unity around the idea that we must be clear about not threatening Russia through NATO enlargement to Ukraine, but only at this point. We have heard about the importance of diplomacy, powerfully expressed by a former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I am sure that noble Lords were intrigued to hear about Conchita and the Eurovision Song Contest. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, is always capable of surprising us with his breadth of cultural background and understanding.
Overall, just one or two speeches seemed to suggest that we accept the current status quo as a fait accompli without reservation. However, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot turn away from law when it is breached by the mighty. I think that there was consensus on that overall in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, we have seen a shocking breach of international law and standards, and we cannot stand by.
I finish on the simple but powerful point put by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. We do not quite understand how very difficult it is for our diplomats to operate in countries that are authoritarian and have an atmosphere that lends itself to distrust when they go out and do their jobs. I want to put on record the assistance, good judgment and fortitude displayed by our current ambassador to Russia, Tim Barrow, and his deputy, Martin Harris—as well as the FCO team, who were denuded at the start of this crisis with a very small team. They have really risen to the challenge of being able to provide this country with the expertise it needs now.
We have heard today from many distinguished noble Lords. I am hugely grateful to them for having participated. The Hansard copy of the debate will surely merit further reading. On that note, I thank everyone who spoke.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to take stock of recent developments and for the Government to give their assessment of the present situation in Hong Kong. I am also very grateful to noble Lords for contributing to this debate with their own experience and knowledge of Hong Kong.
Since Britain was a partner in the Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong, we have an obligation, if not a moral one, towards the people of Hong Kong. I was privileged to be the Minister of State with responsibilities for Hong Kong in the period which led to the 1984 declaration. When that declaration was signed some 30 years ago, many of today’s demonstrators were not yet born. It is therefore worth stressing the background to that declaration.
Under international law, Britain was obliged to return Hong Kong, except for the island and Kowloon, to the People’s Republic in 1997. The only feasible option was to hand over the whole of Hong Kong to China. In doing so, we were conscious of the fact that many people had escaped from the communism of mainland China to seek larger freedoms in Hong Kong. The choice was stark: negotiate the best agreement we could achieve or just hand them over. It was clear that the latter course would have led to the collapse of confidence and of institutions, the decline in business and the emigration of many skilled middle-class people. The only responsible course was to try to persuade the Chinese to agree to preserve every aspect of Hong Kong’s way of life which the British had helped to create over 150 years: freedom under the law, an independent judiciary, free press, free speech, freedom to demonstrate and the free market capitalist economy. The foundations for a democratic system were there but, up to 1984, successive British Governments had been hesitant to develop it.
It was of course the Thatcher Government and in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, as the then Foreign Secretary, who led for Britain in the negotiations brokering this remarkable declaration of principles based on one country but two systems, granting the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region a high degree of autonomy. Article 5 sums it up:
“The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
I should stress the fact that Deng Xiaoping gave the go-ahead for these discussions because, he said, he trusted the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. The word “trust” is as relevant today in Hong Kong as it was then. We need to acknowledge that it was remarkably enlightened and far-sighted of Deng Xiaoping at that time to draw up a declaration recognising two very different systems in one country.
In these circumstances, it was surely inevitable that there would be severe strains from time to time in reconciling the determination of Beijing to preserve its ultimate authority over Hong Kong with its commitment to respect the sanctity of Hong Kong systems and way of life. We must remind ourselves that, soon after the declaration, the Chinese National People’s Congress developed the Basic Law of Hong Kong which put flesh on the principles expressed in the declaration. One ultimate aim of the Basic Law was to introduce universal suffrage for both the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. It is also worth noting that, since 1997, the number of directly elected members of the Legislative Council has gradually increased.
I sense two factors that may go some way to explain the very real anxieties expressed in current demonstrations in Hong Kong, which consist of many young people with aspirations for some kind of participation in their political and economic future. First, there has not been real trust and confidence in the methods for choosing the Chief Executives of Hong Kong since 1997 and the extent to which they listen to the views of all Hongkongers. The second point is linked to the first and is focused on the methods for choosing and electing the next Chief Executive in 2017. The National People’s Congress had stipulated that there would be universal suffrage for the 5 million or so registered voters. However, on 31 August, after several months’ consultation with the people of Hong Kong, the National People’s Congress—the arbiters of the Basic Law—announced that all eligible voters may vote for their Chief Executive from up to three candidates but that they must be nominated by at least 50% of the nominating committee of 1,200 people. The Chief Executive will be appointed by the Chinese Central People’s Government, based on the results of the election. The argument has been made that a majority of the committee will be sympathisers of the Beijing Government and that therefore there will not be a transparent and fair system, enabling Hongkongers to choose from a wide range of people. Thereafter, the Legislative Council must decide by a two-thirds majority in early 2015. Failure to do so will mean that the arrangements revert to those in 2012 when the present Chief Executive, CY Leung, was chosen without universal suffrage.
At this point, I stress that I believe that the People’s Republic of China, the people of Hong Kong and the British Government have a vested interest in ensuring that this special commitment to “one country, two systems” works successfully and indeed strengthens over time. China needs to demonstrate to the people of Taiwan that the Hong Kong arrangement could in future be viable for them. Moreover, although Hong Kong is perhaps economically less important to China than in 1997, the financial collapse of the region could have devastating consequences. In Britain, we have a moral duty to Hongkongers to encourage the maintenance of the principles of the declaration. In addition, we have strong financial, trade and educational links of importance to us. It is estimated that the stock of British investment in Hong Kong at the end of 2012 was just under £36 billion, some 40% of British investment in Asia. Some 126 British companies have registered headquarters in Hong Kong. Our total exports to Hong Kong in 2013 were more than £4 billion.
However, it is the future of the nearly 8 million people in Hong Kong that matters more than anything else. There is at present a serious tension between the Hong Kong Administration and many of the people of Hong Kong. I believe that there is now an opportunity for all sides to work for a constitutional mechanism that could gain the confidence of the people of Hong Kong. This would involve discussions between the people of Hong Kong and their Administration about how to introduce in 2017 an election process for a new Chief Executive where the nominations committee is broadly representative of the people of Hong Kong and where there is a free and fair choice of candidates.
The approaching second round of consultations will provide the opportunity to propose improved ways in which the four main sectors of representatives are chosen. The Chinese authorities have repeatedly made it clear that it is for the Hong Kong Government to determine the extent and nature of democracy in Hong Kong, in consultation with the people of Hong Kong. It is surely in everybody’s interest to have a Government in Hong Kong who enjoy the confidence of their people. Hong Kong has a well educated, vibrant population, well equipped to embark on a constructive and calm dialogue with the Government of Hong Kong and to help to construct the way forward.
Over the years, Her Majesty’s Government have produced six-monthly reports to Parliament on Hong Kong, which have been helpful and informative. The Government have repeatedly stressed the need to develop Hong Kong’s distinctive way of life and level of autonomy. I look forward to hearing the Government’s view on the present situation and the importance of finding a solution which commands the trust and confidence of the people of Hong Kong.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on initiating this timely debate and on his wise speech, with all of which I concur. I speak with what I hope is the degree of diffidence appropriate to one who does not live in Hong Kong and who has viewed recent developments there from afar. I was one of the noble Lord’s successors as Minister of State at the FCO responsible for Hong Kong and our relations with China. No one who cares about China and Hong Kong can view recent developments with equanimity and pass by on the other side. It is deeply distressing to see people’s lives and businesses being disrupted as they have been and are being. The noble Lord has given a learned and completely accurate analysis of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, which I will not repeat.
The noble Lord referred to the Foreign Office report to Parliament. In his foreword to the six-monthly report on Hong Kong deposited this July by William Hague, the then Foreign Secretary, he wrote that it was his belief that the best way to preserve Hong Kong’s strengths is through a transition to universal suffrage which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong within the parameters of the Basic Law, and that there is no perfect model. The important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and feel that they have a real stake in the outcome.
I agree with the Government’s position on that. I share my right honourable friend’s welcome that a broad range of groups will be and have been engaged in consultations organised by the Hong Kong Government. What the constitutional package will eventually look like is for the Government of Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region, China and the people of Hong Kong to decide. In my view, there can be no argument but that constructive dialogue and sincere co-operation towards the reconciliation of opposing views is a better option than personal and economic disruption. That seems to me to be the lesson of history in various parts of the world. Dissenting parties eventually have to talk, and the earlier they do so the better.
Those of us brought up in the democratic traditions of this country instinctively share the impatience of those in Hong Kong for faster progress to genuine universal suffrage and broader-based representational democracy, but Rome was not built in a day. Much progress has been made constitutionally in Hong Kong over recent decades, in no small part thanks to the efforts of some of your Lordships.
Over recent years, we in this country have engaged in substantial discussion about constitutional matters: Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh devolution, proportional representation, constituency boundaries, the role and composition of the House of Lords, our relationship with the European Union—I could go on. No doubt we shall continue such discussion. We have had violence on our streets but, by and large, most people believe as I do in early and continual dialogue.
Of course, that is easier said than achieved, but I hope that recent developments in Hong Kong will lead to progress rather than a hardening of attitudes and that the ingenuity and persistence of those in China and Hong Kong—not to mention here in this country—over recent decades, which have allowed different interpretations of the public interest to coexist to the huge benefit of the people of Hong Kong and others, including us, can be somehow resumed. Of course we stand ready to help, if we ever can. We wish them well.
I recall the foreboding that I felt in the late spring of 1989 over the protests in Tiananmen Square. We know what happened. Although they enjoyed much popular support, the protests were suppressed. More than 300 people were killed and many more were injured and wounded. Foreign journalists were banned. Western Governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargoes. I took part in the protest march around Causeway Bay and Happy Valley the following year on the first anniversary. That march still takes place.
There is no comparison between the freedoms enjoyed today in Hong Kong and the repressions of Beijing in 1989. First, there is freedom of assembly. It is true that on the 28 September, at the beginning of Occupy Central, the police used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to disperse the crowds, but the reaction was such that on the following day, the riot police were withdrawn. For two weeks, non-violent demonstrations were tolerated and spread. They spread to other parts. The only real threat of violence came from the triad groups in Mong Kok. There is an assumption that their involvement was encouraged by the authorities. That may or may not be true. Knowing something of these groups from practice in the criminal courts in Hong Kong, I had predicted they would get involved in any violence going—and indeed they did.
There have been isolated incidents as the police have this week removed barriers. On Wednesday last, some journalists complained of being punched and dragged by police officers in the Lung Wo Road. In the evening, Hong Kong police officers took the social worker Ken Tsang, a protest leader, to a quiet part of Tamar Park and beat him up. However, that has not been suppressed. Seven policemen have been suspended, the case has gone to the High Court for a mandatory injunction, the Independent Police Complaints Council has been informed and there have been protests by Amnesty International and the Hong Kong Bar Council, among others. In other words, the rule of law has been maintained and strengthened. There is freedom of speech, because all those events have been fully reported.
Indeed, the election of the next Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2017 will be a significant step towards democratic government. Unfortunately, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing has sought to set boundaries on the method of election: namely, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who must be congratulated on obtaining this debate, said, that there should be no more than two or three candidates; that they will be nominated by the nominating committee, and that each candidate’s nomination will require the consent of more than 50% of the committee, as opposed to the eighth of the membership of the committee when the previous Chief Executive was elected.
The present disturbances are fuelled not so much by demands for freedom, as in 1989, but by fears that the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong people might be taken away in future. Another factor is economic inequality. The World Bank has indicated that Hong Kong billionaires’ combined net worth equals 80% of the city’s gross domestic product. The disparity of wealth between richest and poorest as measured by the Gini coefficient is the greatest in Asia. The well educated young people on the streets of Hong Kong see no prospect of owning property themselves in the foreseeable future and fear that their interests are not represented at the decision-making level.
But as in Tiananmen Square, the protesters have no end game. They have made their point: that unless their views are considered, they have the capacity to disrupt the smooth running of the city. Today, they are still occupying 2.3 kilometres of the city’s streets. They should now hold back. Now is the time for compromise.
The Government themselves have been dilatory and entirely reactive. They are relying upon the protest movement losing public support, as people become increasingly irritated by the disruption of their livelihoods. Meetings with the Hong Kong Federation of Students have stalled. In the pending public consultation on the election process, the Hong Kong Government say that they will be seeking common ground and wish to forge consensus in a rational and pragmatic manner.
I suggest that these are the areas to be explored. First, can the nominating committee which chooses the candidates be elected to represent a broader spectrum of public opinion? At the moment, any prospective candidate is bound to tailor his platform towards the dominating business element. Secondly, is the new requirement that, to be nominated, a candidate must gain more than 50% support of the nominating committee desirable or sustainable? Thirdly, is there any justification for restricting the number of candidates to three? Fourthly, should political groupings be encouraged to put forward candidates for the committee to consider? A source of much friction in the current system is that a Chief Executive without a party behind him lacks political support in the legislature. At the Hong Kong Association luncheon at the Shard last Tuesday, I asked the Secretary for Justice, Mr Rimsky Yuen, about this. He said that there was no reason why they should not put forward candidates.
It would be timely for both the Chinese and the Hong Kong Governments to reassure Hong Kong that its freedoms, which now include free access to the internet and social communications such as Facebook, will be preserved. There is a Chinese saying that a strong flow of water should not be blocked but channelled. The Government might also consider Mr Gladstone’s precept: trust the people, do not fear the people. Hong Kong is never going to compromise its prosperity and security by electing a Chief Executive who is completely anti-Beijing. The grievances of these young people should be addressed. They should never be suppressed.
My Lords, I declare interests, as recorded in the register of interests, as a member of the committee of the Hong Kong Association, as chairman of the China-Britain Business Council and as a director of Jardine Matheson Holdings and other companies in the Jardines group. I should add that I speak today very much from a business perspective. From a business perspective, Hong Kong is in an excellent position in 2014. Whether as a place with which to do business, in which to do business or from which to conduct business, Hong Kong could hardly be better placed. The UK, if we include both goods and services, exports some £7 billion to Hong Kong each year and around 40% of all UK investment in Asia is in Hong Kong. Firms of British origin, such as Jardines, could not be made to feel more welcome in today’s Hong Kong.
In the face of some major economic challenges, Hong Kong has prospered since 1997. The Hong Kong SAR Government, with the support of the PRC Government, have steered the economy with significant success. Who predicted in 1997 that the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong in 2014 would continue to be so soundly based on low and simple taxation, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech and a clean and competent civil service? We should remember that Hong Kong now ranks second in the World Bank’s rankings on ease of doing business, whereas the UK is in 10th position. As China’s financial centre, Hong Kong dominates the equity flows into and out of China and is a regional base for very many companies, including around 130 from the UK—a base for business not just in greater China but across the whole of south-east Asia. All this has been achieved, as we have heard, within the formula of “one country, two systems”, set out in the joint declaration and translated into law through the Basic Law in 1990. It has been a remarkable achievement exceeding, I suggest, all expectations.
The present protests in Hong Kong are of course worrying to all of us who wish to see a continuation of Hong Kong’s prosperity but they demonstrate two things. First, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford has just said, they demonstrate that the right to protest is very much alive and respected by the SAR Government. Secondly, they demonstrate that there is a process under way to develop the system of elections in Hong Kong within the framework of the Basic Law.
Finally, in looking forward to what my noble friend the Minister has to say in responding to this debate, and thinking of the UK’s position, can he confirm what I understand to be the case: that the details of the constitutional reforms in Hong Kong are not matters defined in the joint declaration; and that there are no specific obligations on the Government on these matters, and so no locus for direct intervention by the UK Government?
My Lords, with demonstrations still going on in Hong Kong and emotions running quite high, it is quite hard to know how we here can comment helpfully on the situation there. But perhaps this debate launched by my noble friend Lord Luce gives us the opportunity to stand back and try to see these events in context.
It is now 17 years since Hong Kong became a special administrative region, or SAR, of China and the UK ceased to have any direct responsibilities for administration there. It is even longer—some 30 years—since the joint declaration on the future of Hong Kong was signed by China and Britain, and registered in the United Nations as an international treaty. That joint declaration has stood up well against the passage of time. There are accusations made now and then that China has broken the terms of the joint declaration but I personally know of no valid evidence that either China or the Hong Kong SAR has offended against the terms of that declaration. Of course what is going on in Hong Kong at the moment is not directly related to the joint declaration; rather, it is related to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution—the Basic Law which, as the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, said just now, was passed as long ago as 1990 by the National People’s Congress of China. It is of course a Chinese document, not part of the joint agreement with the UK.
Looking from a distance at those massive demonstrations which have been going on now in Hong Kong for well over two weeks, it is hard not to be impressed by the enthusiasm of thousands of young people and their commitment to their own political future. It is hard too not to be impressed by the generally peaceful way in which the demonstrations have been carried out, particularly in their early days. It is hard to think of a great city in the world where this sort of demonstrating can go on for so long with so few serious incidents. Apart from the incidents referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, where the police did certain things, some of the credit for this goes to the Hong Kong police as well.
I said that it was hard not to be impressed by some of these things, but it is hard not to be concerned as well. After all, the objectives that the demonstrators set for themselves seem to have so little chance of being realised. Many of them say just that. For instance, there is the demand that the Chief Executive, Mr Leung Chun-ying, should resign. Perhaps that one was largely symbolic, rather like what occurs down the Corridor in another place when there are calls for the Prime Minister or other Ministers to resign.
However, the heart of the protesters’ demands, as other noble Lords have said, is of course that the election of the next Chief Executive in three years’ time should be on an open list of candidates put forward by the public, not processed by a nomination committee, nor with the list of candidates limited to two or three by that committee. That demand is not being made in a vacuum. After all, it is calling for the abandonment of what was laid down in the Basic Law way back in the 1990s, as well as what has been said by the National People’s Congress since. The Basic Law had what it called the ultimate aim of a Chief Executive elected by universal suffrage but that was to be on the basis of a nomination committee, which was to be broadly representative and chosen by what was called a democratic process. It really is hard to see those provisions being changed as a result of the demonstrations that have been going on and are going on now. Perhaps, indeed, as noble Lords have suggested, it might be better for those who are strenuously opposed to the provisions now being laid down to concentrate rather on matters such as how to form that broadly represented nomination committee and how it should actually operate in practice.
There is another, more serious concern about the demands being made. If the next Chief Executive is to be elected in 2017 for the first time ever by all the electors of Hong Kong, a proposal to do that has to be passed by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council—by a two-thirds majority, incidentally. If there is no such majority because people want more than is on offer, then the whole process of choosing the next Chief Executive falls back to what is there now—in other words, a choice made only by that committee of 1,200 people, not by universal suffrage. So the opportunity for a major step forward in Hong Kong would be missed, and that, to put it mildly, would be a great shame.
Looking beyond these concerns, there is an even bigger issue. Hong Kong and the lives of all its people can prosper, rather as my noble friend Lord Luce was saying, on the basis of trust, and that is trust between Hong Kong and mainland China. Hong Kong itself can play a full role in the development of China, with its financial expertise, its superb communications and its rule of law, only if there is trust between mainland China and Hong Kong. So when the dust settles on the present disputes, the hope must be that all those in positions of leadership, and all those enthusiastic young people concerned about the future of their society, will devote their efforts to building up that trust.
My Lords, during the two years from 1987 to 1989 when I was Minister for Hong Kong, sandwiched somewhere between the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and my noble friend Lord Goodlad, and of course with my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon as Secretary of State, and with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, as governor, I like to think that I became fairly well attuned and attentive to the demands for increased democracy in Hong Kong. Those demands were understandable even if they were not fully deliverable, and there is precious little that I can say that will satisfy those whose views are immovable. Of course there were many others in Hong Kong then for whom demands for democratic reform were something of a sideshow, and what mattered most was continued economic stability and growing prosperity.
I know of the detailed work that went into the Sino-British joint declaration and subsequently into the Basic Law and the work of the Joint Liaison Group. None of those negotiations was easy yet, faced with 1997, pragmatic progress was essential and was achieved. It is now about five years since I was last in Hong Kong, although I have visited several times since 1997. On each visit—I am sure others share this view—I have been greatly encouraged that, broadly speaking, economic, business and social life in Hong Kong seemed to be continuing as it always had, and has been recognised and upheld as such by Beijing, but yes, increased democracy has always been an undercurrent. However much there may be concern now that somehow progress has been insufficient, it is worth remembering that in 1990 there was not a single directly elected seat for LegCo. Since then, the election for that legislature has become increasingly democratic, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has described. The facts and figures speak for themselves, and I pay tribute to all those who pressed for that direction of movement.
It is my understanding that the ultimate aim of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive, as envisaged in the Basic Law and as a long-held aspiration of most people in Hong Kong, has proceeded well. That the election committee has been expanded from 400 to 800 and now to 1,200, encompassing 38 subsectors, is in itself substantial progress, even if it does not satisfy everyone. Although the joint declaration is mute on the details of the election of the Chief Executive, the Basic Law is more detailed, setting out in Article 45 that:
“The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”.
The former Foreign Secretary my right honourable friend Mr Hague says, in his foreword to the Government’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong covering the period from January to June this year, that meeting the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong within the parameters of the Basic Law is the best way forward. He goes on, as my noble friend Lord Goodlad mentioned, to say that,
“there is no perfect model”,
and I entirely share that sentiment. We are where we are, and ultimately it is for the people of Hong Kong and the Governments of China and Hong Kong to decide how to carry things forward.
It is perhaps easy to dismiss or perhaps forget the difficulty of how the Basic Law was achieved all those years ago, and to underestimate the challenges faced by the Joint Liaison Group before 1997 and up to its ending in 1999. Most negotiations end up with a degree of compromise and, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, I understand the frustration of many younger people now demonstrating that the pace of democratic reform has not been as fast as, or precisely in the direction that, they would wish it to be, or would have wished it to be had they been able to articulate their views all those years ago. However, the fact is that there has been encouraging progress; that any candidate nominated must be so by 50% of the nominating committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has said; and that the precise mechanism for choosing the nominating committee is a matter for public consultation that will take account of the views so vividly being expressed currently on the streets of Hong Kong.
These are troubling times. They demand cool heads in Hong Kong and Beijing, as they do among those of us commentating on the situation from many thousands of miles away. That is not to say that the United Kingdom should not use all the powers and influence available to it to ensure that China sticks absolutely to the letter of the Basic Law, nor should we be ashamed to say that as time passes other aspirations for democracy among Hong Kong people will emerge, and that those aspirations will require sensitive handling in Beijing, as everywhere else. The Basic Law cannot now be changed but it was long argued and hard won and must be respected by all, not least in the continuing process of delivering the success of the promise held out by the concept of “one country, two systems”, to which, as this short debate makes quite clear, we all aspire.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. When my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes was Governor of Hong Kong, he achieved two things. First, he focused the eyes of the world on Hong Kong so that, if it were ill treated or the “one country, two systems” agreement were interfered with, it would be headline world news. Secondly, he taught the people of Hong Kong the basics of politics, how to express and advocate what they wanted and to stand up for themselves. Recent events have shown that both lessons have been learnt.
Democracy can be most soundly built if it has good foundations and is then constructed brick by brick. On the whole, attempts to offer countries our pattern as a ready-made kit instantly applicable have been a disaster, often leading to anarchy or dictatorship. The foundation for democracy in Hong Kong was the joint declaration enshrined in the Basic Law. It is important to remember that a majority of local citizens identify themselves as Hongkongers rather than Chinese. That proportion is growing: Hong Kong University does a poll on this twice a year and has shown that since 1997 the proportion has grown from 60% to 67%.
This of course reflects the most important of all the facts about Hong Kong: it is a true international financial capital, the third most important after London and New York. China is lucky enough to have that international capital. I emphasise that, although Shanghai is the undisputed commercial capital of China, that is very different from being a financial capital. Shanghai is decades away from being so. There are many reasons for that, but the paramount one is the rule of law and the supremacy of an independent and incorrupt judiciary, which China does not have but Hong Kong does.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on obtaining this debate, but I go further and thank him for his opening speech, which set out in clear and sympathetic terms the background to what has been described as Hong Kong’s,
“most challenging political crisis since the handover in 1997”.
Who better than the noble Lord to do this? He was the Minister responsible for Hong Kong in the period that led up to the 1984 joint declaration and he has set out today the issues that the then Government had to take into consideration at the time. I believe that our country owes a debt to the noble Lord and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, who was then Foreign Secretary, for what they achieved.
It has been said that the nature of the governance of Hong Kong has always been the most difficult and sensitive issue relating to handover and thereafter. It was always going to be thus. No one thought that a system of “one country, two systems” was somehow going to be trouble free. Hong Kong had not known democracy under British rule, although in latter years this may not have been the fault of British Governments. The Chinese claim that there has been more democracy in Hong Kong in the past 17 years than in the previous century and a half and, in a sense, they are right, even though in the latter years they seem to have resisted in strong terms British proposals for more democracy.
We know the immediate cause of these demonstrations —they have been well explained by noble Lords today. It is easy to understand why thousands of Hong Kong citizens are fearful that the choice of a new Chief Executive in 2017, to be decided by universal suffrage, will be fatally flawed, or at least hugely restricted, by the power of a nomination committee to draw up a small shortlist. However, to limit the significance of these protests—and it always takes bravery to protest—to this important issue alone is probably a misreading. Whether their fears are justified or not, the thousands on the streets are surely asserting their rights under the 1984 joint declaration to protest peacefully and speak openly, which are crucial rights, along with the right to universal suffrage, in any democracy. They are also perhaps expressing their concerns about what will happen in future.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, that to see young people, in particular, anywhere showing their commitment to democracy and freedom is moving and impressive. However, as he said, the situation on the ground remains a matter of deep concern. We on the Opposition Benches support the Government in seeking reassurances from the Government of China regarding their commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle. It is vital that Hong Kong is able to pursue the fundamental rights and freedoms of its people, including universal suffrage. A period of dialogue, which we hope will begin, is needed to move Hong Kong forward. We urge the Chinese Government on the one hand and the pro-democracy protestors on the other to engage constructively in that discussion. We look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, this has been an expert and sober debate. On these occasions, I remember that on my first visit to China and Hong Kong, the most useful briefing I had was from the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. I think that he was then a little less grey than he is now and I suspect that I was, too.
The Government firmly believe that the United Kingdom and China share interests in a prosperous, capitalist Hong Kong with a thriving civil society, a clear rule of law and the movement towards political autonomy that was outlined in the joint declaration of 1984. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for his role as the then Minister of State in securing the joint declaration. As we approach the 30th anniversary, the UK remains as committed to the joint declaration as ever. “One country, two systems” works well. The high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration continue to be upheld. Hong Kong has an independent judiciary and direct and active participation in political debate by a number of different political parties. We have just seen how lively civil society in Hong Kong is. It is a vibrant and engaged civil society in every way. It has the freedom, recently shown, to participate in regular, and usually peaceful, protests in accordance with the law. The United Kingdom recognises Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong, but has shared interests in the widest sense in the future of Hong Kong.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, talked of Britain’s moral duty to Hongkongers to encourage the principles of the joint declaration and said that the future of nearly 8 million people in Hong Kong matters above everything else. Perhaps I should mention that a quarter of a million British citizens live in Hong Kong, as well as a substantially larger number of overseas British nationals, so we have all sorts of different stakes in the future of Hong Kong. I assure my noble friend that Britain’s commitment to Hong Kong remains as strong as ever. As a signatory of the Sino-British joint declaration and as a country with the many ties with Hong Kong that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, and others in trade, economy, culture and education, it is vital to us as well as to China that Hong Kong continues to prosper. Part of our shared interest is that we are all aware that if Hong Kong did not continue to be stable, to be clearly governed by the rule of law and to prosper, other financial and service centres around east Asia would be very happy to take over some of what makes Hong Kong so prosperous.
Hong Kong is an important part of the UK’s relationship with China and we discuss it regularly and continuously at all levels. This has included discussions between the Prime Minister and Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai in September and Premier Li Keqiang in June, including the issue of constitutional development. Our six-monthly reports on Hong Kong to the British Parliament show our commitment to continuing to follow developments in Hong Kong and the implementation of the joint declaration closely. The most important thing is that the high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the joint declaration and embodied in the concept of “one country, two systems” are respected.
The Government’s assessment is that the Chinese Government’s White Paper of June 2014 has not undermined judicial independence, nor has it breached the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration. The White Paper reiterates China’s commitment in the joint declaration that the Hong Kong special administrative region exercises a high degree of autonomy in accordance with the law and is vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power. The independence of the Hong Kong judiciary, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, stressed, has been and continues to be key to Hong Kong’s success in the world economy. We share his view that the rule of law continues to prevail and that policing of the recent demonstrations has been largely proportionate.
On 31 August, the National People’s Congress standing committee in Beijing announced its decision on the methods of Hong Kong’s electoral reform. We welcome its reconfirmation of universal suffrage as China’s objective for the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. We also recognise that the detailed terms set out by the National People’s Congress would disappoint those arguing for a more open nomination process. We therefore encourage dialogue and consensus-building during the next stage of the consultation, in line with the Basic Law which provides Hong Kong’s constitutional basis.
Today, we are witnessing a significant phase in Hong Kong’s development, with calls for democratic reform through widespread protests. As we have said in statements since the protests began at the end of September, we call for rights and freedoms to be respected and urge all sides to engage constructively in dialogue to work towards a consensus that allows a meaningful advance for democracy in Hong Kong. We welcome the fact that the Hong Kong Government have responded to the protestors’ demands with offers of talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the other organisations involved. We hope that a mandate for these talks will be agreed as soon as possible. We will continue to monitor these events. Perhaps I should add that Her Majesty’s Government are conscious, from the experience of the Arab spring and other events, that, in reform and consultation, slow progress is often better than an attempt to move to the politics of the streets and to overthrow, which can often take us backwards rather than forwards.
On the wider issue of Hong Kong’s constitutional reform, the Government’s position remains unchanged. The detail of the constitutional package is for the Governments of Hong Kong and China, along with the people of Hong Kong, to decide, in line with the Basic Law and the subsequent decisions of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress. We recognise that there is no perfect model. We have, after all, heard earlier today some disagreement about what the perfect model for democracy for the United Kingdom might be. The important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and feel that they have a real stake in the outcome. Reaching consensus requires all parties to continue to engage in a constructive dialogue. It is also Britain’s long-standing position, I reiterate, as a co-signatory of the Sino-British joint declaration, that Hong Kong’s prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate.
My noble friend Lord Sassoon asked whether the details of the constitutional reforms in Hong Kong are matters defined in the joint declaration. There are no specific obligations on the Government on these matters and no locus for direct intervention by the Government. As I stressed, the details are for Hong Kong and China. Both the UK and China made commitments to Hong Kong through the legally binding 1984 joint declaration. That agreement, which led to the handover of Hong Kong, protected Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle for 50 years, with all the rights and freedoms that I have mentioned. The Basic Law and subsequent National People’s Congress decisions set the terms for constitutional development in Hong Kong. Our legal obligations under the joint declaration were to run Hong Kong until 1997 with the object of maintaining and preserving its economic prosperity and social stability and to restore Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty with effect from 1 July 1997. Following that handover, we maintain an interest in ensuring that China honours its legal obligations under the joint declaration.
My noble friend also speaks, quite rightly, of Hong Kong as an excellent place for business in east Asia, as an important part of Britain’s international extension of our own economic interests through financial and legal services, as a large export market and as a centre for a number of British companies. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and his work as Minister of State responsible for Hong Kong in the late 1980s. He rightly says, as others have, that it is for the people of Hong Kong and the Governments of China and Hong Kong to decide how to carry things forward.
My noble friend calls these “troubling times”. The Government believe that it is important that Hong Kong citizens’ basic rights and freedoms, including those of assembly and demonstration, are respected in line with the joint declaration, and that it is also important that demonstrations are carried out in accordance with the law.
The future of Hong Kong, as this debate has shown, is of great importance to the UK as a signatory to the joint declaration. However, it is also important to us because of our close history, our wealth of personal links and the strong two-way trade and investment. All these make Hong Kong one of the UK’s most important international partners and an essential part of our overall relationship with China. It is therefore vital to us that Hong Kong continues to enjoy prosperity and stability through the success that is underpinned by autonomy, rights, freedoms and the rule of law, all of which are guaranteed by the joint declaration. That is the message that we will continue to convey both to Hong Kong and in our regular and continuing dialogue with our partners in China.
Social Justice Strategy
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is a great privilege to open today’s debate on social justice for the most disadvantaged of our fellow citizens. I very much look forward to hearing from other noble Lords who have between them such huge expertise and, I know, personal commitment on the subject. I am particularly delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely has chosen to make his maiden speech in this debate.
At this point in the parliamentary cycle, it is very timely that we have an opportunity to consider the Government’s social justice strategy, explore the progress that has been made and consider what more needs to be done. I declare an interest as chair of the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities working collaboratively to find more effective ways of tackling multiple disadvantage.
To set the context, over the last 20 years, Governments of all colours have sought to improve approaches to social justice, using different approaches. To their credit, the previous Labour Administration put tackling social exclusion at the heart of their early political programme and maintained a strong focus on the issue through their term. Indeed, I should declare a past interest here as a former head of the then Social Exclusion Unit.
In 2010, just prior to the election, Iain Duncan Smith set out his vision for a new Government. He called for a joined-up approach, buy-in from Secretaries of State, a co-ordinating body, and a cross-departmental approach at local level—familiar calls to those steeped in the area. Over the last four years some of that ambition has come into being. The social justice Cabinet committee was set up and the Government published their social justice strategy in March 2012, followed by an outcomes framework, a one-year-on progress report and regular updates on each key indicator. For a balanced assessment of the strength and weakness of both approaches I commend the recent LankellyChase report, The Politics of Disadvantage, which reflects very skilfully on this and on the political difficulty of publicly articulating the case for more support for the most socially disadvantaged in the face of an often sceptical and sometimes antagonistic public and press.
However, before we debate the specific issues, let us briefly consider why social justice is so important, and what it means. In preparing for this debate I looked up various definitions used by political thinkers, commentators and interested organisations, and they were pretty wide-ranging. That said, where most people agree is that social justice is about the distribution of income, wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society so that everyone can reach their full potential, be active contributors to their own community and have an equal chance to succeed in life. For many—and I would count myself among their number—the term “social justice” also implies fairness and mutual obligation, that we have a responsibility to each other and most particularly towards those who are least able to fend for themselves. It is an issue that cuts across the life course and across generations. It is important for children, families and individual adults, and it certainly demonstrates the interconnections between many government policies and public services: welfare, education, health, housing, the labour market, and so on.
One of the biggest challenges for social justice in our country is presented by individuals—whether children, family units or single adults—who face multiple and complex needs. They are routinely failed by our public services and fall through the cracks to lead chaotic lives at the extreme margins of our communities, lives that are often characterised by some combination of homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, mental ill health, stigma, debt, repeat contact with the criminal justice system, family breakdown and domestic violence—a depressingly long list. I contend that that group is the embodiment of social injustice in our society, and it is for this group that a more co-ordinated approach, both across government policy and local services, is so vital.
I will just try to bring this to life at a human level. I recently heard from the charities I work with about a young woman whom we shall call Lucy. At just 24 years old, Lucy carries the mental and physical scars of a troubled life. Sexually abused as a young child, she was placed in local authority care. As a teenager she started using drugs and drinking heavily to blank out her bad memories, and by age 17 she was using heroin and crack cocaine. She is well known to the police and magistrates. She needs mental health support but falls through the thresholds for secondary care, and is constantly ricocheting between rough sleeping, hostels and prison. Luckily she was able to access effective and joined-up help.
The social justice strategy has not been shy about its ambitions. It makes a clear commitment to co-ordinated local services, saying,
“We recognise that more can be done to support those who are least well served by current approaches. Through this strategy and the work that follows, we want to encourage local areas to design and commission interventions that are better coordinated and that deliver multiple outcomes”.
Therefore the key questions for today’s debate will include: how far have we progressed against those ambitions, and what more needs to be done?
The Government should be congratulated on their early bold ambition, because we know that better co-ordinated local services can have a significant impact on the most vulnerable. I am particularly aware of that through my involvement with the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities, which work throughout the country to support local areas as they design and deliver better co-ordinated interventions to help transform the lives of the estimated 60,000 adults with the most severe problems. An independent evaluation of local pilots recently found that that more co-ordinated approach from local agencies had led to statistically significant increases both in welfare for client and a reduction in wider service-use costs of up to 26% over two years. In areas such as Blackburn and Sunderland we are now seeing fantastic cross-agency work being championed at the highest levels by local partners.
There is no substitute for seeing these things with your own eyes. When I visited the St Mungo’s women’s hostel in north London I was struck by what can be done to provide joined-up help and support under one roof. Homeless women there had easy access to resources such as counsellors and social workers who have been trained to help them to address their myriad problems, and who are crucially able to provide emotional support to women, many of whose children have been taken into care, as well as complex care case workers who could understand the intricacies of the benefit system.
The social justice strategy also called for national-level ambition, calling for,
“national leadership and a change in the way policy is created and evaluated in central Government”.
That gives us a chance to reflect on the wide-ranging systemic reforms that are needed if we are truly to transform the life chances of the most disadvantaged and provide answers to the growing number of critics who argue that we now have a commissioning system locally which encourages silo-based working, risk management at the expense of action, and excessive gatekeeping and prohibitive access thresholds to reduce short-term costs. Too often that sort of approach excludes those who most need help, mitigating against longer-term savings, and making co-ordinated action in local areas more difficult than it should be.
In March the Fabian Society, with CentreForum and the Centre for Social Justice, produced a report called Within Reach: the New Politics of Multiple Needs and Exclusions. The report highlighted that helping people with multiple needs will require both more collaborative working across government departments and more devolution of powers to local level. The key point here is that it is both/and, not either/or. What, therefore, needs to be done to translate those ideas into action? Three issues stand out. First, we need to listen to the voice of people with multiple needs, secondly, we need to give more support to local areas in taking this agenda forward, and finally, we need to understand the impact of wider government policies.
First, it is crystal clear that we will not move forward in social justice without getting better at listening to the voices of those who are most affected. We must accept that their expertise is sorely lacking from Westminster debate and commit to changing this. The new Voices from the Frontline research programme is working to bring the voices of people with multiple needs into the very heart of the policy debate. It will soon be challenging every Member of Parliament, every Member of your Lordships’ House and every prospective parliamentary candidate to commit to listening to voices of people with multiple needs, and offering practical ways of doing that. I urge the Government and noble Lords here today to attend the launch of this in November and to support the campaign.
On local areas, the social justice strategy is quite rightly clear that solutions must be driven at the local level and that commissioners and local leaders have a vital role to play. However, there is a strong argument that the Government also need to do more to support local areas. That is certainly not to say that the Government should be prescriptive—far from it. However, it is critical that the national policy environment encourages action on multiple needs and sets the right framework.
The Government can do two things. First, they can close the accountability gap which exists around individuals with multiple needs. To do that they should ensure that a named senior official and elected Member in each local area are accountable for effective co-ordinated services, and should require them and their partners to set out a strategy for how that should be effected. This strategic focus on the most vulnerable is most needed. To try to demonstrate that, only last week, Homeless Link and St Mungo’s published research which showed that two-thirds of health and well-being boards failed to mentioned single homeless people in their joint strategic needs assessment—which are supposed to be the process by which local areas address health inequalities.
Secondly, government could help to change the national finance and outcomes structure that so often pulls apart rather than pushing together. The Troubled Families programme, with which many noble Lords will be familiar, has shown how incorporating new approaches to finance, outcomes and accountability in one national programme has made a real difference. However, not all of the most disadvantaged live in family units—far from it. By taking the best bits of the Troubled Families programme and combining it with a really strong input from the voluntary sector, a new troubled families for individuals programme could make significant cost savings over the course of the next Parliament. That is an idea backed by several leading think tanks. Accepting that budgets are tight, I believe that funding should be pulled from existing departmental budgets according to the projected savings that could be made. I strongly urge the Government to consider such a troubled families for individuals programme, developed in tandem with local commissioners and the voluntary sector for rollout in the next Parliament. I ask my noble friend the Minister to commit to considering this further in his closing remarks.
Finally, we must accept that wider government policies have an impact on social justice, sometimes for the good and sometimes less so. Recent research has shown that front-line services are hopeful about the impact of new structures, such as health and well-being boards, as indeed I am. The £25 million commitment to liaison and diversion schemes, as championed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, should certainly have a positive impact on people with multiple problems who are in contact with the criminal justice system. The recent very strong focus on mental health—in particular the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement on waiting times and access standards to mental health services, backed up by new money, is to be strongly welcomed. However, we need to listen to what front-line agencies are telling us about the impact of some government policies—in particular, recent welfare reform —on social justice outcomes, even if they make for uncomfortable reading.
I understand the need for welfare reform and the need to contain the benefits bill during a period of austerity—and, of course, the critical importance of work as a key route out of poverty. However, it must feel fair to everyone and, above all, we must not be seen to be asking the most vulnerable, some of whom are a very long way off being able to get and hold down a job, to take a disproportionate share of the pain. A recent survey of front-line providers found that 88% of services believe that welfare changes are having a negative effect on the overall well-being of people with severe multiple needs and 86% on their mental health. Only 2% of those services believe that reforms are having a positive effect on the ability of people with multiple needs to engage with the jobs market, while 55% said that they have a negative effect. We know that the new sanctions regime is also biting hard and official research from the DWP has shown how sanctions on employment and support allowance claimants and jobseeker’s allowance claimants suggest that these changes disproportionately affect vulnerable people. Changes to crisis loans and community care grants are also a matter for serious concern.
Mitigating the impact of wider policies must be one part of better co-ordination on social justice across government. As I understand it, the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice currently holds that role. What work does the committee undertake to consider the impact of wider government policies on those with multiple needs, how regularly does it meet and does it have any plans to refresh and strengthen its vision for helping the most needy and vulnerable? Finally, if that committee does not have that brief, who does?
I hope that I have demonstrated that it is time for government to take further action on these issues so that together we can move a step closer to social justice for everyone in our communities. I thank noble Lords for their attendance today and look forward to hearing their contributions.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for initiating this debate and congratulate her on her very clear and comprehensive introduction to this very important topic. I am also very grateful to be speaking in a debate when my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely is going to make his maiden speech. If it were not presumably against the protocols of this House, I would like to congratulate him on doing so before he has done it. However, knowing him as I do, I think that that is probably very dangerous.
I am very glad that the Government have a social justice strategy. In my few words, I want to make one major point and illustrate it from three pieces of evidence with which I have some personal experience, and ask some questions of the Government, very much along the lines of what the noble Baroness has already said.
I declare an interest in that I am chairman of the Children’s Society, a national organisation that at present has two major priorities. One is to fight childhood poverty and to bring it to an end, and the second is to fight adolescent neglect. As some noble Lords may know, I also chair, along with Frank Field, an inquiry into the reason for the sharp rise in the use of food banks in this country. Noble Lords will know that from 1999 there were no food banks; now, according to our figures—we are hoping to produce our report in early December—there are more than 800 food banks throughout the country.
I am very encouraged to read in the Government’s social justice strategy that:
“Social justice is about making society function better”.
I am therefore disappointed to see that, in reality, the social justice strategy is really about a mechanistic way, or ways, of dealing with those in poverty. It is not surprising to read in the document, Social Justice: Transforming Lives—One Year On, that the Government say that to achieve their strategy will require a “sweeping cultural change”. I entirely agree with that statement—and that is my main point.
From the work that I have done on the food banks inquiry and in my work in the Children’s Society and as a Bishop, I worry enormously that in our society we fall too easily into a tendency to demonise and victimise and fall between us and them. Social justice surely assumes that there is such a thing called society in which a key value is justice. Implicit in that is that it is justice for all people in our country. I suggest that there is clear evidence that our society is struggling to understand itself as a society today, and not enough evidence on the value of justice for all members of our society. My first piece of evidence is that there are still, apparently, approximately 116,000 young carers in this country. Is it a sign of a properly functioning society that we have so many young carers still giving most of their young lives to caring for parents or siblings?
Secondly, although I welcome the steps that the Government have taken—for example, free school meals for all infant school children and the introduction of a pupil premium—I worry that despite these measures they will not succeed in meeting their commitment to eradicate childhood poverty by 2020. In fact, according to recent statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after taking into account housing costs, childhood poverty will rise by 1.1 million between 2011 and 2020. It is therefore important to find ways in which we can continue to work together to enable our whole society to be a just place.
Noble Lords may have seen the work done by the Children’s Society in collaboration with the organisation StepChange. They have recently produced a report entitled The Debt Trap. It is clear that almost 2.5 million children across the country live in families who owe a total of £4.8 billion in bills and loans. Will the Government work in partnership with other organisations to develop a breathing-space solution for many of these families who incorporate debt as a key part of living in our world today? It is also important that the early intervention strategies continue to promote social justice. Will the Government ensure that there are no further cuts in funding for these key early intervention schemes?
Children tell us that they are still unhappy and that their lives are blighted in a variety of ways. This is clear from the latest Good Childhood Report published this year by the Children’s Society. Fascinatingly, the major issue that children and young people identify is their priority for such things as love, a stable family and friendships. Sadly, I do not see these issues, which I believe are sometimes wrongly called “soft” issues, in the Government’s social justice strategy.
My final piece of evidence comes from the work that I have been privileged to do on the food banks inquiry. We have been inundated with pieces of evidence and we have gone round the country listening to hundreds of people telling us their own stories. In doing all this, it has become very clear to me that the food banks of themselves are not part of the solution alone and can sometimes actually be part of the problem. The concern I have is that more and more people are going to food banks reluctantly and with real embarrassment because the relationships in extended families, neighbourhoods and communities are, sadly, not there. I stand second to none in congratulating those many thousands of people who volunteer to work in food banks but I worry that those food banks reinforce the commodification idea or process—that is, a problem comes through the door in a person who is in need of food and they are given a box of food. Clearly, that of itself is not the answer to a much deeper problem. The problem lies in our society and it is one of justice for all.
Given all that I have seen, will the Government try to do what they advise in Social Justice: Transforming Lives—One Year On? There is, indeed, a need for a major cultural change, which is to begin to put back into our society the glue, as I call it—that is, to note that every single one of us, whatever our status or economic position, is interdependent. We are all part of this thing called society. We should all therefore believe that a key value for us is that of justice for all people.
My Lords, I want to take a few moments to talk about prevention. In this country today there are far too many families in which disadvantage is being handed down from generation to generation, and the number continues to grow. There is a consciousness across government that families are important. In a recent speech, the Prime Minister stressed that point. Much research shows the importance of families in the rearing of children, if I may use that phrase. The Government have accepted that there is a problem and have introduced an early years programme, which I believe is doing excellent work as far as it goes. However, it cannot address the serious underlying problem in our disadvantaged families today of disadvantage being passed down from generation to generation.
How do we break into that chain of disadvantage? I believe that we have an opportunity to do this in schools because, manifestly, the parents of families with this problem are unlikely to be the people who are able to do much about it. The issue has to be tackled by an outside influence, but I do not believe that there is an enormous amount of slack in local authority services. It has come to my consciousness that teenagers in school may be being taught arithmetic, Latin, Greek and grammar—I do not know what they are being taught these days—but are we bringing them up to be the kind of human beings who will be able to get on in a community, be useful in the workplace and, above all, be able to rear a secure, happy family?
The skills that disadvantaged young people need to learn today involve learning how to become the sort of person who is most sought after in the workplace, who is confident and who believes in themselves. For a number of years, I have worked for a few weeks each year with very disadvantaged children from Tower Hamlets. The lack of self-confidence, the lack of belief that one can succeed, is one of the tragedies of young people growing up in disadvantaged families. Young people need to learn to relate to and communicate with others using soft skills. They need to play as a team, sometimes take leadership, form positive and supportive relationships, understand and respect the needs of other people, and become the sort of people who have the grit to stick to a job when they have started it.
These and many other interpersonal skills can be learnt and are being learnt in the best schools in both the private and maintained sectors. Some of your Lordships may have seen a report that Ofsted published three or four years ago. It highlighted 16 primary schools and 11 secondary schools that were graded “outstanding”, although their catchment areas were among the most disadvantaged. Ofsted looked for common factors in the delivery of those schools, and one of the first three factors was every child believing that they could succeed. We must accept that that message highlights a real problem. The best schools are doing it but such things are not being learnt in the classroom. They involve team games, being given the opportunity to accept responsibility, the possibility of being given a modest degree of leadership, consideration of others, self-confidence and communication skills. Those soft skills that we talk about so much are immensely important, particularly in our society in which scientific invention is producing machines to do all the things that less-able workers used to do. There is going to be huge unemployment. However, there is a great deal of demand for interpersonal skills in all sorts of areas.
We should consider the role of boarding education for very disadvantaged children. Again in the context of Tower Hamlets, we were involved with two schools for disadvantaged children. One was Weavers Fields School in Tower Hamlets, of which I was a governor, and the other was a weekly boarding school down in Eastbourne. We used to observe the young people coming to our summer camps and what was striking was the extent to which those who went to the boarding school improved their interpersonal, human and relationship skills. We should consider the possibility of boarding school being very important, particularly when the young people come from families in which life at home is absolute hell, with disadvantaged or chaotic family life—involving, in many cases mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction.
I see that the Department for Education—the Minister will be pleased to hear that I am up to date on this—has written to all schools, suggesting that they should do the sort of things that I am talking about. However, that will not be much good because the sort of schools that can do it and have the money are doing it already. The schools that need help are those that do not have the money, skills or best teachers. There is a need for leadership from the Government. On that note I shall conclude because I have probably made the point that I wanted to make.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. His speeches always repay careful study. He is an expert in the field of children and has made a valuable contribution to this debate. I absolutely agree with him about prevention and the importance of breaking the chain of disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will give that appropriate consideration when he reviews this important debate.
I am pleased that my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield has secured this slot. It is a bit of a graveyard slot in the parliamentary week but it means that at least we have the chance to make speeches lasting for more than four minutes. She also has huge experience in this area, and the House is indebted to her for raising this subject in the way she did. Of the many important points that she made, the most important for me was the appositeness of the timing. From a political calendar point of view, the next few months are going to be crucial not just for manifesto content, which all the parties are properly engaging in at the moment, but for the battle for public opinion, which is important. I will come back to that in a minute.
I am very pleased to welcome a new recruit to the parliamentary desperadoes who are obsessive about social security in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. I will sign him up as a member of this distinguished band and I look forward to his contribution. The church does absolutely excellent work in this House, dealing with what some people choose to call the “undeserving poor”. It is right and proper that it should, and it does it well. The House is indebted to it.
I should declare an interest: I am a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wise Group in Glasgow, which does welfare to work programmes. I derive a lot of my interest and knowledge in this subject from that work. I hope my English colleagues do not mind if I refer to the experience that we Scots have had in the recent past with the referendum. The social justice strategy has very important elements that are deployed by the Department for Work and Pensions and others which straddle the border.
The referendum was a salutary experience for me. I have looked at social security issues for more than 30 years, man and boy, in this place and elsewhere. A message of alienation that I have never experienced before emanated from some significant parts of the hard-pressed households, particularly in communities in west central Scotland and Dundee. Some of that was politically excited and stimulated by some of the participants in that debate, but I do not want to get into that now. Significant numbers of people who do not vote at elections sent the institutions of both House of Parliament a message that they will vote for anything that will get some measure of hope into their lives, which is currently absent and to which general elections do not, as they see it, provide any answer. That is my anecdotal experience and it is difficult to prove. I was in south-east Scotland for most of the time and, as the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, knows, we are much more genteel folk in south-east Scotland than in the central belt. However, there is a significant change that I do not think is specific to west central Scotland. The same would have been the case in Liverpool, if an event of that kind had taken place in that context.
The political process has to understand that we need to deal with this alienation in a way that we have not done before. I have spent my time advocating better provision for social security by looking at rates, benefits and entitlements. The kind of work that my noble friend Lady Tyler is engaged in professionally concerns support, as well as the cash transfers that the social security system provides. I have now come to the conclusion that interventionist support at a public service level across the border in some of the ways that she very expertly described is now more important than it has ever been, partly because of austerity.
Some public services are now degraded to the point of danger. That is going to get worse. I heard someone on the “Today” programme saying that everybody knows that things are going to get worse, particularly for this cohort of the population of which I speak. If that is what we really believe, we really need to respond to that. That needs political leadership. It is a very hard thing to do: leading a country to a poorer place and expecting to get the credit at the ballot box is not a trick that has been successfully managed by anybody in political history, as far as I am aware. So there are real challenges of leadership that all the party leaders need to focus on in the coming election to deal with this.
The language that they use is important, too—a point I have made previously in this House. The tabloid press are not helpful in this regard. They have their own agenda and they poison and make much more difficult the public debate about some of these crucial issues of public priorities and expenditure. However, my view is that social protection benefits everyone. Social protection is every bit as important an expenditure priority as infrastructure. It is as important as HS2, housing and all the other things that provide physical benefits and facilities so that the Government may prosper.
The recession that we have been through would have been much, much worse without the tax credits that were introduced in a Budget in the early 2000s. People have managed to survive this recession in a way that they will not be able to in the next five years because it is planned to withdraw a lot of this support. I want to make the case for social investment and to encourage people to be brave enough to support a cohort of people who are suffering disadvantage and are very unpopular. We must make the case for those whom people call the “undeserving poor”. I do not believe that anyone can sensibly be described as that. Some families need support and people do not recognise just how many barriers they face to get to a fulfilling life.
The work that Louise Casey has been doing is exemplary; my noble friend Lady Tyler was right about that. I like her idea of a “troubled families” initiative, although I hate the term. We must find some way of describing these households that we are approaching. I have always been sceptical about the role of the state behind the front door of the family because that is the family’s business. However, I now think we need to be much more interventionist. If people said that they were willing to go down that route, there is an easy fix because the predetermining risk factors are staring us in the face. They include lack of educational qualifications, big families and, to a degree, ethnicity, which is difficult but it is there in the data. If someone has been workless for three or four years, fixing their CV will not do the job. There are multiple reasons behind these circumstances.
The work that Louise Casey is doing is not perfect yet. Trying to get the evaluating indicators of success on a payment by results basis has not been properly fine-tuned. The private sector and, indeed, the non-profit and charitable sectors do very valuable work, but how they get value for money and how they can work with payment by results contracts—because many of them need money upfront—still needs work. It all needs investment and it all needs to start really quite soon. I think we will find that, over the next five years, people will face much more financially difficult circumstances.
Everyone knows that in the next 12 months interest rates will increase. Household debt is a dramatically difficult problem for many lower-income households. We may not be talking about big numbers—maybe 10% or 15% of the case load. Maybe the income decile distribution catches it or maybe it does not. I should not like to put a figure on how many families we are talking about. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, chairs StepChange, which produced a very good report in the past few days about the extent of debt. I am studying it and I hope that colleagues in the House who are interested will read it because it repays careful study. Debt in individual households is ignored by the current social security system. For my money, it is necessary to become engaged with some of these families who are facing all sorts of difficulties, tease out their exact levels of debt and start helping them to deal with it. Until the last couple of years, the government service on financial inclusion went through a phase of quite high activity with a task force, but I have seen nothing much since. I have just joined a financial inclusion commission which is doing some work looking at this issue. I think that the Government have lost the thread of the importance of getting proper money advice across to people. The credit union money has been put in and that is welcomed, but it is not enough. We need to think more about that kind of thing.
Finally, I notice that at the end of the Social Justice Outcomes Framework we talk about social investment. I do not think that the potential for that has been realised. I do not know whether that is partly because of the commercial and economic environment that we are in, with there being not an awful lot of money to invest. There is a huge amount of potential in all sorts of areas—not just in connection with ex-offenders, which I know is the area that people have been working on most directly and most immediately. A huge amount could be done to promote social investment, getting the not-for-profit and charitable sector engaged. There is an enormous amount of work to do.
Debates such as this one are very important, but I think that we have to be honest with one another about how difficult things are going to be. Only if we acknowledge how hard some of these families’ circumstances are will we have any chance at all of having a public debate and getting more public support for a cost-benefit analysis of the preventive expenditure that we heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as well as getting young people properly upskilled so that they can become productive, wealth-creating individuals. My pension depends on wealth creation from some of the youngsters who are currently NEETs. That is not a comfortable position for a man of my age to be in. Therefore, I think that we all have to work hard and try to get something done.
Again, I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject this afternoon.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my gratitude for the welcome I have received since I was introduced into your Lordships’ House. My theological sense of direction is rather more developed than my physical sense, and I have been touched by the noble Lords who have accompanied me around bewildering corridors. Your Lordships may yet see me, like Theseus, unwinding a ball of twine to get me back to the Bishops’ Robing Room.
The diocese of Ely, which I serve, comprises most of Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk. Were it not for Cambridge, we would be identified as a rural diocese, providing a veritable bread and vegetable basket for our country and beyond. We have some wonderful farmers’ sales co-operatives, such as G’s Growers, which are leaders not only as employers but in the production of high-value foods. Today is World Food Day. I think that in any discussion about social justice we should also take account of food justice—of access for our poorer citizens to fresh foods. I also applaud the contribution of British farmers, not least those in Cambridgeshire, to the natural development of resilient new crops to be used in marginal land around the world to feed a growing population. Justice most properly includes access to food for all.
We have two world-class universities in Cambridge—the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin. With its science park and teaching hospitals, the city is at the forefront of academic research and the leading-edge conversion of that research into new technologies for business and for advances in medical treatment for all. We owe a lot of our development locally to the foresight and generosity of international institutions in our midst. As a graduate of Cambridge myself who attended state schools, I am proud of Cambridge’s record across both universities in the recruitment of diverse communities of students. This is where rigorous teaching and learning and social justice meet each other. The church and society benefit enormously from the passion of young people both for the gospel and for the common good.
The prosperity of much of Cambridge is plain to see and I rejoice that a high quality of enterprise and world-standard skills have grown the city significantly. We benefit from our proximity to London and new communities continue to be planted. This poses a happy challenge for the church as we seek to provide clergy and schools, working in partnership with developers and local authorities.
The much greater challenge for us all is the poverty, both obvious and hidden, mostly in our rural communities and market towns. I am really excited by the strategy’s commitment to the transformation of lives as well as protecting people through welfare support. Such transformation comes not only through government policy, but through the commitment of communities that everyone may flourish. As a diocese, our vision is to pray to be generous and visible people of Jesus Christ.
Generosity and visibility are by no means limited to Christian citizens. We aim to live in partnership. The market town of Wisbech is a case in point. Once a prosperous port, this Fenland town scores highly for hardship and multiple deprivation; but it is not a despairing place. In the market square, noble Lords would encounter a range of languages and a bustle of people coming from the food-packing factories and the fields where they work to put food on our tables. Many rely on friendly charity shops to assist them to manage on low pay. Many people from the town and surrounding villages deliver boxes of food to the church-run food bank, offering vital support, often to working families, not just to those living on benefits.
Beyond the market square lies the parish church, whose priest, Father Paul West, has received a large grant from the national church to run a transformational arts project through which local schoolchildren learn about art and spirituality and are given access to a range of culture and a hinterland from which they might otherwise be excluded. Close by is the Ferry Project, a night shelter founded by Christians in the town, and caring for the homeless 365 days of the year. At the Roman Catholic Rosmini Centre, there is great voluntary support for hard-working incomers from eastern Europe.
The centre also houses the Rainbow Saver Anglia Credit Union, to which I belong, which provides a simple bank account and sound budgeting for people who would otherwise be excluded from responsible saving. I would guess that none of us has much sense of what it is not to be able to have a cheque book or debit card, how excluded that makes people and how it makes them prone, despite already having a low wage, to having to pay more money to cash their work cheques at the end of the week. It is marvellous that, very often, past recipients of care from the food bank and other sources become workers and volunteers. These wonderful examples of the fruitful co-operation between church, town and business represent all that is good about Fenland—hard work, mutuality, realism and practical faith.
The Oasis Christian bookshop in the same town lives up to its name as it offers a safe meeting place for people with severe and enduring mental health needs. I have a long-standing personal commitment to the support and inclusion of those living with these challenges. Social justice for these neighbours of ours does include access to welfare and decent healthcare provision, as the noble Baroness Lady Tyler, has said. It is more fundamentally, however, about social inclusion and the removal of stigma from mental illness. I celebrate the passion and commitment of the staff and chaplains of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust in supporting those living challenging lives in the community, for some of whom getting up each morning is an act of profound courage and staying up an act of profound perseverance. I have been especially impressed by my experience of the Recovery College, which offers courses co-designed and led by service users and mental health professionals. Fundamental to all of this and to any approach to social justice is that the transformation of lives is about being given the confidence to do for ourselves and with others, not to be “done to”.
I am soon to succeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford as the chair of the National Society, which supports the vocation of children and young people throughout the church’s life and witness, and which sustains the work of church schools and the Church of England’s commitment to further and higher education. Most of the opportunities that I have been given have come through access to the best of state education. I am here only because of what all that has meant in terms of inclusion and access. Any strategy for social justice has to be rooted in supporting young people so that, regardless of background, we are offering unrivalled access to the best education in schools, colleges and universities where ethos and performance are indivisible. The Church of England is the largest provider of primary schools in rural areas and has a significant part to play in serving multicultural and multi-ethnic areas in our inner cities. We intend to continue to play a full part in raising standards and contributing to the training of high-quality teachers for the sake of our children.
The legitimacy of any legislature is judged by the sure access to justice for all citizens, regardless of age or estate. For that justice to be social it requires the active participation of all communities. I believe that this justice is rooted in the invitation of God to be generous and visible with and for others. I would love the story to be true of the vicar who locked the congregation out of church on a Sunday morning and said, “We have been practising long enough; let’s go and do it”.
My Lords, among the customs of this House that I hope will never be changed are the courtesies around the making of maiden speeches. The inevitably nervous speaker is encouraged to pay due and richly deserved tribute to our wonderful staff and no one is allowed to move in or out of the Chamber until the courtesies are completed by someone both welcoming and responding to the speaker. As I reflected on this happy opportunity, I noticed many parallels between the path of the right reverend Prelate to this House and that of my father, who as the Bishop of Wakefield made his maiden speech on a similar subject to today’s.
The first time I went to the right reverend Prelate’s lovely cathedral in Ely was as a student at Cambridge when I attended the installation of one of his distinguished predecessors, Bishop Noel Hudson, a great friend of my father’s. Bishop Noel had a very keen sense of humour. With the invitation he included an Osbert Lancaster cartoon of two bishops in full fig filling in a football coupon during the Church Assembly, one saying to the other, “Cave Basingstoke, the Arch is looking”.
Before being ordained, the right reverend Prelate taught at Glenalmond, where one of my brothers was educated. He was ordained in Durham Cathedral and spent the first 20 years of his ministry in the diocese of Durham, including two years as the Archdeacon of Durham. My father was the Bishop of Jarrow and Archdeacon of Auckland for eight years, living beside that incomparable building. Although Bishop Stephen’s time as Bishop of Ramsbury was nearer to mine on Salisbury Plain during my Army service, I note that since his installation he has been on a mission to southern India, where my father was sent in 1952, resulting in a succession of Indian archdeacons living with us in Durham during their return visits.
This has been a notable week for the Church of England in the House, with the legislation for the ordination of women bishops on Tuesday and now the right reverend Prelate’s outstanding maiden speech during this important debate. I think he has given a very clear indication that not only does he know and care a great deal about social justice, but he will make an important contribution to the work of the House. So, on behalf of all Members, I most warmly congratulate him and hope that we will have the pleasure and privilege of hearing much more from him in the future.
I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on obtaining this debate and pay tribute to her work in this area. I also thank Maxine James for her extremely helpful Library Note.
I must admit that I always cringe when I hear Ministers and officials talk about strategy, because if the absence of a national security strategy is anything to go by, too little coherence of thought and action in too much of what passes for government policy seems to be the norm in Whitehall. I always remember being chastised by a civil servant in the Home Office for banging on about strategy. She said, “We don’t need strategy; all we need is strategic direction”. I said, “What do you mean by that?”. She said, “Top-down, of course”, and I said, “Well, that explains why we’re in such a mess”. Therefore, I have to admit to being much heartened by seeing the remarks of the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, about the Social Justice: Transforming Lives strategy—incidentally, he was once a subaltern in the Scots Guards under my command in Belfast. When he launched the strategy, he said that,
“we cannot conduct our social policy in discrete parts”,
with different parts of government working on discrete issues in isolation. He said that strategy had to have a “fundamental vision” and “driving ethos”, without which it would be “narrow”, “reactive” and unworkable. As a result, a Cabinet committee for social justice had been set up to ensure that all government departments drove forward the aims of the strategy.
At least, that was the intent, but I have to say that I am singularly unhappy that that intent is not being realised. I agree with the five principles of the intent: the focus on prevention and early intervention, so wisely spoken to by my noble friend Lord Northbourne; the concentration on recovery and independence, not maintenance; promoting work as the most effective route out of poverty; most effective solutions being designed and delivered at local level; and interventions providing a fair deal for the taxpayer. Nobody can argue with those, but I worry about how they are being turned into an outcome.
I want for a moment to concentrate on three of the seven key indicators of those principles, because they are those about which I know most. Key indicator 2 is to see an increase over time in the extent to which children from disadvantaged households achieve the same educational outcomes as their more advantaged peers. I am, among other things, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. We did a report 18 months ago on the link between social disadvantage and speech, language and communication needs. I was inspired to do that by my firm belief that the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people—woe betide it if it does not do everything to identify, nurture and develop the talents of all its people, because if it does not, it has only itself to blame if it fails. Right at the start of all that is the need to enable all our children to communicate and engage with their developer or teacher. The fact is that in too many families, or what pass as families around the country now, there is precious little communication between child and parent or whichever adult happens to be there, with the result that they cannot communicate and engage. Therefore, as the Minister will recollect from our discussions during various education Bills, one thing that I have been very keen to see is every child having their communication ability tested and assessed before they are two. It has been discovered that that is the wisest age to do it. The test can be carried out very simply by a health visitor who has been trained by a speech and language therapist. Armed with that ability to communicate, children have some hope of engaging with education but without it there is no further progress.
However, it does not stop there. At all stages of a child’s development up to the time of leaving school, their ability to communicate with the next stage must be assessed. It is interesting, as I have found going round the country that, for example, in Walsall, people tested at secondary school were found to have had slipped through the net at primary school and were not able to go on. Similarly, we found people at the end who could not communicate with employers.
This assessment must happen. It cannot just happen if the Department of Health is left to do the initial assessment. All sorts of other ministries are involved. There is the Department for Education, of course. There is the Department for Communities and Local Government, too, because a lot of this depends on local delivery. Unless there is a proper driving of this strategy to make certain that this happens, it seems that it will not happen. It will fall through the cracks of the discrete operations of individual ministries.
The second key indicator I focus on is key indicator 3, to reduce the,
“percentage of young offenders who go on to re-offend”.
One thing mentioned is the provision of gang advisers in Jobcentre Plus offices. I know very well one of these remarkable gang advisers, a man called Junior Smart. He was himself a pretty good villain and he has employed a number of similar villains to work under the St Giles Trust in one of the toughest parts of London. When I spoke to Junior the other day, he said, “I wish people would stop demonising everything about gangs. What you must remember is that, for many of these unfortunate children, the gang is the family. They have nothing else. Therefore, we must use our work to recreate the family part of what the gang is doing and hope we can eliminate the others”. I thought that was very wise.
One thing that worries me is that, currently, the Government have embarked on a complete negation of all common sense about the treatment of young offenders—ie, the establishment of what they call a secure college in the middle of Leicestershire for 320 12 to 17 year-olds. The truth is, as everyone knows, that the present cohort of children in there is particularly disadvantaged. The people who are less disadvantaged have, thanks to the good work of the Youth Justice Board, been got out of custody. You are left now with the most troubled and damaged. Some 50% have been in care and 80% have some form of mental health problem, including a multiplicity of personality disorders. They have all been absent from some form of school for one reason or another for at least two years. They all come from chaotic and dysfunctional families. The last place they should be is in a large, impersonal institution where they have very little hope of developing the crucial relationship with a responsible adult which is the key to getting them out of this.
I am very worried that the Ministry of Justice is launching on a route that is clearly at variance with the fourth principle listed in the strategy—namely, that most effective solutions are designed and delivered at local level. It has long been known that the three things most likely to encourage the prevention of reoffending are a home, a job and a stable relationship—what used to be called “family” but you cannot call it that now in every case. All of those are put at risk by imprisonment, and there is no group for whom it is worse than children, particularly vulnerable children. I wish that instead of launching this £78 million venture, which still has so much to be proved about it, the Government would set about improving the criminal justice system. I briefly mention four elements.
First, there is the diversion scheme, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. I pay huge tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, for his work on this, because if it is rolled out nationally, it will make an enormous difference: diverting children into proper treatment, particularly mental health treatment, rather than into custody. Secondly, we need vast improvements to the provision of work in the community, which involves not just the Ministry of Justice; it involves the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government and, of course, the DWP. If only there were better work in the community for those children, how much better might their future be? Custody needs to be improved; no one would argue with that. There are too many in there and they are not receiving the right treatment. Finally, there is the all-important transition back into the community which, again, requires every ministry to work together.
Those two particulars are currently needed even more than when the Secretary of State launched his strategy in 2012. Although the intent was there, what worries me is that I do not see the concerted effort of the Government to acknowledge that the principles enunciated to enable those things to happen—and for the disadvantaged people whose lives are put at risk by what is not happening—are not being improved in the way that they should be.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, for raising the matter in this House and commend her consistent service to the lives of those who are disadvantaged. It is a real pleasure to take part in a social justice debate. The concept of social justice is not new. I kept thinking, what have I missed? I remembered the Commission on Social Justice, which was supported by the right honourable John Smith and even the right honourable Tony Blair. I remember doing quite a lot of work on the front line in enabling so-called engagement at the time in social justice and some of the contributions that the organisations were making in Tower Hamlets and Newham.
When the social justice strategy was published in 2012, it devoted a long chapter to how work could transform the prospect of the 120,000 so-called “troubled families” it identified—I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and am deeply troubled by the concept of so-called “troubled families”. I hope that we will move away from that term as we continue to pursue their well-being. The strategy spoke of the “complex and interlinking disadvantages” facing one person named Barry, whose parents were drug addicts and who came to be a child in care and then a man on drugs, on benefits and then, of course, in prison—an all too familiar picture of the cycle of deprivation of parental care, education, liberty and work. That cycle demands the early and repeated intervention of the state in order to disrupt it.
Barry’s is a tale of thousands in our country who are unfortunately caught up in the social welfare system. I know and have met many such individuals throughout my 30 years at the coalface of the community work and the social work profession, and through my work with an organisation called Addaction leading the “Breaking the Cycle” project. I commend its work to your Lordships’ House and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that we need to ensure that we work with some of the amazing, long-standing and dedicated community organisations to have a response to some of the issues that we have all raised today.
State-sponsored intervention to reduce the problems of people with multiple related disadvantages in order to break the cycle of deprivation is a worthy ambition, yet I would argue that precisely the opposite has been happening in this country. The erosion of safety nets, designed to catch people before they fall into such cycles of deprivation, followed the publication of this strategy. In particular, the outlook for the disabled has not improved one iota as a result of this strategy.
The incidence of disability is, in the Government’s own terms, higher among these 120,000 so-called “troubled families” than in the less troubled strata of society. Research suggests that children with special educational needs and disabilities are more likely to encounter family breakdown, poverty and the criminal justice and residential care systems, as well as having NEET status. Yet the state’s protection for those with a learning disability, or indeed any sort of disability, was virtually absent from the strategy—except perhaps for references to disability. It is as if they are self-created and not framed in a context of deprivation and poverty, a context that has in many cases been worsened by the initiatives of this Government. Disability should not correlate to “troubled” or “deprived” in and of itself; it exists in all communities and classes—it occurs in rich families, poor ones and black, white and Asian ones. Yet an absence of early intervention to protect people with multiple protected characteristics belies this fact.
Without taking into account the interlinking disadvantages that some disabled people face, we cannot break the connection between disability and deprivation. Take the still misunderstood but widespread condition of autism, a spectrum disorder thought to affect one in 100 people. Autism can present significant communication, social and behavioural challenges. It occurs across classes and socioeconomic groups, although in more men than women. Yet the Government have conceded that autism in black, Asian and minority ethnic families is underdiagnosed in this country. A similar trend has been identified with respect to mental health, as has been mentioned.
Research has also shown that the prospects of autistic children with educated, white mothers are significantly better than those whose mothers are not white and educated—and I can easily testify to this, over a period spanning 30 years, as a mother whose autistic son faced huge prejudice and barriers to opportunities and access to mainstream services because he and I were not. I take no comfort in saying that, more recently, I have spoken to British born-and-bred mothers from minority backgrounds and the organisations that work with them, who have described facing horrifically similar experiences to those of my son and me all those years ago.
I fail to understand how independent evidence collected by independent organisations such as the Runnymede Trust and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, exposing correlating, overlapping disadvantage, would not point policymakers inexorably towards targeted intervention. In the incidence of autism, it is needed to correct underdiagnosis and the consequential lack of specialist support for families from particular BME backgrounds.
The social justice strategy acknowledges:
“We know that individuals and families facing multiple disadvantages do not always get the support they need, when they need it”.
Yet, with conditions such as autism, no research has been commissioned to so much as understand the extent of social injustice on the grounds of race and ethnicity—injustice that means that an autistic child born black will probably be less successful than another born white and will be left alone to tackle this inequality as we allow the marginalised or vulnerable to disappear from view and fend for themselves. The self-confessed failure of the social justice strategy to address disadvantages that are exacerbated by factors such as ethnicity, gender or disability has diminished this impact. My question is: how does the Minister intend to promote social justice for disabled people from BME backgrounds, and others who are not, who suffer multiple disadvantages as a result of their disabilities?
I turn to the subject of employment. Although the strategy outlined initiatives to support disabled people into work, it was silent on the measures that the Government would take to protect people who are unable to work and their families. The years since the strategy was published have not been kind to such families, with the proliferation of “scrounger” labels and associated stigma as the Government have sought to justify their chaotic implementation of the work capability assessment by ATOS. Last year I was involved in the work undertaken by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability, which undertook a commission and highlighted serious concerns about these assessments. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how these have been addressed since.
The strategy states its commitment to,
“offering unconditional support to those who are severely disabled and cannot work”,
but the Government’s own welfare policies have rendered that support far from unconditional. The welfare system should not only offer financial support to ensure a minimum standard of living but offer universal and specialist social care, health and education services to tackle those barriers to attainment. It is a matter of social justice and economic literacy that there have been too many morbid cases recently of people who are unable to work languishing in penury.
If social justice is truly a priority for the Government, why have they been withdrawing the disabled living allowance from disabled and vulnerable people to so egregious an extent that at one stage around half of all appeals were successful? When unconditional support was promised to the severely disabled in the social justice strategy, how can the Government justify their decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund that supported them? If the strategy had any weight in the coalition today, how could the Chancellor of the Exchequer pledge to withdraw housing benefit for young people under 25 who were unfortunate enough to be born poor and, in some cases, were seeking to escape their troubled families and the cycle of deprivation outlined in the strategy? If the Conservative Party wins the general election, what will it do differently?
There is no social justice without protection for the poor and vulnerable. Taking people out of poverty cannot simply mean pushing fragile people into unpaid and low-paid unsustainable jobs. Social justice also requires ending the stigma, heartlessness and bureaucratic incompetences that have led to the penalising of disadvantaged families, and ending the withdrawal of benefits from ill men and women such as Mark Wood and Linda Wootton weeks before their deaths. In the years before and since the social justice strategy was published, the Government’s deficit reduction programme and the euphemistic mantra of ensuring,
“a fair deal for the taxpayer”,
have caused disproportionate suffering to the vulnerable, particularly disruption to the provision of disabled benefits, ignoring the needs of those very people with complex and interlinking disadvantages that the strategy sought to protect.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness who secured this debate today. It is highly significant and very apt. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on an excellent maiden speech, which promises further interesting observations from the Bishops’ Bench.
In introducing the debate, the noble Baroness mentioned IDS—we know whom we are talking about—and his social justice committee. She went on, very well, to mention leadership, the devolution of responsibility for providing social justice, government support to local areas, government impact and the effects of welfare reform. We fought those battles for quite a long time on welfare reform, and we managed to stop some of the worst aspects of it. The key phrase I got from the noble Baroness was “listening to people”. That was spot on. It has certainly made an impact. I take the point of the view, and I think my party also takes the point of view, that the alleged social justice committee set up by the coalition Government has at its heart the wrong attitude. It is not its intention, but it has at its heart the demonisation of people on benefits. It puts them into separate categories that need to be looked at separately and given special help and all the rest of it. The phrase that came to my mind in listening to the noble Baroness’s speech was a well worn phrase from Labour Party history: it seems to me that at the heart of this social justice strategy is the image of a “desiccated calculating machine”, because there are calculations rather than taking any account of people. The intentions might be good, but we have to look at how it is operating.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He is an expert on this. If ever I come across the person who caused the young Archie Kirkwood to leave the Young Socialists, I will have something to say to them because it was certainly our loss. He mentioned in particular—I was nodding vigorously—that the referendum in Scotland showed the alienation of people towards the establishment, for want of a better description. I was included. I have never been called an establishment figure before. There was certainly alienation towards the establishment. Between Mr Salmond and Mr Farage, the word “Westminster” has become an epithet to be dismissed. “He’s from Westminster” is almost an insult. If that alienation is not tackled by all of us, it will lead to further trouble. That alienation applies in England and Wales, not just Scotland. It had its focal point in Scotland because of the referendum. That alienation has to be tackled in social justice. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also mentioned honesty from political parties and illustrated that. Hitherto, there have not been very many votes in telling people that they are going to be worse off. A change of priorities is called for.
A lot of people know that I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I take quite a hard line on various matters such as welfare reform, fraudulent social claims and all the rest of it. But unless we have a step change in how the country is run, there will be continuing problems. There are a number of steps that the Labour Party has decided on which will institute change, I hope, but at the same time will use fiscal authority and fiscal common sense to make sure that the country does not spend money that it has not got. For instance, we will agree and impose a cap on the total social security bill. We have got to come up with a series of measures which guarantee social justice in this country. I have looked at the Library Note and heard the absolutely classic dissection by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which was very informed, and, quite frankly and unfortunately, unless there is a step change by the Government, I do not see the strategy succeeding.
That brings me to something I have to say which addresses a gap here today. Will the Minister do the courtesy of informing the House why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not in his place? I mean no disrespect to the Minister, but under his ministerial brief he has no responsibility for the report being discussed. I appreciate that, formally, all Ministers speak on behalf of the Government, but this issue is not an area of expertise known to the Minister opposite. In the recent broadcast of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, at the Conservative Party conference, he said he would take away the idea of paying people with a disability £2 an hour, a reduction in the minimum wage. Did the noble Lord, Lord Freud, or his department carry out any work on that proposal? Can the Minister confirm or otherwise whether the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is still a member of Her Majesty’s Government?
I am not into witch hunts or personal malice; I enjoy a robust but friendly relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Freud. However, we have at the heart of the Government—at the heart of the department in charge of social justice and social security—a Minister who has made a statement about people with a disability which even the Deputy Prime Minister says is completely unacceptable. As long as the Government continue to have at their heart a Minister who has held and displayed those points of view, there will be no credibility for him in this House if he continues in his role.
I think the noble Lord knows that all Ministers speak on behalf of the Government, of which the party opposite is constantly reminding us. This is, in fact, a cross-department matter. As the noble Lord has heard today, many of the points made—I would perhaps say the majority—relate to education matters, which are at the core of our social justice policy. My noble friend Lord Freud has apologised, and there has been no work on any of the background to the question that he was asked about the Department for Work and Pensions.
I am grateful for those partial answers. I thought that I had finished speaking, but I am more than happy to take another couple of minutes. I am grateful for the limited response so far, but that does not explain why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not here. I ask again for a full and concise—if that is possible—explanation as to why he is not here.
I am sorry; I did not appreciate that I was up and that the noble Lord had in fact finished. I think that I have answered the question concisely.
I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Tyler for so eloquently opening the debate on this very important strategy and our underlying ethos. Social justice is at the heart of this Government’s work. We have a two-pronged approach: education and welfare reform. These are the only ways that we can break—
I think that I must continue. These are the only ways in which we can break that dreadful cycle of generational unemployment and/or family breakdown to which many noble Lords have referred. That is why this Government have the biggest programme of educational reform for 70 years in train, and substantial welfare reforms under way.
Over the course of this Parliament my department has brought in a substantial number of reforms to support better educational outcomes for all children, but particularly for the most disadvantaged. We have introduced the pupil premium to ensure that the most disadvantaged children realise their potential. Funding for this will reach £2.5 billion in the coming year: £1,300 for primary pupils, £935 for secondary, and £1,900 for looked-after children. More children from deprived backgrounds than ever before will benefit from free childcare at the same time as we strengthen the quality of early years education. From this September, every pupil in reception, year 1 and year 2 will receive free school meals, which will make a huge difference to ensuring that every child, regardless of family circumstances, is ready to learn.
Noble Lords will know how passionate I am about the academy and free schools programme. We have created more than 1,000 new sponsored academies, turning around schools that had previously been failing for years and which often serve the most deprived communities. We have approved 363 new free schools, including 39 alternative provision schools, 22 special schools, 56 university technical colleges and 46 studio schools. When open, those will provide 250,000 new places in total, the vast majority of which are in places of need. Some 25% of open free schools have been judged outstanding, making them our top performing group of non-selective schools.
We are also reforming the curriculum and exams, both academic and vocational. Increasingly schools are doing more EBacc subjects, giving pupils, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, the essential cultural capital they need, given that they do not get it at home. We have dramatically overhauled vocational qualifications and substantially expanded and improved apprenticeships. We are reforming teacher training with far more of it conducted in school. We have introduced bursaryships into teacher recruitment, and have introduced phonics into primary schools. We are also investing in the school estate and are arresting the sharp decline in our relative educational performance that took place in the first decade of this century.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his excellent maiden speech and thank him for all the work he does in support of social justice, but particularly in the field of education, with academies and in general, and I wish him well in his new position as chair of the National Society. The church’s contribution to education in this country is long-standing, very substantial and highly impactful, as it is of course in its work on poverty in general.
So far as welfare is concerned, at the beginning of this Parliament it was clear that a new approach to supporting the most disadvantaged individuals in society was needed. Too many people spent their lives moving between different support mechanisms, never receiving the support to make a long-standing difference to their life. Too many people were faced with multiple barriers to improving; for example, poor education and lack of skills, drug or alcohol addiction, a criminal record, lack of stable family support, no stable home, problem debt and health problems. Those problems do not exist independently of each other. They can interact, and together create a vicious cycle which is hard to break out of. The piecemeal approach of the past did not effectively tackle the multiple problems people face, so this Government wanted to look for new ways to tackle these issues. We wanted to deliver real and sustained change.
First, we recognised that this was not something that could be solved by central government alone—the old top-down approach had not worked. We needed to involve local authorities, the voluntary sector and business; in other words, we needed a community-based approach. We needed to ensure that we got value for money—we knew that large sums had been wasted in this area in the past. We had to build an evidence base of which interventions work, solutions had to be on a payment-by-results basis, and we had to measure the progress we made against key indicators.
Most importantly, our reforms needed to achieve a long-lasting recovery rather than management of entrenched problems. That meant looking for and treating the cause of the problems rather than the symptoms. It also means intervening early in people’s lives to prevent problems in the first place. For example, we can work with a drug user to help them tackle their addiction. However, to turn their life around we need to ensure that they have stable housing and the skills to find employment, and we need to tackle other underlying health problems. Without that rounded support it is unlikely that an individual will be able to make a long-standing change to their life. We are delivering the strategy through growing the social investment market, using payment-by-results models and collaborating with local authorities, the voluntary sector and employers. These are not easy problems to tackle and there is no quick fix; making our vision a reality will take time. However, we have made great progress towards our goals. Our first progress report was published in April 2013. This autumn we will publish the second social justice progress report, giving details of how we are implementing the strategy and our achievements so far. This November also sees our third annual social justice conference. This brings together delegates from government, the private sector, the voluntary sector and most importantly the people whose lives we are transforming to work together to deliver social justice.
I will give a few examples of the progress we have made across the social justice strategy. The family environment is the foundation of a child’s life and we are committed to supporting safe and loving family relationships. Relationship support policy is being brought under one department, with DWP investing £30 million to successfully deliver marriage preparation, couple counselling and relationship education. However, when relationships break down, we are trying to minimise the negative impacts on children by promoting more collaboration. The child maintenance system has been reformed to encourage separated couples to agree their own arrangements and reduce disputes.
In relation to child maintenance, has the Minister seen that the first results of the applications that have come in since charging began earlier this year indicate a drop of 38% in parents pursuing formal applications? The Government thought that it would be 12%. Is that not something of deep concern as it will exacerbate child poverty?
My noble friend makes a particular point on a particular statistic. I shall take it away and write to him.
With the new Children and Families Act we are introducing a requirement to consider mediation before taking action through the courts. There is also better access to information for couples through the Sorting out Separation online service. Care leavers are at an increased risk of falling into a cycle of disadvantage, given the lack of support as they move into adulthood. JCP can now identify care leavers in the benefit system and offer more tailored support through earlier referral to the Work Programme. Following the launch of the first ever cross-government care leaver strategy in 2013, a further One Year On report will be published on 29 October and will set out how each department has met its milestones and what more will be done to continue the push for better services for care leavers. As part of care leavers week later this month, Ministers and care leavers will be undertaking exchange visits. These types of activities help to bring the voice of the people closer to policy-making. That is so important, as my noble friend Lady Tyler has said.
Earlier this year, it was my privilege to lead the Children and Families Bill, now an Act, through this House, a key plank of which was the new “staying put” duty on local authorities. It will mean that young people in foster placements can continue to live with their former foster carers beyond the age of 18, when that is what they both want to do, providing them with the opportunity to experience the stability and security of family life enjoyed by their peers.
Social justice is underpinned by work. This is the best route out of poverty. Work increases self-esteem; introduces routine into what can be chaotic lives; the individual becomes a valued member of society rather than sitting on the fringe, and they are a role model for their children. Work can replace the vicious cycle of disadvantage with a virtuous one. DWP’s innovation fund is working with 14,200 young people who are already or are at risk of becoming NEETs to improve their lifetime employment prospects. Each month’s labour market statistics bring new records. Employment is at a record high, with 30.8 million people in work. Unemployment fell by more than 500,000 on the year, the largest annual fall on record. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008. Long-term unemployment, for those out of work for more than 12 months, is down 194,000 on the year, and 77,000 since 2010. The number of workless households is down over 400,000 since 2010 and that rate is now the lowest on record. In the past, the welfare system has been a barrier to people moving into work. Universal credit will restore the incentive to make the step into work, and to progress once there. It will remove the gap between out-of-work and in-work support. The Work Programme is providing specialist support for those furthest away from the labour market. So far, it has helped 330,000 people into sustained employment.
The Government are also providing support to make a sustained change to the lives of the most disadvantaged adults. Transforming Rehabilitation is changing the way the Government are working with offenders. Every offender released from custody will receive supervision and rehabilitation in the community. We are working in prisons to improve the prospects for offenders when they leave prison. Prisoners receive training aligned with employers’ needs, and advice from National Careers Service advisers. My noble friend Lady Tyler raised the question of a breathing space for those in debt. We support the principle of ensuring that people who fall into difficulties are given time to get back on their feet. The FCA has stringent rules about forbearance and how people in financial difficulties are treated. We have taken firm action to tackle those lenders who are exploiting those in difficulty. In April this year, the FCA took over responsibility for regulating all consumer credit firms, including payday lenders. It has demonstrated that it will take tough action, with Wonga recently being made to write off more than £200 million worth of unaffordable debts.
To deliver long-lasting outcomes for disadvantaged people, we need to engage locally with the people best placed to deliver real change. This is why we introduced social impact bonds, with the UK being a world leader in this area. In 2010, there was just one social impact bond, now there are 17. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood talked about social investment, which has grown over recent years. The social investment market was worth £200 million in 2012. Big Society Capital was also launched in 2012 with £600 million of funding to be both an investor in and a champion of the social investment market. We also established the Centre for Social Impact Bonds within the Cabinet Office in 2012 to encourage innovation in public service delivery, grow the social investment market and build an evidence base of what works.
Government will continue to work with localities to identify gaps in the national welfare system and reduce or remove duplication or fragmentation. Government will work with local enterprise partnerships to support their plans to strengthen their local economy by developing a response to the question of how integrating local services across geographical areas can provide value for money and improve outcomes for claimant groups.
Good evidence and data are essential to tackling social problems. The Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, an innovative collaboration between central and local government, has been set up to break down the practical barriers to information sharing and is working across a number of areas, including troubled families, welfare reform and justice, to achieve practical, on-the-ground solutions to break down information sharing barriers.
My noble friend Lady Tyler has raised some very important points today about listening to the voices of people with multiple needs and making local areas accountable for delivering effective, joined-up services. She also suggests building on the troubled families model with a troubled individuals programme and working with the voluntary sector. We will consider these points carefully. I will take this opportunity to say a little about the Troubled Families programme, which is an example of where the partnership between central and local government is helping to turn around the lives of 120,000 families with severe problems and multiple needs, thereby reducing the cost to the taxpayer. Working with local authorities, we are now helping 110,000 of the most troubled families in England. Of these, nearly 53,000 have had their lives turned around thanks to the intensive and practical approach. In August, we announced an expansion of the programme to an additional 400,000 families. The Department for Work and Pensions will double the number of specialist employment advisers—
If I cannot provide the noble Lord with an answer before I finish speaking, I will write to him.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro mentioned that we have more than 100,000 young carers. I know all too well from my work in schools that too often we struggle to get pupils on residentials because of their duties caring both for adults and siblings. Sadly, home life has collapsed in recent decades for many children. We need to educate these children, supported by welfare reforms, out of this dreadful cycle. I agree with the right reverend Prelate’s good points about the glue of justice.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, developed the right reverend Prelate’s thoughts in relation to disadvantaged families and breaking the cycle. I agree entirely. Character development and bringing up our pupils in schools to be part of a happy family is a subject dear to my heart and to that of the Secretary of State for Education. We are encouraging and setting expectations for all schools that soft skills, character development, grit and resilience are essential parts of school life. It is increasingly prevalent in the academies movement. The noble Lord mentioned boarding, and we are keen to ensure that more local authorities see this as a real option.
My noble friend Lady Tyler asked about the impact of welfare reform in relation to the Cabinet committee. It considers many different government policies, including welfare reform, disadvantaged people and how to join up policy to support those with multiple disadvantage.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about regular SLCN assessment. We discussed this as some length during the passage of the Children and Families Bill. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government share his aim of identifying SLC needs as early as possible. We believe that our reforms are designed to do that. We are, of course, reforming assessment in primary schools in particular, and ensuring that all schools have proper baseline tests to benefit all pupils. Our phonics reforms are having a substantial impact on pupils’ word-reading skills.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord that many people in youth custody lack basic skills and present with insufficient outcomes. I know that he has concerns about this model but we hope that with our EHC plans the principal of the secure college with an SEN-qualified co-ordinator will help the matter. He talked about gang advisers and the good work of the St Giles Trust on recreating a good family. I entirely agree with him. I will pass his points about the criminal justice system on to that department, as well as his points about cross-departmental work. I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that this Government have narrowed the gap in attainment for children who have free school meals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, referred to the outlook for the disabled. We have seen 116,000 more disabled people in work in the past year alone. We are spending £50 billion a year on disability benefits and services—more than the previous Government. Our SEN reforms, I hope, will substantially improve the outlook for all children with SEN, from whatever background, including those with autism.
To close, I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler for bringing this debate to the House. I congratulate again the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his excellent and eloquent maiden speech. Social justice is about transforming the lives of the most disadvantaged people in society and is at the core of this Government’s reform. It is about intervening early to prevent problems becoming entrenched in the first place. We are working with local government and the voluntary and private sectors to provide the rounded support that individuals need to turn their lives around. Many interesting points have been raised and I thank all noble Lords and noble friends for their contributions to the debate.
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he please respond to point that my noble friend Lord McAvoy made? Where is the noble Lord, Lord Freud? Why is he not here today? My Question this morning was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. There must be a reason why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not here. Please answer the question. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who refused my intervention earlier, to paragraph 4.31 of the Companion.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate. Despite falling in what was described earlier as the graveyard slot, it has been an excellent debate. It has been wide-ranging, as befits the subject matter. We have covered many items and areas, but those that particularly stand out are: the imperative of ensuring that every child and young person in this country, irrespective of background, receives the best start in life; the importance of prevention and early intervention; breaking the cycle of disadvantage; and the fact that social justice benefits everyone in society.
Another very interesting thrust of the discussion was—at a time when there is such deep disaffection with political institutions—the importance of this House and other parts of the political infrastructure having these sorts of debate and recognising that really courageous political leadership will be needed across the political spectrum if we are to address some of these issues. Some people talked about demonising; others talked about the “undeserving poor”. It is going to be ever more important that we are prepared to discuss these issues in the run-up to the election. This House has a very important contribution to make to that debate.
Finally, I thank the Minister for agreeing to consider further the three main policy ideas and proposals that I put forward. I fully accept that the title “troubled families for individuals” is not the right one for the programme. I was trying to get the concept across, but I am sure that there are many people who can suggest better ideas than that. I look forward to working up those ideas further with the Government and other noble Lords. Thank you very much indeed, and I would particularly like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for his excellent maiden speech.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, in the interests of hearing as many Members as possible, it might be worth reminding the House of the guidance in the Companion, which says:
“Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate”.
ISIL: Iraq and Syria
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, on ISIL, Iraq and Syria. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on Iraq and Syria.
I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Alan Henning. Mr Henning arrived in Syria armed only with kindness and compassion. His appalling murder, like that of David Haines, the two American hostages and many thousands of others, has revealed the true, barbaric face of ISIL.
The scale and unity of the international response to the challenge of ISIL is impressive. It involves Muslim countries of the region and the wider international community. The UK is proud to play its part. Working closely with our allies, under a US lead, we have a clear strategy to take the fight to ISIL: a strategy with military, political and wider counterterrorism components —a strategy that we recognise will, at least in parts, need to be sustained over the long term. We are under no illusion as to the severity of this challenge to regional stability and to our homeland security. At the heart of our strategy is the political strand. ISIL will not be overcome until Iraq and Syria have inclusive Governments capable of marginalising its appeal and of mounting a sustained and effective response on the ground to the military and ideological threat it poses.
Let me first address the situation in Iraq, which I visited this week. I did so to show solidarity with the Iraqi people and the new Government of Prime Minister al-Abadi, to tell them that they do not stand alone in confronting the ISIL threat, and to encourage them as they put together an inclusive Government of national reconciliation. I recognise the concern in this House—shared by many in the region—as to the difficulties of achieving this more inclusive approach. I recognise too the enormous challenges that Prime Minister al-Abadi faces, and the understandable scepticism as to his ability to deliver a genuinely different approach from his predecessor. But at the same time, I am impressed by the commitment of all three leaderships—Shia, Sunni and Kurd—to ensure that this time is, and must be, different. All agreed that this is effectively Iraq’s last chance as a nation state.
In talks with Prime Minister al-Abadi, Vice-President Nujaifi and Foreign Minister Jaafari, each of them reaffirmed their understanding of the need for, and their personal commitment to, a more inclusive approach, decentralisation of power to Iraq’s communities and equitable sharing of Iraq’s natural resource wealth. I assured Prime Minister al-Abadi that Britain will do all it can to support reform and reconciliation. He in turn assured me that he expects to complete the formation of his Government, by appointing Defence and Interior Ministers, over the next few days.
In Erbil, I met the Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and other Ministers. They likewise assured me of their commitment to work with Prime Minister al-Abadi and that Kurdish Ministers would be taking up their positions in the Baghdad Government this week. There was considerable optimism, in both Erbil and Baghdad, that this will allow a much needed deal to resolve the long-standing issues between the Iraqi Government and the KRG, including oil exports and revenue sharing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the history, there is a deep and mutual lack of trust, both between the different communities within Iraq and between Baghdad and some of its neighbours in the region. But it is vital that all parties, having surveyed the alternatives, now put the past behind them and have the courage to build bridges to each other; in particular to appeal to the Sunni populations, who are living under, and in some cases, acquiescing in, ISIL’s brutal reign, and who must be brought back into the political fold if ISIL is to be defeated in Iraq. For our part, we will do all that is in our power to encourage the different communities and countries involved to reach out to each other in rebuilding an Iraq capable of rolling back ISIL and the poisonous ideology it represents.
Turning to the military dimension of our engagement in Iraq, Britain, alongside the United States, France, Australia and others, has assumed a key role in carrying out air strikes and mounting the sophisticated reconnaissance that enables them. We are in the process of redeploying some of our Reaper remotely piloted aircraft from Afghanistan to the Middle East, to add to our surveillance capabilities.
The security situation remains very serious, with ISIL maintaining control of significant swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. ISIL has made advances in Anbar in recent days, including taking control of the city of Hit and attacking the provincial capital, Ramadi. At the same time, Kurdish forces have pushed back ISIL in the north, retaking several strategically important villages. There will be tactical ebb and flow, but the coalition air campaign has stabilised the strategic picture, and the assessment of our experts is that Baghdad is not at immediate risk.
Approximately 20% to 30% of Iraq’s populated territory could be under ISIL control. Liberating this territory from ISIL is a medium-term challenge, to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks. The horrific effects of ISIL—on governance, security and the social fabric—will be felt for even longer.
Prime Minister al-Abadi outlined to me his plans to reform the Iraqi security forces. He is clear-eyed about the scale of the challenges he faces and the resistance he will face in meeting them. But reform will be essential if the ISF are to develop the capabilities necessary to defeat ISIL on the ground. The United States and others have committed to providing the necessary training. Britain has funded bomb disposal training for the Kurdish forces, as we did for the Iraqi security forces earlier in the year, and I saw for myself members of 2 Yorks training Peshmerga to operate and maintain the heavy machine guns we have gifted to them.
In Syria, we need to reaffirm clearly, lest there be any doubt, that Assad cannot be part of the solution to the challenge of ISIL. The depravity of his regime was, after all, a driving factor in creating ISIL. Indeed, while the international coalition has been trying to save Kobane, Assad has been continuing his attacks and aerial bombardments on the moderates, including around Aleppo and Damascus. Those close to Assad should be in no doubt that he must be removed to clear the way for a Government in Damascus who enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and credibility with the international community, and who can take effective action against extremism. For as long as he remains in power, there will be no peace in Syria.
Britain will continue to provide strong support to the moderate opposition, including technical assistance and non-lethal equipment. We have recently increased our funding to areas under opposition control and to regional allies to increase their resilience against the effects of the Syria conflict. Our support, along with that of our allies, is helping the moderates to deliver good governance and strong public services in the areas they control, relieving the suffering of the civilian population.
Airstrikes are being carried out in Syria by the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. The UK strongly supports this action. No one who has watched a television screen over the last week or so can have failed to be moved by the plight of the defenders of Kobane. Their situation has at times appeared hopeless, yet, supported by coalition airstrikes, they are holding on and in some areas pushing back. The moderate opposition have held back ISIL in other parts of northern Syria. Airstrikes have targeted ISIL’s headquarters, command and control, and military forces in the eastern provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, degrading their capabilities. They have also hit the economic infrastructure that ISIL has been exploiting to generate revenue from illegal oil sales.
The UK Government expect to make a significant contribution to the US-led programme to train the Syrian moderate armed opposition, who are fighting both Assad’s tyranny and ISIL’s extremism. Details of how that contribution will be delivered are currently being scoped.
ISIL represents a threat to Iraq and to the region, but it also represents a major threat to us, here at home—particularly at the hands of returning foreign fighters—and to our citizens worldwide. The UK has led the coalition on a number of wider counterterrorism initiatives which aim to cut off the flow of finance and fighters to ISIL in both Syria and Iraq.
Through our membership of the United Nations Security Council, we have been instrumental in securing the listings of 20 individuals, including 16 directly linked to ISIL or the al-Nusra Front and two al-Qaeda-related organisations, since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2170 on terrorist financing. We are also working closely with partners to disrupt ISIL’s access to external markets for illicit sales of oil and other goods. Domestically, we are seeking to strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission to counter terrorist abuse of the charity sector.
On terrorist recruitment, the UK co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2178 sets out a framework to dissuade, prevent and disrupt travel, to work with communities, to strengthen border controls and to manage the challenge of returning foreign fighters. We will now actively pursue this agenda throughout Europe and the Middle East.
As co-chairs of the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s working group on countering violent extremism, we are looking at new ways to strengthen the ability of partners overseas to counter the terrorist propaganda which contributes to radicalisation, recruitment and mobilisation of individuals to terrorism.
The advance of ISIL and the continued attrition against its own population by the Assad regime have caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria no less grave than the political and military one. More than 170,000 have fled from Kobane and over 30,000 people have been displaced from the town of Hit in Anbar province as a result of recent fighting, many of them ending up in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The need to winterise refugee accommodation is increasingly urgent as the wet and then the cold weather approaches. The Kurdish leadership made very clear to me the scale and urgency of the humanitarian crisis they are facing in accommodating nearly 1 million refugees, perhaps half of Iraq’s total population of IDPs, at the same time as defending their 600-mile front line with ISIL.
And the humanitarian challenges go wider. In Syria nearly 14 million people need assistance, there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons and 3 million refugees. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced £100 million in additional funding, bringing the UK contribution to the Syria crisis to £700 million.
Our support is reaching hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, and in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. UK aid is providing water for up to 1.5 million people and has funded 5.2 million monthly food rations. In addition, we are supporting the Governments of Lebanon and Jordan to manage the impact of the huge influx of refugees to those countries on host communities.
Britain was one of the first donors to respond to the worsening situation in Iraq this summer and has allocated a total of £23 million to Iraq since 13 June, to meet immediate humanitarian needs and to support the United Nations and other agencies in their response. Aid has been focused on need; mainly in the Kurdish region. DfID has already responded to the urgent needs of the Syrian Kurdish refugees who have recently fled to Turkey and is ready to react swiftly to further developments.
We have a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy to confront an evil which is a direct threat to our national security. I pay tribute to the members of our Diplomatic Service and our international development teams in the region who are working in very difficult circumstances, and above all to the men and women of our Armed Forces who are, once again, putting their lives at risk as Britain takes its place at the heart of the coalition waging a struggle against a barbaric force that has no place in human civilisation in the 21st century. They will always have our whole-hearted support. I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
I thank the Minister for repeating the long and full Statement made earlier today in another place by her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The whole House will want to echo what the Statement said in expressing our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Alan Henning. He went to Syria to help the Syrian people in their most desperate time of need. His murder by ISIL reveals the sheer evil and brutality of an organisation that glorifies terror and defies any decency and any humanity. The whole House will stand shoulder to shoulder with Her Majesty’s Government in our determination to defeat ISIL.
We also agree with the tributes paid not only, of course, to the outstanding work of our Armed Forces, but to the dedicated diplomats and aid workers who are today contributing to the United Kingdom’s efforts in the region. I would like to add a tribute to the British Council staff, too, who are employed in the region. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Council. In that capacity, I visited Lebanon last week and saw with my own eyes the wonderful work that is being done by our diplomats and aid workers there, not least by the British Council in Beirut. They are helping to deal with the issues thrown up by the very large influx of refugees into Lebanon from Syria.
We know that President Obama had a video conference with the Prime Minister, President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Renzi to discuss the campaign against ISIL. We know, of course, of the Foreign Secretary’s visit to the region this week, and we know that the United States Administration hosted a summit with senior military commanders from across the international coalition to discuss the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. We were slightly surprised to hear in the Statement the assertion that the coalition air campaign has stabilised the strategic picture, given that the air strikes initiated in recent weeks seem so far to have failed to prevent ISIL from conquering almost all of Anbar province and coming close—not today, we hope, but earlier this week—to overrunning the Syrian border town of Kobane. There have also been reports that ISIL drew to within 15 miles or so of Baghdad’s international airport last weekend.
The backdrop to the authorisation granted by the other place for UK air strikes in Iraq was the expectation that within Iraq, the Iraqi military and the Kurds would provide resistance on the ground to ISIL’s advance, while of course the United States has now committed significant resources to supporting the Free Syrian Army. Yet, to be frank, so far only the Kurdish Peshmerga seem to have resisted ISIL effectively. That is a very challenging backdrop, on which I have a few questions for the Minister.
Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions in Iraq this week, can the noble Baroness offer on behalf of the Government a little more clarity regarding the Government’s most up-to-date estimate of the capability of the Iraqi armed forces? Can she also set out what consideration is being given to further material requests from the Kurdish forces for further equipment, training and support? In his Statement, the Foreign Secretary spoke about seeing during his visit to Iraq a growing role for the UK in training and supporting local forces. The Statement says that:
“The UK Government expect to make a significant contribution to the US-led programme to train the Syrian moderate armed opposition”,
and goes on to say that:
“Details of how that contribution will be delivered are currently being scoped”.
Can the noble Baroness help us at all in setting the parameters—not the details; we do not want to know those—of this potential UK contribution?
The Foreign Secretary also mentioned Turkey in his Statement in relation to humanitarian assistance. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether her right honourable friend personally raised the prospect of Turkey’s contribution to the military coalition against ISIL with the Turkish Government directly? What more is it that Her Majesty’s Government would like Turkey to do? I should like to press her on that point because many both inside this House and outside it think that this is a crux question at the present time.
The truth is that the long-term success of any approach will be measured by the role played by the broader alliance against ISIL, and in particular by regional leaders, armies and communities. I know that the Government believe that the role of Sunni communities and leaders is absolutely fundamental. We believe that leading Sunni countries across the region must make tangible commitments to the defeat of ISIL beyond writing cheques. Can the noble Baroness, on behalf of the Government, give her assessment of the progress being made not only on halting the flow of fighters, but also on disrupting the flow of finance to ISIL from countries in the region?
I end by asking about the humanitarian situation. Of course the needs across the region remain great and the effort needs to be sustained. There has been a warning from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs that due to chronic underfunding of its humanitarian appeal, food rations for up to 4 million Syrian civilians may need to be cut this month. Obviously that could see even greater suffering for the Syrian people as the fourth winter of the civil war begins to set in. Given the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, will the Minister set out what the Government believe can be done to ensure the full funding of the UN’s humanitarian efforts there?
Those are the questions that I have for the Minister, but she knows that we from the Opposition and the whole House will support what the Government are doing in this very difficult situation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his support for the Government’s position and for the measured and serious response that he always achieves in these matters.
The noble Lord asked whether I would add my thanks and recognition for the work of the staff of the British Council. I am only too pleased to do so. All those who serve us in these capacities in situations of danger deserve our support and thanks.
The noble Lord asked for my assessment of the capacity of the Iraqi armed forces. I have earlier this week said that we recognise that, in the initial phases, they found resistance difficult. They were certainly retreating and some of their armoury was left behind. Since then, we have been involved in assisting Iraq to meet the challenge of rebuilding, restructuring, re-equipping and retraining those security forces. It was after a period of years that their capability was eroded and, as I mentioned earlier this week, they had lost the support of local populations. That support had been degraded by the blatant sectarianism of the Maliki Government. Since then, the Iraqi Government have become inclusive. We are assured that all the Ministers will be in place and one can see that governance should improve. The Iraqi security forces should have more confidence that not only will they have proper organisation but that they will be paid at the right time. I think that their confidence may be transmitted to various communities where they will be in operations.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, also asked me about training for the Kurdish Peshmerga. The MoD has deployed a specialist team of army trainers into Erbil, providing the Peshmerga with training on the heavy machine guns that were gifted by the UK last month—which is a little more detail than I gave in the Statement. The team from the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment is instructing Peshmerga fighters on how to maintain safely and operate UK-gifted heavy machine guns. This training package is expected to last around a week. We are continuing to scope assistance to the Iraqi security forces; further training for op teams, and addressing soldiering skills, medical skills and countering explosive devices, will follow. It is important that, while we are assisting the Peshmerga, they have the confidence that we are also assisting the Iraqi security forces so that Kurdish fighters can have a greater expectation that they will not need to watch their southern flank as well.
My right honourable friend made announcements earlier this week on the funding of a £230,000 training programme for Peshmerga forces in the battle against ISIL. We are funding a full-week pilot course delivered by a UK firm which will initially train up to 18 students from the Peshmerga to counter improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, raising their expertise to NATO level. The UK Government funded the same course for the ISF in Baghdad earlier this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to the fact that my right honourable friend talked about Syria and the scoping exercise that we are carrying out there. I can say at this stage that it is a matter in progress. It is clear that we need to look at how our current contributions have impacted on the situation and what effect a fully appointed Government will have, so I am afraid that I cannot satisfy him by going further than saying that we are scoping that and always acting within the remit that was set by another place when it voted in the parliamentary recall.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, quite rightly drew attention to Turkey—attention which was drawn in part in Questions earlier this week. It is clear that we have high expectations of Turkey. It is a NATO member. It has a long border with Syria. We have all seen on our screens over the past week the floods of refugees going from the south over to Turkey. Of course, we admire the way that Turkey and its population have been coping with 1 million-plus refugees. That is remarkable. There have been those who have then been impatient at the sight of Turkish military materiel on one side of the border and Kobane being under difficulty on the other.
What more would we like Turkey to do? My right honourable friend Philip Hammond spoke to his Turkish opposite number on Friday, following discussions earlier last week that he had in the United States on the specific question of Turkey’s role in the coalition. The UK National Security Adviser is in Turkey today for further such discussions, and it is at the forefront of the coalition’s agenda as we take the debate forward. Ultimately, it is for Turkey as a sovereign state to take the decision about what to do and when. We can only advise that we are fully supportive of the coalition and the airstrikes in the area, and keep a continued watch on the impact of those airstrikes and what other measures by other members of the coalition may prove necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, also referred to the issue of humanitarian aid. He referred to a particular organisation facing reduced funds. It would be wrong of me to make assumptions about how one organisation might reallocate funds or gain assistance from others. I can say that through DfID we have made very clear that we intend to take every measure we can to deliver effective assistance. When I was in Geneva briefly last month, I was able to meet the High Commissioner for Refugees and his deputy. I had a long discussion with them about the specific work they are co-ordinating within the area of Iraq and Syria, and I was very impressed. I also had discussions with the aid agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and asked how it might work with other aid agencies. I came away with the firm view that there is co-ordination between those agencies and organisations on the ground. In some areas local authorities are holding on. Outside the ISIL areas, services are still being delivered in some areas held by the moderate opposition forces. There is liaison.
Work is also being done with major companies to provide shelter for people in the coming winter months. The noble Lord was absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that this is a time when the climate changes and shelter is desperately needed. I cannot say that all is well now but I can say that all is being done that can be humanly done, and it is always re-evaluated. As we know, this is a situation of ebb and flow. Where need is absolutely paramount one month, we may find that it is required somewhere else another.
My Lords, I start by referring noble Lords to my registered interests. I warmly welcome this visit and its timing. I have seen for myself how much importance our Arab friends attach to senior ministerial involvement in the work that they are engaged in. The timing of this visit not only enhances our already good reputation in the United Kingdom as having an interest in the region but also supports the important work of Her Majesty’s ambassador and his critical staff, who are under very restricted circumstances. Again, I have seen for myself the way they have to live under dense security threats.
Can my noble friend assure the House that she and the Government will do everything possible to support Haider al-Abadi? I have seen for myself that he is a wise, moderate, experienced man. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that this is the last chance for the continued survival and prosperity of the state of Iraq. If Haider al-Abadi cannot do it, I do not believe that anyone can.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood about the timing of the visit and the impetus that it will, I hope, give to further development. No one is complacent. We know the seriousness of this and that there is a long haul ahead.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for reminding me not just about the ambassadors and British citizens in our posts overseas, but the staff. There are local staff, and there is a particular strain on them. We have given support to Iraq from the very beginning to obtain an inclusive government. A crucial part of that support has been our encouragement to find someone who can provide a nexus of support between Shia, Kurd and Sunni. We believe that al-Abadi is able to do that, and we are giving him every support.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for her Statement and associate the Lords spiritual with her thanks and tributes to those she mentioned in it. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are, sadly, part of a wider cycle of sickening violence in which individuals and groups are increasingly targeted for their religious affiliation. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to read the article by my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury in the journal Prospect today. In line with that article, I wonder what steps the Government are taking to ensure that human rights considerations, including freedom of religion and belief, are given greater urgency in their relations with the Government of Iraq, the Friends of Syria Group and any required dealings with the Assad regime.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I referred to that very briefly at the end of Questions yesterday; it was too brief, I know, but time was running out. We recognise that life in Syria for Christians and other minorities continues to be deeply distressing. That extends to Iraq as well, where whole communities have had to flee. We have serious concerns about rising sectarian tensions. As for Syria, we believe that President Assad’s actions include a deliberate attempt to stir up such tensions in his efforts to hang on to power. The right reverend Prelate asks a timely question.
We think that the only way to secure the position of Syria’s minority communities is to find a political solution to the crisis. Part of that must involve respect for each religious group. I mentioned the other day that one of the priorities for the Foreign Office is freedom of religion or belief. I am involved in working to deliver some practical examples of how that may be achieved. The task of achieving that freedom of religion and belief in societies which are at peace but divided by religion is difficult enough. It is multiplied perhaps a hundredfold or more when we have the situation in Syria and Iraq. However, I am aware that when Foreign Office Ministers visit a region, they do the best they can in the time available to meet Christian communities to discuss their concerns and learn from them. I know that my honourable friend Mr Ellwood visited Iraq at the end of August and raised the persecution of Christians with the then Foreign Minister and other senior officials, but I assure the right reverend Prelate that that will not be the last time that we do that.
All of us here—indeed, all civilised people—recognise the threat that this organisation poses not just in the Middle East but much beyond it as well. I strongly commend what the Government have been doing up to now with all the agencies and individuals concerned. It is very welcome that the Foreign Secretary has visited the region and has spoken to politicians. That has to be a good thing at this time.
I noted that the Statement said:
“We have a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy to confront an evil which is a direct threat to our national security”.
Yet that poses the question as to why, if we have such a strategy, we alone stand outside the coalition that is taking action at the moment in not attacking targets inside Syria. I recognise that there were self-imposed constraints in the resolution from the other place but we are leaving it to the rest of this incredible and welcome coalition to attack the bases from where the brains, the organisation and the control of ISIS actually come. While I welcome what has been done so far, I would still like an answer to this question: how on earth, in a comprehensive strategy, does it fit that we are not taking action against the heart of this organisation that threatens so much?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, echoes some of the anxieties expressed in both Houses over the last month, both at Recall and this week. When the other place was presented with a Motion referring only to Iraq, it was on the basis that we had been invited by the Iraqi Government to be there. It was clear what our role could be: one involving air strikes and not combat troops on the ground, but certainly providing training. We know that that is valuable.
Why do we not do the same for Syria? We would wish to be in a position so that if we were taking premeditated action in Syria—if that ever occurred and we got to the point where we felt that the only way forward was military intervention in Syria—we would carry out our undertaking, to this House and to another place, to return to Parliament before that. That is why there is a next step, if we get to that, in the position. In the mean time, we are doing as much as we can to assist those moderate forces in Syria to withstand the pressure of Assad’s oppression. As I said in the Statement, he is helping ISIL by bombarding the moderates in places such as Aleppo. For the moment, we are carrying out full support in air strikes as part of our coalition. We are one part of it, but a determined part. We will monitor the position but if there were any premeditated change we would certainly fulfil our commitment to come back to Parliament first.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that measures have been taken to curb the sale of oil by ISIL. Can I press her on the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Bach? What other measures are being taken to curb and reduce ISIL’s access to funding, as well as reduce its terrorist propaganda?
The noble Lord, Lord St John, refers to the sale of oil, as others have. Clearly, one of the difficulties has been that in its initial push ISIL took control over oil supply places. It certainly controls that oil and can sell it, as it has, on the black market. If it is selling it on the black market, perhaps to Syria, one can understand that our influence on Assad might be rather minimal. But if we can have discussions with other colleagues, as we do, we would hope to find a way of encouraging others to bear down on Assad and ensure that they are not in any way assisting the black-market sale of oil. We all know it is happening, even if we cannot prove where it is going or who is selling it, because ISIL is controlling the production and benefiting from billions of pounds. There has to be a link somewhere.
Reducing access to other funds will be a matter of negotiation with other colleagues in the coalition. I am sure that they will be in discussions about how they can have an influence on individuals and countries, but there is no proof at the moment that the money is coming from a particular country.
The point about propaganda is a critical one. This organisation is very sophisticated, and I think we all have a duty in our civic life here to ensure that every time people mention it to us, we do not give voice to what ISIL has been spreading.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the timely initiative by the Foreign Secretary. I particularly welcome the comments that the Minister has made about the critical role of Turkey. There is one aspect of domestic policy that is noted in the Statement: the Foreign Secretary has said that,
“we are seeking to strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission to counter terrorist abuse of the charity sector”.
Given that such action would already be illegal, will the Minister undertake to ensure that in due course the House is briefed on how this will be achieved?
My Lords, I certainly will. In the Statement I have made a series of statements about what we hope to do with regard to our own security and changes that will be made, and the issue that my noble friend raises is one of those. I know that the Home Secretary has already started negotiations, both within the coalition and elsewhere, and as soon as we are in a position to be able to make clear what steps we may take, obviously I will be in a position to assist the House.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement, following the Foreign Secretary’s visit. It was, however, a very grim Statement. It is appalling that up to 30% of Iraq’s populated territory could now be under ISIL control.
I return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Robertson. The Statement is unequivocal on two points: first, in relation to Syria, it says that the UK strongly supports air strikes, and, secondly, it acknowledges that ISIL is already a major threat to us here at home. Given those unequivocal points, do she and other Ministers anticipate returning to Parliament within the next few weeks on the issue of joining the air strikes on Syria?
My Lords, if I were to give such an undertaking, I would be undermining the work of our Armed Forces, the Peshmerga and the moderates who are fighting against the evil there because I would be making an assumption that further intervention of that nature was necessary, and necessary in a particular timescale, so I shall be overcautious and not do that. But I can say to the noble Baroness that my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Secretary for International Development, together with the Prime Minister and those who meet in COBRA, are considering these matters almost daily. The noble Baroness has had a distinguished career herself as a Minister at the Ministry of Defence, and she will know that COBRA will look at every single nuance every time it meets, which appears to be almost every day. So we will be watching to see how this develops. However, it is not a matter of saying what we can do in one week, one month or even one year; it is going to be a very long haul, and the difficulty for all of us here in Parliament will be to ensure that we continue to engage the support of the British people in this long haul.
Would the Minister like to comment on whether anything can be done externally to alleviate the sufferings of women in the ISIL-dominated areas? They are all too real, although they are all too rarely discussed in the newspapers. This is a sickening aspect of everyday life under the regime.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for raising this important issue. I have discussed this very matter with civil society groups, both in Geneva and here in London. I bear in mind the moving speeches made when we had the recall of Parliament by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and one or two others on this very point. I bear in mind that when women are attacked in war, it is rape, death, seeing your child beheaded or your partner or husband crucified. This is a weapon of war. Sexual violence is a weapon of war being used by ISIL. It signifies what barbarians they are. When people start to wane in their support when the tabloids perhaps start to take some of these stories off the front page, we need to remind them what life is really like for families and for women in these crisis-hit areas.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and look forward to discussing this important topic with him. As a pillar of the insurance industry, he knows about risk, judging risk and pricing risk and about the enormous importance of managing risk, rather than trying to eliminate it. That is one of the many reasons that the insurance industry is so successful and profitable in the UK.
When we debate autonomous vehicles, we should be thinking big, not just about lane sensors or cameras, but about conveys of driverless lorries delivering freight around the country. I believe we must do all we can to ensure that the UK is at the heart of testing new technologies on our roads, so it is good to see that the Government have said that Britain should be at the forefront of this technology. They were absolutely right. Debating this topic now is so important, as the Government are to report by the end of this year on the legislative framework for testing. There will no doubt be lots of pressure on them to implement regulations that exceed current safety standards. I think that would be wrong.
Some good things are already happening in the UK. At the University of Oxford, the RobotCar UK project has developed sensing and control technology to allow a Nissan LEAF electric car to drive autonomously. The technology catapults are doing excellent work, particularly with Loughborough University. Ricardo is working with a mining company with a 200-mile private road.
There were 230 drink-driving deaths in 2012, and 1,200 people were seriously injured. Fifty-four deaths occurred from drug-driving in the same year. They all occurred within the current safety framework. Google’s cars have driven around 700,000 miles, predominantly in the United States. So far, there have been only two reported crashes. Even then, one was when the car was being driven manually by a human, and the other occasion saw Google’s driverless car hit from behind while waiting at a junction. Google estimates that replacing all cars on the roads with driverless ones would eliminate at least 90% of automobile accidents. Every year, 1.24 million people die in road traffic accidents around the world. Assuming Google is right, that could save around 1.1 million lives worldwide. Interestingly, people in emerging markets are more trusting of autonomous vehicles. Perhaps they are more acutely aware of just how many lives could be saved.
If the safety regulations focus on “maximum” safety, the work will simply be done somewhere else. There are a number of other countries wishing to lead the way on this, including the Netherlands, South Korea and Japan. Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota are all also working on this new technology, but are they all doing this work in the UK? We should be doing all we can to make sure that they are. The car manufacturers, because of product liability issues, will be vigilant to ensure that their vehicles are safe. So the trick for civil servants and Parliament is to draft regulations which enable technological innovation, rather than stifle it.
There will also be challenges for insuring autonomous vehicles as they are being tested on UK roads. If you crash, who is liable? You or the manufacturer? The recent horrific crash of the motorcyclist Mr David Holmes was captured on his motorcycle helmet camera. That this tragic accident was recorded means that there is little argument about what happened. Many new cars have cameras all over them, and autonomous vehicles will have even more to ensure that they operate properly. Indeed, they ought to be fitted with a full black box. This would be able to record in exact detail the route taken, the behaviour of the car and other drivers up until the accident, and the aftermath.
Testing autonomous vehicles will also allow us to lead the way in finding solutions to congestion. This is a huge problem in major cities around the world. There is no doubt that driverless cars with the ability to run at fixed speeds and a fixed distance from the car in front will make far more efficient use of our roads. We have the potential to massively increase capacity without a penny of capital investment.
Take the transportation of freight as well as people. Figures show that one-third of transportation costs are labour costs. These could largely be wiped out. At present, lorry drivers are allowed up to 10 hours per day on the road, but allowing more automated vehicles on the road could mean many more road hours for freight delivery trucks. Platoon driving is being practised now in America, with trucks staying 37 feet apart, the front one in charge of speed and direction. This is being practised now by great companies like Paccar. However, does the “driver” of the second or 10th vehicle, just standing by but not actually touching the controls, have to be limited to 10 hours in the same way?
The capital costs of the road system are enormous but, then, cars and lorries only really use the roads between 6 am and 10 pm. They are virtually empty otherwise, which, given the capital costs, makes them wildly inefficient. Transporting freight in autonomous vehicles in the middle of the night would massively boost the efficiency of roads and, indeed, of the vehicles themselves—all for the same capital cost. Another advantage of platooning is that you can reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.
That means if we successfully test autonomous vehicles, we could feasibly reassess expensive projects like HS2. The justification for HS2 had to completely ignore the development of new technologies like autonomous vehicles, because the technology had not been invented yet. Rail freight growth is being used by supporters of the project as a reason to plough ahead with HS2. Here I declare my interest in a potential rail freight terminus in Scotland. However, unlocking masses of capacity on our roads will surely be far more efficient than spending over £40 billion on HS2. We are preparing to spend a great deal of taxpayers’ money on what is fast becoming an outdated technology.
Again, it is perhaps understandable that autonomous vehicles, particularly the huge potential in autonomous trucks and lorries, were not considered in the original business case for HS2, but a KPMG study suggested that self-driving vehicles with the ability to platoon could provide a more flexible and less costly alternative than high-speed trains. This would be particularly true if they were in their own express lanes.
Given the opportunities to massively boost productivity, particularly at little capital cost, autonomous vehicles may be the game-changing technology we have been waiting for. There would be other economic benefits: fuel savings, fewer crashes and parking savings. Instead of driving in and out of work each day, commuters will be able to read reports or answer e-mails while they drive. They could drastically increase their productivity and their earnings. Thinking into the future, cars are parked for 98% of their lives. To exploit that, driverless car owners could put them to better use as taxis or delivery vehicles. It is no longer as fanciful as it sounds.
Autonomous vehicles should also have a profound impact on the lives of those living with disabilities. Imagine how liberating an autonomous vehicle would be to somebody who cannot, at present, have a driving licence. It would open up the world to them and allow them an independence that they may not currently have.
We must make it easy for businesses to invest in new technologies and equipment. That is best done by cutting taxes and removing regulations. We must also encourage real and genuine competition. Only then will the gains from automation benefit consumers. Furthermore, if we do those basics—cut taxes, remove regulations and encourage competition—more jobs will be created. The jobs created in this sector will be highly paid, highly skilled and in keeping with the Government’s own rhetoric about the tech sector. We cannot waste any more time; the UK must become the centre of excellence for autonomous vehicles.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on having secured this debate, and I commiserate with him that so few noble Lords have felt driven to contribute—that is a sophisticated joke. They are probably all stuck in their autonomous cars somewhere on the other side of the city.
In future most cars will be electric and a substantial proportion will be autonomous, driven with minimal or zero driver involvement. We are not talking about the distant future here but about a period of no more than 20 years. Each of those elements has a much longer history than many people imagine. Henry Ford began experimenting with an electric car at the turn of the century. His wife, Clara, always drove an electric car; she refused to have a Model T. Several electric cars of different makes were produced; they had a range of about 80 miles, but the record for an electric car was about 280 miles, which is about the same as the current record for electric cars. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons why electric cars did not take off was that they were feminised, seen as appropriate for women, not for macho men—and most drivers at the time were men. The same thing applies to driverless cars. A driverless car was demonstrated in 1925 in New York. It was built by an organisation called Houdina Radio Control Co., and was controlled by radio waves from a second car travelling behind.
Most of those applications have also been developed in the context of war, especially autonomous vehicles of numerous kinds. In the 1930s the USSR had teletanks, which were controlled by vehicles following them from behind. Pilotless drones are everywhere today—every day 5,000 drones are sent up into the air by the United States—so the idea of an autonomous vehicle should not just be confined to cars on the road, as it is part of a more generic and extremely important trend.
Today we are witnessing a period of dramatic technological change. What is going on in the motor industry looks as though it will revolutionise that industry even more thoroughly than Henry Ford did in the early part of the 20th century. The UK must not just participate in that but try to be at the forefront. It will not be easy, but there are gigantic investment opportunities. Everybody has heard of the Google Self-Driving Car; I am not sure that it has driven 700,000 miles, but it has done a lot of miles anyway. It has only driven on motorways and has not yet been pioneered within the more testing environment of suburban driving. However, it is a mistake to concentrate only on that version, and I would like to make a few points about that.
First, many other manufacturers, including some that produce here, already have self-driving cars. Some say that they will have them in production within 10 years. These are not adapted cars, as in the case of Google; they are specially built cars and they are almost universally electric. Secondly, this is not an all-or-nothing process. Many cars already have developed forms of automation—for example, automatic braking, self-parking and keeping distance from the car in front —and far more sophisticated add-ons are in production. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an autonomous vehicle; there are many gradations in all this.
Thirdly, it would be a massive mistake to concentrate only on autonomous vehicles. It is a mistake that the Government must not make. We are talking about an imminent revolution in traffic systems, with the digitalisation of transport, which is happening inside the car but also happening with much broader aspects of traffic behaviour, and which is extremely promising and interesting. I do not know whether the Minister knows of the MIT study on the future of the automobile; if not, it is worth checking out. MIT has been in the forefront of some of the research involved in the evolution of autonomous vehicles. Broadly speaking, the MIT study sees something like a total revolution occurring in traffic systems, in which most cars will not only be driverless but enmeshed in a complex system of traffic possibilities, making traffic massively easier than it is at the moment, as MIT says. MIT talks of a mobility internet as the future of the automobile, and give lots of pictures of these cars, which already exist in structure and form. It is crucial to see that the autonomous car is part of a much wider evolution of the emergence of transport systems, and this is going to be much more of a revolution than the autonomous car itself. The Minister will know that there are already functioning aspects of this; for example, there are streets in Texas that no longer have traffic lights. Certain cars do not need traffic lights—it is all governed by digital technology. This is the future. As I would stress all the way through, it is not the abstract future. It took the internet less than 20 years to dominate the world, so we will see far faster changes in these industries than we ever saw before. You cannot use pre-existing timescales as a measure.
As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick has said, there are plenty of problems, including that of liability for damage. Drivers might lose the experience of driving a car. What happens if the system fails? But the benefits are immense, as he also said. To add to his statistics, 40 million people were killed in traffic accidents in the 20th century, and more than double that amount globally were seriously injured. We are talking about a lethal instrument in the automobile. We should also recognise that 90% of accidents come from driver error, most of which can in principle be avoided, not just through the autonomous car but through the automation of traffic systems. The MIT study also envisages very different patterns of ownership. Cars would not just be privately owned; there would be all sorts of public-private ownership schemes.
I finish by posing some questions for the Minister to answer. First, could the Government clarify what resources they are providing for the development of autonomous cars and systems? I have seen estimates ranging from £75 million upwards, but I could not find much concrete data about what exists. If it is £75 million, my response would be, “You’ve got to be kidding”. I hope that it is a lot more. The state of California has already set aside about $5 billion. There is no way that the UK is going to be in the vanguard, if that is the case.
Secondly, do the Government recognise the scale of the likely revolution in transport? It cannot be driven primarily by private capital because of its enmeshment in transport systems. Small experiments like the one that is going on in Milton Keynes, which the Government are supporting, are worth while, but they are miles away from the scale on which we need to think.
Thirdly, are the Government investigating different types of ownership, as I just mentioned the MIT study suggests? How would these best be integrated with increasingly digitalised traffic management? Is, for example, the slightly notorious Uber management system actually the wave of the future because it makes possible a very different relationship to ownership of the vehicle?
Fourthly and finally, will the Government work to make sure that the coming revolution in transport will not be confined to the developed countries? We saw what happened with the mobile phone in Africa. African countries have been able to leapfrog technologies. We should make it possible for them to leapfrog technologies in transport systems too.
My Lords, the car industry in Britain has been an important part of our national fabric and economy since the Industrial Revolution. We have excelled in the home market in designing and manufacturing vehicles, and with our exports. This has extended to motor sport with companies such as Cosworth and the growth of advanced engineering centres around Oxford and Birmingham.
I believe that the UK now has a most interesting and exciting new opportunity—that is, to become a global centre of excellence for the development of autonomous vehicles. Much credit should go to my noble friend Lord Borwick for initiating this debate and for the work that he has undertaken in the automotive sector. I will echo much of what he has said.
The idea of a driverless car seems rather an alarming prospect and remains for many of us in the realm of science fiction. However, we can take heart from the fact that the Docklands Light Railway and some rail interconnections at airports such as Gatwick and Heathrow are driverless. We do not turn a hair in travelling on these systems. Last week, we read of the £16 billion project to upgrade and improve the London Tube rolling stock, which is planned to graduate to be driverless by 2030. Of course, here we are talking about journeying on rails. The accelerator and the brakes work automatically; we arrive safely, smoothly and on time; and we, as discerning and risk-aware individuals, have grown to trust this mode of transport.
Trust is an important theme that I will return to. First, we should start with a vision. Fast forward to 2050—a commuter will leave his home in the morning and look at the gadget on his wrist, which may include his watch. He will speak to it to call his electric car to the door. He will hop in with his Kindle or equivalent and ask his car to drive him to work. He will have come to trust that his driverless car handles all matters relating to his journey: that is, all types of road, all types of junctions, all types of weather and all manner of cyclists and pedestrians. The car drops him safely at work and goes to park itself or drives home, or, still parking itself, it drops him at an out-of-town collection point, rather like a park and ride. He hops in a driverless electric bus that takes him into the centre of town, thereby reducing pollution and protecting the environment, sharing costs and easing congestion. He will trust motorway driving as sensors will keep his vehicle a certain distance from other vehicles in front. Tail-gating may become an irritant of the past, allowing for better capacity on motorways.
Two years ago, Google posted a YouTube video showing a gentleman called Steve Mahan in California being taken on a ride in his self-driving Toyota Prius. In the video, Mr Mahan states:
“Ninety-five percent of my vision is gone, I’m well past legally blind”.
The carefully programmed route takes him from his home to a drive-through restaurant, then to the dry-cleaning shop and finally back home, so I believe that journey was not just on motorways. In May this year, Google presented a new prototype of its driverless car. It had neither a steering wheel nor pedals. It is 100% automated. In some states in the US, legislation has already been passed to allow driverless cars. Numerous other major companies and research organisations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles. The future is here.
We in Britain can be a country of global excellence in this field if we have a competitive edge on countries such as Germany, the USA, South Korea or Japan. It will require close collaboration and determination to succeed, from the academic institutions, innovators, government and business. At present, Germany is investing €200 million in advanced manufacturing and America is putting more than $1 billion dollars into rethinking manufacturing, all of which has a focus on smart technology, robotics and automated systems. The UK is investing £150 million over five years into progressing innovative solutions to manufacturing so that we are in the race to succeed globally in the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution.
We have made a positive start. The foundations for this were laid in 2010 with the industrial strategy launch and its focus on 11 key sectors and “eight great technologies”. The catapult initiatives are proving important and fruitful in translating new highly technically advanced ideas emanating from some of our great research institutions into marketable products or components. We are investing £1 billion over 10 years in the new Advanced Propulsion Centre to commercialise low-carbon technologies. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult has secured more than 1,500 projects.
The key to success for technological advance from these initiatives is effective automation from optimising the interaction between the use of robotics, smart technology and autonomous systems. It is highly significant that Innovate UK has recently awarded £1.6 million to the HyperCat consortium to promote the “internet of things”. The aim is to enable £100 billion- worth of value by 2020 in the UK by drawing together a range of the best companies and research institutions to focus on the interoperability of transportation, manufacturing, smart cities and energy. The internet of things allows for a broad range of devices, from heart monitors to kitchen appliances, to communicate with each other through wireless connections. This will have a profound beneficial effect on how we can lead our lives more efficiently.
It is from these collaborative initiatives that exciting developments in autonomous vehicles can be seen in Milton Keynes, the fastest-growing town in the United Kingdom. The strategy is interesting and distinct for its city-wide ambitions, the interconnectivity of transport systems and degree of integration. It is being progressed with the Transport Systems Catapult and the Automotive Council, together with universities. The project is designed to launch the driverless car in the form of futuristic-looking pods into Milton Keynes, three of which are being delivered in March 2015, and their number will build up to 20 or 30 in the short term. The testing will be undertaken gradually in increasingly ambitious conditions covering all types of road space and mixed pedestrian space. This intelligent mobility system deliberately tests out a move towards greater vehicle autonomy and its interaction with smart devices, other vehicles and drivers. It involves different climatic conditions and myriad scenarios that typically characterise a busy and complex transport network. A key aim, and the bigger picture for this project, is to develop a holistic approach to transport solutions—to reduce congestion, better manage parking spaces in city centres, reduce carbon emissions and enable greater efficiency in the economy by cutting down wasted time, whether by queuing or by reduced human productivity while travelling. The universities are playing a major part in this. For example, Professor Paul Newman of the robotics laboratory at Oxford University is at the leading edge of developing sensors and related technology for cars.
Sensors are linked to trust, because sensors in your mode of transport are everything, and will replace our brains—our senses—which we trust implicitly when we drive our cars. Trusting the technology is one of the biggest obstacles to the development of the truly autonomous vehicle, despite the stark fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, that 93% of accidents are the result of human error. Trust in riding an autonomous vehicle is closely linked to the insurance market. To this end, we are lucky to have a Minister on the Front Bench with much knowledge and experience of this sector, my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde. I welcome him most warmly to the Dispatch Box for his inaugural session. The question of where liability lies is important, as my noble friend Lord Borwick mentioned. Existing legislation will need to be carefully scrutinised and changed accordingly. This will include a redefinition of monitoring and controlling a vehicle, and allow for careful scrutiny and analysis, including the use of in-car telematics and cameras in the event of an accident. This strays into the sensitive arguments of privacy, originating with tachometers.
The testing phase will need to take some time and should build to give anyone travelling in or near to an autonomous vehicle confidence and trust—that word again—in the system and its interoperability. Yet the country that develops a mode of non-rail autonomous transport that consistently demonstrates 100% trust for the human being translating him from A to B in all conditions will lead in this race. The potential for export cannot be underestimated. To engender this trust, autonomous vehicles may need to remain semi-autonomous for years—that is, that the car is autonomous but there remains an override for instant human intervention.
I conclude by asking the Minister some questions. What is the Government’s assessment of the challenge for the insurance industry in providing comprehensive cover for autonomous vehicles? Is he confident that there is optimum action in developing autonomous vehicles across all the relevant Whitehall departments? What can the Minister say on guaranteed future investment in the catapults and initiatives such as the internet of things for advanced transport systems? Is the £10 million allocated to Innovate UK sufficient for the planned trials in cities? How aware are we of the competition internationally to develop this technology? Are we up to speed or, to put another pun, are we in the slow lane?
The UK must be sure to retain its global reputation in the automotive sector. The translation over time from the petrol or diesel engine to electric and from cars with drivers to autonomous vehicles is both a threat, if we lose out competitively, and an opportunity, if we work collaboratively to be the global centre of excellence in this field. As my noble friend Lord Borwick has said, we must grasp the latter.
My Lords, I rise in the gap because I very much support what the debate is about. I want to say a few words, particularly in view of what I discovered that the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, was going to say. This is all part of the internet of things—the IoT, as it is often abbreviated to—in which I am very involved. In fact, I must declare an interest: I chair the HyperCat consortium, which the noble Viscount mentioned, which consists of many companies, several very large, several quite small, but all with a very similar vision of what the future might be like.
There are various things that need to be done across all the companies to get this to work. It is really only the Government who can bring that all together effectively, or support the people who will bring it together. Innovate UK, which used to be the Technology Strategy Board, is doing a very good job to spread this around the various areas with the money the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills allocated to it. However, it is not quite sufficient in certain cases. There is quite a fight going on over the coming Autumn Statement; HyperCat has asked for quite a significant amount of funding for this. Rumour has it that it could well get blocked when it gets to the Treasury and other places, because a lot of Ministers do not quite get the internet of things. They do not quite understand what it is about. Some of us are going to try to do something about that, but they need to take it on faith for the moment that this is something that will be the very near future.
HyperCat has managed to spend all its money—things have been so successful so far—which means that its funds cannot be released until April next year, which means it will not see any money until July. The big challenge is to keep the momentum going until then. We are talking about a system for making the internet of things interoperable with security and other things behind it, so that it is very easy to start making and building developments out of all the information that will be sitting out there. I am not going to go into huge detail, but I am reminded that it was a Briton, Tim Berners-Lee, who built the world wide web, which enabled everyone to use the internet—which was mainly a communications system—very efficiently and effectively. He created a huge amount of business out of it.
Britain now has the chance to produce the interoperability layer—the bit behind the internet of things that will enable it to be truly useful and enable people to build and develop applications that will really help humanity. Among these are the autonomous vehicle and the other things that will come around it to do with traffic management, such as people flows, predictions of crowd build-up, showing where there are problems and where the emergency services have to get to and so on. This will all need some method of recognising what the information is very quickly.
I hope that the Autumn Statement figure—I put in a plug for it again—will be recognised and that BIS will get the money, which it can then give over. We can see how much of a leader we are at the moment. A large American company is opening a new IoT laboratory in the UK because we are currently seen as the world leaders in this field. Let us not lose that position.
My Lords, I first congratulate the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, on his appointment. I am looking forward to his first contribution from the Dispatch Box. I am sure he is, too—or to its completion, no doubt.
I must confess that, despite my eclectic range of knowledge of often arcane issues, autonomous vehicles is not a subject that attracted my attention, other than a vague awareness that Google was conducting some trials, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on securing this debate. As usual, you can rely on the Library briefing to give you excellent background knowledge on the latest government policy and what developments are taking place both in the UK and globally. I am reliably informed that there is no party policy on my side on this issue but, given the potential size of the market, encouraging innovative R&D that leads to successful applications in software, hardware and, we hope, UK manufacturing is essential.
I welcome the government initiatives. There are people who have speculated that they are not enough, but no doubt the Minister can enlighten us further. However, I welcome the £10 million in collaborative R&D projects, the £10 million competition for cities to host a driverless car trial, and the review of the legislative and regulatory framework for testing driverless cars. On the regulatory framework, I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, when he said that we want regulation that enables rather than stifles. That is a tricky balancing act when we are trying to encourage both trust and confidence in this area.
There was a review of regulation which closed on 19 September. Will the Minister tell us when we can expect to see the results of the evidence given to the review and the Government’s response? I realise that it is not long since the end of the review but I would welcome further information.
I also welcome the £75 million fund to speed up development in green technologies for engines and the £1.5 million announced for the first driverless cars project to be tested in a UK city centre. The two-person pods, which we have already heard about from the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, will run on designated pathways in Milton Keynes city centre and should be a more interesting visitor attraction than the concrete cows. Milton Keynes is also the base for the transport systems Catapult, which has already been mentioned, to drive the UK’s global leadership in intelligent mobility—the efficient and cost-effective movement of people and goods. Can the Minister confirm that this world-class innovation centre is now open? Can we really claim that it has sufficient resources to ensure that it is a truly world-class innovation centre? How does it compare with similar projects in other countries, whether the USA, Germany, the Netherlands or China? We have heard from other noble Lords that there is a lot going on in other countries, with what seem to be much larger sums of money than what is being invested in this country. I would welcome further information.
It was also interesting to learn about Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, a campaign to promote the benefits of a career in engineering to young people across the country, particularly young women. I hope the Minister will endeavour to ensure that schools’ careers advisers tell their pupils about career potential in the automotive industry. We know that there is an awful lot of demand for engineering skills, and it is vital that we meet that demand. Apparently, the industry is expecting to recruit 7,600 apprentices and 1,700 graduates over the next five years. I welcome that potential and I hope that it can be met, but part of the challenge of meeting it is encouraging our young people—both boys and girls—who are currently in school that engineering is a really exciting industry and one that is well worth their attention. I do not think that it gets that attention in schools at the moment.
Before I conclude, I should like to make a few comments on the contributions to the debate. This has proved to be a really interesting subject, which perhaps many would not have expected, and the contributions have been wide-ranging. I have found it exceedingly interesting—something that I was not expecting until it became my task to respond to the debate. There was reference to the wide-ranging impact of autonomous vehicles on traffic management systems, and the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, talked about things such as freight labour costs, platoon driving, reduced fuel consumption and the notion of car ownership changing. One of the last points that he made—this interested me the most—concerned the potential benefits for disabled people. I must admit that that had not automatically come to my mind but there is obviously great potential there.
If I have a bit of scepticism, it is in relation to the idea that we are going to totally abolish drivers. We are so wedded to our cars. Can we really imagine all people giving up driving? Somehow, I doubt it. However, that is not to say that autonomous vehicles and the traffic management systems that will arise from them will not have a vital role to play.
As I expected, my noble friend Lord Giddens had done an enormous amount of research. I learnt more about the history of electric cars than I could ever have hoped to know. I do not have time to cover every point in his wide-ranging contribution but he is right when he tells us that there are gradations of adapted vehicles. We are already beginning to see technology influencing that. He talked about a transport revolution and traffic management in a digital traffic system. I think that he was right to question the level of investment and resources available. If the predictions being made in the House today are right—and I think that broadly speaking they are—about the impact of this technology on the potential for jobs to be created, we have to ask whether there has been as much investment as is needed, given the scale of the task.
I was also fascinated by the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie. He talked about our developing a global centre of excellence. I echo that and, again, ask whether we have the ability to do this. We are one country among many trying to achieve this, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments. I was fascinated by the noble Viscount’s 2050 vision. Will it all take place? I think that he is right and that some of it will. He talked about the importance of sensors and he is right about that. I certainly like the idea of the roads being safer for cyclists. As somebody who entrusts my life on the roads to two wheels every day, I would welcome anything that can improve safety. If we can get sensors to recognise cyclists of all shapes and sizes, that will be no mean thing.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, introduced another dimension to this debate when he talked about this being part of the internet of things. He is absolutely right about that. He also talked about the importance of interoperability.
My noble friend Lord Giddens is right about the speed of change. If we look at internet development and the way that technology is developing there is one thing that we know—it is a lot faster than we ever thought in the past. Ideas are now being exchanged globally, so we have to recognise that that is the challenge.
We know that autonomous vehicles and holistic traffic systems have a vital contribution to make towards both road safety and the environment. We are on the cusp of a new era in transport with zero emission engines, autonomous vehicles and aerial vehicles in all shapes and sizes. We will probably never be alone without a drone looking at us in one way or another. The challenge, surely, is to ensure that we have the skills and the investment resources to achieve a significant share of this rapidly developing industry, and ensure that society as a whole will benefit from it. I look forward to the Minister’s contribution.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Borwick for initiating this important debate and for his kind welcome. I also thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, and the noble Lord, Lord Young, for their kind remarks. This technology will cause powerful changes in the years to come, and we will no doubt return to this subject in the future.
Sustainable transport of people and goods is key to economic growth. I agree that the UK cannot afford to sit back and watch. Autonomous vehicles will play a central role in future mobility. We must grasp the opportunities they present and be at the forefront of their development. The UK is the place to develop exciting and cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Formula 1 is an exemplary story of how the UK leads on state-of-the-art technology. Eight out of the 11 Formula 1 teams are based in the UK and 75% of global motor-sport R&D takes place here. The UK has a world-class science base and testing facilities, some of the most productive automotive plants in the world and a highly skilled and flexible workforce. There is much to attract companies t